British Fiction Focus

Almanac of Small Shadows

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

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on the edge of my seat hoping to hear more about The Time Traveller’s Almanac for most of 2013—and last week, the promised day came. In case you weren’t aware, the aforementioned almanac is the next major anthology project from the team behind The Weird. I’ve got the final cover art, an all-star list of contributors, and a mini-interview with editor Ann VanderMeer.

Do stay tuned for two covers in Cover Art Corner this week. Not unusual in itself, but what is is that they’re both for the same book: House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill, which the publishers recently rebranded. For better or worse? I can’t quite decide…

And finally, the Focus spreads its wings a bit, because “a collective of dedicated fans within the Irish science fiction community has announced its intentions to launch a bid to host the 77th Worldcon in Ireland in 2019.” I hope you’ll join me in wishing them the very best.


Back to The Time-Traveller’s Almanac

“First there was Steampunk, and then things got Weird for a while. Now, it’s time to go back to basics… the way we used to do things in the future.”

So wrote a representative of Head of Zeus books, the publisher who’ll be bringing The Time Traveller’s Almanac to physical and digital British bookstores—and in short order libraries like yours and mine—in early November.

The Time Traveller’s Almanac is the largest, most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled. Gathered into one volume by intrepid chrononauts and world-renowned anthologists Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, here is over a century’s worth of literary adventures into the past and the future. The anthology covers millions of years of Earth’s history—from the age of the dinosaurs to strange and fascinating futures. The Time Traveller’s Almanac will reacquaint readers with beloved classics of the past and future.

The Weird

Rather an essential compendium, then, and as bewilderingly ambitious in its way as The Weird—which I’m still steadily working my way through, fully two years since I laid my impatient paws on a copy. And indeed, the list of contributors to The Time Traveller’s Almanac is as staggering as the array of authors featured in The Weird.

In the new anthology, look forward to fiction from a veritable who’s-who of the genre’s best and brightest, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Eric Schaller, Richard Matheson, Connie Willis, Kage Baker, Douglas Adams, C. L. Moore, Issac Asimov, Carrie Vaughn, Molly Brown, William Gibson, Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, Harry Turtledove, Steve Utley, Charles Stross, David Langford, Theodore Sturgeon, George R. R. Martin, C. J. Cherryh, Alice Sola Kim, Rosaleen Love, Kim Newman, Greg Egan, and of course, H. G. Wells.

The Time Traveller’s Almanac is by and large a reprint anthology, but it will also feature several original articles, such as:

  • An introduction from Rian Johnson
  • Top Ten Tips for Time Travellers by Charles Yu
  • Time Travel in Theory and Practice by Stan Love
  • Fashion for Time Travellers by Genevieve Valentine
  • Music for Time Travellers by Jason Heller

No doubt the VanderMeers will have a few words to spare as well.

In fact, when I reached out to Ann over the weekend for a quick chat about The Almanac, she had more a few to share today…

BGFF: The Time Traveller’s Almanac is an abominably ambitious anthology, so I guess what I want to know is what inspired such a mammoth undertaking in the first place? What was it about the idea of time travel that led you and Jeff from The Weird to here?

ABV: After working on The Weird and spending so much time in such a dark place, we wanted to do something fun. We loved the idea of a Time Traveler’s Almanac. There is so much that you can do with this theme, playing with time. And with a project so large, we knew it would be a great adventure. The Weird was a great experience but such a huge undertaking. We needed a break—a literary break! And so we were ready to do a science fiction book.

BGFF: What are your thoughts on the project now that it’s nearing completion? Anything you wish you could have fitted in? Anything specific you’re particularly proud of?

ABV: I have to admit that there are some stories we wanted to include but for various reasons were unable to acquire the permissions. All anthologists struggle with this issue. I am sad about that, but still very excited about the stories we selected. I am particularly happy to publish writers like David I. Masson and Langdon Jones, who wrote such brilliant stories that are difficult to find now. I am also proud to discover that next generation of talented writers like John Chu, Karin Tidbeck and Alice Sola Kim (among others) and publish them alongside of established writers such as Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson.

BGFF: Last but not least, do you feel like you’ve succeeded in doing what you set out to do? How is it to be on the other side of such an epic endeavour?

ABV: When we first started to research time travel anthologies we discovered that there were already quite a few out there. The challenge was to do something new and different. Otherwise why do yet another time travel book? We found the earlier anthologies to be very traditional and conservative with the theme. With a project this large we knew that we could include so many different types of stories and explore the theme of time travel fully. And we could include longer pieces as well. I sat down one day and listed out all the different methods of time travel (time travel via time machine, of course, but also by black hole, Ouija board, by eating a ’special’ plant and thru the Devil!). Truly eye-opening. Who knew there were so many ways?

We also contracted some original non-fiction for the book and we’re very pleased to have time travel guidelines and instructions, so to speak, for fashion, music and general travel tips in this book. Not to mention we had an astronaut from NASA write about the science of time travel. And I have to admit, that Rian Johnson’s introduction was spot on perfect. We were thrilled to get his contribution.

We’re very happy with the way the book turned out and can’t wait for it to be out in the world. I love the book covers that our publishers have created. Each edition (UK and US) is different and beautiful.


Special thanks to Ann for taking time out of her busy Worldcon schedule to answer my questions.

The Time Traveller’s Almanac will be published in Great Britain by the fine folks at Head of Zeus on November 7th. At the very least, I smell several special editions of the Short Fiction Spotlight…


Cover Art Corner: House of Small Shadows vs. House of Small Shadows

This week, in something of a first for Cover Art Corner, I have two book covers to share with you. One’s new, one’s not; one will grace the front of Adam Nevill’s unsettling new novel, one won’t.

Which do you think is which?

House of Small Shadows Adam Nevill

On the left is the original cover, revealed earlier this year; on the right, its recent replacement.

Here’s Julie Crisp explaining the thought process behind the new blue look:

It’s a great jacket but we’re never one to sit on our laurels, always tinkering to see if we can improve, reacting to market trends and expectations and listening to retailer and consumer feedback. After several in-house discussions and liaising directly with the author, we decided that we wanted a new and slightly different approach for this novel. Something that established a brand look for the author, and a jacket that said, ‘pick me up—go on, you know you want to’. Or rather, with Adam’s book, ‘pick me up, read me, and then lock me in the freezer over night mwahaaaa’. And we’re hoping that we’ve done just that.

Truth be told, I don’t know what to make of this change. I like the contrast between the red and black of the old artwork more than the blue and grey of the book’s new cover look—that said, I suppose the latter suggests an appropriate coldness.

Also of note: the redesign does away with what is to my mind a crucial qualifier from The Guardian’s cover quote. Adam Nevill is now “Britain’s answer to Stephen King” rather than “fast becoming” thus.

One way or another, a pair of neatly creepy covers. I want to know, though, which you would rather have.

To help you along, here’s the synopsis of Nevill’s new novel:

The Red House: home to the damaged genius of the late M. H. Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, where he lived and created his most disturbing works. The building and its treasure trove of antiques is long forgotten, but the time has come for his creations to rise from the darkness…

Catherine Howard can’t believe her luck when she’s invited to value the contents of the house. When she first sees the elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals and the macabre puppets, she’s both thrilled and terrified. It’s an opportunity to die for.

But the Red House has secrets, secrets as dreadful and dark as those from Catherine’s own past. At night the building comes alive with noises and movements: footsteps, and the fleeting glimpses of small shadows on the stairs. And soon the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare begin to collapse…

House of Small Shadows will be published by Pan in the UK in early October. I’ve read it already—understand that the aforementioned mannequins are hardly the half of the assorted horrors Nevill has on hand—and if you keep your eyes peeled, you should see my review right here on shortly.


Beyond Shamrokon

Dublin Ireland Worldcon

The Republic of Ireland is not in Great Britain. The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To be sure, the Irish are our very favourite next-door neighbours—amongst other things, we have them to thank for the Guinness—but by all accounts, the following item belongs in another column.

Sadly, I don’t see the Irish Genre Fiction Focus happening in the foreseeable future, and I didn’t want this news to go without notice… so let’s spread our wings a bit, for this one week at least. Why? Well:

A collective of dedicated fans within the Irish science fiction community has announced its intentions to launch a bid to host the 77th Worldcon in Ireland in 2019. The plans were made public at the 71st Worldcon, LoneStarCon in Texas on Friday, August 30.

For many fans of the genre, the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) is one of the biggest events of the year. The convention is chiefly known for presenting the annual Hugo Awards Ceremony. The Hugo Awards are classed among the highest honours bestowed for science fiction and fantasy writing. However, the convention is also a celebration of all forms of speculative fiction, film and more, from comics to cosplay and manga and anime to gaming.

As noted in the press release I received, this is an awfully ambitious bid. After all, hosting a Worldcon is “no small endeavour [but] Ireland already has a huge community of science fiction fans as well as a plethora of writers and artists that work in the genre in its many forms, and Irish fandom has been gaining momentum and building strong foundations on which to successfully host a Worldcon.”

Add to that the lovely new venue they have to host the main event in, should they succeed, not to mention the waves the community has made of late by winning the bid for Dublin to host Eurocon—officially called Shamrokon—next August. And, as the website says:

Ireland has a rich tradition of story-telling, from ancient myths and legends told by word of mouth through the generations to the dark Gothic writers, from some of the greatest authors in the English language like James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Brendan Behan, and Sean O’Casey to works of contemporary fiction including modern science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Celebrating that rich history while considering topics of the day and looking to the future is something that we would like to do at a World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland.

It’s early doors, of course—2019 feels like the far-flung future to me, at least—but if you’re interested in supporting or participating in the collective’s efforts in some way, shape or form, here’s how.

Otherwise, I hope you’ll all join me in wishing the community behind this bid-to-be the very best of luck with their efforts to bring Worldcon to Dublin.

Let’s close out the column on that hopeful note. As ever, I’ll be back next Wednesday with another round-up of book news from the UK. In the interim, feel free to talk about today’s topics in the comments.

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 On occasion he’s been seen to tweet, twoo.


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.