[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, August 2016
By Paul Kincaid
We’ve become used to the fact that any science fiction event these days is going to be held in a crowded, low-ceilinged room with no chairs and a noise level barely short of deafening. But when it’s the Arthur C. Clarke Award ceremony in the middle of a broiling August you have the additional delight of heat. “At least it’s air conditioned,” the man said brightly, as he welcomed me at the door. If he hadn’t said, I wouldn’t have known; I think it would have taken an industrial refrigeration unit to keep that room bearable. Still, there was plenty of wine, and the company of John Clute, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Geoff Ryman, Nina Allan, Ian Whates, Paul McAuley, Tade Thompson, among many others, including, for the first time in quite a few years, Angie Edwards, Sir Arthur’s neice.
The speeches seemed to go on even longer than usual, or maybe it was just the heat. But then, there seemed to be a lot of plans to announce. I got the impression that the mid-August ceremony may become a fixture; there’s a link-up between the Clarke Award and a charity helping Sri Lanka; there was a shout-out to the new Nommo Award for African science fiction that both Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson are involved with; and there was news that, from next year, the Clarke Award will accept submissions of ebooks and self-published books. I’m not at all sure how this will work without leaving the judges with an impossible reading load, but I’m sure that will become clear in time.
And finally there was the announcement. The winner was … Adrian Tchaikovsky for Children of Time. Judging by the reception, this was clearly a very popular winner. A clearly delighted if flabbergasted Tchaikovsky took to the stage, but by then I was melting quietly out of the door.
As it happens, Tchaikovsky also has a new novel out this month, Spiderlight (St Martin’s Press) – what is it with Tchaikovsky and spiders? – fantasy this time, not science fiction, in which a band of misfits must steal an artefact from the merciless Spider Queen in order to fulfil the prophecy and defeat the armies of the Dark Lord Darvezian. Ah, different spiders, I see.
As for the month’s other new books, I was rather expecting to talk about The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville, but it seems that, although the book is now available in the US, the UK edition will not be available until next February. I’m not exactly sure why this might be (unless it is meant to give him two shots at the awards), but it is certainly rather irritating.
Even so, we’re not short of big names this month. To start with, there’s Obelisk by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz), a new collection of short stories, including several set in the world of Ultima and Proxima. There are also stories that are described as “building on” the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, though how close to that series they might be is not at all clear. For something rather more romantic, there’s also Wild Embrace, a collection of four Psy-Changeling novellas by Nalini Singh (Gollancz), who is described as “the alpha author of paranormal romance”.
This month’s novels include Survival Game by Gary Gibson (Tor), the first part of his Apocalypse Duology. In this novel a scientist working for the Russian Empire is sent to retrieve an artefact that could give new life to the Russian Tsar, but it could also bring down terror from the depths of space. And there’s a rather appealing looking debut novel from Martin MacInnes, Infinite Ground (Atlantic Books). Set during a sweltering South American summer, a man disappears midway through a family meal at a restaurant, and the inspector who takes on the case finds only increasing mystery. What is the function of the corporation for which the missing man worked? Why did he display curious and ever-changing symptoms? What are the abnormalities discovered in the microorganisms that shared his body? And why does the trail lead out of the sprawling city and into the dense, lush rainforest?
Most of the new novels out this month seem to be fantasy, however. There’s Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold (Solaris), the second in her sequence of steampunk novels featuring the former spy, thief and con-artist, Eveline Sparrow. She is still trying to put her particular skills to legitimate use, but it’s not always easy, particularly when the Empire is in danger of being dragged into a horrifying war. And there’s also the military fantasy of Heart of Granite by James Barclay (Gollancz), in which the seemingly endless stalemate of the war needs to be finally broken, and it looks like pilot and adventurer Max Halloran is inadvertently finding himself right in the centre of things.
In other news, it seems that Jeff Noon, who self-published his last novel, now has a publishing deal again. He has signed a two-book deal with Angry Robot, with the first of the novels, an sf mystery called A Man of Shadows, due to be published a year from now in August 2017.
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 Award-nominated Call And Response. He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award.