by Don Sakers
Once again it’s that time, when we all start thinking of year-end holidays and the gift-giving that often accompanies them.
In my younger days I discovered that books make great presents. No matter what a person’s interests, it’s always possible to find a book that addresses them. Friends and family who are committed readers always enjoy another book; non-readers (who usually don’t receive books) generally feel flattered and delighted to get such an uncommon and extravagant luxury.
In recent decades I’ve grown more brazen. It is now my well-considered opinion that the default gift for just about anyone on your list is a science fiction or fantasy book.
First, the field is large enough and diverse enough that you can find an SF/F book for virtually any taste. Second, SF/F has invaded popular culture sufficiently enough that, provided you choose appropriately, you’re unlikely to get a response of “I don’t read science fiction.”
Third, in buying SF/F books as gifts, you’re supporting the starving writers, editors, and publishers who produce the work that you love.
And finally, you never know when the book you give will inspire the recipient to seek out more SF/F—thus improving their life, increasing their enjoyment, giving the two of you more to talk about, and further supporting starving writers, editors, and publishers.
Before I dive into reviews, let me stress (as I do every year) that a subscription to Analog (print or e-book) is always an appropriate gift that lasts for a whole year.
For anyone who enjoys Analog, books by the writers who appear in these pages are a no-brainer. I’m not going to list names: just go back over your last year or two of issues, and see what the authors have available. While you’re at it, glance through this column for gift ideas; I’m not going to repeat myself.
It may be that you feel like giving a gift to a writer (or writers) you admire. In today’s publishing environment, there are three things that an appreciative reader can do for favorite authors.
The most important gift you can give a writer—especially a small-press or indie-published writer—is to leave feedback on their books in places like Amazon.com, Goodreads, and other book-rating sites. Another way to give is to recommend a writer’s work on social media . . . not just once but repeatedly thought the year.
If you’re willing to spend some money, see if the writer has a crowdfunding page where you can make a one-time or ongoing contribution (often with some kind of reward). Some author websites have a button for making donations (sometimes called a tip jar). Other authors are on sites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Patreon, and the like. However you do it, sponsoring a writer is the ultimate gift.
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Twelve Tomorrows 2018
Edited by Wade Roush
The MIT Press, 256 pages, $19.95 (trade paperback)
Kindle: $15.33, Nook: $11.49 (e-book)
Genre: Hard SF, Original Anthology
The best gift for a devoted Analog reader would be an extra issue each year. Well, we can’t do that—Trevor and Emily are already working as hard as they can, and besides, the budget isn’t getting any bigger.
Fortunately, the good folks at the MIT Technology Review give us the next best thing, an annual science fiction issue called Twelve Tomorrows and filled with the kind of stories you find in the pages of Analog.
Past editions of Twelve Tomorrows have been more magazine than book. This year, it’s an honest-to-Wollheim actual book, published in conjunction with the MIT Press (the first original SF published by that august body).
In Twelve Tomorrows, authors take state-of-the-art technologies and examine their implications in stories with compelling characters and human plots. This year’s volume includes such big names as Elizabeth Bear, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Paul McAuley, Nnedi Okorafor, and Alastair Reynolds, along with less familiar writers SL Huang, Clifford V. Johnson, J. M. Ledgard, Malka Older and Sarah Pinsker. The ideas and technologies range from deep-brain implants and artificial organs to telepresence and AI, from climate change to space travel, from smart homes to autonomous vehicles.
Stories come in a variety of lengths and formats—Clifford V. Johnson’s “Resolution” is a graphic novella. An introductory essay by editor Wade Roush is followed by Mark and Jason Pentin’s profile of SF Grand Master Samuel R. Delany. Two pages of biographical notes on the contributors round out the volume.
A perfect present for anyone who likes Analog and hard SF, Twelve Tomorrows would also be good for any tech enthusiasts or devotees of PBS’s Nova on your list.
