British Fiction Focus

Let the Con Commence!

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

Now I’ve been to some fantastic Halloween parties in my time, seen some awesome costumes and played some delectably dangerous games. But this year, due to deadlines and the release of Outlast and the sequel to Amnesia in early September, I kind of feel like I’ve had my fill of Halloween for 2013. Say you feel similarly, for whatever reason… well have I got news for you! The biggest speculative fiction shindig to take place in the UK in ages kicks off tomorrow.

We lead this week with a lot of talk about World Fantasy Con, of course. Later on, in Cover Art Corner, Bête, Adam Roberts’ odd new novel, is Banished by former blogger Liz de Jager’s debut. And finally, HarperCollins Voyager’s UK Publishing Director Jane Johnson fights for the future of epic fantasy.

Let the Con Commence!

For a convention purporting to serve an audience that reaches right around the world, World Fantasy Con has in the past been rather North America-centric. This is only the third time in its nearly 40 year history that the celebrations have taken place outside the United States; generations have passed, in fact, since its last visit to Britain, well before the millennium.

In 2013, however, World Fantasy Con has set up shop in Brighton, and at fully four days long, from tomorrow morning through the wee hours of Sunday evening, it promise to be a party and a half.

Everyone who’s anyone will be there, basically. Here, indeed, is a nearly complete list of attendees—so utterly star-studded that even if I were to dedicate this entire edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus to ball that’s about to begin in Brighton, we’d hardly have scratched the surface of all the fun and games and events and celebrations on offer to members this November.

To boot, there’ll be plenty of beer, I bet!

What follows is far from comprehensive, but I figured one last pass through the programme might be of use to some of you.

Legends Ian Whates David Gemmell

Thursday, then, begins with the Year In Review, continues with a tribute to the late, great Richard Matheson and a look at The Landscape of the Fantastic, and concludes with the announcement of the winners of the David Gemmell Legend Awards, which you’ll recall we covered in this column a couple of months ago—for what it’s worth, my money’s still on Joe Abercrombie and Saladin Ahmed—alongside the launch of the illustrious Legends anthology.

Moving on, on Friday morning, the Guests of Honour—Joanne Harris, Joe Hill and Alan Lee—are interviewed. Sir Terry Pratchett makes a special appearance a little later. And the day’s panels ask: Have Vampires Lost Their Bite? Do Awards Really Matter? And do we want Style or Substance in Fiction?

Saturday sees Brian Aldiss take centre stage, then there’s some more memorialising of Richard Matheson. Afterwards, advice on how to get an agent, edit an anthology, sell a spec script, and so on, whilst one particularly interesting panel asks if SF has a future. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it does, damn it! Later on that day, a good, long look at the life and times of Peter Cushing, then two ghost stories round out the evening in Oh, Whistle…

The centrepiece of Sunday is a big old banquet, followed by the presentation of the World Fantasy Awards proper. Irene previously wrote about the nominees here, but I realise I haven’t had a guess at the winners yet. Let’s remedy that right away.

I’d like to see either The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan or G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen win Best Novel; and though the Kaaron Warren comes close, K. J. Parker certainly deserves Best Novella. Jonathan Oliver’s Magic is the best of the anthologies I’ve personally read; and Karen Tidbeck’s Jagannath the most exemplary collection. I’m going to refrain from picking a favourite short story, though, given that I’ve only read one of the many contenders.

So you’ve seen mine. While the going’s good, how about you show us yours, too?

There are, of course, approximately a gazillions signings going on at World Fantasy Con in the interim, including, on Friday night, a Mass Signing Event. And there are plenty of extra-curricular activities on the cards, including the joint launch of new books by Mark Charan Newton and Adam Nevill on November 2nd.

Just because we’ve run out of room doesn’t mean you can’t keep looking. Here’s the whole programme. Do your worst!

These last words come courtesy of the organisers of World Fantasy Con 2013:

“This is your opportunity to participate in one of the most exciting and exhilarating conventions ever held in Europe for professionals and fans alike. If you are serious about your writing career or just enjoy reading in the genre, then you really can’t afford to miss it.”

Quite right.

Cover Art Corner: Bête, Banished

Banished Liz De Jager

Last week saw the cover launch of Liz de Jager’s debut: an urban fantasy for young adults about fairy-tale legends living in our world. Its is admittedly a fairly familiar premise in this day and age, but I have every faith in Liz de Jager to deliver something special.

As to that, have a gander at that cover art. I love the tree-veined face and the silhouetted cityscape behind the author’s name. And here! Behold the blurb:

Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s living with her unorthodox cousins and sharing their strange lives. Especially since their home-schooling includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons.

But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies.

As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves—it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

Banished will be published next February by Tor UK.

In other news, equally neat, last week we heard the first word about another fascinating new book. As if Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Seas wasn’t enough Adam Roberts to look forward to, his next new novel is coming quite a bit quicker than you might think.

But here’s the thing: Bête, due from Gollancz in June, is about a chatty cat. Explains Simon Spanton:

When Adam first told me about his new novel he described it as being ‘the one with the talking cat.’ Now this may ring alarm bells with you and a few years ago it would have done with me as well. But I have since learned not to take Adam’s pitches at face value: whatever he says his new book is about it rarely is. Well it is, but just not in the way you thought (or feared) it might be.

So Bête is about talking animals. But this is no Aristocats, no Madagascar. This is a novel about the nature of intelligence and artificial intelligence, about man’s relationship with the natural world. You know, all those things that are really easy to illustrate on the front of an SF novel. I idly threatened Adam with a cover of a cat in a monocle and a cravat. I didn’t mean it of course but as I racked my brains for a cover brief that option sometimes seemed better than the ideas I was coming up with.

Bete Adam Roberts

I may be in the minority here, but I’ve always found Roberts a markedly more persuasive author in the longer form than the short—see my experience of the stories in Adam Robots—and irrespective of Bête’s oh-so-precocious premise, I’m keen to see what he has up his sleeves here. Something very clever, I expect.

The instant classic cover art by Blacksheep’s delightful designers describes the circle of life Roberts’ novel revolves around in majestic, Escher-esque terms.

Gollancz didn’t give us a blurb for Bête, however Amazon already had a rough one. I’ve cleaned it up a little for you fine folks:

A man is about to kill a cow. He discusses life and death and his right to kill with the compliant animal, and begins to suspect he may be about to commit murder. He kills the creature anyway…

It began when the animal rights movement injected domestic pets with artificial intelligences in a bid to have their status changed by the international court of human rights. But what is an animal that can talk? Where does its intelligence end and its machine intelligence begin? And where, finally, might its soul reside?

As we place more and more pressure on the natural environment, and become more and more divorced from it in the process, Adam Roberts’ new novel posits a world where nature can talk back, and can question us and our beliefs.


The Future of Epic Fantasy

In the last edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus we learned how one woman has been making Hodder & Stoughton a markedly more interesting place for speculative fiction fans.

As it happens, HarperCollins Voyager’s UK Publishing Director Jane Johnson has been busy negotiating for the greater good too, securing in recent weeks brand spanking new series from not one but two of epic fantasy’s brightest lights.

To begin with, next May will see the publication of Raymond E. Feist’s first non-Midkemia based book for many years. King of Ashes kicks off a planned trilogy called The War of Five Crowns. Johnson has however signed the author for six new novels, so I’d expect a whole other trilogy after this.

All parties involved appear to be appropriately pleased about the news:

Raymond E. Feist said: “I’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with HarperCollins spanning the entirety of my career and couldn’t be more pleased to be continuing it. The HC team are friends and allies, and I deeply appreciate their dedication and hard work.”

Jane Johnson said: “I’ve been working with Ray for over 20 years now and he is one of my very favourite authors, and people, so I’m thrilled to have done a deal that means we will be working with one another for many years to come, bringing his magical adventures to an ever-wider audience across all formats and platforms.”


Johnson has also bought the rights to release a significant new trilogy from Robin Hobb for a substantial seven-figure sum. Fool’s Assassin begins Fitz and the Fool, the continuation of a series some thought done. According to the author’s agent Chris Lotts:

“It has been nearly eighteen years since Assassin’s Apprentice first turned up in book shops and achieved the status of a modern fantasy classic, launching a trilogy that went on to sell over a million copies in the UK and US. The first instalment of Hobb’s new trilogy brings Fitz gloriously back to life, in a novel full of dazzling twists and turns.”

I may be, oh… eight books behind, but Assassin’s Apprentice—a fantasy classic I finally read relatively recently—left enough of a mark of me that I’ve already preordered a copy of Fool’s Assassin. According to HarperCollins Voyager, the book will be published “when Robin Hobb will be Guest of Honour for the London WorldCon,” which is to say next August… though Amazon is stating April.

To conclude: go Jane Johnson, for fighting for the future of epic fantasy!

Here’s hoping everyone who attends World Fantasy Con this weekend has a wonderful time. No doubt we’ll be discussing the most notable news that emerges from the event next Wednesday, when the British Genre Fiction Focus will be back. In the meantime, do please keep your peepers peeled for the early November edition of the Hitlist this weekend.

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 He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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