Tomorrow’s Possible History Unfolds in A People’s Future of the United States

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

As anthologies go, A People’s Future of the United States packs a lot of literary power into its pages. It features 25 stories by some of the most acclaimed working writers of speculative fiction—award-winning bestsellers like N.K. Jemisin, Daniel José Older, Charlie Jane Anders, Tobias S. Buckell, Catherynne M. Valente, and Seanan McGuire. he behind the scenes talent is equally peerless: editing duties are credited to Victor LaValle (author of The Ballad of Black Tom and The Changeling) and John Joseph Adams (the mind behind the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology series, as well the periodicals Nightmare and Lightspeed).

The authors were asked to contribute stories that “explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice” and “give us new futures to believe in.” (Said stories were also requested to be, and again I quote, “badass.”)

I am here to tell you that A People’s Future of the United States delivers on all counts, serving up a wide and varied selection of stories that are sometimes hopeful, occasionally cautionary, and often flat-out terrifying.

Like everything else, speculative fiction is shaped by the world and politics of its time. This anthology wears those influence like a badge of honor, treating in stories that deal with the social and political issues and tangible threats that define the present day: racism, climate change, government oppression, fake news, anti-science antagonism, efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights, and the everlasting war over a woman’s right to control her own body.

If all of that sounds a bit on the nose, politically, you’re absolutely right. But the stories in this collection can’t be brushed off as angry screeds or simplistic manifestos. These are what-if? tales filled with provocative ideas and complex characters, and each one burns with both purpose and imagination.

As much as this is an anthology about the future, the fictions here often feel disconcertingly close to our present. In G. Willow Wilson’s “ROME,” a group of students desperately try to finish their mandated language exams in a Seattle threatened by heat and wildfires. In A. Merc Rustad’s “Our Aim Is Not to Die,” constant government surveillance through our communication devices has become a tool of oppression, tailored to identify and punish those who are non-neurotypical or queer, or who otherwise deviate from the mandated “norm.” And in Violet Allen’s chilling “The Synapse Will Free Us From Ourselves,” virtual reality and the erasure of memories are tools used to “cure” those with “undesirable” sexual identities.

Similarly, considering the headlines darkening our everyday, the detention camps for Muslims described in Omar El Akkad’s story “Riverbed” and Justina Ireland’s vision of a society where contraceptives and abortion have been outlawed in the story “Calendar Girls” seem frighteningly possible.

True to its stated purpose, the anthology also offers hope—in each story, we encounter people who resist the corrupt powers that be in any way they can. In Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “The Referendum,” an underground Black Resistance strikes back against an America where the Civil Rights Act has been overturned and the country is voting on whether to reinstate slavery. The kickass mother-daughter team of Lottie and Nayima, featured in Tananrive Due’s “Attachment Disorder,” fight tooth and nail to hold on to whatever shreds of freedom they have attained. A scientist does her utmost to prevent her bio-engineering research from being used by the government in Daniel José Older’s “What Maya Found There.” And there’s the quieter resistance of Molly, who runs a bookstore that straddles the border between California and America—two separate government teetering on the edge of war—in Charlie Jane Anders’s “The Bookstore at the End of America.”

While most of these tales lean toward science fiction, fantasy and magic also come into play. In Maria Dahvana Headley’s profoundly moving and unsettling “Read After Burning,” the power of stories—of words written in ink on skin—literally fuels the resistance. In Lizz Huerta’s “The Wall,” ancient powers have awakened south of the new border-wall between Mexico and the US, and those fighting oppression wield both old magic and new technology.

There are stories imbued with a wicked sense of humor. In N.K. Jemisin’s “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death,” dragons, developed as a weapon by the government, are brought over to the side of the rebels, who offer them something tastier than human flesh to eat. In Catherynne M. Valente’s fabulous “The Sun in Exile,” a brutal and deluded ruler puts the sun itself on trial for its crimes. And in the time-looping “Now Wait for This Week,” Alice Sola Kim brilliantly, hilariously captures the intricacies of friendship and the despair of being caught out in a world where sexual harassment and assault trade off in a seemingly never-ending cycle.

There are no easily attainable Utopias on offer in A People’s Future of the United States, but we catch tantalizing glimpses of possible better tomorrows. The clearest example might be in Seanan McGuire’s “Harmony,” in which a gay couple unexpectedly stumbles upon a place where they believe they can build a better future for themselves and others. It’s a lovely, sharp-edged consideration of a new kind of American dream, and it glows with a sense of cautious, creative optimism.

The anthology’s title hearkens back to the A People’s History of the United States, a non-fiction tome written by the late Howard Zinn and first published in 1980. In that book, Zinn offers a rebuttal to the widely accepted version of American history—to what he called the “fundamental nationalist glorification of country.” That same spirit is very much present in the stories collected here, which focus on the struggles and triumphs of everyday people, the dispossessed and the oppressed, as they find ways to undermine the system and fight for a better world.

A People’s Future of the United States is a memorable and thought-provoking. Its writers paint vivid, often frightening visions of the futures we might be hurtling toward, and give us hope that the worst of them can be resisted, or at the very least, survived. To quote Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Read After Burning”: “This story is the prayer, or one of them. This story says you can live through anything and that when it is time to go, when the entire world goes dark, then you go together, holding on to one another’s hands, and you whisper the memory of birds and bees and the names of those you loved.”

A People’s Future of the United States is available now.

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books with a Powerful Message of Social Justice

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

From The Time Machine to Kirk and Uhura‘s unprecedented kiss, speculative fiction has long concerned itself with breaking barriers and exploring issues of race, inequality, and injustice. The fantastical elements of genre, from alien beings to magical ones, allow writers to confront controversial issues in metaphor, granting them a subversive power that often goes unheralded.

On this, the day we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., let us consider novels that incorporate themes of social justice into stories that still deliver the goods—compelling plots, characters you’ll fall in love with, ideas that will expand your mind.

The Patternist series, by Octavia Butler (Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, The Patternmaster)
Most of Octavia Butler’s books could probably find a place on this list. Arguably the most prominent, most widely-read African-American sci-fi writer, themes of race and power recur throughout her novels, including her breakout work, 1979’s Kindred, which saw a young black girl travel back in time to the darkest days of American slavery, a witness to how much had changed, and how much hadn’t. We’d also highlight the four-book Patternist series, published between 1977 and 1984, which sketches out an alternate history stretching back to ancient Egypt, exploring efforts by an immortal alien being to create a new race of humanity through selective breeding. Wild Seed in particular uses abduction as a metaphor for slavery, as the telepathic, undying mutant coerces a West-African woman (herself an immortal gifted with seemingly supernatural abilities) and brings her to the U.S. in the 1700s.

Iron Council, by China Miéville
Miéville is a member of the International Socialist Organization and wrote his doctoral thesis on Marxism, so it’s no surprise that his sci-fi and fantasy novels, in addition to being deeply weird and incredibly imaginative, tackle questions of  economic and social inequality and speaking truth to power. This is most evident is his celebrated Bas Lag trilogy, particularly Iron Council, about a group of revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the corrupt powers that control and oppress the citizens of the twisted city of New Crobuzon. Though his work has been lambasted by some for being too overtly political, its narrative drive and potent imagery make it as unforgettable as literature as it is provoking as argument.

Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
This coming-of-age novel by Jamaican-Canadian writer Hopkinson was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. Written entirely in Caribbean patois, it tells the story of a Tan-Tan, a young girl living on a colony planet where there is a great economic divide, the lower class is under constant surveillance, and crimes are met with banishment to an alien world called New Half Way Tree. After her father commits an unforgivable offense, he flees with Tan-Tan to New Half Way Tree, where she must eventually learn to forge her own identity among the indigenous alien population while struggling to come to terms with sexual abuse. The core of the novel considers the ways marginalized individuals must act out to escape from cultural oppression.

The Imperial Radch Trilogy, by Ann Leckie (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy)
A common way science fiction addresses contemporary social issues is, of course, to shift the lens to focus on a speculative subject that has both nothing and everything to do with today. Ann Leckie’s celebrated space opera/military SF trilogy, beginning with the Hugo Award-winning Ancillary Justice, picks a few good ones. Most obviously, the rights of artificially intelligent spaceships to self-determination, but also, the efforts, both deliberate and accidental, of dominant societies to erase the cultural values of those people it has dominated, whether economically or with military might, and the rights of those people to choose to exist with autonomy within those colonizing societies, or to be forced to conform and serve it (quite literally, in this case, in the form of zombified, mind-wiped soldier bodies). Yes, yes, there are lots of awesome chase sequences and space battles as well (and tea…so much tea), but, well, sometimes a sentient starship is more than just a sentient starship.

The Bartimeaus Sequence (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, The Ring of Solomon), by Jonathan Stroud
Though ostensibly a middle grade series for readers looking for their next magical fin after finishing Harry Potter, Stroud’s Bartimeaus series (a trilogy and a prequel) hides powerful, deeply progressive messages about colonialism, civil rights, and inequality within a thrilling, cheekily humorous adventure story. As the first book opens, the title character, a 5,000-year-old immortal djinni, is bound by magic to serve the whims of 12-year-old Nathaniel, the generally good-hearted apprentice to a middling magician. With the unwilling help of the supernatural being, who will suffer terrible pain if he refuses the boy’s commands, Nathaniel uncovers a plot to overthrow London’s ruling sorcerer class. But by the second book, Nathaniel has become a part of the machine himself, and the focus shifts to a group of young people fighting against the entrenched powers that be. As a whole, the series is as much about prejudice, injustice, and the fight for equality—sorcerers aren’t inherently powerful; they just have the money required to purchase magical equipment, artifacts, and education—as it inventive battle sequences between supernatural beings.

The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
This slender novelette crams in an enormous amount of real and alternate history worldbuilding in telling the story of downtrodden creatures—laborwomen, a circus elephant—fighting back against the capitalist systems that view them as less valuable than the fruits of their labor. Marrying the real injustices heaped upon both the “Radium Girls” who developed horrific cancers after being knowingly exposed to dangerous radiation in their jobs painting glowing watch dials, and the “troublesome” elephant named Topsy, publicly executed as a spectacle, the story explores an unlikely cross-species sisterhood that arises to combat an unjust system.

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon
The remarkable debut novel by Rivers Solomon, extrapolates our history of prejudice and division into a future context, as the last remnants of humanity flee a ruined Earth onboard the generation ship Matilda. Three hundred years out, society on the ship has come to resemble a pre-Civil Rights era America (and, more than a little, the America of 2017) as a white supremecist ruling class controls the ship on the back of slave labor by its darker-skinned passengers. Aster is a motherless child aboard the ship Matilda, on which lowdeckers like her work on vast rotating plantations under the weak light of Baby, their engineered nuclear sun, living lives of trauma and subject to the cruel vagaries of upper deck guards. We meet Aster as she fights to save a child’s life. omeone—probably the Sovereign, their god-benighted ruler—has cut the heat to the lower decks, and the child has something like trench foot, the limb frozen and rotting. Aster is apprentice to the Surgeon General Theo Smith, despite her low status, and is learned in the skills of medicine. When she is called by the Surgeon Theo for help to save the poisoned Sovereign, Aster is righteously defiant.She hates the Sovereign, as all the lowdeckers do—he is the exultant face of their oppression. As one ruler falls and the next is enshrined, the equilibrium of Aster and Theo’s lives, and the lives of all Matilda’s lower decks, are are violently upset, as the spectre of civil war appears on the artificial horizon.

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
Like the Bartimeaus series, Zen Cho’s debut novel (which receives a sequel, The True Queen, in a few months) uses comforting tropes of magic and romance to hide the bitter pill of her narrative, which is really all about racism, gender politics, and the fear of the other. In a version of Regency Britain ruled by a council of sorcerers, Zacharias Wythe has been named the next Sorcerer Royal—but not without controversy. Though he is the greatest magician of his generation, he is also dark-skinned and a former slave, and more than a few bigoted magicians have blamed the recent troubles on his rise to power. Facing internal opposition at every turn, Zacharias attempts to solve the mystery of why England’s stores of magic are drying up, enlisting the help of half-black girl who cleans the rooms at a magic school for young noblewomen (this being the Regency era, the school teaches women to suppress their magical talents rather than hone them), yet may be more magically gifted than any of them. In addition to being a delightful romance and an intriguing mystery, Cho’s novel explores the fight for racial and gender equality in a class-conscious society that is both at a few centuries remove, and not all that different from our current reality.

The Binti Trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor’s recent, Hugo-winning Binti Trilogy fits nicely here; the protagonist is a woman from a marginalized human tribe who is the first of her people to be offered a chance to study at a the galaxy’s most elite university, but doing so will require her to give up her identity—but it is ultimately that uniqueness that will help her to save her own life and form new bonds of understanding across a vast cultural divide. But if you can stomach something unremittingly darker, the World Fantasy Award-winner Who Fears Death also applies. Set in a post-apocalyptic future Sudan where a light-skinned race oppresses a darker-skinned one, a girl of both societies, born out of violence and gifted with magical abilities, sets off to murder her father. Incorporating scenes of barbaric female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of control, it is a harrowing, angry novel about a woman who refuses to be a victim.

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The fight for social justice is one that is as much about economic inequality as it is about racial inequality. LeGuin’s landmark dual Hugo and Nebula winner slots into the former category, considering the relationship between two disparate, symbiotic planets, one that embodies logical ends of extreme capitalism, and one that operates by spare, socialist ideals. The novel’s subtitle is “An Ambiguous Utopia,” and it is tough to figure out where that perfect society exists within it, or if it is possible for one to truly exist anywhere (even in fiction).

The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick
This is the refugee immigrant narrative writ large: after one of their own commits a crime of passion, a family is banished from their homeworld through a mysterious interdimensional gate and finds itself in the contemporary U.S., where they must learn to shed their cultural identities or risk ostracization, imprisonment, or even death. Haunted by the past (literally), they must learn to forge a new future without losing all of themselves. Palwick’s commentary on the U.S. immigration debate (still relevant even a decade after it was first published) is not exactly subtle, but it never overwhelms what is, in the end, a heartbreaking, human story.

Return to Nevèrÿon series, by Samuel R. Delany (Tales of Nevèrÿon, Neveryóna, Flight from Nevèrÿon, Return to Nevèrÿon)
Openly gay, African-American Delany has long been counted among sci-fi and fantasy’s most progressive, provocative writers. Though best known for the dense, difficult Dhalgren, this fantasy series, published between 1979 and 1987, deserves equal consideration for the way it works to undermine deeply entrenched cultural narratives. Ostensibly a series of barbarian stories in the sword-and-sorcery tradition, it flips around the narrative to place power in the hands of a dark-skinned civilization that enslaves a pale-skinned one. Within this environment, Delany explores such then-controversial issues as homosexuality and the AIDS crisis.

The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky)
Jemisin’s three-time Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy is a ragged scream of rage at the injustice that racism and inequality brings. In the opening chapter, a man uses magic to break the world because the world has shown him it has no cause to treat him like a human. A woman cradles the broken body of her son, murdered because of what he is, and what he represents, rather than anything he did. A government treats immensely powerful but subjugated magic users, who have the innate power to move the earth, as animals, little better than tools, breaking their will and their bones in order to keep them compliant and ensure the continuity of the society that oppresses them. That some of these people, so-abused, choose to destroy everything in their anger, perhaps we can forgive them for lashing out. That some of them still see beauty in the broken earth speaks to their humanity more than anything else. Across three novels, Jemisin makes you understand what might drive someone to shatter the world rather than continue to live within an unjust system (“No voting on who gets to be people.”), and keeps the hope alive that something better might rise of the rubble.

Octavia’s Brood, edited by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown
This powerful collection of “visionary fiction” (a term meant to represent sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, and horror) was inspired by the work of Octavia Butler, and seeks to explore the connection between fantastical writing and real-world movements for social change. In these stories, unnatural occurrences reflect social ills and injustice, as in “The River,” by the collection’s co-editor Adrienne Marie Brown, in which the Detroit River comes to embody the violence of gentrification and displacement that has been visited upon the residents of the city. Including essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, a roster of exciting new writers, and a few familiar names (including LeVar Burton and Terry Bisson), this is a vital, visceral, and essential collection.

What work of science fiction or fantasy changed the way you view the world? 

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The Strata of a Writer: N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

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N.K. Jemisin has had a helluva year. In August, she became the first novelist to pick up three Hugo awards for best novel in a row—all three for the books of the Broken Earth trilogy. She also took home a Nebula award for the final novel of the series, The Stone Sky. These feats put her both in the vaunted company of such luminaries as Asimov, Herbert, Gaiman, and Le Guin, and in her own league entirely. On the heels of all that awards recognition arrives Jemisin’s first collection of short stories, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? assembling 22 of her short fictions, spanning the years from 2004 to 2017. It is a glimpse of the work that made her the writer she is today, and a promise of all the stories she has yet to tell.

Though there are a few newly published entries—“Cuisine des Mémoires,” which, like another story included here, “L’Alchemista,” focuses on the cultural power of food—most of these tales were previously published, and intheir collected form, they constitute a practice and engagement with science fiction over the course of Jemisin’s career, from the very first story she published, to brief sojourns to worlds she would return to in longer form, to responses to other writers’ works.

Many of these stories were written before she became a published novelist (with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, in 2010) as a sort of proof of concept exercise; as such, they provide an early glimpse of worlds as they formed. “The Narcomancer” takes place in something like the world of the Dreamblood duology, beautiful and veined with tragedy. “Stone Hunger” is an early take on the world that came into season in the Broken Earth trilogy. (In her forward, she notes that she plays with the concept of genii locorum—“places with minds of their own”—in several of these short fictions, an idea that is operative throughout Broken Earth.) “The Trojan Girl”, a cyberpunk story about the quest for freedom, was a test case for a novel that never came to be; instead, it finishes up in “The Valedictorian,” a story about the dangers of excellence. The Hugo Award-nominated “The City Born Great” is another nascent work: Jemisin is currently expanding it to novel length, with publication expected next year.

Several stories are explicit reactions to works by other science fiction writers. “Walking Awake,” about a woman who manages the people who will become host bodies to aliens, responds to Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters. Never having read The Puppet Masters, I don’t understand the intertext, but the story works on its own terms. I was on steadier ground with “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” which opens the collection, and is in conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin’s heavily anthologized “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” The ventriloquism and then subversion of Le Guin’s writing style and themes made me smile—especially the well-timed deployment of an expletive. It is a thoughtful upending of Le Guin’s dys/utopia. (For the record, I am a Le Guin superfan.)

When my sister was learning to play the fiddle, she used to thump around in her room on the floor above mine, scattering through jigs and reels, picking up this tune and riffing off into that one. There was a steady beat to her practice, tying the slow and fast, the happy and sad, the minor and major that poured off her violin; the through line was her, and her instrument. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? feels like this to me: the practice of a craft, one that walks around the room trying out voices and worlds, fiddling with perspectives and points of view. The stories are both familiar and strange, the history of a writer coming into her own.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is available now.

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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?

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