Loncon schedule

My Loncon schedule is rather limited, I’m afraid, but here it is…

Friday 15 August: attending

Friday 15 August: 4.30pm – Newcon book launches (in my case, for the Paradox anthology), Fan Village

…erm, that’s it

Hoping the day will involve a lot of catching up with people!

EDIT: Just added the Tor party at 6.30pm to mark the launch of the Futures 2 anthology, at The Fox, Warehouse K.


A good reading year

A few years ago when I was guest writer at a local university writing class I was asked, “Do you read much science fiction these days?” My immediate response was to say that I only usually read SF when I’m paid to do it. Then I realised that sounded quite bad. What I meant by my answer, and went on to explain, was that much of my reading – in any genre – is dictated by what I’m asked to read for reviews and critiquing, so it’s usually a luxury for me to get to sit down with a book I’ve actually chosen for no other reason than that I want to read it.

I’ve read some fine books this way, and made some lovely discoveries, but I do miss the opportunity to just go off and explore books like I used to many years ago.

Wolves by Simon IngsThis year I’ve managed to find a bit more of a balance, though. Add that to my good fortune in finding some superb review books and the first half of 2014 has provided some of my  best reading in a long time.

One of the highlights was Simon Ings very welcome return to SF with the stylish augmented reality whodunnit, Wolves. My Guardian review of this won’t appear until the mass market paperback edition of the novel appears later this year, but in it I draw comparisons with JG Ballard and Christopher Priest. It’s weird and unsettling, presented in an understated manner that almost sidesteps the fact that it’s an SF novel until everything builds up and all the elements pull together. I’d love there to have been more from Ings over the years, but with this novel alone he’s rapidly playing catch-up.

The Unquiet House by Alison LittlewoodAnother Guardian review book, Alison Littlewood’s The Unquiet House reads like a classic haunted house story that, save for the obvious contemporary elements, could easily have been written at any time in the past hundred or more years. Throughout, Littlewood strikes a pitch-perfect balance between mystery and steady revelation, building anticipation and fear with the kind of verbal brushstrokes you’d expect from Joyce Carol Oates. A master class in haunted fiction.

I reviewed Andy Weir’s The Martian for the Arc blog, and here’s my opening paragraph:

Please indulge me while I get this out of the way at the start: Wow! Andy Weir’s The Martian is an incredibly accomplished first novel. Hell, it’s an incredibly accomplished anythingth novel.

It’s a space survival thriller, cleverly loaded with technological detail and balanced with a jokey first-person confessional narration. A book so full of mathematical extrapolation (just how long will the oxygen etc last?) really shouldn’t be such a gripping page-turner, but it is. This is the kind of thing that hooked me on SF as a teenager, and it’s the kind of book the proves SF is a genre still full of life and potential. Great stuff!

The Moon King by Neil WilliamsonAs well as these three stand-out review books, as I said earlier I’ve been reading more for pleasure, too. In genre fiction, the real highlight has been Neil Williamson’s The Moon King. This is stylish, quirky fantasy at its very best. Beautifully written, full of fabulous imagery and strikingly original, this novel follows events in an island city dominated by the cycles of the Moon in what may be the end days as the machines tethering the Moon to the city’s skies begin to fail. Williamson has written some deft and moving short fiction over the years, but with this novel he’s really hit his stride and this is a novel that should feature prominently on the big award shortlists next year.

Moving away from genre fiction, this year I’ve returned to one of my all-time favourite writers, Roddy Doyle. I started with the free short story, Jimmy Jazz, which picks up the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, former manager of Dublin soul band The Commitments, now in his late forties and trapped into listening to jazz in order to please his wife Aoife. Doyle’s a genius for characterisation and voice, with dialogue that makes me smile like a madman as I’m reading and a particular knack for creating powerfully moving moments that sneak up on you unnoticed until they deliver the body blow.

The Guts by Roddy DoyleThe short story did its job: I went straight out to find The Guts, Doyle’s novel set a year before Jimmy Jazz, telling the story of Jimmy’s battle with cancer as he struggles to keep his music business going in the face of recession. It’s right up there with Doyle’s best work, which for me means it’s among the best novels I’ve ever read.

Partway through reading this, I was slightly taken aback to realise that while I’ve watched the movie several times, and went to see the West End musical soon after it opened, I’d never actually read the original novel of The Commitments. So I bought it, and now I’m partway through reading it, and loving it, naturally.

Still only in July, and I’ve read some absolutely superb books. While I hadn’t exactly fallen out of love with reading, I think I’d become a bid jaded. These are the kinds of books that put the fire back into reading, though: I’m full of enthusiasm again, and that feeds into my writing, too – reading good books makes me want to write them. And read more, of course.


infinity plus highlight: Spotted Lily by Anna Tambour

“a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp” –Locus

Spotted Lily by Anna TambourAngela Pendergast, escapee from the Australian bush, grew up with the smell of hot mutton fat in her hair, the thought of her teeth crunching a cold Tim Tam chocolate biscuit-the height of decadent frivolity.

Now, though her tastes have grown and she knows absolutely what she wants, her life is embarrassingly stuck. So when the Devil drops into her bedroom in her sharehouse in inner-city Sydney with a contract in hand, she signs. He’s got only a Hell’s week to fulfil his side, but in the meantime he must chaperone her … or is it the other way around?

Shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award.
Locus Recommended Reading List selection.

“I hate giving away the story, but allow me to say that this novel is not going where you think it is….teaming with genuine wit and humor… excellent writing…One thing I’m sure of is that it should be required reading for all those who go into writing fiction with dreams of great remuneration and fame. If it were, Tambour would already be both wealthy and famous.”
Jeffrey Ford14theditch

“…a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp . . . Spotted Lily might just be a particularly inventive comic take on wish-fulfillment, but soon enough it strays far from the beaten path…a dizzying but delightful journey through old myths and modern chaos, turning Faust and Pygmalion on their ear as it cuts its own path toward something like self-knowledge.”
Faren MillerLocus

“The main thing is, the novel is real.”
Jeff VanderMeer

“One of the things I liked most about this book was that it was so difficult to tell where it was going…the book is so well written that for a lot of the time you don’t actually notice that it has a supernatural element to it.”
Cheryl MorganEmerald City

“Funny, believable, refreshingly different . . . Perhaps most of all it is a very funny book, without being what you would call a comedy. . . Anna Tambour, on the strength of Spotted Lily and her earlier story collection,Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales &, is one of the most delightful, original, and varied new writers on hand. “
Rich HortonSF Site

More about Spotted Lily.

Extract

‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ I asked.

‘Six, I think. But, really, dear, this is not my field.’

‘And I read somewhere that you turn us into sort of butterflies, and keep us in lacquered boxes with airholes, for transport.’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment on that.’

The Devil and I were sitting in my room, getting to know each other. He’d just been accepted in our sharehouse, ‘Kitty is thirty-five dollars a week, no coffee or coffee substitutes or power drinks included’ for the room next to mine, which was convenient for both of us.

It was Pledge Week, and we had to make the most of our time, but to do that, we had to get to know each other a little better.

I changed the subject.

‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

He examined the pressed tin ceiling, seeming to be considering whether he should answer. When I had almost forgotten my question, he answered. ‘We have to. We lose too many to heaven these days.’

I knew I had to learn fast, but if he didn’t start to make sense, this was not going to work. ‘Come again?’

He cocked an eyebrow at me, then scratched himself behind somewhere and examined his nails. I tried not to look at his hands. As he wasn’t forthcoming, I tried again. ‘Isn’t forever forever?’

‘Ah … Yes, it is, in hell as it is on earth. But you make the rules, not we. And when you change your minds, you do manage to make an ado for us.’

‘Like what? Please don’t speak in riddles.’

‘A regular omnium-gatherum of disorder, don’t you know?’

I obviously didn’t.

‘A tumult, bother, hubbub, farrago of disorder. A regular huggermugger of change that we could well do without.’

