Only a year ago, Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek were hard at work on The Reinvented Heart. Now, with the release of their second anthology The Reinvented Detective (and it is SO good, ya’ll!) looming on the horizon, we thought we’d take a little trip back in time and revisit an awesome interview from Isaac E. Payne and the editors of the Reinvented series.
SFF legends Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek have been hard at work on The Reinvented Heart, an anthology about sci-fi relationships.
Isaac Payne: So I only have a couple of questions, and then we can open it up to a conversation afterwards. I guess starting out I want to ask about the The Reinvented Heart anthology. It’s been making some waves out there on the SFF frequencies, and I’m just curious about how you decided to break up the Anthology into three distinct sections. I’m familiar with only a few other anthos that do this, so what was the inspiration behind that idea?
Cat Rambo: I actually talked to Jane Yolan in an interview I did with her about that. You may have noticed the three sections are each prefaced by Jane. And in fact, she read them all on the interview, which was really cute.
Basically, we approached Jane and asked if she’d write something for us, and she said, how about poems? My response was, “sure, you’re Jane Yolan!” and I want something from you.
So, she sent in three poems and I said to Jen, you know, poetry is cheap, right? We’re paying by the line, and it’s not like a 5,000-word story.
We ended up organizing the book according to the three poems, breaking it into three sections—Hearts, Hands, and Mind.
And then as part of The Reinvented Detective, which is the anthology that’s coming out next year, we asked Jane to write us three poems again, this time about themes around detectives.
But the funny thing is that I just did this interview with Jane and she hadn’t known what we’d done with her poems until she got the PDF, and she was just delighted! No one had ever done anything like that with her poems before.
IP: That’s cool! You mentioned The Reinvented Detective which is coming up here next year. Is there anything that you’re going to change about this anthology based on what you learned from The Reinvented Heart?
Jennifer Brozek: Well, since we’re just now going through the hold stories and the on-spec stories, I think it might be a little bit too soon to answer that.
But based on the stories we’re getting, we might spread out the anthology to make it about more than just crime and justice.
We might organize it based on groups of stories, like Art Nouveau or the Old Classic. We got a lot of Poirot and Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as some pastiches.
I’m thinking that when we see all the stories, we’re going to end up breaking them out into groups rather than themes, but that may change.
We haven’t seen all the stories yet!
IP: Just out of curiosity, how many submissions did you receive for The Reinvented Heart? I edited the Triangulation: Extinction anthology and I’m always curious about the numbers for other anthologies.
CR: I want to say around 230?
JB: No, it was closer to 260, and that’s just slush. We had the on-spec stories too, so in total it’s more like 300.
IP: Gotcha, that’s pretty good, all things considered!
JB: Yeah. The Reinvented Heart is my 21st anthology, and The Reinvented Detective is my 22nd.
When I did 99 Tiny Terrors, I got 600 submissions in a month! Or when I do a closed anthology, like The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, I cherry-pick every author.
So, the number of submissions really depends on how much it pays and how many people feel they have a chance to get into the anthology. For 99 Tiny Terrors, a lot of new people were willing to send in their stories because it’s flash.
CR: Yeah, flash is fun. Fun and fast.
JB: But when I was working with Apex Magazine as a slush reader, I’d have to read five stories a day just to keep up!
IP: Yeah, for Triangulation: Extinction I think we had around 600 different submissions. That was over the span of four months, but when the submission window closed, I was still doing a lot of reading!
CR: Yeah. Well, I read completely differently than Jenn.
Jenn is very kind of slow and steady, reading five stories a day. Whereas what I will do is take a weekend to—and excuse my language—just f***ing slam through, sometimes at the rate of a hundred or so stories a day.
And I’m reading fast—fast and furious. But I’m making authors really have to prove themselves to me in the first half page or so.
IP: I guess it’s kind of hard as a writer when you don’t know whether or not you’ll be going through that gauntlet.
JB: When I teach and talk about being an editor, I tell everybody to write your stories like you’re going to be read by a slush reader who’s having a terrible day and all they have to do is get through your story so they can go home.
All your story has to do is turn a slush reader’s terrible day into something magical.
