Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.

THE BEST OF ELIZABETH BEAR

From the award-winning author of The Red-Stained Wings (2019, etc.), a collection of 27 tales published between 2005 and 2019, spanning most of Bear's career.

Readers familiar with Bear's novels soon learn to expect the unexpected, with characters, worlds, and ideas eyed from drastically skewed perspectives. Who else would dream up a lactating vampire to whom the sun is no enemy, as Bear did in "Needles"? Or imagine a mortal Loki, banished from the Norse pantheon, as a god of rock music, as in "Hobnoblin Blues"? Mark Twain makes a guest appearance in a chewy murder mystery, "The Body of the Nation," set in the author's remarkable New Amsterdam universe and featuring the splendid Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett. We're offered an early yet highly effective glimpse of the universe that will evolve into the stunning Steles of the Sky series, "Love Among the Talus," while "Okay, Glory" shows us a reclusive, solipsistic genius forced to reinvent himself and the AI that's imprisoning him. Elsewhere, "The Bone War," Bear's wry commentary on the real-world Bone Wars between 19th-century paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, evokes a wide grin. Two tales would wring tears from a stone: "Tideline," about a dying battle machine whose last purpose is to memorialize her dead crew members, and "Orm the Beautiful," an exquisitely fashioned fable of the last dragon—that's also, possibly, a genuflection to Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea tales. Not everything here is a howling success, though. Even Bear's formidable talents can't always rescue creaky ideas from banality: Tubercular dentist Doc Holliday investigates a crashed alien spaceship ("Faster Gun"); gigantic Zeppelin-like Jovians rescue foolhardy human scientists ("The Deeps of the Sky"); and an amoral mercenary gets his comeuppance ("Perfect Gun"). A handful of others are more effect than story or strain to make a point. While Bear doesn't preach or hector, there's a message implicit in much of the work here: As individuals and as a species, we adapt, or we die.

Eclectic and insightful, mostly, and well worth dipping into.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59606-940-4

Page Count: 568

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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