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New and Noteworthy

There's no shortage of product on the shelves. The problem is finding the titles that are worth your time. In addition to our more extensive feature reviews, the SF Site keeps you up-to-date on the latest book arrivals with the New and Noteworthy column. This month we look at the Helix line of science fiction comics from DC Comics, and a smattering of new book releases.

Helix

We've seen a lot of science fiction comics over the years. Most of them are superhero comics with a higher percentage of robots, or pale imitations of the 1950's Weird Science line from EC comics. Not so with the Helix imprint from DC comics. These books are true science fiction, written by such names as Lucius Shepard, Howard Chaykin, and Christopher Hinz, and illustrated by the likes of Timothy Truman and John Totleben. DC has put together an excellent website to introduce you to the line, which includes the Helix Comic Book VR Headset, artwork and sample pages from each of the books, and the chance to play their Cyberstacker Game. If you haven't given them a look before, now's your chance.


New Releases

Every month we look at the review copies coming through our office and search for a theme. Sometimes it's easy -- five or more King Arthur tales published in a single month, and we string tournament banners around the office and shout "Excaliber!" at everyone who comes through the door. Six or more books with "Dragon" in the title and we pull out our our battered H. R. Puffinstuff icon and offer a small sacrifice. On the months when both occur... well, I'd rather not get in to that.

But it's the rare months where there's no obvious theme that are the most exciting -- when the mix of books crossing our desks includes a majority of original, stand-alone, and distinctive work. Then we're not jousting with aluminum swords or playing with stuffed dragons -- we're too busy reading. So far, July is shaping up to be one of those months. Below is a sample of some of the recent arrivals that have generated the most interest.

Crown Duel (The Crown & Court Duet Book 1, Harcourt Brace, 214 pages, $17), by Sherwood Smith, is a refreshing fantasy from the author of the Wren series, including Wren's Quest and Wren to the Rescue (as well as the five-volume Exordium SF series, co-authored with Dave Trowbridge). When the young Countess Meliara and her brother swear to their dying father that they will defend their people from the growing greed of the king, they are filled with youthful exuberance -- an exuberance which is sorely tested in the months to come, as the promise leads them to war... and worse. A charming young adult fantasy with just the right touch of magic.

Brad Linaweaver and Edward E. Kramer have joined forces to bring out one of the most focused original anthologies in years: Free Space (Tor, 352 pages, $24.95). These unabashed space adventure stories, from such heavyweights as Poul Anderson, Greg Benford, and Robert Sawyer, deal with the challenges posed by a limitless and truly virgin frontier. This is a politically astute volume with an unapologetic libertarian viewpoint, and the editors have even tapped the winners of the Prometheus Award of the Libertarian Futurist Society -- including L. Neil Smith, James P. Hogan, and Brad Linaweaver -- to produce the backbone of the anthology. With additional contributions from such pundits as William F. Buckley, Jr. (and a dedication to the parents of Robert A. Heinlein), you get a pretty clear idea of which side of the "Free Space" argument the volume will land on well before starting the first tale. An original and thought-provoking collection.

Not everyone wants to round out their evenings with a charged volume that's going to generate an argument at the dinner table. If you're looking for a smooth writing style, and memorable tales of mystery and innocence with an undercurrent of dark fantasy, we heartily recommend The Trial of Anna Cotman and The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, by Vivian Alcock (Houghton Mifflin, 218 and 187 pages, $6.95). These books firmly remind us why we started reading fantasy in the first place. Featuring original characters and a straightforward style, these attractive and independent volumes have sent us scrambling to find her earlier work. We'll have a full review in coming issues.

The Plague Tales (Delacorte Press, 474 pages, $23.95), by Ann Benson, is another original work of genre fiction from an unexpected source. Benson is a product development consultant who began her writing career with bestselling books on crafts. With this book she arrives on the scene as a full-fledged science fiction writer, bringing with her a deft touch rarely found in hard SF. The Plague Tales follows two timelines: Europe during the Black Death, as fourteenth-century physician Alejandro Canches -- caught performing an autopsy in Spain -- is forced to flee across a blighted landscape to escape execution, and twenty-first century England, where medical archaeologist Janie Crowe digs up an unusual soil sample and unleashes a plague upon the world, the like of which hasn't been seen in nearly 700 years.

And lastly we have / (called Slant in those circles where orphaned punctuation is considered difficult to pronounce), by Greg Bear (Tor, $24.95). Those of you who remember Queen of Angels, Bear's groundbreaking work of hard SF from 1990 will probably already have scooped up a copy. Set in the same universe, this picks up the near-future tale of a world on the brink of amazing discoveries and revelations in the field of artificial intelligence, psychology, alien life, and art. A hugely anticipated work by almost any measure. If you haven't sampled Bear yet, you owe it to yourself to investigate.



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