This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: An Indian Epic, a Return to the Prequel Era, and an Unforgettable Book No One Remembers

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Upon a Burning Throne, by Ashok K. Banker
Ashok Banker is a huge bestseller in his native India, and is making his U.S. debut with this ambitious epic fantasy inspired by the Mahabharata itself. The Burnt Empire exists in a world where demigods and demons walk the earth alongside humans. After the emperor dies, the empire is thrown into chaos, as two heirs each seek to prove their worthiness by sitting on the Burning Throne, whose deep magic destroys the unworthy. Both princes—Adri and Shvate—pass the test, but yet more chaos is unleashed when a third claimant appears: the daughter of the demonlord Jarsun. When his offspring is denied her chance to prove her worthiness as well, Jarsun declares war, vowing to destroy the Burnt Empire in revenge. Adri and Shvate find themselves co-rulers of an empire roiled by sedition and stressed by invasion in this sprawling tale of conspiracies, battles, and demonic magic.

Fire Season, by Stephen Blackmoore 
Your friendly neighborhood necromancer Eric Carter returns in fine, dark form in the fourth installment of Blackmoore’s smart urban fantasy series. As the novel opens, Los Angeles is literally burning with impossible fires. During one of the hottest summers on record, someone is killing off mages with fires that never go out (and shouldn’t be able to burn in the first place. Carter is being framed for the serial killings, and he thinks he knows who’s behind it—not everyone has a vengeful Aztec god in his rear-view mirror, after all. But some parts of his theory don’t quite add up, giving Carter the sinking feeling there’s more going on than he suspects. Which is always a dangerous thing when your day-to-day dealings include magic, the undead, and angry gods.

Winds of Marque: Blackwood & Virtue, by Bennett R. Coles
Coles launches a new series with a story of swashbuckling officers in His Imperial Majesty’s navy chasing down a nest of pirates—in space. The Big Ship Energy is real: these deep space vessels are propelled by solar sails. Second in command Liam Blackwood is still smarting from being passed over for promotion when the HMSS Daring gets a new captain, Lady Sophia Riverton, and new orders to infiltrate and destroy the pirates threatening the empire’s supply lines, even as it gears up for war with an inhuman enemy. Assisted by his petty officer and possible love interest Amelia Virtue, Blackwood is forced to act when his new his captain begins making questionable decisions and laying the grounds for a mutiny. It should go without saying that fans of Aubrey Martin and Temeraire will enjoy sailing acros the stars with the crew of the Daring.

Amnesty, by Laura Elena Donnelly
In the wake of a successful revolution, the once-glittering city of Amberlough struggles to rebuild itself in the final volume of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Nebula Award-nominated decopunk trilogy. Now that the oppressive Ospies have been removed from power, the regime that replaced them is seeking retribution from all who may have betrayed the city. This includes Cyril DePaul, who self-interestedly worked both sides of the conflict in an effort to save his own skin. His only remaining allies are a bitter ex-lover and his distant sister—and even in the wake of drastic change, Amberlough remains a dangerous, decadent place, awash in crime, deception, and—hopefully—a chance at redemption.

No Country for Old Gnomes, by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
If the second book in Dawson and Hearne’s gleefully parodic Tales of Pell series is not the surprise that Kill the Farm Boy was, it is every bit as delightful. As the tidy, cheerful gnomes prepare for war against the well-armed, voracious Halflings, one gnome finds his life upended by a Halfling bomb. Offi Numminen stands apart from others of his kind, incrementally less cheerful, and favoring cardigans with a distinctly goth appeal, but he goes from outcast to last hope when he finds himself the leader of a band of misfits headed off on a journey to the Toot Towers to set the world right again. The quest won’t be easy, but it certainly won’t be harder than pulling his band of malcontents together and making them work as a team. Once again, Dawson and Hearne balance their whimsical, affectionate ribbing of fantasy conventions with a deep love for the genre and the tropes they’re subverting.

Perihelion Summer, by Greg Egan
When twin black holes enter our solar system and knock Earth’s orbit out of whack, Matt Fleming reacts by creating the Mandjet, a floating, self-sustaining environment designed to withstand the climatic disaster that ensues. Struggling against government incompetence and his own family’s reluctance to admit what’s happening even as the summers turn brutally hot and crops fail worldwide, Fleming and the others on the Mandjet chronicle the collapse of civilization and the new reality of a world where all of the rules of nature and survival have been rewritten. With the scientific rigor that is Egan’s forte, this chilling what-if scenario serves as both a thrilling apocalyptic tale and a dire warning about the costs of inaction in the face of looming catastrophe.

Master & Apprentice (Barnes & Nobel Exclusive Edition), by Claudia Gray
Claudia Gray returns to the Star Wars galaxy with a real treat for fans who might feel forgotten in the era of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Finn: an all-new adventure featuring Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. The story opens with the pair at a crossroads: Qui-Gon struggles with worry that he has failed his Padawan, as Obi-Wan frets at Qui-Gon’s consideration of an invitation to join the Jedi Council—thus ending their partnership. In the midst of this doubled-edged doubt, the Jedi are called to a distant planet to assist with a political dispute that quickly spirals into danger. As Qui-Gon experiences visions of disaster, Obi-Wan’s begins to suspect he can no longer trust his Master. The Barnes and Noble Exclusive edition includes a double-sided pull-out poster.

