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Niall Alexander

The Sharp Ends of Joe Abercrombie

Fresh from the accelerated success of his Shattered Sea series, Joe Abercrombie confirmed this morning that the dastardly masterplan he outlined in 2013 still stands.

With the recent release of Half a War, his HarperCollins Voyager holiday has come to a conclusion. As of now, Abercrombie has gone back to his old masters at Gollancz, and in order to plug “the gap a little before a new First Law world book comes out in very provisionally 2017”—as the author asserted in a relatively recent Ask Me Anything on Reddit—something called Sharp Ends is coming.

[And it’s going to be pointy!]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Vive la Révolution! Dream Paris by Tony Ballantyne

London has had a tough time of it in recent years, in literature and to a lesser extent in life: it’s rioted and rebelled; it’s been burned, bombed and buried; it’s risen to great heights and, inevitably, it’s fallen. And fallen. And fallen.

But you can’t keep a city like Great Britain’s biggest down—even when a living nightmare threatens to take its place, as Tony Ballantyne demonstrated in Dream London. A notable novel which explored a notion not dissimilar to that proposed by the Philip K. Dick Award nominee’s pre-eminent peer in the weird, namely the intrusion of a second place on a single space—see also The City & the City by China Mieville—Dream London showcased the spirit and the resilience of even the most impoverished inhabitants of my country’s capital.

[And yet…]

Conclave of Angels: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Hands up if you’ve heard of Aliette de Bodard. Good. That’s a whole lot of hands. Hands down, however, if you’ve never actually read her.

As I suspected; hardly half as many. But don’t feel bad, folks. Despite having written a trilogy of full-on, fifteenth-century Aztec fantasy, de Bodard is most known for her short stories—especially ‘Immersion’, which swept the speculative awards scene in 2013—and as big a fan of such fiction as I am, the form seems to to be going nowhere slowly, at least in terms of its readership.

[The House of Shattered Wings, then, is just the thing]

The Story of The Story of Kullervo

If, on the back of The Children of Hurin, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur and last year’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, you thought the well of variously unfinished fragments of fiction by the grandfather of fantasy was in danger of running dry, think again!

Later this month, HarperCollins plan to publish J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo, “the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who swears revenge on the magician who killed his father.”

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Hell is Other People: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

If The X-Files taught me one thing, it was to be afraid—to be very afraid—of escalators. I learned early to take the stairs, or else be consumed by Eugene Tooms. But the recently revived TV series taught me at least two things, in truth: that, and the fact that thinking of Earth as the cradle of all creation in the unimaginable vastness of the galaxy is an act of absolute arrogance.

I want to believe, in other words. Absent any evidence, however, belief is a difficult state to sustain. It necessitates a leap of faith I’ve never been able to take—though that’s no longer a problem for the characters at the heart of The Dark Forest—the startling second volume of Cixin Liu’s translated trilogy—as they, and humanity as a whole, have had that proof.

[Our wildest dreams were realised in the same second as our worst fears]

Covering Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers

Tim Powers mightn’t be speculative fiction’s fastest writer, but he is, to my mind, one of its finest.

Almost four years on from Hide Me Among the Graves, a sequel of sorts to 1989’s The Stress of Her Regard, and a frankly disarming decade since his last standalone, the Locus Award nominated Three Days to Never, Corvus has announced, via Zeno Agency, that the author’s next novel, Medusa’s Web, will be published here in first week of the new year.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Titan Acquires Two Nina Allan Novels

Earlier today, Titan Books quite rightly delighted in its acquisition of world rights to release not one but two Nina Allan novels, beginning with The Race: “a novel of tender nuances, brutality, insight and great ambition, a narrative that lays bare the fears and joys of being human, and, ultimately, offers hope to us all,” the brilliance of which knocked Strange Horizons’ Dan Hartland for six when NewCon Press first published it last summer.

The Race is a beautiful and progressive new SF set in a future Great Britain scarred by fracking and ecological collapse. Skillfully plotted and with a spellbinding mixed narrative reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, the novel was published to critical applause and went on to receive numerous shortlist nominations from celebrated bodies, including the BSFA, Kitschies and Campbell Awards.

Allan, the winner of the 2014 BSFA Award for Best Short Fiction and the prestigious Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for Best Translated Work, was chuffed to bits about finding a new home for her fiction.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

#GollanczFest ’15: Gollancz Harder

Remember #GollanczFest?

You should, dear reader. Last year’s award-winning Gollancz Festival was the first of its kind, integrating digital and physical book events in one day on multiple platforms, featuring live participation from almost 50 writers. In just 24 hours, it reached nearly 9 million timelines on Twitter, attracted almost 20,000 YouTube viewers, and sold out an epic event at Waterstones’ flagship store in Picadilly. After the fact, the first #GollanczFest inspired companies across the country to follow in its footsteps, up to and including HarperCollins, whose #VirtualVoyager has been going strong all week long.

So: it should surprise precisely no-one that #GollanczFest is coming back. This year, though, it’s going to be “even bigger and better” than ever, according to Gollancz’s blog.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the Fifth, and Master of All”: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

If the Inheritance Trilogy established N. K. Jemisin as a genre writer to be reckoned with, and the Dreamblood Duology demonstrated the range of her capabilities as a creator, book the first of The Broken Earth comprehensively confirms the award-winning worldbuilder as one of our very finest fantasists. Epic in its scope and scale in the same instant as it is intimate, The Fifth Season is rich, relevant and resonant—quite frankly remarkable.

Brilliantly, it begins with an ending; with two intertwined endings, in truth, which, when taken together, foreground Jemisin’s focus on the huge and the human. In the first, a mother covers the broken body of her little boy—who’s been beaten to death by his father simply for being different—with a blanket. Essun does not cover Uche’s head, however, “because he is afraid of the dark.”

These harrowing paragraphs—and paragraphs are all they are, for all their power—are paired with what is, in apocalyptic fiction such as this, a more conventional conclusion.

[The end… of everything.]

Voyager Goes Virtual

Way back when, in October 2012, Voyager—HarperCollins’ home for fantasy and science fiction, and the publisher across the pond of people like George R.R. Martin, Mark Lawrence, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb—opened its doors to unagented submissions for a brief period. In just two weeks, something like five thousand manuscripts were submitted, fifteen of which have seen the light of day of late.

Spanning genres “from urban fantasy to military sci-fi, with YA, romance and mystery in the mix,” Voyager’s venture into digital-first publishing has been such a exceptional success that the imprint is set to celebrate said with a week it’s calling #VirtualVoyager. From this coming Monday through Friday (August 3-7), the fifteen authors comprising the digital list have cleared their calendar to participate in a schedule of exciting events and social media sessions you won’t want to miss.

Never one to take a press release as the whole of the story, however, I asked Voyager’s most approachable assistant editor, one Rachel Winterbottom, if she could delve into a little additional detail about the week.

[She did!]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Even Eviller: The Good, the Bad and the Smug by Tom Holt

Evil just isn’t what it was.

Used to be, you could slaughter a dwarf and gnaw his gnarly bones all the way home without attracting any undesirable attention. Now? Not so much. It’s a new world, you know? And it might just be that the new world needs a new breed of evil.

In The Good, the Bad and the Smug, Tom Holt—aka K. J. Parker—proposes exactly that as the premise of a satirical and sublimely self-aware fairytale that brings together the wit and the wickedness of the author’s alter ego with the whimsy and the nefarious wordplay which have made the YouSpace series such a sweet treat so far.

[Readers, meet Mordak: King of the Goblins]

Occupy Your Time with Tricia Sullivan’s New Novel!

Gollancz had good reason to crow about its acquisition of Occupy Me on Thursday: it’s Tricia Sullivan’s first new science fiction novel since Lightborn in 2010, and it promises to outstrip everything else the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner has written.