CR: Ah, that’s a nice one, that’s good. You know, one of the talking points of the book is that despite having set the word count at 5,000, there’s a novelette in there! I had solicited Justina Robeson for a story, and she kept mailing back saying that it was getting longer and longer.
And finally, we said, sure, send it in. And both Jenn and I read it and knew we had to put it in the anthology because it was so good!
IP: That’s great, it’s always nice to be surprised like that. So, what’s up next for The Reinvented series? After The Reinvented Detective, of course.
CR: We’re still arguing about that, haha. But we’re absolutely going to continue the series; we’d like to do one a year. I really want to do The Reinvented Coin, so my feeling is that if I’m patient and give Jenn her way for the next few, I’ll get to do that one.
JB: I like that one, but I’m interested in doing The Reinvented Fable. Like if you do a version of Little Red Riding Hood, but in the future, in space. We can do a contrast between old and new fables.
But I do like the idea of The Reinvented Coin, or Cat came up with a good one, The Reinvented Alice.
CR: Yeah, The Reinvented Alice or The Reinvented Oz.
JB: It’s Oz but all science fiction, where you pick a pastiche based on the original series.
IP: I do like those ideas. What does The Reinvented Coin entail?
CR: Economics, trade, bartering.
JB: Anything that fits under that broad category, really. You could be selling memories of loved ones, for example.
CR: But only one story about NFTs, tops.
IP: Have you read the bookThis Eden by Ed O’Loughlin? It’s like a science fiction noir, espionage story, but at the end the main villain is a cryptocurrency.
CR: Oh, I love that, I’ll have to find that book!
IP: That’s just what The Reinvented Coin reminded me of haha. So, here I have a few questions that get into the SFF conversation as a whole …
Join us next week for the second part of this interview with Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek, where they talk about the SFF community as a whole, and the changes coming down the line for the genre.
And keep an eye out for the upcoming announcement of The Reinvented Detective release!
Richard Chwedyk sold his first story in 1990, won a Nebula in 2002, and has been active in the field for the past thirty-two years.
MOVING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE
The other day I was writing up a lecture for an asynchronous class on science fiction writing I’m supposed to be putting together. I brought up the subject of how there’s a wide variety of reading in the field these days, some but not all of it divided along generational lines. Mostly, though, it’s a matter that readers often find one kind of SF that appeals to them, but don’t venture much further from that little corner of work they like. So I recommended to aspiring writers to read as much SF as they can manage, and to read as much outside of their “comfort zone.” See what the folks on the other end of the field are doing. Good or bad, you’ll learn something you can apply to your own writing.
Good advice, I thought. And like much of the good advice I hand out, I wasn’t following it.
Teacher, teach thyself first.
So, most of the entries in this column will be of books and authors who aren’t my “go to” choices.
And what I found was that I can be right even when I don’t know what I’m talking about.
The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang Tor September 2022
This may sound like a negative review, but it’s not. Yang does a lot of things that get on my nerves. They use the sort of present tense narration that’s become quite fashionable, but they handle it effectively and consistently. The dialog is also fashionably snarky and always looking to make little zingers that will end up in someone’s next news feed.
I let those little irritations go because at the heart of this novel is an interesting theme. A kind of “Joan of Arc” situation with their Misery Nomaki protagonist, but not in any traditional, or even nontraditional, way I’ve seen before.
The neat thing about it was that it erased the usual sense of inevitability that accompanies such a classic mythos and its variations. It kept me reading with great anticipation of where Yang would take the story.
Way out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I read it. I suspect I’ll be reading more books written in this kind of voice. If it’s where we’re going, I don’t want to be left behind.
Leech by Hiron Ennes Tordotcom September 2022
Reading about parasites and viruses and weird microbial entities is something of a horror story all in its own way. It can be appalling, disgusting and, ultimately, compelling. What is that phrase again from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? “The fascination of the abomination.”
Pair this with a gothic setting and a cast of characters from a surrealist Bruno Schulz novel, and you might have something like Hiron Ennes’s Leech. It’s not the sort of novel I would usually choose to read—not in my “comfort zone,” surely—but I’m grateful I did. It adds whole new meanings, in fact, to “comfort zone,” and then smashes them to pieces and buries them in quicklime in the deepest cellar of an ancient fortress.
It begins with our narrator/protagonist, enroute to the Château de Verdira, home of the Interprovincial Medical Institute, in the far north of an unnamed country. The doctor of the chateau’s baron has died, and the narrator is to become his replacement. The last leg of the journey is on a worn-out sled:
The ride is unpleasant, but it is not long. In a few minutes an orchard of smokestacks appears beyond the treetop, ringed by the slanted tin roofs of miners’ homes. The pines part, ushering us down a corridor of crooked stone buildings braced with ice. We wind through the snowy streets, past half-buried warehouses, past belching chimneys and pumping turbines that denied sleep even in the dead of winter, and up the slope of a looming hillside. At its crest, we cough to a halt before a wrought-iron gate. Two men emerge from a crumbling guards’ hut, one wielding a shovel and the other a rifle. They exchange a few words, then force the gate open on hinges rigid with cold. The taller one waves us in, gun dangling from his shoulder like a broken limb, and we sputter onto the unkempt, frozen grounds …
The institute is allegedly devoted to training doctors and guarding humanity from a bevy of microbial threats that have already jeopardized their existence on this world. Unfortunately, one of the many bodies the institute has kept for many purposes—research and otherwise—has disappeared. Our narrator has to discover what has happened to the body. And that’s for starters.
There is much of Mary Shelley here, not only Frankenstein but The Last Man. Along with the surreal influences added to a landscape designed by Mervyn Peake, I’m reminded a lot of the Brontës. It reminds me of a time when I had my advanced science fiction writing students read Octavia E. Butler’s “Bloodchild” (a story partly inspired by her reading about botflies before taking a trip to Peru). One of my students described it as a love story, in fact, as a version of Jane Eyre. And, by golly, my student was right. Similarly, Leech is a novel gazing down from the precipice of Romanticism, the great carpet of the world below looking distant and tiny—but familiar—as if fixed to a microscope’s slide.
Haunted by the Past by Simon R. Green Baen December 2022
In my junior high days, not only did I have a weakness for books about the occult and psychic investigators (or whoever passed as them then), but I enjoyed tales about detectives like Algernon Blackwood’s Dr. John Silence and Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin. When I hit full adolescence, I wrote my own parodies of a hard-boiled psychic private eye named Ed Migraine. By the time Anita Blake and Dirk Gently came by, I had moved on to what I thought were greater things. Harry Dresden may have hung out in Chicago, his books felt like someone trying to swat flies with a Howitzer. Not my thing.
Recently, though, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for Ed Migraine, so I picked up the latest in Simon R. Green’s Ishmael Jones series. Jones and his companion, Penny Belcourt, seemed more my speed than Harry Dresden.
This latest adventure has them at Glenbury Hall, where an associate of theirs has disappeared. It’s supposed to be the most haunted place in England, reminding me of the historic Borley Rectory. It’s loaded with strange, creepy, scary stuff, which suits me fine. Ishmael and Penny are experienced enough with this stuff to keep their wits and wittiness about them.
Nevertheless, things get stranger and stranger until they seem to be on the verge of a very science-fictional spatial-temporal paradox.
Or at least so it seems.
For me, as a reader, it feels like the farther you travel, the closer you get to home.
In books like this, the “detective” part has to be as strong, if not stronger, than the “occult” part. It works for me in Haunted by the Past. Readers more familiar with this subgenre may not be as impressed, but Green’s prose is efficient without being utilitarian. And it’s of a good length (283 pages) to keep things moving and engaging.
I’m not quite ready to leap back into occult mystery stories, but I’m sorely tempted to pick up some more books in this series and perhaps reacquaint myself with what intrigued me about ghosts, poltergeists and suchlike in the first place.
The Scarab Mission by James L. Cambias Baen January 2023
In all honesty, James L. Cambias is definitely not outside my comfort zone, though I must confess that I was about to throw in the towel on any more novels about scavenger ships. Every other SF novel with a spacefaring setting published today has to have a crew of scavengers, it seems.
The last novel of his I read, Arkad’s World, really impressed me, and I’ve always enjoyed his short fiction. So, even though this is the second book in a series, and it contains a derelict colony, which is another thing I’ve seen quite enough of recently, I thought I’d give it a try.
