Follow me around Exclusive Books and you’ll most likely find me in the ‘speculative fiction’ section, weeping quietly over a hand-written list. Unlike Ko-Ko’s in The Mikado, however, my list contains names that are deeply missed: the score or so of fantasy and science fiction books by respected authors that appeared in 2014 on bookshop shelves all around the world – except in South Africa.
Shelves here, to be sure, do contain science fiction and fantasy: titles two and three years old, often masquerading as ‘just arrived’, and far more than their fair share of identikit vampire teen-lit, and solipsistic young-adult dystopias, regularly mis-shelved in the adult spaces. That imbalance is what makes the omissions so distressing, suggesting that either the publishers who decide what to push in the SA market, or the bookshop managers who place orders – or both – are profoundly ignorant about a significant area of genre fiction.
My list has twenty titles on it. Many reflect personal and probably idiosyncratic tastes, so I would not expect every generic bookstore chain to hold them all. (It’s only contrariness, for example, that makes me want to know how much worse the writing can get in Kristen Britain’s latest Green Rider book) But they include some that should certainly be on any well-stocked genre shelves because of the prestige of their authors: for example, Ken Macleod’s Descent; Daniel Abraham’s The Widow’s House (Dagger and Coin volume 4); Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory; Hannu Ranjaniemi’s The Causal Angel (Jean le Flambeur book 3); and William Gibson’s The Peripheral. That last, at least, they tell me, is “on order”. It’s been available internationally for a couple of months. There are no such delays when the umpteenth shade of grey appears.
Local shelves are also currently stuffed with reliable genre potboilers such as Terry Pratchett and Raymond Feist – and, of course, George R R Martin. Yet before Game of Thrones hit the TV big time, those of us who were actually reading the books found it equally hard to track down successive volumes. Having begun to stock a series, a bookshop surely ought to show awareness of sequels.
Also on my list – but not the shelves – are Mark Charan Newton’s second Drakenfeld tale, Retribution; Charles Stross’s fifth Laundry Files book, The Rhesus Chart; Ben Aaronovitch’s fifth Rivers of London story, Foxglove Summer; C J Cherryh’s 14th Foreigner volume, Protector; Peter Higgins’ highly praised Wolfhound Century sequel, Truth and Fear; Richard Morgan’s third and final volume of Land Fit for Heroes, The Dark Defiles; and the latest two parts of Ian McDonald’s wonderfully subversive young adult Everness series, Be My Enemy and Queen of the Night.
Lavie Tidhar is near as dammit a South African, as well as being a superb, highly-awarded writer. His holocaust fable A Man Lies Dreaming appeared in October, but even his strong local connection has not yet brought it to a bookshop near me.
I could – as I do – ask friends to find these titles for me overseas, order them online, or access them as e-books. But as a reader, I like the feel of pulped forests under my fingers, and as a reviewer, I like to write about stuff my readers can simply walk out and buy.
It may be time to start lobbying for a branch of specialist fantasy and SF bookshop Forbidden Planet in South Africa. In 2015, publishers are promising, among others, Daniel Abraham’s fifth Dagger and Coin story; a new K J Parker; a new Kim Stanley Robinson; another Charles Stross Laundry book; a further instalment of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series; and fresh tales from Tom Lloyd, C S Friedman, N K Jemisin and Helen Lowe. I wonder how long we will have to wait for them here?