Jedediah Berry

The distant future finds humanity scattered over hundreds of worlds, enslaved to an alien race, laboring in mines and building fortresses for their spider-like masters, the Archon. Earth has been transformed into a mass grave, and all that remains of human culture is the daily fare of pubs and churches. And also, as luck would have it, the plays of William Shakespeare.

Wilbr, the narrator of the tale, is by his own admission not the most talented of actors. His Rosencrantz is fine, but he knows he'll never have a shot at Hamlet. Meanwhile Aglaé, "the best and most attractive Juliet and Rosalind," hardly acknowledges his existence. They and the rest of the crew of The Muse of Fire tour the galaxy, offering residents of the planets they're allowed to visit a moment's respite from lives of drudgery. When a group of Archons join the audience to observe one otherwise routine production, the players find themselves conscripted into a series of shows put on for the benefit of ever more strange and powerful alien races. Naturally, the survival of the human race hangs in the balance.

Muse of Fire is a short novel (it originally appeared in the New Space Opera anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan), but it feels expansive. As the crew travels from one stage to another, each more grand and bewildering than the last, the member of their troupe who usually plays Iago plots to overthrow their cruel masters, while Wilbr and Aglaé prepare for a final performance on which everything depends: a rendition of Romeo and Juliet unlike any other.

This is not the first time Dan Simmons has yoked the classics of the Western canon to space opera science fiction. The novels of his Hugo Award-winning Hyperion Cantos bore the influences of Keats and The Canterbury Tales (for starters) and Ilium featured a re-creation of the Trojan War on Mars. Fans of those masterly works will adore Muse of Fire for its layered symbology, intertextual wit and deep humanism. But Muse of Fire also shows Simmons at his best as a storyteller, and readers will be delighted by a tale so expertly told.

Jedediah Berry is the author of The Manual of Detection, forthcoming from Penguin Press. 

The distant future finds humanity scattered over hundreds of worlds, enslaved to an alien race, laboring in mines and building fortresses for their spider-like masters, the Archon. Earth has been transformed into a mass grave, and all that remains of human culture is the daily fare of pubs and churches. And also, as luck would […]

The City & The City is a murder mystery, old-fashioned in its way, narrated by a tough-talking police investigator and layered with all the shadow and menace of a film noir. China Miéville, known for such sprawling and often innovative fantasies as Perdido Street Station and Iron Council, turns to a leaner approach in this novel, hanging his story on prose that is at once precise, mordant and vivid. The result is a tightly plotted, thoroughly engaging read, at turns beguiling and revelatory.

The most original aspect of the book is its setting. The two cities of the title, Bes?el and Ul Qoma, are vastly dissimilar places, each with its own language, culture and forms of political unrest. Ul Qoma is undergoing an economic boom while Bes?el decays in a slump. Though the two cities are located in different countries, they share a common past and—this is the extraordinary conceit that drives the narrative—they occupy the same geographical space. Residents of one city are strictly prohibited from interacting with residents of the other, even though they walk the same streets. Failing to “unsee” the other city and its citizens is a crime; to actually have dealings with them is “Breach,” something rather worse than illegal border-crossing.

Complications arise when Inspector Tyador Borlú is called upon to investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is discovered in his home city of Bes?el. The problem is that the murder seems to have taken place in Ul Qoma. If the murder is an instance of Breach, then the crime is outside of Borlú’s jurisdiction, and responsibility lies with a power more dangerous and enigmatic than his police squad.

Borlú is unable to leave the case alone, however, and to continue his investigation he must travel to Ul Qoma, where he is ensnared in a conspiracy involving the government, a forbidden book, an archaeological site and the cities’ ancient past. The paradox of his situation—to seek truth in a place which demands that one willfully ignore a part of what is real—allows Miéville to construct a fascinating and original hybrid of fantasy and crime fiction.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel,
The Manual of Detection.

The City & The City is a murder mystery, old-fashioned in its way, narrated by a tough-talking police investigator and layered with all the shadow and menace of a film noir. China Miéville, known for such sprawling and often innovative fantasies as Perdido Street Station and Iron Council, turns to a leaner approach in this […]

Maybe some of this will sound familiar: a young boy separated from his family, gifted with a power that may save the world from a great evil; a young noblewoman betrothed to a foreign king against her will; a dangerous artifact of magnificent and mysterious power; intelligent talking animals; wizards, princes and spies engaged in a shadowy war that may doom or rescue hundreds of thousands of lives. . . .

Make no mistake, the raw material of Robert V.S. Redick's debut novel, the first of a planned trilogy, has been incorporated into countless fantasy novels. But this makes only more remarkable the fact that, page by page, The Red Wolf Conspiracy feels so vibrant, fresh and exciting.

The effect is due partly to Redick's knack for tackling the scale of the story charted in this book. The Chathrand is a 600-year-old ship the size of a city, bound for the territory of its nation's ancient enemy on a mission of peace. And among the hundreds of passengers aboard the ship are agents of various powers, each with its own agenda, some who wish to see the peace secured, some who would profit from a new war.

The narrative perspective shifts deftly among a dozen characters, from young Pazel, who suffers the indignities of a ship's tarboy while trying to locate his lost family, to Nilus Rotheby Rose, the half-mad captain of the Chathrand, who believes his path to glory lies in a secret pact with the emperor. Even the fears and stratagems of an "awakened" stowaway rat are presented with sympathy and depth. What emerges is a living tapestry, always in danger of being rent by the conspiracy at the novel's heart.

And what a conspiracy it is, portrayed by Redick with a delirious love of the genre that is nothing less than infectious. When Sandor Ott, the emperor's spymaster, declares to his associates: "Rose will captain that ship, and we shall sail with her. The game's begun, lads. We'll play it to the last round," all but the most jaded of readers will be eager to watch that game unfold.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection

Maybe some of this will sound familiar: a young boy separated from his family, gifted with a power that may save the world from a great evil; a young noblewoman betrothed to a foreign king against her will; a dangerous artifact of magnificent and mysterious power; intelligent talking animals; wizards, princes and spies engaged in […]

Henry Lamb, formerly the child star of a BBC sitcom, is working a dead-end job in London’s Storage and Record Retrieval unit. He’s helplessly single, hopelessly in love with his landlady, and he can’t escape his oppressive mother. When his alcoholic grandfather falls suddenly into a coma, he learns that his family is tied to a secret government agency known as the Directorate, which for over a hundred years has been fighting a clandestine war to protect the people of the United Kingdom from an ancient and malevolent force.
Their enemy? Nothing less than the British royal family.

The Domino Men is a funny and often gripping entertainment, a wry mash-up of espionage thriller and Lovecraftian horror reminiscent of the Hellboy graphic novels. It is also a satire that cleverly draws parallels between the tropes of cosmic horror and the mundane tyrannies of the modern bureaucratic state.

Though The Domino Men takes place in the same world as Barnes’ first book, The Somnambulist, it is not properly speaking a sequel, and readers may enjoy this novel’s mysteries and intrigues without knowledge of what has come before. Queen Victoria, fearing the downfall of the Empire, made a deal with—well, not the devil exactly, but something quite bad. Now, conscripted into the Directorate by its gilled and aquarium-bound chief, Henry must thwart the House of Windsor by turning to something arguably worse: the Domino Men of the title, a pair of immortal goons who delight in human suffering but who possess the secret that could tip the war in the Directorate’s favor.

In what may be the novel’s most effective gambit, interpolations from the opposition are scattered throughout Henry’s account of his final stand, representing the voice of doubt and fear that threatens to undo the protagonist and maybe the world itself. Though the novel veers at times into overtly grotesque terrain, its horrors are usually of the subtle and psychological kind, a dark lens through which to observe a beguiling story of power and corruption.

Jedediah Berry is the author of The Manual of Detection, published by Penguin Press.

