A Modest Proposal (regarding ebooks)

I would like to make 'a modest proposal' concerning the ebook market, given that I agree fully that authors should get paid for their work. I should know, I'm one of them, and yet according to some we are about to be inundated by a vast wave of piracy that will see artists and creators of all types rendered destitute.

Now I must confess some of my sins.

I am forced to admit that at least one third of the paper books on my shelves are - according to the definitions employed by those concerned that the wide availability of ebooks will lead to the collapse of the industry through piracy - pirated. To be precise, a substantial number of them were acquired from shops that pay a few pence for used copies and then sell them for profit to people too lazy, corrupt or poor to either want or be prepared to buy them from Waterstones. These dens of illicit literary corruption - from which not one penny is returned to authors - are known in the trade as 'second hand bookshops' or occasionally as 'charity shops'. If you agree that authors should always be paid for their work, I'll help you paint the protest signs and we can start picketing the local Oxfam shops, who are clearly Pirates in Disguise.

I have also read books for which I didn't pay anything. This is part of a nefarious back-street system called 'loaning'. I know! It sounds so innocuous, and worse, there are people who 'loan' these books to children, the despicable fiends, deliberately getting them hooked on stories. And does the author get a penny from this back-hand trade? Not one. Does it matter if they then go on to become dedicated readers who fill their homes with books that profit my career and that of others? Of course not, and I have now learned the error of my foolish ways. Fortunately, most ebooks are virtually impossible to loan, nipping this one in the bud.

This system has become so institutionalised that it is now state-supported in dens of thievery called 'libraries'. In the UK and a few other countries, they actually give you a few pence per loan of a book, and I mean just a few pence. Clearly this is a sop to modern morality. But in other countries, such as the US, the author gets nothing. Diddly squat. Us authors are forced to sit around while complete strangers wander in and out of these 'libraries', reading our books. For free!

Of course, as we all know, this library/second-hand/loaning system brought the publishing trade crashing to its knees decades ago. Why, it's just the other day I was out on the streets next to Charlie Stross and Hal Duncan, begging for loose change, and discussing how this terrible state of affairs came about. Some people actually tried to suggest to us that, having read books for free in libraries or from getting them from friends, that people might actually then go and buy the rest of our work for the full price from regular bookshops! Clearly this is nonsense, since as we all know that once someone knows they can get one for free, then they can get them all for free, so why bother ever paying anything at all when the local Oxfam or library is often just a few blocks away for most of us? And even if they're willing to pay a few measly quid in a second-hand shop for one of our books, do we get anything back from that? No!

And to think some people point to Baen.com, which gives away enormous quantities of ebooks for free and without DRM, yet still claims to make a profit by massive sales of just-published books by those same authors whose previous works they have given away. Clearly they must be mad, insane or lying.

But I stand erect in my new-found moral fortitude. I will cease 'loaning' books to kids that I think might like those works, and accept that, having learned to get things for free, they will never go on to buy their own in the way that I did. I will also cease loaning to friends and stiffly inform them, should they enquire after a particular volume on my shelves, that they would be stealing from that author if they did not go out henceforth and buy their own copy. Fortunately, anti-piracy restrictions on my own purchased ebooks make it completely impossible for me to loan ebooks to friends in this way. Thank goodness Amazon had the same moral fortitude and saved me from myself!

As for DRM, well, clearly it's for our own good. Just because we legally purchased a book doesn't mean we can be trusted with it, after all. And if you can't trust the people who actually spend their money on ebooks, well, who can you trust? No one, obviously! Therefore it's only right that, unlike those who pirate, we should be forced to struggle to get our books to run on our chosen ereaders, or suffer the risk that future legal, political or social changes might result in those same purchases being deleted from our machines (http://nyti.ms/i8jinH). Sure, that regionally restricted ebook is easily available anywhere in the world, frequently postage-free, dirt cheap, second hand or new in its paper form (abebooks.com, bookdepository.com), but that's not the point, is it? Who ever said reading ebooks should be easy?

Amazon and all the rest are therefore quite right to make it extremely difficult for me to read my books on anything but my Kindle, and only those ebooks 'available' in the UK (but still completely available as paper books, entirely regardless of their point of origin). And if it breaks, or Amazon go out of business, or if for any reason decide I shouldn't be able to read my ebooks anymore, then it's my own damn fault for engaging in this silly ebook business. And if I want to get another machine that turns out not to be able to read the hundreds of ebooks I've already bought, well, if I can shell out for an ebook reader, surely I can afford to throw away all those locked and drm-ed ebooks I've spent hundreds of pounds on and buy them all over again on the new device. Which will also be regionally restricted and locked with DRM to that device. Of course, regional restrictions on ebooks are necessary, even though - as I pointed out - we can easily purchase those exact same books. in paper, from just about anywhere in the world, and in vastly greater quantities than ebooks are currently selling.

 Now, I could break the encryption on those ebooks in approximately five seconds using drag and drop freeware that requires zero programming skills but, stiff upper lip and moral rectitude, as they say. Yes: I will embrace an experience of the new age of ebooks far, far inferior to that of those who still prefer to read paper books because it's the moral, legal thing to do.

But it may be too late! Even our legal systems are crumbling in the face of this anarchy. A foolish judge in the US court system has gone so far as to say that illegal downloads cannot be equated to lost purchases! The only way we can correct this terrible imbalance is by making the ebooks at least as or more expensive than their paper equivalent to rake back all those lost sales from downloading, loaning and buying second-hand and ignore those poor deluded fools who claim to have rushed out to buy copies of books by an author one of whose works they just read for free as an ebook. 

Clearly the world has gone mad. To the barricades!

Some references that may be of interest to those reading this blog: The Problem is Legal Scarcity not Illegal Greed, Cory Doctorow on why you should download his books, Author condemns piracy, outed as pirate, Charlie Stross on Ebooks, Ebooks: Neither E Nor Books.


That was the Decade that Was

I can't say the 2000's have been too bad for me, characterised as they have been by my becoming a professional and eventually - at least, at the moment - full-time novelist. I started this blog just a few months before I finally got a sniff at a book deal, and an actual deal another few months after that. I'd written my first (practice) novel in 1997 while signing on and waiting for a college course to start, and that led me to selling the second novel I ever wrote, Angel Stations in 2003 (published in 2004). I put the upfront payment from Tor into a deposit and got my first flat, finally moving out of the hideous dump I'd shared for several years with another writer (who himself had already moved out when he scored his own first deal). Apart from a brief break abroad, I've lived in that purchased flat ever since.

I finished Against Gravity, my second book, and saw that come out in 2005. My third, Stealing Light, didn't appear until 2007, but when it did, it came out in hardback and sold - and still sells - exceedingly well. Sequels seemed to be the way to go, so Nova War came along in 2009, and Empire of Light in 2010.

I started writing Nova War in Glasgow but finished it in Taipei, having them met Emma, my then-girlfriend and now-wife, when she was studying in Edinburgh.  Empire of Light was written in its entirety in Taiwan. I started Final Days there, but finished it back here in Glasgow, a few months after we returned earlier this year. And now that's done and dusted, and I'm a quarter of the way through its sort-of-sequel. The Thousand Emperors. I even had a short film of a script made by the BBC just prior to my departure to the Far East.

I rather hope that this is a trend that will continue over the next decade. There are certainly more things I'd like to achieve; writing a comic or graphic novel is definitely in there as a possible goal, although right now the thing that would make me really happy is a US deal for my books. But, still. All in all, a pretty decent ten years.



I finally bought a Kindle to replace my Sony Reader. The Reader is a wonderful device in many ways, but getting ebooks onto it can be a pain in the arse. The Kindle is different. There are still hurdles that have to be dealt with, of course - getting rid of DRM, in particular - but as a reading experience it is,without a doubt, superior. The screen is a little clearer and sharper and less reflective than the Sony. I got the basic WiFi model, since the 3G version is aimed mainly at people who travel a great deal more than I do or people who struggle to get a file from their computer and onto an external. Although I can browse the Amazon website from the Kindle itself (as long as I'm range of a WiFi transmitter), it's generally a lot easier to do it from my own Macbook and just have Amazon send samples of books I'm interested in to it direct. I particularly like the onboard dictionary, and the Kindle's case feels more tactile as well (the Sony always felt like it would slide out of my hand at any second).

And, frankly, books just look better on the Kindle than the Sony, by a long way. Emma's going to inherit the Sony for something to read as she travels to work.

As I already said, getting hold of it proved to be something of a hassle. The first time I ordered one, Royal Mail and Amazon's website told me it had been delivered to me. That ended with me calling Amazon who filed it as stolen and refunding the money. I wound up ordering another one from Amazon, but on special delivery, and guaranteed to arrive by 1pm the next day.

Guess what: it didn't turn up the next day. I called Amazon and got them to refund the cost of the special delivery. It did finally turn up, yesterday morning, the day after it was supposed to arrive. Now I've got two in the house, one of which is waiting to be picked up by DHL and returned to Amazon.

Interestingly enough, after having made enquiries at the one store in town that sells the Kindle over the counter, and being informed it's selling so fast they can't keep it in stock, I suspect the predictions that the Kindle is this year's hot ticket for Christmas Day might be on the money.


