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...

Rekindling Planetary Romance: Old Mars and Old Venus, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Today’s review looks at a pair of books that, despite being published in 2013 and 2015, harken back to an older style of science fiction, back to the days when Mars and Venus were depicted as not only habitable, but inhabited. Back when the planets were home to ancient races, decaying cities, mysteries and monsters. Back to the days before interplanetary probes brought back harsh truths about our neighbor planets. Back to the days of Old Mars and Old Venus.

The recent death of Gardner Dozois had me thinking about his many significant contributions to ...

The Fated Sky

Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars with The Fated Sky, available August 21st from Tor Books. The second novel looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission. Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real ...

Five Novels Dealing With Time Travel

Time travel in sci-fi literature tends to be approached in two fundamentally different ways, and these two ways correspond to whether time is seen as objective or subjective. The brute force approach, as I’ll call it, ties in with our common sense intuition that time is an objective feature of reality, that it would keep ticking away regardless of whether or not anyone was there to measure it. In this approach, a machine or device is created (or discovered) that somehow allows its user to travel through time in a non-standard way. The mind travel approach, on the other hand, comports with Einsteinian and Kantian considerations about the mind-dependence of time; in it, travelling into the past is shown to be possible through a sort of rigorous mental training or discipline, with no recourse to technology required.

Personally I find the mind travel approach more compelling, but here I want ...

Sorry to Bother You Is This Summer’s Must-See Dystopian Satire

What Get Out is to horror, Sorry To Bother You is to satire. Writer and director Boots Riley has put together a deliriously punk rock and intensely Oakland film with a bark as vicious as its bite: It’s an exhilarating dystopian work of science fiction, a scathing critique of American ideals, and a love song to the Bay Area. Riley is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the face, but that made me love the movie even more.

In a surreal, near-future Oakland, the world is beset by an ever-worsening economic crisis fueled by corporate greed and social and political indifference. The streets teem with tent communities and beat-up cars turned into mobile homes. When his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews) threatens to kick him and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) out of his garage for owing four months in back rent, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job ...

The Need for Air

A mother. A son. A virtual world they both share where each could live forever and achieve their fullest potential. Until one of them decides that isn’t enough for life.

 

 

The noon sun was programmed to perfection—warming but not scorching—and the light breeze refreshed as it rearranged Lake’s hair. The black sand beach was soft to the feet, containing the right amount of exquisitely shaped shells planted in a manner that drew Jared down the beach, exploring. Lake had brought her son here because of the nature setting. He seemed to be enjoying himself, yet she watched with a wary eye, jaw and shoulders tight with anxiety. Her eyes darted restlessly to the endless scroll of must-haves to the right of her main view: spa getaways, mood boosters (completely safe!), and the latest fashions. At the upper right of her view were the icons for her own ...

All the New Science Fiction Books Coming Out in July!

There’s a lot of space-faring fiction this month—astronauts, soldiers, adventurers, you name it. Mary Robinette Kowal expands on the world of her story “The Lady Astronaut” with The Calculating Stars; Becky Chambers continues her Wayfarers series with a tale about the folk living on the remnants of the Exodus Fleet; Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls turn into enhanced soldiers for different (or mysterious) reasons; and we’ve got some creepy space beings and space romance, for good measure! If you just can’t choose, you might pick up one of two new anthologies of SF stories, including the 35th annual Year’s Best Science Fiction. Something for everyone!

Keep track of all the new releases here. Note: All title summaries are taken and/or summarized from copy provided by the publisher.

 

WEEK ONE

Alpha (Infinity Division #3)—Jus Accardo (July 3, Entangled Teen)
Young adult. Sera has no memory of her life before. Before ...

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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 ...

How SciFi Can Solve the Problem of Red Dwarf Stars

Certain facts about M-class red dwarf stars are vexing for authors and readers of SF. Not to mention reviewers. I am vexed.

First fact: they’re economical. Because they are low mass, you can make a lot more of them from a given amount of matter than you can make of mid-K to mid-F class stars1). Also, they last a long long time, even by galactic standards. Someone or something must have been frugal, because the vast majority of stars are red dwarfs. This proportion will only increase once the stelliferous era draws to an end in the near future (by galactic standards).

