content by

Niall Alexander

Never Mind the Messenger: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

In the suggestive sentence attached to the first chapter of The Rest of Us Just Live Here, “the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.”

The world is ending again, evidently. But never mind the Messenger—the impending apocalypse its presence heralds is not the point of Patrick Ness’ latest revelation. There are indeed dark times ahead for the friends of indie kid Finn—this Immortals nonsense will lead to any number of melodramatic deaths—but the household heroes of The Rest of Us Just Live Here are safely outside of said circle.

[Just living keeps them plenty busy]

Echoes: Little Sister Death by William Gay

As his friend Tom Franklin notes in the intimate introduction with which Little Sister Death begins, the late, great William Gay’s lost horror novel “is the most metafictional thing [he] ever wrote—it’s about a writer, obsessed with a haunting, who moves his family to the site” of said unearthly events.

Gay, for his part, didn’t go quite as far as that, but he had “long been fascinated with the Bell Witch phenomenon in Tennessee, and even had his own encounter with, perhaps, an echo of the Bell Witch herself.” That true tale acts at a capstone on the unsettling story at the centre of Little Sister Death, but there’s a goodly amount of truth, too, in the several hundred posthumously published pages preceding the author’s authentic account of his own eerie experience.

[Read more]

Together Forever: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

You can buy a bunch of stuff with money. You can buy board games, boxed sets, hot hatchbacks and huge houses—an assortment of objects and accessories and investments likely to lift your spirits for a few minutes and, if you’re lucky, a whole lot longer. But, The Heart Goes Last asks, does that mean you can buy happiness? Its answer: hah!

Stan and Charmaine wouldn’t have had any need to, till recently. When they were first married, their futures were bright; their futures were right. “They were so happy then. It was just like an ad.” The newlyweds were even considering kids when the bottom went out from under the economy and civilised society practically collapsed.

[Read more]

Welcome to Black Spring: Covering Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a name you should know. The author of five genre novels and any number of unsettling short stories—not least ‘The Ink Readers of Doi Saket’, which you can read right here on—Heuvelt, who made his dark fantasy debut at age sixteen, went on to win the Netherlands’ Paul Harland Prize not once, not twice, but thrice. Three times, readers!

None of his award-winning novels have been translated into the English language to date. Happily, a bunch of his short stories have, and they’ve went down very well. In 2013, ‘The Boy Who Cast No Shadow’ was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and he and his translator Lia Belt won that award in 2015 for ‘The Day the World Turned Upside Down’.

So what’s next for Heuvelt?

[Hex is next.]

Series: British Fiction Focus

The Long Run: Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

I spent a little less than a week reading Luna: New Moon. The first hundred pages took me five difficult days; the remainder I sucked up like a sponge in a single sitting on the sixth; and on the seventh day, I rested, not because Ian McDonald’s new novel is exhausting—though it is, initially—but because its denouement is so devastating I was rather a wreck by then.

Rarely have I finished a book feeling so differently about it as I did in the beginning. If I’d tried to review Luna: New Moon while picking my way through its tremendously dense first third, I’d have struggled to recommend it in any respect. Now, it’s all I can do to resist shouting GAME OF THRONES IN SPACE, as I did on Twitter when I put paid to its last masterful chapter, and signing off with a statement of its unadulterated greatness.

[But maybe I should explain.]

Life Everlasting: The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The year is 14,647 AD. Humankind has changed, fractured, Prismed into a dozen breeds of fairy-tale grotesques, the chaos of expansion, war and ruin flinging humanity like bouncing sparks around the blackness of space. Man has been resculpted in a hundred different places, and the world as he knew it—this world—is gone for ever.

This is the posthuman premise of The Promise of the Child: an extraordinary space opera which charts the inexorable fall of an assortment of autocratic immortals in a milieu so elaborately imagined that immersion in it is as risky as it is rewarding. Taken together with its dizzying depth and intelligence, the debut of Tom Toner, a twenty-something science-fiction savant with a sweet spot for shark teeth, has an ungodly amount going for it.

If Hannu Rajaniemi had come up with The Culture, it would have read rather like this, I think. But like The Quantum Thief before it, The Promise of the Child has an approachability problem: absent the warmth and wit that made Iain M. Banks’ books beloved, it can come across as cold, calculated and at points impenetrable.

[Read more]

Londons Burning: Covering Down Station by Simon Morden

Late last week, Gollancz announced that they’d acquired “two sweeping science fantasy novels from Philip K. Dick Award-winning author, Simon Morden.”

BFFs of the BFF had heard about these books before, of course, because in early February, thanks to a good, long talk with the man and the mind behind Metrozone, we were among the first folks to go Down to Down Station. Admittedly, we were just tilting at windmills way back when, but now, everything’s official! To wit, click the clicky bit to see the official synopsis, comments from several Simons and some absolutely cracking cover art by the BSFA Award-winning designers of Adam Roberts’ Jack Glass.

[The clicky bit!]

Series: British Fiction Focus

After Clarke’s Heart: Covering The Medusa Chronicles

When Gollancz calls The Medusa Chronicles “one of the most anticipated SF books of 2016,” it isn’t overstating the case. A meeting of two of finest minds in modern science fiction, specifically Stephen Baxter of the Xeelee Sequence and Alastair Reynolds of Revelation Space fame, inspired, in turn, by another meeting—A Meeting with Medusa, even—which the former author calls Arthur C. Clarke’s “last great work of science fiction” and the latter terms “a touchstone text,” the forthcoming collaboration represents rather an embarrassment of riches.

