15 Epic Fantasies That Stick the Landing

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

For some reason, everyone is talking today about how important it is to nail the ending of an epic fantasy series. We can’t quite figure out why, but it sure is a fascinating topic. Epic fantasy faces challenges other genres don’t; while there are plenty of long and complex stories in literature, only epic fantasies have to explain magic systems, invent cultures wholesale, and keep track of a huge list of characters—often across three or seven or 14 books.

But, hey, if it was easy to write an epic fantasy—and especially to end one in satisfying fashion—we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Certainly there are plenty of books and series that end on a satisfying note—like the 15 listed here. We’re not claiming these are the only epic fantasies that end well—but they’re some of our favorite examples.

The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin stands with the most important working SFF writers for many reasons, not the least of which because her work displays a perfect combination of ambition and ability. Her books blends sci-fi and epic fantasy concepts with gritty and realistically-portrayed character relationships in a way that is thoroughly modern, while her technical flourishes—playing with point-of-view and second person narration—are deployed so confidently, readers don’t even realize just how hard they are to pull off. All three books in the Broken Earth trilogy won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the finale, The Stone Sky, stands as one of the most satisfying endings in fantasy history. After slowly and skillfully revealing the secrets of her world—a possible far-future Earth in which all of humanity survives on a single continent that is wracked by periodic apocalyptic events known as the Seasons and the sky is marked by the floating remnants of a past civilizationin the form of mysterious Obelisks—Jemisin hits the gas early in the third book, racing from earned reveal to earned character resolution in a rush of ecstatic storytelling. Best of all, she holds back one final satisfying secret until the very last, demonstrating an incredible level of control over her story.

The House War series, by Michelle West
The House War series is an outgrowth of West’s Sun Sword series focusing on the character of Jewel Markess A’Terafin, and threads between that series and this one proliferate. You can read this series as a standalone, or allow yourself to be seduced into reading the rest of the books—there are no wrong answers here. Because this series tells the life story of a character who plays a big role in the other series—a character who can see the future, no less—West faced a special challenge: the resolution had to make sense in the larger context of both series, but she was also constrained by events described in the other books. The final book of the series (which was split into two when it metastasized in the writing) manages to pull everything together more or less perfectly.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams
Legend has it that this foundational trilogy by Tad Williams—which recently begat a sequel series that in no way diminishes the achievements of this 30-year-old epic—is what convinced George R.R. Martin to flee a television writing career in Hollywood and begin writing what would become A Song of Ice and Fire. And though Williams’ books are certainly well-loved, it’s a bit of a shame that they’ve been mostly eclipsed by the efforts they inspired. Certainly Martin wasn’t the first writer to riff on the tropes Tolkein codified and Terry Brooks made mainstream. Truthfully, Williams wasn’t either, but he’s at least as good as GRRM at crafting a secondary world, and certainly more efficient at wrapping up a series. On the surface, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn sounds like a paint-by-numbers secondary world fantasy: there’s an ancient evil threatening the medieval-flavored land of Osten Ard, a boy with a mysterious past, a scrappy princess, an evil prince, a dying king, and more magic swords, dragons, elves, and dwarfs thank you can shake a wand at (even if they’re referred to by different names.) It never eschews these tropes—though at the time they were less codified. Instead, Williams’ trilogy feels like a surgically-precise dissection of the genre, from first page to last. It reads differently today, no doubt, but it more than holds up.

Mordant’s Need, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Donaldson’s other series get most of the attention, but let’s face it, the various Chronicles of Thomas Covenant don’t ever seem to actually end, do they? This duology, on the other hand, is tightly plotted and moves towards its conclusion with beautiful precision. It’s a surprising ending, but in no way a cheat. Set in a world where mirrors are the key to magic, with a protagonist who spends much of the story painfully passive, it’s a character-driven story in which each major player has an arc and an evolution that sees them stepping into the roles necessary for the climax to play out in a satisfying fashion. Donaldson plays a great trick on readers who are used to rooting for a “chosen one” character, setting up several possible heroes of destiny while the real story slowly unfolds in the background. The result is an ending that clicks into place with a satisfaction akin to finding a puzzle piece you didn’t even know you were missing.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erickson
Born out of plans for an expansive role-playing game, Steven Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is the epic fantasy reader’s epic fantasy, and often suggested (on Reddit, at least) as the best and most ambitious fantasy saga of all time. It’s a dense, challenging, and unforgiving series, dropping you headfirst into a frantic battle that is just one small skirmish in a vast conflict that stretches backward and forward in time and across a massive world filled with all varieties of magic, monsters, and living gods. It starts big and just gets bigger from there. The final book in the main series, The Crippled God, has its work cut out for it, yet somehow manages to tie off every single dangling thread readers might be wondering about—plus a few they might be surprised to discover were important in the first place. The final third of the book is just a series of one incredible battle after another, an ebb and flow of tension and release that carries you all the way to a note-perfect finale.

The Riddle-Master, by Patricia A. McKillip
It’s hard enough to finish a fantasy series. It’s just as hard to pull off a truly surprising twist. It’s nearly impossible to pull off said twist in the final book of the series without making everything that comes before seem like either a cheat or in need of serious retconning. But McKillip does it, and so skillfully that you can reread whole series and appreciate it more for the pleasure of discovering the clues she littered throughout, and the structure she subtly built up to sell the twist. Set in a fantasy universe where the rulers of respective nations have a mystical connection to their realm, which ostensibly exists under the dominion of a mysterious High One, this series doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.

The Scavenger Trilogy, by K.J. Parker
Parker’s complicated fantasy, set in an empire stressed by external raiders and internal conspiracies, requires your full attention—not least because by the second book, the twists start coming fast and furious. At the outset, the main character, Poldarn, wakes up on a battlefield with no memory. Given the name of a god by a woman he meets, Poldarn begins to suspect whoever he is, he’s not a very good person—and that he might be famous, or at least infamous, extremely important, and possibly destined to bring on the end of the world. The final book, Memory, piles on the revelations skillfully while managing to leave just a hint of mystery behind, ensuring the world remains fascinating through multiple rereads. Parker’s name has become synonymous with unreliable narrators, and this series certainly fits the bill there, but the payoff never feels like a cheat.

