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March 2011
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Bestselling Genre Fiction in Russia (LBF2011)

LBFThe London Book Fair had a focus on the Russian market for 2011, which meant that best-selling authors like Boris Akunin and Sergei Lukyanenko were roaming its hallowed halls. 

One seminar, "Bestselling Genre Fiction in Russia", had Mr. Lukyanenko, Tatiana Ustinova and Dmitry Glukhovsky as panelists. Although I believe it was probably intended to be more of an optimistic, promotional conversation about the successful state of genre fiction in the Russian market, it quickly evolved into a well-considered debate about the relationship between science fiction and politics.

What follows is a rough summary of the conversation and those quotes that I managed to capture.*

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New Releases: Genus by Jonathan Trigell

GenusGenus, by Jonathan Trigell, is a dark and political look at a possible future Britain. In Genus, advances in genetic engineering have rubbed all the rough edges off of humanity. Intelligence, ambition and creativity can all be programmed in before birth - as well as good looks, great hair and striking cheekbones. Many diseases are finally thwarted as well, run off the pitch by genetic countermeasures.

The catch? It is bloody expensive. Most families spend their entire lives saving, borrowing and scrambling to get their children the best pre-natal enhancements possible. Even the most basic anti-disease package isn't available to everyone. There's some token opposition from guilty liberals, but society is now firmly divided into the gene-enriched haves and the "Unimproved" have-nots. 

The Unimproved mostly congregate in London's King's Cross area - now known as "The Kross". The government has relaxed many of the vice laws in the area, so that the neighborhood's denizens are at least allowed to drink, drug and sex themselves into distraction. It is a very small consolation - the Kross is riddled with crime, corruption, rioting and violence. The area is ruled by an extremely tight-knit family of cloned ganglords and order is maintained by heavy-handed police thugs.

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The Week that Was

A truncated week at Pornokitsch, as we spent most of it stalking the aisles of the London Book Fair (with cufflinks on).

But, in case you missed any of it...

Next week we're back on our regular schedule - we've already got four reviews in the pipeline (from 1972 to 2011), more from the London Book Fair and the normal collection of odds and ends. 

7 Great Fantasy Londons

In our list of great fantasy cities, we were forced to squash the many thousands of Londons down to just one. That's a little unfair, so we've decided to explore our favorite city in a bit more detail. 

The BookmanLondon, Haunted: Without sounding dismissive, on paper, there's not much about DC Peter Grant's London that's structurally different from the Londons of the other occult detectives - Mike Carey's Felix Castor, for example. But Ben Aaronovitch doesn't just evoke the shady history of the city, he also captures the spirit of its present. From the tourist hordes of Covent Garden to the drunks in Soho, Ben Aaronovitch's London is the distilled essence of, well, London. Except with ghosts, of course.

London, Overrun with literary figures: London's literary history is such that modern authors can even indulge in the self-referential. Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman is perhaps the most recent of these - taking place in a city ruled by the lizard people and populated by clockwork poets, Gilgamesh and Karl Marx (the latter is not fictional - nor, if you ask some, are the lizard people). The Bookman is packed to the gills with cleverness, and not in the plot-defying way - Mr. Tidhard skims the best of history and fiction and gleefully melts it into the pot of his own novel. If we broaden the scope to comics, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentleman also deserves a mention here: who can forget Mr Hyde vs the Martian invaders while the Thames is a-wriggle with alien seaweed...

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'The octopus unquestionably looms largest' - China Miéville and Kraken

KrakenEarlier this year, I was one of the judges for the inaugural Independent Literary Awards. The ILA is unique in that the books are nominated and judged by book bloggers - a peculiar and persnickity sub-category of consumer.

The winner in the Speculative Fiction category was China Miéville's Kraken.

Following the award, we coordinated a Q&A with Mr. Miéville about the award-winning book. The questions are crowd-sourced, so it is a bit bonkers, but Mr. Miéville's responses are all brilliant. A big thank you to fellow ILA panelists Bryce and Jamie, it was a great experience all around.

So, with no further ado, China Miéville on Kraken...


ILA: Why a Kraken? Don't get us wrong, I love Krakens, they're awesome, but why did you center the book around one?

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10 Quirky New Releases from the London Book Fair

We've just returned from stalking the hallowed halls of the London Book Fair. We're swimming in glossy pamphlets right now, but here are some of the more interesting titles that we've found. If you're looking for the next Robrandon RR Martinfus, this isn't the list - what follows are some of the quirkier, more fun titles we spotted today.

(All links go to the publisher. If you're keen to pre-order, why not take the details to your local bookshop?)

InvaderomaInvaderoma (Drago). Combines the catalogue for Invader's first Italian exhibition with the photos of his Roman invasion. Long our favourite street artist, we're quite excited to see his 8-bit aliens tackle yet another great city in their 19th invasion. Drago have also published a gorgeous reference book - From Style Writing to Art: A Street Art Anthology. (Out now) 

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (Titan). Re-release of the award-winning steampunk vampire alternate history (fangpunk? bloodpunk?). 1888 - Dracula is married to Queen Victoria. Hijinks. Etc. Newman is signing at Forbidden Planet for the launch. (May)

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New Releases: The Hammer by KJ Parker

ParkerThe Hammer was released this January, the latest novel from the prolific and enigmatic KJ Parker. (All reviewers are bound by contract to refer to Parker as “enigmatic” – amazing what writing under a pseudonym will do for you.)

Parker’s books all share several common elements: mainly tight plotting and an absorbingly bleak view of the world. There are no clearly delineated heroes and villains in Parker’s books. The cliché would be to declare it all a matter of perspective, but Parker gleefully toys with that as well. Parker enjoys self-aware protagonists: “heroes” that question the morality – even the relative morality – of their own actions.

In The Hammer, the lead character is Gignomai met’Oc, youngest son in the met’Oc family. The met’Oc are exiled nobility, living in squalor in an unnamed colony far from Home. They are (or were) quite a powerful family and, perhaps more importantly, they have the colony’s few guns. The rest of the colony is composed of farmers and trappers – trading their wares back Home for those manufactured goods they need to survive. Outside of the colony, an unknown quantity of Savages rove at will, doing their best to stay out of everyone’s way.

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Underground Reading: Bachelors Anonymous by Vivian Connell

Bachelors AnonymousBachelors Anonymous (1957) is a novel of two halves. Or, more accurately, it is two completely different novels wrapped in the same cover. The first half is the silly story of "Hearts Ahoy" - a group that's less "therapy for sex addicts" and more an underground guerilla movement battling the feminist overlords. The second half, called "The Three Mr. Browns" is a thoroughly-serious tale of international espionage. The two are connected by a minor character and the glue of the book's spine.

For the first part, the book is the first-person narrative of Ward Woodham. Ward is a stereotypical, all-American Harvard boy. He's blessed with a silver spoon, a lantern jaw and the hormones of a 13 year old. His future in the import/export business looks bright - except a little hanky-panky with a client's wife soon backfires. Woodham's boss recommends the discreet "Hearts Ahoy" service as a cure.

It seems that Ward isn't the first man to let a woman make a fool of him. "Hearts Ahoy" is for the situation where a man accidentally picks up a woman and is about to accidentally be in a situation where they accidentally have sex. A member can pick up the phone, dial a number and - within minutes - a fellow "Hearts Ahoy" member will arrive and bail him out him with a phony emergency.

Hearts Ahoy, one patron boasts, is a necessity for every man, "unless you want to lose the war of the American Man against the American Woman. Every time you meet a dame, remember Pearl Harbour.... Because instead of looking for Japs in the sky he was looking at American pin-ups on the wall." Hearts Ahoy's same macho proponent warns that Park Avenue is like a "jungle" and "She comes down in a mink coat and what do you see? A hundred animals on her back. But what you don't see is the animal inside of her." (24)

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The Week that Was

In case you missed it, last week was all about Rome. A huge thanks to everyone that participated, supported, played, re-tweeted and hung out with us while we ranted about all things Roman. For those that won prizes in our Facebook competitions, we'll be sending them out early next week.

Out in the so-called real world, we popped into Forbidden Planet for their massive Hellblazer signing. Jock, Andy Diggle and Jamie Delano were all in the same room. Contrary to expectations, the demon Nergal failed to show.

Next week, we're returning to normal, contemporary kitsch with our normal stew of reviews, deliberately-provocative lists, interviews and ranting. We'll be at the London Book Fair as well, scavenging for the latest & greatest scoop on upcoming releases. 

Finally, our apologies for the ever-shifting feast of design over the weekend. We decided to take advantage of our return to modernity by doing some tinkering.

Underground Reading: Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene

Anno MortisAnno Mortis, by Rebecca Levene, was one of the first books ever reviewed on this site. This was way back in the heady days of 2008 when the zombie trend was still clawing its way out of the earth.

At the time, I loved it, calling it a "massively entertaining romp" - unashamedly campy but packed with well-researched historical trivia. Anno Mortis is like the daydreams I had in class while failing Latin.

Three years later, how's it holding up? Zombies are rapidly becoming (or arguably "have become") a moth-eaten premise. Was Anno Mortis good because it was something new? Does it fall apart under renewed inspection? With a bit of trepdition, I ventured into the re-read.

The book is set in the last years of Caligula's reign. Everyone's favorite Emperor is fully engaged in the sort of unwholesome frolicking that's made him a legendary figure. Being a member of the Empire's upper crust is a nice way to live, but also a fast way to die. Even the Emperor's uncle, the stuttering Claudius is petrified with fear. Caligula and his equally-insane sister, Drusilla, could turn on anyone at a moment's notice.

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