Thursday, December 31, 2009
Definitely the best space opera released this year and a superb finale to the Spatterjay series. Neal brings all his usual flair and unique aliens to the mix in what can only be described as one of his finest novels to date.
Also The Gabble is in the top ten on Next Read...
I’ve decided this is my ideal form of a short story collection. Like A Touch of Dead (but in a completely differently league) This collects together stories set in the Polity universe. I found it a wonderful introduction to both Neal Asher and the Polity. I am now a firm fan of Gabbleducks and think that you should be too.
Very shortly I'll be putting a list of those books up here, so if anyone wants copies of them, signed, they can get in contact. It'll be cover price plus postage.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
…basically *one* SF novel in the top 100 (and it barely scraped in), and 5 in total in the top 150. Two of those by very well-established authors (Stephenson and Card), three of those media tie-ins. Fantasy? Already starting with Stephenie Meyer at number 3... Make no mistake: fantasy is selling better than SF, *much* better. Look at the 2010 catalogs of genre publishers, from Tor to Pyr: all predominantly fantasy titles.
I have one little problem with this and with others, like Mark Charan, who make a comparison between fantasy and science fiction sales, or cite science fiction’s proportion of the market, as proof that science fiction is in decline, dying, whatever. Why do they assume it’s a zero sum game? Why do they make the illogical leap that because fantasy is selling well science fiction must be doing badly? Do people assume that because sales of teen vampire books are on the increase, thriller sales are decreasing?
I guess what you really need to do is get data on year on year sales of SF back over six decades and plot trends. You’ll probably find all sorts of lulls and highs, so would have to be careful about making assumptions upon seeing a present upward or downward trend. Possibly science fiction sales have never been as good as they were in the Golden Age, but are they worse than they were 20 or 30 years ago? Maybe someone could put together a computer model to check all this out, in fact, I know just the guys who could do this, and give you whatever answer you wanted.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The triffids, apparently, are a source of fuel to supplant fossil fuels and have thus saved us from global warming. We get some thankfully understated lectures about how we fucked up the environment, with the implication that we’re getting what we deserve. This of course glosses over the fact that the disaster is due to a stellar event blinding most of the population. Maybe the ozone hole we created let the light in?
Next episode we can look forward to the hero of the hour uttering the immortal line, “Mother nature is reclaiming the planet”. Doubtless this will all end with homilies about how we should adopt a communal socialist agrarian lifestyle, sit around supping cabbage soup and farting out the tune of the Red Flag … but I’ll withhold full judgement until I’ve seen the second part.
Dominion Heliotan reigns in our solar system. Cowl, heliotanilor worst enemy, being created by forced progress Artificial escaped - while, in the past.Running to save lives, Polly gets up and dragged her in the past. Tack discovers that her cruel pursuers snippet tor, which he implanted in wrist wear is the only bonus in the eyes of mysterious heliotani. And his journey in the universe has just begun their destructive ...
Cowl's pet, beast-tor is growing and becoming more dangerous.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Dip an ordinary piece of paper into ink infused with carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires, and it turns into a battery or supercapacitor. Crumple the piece of paper, and it still works. Stanford researcher Yi Cui sees many uses for this new way of storing electricity.
Who Killed Science Fiction? won the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine in 1961. The Fifties were rife with talk about the death of science fiction, and Earl Kemp's symposia of so many sf pros and prominent fans summed it all up.
"When man entered the Space Age two years ago, the writers and editors of science fiction, who had so long been living in this new age, hoped for a fresh surge of reader interest, an expression of gratitude for accurate prophecy in the past and of interest in the possible accuracy of other, as yet unfulfilled prophecies.
"It seemed a logical enough expectation, but it was a fallacious one. The new readers did not arrive—to some extent, at least, because they were put off by the cry of the press (never happier than when it can claim a miracle and coin a cliché): 'Science has caught up with science fiction!'"
. . . "But facts are impotent against loud and frequent assertion. Readers believe that science has 'caught up'; and somehow the very fact of s.f.'s accurate prophecies turns into a weapon against it, as if a literature of prophecy should become outmoded the instant one of its predictions was fulfilled."
