This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Magical Spies, Godhunters, and Ash-Kicking Dragonfighters

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Ash Kickers, by Sean Grigsby
Last year, Sean Grigsby’s debut novel Smoke Eaters totally delivered on a truly brilliant setup: what would it like to be a part of a magically gifted firefighting force battling blazes set by dragons in an alternate modern-day world? The sequel, Ash Kickers, doubles down and raises the stakes. Ex-firefighter Cole Brennigan and his “Smoke Eaters” have managed to protect their city from the circling dragons, placing them under lock and key with the help of newly developed technology courtesy of Canada. Though that’s a good thing for the general population, it’s a bad thing for adrenaline-junkie firefighters like Tamerica Williams, who thrives on the charge she gets from battling dragon-set blazes. Unfortunately when she’s presented with the fresh challenge she’s looking for, it might be more than even she can handle: a phoenix is now swooping over the metropolis, and every time it is eliminated, it just comes back, badder than ever (as phoenixes are wont to do). The fires burn hotter and the action is more furious on our second visit to this unusual urban fantasy universe.

Eye Spy, by Mercedes Lackey 
In the sequel to The Hills Have Spies, a spycrafty extension of Mercedes Lackey’s beloved Valdemar series, the daughter of Heralds Mags and Amily of Valdemar wants nothing more than to follow in her parents’ footsteps. But Abidela doesn’t have a Gift—until she senses a disaster moments before it strikes and saves many lives, including her bestie Princess Katiana. Abi is claimed as an apprentice by both the Artificers and the Healers, and her training reveals heretofore unknown aspects of her power that might make her the most powerful and effective spy the realm has ever known. But with no secret hidden enough to elude her—a fact that carries great consequences both for her and for the entire kingdom of Valdemar.

David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
The gods, called orisha, have fallen to earth, and the city of Lagos is under threat. Demigod David Mogo has long buried his origins, but in order to defend his family and friends from this deific threat, he steps forward to fight and make alliances with both humans and gods, seeking to capture two of the most powerful celestials and deliver them to the wizard Lukmon Ajala. But even a demigod has his work cut out for him when going up against thousands of fallen gods. For David, saving his beloved city and those closest to him will be anything but easy in this unusual urban fantasy debut.

Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Venerable science fiction and fantasy editor Jonathan Strahan’s latest anthology is built around a nail-biting theme: these are SF stories about the fragility of life and the dangers that await us out in the black of space, where only a thin layer of man-made metal protects us from the utter void. When things go wrong and lives are on the line, there are only moments to act—and any mistake will mean the end. Featured authors include Peter F. Hamilton, Yoon Ha Lee, Aliette de Bodard, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Tobias S. Buckell, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Peter Watts, and more.

Age of Legend, by Michael J. Sullivan
The penultimate installment of the Legends of the First Empire saga continues to explore the distant past of the world of Michael J. Sullivan’s beloved Riyria novels. The Fhrey, once worshipped as gods, have proven to be mortal and vulnerable, and the humans are eager to defeat their former masters. Yet on the cusp of victory, a betrayal threatens to destroy everything they’ve fought for, and a final, desperate plan must be launched, hinging upon an old tale of a witch, a story told in song, and a deceptively everyday garden door. This action-filled adventure fantasy series sets the stage for a no-doubt thrilling conclusion in next February’s Age of Death.

Salvation Day, by Kali Wallace
The immense exploration ship House of Wisdom was abandoned by Earth years ago in the wake of the devastation wrought by a deadly virus that killed all but one of the crew on board. The ship sits dark and empty—but Zahra and her people intend to claim it and use it to go home, to their salvation. In order to access the ship, they’ll have to kidnap the lone survivor of the incident in order to use their DNA for access—but that’s the least of their problems. Because House of Wisdom contains something much worse than a virus—something that Zahra and the other are about to awaken. This sci-fi horror thriller looks do outdo the scares of Alien, and comes damn close.

What new sci-fi & fantasy books are on your list this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Magical Spies, Godhunters, and Ash-Kicking Dragonfighters appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

Beneath the Twisted Trees, by Bradley P. Beaulieu (July 2, DAW—Hardcover)
The fourth book in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of Shattered Sands series finds the evil kings in the city of Sharakhai clinging to power and using enslaved souls, plagues, and other dark arts to strike out against their enemies. Across the vast sands, Çeda and her Shieldwives and Blade Maiden sisters struggle to free the cursed king Sehid-Alaz while the kingdoms surrounding the city sense its weakness and gather their forces to take advantage. As everything comes to a boil inside and outside Sharakhai, the age of the Kings may finally be about to end—though probably not without complications, as two books remain in this engrossing series, with worldbuilding that has only grown more detailed.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018, edited by Neil Clarke (July 2, Night Shade Books—Hardcover)
If you’re going to trust one editor to pick the best science fiction and fantasy stories of the year, Neil Clarke is a good bet—in addition to his shepherding of award-winning magazine Clarkesworld, he’d assembled a bookshelf’s worth of fantastic themed and annual anthologies.Here he has collected 29 standouts from 2018 into a must-have book for any serious fan of short SFF. Stories include “Byzantine Empathy” by Ken Liu, “All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong, “Okay, Glory” by Elizabeth Bear, “Different Seas” by Alastair Reynolds, and 25 more stories from the likes of Kelly Robson, Lavie Tidhar, Yoon Ha Lee, and Rich Larson. It’s an essential snapshot of what’s happening in sci-fi and fantasy fiction right now.

Dragonslayer, by Duncan M. Hamilton (July 2, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Here there be dragons: self-publishing success Duncan Hamilton kicks off a new trilogy with Tor Books focused on Guillot “Gill” dal Villerauvais, once a heroic dragonslayer in a French-flavored fantasy world, now a drunken nobleman in a kingdom that hasn’t seen a dragon in decades. When one of the giant beasts suddenly appears, Gill is the only man left with the skills to stand against it—but things aren’t as simple as they seem: a secret order of mages has recruited a new member for nefarious purposes, and even the dragon turns out to have more complex motivations than expected. This is a fun adventure buoyed by strong characters and a flavorful fantasy setting.

Priest of Lies, by Peter McLean (July 2, Ace—Paperback)
Book two of Peter McLean’s The Godfather-esque crime fantasy series War for the Rose Throne finds Tomas Piety, former gangster, royal spy, and priest, flush with new power—and new problems. After returning to find his gang, the Pious Men, displaced by foreign powers in the city of Elinburg, Piety paid a dear price in a power play that left him still standing, but beholden to the Queen’s Men and ensnared in a complex web of political maneuvering, facing down both rival gangs and more ostensibly legitimate powers. The price he’s paid in blood is already steep—and it only gets steeper as this compelling “low fantasy” saga continues.

Crowfall, by Ed McDonald (July 2, Ace—Paperback)
The third book in the Raven’s Mark series finds the Deep Kings close to a final victory, as the Range—the last line of defense between them and the republic—and the Nameless—the gods who have long protected it—are both broken. Without the strength of the Nameless, the Blackwing captains are toppling one after another as the Deep Kings ready one final, decisive blow. Ryhalt Galharrow has been in the wasteland known as the Misery for so long it has become a part of him, and the Blackwing captains line up behind him for one last mission that will decide the fate of the republic for once and for all. McDonald’s talent for creating characters you’ll love and then showing them no mercy has not abated as he brings his trilogy to a rousing close.

The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (July 2, Vintage—Paperback)
The VanderMeers bring to fantasy the same monumental efforts at curation and translation that brought about the massive, absolutely essential 2016 anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction. Fantasy being a much older genre than SF, they’ve been forced to limit the scope to stories written from the early 19th century through World War II, but that still leaves then with enough material to collect a whopping 90 classic tales. Selections range from the familiar (Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” Laughead’s Paul Bunyan stories) to the obscure and newly translated, and everything in-between. Tolkien, Wharton, Cather, Nobokov, Du Bois, and many more names from the world over are featured in a collection that traces the development of an entire genre and places it into glorious context.

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig (July 2, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Chuck Wendig’s newest is grander and more ambitious than anything else he’s written, a massive epic that evokes classic Stephen King in all the best ways. One evening a young girl named Nessie begins sleepwalking. Her sister, Shana, is increasingly alarmed as Nessie doesn’t respond and can’t be awakened, rising inexorably to walk in a specific direction. Shana soon discovers her sibling is but one of the victims of a pandemic sweeping the country. As more and more people begin sleepwalking, and more and more self-appointed “shepherds” like Shana seek to protect their loved ones as they wander, a mysterious government agency tries to discover the meaning behind this strange, shambling apocalypse. As society begins to fray and violent forces seek to put an end to the plague, the novel delves into questions of free will, zealotry, and faith.

