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Culture Notable Books

Notable Books


Notable Books

Four science fiction/fantasy novels 

Emperor Mapidere united the islands of Dara under his cruel rule, but now a rebellion will destroy the brutal empire. Nebula, World Fantasy, and Hugo awards winner Liu explores the tides of history through the rags-to-riches lives and friendship of two dissimilar men. In the novel’s Asian-influenced setting, nostalgia for the heroic past collides with visions of a unified Dara. Although more hopeful and chaste than Game of Thrones, the novel’s dull, one-dimensional characters and overly descriptive style make it feel disjointed and superficial. Cautions: some implied sex, lots of violence, and an open marriage for a key character.

The Gospel of Loki

In a suitably whiny voice, the trickster god Loki uses witty aphorisms and wild stories to excuse his actions. He blames bullying by the other Norse gods and his own nature for his machinations, embodying the human desire to justify sin. In Loki’s version of the road to Ragnarok, the Norse myth about a great battle that kills many of the gods, Harris plays out arguments between free will and fate. Often funny and occasionally ribald, this story’s clever retelling of ancient myth examines human depravity.

Clash of Eagles

What if the Roman Empire had, in the 13th century, come to conquer North America? In Smale’s alternative history, Rome encounters the Cahokia—the Mississippi civilization that supposedly built the Great Mounds. Bereft of his legion, Commander Gaius Marcellinus tries to industrialize the Cahokia, whose only technological achievements are the power of flight and mound building. Meanwhile, bloodthirsty Iroquois harry the peaceful Cahokians. Careful characterization, clever extrapolation, and grand battles distinguish this novel honoring patriotism and camaraderie. Cautions: a deeply regretted sexual encounter and cultural nudity.

Phoenix Island

While serving time in a youth boot camp on a remote island, teenage boxer Carl Freeman notices inmates disappearing from the camp. Always ready to fight for the underdog, Carl can’t stand idly by. He soon discovers a conspiracy to create biologically and mentally enhanced killers out of his fellow teens or render them imbeciles in the attempt. Carl knows he must stop the conspirators, but what can one young man do? This gripping, fast-paced, and imaginative teen-friendly thriller celebrates the virtue of protecting others, no matter the cost.


Controversy erupted when one group of science fiction writers, who felt underrepresented by the awards committee, offered a competing list of nominees for the Hugo Awards. When their list won many of the five slots available in each award category, the science fiction establishment and major media noticed. The list writers—known oddly as the “Sad Puppies”—believe that books promoting politically correct causes and liberal identity politics have dominated the Hugos in recent years. Opponents say the “Puppies” are racist, misogynist, and homophobic conservatives undermining science fiction’s most prestigious award by inventing nonexistent persecution. Members of the World Science Fiction Convention will meet this summer to determine if nomination and voting rules need changing. Any changes would take effect in two years. —J.O.