7/30/2019

Looking ahead to the future

It's been nearly two months now since I had my eye operation, and my eyesight is much improved. I don't rule out more laser surgery at the very least, however, at some point in the future.

At this moment, at least, with Doomsday Game having been out since the beginning of May, I think I can officially regard myself as a hybrid author. I'm still aiming for a traditional deal with a book called Echogenesis, but in the meantime, I'm working on other novel ideas and stories which will either be self-published or appear through various small presses.

I'm also exploring new publishing models, which does, I know, sound very vague, but it's all very up in the air. By "new publishing models", I'm referring to ways to get a book from me and into your hands, whether physically or electronically, via pathways that don't really exist yet.

These pathways, to coin a term, are coming into existence as a result of the wild fluctuations that publishing is undergoing and has been undergoing for some years as both e-books and now audiobooks have a greater and greater impact. And, of course, many authors are now struggling to maintain any kind of income in the face of these changes. Let's just say, then, that these publishing models I'm exploring are my attempts at surfing the wave of that change with the intention of arriving safely on the shore of new and unexplored territories.

At the moment, I'm managing to release a book of some kind at least once a year. I'd actually like to increase that frequency, but it's hard when quite a bit of my time is still taken up with self-employed editing work.

Even so, I'm expecting to have a new novel out early next year, probably at the start of March. It's a short novel, called Devil's Road, and is probably one of the best things I've yet written. I've seen the cover, and it's magnificent. Unfortunately, I can't show it to you until much closer to the time that it's released.

One way to increase my output I've been looking into is by using dictation software. For instance, I'm dictating this entire blog post using Dragon dictation, specifically Dragon Professional Individual Fifteen. I bought it a couple of weeks ago. Not just to increase my productivity, but also because I'm looking into ways to reduce the amount of time I spend per day looking at a screen. I know one writer in particular who's been using dictation software for nearly two decades. He narrates chapters into a voice recorder while taking a walk and then uploads the recording to Dragon to be automatically transcribed.

This works very well for him. You do, literally, have to train Dragon to understand you and it's still better at understanding American accents than Glaswegian accents, to say the least. Nonetheless, I'm dictating this post through microphone with maybe 95% accuracy. I've been informed I can get it up to 98% with time and effort.

Unfortunately, this level of accuracy does rather drop when I'm dictating fiction since fiction writing presents particular challenges in terms of the use of language and sentence structure — ones that Dragon isn't necessarily fully optimised towards.

Nonetheless, I'm finding that I can still write a good deal more using dictation software than I can typing, even though I regard myself as quite a fast typist. The other day, for instance, I managed to dictate about three thousand words with relatively minimal effort and came away feeling rather less tired than if I had typed all of them out.

Remember that if you want to read more about me and about the writing life, you can subscribe to my patreon (see the link at the top of the page). You can also see first drafts of chapters of unfinished books as they are written, and various other bits and pieces of fiction and non-fiction that I'm working on well in advance of their appearance anywhere else.

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to doing some writing and I'll let you know more about Devil's Road as and when I have the opportunity.

7/15/2019

Eric Brown and Keith Brooke's Kon-Tiki Quartet

From the “better later rather than never”
 department: as you may or may not know, I've been posting occasional details of books coming out by other writers in order to help make people aware of them, and out of a general sense that the more we can do to promote and talk about science fiction, the better things are for all of us, whether as readers and writers.

This was actually meant to go up at the beginning of June, but my surprise eye operation put the kibosh on that. And I probably really should apologise to Eric and Keith for not managing to get this up before now. I'm still doing a lot of catch up, both in my own writing and in my editing work.
This time around, Eric Brown and Keith Brooke are here to tell you about their epic Dislocations saga.