A Time of Blood, by John Gwynne
The sequel to A Time of Dread and the second book in John Gwynne’s Of Blood and Bone trilogy, A Time of Blood continues a richly detail and action-heavy epic saga. Drem and his allies saw terrible things at the battle that ended the last book: men transformed into monsters and a demon returned from the dead. They are now being hunted by the demon’s most loyal priestess, Fritha. Elsewhere, the half-breed Riy hides out in the forest, concealing her identity, and the threat she poses to the pure-blood warrior angels. The dark is rising, and the heroes have to save themselves before they can save the world.

Nest of the Monarch, by Kay Kenyon
The final volume of Kenyon’s crafty alternate history trilogy featuring super-powered spies in World War II-era Europe. Psychic spy Kim Tavistock is in Germany, posing as the wife of a British diplomat, on her first offical assignment for British Intelligence. Kim’s handler—and father—Julian hopes she’ll be able to use her talent to make people “Spill” their secrets to her will reveal valuable intelligence about the weapons the Nazis are developing. But Kim, shocked by the racist and Semitic actions she witnesses in Berlin, winds up helping a Jewish resistance fighter named Hannah Linz. Together, the two become embroiled in a German plot involving vampiric psychics, as Kenyon builds the series to a rousing climax, never losing site of the strong-willed, stout-hearted woman at its center.

Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman
Emma Newman’s fourth book set in the Planetfall universe is another inventive and emotionally wrenching affair. As a passenger onboard the spacefaring vessel Atlas 2, Dee was one of the few who witnessed the nuclear strike that killed millions on Earth. Angry and deeply traumatized, Dee seeks both to uncover who was responsible and to escape her suffering within an immersive game that applies real world physicality to a virtual setting. Invited to test a new build of the game by a mysterious guide, Dee enters a play session unlike any she’s ever experienced. When she kills another player in-game and a man winds up dead in real life—a man with possible ties to the nuclear launch, no less—Dee becomes a suspect. As she doubles down on her investigation, she makes a chilling discovery that changes everything she thought she knew about her life—and the colony planet she’s headed toward. Made up of standalone novels that share a setting and a commitment to delving into their characters’ psyches, the Planetfall series stands with the best science fiction of the last decade.

The Master of Dreams, by Mike Resnick
Genre veteran Mike Resnick delivers the first book in a new trilogy that doubles as a romp through all your favorite stories. A man named Eddie Raven and his girlfriend Lisa wander into a fortune-teller’s shop in New York, and into a violent shooting that leaves Lisa injured. Eddie hears a mysterious voice that orders him to run. He does, and soon finds himself the owner of an all-too-familiar bar in Casablanca—except this one is populated not by Nazis and ne’er do wells, but by monsters. Sooner than he can figure out what’s going on, he’s following a yellow brick road and helping a young Kansan girl find a wizard; then he’s in Camelot with someone named Arthur. As Eddie reels and struggles to adapt to his shifting reality, he must figure out why the Master of Dreams is chasing him through twisted versions of famous stories, and find Lisa before it’s too late.

All My Colors, by David Quantick
This twisting puzzle of a book from Veep and The Thick of It screenwriter David Quantick stars Todd Milstead, a failed writer who could be generously described as a jerk. Todd’s got a great party trick, though; an eidetic memory that allows him to quote chapter and verse from texts he read decades earlier. The ability leads to a mysterious discovery when, at a dinner party, he recites extensive quotes from a bestselling book only he seems to remember—as far as everyone else (from his wife to his local bookseller), the titular All My Colors. was never published. With his marriage and finances in turmoil, desperate Todd hatches a plan, retypes the  the novel from memory, and sees it become a massive hit. Even after all his success, though, Todd is still the same man. He’s obsessed with his now ex-wife, and hires a private investigator stalk her and her new boyfriend—a guy who oddly doesn’t seem to appear in photographs. Things only get stranger from there, as Todd discovers there are consequences to his act of “victimless” forgery.

The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman 
Who better to edit an anthology of unicorn-themed stories and poems than SFF Grandmaster Peter S. Beagle, whose novel The Last Unicorn may be the definitive unicorn story? Following up their World Fantasy Award-winning collection The New Voices of Fantasy, Beagle and co-editor Jacob Weisman bring together 15 tales offering unique and unexpected twists on the unicorn myth. The contributors include heavy-hitters in the world of SFF fiction: Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Carrier Vaughn, and Beagle himself, just to name a few. Their stories run the gamut from the gentle, to the horrific, to the surprisingly gritty and realistic.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Vol. 13, edited by Jonathan Strahan
The thirteenth volume of Jonathan Strahan’s Year’s Best series is also his last with Solaris; next year he launches Year’s Best Science Fiction with Saga Press. He goes out on a high note with a wonderful lineup of contributors, including Elizabeth Bear, Daryl Gregory, and two 2019 Hugo Award nominated novelettes: Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing and Zen Cho’s “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” originally published on this blog.

