Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Fourth [Sept 2014]
“Fever is something that follows a wound: it never has any other cause (except possibly PLAGUE, which you will not catch). It will cost a day or so of sweating and strange DREAMS before someone fetches a HEALER. Then a drink of herbal tea will have you right in no time.”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
LAST TIME I was here, I talked about eating my proverbial hat if Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2013) won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The Hugo Award results were announced last month over here in the UK at LonCON, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention —sure enough, not only did she win that Hugo, but she also won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer (aka the Sydney J. Bounds Award).
So, as I sit here suffering from indigestion after my latest plateful of proverbial hat, I am also recovering from a fantastic BFS FantasyCon event that took place last weekend here in my home city of York — it’s an annual convention organised by the BFS (British Fantasy Society), and this time round it was, shall we say, a doozy…
I won’t bore you with what a brilliant time I had catching up with so many of my friends and fellow writers all in one place, but I will get straight on with some news and recommendations for you.
First up, please keep an eye out for The Penny Dreadful Collection, a trio of classics due to be reprinted and repackaged by Titan Books. This is an official tie-in with the ShowTimeTV series of the same name, and the first two are already available: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Dracula by Bram Stoker were released this weekend (Sept), with The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde due to be released next month, with more to follow.
Also just out is Breed, a brilliant short novel by K T Davies, published by Fox Spirit Books, an independent UK publisher. Breed is a fabulous story of magic, skullduggery, drug-addicted vagrants and an ancient destiny that really is world-shattering, and Breed is our lizard-like half-man, half-thoasan hero who is bold, brash, somewhat partial to excessive foul language, and when push comes to shove, outright awesome. We’re also introduced to the charming Mosquito aka Sebastian Schiller who is worthy of his own series, and a thoroughly disreputable chap called Tosspot who handily drifts in and out of the action as and when. It’s a wonderfully charming read, very action-orientated, very funny and any book that has a demon dedicated to stealing pen nibs in it is well worth your immediate attention.
K T Davies also wrote The Red Knight (Anachron Press, 2012, and another independent), a great fantasy work about Alyda Stenna, the female captain of the royal guard and her many trials and tribulations, interspersed with numerous bouts of uncertainty, self-doubt, and even self-loathing. A very good work, and overdue a sequel — The Golden Hart will hopefully be available early next year.
Independents don’t get enough notice for their efforts, but they’re also among the most celebrated publishers in this genre. I hope to be featuring more of their stuff in future columns and have recently acquired a taste for anthologies — there are many great ones out there, and being able to dip in and out of them as the mood takes me does make it ideal reading for the holidays with so much else going on at the same time.
Among the anthology award winners this year, End of the Road (Solaris, 2013, edited by Jonathan Oliver) won the British Fantasy Award, with Tales of Eve (Fox Spirit, 2013, edited by Mhairi Simpson) and Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome (Jo Fletcher Books, 2013, edited by Stephen Jones, illustrated by Tolkien artist, Alan Lee) just two of the other nominees in what proved to be a very strong category.
I am fast running out of room, so just enough space to mention the frankly quite brilliant Freda Warrington. Dark Blood of Poppies (Titan Books, Oct 2014) is the third book in her excellent Blood Wine Sequence and should have been officially released in the US by the time you read this. The first two were A Taste of Blood Wine and A Dance in Blood Velvet (both Titan, 2013), and both are darkly gothic, full to bursting with beautiful prose, and dripping with sexually-charged romanticism — Freda Warrington was doing the True Blood-style dark, brooding vampire thing way back in the early 90s and a brand new, fourth book in the series, The Dark Arts of Blood (Titan, May 2015), is due to hit bookshops next year. Personally, I can’t wait for that one, but there’s plenty of time for you to catch up with the rest of this fantastic horror series between now and then.
Finally, we lost a superb writer in Graham Joyce only a few days ago (Sept 2014), and apart from being one of the nicest guys I ever got to meet, he has also written some amazing books. Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Gollancz, 2012) left an indelible mark on my psyche, and The Year of the Ladybird (Gollancz, 2014) has been garnering lots of great reviews left, right and centre. He also wrote the Introduction to The Language of Dying (Jo Fletcher Books, 2013) by Sarah Pinborough, a book I mentioned back in the July/August issue of BTS as one of my all-time fave books over the last few years. It’s all the more special to me, now.
RIP Graham Joyce.
* This column originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of BTS Book Reviews