New Year, New Books – Recommendations from EPL Science Fiction & Fantasy Group Members

Here are the books that were recommended by group members at the New Year, New Books meeting on January 11.  Prepare to expand your “to read” list!  

Joel recommends:

Foreigner by C J Cherryh  (science fiction)

Launched an 18 volume series about the interaction between a relatively small population of humans forced to live on a planet already occupied by a humanoid species, the Atevi.  The Atevi are “wired” for very different psychosocial interactions than are humans.  The protagonist is Bren Cameron the diplomat/linguist from the humans to the Atevi.  Brilliant description of the problems of understanding another sentient species, even one that is humanoid.

The Magic of Recluse by L E Modesitt (fantasy)

The first volume in a very long series of stories about White and Black schools of magic (which is explained by very “scientific” rules) in an imaginary, medieval level world.  The series can get repetitive, but the story telling is usually quite good.

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber (science fiction/alternate history)

A mash-up of military scifi and a weird sort of alternative history set on a world (Safehold) where the sole surviving humans in the galaxy have been established.  There are eight additional volumes in the series with possibly two more to go.  Not great literature (the writing is “comic-bookish”), but there are some interesting issues and ideas raised about religion, science, engineering, and politics.

1632 by Eric Flint (alternate history)

An unusual kind of alternative history.  The premise is that the 1990ish town of Grantsville, WV (fictional) is transplanted to central Germany in the midst of the 30 Years War.  The social, cultural, political, scientific, and religious consequences begin to bubble up immediate and are carried forward by a host of writers working in this same universe.  It is historically plausible and raises many interesting questions about what forces drive history.

Alice recommends:

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (1st in 3 book series)

A coming-of-age novel with a very relatable heroine – her inner voice drives the story, which also has plenty of action and mysteries to unravel.  

Sarah recommends:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Summary:  What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits? And what happens when this forces humanity to the cusp of post-human evolution? This is a tale of Bangkok struggling for survival in a post-oil era of rising sea levels and out-of-control mutation.

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear (and sequels)

In a near-future version of the world, nanotech therapy has eliminated physical and mental disorders.  Now, in light of this fact, a writer, a scientist, and a policewoman collaborate to discover the motive of a famous poet who murdered eight close friends.

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Summary:  “The year is AD 7000. The human species is nearly extinct–for the fourth time–due to its fragile nature. Krina Alizond-114 is metahuman, descended from the robots that once served humanity. She’s on a journey to the water world of Shin-Tethys to find her sister Ana. But her trip is interrupted when pirates capture her ship. Their leader, the enigmatic Count Rudi, believes that there’s more to Krina’s search than meets the eye. He’s correct: Krina and Ana each possess half of the fabled Atlantis Carnet, a lost financial instrument of unbelievable value–capable of bringing down entire civilizations. Krina doesn’t know that Count Rudi suspects her motives, so she accepts his offer to get her to Shin-Tethys in exchange for an introduction to Ana. And what neither of them suspects is that a ruthless body-double assassin has stalked Krina across the galaxy, ready to take the carnet once it is whole–and leave no witnesses alive to tell the tale…”–From publisher description.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

A humorous collaboration between two great SF writers.  Summary:  According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.  So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.  And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Elizabeth Bear (basically everything she has written!)

Niki recommends:

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (link goes to story)

2015 Nebula Award nominee for Best Short Story, 2016 Locus Awards winner for Best Short Story, 2016 Hugo Award winner for Best Short Story!  Notice a pattern, here?  It’s a great short story, about a benevolent AI who wants to improve your life…in exchange for cat pictures.  

The Temeraire series (starting with His Majesty’s Dragon) by Naomi Novik

It’s the Napoleonic Wars…with dragons!  Well-written and reminiscent of the Horatio Hornblower or Master & Commander series, it has one of the great platonic relationships between the main characters, Capt. Laurence and his accidentally-acquired dragon, Temeraire.  It explores not only how the addition of air power (and who has it, and how much, and how it is deployed) would play into the military situation at the time, but also human relations with another sentient (and utterly terrifying) species, and implications for the colonial situation worldwide.  It’s a very fully-realized world, and vastly entertaining!

Pure by Julianna Baggott (first in a trilogy)

Summary:  In a post-apocalyptic world, Pressia, a sixteen-year-old survivor with a doll’s head fused onto her left hand meets Partridge, a “Pure” dome-dweller who is searching for his mother, sure that she has survived the cataclysm.

Kathryn recommends:  

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

A novella about what happens to the children who disappear into fairy/fantasy lands when they return to our world.  Dark, but beautiful!  Summary:  Children have always disappeared from Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children under the right conditions–slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere…else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced…they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. No matter the cost.

Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuire (first in the “October Daye” series)

This series combines urban fantasy with “fairy tales,” if by that you mean an encyclopedic array of fae folk lore from a variety of different cultures.  October “Toby” Daye is a changeling – half human, half fae – knight errant for a fae court that roughly overlays San Francisco.  She has spent the last 7 years as a fish in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, thanks to a curse, and as a result, she’s lost the human family who presumed her dead.  Now, she’s been cursed again – to find out who murdered a fae countess, or die if she fails. It’s a great start to one of those rare series that keeps getting better and deeper as it goes!   

(Note:  Seanan McGuire also writes horror novels under the name Mira Grant.)  

Luke recommends:

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (first in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series)

Summary:  Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn’t make any difference…On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on…There’s not a chance in hell of ending it. Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price? The world is about to find out.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

A moving short story collection that also offers a window into Chinese (and Chinese-American immigrant) culture.  Every story in the collection was nominated for and/or won a major science fiction/fantasy award, including the title story, which is the only story to ever win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Howard recommends:

PM Press “Outspoken Authors” series

This series typically collects a few stories and/or essays by science fiction authors, along with an interview with the author by PM press.  This helps you get to know various authors and their viewpoints, along with some of their writing, which can open up new books and series to you.  

Lorena recommends:

The works of Andrea K. Höst, in particular…

The Silence of Medair/Voice of the Lost (duology, second picks up immediately after the first, and you need both to complete the story)

Höst is a Swedish-Australian fantasy writer whose works have been difficult to find in the US until recently.  You can buy her ebooks on Amazon, and we have a number here in the library in paperback.  The Silence of Medair/Voice of the Lost is the story of Medair an Rynstar, a hero seemingly destined to find magic weapons of legend to drive the enemies of her people…until she made a crucial mistake.  She returned with the weapons – but 500 years too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. From the book summary:  “When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.  But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.  With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?”  

Höst is a wonderful writer, and this story is a lovely exploration of so many deep things…betrayal, loss, survivor’s guilt, revenge, forgiveness, love. All wrapped into a compelling story in a beautifully imagined world.

Hunting

This story is Andrea K. Höst’s tribute to the historical romances of Georgette Heyer (another of my all-time favorite authors), but updated into a fantasy universe, and to give the heroine more agency.  It’s a fun and fast-paced story!  From the summary:  “Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall. That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve. Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.”

Joe Abercrombie (First Law series, Half A King/Half A War/Half A World, some standalones)

Joe Abercrombie is a master of grimdark with a heart, which means that you really like all of the characters he murders left and right.  The writing is often hilarious and insightful, all while ripping your heart out.  Highly recommended author!

Other recommendations that came up in discussion:

Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

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