Tor.com content by

Liz Bourke

No Soft Edges: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is award-winning author Tade Thompson’s second novel. A science fiction novel—part near-future thriller, part post-first-contact story—set in Nigeria, it’s a fast, tense, pacy, interesting book. First published in 2016 by a small press outfit, it’s now been picked up by Orbit and given a wider release as the opening volume of a trilogy.

At first glance, Rosewaters setting, its mixture of mysticism and science, and its overall themes—communication, trust, the unknowable alien and irreversible transformations—recalls the work of another award-winning author of Nigerian extraction: Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed Lagoon (Hodder, 2014; Saga Press, 2016). But in terms of structure, characterisation, and tone, Rosewaters an entirely different beast. It reminds me a little of Elizabeth Bear’s Jenny Casey trilogy, and a little, too, of Ian McDonald. It’s not really into soft edges.

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Sleeps With Monsters: A Pair of Delightfully Queer Novellas

This week, I want to bring to your attention two novellas from Book Smugglers Publishing, Lena Wilson’s Accelerants and Juliet Kemp’s A Glimmer of Silver. These books are mere morsels in length—114 pages for Accelerants, 136 pages for A Glimmer of Silver—but in their different ways, they’re both very good. As well as being delightfully queer, and enjoyably compact!

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Dynamic Tension: State Tectonics by Malka Older

Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle began in 2016 with Infomocracy. Now it ends, at least for now, with State Tectonics, the third book in the sequence.

Those titles reward examination. At first glance, “infomocracy” looks like a portmanteau, a combination of “information” and “democracy,” implying a system where access to democracy is increased through greater provision of information. And as Infomocracy revolves around elections, access to information, and democratic processes (and with antagonists who attempt to subvert such processes), this reading seems to fit.

But Information is also an organisation within the world of the Centenal Cycle: a well-meaning organisation that disseminates information and validates elections, that possesses essentially a monopoly on information infrastructure within the microdemocracy system that exists within the world of the Centenal Cycle. A different reading of Infomocracy turns it into a portmanteau relating to democracy’s roots: the rule of information (or of Information).

Both, it seems to me, are valid readings. Especially in light of the developments of State Tectonics.

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Regency-style SF: The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams

Several years ago, I read Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy, The Praxis (2002), The Sundering (2003), and Conventions of War (2005). Set in a rigid, hierarchy-bound society—the Praxis—the trilogy focused on young military officers Gareth Martinez and (Lady) Caroline Sula, whose unorthodox tactics contributed to the success of the military establishment over their enemy. But it won them powerful enemies on their own side. A further novella, Impersonations, focusing on Caroline Sula in a backwater posting after the war, came out in 2016, and led me to hope that Williams might continue telling stories in this universe.

This review contains some spoilers.

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Nobody’s Land: Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

Terra nullius is a legal concept, arising from the Roman legal concept of res nullius. Res nullius means “nobody’s thing,” and applied to such things as wild beasts, lost slaves, and abandoned property: things anybody could own by seizing and claiming them. Terra nullius means “nobody’s land,” and seems to have become an established concept in international law by the early 20th century.

But the idea that habitable land is empty and there for the taking goes back a lot further.

Terra Nullius is a tremendously accomplished book. It’s Claire G. Coleman’s first novel, and since its 2017 publication in Australia, it’s been shortlisted for several awards and won at least two. Coleman is an indigenous Australian Noongar woman, and Terra Nullius is a story about settlement, about cultural erasure, genocide, exploitation, suffering. It’s a novel about residential schools who take children from their parents as young as possible and destroy their connections to their culture, training them to be unpaid servants—slaves—and about a colonial administration that sanctions the mass murder of the native population.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Spec-Fic Romances With Ladies Who Love Ladies

You may remember that I like to keep an eye on the latest in F/F romance with a speculative element. As you know, Bob, there are a couple of publishers of what bills itself as “lesbian fiction” (it is usually very lesbian, since I can count on one hand the number of bi protagonists or otherwise queer women I’ve encountered among the “lesbian fiction” subgenre, and usually, alas, also very white), and sometimes these publishers include speculative romance.

I’m glad that queer protagonists are becoming easier to find in the offerings of traditional SFF publishers (Angry Robot has done quite an interesting lot this year, and I can count volumes from Tor, Saga, Harper Voyager, Orbit, Ace, and Solaris/Rebellion without having to strain my memory), because in general, one has to grade fiction from the lesbian romance small presses on a curve. And sometimes you don’t want to be locked in to a romantic arc. But when you do want an SFF romance between ladies? There are three solid and fun books out from Bold Strokes Books this September and October.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Diverse Creations: Mother of Invention, edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Funded via a Kickstarter that exceeded its goals, Mother of Invention is an anthology of short stories (and one essay) from award-winning Australian Twelfth Planet Press. It’s co-edited by Hugo-award-winning Tansy Rayner Roberts alongside Rivqa Rafael. Possessed of a theme that concerns itself with maternal genius, with non-male scientific (and sometimes fantastical) creators and their creations, this was always guaranteed to be an interesting anthology. But I didn’t expect that it would turn out to be this good, too.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Inclusive SF We All Deserve

I finished reading T.J. Berry’s debut novel, Space Unicorn Blues, and said to myself (and several other people): “Maybe Angry Robot Books is becoming the publisher of queer, feminist, sometimes-angry, sometimes-funny, anti-imperialist novels that we didn’t know we deserved.” Because Berry’s Space Unicorn Blues can join a list that includes (in the UK, at least) Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion, Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars, Foz Meadows’ An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens, and Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun, and it stands up very well in this company.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Superpowered Space Opera: The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Space opera is one of my favourite things. It’s true that I have a lot of favourite things, particularly with regard to science fiction and fantasy, but space opera was my first introduction to the genre and I suspect I’ll always have a soft spot for it. Space opera affords a potentially vast scope to a story, and its genre landscape—a variety of planets, stellar bodies, space ships, competing factions—is one with great potential for wonder and fascination.

The Stars Now Unclaimed is Drew Williams’ debut novel, a tightly character-focused space opera novel set in a universe where an event known as “the pulse” has resulted in remarkable effects in the years since it happened. The pulse affected inhabited planets randomly, but in many cases it changed local conditions (for reasons best left at “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) to make higher levels of technology impossible. The more advanced the tech, the faster it burns out: some planets have been reduced to a level where horses and carts are the only reasonable form of transport, while others were hardly affected at all.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Uplifting Post-apocalypses from Carrie Vaughn

The trend in post-apocalyptic fiction is usually for brutality and dog-eat-dog, for cruelty and nihilism. Rarely do you find quiet, practical, damn near domestic stories about life in the communities that have grown up in the aftermath of apocalypse, ones that have rebuilt themselves along sustainable lines, and maintained semi-decent medicine and the ability to manufacture contraceptives. Communities with social consciences and systems in place to keep them functional.

Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless (2017, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award) and The Wild Dead (2018) are set in the towns of the Coast Road, communities that share an ethos and a style of co-operative government along the coast of what used to be California. People in Coast Road communities are organised into households, and households earn the right to bear and raise children by proving they can take care of them. Careful management of quotas of farming and production ensures that no one grows rich—but no one goes too hungry, either, and the communities look after their members and each other.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Part SF Thriller, Part Bildungsroman: The Million by Karl Schroeder

The Million is the latest work by acclaimed science fiction author Karl Schroeder. It’s related in setting to his 2014 novel Lockstep: the lockstep of that title plays a significant role in The Million.

One million people live on Earth, wealthy custodians of its culture, heritage, architecture and lands. They are the Million, their numbers restricted by treaty, their lifestyles lavish. They want for nothing—but they’re custodians for the ten billion humans who live in the lockstep, who sleep in suspended animation beneath Earth’s cities, waking for a month every thirty years in order to participate in an interstellar society where no faster than light transport or communication exists.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Astronaut Ladies

Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” won the 2014 Hugo Award in its category. Now Tor Books brings us a pair of novels about Elma York’s life before her final mission: even before Mars.

The simplest way to describe Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and its sequel, The Fated Sky, is as an alternative history of the American space programme. But that’s not all it is: it’s a story about a young Jewish woman with an anxiety disorder using all the tools at her disposal to gain a place for herself in the astronaut programme, and building coalitions with other women to bring them with her. (It’s also a story about how that young woman, Elma York, benefits from white privilege and puts her foot in it with thoughtless bigoted assumptions, and how she keeps trying to learn better.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Inventively Weird: Temper by Nicky Drayden

Temper is Nicky Drayden’s second novel. Her first novel, The Prey of Gods, was a weird and inventive thriller that combined fantasy and science fictional elements. Temper is a standalone work in a new setting, one that involves fantasy, religion, and a touch of steampunk SF. This review will contain spoilers, because there’s absolutely no way to talk about even half of this book without them—much less the more interesting half.

In a nation reminiscent of South Africa, almost everyone is born as a twin. Seven vices are divided between each pair of twins, so that one twin always has more, and one, less. The vices are complemented by their alternate virtues.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Books Inspired by History and Historical Literature

Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison have a new joint effort out this September. You might recognise Katherine Addison as the author of The Goblin Emperor, and you might also remember that she’s also written as Sarah Monette—making Bear and Addison the same team as the ones responsible for A Companion to Wolves and its sequels.

Their new work isn’t a Viking-influenced vision of the frozen north, but a long novella about fifteen-year-old Christopher Marlowe and the murder of a scholar: The Cobbler’s Boy.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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