Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.
With the death of Margaret Thatcher dominating every discussion, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no other news in the UK this week. But you’d be wrong. Life goes on. The literary life, at least.
Amongst the stories we’ll touch on today: Gollancz has signed Joanne Harris for a novel inspired by Norse mythology, Joe Abercrombie recently revealed that The First Law comic book we talked about last time will be released gratis, the winners of a prize for Young Writers have been announced, and I wonder what they say about speculative fiction’s future, and we’ll also learn about Read Petite, an innovative short fiction initiative.
Gollancz also dominates the week in new releases, bringing standalone science fiction from Gavin Smith, a collection of stories to supplement Tom Lloyd’s epic quintet, plus Poison by Sarah Pinborough: the first in a series of three feisty fairy tales reimagined for a modern audience. In addition, we anticipate the debut of Deadlands by Lily Herne and a little thing called the Book of Sith.
Young Writers Unite
At the London Book Fair on Monday, The Guardian and Hot Key Books revealed the twin winners of their first annual Young Writers Prize, news of which award had managed to elude me and the British Genre Fiction Focus before now.
The jury were of course looking for books by young writers for young readers, and they’ve found two particularly promising candidates in Vivian Versus the Apocalypse and The Rig, both of which will be published in the UK in early September.
We have cover art and blurbs for the two books, to boot. Here’s the pitch for The Rig by Joe Ducie:
Fifteen-year-old Will Drake has made a career of breaking out from high-security prisons. His talents have landed him at The Rig, a specialist juvenile holding facility in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. No one can escape from The Rig. No one except for Drake...
After making some escape plans and meeting the first real friends of his life, Drake quickly realises that all is not as it seems on The Rig. The Warden is obsessed with the mysterious Crystal-X – a blue, glowing substance that appears to give superpowers to the teens exposed to it. Drake, Tristan and Irene are banking on a bid for freedom – but can they survive long enough to make it? Drake is an action hero to rival Jason Bourne and the Cherub team in this debut author’s fantastically imagined sci-fi nightmare.
And here’s a bit about Katie Coyle’s Vivian Versus the Apocalypse:
A chilling vision of a contemporary USA where the sinister Church of America is destroying lives. Our cynical protagonist, seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple, is awaiting the fated ‘Rapture’ – or rather the lack of it. Her evangelical parents have been in the Church’s thrall for too long, and she’s looking forward to getting them back. Except that when Vivian arrives home the day after the supposed ‘Rapture’, her parents are gone. All that is left are two holes in the ceiling…
Viv is determined to carry on as normal, but when she starts to suspect that her parents might still be alive, she realises she must uncover the truth. Joined by Peter, a boy claiming to know the real whereabouts of the Church, and Edie, a heavily pregnant Believer who has been ‘left behind’, they embark on a road trip across America. Encountering freak weather, roving ‘Believer’ gangs and a strange teenage group calling themselves the ‘New Orphans’, Viv soon begins to realise that the Rapture was just the beginning.
Congratulations to the winners! Don’t spend your £10k publishing contract advances all at once, alright?
What’s especially interesting about both of these books is that they’re self-evidently speculative fiction—one’s about the end of the world, the other superpowers—when neither the organisers nor the award’s sponsors in any way intimated that they were looking for genre novels.
Now I know what the kids I teach read, and some of it certainly falls into the categories we consider in the course of these columns, but I’m still surprised how little stigma younger readers ascribe to the same species of stories which attract so much disdain from today’s movers and shakers and taste-makers.
Meanwhile, if (deep breath) The Guardian Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize is any indication, this segment of the market seems to accept speculative fiction without question.
So what do we think? Will the next generation of readers and writers leave behind the bias the genre faces today? Or will they move beyond science fiction and fantasy instead?
Meet Read Petite
On a more literary tip, The Guardian’s John Harris talked to Tim Waterstone last week about a forward-thinking, if familiar new digital initiative.
Tim Waterstone is of course the founder of the major British bookseller of the same name, and though hardly involved in the operation of the retail chain today, he’s still got some ideas up his sleeves. Read Petite was lately launched to the trade at the London Book Fair—the public will hear more about it this Autumn—but the venture’s non-executive chairman has given us enough information to be getting on with.
First, what is Read Petite?
An online outlet for short-form ebooks (fiction and non-fiction), its users will pay a monthly subscription—“a few pounds” [according to Tim Waterstone]—and have unlimited access to texts of around 9,000 words or under.
But this is no literary Spotify, offering hundreds of thousands of items with little quality control: Waterstone is insistent the service will be “curated” to ensure a high standard. Authors will have appeared in traditional print, and have been brought to Read Petite by a publisher. “The individual short story, or whatever it is, may not have been published, but the author will be an established, published writer,” he says, drumming his fingers on the table to emphasis those last three words. “The whole point is to avoid a slush-pile of material. What we’ll guarantee is quality writing.”
