This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Chinese Sci-Fi in Translation, a Haunting in Cairo, and Weirdness After Hours

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Collision: Stories, by J.S. Breukelaar
A collection of 12 dark speculative stories from J.S. Breukelaar (Aurealis Award nominee Aletheia), including four appearing here for the first time. From the off-kilter (the strange, touching story of an armless piano player in “Union Falls”), to the unsettling (“Glow,” inspired by the author’s experience of the 2016 U.S. presidential election), to the alien (“Rogues Bay 3013”), to the heartfelt and haunting (in “Fairy Tale,” a veteran soldier is convinced the orphan that shows up at his door is the child soldier that shot him during the war), to the downright bizarre, these stories jump genres with wild abandon. Collision proves J.S. Breukelaar is an author to watch—likely we’ll be hearing her name a lot more in the future.

Alita: Battle Angel, by Pat Cadigan
James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez’ film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Battle Angel Alita is adapted in turn by award-winning sci-fi writer Pat Cadigan, who has penned a number of high-profile novelizations in-between writing her own award-winning cyberpunk books. Found and repaired by a good-hearted scientist living in a post-apocalyptic future in which Earth has become a trash-strewn wasteland, the cyborg Alita comes of age, discovers her destiny, and gets really good at fighting.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark
The second novella from Clark, after last year’s The Black God’s Drums, returns to the alternate early 20th century Cairo the author first explored in the short story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo.” In a world filled with magic, automatons, strange spirits, and powerful djinn, Hamed Nasr is an agent with the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investing minor cases of the misuse of magic. His latest job—a tram car that seems to be possessed by a malevolent djinn—turns out to be much more complex than it first seemed… perhaps more than Hamed and his stuff-shirted new partner Onsi can handle. The amount of worldbuilding packed into this slim book is remarkable—gender politics (the case unfolds against the backdrop of the Egyptian suffrage movement), class conflicts, machine sentience, commerce, and more—and the narrative voice is a delight; imagine the sensibility of Agatha Christie crossed with the magic of Saladin Ahmed.

Trump Sky Alpha, by Mark Doten
Mark Doten (The Infernal) delivers what may be the first major sci-fi novel of the post-Trump era. Certainly he’s gunning for that distinction from the premise on: the book begins one year after Trump’s Twitter rantings have triggered a nuclear war. A journalist hiding out in the Twin Cities Metro Containment Zone searches for her missing wife and daughter while ostensibly working on a story exploring internet humor amid the apocalypse. But as she dives deeper into a world of metatextual references and nested memes, Rachel finds hints of a conspiracy that may change her understanding of the past and give shape to the world’s increasingly strange future.

Where Oblivion Lives, by T. Frohock 
Fans of Frohock’s Los Nefilim novellas will be thrilled with this full-length novel, which a deep dive into a historical fantasy world. In 1932, in an alt-history version of Spain and Germany, vying forces of angels and daimons are gearing up for a civil war that threatens humanity’s existence. Los Nefilim are the respective offspring of the warring species, able to either sing like the angles or hear like the daimons; they monitor the conflict and seek to avert disaster. Diago is special even among the Nefilim, born of both angel and daimon and thus able to both sing and hear. Tormented by the sound of his lost Stradivarius, Diago slips over the Rhine and searches for the source of the music that torments his demonic hearing. Along the way, he and his allies uncover evidence of terrible betrayals and a plot that would mean the end of Los Nefilim—and the world.

The Rising, by Mira Grant
Seanan McGuire, writing as Mira Grant, delivered a pitch-perfect postmodern zombie story with her Newsflesh trilogy, combining a hard look at the dirty truth of politics with the shambling dread of the undead apocalypse. The Rising collects all three Hugo-nominated volumes of the trilogy, set decades after separate cures for cancer and the common cold mutated into a virus that turned carriers into zombies and changed the balance of power the world over. Though the contagion has been contained and the zombie threat is under control, the healthy must live in secured areas and stay ever-vigilant. Blogging journalists following the presidential campaign of a Republican senator slowly stumble (no pun intended) upon a grim conspiracy using the hordes of undead to manipulate public opinion and the upcoming election. It’s smart, fast-paced sci-fi horror, and now you can rip through the whole thing without stopping.

The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Polymath Caitlin R. Kiernan is well established as one of SFF’s best short story writers, but until now, much of her work has only been available in print in limited-edition publications. Finally, here is a freely available collection of her best work: 20 incredible stories that will remind fans (and prove to new readers) just how unnaturally good she is at this. Her stories dive headlong into dark emotional currents, as when a daughter must close a gate to the past opened by her father; treat in doom and despair, as when a cult leader leads his followers into the ocean; and explore the uncanny, as when a film scholar reviews a disturbing movie about the most prolific female serial killer in history. Any one of them would alone be worth the cover price. It’s hard to imagine this collection won’t rank with the very best speculative books of 2019.

Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu
Anyone paying attention to science fiction trends in recent years knows that Chinese literature is becoming an increasingly vital part of the landscape in the English-speaking world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Liu, who translated Cixin Liu’s Hugo-winning novel The Three-Body Problem, and edited the excellent anthology Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Now, he returns with a second anthology, another amazing collection of first-rate stories, featuring authors both familiar to attentive Western readers (including Hugo-winners Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang) and newly imported but no less wonderful. With stories that treat in classic sci-fi tropes as filtered through the lenses of Chinese culture and history, and other that explore ideas that are entirely new, this is another essential exploration of an entire universe of speculative fiction heretofore inaccessible to many Western readers.

Gates of Stone, by Angus Macallan
The first book in Macallan’s Lord of the Islands series introduces the gritty, richly detailed world of the Laut Besar, where three lives are set on a collision course that might save—or destroy—a civilization. A princess is denied the throne solely because she’s a woman, and embarks on a violent quest to raise the money and power she’ll need to seize power by force. An arrogant prince is shocked into action when his kingdom is invaded by a sorcerer seeking one of seven powerful talismans that keep the Seven Hells at bay. If the sorcerer locates and possess all seven, all manner of chaos will be unleashed upon the world. Inspired by the overlapping cultures of China and India, this is a story filled with magic, epic battles, and complex characters.

The Outcast Hours, by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin 
A great anthology is more than the sum of its parts, and Murad and Shurin proved their ability to curate something truly special with their first effort, the delightful The Dijinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. Here they bring together more than two dozen stories centered on the portion of society that lives by night, bathed in neon and shrinking from the morning. In other words: the outcasts. It’s a rich vein from which to mine incredible and incredibly strange stories, and the stellar cast of contributing writers certainly delivers. The anthology features works by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Marina Warner, Sami Shah, and Jeffrey Alan Love, among many others (including China Miéville, who hasn’t been writing nearly enough fiction as of late, delivers a smattering of deeply weird page-long micro-fictions). For fans of surprising speculative fiction, it is sure to be a treat.

Fleet of Knives, by Gareth L. Powell
Powell continues the Embers of War series in fine space opera style, finding the crew of the sentient ex-warship Trouble Dog responding to a distress call in the midst of the fallout of the Archipelago War. Trouble Dog tracks down the abandoned ship Lucy’s Ghost only to find that its human crew took refuge on a centuries-old generation ship launched by an alien species. Their efforts to save the humans pits them against beings that appear to them as dangerous monsters. Meanwhile, war criminal Ona Sudak leads the ships of the Marble Armada in an effort to enforce the peace at all costs—and believing that the Trouble Dog is a danger to that peace, she quickly takes steps to eliminate them, trapping the vessel and its crew between two violent enemies. Embers of War was one of our favorite reads of 2018—a space opera foregrounding the emotional journeys of its protagonists (both human and machine) without sacrificing the action or suspense—and the sequel lives up to its predecessor, and then some.

Firstborn, by Michelle West
The seventh entry in West’s House War epic fantasy series. The back cover summary is extensive—you can read it here—and likely won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t kept up with the series so far. Perhaps it is more interesting, then, to state that this is the first half of what West intended to be the final novel in the series. What she wrote was so extensive, it had to be split into two volumes; this is the first part, and War will follow later this year. So if you love epics, know both that this is a truly epic series… and that it will be finished come June, and ready for a binge read.

What new sci-fi and fantasy is on your list this week?

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The Stakes are Higher and the Ships are Smarter in Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Victory wasn’t the end. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives returns to the universe of his British Science Fiction Award-nominated Embers of War (also one of this blog’s favorite books of 2018). Following their success (or, at least, survival) at the Gallery, Sal Konstanz and the crew of the sentient, Carnivore-class ship Trouble Dog are back at work for the House of Reclamation, having once again foresworn conflict in favor of a commitment to rendering aid and assistance to ships in need.

From the very beginning, though, clouds loom on the horizon. On their last mission, Sal and company released the Marble Armada, a million-strong sentient alien fleet left behind by an intelligence that had long since fled the galaxy. Having reawakened the so-called Fleet of Knives, the crew also provided it with a mission: to ensure that nothing like the devastating Archipelago War could ever happen again.

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

Like all well-intentioned wishes in literature, unexpected consequences follow. Recruiting poet, death row inmate, and one-time genocidal military commander Ona Sudak as a liaison, the fleet intends to impose strict order on the galaxy. It begins destroying every military and defense system among the known worlds, no matter who gets in the way. The fleet is perfectly happy to kill thousands or millions if the math suggests more lives will be saved in the longer term.

Meanwhile, newcomer Johnny Schultz and the small crew aboard the Lucy’s Ghost are planning a raid on an ancient artifact, a failed generation ship of the of the mysterious alien race the Nymtoq; the ship’s name translates to “The Restless Itch for Foreign Soil.” The spaceborne reliquary in their sights is both a tomb and a memorial for the Nymtoq; as such, it’s not something the aliens would be pleased to see desecrated. Nonetheless, there are doubtless riches beyond imagining there, waiting to be claimed by a brave and somewhat desperate team.

Again, unexpected consequences ensue: Lucy’s Ghost is damaged by… something during the journey, leading the crew to abandon the vessel for the Restless Itch, which proves to be hardly a refuge at all. Though Trouble Dog has received their distress call and is on the way, the same extra-dimensional incursion that damaged Lucy’s Ghost has deposited vicious, mindless creatures in the vicinity and drawn the attention of the Marble Fleet. Oh, and the much displeased Nymtoq are also on the way.

Last year, Embers of War impressed me in the way it balanced flashy space opera set-pieces with a deep humanity. That quality remains a core virtue here. The minds that make up the Marble Fleet act without anything resembling empathy, ending countless lives in a coldly logical plan to end suffering. The human characters reckon with the idea in different ways, some acknowledging that eliminating war might ultimately prove worth all those deaths, few willing to entirely ignore the staggering cost. In giving the book over to a rotating cast of point-of-view characters, Powell ensures the massive stakes never overwhelm the perspectives of individuals hoping to survive what ultimately turns into a siege, with dangers oncoming from at least three different sides.

What truly sets this series apart is the fact that this sense of “humanity” isn’t limited to the strictly human characters (or even those of flesh and blood). Trouble Dog’s very alien, quite long-suffering engineer Nod chimes in on the action, as does a hybrid intelligence existing in the body of a young girl. At the heart of it all is Trouble Dog, sentient spaceship par excellence. Still haunted by her actions as a warship, Trouble Dog’s past and burgeoning sense of self place her at the moral center of this universe.

As did the first book in this series, this sequel delivers big-stakes space opera told on an intimate scale. Amid the big questions of morality and the dire threats facing the characters, the brisk pacing and sense of adventure make Fleet of Knives a fun and fulfilling read in the best space-opera tradition.

Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War Novel is available February 19.

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A Mismatched Couple Saves the Galaxy in Polaris Rising

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Ada von Hasenberg is kinda having a bad day. She’s been captured by mercenaries who’d be happy to inspect the merchandise, her intended husband wants to kidnap her, and she’s sharing a cell with the galaxy’s most wanted criminal.

But Ada, whose relentless forward momentum drives Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel Polaris Rising, is a woman of seemingly infinite resources, including the uncanny ability to discern what others want while keeping what she wants under wraps—skills learned from growing up among the galaxy’s most powerful families.

That leaves her with a few options in her potential captivity:

Albrecht Von Hasenberg was nothing if not thorough. When his security team couldn’t find me and drag me back for my engagement party, he went above and beyond by posting an enormous bounty for my safe return. Of course, he told the news, he was devastated that I was “missing.” He failed to mention that I had left of my own volition. Or that I’d been gone for two years.

“Can I get you some wine? Or perhaps brandy?” the captain asked.

“Wine would be lovely, thank you,” I said. I knew where this road led. I’d been playing this game since I could talk. The captain wanted something and he thought—rightly—that House von Hasenberg could help him get it. As patriarch of one of the three high houses, very few people in the universe welded more power than my father.

As for that most-wanted criminal? Marcus, the enemy of her enemy, is a potential ally—a far more useful one than a befuddled captain mixed up in matters way above his pay grade. And, this being a space opera, the “criminal” Marcus is more than the “evil, traitorous former soldier” he’s been painted as.

As Ada seeks to outrun and outsmart her enemies who include, at one point, her father, her intended, and anyone out for her ransom, the story unfolds at a blistering pace. It’s told entirely through her point of view, but filled with great supporting characters, including Marcus; Veronica the fence, who becomes key to Marcus and Ada’s escape; Rhys, an arms dealer who turns out to an old ally of Marcus’s; and Ada’s sister, who has aided and abetted her sibling’s escape, agreeing that Ada’s intended is not to be trusted.