Light Space

Or 'Licht Raum' as those hilarious Germans like to call the upcoming Heyne edition of 'Empire of Light'. Funnily enough, when I typed that into Google Translate as a single word, it translated it as 'clearance', which obviously wasn't quite right. Putting a space between 'licht' and 'raum' did the trick. The artwork's not quite as spectacular as what I got for the Pan Macmillan edition of Empire of Light, perhaps, but as the ad says, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Lost, Found

Well, that was kind of weird. Ever since I moved to the area I currently live in, here in Glasgow, I've had issues with the post. Boxes of books sent to me would mysteriously vanish en route and, indeed, pretty much anything which might be perceived to be of value disappeared into the black maw of my local delivery office to never be seen again. I started thinking seriously about getting a PO Box, but at a cost of maybe sixty or seventy pounds a year for what came to maybe half a dozen large deliveries per year, it was too expensive.

In the end I wound up having large items of this nature delivered to a friend's address across the city. My feelings about Royal Mail weren't improved by past encounters with my postman. I hate to colour people with my own personal prejudices and perceptions...but the guy was a total ned. Or, if you're not from Scotland, let's just say that if you encountered him on the street, you'd give him a wide body-swerve.

I'd started to hope this was all over when packages actually started to turn up until I ordered a Kindle last week to replace my Sony Reader. It was due to be delivered yesterday, until I checked the Royal Mail website...which informed me the Kindle had been delivered to me (the precise wording is 'collected by the addressee').

Nope. No sign of it. That left me with only one conclusion: it had been nicked en route, something with which I am depressingly familiar. Calls to both Royal Mail and Amazon confirmed this must be the case.

I got a refund, since I knew a store in town sold them and I was going into town anyway; I'd have bought one there before, but they were sold out. I called the store...and they were still sold out.

By now I just wanted the damn thing already without any more hassle. So having obtained a refund for the first delivery, I went back to Amazon and ordered a replacement with next day, signed for, trackable and hopefully theft-proof delivery.

Today I got a card through the door saying the one I'd originally ordered was waiting at my local Delivery Office. The one, you'll recall, that had 'already' been delivered to me.

So I went down and collected it, even though I'm due to have its replacement delivered this same afternoon. I asked the woman behind the counter what the hell was going on. I said I'd checked the Royal Mail website, and that it had supposedly already been 'collected by the addressee'. The addressee being me, yes?

Absolutely, she said. She had no idea why the website would have said it had already been picked up if it hadn't.  I didn't have that wrong.

Great. So I trudged back through the snow and slush with the Kindle that had already been delivered to me - supposedly - knowing another one is arriving this afternoon. Two conclusions: 1 - it was just a screw-up. Someone hit the wrong button somewhere, or did something that flagged the wrong message up on some database. 2 - someone tried to nick it, and changed their mind, maybe because my phone calls flagged up some automatic query, or because they realized the thing might not be usable since, as far as I know, each Kindle has a unique identifier, and that might not have worked if I'd told Amazon it had been stolen. It's all conjecture and guesswork on my part, but it doesn't do anything to improve my opinion of the mail service in this country. Not at all. Amazon are emailing me a posting label to return the one I don't need, but that doesn't help me after I wasted an afternoon on the phone when I could have been working.



I blogged earlier this year about taking part in a panel at a Sci-Fi London event back in the Spring, only a few weeks after I had arrived back in the UK. I discovered via Twitter that the audio of that panel - featuring the editor of SFX and Paul Graham Raven, amongst others - is now online here. I should say before you listen to it that I hate the sound of my own voice, and hearing it does make me think I need to try and speak a little more clearly - there was a reason I was speaking as slowly and carefully as I was; when I really get into a point,  I can sometimes get carried away - but it was an interesting and fun conversation, and it was nice to put a face to PGR after occasional online communications. The subject was the growth of ebooks and the threat of piracy, etc etc.

The podcast of the panel is here.

Funny story - while I was down at Sci Fi London I ran into someone I used to work with, back in my days at Borders Books, by the name of Gary Erskine. Gary had already made a name for himself in the world of comics, though at that time he wasn't quite so advanced in his career that he didn't need to rely on some kind of a day job. I get the impression that isn't the case anymore. Still, back in those days, I hadn't sold Angel Stations, and in fact, I hadn't even started writing it. I had sold a few short stories at the time, but didn't really talk very much about my writing.

So anyway, I ran into Gary at the event, just before he was due to take part on a panel himself, and he looked surprised to see me and naturally assumed I was down to see some of the panels, or something like that. When he realised a few seconds later that I was a pro writer - with several novels out since the last time he'd set eyes on me, neatly piled up on tables a few feet away - he was properly flabbergasted. The look on his face, I swear, was priceless.


There Are Rat Bastards Everywhere

Go and read this post on Nick Mamatas' blog pertaining to an acquaintance of his, who discovered a for-profit US print magazine had - without permission - lifted an online article she'd written and published it. On Nick's advice she wrote to the magazine and asked for payment - and the editor wrote back, suggesting the author should be paying her.

Makes you weep. There are creeps everywhere.


Did someone just try and buy out the UK government?

Which is more or less the title of this latest entry in Charlie Stross's blog. Let me tell you, it's some day when I find a speech by an elderly member of the House of Lords quite gripping. Even if he does turn ut to be lacking a few shingles from the roof. Last I heard it's going viral (according to Charlie's last posting on Facebook) with upwards of a couple hundred thousand hits on Charlie's blog in just a few hours.

It's jaw-dropping stuff either way. Here's a clip (via Charlie, via someone on LJ, via Hansard, the official minutes of the House of Lords), taken from Lord James of Blackheath's speech:

"For the past 20 weeks I have been engaged in a very strange dialogue with the two noble Lords, in the course of which I have been trying to bring to their attention the willing availability of a strange organisation which wishes to make a great deal of money available to assist the recovery of the economy in this country. For want of a better name, I shall call it foundation X. That is not its real name, but it will do for the moment. Foundation X was introduced to me 20 weeks ago last week by an eminent City firm, which is FSA controlled. Its chairman came to me and said, "We have this extraordinary request to assist in a major financial reconstruction. It is megabucks, but we need your help to assist us in understanding whether this business is legitimate". I had the biggest put-down of my life from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde when I told him this story. He said, "Why you? You're not important enough to have the answer to a question like that". He is quite right, I am not important enough, but the answer to the next question was, "You haven't got the experience for it". Yes I do. I have had one of the biggest experiences in the laundering of terrorist money and funny money that anyone has had in the City. I have handled billions of pounds of terrorist money."

Go read the rest. 


One Meeleyun Words

That's meant to be Doctor Evil, by the way...no, what I mean is I just realised that by the time I finish the book I've just started - The Thousand Emperors - I'll have passed the one million word mark; meaning I'll have written - at my best guesstimate - at least one million words of fiction since I started writing (including both published and unpublished words, to be precise). The bulk of that is in my published novels, mind you, and assumes I'd written maybe fifty or sixty thousand words of (mostly unpublished) prose before I first tried my hand at writing a novel. That feels like it might be something worth celebrating.

Teaching Sf

I've been a bit hesitant over talking about this, but I've been playing fairly seriously with the idea of teaching science fiction writing. The idea got started in my head when I started doing paid critiques of people's unpublished novels and realised the very great majority of them were making the most fundamental errors in their writing over and over and over again. A lot of what I learned about writing came from observation (ie reading lots of sf and paying attention), study (often from those thousands of books on writing you can get) and informed criticism (either internal or through things like the local sf writer's critique workshop). The idea got a boost when I realised critiquing other people's novels in this way - which also includes telling the author what I think would make their novel better/more salable - was making my own writing better; thinking more about what made other people's fiction work made me think more about what made my own fiction work (or not work, depending on where you stand). The critiquing's worked out pretty well, with some writers returning to ask me to help them with other things they've written.

That naturally evolved into something along the lines of 'I wonder if I could teach writing?' That's a harder question to answer because I haven't done it. But I often hear stories about people taking part in some writing class which turned out to be taught by someone with little more experience than the people they're teaching.

Since I got back to the UK in March, I made some enquiries. I contacted a couple of local colleges - tentatively - asking them if they thought this was something they might be interested in. I got knocked back, but politely. Then I recently found out a local university is in fact running evening classes on writing sf, fantasy and horror - and taught by someone who, so far as I can tell, hasn't ever written a word of sf.

Now, to be fair, judging by this person's website, they're not a bad writer. They have talent. It could be this person is a phenomenal teacher, with a wide interest in the fields of sf, fantasy and horror to inform them - although that would be an assumption on my part, since there's zero evidence to support that assumption anywhere on their personal website.

So it would be a mistake to assume too much; nonetheless, a brief discussion with another pro sf writer of my acquaintance who also works in a University - and also teaches sf writing - went some way towards confirming my suspicion that a great number of those teaching creative writing are often little qualified to do so (and in case you protest this, please remember this is what I have been told by different sources, some of whom have been very unhappy at spending their money on classes that proved of so little worth to them they wished they'd spent the money on how-to books written by people they'd heard of. If you know or think otherwise, do let me know in the comments). My own experience of paid writing classes way back in the day was, I'm afraid, overwhelmingly negative.

So finding out someone who doesn't write sf is running a local paid class on writing sf spurred me to think really, really hard about why I wasn't doing the same damn thing. Well, there's various thoughts on that. One is: I couldn't possibly do any worse than some of the people I've heard about. Another is: after five novels published and another three due in the next couple of years, I think I just might be qualified, in experience if nothing else. I wouldn't be the first pro sf writer to try their hand at teaching. I might even have something useful to say about fantasy and horror as well. A lot of it by necessity wouldn't just be about sf - it would be about writing in general, and how to get better at it.

