This Year's Reading

I thought, this close to year's end, it might be worth taking a peek at some of the books I've been reading. as well as making some recommendations if you're looking for something for the new year. 

First, a quick look back over my last year in writing. Marauder is almost finally definitely complete, bar a final line-edit due in January. I've seen the cover design, and it's very pretty and shiny and, once I get the go-ahead, you'll see it here as well as at Torbooks.co.uk. The Thousand Emperors, a loose-kinda-sorta-sequel to Final Days came out, as did the paperback edition of the latter. Earlier in the year I had a non-fiction article on Hard SF published in Keith Brooke's collection of essays Strange Divisions and Alien Territories, with the other pieces written by some very notable and extremely respectable genre names. Back in August, I took part in a three-day writing event in York which, following a brief testing-the-waters stint teaching sf writing at Strathclyde University the year before, was my second paid teaching gig. With Thousand Emperors completed, I finished my most recent book deal with Tor, and now have a new deal. The first book to come out of that next year was originally going to be called Touring the Apocalypse, but is now in search of a new title - possibly The Extinction Game. Way back in January, I launched the 'Brain in a Jar Books' ebook imprint, rereleasing out of print work by authors such as Duncan Lunan, Angus McAllister, Michael Cobley and Hal Duncan alongside original material by Fergus Bannon (here and here). In the New Year, I'm expecting to publish a short story collection by Phil Raines, who has appeared in numerous pro anthologies, magazines, online zines and year's best lists. It's going to be called The Cowboy Saints and Other Lost Wonders.

I don't think I've missed anything out.

I read just under forty books this year. One notable surprise was an independently published ebook that not only wasn't rubbish, but was in fact great: Ian Sales' 'Adrift on the Sea of Rains', a novella-length piece of literary hard sf. It's highly recommended. It's the first in a quartet, with the second due to be published in January. 

Although I'm far from a fan of epic fantasy, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised by Gaie Sebold's Babylon Steel. I might not have known of this book if I hadn't frequently run into Gaie at various Eastercons over the years, as well as other members of her writers group. Curiosity drove me to check this first novel when it finally came out, and I'm glad I did. It's an excellent piece of work, fantasy or otherwise, and also has the distinction of having a far more interesting and original take on the fantasy genre than most other books out there. 

Not published this year, but earlier in the century, is Lev Grossman's Codex. I got it after buying and really enjoying his second most recent novel, The Magicians, which came within a hairsbreadth of being made into a tv series by either AMC or HBO (I forget which. Or maybe it was Showtime?) It's a contemporary literary puzzle thriller which appealed to me greatly, despite some really terrible and quite undeservedly negative reviews on Amazon. I suspect the reviews are so negative because the author eschews an easy plot resolution and opts for something a little more twisty. Read it if you like books like John Fowles' The Magus.

I was also pleasantly entertained by the Ian Whates edited anthology, Fables from the Fountain, being pub-based fiction inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's 'Tales from the White Hart,' which I read numerous times when I was a kid. Definitely on the whimsical side.

I also particularly enjoyed 'The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death', a crime thriller by Charlie Huston. At the moment I'm reading JMR Higgs' 'KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money' which, being the huge fan of Robert Anton Wilson's 'Illuminatus!' that I am, as well as KLF's music, could prove to be one of my favourite books of the year. And, shock horror, it appears to be self-published - by an author with some notable pro publishing books under his belt, including a biography of Timothy Leary, 'I Have America Surrounded' (which I read last year). 

Somehow, I don't seem to have read as many books this year as in the previous few. I did also re-read some old favourites, mainly because I've been buying some of SF Gateway's back catalogue of ebook sf classics. I revisited, amongst others, Robert Holdstock's amazing 'Mythago Wood', and Greg Bear's equally remarkable 'Eon'. Other old favourites I've re-read on the Kindle are the aforementioned 'Illuminatus!' trilogy (I've lost count of how many times I've read those books), and I currently have the new edition of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic waiting for me to read next year, along with a number of Jonathan Carroll novels finally available as ebooks. Other favourites recently released digitally I'm looking forward to next year include Graham Joyce's first published novel, Dreamside, and Rudy Rucker's Complete Stories.



Here's the cover copy for Marauder, formerly known as River of Light, due out next summer:

Megan has a mission.
But must she sacrifice herself to save our worlds?

Pilot Megan Jacinth has three goals, and they all seem unattainable. She must find her friend Bash, who she’d left for dead to save her own life. Then she needs Bash’s unique skill-set to locate an ancient space-faring entity. Lastly she must use this Marauder’s knowledge to save human-occupied worlds from an alien incursion. The odds seem impossible, but the threat is terrifyingly real.

Megan finds Bash, but the person she’d known and loved is a husk of his former self. Bash is also held captive by her greatest enemy: Gregor Tarrant. Tarrant wants the Marauder too, even more than he wants her life, with motives less pure than her own. And he’s close to finding Megan’s most closely-guarded secret.

A race across space to reach the Marauder seems Megan’s best option. But this entity is far from benign, and the price for its secrets may be just too high. Megan should know, as she still bears the scars from their last encounter…



Well, that's the cat officially out of the bag. Tor are re-releasing print editions of my first five books, starting with the Shoal Trilogy (my third, fourth and fifth books respectively) in Spring of 2013, with te rest staggered over the next few months. Somewhere in there will be the release of Marauder (formerly known as River of Light), a standalone book set in the same universe as the Shoal books.

Here's the delectable cover art for the Shoal reissues, from the brush of the very, very talented Steve Stone.


Work Ethic

This interview with Tim Lott in The Guardian about his writing day resonates quite strongly with my own experience, although I still get marginally stressed out because I'm not pounding out scintillating prose from dawn to dusk. Like Tim Lott, I don't really average more than a couple of hours a day of writing when I'm actively working, particularly on an early draft. Sometimes I get crazy/busy, usually on the run up to a deadline. I had a last minute marathon working on River of Light that saw me write six thousand words in one day, but that's very, very unusual for me. Usually, when I hit  two thousand, something just goes 'pop' in my head and more words refuse to emerge. But I'd been working towards those last six thousand words for a long time. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and it moves at a pretty brisk speed, so I kept up the momentum. But like I say, not a typical day.

I can't remember where I read it or who exactly said it - it might have been Nick Mamatas, perhaps on his blog - but fretting about not having done 'enough' writing each day is just the part of your mind formed by the Protestant work ethic that thinks if you're not constantly slaving away, then you're not really doing your job. Which is, of course, untrue. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to do the work. It's the quality of the work that matters, regardless of whether it takes you an hour or half a day. It's worth remembering that Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors of our day, reputedly works only four hours a day.


Book titles

The process of naming a book isn't always that easy. My first novel, Angel Stations, had that name essentially be default. It was the working title, and I couldn't think of anything better, and so it became the actual title. I suspect I might have tried to come up with something arty-sounding, but in the end people told me the name in fact had an air of mystery about it that they liked. So in the end, keeping that working title was a good thing.

Against Gravity was a difficult one, partly because I completely forgot to include the Paolo Soleri quote at the beginning that would have given the title context, and the line that essentially related that quote (about architecture - and thereby all of human effort - being a constant struggle against gravity, by building higher and higher) wound up getting deleted during the edits. So it wound up with that title because a) I thought it sounded really cool, and b)again, I couldn't think of anything better.

Stealing Light, however, I'm fairly proud of. That title had resonance with Promethean legend, stealing fire from the Gods and so forth; and indeed the basic story was a variation on the classic Promethean myth of stealing from the Gods, or at least the Shoal. I got stuck for at title with the second book in the series, and offered various options to the publisher - one idea was Night's End. Instead, they came up with their own title, Nova War. I'll be honest; I've never been that crazy about it. If I'd thought of the title 'Empire of Light' earlier, that would have been a great title, but that again would have left me with the question of what to call the third book.

