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Niall Alexander

Next Stop, Central Station

“I always wanted to write a novel in short stories,” explains World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar. “Science fiction has a long tradition of doing this—from The Martian Chronicles to Lord of Light—but my inspiration was also partly V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street.”

If Wikipedia is to be believed, that’s a semi-autobiographical wartime novel composed of prose portraits of the colourful characters who live on the titular street in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. But move over Miguel Street: Tidhar’s patchwork narrative, announced today by way of Zeno Agency, takes place in the wake of “a worldwide diaspora” in a city spread around the foot of a space station where “life is cheap, and data is cheaper.”

[Next stop, Central Station.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Sanctum Sanctorum: Under Ground by S. L. Grey

In this day and age, grave danger is everywhere. Quite aside from the exponential toll of terrorism, there’s environmental catastrophe to consider, and so many potential vectors of deadly infection that just counting them could kill you—never mind the nukes pointed at every major population centre on the planet.

That the world will end—and sooner rather than later, some say—is as good as a given. Something’s got to give, and when it does, you and your loved ones will want somewhere safe to stay. Somewhere completely sealed against sickness; somewhere with such state-of-the-art security that not even a mouse could get into your house; somewhere so darned deep underground that surviving the bombs that are sure to start dropping is guaranteed to be a breeze.

[The Sanctum is that somewhere.]

Sunset Song: The Hunter’s Kind by Rebecca Levene

Between City of Stairs, The Goblin Emperor, Words of Radiance, the latest Daniel Abraham, and the debut of Brian Staveley, 2014 saw the release of a feast of remarkable fantasies—and whilst I find that playing favourites is a fool’s game usually, last year, there was one I loved above all others. The only complaint I found myself able to make about Smiler’s Fair was that there wasn’t more of it, but with second volume of The Hollow Gods upon us, there is now—and how!

At the heart of Rebecca Levene’s first fantasy was the titular travelling carnival: a cultural crossroads whose various visitors were invited, for a price, to indulge in their unsightly vices. There, they gambled and they drank; there, they fought and they fucked. For centuries, Smiler’s Fair was a welcome outlet for wicked impulses, as well as those desires disdained by the lords of the Lands of the Sun and Moon, in a place apart from the populace.

That was before it burned; before it was ravaged by a magical fire that left thousands dead and many more homeless. But it’s “best not to cry about what’s past. It’s only what’s coming that matters.” And what’s that, you ask?

[In a word: war.]

No Surrender: Way Down Dark by J. P. Smythe

Calling all authors with plans to ply their darker brands in the young adult market: Way Down Dark is like a lesson in how to bring your fiction to a more sensitive sector without sacrificing the parts that made it remarkable.

The sensational start of J. P. Smythe’s Australia trilogy is to sinister science fiction what Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series has been to fantasy of the grimdark variety: a nearly seamless segue that doesn’t talk down to its audience or substantially scale back the stuff some say is sure to scare younger readers away. To wit, it doesn’t get a great deal more miserable than this—appropriately given the tone and tenor of Smythe’s other efforts. Consider the fact that Way Down Dark opens on its main character murdering her own mother a macabre case in point.

[It was because she had a reputation.]

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is Coming!

Forgive me, folks, but I’m just going to get out of the way of this one.

“Today is a very special day for two reasons,” wrote J. K. Rowling on Twitter earlier today. “Firstly, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the UK eighteen years ago! I’m also very excited to confirm today that a new play called Harry Potter and the #CursedChild will be opening in London next year. It will tell a new story, which is the result of a collaboration between writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and myself.”

Contrary to earlier speculation, however, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won’t be the prequel everyone—including our own Emily Asher-Perrin—was expecting. So what will it be?

[Well, that’s a bit of a mystery.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu

Take heart, epic fantasy fans—Gollancz has your back.

Hot on the heels of its Shadows of Self cover reveal, Gollancz has launched the symbolism-laden look of a brand new Arabian Nights-inspired book dubbed “a must for fans of Brandon Sanderson” thanks in part to “its deliciously original magic system.” Twelve Kings, aka Twelve Kings in Sharakhai in the States, is the next novel by Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya, and the start of the much buzzed-about Song of the Shattered Sands saga.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Once upon a time, Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian and his best mate Wayne were of precious little significance in the grand scheme of Brandon Sanderson. They had small parts to play in a creative writing exercise meant to help clear the author’s head before he completed work on The Wheel of Time series. But Sanderson’s practice blossomed into a proper short story… a short story that kept growing and growing until, before long, a whole new novel was born!

Published in late 2011, that novel was The Alloy of Law: “a wonderful fantasy with a steampunk feel” that won hearts and minds at the same time as bringing Sanderson back to the world which was his first real claim to fame. Given its success, a sequel to said was essentially inevitable, but as we learned last December, it, in its turn, turned into two books: Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning. And there’s still another one to come!

But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s fix our intent on the present, and on the cover art Gollancz unveiled yesterday.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Revealing The Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal

Between Gideon’s Angel and The Raven’s Banquet, a pair of headlong, alt-history hybrids, Clifford Beal established himself as a speculative presence to be reckoned with, and it’s my pleasure to tell you today that his horizons are fast expanding. The Guns of Ivrea is coming, alongside a sequel tentatively entitled The Witch of Torinia, both of which books look to explore fascinating aspects of the past by way of a fully-fledged fantastical filter. From the author:

Readers might know my fantasy work has been firmly in the realm of “secret history.” That is, fantasy that is set in our own timeline but where the fantastical occurs off the beaten path and whose existence is concealed by both the real and fictitious characters that inhabit the pages. In essence, supernatural events might have really happened but no one ever wrote about it to tell the story. The new novel, The Guns of Ivrea, is traditional, high-octane epic fantasy—a completely new world and a kingdom called Valdur.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

No Strings Attached: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Seriously satisfying cyberpunk action meets thoughtful moral philosophy with a dash of detective noir and a supersized side of striking science in Crashing Heaven—the year’s best debut to date, and make no mistake.

