Welcome once again to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.
We begin today with what must be the biggest news of the week: the announcement that Joe Abercrombie will be taking a slight step away from the best-in-class grimdark fantasy with which he made his name. His new YA trilogy begins next summer with Half a King, and it sounds super, but thanks to an implication here and a confirmation there, I’ve also been able to put together a list of what to expect from the next six books to bear Abercrombie’s bestselling brand, and when we’re likely to see them.
Also featured in this week’s bumper British Genre Fiction Focus, further developments in the case of Robert Galbraith—aka J. K. Rowling—plus news of two recently revealed genre novels: one supposedly utopian debut and the strange story of The Abominable Showman.
Half a Kingdom Comes
Almost without exception, Joe Abercrombie has put out a book each year since his acclaimed debut in 2006, every one of which has shared certain traits... so it can come as little surprise that the author is interested in exploring other avenues now that he has the opportunity to.
Let’s begin with some background from Abercrombie’s blog:
I’ve published six hefty adult fantasy books in seven years. Although I’ve tried to make them all different in some ways—different structures, different settings, different points of view—they’re all pretty beefy, they’re all set in the same world, they have a similar tone, they cover some of the same ground. Though I’m very happy with and proud of the result, Red Country was a difficult book to write. I felt at times somewhat uninspired. Somewhat burned out. I really didn’t want, as I had every time in the past, to go straight on to working on the next book in the First Law world right after finishing one. I felt the need to step back, recharge the batteries, try something at least a little bit different. But at the same time I didn’t want the acorn to fall too far from the tree—I wanted it to be something that my established readers would enjoy, or perhaps even love with a flaming passion. I wanted to set up two separate lines of work that would complement each other creatively and commercially.
Abercrombie goes on to recall the options he had once Red Country was out of his hands. Evidently, he seriously considered writing a video game tie-in, before passing on the project because “in the end it just seemed like too much work ploughed into something I didn’t own and in the last analysis couldn’t control. The other option,” as he put it, “was to write fantasy in a new world, perhaps in a different style or form.”
Enter Half a King, “the first of three standalone but interconnected novels aimed at younger readers.” The plan is for HarperCollins “to publish the book simultaneously across the English-speaking world in July 2014, with two sequels following at six monthly intervals in January and July 2015.”
Abercrombie asserts that Half and King and its sequels, provisionally titled Half the World and Half a War, will be both similar and different from his body of work:
In some ways this is a very different sort of book from what I’ve written so far. It’s aimed partly at younger readers (maybe the 12-16 range). It’s much shorter—80,000 words compared to 175,000 for my shortest, Red Country, and 230,000 for my longest, Last Argument of Kings (though still over twice the length of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, believe it or not). It’s set in a very different world with what you might call a viking or anglo-saxon feel. It’s much more focused, with a single point of view. It’s not so overtly ‘gritty’ although it’s a long way from smooth. It is punchy. It has drive. I aimed to deliver a slap in the face with every page.
Before some of you groan in horror at this wounding betrayal of all you believe in, I also wrote this with established readers, and indeed with a wider adult readership, very much in mind. In some ways it’s a very similar sort of book to what I’ve written so far. It’s fantasy, but light on the fantasy, and heavy on the vivid characters, the visceral action, the mixture of wit and cynicism, the twists and surprises. I hope that it will have a wide appeal. But I don’t feel that I’ve compromised on the way I’ve written. I think it’s as tough, surprising, challenging, and morally ‘grey’ as the rest of my output.
Here’s to having it both ways, eh?
That said, if anyone can make young adult fantasy fiction grim and gritty, Abercrombie can.
Last but not least, an early look at the book, via the Voyager blog:
A classic coming-of-age tale, set in a brilliantly imagined alternative historical world reminiscent of the Dark Ages with Viking overtones, [Half a King] tells the story of Yarvi, youngest son of a warlike king. Born with a crippled hand, he can never live up to his father’s expectations of what a real man should be and his destiny is not the throne but the Ministry, not the sword and shield but the book and the soft word spoken.
But when his father and brother are killed, Yarvi is propelled to kingship and must sit in the Black Chair, between gods and men, and half a man must find a way to rule as half a king. Thus begins a gripping switchback ride of a tale that will carry Yarvi far beyond his kingdom, from the heights of royalty to the depths of slavery, during the course of which he must find better ways to fight than with a sword, and learn the lessons that will make him a man.
By the dead, bring it on already!
The Future of the First Law
Part and parcel with the announcement of the Half a King trilogy came confirmation of Abercrombie’s other plans. He hasn’t, as it happens, parted ways with Gollancz, his original British publisher. Nor is he in any way done with the world of the First Law:
It’s very important to say that this is in no way a split from my current publishers Gollancz (and their parent Orion) in the UK and Orbit in the US. I cannot emphasise enough that Gollancz—and in particular my editor, Gillian Redfearn—have been and continue to be a brilliant, brilliant publisher for me. They fished The Blade Itself from the slush pile, more or less, and have built on the success of every book, to the point where The Heroes and Red Country both made the Sunday Times Hardcover Bestseller list. They’ve made deals in no less than 26 foreign territories and sold somewhere around 3 million of my books across the world in paper, audio and electronic formats. That’s quite an achievement and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and the work they’ve put into making my books a success.
Gollancz will continue to publish the six First Law books in the UK (along with Orbit and Pyr in the US)—with their accustomed inspiration and aplomb, I do not doubt—and in due course will be publishing a collection of short stories (which hopefully will appear in late 2015/early 2016) as well as another trilogy set in the First Law world. That trilogy is in the works, but there was always going to be a significant gap in the adult publishing while I worked out what I was going to do with it. I wouldn’t bet on seeing the first one in your bookstore (or on your preferred e-reading platform) before 2017.
To recap, Friday’s exciting news was not of one new book, but seven. Seven! For serious!
Be warned that there’s a bit of guesswork in this li’l list—but it is at least educated guesswork given Abercrombie’s output in previous years:
- Half a King: July 2014
- Half the World: January 2015
- Half a War: July 2015
- Untitled Short Story Collection: Early 2016
- Untitled Adult Trilogy #1: 2017
- Untitled Adult Trilogy #2: 2018
- Untitled Adult Trilogy #3: 2019
Now far be it from me to ask for more—I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll be bloody happy about it, I bet—but I’d have liked to see Abercrombie exploring another genre than fantasy. Can you even imagine the sci-fi he might write?
Maybe in... oh, say 2020? Maybe then we won’t have to imagine it.
One way or another, we’ve got a whole lot of Joe Abercrombie to look forward to, starting next summer, and that’s unquestionably a good thing in my book.
Essence of The Abominable Showman
Day and date with Abercrombie’s announcement there was news of another author who appears to be leaving Gollancz—for the time being, at least. Namely Robert Rankin.
This September will see the publication of the fourth novel in the steampunk series which began with The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions, continued with The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age, went on by way The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the Worlds, and now looks to conclude with The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Fowl and Filthy Fiends.
The next Robert Rankin novel after that? Well it won’t be coming from Gollancz, who have been publishing the comical author since time immemorial, approximately. The Abominable Showman will be brought to market by Telos instead:
“We’re absolutely delighted to welcome Robert Rankin to Telos Publishing,” said [Editorial Director David J.] Howe. “I have admired and been a fan of his work for many years, and we intend to bring Telos’ commitment to quality and enthusiasm for good writing to bear, and to make the release of The Abominable Showman one of the most talked-about fantasy books of 2014.”
The novel concerns the celebration of Queen Victoria’s 90th year on the throne—and is set on a vast steampunk space liner in the year 1927. “The book embodies all that is loved and celebrated about Rob’s writing,” said Howe. “It has a magnificent sense of the absurd, combined with characters which leap off the page. Rob’s fans are in for a real treat!”
“I was delighted when we agreed that Telos Publishing would take this novel,” explained Rankin. “I have long been an admirer of their catalogue of authors and books, and the enthusiasm and excitement that they bring to the publishing process. It’s something of an honour to join them in this adventure, with a novel of which I am very proud, and had a great deal of fun writing.”
I’m not sure if this represents a permanent change of publisher for Robert Rankin, or just an exploratory exception to the state of play today. Some clarification on that front would be wonderful.
Though I’ve only read a few of Robert Rankin’s recent releases, I’ve enjoyed them all, so one way or the other, The Abominable Showman is likely to be a bunch of fun.
Now let’s say you’re sick and tired of dystopia. A lot of readers are, apparently. So how about a new novel supposedly on the optimistic end of the apocalyptic spectrum?
This week, the fine folks at Strange Chemistry have acquired just such a one. It’s called Essence, and it’s by indoor plumbing enthusiast Lisa Ann O’Kane. Here’s the blurb:
Neutrality is the key to longevity. This motto has governed 17-year-old Autumn’s life in the mid-21st-century Centrist cult, which believes that expressing emotions leads to Essence drain and premature death.
But Autumn’s younger brother’s death casts her faith into question. While sprinting through a park in violation of Centrist teachings, she encounters Ryder Stone, an Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. She agrees to join his Community, a utopia of adrenaline junkies living in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park.
Autumn learns about sex, drugs, and living life to the fullest. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realises that this illusion of paradise could be shattered...
Now wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! I was promised a utopia, and that last sentence leads me to believe I’ve fallen victim to a bit of a bait and switch. Or do I misunderstand the distinction?
Look out for Essence next summer, in any event. A sequel will also follow in 2015.
I’m always interested in interesting debuts, never mind whether they’re outwardly idealistic or not, so sure, I’ll give Essence a shot. You?
Robert Galbraith and the Solicitor’s Stone
Evidently I was not the only commentator whose imagination ran rampant after last week’s big news—that Robert Galbraith, author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, was in fact a pseudonym of J. K. Rowling—because Little, Brown outright denied being behind the leak.
“We were very pleased and proud to have published The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a spokesperson said in a statement to The Bookseller, “and we’re delighted with the great response it has been met with from readers, reviewers and fellow writers. We’re looking forward to publishing Strike’s next instalment in summer 2014 [but the revelation] was not a leak or part of a marketing campaign”
The story has developed still further since, when it was revealed—as James Mielke put it so perfectly—that “it was her lawyers whodunit.” Russells Solicitors specifically, who have apologised “unreservedly for the disclosure caused by one of our partners, Chris Gossage, in revealing to his wife’s best friend, Judith Callegari, during a private conversation that the true identity of Robert Galbraith was in fact J. K. Rowling.”
By way of The Bookseller:
“Whilst accepting his own culpability, the disclosure was made in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly. On becoming aware of the circumstances, we immediately notified JK Rowling’s agent. We can confirm that this leak was not part of any marketing plan and that neither J K Rowling, her agent nor publishers were in any way involved.”
Callegari tweeted [...] to writer India Knight, alerting her to Galbraith’s identity. The tweets were later deleted.
J. K. Rowling said in a statement: “I have today discovered how the leak about Robert’s true identity occurred. A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know.
“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”
Though the end result of the reveal has been the sale of hundreds of thousands of copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling—and counting—the author is well within her rights to be miffed about this asinine breach of secrecy, particularly from a firm who purport to “maintain the highest standard of professionalism and understand the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the industries and markets in which we operate.”
Now I’m no legal eagle, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris Gossage go to court for outing Rowling. Innocent mistake though it may have been, you incur the wrath of J. K. Rowling (and her new solicitors, surely) at your own risk.
And that’s that for this edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus. Please do consider continuing the conversation in the comments, and remember to watch this space next Wednesday for another round-up of book news from the UK’s thriving speculative fiction industry. Ta-ra for the time being!
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 occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.