The Dagger and the Coin, by Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham actually has two series that would fit perfectly on this list, but this blog has already covered the other one—The Long Price Quartet—at some length, so we’re going with this almost as impressive followup. If Long Price was Abraham’s attempt to craft an atypical epic fantasy, The Dagger and the Coin is his attempt to perfect the more traditional form. All the tropes are here, from plucky orphans who rise to positions of power, to gods that mettle in mortal affairs, to ruling despots who strike fear into the hearts of their suspects. But even when he’s using all the usual toys, Abraham refuses to play by the rules. His chosen one hero is a girl who exercises her might by manipulating coin rather than wielding a blade. His evil ruler is a booksmart, physically unimposing geek who is seduced by power and falls prey to his own ego and insecurities. His dark gods may or may not be real, and his dragons are long gone from the world, which is still shaped by their influence. In the fifth book, The Spider’s War, the saga reaches a truly magnificent conclusion; if anything, the satisfying scope of the action is overmatched by the emotional catharsis you’ll receive from following his damaged, headstrong, all-too-human characters to their fitting ends.

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold
You don’t need multiple books to make an epic, and a great ending is a great ending, so we’re going to call out the finale of The Curse of Chalion, a novel that can be enjoyed as a standalone adventure, or in tandem with the loosely connected sequel set in the same world (Paladin of Souls, which is itself a great standalone adventure with a wonderful ending). Both the story and universe of The Curse of Chalion are fully fleshed out, however, and you don’t need to read the second volume to be satisfied (though you’ll undoubtedly want to anyway). Based loosely on our world’s history, Bujold’s second foray into epic fantasy tells the tale of Caz, a knight of Chalion, who returns home from a disastrous war campaign burdened by betrayal and longing only for peace and rest—but instead finds himself drawn into the mystery of the curse that has doomed the royal family. Filled with vivid characters and the sort of inversions and subversions of fantasy tropes that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will appreciate, The Curse of Chalion does it all—and in less than 500 pages.

The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
This one makes the list for two reasons. Not only does the fourteenth volume of The Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light, bring the saga of “Dragon Reborn” Rand al’Thor and his companions’ fight against the Dark One—the force of ultimate evil in the universe—to a suitably epic and emotional end, it does so even though it was written after the death of the series’ original author. When he was chosen to work through the notes and outlines left behind by Robert Jordan after his untimely passing, Brandon Sanderson faced a seemingly impossible task. Jordan himself had struggled to bring his ever-expanding epic in for a landing; how could any other author even attempt such a thing? Yet impossibly, Sanderson did, managing to tie off plot threads scattered across a dozen earlier books and provide mostly satisfying conclusions to an army’s worth of character arcs while also attempting to mirror the style of another author. And sure, it took him three 1,000-page books instead of the one he (and Jordan) had originally planned, but considering the stakes—would The Wheel of Time become an epic for the ages or a cautionary tale about the dangers of outsized authorial ambition?—it’s hard to imagine a better ending.

The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson also deserves credit for his ability to end his own stories well. Certainly he is one of the most influential modern writers of epic fantasy, and for two basic reasons: one, he’s a master of craft, most notably in his detailed worldbuilding and his development of rigorous magic systems (the system in this series, Allomancy, involves the manipulation of ingested metals that give users superhuman abilities; it’s part of a larger meta-system Sanderson has been slowly revealing for years across multiple vaguely related series). Two, he’s so good at pulling off plot twists, it’s almost spooky. Mistborn deploys a lot of classic fantasy tropes in new ways, including the age-old idea of the ancient prophecy that will determine the fate of the world—and the way he reveals the full ramifications of that prophecy in the final book of the trilogy is nothing short of genius. Everything you thought was wrong, but in gloriously right ways, and as the mysteries that have plagued the characters over the course of three increasingly fat volumes fall into place, you realize the story is even bigger than you thought.

The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
In epic fantasy, it doesn’t get much better than when a book delivers really good dragons. Sure, elves are cool, as are magic rings, and mighty warriors, and kings of destiny, but… dragons are the best. Robin Hobb is a good friend of George R.R. Martin, and at least as skilled at deploying dragons effectively. What’s great about the ending of the Farseer trilogy (which, satisfying as it is, isn’t really the ending—the trilogy is followed by many more books in related and sequel series)—aside from, you know, the presence of an army of dragons that arrives via most unusual means—is the rich emotion beneath the spectacle, as the main characters each gets a moment to shine. The protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, is far from a perfect hero and endures more failure than most fictional characters would be able to withstand, a fact that makes his final triumph all the sweeter. This story of assassins doesn’t end with gratuitous violence or a sudden heel turn, opting instead for an intelligent and compassionate application of magic.

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, by Brian Staveley
This recent, under-the-radar series is modern epic fantasy at its best. It’s a tale of political intrigue, war, rebellion, gods, monks, fighters, and family, with a thoroughly constructed world and fully realized characters. It’s a coming of age tale that follows the three children of a recently assassinated emperor: Kaden, the heir who’s gone to study with monks; Valyn, who has joined the Kettral, an elite military force that trains with and flies around on huge hawks; and Adare, the emperor’s only daughter, who fights to keep her father’s empire from crumbling from within as the Minister of Finance. But it’s also not just about the hardships these three face; it’s also about a greater war that’s been waged for centuries, a war all three of them are thrust into as the unwitting pawns of an ancient race of immortal beings. It’s incredibly difficult to create a world as expansive as this one, and harder still to neatly tie off so many disparate narrative threads. Staveley does a fantastic job of it.

Kushiel’s Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey
Carey is another author who has returned multiple times to the same fantasy setting, producing a trilogy of trilogies that explore different points on the timeline. When is comes to her Kushiel series, which began with 2001’s Kushiel’s Dart, you needn’t read all nine volumes to be truly satisfied. The ending she reaches with book three closes out the story of protagonist Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève—a courtesan in service to a god who inhabits a complex world inspired by Renaissance France—in a manner approaching perfection. In her youth, Phèdre, a girl with an “ill-luck name,” sold into indentured servitude in the Night Court, high-end pleasure houses catering to specialized sexual proclivities. However, she has a greater destiny as an anguissette, a chosen of a god, who is given the power (and the task) to experience pain as pleasure. This status vaults her into a position of political import, and it soon becomes apparent that the still waters of her supposedly peaceful nation conceal plots, desires, and ambitions, and a vast conspiracy with the potential to bring the whole of society down. Phèdre sets off down a road that crosses a dozen countries and a dozen years, endures multiple periods of slavery and torture, and participates on a full-scale war in her quest to keep her country together. Delivered in Carey’s poetic prose, it’s a story as much about sex and intrigue as one woman’s coming of age.