(I recall that at one point I considered keeping the word 'Stealing' instead of 'Light' in each book of the series. Hence book two might have been Stealing Fire and the third Stealing...something or else. But in the end, I realised just how naff that sounded.)

Final Days and Thousand Emperors I pretty much had the titles for from the get-go, and I still like them, particularly Emperors or, as I sometimes like to call it, 1kE.

The working title for the book I just handed in (and which I'm currently once again editing) was River of Light. It's a continuation of the Shoal books - a stand-alone, not a direct sequel by any means, and with an entirely new cast. However, the current thought at my publishers - and I've reluctantly come to agree with them - that the name River of Light implies that it continues directly on from the previous books, rather than being a stand-alone, and so that title might put off those potential new readers who believe they need to have read the previous three books in order to understand what's going on. It's my hope that they won't have to at all, although inserting relevant details of the previous books without swinging into full as-you-know-bob-ism has certainly been a long and intricate process.

The working title for River of Light was Core - 'core' referring to the core of the Milky Way. Then I came up with A River Across the Sky, except the faux-poetics of a title like that don't necessarily reflect a book which is in many ways an action-driven space opera. Then it became River of Light for, well, obvious reasons.

Myself and Bella, my editor, swung briefly back to Core. But coming in late is a new title contender: Marauder, this being an entity that plays a crucial part in the story. Marauder is growing on me.

First person who mentions a certain Blackfoot album gets slapped with a wet fish.


Ten years (almost)

In a few months, it'll have been ten years since I started writing this blog, in December of 2002. I started it primarily as a way of goading myself into working harder at writing and, hopefully, getting a book deal. A couple of months after starting it, I did in fact get a book deal, a touch more quickly than I had anticipated.

Looking back over older entries, it's clear my memory of events is slightly distorted. Reconstructing from those entries, I had a hint of interest from Tor regarding sample chapters of my first novel, Angel Stations, which had been forwarded to them by my agent, Dorothy Lumley. But they weren't prepared to make any definite offers until they saw the whole manuscript.

I had thought I only began my second book, Against Gravity, after being offered a two-book deal in March 2003, but it's clear looking back that this wasn't so; in fact, after completing Angel Stations, I got straight on to working on Against Gravity. It was about half-written before the deal came through - which should be a lesson to any prospective writers out there sitting on their hands while posting manuscripts off to agents and publishers. There are other books to be written, you know.

That means in March 2013 I'll be celebrating ten years as a published novelist. Not only that, there's some other stuff happening later in the year, but I'm holding back on telling you about that until then. So: here's to nearly ten years.


Death to Vodafone

The Macbook became exceptionally slow today. I've actually got used to constant hangs, but today I got seriously irritated enough to start googling for a solution, and after following a couple of leads opened up Console to see if there were any rogue processes. I kept Activity Monitor open at the same time.

Google Chrome seemed to be sucking up most of the processing power, but Console told a different story: some process with 'Vodafone' in the string was recurring every few seconds, with a log stretching back, or so it seemed, to infinity.

My mind flashed back to when I returned from Taiwan and, while waiting for Virgin to install my internet at a delay of some weeks and at a cost that makes my teeth grind, used a Vodafone dongle to get online. The dongle is long gone; the software, clearly, was not.

I dug through Library until I found the folder and tried to delete the folder. I watched as the rainbow ball span. And span.

And span.

I gave up after ten minutes and ran a cold boot. When it restored the finder windows, it was still hanging. But I managed to delete the little bastard and send it on its way into eternity.

And now? It's like a brand-new computer. Seriously. The difference is astonishing. The problem, if there ever is one with a Macbook, is rarely the machine itself; most often it seems to be something badly programmed and sometimes downright malicious, from outside the Apple ecosphere. 


So, Anyway

So, anyway, since I've been getting emails asking if the blog is dead, dead, DEAD, the answer is no, I prodded it with a stick and it twitched, so there's some signs of life in the old beast yet. I've got a couple of long posts I still haven't finished, and the fact they aren't finished does rather suggest maybe I shouldn't spend so much time on really long and convoluted posts.

I've also been screwing around with the layout of the blog, as you'll see. I was thinking of taking it over to Wordpress, but so far as understanding it goes, it's a case of head meet desk. So I'm sticking with this blog design, in one form of another, but I'm going to be tweaking it to buggery so far as where everything goes for a while yet. Expect it to look a bit deranged until I get what I want sorted out.

I just came back from the York Festival of Writing, where I was a guest lecturer/whatever on behalf of Writer's Workshop, the people I do book doctoring for. It was fun, and there are worse places to be than York in September during a heat wave. I am surprisingly exhausted. I did a number of one-to-ones - meaning reading and assessing an opening chapter, then discussing it face-to-face with the author - as well as taking part in a panel on SF and even doing a couple of workshops, first on SF, and then on plotting. What I learned from this: sometimes it's better to wing it. Apart from the SF writing class I taught last year, I haven't done a great deal of this kind of thing, but you have to start somewhere and judging by the Twitter feedback the reaction is pretty positive. If you were in the audience of those workshops: thanks guys, it was a pleasure to be there, and a pleasure to answer your questions, at least as well as I could. I'm tempted to post my prepared notes from the workshops up here some time.

Also, if you were at the 'what is SF' workshop, there's one other book I meant to recommend to you that I forgot to mention: Science Fiction 101 by Robert Silverberg, also known in previous editions as Worlds of Wonder.



That's got to be the most intense period of writing I've ever gone through. Finishing River of Light, followed by a couple of complete redrafts that were done on Friday. I wrote until five in the morning late Thursday, then up again for five or six hours on Friday before reaching the end. It's been a rare evening over the past three or four weeks that saw me getting to bed before dawn.

It's not all done; I have to format the final manuscript, sort out chapter headers, all that sort of thing. But it is, essentially, complete (apart from the editorial comments, the requests for possible changes, things that maybe don't add up, then the sentence by sentence corrections, then the proofreading, then...you get the idea).

It's also why I haven't been blogging so much, but that's also because it's hard to think of anything original or novel to say these days outside of, say, 'finished the book', 'starting the book', 'taking a break from the book' and so forth. Unlike when I started this blog, back in 2003, before I even had my first book deal, the world is now filled with excitingly in-depth blog articles by people who are either being paid to do it or clearly have a great deal of spare time on their hands.

I tend these days to express myself a tad more on Twitter (@garygibsonsf), particularly because it takes a lot less effort. The blog will continue, of course, but I'm tempted to port over to Wordpress and incorporate it into more of a general portal page. As soon as I can figure Wordpress out, if ever. 


Thousand Emperors out

That's The Thousand Emperors finally published in hardback. Final Days is also out in paperback, and may I say it's very classy-looking too. Technically the publication date is 7 June, but of course you can get them already. The Kindle editions will of course only become available on that date.

It's worth mentioning again that even though Thousand Emperors is technically a sequel to Final Days, the connection between the two is fairly tenuous. Thousand Emperors is set some centuries after the events in Final Days, but it's designed so it can be read as a standalone - which is one reason why it doesn't mention anything on the cover about it being a sequel.

I'm thinking it's high time I actually built myself a proper website. I have a domain name, garygibson.net, which only points to this blog. I haven't been updating the blog that much - at the moment you're more likely to find me on Twitter- so I thought the best thing to do was come up with a website with static elements (information about me, my books, contact details and so forth), along with automatically updating elements such as Twitter and this blog. Before that happens, I need to find myself a good, attractive and easy to update template.