I’ve known both Eric and Keith, on and off, for a couple of decades, usually encountering them at conventions. My primary contact, however, was through the pages of Interzone magazine. When I found out about their latest collaboration, I had no doubt I wanted to give them a spot here. Here they are in their own words:

Keith Brooke and Eric Brown first met almost thirty years ago, two bright(ish) young(ish) writers getting their first breaks with short stories in the magazines and anthologies of the time. Pretty soon they’d sold their first books – a collection of short stories by Eric, a novel from Keith – and also they’d become good friends and, more importantly for the purposes of this piece, first readers of each other’s work, casting beady and very critical eyes over each other’s writing before it went out to the wider world. 

Inevitably talk turned to collaboration, an obvious next step from critiquing, but always the conclusion was never, not on your nelly, no, not ever.

More than a hundred solo books between them later, the two have a collection of collaborative stories to their credit (Parallax View) and are halfway through a series of four collaborative novellas, The Kon-Tiki Quartet.


Collaboration? No, it would never work.

In The Kon-Tiki Quartet, Brooke and Brown chart the future of humankind amongst the stars, featuring such well-loved genre tropes as cloning, telepathy, alien beings, and colonisation – as well as some innovations like the science of somatic printing and identity downloading. At the core of the series, however, is the very human story of psychiatrists Kat Manning, Daniel DeVries, and the biologist Travis Denholme, and their complex, often explosive personal relationships.

In the first novella, Dislocations, a colonisation ship is being prepared to flee an Earth ravaged by environmental catastrophe, global warming and political inertia, and settle on a planet orbiting Sigma Draconis 19. The novella is set in and around the East Anglian spaceport of Lakenheath and concentrates on three main characters in the countdown to the launch, the political and personal in-fighting, and a gang of eco-terrorists' violent opposition to the colonisation program.

Book Two, Parasites, is set on the world of Newhaven, where humankind has established a fledgling colony. Parasites is a murder-mystery featuring the science and technology of cloning, telepathy, and alien biology. Through his study of native life-forms, biologist Travis Denholme has discovered means of developing elective telepathy, with all the advantages and pitfalls that this entails – including the unravelling of a years-old tragedy back on Earth.

The third novella, Insights, brings together the stories set up in the first two volumes: the consequences of a humankind blessed – or cursed – by the availability of telepathy and the political creed which violently opposes the idea. At the core of the story, three very different characters – often intimately and violently linked – must work out what is best for themselves and for society at large… while on the run from forces that want them, and their research, eradicated.

Book Four, as yet untitled, will bring the story full circle with a return to a far-future Earth, as printed ‘iterations’ of the three main protagonists explore an Earth they left behind many centuries earlier.

All four novellas in the Quartet are published by PS Publishing.

Other bits:

Book one, March 2018: Dislocations

Book two, June 2018: Parasites

Book three, date tbc: Insights

Book four: date and title tbc

7/09/2019

The return of horror.

As I noted the last time I wrote here, one of the things that kept me busy while in hospital was listening to audiobooks.

A significant number of these, rather than the usual science fiction, were closer to horror. In fact, there seems to be a distinct upsurge in good horror writing at the moment: I listened to books by Grady Hendrix (We Sold our Souls), Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman (better known for Bird Box, now on Netflix),  Dead Moon by Peter Clines, and Carter and Lovecraft By Jonathan L Howard, amongst others.

And if you want more objective proof that horror is enjoying something of an uptick,  you might be interested to know that Tor books are launching a new horror Imprint.

Looking back over the past couple of years, I can see the influence of horror in my own writing: Ghost Frequencies is, unsurprisingly, a ghost story, My next book, Devil's Road, is all about monsters. And it's not exactly hard to see the influence of zombie movies in at least parts of  my Extinction Game series.

This doesn't surprise me. When I was young, I was reading Pan paperback horror anthologies about the same time I was discovering Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke. Not to mention I was entirely obsessed at the time by Halloween--the event, not the film.

Not to mention several movies that are as influential as they are canonical in science-fiction can also easily be classified as horror: Alien and  The Thing.

