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Liz Bourke

Sleeps With Monsters: Strange Differences and Unusual Similarities

I’m all about the books. This week, I have even more books to tell you about. (Let me know if you ever get bored with hearing about the books.)

Let me tell you about Molly Tanzer’s riff on Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, in her extraordinary, peculiar, odd and compelling Creatures of Will and Temper; and about some stories by M.C.A. Hogarth set in her strange and inventive “Pelted” universe science fiction—a series of stories starring a woman called Alysha Forrest.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Inter-dimensional Spy Games: Dark State by Charles Stross

Last January’s Empire Games kicked off a new, standalone chapter in Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes continuity: a science fictional thriller involving panopticon societies, multiple timelines, a cross-timeline Cold War and nuclear-armed standoff, political crises, and family secrets. It packed a lot into a relatively slender volume. As its sequel—and the middle book of a trilogy—Dark State has a great deal to live up to, and even more work to do.

It succeeds admirably.

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Politics and Demons: The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler

The Infernal Battalion is the fifth and final volume of Django Wexler’s excellent Shadow Campaigns series, an epic gunpowder fantasy that made the unusual decision of introducing its world-threatening fantasy evil at the end of volume four.

A strange choice, you might think—but for Wexler’s series it works exceedingly well, introducing a massively disruptive element into the political situation just as the revolutionary politics and military campaigns have begun to stabilise. The introduction of a demon that grows by taking over people’s minds—a smart demon, a demon imprisoned for hundreds of years whose only goal is to never be imprisoned in one single body again—presents Wexler’s characters with a whole new challenge.

Especially since many of them don’t yet know that the demon exists.

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Quiet Space Politics: Emergence by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series may not be the longest-running science fiction series still being published today, but it must certainly find itself among the longest to feature the same cast of characters. Emergence is the 19th in that series. It yet again deals with Bren Cameron, paidhi and ambassador between atevi and humans (though his duties have changed almost out of all recognition since Foreigner), and Cajeiri, the young heir to the aiji of the atevi, as they handle politics and consequences and the competing necessities of several different atevi factions—and another several human ones.

If you’re new to the Foreigner series, this is not the place to start. (The best advice is to start at the beginning, or else at book four, Precursor.) If you’re a fan, then it’s entirely likely that you already know whether or not you want to read Emergence: it does very similar things to its predecessors—although it suffers from the absence of the aiji-dowager, whose inimitable presence has improved every book that’s featured her.

[Although there are subtle differences to the usual pattern…]

Sleeps With Monsters: Odd and Satisfying

A while back, I worked out that I read at least fifteen books or novellas a month in the latter half of 2017, and wrote at least 10,000 words about them. That seems to be my ongoing average. Some of those books are easier to read than others—and some are easier to talk about. The books I want to tell you about this week aren’t easy to sum up: they’re satisfying, but they’re odd.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Philosophical Science Fiction: The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

The Will to Battle is the third book in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series. I enjoyed Too Like the Lightning, the first book, for the glittering possibilities of its worldbuilding and its (apparently) utterly unreliable narrator; for the sense that it was setting up a great thematic argument between fate and free will in a technologically-driven society. I liked Seven Surrenders less, and felt did not live up to the promise of its predecessor.

Now The Will to Battle has clarified a number of things for me about Palmer’s work—not least of which is that Palmer has not actually written a series of novels, but instead, an extended philosophical commentary couched in science fictional language and using science fictional furniture.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Therapeutic Compassion

I missed Michelle Sagara’s Grave when it came out in January 2017, though I’d been looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy that started with Silence and continued in Touch. Emma Hall, whose necromantic power has drawn unpleasant attention from the Queen of the Dead, is on the run with her friends. If she’s going to survive and keep her friends alive—and open the doorway that leads the dead to peace, the one that the Queen has kept shut for centuries—she’s going to have to figure out how to confront the Queen and win.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Alex Wells Answers Six Questions

This week, Alex Wells has agreed to join us for a few questions. You might recognise their name from around here: they’re the author of the excellent “Angel of the Blockade” as well as this year’s amazing desert-planet-mercenaries-and-magic science fiction novel Hunger Makes The Wolf. A sequel, Blood Binds The Pack, is coming early next year from Angry Robot, and I know that I’m excited.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Warding off Winter Darkness

I live in Ireland, where at this time of year it starts to get dark at four p.m., and on rainy grey days—we have a lot of rainy grey days—it can sometimes feel as though the sun hasn’t come up at all.

I put effort into managing my depression at the best of times. In the last couple of years, managing my depression has been complicated by the need to manage a growing amount of anxiety (which sometimes makes concentrating on anything other than not tearing off my own skin difficult). And with the relentless march of holiday-themed merchandise and advertising kicking my financial anxiety into higher-than-usual gear, I want to take this opportunity to look back on the narratives that 2017 gave me that have proved… sustaining, in more ways than one. Art is what keeps me going, most of the time. Art is what gives me hope. (Though most of the people who make it will sympathise with my financial anxiety: the vast majority of writers are shockingly underpaid for the amount of benefit they bring to the world.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Djinn and Politics in an Interesting Debut

It’s not just me, is it? 2017 has been a really great year for debut novels. From Nicky Drayden’s The Prey of Gods to R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, from Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above to J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven, and from K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter to Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice, 2017’s managed to give us a pretty full slate of great new writers whose work we can—hopefully!—keep on looking forward to.

(2018, as far as literature is concerned, you have a lot to live up to.)

[City of Brass is only the latest of this year’s excellent run of debut novels.]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Bridging the Trilogy — Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven by Spencer Ellsworth

Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven is the second book in Spencer Ellsworth’s Starfire trilogy, a space opera reminiscent both of Star Wars and of Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker. In this universe, Jorian “crosses”—part human, part genetically modified ancient powerful race—have long been used as canon fodder against the world-eating Shir by the mostly-human empire.

A Red Peace, the first volume, opened in the aftermath of a successful revolution against the empire led by a Jorian cross calling himself John Starfire. Starfire has capped his success by issuing a secret order to his most senior officers: kill all the full humans. Every single one.

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Space Espionage — Mass Effect: Initiation by N.K. Jemisin and Mac Walters

Mass Effect is one of my fandoms. I’ve played the first three games through at least twice apiece, and only recently finished working my way through the giant—if somewhat disappointing—playground that’s been Mass Effect: Andromeda. Among Mass Effect’s gifts, over its first three game incarnations, was the ability to deliver well-paced space opera military adventure with excellent dialogue.

Its novel tie-ins have singularly failed to live up to that standard. At least, until now.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Lost Suns, Times, and Theorems

It’s well on the way into winter in the northern hemisphere, and in these chilly damp days, curling up near a daylight-spectrum lamp with a good book seems like the best of all possible choices. But which book? As is often the case, my shelves are groaning under the weight of so many options that choosing between them is a complicate exercise, and my anticipation for reading Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male wars with my desire to read E.K. Johnston’s That Inevitable Victorian Thing fights with the prospect of reading Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Will and Temper, while Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones and Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous and Anna-Marie McLemore’s When The Moon Was Ours lurk tantalisingly in wait. And that’s only the start.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths

Remember 1988? I don’t, not really—but then, I was two at the time.

People who were older than two in 1988 might remember Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths. Or then again, they might not: Wright seems to have published precisely one novel (at least, under that name) and at the time, it received little acclaim.

Nigh on thirty years later, republished with a foreword by Becky Chambers, I have to hope its fate will be vastly different. Because A Matter of Oaths deserves your attention. (And it’s one of those books, like Swordspoint, that I honestly didn’t think anyone was publishing in the eighties until I read it.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters