I've noticed some interesting discussions in various blogs about 'gateway' science fiction: meaning, the kind of sf you loan to someone who's never read any, but has perhaps read reasonably widely in other genres and in mainstream. One thing I've noticed is the suggestion that there's a relative lack of work being published at the moment which fits into this category.

It's hard to define what might be a representative work of 'gateway' sf, since it really tends to vary from individual to individual: but if I were going to pick a particular author, I'd pick Kim Stanley Robinson straight off. In some respects the 'Mars' books strike me as the perfect 'gateway' works in that they deal realistically not only with the whole notion of terraforming, but more importantly with the complex nature of the characters Robinson has created. The Mars books are first and foremost the story of the people caught up in the (future) history of their times in the shape of the terraforming process, rather than the other way around; an approach some writers would do well to remember.

But the really important point that struck me is that there may well be a great deal of 'gateway' sf being published, that simply isn't being published as genre. I haven't read Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, but I'd be interested to see if it fits the bill. Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is another example, also possibly the books of David Mitchell and, I suspect, many others. I'd even suggest Chuck Palahniuk and 'Lullaby'. And lastly, let's not forget all those Kurt Vonnegut stories of alien races and time travel which are not, of course, science fiction.

Glancing at the above mainstream authors, I see we have stories of: New York in the 22nd Century occupied by alien refugees, two gene altered survivors of a technological apocalypse wandering a wildly altered Earth, a dystopian near-future (Mitchell's Cloud Atlas), nursery rhymes that make people drop dead as soon as they hear them and, yes, time-travelling aliens from Trafalmadore.

In fact, I realised, it is now entirely possible to line your shelves with stories of aliens, time travel and the fantastic while claiming to be not in the least bit interested in science fiction.

However, I don't think it's necessarily worth railing against the apparent injustice of a situation where a genre author fails to be taken seriously while someone more 'mainstream' gains applause for dealing with ideas long familiar to the readers of this blog. Yes, it does lead to an uneven situation, no doubt about it. But I do believe there is such a thing as genre and non-genre sf, both in and out of the field. My first couple of books are clearly genre sf, and so is the one I'm working on just now. But I do have ambitions to write non-genre sf one day (or non-sf sf, to be particularly confusing about it). To go into more detail about the reasoning behind this definition really needs a separate blog entry, and I'll leave that for another day.


Twenty five thousand words into Stealing Light, and I've realised something I'd been vaguely aware of for a while without consciously formulating it, at least until now: that the first draft of a novel is not in fact a novel. Instead, it's a highly complicated set of notes towards a novel.

There is indeed no point in adjusting on a minute level the text of that first draft (at least for me and many, if not all, writers), because that first draft is merely an expression of the ideas in your outline. Some bits will go, others will stay. I've heard Neal Stephenson suggest to the contrary that the first draft is where all the action is, that the first draft is effectively, bar a number of adjustments, the completed novel: but all that tells you is the amount of preparation he puts into the planning stage.

Personally, I think writing the first draft, for me, is the planning stage.


All right ... I promised myself I wouldn't get involved in this argument, but ...

Thinking again about the whole debate over Gregory Benford's blog article about the success of fantasy in relation to science fiction: particularly after reading Lou Ander's own thoughts on the subject.

Here's a comment Lou made that particularly struck me, and made me realise why I felt some of the responses to Benford's article were missing the point:

As someone who grew up in a much deeper south than even the region is today, it was exposure to science fiction that had a direct and measurable influence on deprogramming me from the prejudices and ignorance prevalent in a lot of my immediate childhood environment. I grew up around Christians who believed in a seven day creation, preached the reality of Hell and Judgement, and railed against the lie that was evolution. They were also, for the most part, racists and homophobes. They told jokes using the N-word, would never date a minority or someone who had, and generally represented a host of values I find base and inexcusable. And the only difference between them and me was that I had a father who shoved a science fiction paperback into my pre-teen hands and ordered me to read it. After all, it's pretty hard to be prejudice against blacks and gays when you're a-okay with Klingons and the Green Men of Mars.

When I say 'missing the point' what I mean is that (so it seems to me) Benford's real concern is that scientific rationalism - or simply rationalism, full stop - is under constant attack from base superstition and base prejudice. This strikes me as an argument easily derived by the simple act of watching the news. Anders' own comment reflects on how exposure to a wider world of reading and knowledge can inform people otherwise informed only by their peers who are, perhaps, rather less than informed themselves.

When Benford disses the rise of fantasy, it seems to me his real concern is the loss of science fiction's core message: that it can introduce the reader - particularly the young reader - to one of the core values of rationality: questioning the accepted order of things. SF of the best kind has the knack of illustrating radically different philosophies and ideas that might otherwise never occur to the reader by the simple act of creating an imaginary environment in which those concepts are allowed a degree of free rein impossible in the real world.

It's hard for me to define what the core values of fantasy (however you might choose to define it) might be, but ultimately fantasy, like sf and every other form of literature, is a tool to be used in whichever way a particular author chooses to use it. Sf can be radical, it can be forward thinking, but it can also be deeply conservative. This depends less on core values than it does on the philosophical and political proclivities of the author. Fantasy, I'm sure, can be radical and forward thinking and introduce the reader to new ideas: it can have something to say about the world we live in. But like Anders, I find it hard to think of many examples, possibly due to my relative lack of exposure to that part of the field. I'd be more than happy to hear of examples to the contrary.

If science fiction fails to reach an audience, Benford seems to me to be arguing, we lose the opportunity to offer points of view entirely opposed to those who would see the achievements of the Enlightenment cast down forever. If the best fantasy can address these concerns, then that's terrific. Yet, somehow, I find it hard to be convinced as yet; so, like Anders, I find myself setting down on the science fiction side of the divide, meanwhile glancing around to see if there's any sharp bits sticking up that might cut my feet.
Plans for 2006: my natural caution concerning personal expenditure notwithstanding (I'm very careful with my money), I'm thinking of putting some money aside for a holiday and/or research trip once I've finished Stealing Light.

The last time I had anything resembling an actual going-away holiday was last century. I figured it would be nice to hit some of the American conventions next summer - and when you couple this with a vague desire to, say, take up to several weeks off to just go wandering, it starts to look like a plan: so, for the moment, I'm thinking of what I can only describe as a road trip.

Even though Tor apparently aren't expecting the finished manuscript any later than December 2006(!) I'll be seriously surprised if I don't have it wrapped up, at the very latest, by August next year. Which means I can give myself a personal deadline of finishing the manuscript in time for the break.

I remember a book Mike Cobley had, a series of interviews with well-known sf writers by Charles Platt, compiled during Platt's own journey across the US, and at one point the idea of doing something similar occurred to me, particularly given Platt's book is something like a quarter of a century old. There's a lot of new writers out there. Plus, it would make for some interesting blog entries. Then other ideas occurred to me: I'd visit several writers and, before leaving, take a picture of them to post in a blog entry. But instead of a regular photograph, I'd get them to lie on the ground outside their front door in a pool of fake blood and a hatchet lying nearby. Or slumped over their desk while a hand from out of frame uses a handkerchief to slide a pistol between their apparently lifeless fingers. Or maybe just a pair of feet hanging in the air in their hallway ...

... what can I say? I have a macabre sense of humour.


So at last, long last, more reviews for Against Gravity are starting to come in. One enormous review in Locus' December issue (almost two thousand words, over one and a half pages!), and another due, hopefully soon, in Interzone.

The Locus review is kind of weird, since it doesn't so much review the book as it does, er, my career, via this blog. It's more than a little strange seeing bits of my life extensively quoted in Locus magazine, let me tell you, like some weird fever-dream from before I even had a book deal. But what's downright scary is that people like Damien Broderick - author of the review - have clearly read the whole damn blog. And taken notes.

Scary. Anyway, here's a snippet:

Glaswegian Gibson's interesting achievement -- prompted by Rudy Rucker's logs of several recent books -- is to convey a likeable personality, beginning, in Gibson's case, pretty much at the bottom of the pecking order, then catapulted through his own wit and effort into startling success, with two widely praised novels published by the British arm of US science-fiction giant Tor Books.

Reading through his apparently unedited blog is something every would-be writer could profit by, starting with his early thematic statement of what was then a very inchoate outline that would become, change by accreted change, Against Gravity ... If the novel we're reading is a sort of Frankenstein Harrows Hell, then the blog is Cinderella, with Gibson in a self-mocking, candid role as Buttons, perhaps.

Anyway, there's a couple of words in there I can skim out to stick up in the 'reviews' column over there on the right of your screen (like 'Gibson is a writer to watch, not least on the white screen', though I'll wait until the Interzone review comes rolling in before I do that. He has some problems with my prose style, but that's okay, I have problems with my prose style. If I didn't, I'd be worried. Like my agent reminds me, I've only got my second book out, and for most writers, that's early days indeed. But there's definitely some food for thought in there.


Fantasy versus Science Fiction.
Everybody's pitching into this one.

Here's my suggestion to anyone thinking about adding to any of this: put down the laptop/keyboard, go outside, and get a frigging life, for Christ's sake. Anybody who thinks spending several hours of a hard-earned weekend thinking about this desperately needs to reevaluate the best way to use their spare time. ESPECIALLY if you're an author.

I do in fact have a take on it, but I can't really reply to the arguments being bounced around at the moment, given that by the time I get to the second paragraph of any of them, my eyes start to glaze over. Zzzzz.

No. I've got a better idea. We'll have a wrestling match at the Eastercon next year. We'll get a couple of people dressed up Mexican wrestler style and the fighter who takes three slamdowns in a role is declared the loser, and whatever literary stance she/he/it represents thereby rendered obsolete, dead, nada for eternity, and then we can get the fuck back to the bar.