Category Archives: news

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.

This Spectacular Darkness

Anyone with an interest in the work of Joel Lane will no doubt be aware that his non-fiction was every bit as accomplished as his fiction. Joel’s essays on weird fiction, both his studies of individual writers and his analytical overviews of weird themes and perspectives, are amongst the most insightful and important in the genre. They are also accessible, thrilling in their scope and power, lovingly crafted with the skill of a master. Readers steeped in the weird and new converts alike will find in their pages a lifetime’s worth of material to contemplate and be inspired by.

Joel’s long-term aim was to compile from his essays a history of the weird, taking in a century and more of strange writers and their seminal works. It is both his tragedy and ours that Joel died before he was even halfway through his project. Those essays that do exist though – these constitute a major work of reference in their own right, and how lucky we are that Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press, aided by esteemed writer and critic Mark Valentine, have compiled and produced for us This Spectacular Darkness, a landmark work that brings together Joel’s extant critical essays, together with a number of additional essays celebrating and critiquing the poems, short fiction and novels of Joel Lane himself.

Tartarus Press books are always stunning, but this one is particularly beautiful and with its wealth of previously uncollected material, an absolute must for both fans of Joel’s work and historians, critics and commentators on the weird alike. I am especially proud to note that my own essay on Joel’s three novels, ‘Socialism or Barbarism’ (previously published as an addendum to Eibonvale Press’s collection of Joel’s stories Scar City) is also reproduced here. This is a limited edition hardcover, so hurry and secure your copy, while stocks last!

 

A second blitz

At the end of the eighties, I spent a couple of months working as a room attendant at the Rougement Hotel on Queen Street, Exeter. I was living in a shared house on Old Tiverton Road at the time, and one of my friends from that house share was doing the same kind of work at the Royal Clarence. My friend was slightly better paid (because it was the Clarence, natch) but I stuck it out at the Rougement because I started and finished earlier, which meant I had a significant part of the day left over for reading and writing. I remember my friend having a right laugh at the way I always insisted on walking to and from work dressed in my chambermaid’s uniform, little white apron and all. She always changed in and out of her normal clothes at the hotel. I insisted I didn’t want to run the risk of having my stuff nicked while I was on site. Those were the days…

That was a difficult summer for me in many ways, with the hotel work – unforgiving and badly paid as it was – providing a weird oasis of humour and stability. The swapped anecdotes, the sometimes outlandish behaviour of some of the guests, the even more outlandish behaviour of some of the other people who worked there – these were things we had in common, my friend and I, and coming back off shift there was always some new and outrageous happening to talk about, which helped take my mind off other stuff that was going on.

Whenever I travel into Exeter these days, I come out of the station directly opposite the hotel that used to be the Rougement, and I usually make a point of walking past the Clarence too, at some point during the day, just to say hello, to reaffirm that tie. I was in Exeter on Thursday, having lunch with another friend, someone I’ve known for twenty years and who shared a large part of my time living and working in the city through the 1990s and early 2000s. We’d arranged to meet at midday, so I spent the hour before that doing some shopping and just walking around, having a look at things. Immediately prior to meeting my friend, I passed through the High Street branch of Waterstone’s and out into Cathedral Yard.  I walked past the Clarence, consciously thinking how gorgeous she was looking, glanced in at the window of Caines brasserie, remembering a jazz gig I went to there once, remembering a day last December when I peeped in through that same window at more or less the same time of day. Cathedral Green is a place of such stillness, even when it’s packed. There is an atmosphere there that is only to be found in truly old, continuously inhabited places, usually in cities, a sense of continuity and of all points in time being simultaneously present in a single moment.

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Royal Clarence hotel caught fire. More than twenty-four hours later, she is still blazing, with the fire now having spread to other historic buildings in the near vicinity. The landscape of the city, which seemed only relatively recently to be fully recovered not just from the depredations of the Blitz but from the equally horrendous planning decisions foisted upon it through the fifties and sixties, is now irreparably changed. I feel devastated and heartsick. Exeter did not deserve this. We can only hope that the rebuilding that takes place in the aftermath shows appropriate respect for the city’s heritage and for what has been lost.

Thinking of all those directly affected today, and of the emergency services currently working to contain the damage.

Simple twist of fate

I’ve always credited T. S. Eliot with opening my eyes to the possibilities of pure language, but really it was Bob Dylan.

I’ve always been obsessed by song lyrics, in that they have always mattered to me, as much as the music itself. Many a superb melody has been ruined for me – for good – on my becoming aware of the banal or derivative nature of the words that have been set to it. Whereas few things are as spontaneously thrilling as a poem of powerful originality and linguistic invention that happens to have musical notes of equal intelligence and loveliness attached.

When I first read T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at age 14, it felt and sounded like music to me, and that was how I understood it, that was how I began to learn that words could exist outside of their literal meaning. Being driven from one place to another in the back of my father’s car – we did a lot of driving as a family – and hearing Bob Dylan (though I didn’t know who he was at the time, not at the beginning) on home-recorded cassette tapes had a similar effect. Though I wasn’t able to analyse it like that, I just knew his words obsessed me. Frightened me even – some of the stuff he was singing about seemed pretty dark. When I didn’t perfectly understand what he was singing about – which was most of the time back then – I made up my own interior movies to run alongside the lyrics.

I made sense of his stories by creating stories of my own.

Bob Dylan is a poet and he defines our century. I remember back when I was an undergraduate, there was a big debate raging in academe about whether the lyrics of Bob Dylan should have a place on the ‘A’ Level English syllabus. I remember feeling doubtful – could Dylan stand with Eliot, with Pound, with Plath? Should he be allowed to? How foolish was I.

Dylan is our conscience, our fire, our life-changing road trip. No one puts words together and breaks them apart quite like he does, and most likely never will again. He understands the raw stuff of words as well as he understands what words can say. Dylan also has the distinction of being the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature who has most likely touched more people, in more countries of the world, than any other recipient of that honour to date.

Good call.

Strange Horizons needs YOU!

We are now in the final week of the annual Strange Horizons fund drive. In case anyone needs reminding, Strange Horizons is run entirely from reader donations, and all its staff are employed on a volunteer basis. I happen to think that Strange Horizons – now in its sixteenth year – still rates as one of the most progressive, challenging and all-round excellent speculative fiction magazines on the scene, and I would encourage you to support it in any way you can, either by donating or just by spreading the word.

Strange Horizons is stuffed full of excellent writing, so it’s difficult to pick favourites, but among this past year’s highlights I would select:

FICTION: Applied Cenotaphics in the Long, Long Longitudes by Vajra Chandrasekera

REVIEWS: The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist by Abigail Nussbaum, The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, reviewed by Catherine Rockwood, If Then and The Destructives by Matthew de Abaitua, reviewed by Andy Sawyer, The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, reviewed by Vajra Chandrasekera

ARTICLES: SF is the Genre of the City – an interview with Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay by Eli Lee and Gautum Bhatia, A Writing Life by Johanna Sinisalo

POETRY: little stomach by Charlotte Geater

As I say, it seems unfair to pick out favourites, given that the success and longevity of Strange Horizons is rooted in the magazine as a whole, in its progressive ethos and the combined commitment of its contributors. There’s never been a better time to donate. No amount is too small!