These kinds of stories are much more about unnerving you than they are about grossing you out--a cinematic and storytelling trend that's never had any attraction for me. It's less about the scares than it is the mystery, which is one of the reasons Scooby Doo was so popular and even, if we're prepared to admit it, influential: the gang spent each episode uncovering the mystery of what was going on, and it was the thrill of detection as much as the supposed scares that kept young kids like me locked to the screen. 

7/02/2019

Eye Operation (updated for legibility)

EDIT: sorry if some of you tried to read this and found it all grayed-out to hell. I typed it up in another program and then pasted it into my blogger.com template, and it transferred across something about the text that changed the usual colour. The way my computer is set up, it looked exactly the same as ever to me, but it wasn't until I got screengrabs sent to me by a couple of people I realised something was up. 

I hope, or at least assume, it's readable now.

So I spent most of June away from social media not through choice but because I had a surgical procedure on my left eye at the start of the month.

Several days before, late May, I visited an eye doctor who informed me I had a detached retina. This came as a bit of a surprise because several months before, I had visited another doctor who didn't appear to pick up on this. Two days after my more recent visit in May, I saw a specialist at one of the main hospitals here in Taipei and two days after that I had surgery on my left eye - a vitrectomy, to be precise.

After that I had to spend most of a week lying face down as much of the time as possible, and several more weeks after that taking it easy and avoiding using computers or watching any television. 

Fortunately, I’d got quite heavily into audiobooks over the past couple of months, so I didn't have any trouble keeping myself entertained, although for all that it’s not much fun spending most of a month sitting around and otherwise doing nothing. 

I wasn't entirely helpless; Emma was a great deal of help, keeping an eye on me in hospital and taking care of the countless things at home I normally took care of.

The good news is my eyesight is much improved, and I’m finally back at work, although I do still have to restrict my time online and take regular lengthy breaks away from the screen. And gradually catching up with stuff that's been left hanging since the end of May. 

Doomsday Game wound up somewhat orphaned throughout June, since I wasn't able to nurture it through its still early days of publication. It's still selling, but I know now from past experience some careful attention would have improved its situation nonetheless. 

And of course I wasn't able to do any editing work. So if you're feeling charitable, and especially if you've read Extinction Game and Survival Game, you could always pick up a copy of Doomsday Game, the third in the series, since most of the money from each sale goes straight to my pocket.

5/01/2019

Doomsday Game is Published Today

It's out! Doomsday Game is now available in hardback, paperback and ebook formats, so take your pick of whichever you prefer. I really hope you enjoy it - I've spent the better part of half a decade with these characters, and I'm sorry to finally say goodbye to them.

Where to get it: the ebook is widely available, while the paperback is available primarily through Amazon. It may be possible to order it through independent bookstores if you want to give them your business. The ISBN is 978-9574364589.

The hardback (ISBN 978-9574364596) should be much more widely available - it's now listed on Barnes and Noble's website, next to the Nook version, as well as on Amazon, and is very likely a lot of other places too.

The cheapest place to get the hardback is still here.

The ebook is available through Amazon, Apple Books, Nook and Kobo. There may be others, but those are the main ones.

And don't forget to write a review - authors really need them. Even just writing "I liked it" is enough.

4/27/2019

Good News for you Hardback Completists

I'd thought it was going to take much longer for the hardback of Doomsday Game to show up on Amazon, but lo and behold, it's live.

I might as well mention I've already published the paperback of Doomsday Game in advance of the ebook release in a few day's time. At the moment it's mainly available only through Amazon, but it's possible you could get it through a local bookshop if you want to support their business.

The same goes for the hardback, by the way. If you do want to order the hardback in particular from a bookshop rather than just online from Amazon, use the ISBN when placing your order: 978-9574364596.

Here's the link for the hardback on Amazon UK and on Amazon US.