I'd like to write more on the blog, but the fact I haven't been doing so much here is a reflection of how much busier I've become in my writing otherwise, which is of course a good thing. If anyone knows of good sources for reasonably professional templates that incorporate Web 2.0 elements along with static pages, let me know. 


I'm a museum exhibit, in the Scottish National Library.

I'd heard a few weeks ago about an exhibit in the Scottish National Library in Edinburgh, but had not at first been aware that I formed part of it. The exhibit - in glass cases, just to the right of the entrance to the SNL near the city centre - is meant to celebrate science fiction as part of Scotland's national heritage, and rightly so.

Behind glass this afternoon, on a visit there, I saw not only work by myself but many others, mostly the usual suspects - Ken MacLeod, Charlie Stross, Richard Morgan and Michael Cobley (although only one of them is actually Scottish) - but also a few 'outliers', such as Angus McAllister's The Krugg Syndrome and Chris Boyce's Brainfix. A large wall display featured the covers of Nebula Magazine, a publication printed in Scotland back in the Fifties (I think) and which was also, I seem to recollect, the first magazine to buy a story by an ingenue writer named Robert Silverberg.

 I was very pleasantly surprised to see mention in some of the notes at the bottom of the glass case of Brain in a Jar Books, which was also referenced in a recent SFX interview with Michael Cobley. There was something distinctly surreal, however, in the whole idea of finding myself before what is essentially a museum display in a very large library featuring my own work behind glass.

Not a place I ever expected to see myself.

I'd have taken pictures, but they're not allowed. It's not a big exhibition by any means - it's essentially one single but nonetheless very large glass case - but posted warnings of CCTV watching for people sneaking surreptitious snapshots kept my phone in my pocket.

I didn't just go through to see the exhibit, or to see myself in it, as nice as that was. They were soliciting video interviews with a variety of sf authors in Scotland to be posted on their website sometime in the next couple of weeks. Ken MacLeod had been in the day before, apparently. I'll have to be honest and say I'm not always the best at expressing myself verbally - there's a reason I'm a writer, not some kind of public speaker - but I think I made some kind of coherent sense. Or at least, I hope I did. Whenever it gets posted online, I'll put it up - unless I look and sound as bad on video as I think I do.


Recommended Reading for Writers

I've posted another guest blog over at Writers Workshop on writing. This time, it's on recommended reading about writing for writers:

One of the things you learn when you become a professional writer is that you never stop learning, and while I still learn much from reading novels with a writerly mind,  I do still, even several books into a career, buy and read books about writing. It helps me actively think about the process of writing, and it’s often a good way to psyche myself up for a day’s work. And it’s not just books I read; there are vast online resources related to writing that simply didn’t exist when I first started sending out short stories and joining writer’s groups back in the early Nineties. Sometimes reading about how other people approach writing gives me just the kick I need to get into a working frame of mind – and as displacement activities go, it’s at least a useful and pertinent one.

You can read the rest there.



I'd like to say I've been enjoying the sudden burst of summery weather up here in Scotland, but unfortunately I'm having to stay indoors a fair bit of the time. I've been getting UV treatment three times a week for dermatitis, and while my skin is clearing up a treat, it means I have to try and avoid the sun. I'd hoped once the weather got better I might be able to head out and do some cycling - by far my preferred mode of exercise - but I suspect that might wind up with me overdosing on the sunlight.

Which is fine, if you're a writer, and therefore given to being squirrelled away and, eh, writing. For a long while, however, work on the current book was dragging and I was having a hard time finding my focus. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it writer's block, since as far as I'm concerned that doesn't exist. If you replace 'block' with 'fatigue' that's probably closer to the mark.

I spent a couple of months revising the first half of the book until it was pointing in the direction I wanted it to, and only just started writing the second half a week or two ago. It is, however, trucking along nicely - hence the return of my writer's mojo. It's nice to be back to producing exactly two thousand words a day, every day.

Here's something I came across the other day, which I think is an absolutely excellent idea. It's a writing performance event - except they're using actors to read the stories. The unfortunate fact is most writers are  dreadful at reading their own stuff out loud to an audience, and I've suffered through too many snooze-athons featuring writers staring at their shoes and mumbling quietly into a microphone that's too far away to actually pick up their voice.

There are exceptions, of course. Edinburgh's Writer's Bloc always do an amazing job, performance-wise. I'd encourage anyone to go see and hear them. I heard Scottish author Louise Welsh (who writes some ver fine crime novels) doing a reading once, and she was great. But they are still the exceptions.

The event is Outside Thoughts, and I'm hoping to be in the audience for their first show, in Glasgow, in early April. I hope they can live up to their promise. 


BIAJ Release: Duncan Lunan

I'm beginning to think it makes sense to just keep details of BIAJ releases here on my own blog, instead of going to the trouble of trying to maintain an entirely separate blog/web site. Really, it's long past the time I should actually spend some money and set up an actual web site incorporating the blog - most probably on Wordpress, if I can ever actually figure out how the damn thing works...

Anyway. The newest release is by Duncan Lunan, another Scottish writer. Here's the bumf:

Four linked novellas and several short stories all dealing with time travel, by the author of the runaway bestselling non-fiction book Man and the Planets. The first two novellas were first published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Analog, and this is the first time they have been reprinted since then. About the Author: Duncan Lunan became a full-time author in 1970, initially writing science fiction, but now also undertakes a wide range of other writing and speaking as a researcher, tutor, critic, editor, lecturer and broadcaster.
His earlier publications include three nonfiction books, contributions to 20 other books, over 700 articles and thirty short stories, including a number of science articles for Analog magazine. In 1989 he edited “Starfield: science fiction by Scottish writers”, the first ever anthology of SF and fantasy by Scots, and as manager of the Glasgow Parks Dept. Astronomy Project, 1978-79, Duncan designed and built the first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for over 3000 years.

You can get it on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and on Kindle internationally. No DRM, of course. 

Here's an excerpt, of the first few thousand words from The Arctic, Out Of Time:

