B&N Book Haul Picks: Sci-Fi & Fantasy Standalones and Series-Starters

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

There are plenty of great long-running series in the science fiction and fantasy section, but it can be tough to walk in on the middle of a story. With that in mind, here are some great, recent SFF novels—each is either a completely standalone read, the very beginning of a series, or a story that takes place in an established universe but requires no knowledge—and you can all of them for 50 percent off during Barnes & Noble’s Book Haul Blowout, from February 27 to March 4.

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, by Brandon Sanderson
Here’s a great way to experience an entire epic series in one volume: this bind-up collects three novellas telling the complete (so far) story of Stephen Leeds. Though best known for his fantasy work, Sanderson shifts into contemporary science fiction for this story of a genius able to learn any skill or vocation in a matter of hours. He’s aided by a team of imaginary experts—people he creates in his mind to help him keep track of all the talents he acquires, all of whom take on lives of their own. Naturally, his ability to master any skill makes him valuable, and a company hires him to recover stolen property. The mission takes him on a globe-spanning adventure that ultimately leads him to investigate the truth of his own origin.

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen series), by John Gwynne
The war between giants and humans left scars on the Banished Lands that are only just beginning to heal, while the 14-year-old son of a swineherd is poised to discover that a renewed, even more devastating war, might be in the offing. The resourceful young Corban only wants to serve as a warrior in the king’s army, but quickly becomes enmeshed in the dangerous world of politics and greed as he navigates the opening of volume of Gwynne’s dark and truly epic four-volume fantasy series.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood, by Rena Rossner
Inspired by Russian and Ukrainian folktales as well as the subversive 19th century poetry of Christina Rossetti, Rossner’s sumptuous debut follows 18-year-old Liba and her sister Laya, two young women living in a small village on the border of Moldova and Ukraine. Laya falls under the spell of a group of male travelers, but there are other dark forces in the woods. The two sisters come to learn that the fairy stories of their parents and grandparents aren’t all fiction, and contain the secrets that can save them all.This is a richly told tale, with point-of-view chapters switching between the sisters, and between prose and verse.

Someone Like Me, by M. R. Carey
The latest from the author of The Girl with All the Gifts (also a part of Book Haul!) introduces us to two very different women: gentle, kind, easily swayed Liz Kendall; and Beth, a fighter who stands up for herself, doing whatever it takes to get what she wants±and then goes too far. The twist? They might be the same person. Assaulted by her ex-husband, Liz gives way to the malicious Beth, an alter-ego who only a teenager named Fran, in therapy following a kidnapping, seems able to see. This standalone supernatural thriller uses horror to get to the root of trauma.

Cold Iron (Masters & Mages series), by Miles Cameron
The first volume of Cameron’s Masters & Mages trilogy introduces Aranthur, a young student of magic who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time during a journey. The bloody confrontation he is caught up in forces him to display his skill with a sword, and unexpectedly places him at the center of events of global import. Cameron’s coming-of-age story takes place in an early modern fantasy world inspired by the latter days of Constantinople. Cold Iron uncovers this engaging world gradually, as the nobody Aranthur comes to understand the scope of a political revolt in the making.

The Black Prism (Lightbringer series), by Brent Weeks
In the world of Weeks’ Seven Satrapies, one person in each generation is the Prism, able to fully harness the extraordinary magical power of light. Following a war against a similarly gifted twin brother, Gavin Guile currently holds the honor, along with the power and authority that come with it—but his time is running out. With only five years left to him, he’s forced to face down a corrupt governor and stop a religious war, all while seeking out the child he left behind. This is a great time to begin Gavin’s journey: the final volume, The Burning White, arrives in August.

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
A master of big idea science fiction with a human touch, Robinson’s 2017 Hugo nominee visits the New York City of 12 decades in the future, half of which literally under water due to rising sea levels. Denver takes over the city’s role as the country’s economic engine, while NYC has become a new Venice: people scrabble to in the shallows and the outskirts, orwhile those with more money live on the upper floors of partially submerged high-rise buildings. As the rich build new luxury apartments, the poor scavenge for the city’s underwater resources, and a murder mystery unfolds, with connections to a disparate group of people who all call the same co-op building home. It’s an exploration of a scarily probable future with a NYC-sized cast of fascinating, diverse personalities.

The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson
In the aftermath of a global nuclear war and a relentless viral epidemic, crossbow-wielding Lynn McBride struggles to survive with her family in the Yukon. The inhospitable nature of the region makes it a relatively safe place when it comes to avoiding the flu, but Lynn’s word is upended when she encounters Jax, a man with unusual abilities. He’s being pursued by an organization that’s seeking a cure for the pandemic, and the resulting hunt leads Lynn into the dark secrets of her own past, forcing her to choose between the fate of the world and the safety of her family.