There are some finely drawn settings, including the smuggler’s world where Marcus and Ada land after their joint escape, a place where everyone is happy to stab one another in the back—sometimes literally. Another world is divided by levels, with the uppermost populated by the literal higher-ups, the only ones who have access to the sun. Of course, a space opera wouldn’t be complete without a space battle and a chase, and there’s at least two of each.

But, and here’s where Polaris Rising takes a turn: it is also a satisfying romance.

I know, I know. Some sci-fi readers run from the word “romance,” but the genre is full of them, under one label or another, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s wonderful A Civil Campaign to the Liadan Universe novels of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. And there’s one famous ultra-famous SF couple that bears a striking resemblance to Ada and Marcus: Leia Organa and Han Solo.

Like Leia, Ada is from a powerful galactic family. Like Leia, she has a driving need to see justice done and protect people. Like Han, Marcus is a rogue living at the edges of society. Like Han, he’s not always willing on the surface to help, but he makes the right choices when the chips are down.

The archetypes are there, though Polaris Rising is far from a Star Wars clone.

The romance helps hold the story together, lending emotional depth to the whiz-bang adventure. Neither Ada nor Marcus is certain they can trust the other, especially due to class differences. It’s only by the choices they each make throughout that trust is established. At the same time, Ada realizes how few people in her former life she can truly rely on, up to and including her intended husband, who’s hiding a secret that could gain his family ultimate domination of the galaxy.

Polaris Rising is a self-contained story, but a sequel is already arriving before the end of the year. There’s plenty of galaxy left to explore.

Polaris Rising is available now. You can read an excerpt here.

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Punk Rock Prose Powers Supernatural Rocker Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

In addition to being a book geek with a collection of unread sci-fi  and fantasy tomes large enough to crush me to death, I am also a giant music nerd. I have over 200 gigs of music on my computer, I still buy music magazines, I read music blogs like crazy, and I even play guitar. Naturally, whenever an SFF book featuring musicians comes around, I pounce. Though there have been some great once, the trope isn’t exactly commonplace, which makes Scotto Moore’s excellent debut Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You that much more thrilling. Exploring the weirder side of the esoteric world of music critics, it’s a bombastic banger of a novella that kicks you in the teeth like a metal head in a mosh pit.

The premise of is immediately evocative: new band Beautiful Remorse announced a plan to release their EP one song per day for 10 days. As they trickle out, each song seems to have a visceral, often violent effect on their fans; many commit crimes or even suicide after hearing them. The band has come out of nowhere, and is suddenly everywhere, prompting intrepid music blogger to investigate. He discovers the first song on the EP and gets completely lost in it, quickly promoting it on his blog and to all his music snob friends. Things spiral out of control from there, and the novella snaps into high tempo and never lets up until the frenetic encore. It’s a relentless performance, told swiftly and with deft skill.

Moore utterly nails the vibe of music fandom, and his descriptions of obsessively listening to a song on repeat for hours are so authentic, I searched my house for cameras. He also realizes just how terrifying fandom can be: a certain sort of superfan will go way beyond for their favorite group, even before you add in the possibly mystical playlist filled with songs telling them to kill or be killed. Beautiful Remorse is an all female group (I get the idea they sound like a mix of CHVRCHES and Sigur Rós) led by an ethereal woman named Airee Macpherson, who is so much more than meets the eye. Curious and mildly obsessed, our protagonist reaches out to her to find out the story behind the music. Macpherson invites him to their first concert and grants him an interview. (Music to a music blogger’s ears.) Soon, he’s caught in her web, watching madness unfurl from the rail: a front row seat to the destruction and chaos that reverberates with the end of every song.

Your Favorite Band Cannnot Save You is beautifully violent and wickedly sharp. It knows exactly when to lean in on the horror elements, and when to pull back and drop in a joke. The music blogger protagonist is hapless but earnest. He knows there’s something horribly off about Macpherson and her backing band, but he’s trapped by their music. Before he realizes what’s happening, he’s on tour with them, starring in his own nightmare version of Almost Famous. He’s granted interviews and is dubbed Macpherson’s Herald—the sole person who can upload each track online every day. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but the body count spiking alongside Beautiful Remorse’s rising profile makes him worry that his devotion might be the end of him.

There’s a wonderful “weird internet” vibe to the whole affair. Macpherson’s abandoned Tumblr posts are dissected for clues about her origins and her end game, bloggers delve into each new track online, and a much of story unfolds as people start sliding into each other’s DMs. (I was utterly delighted at references to music blog mainstay the Hype Machine.) Moore is clearly writing what he loves, and uses modern technology and the real world communities that have sprung up around them to propel the plot forward in interesting ways. Who knew you’d learn about the world ending in Slack?

What I’ve described above is only the opening act. What comes nect kicks it up to 11: I see your weird death cult rock band, and raise you aliens and conspiracies! Despite its novella length, this story never feels like it is doing too much or stretched too thin. The Ramones only needed 2 minutes and 12 seconds for the masterpiece that is “Blitzkerg Bop” and Moore only needs 130 pages to spin a story so gonzo it will leave you feeling like you just stumbled out of a wild night at CBGBs.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is the novella equivalent of four guitar chords played loud and fast over screaming vocals. It’s a bottle thrown, a messianic stage dive, a structure fire at an outdoor festival. It will delight fans of horror novels, music nerds, and everyone in between. And even knowing what I now know about Beautiful Remorse, I’d still listen. Tell me this song will change my life? I’ll risk it.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is available now.

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The Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Citizenship Testing, Viral Dreams, and Coming of Age on a Planet of Ice and Fire

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The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders’ followup to the Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky seems, at first glance, a complete departure from that fitfully whimsical, apocalyptic bildungsroman, but both novels share a powerful emotional through line, examining the inner lives and grand destinies of outsiders in societies in which they are never sure they truly belong. It leaves Earth behind entirely, delivering us to the hostile planet January, a tidally locked world split between the frozen wastes on its dark side and the searing eternal day of its light side. In the small sliver between these two extremes, the city of Xiosphant barely supports a dwindling human population. Sophie, who comes from an unremarkable family, willingly takes the blame for a petty crime committed by her fellow student, best friend, shining star Bianca, and is condemned to death via exile into the frigid darkness as an example of the cost of even a small act of rebellion. Sophie is saved by one of the strange animal life forms native to the planet, and discovers that the so-called “crocodiles” are no simple beasts, but an advanced race of telepaths whose existence is threatened by the corrosive presence of human settlers in their midst. Sophie’s ultimate fate parallels not just that of Bianca and her fellow citizens of Xiosphant, but all life on January, and the very future of humanity. It’s a richly compassionate, thoughtful work, packing powerful messages of anti-violence, political theory, and environmentalism alongside a story of growing up and growing into yourself that never strikes a false note.

Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, by Tom Baker 
Fans of Doctor Who know Tom Baker best as the iconic Fourth Doctor, lover of Jelly Babies and very cool winter scarves. But did they know he also imagined himself an author of the Doctor’s exploits? In the 1970s, Baker and Ian Marter, who played Harry Sullivan, worked up a treatment for a Doctor Whofeature film—and at one point, it seemed like it might actually be made, with Vincent Price attached to star. But the script was lost in the shuffle, Baker regenerated into Peter Davison, and decades passed. Now, Baker has dusted off the idea and regenerated it into a novel, which sees The Doctor (along with Harry and Sarah Jane Smith) arriving at a remote Scottish island for a bit of a rest. Instead, they find the isolated village under attack by hideous scarecrows. The Doctor takes on the challenge of protecting the innocent, but it’s all an elaborate trap set by an otherworldly force known as the Scratchman—who might be the devil himself. For Who-vians, this is a glimpse into an alternate timeline where the Doctor became the next film franchise—or just another delightful Fourth Doctor romp.

Early Riser, by Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde takes a break from the metafictional nuttiness of his Thursday Next novels to travel to an alternate future in which the entire population of England hibernates during the frigid, harsh winter months. Getting through four months of suspended animation isn’t guaranteed—although the rich, able to afford special drugs, fare better than the poor, who often wind up Dead in Sleep—but the Winter Consuls work hard to ensure that everyone makes it. Charlie Worthing has just joined this group of slightly unhinged guardians, and has been tasked with investigating a viral dream that’s been killing people in their sleep. Initially dubious, Charlie begins to believe when he starts experiencing the dreams too—and they start coming true. Fforde’s track record at wacky, wonky worldbuilding is second to none, and this standalone is both a fast-moving romp and a thoughtful slice of social commentary.

Terminal Uprising, by Jim C. Hines
The second volume of Hines’ tongue-in-cheek sci-fi series the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse, which follows a band of hapless humans who serve as the cleanup crew on an alien vessel in the wake of a plague that has destroyed nearly all of our civilization. Having stolen a starship, uncovered the secret that led to humanity’s downfall, and stopped a genocidal attack against the alien Krakau (see the events of Terminal Alliance), Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos and her team of fellow hygeine and sanitation specialists have been trying to help the Krakau tamp down an uprising by the isolationist species the Prodyans, a mission that will require her to return to an Earth gone to seed in search of a killer superweapon that could restore humanity’s place in the galaxy… or bring the whole thing crashing down. But, you know, not actually down, because there’s no gravity in space. But things could certainly get messy.

The Revenant Express, by George Mann
Steampunk virtuoso George Mann returns with another volume in the Newbury & Hobbes series, which stars a mystery-solving Victorian era special agent Si Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, who, as the novel opens, lies dying. Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia take a train cross country to secure a mechanical heart that can replace Veronica’s ailing one. But it can’t be so simple as that, and along the way they run into an old enemy who is onboard the train seeking revenge. Meanwhile, back in London, the other member of their team, Sir Charles Bainbridge, investigates a series of bizarre killings, as prominent citizens are kidnapped and expsed to a deadly plague. It’s up to Newbury and Co. to save both Veronica and London itself before time runs out.

The Test, by Sylvain Neuvel
Another dark satire of the future-present arrives from Publishing just weeks after the release of Robert Jackson Benett’s Vigilance, which examines America’s gun obsession. Sylvain Neuvel’s The Test takes a different tack, moving through the questions on a mandatory British Citizenship Test as it is undertaken by an immigrant named Idir who just wants his family to be welcomed into their new home country. He has 25 questions—25 chances—to impress the test committee and prove his worth. But when the test goes wrong and circumstances are flipped on their head, Idir faces much harder choices.

The Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty and the Beast, by Leife Shallcross
In the tradition of John Gardner’s Grendel, Shallcross retells the story of Beauty and the Beast from the perspective of the titular monster—claws, horns, and all. Trapped under a curse for centuries, Julien Courseilles first glimpses the beautiful Isabeau de la Noue in a dream and realizes she might be able to free him from his lonely bondage. He lures her to his enchanted chateau, where she agrees to stay for a year in exchange for her father’s life. Julien spends those short months proposing marriage and spying on her and her family in an attempt to force a love affair to blossom, but as he comes to terms with the dark fairy tale that is his cursed life, he realizes that even if Isabeau agrees to marry him, that is only the first step on his unlikely journey to redemption. Shallcross’s debut reveals new facets of one of the most retold and best-loved stories of all time.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
Katherine Addison’s beloved standalone fantasy—a Best Novel Nebula finalist—returns in a new trade paperback edition. If you haven’t read it yet, you must: it is as much about real-world problems (like self-doubt and the intractable nature of politics) as it is about the fantasy elements. The main character is the half-goblin heir to the throne of an elven empire. Maia, who has spent his 18 years living in exile, returns home to not only the burden of ruling a land that does not respect him, but the disconcerting news that his father and brothers weren’t killed in an accident, but by intentional sabotage. What makes all of this more spellbinding is the fact that, at a time when many modern fantasy heroes  are, well, flawed—Maia is a genuinely good person. Watching him navigate the halls of power without sacrificing his ideals is deeply moving. Would that reality were so fantastical.

What new SFF are you reading this week?

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Charlie Jane Ander’s The City in the Middle of the Night Is Science Fiction at its Most Human

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There’s a hell of a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winner Andrew Sean Greer adorning the cover of The City in the Middle of the Night, the new novel by Nebula Award-winner Charlie Jane Anders. The book is “a breathtaking work of imagination and storytelling… making the cast for Anders as this generation’s Le Guin,” he writes. That’s high praise. The highest praise: Ursula K. Le Guin’s legacy is based not only on her reputation as one of the most influential science fiction and fantasy writers of the last century, but on the deep humanity of her work, which brilliantly explores, with fantastical trappings, transcendent truths of living within and outside of society, and in your own head.

To lift Anders up as Le Guin’s heir is not only bold, it’s also entirely reasonable. Certainly Anders is one of the most visible figures in the landscape of modern sci-fi and fantasy, and not without good reason: consider her years running beloved geek website io9, the accolades she’s received for her short fiction, the Nebula she picked up for her first adult novel, All the Birds in the Sky. Anders had made a name for herself through her work, which tends toward the thoughtful, exciting, and off-kilter, and never fails to challenge readers to dig deep within themselves to explore themes of identity and the intersection of challenges both personal and societal.

