"Tuf Voyaging," by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, $16, 440 pages). Martin is prolific but not punctual. And so as millions wait for the next installment in "The Song of Ice and Fire" series, Bantam Books has had to settle for repackaging a series of the author's novellas to try and satisfy his fans.
"Tuf Voyaging" chronicles the adventures of the rather odd Haviland Tuf, in a familiar space-opera setting where tramp freighters flit from world to world in a wide universe controlled by various federations and alliances.
The seven pieces in the book, written between 1976 and 1985, range in quality from excellent ("The Plague Star") to filler ("Manna From Heaven"). That said though, Martin's filler is as good as many writers' best efforts, so "Tuf Voyaging" is an engaging, if not substantial, read.
To reveal too much about "Plague Star," which opens the collection, would spoil the fun. So I'll just say that, though the material is from early in Martin's career and not fully realized, it's still really good.
"The Rithmatist," by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, $17.99, 368 pages). Sanderson is as prolific as Martin, but he tends to stay on schedule. so we can expect follow-ups to "The Rithmatist" sooner, rather than later.
Be warned, however, that "The Rithmatist" was conceived as a young-adult series, and it features teenagers as the lead characters. This represents a departure for Sanderson, which is not necessarily unwelcome.
As usual, the author has crafted a detailed magical system on an alternate Earth (the United States is a collection of islands, rather than a continent). The story takes awhile to get into gear, and the plot has a few holes. The villain seems curiously uninterested in getting rid of his enemies at the book's end.
But given Sanderson's earlier work, I expect all will be explained, and the pace will pick up in coming segments, now that the groundwork has been laid. Young-adult fiction or not, Sanderson fans will find plenty to like in "The Rithmatist."
"The 5th Wave," by Rick Yancey (Putnam, $18.99, 480 pages). This young-adult offering raises an interesting question: Does it matter if the basic premise doesn't hold up to close analysis?
Here Yancey chronicles the invasion of Earth by Others, who initially destroy all electronic devices, then cause massive earthquakes and tidal waves and finally eliminate most of humanity with a deadly plague. The rest of the story revolves around a group of teenagers who try to battle the Others in a grim, ugly world.
The story is adequate, though the twist is fairly obvious, and the power of human love plays a key role. But Yancey's alien invasion is flawed from the get-go, since the aliens need humans, yet try to kill them all, and also need the planet, but pretty much devastate it.
If fundamental contradictions don't bother you too much, you will find "The 5th Wave" a page-turner.
"The Secrets of Ji" by Pierre Grimbert (Amazon Crossing, $14.95, 282 pages). The first book in this French author's series is not compelling. But the three remaining books should be translated fairly soon, since the first volume in the French edition of the series came out in 1996.
I'm not that excited about the forthcoming volumes, though, since Grimbert's big reveal in "The Secrets of Ji" is anticlimactic, and the action sequences stretch the bounds of belief to the breaking point, especially the last struggle.
But possibly the tempo will pick up in the next volume, and Grimbert -- a psychoanalyst who works with troubled and autistic children -- will show American readers why he's so popular in France.
Clay Kallam's column is published monthly; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.