Echogenesis on sale and my favourite books of 2021

These are the slightly modified contents of my regular monthly newsletter where I talk about writing, what I'm working on, and what I've been reading. And anything else that pops into my mind. 

This has, by far, been my best year in writing since 2015, given the continued success of Echogenesis. It means going it alone rather than working with a publishing company has proved to be a successful strategy: successful enough that it's taken me a little by surprise. 

Once January arrives though, I'll be busy getting the ground ready for Proxy, which I now anticipate releasing at the start of August 2022. I still have some very final edits and checks to carry out, and I need to chase up possible cover artists and work on the layout for the print and e-book editions. 


I scored a Bookbub deal starting on the 17th of December. The book is already just 99p in the UK and 99c in the US, where I'm running a separate promotions deal through another newsletter company. The promotion will run for about a week until just before Christmas.

If you're not familiar with it, BookBub is a newsletter service with about ten million subscribers worldwide. It lists currently discounted e-books, many from major publishers, with the rest made up of a smattering of small-press and independently published titles. 

I used to use BookBub a lot as a reader, but not so much now I almost entirely listen to audiobooks, for which it doesn't cater outside the US. But if you read a lot of ebooks it's absolutely worth signing up for.

And the good thing, from the perspective of a writer, is that a BookBub deal can get you in front of a lot of potential readers who otherwise might not be familiar with your work.

Now I'm going to talk about other people's books.


So far in 2021 I've read — or rather, listened to — forty-one audiobooks, of which twenty-eight are fiction and the rest non-fiction. From these, I've picked five favourites. These are:


ENTANGLED LIFE: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake



NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl

WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand


To pick just five books out of some of the amazing works I've read in the last year proved to be challenging. 

Wylding Hall is a late arrival, since I only just read/listened to it the other day. I read another Elizabeth Hand book some years ago, although the title escapes me, and I don't remember thinking much of it at the time. 

But sometimes you read a good book at a bad time, since if Wylding Hall is anything to go by I really should be reading a lot more of Hand's stuff. Check out the review at the end of the newsletter.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel was a difficult choice, given it just barely edges out some of the excellent books I read this year, most particularly Sarah Pinscher’s A Song for a New Day and Laura Lam's Goldilocks. In truth, I can recommend all of them wholeheartedly. 

Marissa Pessl's Night Film, by contrast, was an easy choice, being to my mind a towering achievement and one to which I look forward to returning one day. 

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake is one of those books that hits you with jaw-dropping fact after jaw-dropping fact in between casual mentions of holidaying at Terence McKenna's home in the jungle with his parents when he was eight or so years old. But this is no woolly-eyed mysticism: rather, this is cutting-edge science where biology blends into the quantum realm, mathematics and computing as well as  revealing how our understanding of the natural world and how it operates is undergoing a radical evolution of its own.

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg, by contrast, is terrifying in how close it reveals we came to nuclear Armageddon again and again and how little equipped we are as a species to handle such an enormously destructive weapon.

The author should know: he was closely involved in the cold war planning for the dispersal and possible operation of nuclear weapons, and what he learnt and saw there led in part to his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers, demonstrating that the then US government had been lying to the public about the aims, causes and scale of the Vietnam war.


HOLLYWOOD VERSUS THE AUTHOR edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz REVIEWED BELOW (non-fiction/essays on writing)

WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand REVIEWED BELOW (fiction/supernatural horror)

THE SECOND SHOOTER Nick Mamatas (sf/weird fiction hybrid)

THE KING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD Arthur Philips (historical fiction) REVIEWED BELOW

ENTANGLED LIFE: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (non-fiction/ecology & science. REVIEWED BELOW

THE TOMB (Repairman Jack 1) by F. Paul Wilson (fiction/horror)

POSTER BOY by NJ Crosskey (fiction/sf & near-future contemporary)

A SONG FOR A NEW DAY Sarah Pinsker (fiction/near-future sf)

ROCKONOMICS: How Music Explains Everything by Alan Krueger (non-fiction/economics)

QUESTLAND by Carrie Vaughn (fiction/sf)

SLEEPING GIANTS Sylvain Neuvel (fiction/sf)

MONEYLAND: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule The World and How To Take It Back by Oliver Bullough (non-fiction/crime & economics)

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS BY Stephen Graham Jones (fiction/horror)

THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS by Chuck Wendig (fiction/horror)

TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump (non-fiction/politics & psychology)

LIMINAL STATES by Zack Parsons (fiction/horror & sf)

SPACEFARERS: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars and Beyond by Christopher Wanjek (non-fiction/space exploration)

STEIN ON WRITING: A Master Editor Shares his Craft, Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein (non-fiction/writing techniques)

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis (fiction/near-future speculative politics)

CHASING THE LIGHT: How I Fought My Way into Hollywood by Oliver Stone (non-fiction/autobiography)

RABBITS by Terry Miles (fiction/horror, sf & conspiracy)

BECOMING A WRITER, STAYING A WRITER: The Artistry, Joy, and Career of Storytelling by  J. Michael Straczynski (non-fiction/writing techniques & autobiography)

STRANGE WEATHER by Joe Hill (fiction/sf, horror and contemporary novellas)

THE LAST PASSENGER by Manel Loureiro (fiction/horror)

GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam (fiction/sf)

INFINITE DETAIL by Tim Maughan (fiction/near-future sf)

A HISTORY OF WHAT COMES NEXT by Sylvain Neuvel (fiction/sf)

WARDENCLYFFE by F. Paul Wilson (fiction/horror)

THE FUCK-IT LIST by John Niven (contemporary fiction)

DICTATORLAND by Paul Kenyon (non-fiction/politics)

ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells (fiction/sf novella)

NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl (fiction/crime, supernatural & conspiracy)

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY: Two Full-Cast Audio Dramatisations by Douglas Adams (fiction/original BBC dramatisations)

A LIBERTARIAN WALKS INTO A BEAR: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (non-fiction/culture and politics)

THIRTEEN STOREYS by Jonathan Sims (horror)

CONFESS by Rob Halford (non-fiction/autobiography)

EXHALATION by Ted Chiang (sf/short stories)

THE BEST OF RICHARD MATHESON by Richard Matheson (sf & horror/short stories)

OTHER MINDS: The Octopus and The Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith (non-fiction/biology & science)

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE by Daniel Ellsberg (non-fiction/politics, history and technology)


WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand 

Told in the form of interviews with members of a fictional Sixties band to an interviewer preparing for a documentary, this proves to be a perfect set-up for audio, and I’d urge you to listen to the audiobook, voiced as it is by a number of different narrators voicing each of the main characters. 

It’s short, but powerful: Windhollow Fayre are a psych-folk band in the very early Seventies sent off to the eponymous Wylding Hall in rural England to write their second album, far from the distractions of Swinging London. But the singer Julian Blake (and how perfect a name is that?) may have encountered something strange in the woods, and the longer they stay at the Hall, the more Blake seems to become somehow separate from the rest of the band. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the band have their own interpersonal dramas to deal with, all played out against the increasingly eerie background of the Hall. And eerie it very much is, with hallways that never seem to lead to the same room twice, startling unseen presences wandering its rooms and corridors, and the constant motif of something lurking in the nearby woods which the locals refuse to enter after dark.

Altogether a very much superior ghost story.  

ENTANGLED LIFE by Merlin Sheldrake

Sometimes, you can tell something about someone by their name. There’s some excellent and jaw-dropping science in here to do with mycelial research, interspersed with, surprise surprise, observations about mind-altering chemicals derived from plant life and even a little a bit about how to brew your own beer and wine at home – and how that, too, ties into the rich diversity of mycelium.

Really, there's so much in here I find it difficult to precisely recall some of the best bits, my brain having been crowded with so many 'wow' moments: but there was something about how, if you took all of the mycelial threads reaching through the undersoil of the planet and linking wildly disparate forms of plant life and strung them out in a single line, that line would be the width of the Milky Way.

And it's undeniable how far-reaching this ongoing research really is: even to the point of it influencing surprising areas of popular culture, such as the most recent incarnation of Star Trek (which, I was pleased to see, Sheldrake suggests ‘got the science entirely wrong’). 

Even though it's about biological life rather than the farthest stars, this is some of the sharpest, bleeding-edge hard science popular writing I’ve read in some time and it comes highly recommended. 

HOLLYWOOD VERSUS THE AUTHOR by Stephen Jay Schwartz (editor)

Perhaps not of interest to all of you, but certainly to anyone who ever dreamed about selling a script or book to Hollywood.

Yes indeed, there are many horror stories presented here by a wide range of novelists and script writers who saw their work butchered and, in a worrying number of cases, outright ripped-off.

One particular case revolves around the film Gravity, which the director claimed to be an original idea of his own, until it turned out he had consulted on an adaptation of a novel some years before which had exactly the same story and which saw the author struggling to gain recognition and recompense for the theft of her story. Cue the attack lawyers.

But they aren’t all bad experiences. There are stories of success against the odds, and one particularly illuminating essay by a novelist who had both pitched scripts and been the person pitched to. Not essential unless you're a writer, but if you are, you owe it to yourself to check this out.


I'm not normally one for historical fiction, but something about this caught my eye, particularly the title and then the intriguing setup.

The story is of a Turkish doctor sent with a diplomatic mission to the court of Queen Elizabeth the 1st, unaware of the Machiavellian scheming of the powerful man who sent him far away so he could steal both the doctor’s wife and his home back in Constantinople.

 Once in London, he befriends Dr. John Dee and is otherwise quite horrified by the cold, wet, miserable and generally backwards and ignorant England of the time. So naturally he’s even more horrified when he finds himself 'gifted' against his will to the court of Queen Liz. 

