Kirkus: 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…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.
Locus: [THE LUMINOUS DEAD] is a survival story, a psychological thriller, and some of the best SFnal horror I’ve ever read. It’s a hell of a debut, and I can’t wait to see what Starling does next
Shelf Awareness: In the smart, extraordinary world that A.J. Hackwith has created, The Library of the Unwritten makes for an irresistible waking dream… Clever and full of sly, bookish humor, [it] is a delightful paean to knowledge and its power…. Funny, insightful and wildly magical, The Library of the Unwritten is sure to charm many readers, even those who don’t often venture into fantastical realms.
Publishers Weekly: The 27 intimate, thought-provoking stories of this doorstopper collection span over a decade of Hugo Award–winner Bear’s illustrious career. Though many of these offer glimpses into vast, intricate worlds, all are grounded in deep human feeling and small, interpersonal dramas, as with “Two Dreams on Trains,” which is set in a complex, futuristic vision of New Orleans and focuses on the clash between a mother’s hopes for her son and the boy’s goals for himself. In the emotional standout “Tideline,” a sentient war machine named Chalcedony, who was not programmed to feel emotion, uses her last reserves of energy to scour a beach for sea glass to turn into mourning jewelry in honor of her fallen human platoon. Bear’s protagonists range from machines (the living spaceships of “Boojum”) to the human (the tired homicide cop in “Dolly”) to the monstrous (the discontented vampire of “Needles”), but she crafts them all with huge helpings of empathy and heart. This excellent collection offers readers the chance to immerse themselves in Bear’s singular imagination.
The New York Times: Tamsyn Muir’s GIDEON THE NINTH is a devastating debut that deserves every ounce of hype it’s received, despite the bafflingly misleading marketing around it
Everything I read about Gideon the Ninth before publication seemed to suggest it would be a lighthearted wacky adventure, with much made of the tagline “lesbian necromancers in space”—but I experienced the book as meticulous and moody, full of anguish, haunted by difficult and complex feelings in a wasted universe. Muir marshals a gorgeous cast of characters to delirious effect in a perfectly paced haunted house murder mystery, but it’s less gonzo than it is Agatha Christie writing Gormenghast. Muir is fantastic at both humor and horror, not to mention moving me to tears. I should also note that Gideon the Ninth is not a romance, though queer longing abounds; it’s deft, tense and atmospheric, compellingly immersive and wildly original. It’s honestly perfect as both a satisfying stand-alone and the launch of a trilogy, and I can’t wait until the sequel lands next year.
Her genre-blending debut The Prey of Gods landed on the scene in 2017 with the self-same subtlety of a Roman candle stuck up your nose. Artificial intelligence and African folklore, mind control and murder, demigods and dik-diks, The Prey of Gods had has everything. Her sophomore effort, Temper, an Afrofuturist romp through a world in which your social identity is defined by your balance of vice and virtue, continued in the same audacious vein, plus twice the world-building.
Now comes Escaping Exodus, Drayden’s third novel, as pleasantly and characteristically bonkers as ever. Eschewing her established skill at tossing science fiction and fantasy together in a blender, she leans full into her Octavia Butler fineries and drops us aboard a city-size starship carved in the innards of a drifting space beast.
Seske and Adalla’s relationship is compelling and serves as the framework for all the plot to come (including a few wild tangents that complicate matters significantly), but it is this theme of environmental justice that is the novel’s central concern. As Seske learns to lead, she grapples with the devastating consequences of her people’s way of life to the beast that carries them. Adalla, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with the class inequality that fuels the system. These twin threads feel true enough to our own time, and thoroughly modern, while aligning with science fiction’s long history of climate-focused, socially conscious works.
Both threads are also entwined with one of Drayden’s recurring concerns: the construct of gender and the subversion of its norms. Gender fluidity and explorative sexuality are key components of The Prey of Gods. Here, Drayden likewise flips gender roles on their head by crafting a matriarchal society focused on containing the population: families are composed of multiple mothers and fathers but are limited to one child apiece, in a setup that feels reminiscent of Butler’s Xenogenesis series.
In opposition to contemporary daydreams of smashing the patriarchy, Drayden’s society is far from a utopia. It is cruel and rigid: gender norms haven’t vanished, they’ve reversed, with men treated as second-class citizens, considered disposable and deemed unfit for much more than housework and child-rearing. While the situation may sound cathartic to some readers, its reality is troublesome and counter-productive, an inequity sowing seeds of rebellion every bit as much as Adalla’s realizations galvanize the working class.
Life aboard this spacebeast is chaotic, the mess tolerated so long as it’s hidden beneath a certain set of creature comforts. The question before both Seske and Adalla is what to do when the mess finds it way to the light.
While that’s a pickle for the characters, it’s a playground for Drayden, whose specialty is narrative chaos. In a rather stuffed novel, her outsized sci-fi sensibilities enliven the worldbuilding while allowing her characters emotional room to grieve, to fight, and to love, believably and heart-achingly.
However you slice it, Escaping Exodus doesn’t follow the path you think it will, and neither does its author. And that’s the fun of it all.
SFX Magazine: This excellent debut weaves together magic, grave-robbing, and royal scandals….Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga build their world with meticulous care, and the plotting is rich and cunning.… A story and characters to savour, in a world painted in vivid detail.
Publishers Weekly: Polk follows her gaslamp fantasy Witchmark with a superb sequel blending political intrigue, witchcraft, and queer romance…. Polk’s ambitious world-building never encumbers her assured, action-packed pacing, deep characters, and genuine emotion. This delectable treat is a worthy follow-up to her debut.
B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog: There are pleasurable echoes of the cozy apocalypses of Neil Gaiman in The Library of the Unwritten…. The Library of the Unwritten details a fascinating, frenetic world. The library contains multitudes, just waiting to be written.
Booklist: Trimoboli and Zaloga skillfully deliver a debut that uses alchemy to combine scientific logic, magical elements, and a whodunnit that gives off Sherlock Holmes-ian, gaslamp vibes…. [A]rtfully written from dual perspectives but with one fluid style, and will appeal to readers of sf, fantasy, and historical mystery, or those who just can’t choose.