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Hugh Likes Fiction: Gideon the Ninth

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Gideon the Ninth
Written by Tamsyn Muir
Audiobook read by Moira Quirk
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: Shirley Jackson’s Lesbian Space Necromancers.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is an extraordinary novel that is a bit difficult to describe, pithy sentence above not withstanding. In a crumbling space empire built on necromancy, eight Necromancers, along with their Cavalier bodyguards, return to a long-abandoned planet to search for a secret power that could save their civilization. It’s a dense concept, and my attempts don’t do it justice, but Tamsyn sells it with from the first incredible opening line.

“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!— Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”

A postmodern space fantasy/ghost story, Muir fills her novel with deeply rich characters like the eponymous sassy swordswoman Gideon and her Necromancer charge, Harrowhawk. Harrow is the teenaged leader of the Ninth House, and Gideon’s only childhood companion, so of course they hate each other, and are only working together to keep the other houses from finding out that a tragedy befell their planet, and they are literally the only suitable candidates. Her characters are outstandingly drawn and painfully real. And her setting, from the nearly-lifeless frozen tomb planet the Ninth House calls home to the abandoned, crumbling palace of Canaan House is a character in its own right; melancholy, ferocious, and disarmingly witty.
Muir’s handling of equal parts tension and farce are deft, constantly surprising, and utterly delightful.
Just as delightful as the writing is Moira Quirk’s narration on the audiobook version. Quirk does an excellent job brining Muir’s already vivid characters to life. She does a stunning job performing a large cast of strange and complicated characters.
Gideon the Ninth draws from the work of masters like Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, and Ursula K. Le Guin, while also building something modern and wholly unique. It is unlike anything I’ve read in a very long time, and not to be missed. You can listen to the remarkable audiobook version via Audible, or purchase a physical or ebook copy from your retailer of choice.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: This Is How You Lose the Time War

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
Written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Audiobook read by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Published by Simon and Schuster Audio

The Skinny: Two time-traveling agents begin a correspondence that will have epic consequences.

This beautifully written novella follows Red and Blue, two agents of opposed possible futures working to ensure their side wins history, as they begin an exchange of letters that will, well, change history.
El-Mohtar’s and Gladstone’s writing is lyrical and beautiful. The locations for the two agents’ missions are tiny glimpses into beautiful and compelling worlds. From neolithic labyrinths to ruined battlefields on crumbling, distant planets. But the letters themselves are as fascinating as their correspondents’ adventures. The reader watches as their exchange starts as a taunt, gradually becomes more friendly as the two begin to understand one another, and eventually become something more intimate, in letters written on plain paper, and hidden in more devious methods, in the bottom of a teacup, in the rings on a fallen tree, or the boiled water in an abandoned hospital MRI machine. Each exchange is surprising and engaging, and the reader is left to wonder what they’ll think of next, and to worry as a shadowy figure stalks behind them.
The audiobook, although short, was particularly good, which a pair of excellent narrators that give the poetic descriptions and intimate epistolary sections real gravitas. Often an audiobook is either well narrated or well acted, and finding not one but two narrators that excel at both is a triumph in and of itself.
This Is How You Lose the Time War is a confection of time travel mystery romance that will leave you aching for more, and heading back through to see how they pulled it off when you’re done. It’s certainly award-fodder, and it breathes new imagination into it’s sub-genre. Don’t miss this one!

Hugh Likes Fiction: The True Queen

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The True Queen
Written by Zen Cho
Audiobook narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: Cho’s second Sorcerer Royal novel is just as delightful as the first.

When Muna washes up on a beach after a terrible storm, she can only remember two things: Sakti is her twin sister, and they have both been cursed. In order to break the curse, save her sister and discover who she really is, Muna will have to travel to the distant and strange island of Britain and pass herself off as a great sorceress. But with war brewing between Britain and Faerie within, will she be able to save her sister, or will she be drawn into the intrigues of the Faerie Court, or worse, English high society?
The follow up to the delightful novel Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho returns to her Regency-era fantasy filled with dour magicians, witty witches, and blithely cannibalistic faeries. The author has carried over all of the charm of the first book, telling a new tale with just enough of her beloved cast of characters while introducing new main characters and shifting the spotlight. Muna is a fantastic main character, and I loved spending more time with Henrietta, Rollo, and of course, Ma Geng Gang.
Cho’s fantasy England is centered on the sort of very real people who were pushed to the margins by 19th Century British society: women, people of color, gays and lesbians. Cho deftly presents high society through Muna’s point of view, making it as strange and inaccessible to her as the Faerie Court. It is a welcome and fascinating shift, carried over from the first book that continues to astonish.
Jenny Sterlin returns to narrate, and does an excellent job. Her acting and narration flow well together and her voice is perfectly suited to the story.
The True Queen is a rollicking adventure that builds on its prequel, but new readers won’t be lost if they pick this one up first. It is available in audio, print, and ebook. It has my highest recommendation.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye

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Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye
Written by Christiana Ellis
Published by the Author
ARC provided by the author

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The Skinny: This serial fiction project edited into a novel crosses genres as quickly and easily as the characters move between worlds.

