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Dragons

Ty Drago. eSpec, $18.95 trade paper (386p) ISBN 978-1-949691-45-0

With this ambitious genre-bender, Drago (Torq) delivers an uneven mash-up of mythology and technology set in the near future. Andy Brand appears human, but he’s really descended from dragons called Kind, whose first mandate is to “Conceal and Protect” their own. When Andy is kidnapped by the power-hungry Coffin Solar Exploration company, he fights to keep his dragon identity secret as CSE’s operatives relentlessly goad him into revealing his true nature. He only lowers his guard around fellow captive Miranda Fiero, with whom he becomes romantically involved. So when CSE subjects Miranda to a cruel punishment, Andy transforms into his dragon self to save her—playing right into CSE’s hand. His identity in the open, Andy finally learns the company’s true motives for abducting him: CSE needs a dragon’s aid in a crucial space mission for the benefit of humankind. The mystery behind Andy’s capture unravels slowly, keeping readers hooked, but once the novel shifts from fantasy to science fiction the stakes feel both lower and vaguer. Drago does a fine job creating multilayered characters, and his worldbuilding is commendably detailed, but the tonal shift is jarring and will leave fans of each genre mildly unsatisfied. The two halves of this novel don’t create a cohesive whole. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Reclaimed

Madeleine Roux. Ace, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49185-5

The sole survivor of a suicide cult leaps at an opportunity to have her traumatic memories erased in this tense sci-fi thriller from Roux (Salvaged). Senna Slate is eager to move on from her time in the Dohring-Waugh cult, but overwhelmed by the bustle aboard the Tokyo Bliss space station. When tech pioneer Paxton Dunn offers her a chance to participate in a trial program that promises to erase bad memories, Senna travels to Paxton’s facility on Ganymede to participate. She’s joined by demanding supermodel Zurri and teenage hacker Han, both of whom have their own traumatic memories they wish erased. Senna, Zurri, and Han’s distinct personalities captivate as they settle in on Ganymede, offsetting the more two-dimensional Paxton. As they proceed with the program, uncomfortable side effects plague Senna and the others, including disorientation, brutal headaches, and frightening visions. Entertaining as it is to see these characters grapple with their sense of self as they realize there’s something wrong on Ganymede, the focus is more on Paxton’s strange technology and the way he abuses it than on the experiment’s human consequences, culminating in a reveal which, though thought-provoking, is not entirely convincing. Still, sci-fi fans will be taken with Roux’s premise and well-crafted intrigue. Agent: Kate McKean, Morhaim Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Best of World SF: Volume 1

Edited by Lavie Tidhar. Head of Zeus, $39.95 (624p) ISBN 978-1-83893-764-5

This excellent anthology proves editor Tidhar’s assertion that science fiction should no longer be thought of as “white, male, and American” with 26 exemplary stories from 21 countries. French author Aliette de Bodard draws on her Vietnamese heritage in the Nebula Award–winning “Immersion” to examine the strain of keeping one’s culture alive within a dominant interstellar civilization. Francesco Verso’s “The Green Ship,” translated from the Italian by Michael Colbert, sees a boatload of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Benghazi in the near future. In the poignant “Delhi” from Indian author Vandana Singh, a young man copes with a barrage of glimpses into the past, present, and future of that ancient city. Cuban author Malena Salazar Macia shows how post-human technology can recreate the primitive past in “Eyes of the Crocodile,” translated by Toshiya Kamei. “Xingzhou” by Singaporean author Ng Yi-Sheng energetically whips mythic and literary tropes into a witty souffle. And the Hugo-winning “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” by Malaysian author Zen Cho is an amusing and moving tale of a larval dragon’s millennium-long wait to ascend to its true form. Worthwhile both as a survey of international sci-fi and on a story-by-story level, this wonderful anthology should be a hit with any sci-fi fan. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Godstone

Violette Malan. DAW, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1627-0

Malan (The Mirror Prince series) transports readers to an exciting world of high-stakes magic in this epic fantasy series launch. Fenra Lowens, a magic Practitioner adept at healing, hasn’t returned to the City since she graduated from the White Court, preferring to work in the outer Modes. The story kicks into gear when her patient, Arlyn Albainil, receives a letter summoning him to the City to execute the will of his cousin, Xandra, a Practitioner himself, who is missing and presumed dead. Arlyn is suspicious, knowing Xandra’s vault holds a dangerous artifact called a Godstone and fearing the White Court plans to use him to access to it. Fenra soon realizes that there is no missing cousin: Xandra and Arlyn are one and the same. The Godstone almost destroyed the world once and shutting it away drained Arlyn of his powers, so he’ll need Fenra’s help to keep it—and the world—safe. Malan’s elaborate worldbuilding and nuanced characters help keep the pages turning on the way to the slow-building climax. The unexpected plot twists and a subtle hint of romance will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment. Agent: Joshua Bilmes, JABberwocky Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Under the Whispering Door

T.J. Klune. Tor, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-21734-9

A dead man reconsiders his life in this charming fantasy from Klune (The House in the Cerulean Sea). At 40, white bisexual Wallace Price is a ruthless lawyer with no empathy for those around him. When he dies suddenly, prickly reaper Mei arrives to escort his ghost to Charon’s Crossing, a tea shop run by Hugo Freeman. Hugo, a Black gay 30-year-old, serves as a ferryman, guiding souls to whatever comes next. Hugo tells the angry, disbelieving Wallace that he can stay at Charon’s Crossing until he’s ready. But Wallace will never be ready, and after trying to run away and discovering that he’ll become an inhuman Husk if he does, Wallace settles into life in the bustling cafe, learning to manipulate objects from Hugo’s ghostly grandfather, Nelson, and slowly becoming a better person as attraction blooms between him and Hugo. But when Mei reaps Alan Flynn, the victim of a murder, his rageful spirit upends the cozy, found family dynamic at Charon’s Crossing. The frightening Manager arrives to deal with Alan—and gives Wallace just one more week on Earth, setting off a scramble to find a loophole. Tenderness, wit, and skillful worldbuilding elevate this delightful tale. Fans of queer fantasy won’t want to miss this. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Broken God

Gareth Hanrahan. Orbit, $17.99 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-70567-7

Hanrahan ramps up the eldritch pyrotechnics in his gritty third Black Iron Legacy epic (after The Shadow Saint). Cari Thay, the Saint of Knives, travels to mysterious Khebesh, hoping to trade a grimoire to that land’s sorcerers in exchange for their help restoring her friend Spar, who was once human but has been transformed into a semi-divine being animating the living stone of Guerdon’s New City. Her voyage hits trouble on the island of Ilbarin, now ruled by Artolo, a member of the dragon-controlled crime syndicate Ghierdana who seeks revenge on Cari. Meanwhile in Guerdon, young Rasce has taken Artolo’s place in the Ghierdana, and his orders are to gain control of the city’s alchemical resources. When Spar’s broken consciousness connects with Rasce, Rasce is quick to exploit Spar’s powers. And across the sea, Cari must forge a path through the ruins of the Godswar to reach her goal. Hanrahan’s prose and imagery harken back to the best of classic sword and sorcery fantasy with humans struggling to survive as deities battle. This will please series fans and appeal to readers who fondly remember Robert Asprin’s Thieves’ World series. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Final Girl Support Group

Grady Hendrix. Berkley, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-20123-7

