2/07/2021

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."

SALE ON DEVIL'S ROAD


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.

MOON MAN


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.

GEEK STUFF


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 .

LEGENDARY STARDUST COWBOY


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.

THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS


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

HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams

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.

EXPERIMENTAL FILM by Gemma Files

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!

1/08/2021

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.


WARSUIT REVIEW

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!


COOL STUFF FROM THE INTERNET

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.


CYBERPUNK AND FASHION

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.


YEAR'S BEST

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.


BOOK REVIEWS

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

STRANGE ANGEL BY GEORGE PENDLE
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'.

88 NAMES BY MATT RUFF
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.

A DARKLING SEA BY JAMES L. CAMBIAS
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.

EVERY ANXIOUS WAVE BY MO DAVIAU
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.


BOOKS LISTENED TO IN 2020

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.

12/11/2020

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? 

BOOK REVIEWS 

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

11/14/2020

November Newsletter

I post my newsletter three times: first to my mailing list, then again to those on the mailing list who didn't open it the first time, then I post it to Facebook and here on my website. This time around I've had to completely rewrite the opening three times because, frankly, the world keeps changing at lightning speed. When I first put this out like, a week ago, there was no sign of an end to the pandemic, Trump still had a chance at winning, and there was no vaccine in sight. So, I make no promises about anything that happens between the time I write this addendum and when you actually read these words. Anyway, moving on...here's my November newsletter...this time with added Tony Ballantyne.

You may have seen in the news that Taiwan, where I've been living for several years now, received some praise due to its handling of the crisis. Where I sit right now I'm only maybe a couple of hundred miles across the Taiwan Strait from where Covid first broke out, yet there hasn't been a single recorded case of infection here for more than two hundred days. What few cases there have been originated with people arriving from abroad and then diagnosed while undergoing mandatory quarantine.

While life here continues largely as normal. I know it doesn't for many of you, and you have my sympathies. The world will be a very different place by the time we emerge from this crisis (written pre-vaccine announcement).


OUT AND ABOUT


So far as life being relatively normal here goes, I recently purchased a second-hand electric bicycle, manufactured by Giant, one of the biggest bicycle manufacturers in the world and a company native to Taiwan. It's a neat little machine, halfway between a scooter and a traditional bicycle, and I got it primarily so I could load my dog Cooper into the front basket and take him to some different places around the city for the sake of variety as much as anything else.

Here you can see Cooper sniffing around under Fuhe Bridge, which connects Taipei to New Taipei City, a few miles from where I live. Past the open space you can see here there's a bunch of kids on rollerblades circling around under the watchful eye of a trainer, and past them is a badminton court. To the right is a long-running flea market, although you can't quite see that either.

And now the weather is cooler here, following a typically ferocious Taiwanese summer, I'm hoping to get out and do a little more regular cycling on my road bike. It's been some time since I tried to conquer any one of the hills and mountains surrounding Taipei, and I'm starting to feel that urge to visit them again. The scenery is frankly spectacular, and I'll try and make a point of taking some pictures and show you in the months coming.


SHORT STORIES

I seem to be writing more short stories these days, mainly because my writing group here have been playing around with flash fiction prompts, and it's led me to realise can generate some half-decent short story ideas on the fly. Right now there's about half a dozen of these bouncing around different magazines in the hopes of finding a home.

And speaking of short stories, it's the return of the author feature! Those of you who were here at the start when I started putting out regular monthly newsletters will recall I ran some features covering new publications by various authors whom I felt might be of interest to you.

This time around it's Tony Ballantyne. Tony had several novels out from Tor UK about the same time I did, and since then he's also had books published by Solaris. Most recently, he's released a collection of short fiction called Midway via Keith Brooke's Infinity Plus imprint, and which got a very good write-up in the Guardian quite recently. Here's a few words from Tony about his book:



 TONY BALLANTYNE

Short story collections don't sell. Everyone in publishing will tell you that.

Every writer who has a few short stories under their belt loves the idea of having them collected into a slim volume.

Unfortunately, very few people are interested in reading them.

Best selling authors have the clout to get their anthologies published. You can see them smiling in the publicity photographs, delighted that their precious children are out there in the world. Look closely and you'll see their agent and editor exchanging glances in the background. They're waiting for their charge to get back to the PC so they can start on the next novel. That's where the real money is.

And that's best selling authors. You'd have to be mad to write a short story collection.

I didn't intend to write Midway. I had an idea for a novel set in an old cotton mill near where I live. I was working on the preliminary notes when my father took ill. The next six months, the last months of his life, threw everything into turmoil. The mill stories got caught up in my thoughts at the time and became my way of dealing with the situation. I wrote little else that year, but it didn't matter. Midway was my catharsis. But I finished the book and life moved on.

