Category Archives: news

Dreams Before the Start of Time

In all the political excitement and confusion of the past ten hours, no one should forget that today also sees the publication of Anne Charnock’s beautifully crafted third novel Dreams Before the Start of Time. A sequel-of-sorts to her second, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, Dreams has us revisit one of the main characters from that novel, and brings us a whole host of new characters to populate, clarify and meditate upon the technological, sociological and environmental changes that have taken place in her world since last we saw her.

Toni was a teenage girl in Sleeping Embers. Now an old lady, her store of memories and knowledge of possibilities beyond the parameters of the existence we know makes her – and the reality she inhabits – both utterly compelling as a character and a notable and important exemplar of everything science fiction can be capable of when it is as good as this.

I greatly admire this book. I love the music it makes when listened to in consort with its equally accomplished predecessor. Most of all, I’m delighted and inspired by Anne Charnock’s writing talent, her contemplative, forensic, insatiably curious approach to speculative fiction. The three novels she has produced to date constitute a significant literary achievement in their own right, as well as being the springboard from which – I feel sure of it – Charnock will leap towards still more confident advances in the novels to come.

What with all the Sharke-ing, I’ve not yet had time to write the review this novel deserves, but in a way that’s a good thing as your reading energies would be far better spent in getting stuck into the book itself. But for any of you who do enjoy a more detailed introduction, look no further than From Couch to Moon, where you’ll see that my fellow Sharke, Megan AM, clearly enjoyed Dreams Before the Start of Time as much as I did.

One for next year’s shortlist, that’s for sure…

 

Well, that was weird…

It is with some pride and considerably greater astonishment that I can now confirm that my story ‘The Art of Space Travel‘ has been nominated for a Hugo. (Nope, still doesn’t sound real.) This is something I never expected to happen for a work of mine in a million years, so seriously, a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who voted for the story, and thereby contributed to giving me one of my most surreal email inbox moments to date.

‘The Art of Space Travel’ was inspired, believe it or not, by one of the Heathrow Eastercons. Over the course of the weekend and walking to and fro between the con hotel and the pub and restaurant in the nearby village of Sipson, it struck me again and again how peculiar it was, this juxtaposition of a centuries-old community with the artificial and constantly fluctuating landscape of the airport, its buildings and the dividing perimeter road. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to write a story set amidst the contradictions and unique challenges of that landscape, and, a year or so later, ‘The Art of Space Travel’ was the result. With the destruction of Sipson to make way for a third airport runway a real possibility, the story feels still more urgent and closer to home.

Emily, Benny and Moolie remain favourite characters of mine, and the knowledge that others have felt touched by them too – enough to nominate their story for a Hugo Award – is the most massive compliment.

Thanks also of course to Ellen Datlow for buying and editing the story, to tor.com for publishing it, and to Linda Yan for her gorgeous cover art.

You can check out the full list of Hugo nominees at tor.com here.

2084

Trying to come up with something good to say about today, I note with some excitement the launch of Unsung Stories’s new Kickstarter project, set up with the aim of helping the launch of their first ever anthology. 2084 is a celebration – if that’s the right word – of George Orwell’s great novel 1984, in which we see eleven science fiction writers grappling with his themes and coming up with new interpretations and meditations on what Orwell was writing about back in 1948.

As George Sandison suggests in his introduction to the Kickstarter, far from being last-century, the themes of 1984 have never felt more urgent, more relevant, and the act of writing science fiction has itself never felt more political. With new stories by Aliya Whiteley, Anne Charnock, Christopher Priest and Dave Hutchinson to name just four, 2084 looks like being a landmark anthology and I’d urge everyone to support it. (The artwork is amazing, too.)

And while we’re on the subject of Kickstarters, I backed Influx Press’s latest earlier in the week. I’m choosing Eley Williams’s collection Attrib as my reward – from the samples I’ve read it seems an extraordinary book – but more than that I want to support what they do, because in the current climate especially, publishers that support writing that is as political as it is personal are more important than ever.

On an allied subject, I was reading Iain Sinclair’s essay ‘The Last London‘ in the London Review of Books yesterday. Discursive and clearly targeted at the same time, Sinclair’s ruminations about what is happening not just to London but to our corner of the world struck more than a few chords.

There are so many good people, fighting for good things. It’s good, especially today, to try and remember that.