Later – much later – after having gone through a forced Christian conversion, he finds himself caught up yet further in the machinations of the court once it becomes clear that Queen Elizabeth is ailing and the nearest and most likely heir to the throne is King James the sixth of Scotland.

There's just one catch: the Scotland of the time is still largely a Catholic country, and England is still licking her wounds from a conflict that saw it torn apart by religious divisions. 

So the doctor is taken under the wings of a spy master who has only one overriding question he wants the doctor, as a relative outsider, to answer: is King James truly a Protestant as he claims, or is he secretly a Catholic who will bring back the worst excesses of the past as soon as he becomes King of both Scotland and England?

And so the doctor must travel north to Edinburgh, there to attempt to win the confidence of the King, and then to find an answer to that single question: to which church does James truly owe his allegiance?

What you get is a twisty, historical spy thriller of games within games and hidden intentions seen through the eyes of a man to whom Britain is a strange, frequently incomprehensible and entirely foreign country. A fascinating and absorbing read.

That's it for this time. Have a great New Year.


My new book ECHOGENESIS is out now.

My new book, ECHOGENESIS, is now available to order in paperback, hardback and as an Amazon Kindle ebook. This is a reposting of my regular, monthly newsletter that went out to subscribers a few days ago, with full details of how to buy it and where.

The paperback and hardback will also be available from retailers other than Amazon, but it might be a few days yet - perhaps longer - before it shows up on the websites for, say, Waterstones, Indiebound and others. It's on B&N's website already, though. Here are the main links so far:


Amazon UK: Kindle / Paperback  / Hardback

Amazon US: Kindle / Paperback / Hardback

Barnes & Noble: Paperback / Hardback

If you want to order the paperback or hardback at a local bookshop, you'll need the ISBN numbers:

Hardback ISBN: 978-986-06770-1-0

Paperback ISBN: 978-986-06770-0-3

Local or independent shops, however, will sometimes buck the price up, so be aware of that. 

Here's the short version of the blurb:

"After waking next to a wrecked spacecraft on an uninhabited world, fifteen survivors struggle to find out how they got there.

Soon they realise something has gone badly wrong: something that could mean humanity's survival...or its extinction."

Getting this book into your hands has been a long, exhausting and at times wearying process stretched over a number of years. Not that I'd have it any other way.

I consider it to be both my most ambitious and my most thematically ambitious novel by far. It's also the closest I've got to true hard sf because it involves a form of interstellar travel that is perhaps the closest to what the reality might actually be, unless there's some unexpected breakthrough in the laws of physics that changes everything.

People sometimes have questions about availability and format, so I've tried my best to answer these below:


I hope you enjoy it, and let me know if you do. I also hope you consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you prefer, whatever you think of it. Reviews can make a big difference.


I only just came across this article first published in Locus Magazine back in 2018 about SF in Scotland. They interviewed me for it, but at the time the article was print only: now it's online.


And talking of SF originating from Scotland, I have a new story in Shoreline of Infinity 25. The magazine is looking better and better with every issue. Go buy it!


I was kindly asked to be interviewed over Zoom for the group and had a very nice chat with Ian Morley of Durdles Books . It'll be released to the group as a prerecorded video.


Ian Whates of Newcon Press is having a big clear out of stock, with lots of paperbacks and hardbacks at half price  or less. You can get a signed, hardback copy of Devil's Road for just £9.99 if you're quick enough, and also a paperback copy of Ghost Frequencies for just £3. There are also dozens of other books by major writers to be found there, so go check it out.



I've always been fascinated by Oliver Stone and a fan of his film Salvador. It's long been a favourite of mine at least in part because of its Hunter Thompson-fuelled eccentricity. He's more famous of course for PLATOON, JFK, and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, but what draws me in here is the skill with which Stone applies himself to detailing his early struggles as a writer and his initial attempts to become a novelist. Eventually Hollywood came calling, but success was neither immediate nor guaranteed: after early success writing SCARFACE for Martin Scorsese, he wrote the Michael Caine flop THE HAND, and then spent some time in the Hollywood wilderness watching his career slip out of his grasp.

Coming back from that wilderness takes guts and determination, qualities you'll find in any novelist or screenwriter for whom any other life is inconceivable. PLATOON of course grew out of his own experiences in Vietnam, and it says something that the movie for which he's best known is the one that grew the most directly out of his personal experiences - from traumas and tragedies that helped define and shape him both as a man and as a creator of stories. I found it affecting and involving, while also tickled to find he not only wrote a screenplay adaptation of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man but also an early version of the script of Conan the Barbarian from which he extensively quotes his version of the ending.

RABBITS by Terry Miles

A more unusual and ultimately engaging novel based, so I gather, on a fiction podcast of the same name. 'Rabbits' in the novel is an online game which may predate the internet by some decades and even, according to a few, by some centuries: a game in which one uncovers hidden connections between objects, places and people in the real world and which lead to more clues with a grand if unspecified prize to be claimed by one winner.

