British Genre Fiction Focus: The Age of Agents and a Few Good Geeks |

British Fiction Focus

British Genre Fiction Focus: The Age of Agents and a Few Good Geeks

Welcome once again to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the thriving industry dedicated to speculative fiction that exists in the United Kingdom!

This week’s headlines include: huge news for aspiring authors without agents, an appeal for a few good Geeks, the unveiling of an epic excerpt from a very promising fantasy novel, plus the announcement of three nearly new books from Cory Doctorow, more on the topic of artisan authors, and a gorgeous GIF.

Keep reading for all that and much, much more… not least another week’s worth of sweet new releases, featuring The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett, Osiris by E. J. Swift and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke.


Is the Age of Agents Over?

Short answer: no. Or at the very least, I hope it isn’t. I mean, if we’re going to do away with one of the obstacles aspiring authors have to overcome, why not get rid of all the editors as well? And while we’re at it, who needs booksellers? Let’s just call the whole thing off!

Or not.

But the thing of it is, self-publishing sensations like Huw Howey seem to have no need of these middle men and women. He simply writes a story, makes it available, then then riches roll in.

Howey is of course an exception rather than the rule. But between his breakthrough and the success of innumerable other “artisan authors,” there can be no denying that the literary landscape of yesteryear is looking a little long in the tooth. The traditional model will have to adapt in a major way if it’s to survive, as I dearly hope it does.

Luckily, some figures in the book trade see this situation for the pressing issue it is. Amongst that number, Tor UK’s editorial director Julie Crisp, who this week took one small step for aspiring authors, and a giant leap for the industry that’s kept them in business.

How did she do this? Why, by opening the floodgates to unagented submissions!

Until recently Tor UK followed the submission policy of Macmillan in that we didn’t accept direct submissions. To be honest, with so many submissions from agents, plus manuscripts from existing authors and actually publishing books—there’s little to no time to actually go through what we used to fondly designate the ‘slush pile’.

However, we do know how frustrating it is for non-published authors to try to get their work into a traditional publishing house. With so many publishers and agents having closed their lists for submissions, many writers feel that the only option is to go down the self-publishing route. And while that works for some writers, trying to get the visibility for a novel amongst the sheer numbers of other writers all attempting the same thing is never going to be easy. Besides, hopefully, there is still a fondness for having the book edited, packaged and published by us traditional types

As editors, we’re very aware of just how much work goes into creating a novel, the nerves and anticipation involved with getting someone else to read it and then that long and tiring search looking for someone in the professional industry to actually take a look at it. So we, at Tor UK, have decided to throw the doors open and invite writers to send their novels in.

If you’re interested in taking Tor UK up on its offer—and why wouldn’t you be when Crisp goes on to write that they’ll read submissions from anywhere in the world so long as they follow the guidelines she lays out?—there’s some additional information you need to be aware of.

But this is an awesome opportunity, is it not? As positive and forward-thinking in its way, I dare say, as Gollancz’s unconventional acquisition of the right to release three novels to tie in with David Braben’s new take on Elite, discussed in week one of the BGFF.

Speaking of which….

Gollancz and the Geeks

Not now nor ever a company to be caught resting on its laurels, Gollancz have just announced an interesting initiative of their own, and if you’re a British reader with something to say and a thing for speculative fiction, I guarantee you’re going to be into this.

In the same vein as the Angry Robot Army, and to a lesser extent the Vine Voices programme on Amazon, Gollancz Geeks is all about getting the good word out there about hot new genre novels.

Say you want to read the next big thing before it’s the next big thing—and who doesn’t? All you need is a willingness to make your opinions public in some way, shape or form. Gollancz might even throw in a few additional goodies for your trouble, too.

For the past 50 years Gollancz has been dedicated to bringing you the brightest and best genre books. From award winning bestsellers to classic SF and Fantasy we are the UK’s home for the most exciting genre fiction. Now, we want your help.

We want to recruit you to join our Gollancz Geeks—Protecting Genre Fiction for the Future! […] We will send you the hottest books before they are published! We want your reviews and your opinions. If you loved the book, we want to hear it. If you hated the book, we want to hear it. Once you’ve sent back your review we’ll be sending you an official Gollancz Geeks T-shirt, sticker and badge. Win!


So what do we think of this, I wonder?

Whether you’re based in Britain or beyond, you can join the Gollancz Geeks very easily here.

Cover Art Corner: Let Fly The Falconer

While we’re on the Gollancz tip, Orion’s genre fiction imprint has just unveiled the cover of Elizabeth May’s debut novel, The Falconer.

And oh. My. God. They’ve only gone and made it into a GIF!

