Russell Letson Reviews Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat’s Wrath, James S.A. Corey (Orbit 978-0-316-33287-3, $30.00, 528pp, hc) March 2019. Cover by David Dociu.

There is an empire at the center of the eighth (and projected next-to-last) volume of James S.A. Corey’s Expanse sequence. Tiamat’s Wrath continues the story of the Laconian Empire (begun in Persepolis Rising, 2017), founded by a rebel admiral who is ambitious to have all of humankind under his rule and himself ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor 978-1-250-18643-0, $25.99, 462pp, hc) March 2019. Cover by Jaime Jones.

The byline on the cover of A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine, is the pen name of Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a scholar of, among other things, the history of the Byzantine Empire. That is appropriate, since this first novel is all about the byzantine politics of an interstellar empire, as seen ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear (Saga Press 978-1-5344-0298-0, $25.99, 499pp, hc) March 2019.

Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night is a big book (with a promise of more bigness to come – the title page says it is “White Space Book 1”) crammed with a variety of SF motifs and tropes and furniture items: space operatics, interstellar civilization, Big (Variably Smart) Objects, alien encounters, deep galactic history, artificial intelligences, and neural/physical enhancements ...Read More

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Adrienne Martini & Russell Letson Review The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie (Orbit 978-0-316-38869-6, $26.00, 432pp, hc) February 2019.

You likely know Ann Leckie from her multi-award winning books set in the Ancillary Justice universe. These books took a sub-genre we know well – space opera – and told it slant. Yes, the tales spanned gal­axies and generations, but her vision filtered these hoary old tropes into something fresh by focusing on gender and identity, while ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Alliance Rising by C.J. Cherryh & Jane S. Fancher

Alliance Rising, C.J. Cherryh & Jane S. Fancher (DAW, 978-0756412715, $26.00, 354 pp, hc) January 2019. Cover by Micah Epstein.

The title page of C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher’s Alliance Rising identifies it as “An Alliance-Union Novel,” part of the extensive common-background sequence that goes back to the beginning of Cherryh’s writing career. This particular segment of that sprawl­ing future history belongs to the temporal and spatial neighborhood ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz 978-0575090637, 432pp, £18.99, hc) January 2019.

Alastair Reynolds’ Shadow Captain, the sequel to Revenger (2016) moves from the YA-ish space-operatic pirate adventure of the first book to something considerably less light-hearted – not that there weren’t indications in Revenger, starting with the title and extending to the villain, whose comprehensive cruelty was not ignored or minimized. But now the growing-up thematics are ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth Index, Charles Stross (Tor 978-1250196088, 368pp, $27.99, hc) October 2018.

Charles Stross’s Laundry Files books have been getting darker with every new entry, and the ninth, The Labyrinth Index, may be the darkest yet – which is saying something, given that the whole series combines some of the more unsettling aspects of the espionage and horror traditions. While I’m unpacking genre/influence components, let me add the ...Read More

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2018: The Triumph of “Only Different” by Russell Letson

It’s the most summarizing time of the year, and I’ve been at it long enough that I’m tempted to just summarize my old summaries, looking for meta-trends or shapes in the clouds (very like a camel, indeed) that impose order on the squirming facts of a field that is neither singular nor unified but (to plagiarize myself from a quarter-century ago) “a set of fields with readerships that only occasionally ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Terran Tomorrow by Nancy Kress

Terran Tomorrow, Nancy Kress (Tor 978-0-765390356, $27.99, 336pp, hc) November 2018.

A really good SF/F universe or future his­tory doesn’t want to end but to sprawl beyond arbitrary volume-number limits – it invites or even demands continued exploration and exploitation, answers to next-questions (in the Theodore Sturgeon “ask the next question” sense), or just a reason to tour around and see what might be lurking in the next solar ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams

The Accidental War, Walter Jon Williams (Harper Voyager 978-0-06-246702-7, $16.99, 476pp, tp) September 2018.

When, back in 2002, I reviewed The Praxis, the first volume of Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy, the lede was, “The signals on the outside of [the advance copy of] the first volume of Walter Jon Williams’s new series don’t really prepare you for what’s inside.” I can’t come up with a ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Final Frontier, edited by Neil Clarke

The Final Frontier, Neil Clarke, ed. (Night Shade 978-1-59780-939-9, $17.99, 579 pp, tp) July 2018. Cover by Fred Gambino.

