Finding Friendship in a Dystopian Future: Announcing Firebreak, by Andre Norton Award-Nominee Nicole Kornher-Stace

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Whether you want to call it a pop culture trend or a reflection of the new global political zeitgeist, there’s no denying that we’re smack in the middle of some kind of Golden Age of the Dystopian Novel. Countless authors have turned their eyes toward the future and found it wanting—whether due to a climate apocalypse, political upheaval, technological collapse, or some combination of the above.

In 2020, Saga Press will deliver another entry in this burgeoning subgenre—one concerned with how society will survive omnipresent corporate dominance over our everyday lives. Firebreak, by Andre Norton Award-nominee Nicole Kornher-Stace (Archivist Wasp), is set in a bleak future in which corporate warfare has reshaped the world, and a young woman named Mallory has to figure out how to live in it.

Today, we’re thrilled to give you your first look at this forthcoming work. Check out a summary below, and keep reading for a few words from the book’s acquiring editor and a Q&A with the author herself.

Like everyone else she knows, Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war. As a child, she lost her parents, her home, and her entire building in an airstrike. As an adult, she lives in a cramped hotel room with eight other people, all of them working multiple jobs to try to afford water and make ends meet. And the job she’s best at is streaming a popular VR war game. The best part of the game isn’t killing enemy combatants, though—it’s catching in-game glimpses of SpecOps operatives, celebrity supersoldiers grown and owned by Stellaris, the corporation that runs the America she lives in.

Until a chance encounter with a SpecOps operative in the game leads Mal to a horrifying discovery: the real-life operatives weren’t created by Stellaris. They were kids, just like her, who lost everything in the war, and were stolen and augmented and tortured into becoming supersoldiers. The world worships them, but the world believes a lie.

The company controls every part of their lives, and defying them puts everything at risk—her water ration, her livelihood, her connectivity, her friends, her life—but she can’t just sit on the knowledge. She has to do something—even if doing something will bring the wrath of the most powerful company in the world down upon her.

Nicole Kornher-Stace is a brilliant futurist, and in the vein of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One combined with an episode of Black Mirror, Firebreak offers a chilling look at what feels like a not-too-distant future America divided by a civil war fought by corporations that only care about their citizens as long as they’re consumers. What will it take to make you rise up?

Navah Wolfe, Saga Press senior editor, found she was immediately drawn to the world of Firebreak.

“The thing about the dystopia in Nicole’s novel is that it feels so exceptionally possible,” Wolfe said. “We already live in such a corporation-dominated world, where corporations are people and corporate interests are elevated above real human interests, so the step beyond to corporations literally being in charge just felt very natural, in an absolutely terrifying way. What does it mean when the government is literally just run by people who want you to be good consumers? That’s horrifying.”

Perhaps more than that, however, Wolfe was pulled in by the relationships between the characters inhabiting this broken future: “[Beyond] the fully-realized, terrifying world—it’s the friendship between the protagonist and her best friend, the ladybromance at the heart of this story,” she said. “Give me a great friendship story, and you’ve got my heart.”

We also got a chance to talk with the author about the book. Below, she shares a bit about what inspired her to write, and why friendships in fiction can often be so much more powerful than romances.
B&N: Your past novels were aimed at a young adult audience but had definite crossover appeal for mature readers. Do you see Firebreak doing the same in the opposite direction? Do you see any difference in writing for adults?

Nicole Kornher-Stace: Honestly, I pay so little attention to marketing labels that I never considered the potential for crossover appeal until long after Firebreak was drafted. But I think that’s always been the case with me. When I wrote Archivist Wasp, I was pitching it as adult, for the entirely well-thought-out reason that it never occurred to me to do otherwise. It was suggested to me that it was a better fit with YA, so that’s how it ended up.

Writing Firebreak, it felt to me as if it could go either way—adult or YA—without really changing anything in the story in either direction. This is probably mostly a result of me reading adult SF from age 8 or 9, and enjoying everything from picture books through middle grade and YA to adult as, well, an adult. While I understand why the marketing labels exist, I personally find them really limiting as a reader, so as a writer I tend to avoid them where I can.

For me, there’s no measurable difference in writing YA or adult. But that is a result of how I like to tell stories. I always prioritize friendships over romantic relationships (more on that below!) and did receive some criticism for Archivist Wasp being a YA novel full of super intense friendship but utterly devoid of romance. I was told that “teens would find nothing to relate to” in a book that was 100 percent without romantic elements. Which made me all the more adamant to write exactly that kind of book.

The really amazing part is the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve been getting ever since from readers—teenage and adult alike—who found that lack of romance refreshing. That was terribly reassuring to see, because that’s the only kind of book I seem to know how to write. Archivist Wasp‘s sequel Latchkey had the same focus on platonic relationships, as does Firebreak, which I wrote without having any solid idea of whether it would be sold as YA or adult. Unlike Archivist Wasp, Firebreak isn’t a coming-of-age story as such. It’s a story about its protagonist’s journey from complacence to radicalization, which is a theme that I hope will find relevance with teen and adult readers alike.

It’s not hard to see reverberations of our present reality in your vision of a corporate-controlled future. Were there any specific elements of our modern day that informed your dystopian vision?
Short answer: Yup! Slightly longer answer: Lots. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been angry at the various awful ways people treat each other, the planet they live on, and the other species they share it with. I remember at one point as a teen being told that when I was an adult I wouldn’t be so angry anymore, that I wouldn’t have the time or the energy or the mental bandwidth or whatever to maintain that level of anger at things that don’t directly impact my ability to pay my bills. That I’d become, somehow, less liberal-minded as I aged, and care less about issues that don’t impact me directly. I’ve found—in the past few years especially—the opposite is true. I’ve been building up rage for a long time. This book is where I let it out.

I had the initial concept for Firebreak shortly after Archivist Wasp came out in 2015. I then went on to spend three years telling myself that while I loved the idea, I wasn’t good enough to write it yet. I made myself work on other things instead, doing research in the hopes that I’d let myself write it eventually, and at one point I realized I was just angry enough to give it a try. I ended up drafting it in six weeks, by far the fastest writing I’ve ever done.

It took some doing to figure out what the worldbuilding focus of Firebreak should be. Looking around even our present day—let alone extrapolating to the year 2134, when the book takes place—there is, if anything, too much to choose from, too many issues to tackle.

I knew I wanted it to be about water rights—the corporate privatization of a resource that belongs to us all— and after reading a number of books and articles and watching a number of documentaries on the topic, I ended up paring back most everything else to keep my focus there. But all human rights issues are intricately intertwined and many of them ended up being part of the fabric of the world of Firebreak.

My protagonist, Mal, is a refugee of a corporate civil war, living on the outskirts of New Liberty, a city built when many of the major coastal cities of today are lost to climate change. She lives in a hotel room with eight other people, all of whom subsist on corporate water rations and whatever unreliable work they can scrape together in an economy that revolves around control of the populace through engineered resource scarcity in a deep surveillance police state. Mal’s main source of income is from streaming BestLife, a massively multiplayer VR video game that’s based on the war in which New Liberty is embroiled, a game that was developed to romanticize that war and shore up ongoing support for it among the city’s consumer-citizens, even as their lives are ruined by it. The game becomes the springboard for Mal’s journey into activism, using the platform of her BestLife stream to tackle real-world issues.

We certainly seem to be in a golden age of dystopian sci-fi. What are your favorite examples of the form?

Fun fact about me: I will recommend books, movies, comics, video games, etc. all day every day, but the second I’m asked for my favorite examples of a genre, my mind snaps to a perfect, pristine blank. It’s a lot of fun on panels. So, not favorites, but ones that occur to me off the top of my head! An amazing classic dystopian is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, which everyone should read. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes is a dystopian novel I’ve really enjoyed in recent years, as is the Towers trilogy by Karina Sumner-Smith.

As far as visual media goes, I appreciated a whole lot about Snowpiercer and Black Mirror, and love both Mad Max: Fury Road and Edge of Tomorrow (more apocalyptic than dystopian, but still) with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

For really interesting takes on post-apocalyptic (not necessarily dystopian) I highly recommend An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet, Viscera by Gabrielle Squailia, The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison, Blackfish City by Sam Miller, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.

As for my all-time favorite weird post-apocalyptic anything, my heart will always belong to Adventure Time.

Your editor tells me that this book pivots not on a romantic relationship, but on one of friendship. Can you talk about why that was so important to you?

This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, one I’ve written and spoken about extensively before. A good example is my piece for The Book Smugglers here. I’ve also moderated and participated on convention panels on the topic, and I yell about it on Twitter with some frequency.

I think the short answer is simply that, all my life, I’ve had a really hard time finding fictional representation of the kind of relationship that’s important to me as a reader and writer and person. First, I’ve always wanted to see more same-gender friendships, especially between women. I’m seeing some great examples of those lately—again, Karina Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy is a shining example, as are the comics Lumberjanes and Rat Queens—but we can always use more.

What I see far, far less of is strong platonic m/f relationships in fiction that entirely avoid any hint of romance, sexuality, or sexual tension. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many of these I’ve encountered, and I spend some effort seeking them out. I realized a while back that this is, by an order of magnitude, my favorite type of relationship to write, and one that would have made the world far less confusing for me to navigate growing up if I’d seen it represented at the time. So that’s turned into, more or less, the Thing I Do when I write a book. I go into everything I write fully prepared to turn down offers if they demand I add in a romantic subplot. I’ve had to do this before and I’ll do it again. Absolutely zero regrets. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate enough to find excellent homes for my books, and I haven’t been asked to budge an inch on this point for a very, very long time.

Firebreak is actually built on two friendships. One is between Mal and Jessa, her best friend, roommate, and in-game teammate/business partner. It was really important to me to not only have this very strong friendship between two women, but as a lifelong gamer, to have a book in which the two main characters are gamer women. I wanted to write something of a response to the misogyny I’ve seen in other video-game-based books and movies, and so Mal and her co-streamer in BestLife could only ever have been women. The other friendship is a little weirder, and I don’t want to give away too much about it, but I will say it starts off as a friendcrush—something else I hardly ever see represented—and evolves into something a bit more complex.

Firebreak will be published in the Fall of 2020. Explore Nicole Kornher-Stace’s other novels here.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War Is a Time Travel Romance with Teeth

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Universes collide, literally, in This is How You Lose the Time War , a layered, emotionally complex time travel-cum-romance from award-winning co-authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. It is equally a tale of sci-fi espionage, a love story, and a rip-roaring adventure, featuring some of the most impressive, imaginative set pieces in any book you’ll read this year. El-Mohtar (“Seasons of Glass and Iron“) and Gladstone (Empress of Forever) are two authors at the top of their game; in joining forces they’ve sent notice to the rest of speculative fiction: they’re coming for all the awards.