What’s so bad about most of the galaxy being composed of long-lived stars? Well, I am happy you asked…

A lot of science fiction authors simply ignore red dwarfs, if only because simple math suggests that the odds of an Earthlike world being in the habitable ...

Man Against Machine: Great Sky River by Gregory Benford

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Some science fiction stories are, well, just more science fiction-y than other tales. The setting is further in the future, the location is further from our own out-of-the-way spiral arm of the galaxy, the protagonists are strange to us, and the antagonists are stranger still. We get a capital-letter, full dose of the SENSE OF WONDER that we love. And when you combine that with a story full of action, adventure, and jeopardy, you get something truly special. If you hadn’t guessed by now, Great Sky River by Gregory Benford, the subject of today’s review, ...

Recoveries

Two women who have been friends since they were children—one a recovering alcoholic brought up by parents who believe they’re alien abductees, the other an orphan with an eating disorder—contend with a secret that might doom their friendship.

 

 

 

So here’s the thing. You’re scared shitless, because you know something heavy’s going down tonight, and you may be the only one who can stop it, but that will be dangerous in ways you can’t stand to think about. Your friend Vanessa—your best and oldest friend—is all about patterns, and today’s a doozy. It’s her twenty-eighth birthday, and also the tenth anniversary of her parents’ disappearence, and also her first anniversary of sobriety or anyway of not drinking, and also—not at all coincidentally—the day when, at midnight, her parole will end.

Vanessa plans to drink again no later than thirty seconds after twelve. You can see it in her ...

Beyond the Psychedelic: Taty Went West Heads for Parts Unknown

Taty Went West book review Nikhil Singh

Sometimes a narrative begins in a familiar place: with someone embarking on a journey, for instance. Nikhil Singh’s novel Taty Went West is like that—the first sentence of the second chapter seems to usher the reader into familiar territory. “The piggy bank bought her a bus ticket to nowhere fast,” Singh writes, tapping into a longstanding tradition of young people venturing out into parts unknown. (As if to make this more explicit, Singh includes a nod to the Beat Generation later in the novel.) Taty is a young woman frustrated by suburban life, tuned in to her favorite songs on her Walkman. She’s in search of something bigger, a larger and more compelling world. This is a familiar story, right?

It’s not a familiar story. That bus ticket’s bought in the second chapter. The one before that sets up an altogether stranger milieu, and one that hints at the ...

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Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part VIII

In this foray into the past, I cover women fantasy and science fiction authors who debuted between 1970 and 1979. In stark contrast to the previous instalment, this essay covers a sparsely populated range of the alphabet. Accordingly, it will include authors whose surnames begin with N, those whose surname begins with O, and those who begin with P. Even so, it’s not as long as the M entry.

Previous instalments in this series cover women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, those beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, those beginning with L, and those beginning with M.

 

Mary C. Pangborn

Mary C. Pangborn’s published works were all short pieces published in respected venues like Terry Carr’s Universe anthologies, Silverberg and Randall’s New Dimensions series, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Lamentably, ...

How to Play Hilketa, the Robot-Smashing Sport in John Scalzi’s Head On

Hilketa sport John Scalzi Head On

Hilketa is a sport, first played in the United States, in which two teams of eleven players attempt to score points, primarily by tearing off the head of one of the opposing players and either throwing or carrying the head through goal posts. Other points may be accrued through defensive or offensive action. Because of the violent nature of the sport, no human bodies are on the field during play; all play is performed with personal transports (“threeps”). Because of this, and due to the fact that until very recently all threeps were operated by people with Haden’s Syndrome, to this day all professional Hilketa athletes are “Hadens.”

Despite being a relatively new sport, the kinetic nature of the game and its scoring has caused the game to become exceptionally popular in a very short time, although the highly-specialized and expensive nature of the threeps involved ...

The Furnace

One decision. Thousands of lives ruined. Can someone ever repent for the sins of their past?

When Professor Walton Honderich was a young grad student, he participated in a government prison program and committed an act that led to the death of his friend, the brilliant physicist Marc Lepore, and resulted in unimaginable torment for an entire class of people across the United States.

Twenty years later, now an insecure father slipping into alcoholism, Walton struggles against the ghosts that haunt him in a futuristic New York City.

A dark, compelling work of psychological suspense and a cutting-edge critique of our increasingly technological world, Prentis Rollins’ graphic novel debut The Furnace speaks fluently to the terrifying scope of the surveillance state, the dangerous allure of legacy, and the hope of redemption despite our flaws. Available July 10th from Tor Books.

In this excerpt, physicist Walton Honderich travels to a futuristic New ...

Undying: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Revenant Gun Yoon Ha Lee

If you’ve paid any attention to the SFF Awards scene in recent years, you’ll recognize Yoon Ha Lee and his Machineries of Empire trilogy. Each of the first two volumes, Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, picked up Hugo Award nominations for Best Novel, and Ninefox Gambit also landed on the Nebula ballot. Lee has long been respected for his short fiction, but his early career as a novelist has been even more dramatic and impressive. The first two volumes in the series blend impressively complex SFnal ideas with strong characterizations, an endless supply of imagination, seriously satisfying combat, and a labyrinthine military-political plot that develops at just the right speed.

It’s no surprise, then, that the final volume in the series, Revenant Gun, is another winner. What started in Ninefox Gambit reaches its stunning conclusion in one of 2018’s best science fiction novels, and cements Lee alongside Leckie as ...

Strange Stars

As the 1960s drew to a close, and mankind trained its telescopes on other worlds, old conventions gave way to a new kind of hedonistic freedom that celebrated sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Derided as nerdy or dismissed as fluff, science fiction rarely gets credit for its catalyzing effect on this revolution. In Strange Stars, Jason Heller recasts sci-fi and pop music as parallel cultural forces that depended on one another to expand the horizons of books, music, and out-of-this-world imagery.

In doing so, he presents a whole generation of revered musicians as the sci-fi-obsessed conjurers they really were: from Sun Ra lecturing on the black man in the cosmos, to Pink Floyd jamming live over the broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing; from a wave of Star Wars disco chart toppers and synthesiser-wielding post-punks, to Jimi Hendrix distilling the “purplish haze” he discovered in a pulp novel into psychedelic ...

Surprisingly Timely: Andre Norton’s Rereading Night of Masks

Most of the Andre Norton novels I’ve read and reread so far have had issues with being, as we say here, “of their time.” Even when they try very hard to be diverse and inclusive, they’re dated, sometimes in unfortunate ways.

Night of Masks feels amazingly modern. It’s vintage 1964 in its technology (records are kept on tapes, starships are rockets with fins), and there’s only one human female in the book, whose name is a patented Norton misfire: Gyna. But at least she’s a top-flight plastic surgeon, and she performs in accordance with her pay grade; nor is there any reference to her being a second-class human.

The plot is pretty standard. War orphan Nik Kolherne scrapes a living in the slums of the planet Korwar. Nik is the sole survivor of a shipload of refugees that was brought down by enemy fire; he was severely burned, and ...

Why Are There So Few SFF Books About the Very Real Issue of Population Decline?

I discovered last week that if one wants hundreds of likes and retweets on Twitter, one can do worse than to tweet this:

“Inexplicable drop in birthrates for generation systematically denied healthcare, affordable education and even the smallest prospect of economic security.”

…in response to this.

Of course, I was joking. Well, half-joking. What’s going on here isn’t merely an expression of the hopelessness of the current generation. It’s part of a longer trend, one oddly absent from Western SF: the demographic transition.

As the article notes, “The rate has generally been below replacement since 1971.” This isn’t unique to the United States. It’s part of a general process that demographer Warren Thompson noted as far back as 1929, in which economic transformation is accompanied by a demographic change. Nations go from high birth and death rates to low death and birth rates1. When birth rates fall ...

All the New Science Fiction Books Coming Out in June

It may be approaching summer in the Land of Tor Dot Com, but it is—we assume—very climate-controlled on spaceships, which you can read about in many of this month’s science fiction releases, including Rob Boffard’s Adrift and Peter Watts’s The Freeze-Frame Revolution, as well as the third and final book in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, Revenant Gun! Not that space is the only flavor of SF this month has for you: there’s also a new vampire plague, some nice easy time travel (this is a joke; the time travelers made us make it), some entirely peaceful robots, and the latest tome in the Wild Cards universe. For starters.

Keep track of all the new releases here. Note: All title summaries are taken and/or summarized from copy provided by the publisher.

 

WEEK ONE

Adrift—Rob Boffard (June 5, Orbit)
Sigma Station. The ultimate luxury hotel, in ...