In my review, I praised All the Birds in the Sky for its voice, imagination, and boldness: “Imagine if Wes Anderson and John Hughes co-wrote and directed Interstellar, replaced the space travel with a magic school, and hired Lev Grossman to write the novelization.” Her followup, The City in the Middle of the Night, is both equally exceptional and a quantum leap forward for the author. It’s a remarkable piece of science fiction: in one sense cozy and easily recognizable as a hero’s journey, but in another, quite daring—full to the brim with the weird and the fantastical, ideas so big and thoughts and themes that crawl so deeply into your brain, it’s impossible to feel comfortable or complacent as you ingest them.

“Xiosphant is the city of dawn, but Argelo is the dusk city.” This simple snippet of prose, found midway through The City in the Middle of the Night, is ultimately illustrative and telling. The novel takes place on January, a tidally locked planet bifurcated into split halves of ultimate darkness and annihilating sunlight, with a small band of habitable equilibrium in-between. That is where the human colonists have staked their tenuous claim, and where our protagonists, Sophie and Mouth, search for meaning in their hostile world. When their paths collide in the regimented city of Xiosphant, they begin an unimaginable journey that will take them to the hedonistic city of Argelo and beyond, into the endless night.

Duality. Balance. Shifting power. Two sides to every coin. Everything in this novel seems to come in opposing pairs, and Anders wastes no effort in dissecting how these dichotomies affect people on levels personal and societal.

The two cities are light and darkness, dawn and dusk. Traveling through them alongside Sophie and Mouth is startling and revealing. Anders asks the reader to engage with both of the cities’ bright and dark sides—a bone-deep examination of the pros and cons of strict, marxist Xiosphant, where no mouth goes hungry, but time and duty are strictly enforced and the police rule with an iron fist; and free-flowing, libertarian Argelo, where time has no meaning and freedom reigns, but the gap between the haves and the have-nots is a gaping chasm.

The characters exist in duality as well. When we first meet Sophie, she is the equivalent of a scholarship student at the gymnasium, the school churning out the next batch of the Xiosphant’s elite. There, she is besotted with her classmate Bianca, a child of privilege for whom the plight of the downtrodden seems an injustice, but an abstract one. Bianca’s reformer’s idealism is driven by her intellect; Sophie’s, who grew up in poverty, feels it in her bones. Nevertheless, Sophie makes a choice early on to take the blame for a thoughtless act of protest committed by Bianca. Because Sophie doesn’t matter to those in power, her act of compassion is met with the harshest of sentences. It is this act that ultimately propels her on her world-changing journey, but she will continue to linger in Bianca’s orbit throughout the novel. Sometimes clinging to the familiar is more seductive than seeking justice for all.

Mouth, who grew up a nomad, saw her people die out, and has since made a living with a group of wandering couriers, is at odds with everything is Xiosphant, a city that operates on the idea that all life can be scheduled and controlled. Where Sophie is outwardly reserved, but driven by inner passion and empathy, Mouth is a brash and loud, hardened by a difficult life and the loss of her past. While Anders’ exploration of societal struggles might be the novel’s most enduring aspect, recalling foundational works of political SF like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, it works just as well as an action-packed bildungsroman for these women, who are similarly at odds.

Central to the characters’ journeys is the search for something new, something better. A way to fill a hole within them that has no definable shape. Fictional coming-of-age stories are often too neat to be useful, but Anders’ seems to realize there is no easy answer to self-actualization. There’s no keystone moment that will define a life, resolving the messiness of existence into a clear picture of purpose. “Eventually, though,” Mouth considers, “you could get used to something different, if you weren’t careful.” What answers exists are found, perhaps, exactly when you’re not looking for them.

“Maybe you don’t get to choose how you make peace, or what kind of peace you make,” Mouth’s fellow courier Alyssa says, challenging her. “You count yourself lucky if peace doesn’t run away from you.”

Anders is also a master of voice and description. She paints a picture of January with such a stark hand that it’ll take your breath away many times before Sophie and Mouth finish their harrowing journeys. Sophie’s encounters with the Gelet (January’s sentient native creatures, who the human settlers have long, and incorrectly, regarded as simple beasts) provide particularly emotive imagery of the beautiful, hostile planet:

We live in a great city, far from here, under the crust of the night. Cliffs of ice, deep fissures, towering structures of stone and metal, and wheels turning far beneath us, fueled by underground rivers, and furnaces hotter than the touch of the sun. At the heart of our city, tiny creatures who look like us hang in a mesh of warm, dark threads, helpless and spindly. They cry out, their tentacles and pincers still too tiny to communicate properly, but we can feel their distress, and our blood runs thin.

The way Anders uses these encounters to at once introduce Sophie and the reader to the immensely unusual landscape of January and its equally alien inhabitants, but also empathetically bind Sophie to the Gelet, is a testament to the author’s economical storytelling skill and her understanding of the tenuous nature of cultural exchange—between different societies, different races, different species.

Like Le Guin, Anders is adept at taking the ordinary—the ideas, emotions, and conflicts of daily life—and revealing them in a new light, through an alien lens. But even that strange view is really just about showing us more clearly something truly human. Her stories take place on faraway planets, in distant futures, within cultures and societies that feel like the refracted light of our own, but they are really about us. Here. Now.

The City in the Middle of the Night is about the fluidity of identity, the confines of societal expectations, about chasing new beginnings and banishing the ghosts that haunt you. It puts a human face and heart to society’s greatest problems: class inequality. Prejudice. Thoughtlessness. Environmental indifference (especially this last).

All the Birds in the Sky was a masterful story about the end of the world, and exposed many of Anders’ thoughts on love, and the way we cling to one another as we all hurtle toward the inevitable. The City in the Middle of the Night is of a piece, even as it reveals the depth of her skill—it is not a retread, but a whole new beast: less whimsical, more structurally ambitious, more disciplined by an order of magnitude, but no less heartfelt. If All The Birds in the Sky was raw potential, The City in the Middle of the Night is refined, realized.

Is Charlie Jane Anders the new Ursula K. Le Guin? No. She offers too unique a voice, and to profound a vision, to simply be someone’s heir. She is the next Charlie Jane Anders, and The City in the Middle of the Night sees her reaching new peaks. Already, it is one of 2019’s best novels.

The City in the Middle of the Night is available now in a signed edition from Barnes & Noble.

The post Charlie Jane Ander’s The City in the Middle of the Night Is Science Fiction at its Most Human appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Meet a Space Princess on the Run in Polaris Rising

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Polaris Rising is the debut novel of Jessie Mahilik, a rip-roaring, romantic sci-fi adventure starring a rebellious princess with attitude to spare.

Today, we’re pleased to share a brief excerpt with you, courtesy of Harper Voyager. Check it out below the back cover summary, and pick up a copy today!

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

We wound through shabbier and shabbier neighborhoods until the plastech buildings were more boards and mud than plastech.

We circled the same block twice before Loch stopped behind the middle house on the block. He checked his com. “This is it,” he said. The house was dark, as were the two beside it. Either luck was with us or the occupants knew better than to let light escape.