In the Arctic, Out of Time  
First published in Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, July 1989 
"Two ships coming around the headland, sir."More straightened to look. “These waters are becoming as busy as the English Channel, Bo’sun. What d'you make of them?”
"Can’t tell much from here, sir — but we haven't seen them before."
“Pass the word to the Captain, then.” More went aft, and turned a telescope on the newcomers.
They had seen the squadron: men were scrambling up the rigging to shorten sail.
The Captain joined him at the rail. “What‘s this, Mr. More?”
“Two brigs, sir, flying the American flag. They've seen us all right.” More passed him the instrument.
The first mate was waiting for orders. "Any signal, sir?"
“I don‘t think so. They're putting in to join us.” The Captain closed the telescope. "Get a reception party organised — and tidy up some of that deck cargo for’ard!" On deck and aloft, the Resolute was far from the usual neatness of a Queen‘s ship. Deck cargo of casks, sledges, ice-triangles and ice-saws; powerful rigging and ice blocks, to cope with the Arctic storms — but at the sight of another flag, even in mid-exploration, the impulse to improve her appearance was automatic.
The American ships dropped anchor a mile away, and a boat put out for the British squadron minutes later. The Captain and More took up their position at the ship's side as it approached.
“Shall we pipe, sir?” asked the Bo'sun.
"I think not, Brown." Both men in the stern of the boat seemed civilians, though in cold-weather gear it was hard to tell. By his awkwardness coming aboard, the older man wasn't even a seaman.
"Dr. Elisha Kane, sir, of the brig Advance," said the first American, advancing with hand outstretched. "May I present Dr. Howard Hayes, of the Boston Geographical Society."
"Captain Horatio Austin, H.M.S. Resolute, at your service," the Captain said formally. "My first lieutenant, Mr. More. Will you come below, gentlemen?"
In Austin's cabin, as they shed their fur suits and canvas jackets, the Captain called for hot drinks. "It's an unexpected pleasure to meet other ships here," he said. “Though this year, it's less unusual. We overtook Captain Penny's ships earlier this week, and two days ago we sighted another vessel in the Strait.”
"No doubt that was the Prince Albert, financed by Lady Franklin," said Kane. “She spoke the Advance yesterday. They’ve been searching Barrow Strait and Wellington Channel, but without success, alas.”
"Captain Penny's ships were likewise equipped by Lady Franklin," More told him. "She remains convinced of her husband' s survival."
“Lady Franklin's misfortune has aroused a great deal of sympathy in the United States,” said Kane.
“Our two ships, the Advance and the Rescue, were fitted out by Mr. Henry Grinnell to search for Franklin's party. Has nothing been found?”
“We’ve found their first winter quarters,” said Austin. “It's only a matter of time, now, before their fate is discovered. I've despatched two of my ships, the Assistance and Intrepid, in the direction of Cape Riley, and that's one of the last possibilities in this area. But after five years, I fear hope must be abandoned. Some survivors of the expedition might have found shelter with the Esquimaux to the south; but if so, word of them should have reached civilisation by now.”
“And is this the view of the Admiralty in England?”
"Not officially, of course," said Austin. "But my orders are first to establish whether or not a passage to the west exists along Barrow Strait from Lancaster Sound, at the same time searching for traces of Sir John Franklin's expedition. We hope to be back in England by October l85l."
“I see,” said Hayes. “Captain, it's possible you could do us a very great service. May I ask you first to look over these papers.”
He produced three documents and passed them to Austin. More saw only the seal. The Captain read them through. "I am asked to extend every assistance to your party, Doctor. Though a ship of Her Majesty's Navy is not bound to comply, a request from so high in the United States' administration must almost be received as a command."
"I wouldn't have you feel under any duress, Captain. But I would be very grateful if my daughters and I may transfer to your ships, to continue our work through the winter."
At the word 'daughters' the Captain's expression changed sharply. "A winter in the ice-pack, sir — surely no place for young ladies, especially on a naval vessel. Without appearing inhospitable, let me urge you to take your party south and continue your research in another season."
Hayes was apologetic. "That might seem to be best – but Commander De Haven fears, from the climatic conditions, that his ships may be caught in the 'middle ice' of Baffin Bay. They are not equipped for wintering in the ice, and conditions aboard would be at least unpleasant, at worst hazardous."
"Extremely so, if the hulls were to be nipped," Austin agreed. “I shall review our position as regards stores and equipment, Doctor, and let you have my decision within the hour. Please call my steward if you require anything. Mr. More, come with me, please.”
A midshipman was despatched to fetch the chief quarter-master. "This is a fine situation," said the Captain. “The fellow must know their President, or even be related to him, to judge from those letters! I can’t risk a diplomatic incident, not when those ships have been sent by a philanthropist to search for Franklin. We can't refuse to take their passengers, if there's a chance they won't get through Baffin Bay before the ice closes in.”
“If they're not prepared for the winter, they'd have scurvy to contend with,” More agreed.
"And if the ships are crushed, they'll be lucky to survive at all unless they reach a whaling station," Austin went on. “Imagine the outcry if we refused and these young women perished!”
However reluctantly, Austin had to take the American scientists aboard. The Resolute had a tier of cabins on each side, for her unusually large complement of officers; it was arranged that More would share with the third lieutenant, so putting his own cabin and the third's at the Americans' disposal when the second lieutenant, McLintock, moved to the other side. By the time their gear was moved next day, the scientists and their equipment were on their way across.
Dr. Hayes came aboard first, to supervise the hoisting of wooden boxes marked 'Instruments — with Care'. Then the girls came up the side, each followed by an American sailor in case of accident. Despite the cold wind, they both threw back their fur hoods to be introduced to the Captain. More was struck immediately by the contrast in their looks: the taller one was blonde, almost Scandinavian in appearance, while the other's hair was wavy and jet black. Her height was little over five feet. Perhaps they're only half-sisters, More thought as the remaining dunnage was hoisted to the deck. The older girl put up her hood again almost at once, though Austin was inviting his guests to come below; but the other, still bare-headed, took an appraising look round before she followed. Her eyes met More's and stopped — just for a second, but he felt his insides turn to water. Without resuming her survey of the deck, she turned and followed the others aft.
To his satisfaction, More recollected himself a second before the American officer at his side. As More's eye lit on him, he too clicked back to reality. "There's one thing I can say, sir," he said, turning to the ship's side. "I am purely sorry not to see the effect that young lady will have on Her Majesty’s Navy!" And with that he was gone, following the sailors into the boat; leaving More to look after him, in turn, trying to extrapolate from that parting shot.
Near mid-day, the Resolute's search parties returned from the shore. Penny's ships had gone on, intending to make another landing further along the coast; Pioneer already had steam up. To save time Austin ordered the tender to tow Resolute into the main channel, crews lining the decks for the customary three cheers as they passed Grinnell's two ships. The two girls appeared briefly aft to wave handkerchiefs, but the cold had driven them below long before the Resolute made sail.
Progress along the Strait was slow; the wind was freshening, and beginning to turn against them. Penny's ships were still ahead when More was relieved, and with great relief went below. The weather, he foresaw, would be thoroughly nasty by nightfall. He left his heavy jacket and gloves in his new cabin, and set off to claim the hot tea that should be waiting. At the change of watch, as ice thawed from clothing and boots and kettles boiled on all sides, the ship filled with fog below decks; and out of it, there came an astonishing apparition.
Though the girls had come aboard in long skirts, cold-weather gear had hidden their femininity. Below decks, however, warm air was distributed mechanically. The dark girl was now wearing sailor's shirt and trousers, but the effect was anything but masculine.
"Oh, come on, Lieutenant!" she said brightly, before he found words. “It can't be that long since you left England, surely?”
"Young ladies don’t dress like that in England," said More, swallowing hard.
She dropped him a curtsey — and he'd never seen that done in trousers before. “Why, thank you, sir! I'm glad you approve.”
Naval officers are not fools — not even when facing astonishing young women, instead of fire and storm. More could almost hear her saying, “But Captain, Lieutenant More said it was all right.”
“No miss,” he said firmly, “your clothes would cause a stir there.”
"No doubt," she said casually. “When we reach England, I shall have to be demure and conventional. But for a winter in the ice, I must dress practically, don't you agree?”
“I don't think it'll be necessary to go to these lengths, miss.”
“I have a feeling I'll surprise you, Lieutenant,” she said with disconcerting firmness. “I’ve come to the Arctic to work, to conduct a serious scientific investigation, not to be decorative at the Captain's table. Right now for instance I'm going to make friends with the crew, and I want them to accept me as an equal, not as some fashionable lady amusing herself. Excuse me?”
That did catch More unprepared. The Americans were obviously under the Captain’s authority on the Resolute – but could More place the fo'c'sle out of bounds to them without referring to Austin? Probably not. He let her go, unable to resist staring after her, then made at once for the Captain's cabin.

