I got reading some of Holly Lisle's terrifyingly extensive online notes on writing and came away with something that seemed like a good idea; regardless of what you're working on, if you've got a dream project you want to work on for which there's no prospect of a contract, give yourself one day a week to work on it. I'm running on memory here because I've lost the original link, but as I recall Holly mentioned being initially concerned by the idea of doing this for the same reason it worried me, in that you can end up distracted from what you should really be doing, ie working on stuff you're reasonably sure you might get paid for. But apparently it made her more productive on her other output as well, so I'm going to give it a try. There's a couple of ideas I have I'd like to put together, and now that I'm sitting down and writing them up for the first time (Friday being my chosen day), it's feeling good.

I mentioned a while back I was going to redesign the website. That's done, but first I have to figure out how to set up some file formats for downloadable stuff. I've taken excerpts from all the books and tried setting them up in different ebook formats, but this has proven more difficult than I hoped it might be. I'm doing the same for two short stories, The Ranch, which has been up for a while, and another story related to my first novel first published in Interzone way back when. They're fine in .rtf and Sony Reader format, but anything else like .epub just seems to be jinxed. But once I've sorted them out - or rather, when I've had the time to sort them out - they'll go live along with the rest of the redesign.


And the winner is ...

It's late at night here in Taipei, and having got back after several hours away from the house to find no more new votes have been cast since I left, I decided it was time to wrap up the poll since the result is, shall we say, startingly clear in its lack of ambiguity: out of a total of 103 votes, only 21 were for the one featuring blue ocean waves. Which makes the above the official cover for the third Dakota Merrick book, Empire of Light.

I got an email from my editor saying I should be getting a high-resolution image through from Tor at some point soon, and I'll put it up here when it arrives. Every email or tweet they received through their own linked page with the two covers were unanimously - unanimously - in favour of Cover 2. Thanks to everyone who took part. It'll be live in the bookshops some time next year.

Someone did ask in a comment who the artist was. I'm assuming it's probably the same person who did Stealing Light and Nova War, a chap by the name of Lee Gibbons. A bit of googling didn't turn up anything more informative than this page here, but I hadn't realised Lee had also done the covers for some of Ken MacLeod's books. If it's not Lee, I'll let you know.


Vote for the cover of one of my books (finished!)

Update: although there appears to be a clear winner already (as would be obvious to anyone who's already voted) I'll keep the poll up until late Friday (late Friday where I am, at any rate). The poll's been mentioned in a couple of places - thanks Mark, Liviu - so it makes sense to leave it running until anyone clicking through from those links has a chance to voice their opinion.

I'm in the highly unusual and very lucky position of being signed up to a publishing company who like to know what I think of whatever cover design they're thinking of putting on my books.

No, really, I'm not kidding. So I'll repeat. I'm signed to a publishers who really do like to know what their writers think of their cover designs. In the world of publishing, it would be a matter of some understatement to say this is unusual.

Anyway, I just recently delivered the third Dakota Merrick book, Empire of Light. Not long after, some rough designs came through from Tor, all variations on the same theme. There were some emails back and forth about which one was nicer. I'd tell you what my own preference is, but that would spoil the experiment I'm hoping you'll all take part in: I'd like you to tell me which one you like by voting in the poll below.

My editor, Julie Crisp, came up with the suggestion of putting both prospective covers up on the Tor site after I canvassed the opinion of my writer's circle back home, and of those who responded, their preferences were more or less evenly split. Now, like I say, I have my preference, but I don't want to influence you by telling you which one it is. But I and Tor UK would like you to take a moment to tell us which one would catch your eye and make you want to pick it up - should you see it in a bookshop.

There are two ways you can do this:

1 - Go here, to the dedicated Tor UK page also featuring the covers, and either email your opinion to the address provided or twitter Julie directly.


2 - Vote in the poll above.

I wasn't originally going to set up a poll, but it occurred to me a good few potential voters might want something with fewer clicks involved than twittering or emailing. It would also be nice to see how the numbers come out. There's nothing, of course, to stop you voting here and then going to the linked page and letting Tor know which you prefer, and why. But if you do email or twitter Julie, try to be clear in your preference. Don't say, I like this one for this reason, but that one for another reason - make a clear choice which one you think should get to be on the cover.

A few words about the covers: as should be immediately obvious, they are very much variations on the same theme. One shows a spacecraft clearly driving towards an ocean surface from beneath. Fish are visible swimming by. The other, more orangey-yellow one, instead of fish and waves, has a huge wrecked starship far above in orbit. But what's important is - and this is worth reiterating -

Which one is most likely to make you want to pick it up in a bookshop?

And yes, gut reactions are important.


Pirate Dilemma

I spend a lot of time browsing websites to do with ebooks and publishing, and one subject that turns up with increasing frequency is piracy. I'm very anti-DRM, because a)the only people it inconveniences are people who actually pay for their digital products, and b)it doesn't work. But that's not to say that piracy doesn't exist. In fact, I've never really quite made up my mind about exactly how much of a problem it is or isn't. My personal inclination is to believe that if you price something right and make it easily available, people will hand over their money, but it's one thing to have an inclination and another to have access to cold, hard facts. And those tend to be hard to come by, since any quoted figures tend to have a lot to do with the personal politics or circumstances of the individual speaking about them.

Still, it's hard to ignore situations like the one Cory Doctorow finds himself in - quoted sales of at least a hundred thousand on Little Brother, despite the book being available as a free download. Yes, he's very high-profile thanks to boingboing.net, but nonetheless that high profile itself would, if the pro-DRM parties were correct, lead to less sales, not more (as I write this, I recall Monty Python's strategy of putting high-quality clips of their most famous sketches up on Youtube for free a few years back, resulting in an increase in DVD sales of something like two thousand percent.)

So it was with interest that I read an interview with Steven Soderbergh in The Guardian in which he claimed that the failure of his two-film biopic of Che Guevara was almost entirely down to piracy. Once I read this, I googled around until I found various Hollywood-related forums which pointed out that movies like Transformers 2, while being obvious and clear targets for piracy, were nonetheless extremely high-grossing. It was further suggested that the reason Che hadn't done so well (making back only half of what it cost) was because it was filmed entirely in Spanish ... and, possibly, just wasn't that great.

Which brings me to the suspicion that this will become the new excuse for high-profile films tanking; it's the pirate's fault. Not the lousy script, dodgy effects or bad timing ... the pirates. Your album doesn't suck, it was killed by pirates. Even three-year olds thought your film was vacuous and pointless? Can't be true, so it must be the pirates.

And this is all part of the problem; getting a clear grasp on what's actually going on without the politics getting in the way. So far, from what I can see, the evidence leans very strongly in favour of piracy not being an issue - people who download for free from bittorrent sites are usually the people who spend the most money on entertainment, or they're people who would never have bought the product in the first place. Whether or not you think it's a good or bad thing, it's also an unavoidable fact of life.


Books, The Guardian And More Damned Chickens

Spent not nearly enough time today thinking up ideas for a new book proposal for Tor, which has the working title - and it really is a working title - The Array. I've got the backstory, and now I'm trying to develop the characters. It's always a bit of a frustrating process, but in the next few days or weeks I'll come up with something; the waiting around until the ideas arrive is the only bit I don't like. I very much suspect this one is going to be a one-off, rather than another trilogy or series - though to be honest, if I can come up with something good enough, I'd be thrilled to write another multi-part story. There's also a notion for something else coming together in my mind that might work in the Stealing Light universe, though it would be unrelated to the events in the three I've written so far.

I was pleasantly surprised when an email arrived from Pan Macmillan with a link to this article in The Guardian, wherein I'm described by Stuart Jeffries as being amongst the 'heroes' of what he calls a new golden age of British science fiction. I'm thoroughly tickled, as I'm sure are Mike Cobley, Liz Williams, Ken McLeod and the several other writers mentioned in the piece.

At first I thought this was the reason for a sudden big jump in hits on this blog, but instead it turned out to be those damn evil chickens I blogged about a few weeks ago. The increasingly sf and fantasy-friendly Guardian has started a new blog covering past winners of the British Fantasy Awards, beginning with Moorcock's 'Corum' novels (although I'm a big fan of Moorcock where the Jerry Cornelius books are concerned, I'll admit I never read any of his sword-and-sorcery novels; there's nothing wrong with them, they're just really not my kind of thing). Reference and a link is provided referring to Terry Goodkind's 'evil chickens' passage , but it wasn't until I did a bit of online research that I realised the article was in fact linking to me. Props really should go to the chap who mentioned the chickens in the first place, in the comments of one of The Guardian's other articles.

What else? I'm redesigning the blog. Probably. Well, I've already done it - minus some tweaks - but it won't go live for a few days or weeks yet, or at least not until I've tried it out on one or two people first. I'll also have to set up an excerpt from Nova War sometime soon.

Rough artwork for Empire of Light came through the other day - two pieces, both of which look absolutely brilliant, but one of which not only looks great but stands out to me as something that should be on the cover. Hopefully Pan M. will agree with me. It really does look quite amazing. As soon as something's finished or approved or whatever, you'll be seeing it (or whatever Pan decide on) here, probably sometime in the next couple of weeks.


The Idiotrix

I came across this article on a website called Coilhouse I'd never heard of until I stumbled across mention of it at warrenellis.com, where it's noted ten years have passed since The Matrix came out. The Matrix is popularly held to have been a pop-culture phenomenon, a cinematic earthquake that shook things up and brought forth a style, freshness and philosophical adventurousness that has rarely been achieved since. According to the article and several million movie-goers, that is.

My arse. I hated that movie when it came out. Hated, hated, hated it. Why? Two main reasons. 1: the wow-look-at-that-how-did-they-do-that bullet-time effects had already been in use since the very early Nineties, most particularly in a series of near-inescapable Smirnoff adverts. I'd seen it all before, but apparently everyone else had a case of collective amnesia and forgot they'd seen the same damn thing about a million times already, sandwiched between Channel Four News and the start of Countdown. 2: The idiot plot. The idiot, idiot plot, and most especially the 'we're all human batteries' revelation.

No, don't roll your eyes. Tell me, why is it okay to forgive stupid writing in a science fiction movie that you would find entirely unacceptable in a book? By 'stupid' writing I don't mean 'misunderstood some basic facts and unintentionally misrepresented them', I mean 'wilfully ignored reality because the people making the movie were more concerned with giving their coke dealer a writing credit than not treating their audience like idiots'. That kind of stupid writing.

I think what really pissed me off was that the movie was sold beforehand as some kind of avalanche of conceptual wonder. We all heard stories about the actors being required to read Kevin Kelly and freaking Derrida before shooting. And what did we get? A dumb-faced stoner in a 'chosen one' plot that reads like it was written for five-year olds.

On the other hand, I've grown a little softer on the film since nearly walking out on it when I first saw it in a Glasgow cinema (I've only ever walked out on a film once before, and I still regret not walking out on the Matrix in particular). I think this is primarily because I now recognise The Matrix as really being a kind of Goth version of Point Break.

Point Break, by contrast, is a great film, and also dumber than a sack of rocks. It's great because it makes absolutely no claims to being anything but what it is: a series of stunningly daft action scenes strictly played for laughs. A B-movie, as I like to say, that knows it's a B-movie and just wants to have fun. But the Matrix is a B-movie that thinks it's an A-movie, and there are few things more insulting to the intelligence.

Put it this way. Watching The Matrix is like being invited to a dinner party by the Philosophy Department of a University. You go expecting to have your mind enriched, and instead you find everyone sitting around an XBox in the living-room, mainlining Pepsi Max and making pew-pew noises at the TV. It's a bit of a letdown.

If you instead approach The Matrix as a live-action anime, it becomes more acceptable, quite possibly because my expectations where anime is concerned are very, very low. The only one out of the several such films I've endured so far that I actually enjoyed was Akira, and it was still damn near incomprehensible. As live-action dumb-as-nuts anime? Fine. As a serious movie? Christ, no. There's one scene - one scene - which I now recognise as transcending everything else within that film to the level of potential greatness - and that's the red pill/blue pill scene.

That one scene, my friends, is terrific. It's a perfect exemplar of a key plot point which appears in almost every book and movie, where the Hero steps out of their ordinary world and into a greater, unknown and frequently very perilous universe on their journey to truth. But such a terrible shame about the rest.

Oh Mr Jones, Not You Too

I'd been looking forward to seeing Duncan Jones' sf movie Moon after the bubblegum horror of Star Trek (and one of these days I'm going to write a post about why you should watch a British TV movie called Strike! from the mid-Eighties immediately after watching the ST reboot), given it was being sold as a distinctly more intellectually weighty slice of science fiction, but after reading this post by Nancy Kress, I'm once again disheartened by what does sound like rather an idiot plot. It should be noted that her review is really very spoilerific, but I've decided (as Nancy herself states in her post) that there's just no point in seeing movies with scripts that sound like they were written by idiots (even though the reality is frequently that a good script has been mauled by a succession of uninformed opinions).

I'd always rather hoped that the increasing democratisation of movie-making and sfx technology would lead to a renaissance of bright and sparkling home-made cinema entirely bypassing Hollywood, and, indeed, there have been a few gems. But otherwise? A million and one Star Trek/Babylon 5 fan-film crossovers. In Norwegian. I'll pass.


Who put out the lights?

The blog was down for most of a day - some kind of outage at blogger.com, I think, that affected this and other sites. But normal service is, yet again, resumed.



About a week back, deep into the edits and rewrites, I got to the point where I couldn't take any more and crashed to a halt. Saturday through to Monday I could barely speak or walk, and reacted to any queries, statements, or requests with a glassy-eyed stare. Don't ever let anyone tell you writing isn't hard work.

But I wasn't finished, so once I'd recovered a little I spent the next week doing more editing, mostly running through the now-completed manuscript to check on what I'd missed and, surprise surprise, finding lots of things that had me yelling "how the hell did I miss that?" In a better world I'd stick it in a drawer once it was completed and forget about it for six months before revising it yet again, but unfortunately modern publication schedules don't work that way.

Now I have to think of future projects, a wee hint at which is in that screengrab I posted up here a couple of days ago. There are several ideas for books floating around in my head, but not all of them are suitable for Tor.

It's worth taking just a moment to define exactly what I mean by 'suitable'. In that same better world, an author would be entirely unrestricted in their choice of subject matter - well, actually they're free to do that in this world too, but you run the risk of making your life a bit harder (unless you're a King or a Stephenson or someone like that, because then you're the goose that laid the golden egg, baby, and your editor is a less likely to nitpick about your latest novel idea ... unless the follow-up to your bestselling vampires and werewolves romance series is a collection of meditative haikus on the subject of Minoan pottery - then, maybe, you've got a problem). Some get away with it, some don't. Some are just damn lucky. Dan Simmons and Iain Banks are both annoyingly talented and damn lucky, in that they get to cross genre borders pretty much at will with a permanent get out of genre-jail card.

But for the rest of us, we mostly stick to a fairly specific area of subject matter. That's just fine most of the time, because mostly we really like that subject matter. But it's not just a question of your publisher expecting a detective story, or a science fiction novel, or a romance book. No, your detective stories are all set in Stalinist Russia during the '50's; or, your sf novels all have a strong emphasis on action, intrigue and interstellar travel, with a soupcon of aliens; or your romance novels all feature time travel and lots of Celtic mythology.

The requirements really can be that narrow. Come up with something else, and your publisher will likely balk. One way to get past this to write one kind of book for one publisher, and another kind of book for another publisher - quite possibly in an entirely different country, and sometimes under a pseudonym. I have a *lot* of ideas for books I'd like to write, and only some of them are full-on space opera (although nearly all are very definitely science fiction).

I've promised myself that at some point I'll try and write a different kind of book from my usual, althought it's going to have to be arranged not to interfere with the stuff I do for Tor. It would be 'on spec', written without a pre-existing contract. And only when I have the time.

To that end, I've been thinking about planning out a short novel and then writing a first draft at speed when I have a spare month at some indeterminate point in the future. When I say 'short' I mean about sixty thousand words, or half my usual book length. This decision to write something so relatively short was recently bolstered by reading Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe, which clocks in at only fifty thousand words (it's very good, too: you can download it for free at craphound.com) and it's lean and mean with not an ounce of fat on it. If the book was an animal, it'd be a greyhound. But it would be nice to have something I can jump to when I'm not working on other projects.

To my surprise, I've even been working on some short story ideas. I used to find short fiction very hard to write - still do, if I'm honest - but not quite so hard as it might once have been. I think, more than anything, it's just nice to be writing something that doesn't feature either Dakota or Trader.

Other news: I mentioned a few weeks back that Stealing Light is doing very well in Germany (where it's known as Lichtkreig). To that end Heyne, my German publisher, have also bought the rights to Nova War, so you can expect to see that in translation before too long.


Normal Service Will Shortly Be Resumed

... just as soon as my brain has recovered from finishing what shall henceforth be known as Empire of Light and emailing it to my editor all of five minutes ago.