British Fiction Focus

It’s Dark Down Under

Pay attention, people: James Smythe is one of the most exciting new science fiction writers to debut in decades. He’s also been amongst the most productive, releasing two books a year since The Testimony in 2012. In between volumes of the ongoing Anomaly Quartet the English author has treated readers to The Machine—a darkly fantastic Frankenstein story for the 21st century—and No Harm Can Come to a Good Man—a paranoid power play about predictive politics.

Alongside The Explorer and The Echo, these superlative speculative texts demonstrate the breadth and depth of Smythe’s abilities, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that his next book would be something unusual too. This was back in January, when Hodder & Stoughton announced that they’d acquired the rights to a three part Young Adult series by said.

The song remains the same this week, but the lyrics are significantly different. First and foremost, the novel formerly known as The Burning Depths has a new title. Coming up: Way Down Dark’s incredible cover art, plus comments about the book from its Arthur C. Clarke shortlisted author and editor extraordinaire Anne Perry.

In case you weren’t aware:

Way Down Dark is the story of Chan Aitch, the last survivor in her family line aboard the ark-ship Australia. When ships fled Earth as it was dying, people were crammed on and forced in, and over the generations, they’ve… devolved, somewhat. Now, the place is a mess of gangs and cults and fighting to survive. Chan’s journey leads her through the territories of the different gangs—with all the terror, violence and cannibalism (!) that goes with them—as she uncovers secrets about the ship, and about where they’re headed. As she goes, she’ll make great allies, even greater enemies, and some pretty near-fatal decisions. Oh, and she’ll head—titular line!—way down into the dark at the bottom of the ship, where the bodies of all the dead end up. And what she’ll find there… Well, for that, you’ll have to read it.

Will do!

As for that cover art, it’s by Aaron Munday, and it’s awesome…

…isn it?

Does exactly what it says on the tin, too. The editor explains:

Both James and I were very clear on what we wanted from the beginning: to use the cover to illustrate the contradiction of the enormous scale as well as the claustrophobic tightness of the Australia. […] Tall, jagged buildings were definitely required, and adding a figure and playing with perspective was key. Chan, our heroine, needed to be represented, and she needed to be small, almost overwhelmed, by the buildings around her. James has been insistent from the beginning that we heighten the colour of the ‘sky’. We don’t want this to be another black, white & red cover but something truly special. Aaron, the cover artist, was on our wavelength from the moment I sent him the brief and knocked the art out of the park.

Indeed he did, such that I wouldn’t be surprised to see this piece competing for the Inky Tentacle come the Kitschies.

In any case, this week’s press release made mention of a couple of other changes. Way Down Dark has been delayed, I’m afraid—if only from February into March. Making up for the extra four-week wait for the first book is the fact that there’ll only be six months between each act of the Australia series, as opposed to the markedly more protracted plan outlined in the initial announcement.

As thrilling as this is, it does make me afraid for the future of The Anomaly Quartet. To be sure, Way Down Dark will do—here’s hoping, however, that Australia’s accelerated schedule hasn’t dramatically impacted the progress of the author’s other (excellent) series.

Let’s leave the last word to the inestimable Anne Perry:

James is a prodigiously talented author who is known for both the ferocious intelligence and the incredible darkness he brings to the stories he tells—and the Australia trilogy is no exception. From its opening line to its closing declaration, Way Down Dark is unlike any YA I’ve ever read. It’s a savage exploration of the choices we make when we live only to survive, and what drives us to want more—for ourselves and for everyone we love. I’m in the lucky position of knowing where James is going with the next two books, and it’s going to be awesome.


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. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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