I peered into the twilight while Loch opened the door. Nothing moved, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.

“I think we should abort,” I whispered as soon as we were inside. Loch was a dark shape against the deeper darkness of the room.

“Why?” he asked.

“Just a feeling.”

To his credit, Loch didn’t scoff. “Five minutes?” he asked.

I nodded reluctantly. If someone was watching us, I doubted five minutes would make a ton of difference. But for us it could mean the difference between finding guns or going home empty-handed.

We moved quickly through the house. I set my com flashlight to the lowest setting and turned it on. It was hard to tell if the house had already been ransacked or if the people living here were just slobs.

Once we checked the house for occupants, Loch and I split up. I searched one bedroom while he searched the other. I found two well-used blaster pistols in the top of the closet, as well as a small cache of energy cells. No holsters, though, so I shoved one gun in my pocket and left the other out for Loch.

I was shoving energy cells into my other pockets when Loch entered the room. “Trouble,” he said. “You were right.”

I handed him the gun and ammo. “How bad?”

“Rockhurst’s men, at least a squad of six. We’ll have to split their attention. You should take your hood down.”

“They’ll never leave me alone if they know who I am.” I pulled out the pistol and loaded it. I had a feeling I was going to need it before the night was over. I tucked it back in my pocket. It wasn’t the safest way to carry it, but a better option didn’t present itself, so I went with what I had.

“But they also won’t shoot you in the back,” Loch said. It was hard to argue with that logic. “We’ll make it seem like you escaped from me. If they capture you, I’ll come for you,” he said. “You still owe me. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“You should’ve taken the money and run,” I said. “I tried to warn you.”

“Why? This is the most fun I’ve had in years,” Loch said. His eyes gleamed in the dark and I almost believed him. “We both go left then split at the next corner. You go right. You’re not going to be able to lose them in the crowd. Run hard and fast.”

“Be careful,” I said. “Your bounty doesn’t specify that they need to keep you alive.”

“But they will,” Loch said arrogantly. “Rockhurst won’t be able to resist parading me in front of the Consortium before he kills me. Ready?”

I wasn’t, not even close, but giving Richard time to move more men over here was not going to improve matters, so I nodded.

“Look like you’re fighting me without actually slowing us down,” Loch said. “Remember: left then right. Run like hell.”

“I got it. I’ll meet you back at the house or nearby.” I left my hood down and followed Loch when he grabbed my wrist and pulled me through the door.

Two men were in the alley across the street. One on the roof. Probably more I couldn’t spot. Two pistol blasts slammed into the side of our building close enough to heat the air before I heard my name shouted. The blasts stopped.

The men across the street moved to intercept, but Loch was already sprinting. I tugged on my arm and did my best to appear terrified. It wasn’t too difficult.

At the corner I realized that if I split from him, Loch would lose his human shield. I tried to follow him, but he hissed “Right!” at me and then darted left before the soldiers knew we were separating.

I swiped my left hand across the cuff around my right wrist, first inside to outside, then the opposite. I held my hand over the cuff for two seconds. It buzzed once.

My lungs burned and the cold air stabbed at my throat. The cuff pulsed and a wall to my left danced with a shower of electric sparks. These men hadn’t forgotten their stun pistols. And the cuff could only repel two more shots.

At the next corner, I pulled the gun from my pocket and spun. The man behind me was nearly a block away. I aimed and fired in one motion. The energy bolt went clean through his thigh. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hit, but he went down, so good enough.

I ducked behind the corner just before the second man could hit me with a stun pulse. I had to put distance between us then go to ground. I didn’t know how many men Richard had on-planet, but it couldn’t be enough to sweep an entire section of city or even the oblivious mercs living here would know something was up.

I kept my turns erratic so they couldn’t radio ahead for men to intercept me. These soldiers weren’t encumbered with heavy armor and they were in excellent physical shape. Outrunning them proved difficult.

Picking them off one at a time worked, but every time I stopped to aim at one, the others surged closer and I risked getting stunned. Since I’d surprised the first, I’d had a much more difficult time with the other three. I wounded one enough that he dropped back, but the final two were persistent as hell.

I hoped Loch was having better results.

Polaris Rising is available now. The sequel, Aurora Blazing, arrives in October.

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A Beautiful, Bloody Fantasy Vision: Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf

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Marlon James fourth novel, and the first in a planned trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf seems an unusual next act for an author whose last book, the deeply literary A Brief History of Seven Killings, won the prestigious Booker prize (the first time the honor went to a Jamaican author). But if this marks his first voyage into full-on (if not entirely traditional) fantasy, he did flirt with genre elements in his debut, 2005’s John Crow’s Devil. But if the new novel’s logline—early press billed it as “an African Game of Thrones”—suggests James’ lane shift was motivated by a desire to write a bestseller, the final product allays those fears. This is unapologetically a fantasy, yes, and it’s full of monsters and magic and thrilling action—in short, it is great fun to read. But it is also every bit as complex and poetic as its prize-winning predecessor.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf introduces Tracker (his only name), a pragmatically ruthless, but not entirely amoral, hunter for hire. “He has a nose,” it if often said. Certainly he is possessed of a hunting ability that dances between the mere skill and the supernatural. At the novel’s outset, he returns an abused spouse to her husband as per the terms of the job he accepted, but not without providing her with a solid suggestion for permanently dealing with her tormentor. It’s seems the least he can do, but the act is reflective of not only Tracker’s own complex morality, but also the ambiguous ethics of the world he inhabits.

Tracker’s next job involves finding a boy who has been missing for three years. The hunt sends Tracker, who has partnered with a band of mercenaries, on a tour through James’ lush vision of fantasy land inspired by pan-African, pre-colonial history, myth, and trauma. They traipse though ancient cities and forbidding forests, pursuing and pursued by any number of horrific (and occasionally helpful) creatures. Each of the hunters (including one known as Leopard) hides secrets, and some know more than they’re willing to let on about the fate of the mysterious boy. Tracker’s doubts about his task grow as he’s forced to confront not only a dangerous quest but the realization that critical information is being withheld from him. Who is the boy, really, and why are so many people so invested in his recovery—or in ensuring he stays gone?

Yes, it’s tempting to compare every dark fantasy vision to A Game of Thrones, and there are elements reminiscent of George R. R. Martin’s unforgiving world and cast of unreliable, irredeemable characters. But the influences on display are many and varied: what Tolkien was able to do with the beats of western European folklore, James is does for sub-Saharan Africa, and then some. There’s also a flavor of Robert Howard in the way he luxuriates in the grit and grime of an earlier world that’s far more brutal, but also far freer than ours. And far from dodging the tropes of fantasy literature and folklore, James luxuriates in them—at least for a bit, before twisting them into entirely new shapes. The hunt for the boy is the point, but it’s also a framework for an exploration of an incredibly rich, instantly indelible world.