Note that in full context, Boucher was not claiming that SF was a literature of prediction, only that sometimes it turned out that way.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Ooh, thanks for this, Alexander, I just have to put it up. Buzz Aldrin, one of the guys who sat on the equivalent of a few thounsand tons of TNT to get flung across hundreds of thousands of miles of vacuum to our moon. This is response to being called a coward and a liar...
Do you have a scientific background? The the science in your books seems "plausible" by the way. I was on a flight from NYC to Dallas the other day and Buzz Aldrin was sitting across from me in First Class. That was a huge thrill. I was re-reading Gridlinked at the time, and I thought about the beginning of space travel to a possible future. (I was reading it on a Kindle!)
My reply to that was:
No I don't have a scientific background. The nearest I've come to it in my career was a proper job in engineering. I was raised by a father who was a lecturer in applied mathematics and a schoolteacher mother, so grew up with microscopes, chemistry sets etc, and the best thing any parent can teach a child: how to think, be analytical, and a love of learning. Everything else comes from my heavy science fiction and science reading, and an undiminished interest in both.
I also asked him if I could copy his comments to here and was just going to leave it at the one. However, I like this next bit too:
"Returning from the NE Regional Meeting, flying from LaGuardia , NY, I found myself sitting across the aisle from Buzz Aldrin and his wife. There may be a couple of you who have to "google" his name. To me, it was the equivalent of being in proximity to Mickey Mantle, or Muhammmed Ali.
Buzz Aldrin was the second human being to step foot on the Moon. Along with many other honors, he and the other crewmen were given a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I thought to myself, he was second, so is that like a silver medal in the Olympics, or only winning $100 million in the lottery instead of $250 million? Of course not, he and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon at the same time, but Armstrong as the commander was ordered by NASA to be the first.
I remembered going to my friend's house in the summer of 1969 in Yorkshire, England . I was not old enough to drive, so I was allowed by my parents to ride my 5 speed to my friend Phil's house to watch the lunar landing. This was unusual because when they landed, it was primetime in the USA , but about 4am in England. All the usual rules were suspended about riding my bike in the dark, and streets that were usually deserted had life and light.
We watched the fuzzy images on a black and white television, listening to England's equivalent to Walter Cronkite, Richard Dimbleby. We heard the "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," and were still not able to relax, because of course, they had to come home. "Home," being the Earth.
I keep stealing glances across the aisle, to watch an immaculately dressed man, looking like the retired CEO of a Fortune 100 company. I noticed he wore two very expensive looking wrist watches on his left and right wrists and wondered what time he kept them set-on. Eastern and Lunar maybe? The Captain and the First officer came out of the cockpit, (at separate times), to shake his hand, as discreetly as possible. I thought about the chances that 41 years after the fact, I was sitting close to the man I had seen step foot on our closest neighbour in the solar system. I thought about the fact that the device I'm typing this on had more computing power than a combination of all the computers on all the Moon missions' vehicles. I thought about the bravery of his wife, who had to watch and wait.
I thought about the challenges we have in front of us and how insignificant they are compared to what they achieved with slide rules and graph paper."
Damned right. And, really, how did we lose our way?
Monday, December 21, 2009
Now imagine fighting a Prador armed to, errr, its mandibles. Not a pleasant idea is it? It gets worse. Without giving away anything (or at least not too much), consider that there is something even worse than the strongest Prador. Much worse. And that being is manipulating the entire Prador race here in an attempt to make sure what that being wants to happen will happen. Throw in extremely deadly military hardware that can literally destroy planets if need be, thousand year-old post-humans who are perhaps more alien than the Prador are, and a well-armed military drone with its own agenda. This ain't state of the art space opera of thirty years ago, or even a decade ago -- it's perhaps the best space opera I've ever read, and that's saying a lot as I've read space opera for over thirty years now.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
1. You started to write more than 20 years ago, but till 2001 you published only short stories in small press magazines or novellas in rather obscure publishing houses. Since 2001 – and Gridlinked – you have published a new novel every year and now you are in the process of writing the 7th novel. Can you explain the turning point? What has changed more: you and your style or the audience?