New Fears

Pleased to announce that my story ‘Four Abstracts’ will feature in an all-new horror anthology from Titan, New Fears. Edited by Mark Morris, New Fears is scheduled for publication this September and here’s the full Table of Contents:

THE BOGGLE HOLE – ALISON LITTLEWOOD

SHEPHERDS’ BUSINESS – STEPHEN GALLAGHER

NO GOOD DEED – ANGELA SLATTER

THE FAMILY CAR – BRADY GOLDEN

FOUR ABSTRACTS – NINA ALLAN

SHELTERED IN PLACE – BRIAN KEENE

THE FOLD IN THE HEART – CHAZ BRENCHLEY

DEPARTURES – A.K. BENEDICT

THE SALTER COLLECTION – BRIAN LILLIE

SPEAKING STILL – RAMSEY CAMPBELL

THE EYES ARE WHITE AND QUIET – CAROLE JOHNSTONE

THE EMBARRASSMENT OF DEAD GRANDMOTHERS – SARAH LOTZ

EUMENIDES (THE BENEVOLENT LADIES) – ADAM NEVILL

ROUNDABOUT – MURIEL GRAY

THE HOUSE OF THE HEAD – JOSH MALERMAN

SUCCULENTS – CONRAD WILLIAMS

DOLLIES – KATHRYN PTACEK

THE ABDUCTION DOOR – CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN

THE SWAN DIVE – STEPHEN LAWS

‘Four Abstracts’ is a follow-up of sorts to my 2007 novella A Thread of Truth, and yes, spiders do feature. It’s set mainly in Hartland, a village in West Devon that I knew I wanted to write about from the moment I first visited it. I’m very fond of these characters, who may yet have more stories to tell…

A toe in the water

I went into Glasgow yesterday, to attend a couple of screenings at the Glasgow Film Festival. I was particularly keen to check out Olivier Assayas’s new movie Personal Shopper, and after having (finally) caught up with Local Hero last summer, the opportunity to see Bill Forsyth’s rarely screened adaptation of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping seemed too good to miss.

In the event, the Forsyth proved the superior movie by far – emotionally rich and beautifully photographed, it put the curiously affectless, all-surface Personal Shopper in the shade. After the Festen-tense drama of Summer Hours and the intense, dramatic weirdness of The Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas’s handling of the ghost story elements in his new venture seemed altogether too conventional, too trope-y, while the ‘sad lives of the super-rich’ plot strand that didn’t bother me overmuch in Clouds (because the emotional drama felt so convincing) here played out like a much less successful recapitulation of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (which did at least demonstrate a modicum of irony). The Neon Demon, only less in your face and therefore less gripping.

The weirdest thing for me about Personal Shopper was the music that accompanied the closing credits: Anna von Hausswolff’s ‘Track of Time’, the very same track that, with its accompanying video, directly inspired a recently completed short story of mine. More on that, hopefully, soon.

As much as the movies themselves, the best thing about yesterday was being in the Glasgow Film Theatre, the number one indie film venue in the country and a joyous early discovery for me in our new life here in Scotland. Taking the ferry and the train from Rothesay to Glasgow is made special precisely through being not special: this is a normal, regular commuter route, a well-worn connection between the island and the mainland that has existed and thrived for several centuries. Our two regular ferries – the MV Bute and the MV Argyle – were built in Gdansk and sail roughly once an hour in both directions. They are a constant and regular presence in our life here and one can’t help but feel a strong and immediate affection for them. 

Before moving here I’d not been in Glasgow for more than ten years and so had trace memories only. Since coming to live on Bute, I’ve been into the city twice already and the connection feels immediate and strong. What I place. There is enough here – of history, of psychogeography, of culture – to fill several lifetimes. I am already making notes on all manner of subjects – even notes about notes I need to make notes about. If there has been anything lacking in our time here so far it is simply hours in the day. There is so much to think about, to discover.

One of the (many) upsides to being involved with the shadow Clarke jury is that it’s the first thing that has made me feel normal – i.e like the world around me is something I recognise – since June 24th last year. While the planet’s most obnoxious internet troll continues to host his clowns’ tea party in the White House, and while the Westminster government continues hell bent on its mission to transport Britain back to the 1950s (a mission every politically literate person in the country – and a good few out of it – knows is batshit crazy), we can at least still read, we can still write, we can still cogently criticise what we read and write. (Abigail Nussbaum’s similar thoughts on nominating for the Hugos are well worth reading.)