...and here's the link for the paperback on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

And I might as well drop in a universal link for the Kindle pre-order that'll land you up in whatever Amazon serves you. mybook.to/DoomsdayGameKindle.

That's right: I'm doing a simultaneous release of all three formats so you can pick whichever one you prefer.

Keep in mind, by the way, that the ebook will also be available through Kobo, Google Play, and others, and that the cheapest place to get the hardback, if you're particularly price conscious, is always going to be here

4/18/2019

The hardback of Doomsday Game is now out...

...but only from one retailer for at least the next several weeks.

It's worth reminding you at this point-and possibly some of you still aren't aware of this-I'm publishing this book myself, and that places some limitations on what I can do which don't apply to big publishers. Plus, I'm still figuring some things out about how the indie publishing business works.

The hardback of Doomsday Game will become available through channels such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc, but not for another six to eight weeks - nearly two months after the paperback and ebook will become available. I don't have any say in that, unfortunately-I suspect it's part and parcel of the snail-like pace with which much of the print industry still moves.

However, it is already available directly from the company that prints it - and also to some extent distributes it - that being Lulu.com. So if you want to get hold of the hardback, click on that link in the left sidebar or click here.

The bad news is, not being able to manufacture massive numbers of copies for distribution like a full-scale publisher, the price is consequently higher. The good news is it's still significantly cheaper to buy from Lulu.com than it will be from Amazon.com or anywhere else. If you'd prefer to or are used to buying from Amazon.com or elsewhere, I'll post here once it clears the main distribution channels.

If you happen to work in a bookshop and like my stuff, this of course means you should be able (far as I know, anyway) to order it from the distributor's catalogues.

The paperback will be £8.99, and will be made available a few days before the release of the ebook. It'll have a price match, meaning if you buy the paperback you'll also be able to buy the ebook for half-price or less.

It, too, will receive expanded distribution, but will, so far as online sales go, be available directly and only from Amazon. Why? Because Amazon. Because capitalism.

Feel free to drop me a line either in the comments or the contact box if you've got more questions (also: as you can see from the pictures, I received my own proof copy of the hardback this morning. And let me tell you, it looks fabulous).

3/24/2019

New Book Coming: DOOMSDAY GAME


I've tweeted, Facebooked and emailed the mailing list, and now, at last, the blog: I have a new book coming out. It's called DOOMSDAY GAME and it's the third - and final - volume of the series that began in 2014 or thereabouts with EXTINCTION GAME and continued with SURVIVAL GAME.

I think it makes for a pretty neat conclusion for the saga, and it took me most of 2018 to write and edit. The cover art, by the way, is from Ben Baldwin, who also did the artwork for last year's GHOST FREQUENCIES - and for which he's up for a BSFA award. Here's the blurb:

It's the end of the world...again.
Over the years, the Pathfinders - each the sole survivor of a humanity-destroying apocalypse, but on different alternate Earths - have become a tight-knit team as they search for an alternate they, along with the Authority, might one day call home.
Now, at last, one has been found: an Edenic alternate Earth on which humanity never evolved.
But just when their work seems over, new threats emerge. One comes from within the Authority itself, but the other is so completely unexpected that the Pathfinders are quickly overwhelmed.
The race is on to deal with the final - and greatest - threat this rag-tag band of survivors have yet encountered as they journey through alternate Earths rendered lifeless by rogue singularities or littered with ancient and perilous ruins. Faced with their own extinction, can they pull together one last time…as well as save the Authority from itself? 

I think that sums it up nicely. It's released on May 1st, and is currently available as a Kindle pre-order - it'll soon also be on sale through Kobo, iTunes, and other online stores, and will also be available as a paperback and a simultaneously released hardback. More details as they come!

3/05/2019

Stephen Palmer's new novel The Autist

As part of my continuing and admittedly slightly sporadic quest to present you with new and old British and UK-resident authors with whom you may or may not be aware, I'd like this time around to present you with the new novel by Stephen Palmer.