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Grim Oak Press, 364 pages, $28.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
Genre: Adventure SF, Cyberpunk, Streetpunk
Here’s something for both SF and fantasy readers. The story might entice SF readers to give the author a try, and the author might entice fantasy readers to visit the green pastures of science fiction.
To say that Terry Brooks is best known for his epic fantasy is like saying the Atlantic Ocean is best known for its water. Across 40 years and 35 books, Brooks has taken his Shannara series from well-written imitation Tolkien to a multifaceted, metaphysically-complex secondary universe beloved of millions. Now he’s turned his talents to science fiction.
The mean streets of this near-future Los Angeles are largely controlled by powerful corporations and an oppressive government that crushes all dissent.
Ash Collins is an ordinary teenager living a comfortable life when a video call from his father changes everything. “Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks. Don’t wait . . .” That’s all his father says before the call goes dead.
Two years ago Ash’s father told him that this day might come. He told Ash that in his work at the BioGen corporation, he had crossed a line, and one day they would come for him—and for Ash as well. When it happened, he’d tell Ash where to go.
Just then an armed squad bursts into the Collins home. Ash recognizes them as Achilles Pod, an elite organization that enforces the will of the corporations. When Achilles Pod is after you, people say, you don’t have long to live.
Following his father’s long-ago instructions, Ash grabs a dusty backpack from the laundry room and runs. His path leads from his 85th-floor apartment to the Red Zone, a forbidden area of the city that’s home to society’s dregs and outcasts. In a world in which genetics and robots challenge the definition of humanity, all the mongrels and mistakes and failed experiments wind up in the Red Zone.
The strangest of them are Street Freaks, the most exotic bio- and cyber-hybrids. Among them, Ash must avoid capture, solve the mystery his father left him, and find his place in a world grown strange. Oh, and fall in love.
Terry Brooks is a consummate storyteller. From the first page, Ash’s story captivates and drags the reader through an exotic, exciting world filled with dangers and wonders.
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Del Rey, 272 pages, $27.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $12.99 (e-book)
Series: Dragonriders of Pern
Genre: Animal Companions, Beloved Worlds
You must know someone—probably many someones—who’s a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. (Incidentally, that’s more of an imperative than an observation; if you don’t know a Pern fan, go out and find one. Your life will be better for it.)
The Pern series has a universal appeal that few other series can match. With all the flavor of romantic fantasy, the trappings of historical fiction, and the underpinnings of solid science fiction, Pern has something to offer just about every reader. Which once again raises the question of what’s wrong with Hollywood, that there hasn’t been a Dragonriders of Pern movie or miniseries . . . but I digress.
Anne McCaffrey, who died in 2011, passed the baton to her son and co-author Todd McCaffrey, whose most recent Pern book appeared in 2012.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Pern book, Dragonflight—which combined the novellas “Weyr Search” (Analog, October 1967) and “Dragonrider” (Analog, December 1967—January 1968). On this auspicious occasion, another of McCaffrey’s children has taken her place in the saddle: daughter Gigi McCaffrey.
Dragon’s Code returns to the era of the first Pern books, early in the Ninth Pass. It’s the story of a beloved character, the young Harper Piemur, during a part of his life that largely took place offstage in the earlier books.
An all-but-forgotten menace has come to the peaceful world Pern: Thread, filaments that fall from the sky and devour all organic material they touch. Only Pern’s fire-breathing dragons, and riders who direct them, can protect the world. Their ranks were augmented by the arrival of the Oldtimers: dragons and riders from four centuries ago, flown through time to save the day.
Most of the Oldtimers adjusted well to the present . . . but as time wears on, some of them have trouble with the change. Resentment and regret build.
Piemur, a student of Masterharper Robinton, is assigned to go undercover among the Oldtimers. On this mission, he discovers anger, tensions, and rebellion that threaten to tear Pern apart with the danger of dragons fighting dragons. When catastrophe strikes, Piemur must rise to the occasion and save the world.
