Sylvain Neuvel, Sleeping Giants

I am really looking forward to seeing Sylvain Neuvel’s, ‘Sleeping Giants’ coming in to bookshops later this year (on 21 April to be precise).

On coming in to work last week, I found a proof in the staff room and curiosity got the better of me (thank you, Emad Akhtar).

These ‘proofs’ are special advanced reading copies of books publishers are keen to promote among journalists and booksellers especially. The concept works best when publishers are trying to promote a début author’s work. These proof copies are not for sale because though they are close to the finished book, the jacket design and other details are still being finalised so the jacket below…

Neuvel_SleepingGiants

…may be nothing like the finished book (though I hope Penguin keep with this striking image). All you need to remember in April is SLEEPING GIANTS.

It’s not my usual sort of book to be honest but that’s why I’m so keen on the idea of being able to put the book in the hands of customers. As with the other book I’ve really loved this year (Becky Chamber’s, The Long Road to a Small Angry Planet), it’s the characters that make this book.

Usually, as soon as I see that a book – any book, fiction or non-fiction – is composed of letters, emails, sticky notes or any other gimmick, I usually put it down and never pick it up again (which is a polite way of saying that I dismiss it as a load of ill-considered, poorly-written, under-edited garbage… just tell me the story, damn it). Told in the form of interview transcripts, the story of Dr Rose Franklin and Warrant Officer Cara Resnik tracking down ancient and very hi-tech relics reads like the bastard love-robot of X-Files, Pacific Rim, Cloverfield and Neon Genesis Evangelion as imagined by Clive Cussler and Wilbur Smith.

It would be hard to tell you any more about the novel without giving away some of the twists of the plot so I won’t. Just remember: ‘April’ and ‘Sleeping Giants’.

More generally, I’m enjoying the recent glut of authors and publishers actively promoting the idea that the main protagonists (and antagonists) in fiction don’t have to be recently-retired, male, alcoholic, anti-authority blah blah blah. This is a novel with positive, intelligent female role models I could give my teenage niece – and nephew. It really is long past the time that other genres of fiction caught up to this trend. It’s just a shame that none of the main characters are teenagers because this story would definitely work in the YA section of bookshops but no author can give you everything in a single novel.

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Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

LongWaytoaSmallAngryPlanet

You have to read this book.  This book belongs to that rare sub-genre of no particular name which contains those few novels which make you remember why you became a bookseller in the first place.

It’s also a Ronseal book .i.e. it does exactly what it says on the cover.  It takes Rosemary Harper – and the crew of the Wayfarer – a very long time to get anywhere at all but as with all the best journeys, it’s not about the destination.  It’s not even about the stops along the way which could have easily fit into a number of recent TV sci-fi series such as Firefly or Battlestar Galactica.

As with all the best sci-fi, the feel of the world the characters inhabit isn’t smooth like something from The Jetsons but rough like salvaged junk.  If you travel on a ship that’s going any distance, you’ll need engineers who know how it works because it will, in the way of all machinery, break down.  Good repairs aren’t neat repairs and the repairs of repairs don’t have to look pretty just so long as they work.  The same philosophy is applied to good characters.

So many writers write what they know that a book that isn’t about middle-class problems is immediately going to stand out on the bookshelves.  It’s surely not difficult to accept that science-fiction will always have the edge over so-called ‘non-genre’ or literary fiction written with the apparent sole purpose of winning literary prizes because in imagining strange and unfamiliar settings, the writers have to focus on the characters to be able to present something that readers can relate to and this is the strength of Becky Chambers’ novel – and indeed any great novel of the past few years such as Ann Leckie‘s ‘Ancillary Justice’ or Emmi Itäranta’s ‘Memory of Water’ (which, though I didn’t write a review of it at the time, was definitely my favourite read last year).