Writing post: Internal/External Conflict

I've just posted my second article on writing techniques over at the Writer's Workshop blog. This time, it's all about internal vs. external conflict:

Broadly speaking, the distinction between literary and commercial fiction is this: literary fiction deals in internalised conflict – fear, jealousy, greed, desire for power or revenge, thwarted love and so on. It’s these internal conflicts, after all, that are the cause of so many of the great tragedies that characterise the human race – wars of religion, of power, of survival. In Greek myth, the entire Trojan War took place because Paris fell in love with Helen of Troy and stole her away from her husband. A ten-year-long conflict is thereby triggered entirely by one person’s desire for another, regardless of the consequences.
Go check it out


And yet another super-fast BIAJ Release: Hal Duncan, Escape From Hell!

This is Hal's forty-thousand word novella, written not long after completing Vellum and Ink, the first of which is an award-winning book. As I've said before, Brain in a Jar is primarily about releasing work that's previously been published, but is hard to get hold of or is out of print. Escape From Hell! hasn't been out of print for very long, and was only ever available as a limited release - and if you want to get a physical copy these days, it's going to cost you a pretty penny.

Here's the details from the Amazon page:

A hitman, a hooker, a homosexual kid, and a hobo suicide make the ultimate prison break...escape from Hell itself! But when news of their attempted escape gets out, the souls of the damned are transformed into a rioting mob, and all Hell truly does break loose. It's Escape from New York meets Jacob's Ladder, by one of fantasy's rising stars.

Hal Duncan is a Scottish author of science fiction and fantasy. His first novel, Vellum, was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and went on to win the Spectrum and Tähtivaeltaja Awards. It has since been translated into half a dozen languages. It was followed by a sequel, Ink, shortlisted for the 2011 Tähtivaeltaja Award.

He has published numerous short stories, several of which have been anthologised, including The New Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, and Paper Cities, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, as well as two poetry collections, Sonnets for Orpheus and The Lucifer Cantos. A further volume, Songs for the Devil and Death, collected a number of poems from each of the prior collections.

This forty-thousand word novella is the first in an intended trilogy. The sequels will be titled Assault! On Heaven! and Battle! For the Planet! Of the Dead!

'...a gripping and stylish read from one of the most talented new fantasy writers to emerge in a long time.' THE GUARDIAN

Here are the links for Amazon UK and Amazon US. I'm pricing this one a little higher than the others by way of an experiment. I'll see how it goes.


The growing world of self-publishing

It's funny how things have changed in just the last couple of years. Ten years ago, self-publishing was anathema. In the Kindle era, it's gained a sheen of respectability, particularly when carried out by authors who've already proven themselves in the traditional publishing market place.

The vast majority of self-published work otherwise is, of course, utter trash, even the stuff that shifts a quarter of a million copies a year on Amazon. If you don't believe me, go take a look at the opening page of pretty much any self-published, high-ranking novel. Most of them make Dan Brown look like Hemingway. That they sell as well as they do says more to me about the reading public than it does about the authors.

Don't get me wrong. I wish these authors all the best in their success. I hope, however, they spend some of the money they make to teach themselves the basic skills of grammar and sentence construction.

Because of this, it's very hard for genuinely good but unknown writers to become recognised. I knew when I released Fergus Bannon's Judgement as an ebook it was going to be a single shiny nugget floating in a sea of shit. But I got the book out there, and that gave me the impetus recently to put out previously published work by some well regarded authors. I know there must be equally good self-published works out there on the internet, but I'll be damned if I have the time and energy to find them.

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the best way to become published remains finding a (good) agent and then a publisher. Outside of that, the only truly notable self-publishing ventures are those backed by writers who are well-known in their field. William King is an obvious example, and his work is backed up by dozens of best-selling novels for Warhammer. I was pleased to see Rudy Rucker recently start up something called TransReal Press. His anthology 'Transreal' was an absolutely seminal anthology, and he's without doubt one of the finest writers in the sf field. He's produced a huge, ever-evolving anthology of all his published short fiction, and it is very surely worth the price he's asking.

So how to identify a genuinely good author and bring him to the attention of the right readers? Well, that brings me on to a recommendation.

I've known the writer Ian Sales for at least a couple of decades, and was probably introduced to him by Jim Steel at some convention or other. In fact, I know Ian entirely through science fiction conventions. He's had bits and pieces published here and there, mostly in the small press, but is a genuinely fine writer. In fact, he's precisely the kind of writer who could and should benefit from the e-publishing revolution. He recently sent me a novella called Across The Sea of Rains to read, and it proved to be a beautifully written piece of hard science fiction constructed around a delightful bit of Forteana.

Now, you might be thinking well, he's a mate. You would big him up, wouldn't you? Well, er, no. No, I wouldn't, unless I genuinely rated the work. I'm hard that way.

Here's the description from Ian's own blog:

This April, Whippleshield Books will launch its first book, Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales. This 20,000-word novella tells the story an attempt to return home by a group of military astronauts stranded at a base on the Moon. Described by Adam Roberts, author of By Light Alone, as “written with an expert blend of technical precision, descriptive vividness and emotional penetration”, and by Kim Lakin-Smith, author of Cyber Circus, as “as poignant as it is impeccably researched”, Adrift on the Sea of Rains is the first in a thematic quartet. The remaining three installments will also be published by Whippleshield Books.
Whippleshield Books was founded by Ian Sales in order to focus on a type of science fiction which no one else seems to be publishing – ie, stories of high literary quality with extremely strong scientific and technological content. 

So keep your eyes out for that one. I'm recommending it highly.


Coming up from BIAJ: Hal Duncan and Duncan Lunan

I got the text file for Hal's Escape from Hell the other day and it took maybe an hour or so to check over and revise the formatting in Scrivener before outputting it as a Kindle-compatible file, which so far looks pretty good. I'll probably get around to uploading it to Amazon in the next week or so. The only question really remaining for me is, how much to charge? It's a novella, rather than a novel (as Hal pointed out in the pub the other day), just scraping in at forty thousand words. Which brings up the classic question, do you value it by the quality, or the length?

My gut reaction right now is to price it at a fiver in the UK, and five dollars in the US, selling it for a lot more than other BIAJ releases (I don't however, rule out dropping the price after the first six months). Previous releases so far have been of older books, mostly out of print or ones or small-press publications with limited print-runs. Because they're older, less 'current' it makes sense to price those other books at, say, £1.99 in the UK, $3 in the US. Hal's book, however, is a bit more recent. He has a higher profile, with a couple of bestsellers out in the fairly recent past.

Another thing that affects a pricing decision is the gradual evolution of what people now call the 'indie publishing market on Amazon. Where people most commonly priced their books at the lowest possible value allowed by Amazon once they opened themselves up to self-pubishing, those same self-published authors and 'boutique' operations like BIAJ are now raising their prices. People understand that if their work is truly of good quality, then people will, hopefully, pay for that.

I've certainly bought indie books - but they've all so far been by authors who were already traditionally published, either now or in the past. I have self-published books on my Kindle by Jonathan Carroll, Simon Ings, Rudy Rucker, KW Jeter, William Barton and a number of others, all wonderful influential writers. This is the primary reason why everything BIAJ publishes is by writers who have already proven themselves by making sales in the traditional short story or novel markets. I don't need to edit them - usually - because they've already been professionally edited. I do proofread them, in case of errors of translation from one format to another. I also get the authors to re-read them following that proofing. Some are easy to set up: Escape from Hell! took literally five minutes on receipt of the file (followed by an hour's worth of formatting in Scrivener).

The shift in pricing also has to do with the recognition that those books which are huge indie sellers are those with the broadest possible appeal. A lot of people downloaded Fergus Bannon's Judgement when I made it intermittently free, but were they the right audience? It's far, far from being a traditional thriller, and probably has a great deal more in common with the work of authors like Rudy Rucker and KW Jeter. People who are used to reading Bourne books are not going to be able to get their heads around a book as desperately WTF as Judgement proves to be once it reaches its denouement.

The thinking goes, then, that it's worth raising prices so that a book can reach the right audience. Meaning, those people who will actually understand what they are reading. Now, people self-publishing on Amazon are seeking not just any audience, but the right audience for their work.

And that's the thinking right now for Hal's forthcoming ebook.

In other news, I've been working on a collection of novelettes (I can never remember which is which) by Duncan Lunan, who has written extensively for Analog and Asimov's. The collection features at least one Nebula-nominated story, With Time Comes Concorde. You can expect to see that, maybe, later this month.


New Brain in a Jar release

Just to let you all know that there is a new release out right now from Brain in a Jar Books: The Unusual Genitals Party and Other Stories, by Fergus Bannon, author of Judgement. Some of these stories originally appeared in diverse publications including Interzone, West Coast magazine and Territories. There are also a couple of non-fiction pieces that have been previously published, including the seminal Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Neurosurgery Because You Were Too Well-Adjusted To Ask.

Not only that, but for the next five days, it's completely free on Kindle. So download it now. http://amzn.to/xOXuFP 


City and the Stars introduction

Okay, here's a piece I've been thinking about posting for a while. I mentioned last year that I had been commissioned by the German publisher Heyne to write an introduction to a then-new edition of Arthur C. Clarke's early work City and the Stars (Die Stadt und die Sterne). In terms of sheer money per word, it's the best paid writing I've ever done. But I had to work fast: I had perhaps three days to write the introduction, and I'm mercenary enough to admit the money made it more than worth it. After that, it was off in the email and then to a translator. 

And since it's otherwise only available in the German language, I thought I might as well post it up here. So here it is. 


Arthur C. Clarke really messed with my head when I was a kid. 

It must have been about 1978 when I heard from a friend at school that our English teacher had been reading out, to another class a couple of years ahead of me, parts of an essay I’d written for an assignment. I  had no way of knowing whether he had done this because he thought my essay  — on the works of Arthur C. Clarke —  was brilliant, or because, as I secretly suspected, it stank worse than anything he’d ever read before. I pictured a bunch of fifteen and sixteen-year olds sitting in some dimly lit classroom and snickering in concert over my awful, lurid prose. I steeled myself for the worst, thinking: I could run away to sea. Or join the circus. Anything, to spare myself the awful embarrassment once word spread around school. 

As it turned out, that teacher (whose name, funnily enough, was Mr English), really, really liked my essay, enough so that he gave it an A+. He asked me about some of the phrases I’d used — terms like geosynchronous orbit and three-body libration point. I explained that Clarke had been the first to come up with the idea of building telecommunications satellites that could maintain stationary orbits over fixed points on the Earth, and that three-body libration points were specific areas related to the orbits of the Earth and its moon where large, orbital colonies might be constructed, an idea first used in Clarke’s 1961 novel A Fall of Moondust.

I remember writing that essay with all the delirious joy of a puppy chasing a rabbit on the first day of spring. Up until then, in English class, the subject matter of our essays was chosen for us by the teacher, so being given the freedom to pick any author to write about I wanted was like tossing a lit match onto dry newspaper. 

I had, I recall, only recently exhausted the supply of Arthur C. Clarke novels in the school library, including The City and the Stars, quite possibly the first of his novels I ever read. That book was like nothing else I’d ever encountered before, offering as it did a way of seeing the universe that set it apart from much of the rest of the science fiction genre when it was first published in 1956.

Then, as now, science fiction was a predominantly American genre that experienced its first boom during the pre- and post-war years, in pulp magazines bearing names like Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories, and many of the stories published therein tended to have a distinctly American flavour; they were tales where few obstacles could not be overcome by pluck and ingenuity, and where men armed with a slide-rule in one hand and a blaster in the other set out to conquer the stars in much the same way their ancestors had once conquered the vast, grassy plains of the American heartland. 

But writers of fantastic fiction originating from other countries had a quite different way of seeing things, particularly those from the United Kingdom. There, authors such as John Wyndham and Arthur C. Clarke, and HG Wells before them, were the product of a more pessimistic literary tradition born of a fading British Empire. Their stories and novels were more likely to depict a universe not only indifferent but even actively hostile to the human race, where victory was far from guaranteed or even possible. 

Where Well’s Martians incinerated the Victorian English with impunity, and Wyndham’s Kraken flooded the Earth before conquering it, so Clarke, in the book you hold in your hands, portrayed a defeated empire in the long twilight years of its collective senescence. His eternally self-repairing city of Diaspar languishes under a sun a billion years in our future, adrift in a wasteland of desert, its streets and parks filled with ancient and ageless citizens pursuing the long-dead dreams of their more adventurous forebears. All that is left of their star-spanning empire are memories encoded into the circuits of their city’s great computer banks. At first it appears to be a bleak vision of a dying race, but in reality it’s the beginning of a story of optimism, of the human spirit’s ability to overcome obstacles in order to satisfy its burning desire for knowledge. 

Alvin, the first child to be born in Diaspar for some millions of years, is typical of most Clarke protagonists, in that he is driven by that same urgent sense of curiosity when confronted with the question of what might lie beyond the desert surrounding Diaspar. There are echoes of that same desire to literally push beyond the boundaries of knowledge in Clarke’s 1973 novel Rendezvous with Rama, wherein the crew of the Endeavour explore a long-deserted alien spaceship built on a vast scale, and also in Dave Bowman’s confrontation with the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In each, a human being is confronted with the apparently numinous, but proves instead to be the product of science, albeit that of a far more advanced civilisation. This same theme, of an encounter with a civilisation wielding technology sufficiently powerful to make them essentially god-like, can also be found in Childhood’s End, regarded by many as Clarke’s greatest achievement. Clarke famously codified this approach in his 1962 non-fiction work Profiles of the Future, where he stated that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. In other words, when we finally do venture out to the stars, we may encounter beings literally beyond our comprehension. 

Few other authors understood as well as Clarke that whatever other civilisations our species might one day encounter, they will almost certainly have risen and fallen long ago, so that their legacy is likely to come only in the form of dusty ruins and inexplicable artefacts. What sets The City and the Stars apart from the rest of Clarke’s oeuvre in this respect, however, is that the inexplicable technology that surrounds Alvin is implicitly the creation of his own ancestors, rather than that of alien minds. 

Alvin’s quest also bears the clear influence of Olaf Stapledon, another British writer whom Clarke greatly admired. In books such as Last and First Men and Star Maker, published in the pre-WWII years, Stapledon mapped out entire future histories of not only mankind but the universe itself. It’s a quite staggering scale of perspective, and one Clarke makes ample use of in his descriptions of Diaspar’s long history. 

Other, non-literary influences on Clarke’s writing are equally evident. He was a declared atheist throughout his life, and once famously stated that ‘One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion’. It’s a theme he explores here as thoroughly as his belief that any alien civilisation sufficiently advanced to develop interstellar travel would by definition be benign, since any hostile race with advanced technology would be far more likely to wipe itself out long before it could travel to other stars. So when Alvin encounters a creature like something out of a nightmare, his friend Hilvar comments that ‘nothing that possesses a mind is dangerous,’ the human race having ‘long ago overcome its childhood terror of the merely alien in appearance.’ 

