British Genre Fiction Focus: A Conversation About Community

In advance of a most excellent extended weekend for sci-fi fans from far and from wide, it’s time for another edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

We have some especially exciting stories to talk about today, including an impassioned diatribe regarding the reach of the community revolving around genre fiction; a weird dream about another London, similar yet set apart from our own; and the reveal of a new monthly magazine which looks to reintroduce us to the slow burn satisfaction of serial storytelling. But if you ask me there’s no bigger news this week than the Sci-fi Weekender, which begins just a few short hours from now… and I’ve got the rundown on the best of the festival.

Meanwhile, the latest round of new releases features books by Ian Tregillis, James Lovegrove, C. Robert Cargill and Raymond E. Feist in addition to Luke Scull’s fantastic, grimdark debut, the continuation of the recast Chung Kuo, and an expert enmeshing of dark fantasy and alternate history by way of Gideon’s Angel.



Celebrating the Sci-fi Weekender

Is there anything more important to us genre fiction fans than community?

Well… yes. I’d say the stories we come together to talk about are at least equally essential. But besides these, nothing that I know of holds a candle to community. The feeling of like minds meeting is a precious and powerful prize, too rarely traded in this day and age. Which is to say: inasmuch as the internet has made it easier for us to keep that vital spark alive, it’s also made it simpler for some to sit on the sidelines.

In the year 2013, you don’t have to attend festivals to befriend a few fellow fans. But you surely should, and you surely shall, not least because beer makes everything better!

That I won’t be able to make it to this year’s Sci-fi Weekender (formerly the SFX Weekender) is a real regret, but from Friday through Sunday—though the fun starts on Thursday for the early birds—the community is set to come together again anyway. Thousands of genre fiction fans will be making the trip to the Hafan y Môr Holiday Park near Pwllheli in North Wales, where the event’s organisers have laid on a long weekend of tailor-made entertainment. All sorts of shenanigans are sure to follow.

The Sci-fi Weekender is packed with activities for fans: big-name guests, interviews, Q&A sessions, movie screenings, comic workshops, videogaming, music, book readings and plenty more. It’s all about bringing like-minded people together for a weekend structured around four pillar events: the entertaining Imaginarium cabaret, the sweeping Maskerade party (with awesome DJing from Craig Charles), and the fiendish Blastermind pub quiz.

Sci-fi Weekender attendees will get the chance to fully immerse themselves in sci-fi culture. Fans can discover how comics are made, discuss burning issues with their favourite author, or be among the first to see exclusive screenings of films and TV shows. There are also many autograph opportunities. […] Above all, though, it’s a chance to hang out with like-minded people and enjoy a few drinks in a safe environment with other fans.

See? I told you it was all about the beer…

But looking beyond the bar—if we must—there’s plenty else to entertain the many merry revellers set to descend upon Pwllheli, not least the chance to meet and match wits with any number of estimable genre authors, including Peter V. Brett, Lavie Tidhar, James Smythe, Simon Morden, Graham McNeill, Gareth Powell, Jonathan Green, Ben Aaronovitch, Christopher Brookmyre, Paul Cornell and David Moody.

Other personalities, such as Brian Blessed, Peter Davison and Glenn Fabry, will be in attendance as well, but there’s no sense in transcribing the entire line-up when you can simply click through to the Sci-fi Weekender website for all the details you need.

To everyone who’s headed to North Wales for the Weekender: have a wonderful time, won’t you?

For poor souls such as yours truly, with a country or a continent between us and the fun, I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass to all the lucky buggers who will be having the time of their lives in no time at all.

Have a great one, guys!


Welcome to the Aethernet

Welcome, welcome, one and all. Would you kindly stay a while?

But hang on a cotton-pickin’ minute… what’s this new-fangled Aethernet all about, anyway?

Well, I’m going to let the pair behind this incredibly exciting new endeavour explain. Over to you, Tony and Barbara Ballantyne!

Nowadays, fiction is instantly available. There are many short fiction magazines available for download, you can download a story collection in e-book form and be reading it in under a minute.

Aethernet Magazine aims to satisfy a different need. Aethernet Magazine is aiming to reintroduce the pleasures of delayed gratification. Aethernet Magazine stands for the slow burn, the building excitement of waiting to see how a story plays out. We want to reintroduce the pleasure of the cliffhanger ending; the gradual reveal of lives building up to a bigger picture; the leisurely float down the river leading to some mysterious destination.

