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My LonCon schedule

I’ve packed seventy boxes of books this week, so please forgive brevity. The house-move is next Friday, so there is likely to be a blogging hiatus while we get ourselves sorted, but I’ll be looking forward to posting again as soon as I have a) internet and b) an office space that is halfway sane.

In the meantime, here is my schedule for the WorldCon. I have to say that from what I’ve seen so far (my own panel events, plus those of friends and colleagues I’ve been made party to) the programming for LonCon looks fantastic. The committee have clearly been working very hard to bring us a programme that is adventurous, relevant, diverse, entertaining and enjoyable to be involved with and I for one want to congratulate them on that.

I’m looking forward to LonCon. All the more so because I’m hoping we’ll have all our books out of boxes by then.

Friday 10:00 – 11:00 Don’t Tell Me What To Think: Ambiguity in SF and Fantasy

What does ambiguity (of setting, plot, identity, and so on) bring to a work of fantastic fiction? How is ambiguity created, and what effect does it have? Does it always work? Can a story be too ambiguous? The panel will discuss stories by Thomas M. Disch, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and M. John Harrison, exploring exactly how they achieve their effects, and asking what divides a satisfyingly ambiguous story from an unsatisfying one.

(David Hebblethwaite, Nina Allan, Scott Edelman, Patrick Nielsen Hayden)

Friday 11.30 – 12.00 Reading (probably something from The Race)

Friday 16:30 – 17.30 NewCon Press launch event

This event will see the official launch of The Race, along with a thoroughly revised edition of Chris Beckett’s novel Marcher, Adam Roberts’s collection of reviews and essays Sibilant Fricative, and the new NewCon anthology Paradox. I’m very much looking forward to this. Do please come along, say hello and get your signed copies!

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00 The Lexicon Gap

Prose Stylings, Voice, and Narrative Structure: As a reader, why should I care? These terms are often thrown around, but what do they really mean? And more importantly how should a reader translate them in to something useful for evaluating what they read?

(Alistair Rennie, Nina Allan, James Patrick Kelly, Stanislaw Krawczyk, Gary Wolfe)

Sunday 13:30 – 15:00 The Wrong Apocalypse

Zombies, aliens, and monsters from the deep are all very well, but — unlike climate change and other ongoing environmental damage — they’re not actually likely to cause the downfall of industrial civilisation. Are contemporary TV and film neglecting the apocalypse-in-progress? Where can ecological perspectives be found in SF and fantasy on screen, and how are they portrayed? What are the strengths and weaknesses of visual climate narratives, compared to their prose counterparts?

(Ramez Naam, Nina Allan, Jeff VanderMeer, Tiffani Angus, Ivaylo Shmilev)

Sunday 16.30 – 18.00 The Darkening Garden

John Clute’s The Darkening Garden (2007) argues for horror as a core mode of twenty-first century fiction. It proposes a narrative “grammar” for horror stories that progresses from SIGHTING through THICKENING to the REVEL and then AFTERMATH. What implications does this structure have for our understanding of horror, as a commercial genre and as a literary form? What works escape its grasp, and why?

(Paul Kincaid, Paul March-Russell, Nina Allan, Lisa Tuttle, Jeff VanderMeer)

Memory Palace and other stories

“At the moment we seem to be in a place with narrative fiction where there are people quite happy to write very straight-up nineteenth century realist stuff and people who want to play Derridean language games exploring textuality. I would like to say that there is a third interesting thing that fiction writers can do, which is to take on, in a speculative realist way, scientific ideas about the self and to engage with social complexity: how memory constitutes itself. So for all these reasons thinking about the self is important to me.”

(Hari Kunzru, in an interview with 3am Magazine)

We were at the V&A on Friday, attending the exhibition of graphic arts, installation and text entitled Memory Palace, based around the 10,000-word novella of the same name by Hari Kunzru. The exhibition is something of a new concept. Instead of working with a pre-existing text, the expo’s curators, Laurie Britton Newall and Ligaya Salazar, commissioned Kunzru to write an original work, knowing from the outset that it was to form the basis of a collaboration between one writer and 20 visual artists. (The curators explain more about this process in an essay here.)

