Welcome again to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the thriving industry dedicated to speculative fiction that exists in the United Kingdom!
In the news this week: we discuss the departure of Neal Asher, examine the origins of Den Patrick’s debut, consider some particularly poisonous cover art, and anticipate a forthcoming erotic novel—one with a fantastic twist, that is. Finally, in light of recent reports, we wonder whether Waterstones can survive the storm currently laying waste to high street retail.
After that, this round of new releases includes books by Jim Crace, Cherie Priest, Paul Witcover, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Christopher Brookmyre—a Scotsman after my own heart. Meanwhile, more Julian May—yay!—and a trio of dystopian darlings, featuring The Farm by Emily McKay alongside sequels to Pure and Wither.
Waterstones Weathers the Winter
I’ve been buying books from Waterstones since I was a critter in single digits, and to this day I still do. There have been other major bookstores in the high street in the intervening years, including Ottakar’s, Borders, and any number of less memorable outlets, almost all of which have come... and gone. In my life at least, Waterstones alone has been a mainstay.
This is a dismaying state of affairs for the book buyer in Britain, but hey, we’ll always have Waterstones... won’t we?
Actually, things haven’t been looking so swell for the retailer recently. Having posted a profit of £10.4m in the previous year, Waterstones’ margins took a dire turn in 2012: after tax, they were out £37.3m—a harbinger of the end times if ever there was one.
But thanks in large part to new Managing Director James Daunt, and the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut—who bought Waterstones from parent company HMV just before the worst of its own woes hit—somehow the troubled bookseller is still fighting the good fight.
And there are other positive signs. Silver linings like the costly refurbishment of 40 flagship stores, which speaks to the new boss’s belief in his £53m acquisition, and—hot off the presses—the news of a 5% increase in like-for-like sales over the previous Christmas period, which goes to show that these beliefs really could come to something.
As Helen Ebrahimi reports in The Telegraph:
“It takes a while to turn these things around,” said Mr Daunt. “We had a pretty torrid six month period. I just thank God that it is in the past.”
Under Mr Daunt, Waterstones has a three-year plan that aims to create “sustainable profitability” for the group. [...] He expects annual results for 2013 to improve “significantly”—although they are still likely to post a loss.
“There is a plan,” said Mr Daunt. “We won’t achieve everything this year but it will be a lot better. I run an old style business—which means it is very cash generative.”
He warned that retailers needed to up their game in order to compete and survive. “Retailing has changed significantly. We have refitted 40 shops to make them nicer places go to and buy books because it is beholden on high street retailers to make the high street a pleasure to go to. Dark, dank and gloomy shops can’t survive—and many of the old Waterstones shops would have met that description.”
In short, it’ll take time for things to turn the company around entirely, but if all goes well, Waterstones could have many years ahead of it yet.
Fingers firmly crossed.
The Departure of Neal Asher
Well, after a fashion...
You see, the publication of The Departure in North American territories last week was just the start of Neal Asher’s invasion of the United States.
Night Shade Books have announced that they’ll be catching readers from across the pond up on the whole of The Owner series (so far) in 2013. The first sequel, Zero Point, will be coming their way in May, meanwhile Jupiter War is pencilled in for publication in September: the same month Macmillan means to release it here in the UK.
Though occasional efforts have been made to bring Neal Asher’s unique brand of high-octane science fiction to an American audience before, this more sustained campaign should serve to raise the author’s international profile significantly. Hopefully it’ll win him an army of new fans, too.
I’m not a massive admirer of Neal Asher’s novels myself, but there are those who’ll be over the moon at this news, and in any event, it’s an absolute pleasure to see another British genre author poised to take the States by storm.
Cover Art Corner: Poison, Charm and Beauty Too
The arrival of a new novel by a favourite author can be a mixed blessing. As often as not, the pleasure of finally experiencing a story you’ve anticipated for ages is all but voided by the vague pain of not knowing when you’ll be able to read such-and-such a writer again.
Well I’ve been looking forward to Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough—coming this April from Jo Fletcher Books—for ages. Luckily, it looks like I won’t go wanting afterwards, because Gollancz have just unveiled the covers for not one... not two... but three—count ‘em!—three new books coming from the underrated author of The Dog-Faced Gods.
Continuing the renaissance of fairy tales in our entertainment of late, Poison portends to tell the true tale of Snow White. Later in 2013, Pinborough plans to refresh the Cinderella story in Charm, and last but not in the least least, Beauty will cast new light on a certain Sleeping Beauty.
These three fair fables will be published in Britain as dainty hardbacks, complete with illustrations by the most excellent Les Edwards, beginning with Poison in April.
I say bring on the princesses!
Dangerous Den’s Debut
I can’t hope to talk about every new book announcement in the BGFF—would that I could—but when I hear “echoes of Mervyn Peake,” I pay attention. And those were the very words used by Deputy Publishing Director Simon Spanton to describe Den Patrick’s forthcoming debut, the worldwide rights to which Gollancz have acquired for an undisclosed six-figure sum.
The Boy with the Porcelain Eyes “is set in a pseudo-Renaissance Italy [...] and follows the fate of Lucien ‘Sinestra’ de Fontein as he attempts to find his place among the nobility.” But this is just the beginning: each of the three proposed books in The Erebus Sequence will follow one of the orfano, which are “deformed orphans left on the steps of the Great Houses.”
On Gollancz’s blog, Den Patrick discusses the not-so-secret origins of these novels:
It started with a title.
My girlfriend at the time commented my ears were “so pale they looked like porcelain.” I was hideously hungover and being pale has always been my standard look.
[Then] I had the idea for the four Great Houses. House Fontein for the soldiers, House Erudito for the scholars and professors, House Contadino for the farmers, House Prospero for the craftsmen and traders. Things were taking shape. And hadn’t I always loved Dune? Didn’t the Houses engage in kanly, in vendetta? Ideas were coming thick and fast now.
The orphan had porcelain ears because he lacked ears of his own. I’d always known this, but now other ideas occurred. What other deformities did he have, and were there other orphans like him? And were they pitted against each other and for what reason?
There’s been no word about a release date for The Boy with the Porcelain Eyes as yet, but rest assured, I’ll get back to you as soon as I have more concrete details, not least because this fantasy series sounds right up my street.
Turn to Page XXX
According to a report from The Bookseller, Sphere—an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group—has won the rights to publish a series of erotic novels beginning with A Girl Walks into a Bar... which will be released as an ebook in Britain this coming summer, followed by a physical edition in November, just in time for the Christmas crowd.
But you must be wondering why in the world I’ve chosen to close out the BGFF this week with news of an auction for erotica. Well, the thing is, there’s a certain speculative element. Because this collaboration between three South African authors writing under the pseudonym Helena S. Paige isn’t just another Fifty Shades of Grey knock-off. Or if it is, it’s one with a difference.
That’s enough beating around the bush. A Girl Walks into a Bar... is—wait for it—the first in a sequence of choose your own adventure erotic novels. Which is to say less swordplay, more role-play... oh my!
Says Manpreet Grewal of the acquisition:
The A Girl Walks In... series is inspired. To allow a woman to be in charge of her own erotic destiny, to relinquish control to her completely, is uniquely empowering and made these books stand out for all the right reasons. The concept is completely addictive, the storytelling gripping.
The entire team is behind this and it’s going to be an utter pleasure to publish this series on the Sphere list.
Given Sphere’s target market, I do wonder whether A Girl Walks into a Bar... will be for me—never mind my abiding adoration for Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
Tell you what, though: I’m terribly tempted. Maybe I really should read these. Or perhaps I should be spanked for even thinking such a thing...
Whatever you choose, turn to the page marked XXX to find out what happens next!
But before you decide, what say you we look through the week in new releases? Beginning with a book I managed—shame on me—to wholly overlook last time.
Would it be your ultimate fantasy to enter the world of a video game?
A realm where you don’t have to go to work or worry about your health; where you can look like a hero or a goddess; where you can fly space-ships, slay dragons, yet all of it feels completely real. A realm where there are no consequences and no responsibilities.
Would it be your ultimate fantasy... or your worst nightmare?
Stuck in an endless state of war and chaos where the pain and fear feels real and from which not even death can offer an escape.
Prison or playground. Heaven or hell. This is where you find out. This is white-knuckle action, sprawling adventure, merciless satire and outrageous humour like you’ve never experienced. This is Bedlam.
All is in turmoil as the world moves towards war.
In Solarno, the spies watch each other and ready their knives, while Myna sees the troops muster at its border and emotions run high as it vows never to be enslaved again.
In Collegium, the students argue politics, too late to turn the tide.
In the heart of the Empire, new pilots have completed their secretive training, generals are being recalled to service and armies are ready to march. Their Empress, the heir to two worlds, intends to claim her birthright. And nothing—either within the Empire or beyond it—will stand in her way.
A conflict is coming, the like of which the insect-kinden have never seen.
1758. The Age of Enlightenment. Yet the advance of reason has not brought peace. England is embroiled in a war that stretches from her North American colonies to Europe and beyond. Across the channel the French prepare to invade.
Daniel Quare is a journeyman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. He is also a Regulator: a member of a secret order within the guild tasked with seeking out horological innovations that could give England the upper hand over her enemies.
Now Quare’s superiors have heard tell of a singular device: a pocket watch rumoured to possess properties that have more to do with magic than with any known science. But Quare soon learns that he is not alone in searching for this strange and sinister timepiece. He is pursued by a French spy who will stop at nothing to fetch the prize back to his masters. And a mysterious thief known only as Grimalkin seeks the watch as well, for purposes equally enigmatic.
Daniel’s path is full of adventure, intrigue, betrayal and murder—and it will lead him from the world he knows to an otherwhere of demigods and dragons in which nothing is as it seems, time least of all....
For Lily and her twin sister Mel there is only the Farm...
It’s a prison, a blood bank, a death camp - where fear and paranoia rule. But it’s also home, of sorts. Because beyond the electric fence awaits a fate much, much worse.
But Lily has a plan.
She and Mel are going to escape - into the ravaged land outside, a place of freedom and chaos and horrors. Except Lily hasn’t reckoned on two things: first, her sister’s ability to control the horrors; and, secondly, on those out there who desperately want to find and control Mel.
Mel’s growing power might save the world, or utterly end it. But only Lily can protect Mel from what is to come....
When the end came, the world was divided. Those considered perfect, the Pure, sheltered inside the controlled Dome. Outside, the Wretches struggled in a destroyed world, crippled by the fusings that branded them after the apocalypse that changed everything.
Partridge, a Pure, has left the safety of the Dome in search of the truth. Pressia, a Wretch, is desperate to decode the secret that will cure her people of their fusings forever. Together, they must seek out the answers that will save humankind, and prevent the world’s annihilation.
But the betrayal of Partridge’s departure has not been forgotten. As the Dome unleashes horrifying vengeance upon the Wretches in an attempt to get Partridge back, Partridge has no choice but to return to face the darkness that lies there, even as Pressia travels to the very ends of the world to continue their search.
Theirs is a struggle against a formidable foe, and it is a fight that will push them over boundaries of land and of sea, of heart and of mind. They can only hope for success because failure is unimaginable....
As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders—two men and a dangerously magnetic woman—arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire.
Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it...
Told in Jim Crace’s hypnotic prose, Harvest evokes the tragedy of land pillaged and communities scattered, as England’s fields are irrevocably enclosed. Timeless yet singular, mythical yet deeply personal, this beautiful novel of one man and his unnamed village speaks for a way of life lost for ever.
Adventures await Rector “Wreck ’em” Sherman. About to turn eighteen, he’s facing ejection from the orphanage that passed for home. He should also choose a trade, but work is scarce in steam-powered Seattle. And Rector has more unconventional plans. He’s started dealing in sap, a yellow narcotic produced by rebels and outlaws within the city’s toxic walled enclave. What’s worse, he’s been sampling his wares. Other problems include being haunted by an old friend with a grudge.
The pressure builds until he sneaks behind the wall himself, seeking both (un)gainful employment and excitement. As rumoured, he finds a terrifying host of the hungry undead, and then there’s the monster. Rector’s certain that his attacker wasn’t human, or undead. But he’s going to need more proof than his own addled word to expose it. His new mission becomes a compulsion when others witness the creature’s destructiveness, and give its kind a name: The Inexplicables.
Jack the Bodiless (The Galactic Milieu #1), by Julian May (February 14, Tor UK)
Earth stands on the brink of acceptance into the Galactic Milieu, a benevolent political and telepathic alliance of alien races. But some are wary, as their new supervisors have introduced stringent new laws. Leading humanity is the powerful Remillard family, but a ruthless entity known only as the Fury has its own agenda for the Galactic Milieu. It starts to murder those with metapsychic talents, triggering a chaos that could delay Earth’s inclusion.
At this delicate juncture, Teresa, wife of clan leader Paul Remillard, conceives a child who could represent humanity’s future. But Jack’s birth is illegal under Milieu law and she will need the formidable mental abilities of Uncle Rogi and Jack’s older brother Marc to cover her tracks. Young Jack promises to be the most powerful mental talent ever seen. But he’s destined to be destroyed by his own DNA, unless the Fury gets to him first.
Time is running out for Rhine.
With less than three years left until the virus claims her life, Rhine is desperate for answers. Having escaped torment at Vaughn’s mansion, she finds respite in the dilapidated home of her husband’s uncle, an eccentric inventor who hates Vaughn almost as much as Rhine does.
Rhine’s determination to be reunited with her twin brother, Rowan, increases as each day brings terrifying revelations to light about his involvement in an underground resistance. She realizes must find him before he destroys the one thing they have left: hope.
As usual, we haven’t had time to discuss an assortment of other stuff, including the promotion of Lee Harris over at Angry Robot Books—congrats!—the announcement of a pseudo-sequel to The Woman in Black—I’m sorry, what?—not to mention Neil Gaiman’s collaboration with BlackBerry on A Calendar of Tales—which sounds terrific, don’t you think?
But for today, I’m afraid to say, we’re just about done.
It only remains for us to talk through this week’s news and new releases. What do you think Waterstones’ chances are? Are you looking forward to catching up on your Neal Asher? And how obscenely appealing is Sphere’s contemporary twist on the classic choose your own adventure formula... or is that just me?
From the latest round of new books, I’ll be reading Bedlam, The Farm and hopefully Harvest, if I can find the time, but what about you? Anything of particular interest in the latest list? Anything I might have missed?
See you next time on the British Genre Fiction Focus!
Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com, where he contributes a weekly column concerned with news and new releases in the UK called the British Genre Fiction Focus, and co-curates the Short Fiction Spotlight. On rare occasion he’s been seen to tweet about books, too.