I took time off from the book for a couple of days to work on a side project. I also needed a couple of days to think over part of the storyline for the book: this kind of midway reassessment used to send me into a panic that on some fundamental level a story wasn't working, but now I recognise it (having the experience of three previously completed books, two published) as pretty much par for the course. I get to fifty thousand words or so, and I know which parts of the story work, and which parts might look good in synopsis form, but don't work nearly as well when it comes to incorporating them into a fleshed-out narrative.

Basically I'm thinking of chucking out the entire backstory for the main character: how they got to be where they are, told through a series of flashbacks that details the how and why of who they are (if you've read Against Gravity, I did the same kind of thing there with the sections showing Kendrick in the Maze). This won't affect the rest of the story, since my protagonist will still end up in the same place regardless: it's just how they get there I'm thinking about.

So I spent part of this morning writing out and revising a new back story for my protagonist, based on some ideas that have been swilling around in my head for the past week or two. What's coming out feels like it fits a lot better than what I previously had, and again it just feels par for the course: I usually find it's not worth me working out too heavily detailed an outline prior to starting a book as I always find a lot of really good ideas come to me while I'm actually typing prose to screen. These always end up spinning the story around in some new direction, usually a good one.

It's worth mentioning all this because I'm entirely prepared to believe I'm far from alone in that kind of midway-through-the-story panic, when you can start to feel lost in the details. I suspect it's the thing that stops a lot of people from finishing those unfinished novels: what feels like a good idea at the start becomes mundane from overfamiliarity, and you start to lose confidence. The trick is to not forget what a good idea it was at the start, and to be prepared to reevaluate what you have at key points through the process of writing - meaning, usually, roughly the midway point. The nice thing about this is, unlike with Angel Stations and Against Gravity, I'm actually enjoying making the adjustments rather than tearing my hair out.


My, my. I guess this means I've clawed my way to the top of the geek hierarchy, then?


This is quite neat; Tor UK have come up with an online game based on fellow Tor author Neal Asher's new book 'Voyage of the Sable Keech' - though I haven't actually had time to play around with it: and it's just as interesting as an indicator of the different ways publishers can promote their books now.

What next - Ambergris MMORPG? Vellum card decks? Against Gravity shoot 'em up? All of the above, dammit. The finest java applications available to humanity!
Stealing Light went sailing past the forty-five thousand word mark a couple of days ago, and continues to steam ahead; part of the reason for this is the actual main narrative didn't kick in until the thirty-five thousand word mark, something I'm going to have to sort out in subsequent drafts by taking earlier flashback material and distributing it in smaller chunks throughout the rest of the text. That way, I can have the story proper start much earlier than it currently does.

In the meantime, I've been reading and re-reading a couple of novels in the same vein as Stealing Light, mainly so I can be sure what I'm doing is as much my own thing as possible, without owing too much to Those Who Have Gone Before Me. How to make what I do sufficiently distinctive from the works of, say, Peter Hamilton, or Dan Simmons, or Alistair Reynolds (see what kind of company I like to keep?)?

What is it I can do to make it a Gary Gibson novel, rather than an 'anyone else' novel?

One thing I've been thinking about for a while is artificial intelligence; as in, the nature of.

A lot of writers like to play around with the whole idea of mind transference - from body to body, from body to machine, from machine to body, and so on. Unfortunately, as much fun as this kind of thing really can be, in some ways it's starting to get a little old - and when it gets old, it's time to start thinking of new spins on the idea.

Problems: nobody can tell you what the human mind is. We have a pretty good idea of the mechanics of the brain, of certain fundamental ways in which it appears to process information, and of the ways particular abilities and information storage appear to be located in specific regions of the cerebrum. But nobody out there with a hankering to maintain a serious scientific career is going to stand up in front of an international audience just yet and tell you exactly what a mind is. Which is strange, since for the past couple of decades science fiction has been treating the human mind as little more than a datastream which can be converted and reconverted from digital to non-digital information.

