We are super excited about Fantasy in the Court, a celebration of all things SFF hosted by our favourite bookseller Goldsboro Books. On Tuesday 12th August, over 35 (and counting) top SFF writers will be signing books for fans in the historic surroundings of Cecil Court (which in case you didn’t know, was the inspiration behind Diagon Alley). We are delighted to be sponsoring the event alongside Harper Voyager and our attending authors include Adam Nevill, Paul Cornell, Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Liz de Jager. For the full line-up, and for information on where to buy tickets visit the Fantasy in the Court website.
We asked Goldsboro Books bookseller Harry Illingworth (@harryillers) to tell us why the SFF genre is still alive and kicking and to pick his top five SFF books.
Say one thing for SFF, say it’s alive and kicking.
Yes, I may have stolen that turn of phrase from well-known fantasy kingpin Joe Abercrombie, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Here at Goldsboro Books, SFF is possibly the most popular genre of literature that we sell. Why? Well I think it boils down to a great relationship authors and their fans. No author is going to really make it without a strong readership and fans of SFF are some of the most devout you’ll find. Here is a genre where the readers follow their favourite authors religiously, but are also always on the lookout for new talent to get stuck into. Couple this with associative factors like films and video games, and what you have is a very large group of people constantly looking for the next big thing. There are constantly huge-budget sci-fi films and games being released and so it is only natural that these fans will look to, and enjoy books of the same genre.
But what inspires this devotion on the literary side? I think it’s fairly simple - and despite common misconceptions – the truth is, there is an extraordinary amount of high quality SFF being written today. I have spoken to countless people that don’t read it and they really can’t understand why I do. Some people just can’t see themselves reading a book with magic, elves, minotaurs and what have you – they look down on it and don’t think that worthwhile writing can appear out of this fantastical black hole, but I find that some of the best stuff I read, and certainly the most enjoyable, is SFF. The talent on offer for this genre is outstanding, and personally I am in awe of the worlds and characters that these writers create. To be able to create from scratch, and populate your own world is no small feat, and the enjoyment I get out of being able to lose myself in these fictional worlds is hard to beat.
As a bookshop that only sells 1st editions, and our clientele being made up in a large part by book collectors, I love seeing that a large number of the new customers we are getting are SFF fans. It is due to the huge volume of existing customers, and these new ones that we are able to be so successful in this genre, and can continue to produce our own exclusive editions of titles we really love (not that it is the only genre we do it for). A reason why these exclusive editions are so popular comes back to the devotion of the readers; they are looking for additional extras that add to the collectability of the books that they are buying. Just look at what a first edition of Joe Abercrombie’s debut, The Blade Itself, is worth now and it’s easy to see why the extras appeal...
The amount of SFF we sell is definitely rising each year. Last year, we sold just shy of 2000 copies of Hugh Howey’s Wool Trilogy, and these were all exclusive slipcase editions. This year we have already had big successes with other titles, and indeed with Tor, as we collaborated on our own limited edition of Unwrapped Sky which is numbered, with special endpapers, a glittered cover and head and tail bands. It is these beautiful, handpicked custom editions that SFF readers love to collect. Such is the demand for this genre, and the quality on offer, that our next book of the month at Goldsboro is the breathtaking start to a new epic-fantasy quartet, Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene; we think this book is truly outstanding. It is knowing that books like these are in the publishing pipeline that keeps me entirely confident that there’s no dip around the corner.
What’s more, alongside Tor and Harper Voyager we have also just announced an event on 12th August that we are all seriously excited about, Fantasy in the Court. So far we have about 35 SFF authors confirmed for it, with the number growing daily, and we couldn’t do this without the undying support of our existing customers and the new ones we hope to engage with by doing events such as these. We hope you’ll come and join us on the 12th!
5 SFF Books I Think Everybody Should Read
George Orwell - 1984
George Orwell’s terrifyingly prophetic vision of the future is a must-read. It needs no introduction, and barely any description. It’s a classic and an extremely important novel, it should be on everyone’s reading list. I even chose to do a-level coursework on it I was so fascinated by its ideas.
Joe Abercrombie - The Blade Itself
‘Delightfully twisted and evil.’ That’s what The Guardian said, and I totally agree. Joe Abercrombie’s debut, and the first of his First Law Trilogy is a must read for all fans of gritty fantasy and is brilliant fun. The characters are bold, as is the plot. It is funny, full of violence, swearing, magic, evil and some of the sharpest dialogue you’re likely to find. He also gets better and better so once you start this one you’re in for the long haul.
Hugh Howey - Wool
I have to say this is probably the best science-fiction book I’ve read. It’s the first in the Silo trilogy and is absolutely outstanding. It is set in a future where the planet is destroyed and the survivors live in underground silos in heavily controlled environments. Those that break the law or are considered dangerous get sent outside to ‘clean’ which is a one way trip. The layers of this book are incredible, and the writing captures the claustrophobic feel of the silo perfectly. I couldn’t put it down and think this one will become a sci-fi classic.
Anthony Ryan - Blood Song
This was without a doubt one of the best, if not the best fantasy book of 2013, and jumped straight into my all time favourites. It also proves anybody wrong who thinks that SFF cannot be character driven or beautifully written as this is in effect a Bildungsroman. This is the first book in Raven’s Shadow (book 2 is published next month) and we meet its protagonist Vaelin as he is left at 10 to be a part of the Sixth Order to become a warrior, and follow him to all edges of this extraordinary world as he carries out the Order’s, and his King’s bidding. The mystery surrounding many aspects of the book renders you unable to stop reading.
Emily St John Mandel - Station Eleven
I’m cheating a little here. This one isn’t out until September but trust me, it needs to be on your radar. It is one of the most exquisitely written books I’ve read this year, and without a doubt one of my favourites. It will please fans of literary fiction yet also satisfy those yearning for a sci—fi element as it revolves around civilisation being destroyed by a virus, but it also focuses on art and fame and contains a Traveling Symphony in the future who perform Shakespeare. It’s an ode to the time we live in, and an absolutely stunning novel that is a real joy to read.