Tag Archives: aliens

The Kon-tiki Quartet: new from Eric Brown and Keith Brooke in 2018/2019

I’m very pleased to announce that Eric Brown and I have just signed up to write The Kon-tiki Quartet, a set of four novellas to be published by the fabulous PS Publishing. The first, Dislocations, is due out in winter 2018, with the remaining three appearing at six-month intervals.

The Quartet charts humankind’s first extra-solar colony mission to a planet orbiting the star 19 Draconis – a series of high-tech stories rooted in humankind’s struggles to deal with a rapidly changing world, and featuring cloning, travel to the stars, alien encounters, telepathy, and much more.

Eric and I are currently putting the finishing touches to the first two novellas, and will pick up on writing the third and fourth during 2018. It’s great to be working together again!

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Deep Future by Eric Brown: pre-order for 99c/77p

Deep Future by Eric BrownEric Brown’s collection Deep Future: available in ebook formats for the first time. Publication date is 23rd September, but this title is now available for pre-order at Amazon at the knock-down price of 99c/77p!

Deep Future collects ten tales of the past, present and future by the award-winning author of the best selling Helix. Whether he’s writing about aliens coming to Earth, virtual reality, alternate worlds or immortal men, Brown imbues his fictions with a concern for character and an abiding passion for story.

Meet Edward Sinclair, a man grieving the loss of his daughter, and the scientist who just might be able to bring her back from the dead…

Ben Henderson, a gem-cutter, and what happened one summer on a far-away colony world…

The telepathic Tavernier and his involvement with a strange alien race who will change his life forever…

Claudine Hainault, a schoolgirl who turns her back on the chance to live for ever when the Kethani come to Earth…

And many other humans – and aliens – from the imagination of one of Britain’s finest SF writers.

Pre-order from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon Canada


Battle of the books

It’s not often you come across a new and interesting way to explore books, and for all I know this has been done before elsewhere, but the Fantastic Reviews blog’s Battle of the Books is fascinating.

The premise is this: take 16 books, pair them up, and then for each pair read the first 25 pages; out of that pair the winner is the book the reviewer most wants to continue reading at that point. In the next round we’re down to four pairs and the cut-off point is 50 pages; then in the semi-finals the cut-off is at 100 pages; and finally the last two standing are judged overall.
Harmony by Keith BrookeAt first sight this is a bit of fun, lifting a game-show format and applying it to reviewing. But the reality is far more than that. For the successful books you have a step-by-step extended review, picking out various aspects of a book as they emerge, giving a wonderful insight into the reading of that book as it unfolds, rather than a review written with hindsight. It also provides a very interesting angle for each review; in the most recent entry, for example, my own Harmony (as published in North America; UK title alt.human) is up against China Miéville’s Railsea. Naturally enough, the focus is on how the two books portray the weird and, as the reviewer says, nobody does weird better than China. Earlier rounds have focused on the reader’s engagement with characters and a book’s sheer unputdownability (that is officially a real word: I just told my spellchecker so).

As a writer this whole process has been fascinating; for the reader it should be equally so, although as with any detailed review there’s the danger of spoilers, particularly in the later stages of the battle.

And as an aside, even after around 25 years as an author, it still surprises me when someone really gets one of my stories. That the reviewer in this contest gets Harmony so well is fantastic; that this comes in the week leading up to the announcement of this year’s Philip K Dick Award winner really brings it home. It’s not so much that I’m suddenly thinking I’m in with a shot (Harmony is one of seven on the shortlist, so I have around a 14% chance), but simply that it’s finally, after all this time, starting to sink through my thick skull that there are people out there – like the team at Fantastic Fiction, like the PKD judges – who really do get what I’m doing.

And that’s kind of cool.
Incidentally, it gives nothing away to be posting this: to reach the semi-final against a writer of China Miéville’s calibre, and for my novel to have received this kind of detailed attention, is pretty damned good, in my reckoning. For the results, and the excellent analysis, you’ll have to go to Battle of the Books, Bracket Five, First Semifinal :: Railsea by China Miéville vs. Harmony by Keith Brooke.