Splintered Suns, by Michael Cobley
Set in the world of Cobley’s cinematic Humanity’s Fire series, this standalone adventure novel has all the ingredients of a grand old-fashioned space opera: a ship captain full of mad schemes, a gang of smugglers, and an elaborate heist. Brannan Pyke and his crew have a mission: break into a museum and steal the tracking device that will lead them to a valuable ship they hope to salvage. Of course, they’re not the only one’s after the million-year-old vessel buried in the desert of a backwater planet—and the ship they’re after might be the key to unlocking the advanced technology of a lost civilization.

Find all the details on Book Haul here—and make sure to stock up before the sale ends on March 4, 2019!

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Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon Has a Lot to Say About Life on Earth

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

It’s a science fiction tradition so reliable, you can all but set your watch by it: another year, another Kim Stanley Robinson novel that uses a theoretical future as a mirror to examine the nature of humanity today. Just as New York 2140 made it clear we ignore climate change at our peril, and Aurora posited that we’re better off not looking to the stars to find humanity’s salvation (better to start fixing the problems we’ve made for ourselves on Earth),  his latest, Red Moon, shifts the current cultural conversations about globalization and the declining influence of the western world some decades into the future, and 238,900 miles into orbit.

At the novel’s heart is a triad of unlikely companions whose paths converge after a Chinese diplomat is murdered on the colonized moon. American scientist Fred Fredericks is forced into hiding after being framed for the murder, which is how he meets Chan Qi, the daughter of a powerful politician vying for power in China during a period of economic and cultural uncertainty. Their unlikely ally is Ta Shu, a retired poet and television travel personality who is caught up in the tide of events, and may be the only one who can keep Qi and Fredericks alive.

The title is deliberately evocative of Robinson’s best known work, Red Mars—another colonization story—but that turns out to be something of a red herring. Rather than offering a meticulous account of humanity’s first efforts to colonize and terraform the moon, Red Moon is instead a fast-paced near-future thriller, flitting back and forth between Chinese and US bases on the moon and Earth. If you go in with expectations of what a Kim Stanley Robinson novel should be, it might feels somewhat like a bait and switch. So forget your expectations: this is an excellent novel, and it even manages to cover most all of Robinson’s trademarks.

The author is known for his heady worldbuilding, labyrinthine politics, and carefully reasoned social commentary (all here), but he also writes darn good characters, and he shows off that talent especially well in Red Moon. Qi and Fred are about as different as two people can be—the latter, passive and naive; the former, experienced, hardened, and determined. Robinson constantly plays one of them against the other, and the results are believable, and a lot of fun. Qi is pregnant, which offers a nice twist to an otherwise conventional political thriller plot; it affects her in ways that specifically limit her strengths and require Fred to step up physically, which is not exactly his forte. Over the course of the novel, they form an uneasy partnership, changing, evolving, and learning from one another. As with any odd couple, there is a lot of opportunity for humor as they attempt to reconcile their differences during quiet and explosive moments alike. Ta Shu flits in and out of their storyline, leaving little time for true relationships to develop between him and them, but his personal journey, brought to emotional life by his poetry, bits of which are scattered through the novel, is satisfying in its own way. Many of the book’s most profound political and social thoughts come from Ta Shu as he considers the changing political and social landscape on Earth and the Moon.

One of Robinson’s great gifts as a writer is his ability to project stories of personal conflict and growth across a canvas of wildly big speculative ideas: colonizing and terraforming Mars; traveling on a generation ship to a far off star system; following a soul reincarnated through the ages; weighing the competing influences of science and belief on the arc of human history. The experience of reading one of his novels is akin to pondering what it will mean to be a human in the future (or the past), and today—how things change, and how they stay the same, no matter where we are in the galaxy, or which period of human history we exist in.

Robinson shows us life in worlds very different from the one we occupy, and then invites us to notice that humans tend to be just as flawed, and imperfect, and admirable, and brave in all of them. Red Moon had me contemplating modern life in a most unexpected way. Of course, Qi, Fred, and Ta Shu live in a near future where humans have settled on the moon—though it is still something of a wild west—but the socio-political and personal crises they navigate there are achingly relevant to our own times: cultural and financial revolution. The emergence of blockchain currencies as a disruptive force to the world economy. High-tech warfare. Disinformation campaigns. Chan Qi wields tremendous political clout, and becomes the figurehead for a revolution, but remains trapped by the machinations of a culture that seeks to oppress women.

Red Moon is another wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson novel, and all that implies. If it lacks the scope of some of his earlier works, it more than makes up for it with the ambitiousness of its themes, its breakneck pace, and its thoughtful examination of the way societies evolve organically during times of upheaval.

If Andy Weir’s Artemis showed us the perils of surviving on the moon. Red Moon takes it one step beyond, showing us the uncertainly that comes from powerful competing interests vying for control of a new resource—even one that’s been staring us in the face for at least as long as we’ve been around to look up at the sky,  and wonder.

Red Moon is available October 23, 2019. Order a signed copy now.

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