A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier
Release Date: Late Sept
It’s been a while since we’ve had a new book from Jo Spurrier and while this one is strictly speaking a young adult title, I think it’s a great read for anyone who likes folklore styled fantasy. It’s also quite dark in places and has one or two nasty scenes so it’s really a mature teen/adult book. It begins with young girl Elodie being offered a chance to leave a terrible home-life to enter the employ of a witch a few towns over. She arrives to find the witch at the address, Aleida knows nothing about the offer and is suffering from the after effects of curse cast by another local witch, Gyssha. As a result she could use the help and so Elodie gets to stay. The curse was Gyssha’s last act before dying, so all Elodie has to worry about is helping Aleida get better. Oh, and avoid all the monsters that Gyssha made. Some folks knit or spin, others carve or paint, but Gyssha made monsters. Now she’s dead, the monsters are fending for themselves. A filthy cottage, a surly mistress, monsters and worse in the orchard and and the very real possibility of a very nasty death sounds bad but as far as Elodie is concerned it’s still better than going home.
Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller
Release Date: Early Sept
There’s a lot of science-fiction and fantasy related stuff in popular culture at the moment, and there’s a temptation to see this as a recent development. True, there are lot more entertainment options now than ever before, so we’re seeing much more of what’s out there but it’s worth pointing out that folks have been citing science-fiction as influences for music, films and art for a long time. Strange Stars is a non-fiction book that looks at the music of the late sixties through to the eighties through this particular lens. From psychedelia and Hawkwind to David Bowie, Brian Eno and even The Clash through to eighties synth-pop artists like Gary Newman there are a slew of performers who not only read and enjoyed science-fiction but also mentioned it in interviews, wrote songs about it and even name checked classic authors and characters in both. This is a fun and interesting book about the nerdier side of some very cool people.
Out of the Dark by Robert W Chambers
Release Date: Late Sept
Robert W Chambers has had a bit of a resurgence in the last couple of years, but it’s taken a while for publishers to get around to releasing more than The King in Yellow and a few other short stories. This month however Out of the Dark is being released as part of the Collins Chillers range of horror classics (more on these in coming months). It’s nearly five hundred pages of Robert W Chambers disturbing supernatural fiction. It’s also a chronology of his work, beginning with his early work from the 1890s and presenting the stories roughly in the order they were written, right through to his death in 1933, and a few posthumous as well. While this is by no means a complete collection it does allow readers to see for themselves why Chambers is considered one the great American horror writers, as influential in his own way as Lovecraft and Poe. If you’re a serious fan of classic horror and the macabre, or would like to be, then I highly recommend getting a copy.
Slenderman by Anonymous
Release Date: Late Sept
This one was originally supposed to come out last year when there was more being written about Slenderman, part of the internet horror phenomenon known as Creepypasta. This was mostly due to a violent attack on a young girl by two of her classmates who believed that by killing her they were protecting their families from, or courting the favour of Slenderman. Their victim survived and both attackers have since received long custodial sentences. The premise of this book is somewhat similar in that it begins with the disappearance of a young woman. There appear to be some strange irregularities surround the event however, and the people trying to find her find themselves delving deeper and deeper into the strange urban legend of Slenderman and awake late at night plagued by strange dreams. As they sift through blog posts, messages and journals the investigators begin to ask disturbing questions. Is Slenderman just a story to scare the susceptible or is there something behind the story that is dangerously real?
Space Opera by Cat Vallente
Release Date: Mid Sept
Among the various nerd-club badges I wear, Eurovison Song Contest fan is probably the most far removed from what I do in the store. Or it was until now. Humanity has discovered, and been discovered, by the vast society of different aliens who inhabit the galaxy. Luckily for us the days of interplanetary war are long gone. To celebrate this, once every cycle, the various races and civilisations gather for Glalactivison, an event that is a talent show and beauty pageant as well as a hotbed for politics and intrigue. It may be all smiles on stage, but for many the wars of the past are not over, they’ve just moved to a more glamorous stage. Since humanity is now part of the galactic family we’re invited too and the honour falls somewhat unexpectedly to a one-hit wonder band from London called Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a few dancers and their roadies to represent Earth. They thought they were just going to play some songs for a few aliens, not determine the fate of the whole human race. Tonight they’ll have to play the show of their lives, and very possibly everyone else’s as well. A wonderfully strange mash-up of classic science-fiction and Eurovison kitsch.
Land Under England by Joseph O’Neill
Release Date: Late June
This addition to Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series was supposed to be a June release, but due to delays we’ll be getting them this month. It’s another classic dystopian novel, this time from 1935 and with a few interesting twists. It’s also got quite a few elements that readers may feel have been more than a little over-used, but to be fair that probably wasn’t the case in 1935. The book is set some years after the end of World War One and is told from the perspective of a young man looking for his missing, war veteran father. His father had come home from the war with a strange and obsessed mental state and fixated on a local story that a community of Romans abandoned the surface to live deep underground a millennia ago. Tracing his father’s steps he finds a way leading down and discovers the stories were true. His impressions and interactions with the society he finds there form the bulk of the story. Here it gets into familiar dystopian style descriptions of culture and behaviour, though there are a few unusual elements that I won’t spoil for you. It’s a fairly dense book prose-wise and has a predictable ending, but it’s still an important part of early dystopian fiction and if you’ve read and enjoyed Herland, WE and Swastika Night then this is one to add to your collection.
Salvation by Peter F Hamilton
Release Date: Mid Sept
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had a new book from Peter F Hamilton, and with this one we’re not only getting a new story but also a new setting. After seven books set in the galaxy-spanning and ultra high-tech Commonwealth this new one winds back the scale and the technology, at least at the beginning and starts on Earth some two hundred-ish years in the future. Interstellar travel is possible, though limited and it is at the very edge of human exploration that the wreck of an alien ship is found. Eventually contact is established with aliens too in the form of the apparently benign Olyix. They are generous with their science and technology, but also bring warnings of other hostile aliens who must be opposed. It seems that unwittingly, humanity has taken a side in an ancient conflict it knows nothing about. This ignorance could well result in the end of humanity and time is running short to correct it. Like all of Hamilton‘s books this is broad brush storytelling with multiple points of view and flashbacks to fill out character histories. It’s also got his puzzle-like style where he gives you information that becomes useful later as you collect more pieces. This means that while there are small plot elements resolved the big picture really doesn’t come together until the end, so expect to end this book feeling like you’ve got a few corners, a couple of bits of sky and some odd pieces you can’t quite place. That said, he’s upped the pace in this one and there are some quite nice spy/thriller elements in the book that keep it chugging along. If you’re already a Hamilton fan this very much what you like from him, if you’re new to his work then understand that he invests heavily in world building and setting up reveals for later books. They’re always a bit of a long-haul read, but in my opinion are definitely worth it.
The Wolf by Leo Carew
Release Date: Late Sept
This one snuck onto the shelves in the large paperback format in April. There was a lot coming out at the time, so I didn’t make too much of a fuss about it. Based on the way several of my regulars reacted, I probably should have. The small paperback is due out this month and I don’t intend to make the same mistake again. The Wolf is part grimdark fantasy, part political thriller and has a large dose of military fiction style action. At the core of the story is a war between the Anakim who live in the cold and mountainous north (‘cos there’s only one hemisphere in fantasy it seems), and the Southerners who wish to destroy them. The Southerners are human, the Ankim are not. What they are is pretty interesting in that they’re strong, dangerous and bred for war but also rational and with a complex social and political system. They reminded me a bit of a fantasy mash-up of Klingons and Vulcans with a bit of Viking thrown in for good measure. That sounds a bit flippant I know, but the Anakim really are quite interesting. They’re also not the aggressors of the story, at least not at the beginning, which I found refreshing. Also, the reason for the conflict is not ‘ancient evil’ threatening the world, but rather one man’s greed and desire for power. In short, it’s a book with a lot of familiar elements but also its own ideas. The battle scenes are great, but the politics can get a big bogged down if that’s not your thing. It’s also fairly short on sympathetic characters, but since that’s kind of the point of grimdark I don’t really mind. Finally, The Wolf is book one in a series and book two, The Spider, is set for release in April next year.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Release Date: early September
“Rage: Sing, Goddess, of Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon, The Greek warlord, and godlike Achilles.” These are the first lines of Homer‘s Iliad, and the subject of their argument is the Trojan woman, Briseis. Taken as a captive by Achilles, she is reluctantly handed over to Agamemnon after he is forced to hand his captive back to the Trojans. She is also the narrator of this story. In it we see the fall of Troy and those who participate in it from a different perspective. This is a fascinating book, whether or not you’ve read The Iliad and also draws on other classical works of the period like Euripides‘ The Trojan Women, and takes you all the way to the fall of Troy and the aftermath that is so often neglected in film versions. It’s quite a confronting book at times, but it also honestly addresses some of the darker undercurrents of Homer‘s tale. There has been a few titles recently that explore the women of classical stories, like Margaret Atwood‘s The Penelopiad and Madeline Miller‘s Circe. If you liked those, or you’re a fan of classical Greek stories, or always thought there was something a bit lacking in the heroes and kings narrative of The Iliad then you’ll like this.