Gigi McCaffrey tells a compelling story with everything a Pern fan expects: finely drawn characters (including some we’ve never met), action, intrigue, and compassion. As always, the planet Pern itself is as much a character as the humans and dragons that occupy it. Dragon’s Code gives a new perspective on familiar events, and does it in a way that any Pern fancier will be sure to enjoy.
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Candlemark & Gleam, 278 pages, $19.95 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $4.99 (e-book)
Genre: Space Opera
Fans of fun space opera are a sure audience for this book, but you might also consider giving it to anyone who likes stories of families, either biological or chosen. Those who fancy historical tales about mercantile dynasties would also enjoy it.
Twenty years ago, Velocity Wrachant fled Republic space, dominated by mighty dynastic Combines, to seek fortune and freedom as a merchant trader. Now she’s captain and owner of the starship Susan Calvin, leading a feisty crew of misfits and rogues. Broke and stranded on an out-of-the-way space station, she’s offered a job that could put them back on their feet.
Brontë Ikeda, a child of the ultra-powerful Ikeda Combine, wants Velocity and crew to sneak her into Republic space to extract several children held under illegal labor contracts. Despite mistrust of the Combine families, Velocity and her crew agree to what sounds like a simple mission.
Of course, things go sideways very quickly. The Susan Calvin’s crew is taken captive, and forced to fight in a dynastic struggle with another, more powerful Combine.
Meanwhile, a parallel story relates Velocity’s past life, explaining her background, showing why she left the Republic in the first place, and unraveling hidden strands still in play today.
Velocity and her crew are a fun bunch, the political and dynastic background of the Combines is deliciously Byzantine, and the action is nonstop.
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Alan Dean Foster
Del Rey, 305 pages, $27.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $13.99 (e-book)
Genre: Adventure SF, Far Future SF
Many long-time Analog readers (as well as a book reviewer or two) are approaching, or have reached, the life stage we affectionately call “getting up there.” Others have family or friends in the same circumstance. Relic deals with some of the concerns of older adults, and so would make an excellent present.
Of course, it’s Alan Dean Foster, so there are plenty of cinematic thrills and lots of action, so it will also appeal to less print-centric readers of all ages.
In the far future, after multiple interstellar Unions and Empires and Conclaves, after wars and plagues and the horrible time of the bioweapon known as the Aura Malignance, humanity is all but extinct.
Hundreds of alien races fill the galaxy. One of them, the Myssari, stumbled across the last human-settled world and managed to rescue one lone survivor: a man called Ruslan. Using superior biological knowledge and machinery, Myssari scientists restore and extend Ruslan’s life, leaving him healthy and alive as the last relic of the vanished human race.
What’s the last human being in the galaxy to do? Ruslan teaches his rescuers how to read and interpret the records left behind by his vanished civilizations; he helps them learn ore of human biology and psychology; he explains mysteries that they find in exploring the wreckage of human worlds. When the Myssasi offer him anything he wants, Ruslan requests that he be taken home . . . not to the settled world on which he was born and raised, but to the legendary lost home of all humanity: Earth.
From there it’s off on a far-future odyssey filled with action, danger, and heartbreak as only a master storyteller like Alan Dean Foster can produce.
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Gordon R. Dickson
Baen, 176 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.99 (e-book)
Genres: Mythological SF, Psychological/Sociological SF
Here’s one to give to an old-time SF reader, or someone who likes dark fantasy.
Back when I was a youngster haunting stores for Ace and DAW science fiction paperbacks, I formulated a rule of thumb that never failed me: “You can’t go wrong with a Gordon R. Dickson book.”
Well, it’s now . . . er . . . some years later, Dickson has been gone for nearly two decades, and both the field and my own tastes have expanded. Books are longer, morality is more complex, and social systems have changed. Still, Dickson does not disappoint.
First published in 1971, Sleepwalker’s World is out in a new edition. It’s not one of Dickson’s best-known or most important titles, but it has a certain breathless, slightly naive charm that you just don’t find in current SF.
In this future, Core Taps penetrating hundreds of miles into Earth’s crust have brought limitless energy, but at a price. The Core Taps interfere with human brain waves; every night, the population is driven into a deep, paralyzed sleep. At least, the vast majority of them.
