Hello and happy Tuesday, chrononauts and Kryptonians! Today we’re talking about the Dune cast (again), a new movie about J.R.R. Tolkien, Chinese sci-fi, The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas, and more.
This newsletter is brought to you by Tor Books, proud publisher of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons.
Read the epic fantasy debut of the year. What if your destiny was not to save the world, but to destroy it? When a young thief is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, he finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless ambitions. Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, calls The Ruin of Kings “Everything epic fantasy should be: rich, cruel, gorgeous, brilliant, enthralling and deeply, deeply satisfying.” Read The Ruin of Kings, available now wherever books are sold. For more info follow @torbooks.
Book news is light today, but as always there is plenty of adaptation news:
Have you already seen the Tolkien biopic trailer? I mentioned that Nicholas Holt is playing J.R.R. himself, and this teaser is way more magical than I was expecting (a failure of imagination on my part, clearly).
In the latest from the increasingly high-profile Dune casting news, Jason Momoa is in talks to play Duncan Idaho. I continue to not how how to feel, since these are all interesting actors, but none of them are matching up to my headcanon.
It’s another great week for exciting new releases:
Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited by Ken Liu
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
The Rising: The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant
And here are your ebook deals for the week (or at least, at the time of this sending):
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (a classic) is $1.99.
Wild Seed by Octavia Buttler (Patternist #1) is $1.99 (do recommend)!
In today’s review: This is your brain. This is your brain on chronology.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Trigger warnings: self-harm, suicidal ideation, hazing, eating disorders
This debut novel was pitched to me as Hidden Figures plus time travel, and that’s a pretty solid pitch; it is, in fact, a novel about diverse women in STEM — some of color, some queer — who invent time travel. It’s also a locked-room murder mystery with a multi-narrator, multi-timeline, Gordian knot of a structure. While I occasionally found some moments of exposition on the clunky side, on the whole this book was a delight to read — a delving of the human psyche when faced with the power to go anywhere, anywhen.
In 1967, scientists Kate, Barbara, Lucille, and Grace combine their specialties and really, actually invent time travel with remarkably little fuss. When both animal and human trials prove successful, they go public — but in the process, Barbara suffers a nervous breakdown. Steely, practical Margaret decides to cut Barbara off from the project permanently, setting in motion a chain of events that will unfold over the next four decades.
In 2017, the women’s project has grown into The Conclave, an independently governed, incredibly powerful organization that controls all time travel. Its employees are an elite band, bonded together by hazing as well as the unique nature of their job. And when an unidentified woman is found dead in the locked boiler room of a toy museum, all signs point back to The Conclave. Who is she and how did she die? The cast of characters swept up in these questions each have their own motivations and secrets, and some have more to hide — and more power to do so — than others.
I’m hard-pressed to say whether Ruby, Barbara’s granddaughter, or Odette, the young woman who finds the body, were my favorite characters; it’s a close tie. But in fact, each and every character drew me in in their own way, whether through horrified fascination, sympathy, or charm. Mascarenhas’s strength is, as the title says, in imagining how the human psyche might be impacted by, adapt to, and change with time travel. What gets lost and what gets magnified? What strange and terrible effects might it have on a person? What beautiful ones?
Time loops, paradoxes, legal battles, friendships broken and forged, love lost and found, soft and hard sciences; this book has a ton going on. If you’re willing to buckle up and hang tight through all the twists and turns, I think you’ll find it’s worth the ride.
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,