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?