I wondered at first about seeking publication. The stories were very personal. It was my wife who persuaded me to send them out into the world. As she pointed out, other people had been through the same thing. They might find them helpful.

It turns out she was right. This is the first book I've written that my friends have read. By that, I mean my non-writer friends, my friends who aren't SF or Fantasy fans. The vast majority of the people I know, in other words.

Of course, my friends have bought my books in the past, but that was just out of politeness. They read the first chapter, but it wasn't for them.  I don't have a problem with that, we all have different tastes and interests.

But to my surprise, this book connects with many people.  No, not to my surprise. My wife said it first, and she was right. This book is for people who've been through the same thing. People who recognise the situations depicted in it.

Someone said to me: this book made me cry. Well, that's why I wrote it, to try and understand those feelings. I think I understand them better now.

So, the book is out, it's published. If it sells a hundred copies I'll be delighted, but it doesn't matter.

Publication wasn't the primary aim of this book.

Get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Midway-Tony-Ballantyne-ebook/dp/B08KFGX1RP



BOOK REVIEWS

GHOSTLAND by Edward Parnell

in some ways, this almost feels like a companion piece to Tony's collection of short stories, except rather than being fiction it's a work of creative non-fiction. Edward is a fan of a very particularly British kind of supernatural story, ranging from M R James through to Nigel Kneale and beyond, and uses the book to address those parts of the landscape of Britain that featured heavily in works by those writers and others of their ilk.

Along the way he visits the locations in which a number of famous stories were set and also the locations of a number of the more odd television productions of the 1960s and 1970s such as Robin Redbreast and Penda's Fen, both made for the BBC's at the time highly influential drama production series Play for Today. Parnell uses this as a springboard for writing about his family and the series of overwhelming tragedies visited upon them through those same years. All in all, it's nearly impossible to categorise, but endlessly fascinating if like me you have memories, however distant, of some of the odder corners of British culture and storytelling.

OBSCURA by Joe Hart

A curious one this, and I wasn't sure whether to recommend it. A woman is sent to a remote space station in order to carry out research into a kind of viral Alzheimer's that seems to be affecting the crew and where a paradigm-shattering scientific breakthrough has implications for the future of humanity on Earth.

All in all, it's an enjoyable story, but not one that hangs together quite as well as I had hoped. Nonetheless, it has some moments of bravura tension and some well-placed twists and surprises.

THE TEST by Sylvain Neuvel

A novella this time, and a very British one, centred as it is around the British Citizenship test for immigrants with its peculiar and, frankly, bizarre real-world focus on the most ridiculous minutiae of British history, most of it sufficiently obscure the average "man in the street" in the UK almost certainly couldn't answer a number of those same questions. And yet it's somehow a requirement for people seeking a new life in Britain.

This is set a little way in the future, however, and Things Are Not Quite What They Seem, and events soon take a very dramatic and very unexpected turn. I'd been meaning to check this out for a while, and learning it had been optioned by a major film company gave me the final push to check it out. Recommended.

And that's it for reviews and for this month! Currently, I'm listening to the audiobook of Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown.

10/09/2020

October Newsletter: Interzone and Book Reviews

Continuing on with my experiment in posting a shortened version of my monthly newsletter here,  as well as to email subscribers. Keep in mind if you subscribe, you get to download a free prequel novelette to my most recent book, Devil's Road. There's other stuff, as below, that is often exclusive to subscribers.

Are you a fan of audiobooks? I got seriously into them last year after an eye operation meant I couldn't read my Kindle for a couple of weeks. Since then, I've produced a couple of my own based on my short novels Ghost Frequencies and Devils Road, with the first of those being narrated by the actress Seylan Baxter, whom some of you might have seen in a fairly recent episode of Doctor Who and also in the surprise hit horror film Host.

The audiobooks are available on audible.com and on audible.co.uk, but right now I'm giving away copies of Ghost Frequencies to users of the UK site – unfortunately, I've run out of the codes necessary in order to give away copies on audible.com. That's just a function of popularity — audiobooks are a lot bigger in the United States than they are in the United Kingdom, so freebies for audible.com tend to go a lot faster - and the fact that Audible on either side of the Atlantic provide me with only a limited number of such promotional codes. 

But I do still have some copies to give away to UK audible subscribers, so if you're interested click on the link below. Be warned: they tend to run out fast. 