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Great review for alt.human (aka Harmony) at the Guardian

“Brooke excels at depicting unknowable and scarily arbitrary extraterrestrials and a human race crushed by endless cruelty and domination. Recommended.” – The Guardian


Writing strategies in difficult times

I’m loving working on my current novel, alt.human. It’s what I’m thinking of as extreme trad SF, a gritty story crammed full of aliens and big ideas, and quite unlike anything I’ve written before.

But it ain’t exactly coming easily…

In real life, my day job consists of five days’ worth of hours crammed into four long days. The job is demanding at the best of times, but right now we’ve been put under ridiculous pressure and the cracks are starting to show. It’s incredibly hard to step away from it and switch off: I’m stressed and angry, I’m not sleeping, and instead I lie there with my head full of day-job crap. When I manage to get a writing day, it’s hard to immerse myself in the novel and forget about all the other stuff. The novel itself isn’t helping: by its nature it’s full of ideas and multiple strands and characters and species that I need to hold in my head. It’s possibly the hardest novel I’ve ever tried to write.

And this isn’t unusual: most writers have other jobs too. Most of them have lives. I’m not pleading a special case: “Look at how hard it is for me to be creative, dahling!”

So how do we do it? What’s the secret of juggling it all?

The answer, of course, is that there is no secret. It’s more a case of having a toolkit, a portfolio of strategies and tricks that can help you get on and write, even under the most trying of circumstances. Other writers have it much harder than I do.

I had it easy when I started out. I went straight from university to writing full-time. I had the luxury that I could shut myself away in complete peace and quiet, for hours on end, and just write. I acquired such bad habits from that! If I didn’t have at least two or three hours free for it I didn’t feel I could write. If I couldn’t find absolute peace and quiet, I couldn’t write. I didn’t quite reach the stage of being unable to perform unless I had a bowl of orange M&Ms, but it wasn’t far off.

I had to learn it all over again when circumstances forced me to find a day job.

I had to learn that even if my head was full of crap, when I sat down at my computer I could force myself to lose myself in the world of my story, and everything else would recede. I had to learn that two or more hours free was a luxury, not a necessity: you can do a lot in half an hour; if I’m in full flow, I can sit down for half an hour and produce 500 words; if I’m not in full flow I can do some editing, make some notes, anything to help lodge the story in my head again.

If I have ten minutes while I’m waiting for other people to turn up for a meeting, I can get my phone out and start making notes on my work in progress. If I don’t have anything to make notes about? I ask myself questions. How well do I know my protagonist? That scene I’ve just written: how can I go back into it and twist the perspective, make it sharper, make it different and deeper?

On lunchbreaks, with the wonders of high-speed internet and cloud computing I can open up my work in progress and write a couple of hundred more words. Or fifty more words. Sometimes just re-reading and adding a sentence or two can make all the difference in keeping the story in my head for when I can come back for a longer writing session.

Right now I’m at the halfway point in alt.human and I’m stepping back from it. Because of the bitty nature of my writing sessions over the past few months I know there are lots of loose threads, lots of sparks of ideas that I’ve made a note to go back and further develop. So before my ragged band of protagonists set off into part two I’m going right back to the start to work on all the bits that would benefit from enriching, pushing harder, digging deeper. And as I go, I’m making notes for part two.

I’m a word counter. On a full writing day I’m disappointed if I don’t get well past 2000 words of new material. So spending writing time on this revisiting – fixing and researching my own material – seems incredibly unproductive. At the end of the day my word count might be minus 200, or zero, or six. It doesn’t exactly feel like progress.

But it is: the story’s in my head again. All the little details in part one that might flourish into sub-plots in part two; all the deepening of what’s gone before, making what’s to come all the more vivid even before I’ve written it.

Apart from anything else: it’s one hell of a confidence boost. Writing in difficult times, when life’s knocking the stuffing out of you, isn’t easy; it makes it hard to believe in what you’re doing. There’s one scene I’ve just edited that has done me a world of good: a kaleidoscope of the alien, a bombardment of images and impressions. When I reached that scene I started to believe in the world of my story again.

There are lots of ways to keep momentum going in a long piece of work, but sometimes stepping back from it is more effective than plunging ever onwards.

I’ve now posted a follow-up to this: How to fit writing into a busy life (writing strategies, part two) [Added, 6 July]


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