British Fiction Focus

The Morning After World Book Night

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.

I’m going to come right out and say it today: some weeks are more equal than others. This week… wasn’t.

Long story short, not a whole lot has happened in the seven days since the last time we talked about the state of genre fiction in Britain—but if you thought that would lead to a less lengthy column, you’d be wrong!

We begin this week with a few words about this year’s World Book Night, before turning our attention towards a speculative fiction imprint which is clearly thinking about what we’ll be reading in 2014. After that, some characteristically fantastic cover art from Joey Hi-Fi, and to top it all off, a dash of Terry Pratchett.

Though the news may be a little lean, this week’s new releases come in quantity and quality: look out for The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, The City by Stella Gemmell, a new Interworld novel and the thrilling conclusion of Ian Tregillis’ Milkweed Triptych.

And that’s hardly the half of it…



World Book Night 2013

At times like this I’m reminded of that ancient aphorism, passed down over aeons from generation to generation by the great thinkers who have helped to make our world what it is today. And what it is that they say?

They say everyone who likes books, likes free books even better.

Many great enterprises have been built upon this principle, including, of course, World Book Night, which here in the UK we celebrated for the third time on the trot after the sun set yesterday evening.

So what do you want to know about it?

Well yes, obviously, there was some drinking. But bear in mind: this year’s World Book Night was celebrated on a Tuesday, too, and it’s a universal truth that Tuesdays are all about the booze.

Any other questions?

I’m sure I heard someone wondering what a World Book Night is. Well:

Each year we recruit 20,000 volunteers to hand out 20 copies of their favourite book from our list to members of their community who don’t regularly read. By enlisting thousands of passionate book lovers around the country World Book Night reaches out to the millions of people in the UK who have yet to fall in love with reading in the hope that we can start them on their reading journey. In addition World Book Night distributes 100,000 books through our institutional partners to the hardest to reach potential readers in prisons, care homes, hospitals, sheltered, supported and social housing, the homeless and through partner charities working throughout the UK.

Why April 23rd, anyway? Let’s look back to the FAQ:

April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it the international day of the book and that we choose it to celebrate World Book Night. April 23rd also marks the city of Barcelona’s celebration of St George’s Day. St George is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England and traditionally, to celebrate this day, Spanish gentlemen gave their ladies roses and the ladies returned the favour with a book. Considering the rich literary history of this day, it seemed more than fitting that April 23rd should be chosen as the day of celebrating reading and the giving of books!

It’s a time, in other words, to share our love for literature with those folks who haven’t already caught the book bug. To that end, each year a panel of independent types select twenty texts that could conceivably inspire hundreds of thousands of humans to take up reading on a more regular basis.

In 2013, those books included several specimens of speculative fiction, namely The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and last but not least, The Dark Judges: a Judge Dredd graphic novel by script droids John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art by Brian Bolland and a number of others.

It’s great to see the genres we hold near and dear playing a part in this principled initiative, and I can only hope World Book Night results in many newcomers becoming hooked on comic books—not to mention the magnificent Chaos Walking trilogy and the continuing misadventures of my favourite literary detective, Thursday Next.

Here’s hoping some of you took this opportunity to press a good book or two onto a few of your friends and countrymen. I most definitely did. What, if anything, did you give?


Two To Tor

This week, the team behind the Tor UK imprint in Britain have been busy buying the rights to publish a few of the books we’ll be burying our noses in next year. First, let’s take a peek at Ben Peek, who recently signed over the world rights to his Children trilogy, beginning with Immolation in summer 2014, for a six figure sum.

The bodies of the gods now lie across the world, slowly dying as men and women awake with strange powers that are derived from their bodies. Ayae, a young cartographer’s apprentice, is attacked and discovers she cannot be harmed by fire. Her new power makes her a target for an army that is marching on her home. With the help of the immortal Zaifyr, she is taught the awful history of ’cursed’ men and women, coming to grips with her new powers and the enemies they make. The saboteur Bueralan infiltrates the army that is approaching her home to learn its terrible secret. Split between the three points of view, Immolation’s narrative reaches its conclusion during an epic siege, where Ayae, Zaifyr and Bueralan are forced not just into conflict with those invading, but with those inside the city who wish to do them harm.

I like the premise, personally, but what truly draws me to this trilogy is the critical acclaim Peek has attracted in the past. Per the press release, Paul DiFillippo ascribes “the gravitas of Margaret Atwood or Kazuo Ishiguro” to the Dimtar Award-nominated Australian author, whilst Jeff VanderMeer describes him as “a writer I fully expect to blunder out into the scene like a run-away brontosaurus one of these days. He has titanic talent generally leashed to micro-detail projects when his true canvas is probably something much wider and deeper.”

Something like… this, for instance?

You can count me in, I think.

And I’m at least as interested in the Rjurik Davidson news. Davidson is another Aussie, and a winner of the aforementioned Dimtar Award, who has built himself a stellar reputation writing short fiction. His full-length debut will be published the spring after this, and it’s called Unwrapped Sky.

He’s what the author had to say about the world he’s created for his first novel:

“Caeli-Amur: a city torn by contradiction. A city of languorous philosopher-assassins and magnificent creatures from ancient myth: minotaurs and sirens. Three Houses rule over an oppressed citizenry stirring into revolt. The ruins of Caeli-Amur’s sister city lie submerged beneath the sea nearby, while the remains of strange advanced technology lie hidden in the tunnels beneath the city itself.

“These combinations fascinate me, for Caeli-Amur stands on the borders between antiquity and modernity, between Ancient Rome and St Petersburg of the early 1900s, between the classical and the avant-garde. The stories that might be told in Caeli-Amur intrigue me, draw me in. The unhappy middle-manager, whose life is a disappointment, the ageing philosopher-assassin, no longer able to ply his trade, the captured Siren who yearns to return to her island, the your seditionist eager to ride on the wave of change that is coming. In Caeli-Amur histories collide and the sparks thrown off can – at least for me – dazzle and intrigue.”

For some reason this pitch puts me in mind of The Legends of the Red Sun saga. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but colour me captivated in any case.

Next year is still ages away, I’m afraid. That said, there are a few particularly promising books to look forward to between now and then, and this week we got a glimpse of the stunning cover art for one of the above.


Cover Art Corner: Apocalypse Now, and How!

On Monday, the fine folks behind Pornokitsch revealed the awesome artwork Joey Hi-Fi has produced for Charlie Human’s forthcoming debut, Apocalypse Now Now. It is, predictably, quite brilliant. Colourful, complex, and suitably loopy.

I say suitably because the blurb is just as crazy as the cover art indicates:

Baxter Zevcenko is your average 16-year-old-boy. If by average you mean kingpin of a smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, and a possible serial killer who suffers from weird historical dreams. He’s the first to admit that he’s not a nice guy, but then, in high school, where’s the percentage in being nice?

That is until his girlfriend, Esme, is kidnapped and all the clues point toward strange forces at work. Faced with navigating the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld to get her back, Baxter turns to the only person drunk enough to help: bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter, Jackson “Jackie” Ronin.

Truth be told, Baxter would have preferred not to be chased by monsters, nightmares and the growing spectre of insanity. But, hey, nobody ever said reluctantly rescuing someone because you’re being guilt-tripped by a conscience you didn’t think you had was going to be easy.

Apocalypse Now Now will be published in the UK by Century, a division of Random House that mostly caters to the mainstream. Evidently that’ll change this August, when Human’s book hits.

Do check out the very serious interview Pornokitsch conducted with Joey Hi-Fi earlier this week to find out more about coffee, cloning, robots and the best Avenger. They have the South African cover art as well, which I like almost as much as the image embedded above.

One quick question before we move on: is it just me, or does Baxter rather resemble a distressed Daniel Radcliffe?


A Chat with Terry Pratchett

Last in the news this week, but not least—well, maybe least; the originating article isn’t exactly substantial—The Guardian recently ran a random interview with Terry Pratchett, which was certainly wide-ranging, if lacking much depth in any one respect.

Over the course of the piece, Pratchett does however hit on a number of stimulating issues: he discusses his Alzheimer’s in passing, science fiction as a defence against prejudice, Discworld in film, and the thought of his daughter Rhianna taking the reins of said series after his passing.

What unites Discworld readers? “They are serendipitists,” says Pratchett, “pickers-up of interesting things you hadn’t expected to see. That applies to most science fiction buffs.” He says they are also open-minded, and that it wasn’t an accident the first interracial kiss on TV happened on Star Trek. “It fits into what science fiction is, which is people being people and not worrying about what shape, size or colour you are. It’s hard to read a lot of science fiction and be a bigot.”

Pratchett refuses to be bowed down by his illness, and is producing as much as ever, though these days he finds it hard to type: he dictates into a computer and then edits the text. “I’m at an age when all my contemporaries are forgetting where they left their car keys, and I’m still paddling along quite happily,” he says. He can be forgetful, and pauses at certain points during the interview while searching for a word or thought, but says his condition remains manageable.

There have been suggestions that at some point his daughter, Rhianna, who writes stories for video games, could take over the Discworld series. “It will be entirely up to her,” says Pratchett. “She’s doing very well by herself.” He is also looking to the survival of his creation on film, and with Rhianna recently set up a production company, Narrativia, to rectify the surprising absence of Discworld movies. “There’s always Hollywood interest,” he says, “but Hollywood is full to the brim with people who have the ability to say no and only about one person who can say yes. 

Terry Pratchett is ever a fascinating character, so I’d recommend you read Stephen Moss’ article despite how light it looks. I’ll take as many glimpses into the life and times of one of Great Britain’s greatest as I can get, please and thank you.

Raising Steam, the fortieth Discworld novel proper, will be published this autumn.

Now then. We’ve got a fair array of new releases to work through this week, so the sooner we get to them, the better.



The City, by Stella Gemmell (April 25, Bantam Press)

Built up over the millennia, layer upon layer, the City is ancient and vast. Over the centuries, it has sprawled beyond its walls, the cause of constant war with neighbouring peoples and kingdoms, laying waste to what was once green and fertile.

And at the heart of the City resides the emperor. Few have ever seen him. Those who have remember a man in his prime and yet he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he ever truly was. And a small number have come to a desperate conclusion: that the only way to stop the ceaseless slaughter is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.

From the rotting, flood-ruined catacombs beneath the City where the poor struggle to stay alive to the blood-soaked fields of battle where so few heroes survive, these rebels pin their hopes on one man. A man who was once the emperor’s foremost general. A man, a revered soldier, who could lead an uprising and unite the City. But a man who was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and is now believed to be dead…

The Great Bazaar & Bryan’s Gold (Demon Cycle #1.5), by Peter V. Brett (April 25, Harper Voyager)

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons – bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting and killing humanity for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

But there was a time when the demons were not so bold. A time when wards did more than hold the demons at bay. They allowed man to fight back, and to win. Messenger Arlen Bales will search anywhere, dare anything, to return this magic to the world.

Abban, a merchant in the Great Bazaar of Krasia, purports to sell everything a man’s heart could desire, including, perhaps, the key to Arlen’s quest.

Herald of the Storm (Steelhaven #1), by Richard Ford (April 25, Headline)

Welcome to Steelhaven…

Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States. 

But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha. When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end.

This House is Haunted, by John Boyne (April 25, Doubleday)

1867. Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk to take up her position as governess at Gaudlin Hall on a dark and chilling night. As she makes her way across the station platform, a pair of invisible hands push her from behind into the path of an approaching train. She is only saved by the vigilance of a passing doctor.

When she finally arrives, shaken, at the hall she is greeted by the two children in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There are no parents, no adults at all, and no one to represent her mysterious employer. The children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, a second terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.

From the moment she rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence which lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realises that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past.

House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini (April 25, HarperCollins Children’s)

The Walker kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games… but everything changed when their father lost his job. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by a troubled fantasy writer.

Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey, to retrieve a dark book of untold power and uncover the Walker family’s secret history. Oh, and save their parents… and maybe even the world!

The Silver Dream (Interworld #2), by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reeves (April 25, HarperCollins Children’s)

Joey Harker is a hero…

After mastering the ability to walk between dimensions, Joey helped save the Altiverse from destruction.

But rival powers of magic and science are still out there, seeking to control all worlds. InterWorld’s peacekeeping mission is far from finished.

And when a stranger follows Joey back to BaseTown things get even more complicated. No one knows who she is or where she’s from and, more importantly, why she knows so much about InterWorld.

Dangerous times lie ahead…

The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (April 25, HarperCollins)

In this terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes, a girl who wouldn’t die hunts a killer who shouldn’t exist.

“It’s not my fault. It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.”

Chicago, 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen ’shining girls’ through the decades – and cut the spark out of them. He’s the perfect killer. Unstoppable. Untraceable. He thinks…

Chicago, 1992. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Tell that to Kirby Mazrachi, whose life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and now might be falling in love with her.

As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is … impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…

Necessary Evil (Milkweed Tryptych #3), by Ian Tregillis (April 30, Orbit)

The history of the Twentieth Century has been shaped by a secret conflict between technology and magic. When a twisted Nazi scientist devised a way to imbue ordinary humans with supernatural abilities—to walk through walls, throw fire and see the future—his work became the prized possession of first the Third Reich, then the Soviet Army. Only Britain’s warlocks, and the dark magics they yield, have successfully countered the threat posed by these superhuman armies.

But for decades, this conflict has been manipulated by Gretel, the mad seer. And now her long plan has come to fruition. And with it, a danger vastly greater than anything the world has known. Now British Intelligence officer Raybould Marsh must make a last-ditch effort to change the course of history… if his nation, and those he loves, are to survive.



I’m balancing about a bazillion deadlines this week, so I won’t likely have time to read any of this week’s new releases until later, though I absolutely hate to have to wait. I want—no, I need—Necessary Evil to be in me immediately; in addition, I’m particularly interested in Herald of the Storm and The City.

Luckily I’ve already read The Shining Girls, otherwise I’d be ignoring my every critical commitment… and everyone? It’s awesome. My pick of the pack, and considering how blown away I’ve been by The Milkweek Triptych, that’s saying something.

That’s it from the British Genre Fiction Focus this week, but do continue the conversation in the comments.

We’ll talk again next Wednesday!

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, twoo.


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