A pivotal part of its deceptively accessible premise is that the tale occurs in a world where gods (of a sort) walk among men. As the well-read will be aware, this is not a new notion; on the contrary, there have been any number of tremendous takes on the topic, even if we restrict our recollection to iterations of late—highlights like Robert Jackson Bennett’s brilliantly built City of Stairs and N. K. Jemisin’s hot-under-the-collar Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. So what makes this one worth writing home about?

[Why, the presence of a puppet, if you please!]

Killing King Death: Adam Nevill’s Next

With the summer only just begun, it seems to me that October is an age away, but many of those in the industry have already turned their attention to the scary season, not least the powers that be at Pan Macmillan, who plan to publish Adam Nevill’s next novel the week before Halloween. It’s called Lost Girl and, as Nevill says, it’s a very different beast from the books of his back-catalogue…

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

A Land Fit For Heroes: The Steel Remains Video Game

In partnership with Liber Primus Games, a Budapest-based indie developer dedicated to bringing “immersive story driven games to the digital marketplace,” Gollancz announced A Land Fit For Heroes yesterday: a mature-skewing Choose Your Own Adventure based, to begin with, on a property that science fiction and fantasy fans have a lot of love for, namely The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan. This is the pitch:

Kirellin of House Caith is a skilled war veteran, Calnar is a young Majak warrior and Ilaria is an accomplished thief. Each of their paths will cross in this adventure where they are tested to the extreme—but wherein the reader decides upon their fates.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Speak His Name: Covering The Shepherd’s Crown

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken,” tweeted @terryandrob late last week. That’s the same @terryandrob who broke the terrible news about Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing back in March. It’s a pleasure, however, to speak the man’s great name again today, in the wake of the release of the cover art of the final Discworld novel.

We don’t know a great deal about The Shepherd’s Crown to date, but I dare say we don’t have long to wait. Almost exactly a year since Pratchett put the finishing touches to the saga last summer, the forthcoming forty-first instalment of the Discworld mythos—and the bestselling series’ default finale, sadly—will be published on August 27 by Doubleday in the UK.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Remember Me: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

It was a long war. A hard war. A sprawling war between hundreds of worlds, in which millions of lives were lost… and for what?

For all the usual reasons, really. Power. Pennies. Practicalities. Politics. But at bottom, words were what caused the war between the Central Worlds and the Peripheral Systems: the words of two essentially identical texts, precious as they proved to people on both sides of the divide.

[But now the war is over.]

Miracle on Sycamore Street: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

I’m probably preaching to the converted here, but let me let you in on a little secret to some: though books are a big deal to people like you and me, we’re outnumbered by those folks who wind their way through life without ever really reading. To them, the way we’ve committed to literature is… quite simply inexplicable. What they don’t know—and what we, the enlightened, indubitably do—is that great writing can change lives.

Great writing like the work of one John Rothstein, creator of Jimmy Gold, the real American hero at the heart of The Runner trilogy. On the basis of those books, a legion of readers “judged Rothstein to be one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, right up there with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Roth.” Morris Bellamy, a twisted little twentysomething whose mom doesn’t love him enough in the late 70s of Finders Keepers‘ first chapters, is one of said series’ dyed-in-the-wool devotees.

[Right up until he slaughters its author.]

Leviathan Breaks: Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey

For science fiction fans with more of an interest in kick-ass action than extrapolated mathematical accuracy, The Expanse has been brilliant: a breath of fresh air in a genre with a regrettable tendency to taste stale instead.

And yet, in premise, it isn’t particularly original. In each part of The Expanse so far, an expanding cast of roguish do-gooders have broken the rules to do good in a galaxy on the brink of going bad. Add to that drawback the characters—characters who felt familiar from the first, and haven’t done much to differentiate themselves since—and the setting, which is essentially the same as a hundred other interstellar sagas.

This, then, is a series that really shouldn’t work… but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t.

[Slight spoilers follow.]

Dead in the Water: Day Four by Sarah Lotz

Got an appetite for good food? Hungry for some unforgettable fun?

If you answered yes to those questions, then Foveros Cruises is beside itself with excitement to invite you to spend a week on the sparkling seas aboard The Beautiful Dreamer—a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to know North America’s number one psychic, Celine del Ray.

[That’s not all this holiday has to offer, either.]

Kenstibec is Back

Good news, Ficial fans! Kenstibec, the anti-hero at the artificial heart of Jon Wallace’s pacey dystopian debut, will return in a sequel this summer. Furthermore, a final volume will follow, completing the circle Barricade began.

With Steeple revealed, I reached out to the aforementioned author to talk about the new novel. Among a number of other subjects, we discussed the hard work of building a world, the balancing act involved in making the middle of a trilogy accessible at the same time as satisfying returning readers, and the mixed bag of comparisons many reviewers (including yours truly) made between Barricade and… let’s call it a lost and found of other fiction.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Aliette de Bodard Nukes Notre-Dame

After a period of anticipation so great that it may have given me brain pain, The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard’s first full-length fiction in more than four years, is almost upon us. Would-be readers will already have admired the cover Roc has arranged for the book’s impending publication in the States, but I believe the art adorning Gollancz’s pretty-in-purple British edition, unveiled Monday, is at least its equal.

The House of Shattered Wings is said to be “a superb murder-mystery on an epic scale, set against the fall out of a war in heaven. For such an epic novel, [Gollancz] needed a suitably epic cover.”

[Its wish? The artist’s command.]

Series: British Fiction Focus