Since his first novel, Memory Seed, came out from Orbit in 1996, Stephen has produced a dozen novels of what might be loosely termed 'post-cyberpunk', insofar as they are most often concerned with collapsing ecologies, the evolution of AI and also of humanity in response to its own technological innovations.

His new novel The Autist moves between the England of the late 21st Century, Nigeria, and Thailand, and shows his work remains as thoughtful and engaging as ever.

Here's the synopsis:

Data detective Mary Vine is visiting relatives when she uncovers a Chinese programme of AI development active within her own family.

Ulu Okere has only one goal: to help her profoundly disabled brother, whose unique feats of memory inspire her yet perturb the community they live in.

And in a transumted Thailand, Somchai Chokdee is fleeing his Buddhist temple as an AI-inspired political revolution makes living there too dangerous.

In 2100 life is dominated by vast, unknowable AIs that run most of the world and transform every society they touch. When suspicions of a Chinese conspiracy seem substantiated, Mary, Ulu and Somchai decide they must oppose it. Yet in doing so they find themselves facing something the world has never seen before...

This is what Stephen has to say about the origins of the story:

The Autist was inspired by algorithms and AI…

I’d written a couple of near-future AI novels before – Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave For A Fox – which dealt with the theme of the possibility of conscious machines. Much of my own reading is non-fiction, with technology a particular interest if it deals with the more human side of things – for instance Mary Aiken’s fantastic The Cyber Effect.

It seemed to me that I should write a novel in which AI development does not end up so well, and with my background in consciousness and the evolution of the mind I was able to bring together a few relevant themes: Savant Syndrome, the impossibility of a single conscious machine appearing, and algorithms and their effects on society – effects which I think will be profound, and mostly negative.

My influences were all non-fiction too, especially the author and researcher Nicholas Humphrey, who has done more for the field of consciousness studies than most. I’ve long been a fan of his work. He was the originator of the social intelligence theory of consciousness, and has written four masterpieces, of which one, A History Of The Mind, mentions his work on blindsight, which I used in this new novel.

Hopefully people will enjoy the story and be intrigued by the theme.

You can get the novel here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Autist-Stephen-Palmer-ebook/dp/B07PBX8R3B/

1/17/2019

New books forthcoming from me in 2019

2018 was a busy year and 2019 is looking to be even busier. I have two books coming out this year: the first is DOOMSDAY GAME, the final volume in the series that began with EXTINCTION GAME and continued in SURVIVAL GAME. The book is written and undergoing its final edits and I hope to have a cover to show you in the next couple of weeks or months. I think it ties the series up just about perfectly. More details about the plot and a blurb to come.

The other forthcoming book is DEVIL'S ROAD, a short novel in the same vein as Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, although in terms of content and plot it comes across more like a mashup of Death Race 2000 and Pacific Rim.

Either one or both will be up for preorder in the coming weeks and I'll be sure to let you know when that is. 

1/09/2019

My experience in self-publishing in 2018

Back in March 2018, I put out a collection of five short stories as an ebook on Amazon for just £1.99. It wasn't the first time I'd used the Kindle self-publishing market, but it was the first time the ebook I published was my own.

Back in 2011, I'd experimented with publishing languishing works by fellow pro's and semi-pro's. It did a lot to raise my profile, a ridiculous amount, in fact: but one thing it didn't do was sell any ebooks. A few, by Fergus Bannon and Hal Duncan, did okay, but just okay. I decided to put self-publishing to the side for a while and concentrate on writing books such as Final Days and Extinction Game.

Cut to seven years later, and everything's changed. The ebook market has continued to take the world of publishing by storm.

The biggest difference is that there's now a lot more information out there about how to successfully self-publish. It's not enough to just fling it out there and hope for the best, which is what I essentially did in 2011. You need to learn about and implement meta-data, ads, and make use of good-quality cover art. A lot of people who experimented far more deeply with KDP in its earliest incarnation than I ever did wrote books about their experiences and how they succeeded or failed, and so I read many of their books.

