British Fiction Focus

Little, Big, Brown

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

In this edition, Little, Brown embiggens as it incorporates Constable & Robinson whilst he of the Weird Things wonders whether we might be missing a trick devoting our time to talking about the representation of women in science fiction.

Later on, Paul Cornell’s follow-up to London Falling gets a dubious new look in Cover Art Corner, and this week’s links include news about what’s next for China Mieville, Chris Beckett and Hugh Howey, amongst other authors.

Little, Big, Brown

It was a sad day indeed when Constable & Robinson chair Nick Robinson passed away late last August, aged just 58, and although he had stepped back from the day to day running of the company several years previously, recent developments suggest it’s been in a bit of a pickle since.

A scant six months on from the tragic loss of Robinson, we learned last week that the independent publisher he helped get off the ground has been bought for an undisclosed sum by the Little, Brown Book Group.

This is of interest to the British Genre Fiction Focus largely because of Constable & Robinson’s longstanding commitment, by way of its Pulitzer Prize-winning imprint Corsair, to storytellers with speculative tendencies like Jo Walton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jonathan Aycliffe, Seth Grahame-Smith, James Renner and Catherynne M. Valente—not to mention the many and various Mammoth-branded anthologies which have proven a solid source of short fantastic fiction for several decades.

In any event, both sides appear pleased with the deal. Here’s Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of the Little, Brown Book Group:

We are delighted to welcome Constable & Robinson to Little, Brown where it will flourish as a standalone imprint, building its terrific reputation in fiction and specialist non-fiction publishing. Our lists are complementary and our publishing perspectives are completely aligned.

Little, Brown’s success with Virago, Orbit and Piatkus is testament to our record of working with and developing highly respected publishing brands while retaining their distinct identities and we are looking forward enormously to playing our part in this new development for Constable & Robinson.

Here’s hoping.

Constable & Robinson logo

Constable & Robinson’s current chair—Nick Robinson’s widow Nova Jayne—will leave the company come the changing of the guard, but she too seemed positive about the publisher’s prospects. When Little, Brown opened negotiations last year “it did give us pause for thought,” she said to The Bookseller:

[But] we needed to be sure the business could continue to flourish and retain its independence of spirit if it were to join a larger enterprise. We feel absolutely sure that this is the case.

I am delighted that, in joining Little, Brown, Constable & Robinson will keep both its name and its personality intact. It is clear from conversations with David [Shelley] and Ursula in recent months that Little Brown’s publishing ethos and attitude towards books, authors and its team are closely aligned to ours.

Nick and I shared the view that we could not imagine a better home.

Well, as long as everyone’s happy, I’m happy.

Sadly, when “asked whether Little, Brown Book Group was also in the market to acquire Quercus,” which put up its own For Sale sign of late, Ursula Mackenzie knocked The Bookseller back, saying “I think we are going to have enough on our plate” what with the acquisition of Constable & Robinson.

So… how about it, Hodder? Harper?


The Fantastical Modern Man

The Hammer and the Blade Paul S Kemp

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the representation of women in science fiction in the course of this column—and with good reason, too—but where does that leave men? Inspired by Paul S. Kemp’s argument in favour of hyper-masculine fantasy, that’s what Damien Walter wondered in this Weird Thing:

Money is the bottom line in the uniform white maleness of geek culture. The entertainment conglomerates that produce most of this content fear the female geek because they might disturb the profit margins. Boys buy more toys. And so the evil eye of corporate marketing departments is fixed upon them.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t any better for young men than it is for those left out of the party. They’ve been fed an unremitting diet of adolescent power fantasies. Which in turn feeds in to the arrested development of many men today, who drag their adolescence out well in to their 20s, 30s or even 40s. It’s not just boys buying these toys, it’s grown men who should know better.


Walter didn’t back down later in his article, either:

Young white men often number among the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements. They’ve been raised to believe that one day they’ll be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars (and superheroes), but they won’t, and they’re having a tantrum because of it.

How much more valuable could geek culture be if it represented all kinds of people equally? And what kinds of fantasy stories could we tell, even with white male heroes, if our writers truly engaged with the realities of power and privilege?

An interesting question, albeit provocatively put, with, alas, a rather bland answer: pretty damned tiresome ones.

Hands up who honestly wants their epic fantasy protagonists to grapple with questions like whether or not they can be bothered saving the world, and if so, what will the world do for them in return? Not I! The mere prospect makes me sleepy.

Though I do, to be sure, agree that geek culture would be markedly more valuable “if it represented all kinds of people equally,” I don’t know that exploring the sham that is the modern man would make for a great many truly good books. Do you?


Cover Art Corner: The Severed Streets

The Severed Streed Shadow Police Paul Cornell

The Severed Streets is the second in The Shadow Police series, which began with London Fallingreviewed right here—last year, and the folks at Tor Towers recently revealed the cover art which will adorn Paul Cornell’s new novel.

“We had two slightly different cover looks for the trade paperback and the paperback of London Falling,” explains Julie Crisp:

But for The Severed Streets we decided to do something slightly different again. Something that reflected the feeling of The Shadow Police series that, as SFX magazine said, was: grittier and harder-edged than Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, more coherent and less esoteric than China Mieville’s Kraken, less pedestrian and harder-hitting than Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London. I think we’ve nailed it.

I, ah… well, let’s not mess about: I completely disagree.

I don’t suppose London Falling had the loveliest look in either of its incarnations to date, but trading its suggestive pentagrams for a bland man in a leather jacket doesn’t seem like an improvement to me. He’s not quite a hooded dude, no, but he’s not worlds apart from one either, I fear.

But it’s what’s on the inside that counts, isn’t it?

Detective Inspector James Quill and his wily squad of supernatural crime-busters are coming to terms with their new-found second sight. They have a handle on the ghosts and ghouls, but the rest of London’s supernatural underworld is still scarily unknown. When a seemingly invisible murderer kills a top cabinet minister in mysterious circumstances, the team knows this is a case for them.

Attempts to learn more about this mysterious figure are hampered when their chief detective goes missing, and a core member of their team becomes more focussed on bringing her father back to life than finding their missing detective. Soon the team seems to be falling apart as each member pursues their own interests. Throw in an ancient and vengeful spirit and a Rat King, and their mission soon becomes a trip to Hell—literally.

Never mind the flat cover art, I remain keen to read The Severed Streets when it’s released in the UK in late May.


Odds and Sods

Chris Beckett Mother of Eden

In the course of composing “The Goblin Hunter,” a short story for Solaris Rising 3, Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Chris Beckett notes that there may be “a novel beginning to take shape” set in this world he keeps coming back to—namely the planet Lutania, where each evening creatures emerge from an ocean “hidden away beneath a forest […] to play among the mushroom-like trees.” I wouldn’t expect to hear anything more before the release of Mother of Eden.

An industrious blogger has uncovered indications that 2014 will see the release of a second collection of China Mieville’s short fiction, and/or a new novella. We don’t know anything about it yet, but that hasn’t stopped Tom of Out There Books from putting together a list of probable contents.

In a blog post over on Beauty in Ruins, Paul Kearney, author of A Different Kingdom, has talked about how he became known “as the guy who writes about wars. Armies, navies, struggling nations, geopolitical shenanigans and a cast of thousands. In film terms I am Spartacus.” Fascinating stuff if you’re a fan of the man, as I am.

I’m sure you already know the Neil Gaiman news.

Self-publishing success story Hugh Howey has resigned with Random House’s Century imprint for the forthcoming print and pre-existing digital editions of his new novel, Sand. “Sand is unrelated to Wool in its story and characters, and concerns a society that lives in anarchic conditions above the long-buried cities of its ancestors,” apparently. I hear these books are quite good.

Last but not least for this week, the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, is set to become a TV series.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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