Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, November 2015: Europe at Midnight, An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist, Trudi Canavan, Mira Grant, Emma Newman, and more

From the Other Side, November 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.]

Earlier this year, when I was noting all the titles in the running for the various genre awards, I was particularly pleased that Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson appeared on three shortlists. Inexplicably, it didn’t win any of them, so I’m expecting the sequel, Europe at Midnight (Solaris), to do rather better.

I say “sequel”, but this new book is not exactly a continuation of the same story, and the engaging hero of that first book only appears on the very last page of this one. Nevertheless, we get the same basic scenario: Europe has shattered into countless little statelets, some no more than a city block in size. And there’s the same spy craft moving the plot along. But Hutchinson has expanded on the ideas we encountered in the first book, so we open in a university that is the setting for a civil war and that we slowly come to realise occupies its own pocket universe. And a significant chunk of the narrative takes place in an entirely different Europe. The third volume in the series is already scheduled for publication around the same time next year, and Hutchinson has tentatively announced plans for at least one more volume after that. All I can say is that if he can keep up this level of invention, this will surely be one of the most interesting and important genre series of the moment.

Europe At Midnight An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states

It’s not science fiction, but an intriguing and timely companion to Hutchinson’s series might well be Nick Middleton’s An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist (Macmillan). It’s a tour of 50 unrecognized and largely unnoticed states, including one European republic that had just one day of independence, which rather makes it feel as if Hutchinson’s invention isn’t at all wide of the mark. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, October 2015: British Fantasy Awards, David Mitchell’s Slade House, Hal Duncan’s Testament, Julia Knight’s Swords and Scoundrels, and more

From the Other Side, October 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.]

Good grief, it can’t be award season again already, can it? Apparently, it can. Or at least, we have had this year’s British Fantasy Convention, and with the convention come the British Fantasy Awards. An interesting selection this year, not least because there are so many women among the winners. These include the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy novel, which went to Frances Hardinge for Cuckoo Song (is that the first YA novel to win the Best Fantasy award?), the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer went to Sarah Lotz for The Three, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award went to Juliet E. McKenna. There’s a full list 0f winners here.


And since it’s Halloween, let’s keep in the mood with the best haunted house novel of the year, which is, of course, Slade House by David Mitchell. It’s a sort of pendant to last year’s The Bone Clocks – very “sort of” – with more stuff about immortality, and one of the key figures from last year’s novel reappearing at the climax of this one. But here he recasts the story as horror, with a particularly creepy brother and sister tempting their victims to a weird and wonderful house that no longer exists. Being Mitchell, of course, he tells the story in a variety of different voices, the first of which is one of the funniest things he has written, until it starts to turn nasty. Apparently, Slade House began life on Twitter, so if you follow Mitchell you’ve probably encountered bits of the novel before in 140-character slabs, not that you’d notice from the finished thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, September 2015: Patrick Ness, Ian McDonald, Stephen Baxter, Margaret Atwood, and (of course) Adam Roberts

From the Other Side, September 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.]

People who have lost just about everything they own are fleeing the war in Syria and risking their lives to cross into Europe, where they are met by governments covering their eyes and ears and trying to pretend that nothing terrible is happening. Then the picture of a dead boy and public opinion finally forces the government to act, agreeing very, very reluctantly to take the absolute minimum of refugees, with the strict proviso that the moment they turn 18 they will be deported back to where they came from. It is getting harder and harder to admit that this is my government, though they are certainly not acting in my name.

Fortunately, there are individuals with more compassion and humanity than the entire British government put together. At the forefront of these is Patrick Ness, who started to raise funds for Save the Children by announcing that if £10,000 could be collected, he match the amount with his own money. In less than a week, and with a handful of other authors making a similar commitment, he had raised the equivalent of over a million dollars. The last I saw, the amount raised was over £600,000, which rather puts the feeble government response to shame.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here 

So it is only appropriate to begin this month with The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Walker) by Patrick Ness. It’s typical of the work that has already won him a shelfful of awards: sharp, sly and funny. In this instance it concerns Mikey, who is 17 and full of the typical concerns of anyone on the verge of adulthood, except that in this world there are also gods and vampires and soul-eating ghosts and zombie deer. But all the epic stuff takes place in the margins, as it were, while centre stage is occupied by people just trying to live a normal life in an abnormal world. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From The Other Side, August 2015: Alasdair Gray, Terry Pratchett, Aliette de Bodard, Paul Cornell, China Miéville, and more

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.

Lanark: A Life in Four Books 

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, July 2015: Adam Craig’s Vitus Dreams, Ian Sales’ A Prospect of War, infinity plus, Tom Holt, Charles Stross, Louisa Hall, and Tales from the Vatican Vaults

From the Other Side, July 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.]

We were in Wales at the start of the month, and in a small bookshop there I came across a beautifully-produced novel from a small Welsh press. Vitus Dreams by Adam Craig (Cinnamon Press) is what used to be called experimental fiction: that is, the book proceeds by puns, spoonerisms and other word play rather than by plot. There is a plot, or rather, there are several plots that rise and recede with the regularity of waves, but they are not the main focus of the novel. And the text is arranged on the page in boxes, at angles, in graceful, swooping curves. In among all of this play with how a book looks and is read, we follow Vitus Bering who sets out to discover a sea that did not exist before he dreamed of it, John Franklin who becomes lost in a map of his own making, and Ulysses wandering aimlessly on his way to Ithaka, NY. Like many such experimental novels, it is at times far too clever for its own good, but if you have patience for such kaleidoscopic inventions it is actually a very enjoyable book. And since I have seen no-one else even mention it, I draw it to your attention here.

Vitus Dreams A Prospect of War (Age of Discord, #1) Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, June 2015: David Mitchell, Al Robertson’s Crashing Heaven, Chris Beckett, Neal Stephenson, Terry Pratchett, Laura Barnett, and more

From the Other Side, June 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.]

It has turned out to be something of a David Mitchell month for me. First to the glorious setting of the Union Chapel in North London where Mitchell and Neil Gaiman were in conversation, with Erica Wagner, the Literary Editor of The Times as a (fairly unnecessary) moderator. It turns out that, though they admire each other’s work, this was the first time they had actually met (the conversation was recorded and can be heard here). During the course of the conversation, Gaiman revealed that, just minutes before, he had received confirmation that the television series of American Gods is to go ahead. The novel itself will provide the first three seasons, and he had already laid out his plans for the as-yet-unwritten sequel which will provide subsequent seasons.

A few days later, Mitchell turned up in Canterbury where he gave the first ever public reading from his forthcoming novel, Slade House. He told me that this could be considered as a prequel to The Bone Clocks, though the extracts he read seemed to me to be more like a ghost story, and also one of the funniest things he’s written to date.

Slade House Crashing Heaven

But all of that, of course, is in the future. For the present, the big novel of the month is probably Al Robertson’s debut, Crashing Heaven (Gollancz). It’s a big concept sf thriller with elements of cyberpunk and elements of space opera in the mix, and an intriguing hero in the shape of Hugo Fist, a ventriloquist’s dummy whose AI mind is slaved to that of his companion, Jack Forster, and who is suspected of turning traitor in the recently-ended war against rogue AIs. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, May 2015: The Clarke Awards and new releases from Kirsty Logan, Peter Higgins, and Paolo Bacigalupi

From the Other Side, May 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.]

One of these days I will discover why literary events in Britain are so drawn to venues like this: large but low-ceilinged, so that it is hot and loud. I came out of this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award, held on the top floor of the new Foyles bookshop in London, with a sore throat because every conversation had to be shouted. At least there was plenty of wine for lubrication and to assuage the heat. And there were a lot of people to talk to, though I only spotted one of the shortlisted authors, Dave Hutchinson. (A few weeks later I met another shortlistee, Emmi Itäranta, at a reading she gave at the University of Kent, Canterbury; her forthcoming novel sounds very interesting.)

The ceremonies this year were kept to the minimum: the usual speeches and long list of thank yous, and then two-time Clarke Award winner Pat Cadigan was called on to open the envelope. She delayed proceedings just a moment while she took a selfie, and then announced that the winner is Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. A bit of a surprise maybe (talking to different people I got a sense that the smart money was on Hutchinson or Claire North), but a popular winner nevertheless. A representative from Mandel’s UK publisher read out a short speech which noted that the first Clarke Award winner was Mandel’s fellow Canadian, Margaret Atwood.

 Sleeps With Angels (Imaginings #10)

Next year will be the thirtieth Clarke Award, and administrator Tom Hunter is promising a year of special events to mark the occasion. If I have the stamina, I’ll report back on as much of it as possible. Read the rest of this entry »