British Fiction Focus

DRM, The Book of Bloggers and A Thanks from Iain Banks

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.

A bunch of stuff has happened since we last put our heads together, including updates to several stories we’ve touched on before. To begin with, Iain Banks has responded to the “outpouring of love, affection and respect” which met the sad news that he didn’t—and he doesn’t—have long left.

Meanwhile, the two Tors recently celebrated a year of DRM-free new releases, and at the very least they’ve earned a bullet point in today’s column by blazing said trail. This past week also saw the publication of the first annual Speculative Fiction anthology, and the opening of the floodgates to submissions for the next edition. Prime your favourite blog posts, folks!

It looks to be another strong week in new releases, too, complete with a couple of big guns—the end of the Riftwar Saga and Charlaine Harris’ last Sookie Stackhouse book—a few particularly promising new voices—namely Wesley Chu and Christian Schoon—alongside a new Night Watch novel, the long-awaited arrival of God’s War, and a modern-day fairy tale from the pen of author and artist Audrey Niffenegger.


A Thanks from Iain Banks

Two months or so ago, Iain Banks announced that he had cancer. And that the chances of him seeing out the year were nearly nil.

The terrible news swept the internet, made a real dent in the mainstream media, and left in its wake a whole lot of love. I was far from the only fan to embark on a Culture catch-up—Consider Phlebas went down very well, incidentally.

Anyway, after making his statement, Banks promptly married his partner and shot off on a sudden honeymoon to “mostly-sunny-with-a-touch-of-rain Venice and then mostly-rainy-with-a-touch-of-sun Paris.” He’s back on his home turf now, however, and on Banksophilia, he posted another update.

Regarding the aforementioned outpouring of emotion, he writes:

I honestly had no idea. Of course I’ve always known I have a fair few fans, and I’ve always been a fan of my fans – certainly of those who turned up at signing sessions, bookshop events, literary festivals, library gigs and so on. The people I spoke to on these occasions always seemed bright, clever, highly informed and sometimes worryingly more intelligent than me (see – somebody really intelligent would have written “I” there). As well as displaying immense good taste in literature, obviously.

However. Discovering the sheer extent and depth of the feelings people have expressed on the message board over the past two weeks has been truly astounding.

I feel treasured, I feel loved, I feel I’ve done more than just pursue the craft I adore and make a living from it, and more than just fulfil the only real ambition I’ve ever had – of becoming a professional writer. I am deeply flattered and touched, and I can’t deny I’ve been made to feel very special indeed. At the same time, though, I’d like to think that it’s like this for every author, to a greater or lesser degree; we’ve each engendered more love out there than we think we have, and it’s only the fact that I’ve been able to pre-announce my own demise that has allowed me to realise my portion of that love in full while I’m still around to appreciate it. Which has got me thinking; I need to tell other writers how much their work has meant to me while they are (and I am) still alive. Means writing yet more letters, but I feel it’d be hypocritical of me not to, now. I think I’ll start with the amazing Mr Alasdair Gray.

Either way. The point is that I owe you all a huge thanks for the witty, poignant, beautiful, heartfelt, insightful, touching and just funny things you’ve said about my work on Banksophilia. It’s been a delight.

I sincerely hope it has been.

But let’s not gloss over the realisation he relates. It’s an undeniable fact that Banks has only heard from so very many of his fans and admirers because, to paraphrase The Wasp Factory author, he pre-announced his own demise. And that’s a terrible thing, isn’t it? An appalling thought, that it takes death to get us out of our shells.

Seriously, why shouldn’t we tell the authors whose work we love that we love their work until it’s too late for them to appreciate our appreciation? Rather than waiting till the very end of the day, I say we make a habit of sharing our feelings more freely going forward.

Getting back to Banks, he concludes by saying he’ll “continue to post the occasional update for as long as [he’s] able.” Let’s cross our fingers against the odds that we can look forward to many more.

Cover Art Corner: Dream London

Another week, another stunning cover, and yet again, it comes courtesy the painstaking imagination of Joey Hi-Fi.

You might recall that we discussed Tony Ballantyne’s forthcoming novel in an earlier edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus, specifically vis-à-vis what I described as a glut of literary Londons, but say what I may, I’m interested in Dream London anyway, especially in light of that lovely cover.

Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage by the bucketful. He’s adored by women, respceted by men and feared by his enemies. He’s the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world, and he knows it.

But in Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. The towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the East End and a path spiraling down to another world.

Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be.

Solaris Books will publish Dream London this October, by which point I’m hoping to be good and ready for a return trip to speculative fiction’s favourite city.

To a DRM-Free 2013

Digital Rights Management is a tricky topic to talk about. Hell, it’s a tricky topic, full stop. On the one hand, I can see the need for it, or something like it. Piracy is and was and will ever be a pressing problem, and I absolutely understand why so many publishers have attempted to address it.

