British Fiction Focus

I Steelheart the Best British SF

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s weekly column dedicated to news and new releases from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

In the spirit of the silly season, this edition begins with a not-news item that appears to have provoked a wide array of reactions. Space bunnies, anyone?

Some actual factual information emerged this week as well, including, out of Eastercon, the announcement of the winners of the British Science Fiction Association’s most excellent awards. We also heard word of Angry Robot’s partnership with the fine folks at Faber, and saw the UK cover art of yet another new Brandon Sanderson novel. Stay tuned for loads more about all of the above, plus all the details you could feasibly need to attend a very special Audrey Niffenegger event.

Looking ahead to the week in forthcoming genre fiction, it’s going to be a relatively quiet one, but not without a few highlights thanks to the latest round of new releases from the Angry Robots aforementioned, an illustrated book by the author of any number of unfortunate events, not to mention the publication of a truly astonishing take on the fable of the crane wife.


Tiny Tor, Yay or Nay?

Used to be, April Fools Day was wonderful.

Before the digital age, before blogs and apps and the internet, it was so tough to put together a proper prank that most of ye olde information or entertainment outlets simply sat the silly season out. And in retrospect, it’s not hard to see why. Given the demands of printing and production and distribution, timing was a nightmare, meanwhile mocking up actual assets would have been an epic and expensive endeavor.

Nowadays, all you need is Facebook, Photoshop, and a basic understanding of the text tool.

So of course there’s far more fakery these days, but if you ask me, the pranks tend to be pants. It’s simply gotten too easy to do what once took months and a great deal of expertise.

But that isn’t to say the fun of the day is entirely done. There are still a few shenanigans to be had, because sometimes, someone goes above and beyond. And this year, that arguable honour goes to Tor UK, who on Monday unveiled a new genre fiction imprint—though not without offending a few folks:

Determined to keep up with the ever-growing trends in publishing, Tor UK is launching a new imprint aimed directly at the age range encompassed by New Children. As we know, New Adult covers the age range of 18 to 25 and we were concerned that there was a section of the children’s market that was missing out, the age range that fell between children’s and YA.

Our new imprint Tiny Tor will cover the spectrum of ages between 7 and a half and 13 and three quarters. As we know how enthusiastic this marketplace is for genre, we wanted to do something genre-specific that would attract this particular readership.

So we’re hugely excited to announce Tiny Tor, the imprint which will publish only novels featuring imaginative creatures in a genre setting. We have two launch titles for the list to date written by two of Tor’s most respected authors, with more to be announced shortly. We’re incredibly excited about this new opportunity and feel we’ll be contributing fresh, exciting and very commercial novels to a readership always eager for the next big thing.

So New Children are the next big thing? Well alright. Tell me more….

My wish was Tor UK’s command, apparently, because not only did someone take the time to create perfectly plausible cover art for Space Bunnies and A Unicorn’s Purpose, they also went ahead and conducted interviews with the two British authors behind Tiny Tor’s provisional lauch list.

When asked about his departure from The Departure, specifically about writing genre fiction for children, Neal Asher confessed the following:

I was initially surprised by the idea because my general attitude to children is that though I like them, I couldn’t eat a whole one. But on reflection I could see how this would be a good idea. The problem with science fiction is its inability to acquire new adult readers because it is a language in itself, and one must grow up with it to fully comprehend it. Here then was a way I could add to the sum total of SF readers.

Later on, Mark Charan Newton, the erstwhile author of this year’s Drakenfeld, admitted the influence of many and various motives:

Q: Tell us a little bit about your new book.

A: Without sounding too pompous about it, A Unicorn’s Purpose is a Euripidean critique of society as viewed through the eyes of a unicorn. In fact, though the story is about a unicorn and the various tragedies that it experiences, it also really isn’t about the unicorn at all. I want people to look beyond that. You see, the unicorn is a metaphor—not just for unrequited love, which is obvious, but of the current economic crisis and its lack of Keynesian response. That the unicorn is called Dave and keeps stealing other people’s pocket money is no coincidence.

Q: This is a slight departure from your adult books—what made you want to write for children?

A: I’m doing it for the money.

Q: Where did you get the idea for A Unicorn’s Purpose?

A: It was actually China Miéville who came up with the central plot—but he gave it to me in exchange for a copy of Atlas Shrugged and a Babycham.

Now I enjoyed the thought of this new imprint, most especially the #TinyTorTitles hashtag that trended on Twitter after the originating blog post was published, but I dare say your mileage may vary.

We must recall, after all, that this sort of fiction, targeted towards this exact segment of the market—not an insignificant slice of said, incidentally—does exist, and to treat the literature read and represented by many thousands of individuals like, let’s face it, punchlines, is in a sense to perpetuate the very same prejudice we speculative fiction fans get up in arms about on a regular basis.

At least, that’s the argument as I understand it. If anyone would like to clarify, please feel free.

A penny for your thoughts, then: would you say yay or nay to Tiny Tor?

The Best of British Science Fiction

The winners of the British Science Fiction Association’s annual awards were announced at Eastercon over the weekend, and for once, every one was worthy.

The outright winner of two of the BSFA’s four awards was Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, which took home the trophies for Best Novel and Best Artwork because of the brilliant cover by Blacksheep.

British Genre Fiction Focus British Science Fiction Awards Jack Glass Adam Roberts

This is somewhat surprising. Not the Best Artwork win, but I had my money on 2312 being the year’s Best Novel. That said, Jack Glass was absolutely fantastic. It this comes as news to you, read the review of it I wrote for right here. Then buy the book.

Meanwhile, the winner of The Kitschies’ special Black Tentacle award was honoured again, as the BSFA declared The World SF Blog, edited by Lavie Tidhar, as the Best Non-Fiction of 2012. Well deserved acclaim, I dare say.

Last but not least, it pleases me no end to see “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” by Ian Sales take home the trophy for Best Short Story. Not coincidentally, I reviewed this beauty for too, as part of the Short Fiction Spotlight.

It isn’t every day that an awards ceremony honours such an astounding array of genre-oriented authors and artists, so I hope you’ll all join me in offering the heartiest of congratulations to this year’s victors. And let’s tip our hats at the British Science Fiction Association in addition, for selecting said so well.

Cover Art Corner: The Art of Steelheart

Wasn’t it just the other week that we talked about the unveiling of new Brandon Sanderson cover art?

Why yes. Yes it was.

But here we are again, and what can one say but yay? Also: this guy’s got the work ethic of ten George R. R. Martins.

According to the cover of the book proofs Gollancz has produced, Steelheart marks “the launch of a sensational new series” by the author of The Way of Kings and the final volumes of The Wheel of Time. This time Sanderson looks to have his sights set on superpowered fantasy, and I’m suitably psyched to see what the man makes of the genre our own Adam Christopher has lately made such an impact in.

British Genre Fiction Focus Steelheart Brandon Sanderson

As to the cover itself, Sam Green’s illustration appeals less immediately to me than the art adorning the forthcoming British edition of The Rithmatist did… then again, given how smartly it matches the cover look of Gollancz’s other Sandersons, it’s going to be just lovely in my library.

In case you were wondering, here’s what the book is all about:

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Gollancz are poised to publish Steelheart in the UK on September 26th, practically day and date with the North American edition coming from Delacorte on the 24th.

Roll on autumn already, right?

Faber Favours Angry Robot

British Genre Fiction Focus Angry Robot Faber and Faber

Now for some news from behind the scenes of the British publishing industry!

Angry Robot Books—formerly a science fiction imprint under the auspices of HarperCollins UK which has of course become much, much more in the years since they parted ways with their parent company—Angry Robot Books have entered into an agreement with another publisher, namely Faber and Faber, or rather the sales team of said.

Why? Simply put, because they want to be even bigger than they’ve become, and even better to boot:

This will mean we have better coverage across the whole of the UK, as well as Ireland and into Europe too. We’ll have more reps on the ground telling your favourite local bookshop about our great novels, and increased coverage for libraries as well.


All round, this is a big deal for Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, and we should see its effects almost immediately. In the UK, authors will find there are more invitations to events and signings than before, and you’ll meet some of the reps at upcoming conventions like Eastercon too, as they are enthusiasts like us.

Ian West, head of the FF+ team, said: “We are particularly delighted to be working with Angry Robot and the Osprey group, who have consistently been ahead of the game and breaking new ground in the ways they bring writers and readers together.”

So there you go—we’re increasing our reach across the UK and Ireland, making it easier to buy our books in your local shop, month in, month out. Can’t be bad. Now for cake.

Well, count me in for a sizeable slice! There must be more than enough to go around now….

The Nuts and Bolts of the Novel

Not this weekend but the next, Audrey Niffenegger, author of this May’s Raven Girl—a short illustrated novel I’m very much looking forward to—will be chairing a two day creative writing course called “The Nuts and Bolts of the Novel” in lovely Tunbridge Wells.

Per the press release I was sent:

Have you started writing a novel but aren’t sure where to go next? Do you want some guidance on what you’ve written so far? In “The Nuts and Bolts of the Novel,” Audrey Niffenegger—an experienced creative writing teacher as well as bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry—will delve deeply into two key elements of the novel: structure and character.

In the beautiful setting of the Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells, this is a unique opportunity to spend time with Audrey Niffenegger as she helps you take your next steps in the development of your novel. […] There are only fourteen places available; writers of both literary and genre fiction are welcome.

Included in the course will be tea, coffee, pastries and lunch over the two days, and a rewarding glass of wine!

I’m sorry, did someone say wine?

Well, as established in earlier editions of the British Genre Fiction Focus, it wouldn’t be a proper British shindig without something alcoholic to drink, now would it? The things we’ve learned over the course of this column!

Truth be told, though, a glass of wine is really the least the organisers of this exclusive event could arrange, consider the expense of attendance, excluding transport and accommodation. Then again, I’m sure there are a fair few folks who’d give an arm and a leg over and above the required £375 for a weekend of intimate advice and guidance from such a talented author.

Add to that the fact that this is the first time Niffenegger has ever taught her course on our shores. Who knows when the sort of opportunity this represents will present itself again….

In any case, the deadline to apply for attendance expires later today, so if you’re thinking of going, think quicker!

That’s the past week in UK news, as I see it. Now to consider the coming week in new releases.


British Genre Fiction Focus The Dark Lemony Snicket Jon Klassen

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen (April 3, Orchard)

Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo but mostly it spends its time in the basement. It doesn’t visit Laszlo in his room. Until one night it does.

With emotional insight and poetic economy, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen bring to light a universal and empowering story about conquering fear. Join a brave boy on his journey to meet the dark, and see why it will never bother him again.

British Genre Fiction Focus The Age Atomic Empire State 2 Adam Christopher

The Age Atomic (Empire State #2), by Adam Christopher (April 4, Angry Robot)

The Fissure connecting the alternate New York to its counterpart has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze. The people are demanding a return to Prohibition and rationing as energy supplies dwindle.

Meanwhile, in the real 1954 New York, the political dynamic has changed. Nimrod finds his department subsumed by a radical new group, Atoms For Peace, led by the mysterious Evelyn McHale. Their goal is simple: total conquest—or destruction—of the Empire State.

British Genre Fiction Focus Black Feathers Black Dawn Joseph D'Lacey

Black Feathers (Black Dawn #1), by Joseph D’Lacey (April 4, Angry Robot)

It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse.

It is the Bright Day, a time generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

In each era, a child undertakes a perilous journey to find a dark messiah known as the Crowman.

But is he our saviour—or the final incarnation of evil?

British Genre Fiction Focus The Crane Wife Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness (April 4, Canongate)

The extraordinary happens every day….

One night, George Duncan—decent man, a good man—is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed.

The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story.

Wise, romantic, magical and funny, The Crane Wife is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

British Genre Fiction Focus Emilie and the Hollow World Martha Wells

Emilie & the Hollow World, by Martha Wells (April 4, Strange Chemistry)

While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

British Genre Fiction Focus The Marching Dead Marius don Hellespont 2 Lee Battersby

The Marching Dead (Marius don Hellespont #2), by Lee Battersby (April 4, Angry Robot)

Find the dead a King, save himself, win the love of his life, live happily ever after. No wonder Marius dos Helles is bored.

But now something has stopped the dead from… well, dying.

It’s up to Marius, Gerd, and Gerd’s not-dead-enough Granny to journey across the continent and put the dead back in the afterlife where they belong.

Silent Saturday British Genre Fiction Focus Helen Grant

Silent Saturday (Forbidden Spaces #1), by Helen Grant (April 4, Bodley Head)

Seventeen-year-old Veerle is bored with life in suburban Brussels. But a chance encounter with a hidden society, whose members illegally break into unoccupied buildings around the city, soon opens up a whole new world of excitement—and danger.

When one of the society’s founding members disappears, Veerle suspects foul play. But nothing can prepare her for the horror that is about to unfold when an old foe emerges from the shadows.

No one is safe, and The Hunter will strike again….

British Genre Fiction Focus Chronicles of Nick 4 Sherrilyn Kenyon

Inferno (Chronicles of Nick #4), by Sherrilyn Kenyon (April 9, Atom)

Turning sixteen isn’t what Nick Gautier thought it would be. While other boys his age are worried about prom dates and applying for college, Nick is neck deep in enemies out to stop him from living another day. No longer sure if he can trust anyone, his only ally seems to be the one person he’s been told will ultimately kill him.

Those out to get him have summoned an ancient force so powerful even the gods fear it. As Nick learns to command and control the elements, the one he must master in order to combat his latest foe is the one most likely to destroy him. If he is to survive this latest round, he will ultimately have to sacrifice a part of himself.


So which books will you be burying your nose in this week, I wonder?

For review, I’ve read both Black Feathers and The Crane Wife already, but even so, I’ll be buying a few of these new releases. Though I wasn’t aware it existed until I sat down to put this column together, there’s The Dark, for starters… but the sequel to The Corpse-Rat King also sounds superb, and Emilie & the Hollow World could well be wonderful.

I suppose we’ll see, won’t we?

But in case I don’t see you before we do this whole thing over again next Wednesday, good afternoon, good evening and good night!

Niall Alexander is an erstwhile English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange 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.


Back to the top of the page


This post is closed for comments.

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.