And if you do like it, I'd be enormously grateful if you left a review, even just a couple of lines.

https://audiobooksunleashed.com/product/ghost-frequencies/

Quick note: I think you have to be a member of audible to take advantage of these, but joining audible doesn't actually cost you anything – not until you want to actually buy something anyway. Or at least, that's what I've been told. If I got that wrong let me know.


WARSUIT IN INTERZONE

Excuse me if I big myself up a bit this month, but I don't publish that much short fiction and I like to trumpet about it when I do.

I mentioned in passing in the previous newsletter that I had a new story, Warsuit, in the current issue of Interzone magazine, which has for a long time been the premier British science fiction magazine. It's where I first found writers like Paul McCauley, Alistair Reynolds, Eric Brown, Liz Williams, Storm Constantine and many many others. Being published in the magazine that published those names and countless others over the last several decades is and will always be a big deal for me.

This makes my third fiction publication in Interzone since 1994. Most of the short fiction I've written has actually been in the last half-decade, with Scienceville appearing in Interzone in 2015 and subsequently recorded for Starship Sofa a year later, and Senseless appearing in Shoreline of Infinity magazine a little more recently. Those stories and others can be found in my collection Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds.

One thing that particularly distinguishes Interzone from other publications apart from the quality of its fiction is its appearance: it's one of the most attractive magazines there is, featuring artists as much as it does writers. I honestly don't think there's been a magazine focused around science fiction that's looked this good since the days of Omni. Take a look at the attached pictures of my contributor's copy that arrived here in Taiwan: image of interzone cover

interzone interior design
interzone warsuit design
m. john harrison spread

And the Internet being what it is, there are already a couple of reviews of Warsuit out there. Here's a snippet from a review on sfrevu.com:  "Story had a lot of heart. Well done."

And a very nice Goodreads review from user Jeppe Larsen: 

"“Warsuit” by Gary Gibson takes place in an otherwise unexplained war zone, following a scavenger hunter who finds a broken mechsuit robot that he hopes can bring him enough money to get off the planet. However, the robot, or Golem as it is called in the story, is still alive with the mind of its now-dead operator. Even though they are hostile to each other at first they conclude they need to work together to survive and as the story moves forward we learn more about these two people and some interesting developments and explanations about the war situation is nicely revealed. Also really well written."


REVIEWS

Here's a quick rundown of some of the books I've read recently which I think you might like:


WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks

I first read this as an e-book more than ten years ago, and before I bought my first Kindle – at the time, I had a Sony Reader, having become obsessed with the idea of E-ink devices ever since I read about an early Sony prototype in some probably long-gone technology magazine of the early 2000s or possibly even the late 90s.

I'm not precisely an aficionado of zombie fiction, but as you've surely guessed if you've been following along with his newsletters I do have a soft spot for the intersection between horror and science fiction, but WWZ is actually much more than that.

It's loosely modelled after a real-life book by the author Studs Terkel who, in the wake of World War II, travelled around the world interviewing different people about their experiences of the war. The author Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) takes the same structure for the story of the journalist travelling around interviewing people about their experiences during a zombie apocalypse which is now largely under control.

What you get then is a collection of short pieces written from different points of view from all around the world of people surviving a science fictional conflict whether it's from the perspective of Japanese nerds trapped in their apartment buildings or astronauts watching it all from the ISS. The effect is remarkable, lending the book as a whole a powerful sense of vérité that lies at the heart of its subsequent success. If all you've seen is the quite terrible movie starring Brad Pitt, trust me when I say the book cannot be judged on that basis.


MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Ostensibly a horror novel set in Mexico in the 1950s, but one which proved to have a surprisingly erudite science-fictional underpinning. I've seen the author's Silvia Moreno-Garcia's name about for a while – she's produced stories about settlers on Mars, a vampire novel set in Mexico City (Certain Dark Things) and I think also a couple of crime novels, but it's with Mexican Gothic that she's seen sudden and huge success with the book hitting the bestseller lists in recent weeks.

The story is about a young woman sent by her father to find out the fate of another member of the family recently married off to a wealthy young man who lives in a remote part of Mexico, in a huge and rambling house known as High Place built by the owners of a nearby silver mine. Of course, it soon turns out that something is terribly wrong, starting with the letter written by the young wife telling of voices coming out of the walls. 

On the surface, it appears in every way to be a full-on Gothic horror novel, but it isn't long before Moreno-Garcia reveals her fundamentally science-fiction roots in the rationale for everything that's happening – and does a fantastic job of it.


THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH by Dorian Lynksey

A non-fiction work. Essentially a biography of a novel, in this case, 1984. It's an attempt to assess both the influences and the cultural impact of Orwell's final work of fiction.

