Today marks the end of National Short Story Week and I actually did read quite a bit of short fiction, including two great stories about the sea.
First up, ‘Drawn Up From Deep Places’ by Gemma Files. This is part of my continued read-through of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and is exactly the sort of ‘Literary Adventure Fantasy’ I’ve been searching for. It is part of a series so I’m looking forward to going back to read ‘Two Captains’ as well as future installments.
Next, ‘The Mussel Eater’ by Octavia Cade. I only discovered Cade earlier in the year but she has had a prolific and impressive 2014. ‘The Mussel Eater’ is shorter and sharper than most of the other work she published this year but is wonderful to have. Equally wonderful to have is Book Smugglers Publishing.
As well as reading, I also made a rare excursion outside the house to see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at my old local church, St John’s in Hackney. I hadn’t read anything about the gig in advance so was surprised and pleased to see he was joined by Matt Sweeney which meant we were treated to this rendition of ‘My Home Is The Sea’:
I’m writing this a few weeks after Loncon 3 and though – with the aid of green vegetables and a few early nights – I’ve kicked the con crud, I still can’t shake the Hugos hangover. This year’s awards were a pretty poor showing for British SF that reflected a mediocre 2013 in terms of what was published. Not so 2014: Wolves by Simon Ings and The Race by Nina Allan are both works of British SF as well as being simply SF by British authors and are two of the best examples in recent years. Allan, in particular, seems like she is hitting the peak of her career, a deepening and coalescing even of the obvious talent on display in last year’s BSFA Award-winning Spin. Of course, neither have a hope in hell of getting anywhere near the Hugos but I’m hoping the Clarke Award judges and BSFA members may look more favourably on them.
Being less parochial for minute, I’m going to cheat and cast a pre-emptive vote for work that hasn’t actually finished being published yet. However, on the strengths of the first two volumes, Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is already a clear award contender. Dan Hartland will be reviewing the series for Vector as soon as the final book is out (although he may have to wait for me to read it first).
Short fiction is always harder for me than novels and I need to do much more reading around (or, even, better, I need more people to perform triage for me). I do have one early contender for Best Novella though: ‘Trading Rosemary’ by OJ Cade. A web of memories strung together into a surprisingly satisfying story, it is made b its atmosphere and the steel of its protagonist. I’m really looking forward to reading her latest novella, ‘The Don’t Girls’.
In his review of Noir and La Femme, both edited by Ian Whates, Martin McGrath points readers towards some other potential candidates come awards time, including my own favourite stories in the anthology courtesy of Frances Hardinge and Vector’s own Paul Graham Raven. We have quite a few more anthology reviews forthcoming and my own resolution is to check out the online magazines more often.
But if I could compel you to go out and read one piece of fiction it would be Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. Best Graphic Story is always a bit of a weak category because the Worldcon membership simply don’t know enough about comics (me included) but this is the real deal. Suzie can make time stop every time she has an orgasm. She thinks she is alone until she meets Jon who has the same ‘gift’. Obviously, they decide to rob a bank. There was so much potential for this to go wrong but Fraction and Zdarsky get it deliriously right. One for your Christmas list.
Oh, and if you were at Loncon, I really hope you saw Tessa Farmer’s extraordinary realisation of a wasp factory, one of several tributes to the late Iain Banks. I’ll certainly be nominating it for the BSFA Award for Best Artwork.
- Noir and La Femme, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Astra by Naomi Foyle (Jo Fletcher Books, 2014) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Aliens: Recent Encounters, edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Prime, 2013) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Glaze by Kim Curran (Jurassic London, 2014) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (Egmont 2014) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Lupus Rex by John Carter Cash (Ravenstone Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Martian Sands (PS Publishing, 2013) and The Violent Century (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013) by Lavie Tidhar – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- The Brick Moon & Another Brick In The Moon by Edward Everett Hale and Adam Roberts (Jurassic London, 2014) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Call And Response (Beccon Publications, 2014) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- The Moon King by Neil Williamson (NewCon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
- The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby (Angry Robot, 2012) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- The Leopard by KV Johansen (Pyr, 2014) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
As a coda to my Worldcon report, Strange Horizons have just published a new interview with Iain Banks. The interview was conducted by Jude Roberts, who was with me on that ‘Dropping The M’ panel, as part of her PhD.
So, it is that time of year again. Or rather it was a month ago; I missed the actual anniversary of this blog which is probably symptomatic of its gentle decline. DOn’t get me wrong, I still enjoy blogging – to some extent I need blogging – but a lack of time and energy and the immediacy of Twitter mean I do it a lot less. As this year’s top ten shows, Everything Is Nice does still provide two valuable services: helping (or otherwise) students and feeding the awards beast.
1) Woman On The Edge Of Time – Marge Piercy is assigned in college. (Up six places from last year)
2) ‘Nine Lives’ by Ursula K LeGuin – Ursula K LeGuin is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
3) Why I Think Author Eligibility Posts Are Selfish, Destructive And Counter-Productive – Talking awards. Negative. (New entry)
4) The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – Joe Abercrombie is a very popular writer. (Down one place)
5) Hugo Nominations: Best Fan Writer – Talking awards. Positive. (New entry)
6) Elementary – Mark C Newton is a very nice writer. (New entry)
7) A Game Of Two Halves – Talking awards. Half positive, half negative. (New entry)
8) Epic Fantasy Vs Sword & Sorcery – Perhaps a suggestion that there is insufficient critical writing about epic fantasy out there? (Down three places)
9) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C Clarke – Arthur C Clarke is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
10) ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar – Sofia Samatar is a very good writer. (New entry)
Last year, in order to make nominations for awards, I relied on other people reading extensively and making recommendations. This yea, I thought maybe I should do some of the hard work. So I’ve just read the first six months of Beneath Ceaseless Skies which I picked because it gets less coverage than some of the other online magazines, I appreciate its specific remit and I’ve clicked with their stories before. Turns out that the three best stories published were from the usual suspects:
- ‘The Bonedrake’s Penance’ by Yoon Ha Lee
- ‘Golden Daughter, Stone Wife’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
- ‘Women In Sandstone’ by Alex Dally MacFarlane
If you are looking for award fodder, these are the ones to read and I think the Lee is the best. But whilst it is obviously no bad thing that this generation of young, talent writers are regularly turning out high quality work, all three stories share a mythic, poetic tone that is quite a way from the magazines strapline of “Literary Adventure Fantasy” and could easily have appeared in other magazines such as Strange Horizons. As well as this type of story, what I also want from BCS is the best sort of epic fantasy novel condensed into short form. The beginning of the year saw a trio of strong core genre stories that nearly fit the bill and I’d particularly recommend the Austin:
- ‘Atonement’ by Alec Austin
- ‘The Year Of The Silent Birds’ by Siobhan Carrol
- ‘The Face In The Window’ by Brian McClellan
I’d also love to see a really well-executed pulp appear in BCS. Sadly the two pulp pastiches present, ‘Sweetwater Notion And The Hallelujah Kid’ by KC Ball and ‘The Goddess Deception’ by Dean Wells, are almost fun but ultimately fall flat on their faces (Wells has another much worse story in another issue).
Reading the stories in one go also makes it easy to identify two editorial weaknesses. Firstly, a fondness for Americana. Partially this is just a matter of taste as I really don’t care for it but I do think the bar is set a bit lower for these stories just because they scratch an editorial itch. ‘Engine Song’ by Nathaniel Lee and ‘The Use And The Need’ by M. Bennardo are truly terrible (although Lee has a much better story in another issue). Secondly and more fundamentally, far too many of these stories are just too short. This isn’t necessarily a question of word count but rather that they are simply slices of larger stories. Time after time, stories either stop abruptly or reach the next, non-existent, chapter. Short fiction is hard and making a satisfactorily self-contained story is hardest of all.
Right, straight after I talked about David Mitchell’s key position as a non-genre writer, he writes his most genre work ever. So this is what his SF novel looks like to me:
- A Hot Spell: Nina Allan
- Myrrrh Is Mine: David Mitchell
- New Year’s Day: Mitchell again. Ah yes, the only good bit of the book is the one he repeats.
- The Wedding Bash: Iain Banks
- Crispin Hersey’s Lonely Planet: Adam Roberts (although he won’t thank me).
- An Horologist’s Labyrinth: Nick Harkaway
- Sheep’s Head: Ken MacLeod
When Worldcon was held in Glasgow in 1995 I was too young to attend but promised myself I would go the next time it came to the UK. But in 2005, when it returned to Glasgow, I found myself utterly alienated from fandom and stayed at home. The pendulum swings and in 2014 I found myself very much part of fandom establishment and attending my first Worldcon. It was great.
My article on Loncon 3 is up now at the Los Angeles Review Of Books. It is mostly about the Hugos (with a little bit about the British bust) so if you want a proper con report to give you a flavour of the event, I’d recommend this one by Aishwarya Subramanian (who it was lovely to finally meet in person).
The article is also a tribute to the late Iain Banks which is slightly ironic because my last act at the convention was to slag him off on the ‘Dropping The M’ panel on Monday morning. This consisted of five fans of the man’s work nonetheless grappling with some of his manifest failings. It was enjoyable but everyone in the room was clearly winding down. Likewise, my first panel – ‘Big Anthologies: Bookends or Benchmarks?’ on Friday – seemed like a warm up. This consisted of three major anthologists plus me in the role of reader. But since moderator Jo Walton occupied the same role, I was a bit superfluous. This was rather cruelly confirmed when the panel ended and the audience rushed up to get their books signed by everyone but me. However, my two back-to-back Saturday panels – ‘YA on the Big Screen’ and ‘Just Three Cornettos’ – were bloody brilliant. A great mix of panelists, sensitive moderation and a hugely engaged audience. As David Hebblethwaite has said, it is a wonderful and unique experience.