British Fiction Focus

Fifty Shades Saves the Day as the Clarkes Go Dark

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.

If we consider the last couple of columns the calm, this edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus heralds something of a storm. Not of news, necessarily—though I do have a few interesting items for you—but rather regarding this week’s new releases, which include a fascinating new novel from Pax Britannia’s Al Ewing, historical horror from Sarah Pinborough’s pen, a ghost story by psychological crime writer Sophie Hannah, The Radley’s Matt Haig on humans, Alison Littlewood’s investigation of fairy tales and what I’m going to call a lycanpocalypse care of Benjamin Percy.

In addition to all this, the second section features new books by Eric Brown, Margaret Stohl, Charles Stross, Chuck Wendig, Jack Campbell and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Honestly, it’s astonishing. There hasn’t in the entire history of the British Genre Fiction Focus been such an incredible array of new releases to look forward to than the thirteen—count ’em—we’ve got to talk about today.

Over the course of this column, we’ll also consider the newly announced Christmas compendium of the wit and wisdom of a fan-favourite George R. R. Martin character, and see how Fifty Shades of Grey has sort of saved the day—for the book business, that is. But first, let’s examine the aftermath of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.


The Clarkes Go Dark

Last Wednesday, after any number of round-ups and reviews, and much discussion of the all-male array of authors nominated for the annual honour, the winner of this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award was announced at an event held in the Royal Society.

I’d have picked 2312 from the contenders myself, but it wouldn’t have been an easy decision by any stretch, and I was as happy as woolybuck in wonderland to hear Chris Beckett had taken home the trophy for Dark Eden, beating out books by Kim Stanley Robinson, Nick Harkaway, Peter Heller, Ken McLeod and Adrian Barnes.

Here’s what the author had to say on the day, borrowed from the Atlantic Books blog:

My rational side can see that the decision of the judges is necessarily a subjective and personal thing, and that another panel might have chosen a different book or even a different short list.  But the fact remains that being the winner feels great. I first published a story 23 years ago, after a good many years of writing stories and getting them steadily rejected. My first book came out only 7 years ago, and that was with a tiny small press, with minuscule sales.  There were certainly times along the way when I wondered if I was deluding myself or wasting my life. But there could hardly be a more powerful antidote to those kinds of doubts than winning this prize.  Okay, the judgment is inevitably subjective, and I’m sure if I were to search the internet in the next few days there’ll be some dissenting voices (if they aren’t already there). But, nevertheless, a bunch of respected people who read and think about SF a lot, have come to the conclusion that my book wasn’t just good, but the best one in the year. That’ll do for me. I’m very satisfied with that.

Let’s take this opportunity to pass along our congrats to Chris, and our commiserations to the less lucky.

According to Nick Harkaway, however, there was a potential silver lining to losing out on the award this year:

I’m […] kind of jazzed to win the Kitschies Red Tentacle but not the Clarke. It’s not that I didn’t want to win last night – dude, it’s got Arthur C. Clarke’s name on it, and I will be back for another shot at that bookend – but because it might indicate a dawning differentiation of the two awards. One point is not a trend, I know, but it strikes me that it would be a great thing if they ceased to track one another as closely as they have until now, because that would highlight two different strands within SF culture in the UK – one which is self-consciously progressive and experimental, pushing the boundaries of the form and demanding more elasticity from the readership about what SF is and what it should be, and one which is definitive of and defined by the genre and expresses the best and most exciting of the core science fiction, the heart of it.

Very well said, sir. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to think the same thing.

Before we move on to our second story, remember that you can start reading the sequel to Dark Eden immediately! Though it won’t be published in print until sometime in 2014, Aethernet have been serialising new chapters of Gela’s Ring on a monthly basis since the tantalising magazine began in March.

Would it surprise anyone to hear it’s been great to date?

Fifty Shades Saves the Day

Speaking of surprises, new numbers released by the Publishers Association show that the British book industry, long since assumed to be in fairly dire straits, actually rebounded significantly last year, not just reversing the decline in sales we saw in 2011, but rising 4% overall in the erstwhile.

As a matter of fact, readers spent a record amount of money on books in 2012.

And it’s all thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey.

Oy vey!

