Sleeps With Monsters: Uplifting Post-apocalypses from Carrie Vaughn

The trend in post-apocalyptic fiction is usually for brutality and dog-eat-dog, for cruelty and nihilism. Rarely do you find quiet, practical, damn near domestic stories about life in the communities that have grown up in the aftermath of apocalypse, ones that have rebuilt themselves along sustainable lines, and maintained semi-decent medicine and the ability to manufacture contraceptives. Communities with social consciences and systems in place to keep them functional.

Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless (2017, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award) and The Wild Dead (2018) are set in the towns of the Coast Road, communities that share an ethos and a style of co-operative government along the coast of what used to be California. People in Coast Road communities are organised into households, and households earn the right to bear and raise children by proving they can take care of them. Careful management of quotas of farming and production ensures ...

Part SF Thriller, Part Bildungsroman: The Million by Karl Schroeder

The Million is the latest work by acclaimed science fiction author Karl Schroeder. It’s related in setting to his 2014 novel Lockstep: the lockstep of that title plays a significant role in The Million.

One million people live on Earth, wealthy custodians of its culture, heritage, architecture and lands. They are the Million, their numbers restricted by treaty, their lifestyles lavish. They want for nothing—but they’re custodians for the ten billion humans who live in the lockstep, who sleep in suspended animation beneath Earth’s cities, waking for a month every thirty years in order to participate in an interstellar society where no faster than light transport or communication exists.

Gavin Penn-of-Chaffee is an illegal child, an orphan from the lockstep raised in secret among the Million. The only people who know of his existence are his adoptive father and his adoptive brother Bernie. Bernie has difficulties ...

Part SF Thriller, Part Bildungsroman: The Million by Karl Schroeder

The Million is the latest work by acclaimed science fiction author Karl Schroeder. It’s related in setting to his 2014 novel Lockstep: the lockstep of that title plays a significant role in The Million.

One million people live on Earth, wealthy custodians of its culture, heritage, architecture and lands. They are the Million, their numbers restricted by treaty, their lifestyles lavish. They want for nothing—but they’re custodians for the ten billion humans who live in the lockstep, who sleep in suspended animation beneath Earth’s cities, waking for a month every thirty years in order to participate in an interstellar society where no faster than light transport or communication exists.

Gavin Penn-of-Chaffee is an illegal child, an orphan from the lockstep raised in secret among the Million. The only people who know of his existence are his adoptive father and his adoptive brother Bernie. Bernie has difficulties ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Astronaut Ladies

Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” won the 2014 Hugo Award in its category. Now Tor Books brings us a pair of novels about Elma York’s life before her final mission: even before Mars.

The simplest way to describe Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and its sequel, The Fated Sky, is as an alternative history of the American space programme. But that’s not all it is: it’s a story about a young Jewish woman with an anxiety disorder using all the tools at her disposal to gain a place for herself in the astronaut programme, and building coalitions with other women to bring them with her. (It’s also a story about how that young woman, Elma York, benefits from white privilege and puts her foot in it with thoughtless bigoted assumptions, and how she keeps trying to learn better.)

In 1952, ...

Inventively Weird: Temper by Nicky Drayden

Temper is Nicky Drayden’s second novel. Her first novel, The Prey of Gods, was a weird and inventive thriller that combined fantasy and science fictional elements. Temper is a standalone work in a new setting, one that involves fantasy, religion, and a touch of steampunk SF. This review will contain spoilers, because there’s absolutely no way to talk about even half of this book without them—much less the more interesting half.

In a nation reminiscent of South Africa, almost everyone is born as a twin. Seven vices are divided between each pair of twins, so that one twin always has more, and one, less. The vices are complemented by their alternate virtues.

Auben Mutze has six vices. His brother, Kasim, only has one. Though both brothers live in an underprivileged part of town, Kasim’s single vice is a ticket to a better life, at least ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Books Inspired by History and Historical Literature

Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison have a new joint effort out this September. You might recognise Katherine Addison as the author of The Goblin Emperor, and you might also remember that she’s also written as Sarah Monette—making Bear and Addison the same team as the ones responsible for A Companion to Wolves and its sequels.

Their new work isn’t a Viking-influenced vision of the frozen north, but a long novella about fifteen-year-old Christopher Marlowe and the murder of a scholar: The Cobbler’s Boy.

Kit Marlowe is fifteen. He’s just lost his apprenticeship (from being smart-mouthed, wilful, and unable to hold his tongue, or so it seems) and he’s a little desperate to win a scholarship to the King’s School, to learn Greek and Latin and escape his brutal father John—a cobbler who once beat his apprentice nearly to death. But Kit has many younger sisters and ...

The Empathetic Murderbot: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

“…I went from being told what to do and having every action monitored to being able to do whatever I wanted, and somewhere along the way my impulse control went to hell.”

Rogue Protocol is the third Murderbot novella by acclaimed author Martha Wells, following directly on from Artificial Condition. The rogue Security Unit (SecUnit) that calls itself Murderbot and answers to no human authority has answered some questions about its past. Now it has decided to answer some questions about GrayCris, the corporation that nearly killed most of its clients in All Systems Red.

Murderbot claims not to like humans at all, and to want to spend all its time watching entertainment media—its favourite is The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon—but it worries about Dr. Mensah and her team. Information about GrayCris’s nefarious activities might speed up the legal proceedings that are preventing Mensah and company ...

The Trouble With Adaptation: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Sea Witch is a peculiar novel. Told from the point of view of adolescent Evie, an outsider who must keep her despised magic secret lest she be condemned to death, the novel charts Evie’s story as the childhood friend to two princes. She’s attracted to one of them, and the other one is attracted to her, but their respective stations mean it’s unlikely anything will ever come of it.

Into this traditional adolescent dance comes Annemette, the spitting image of Evie’s drowned best friend Anna, a mermaid walking on dry land, who tells Evie she’ll have a soul and be able to stay a human if her true love—Prince Nik, Evie’s best friend—loves her back and kisses her before three days are over. Annemette insists she’s not Anna, has nothing to do with her, but Evie sees in her a trace of the girl she lost, and immediately adopts Annemette’s ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s Dreamships and Dreaming Metal

This week’s column is likely to be my last to focus on Melissa Scott’s work, at least for a little while. I haven’t yet got my hands on A Choice of Destinies, Night Sky Mine, Burning Bright, or The Jazz, and there’s a whole rake of co-written novels as well. We may be revisiting Scott soon enough, but for now, this is it.

I’m going to look at take two books together this time. Dreamships, originally published in 1992 by Tor Books, and Dreaming Metal, originally published in 1997, also by Tor Books. These novels are closely linked: Dreaming Metal takes place in the same setting as Dreamships, an underground city home to the majority of the inhabitants of the planet Persephone, some five years after Dreamships‘ events, includes several of the same characters, and its arc concerns itself directly with the fallout of Dreamships...

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Dreadful Company is Vivian Shaw’s second book, sequel to last year’s excellent Strange Practice. And if anything, it’s even more fun.

How fun is it? So much fun that I had to steal it back from my girlfriend, who pounced on it as soon as she saw it, and refused to put it down after she read the first page. (Fortunately, we’re both pretty fast readers, and we’re pretty good at sharing.)

Dr. Greta Helsing isn’t your average medical doctor. She runs a practice dedicated to the supernatural, treating vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, mummies, ghouls, and all manner of other being. Her best friend is Edmund Ruthven, vampire; and Sir Francis Varney (also a vampire) is tentatively trying to swoon at her feet. After the events of Strange Practice, in which Greta found herself at the centre of attempts to dissuade a very strange religious cult beneath London’s underground ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s The Shapes of Their Hearts

It’s the middle of July—my birth month! I’m thirty-two this year, and starting to feel things begin to creak—and I’m continuing with my plan to read several novels by Melissa Scott for the first time, and write about them.

In the process, I’m discovering that I really had no idea how queer Scott’s entire oeuvre actually is. And quietly wondering if, without people like her and Nicola Griffith at work in the 1990s, we would ever have seen the flowering of queer science fiction and fantasy that’s really taken off in the last five years.

(I’m also being enormously disappointed that when I was just starting to read science fiction and fantasy, back in the late 1990s, that the bookshops I had access to stocked none of this; that I had to wait another decade, decade and a half, to see visions of the fantastic that would help me figure ...

Clichéd Storytelling: The Furnace by Prentis Rollins

At their best, graphic novels—comics—combine visual intensity and compelling narrative, like a television show without the drawbacks of actors and a special effects budget, and I’ve read enough to I know what I like. Veristic art, with clean lines and either black & white or strong, realistic colours; narratives that include interesting women (you’d never have guessed that one); and a strong thematic argument.

When I heard that Tor Books was publishing an original science fiction graphic novel called The Furnace, I was pretty interested.

I’m aware of my ignorance when it comes to graphic novels. Unlike with the non-graphic kind, I haven’t read widely enough to have a solid grasp on the genre’s more interesting nuances—though I’ve tried, on occasion, to get something of an overview. (It turns out I’m much more of a fan of Greg Rucka’s Stumptown and G. Willow Wilson’s current run on Ms. Marvel...

Magical Hypocrisy: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Sebastien de Castell’s first fantasy series, the Greatcoats (Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne) was well-received. Unaccountably, I don’t seem to have read them already, and Spellslinger—the opening volume in a new series—makes me suspect that I’ve been missing out.

Spellslinger was first published in hardcover in 2017 by UK outfit Hot Key Books, along with sequel Shadowblack. The third novel, Charmcaster, came out earlier this year, and a further volume is scheduled to appear in the autumn. Now Orbit Books is releasing a paperback edition of Spellslinger, with sequels soon to follow.

Spellslinger features a main character who’s just about to turn sixteen. Kellen is a young man in a society ruled by magic. His parents are among the most powerful mages of their generation, and his younger sister bids fair to be just as strong. But Kellen’s ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver

There’s a strange phenomenon whereby one truly enjoys a novel, admires it for its craft and emotional impact, and still finds one element painfully frustrating.

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is just such a novel, a glittering jewel of a novel influenced by fairytale and by—as far as I can tell—the history of medieval Hungary. Miryem is a moneylender’s daughter, who takes over her father’s business because he’s too soft-hearted to actually demand repayment. She’s so good at it that the Staryk—beings of winter who covet gold—come to believe she can turn silver into gold, and one of them sets her a challenge with her life as the stakes. Victory won’t bring her any joy, either: if she wins, the Staryk king will take her to be his queen, far from home.

Miryem’s one friend—of sorts—is Wanda, a young woman with a drunken brute for a father and two younger brothers ...

Building A Family: Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys’s accomplished and astonishing debut novel, was an intense and intimate subversion of the Lovecraftian mythos, told from the point of view of Aphra Marsh, the eldest of two survivors of the United States’ genocide of Innsmouth. In Winter Tide, Aphra made reluctant common cause with FBI agent Ron Spector (though not with his suspicious colleagues) and accidentally accreted a family around her. Winter Tide is a novel about the importance of kindness in the face of an indifferent universe, and I love it beyond reason.

I may love Deep Roots even more.

Aphra and her younger brother Caleb carry the scars of internment camps and genocide with them. Aphra’s come to terms—hard-won, a bitter peace—with the government that destroyed her people on land. Enough, at least, to reach out to Spector and ask him to help her and her “confluence”—a family of choice, bound ...

Rewriting the Classics: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

In addition to winning the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Theodora Goss’s debut, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, made the list of Nebula Award finalists. It’s garnered a great deal of praise, and given Goss’s track record as an award-winning author of short fiction, that should come as no surprise.

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, follows a thread of mystery in her mother’s will that leads her to a younger sister (Diana Hyde), and to several other young women who were created as experiments in biological transmutation, including puma woman Catherine Moreaux, the literally poisonous Beatrice Rappacini, and living dead woman Justine Frankenstein. These young women, with the occasional assistance of Sherlock Holmes, learn that their “fathers” were members of a scientific organisation called the Societé des Alchimistes (SA), and that the SA are ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s The Kindly Ones

I’ve decided I need a theme for what’s left of June and July. Inspired by the Pride Month Storybundle and the recent publication of the latest Astreiant novel, that theme is going to be Melissa Scott.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be reading several of Melissa Scott’s novels for the first time, and writing about them here. Starting with The Kindly Ones, originally published by Baen Books in the late 1980s and recently reissued by the author as an ebook.

In Greek mythology, the Kindly Ones—the Εὐμενίδες—is a euphemism for the Furies, the goddesses who “take vengeance on anyone who would swear a false oath” (Hom. Il. 19.260), or those who commit gross impiety like a child who murders their parent, or a host who injures their guest. And often, they’re invisible to all but their target, who is driven mad. The Kindly Ones ...

Sleeps With Monsters: A Couple of Fun Fantasies

There are different approaches to epic fantasy. This week, I’m going to talk about two books that take different ones (albeit ones that come from very similar roots): Claire Legrand’s Furyborn and Claudie Arseneault’s City of Strife.

Furyborn is an ambitious novel, the opening volume of a trilogy. It follows two viewpoint characters separated by a full millennium whose lives are—it seems—connected by a prophecy.

Rielle Dardenne possesses all seven kinds of elemental magic. Her lack of ability to control her power caused her mother’s death while Rielle was still a child. Her distant father has insisted she learn to suppress her power. But when her best friend, the crown prince Audric, is threatened by assassins, she reveals her power and pulls attention squarely down on her unprepared head.

According to the powers-that-be in her country, the only people who should have the power to control all ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Storybundle Pride Month Reading

This year and last year, Melissa Scott has curated an LGBT+ offering for Storybundle for Pride. This year’s offerings are many and varied, but there are three that stood out for me. (Well, four, but I’d already read Scott’s own Trouble and Her Friends—queer cyberpunk from the 1990s, and still really good.)

Melissa Scott’s Mighty Good Road (first published in 1990) employs a world-building conceit that other authors have used since: a railway among the stars, stations linked by permanent wormhole gates. From these stations, less reliable FTL ships head off to planets outside the “Loop,” but in the stations of the Loop, interstellar corporations have their offices, and people live and work and transship cargo.

Gwynne Heikki (known to her friends and acquaintances alike as Heikki) is a salvage operator, in business with her partner and lover. She’s approached to bid on a salvage ...

Emotional Epic Fantasy: Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey’s fantasy novels have never been less than ambitious. Her work includes the acclaimed Terre d’Ange novels (beginning with Kushiel’s Dart in 2001); a dark epic fantasy duology that has been compared to Lord of the Rings but from the villain’s point of view in Banewreaker and Godslayer; urban fantasy involving ancient gods in the Agent of Hel trilogy (Dark Currents and sequels); and post-apocalyptic dystopia in Santa Olivia and Saints Astray. Lush, detailed, sweeping, and open about sexuality and attraction, Carey’s work is almost always worth reading.

Starless is her latest novel, an epic fantasy story told in a single volume. A single relatively compact volume, in epic fantasy terms. It’s ambitious in the narrative it sets out to tell, which marries coming-of-age and self-discovery with an epic threat to the future of… well, everything… and even if it doesn’t completely succeed in its ambitions to ...