From the Other Side, November 2014
By Paul Kincaid
[Editor’s Note: “From the Other Side” is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right at the start: there’s another new book from Adam Roberts. What’s that? I hear you cry. But didn’t he have a novel out in January (Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea from Gollancz, yes), and another novel in September (the excellent Bete also from Gollancz, yes), and wasn’t there a collection of reviews (Sibilant Fricative from NewCon Press with an introduction by someone called Paul Kincaid, indeed), and on top of that there was a new critical edition of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (there certainly was). So what is he up to now? Well he’s done a Teach Yourself book, Get Started In: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s designed for the complete beginner, and there can’t be many writers with more practical experience when it comes to the dos and don’ts of trying to write the stuff. [Editor’s Note: Coming to the US from McGraw-Hill in February 2015.]
Actually, I tell a lie: Adam Roberts has two books out this month. He’s also produced Landor’s Cleanness (Oxford University Press), a critical study of the writings of Walter Savage Landor, though you would want to be a fanatic about this now largely forgotten 19th century poet, essayist and dramatist to spend this much money on a book.
So, six books this year, and there’s still a month to go. The man has a full-time job, you know. Why do I have an uneasy feeling that his Teach Yourself book is all about keeping a team of writers chained in a cellar somewhere west of London?
And it’s not just books. Roberts also turns up as a contributor to Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder edited by James Bell, another volume connected to the British Film Institute’s massive nationwide science fiction season. This is an essential collection of essays covering just about every aspect of science fiction film, and written by top experts including John Clute, Stephen Baxter, Simon Ings, Mark Bould, Sherryl Vint, Kim Newman, Roger Luckhurst and a host of others.
Roberts (along with Bould and Vint and Luckhurst) also has a chapter in the monumental The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction edited by Rob Latham. I do have arguments with this book, but I nevertheless recommend it as a major overview of the state of science fiction today. Or I would recommend it if it wasn’t for the price. Good grief, these days even libraries would be struggling to find that much money for one book.
As for fiction, November isn’t really a great month. Mostly, we seem to be seeing books that are part of a series. Orbit has Symbiont by Mira Grant, the follow-up to Parasite which was on the Hugo ballot this year. This is practically guaranteed to be a big seller, though personally I find her work is becoming progressively less interesting. Tor, meanwhile, offers the latest in Karen Traviss’s Halo sequence, Moral Dictata, and Book Two of Liz de Jager’s Legacy series, Vowed: The Blackhart. There’s also an original enovella by Jay Kristoff that’s a prequel to Stormdancer: The Last Stormdancer.
I am, I confess, rather more interested in stand-alone works where we are not expected to endlessly revisit what we are already overly familiar with. Although to be fair An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman (Titan) does, as the title suggests, take us back to the sort of chilling atmosphere we once found in the work of M.R. James and his fellows. While A Vision of Fire, the first novel from Gillian Anderson, of The X-Files fame, written in collaboration with Jeff Rovin (Simon & Schuster) is the sort of thing Dan Brown might have written, with a series of threats and conspiracies carefully arranged to keep you turning the page without ever engaging the mind.
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of the Hugo Award-nominated What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction and a just-released collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon). He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award.