Fiction Affliction: Genre-Benders for August

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GenreBenders-Aug FA

Twenty-one books walk the fine lines between genres in August with new titles from, among others, James Lovegrove, Aliette de Bodard, Mark Hodder, China Miéville, and Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck.

Fiction Affliction details releases in science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and “genre-benders.” Keep track of them all here. Note: All title summaries are taken and/or summarized from copy provided by the publisher.

 

WEEK ONE

The Einstein ProphecyRobert Masello (August 1, 47North)

As war rages in 1944, army lieutenant Lucas Athan recovers a sarcophagus excavated from an Egyptian tomb. Shipped to Princeton University for study, the box contains mysteries that only Lucas, aided by archaeologist Simone Rashid, can unlock. These mysteries may defy, or fulfill, the dire prophecies of Albert Einstein himself. Struggling to decipher the sarcophagus’s strange contents, Lucas and Simone unwittingly release forces for both good and unmitigated evil. The fate of the world hangs not only on Professor Einstein’s secret research but also on Lucas’s ability to defeat an unholy adversary more powerful than anything he ever imagined. A thrilling, page-turning adventure where modern science and primordial supernatural powers collide.

Dark Screams: Volume Four—edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (August 4, Hydra)

The Departed by Clive Barker: On All Hallows’ Eve, a dead and disembodied mother yearns to touch her young son one last time. Will making contact destroy them both? Creature Feature by Heather Graham: What could be better publicity for a horror convention than an honest-to-goodness curse? It’s only after lights out that the hype, and the Jack the Ripper mannequin, starts to feel a little too real. The New War by Lisa Morton: Mike Carson is a war hero and a decorated vet. He doesn’t deserve to be trapped in a hospital with some black thing sitting on his chest as patients die all around him. Sammy Comes Home by Ray Garton: It’s what every family prays for: a lost pet returning home. When Sammy, the Hale family sheepdog, appears on their doorstep, he brings back something no parent would ever wish upon his or her child. The Brasher Girl by Ed Gorman: Cindy Marie Brasher is the prettiest girl in the Valley, and Spence just has to have her. Unfortunately, Cindy has a “friend,” a friend who tells her to do things, bad things. (Digital)

Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s CourtMarci Jefferson (August 4, Thomas Dunne)

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall. Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will. Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, exposing Mazarin’s deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’s love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other WritingsShirley Jackson; edited by Sarah Hyman DeWitt (August 4, Random House)

Brings together the deliciously eerie short stories Jackson is best known for, along with frank, inspiring lectures on writing; comic essays about her large, boisterous family; and whimsical drawings. Jackson’s landscape here is most frequently domestic: dinner parties and bridge, household budgets and homeward-bound commutes, children’s games and neighborly gossip. But this familiar setting is also her most subversive: She wields humor, terror, and the uncanny to explore the real challenges of marriage, parenting, and community, the pressure of social norms, the veins of distrust in love, the constant lack of time and space. This collection showcases Shirley Jackson’s radically different modes of writing side by side. Together they show her to be a magnificent storyteller, a sharp, sly humorist, and a powerful feminist.

Robin Hood: Mark of the Black Arrow (Demon’s Bane #1)Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck (August 4, Titan)

A vast darkness is spreading. If left unchecked, it will engulf the world, and so Richard the Lionheart must depart England on a holy mission. In his absence, the safety of the realm is entrusted to his brother, Prince John. When the king departs, black sorcery begins to grip the land, threatening noble and peasant alike. Horrific creatures stalk the forests, yet the violence they commit pales when compared to the atrocities of men. A handful of rebels fight back, but are doomed to fail unless they can find a hero to lead them.

The CasualtiesNick Holdstock (August 4, Thomas Dunne)

Samuel Clark likes secrets. He wants to know the hidden stories of the bizarre characters on the little streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. He wants to know about a nymphomaniac, a man who lives under a bridge, a girl with a cracked face. He wants to uncover their histories because he has secrets of his own. He believes, as people do, that he is able to change. He believes, as the whole world does, that there is plenty of time to solve his problems. But Samuel Clark and the rest of the world are wrong. Change and tragedy are going to scream into his and everyone’s lives. It will be a great transformation, a radical change; and it just might be worth the cost. This book explores how we see ourselves, our past and our possible futures. It asks the biggest question: How can we be saved?

The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl (The Peculiar Adventures of John Lovehart, Esq., #2)Ishbelle Bee (August 4, Angry Robot)

1888. A little girl called Mirror and her extraordinary shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human. John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree. Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie AsterScott Wilbanks (August 4, Sourcebooks Landmark)

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention, not even that of space and time, which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds. Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery, and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen, and yet somehow already did.

The Madagaskar Plan: A NovelGuy Saville (August 4, Henry Holt and Co.)

The year is 1953. There is peace in Europe, but a victorious Germany consolidates power in Africa. The lynchpin to its final solution is Madagaskar. Hitler has ordered the resettlement of European Jews to the remote island. British forces conspire to incite colony-wide revolt, resting their hopes on the expertise of Reuben Salois, an escaped leader of Jewish resistance. Ex-mercenary Burton Cole scours the island for his wife and child. But as chaos descends and the Nazis brutally suppress the nascent insurrection, Cole must decide whether he is master of, or at the mercy of, history. Alternate history of the highest order, a thriller of terrifying scope based on the Nazis’ actual plans prior to the Holocaust.

The Mountain (Event Group Adventure #10)David Lynn Golemon (August 4, Thomas Dunne)

In 1863 a meeting takes place between legendary war leaders, a secret alliance that will never show up in any American history book. A clandestine arrangement has been struck for a single chance to heal a war-torn nation. The mission is to bring the greatest prize in the history of the world back to American soil. The prize may lie on a mountain top inside the fierce Ottoman Empire. Union Colonel John Henry Thomas will come face to face both with his mortal enemies in Southern Gray and a dark entity that has been trapped on top of God’s Mountain for a millennium. In 2007, America’s darkest agency known as the Event Group, recruits a man they need for their security. Major Jack Collins is brought to the underground world of the Event Group to learn about the darkest secrets in the history of the world where he is told a tale that brings Collins full circle on why his destiny has always lain with Department 5656.

Three Moments of an Explosion: StoriesChina Mieville (August 4, Del Rey)

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones, designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what? Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection, many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world, and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves. (U.S.)

A City Called Smoke (The Territory #2)Justin Woolley (August 6, Momentum)

The Diggers have been destroyed, a horde of ghouls is moving inland and the High Priestess has seized control of the Central Territory. Together with Nim, a Nomad boy seeking vengeance against the ghouls, Squid and Lynn begin their long journey toward the city of Big Smoke, a city that may not even exist. Pursued by forces that wish to see them fail, facing threats on all sides and conflict from within, Squid, Lynn and Nim search for a weapon against the ghouls. It is a search that will lead them into forbidden lands where long-held beliefs about their world are tested and Squid may finally unravel the truth of his identity. But even if they survive their journey, the teenagers on whom the fate of the Territory now rests have no idea what dangers await them beyond the fence.

 

WEEK TWO

The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven—edited by Ellen Datlow (August 11, Night Shade)

A sin-eater plies the tools of her dangerous trade; a jealous husband takes his rival on a hunting trip; a student torments one of his teachers; a cheap grafter is selling artifacts form hell; something is haunting the departure lounge of an airport. The Best Horror of the Year showcases the previous year’s best offerings in short fiction horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and more.

The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats (Burton & Swinburne #6)Mark Hodder (August 11, Pyr)

Sir Richard Francis Burton’s expedition has returned from the future, bringing with it knowledge of technologies that must remain secret if history is to proceed as it should. However, when one of his colleagues turns rogue, the secret falls into the hands of the very people most likely to misuse it. Betrayed, Burton and Swinburne watch in horror as the Empire’s elite employ the technology to secure their positions of privilege. When London’s parks are transformed into concentration camps, artists and philosophers are declared enemies of the State, and propaganda proliferates, the king’s agent finds himself on the wrong side of, the king. Can Burton and his band of hunted revolutionaries overthrow an apparently indestructible and immortal autocrat—and if so, at what personal cost?

 

WEEK THREE

Icebreaker (The Hidden #1)Lian Tanner (August 18, Feiwel and Friends)

Young Adult. Petrel is an outcast, the lowest of the low on the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same course for three hundred years. In that time, the ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents committed such a terrible crime that they were thrown overboard, and their daughter ostracized. But Petrel is a survivor. She lives in the dark corners of the ship, speaking to no one except two large grey rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink. Then a boy is discovered, frozen on an iceberg, and Petrel saves him, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that for the last three hundred years, the Oyster has been guarding a secret. A secret that could change the world. A secret that the boy has been sent to destroy, along with the ship and everyone on it. (U.S.)

Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1)Eleanor Herman (August 18, Harlequin Teen)

Young Adult. Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains and evil stirs beyond the edges of the map. A time when cities burn, and in their ashes, empires rise. Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.

The House of Shattered WingsAliette de Bodard (August 18, Roc)

In the late 20th Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. Those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital. House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls. Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation, or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

 

WEEK FOUR

Dream ParisTony Ballantyne (August 25, Solaris)

The geography-warping invasion that took over London has been defeated, but thousands of Londonders are missing. Anna is doing her best: there are lots of other seventeen year olds who are living alone in the partially rebuilt ruins of London. She hopes that by keeping things clean and tidy and by studying hard she can keep the dreams away. But then a tall, dark stranger with eyes like a fly enters her life. He claims to know where the missing people of London have ended up. He might even know the location of Anna’s missing parents. Anna can help, but to do that she will have to let go of what little normality she has managed to gather around herself and begin the journey to Dream Paris.