The plot is a suitably tangled web, in a good way, and the concept of the Billion Worlds of the Tenth Millennium is quite engaging, but what took my attention especially were the characters. Solana Sina, the scarab (Cambias loses no time in explaining what a scarab is) who can’t bear to look at human faces; Atmin, a raven; Utsuro, a cyborg; and … a dinosaur!
I am always a sucker for a good dinosaur:
Pera was big—probably two hundred kilos—but she looked lean and swift rather than bulky. The word predatory came to mind. Her long tail coiled securely around the post of the seat she was sitting on, with her massive legs tucked in on either side. She wore a simple dark skinsuit with lots of pockets, and had gloves on her feet with openings for her huge hooked claws—which were coated in blue enamel. Her skin was dark gold and the crest of feathers on her head was brilliant blue, matching her eyes. More blue feathers ran along the other edge of each bare forearm.
The ship they’re on, Yanai, is also a character.The most intriguing character for me makes a late appearance: an AI spider named Daslakh. Apparently, Daslakh’s role in the preceding novel, The Godel Operation, was much greater, so I’ll have to go back and check that one out. Daslakh is wise, sneaky and enigmatic, and great fun to read about.
Of course there’s intrigue, pirates, human (and non-human) trafficking, plenty of suspense and all sorts of things to keep the story moving. It’s not just great fun but thoughtful fun. And it all comes in at lean, mean and super-clean 266 pages. I’m sold. Cambias can write about wriggling space jelly, I’d venture, and it would still be in my comfort zone.
Chicks in Tank Tops edited by Jason Cordova Baen January 2023
It wasn’t too many years ago when it seemed that every new release in the SF book section featured an attractive female in an impractically skimpy, skin-tight outfit brandishing a weapon at least twice her size. What made me most uncomfortable about the covers wasn’t so much the imagery and symbolism (a topic for a much longer essay), but that the imagery and symbolism had become so pervasive. The sameness of it all almost (but not quite) made me yearn for the old days of gothic romances, when rack after rack was filled with book covers featuring wispy women in negligees looking over their shoulders with fearful expressions while in the background loomed old scary mansions, or even castles, with a light in a single window.
We returned to one of the great unwritten rules of publishing: when something hits it big, keep copying it and copying it until you can barely give the books away (reminding me of even older days when a detergent company, I kid you not, put a Harlequin Romance in every box they sold). Repetition is the sincerest form of desperation.
It was about 1995 that Baen published the first Chicks in Chainmail anthology, edited by the irrepressible Esther M. Friesner. It was a takeoff on the sword and sorcery books, the covers of which featured attractive females in impractically skimpy outfits, brandishing swords at least twice their size. Some great new ideas go back a long way.
Back then, I didn’t board the Chicks in Chainmail bus, or the bus didn’t stop for me. I may have appreciated the self-parody of a form which in some respects had already become parodic, but at the time I was striving for a more “serious” side to SFF and didn’t have the patience for amusing takes on women in sword and sorcery.
In other words, I was being a snob.
A number of follow-up anthologies came out until about 2004, with a return volume, Chicks and Balances, in 2015. After that, I thought the coast was clear.
I was wrong.
Chicks in Tank Tops hopes (or threatens) to do with women in military SF what Chicks in Chainmail did for women in sword and sorcery. In the ensuing years I have lost at least some of my snobbiness, as well as more willing to search for good short fiction wherever I can find it. My timing, for once, is spot on.
The stories included herein are quite smart and sophisticated. The entry by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller dually reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve read anything by them and how good they can be. There are works here by the always reliable Jody Lynn Nye, David Drake (two stories!) and Esther M. Friesner herself. What impressed me as much if not more were the stories by authors with whom I’m less familiar, like A. C. Haskins, Joelle Presby, G. Scott Huggins and Marisa Wolf. Regular readers of military SF may be more familiar with these names, but I’m a stranger in town.
The overall quality of the work here is impressive. It may not make me a fan of military SF, no matter who or what is on the cover, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for these authors’ works from here on.
Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas Ballantine February 1974
Let us now praise Suzy McKee Charnas.