I still didn’t understand his words in this context, and with some of them, in any context. What the hell sprang to mind, but the words that came out were, ‘Could you give me an example?’

He sighed.

‘And could you please try to speak in more accessible language. We are in twenty-first century Australia here. You do keep up, don’t you? You must have some Australians there.’

He bowed, a trifle condescendingly. ‘I will try. Eh, you know, don’t you read the papers? Don’t you see what you’re doing to us? It messes our morale something awful, you know.’

Although the ‘Eh’ was New Zealand, and he was trying a leeetle too hard, I couldn’t quibble with his delivery. However, I was no closer to understanding. I think he must have thought me frustratingly dense, because his brows beetled, and I felt a prickle of sweat chill my back. He waved his hand, and in it appeared an International Herald Tribune. ‘Look at this article,’ he commanded, and threw the paper into my lap. It was singed but readable, and two days old.

I had no idea which article, so began to read down the first page, with rising panic.

‘Oh dear. I do so apologize,’ he said, in either an apologetic or a patronizing tone. It was so hard to read him. He grabbed the paper and opened it up, folded it neatly, and handed it back. ‘Read that,’ he pointed, ‘and do try to think. Think about the after-effects.’

hate it when someone talks to me like that. But I read.

ANGLONG VENG, Cambodia In a case of Disneyland meets the killing fields, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism is drawing up grandiose plans to upgrade the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge into a million-dollar theme park.

I looked up, grinning. ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’

He scowled, something I do not wish to see again. ‘Do I look like a jokester,’ he asked, rhetorically. ‘Read on.’

I did, all of it, including the part that said:

“Pol Pot was a kind man and the only people killed during the Khmer Rouge time were Vietnamese spies,” said Kim Syon, director of the Anglong Veng health center and son of a senior Khmer Rouge leader. “In the next 10 years people will begin to see the positive result of what Pol Pot did.”

I wanted to wash. ‘But this is gross.’

‘No, love, it is normal,’ the Devil said sadly. Do you know how many people we will lose, and do you know what our futures markets are saying about the new arrivals whom we had banked on for the next few years?’

Whomnow. Was he having me on? Was the ‘on’ itself, the dangling preposition—snide? And … and futures markets. Wait a bloody minute. I thought of something Dad said whenever he met someone he thought was serving him potato skin and calling it bangers and mash: ‘There’s something crook in Muswellbrook.’ I felt in this conversation with the Devil, like I was standing in Muswellbrook’s main street as the main attraction—the town fool. It was about time I assert myself.

‘You’re shitting me,’ I told him. ‘Why are you trying to take advantage of my gullibility?’

His eyelashes fluttered. ‘Oh dearie me. You asked, and I’m telling you how it is. I never lie.’

I shot him a look that would pierce most people of my acquaintance.

He looked blandly back. However, he seemed truthful.

But first, I had to take care of something that was making this getting-to-know all the harder. ‘Would it be possible if you don’t call me “dear” or “love”? In my culture, it is kind of a put-down.’

He might have been miffed, for he said, ‘Miss Pendergast—’

We could not go on like this. ‘Excuse me, but “Miss” isn’t something I’ve been called since I was fifteen, by anyone with whom I wish to associate.’

He looked uncomfortable, and his brows began to move.

‘My friends call me Angela,’ I added quickly, and then wondered if that would offend. ‘Would you mind calling me Angela?’ Or if you prefer, any other name would be fine. Like maybe Imelda. Someone you know.’

‘Imelda?’

She was the only one who came to mind. Perhaps not dead yet.

I was wracking my brains when he coughed. I looked at his face and he smiled. ‘Angela has a certain ring to it. Look, Angela. Think of Jefferson. Do you know Thomas Jefferson?’

‘Yeah. Great American forefather. I don’t imagine you would know him.’

He scratched somewhere I don’t want to know again, this time with a smug grin. ‘You obviously don’t keep up. He’s in our place now. Something to do with his love life.’