Last month I recommended Jonathan Stra­han’s original anthology, Infinity’s End, as a window into what SF is up to Right This Minute (or up to the minutes the stories were completed, anyway). At the same time I was also reading Neil Clarke’s recent-retrospective The Final Frontier, which samples ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Infinity’s End, Edited by Jonathan Strahan

Infinity’s End, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris 978-1-78618-106-0, $14.99, 347 pp, tp) July 2018. Cover by Adam Tredowski.

For seven years and six volumes, editor Jonathan Strahan has been devising a con­sistently strong original anthology series that has engineered, reached, met, and bridged infinity from the edge onward (or inward?), and even gone to war in it. Now, in the seventh and last of the Infinity Project anthologies, we have ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Million by Karl Schroeder

The Million, Karl Schroeder (Tor 978-1-250-18542-6, $14.99, tp) August 2018. Cover by Jan Weßbecher.

Karl Schroeder’s novella The Million belongs to the future designed for his previous novel, Lockstep (2014), a setting that I still find strongly reminiscent of that branch of 1950s and ’60s SF in which One Big Idea generates a whole society (a cousin to Kingsley Amis’s “comic inferno” model). Again there is a strong dose ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews One Way by S.J. Morden

One Way, S.J. Morden (Orbit 978-0316522182, $15.99, 391pp, tp) April 2018.

One Way is the first novel under the byline S.J. Morden, but not the first novel by the writer behind it, Simon Morden, producer of The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy (winner of the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award) and a fistful of other SF and fantasy volumes. I’m not sure why the change in byline, since the tone and ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Peter Watts (Tachyon Publications 978-1-61696-252-4, $14.95, 190pp, tp) June 2018. Cover by Elizabeth Story.

Whether it’s a novella or a short novel (it’s the latter, by a margin of a thousand words, per a note in the author’s Acknowledgments), Peter Watts’s The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a remarkably compressed and elliptical tale. It belongs to a series that began with the Hugo-winning novelette “The Island” (2009) and ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews The Bend at the End of the Road by Barry N. Malzberg

The Bend at the End of the Road, Barry N. Malzberg (Fantastic Books 978-1-5154-1038-6, $13.99, 161pp, tp). May 2018.

When I started reviewing for this magazine, the only instruction I recall getting from Charles Brown was ‘‘Don’t argue with the book.’’ I have tried to follow that dictum over the years, but it is very hard not to argue with Barry Malzberg’s The Bend at the End of the ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews If Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress

If Tomorrow Comes, Nancy Kress (Tor 978-0-765390325, $27.99, 336 pp, hc) March 2018. Cover by Stephan Martiniere.

Nancy Kress’s If Tomorrow Comes is, as the subtitle informs us, the middle volume of three, which some might take to indi­cate an absolute dependence on its predecessor, Tomorrow’s Kin (2017) or the novella of the same title that serves as the first book’s opening section – but such folk would be ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Soldier by Neal Asher

The Soldier, Neal Asher (Night Shade 978-1-59780-943-6, $26.99, 375 pp, hc) May 2018. Cover by Adam Burn

Neal Asher keeps extending his already sprawl­ing Polity setting, devising ever more dire and dangerous scenarios and filling in a deep history characterized by predation, warfare, genocide, extinctions, and the apparent impossibility of getting rid of any threat (or extinct species) permanently. One of the most persistent and de­structive features of this ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Emergence by C.J. Cherryh

Emergence, C.J. Cherryh (DAW 978-0-7564-1414-6, $26.00, 320pp, hc) January 2018. Cover by Todd Lockwood.

C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner metanovel or roman fleuve has been in operation for  more than two decades, spinning a continuous narrative line over (so far) nineteen entries detailing the delicate and often difficult relations between a population of lost human star travelers and their not-as-human-as-they-look alien hosts, the atevi. This series is also a kind ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt

The Long Sunset, Jack McDevitt (Saga 978-1-4814-9793-0, $27.99, 451pp, hc) April 2018. Cover by John Harris.

Here I am, still reading novels from two very long-running series. How could I not? These books have been, like rolling stones, gathering momentum over the years, de­veloping their characters and worlds and (to mix the metaphor) poking and prodding at their givens and motif-sets and turning them around to find new angles ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

Pride and Prometheus, John Kessel (Saga 978-1-5344-1121-0, $27.99, 371pp, hc) February 2018. Cover by Robert Hunt.

In my 2017 wrap-up essay elsewhere in this is­sue, I wonder at and wander around the matter of sequels, prequels, series, and common-back­ground-setting books. All these present particular challenges to a reviewer: how to deal with a work that may begin in medias res (or, god-help-us, on the far side of a cliff-hanger), ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Dark State by Charles Stross

Dark State, Charles Stross (Tor 978-0-7653-3757-3, $25.99, 352pp, hc) January 2018.

