December update, publishing plans, and some book reviews

I had a chat with my agent about plans for the future this month, and about the two novels I currently have on submission to publishers. 

I gave him a brief outline of a new book I'm working on, called The Medusa Net (formerly The Europa Door), and he expressed considerable enthusiasm.That's a good sign, of course. But the market into which I'm trying to sell books has been undergoing upheavals for years and is going through even more. 

A few years back publishers were worried about the influence of increasingly cheap e-books, but that's nothing compared to the worry writers have about publishing companies becoming consolidated into vast international megacorporations. Now we find out that Penguin Random House is in the process of acquiring Simon and Schuster, meaning the Big Six of recent years have gone from the Big Five to, with this newest merger, the Big Four. 

That's not good for the range or diversity of writing or indeed for a diversity of voices. 

If there is any good news in relation to all this, it's the gradual rise of smaller but increasingly important players. Newcon Press in the UK, for instance, have become increasingly important in the publishing scene in the British Isles, publishing new novels by a number of authors previously under contract to big five publishers — including myself. 

So, of course, all this makes me wonder what the future is for my own books. Should I keep chasing after the kind of book deals I had in the early to mid-2000s? Or are those days long gone? Is the mainstream publishing industry of today only interested in commercial science fiction that comes from new, young and hungry authors? 

Such questions loom large in my mind these days. Right now, my feeling is to give it a while longer and see if I can sell the two books I have out on submission. 

In the meantime, I can work on The Medusa Net which, according to my agent, ticks all the boxes so far as the outline goes for what publishers are looking for. That will take me a year, minimum. Maybe even longer, since I'm not inclined to write in a rush these days. 

One thing I've tried to do over the past couple of years is always keep something coming out every year or so, whether it's self-published, through a small press like Newcon press or some combination thereof. 

Right now I don't have anything really to put out next year, although I did recently realise I have enough new short fiction for another collection of about the same length as Scienceville.I still want to try to sell some of those stories to magazines first, so if I do put another collection out it's more likely to be towards the end of next year rather than the beginning. 

Stories I guarantee will be in that collection are Warsuit and Our Lady of Holy Death. There will also be a story of approximately the same length set in the world of one of my novels currently under submission. 

Along with these, probably a few shorter pieces, with the total word count coming to about 30,000 words. As yet, I haven't decided on a title. I'd still rather have a novel or novella coming out in 2021, but needs must.

Also in the pipeline: I've completed an outline for a sequel to Ghost Frequencies which will most likely be called Phantom Circuits. I've also completed an outline for a separate novella called The Moon Man, which I'm expecting to be the first of a trilogy of novellas. 

Hopefully, I can get started on that as well soon. Anyway, I hope you all have a good Christmas and an even better New Year, despite the circumstances I know many of you will be labouring under. And what newsletter from me would be complete without mention of a few books I've read? 


Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown 
This is a weird one. It's set in what appears to be an alternative near future in which the United States has collapsed into civil war. A young American, the son of a dissident, is captured in Canada and repatriated to the US, while his adoptive sister is sent on a mission to find him after she makes the mistake of insulting the totalitarian President for Life in public. 

I gather Brown is a lawyer in real life, and I came away suspecting I might have enjoyed the book more if I'd had a better grasp of American politics. What made things even harder for me was the gradual realisation that it's not quite our world – there are several references to Reagan having been assassinated, and an early nineties album by John Lennon – which meant I couldn't quite be sure what other historical details I might have missed that had also been changed, but which would be intimately more familiar to someone native to those shores. 

It reads a little like Cory Doctorow channelling Philip K Dick. It's an interesting read, although I'm still not sure what I quite thought of it. Worth checking out, anyway. 

 The Origins of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes 

 Quite a mouthful, isn't it? I've been meaning to read this for years ever since I learned it was a key influence on the writing of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. 

The fundamental conceit is quite something: JJ posits that humans were not truly conscious until a few thousand years ago, and that the evidence lies partly in the physical right/left structure of the brain. To this end, he provides a wealth of evidence in both the fields of psychology and of archaeology, drawing heavily at times on classical texts such as the Iliad to make his point. 

 It's not remotely possible to do the book justice in just a few sentences here, and to be frank it's not the easiest read in the world, but it's certainly one of the most remarkable. I didn't watch the recent TV adaptation of Westworld, but I've been informed the book gets mentioned several times in that show in relation to the gradual coming to conscious awareness of robots. 

I'll admit I had ideas popping into existence in my head right, left and centre as I read. An arduous but fascinating read. 

Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee 

 More non-fiction: this time what essentially amounts to a biography of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction and its editor John W Campbell Junior, detailing the immense influence he had on the field, whether good or bad — usually both, in equal measure. 

 I already knew some of this from other sources, but it's only when I was describing the book to a friend that I realised how mind-boggling much of the story of Campbell and Astounding really is. Campbell was seminal in the discovery and promotion of Isaac Asimov, Robert a Heinlein, AE van Vogt… And a certain pulp author known as L. Ron Hubbard. 

 What distinguishes this history from others is that ANL touches on some of the hidden figures of the period — the wives and secretaries who were possibly equally as influential on the field as these men. It's also the story of Campbell's racism, and how that placed him at increasing odds with the younger writers whose careers he helped build. 

 But it's the really remarkable stuff that sticks in the mind — most of the scientists working on the Manhattan project read the magazine, so it's hardly any surprise government agents turned up at the publisher's office when the magazine published an article describing how to build an atomic bomb a few years before the American government actually built an atomic bomb. Then of course there's the appearance of Hubbard, originally a deeply prolific pulp author, who also became involved with other fringe characters such as Jack Parsons, the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and close confidant of Aleister Crowley. 

Then came Campbell's promotion of Dianetics in the magazine before its evolution into Scientology, after which Campbell chased after even more bizarre notions such as the Dean Drive. There is also much about the careers of both Heinlein and Asimov with the benefit of modern hindsight.

Definitely much more than another dry history, and very definitely recommended