7 Super Spec-fic Books for Your Summer
Summer’s mostly over, but not completely.
Sure, July is almost finished, but we still have August, right? And in the upcoming weeks, there’s still plenty of time to get your summer reading in. (These seven speculative fiction books, for example.) I know I normally rank these book lists, but all of the ones on this list are so awesome, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Sure, there are parts of some that I enjoy more than others, but that’s because they’re all a bit different. Some are more serious, while some are completely silly. (I’m looking at you, Yahtzee.) There are happy moments in these stories, and grim ones, and some that seem like they’d be extremely scary, but are told in such a way that it’s funny, and thinking about that dichotomy creeps you out even further. (Still looking at you, Yahtzee.) Some I’ve read before, and some are brand new. In any case, I enjoyed each of these books, and I think that you’ll enjoy them as well.
1) The Fractal Prince — Hannu Rajaniemi
I’ve written about Rajaniemi’s work before (last July, in fact!) and this one is set in the same post-human/singularity universe as The Quantum Thief. It also features Jean le Flambeur, Rajaniemi’s master thief extraordinaire. Jean is still hanging out with Mieli, the Oortian barbarian and her ship, Perhonen, and the trio is headed to Earth to search for something extremely valuable: the mind of a Sobornost founder. A copy of it, at least. I found The Fractal Prince to be a bit more difficult to read than The Quantum Thief, though that’s par for the course with Rajaniemi. He’s not one for exposition, and if mentally working your way through how a far-future society deals with wild computer viruses that can rewrite reality (not to mention super-minds that plan on converting all matter in the universe into virtual reality), then you might want to avoid this book. Then again, if you like thinking about a post-singularity world, using traditional magical structures to handle computer simulations sounds neat, and the idea of copying your mind into so many iterations that you form your own people, then The Fractal Prince should be right up your alley.
2) The Sword & Sorcery Anthology — David G. Hartwell & Jacob Weisman
In the words of Conan the Barbarian (at least, the one from the 1982 movie), here’s what’s best in life: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” And you’ll see plenty of that sort of thing in this anthology of sword and sorcery stories. The tales of derring-do run the gamut in age from those written by Robert E. Howard and his contemporaries (so, around the 30s and 40s) all the way up to George R.R. Martin. Obviously some of the older stories are a bit problematic in terms of their authors outlooks on race/gender, but I was pleased to find some strong female protagonists in there too. “Become a Warrior” by Jane Yolen, for example, features a young girl whose father–the king–is slain in battle, and rather than become the prize of the conquering army, she strikes out into the wilderness to grow in power (and plan her revenge). “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlín R. Kiernan is another story to defy expectation, and not just in the “women can be strong characters too” category, but also because it shows that someone can physically be a monster but that doesn’t mean their behavior has to be monstrous. My favorite story in the collection was Glen Cook’s “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat.” It tells the tale of a man from the vaunted Demon Guard, a man skilled with the blade and with magic, a man who’s killed more times than he can count…and who’s tired of it. He eventually finds himself in a small village on the edge of a frontier, and lends his many skills to a family there (because there’s more to him than killing). And yet…when a witch threatens the village and her men burn down a home, the man from the Demon Guard must make a choice if he’s to protect the people he cares about.
3) Lovecraft’s Monsters — Ellen Datlow
The second short story collection on my list, “Lovecraft’s Monsters” is a must-read for any fans of the Cthulhu Mythos. For those of you not familiar with the Mythos, please say “Hastur Hastur Hastur” while looking into a dark mirror and a representative will be along shortly to familiarize you with the genre. Alternatively, you could click on the link above, or read the following brief description. Essentially, the Cthulhu Mythos is a shared universe centered around the world created by HP Lovecraft. It features dark, otherworldly creatures, but not in a vampires/werewolves “otherworldly” sense. Instead, Lovecraft’s monsters are strange things from beyond the stars, usually so strange that human beings who encounter them go mad from the experience. This collection, put together by Ellen Datlow, features stories set in this shared universe, and most of them are pretty creepy. In one, a woman who can communicate with animals is asked to connect with people from the town of Innsmouth (who gradually turn into fish-human hybrids over time). In another (rather Steampunkish) tale, a group of explorers sets out into the jungle to rescue an English rose in their mechanical craft, only to learn that something evil lurks in the dark lake they find. And in my favorite story of the whole collection, “Black as the Pit from Pole to Pole” by Stephen Utely, we follow Frankenstein’s monster after the end of Shelley’s novel. Unsatisfied with life and unable to die, the monster finds himself travelling through the bowels of a Hollow Earth (a once-popular theory of terrestrial geology). He battles strange and sundry creatures as he does so, ranging from great apes to giant amoebas. The monster ranges from despair to rage to love, but it is not his place to stay happy for long. Still he carries on, (probably why the title of the piece comes from “Invictus“).