I’ve no idea if I’ll keep this up, but it doesn’t seem like too much to tiptoe back onto the blog with one small monthly feature. I’m still chugging along with weekly release picks over on reddit, but I haven’t tried to go back and pick the “picks of the picks” for a month in a long, long time, and, hey, this gives me a chance to put in pretty pictures again! Anyway, here’s the first in what I hope is a monthly column this year, of use especially to those really looking for one or two recommendations, and (for the “most missing” roundup) audiobook publishers looking for a stray gem. For the full, far-too-much-at-length, probably, weekly roundups, see: January 2, January 9, January 16, January 23, and January 30. (For the purposes of my sanity, I’m going to ignore books out on January 31 until February’s installment, ok? OK.)
PICKS OF THE MONTH
Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel by Ahmed Saadawi, read by Edoardo Ballerini and Kaleo Griffith for Penguin. The novel was Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Winner of France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy, and here it’s published in English in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original, and? it’s just plain brilliant. “From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, Hadi – a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café – collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive – first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path.”
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire, read by Michelle Dockrey for Macmillan is book 3 of McGuire’s wonderful “Wayward Children” series which began with the Alex, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning, World Fantasy Award finalist Every Heart a Doorway. With Beneath the Sugar Sky the series gets its third different narrator, and some new characters to go along with some of our now dear and familiar faces.
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor, read by Robin Miles for Tantor sees one of my most missing audiobooks of 2017 arrive just in time. Whew! I was worried we wouldn’t get book 2 in audio in time to re-“read” before the release of the third book in the series, but here it was, very, very happily once again under the narration of Robin Miles, though perhaps a bit strangely having moved from Macmillan to Tantor. “It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she found friendship in the unlikeliest of places. And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders. But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace. After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?”
Hush: Book Two of the Dragon Apocalypse by James Maxey, narrated by Jake Urry — First published back in 2012, I’m so very happily re-visiting these books in audio. Greatshadow arrived at Audible late last year just when I really, really needed it, and once again Urry brings this huge cast to wonderful life, with deft post-production touches that really nail every single characterization. Bring on the rest of the series, in due time! “The invulnerable, super-strong warrior, Infidel, has a secret: she’s lost her magical powers right at the moment when she needs them most. To keep a promise to a fallen friend, she must journey to the frozen wastelands of the north. Her quest leads her through the abstract realms of the Sea of Wine, where she uncovers a conspiracy that threatens all life. Hush, the primal dragon of cold, has formed an alliance with the ghost of a vengeful witch to murder Glorious, the dragon of the sun, plunging the world into an unending winter night. Without her magical strength, can Infidel possibly survive her battle with Hush? If she fails to save Glorious, will the world see another morning?”
I really, really want to listen to everything! but I just can’t. Here’s what I most wish I’d gotten to last month:
Red Clocks: A Novel by Leni Zumas, read by Erin Bennett and Karissa Vacker for Hachette — “In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.”
Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds, read by John Lee for Hachette — “A smoldering tale of murderers, secret cultists, tampered memories, and unthinkable power, of bottomless corruption and overpowering idealism from the king of modern space opera. Ten thousand city-state habitats orbit the planet Yellowstone, forming a near-perfect democratic human paradise. But even utopia needs a police force. For the citizens of the Glitter Band that organization is Panoply, and the prefects are its operatives.”
Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book Of Fantasy edited by Jonathan Strahan, read by Lucien Dodge, Susan Hanfield, Jamie Renell, Peter Altschuler, Merritt Hicks, and Michael Welch for Recorded Books — “An amazing array of the most popular and exciting names in Fantasy are set to appear in the first in a brand new series of Fantasy anthologies featuring original fiction, from the master editor Jonathan Strahan. The authors appearing in the launch volume include Trudi Canavan, Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Abraham, Kate Elliott, Saladin Ahmed, Glen Cook, Scott Lynch, Ellen Klages, Ellen Kushner & Ysabeau Wilce, Jeffrey Ford, Robert Redick, and KJ Parker.”