If I did do this, it would likely not be something spread over several weeks. It might instead by a very intensive two-day thing spread over a weekend. It's hard for people to commit to something week-in, week-out, if you've got any kind of a life or commitments. So here's my question to you: if you're reading this blog, there's a decent chance you've thought about writing yourself. Have you ever thought about attending a paid writing workshop, say over a weekend? Does it make any difference to you if the person teaching it is a pro, with a history of publication and novels?

Also, if you've had any positive or negative experiences attending paid writing classes, I'd like to hear about them.

What I did this weekend

I don't normally go much for diary-style entries, but it's been a busy weekend with some fun stuff happening, and it feels worth recording. We (me + Emma) went to a local comedy club The Stand with a couple of friends, proving once more that stand-up works a lot better live than on the TV. The Stand was running for years before I first went to it sometime in the middle of the decade. Note to self: go to more live comedy shows.

Sunday night we spent watching Hal Duncan perform with a local psych-rock band called The Cosmic Dead, amongst other acts. Let me tell you, I really like the kind of stuff the Cosmic Dead do. You could probably sum them up in one word - Hawkwind - but that doesn't really do them justice.

I find it eternally amusing that after having lived through the Eighties, an almost entirely execrable decade in terms of music, that the children of the same people who were buying Wham! or Smiths albums 25 years ago are now forming bands with names like The Cosmic Dead.

Mind you, when Hal started shouting over the music ('reading poetry' I think is the technical term) I couldn't hear a damn thing. Also, everyone on the stage was completely invisible in clouds of dry ice. Lots and lots and lots of dry ice. On the other hand, it all added to the atmosphere, as did the fact the band themselves were dressed in black hooded capes. Given that it was Halloween this does make perfect sense, as does the fact the audience included Mexican wrestlers and a man painted blue.
Jim Steel, in standard Interzone uniform
Monday and I checked out Word Dogs, which is a spoken word performance group including some members of the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, in a city-centre cafe called Cafe Hula. Another interesting night, including seeing Jim Steel, Interzone's reviews editor, dressed in a three feet tall stovepipe hat. And it wasn't even Halloween. Unfortunately, when I arrived...I was the audience. Then someone else turned up and I pointed out the audience had just doubled (in fairness, a few other people eventually trickled in).

And I somehow even managed to get some work done on the book in the middle of all this. 


Upcoming upgrade

If things start looking a bit wacky around here, it's because I'm upgrading the blog's underlying code. Hence if everything goes splooergy, there's a reason. Bear with me. And yes, I have backed the original design up.

EDIT: All right, on my Macbook at least, it appears to be about 80% of the way there. Most changes, looks-wise, are pretty superficial - like a change to the logo to match the new book. There's a couple of things missing I'd rather were still there, but for the moment it seems to be more or less working.


First Chapter up

Okay, I think I finally managed to figure this out, and I'll have to admit it works and looks better than I thought it would. Anyway; presenting the first chapter of Final Days, due out sometime next Spring, or so I believe.

Final Days_Chapter 1


First Chapter

Just to say, sometime this week or next - when I get round to it, essentially - I'll post the first chapter of Final Days up here for anyone who's interested in checking it out. I'd post it sooner, but I'm playing around with different ways of presenting it; right now, with an embedded Scribd document pretty much leading the way. I like how you can just clck the fullscreen option and suddenly all you're looking at is the text of the story, with the web page completely hidden.

Right now, FD is most of the way through the editing process right now, and currently in the hands of a copy-editor. Next time I see it, it'll probably be a bunch of printed pages showing me what the book will actually look like. That means I'll get to read the book one last time (argh) to (hopefully) catch any errors still remaining in the text.


Plan B Book

I feel the need to give Plan B Books a shout-out. They're a new graphic novel, books and coffee shop opening sometime in the next couple of weeks (I'm not sure of the exact date unfortunately), in Glasgow. I've spoken a few times with Tom - one of two business partners opening the shop - at Weegie Wednesday, a kind of networking event/get together kind of thing in Glasgow for people in publishing.

It's always worth supporting independent bookshops, I feel, even if I admittedly have good reasons to favour electronic books these days. They'll be opening up premises on King Street, right next to Mono and the 13th Note - google maps link below.

View Larger Map


Requiem for a record collection

Over the years I accumulated, at a guess, maybe a thousand vinyl LP's, starting in about 1983, with my purchases finally dwindling to zero in about 1995. A cull some years ago cut them down to only seven hundred or so. I bought rock, heavy metal, and a lot of Seventies stuff. At the time, like many people I knew then and know now, I was appalled at having to live through the Eighties with its manifold crimes against music and fashion. I retreated into squalling guitar and high-pitched vocals following a trip to an Iron Maiden concert in...1982, possibly 1983. It seemed the sensible thing to do. At some point I bought a guitar and set about learning to play it. These, plus a subscription to Interzone, pretty much kept me sane until the start of the Nineties.

By the end of the Eighties I'd taken up writing for the first time since my early teens, more or less given up playing guitar, and was buying fewer and fewer records. The last album I ever bought in vinyl, I think, was White Zombie's Astro-Creep 2000 sometime around 1995. By that time I'd gone to dozens, more likely hundreds of gigs, but as the Nineties progressed I attended less and less. Even so, as I moved into different flats in and around Glasgow's West End, sharing with different people under different circumstances, I hauled my ageing record deck and vinyl albums after me, even though I rarely listened to them any more. They finally stopped being moved around when I used a fat chunk of the money I received for Angel Stations to place a deposit on a flat in the early '00's. The records went into a cupboard, along with the stereo, and they've remained there ever since.

I could listen to music, perhaps, when I'm writing - as many do - but I'm one of those who finds any kind of sound above a barely audible murmur tremendously distracting during the creative process. Most of the time, I write in total silence. Sometimes I listen to SomaFM.com's 'drone' channel, to get a certain mood, but even that only very occasionally.

Of course, I don't need a vinyl collection any more. About ten years ago I burned a significant chunk of them to MP3 format, and still have them ready for whenever I want to listen to them. Even that isn't necessary any more, since I can usually find pretty much anything I want to on either Spotify or Grooveshark, and in seconds.

At the moment, a few feet away from me are my signed Joe Satriani albums, purchased sometime in the late Eighties. Also the first album by Faith No More - I have a very vivid memory of hearing We Care A Lot for the first time in my kitchen, on the radio, circa 1988, and thinking it was a sign that the Eighties were finally, thankfully, on their way to the trashbin of history. I felt vindicated when Nirvana appeared on the scene. It isn't just that Nirvana were a good band - they were necessary, within the context of the time. There are albums by Budgie, acquired at various record fairs throughout the Eighties when I went through a blues-rock phase - and their stuff still holds up (some of you might be interested to know they were enormously influential on Metallica, who even recorded an EP of four Budgie tracks sometime in the mid-Eighties). There's an album by Tomita, a delightfully weird-sounding Japanese solo electronica artist, left behind at my house by a friend of a friend. It sat around for a year before I listened to it, and it turned out to be superb (Snowflakes Are Dancing, if you're wondering).

Then there's Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds (of course), and albums by various goth bands like The Nephilim and The Mission who, for some inexplicable reason, I really rated about two decades ago. A shedload of Zeppelin and Sabbath and...it goes on.

Anyway. A couple of years in the Far East does wonders for breaking the bond between a man and his vinyl collection, especially if he doesn't even own a stereo to play them on any more. That makes the vinyl so much useless dead weight. But, it still has some emotional value to me, hence this entry. Sometime in the next week or two I'm going to call a local record shop to come around and make me an offer on them. Given the experience of others, I think it's fair to say I'm not anticipating getting very much money for them at all, but to make myself feel better about it I'm putting whatever I get towards eventually getting myself an Ipad.

Original vinyl of first Jane's Addiction album, complete with ribbed rubber sleeve (because the record shops freaked at the actual cover)

 First got this Steve Vai album after hearing a track of his that came on a flexi-disc with Guitar magazine in 1984. Ran out and got this. It's still insanely brilliant - not something I can say, unfortunately, for the vast majority of his output since then.

 Hum a couple of bars from this at any sf convention, and the convention will hum back. Uuuuu-lah!

I first heard about Roy Harper when I found out from a friend he was the subject of the song Hats off (to Roy Harper) on Led Zeppelin's third album. He also sang on Have a Cigar on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Naturally, when I found out Harper had collaborated on an album with Jimmy Page, I had to have it.

It took me a while to get into Hawkwind, but a friend at school was a stone-cold Hawkwind fan. I got into them just as he was getting out of them. Not only that, they're playing Glasgow later this year, and with any luck I'll be there. 

More Hawkwind - the first album by them I ever owned, given to me by the same school friend. It's still my favourite. 

Picked this Al Di Meola album up when I was going through a major phase of buying albums by guitarists. It cost about a quid out of a bargain bin and remains one of my favourites. It's superb. 

 First Led Zeppelin album I ever bought ...

and the Faith No More album I bought about five minutes after hearing We Care A Lot on the radio. 

I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughan when I saw him play on the (Sunday?) morning at the Reading Rock Festival in, er...1984? The one with the Black Sabbath gig that directly inspired the 'Stonehenge' scene in Spinal Tap, anyway. I remember walking across a field feeling very tired and hearing somebody playing Third Stone from the Sun note-perfect. I just stood and gaped, and bought this album the first day I was back in Glasgow.   

And that's my record collection in its entirety, shoved into a cupboard next to my front door. Sigh.


