Book Review: Under New Suns

Disclaimer: My copy of Under New Suns was supplied by the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

It doesn’t seem two minutes ago since I reviewed publisher Skullgate Medias’ last big anthology Loathsome Voyages, a collection of bizarre, cosmic horror tales brought together from a collection of very talented writers.

I’m sure you remember (of course you do), from my review of Loathsome Voyages, mention of a book called Achten Tan: and of Dust and Bone. This was the first anthology from a collaboration of very talented and varied authors that were brought together to create a universe between themselves over two weeks, and then create narratives within it, all centered around a central, overarching plot.

The unique premise here was that the universe was literally created by each writer, adding events, characters, and lore into it as a team before dispersing to write their individual stories. The result of this was a very organic feeling book, with several stories all referencing the same events, though not always in purely chronological order. Though this initially caused me a few cases of “wait, what?”, as I encountered events that seemed to have happened out of nowhere, the payoff was worth it a few stories down the line, when a different short story covered the event in detail, essentially connecting the pieces.

Achten Tan was book one of The Year Between, so naturally, I was quite interested to see what would happen for the follow-up. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, the genre just pipping fantasy to the post for me, so imagine my excitement when Skullgate Media announced that the second volume would be entitled Under New Suns and, indeed, would take place among the stars. In the editing seat once more is the talented Chris Vandyke, and with him are many returning authors from volume one, along with some new faces.

Once again, the main plot thread is told by many short stories, as we follow a mixed crew of humans and aliens aboard a mysterious spaceship, lost a long, long way from home. The team has done a fantastic job of creating and perfecting, a whole host of characters, creating varied and believable relationships between them and events to fulfill, beguile, and, of course, endanger them.

But, as with Achten Tan, it’s not all about the short stories. Oh no, these anthologies like to go one step further… you can expect poetry, song lyrics, crew reports, star maps, and even illustrated graphic novel chapters. It’s not every day you pick up a short story anthology and end up with all this variety between the covers, is it?

Let’s just appreciate this cover art too, shall we? That just screams “classic sci-fi” and really is some beautiful work!

Let’s take a look at the plot, shall we? Under New Suns is set in a future where humanity spread among the stars, ushering in a new age of knowledge and technology, as well as meeting various alien species and creating relationships with them.

So many tales to be told…

All of this is threatened by the arrival of the Swarm, a mysterious, hive-mind species that systematically lay waste to any world they invade, stripping “imperfections” from the populace, such as free will, to add them to its ranks. The good guys of this tale are growing desperate, running out of ideas and resources in the face of the constant hostilities from the Swarm, which leads to them hatching a desperate plot: capture one of the Swarm’s mysterious ships in the hope that it contains the means to destroy them for good.

The specialized team of Marines and civilian specialists are able to capture the ship as planned but, in the confusion, the ship jumps across to the other end of the galaxy, forcing the ragtag crew to find their way home, dealing with various obstacles along the way whilst, all the while, trying to understand the ship itself, which turns out to be sentient and have plans of its own.

Saying any more than this would be to reveal too much, suffice to say that some of the dangers encountered are: sexy space pirates, quantum otters, and space sharks. Yes, literal sharks… in space!

This… but in space!

But no story would survive for long if it lacked strong characters. Thankfully, Under New Suns has plenty of them, be they human or alien. For anybody who hasn’t read any of Skullgates’ books, I will mention here that the cast of characters come in all flavours, there’s an impressive amount of representation on display here, in terms of LGBTQ+ diversity and racial representation it’s difficult to find a book that does it better. To be fair, I often chat with some of the authors from Under New Suns on Twitter and know that they are wonderful people, so their writing is a good representation of their own beliefs in this way.

Standout characters for myself were Angevin, an interesting alien species referred to as xe/xer, the dashing space pirate Callie, and the empath Marine Brogg, whose gift of reading peoples’ emotions causes him more pain and discomfort than one may initially think. Another really interesting character is the ship itself, aka Kitty, who is unfathomable and strangely caring about the interloper crew living in its bioluminescent hallways.

Each story shines in its own way in Under New Suns, I’m confident in saying that there isn’t a single weak entry among them, in fact. Several key stories describe major events, such as The Hessen and the Thief, but most stories are almost insights into the lives of the crew, be it a Marine and a scientist bonding on an underwater sojourn, a soldier struggling with addiction, or a pirate suffering a mutiny and being rescued by the passing ship and its’ mismatched crew. No two stories ever play out the same, and each character is memorable in their own way, though obviously some more than others, depending on which resonate with you personally.

It was never going to be a hard sell, getting me to read a science fiction anthology from the fine people at Skullgate Media. Hopefully, dear reader, I have convinced you of the same. I’ve not experienced a sci-fi take that plays out quite like this before, the cast is really fun, it shows off so much diversity and creativity, and you should most definitely pick up a copy! The ebook is great to have, of course, but I can more recommend the paperwork, which is a beautiful, high-quality volume that will just finish off the look of that bookcase/pile of books that you own.

I can see it now…

As with my Loathsome Voyages review, I really recommend that you give Skullgate Media a follow on social media, as well as the many authors that contributed so much to the cause. I’ve learned so much about writing since I started to follow them all and, of course, they’re all lovely people too!

Now stop sitting around and go give Under New Suns a read, you Venusian Coffee addicted lunatics!

Synopsis From Skullgate Media:

The second volume of Tales from the Year Between is set on the far side of our galaxy in some far-flung future. For generations, the United Planetary Alliance has been fighting a losing war against the invading armies of the Swarm.

In a desperate bid to turn the tide, the UPA plans a daring mission to steal one of the Swarm’s battleships. The squad of Marines and civilian imbeds hope to capture the dreaded Warp Cannon and turn it on the Swarm. But the Ship has other plans…

Join a motley crew of 25 humans and aliens as they explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy. They’ll be pitted against inhospitable landscapes, space sharks, and a dire shortage of Vesuvian coffee. 

As everything around them changes, the one constant is the Ship. But is it the super-weapon they hoped it would be? Is it another threat… or actually an ally? 

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