I’ve been keen to catch up with Kunzru’s fiction for quite some time now. I’ve read his journalistic non-fiction with great pleasure, and his novels come highly recommended by critics I trust. Also, Kunzru has a refreshingly open and constructive attitude to science fiction, a fact readily apparent from this piece he wrote about Michael Moorcock for The Guardian in 2011. As explicitly full-on SF, his novella ‘Memory Palace’ seemed the ideal place to start and I was keen to visit the expo. I purchased the book more than a month ago in readiness, but due to an insanely expanding list of reading commitments I found the day of our trip to the V&A dawning with the novella still unread.

As it turned out, this was a good thing, because it meant I finished reading the text just shy of London Bridge, and stepped into the world of the exhibition just a short while later with Kunzru’s story still headily intact in my mind. In this state of full receptiveness, the exhibits seemed like a natural extension of what I’d just read, a logical enhancement of the experience. The quality of the graphic art was superlative. That the artists involved in the project were excited and inspired by Kunzru’s words – that they found them relevant and provoking and significant in their own lives – was movingly apparent in every piece on show. The work was also very beautiful. ‘Memory Palace’ shows us a radically unpleasant, dangerous and intensely possible-seeming vision of the future – yet, tellingly, the overall sensation evoked by this exhibit is one of warmth and great humanity.

This exhibition has clearly made a big impression on people. Looking at the online write-ups though, the thing that strikes me is how little direct commentary there has been on the full text of Kunzru’s story itself. There seems to be a tacit acceptance of the curators’ assertion that ‘print … is losing its dominance as a deliverer of the written word’, that Memory Palace the exhibition – ‘a physically immersive illustrated story that explores the idea of an exhibition as a walk-in book’ – is in its way the determining experience, more complex and more complete than ‘Memory Palace’ the story that inspired it.

Personally, I would have to disagree. I loved the exhibition – but I know that I will remember it chiefly as a very beautiful illustration of Kunzru’s text. Walking among the exhibits was inspiring and exciting – but as an intellectual and creative experience it could not compare even remotely with my private, concentrated reading of Kunzru’s story as we rushed towards an early draft of the London he seemed to be describing.

For me, words on a page are still the most immersive and interactive of all media. Best of all, you don’t need a machine or even a power source to get involved with them – they can be produced and explored and made to shimmer by anyone armed with a pencil and a scrap of paper. Print losing its dominance as a deliverer of the written word? I have yet to be convinced, I’m afraid.

‘Memory Palace’ is set in London 500 years in the future. An electromagnetic event of seismic proportions has destroyed our digital present, plunging the world into a new version of the Dark Ages. London is ruled by the ‘Thing’, a class of warriors convinced that mankind’s only salvation lies in a return to the Edenic state. Technology is outlawed. The act of remembering is banned. As a member of a secret organization of ‘memorialists’, the narrator of ‘Memory Palace’ sits in prison awaiting interrogation. He believes it all but inevitable that his time in prison will end with his execution.

The table, the bed, the rivets in the metal door – nothing about this cell is specific. None of it carries a trace. I could be anywhere, at any time in history; there have always been places like this. One thing I know: the blankness is not an accident. It is the meaning of my cell, the message my captors want to convey to me. (p25)

‘Memory Palace’, with its taut, intense interchanges between prisoner and captor, instantly evokes memories of allied texts – Winston Smith’s conversations with O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984, Montag’s journey from law-enforcer to law-breaker in Fahrenheit 451, Ivan’s story of The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov – but in the power of its imagery, its elastically ironical, quicksand-silver use of language and the strength and originality of its London writing, this story gains through these resonances and is an essential and honourable addition to the core canon of science fictional dystopia. I tend to have a very physical reaction to writing I believe to be good, to be the real thing – and reading ‘Memory Palace’ made my heart rate increase, my breath quicken. To see a writer so perfectly achieve what he set out to do, to do it beautifully and with such conviction, is the greatest inspiration another writer could ask for.

