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The Mythic Dream

Edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. Saga, $24.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6239-6

Wolfe and Parisien (Robots vs. Fairies) have compiled an impressively varied compendium of myth reimaginings by numerous well-known speculative fiction writers. Rebecca Roanhorse riffs on the ever-present danger of obsessive love in the futuristic “A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy,” based on the Tewa Native American story of Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden. Alyssa Wong modernizes Artemis and Actaeon, examining the timely question of female safety, solidarity, empowerment, and consent in “Live Stream.” Seanan McGuire relocates the myth of Hades and Persephone to the heart of carnival life in “Phantoms of the Midway,” while Amal El-Mohtar (“Florilegia; Or, Some Lies About Flowers”) and Sarah Gailey (“Wild to Covet”) confront questions of female agency and resistance in their respective reinterpretations of the myths of Blodeuwedd, a wife created from flowers for an unworthy husband, and Thetis, the mother of Achilles. This eclectic, often subversive collection will appeal to fairy tale fans who want something new and different. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Menace from Farside

Ian McDonald. Tor.com, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-250-24779-7

The sophisticated worldbuilding McDonald presented in his Luna trilogy is sadly absent in this forgettable novella, presented in the form of a bratty teen’s recounting of an adventure to a therapist. In 2089, Cariad Corcoran, who was born on the Moon, is rattled by the arrival of a previously unknown stepsister, Sidibe Sisay, whose existence further complicates her messy family relationships. Intimidated by Sidibe’s height, beauty, and ability to fly (a nod, as the title suggests, to Robert A. Heinlein’s 1957 story “The Menace from Earth”), Cariad concocts a scheme that is somehow supposed to undermine Sidibe’s new prominence in the family. Cariad, Sidibe, and two others are to travel to the Sea of Tranquility to leave their marks next to Neil Armstrong’s footprint, a mission that proves unexpectedly perilous. The Luna novels feature a complex struggle for power among family-run corporations that have industrialized the Moon; this slight effort will disappoint readers hoping for more glimpses of those elements, as here the tangled dynamics come across as superficial and confusing. Heinlein fans might get a chuckle out of the parallels, but McDonald fans will find the story unimpressive. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Vanished Birds

Simon Jimenez. Del Rey, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-12898-5

In a profound look at humankind’s spacefaring future, Jimenez’s debut tells of both anguish and love as the result of heart-wrenching decisions. A century from now, aerospace engineer Fumiko believes humans should leave the climate-ravaged Earth, and regretfully chooses her career designing space stations over her lover, Dana, who would rather advocate for trying to save the planet. But Dana’s efforts fail, and Earth is abandoned. Fumiko extends her life through periods of suspended animation as humans colonize the galaxy. Nearly 1,000 years later, Ahro, a boy who doesn’t speak, crash-lands on a distant farming world. Spaceship captain Nia agrees to take Ahro back to Pelican, a station Fumiko designed. As they travel through “pocket space,” where a few months pass for them while years go by in normal space, they grow close and Nia becomes protective of Ahro. When Fumiko learns Ahro has powers that could speed up space travel—abilities sought by Fumiko’s employer, the megacorporation Umbai, which is looking for more efficient ways to pillage planets—she offers Nia the opportunity to keep the boy hidden, which Nia accepts, leading to ripples of choices and consequences. This is a mostly progressive future, but classism, unchecked capitalism, and resource exhaustion loom large. This extraordinary science fiction epic, which delves deep into the perils of failing to learn from one’s mistakes, is perfect for fans of big ideas and intimate reflections. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stories to Sing in the Dark

Matthew Bright. Lethe, $17 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-59021-704-7