Our stories are presented over time. Aethernet Magazine is here to help you rediscover the pleasure of anticipation….

I’ve long been an advocate of serial storytelling in the old mould, and though there have been certain experiments over the years since its disappearance—for instance, I fondly recall reading The Green Mile by Stephen King over the course of a creepy year—none, I think, were as ambitious as this.

To wit, each issue of Aethernet Magazine will feature a whole host of original stories. Take the first installment: in addition to beginning The Smallest of Things by Ian Whates, Murder of the Heart by Philip Palmer and The Ties that Bind by Juliet E. McKenna, Aethernet #1 will showcase the start of Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which is, according to the author, “a completely new epic fantasy, humorous in places, deadly serious in others, that serves as something of a deconstruction of the traditional prophecy-journey-dark lord narrative.”

Meanwhile, Chris Beckett will be contributing the complete text of Gela’s Ring. That’s the sequel to Dark Eden—one of the best and most memorable science fiction stories released in contemporary memory. Care of the creator, here’s a bit of a blurb to whet your appetite:

Some two centuries after the events in Dark Eden, [Gela’s Ring] follows Starlight Brooking, a young woman from a small island community founded by Jeff Redlantern, as she encounters the new, powerful, and mutually hostile societies—followers of John Redlantern and followers of David Redlantern—that came into being after the break-up of the original human community in Circle Valley that had called itself simply Family.

At the centre of events is the ring from Earth that was given by her parents to Angela Young—Gela—the woman from whom everyone in Eden is descended, the mother of them all.

I simply can’t wait for Aethernet #1—particularly for that final feature.

…but I’m going to have to, aren’t I? :)

The first compilation of these stirring new serials will be on sale from March 30th, with subsequent issues to follow on the first of each month for a period of no less than a year.

Mark your calendars accordingly.


It’s London, But Not as We Know It

“When everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be.”

That’s the logline for Dream London, at least: a neat-sounding new novel coming, coincidentally, from the co-founder of Aethernet Magazine, Blood and Iron author Tony Ballantyne.

This reality-bending science-fiction novel takes a magical look at Britain’s capital city, a city that we would recognise but one which changes every single day.

The effect this has on the teeming metropolis, and those who live there, is not immediately apparent—but Captain Jim Wedderburn is beginning to understand that he’s not the man he thought he was…

Featuring cover art and book-design by Joey Hi-FI (Zoo City, Mockingbird), it is the latest acquisition by Solaris, which capped a very successful 2012 with a World Fantasy Awards ‘Best Novel’ win for Lavie Tidhar’s Osama.

Editor-in-chief Jonathan Oliver said: “Tony’s novel had me from the first page. His strange, but familiar, world of Dream London is brilliantly realised. Tony’s great strength lies in his characterisation. His grotesques are never simply grotesque and his heroes aren’t always heroic. This is a wonderful new slice of the Weird, and I’m delighted to be bringing it to the already fantastic line-up for Solaris in 2013.“

London, in case you weren’t aware, is where we Brits keep most of our people… and authors are humans too! So it’s no surprise, I suppose, that the United Kingdom’s capital city has figured into genre fiction in a major way of late, especially considering the rise of urban fantasy in recent years.

That said, I’m increasingly concerned that the notion of another London, as powerful a premise as such was once, is in danger of imminent overexposure.

Just off the top of my head, and only counting books that I myself have read, in the past few years we’ve seen Rivers of London, The City’s Son, Kraken, The Rook, and London Falling. Awesome novels all, and distinct from one another to a certain extent, yet in my mind—and feel free to disagree; maybe it is just me—I’m afraid they’ve begun to melt together.

So can Dream London separate itself from the sticky stuff of the city? For the moment, we can only hope. We’ll see for ourselves when Solaris unleashes Tony Ballantyne’s new book this October.


Armed and Dangerous, or Defenceless and Ineffective

I considered featuring this final item in last week’s edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, before resolving to sit on it for a time, the better to see if the story had legs.

It did. Indeed, it does.

It began with an ardent argument entitled ”Praise the Lord and Pass the Genre Ammunition,” posted on the Gollancz blog by Deputy Publishing Director Simon Spanton:

I look at the ceaseless back and forth of opinion, declaration, review, argument, excitement and comment that SF, Fantasy and Horror are engaged in on the internet, in print and in conversation (the latter generally in the pub, it must be said) and it is clear that we are having a very informed, passionate and ongoing conversation with… ourselves.

Make no mistake, this is wonderful. I can’t think of another area of literary endeavour that is both supported and critiqued quite as strongly as SF, Fantasy and Horror. We’ve been talking like this since the first fan magazines, the first conventions. The internet has taken the conversation to a whole other level. It’s fantastic and it’s a model (like all the best models this one grew by accident and was honed by use) that other parts of the industry are now looking to repeat with their own newsletters, twitter feeds and reading groups; trying to create and then trying to reach out to an informed and dedicated following for all sorts of literary (and not so literary) genres. This level of conversation within SF, Fantasy and Horror’s support networks means that we have a core readership that are uniquely engaged in what we do.


There’s that worry again; we’re really just talking to ourselves, aren’t we? 

Or are we?

Spanton certainly seems to think so. He goes on to illustrate the insular nature of the community we celebrated on at the top of this column, railing against the relevance of our awards vis-à-vis the additional sales they fail to generate, before wondering, ultimately, whether we have any hope of being heard—ever—by a larger audience than that which already exists.

But do we really want to be mainstreamed in this manner? Is not an element of genre fiction’s appeal its otherness?

Consider the collective outrage over Twilight’s immense success, or the backlash against Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Mull over, for a moment, the way so many seem to despise paranormal romance simply for succeeding where other genres have failed. Whether or not these beliefs are truly representative of the community’s as a whole, it’s safe to say they’re expressed often enough as to seem so.

Thus, I wonder whether we honestly want the widespread recognition Gollancz’s Deputy Publishing Director clearly desires dearly.

In the comments, in any case, points and counterpoints have been raised and rebutted by genre fiction luminaries such as Christopher Priest, Lauren Beukes, Ian Sales, Simon Morden and Justina Robson, the lattermost of whom posits the following:

We often moan about how poorly our pets are treated outside the fold. Yes, they are sometimes snatched just because they look good or do neat tricks and aren’t treated with the full respect they deserve. However, what that tells you is that they are hugely desirable things and more than welcome on the appreciation banquet laid out for mass audiences.

The most commonly observed reaction to SFF in its natural state is that for a mass audience it is simply too much like learning a new skill—the piano, the bicycle—it’s too immediately unfriendly. The manner in which it likes to plunge headlong towards the innovative, odd, weird and unthinkable is way too fast for mainstream consumption. You can groom yourself happy with your superiority in noting what an elitist dude you are for loving it, and you can disdain those who don’t get the attraction but that’s no help. So you love a niche market. Big deal. Nobody will ever stop you loving, appreciating and glorying in the hard stuff. Go right ahead. It’s all yours. You love it and I love it.

And I love that we talk about it the way we do, too!

Whatever the limitations of our beloved genre, it certainly fosters a fascinating dialogue. And of course the conversation—whoever it’s with—continues… though the news section of the BGFF cannot.

What say we look to the week in new releases instead?



The Age of Voodoo (Pantheon #5), by James Lovegrove (February 28, Solaris)

Lex Dove thought he was done with the killing game. A retired British wetwork specialist, he’s living the quiet life in the Caribbean, minding his own business. Then a call comes. One last mission: to lead an American black ops team into a disused Cold War bunker on a remote island. The money’s good, which means the risks are high.

How high, Dove doesn’t discover until he and his team are a hundred feet below ground, facing the fruits of an experiment in science and voodoo witchcraft gone wrong. As if barely human monsters weren’t bad enough, a clock is ticking. Deep in the bowels of the earth, a god is waiting. And his anger, if roused, will be fearsome indeed.

The Coldest War (Milkweed Tryptych #2), by Ian Tregillis (February 28, Orbit)

A precarious balance of power maintains the peace between Britain and the USSR. For decades, Britain’s Warlocks have been all that protects their nation from invasion. Now each wizard’s death is another blow to national security.

Meanwhile, a brother and sister escape from a top secret facility deep behind the Iron Curtain. They are the subjects of a twisted Nazi experiment to imbue ordinary people with superhuman abilities.

And they are headed for England…

Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill (February 28, Gollancz)

There is another world than our own, as close and intimate as a kiss, as terrifying and haunting as nightmares, a realm where fairies and djinns, changelings and angels, all the stuff of which dreams are made is real… and where magic awaits in the shadows, just a hidden step away. Between this realm and that other lies a veil, a gossamer web that muddles the vision of mortal man and keeps him from seeing what is all around him. Sometimes, someone pierces that protective veil. But one glimpse of this world can forever transform lives. Just ask Ewan and Colby…

Once upon the time, the pair were once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, until they left that world behind them. Now, Ewan is a musician living in Austin, and has just met the girl he wants to marry. Colby is still coping with the consequences of an innocent childhood wish that haunts him all these years later. While their time in the Limestone Kingdom is little more than a distant memory, this supernatural world has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies and foul-mouthed wizards argue metaphysics, and monsters in the dark feed on fear, both will learn that fate can never be outrun.