The protagonist is a non-neurotypical young woman in Seattle with a fascination for and affinity with patterns. Together with her friends, she obsesses over each 'iteration' of Rabbits, the mysterious winners, and just what it is you get if you win.

My own tastes incline me to seek out stories that I can't predict and feel different from what has gone before, and Miles certainly manages that here. The protagonist occupies a peculiar demimonde world of night-time cafes, games arcades, and backstreet alleys in Seattle as she tracks down cryptic clues left by whomever or whatever is behind Rabbits, while friends disappear without a trace of having ever existed, other players are murdered or turn up mysteriously deceased and she is gradually led to a fairly cataclysmic ending that may or may not have something to do with a notorious games company and the lone genius who founded it.

It's good, and at times very good indeed, but if I were to have any criticisms, it perhaps tries *too* hard to explain what is actually going on. With reflection, the author might have been better adopting a more David Lynchian approach and leaving more unsaid or unexplained. Nonetheless, it was an engrossing, enjoyable, and, best of all, quite an unpredictable read.

2034 by James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman.

I bought this one with research in mind since the book I'm working on just now involves a future version of China nearly a century from now. This is the story of an imagined conflict between the United States and China in the South Asian Sea north and west of Taiwan where I'm sitting right now after a US carrier battle group captures a Chinese fishing vessel in danger of sinking and carrying a variety of surveillance equipment that has nothing to do with fishing.

What follows is a gradual escalation of intent and countermove as each side moves against the other. A US pilot is downed by the Iranian air force and an American White House aide whose family comes from India make up the other narrative strands.

I was afraid this might be one of those books crammed to the gills with military acronyms and stiff-jawed generals, but fortunately, it's nothing of the kind. Instead, it's a more character-driven affair in which the authors lay out their case for how the US has both become overreliant on technology and most especially suffers a lack of imagination in its inability to predict ways in which things might go badly wrong for them in a war with another superpower.

As speculation on how things could get badly out of control very fast, it's honestly frightening stuff, especially given the credentials of the authors - one is a former Marine and sits on the Council of Foreign Relations in the US and the other is a retired US Admiral. It would be interesting to read this together with Daniel Ellsberg's Doomsday Machine, about how close the world came to nuclear war on multiple occasions, and which I reviewed here last year.

And that's it until next time, Go read Echogenesis!


Total website revamp coming soon

 Just a heads-up I'm going to be radically revising the website sometime soon. I'll be switching over to a service called carrd.co. Carrd doesn't host blogs, so I'll be maintaining the blog here on blogger.com for a while yet and linking back to it from the new site: but I'll change the template to something much more simple and, hopefully, somewhat more friendly to modern PCs, tablets and phones. 

I've been using a very heavily modified Blogger template for the better part of fifteen years, mainly because it's free, and partly because the paid alternatives are frankly a bit expensive and/or complicated. But it's looking ooooold. 

The new site is primarily static - if you're still coming here, you know I don't update as often as I used to bar the occasional newsletter. And again, if you want to keep up to date with me without having to come here I recommend you either sign up to the regular monthly newsletter (and get a free book) or join my Patreon for as little as a pound or the equivalent thereof per month, which gives you access to more than 140 posts that include short stories, unpublished exerpts from novels, serialised chunks of novels and previews of pretty much everything I'm working on far in advance of when anyone else gets to see it. 

Another reason to sign up to the newsletter: it'll have exclusive news about a forthcoming book. The next newsletter, early next month, will have the blurb for my next book Echogenesis, with the art to follow later. 

I'll have a link back here on the new website, so people new to me can still come here and check it out. But when I change over fully, "garygibson.net" will redirect to the new site, not here. 

The new site is still a work in progress but close, I think, to completion. If you want to see it before I unleash it on the world, you can see it at its current pre-launch web address of garygibson.carrd.co

The only glitch I've seen so far is that icons and buttons tend to show up as blank white spaces on phones and tablets. I've been in touch with the company about that. 


Freebie and a sale

Should you be interested, my prequel to Devil's Road, 'Our Lady of Holy Death', is now also available free on Amazon and on other digital stores as well as through my mailing list.

Our Lady of Holy Death

And Doomsday Game, the sequel to Extinction Game and Survival Game, is on sale for the first and possibly only time, and only for another few days: https://getbook.at/DGame.


Story sale, mailing list, and Zardoz

 I haven't been keeping up with posting my newsletters to the blog, but I'll try and get back on track with that. But expect at least a month's delay before you get news from me unless I have a new book coming out.

And a reminder: if you want to hear from me regularly, sign up to my mailing list because blogs are dead and mailing lists are the new thing. You get a free novelette currently not available anywhere else (it's not even been submitted to any markets and was in fact created especially for my mailing list), and I write about writing progress, upcoming projects, books I've read and other news. 

