All right, I’m skipping the Write Tip this week because, well, it’s been a long week. Other than having a new book out this week, it’s really pretty much been awful. BUT I did just finish a great read, and I decided it’s so good, I just had to share it with you. In fact, there are several in the same subgenre I recently discovered and want to recommend. So here goes, for whatever it’s worth.
If you’re not familiar with space opera, Max Pax and I discuss it here. And Moses Siregar and I discuss what makes stories epic here. The new series I am so excited about are all epic stories. Several are space operas. A couple more are epic fantasies. These are the kind of books that just grab you and won’t let go. Several were so engaging, I had a hard time pulling myself away to write and live life. They’re that good. So if you’re looking for great summer reads, look no further if you like epic stories.
1. The Expanse by James S. A. Corey. Book 1, Leviathan Wakes, is fantastic. The story of an ex-cop and an ex-military officer who uncover a plot to introduce a dangerous alien protomolecule amongs humans in our solar system, a plot which winds up starting a war between the Outer and Inner Planets with the two men caught in the middle. You want larger-than-life? You get it in handfulls here. From the characters to the setting to the stakes, the authors amp up the adrenaline to give us an edge-of-your-seat action-packed ride that keeps you turning pages, all 561 of them. It’s no wonder this book is up for a Hugo Award this year. One of the best space opera reads I’ve found in ages. And Book 2, Caliban’s War, comes out next week. So the thrill ride is far from over. In fact, one of the two authors (James S.A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) told me tonight that there will be six novels. I can’t wait!
2. The Quadrail Quintet by Timothy Zahn. Anyone who knows me knows that Zahn is one of my writing idols. I own all but six of his books, have read half of them so far, and model my action sequences frequently off his own. In fact, I just got to interview him, a real thrill, and that will be posting next week Ray Gun Revival in my ongoing Space Opera SFFWRTCHT interview series there. Zahn is known for single-handedly reviving the Star Wars tie-in novel line and founding the Expanded Universe (in essence) with his Thrawn Trilogy of the 90s, which read like watching Star Wars films all over again (the good ones, the originals). His stuff is so good, he’s been asked back time and again to write more novels and continues to do so. What you may not know is that Zahn had a successful space opera and military science fiction writing career before Star Wars and continues to write excellent stuff in those genres. His Quadrail series is a fine example. Five books about agent Frank Compton and his partner Bayta as they uncover an alien plot to control the universe with mind control. Starting with Night Train To Rigel , the plot they uncover grows more and more complicated and the stakes higher and higher until the last two books, The Domino Pattern and Judgement At Proteus are really almost one book, so linked are their ties. Domino ends on a huge cliffhanger that sweeps us right into Proteus and the series ends with a real bang. Larger-than-life, great action, great world-building, told through Compton’s noirish first person narrative voice, this one is old fashioned space opera for the modern age. NOT to be missed.
3. Michael Flynn’s January Dancer series, which begins with the novel of the same name, took a bit to get into. For one, he uses a medieval storytelling form in a space opera novel, making it a big complex and unusual in structure in ways that took a while to get used to. But once I got used to it, the story captured me with all of its layers. There’s action here as well, but more than that, this story is about political scheming. People are not what they seem, and there are many surprises along the way. January Dancer launches the series with a tale of a mysterious object of power that everyone in the universe seems to want. Up Jim River and the recent In The Lion’s Mouth continue the complex tale. It’s not simple escapism and definitely takes focus and concentration to enjoy fully, but this is rich stuff with rich, well developed characters and a complex world and cultures all coming together in fascinating ways.
4. Alex Cavanaugh’s Cassa series began with Cassa Star and continued in Cassa Fire this past Spring. It’s old fashioned with similarities to Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars and more. The books are connected by character and setting but take place with many years between. Cavanaugh offers plenty of action and intrigue here as well with good space ships, aliens and settings. Not as deep or in depth in some way as far as characters and settings as the others, it’s easy to pick up and get into and thus a really great beach read. This is not meant to belittle or criticize it. I think the goals are different here and the scope reflects that. Plus, unlike the other authors, Cavanaugh is a new author and this is his first series so he’s just getting started and his growth between books is apparent. These books continually get best seller ranking on Amazon and his publicist has cards being handed out in packets all over the place at Cons (I keep running into them). Cavanaugh started out to just write a single book and is now working on the third due to the series’ success. Good, solid escapism fun.
5. The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett is one of the most amazing fantasy cycles I’ve encountered in a while. The Warded Man, book 1, had me riveted. I absolutely couldn’t put it down. And I was reading it simultaneously with Leviathan Wakes so that’s really saying something. I was so torn! Brett takes what could have been classic tropes and gets inventive not just with his fantasy settings but his magic system and cultures. He also leaves a lot of unknowns, focusing instead on characters, which leaves questions unanswered and places unvisited for future novels. This series is planned at five books and he’s working on the third. The Desert Spear follows Warded Man, so there’s plenty more to discover. Really powerful, dynamic storytelling from a new author who breaks out of the gate like an old pro.
Okay, so there you have 5 great new epic series, 3 space opera, and the last epic fantasy, which would make great summer reading. If you haven’t discovered them yet, what are you waiting for? You will not be disappointed. And when you finish those, my own old fashioned space opera epic, The Saga Of Davi Rhii, has gotten Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best mentions and some really great reviews, including blurbs from Star Wars author Paul S. Kemp, Hugo- and Nebula-winner Mike Resnick and more. I’m told those make great summer reads as well, but as with all of these series, I’ll let you decide for yourselves!
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.