Needless to say, it is one of the best books of the year.

Two agents on opposite sides of an endless war raging across time and space, affectionately known to one another as Red and Blue, meet cute in the most unusual way: via a letter found on the battlefield. Red encounters the missive in a world beyond apocalypse, her hands covered in blood of recently slain enemies, adrenaline pumping through her veins. She is greeted by three simple words: “Burn before reading.” Thus begins a correspondence between two soldiers on opposite sides of a war that has never begun because it has always been. Their relationship starts off snarky and baiting—like a fatal game of cat and mouse with enormous stakes—but slowly turns into one of respect, then something resembling passion, love, and hope for the future.

The story unfolds in epistolary format, through the back-and-forth of letters, Red to Blue and Blue to Red, that at once establish the complex, mutating relationship between the two, and drive forward a plot that progresses with the forward momentum of an avalanche. But these letters do not always come in the form of pen and ink: they are sometimes written in the bubbles of a working MRI machine found in a dilapidated hospital, or the sting of an insect, or the taste of a poisonous berry.

Bookending the found texts are brief interstitial chapters that unfold in a more traditional, though by no means straightforward, third-person voice, giving us a glimpse of Red and Blue in action. The two agents walk a tightrope as they weft and wend their way through a war that crosses literal eons—from the time of the dinosaurs, to futures beyond anything we can comprehend—remaining ostensible enemies, save for the bond of friendship and love blossoming between them.

The science fiction ideas in play are immense: Red and Blue’s factions— the machine-focused Agency and the biologically minded Garden, respectively—seek to manipulate time in ways small and subtle, but are nonetheless monstrous in their desire to tilt the ongoing Time War one way or the other. Red and Blue travel through various strands on the braid of time, sometimes living whole lives in host bodies until they pinpoint precise moment when their mission objectives can be achieved:

At the labyrinth’s heart there is a cavern, and soon into that cavern will come a gust of wind, and if that wind whistles over the right fluted bones, one pilgrim will hear the cry as an omen that will drive her to renounce all worldly goods and retreat to build a hermitage on a distant mountain slope, so that hermitage will exist in two hundred years to shelter a woman fleeing with child in a storm, and so it goes. Start a stone rolling, so in three centuries you’ll have an avalanche. (Ch. 3)

El-Mohtar and Gladstone examine historical manipulation—the way small knobs slightly turned, affecting the flapping of a metaphorical butterfly’s wings in Shanghai, and thus a hurricane elsewhere, with far reaching political, religious, and social implications—suggesting parallels to the way social and political agendas are laid out and manipulated by bad faith actors manipulating information streams in our world right now. SF has always been at its best when using big ideas to examine modern sociopolitical problems; This is How You Lose the Time War is a brilliant example of how to weave a strong narrative around big ideas and subtle themes. 

But as much as it is a substantive work, this novella is all about delivering a message with style: “Red wrote too much too fast,”  the narrator says. “Her pen had a heart inside, and the nib was a wound in a vein. She stained the pain with herself.” El-Mohtar and Gladstone, two of speculative fiction’s finest prose stylists, have bled themselves all over the page too. Every sentence, every word drips with meaning and emotion, florid displays that never obfuscates the narrative. As the story unfurls, and the letters grow ever fuller with furious love, it becomes clear that Red and Blue are seeking each other’s companionship for entirely different reasons. For Red, their coupling allows her to abandon loneliness; for Blue, it’s an escape from the shackles of her community. It’s a heartbreaking dichotomy, and through their growing bond, you can see the cries of those looking to escape the circumstances they have inherited from a series of choices and variables made and manipulated by others.

The writing approaches the density of poetry at times, but still the pages fly by. The story turns wheels in the brain, sets the heart pounding, and lingers in the memory. It’s impossible to resist the delicate unfurling of attraction, lust, adoration, and love between Blue and Red—and a marvel to realize that the whole affair works just as well as an unputdownable espionage thriller. The best books offer a new experience every time you read them; this one is wrapped in so many layers, cross-crossed with so many different possibilities and through lines, I don’t expect I’ll ever read it the same way twice.

This is How You Lose the Time War is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Authorized Fanfiction, Raging Dragons, and a Time Travel Romance with Teeth

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

Earth, by Ben Bova
Ben Bova’s Grand Tour around our solar system comes home (again) with the 22nd installment in one of the longest-lived series in science fiction. Previously, a dangerous wave of gamma radiation was detected moving through the Milky Way, destroying every planetary body it encountered, and our solar system—Earth included—faced annihilation some 2,000 years in the future. An advanced alien race, the Predecessors, has given humanity the technology necessary to survive the coming disaster, with the condition that we share it with other sentient species. With the crisis averted, humanity is split on whether to stick to our comfortable nine planets or head off into the wider galaxy with a plan to conquer it—and that division, between young and old, Earth residents and those out in the asteroid belt and on the outer planets, could trigger a interspecies civil war. An astronomer named Trayvon Williamson, just thawed from cryogenic freeze, might turn out to be the only one who can stop it.

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

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

The Philosopher’s War, by Tom Miller
The followup to The Philosopher’s Flight, a delightful slice of imaginative historical fantasy that critics hailed as an American answer to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, takes us deeper into a version of World War I-era America shaped by magic and differing social strictures. Robert Weekes was the first man ever to be admitted to Radcliffe College, the nation’s foremost college of “empirical philosophical arts” (read: magic) in hopes of contributing to the war effort alongside the greatest female magicians of the age. Now a graduate, he is a rookie in the US Sigilry Corps’s Rescue and Evacuation service—the first man to join the storied, all-woman team of flying medics. Deployed to France, Robert discovers the reality of frontlines service isn’t as romantic as he’d dreamed it would be, and finds himself chafing against the rough personalities of the women on his squad. Over time, he works to win their trust, as together they concoct a scheme to bring the Great War to an end, even if they have to employ illegal magical methods to do it. The second mission into the altered history is even more engrossing than the first.

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

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

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

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The Sci-Fi Spy Game Grows More Dangerous: Revealing The Aleph Extraction by Dan Moren

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Earlier this year, Dan Moren’s The Bayern Agenda introduced an intriguing world of sci-fi spycraft and crime capering involving a mismatched team of specialists and a heist on a bank the size of a planet. Needless to say after that setup, the first book of the Galactic Cold War series was a ton of fun.

Next March, Moren returns to the same setting for an even higher-stakes adventure in The Aleph Extraction, and today we’re offering a sneak peek. Below, find the official summary and the cover art, designed by Georgina Hewitt. Then keep scrolling to read an excerpt, carefully chosen by the author to offer maximum intrigue.

Aboard a notorious gangster’s luxurious starliner, Simon Kovalic and his crew race to steal a mysterious artifact that could shift the balance of the war.

Still reeling from a former teammate’s betrayal, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic’s band of misfit spies has no time to catch their breath before being sent on another impossible mission: to pull off the daring heist of a quasi-mythical alien artifact from under the nose of the galaxy’s most ruthless gangster, not to mention their cold war rivals, the Illyrican Empire. But Kovalic’s newest recruit, Specialist Addy Sayers, is a volatile ex-con with a mean hair-trigger — can he hold the team together, or will they turn on each other before the job even gets underway?


From the hall came the sound of raised voices. Even muffled by the door, it wasn’t hard to make out an irate one bellowing “Where is he?”

The color had drained from Tak’s face. “Look, you can’t turn me over to them. You know what they’ll do?”

“They won’t be buying you lunch, that’s for sure.”

Tak’s eyes jumped between the door and Kovalic, who maintained an air of studied indifference. “You gotta get me out of here.”

“And why would I do that?”

“I— I know stuff! That’s why you hired me, right?”

“You betrayed that trust when you started talking to the Illyricans.”

Scrambling backwards, Tak jerked against the plasticuff that attached his wrist to the chair. He rattled it and gave Kovalic a plaintive look. “I’ve got valuable intel, man!”

“Oh?” said Kovalic, looking up from an inspection of his fingernails. “Care to share?”

Somebody pounded on the door. “Open up! We know he’s in there!”

“Get rid of them!” said Tak. “And I’ll tell you everything the crims wanted to know.”

Kovalic tried not to roll his eyes at the slang. Illyrican Intelligence officers didn’t even wear crimson uniforms while they were in the field. “That’s one option. But you’re operating from a deficit here. Tell me first, and you have my word that whoever is on the other side of that door won’t hurt you.”

A bead of sweat dripped down Tak’s forehead. He glanced at Nat, standing behind him with all the interest of someone watching a particularly dry chemistry lecture, then back to Kovalic.

“Okay! Okay!” Tak looked around, as though someone might be listening in. “So there was this black market auction. Priceless antiquities, works of art, that kind of thing.”

“Art theft is kind of outside our jurisdiction,” said Nat. “Why should we care?”

“I’m getting there!” said Tak. “Look, this is a little bit stressful what with the pounding on the door and the fearing for my life.”

Kovalic gave an ‘ah‘ then nodded. “Fair enough. One sec.” He went to the door and, over a squeak from Tak, opened it. “Sergeant, would you mind keeping it down? We’re trying to have a conversation in here.”

Tapper peered over Kovalic’s shoulder, a faux contrite expression on his face. “Oh, sure thing, boss. Sorry about that. Didn’t realize you were in the middle of something.”

With that, Kovalic closed the door and sat back down opposite a confused-looking Takashi. “Now, where were we?”

Tak looked at the door, then back at Kovalic, then at the door again as his slightly addled brain processed everything. “You…fucking asshole.”

Kovalic snapped his fingers in the other man’s face. “Focus. Why do we care about the auction?”

But Tak’s expression had turned stubborn. “Why should I tell you anything?”

Kovalic glanced at Nat. “Should we tell him? I think we should tell him.”

“Oh, do let me,” she said, a touch of glee in her voice. Raising her sleeve, she touched a few controls andaA holoscreen popped open in front of Tak, perfectly framing him in his conversation with Kovalic. “If you don’t tell us, I’m going to send an anonymous tip to the Imperial Intelligence Services that one of their assets is feeding information back to the Commonwealth. Something tells me they’re not going to be as forgiving about it as we are.”

The other man gulped. “Okay, okay! Look, all I know is the Illyricans wanted info on where the auction was taking place, and on one specific lot. 2187.”

“What is it?”

Tak’s shoulders went up to his ears. “No idea! I told them what I knew, which was that the auction’s at the Citadel Hotel on Tseng-Tao’s Divide, two days from now. Oh, and I overheard them using a name…” His eyes flicked back and forth as he searched his memory. “Arcade? No, Arkady. I think. I don’t know who that is.”

