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Notable Books

Books | Four recent works of speculative fiction

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

Raising Steam

By Terry Pratchett

In this 40th stand-alone Discworld novel, Moist von Lipwig has already successfully created the Bank, the Mint, and the Post Office for the cosmopolitan city-state of Ankh-Morpork. When a young engineer comes to town with an idea for a steam-powered engine, benevolent dictator Lord Vetinari taps the scoundrel-turned-bank-manager to gently usher in the new transportation technology. Moist is soon caught between inevitable technological progress and a dwarf-led opposition. The immensely funny adventure seamlessly blends slapstick, irony, satire, and word play to capture the wonder of technology and ruminate on its societal consequences. Cautions: some swearing for comic effect and a rare innuendo.

Red Rising

By Pierce Brown

Darrow is a low-class Red in the Neo-Roman empire of planet Mars. When he and his wife are executed for viewing the forbidden stars, Darrow arises from his grave reborn a high-class Gold and a potential leader for the coming Red revolution. But first he must pass the Institute, a mettle-testing training ground for elite Golds. Those who pass live, those who don’t die. Darrow must not only survive, but also lead his House to victory. Will he do so through fear and intimidation, as Golds do, or can he find another way? This riveting story ponders how good men can lead in an evil world. Pitting autocracy against democracy, selfishness against selflessness, and cowardice against heroism, this novel melds The Hunger Games with Game of Thrones. Cautions: expletives, innuendo, and graphic violence. 

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

By Marie Brennan

Isabella has always loved dragon biology and morphology, but society does not deem such scientific pursuits proper for a young lady. When a chance encounter leads Isabella to Jacob, a young man with similar passions, they embark on an expedition to study dragons in their native habitat. Jacob and Isabella’s intellectual and marital partnership provides a good example of love under trial as they experience danger at the hands of animals and people who fear that knowledge of dragonkind’s nature could upset the regional balance of power. Brennan’s elegant voice captures the flavor of Victorian-era scientific adventure. The self-deprecating first-person memoir-style narration keeps the plot lively and entertaining.

The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies 

By Clark Ashton Smith

Smith was a prolific writer of short stories, prose poems, and poetry—all in a fantastic vein—throughout the 1930s. While contemporaries like William Faulkner or James Joyce espoused a modernist view of the world, Smith saw a cosmic struggle in which evil was a powerful force. He renders real this otherworldly evil in horror stories of a haunted pond of “Genius Loci,” a necromancer in “The Dark Eidolon,” and a monster in “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.” Smith evokes his imaginary worlds through vivid sensory detail and the use of archaic language. Like Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, Smith shows that evil is never trifling and will consume those attracted to it. Cautions: “Mother of Toads” contains grotesque sexual imagery.

Spotlight

Larry Correia
Handout
Larry Correia

The annual Hugo Awards are the premier prizes in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Supporters of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) nominate and vote on them. This year there is controversy because Larry Correia, a Mormon and self-described “right-leaning libertarian”—often outspoken in his criticisms of liberals—proposed nominees in each category. When seven of Correia’s candidates, including the oft-vilified Vox Day (Theodore Beale), made the final ballot, his critics immediately called for a “No Award” vote, to protest Correia and Day’s political and moral stances. John Scalzi, former president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and a Hugo winner, attempted to quell the hubbub by calling for each nominated work to be “judged solely by its artistic merits.” Nonetheless, the “No Award” calls continue, though other nominees are not connected to Correia. Winners will be announced Aug. 17. —J.O.

John Ottinger III
John Ottinger III

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