On Shortlists and The Kitschies


So, The Kitschies 2013 shortlist has been announced, and it’s a typically eclectic and atypical selection of nominees for what is fast becoming the most progressive, intelligent and entertaining*¹ genre award amidst a wealth of other more frustrating crowd pleasers.

17262303On February 12th, the winners of the charismatically named (and trophied, if that’s even a verb; if not, it is now) Red Tentacle, Golden Tentacle and Inky Tentacle will be announced. There’ll be a fun little ceremony/presentation/lecture (which of these is probably down to Jared Shurin‘s discretion) and the winners will get their cash, their rum, their backslaps and, most importantly, their tentacle.

But it’s not really the winners that matter here. Sure, for the individual author, publisher and/or artist, it is of course a great accolade. But in the grand scheme, what’s important for us as readers of the genre is the more general process of the award itself, and the shortlist.

No award is perfect. The idea of singling out any piece of fiction or less specifically, any work of art, is always going to be open to criticism. But juried awards such as The Kitschies, with a more specific ‘brief’*² in defining a selection of the ‘best’ (or in this case, progressive, intelligent & entertaining) in any one year can be viewed in such a way as to suggest an attempt at summarising and defining said ‘year’ in the field. It can never be perfect, but The Kitschies continuous attempts to maintain a progressive style of selection – never allowing even its process to become stale – has to say something about the eventual shortlist.

And so we come down to what really matters here for our ‘community’ and the wider genre ‘conversation’: the shortlist. In the past we’ve seen the likes of The City and The City by China Mieville, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, take away the Red Tentacle, and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War or Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo take away the Golden Tentacle for best debut. But beyond the winners there is a 93e0d-human-apocalypsenownow-uk_thumb5b25dreal wealth of modern, progressive speculative fiction that serves to highlight the nature of The Kitschies and what it’s doing for the wider genre. Books like:

The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker
King Maker by Maurice Broaddus
Osama by Lavie Tidhar
The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
The Method by Julie Zeh
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

and so on…

The Kitschies are trying to define – or indeed to pinpoint – the cultural ‘state-of-the-genre’ every year with shortlisted books that show a wealth of tastes and subgenres. SFF is more than simply the sum of its parts, and The Kitschies seeks to display that, despite who wins.

With a shortlist that, once again, shows why our genre does indeed push the boundaries of the ‘speculative’, The Kitschies have proved that genre awards can be more than just the same old warhorses. Not always devoid of big names, The Kitschies don’t seek to select only the ‘alternative’ or to act Leckie_AncillaryJustice_TPlike (if this is even a thing) literary trendsetters. Rather, the edict is simple: Progressive, Intelligent, Entertaining. This wins out over popularity AND the alternative, every time.

Not perfect, no. And like every other award, they never will be. BUT – what, for me, defines The Kitschies is that they aren’t content to play it safe. That Trifecta of requirements works both ways; something other awards could look to adopt.

2013 was a great year for our genre and The Kitschies shortlist highlights that very fact. There are books on there I’ve heard of, and some I haven’t. But I know each and every one will be worth the look*³ – and that’s something I can’t say of any other award. 2014 looks set to be just as good, if not better – and I’m sure that this time next year, The Kitschies will show us that very fact.

For more information on The Kitschies, check out their blog: here. And click here for the full list of nominees.


*¹ “…progressive, intelligent and entertaining…”– something The Kitschies strive for in their selection process; indeed, this is the philosophical backbone of the entire award.

*² “The Kitschies: The prize for progressive, intelligent & entertaining fiction that contains elements of the speculative or fantastic – “

*³ I’m not saying each one will be something I will like, but worthy of my time? Absolutely.

10 for 2014

A bit late for one of these posts, perhaps, but I thought I’d highlight a few novels that might not necessarily be on everyone’s radar that I’m immensely looking forward to in SFF in 2014. There are some standalones, a couple of debuts and a couple of sequels, but hopefully something that will get you as excited for 2014 as I am. Yes, I’m looking forward to Words of Radiance, Prince of Fools, Skin Game and all those other BIG hitters, but for a few that look just as good, have a look through this list…

Lagoon image

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

This sounds wonderfully imaginative and different and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Not the only book from Hodder on this list, either…


The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.

Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted – but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the ‘insane’ women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself

Easily my most anticipated debut of the year, and I know I’m not alone in this. Sure to be a fantastic novel in the “Scott Lynch” mould.


The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way upstream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

First novel published in the UK for Jacobs, and having read one of his previous works (Southern Gods, published in the US) I’m sure this will be superb and very different from the norm.


The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford

Heroes must rise…

The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground…or the city will fall.

Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?

I loved the first book, Herald of the Storm, and hope Ford can follow it up with a worthy sequel.


The Three by Sarah Lotz

Four simultaneous plane crashes. Three child survivors. A religious fanatic who insists the three are harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he’s right?

The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.

Dubbed ‘The Three’ by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival…

Another book from Hodder, and another I can’t wait to read. This just sounds absolutely superb.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

In a world that has suffered from frequent, repeated extinction-level events, over millions of years, magic and life itself have adapted to having a mass extinction every few hundred years. But this time might be different.

I’ve never read anything by Jemisin, but just the barest whiff of description for this makes me want to read it.


The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D’Lacey

It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.

It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward.

The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it.

Black Feathers was an excellent book, and hopefully this will cement the story as the great bit of, erm, “eco-punk”, I think it will be. If the ending is as strong the beginning, taken together, this could be a defining work in the genre.


Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson have won the battle for Stenvik, although at huge cost, for they have suffered much worse than heartbreak. They have lost the very thing that made them human: their mortality.

While Ulfar heads home, looking for the place where he thinks he will be safe, Audun runs south. But both men are about to discover that they can not run away from themselves.

King Olav might have been defeated outside the walls of Stenvik, but now Valgard leads him north, in search of the source of the Vikings’ power.

All the while there are those who watch and wait, biding their time, for there are secrets yet to be discovered…

Ah, Snorri, you bearded barbarian of an author, you. Great purveyor of everything beer-ded, Kristjansson looks set to follow up last years stellar Swords of Good Men with a great sequel. And for those that fancy a slightly different taster of Snorri’s brand of viking-based fantasy, head over here to see his very best drunk viking impression…


Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.

Possibly not out in the UK this year, but certainly in the US from TOR, this sounds genuinely original and something I’m eager to read.


The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

And finally we end with something a little more traditional. The Copper Promise is Jen Williams’ debut, and it looks set to inject a much-needed shot of adrenaline into the realm of classic swords and sorcery. This’ll be fun…

SO that’s some of my most anticipated for 2014, but what have I missed? What are you most looking forward to?