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Originally published Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Lit Life

What's hot: Summer reading tips in science fiction, urban fantasy and steampunk from a Seattle expert

Looking for summer reading in the science fiction/fantasy world? A Seattle expert, the University Book Store's Duane Wilkins, suggests books set in magical London, the world of Norse mythology and other alien milieus, by authors Ben Aaronovitch, Lavie Tidhar, Mark Hodder and Seattle-area writer J.A. Pitts.

Seattle Times book editor

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Lit Life |

Editor's note: for the second installment of our summer reads series, we've ceded the floor to Duane Wilkins, science fiction/fantasy expert at Seattle's University Book Store.

— Mary Ann Gwinn,

Seattle Times book editor

One of the favorite science-fiction writers of my youth was the great H. Beam Piper — one of Piper's most original creations was the novel "Little Fuzzy." Now the world created by this underappreciated writer has been rebooted with a new book, "Fuzzy Nation" (Tor) by John Scalzi. In this updated homage to Piper's original work, prospector Jack Holloway discovers some engaging little furry bipeds while looking for valuable resources on Zarathustra, and finds he has bitten off far more than he was counting on in trying to save them. For fans of the original and those who've never heard of it.

In "Midnight Riot" by Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey), Probationary Constable Peter Grant's life is a mess. His partner is ignoring his attempts at a romantic hookup, his boss tells him that management sees him heading into data support and he realizes, after questioning a witness at a late-night crime scene, that he's just interviewed a ghost. Then his nascent magical talent is noticed by Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last surviving wizard on the London force and charged with policing London's supernatural crimes. His life is transformed as he begins his 10-year apprenticeship on his journey to becoming a wizard. A rollicking blast of humor and action, all delivered with a dry British twist.

Steampunk, a fantasy genre where steam technology still dominates the industrial landscape, is currently the driving force in science fiction. Two of the better works recently, both set in London, are "The Bookman" by Lavie Tidhar (Angry Robot), and "The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack" by Mark Hodder (Pyr). In Tidhar's book, the young poet Orphan is trying to figure out how he is connected to dire events taking place around him. Hodder's novel features the historical characters of explorer Richard Francis Burton and writer Algernon Swinburne as they attempt to solve the crimes of the mysterious "Jack." In Hodder's work, the genetically modified animals of London alone are worth the trip.

Author Martha Wells is hard to pigeonhole, and her latest romp is no exception. In "The Cloud Roads" (Night Shade Books) we meet Moon, who lives on an alien world with numerous humanoid races. Even in this crowd Moon is unique, a shape shifter who has spent his life hiding for fear of being discovered. His fears are realized, but in the process Moon is rescued by a strange creature who seems to understand him and his origins. Now he must journey to a strange city and search for a real home and family.

Urban fantasy is currently top dog in the science fiction/fantasy genre, with countless variations, from raunchy paranormal romance to mystery noir. One of the best blenders of this soup is Ilona Andrews, whose newest Kate Daniels novel is "Magic Slays" (Ace), the fifth book featuring Daniels, a private investigator whose talent for sardonic cracks rivals Harry Dresden. Note — this series is truly sequential, so start with "Magic Bites" — these addictive reads offer a dazzling milieu where magic has trumped technology. Kate must weave a tricky path between hiding her past and helping her clients and friends in this deadly new world.

Last, but not least is "Black Blade Blues" (Tor), by Eastside writer J.A. Pitts. All Sarah Beauhall wants is some peace and quiet so she can catch up on her journeyman status as a blacksmith, her moonlight work on the local film set, and her romance with that hot teacher Katie. Unfortunately for Sarah, she's just reforged the legendary sword Gram and now finds herself flung into the hidden world of gods, dragons and dwarves. It seems those legendary Norse myths aren't so made up after all. Sarah has caught the gods' attention and upset the balance of power to boot.

— Duane Wilkins

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