From the Other Side, August 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.]
As I write this I am stuck in the sodden south of England, and I rather wish I could be in Scotland right now. I imagine it’s still raining there as well, but at least there’s the Edinburgh Festival, and in particular there’s the premiere of Lanark by David Greig. This is the long-awaited stage version of Alasdair Gray’s magnificent novel. Long awaited because there have been rumours of dramatisations of that novel ever since it came out in 1981, but none have materialised before now. I’ve always assumed that the combination of a realist account of Glasgow and a surreal, dystopian account of Unthank is probably impossible to stage, so I really hope this play tours if only so I can find out if Greig’s version works. Alasdair Gray, by the way, remains in hospital after a bad fall in June; he’s 80 this year and has been in poor health for many years.
Still, if we can’t be at the Edinburgh Festival, there are at least books to enjoy. Quite a lot of them, in fact. Conventional wisdom used to be that major books came out in spring and autumn, never August, because that was the month that publishers tended to drift away on holiday. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case this year.
The biggie, of course, which had people queueing round the block late at night to snap up a copy the second it went on sale, was The Shepherd’s Crown, the very last Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday). Fittingly, it is a novel about endings: it begins with the death of Granny Weatherwax, and goes on to describe the succession of Tiffany Aching as chief witch, but it also describes the end of the war against the elves, with the Fairy King having to leave Discworld because the railway of Raising Steam has “brought the Discworld too close to our own realm” as A.S. Byatt puts it in this excellent review. In an afterword to the novel, Pratchett’s assistant, Rob Wilkins, reveals that the author left notes for at least four more novels, though his daughter, Rhianna, has already wisely announced that none of these will be completed.
Another book that has been eagerly anticipated is the new novel from Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings (Gollancz). Set in a decadent and ruined future Paris where magicians war against each other and where a fallen angel may be the key to whether a Great House lies in ruins or not.
Paul Cornell, meanwhile, has two books out in very short order. At the beginning of August there was his collected stories, A Better Way to Die (NewCon Press), with an introduction by John Scalzi, which brings together all 21 of his short stories, including the title story which won a BSFA Award, and “One of Our Bastards is Missing” which was shortlisted for a Hugo. Then, at the beginning of September, there’s a novel, Witches of Lychford. When a supermarket wants to open a branch on the outskirts of the sleepy village of Lychford, it threatens to open a gateway for malevolent beings from another world.
We’ve also got new books from James Lovegrove – Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine (Titan) is Holmes pastiche with steampunk overtones, as Holmes and Watson have to pit their wits against Professor Quantock’s Thinking Engine, whose deductive powers appear to be the equal of the great detective himself. 17-year-old Anna Caltabiano has a sequel to her time travel novel, The Seventh Miss Hatfield; in The Time of the Clockmaker (Gollancz) Rebecca Hatfield finds herself trapped at the Court of Henry VIII. And Steve Aylett, author of a huge number of odd, surreal fantasies, has produced a non-fiction book about creativity, Heart of the Original (Unbound). In style that reflects the contents, the synopsis describes it as “Raising the bar to the point where it’s a hazard to migrating birds, this is a sizzling and hilarious manifesto where its author means every blazing word, and which makes a case for the caged-animal repetitive behaviour of our culture that cannot be argued against by anyone with an honest bone in their head.”
Then, of course, there is Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville (Macmillan), a new collection of 28 short stories. Some are very short, others are novella length, and the consensus of opinion seems to be that the longer the story the better. But this is Miéville, and even at very short length he’s likely to unsettle you. From the science fiction of “The Rope is the World” set on an abandoned space elevator, to the fantasy of “Covehithe” in which oil rigs return to the sea to spawn, to the horror of “The Dreaded Outcome” in which murder is a cure for insanity, these are dazzling and dazzlingly varied stories. This is one book that will, I suspect, be turning up on a lot of year’s best lists.
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.
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