The number of subscribers, I'm glad to say, has been climbing steadily, and it's the only guaranteed way to find out what I've been up to and what I've been working on. A new newsletter comes from me at the start of each month, and you can unsubscribe as easily as you can subscribe.

Here's a quick summary of the main points from my most recent newsletter:


I was recently interviewed by Gareth Jelley for his science-fiction interview podcast series, INTERMULTIVERSAL. There are a lot more interviews with other authors, so definitely check it out.


A few weeks back I wrote a ten-minute screenplay for a short film and submitted it to a script competition - what most screenwriters do, apparently, to get their stuff noticed. 

Last year I wrote a feature-length script, mainly to see if I could do it, based on an old and unused novel outline. I think it came out reasonably well. 

Here's the logline for the feature-length script - Hollywood-ese for a one-sentence summary: A detective investigates a series of grisly cannibalistic murders that threaten to reveal the existence of a secret society of people able to absorb the memories of the recently dead by eating their flesh

Since major publishers don't seem to be fighting their way to my door, cheque-book in hand, I might as well explore other means of telling stories for money.


I sold a short story to PS Publishing's new UK science fiction magazine project, Parsec, edited by Ian Whates.


It's looking likely I'll have a new book out sometime later this year, but a release date is far from certain. More news on that as it comes. It'll be the first time since 2016 that I'll have published a full-length novel that isn't a sequel to something else. More details as they come.


Paul Brazier, who was involved in Interzone's earliest days, has released a short e-book detailing the early meetings of the magazine's editorial staff back in the eighties when they used to meet in a Brighton bar called The Mitre.

Given how big a role Interzone played in my development as a writer, I couldn't help but buy it, even if it's just the collated minutes of different meet-ups. Back then, I'd have loved to be present at some of those pub meetings.


The sequel to Ghost Frequencies, Phantom Circuits, is past the 30,000-word mark and still steaming ahead – it's certainly going to be a longer book than the first one.

I still have to go back and write the second draft of another short novel I wrote earlier this year, The Moon Man.

Once this latest first draft is out of the way I'll be moving on to a first draft of what I'm hoping will be an epic story of outer solar system exploration, The Medusa Net.


I maintain, and will continue to maintain, that John Boorman's 1970s film ZARDOZ is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, whether or not it happens to feature Sean Connery wearing a handlebar moustache, kinky leather boots, leather underwear and, at times, a wedding dress. THESE ARE NOT TRUE MEASUREMENTS OF ITS GREATNESS.

Anyhow, I came across this fascinating little piece on Youtube about the making of the film and it's pretty interesting. Check it out.



I've been trying to think of how on Earth to describe these books and the best I can come up with is that they read like a Bill and Ted film as scripted by HP Lovecraft. Or possibly, The Colour out of Space as directed by Kevin Smith.

Two small town idiots make use of an otherworldly drug they call "soy sauce" that allows them to see beyond the veil of normal reality into a realm of uncanny horror and monstrous intrusions into our universe. But, it must be emphasised, with an inordinate number of dick jokes included.

Personally, I found these books an absolute blast. If the idea of cosmic horror filled with dick jokes doesn't do it for you, you're probably doomed anyway.

ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells.

One of the few times I find myself agreeing with the hype: I'm not even sure how many Murderbot novellas and novels there are now, but if they're half as good as this one I'll almost certainly be buying them.


When it comes to non-fiction books about extreme physics, I'm a sucker for punishment. A great deal of this of course went sailing straight over my head, but that doesn't make it any the less fascinating.

In fact, it's extraordinary just how much truly hard science underpins Christopher Nolan's epic science-fiction film, enough so that I really need to give it a re-watch.

Apart from the very deep physics-oriented considerations that went into the film, there's also a good amount of detail here regarding the production and the development of the script along with Kip Thorne negotiating his way through Hollywood as he tries to raise interest in making a science-fiction film like no other.


Stardust Cowboys, Moon Men and a sale on Devil's Road

I had a nice surprise in January when I discovered I had not one but two works in the long list for the BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) Award for best short fiction of 2020: Warsuit and Devil's Road.

Something like seventy short stories and novellas also made the long list, and that will be whittled down to a shortlist of about five for the final award. So while it's quite unlikely either will get that far, it's always nice to get the nod.

Ghost Frequencies, meanwhile, had an equally unexpected but equally nice review over at SF Crowsnest:

"Gibson's writing is flawless, the story is paced so well that one doesn't notice it at all. Equal parts hard science, ghost and detective story, the mixing of genres is handled exceptionally well."


The ebook of Devil's Road is on sale at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com from February 2nd to February 9th. So if you're new to my stuff, or you aren't but hadn't yet decided whether to go for this one because it's different from a lot of my previous work, for the next couple of days you can get it for just £1/$1.