Blackdog, by K. Johansen
The notion of deities and demons having a corporeal existence in a fantasy world isn’t a new one, but Johansen’s novel takes a different approach: while most of the gods and goddesses in this world remain in “spirit” form unless invoked or interacted with by mortals, one goddess chooses to inhabit the body of a human girl from birth to death, repeating the process again and again. She begins each cycle as a fragile youth, and as the book begins, a duplicitous wizard arrives with an army at his back and plans to capture and enslave her, throwing the world into chaos. Richly observed, excitingly plotted, and crammed with world-building detail, Blackdog is a fantastic, satisfying, and entirely self-contained adventure.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
And yes, last but certainly not least is the mother of all modern epics. Look, The Lord of the Rings winds up on 95 percent of literary listicles for a reason. Aside from being one of the foundational works in the genre, it’s also timeless, even as writers that followed it have riffed on or subverted (hello, GRRM) the tropes Tolkien established here—and much of that has to do with the pitch-perfect ending. At the close, all the kings and warriors and wizards of Middle Earth are no match for Sauron and his evil minions, but a pair of desperately tired halflings and an ancient, ruined creature whose universe has narrowed to a single object somehow defeat him—by failing. Not only are all the characters true to themselves to the end, but all of the plot threads converge elegantly, reaching a suitably epic climax and following it up with a lengthy denouement (the scouring of the shire; the sad partings) that ensures the larger themes hit home.

Ardi Alspach contributed to this post.

What’s your favorite ending in epic fantasy?

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8 Science Fiction Novels That Explore the “Human Dilemma”

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Science fiction has home court advantage when it comes to robots, artificial intelligence, interstellar voyages, and distant futures. Sometimes that makes it easy to forget that, at its core, the genre is like any other mode of fictional storytelling: often best exemplified through its characters, in all their flawed, thriving, complicated humanity (well, not always their humanity)..

This week saw the latest punches thrown in an ongoing brawl over the line between a mere work of science fiction, and a work of “literary” quality when Man Booker Prize-winner Ian McEwan (Atonement) attempted to ensure no one would place his new novel Machines Like Me—in simplest terms, a story about about a man and woman who fall into a romantic and sexual relationship with a robot—on the “science fiction” side of that dividing line.

“There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you,” McEwan told an interviewer with The Guardian. “If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well better start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.”

Cue noise from genre fans, who beg to differ. I confess it stirred some uprising in my own sci-fi loving heart—not only do human dilemmas exist within genre stories, it’s the crux on which the best of them are built—even if along with them comes a few mechanical or otherworldly creatures too.

For my crusade—ahem, apologies—my thesis on this topic, please accept into evidence the following 8 books, great examples of the humanity at the foundation of great genre writing.

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Across a broad and broad-ranging body of work, Ray Bradbury blurs the lines of genres time and again, writing across many and dipping into the literary with some of his most well recognized, most-read books. But through it all, he always embraced the association with genre fiction, and the love affair went both ways (he’s even got a science fiction award named in his honor). In The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury explores the impact as humanity lands on Mars and two species, the native Martians and the interlopers from Earth, collide in a series of interconnected vignettes. Along the way, readers bear witness to the aftermath as a world is overtaken and a culture is torn apart. Meanwhile, humanity continues its spread with violence and hubris, determination and hope, as a drive for exploration pushes them ever forward. If that’s not human, I don’t know what is.

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson
In this story, the classic trope of an alien invasion is leveraged and subverted with rich imagination in a novel draws inspiration from author Tade Thompson’s life in London and his Yoruba heritage. Aliens settle into a biodome in Nigeria, and as people flood to the site to experience its associated healing powers, the city of Rosewater grows around it. Amidst this backdrop, former thief Kaaro must find a mysterious Bicycle Girl, a quest that soon becomes a hunt for a murderer of “sensitives”—humans with unexplained powers—like himself. Kaaro brings heart to an elaborate setting in a novel with complex characterization that keeps readers guessing.

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson
A vast spaceship has been propelled into space in search of a new home for humanity beyond the solar system, a search that will span generations. Though this premise in many ways presents as the epitome of science fiction’s cold, stark stereotypes—living in metal containers in the isolation of outer space—Robinson’s focus on a family, as the relationships and struggles of its core characters bring heart to a story about survival writ large—as does the complex characterization of the artificial intelligence that serves as the book’s narrator—the ship’s computer, which only grows more human as it tries over years to best learn how to tell the story of its passengers. The need for a home is a genuinely human dilemma—as is the drive to tell and preserve the stories of our lives, whether human or artificial.

Infomocracy, by Malka Older
In these dark political times, what’s more human than exploring the idealism and failure of a vast complex political system, via the everyday lives that hang in the balance? In a future world, nations have been replaced. Humanity is now divided into 100,000-person segments—centenals that run their own micro-democracies. It’s within this fragmented system that Older starts a countdown to a high-stakes election, but the story doesn’t rely on typical high-action spy chases to drive it forward. Instead, its heroes are number crunchers and behind-the-scenes analysts (and yes, okay, one field agent) who let big thinking do the driving as political parties manipulate the system to win over the world, one centenal at a time.

Dawnby Octavia Butler
The alien Oankali make contact with Earth just in time to save the human race from destroying itself. They even throw in healing the ruined planet and curing cancer as a bonus. But when Lilith is awakened to find herself on the Oankali ship with the rest of what’s left of humanity, she must lead the way as people learn to adapt to their new reality in relation to the Oankali, and grapple with what the Earth has now become. This novel explores humanity’s fight for survival at the highest and most intimate levels.

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab
In an imaginative twist on superhero tropes, this novel follows two college friends in their pursuit for power whose determination leads to tragic consequences, changing them both forever. Once friendly competitors, the two become bitter enemies as their powers lead them on divergent paths that will leave the reader asking questions about what really makes a hero or a villain. At the center of both men lies a hunger for power and an insatiable ambition that neither can turn off, even as the consequences continue to mount higher. Meanwhile, they struggle with identity, college crushes, and complicated parental relationships. In short—these are the human dimensions of a premise that couldn’t be more science fictional fun on the surface. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a super hero?

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
As tectonic shifts deep within the earth lead to irregular seasons and natural disasters with life-shattering force, this story follows the individual struggles of the people who must forge their own paths to survival amid a science fictional apocalypse. Don’t be too distracted by the bells and whistles—the seemingly magical orogenes and the Fulcrum, the exploitative organization that trains them, cruelly controlling the lives of these powerful people with the ability to move the earth itself. This is really a story about what happens when people are denied their humanity and stripped of their agency—and when they decide to fight back. The human spirit finds a way to survive, and even conquer, but not without a severe personal cost.