Again: there's nothing wrong with this, if it facilitates the narrative drive. If it makes for a better story, great. I'm just thinking about ways in which it might be different. Our genuine knowledge about the actual nature of what makes a living being living is effectively zero. There may be plenty of good guesses out there, but when it comes to quantifiable evidence the jury is still very much out. Put simply, when we're dealing with the mind, we don't really know what we're dealing with.

One thing I often like to say is that the conscious mind is like a horseback rider. The conscious human mind as we understand it is somewhere between, say, a million and half a million years old. It rides piggyback on the unconscious mind - the instinctive, animal mind, if you will - itself a machine close on a billion years old.

A billion years old: as old as life itself. This is important. Our fundamental animal nature is an exquisitely honed machine, the descendant of a billion years of evolutionary ancestry - and to survive for a billion years, you have to be very very good at what you do. One of the ways this ability to survive expresses itself is in what we call 'instinct' - a non-verbal interpretation of the world around us. The feeling you get when a person looks at you a particular way. The sense of danger when you walk down an unfamiliar street with inadequate lighting. The good feeling when someone you've never met walks into a room - or the bad feeling, or the uneasy feeling, or the sense of desire.

This is why I'm a big believer in trusting your instincts: your instinctual senses have been around, in one form or another, for a very long time - certainly far longer than the human race itself. It's something which - like the conscious mind itself - may or may not be contained solely within the brain, or distributed in some form throughout the entire human body, or may exist in some form we simply don't as yet understand. This is not in any way to suggest the intellect doesn't matter - of course not. There are so many other matters that could be discussed here - people's worst instincts, the drive to separate each other into 'them or us' that leads to most of our problems as a species - but it's not my concern to discuss them today.

Right now, I'm concerned with writing a science fiction novel which may or may not include mind transference of the aforementioned varieties.

If the human mind is intrinsically allied to the blood and meat that carries it, what happens when you remove it from that context, make it free from the finely honed nervous system that supports and informs it? If you free a mind from the constraints of genetic imperatives, does it then lose the will to live? Or to reproduce? Or to conquer its neighbours? Given so much even of our science fiction, at least in televisual/cinematic form is dedicated to the frankly bizarre notion that machines or computers might be somehow sufficiently threatened by us as to wish to destroy us rather than simply ignore us ('Don't you see? They hate us because we're human! Etc etc), wouldn't it be interesting to consider the nature of a mind shifted so violently from its natural context into one distinctly unnatural?

Much of our ideas concerning the nature of alien intelligence - amongst which I include artificial intelligence - are informed by the ape/tribal politics that continue to inform both our daily lives and the decisions made by governments and corporations. One thing that has crossed my mind is to consider the modern international corporation as quite literally an artificial organism, with its workers, managers, CEO's and footsoldiers in suits its individual cells which can either join or leave the main organism. I find this an interesting analogy because it suggests to me that any machine intelligence in the form it usually takes in science fiction novels might well by its very nature behave in ways entirely incomprehensible to us.

If the human mind really is so simple that it can be reduced to digitised information, then doesn't it make sense to think of, say, Shell or any other giant company in the same way, as something complete with its own desire, motivations, and will to live and survive? And if it's possible to accept this notion, is there any reason to think such an entity's motivations would make any sense to us whatsoever?

Since so many of our desires, emotions and drives stem more or less directly from genetic imperatives for food, shelter, survival (including the conquest of or subjugation by other tribes) and reproduction, what happens when you 'free' the mind from those constraints?

Creature of pure intellect, emotional/autistic vacuum, or digitised idiot?

As a result of these thoughts, it strikes me as more interesting to think of digitised/uploaded human minds as a brand new species - not necessarily superior, just different, and quite incomprehensibly so. Otherwise, all you have is a voice in a box.

Perhaps it's time, as it were, to think outside the box.


Want one.