The sale will only last a couple of days, so you'd better be quick. And if you're an audiobook fan, Devil's Road has an audiobook available on Audible ( US link / UK link) which you can get at a reduced price if you buy the Kindle edition.


The first draft of Moon Man is now up to about 40,000 words and progressing reasonably nicely. As I mentioned before (I think) it's about a Scottish immigrant hunting an otherworldly creature across 1860s California.

And because I haven't really put much of my own cultural background into my writing up until now, I've decided to write it partly in Scots.

This requires a really fine balance between authenticity of language and not making it too difficult for the non-Scottish reader to understand. I workshopped it with my writer's group here in Taipei, the majority of whom are American, and it's fair to say one or two of them were a little baffled by the language. But then again American readers represent at best perhaps 10 to 20% of my readership, so I'm not overly worried.

Working on Moon Man has led me to do a little research into the background of the Scots language, which has proved fascinating. Rather than being a dialect of English, or a corrupted form of that language, as some claim, it's an entirely separate but closely related language that in fact predates modern English.

Indeed, prior to the Norman invasion, Scots - or Inglis, as it was then known - was common throughout the British Isles. What most of us now think of English is, in fact, a merging of that language with Norman French.


Or, I Browsed The Internet So You Don't Have To.

First up, Buckaroo Banzai.

One of my enduring memories of the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton was the premiere of a new American film called Buckaroo Banzai In the Fifth Dimension, starring Peter Weller, concerning the adventures of a half-Japanese man who is simultaneously the world's leading brain surgeon, the world's greatest scientist, holder of multiple land speed records and singer and guitarist in the world's most popular band.

What Buckaroo Banzai really is, is Doc Savage adapted for the 1980s and the film, I remember one reviewer commenting with considerable accuracy, leaves you with the feeling of having just watched the latest episode of a long-running series with zero knowledge of prior story developments.

There was meant to be a sequel, referenced heavily in the closing credits, called Buckaroo Banzai Versus the World Crime League, but the movie failed to be enough of a commercial success for that to happen. So consider me flabbergasted when I discovered that the screenwriter has now written that sequel as a novel due to be published later this year .

I, for one, will be buying it. And not just because I really want to know what that watermelon was doing there .


if you're ever stuck for something to talk about during those long zoom meetings with friends, you could always tell them about the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

I fell down a google hole after discovering NASA once used a song called Paralyzed to wake up astronauts aboard the Skylab in 1973, but got so many complaints that NASA banned the song from their playlist... Making it the only song ever banned in space.

And that tenuous connection is sufficient for me to talk about him here.

How bad or loud could it be for NASA to ban it, you ask? Here he is appearing on the Rowan and Martin Laugh-In in the 60s. You either come away from that thinking it's the greatest of the worst thing you've ever heard.

Personally, I think it's one of the greatest – and apparently David Bowie thought so too. In fact, he not only nicked the 'Stardust' for his own Ziggy Stardust, he later covered one of the Stardust Cowboy's songs on his Heathen album - I Took a Trip on A Gemini Spaceship.

Apparently a documentary about the Legendary Stardust Cowboy is in the works. He's still around, and still playing.


I spent January revisiting some old favourites, but as audiobooks this time. Here they are:


Specifically, the original double album LP recording of Hitchhiker which I originally owned on vinyl in the early 80s and wore out a bunch of record styluses playing it.

There's not much I can say here about it, beyond the fact of it remaining a classic and that I got some funny looks from the Taiwanese when I was walking my dog listening to this and basically laughing my head off from one street to the next.

I'd actually forgotten until this moment that back in Glasgow I have a Zaphod Beeblebear — a teddy bear based on Adams's character Zaphod Beeblebrox . And true to form, it has two heads and three arms and an eyepatch.

Whenever I had visitors back in Glasgow I would be careful to make sure it was out where they could see it. I'd watch people looking at it and see how long it took them to realise what was wrong. The reactions ranged from bemusement to stricken horror. But they never failed to react.


I remember picking this one up as an e-book a few years back pretty much on a whim because it sounded interesting. It turned out to be one of my favourite books I read in 2018.

The story is of a Canadian film critic who discovers a cache of previously unknown films from the early twentieth century made by a woman known for her interest in spiritualism and who had been the sole survivor of a bizarre massacre when she was a young child.

There's something about the combination of cinematic history and horror that really appeals to me, something that was equally done well in Theodore Roszak's Flicker.

The critic starts out trying to uncover more information about a previously unknown chapter in early Canadian film history, thinking there might be a grant in it, before gradually realising she's been drawn into something much darker and much, much older. Terrific stuff.

ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer

I've known of Vandermeer's work for some years before he broke through to the mainstream with Annihilation, partly because he was an acquaintance of some people in my writers group in Glasgow, partly because I'd run into him at least once at a convention, and partly because he's been a pretty constant online presence for the last couple of decades.

