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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Someone Like Me Takes an Honest Approach to Psychological Horror

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

As Liz weathers another assault by her abusive husband Marc, something seems to take control of her body, defending her from his vicious attack. In the aftermath, she is relieved and unsettled, but chalks her cunfusion up to trauma. But as the days go on, the presence—which calls itself, herself Beth—refuses to leave. She gets Liz into fights, welcomes confrontation, and seems happy to escalate any situation as long as doing so is a means to her ends. Beth says she’s another version of Liz, one who can do what’s needed to survive, one who’s seen what will happen if Marc gets his way.

Meanwhile, Fran, a former kidnapping victim suffering from recurring hallucinations, experiences visions of two women overlapping like a double-exposed photo whenever she looks at Liz. As Beth’s behavior becomes more erratic, evidence indicates that Liz and Fran’s past traumas may be connected, and their shared hallucinations may be something altogether more real.

In Someone Like MeM.R. Carey explores psychological horror, and doesn’t go easy on himself. The novel seeks to portray mental illness, trauma, and toxic situations in ways that seem both grounded in reality and steeped in the supernatural. Carey, who reinvented zombie tropes left and right in The Girl with All the Gifts, happily proves himself more than up to the task, respecting the emotional and mental truths of his protagonists even from within a narrative filled with darkness and doubt. The result is a suspenseful, disturbing, and emotionally honest read, with a pair of unreliable narrators who transcend the barbed hook of the premise.

Reading a fictional portrayal of mental illness can be a distancing experience; characters can become lost in narrative tricks more concerned with causing us to question what’s happening and what isn’t than to consider the whys. Someone Like Me is so compelling because it treats the episode experienced by each narrator as if they are happening, rooting the reader in the action of the scene and not allowing that sense of detachment to set in. Carey remembers that in these high-stress moments, everything feels real, even if it isn’t, and that commitment to emotional honesty carries the book onward even as the narrative reality begins to fracture . What happens to Liz and Fran is really happening, even—and especially—when it isn’t.

Where some thrillers go for shocks and scares, this one reaches out more tenderly. Everyone around Liz and Fran seems to genuinely be trying to help. The cops offer sincere suggestions to help Liz deal with harassment, and a therapist does all he can to give Liz and Fran the tools to overcome their respective problems. While this help may be limited, and in some cases misguided, everyone’s at least trying—and it’s certainly not often the case in a genre that often paints the world outside its protagonists as alien and hostile. Carey outlines a few real-world coping strategies that the characters attempt—from Fran’s focus on chess as a way to overcome her trauma at the hands of the abductor known as the shadowman, to Liz’s decision to give meditation a go—and it’s a welcome change to see characters in a psychological thriller trying everything they can and leaning on their support networks. This is a book that treats mental illness with compassion and honesty instead of as a sideshow curiosity, a loses not one bit of tension for it.

Someone Like Me is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Fox Tales, Sinister Doubles, and Mind-Altered Ex-Criminals

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Nearly 40 years after the publication of his Nebula Award-winning time travel novel Timescape, veteran author Gregory Benford (who is also a winner of two Hugo Awards and a John W. Campbell Award, and is also a professor of physics and a noted academic) has penned a new book in the spirit of that landmark temporal adventure. In 2002, a history professor named Charlie is dealing with mid-life despair when he’s involved in a terrible car accident. He wakes up in 1968, in his own 16-year old body, and discovers he has somehow traveled back in time and been given the chance to do everything over again. Charlie does what anyone would—he uses what he knows about future history to game the system, and becomes a huge success in the world of motion pictures. When he dies again, he finds himself back in 1968—and realizes he’s not the only “reincarnate” living on a loop and able to change history. Charlie realizes his purpose isn’t to perfect his own life, but to alter the history of 1968 in a very specific way—and someone he knows is working against him to make sure he doesn’t succeed. A tense game of temporal chess breaks out as Charlie seeks to fulfill his ultimate destiny.

