This week marks a conclusion of sorts. One you might not have been aware of, but which has arrived nonetheless. Yes, this is the penultimate edition of the third year of the store’s newsletter. We know. It seems like just another week of snarky book coverage and stories about talking animals, but this time, it arrives with an albatross around its neck. Sort of.
No, wait. The final Middle-Earth book is out this week. Just forget what we said a moment ago. This is the big deal.
And yes, the publication of J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Fall of Gondolin finishes Christopher Tolkein’s lifelong editorial effort to organize his father’s notes. Talk about a headache, but it’s been a lucrative pain to have, and millions of hobbit fans are thrilled that we finally get the scoop on what went down between Morgoth, Turin, and Idril on that great plain of Gondolin.
And if you have no idea what we’re talking about, it’s okay. This has all been Lord of the Rings speak for those have secret tattoos of their Elvish names.
And speaking of speaking in code, we’ve also got Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes, the biography of Elizabeth Smith, who was a key part of the cryptographic movement during the 20th century.
We say “cryptographic movement” like it was an phase of architecture gone feral or a period of incompressible paintings done by folk under the influence of their third eye or transmissions from Dogon.
Anyway, Smith’s career in code-breaking began when she was hired by a wealthy Boston woman to help prove that Sir Francis Bacon wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. Apparently, there were coded messages that Bacon hid in all of the texts to clue us in that he was the true author. Sort of like he was an Elizabethan Scooby-Doo villain. “Surprise, it was I, all along, and I would have gotten away with my clever plan to write shlock for the masses if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”
Or something like that.
Smith, however, moved on from such literary circling of the drain, and became part of the Black Chamber, an early US cryptanalysis agency. And once that closed down, she and her husband, William Friedman, continued busting codes for America.
We’d like to note that the term “Black Chamber” actually does stem from Elizabethan England. The term was used in reference to Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, who was—wait for it—a near contemporary of Sir Francis Bacon.
See? All very coincidental and circular. Such is the codebreaker's life.
And for something a little less complicated, may we suggest Booze and Vinyl? A delightful compendium of classic records and classic cocktails, Booze and Vinyl does the heavy lifting for you, pairing up things like the iconic Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison with a Suffering Bastard (side A) and a Stone Fence (side B). One drink for those who have lost, and one drink for those who are about to take back what has been stolen from them. Hoist the cup. Drop the needle. Let it spin.
And speaking of getting the band back together, Nicholas Eames’s sequel to last year’s Kings of the Wyld is out this week. Bloody Rose is the story of a young girl who is working a dead-end job at a dead-end bar in a dead-end town, secretly dreaming that a talent scout will discover her and sweep her away to a hit single and superstardom. However, given that Tam lives in a wyld fantasy setting, what this translates to is getting hired by the biggest bunch of badasses this territory has ever seen to be their bard. You know, the minstrel who sings their praises after they’ve all died glorious and bloody deaths.
The only problem with this plan is that the bard usually gets killed too. Tam needs a better plan . . .
And speaking of “Is that your noir in my high fantasy?”, we also have Hard in Hightown, the book that apparently started fistfights in the Kirkwall Barracks. Hard in Hightown is the story of Donnen Brennokovic, a hardened veteran of the city watch, who is so hardened and veterened that he’s nearly indistinguishable from the stone walls around him. Naturally, he’s a assigned a rookie so green (“how green is he?”) that leaves are growing out of his armor.
Of course, something this pulpy could only be written by a fictional character, which it is! Written by Varric Tethras, a world-weary, yet lovable rogue of a minstrel, Hard in Hightown even comes with high praise from other fictional characters (Merrill, who claims “so many people get shivved!” in this story, and Hawke, who is full of aw-shucks praise for his “little brother”).
This edition of the newsletter may be filled with more in-jokes than normally. Sorry. We blame our giddiness on the delightful autumnal crispness that creeps through the window in the early morning hours.
And speaking of the passing of summer, Last weekend, the SF community revealed this year’s Hugo Awards, and we were delighted to see that N. K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky won in the category for Best Novel. Jemisin achieved in a new record in winning three years in a row for each volume in her Broken Earth trilogy, and we read the first book, The Fifth Season, last year for our Not Your Usual Book Club (which will be meeting again in October, in case you were looking for an excuse to hang out and talk books with other readers).
Additionally, Martha Well’s All Systems Red won for Best Novella. All Systems Red is the first of the Murderbot Diaries, which are about a self-aware SecUnit that really just wants to be left alone so that it can figure out who it is. Rogue Protocol, the third novella, came out a few weeks ago, and we’ve got copies on the shelf.
And in our final bit of news from the Hugo Awards, Rebecca Roanhorse won a Hugo Award for her short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience(tm).” She also won the Nebula Award earlier this year for that story, and during the Hugo Awards, she also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. All of which is to say: she’s a writer to watch, and we’ve got her copies of her debut first novel, Trail of Lightning, which came out recently.
It’s a story about what happens when the world floods and the old gods come back. Who are you going to call when the monsters are snuffling around the garden? You’re going to call someone who knows about the old ways and who isn’t afraid to face down forgotten gods in an effort to save everyone. Roanhorse’s Sixth World is to rural fantasy as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are to urban fantasy.
Whew. How about something shorter? Here’s New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction as edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. It’s flash fiction—stories you can almost read in almost a single breath—and they have titles like “Four Hard Facts About Water,” “I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such As These,” “I Found Your Voodoo Doll on the Dance Floor After Last Call,” and “The Night Aliens in a White Van Kidnapped My Teenage Son Near the Baptist Church Parking Lot.”
Naturally, that last one isn’t about aliens so much as it is about the totality of the human condition.
Anyway, how about we glance through a picture book of weird animals? Cute as an Axolotl is pretty much what it says on the cover: candid snaps of weird-ass evolutionary hiccups that some committee somewhere signed off on at four in the morning just so they could finally go home. It’s also filled with all sorts of useful data about where these cutie pies can be found, and how you can avoid going there.
And speaking of inventive travelogues, we also have the Hidden Universe’s Travel Guide to the ‘verse of Firefly. For those browncoats who really, really can’t let go.
And finally, in light of John Larison’s recent articles about Westerns (one for Publishers Weekly here, and one for Crime Reads here, we’ve decided that it is high time to put together a Theme Shelf, a spot in the store where we highlight some books that are very much in the style of “If You Like One, You're In Trouble Because Here Are Eight More." Our inaugural theme is Westerns, and not only do we have Larison’s Whiskey When We’re Dry, we also have Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, which will be coming to theaters any day now. Along with some other classics and some new things that we think you might like. Check it out, and let us know if we’ve missed one of your favorites.