We’ll start seeing the first of the shadow jury’s personal shortlist posts going live this week. And while you’re waiting to find out what we’ve picked, why not have a stab at guessing the official @ClarkeAward shortlist?  The award’s director, Tom Hunter, has come up with a competition: guess the official shortlist in its entirety and win copies of all six books! The contest is made all the more tantalising by the fact that to date, no one has ever managed to do this. So try and be the first. The competition is being hosted along with the shadow jury at the ARU Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Just post your guesses in the comments to enter.

 

A new year and a new home(land)

The turning of the year is like the turning of the tide: inevitable yet strange. Rebecca Solnit, writing in the London Review of Books, provides a deft and forthright analysis of recent events:

“Trump was the candidate so weak that his victory needed the disenfranchisement of millions of voters of colour, the end of the Voting Rights Act, a long-running right-wing campaign to make Clinton’s use of a private email server, surely the dullest and most uneventful scandal in history, an epic crime and the late intervention, with apparent intent to sabotage, of the FBI director James Comey. We found out via Comey’s outrageous gambit that it is more damaging to be a woman who has an aide who has an estranged husband who is a creep than actually to be a predator who has been charged by more than a dozen women with groping and sexual assault.”

Attempting to summarise Solnit’s essay in a single quote does her work a disservice. It’s so good, such a coherent argument, a talking-late-into-the-night kind of piece that leaves me angry and grief-stricken all over again at what has happened, whilst at the same time feeling infinitely grateful to Solnit for writing this down, for finding the words we so sorely need. I felt a similar reaction when I read a piece by Richard Lea in the Guardian a couple of days ago, about writers from the US and the UK who have found stronger recognition for their books in Europe than in their home nations:

For translator Frank Wynne, [Laura Kasischke’s] suggestion that continental readers are more tolerant of unappealing characters seems all too plausible: “Literature does not exist to be heartwarming – even Watership Down is filled with violence and savagery – yet there is a large readership that longs for the familiar and the reassuring, and I think perhaps that is more in evidence among British and especially American readers.”

Wynne says that the vibrancy and diversity of literary culture in France and Spain is still protected by regulations preventing retailers from selling popular books at large discounts, restrictions that disappeared in the UK during the 1990s, adding: “Literature is a sufficiently major part of French culture that there are still radio and television programmes discussing books, and many authors are also major public figures, something that would be all but unthinkable in the UK or the US.” 

The piece is fascinating (and I can already vouch for aspects of it personally) but it also makes me want to weep, for the vile shortsightedness of a political culture that seeks to drive us away from Europe and into the arms of the US, a direction of travel precipitated by Thatcher but accelerated by Blair and all driven by a flag-waving, proud philistinism that is always going to value the politics of the so-called ‘free’ market over philosophy, sustainability, indigenous culture, creative endeavour and abstract thought, all the social and artistic values inherent in being human.

I think maybe we have to stop reacting and start resisting. There is no way of reacting to Trump’s joke-travesty of a press conference yesterday after all except to sit there, mind reeling with disbelief as yet more levels of total incompetence are revealed (there are more??) and thinking what an absolute dick. Yet even small acts of resistance are valuable and important. Taken together they create revolutions. In precisely this vein, I was delighted to see the recently announced longlist for Neil Griffiths’s Republic of Consciousness prize, a new award set up to draw attention to ‘brave, bold and brilliant’ works published by independent presses, the kind of experimental, unclassifiable writing that is readily appreciated in Europe but often struggles to find representation with the ‘big four’ publishers in the UK and US. That the Republic of Consciousness prize has been set up largely through crowdfunding is simultaneously an indication of how edged out such writing has become and the continuing hunger for it, for writing that strives to be itself and not just product. To be something more than the glib smoothness that passes for excellence so much of the time.

I also feel a raw, shivery delight at the idea of a fantasy trilogy by Marlon James. I’ve always maintained (in the teeth of strong opposition from certain quarters) that there’s nothing wrong with big-book fantasy per se. Big-book fantasy, with its immersive allure, can and should have the potential to be properly magical – it’s the endless recycling of stock tropes, coupled with adequate-to-bad writing that’s the problem. I’ve long entertained a mad, private dream of if-Hilary-Mantel-wrote-Game-of-Thrones, but Marlon James’s recently announced Dark Star trilogy will do me just fine, thanks. It’s almost enough to make me want to drop everything I’m doing and begin writing a trilogy of my own…

Dropping everything isn’t an option right at this moment, however, because we happen to be engaged in something of an epic struggle already. This one involves packing boxes of books (again) and is set to achieve its conclusion early next week. We are moving house, and the move is a big one, five hundred miles north, to be precise, to Scotland, to an island in the Firth of Clyde. Not just a new home, but a new country. If anyone had told us at the start of 2016 that this would be happening, we would not have believed them. Then we travelled north and found ourselves falling in love with a place, an ethos, a mindset. Then Brexit happened. Then we began to think seriously about what we both saw happening on both a personal and a political level over the next five years, the next twenty. We asked each other what we wanted to do and when we should do it and we both agreed it should be Scotland and it should be now.