Some people react differently, walking the night as ambulatory zombies, driven by inner compulsions to steal, vandalize, and murder. Since the zombies are so few and the benefits so great, society adjusts.
Until Rafe Harald, astronaut, returns to Earth to find a missing friend. Rafe is a Sleepwalker, immune to the influence of the Core Taps. Together with another Sleepwalker, and her bio-enhanced timber wolf Lucas, Rafe traces military conspirators to the ultimate danger, a millennia-old malevolent entity bent on destroying humanity. Of course, it’s up to Rafe and his friends to confront this evil.
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Among the Wild Cybers
Christopher L. Bennett
ESpec Books, 204 pages, $14.95 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $2.99 (e-book)
Genre: Short Fiction Collection
Short stories are, if you’ll pardon the expression, big nowadays. Among your friends and family, I’ll bet you have someone who frequently laments being too busy to read. Books of short stories are good presents for these people—almost anyone can find odd spaces of time to finish a short story. And Among the Wild Cybers is particularly accessible to readers who aren’t that familiar with SF.
Although Christopher L. Bennett has written over two dozen Star Trek books, you probably know him through his stories here in Analog. The most recent of his Hub Gate series, “Hubstitute Creatures,” appears in this very issue. All but one of the stories in Among the Wild Cybers are set in his Only Superhuman universe. Of the eight stories in this book, four of them appeared in Analog. (“Twilight’s Captives” in the January/February 2017 issue was the latest.) Bennett’s 2012 novel Only Superhuman, center-point of the same universe, is not included in this volume.
The themes of these stories range from AI and cybernetic life to conservation of new species to the life of superheroes. There are scientists, robots, diplomats, and detectives. Back-matter includes a history of the Only Superhuman universe, a glossary, and an afterword in which Bennett talks about the origins of the stories.
A good gift for anyone who reads Analog, and also for anyone who could benefit from a gentle introduction to science fiction in general.
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Hearts of Tabat
WordFire Press, 428 pages, $19.99 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (e-book)
Series: Tabat 2
Genre: Science Fantasy
Fantasy is everywhere these days: not just TV, movies, comics, and music, but also in genre fiction. Romance, mysteries, bestsellers, even westerns abound in elves, vampires, were-beasts of all sorts. It shouldn’t be hard for you to find someone to introduce to Cat Rambo’s magical city of Tabat.
The Tabat series, like McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, contains elements to appeal to both fantasy and SF readers. It’s clearly a world where magic is a powerful force—but the magic has a rational-seeming, technology-like aspect that feels very science fictional.
In Tabat, magical Beasts (unicorns, minotaurs, dryads, etc.) provide the labor that sustains the city. Oppressed and mistreated, the Beasts are developing political power just as there’s growing dissatisfaction among the wealthy merchants who rule the city. On all fronts, society is in upheaval.
The first Tabat book, Beasts of Tabat (2012) laid the groundwork for the various revolutions developing in the magical city. Hearts of Tabat continues the story through the eyes of gladiator Bella Kanto, exiled for sorcery; scholar Adeline Nettlepurse, caught up in a dangerous affair; and Merchant Mage Sebastiano Silvercloth, challenged by dwindling magical resources at the College of Mages. Watching these characters navigate the shifting tectonic plates of Tabat’s complex society is a joy.
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Robert Jackson Bennett
Crown, 512 pages, $27.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $13.99 (e-book)
Series: Founders 1
Genre: Science Fantasy
Here’s another fantasy that has some of the elements and flavor of science fiction. This would be a good gift for those who like epic fantasy, and also for any steampunk fanciers on your gift list.
Tevanne is a city that runs on industrialized magic. The technology called scriving uses coded commands to endow objects with a form of intelligence. The merchant houses who rule the city have control of scriving technology; using it, they’ve brought a society that echoes the worst excesses of the Industrial Age.