The Mount, by Carol Emshwiller
This Nebula nominated, Philip K. Dick Award-winning allegorical novel by the recently departed Carol Emshwiller is a wonderful example of the sort of deeply human SF that doesn’t scoff at being classified as such. It’s set in a much-changed future in which a species of aliens with large heads and weak bodies (but such powerful hands!) has overtaken much of humanity, turning us into their titular mounts—they perch on our shoulders and steer us around like horses. The preen and pamper us, but they don’t spare the rod (technologically advanced “poles” that scar, maim, and kill) when we misbehave. The story is told from the point-of-view of Charley, an 11-year-old boy raised to be a mount for a very important “Hoot” (the aliens speak in a birdlike singsong). He’s grown up in a life of normalized servitude, and is less than pleased when he is “rescued” by a group of “Wilds” led by his father. In exploring the boy’s conflicted coming-of-age, Emshwiller reveals poignant truths about the weight of expectations parents place on their children and the pain of forging your own path—all without giving short shrift to the novel’s wildly speculative premise.

What humanistic sci-fi would you recommend to any genre doubters out there?

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Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler’s Tale of Hard-Won Hope, is Back in a New Edition

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

During my college years in the mid-1990s, I worked in a largely black neighborhood and frequently stopped in to a small, cluttered corner drugstore to pick up snacks and drinks. As I do everywhere, I’d also scour the book and magazine racks for anything that looked interesting. We’re not talking about a bookstore here—the selection was small, and mostly limited to relatively recent and popular work—but what it did have going for it was a much larger assortment of books by African-American authors than I was used to seeing at my usual book haunts.

Though it didn’t provide my first exposure to Octavia Butler—Dawn was already one of my favorite books, regardless of genre—this tiny drugstore was one of the first places I saw works of science fiction by a black author (a black woman) prominently displayed: copies of Dawn, Clay’s Ark, and Parable of the Sower, with stunning covers (by artist John Jude Palencar) centering depictions of people of color. I later learned that Palencar created the covers in collaboration with DAW Books art director Don Puckey and editor Betsy Mitchell in a direct attempt to correct a problem with earlier editions of the novels, which had been,  at best, ambiguous in terms of representing the books’ characters and themes. At worst, they were outright deceptive: the original cover of Dawn, a book explicitly about a black woman’s experiences, depicted two unambiguously white women.

These covers emphasized, rather than obscured, the fact that these books were about people of color—and in most cases, black women. Seeing them in this context struck me; it was the first time I gave much thought to the fact that what is emphasized on a book’s cover is an important as what’s not, and the fact that the extent to which my ideas of science fiction as a genre for white men (I am both, it should be said) had more to do with shelf placement and cover art than with the quality and volume of work being produced. In the years since, I’ve come to understand just how much harder many brilliant black science fiction authors (Butler among them) had to fight simply to have their work acknowledged and placed on the shelves alongside their white contemporaries—and not only in black-owned corner groceries.

That brings me back to Parable of the Sower, one of Butler’s most visceral, accomplished works, and one that’s being rereleased this month in a beautiful new edition with a foreword by award-winning author N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season, How Long ’til Black Future Month?).

Parable of the Sower is set in an uncomfortably near future (the novel was originally published in 1993 and the story is set somewhere in the 2020s). The science fiction trappings are minimal—the tone has a bit more in common with her breakthrough novel Kindred, which is a time travel novel without a time machine, than with the hard sci-fi of the Xenogenesis trilogy. Any futuristic technology is does include is regardless out of reach of the novel’s protagonist. Lauren Oya Olamina is a teenager growing up near Los Angeles with a unique disability: she’s a “sharer,” a hyper-empathetic person who feels the physical pain (and pleasure) of others. There’s nothing mystical about it—Lauren only imagines the sensations, though that doesn’t make them any less real to her.

Lauren and her family are what passes for middle class in this new world, at least along the California coast. We don’t know much about the state of the rest of the world, save for the overheard rumors that prospects are slightly better up north. They don’t have much money, but their walled and gated community provides a measure of security. Leaving the neighborhood to commute to work is a life-threatening proposition: only done at certain times, when well-armed, and preferably in groups. Walking over the corpses of victims of crime, hunger, and exposure to the elements isn’t at all uncommon. For children and teenagers, the time when dogs were friendly companions rather than dangerous scavengers has receded into legend. So, even given the somewhat privileged position of Lauren and her neighbors: things aren’t great. The country’s political leadership is ineffectual at best, and the real power is on the ground, with white-supremacist zealots on one side and roving gangs on the other.

The families are lucky to have a gate, and walls—until they’re not. The barriers slow down the encroaching outside world, but also advertise the neighborhood as a place with items of value. At a time when walls were less in the news, Butler understood the lesson of history: the idea of absolute safety and security that we crave is a myth, only existing in our imaginations and the speeches of politicians. Ultimately, the walls come down, and Lauren is left to fend for herself before gradually drawing together a multi-racial group of companions.

In one sense, this is the stuff of the best dystopian science fiction: a real-life warning made fictional. Even in 1993, Butler understood climate change could well be the spark that ignites the dry kindling of race, class, and religious strife into a conflagration that will consume our nation. If anything, those issues are even more pressing a quarter-century later. While the decade of the 2020s may yet pass uneventfully, it’s eerie reading the book at this moment in history—Butler’s future is almost upon us, and it only feels more plausible by the day.

But the author is up to something a bit more complex even than that. Some of the very best dystopian stories have already made their points before they’ve even begun: they suggest that we’re in the process of wrecking our world, and then show us what a wrecked world will look like. What Parable of the Sower does is harder: it asks how empathy and hope can survive in a kill-or-be-killed world. What kind of person is able to live long enough to plan their own future while not entirely abandoning the rest of humanity? Lauren is a good person, essentially, but all the good will in the world can’t compensate for the fact that strength and cold calculation are the only currencies worth a damn in her future.

Lauren and her companions travel a literal road, but also undertake a figurative journey toward hope for a better tomorrow. Along either path they’ll encounter humanity at its worst: people who will commit murder for a few dollars or scraps of feed or on a whim, because they’ve forgotten (or never knew) how to live any other way. Lauren kills when endangered—sometimes with a coldness that shocks her companions—but never cavalierly. She’s an empath in the least pleasant world imaginable—every act of violence that she commits rebounds upon herself. Most of the people she encounters aren’t so restricted. Still, she understands there’s no hope without survival.

Along this path, Lauren develops her own religion and invests her hopes and dreams within it. The book’s title references the Christian biblical parable about a farmer spreading seeds—some land on inhospitable ground, some are taken by birds, but some—only some—land on fertile soil. So it is with Lauren’s philosophy, which she calls Earthseed. In her reckoning, God is change personified. As in various forms of Buddhism, change, for better and worse, is inevitable and unstoppable. Lauren’s Earthseed also advises us that, just as change shapes us, so too can we shape change. Adaptability, Lauren comes to believe, is the one truly indispensable attribute.

