Tor.com content by

Martin Cahill

Art and Automata in Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

All Jebi wants to do is keep their head down and paint. That’s it. But navigating under the oppressive thumb of the Razanei who occupied the country of Hwaguk when they were a child, who took their sister’s wife from her in the ensuing war, who make it nearly impossible for a native Hwagukan to make a living… it takes a toll on a person. Even after buying a Razanei name to try to get a better job, Jebi is running out of options. Life doesn’t get any easier when they’re blackmailed into working for the Ministry of Armor, Razanei’s research division for the military. See, they need artists to create new automata, those faceless forces of policing set up wherever the Razanei conquer. And their latest project is so dangerous that Jebi realizes they’ll have to step up or let their country burn.

Phoenix Extravagant, the latest novel from the visionary Yoon Ha Lee, is a standalone novel with worlds of detail, depth, and heart, as one non-binary artist must do their best to use the skills they have to save what they can.

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To Create Is To Live Forever: Jo Walton’s Or What You Will

Sylvia is a writer nearing the end of her life. Widowed with two daughters whom she loves but is distant with, with over thirty novels written to her name, and with one last book in her, she is making peace with her death, the end of it all. Only there’s someone in her life who won’t let her go; a character in her mind, who has been in nearly every story she’s written, a nameless man who has been with her almost every step of the way. And if she dies without putting him in a book for real, then he will die along with her, trapped in her skull. Thus begins Jo Walton’s Or What You Will, a book about books, about art, about writing and creation, and how in the act of creating, we work towards immortality.

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Of Makers, Magic, and Monsters: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Last we left the crew of Foundryside, in the titular first book of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, they had just succeeded in pulling off the impossible, saving Tevanne from a brutal plot of attempted godhood, even as they lost a friend along the way. Now, three years later, their own scriving house exists as an open source for any scriver who would seek to grow, learn, and compete in the marketplace against the looming Merchant Houses, provided they leave anything new they make with the crew at Foundryside to disperse to others.

But as scriv-sighted Sancia, brilliant engineer Berenice, irascible but talented leader Orso, and the powerhouse Gregor, still struggling with memory and violence, find their feet under them for the first time since book one, the mysterious Valeria reaches out once more: her Maker, the hierophant Crasedes Magnus, long thought dead, is close to convincing reality he is alive once more. And he seeks to do more than come back to life: he has plans for all of humanity, and it starts in Tevanne, just shy of Shorefall, the holiday of true night everlasting.

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Memory and Humanity in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

If you were to try and name a master of modern short fiction in science fiction and fantasy, Ken Liu would have to be among those contending for the title. Winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, in addition to a plethora of translation work of Chinese science fiction and fantasy, a previous short fiction collection, as well as multiple novels and other work across different media, Liu is prolific writer, and an insightful and incisive one.

Having already published The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Liu is back with The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, a short fiction collection featuring a never before seen novelette, an excerpt from his next novel The Veiled Throne, as well as a whole host of recent stories. And while The Paper Menagerie focused more on family, history, love, and the fantastical, The Hidden Girl is more laser-focused on issues of science fiction—the future, climate change, artificial intelligence, and more.

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A Debut With Music and Heart: Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

A man in a distant world races through his entire life, falling in love with a woman he only sees for one night every fifteen years. A captain of a clunker starship travels back and forth through time and space for a contract, so desperate to carve out her own future, she ends up leaving her past behind her. A brilliant engineer is caught between being in love and building a home for the human race, and regrets her decision for her entire life. A young boy appears suddenly from the sky, crashing to a strange planet from out of nowhere; he cannot speak, but expresses himself through music, his story found in the bittersweet song of a flute. While these threads all seem to tell a different story, trust me, they don’t. Debut novelist Simon Jimenez takes each of them, and weaves them together to build The Vanished Birds, an intricate, affecting, haunting, and beautiful science fiction story that spans time, space, and lives.

Reader, I cried.

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Sisters Against the World: City of Stone and Silence by Django Wexler

When we last left Isoka, aboard the mysterious ghost-ship Soliton, she had managed to rally the denizens of the ship to her side, gain a better understanding of her second Well of magic, (Eddica the Well of Spirits), and managed to keep the majority of people safe from the threat of the Vile Rot. Now, Soliton sails onward, to colder climes, with no one knowing where they’re headed. Isoka, called the Deepwalker and now defacto leader for her exploits in Ship of Smoke and Steel, works with her girlfriend Meroe (a royal mage-born exile with the ability to heal), and the rest of the crew to prepare for the worst. But no one is prepared to land on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, filled with strange beasts, the undead, and a warlord intent on consuming Isoka and all she can do.