I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone to buy the book and read this story. I would also encourage those who do read this story and like it to remember to include it on their SF awards nominations ballots for 2014. There are always a good few complaints during awards season about the poor quality of short fiction available for nomination. There are plenty of private moments when I find myself thinking people don’t complain enough – but as with all categories, the quality work is out there, you just have to look for it, sometimes outside of the more obvious venues. I’ve already highlighted stories by Sofia Samatar, Elizabeth Knox and M. John Harrison (if you haven’t bought and read ‘Cave & Julia’ already, then do so NOW) as shining examples of stories that deserve support and recognition. Kunzru’s ‘Memory Palace’ is another, the kind of story I envy for its grace, its articulacy, its passion, both for the subject in hand and for the words used to explore it. This is the kind of SF I want to be reading – and to be writing.

(A quick afterword on the physical book. If you can’t get to London to see the exhibition itself, don’t worry, because Memory Palace the book is a stunningly lovely and readily portable version of many of the things you would see at the V&A, the exhibition in your pocket, as it were. It contains high quality reproductions of many of the graphic works, together witb preliminary sketches for the installations. Most importantly it contains the full text of ‘Memory Palace’ – the one thing the exhibition could not practically contain, but that is the rationale and pivotal component of the entire enterprise.)

Celsius 232

We’ve just returned from Aviles, in the Asturias region of Spain, after a very special weekend as guests of the festival of fantastic literature and film known as Celsius 232 (that’s Fahrenheit 451 in new money). We enjoyed a marvellous welcome from the festival’s organizers, and the level of interest and involvement on the part of those attending was exceptional. I was surprised and delighted to find that Stardust and Spin and The Silver Wind have all made their own small inroads into Spanish territory. German Menendez, who conducted the two-hander interview with me and Lauren Beukes on the Thursday, was amazingly well prepared and insightful, which made my first experience of appearing at an international festival a great pleasure as well as a privilege.

The highlight of the weekend for me though was meeting and talking with Spanish fans of my work and of fantastic literature generally, and I want to say a very special thank you to Yolanda, Sofia, both Susanas, Sergio, Felix and Pablo among many others for helping to make our time in Aviles so warmly memorable. (NB: you can read an interview I did with Yolanda Espineira here at Sense of Wonder.) Huge thanks also to Ian Watson and Cristina Macia for inviting us, and to our superhuman interpreter, Diego Garcia Cruz, without whom none of this would have been possible. It was a great gig.

After all, what could be better than watching Jason and the Argonauts on an open-air screen in a Spanish town on a summer’s evening, and finding out you’re still a little bit scared of Talos..?

 

 

 

Being interviewed by Yolanda - photo Chris Priest

70 years young

“We know him as a supporter of young writers, a stern critic of sloppy card tricks and cheap deceits. Just as we can never be certain when we are caught in his tricks, we can be certain of the man.”

(Which were just a few of Simon Spanton’s words to us after dinner.)

Today is Chris’s birthday, and on Friday evening a group of our wonderful friends and colleagues came together in a London pub to celebrate the occasion. We gathered at The Porcupine on Charing Cross Road, a venue we love for its friendliness, its great lunches, and its close proximity to some excellent bookshops and the Curzon cinema. It was a marvellous occasion – Chris deemed it easily his best birthday ever – and it was just fantastic to have so many of those who are most special to us all together in one very cheerful, very talkative throng. Simon Spanton and Al Reynolds made excellent and beautifully contrasting speeches, and when you realise that 2013 marks not just Chris’s 70th birthday, but also his fiftieth year as a writer and the publication of his thirteenth novel (fourteenth if you count The Dream Archipelago) it certainly seemed like there was much to celebrate. For Chris of course, but also for everyone who writes, works, reads, discusses and argues to make SFF the unique and uniquely stimulating literary landscape that it is. Once again, we’d like to offer our heartfelt thanks to those who turned out – some from quite some distance – to make the evening so hugely enjoyable and such a resounding success. It will live long in our memory. Our only regret is that we didn’t take more photos – but we were too busy talking!