The cover for Final Days

"Final Days follows the lives of a few key characters as a cataclysmic event is unleashed in Earth’s near future. This is a twenty-third-century thriller revolving around the slow uncovering of a conspiracy that irrevocably dooms the Earth, set against a backdrop of interstellar colonies. The story takes advantage of current cutting-edge ideas about the creation of artificial wormholes for interstellar travel, and their implications for practicable time travel. Action-packed and fast-paced, this is a thrilling SF adventure and a wonderful start to Gary’s new series."

So there you go: the new cover at last. I saw an earlier version of the full wraparound image a few days ago, but was asked to hold back until they'd made a final decision on a few bits and pieces and, particularly, the font. I'll have to be honest that I'm slightly surprised by their choice of font, since I thought the other font used looked a lot smarter, but I suspect people's attention will be much more drawn to Steve Stone's quite stunning illustration.

I'll try and score the full wraparound cover from Julie at Pan Macmillan, but if they don't have it, I'll post up the previous version so you can at least see the art in all its panoramic glory.


The shift to ebooks, redux

You'll recall I mentioned a couple of entries ago that I'd signed up to a website (novelrank.com) that purported to give me a reasonable estimate of the sales of my books on Amazon in a number of territories, and that if those figures were in any way accurate, then the ebook editions of my books were outselling the physical editions, sometimes by quite a considerable percentage. That seems to be borne out by this recent article in The Bookseller ('Ebook sales begin to cannibalize print':

"The data, released as part of a seminar held yesterday with Enders Analysis, 'Digital Seminar: e-books and their impact on the market', showed genres such as science fiction and romance are “overperforming” thanks to the tastes of early adopters of e-books. For example, the e-book market share of the science fiction and fantasy sector globally for the 10 weeks since June was 10%, more than treble the genre’s market share of print book sales. The share taken by romance and saga books was 14%, seven times its print market share."

Which does seem to suggest that the observation of my ebook sales, as being notably higher than my paperback or hardback sales, isn't too far off the mark.


Hands up if you think the Moon has no gravity

I don't usually have a problem with artistic licence in movies and TV shows, but sometimes there are limits.

I can just about deal with the spaceships in Star Wars rumbling or making pew-pew noises when they shoot at each other because it is, essentially, a fantasy - or at least, that's how I always managed to suspend my disbelief, even though when I first saw them as a kid I'd read enough Clarke and Asimov and Heinlein and popular science texts to know there was no air in space to transmit sound. I can let a lot of things slide, as a matter of fact, but every now and then I run up against something that really takes me by surprise; like discovering that some people think the Moon has no gravity, or that the long, whizzy blue tunnels  like cosmic spaghetti that usually act as stand-ins for hyperspatial wormholes in shows and films like Stargate and Contact are accurate renditions of the same.

I'm damned if I can remember where I read about it, but there was a survey that showed a substantial number of college students in the US thought the moon had no gravity; one question they were asked (I recall) asked them what would happen to a golf ball if an astronaut, standing on the surface of the moon, were to let go of it. Apparently a number of them answered that it would fly away from the Moon and towards the Earth since, presumably, that's where all the gravity in the universe is.

I find this incredibly depressing. I was less than heartened to find out recently that some people, perhaps influenced by TV shows like Stargate, think that a 'wormhole' really is a whizzy blue tunnel of light that could actually be seen stretching across space.

At this point I should probably take a step back and explain just exactly what a 'wormhole' is. Your best source of information is the main Wikipedia article, but I've also copied and pasted the first paragraph here for your benefit; you should also go and check the Wikipedia illustration if you can't quite visualise it.

"In physics and fiction, a wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that would be, fundamentally, a "shortcut" through spacetime. For a simple visual explanation of a wormhole, consider spacetime visualized as a two-dimensional (2-D) surface (see illustration, right). If this surface is "folded" along a (non-existent) third dimension, it allows one to picture a wormhole "bridge". (Please note, though, that this image is merely a visualization displayed to convey an essentially unvisualisable structure existing in 4 or more dimensions. The parts of the wormhole could be higher-dimensional analogues for the parts of the curved 2D surface; for example, instead of mouths which are circular holes in a 2D plane, a real wormhole's mouths could be spheres in 3D space.) A wormhole is, in theory, much like a tunnel with two ends each in separate points in spacetime."

Note the phrase 'essentially unvisualisable structure existing in 4 or more dimensions'.

This matters to me right now because wormholes are what my new book Final Days is all about. That, and time travel (since, you see, if such wormhole tunnels could ever really come into existence, their essential properties would, according to Kip Thorne, until recently the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at CalTech, allow for time travel). But it's not an easy concept to get your head around. I had to spend a couple of days working really, really hard to get my own head around how all of this works before I started on the book. That means I have to take an essentially difficult-to-understand idea and try and explain it to people who've probably, in most cases, never heard of it before. When Hollywood deals with it - as it has - it finds it easiest to portray it as a whizzy blue tunnel of light. It's a metaphor.

Mind you, when you play around with things like wormholes in a story set only a few centuries in the future, you're taking some pretty big leaps of imagination with a concept that is, at best, theoretical. Things like wormhole construction are frankly more likely in the context of a Type 3 Kardashev civilisation than, say, human beings in the 23rd Century. But, as I always like to say, a little over a century ago most people didn't know that the coming years would bring flying machines, nuclear bombs and space craft.


The shift to ebooks

Here's something of a future shock for you: a couple of months back I signed up to a free online service called NovelRank.com that purports to provide a reasonably accurate estimate of how many copies of a particular title you sell through Amazon on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This isn't the kind of information Amazon are actually inclined to give away - they still haven't to my knowledge yet given a figure, for instance, on just how many Kindles they've actually sold, for instance - so by means of some comparative algorithm (one assumes) the aforementioned website provides a best-guess figure.

What's interesting about this is that I just checked the sales of the Nova War paperback on that site and assuming it's in the least bit accurate, Nova War has sold approximately three times as many ebook copies in the UK as it has in paperback. Three times. If you listen to most technology/publishing pundits, they'll tell you that ebook sales are already accounting for 10% of overall sales, but assuming NovelRank.com's guesstimate is anywhere near accurate, I'm shifted pretty far along the bell curve and away from the average author.

The effect gets even more pronounced when I look at the sales of Stealing Light in paperback and ebook format over at Amazon.com (the aforementioned sales for Nova War were lifted, by contrast, from Amazon.co.uk). Over there, where the paperback of Stealing Light is relatively expensive and/or hard to get hold of, the ebook version is - by electronic guesstimate - selling six times as many copies.

There are two reasons I can see for this: one - the people who buy my books tend to be drawn, I suspect, from relatively technical backgrounds, or are at the very last early and enthusiastic adopters of new technology - like, say, Ipads and Kindles. This is one reason there was a fairly strong early bias towards sf and fantasy in the first online ebook retailers like Fictionwise. Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, the ebook versions are a good bit cheaper: $10.79 for the paperback of Stealing Light - but only $6.89 for the ebook over at Amazon.com. Back on Amazon.co.uk, the paperback of Nova War goes for only slightly more than the ebook version, but the price difference is, I suspect, significant enough on a psychological level.

So there you go. Judging by my own rough estimates, the ebook revolution is most certainly here.


Blurb for Final Days

Here's the blurb for my next book, from Tor UK's own newsletter (via Cybermage):

From Tor UK: Final Days by Gary Gibson follows the lives of a few key characters as a cataclysmic event is unleashed in Earth’s near future. This is a twenty-third-century thriller revolving around the slow uncovering of a conspiracy that irrevocably dooms the Earth, set against a backdrop of interstellar colonies. The story takes advantage of current cutting-edge ideas about the creation of artificial wormholes for interstellar travel, and their implications for practicable time travel. Action-packed and fast-paced, this is a thrilling SF adventure and a wonderful start to Gary’s new series.


Infinite Worlds

Here's a neat little book I picked up via Abebooks.com by the way of looking for research material. It's called Infinite Worlds, and it's ostensibly about exoplanets, the worlds discovered or at least strongly inferred by marginal wobbles in nearby stars. I think it's remarkable that when I started out reading sf, writers were quite able to make up anything they liked when it came to whatever satellites might be orbiting our nearest neighbours.

Now, however, they'd have to include known planetary masses such as the hot Jupiters discovered around a significant number of stars. For the moment, very few small, rocky worlds have been discovered, so there's still room to make stuff up there.

The new book I'm working on is set on several near-ish star systems, which means I've had to do a bit of research to get some idea of exactly what's orbiting some of them - or what's believed to be orbiting them, based on astronomical inference.

What's particularly nice about Infinite Worlds, however, is that it includes a large number of paintings of what some of these worlds and systems might actually look like by the artist Lynette Cook.

On a related subject, I was recently in contact with Lee Gibbons, the artist who did the cover of Empire of Light, my favourite cover art this far. He happened to mention in passing that the cover design had also been picked to appear in the new edition of Sci Fi Art Now. I hadn't actually heard of the book before, but after browsing through it on Amazon, I think I'll be picking up a copy.


Reviews, films, and festivals

Let me just self-aggrandize for a moment and tell you about two new reviews, the first being in the September issue of SFX (the one with Star Trek on the cover).

It calls Empire of Light 'gripping, imaginative and morally complex', and also describes it as 'page-turning sf with a distinctive identity and brutal, stylish action sequences, all of which adds up to a compulsive read'. Sci Fi Now magazine, meanwhile, has this to say about the new paperback of Nova War (full review here): 'An immediately enthralling and intelligent read, which captures the reader’s attention through graphic description of numerous exotic species and locations alongside early dramatic developments. Nova War is (...) a shining piece of sci-fi writing'.