That’s all wonderful, but even more than for what the story is about, this book impresses for how it is about it. Marlon James lays out his prose like a king’s feast: it’s dense, layered, and incredibly rich. There are writers who can tell a great story, and there are writers who can cast a spell with words—either skillset can lead to a good book, but not every author is a master of both. James may just be. Certainly he tells an ripping story, all the while inviting (sometimes demanding) that you savor every sentence. It’s a fitting quality, given that the ability to tell a good story is so prized a skill in Tracker’s world.

This forbidding vision of an ancient Africa is beautiful and bloody, and as true as any real or imagined world described in literature. You might wish to visit, if the place wasn’t so likely to kill you. As Tracker and company wend their way through this phantasmagorical land at a deliberate, if not leisurely, pace, James’ attention to detail is nearly hypnotic. If it’s true that this is a long and dense book, and that it is easy to lose your way in the winding narrative, it is also true that not a sentence feels wasted. The prose is enchanting, which is not the same as calling it pretty: this is a world of blood, dirt, and stink—you can practically smell the musk and sweat pouring off of the unrepentantly filthy Leopard. The violence is visceral (among others, a moment involving a lost eye will stick with you for a long time). So is the sex, occurring most often between men (or male-identified were-creatures), which James describes with that same keen sense for tastes, sounds, and smells. For all the African influences, there’s a bit of Greek myth in the relationship between the book’s two lead characters, and the exhilaratingly free but unsentimental couplings, part and parcel of the novel’s exploration of notions of masculinity.

The story follows Tracker on a long and twisting journey, and the narrative momentum builds throughout. Along the way, the characters pass through extraordinary kingdoms and evocative landscapes—a wealth of pan-African history, myth, traditional religion, and legend sampled, re-mixed, and filtered through a prodigious imagination, and filled with tricksters, griots, witches, were-creatures, and giant men. Some of these elements are traceable to their inspirations, many others seem to have been reimagined so thoroughly as to be almost wholly the author’s.

In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James has crafted a world as beautiful as it is forbidding, full of slippery, fascinating, fully realized characters. It’s early days, but it surely seems likely to be judged one of 2019’s best and most revelatory works of fantasy.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is available now.

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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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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Epic Beginnings, Stranger Secrets, and America’s Alternate Futures

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
Twenty-five stories examining America’s many possible futures, written by some of the best and brightest in sci-fi and fantasy? Sign us up. Overseen by award-winning author Victor LaValle (The Ballad of Black Tom) and editor John Joseph Adams, and featuring contributions from N.K. Jemisin, Justina Ireland, A. Merc Rustad, Omar El Akkad, Charlie Jane Anders, Charles Yu, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and 18 others, this collection is packed with stories that extrapolate the realities our fraught present into fascinating, often dark visions of the future. From Americas where contraception is illegal, to ones in which the non-conforming are forcibly transformed to fit a biased “norm,” to more fantastical visions in which women learn to ride dragons. In one timely entry, a wall on the Mexican-American border results in a slew of unintentional consequences to Mexico’s benefit. These are tales that illustrate the power of speculative fiction—to combine imagination, storytelling, and social commentary in ways that tell us as much about where we’re going as where we are right now.

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Gwenda Bond
Netflix’s Stranger Things is a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, and YA regular Gwenda Bond earned the enviable task of bringing the ever-growing, ever-darker universe of the TV series to print. This prequel delves into the mysterious history of the woman who gave birth to waffle-loving telekinetic tween Eleven. The story travels back to 1969, when Terry Ives is a quiet college student who signs up for a government program code-named MKULTRA. As her involvement with this sinister experiment at the Hawking National Laboratory grows ever stranger, Terry begins investigating what’s really going on, recruiting her fellow test subjects for assistance—including a mysterious young girl with even more mysterious powers. A girl who doesn’t have a name, just a number: 008. This is a must for die-hard fans eager to explore all the secrets that won’t be revealed onscreen. The exclusive Barnes & Noble edition includes a two-sided poster featuring original artwork.

House of Assassins, by Larry Correia
The second entry in Correia’s Saga of the Forgotten Warrior series returns to the story of Ashok Vadal, a former soldier in a fiercely secular, fiercely divided magical world. In a society stratified into castes, the lowest of the low are the casteless—the untouchables. After infiltrating a rebel group that sought to free the casteless—a mission that led him to the prophet Thera Vane—former Protector Ashok Vadal now wields his magical blade Angruvadal and leads the Sons of the Black Sword on a mission to free Thera from the wizard Sikasso. All the while, he is hunted by the vengeful Lord Protector Devedas. As Ashok deals with the revelation that he is casteless himself—and apparently a pawn in a game he doesn’t yet fully grasp—he finds himself forced to fight without Angruvadal for the first time, and questioning whether his fate really has fallen to the gods. With this series, Correia brings all of the grit and narrative propulsion of his popular Monster Hunter urban fantasy series into the realm of the epic.

Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
Saga Press continues its campaign to bring Molly Gloss back into prominence with the SFF crowd, reissuing her fourth novel, the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award (presented to a work that explores or expands notions of gender). It is presented as the unedited journal of Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a woman living in Washington State in the early 20th century, doing her best to get by with her five children after her husband abandoned her. Drummond supports herself by writing novels about fierce and attractive girls who go on adventures. When her housekeeper Melba’s daughter goes missing in the wilds, Charlotte decides to follow her characters’ lead and heads out to find her. Soon lost herself, Charlotte uses her journal to keep a record of her increasingly strange journey into an American wilderness far odder than she ever dreamed. In a metafictional touch, this narrative is interspersed with snippets of her fiction and her musings on the constrictions her gender places upon her. Because this is ostensibly a fantasy novel, we should also note that Charlotte’s journal purports that she survived her ordeal in part by joining up with a group of giants living in the mountains. Though the fantastical elements are presented with a shade of ambiguity, Charlotte inarguably proves herself more than able to fill a role that in 1905 (and, perhaps, 2019) would normally fall to a strapping male protagonist.

Snow White Learns Witchcraft, by Theodora Goss
A collection of short fiction and poetry from the World Fantasy Award-winning, Nebula Award-nominated author of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Show White Learns Witchcraft is one to savor. As the name suggests, it collects fairy tale inspired works from across the dreadth of Goss’s career, among them “Red as Blood and White as Bone,” in which a poor serving girl decides to test the theory that all beggar women who come calling are secretly princess in disguise, seeking noble hearts, but learns that truth is more complicated than stories. “The Gold Spinner” reimagines Rumpelstiltskin as a desperate girl lying to save her own life, and “Conversations with the Sea Witch” revisits the now-human Little Mermaid in her old age. Revisionist fairy tales are as common as apples, but by virtue of their clever twisting of legends and their artful prose, Goss’s additions to the bushel are revealed as bright and glistening as rubies.