The Subjugate, by Amanda Bridgeman
Bridgeman made a splash in her native Australia with the Aurealis Award-nominated Aurora space opera series, and caught the eye of Angry Robot Books, which is releasing her newest novel worldwide. With a premise that mixes procedural tropes with plausible near-future tech, The Subjugate certainly seems poised to introduce a host of new readers to the prolific author. A series of brutal murders bring a pair of troubled detectives to a community dominated by The Children of Christ and served by Subjugates—violent criminals who have had their minds “edited” to transform them into calm, peaceful servants. The detectives’ own dark pasts travels with them into the tight-knit religious community, where they discover no shortage of repressed violence and potential motives for the killings in a town populated by supposedly reformed violent criminals.

Someone Like Me, by M.R. Carey
Mike “M.R.” Carey, comic book writer extraordinaire (X-Men and The Fantastic Four) and, under a pseudonym, the author of the smash hit The Girl with All the Gifts, delivers a twisty story that straddles the line between SFF and thriller. Liz Kendall is a divorced mother of two who knows she has a mysterious dark side—one so forceful, it’s almost a separate identity, ruthless and violent. One evening she is attacked by her ex-husband, and that other intelligence takes over her body and fights him off, allowing her to escape. Another woman, Fern Watts, has been on serious medication her whole life to combat hallucinations—and even so, she’s accompanied everywhere by her friend Jinx, an imaginary fox. One day Fern, goes to her psychiatrist’s office and encounters Liz—and is pretty certain Liz is her.

A Black Fox Running, by Brian Carter
This evocative fantasy novel, originally published in the UK in 1981 and out of print for years, is a story of animals caught up in the eternal conflict between man and nature that should sit proudly beside Watership Down. In the English countryside in 1946, Wulfgar is a fox, the leader of a pack long-hunted by a determined Trapper named Scoble and his murderous hunting dog, known as The Lurcher. The story is straightforward on the surface, following the trials and travails of Wulfgar and his pack as they attempt to survive a brutal winter and outwit those hunting them, made richly resonant—almost mythical—in the telling, with multiple chapters from the almost alien points-of-view of diffrent animals. A lost classic worth rediscovering.

An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan
Andy Duncan is a writer’s SFF writer—his short fiction has earned him a Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and three World Fantasy Awards and won him endless praise from genre giants like Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, and Jonathan Strahan. Now, Small Beer press has assembled his most noteworthy stories—along with two new tales—into a wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection drawing from tall tales and legends of old, and featuring a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a yam-eating zombie, Harry Houdini, Thomas Moore, and more.

Breach, by W.L. Goodwater
Stories mixing magic into the politics of the Cold War era have become something of a rend as of late, and W.L. Goodwater’s debut is a worthy addition to the subgenre. Karen O’Neil is a scientist and a magician who, despite a prejudice against the supernatural, eagerly volunteers when the State Department seeks her help investigating a breach in the Berlin Wall, which, in this alternate reality, is an arcane barrier that not a city but the entire world. As Karen hunts down the truth behind the wall’s construction and attempts to uncover its true purpose, she faces a wealth of opposition, both from run of the mill political maneuvering and spies, saboteurs, and maybe even magic itself working against her from the shadows.

Terminus, by Tristan Palmgren 
Tristan Palmgren wowed us earlier this year with his debut novel, Quietus, which told the story of a transdimensional anthropologist sent to our Earth’s middle ages to observe the Black Death, who meddled with the true course of history by saving a doomed man. The sequel finds that traveler’s transdimensional empire in collapse, with the planarship Ways and Means hiding in the middle ages after ending the plague and various agents of the old order scattered across our world like fallen embers, each pursuing their own agenda. As Ways and Means and its agent Osia continue to meddle in the past, the ripples of changed history become more and more prominent, and an Italian soldier named Fiametta raises an army in revolt against the powers that be that threatens to change everything.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, by Michael Marshall Smith
This odd, lyrical all-ages fantasy story centers on a young girl named Hannah, sent to live with her grandfather in the hopes of saving her from the stress of  her parents’ divorce. But life with grandad turns out to be anything but peaceful, and the man happens to be in cahoots with the devil, and he’s constantly dragging her off on adventures into the countryside, where there are talking mushrooms and the devil might not actually be the bad guy you’d imagine. Like the best fairy tales, it is on one level a grand adventure—told through Hannah’s young, innocent point of view—and on another, a deeply resonant story of human frailties and finding redemption.