Which is a nice thing to find in WH Smiths while you're waiting for a train to Edinburgh, where myself and Emma spent the day yesterday checking out the Festival. We wound up seeing a stand-up comedian called Alex Horne performing a show called 'Odds', partly because he was the first name I saw on the Fringe festival website (one of the advantages of having a name that starts with 'A'), and because someone else recommended him entirely separately. Which just seemed like fate, somehow. The last time I went through to the Festival and paid to see a performance was a long time ago - and I mean a long time ago: a play written by Grant Morrison, of all people.

As for Horne - I'd recommend him. His show isn't really stand-up comedy in the fall-over-laughing sense, although it is tremendously entertaining and remarkably thoughtful. I'm also pretty sure no one else could do a Powerpoint presentation and make it funny. But he managed to tie together gambling, quantum mechanics, and golf into a single hour-long show, which I found very impressive. There are some clips of him on Youtube, but they don't really do his act justice, unfortunately (his website looks a bit more promising).

Apart from that, I'd say the highlight of the day was the ex-Cirque du Soleil performer balancing his entire body, sideways, on one hand, on top of a twenty-foot pole held in place by four slightly tipsy locals pulling on ropes, just off Princes Street.

Films: we recently watched a Taiwanese film called 'Au Revoir, Taipei' (there's a lengthy review at that link), which was a huge hit in Taiwan. It's a romantic comedy about a kid who gets dumped by his girlfriend after she's flown off to Paris, then borrows money from the wrong kind of people in order to fly over and get her back. It's not quite as great as some of the reviews have made out - some of it, I think, is lost in translation - but that's not the only reason to see it. It's practically an hour-and-a-half long advert for Taipei itself, which is no bad thing. We both recognized a lot of locations used in the movie, including quite a few set in the Shida district, where we lived for two years. It's worth seeing.

I am slowly getting in gear for The Thousand Emperors, working on the outline and brainstorming the plot and characters. It's a tenuous sequel to Final Days, which I just handed in to my publisher a few weeks ago. By 'tenuous', I mean you won't have to read Final Days to know what's going on. And after I've finished that, it's on to another Shoal Universe book, which I'm now calling A River Across The Sky.


The future of sf publishing (not)

I had a read at this article online that explores ways in which an untapped audience of potential sf readers might be persuaded to pick up a new publication with high-production values, modern design and bleeding-edge genre fiction; these would be the kinds of reader who don't identify themselves particularly as 'fans' of sf books, but might be the kind of people who attend, say, Comic Con or go to lots of sf movies or watch Stargate, read Batman comics, etc etc.

There are a considerable number of responses in the comments, enough so that I was forced to skim many of them (I have an outline to write). But a fair number of those I did read tended towards the negative, and a few went so far as to break down the actual costs of publication: paying the writers, the editor, the printing, the time necessary to break even, the percentage of cover price that goes to the distributors, etc, etc. The comments are all worth reading.

Here's my take on this:

1. It's been done. It was called Omni. It was a newsstand magazine first published in the late '70's with stunningly high production values. I loved it, although I stopped buying it in '87 when the quality started slipping. Before that it published some of the most cutting-edge fiction around, including William Gibson's first stories. So, yes, it can be done. But only if you have an sf-loving Bob Guccione sitting on top of a gigantic pile of ready cash made from a long and profitable career in porn.

2. It'll never work nowadays. Key words to this argument: 'Kindle'. 'Ipad'. 'Tor.com' and other online magazines that now publish some very high-quality and award-winning fiction. You don't need to be on a newsstand. Nobody does.

3: Personal anecdote here. Assuming I've read the argument right, there's an enormous untapped audience of people who are sf fans but don't know it yet. They play sf-flavoured computer games, watch sf movies, etc, but don't necessarily read sf.

Well, I have some - admittedly small - experience in small-press publishing. Way back - we're talking early '90's here - I was involved in a small-press publication filled with fiction and articles centered mostly but not entirely around sf. It was, looking back, a fairly decent little magazine. I got to meet some interesting people and interview writers like Kim Stanley Robinson when he'd just started out on the Mars books. Michael Moorcock rated the magazine, apparently, which still gives me a warm and rosy glow of satisfaction. It was a tiny, tiny publication, but a lot of thought was put into it by those involved in its production, not least myself.

I too made the mistake of thinking that 'large, untapped' audience was just desperate for really high quality fiction and articles. When the '95 Glasgow Worldcon was about a year away, the magazine had pretty much finished its run, but I explored the possibility we could put out another, larger glossy-covered publication, possibly a freebie with advertising in it to pay the cost of printing, especially for the Con. The contents I had in mind - both articles and fiction - were influenced to some extent what I was reading in magazines like Boing Boing (yes, it used to be a print publication and I still have copies), the very early Wired and even Mondo 2000, as well as the aforementioned Omni.

I went along to a pre-con meeting of some sort, wanting to talk to organisers there with networking in mind. There were maybe fifty or sixty people there. I spoke to someone I'd been told I should maybe talk to. He nodded seriously as I described what I had in mind, and he told me he knew some people I should talk to.

He introduced me to a gaggle of three or four frankly fucking huge women who also, I was told, had a publication. They showed it to me. It was a bunch of A4 pages stapled together at one corner. The cover showed a bunch of crudely dawn elves wearing Star Trek uniforms on snowmobiles circling a Christmas Tree. I learned their publication had 5,000 subscribers.

My publication had rather less than fifty.

That's the exact point I chucked in small-press publishing, because I realised I was essentially trapped on a tiny island with people who wanted to read interviews with Kim Stanley Robinson and read fiction which was, to my mind, genuinely interesting and thought-provoking (and if you read Interzone over the past ten or fifteen years, believe me, you'd recognise a lot of the names we published). That island, however,  was surrounded by a vast ocean of people posting each other stapled fanzines of elves in Star Trek uniforms. More power to them, I say, if that's what you want. But I didn't, not by a long shot, and I sensed the project I had in mind was not going to find favour with anyone I spoke to in that room. I had a sense I was not being taken seriously. The upside to the story, if any, is that all that experience of producing and editing and designing stuff led to me professionally editing and/or designing a few publications for a tiny Glasgow publisher whose one claim to fame is that one of their telephone salesmen went on to be a well-known Freddie Mercury impersonator. 

Which is my very long-winded way of saying, yes, you can create that publication and aim at that large, untapped audience of would-be fans going to comic cons or watching TV or going to see the new Star Trek movie. But only if it has lots of elves in ST uniforms. Then it'll be a surefire hit.

Did I mention the elves had little red caps on with white bobbles? I shit you not.



Got this through from Mark Harding, who in a sudden fit of insanity felt motivated to send me a copy of Music from Another World, an anthology of new fiction based around, yes, music, edited by his good self. It's identified on the cover as 'strange fiction', but what we're really talking about here, of course, is primarily science fiction and fantasy of one flavour or another. Mark is a member of the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle. There's a good few names I recognize in there, including Aliette de Bodard, Neil Williamson and Jim Steel. Thanks Mark!

You can buy Music from Another World directly from the publisher here.

What the project reminds me of, actually,  is another, similarly-themed project from the '90's called In Dreams, easily one of my favourite anthologies from that entire decade - or even one of my favourites, full stop. You can pick it up for literally pennies off Amazon these days (there's some info about it here). It was edited by Paul McAuley and Kim Newman. If you can track a copy down, you should. 


Cult of less (vinyl)

I find myself fascinated by one of the recent memes doing the rounds, apparently sparked by a BBC article on the 'cult of less', the idea that you can vastly minimise the amount of stuff you have by selling off, say, your tv, cd's and books and replacing them all with digital media. Those who take it farthest don't apparently need furniture either. Those who take it really far don't need a roof over their head.

Although I wouldn't go that far, I'm sort of fascinated. I've written before about the appeal of reducing the vast load of Stuff I own, although sentimentality and a certain possessiveness prevents me from ever selling the vast majority of my books (I think 'prised only from my cold, dead hands' is apposite here). Even so, it's entirely possible myself and Emma might choose to go back over to Taipei at some point for a good long while. Maybe. We haven't really decided yet. If that does happen, all those books go into a couple of big boxes and stored somewhere, which is kind of a pain in the ass. It's not that easy to be sentimentally attached to something stored in a box in a dark corner somewhere several thousand miles away.

Which brings me to something I might have mentioned before (or maybe haven't), that being the decision to finally sell my old collection of vinyl records, most probably in a single chunk to a local record dealer. I've no idea how much I might get for them - we're talking 500 records at an absolute minimum, possibly closer to 600-650 (all lp's, apart from a couple of twelve-inch singles). Knowing my luck, it would be a laughable pittance.

On the other hand, I no longer value them nearly as much as I do my books. I've converted the vast majority to MP3 format, so it's not like I'm losing the music. Plus, when I thought about it I realised I hadn't actually played any of the physical, vinyl items for getting on, ooh, let's see...fifteen years. In fact apart from the 'dronezone' channel on Soma FM, I've pretty much stopped listening to anything at all. If I'm not writing, I'm browsing the net, or reading, or watching a DVD. Or socialising. And if I really want to check out a piece of music, I can just head to grooveshark.com.