The sad news is that she recently passed away, in fact just as I was readying to complete this column. I might have waited for a later column, but I didn’t want to allow this opportunity to pass. One never knows these days who we might lose in the coming months. I also wanted to note this novel in contrast to Chicks in Tank Tops. It helps underscore the distance we’ve come in the portrayal of women in American science fiction.
Charnas’s effect on feminist science fiction has been, in my opinion, overlooked for quite a while. It can be argued, and quite successfully, that her second novel, Motherlines, was more influential in feminist SF circles, but looking back on these novels, and the “Holdfast Chronicles” in its entirety, without Walk to the End of the World, there would be no Motherlines, or The Furies, or The Conqueror’s Child.
I mean that in more than a chronological sense. Motherlines is one of those novels that describe how an alternative society can be formed. Walk to the End of the World describes why it’s formed, and does so with sincere urgency.
Walk takes us to a postapocalyptic world where women are subjugated in the most horrific ways. Her depiction of this world is uncompromising, unsparing. Contemporary readers will need a multitude of trigger warnings.
Holdfast is a brutal, unforgiving world, ruled by some of the most misogynistic, sadistic males you’ll find in all of literature. We learn more about this world than we’d care to, but we need to. It’s not necessarily supposed to be a reflection of “our” world, but it depicts what our world can feel like if you occupy the bottom rungs, and what it can become if we’re not careful. Our central protagonist, Alldera, takes a long time coming to the foreground, but when she and her few allies do, she provides the ray of hope we’ve been looking for. Not a bright hope, but enough.
That’s the point.
The pace is akin to a slow, relentless drumbeat. She refuses to spare the reader’s sensitivities. It’s a first novel and has those flaws of many first novels, especially her reliance on many lengthy expositional passages. Charnas pulls it off because she’s writing with her nerves and her heart.
That’s what keeps it compelling. Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin, working at the same time, are intellectual and clever and stylistically brilliant. Charnas is like pure id. Her primal voice and unflinching eye are what still speak to us after a half century and will keep speaking to us for many years to come.
Redspace Rising by Brian Trent Flame Tree Press September 2022
Definitely in my comfort zone and very much worth reading. Just when you thought tales taking place within our solar system have pretty much exhausted the technological possibilities, someone like Brian Trent comes along and reimagines everything.
The suspense and action here come from notion that war criminals from a recent interplanetary melee have escaped arrest by housing themselves in genetically 3-D printed versions of other humans. Hal Clement and Philip K. Dick can both eat their hearts out. This is the second book in a series but it took me no longer than the first chapter to get up to speed. Trent is an experienced prose juggler and gives this whole tale a marvelous sense of urgency.
The Best of Edward M. Lerner by Edward M. Lerner ReAnimus Press May 2022
Allow me to squeeze one more in. I’ve had to cut it for the last two columns. Lerner is one of the wittiest and most thoughtful of recent Analog regulars, and this collection provides a fine overview of his output. My one added observation is that the title is somewhat premature. “Best of” collections are supposed to be a sort of authoritative summary of authors who are wrapping up, unofficially, their authorial careers (relax, James Van Pelt, I don’t mean you, either). Not only do I think Lerner has a few more good novellas in him, this volume also misses a couple that to my mind should rate inclusion. For the time being, though, this will do nicely.
We wrap up our celebration in March of Women’s History Month with six “must-read” Science Fiction novels by a group of women authors that make us want to stand up and clap and stories that promise to break your heart a little, right before they show you there is hope for us and our future …
Dept. of Speculation meets Black Mirror in this lyrical, speculative debut about a queer mother raising her daughter in an unjust surveillance state …
In a United States not so unlike our own, the Department of Balance has adopted a radical new form of law enforcement: rather than incarceration, wrongdoers are given a second (and sometimes, third, fourth, and fifth) shadow as a reminder of their crime—and a warning to those they encounter. Within the Department, corruption and prejudice run rampant, giving rise to an underclass of so-called Shadesters who are disenfranchised, publicly shamed, and deprived of civil rights protections.
Kris is a Shadester and a new mother to a baby born with a second shadow of her own. Grieving the loss of her wife and thoroughly unprepared for the reality of raising a child alone, Kris teeters on the edge of collapse, fumbling in a daze of alcohol, shame, and self-loathing. Yet as the kid grows, Kris finds her footing, raising a child whose irrepressible spark cannot be dampened by the harsh realities of the world. She can’t forget her wife, but with time, she can make a new life for herself and the kid, supported by a community of fellow misfits who defy the Department to lift one another up in solidarity and hope.
With a first-person register reminiscent of the fierce self-disclosure of Sheila Heti and the poetic precision of Ocean Vuong, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is a bold debut novel that examines the long shadow of grief, the hard work of parenting, and the power of queer resistance.
A stunning science fiction debut, The Space Between Worlds is both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging …
‘My mother used to say I was born reaching, which is true. She also used to say it would get me killed, which it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.’
Born in the dirt of the wasteland, Cara has fought her entire life just to survive. Now she has done the impossible, and landed herself a comfortable life on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, she’s on a sure path to citizenship and security – on this world, at least.
Of the 380 realities that have been unlocked, Cara is dead in all but 8.
Cara’s parallel selves are exceptionally good at dying – from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun – which makes Cara wary, and valuable. Because while multiverse travel is possible, no one can visit a world in which their counterpart is still alive. And no one has fewer counterparts than Cara.
But then one of her eight doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, and Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined – and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her earth, but the entire multiverse.
The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space …
Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.
Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.
When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.
A blazingly original and stylish debut novel about a young man whose reality unravels when he suspects his mysterious employers have inadvertently discovered time travel—and are using it to cover up a string of violent crimes …
Four days before Christmas, 8-year-old Bo loses his mother in a tragic accident, 28-year-old Brandon loses his job after a hostile takeover of his big-media employer, and 48-year-old Blue, a key witness in a criminal trial against an infamous now-defunct tech startup, struggles to reconnect with his family.
So begins Jinwoo Chong’s dazzling, time-bending debut that blends elements of neo-noir and speculative fiction as the lives of Bo, Brandon, and Blue begin to intersect, uncovering a vast network of secrets and an experimental technology that threatens to upend life itself. Intertwined with them is the saga of an iconic ’80s detective show, Raider, whose star actor has imploded spectacularly after revelations of long-term, concealed abuse.
Flux is a haunting and sometimes shocking exploration of the cyclical nature of grief, of moving past trauma, and of the pervasive nature of whiteness within the development of Asian identity in America.
In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, bestselling Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series, gives us hope for the future …
Winner of the Hugo Award!
It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.
One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.
But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.
Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
A science fiction epic for our times and a love letter to our future, The Terraformers will take you on a journey spanning thousands of years and exploring the triumphs, strife, and hope that find us wherever we make our home …
Destry’s life is dedicated to terraforming Sask-E. As part of the Environmental Rescue Team, she cares for the planet and its burgeoning eco-systems as her parents and their parents did before her.
But the bright, clean future they’re building comes under threat when Destry discovers a city full of people that shouldn’t exist, hidden inside a massive volcano.
As she uncovers more about their past, Destry begins to question the mission she’s devoted her life to, and must make a choice that will reverberate through Sask-E’s future for generations to come.
Tis the Season here at Signals From the Edge, and since it’s the start of December (and several holiday celebrations), we figured what better to go with those twinkling lights than a few books full of wonder and speculation. So grab a gingerbread cookie or two, toss some marshmallows in your hot cocoa, wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket, and prepare to dive in …
Richard Chwedyk sold his first story in 1990, won a Nebula in 2002, and has been active in the field for the past thirty-two years.
In previous columns, I’ve said a lot already about my love for short fiction. I don’t need to repeat myself, but I will (as Joseph Epstein wrote, “A teacher is someone who can never say anything once.”), though in keeping with the subject, I’ll be brief.
Short fiction represents the heartbeat of these forms we love, science fiction and fantasy. It’s not tied down to narrative and stylistic structures publishers believe are compulsory for “saleable” prose. Any subject, any style can be explored with the single proviso that it be interesting.
Even the novels discussed here demonstrate the craft and vision received by working in short forms. Big things may not always come in small packages, but the odds are pretty good that size doesn’t always matter.