The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley
Whiteley, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is best known for her short fiction, including the two novellas published in the single volume The Beauty in early 2018. The Arrival of Missives (originally released in England in 2016) is her third novel, and its arrival in the States only serves to prove the British writer is just as skilled working in a longer form. In a future England recovering from a horrific world war, Shirley Fearn is a girl on the verge of adulthood. Educated far beyond the norm for women in her village, she is all scorn and pride, and completely unaware of how trapped she is by the sexism and traditions she scoffs at. When a handsome new teacher, injured and broken in the war, catches her eye, she indulges in romantic fantasies until the true nature of his injury—and what’s keeping him alive—is fully revealed.

They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded, by James Alan Gardner (November 6, Tor Books—Paperback)
Hugo and Nebula nominee James Alan Gardner delivers a terrific sequel to last year’s hilarious superhero romp All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. The story is set just days after four college kids led by a woman named Jools gained extra-normal abilities in a world where Darklings—basically, monsters—have suddenly appeared. Jools and her friends are still arguing over what their superhero group’s name should be when they’re tasked with tracking down a doomsday weapon developed by a insane genius—despite the fact that no one’s quite sure what the weapon does. When she meets a group of super-powered Robin Hoods, Joola joins in with the merriment, but soon finds herself questioning the morality of supers in a mundane world.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The fictional universe of The Lord of the Rings got a little bit larger this year, a lasting testament to the power and influence of Tolkien’s epic. But even longtime fans may not be aware of Tolkien’s other works of fiction, many of which eventually folded into aspects of Middle-earth history and mythology—especially because some of it has been out of print for decades. Originally written in 1930 and published in 1945, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is inspired by the Celtic myths and legends Tolkien was working on in his early career. This edition, edited by the author’s son Christopher, includes additional poems and supporting reference material that seeks to place it into context in the elder Tolkien’s career. Now available in paperback, this volume offers a glimpse into the real-world inspirations that Tolkien synthesized into the most famous epic fantasy of all time—the story of a childless lord who makes a tragic deal with a witch in order to secure an heir, and is then forced to make a terrible choice.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Annihilation, by Catherynne M. Valente
Award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente has already wowed us this year with a Space Opera; and now she’s back with another sci-fi adventure, this one a tie-in set in the universe of the Mass Effect video games. The ark ship Keelah Si’yah is headed for the distant Andromeda galaxy with 20,000 colonists onboard, drawn from many worlds and species. Three decades from their destination, a ship’s scan reveals that some of the hibernating passengers have been killed by a pathogen that is loose on the ship—and mutating, putting other species at risk as well. All signs point to an intentional attack, which means whoever is responsible is somewhere onboard. As cincumstances worsen and panic sets in—not all of it triggered by the hallucinogenic efffects of the illness—the crew must race to find the culprit—and a cure—of their colonization mission will be over before it begins.

Static Ruin, by Corey J. White
In the final volume of Corey J. White’s dark space opera novella trilogy, renegade voidwitch Mars Xi decides that the only way to stop them from chasing you is to go back to the beginning. Having killed her former trainer, devastating a space fleet chasing her, and destroying the planet where she was imprisoned, Xi and her few remaining allies—a mutant cat and a boy whose mind is an uncontrollable weapon—must hunt down her “father,” who engineered her to be a killer. The journey will take them to the edge of the universe, and there’s no telling if they’ll make it—or if there’s a chance of return. This is space opera with a wickedly sharp edge.

What are you reading this week?

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