Charles Stross has been building – and remodeling and rearranging – his Merchant Princes sequence across seven novels (now in four volumes) over more than a dozen years. The first six books (or three, depending on which packaging one has read) completed a complex arc that focused primarily on how a medieval-level social-political-economic ar­rangement built on the inheritable ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Phoresis by Greg Egan

Phoresis, Greg Egan (Subterranean 978-1-59606-866-7, $40.00, 163pp, hc) April, 2018.

Greg Egan’s Phoresis is, at around 40,000 words, a long novella and close to the same length as many of the mass-market, full-length paperback novels I grew up on. Into that relatively small space Egan has packed the story of several multiple-generation, low-tech engineering projects that range from geoengineering to interplanetary exploration and colonization, while also creating an exotic ...Read More

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2017: The Year in SF by Russell Letson

[Editor’s note: part of our 2017 year-in-review essay series from the February 2018 issue of Locus]

But Serially –

Perhaps more emphatical­ly than usual, this annual reflection should be labeled My rather than The Year in SF, since the sample is not only smaller than usual but skewed: only four of the 2017 novels I reviewed are free-standing (and two of those might not count as fully such – see ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

Elysium Fire, Alastair Reynolds (Orbit 978-0-316-55567-8, $15.99, 408pp, tp) January 2018.

Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe is another of those omnium-gatherum future histories that can host almost any kind of SF imaginable. One of its fancier features is the Glitter Band, a 25th-century polity spread across the ten thousand habitats circling the planet Yellowstone in the Epsilon Eridani system. The Band is part of the background for Chasm City ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis Rising, James S.A. Corey (Orbit 978-0-316-33283-5, $28.00, 551pp, hc) December 2017. Cover by Daniel Dociu.

Cover blurbs and media PR keep referring to James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series as space opera, which has always struck me as an inadequate descriptor for a set of nov­els that employs an unusually, um, expansive set of science-fictional tropes. (The television adaptations on Syfy are a bit biased toward space-adventure and -combat, ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fic­tion by James Gunn

Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fic­tion, James Gunn (McFarland 978-1-4766-7026-3, $25.00, 209pp, tp) November 2017. Cover photo by Jason Dailey.

I hope I might be excused for injecting personal notes into a review of James Gunn’s autobiog­raphy, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. As I read it, I couldn’t help noticing how many times and in how many ways my life in SF was affected by ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod

The Corporation Wars: Emergence, Ken MacLeod (Orbit 978-0-356-50504-6, £14.99, 336pp, hc) September 2017.

Ken MacLeod’s The Corporation Wars is presented as a trilogy, but I take it to be another of those increasingly common very-long-novels-in-three-decker-form. Even the title format, which puts the overall series title before the volume title, Emergence, signals a single continuous story spread across multiple volumes, with little more separating the acts than the equivalent ...Read More

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Russell Letson Reviews Austral by Paul McAuley

Austral, Paul McAuley (Gollancz, 978-1-473-21731-7, £14.99, 276pp, tp) October 2017.

As I was preparing this piece, virtual-paging through 26 years’ worth of reviews of Paul McAuley’s work, I recognized (again) how his stories refuse to drop neatly into single categories – they like to squirm out of whatever boxes they’re stuffed into and find their own shapes. What remains stable is the sharp ob­servation of each imagined world, whether ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction by James Gunn

Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn (McFarland 978-1-4766-7026-3, $25.00, 209pp, tp) November 2017. Cover photo by Jason Dailey.

I hope I might be excused for injecting personal notes into a review of James Gunn’s autobiography, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. As I read it, I couldn’t help noticing how many times and in how many ways my life in SF was affected by ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance, Ann Leckie (Orbit, 978-0-316-38867-2, $26.00, 393pp, hc) September 2017. Cover by John Harris.

Ann Leckie’s Provenance takes place in the same far future as her Ancillary novels and shares some of that trilogy’s underlying issues: legal versus actual identity and citizenship status; the burdens, benefits, and oddities of cultural artifice or convention; the ways that polities can be subverted or per­verted. But there are no ancillaries or emerg­ing ...Read More

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Russell Letson reviews Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid

Iain M. Banks, Paul Kincaid (University of Illinois Press 978-0-252-04101-3, $95.00, hc; -08250-4, $22.00, 190pp, tp) May 2017. Cover by Mark J. Bradley.

Paul Kincaid’s Iain M. Banks takes on the task of accounting for a writer whose career sprawled across at least two literary categories and whose primary gifts (at least in the view of this reader) are a dizzying verbal adroitness married to a relentless and hard-edged ...Read More

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