Genre Friday – Weird Westerns

Weird West

True or False?

Sergio Leone’s iconic Man with No Name Trilogy would’ve been better if Clint Eastwood’s horse was actually a steam-driven, robotic mount and he had a demonically-possessed, talking Peacemaker that had all the best lines.

If you answered “True,” or even “False, because those movies are great, but I would totally watch that crazy robot horse, talking gun one too,” then weird westerns might just be for you.

Weird West tales, you may have guessed by now, are a mashup of traditional Western settings, themes and tropes and various elements of speculative fiction. Many such stories incorporate steampunk elements. Remember The Wild, Wild West TV show… or the later movie starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline if the TV show was before your time? Perfect example of what we’re talking about. They may also feature magical realism and/or fantasy like incorporation of magic or fanciful creatures. Like other historical fiction, the stories can feature real-life people and events, although many weird westerns start their world-building from scratch.

Examples:

16104414Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

The Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour

Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt (illustrator) & Tyler Crook (illustrator)

 

 

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017

by Adrian Liang, November 30, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

Artificial intelligence, angels fallen to earth, Loki, murderbots, apocalyptic doom, and a leap in evolution are among the highlights of this year’s best science fiction and fantasy.

Every best-of list like this has its own criteria for a book’s inclusion, whether it be formally written out or lurking in the back of the editors’ minds. For my part, I wanted to put a spotlight on stories that were willing to stride down a less-beaten path while still thriving on the core values of heroism and derring-do that draw us to read science fiction or fantasy.

Every year it’s nearly impossible to winnow the list down to only 20. This year, thirteen of the 20 are either standalone books or start a new series, and the other seven books continue series that you’ll thank yourself for plunging into (but start with book one!). Three stories are self-labeled for teens or young adults, quite a few more straddle the “coming of age” space where so much adventure can happen, and even a handful of books revel in the hard-won wisdom that middle-age brings.

Below are 10 of the 20 best books of the year, focusing mostly on standalones or series starters.

To see the full list, go to our page that lists all 20 best science fiction and fantasy books of 2017.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – Arden’s debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. Set in the 14th century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. “A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission” is how her father imagines her, and he’s not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. Book two, The Girl in the Tower, hit shelves on December 5.

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – A weapon-heavy security bot on a contract with surveyors sent to investigate a new planet, Murderbot (as it refers to itself) takes pains to conceal from the humans it’s guarding that there’s something different about it: Murderbot has disabled the function that requires it to obey any orders given or downloaded. All Murderbot wants is time to itself so that it can watch the thousands of hours of entertainment vids it’s downloaded on the sly, but the sudden, ominous silence from the surveyors’ sister camp knocks those plans awry. Tense action locks in step with Murderbot’s march toward owning its personhood, imbuing the android with more character than other, far larger novels ever manage to do. A tight space adventure with a deep core of humanity, All Systems Red has become one of my favorite books this year to press into the hands of my fellow SF readers.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this inventive retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Those new to Norse mythology might be astonished by how bizarre some details are, while fans more well-versed in Norse myths should still appreciate the humor and spark that Gaiman infuses into the stories he has selected to retell, adding to the existing rich literature. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. And don’t forget that ship made of the finger- and toenails of the dead.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King – This tale of young orphan girls who are trained to be devout warriors—and then, disturbingly, are given to benefactors as servants, concubines, or wives—is ultimately one of strength and sisterhood. Sickly but spirited 18-year-old Kalinda is chosen to be the rajah’s 100th and final queen, an “honor” she desperately does not want but to decline means death. A bubbling civil war and the deadly intrigues of the court complicate Kalinda’s choices further, and King dials up the tension as the date of Kalinda’s wedding grows closer. Powerful and innocent at once, this is a good pick for those who embraced the lessons of justice and generosity in Wonder Woman.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – Margaret Atwood calls this book “Electrifying!” and it’s not just because in The Power young women have developed the ability to electrocute people, overturning the power hierarchy of the world. Girls and boys are sent to segregated schools, and female public officials are required to go through testing to make sure they don’t have the ability because, oh my gosh, the world just might as well be over if women gain physical leverage over men. It would have been easy to write a strident and simplistic anti-man book—one that would be welcomed especially now, during a tsunami of sexual harassment scandals—but instead Alderman weaves more nuanced ideas into a thoughtful yet action-packed story, giving readers of The Power lots to consider and lots to thrill to.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty – George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets Naomi Novik’s Uprooted in this marvelous debut fantasy about a young con artist from 18th century Cairo who learns that her mysterious parentage—and her ability to work small magics—might be connected to the nearly forgotten legends of the djinn, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the mysterious brass city of Daevabad. When Nahri accidentally summons Dara, a djinn warrior with a long and bloody past, she plunges both of them into the brewing animosity among the ancient djinn tribes united only by their disdain for their half-human offspring, who have few rights in the djinn stronghold of Daevabad. But not all djinn think the half-humans should be persecuted. Alizayd, the djinn king’s second son, works in the shadows to right wrongs even as surging tensions birth battles in the streets. Deep and gorgeous world building plus the political plot corkscrews caused me to happily ruminate on this book and its characters weeks after I finished it. I have a few quibbles—Nahri doesn’t have as much to do in the second half as in the first—but Chakraborty’s heck of a finale was both a surprise and felt completely right…and left me quivering with anticipation for the second book in the trilogy.

