Mon
Nov 29 2010 4:08pm

Fiction Affliction: Diagnosing December Releases in Science Fiction

New releases in science fiction in December 2010

Fiction Affliction is a monthly column written by Royal Street author Suzanne Johnson that examines upcoming releases by genre or sub-genre. Check back every day this week for coverage of December releases in epic fantasy, young adult paranormal, and urban fantasy. Today’s column examines SCIENCE FICTION.

The Symptoms: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, aliens nipping at your…helmet. Ah, it’s time for love in the far reaches of space. Which is just as well, since Earth has become nothing but a pile of dust and bones, with a few straggling survivors.

The Diagnosis: Ten new science fiction books hit the shelves in December: three space operas filled with tales of love; three dystopian sagas; two alt-histories taking us from Atlantis to World War II Europe; a collection of hard science with some fiction thrown in; and one genre-bending tale of the Wild Weird West.

The Cure: Ready, set, launch. All the fun’s going on in space this month—unless you’re ready to tackle a zombie Bat Masterson and replay the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where things are most definitely not okay.

Love and Rockets, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (Dec. 7, DAW)

Space: The final frontier. Or is it? Many say there’s no frontier more forbidding than a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. But what if one’s a human and the other’s an alien? Love and Rockets is an original collection of space opera stories where authors take love (unrequited or not), on a spaceship, space station, or planetary colony—and  add enough drama, confusion, and mayhem to ensure that the path to true love is seldom free of obstacles. Original stories by Lillian Stewart Carl, Steven H. Silver, Mary Robinette Kowal, Russell Davis, Monica Valentinelli, Kelly Swails, Jay Lake, Jody Lynn Nye and more.

Alien Tango, by Gini Koch (Dec. 7, DAW)

It’s been five months since marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt started working with the aliens from Alpha Centauri, and she and Jeff Martini are getting closer. But when an experimental spacecraft is mysteriously returned to the Kennedy Space Center, Kitty and the rest of her team are called in to investigate. Now the team must survive murderous attacks, remove a space entity from a group of astronauts, and avoid an unhinged woman with a serious crush on Kitty’s high school boyfriend.

Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois (Dec. 7, Tor Books)

The best of today’s fantasy writers return to the unique and evocative milieu of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth to create their own  adventures. With an introduction from Dean Koontz, the anthology contains original stories from George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, Elizabeth Moon, Tanith Lee, Tad Williams, Kage Baker, and Robert Silverberg, along with fifteen others.

The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale, by Mike Resnick (Dec. 7, Pyr) Read an excerpt.

The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River, and beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river. An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison to the town of Tombstone to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius: Wyatt Earp and his brothers. But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang sends for Johnny Ringo—but what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and looking for a fight. Think you know what happened at the O.K. Corral? Think again, as five-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western.

Back to the Moon, by Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson (Dec. 7, Baen)

Decades after the last footprints were left on the moon, the U.S. is preparing to return to the lunar surface in a new class of rockets. But their return to the moon turns into a rescue mission when a Chinese manned flight runs into trouble. Four Chinese astronauts are stranded on the moon, and the American mission must launch with only a skeleton crew. Can the U.S. mount such a mission successfully—or will thousands of years of instilled honor prevent the Chinese astronauts from accepting a rescue?

Atlantis and Other Places, by Harry Turtledove (Dec. 7, Roc)

A collection of stories from the New York Times bestselling king of alternative history. A famous naturalist seeks a near-extinct species of bird found only on the rarest of lands in “Audubon in Atlantis.” A young American on a European holiday finds himself storming an enchanted German castle in “The Catcher in the Rhine.” Centaurs take a sea voyage aboard “The Horse of Bronze” to a land where they encounter a strange and frightening tribe of creatures known as man. London’s most famous detective, Athelstan Helms, and his assistant Dr. James Walton are in Atlantis investigating a series of murders in “The Scarlet Band.” The collection includes these and eight more stories of ancient eras, historical figures, and adventure.

The Keep, by F. Paul Wilson (Dec. 7, Tor Books)

The bestselling first book in the Adversary cycle, source of the cult-classic film, hits trade paperback for the first time. An ominous message—Something is murdering my men—is received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle in the Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, their enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpse behind. When even an elite SS extermination squad can’t solve the problem, the panicked Nazis bring in a Jewish expert on folklore to figure it out. But another visitor is on his way—a man who awoke from a nightmare and set out to meet his destiny.

Ghost Country, by Patrick Lee (Dec. 28, Harper)

For decades, inexplicable technology has passed into our world through the top secret anomaly called the Breach. The latest device can punch a hole into the future, and what Paige Campbell saw when she opened a door into seventy years from now scared the hell out of her. She and her Tangent colleagues brought their terrible discovery to the president—and were met with a hail of automatic gunfire after leaving the White House. Only Paige survived. Fearing a terrifying personal destiny revealed to him from the other side of the Breach, Travis Chase abandoned Tangent—and Paige. Now he must rescue her, because Doomsday will dawn in just four months unless they can find the answers buried in the ruins to come.

Age of Odin, by James Lovegrove (Dec. 28, Solaris)

Gideon Dixon was a good soldier—just bad at everything else. Now the British Army doesn’t want him anymore. When he hears about the Valhalla Project it seems like a dream come true. They’re recruiting from service personnel to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gideon expects is to find himself fighting alongside the gods of the ancient Norse pantheon. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarok—the fabled final conflict—is looming.

Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Dec. 28, Solaris)

The universe shifts and changes: suddenly you understand, you get it, and are filled with a sense of wonder. That moment of understanding lies at the heart of Engineering Infinity. Whether it’s coming up hard against the speed of light and the enormity of the universe, realising that terraforming a distant world is harder than you thought, or realizing a hitchhiker on a starship consumes fuel and oxygen with tragic results, it’s hard science fiction where the sense of wonder is most often found. This hard sci-fi anthology collects stories by some of the biggest names in the field including Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross, and Greg Bear.


Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson is waiting for the Steampunk-Bonanza tie-in, with zombie Hoss and Little Joe. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street in April 2012 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.

18 comments
Jason G.
1. Jason G.
It's been a while since I've read them, but didn't Card do the "Indian magic walls off the Mississippi" idea in the Tales of Alvin Maker?

I wonder if Resnick was aware of that? I'm not, of course, accusing him of plagiarism-it's a good idea that makes sense, so of course more than one person could come up with it-it's just an odd coincidence.
Jason G.
2. Lynnet1
I really appreciate these previews every month. It's a great way to keep up with new releases in the genre without being overwhelmed with a year's worth at once.
Jason G.
3. SuzanneJohnson
@Jason--I'm not sure about OSC doing that, but it sounds familiar. I think the Resnick book sounds like a really cool zombie-steampunk-SF mashup, though. It's definitely on my shopping list!
Emmet O'Brien
4. EmmetAOBrien
I find your genre definitions disturbing of somewhat limited use, if I am going to click on a forthcoming "science fiction" link and find it containing steampunk westerns and The Keep.

Not that I don't like The Keep, I just really stick on calling it SF.
Jason G.
5. SuzanneJohnson
@Emmet Sorry, I have trouble putting steamunk in Sci Fi as well. Unfortunately, it's a form of alt history, which has generally been considered by the publishers as sci fi. It's not urban fantasy. It's not epic fantasy. Where should it go? That's a serious question, by the way. As I've begun doing these monthly columns, I've struggled with that same issue. Maybe the solution is to put "hard sci fi," "space opera," "dystopia," "steampunk," etc., at the end of each listing, or categorize the listings in different ways. Suggestions welcomed!
Jason G.
7. James Davis Nicoll
I think by this point there are enough steampunk novels out there that it would be worthwhile to treat it as its own genre, despite the obvious overlaps with other recognized genres. There may be some awkward edge cases but there are always awkward edge cases.

Back to the Moon appears to belong to a subsubgenre I've been running into lately, in which people go, uh, back to the Moon. Other examples would be Issui Ogawa's The Next Continent, which is on my Hugo list, and Bill White's Platinum Moon, which I also enjoyed.
Jason G.
8. Gerry__Quinn
Steampunk was originally a category of science fiction, and probably should have remained so. The problem is that the term has been stretched out of recognition by various fantasy pieces being misdescribed as steampunk, often for no reason other than being set in the nineteenth century.

Some steampunk belongs in SF, some does not. Inaccurate classification of afflictions leads to misdiagnosis!
Jason G.
9. SuzanneJohnson
Hmm....some interesting ideas here. I think I'll try to sub-divide the classifications for January releases and see if that works better. After all, a misdiagnosis could have lethal consequences!
Jason G.
10. Matt Leo
If you don't put steampunk in science fiction, where do you put it? Steampunk is a hybrid genre between fantasy and sci-fi. The Victorian age was the last gasp of the gentleman scientist, before research and technology became the exclusive province of institutions. Look at the steampunk esthetic; it lusts after clockworks and similar mechanical intricacies, but it has no truck with the greater intricacies of the microchip. The esthetic of steampunk is hand-made, albeit to a higher level of finish than those ceramic ashtrays my sisters used to make in art class.

The Victorian era was at once reconizably modern yet it has a foot in the primitive era of magic and superstition. It gave us both Darwin and Crowley. Steampunk has it both ways as well. Captain Nemo is a magician who works in cast iron and glass. Today, when most of what Nemo did is technologically possible, his way of life is economically impossible. You *could* build The Nautilus, but not in secret. You'd be found out; traced by your supply chain. Nemo had no supply chain. He has minions, of course, but who does he depend on? Nobody. He isself-contained, separated from the world he despises by a bubble of technology. Come to think of it, Edison was called "The Wizard of Menlo Park."

If a hundred years from now steampunk stories are still being written, they will still mostly be set in the Victorian or Edwardian era. Even though our era of internal combustion engines and cell phones will seem quaint and old-fashioned, it will never be deemed *romantic*.
Jason G.
11. James Davis Nicoll
Captain Nemo is a magician who works in cast iron and glass. Today, when most of what Nemo did is technologically possible, his way of life is economically impossible. You *could* build The Nautilus, but not in secret. You'd be found out; traced by your supply chain. Nemo had no supply chain. He has minions, of course, but who does he depend on? Nobody. He isself-contained, separated from the world he despises by a bubble of technology.

Have I mentioned today the connection between Nemo and The Star Spangled Banner?

Mysterious Island reveals Nemo was once Prince Dakkar, a descendant of Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu of Mysore. Tipu Sultan was in the habit of using seriously impressive rocket barrages to express his minimum regard for the British and their allies in India (his father Hyder Ali also pioneered the use of solid fueled rockets).

British experiences with Indian rockets led them to set up a research program in the UK. To quote wikipedia:

's first demonstration of solid-fuel rockets came in 1805 and was followed by publication of A Concise Account of the Origin and Progress of the Rocket System in 1807 by William Congreve, son of the arsenal's commandant. Congreve rockets were soon systematically used by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. These descendants of Mysorean rockets were used in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore, and are mentioned in the Star Spangled Banner.
Jason G.
12. James Davis Nicoll
If a hundred years from now steampunk stories are still being written, they will still mostly be set in the Victorian or Edwardian era. Even though our era of internal combustion engines and cell phones will seem quaint and old-fashioned, it will never be deemed *romantic*.

Pft. If people can romanticize an era notable for having turned severed hands into a currency, they can romanticize anywhen.
Jason G.
13. Matt Leo
Pft. If people can romanticize an era notable for having turned severed hands into a currency, they can romanticize anywhen.

Bah! Romance is all about polishing historical turds. Knights? I'd rather live under the rule of the Bloods and Crips. I was reading an old book of American frontier tales which included one relating how Mike Fink went deer hunting and decided to shoot an Indian instead, as if that were the most droll thing imagiable.
Jason G.
14. SuzanneJohnson
@ Matt & James. Yeah, I think you have to keep steampunk in SF, maybe just give it a subdivision on months where there are lots of releases (December is slow).

LOVE the link between Nemo and the Star-Spangled Banner. Some alt-history writer needs to tackle that one if it hasn't been done.
Andrew Mason
15. AnotherAndrew
Gerry Quinn:Steampunk was originally a category of science fiction, and probably should have remained so. The problem is that the term has been stretched out of recognition by various fantasy pieces being misdescribed as steampunk, often for no reason other than being set in the nineteenth century.

Ot even in a setting which vaguely resembles the nineteenth century. (I don't mean Alternate History versions of the nineteenth century, but entirely otherworldly fantasies where the decor seems to be nineteenth century rather than either mediaeval or contemporary. Does Philip Pullman write steampunk? Does Lemony Snicket? The term has certainly been applied to their work.)

Matt Leo:
If you don't put steampunk in science fiction, where do you put it?

Well, a little while ago I would have said don't put it anywhere in particular; I agree with Gerry Quinn's point that the word had come to be applied to a group of very heterogeneous works, so I would say put those works which are actually science fiction under science fiction, and those which are actually fantasy under fantasy. That policy probably wouldn't be possible now, because steampunk has attained self-awareness, and a lot of people are writing steampunk because it is steampunk, to appeal to a community of steampunk readers.

So what to do? I guess the answer is that if you try to divide speculative fiction into Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, you are going to have to make a lot of arbitrary decisions about where things fall. There is a lot of fantasy that is neither epic nor urban, and a non-negligible amount of speculative fiction that is not straighforwardly either science fiction or fantasy (including one of this year's Hugo winners, in my view). But to try to sort everything into subgenres which fit them precisely would cause yet more confusion. So pehaps we should just go on as at present, and accept that this will sometimes produce some weird results.
Jason G.
16. James Davis Nicoll
By the way, I don't know how you select the books you mention here but may I put in a word for Haikasoru? I've been quite impressed by the books of theirs that I've read; I liked six of the eight I had in hand, which is a pretty good ratio and one of the ones I didn't care for I may just not have been in the mood for.

As far as I can tell they have no December releases, though.



An additional Turing test for me to fail? Dear spammers, please stop evolving.
William S. Higgins
17. higgins
In #7 James Nicoll writes:

"Back to the Moon appears to belong to a subsubgenre I've been running into lately, in which people go, uh, back to the Moon. Other examples would be Issui Ogawa's The Next Continent, which is on my Hugo list, and Bill White's Platinum Moon, which I also enjoyed."

Apparently Dr. Taylor has, with John Ringo, also written in another obscure subgenre, namely "People fly a submarine into space and have adventures." Another example would be Harry Harrison's The Daleth Effect, a.k.a. In Our Hands, the Stars. (This book also happens to be an example of the first subgenre, as the Danish submarine makes a stop on the Moon to rescue stranded cosmonauts...)
Jason G.
18. Matt Leo`
AnotherAndrew: I essentially agree with you. Categorizing stories has a certain inherent arbitrariness to it.

Wittgenstein's theory of "family resemblance" may have application here. Consider the category "games". This includes everything from football to chess to tossing a ball against the wall. All these things resemble each other the way members of a family do. You might have Uncle Henry's nose or Aunt Millie's chin, but there isn't necessarily one feature that *everybody* in your family has. That is precisely the way "games" resemble each other.

The same thing goes for a literary genre like "science fiction". A novel with space ships and alien encounters is almost certainly "science fiction", but not every sci-fi novel has to have those things. A novel that is set in the future and focuses on futuristic technology is almost certainly "science fiction", but a novel that is set in the *past* could be sci-fi as well.

Something as complex as a novel doesn't necessarily fit into some neat ontological category. There's no point in beating your head over getting a perfect definition of such categories, because perfection doesn't exist. There may be no more informative criterion for a science fiction story than this: it is a story that most self-identified science fiction fans would be interested in. If you must subdvide that, then choose divisions that produce roughly equal set sizes.

Some genre definitions draw absurdly fine distinctions. I suspect this is what they call in business "a value proposition". If you loved "X", then you'll love "Y" because it's *exactly like* "X".
Emmet O'Brien
19. EmmetAOBrien
Suzanne@5: given the ever-and-always displayed impossibility of getting anything resembling consensus as to what counts as a specific genre, I have a somewhat radical proposal for dividing your new book notifications; alphabetical order.

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