That said, there are few things more infuriating than finding out that no, I’m not allowed to read the e-book I bought on this device as opposed to that one; that if I want to make use of this data I don’t even know if I own, I have to use do so through some back-asswards approved app rather than the random one I’ve become accustomed to.

It’s not dissimilar to finding out you can only wear your favourite shirt on Thursdays, and only then when it’s wet. We wouldn’t stand for that, so why do we allow this particular silliness to persist?

Well, not everyone does. Indeed, Tor doesn’t. A year ago, in the UK and the US, the two Tors announced that all of their e-books would be free of DRM going forward.

As to why? Let’s ask Editorial Director Julie Crisp:

For our particular readership, we felt it was an essential and fair move. The genre community is close-knit, with a huge on-line presence, and with publishers, authors and fans having closer communication than perhaps some other areas of publishing do. Having been in direct contact with our readers, we were aware of how frustrated many of them were by DRM. Our authors had also expressed concerns at the restrictions imposed by the copyright coding applied to their ebooks. When both authors and readers are talking from the same page, it makes sense for the publishers to sit up, listen and take note—and we did!

We know that our readers are earlier adapters of technology, the first in-line to experiment with new formats, new reading experiences and new devices. In part it’s the nature of the genre—a pushing of boundaries and imagination and it’s what we all love about the area. For us, we felt a strong sense that the reading experience for this tech-savvy, multi-device owning readership, was being inhibited by DRM leaving our readers unable to reasonably and legally transfer ebook files between all the devices they had. DRM was an irritant taking away the flexibility and their choice of reading device and format, the very things that made the ebook so desirable a format to begin with.

First and foremost, I’d like to take this opportunity to salute the two Tors for blazing this trail.

Admittedly, I’m enough of a luddite that I’d still rather have a hardcover than an e-book, but even I’ve bought several digital editions since Tor’s joint decision, and I very much doubt I’d have done so if they were riddled with wrong-headed rules and regulations.

I do, however, wonder about the consequences of this decision. Crisp just touches on the impact it has had, saying that “we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year,” but I for one would like to see a larger study done.

Does anyone have a pie chart handy?

Speculative Fiction 2012

Blogging is the best thing to have happened to humanity since the spork: fact.

Or perhaps simply opinion. But it’s my opinion, and I see no shame in saying that I adore what I do. Nor should you. If it’s true.

In any event, this week saw the release of the first in a series of annual anthologies which purport to collect “the best online reviews, essays and commentary” published in the previous year. Speculative Fiction 2012 features non-fiction from any number of bloggers and authors that are sure to be familiar to you, including yours truly… but I’d hate to be the guy who names five of the other contributors in lieu of the fifty-odd folks I don’t, so here’s what co-editor Justin Landon had to say about Speculative Fiction 2012:

This collection contains over fifty of the year’s best online essays and reviews, from Tansy Rayner Roberts on Supergirl to Lavie Tidhar on China Miéville to Aishwarya Subramanian on My Little Pony to Joe Abercrombie on, er, himself. It is a diverse collection of some of last year’s best and most interesting writing. We fully expect – and hope – it will cause discussion, debate and a bit of a ruckus.

The book also contains a foreword from Orbit author Mur Lafferty, an introduction from this year’s editors (Jared Shurin and myself) and an afterword from the 2013 editors, Ana Grilo and Thea James of The Book Smugglers. Not to mention the beautiful cover from the talented Sarah Anne Langton.

All proceeds from sales of this book are donated to Room to Read, supporting literacy and gender equality in education around the world.

You can grab a physical copy of Speculative Fiction 2012 from Amazon whether you’re based in the UK or elsewhere. E-books made by humans—as opposed to Amazon’s automatons—are on the way any day.

Now obviously I have a vested interest in helping to make this anthology a success, but oddly not because it features a few of my favourite reviews alongside the work of a bunch of best-in-class bloggers and authors.

In the first, any and all proceeds from Speculative Fiction 2012, as Justin Landon says, will go towards a great cause, but beyond your money being exceptionally well spent, this anthology could be a positive way forward for blogging. A means of legitimising something that even now a lot of people dismiss as insignificant.

The work is far from over, of course. Speaking of which, you can start submitting your favourite blog posts for consideration for the next annual edition of Speculative Fiction already.

Now then. We’ve got a serious week of new releases to get through today, so let’s do it, damn it!


After Earth: A Perfect Beast, by Michael Jan FriedmanRobert Greenberger & Peter David (May 2, Del Rey UK)

The official prequel novel of the epic film After Earth directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Jaden Smith and Will Smith.

After their exodus from Earth, the last humans settled a remote planet: Nova Prime.

Conner Raige’s ancestors were on the front lines of victory against the Skrel, a long defeated enemy. Now he is one of the United Ranger Corps’ most promising young cadets, despite his brash confidence and tendency to act on instinct.

But when the Skrel return, a deadly ground war will test him to the limit. Only this time, the Skrel have brought a secret weapon: ferocious killing machines designed to eliminate humanity from Nova Prime… and the universe.

Includes the first three installments of the After Earth: Ghost Stories e-book series.

God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1), by Kameron Hurley (March 2, Del Rey UK)

Nyx was a government sponsored assassin, a Bel Dame paid to track down and collect the heads of deserters from a centuries long war on a decimated world, by almost any means necessary.

’Almost’ proved to be a problem.

Cast out and imprisoned for breaking one rule too many, Nyx and her crew of mercenaries now just work for the money. When a covert government deal with an off world gene-pirate goes awry, however, her name is at the top of the list to retrieve this particular head.

In a futuristic world dominated by war, religion and an insectile technology that borders on magic, the best chance for peace rests in the hands of the most ruthless killers.

Pray that it’s enough…

The Lives of Tao (Lives of Tao #1), by Wesley Chu (May 2, Angry Robot)

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

The New Watch (Night Watch #5), by Sergei Lukyanenko (May 2, William Heinemann)

Walking the streets of our cities are the Others. These men and women are guardians of the Twilight, a shadowy parallel world that exists alongside our own. Each has sworn allegiance to one side, fighting for the Light, or the Darkness. But now, beyond the continuing struggle comes a peril that threatens their very world.

At Moscow airport, Higher Light Magician Anton Gorodetsky overhears a child screaming that a plane is about to crash. He discovers that the child is a prophet: an Other with the gift of foretelling the future. When the catastrophe is averted, Gorodetsky senses a disruption in the natural order, one that is confirmed by the arrival of a dark and terrifying predator.

From the Night Watch headquarters Gorodetsky travels to London, to Taiwan and across Russia in search of clues, unearthing as he goes a series of increasingly cataclysmic prophecies. He soon realises that what is at stake is the existence of the Twilight itself – and that only he will be able to save it.

Raven Girl, by Audrey Niffenegger (May 2, Jonathan Cape)

Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven…

So begins the tale of a postman who encounters a fledgling raven while on the edge of his route and decides to take her home. The unlikely couple falls in love and conceives a child – an extraordinary raven girl trapped in a human body. The raven girl feels imprisoned by her arms and legs and covets wings and the ability to fly. Betwixt and between, she reluctantly grows into a young woman, until one day she meets an unorthodox doctor who is willing to change her.

One of the world’s most beloved storytellers has created a dark fairytale full of wonderment and longing. Illustrated with Audrey Niffenegger’s own bewitching etchings and paintings, Raven Girl explores the bounds of transformation and possibility.

Zenn Scarlett, by Christian Schoon (May 2, Strange Chemistry)

Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.

But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.

Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.

The Nekropolis Archives, by Tim Waggoner (May 3, Angry Robot)

Meet Matt Richter.

Private Eye. Zombie. His mean streets are the city of the dead, the shadowy realm known as Nekropolis.

You’ve got to keep your head in Nekropolis. But when you’re a zombie attempting to battle the vampire lords, that’s not nearly as easy as it seems…

This omnibus edition collects all three novels in the Nekropolis sequence: NekropolisDead Streets and Dark War.

Magician’s End (Riftwar #4), byRaymond E. Feist (May 6, Harper Voyager)

The dragons are calling…

Civil war is tearing apart the Kingdom of the Isles, for the throne lies empty and rivals are converging. Having spirited his beloved Princess Stephané safely out of Roldem, Hal – now Duke of Crydee – must turn his attention to the defence of the ancient realm so that a king can be anointed by the Congress of Lords, rather than by right of might.

But the greatest threat may well lie out of the hands of men. Somewhere in the Grey Towers Mountains something not of this world is emerging. It will require that alliances be made between mortal enemies if disaster is to be averted.

Elves and men must stand together, ancient heroes must rise again, dragons must fly and Pug, Magnus and the other magic-users of Midkemia must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if the whole world is to be saved.

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse #13), by Charlaine Harris (May 7, Gollancz)

Sookie Stackhouse has one last adventure in store.

Life has taken her from a waitress in Merlotte’s Bar, Bon Temps, to part owner; from social outcast to the heart of her community; from a vampire’s girlfriend to the wife of one of the most powerful vampires in the state.

She has survived explosions, revolutions and attempts on her life. Sookie has endured betrayal, heartbreak and grief…and she has emerged a little stronger, and little wiser, every time.

But with life comes new trials…

The question is, in the end: who will love, who will live, and who will be dead ever after?


I confess I could care less about Magician’s End and Dead Ever After, but I bet there are more than a few of you who do, so never mind my nonsense: enjoy!

Personally, I’m more interested in this week’s debuts: namely The Lives of TaoZenn Scarlett and God’s War, which is finally making its way to the UK thanks to Del Rey. Can’t wait.

So which of the week’s new releases can you see yourself reading?

That’s it for this edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus. Please do continue the conversation in the comments, and remember to check in for another round-up of news and new releases next Wednesday. Talk to you all again then!

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 occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.


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