Never let base reality get in the way of a science fiction writer's unfeasible desire for fucking gigantic dirigible craft.


Thanks to Phil Raines for letting me know I've been Thogged. (You'll need to scroll down to near the bottom of the page)

Thog's Masterclass. Trompe-L'Oeil Dept. `Nearby stood half a dozen patched-together vehicles which, contrary to their appearances, apparently did function.' (Gary Gibson, Against Gravity, 2005) [JT]

Now I know I'm a real writer.
The quite wonderful Boing Boing points to a link for the small press US publisher of 'Writing the Other' by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

From Boing Boing:
"Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward is now available from Aqueduct Press for $9 a copy. Based on the acclaimed "Writing the Other" workshop, this book includes essays and exercises that help authors create believable characters with diverse backgrounds. Race, religion, and age are among the differences covered in the book's hands-on approach."

This is something I've wondered about from time to time in relation to my own fiction, given a huge chunk of the human race is represented by the citizens of both India and China - two nations pretty much guaranteed to play an increasingly central role in the politics and economics of the 21st Century and beyond. I was impressed with the way Ian McDonald dealt with non-standard, non-white characters in River of Gods, and I've been thinking ever since, how to get away from writing the same old middle-class anglo-saxon protagonists, even just for a change? So I may well end up ordering the book myself.


So the 20Gb MP3 player - the ATMT Storm - I bought off Amazon is almost full already. At least half of it is my old vinyl collection, a substantial part of which I ripped directly from the vinyl onto my old pc. There's still a fair bit of vinyl with which this hasn't been done, but the essential stuff has been digitised.

Tastes change, mind you, so I'm more frequently listening to newer stuff, mostly recommendations and cd's loaned to me. My tastes tend towards screamingly loud rock, but not exclusively so.

On the one hand, we have Opeth, recently borrowed from Glasgow writer Michael Cobley: thundering black metal guitar? Check. Little quiet acoustic-y passages designed to lull you into sleep? Check. A vocalist inclined to a vocal technique reminiscent of a twenty-year old CIA wiretap of a man in a tiled bathroom attempting to give birth to an elephant while gargling? Check.

On the other hand, we have Mylo, much-respected Scottish musician and producer, firmly within the 'dance music' genre. I was surprised how much I enjoyed Mylo's 'Destroy Rock n'Roll'. Although, it has to be said, sliding everything I've heard described as 'dance' under the same label makes about as much sense as regarding, say, Anne Rice and William Gibson as sharing something in common simply by virtue of the fact there are probably quite a few people with both on their bookshelves.

On the other hand, Royksopp don't do it for me, but the Goldfrapp does, kind of. The Kaiser Chiefs is better than expected, the Hard-Fi less so. And I experience a strange schizophrenic chill when I realise I can't make up my mind whether to listen to Elbow or Black Sabbath. So it goes.
I read a piece by Jeff Vandermeer in the new Emerald City that summed up some ideas floating around my head for a while, particularly in relation to Stealing Light. Jeff says:

Seen through the mirror of a fantasy setting that allows the real world to be reflected in it, a writer can perhaps more easily be relevant — in the short term — without running the risk of becoming dated in the long term ... (in my new novel) I wrote several war sequences during the most horrifying phases of the Iraq War and the conflict in Afghanistan. Are those scenes making a comment on U.S. involvement in the Middle East? No ... the current war becomes a catalyst for a relevant mood, for a way in to writing about a fictional war — an indirect influence.

Which sort of rang a chord with me, since one of the strands in the new book is based around a series of military atrocities, and the way to make that work is to learn lessons from the real world and use them in your fiction, regardless of how fantastic it actually is; since, after all, fantasy and science fiction and a lot of other forms as well, even though they aren't actually possible, sort of drive the truth of a situation home by skipping past your preformed notions of the real and presenting you with the same thing in a fictional situation and making you feel as if you're encountering a particular kind of situation for the very first time.