Artemis by Andy Weir – As in The Martian (the book, not the film), Artemis‘s strengths are Weir’s plotting and the gee-whiz science facts leveraged to make survival more unlikely than guaranteed. Twenty-something Jazz has made a niche for herself as a reliable smuggler in the one and only small city on the Moon. When one of her clients offers her a sabotage job that will let her pay back an old debt, Jax pushes aside her misgivings…and the hijinx begin. For me, the weakness of Artemis is Jazz herself, who, like Mark Watney (in the book!), can come off sometimes as an infantile jerk. Still, there’s quite a lot to enjoy about Artemis as a clever heist-gone-wrong-on-the-Moon story.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard – The second book in the Dominion of the Fallen series is just as atmospheric as the first and shoves you right into the middle of the twisty political action in which fallen angels and dragons compete for people and power. De Bodard knows how to craft a deliciously tense story in which flawed characters with competing agendas keep you flipping the pages to find out what happens next—and her broken, dark Paris is the perfect setting. Fantasy and urban fantasy fans should start with The House of Shattered Wings with a happy confidence that book two is excellent as well.

Void Star by Zachary Mason – In this near-future SF suspense novel, Irene’s neural implant and her ability to talk with machines makes her a much-coveted and very expensive tech troubleshooter, but her meeting with billionaire Cromwell sets off all sorts of subconscious alarm bells, as does the frightening glimpse of a wild AI she’s never encountered before. Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels. A buildup of tiny tells, headlong plunges into the sharp-as-glass memories saved in Irene’s implant, and eerie snapshots of the strange and inexplicable hammer the tension into a near-unbearable drumbeat. But even as Irene crisscrosses the planet—sometimes on the run, sometimes on the chase—it’s the essential role of memories that gives this novel its heft, coaxing us to consider what we keep and what we leave behind in our own daily world-building.

When the English Fall by David Williams – In this spare but tense novel, only the Amish have the skills and the food stores to survive after an unexplained event destroys most modern technology, causing planes to fall out of the sky and electricity to fail. Told through the diary entries of Amish farmer Jacob, the bubbling-up of anger and violence in the outside world slowly begins to affect the self-sufficient Amish, forcing them to rethink their relationships with the non-Amish and how they will stay true to their beliefs while under new pressure. A fascinating exploration of the corrosive effect of anger and the strength that can be found in holding true to one’s beliefs, even if it leads to the harder path.

World Fantasy Awards Announced

by Chris SchluepNovember 07, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

The winners of the 2017 World Fantasy Awards have been announced. The ceremony was held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas at the World Fantasy Convention. The Lifetime Achievement Awards, presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field, went to Terry Brooks and Marina Warner.

Below is a list of the winners from selected categories. You can see all of the winners listed on Locus.

Best Novel

  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Roadsouls by Betsy James
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Best Long Fiction

  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Best Short Fiction

  • Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones

Best Anthology

  • Dreaming in the Dark edited by Jack Dann
  • Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen
  • Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow
  • The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams
  • The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

Best Collection

  • A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford
  • Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
  • On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly
  • Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson
  • The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Most Popular Books of the Decade

The internet is full of top ten lists, ranging from the illuminating and insightful to the amusing to the down-right dubious, but here is one we thought you’d like. Without categorizing (or vouching for) it, here is the list that goodreads.com posted listing the top 10 books of the last decade as voted on by their members in honor of their tenth anniversary. It’s even divided into genres for your convenience.

by Danny, September 05, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog
Fiction

Truly Madly Guilty
Go Set a Watchman
Landline
And the Mountains Echoed
 
The Casual Vacancy
1Q84
Room
The Help

Nonfiction

Hamilton
Modern Romance
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
The Autistic Brain
Quiet
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Columbine