Nonetheless, I've had those records for a long time. There are Hawkwind gatefold sleeves. More than a dozen Black Sabbath albums. The first Jane's Addiction album with the cover that caused record shops to force the band's label to hide it inside a ribbed rubber sleeve. ZZ Top. A crapload of stuff, frankly, all sitting unloved in the cupboard next to my front door. Better, I think, they all wound up with someone who might actually play them from time to time (and remember, I have them all in MP3).

I still have to sort them out into two piles - those I want to sell (95%), and those I won't just yet, at least not until I've resolved the sneaking suspicion they might actually be worth something resembling real money (I'm talking the first Budgie album here).

I may post pictures of the exhumation.


Well, I'm glad that's over

Writing Final Days, that is. Or when I say it's over, what I mean is: I've finished it to the point where I'm thoroughly sick of it. So it's been emailed off to my agent and editor and at some point, assuming they're happy with what I've produced, I'll get it back, with editorial suggestions scrawled all over it, and I'll have to read the damn thing again. And then there'll be a typesetter's comments (not counting any 'first readers'), and then I'll have to read the damn thing again. Carefully. And then, if all is well, I'll get a copy of the page proofs to read, and, yes, I'll have to read the damn thing. Again. Very carefully. Searching for those niggling little errors.

And I'll still get email pointing out that somebody drives up in a balloon-wheeled truck on page XXX and departs on the following page in the same vehicle, which has miraculously swapped balloon wheels for tractor treads. There will always be mistakes (and please note, if you spot them, I am grateful to hear of them. If nothing else, it keeps me on my toes).



I'm aware that my posting of late has primarily consisted of 'look! Here's more places where you can buy my stuff!' rather than being a true blog per se, to whit something detailing the minutiae of my life as a writer and/or soap box for my opinions. But you'll have to bear with me a little longer, and should feel relieved that I only ever really feel inclined to blog (outside of when I'm flogging something) when I think I actually have something to say. Further, when  I do have something to say, it's not usually something that can be said in just a few words, requiring a level of time and energy I worry about putting into something that doesn't have a deadline attached. 

However, I did pop into the Glasgow branch of Waterstones and asked if they'd ordered in Empire of Light, which they hadn't, upon which the bookseller concerned very kindly put some copies on order. Which is one of the interesting and indeed even unique things about a chain book store like Waterstones; their booksellers have the power to order stock in for whichever sections they're put in charge of if they think it'll sell. I worked very briefly in Borders, and the booksellers there certainly didn't have that level of involvement.

What this means is that if you're someone who prefers to buy their books from a physical store in the UK - and I know a lot of you do - and you can't find one of my or anyone else's new book in your local Waterstones, ask the bookseller in charge of that section to order it in. Otherwise, given the regular flood of titles in sf and fantasy published every month, that book might well have slipped past the bookseller's attention.

Public service announcement over. Where am I now? Dazed and bleary. I should be able to finish the current edit of Final Days today and tomorrow, following which will be a week or two of checking and tidying before sending it on its way. And then, essentially, straight on to Thousand Emperors.

I should note lastly Empire of Light has its first non-Amazon review up, kindly provided by Liviu Suciu over at Fantasy Book Critic. It's a good one.

And a quick edit - I see via a tweet from my editor Julie Crisp over at Tor that I am their 'featured writer of the month' at Tor UK's dedicated Amazon page. There's a reposted interview I did with Mark Chitty and the aforementioned Liviu, and even some pdf download links for the two short stories I have posted here on this website, namely 'Touched by an Angel' (first published in Interzone in '94) and vampire romp 'The Ranch' (previously published nowhere but here). Altogether it's a nice little package.


Empire of Light and Nova War out today (officially)

I say 'officially' because I sat in the Glasgow Waterstones last week signing a couple dozen copies of the Nova War paperback, but technically the release date of both that and the hardback of Empire of Light, the third Shoal book, is today, July 2nd. Both look like they're doing well on Amazon. Haven't seen any reviews of Empire of Light out in the wild yet, but my eyes are peeled.

There's an excerpt from Empire of Light here. If you want to find an easier way to read it, I'd recommend using either the Safari browser's reader function or, if you're like most people I know and use Firefox, there's a Firefox add-on called 'readability' which provides a very Safari Reader-like function. Both make reading long-form text on the screen a much more pleasant experience.

Edit: the ebook of Empire of Light should be out on the 6th of August, according to Pan Macmillan/Tor UK's own page. I'm guessing it'll appear on Amazon.com and other sites that sell ebooks shortly after. 



Ubuntu being, of course, the free operating system that's based on linux (that's based on unix). I've got some limited experience of big nasty unix. Years ago, I started but then gave up on a programming post-grad once I realised I had zero aptitude for it, and one of the things I do remember (we're talking mid- to late-nineties here) is playing around with unix. Ever since then, I've become a really big fan of operating systems where you don't need to have one damn idea how it works as long as it works. Like OSX, for instance, on my macbook here.

Even so, my persistent interest in technology persuaded me to try Ubuntu a couple of times in the past, only to give up whenever it started yelling something about kernels at me. Nice idea, but not nearly as user-friendly as I would have liked.

Cut to a few weeks ago when Emma's laptop stuck its legs in the air and started making death-rattle noises. Or rather, shut down and then obstinately refused to start up again. Don't ask me how, but it appeared Windows was terminally shafted. Within forty-eight hours we'd picked up another brand-new laptop, a cheap one for just a couple hundred that's proved to be surprisingly solid.

I got around to tinkering with the 'dead' laptop and coaxed it back into life by installing a new Ubuntu operating system and, lo and behold, it's startlingly good. I actually can't believe how fast it starts up, and installation was done with such a minimum of fuss that assuming your needs don't extend beyond (say) open office, firefox, skype and dropbox for backup, I don't see any reason anyone would ever want to bother with Windows again. It is quite incredibly user friendly.

Now all I have to do is figure what's making that aggressive whirring sound; my bets are a dying fan. So it's off to Ebay.


Recommendations and Leith

Here's a recommendation for all the budding writers amongst you: Science Fiction 101" by Robert Silverberg (originally published as Worlds of Wonder). It's an anthology of Silverberg's favourite science fiction from a period spanning roughly 1953 to 1966, and includes a great number of stories regarded by many as genre classics. Some I love, some I love perhaps not so much, but what makes this stand out is Silverberg's commentary. Every story is accompanied by an essay in which he picks the story apart in order to figure out not only why it ticks, but what it is about the story that makes it so highly-regarded. This elevates it to the position of being an invaluable book for those wanting to write long or short-form science fiction (as a matter of fact, one of the things that decided me to buy it was a review by Joe Haldeman on the book's Amazon.com page which sang its praises). The opening autobiographical essay, in which Silverberg recounts the ways in which he obsessively analyzed fiction as a teenager in his drive to become a professional author, is worth the price of the book alone.

There's some great stories in there - Day Million, The Light of Other Days - and one or two others I can't help but find terribly creaky and old-fashioned, such as Cordwainer Smith's Scanners Live in Vain (What may not have helped in terms of reading the latter, much of which is set during a secret meeting of 'scanners' or interstellar pilots, is that I had a hard time not picturing it in the form of the Ku Klux Klan musical sequence in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?). It's a highly regarded story - I'm just not entirely sure why.

Time to read recently has been scant. I'm on a long hard drive to finish Final Days by the early July deadline and, as I may have mentioned before (or maybe I didn't) I lost a lot of writing time because of the move back to the UK. As a result, I'm a little more rushed than usual, and therefore have rather less of a life at the moment than I usually do. Once the book's in, I can chill for a couple of weeks and catch up on reading and watching.

The event in Leith went well, although it wasn't as busy as it usually is. If you want to see more of your favourite writers and you live in the Edinburgh area, it's well worth your time checking it out this time next year. Prior to taking part in my own panel, I spent some time sitting in on a reading that included Ron Butlin, Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh - the latter the author of, amongst others, The Cutting Room and The Bullet Trick, very fine novels set in Glasgow, and which I highly recommend you check out. What I found amusing was that the instant the 'mainstream' authors were done, they and their audience departed en masse the moment it was announced the following item would be about Haikasoru, the Nick Mamatas-edited Japanese-sf-in-translation imprint. Hey, their loss.


Coming Up

I'm taking part in an event as part of the Leith Festival of Literature on June Sunday 13th at Bond No 9, 84 Commercial Street in Leith at 5pm. It'll be my first trip to Edinburgh since my return to the UK, so I'm quite looking forward to it. It's an all-day event, and Fate has conspired to place me on a panel called 'SF Scramble':

Editor and Scotsman SF critic Andrew J. Wilson (Nova Scotia) in discussion with author Gary Gibson (Stealing Light, Against Gravity) and translator Edwin Hawkes on the challenges and rewards of translating genre fiction. Interspersed with readings of the very best of Japanese science fiction, fantasy and horror in English, including a sneak preview of the forthcoming English edition of Tow Ubukata’s phenomenal bestselling Mardock Scramble.

Everything I know about translating fiction could probably be scribbled on the back of a very, very small napkin, but then I've had stuff translated before, so I guess I'm there to be the voice of one who has been translated, rather than one who translates (on the other hand, I am married to someone who's done a lot of translation work herself in the past). One way or other, I know Andrew, and recently met Edwin, and I don't think the three of us'll have too much trouble getting an interesting discussion going.

