British Fiction Focus

British Genre Fiction Focus: The War of the Awards… and More!

There are other worlds than those we know. However widely read we may be, there are other authors. Other novels. Entire other issues, even.

To wit, the British Genre Fiction Focus exists to fill a hole we noticed in’s continuing coverage of all things weird and wonderful. On a weekly basis, I’ll be bringing you news and new releases from the thriving industry dedicated to speculative fiction that exists in the United Kingdom.

For a more detailed overview of the column’s form and function, please read this introduction.

In the news this week: there are genre-oriented awards ahoy, and an American author comes to London, meanwhile there was the announcement of a major—and I mean major—new novel. Whether or not we should consider it genre fiction is up in the air as yet… but come on, it’s inspired by Dante’s Inferno!

As ever, we’ll also be taking the temperature of a number newly launched covers.  And do stay for a small but perfectly formed selection of sweet new releases, including steampunk from pioneer James P. Blaylock, a belated return to Fairyland, mystery and time travel in The Man From Primrose Island and, while we’re at it, something of a YA extravaganza.



The biggest news of the week has to be the announcement of nominees for not one but two prestigious British genre fiction prizes, so let’s start there.


2012’s Best Genre Fiction, According to The Kitschies

First past the post, The Kitschies! Now in their fourth year, the not-for-profit organisation behind these purposefully progressive awards offer recognition, spiced rum and a sum of money to winners in three discrete spheres.

The finalists for the Red Tentacle—basically the Best Novel of 2012—are as follows:

  • Jesse Bullington’s The Folly of the World (Orbit)
  • Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass (Macmillan)
  • Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker (William Heinemann)
  • Adam Roberts’ Jack Glass (Gollancz)
  • Juli Zeh’s The Method (Harvill Secker) (Translated by Sally-Ann Spencer)

The Golden Tentacle, on the other hand, aims to reward new authors who have made waves with their debuts in the UK. The latest crop of contenders include:

  • Madeline Ashby’s vN (Angry Robot)
  • Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon (William Heinemann)
  • Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina (Doubleday)
  • Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son (Jo Fletcher Books)

Finally, the Inky Tentacle will go to the artist responsible for the best cover to grace a genre novel in the preceding yearlong period:

  • La Boca for Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
  • Oliver Jeffers for John Boyne’s The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket (Doubleday)
  • Tom Gauld for Matthew Hughes’ Costume Not Included (Angry Robot)
  • Peter Mendelsund for Ben Marcus’ Flame Alphabet (Granta)
  • Dave Shelton for his own A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books)

In an exclusive statement to the British Genre Fiction Focus, or merely me, Jared Shurin, co-founder of the fantastic website from which these awards sprung, had this to say about the announcement:

“We’re really proud of this year’s shortlists—they’re eclectic, provocative, diverse and very, very fun. They’re all unique in their own strange and wonderful ways, but united by the way that they challenge the status quo of genre literature. We look forward to the discussion, and hope everyone joins in the excitement.”

The winners of The Kitschies—which you can read more about here—will be announced at the Free Word Centre in London on February 26th.

Now I know what books I’d choose—namely Angelmaker, The City’s Son and The Teleportation Accident—but what about you?


The British Science Fiction Association Begs To Differ

If the star-studded committee judging The Kitschies have overlooked a few of your favourite 2012 genre novels, perhaps the British Science Fiction Association has your book’s back!

Stubby the Rocket has already blogged about the BSFA’s shortlist for, so I won’t repeat too much of it—excepting the nominees for Best Novel, because they stand in fascinating contrast to the contenders in The Kitschies’ equivalent category:

  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
  • Empty Space: A Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)
  • Intrusion by Ken Macleod (Orbit)
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

So… only one single common denominator between the two Best Novel awards!

I dare say this might seem strange, but truth be told, it isn’t particularly surprising: if previous years are any indication, The Kitschies are wont to go their own way, whereas the BSFA—a veritable institution in operation since 1958—are more staid in their recommendations.

Nevertheless, this is a fine shortlist from that latter lot… though I grant it’s somewhat sausage-y. Thoughts?

In any event, 2312 was my personal favourite book of the year, so I’d love to see Kim Stanley Robinson take home the trophy. Then again, each of the other nominees—and I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve read them all!—would be worthy winners as well.

The BSFA will announce the results of their Best Novel award—alongside others for the Best Short Story, the Best Artwork and the Best Non-Fiction of 2012—at EightSquared in Bradford this Easter. During EasterCon, of course.

Well, what do you think? Is there anything missing from both of the award shortlists discussed above? I can only wonder where the love is for China Mieville’s Railsea. Having read it just recently, I can’t see why it’s been so overlooked. On the other hand, perhaps my adoration for all things related to the handsome Englishman aforementioned has momentarily coloured my judgement….