Gerald and Georgie McMorrow

Helen and Ian Whates, Scott Bradfield, Paul McAuley, Al Reynolds

Erik Arthur, Paul Kincaid, Simon Spanton

John Berlyne, Marcus Gipps, Bella Pagan and a tiny bit of Emma Swift

Scott Bradfield, Judith Clute, Paul McAuley and I think that's the back of Maureen Mincaid Speller's head

Paul McAuley, Al Reynolds

Me, and of those not already mentioned, Simon Ings (foreground) and Sam Thompson (far end)

Launched!

We had a phenonmenal turnout for our joint PS/Eibonvale/Chomu launch last night. It was wonderful to see so many people, some of them writers I have known almost since the days of my first short story publications in Dark Horizons. Thanks to everyone who turned out РI know some of you travelled quite some distance  and it was thrilling to have you there Рand thanks especially to Evie Wyld and her crew at the Review bookshop in Peckham, who provided such brilliant support and of course the excellent venue without which none of this would have been possible. You were amazing.

Fantastic Journeys

Rustblind and Silverbright is here! Every good book deserves a proper send-off, and I’m delighted to announce that Rustblind will be launched upon the world with all due ceremony – not to mention generous amounts of alcohol – at 7pm this coming Thursday, July 4th, from the excellent Review bookshop at 131 Bellenden Road SE15. That’s just 5 minutes’ walk from Peckham Rye station – head down Bellenden Road to the junction with Choumert Road. The bookshop is opposite The Victoria pub – you can’t miss it. Review is a wonderful independent and independently-minded bookshop, situated in a beautiful, tree-lined South London street (and any of you North Londoners out there about to protest that there is no such thing, just come along and see for yourselves!) with a designated events space and a selection of great cafes and pubs in the immediate vicinity. In short, it’s the perfect venue and we’re delighted that Review is hosting us.

Rustblind and Silverbright is David Rix of Eibonvale’s first solo editing project, and if this auspicious start is the way he means to go on, then the world of horror and slipstream is in for some fine treats in future, that’s for sure. I’ve had a sneak preview via the proof pdf, and I can tell you that the selection of stories on offer is really rather special. Clearly David is not the only one who keeps the subject of trains close to his heart, because the contributors to this railway-themed anthology flaunt their affection, fascination and obsession with the railways in every word they write. There have been railway anthologies before of course, but I seriously believe there’s never been anything quite like this one. Rix’s attention to detail in the original cover art, formatting and interior layout is the icing on the cake.

And that’s not all! This ‘evening of the uncanny’ will also see the official London launch of Quentin Crisp’s Defeated Dogs (Eibonvale Press), P. F Jeffery’s Jane (Chomu Press) together with two new titles from PS Publishing, Rosanne Rabinowitz‘s captivating Machen-themed novella Helen’s Story, and my own story cycle Stardust. In celebration of the launch, PS are currently offering a special deal on joint purchases of Helen’s Story and Stardust, so those who aren’t able to get to the event won’t miss out.

The evening will feature a series of readings by authors, who will be happy to answer your questions and of course sign your books! Please do come along and say hello, have a glass of wine with us and get involved in all things uncanny. We’ll look forward to seeing you on the night.

You can read more about the event at the Review’s events diary here.

 

 

Paris in the Spring

We’ve just returned from Paris, where I’ve spent the last couple of days meeting the press and having my photo taken as part of the run-up to the publication of the French edition of The Silver Wind at the end of August. I’ve just this morning received my author copies of the book – entitled Complications in French – and I for one think it looks fantastic. The cover design couldn’t be more beautiful or more appropriate!

And the initial response to the book has been overwhelming. I gave four in-depth interviews to four highly competent journalists – Christine Marcandier of Mediapart, Macha Sery of Le Monde, Frederique Roussel of Liberation, and Clementine Godszal of Les Inrockuptibles – all of whom had not only read the book very closely, but had interesting and insightful things to say and ask about it, too. I was blown away by their natural enthusiasm for speculative fiction in general and for Complications in particular. The experience of meeting and talking to them was deeply energizing.

Complications is being published by Editions Tristram, an independent imprint founded in 1988 by Jean-Hubert Gailliot under the slogan: ‘What changes literature is literature itself’. The people who run Tristram are in love with books and with ideas. They quite clearly see it as their mission to seek out and promote the work of writers who come at things from a different angle, who work at the boundaries of genre, who produce work that is an individual expression of an original or contrary worldview. To say that I am thrilled to be associated with them is an understatement, and when you look at their catalogue – which includes work by J. G. Ballard, Joyce Carol Oates, Arno Schmidt, Pierre Bourgeade and Patti Smith – you will very quickly understand why.

In the Cafe Les Editeurs, with Sylvie Martigny and Jean-Hubert Gailliot of Editions Tristram

While in Paris, Chris and I had the additional thrill of staying in the hotel La Louisiane on the Rue de Seine. Situated just a minute’s walk from the Boulevard Saint-Germain, this historic building has played host to many artists, musicians and writers – John Coltrane and Miles Davis, de Beauvoir and Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller to name just a few. (How amazing is that?? I’m still having difficulty taking it all in, to be honest. I was particularly thrilled to discover that in more recent times the hotel has also been the preferred Parisian overnight resting place of Quentin Tarantino… )

Finally though, I really must say a few words about my amazing translator, Bernard Sigaud. With translations of works by J. G. Ballard, M. John Harrison and Paul McAuley (among many others) in his portfolio, Bernard is no stranger to the world of British science fiction. His first encounter with my work came through reading my story ‘Microcosmos’ in Interzone, and it was Bernard who brought The Silver Wind to the attention of Editions Tristram in the first place. Without Bernard and his tireless enthusiasm for speculative fiction, this project would not be happening, and I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. French readers might notice also that Complications has more pages than The Silver Wind, and this is because it contains an extra story. Here again it was Bernard who became interested in the peculiar sideways connections between my story ‘Darkroom’, first published in Elastic Press’s Subtle Edens anthology, and the stories that make up the original English edition of The Silver Wind.¬† When he emailed and asked me if ‘Darkroom’ might be included in the French edition I was happy enough to agree, but also surprised. It is true that I wrote ‘Darkroom’ while I was working on the other ‘Martin stories’, so I knew some material was likely to have seeped across. But it was only this last week, when I reread all the stories in preparation for the Paris trip, that I fully appreciated the wisdom and happy insight of Bernard’s idea. The connections between the stories are tight, and strange, and illuminating. I’m delighted to see ‘Chambre Noire’ lead off this wonderful venture, and pleased with the thought that future French readers of my work will be getting something a little different, something new.

With Clementine Godszal, Cafe de Flore

'Say cheese..!' Having my photo taken in Cafe de Flore

How time flies at Cafe Les Editeurs - all photos by Chris Priest

The marvellous Mr Hill

I first encountered Joe Hill’s fiction through a PS Publishing sampler – I’m pretty sure it was in a FantasyCon goodie bag – that featured his story ‘Best New Horror’. I read it more from curiosity than anything. This was just around the time that Joe was ‘outed’ as Stephen King’s son, and of course there was a lot of talk of the kind you might expect from those who don’t really know or understand the writing business, about how having a famous father would probably make things easier for Hill to get on in the world. I could hardly think of anything worse, personally. To be the child of the greatest and most successful horror writer in many generations – and then to have it dawn on you that you yourself wanted to be a horror writer? I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pressure that might exert.

The fact that Hill had broken through entirely anonymously, as it were, that he’d sent his stuff off to magazines just like any other beginning writer, that he’d been determined to make his name entirely on his own merits – this act of bravery signalled his seriousness and commitment right from the outset and earned him my immediate respect. But what of the writing? Did he have the chops? Could it be even remotely possible that Joe Hill could be anywhere near as good as his dad?

I respected him, but I was afraid for him, too.