And only a month to go! Empire of Light is out in hardback on July 2nd, and the paperback of Nova War is out the same day - although if past experience is anything to go by, they'll be on sale a good few days before that. If you're an ebook reader, I noticed recently that Stealing Light and Nova War are both available for the Kindle at a pretty decent price, and I've also seen the epub version of both on sale at bookdepository.com. I've no idea what the pricing on the ebook of Empire of Light will be, but it'll presumably go on sale at the start of July as well.  

More Ipad thoughts

Although I wasn't entirely blown away by my brief twenty-minutes-or-so experience with an Ipad in Glasgow's Apple Store, various reviews and commentary such as this got me thinking that sometime somebody's going to have the clever idea that what we really need is a kind of missing link, halfway between the Ipad and an actual laptop: essentially, a laptop with a screen you can lift off a mount and use as a touchpad if you so choose. That way you've got a machine you can browse on while lying half off the couch, then take through to your home office, click it together with the keyboard (or into a frame containing the keyboard) and use it exactly like a regular laptop.

Then I saw this and realized that the world had once again figured this out long before me. Unfortunately, they all run Windows. Yech.

Which brings me to my next prediction: someone's going to come up with a hard-case for the Ipad and its bluetooth keyboard that essentially simulates a laptop, while allowing it to retain the convenience of a standalone touchpad. Then we're really talking.

Edit: Oh. Right. Duh. According to Blarkon in the comments, it's already here.  And it is rather pretty.



So I finally saw one in town today, at the big Apple shop in Buchanan Street. It was quite impressive. It feels very, very nice to hold in your hands. The screen quality is good. It looks like it would be terrific for reading comics, magazines and books, in that order. I tend to prefer non-backlit books - hence my Sony Reader - but ebooks I've bought for work or reference are ones I tend to prefer looking at on a screen anyway, and in that respect the Ipad is perfect for that kind of random browsing (although I must say I thought the letters in the 'Pooh' book included in the Ipad I played around with looked relatively low-resolution compared to my E-ink reader). In all respects, it appears to be a fabulous toy.

And yet, and yet...

I didn't feel as excited as I thought I would. This may be a certain over-familiarity with it from following the news about it online for some months, and it may also be the outrageous price: £430. It was fun, but not necessarily more fun than, say, the Macbook on which I'm writing just now, which is by far and away the very best computer I have ever owned. A desire to get back into reading magazines and comics without necessarily owning printed objects is not enough, unfortunately, to justify that kind of price tag.

So I guess I feel just a tiny bit disappointed, or perhaps I should say not as knocked out as I was hoping to be. Perhaps I would have to use it more, although I did play around with it for quite a while. It was cool, rather than awesome. Would I still like one? Yeah, maybe. For half the price.


Excerpt from Empire of Light

There's just over a month to go before the publication of Empire of Light, so I figured I could give you a quick preview of one of the early chapters. Here it is:

Chapter Two

Nathan Driscoll looked up and noticed that one of the suns had gone out.

He stepped back, his hands greasy with gore and his nostrils full of the scent of burned flesh, and watched as an evac team carried away the injured soldier he had been tending, and then loaded him into a waiting air-ambulance. The medbox units that had once been an integral part of the ambulance's interior had long since been stripped out, so the soldier's stretcher was instead slotted into one of several brackets, the rest of them already occupied by other injured men and women.

Nathan studied the pattern of dim red balls that clung to the coreship's curving ceiling, a dozen kilometres above the city of Ascension, his breath frosting the air. He couldn't work out precisely which of the thousands of fusion globes had just failed, but he had sensed the sudden, marginal drop in ambient light; the world had just become a little bit darker than it already was. He pulled his scarf tighter around his neck in a futile attempt to counter the biting cold.

He brought his gaze back down, and in that moment saw her.

A group of refugees - perhaps a dozen men, women and children in all - was making its way past the ruined fa├žade of a mall about half a block away. Probably they'd been forced to abandon their homes as the fighting between the Consortium and Peralta's terroristas spread along the banks of First Canal. Despite the half-light, Nathan had spotted a woman with long brown hair gathered up in a band, her terrified features smeared with dirt.

It was only the briefest of glimpses, but his heart leapt nonetheless.


Almost as soon as he'd spotted her, a cadence of ground-rattling thumps heralded the return of a four-legged rover-unit from the battle, troopers clinging to its sides while the most seriously injured were lifted on to pallets mounted on top of the rover itself. Nathan rushed forward, with the other two volunteer medics, and helped to load the wounded into another air-ambulance that had dropped to the fractured tarmac almost as soon as the previous one had lifted off.

Nathan began to doubt himself, even as he worked. It had been the merest, most fleeting glimpse: only part of her face had been visible. She had been wrapped up in layers of clothing, a rag pulled tight around her neck to ward off the plummeting temperatures; because, ever since the Shoal had abandoned them, the temperature had dropped even as the light failed. It didn't take a genius to realize the coreship was dying.

Nathan pulled himself up inside the second air-ambulance, along with Kellogg and the other new volunteer whose name he'd already forgotten. The ambulance's jets began to whine, preparing for take-off, but his mind was on other things.

He was almost certainly mistaken, of course, as he imagined he saw Ilsa everywhere he looked: in the faces of the troopers and volunteer aid workers, or among the refugees who vastly outnumbered them all; or the corpses that had come to fill the streets and canals as the fighting intensified.

But then again, this might have been her. It might have been Ilsa. If he could find her ... if she was still alive ...

Nathan hopped back down from the open rear of the ambulance. He could see no sign of the refugees, but he guessed they were heading for the shores of the canal. His fluorescent plastic waistcoat - meant to identify him clearly as a non-combatant - flapped around his waist in the backwash from the jets.

'Nathan!' Kellogg bellowed down at him. 'What the fuck do you think you're doing‌?'

Nathan looked up, shook his head. 'I saw someone I know,' he yelled over the noise.

More than likely the refugees intended to wade across the canal under cover of darkness, since the bridges were frequently targeted. If they could get to the other side, they had a chance at escaping the worst of the fighting.

'Nathan, get the fuck back in!' Kellogg yelled again. 'Once this thing goes, it goes!'

'I'll find my own way back,' Nathan replied, and started to jog away, heading towards the canal. Kellogg yelled something else, but the words were lost as the ambulance's VTOL jets lifted it high above the ground. It tipped its nose in the direction of Third Canal and northwest, and began to accelerate.

The streetlights had been down ever since Peralta had targeted the city's primary fusion reactor systems. Nathan stripped off his waistcoat and shoved it deep inside a pile of rubble.

He jogged on past the ruined mall and kept going, squinting into the deep shadows as he went. He alternated between running and walking until he finally arrived exhausted at the banks of First Canal several minutes later. His bones ached, and more than ever he felt the slow onslaught of late middle age.

Nathan crossed the street and peered down the embankment at the black waters. The dark shapes of bodies drifted by, carried along by the artificial tide. Ice had formed on either side of the canal, and he squinted up and down its length until he sighted a huddle of dark shapes moving along the path at the foot of the slope, maybe fifty metres away.

Nathan slipped and skidded down the steep stone facing of the embankment until he reached the path they were on. Some of the refugees were already braving the ice and the freezing cold to wade across the slow-moving waters.

'Hey!' he yelled, waving as he came towards them.

Several turned and shouted out in fear, assuming, in the dim light, that he must be one of Peralta's soldiers. A few more threw themselves further into the water and started swimming frantically.

Nathan slowed down and raised his hands. Their faces, even in the faint light, were clouded with terror and suspicion. 'I'm not with Peralta or anyone else,' he yelled. 'I'm just looking for somebody. I thought she might be ... '

Then he moved a step closer and saw her: an angular woman with brown hair, her eyes dulled by fatigue. It wasn't Ilsa, though. Now he could see her more clearly, he could only wonder how he might have made such a mistake.

'What the hell are you doing, running straight at us like that!' one of them demanded, his face looking bruised and ugly in the dim light, fists bunched in readiness at his sides. Like the rest, he wore several layers of extra clothing to try and keep the cold out, the topmost layers already ragged and worn.

'I'm sorry, I-'

Bright light suddenly flared down on them. Nathan crouched instinctively, and squinted up the embankment towards several figures that had suddenly appeared there, silhouetted by arc lights mounted on top of a rover. He heard one of the refugees mutter the word terrorista, but Nathan knew these new arrivals were Consortium troopers.

Some of the troopers quickly made their way down a series of steps leading to the waterside path, their weapons held up in readiness against their shoulders. The rover came closer to the rim of the embankment, its blunt, instrument-shrouded head swinging slowly from side to side, scanning the environment constantly for threats. Its brilliant light shone down on the filthy waters, illuminating the bloated shapes of the dead.

One of the troopers came up close, pushing her visor up to reveal a small round face, a lick of dirty blonde hair pushing out from under her heavy black helmet. Karen, he realized with a shock. Sergeant Karen Salk, his sometime lover.

She grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the rest of the refugees, who had finally realized they weren't in immediate danger. The rest of the squad kept their weapons raised regardless; terroristas had a habit of hiding amongst those fleeing from the fighting.

A military transport of similar design to the air-ambulances dropped down towards the road that ran parallel to the top of the embankment.

'Kellogg said you'd run off in the middle of a fucking combat zone!' Karen shouted at him. 'I mean, what the fuck was going through your head‌'

Nathan found he couldn't frame an answer, so he remained mute as she tugged him towards the steps, and the beckoning lights of the transport waiting above.


Several minutes and a dozen kilometres later, the same transport dropped down towards a camp that spilled out along the streets lining both sides of Third Canal. Smoke rose from clusters of tents and prefabs where a sea of refugees warded off the freezing cold by burning furniture and anything else combustible. These were the lucky ones, awaiting immediate evacuation; in the surrounding city, there were tens of thousands dying more slowly of starvation or freezing inside their homes.

The transport's lights picked out the landing pad on the roof of the clinic and began to drop towards it. Nathan glanced out of a window and saw in the distance the great flickering wall of energy that delineated the nearest perimeter of the coreship's human-habitable zone. Closer to hand loomed the black shape of one of the sky-pillars, a great, carved rock limb that was only one of hundreds supporting the coreship's outer crust.


'Hey. Nathan, you stupid bastard. Wake up. It's me. Karen.'

Within minutes of disembarking from the ambulance, he'd crawled on top of a spare trolley in the clinic, and passed out. He groaned and sat up, blinking in the harsh lights and rubbing at a sore spot on his arm.

Karen regarded him with a mixture of scorn and pity. She'd taken off her helmet and matte-black body armour and let her hair fall down to her shoulders. One of the doctors stood next to her, a dark-skinned woman in disposable paper clothing.

The clinic, unlike almost anywhere else currently in Ascension, was warm. The doctor leaned in towards Nathan and pulled one of his eyelids up, shining a bright light directly into his pupil.

'Seems okay,' she remarked, her voice brisk. She then took out a hypo and aimed it towards Nathan's arm, almost before he realized what she was doing.

'Hey!' he shouted, sliding off the trolley and out of her immediate reach.

The two women stared at him with almost identical expressions of exasperation.

'For God's sake, Nathan,' said Karen. 'Doctor Nirav is trying to help you.'

'Thanks, but I don't need any shots.'

'What, you fucking phobic or something‌?' she replied in a voice full of scorn.

'Command think Peralta's got his hands on some kind of nerve agent,' explained Nirav. 'That means everyone gets a shot, and we also take a blood and DNA sample at the same time. Everyone has to do it, no exceptions.'

Nathan glanced warily towards the doctor. 'Forget it. No samples of any kind, either.'

'Why the fuck not‌?' asked Karen.

'Sorry,' said the doctor, patting a pocket. 'Got that already while you were out cold. So how about you stop whining and take the shot now, so I don't have to get some of the guys from security to come here and hold you down while I give it to you anyway‌?'

He hesitated, and even thought about making a run for it and taking his chances outside before they could identify him from his DNA sample. But where could he go‌ His work as a medic had given him a sobering overview of just how bad things were in the city; outside lay only a cold and hungry death.

Instead he nodded, and Nirav pressed something cold against his neck. There was a hiss and a sudden jolt of pressure against his skin, and then it was over.

A block of ice immediately settled into the pit of his stomach. It had only ever really been a matter of time before they worked out who he was, and there was literally nowhere he could run.

As Nirav departed, Karen folded her arms and studied him with a mixture of motherly concern and mild contempt. 'To be honest, Nathan, after the way you ran off back there, I was worried maybe you'd caught a whiff of that nerve gas and gone crazy. Who was it you said you saw‌?'

Nathan shook his head. 'I made a mistake.'

She sighed and reached out to tug him closer to her. 'How awake are you‌?'

'Not very.'

She shook her head. 'Not the right answer,' she said, pushing a hand through his hair. 'It's been a long day, Nathan. Let's go back to my place.'


What Karen called 'her place' was a room in a commandeered administrative block on the other side of the main refugee camp. She had cleared it of most of its remaining furniture, whatever hadn't already been burned or looted, and had installed a spare cot from the clinic. Technically this was against the rules, but nobody seemed to care enough to enforce them. The illicit arrangement did have the advantage of giving her and Nathan some privacy.

A small portable heater glowed in the dark nearby, illuminating Karen's warm lithe body from behind her. Nathan slid his hands around her waist, then moved them up to cup her small breasts. Her tongue felt wet and salty as it licked against his lips. He felt himself stiffen, a wave of sudden, needful ardour washing over him.

She grinned and slithered expertly on top of him, quickly sliding him inside her. She was already wet. Her hands pressed down hard on his chest, the sensation almost painful, then she began to move, her hips grinding slowly.

Even the building's basement generators, augmented by their tiny heater unit, could not together quite keep the cold out, and soon he shivered, his skin prickling in the frigid air. He thought of the bodies he'd seen floating along the canal, picked out by the rover's unforgiving searchlights, and felt his ardour begin to fade.

'I'm not sure I can,' he muttered, and felt a sudden wave of fatigue wash over him. It had been, as she had said, a long day. 'Maybe we should try and get some sleep.'

'Shut up,' she said, her voice ragged, hands pressing ever more forcefully against his chest. 'Don't disobey the orders of a superior officer.'

I'm not in your fucking army, he thought. But he dutifully held on to her plump thighs and banished those images of death and decay from his mind, concentrating instead on the tumble of her hair across her shoulders and the moistness of her lips when she leaned down to kiss him. To his surprise it worked, and he listened to the increasing hoarseness of her breath just before she climaxed and came to a gasping halt. Her head tipped back, before she finally collapsed against his chest.

'Oh fuck, I needed that,' she moaned.

'You're welcome,' Nathan muttered. He glanced towards the window, where he could see the underside of a sky glowing a dull red.

Karen slid back down beside him and lay there for a few moments, her head resting on his shoulder. He sensed something else was on her mind and, after a few minutes of silence, she pushed herself up on one elbow and stared down at him.

'So who was she‌' she asked, regarding him with a serious intensity.

Nathan gazed at her blankly until he realized she meant Ilsa. 'What makes you think I was looking for a she‌?'

'Intuition.' Karen's expression softened a little and she smiled. 'I'm not saying you have to answer. I'm just curious.'

'Does it matter‌?'

'You know, Nathan, it doesn't take a genius to guess you're hiding something.' She rolled on to her back beside him and sighed. 'I guess there's never going to be a good time to tell you this.'

'Tell me what‌?'

'I'm being reassigned. They're sending several new expeditions into the rest of the coreship, and I've been asked to join one. We might even try to penetrate the command core this time round. It'll be a joint operation, undertaken with the surviving Skelites and Bandati in the other zones.'

'What are you hoping to find‌? The coreship is dead.' He'd seen external shots of the starship taken by the Legislate ships that arrived a few weeks after the Shoal had abandoned it. Almost all its drive-spines had been burned away as it escaped Night's End. Early hopes of finding a way to pilot it back to Consortium territory had been quickly dashed, but contact had now been made with races in the other environments, including one or two previously unknown to mankind.

Karen frowned. 'You understand what I'm saying, don't you‌?'

Nathan smiled and stroked her hair for what he guessed would likely be the last time. 'That we won't be seeing each other any more, is that it‌?'

'I wasn't sure how you'd react.'

'I think we both always knew a day like this was coming.' He looked inside himself and realized he wasn't lying. Life had been grim, desperately so for too long now, and their time together had helped keep him sane. 'No more chasing after General Peralta, then,' he added. 'You must be relieved.'

She scowled. 'Peralta's a dead man. He's never leaving Ascension alive. He must know it too, but he just keeps fighting.'

Nathan found himself wondering what she might think if she were to find out he had briefly been in Peralta's employ, and until a few months before. The warlord, faced with a stark choice between arrest and execution on the one hand and a slow, lingering death on the other, had demanded safe transportation off the coreship for himself and his inner circle, almost as soon as the first relief operations had arrived. The Consortium had other ideas, however, and Peralta had then made good on his threat to carry out attacks on refugees until he got exactly what he wanted.

Ilsa had been amongst the first to slip away from Peralta's compound under cover of night, and ever since he had made his own escape a few months later, he had been searching for her so they could find a way out of Ascension together. He had hoped his volunteer work on the ambulances would improve their chances of being lifted out of the coreship, once he'd found her.

'Unless he can find a way to mix in with the rest of the refugees, and slip past you,' Nathan suggested. He was careful to keep his voice casual.

'They scan everyone who goes through,' she replied, and yawned, pulling herself in closer to him. 'With DNA profiling, biometrics, the works. Don't you worry, there's no way in hell anyone gets on to a ship without us knowing exactly who they are.'

'That's good to know,' he muttered, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if Nirav had yet checked his DNA profile against the Legislate's security databases.


'Hey. Wake up.'

Nathan grumbled and shook his head, opening bleary eyes. He could tell it was dawn because the light outside the window was now marginally brighter than during the night. Karen was already sitting up, the thick grey blanket pulled up around her naked breasts.

Two men stood by the open door to the office, dressed the same as any other troopers except for the grey shoulder markings that identified them as internal security. They were armed with pulse-rifles.

'Ma'am,' one of them said to Karen, throwing her a salute but unable to hide the smirk on his face. 'Sorry to wake you, but we've got orders.'

'What goddamn orders‌' she snapped.

Nathan glanced down towards Karen's pistol, still in its holster and half-hidden under her tangled clothes, and decided his chances of surviving a shoot-out were minimal in the extreme.

'We're here to take Mr Whitecloud into custody,' said the trooper who'd spoken. 'The orders came from Representative Munn. You'll see they're marked highest priority.' He passed the credentials to her.

She scanned the papers for a moment before looking back up. 'Ty Whitecloud?' she asked, looking utterly confused. 'Who the hell is Ty Whitecloud‌?'

'He is, ma'am,' the trooper replied, nodding towards the man who had been calling himself Nathan Driscoll.

Karen turned to stare at him like she'd never set eyes on him before.