When I look back across the thirty years separating me from that school essay, it becomes clear just how much Clarke’s philosophy informed my own. In the future worlds he created, few virtues are as noble as the human desire for knowledge, and advanced alien life, rather than being inimical and bent on invasion or destruction, instead seeks to nurture, protect and even guide humanity. And where Clarke’s peers at the time were busy generating grim post-apocalyptic visions of an Earth destroyed by nuclear weapons, Clarke instead seemed to suggest that the future was not only a better place, it was one we could actively create. 
The Clarkean view of the human race is essentially that of a species only just emerging from a long, dark childhood, still afflicted by superstition and ignorance, but ready to grasp a bright and glorious destiny knowing no boundaries of race or religion. He was, in his way, the nearest thing science fiction ever had to a genuine prophet, pointing the way to what felt like a real and tangible destiny if we only had the courage to accept it. 

As I sit here in front of my computer, linked into a vast global library of information not too different from what Clarke himself once envisioned, it’s easy to see that we live in a world he had some small part in creating. He was the first to suggest that satellites could be used to broadcast telecommunications, and lived long enough to see developments in space exploration that would have seemed outrageous fantasy when he first saw publication.

When he died in 2004, Arthur C. Clarke left behind a body of work that continues to inspire successive generations. He was a man with an unfailing appetite for every new advancement in science, and who enjoyed scuba-diving because it was the nearest he could get to the experience of floating in zero gravity. In all the essential details, Alvin, locked inside his shining city of the far, far future, is the embodiment of everything Clarke held to be true about the human spirit. 

- Gary Gibson

Just off the plane

So barely two or three days after getting off the plane from Taiwan, I found myself at a small local convention (Satellite 3) at Glasgow's Central hotel. This is significant to me, since the Central was the location of the very first sf convention I ever went to. It was either 1981 or 1982; I honestly can't be sure. I think it was an Albacon.

At that time, still in my mid-teens, I was living outside of Glasgow and had to train in. I only had enough money for a day-membership on the Saturday, but I came back in the next day - nothing could have stopped me - and very carefully wore the plastic membership badge I had in such a way that the bit indicating it was for the day before was hidden behind the lapel of my combat jacket.

That first con was, frankly, awesome. I think I wandered by accident into a darkened room and somehow managed to see Rocky Horror for the first time. I believe there's a book out by the author Jo Walton which revolves heavily around a Glasgow Eastercon of that period (Among Things). This is good, because as far as I'm concerned, the Glasgow Eastercons were always more awesome-erer than ones held elsewhere. And if there was one any time between 1980 and 2000, I was there.

Satellite was a much smaller con, however, with perhaps a hundred people, perhaps slightly more, all much greyer than they used to be. Some I know well, some I have never yet spoken to, even though I remember their considerably more fresh-faced incarnations from past decades. When you come down to it, it's not much more really than some people sitting chatting in a bar, or listening to each other talk in the room next door.

And yet I found myself on the Sunday afternoon struggling to leave. When I finally did, I remembered why: it's always strangely depressing stepping out of a con and back into the real world, however big or small, good or bad that con is. There's still a moment of transition and readjustment from that world to this world. There's that moment where you have to take off that plastic badge, knowing you're never going to put it on again.

Before I left, I took a look around. Even though the Central hosted many conventions in the past, it was abandoned in that respect until fairly recently, and it's been refurbished since I was last there. There's a grand ballroom, and I remember seeing Harlan Ellison making his guest of honour speech there some time in the Eighties. Norman Spinrad had done the same the year before. Ellison's speech was the first time I'd ever heard the story about the dead gopher. I used to have a tape of the speech and lost it. If anyone's got a copy, let me know.

Unfortunately, as much as it sucks to have to say it, I don't think I'll be at Eastercon this year. I'd love to - I really enjoyed the last Heathrow con, a lot more than I did the one just outside Birmingham - but  I got hammered by the taxman this time round. C'est la vie.

(Also, I swear I'll blog about Taiwan. Really, I will.)


Strange Divisions & Alien Territories

I'm boarding a plane back to Scotland (from Taiwan) later today, so I've got just enough time to let you know about the release of the Keith Brooke-edited Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: The Sub-Genres of Science Fiction. It's a collection of essays by a number of notable sf writers about the nature and the writing of science fiction, and includes articles by the likes of Justina Robinson, Paul Di Filippo, Alistair Reynolds, Michael Swanwick, and a bunch of others, including yours truly. Keith has an interview with me, in support of the release, at his blog - and I think there will probably be interviews coming up with the other contributors there, as well. 


BBC, CNN, Taiwan

While visiting my wife's home country of Taiwan, we stayed for a while in a house owned by her mother in the south of the country. I again had that curious sense of dissonance one experiences while watching BBC World News abroad - because it has adverts in it. For cars. And countries seeking investment (politically stable for at least 15 years!).

A greater sense of dissonance was had on our trip north to Taipei to visit friends and old haunts. While staying in a dilapidated, run-down, cheap as chips hotel near the Main Station, the only English language news channel I could access was CNN. It was frightening. Reporters poking through civil wars, people staggering through wastelands, and occasional talking heads emphasising that so far as America was concerned THEY'RE COMING FOR US. They - whoever the hell 'they' are - are coming for us right now so we'd better nuke/invade/slaughter them before they get a chance to poison our waters, steal our children or bring about gay marriage.

And that's not even to mention the parade of lunatics and freaks dancing across the screen, all of whom are apparently Republican candidates for the Presidency. That was probably the most frightening thing of all.

By the end of two weeks of watching CNN, I was living in a deeply paranoid world. We returned to Tainan, and BBC World News. Ah. All was calm again. Reasonable voices. Calm discussions. Like there isn't anything that can't be sorted out by a good old chinwag over a nice cup of tea.

Quite a contrast. 


New BIAJ release: Angus McAllister's The Cyber Puppets

Another day, another release. Paisley-born Gus McAllister is the author of one of my favourite sf novels - The Krugg Syndrome, which first appeared back in the 80s, a delirious romp set in the Sixties about a young legal student who gets a bang on the head, and wakes up in hospital absolutely convinced that rather than being a callow human youth, he is in fact a scout for an approaching fleet of war-like alien trees bent on invasion. It's a classic fish out of water story about a young man desperately trying to figure out how the world works, while labouring under the delusion that he's really an alien tree trapped in a human body...or is it a delusion...?

Fast forward a few years, and Gus is the author of several more novels, including The Canongate Strangler (published in the Nineties by Dog & Bone) and, finally, The Cyber Puppets, a spoof on soap opera dramas such as Dallas combined with some Dick-ian reality-twisting revelations.

Cyber Puppets was originally slated to be published by Big Engine in the early years of this century, only for the company to go tits up days before it was due to appear on shelves. Since then it's done little more than sit on Gus's hard drive while he gets on with the hard work of writing required legal texts for students throughout Scotland. Until I approached him and said 'hey, about some of those books you've written that aren't yet available as ebooks...'

You can currently find it on Kindle, everywhere, and without DRM (it goes without saying) for the low, low price of £2/$3. Here's the US link: http://amzn.to/zjhylX . And the UK link: http://amzn.to/wPWB9t


More news for Brain In A Jar Books

I got confirmation from Hal Duncan - author of Ink and Vellum - that I have the go-ahead to produce an ebook/Kindle version of his most recent and third novel, Escape From Hell! This was originally published in a limited run paperback and hardback edition by MonkeyBrain Books in the US. The BIAJ edition of Escape From Hell! will be published a) when Hal sends me the RTF file, and b) when I get around to loading it into Scrivener and outputting it as an ebook file I can put on Amazon. Which might be some time, given how busy I otherwise am.

Like all BIAJ books, it will have no DRM and will be available internationally. I haven't settled on a definite price, but this time, I may opt for a slightly higher price of approximately five dollars for the US, which works out at nearly £3.50 for the UK.

In the meantime, here's a rough of the cover for the ebook edition of Escape From Hell! which will be out soon...ish.


My first two novels are now ebooks


Got some very good news in my inbox - my first two novels, Angel Stations and Against Gravity, are finally out today in ebook format, including Kindle. That's a lot sooner than I'd been anticipating.

Stealing Light, my third novel, was the first to appear as an ebook, just as the epublishing revolution began to kick in, and I know I've had a lot of requests over the years for ebooks of my first two novels. Well, now you can get them. Not only that, I believe they are also available for purchase in the US as well as the UK (and for all I know - and hope - elsewhere).

Of course, if you're a real fan of my stuff, you'll have worked out by now there's a secret code scattered in pieces throughout my first four books that, when put together, automatically generate a quantum-level, self-perpetuating and sentient equation destined to reverse the entropic decline of our universe. So you'll not just be buying an ebook - you'll be saving reality itself.

Both of my first two novels are also, as I've previously mentioned, to be reissued later this year in B-format.

I've previously mentioned - on Twitter, anyway - that most of my books, from Stealing Light on, are also going to be available some time this year as audiobooks from Audible.com.

I note my publishers now have a dedicated Tor books and news page set up at Torbooks.co.uk. This has information not only about myself, but other Tor writers including China Mieville, Peter Hamilton, Tony Ballantyne, Paul Cornell and others.



Where in the world is Gary?

In a run-down hotel in the centre of Taipei, actually, with my wife, visiting friends and revisiting old haunts. meanwhile, the rest of Tor UK is presumably on the come down from the recent SFX Weekender at Prestatyn (I was at the previous SFX event last year). It's nice to hit the night markets again, and it's been a very pleasant and balmy 21 - 28 C for much of the time. I'm not back in the UK until later in the month, but I'll definitely be making it to the Satellite 3 convention at Glasgow's Central Hotel (a bit of a homecoming, that - the very first conventions I ever went to were in the Central Hotel in the early Eighties).

Meanwhile, I'm going to be uploading another Brain in a Jar book sometime in the next couple of weeks - Angus McAllister's Cyber Puppets. Here's the blurb:

Prime-time satire. The Lairds of Glendoune are rich and powerful, their wealth based on the family whisky. Their constant crises keep the lawyers and hospitals of Primeburgh in business, the eldest son Wilson Laird tried to frame his father for murder (but his parents forgave him after his near-fatal accident) and no one notices when the family patriarch Hector Laird comes back from Europe with a new head.
Add all this to his memory lapses and complete absence of free will, and Hector's son-in-law Scott Maxwell slowly becomes convinced that this can't be right ... and then the reality around him collapses altogether, plunging him into a devastated world of the future.
Back in the real world, the Earth is dying; the environment is poisoned, and human society itself is on the downward plunge as vision and drive wither away from the human gene pool. What has all this to do with a twentieth century American soap opera?


Brain In A Jar Books

So, about that secret project.

I had a minor epiphany just before New Year when I realised I knew a number of writers with works that had been 'resting' for quite a while. By 'resting', I mean, out of print or not actively making them money or helping them to maintain their profile. I'm talking about ebook publishing, of course. I know people who have books that have been out of print for a good long while, or have had a variety of stories published in the pro SF press. It seemed a shame that none of it was available for the Kindle.

Bill King, a fellow Glaswegian (though now resident in the Czech Republic) has recently been enjoying quite a bit of success putting some of his work online, particularly novels that have sold in translation but not in the English-speaking market. One of the lessons he's learned - and that is becoming a standard wisdom of the new era of independent ebook publishing - is that it's not enough to have just one book, or even two, for sale on sites like Amazon or Smashwords. You really need several, since those who like one book by an author (typically the first in a series featuring a central character) are likely to go on and buy the next, and the next, and so on. A cumulative effect can be achieved by regularly producing work - much as it does in traditional publishing. Whether that same effect can be achieved with a number of disparate authors published under a common imprint is another matter, but it's worth a shot to find out.

I've since spoken to a number of professional authors of my acquaintance about getting some of their work online, as part of something I'm calling Brain In A Jar Books. As a result of my enquiries, authors who are going to be published by Brain/Jar include Angus McAllister, Michael Cobley, Duncan Lunan and Fergus Bannon. All of them are pros, some with long publishing careers.  There are one or two other well-known writers who may have work forthcoming through Brain In a Jar, but until certain negotiations are complete, I can say no more.

Of course, I'm not the first to do something like this. Keith Brooke is already enjoying considerable success with his own Infinity Plus Ebooks. Like Keith, Brain in a Jar is something I do in my spare time, and there's nothing I could really call a regular 'release' schedule. When a book is ready, out it goes into the wild. Mike's is already up on Amazon, and more should follow in the next week or two.

Here's a quick look at what you can expect to be seeing from Brain In A Jar in the coming weeks and months:

Iron Mosaic, by Mike Cobley - a collection of short fiction by the author of the Shadowkings and Humanity's Fire trilogies, currently still available in hardcopy format by Immanion Press (who kindly granted us permission to release this ebook edition in the UK). The book was first printed in the mid-2000s, before Mike won the contract to write the Humanity's Fire trilogy. For the moment, Iron Mosaic will be available only in the UK, but it's already out, at the special introductory price of £2.

The Cyber Puppets, by Angus McAllister. Angus is the author of (amongst others) The Krugg Syndrome and The Canongate Strangler. Angus has never been the most fortunate of authors: The Cyber Puppets was due to be published by Big Engine several years back - only for Big Engine to go out of business, just two weeks before the book was due to be printed.

Also forthcoming in the reasonably near future is With Time Comes Concorde and other stories, by Duncan Lunan. Duncan is the author of non-fiction works such as Man and the Planets, a runaway non-fiction bestseller when it was first published in the 70s. Since then, he's published fiction as well as a huge number of non-fiction articles for leading US sf publications such as Analog and IASFM. With Time Comes Concorde will collect four linked novellas first published in Analog and IASFM.

Finally, there's going to be a collection of short stories and essays by Fergus Bannon, most of which originally appeared in Interzone and sundry other publications, and whose novel Judgement acted as a kind of guinea pig when I published it on Amazon a while back. Since then it's done extraordinary well, and I can't tell you how pleased I am to see it getting the attention it deserves. And, indeed, if it wasn't for it doing so well, I don't think BIAJ would be happening.

If you want some indication of the quality of work we're going to be bringing to you, you could do a lot worse than check it out. It's also been 're-released' as part of the BIAJ family, although all that really means is that the cover has been redesigned to match the overall look and feel I'm aiming for with these books. When you see a Brain in a Jar Book, so my thinking goes, it's immediately recognisable as such: a house style, if you will.

Some of you will be aware that in a previous life I was a graphic designer. Not a particularly gifted one, to be frank with you, since my ability to originate art is pretty much minimal-to-zero. What I can do, however, is glue pre-existing things together in a hopefully attractive and interesting fashion, while also mucking around with typography, and so on, in order to make something stand out. And one of the great advantages of creating online material is that it can be done for essentially no cost. The ebooks are formatted and outputted using Scrivener, a paid copy of which I do own. The ebook covers, however, are all done using open source software and public domain or creative commons images (most of what you see was done using Inkscape, an open-source alternative to very expensive software such as Adobe Illustrator). I make no great claims for these designs as works of artistry, but I do like to think they stand out.

And that's just the start, really. The books are to be priced between 99 pence and £4.99, in most cases tending strongly towards the middle of that range. There's a dedicated blog/web page at braininajarbooks.wordpress.com where details of forthcoming releases will be posted, as well as here. 


Secret Project

The Secret Project is one that involves a number of authors of my direct and personal acquaintance, mostly from in and around Scotland, and will be announced probably some time in the next several weeks. More soon.