The Year’s Best Fantasy, Volume One edited by Paula Guran Pyr August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-64506-048-2
This volume represents something that we’ve needed for a long time. It was 2009 when the last David G. Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer-edited Year’sBestFantasy volume came out, and Pyr should be applauded not merely for putting out this volume, but for choosing Paula Guran as its editor. She has wide-ranging tastes and a keen eye for significant work in a field that has grown so large so swiftly. And she has done so in a perfectly manageable format. The book comes in at a comparatively slim 439 pages. Like the Hartwell/Cramer anthologies, it provides a comprehensible overview without overwhelming the reader.
The Best of James Van Pelt by James Van Pelt Fairwood Press August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-933846-21-7
If you’re a constant reader of magazines, as I am, print or online, James Van Pelt is one of those names you encounter with frequency, and in a good way, because no matter what else may be in that issue’s contents you are assured of at least one good story, well told. For that very reason we tend to take him for granted. And we shouldn’t.
Wergen: The Alien Love War by Mercurio D. Rivera NewCon Press November 2021 ISBN: 978-1-914953-01-9
As well as Rivera knows his Wergens, he knows his humans even better. That doesn’t sound like high praise, but it is. Many SF writers who work out alien cultures down to minutiae often have a blind spot for human complexity. Or perhaps they have transferred that complexity into their aliens. Rivera conveys our complex and often contradictory nature with honesty and integrity. This is what science fiction can do at its best, and what Rivera does on every page of this extraordinary volume.
Forkpoints by Sheila Finch Aqueduct Press June 2022 ISBN: 978-1-61976-218-3
Sheila Finch’s short fiction has always been literate and fascinating. She finds new ways of looking at old SF concepts where she doesn’t invent a few concepts of her own. One of the things I have most appreciated about her Xenolinguistics stories is she makes the struggle to communicate, and to comprehend what’s communicated, into captivating SF.
1812: The Rivers of War by Eric Flint Baen August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9197-9
This book arrived a few weeks before I heard of the sad passing of its author. I usually don’t review works by Eric Flint because—what’s there to say? He was fine author of consistent quality. Probably one of the two or three authors most responsible for the popularity of alternative history fiction. If you like that kind of work, you knew of him already. He never let his readers down.
A City in the North by Marta Randall Warner Books May 1976 ISBN: 978-044694062-3
Let us now praise Marta Randall. The 1970s by any estimation was a tumultuous era, and preconceptions at every level were being challenged. The setting and characters of A City in the North may not resemble any aspect of that era, but they echo it. The implicit questioning of established norms haunts every page. Nothing here is entirely as it seems.
The Jigsaw Assasin by Catherine Asaro July 2022 Baen ISBN: 978-1-9821-9196-2
I shouldn’t have to mention a new Catherina Asaro novel because Catherine Asaro fans know where to find her books and know how to get them. But I hadn’t read a Major Bhaajan novel in some time, and I’ve grown fond of her tough, no-nonsense P.I., and all the gritty nuances of Undercity, though the story here is set in Selei City. A series of murders, assassination attempts, plots and foreboding intrigues that could be red herrings or the key to the whole McGonigle—you’ve got it all here. Science fiction or hard-boiled noir decked out in space opera greasepaint? Hey, a physicist can’t help being a physicist, even when she’s writing highly suspenseful SF thrillers.
Hot Moon by Alan Smale Caezik July 2022 ISBN: 978-1-64710-050-6
I recognized Smale from his shorter fiction (and of that, his early fantasy stories), so I thought I’d dip into it to see what he was doing. The dip kept me reading through the night, to the last page. This is a highly inventive, brilliantly conceived alternative history where the Apollo program wasn’t shelved after 1972. The U.S. has space stations and bases on the Moon’s surface, and the Soviet Union is still around, making trouble as the story begins in 1979. Smale, whose “day job” is a NASA astronomer, has worked out all the details and hardware with mind-boggling plausibility. All his characters act, feel, and sound real. First-rate hard SF.
The Serpent by David Drake Baen July 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9198-6
You might not think a melding of Arthurian legend and science fiction could be successfully executed, but this is David Drake, and he pulls it off splendidly (with a little help from OrlandoFurioso). He keeps things moving and does so with an economy of language that is in itself a kind of magic, bringing it all in at 246 pages. He’s done it before but, arguably, not as well.
This week we’re talking about two new hot books, recently released from Arc Manor Books.