I loved ‘Best New Horror’. I can still remember the sensation of delight that began seeping through me as I read it (I think it might have been on the train on the way back from that very convention), that feeling of ‘yes!’ that always rises up, like a shout, when I read something I know is good, a feeling of triumph almost, of solidarity with that writer. I loved ‘Best New Horror’ because it read like a dream, with that easy, swinging rhythm, that facility with dialogue common to the best American writing that I love all the more because I know I can never emulate it. There was more to ‘Best New Horror’ than pure reading pleasure, though. It was also a damn good horror story that knew about damn good horror stories. The way Hill played with the tropes, the way he had a ball with them – that story had me laughing out loud with pleasure at its nudge-wink self-awareness every bit as much as it held me in suspense. It was clever, it was artful, it was beautifully written. It showed skill, and pleasure in skill’s exercise. Most of all it showed that here was a writer who knew his own mind and had his own voice. I was so impressed by ‘Best New Horror’ that I immediately went out and bought Twentieth Century Ghosts, the collection that launched Hill’s career, published by PS long before anyone had a clue who Joe’s dad was.

And bugger me if the 14 other stories in there weren’t just as good! They showed a remarkable variation in tone colour, too. Magical realism, touches of SF, straight horror, weird horror, ghost stories – all demonstrating both a hand-on-heart love of the genre and a technical understanding of it that went way beyond the ordinary. My favourite? Probably the novelette ‘Voluntary Committal’, but ‘My Father’s Mask’ is amazing too, and I would be happy to see ‘Best New Horror’ re-anthologized from here into the next century.

Anyway, yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending an event at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road to celebrate the launch of Joe’s new novel N0S4R2. Joe gave a reading from the book, followed by an interview and Q&A in which he showed himself to be as comfortable and generous with an audience as his father. (Perhaps having writing as your ‘family business’ does at least offer some help in dealing with the public aspects of the job.) He was great fun to be with, and I think the audience would have happily sat there and listened to him read for most of the night. Best of all though, he knew what he was talking about. Anyone still curious about the secret of Hill’s success need look no further than his insightful and hardworking attitude to both the art and craft of writing.

I was very pleased to report back to Chris (who sadly couldn’t be there last night because of a previous commitment) that ‘this man writes proper second drafts!’ (And third drafts, and fourth drafts.) When you hear a writer explaining how even work that might have seemed good to him first time round usually needs to be completely rewritten, you know he means business. I was especially impressed by Hill’s attitude to his early rejections, how he believed that his prentice manuscripts were ‘rejected for the right reasons’, and that it was those very rejections that helped him learn how to ‘finally write a book that other people would be excited about publishing.’

His acknowledgement that inspiration is only the start.

It was a marvellous evening, and one to remember. I am very much looking forward to reading N0S4R2.

Dove magic

Last night I enjoyed the privilege of being a guest of the Magic Circle! Chris was invited to be a judge of the Circle’s Stage Magician of the Year Award, and fortunately for me that invitation allowed for me to accompany him. It was an amazing evening. The acts were superb – I’d never attended a live magic show before and so the whole experience was very special. Added to that there was the excitement of being inside the Magic Circle’s club house itself. Tucked away invisibly in a side street close to Euston station, the place is a treasure trove of legend, atmosphere and magicians’ memorabilia. Going backstage after the show I had the opportunity to chat to some of the magicians, and to hear stories of past members and their incredible exploits.

What struck me most was how true to life The Prestige turns out to be! Stage magicians really were and are that passionate and that dedicated. Their interest in each other’s exploits, both past and present, is real and ongoing and I totally love that. Magic is clearly addictive – and an addictive subject for stories. I left the house on Stephenson Way on a high, and very much inspired.

The eventual winner of the 2013 Stage Magician of the Year Award was John van der Put, aka Piff the Magic Dragon, with his hilarious dragon-and-dog mentalist act. In second place we had James More, a dynamic and distinctive stage presence with a genuine touch of the sorceror about him. But for me the absolute highlight of the evening was seeing Oliver Tabor, who took third prize in the contest, working with his doves.