An extraordinary, genre-defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time, Occupy Me follows Pearl, an angel who works for the Resistance—an organisation dedicated to making the world a better place one incremental act of kindness at a time—as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man.

And at the centre of it all, a briefcase that contains countless possible realities…

[…including Hell itself.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

The United States of Japan Needs You!

When Angry Robot Books revealed what it’s billing as “the spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle” late last week, the name of the writer behind it rang a bell in my brain. I didn’t have to look long or hard or far to find out why—Peter Tieryas has written, in the first instance, some absolutely fantastic articles for, not least this recent piece about the speculative underpinnings of Super Mario Brothers, and this bravura bit about navigating the Louvre with a little help from Nintendo.

And now? Now he’s written a novel. Not his first, in fact. Bald New World was one of the Best Science Fiction Books of 2014, per Publishers Weekly, and his new book sounds similarly subversive. “Set in a gripping alternate history where the Japanese Empire rules over America with huge robots,” United States of Japan is in part an exploration of the tragedies that took place in Asia during WWII.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Covering Long Dark Dusk by JP Smythe

“I AM A SPOILER-FREE ZONE,” JP Smythe said to me—repeatedly, even—when I talked him into answering a couple of questions about Long Dark Dusk on the back the book’s big reveal last week, and he has every reason to be reticent: Way Down Dark, the first third of the Australia trilogy, ends with a twist that changes the name of the game completely. To talk about it would be to rob readers of one of the year’s most memorable moments, so I’ll hold off as long as possible.

What I will say, here in the header, is that Long Dark Dusk is destined to be a dramatically different text than its predecessor. Its narrative, in fact, is apt to be still more sinister than Way Down Dark’s, as Smythe explained when I asked him what lessons he’d learned writing for younger readers.

[Don’t make any distinctions between audiences when writing and you’ll be absolutely fine.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

A Labour of Love: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Since the startling Mars trilogy, if not far in advance of that, Kim Stanley Robinson has been seen as something of a standard-bearer for science fiction—and quite rightly. In the sixteen years since said series’ completion, he’s repeatedly demonstrated himself capable of combining the very finest in futurism with the crucial components of sterling storytelling so many of his contemporaries unfortunately forget.

Aurora chronicles Robinson’s return to science fiction in the first, after the about-turn he took in 2013, but to begin with, it reads distressingly like a retread. Its premise depends upon a generation ship hurtling towards the Tau Ceti system, where the two thousand-some souls aboard plan to carve out a new home for humanity—a notion set in motion by the same sort of environmental catastrophe Aurora‘s author has explored before, not least in the Science in the Capital saga. After their arrival, these cosmic colonists take on the deceptively complex task of terraforming, much as the men and women of the Mars trilogy did. In the interim, they eke out a existence of subsistence in biomes rather reminiscent of those Robinson detailed in 2312—biomes which our central character slowly explores in the course of a long wanderjahr that isn’t dissimilar to the walkabout Shaman started with.

But readers? Read on.

[Because there’s so much more to Aurora.]

Fly Me To The Moon: Armada by Ernest Cline

Isn’t the world weird?

After decades of dismissal, what was once the preserve of known nerds is now everyone’s favourite field. Video games are a cornerstone of contemporary culture. There are characters from comic books wherever you look. The fundamental stuff of science fiction and fantasy has been embraced in a big way by the mainstream, and though there are those who still question the merits of the speculative, even these outliers have had a hard time denying the cultural cache it has accrued in recent years.

Fair to say, then, that geek has never been more chic—a zeroing of the zeitgeist Ernest Cline capitalised on to heartfelt effect in his first novel following the cult film Fanboys. A celebration of all things 80s bolstered by a cannily-characterised protagonist who came of age over its uproarious course, Ready Player One was smart, but it also had a heart. Armada starts strong, by scratching a great many of the same itches Cline’s debut did. It too worships at the altar of this new, nerd-friendly nostalgia. It combines space-based spectacle with a series of intimate interruptions. It’s frequently funny and remarkably referential. But there’s a but.

[Slight spoilers follow.]

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.]