The first third covers many of the utopian and dystopian novels written prior to 1984, including works written by Hg Wells (The Sleeper Wakes), Yevgeni Zamyatin (We) and many others. The middle third covers much of Orwell's life, including the influence of his participation in the Spanish civil war and his time working for the BBC propaganda department during the Second World War up until the time of his death in early 1949 and immediately following the first publication of the book with which his name would forever be associated. 

After that, the book is primarily concerned with the impact on the book and its interpretation – and misinterpretation – in the following decades by creators, thinkers, artists and writers all across the political spectrum, as well as an analysis of the different adaptations both of 1984 and of works that either borrowed or outright stole from it. It's a remarkably erudite piece of work, and unfailingly well-researched. If you've read 1984 more than a couple of times, you probably need to read this.

9/03/2020

Newsletter: story in Interzone, and a couple of books on sale

Thought I'd try and do something different this time and post a slightly altered version of my monthly newsletter to my blog as well as to my mailing list. 


Important things first: the digital edition of Interzone magazine (number 288) featuring my story Warsuit is out. You can buy the physical copy directly from TTA Press, or get the Kindle edition, or alternatively buy it through Weightless Books in a variety of digital formats

In conjunction, I've decided to put a couple of my recent books on sale, because why not?

So if you haven't tried either Devil's Road or my collection of short fiction Scienceville And Other Lost Worlds, you can pick them up for the next couple of days for just 99p/99 cents/euros/whatever on Amazon Kindle in the US and UK markets.

Note: there's an Audible version of Devil's Road, so if you buy the ebook and you're an audio fan, you should be able to get the audiobook cheap on Amazon (and which doesn't require you to have an Audible account).

And I do hope you think about picking up that issue of Interzone — not just because I'm in it (not that that's not a valid reason) but because it really is one of the finest and indeed one of the very best-looking science fiction magazines out there.

FRIENDS IN UNEXPECTED QUARTERS

So here's an oddity for you: Donald Trump's niece Mary Trump, who recently wrote a tell-all book about her uncle, is a stone-cold science fiction fan. This small revelation, according to the fansite File 770, was uncovered by science fiction writer Michael Blumstein, and the proof is in her book Too Much and Never Enough. Here, she recounts an incident when she was just thirteen years old.

“Is that yours?”

At first I thought she [Ivana] was talking about the gift basket, but she was referring to the copy of Omni magazine that was sitting on top of the stacks of gifts I’d already opened. Omni, a magazine of science and science fiction that had launched in October of that year, was my new obsession. I had just picked up the December issue and brought it with me to the House in the hope that between shrimp cocktail and dinner I’d have a chance to finish reading it.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Bob, the publisher, is a friend of mine.”

“No way! I love this magazine.”

“I’ll introduce you. You’ll come into the city and meet him.”

It wasn’t quite as seismic as being told I was going to meet Isaac Asimov, but it was pretty close. “Wow. Thanks.”

If you're not familiar with Omni, it was a very glossy and very colourful science and science fiction magazine published from the late seventies by Bob Guccione, who was also the owner of the magazine Penthouse, of all things.

Omni is significant because it published some of the best science fiction around before its eventual demise in the nineties, and it's where I first encountered the short fiction of William Gibson amongst many others.

Notable names involved in editing the magazine included Ben Bova and Ellen Datlow, and there are few science fiction writers of note whose work didn't appear in the magazine. It also carried numerous science articles which were like catnip to a kid like me. I also know it was an equal influence on a number of other writers, including Richard Morgan.

WRITING

At the moment, I'm fifteen thousand words into the book I'm calling The Europa Door. So far, it's going fine. I've been posting occasional rough first draft chapters (very rough) to my Patreon page. I've also got a couple of flash fiction pieces out on submission to some magazines.

The Europa Door contains many elements readers will be familiar with from my work — gritty, hard SF elements abound and the story is based around a mission sent to the outer solar system to find out what happened to a previous exploratory mission that went missing.

That said, I'm the kind of writer who gets bored very easily writing the same kind of thing over and over, and rather than doing that, I prefer to try and do something at least slightly different.

If you want to have some sense to what direction I'm taking the story in, I refer you to the classic British science fiction/horror TV series and film Quatermass and the Pit (better known in the United States as Five Million Years to Earth) made in the late 1960s.

I think one of thing that distinguishes British science fiction from its colonial brethren is that it tends to be much darker, and it's that darker quality that appeals to me as a writer.

SEQUELS

I'm also trying a new approach to work, by working in more than one thing at once. I never used to do this because I used to have to work under deadlines, and didn't have the time for anything but the book I was being paid to write.

