British Fiction Focus

Kearney’s Kingdoms and the Fairytale Unchained

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus, Tor.com’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

We begin this week’s edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus with an interrogation of the fairytale inspired by an interview with Philip Pullman, the mind behind His Dark Materials and the recent retelling of 50 stories attributed to the Brothers Grimm.

After that, Angry Robot roundly rejects the repugnant notion that selling science fiction written by women simply isn’t good business by buying the rights to publish not one but two new novels by Transformation Space author Marianne de Pierres.

In Cover Art Corner, A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney gets a bloody lovely new look, but there’s some bad news about The Sea Beggars, sadly. And finally, Whippleshield Books announces an anthology revolving around Venus, whilst we look ahead to the next volume of the excellent Apollo Quartet.

 

The Fairytale Unchained

Last week, the Lifestyle section of The Guardian led with a fascinating Philip Pullman interview, purportedly to promote the paperback publication of Grimm Tales for Young and Old, but over the course of the article it became clear that what we had here was a discussion of fairytales, specifically their relevance in the modern age.

“Fairy stories,” Pullman says, sitting on the sofa in his comfortable Oxfordshire farmhouse, “loosen the chains of the imagination. They give you things to think with—images to think with—and the sense that all kinds of things are possible. While at the same time being ridiculous or terrifying or consolatory. Or something else altogether, as well.”

Not everyone of a scientific bent would, he concedes, necessarily concur. Richard Dawkins, for one, has said he is not at all sure of the effect on children of “bringing them up to believe in spells and wizards and magic wands and things turning into other things.” It is all “very unscientific,” Dawkins frets.

But Pullman, who is not only one of our greatest authors, for children and adults—His Dark Materials has sold more than 15m copies and been translated into 40 languages—but also a writer whose work teems with the paraphernalia of the folktale (witches, daemons, talking animals, magical objects), is firmly with Einstein. “Dawkins is wrong to be anxious,” he says. “Frogs don’t really turn into princes. That’s not what’s really happening. It’s ‘Let’s pretend’; ‘What if’; that kind of thing. It’s completely harmless. On the contrary, it’s helpful and encouraging to the imagination.”

Philip Pullman

Quite so, sir. Quite so.

Certainly, if it wasn’t for the fairytales I fell for as a pre-person, I wouldn’t be the voracious fantasy fan I am. It may be that I wouldn’t even be a reader. Who can say, at the end of the day?

If you ask me, Dawkins simply doesn’t give kids enough credit, because of course they know the difference between what if and what is. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say fairytales help illustrate the significance of this.

That said, if we accept that the fantastical aspects of fairytales teach us at an early age to exercise our imaginations, then perhaps we also learn less welcome lessons from the form’s characteristic lack of psychological depth:

The modern novel, for adults or for children, attempts a degree of “psychological depth,” says Pullman. “It presents believable people who do believable things in believable ways. But the fairytale isn’t in the business of psychological depth, it’s in the business of extraordinary event following extraordinary event. Anything else would just get in the way.”

There are, then, notes Pullman, very few fairytales—very few folk stories of any kind—in which characters’ feelings are explored in any meaningful sense: “In fact they might as well not have feelings. Indeed, they might just as well not have thoughts. They just… do things.”

Psychology, motivation, rounded character: those aren’t all that fairytales leave out. They also, more often than not, neglect to give you anything you might generally expect in the way of background, context or explanation.

And I wonder… if the presence of fantasy in foundational fairytales helps to loosen the chains of our imaginations, and indeed I believe it does, might the absence of all these other essential elements also affect us?

While we’re talking about the aforementioned author, there’s been no news about The Book of Dust—the ambitious companion novel to His Dark Materials that’s been many years in the making, in case you weren’t aware—though Pullman has apparently cleared all of 2013 and most of 2014 to work on it in earnest. Given which, you’d think it’d be safe to pencil The Book of Dust in for probable publication in 2015, but I for one wouldn’t count on it…

 

The Year of the Peacemaker

Transformation Space Marianne de Pierres

In the future, a ranger protects the last remaining piece of parkland in the shadow of a sprawling mega-metropolis.

That’s the premise of Peacemaker, the next book by Marianne de Pierres, author of the gorgeous Glitter Rose stories, and winner of the Aurealis Award for the best science fiction novel published in 2010—namely Transformation Space, the fourth volume of the Sentients of Orion series, which I really need to read.

Peacemaker’s pitch sounds like Judge Dredd meets Three to me, but I’m sure de Pierres will have little difficulty setting her next novel apart. We’ll have to wait and see how exactly. What we do know now is that Peacemaker will be published in May 2014 by Angry Robot Books, with an as-yet untitled sequel to follow sometime in 2015.

Here’s what the author had to say about the recent announcement:

“I’m thrilled to be joining the Angry Robot team with the Peacemaker series as I truly admire the kind of books they publish. Not to mention that Trent Jamieson, Kaaron Warren, Lee Battersby and Jo Anderton are some of my favourite Australian speculative fiction authors. It will also be great to work with Lee Harris again, who I first met as editor of Hub Magazine when he published one of my Glitter Rose stories. Angry Robot’s thinking is modern and explorative and a blast of pure oxygen in speculative fiction publishing.”

Perhaps the noteworthy thing about this news, though—at least in light of our recent discussions about gender in the genre—is Angry Robot’s timely show of support for science fiction written by women.

May this be the first of many such stories I feature in the Focus in the months to come.

 

Cover Art Corner: Different Kingdoms

A Different Kingdom Paul Kearney

Just one new cover to share with you all today, but it’s of a book that I’m looking forward to hugely. Fingers crossed you are too, because as I wrote in my review of Kings of Morning, “Paul Kearney is one of the genre’s greatest standard-bearers.” That he hasn’t historically been held up as such frustrates me in so many senses.

I can only hope a raft of new readers are attracted by Solaris’ repackaging of his first few books: respectively The Way to Babylon, A Different Kingdom and Riding the Unicorn, all of which have long since fallen out of print.

Initially, these were announced as an omnibus to be published in early 2014, but after a quick chat with Ben Smith, the Publishing Manager of Solaris, I can confirm the various indications of late that the three will be released individually instead:

“We did initially plan to release the three first Kearney books in an omnibus, however we reconsidered and will be releasing them individually next year with A Different Kingdom in February, Way to Babylon in June and Riding the Unicorn in November. There were a number of factors but one of the reasons for the change of plan was the discovery that none of these titles had been released in North America before. So they are effectively brand new releases there, and as such an omnibus no longer did such exceptional books justice for their first time out of the gate. We’re therefore maintaining the separate editions in both the US and UK.”

There’s been some other Paul Kearney news recently, but brace yourself… it’s bad. According to Adam Whitehead of The Wertzone, the proposed omnibus edition of the still-unfinished Sea-Beggars series is on “indefinite hold […] due to the inscrutable machinations of publishing houses.” Assuming Adam’s speculations are spot-on, this is a cruel and unusual game you’re playing, Bantam USA: why not just get on with it or get out of it?

Moving right along before I get grumpy, isn’t that a bloody lovely cover? Kudos to the artist and graphic designer Pye Parr—and here’s hoping the same motif is repeated in the subsequent Solaris editions of Kearney’s other early works.

 

Whippleshield Books Gets Busy

Wait, Whippleshield what? Well:

Whippleshield Books is a small press based in the UK which focuses exclusively on literary hard science fiction and space fiction. We believe that science fiction does not need implausible gosh-wow special effects and over-the-top space-operatics in order to be good science fiction. There is more than sufficient drama and wonder in the real universe.

Whilst Whippleshield was first founded to publish Ian Sales’ Apollo Quartet, the plan was always to open the small press up “to submissions of a particular type of science fiction of sufficiently high quality,” and last week, Sales blogged about the inaugural project poised to follow through on the publisher’s promise.

Beginning in 2014, Whippleshield Books will publish a series of themed mini-anthologies, each containing no more than half-a-dozen short stories. The first anthology, Aphrodite Terra, is about Venus, and later ones are likely to be about other planets of the Solar System.

As to the sort of stories Sales is interested in, he plans “to be very picky,” admittedly:

I’m looking for short stories of no more than 6000 words set on, or about missions to, Venus. I want literary. I want realism. I want facts that are right. If you think your story is a good fit for Analog, then I don’t want it. If you think you’d have trouble placing your story with a genre magazine, then I might well be interested in it. Try to avoid sf tropes—unless you’re going to deconstruct them, re-engineer them, or use them as very deliberate commentary. But, to be honest, I’m not looking for heartland science fiction.

Relatedly, Sales shared quite a bit about the third volume of his own Apollo Quartet six weeks or so ago, and though I held off on bringing the following teaser to your attention then, in lieu of cover art or anything supplementary to append to it, nothing can stop me now that I’ve got a good excuse:

In 1951, General MacArthur launches a series of offensives against the North Korean and Chinese armies, and pushes them across the border into China. The Soviets enter the war, and fighting intensifies. By 1957, when Sputnik is launched, there is still no end in sight to the Korean War. So when NASA is formed in 1958 and astronauts are needed to counter the USSR’s space programme, the US Administration looks to arctic explorers, mountain climbers and other adventurous non-military personnel as candidates.

When women pilots prove to be better qualified—both medically and in terms of the necessary skills—President Eisenhower reluctantly agrees to allow thirteen women to become the USA’s first astronauts. As the Korean War continues through the 1950s and 1960s, members of the “Mercury 13” become the first American into space, the first American to spacewalk, and even seem likely to be the first to meet President Kennedy’s 1961 commitment of “landing an American on the Moon and returning them safely to the earth” by the end of the decade.

In 1969, a mission to effect repairs on a KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellite in orbit causes one of the film “buckets” to eject. These are designed to re-enter, and then be retrieved in mid-air by USAF aircraft equipped with a special hook. But a hastily-launched aircraft fails to make it in time, and the bucket lands in the Atlantic Ocean and sinks 15,000 feet to the floor of the Puerto Rico Trench. There is only one vessel in the world capable of retrieving the bucket: the US Navy’s DSV-1 Trieste II.

This is not the world we know.

I’m excited about both of these projects, especially Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, which promises to be an exercise in alt-history. I believe it’ll be released later this year, and I full well expect it’ll be awesome, but for more concrete details than these, you’ll have to ask the author.

 

And with that, I’d better bid you all a wonderful week and begone… if only for the moment. After all, I’ll be back this coming Sunday with an assortment of early September’s most notable new releases in the next edition of the Hitlist, and another round-up of book news from the UK next Wednesday, as ever. Till then, then!


Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. On occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.

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