MechanicaBetsy Cornwell (August 25, Clarion)

Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there, and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules, be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking EngineJames Lovegrove (August 25, Titan)

It is 1895, and Sherlock Holmes is settling back into life as a consulting detective at 221B Baker Street, when he and Watson learn of strange goings-on amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford. A Professor Quantock has built a wondrous computational device, which he claims is capable of analytical thought to rival the cleverest men alive. Naturally Sherlock Holmes cannot ignore this challenge. He and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes, from a bloody murder to a missing athlete. But as man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda.

We Install: And Other StoriesHarry Turtledove (August 25, Open Road Media)

A showcase of styles. In “Father of the Groom,” a scientist with a penchant for wild experimentation helps his love-struck son by synthesizing a wedding ring out of two carrots. In Hugo Award–winning “Down in the Bottomlands” and “Hoxbomb,” a regular guy just trying to make a living selling scooters has to deal with some very odd competition. The alternate history tale “Drang von Osten” begins on a bloody battlefield in World War II and ends somewhere quite different. In the brand-new “Logan’s Law,” a man discovers that sometimes, second chances really do work out. The book’s three essays tackle the diverse subjects of how to write alternate history, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the history of Chanukah.

Suzanne Johnson is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, and, as Susannah Sandlin, the Penton Legacy paranormal romance series and The Collectors thriller series. You can find Suzanne on Facebook and on her website.

Who’s There? Max Gladstone Reads Hamlet in Bryant Park!

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Max Gladstone at the Bryant Park Reading Room

If you’re wondering who would brave the midday heat in New York City to discuss revenge dramas on a Tuesday, the answer is Max Gladstone, author of Last First Snow! (We have to say, any kind of snow seems appealing right now.) He teamed up with the Bryant Park BookClub and Oxford University Press to lead a discussion on Shakespeare’s famous text at the Reading Room, an open air library in Midtown Manhattan.

Check below the cut for Gladstone’s thoughts on Hamlet, the reluctant avenger!

Gladstone opened by telling the audience that his heart “lit up” at the thought of discussing Hamlet for the BookClub, and that passion was evident in his reading and analysis of the play. Not only did he lead the discussion, but he also invited members of the audience to act out scenes. He even recited, from memory, long sections of the play, proving he has a scholarly mind to go along with his artistic talent.

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Tor authors Ilana C. Myer and Max Gladstone read a scene from Hamlet.

Several members of the Tor team were in attendance, and fellow Tor author Ilana C. Myer even volunteered to take on the role of King Claudius!

The result was an engaging dissection of Hamlet as a revenge drama whose characters don’t know that they’re in a revenge drama: even Hamlet himself, whose reluctance to act was interpreted by Gladstone not as a sign of immaturity or weakness, but of awareness. Hamlet knows how stories like his inevitably end, as is evidenced by the play within a play that Hamlet uses to “trap” Claudius. So Hamlet does all that he can to minimize the fallout of his own drama by trying to protect his friend. He attempts to send Ophelia to a nunnery to remove her from the situation and convinces Horatio not to commit suicide.

But Hamlet is a tragedy, and as such the eponymous character must eventually accept his fate and take up the mantle of ruthless avenger in order to do what must be done. As Gladstone points out in his exploration of Othello, Hamlet does eventually make up his mind on that whole “being” versus “not being” issue, though it comes only in the final act (“If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.” Hamlet V, ii, 168-170).

The BookClub wrapped up with questions from the audience and further discussion of Hamlet’s age and motivations. We haven’t delved into Hamlet in our Shakespeare on Tor.com series yet, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on the play! And if the discussion veers off into a conversation of the finer points of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, us Shakespeare geeks here at Tor.com central totally support that.

Reporting by Ashley Mullins and Cameron Summers.

Even Eviller: The Good, the Bad and the Smug by Tom Holt

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The-Good-the-Bad-and-the-Smug-by-Tom-Holt

Evil just isn’t what it was.

Used to be, you could slaughter a dwarf and gnaw his gnarly bones all the way home without attracting any undesirable attention. Now? Not so much. It’s a new world, you know? And it might just be that the new world needs a new breed of evil.

In The Good, the Bad and the Smug, Tom Holt—aka K. J. Parker—proposes exactly that as the premise of a satirical and sublimely self-aware fairytale that brings together the wit and the wickedness of the author’s alter ego with the whimsy and the nefarious wordplay which have made the YouSpace series such a sweet treat so far.

Readers, meet Mordak: King of the Goblins, and winner of a special award at this year’s Academy of Darkness do. The prize is just the icing on the (unfortunately metaphorical) cake; he’s been turning a whole lot of heads of late. Why?

It wasn’t just Mordak’s arbitrary and bewildering social reforms—universal free healthcare at rusty spike of delivery, for crying out loud—though those were intriguing enough to baffle even the shrewdest observers, frantically speculating about the twisted motives that underlay such a bizarre agenda. It was the goblin himself who’d caught the public imagination. Mordak had it; the indefinable blend of glamour, prestige, menace and charm that go to make a genuinely world-class villain.

It isn’t all he has to offer either, for Mordak is also the face of New Evil: a “caring and compassionate” agenda he’s in the middle of forcing down folks’ throats when his eternal enemies—is there anything worse than people, really?—suddenly find themselves filthy rich. So filthy rich, in fact, that they could cause a proper problem for the goblins.

This is an obstacle Mordak simply must overcome if he’s to have a chance of realising his reforms. To wit, together with Efluviel, an elf who’d do almost anything to get her job as a journalist back—a job Mordak can give her as easily as he took it away in the first place—the King strikes out on an unexpected journey in order to expose the source of all the goddamn gold the humans have gotten their grubby paws on.

The complete pointlessness of their ostensibly epic quest is fantastically foregrounded by the fact that we’re in the know about the nature of said source long before Mordak and Efluviel even start down the right track. See, there’s this little man with a supernatural spindle who’s taken to spinning straw into precious metal, in the process putting “the people of this reality […] on course for a fully functional and guaranteed bulletproof economy whose workings would bring about social justice, fairness and a living wage for all, together with peace in their time and mutual respect and understanding between the fascinatingly diverse communities who inhabited this shitheap.”

If you’re already aware of the Law of Conservation of All Sorts of Things, you’ll know that the little man’s magic is affecting a delicate balance. If not, suffice it to say that “there’s a precisely quantified and absolutely limited quantity of both Good and Evil in every single reality in the Multiverse. It’s not optional, and it’s no good bringing a note from your mother.”

“Anyhow, on the whole it all sorts itself out, and so long as the balance isn’t interfered with, everything chugs quietly along and nothing suddenly breaks down or goes horribly wrong,” but the sudden influx of money has knocked the situation for six… which may go some way towards explaining why Mordak has been behaving so strangely of late. The thing is, his New Evil agenda bears a certain resemblance to heroism. Sometimes he even saves the day!

Where in the Dark Lord’s name had that come from, all of a sudden? That was what you got for associating with Elves and freezing your claws off on mountaintops; eventually the brain goes, the instincts decay, the moral fibre turns to mush, the categorical imperatives gurgle away down the U-bend and you might as well be dead. Worse still, you might as well be human. The hell with all this, Mordak told himself. I’m going to go in there and bite something. It’s my only hope.

Equal parts Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and, naturally, K. J. Parker—the similarities are difficult to miss now we know they’re there, especially in the intentionally tortured sentence structure—Tom Holt’s new novel is, like his last three at least, a bona fide feast of fun. Composed as it is of courses of social commentary, observational comedy and subversive satire, each as smart and sharp as the last, The Good, the Bad and the Smug is a metaphorical meal worth munching… albeit one best digested in bite-sized sittings.

To be sure, you could easily read it in an evening, but the fourth of the loosely-connected YouSpace books tells a tale you should savour rather than gorge on, lest its lacks—characters that aren’t a patch on Pratchett’s, and great swathes of story that seem to be going nowhere slowly—become apparent. But take your time and you’ll find a whole lot to like, most notably an extended riff on Rumpelstiltskin with a real fiscal cliff of a twist.

A word to the wise: The Good, the Bad and the Smug probably isn’t the best jumping-on point for K. J. Parker fans keen to experience the lighter side of said pseudonym. Read Doughnut instead; When It’s A Jar when you’re ready; and then there’s The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice. I dare say you’ll find your way back to The Good, the Bad and the Smug sooner rather than later, because once you start reading Tom Holt, there’s not much in the Multiverse that could cause you to stop.

Promise me one thing, though, before you undertake that dastardly task: “Look not for too long into the doughnut, lest the doughnut look into you.”

The Good, the Bad and the Smug is available now from Orbit.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

6 Crazy SF Books Featuring Dinos that are Somehow NOT Jurassic Park

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What would Jurassic Park"s Tim read?

If you’re like me, the best way to get ready for Jurassic World is not to binge-watching Parks and Recreation while wearing a Velociraptor mask, but instead to do some reading—while wearing a Velociraptor mask. But what are you going to do when you’ve finished re-reading Michael Crichton’s science-heavy page-turners Jurassic Park and The Lost World? Luckily there are still plenty of insane science fiction books with dinos running through them for you to devour and then blabber about about endlessly.

 

Dinosaur Planet by Anne McCaffrey (1978)

dinosaur planetreloadedThis little-known McCaffrey effort was written in the early days of her career, while she was still formulating the Pern series. The novel concerns a group of space travelers who “discover” a planet called Ireta which they hope to mine for awesome precious jewels. Instead they find a bunch of dinosaurs and mutineers; bummer! A sequel called The Survivors–sometimes Dinosaur Planet II–was published in 1984. (How many other sequels can boast an ALTERNATE title of Dinosaur Planet II? Was this a missed opportunity for Go Set a Watchman?)

The original cover of Dinosaur Planet also features this guy who looks like He-Man but in the novel is anything but. When republished, Dinosaur Planet and Survivors were re-titled The Mystery of Ireta. Presumably, because Pern took off (pun intended) and Ireta didn’t, McCaffrey didn’t return to this universe after the publication of Survivors. But if you love dinosaurs and space travel and mutineers, and you do, then this is your book.

 

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

lost world coverFeaturing Conan Doyle’s other famous protagonist—Professor Challenger—The Lost World is probably marks the beginning of western science fiction’s obsession with humans interacting with dinos. When a journalist named Edward Malone is assigned the task of getting an interview with the cankerous Challenger, he gets more than he bargained for and it’s not long before everybody ends up visiting a secret plateau populated by dinosaurs, flying prehistoric reptiles, and APE MEN!

There’s a lot of dated BS to deal with in this novel: Victorian sexism, Conan Doyle’s confusing stances on British Imperialism, not to mention the general proto-Hemingway machismo of Challenger himself. And yet, the novel is redeemable because Doyle (through his Watson-esque narrator, Malone) seems to be critical of his characters’ opinions about the world. Plus nearly every scene with dinosaurs is endlessly memorable. Of all the fictional books about dinosaurs, this one has obviously been adapted into film or television more than any other. And of course, Michael Crichton took this title outright for the second Jurassic Park novel. Oddly, in terms of structure and themes, the first Jurassic Park book is more like Doyle’s The Lost World than Crichton’s The Lost World is. But whatever. Without this book we wouldn’t have Jurassic Park, or King Kong, or… or…

 

Thunder Series by James F. David (1995)

Dinosaur thunderStarting with the novel Footprints of Thunder, continuing in Thunder of Time, and most recently Dinosaur Thunder, this series imagines strange temporal inconsistencies causing the contemporary world to collide with aspects of the Cretaceous world. Dinosaurs are eating people and jungles are randomly popping up everywhere. In the latest book, a T-Rex has even been discovered on the moon! (We’ve always wondered what else was on the moon…) Believe it or not, there simply haven’t been many books in which dinosaurs (even in fossil/skeletal form) show up in space. It’s actually shocking that Crichton never attempted to do just that. Really, we should have been surprised that no one—not even Michael Crichton or James F. David—had used the title “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” until the 2012 Doctor Who episode.

 

Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer (1992)

Fossil HunterIn addition to writing the dinosaur time-travel novel End of An Era, Robert J. Sawyer is also responsible for this trilogy featuring intelligent extraterrestrial dinosaurs. Primarily concerning a highly evolved form of T-Rex (they got over that whole tiny arm deal) called the Quintaglios, this trilogy is all about how a species of sentient dinosaurs evolved on another planet and essentially forget that they were ever from Earth. The Star Trek: Voyage episode “Distant Origin” has the exact same premise, only the space-dinos are way less fierce.

Sawyer’s trilogy consists of the books Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner, the final of which finally saw some of the Quintaglios coming home to Earth. They also discover more intelligent dinosaur species and generally all have a hard time coming to terms with the various aspects of having an outer space dinosaur culture which has repressed a ton of its history.

 

Cryptozoic! by Brian W. Aldiss (1967)

cryptozoicThough more of a trippy time travel book than strictly a dinosaur book, this novel must hold a unique place for having its characters be safer when they’re hanging out in either the Devonian or the Jurassic than they are in their own “present.” Weirdly not featuring actual time travel, author Brian W. Aldiss (famous for Supertoys Last All Summer Long) instead asserts a conceit here called “mind travel.”

The book’s primary protagonist is one of the pioneering “minders,” which means they’ve figured out how to time travel in their brains! Somehow this is not a dream and actually real, and people can set up tents and stuff in the Jurassic where they can sell groceries while other dudes ride motorcycles near some Stegosauruses. Did I mention the main character of this books is also an artist? That’s his job. To draw things he sees while faux-time traveling and checking out a few dinosaurs. Again. This book truly gets weird when the protagonist decides it’s time to “wake up.” This book is best read right before bed and under the influence of, well, anything really. Also, you gotta hand it to Aldiss for insisting on that exclamation point in the title.

 

Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury (1983, et al.)

Dinosaur TalesBoasting an introduction by Bradbury’s childhood friend and monster-guru Ray Harryhausen, this collection attempts to round-up all of Bradbury’s dinosaur stories. There are two which are perhaps the most famous: “The Fog Horn” and “A Sound of Thunder.” The former deals with a psuedo-dinosaur who attacks a lighthouse because it thinks the fog horn is another dinosaur wanting to mate. This story was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post and later adapted into the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In the movie, the dino is a fictional creature called a Rhedosaurus, and it walks a little more like a lizard than an upright dinosaur, but in terms of our obsession with dinos, this still totally counts. (For a total understanding of how reptiles that walk like alligators are different than dinosaurs, read Brian Switek’s book My Beloved Brontosaurus.)

Meanwhile, in “A Sound of Thunder,” a bunch of jerky guys travel back in time to go on a safari to shoot a T-Rex. Their actions against a little butterfly cause intense ramifications to the timeline, resulting in certain aspects of their original reality being erased from history. A 2005 film adaptation of this story starring Ben Kingsley has also been successfully erased from history.

Dinosaur Tales is out of print, but these Bradbury dino stories (and others) are widely anthologized in all of his books. Or perhaps, in all books ever. They’re all that good.

 

Honorable mention: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán (2015)

Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

Victor Milán’s recently published epic is all about knights riding dinosaurs in a fantasy kingdom, plus it has fantastic cover and interior art by Richard Anderson. I’m not seeing a downside here.

 

What’s your favorite dino-read?

This article originally published June 5, 2015.

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths out this November from Plume(Penguin) Books. He’s written (and wept) about dinos since before he can remember.

Five Books About Awful, Awful People

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/five-books-about-awful-awful-people/

http://www.tor.com/?p=184080

clockwork-5books

A likeable, relatable protagonist. It’s what every writer is taught that all books, comics, movies, and TV shows must have. But if Breaking Bad and the Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris have shown us anything, it’s that we don’t have to admire or even like awful characters to want to spend time with them.

What I mean by awful characters are those that, depending on how you look at them, could or would be a villain. The fact is, in a lot of modern books, many characters walk on the razor’s edge of being a good or a bad guy, popularly known as the so- called “anti-hero.” We’re charmed by the clever leads in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, but that doesn’t make them any less a pair of thieves, drunks, and swords for hire. John Constantine of Hellblazer fame tries not to be a world wrecker, but people around him keep dying. In fact, early on in his adventures, he (spoiler alert) walls up a friend alive to keep the evil spirit that’s possessed him from escaping. But John tries to be good and he’s always witty, so we let him slide. And let’s not forget Michael Moorcock’s gloomy Elric of Melnibone. Aligned with chaos gods, Elric pretty much can’t eat a sandwich without killing off someone, often someone he knows. But he’s an interesting, tragic character with a modicum of conscience, so we keep going back for more.

It’s often a mental game between a writers and readers. Writers edging into this area will let their characters think and do things that ordinary protagonists might not do, but it’s a balancing act. How much do the writers try to restrain their characters and how far off the leash can they let them run? Readers get to play a different game. They get to wonder how they would act in the situation these sometimes awful characters find themselves. How far would they go? How appalled will they let themselves be, but keep reading? And readers get to wonder if, at the end of the day, the awful character will learn something that will lead to redemption.

Here are five novels with fascinating protagonists that on no planet whatsoever would be called “good guys.”

 

Frank in The Wasp Factory

wasp-factoryThe Wasp Factory is the first book from novelist Iain Banks, best known for his Culture SF book series. The Wasp Factory is very different sort of book. The protagonist is Frank and Frank is something of a psychopath. But a strangely sympathetic one partly because he’s so open and pleasant about his gruesome obsessions, which include “sacrifice poles” sporting animal parts, plus the occasional murder. But it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Frank because he’s surrounded by a family that in some ways is even crazier than he, especially his brother, Eric, who’s recently escaped from an asylum and is making his way home. The book is almost a parody of the kind of cozy pastoral novel in which we watch a callow youth grow into manhood. Frank does grow and change in the course of the story, but not in expected ways, and the climax of the book leaves him somewhere utterly new. Not redeemed so much as on the edge of a whole new life.

 

The Narrator in Fight Club

fight-clubWhile Fight Club isn’t specifically a fantasy novel, its off-kilter worldview, created by the narrator’s inability to sleep, places it in a realm that’s not entirely our own world. Fight Club tells the story of an unnamed insomniac who, after a three sleepless weeks, begins attending disease support groups because other people’s suffering helps ease own. When the support groups lose their effectiveness, he runs into a mysterious, charismatic man named Tyler Durden. They create a secret underground fighting society together which is also a recruiting center for Tyler’s anarchist master plan to, basically, destroy all modern consumer-oriented society. The core of the book is the often strained relationship between the narrator and Tyler. It’s a tricky one because as the story proceeds, we discover that our innocent narrator isn’t nearly as innocent as he first appeared. Author Chuck Palahniuk uses dark satire to test our ability to empathize with a set of interesting, but truly screwed up characters.

 

Alex in A Clockwork Orange

clockwork-orangeDuring WWII, author Anthony Burgess’s wife was robbed and raped by a group of US Army deserters. A Clockwork Orange is Burgess trying to understand who those young attackers were, what would lead them to do what they did, and to see if he could find any redemption for them. The “hero” of A Clockwork Orange is Alex, an utterly amoral young man who spends his time with a close group of friends—“droogs” in the book’s futuristic slang—robbing, raping, and destroying anything that catches their eye. Alex is a happy go lucky monster until he’s arrested and undergoes an experiment in which it’s hoped he’ll be unable to act on his violent impulses. However, while Alex isn’t violent anymore, is he cured? Like Frank in The Wasp Factory, Alex is a charming killer, welcoming us into his world. And like Frank, Alex grows up. Burgess’s central question is can someone like Alex find any true redemption or is destined to remain a gleeful psychopath his whole life? In the end, only Alex can tell you.

 

Johannes Cabal in Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer

johannes-cabalJohannes Cabal is a different kind of awful character than some of the others I’ve mentioned. Johannes isn’t a psychopath—he’s merely a bastard, in the best, funniest British sense of the word. Before the novel has even started, Johannes has sold his soul to the Devil, believing it will help him with his necromantic experiments. As the book opens, he’s trying to get his soul back, not because he’s repented, but because he realizes that he needs it to continue his work. As it turns out, the Devil is perfectly prepared to give Johannes back his soul—if he’ll deliver a hundred other souls to him in one year. Johannes agrees because basically, he enjoys his work and doesn’t like people very much. But he isn’t a true monster. He’s merely a bastard. And a hilarious one. It’s fun to watch Johannes break pretty much every code of civility he can, with humans and fiends alike. He’s helped along the way by a surrogate conscience, his brother Horst, who happens to be a vampire. Oh, and Horst’s condition is Johannes’s fault too. As far as monsters go, Johannes is small time, but when it comes to being a good old fashioned Awful Person, he’s solid gold.

 

Judge Holden in Blood Meridian

blood-meridianI’ve saved the biggest, most awful character for last. If there’s a truer monster than Holden in modern American literature, I don’t know who it is. The judge isn’t the protagonist of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, but he is unquestionably the central character. And while not technically fantasy, this surreal tale of mid-nineteenth century marauders and scalp hunters along the Mexican border takes place in as complex and richly self-contained world as anything conjured up by, for instance, Tolkien. You could describe Blood Meridian as a western, but by its language and imagery it’s a western written by a mad and vengeful Old Testament God. Over the course of the book, the judge murders, rapes, leads hideous raids on bands of Indians and towns, and collects scalps as trophies. Judge Holden is up there with Ahab in terms of obsession, but instead of a white whale, what the judge is seeking is horror itself. He is the personification of endless, mad violence. It’s hinted that the judge might not even be quite human. His strength is phenomenal. His appetites and knowledge are boundless. Near the end of the book we see him dancing in a saloon, “He dances in light and shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”

Richard Kadrey is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He is the author of dozens of stories, plus ten novels, including the Sandman Slim series. The seventh novel in the series, Killing Pretty, is available now from HarperCollins.

Everything in the Marvel Universe Really is Connected!

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/afternoon-roundup-marvel-universe-fictional-businesses-infographic/

http://www.tor.com/?p=184062

Marvel fictional businesses infographic

Forget multiple universes and Battleworld—what really unites all the members of the Marvel Universe are the fictional businesses that make up their lives, superpowered and not. Empire Flippers (via The A.V. Club) has created this impressive infographic mapping every tech company, restaurant, and newspaper across the United States that has played a role in Marvel Comics. (Does that mean no Avengers shawarma place?) Start planning your road trips accordingly…

Afternoon Roundup brings you a partnership between Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking for our own good, how time travel (sort of) led to Rogue One, and an exhaustive list of every time Lois Lane has discovered Clark Kent’s identity!

Reading Melanie Rawn: Stronghold, Chapters 11-15

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/reading-melanie-rawn-stronghold-chapters-11-15/

http://www.tor.com/?p=183837

Rawn-stronghold

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of Stronghold! I yield to public pleading and bite off smaller bits here and henceforth—five chapters at a time. It’s easier on me, too, so we’re on the same page there.

So here we are in the middle of the book, and the middle of the war. The invasion continues, ditto the evacuations—and the good guys fight back.

Stronghold: Chapters 11 through 15

Here’s What Happens: In Chapter 11, the royals evacuate Radzyn with poignant emotion and grim practicality. Rohan has interludes of self-doubt and “I’m too old for this.” The women do what they have to, including the severely disabled Tobin, who can communicate on sunlight.

In Remagev, Tobin’s fiery granddaughter Chayla distracts herself reluctantly with studies and not so reluctantly with Kazander. He, and then she, senses a storm coming over the Long Sand.

The royal refugees are caught in the sandstorm, and Rohan and Sioned are reciting poetry about it: balancing high drama with personal intimacy and, of course, teasing.

Andry in Ossetia has another vision of disaster. When he wakes, he spies Azhdeen on sunlight, destroying enemy ships. He notes that without beards, the enemy have Merida chin scars (one wonders about the utility of ritual chin scars when they’re completely concealed by ritual face foliage). He takes time as always to be scornful about Pol, who is bonded to the dragon.

Chapter 12: The contingent at Dragon’s Rest strategizes. There’s a reference to Pol’s lack of intellectual depth compared to Rohan. The Sunrunner in residence gets news of the fall of Radzyn, and frantic activity ensues.

Meiglan is full of doubts and fears, and distraught in general, but specifically over her failure to provide Pol with a son. Two daughters just aren’t cutting it. We’ve seen that cultural obsession before, but not for a while.

The royals are still trapped in the sandstorm. Kazander rides to their rescue.

Tilal and Gemma are also on the move, with bonus zinger from Gemma about fearful, clingy Meiglan. They’re hunting invaders, and they find and destroy a company of them, along with a pair of their own guards, who have been tortured. Tilal studies the bodies to learn what he can about the enemy.

Mirsath at Faolain Lowland is facing a full army of quarrelsome barbarians. There is reference to Clever, Subtle Rohan. The army sends a native son to demand surrender: Patwin of Catha Heights, who exchanges small talk until it dawns on the defenders that he’s thrown in his lot with the enemy.

It takes them a while. As I said last week, this is a very small island, and very complacent. It hasn’t known real war in centuries.

Patwin offers Mirsath a princedom, and a princess (a Roelstra granddaughter—that family just keeps on being itself). Mirsath shoots him dead.

Rohan, when he receives the news, is all “He should have said yes,” and there’s teasing and banter and Rohan-love. Because he’s so subtle and clever.

Chapter 13 begins with more joking and laughing, as Prince Volog goes on about how fierce (and effective in battle) the women are. They’re beating the enemy handily, and the enemy appear to have some prohibition against fighting back. There’s reference to Volog’s advanced age, so that’s two beloved themes in one place.

The jokes, it turns out, are aimed at distracting Volog from the grief of all his losses—it’s another form of teasing-as-stress-relief. And then, as his squire Rohannon goes off to muse on his life and education, he’s called back to his lord’s bedside. Volog has died, and Rohannon is now the ranking noble in New Raetia. He reflects on his hereditary predisposition toward command, and gets to work.

Maarken in Remagev gives us a recap of the story so far in the Long Sand, with a flashback to better times, then a meeting and strategy session with the royals. Rohan is in professor mode with Pol, as usual. The names, places, politics, and personal and political alliances and rivalries go on and on, summing up the state of the world as our main characters know it. They’re getting a sense of the enemy as a collection of disparate units rather than a unified whole.

There’s much back and forth about how it’s really all about Rohan, and the enemy is really aiming for him (and also Chay’s horses), because he’s the most powerful and clever and subtle prince of all. Rohan tries to demur, but doesn’t get much traction. Pol notes that if they’re actually going after Sunrunners, he’ll be the main target. He’s happy about this.

They devote some considerable time to speculating on the enemy’s motives, and on why he’s left Whitecliff and Radzyn standing; also on the enemy’s culture, clothing, weapons, physical attributes—the list goes on at length.

Then Chay drops a bomb: they’re related, according to Andry, to the Merida. Pol knows what they call themselves: Vellant’im. The discussion goes on from there. And on. And on. With speculation about what the sorcerers have to do with all this.

Pol is also spending quite a bit of time thinking about how wonderful, subtle, and personally magnetic Rohan is.

The royal couple adjourn to their bedroom to discuss the fiery and spirited Kazander, and then the fact that Sioned is going to have to tell Andry he was right about the invasion. Sioned is not happy about this.

Finally Rohan and Chay meet in private and agree that Maarken has to be given the title of Battle Commander—both because Chay has aged out of the job (nobody tell Tywin Lannister about this), and because Maarken needs “the advantage with Andry that the rank will give him.” The chapter ends with teasing, and with Rohan going back to bed with a still highly unhappy Sioned.

Chapter 14 catches us up with Tilal and Gemma and their various plans and strategies. They’re trying to decide whether to go to Waes—and deal with Chiana—or go to Goddess Keep and have to deal with Andry. Neither is a particularly attractive option. There’s an interlude in the stables—Kadar Water has a breeding program equal to Chay’s, and its lord wants Tilal to help save the horses from the invaders. There’s also an extended interlude in which Tilal leaves his squire here, as he’s the only son of the lord: one of the poignant domestic moments that distinguishes these books, with bonus back-and-forth about Rohan’s reign of deliberate and carefully maintained peace, which has left many of the younger generation with no combat experience.

I’m a bit in love with Tilal’s newly acquired Kadar stallion. He has personality to spare. That’s another thing Rawn makes a point of doing: her horses are characters in their own right.

Tilal and company ride out of Kadar Water, intending to split up, with the family taking refuge in Athmyr. Some distance into the day’s ride, as the sun comes out, his daughter Sioneva collapses in Sunrunner trance—her first, and the first indication that she has powers, which have not so far shown up in this family. She’s thrilled with the experience. Andry has sent a message: he’s seen ships sailing toward Goddess Keep.

That makes Tilal’s decision for him. After a tender parting from his family (and over Sioneva’s objections), he rides for Goddess Keep.

In Goddess Keep, Andry explains at length and in considerable detail, with notes on Sunrunner genetics, how he knew about Sioneva: “Endless genealogies—and the mirror” (found/stolen at the end of the last book) which can identify Sunrunners and sorcerers. We also learn that his exchange with Sioned was not pleasant, and that Andry has plans of his own for taking back the island from the enemy. He then demonstrates the mirror for Torien, naming various family members, most of whom are powerless or “halflings” (carriers of one Sunrunner recessive gene). As each is named, he or she appears in the mirror. Then Torien casually mentions Brenlis—and the mirror is blank. She’s dead.

As Chapter 15 begins, Tilal approaches Goddess Keep with his army (and his obstreperous stallion and his many reservations about Andry). Meanwhile, at the Keep, the enemy ships are on their way in. There’s high tension, there’s strategy, there’s personal drama. There’s even a bit of class tension: commoner Sunrunner having opinions about nobles fleeing to safety and abandoning her family.

Andry is a surprisingly good father, though he manages to say exactly the wrong thing to his adolescent son. (Andry has a tendency to be the giver or recipient of misfires like this.)

The Sunrunners drink dranath from elaborate custom goblets, and get to work on an equally elaborate spell—which the enemy breaks with iron. The two with sorcerer blood, who are immune to iron, manage to save the rest.

Tilal and what’s left of his army limp into the Keep, severely not happy about the fact that they’re superfluous. Tilal lights into Andry without mercy, for taking his time, letting good men die, and killing with the mind. Andry is scornful and haughty, and speaks slightingly of Rohan and Pol. The meeting does not end well.

Tilal wants to leave immediately, but is talked out of it. He uses the opportunity to make friends with Andry’s son Andrev, who wants to be a squire. He also converses with a heavily disguised partisan of Sioned, who promises to send word on the moons of what’s happened here.

When Tilal leaves Goddess Keep, he has a stowaway. Andrev offers his service as both squire and Sunrunner. Tilal is grimly happy to accept it—and completely unconcerned about Andry’s reaction.

 

And I’m Thinking: There’s a lot going on here, on a lot of fronts, and some emotional arcs get extremely short shrift. Brenlis is dead, Andry finds out, boom; next we see, he’s carrying on as if nothing happened.

Andry is Andry with brass bells on. He makes a serious enemy of Tilal, and he obviously doesn’t care. He’s too busy being large and in charge.

Meanwhile the Rohan-worship goes a few miles over the top. It’s always all about Rohan, just as it’s been since the very first book. There is no opportunity missed, at any point, to go on about how Clever and Subtle and Utterly Charismatic Rohan is—and how vastly inferior Pol is. It almost seems as if the author resents Pol, or can’t face what he means: that eventually, as tremendously much as she hates to, she’s going to have to kill off her most dearly beloved character, and this shallow jock is what’s left.

Some of that may have to do with a key theme of these books, which is genetic determinism. Nurture can make a difference—witness the Sunrunner-trained sorcerers, and the Rohan-raised Pol—but ultimately, Nature will out. Pol may have been brought up right, but he’s still showing his inferior genetics.

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café in April. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

The Essential Clive Barker

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/the-essential-clive-barker/

http://www.tor.com/?p=183897

clive barker

No one gives voice to monsters and misfits quite as well as author Clive Barker. Since his short fiction first bled across the genre landscape thirty years ago, he has become synonymous with a particularly beautiful and horrific brand of dark fantasy. He’s enjoying a bit of a cultural revival this year thanks to the releases of the long-awaited final novel in the Hellraiser universe and the equally anticipated director’s cut edition of his cult film, Nightbreed.

Nightbreed and the novella it was adapted from, Cabal, are so enduring, editors Joe Nassise and Del Howison have just released Midian Unmade, an anthology of short fiction told from the perspective of—and in the empathetic spirit of—Clive Barker’s misunderstood creations. While entertaining on its own merits, as any anthology containing original stories from Seanan McGuire, Nancy Holder and David J. Schow would naturally be, Midian Unmade is best appreciated by Barker fans.

So where can one begin an education in all things Barker? By going back to the beginning, of course.

Books of Blood Volumes One to Six are essential genre reading. Presented within the framework of a paranormal detective investigating the haunting of a house, the dead speak through scratched letters on the skin of a phony medium a collection of stories so widely well-received and reprinted, you might have watched an adaptation of Barker’s early work already. Especially if your 80s and 90s horror game is strong.

Vampires, ghosts, demons of varying levels of capriciousness, monster children, and corrupted souls parade through tales notable not just for their lurid violence but also for their rich prose and touching empathy for outsiders. With thirty mostly excellent stories to choose from, picking the best is difficult. The first “official” short story is one of the most memorable—at least to an admittedly biased New Yorker. “The Midnight Meat Train” takes place in the Bad Old Days of NYC, seen through the eyes of a recent transplant:

“He had seen her wake in the morning like a slut, and pick murdered men from between her teeth, and suicides from the tangles of her hair. He had seen her late at night, her dirty back streets shamelessly courting depravity. He had watched her in the hot afternoon, sluggish and ugly, indifferent to the atrocities that were being committed every hour in her throttled passages.”

But the worst blasphemy resides in the bowels of the earth at the end of a journey that is one of New Yorkers’ worst fears: falling asleep and missing your subway stop late at night.

While “The Midnight Meat Train” is a very specific kind of fear, “Dread” concerns itself with a most universal emotion. Two students obsessed with fear conduct twisted experiments on classmates to provoke a primal response to a compelling and inevitable conclusion. “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” is a poignant story of a suicidal housewife suddenly “gifted” with the ability to change people’s body shapes with her mind. Soon to be a film starring Game of Thrones‘ Lena Headey, it’s the latest in a long line of Books of Blood film/TV adaptations seen in Rawhead Rex, Tales from the Darkside, Quicksilver Highway, The Midnight Meat Train, Candyman, and Lord of Illusions.

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Art by Jonathan Taylor

But if there are any stories from Books of Blood that are absolute must-reads, they are “Human Remains” and “In the Hills, The Cities.” Nowhere in Barker’s fiction are his themes of alienation and awe more on display, nor his word-craft as tight. I can imagine how starved so many readers were for something beyond the suburban, heterosexual spookiness in a pop fiction world reigned over by Dean Koontz and Stephen King before they discovered Clive Barker. This isn’t a knock against King, who was a vocal advocate for Barker’s career, but King has his niche and Barker has his, which is more frankly erotic, urban, and underrepresented. If you’ve ever felt that your own emotions and insecurities were a thousand times more frightening than any demon-possessed car or pissed-off clown, “Human Remains” will get under your skin and stay there. In this mournful take on vampires, a doppelgänger may or may not be more alive than the rentboy he feeds off of.

In the Hills, The Cities” closes out Volume One of Books of Blood and honestly, for me, the subsequent stories never reached its literal heights, its impossibly grand scope. What starts out like so many cautionary tales—two lovers quarreling on vacation in a foreign country—spirals up and out as they stand witness a ritual so bizarre, so incomprehensible, so loaded with personal meaning and political allegory, it’s impossible not to be swept up in its wake and left speechless after the final line. Truly, it is a perfect example of a perfect fiction. If you read nothing else of Barker, read this.

“Cheeks of bodies; cavernous eye-sockets in which heads stared, five bound together for each eyeball; a broad, flat nose and a mouth that opened and closed, as the muscles of the jaw bunched and hollowed rhythmically. And from that mouth, lined with teeth of bald children, the voice of the giant, now only a weak copy of its former powers, spoke a single note of idiot music.

Popolac walked and Popolac sang.”

It’d be criminal, of course, to maintain that Barker’s subsequent books were less revelatory than his impressive debut.

Pinhead-Hellraiser

From the film Hellraiser

1986’s The Hellbound Heart was the catalyst for Barker’s first big-time foray into another medium he’d go on to dominate. Jaded adventurer Frank Cotton has tried losing himself in every drug, every orifice, every evil offered to him. But he at last meets his earthly release in a sinister puzzle box, the key to a dimension of sadomasochistic tortures ministered by a scarred and pierced Hell priest in leather robes. While I was not enamored with the recent sequel, The Scarlet Gospels, I would without hesitation recommend the graphic body horror, kink, and existential dread of The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser. Few celluloid baddies are as iconic—nor as poetic—as Pinhead, played with refined cruelty by Douglas Bradley. The franchise continued without Barker at the helm, but you’d be advised to ignore all of the movies after the third installment. There’s some suffering too awful to bear.

Barker’s next feature film was 1990’s Nightbreed. Horribly mangled and badly marketed by the studio, the horror fantasy has been re-released in a director’s cut at last. While I haven’t found the film to age nearly as well as Hellraiser, Nightbreed still remains essential Barker viewing for its menagerie of imaginative creature and makeup designs and a particularly chilling performance from horror director David Cronenberg. I guess it’s not enough that the Canadian auteur has to give us nightmares in his own movies, but casting him as the creepy Dr. Decker was extra cruel. And inspired.

1995’s Lord of Illusions showcases a stylistic leap for Barker as a director and a storyteller. It’s a dark and slick film noir that meshes Hollywood glamour with black magic. It’s the first film appearance of Detective Harry D’Amour, a world-weary detective that Barker has revisited in novels The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and The Scarlet Gospels. Standout scenes include magician Philip Swann’s thrilling final illusion and standout performances from Scott Bakula as D’Amour and recently deceased actor Daniel von Bargen as cult leader Nix, who has risen from his grave to “murder the world.” The movie was also sampled copiously in Canadian industrial band Frontline Assembly’s club hit “Colombian Necktie.” (I think Barker would approve of this factoid.)

Lord of Illusions remains Barker’s last completed film. But the author has been busily writing in different genres and mediums, including Clive Barker’s Undying, a gorgeous PC game notorious for its awful gameplay mechanics.

The Thief of Always is a wonderfully creepy middle grade book perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. 10-year-old Harvey Swick is swept off to the wondrous Holiday House of Mr. Hood and his creepy servants. When Harvey learns that Mr. Hood’s magic comes with a terrible price, he must save himself and his friends. The book is also illustrated with ink drawings done by Barker himself. It’s unbelievable that this hasn’t been made into a movie yet, though whispers of it swirl up from Hollywood every few years.

Barker has a multitude of fantastical worlds in his brain and a number of his novels deal over and over again with the theme of these better, more colorful, more dangerous, more madcap and seductive dimensions pressing up against or existing parallel to our own. Does one start with the World Fantasy Award nominee Weaveworld, the fan favorite The Great and Secret Show, or, my pick, Imajica?

When the author claims it as his favorite, too, it’s hard to say it’s not essential.

This doorstopper-length fantasy is epic in the truest sense of the word. Earth is the isolated Fifth Dominion, one of five connected worlds overseen by God and whose secrets are unlocked by Maestros—including Jesus Christ—who sometimes work to reconcile Earth with its sister Dominions. Or not. It’s also the story of Pie Oh’Pah, shapeshifting, genderfluid assassin and Pie’s beyond-complicated relationship with a man named Gentle. Barker says that working on Imajica became an obsession. It reads like a hallucinatory meditation on God, faith, metaphysics, love, sexuality, gender, equality, terrible beauty and gorgeous violence. And it’s a standalone!

clive_barker_art-clive-barker-s-artwork-book-is-available-jpeg-122938

Clive Barker in his art studio

But if you like your fantasy series combined with torturous waiting for the next novel, Abarat has you covered. It’s the author’s most-current obsession—that return to Hell notwithstanding—and it has the distinction of featuring Barker’s lurid, nightmarish and lovely artwork. Barker has become a prolific illustrator and (very NSFW) photographer as his film and novel output has unfortunately lessened over the years. A splendid collection of Barker’s paintings can be found from the excellent fine art curators at Century Guild.

While Barker himself has largely retreated from public appearances due to poor health, he stands poised to return to fiction and film more regularly with promised next books in the Abarat world and a reboot of Hellraiser. Barker’s influence can be seen most explicitly in the early-90s era of new dark fantasy and horror authors, which included Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Neil Gaiman. But his legacy is most clearly felt in all fiction that isn’t content to define evil in stark contrast to good, instead letting the mysteries of darkness speak for itself, no matter how uncomfortable on unfathomable those shifting boundaries can be to mere mortals.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering book reviews, gaming news and TV, including Game of Thrones. She’s also discussed entertainment for Boing Boing. A student of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ workshop, her short fiction has appeared in ChiZine. Follow her on Twitter.

Witches of Lychford

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/excerpts-witches-of-lychford-paul-cornell/

http://www.tor.com/?p=183975

witches-lychford

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.

Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth—that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination. But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford, publishing in paperback and ebook September 8th from Tor.com!

 

 

1

Judith Mawson was seventy-one years old, and she knew what people said about her: that she was bitter about nothing in particular, angry all the time, that the old cow only ever listened when she wanted to. She didn’t give a damn. She had a list of what she didn’t like, and almost everything—and everybody—in Lychford was on it. She didn’t like the dark, which was why she bit the bullet on her energy bills and kept the upstairs lights on at home all night.

Well, that was one of the reasons.

She didn’t like the cold, but couldn’t afford to do the same with the heating, so she walked outside a lot. Again, that was only one of the reasons. At this moment, as she trudged through the dark streets of the little Cotswolds market town, heading home from the quiz and curry night at the town hall at which she had been, as always, a team of one, her hands buried in the pockets of her inappropriate silver anorak, she was muttering under her breath about how she’d get an earful from Arthur for being more than ten minutes late, about how her foot had started hurting again for no reason.

The words gave her the illusion of company as she pushed herself along on her walking stick, past the light and laughter of the two remaining pubs on the Market Place, to begin the slow trudge uphill on the street of charity shops, towards her home in the Rookeries.

She missed the normal businesses: the butcher and the greengrocer and the baker. She’d known people who’d tried to open shops here in the last ten years. They’d had that hopeful smell about them, the one that invited punishment. She hadn’t cared enough about any of them to warn them. She was never sure about calling anyone a friend.

None of the businesses had lasted six months. That was the way in all the small towns these days. Judith hated nostalgia. It was just the waiting room for death. She of all people needed reasons to keep going. However, in the last few years she’d started to feel things really were getting worse.

With the endless recession, “austerity” as those wankers called it, a darkness had set in. The new estates built to the north—the Backs, they had come to be called—were needed, people had to live somewhere, but she’d been amazed at the hatred they’d inspired, the way people in the post office queue talked about them, as if Lychford had suddenly become an urban wasteland. The telemarketers who called her up now seemed either desperate or resigned to the point of a mindless drone, until Judith, who had time on her hands and ice in her heart, engaged them in dark conversations that always got her removed from their lists.

The charity shops she was passing were doing a roaring trade, people who’d otherwise have to pay to give things away, people who couldn’t otherwise afford toys for their children. Outside, despite the signs warning people not to do so, were dumped unwanted bags of whatever the owners had previously assumed would increase in value. In Judith’s day . . . Oh. She had a “day” now. She had just, through dwelling on the shite of modern life, taken her seat in the waiting room for death. She spat on the ground and swore under her breath.

There was, of course, the same poster in every single window along this street: “Stop the Superstore.”

Judith wanted real shops in Lychford again. She didn’t like Sovo—the company that had moved their superstores into so many small towns—not because of bloody “tradition,” but because big business always won. Sovo had failed in its initial bid to build a store, and was now enthusiastically pursuing an appeal, and the town was tearing itself apart over it, another fight over money.

“Fuss,” Judith said to herself now. “Fuss fuss bollocking fuss. Bloody vote against that.”

Which was when the streetlight above her went out.

She made a little sound in the back of her throat, the closest this old body did to fight or flight, halted for a few moments to sniff the air, then, not sure what she was noting, carefully resumed her walk.

The next light went out too.

Then, slightly ahead of her, the next.

She stopped again, in an island of darkness. She looked over her shoulder, hoping someone would come out of the Bell, or open a door to put their recycling out. Nobody. Just the sounds of tellies in houses. She turned back to the dark and addressed it.

“What are you, then?”

The silence continued, but now it had a mocking quality. She raised her stick.

“Don’t you muck about with me. If you think you’re hard enough, you come and have a go.”

Something came at her out of the darkness. She sliced the flint on the bottom of her stick across the pavement and made a sharp exclamation at the same instant.

The thing hit the line and enough of it got past to bellow something hot and insulting into her face, and then it was gone, evaporated back into the air.

She had to lean on the wall, panting. Whatever that had been had almost got past her defences.

She sniffed again, looking around, as the street lights came back on above her. What had it been, to leave a smell of bonfire night? A probe, a poke, nothing more, but how could even that be? They were protected here. Weren’t they?

She looked down at a sharper smell of burning, and realised that had been a closer run thing than she’d thought: the line she’d scratched on the pavement was burning.

Judith scuffed it over with her boot—so the many who remained in blissful ignorance wouldn’t see it—and continued on her way home, but now her hobble was faster and had in it a sense of worried purpose.