Here’s the blurb for the new book, borrowed from the author’s own site:

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

18 year old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined to a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events—right up until a faery kills her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season. Between a seeming endless number of parties, Aileana slaughters faeries in secret. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, every night she sheds her aristocratic facade and goes hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But she never even considered that she might become attracted to one. To the magnetic Kiaran MacKay, the faery who trained her to kill his own kind. Nor is she at all prepared for the revelation he’s going to bring. Because Midwinter is approaching, and with it an eclipse that has the ability to unlock a Fae prison and begin the Wild Hunt.

A battle looms, and Aileana is going to have to decide how much she’s willing to lose—and just how far she’ll go to avenge her mother’s murder.

The Falconer sounds especially tempting to me because of its setting in bonny Scotland—albeit 150 years ago or so—but beyond this, I can’t make up my mind. The fantasy elements are independently interesting, and I place a lot of faith in Gollancz to bring out good books above all else… yet the way the synopsis stresses the forbidden romance between Aileana and Kiaran makes me meh.

On the other hand, Aileana the Faerie Slayer!

Gollancz will be publishing The Falconer in the UK this September.

Cory Doctorow Takes Titan

As to what we’ll be reading through the rest of 2013? Well, for starters, a whole lot of Cory Doctorow!

Per this report on The Bookseller, Titan Books have bought the British rights to publish three nearly new novels by the Boing Boing co-editor and interim digital pioneer, all of which will be released this year. Pirate Cinema will reign in May, whilst Homeland, the sequel to Doctorow’s biggest hit to date—none other than Little Brother—will be unleashed hereabouts this awesome.

That is to say, this autumn.

Before we see either of these, though, there’s Doctorow’s collaboration with British SF author Charles Stross—who featured briefly in the BGFF last week because of his new Merchant Princes trilogy—to look forward to. The Rapture of the Nerds, “a cyber-punk pop culture novel,” will be published… hold onto your nerd credentials… NEXT MONTH!

Boy, but Titan Books work fast!

The final news item we’ll talk about in the BGFF today is appropriately titanic.

An Epic Excerpt from The Grim Company

In an email which landed in my inbox the other day, Kaz Harrison of Head of Zeus Books pointed me in the direction of what I’m inclined to describe as One Excerpt to Rule Them All.

It’s from The Grim Company by erstwhile game designer Luke Scull—the very book I’ve been reading for review this week, and not unrelatedly loving—and it represents the most generous introduction to a major genre debut that I’ve ever heard of.

I’m going to let Kaz tell you all about it:

When a publisher has a book as exciting as The Grim Company, all we want to do is get it into the hands of as many people as possible, especially when you know that readers are going to love it as much as you do.

This is exactly why we have just published a whopping 67% of The Grim Company, for free.

We’re used to being able to read a few pages before committing to a book, and we’re so confident that people will be swept away by Luke Scull that they’ll want to continue reading.  At the end of The Grim Company EPIC Free Sample you will be completely hooked.

Why? Because Luke Scull’s writing thrusts you into an epic and addictive world. A world where wild magic leaks from the corpses of rotting gods, desperate tyrants vie for power, enormous beasts join in battle, and ravenous demons roam the mountains. A dying world, perhaps, but filled with characters who face the darkness with axes drawn.

An EPIC sample for the launch of an EPIC trilogy.

Head of Zeus are poised to publish The Grim Company in Britain on March 1st, and if you still find yourself on the fence, imagine Joe Abercrombie with magic, then let this epic excerpt speak for itself.

But let’s leave March to one side for the time being. That’s ages away, anyway! Better, instead, to ask what books we could be reading this week.


A Conspiracy of Alchemists (Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1), by Liesel Schwarz (February 7, Del Rey UK)

When dirigible pilot Elle Chance accepts an unusual cargo in Paris she finds herself in the middle of a deadly war between the Alchemists and Warlocks.  The Alchemists will stop at nothing to acquire the coveted carmot stone and its key, and Elle must do everything in her power to thwart their diabolical plans.

Embarking on a perilous cross-continental adventure with the mysterious Mr Marsh, Elle is forced to question everything she ever knew about herself to fulfil her destiny and prevent a magical apocalypse.

Gladiator: Son of Spartacus (Gladiator #3), by Simon Scarrow (February 7, Puffin Books)

Free from slavery, Marcus is determined to find and save his kidnapped mother. Meanwhile, his master Julius Caesar wants Marcus to help destroy the bands of rebel slaves and their leader Brixus, who plans to unite a slave army and resurrect the cause of Spartacus.

But Marcus and Brixus are old allies who share a life-threatening secret. Marcus is torn between his friend and master. Can he convince Brixus now is not the time for a deadly revolt – and ask Caesar to negotiate a slave surrender before more carnage and bloodshed?

Keras, by Simon Rae (February 7, David Fickling Books)

All his life, Jack Henley has felt at home in the woods, more at home than when he’s actually at home with his parents. He loves watching the badgers play-fighting in the summer evenings, and pretending to be outlaws or cannibals with his two best friends. But when Jack discovers the most incredible secret of all, a beautiful, extraordinary unicorn, he cannot believe his eyes.

He and the owner of the woods, Mr Finistaire, embark on a journey to save the unicorn from extinction. But as they continue in secrecy, Jack begins to wonder whether all is what it seems, or whether there is an ulterior motive to Mr Finistaire’s interest. Will the bond between Keras and Jack be enough to withstand the danger that awaits them both?

Osiris (Osiris Project #1), by E. J. Swift (February 7, Del Rey UK)

For 50 years the ocean city of Osiris has been cut off from the rest of the world, the Great Storm having left the city isolated, possibly the last surviving metropolis on the planet. Adelaide Rechnov, wealthy socialite and granddaughter of the Architect, spends her time in pointless luxury, rebelling against her family in a series of jaded social extravagances and scandals until her twin brother disappears in mysterious circumstances.

Vikram lives in the Western Quarter, home to the poor descendants of storm refugees and effectively quarantined from the wealthy elite. His people live with cold and starvation, but the brutal winter coming promises civil unrest, and a return to the riots of previous years. Brought together by circumstance and fate, these two very different people attempt to bridge the divide lurking at the heart of Osiris, but who is using whom, and what secrets will they uncover?

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke (February 7, Angry Robot Books)

“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

He looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.

But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

Pantomime, by Laura Lam (February 7, Strange Chemistry)

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Wyrmeweald: The Bone Trail (Wyrmeweald #3), by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell (February 7, Doubleday Children’s Books)

An entire herd of greywyrmes, slaughtered for their flameoil. Others trapped, then viciously herded through the mountains. And more and more settlers heading up to the high country, the bones of those who don’t make it littering the way, stark and white, picked clean by carrionwyrmes.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing on the weald. A great whitewyrme and his kin send out a call to arms, and the wyrmes begin to gather in their ancient galleries. To defend their land against the relentless march of the kith, with their wagons and settlements and taste for killing.

Payback is coming. Wyrme against kith. Kith against kin. Even wyrme against wyrme. And seasoned traveller Micah, with his friends Eli and Cara, is heading right into the thick of it…

The Daylight War (Demon Cycle #3), by Peter V. Brett (February 11, Harper Voyager UK)

On the night of a new moon all shadows deepen…

Humanity has thirty days to prepare for the next demon attack, but one month is scarcely enough time to train a village to defend themselves, let alone an entire continent caught in the throes of civil war.

Arlen Bales understands the coreling threat better than anyone. Born ordinary, the demon plague has shaped him into a weapon so powerful he has been given the unwanted title of saviour, and attracted the attention of deadly enemies both above and below ground.

Unlike Arlen, Ahmann Jardir embraces the title of Deliverer. His strength resides not only in the legendary relics he carries, but also in the magic wielded by his first wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose allegiance even Jardir cannot be certain of.

Once Arlen and Jardir were like brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies prepare, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all: those that lurk in the human heart.


That’s almost it from the BGFF this week, but there’s still so much we haven’t had time to talk about!

To begin with, a major new venture backed by a who’s-who of UK publishers has been launched at long last. Bookish is basically a recommendation engine with embedded buying guidance and occasional editorials, and it may be early days, but it already looks like it could prove to be an invaluable resource in due course.

Meanwhile, the saga of the artisan authors continues, and over on The Guardian, Alasdair Stuart runs through a few of the responses to the divisive discussion Damien Walter brought to bear, including my own here on Stuart also adds a wrinkle of his own to the great debate, by way of a consideration of Creative Commons licensing.

Last but not least, Charles Stross helps close out his second successive edition of the BGFF vis-à-vis his involvement with CREATe, a progressive new initiative which hopes “to help the UK cultural and creative industries thrive and become innovation leaders within the global digital economy.” Stross was a speaker at CREATe’s inaugural conference on February 1st, and ever the thoughtful sort, he’s posted the unedited text of his fascinating talk on his blog.

With which news, another edition of the BGFF comes to a close. Was there anything of particular interest to you in the news this week?

What about all those shiny new releases? Something special catch your eye? Or are you having trouble looking beyond The Daylight War as well?

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 keeps 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.


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