Eye Spy, by Mercedes Lackey (July 9, DAW—Hardcover)
In the sequel to The Hills Have Spies, a spycrafty extension of Mercedes Lackey’s beloved Valdemar series, the daughter of Heralds Mags and Amily of Valdemar wants nothing more than to follow in her parents’ footsteps. But Abidela doesn’t have a Gift—until she senses a disaster moments before it strikes and saves many lives, including her bestie Princess Katiana. Abi is claimed as an apprentice by both the Artificers and the Healers, and her training reveals heretofore unknown aspects of her power that might make her the most powerful and effective spy the realm has ever known. But with no secret hidden enough to elude her—a fact that carries great consequences both for her and for the entire kingdom of Valdemar.

David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (July 9, Abaddon—Paperback)
The gods, called orisha, have fallen to earth, and the city of Lagos is under threat. Demigod David Mogo has long buried his origins, but in order to defend his family and friends from this deific threat, he steps forward to fight and make alliances with both humans and gods, seeking to capture two of the most powerful celestials and deliver them to the wizard Lukmon Ajala. But even a demigod has his work cut out for him when going up against thousands of fallen gods. For David, saving his beloved city and those closest to him will be anything but easy in this unusual urban fantasy debut.

Salvation Day, by Kali Wallace (July 9, Berkley—Hardcover)
The immense exploration ship House of Wisdom was abandoned by Earth years ago in the wake of the devastation wrought by a deadly virus that killed all but one of the crew on board. The ship sits dark and empty—but Zahra and her people intend to claim it and use it to go home, to their salvation. In order to access the ship, they’ll have to kidnap the lone survivor of the incident in order to use their DNA for access—but that’s the least of their problems. Because House of Wisdom contains something much worse than a virus—something that Zahra and the other are about to awaken. This sci-fi horror thriller looks do outdo the scares of Alien, and comes damn close.

The Redemption of Time, by Baoshu, translated by Ken Liu (July 16, Tor Books—Hardcover)
What began as a work of quasi-fanfiction is now canon, as Baoshu imagines a new, officially sanctioned story in the universe of Cixin Liu’s sci-fi epic The Remembrance of Earth’s Past (which began with the Hugo-winning The Three-Body Problem). Baoshu’s novel (translated from Chinese into English by the author Ken Liu, a true champion of Chinese SF in translation) considers into the consequences of humanity’s fight against the Trisolarans. Yun Tianming planned to kill himself after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, but instead found himself frozen and captured by the Trisolarans, who tortured him beyond endurance for decades. He eventually helped the aliens conquer humanity in order to save Earth from destruction, and is given a healthy clone body. He lives as a traitor to his own race until his new body also begins to fail. Then, once again, Yun is regenerated, and once again recruited by an alien force to save the universe—except this time, Yun is determined to reclaim control of his destiny.

The Border Keeper, by Kerstin Hall (July 16, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Kerstin Hall’s makes her debut with a short novel that grows ornately from a seemingly straightforward premise: a man named Vasethe arrives at the border between the worlds of the living and the dead and implores the border keeper—who he calls Eris, a name the keeper hoped no one remembered—to guide him to the soul of his departed love. As the guardian leads him through the spirit world, called Mkalis, things shift and shapes change, and the pair travels through a series of disorienting and disturbing realms. As the true nature of Vasethe’s quest is slowly revealed, the ever-shifting border keeper realizes the traveler’s true purpose threatens the very realms she is charged with protecting.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (July 16, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Two of the finest prose stylists in modern fantasy combine their efforts in this poetic, wrenching story of love, war, and time travel. Red and Blue represent rival factions battling for control of the future—Red part of a technologically-advanced, artificially intelligent faction, Blue part of a hyper-evolved biological hive mind. As they fight their war across time and space, they can’t resist disobeying orders in order to taunt and challenge each other via fiendishly hidden letters, encoded into bones and blood and earth. Slowly, their relationship evolves from adversarial into one of grudging respect, then regard—and then love, a love expressed across centuries, one careful message at a time. If their affair is discovered, they both face execution as traitors—but they’re changing each other, and the future is never written in stone.

