[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]
From the Other Side, February 2016
By Paul Kincaid
I’m beginning to worry about the Kitschies. Last year, as I reported, the award seemed to go for a secret ceremony: most people didn’t even know about it until the day itself. This year, they have at least announced the date and venue of the award at the same time that they announced the shortlists, but they have allowed just two weeks between the shortlist and the presentation. Why the rush? I’m not sure that really allows the judges time to revisit the books and consider their verdict, particularly as the same jury has to decide between the five books shortlisted for the Red Tentacle and the five books shortlisted for the Golden Tentacle; but as others have pointed out, it certainly doesn’t allow anybody else much time to acquire and read the books, which stymies the sort of general discussion of the lists that is usually the lifeblood of awards.
And one of the things that usually marks out the Kitschies is the quality of the shortlists, idiosyncratic, bringing to our attention books that often don’t get noticed by the sf field. But this year the shortlist for the Red Tentacle novel award is: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson, The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts. It’s a solid shortlist, but it doesn’t reach into unfamiliar territory the way we have come to expect of the Kitschies. With the exception of the Wilcken, these are hardly books that have escaped the notice of the sf field. The Jemisin was shortlisted for a Nebula on the same day that the Kitschies shortlist was announced, and the Hutchinson (which I persist in regarding as one of the very best novels of 2015) has already been shortlisted for the BSFA Award.
Speaking of the BSFA Awards, after last year’s rather long shortlist for Best Novel, this year the list is back at a more manageable five titles. The shortlist is: Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson, Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald and Glorious Angels by Justina Robson. All the shortlists (along with the voting form for those who are BSFA members) are here.
Ah, you ask, but enough of last year, what about new books?
Well, the most talked about title of the month is probably The Census Taker (Picador), the first of two new books due this year from China Miéville (the second, The Last Days of New Paris, is coming in August). It’s a novella, the story of an isolated child and a man who arrives to ask strange questions. Curiously, this is perhaps the first of Miéville’s books not to be greeted with fairly consistent praise, which makes it interesting in its own right.
Rather more psychological thriller than anything else is 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz), in which the female narrator tells us: “I was dead for 13 minutes. I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.” Which is the sort of opening that’s probably going to keep most of us reading eagerly.
I confess myself somewhat less intrigued by some of the other new books this month. Orbit, for instance, seems to be devoting itself to American fantasies, such as The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky, which has one of the Greek gods alive in modern day Manhattan solving murders linked to ancient Greek ritual with the help of a professor of Classics, or The Path of the Hawk: Book Two by Ian Graham, in which two nations are drawn into a conflict whose seeds were sown millennia ago. Or there’s more YA dystopias with Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard (Orion), the sequel to Red Queen, in which a girl with the power to control lightning sets out to fight the oppressors. There’s yet more YA dystopias with Morning Star, the final volume in the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown (Hodder & Stoughton), a series that I find unconvincing and terribly over written. From Headline, there’s The Silver Tide by Jen Williams, the concluding part of her Copper Cat trilogy in which her three heroes set out to seek fabled treasure on a cursed island. And … well, you get the picture. Hey, it’s February, the shortest month, we’ve got through Christmas and the New Year, and presumably nobody cares much.
Oh, and if your taste runs to the sort of old fashioned sci-fi we’re mostly glad they don’t write any more, Phillip Harbottle has brought out a book with the unlikely title of The Best of John Russell Fearn: Volume One (CreateSpace). Honestly! Could there possibly be a Volume Two?
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of the Hugo Award-nominated What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction and the BSFA Awards 2014-nominated Call And Response. He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award.