But because I no longer have to labour under such restrictions, I can work on other projects simultaneously with Europa Door. At the moment I'm putting together ideas for a sequel to Ghost Frequencies which will be called Phantom Circuits.

Ultimately, I hope to have three stories featuring the scientist and protagonist Susan MacDonald that might eventually be bundled together. That, however, is still some time away.

REVIEWS

Okay, time to have a look at what I've been reading but I recommend to you.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
This one feels broadly comparable to Stephen King's famously huge book The Stand, in size if nothing else: I can't tell you how many pages it has because I listened to the audiobook, but since the audiobook run to more than thirty hours I'm guessing this thing is huge in physical format.

And, like The Stand, it shows a world dealing with a deadly pandemic.

That right there is probably going to put a bunch of you off, and under the current circumstances, that's fair enough. But if it doesn't, while it's at best broadly comparable to King's book, I'd say it's a great deal better. Further, unlike King's book, it lacks the mystical element, having a much more hard science underpinning to its events.

Even better, there are some points in the story that really took me by surprise, genuinely jaw-dropping moments that make this one of the most enjoyable things I've read in the past many months. So, definitely recommended if you like your books huge and long and epic.

Burning Chrome by William Gibson
I've been meaning to reread this one for a very long time - New Rose Hotel was always a personal favourite of William Gibson's stories, and I was very, very into the cyberpunk fiction coming out from the early Eighties through to the mid-Nineties. So I chose to listen to the audiobook and experience the stories in a different way.

What's funny is realising how much the stories are showing their age now - the Soviets appear in several stories, and even though dates are rarely specified in Gibson's stories, one might reasonably assume they are set in about the present period, writing from the perspective of the mid-80s. And there are other small elements that age the stories here and there - such as a reference to a cowboy hacker wearing a white terry headband, which is about as 80s as you can get. Still, all in all, it's the incredible style of the writing that carries you through, and while perhaps some of the details have aged, the writing itself hasn't. 

The Fisherman by John Langan
I haven't finished this one yet — Wanderers' huge size/length took me as long to listen to as any three other average-sized books – but so far it's pretty good. This may not be your speed if you're not into Lovecraftian fiction, but if you are, chances are you will find this right up your street.

And that's it!! Next time I'll try and post some pictures from my complimentary copy of Interzone when it finally arrives here in Taipei.

4/13/2020

Newsletter

Up until now I've been sending out a newsletter at most once or twice a year, most often when I have something coming out, but I've decided to switch that up a little and start sending out a monthly newsletter instead.

This decision comes after a lot of thought, but at the very least it's going to function mostly as a replacement for the blog. I don't blog much on my website these days (although I continue to post very frequently on my Patreon, including all kinds of stuff I'm working on being made available to subscribers), so the newsletter will for most people be the main way to catch up on what I'm up to, what I'm working on, and what I'm reading. Plus the usual stuff/ranting/etc and maybe the odd interview of other writers as well.

I started the first monthly newsletter at the beginning of April and the response was pretty positive. Next one should be out at the beginning of May. Remember also that if you sign up to my mailing list, you get a freebie prequel to Devil's Road, Our Lady of Holy Death, which isn't available anywhere else

4/06/2020

Newcon Press virtual book launch

No Eastercon this year so Newcon Press, who published my books Ghost Frequencies and now Devil's Road, have opted for a virtual book launch. Newcon Press really excel in publishing some of the highest quality sf and fantasy in the UK, so check out this link not just for my book but all the others from their increasingly vast list including the brand new book by Liz Williams, and many others.

3/02/2020

Devil's Road is out! Plus sales and freebies

Devil's Road is out now in paperback, ebook and audiobook with a signed, limited-edition hardback coming from Newcon Press in a couple of weeks time. Here's where to get it:

Ebook & Audio: Kindle | Audible US | Audible UK | Audible Germany | Audible France

Limited-Edition Signed Hardback (ISBN 978-1-912950-47-8): Newcon Press

Paperback (ISBN 978-9574364602): Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Abebooks and others

There are also a couple of special offers running as of today.

1. Doomsday Game is on sale for £1.99/$2.99 on Amazon;

2. Scienceville & Other Lost Worlds is also on sale on Amazon for 99p/99c;

3. The lead story from that collection is free for the next week;

4. For a limited time, mailing list subscribers will be able to download a free audiobook of Ghost Frequencies, my 2018 novella published by Newcon Press and available on Audible. Note that there's a limited number of copies available, so it's very much first come, first served. A newsletter will be going out in a few hours to subscribers with a download link.

5. I've written a prequel story for Devil's Road, Our Lady of Holy Death, which is also free to mailing list subscribers. Again, a link is on its way with the same newsletter.