‘You mean…’

‘You decide, we abide, my, er … Angela. And we must keep abiding, which means that our populations are forever moving back and forth … and even disappearing and appearing again.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Caligula? You do know of him?’

‘I saw the movie.’

‘Before the movie.’

I don’t like to be reminded of what I don’t know, but thought it best not to obfuscate. ‘No.’

‘You don’t have to feel defensive. Caligula was a wonderful … what would you say … resident, for centuries, and then faded away. He’s only recently come back to us. And with your attention span these days, it could be that we only have the pleasure of his company for one or two of your years.’

‘Unless “Caligula” is re-released,’ I mumbled, thinking.

‘Come again?’

‘Skip it,’ I said, still thinking.

Suddenly a sharp tang of stink stung my eyes and jammed its choking fumes down my windpipe.

‘I do demand respect,’ he said.

‘Sorry,’ I mouthed. And I was. It was impossible to breathe.

He waved his hand and the worst evaporated.

‘Sorry,’ I repeated, to clear the air completely. ‘I think I’m beginning to understand. ‘But don’t you gain from heaven, too?’

‘Yes. Like I said, we’ve got Jefferson now, and the markets say we’ll have Ghandi soon. You know Ghandi?’ he added somewhat condescendingly.

‘Yes,’ I said, somewhat hurt.

‘Well, it is hard to tell, you know.’

‘The markets?’ I had to ask.

I was secretly (though I couldn’t let it show) happy that he looked at last, confused. ‘Don’t you know markets?’ he asked.  ‘Futures trading? I thought you were all obsessed with it nowadays.’

‘Not all of us,’ I had to remind him. And all of a sudden I realized that for all his ultra-cool appearance, he was remarkably ignorant. Very gently and respectfully I asked, ‘You don’t know much about us, do you?’

‘What do you mean?’ he answered, and I was happy to smell that he wasn’t offended.

‘Well, here we are in a share house, and maybe you need some background on your housemates. Kate, remember—the one who chaired the interview today. She teaches ethnic studies at Sydney Uni, but she also inherited this house which was an investment from her North Shore parents who didn’t think enough of her to leave it to her unmortgaged. So then there’s us tenants who are also her housemates. Jason, who is going to bug you to death on your implants. Did you see his bifurcated tongue? It’s very like yours.’

‘I didn’t notice. I was looking at his tattoos.’

‘They’re only part of his performance. He is a work in progress.’

The Devil yawned.

I tried not to gag. ‘Do you mind if I light a cone?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Incense. I like to burn incense. Little cones of scented natural dried stuff.’

He waved his hand graciously. ‘Be my guest.’

I was crawling over to the little table with its celadon saucer and collection of Celestial Sky, thinking I should possibly change brand names tomorrow, when he grabbed my arm with a grip you might expect the Devil to have.

I thought I was about to die, or whatever.

‘It’s not garlic, is it?’

‘Never,’ I managed to smile.

‘I do apologize,’ he said after a final little squeeze. I felt like a fruit. ‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked solicitously.

‘Only a bit,’ I lied. ‘But what do you care?’

He shrugged, the same shrug as the bank manager gave me in some little French coastal town when he refused to cash my travellers cheque because my signature on it didn’t exactly match the one on my passport.

‘That reminds me,’ I said, (though it hadn’t—I just needed to change the subject), as the scent of, I think it was called ‘Bavaghindra’ filled the room. ‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

‘You aren’t very perspicacious,’ he observed. ‘Pledge Week,’ he said slowly as if I were a child, ‘is necessary because, outside of our permanent population of futures markets operators, Pledge Week provides the only new source of once acquired, stable and permanent population that we have.’

The fingers of fate frolicked upon my back in a most disconcerting manner. I shrugged, which not only made me feel great and I hope, annoyed him in the same can’t-admit-it way as his shrug did to me, but I think established my position far closer to the peer level necessary to our smooth working relationship.

He must have thought I still did not understand. ‘When you come with me—’

‘My coming is forever.’

