Tag Archives: alt.human

The Harmony buzz

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.

Harmony by Keith BrookeOn 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!

After the Dick, what next?

I wrote here last year about how I felt tired with writing hard and not getting much response, and the need to recharge after twenty-five years in the business:

All this work, all those fantastic reviews, and yet still I seem to be the kind of writer very much admired by a smallish number but unknown to most; I’ve published regularly, but have rarely had a regular publisher for more than a few years; I’ve had at least one pretty big bestseller, but that was nearly ten years ago now; I think I have a reputation as someone who works away and achieves a lot; and I think my last four novels are among the best things I’ve written.

Is that enough?

I don’t know. It’s not that I’m craving awards and media attention (although it’d be nice not to feel that each book is published into a vacuum), but I really do wonder if all the personal sacrifice is worth it.

… I’m just bone-tired of slogging away writing on spec when my editing and pseudonymous writing bring more regular and guaranteed response and reward, even when what I regard as ‘my own’ writing is what I really love to do.

So I said I was taking a break from writing new me material and concentrating on other work, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. This decision did also coincide with a long period of depression and all kinds of other crises, which did nothing to put me in a writing place.

And I concluded by saying that while I felt that way at the time of writing the blog post, it was entirely possible that I’d change my mind at some point.

So: have I changed my mind?

Not entirely, but I’m wavering.

Getting shortlisted for this year’s Philip K Dick Award was a big ego boost: people out there really got what I was doing with that novel (Harmony, aka alt.human). And beyond feeling flattered and understood, it did something else, too.

You know those little nagging thoughts writers get? Those what if…? moments. They started happening again. And I had that writers’ equivalent of restless feet.

The bug was biting again.

I’m still torn about committing to an on-spec novel (although if someone was to drop me an email commissioning one I’d certainly consider it), but I think at least some short fiction will be committed this year.

In particular, I’ve agreed to write a four-parter for the new serial fiction magazine Aethernet. My take on serial fiction will be a set of three stories giving different perspectives on a momentous event, and a concluding story pulling them all together. So not serial fiction in a linear sense, but certainly in spirit.

And now that part of my brain is starting to nag me again, I think more might happen. It’s like starting all over again.

It’s a good feeling, and it’s good to be enjoying life the way I am right now.

Now I think I’ll just sit back and wait for that flood of emails asking me to write something new. I can dream. I’m a writer, after all; a science-fiction writer.

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

US edition of Harmony out today!

Harmony by Keith BrookeOut today in the US:

Harmony, a Fermi paradox alternate history about an Earth that has always been occupied by aliens.

“A startlingly new take on the theme of an Earth under alien occupation. The  far-future Earth revealed to us is both familiar and weird, and Keith Brooke’s vivid, high-definition prose makes us see it all with magnificent clarity, as if we were there, sharing the ruins and rubble with his strange but all too human characters.” – Alastair Reynolds
The UK edition (called alt.human) is out in early June.

Not a resolution

I don’t do new year resolutions.

If something’s worth doing, or worth changing, I don’t see the point in waiting until an artificial, annual point in the calendar. I do it now, or as soon as is practical. Why wait?

So this isn’t a new year’s resolution post.

The start of a year does trigger that whole looking-back / looking-forward thing, though, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

For me, 2011 was a productive writing and publishing year. I got back into writing short fiction, with a story in Postscripts and another one sold and due soon in Lightspeed. I want to do more short fiction, and have plans for the coming months.

I delivered two books in 2011.

Next year’s novel, alt.human, was mailed to Solaris on 30 December, a whole day ahead of deadline. Like my Postscripts story, this is a broad-canvas core-SF story crammed with aliens, a topic I’ve steered clear of for years – largely because I’ve rarely been able to take them seriously enough for the duration of a story. Not that I don’t believe in aliens; it’s more that I struggle with portrayals of the alien – they’re either men in funny suits and therefore not aliens at all, or they’re a genuine attempt to portray other and therefore hard to engage with in a story. alt.human is my attempt to address these problems while still writing a story very closely tied to a small group of people – it’s a human story of the alien, I guess. Oh yes: it’s my take on the Fermi paradox, too.

The other book I delivered was the non-fiction Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction. All the loose ends on this one were finally tied up in December, and it’s due out in a few weeks. It is pretty much what the the title suggests: an overview of a dozen SF sub-genres, each chapter written by an author associated with that field. So we have Kris Rusch on alternate histories, Jim Kelly on cyberpunk and what followed, Al Reynolds on space opera, and so on. The book has a great line-up, and it was a lovely thing to put together.

Looking forward, I’ve hit that point where, having just delivered two big books, I’m trying to work out what comes next.

One of the big successes of 2011 was the infinity plus e-publishing venture, with around 20,000 volumes downloaded in our first year. This will continue to keep me busy into 2012. We have some great stuff coming up, including Iain Rowan’s debut crime novel, a new Eric Brown collection, more short books in the singles series and more.

In terms of writing, I’m always busy. I’m planning to write another Nick Gifford YA novel this year, and that may be my next major project. I have plans for another big aliens novel, based on my Postscripts story; I need to start outlining that one so I can put together a proposal. And I’ve written a couple of near-future stories based on extrapolations of social media and augmented realities. The first of these was published in the top science journal Nature in late 2011; the second is the story due in Lightspeed. The plan is to write a bunch of these stories that will come together in a kind of mosaic of snapshots of a fragmented, very fluid future. It probably won’t be a full novel, so of course will be a difficult book to place commercially. I might publish it through infinity plus – e-publishing lends itself to these more niche, unconventional items; or I might look for someone else to do it. We’ll see: it’s the kind of project I prefer to let take shape at its own pace, and it could easily change drastically in nature over coming months.

So already I have lots of plans and possibilities. Some of them will happen, some will change, some will be deferred as new projects emerge. That’s one of the things I love about writing, and one of the things I hate. I love following opportunities and inspirations, even as I end up frustrated at all the stories that never get written.

So really, resolutions are a bit pointless for me. The only new year resolution I can realistically make is the same one I always make: I’ll do what I can to ensure that this will be another busy and interesting year! I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That thing, and other stuff

You know that thing where there’s so much in your head and you’re being subjected to so many demands you can barely even pause just to get your head around it all? Yes, that.

That’s me, that is.

Just coming off the back of an insane period in the day job, where I ended up working a solid 17 day stretch, doing anything from 12 to 18 hours a day, and now we’re in the aftermath of the big project going live: all the user support, the feedback, the picking up of everything I’d allowed to slip in the heat of the project work… and breathe.

And outside the day job, somehow I’ve kept things going: four new ebooks from infinity plus, including Eric Brown’s very successful Approaching Omega; two hugely successful free ebooks from infinity plus, with the infinities anthology peaking at number two in Amazon US’s free anthology chart and occupying the top slot in the UK for some time now, and Iain Rowan’s Derringer-winning short story One Step Closer making the number one free story slot at Amazon UK its own for a month now.

I’ve been writing and editing: Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction is on track for publication later this year, with some fantastic contributions from James Patrick Kelly, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and others; I’ve been doing my usual reviewing for The Guardian; I’ve been working on various fiction projects, and will be returning to finish my new novel, alt.human, soon.

And I’ve been working on a new line of ebooks from infinity plus, due to be announced soon.


You know that thing where there’s so much in your head and you’re being subjected to so many demands you can barely even pause just to get your head around it all? Yes, that.

That’s me, that is.

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