Tag: Mystery

What to read after watching The Expanse

expanseLast night was the official Syfy network premiere of the new space opera tv series The Expanse, although some folks watched the show online when it went up a couple of weeks ago. Tonight will be episode two, setting the hook even deeper to get viewers sucked into this new series that promises to bring the network back to its science fiction roots. So far, it’s a stylish adaptation, with some nice acting and great scenery. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season goes on and how faithful it remains to its source material. I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched yet!

 

leviathanwakesThis season of The Expanse is based on the first book of James S.A. Corey’s series, Leviathan Wakes.  In this novel, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but no further. Divisions in human society have developed between the major outposts of Earth, Mars and the outer planets, with mutual distrust between all factions. It’s a canny choice, keeping the action close to our planetary home and the actors human. It makes the series more accessible to readers (and now viewers) who are not necessarily long-time SF fans. The other clever thing the authors (Corey is a pseudonym for two sf writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have done to bring in a wide readership is to have the first volume adopt some of the trappings of another popular genre, the mystery. There is a missing person case, a hangdog cop and plenty of noir atmosphere.

If you have been loving the show so far or are a fan of the books that the show is based on, I have some suggestions of books to read.

The book (and presumably series) has two main points of view, that of Jim Holden and focused on him and his crew, and a second point of view with noir-tinged belter cop Miller. If you like the shipboard bits with Holden and how his crew work together, here are some books to try:

OnBasiliskStationHonor Harrington series by David Weber, beginning with On Basilisk Station

This long-running space opera series is centered on Royal Manticore Naval office Honor Harrington. Much of the focus is on shipboard life and crew dynamics, which should appeal to fans of The Expanse. In this first volume, Honor has been set up to fail by a superior who hates her and sent to a backwater system. But things are more exciting than she anticipated.  This series is very much for fans of C.S. Forster and Patrick O’Brian, but in space. It doesn’t have the tight focus on our solar system and there are aliens, so probably more for the SF fans.

fortunespawn-coverParadox series by Rachel Bach, beginning with Fortune’s Pawn

A huge part of the appeal of this series is lead character Devi Morris, a mercenary who has a strangely intimate relationship with her weapons, a love ’em and leave ’em attitude towards relationships, and a burning ambition. Sounds like a dude, right? But she’s a kick ass female soldier.  She takes a position on a ship called The Glorious Fool because she was told a year on board would give her enough of a reputation that she would be a shoe-in to win a place amongst the king’s guard known as Devastators.  But the ship is even more dangerous than she thought.  There’s plenty of action, danger, and space opera shenanigans, but also a big dash of romance. Hopefully that won’t keep away male readers, because this is grade ‘A’ SF.

retributionfallsTales of the Kitty Jay by Chris Wooding, beginning with Retribution Falls

Not space opera, but more of a steampunk-ish fantasy heist. BUT WAIT.  It has one of the most entertaining crews in SFF with the motley assemblage of misfits who keep the airship Kitty Jay in the air. While Frey, captain of the Kitty Jay,  is more of a ne’er-do-well than Holden, who always strives to do the right thing, the two crews share the camaraderie of those forced to live and work together in tight spaces, and yet have their own secrets to keep.  I wrote about this book in a review post, where I recommended it to fans of the TV series Firefly, another wonderful example of a crew to fall in love with.

More great space opera:

If you like the mixture of noir and SF, I have a whole different batch of recommendations for you.  I did a post with a flowchart of mystery/SF blends that you might want to check out, but here are just a few of my favorite science fiction mysteries set in space:

disappearedRetrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, beginning with The Disappeared

In this first book of the series, Miles Flint is a Retrieval Artist: a kind of cop tasked with hunting down humans who break alien laws. HIs conflict is that the alien laws are often draconian beyond all reason, so Miles will need to find a way to reconcile his job and his ideas of justice. It takes place on the moon and has a nice combo of sf ideas and mundane police routines. Rusch is not read as much as she should be.  In addition to this fabulous series she also has the Diving universe books, which also usually have a nice mystery element.

seekerAlex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, starting with my favorite: Seeker

In the year 2688 a colony ship called Seeker left earth only to disappear.  Thousands of years later, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict finds a relic from the lost ship and decides to try to finally solve the mystery of what happened to Seeker.  But that’s not the only mystery Alex and his assistant Chase Kolpath will have to solve.  There’s nothing wrong with book one of the series, A Talent For War, but I think they all stand alone well and this (book 3) has a better mystery. These books are fun thriller/mysteries with enough interesting science fiction to satisfy both crowds.

alteredcarbonTakeshi Kovacs series by Richard Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon

In the 25th century, technology exists where people can download their consciousness into a new body or “sleeve”, essentially living forever. Centuries-old billionaire Laurens Bancroft brings U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs to Earth, where Kovacs is sleeved in a cop’s body to investigate Bancroft’s murder. The wealthy man resleeved, of course, but his cortical stack was deliberately damaged and he wants Kovacs to find whoever tried to kill him permanently. Morgan explores the consequences of life where death can be cheated by anyone with enough money. Oh, and it is really violent and swear-y, just so you know.

Don’t forget that you can use the blender to find more science fiction/mystery mixes.

 

 

Historical Policing

I’ve always been a fan of historical mysteries, but a couple of years ago i read a couple of really great books set at the dawn of “official” policing (Gods of Gotham, about the founding of the NYPD and The Yard about the first “murder squad” at Scotland Yard) and wondered if there was more out there.  They appealed to me because in general I like the structure imposed by a police procedural. (more…)

Fantasy Cops

Urban Fantasy is a genre full of crime.  Not every urban fantasy contains a mystery component, but many, MANY do. When you set your fantasy on regular city streets and remove the epic worldbuilding and plots of large-scale political intrigue and clashing armies (think Tolkien, Martin, etc.) you need something to fill that plot hole.  A mystery plot, with its reliable structure of crime, investigation, and resolution is amazingly suited to a blend with fantasy. It is also a plot that lends itself to episodic series, with gradually accumulated world-building allowed to be used over and over again with the same characters, only changing the particular mystery plot du jour. (more…)

Historical Mysteries – Asia

Earlier in the week, I did a post on historical mysteries set in Africa.  As I said in that post, I love the potential of historical fiction to teach you something about a time and place you don’t know, and when you wed that history to a good puzzle plot, all the better! Another part of the world that I think is a great setting for historical mysteries in Asia, and I wish there were more examples out there.  if I forgot anything major, let me know.  If you click on the map, you can look at it much larger, and there is a list of included titles below. (more…)

Historical Mysteries – Africa

I love historical mysteries because when they’re done well you not only get a great whodunit, but you get to learn about another time.  And while there are hundreds of historical mysteries set in England and the US, I though it would be fun to round up some of the more unusual settings in the genre. Because there’s nothing wrong with another Tudor mystery, but it’s fun to virtually visit someplace new.

I know so little about Africa, so I thought I would round up all the historical mysteries I could find set on that continent. Aside from the expected slew of titles set in Ancient Egypt, I was happy to find some other choices as well. (more…)

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

testofwills

HISTORICAL FICTION/MYSTERY

Title: A Test of Wills
Author: Charles Todd
Publisher: St. Martin’s, 1996
Series: Inspector Rutledge, Book 1

THE BOOK: In this series of historical mysteries set in post-WWI England, the protagonist is a Scotland Yard detective who solves crimes despite being nearly crippled with shell shock. Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge is one of the great characters of British crime fiction. He fought in the trenches of WWI France, and came back a shattered man, carrying the guilt of what he had seen in the war. The twist is that his guilt takes form as a very convincing delusion. Rutledge hears the voice of a man who died under his command. This voice, a Scottish officer called Hamish MacLeod, serves as Rutledge’s conscience. It is also the voice of his intuition, which he fears he lost in the war.  But the hook for mystery fans is that Rutledge is trying to pick up his work as an Inspector with Scotland Yard. (more…)

Urban Fantasy versus Paranormal Romance

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(click to embiggen!)

Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.  There seems to be lots of people who love one but not the other.  In most classification schemes and in my book (The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends), urban fantasy is technically a subgenre of fantasy, and paranormal romance is a subgenre of romance (just as the names imply!), but the reading reality has always seemed more fluid to me. I read a lot of series that fall under one or another of those subgenre headings, and I’ve never been particularly fussy about what label gets printed on the spine.  When I was in charge of ordering paperbacks for a library, I was forced to care about this issue, as I would be the one that would decide whether a book went on the “ROMANCE” spinner or the “SF/FANTASY” spinner. And believe it or not I found  it surprisingly difficult at times.  Sometimes I would violently disagree with the way the publisher had chosen to market a series. Maybe it was a book that had a cover and a subject heading that screamed romance and I thought it would appeal as much (or more) to fantasy fans.  Maybe the book was all moody urban fantasy on the outside but all steamy romance between the covers.  It was then that I started to think about these books all living on more of a spectrum: all books that shared a real-world, present day fantasy landscape and almost always included a crime/puzzle/mystery plot line. The difference was simply in the amount of romance.

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Featured Blend: Epic Fantasy and Mystery

If you use the Genre Blender to combine Fantasy and Mystery you get one of the bigger sets of results, over 75 books. It’s a popular blend, because adding a mystery plot to the landscape-heavy fantasy genre is a great way to give a fantasy a structure other than “let’s go save the world!”  But browsing those titles shows that most of the blender results are urban fantasies — books set in out world, with magic layered in. Why should urban fantasy be the only ones to get the awesome dead bodies and murder investigations? Some of these are closer to caper novels than traditional murder mysteries and there is a wide variety in worlds depicted, but they are all NOT our world. Here are some epic fantasy novels that include a mystery plot: (more…)

Featured Blend: Science Fiction Mysteries Noir-o-Meter

Yesterday, I presented a flowchart that would allow a reader to navigate a plethora of SF Mystery blends depending on what kind of plot they were looking for.  But plot is by no means the only way that readers determine what they want to read next.  For a lot of readers (especially mystery readers, I think), they are looking more for a certain tone in their mysteries.  Some like things dark and gritty, other prefer a lighter cozy with a minimum of violence.  These shades of tone are present in blends that include mysteries too.

I think that it’s interesting that so many blends that include a mystery go self-consciously for the trappings of a particular subgenre: noir.  Although non-readers think noir is all about film, but the dark, cynical and fatalistic tone that directors brought to the many, many film noir movies from the 40s and 50s  is equally present in books from the same era. But I think we can thank film for locking in the imagery of a lone investigator in a trench coat, beset by femme fatales and double-crossed by those he trusts most. The reason we continue to see mysteries with these elements is because 1) They WORK. Dark brooding protagonists working slightly outside the law and with the rich and powerful arrayed against them are crazy appealing.  2) You can use small cues like a fedora to conjure up a whole mood. Shortcuts are awesome.

But even if a detective is in a fedora, that doesn’t necessarily make the book noir. And here I mean specifically books that are dark.  Super dark. On my graphic, some of the darkest are novels that start from the SF premise of the end of the world, and add a mystery.  Ben H. Winter’s truly marvelous series that starts with The Last Policemanis an example of one of those.  Just as there are mysteries that look at the darkest impulses and actions of man, so does some SF. Although there are many SF writers that look to the future and see possibility and progress, there are just as many (maybe more) that see the shadowy paths that technology can take us on.  They look to the future and see that humanity will probably take all their bad habits forward with them, including killing each other. The dark side of technology plus murder? These can be some pretty grim books.

But it’s not all gloom and doom! Looking at the right side of the chart, there are mysteries that are low-violence puzzle plots with an SF twist (You’ve Got Murder), whimsical time travel stories with romance and a cozy mystery (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and undercover dinosaur private investigators (Anonymous Rex).  In between there’s a nice variety of social SF, space operas, and near future thrillers.  So pick your place on the spectrum below, from the darkest and bleakest to the funny and lightest. There’s an Science Fiction Mystery for everyone.

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Series for ‘Shippers, Part 1: Mystery

There are a word for those who root for romance, no matter what.  In the wider world of fandom, especially genre fandom, they are known as “shippers”, short for “relationshippers.” More commonly used for TV series (one show that had adamant shippers was The X-FIles, where from almost the first episodes there were fans that wanted Scully and Mulder to get it on), there are plenty of potentials for a good ship in book series as well. Sometimes in books as in TV the ship never comes in, the romance never gets consummated or even acknowledged. But that doesn’t stop a romance fan from hoping for their happy ending. There is no obstacle that a true blue shipper cannot willfully in search of their ship: plot mechanics, basic compatibility and sexual orientation can all be overcome in the heart of a true shipper. I’m a devoted shipper, but I’m a patient shipper. A big part of shipping is anticipation. Long looks, sexual tension, a lot of  “He annoys me. I don’t like him at all. Why can’t I stop thinking about the way his lips look when he….DAMMIT” internal monologues.  I love series where the relationship builds over time and the couple has to overcome a ton of obstacles.  While in traditional romance there are relationships that are more of the “slow burn” variety, the couple almost always get together in the end.  But in genre blends, especially blends that are part of a series, the romantic relationships might develop over multiple books. Will they?  Won’t they?  Ahhhhhh….. (more…)