It's Christmas in July for science-fiction and fantasy fans. In the coming weeks, both "American Tolkien" George R. R. Martin and urban fantasy master Jim Butcher will flood the market with new books for their respective series.
Blogs are a-flutter with the news that a couple hundred copies of Martin's A Dance With Dragons were mistakenly shipped to fans ahead of schedule. Martin's publishers are holding their collective breath, begging the lucky 180 fans in the U.K. and U.S. not to ruin it for everyone else.
This, of course, is a familiar routine to weathered Harry Potter fans: Stay off fan-run blogs and comment threads to avoid spoilers.
If neither Martin nor Butcher appeal, read on for more of the summer's most intriguing science fiction and fantasy offerings.
A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (to be released July 12) Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has such a rabid following fans have created websites dedicated to bashing the author because he doesn't write fast enough for them. Martin published the last book in 2005, so one can understand fans getting a little antsy. The well-written series, set in a medieval world characterized by such masculine preoccupations as honor and war, are nonetheless appealing to a broad audience. The HBO series Game of Thrones -- which sticks very closely to the books, except sexed up to the nth degree -- has rejuvenated interest in the series, bumping the first three novels back onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. Read an advance excerpt from A Dance with Dragons posted on Martin's website. Winter is coming, y'all.
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (to be released July 26) Butcher left his faithful readers on a cliffhanger at the end of Changes, the 12th novel in the Dresden Files series. Beloved Harry Dresden -- the duster-clad wizard with an overdeveloped sense of justice and killer one-liners -- is shot and presumably killed after exterminating an entire vampire clan. Harry is dead, we learn, but he hasn't gone onto his final reward, as Butcher reveals in Chapter One and Chapter Two of Ghost Story. Just when we thought we had it figured out -- bam -- sucker punch. Here's hoping the release date isn't pushed back again.
2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America -- Albert Brooks (May 2011) Yeah, maybe you didn't vote it up for the Mixmaster Online Book Club, but that doesn't mean you should forget about it. In 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, comedian and actor Albert Brooks dabbles in dystopian territory owned by George Orwell and H.G. Wells. But the first-time author infuses predictions with his signature humor. Brooks' America 20 years hence has acknowledged global warming and gone deeper into debt - nothing too surprising there. The cure for cancer has been discovered; as a result senior citizens are living longer, straining government dollars. Do Sarah Palin's death panels ring a bell? Next, toss in a California earthquake -- the long awaited "big one" -- and it ain't so funny anymore. Except that it is.
Embassytown - China Miéville (May 2011) Miéville, a three-time Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, is the poster boy for the vague "New Weird" genre best described as urban sci-fi with a literary bent. Miéville's books are peppered with philosophical ideas; Embassytown is preoccupied with the nature of language and its usage. Humans have established a colony on a distant planet, but cannot freely communicate with the aliens who reside there. Genetically engineered "Ambassadors" translate between the races; a politically motivated Ambassador new to the town sets the darker plot points in motion.
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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith (new in paperback April 2011) Grahame-Smith led the onslaught of classic literature mash-ups with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. He rode the Twilight-driven tsunami of vampire literature with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, the untold story of Lincoln's vendetta against the blood-sucking creatures. Grahame-Smith revamps the historical record by inserting vampire villains into the events that shaped Lincoln's life, like his mother's death and the uproar over slavery. The movie version, produced by Tim Burton, is due next summer.
The Year's Best Science Fiction: 28th Annual Collection -- Ed. by Gardner Dozois (July 5) This long-running anthology highlights the prime players in the sci-fi field. The collection is a roundup of the best 2010 short stories from authors Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Carrie Vaughn, Ian R. MacLeod and Cory Doctorow. The book includes an extensive recommended reading guide for those who wish to continue exploring the genre.
Add your own recommendations in the comments. Next month, it's Hollywood or bust: Watch for a list of books to read before seeing the upcoming films.