Unpacking the 2014 Eisners - Part 1
Underground Reading: The Garden of Stones by Mark T Barnes

Friday Five: The Best of Bristol SF/F

This week's guest is Peter Sutton (@suttope), who is plugged into the writing scene of one of the UK's most dynamic literary cities - Bristol. We asked him if he could share some of his favourite Bristol SF/F, and, well, as you can see... it caused some consternation. Over to you, Pete...

Five Bristol writers of SF&F? Five SF&F books set in Bristol?! Five minutes to write this post?! OK, best get on it...

There is Bristol SF/F and there is Bristol SF/F, let me explain - no it will take too long, let me summarise.

Bristol is a city that has a radical edge, is small enough to have a real sense of community and large enough to be cosmopolitan. There is a Bristol Science Fiction and Fantasy Society and a Bristol Fantasy and Science Fiction society (reminds me of a certain scene in The Life of Brian) and of course it plays host to BristolCon which is both highly regarded by the industry and well-loved by locals and runs a monthly SF&F get together with stories from local writers. There is also a strong genre edge to the Bristol Festival of Literature which produced the utterly bonkers The Kraken Rises! in 2013.

Five writers from Bristol who write SF&F would include Angela Carter, JK Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, Joanne Hall and Jonathan L Howard.

Charmed-Life2Angela Carter wrote some ‘magic realism’ apparently. As Jonathan Pinnock (another Bristol writer worth checking out) tells me, when he talks to Literary types he also says he writes Magic Realism. When he talks to everyone else, he says it’s SF/F.

JK Rowling wrote some fairly well-known stories about wizards or some such, or at least that’s what I’ve been told

Diana Wynne Jones wrote a ton of stuff, mostly for kids, but check out her bibliography - that’s a lot of words…

Joanne Hall tells me she makes things up for a living and has written a book about felines where the cat people are not quite what you’d expect and some other cool fantasy….

Jonathan L Howard... one of these writers is not like the others (hint: he lives in Keynsham) but he has written some marvellous books and wears all black and I couldn’t possibly leave him out. (I’ll pick up the cash from you later, JLH)

And my Top 5 SF&F books set in Bristol? These are mostly at the SF end of things, and looks like Bristol is ripe for a fantasy, possibly involving - scribbles down new book idea.

Airship300Colin Harvey was a local writer (yes, he could be in the list above but I only had five and it was a tough choice) who is much missed. He also edited an anthology called Future Bristol which included stories from local writers such as (and make a note of these names for later) John Hawks-Reed, Gareth L Powell (OK, he should really be on the list above too but I need to stick to the rules somewhere, don’t I?) and Joanne Hall.

In memory of Colin Harvey, the guys from BristolCon have put together a rather marvellous collection of Steampunk stories set in the city called Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion featuring stories by lots of local writers… it’s collecting a few nice reviews already.

Rising star Tim Maughan’s first collection Paintwork is “cool SF with Maughan taking our current world and spinning it faster to see what happens”. Often compared to Lauren Beukes, Tim is sadly no longer a local writer having jetted off somewhere (follow him on Twitter, he’s all over the place nowadays). Although one story in the anthology is set in Cuba, the others are very much Bristolian and spring forth from the local music and graffiti scene.

Local star Gareth L Powell’s cigar chomping, alcohol swilling, gun-toting, spitfire-flying, potty-mouthed, BSFA-winning eponymous Ack-Ack Macaque may not be set in Bristol but Gareth more than makes up for that with extensive use of Bristol in sequel, Hive MonkeyI’m hoping that the third in the series Macaque Attack will also feature the city. In the second book, the titular Macaque is back - bigger, badder and with more explosions. Like a movie franchise, the first book sets up the world and the tone and the second raises the stakes and cranks up the action. 

UnbornFor my money, one of my favourite, most inventive SF&F books, and one that happens to be set in Bristol, is Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne. Alternative history with a SF twist, this is a delight - one of the best depictions of “out of time” characters and the impact of people returning from the dead (but not in a zombie way). These “Retreads” appear where they died, at the age they died, but cured of any disease or injury they may have had.

It has a lead character called Police Inspector Scipio Africanus, once a slave from the 18th Century, now a British Bobby on an unusual Beat. (The former MP for where I live, the late Tony Benn, laid a wreath on the grave of Africanus during Black History Month a few years ago.) It also has “Queen Dick” (Richard the 3rd who steals every scene he’s in), Guy Boswell the WWII fighter pilot, the famous Rake, the Earl of Rochester, and many more in a world where intrepid Victorians rub shoulders with characters from WWII, Puritans, and all manner of other historical characters. I’ve been wanting Eugene to write a follow-up since first reading this. He’s still hanging around Bristol, writing books, so you never know.

I’m going to cheat (maybe that should be cheat again) and add a sixth book which is on my “To Be Read” list. About the nature of the creature by L.E. Turner because “she has turned the city into a haven for a variety of supernatural creatures.” And I just can’t resist that. 

Have you read a book set in Bristol? Or know any authors from the city? Please share in the comments!