It’s incredibly exciting. On a purely practical level, this is the right move for us (I’ll have access to proper public transport again, Chris will have an airport closer to hand). As a writer, it feels as if a dozen doors have opened simultaneously in front of me. There is also no denying the satisfaction we feel at being in a position to offer this most personal and concrete of protests against the Brexit vote. The feeling may be selfish, and ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it exists and it is real.

I always find in this time of year a kind of nullity, a span of greyish dog days, neither one thing nor the other and with the only consolation to be found in starting work on something new. This turn-of-the-year has the same blustery greyness, the same leaching out of colour, the same uncertainty, but it feels different, nonetheless, a genuine transition. The blog will most likely lie quiet for a few weeks while we get ourselves settled, but I am itching to get back to work, and that includes this journal. Small acts of resistance, among which books, and the talk of books, are the greatest of all.

Year’s Best

Very happy to note that my story ‘The Art of Space Travel’ has been selected by both Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan to appear in their annual year’s best anthologies. These yearly collations continue to play a vital role in the way science fiction literature is perceived, especially by new readers – I find it especially interesting to look back down the tables of contents from previous years, to see how the field has changed and evolved – and so of course I’m delighted to know that ‘The Art of Space Travel’ will form a part of that overview for 2016. This story seems really to have resonated with readers, and I’m particularly grateful to Ellen Datlow for seeing fit to acquire it for tor.com in the first instance.

Here are the full tables of contents:

The Year’s Best Science Fiction 34, edited by Gardner Dozois (St Martin’s Press)

  • TERMINAL, Lavie Tidhar
  • TOURING WITH THE ALIEN, Carolyn Ives Gilman
  • PATIENCE LAKE, Matthew Claxton
  • JONAS AND THE FOX, Rich Larson
  • PRODIGAL, Gord Sellar
  • KIT: Some Assembly Required, Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz
  • VORTEX, Gregory Benford
  • ELVES OF ANTARCTICA, Paul McAuley
  • THE BABY EATERS, Ian McHugh
  • A SALVAGING OF GHOSTS, Aliette de Bodard
  • THOSE SHADOWS LAUGH, Geoff Ryman
  • RedKING, Craig DeLancey
  • THINGS WITH BEARDS, Sam J. Miller
  • FIELDWORK, Shariann Lewit
  • THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MR. COSTELLO, David Gerrold
  • INNUMERABLE GLIMMERING LIGHTS, Rich Larson
  • FIFTY SHADES OF GRAYS, Steven Barnes
  • SIXTEEN QUESTIONS FOR KAMALA CHATTERJEE, Alastair Reynolds
  • COLD COMFORT, Pat Murphy & Paul Dohert
  • THE ART OF SPACE TRAVEL, Nina Allan
  • FLIGHT FROM THE AGES, Derek Küsken
  • MY GENERATIONS WILL PRAISE, Samantha Henderson
  • MARS ABIDES, Stephen Baxter
  • THE VISITOR FROM TAURED, Ian R. MacLeod
  • WHEN THE STONE EAGLE FLIES, Bill Johnson
  • THE VANISHING KIND, Lavie Tidhar
  • ONE SISTER, TWO SISTERS, THREE, James Patrick Kelly
  • DISPATCHES FROM THE CRADLE: THE HERMIT—FORTY-EIGHT HOURS IN THE SEA OF MASSACHUSETTS, Ken Liu
  • CHECKERBOARD PLANET, Eleanor Arnason
  • THEY HAVE ALL ONE BREATH, Karl Bunker
  • MIKA MODEL, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • THAT GAME WE PLAYED DURING THE WAR, Carrie Vaughn
  • BECAUSE CHANGE WAS THE OCEAN AND WE LIVED BY HER MERCY, Charlie Jane Anders
  • THE ONE WHO ISN’T, Ted Kosmatka
  • THOSE BRIGHTER STARS, Mercurio R. Rivera
  • A TOWER FOR THE COMING WORLD, Maggie Clark
  • FIRSTBORN, LASTBORN, Melissa Scott
  • WOMEN’S CHRISTMAS, Ian McDonald
  • THE IRON TACTICIAN, Alastair Reynolds

