Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships June 6

Happy Friday, explorers and Erinyes! Today I’m reviewing All Systems Red by Martha Wells and Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, and talking about July releases, grimdark, audiobooks, and more.

This newsletter is sponsored by Flatiron Books and Legendary by Stephanie Garber.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and the time to repay the debt has come.

Need some great reads this month? Swapna rounds up some of July’s new releases to consider, including Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (which I’ll be talking about next week!).

Prefer moral complexity to clear right and wrong? Here’s some grimdark for you. And while I’d never seen NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season classified this way before, I’m hard-pressed to disagree with the rationale.

Need basically the opposite of grimdark? Have some funny fantasy! (Shout-out to Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series, they are the perfect summer reads.)

SFF for your earholes: If you’re heading out on a road trip, to the beach, on a plane, or cannot summon the energy to physically turn pages because this heat is just TOO MUCH, Alex has some fantasy audiobook suggestions for you.

Adaptations update! Here’s an overview on of what’s in process right now. It is helpfully organized by release date, so go ahead and mark your calendars. (I can’t believe they are rebooting Gambit AGAIN.)

D&D alignments were my original Hogwarts-House sorting, so I was delighted with this post on kids book character alignments! Harriet is totally true-neutral.

It seems like we’ve seen every bit of sci-fi swag there is, and then a new Book Fetish post comes out. That Black Panther tote!!!!

Today in reviews we’ve got a found family plus AI and a family of origin plus werewolves.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

a suited, helmeted figure stands in a field surround by tall trees, with planetary rings showing in the skyIt only took a bajillion awards and the repeated insistence of various Book Riot Insiders for me to finally read All Systems Red, and I am happy to finally be on this bandwagon.

Despite the ominous name of the series, it’s surprisingly light on gore. All Systems Red follows the self-described Murderbot (technically a cyborg programmed to be a security guard) as it works to protect an exploratory team of humans on an uninhabited planet. This becomes very complicated when their comms go down, and dangers start to come from the least expected places. There are gun-battles, giant worms, and plots aplenty, but it’s ultimately more optimistic and fun than anything else — ideal summer reading.

It is a novella, so telling you much more about the story would be very spoilery. Instead, I will tell you that Wells envisions her AI character with wit and panache. Imagine if Spock and a computer had a painfully shy baby that just wanted to watch K-dramas all the time — that is Murderbot, more or less. Add to that the dynamics of the crew as they interact (or don’t) with their security bot and struggle to understand its personhood, and you’ve got a heartfelt, captivating story with great action and pacing. And there are sequels! Artificial Condition is out now, Rogue Protocol will be out on August 7, and Exit Strategy will be out in October.

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Trigger warning: domestic violence, body horror

an illustration with a red-tinged silhouette of a wolf in the foreground and a standing person in front of power lines and a car against a yellow backgroundWe did an Octavia Butler read-alikes show on Get Booked recently, and I picked Mongrels for my Fledgling comp. I do not take comparisons to Octavia Butler lightly, but this book blew me away. Let me tell you a little bit about why.

In the same way that Butler took the vampires trope (traditionally white, traditionally romanticized) and exploded it, Graham Jones takes the werewolf trope and turns it inside out. Sometimes literally — this book is gross. Just flat-out gross. I’m not much of one for body horror, and have put books down for similar reasons, but somehow Mongrels kept pulling me back in, even as I cringed away.

The story follows a young boy who lives with his aunt and uncle (siblings, not a couple) as they constantly move from place to place, trying to outrun the law both for their actions as humans and potential discovery of their werewolf nature. As of yet, our narrator has shown no signs of inheriting the ability to change — and it’s all he wants in the world, even as he sees how difficult it makes life for his relatives. The stories that have been handed down to him, the truths that they conceal, and the realities of life when magic is mundane, all swirl together to form a thoroughly captivating narrative.

It’s a messy, complicated, hardscrabble life that Graham Jones has given his characters, and one that many will recognize. Right and wrong have almost no meaning for these characters; there is only survival, from one day to the next. And yet their love for each other and their fundamental humanity makes it impossible to dismiss them, if not flat-out love them like I ultimately did. This book is a stunner, and you should read it immediately.

And that’s a wrap! You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Stay frosty,