Now then. Let’s look at some pretty pictures!


Cover Art Corner: The Eighth Court and The Good, the Bad and the Infernal

Come the publication of The Eighth Court in June, The Courts of the Feyre series will be four novels strong. Alarming, then, that it took me this long to catch on to Mike Shevdon’s excellent series.

Be that as it may, I dare say the covers are even better than the books. This latest illustration is packed, according to Marketing and Digital Manager Darren Turpin on the Angry Robot Books blog, “with gorgeous, twiddly detail by the one and only, World Fantasy Award Winning artist, John Coulthart.”

And you know what? He’s not wrong. Though I still prefer Coulthart’s cover for the American edition of Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch….

Here’s the blurb, by the way. Short but sweet!

The Eighth Court has been established, but petty rivalries and old disputes threaten its stability. The mongrels that make up the court are not helping, and Blackbird enlists the help of the warders to keep the peace.

Has Blackbird bitten off more than she can chew, and can the uneasy peace between the courts continue under such tension and rivalry?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch—what? Surely I’m allowed at least one painful pun per week!—a look at the cover of Guy Adams’ forthcoming novel, The Good, the Bad and the Infernal, which I’ll say sounds right up my alley.

Every one hundred years, a town appears. From a small village in the peaks of Tibet to a gathering of mud huts in the jungles of South American, it can take many forms. It exists for twenty-four hours then vanishes once more, but for that single day it contains the greatest miracle a man could imagine: a doorway to Heaven.

It is due to appear on the 21st September 1889 as a ghost town in the American Midwest. When it does there are many who hope to be there: traveling preacher Obeisance Hicks and his simple messiah, a brain-damaged Civil War veteran; Henry and Harmonium Jonesand their freak show pack of outlaws; the Brothers of Ruth and their sponsor Lord Forset (inventor of the Forset Thunderpack and other incendiary modes of personal transport); finally, an aging gunslinger who lost his wings at the very beginning of creation and wants nothing more than to settle old scores.

A weird western, a gun-toting, cigarrillo-chewing fantasy built from hangman’s rope and spent bullets. The West has never been wilder.

The Good, the Bad and the Infernal will be released in the US in late March, before hitting the UK in early April. Which is frustrating, but hey, it could be worse.

It could always, I assure you, be worse.

And on the subject of notable oversights….


Peter V. Brett Tours the UK! But Not Really!

Well, maybe that’s overstating the case, but going by the comments on Peat’s Peephole, I wasn’t alone in feeling slighted when the details of his so-called UK tour were announced.

Why? Because he’s doing five events in England, and then visiting North Wales for the SciFi Weekender.

Last I checked, there were four countries in the United Kingdom, thus this tour is hardly that.

Firstly, Northern Ireland doesn’t figure in to the equation—which is disappointing, I don’t doubt. But being a highlander myself, I’m more miffed about the lack of a single stop in Scotland. Seriously, Peat? Clearly you have a huge amount of support here.

This is sad news from where I’m sitting… but on the bright side, if you’re in England between the 25th and the 28th of February, or attending the SciFi Weekender in early March, by gum you’re in luck!

I’ll be reading Peat’s new novel, The Daylight War, in any event.

What can I say? I’m weak. Not to mention completely unprincipled! :)


Into the Inferno: Dan Brown Pays Tribute to Dante

There aren’t a great many specific details doing the rounds as yet, however Transworld Publishers have announced the title and release date of Dan Brown’s long-awaited (by some) next novel. Inferno is poised to be published in mid-May in both the US and the UK.

But wait… there’s more!

You see, Inferno is inspired, apparently, by Dante’s classic. Per the press release, the sensational author himself said:

“Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student, it wasn’t until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world. With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm… a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”

You what?!

But don’t let my sarcasm come between you and Dan Brown’s new book. The man has a whole lot of fans, and though I don’t count myself among their number, I’m sure the inevitable adaptation starring Tom Hanks as Harvard’s man-about-myths Robert Langdon will make for some seriously stupid fun.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, if you ask me. By all means, though, feel free to disagree.



Having asked around about the genre novels we’re all looking forward to, and spent some serious time with my nose buried in a collection of catalogues, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some huge release weeks ahead… and some pretty slim ones in between times.

Alas, though it certainly has its highlights, the week beginning January 23rd is probably closer to the latter category than the former, so to make things more interesting, I’ve gone back to the well with a few of the new books I managed to overlook last week.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland #2), by Catherynne M. Valente (January 17, Much-in-Little)

In the kingdom of Fairyland-Below, preparations are underway for the annual Revels… but aboveground, the creatures of Fairyland are in no mood for a party. It has been a long time since young September bid farewell to Fairyland, and she is excited to see it again; but upon her return she is shocked to find that her friends have been losing their shadows, and therefore their magic, to the kingdom of Fairyland-Below…

This spells certain disaster, and September won’t stand for it. Determined to make amends, she travels down into the underworld where, among creatures of ice and moonlight, she encounters a face she recognizes all too well: Halloween, the Hollow Queen. Only then does September realize what she must do to save Fairyland from slipping into the mundane world forever.

Come and join in the Revels with September and her friends. But be warned: in Fairyland-Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem…

The Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance, edited by Trisha Telep (January 17, Mammoth)

In nineteen fantastic, future-set romances, love will find a way.

The good news is, in the future there will be no shortage of romance. On spaceships, on newly-colonized planets or on a barely recognizable Earth, life forms—whether human, alien or something in between—will find their way to love.

As giant corporations grasp new opportunities for profit and future armies clash, both in deep space and dirtside, former romantic partners try to put the past behind them and time-travelling rebels set out to romance the past. These science fiction stories of future love and lust—by Marcella Burnard, Bianca d’Arc, Jess Granger, Linnea Sinclair, C. L. Wilson and many more—are brimming with passion and humour. So, even though in space no one can hear you scream, they might just be able to hear you laugh.

The Man From Primrose Island, by James Renner (January 24, Corsair)

Rewind: Once upon a time in Ohio there lived an elderly recluse, ’the man from Primrose Lane’. He had no friends or family. He wore mittens all year round. And one summer’s day, he was murdered.

Fast-Forward: Bestselling author David Neff is a broken man, lonely, desolate and lost ever since his wife’s suicide. But something about the man from Primrose Lane grabs his attention and he decides to investigate the mystery—only to be dragged back into a world he thought he had left behind forever.

Replay: As David gets closer to uncovering the true identity of the man from Primrose Lane, he begins to understand the terrible power of his own obsessions and how they may be connected to the deaths of both the hermit and his beloved wife.

The Aylesford Skull (New Langdon St. Ives #1), by James P. Blaylock (January 25, Titan Books)

It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives, brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer, is at home in Aylesford with his family. A few miles to the North a steam launch has been taken by pirates, the crew murdered and pitched overboard.

In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives. When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbor race into London in pursuit.

The Essence (The Pledge #2), by Kimberley Derting (January 28, Allison & Busby)

After decades of suffering under the tyrannical and ruthless rule of Queen Sabara, peace is seemingly restored to the country of Ludania. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina, having played an intrinsic role in the overthrow of Sabara’s brutal regime, is the new sovereign, and struggles to adjust to the responsibility that has been thrust upon her. Racked by uncertainty about her suitability for the position, the only thing she is sure of is the strength of her love for Max, and the loyalty of her friends. Although struggling to reconcile her destiny with her own desires, Charlie seeks to bring equality and amity to her previously discordant and divided country.

But not everyone is happy with their new Queen, and Charlie must face an adversarial force that’s rapidly gaining momentum, as well as her inexplicable feelings for the mysterious Niko. Sabara’s influence is far from over, and Charlie’s opposition arises not only from external enemies, but from those growing inside her…

The Madman’s Daughter (The Madman’s Daughter Trilogy #1), by Megan Shepherd (January 29, Harper Voyager)

A dark, breathless, beautifully-written gothic thriller of murder, madness and a mysterious island…

London, 1894. Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumours about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true.

Juliet is accompanied by the doctor’s handsome young assistant and an enigmatic castaway, who both attract Juliet for very different reasons. They travel to the island only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: he has created animals that have been vivisected to resemble, speak, and behave as humans. Worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape the island, even though her horror is mixed with her own scientific curiosity. As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.



We’ve got lots to talk about this week, haven’t we? Several speculative shortlists—one spicy, one sort of sausagey—and the books we wish were on them; a couple of lovely covers; the evident decline of publisher funding for authors to tour—I don’t blame poor Peat, not really; nor would it do to forget Dan Brown’s new novel. Will you be reading Inferno? Failing that, do you think it’s a stretch to think of it as genre fiction?

And remember, the quest for enlightenment never ends! I’m always looking for suggestions as to topics for subsequent instalments of the British Genre Ficton Focus, including news I’ve neglected to mention and new releases I appear to have overlooked. That’s where you come in!

Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and, where he contributes a weekly column concerned with news and new releases in the UK called the British Genre Fiction Focus. On rare occasion he’s been seen to tweet about books, too.


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