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Worth Fighting For: The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Winter comes, and three communities come together to make an army of the people, as Heloise, the Queen of Crows, the Armored Saint, seeks change everything about the world she lives in. Tragedy after tragedy, bittersweet victory after tremendous loss, she finally finds herself at the head of a group of people all seeking to put an end to the death grip the tyrannical Order holds on the world. Part foreign army seeking to put down aggressors, part traveling community seeking peace, and part citizens sick of falling prey to the terror and oppression of those in power, each in their own way look to Heloise to lead them. Some see her as a holy figure, a Palantine, a saint sent by the Emperor to guide them. Others see a revolutionary who stood up for them, so that they may stand for her. And others still a weak, scared young woman in a war machine, barely holding it together. As the Sacred Throne trilogy ends, Heloise will find out exactly who she is, and what it is she is meant to do. If she can survive what the world throws at her.

In this final volume of his epic fantasy trilogy, Cole brings us a story that simultaneously celebrates the elements of grimdark fiction that were a staple of fantasy in the early 2000s, while also working to interrogate them rigorously.

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Trolls and Troubles: Unnatural Magic by C. M. Waggoner

Onna Gebowa is a talented mage in her small town of Coldridge-on-Sea, and has spent her life preparing to go to the Weltsir University, to study magic and become a great magician. Tsira is a reig, a troll of her clan (with some human lineage) born to leadership, power, and guidance for the day she inherits her mother’s clan. But not everything goes according to plan. Onna finds herself spurned from the University, and Tsira finds herself on her own, each of them seeking their own way forward, a way to become who they’re meant to be, while navigating a world desperate to make them who they think they should be. But when Onna finds apprenticeship in the most unusual of places, and Tsira befriends and nurses a wounded soldier back to health, each of them suddenly finds a new path forward, as well as a new threat to combat. Someone in their world is murdering trolls. With blood on the wind, Onna and Tsira each must do their part to find the murderer, ultimately together, and each work to keep their newly forged lives and friends safe from harm.

In brief, Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful.

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Taking the Chosen Path: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

A chosen one sets off on the road, accompanied by a stalwart companion or two, destined to combat a great darkness or evil, due by prophecy or folly to rise again. We know that story. What we don’t know is what happens when that chosen one is slaughtered on his first night out, his companions splintered, his fate taken from him before he can even take a step toward fulfilling it. As Fate of the Fallen opens, we see the charismatic, strong-willed, tempered Matthias fall to a monster on the road. The mage who was to guide him realizes how futile it is to even attempt to fulfill the prophecy now; with the death of Matthias, it seems the fate of the world is fated to fall.

The only one who says no, who refuses this inevitability, is Matthias’s lifelong friend and now, reluctant hero, Aaslo. Taking up the mantle of his friend, Aaslo is determined to spread the word of the fall of the Lightbane, and to do his best to step into his friend’s role, or failing that, at least warn the world of the war against darkness to come. With that Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen takes off, wandering and meandering through a world on the brink of war, though what final shape it will take, no one seems to quite know.

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Myths & More: The Mythic Dream, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

They started with fairy tales. Then, they moved into the worlds of machines and magic. And now, after their first two anthologies won Shirley Jackson Awards, they venture further, into the world of myth. For their newest anthology, The Mythic Dream, recent Hugo winners Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien revisit myths of our past and explore how they can teach us about our present and future. With an incredible line-up of authors, Wolfe and Parisien have crafted another gorgeous anthology, full of stories that speak to the heart of why these tales have persisted for centuries, why they resonate with people of all times, and what they still have to teach us.

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The Adventure Zone Creators Travis McElroy, Clint McElroy, and Carey Pietsch on the Leap from Podcast to Graphic Novel

This time last year, an extraordinary alchemy occurred: Through meticulous plotting, a lot of enthusiasm, intense collaboration, and gorgeous artwork, The Adventure Zone DnD podcast became a graphic novel. Itself a spin-off of the McElroy brothers’ podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me, The Adventure Zone has taken on a life of its own; their first campaign spans 69 episodes, the first 6 of which were adapted into their very first graphic novel last summer, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins.

After garnering huge acclaim (and hitting the NYT Bestseller’s List), it was only a matter of time before a second graphic novel would arrive. The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited! publishes July 16th, returning to the world of Magnus, Taako, and Merle—this time they’re seeking a Grand Relic hidden somewhere on the eponymous locomotive, where it seems foul play is at hand…

I had the chance to sit down with Clint McElroy (Merle Highchurch, Dwarven Cleric), Travis McElroy (Magnus Burnsides, Human Fighter), and Carey Pietsch (Human Illustrator), to talk about the success of the first graphic novel, how their collaboration translates the podcast to the page, and what they loved most about Murder on the Rockport Limited.

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Family, Food, and Futures in The Sol Majestic by Ferret Steinmetz

Kenna is starving.

He has been for a while now. And if his parents cared for anything as much as they care for their Inevitable Philosophies, the highly specific and highly amorphous guiding lights they’ve dedicated their lives to, maybe he wouldn’t be so hungry. But traveling the stars in cramped transport units, unable to fend off bullies who steal his highly-processed nutrition crackers, Kenna arrives at Savor Station so hungry, he’s almost willing to steal to live. And then he stumbles upon the line for The Sol Majestic. A restaurant so renowned, so grand, it holds reservations years in advance, its mysterious owner Paulius hosts a contest every night: one table, free of charge, for anyone who can answer a riddle. When Kenna stumbles upon the right answer, his life is forever changed—the doors to The Sol Majestic are opened to him, an entry to a world he never thought he’d ever see.

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A Rollicking Tale of Revenge: Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black

Over the course of his first six books, Sam Sykes has worked very hard to illustrate his vision of what fantasy fiction can be, focusing not just on epic battles between magic users, but also on the price they pay, and what the horrors they see can do to their heart, mind, and soul. He shows us not just the heroes of an age working together to vanquish a great evil, but also the horrendous friction that can result from a half-dozen very different people working together, and the sense that maybe that there’s more to the story behind that great evil than one might suspect. And there’s not just the sweat and steam of flirting between protagonists on display, but also the agonizing heart-pain of loving someone who you fear you’ll never understand, and who is just as scared that you’ll leave them before they have a chance to open up.

For Sam Sykes, fantasy is much more than what we’ve come to expect; it has to have some nuance, some damn heart, while also presenting the reader with massive, magical battles that are so intense that they make you feel as if you’re about to fly out of your seat.

If you agree with that thesis statement, then Seven Blades in Black, Sykes’s newest novel in his Grave of Empires series, is categorically for you.

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A Stunning Debut: Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire

In this stunning debut, Mahit Dzmare is the latest in a long line of free peoples who have had to live under the influence of the one of the largest imperial powers in the known galaxy: the Teixcalaanli Empire. The vast Empire is a source of culture, poetry, fashion, literature, oration, ethics, and more, whose influences spread across their many systems and beyond, like arrows of sunlight streaking into the dark of space. And while very few are able to stand up to and apart from the Empire, Mahit’s people on Lsel Station remain independent, though they exist next to and within the grasp of the Empire, aided by an ambassador on the surface of the Teixcalaanli capital—a planet simply called “The City,” heart and jewel of the Empire.

When a sudden call for a new ambassador comes to Lsel Station, Mahit is chosen and hurriedly given her imago, the tiny piece of technology that gives her access to an old memory-self of Yskander, the former ambassador. The imago integrates Yskander into her neurology, so that he’ll always be in her mind in order to help and advise her. The only problem: the imago hasn’t been updated in years, and both Mahit and Yskander are in the dark as to the current situation within the City, and what happened to current-day Yskander. Only upon landing does Mahit learn what’s happened: Yskander is dead…and with that revelation, her imago goes silent.

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Instruments of Our Own Destruction: Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

Vigilance, a new novella by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a love story between America and its guns—and as with all toxic relationships, someone’s going to get hurt.

In a near-future America undergoing a fast, steep decline—a nation where the young have left for safer and brighter ports, while an older generation hangs on by its fingernails to the old vision of what America could be—a right-wing news organization has found the exact thing to prey on their fear. This America, much like our own, is both fascinated by and numb to the horrors of mass shootings: people are still willing to watch the coverage, and not yet sick of it enough to turn away from the brutality. So John McDean, one of the lead marketers for Our Nation’s Truth television network, has turned shootings into a reality TV show: Vigilance.

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