But what kind of quality writing? Former Bookseller editor Neill Denny appended this proposal to Waterstone’s grand plan:
The pair are particularly excited about the chance to serialise new fiction à la Charles Dickens, reintroducing readers to the long-forgotten art of the cliffhanger. They enthuse about how e-readers seem to have increased people’s appetite for short-form writing. In the US, the New York Times has reported on a resurgence of the short story, benefiting new and established writers. We talk about such short-story masters as Somerset Maugham, Stephen King and Annie Proulx, and why the publishing industry has never quite managed to market the form.
“A lot of the best short fiction has never been properly exposed, because publishers don’t find it commercially comfortable,” says Waterstone. His bookselling business did have success with Graham Greene’s short stories, but such successes were rare. “Even with a collection, how do you package it? It’s difficult in print: traditionally, money was used up on production and distribution, and not enough was left for promotion. In the digital world, production costs are virtually nil, and distribution costs don’t exist, so you’re left with a much cleaner sheet.”
In part, then, we could be looking at a less speculative Aethernet—as discussed in a previous edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus. And there might well be a place for genre fiction in this new business. It’s far too early to tell, but the nod to Stephen King certainly bodes well.
But what really won me over was the idea of Read Petite as a subscription-based streaming service: in short, a curated Spotify for stories. Speaking personally, I have no compulsion to own the e-books I read—if I love something I’ll buy the print edition—so the cost of a file that I’ll simply delete when I’m done with it seems to me prohibitively high.
Borrowing, however, would be another story. And with such a slight buy-in? Well... in for a penny, in for a few pounds!
Can you see yourself subscribing to something like Read Petite?
A Norse God’s Gospel
On Friday, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group announced that it had secured world rights to The Gospel of Loki and one other novel by Chocolat author Joanne Harris in a “substantial” six-figure deal.
The novel is a brilliant first person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods—retold from the point-of-view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard.
Fairytale and folklore have always played a part in Harris’s writing from an early age and her previous novels have included elements of magic and the supernatural. It was her particular love of Norse mythology that inspired her to write The Gospel of Loki.
Joanne said: “I have had enormous fun writing The Gospel of Loki and I am absolutely delighted at the enthusiastic response it has received so far. I very much hope that that enthusiasm will be shared by readers when Gollancz publishes it next year.”
The Whitbread Award-winner has of course covered this pantheon in the past, with Runemarks and its recent sequel Runelight, though neither of these novels was very well received on release. Here’s hoping The Gospel of Loki fares better when its publication date rolls around.
In the press release detailing this new novel, Gollancz also noted that the author will attend the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton this October alongside a star-studded array of other speakers, including Richard Matheson, Joe Hill, China Mieville, Brian Aldiss and Joe Abercrombie.
Sounds like a heck of an event already—and you can find out more about going while the going’s good, though the first round of memberships necessary to attend to the convention have been suspended already. Little wonder in light of the line-up.
Anyway, we were talking about Joe Abercrombie. Don’t you tell me we weren’t!
The First Law, Free
In the last edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, I dreamed a dream about a comic book based on The First Law trilogy in the mode of Marvel’s fantastic adaptation of The Dark Tower.
If this week has taught me anything, it’s that some dreams do come true!
From Abercrombie’s blog:
It is with the greatest pleasure of which my withered prune of a heart is capable that I announce the release of a project that has been a long time in the pipeline, which is, as many of you may already have guessed, a full colour, comprehensive Graphic Novel adaptation of that pillar of 21st century fantasy fiction: The First Law Trilogy.
It’s been put together by Rich Young of Blind Ferret, adapted by Chuck Dixon, with art by Andie Tong, colours by Pete Pantazis, lettering and design from Bill Tortolini, all done under the horrifying gaze of my single flaming unblinking eye. I am hugely pleased with the results, which, no lie, have exceeded every expectation.
But the thing that’s of particular interest to me about this project, and probably will be of some interest to you as well, is the method of distribution. Mainly – that we’re giving it away to anyone with an internet connection.
Yes, you heard me right. We’re serialising it, free, at www.firstlawcomic.com.
Now that... that I wasn’t expecting.
But if the idea of three free pages each week doesn’t do it for you, good news: single issues will be made available for a small cost courtesy Comixology, “the world’s biggest digital comic distributor.” Though I’ve yet to use it. You?
I dare say I’ll be waiting for a third way to read this ongoing series: in physical form. Thankfully, there are hardcovers coming, though we don’t have any more concrete details about them other than the fact that each volume will collect four full issues of The First Law webcomic.
That said, one assumes the pages will be available online before they’re collected, so I did some sums. If there are 24 pages per issue, and at least three pages are posted per week, then individual issues will take approximately eight weeks to complete. For four issues, that’s 32 weeks, or eight months. We have to subtract four weeks from that tally because of the 12 pages published on day one; one other because of the time that’s passed since Abercrombie let the cat out of the bag; and with that, we have our answer.
If things progress as early indications have suggested, it’ll be something like six months before Blind Ferret puts out the first collection of The First Law comic.
Which is altogether too long. Perhaps I’ll read the webcomic after all...
With that, let’s look ahead to the week in new releases.
