Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Nov 30

Hello and happy Friday, centaurs and cyborgs! Today we’re talking SF/F sub-genres, dinosaurs, Margaret Atwood news, ASoIaF, and more.

This newsletter is sponsored by Yen Press.

The Empire can be seductive, particularly if you’re an aspiring young pilot… Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree both know this very well when they enroll Imperial Academy, eager to pursue their dreams. When Thane discovers the darker side of the Empire, though, and defects to the Rebellion, the pair’s lifelong friendship will be put to the ultimate test. Will Thane and Ciena’s relationship — or even they themselves — survive this galactic conflict…?

Normally I save the news for Tuesdays, but this one’s a big’un: Margaret Atwood has declared she will write a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Did you know “low fantasy” was a thing? Because I sure didn’t! But I’m 100% behind the foundational concept, and a lot of those books are great reads, so I will accept this argument. (Side note: does that mean urban fantasy is a sub-genre of low fantasy?)

If you followed along with our SFF Yeah! book club for Rosewater by Tade Thompson — or if you just read it — you’ll want to check out this great interview with Thompson about his reading habits, inspirations, and what is coming next.

This is the kind of real world & SF/F crossover I live for: a newly discovered dinosaur has been named after Thanos! On purpose!! Carry on, paleontology nerds.

If you were on the fence, Chris Lough over at thinks you should DEFINITELY read Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin: “I haven’t enjoyed a Song of Ice and Fire book this much since A Storm of Swords.”

I got distracted this week, as you will see below, so instead of a review we’ve got a sub-genre round-up!

I’d never heard of hopepunk before this essay by Alexandra Rowland made the rounds in the Insiders forum, but now it has my attention. This, in particular, caught my eye:

Hopepunk isn’t pristine and spotless. Hopepunk is grubby, because that’s what happens when you fight. It’s hard. It’s filthy, sweaty, backbreaking work that never ends. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t noble, and it isn’t nice, though I expect the natural inclination (and even my own instinctive inclination) is to make it so—to forget the word “radical” in the phrase “radical kindness,” to forget the “punk” part of “hopepunk,” which is really the operative half of the word. To forget the anger of it and let it soften, because softness is what we’re aching for. We want the world to be better—kinder, more just, more merciful. We still yearn toward noblebright, toward an honest and desperate belief that love conquers all. Except, when the other guy has more guns and fewer moral objections than we do, it doesn’t.

Have I read any hopepunk? I’m trying in my head to distinguish between this and, for example, Becky Chambers’ books — which aren’t about defeating an oppressive regime, which I think is what makes them so restful, but are about people finding kindness and family, so let’s continue to call that cozy sci-fi. But since I can’t stop thinking about it, here’s my current approximation of a (short) hopepunk reading list. These books walk the line between documenting injustice and making you believe that, truly, humanity can be kind, hope is real, and while the war is never truly over, battles can be won. Arranged in order of least-dark to wow-things-get-really-dark-wow.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk
a blue-toned city street with trees and a cobblestone road, with a silhoutte of a man wearing a bowler on a bicycle. a woman and another man are reflected on the street in the shadow of the bike.A veteran soldier-turned-doctor is fighting to save returning soldiers from a malicious form of PTSD in this Edwardian-esque fantasy. He’s also hiding from someone, when a murder victim falls into his lap. His search for the truth about the murder and his patients takes him deep into danger and conspiracy; full review here.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
A young woman in a motorcycle gang on a corporate-controlled planet finds herself drawn into an intergalactic battle when her family is threatened by mysterious forces. Full review here.

The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt
a space ship and space station positioned in front of a blue planet with ringsA mercenary crew find an impossibly old spacecraft — and a survivor — and then witness the destruction of an entire space station. Their quest for justice takes them farther than they could ever have guessed. Full review here.

Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
A group of teenaged rebels plots to bring down the council that rules by prophecy and violence — and must face dissension in their own ranks. Full review here.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
A young mother living in a near-future Toronto gets pulled into a gang’s struggle for power by her no-good ex-boyfriend, and that struggle turns out to be supernatural as well as earthly. Full review here.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
stone sky by NK Jemisin coverI KNOW I KNOW I don’t even have to say it, but JUST IN CASE! Full review here.

The Machineries of Empire Trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee
I don’t care if you’re tired of hearing me talk about these, they are So. Good. Full review here.

Bonus: if you need some hopepunk for your ears, Polygon has a podcast listening list.

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, or on Twitter as jennIRL.

Your fellow booknerd,