Reading Locus Redux

1. Remember the review that put me off Lavinia, from the March Locus? Gary K Wolfe’s review in the April issue has won me back over:

What’s even more shrewd is the manner in which Le Guin addresses the fantastical elements of the tale. Gods and goddesses, and Juno in particular, have their paw-prints all over the events of Vergil’s epic, but as Le Guin reminds us in an afterword, she’s writing a novel, and Ritalin-deprive meddlesome gods don’t work too well in a modern novel, so she simply omits them (some might argue with her assertion about gods and novels, but it’s certainly true of the novel she’s written here). What she offers in their place are some surprisingly postmodern fantasy techniques that work to give her narrative a vibrant contemporary sensibility: Lavinia, the narrator, doesn’t hear from the gods, but she does hear from the aging Vergil himself, dying centuries in the future, and more important, she’s aware that she’s largely Vergil’s creation. “No doubt someone with my name, Lavinia, did exist,” she muses, “but she may have been so different from my own idea of myself, or my poet’s idea of me, that it only confuses me to think about her. As far as I know, it was my poet who gave me any reality at all.” That remarkable passage, from the very beginning of the novel, sets the tone for all that comes after, and lends a particular poignance to the part of the narrative that is largely Le Guin’s own invention, the part that takes place after Aeneas vanquishes his rival Turnus, which is where the Aeneid ends.

The reasons this make the book sound appealing to me: I agree entirely with Le Guin’s assertion about gods in modern novels; the description of how the novel works makes it sound like Le Guin’s really thought carefully about what she wants the book to achieve and how; the suggestion that Le Guin carries the story on past where the original ends; and just the fact that the timeslip element sounds neat.

2. This issue has Locus‘s 2007 summary of British Books. They say:

Orion/Gollancz returns in top spot on the chart of Total Books Published with 131 titles. Little, Brown UK/Orbit moved up into second with 110 titles. Hodder & Stoughton moved up a notch into third place with 71, with last year’s second-place publisher HarperCollins UK/Voyager hot on their heels with 70. Below that we saw the usual shifting around. Among the climbers, BL Publishing/Black Library/Solaris moved up from eighth place into fifth, largely due to their new non-gaming SF line, Solaris.

(Bear in mind that these figures include reprints.)

Over at the Orbit blog, Tim Holman offers another perspective:

[I]f one wishes to look at the actual market shares of publishing imprints in the UK (as I assume anybody reading the Locus article might be), these were the Top 3 imprints in the SFF market last year:

Bloomsbury: 26.07%
Orbit: 13.22%
Gollancz: 7.18%

(The very large Bloomsbury figure is almost entirely owing to the huge sales of the adult edition of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. In 2006, by contrast, Bloomsbury’s share was 2.5%.)

To bring things up to date – and to reflect the current market shares without the influence of a new Harry Potter release – the top 3 imprints in 2008 to date are:

Orbit: 23.27%
Gollancz: 10.94%
Corgi: 8.05%

Make of that what you will; as someone whose primary interest in the state of British sf publishing is that there be books I want to read, I have to say that Gollancz still has the go-to list as far as I’m concerned — closely followed by Faber & Faber. Faber publish relatively few sf books, but the’re usually all of interest to me.

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