An auction? On a third-rate moon? Running a hand through his hair, Kovalic shook his head. “We came all the way here for this?” He put his hands on his thighs and pushed himself up out of the chair. Fatigue swept over him; the bruises starting to form on his side took this opportunity to register their unhappiness and he massaged his rib cage.

Kovalic nodded at Nat to join him in the hallway and sent Tapper in to keep an eye on Tak. Just in case he tried to make a break for it, chair and all.

“So,” said Kovalic, letting out a long breath. “What do you think?”

“Well, it’s a lead,” said Nat. “But it’s pretty thin. The Imperium’s buying up art all of a sudden? Three months ago, they were teetering on the edge of financial ruin.”

“Seems out of character, I agree, but if there’s anything we can say about the Illyricans, it’s that they don’t waste time or resources unless there’s something to be gained. They must have a reason.”

“I hate to say it, but this looks like a prime example of ‘kick it up the chain.’”

“Oh yeah. He’s gonna love this one.” Kovalic frowned and prodded at his side again.

“How’s the damage?” said Nat, nodding at his torso.

“Not covered under warranty, that’s for sure.”

“You ruined my drone, too, by the way.”

“Easier to replace than my ribs. We should have had someone at the station in case he bolted.”

“You had no way of knowing he’d run. And we only have a limited number of bodies. We can’t cover everything.”

Kovalic rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Yeah. Well, maybe it’s time we fix that. We’ve been down one for too long.” His lips set. He’d struggled with filling the slot on his team for a whole host of reasons, and at the very top was guilt.

Something in Nat’s face softened and she reached out to take his arm. “It’s time.”

“Yeah. And I think I’ve got just the person for this job.”

Preorder The Aleph Extraction, available March 10, 2020.

The post The Sci-Fi Spy Game Grows More Dangerous: Revealing The Aleph Extraction by Dan Moren appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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The Truth Is the Most Dangerous Weapon in the Sci-Fi Horror Thriller Salvation Day

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The truth can be just as much of a weapon as anything—and true power often lies with those who control the flow of information. While the main characters of Kali Wallace’s tense sci-fi horror novel Salvation Day might be fighting for their lives against a derelict ship full of long-dormant dangers, not to mention a terrifying virus, they are often more endangered by what they don’t know because those in charge of the official record didn’t want them to. It’s an added layer that turns a twisty, moody sci-fi thriller into something grander, deeper, and more timely than it might otherwise appear.

The House of Wisdom was supposed to be the United Councils’ masterpiece, a grand experiment in space travel and scientific research destined to take humanity beyond the stars. Instead, a deranged crewmember released a bioweapon that killed everyone onboard save for 11-year-old Jaswinder “Jas” Bhattacharyya, who jettisoned in an experimental shuttle. Years later, a group of religious extremists launch a plot to hijack a student transport bound for the moon and claim House of Wisdom as their refuge in the stars. They kidnap Jas and others and hold them hostage, intending to use them to bypass the ship’s sophisticated security grid. But when they arrive, they find House of Wisdom is far from silent, empty, or unwatched. As the Lightists and government square off over the ghost ship, House of Wisdom itself finally decides to wake up, plunging terrorists and hostages alike into a struggle for which no one is prepared.

Wallace elevates a familiar premise—a group of explorers on a big, scary old ship full of danger—with strong characterization and tense plotting; there are interpersonal conflicts and flaring tempers aplenty, and things only get more complicated as both the terrorists and the government agents arrive on House of Wisdom. But the real danger is what each of the factions is hiding: the book begins with the “official” version of events, but chapter by chapter, it slowly fills in what actually happened onboard, and delves into the extensive coverup. It’s all about the manipulation of information, from the way the parties involved is forced to lie about what he witnessed, to the way terrorist leader Adam’s murderous plans begin to seem grow increasingly byzantine, to the way the Jas tries to outwit the terrorists by playing on their fears of the unknown. Each new revelation changes the context of events, shifting enemies into allies, as all the while a virus unleashed onboard the ship acts as kind of a wildcard. Wallace even weaponizes our expectations: the “approved” version of events ticks off all the tropes of sci-fi survival horror, only for the real version to contradict them at every turn.

Each twist of the plot splinters the competing factions further, as secrets are revealed about their true motivations, the horrifying past of the House of Wisdom massacre, and the origins of the virus, which seems to be actively hunting them throughout the ship. The tension build to an explosive climax and lingers in the aftermath, as all the secrets finally come spilling out, lending the novel a greater resonance in our Fake News era. It’s a contemplation of the power of information, of the duty of governments, and the horrifying things those on top will do things to those beneath them in pursuit of selfish ends. Kali Wallace has delivered a wild sci-fi suspense ride concealing a deeply important message about the danger of blindly trusting in what the powerful want you to believe.

Salvation Day is available now.

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

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Return to the United States of Japan: Revealing Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

In United States of Japan and Mecha Samurai Empire, award-winning author Peter Tieryas has created an alternate vision of an America much changed by Japan’s victory in World War II—filled with political unrest, intrigue, and giant robots inspired by Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

In March 2020, the series continues with Cyber Shogun Revolutiona standalone story that hews closer to political thriller than the machine-on-machine action of Mecha Samurai Empire. Today, we’re showing off the cover art, courtesy of Ace Books. Check it out below the official summary.

NO ONE SURVIVES AN ALLIANCE WITH THE NAZIS. NOT WITHOUT USE OF FORCE.

California, 2020. After a severe injury, ace mecha designer and pilot Reiko Morikawa is recruited to a secret organization plotting a revolt against the corrupt governor (and Nazi sympathizer) of the United States of Japan. When their plan to save the USJ from itself goes awry, the mission is only saved from failure because the governor is killed by an assassin known as Bloody Mary. But the assassin isn’t satisfied with just the governor.

Bishop Wakana used to be a cop. Now he’s an agent of the Tokko, the secret police. Following the trail of a Nazi scientist, Bishop discovers a web of weapons smuggling, black market mecha parts—and a mysterious assassin. This killer once hunted Nazis but now seems to be targeting the USJ itself. As the leaders of the United States of Japan come to realize the devil’s bargain they made in their uneasy alliance with the Nazis, Bishop and Reiko are hot on the trail of Bloody Mary, trying to stop her before it’s too late.

Preorder Cyber Shogun Revolution, available March 3, 2020.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Sandblown Epic, a Century of Classic Fantasy, and an ’80s-Style Postapocalyptic Doorstopper for Today

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Heart of Hell, by Wayne Barlowe
Celebrated SFF artist Barlowe wowed with his debut epic fantasy, God’s Demon, in which a denizen of Hell tired of suffering and exile raised an army of sinful humans and other demons to unseat Beelzebub and hopefully gain God’s mercy. Heart of Hell finds the demon Sargatanas triumphant and the doomed souls of Hell released from their bondage. But something is stirring in the depths, something older than Hell itself, even as Sargatanas is beset by three new problems in the form of Lilith, former consort to Beelzebub; Boudica, searching for her lost daughters; and Adramalik, seeking to claim his place as Prince of Hell. Barlowe conjures up unsettling imagery as he describes the brutal struggle for power in a Hell inspired by Paradise Lost.

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

Sealed, by Naomi Booth
Booth’s debut combines body horror and old-school pandemic fiction into the gloriously tense story of Alice, a woman nine months pregnant. The city where Alice and her husband Peter live is dealing with a terrifying epidemic called Cutis, which causes people’s skin to slowly seal over their orifices. Terrified for the birth of her baby, Alice decides to move with Peter to a secluded cabin far away from the infection vectors. But out in the middle of nowhere, Alice begins to worry it’s not quite secluded enough, and her relationship with Peter begins to fray into violence as she struggles to decide if her terror is unfounded or wholly justified.

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

Protect the Prince, by Jennifer Estep
Heavy lies the head in Estep’s sequel to Kill the Queen. Everleigh Blair may be the newly-crowned gladiator queen in Bellona, but that doesn’t mean her troubles are finished. She’s beset by a court of unfriendly, scheming nobles, and when an assassin tries to kill her in the throne room she realizes she’s not safe at all. Worse, Evie’s attempt to negotiate a treaty with the rival kingdom of Andvari runs up against the hatred of their king, who wants to punish Evie for the slaughter of his people during the Seven Spire massacre—just as she’s also dealing with an inconvenient attraction to his bastard son, Lucas. To make her reign even more complicated—and dangerous—her immunity to magic has become unpredictable, leaving Evie to wonder if she has the strength to be rule after all.

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

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

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

Growing Things, by Paul Tremblay
No one mixes dread, mystery, and beautiful prose quite like Tremblay. These 19 short stories prove it. The term literary horror fits what Tremblay does perfectly—these stories have layers, and can be challenging. but at their core, they are built of terrifying ideas communicated in horrifying ways. This collection includes “The Teacher,” a nominee for the Bram Stoker Award, which tells the tale of bored students who watch a strange video in class that stays with them for the rest of their tormented lives. “The Getaway” begins as a tense chronicle of desperate criminals and evolves into a chilling ghost story. And the title story describes a slow-growing apocalypse that begins with two young girls and ends with no more stories to tell. Several more of the stories link directly to Tremblay’s celebrated novels, making it particularly essential for those fans who have yet to explore his shorter works.

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

Across the Void, by S.K. Vaughn
In Vaughn’s tense, tightly-plotted new sci-fi thriller, Commander Maryam Knox wakes up from a coma on a badly damaged vessel with a very dead crew—the victims of a terrible accident or brutal massacre. May initially has no memory of who she is, but soon realizes she was captain of the Hawking II on a mission to Europa. Now she’s the sole survivor on a drifting ship, with limited and rapidly depleting resources. Back on Earth, her husband Stephen—who had thought their marriage over after the strain of her unilateral decision to take the mission—desperately tries to help her survive. But Maryam may not be alone on board the Hawking II, and not everyone on Earth wants her to come back alive at all. She’ll have to piece together the mystery if she’s going to survive in the void of space.

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

What new SFF are you reading this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Sandblown Epic, a Century of Classic Fantasy, and an ’80s-Style Postapocalyptic Doorstopper for Today appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Ragtag Crews in Space Opera

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Space opera is having a good year. The genre has never been a more popular—or better represented—and it’s easy to see why: on the one hand you’ve got the flash—big space battles, epic timelines, and thrilling adventure. On the other, you’ve got the substance—strong, character-focused stories following the sort of scrappy, ragtag crews that make flitting about in the vacuum of space protected by a thin sheath of metal seem almost fun.

A group of desperate, unlikely comrades who come together to overcome the odds is a classic trope, of course. But it never satisfies quite so much as when given a shiny SFnal coating, whether via space merchants, space pirates, or space privateers. Here are 10 of the best “ragtag crews” in space opera books today (sorry, Firefly fans, the new universe of tie-in fiction is great, but we want to shine a light on some lesser-known folks today).

The Keiko series, by Mike Brooks
Captain Ichabod Drift, formerly famed privateer Nicolas Kelsier, and his crew of thieves, con artists, and mercenaries on board the Keiko are some of the most entertaining rogues in modern-day space opera. Combining Ocean’s 11-levels of deception and audacity to get themselves in and out of scrapes, Drift and his team define the concepts of both “rag-tag” and “diverse”: ex-galactic agent Tamara Rourke, expert with a weapon; Maori muscle Apirana “Big A” Wahawaha, the physically imposing Dutchman Micah van Schaken; hacker Jenna McIlroy; and pilot Jia Chang and mechanic Kuai Chang (who are mainly loyal to each other). Brooks imbues the crew with a sensible level of pragmatism—these are people who just want their allocation of the loot as they pursue something resembling freedom, and are willing to bend and break laws in order to get it.

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone
The Hugo-nominated author of the Craft Sequence fantasy series makes a stunning shift to sci-fi with this splashy, wildly imaginative, utterly strange, and truly intergalactic standalone novel, the anti-hero’s journey of Vivian Lao, a brilliant, morally conflicted young tech billionaire who is targeted by her enemies and forced to fake her death. She flees to a server farm at the center of the worldwide digital cloud, intending to hack in and get revenge, she unwittingly trips an alarm, endangers a dear friend, and encounters a powerful glowing figure who transports her into an unknown realm that might be a distant galaxy, the far future of her own, or something else entirely. Viv finds herself in a time and place she doesn’t recognized, a universe ruled by the terrifying, emerald-skinned Empress, whose access to a far more advanced Cloud allows her monitor everything, and destroy any civilization that advances to a point that might attract the attention of the Bleed, a truly alien entity that devours reality itself. Viv wasn’t built for terror and passivity, though, and quickly assembles a, yes, ragtag group to help her (and satisfy their own agendas and vendettas against the Empress)—a monk, a heretic, an ex-warlords, and a being made up of sentient nanobots—and dedicates herself to breaking the Empress’ hold on the universe. Like Guardians of the Galaxy on mescaline, it’s space opera like you’ve never imagined it—but all the action and spectacle wouldn’t matter if you didn’t care so much for the characters.

Pock’s World, by Dave Duncan
Duncan’s novel isn’t a space opera, but it’s ragtag crew is still brilliantly composed. When a distant planet is put under quarantine because it may have been infested with aliens using the human population as incubators, a team is assembled to investigate. It consists of a near-fanatic priest, a journalist looking out for himself, a politician, a government cog, and a billionaire seeking adventure—and they all have their own secret motivations for joining up. In other words, Duncan has skillfully transplanted the trope from a space opera into a different kind of sci-fi, and it works brilliantly: hey hook up, fall out, and jockey for advantage even as they discover the horrifying truth of what they’re up against.

Stars Uncharted series, by S.K. Dunstall
The two-person team behind the Dunstall pen name offer up classic space opera with a modern vibe in Stars Uncharted. Captain Hammond Roystan is a cargo runner who stumbles onto the salvage claim of a lifetime: the Hassim, an exploration ship that contains invaluable data about unexplored worlds. Roystan knows if he can assemble a crew and get to the drifting ship before anyone else, he’ll have it made. One delight is that the pressure makes him cut some corners when it comes to putting that crew together, leaving open plenty of opportunity for a rougher element to join up. Hammond overlooks one obvious deception—his junior engineer is filled with bioware that puts the lie to her claim of a humble existence on the rim. Seems Nika Rik Terri is a modder on the run from angry clients, and knows more about weapons and strategy than a fledgling modder should. As the group sets out for the Hassim, they’re pursued by dangerous forces who’d love nothing more than to beat them to the score. Book two, Stars Beyond, arrives in 2020.

The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt
The diverse and engaging crew of the White Raven and its captain, Kalea “Callie” Machedo, make a living running freight and claiming salvage on the edges of the solar system. When they run across a centuries-old exploration ship, it seems like a stroke of luck—until they discover a single female crew member in cryosleep onboard. Callie makes the decision to wake the woman, Elena, from suspension, and she tells them a desperate tale of first contact with an alien race. It’s up to the White Raven crew to inform her that humanity made contact a long time ago—but Elena reveals she encountered a different alien race, and they left her with gifts that could determine the future of the human race, or it lack thereof. Pratt achieves a perfect balance of making hanging out with the crew half the fun and the deep mystery with huge stakes the other half—a trick few authors can pull off. The story continues in The Dreaming Stars and the forthcoming The Forbidden Stars.

Reliance, by Kaitlyn Andersen
Andersen’s debut novel introduces Finn No Last Name, a woman who survives on a Mud Pit teeming with criminals and worse by being the best thief within light years. When a bungled job traps her on a merchant ship, her only thought is escaping back to the world she knows, no matter how awful it is. But the ship, the Independence, helmed by Captain Shane Montgomery, is more than just a merchant ship: it’s a sanctuary for the “blended” half-breeds that the Reliance ruthlessly hunts. Finn soon finds herself caught up in a mission that could upset the balance of power in Reliance-held space—or kill them all. One of the most satisfying aspects of the ragtag crew trope is that sense of a found family, and an odd sort of family that Finn finds here.