I reached my present position by climbing the writing ladder one rung at a time with people stepping on my fingers. I wasn’t published at all for many years, then I had a few short stories published, advanced to novellas and collections and finally to Macmillan. About twenty years ago I completed a fantasy novel and ever after I was sending synopses and sample chapters to large publishers (and writing more books). The turning point was a combination of luck and the skills I’ve learnt. By the time I sent a synopsis to Macmillan there had been a resurgence of interest in science fiction, I had attained a fairly high level of professionalism, and when I sent in my synopsis it was accompanied by excellent reviews of my small press work. The timing was just right, since
I reckon they continue offering me contracts is because I have learned how to produce and keep on producing, and because my stuff sells. Gridlinked was 65,000 words long when I first submitted it and I extended it to 135,000 in a couple of months (they were worried about this, but upon reading it decided the new version was better than the old); I did the same thing with The Skinner; and all my other books have been submitted early.
Why does my work sell? I suspect the readership has always been there, but that publishers go through fashions. In the 70s and 80s the fashion was for horror, big fantasy, and that the only SF available was dismal dystopian crap. Maybe it’s simply the case that new technologies have brought down the cost of smaller print runs and publishers can now afford to cater for niche markets.
2. You use quite a lot of violence in your books. Or perhaps I should say it better this way: You are able to make up amazing, hard-to-beat- villains and monsters. Where do you find the inspiration for them? Have you read – and enjoyed –
I did read and enjoy Harry Harrison’s Deathworld series (in fact the man himself asked me that), but as I say in the acknowledgements in The Skinner: ‘Thanks to all those excellent people whose names stretch from Aldiss to Zelazny’. In my early teens I started off with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tolkien, E C Tubb, C S Lewis and have been an SF and fantasy junky ever since, which is not to say that’s all I read. Maybe my characters are inspired by the many thousands of books I’ve read, the films I’ve watched – I could never say for certain. As for my monsters: I’ve always had a great fascination for biology (present and prehistoric) and for monsters in general (I was drawing them as a child at school while everyone else was drawing flowers in plantpots). I always try to make my monsters biologically plausible and create an ecology into which they fit – it’s all part of the enjoyable world-building aspect of SF.
3. Most of your novels take place in one universe, invented by you. The Czech readers have their first chance to disclose this universe in The Skinner, your second novel. What can they expect to find?
To the Line planet Spatterjay come three travellers: Janer brings the eyes of a Hive mind; Erlin comes to find Ambel – the ancient sea captain who can teach her to live; and Sable Keech is a man with a vendetta he will not give up, though he has been dead for seven hundred years.
The world is mostly ocean, where all but a few visitors from the Human Polity remain safely in the island Dome. Outside, the native quasi-immortal hoopers risk the voracious appetite of the planet’s fauna. Somewhere out there is Spatterjay Hoop himself, and monitor Keech will not rest until he can bring this legendary renegade to justice - for hideous crimes commited centuries ago during the Prador Wars.
Keech does not know is that while Hoop's body roams free on an island wilderness, his living head is confined in a box on board one of the old captain's ships. Janer, the eternal tourist, is bewildered by this place where sails speak and the people just will not die, but his bewilderment turns to anger when he learns the agenda of the Hive mind. Erlin thinks she has all the time she will ever need to find the answers she requires, and could not be more wrong. And so these three travel and search, not knowing that one of the brutal Prador is about to pay a surreptitious visit, intent on exterminating witnesses to wartime atrocities, nor do they know how terrible is the price of immortality on Spatterjay.
As the fortunes of the recent arrivals unwittingly converge, a major hell is about to erupt in this chaotic waterscape ... where minor hell is already a remorseless fact of everyday life – and death.
4. Your books from the Polity universe have two main characters, a monitor Sable Keech and an agent Ian Cormac. They are both the good guys, fighting for ESC. Is it possible for them to meet in some of your works? And on the same side?
I’ve recently been working out the chronology of my books and what you say is entirely possible. Sable Keech is killed then reified about seventy-five years before the events of Gridlinked. The events of The Skinner then take place seven hundred years after his death. This basically means that Keech, reified (a high-tech zombie), is about in the Polity universe while the events in Gridlinked and subsequent Cormac books take place. Also, if Cormac survives his present trials, he may meet up with Keech some time in the future. Remember, these people do not die of old age!
5. You are considered to be one of the writers of so called New Space Opera, which – in my opinion – succeeded in giving a new push, new blood, to the SF genre, at least in the 1st decade of the new millenium. Can you compare the original space opera and the new one?