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks
The city of Athanor was set adrift long ago by alchemists called the Curious Men, moving through space and time and taking with it bits and pieces of every place it passes through along the way. Isten and her followers were one of among those bits and pieces, pulled into Athanor unwittingly. They are now stranded in the incredibly varied but dismally impoverished magical city. Isten’s people believe she is prophesied to set their homeland free, but Isten has succumbed to a terrible addiction, and she and her followers barely survive in the mean alleys of Athanor—until Isten meets Alzen, a member of the Elect. Alzen dreams of becoming the Ingenious, a master magic-user, and Alzen and Isten forge an unusual alliance, each determined to help the other fulfill their disparate disparate dreams in this impossible city. Darius Hinks is an award-winning writer of novels set in the Warhammer universe; The Ingenious is his first wholly original work, in every sense.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James is as impressive as the author’s pedigree would suggest. The Dark Star trilogy has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,” and the comparison is both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore. This is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities. Tracker’s mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters, and furthered along by a growing entourage of followers and allies, from a giant, to a sword-wielding academic, to  a buffalo that understands (and sometimes obeys) human speech. It already feels like a classic, and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy connects with James’s literary audience, and vice versa.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Jenn Lyons opens her planned five-book series with novel that defies traditional narrative structure. It begins as a conversation between the imprisoned Kihrin, awaiting what will certainly be a sentence of death, and his jailor Talon, a beautiful, demonic, shape-shifting assassin. As Kihrin tells a sad tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and earning the enmity of a cabal of sorcerers (raising more than a few questions about his real identity, and the true nature of a consequential necklace he claims was given to him by his mother)—Talon shares her own side of the story. The twin narratives slowly curl around each other (enriched by asides and often cheeky footnotes), illuminating different aspects of a world populated by incredible magic and a whole host of fantastic monsters and all manner of gods, demons, and men, all seemingly arrayed against Kihrin’s twisting journey to claim his legacy. The buzz for this series-starter has been building for months, and while the comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin are apt, Jenn Lyons has also proven to have her own fascinating perspective on epic fantasy. A must-read.

Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik
Jessie Mihalik’s first novel is a space opera with a healthy helping of sex and romance, telling the story of Ada von Hasenberg, fifth daughter of the influential House von Hasenberg. Two years ago, Ada fled an arranged marriage to Richard Rockhurst and has been racing to stay one step ahead of her father’s minions ever since. Luckily, she’s been the beneficiary of the standard von Hasenberg education, which ran the gamut from computer hacking to social engineering. When Ada is captured by bounty hunters, she makes an alliance with another prisoner, the notorious criminal and murderer Marcus Loch, possibly the most dangerous man in the universe. Together, the pair must break free from their captors and launch a desperate campaign to earn their freedom once and for all. Along the way, they’ll also need to learn to trust each other, and resist the undeniable attraction that has arisen between them. Fast, fun, and sexy, this debut offers a delightful escape into adventure.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, by Scotto Moore
Scotto Moore—the mind behind the darkly, strangely hilarious Lovecraftian Things That Cannot Save You Tumblr and the music blog Much Preferred Customers—writes a short, sharp debut novella that brings together both of his obsessions. It’s the story of a blogger who stumbles across most beautiful music he’s ever heard in his life—a song that mesmerizes him for hours, as if possessed of an arcane power. The band responsible, Beautiful Remorse, plans to release a new track every day for 10 days, and every subsequent tune proves to effect listeners and the world in increasingly powerful and devastating ways. As the blogger joins the band on tour and meets mysterious lead singer Airee Macpherson, he discovers the secret purpose behind the music. This quirky horror story is just as fun as the premise suggests.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning trilogy is collected in one volume alongside a brand-new short story. Though originally published as three separate works, Binti’s story gains new resonance when read as a whole: it’s a moving coming-of-age tale, following a young girl’s journey from a rigid home life, out into the black of space and back. The lush worldbuilding takes us from Binti’s origins with the Namibian Himba tribe, to the intergalactic Oomza University, and on an interstellar journey during which she meets and forms a most unusual bond with the truly alien Medusae. Over the course of these stories, Binti grows and changes, taking on the burden of her people’s legacy and, perhaps, the fate of the whole universe. Filled with unusual technology, breathless adventure, and unexpected twists and turns, Okorafor’s latest works of adult science fiction (she is also the author of the YA novels Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, as well as the World Fantasy Award-winner Who Fears Death) is a true delight.

10,000 Bones, by Joe Ollinger
This debut novel is build upon a harrowing premise that lends grim context to the title: life is brutal on the planet known as Brink, where calcium is in such short supply that is has become the local currency. As the government struggles to import enough of the mineral to keep the people alive (and are given no help by other colony worlds that wish to use Brink’s desperate need for it as leverage in trade agreements). a black market has arisen to deal in the stuff—and keep it out of general circulation, where it is desperately needed. Taryn Dare is a collections agent aiming to put a stop to the illegal calcium trade (and hopefully earn enough to make her way off-planet), but she soon uncovers a dark conspiracy that leads her to believe that things on Brink are more broken than she ever imagined. An unusual world well-explored, a compellingly flawed protagonist, and one breathless action sequence after another mark Ollinger’s first novel as a winner, no bones about it.

Fog Season, by Patrice Sarath
The sequel to The Sisters Mederos returns to the city of Port Saint Frey, where once wealthy siblings Tesara and Yvienne Mederos saw their family trimmed from the upper crust of society and were forced to determine the reasons why through schemes and cunning. With those intrigues out of the way, the sisters Mederos hope to settle back into their lives, but their successful efforts to deflect an investigation into the events of the first book become more difficult when a corpse shows up in the most expected place, and pulls them back into a fog of conspiracy. The Victorian trappings and feisty protagonists—Tesara’s sharp mind, and hidden magic, Yvinne’s sharper tongue—propel this mystery story merrily, murderously along.

Sisters of the Fire, by Kim Wilkins
The sequel to Daughters of the Storm continues the story of five sisters who set off to find a magical cure for their comatose father. the king. Five years later, Bluebell, the warrior among them, remains at home, the new heir to the throne. Ivy rules a prosperous port in a lonely marriage she’s taking terrible steps to end prematurely, Ash studies magic in the far-away wastelands; Rose lives in misery with her aunt, separated from her husband and child; and Willow hides a terrible secret that could destroy everything she and her sisters fought for—she holds the enchanted sword Grithbani, forged to kill her, and she is eager to use it. Bluebell is set upon by enemies both within and outside of her future kingdom even as her sisters pursue their individual and often tragic destinies.

What are you reading this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Epic Beginnings, Stranger Secrets, and America’s Alternate Futures appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.