We looked into each other’s eyes for so long that I wondered whether it was a blink contest. Eventually I had to blink. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘When you come with me, your coming is forever.’ And his face changed from its solemnity, to one of Christmas cheer.

The actual elements of his smile, when I could steel myself to really look, were rather heart-flutteringly beautiful, and not at all like Jason’s barracuda-shaped mouth of crooked, filed teeth. The smile of the Devil was broad, and his teeth looked good enough to be capped.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US – Amazon UK – Amazon Canada – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – Apple – Smashwords – Robot Trading Company


new: Rites of Passage by Eric Brown

Rites of Passage by Eric BrownRites of Passage gathers four long stories, one of which is original to the collection. “Bartholomew Burns and the Brain Invaders” features a Victorian London facing the threat of alien invasion and the mysterious ‘Guardian’ who saves the day. “Guardians of the Phoenix” is set in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world where water is in short supply and roaming bands will do anything to obtain it, while “Sunworld” is about a strange world where the sun is fixed eternally overhead and Yarrek Merwell makes a discovery that will change everything. The longest story in the collection, “Beneath the Ancient Sun” has never appeared before and is set on a far-future Earth where giant crabs and a swollen sun threaten humanity’s very existence.

Eric Brown’s stories combine memorable characters, fascinating settings, and a passionate concern for story-telling that has made this BSFA award-winning author one of the leaders of the field.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo -Apple – Smashwords

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1499500319): Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace – Barnes and Noble – and other booksellers

“Brown sketches a complex world full of bitter idealists and fantastic landscapes where nothing is as it seems”Publishers Weekly

“Eric Brown spins a terrific yarn” SFX

“This is the rediscovery of wonder” Stephen Baxter on Helix

“SF suffused with a cosmopolitan and literary sensibility” Paul McAuley

“Brown’s spectacular creativity creates a constantly compelling read” Kirkus Book Reviews


new: Fish Eats Lion – New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, edited by Jason Erik Lundberg

Fish Eats Lion - New Singaporean Speculative Fiction edited by Jason Erik LundbergFish Eats Lion collects the best original speculative fiction from Singapore – fantasy, science fiction, and the places in between – all anchored with imaginative methods to the Lion City.

These twenty-two stories, from emerging writers publishing their first work to winners of the Singapore Literature Prize and the Cultural Medallion, explore the fundamental singularity of the island nation in a refreshing variety of voices and perspectives.

This anthology is a celebration of the vibrant creative power underlying Singapore’s inventive prose stylists, where what is considered normal and what is strange are blended in fantastic new ways.

[Note: This ebook edition does not include Stephanie Ye's "The Story of the Kiss", only available in the print edition.]

Ebook available from: Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo -Apple – Smashwords

“Lundberg combines accessibility with a uniquely Singaporean flavor in his selections. SF readers looking to expand their horizons will enjoy visiting new worlds from an unaccustomed point of view.” – Publishers Weekly

“I doubt I’ll read a more engaging collection this year. [...] There’s a rich optimism to be found here that speaks of lesser-known spec-fic writers rising to a challenge, and that challenge being more than adequately met.” – Pete Young, Big Sky

“Entertaining in this post-colonial era, it hints at how storytellers can become mythmakers, with the power to change the world.” – Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times


new: Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

I love the look of this one. I’m not familiar with Roy’s work (he co-wrote several novels with John Brosnan), but I do know Chris’s writing which immediately makes this a must-read for me. The print edition is out now, with an ebook version to follow soon:

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

Amazon US / Amazon UK
Future Perfect website

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy KettleNot many people knew Leo Parrish or were aware of his science-fiction stories. Even fewer people noticed when he disappeared. So why, 50 years later, is everyone looking for his work? The police, the FBI, the cult of Ascendancy, religious fanatics. And how is all this linked to President Muvart of Khanistan and his wild threats against the USA, or Ryan Carmichael, the notoriously unpredictable Hollywood star?

Nick Randall, head of Xponential Films, simply wants to make a movie based on one of Parrish’s stories. But he’s being followed, attacked, interrogated, misled. His office is burgled and his computer hacked. Being caught up in one conspiracy would be bad enough. But he seems to be involved in several. And no one wants him to find Parrish’s stories. Not even the woman he loves.

