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Liz Bourke

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

The Empathetic Murderbot: Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

“…I went from being told what to do and having every action monitored to being able to do whatever I wanted, and somewhere along the way my impulse control went to hell.”

Rogue Protocol is the third Murderbot novella by acclaimed author Martha Wells, following directly on from Artificial Condition. The rogue Security Unit (SecUnit) that calls itself Murderbot and answers to no human authority has answered some questions about its past. Now it has decided to answer some questions about GrayCris, the corporation that nearly killed most of its clients in All Systems Red.

Some spoilers follow.

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The Trouble With Adaptation: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Sea Witch is a peculiar novel. Told from the point of view of adolescent Evie, an outsider who must keep her despised magic secret lest she be condemned to death, the novel charts Evie’s story as the childhood friend to two princes. She’s attracted to one of them, and the other one is attracted to her, but their respective stations mean it’s unlikely anything will ever come of it.

Into this traditional adolescent dance comes Annemette, the spitting image of Evie’s drowned best friend Anna, a mermaid walking on dry land, who tells Evie she’ll have a soul and be able to stay a human if her true love—Prince Nik, Evie’s best friend—loves her back and kisses her before three days are over. Annemette insists she’s not Anna, has nothing to do with her, but Evie sees in her a trace of the girl she lost, and immediately adopts Annemette’s cause as her own.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s Dreamships and Dreaming Metal

This week’s column is likely to be my last to focus on Melissa Scott’s work, at least for a little while. I haven’t yet got my hands on A Choice of Destinies, Night Sky Mine, Burning Bright, or The Jazz, and there’s a whole rake of co-written novels as well. We may be revisiting Scott soon enough, but for now, this is it.

I’m going to look at take two books together this time. Dreamships, originally published in 1992 by Tor Books, and Dreaming Metal, originally published in 1997, also by Tor Books. These novels are closely linked: Dreaming Metal takes place in the same setting as Dreamships, an underground city home to the majority of the inhabitants of the planet Persephone, some five years after Dreamships‘ events, includes several of the same characters, and its arc concerns itself directly with the fallout of Dreamships’ climax and conclusion.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Vampires and Other Unlikely Heroes: Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Dreadful Company is Vivian Shaw’s second book, sequel to last year’s excellent Strange Practice. And if anything, it’s even more fun.

How fun is it? So much fun that I had to steal it back from my girlfriend, who pounced on it as soon as she saw it, and refused to put it down after she read the first page. (Fortunately, we’re both pretty fast readers, and we’re pretty good at sharing.)

Dr. Greta Helsing isn’t your average medical doctor. She runs a practice dedicated to the supernatural, treating vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, mummies, ghouls, and all manner of other being. Her best friend is Edmund Ruthven, vampire; and Sir Francis Varney (also a vampire) is tentatively trying to swoon at her feet. After the events of Strange Practice, in which Greta found herself at the centre of attempts to dissuade a very strange religious cult beneath London’s underground from doing a whole lot of murder, Dreadful Company finds Greta attending a medical conference in Paris. She’s filling in on short notice for a colleague, another member of the small community of doctors who practice medicine for monsters, and at the start of the book she’s about to attend the opera in Ruthven’s company.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s The Shapes of Their Hearts

It’s the middle of July—my birth month! I’m thirty-two this year, and starting to feel things begin to creak—and I’m continuing with my plan to read several novels by Melissa Scott for the first time, and write about them.

In the process, I’m discovering that I really had no idea how queer Scott’s entire oeuvre actually is. And quietly wondering if, without people like her and Nicola Griffith at work in the 1990s, we would ever have seen the flowering of queer science fiction and fantasy that’s really taken off in the last five years.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Clichéd Storytelling: The Furnace by Prentis Rollins

At their best, graphic novels—comics—combine visual intensity and compelling narrative, like a television show without the drawbacks of actors and a special effects budget, and I’ve read enough to I know what I like. Veristic art, with clean lines and either black & white or strong, realistic colours; narratives that include interesting women (you’d never have guessed that one); and a strong thematic argument.

When I heard that Tor Books was publishing an original science fiction graphic novel called The Furnace, I was pretty interested.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver

There’s a strange phenomenon whereby one truly enjoys a novel, admires it for its craft and emotional impact, and still finds one element painfully frustrating.

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver is just such a novel, a glittering jewel of a novel influenced by fairytale and by—as far as I can tell—the history of medieval Hungary. Miryem is a moneylender’s daughter, who takes over her father’s business because he’s too soft-hearted to actually demand repayment. She’s so good at it that the Staryk—beings of winter who covet gold—come to believe she can turn silver into gold, and one of them sets her a challenge with her life as the stakes. Victory won’t bring her any joy, either: if she wins, the Staryk king will take her to be his queen, far from home.

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Building A Family: Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys’s accomplished and astonishing debut novel, was an intense and intimate subversion of the Lovecraftian mythos, told from the point of view of Aphra Marsh, the eldest of two survivors of the United States’ genocide of Innsmouth. In Winter Tide, Aphra made reluctant common cause with FBI agent Ron Spector (though not with his suspicious colleagues) and accidentally accreted a family around her. Winter Tide is a novel about the importance of kindness in the face of an indifferent universe, and I love it beyond reason.

I may love Deep Roots even more.

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Rewriting the Classics: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

In addition to winning the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Theodora Goss’s debut, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, made the list of Nebula Award finalists. It’s garnered a great deal of praise, and given Goss’s track record as an award-winning author of short fiction, that should come as no surprise.

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, follows a thread of mystery in her mother’s will that leads her to a younger sister (Diana Hyde), and to several other young women who were created as experiments in biological transmutation, including puma woman Catherine Moreaux, the literally poisonous Beatrice Rappacini, and living dead woman Justine Frankenstein. These young women, with the occasional assistance of Sherlock Holmes, learn that their “fathers” were members of a scientific organisation called the Societé des Alchimistes (SA), and that the SA are involved in the murder of poor young women—prostitutes—across London. Together, these young women uncover secrets, work for justice, and build themselves a new family—the Athena Club—with each other.

Goss has taken inspiration (and some characters) directly from 19th century pulp literature. In European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, she expands her scope—from London to Vienna and Budapest, and dashing train- and carriage-rides across middle Europe.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Melissa Scott’s The Game Beyond

The Game Beyond is Melissa Scott’s first novel. Originally published by Baen Books in 1984, two years—if I may be permitted to show my age, or lack of it—before I was born, it was reissued in 2016 as an electronic edition from Crossroads Press. This is the version that I read, a version which includes an afterword, “Thoughts on the Future of Conflict,” by C.J. Cherryh.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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