If you're not a subscriber and you want that story and/or that audiobook, now's the time to join. It doesn't cost you anything, and I only send out emails a couple of times a year.

Note: I use a service called Bookfunnel to host Our Lady of Holy Death so you don't have to dick around with downloading and then uploading a file. Once you've signed up and you click on the link, Bookfunnel will download the story directly to your phone, tablet, computer, Kindle, Nook or whatever you use. It's the same with Ghost Frequencies: there's very little faffing around.

I should also probably remind you that I have a Patreon where I post much more frequently than I do here, and where I mostly talk about book promotion and about writing, as well as posting up early drafts of new books and stories. I also talk about stories I'm either working on or that are planned for the near future.

And that's it! Devil's Road was enormous fun to write, and I hope you have as much fun reading it. 

2/11/2020

Almost there

Just a couple of weeks to go and Devil's Road is out in the world.

I've pulled out the stops for this one. There's a simultaneous audiobook release, it has a great cover, and it's up on Netgalley (so if you're a reviewer or a librarian, feel free to eheck it out there. It's up until the end of the month). Some of the Netgalley reviews are already up at Goodreads.com and hopefully most of them will also make their way to Amazon.

And of course there's also the special Newcon Press limited-run hardback coming in the middle of March. The paperback of Devil's Road is going to be available to order from pretty much anywhere.

I've written a story, Our Lady of Holy Death, set in the world of Devil's Road. It'll be free to mailing list subscribers and I'll post a link to it on or about the release date - March 2. I workshopped it the other day and feedback was pretty positive.

All that, plus the day job, is pretty exhausting, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. My next post here will be on the day of release, and if you're signed up to the mailing list you'll get advance notice of some freebies as well as have access to that exclusive short story.

1/01/2020

New Year's Resolutions and thoughts on publishing

New Year's Resolutions:
1: Blog more in 2020.
2: Write, at minimum, a complete first draft of a full-length hard sf novel. Think Interstellar, Expanse...and Event Horizon.
3: Write, at minimum, a complete first draft of a novella or short novel of between 30,000 and 50,000 words.
4: Write, complete and submit a television or film script.
5. Write, complete and submit a minimum of one short story no longer than 2,000 words.

This is going to be an interesting year for me, because it's the year I get to really test whether or not self-publishing provides me with a viable financial platform that can support me as I continue to write more.

To be clear, this doesn't mean I'm writing solely for money, but in order to write as much and as often as I would like to I need to be able to generate income from it so that it becomes self-perpetuating. If it's putting food on the table and paying my rent, I can afford to write more, knowing that will generate further income, and so on.

So far I've self-published two books. It bears repeating that neither of these are strictly the best ways of testing self-publishing in this respect. The first book I released was a short story collection. Such books sell a relatively small fraction of the number of copies an author can expect to sell of a full-length novel. That story collection by that well-known author you really like? It sold about a tenth as many copies as one of their full-length novels.

Nonetheless, my short story collection did well - much more so, in fact, than I could possibly have expected, and it continues to sell each and every month. My hope is that if I can sell this many copies of a short story collection, then if and when I publish a stand-alone book, it would, by an inverse arithmetical relationship, sell that many copie.

Or that's the hope I'm clinging to, anyway.

Doomsday Game was not,  I think, an adequate test of this relationship. Somehow it didn't occur to me when I wrote it that it might prove to be difficult marketing a book that's a sequel to two others that were traditionally published.

However, I had good reasons for writing and publishing it: if I'd written an original novel unrelated to any others, I'd have been stuck with the dilemma of whether or not to publish it myself or have my agent submit it to actual publishers. It would have seemed wisest to market it to traditional publishing markets. Further, the whole book was planned out and ready to write--although Tor UK turned it down for what don't really strike me as adequate reasons, given how well I'm given to understand Extinction Game did.

But if I'd written an entirely original and separate novel and sent it around publishers, I wouldn't be immediately generating cash from self-publishing and, to be frank with you, I kind of needed the money. Things were a little tight in the first year after Tor UK dropped me, and putting Doomsday Game out has, together with the sf collection, helped me catch up with myself, financially speaking. Together, they've made a decent amount of money. Not remotely enough to live off of, but enough to make further pursuing self-publishing seem worthwhile.

(I'm lucky in that what had until then been at best a part-time gig as a book doctor turned into an essentially full-time gig)

As I said, Doomsday Game was hard to market because the only people who would want to buy it were the people who'd already bought the previous two books. The first book did really well - in fact, as far as I can tell Extinction Game might well have been my most successful book since Stealing Light, and that's saying something. But Tor UK dropped me right before Survival Game was released.