Henry Lamb, formerly the child star of a BBC sitcom, is working a dead-end job in London’s Storage and Record Retrieval unit. He’s helplessly single, hopelessly in love with his landlady, and he can’t escape his oppressive mother. When his alcoholic grandfather falls suddenly into a coma, he learns that his family is tied to […]

Some works of fiction follow the rules of their genre, applying them like trusty tools to a familiar, well – worn machine. Others take those rules and revamp or retrofit them, then borrow spares from other sets and build something that is recognizable but completely, refreshingly new. Gene Wolfe's An Evil Guest is one of these books.

The novel is set about a century in the future, but despite the holographic video broadcasts and intergalactic space transports, the world feels like that of the 1930s, complete with tough – talking cops, wily dames and shady operatives; it's more pulp thriller than Space Age adventure. Though this results in a future with some oddly old – fashioned gender roles, it allows Wolfe to mine his many sources and inspirations – from the detective novels of Raymond Chandler to the fantastic tales of H.P. Lovecraft – to dazzling effect.

Dr. Gideon Chase is recruited by the U.S. government to track down the elusive and wealthy William Reis, whose years as ambassador to an alien planet have granted him unusual talents – talents the government would like to understand and control. Chase is at once a private detective, secret agent and sorcerer for hire, and not without talents of his own. But rather than confront Reis directly, he enlists the help of Cassie Casey, a woman whose latent abilities are awakened by Chase's magic, transforming her into perhaps the most gifted actress in the world. That is a skill she finds doubly useful, because she is soon at the center of a vast and deadly game of intrigue, with players ranging from secret government agencies to vengeful ex – husbands, from dark alien powers to the two men – Chase and Reis – with whom she has fallen in love.

Devotees of the Lovecraft Mythos will quickly recognize the source of the ultimate threat, but whether or not its readers have ever pondered the course curriculum at Miskatonic University, An Evil Guest is sure to sweep them along with a conspiracy that grows more thrilling and more deadly with every double – cross and dark revelation.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection, to be published by Penguin Press in February. He is an assistant editor of Small Beer Press.

Some works of fiction follow the rules of their genre, applying them like trusty tools to a familiar, well – worn machine. Others take those rules and revamp or retrofit them, then borrow spares from other sets and build something that is recognizable but completely, refreshingly new. Gene Wolfe's An Evil Guest is one of […]

Molly Templar, an orphan with a taste for pulp adventure stories, finds adventure of her own when a string of mysterious murders forces her to hide in a dangerous underground city. Her story intersects with that of another orphan, Oliver Brooks, who has fallen in with Harry Stave, a roguish agent of a secret police force, the titular Court of the Air.

Stephen Hunt's young protagonists are smart, resourceful and full of surprises, and their deepening involvement in the intrigues of their time makes for thrilling reading. Their adventures also serve to introduce us to Hunt's richly imagined Kingdom of Jackals, a character in its own right.

Powered by steam and a pneumatic transportation system, the kingdom dominates with its industry and its navy of zeppelin-like aerostats. The Court of the Air could be characterized as steampunk, imagining a version of Victorian England where the fancies of Jules Verne are a reality. But Hunt also infuses his world with a good deal of magic: a mechanical race of steammen who predict the future by tossing rune-like cogs help Molly and Oliver on their way, while ancient gods seek to reclaim the world for their own twisted purposes.

The orphans soon have their eyes opened to the dark complexity of their world, and as they fight to preserve civilization from the forces of a megalomaniacal revolutionary, Hunt's novel transforms into a canny political allegory, in which cycles of tyranny and rebellion revolve like the cogs of a clockwork wonder.

At its heart, however, The Court of the Air is an adventure tale in the grand old style, full of mystery, magic and skulduggery, as well as riveting bouts of gun- and swordplay. It is welcome news that a second book set in the Jackelian world, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, is on its way.

Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection, forthcoming from Penguin Press.

Molly Templar, an orphan with a taste for pulp adventure stories, finds adventure of her own when a string of mysterious murders forces her to hide in a dangerous underground city. Her story intersects with that of another orphan, Oliver Brooks, who has fallen in with Harry Stave, a roguish agent of a secret police […]

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