Star Wars: Book of Sith, by Daniel Wallace (April 17, Titan Books)
In his quest for total domination, Darth Sidious compiled six legendary dark side texts detailing Sith history and philosophy by Sorzus Syn, Darth Malgus, Darth Bane, Mother Talzin, Darth Plagueis, and himself. Together these documents form the Book of Sith. Over the centuries, the texts were passed among Force users who left handwritten notes and annotations in the margins, including Darth Vader, Yoda, Mace Windu, and Luke Skywalker, among others.
Collected by acclaimed Star Wars writer Daniel Wallace and embellished by numerous esteemed Star Wars illustrators, this volume introduces new characters and history, and delves deeper into understanding the philosophies and methods behind the dark side of the Force
The Age of Scorpio, by Gavin Smith (April 18, Gollancz)
Of all the captains based out of Arclight only Eldon Sloper was desperate enough to agree to a salvage job in Red Space. And now he and his crew are living to regret his desperation.
In Red Space the rules are different. Some things work, others don’t. Best to stick close to the Church beacons. Don’t get lost.
Because there’s something wrong about Red Space. Something beyond rational. Something vampyric...
Long after The Loss mankind is different. We touch the world via neunonics. We are machines, we are animals, we are hybrids. But some things never change. A Killer is paid to kill, a Thief will steal countless lives. A Clone will find insanity, an Innocent a new horror. The Church knows we have kept our sins.
Gavin Smith’s new SF novel is an epic slam-bang ride through a terrifyingly different future.
Deadlands (Deadlands Trilogy #1), by Lily Herne (April 18, Much-in-Little)
Welcome to the Deadlands, where life is a lottery.
Since the apocalypse, Cape Town’s suburbs have become zombie-infested Deadlands. Human survivors are protected from the living dead by sinister, shrouded figures—the Guardians. In return, five teenagers are ’chosen’ and handed over to them for a mysterious purpose: this year, Lele de la Fontein’s name is picked. But Lele will not stick around and face whatever shady fate the Guardians have in store for her. She escapes, willing to take her chances in the Deadlands.
Alone, exiled and unable to return home, she runs into a misfit gang of renegade teens: Saint, a tough Batswana girl; Ginger, a wise-cracking Brit; and handsome Ash, a former child soldier. Under their tutelage, Lele learns how to seriously destroy zombies and together they uncover the corruption endemic in Cape Town, and come to learn the sickening truth about the Guardians...
Poison, by Sarah Pinborough (April 18, Gollancz)
We all think we know the story of Snow White, the beautiful young maiden cursed with eternal slumber by a poisoned apple from the wicked Queen, Snow’s jealous step-mother.
In Poison, award-winning author Sarah Pinborough takes the classic story handed down through generations and gives it a twist as dark as a witch’s heart and a modern style as bitter as a deadly fruit.
This is Snow White for a new generation: The dwarves are no longer simply creatures of fun, but a hard-working race whose lungs are scarred by the air in the metal mines; the young Queen rules with fear and dark magic from far off-lands and is poisoned by jealousy and hatred for her step-daughter; Snow is as wild and untamed as the horses she loves to ride into the forests. And then there’s the Prince destined to wake her from her enchanted sleep. He looks perfect on paper, but don’t they all?
Sarah Pinborough has crafted a witty, clever and richly realised world that rewrites the fairy-tale you think you know and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that will lead you deeper into a land of candy houses, talking mirrors and little girls dressed in red who go walking alone through dark forests…
The God Tattoo (Twilight Reign #6), by Tom Lloyd (April 18, Gollancz)
Featuring eleven stories that add further colour and shape to the epic story of the Twilight Reign series, this is an essential volume for Tom Lloyd’s many fans.
The history of the Land may remember the slaughter at Moorview or the horror of Scree’s fall, but there were other casualties of the secret war against Azaer—more tales surrounding those bloody years that went unrecorded. In the shadow of memorials to the glorious dead, these ghosts lie quiet and forgotten by all but a few.
A companion collection to the Twilight Reign quintet, these stories shine a rather different light on the Land. Look past the armies and politics of the Seven Tribes and you will find smaller moments that shaped the course of history in their own way.
But even forgotten secrets can kill. Even shadows can have claws...
Supernatural: Carved in Flesh (Supernatural #12), by Tim Waggoner (April 19, Titan Books)
Reported sightings of a hellish hound and the discovery of newly dead desiccated corpses bring Sam and Dean Winchester to Brennan, Ohio. Soon the brothers are on a trail that leads from mad scientists and biotechnology to a centuries-old alchemists and an ancient and malevolent power.
Taking its cues from the hit TV series, Supernatural: Carved in Flesh reveals a previously unseen adventure for the Winchester brothers.
There might not be a great quantity of new releases this week, especially in light of the massive list we looked at last time, but there’s still more than enough to keep me busy. Sarah Pinborough is typically terrific, so I’ll gobble up Poison post-haste, meanwhile Deadlands comes partly from one of the minds behind The Mall. That makes it a second sure thing for yours truly—and The Age of Scorpio looks good too. I’ve been meaning to read Gavin Smith for years!
It’ll probably be next Wednesday by the time I’m done with the books above. What say you we do this again then?
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.