When master thief Sancia Grado is sent to liberate a magical artifact from a well-guarded warehouse on the docks, she doesn’t think twice. For a thief of her skill, it’s an easy job that promises fine rewards.
As it turns out, the artifact has nearly unlimited power to rewrite the very structure of reality. The merchant houses want that power, and they’ll stop at nothing to gain it—not even murder. Sancia’s on the run, in search of allies to protect her long enough to learn how to use the artifact to defend and preserve the city she loves.
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Not Here, Not Now
Lethe Press, 140 pages, $20.00 (trade paperback)
Kindle: $5.00 (e-book)
Genre: LGBT SF, Short Fiction Collection
If you have any LGBTQ people on your gift list, here’s a book they’ll probably appreciate. Likewise, readers of literary fiction should enjoy it.
Not Here, Not Now is a collection of thirteen pieces of short fiction—eleven short stories and two novellas. Some are SF, some fantasy, some horror, some historical fiction; they all share that quality we call “otherness”—use of characters and settings different from the mainstream, mundane world. (A lit-crit caution here: I’m using the term in its classic sense relating to the SF/fantasy world. In recent parlance, “otherness” has come to refer mainly to racial, gender, or cultural difference in the framework of the present-day real world.)
Alex Jeffers comes through the literary tradition, but he’s well aware of science fiction (for instance, he references Poul Anderson, Joanna Russ, Cordwainer Smith, and John Wyndham, so you can see he knows what he’s doing).
There are some fun stories here. Princes and barbarians, zombies, enchantments, a planet populated only by men. It’s a great way to sneak in some SF and fantasy and maybe leave the recipient wanting more.
Fair warning: a number of these stories were originally written for markets that featured erotica. If that’s not your thing, or if it’s not the thing of the person you’re giving it to, you might want to give it a pass.
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The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Volume 4
Edited by David Afsharirad
Baen, 355 pages, $16.00 (format)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $8.99 (e-book)
Series: Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF 4
Genre: Adventure SF, Military SF, Reprint Anthologies
For someone who likes military SF, there’s no better gift than The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF. This is the fourth volume in the series (the title has changed slightly through the years).
Fifteen stories by fifteen different authors. Only one appeared in Analog: Edward McDermott’s “The Snatchers” in the March/April 2017 issue. The others were first published in a variety of magazines (print and online) and anthologies.
The list of contributors is a who’s who of military (and military-adjacent) SF writers. Big names include Tony Daniel, Larry Niven, Jody Lynn Nye, Brad R. Torgersen, and David Weber; other names who’ve appeared in Analog include Suzanne Palmer, Martin L. Shoemaker, and Brian Trent.
Weber’s story, “Our Sacred Honor,” is set in his bestselling Honor Harrington universe; Jody Lynn Nye’s “Imperium Impostor” is a tale from her Imperium series.
Due to space constraints, I’m going to have to give this one short shrift. Editor David Afsharirad has good taste: there’s something for everyone in this volume.
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Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us
History Press, 368 pages, $27.95 (trade paperback)
Genre: About SF
Know someone who grew up on Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T., and Indiana Jones? Or someone who caught the fire in a later generation? Of course you do . . . why am I even asking?
This is the book for them.
Mark O’Connell is a British comedy writer and pop-culture pundit, and author of a previous book, Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan. He’s also a self-described “Spielberg kid” who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s in rural England.
Watching Skies is both a personal story of one kid’s movie-influenced childhood, and a universal story of how Lucas, Spielberg, and others changed Hollywood, the world, and the experience of childhood. O’Connell’s light, breezy style is a pleasure to read, making the book a real page-turner. If you make a gift of only one pop-culture-related memoir this year, make it Watching Skies.
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Well, my time is up. I’ll end by wishing you and yours the very happiest of year-end holidays, and all the best in 2019.
Don Sakers is the author of Dance for the Ivory Madonna, The Leaves of October, the Rule of Five serial at rule-of-5.com, and A Cosmos of Many Mansions, a collection based on previous columns. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com.
Copyright © 2018 Don Sakers