 *  *  *

It was bright summer daytime, and Lizzie was walking by the side of the road with Joe. They were messing around, pretending to have a fight. They had decided on something they might one day fight about and they were rehearsing it like young animals, she knocking him with her hips, him flapping his arms to show how useless he’d be. She wanted him so much. Early days, all that wanting. He looked so young and strong, and happy. He brought the happy, he made her happy, all the time. A car raced past, horn tooting at them, get a room! She feinted at his flailing, ducked away, eyes closed as one of his fingers brushed her cheek. She shoved out with both hands and caught him on the chest, and he fell back, still laughing, into the path of the speeding car.

She opened her eyes at the screech and saw his head bounce off the bonnet and then again on the road. Too hard. Much too hard.

She woke slowly, not suddenly with a gasp like in the movies. She woke slowly and took on slowly, as always, the weight of having dreamed about him. She recognised her surroundings, and she couldn’t help but look over to what, until just over a year ago, had been his side of the bed. Now it was flat, and there were still pillows, pristine, and he still wasn’t there.

She found the space in her head where she prayed and she did that and there was nothing there to answer, as there hadn’t been for a while now, but after a minute or so she was able—as always—to get up and begin her day.

Today there was a parochial church council meeting. In Lychford, judging from the three she’d been to so far, these always involved whizzing through the agenda and then having a lengthy, intricate debate about something near enough to the bottom of it to make her think that this time they’d get away early. Before this afternoon’s meeting she had a home communion visit with Mr. Parks, who’d she’d been called to administer the last rites to last week, only to find him sitting outside his room at the nursing home, chatting away and having tea. It had been a bit hard to explain her presence. Vicars: we’re not just there for the nasty things in life. Before that, this morning, she was due to take the midweek Book of Common Prayer service. She looked at herself in the mirror as she put on her crucifix necklace and slipped the white strip of plastic under her collar to complete the uniform: the Reverend Lizzie Blackmore, in her first post as new vicar of St. Martin’s church, Lychford. Bereaved. Back home.

 

The Book of Common Prayer service was, as usual, provided for three elderly people with a fondness for it and enough clout in the church community to prevent any attempt to reschedule their routine. She’d known them all years ago when she was a young member of the congregation here.

“I wouldn’t say we’re waiting for them to die,” Sue, one of the churchwardens, had said, “oh, sorry, I mean I can’t. Not out loud, anyway. “ Lizzie had come to understand that Sue’s mission in life was to say the things that she, or indeed anyone else, wouldn’t or couldn’t. Just as well Lizzie did little services like this one on her own, except for the one elderly parishioner out of the three whose turn it was to read the lessons, boomingly and haltingly at the same time, hand out the three prayer books and collect the nonexistent collection.

When Lizzie had finished the service, trying as always not to interject a note of incredulity into “Lord . . . save the Queen,” she had the usual conversations about mortality expressed through concern about the weather, and persuaded the old chap who was slowly collecting the three prayer books that she’d do that today, really, and leaned on the church door when it closed behind them and she was alone again.

She would not despair. She had to keep going. She had to find some reason to keep going. Coming home to Lychford had seemed like such a good idea, but . . .

From the door behind her there came a knock. Lizzie let out a long breath, preparing herself to be the reverend once again for one of the three parishioners who’d left her glasses behind, but then a familiar voice called through the door. “Lizzie? Err, vicar? Reverend?” The voice sounded like it didn’t know what any of those words meant, her name included. Which was how it had always sounded since it and its owner had come back into Lizzie’s life a week ago. Despite that, though, the sound of the voice made Lizzie’s heart leap. She quickly restrained that emotion. Remember what happened last time.

She unlatched the door, and by the time she swung it back she had made herself seem calm again. Standing there was a woman her own age in a long purple dress and a woollen shawl, her hair bound with everything from gift ribbons to elastic bands. She was looking startled, staring at Lizzie. It took Lizzie a moment to realise why. Lizzie raised her hand in front of her clerical collar, and Autumn Blunstone’s gaze snapped up to her face. “Oh. Sorry.”

“My eyes are up here.”

“Sorry, only that’s the first time I’ve seen you in your . . . dog . . . no, being respectful now—”

“My clerical collar?”

“Right. That. Yes. You . . . okay, you said to come to see you—”

Lizzie had never thought she actually would. “Well, I meant at the vicarage . . .”

“Oh, yes, of course, the vicarage. You don’t actually live here at the church. Of course not.”

Lizzie made herself smile, though none of her facial muscles felt up for it. “Come on in, I won’t be a sec.” She made to go back to the office to put in the safe the cloth bag that didn’t have a collection in it, but then she realised Autumn wasn’t following. She looked back to see the woman who’d used to be her closest friend poised on the threshold, unwilling to enter.

Autumn smiled that awful awkward smile again. “I’ll wait here.”

 *  *  *

They’d lost touch, or rather Autumn had stopped returning her calls and emails, about five years ago, just after Lizzie had been accepted into theological college, before Lizzie had met Joe. That sudden cessation of communication was something Lizzie had been astonished by, had made futile efforts to get to the bottom of, to the extent of showing up on Autumn’s doorstep during the holidays, only to find nobody answering the door. She’d slowly come to understand it as a deliberate breaking of contact.

It made sense. Autumn had always been the rational one, the atheist debunker of all superstition and belief, the down-to-earth goddess who didn’t believe in anything she couldn’t touch. The weight of being judged by her had settled on Lizzie’s shoulders, had made thoughts of her old friend bitter. So, on coming back to Lychford to take up what, when she’d come here to worship as a teenager, had been her dream job, she hadn’t searched for Autumn, had avoided the part of town where her family had lived, even. She had not let thoughts of her enter her head too much. Perhaps she would hear something, at some point, about how she was doing. That had been what she’d told herself, anyway.

Then, one Friday morning, when she’d been wearing civvies, she’d seen a colourful dress across the Market Place, had found the breath caught in her throat, and had been unable to stop herself from doing anything except marching over there, her stride getting faster and faster. She’d hugged Autumn before she knew who it was, just as she was turning, which in Lizzie’s ideal and desired world should have been enough to begin again with everything, but then she had felt Autumn stiffen.

Autumn had looked at her, as Lizzie had let go and stepped back, not as a stranger, but as someone Autumn had expected to see, someone she’d been worrying about seeing. Lizzie had felt the wound of Joe open again. She’d wanted to turn and run, but there are things a vicar cannot do. So she’d stood there, her best positive and attentive look locked on her face. Autumn had quickly claimed a previous engagement and strode off. “Come to see me,” Lizzie had called helplessly after her.

Lizzie had asked around, and found that the guys down the Plough knew all about Autumn, though not about her connection to Lizzie, and had laughed that Lizzie was asking about her, for reasons Lizzie hadn’t understood. She’d looked for Autumn’s name online and found no contact details in Lychford or any of the surrounding villages.

Now, Lizzie locked up, and went back, her positive and attentive expression again summoned, to find Autumn still on the threshold. “So,” Lizzie said, “do you want to go get a coffee?” She kept her tone light, professional.

“Well,” said Autumn, “Reverend . . . I want to explain, and I think the easiest way to do that is if you come to see my shop.”

*  *  *

Autumn led Lizzie to the street off the Market Place that led down to the bridge and the river walk, where the alternative therapy establishments and the bridal shop were. Lizzie asked what sort of shop Autumn had set up. She was sure she’d already know if there was a bookstore left in town. Autumn just smiled awkwardly again. She halted in front of a shop Lizzie had noted when she first got here and stopped to look in the window of. Autumn gestured upwards at the signage, a look on her face that was half “ta daa!” and half kind of confrontational. Witches, the sign said in silver, flowing letters that Lizzie now recognised as being in Autumn’s handwriting, The Magic Shop.

You . . . run a magic shop?” said Lizzie, so incredulous that she wondered if the gesture might mean something else, such as “Oh, look at this magic shop, so against everything I’ve ever espoused.”

“Right,” said Autumn. “So.”

“So . . . ?”

“So I’m sure this isn’t the sort of thing you’d want to associate yourself with now that you’re a reverend.”

Lizzie didn’t know if she wanted to hug Autumn or slap her. Which was a pretty nostalgic feeling in itself. “If this is the new you,” she said, “I want to see it. I’m happy to step over your threshold.”

Autumn gave her a look that said “yeah, right” and unlocked the door.

 *  *  *

Inside, Lizzie was pleased to find herself in a space that said her old friend, scepticism apart, didn’t seem to have changed all that much. The displays of crystals, books about ritual and healing, posters and self-help CDs were arranged not haphazardly, but in a way which said there was a system at work here, just one that would make any supermarket customer feel they’d been slapped around by experts. Crystal balls, for example, which Lizzie thought would be something people might want to touch, rolled precariously in plastic trays on a high shelf. Was there an association of magic shop retailers who might send a representative to tut at the aisle of unicorn ornaments, their horns forming a gauntlet of pointy accidents waiting to happen? She was sure that, as had been the case with every room or car Autumn had ever been in charge of, she would have a reason why everything was as it was.

Autumn pulled out a chair from behind the cash desk for Lizzie, flipped over the sign on the door so it said “Open” again, and marched into a back room, from where Lizzie could hear wineglasses being put under the tap. At noon. That was also a sign Autumn hadn’t changed.

“You can say if you’re not okay with it,” she called.

“I’m okay with it,” Lizzie called back, determinedly.

“No, seriously, you don’t have to be polite.” Autumn popped her head out of the doorway, holding up a bottle. “Rosé? Spot of lady petrol? Do you still do wine? I mean, apart from in church when it’s turned into—if you think it does turn into—”

“Do you have any tea?”

Autumn stopped, looking as if Lizzie had just denounced her as a sinner. “There’s an aisle of teas,” she said.

“Well, then,” Lizzie refused to be anything less than attentive and positive, “one of those would be nice.”

Autumn put down the bottle, and they went to awkwardly explore the aisle of teas, arranged, as far as Lizzie could see, in order of . . . genre? If teas had that? “So . . . this is . . . quite a change for you.”

Autumn halted, her hand on a box of something that advertised itself as offering relaxation in difficult circumstances. “Look who’s talking. You were Lizzie Blackmore, under Carl Jones, under the Ping-Pong table, school disco. And now you’re a . . . reverend, vicar, priest, rector, whatever.”

“But I always . . . believed.” She didn’t want to add that these days she wasn’t so sure.

“And I always thought you’d get over it.”

Lizzie nearly said something very rude out loud. She took a moment before she could reply. “Autumn, we are standing in your magic shop. And you’re still having a go at me for being a believer. How does that work? Are you, I don’t know, getting the punters to part with their cash and then laughing at them for being so gullible? That doesn’t sound like the Autumn I used to know.”

Autumn wasn’t looking at her. “It’s not like that.”

“So you do believe?”

“I’m still an atheist. It’s complicated.”

“You don’t get that with craft shops, do you? ‘Will this fitting hang up my picture?’ ‘It’s complicated.’”

“Don’t you dare take the piss. You don’t know—!”

Lizzie couldn’t help it. The sudden anger in Autumn’s voice had set off her own. “You dropped me when I went away. You dropped me like a stone.”

“That was complicated too. That was when things got . . . messed up.”

Lizzie felt the anger drain from her. One facet of Autumn’s character back in the day had been that she came to you when she needed something. She was always the one who knocked on your door in the middle of the night, sobbing. Had something bad happened to make her come to Lizzie’s door again today? “Did you stay in Lychford back then? Or did you go away too?”

“A bit of both.” A clenched grin.

“Where did you go?”

Autumn seemed to think about it. Then she shook her head. “I shouldn’t have come to see you. I’m sure you’re busy, Reverend, I’ve just got to . . .” She gestured towards the inner door. “You see yourself out.”

Lizzie desperately wanted to argue, but just then the shop bell rang, and a customer entered, and Autumn went immediately to engage with her. Lizzie looked at the time on her phone. She needed to go to see Mr. Parks. “If you need me, Autumn,” she called as she left, and it was on the verge of being a yell, “you let me know.”

 *  *  *

The following evening, Judith decided to do something she had never deliberately done before. She was going to participate in the civic life of the town. Which meant that first she had to negotiate getting out of her house. She went to put the recycling out, having spent a relaxing five minutes crushing cans with her fingers, and found that her neighbour, Maureen Crewdson, was putting hers out too. Maureen had found herself running for mayor, unopposed, because nobody wanted to do it. “By accident,” she’d said, having one night had a few too many Malibus down the Plough. Of all the people Judith had to put up with, she was one of the least annoying. She had, tonight, the same weight about her shoulders that Judith had seen for the last few weeks. “I’m coming to the meeting tonight,” Judith told her, and watched as, imperceptibly, that weight increased.

“I didn’t think you’d be bothered with all that. Are you for or against the new shop?”

“I’ve decided I really don’t like it.” Since summat had had a go at scaring and then attacking her for considering voting against, that was.

The weight on Maureen’s shoulders increased again. “Oh. It’s going to bring so many jobs to . . . sod it, can we please not talk about it?”

There was some strangling emotion wrapped around her, something only Judith could sense, that would take a bit of effort to identify. Judith didn’t feel up for poking into her business that much at this point. She knew better than to go rummaging into private pain. Looks like it’s going to rain, dunt it?” Judith felt the relief as she left Maureen to it, and went back inside to make herself a cup of tea while considering her exit strategy. She waited until a few minutes before she had to go, then took a deep breath and called up the stairs. “I’m off to the meeting.” Silence. That was odd. What had happened to the noise from the telly? “Arthur? You hear what I said?”

This silence had something aware in it. Mentally girding her loins, Judith set off up the stairs.

 *  *  *

Arthur was sitting where he always sat—in the bedroom, in his favourite chair, which he’d had her haul up here, the sound of his ventilator sighing and heaving. It was normally obscured by the constant noise of the telly, but the mute was on, and Arthur was fiddling with the remote, trying to get the sound back. He was watching some quiz show. That and ancient whodunits were all he watched, the older the better. Judith kept the Sky subscription going just for him. He didn’t acknowledge her arrival. “Arthur, I said—”

“I heard you, woman. You’re leaving me again.”

She didn’t let her reaction show. “It’s only for an hour, and your programme’s on in a minute.” Waking the Dead. He loved gory mortuary dramas. Of course he did. She took the remote off him and tried to find the button to unmute it, which was hard in this light.

He looked up at her with tears in his eyes. “You’ll be sending me away soon. Your own husband. You’ll be putting me where you don’t have to see me.”

“If only I could!”

His face contorted into a sly grin, his cheeks still shining. “Will your boyfriend be there tonight, full of Eastern promise? Oh, that accent, he’s so lovely, so mobile!”

She kept on trying to work out the remote, not looking at him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you old fool.”

“That’d make it easy to send me away, wouldn’t it, if I was going mental? You reckon he can make you feel young again? You’re planning to get rid of me!”

“I bloody can’t, though, can I?” Judith threw the remote at somewhere near him, turned on her heel and marched out of the door, only for her conscience to catch up with her, along with his howls of laughter, on the first step of the stairs. With an angry noise in her throat, she went back in, managed to switch the sound back on, slapped the remote back into his hands, and then left the cackling old sod to it. She put on her coat. As she got to the front door she heard his laughter turn to stage sobs, or real sobs, but still she made herself get outside and close the door without slamming it behind her.

Excerpted from Witches of Lychford © Paul Cornell, 2015

Gwyneth Jones, Walter Jon Williams and Kij Johnson Sign with Tor.com Publishing!

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/29/gwyneth-jones-walter-jon-williams-and-kij-johnson-sign-with-tor-com-publishing/

http://www.tor.com/?p=183379

publishing-banner

Welcome back to Editorially Speaking. Last week we told you about some books coming from Fran Wilde and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Consulting Editor Jonathan Strahan has acquired three new novellas for us by Gwyneth Jones, Walter Jon Williams, and Kij Johnson. Strahan is a World Fantasy and Locus Award winner and multiple Hugo Award nominated editor and podcaster.

From Jonathan Strahan:

“I’m delighted to be working with three of my favourite writers—Walter, Gwyneth and Kij—to bring some widely different but really exciting stories to Tor.com! I love Walter’s space opera, Gwyneth’s hard SF is some of the best the field has seen, and Kij’s re-imagining of Lovecraft is extraordinary. I think readers are in for a real treat.”

 

Gwyneth Jones and Proof of Concept

headshotsmallerA science fiction tale from one of our favorite writers!

On a desperately overcrowded future Earth, crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none. Governments turn to Big Science to provide them with the dreams that will keep the masses compliant. The Needle is one such dream, an installation where the most abstruse theoretical science is being tested: science that might make human travel to a habitable exoplanet distantly feasible. A little closer to reality, Long Duration Mission teams are in permanent rehearsal for the next big push in solar-system space exploration. When the Needle ‘s director offers her underground installation (temporarily offline for equipment tests) to the LDM people as a training base, Kir Heilesen is thrilled to be invited to join the team. Even though she knows it’s only because her brain is host to a qAI called Altair.

Altair knows something he can’t tell. Kir, like all humans, is programmed to ignore future dangers. It’s frustrating. Between the artificial blocks in his mind, and the blocks evolution has built into his host, how is he going to convince her the sky is falling?

This one’s a long way out—you’re going to have to wait until early 2017 before you read this one, but don’t worry, we’ll remind you.

 

Walter Jon Williams and Impersonations

Walter Jon Williams underwaterNebula Award winning author Walter Jon Williams returns to the sweeping space opera adventure of his Praxis universe with an exciting new adventure featuring the hero of Dread Empire’s Fall!

Having offended her superiors by winning a battle without permission, Caroline Sula has been posted planet Earth, a dismal backwater where careers go to die.  But Sula has always been fascinated by Earth history, and she plans to award herself a long, happy vacation amid the ancient monuments of humanity’s home world.

Sula may be a fan of Earth’s history, but there are aspects of her own history she doesn’t want known—and exposure is threatened when an old acquaintance turns up unexpectedly.  There’s a mysterious warship in Earth’s dockyard.  Plus someone seems to be forging evidence that would send her to prison.  And then someone tries to kill her.

If she’s going to survive, Sula has no choice but to make some history of her own…

You’ll get to read Impersonations some time in 2016.

 

Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Velitt Boe

Kij-Johnson-2009Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner Kij Johnson joins Tor.com with a major new novella that gives us an exciting modern interpretation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.” Johnson wrote Tor.com’s first award-winning story, “Ponies,” as well as our perennial favorite “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles,” so we’re thrilled to have her on board with a novella.

Vellitt Boe is the professor of mathematics at Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her, which sends her on a quest across the Dream-lands and into her own mysterious past.

Look out for this next summer!

 

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