Bright’s haunting debut collection reimagines common speculative tropes through a queer lens. Many of the stories are quiet, with an undertone of sadness, pain, or loss. Some of the best ones center on LGBTQ characters and subvert old stereotypes. In “Director’s Cut,” a character hopes to escape the “bury your gays”–type fate that’s been written for him, refusing to die to atone for his sexuality. “Golden Hair, Red Lips” retells the story of Dorian Gray in an AIDS-ravaged San Francisco. “No Sleep in Bethlehem” is a gothic tale full of ghosts and pain in which a young man returns to his lover’s family home to help him settle the past. Each of these stories is engaging and fraught. Others seem to be comic relief, an attempt to lighten a collection that might read as grim, but they feel out of place. Bright’s work will enchant readers of dark speculative fiction who seek brighter futures for characters who have often been marginalized. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Forbidden Stars (The Axiom, Book 3)

Tim Pratt. Angry Robot, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-85766-769-4

The lightning-paced latest installment in Pratt’s Axiom space opera series (after The Dreaming Stars) launches the crew of the White Raven head-first into another deadly encounter with ancient alien forces. The first aliens contacted by humans, a race who call themselves the Liars, gave humans access to 29 other stars via wormhole “bridges,” but never revealed that the Liars themselves were hiding from a powerful enemy known as the Axiom. Allied with a secret Liar faction, White Raven Capt. Callie Mechado and her crew travel to the Vanir system to investigate a colony that’s been silent for almost a century. As with previous chapters in the series, nothing is as it initially seems, and Callie and her crew have their work cut out for them when they finally uncover what’s really happened at Vanir. Readers new to the series will have some serious backstory catch-up to do, but they’ll be rewarded by lively characters—human, transhuman, and AI—and wry humor (“I would be a wonderful battleship,” claims smarmy AI Kaustikos), as well as enough action and intrigue for three novels. Pratt’s high-tech universe of tangled alien half-truths and hidden motivations provides a fascinating setting for a gripping series that has plenty of room for future surprises. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Marten and the Scorpion

Robin Shortt. Candlemark & Gleam, $20.45 (272p) ISBN 978-1-936460-90-8

Shortt (Wellside) plunges readers into the underbelly of medieval Samarkand in this beguiling fantasy. Talented orphan pickpocket Darya has spent all her life in Samarkand, the boundaries of her world extending only as far as the source of her next meal. Just as it’s becoming clear that Darya’s advancing age and developing figure will soon end her time with the Martens, the gang to which she belongs, the group is forcibly commandeered by Crow, a mysterious outsider in search of a strange and dangerous box. When the quest leads Darya to the wandering Chinese adventurers Yu Hao and Red, they agree to teach her martial arts in exchange for information about the box. Befriending the pair brings Darya into a much larger and richer world—one of ancient arts, warring clans, and perhaps even the means to a stable and happy future. But in order to pursue that possibility, she would have to betray the Martens, and Crow is a terrifying enemy. Clever, tightly written, and full of action, this thrilling novel is an epic wuxia film wrought in paper and ink. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Rampant

Julie C. Day. Aqueduct, $12 trade paper (140p) ISBN 978-1-61976-169-8

Equal parts playful and heartbreaking, this apocalyptic novella offers one-of-a-kind answers about the end of the world. Gillian Halkey and Emelia Bareilles, both 16, have spent most of their lives enduring the nightmare of the never-ending rapture. It’s been a decade since the ancient Sumerian gods descended on Indiana, promising that the chosen people would ascend to Nibiru, but the terrifying entity called the Rampant—the last of the Evil Messengers heralding the destruction of civilization—seems to have missed the memo. Until he shows up, the rapture can’t happen. Meanwhile, bored gods are eating people. It’s up to Emelia and Gillian to descend to the Netherworld, using Gillian’s prophetic dreams as guidance, in hopes of liberating the Rampant so the judging can begin and the suffering can end. Mixing a coming-of-age and a second coming, the story is unmatched in its idiosyncrasy. Day conveys genuine empathy for the two young women, who are still learning about themselves (including a sweet crush of Gillian’s), while never relinquishing the archaic fear instilled by the presence of ancient gods and the televangelists who have smoothly pivoted into running the Sumerian Revivalist Church. This clever and surprisingly fun take on the rapture is the perfect theological horror story. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Shoreless Sea

J. Scott Coatsworth. DSP, $19.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-64108-149-8

The choppy conclusion to Coatsworth’s intergenerational space opera (after The Rising Tide) portrays the telepathic Liminals exploring themes rehashed from prior installments—psychic enslavement, ghostly ancestors, and shared memory’s power to heal—in three connected novellas. Trouble erupts on the living generation ship Forever when Kiryn Hammond-Clarke, a deaf college student, and his sister, Belynn, display Liminal powers that make them targets of the intifada: black-cloaked, body-snatching cultists fleeing their own ruined virtual Earth. After Forever’s leader, Lilith, attempts to overthrow the ship’s governing world mind, the siblings launch a mission to destroy Lilith, save the virtual inthworld, and break the cycles that Forever is trapped within. Coatsworth includes a number of minority and marginalized characters, but their characterization is uneven: Kiryn’s deafness is explored thoughtfully, and there’s a rich variety of LGBTQ characters, but Belynn’s alcoholism and the persecution of Liminals are mired in stereotype. Long-awaited plot elements surface and disappear, and worldbuilding feels cursory. As the characters vacillate between ineffectual and arbitrarily powerful, their repetitive struggles and failure to grow undermine the sincere message of cycle-breaking and the atmosphere of earnest futurism. Only dedicated series fans will see this one through. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The True Bastards

Jonathan French. Crown, $27 (592p) ISBN 978-0-525-57247-3

This grim but brilliant sequel to The Grey Bastards follows the Bastards’ new leader, half-orc/half-elf Fetching, as she takes charge of her cohort (or “hoof”) of half-orcs and the humans who rely on them. Fetch and her fellow “mongrels” face off against famine and starvation, cavaleros from neighboring Hispartha, another band of half-orcs who feel that Fetch is unworthy to lead, and a mysterious, enormous orc (large enough to pick up a horse and throw it like a baseball) and the oversized hyenas that he commands. The woes that face the Bastards are unrelenting, and Fetch isn’t sure she can count on their supposed allies: the other hoofs, the cultish human Unyars, the elven mountain-dwellers, and the newly arrived foreigners called Zahracenes. But by the novel’s end, Fetch has secured real connections and support for the surviving Bastards. French’s half-orcs are an uncouth lot but fiercely loyal to one another and those they protect, and Fetch herself is prepared to endure unimaginable pain to secure safety for her people. The many cultures are richly detailed, adding depth. This installment will more than satisfy fantasy readers who like deadly battles balanced with intricate worldbuilding and skilled characterization. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Twisted Ones

T. Kingfisher. Saga, $24.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2957-4

A witty young girl and horrific creatures tangle in this atmospheric folk horror novel from Kingfisher (a pen name for Ursula Vernon). When Melissa (aka Mouse) is asked by her father to clean out her grandmother’s house, she heads to North Carolina with her coonhound, Bongo. What she finds is a hoarder’s nest. After a few days digging through junk, she unearths a rambling journal belonging to her stepgrandfather, Frederick Cotgrave, which tries to retell a fairy tale. Everything in it sounds like the ravings of a man losing his mind until bizarre creatures show up outside Mouse’s window. Her neighbor, Foxy, calls these creatures the holler people. Mouse wants nothing more to do with the house, but before she can leave, Bongo disappears, and she refuses to go home without him. Kingfisher neatly combines modern elements into a combined folktale and horror story that is rich in atmosphere and characterization (“She hadn’t just hoarded; she’d made walls and ramparts out of her possessions like she was expecting a siege”). Mouse is a down-to-earth character with a quick wit that never wavers, even when her circumstances are disturbing. This occult thriller with heart boasts genuine scares. Agent: Helen Breitweiser, Cornerstone Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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