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 11, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris) 

  • “Two’s Company”, Joe Abercrombie (Sharp Ends)
  • “The Art of Space Travel”, Nina Allan (Tor.com)
  • “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit wood)
  • “Mika Model”, Paolo Bacigalupi (Slate)
  • “A Salvaging of Ghosts”, Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 01/03/16)
  • “Laws of Night and Silk”, Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 26 May 2016)
  • “Touring with the Alien”, Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld 115, 4/16)
  • “Red as Blood and White as Bone”, Theodora Goss (Tor.com)
  • “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious”, Daryl Gregory (The Starlit Wood)
  • “Number Nine Moon”, Alex Irvine (F&SF, 1/16)
  • “Red Dirt Witch”, N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy/PoC Destroy Fantasy)
  • “Whisper Road (Murder Ballad No. 9)”, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Sirenia Digest 125, 7/16)
  • “Successor, Usurper, Replacement”, Alice Sola Kim (Buzzfeed, 10/26/16)
  • “You Make Pattaya”, Rich Larson (Interzone 247)
  • “Foxfire Foxfire”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 2016)
  • “Seven Birthdays”, Ken Liu (Bridging Infinity)
  • “The Visitor from Taured”, Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s, 9/16)
  • “Elves of Antarctica”, Paul McAuley (Drowned Worlds)
  • “Things with Beards”, Sam J Miller (Clarkesworld 117, 6/16)
  • “Spinning Silver”, Naomi Novik (The Starlit Wood)
  • “Those Shadows Laugh”, Geoff Ryman (F&SF, 9-10/16)
  • “The Great Detective”, Delia Sherman (Tor.com)
  • “Terminal”, Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com, 04/16)
  • “The Future is Blue”, Catherynne M Valente (Drowned Worlds)
  • “Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home”, Genevieve Valentine (Clarkesworld)
  • “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay “, Alyssa Wong (Uncanny 10, 5-6/16)
  • “Fable”, Charles Yu (The New Yorker, 5/30/16)
  • “The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight”, E Lily Yu (Uncanny 12)

While I’m here, I’d like to wish all of you reading this blog a happy Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a well-earned break from the year’s overarching weirdness. Have a lovely day, everyone. Me, I’m finishing up a story draft, then settling down to read The Essex Serpent. I may also look in on the Doctor Who Christmas Special tomorrow teatime…

The Rift cover reveal

Titan gave me an early Christmas present a couple of days ago when they dropped this into my inbox – Julia Lloyd’s stunning cover design for The Rift:

rift_final-artwork

Seriously, I couldn’t be happier with what Julia has come up with. The overall feel of the design forms a clear and interesting counterpoint with the cover of The Race, whilst being very much its own thing. I particularly love the strength of the colours. The image provides a wonderful visual interpretation of the novel itself and I hope it whets readers’ appetites for the story to come.

There’s nothing like cover art for making a book seem present, alive and well and truly on its way! With just six months to go before The Rift is published, you can read the full press release at tor.com here.

For anyone who feels they can’t wait that long, don’t forget that my brand new novella Maggots is just out from Solaris as part of Jonathan Oliver’s demonic brainchild, Five Stories High.  As a bonus, Solaris are also releasing the novellas as individual ebooks and you can pick up Maggots here for just £2.99. Not a Christmas story exactly, though Christmas does come into it. Don’t go overdoing things on Christmas Eve, that’s what I say – and I happen to think the protagonist of Maggots, Willy Randle, would agree with me…

5 Stories High cover image

The Tiger Talks!

A brand new podcast of my story ‘The Tiger’ is now up at Pseudopod. The reading, by George Hrab, is completely wonderful, bringing the characters to life and transporting me effortlessly back to the room above the Old Tiger’s Head in Lee Green where the story is mostly set.

I find a weird enjoyment in listening to podcasts of my stories, firstly because I enjoy audiobooks anyway and secondly because I have discovered it’s more or less the only way I can find the requisite distance from my own work to enjoy it in the way any other reader might. I loved listening to this one and I hope you will, too – although it is one hell of a creepy story!

Anyway, thank you Pseudopod for choosing ‘The Tiger’, and thank you George, for your superb reading.

*

Among other things, I am currently in the midst of preparing an end-of-year post, but before we get to that, just to say that the copy-edit of The Rift is now complete, and publication has been scheduled for July 11th 2017. I have seen the cover art and it is fantastic. I hope to be sharing it here before too long.