Tor.com content by

Niall Alexander

“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the Fifth, and Master of All”: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

If the Inheritance Trilogy established N. K. Jemisin as a genre writer to be reckoned with, and the Dreamblood Duology demonstrated the range of her capabilities as a creator, book the first of The Broken Earth comprehensively confirms the award-winning wordbuilder as one of our very finest fantasists. Epic in its scope and scale in the same instant as it is intimate, The Fifth Season is rich, relevant and resonant—quite frankly remarkable.

Brilliantly, it begins with an ending; with two intertwined endings, in truth, which, when taken together, foreground Jemisin’s focus on the huge and the human. In the first, a mother covers the broken body of her little boy—who’s been beaten to death by his father simply for being different—with a blanket. Essun does not cover Uche’s head, however, “because he is afraid of the dark.”

These harrowing paragraphs—and paragraphs are all they are, for all their power—are paired with what is, in apocalyptic fiction such as this, a more conventional conclusion.

[The end… of everything.]

Voyager Goes Virtual

Way back when, in October 2012, Voyager—HarperCollins’ home for fantasy and science fiction, and the publisher across the pond of people like George R.R. Martin, Mark Lawrence, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb—opened its doors to unagented submissions for a brief period. In just two weeks, something like five thousand manuscripts were submitted, fifteen of which have seen the light of day of late.

Spanning genres “from urban fantasy to military sci-fi, with YA, romance and mystery in the mix,” Voyager’s venture into digital-first publishing has been such a exceptional success that the imprint is set to celebrate said with a week it’s calling #VirtualVoyager. From this coming Monday through Friday (August 3-7), the fifteen authors comprising the digital list have cleared their calendar to participate in a schedule of exciting events and social media sessions you won’t want to miss.

Never one to take a press release as the whole of the story, however, I asked Voyager’s most approachable assistant editor, one Rachel Winterbottom, if she could delve into a little additional detail about the week.

[She did!]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Even Eviller: The Good, the Bad and the Smug by Tom Holt

Evil just isn’t what it was.

Used to be, you could slaughter a dwarf and gnaw his gnarly bones all the way home without attracting any undesirable attention. Now? Not so much. It’s a new world, you know? And it might just be that the new world needs a new breed of evil.

In The Good, the Bad and the Smug, Tom Holt—aka K. J. Parker—proposes exactly that as the premise of a satirical and sublimely self-aware fairytale that brings together the wit and the wickedness of the author’s alter ego with the whimsy and the nefarious wordplay which have made the YouSpace series such a sweet treat so far.

[Readers, meet Mordak: King of the Goblins]

Occupy Your Time with Tricia Sullivan’s New Novel!

Gollancz had good reason to crow about its acquisition of Occupy Me on Thursday: it’s Tricia Sullivan’s first new science fiction novel since Lightborn in 2010, and it promises to outstrip everything else the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner has written.

An extraordinary, genre-defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time, Occupy Me follows Pearl, an angel who works for the Resistance—an organisation dedicated to making the world a better place one incremental act of kindness at a time—as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man.

And at the centre of it all, a briefcase that contains countless possible realities…

[…including Hell itself.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

The United States of Japan Needs You!

When Angry Robot Books revealed what it’s billing as “the spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle” late last week, the name of the writer behind it rang a bell in my brain. I didn’t have to look long or hard or far to find out why—Peter Tieryas has written, in the first instance, some absolutely fantastic articles for Tor.com, not least this recent piece about the speculative underpinnings of Super Mario Brothers, and this bravura bit about navigating the Louvre with a little help from Nintendo.

And now? Now he’s written a novel. Not his first, in fact. Bald New World was one of the Best Science Fiction Books of 2014, per Publishers Weekly, and his new book sounds similarly subversive. “Set in a gripping alternate history where the Japanese Empire rules over America with huge robots,” United States of Japan is in part an exploration of the tragedies that took place in Asia during WWII.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Long Dark Dusk by JP Smythe

“I AM A SPOILER-FREE ZONE,” JP Smythe said to me—repeatedly, even—when I talked him into answering a couple of questions about Long Dark Dusk on the back the book’s big reveal last week, and he has every reason to be reticent: Way Down Dark, the first third of the Australia trilogy, ends with a twist that changes the name of the game completely. To talk about it would be to rob readers of one of the year’s most memorable moments, so I’ll hold off as long as possible.

What I will say, here in the header, is that Long Dark Dusk is destined to be a dramatically different text than its predecessor. Its narrative, in fact, is apt to be still more sinister than Way Down Dark’s, as Smythe explained when I asked him what lessons he’d learned writing for younger readers.

[Don’t make any distinctions between audiences when writing and you’ll be absolutely fine.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

A Labour of Love: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Since the startling Mars trilogy, if not far in advance of that, Kim Stanley Robinson has been seen as something of a standard-bearer for science fiction—and quite rightly. In the sixteen years since said series’ completion, he’s repeatedly demonstrated himself capable of combining the very finest in futurism with the crucial components of sterling storytelling so many of his contemporaries unfortunately forget.

Aurora chronicles Robinson’s return to science fiction in the first, after the about-turn he took in 2013, but to begin with, it reads distressingly like a retread. Its premise depends upon a generation ship hurtling towards the Tau Ceti system, where the two thousand-some souls aboard plan to carve out a new home for humanity—a notion set in motion by the same sort of environmental catastrophe Aurora‘s author has explored before, not least in the Science in the Capital saga. After their arrival, these cosmic colonists take on the deceptively complex task of terraforming, much as the men and women of the Mars trilogy did. In the interim, they eke out a existence of subsistence in biomes rather reminiscent of those Robinson detailed in 2312—biomes which our central character slowly explores in the course of a long wanderjahr that isn’t dissimilar to the walkabout Shaman started with.

But readers? Read on.

[Because there’s so much more to Aurora.]

Fly Me To The Moon: Armada by Ernest Cline

Isn’t the world weird?

After decades of dismissal, what was once the preserve of known nerds is now everyone’s favourite field. Video games are a cornerstone of contemporary culture. There are characters from comic books wherever you look. The fundamental stuff of science fiction and fantasy has been embraced in a big way by the mainstream, and though there are those who still question the merits of the speculative, even these outliers have had a hard time denying the cultural cache it has accrued in recent years.

Fair to say, then, that geek has never been more chic—a zeroing of the zeitgeist Ernest Cline capitalised on to heartfelt effect in his first novel following the cult film Fanboys. A celebration of all things 80s bolstered by a cannily-characterised protagonist who came of age over its uproarious course, Ready Player One was smart, but it also had a heart. Armada starts strong, by scratching a great many of the same itches Cline’s debut did. It too worships at the altar of this new, nerd-friendly nostalgia. It combines space-based spectacle with a series of intimate interruptions. It’s frequently funny and remarkably referential. But there’s a but.

[Slight spoilers follow.]

Next Stop, Central Station

“I always wanted to write a novel in short stories,” explains World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar. “Science fiction has a long tradition of doing this—from The Martian Chronicles to Lord of Light—but my inspiration was also partly V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street.”

If Wikipedia is to be believed, that’s a semi-autobiographical wartime novel composed of prose portraits of the colourful characters who live on the titular street in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. But move over Miguel Street: Tidhar’s patchwork narrative, announced today by way of Zeno Agency, takes place in the wake of “a worldwide diaspora” in a city spread around the foot of a space station where “life is cheap, and data is cheaper.”

[Next stop, Central Station.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Sanctum Sanctorum: Under Ground by S. L. Grey

In this day and age, grave danger is everywhere. Quite aside from the exponential toll of terrorism, there’s environmental catastrophe to consider, and so many potential vectors of deadly infection that just counting them could kill you—never mind the nukes pointed at every major population centre on the planet.

That the world will end—and sooner rather than later, some say—is as good as a given. Something’s got to give, and when it does, you and your loved ones will want somewhere safe to stay. Somewhere completely sealed against sickness; somewhere with such state-of-the-art security that not even a mouse could get into your house; somewhere so darned deep underground that surviving the bombs that are sure to start dropping is guaranteed to be a breeze.

[The Sanctum is that somewhere.]

Sunset Song: The Hunter’s Kind by Rebecca Levene

Between City of Stairs, The Goblin Emperor, Words of Radiance, the latest Daniel Abraham, and the debut of Brian Staveley, 2014 saw the release of a feast of remarkable fantasies—and whilst I find that playing favourites is a fool’s game usually, last year, there was one I loved above all others. The only complaint I found myself able to make about Smiler’s Fair was that there wasn’t more of it, but with second volume of The Hollow Gods upon us, there is now—and how!

At the heart of Rebecca Levene’s first fantasy was the titular travelling carnival: a cultural crossroads whose various visitors were invited, for a price, to indulge in their unsightly vices. There, they gambled and they drank; there, they fought and they fucked. For centuries, Smiler’s Fair was a welcome outlet for wicked impulses, as well as those desires disdained by the lords of the Lands of the Sun and Moon, in a place apart from the populace.

That was before it burned; before it was ravaged by a magical fire that left thousands dead and many more homeless. But it’s “best not to cry about what’s past. It’s only what’s coming that matters.” And what’s that, you ask?

[In a word: war.]

No Surrender: Way Down Dark by J. P. Smythe

Calling all authors with plans to ply their darker brands in the young adult market: Way Down Dark is like a lesson in how to bring your fiction to a more sensitive sector without sacrificing the parts that made it remarkable.

The sensational start of J. P. Smythe’s Australia trilogy is to sinister science fiction what Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series has been to fantasy of the grimdark variety: a nearly seamless segue that doesn’t talk down to its audience or substantially scale back the stuff some say is sure to scare younger readers away. To wit, it doesn’t get a great deal more miserable than this—appropriately given the tone and tenor of Smythe’s other efforts. Consider the fact that Way Down Dark opens on its main character murdering her own mother a macabre case in point.

[It was because she had a reputation.]

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is Coming!

Forgive me, folks, but I’m just going to get out of the way of this one.

“Today is a very special day for two reasons,” wrote J. K. Rowling on Twitter earlier today. “Firstly, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the UK eighteen years ago! I’m also very excited to confirm today that a new play called Harry Potter and the #CursedChild will be opening in London next year. It will tell a new story, which is the result of a collaboration between writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and myself.”

Contrary to earlier speculation, however, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won’t be the prequel everyone—including our own Emily Asher-Perrin—was expecting. So what will it be?

[Well, that’s a bit of a mystery.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu

Take heart, epic fantasy fans—Gollancz has your back.

Hot on the heels of its Shadows of Self cover reveal, Gollancz has launched the symbolism-laden look of a brand new Arabian Nights-inspired book dubbed “a must for fans of Brandon Sanderson” thanks in part to “its deliciously original magic system.” Twelve Kings, aka Twelve Kings in Sharakhai in the States, is the next novel by Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya, and the start of the much buzzed-about Song of the Shattered Sands saga.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Once upon a time, Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian and his best mate Wayne were of precious little significance in the grand scheme of Brandon Sanderson. They had small parts to play in a creative writing exercise meant to help clear the author’s head before he completed work on The Wheel of Time series. But Sanderson’s practice blossomed into a proper short story… a short story that kept growing and growing until, before long, a whole new novel was born!

Published in late 2011, that novel was The Alloy of Law: “a wonderful fantasy with a steampunk feel” that won hearts and minds at the same time as bringing Sanderson back to the world which was his first real claim to fame. Given its success, a sequel to said was essentially inevitable, but as we learned last December, it, in its turn, turned into two books: Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning. And there’s still another one to come!

But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s fix our intent on the present, and on the cover art Gollancz unveiled yesterday.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Revealing The Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal

Between Gideon’s Angel and The Raven’s Banquet, a pair of headlong, alt-history hybrids, Clifford Beal established himself as a speculative presence to be reckoned with, and it’s my pleasure to tell you today that his horizons are fast expanding. The Guns of Ivrea is coming, alongside a sequel tentatively entitled The Witch of Torinia, both of which books look to explore fascinating aspects of the past by way of a fully-fledged fantastical filter. From the author:

Readers might know my fantasy work has been firmly in the realm of “secret history.” That is, fantasy that is set in our own timeline but where the fantastical occurs off the beaten path and whose existence is concealed by both the real and fictitious characters that inhabit the pages. In essence, supernatural events might have really happened but no one ever wrote about it to tell the story. The new novel, The Guns of Ivrea, is traditional, high-octane epic fantasy—a completely new world and a kingdom called Valdur.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

No Strings Attached: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Seriously satisfying cyberpunk action meets thoughtful moral philosophy with a dash of detective noir and a supersized side of striking science in Crashing Heaven—the year’s best debut to date, and make no mistake.

A pivotal part of its deceptively accessible premise is that the tale occurs in a world where gods (of a sort) walk among men. As the well-read will be aware, this is not a new notion; on the contrary, there have been any number of tremendous takes on the topic, even if we restrict our recollection to iterations of late—highlights like Robert Jackson Bennett’s brilliantly built City of Stairs and N. K. Jemisin’s hot-under-the-collar Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. So what makes this one worth writing home about?

[Why, the presence of a puppet, if you please!]

Killing King Death: Adam Nevill’s Next

With the summer only just begun, it seems to me that October is an age away, but many of those in the industry have already turned their attention to the scary season, not least the powers that be at Pan Macmillan, who plan to publish Adam Nevill’s next novel the week before Halloween. It’s called Lost Girl and, as Nevill says, it’s a very different beast from the books of his back-catalogue…

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus