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Alex Brown

War, Betrayal, and Dark Secrets in This Summer’s Upcoming Young Adult Speculative Fiction

With the MASSIVE amount of amazing YA science fiction, fantasy, and horror dropping in July, August, and September, I might as well give up on trying to get my TBR queue under control. We’ve got sequels and anthologies, epic journeys and small town horrors, and all kinds of goodies to while away the hot summer nights and long sunny days.

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The Toll by Cherie Priest Is the Southern Gothic Horror Novel of the Summer

Like so many other small manufacturing cities across the country, Staywater, Georgia, began its slide into irrelevance in the mid-20th century and never recovered. But being overlooked works just fine for the residents, both the living and the dead. Vintage mannequins swap clothing when no one’s looking. Dolls locked in an abandoned house chatter to themselves. A long-dead townie hangs out at the local bar every night. Two old cousins, Daisy and Claire, guard their young charge, Cameron, with spells and wards. And out in the nearby Okefenokee Swamp, a monster lurks.

Titus and Melanie don’t know any of this when they make the mistake of driving through the swamp on the way to their honeymoon. After driving across a bridge that shouldn’t be there, Titus wakes up lying on the ground. Melanie has vanished. As Titus’ search for his missing bride intensifies, Dave, a bartender who also woke up on that road thirteen years before, decides once and for all to solve the mystery of what happened to him that day. A selfish girlfriend, a reckless teenage boy, a concerned cop, and a grieving mother push and pull Titus in too many directions. In the end, everything comes down to a pair of secretive yet determined old ladies. They’re in for the fight of their lives.

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On the Road Again: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

One morning, a teenage girl named Nessie leaves her house and walks. She doesn’t know where she’s going. She doesn’t know anything. Nessie is the first walker, but others soon join her. As Nessie’s sister Shana and their father tag along to protect their walker, a community of people calling themselves shepherds form around them. They watch over the flock of walkers and protect them from those who would do them harm. Over time other, stragglers attach themselves to the ever-growing group of pilgrims. A washed up rock star uses the herd to get attention and stroke his ego and an ex-cop with severe head trauma finds relief from her chronic pain. CDC scientists Arav and Cassie follow the herd as they desperately seek a cure.

Looming over everything is Black Swan, an artificial intelligence device used to detect and predict outbreaks of disease. It brings in Sadie, its handler, and Benji, a doctor who wants to rehab his reputation after being fired from the CDC years before. Eventually the shepherd and flock conflict with white supremacists and far-right fascists using the coming apocalypse for their own nefarious purposes. A parallel epidemic of a colonizing fungus arises, but are the walkers and the fungal infection a coincidence or is something more sinister going on?

That’s the premise, but the meat of the story is the journey across America. Political instability and virulent bigotry exacerbate the sleepwalker problem, and unmitigated fear cause seemingly decent people to act in unpredictable and explosive ways. This is a story about the end of the world but it’s really about us, about the things we do to each other when we think we can get away with it and what we do to the world when we think we have no other choice.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: June 2019

Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes a whole new set of amazing short speculative fiction stories. There’s a little something for everyone in June, from a horror-filled family beach vacation to a sinister fairy tale to the perils of Martian exploration to marine biology in the age of climate change, and everything in between. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in June.

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Love, Hate, and Everything Between: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Young adult urban fantasy gets a jolt of diversity with Wicked Fox by Kat Cho. In this K-drama inspired tale, two teens fight against a host of magical odds, a task made more difficult as they develop feelings for each other. People they trust betray them, and their enemies might not be opponents after all—nothing ends up being as straightforward as they initially thought. Action? Check! Mystery? Check! Romance? Triple check!

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Celebrating 10 Great Parents from Young Adult SFF

Every so often someone laments the lack of good parents in young adult fantasy and science fiction. This is usually followed up with the claim that good parents make for poor YA fiction because good parents don’t let their kids go off on dangerous adventures to save the world. To which I usually reply that they clearly don’t read enough YA SFF. Parents—yes, even the good ones—have a long history of involvement in young adult science fiction and fantasy, a trend that has actually been increasing in recent years.

In that vein, here are ten YA SFF novels where the parents are very much alive, are good people, and in some cases who even join the teen protagonist on their quest. There are, of course, a zillion more, so please add your recs in the comments!

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Not All Heroes Wear Capes: C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad Series

Welcome to the Sidekick Squad series by C. B. Lee, a fun, feisty trio of young adult science fiction novels about queer teen superheroes leading the resistance against a corrupt regime. In a future version of our world, where the earth was wracked by climate change, war, and natural disasters, Not Your Sidekick opens with everyone thinking everything is fine. The North American Collective controls what was the United States, Canada, and Mexico and caped crusaders and supervillains punch each other in nationally televised battles. Sure, sometimes information disappears and pre-Collective media is illegal, but the government has its people’s best interests in mind…right? When Jess, the superpower-less daughter of two superheroes, takes an internship at a tech company she discovers some dark secrets about what her government is really up to. Meta-humans are going missing and the Collective’s most famous hero is behind it.

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Heart on Fire: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Fourteen years ago, a heartbroken Ifrit (djinn drawn to order) found a dying girl in the desert and saved the child’s life by surrendering hers. Eight years ago a gang of Shayateen (djinn draw to chaos) attacked the city of Noor and slaughtered thousands, all but two young girls and an old woman. Today, Noor is thriving once more, thanks in no small part to an alliance made between humans and Ifrit, but its future is uncertain. Citizens are being attacked by Shayateen and ghuls (undead monsters) and a rebellion is forming in the rest of the kingdom of Qirat.

In the middle of all this is Fatima, one of the three survivors. After witnessing a terrible, tragic death, she finds herself a human teenager with dangerous Ifrit powers. An Ifrit emissary pulls her into the intrigue at the maharajah’s court and soon she is the only thing standing in the way of the destruction of Qirat. With her new abilities Fatima must protect her fractured family at all costs, even if it means killing her enemies. But she isn’t the only one coming into newfound power. A princess, a sister, and a concubine’s daughter must rise above the low expectations set by the men around them and become the powerful women they truly are.

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Longing and Loneliness in Amy Rose Capetta’s The Lost Coast

In the small town of Tempest, California, deadly secrets lurk in the shade of the towering redwood trees. When one of the five queer teen witches collectively known as the Grays disappears, the remaining four cast every spell in their repertoire to try and get her back. After each one fails, they turn to their fallback plan: cast a summoning spell for a witch with the right kind of magic to find Imogen.

Not long after, Danny and her mother arrive from Michigan. Danny has been searching for something—sex, girls, herself, something else undefinable and elusive—and finds the Grays. She is exactly what they need, even if she doesn’t know why or how. Slowly Danny eases her way into the Grays, discovering new friends and a growing attraction in the mini-coven. When two young men are murdered by magic deep in the forest, Danny realizes she’s the key to solving the mysteries of the redwoods. But it might cost her everything she is and might become to do it.

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American Gods Season 2 Review

Look, I didn’t love the second season of American Gods. I’m not even sure I liked it all that much. I definitely didn’t actively dislike it, although that’s not saying very much. The first three episodes of the second season were mostly disappointing, and the rest of the season is, with a few big exceptions, more of the same. Although there was much to enjoy—I want a whole webseries set at Al Grimnir’s Regius Theater—the overall experience was mediocre at best, and downright aggravating at worst.

Spoilers ahoy.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: April 2019

It took me a long time to come around to short fiction. For years I insisted I didn’t like it. Why read a short story when I could read a whole novel? What was the point of getting just a tiny taste of a world when I could sink into something long and sprawling? I could tolerate a collection of short stories by a single author who I already loved, but reading a bunch of short stories by people I’d never heard of? No, thank you.

What finally changed my mind were novellas and novelettes, especially those from Publishing. Lengthwise, they worked as a good stepping stone between novels and short stories. More importantly, what with the incredible diversity (in characters, authors, and editors) and the fascinating stories, there was no way that I, a huge fantasy and science fiction fan, couldn’t not want to read them. And the more I read, the less frustrated I felt. Gradually I learned the cadence of short fiction, how it is often more interested in asking questions and exploring moments than in providing answers or sweeping narratives, how it makes up for breadth with depth. I learned that what mattered was the story itself rather than how much of the world the author decided to show.

So here we are with my new monthly feature highlighting recent short fiction from across the speculative spectrum. I hope that if you aren’t a short fiction geek, these recommendations will guide you along your journey of discovery. And if you already love short fiction, consider this your TBR recommendations list. Now let’s get reading!

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“And the waters prevailed”: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Only four weeks have passed since Black Mesa, and Maggie is deep in recovery mode. The first man she loved is buried in the desert and the second is avoiding her. To be fair, Maggie did try to kill him. Needing something to do, she joins Hastiin, her one-time nemesis, and his teenage cousin Ben on a monster hunt. Things go terribly awry and soon she and Ben find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the White Locust, a cult leader with mysterious powers. Whatever his plans are, they involve Kai Arviso and Caleb, the youngest Goodacre boy.

To save Dinétah, Maggie must enter the Malpais, but the Malpais may not ever let her leave. The moment she, Ben, and Rissa Goodacre step beyond the wall, they’re beset by vile and violent me who have turned the southwest into a free market hellhole. Maggie has to rescue Caleb and Kai and preventing the White Locust from killing thousands while stopping Ben from going to the dark side and keeping the peace with Rissa. And she has to do all that with petty gods, sadistic slavers, and killer bugs interfering at every turn.

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A Revolution Founded on Lies: Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane

As far as Princess Hesina knew, life in her father’s kingdom of Yan was mostly perfect. Lonely at times and resoundingly predictable, but comfortable, just, and peaceful. When he dies unexpectedly and the crown is passed to her, Hesina learns about the turmoil roiling just under the surface. Centuries ago, the Eleven ripped Yan from the death grip of arrogant, cruel emperors and built a new society founded on their Tenets. But in order to secure their country and eradicate the last of the emperors’ traditions, they turned against the soothsayers, humans with the ability to magically manipulate matter and see the future. The Eleven had the sooths executed by the thousands, and only those who escaped into the bordering countries or who hid amongst the lowest ranks of civilians survived.

Now that Queen Hesina knows the truth about her kingdom’s origins, she can either maintain the status quo or acknowledge the crimes of the past and change the future. There are powerful men on both sides who will do anything to secure the version of Yan that best represents their interests, and she will battle them all to do what’s right… whatever “right” means. With the help of her adopted siblings, her brothers, a couple of soothsayers, and a roguish criminal-turned-attorney, Hesina must right the wrongs of her ancestors while protecting her people from their worst instincts, all while rooting out her father’s killer and preventing a war with a neighboring country.

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