A continuation of “the story of Commander Howard Falcon over centuries of space-exploration, interaction with AI, first contact and beyond,” The Medusa Chronicles has been a nearly-known quantity since its announcement in April. Now, on the other side of the summer—and what a waste of a summer it was otherwise—Gollancz today gave the rest of the game away by way of an updated blurb and an early look at the book’s classic cover art.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

The Masquerade: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

I like to think of myself as a relatively well-mannered man, but if, a year or so ago, you’d told me that one of 2015’s very finest fantasies would come from the same creator who gave the video game Destiny its at best forgettable flavour, I dare say I may have laughed in your face.

That would have been my mistake, because The Traitor Baru Cormorant is, as it happens, practically masterful—not a word I can recall deploying to describe a debut in all the years I’ve been a book reviewer, but in the complete and total control Seth Dickinson demonstrates over his intricately crafted narrative and characters, this is exactly that: a first novel so clever and subversive that it bears comparison to K. J. Parker’s best and most messed-up efforts.

[Read more]

Run for Your Wife! Covering The End of the World Running Club

Born in the bush suburbs of Sydney to a Scot seeking inspiration and a passionate actress from Lancashire, Adrian J. Walker first found success as author when he self-published From the Storm in 2012. Last summer he followed it up with The End of the World Running Club, “a post-apocalyptic running fable about hope, love and endurance”—perfect, apparently, “for fans of The Martian”—which Del Rey UK recently acquired the rights to re-release.

At the time, Emily Yau, Assistant Editor of the aforementioned Ebury imprint, described The End of the World Running Club as “an original, exciting and powerful” piece of writing:

So much more than your usual post-apocalyptic novel, it takes you on a journey that’s full of twists and turns, breath-taking action and engaging characters. But ultimately it’s an uplifting story of what it is to be human, which will resonate strongly with readers.

And judging by the seven hundred odd reviews and ratings Walker’s second novel has amassed across Amazon and Good Reads in the year since the beast was unleashed, she’s not wrong.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Elementary, My Dear Demon: Solaris Announces Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

The great detective has graced the pages of any number of novels and anthologies out of the genre fiction imprints sheltering under the Rebellion umbrella, but this week, Solaris surprised the hell out of Sherlock’s many admirers when it announced Paul Kane’s plans to pit Baker Street’s most reasoned resident against the Cenobites. That’s right: the very same Cenobites seen in ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker!

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell is coming next summer. And as Solaris’ Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Oliver so pithily put it, when “the world’s greatest detective meets horror’s greatest icons, what more could you want?”

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

In Coherence: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

In Salman Rushdie’s first novel for older readers in something like seven years—an onion-skinned thing at once wise, wilful and winningly whimsical—a great storm signals the end of the world as we know it.

A state of strangeness reigns in the wake of this otherworldly weather. Lightning springs from fingers; a would-be graphic novelist dreams the superhero he conceived into being; an abandoned baby bestows “blemishes and boils” on those who tell tall tales in her pint-sized presence; meanwhile, an elderly gentleman who calls himself Geronimo wakes up one day able to levitate: which all sounds quite delightful, doesn’t it?

[Don’t be fooled, folks.]

“There Are No Tigers”: Covering The High Mountains of Portugal

Finally, another novel from the pen of the bestselling Booker Prize Winner in history! Canongate announced earlier today that their spring 2016 schedule would be led by none other than Yann Martel, the inimitable author of Self, Beatrice and Virgil, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and What is Stephen Harper Reading? And of course, Life of Pi—Martel’s most notable novel, no doubt, and a foundational work of fiction for me and many others. Many, many others, I imagine, since twelve million copies of said text have been sold since its publication—by Canongate in the UK—in 2001.

Happily, The High Mountains of Portugal sounds like Martel doing what Martel does best: telling a tragical yet magical tale about time and place.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

“An Accidental Worldwalker”: Angry Robot Announces An Accident of Stars

For, she’s blogged about Orphan Black, Sense8, and B. R. Sanders’ Ariah. She’s contributed criticism to Aidan Moher’s award-winning A Dribble of Ink—which is already much missed—since April 2013. Her incisive writing has been showcased once, twice, thrice in each of the three annual of editions of Speculative Fiction: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary. And in the age of literary innocence, back before a bunch of puppies in various emotional states made mischief with their slates, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her own site, Shattersnipe.

She’s written a couple of books, too: see Solace and Grief and The Key to Starveldt. And now she has a couple of others coming, starting with An Accident of Stars, which Angry Robot Books plan to publish in the summer of 2016.

I sincerely hope I don’t need to introduce you to Foz Meadows, folks.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Cross of Confusion: A Cold Silence by Alison Littlewood

Hard to believe it’s only been three years since A Cold Season launched Alison Littlewood into modern horror’s hallowed halls, given the indelible impression she’s made to date. Her debut, selected as it was for the Richard and Judy Book Club, was widely-read and basically beloved; the British Fantasy Society deemed Path of Needles one of the best novels of the year of its release; and The Unquiet House was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson, which award Littlewood just won for her contribution to the inaugural Spectral Book of Horror Stories.

Long story short, this lady’s going places. But first, because her fans demanded it, I gather, A Cold Silence ushers us back to Darnshaw—in the company of the central characters who visited that village of vacuum black and icy white in A Cold Season, even—for a deal with the devil that did next to nothing for me, I’m afraid.

[Read more]

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]