Nothing gets out of date quite so fast as science fiction, simply because it has to keep up with, and look ahead of, current science and technology (how many of those old writers predicted the personal computer, the Internet?). I read stuff like E E Doc Smith’s Skylark of Space series and enjoyed it thoroughly at the time, but now, picking up books like that and reading about an astrogator working something out on a slide rule just kills that ‘suspension of disbelief’ on which all space opera (and all SF) depends. I also think many of the older space operas were written in a time of greater naivety too. The characters and storylines now possess a harder edge; a greater understanding on the part of the author of how human beings, political systems, ecologies and much else actually operate. I now only read the old stuff out of nostalgia, and admiration of the story-telling skills of the writer concerned.
6. One of the most influential NSO writers seems to be
I briefly talked to
7. In the Line of Polity, your third novel, the force of evil is theocracy. Other than that, you do not use religion in your books too much. Was there some other reason for it except the one that you just needed some bad guys?
I take the view that as individual knowledge and access to information increases, primitive belief systems will continue to collapse. I don’t see how our beliefs in parochial gods will survive us encountering, in the future, the vastness of space and the further revelations of science. The Theocracy was a one-off created by special circumstances. And yes: I needed some bad guys.
8. On your webpage you posted samples of your fantasy novels – unpublished yet – that you wrote some years ago. Have you some plans with them? Do you think they may be interesting for the Czech readers?
One day I intend to rewrite those fantasy novels and offer them for publication, but at present I’m heavily involved in the Polity universe and will keep on writing novels set in it while Macmillan continues offering me contracts. I like to think the fantasy novels would be of interest to many readers and did want to give myself a breathing space so I could turn my attention to them, to a contemporary novel I wrote some time ago, to my TV scripts, but that seems increasingly unlikely. One book a year for Macmillan may soon be changing to one book every nine months, I’ve got short stories and novellas I need to write because I already have a market for them ... so much to do and so little time.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
ORSON SCOTT CARD
ENDER’S GAME –
SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD
JACK L CHALKER
EXILES AT THE WELL OF SOULS
QUEST FOR THE WELL OF SOULS
THE RETURN OF NATHAN
TWILIGHT AT THE WELL OF SOULS
MIDNIGHT AT THE WELL OF SOULS
C J CHERRYH
THE CHRONICLES OF MORGAINE
FORTY THOUSAND AT GEHENNA
ANGEL WITH SWORD
THE FADED SUN (TRILOGY)
VOYAGER IN NIGHT
ARTHUR C CLARKE
REACH FOR TOMORROW
THE FOUNTAINS OF
THE CONTINUOUS KATHERINE MORTENHOE
Friday, December 11, 2009
I've just been playing on You Tube looking at 2010 trailers and ... good grief. Here we have 'The Edge of Darkness' given the Hollywood treatment with Mel GIbson in the lead role. I'm sorry, but though Hollywood produces some enjoyable stuff, someone needs to drop a bomb on it for this. Go find the excellent original with Bob Peck.
Okay, I think I'll give this a go. My only fear is that this is just going to a be a bit of liberal American guilt about the indians updated and transformed into science fiction i.e. 'green' alien indians fighting the big evil 'corporation'. Certainly hearing Sigourney Weaver spouting the usual Hollywood concerned environmentalist tripe seems to indicate that.
Slingers is set in the year 2960 A.D., following mankind’s first interplanetary war. Humanity is now clustered into a finite, but still vast section of the universe known as Enclosed Space. Humanity won the war with an aggressive alien enemy, but at a cost. The way back to Earth is now cut off by an impassable barrier – a side effect of the blast that finally pushed the enemy back.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Other problems too: a guy caught out on the shield protecting the ship from the sun is burnt up in a tsunami of fire … erm what exactly was burning? The crew also began to run out of oxygen, apparently, whilst occupying a ship whose interior seemed the equivalent to a number of Albert Halls. Then, rather than continue a story of humans vs the hostile reality of space – which really could have worked – the whole thing lapsed into an Alien aping cop-out.
Really, there was no need to have a nutter creeping around offing the crew – the groundwork had already be laid for some serious moral quandaries and killings threafter. And really, adding camera distortions on top of film taken by a cameraman apparently suffering from delirium tremens adds nothing, just makes the whole viewing process irritating.