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All: Stories by Laird Barron, read by Ray Porter for Audible — “Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel, The Croning, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron’s stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year’s best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards. Barron returns with his third collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror, including “Blackwood’s Baby”, “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven”, and “The Men from Porlock”, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.”
Honorable Mentions: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft, read by John Banks for Hachette (a mild-mannered school headmaster of a small village school must navigate the mysteries of the Tower of Babel to find his wife) and Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff, read by Stephanie Einstein for Harper (set in a near future society in which “right” and “wrong” are forcibly manifested by beauty and ugliness).
FROM THE BACKLIST
One of the many reasons I can’t listen to everything, every month, is, of course, that I do circle back and get to some of the books I’ve “most missed” in previous months! When I get to an audiobook that I really, really rate highly, I’ll include this section in the monthly The Audiobookaneer. It just so happens that, this month, I have two such titles to mention:
The Beautiful Ones: A Novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by P.J. Ochlan for Macmillan is unlike any of Moreno-Garcia’s work I’ve encountered before. I’m convinced her publishers have not figured out how to describe or market her work, as going by the cover, the title, and the official book description you might think this is “merely” a romance novel with a bit of telekinesis for flavor, perhaps a slightly more cosmopolitan Shades of Milk and Honey (Mary Robinette Kowal’s lovely Glamourist Histories novel). But! While I do think that fans of Kowal’s work would feel absolutely at home with The Beautiful Ones, there’s also a bit more sizzle and bite, here, pushing the novel’s natural companionship a bit further down an imaginary axes towards Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s Swordspoint novels. I think I can also safely recommend this book (and audiobook, Ochlan does quite well for himself here, with various accents for both male and female voices) to fans of Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series.
A Wizard of Earthsea: The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1 by Ursula K. Le Guin, read by Rob Inglis for Recorded Books is, of course, an absolute classic. The world lost one of its greatest authors in Le Guin last month, and I got to thinking about this lovely book, realizing my actual memories of it were paper thin atop warm feelings and emotional memory. Inglis does a wonderful job evoking the book’s fictional existence as a fable, a long-forgotten legend, gathering us around the fire. “The first book of Earthsea is a tale of wizards, dragons and terrifying shadows. The island of Gont is a land famous for wizards. Of these, some say the greatest – and surely the greatest voyager – is the man called Sparrowhawk. As a reckless, awkward boy, he discovered the great power that was in him – with terrifying consequences. Tempted by pride to try spells beyond his means, Sparrowhawk lets loose an evil shadow-beast in his land. Only he can destroy it, and the quest leads him to the farthest corner of Earthsea.”
I know that audiobook publishers can’t pick up literally everything, but here’s the handful I most wish they had found time for last month:
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com) — Along with Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion my two most-wanted of the Tor.com novellas not (yet?) available in audio: “A heart-wrenching alternative history that imagines an intersection between the Radium Girls and noble, sentient elephants. In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island. These are the facts. Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice.”
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com) — I’m guessing we will eventually, hopefully hear this, hopefully narrated by Robin Miles as were parts 1 and 2, but I don’t see any mention of the title either from Macmillan Audio or Tantor. Please, some audiobook publisher out there, make my listening dreams come true, ok? “The concluding part of the highly-acclaimed science fiction trilogy that began with Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning BINTI. Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.”
Anthology: The Cackle of Cthulhu edited by Alex Shvartsman (Baen Books) — A parody/tribute anthology to the Lovecraftian Mythos, with new stories by (among others) Nick Mamatas (a Colleen Danzig story, so we see what’s up with the protagonist of his novel I Am Providence), and reprints from (among others) Ken Liu and Neil Gaiman.
Anthology: Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe — “A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies? Featuring an incredible line-up of authors including John Scalzi, Catherynne M. Valente, Ken Liu, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Jonathan Maberry, and many more.”