[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, March 2016
By Paul Kincaid
March turned out to be the height of the awards season in the UK this year. The month began with the presentation of the Kitschies, and ended with the presentation of the BSFA Awards.
I said, last month, that I was becoming worried about the Kitschies, and was immediately reassured that there was nothing to worry about, and that next year the awards will go back to having a longer gap between the announcement of the shortlists and the presentation of the awards. In which case, I wonder whether the unusual haste this year might have had anything to do with fitting into the schedule of Margaret Atwood who turned up unexpectedly (curiously attired with a squid-like device on her forehead) at the Award ceremony. A fortuitous occurrence, since she won the Red Tentacle for The Heart Goes Last, which meant that four of the five winners were present to receive their tentacles. Patrick Ness won a discretionary Black Tentacle for the fund-raising effort he put in on behalf of Syrian refugees, which raised over $1 million in a remarkably short time (and which I wrote about here last September). Jet Purdie won the Inky Tentacle for the cover art of The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner (and then immediately donated his winnings to Patrick Ness’s fund). And Tade Thompson won the Golden Tentacle for his debut novel, Making Wolf. The one absentee was Square Enix, who won the Invisible Tentacle for “digitally native fiction” for their game Life Is Strange.
Speaking of Patrick Ness, his novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here is in contention for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for the best children’s or YA book of the year. If he wins, it would make him the first person to win the award three times. But he’s up against strong opposition, including The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Ness is also up for the Independent Bookseller’s Award in the children’s category, alongside Cressida Cowell’s How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury; while contender’s for the adult category, which mixes fiction and non-fiction, include Kate Atkinson for A God in Ruins and Andrew Michael Hurley for The Loney.
History was made at the BSFA Awards, which were presented at Mancunicon, the British National Convention held in Manchester over Easter, when Aliette de Bodard became the first person ever to win both the Best Novel and the Best Short Story awards (for The House of Shattered Wings and “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, respectively). Keith Roberts has previously received both the Best Short Fiction and the Best Artist awards in the same year, but no one else has achieved this particular double. Somebody else celebrating a double win was Ian Whates, whose NewCon Press picked up both the Best Non-Fiction Award (for Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014 by Adam Roberts) and the Best Artwork Award (for the cover of Whates’s own novel, Pelquin’s Comet, by Jim Burns).
Speaking of Ian Whates, his latest collaborative novel with Tim C. Taylor has just been published. War Against the White Knights (Human Legion Publications) is the fifth title in their ongoing Human Legion series. In this volume, General Arun McEwan prepares to gamble on an all-or-nothing strike on the imperial capital. But nothing is as it first appears when you wage war against the White Knights … This is just one example of the sort of militaristic space opera that is currently dominating independently published science fiction in this country. Another example this month is They Shall Not Pass by Christopher G. Nuttall, which is the 12th in his Empire’s Corps series. Or there’s Battle for Karnak (Swordworks), the fourth in the Star Crusades: Mercenaries series by Michael G. Thomas. I could go on (these series certainly seem to); but there do seem to be dozens more of the same appearing every month now.
Mind you, more traditional publishing doesn’t seem to be that different. This month Gollancz brought us The Stealers’ War by Stephen Hunt. Weyland has been at war. Invaded by a technologically advanced enemy, the cities sacked, and what fragile peace remained torn apart by a civil war. Meanwhile, one man seeks revenge: if he succeeds, there may never be peace again; if he fails, Weyland will never be free of the threat of invasion.
Though, to be fair, there is more varied fare from Gollancz this month, including Steeple by Jon Wallace, the follow-up to Barricade which attracted some praise and a lot of criticism; Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, a collection of stories set in the world of the novels and games of The Witcher; and, probably most interesting, Radiant State by Peter Higgins, the concluding part of his Wolfhound Century sequence set in a richly imagined realm that owes a lot to the mythology of 20th century Soviet Russia.
Meanwhile, Orbit offers us an occult thriller, The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp; a debut fantasy by Adrian Selby, Snakewood, about a band of mercenaries whose glory days are behind them and who now find themselves hunted by mysterious killers; and A Tale of the Free: Corsair by Brian Ruckley, a novella set in the same world as his previous fantasy novels of the Free.
With the possible exception of the Peter Higgins, I wouldn’t say this has been one of the most exciting months in British sf publishing, except for the fact that Orbit has, belatedly, published the UK edition of The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi. Still, April is already looking much more interesting.
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.