The Long Way to Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
Becky Chambers’ irresistible debut novel revels in the motley nature of the crew onboard the Wayfarer. The ship itself is almost a part of the group, as it’s an elderly vessel with a self-aware computer, held together by numerous repairs and patches. But that’s part of its charm, and it matches the crew, which includes the well-intentioned captain, Ashby; the hilarious and talkative engineers Kizzy and Jenks; and the serious reptilian pilot Sissix. What Rosemary Harper sees in the Wayfarer is an escape: a way to get out into the universe (not to mention a few meals and a place to sleep). But what she gets, in addition to an ersatz family in the form of this crew of oddballs and misfits, is adventure with a capital A. There’s a reason these books are so celebrated, and it starts with the depth of emotion that Chambers imbues her crew with—and the slow realization by Rosemary that the Wayfarer may be the best thing that’s ever happened to her, even if it kills her.

The Tales of the Ketty Jay, by Chris Wooding
This series mixes magic with its fantastical, steampunk-flavored technology, which technically makes this science fantasy rather than science fiction (a not insignificant distinction for some readers), but those who would skip it for a few magic stones would be missing out on the closest thing to a new episode of Firefly between two covers. (Well, except for, er, those aforementioned Firefly tie-in novels… they really are quite good!) Series opener Retribution Falls introduces Darian Frey,captain of the Ketty Jay, a pirate airship crewed by misfits, many of them wanted for a crime or three: Crake, who studies daemons and is followed around by an golem; New crewmember Jez, who wants to keep the secret of why she’s gone pirate; Malvery, an alcoholic doctor. They carry off small bits of sky piracy to stay afloat, but when Frey stumbles across a bit of spicy intel, they attempt to pull off a more elaborate heist, but their attempt to make off  with a treasure goes sideways and they wind up the most wanted ship in the world, pursued by a whole host of enemies competing to see who can reach them before they reach safety (and find answers) in Retribution Falls. Though a sequel, The Black Lung Captain, followed, the series was slow to find an audience in the U.S. but performed strongly enough in its native Britain to merit two more sequels there, The Iron Jackal and Ace of Skulls, which were eventually imported by a different publisher. Read them all.

Gap into Conflict, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Donaldson’s classic 1990s space opera makes no bones about the fact that it was directly inspired (and somewhat modeled on) Richard Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (often referred to simply as The Ring Cycle). But don’t let the lofty themes and increasingly-complicated story (which doubles-back on itself several times) fool you: at its core, it’s the adventure of a ragtag space pirate crew led by Nick Succorso, captain of the Captain’s Fancy. One of the pleasures of this dark and frequently horrifying saga is the way the reader’s assumptions—based on incomplete information—are routinely challenged. The ultimate role of Nick’s crew, which seems so initially loyal and subjugated, is one of the best plot twists that Donaldson ever pulled off.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White
In a past life, Boots Elsworth was a treasure hunter—one of the best. Now past her prime, Boots has been reduced to selling information about fake salvage opportunities and hoping no one comes back for a refund. But then she unexpectedly stumbles onto some real information: the story of what happened to the legendary warship Harrow, one of the most powerful weapons ever created. And then there’s Nilah Brio, once a famous racer in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation, until she was framed for murder. On the run to prove her innocence, Nilah chases her one lead—the real killer, now hunting someone named Boots Elsworth. They eventually wind up on the same ship, the Capricious, the captain and crew of which have been manipulated by these crafty and desperate women. That crew, and especially the cynical and snarky quartermaster Orna, are ragtag without being silly, presented as individuals who have come together with common purpose and are now faced with an increasingly short list of options and reacting accordingly. It’s terrific stuff—and those titles: book two is A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy and the forthcoming finale promises a visit to The Worst of All Possible Worlds.

Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns
There’s a fine line between a ragtag crew and a band of space pirates, but we’re slipping in R.E. Starns’ Shieldrunner Pirates books—starting with Barbary Station—on a technacality, since at the time the series begins, the pirates’ reputation far outstrips their actual ability for plundering the galaxy, what with their troubles with a space station’s rogue A.I. It was that once-fearsome rep that attracted many of their ragtag members, including disgruntled engineering students/lovers Adda and Iridian, who pulled off a con to impress Captain Sloane after they left school with deep debt and no job prospects. Sloane’s crew always seems to be up against the ropes, which gives the series the feel of a classic ragtag tale. The final volume of the trilogy, Gravity of a Distant Sun, arrives early next year.

Bonus Entry:

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Not technically a novel, but still very much a “print” thing: This series of comics, collected into graphic novel form, was explicitly inspired by Star Wars but imagines a universe far weirder, and all its own. It’s the star-cross’d tale of a mixed-species alien couple fleeing an intergalactic war between their respective planets in order to protect their infant daughter—the first of her kind—from those who would rather see her death than made a symbol of the anti-war movement. It’s set against a backdrop of truly spectacular, often surreal imagery provided by artist Fiona Staples. This isn’t your typical ragtag crew, or your typical ship—in fact, it isn’t a ship at all, but a rocketship tree (and why you’re not already buying every volume of the series based on that alone is a mystery to me). Alana (who has wings) and Marko (who has horns), are our forbidden lovers from another motherplanet, and they have an equally forbidden baby, Hazel. Along the way, they attract a crowd of weirdos, including Izabel, who happens to be the ghost of a girl killed long ago by a landmine, a reclusive sci-fi author, a pair of queer investigative reporters, an exiled robot prince, and Marko’s parents—one of whom is a battle-scarred grandma.

Draft your own All-Star rag-tag crew in the comments!

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