From the Other Side, February 2015
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.]
Most poignant publication of the month has to be Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod (Little Brown). The book came out on 16th February, which would have been Banks’s 61st birthday, and also, incidentally, the 31st anniversary of the publication of The Wasp Factory. The book was planned before his death in 2013, and includes 50 poems that he wrote between 1973, when he was at university at Sterling, and 1981, which was the year he began writing The Wasp Factory and abruptly stopped writing poetry. There are a couple of familiar pieces in there, including both “Zakalwe’s Song” and “Slight Mechanical Destruction” which bookended Use of Weapons, and, of course, he used odd lines from his poetry as song lyrics in Espedair Street, but mostly this is stuff we’ve never seen before, and if they betray strong influence from T.S. Eliot and also from the songs he was listening to in the 70s, they are still good and in some cases very good poems. They are accompanied by 28 poems from Ken MacLeod, who began writing poetry at about the same time as Banks, but never stopped, so these cover a longer period of time and in some cases are even more accomplished.
When Poems came out, we also learned that Banks had hoped that MacLeod would write another Culture novel. Unfortunately, he died earlier than anticipated, so his notes for the novel were not far enough advanced to make the project possible.
What can you say after that? So, a moment’s silence … and then onwards.
February has been a month when publishers have started to wake up after the winter break, so we’ve seen new volumes in a couple of well-received series. First up is Tamaruq, the third and final part in The Osiris Project Trilogy by E.J. Swift (DelRey). Adelaide Rechnov is now a revolutionary and on the run when a radio signal brings the stark realisation that there is life outside their small island. Alongside this comes Rook Song, the sequel to Astra by Naomi Foyle (Jo Fletcher Books), in which exiled Astra Ordott struggles to find her Code father and avenge the death of her Shelter mother.
Solaris has a couple of interesting looking books out this month, starting with Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia which begins in Mexico in 1988 when Meche learns to cast spells using music. If anything, Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes looks even more intriguing, it’s the story of Matthew Cannonbridge who was one of the great literary figures of the 19th century, who was present at the Villa Diodati when Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein, he knew Charles Dickens in the blacking factory, and he was the only figure of note to visit Oscar Wilde in prison. Except he shouldn’t have existed, something is wrong with history.
Titan seems to go for slightly quirkier works, such as Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson, who won the 2014 Writers of the Future Contest, and whose title seems to owe more than a little to Tove Jansson. Or there’s Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans, a fantasy which is set in some version of the Vietnam War, and which is memorably being described as “Apocalypse Now meets Lord of the Rings.”
And, of course, there are big names out there. Del Rey UK has finally brought out a UK edition of Rapture, the final part of Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. Tor UK has Dark Intelligence, the first volume in a new triology set in the Polity universe by Neal Asher. And Headline gives us the new collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning.
Of course, February is also the start of the award season, with two shortlists announced on the same day. The Kitschies offers a shortlist for the Red Tentacle novel prize that comprises Nnedi Okorafor (Lagoon), Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), William Gibson (The Peripheral), Will Wiles (The Way Inn) and Nina Allan (The Race).
Nina Allan and Nnedi Okorafor also feature on the shortlist for the BSFA Award for Best Novel, though in this instance the shortlist is not so short. There was, apparently, a four-way tie for fourth place, so there are eight titles on the Novel shortlist: Nina Allan (The Race), Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Song), Dave Hutchinson (Europe in Autumn), Simon Ings (Wolves), Ann Leckie (Ancillary Sword), Claire North (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August), Nnedi Okorafor (Lagoon) and Neil Williamson (The Moon King).
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that my own book, Call and Response (remember, I did make a passing reference to it once or twice in the last year), has been shortlisted for the Best Non-Fiction Award. Though it is up against stiff competition: Jonathan McCalmont’s “Deep Forests and Manicured Gardens”, Edward James’s “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and the First World War”, Karen Burnham’s Greg Egan, and the Strange Horizon Symposium on “The State of British SF and Fantasy” which featured, among others, my wife, Maureen Kincaid Speller. The results will be announced at Easter.
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.