May 052015

Sarah Lotz is disgustingly good, and the worst part of it is how easy she makes it look.

This is a follow-up to The Three and, while it’s definitely in the same creepycrazywtfisgoingon universe, the story is built in a completely different fashion – told from the point of view of a handful of central characters rather than as a tabloid disaster porn memoir.

This book is terrifying, but it’s not horror, or terror. It’s a masterful character study of a group of people as the boat they are on stalls, drifting without purpose or pilot, and their social structure fragments.

Apr 072015

This is a debut.

It is massive in scope, telling the story of the rise and fall of empires, using classical Chinese storytelling tropes and wuxia heroes.

It is breathtaking in its language and ambition. 640 pages of instructive fable and myth and history of a fictional series of countries at war with each other and with themselves.

It deals with class, race, gender, and the fruits and drawback of empire. Power as a corruptive influence, and hard decisions.

It’s not perfect – the cast of women is tiny, though dealt with well.

But it is a debut.

And bloody good.

Apr 022015

Detroit, Michigan. A broken city filled with broken people – from the overworked police department through to the underfunded school system, the homeless, and the the transplants trying to make something new out of something broken, or at least having good parties in the city’s apocalypse.

What happens when the world starts to break, the edges of reality start to open up? Is it all happening in one person’s mind or is there something larger going on, something terrifying?

Beukes has gone out of her way to capture the Detroit in time and space, on the edge of renewal or disaster.

Apr 012015

Welcome to America, kid.

Ariel (ah-riel) is adopted into a middle-class American family after he survives the massacre of his entire village during a civil war by dressing as a clown and hiding in a refrigerator.

He ends up in summer camp. A very particular type of summer camp. Digital detox camp, filled with all the horribleness of summer camp.

Also, a giant evil corporation.

A parallel story of an Arctic mission gone wrong. A parallel story of a melting man bent on revenge.

The book is at times heartbreaking, funny, wicked, irreverent, and wrong. And yet so very right.

Mar 302015

This book is ridiculous. Let’s get that out of the way.

It is the story of a little girl who asks an artificial intelligence robot for “the best cake” before going down into cold sleep on an interstellar spacecraft which is taking her family and hunderds of other colonists on a journey to a new world.

It is the story of the AI’s use of evolutionary algorithms to make the best cake, by having them duel.

It’s the story of what happens when the little girl wakes up to these cakes.

And it is utterly, stonkingly, ridiculous.

Go read it.

Mar 272015

It takes a certain chutzpah to have a first-person narrator with no name, and yet this book does. The premise: there exist beings (no spoilers) who can take over a body; they pass between them by touching flesh. They live out our lives, in moments or decades, and move on before they die.

Many of my favourite things from The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August are here: the careful attention to detail in perspective, and how it shifts through people, time, and space. North’s writing is engaging, thought-provoking, and may keep you awake at night, wondering what you’re missing.

Mar 162015

This is a troubling book, a dark imagining of a future five minutes from now, or five minutes ago. It’s a portrait of technology entrepreneurs, recalling the heady late 90s Internet boom “before it was cool”, and the heady and terrifying successes that could come about. It’s a story of augmented reality, something a little bit different that’s as unlikely as faster than light travel but eminently plausible, but it’s also the story of the protagonist’s struggles with what it means to be human, a man, a conscious actor in an ultra-modern world where he is both shaper and participant.

Mar 132015

The second in the Osiris trilogy, and this one is a corker – there’s no need to have read the first book at all.

In a climate change ravaged world, Ramona Callejas is the only pilot – and mapmaker– of the last aeroplane in the technophobic country of Patagonia, a poor state at the southern edge of the desert that stretches across the Americas. She, and Antarctican refugee Taeo, have to travel through Cataveiro, the a crossroads city, where anything can happen, and often does, in this deeply personal story of politics and the high cost of life in this post-apocalyptic world.

Mar 112015

This book is a slow burn, and most of the time, much like Gibson or Le Carré, you have little idea of what’s really happening, reading along trying to keep up.

Rudi is a cook in a future Europe in which the nation-state is a fragmentary being. Rudi is quiet, and stays out of trouble, and that attracts the mysterious courers to him, makes him a valuable asset.

Writers will want to read it to admire the craft of it. Readers will be sucked into the world he’s created and the subtle ennui of the courer. Everyone will love it.

Mar 042015


We read 198 books for The Kitschies in 2014 – lots of data on the breakdown here – and I’ve got a LOT of thoughts, and at least some appeals to publishers.

Doing this is a labour of love: Yes, you get free books, and free books are always good, but it will stress your love and abilities as a reader, adjust your faith in humanity, and reward you with hidden gems and big, great art. There are times when you’ll despair at the mountain of books – and, when you’ve given up a weekend power-read through a dozen books which all turn out to be not for you, not for the award, poorly written, poorly edited, you’ll droop your head in shame and think “They’re right, all the naysayers saying that everything is getting worse.

Then you’ll pick up a book and it’s like slipping into a natural hot spring on a much-deserved holiday after a crazy set of months at work.

I found as well that, despite me having more books than I can possibly use, that I still want them all. That frisson of excitement when you go into a bookstore? Still there.

Still, there are some things I’d beg of publishers.

Publishers – send in your books early

We opened in June, and we had maybe a dozen books in in the first few heady months, keeping well on top of the lists; it wasn’t until around October that they started piling in and we starting experiencing the Fear of Words on the Page. I know you’re busy, but you spend 6-18 months working on a book, helping it through agents and writer’s fears – give it time to breathe. Send in a few packages of books across a few months. Give us lots of time to read and reflect on them.

Consider the award’s history before sending things in

198 books sounds like a lot – and it is. No one would mind, but actually many of the books just aren’t appropriate.

Progressive, intelligent, and entertaining is a broad brief, but it is a brief.

A shortlist is more of a reflection of a prize than an award win

Judging books is hard – we never pick the “best”, but something that’s emblematic of progressive, intelligent and entertaining. Which is lucky. The Guardian did a series of interviews with Booker prize juries, and it makes for enlightening reading. I think, if you want to understand a prize – not least The Kitschies – looking at the shortlist is a better indication, but it makes less interesting reading to say “we gave 5 books £200 each” than “THIS BOOK IS THE PROGRESSIVEST ENTERTENTACLIST AND INTELLIGENTER ONE OF THEM ALL and here’s £1,000 to prove it”.

No prize gets everything

We call books in (i.e. we email the publishers and beg them to send them in), but we don’t get everything. Some publishers don’t send them out. Sometimes a memo (we assume) gets lost inside a publisher, so they mean to but don’t. Some books we miss due to the onslaught of books breaking Posties’ backs starting in November. We might have missed your favourites. Don’t take it out on the judges.

It’s way, super fun

I’ve been personally honoured to read a shed-ton of books – many of which were really brilliant and couldn’t be on the shortlists due to size – and to work with the clever and intelligent Kim Curran, Frances Hardinge, Adam Roberts, and Cat Webb, who are all lovely, hard-working delightful people, who will drink wine from tupperware and bring Cthullhu cakes and cheese along. It’s a joy and a delight and something that you should really do if you ever get the chance.

<cross-posted from The Kitschies>