FUTURE PERFECT is a modern thriller with lots of military, scientific and political intrigue, set both in the UK and the US. Readers will have their own views as to whether it’s science fiction or not. But the world of science fiction is integral to the story from writers, magazines and political paranoia in the 1950s to modern books, TV, graphic novels, digital newszines, an international SF-related cult, a World Science Fiction Convention and even an American theme park inspired by science fiction views of the future.

“Future Perfect is a sharp, witty, ingenious conspiracy thriller set in the worlds of science fiction geekery, political chicanery and crackpot cultery that skewers real-life analogues with merciless precision while advancing unsettling notions of the way our lives have been shaped by fifty years of true believers. Roy Kettle and Chris Evans know this world from the inside, and yet open it up to the uninitiated. I enjoyed this book immensely and the alien waves penetrating my tinfoil hat convince me that you will too.” Kim Newman – journalist, film critic, and award-winning fiction writer, author of the ANNO DRACULA series.

“A dogged amateur sleuth, a trail of clues through the jungle of mid-twentieth-century pulp fiction, and a startling conspiracy theory. The revelations keep you hooked and the detail sparkles. Unmissable.” Stephen Baxter – award-winning science fiction writer, author of THE LONG WAR with Terry Pratchett.


Carpe diem as a political response

A personal post, for a change…

~

I used to be committed.

I used to think that there was a future in collective action, that we were in a process of coming to understand the impact our resource-hungry species was having on the planet and maybe we might just find a solution that would give us some hope of a future. Some kind of liberal, hippyish blend of technology and changed lifestyle might just emerge.

I worked with campaigning groups, I supported the right charities, I lived what was my best attempt at a sustainable, ethical lifestyle. Perhaps the culmination of this was nearly ten years ago when I stood in local council elections for the Green Party, not with even the remotest possibility of getting elected but in the belief that by having candidates in every election in the country we were helping establish the credibility of a growing political force.

No more.

After that election I started to withdraw, to lose faith. For me it became increasingly difficult to sustain any belief that we were heading for anything but calamity. I’ve written about the kind of near future I see in a couple of novels (forgive me, but this isn’t a crass marketing post – my marketing posts are far more obvious than this – but more a case that these two novels are where I’ve explored my position most thoroughly; to back that up, I won’t even name the novels): in these books Europe is torn by the growing pressures of climate change, resource depletion and the resulting mass migration and conflict.

As things get tight, we’re faced with choices. Push forward for sustainable change, or close in and exclude? In my increasingly pessimistic vision, as explored in these two novels, we turn inwards: we close the national boundaries to the Other, we turn against the weak and anyone we can label as different; our resources are *ours* and we will defend them at all costs. “English jobs for the English”, as a particularly vile election leaflet recently pushed through my door stated.

Increasingly believing that this future had become inevitable I stopped my campaigning, unable to see any way forward. Instead, I chose simply to appreciate what we have now. This world really is an incredible place and I’m often struck by the sheer beauty and magic of nature. Let’s enjoy it while we can; enjoy the world’s literature and art and fabulous cultures before we lose that option. And hope against hope that in fifty years, a hundred years, people will still be able to do that and won’t just have been busy burning all their bridges in a short-sighted frenzy.

Selfish? Hell, yes.

Realistic? I think so. We live in an amazing world, we’re an amazing species – even if we can’t save it, we really should appreciate what we have.

But am I really advocating carpe diem as a political response to the rise of fascism today’s European election results show?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

In the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of these elections some of my friends have talked about the noble choice of abstaining from voting in a system they see as corrupt. My argument then was that for anyone who has any kind of decent ethical convictions not voting is simply giving a voice to the fascists. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

A bit hypocritical, given the shift in my own political commitment, huh? Even though I’ve always voted, I’ve been abstaining from actual political involvement on a far larger scale, after all.

But what else can we do? I really struggle to see…


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