Last 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!
This 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: (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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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.
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…)
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.
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…)