Here was a film that couldn’t make up its mind whether it was 2001 or Alien, and ended up being neither them, nor what it could have been.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
On Monday 7th December Virgin Galactic unveiled SpaceShipTwo to the world at Mojave Spaceport, California. 800 press, future astronauts and VIP guests gathered in the desert for a press conference and to view the roll out of the world’s first commercial spaceline.
So, we have solar storms stirring up the sun and knocking out electrical equipment here on Earth; the MOD satellite set to watch this activity is downloading image files from the future, offering clues to future crimes or disasters; we have debates about predestination, about the consequences of tampering with the timeline; we have speculation about where this information is coming from, like via a black hole, or god, and all this is wrapped up in an exciting police procedural. But it’s not science fiction apparently, well, according to Tamzin Outhwaite:
"Initially I thought it was a sci-fi project. Then I read the script and realised it wasn't. It's about police officers trying to work out whether there is a worm hole between two time zones."
Ahem, a ‘worm-hole between two time zones’, need I go on? It’s always been fairly plain that many of the good people in the acting profession are a bit thick, but this one is right up there with a certain large comedienne’s statement, during a program about ‘the 100 best books’ that she doesn’t like science fiction, thereafter listing her favourites, like 1984. SFX notes that Tamzin Outhwaite ‘joins an esteemed list of actors in abject self-denial about appearing in sci-fi’ and doubtless David Langford will have something to say about this in his next Ansible (well-worth getting by email).
From my dictionary:
Paradox 1. a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement...
You gotta chuckle.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Interesting article here from Mark Charan Newton:
"There is no Schadenfreude; I take no pleasure in holding this viewpoint: the Science Fiction genre is dying.
Don’t spit your coffee at the computer screen just yet. I’m talking predominantly in terms of sales over time. I know all you belle-lettristic types don’t like to think about anything but Art, but units-shifted is a factor that matters. It is what shapes the literature industry."
I couldn't help but wonder how many similar articles came out at the time, some decades ago, when the shelves were seemingly wholly populated by horror books with generic black covers. So often I've heard the claim that science fiction is dying, or dead but, every time, an attempt to nail down the coffin lid fails.
I'm currently reading The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by Gordon Van Gelder and, thinking about this in connection with the books I've been sorting through in my loft, it's a bit of a nostalgia trip, because some of the stories are quite old. All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury is lyrical, enjoyable, but you can't help but titter a little at a depiction of Venus covered in jungle when we now know the reality. Later I read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, which has to be somewhere up in the list of the best short stories I've ever read. It still chokes me up a little even after all this time.
But short stories. If anyone here wants to read some superb short SF stories, if there is one short story collection I would recommend way above any other, then that has to be Stories of your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I've mentioned it before - brilliant collection.
Monday, December 07, 2009
"No one does monsters better than
And a very strange choice of title for a article/essay over here.
Here’s the ‘B’ section from my SFF collection. I’m a little bit annoyed upon having gone through this lot. One of my very favourite books is missing: Half-Past Human by T J Bass. Doubtless I loaned it to someone and that someone hasn’t bothered to return it.
IAIN M BANKS
THE PLAYER OF GAMES
LOOK TO THE WINDWARD
THE GREAT & SECRET SHOW
T J BASS
| || |
THE PILLARS OF ETERNITY
& THE GARMENTS OF
SONGS OF EARTH & POWER
QUEEN OF ANGELS
THE FORGE OF GOD
BENFORD & BRIN
HEART OF THE COMET
THE QUICUNX OF TIME
JACK OF EAGLES
THE WARRIORS OF DAY
THE CLASH OF CYMBALS
A CASE OF CONSCIENCE
EARTHMAN COME HOME
THE TESTAMENT OF
VENGEANCE OF ORION
AS ON A DARKLING PLAIN
MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY
THE SHATTERED CHAIN –
THE SPELL SWORD
THE WINDS OF DARKOVER
STAR OF DANGER
THE BLOODY SUN
THE SWORD OF ALDONES
THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME –
THE TIDES OF TIME
THE DRAMATURGES OF YAN
ON THE SYMB-SOCKET CIRCUIT
TO OUTRUN DOOMSDAY
MIND OF MY MIND –