Ten months after publishing Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds, how well has it done?

Put it this way: two of the five stories in that book were previously published in paying markets, while a third story originally appeared in a non-paying market. One of them sold twice (after appearing in Interzone, I re-sold the audio rights for Scienceville to the Starship Sofa podcast. You can listen to or download it here.)

To date, the income from this one self-published collection containing just five short stories equals more than eight times the money made from the two stories that sold to pro markets. Further, the ebook has made me at least five times more than I've made from short story sales, ever.

In fairness, I've only ever sold a literal handful of short stories: I'm not a fast producer. But still.

To put it a little further into perspective, according to my agent, John Jarrold, short story collections typically make only about 15% of what an author can expect to earn from a novel. I'm cautious about extrapolating too readily from the available data to estimate what I might make from a full-length novel, but even so, the future is looking increasingly bright.

So what did I do differently that I didn't do before? I read books on how to manipulate data on Amazon using tools that Amazon themselves provide for that purpose. I carefully crafted adverts with an aim of keeping the costs low and the income high. I paid money for halfway-decent cover art. I certainly benefited hugely from having had a number of novels in print, and the ready-made readership that came with them.

What I learned from all this is that it's possible to make good money in self-publishing, but only if you actually act like a publisher and treat your self-publishing like an actual business with costs as well as profits.

One thing I know for sure: self-publishing isn't for everybody. A lot of people still go into it and face-plant from the word go because they've used a home-made cover, or a cover that isn't at least passably professional-looking (I look back at my early ebook covers and cringe) or, worse, a cover that isn't appropriate. I know many writers whom I strongly suspect would struggle with the process, or hate it, or both.

But if all this talk of self-publishing doesn't make you want to wrap yourself up in a blanket and turn the lights out, then, yes, it is worth considering - especially if you've made professional sales in the past and developed a readership.

I'm still chasing traditional publishing: it's just that it isn't the only game in town any more, and I'm finally, finally free to write any damn thing I please with the knowledge that with sufficient effort, I have a decent chance of finding an audience for it.  


12/28/2018

Is it too late for a favourite books of 2018 post?

Don't be silly! Of course it isn't. I read 58 books in 2018 and these were my favourites. Note that this doesn't mean they were necessarily published in 2018.

1: Strange Weather by Joe Hill. Honestly, I was knocked out by this. Four short novels (novellas if you insist) that demonstrate just why thirty to forty thousand words is the optimum length for most stories. Get it. You won't regret it.

2: The Last Weekend by Nick Mamatas. As the author himself notes, possibly the last zombie novel that ever needs written. This was an absolute blast: zombies are essentially somewhere off to the side while the lead character goes about making as much of a mess of his life post-zombie apocalypse as it was before. He still drinks to excess, still screws up his relationships, and still can't get more than one story published. Loved it.

3: October Song by RU Pringle. Me and RU share an agent in John Jarrold, who asked me if I'd like to read this book with a mind to blurb it. It turned out to be terrific: a brutal near-future thriller with more than a touch of Children of Men to it. It's set in a mid-21st Century Scotland that's become independent, lost its independence and been essentially colonised by an English state unable to cope with accelerating climate change and the sudden enforced transformation of the global political and economic landscape. The story follows a former policewoman hunted by essentially everyone for the murder of the prime minister as she flees up the coast trying to reach safety on the European mainland.

4: Kindred by Octavia Butler. Somehow I managed to get through my life without having read any Octavia Butler, an unfortunate error I've now corrected. A deserved classic.

5: All Systems Red, Martha Wells. Well, this book has been the hit of the year for a lot of people and I can see why. Read it if you haven't yet.

6: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. I should probably apologise for not having got around to reading this one yet...

Honourable mentions: Mohsin Ahmed, Exit West
Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist