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The Women’s Prize for (Fantastic) Fiction

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s regular roundup of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

Aside from the launch of a crazy number of covers, it’s been quite a quiet week in the business of genre fiction in Britain. We were, however, introduced to the panel who’ll be judging the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014, and that got me thinking: given the recent debate about speculative fiction’s “invisible women,” why don’t we have something similar?

Later on, in Cover Art Corner, I’ve got the art for two exciting new novels, beginning with a look at Nnedi Okorafor’s next book, Lagoon, and continuing with The Way to Babylon.

The Women’s Prize for (Fantastic) Fiction

In the near-year we’ve been talking about book news from Britain, we’ve only—to the best of my recollection—touched on the Women’s Prize for Fiction once. In large part that’s been because it has little bearing on the speculative fiction we’re typically interested in, and in that fact it has a lamentable lot in common with many of the most prestigious awards in the business of literature.

Which is precisely the problem.

Before we go any further, let me introduce you to the Women’s Prize for Fiction… or rather reintroduce you:

Every year, a panel of five women, all passionate readers and highly successful and inspiring women, are selected to judge the prize.

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is the UK’s most prestigious annual book award for fiction written by a woman. Now in its nineteenth year, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up to celebrate excellence and originality in writing by women throughout the world.


Any woman writing in English—whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter—is eligible.

Per an article in The Guardian, Baileys took the reins of the Women’s Prize for Fiction “after an interim year in 2013, when private donors including Cherie Blair and Joanna Trollope stepped in after it lost the sponsorship of long-term partner Orange.”

Bringing us right up to speed, last week saw the announcement of the panel of five who, in June 2014, will crown the award’s next winner.

The panel has been announced today as Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, writer Denise Mine, Times columnist, author and screenwriter, Caitlin Moran and BBC broadcaster and journalist, Sophie Raworth. The panel will be chaired by former Managing Director of Penguin Books UK and Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, Helen Fraser.

“I am delighted to be chairing the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction,” commented Helen Fraser. “It is a fantastic quartet of judges, and I am looking forward enormously to beginning on our journey of engaging with some extraordinary minds and extraordinary voices.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking Fraser’s stress on the fantastic and the extraordinary might be evidence of an interest in fiction of the fantastic variety. Mere wish-fulfilment, I fear—though there is, as ever, reason to hope that we’ll see something resembling a genre novel on the longlist, at least. After all, 2011 winner The Tiger’s Wife took in several memorable speculative elements, whilst one of the judges—read Denise Mina—has been notably open to speculative fiction before, having authored a great, grungy run on the late, lamented Hellblazer for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.

I don’t quite feel like I’m clutching at straws here. That said, it’s hardly likely that the formerly Orange prize will be awarded to a genre author…

Reading through these reports, though, I couldn’t help but wonder who would win if it was. Any why not? Why not layer one arbitrary distinction on top of another? As a community, we’ve cried out again and again for better representation of the “invisible women” working in the male-dominated speculative fiction industry. So let’s do it, damn it! Let’s you and I put our heads together and figure out a speculative-fiction friendly version of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Kind of like the Not the Booker Prize that The Guardian has.

A word to the wise: this isn’t going to lead to some seismic shift in the industry. Publishers may or may not change their ways, and whenever they do, if ever they do, they’ll change at their own pace. But if that’s the case, why wait?

If any woman writing genre fiction in English—whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter—is eligible, then who and what would our nominees be? Let’s keep them to books published this year, please.

Here are few of my favourites to get you started:

  • The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

Please leave your nominations for the proposed Women’s Prize for Fantastic Fiction in the comments and we’ll figure out where to take this from there.

Cover Art Corner: The Boy on The Way to Babylon

Lagoon Nnedi Okorafor cover Joey HiFi

As I said in the intro, though there’s been little to no news, it has been a wonderful week in covers, and it all kicked off with a tentacular treat from British Genre Fiction Focus favourite Joey HiFi.

Lagoon is the new novel by Nnedi Okorafor, the award-winning author of Who Fears Death? and it looks—and sounds—stunning:

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.

“There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.”

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor by be published by Hodder & Stoughton on in the UK on April 10th 2014.

Meanwhile, Pye Parr has discussed his designs for the cover of The Way to Babylon, the second of Solaris’ three Paul Kearney reissues. You’ll recall the artist from his work on the first of these books, and it strikes me as a real relief that he’ll be back for the last of the lot also, given the neat, repeating motif.

Paul Kearney The Way to Babylon Pye Parr

I tend to think this image is as attractive as his excellent artwork for A Different Kingdom. What it lacks in atmospheric forest it more than makes up for with some lovely colours.

Anyhoo, I’ve got a brand new synopsis for you too:

Michael Riven has fallen off a mountain. The bestselling fantasy author is broken in both body and mind, as the fall also claimed his wife and climbing partner Jenny. Readers are desperate to know what will happen next in the fantasy world Minginish, but neither writing, nor living, are of interest to the author as he lies in traction. But there are others seeking the scribe out. Men – and someone who is not all human – have begun a quest to find a way to rescue their blighted homeland, and their road will take them between worlds.

Michael Riven will return to his home in Scotland; he will accompany a stranger out into the hills into a place altogether more familiar and terrifying: Minginish itself, a real place more surprising and unpredictable even than the version of his novels. Beasts of myth and legend stalk a land where the seasons have gone awry. Michael must take up the companions of his stories – Bicker, Ratagan and Murtach – and find a way to mend the sundered world. If he can, he may even find that Jenny’s existence did not end that day on the mountain.

Expect The Way to Babylon to be released in late May, just a couple of months after the new edition of A Different Kingdom hits, and, if the pattern holds, a couple of months before Riding the Unicorn is re-released.

And with that, the British Genre Fiction Focus comes to a close once more, but I’ll see you all again on Sunday for a look through the next few weeks in notable new releases, and we’ll be back next Wednesday with another bounty of book news all the way from the UK.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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