Science Fiction

The speculative, fantastic, and soon-to-be available

The above is an illustration for Hot Wheels by Syd ‘Dude who famously did the concept art for Blade Runner’ Mead. It is both very cyberpunk and, to quote Anne, ‘the most teen boy thing ever made’.

Taking a break from romance to talk about science fiction, with two updates.

The first is that The Kitschies have announced their finalists. The Kitschies are the prize for ‘progressive, intelligence, and entertaining books containing elements of the speculative or fantastic’. Basically, an SF/F prize, but with the widest possible remit.

The prize is always wonderfully eclectic in its selections. That stems from criteria (specific) and the eligiblity (broad). The specificity gives the prize permission to ignore the books celebrated by other prizes and do its own thing. And the breadth gives it the responsibility to represent all the forms and nuances of SF/F - from commercials epic fantasy to paranormal romance to magical realism to horror to YA to whatever. It is a prize predicated on the existence of a broad church, and devoted to searching through all its nooks and crannies.

This year, I got to be one of the judges - something I haven’t done for over a decade. That meant tackling the 215 novels submitted by 50-odd publishers: a very, very significant portion of the UK’s entire SF/F output from 2022. Mahvesh Murad, Adam Roberts, Molly Tanzer and I had a lot of reading to do.

It was a blast.

So without further ado:

The Red Tentacle (Novel)

  • Beyond the Burn Line by Paul McAuley

  • The Coral Bones by E.J. Swift

  • The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles

  • Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell

  • Twelve Percent Dread by Emily McGovern

The Golden Tentacle (Debut)

  • Brother Alive by Zain Khalid

  • The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara

  • The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

  • When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

  • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

The Inky Tentacle (Cover Art)

  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka, cover by Peter Dyer

  • Celestial by M.D. Lachlan, cover by Rachel Lancaster and Patrick Knowles

  • Poster Girl by Veronica Roth, cover by Lydia Blagden)

  • Paper Crusade by Michelle Penn, cover by Klara Smith

  • Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth, cover by Mark Abrams

You can see all the finalists here. (Thanks, Blackwell’s!)

The human brain likes to look for patterns (or impose them where they don’t exist) and I did spot a few. There are a few caveats (e.g. books are written and acquired and published at different times/speeds), but some ‘trends’ that I found in the reading:

  • Found families. I think the pendulum has been swinging from grimdark ‘sinister realism’ to cozier reads for a while, and that was very clearly evidenced by this year’s reading. There was a particular thematic emphasis on ‘found families’ - visible across all speculative genres, even horror!

  • Climate change. Lots of people have now written about the phenomenon of #clifi, but I think we’re beyond books speculating about climate change and into books that are assume it. More simply put: every near-future SF book now accounts for climate change. It is no longer the ‘SF’ element as much as the root cause of other ‘SF’ things happening.

  • Grief. I'm hesitant to connect it directly to current events, but lots of books were about processing grief and loss. Some were quite overt about it.

  • Truth. One of particular, personal interest - I found that there were quite a few books that considered (either thematically or in the world-building) 'objective' truth, and if that is possible. Several featured people in truth-seeking professionals (inquisitors, detectives, scientists, historians) and some even had magical powers related to detecting or forcing the truth. That tangentially resonated with books featuring questions of faith (is there a higher purpose or ultimate good?). Given that we've all now lived through the 'infodemic' of misinformation and the ongoing erosion of trust, I see books that ‘fantasise’ about objective fact as a type of tragic response.

I suspect the other judges saw other patterns, but that’s the point of having a panel: we each bring our own perspective into the mix.

The winners will be announced at the Bradford Literature Festival on 24 June. It is a free and public event, with special guests. The Kitschies have historically rebelled against stuffy ceremonies, so please do drop by for a nice evening with intelligent, progressive and entertaining people.

Speaking of really great science fiction books, The Big Book of Cyberpunk is now unveiled and available for pre-order. I’ll talk a lot more about this project later, but I didn’t want this fabulous cover to go unloved. The art is a piece by the Ukrainian concept artist Ociacia, coupled with immense design magic by Vintage's Joe Montgomery.

The full Table of Contents will be released sooner or later, unveiling the 100+ stories and 1,000+ pages of gloriousness inside. But the amazing folks on the cover hint at the range : William Gibson to Janelle Monáe; Pat Cadigan to qntm; Victor Pelevin to Vauhini Vara. This has been a delight to assemble.

The book drops - with an audible thud - in September. Please clear your shelf space and schedules accordingly. And if you’re willing to invest based on an awesome cover and those names alone, pre-orders make a huge difference.

A lovely concluding thought from Strategic Play:

To create something, we must reach into a world that does not exist, and pull something into our world. In other words, whether through games or another means, many of the most important skills that we can master as adults, we learn through play.

Thinking about the two ‘projects’ above - curating a chonky anthology and reading a year’s worth of publishing… First, they’re fun - a huge part of being able to do them was enjoying doing them. Second, they are, in the great scheme of things, play. I adopt and practice skills, pick up knowledge and insight, and generally ‘get better at stuff’ because of doing them. Play is good. Have fun out there.

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