Earlier this year, T.J. Berry’s debut novel Space Unicorn Blues made us believe that a space opera can feature talking unicorns and stone spaceships crewed by grumpy dwarves and an economy powered by grinding magical horns to dust.
The only problem we had with the adventures of Gary the Space Unicorn, in fact, was that they ended, so we’re quite pleased that next year’s Five Unicorn Flush will tell another story in this deeply strange universe.
Today, we’re revealing the cover art and official summary for the book, which author T.J. Berry assures us will put its characters through the ringer—not unlike the settings of the five novels that make her list of her favorite deadly fictional environments. Keep reading after you’ve seen the cover (designed by Lee Gibbons of Argh! Nottingham ) for more on that…
Only one woman with a magical parasite can unite the galaxy…
The Bala, magical creatures, have hidden themselves from cruel and destructive humanity, leaving the galaxy in shambles. Without unicorn-powered faster-than-light travel, mankind is scattered, starving and isolated across the stars. Cowboy Jim has the sole surviving FTL drive, and he and his Reason soldiers are determined to track down and re-enslave the Bala. But on their new planet, the Bala are on the brink of civil war: should they accept Unicorn rule, or follow necromancer Bao Zhi and exact revenge on their human oppressors? Only Captain Jenny, with her new elfin parasite, can return peace to the galaxy.
And now, here’s T.J. Berry to share five invented worlds to cross off the vacation list…
For every fanciful fantasy world filled with magic and delight, there’s an equally horrific fictional planet that wants to reach out and snatch your soul.
In Five Unicorn Flush, the sequel to Space Unicorn Blues, the Bala quickly discover that their new utopia harbors hidden dangers and dark secrets. Here are five of my favorite invented locations that don’t plan to let you leave:
The Stillness (The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin)
The Stillness in N.K. Jemisin’s incredible Broken Earth trilogy is a turbulent landscape in which every fifth season is a time of death and destruction. The land itself is in turmoil; heaving and spewing like a tantrum-throwing toddler. In addition to the roiling geography, society itself is harsh and unrelenting. This is a place in which a teacher breaks a student’s hand to teach her discipline and control over her unimaginable power. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is masterful; however, her immersive setting serves as a reminder that most of us would barely survive in a world so unyielding.
Mars (The Martian, by Andy Weir)
Even though Mars is (purportedly) an actual planet and not an invented world like the others on this list, the hostile environment in Andy Weir’s 2011 novel rivals any author-envisioned hellscape. Stranded alone on the surface, astronaut Mark Watney deals with starvation, explosive decompression, and being impaled by an antenna. And that’s before he decides to go on a freezing road trip across his atmosphere-free home. Much of the horror in this story comes from the fact that it is so grounded in science that it could actually happen to the first Mars explorers. Luckily, they’ll have a Tesla up there with them to drive to safety. Truly, the only enjoyable part of being stranded on Mars is that you get to eat baked potatoes every day.
Future Earth (Smoke Eaters, by Sean Grigsby)
The setting of Sean Grigsby’s Smoke Eaters is a future Earth in which dragons emerge from the ground to terrorize humans. Since there are no armored knights left to save us from this peril, (not even Iron Man), Grigsby has two lines of defense against these gigantic menaces. The first is a typical brigade composed of dutiful and skilled firefighters. The second is a group of people whose bodies have been transformed to withstand extreme temperatures and thick smoke. These ‘smoke eaters’ haven’t quite earned the respect of the people they’re saving from dragon attacks, but they plunge headfirst into danger anyway. This is also a world in which people killed by dragons become wraiths—ghostlike apparitions that terrorize first responders and haunt the ruins of their past lives. Personally, I’d probably just move to Canada.
Arrakis (Dune, by Frank Herbert)
Arrakis is a desert wasteland (hence the nickname Dune) that’s also home to melange—the most valuable spice in the galaxy. Similar to fenugreek, melange is used to make a killer mango pickle… wait… that’s not right. It actually extends life and helps with interstellar travel, which a million Indian mothers will claim about their mango pickle as well. Arrakis also features giant carniverous sandworms, stillsuits that allow you to drink your own purified urine, and a pain box that reproduces the sensation of burning your hand to ash. All in all, a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Planet Miller (Interstellar)
Not technically a book (until they novelized it), but the film Interstellar contains my absolute favorite inhospitable fictional environment. The planet Miller, named for the scientist who landed there first, appears to be an innocuous, shallow ocean. Yet the gravitational forces on Miller are so strong (due its proximity to a black hole) that tidal waves reaching hundreds of feet scour the surface every few minutes. As an added dramatic bonus, time passes differently on Miller than on Earth, making every hour planetside pass in seven Earth years. But the climate is temperate and with enough engineering, a tropical getaway here means you would return to Earth after a long weekend to find yourself half a millennia in the future. Considering the current news cycle, it sounds relaxing.