Gideon’s Angel, by Clifford Beal (February 28, Solaris)

1653. The long and bloody English Civil War is at an end. King Charles is dead and Oliver Cromwell rules the land as king in all but name. Richard Treadwell, an exiled royalist officer and soldier-for-hire to the King of France and his all-powerful advisor, the wily Cardinal Mazarin, burns with revenge for those who deprived him of his family and fortune.

He decides upon a self-appointed mission to return to England in secret and assassinate the new Lord Protector. Once back on English soil however, he learns that his is not the only plot in motion. A secret army run by a deluded Puritan is bent on the same quest, guided by the Devil’s hand. When demonic entities are summoned, Treadwell finds himself in a desperate turnaround: he must save Cromwell to save England from a literal descent into Hell.

But first he has to contend with a wife he left in Devon who believes she’s a widow, and a furious Paris mistress who has trailed him to England, jeopardising everything. Treadwell needs allies fast. Can he convince the man sent to forcibly drag him back to Cardinal Mazarin? A young king’s musketeer named d’Artagnan. Black dogs and demons; religion and magic; Freemasons and Ranters. It’s a dangerous new Republic for an old cavalier coming home again.

Jimmy and the Crawler (Riftwar Legacy #4), by Raymond E. Feist (February 28, Harper Voyager)

The Crawler: a name whispered in fear…

In the crime-ridden back alleys of Krondor, a rival gang has sprung up to threaten the Upright Man’s Mockers. Does the Crawler control the rival gang? Where does his power come from? And does it threaten the peace of the Kingdom?

James, personal squire to Prince Arutha of Krondor, but in the underworld known as the thief and trickster Jimmy the Hand, must travel to Kesh in disguise. There, working with William, lieutenant of the prince’s household guard and son of the magician Pug, and Jazhara, niece to the Keshian lord Hazara-Khan, he must attempt to unmask the mysterious Crawler and rid Krondor of his influence.

The Art of War (Chung Kuo Recast #5), by David Wingrove (March 1, Corvus)

Peace has returned.

The ‘War That Wasn’t a War’ has ended. The Dispersionists have been broken and peace has returned to Chung Kuo, but DeVore’s mission to destroy it is far from over. Employing the Ping Tiao, the ‘Levellers’, and officers within the Security Service still loyal to him, DeVore sends autonomous copies of himself from Mars to destroy the Seven by any means necessary. The fight endures The Seven lost their three most experienced T’ang in the War and have been left extremely vulnerable. Wang Sau-leyan, the new T’ang of City Africa, uses this weakness to attack them from within, but without the continued loyalty of men like Tolonen, Karr and Kao Chen they will all topple.

Welcome to the future.

The Grim Company (Grim Company #1), by Luke Scull (March 1, Head of Zeus)

The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands.

The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what they get instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two children and a queerly capable manservant: the Grim Company.

White Bones, by Graham Masterton (March 1, Head of Zeus)

On an isolated farm in southern Ireland, a decades-old grave houses the bones of eleven women. Detective Katie Maguire of the Irish Gardai is used to bloodshed, but these white bones speak of unimaginable butchery.

Not far away, a young female American tourist is at the mercy of a sadistic killer. His tools are a boning knife, twine, and a doll fashioned from rags and nails. The murder of his victims is secondary only to his pleasure at their pain.

While Katie’s marriage collapses around her, she must first solve an ancient celtic mystery if she is to catch the killer before he strikes again.



That’s the week in new releases!

I’ve already read Gideon’s Angel and The Grim Company for review right here on, so this week, unless I get distracted by some future fantastic, I’ll be burying my nose in Dreams and Shadows and catching up on the Chung Kuo.

What looks good to you?

And there’s so much else we could consider in the comments, including convention legends, London in literature, the moreish notion of serial storytelling and the many questions about community raised by Simon Spanton’s provocative piece.

So… shall we?

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, and co-curates the Short Fiction Spotlight. On rare occasion he’s been seen to tweet about books, too.


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