The Sunken Links Begin to Rise Again

In this week’s Strange Horizons, Nina Allan becomes the latest to enthuse about Martin MacInnes’ In Ascension: “The abstract, aesthetic joy in uniting concepts, in revealing connections, in propelling a thrilling idea as far as it will go is something we have come to expect from MacInnes and forms a defining characteristic of his literary identity. This new book is defined in addition by the simpler, more immediately accessible joy of story, of characters who speak to us personally and whose lives, exploits, and emotions we experience in the gut as well as in the mind.” See also Adam Roberts for The Guardian, Stuart Kelly for The Scotsman, Beejay Silcox for the TLS (who I think rightly pinpoints the significance of the novel’s earnestness); the only real sceptic I’ve come across is Simon Ings for The Times (“a science-fiction vehicle driven with the literary brakes jammed on”; I think the earnestness didn’t work for him). I’m with the acclaimers on this one: it struck me as a novel trying to square the circle of the Clarkean and Ballardian traditions of exploring the limits of our comprehension, and very nearly pulling it off. I say ‘very nearly’ because I’m not sure I’m completely convinced by the very end: Nina refers to it as uniting “two classic science fictional conceits in a manner that is original and blissfully satisfying”, but I think it might raise a few eyebrows. Still, one of the year’s major British sf novels, without doubt. [EDIT: I also meant to link to MacInnes’ top 10 visionary books about scientists, which is a very interesting list and speaks to the range of influences he’s drawing on. For all that it’s a novel about space travel and the possibility of alien life, for instance, it has very definitely taken on board (or perhaps it’s fairer to say, MacInnes is already sympathetic to) the arguments in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora.]

In Ascension also got an Observer review from John Self, who offered this hostage to fortune: “His work is so unlike any other writer of literary fiction, and his outcomes so interesting, that he must be a shoo-in for Granta’s best young British novelists list this spring.” Whoops. The Granta list is out, and MacInnnes is not on it, which looks like a startling omission to me as well. Perhaps he fell foul of the judges’ cage-match approach? “Rausing refreshingly lets us know how the judges pitted authors of similar-seeming books against one another. [Sophie] Mackintosh was better at ‘speculative fiction’ than Julia Armfield, Sarvat Hasin, Missouri Williams and Alison Rumfitt.” I’ve read Mackintosh and Armfield, although not the others listed, and of the two Armstrong seems to me by far the more penetrating writer, and MacInnes is at least as good as Armfield. This does lead inevitably on to the question of who else from within sf we might put forward. I think the following meet the terms of the Granta list (under 40, resident in the UK): Zen Cho, Harry Josephine Giles, E.J. Swift, Emily Tesh. Helen Oyeyemi and Ned Beauman were on the real 2013 list, and are still somehow eligible and I’d probably want to include them as well. Who else?

Swift’s The Coral Bones was my pick for this year’s BSFA Award for best novel, although in the event Adrian Tchaikovsky took home the prize. Nick Hubble’s thorough overview of the shortlist — part one, part two, postscript — is well worth reading. He also has a long and deliberately impressionistic eastercon report, which, since we overlapped on several panels, captures some of my experience as well. I had a very good, if slightly surreal time; I think it will take me a while to process the experience of being a guest of honour, and in particular the experience of having people talk about the impact that writing I did and projects I was involved in had on them, as Nick very generously does in his write-up and Ian Mond very generously does in this Twitter thread. But I’m very grateful to all involved, and they gave me a really nice bookmark afterwards.

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  1. Thanks! The Sarah Hall piece is here, and it is interesting: Any list like the Granta one is going…

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