Hot Moon by Alan Smale
“A nail-biting thriller.”
From the Sidewise Award-winning author of the acclaimed Clash of Eagles trilogy comes an alternate 1979 where the US and the Soviets have permanent Moon bases, orbiting space stations, and crewed spy satellites supported by frequent rocket launches.
Apollo 32, commanded by career astronaut Vivian Carter, docks at NASA’s Columbia space station enroute to its main mission: exploring the volcanic Marius Hills region of the Moon. Vivian is caught in the crossfire as four Soviet Soyuz craft appear without warning to assault the orbiting station. In an unplanned and desperate move, Vivian spacewalks through hard vacuum back to her Lunar Module and crew and escapes right before the station falls into Soviet hands.
Their original mission scrubbed, Vivian and her crew are redirected to land at Hadley Base, a NASA scientific outpost with a crew of eighteen. But soon Hadley, too, will come under Soviet attack, forcing its unarmed astronauts to daring acts of ingenuity and improvisation.
With multiple viewpoints, shifting from American to Soviet perspective, from occupied space station to American Moon base under siege, to a covert and blistering US Air Force military response, Hot Moon tells the gripping story of a war in space that very nearly might have been.
“I loved it. Great ‘hard’ science fiction with convincing space battles.”
The Middling Affliction By Alex Shvartsman
“Shvartsman delivers real magic action and surprise twists…You’re going to want more.”
—Esther M. Fiesner, Nebula-award winning author of the national bestseller, Warchild
GUARD BROOKLYN, FIGHT MONSTERS, TAUNT BAD GUYS
What would you do if you lost everything that mattered to you, as well as all means to protect yourself and others, but still had to save the day? Conrad Brent is about to find out.
Conrad Brent protects the people of Brooklyn from monsters and magical threats. The snarky, wisecracking guardian also has a dangerous secret: he’s one in a million – literally. Magical ability comes to about one in every 30,000 and can manifest at any age. Conrad is rarer than this, however. He’s a middling, one of the half-gifted and totally despised. Most of the gifted community feels that middlings should be instantly killed. The few who don’t flat out hate them still aren’t excited to be around middlings. Meaning Conrad can’t tell anyone, not even his best friends, what he really is.
Conrad hides in plain sight by being a part of the volunteer Watch, those magically gifted who protect their cities from dangerous, arcane threats. And, to pay the bills, Conrad moonlights as a private detective and monster hunter for the gifted community. Which helps him keep up his personal fiction – that he’s a magical version of Batman. Conrad does both jobs thanks to charms, artifacts, and his wits, along with copious amounts of coffee. But little does he know that events are about to change his life … forever.
When Conrad discovers the Traveling Fair auction house has another middling who’s just manifested her so-called powers on the auction block, he’s determined to save her, regardless of risk. But what he finds out while doing so is even worse – the winning bidder works for a company that’s just created the most dangerous chemical weapon to ever hit the magical community.
Before Conrad can convince anyone at the Watch of the danger, he’s exposed for what he really is. Now, stripped of rank, magical objects, friends and allies, Conrad has to try to save the world with only his wits. Thankfully though, no one’s taken away his coffee.
“With the fast-paced first Conradverse urban fantasy, Shvartsman (Eridani’s Crown) delivers a laugh-out-loud, snarky adventure, throwing out pop culture references and wry observations with dizzying frequency….His supernatural New York City is vibrant and authentic, and Conrad fits right in with wisecracking fan favorite heroes like Harry Dresden and Simon Canderous. The result is a thoroughly satisfying romp.”
To get your own copy, follow the links below, head over to Arc Manor Book’s site, or find at your favorite retailer.
FIND Hot Moon HERE ~~~ & ~~~ The Middling Affliction HERE
It’s back-to-school time again, colder weather is coming, and the kids will soon be spending more time inside. So, we dug around (consulted my best friend and a professional YA librarian), and asked for some recommends for our young adult readers.
Check out the hot new SF titles below and see if one of these books will lure the kids from their gaming consoles and set them off on an adventure to outer space!
It’s that time of year, Labor Day is just around the corner signaling the end of summer, the kiddos are headed back to school, and we’re all going to have some extra afternoons free just for reading—right? *wink*