Want to know what happens when a book is released by a publisher just months after they drop its author? It's abandoned and orphaned. It gets zero support and is effectively written off before it's even printed as an expected loss. It had a great cover, went through multiple edits working with a really great editor, had an intricate and carefully-worked out plot...and good luck, I suspect, finding it in many bookshops.

So if (say) ten thousand people bought Extinction Game, then maybe three or four thousand of those might have been lucky enough to find Survival Game...and since the audience for each successive book in a series always shrinks, that further reduces the potential audience for a third in the series, for which the only advertising I was able to afford were some Amazon ads and...that's it, really.

Nonetheless, it has sold, and well enough to make it worth it, even if it hasn't shifted quite as many as I'd been hoping.

So you can see by my reasoning that a book unconnected to any prior volumes, if self-published, has a better chance out of the gate. Hence my forthcoming book, Devil's Road.

It's short, but tight. I've come to an agreement with a narrator to produce an audiobook of Devil's Road through Audible's production arm, ACX. This time, the paperback edition is going to be available through Ingram Sparks distributor, meaning you could walk into almost any bookshop anywhere and order a copy (for reasons way too complicated to get into here, it won't be stocked in bookshops, but ordering it is certainly possible).

There'll also be a paperback edition simultaneously published through Amazon. The ebook, however, will be Amazon only: no Kobo, or Apple iBooks or anything like that.

Why? Because I made both Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds 'wide', ie available on digital stores other than Amazon, and it simply wasn't worth it. For every hundred ebooks I'd sell of either title on Amazon, I'd sell maybe two or three on all other stores combined.

This means my audience, such as I have, buys ebooks almost exclusively from Amazon.

I've seen other, well-known and otherwise traditionally-published authors taking their own steps into self-publishing come to the same conclusion and go Amazon-exclusive with their ebooks.

Yes, Amazon is evil. I agree. But Amazon is merely the sporing body of an underlying economic structure that increasingly rewards behaviour that works against, rather than for, the greater social good. I don't like that I have to rely on them so much, but to do otherwise is equivalent to giving up writing entirely.

Slave if I do, starve if I don't. Not much of a choice, really.

Ahem. Rant over.

It's also why this time I'm enrolling Devil's Road from the start in Kindle Unlimited.

For a monthly fee, it allows people to read a book 'for free' if it's enrolled in KU. This is in some ways a tragic and evil affair, in that it appears to be an attempt to turn reading into something closer to a Spotifiy experience, which would Not Be A Good Thing.

But in other ways it could also be a good thing, in that it allows those who have a KU account to sample books at zero risk by authors they've never heard of--most of whom are both self-published and have never been traditionally published.

I only occasionally had Scienceville...in KU, but when I did, it generated a small but substantial income. I went wide, because that's what I read I should do, but as I showed above this is not viable. I'd have been better off keeping the book in KU throughout its lifetime (at the moment, it's not in KU so I can offer it free to people who sign up to my mailing list).

Doomsday Game isn't in KU simply because the previous two books, being traditionally published, are by their nature 'wide' and not exclusive to Amazon.

Therefore the real test is to put Devil's Road into KU right from the start and see how that affects sales. And it can positively affect sales, directly and immediately.

So I have a lot riding on how well Devil's Road does. It'll tell me if it's worth my self-publishing at least one of the full-length novels I've written since being dropped by Tor UK, either later. in 2020 or in early 2021.

Okay. There's more I could say, but I'm going to save that for later blog posts. More coming up. 

12/27/2019

Obligatory 'end of decade' post

Well. that was quite a decade, wasn't it?

In my own case, it's contained both triumphs and tragedies. I had a whole bunch of books published through Pan MacMillan up until Survival Game, which emerged essentially orphaned and unloved after I got kicked to the kerb almost on the eve of its release. That stage of my writing career stretches from about 2004 to late 2015: just a little over ten years.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do next.

I didn't stop writing. I wrote a book, Echogenesis, which has been doing the rounds of publishers looking for a home for about three years now. I wrote a short novel called Ghost Frequencies and had that published by Newcon Press. I wrote two-thirds of another book, Ely Strong, but abandoned it-temporarily, since at some point I'll go back to it.

I also wrote another short novel, Devil's Road, and then had a frustrating year and a half during which...well, ask me some time, or email me. Let's just say it didn't leave me feeling greatly enamoured of certain publishers.

Here's the weird thing though: being dropped by my publisher felt...weirdly freeing.

The thing I learned writing for Pan Mac was that publishers expect you to write books as much like each other as possible. In many ways, this actually makes sound business sense. It means readers come to you seeking the specific type of experience you can provide them with, and it also makes it easier to market you. You always knew with an Iain M. Banks Culture novel what you were going to get. Ditto with an Peter F. Hamilton book, or even a Clive Cussler book, and so on and so on.

My problem was that no one fucking told me this, so I had to figure it out largely for myself. Unfortunately, I had a problem: I get bored easily. Worse, while I have no trouble generating story ideas, they aren't automatically ideas that fit in the context of starship+alliens+space travel. Or rather, I had plenty of mediocre ideas for space operas, but brilliant ideas for entirely different kinds of books.

Being let go by Pan Mac, I gradually realized, meant I could write those books if I wanted to.

So I did. And while that was going on, so was the ebook and self-publishing revolution, which I'd played around in back in the early 2010s. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing, but in my defense, neither did anyone else. While I subsequently continued having books traditionally published, other people spent the intervening years becoming very, very good at self-publishing, including people I knew.

So taking a step into self-publishing turned out to be something of a no-brainer.

It's been interesting so far, but it's still early days. I still very much value traditional publishing, and I'm still seeking traditional book deals. But they're not the only available option any more.

So far I've published a short story collection and a sequel to two other traditionally published books. Neither of these are the best tests for self-publishing: sequels are hard to sell, especially when you don't retain the rights to the previous books, and only a relatively small number of people buy short story collections compared to novels.

That said, the books have done reasonably well, I think. To my surprise, the short story collection has done better than Doomsday Game--although in fairness, Doomsday Game has been out for less than a year, costs more to buy, and has an advertising budget close to zero. Because, again, there's no point trying to market the third book in a series. You market the first, and hope people who buy that will also buy the second and third.

After a dismal experience trying to get another book, Devil's Road, published by a certain company I decided to give up trying to get other people to publish it and do it (mostly) myself (mostly, because a limited hardback is coming out from Newcon Press). One other reason I chose to self-publish it was the realisation that the vast majority of companies who publish novellas - which Devil's Road, at least technically is - are deeply opaque when it comes to what they pay and how much effort they put into marketing such books.

I've since learned that what most publishers in fact pay for novellas, bar a few exceptions, is laughably small. I'm not really knocking them: they mostly do it for the love of publishing great stories, and I buy books from them. But the fact is if I'm going to put a solid two or three months work into something, I'd like to get something more for my efforts than a cheque that'll cover maybe one weeks' grocery shopping.

I also don't really regard Devil's Road as a novella: at 38,000 words it's barely a few thousand words shorter than some books that won the Hugo in past years.

It'll also be my first publication of the next decade. The first publication I had in this decade was, I think, Empire of Light.

I don't know where I'll be in ten years time, although I strongly suspect I'll still be writing. To be honest, I find it quite difficult to imagine not writing. I'm also fortunate in that I now make (just) enough money from book doctoring and structural editing to live on, which I hadn't expected.

Hopefully I'll score another mainstream deal. It might not be under my own name, or, if circumstances dictate, perhaps it won't even be far-future hard sf. However, I've come to accept that far-future hard sf is, in fact, what I'm best at doing. Hence, I'm planning to get back to writing precisely such books sometime in the new year. Ideas are stirring for books set in the furthest reaches of the solar system and beyond.

I've also decided to try my hand - again - at script writing. I tried it before, some years ago, but I think I'm more capable of writing a solid script now than I was back then.

At the start of the 2010s I had just moved back to Scotland after a couple of years in Taiwan. I've been back in Taiwan since 2014, and I'm likely to be here for a while yet, barring occasional visits home. However, even when I was getting traditionally published I didn't make a great deal of money, so to be honest, I can't really afford to travel home or anywhere else for that matter. I can't begin to tell you how irritating this can be, especially since I occasionally still get invites to events and conventions back home for which I simply can't afford the plane fare and accommodation.

I have every intention, however, of making it to the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, come what may. By then I'll have been writing this blog for very nearly two decades.

I've finished this year by completing a final draft of another book called Proxy. Proxy, along with Echogenesis, was originally submitted to my editor at my former publisher, to her considerable enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the marketing department appeared not to agree, and why marketing departments get a say in such things is a matter of considerable fucking confusion on my part.

However, I have noticed a significant number of other sf and mainstream writers are also struggling to get book deals where before it would have been something of a shoe-in: I'm tempted to wonder whether the publishing industry realises quite what it's doing by knifing the very people who make it what it is, and how much damage it may ultimately be doing to itself.

And you never know: maybe I'll eventually make something resembling an actual living from self-publishing and wonder why I ever worried about this stuff.

Thanks for reading all the books I've written this far. I certainly intend to write some more of them.