“All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change Changes you.”

I haven’t talked much about the book’s racial politics: about Lauren as a young, disabled, poor black woman, a leader in a world of marginalization and rampant sexual violence.;or about the parallels between Lauren’s development of a revolutionary philosophy and the growth of our own world’s social justice and civil rights movements. It’s all there. Between this book and its sequel, Parable of the Talents (also being reissued in a matching edition), Butler offers complex takes on both the costs of marginalization and the ways in which gender complicates racial politics. The reason I haven’t talked much about any of that is because N.K. Jemisin touches upon most of it in her foreword to the new edition; certainly she’s far better qualified than I am to interpret Butler’s vision of racial justice.

Even among Butler’s varied and accomplished body of work, Parable of the Sower stands alone (well, almost—there is that follow-up). It’s a dystopian, near-apocalyptic work set in a world broken by violence and incredible cruelty, in which even the most kind-hearted characters are forced to compromise. It’s also, conversely, one of her most hopeful books. Its hope is hard won, but Lauren Oya Olamina promises her followers that her philosophy has the potential to lead humanity out of the mire and to a grander destiny among the stars—though she knows she may not make it there herself.

Lauren knows the future is worth fighting for, even if the fight isn’t going to be easy or pretty. Butler’s vision of hard-won hope in challenging times is more essential now then ever before, and well worth seeking out in this new edition.

Parable of the Sower, with a new introduction by N.K. Jemisin, is available April 30. Parable of the Talents follows on August 20

The post Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler’s Tale of Hard-Won Hope, is Back in a New Edition appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


How 15 of Your Favorite Authors Might Finish George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

From the Spanish edition of The World of Ice and FIre

To paraphrase Douglas Adams: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think The Lord of the Rings is big, but that’s just peanuts to ASoIaF.

It’s so big, it’s little wonder it’s been a challenge for one lone writer to finish it—even if that writer did originally plan to fit its story a tidy trilogy before discovering that his favorite thing in the world was inventing new characters and sending them down rabbit holes.

There would be no shame, then, if George R.R. Martin were to ask for a bit of help in finishing off his series—in fact, the results might be something remarkable. In a few weeks, HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation will give us one ending for the story. Here’s how we imagine 15 other writers might finish off Martin’s revolutionary series (but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the real thing, and we’re willing—if not entirely happy—to wait for GRRM to give us the real deal).

Stephen King
The Golden Company, the Unsulllied, the Night’s Watch, the Free Folk, and the Stark vassals are all gathered for the final battle. The armies of the dead arrive and take up position. Suddenly, in the distance, strange music. A looping, eerie riff echoes as the Night’s King flies in on the back of an Ice Dragon. It’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The Night’s King lands and hops off. “Hi there,” he says, looking around. “Name’s Flagg. Randall Flagg.” Meanwhile, Bran has a strange experience, warging to find himself in control of a man named Stephen King, a resident of “New York City” in the year “1982.” Bran, as King, locates a young Brooklyn boy who never speaks and is obsessed with a handheld video game called The Doom of Valyria. They encounter a disgraced Olympic shotputter named Alison, and the trio returns together to Westeros, where the game is suddenly transformed into an ancient magical relic: the Doomglass. But the Night’s King is about to win the battle, and they are too far away. “I got this,” says Alison, who shotputs the Doomglass directly at the wintery fiend, who explodes in a mushroom-shaped cloud of fire as all his minions turn to ice and shatter.

J.K. Rowling
Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Samwell work together in the midst of an epic, raging battle—dragon duels, swarms of White Walkers clashing with the Golden Company, Bran just warging into everything—until Jamie Lannister winds up in a duel with the Night’s King himself. Jamie puts up a great fight but slowly loses ground—until Jon, Danny, and Sam arrive to plunge a dragonglass dagger into the Night’s King’s back, destroying him and his army. At the last second, however, the Night’s King turns and injures Sam, driving them back. Suddenly a mysterious figure in a cloak emerges from the boiling battlefield, retrieving the dagger. His hood flutters back and he’s revealed to be Petyr Baelish. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know,” he says with a smirk. Screaming “For Catelyn! Always!” Littlefinger charges at the Night’s King and sacrifices himself, winning the day for the living. Turns out, the bad guy was a hero all along!

Brandon Sanderson
After reviewing George R.R. Martin’s notes, Sanderson announces it will take not two but six more books to finish the story properly. After delivering four 1,000-page tomes, Sanderson himself passes away (buried under a pile of 3,500 manuscript pages for the ninth book in the Stormlight Archive) with the story still incomplete. It is the year 2049. The final two books are completed by Christopher Paolini, working from Sanderson’s notes on Martin’s outlines, and are beamed directly into people’s brains via the NookVR brain uplink.

Cormac McCarthy
The endless lines of undead stood implacable and numb not hungry or thirsty but wanting and haunted by the vague memories of life that still burned like minor coals within them. The ice dragon soared above shadow and claw and smashed into the warm fiery life of Daenerys’ remaining beasts of fire and rage. The White Walkers knew what she did not know the secret of the true hidden universe that they had sprung from the dark maw of a devouring universe. She thought she brought death with her flying in on thick leathery wings and fueled by her own rage her own will her own fate and family and legacy and doom. She did not know death. They knew death and they knew it to be ravenous and infinite and the destination that did not come in fire and blood but in the slow steady creep of snow and ice. From the North! Always from the North. And the North would become the world and the world would become the desolate perfect shining gem of ancient things.

Neil Gaiman
The entire final novel is from Samwell’s point of view as he writes the final volume of his history. He reveals that the Night’s King was actually Bran, who went into the past and became his own worst enemy. Bran was also the Mad King, and, in fact, also everyone else. Everyone was Bran. A complex braid of timelines involved Bran going into the past over and over again; Bran was even Samwell for a time, but found it terribly boring and abandoned him. Bran amused himself by directing the events of the War of the Five Kings and the White Walker invasion, and eventually controlled everyone in Westeros. He was finally defeated when Nymeria arrived at the head of the Dog Army, the only independent creatures left in Westeros. Sam’s final paragraphs reveal that Westeros abandoned the old religions and now worships dogs, and all is right in the world.