Annihilation was the first book of his that really appealed to me, and again, it's a book that so well-known now that there's not much I can really add about it. Basically, if you like your fiction weird and uncanny — and I certainly do — this is a good example of the form.

A group of investigators are sent into an isolated stretch of coast called Area X which is somehow cut off from the rest of the world, and from which few ever return. The landscape is both familiar and alien, with the protagonist constantly in confused as to whether one prominent feature of the landscape is a tower or a tunnel. The feeling is of a constant derangement of the senses in a manner not dissimilar to another book that explores broadly similar territory, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic.

I'm currently listening to: THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE by Daniel Ellsberg and THIRTEEN STOREYS by Jonathan Sims. I'll be talking about them next time. See you then!


Moon men, cyberpunk fashion, procedurally-generated horror and favourite books of 2020

The good news, for me at least, is that I finally broke ground on one of those writing projects I talked about last time around. As I said then, I've planned out at least three books in considerable detail, and intend to spend the rest of this year working on them. At the time of writing this, I'm about 18,000 words into a first draft of (provisionally titled) The Moon Man.

I'd intended it to be another novella/short novel, meaning about 40,000 words in length or about the same length as either Ghost Frequencies or Devils Road, but it feels already like it's probably going to be longer than that. Which is fine by me.


Chuck Rothman, writing for Tangent Online, gave me a very nice review for my story Warsuit that recently appeared in Interzone: "The story moves from the usual battles and escapes of military stories and concentrates on the philosophical implications of the situation. Its never dull, though. The battle scenes are mixed with a discussion of the issues involved. Highly recommended." Nice!


I came across this fascinating article by Mark Frauenfelder, on Boing Boing, called "The Quiet Horror of Procedural Generation":

"According to Know Your Meme, The Backrooms originated on 4chan in 2019 when someone posted a photo, taken at an uneasy angle, of a dingy yellow room illuminated by fluorescent lights. There's no furniture or people. The wallpaper, reminiscent of a 1980s hotel conference room, is mismatched. The carpeting has large stains. A divider at the far end hints at an entrance to another, possibly similar room."

This ended up becoming a kind of weird, Ballardian shared universe, with people creating programs to simulate hundreds of millions of square miles of randomly generated empty rooms.

Indeed, Frauenfelder himself notes that this bears more than a passing resemblance to the short story by JG Ballard, "Report on an Unidentified Space Station", which is not only most likely my favourite Ballard short story, it's also quite possibly one of my favourite science fiction stories of all time. You can read it online.


I think I saw this article mentioned on Twitter, possibly by William Gibson himself. One thing about it that immediately grabbed my attention was its reference to a photo illustration from a nineties magazine called Mondo 2000, which you can see if you click through, titled R.U. A Cyberpunk?.

I used to buy Mondo 2000 religiously because, like Omni during its heyday, it seemed to offer a glimpse into the future, even if in retrospect a lot of it was probably nonsense.

Let's pass over the fact that back in those days I had hair pretty much like the model in the photograph, and focus on the fact the article has some fascinating things to say about the relationship between technology and clothing and how we use it to portray the future. It also reminds me of an article I recently read about how cyberpunk fashion appears to be becoming mainstream in China. I don't know what my teenage self when he first read Count Zero in the pages of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in the early to mid-eighties would have made of it all.


I read — or rather, listened to — about forty books in 2020, a mixture mostly of science fiction, horror and non-fiction. I thought it would be fun to pick out the ones I personally thought were my favourites, in case you're looking for something to read in the grim grey days of the New Year:

Every Anxious Wave (review below)
Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee
The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
The Gone World by Tom Schweterlitsch
Three Laws Lethal by David Walton
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
The Weird and The Eerie by Mark Fisher (special mention).

And if I absolutely, positively had to pick just one overall? The Gone World, by Tom Schweterlitsch.

The 'special mention' of Mark Fisher's book is because I actually read it in 2018, but an audiobook came out early in 2019, and I bought and listened to it immediately. Why? It's a dense if informative book, and almost demands a return to its pages - not to mention it was probably my favourite book of that year.

Runners-up include: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys, Crooked by Austin Grossman, Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties, and Wanderers by Chuck Wendig.

I've included a complete list of all the books I read in 2020 below.


And here's a closer look at what I read in December:

This one makes for a pretty remarkable follow-up to Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding, which I talked about in last month's newsletter, not least because it features Parsons and others involved both in rocketry and the occult interacting with the then leading lights of what would later come to be regarded as the Golden Age of science fiction.

For those who don't know, Jack Parsons, the subject of the book, was both a fan of science fiction and also deeply instrumental in the development of rocket science as a distinct field of research in the US in the years leading up to the Second World War, despite considerable opposition and the widely-held belief that rocket travel into space - Parson's ultimate goal - was a physical impossibility. 