Now The Guardian has a good overview of the news, and I’d very much recommend you read Alison Flood’s entire article, but for the moment, we might make do a few of the most interesting bits:

The recovery was led by the British public’s insatiable appetite for erotica, with James’s three Fifty Shades titles taking the top three spots in the print chart in 2012, according to figures from Nielsen BookScan.

The first novel in the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, sold 4.46m copies last year, the second sold 3.16m and the third 2.9m. Although there are, as yet, no official ebook charts, Fifty Shades of Grey also topped the Bookseller magazine’s analysis of the bestselling ebooks of 2012, selling 1,609,626 copies, according to the magazine.

James’ unprecedented success meant she became the first author to be named publishing person of the year by US book trade magazine Publishers Weekly. As the mainstream press presaged the end of civilisation, it pointed out that the Fifty Shades trilogy “helped boost print sales in bookstores and turned erotic fiction into a hot category” as it awarded the prize which is “reserved for those shaping and, sometimes, transforming, the publishing industry.”

“How very depressing,” one commenter commented. Another thoughtful sort stopped off to say that “there’s really no accounting for taste.”

And I don’t disagree. I read the beginning of the first book before I gifted it and the rest of the trilogy to my significant other’s mother last Christmas—relax, she liked it!—and it was, best I can recall, awful.

But you know what? If it helps the book business, I’m all for E. L. James.

That said, whether the incredible success of the Fifty Shades series has helped the industry overall or just one especially sexy segment of said remains open to interpretation.

On the speculative side, The Guardian article also attributes the auspicious figures to The Hunger Games trilogy, to which I’d add that I’m glad to see a good book bringing up the rear!

*whistles innocently*

Here, does anyone have any idea what Suzanne Collins has been up to since the publication of Mockingjay? It’s got to be about time for a new novel, no?

A Song of Wit and Wisdom

While we’re talking about books we’ve had to wait ages for, The Winds of Winter

…isn’t coming out this Christmas!

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Then again, I’m three books behind. If I ever find the time, I have plenty George R. R. Martin ready and waiting to occupy my mind.

But this isn’t simply an exercise in rubbing it in, because last week the HarperCollins crew showed off some of the books they’ll be publishing this autumn, and if you’re one of the many millions of fantasy fans who froth at the thought of the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve got good news: HarperCollins are planning a little something to help ameliorate the great wait.

The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister isn’t a new George R. R. Martin novel by any measure, but be that as it may, I think it sounds super:

The small, gift-format hardback title will gather together “clever and naughty quips” from the popular character […] played in the HBO series by actor Peter Dinklage. It has been compiled by Martin’s UK editor, HarperCollins publishing director Jane Johnson, and will be illustrated by caricaturist Jonty Clark.

The publisher noted that while the book is authorised by the novelist, no new material is anticipated for inclusion as Martin is “hard at work on the sixth and penultimate volume of the series, The Winds of Winter.”

HarperCollins described it as “the perfect Christmas gift”, quoting Tyrion: “My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, and I have my mind; and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.”

Johnson said: “The idea for a humorous gift book featuring quotes from Tyrion seemed irresistible. He is everyone’s favourite character from the series and George’s fondness for him is evident: he gets all the best lines, even though – perhaps because – he’s no one’s idea of a traditional hero. He’s a dwarf: he’s ugly and he has a penchant for whores. He’s not gallant or heroic, and he’s completely ruthless. But he’s also witty, self-deprecating and clever; and he’s both a reader and a thinker and in my view that makes him a properly modern hero and a great subject for a little book like this.”

Well, I guess that’s my Christmas shopping sorted.

Odd how that subject has come up twice today, when outside, all of a sudden, summer seems to have happened!

To wit, I’d better make like a banana and split if I hope to experience any of this unaccountably lovely weather, so let fire into the week in new releases.


Climbers, by M. John Harrison (May 9, Gollancz)

A young man seeks to get a grip on his life by taking up rock-climbing. He hopes that by engaging with the hard realities of the rock and the fall he can grasp what is important about life. But as he is drawn into the obsessive world of climbing he learns that taking things to the edge comes with its own price.

Retreating from his failed marriage to Pauline, Mike leaves London for the Yorkshire moors, where he meets Normal and his entourage, busy pursuing their own dreams of escape. Travelling from crag to crag throughout the country, they are searching for the unattainable: the perfect climb. Through rock-climbing, Mike discovers an intensity of experience—a wash of pain, fear and excitement—that obliterates the rest of his world. Increasingly addicted to the adrenaline, folklore and camaraderie of the sport, he finds, for a time, a genuine escape. But it is gained at a price…

This dark, witty and poetic novel is full of the rugged beauty of nature, of the human drive to test oneself against extremes, and of the elation such escape can bring.

The Fictional Man, by Al Ewing (May 9, Solaris)

One of the most exciting new voices in UK fiction has written a novel with enormous cross-over appeal.

In an L.A. where fictional characters are cloned into living beings, the author Niles Golan is on the verge of hitting the big-time—if he can just stay on top of reality long enough to make it.

Hollywood: Niles Golan is writing a remake of a campclassic spy movie. The studio has plans for a franchise, so rather than hiring an actor, the protagonist will be ‘translated’ into a cloned human body.

It’s common practice—Niles’ therapist is a Fictional. So is his best friend. So (maybe) is the woman in the bar he can’t stop staring at. Fictionals are a part of daily life now, especially in LA. In fact, it’s getting hard to tell who’s a Fictional and who’s not…

The Humans, by Matt Haig (May 9, Canongate)

It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home…

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog.

Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

Icons, by Margaret Stohl (May 9, Harper Voyager)

Your heart beats only with their permission.

Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol’s family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn’t know it was fighting.

Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside – safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can’t avoid.

She’s different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador’s privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn’t a coincidence. It’s a conspiracy.

Within the Icon’s reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions – which they’ve always thought to be their greatest weaknesses – may actually be their greatest strengths.

Mayhem, by Sarah Pinborough (May 9, Jo Fletcher Books)

When a rotting torso is discovered in the vault of New Scotland Yard, it doesn’t take Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, long to realise that there is a second killer at work in the city where, only a few days before, Jack the Ripper brutally murdered two women in one night.

Though just as gruesome, this is the hand of a colder killer, one who lacks Jack’s emotion. And, as more headless and limbless torsos find their way into the Thames, Dr Bond becomes obsessed with finding the killer. As his investigations lead him into an unholy alliance, he starts to wonder: is it a man who has brought mayhem to the streets of London, or a monster?

The Orphan Choir, by Sophie Hannah (May 9, Hammer Books)

It is so hard when your children go to school. A small part of you leaves with them. So when the Beeston’’s son is accepted on a prestigious choral scholarship to a boarding school near their holiday home in the country it seems like the perfect time to get out of the city.

Things have been bad with their neighbour for a while now anyway. Susannah has long been driven mad by the constant and thudding music coming from next door every weekend. And his latest taste in choral music seems like a taunting, especially as he always plays it when her husband Daniel is away.

But their move to the country doesn’t offer the solace Susannah needs. Again she is plagued by the sounds of a children’’s choir. It follows her wherever she goes. So when the children turn up on her doorstep, she’’s ready to call the police. But this is no normal choir…

Path of Needles, by Alison Littlewood (May 9, Jo Fletcher Books)

Some fairy tales are born of dreams… and some are born of nightmares.

A murderer is on the loose, but the gruesome way in which the bodies are being posed has the police at a loss. Until, on a hunch, Alice Hyland, an expert in fairy tales is called in. And it is Alice who finds the connection between the body of Chrissie Farrell and an obscure Italian version of Snow White.

Then, when a second body is found, Alice is dragged further into the investigation – until she herself becomes a suspect.

Now Alice must fight, not just to prove her innocence, but to protect herself: because it’s looking like she might well be next.

The Trader’s War (Merchant Princes Omnibus #2), by Charles Stross (May 9, Tor UK)

For one ex-journalist, the nightmare has just begun. Miriam Beckstein has said goodbye to her comfort zone, and the transition from journalist to captive in an alternative timeline was challenging to say the least. As was discovering her long-lost family, the Clan, were world-skipping assassins. Now civil war rages in her adopted home, she’s pregnant with the heir to their throne and a splinter-group want her on their side of a desperate power struggle. But as a leader or figurehead?

Meanwhile, unknown to the Clan, the US government is on to them and preparing to exploit this knowledge. But it hadn’t foreseen a dissident Clan faction carrying nuclear devices between worlds – with the US President in their sights.

The War on Terror is about to go transdimensional. But Mike Fleming, CIA agent, knows the most terrifying secret of all: his government’s true intentions.

Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy (May 9, Hodder & Stoughton)

Every teenage girl thinks she’s different. When government agents kick down Claire Forrester’s front door and murder her parents, Claire realises just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and, hours later, stepped off it, the only passenger left alive. A hero.

Governor Chase Williams has vowed to eradicate the menace. Unknown to the electorate, however, he is becoming the very thing he has sworn to destroy.

Each of them is caught up in a war that so far has been controlled with laws and violence and drugs. But an uprising is about to leave them damaged, lost, and tied to one another for ever.

The night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge, and the battle for humanity will begin.

The Serene Invasion, by Eric Brown (May 9, Solaris)

It’s 2025 and the world is riven by war, terrorist attacks, poverty and increasingly desperate demands for water, oil, and natural resources. The West and China confront each other over an inseperable ideological divide, each desperate to sustain their future.

And then the Serene arrive, enigmatic aliens from Delta Pavonis V, and nothing will ever be the same again. The Serene bring peace to an ailing world, an end to poverty and violence – but not everyone supports the seemingly benign invasion. There are forces out there who wish to return to the bad old days, and will stop at nothing to oppose the Serene.

The award-winning author of HelixGuardians of the PhoenixNecropath, and The Kings of Eternity, brings his revolutionary vision of first contact to Solaris with a thrilling story that gets to the heart of human nature through the lens of cutting-edge science-fiction from one of the most respected SF writers in the field.

The Watcher in the Shadows, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (May 9, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

A mysterious toymaker who lives as a recluse in an old mansion, surrounded by the mechanical beings he has created…

An enigma surrounding strange lights that shine through the mists that envelop the small island on which the old lighthouse stands…

A shadowy creature that hides deep in the woods…

These are the elements of a mystery that bind will bind fourteen-year-old Irene to Ismael during one magical summer spent in the Blue Bay. He mother has taken a job as a housekeeper for the toymaker, Lazarus, but his house contains more secrets than Irene and Ishmael have bargained for.

Unclean Spirits (Gods and Monsters #1), by Chuck Wendig (May 9, Abaddon)

The gods and goddesses are real. A polytheistic pantheon—a tangle of gods and divine hierarchies—once kept the world at an arm’s length, warring with one another, using mankind’s belief and devotion to give them power.

In this way, the world had balance: a grim and bloody balance, but a balance just the same. But a single god sought dominance and as Lucifer fell to Hell, the gods and goddesses fell to earth. And it’s here they remain seemingly eternal, masquerading as humans and managing only a fraction of the power they once had as gods.

They fall to old patterns, collecting sycophants and worshippers in order to war against one another in the battle for the hearts of men. They bring with them demi-gods, and they bring with them their monstrous race—crass abnormalities created to serve the gods, who would do anything to reclaim the seat of true power.

The Lost Fleet: Guardian (Beyond the Frontier #3), by Jack Campbell (May 10, Titan Books)

Admiral Gearys First Fleet of the Alliance has survived the journey deep into unexplored interstellar space, a voyage that led to the discovery of new alien species, including a new enemy and a possible ally.

Now Gearys’ mission is to ensure the safety of the Midway Star System, which has revolted against the Syndicate Worlds empire that is on the brink of collapse.


Believe it or not, I’ve already read and reviewed five of this week’s new genre novels for, namely The Humans, Red Moon, The Serene Invasion, Climbers and Mayhem, and there’s only one book amongst the many I wouldn’t recommend. Any guesses which it is?

If the warm weather keeps up, I can’t wait to take Path of Needles and The Fictional Man out into the back garden with a glass of some refreshing beverage—not necessarily a cocktail, but probably, I profess.

Furthermore, Unclean Spirits and The Oprhan Choir sound fantastic, but at some point I’ll need to stop reading for a wee sleep.

I suppose there’s always next week…

On which note, 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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