Chuck Palahniuk
The entire final book is narrated by Hot Pie, who is captured by a cult of insane worshipers of the Red God and imbued with the ability to come back from death. He dies multiple times, using his ability as a way of getting out of dangerous or simply embarrassing situations. As the story progresses, his deaths become increasingly bizarre and disturbing, and he realizes that every time he comes back he’s a little thinner; instead of his usual stout body, by the end of the story he’s skinny and frail. He changes his name to “Hot Pocket” and begins to repeat the phrase “A little less of me, a little more life.” He discovers that when he speaks it, someone else dies, and he gains a little weight back. The cultists follow him to the Wall, where the Night’s King is fighting a desperate battle for Westeros. Hot Pocket speaks his phrase to the Night’s King, and in a flash, the frozen army is gone, and Hot Pie (again) grows to an enormous size in an instant. He then dies of multiple organ failure.

Dan Brown
Riding on the back of Drogon, Danny and Jon frantically scan the desolate ruins of Valyria. “It’s not here!” Jon shouts. “That can’t be!” Danny shouts back. “The riddle in the ancient tome your Samwell brought back must have—” She stops suddenly. “Jon! We’ve misunderstood!” Jon Snow blinks in surprise. “Of course! Samwell mistranslated the riddle!” He looked back at the Night’s King pursuing them on the back of Viserion. The Night’s King grins in triumph. “We’ve led him right to the Stone Men!” They both look down in horror as legions of the greyscale-infected men and women line up, a fresh army the Night’s King could now use to invade from the south in a pincer movement. “We’ve been such fools!” Danny shouts as Drogon banks into a turn. “The riddle—the Doom of Valyria! It’s Tyrion—our cousin! You must capture Viserion—you can control him because you came back from the dead! You’re already part wight! We must get Tyrion on Rhaegal, because the dragon has three heads!”

Jeff VanderMeer
As the armies of undead from north breach the Wall into Westeros, the true savage reality of the Night’s King’s plan is revealed: the threat is not from his zombie hordes, but from the environmental devastation they leave in their wake (it’s kind of a metaphor). With disaster creeping toward King’s Landing, Jon sends a small band of warriors—Brienne of Tarth (The Soldier), Cersei (The Queen), Arya (The Assassin), and Sansa (The Diplomat)—to investigate a rumor that he hopes will prove to be their salvation: that the Tower of Joy is actually a tunnel (and either way, it is certainly not supposed to represent a penis—some things are not a metaphor). Unfortunately, their group is undone by distrust and infighting on the road to the tower/tunnel, their number shrinking due to attrition (Brienne is seduced away from the group by a massive flying bear who whisks her away into the sky) and accident (Cersei falls into a pit chasing a strangely mute double of Jamie). Eventually, only Sansa and Arya remain, but when they descend into the Tower Tunnel of Joy, they encounter only an endless staircase and walls covered in vines that form a string of nonsense High Valerian. When they reach the bottom, something happens. We’re not exactly sure what, but it is very evocative. Anyway, Sansa is the only one who emerges, and she finds the battle over. Westeros is now a blasted landscape. In the ruins, Bran Stark befriends a talking mushroom. All along, it turns out, the real Night’s King was climate change.

James Patterson
Jamie Lannister, sick and tired of his insane sister’s bloody rampage, lives up to his name and slays her. Contrary to expectations, the Golden Company pledges their loyalty to him and he leads them against the White Walkers. As a team, they then go on to star in a spin-off series, The Golden Murder Company, solving crimes throughout Westeros. Meanwhile, Jon and Danny race to stop the Night’s King, revealed to be Bran Stark (again), who traveled thousands of years into the past and went insane from the long wait for history to catch up. The whole story has been a secret plot engineered by Bran to gather the world’s dragonglass in one spot so he can use it to set off a magical chain reaction using a mixture of magic, greyscale infection vectors, and explosives that will turn every living thing in the world into an undead wight. The heroes burst into the Night’s King’s secret lair just as he is about to plunge the world into eternal winter. Jon and the Night’s King fight while Danny, mortally wounded, crawls to the dragonglass bomb and disables it just as Jon kills the king. Outside, the armies pause in wonder as winter melts away. Jon and Danny kiss.

Robin Hobb
In a sensational twist, after delivering the brilliant A Dream of Spring, Hobb reveals that she invented the persona of George R.R. Martin in 1963 and hired an actor to portray the writer in public, like JT LeRoy. In a second, unexpected twist, Martin crashes the press conference to claim the exact opposite: he invented Robin Hobb in 1980 and hired an actress to play her in public. Then Patrick Rothfuss shows up and claims he is actually 97 years old and has been both writers for decades. Megan Lindholm watches from the shadows.

Josiah Bancroft
Reeling from a permanent hangover that has plagued him steadily for months with no sign of lessening, Tyrion Lannister frantically flees a horde of wights. Suddenly a voice calls out to him. He spins to find Arya Stark beckoning. They scramble down an embankment, and Tyrion stops in shock: here is Drogon. “I thought all the dragons were killed!” Arya snorts. “No, he merely had his wings pulled off.” Tyrion looks again—Drogon is indeed wingless, and Arya has outfitted the creature with a large balloon, inflated by the dragon’s fiery breath, and a sail made from one of the Golden Company’s battle flags. They scramble aboard, and Arya flies about picking up survivors as the Night’s King overwhelms Westeros in triumph. Jamie scrambles up, his newly-mechanized hand giving him the power to steer their dragon-ship. Sansa is pulled aboard, as is Cersei, Jon, and Danny. Arya goes to the dragon’s head to plot their course. Westeros is lost, but she has heard rumor of other lands—richer, more dangerous lands. And as she takes off her face for the first time in years, she feels free to be herself again. To be the Waif.

Charlie Jane Anders
The final battle appears lost, and the Night’s King is glorying in his mad triumph. Suddenly, Arya appears before him, wielding Needle. The battles rages behind her; she is bloody and desperate. The Night’s King mocks her—what will one small girl do? Arya says she’s not alone—suddenly Danny stands next to her. Then Sansa, Melisandre, and Brienne appear. The women link hands and stare balefully at the Night’s King as Melisandre incants a spell. Their eyes begin to glow, and they lift off the ground a few inches, calling on the magic they’d all felt their whole lives, in their bones, hidden and secret, the magic that helped them find one another, pulling them together even as their broken pasts tried to push them apart. There is a flash of white light and the Night’s King is dissolved into a bone-white ash that drifts away on the wind, followed shortly by his wights. Behind the women, the warriors pause in confusion for a moment, then begin fighting each other just as desperately. Arya sighs and makes a pop culture reference, but it’s actually pretty timeless. The women turn around and link hands again.

Patrick Rothfuss


V.E. Schwab
Bran discovers that when he visits and sometimes affects the past, he is actually visiting and affecting alternate versions of Westeros—there are in fact many alternate worlds, separated by a thin veil of reality. As he moves between them, he discovers one where there is much more magic than in his version of Westeros. In Red Westeros (not red like blood, though we can see making that mistake), magic is everywhere, with a hearty dragon population and just about everyone using potions and amulets and cavorting with the Children of the Forest. There’s also a Gray Westeros with no magic at all, a grim, mechanized place where Cersei is the CEO of a corporation that produces perfumes and beauty products that kill you if you use them for too long. Bran opens up a portal to this horrible Westeros and the Night’s King and his army are forced into it. Arriving in the magic-less Westeros, they become lifeless statues. Back in Westeros Prime, the humans simply reorient their armies and get on with trying to kill each other, but for different reasons. Bran realizes he is living in Black Westeros. You don’t want to know about Black Westeros.

Sabaa Tahir
Surprisingly, the final battle between the armies of Westeros, the Golden Company, the Free Folk, the Night’s Watch, and the Night’s King is over very early in the final book. Cersei is deposed and Daenerys is acclaimed the new Queen, taking Jon Snow as her consort despite learning that they are related (it’s… actually kind of sexy?). However, as the armies disperse and move back south, they discover that a massive invasion force from Sothoryros has arrived and overrun King’s Landing and everything south of The Twins. The two forces clash, and the exhausted combined forces, now serving under Daenerys, are quickly defeated as the Sothoryrosi reveal incredibly advanced magical and technological capabilities. It’s evident they regard all of them as “northern barbarians.” A new age of peace and achievement dawns, and lasts for thousands of years.

If you were to choose an author to end A Song of Ice and Fire (beside George R.R. Martin of course), who would you nominate?

The post How 15 of Your Favorite Authors Might Finish George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


12 Divine Fantasy Novels in Which the Gods Walk the Land

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Volatile and vibrant, Gareth Hanrahan’s The Gutter Prayer already has established itself as one of the most exciting fantasy debuts of the year—and a large part of its success is thanks to the pesky deities that stalk its pages.

In the city of Guerdon, the church bells ring with the cries of long-conquered gods, saints and alchemists wage war in the streets, and armageddon is all but at hand. A trio of misfit thieves is all that stands against a complex network of competing gods and mages—and the destruction they will wreak.

To commemorate one of our new favorite god-focused reads, we’ve rounded up some other standalones and series with intriguing (and, yeah, often dangerous) gods and goddesses who are ready to unleash divine wrath.

The Inheritance trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Through three books (the first of which won the Locus Award), Jemisin unspools a world suffused with bound and chained gods. With a fierce female lead—a mortal and prospective god—and set against the backdrop of a floating city, the novels follow almighty and generational power struggles, with plots that double as meditations on redemption and forgiveness.

The Divine Cities trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series opener City of Stairs starts 70 years after the war that caused the death of the gods, with a power dynamic upended from the days when the divine played favorites. But maybe the gods aren’t as dead as everyone believes. Fueling the conflict are conspiracy, corruption, and the tangled web of colonization that still binds all who inhabit the Divine Cities.

The Craft Sequence series, by Max Gladstone
What praise haven’t we heaped upon the Craft Sequence? And with good reason. Intricate and expansive, this post-God Wars world is now ruled largely by human sorcerers, whose mastery of Craft magic places them in office jobs, boardrooms, and law firms rather than wizard sanctums. It’s the tech-meets-magic fusion we’ve always dreamed of.

The Godblind trilogy, by Anna Stephens
This in-progress grimdark series has already left a bloody mark, courtesy of the introduction of the fearsome Red Gods and their exiled worshippers. This is a story of revenge and of fanaticism, as the devotees of the bloodthirsty Red Gods plot to return to Rilpor and overthrow its reigning god and rulers.

Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Steven Erikson
Epic in every measure, this 10-volume series demonstrates its author’s anthropological background with an enormous cast of characters, a whole host of incomprehensibly powerful gods, and action that spans centuries. The political maneuvering in the Malazan Empire is matched and more by godly scheming, resulting in an ample amount of warfare.

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
If you know anything about Pratchett’s slightly askew fantasy realm Discworld, you might guess that its deities also get the short end of the silly stick. Here, the Great God Om has been reduced to the form of a tortoise because his followers no longer believe, and must crawl his way back into the heavens. For follow-up reading, consider the other two novels sometimes packaged as Discworld’s unofficial Gods Trilogy: Pyramids, starring teenage Pharoah Teppic, and Hogfather, in which Death himself wrestles with the nature of belief.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
You probably don’t need us to tell you about Gaiman’s monolith, but we can’t very well omit Shadow Moon’s apocalyptic roadtrip across America from the list. Old gods, brought to American shores by immigrants, struggle against new gods like TV and tech. For maximum trickster god shenanigans, pair with the spinoff Anansi Boys.

Food of the Gods, by Cassandra Khaw
These two paired novellas are just lousy with divine pantheons, as Malaysian, Chinese, and Greek gods and myths combine to terrorize the karmically challenged Rupert Wong. The mayhem caused by divine feuds stretches from the streets of Kuala Lumpur to London to Diyu, the hell of Chinese mythology.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Moreno-Garcia’s latest doesn’t release until August, but if it’s anything like her previous works (including coming-of-age magical realism, vampire noir, and fantasy of manners), you’ll want to preorder it. Not convinced? Consider the Jazz Age Mexico setting and a quest story set in motion by the Mayan God of Death.

The Iron Druid Chronicles, by Kevin Hearne
At the start of this series’ nine novels (and various short stories and novellas), titular Druid Atticus O’Sullivan was hiding from angry Celtic gods in Tempe, Arizona. In subsequent misadventures, he’s encountered all sorts of supernatural and occult friends and foes, including run-ins with Norse, Navajo, and Roman deities.

The Bound Gods series, by Rachel Dunne
In Dunne’s trilogy, twins are a sign of evil. Why? Because of the “Twins,” a pair of exiled gods trapped for fear they’d end the world. For its part, humanity is torn between those who favor the Twins and everyone else, who prefer the “Parent” gods that cast them out. As is custom in matters of divine disputes, war looms—and it’s the mortals who will pay.

The Titan’s Forest series, by Thoraiya Dyer
The drama plays out among the treetops in Dyer’s lush, lovely series. Gods and goddesses live among the human elite in the Canopy, the uppermost level of a rainforest realm. Unar serves the goddess Audblayin, though her desire to go up in the ranks may force her to descend to the forest’s lower layers, where danger and desperation dwell.

Which fantasy gods have earned your worship?

The post 12 Divine Fantasy Novels in Which the Gods Walk the Land appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


10 Books to Satisfy Fans of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The second season of The Dragon Prince dropped on Netflix last Friday, and epic fantasy fans in the know are comparing notes and excitedly squealing about how much it rocks.

Created by Aaron Ehasz (of Avatar: The Last Airbender fame) and Justin Richmond, The Dragon Prince is a serialized epic fantasy show about two young princes, Callum and Ezran, who must flee their kingdom after the death of their father, King Harrow. At their side is an exiled elf named Rayla. The unlikely heroes must band together to unlock the secret of the dragon egg in their possession and find a way to unite the humans and elves before it’s too late.

A huge part of what makes The Dragon Prince so great is the way it embraces epic fantasy tropes—but, taking a cue from Avatar: The Last Airbender, it also emphasizes character relationships and takes the opportunity to build out an interesting, ever-growing world full of magic, political intrigue, and personalities you won’t soon forget.

For those of you who have finished The Dragon Prince (and if you haven’t—what are you waiting for?), I’ve gathered together a collection of books of all stripes that might just satisfy you until the next season hits.


The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.

Friends Divided

Magician, by Raymond E. Feist
There are few tropes I love more than when two close friends find themselves on opposite sides of a world-spanning conflict. One of my absolute favorite subplots in The Dragon Prince fits this mold: Princes Ezran and Callum’s growing division from their childhood friends Soren and Claudia. The first volume of Raymond E. Feist’s classic Riftwar Saga, Magician, is another strong example of a far-reaching conflict made personal. From their earliest days on the streets of Crydee, young Pug and Tomas were inseparable—but, when Tomas finds the golden armor of Ashen-Shugar, their paths and destinies diverge, setting them on different sides of a war that will rock the world of Midkemia to its core. It’s a great story about the power of friendship, examining the way life has a tendency to pull us all in unforeseen directions.

Big Magic

The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Magic doesn’t get bigger than this. N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy has been showered with well-earned praise (winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years running), and a big part of that can be credited to the world she’s created; it is astonishing in its vision and imagination. Welcome to The Stillness, a far-distant, post-apocalyptic North American (?) continent where sorcerers called “orogenes” use their great powers to quell the earthquakes that threaten to tear what remains of their world apart. Yeah, the characters are great, and Jemisin intelligently examines crucial themes about family, climate change, and humanity, and the plot is taut and thrilling. But it’s the magic, on a scale rarely seen even in epic fantasy, that will really take your breath away.

Family Politics

The Acacia trilogy, by David Anthony Durham
Acacia: The War with the Mein is the first in the Acacia trilogy, an epic fantasy from historical fiction author David Anthony Durham. While it pulls many of its themes and ideas from established fantasy tropes, Durham’s world comes alive as he introduces elements from African culture, history, storytelling, and lore, turning what begins as a fairly by-the-numbers epic fantasy into something truly remarkable. At the Acacia’s core are the children of Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World. When he’s killed by an assassin, his children are scattered across the land. As they each reach their destiny, they become catalysts for change in the realm once ruled by their father.

Killer World-Building

The Eternal Sky trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear
In novel after novel, Elizabeth Bear does pretty much everything right, but perhaps her most striking accomplishment (among many) is the intricate, thoughtful, and enveloping worldbuilding of The Eternal Sky trilogy. Set in a world resembling the history and landscape of the Asian Steppes, The Eternal Sky, which begins with Range of Ghosts, tells a story of sorcery and rebellion, great battles, and a war that will be remembered for generations. It’s a beautiful world, feeling at once familiar and plausible and also utterly fantastic. Like The Dragon Prince‘s setting of Xadia, there are many factions, countries, and cultures at play in Bear’s trilogy, and the effects of war ripple through them all, to sometimes surprising effect.

Plucky Protagonists

Green Rider, by Kirsten Britain
If there’s one crucial element The Dragon Prince gets especially right, it’s the cast—the show follows a host of interesting and sympathetic heroes and villains. I’m a huge sucker for a plucky, up-and-coming protagonist, and Callum and Ezran deliver on this trope in spades. I’ve read a lot of ’80s and ’90s epic fantasy, so I’ve met my fair share of plucky heroines, one in particular springs to mind from a recent read: Karigan G’ladheon, from Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. Between being kicked out of school for dueling, doggedly pursuing a quest handed to her by a ghost, and generally kicking butt, Karigan is loaded down with traits that make her not only a good protagonist, but a fun one.

Worlds Collide

Worldbreaker Saga, by Kameron Hurley
While this planned trilogy might be a mismatch for The Dragon Prince in terms of tone, audience, and, um, violence, there’s no better story of worlds colliding story than the one that begins in Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but just know that this series takes the traditional “mysterious-army-invades” trope and turns it on its head in the coolest, mind-twistiest ways. Hurley’s novels and stories are always ambitious and imaginative, but in terms of sheer imagination, the Worldbreaker Saga might just be her boldest work yet.

Kids Who Change the World

The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
Kuang has been making big waves with her Nebula Award-nominated fantasy debut following young Rin, a war orphan who earns a place at the prestigious Sinegard academy. With a plot influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War—specifically the Nanjing Massacre—The Poppy War moves beyond the usual tropes of upstart-goes-to-school-style fantasy novels, and its second half definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. As war rages on, Rin becomes more than a simple student, and Kuang raises many questions about cost of conflict on societal, cultural, and individual levels. “What distinguishes this novel from other grimdark works is the depth with which Kuang explores these horrors,” S. Qiouyi Lu said in their review of The Poppy War, “they are not a backdrop or mere set dressing, actions depicted carelessly, without an internalization of their consequences. War and its rippling effects are the core of the book, suffusing every page, informing every character’s decision.”

The Price of Magic

The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks might best be known for The Sword of Shannara, which, alongside Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Banehelped revitalize epic fantasy in the late ’70s, but his best book is its sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara. A young healer named Wil Ohmsford is swept up into an epic journey by the druid Allanon, his only weapon a collection of small Elfstones said to house great power. The only problem? Wil can’t figure out how to use them. One of the key elements of Brooks’ Shannara series is that all magic—all power, period—comes at a cost. Over the course of the series’ 20-plus books, Brooks examines how the cost of using magic affects Wil and generations of his descendants.

The Power of Friendship

Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis, others
I’m a sucker for a good tale of friendship and found family. I love the way The Dragon Prince‘s Ezra and Callum—exiled from their home, literally hunted by their old friends—have to find new comrades and friends along their journey to restore peace to the world. My favorite story of found family? The sweet, hilarious, touching, and brilliant comic series Lumberjanes. Anything can happen at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley, and April—best friends and Lumberjanes alike—get up to all sorts of zany adventures, and, naturally, discover the power of friendship over-and-over again. It’s an immensely likable series, perfect for readers of all ages.

What books are getting you the The Dragon Prince‘s hiatus?


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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