Mysteries & Thrillers

End of Watch
The Girl on the Train
Mr. Mercedes
Inferno
Gone Girl
Smokin' Seventeen
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Played with Fire

Fantasy

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two
Trigger Warning
The Book of Life
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Wind Through the Keyhole
A Dance with Dragons
Towers of Midnight
Dead and Gone

Science Fiction

Morning Star
Golden Son
The Martian
MaddAddam
The Long Earth
11/22/63
Feed
Leviathan

Young Adult Fiction

Salt to the Sea
All the Bright Places
We Were Liars
Eleanor & Park
The Fault in Our Stars
Where She Went
Before I Fall
long for the Ride

Romance

It Ends with Us
Confess
Written in My Own Heart's Blood
Lover at Last
Fifty Shades Freed
Lover Unleashed
Lover Mine
An Echo in the Bone

Survive the Game of Thrones Hiatus with These Queens, Kings, and Conquerors

GOT Hiatus

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
William Shakespeare

by Marie, August 30, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

Experiencing Game of Thrones withdrawal? The wait for the final season might feel agonizing—though maybe not as agonizing as the wait for The Winds of Winter.

But don’t fret! History is teeming with royal drama of every kind, from the mad to the Machiavellian to the morally gray. George R.R. Martin himself drew plenty of inspiration from real-life nobles for his world-renowned fantasy series. Consider The Accursed Kings, a history on the House of Capet, which Martin once called, “The original Game of Thrones.”

Click here for a whole list of monarchies and books that have enough complexity to fuel their own television show (in fact, many of them already have). There’s the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Romanovs…the list of dynasties who took power by force or fortune goes on and on. 

 

Genre Friday – Hobbit Day Tribute Edition

Baggins BDay

Welcome to the house that Tolkien built. Epic Fantasy (also known as High Fantasy) is the quintessential fantasy sub-genre, the fount from which all other fantasy sub-genres have flowed, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves and orcs and rings (oh my) utterly dominate the field. There are, of course, stand-outs and outliers, stories that forge news paths in an old sub-genre, but even when a tale isn’t filled with staff wielding wizards and subterranean, master-craftsmen called dwarfs anything called epic fantasy still contains a few essential elements that were originally established when Tolkien first fleshed out Middle-earth on paper.

Epic fantasies create entire worlds, with long and complex histories and vivid cultures and lifestyles. How complex and vivid? Tolkien actually created (or adapted) a historic timeline leading back to the creation of the world, myths, legends, deities, several races of creatures (many of which have become staples of the fantasy genre), multiple kingdoms, and an entire language for the fictional inhabitants of his world! If you look hard enough in the right places I bet it wouldn’t take too much effort to find someone that speaks at least passing Elvish. They are not all that in depth, but that is the kind of detail you are potentially looking at when you jump into an epic fantasy.

In case that isn’t enough to wrap your head around, epic fantasy also almost always has a large cast of characters taking part in quests and adventures that will affect the fate of an entire kingdom or world. Possibly multiple worlds.

So, it is a complex workout for your imagination and memory. What else?

MiddleEarth

While hand-drawn maps of the world are not strictly mandatory, they are strongly encouraged. 

It’s big. Aside from its often immense geographic scope, as it is not unusual for the cast of characters to have to trek across continents and cross oceans in the pursuit of their goal, these stories can also cover large spans of time, with years, decades or even generations passing by in the course of the story (or series of stories). They are also big in another way – these are not typically short books. Once you get sucked into an epic fantasy series you are in it for the long haul.

 

Examples:

Sheepfarmer's DaughterThe Belgariad series by David Eddings

The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy by Elizabeth Moon

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

The Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan

Genre Friday Returns! with Court Intrigue Fantasy

Whether it is set on Earth (past, present or future), in a parallel world or universe, or a mystic realm where the familiar laws of nature do not apply, Fantasy allows imagination to run wild. True to this idea, Fantasy’s many subgenres can vary from one another a great deal, encompassing just about anything one could imagine, which helps to explain the genre’s ever-growing breadth and depth.

The Court Intrigue subgenre of Fantasy generally focuses on and around royalty and the ruling elite. Settings can be anything from a well known historical backdrop (but with magic or something) to some unrecognizable alternate world but we are almost always going to be dealing with the upper crust of society and their despicable plotting and scheming. The plots of these stories are often complex and heavily entangled with politics, power grabs, espionage, assassinations (successful and attempted), court scandal and everything else that you would expect from a political thriller, but normally set in feudal, medieval-esque surroundings with sorcerers and dragons about.

GOTCoverMIAExamples:

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner