Tor.com content by

Robert H. Bedford

Clones in a Locked Room Murder Mystery in Spaaaaace! Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Clones aboard a generational starship and murder combine in Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes, a taut, engaging thriller that showcases the writer’s skill for plotting and character. Where this one is a bit different is that the victims are “reborn” soon after dying. In Lafferty’s imagined future, clones can regenerate upon death, making them ideal to oversee the flight of 2,000 inhabitants of the starship Dormire. There’s a lot to unpack in this relatively short novel, but Lafferty takes a great approach. When these clones are “reborn,” their memories don’t immediately join them, and the ship’s artificial intelligence is offline, which complicates the situation to a greater degree. Nobody knows what happened, and there’s a murderer in their midst. This is especially troubling because the novel begins with characters awakening in the middle of a very bloody crime scene.

Their deaths were the beginning of the novel.
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Where to Start with Robert Charles Wilson

Welcome back to the Tor.com eBook Club! November’s pick is Spin, the first book in a sci-fi trilogy from Robert Charles Wilson. Wilson has published, on average, a book a year since his debut in 1986—so where would you like to start?

Robert Charles Wilson is one of the most acclaimed science fiction writers in the genre today, having garnered multiple awards and award nominations over the course of the many stories and eighteen novels he’s published since A Hidden Place, his debut, in 1986. Fortunately for readers looking to explore his canon, the majority of Wilson’s work consists of standalone novels (with the exception of the SpinAxisVortex trilogy) so there really isn’t an incorrect place to start outside of the last two books in that series. Although his novels are often classified as Hard Science Fiction, his strength as a storyteller is the humanity of his characters, and in particular, the humanity of those characters contrasted against those big Science Fictional ideas.

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Memories Found: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Twenty years after the Unseen War, powerful mages known as Augurs are no longer so powerful. They have been stripped of their standing in society and their powers have failed them. In their place are mages who possess the Gift, but their rise is only a result of the strict rules called the Four Tenets—not unlike Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics—under which they must operate. Though these Gifted individuals are able to use their form of magic—the Essence—they are not looked upon with great favor by society at large. Unfortunately, the world is still under threat of attack from those on the other side of the Boundary, a dark army sealed nearly two thousand years prior to the novel waiting to escape and reap their revenge. As the novel begins, characters are concerned that the Boundary is not going to hold for very much longer. Against this backdrop, the lives of young Davian, Wirr, Asha, Dezia, and Caeden unfold under the auspices of the school for the Gifted where many of them meet. Although using the term school might be generous since the ‘students’ are afforded too much freedom as their Administrators watch over them.

Clearly, Islington is playing with familiar tropes in his debut novel, The Shadow of What Was Lost. Originally published in 2014 in Australia, Islington’s debut—the first volume of a the Licanius Trilogy—arrives in the US today.

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Illuminating the Blurred Characters: Shadowed Souls edited by Butcher & Hughes

Jim Butcher is one of the biggest names in urban fantasy (maybe the biggest, considering his novels tend to debut at the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list), and Kerrie Hughes is one of the most accomplished anthologists in SFF. The two combine their estimable skills for Shadowed Souls, an anthology of urban fantasy stories whose theme focuses on the line dividing black from white, good from evil, and what lies in the shadows. The anthology is a good mix of stories, mixing contemporary settings, superheroes, and low-tech pre-industrial settings. Past the cut are my thoughts on each story.

Enter into the shadows…

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Getting There Was Easy: Planetfall by Emma Newman

Much of science fiction is concerned with traveling to distant planets, discovering new life and new environs. A great deal is made of the challenges people and technology would face getting off planet, or surviving a lengthy journey to this new planet. Not so in Emma Newman’s Planetfall. The real story of Newman’s novel is the challenges survivors face on the new planet, not because of environmental challenges or alien life, but the trials of clashing personalities and buried secrets.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Planetfall is not an easy book to discuss without giving away too much about its plot and characters. So I won’t give away too many of the finer details of the plot—what can be said is that approximately 1,000 colonists left Earth, including the protagonist, Renata “Ren” Ghali, who followed Lee Suh-Mi, her lover and leader of this group, to the new planet in what can best be described as a pilgrimage of faith. Earth was not in the best of shape, but there isn’t much more elaboration than that in the plot or background details.  When the colonists arrived on the new planet, Lee entered a pre-existing structure the colonists discovered and came to name God’s City.  When Newman begins the novel 20 odd years later, Lee had yet to return from God’s City and she is revered as something close to a saint as the people await her return and still follow the spirit of her beliefs.
[Let’s Print a House.]

Getting the Band Back Together: Daniel Polansky’s The Builders

A reunion of friends or allies for one last job, catching up with each other after a time apart: not an uncommon theme in fiction, but one proven effective across all media of storytelling. It’s proven again here in The Builders, Daniel Polansky’s fantasy novella featuring a one-eyed mouse, an injured owl, a stoat, and an opossum (among other intelligent, talking animals). This reunited gang of adventurers is out for revenge against the enemy that split them apart.

The story begins in a bar where the Captain (just the Captain, no other name is needed) awaits the return of his allies. As each of the players are introduced, Polansky reveals small details about each character. After the Captain, we’re introduced to perhaps the most over-the-top character: Bonsoir the stoat. Because a talking mouse with an eye-patch named simply the Captain isn’t enough. As the narrative indicates, there are many animals like a stoat, but stoats are unique. To say the stoat has a flair for the dramatic is to say the sun gives off light; the sun is unavoidable in life, and Bonsoir is unavoidable in this story. As it should be.
[Sidle up and have a drink with the Captain…]

An Intricate Labyrinth: Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives

Jessamy, the protagonist of Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel Court of Fives, is very much in the middle of everything. She and her twin have both an older sister and a younger sister, so they share the traditional middle child role. Jes is a child of two different races and classes: Her mother, Kiya, is a Commoner, while her father, Esladas, is a Patron who has elevated himself above his low-born station to a military Captain. Jes is caught between her desire to compete in the Court of Fives—an intricate, labyrinthine, obstacle race (think something like the course on American Ninja Warrior)—and what society dictates the daughter of a Patron should do, torn between her duty and desire to save her family once her father’s sponsor Lord Ottonor dies.

What she desires above everything is competing and winning in the Court of Fives. The problem is that she cannot win, not without bringing shame on her father (a decorated Military man) and her family. So she competes under a mask and intentionally loses during her first run through the Court, allowing a young man named Kalliarkos to win the day.
[Enter the Court of Fives]

Parallel Apocalypses: Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

One of the most popular types of science fiction narratives is the apocalypse or post-apocalypse story—a world in ruins with few survivors eking out a threadbare existence in a world (seemingly/mostly) devoid of civilization. Told from the point of view of Jerry Beche, Extinction Game, is Gary Gibson’s foray into this subgenre after a string of successful Space Opera novels.

Through Jerry’s first person voice, we get an intimate portrait of a man losing his sanity despite surviving the initial apocalypse. He speaks with his dead wife, he wants to make sure the people responsible for her death, Red Harvest, get their just desserts. When Jerry finally ventures out of his ramshackle hovel, he finds other people. Unfortunately for Jerry, these people capture and interrogate him, and we soon learn they are from a parallel Earth—Jerry is one of many people extracted from an apocalyptic world to be trained as Pathfinders, specialists who plunder other Earths for hints of salvation.

[It’s the End of the Worlds as We Know Them…]

Investing in Fantasy: The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

Villains both in history and in good fiction often do not think of themselves as villains. This could not be truer for Geder Palliako, the Lord Regent of Antea until Prince Aster comes of age and can assume the throne. Geder’s cause is backed, and one might even say pushed ahead, by those who worship the Spider Goddess—particularly Basrahip, the minister of the Spider Goddess, who works as Geder’s chief advisor.

In The Widow’s House, the fourth installment of The Dagger and the Coin sequence, author Daniel Abraham continues to deftly explore positions of power, and how perception lends credence to reality. Abraham tells the story through the same points of view as in the previous volume, though these characters have evolved quite a bit since we first met them. Clara Kalliam, widow, mother, plotter against the Lord Regent; Cithrin bel Sarcour, ‘rogue’ banker, former lover and scorner of the Lord Regent; the aforementioned Geder, Lord Regent and emotional basket case; and Captain Marcus Wester, a hardened man of war. Abraham bookends the novel with two additional points of view: a prologue from the POV of the last Dragon Inys, and an epilogue from a soldier’s point of view.

[That’s right, a dragon…]

SymboGen Cares About Your Hugo Vote: Parasite by Mira Grant

Mira Grant—a penname for Seanan McGuire—can often be found on the Hugo ballot, and this year is no different. Admittedly, the central conceit of Parasite is a large pill to swallow, and takes a bit of handwaving to gloss over the details.

In Grant’s near future thriller, the majority of the world has willingly ingested an Intestinal Bodyguard, a designer parasite intended to aid our weakened immune systems. On top of that, all the parasites are all owned by a single company—SymboGen. But once you’re on board, Grant unfurls an interesting and briskly-paced narrative.

[SymboGen cares about your health…]

Banking on the Hugos: Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Charles Stross is a mainstay on genre award ballots every year; 2014 marks his seventh appearance on the short list for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. There’s good reason for these accolades because when it comes to plausible and well-thought out future scenarios, few can invent better scenarios than Stross.

Neptune’s Brood, in this case, imagines a post-human, far future where we as humanity have become a thing of the past often referred to as Fragiles. The novel is many things, but a primary thrust revolves around economics in the future and a supposed defrauding scam as it features Krina Alizond-118 on her journeys through the galaxy.

[Pirates and banking?]

The Revelations of Fantasy Adventure Author Michael J. Sullivan

Science fiction and fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan is one of the great success stories of self-publishing. Each of the books in his Riyria Revelations series has garnered a four-star rating (or better) on Goodreads and many positive reviews from readers and critics. Sarah Chorn, AKA Bookworm Blues says the first novel “nicely blends well-known fantasy tropes and new ideas to create something unique, yet comforting. This was a good action-adventure romp filled with interesting situations which reminded me of Dungeons and Dragons (only better) with the maturity an adult would enjoy.” Iceberg Ink says the second novel “is a more-than-worthy follow-up and an opening to a wider world of Elan, one in which I hope to spend many more hours enjoying.” And King of the Nerds praises the third book, which “has raised the bar once again for future installments in the series. Sullivan effortlessly blends an old school fantasy feel with a reinvigorating verve.”

[Then Orbit Books came along…]

Aaron and Bach: A Tale of Two Rachels

Rachel Aaron is an Orbit author, through and through, under both her real name and the pseudonym Rachel Bach. She is a writer who was cultivated by Orbit and whose audience grew through some smart publishing decisions in the early days of Orbit’s US imprint. To wit, Orbit US launched in 2007 and her debut, The Spirit Thief, published in October 2010.

Orbit learned from the successful publishing plan they employed for Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy (and Del Rey employed for Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels)—monthly sequential publication for immediate shelf presence. It proved successful for Aaron, too.

[Let’s meet Eli and Devi…]

Weird Conspiracy on the Range: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Virgin Jackson is a park ranger, but not just for any park. She is responsible for making sure Birrimun Park in Australia remains a crime-free zone. It is, after all, the largest natural landscape in the world of this near future world, so her job is no small thing. When Virgin notices a couple of unsavory individuals in the park—unsavory individuals with guns who have entered the park by no means she can immediately determine—Marianne de Pierres’s Peacemaker kicks into full gear.

Told from Virgin’s point of view, de Pierres’s narrative is very intimate. We see everything through her eyes, including the United States Marshall assigned to shadow her on the strange goings-on at the park, Nate Sixkiller. (Yeah, just go with the name). He comes across as polite and mannered in a classic cowboy sort of fashion, yet quite stoic and unbending.

[Ride along with some Cowboys in Australia…]

Not the Norse You Think You Know: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

Certain characters in history and mythology gain a bad reputation over time, fairly or unfairly. Some are cast as meddlers, trouble-makers, and villains. Loki, the Norse trickster god is one such figure. Like many so called “villains,” he is the hero of his own story.

At the very least, he’s the protagonist in Joanne Harris’s enchanting mythpunk novel, The Gospel of Loki. Through a first-person narrative, Loki tries to convince us that, even if he isn’t the hero, he shouldn’t be considered the villain history and mythology have cast him. At best, Loki is a misunderstood being and one who is thrust into a situation that provided little chance for him to be anything other than a heel. At worse, he is the Father of Lies.

[Lend an ear to Your Humble Narrator…]