One of Us by Craig DiLouie
Release Date: Late July
Metahumans, mutants, people born different and special with powers and abilities abound in speculative fiction at the moment and it’s all good fun. But what if your only power was just to be different? Nothing special, nothing useful, just not the same. Dog is a boy who lives in a children’s home with a bunch of other children who are also different. They are the children of The Plague, born with extreme genetic mutations. Shunned, abused, tormented, exploited Dog wants more from his life and when a chance encounter with campers in the woods turns out positively Dog begins to feel that there might be some happiness for him after all. Then something happens that threatens all of it and Dog and his friends must try to overcome an insurmountable wave of ignorance and prejudice. This is a book with a purpose, but I don’t mind that. Science fiction is a great medium for didactic writing and the ever-changing tides of us vs them culture can perhaps best be explored by growing them in a petri dish of fiction. The results, I’m sad to say, make for challenging though profound reading. It does come with a few trigger warnings though. Some of the plague kids are quite young and some pretty nasty stuff happens to them. If you’ve got issues with sexual violence and violence against kids, you may want to skip this one. It’s not gratuitous, but it is intense, the author wants you to understand what the lives of the plague kids are like, and you do.
Knaves Over Queens by George R R Martin
Release Date: Early July
In 1986, George Martin persuaded a few of his writer friends to work with him on a project that would re-examine the idea of a world with superheroes in it. Thus the Wild Cards universe was born. The first book was a collection of sot stories that were all linked together by time and place, with each author telling their part of the story from the perspective of a character they created. From the 1946 New York outbreak of the Wild Card virus that creates the superheroes (and the opposite of superheroes, which is not supervillains but something much darker) through to the effects that the presence of empowered humans has on famous events of world history, there have been books set all over the world. What we haven’t really seen is how other countries coped with the outbreak. Knaves Over Queens takes us back to the early days of the virus, but this time in the United Kingdom. It’s a country ruled over by HRH Queen Magaret, aided by a Winston Churchill who possesses an extraordinary longevity. Other British notables include Spring Heeled Jack, Heme the Hunter, who may not actually be the figures of legend but are just as dangerous as their namesakes. This is just as clever and fun concept as it was in 1986, and this book doesn’t require you to have read any of the others. Like the original, it’s got a variety of authors, including Paul Cornell, Mark Lawrence and Charles Stross as well as Melinda Snodggrass, who incidentally also appeared in the very first Wild Cards book. If you’re into metahumans and/or alternate history or just love a really clever read, this is for you.
Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
Release Date: Late July
Like a lot of my customers, I’m a keen Jasper Fforde fan and have been eagerly awaiting his next book. I had been hoping for a sequel to Shades of Grey, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer for that one. What we have instead is something completely new. I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with Jasper for a few drinks when he was here for the Perth Writers Festival in 2016 and of course quizzed him on what he was working on. What I got was a rough outline of the premise of Early Riser. There’s a lot more detail available now, but is sounds just as cool as when I first heard about it from Jasper. Imagine a world where people hibernated through the yearly freezing winter. Where everyone but the Sleep Marshalls, a tiny group that watches over them, sleeps for two whole months. John is a junior Sleep Marshall in an obscure rural outpost, and remote or not, he’s hearing some strange rumours about a viral dream that is moving through the sleepers that leaves them delusional and violent when they awake. Then his turn comes to hibernate, and he does only to awake into a world where people connected to the viral dream reports seem to have vanished. Even worse, Johnny has snatches of memory from his hibernation that seem very much like those affected by the viral dream.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Release Date: Late July
I love good time travel story, particularly one that flouts the conventions of other authors and this one does. Actually if flouts a bunch of the conventions of the genre as a whole, and does it unashamedly. We begin in 1967 with four women scientists and the time machine they have invented. Things start to go awry when one of them has an unexpected break down, but the project continues. Half a century later in 2017 time travel is a very lucrative industry. Ruby knows that her grandmother was a pioneer of time travel, but has no part in it now. Then Ruby and her grandmother receive a message from the future in the form of a newspaper clipping of the brutal death of an elderly woman, dated a year from now. In 2018 another woman is trying to solve the mystery of the death of an elderly woman that people seem determined to keep a mystery. Time travel and crime collide in a tangled puzzle that you’ll have to pay attention to. It’s got multiple characters over multiple times and the same characters at different times or from different times together at the same time. It sounds confusing, but it does make sense. Just make sure to pay attention to the dates at the start of chapters, it’s important. This is a fun book that can get away from you if you’re not paying attention, but there’s always something a bit shifty about time travel stories if you ask me. There’s also some other details that are interesting. All the major characters are women, and while there are a few male characters they’re more or less in the background, which is a nice little turn-around. I also like that the book takes a bunch of traditional ‘you can’t do that’ time travel ideas and does them anyway. It’s fun, clever book but a little convoluted. Read the chapter headings carefully and you should be fine.
Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Release Date: Mid July
I was quite surprised and pleased to see a reprint of this on the way. Lud-in-the-Mist is a foundational novel of modern fantasy that you’ve probably never heard of. Written in 1926 as part of trilogy of books that sought to explore ideas about life and art through the use of the fantastical, Lud is the third book and the only one that is really considered fantasy. The book is set in a small and prosperous little country town from which the title of the book comes. Near Lud-in-the-Mist, two rivers meet but only one of them has its source in our world. The other flows out of the land of Faerie. The town deals with this situation by being as ordinary and ‘normal’ as possible, carrying the process to an extreme where even hints of anything not simple and sensible is frowned upon. Ignoring something does not make it go away however, and faerie has very real influences that can affect the townsfolk as well as dangers that can threaten them. Nathaniel, the Mayor of Lud is a slightly vague or perhaps distracted man with a melancholic air. He’s easygoing as mayors go and avoids conflicts wherever possible, but there is a hint of something mysterious about him, of secrets kept. It’s true though he keeps the secrets even from himself. When his daughter disappears his quiet world trembles and he realises that now confrontation is inevitable, with faerie, with the town and most of all with his own hidden past.
This is an important book, but it’s also a challenging read. There’s lots of imagery and subtle nods to folklore and sometimes quite lengthy chunks of dense exposition. If you don’t mind wrestling with it on occasion however it can be a rewarding book that gives an interesting insight into some of the roots of modern fantasy.
Alan Moore’s Lost Girls
Release Date: Mid July
It seems a bit odd to be writing a long piece on this, since I’m not going to have that many copies. But, since it is a very unusual book and I have had people asking about it over the years I think it’s worth making some noise about. I guess I’d describe it as a graphic novel, though it often departs from comic convention and style. It’s also very definitely adult content. Lost Girls is a controversial collaborative work by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. It’s a fusion of art, literature and erotica narrated by three classic heroines; Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Wendy from Peter Pan. On the eve of World War One these three remarkable women, now all adults find themselves in a hotel in Austria sharing the stories of the events of their youth. And this is where the erotica comes in. There is a lot in classic fiction that could be sexual metaphor and Lost Girls takes all of that, adds a whole lot more and then goes on a taboo-exploration frenzy. The book is intended to be overtly graphic and sexual, but it’s also very clever and has a lot to say about power dynamics and sexual politics. The book also draws on classic art as well as stories and there are pastiches of classic erotic artists like Aubrey Beardsley and others scattered through the book. It’s a work by artists who refuse to accept that certain images can only be used in certain ways. They also took an unusual stance on the art vs pornography debate by openly using the label for the work themselves, but insisting that pornography could also be benign. It’s a challenging work and not for the sensitive or easily shocked, since it doesn’t shy away from dark or disturbing issues. Nevertheless it’s an important book, and by its very nature tends not to get large or regular print runs. I get periodic enquiries about it because it’s one of the things you’ll hear about if you’re getting into transgressive fiction, but I generally can’t get copies. Now I can, for a little while at least.