Seeing a white dove produced seemingly from nowhere is one of the basic staples of the visual vocabulary of stage magic and as such you might think it would be old hat – but seeing it done live on stage is utterly enthralling, and I was completely captivated. Oliver has a stage presence that is all his own – mystical, elusive and just a touch ethereal. In fact he reminded me just a little of Mr Eisenheim, in Steven Millhauser’s story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’. What impressed me most was the obvious empathy he enjoyed with his beautiful Java doves.

When I spoke to him afterwards, he told me that he looked on his birds not as stage props, but as workmates, and his love and respect for these creatures was clearly apparent. Oliver has seven of the birds, which he began training when they were just a few months old. He very generously and trustingly let me hold one of them. The experience was one I will treasure.

Locus poll round-up

The last days of November saw a final rush to place votes in the Locus All-Centuries poll before it closed at midnight on the 30th. I can’t say I blame anyone for leaving it to the last minute, because getting those lists finalised and then ranked added up to a pretty steep time commitment. I hope these eleventh hour participants, together with the consequent surge in online publicity for the ballot, did manage to up the voting figures a bit – I read somewhere that the response to the poll had been disappointing up till then. This is sad to hear, because of course the fewer the votes cast, the less meaningful the final result (shades of BFAs 2011 – either that or the recent Tory police privatisation bill… ) It seems to me that part of the problem in the case of the Locus poll has been the sheer size of the thing – the voting form looked daunting, even if in reality it needn’t have been. This issue could have been offset considerably by the introduction of two simple measures: 1) the poll ‘rules’ should have made it clearer that you didn’t have to fill in all the categories for your vote to be eligible – if you just wanted to vote for novels, or for SF and not Fantasy, for example, that was perfectly OK, and 2) the category for novelette should have been expunged (or, as I saw someone more memorably put it, killed with fire). The novelette is a pretty worthless category in any case – basically it’s just a long short story – and given that it’s difficult, not to say impossible, to obtain the word counts for eligible works outside of the Locus suggestions lists, it made the whole novelette segment feel not only superfluous to requirements but also an active discouragement to people filling in those massive voting forms.

The ballot is a good thing, because it’s interesting to see what the SFF hivemind is thinking, and it deserves to flourish, so let’s hope that Locus learn from their mistakes this year and make the next grand poll a little more user-friendly.

These issues apart, it’s been great to see some voters posting their ballots online. The selections have been genuinely interesting, and it’s been heartening to note how readily those people who did vote have been departing from the suggestions lists to include works more personally important to them. Niall Harrison, Ian Sales, Cheryl Morgan, Rich Horton and Martin Lewis have all posted their excellent lists, there’s another great one at SF Strangelove, and the whole business was discussed extensively on the Coode Street podcast. My own ballot, if you missed it earlier, is here. But the biggest round of applause must go to Matthew Cheney, whose ballot – so imaginative, so ambitious – was a balm to my soul. How wonderful to choose Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians (raises fist and yells with delight). And Straub too! (I dithered long and hard between The Buffalo Hunter and The Juniper Tree in the 20th century novella category, eventually plumping for The Buffalo Hunter, so it’s good to see MC’s vote go to The Juniper Tree instead, although actually anything from Houses Without Doors would be a worthy candidate – I still feel bad for not including ‘A Short Guide to the City’ in the short story category, because I love it to bits.) Cheney’s choices could quite easily serve as the basis for a 2013 reading list as they include a good amount of stuff that I’ve had my eye on for some time: Thomas Disch’s 334 (I read the title section in the anthology Anticipations years ago and thought it was amazing), Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (I saw a ref to that just the other day and noted it down TBR pdq), Brian Francis Slattery’s Liberation, and of course Delany, Delany, Delany, who I’ve not read anywhere near enough of and yet feel should be essential to me.

Matt Cheney’s ballot brings so many exceptional works and writers to the forefront of the mind – which should surely be the whole point of the Locus poll in any case – and comprises exactly the kind of radical and unorthodox thinking SFF readers, writers and critics need to be aiming for. Bravo.

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