Hendrix (The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires) delivers a wildly entertaining romp through the conventions of horror’s slasher film subgenre. The novel’s title refers to a Los Angeles–based therapeutic support group for six “final girls”—survivors of mass-murderer rampages whose experiences inspired the splatter-film franchises that saturated horror cinema in the 1980s and ’90s, earning them minor celebrity. When one of the six is murdered decades after she escaped her assailant, and others come under violent assault, Lynnette Tarkington—herself a survivor of the Silent Night Slayings of 1988—realizes that someone is trying to orchestrate an extravagant final girl finale. But is the killer a garden-variety homicidal maniac, an unhinged slasher-film superfan, or someone more intimately familiar with their group? Hendrix masterfully evokes the paranoid existences of his diverse cast in the aftermath of their traumatic ordeals, and he so explicitly details the massacres and fictional film sagas that grew out of them that readers may believe them to be real. The result is a wonderfully suspenseful and darkly comic novel that cleverly subverts popular culture. Horror fans will be wowed. Agent: Joshua Bilmes, JABberwocky Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Unmasked

Edited by Kevin J. Anderson. WordFire, $30.99 (332p) ISBN 978-1-68057-228-5

Anderson (editor, Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem) and his graduate students at Western Colorado University bring together 21 speculative shorts that share the timely, if at times belabored, theme of masks. Some of these masks take literal form—as in Seanan McGuire’s “Pygmalion,” in which the daughter of a superhero confronts her family’s legacy—while other stories adopt a more metaphorical approach, including “Masque” by J.L. Curtis, about an 18-year-old Native American boy enlisted in the U.S. Army who uses his ability to transform into a wolf to spy on enemy troops. These fantasies are positioned alongside science fiction pieces like “The Green Gas” by Liam Hogan, which takes readers into a postapocalyptic world where an orphaned girl learns the consequences of being caught in chemical-infested air without a gas mask. Though the emphasis on masks can feel a bit cheesy, the stories offer a wide range of genre and setting, giving readers a varied assortment of adventurous tales to journey with. It’s fun, easy reading best taken in small doses. (July)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Through a Forest of Stars

David Jeffrey. Sylvanus, $12.99 trade paper (442p) ISBN 978-0-9986742-4-7

The discovery of an Earth-like planet 27 light years away spurs fierce competition in Jeffrey’s dense but exhilarating debut. In 2217, Terra Corp’s exploration ship Argo travels through a wormhole to the Chara system to find the pristine planet Silvanus, which boasts oxygen, water, and plenty of plant life. Silvanus offers hope to humankind, who have outgrown the environmentally degraded Earth, but also ignites conflict. The ruthless Terra Corp chairman wants sole rights to Silvanus so he can strip mine it; the Luna-based Gaians, a group of nature-worshipping scientists, hope to preserve it untouched; and the militaristic Allied Republics of Mars aims to colonize it. Caught in the middle is planetary geologist Aiden Macallan. After crashing on Silvanus, Aiden surveys the planet and discovers a form of intelligent life. Meanwhile, the many factions converge in a flurry of space battles and political machinations with “the future of human civilization” at stake. Jeffrey juggles myriad story lines in his exploration of the sociopolitical ramifications of space colonization and man’s obsession with dominion over nature and each other. The result is a smart, if at times overcomplicated, story that weaves accurate hard science with imaginative space opera. Readers will be glad to immerse themselves in Jeffrey’s immensely detailed world. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Black Sci-Fi Short Stories

Edited by Tia Ross. Flame Tree, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-83964-480-1

Ross brings together 20 classic and contemporary writers for this excellent primer on Black sci-fi writing, with stories ranging from the pensive to the action-packed. The thought-provoking foreword by Temi Oh, who also contributes the emotionally charged short story “Almost Too Good to Be True,” and scholarly but accessible introduction from Sandra M. Grayson, set up any newbie to Black science fiction with a crash course in its historical context and contemporary relevance. Canonical authors including W.E.B. Du Bois, whose apocalyptic “The Comet” concerns the last Black man and white woman in New York City, and Pauline Hopkins, who imagines a lost African society in “Of One Blood,” are put in conversation with standout contemporary authors including Harambee K. Grey-Sun (“The New Colossuses”) and emerging writers such as Tara Campbell (“The Orb”). With topics ranging from slavery to space travel, the impressive breadth of this anthology makes for a well-rounded survey. Readers, writers, and scholars alike will find great value here. (June)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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