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter (July 16, Orbit—Hardcover)
Evan Winter’s debut epic fantasy, which became a self-publishing success story before being picked up by Orbit, explores the power of rage in a land defined by war. The Omehi have been fighting for centuries—their whole society is built around it, led by the rare women who can call forth dragons and the rare men who can transform themselves into super soldiers. Tau is neither, which makes him meat for the endless war’s grinder—unless he simply opts out, seeking a convenient injury so he can retire to a farm and a peaceful life. But betrayal decimates his world and kills everyone he loves—and his rage leads him to seek to become the greatest swordsman of his age—the better to help him as he cuts and slashes his way to vengeance. Drawing from African traditions, this is an epic fantasy that does something different while giving you everything you love about the genre.

Unforeseen, by Molly Gloss (July 16, Gallery/Saga Press—Hardcover)
Molly Gloss is rightly lauded for her novels (both mainstream and fantastical), but she’s also made a name for herself with her deft shorter work: stories that combine a literary sensibility with SFF tropes and a deep understanding of what makes us human. Collected here is a career-spanning set of stories, including three appearing in print for the first time—a real treasure for both longtime fans as well as readers discovering the author for the first time (perhaps via Saga Press’s mission to ensure her legacy among genre readers?). Included here are the stories Interlocking Pieces,” which was included in The Norton Book of Science Fiction; “The Grinnell Method,” winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award; and “Lambing Season,” which was a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Howling Dark, by Christopher Ruocchio (July 16, DAW—Hardcover)
The sequel to Christopher Ruocchio’s grandly epic space saga Empire of Silence continues the confession of Hadrian Marlowe, once heir to an empire, later an amnesiac living on the streets of an alien city, and, eventually, the Sun Eater, destroyer of worlds. Hadrian has been seeking the lost planet of Vorgossos and the legendary alien Cielcin, but after decades, the search has gone cold, and he begins to lead a group of mercenaries among the farther suns and the barbarians. When Hadrian seeks peace with the aliens humanity has been battling, he must leave the Sollan Empire’s borders and deal with treachery in order to secure it. If he fails, it could trigger the burning of the universe. With the scope of Dune and a confessional, first-person voice that puts us into the mind of a possible madman, this is space opera at its most riveting and grandiose.

Desdemona and the Deep, by C.S.E. Cooney (July 23, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
This novella from World Fantasy Award-winning author C.S.E. Cooney focuses on Desdemona Mannering, the wealthy and well-intentioned daughter of the mining baron of the town of Seafall. Desdemona lives a happy life and is proud of her ongoing work to bring true social reform to the town, in part to make up for the economic disparity afflicting its residents—but then she discovers the horrifying truth behind her father’s wealth, and the horrific tithes he offers to the Goblin King in return. Desdemona sets off with her best friend Chaz to rescue the men her father has endangered—and contemplates striking her own bargain with the Goblin King, one that may doom her for her good intentions. Cooney is an award-winning poet in addition to writing stories, and her prose positively sings.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (July 23, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Infused with and inspired by Mexican folk stories, the latest novel from the author of Certain Dark Things is a Mexican folklore-inspired epic that tells the story of young Casiopea Tun, who slaves away keeping her wealthy grandfather’s house until she stumbles on a mysterious wooden box. When she opens it, she releases the Mayan god of death—a curiously charming entity who asks Casiopea to help him regain his throne from his treacherous brother. Casiopea knows the risk—failure means her death—but the rewards are too tempting to pass up. Accompanying the charismatic god to the Mayan underworld and beyond, Casiopea is determined to have a life that goes far beyond the small Mexican town she was born in, even if it costs her everything.

Jade War, by Fonda Lee (July 23, Orbit—Hardcover)
The second book in Lee’s Nebula-nominated, World Fantasy Award-winning Green Bone Saga (following Jade City) continues the story of the Kaul family’s struggle for dominance over the island of Kekon and its capital city in an alternate world that draws from a myriad of Asian history, legends, and traditions but mixes in plenty of fantastic invention. The clan has its work cut out for them as they struggle against the rival No Peak clan and an array of other external and internal threats from the many forces that covet the invaluable jade the island produces, and which imbues the Green Bone warriors with supernatural abilities. In the face of their enemies, the Kaul family will trade away everything, including their honor, to ensure their survival. Lee’s epic twist on the mob drama is addictive.

Becoming Superman, by J. Michael Straczynski (July 23, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
J. Michael Straczynski is a legend among geeks—and one of the most successful genre writers of modern times, working in film, comics, and television. Until now, his life has been a mystery, but this incredible memoir details the dark truths behind his embrace of sci-fi, fantasy, and comics. Raised by a Nazi-loving alcoholic father, a clinically depressed mother, and a savage pair of grandparents, he faced a harrowing, abusive childhood that he might never have escaped were it not for the escape he found in comics—especially Superman. Inspired by heroes and those who brought then to life, Straczynski grabbed onto writing like a drowning man and made a future of it. His true life story turns out to be as gripping and inspiring as any of his fiction.

The Last Astronaut, by David Wellington (July 23, Orbit—Paperback)
In 2034, a manned mission to Mars ends in a disaster so complete, NASA itself shuts down, and the lone survivor, Commander Sally Jansen, goes into retired exile. Two decades later, an object detected in the depths of space changes course and heads directly for Earth orbit, ignoring all attempts to make contact. The remnants of NASA are called back into service—including a reluctant, still-haunted Jansen, who agrees to take charge solely because she’s literally the only person qualified to do so. What Jansen and the crew she assembles discover when they head out to rendezvous with the object is terrifying—and changes the mission goal to simple survival. This is sci-fi horror at its most terrifying—if only because the science behind it is grounded and all-too-possible.

Magic: The Gathering—Rise of the Gatewatch, A Visual History, by Wizards of the Coast (July 23, Abrams—Hardcover)
Magic: The Gathering is an interesting fantasy franchise: both a complex game and an epic set of stories set in a multiverse of detailed, richly-imagined worlds. The planeswalkers are powerful beings who have sworn to defend the multiverse, and the history of the first of these is celebrated in this gorgeous book. Collecting art from the cards—including original versions extending beyond the frame—packaging, and from exclusive convention displays, the history of the planeswalkers is explored in intricate detail. From their origins in the mists of time, to their fabled confrontation with the elder dragon and planeswalker Nicol Bolas, it’s a story that rivals any epic fantasy in any format.

Thrawn: Treason (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Timothy Zahn (July 23, Del Rey—Paperback)
Timothy Zahn continues the story of one of the wider Star Wars saga’s most popular characters—one he created nearly 30 years ago—with the third volume of a trilogy that began with 2017’s Thrawn. For years, Thrawn has served as one of the Emperor’s most deadly weapons, but as Palpatine’s attention shifts to the Death Star project and destruction on a far grander scale, the Grand Admiral finds himself defending his place in the Imperial pecking order—but an envoy from his past suddenly appears with a warning of a threat against Thrawn’s homeworld, information that will force him to choose between his people and the powerful Empire he has sworn his allegiance to. It’s a delight to see Zahn playing around again with the character who made us believe in Star Wars again, all those years ago. The Barnes & Noble edition includes an exclusive pull-out poster.

The Toynbee Convector, by Ray Bradbury (July 30, Simon and Schuster—Hardcover)
Ray Bradbury is one of our most celebrated writers of the fantastic, but most of the attention seems to focus on his early, and groundbreaking, additions to literary history. It’s about time his later stories got some attention, and this reissue should place 22 of them back at the top of TBR lists everywhere. Originally published in 1988 and long unavailable, this collection brings together the best of latter-era Bradbury, including the title story, in which an inventor of a time machine counts down the days to when his past and future will collide. In “On the Orient, North,” a ghost fights off the final end by spinning stories that sustain it, while “West of October” is the story of a woman with the power to send the souls of her family into different bodies, with extremely unlikely consequences. Masterful stuff from a master who remained one up until the end.

Dark Age, by Pierce Brown (July 30, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The fifth entry in Pierce Brown’s bestselling epic space opera Red Rising series is as complex and violent as the previous four. Darrow—once a lowly Red in a galaxy stratified by color, and then the breaker of chains and hero of the revolution that destroyed an empire—is again an enemy of the republic, but continues his lonely war with the forces he has left. The heir to the lost throne returns to the core of the system to try and rally the untrustworthy Golds to the cause of restoration, and the leader of the Republic, Mustang, struggles against an array of enemies both hidden and overt. Brown’s universe has all the gravitas and blood-soaked politics of Ancient Rome—and the far-future solar system could be heading toward a similar fall.

The Hound of Justice, by Claire O’Dell (July 30, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Claire O’Dell ‛s queer reinvention of the Holmes/Watson dynamic continues as surgeon Watson, who lost an arm treating wounded soldiers in a conflict that occurred before the start of A Study in Honor, struggles to work with a prosthetic arm in a future United States split by a second Civil War. When a terrorist attack sees Watson treating the wounded while FBI agent Sara Holmes investigates how the attack was pulled off, the pair once again find themselves working together—and then going undercover, directly into the racist heart of the secessionist-held territories. Grim yet hopeful, this is much more than a homage—though its gripping mystery is certainly worthy of Doyle, it’s a story that gets to the heart of what America is, and what it could be.

The Ascent to Godhood, by JY Yang (July 30, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
JY Yang reveals new facets of the world of the Tensorate with the fourth novella in their Hugo and Nebula award-nominated series. The story, which both stands alone and sheds new light on the backstory of the earlier books, unfolds as a confessional: Lady Han’s faction, the magic-fearing Machinists, has successfully staged a coup, assassinating the kingdom’s cruel Protector, and she’s drunk and baring her soul to an unspecified listener. She tells of a difficult childhood—at age 12, she was sold by her poor, commoner family to a man who gave her a new name and sent her to the capital for training as a courtesan. Her abilities and ambition draw the attention of Hekate, an unlikely successor to the throne, who pulls her into a political scheme against a rival, and gives her yet another name: Lady Han. Lady Han and Hekate develop a difficult bond, somewhere between duty, obligation, and love—made more fraught when the latter ascends to the throne.

What new SFF books are you going to pick up this month?

The post The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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Happy Birthday, Mercedes Lackey: An Ode to Valdemar, and the Books That Changed My Life

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Yesterday was the 69th birthday of author Mercedes Lackey, a woman whose work literally changed my life. I want to tell you why. It is a story touched by tragedy, but with a silver lining of hope.

I first wrote a version of this essay back in 2014, in response to the civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, but the events of the intervening years—the Pulse nightclub massacre, countless school shootings, and everything else that’s happening every day in our crazy world, too connected world—have robbed it of none of its relevance. And despite the sad occasions that prompted me to write this in the first place, I’m delighted to revive it in honor of Mercedes Lackey on her 69th birthday. Valdemar has held such a special place in my heart for so long. In building a world in words and pictures, Mercedes and her partner Larry Dixon gave me, and countless readers the world over, a beautiful and timeless gift.

I was born in Florida and raised in a small town in South Carolina. I went to a primarily white private school. My parents are hard-working, blue collar folks who felt that making sure their child had a good education was paramount. Back then, I was a poor white kid going to school with a lot of rich white kids. I didn’t know many people of color, and I didn’t know anyone who was openly gay, or otherwise different from the homogeneous group of people I knew. Those who were different—like me—were bullied because we made good grades or read “weird” books or doodled dragons and gryphons on our notebooks.

Back then, I was always extremely excited to receive the school’s book club catalogue. When I was 14, one particular book in that catalogue had a cover that caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for when I placed an order for a three-book set, sold all together. What I saw was a nice looking guy and a pretty white horse. What I bought was Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price: The Last Herald-Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, set in the world of Valdemar. What I read in those pages forever changed my life.

These were the first fantasy novels that really stuck with me. For first time I read stories about someone who was very different from me, but had problems I could relate to on some level. Vanyel, the protagonist, is very young but has already realized he’s different from other men. He is bullied for loving music and not wanting to practice fighting. His father never truly bonds with him because they don’t understand each other. Vanyel is sent away to school, and that’s where he discovers he’s shay’a’chern, or a homosexual.

As I said, I did not know any openly gay people at that point in my life. I think I barely knew what “gay” meant, outside of a few hushed discussions in health class, other than that it was an insult slung at kids who were different in any way. With no queer peers, there was no real way for me to know what it meant to be gay. This trilogy did that. It opened my eyes to a whole new world, and not just in a fantasy sense. Particularly in the time when they were written, Lackey’s use fantasy terminology helped readers get past emotionally charged words like “gay” and “lesbian” and “homosexual” to get straight to the heart of the matter, which is to show us a person who is different from many in his world, and to illustrate the very real emotional struggles that result from that.

In school, I was bullied for being different. I was called a “lesbian” by my classmates, though I’m not one. Very few people reached out to me to find out who I really was as a person. Vanyel struggles with life or death situations with people he loves, as well as the internal struggle we all face when trying to figure ourselves out. I could put myself in his shoes and see what it was like, at least a little bit, to be gay. And I could see that compassion for other human beings, regardless of who they love, is how we survive in this world. I could also see that being bullied is a survivable situation, and that I can be strong and cherished and successful, regardless of what people said about me. After high school graduation, I did the one thing my parents had hoped for: I received a scholarship to a small public college that was vibrant with diversity and has a strong liberal arts program (I majored in English). Getting that scholarship was the only way we could afford college. Vanyel helped me believe I deserved it.

When I moved to New York, I started working at a prominent publisher of sci-fi and fantasy, and I met an avid reader of the Lackeys’ books at New York Comic-Con. We became fast friends, and shortly after, he came out to me and a mutual friend. We were among the first people he had come out to in the city, and he had only just prior to that come out to his family. He was in his early 30s and had never revealed his sexuality to anyone before then. He spent his entire life up to that point hiding his true self because he was afraid of judgement, afraid of what his church would say, and afraid of how his family would react. Shortly thereafter, I gave him the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, partly because I knew he could identify so strongly with Vanyel, and partly because I wanted him to understand that I could be empathetic to his situation. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t going to judge him, and that I fully accepted him for who he is, no matter what. I wanted him to know that he deserved the same happiness as all of the other human beings on this planet. Today, he remains one of the brightest lights in my life, and one of the happiest people I know. I have never met someone who has struggled so much and still ended up such an optimist.

Science fiction allows us to imagine possible futures. It gives us hope we might have a future, despite the fact that sometimes our species can be so full of darkness. Fantasy allows us to understand the world through the eyes of people who are very different from us: a different race, sex, orientation, or even species. And all of this, to me at least, is why fantasy and science fiction matter. So, for Mercedes Lackey’s birthday, I invite you to remember a science fiction or fantasy novel that helped open your mind, and I want you to donate it to a library in a struggling community. I think we can all make a difference in the world one book at a time, just as Vanyel and the wider world of Valdemar did for me.

What SFF book changed your life?

The post Happy Birthday, Mercedes Lackey: An Ode to Valdemar, and the Books That Changed My Life appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Prison Planets, Mechanical Animals, and Stories from a Black Future

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Rowankind, by Jacey Bedford
In an alternate 1802, privateer and witch Ross Tremayne is tasked by the seven lords of the Fae with confronting the mad King George III, who might not be quite as mad as he appears. Meanwhile, her reformed pirate crew is having trouble going straight, magical creatures are running amok, and Ross’s partner—a feral wolf shapechanger—isn’t quite ready to face up to his responsibilities. Bedford’s Rowankind series is a fun dive into a weird and compelling alt-history—with added swashbuckling, sorcery, ghosts, and shape-shifters.

Mechanical Animals: Tales at the Crux of Creatures and Tech, edited by Lauren Beukes and Selena Chambers
Animals often show up in literature as a means of exploring humanity, allowing us to compare and contrast ourselves with creatures that share the planet with us, yet are so different as to be almost alien. So too will it be, speculate the contributors to this anthology, with machines and automata made in the form of living beings. Editors Lauren Beukes and Selena Chambers bring together 15 new stories exploring biomimicry—the design of machines that mimic the animal world—from the likes of Carrie Vaughn, Kat Howard, Aliette de Bodard, Nick Mamatas, and more, alongside essays from real-world design experts.

Bright Light: Star Carrier: Book Eight, by Ian Douglas 
Ian Douglas delivers the exciting eighth installment of the Star Carrier series. Trevor Gray has been stripped of his command—beached. As humanity faced certain defeat against an invading alien force with technology and firepower superior to anything Earth can summon, Gray threw in his lot with the artificial intelligence known as Konstantin—but the gamble didn’t pay off, and now he’s become a bystander to humanity’s last stand. At least until the second part of Konstantin’s plan kicks in, and Gray suddenly finds himself tapped to travel to the distant star Deneb, where he’ll use the use the advanced AI Bright Light’s help to contact another alien race—and perhaps find a way to stave off disaster for the human race.

Abandoned, by W. Michael Gear
Gear is an an anthropologist and archaeologist who has published more than 50 books, many co-authored by his wife. The second book in the horror/military SF Donovan series picks up where Outpost left off;. On the beautiful, resource-rich, and extremely deadly planet Donovan, Supervisor Kalico Aguila has founded a new colony called Corporate Mine, where she and her people mine for minerals and precious metals. Another group of settlers have somehow managed to survive Donovan’s unfriendly lifeforms at an old, abandoned base, and live in fear of being discovered by the corporate forces that seek to extract Donovan’s riches, no matter the human cost. Gear explores the inner workings of a group of very human characters trying to survive the deadly perils of an alien planet—and the deadly perils of their fellow humans—and reveals more tantalizing secrets of the strange planet and its stranger indigenous lifeforms.

How Long ‛til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin solidified her place as one of the most important SFF writers of the 21st century with her third consecutive Hugo win for The Stone Sky earlier this year. With her next novel still a year away, it’s a perfect time to explore the true breadth of her talent, which comes through to grand effect in her first collection of short fiction. The highlight is the Hugo-nominated ‛The City Born Great,” the biography of a living city and the basis for the aforementioned next book, but there is much more to savor in these 22 tales. Jemisin is an essential voice in modern-day SFF; she writes both as a fan—her story “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” for example, was penned as a direct response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”—and for fans—there’s a new story here set within the universe of the Broken Earth trilogy. Essential.

Infernal Machines, by John Hornor Jacobs 
John Hornor Jacobs delivers the third and concluding book in his Incorruptibles trilogy, an under-the-radar gem that deserves discovery by many more readers. Shoe and Fisk, mercenaries in a world that combines fantasy, ancient Rome, and the Wild West, find themselves dealing with an emperor sliding into insanity; an invasion by an overwhelming enemy force; and Livia Cornelius, highborn lady of Rume and mother of Fisk’s child—who he has never seen. Fisk is determined to find his way to them, even if it means crossing battlefields and front lines. We’re mystified as to why these books haven’t caught on—Chuck Wendig brilliant billed them as The Lord of the Rings meets The Gunslinger, a description as accurate as it is irresistible—but hopefully that will change now that you can binge them all, one after another.

Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher
Making a new start in the world of T. Kingfisher’s (aka Ursula Vernon) Clockwork Boys series, Swordheart follows Halla, a housekeeper who inherits the estate of her great-uncle, and all that goes along with it, including a trapped immortal swordsman. Halla frees him by removing the sword that cursed him, putting him in her debt and setting him against all enemies, including her own in-laws. The real threat, though, comes from the very sword that freed him.

Choices: All New Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey
Here is another collection (the twelfth!) of stories set in the long-enduring fantasy kingdom of Valdemar. The greatest thing about this anthology series—aside from the chance to revisit a beloved imagined world—is that Lackey is more than willing to open her doors to new, up-and-coming writers whose names might not be familiar, but whose love for Lackey’s creation is splashed across every page. This volume includes 23 new tales.

The Razor, by J. Barton Mitchell
Who doesn’t love a good prison planet? In Mitchell’s fourth novel, engineer Marcus Flynn certainly doesn’t. He’s framed for murder and sentenced to live out his days on the Razor, a max-sec prison planet. Marcus’ first days in the place are bad enough, but when the planet suddenly experiences a catastrophic event that drives all the guards and personnel to flee, things go extremely sideways and he finds himself trapped with the worst of the worst on a dying world. Marcus is offered a way out, but it means taking part in a deadly mission to retrieve valuable data from a quarantined research lab. He pulls together a team of allies from among the inmates and dives into a boiling maelstrom of vicious killers and unfriendly aliens, and slowly begins to realize there may be more behind his trip to the Razor than he realized.

The Eternity War: Exodus, by Jamie Sawyer
Sawyer delivers the second book in his Eternity War series, picking up the story of Lieutenant Keira Jenkins and her crew of Jackals—a group of Simulant Operations Programme soldiers who were raw, green recruits at the start of the first book, and are only a bit less so now. They’ve survived a run-in with the terrorist network known as the Black Spiral, a circumstance complicated by an unexpected betrayal. But survive they did, and now they’re drifting in space, their ship damaged. As they fall into the clutches of the Asiatic Directorate, any hope of getting back to Alliance-controlled space seems to vanish, especially because Jenkins has a history with the Directorate—and it’s not a happy one. Sawyer is known for writing fast-paced, action-forward novels with characters compelling enough to keep you gobbling up one book after another. Two books in, we can say with confidence that The Eternity War series is right in his wheelhouse.

What new SFF is on your list this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Prison Planets, Mechanical Animals, and Stories from a Black Future appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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