What are you reading this week?

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5 Technological Innovations Science Fiction Predicted with 100 Percent Accuracy

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Sci-fi is a genre of ideas, and, seeing as it is also unbound by the normal rules of space and time, it often wanders into possible futures. Every story or novel set  in the future can be taken as a kind of prediction, and there are many examples of sci-fi books that were eerily accurate with those predictions—from Jules Verne’s strangely prescient imagining of a trip to the moon, circa 1877 (in From the Earth to the Moon) to Edward Bellamy’s surprising vision of debit cards in 1888’s Looking Backward, to Star Trek’s early takes on the cell phone, the PDA, and the 3D printer.

But to be fair, most of examples of sci-fi prophecy are only kind of accurate. Verne’s vision of going to the moon is remarkable—but he also thought the spaceship would be fired out of a giant gun. Bellamy’s concept of debit cards is amazingly prescient—but he also assumed those cards would draw on a common fund of government-managed money. And all of those Star Trek technologies are close-but-no-cigar. Generally, SF predictions tend to be just that: similar in concept but wildly different in the details.

And then there are the books on this list: the technologies imagined by these five writers are so accurate, you have to wonder if they used a time machine to conduct their research.

Technology: Cryptocurrency
Book: Heavy Weather, by Bruce Sterling
 (1994)

Bruce Sterling’s 1994 novel deserves to be high on to-read lists these days; it’s a great story, and a trailblazer in the cli-fi subgenre. It also contains a few amazingly accurate predictions about the future world of 2031. Although the main thrust of the story revolves around a group of high-tech stormchasers in a world where climate change generates incredibly destructive weather phenomena, in one passage Sterling casually describes cryptocurrencies so accurately, it’s made more than one person speculate only half-jokingly that he might be Satoshi Nakamoto, the unknown person who launched Bitcoin in 2009. As Sterling wrote 15 years earlier, “electronic, private cash, unbacked by any government, untraceable, completely anonymous, global in reach, lightninglike in speed, ubiquitous, fungible, and usually highly volatile” was the way of the future. The only thing he got wrong: it didn’t take until 2031 to hit the market.

Technology: Tablet Computers
Book: 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
(1968)

It’s no surprise to find Clarke on a list like this; he was always a sci-fi writer who made a real effort at maintaining scientific realism in his books. People might argue over what was actually the first tablet computer; although the most successful and obvious example is Apple’s iPad, nascent examples date back to as early as 1987. What shouldn’t be grounds for debate is the fact that Clarke imagined the tablet computer with remarkable accuracy in the late 1960s, describing a Newspad, a “foolscap-sized” device with a large screen allowing someone to “conjure up the world’s major electronic papers… the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen…” While all the ingredients for a tablet computer existed in 1968, believe it or not (the first touchscreen technology was operational by then, and early GUIs existed), Clarke’s descriptions are almost frighteningly close to the experience of using a modern-day tablet to skim the news and organize documents.

Technology: Bluetooth Earbuds
Book: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
 (1953)

“And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.” That’s how Ray Bradbury described what are obviously earbud headphones in his 1953 novel. You might quibble that Bradbury’s “seashells” are more like tiny radios, not wireless earphones, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bradbury imagined them before the advent of the first stereo headphones (1958), and even prior to the first time an earphone was connected to a transistor radio (1954). The next time you’re lying in bed listening to your favorite playlist with your Airpods, think of Ray Bradbury—who also, it should be noted, also described flat-screen televisions pretty accurately—although in that case, he wasn’t the first to do so.

Technology: DVRs/Streaming Video
Book: Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
 (1968)

Stand on Zanzibar, winner of the 1969 Best Novel Hugo Award, is often noted for its many smart predictions of the future, but most are your standard close-but-not-perfect ideas—fun to talk about but not really all that specific or accurate (which is not to diminish its power; it’s really a remarkable, enduring work). The one exception is Brunner’s description of what’s essentially a DVR or streaming video device—a time-shifting technology that allows the people of his 2010 to watch television programs whenever they like, which must have been a pretty cool concept for the poor folks of 1968, who had 11 channels to choose from and no way to record anything, and thus had to conform to the schedule that the networks cooked up. Did we mention that Brunner also imagined that, in 2010, the president of the United States would be named Obomi? That has nothing to do with technology, of course, but… still.

Technology: Apps and Voice Assistants
Story: “Our Lady of Chernobyl”, by Greg Egan (1994)

This short story is a fusion of detective fiction and sci-fi centered on a wealthy oligarch’s purchase of a religious icon and the murder of the courier tasked with delivering it. Egan is known as a writer of hard sci-fi who tries to keep things real, and he hits it out of the park with what’s essentially a prediction of modern app-based technology and voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. The detective on the case uses both in his work, and if you find yourself thinking the story was actually written 20 years later than it was, you’d be forgiven—it’s bizarrely on point. Set in 2013, Egan’s story describes what’s basically a “Where Am I?” app and an interaction with a “tour guide” that attempts to answer questions and offer guidance—complete with the frustrating literalness and lack of flexibility we’ve all come to know all too well when it comes to our AI assistants.

What other SF books got the future just right?

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