I’ve written here before about how it often feels as if we publish into a vacuum: a book goes out, you get a handful of reviews, eventually some sales figures, and that’s it.
On its publication last June, my alien alternate-history novel, Harmony (UK title alt.human), definitely followed this pattern. There were a few nice reviews, a handful of nice comments, and then… nothing.
This year, though, things changed. First there was the short-listing for the Philip K Dick Award, which was pretty damned nice. Then, in the last two or three weeks the book has picked up some lovely responses.
There was the Battle of the Books, for starters, an interesting review format that pairs books up into a knockout competition where the book hardest to abandon gets through to the next round. Harmony was up against the likes of China Miéville’s Railsea in one round. Given the competition I’d have been more than happy with just being reviewed in the same bracket as some of these books; to go on and win was a lovely bonus.
Earlier this month a reader posted about Harmony:
I just finished reading Harmony and I was enthralled by the story. I want more! I was intrigued to see that you mostly publish via Kindle. I don’t have one, but because I want to read more of your stories, I’m going to go get one. Please keep writing! Just my two-cents worth.
You don’t get a much better response than that!
Then, following this run of good comments, Bridget McKenna (a rather good author and one of the Philip K Dick Award judges) posted a review at Amazon, which said, among other things:
The English language is a remarkable thing, and Keith Brooke is a remarkable writer who can make it do his bidding with the best of them. In alt.human (US title: alt.human aka Harmony) he has not only created an exciting and believable world full of fascinating, realistic characters and situations using his native tongue, he has also dug down into the nature of language itself and brought back surprises (and prizes) to create layers of meaning and subtlety and emotion in a way most writers would’t have thought to approach. … You won’t soon forget Brooke’s cast of characters or the world he created to test their resolve to be human on the brink of extinction, by whatever ways and means they can create for themselves. You won’t soon read a better, more completely realized science fiction novel.
And then Tony Daniel (one of my favourite SF writers, who very kindly stepped in on my behalf to do a reading from Harmony at the PKD Awards ceremony), said to me on Facebook:
Harmony is a dense, rewarding vision of a possible future and the story of a young man’s quest for human-graspable meaning in a highly expanded, often incomprehensible world. It’s got echoes of all sorts of great influences. Very Dickian, but also very Dickensian. It’s real science fiction, and it’s a success as a novel. The whole thing is a grand philosophical view of a weird-yet-plausible reality that you got across marvelously, with marvelously chosen words. I’m just glad of the fact that you trusted me to read a bit of it aloud and talk about it with people, or I might not have gotten around to reading it through. Everybody who likes science fiction should read it soon if they haven’t.
Most of the time, yes, we work in a vacuum. After all, writing is not a spectator sport: we shut ourselves away and hit that keyboard for hours on end.
And no, we don’t write for the acclaim and the praise.
But hell, when they come along, all those little pats on the ego that tell you someone out there has got what you were doing, it really is appreciated!