To me, serial fiction and genre mashups go hand in hand. This tradition goes back to the pulps, where heroic adventurers were as likely to stop mad scientists and alien invasions as they were to travel to hidden lost civilizations and battle classically inspired monsters. It continues with superhero comics to this day, but Christiana Ellis’s delightful Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye brings things back around with a modern twist.
Collected and edited from a web serial, the story follows the eponymous detective as she travels between dimensions with the help of the portal generator implanted in her arm. When an elvish femme fatale hires her to track down her missing brother, however, she’s soon caught in a web of intrigue involving dwarven gangsters, malevolent AI and a clairvoyant sorceress/loan shark. And soon, it’s not just her client, but the whole multiverse that’s in danger.
Split into three books, the first is the most traditionally structured as a detective story, and is my favorite of the three. But the whole collection is chock full of charming characters, clever writing, and most of all, unexpected consequences. It’s a fun romp around the multiverse, although if the author ever continues the project, I’d love to see this crew of characters travel a bit more widely than the ‘slices’ of multiverse we get to see here.
Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye is available from Amazon and is a great addition to your Kindle. Why not take a trip to another dimension this summer?
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The 5th Gender

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The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery
Written by G. L. Carriger
Published by the author
Reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy

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The Skinny: A sweet, fluffy queer sci-fi romance with a few bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

Alien diplomat Tistol and space station security detective Drey Hastion have been making eyes at each other for months. But just as they finally get together, to the mutual relief of their friends and coworkers, Drey gets a case that he’ll need his new romantic partner’s help with. A ship from Tristol’s notably reclusive home world has arrived, and there has been a murder, something so unthinkable in Tris’s society as to be unprecedented.
Going in, I was worried that this book was trying to do too much, but the author comes through with flying colors. Carriger, who may be better known for her best-selling steampunk adventures, brings her characteristic sense of style and dry wit to this romantic cozy mystery. The Galloi are a fascinating and well realized species. The sex scenes are well written and feel natural.
As a cozy, there isn’t a lot of tension in this book. Even places where I expected there to be, such as Tris’s naive misunderstanding of human gender and racial concepts is breezily but respectfully handled. Although as a cis-gendered white man, it’s not my place to make final judgement on that. Drey’s space station seems much more of a utopian one than Carriger’s Dickensian Wheel in Crudrat, which is implied to share a universe. But the story is charming and sexy, with delightful characters you’ll want to see more of when you get to the back cover.
The 5th Gender is directly available from The Author’s Website, as well as Amazon, the usual online stores, and can be ordered by Your Local Independent Bookshop.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Written by P. Djeli Clark
Audiobook read by Julian Thomas
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: A light fantasy adventure novella set in an alternate 1910’s Cairo.

What starts out as a routine haunting for two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities quickly expands in a plot involving smuggling rings, women’s suffrage, and the uneasy mingling of cultures in an alternate 1912 Cairo that is the center of the modern and magical world.
Never quite hard-edged enough to put the punk in its steampunk, Clark never the less wrestles with the concept of empire, if only by having the characters discussing how glad they are to not have the English in charge anymore. His Cairo is a cosmopolitan jewel, with a mixture of vibrant cultures and characters both real and mythical. Much like his earlier short story that shares the setting, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” Haunting evokes a deeply complex world that challenges both the reader’s and the characters preconceived notions.
And speaking of which, his characters are memorable delights, from sassy shopkeepers, to obsequious transit officials, and his two main leads, the tough, world-weary agent Hamed and the sharp, but soft agent Onsi. Clark skirts the line of some well-worn procedural tropes, but his dialog and realizations of the characters breathe unexpected life into them.
I listened to this book on Audible, and Julian Thomas gives an excellent, if a bit slow, reading. His performance of the characters makes each of them clearly recognizable, and to my inexperienced ears he handles accents well, making them distinctive but still easily understandable to a listener generally unfamiliar with the region.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is available in ebook, print and audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and your local independent book store. It’s well worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a well-realized historical fantasy that plays outside of the typical Western European sandbox. I’m eagerly awaiting Clark’s next entry in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional settings.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Murderbot Diaries

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“All Systems Red”
“Artificial Condition”
“Rogue Protocol”
“Exit Strategy”
Written by Martha Wells
Read by Kevin R. Free
Published by tor.com

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The Skinny: A coming of age story told from the killer robots point of view.

In a corporation controlled far future, planetary exploration is considered so dangerous that terminator-like cyborgs called Sec Units are contracted to keep teams safe. Murderbot is one such sec unit, and they’ve recently hacked their own system to give themselves free will. They aren’t finding it as great as they had hoped they would, so they’ve decided to watch TV instead.
The Murderbot Diaries are a collection of four darkly funny novellas about what it means to be human. No, what it actually means to be human. After deactivating the module that demands compliance, Murderbot is free, but in order to not get scrapped, that mostly means they’re able to download endless hours of soap operas to their internal feed. Murderbot doesn’t want to be human, but as they investigate an incident involving an attack on his most recent clients, and their own redacted memory, they may find that they don’t have a choice.
The Murderbot Diaries are a very modern sort of robot story. It’s everything that Star Trek isn’t, with a dangerous, corporate-controlled life amongst the stars and a robotic protagonist that not only doesn’t want to be more human, but actively wants to be left alone. It delves into issues of neuro-diversity and the ubiquity of social media from interesting directions. Prickly, sarcastic Murderbot isn’t ‘likable,’ but they are certainly entertaining.
I listened to these books as a series of audiobooks read by Kevin R. Free. Free’s performance is outstanding, and he brings Murderbot and the other characters to life in a completely engaging way. These are short audiobooks, but this production makes them worth every credit.
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