BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Wolves by Simon Ings


Ings’ novels were just released in the U.S. All of them have Jeffrey Alan Love covers. If there was ever a reason to start book hoarding…

Wolves by Simon Ings

Setting: Near-future, pre-flood England.

Summary: Conrad is an unremarkable millennial twenty-something who works in AR tech (Augmented Reality) and has a girlfriend with prosthetic hands. His best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend, are remodeling a boat because the ocean is rising. The narrative flashes back and forth between Conrad’s formative and adult years, and his friends do remarkable things while he sorts out his past, and maybe he comes to terms with some things about himself, but not really, because he’s too noncommittal to really give a fuck.

Surface synopsis quote:

I have revealed too much of myself. The inner shallows. [87]

Actual synopsis quote:

One by one we are transforming the spaces we have cleared. [206]

Biggest reader question: Where’s the SF?

Biggest reader answer, three-quarters in: OH, THERE’S THE SF.

How it feels: Bleak and gray. Casual characters in a brooding environment. Metaphors are like wow.

A taste:

This is my home with its inner chaos exposed, no more now than a ghastly iteration of the same salt crystal. City as tumour. A spreading circle of dead tissue. City as leprosy. [199]

Typical reader criticism: Conrad is an indolent, selfish dick, and his friends are indolent, selfish dicks.

My response: And?

Narrow-minded criticism: Conrad is confused about his sexuality.

My response: No, he is not confused. And sexuality is not static for many people, anyway.

Harshest criticism: All style, no substance. Just postmodern cool kids with no real struggle.

My response: The plot is “the adaptation of millennials in a pre-decay, pre-flood world.” But the story is actually about the human interpretation of and human effect upon space: landscape space, memory space, relational space. It is about how things change, and how we adapt to it and reconstruct our own stories about it. How our own manipulations of the landscape of life dehumanize us and remove us from the truth. Not a new interpretive plot, but compelling from a millennial POV.

Possible other criticism: It’s sexist. The female characters are mere ancillaries, annoying contrivances by design, cast in bad situations without much narrative sympathy.

But: Coming from the first-person POV of an indolent, selfish dick, that’skindathepoint. This is a critical depiction of the male POV within the hip, tech subculture. How timely.

My only real criticism: There is a cringe-inducing trunk scene that I think will hook most readers with its suspense, but I thought it was silly and interrupted the thematic arc.

Why it’s special: While the narrative slings back-and-forth in time, the novel’s motif of flooding landscapes builds momentum with a circling, swelling pattern full of consistent metaphorical themes. The spiral feels meandering, but is conclusive to the tale. The plot trickles, then swells, then engulfs.

Why it’s really special: The definitive near-future, post-modern tale for/about the millennial generation.

Should you read this: No. This was my favorite novel of 2014 and it’s all mine.


And that concludes my 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist! The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5. Sure, I have my favorites, but every book on this list is progressive and special in some way.

And remember that as the SF world collapses in dismay due to other big SF announcements this weekend.

Thanks for keeping it classy, British SF-ers! And thanks for such a delightful reading list!

Previous BSFA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North


16 thoughts on “BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Wolves by Simon Ings

  1. Tammy says:

    “Should you read this: No. ….it’s all mine.” Love it! I may have to borrow that line some day;-D


  2. Ha all yours indeed! I will fight you to the death with it! *takes out sword and discovers it is actually a rolling pin, runs*

    Love this review. Now I want to go reread this immediately. I seem to recall reading it very quickly the first time, and it was the kind of book that deserves a slow read too. I am not sure if I didn’t consciously notice the theme of space or if I read it too long ago to remember. But I also want to read City of Iron Fish for the first time, so. Long live Ings.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      *takes out battle axe and discovers it’s actually car keys.* We’re not very good at this, are we?

      I also read it too quickly, but I also need to read other Ings.

      My interpretations of these books may never be the “right” interpretation, but with the Alternate Reality overlays and changing landscapes, and Conrad’s own unreliable memories and sense of self got me thinking about the human impact on landscape and memory. And so many water-related metaphors… you see that in poetry and Literature, but I don’t see many genre novelists striving for such thematic consistency. It works here.

      Thanks A Bunch for encouraging me to read it!


  3. PS I am obsessed with those covers. His work is fucking amazingly wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Widdershins says:

    Is that a person in the negative space under the wolf/dragon’s chin?

    … been observing negative spaces a lot lately … must gaze at navel for illumination.

    I know they will inherit the earth but I can’t do millennials anymore. I’ve read a lot lately, so maybe I’m feeling a little jaded, but all I really want to do is kick ’em in the fundamental and tell ’em to grow up … “get off my lawn, ya punk!”


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Haha, I’m not so sick of millennials as I am interested in watching what they do. Being a late genX-er, I was very almost a millennial, anyway.

      Yes, that is a negative space person on the cover, and how brilliantly does that tie in with the theme?! Alternate title for Wolves: Negative Space. Eh, but Wolves is a better title to pick apart.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rabindranauth says:

    I like the cover he did for City of Iron Fish too! I picked up this and that on my last Kindle stocking binge.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s over? It’s over! Nooo, it can’t be over!

    I think your decision to go with the BSFA was a good one—we’ll see tomorrow, but I doubt many of these will show up on the Hugo shortlist (I assume Leckie has the best chance). So it’s good that these intriguing-sounding books get some recognition, even if they didn’t always work for you.

    Based on your observations, I’ve just confirmed five of these on my TBR list. Which means I’ll get to them, oh, around the fifth of never. (How long do we need to wait before the “It’s Mine” claim on Ings runs out?) Maybe a tad sooner than that as you make them sound very appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yeah, the BSFA kind of rocks. I am enamored. My fandom is showing.

      None of my noms will be on the Hugo shortlist. My poor little nominations are competing against superficial political movements based on too much charisma and too much bad generic taste, and neither actually desire much real change.

      For you, I’ll lift my Ings ban. You can read Ings tomorrow 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] sure people are sick of hearing this from me, but, for recent fiction, people who have not yet read Wolves by Simon Ings, The Race by Nina Allan, and Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson are missing out. The […]


  8. Aaaaah this sounds so great. I love the way you review books. P.S. I’ve been trying to comment on your blog for months and wordpress is only now allowing me/I’ve finally learned how to not be an idiot with basic technology.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Thanks! I had a similar issue when I first tried to comment on non-WP blogs. And I still suck at staying on top of non-WP sites, hence why I am so slow to comment at BookPunks.


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