From the Other Side, December 2016
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. For this installment, again my apologies to all for the extreme lateness of publication. The fault is, again, entirely mine.]
And another year is dead and gone. Let’s face it, 2016 didn’t exactly do any of us any favours, so I suspect we’re all pretty pleased to see the back of it. Except, of course, that 2017 doesn’t particularly fill us with hope …
Ah well, at least there were some pretty good books we could escape into. And the books kept coming right into December. It used to be that December was pretty much a graveyard slot in which nothing much of any note was published, but that is no longer the case. Last year, for instance, Gollancz chose to publish The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts in December, and that turned out to be the best sf novel of the year. While this year we have The Corporation Wars: Insurgence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit), the second part of his current trilogy. (The first part, The Corporation Wars: Dissidence appeared in May, but it looks as if we’ll have to wait until this coming September before we get the concluding part, The Corporation Wars: Emergence.) As the middle volume in a trilogy, this is doing the familiar job of setting up an explosive climax, but that doesn’t make it any the less readable. And with rebel AIs, resurrected mercenaries, and interstellar corporations at war with each other, there’s no lack of drama.
Curiously, the end of the year seems to be when small presses come out to play, with a host of intriguing titles. Let’s start with Solaris, which brings us Five Stories High edited by Jonathan Oliver, a collection of five novellas all set in the same building. Irongrove Lodge has a complicated history, at different times it has been a family home, an asylum and a care home, and all have left their memories in the fabric of the building. Oliver has brought together an impressive line up to tell the different stories of Irongrove Lodge, with contributions by Nina Allan, Sarah Lotz, K.J. Parker, Robert Shearman and Tade Thompson.
There’s more short fiction from NewCon Press, with Mementoes by Keith Brooke, the 12th and final volume in NewCon’s “Imaginings” series. The collection includes a novella, “Memento”, about a crisis on a colony world, plus eight short stories, two of which are original to this volume.
As NewCon close their “Imaginings” series, they replace it with a new series of stand-alone novellas. I’ve always felt that the novella is the ideal length for science fiction, but attempts to publish individual novellas in the past from Legend in the UK and Zeising in the States weren’t really a raging success. But they seem to be coming back into fashion, with Subterranean and Tor getting in on the act, and now NewCon joining them. And NewCon has come up with a cracker of a title to launch their series, with The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds (by my count, his third title of the year; is he bidding to become the new Adam Roberts?). This novella is linked to previous stories by Reynolds, including “Merlin’s Gun” and “Minla’s Flowers”, and begins when Merlin can’t resist stopping to investigate a derelict spaceship drifing in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile Infinity Plus rounds out the year with five books from two authors. For a start there’s the Factory Girl steampunk trilogy from Stephen Palmer, The Girl with Two Souls, The Girl with One Friend and The Girl with No Soul. The girl of the titles is Kora Blackmore, daughter of evil industrialist Sir Tantalus Blackmore who has confined her to an asylum. But Kora also contains the soul of feisty Roka, and with the help of her friend, Erasmus Darwin, embarks on a series of adventures that force them to confron the diabolical agents of the Clockwork Garden, the British Army, automaton horrors and desperate engineers, all converging on the Factory where the conspiracies that surround them may be revealed.
Even more interesting, to me at least, is the pair of books from Garry Kilworth. The Sometimes Spurious Travels Through Time and Space of James Ovit is his first new sf novel for some years, in which our hapless, naïve hero is thrust into a series of adventures in the past and the future, sometimes as a diplomat, sometimes as an assassin, though things never do work out according to plan. It’s a lighthearted romp, and very welcome, but I confess that the book that really interests me is The Best Short Stories of Garry Kilworth. When all is said and done, Kilworth has established himself as one of the very best short story writers in science fiction. You only have to open this volume and turn to stories like “Filming of the Making of the Film of ‘Fitzcarraldo’” or “Blood Orange” or “Truman Capote’s Trilby: The Facts” or “On the Watchtower at Plataea” or “Hogfoot Right and Bird-hands” or “The Songbirds of Pain” or any of the 22 other stories collected here to confirm that opinion. Indeed, there’s any number of other stories that would merit inclusion (I’m sorry that his very first story, “Let’s Go to Golgotha”, didn’t make the cut, because I’ve always had a soft spot for it), but as it is the biggest mystery is that we have had to wait 40 years for a volume like this. In its final convulsions, this could be one of the best things that 2016 has done for us.
And on that happy note, From The Other Side comes to an end. I have produced the column every month for three years, and its time for a break. I’ve enjoyed writing the column, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. But for now, I hope 2017 is a better year for all of us, and maybe we’ll be able to do this again sometime.
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.