After proving it was feasible to build a rocket that could reach the stratosphere, he received funding to build larger and better rockets, eventually receiving far greater funds from the US military upon America's entry into the Second World War. In the process he set up the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, choosing to use the word 'jet' because the word 'rocket' still had so many negative connotations.

At the same time, and which makes Parsons' story so intriguing to so many, he developed a deep fascination with the occult that led to his forming a Californian chapter of Aleister Crowley's OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis. That, in turn, did him little favour so far as his scientific reputation was concerned.

He formed a friendship with a certain L Ron Hubbard, the later founder of Scientology, and that in turn led to him meeting and befriending a number of science fiction luminaries including Robert Heinlein and John W Campbell.

Definitely recommended, especially if you already read the Nevala-Lee. File under: "you wouldn't believe it if it was fiction'.

Matt Ruff, of course, is the author of the wildly successful Lovecraft Country. 88 Names, by contrast, bears zero resemblance to that other book.

I have a huge amount of respect for Ruff's willingness to buck commercial requirements and write, or so it seems to me, whatever the hell he feels like writing. Most of the time, publishers require their authors — whether they state it openly or not — to write essentially the same book again and again.

And, in fairness to publishers, there are good commercial reasons for this. But if you're a writer, and if like me you get bored writing the same kind of story again and again, you wind up wondering why you don't just get a regular day job instead of just churning out the same old stuff with what feels like diminishing returns.

I can't speak to Ruff's motivations, but in my mind I like to imagine his reasons are similar to mine. Instead of writing Lovecraft Country 2: Zombie MLK, he instead chose to write a Ready Player One-like tale about political intrigue and computer games.

In this case, a Sherpa — here, defined as someone who makes a living guiding rich people through highly complex MMORPG's sometime in the near future — begins to suspect his new, anonymous client might be none other than the leader of North Korea.

And all in all, it's a pretty decent story, but perhaps not quite up to the level of his previous stuff, including but not limited to Lovecraft Country. Which is why it doesn't make the top of my years best list. Still, it's definitely worth checking out.

This is a straight-up, old-fashioned tale of adventure in the ocean of a Europa-like moon in another solar system. Indeed, it could almost have been written by Niven or Bova back in the seventies. Human researchers are engaged in the study of the intelligent denizens of that ocean, but aren't permitted to interact with them or get very close to them, thanks to the oversight of a third and much more advanced spacefaring species who have their own version of Star Trek's Prime Directive. Naturally, that isn't exactly how things work out, and this novel details the consequences.

This one had been on my radar for a while, and I have to admit I felt a little motivated to finally get around to reading it because I myself had been working on an outline for a novel set in the hypothetical ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. And while it's entertaining enough, it perhaps feels a little too close to its influences, and rather than evoking a sense of wonder it's more likely to invoke a sense of nostalgia.

This made my list of favourite books of the year by taking a familiar idea and doing something that felt appealingly fresh. It reads like a more punk Bill and Ted, after the former guitarist in a 90s indie band, now running a bar called The Dictators Club, discovers a wormhole in his bathroom — an experience I'm sure we've all shared at some point in our lives.

Quickly getting a friend and MIT graduate involved, they soon have a brisk trade in sending people nostalgic for their youth back in time to long-past gigs. After accidentally sending a friend back to 980 rather than 1980 by punching in the wrong numbers, the protagonist recruits a physicist who also just happens to share his love for nineties indie rock in order to try and get him back.

On the surface, and described like that, the story sounds so light as to be almost ephemeral, but Davaiu is an exceptionally talented writer, and brings a considerable depth of character development and emotion to her tale. It isn't long before numerous timelines get twisted together like a plate of spaghetti dropped from a very great height, as our hero journeys into the past, future and all points in between.

Thinking about it, what made this book really work for me is that it takes the classic science fiction notion of the competent protagonist and boots it right out of the park in favour of the messy, emotionally complex and frequently illogical reality.

Unfortunately, and I say that with real regret, this appears to be Davaiu's only novel, published about five years ago, although her Amazon page shows that she's had material published in a number of literary and definitely non-genre publications. It just goes to show you it doesn't matter how good a book is, quality doesn't guarantee commercial success. I just hope you like it as much as I did.


Strange Angel by George Pendle
88 Names by Matt Ruff
A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee
The Origin of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
Wasteland by W. Scott Poole
Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
Burning Chrome by William Gibson
The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
The Gone World by Tom Schweterlitsch
Crooked by Austin Grossman
The Fisherman by John Langan
Ghostland by Edward Parnell
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
World War Z by Max Brooks
Chaos: Charles Manson, the CI adn the Secret History of the Sixties
The Crying Machine by Greg Chivers
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Three Laws Lethal by David Walton
Obscura by Joe Hart
The Deep by Alma Katsu
The Colony by F.G. Cottam
The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
Terminus by Peter Clines
Agency by William Gibson
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Ayoade on Top by Richard Ayoade
Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey
Danse Macabre by Stephen King
On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming.