It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Shelf stackers

I didn’t think I’d bought that many books since my last book haul post back in early June, but when I came to take photos of my recent purchases… Well, there you go. It appears I have bought rather a lot. No wonder my postie just cards me and runs away.


Some aeroplane books to start. I have two or three of Steve Ginter’s Naval Fighter Aircraft series now, but only for the aircraft I actually find interesting, like the Martin P4M-1/-1Q Mercator. The books are well put-together, with lots of photographs and information. Convair F-106 “Delta Dart” and All-Weather Fighters were bought chiefly for research for my moon base novella.


Some sf novels by women writers. Kaaron Warren’s Mistification is one of the few books I kept from the big box of Angry Robot releases I won in the alt.fiction raffle. Jane Palmer’s The Watcher goes with the other Women’s Press sf novels I own, as does Sue Thomas’s Correspondence. Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man is for the 2011 Reading Challenge, and Lyda Morehouse’s Resurrection Code I think was recommended to me by Amazon after I bought Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. I’ll be writing about it here soon.


Some first editions – well, okay, Medium For Murder by Guy Compton, AKA DG Compton, is actually a Mystery Book Guild edition. Selected Poems is signed; as is At First Sight, Nicholas Monsarrat’s second novel, from 1935. Both were lucky eBay finds. First editions of The Bridge are typically expensive, but I managed to find one for a reasonable price.


Three for the Watson collection (see here) from Andy Richards’ Cold Tonnage.


Some sf paperbacks. I read Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy years ago, but never owned copies. Now I have all three books, I’ll be giving it a reread sometime. I’ve also been picking up Ballard’s books, as I find them far more appealing now than I used to. Embedded is another book from the alt.fiction raffle prize. And finally, two from the relaunched SF Masterworks series – I’m fairly sure I read Simak’s City many, many, many years ago (I was a big Simak fan in my mid-teens); I know I’ve certainly not read Wells’s The Food of the Gods.


Heaven’s Shadow I swapped for my Interzone review copy of Daniel H Wilson’s Robopocalypse with Robert Grant of Sci-Fi London (ta, Robert). I want to read Heaven’s Shadow because it features near-future space exploration; I expect to hate it because it’s a mega-hyped techno-thriller type sf novel. DH Lawrence’s The Lost Girl and Iain Pears’ Stone’s Fall are both charity shop finds. City of Veils is the second of Zoë Ferraris’ crime novels set in Saudi Arabia. I’ve already read it and thought it much better than her first novel, The Night of the Mi’raj.


Some first editions. I have about a dozen of Pulphouse Author’s Choice Monthly mini-collections, and am trying to complete the set. But only the signed, numbered editions. I’ll have to read Newton’s City of Ruin before I tackle the third book in the series, The Book of Transformations. I read American Adulterer earlier this year and liked it enough to buy a cheap copy of the hardback.


I didn’t know Modernism Rediscovered was going to be so bloody big when I ordered it from Amazon. It was only about £13 (and I put part of a voucher toward it as well). It’s an abridged edition of the three-volume set, which costs… £200. Contains lots of lovely photos of California Modernist houses. Red Planets I’m looking forward to reading. I really should read more criticism, and this looks like an interesting set of essays.


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The future we used to have, part 4

Time for something nice to look at, so here are some photos and artwork of what the year 2000 might have looked like from earlier decades…

land

Red Banner Textile Factory, St Petersburg, by Eric Mendelssohn (source: Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture 1922-32, Richard Pare)

Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights, by Eric Mendelssohn

The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, East Sussex

Palacio de los Deportes, Mexico City, by Félix Candela

Centrosoyuz Building, Moscow, by Le Corbusier (source: Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture 1922-32, Richard Pare)

People's Commissariat for Heavy Industry (proposed): I Fomin, P Abrosimov, M Minkus 1934

water

Jules Underwater Lodge (source: http://www.jul.com)

The Ben Franklin cutaway from Popular Science (source: http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov)

air

Republic XF-12 Rainbow

Convair NB-36, which carried a nuclear reactor

Saro Duchess, a jet-powered version of the Princess

North American XB-70 Valkyrie

North American XF-108 Rapier

Hawker P.1103 (source: http://rp-one.net)

space

The US military's Manned Orbiting Laboratory

An early Shuttle proposal

Space Station Freedom, circa 1985


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Arabia Felix

À propos a recent discussion on Twitter regarding Matthew Cook’s story ‘Insha’Allah’ in the current issue of Interzone, below is an old and racist description of the phrase and its uses, taken from English-Arabic conversational Dictionary, first printed in 1909, my edition a 1969 edition, from Hirschfeld Brothers Ltd of Great Portland Street, London:

A favorite word of the Oriental, which he pronounces at every possible, suitable or unsuitable, opportunity, but with which he generally simply cloaks his innate laziness and indolence, frequently also his ill-will. As the European by hearing this inshallah always pronounced with the same nugatory, often even ironical tone, is at last reduced to sheer despair, he will do well to break his companion of it as soon as possible. The Muslims only should not be interfered with, because the Koran prescribes to them the continuous use of this showy phrase.

I have a second copy of the book, different cover but identical contents, which claims to be by Professor Anwar Hafiz and Moustafa Aziz, but does not give a publisher or year of publication. It also omits the footnotes. I suspect it is a pirate edition.

As noted above, the Qu’ran commands Muslims to use “insha Allah” when describing any future action – see Surat Al-Kahf:

18:23 – And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,”

18:24 – Except [when adding], “If Allah wills.” And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.”


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Jupiter Rising

Issue 33: Euanthe of Jupiter has now been published. If you have a Kindle, you can buy it right this very second from here. If you’d prefer hard copy, then buy it from here. And the reason you should buy a copy? Because it contains my death metal science fiction story, ‘Words Beyond the Veil’.

Alastair Reynolds claims his ‘At Budokan’, published in Jetse de Vries’ Shine anthology, is the first ever death metal science fiction story. But does it quote the lyrics from a real death metal album, eh? Mine does – in fact, it quotes extensively from Worlds Beyond the Veil by Mithras. So I think that makes mine the first true death metal science fiction story.


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Books from my collection: Park and Robson

Back in the 1990s I was in a BSFA Orbiter with Justina Robson, so when her first novel was published I bought it. I’d already seen some of its chapters, so I knew it was good. I continued to buy Justina’s novels because I know she’s an excellent writer and she rarely disappoints.

Paul Park became one of my favourite authors after I read Coelestis – which remains a favourite sf novel to this day (see here). I subsequently tracked down copies of his debut trilogy, The Starbridge Chronicles, and then his small press novels. When the Princess of Roumania quartet was announced, I was a little disappointed that he had turned to fantasy, and what appeared to be YA fantasy at that. But I bought the books, read them – and they’re not YA, they’re actually one of the best fantasy series of this century.

Silver Screen and Mappa Mundi. Both were shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award, which is a pretty damn impressive achievement.

Natural History and its loose sequel Living Next Door to the God of Love. Though I’d have said Natural History was a better novel than Silver Screen or Mappa Mundi, it wasn’t shortlisted for the Clarke. It did make the shortlist for the BSFA Award, however; as did Living Next Door to the God of Love.

The Quantum Gravity, or Lila Black, quintet – Keeping It Real, Selling Out, Down to the Bone, Going Under and Chasing the Dragon. I plan to read all five some time this summer as a reading project. Watch this space.

Justina’s only collection to date, Heliotrope, was published by Australian small press Ticonderoga to celebrate her appearance as GoH at the Australian National SF Convention in Perth this year. It’s a shame that one of the UK’s best sf writer’s only collection has to be published on the other side of the planet. My edition is the signed and numbered edition. Adam Roberts wrote the introduction.

The Starbridge Chronicles: Soldiers of Paradise, Sugar Rain and The Cult of Loving Kindness. There is a SFBC omnibus edition of the first two books, The Sugar Festival, which I’ve not seen. The trilogy is set on a world which, like Aldiss’ Helliconia, has seasons which are generations long.

The US and UK editions of Coelestis. The UK edition predates the US one by two years. Not sure why I have both. As I recall, the only first edition I could initially find was the US one, so I bought it. But at the 2005 Worldcon I found a copy of the UK edition, which I bought so Paul Park could sign for me. Which he did.

No Traveller Returns is a novella from PS Publishing. Park has another due late this year, Ghost Doing the Orange Dance (originally published in F&SF in February last year). If Lions Could Speak is a short story collection. The Gospel of Corax describes the life of an alternate theosophical Jesus. Three Marys is also set in Biblical Palestine. Perversely, copies of these three small press books appear to be more readily available than those of the Starbridge Chronicles.

A Princess of Roumania, The Tourmaline, The White Tyger and The Hidden World are one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.


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Is a lack of realism good for science fiction?

At the back of mainstream novels, you will sometimes find a list of “sources”, i.e., the books the author used as research for the novel. This has never been common practice in science fiction, though you’ld think the genre requires so much more research than mainstream fiction. It’s not just the science, but also that the real world the readers know and understand is rarely used as a setting. So there’s a wealth of additional information the writer needs to get across. And few sf authors are working scientists, astronauts or, well, aliens.

In fact, the only astronauts to write sf set in space were Edward Gibson (Reach, 1989; In the Wrong Hands, 1992) and Buzz Aldrin (Encounter with Tiber, 1996; The Return, 2000; both with John Barnes). Scott Carpenter’s two novels (Steel Albatross, 1991; Deep Flight, 1994) are underwater techno-thrillers, and are based upon Carpenter’s post-NASA oceanographic career. Also relevant is Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, who wrote a sf novel (First Landing, 2001) about the first colony on Mars.

This doesn’t mean there are no sf authors who research, or no sf authors who list sources at the backs of their novels. However, I suspect the general aversion to info-dumping in sf also extends to authors demonstrating – or proving – that they have performed any research. Perhaps they consider the presence of its “fruits” in the story evidence enough – certainly, there’s a level of authority and realism evident in prose that contains proper research. Kim Stanley Robinson considers “exposition just another form of narrative” – and is one of the few sf authors to list sources, or give a bibliography, at the end of his novels. He also writes very realistic science fiction. His Mars trilogy is considered one of the best hard sf series of all time, and notable for its realistic depiction of the initial colonisation of Mars. In his words,

And in science fiction, you need some science sometimes; and science is expository; and so science fiction without exposition is like science fiction without science, and we have a lot of that, but it’s not good. So the word “infodump” is like a red flag to me, it’s a Thought Police command saying “Dumb it down, quit talking about the world, people don’t have attention spans, blah blah blah.” No. I say, go read Moby Dick, Dostoevsky Garcia Marquez, Jameson, Bakhtin, Joyce, Sterne — learn a little bit about what fiction can do and come back to me when you’re done. (From Outspoken Authors: The Lucky Strike)

While it’s true that some subgenres of sf demand more research than others that doesn’t mean some get a free pass. Space opera is a very unrealistic form of science fiction. It could be argued it doesn’t need to be, but I disagree. The Milky Way is not the Wild West, and any story which treats it as such is doing itself, and its readers, a disservice. Having said that, space opera is a very popular subgenre and, to many non-fans, it is emblematic of all science fiction. As a result, they see sf as an unrealistic mode of fiction, one which fails to address realistic concerns.

I sometimes wonder if sf’s frequent lack of realism is a result of writers during the early decades of the genre failing to recognise – or deliberately rejecting – their own amateurism. They would dream up neat ideas, and write stories about them, without actually bothering to build anything like a realistic or plausible world in which to explore their idea. The central conceit was all; it was the only thing which needed to be phrased plausibly. The writers may have been experts in the real world – or as much as any of us are experts  – but the setting of their story was invented so that knowledge was of little use.

Of course, it’s also true that on those days sf writers could blithely make something up and the chances of them being called on it were remote. Perhaps there might be an irate letter in the magazine a month or two later. These days, any reader can look something up online, and make their opinion known on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, etc. There’s no excuse for getting it wrong now – those tools are just as available to the writer as they are the reader (though you would hope the writer would go the extra mile).

Looking at much sf written today, it seems to me it is turning more fantastical. No effort is made to explain the ideas used in a story, no effort is made to make them appear feasible or plausible. Why then are they sf and not fantasy? They may be stories written in a science fiction mode, but they are entirely unrealistic. That may be one way to offset criticism. If everything in a story is entirely made-up – in the purest sense of the term – then readers can’t object to any inaccuracy. But is that tactic necessarily a good thing?

To me, sf is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary settings. Yet the genre has featured a lot of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary settings. You can understand why the latter would appeal to adolescents – they all want to be special snowflake heroes and succeed in changing the world. (High fantasy is also full of protagonists such as these.) But the real world, and most invented worlds, are populated chiefly by ordinary people. Not by super-brainy scientists or manly bullet-chewing marines or super-competent alpha males. Ordinary people, of all genders, races, cultures, religions, sexual identities, etc, etc. When you have the whole universe to play with, why limit diversity? It makes no sense.

But then, sf has never been an observational genre, and has never really known how to meld the quotidian with the fantastic. The opposite, in fact: it deliberately eschews the quotidian, it revels in the fantastic. It lacks realism. I can understand the desire to exclude realism in some subgenres, I can even see how many readers would prefer non-realistic – escapist, immersive – stories. But I don’t think that’s the only way to do it, and I suspect it does little good to the genre’s reputation to produce only those.


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Meme! Women sff writers of the 1980s

Following on the from the previous meme, women sff writers of the 1970s, here’s a list from James Nicoll of women writers whose careers began in the 1980s. Again, italicise those you’ve heard of, bold those you’ve read at least one work by, and underline those whose work you own an example of.

Marcia J. Bennett
Mary Brown
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Pat Cadigan
Isobelle Carmody
Brenda W. Clough
Kara Dalkey
Pamela Dean
Susan Dexter
Carole Nelson Douglas
Debra Doyle
Claudia J. Edwards
Doris Egan
Ru Emerson
C.S. Friedman
Anne Gay
Sheila Gilluly
Carolyn Ives Gilman
Lisa Goldstein
Nicola Griffith
Karen Haber
Barbara Hambly
Dorothy Heydt (AKA Katherine Blake)
P.C. Hodgell
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Tanya Huff
Kij Johnson
Janet Kagan
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
Katharine Kerr
Peg Kerr
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Rosemary Kirstein
Ellen Kushner
Mercedes Lackey
Sharon Lee
Megan Lindholm*
R.A. MacAvoy
Laurie J. Marks
Maureen McHugh
Dee Morrison Meaney
Elizabeth Moon
Paula Helm Murray
Rebecca Ore
Tamora Pierce
Alis Rasmussen (AKA Kate Elliott)
Melanie Rawn
Mickey Zucker Reichert
Jennifer Roberson
Michaela Roessner
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Melissa Scott
Eluki Bes Shahar (AKA Rosemary Edghill)
Nisi Shawl
Delia Sherman
Josepha Sherman
Sherwood Smith
Melinda Snodgrass
Midori Snyder
Sara Stamey
Caroline Stevermer
Martha Soukup
Judith Tarr
Sheri S. Tepper
Prof. Mary Turzillo
Paula Volsky
Deborah Wheeler (Deborah J. Ross)
Freda Warrington
K.D. Wentworth
Janny Wurts
Patricia Wrede

* She had one story published in the 1970s but, as James Nicoll says, “what the hell”.

Several of the names seem vaguely familiar, and I suspect I may have read short fiction by them. I’ve only marked those I’m sure about, however. I did own books by a number of those I’ve read, but they went in the last purge of the book-shelves.


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Boxing, bugs, bounty hunters and bismillah: God’s War

When Kameron Hurley’s God’s War was published earlier this year, I took note of it, as I generally do of sf novels which feature Arabs or Arab-inspired backgrounds. I checked out the book’s website, and even read the first chapter, which was posted online. But I didn’t see anything there that made me want to buy and read the book immediately. At some point, yes, I’d probably pick up a copy, but nothing I saw encouraged me to do so there and then.

A few weeks later, Niall Harrison tweeted that God’s War was one of the best books published this year he’d read so far. He described it as “Gwyneth Jones meets Richard Morgan” – or words to that effect. And so, after a bit more conversation on Twitter, a group of people all bought copies at his urging. I was one of them.

I have now read God’s War.

Nyxnissa is a “bel dame” on the world of Umayma, which means she is a government assassin charged with killing deserters from the army. Because Nasheen has been at war with neighbouring state Chenja for generations – so long, in fact, that no one is really sure what they are fighting over. All Nasheenian men must fight at the front, and many women also volunteer. The end result of this is a female-dominated society at home, much like Britain during World War II.

But Nasheen is also an Islamic state – or rather, its state religion is one which appears to be descended from Islam. The Nasheenians have mosques and a holy book called the Kitab (which is Arabic for “book”; and, in Islam, members of the Abrahamic religions are known as “People of the Book”). There are further clues in the names of people and places – although a reference to the Kitab being written in a “the ancient language of prayer” (p 91) suggests that the Nasheenian language is not true Arabic. This may explain why some of the female characters have male names, such as Bashir, Husayn or Zubair. Or indeed why some of the place-names don’t entirely convince as Arabic – Chenja, for example: Arabic has no “ch” phoneme. And also Ras Tieg, another nation on Umayma: Arabic has a “j”, though it is pronounced as “g” in Egypt. (None of the nations’ name are entirely parsable either – ﻧﺶﺀ (nash) means “youth”, and -een could be the dual ending; Ras Tieg – ﺭﺍﺱ (ras) is “head” or “headland” but I can’t find anything close to “tieg”. But perhaps the names are not intended to mean anything.)

As muslims, the Nasheenians are moderates – possibly unsurprising, given that the society is matriarchal. Many of the teachings seem to be ignored, if not flouted – such as those prohibiting the consumption alcohol (Nyx drinks a lot of whisky during the story). Chenja, however, is far more orthodox. It practices polygamy, and its women wear the veil. One of the other characters, Rhys, is Chenjan, and while Nyx may be lapsed he certainly is not. He speaks a translation of bismillah ar-rahman ar-raheem (p 91), and also recites the ninety-nine names of God (p 80). Nyx further mocks him for “pounding [his] head on the pavement six times a day” (p 78). It is also implied that the Chenjans venerate saints, suggesting perhaps they are Shi’ites to the Nasheenian Sunni muslims. Though, according to Rhys, this cannot be the case as the two nations comprise “… believers from different moons, united in their belief of God and the Prophet and the promise of Umayma. For a thousand years, they had carved out some kind of tentative peace, maneuvered around a hundred holy wars … Chenjans would submit only to God, not his Prophet, let alone any monarch who wanted to sever God and government.” (p 78)

There are other nations on Umayma. The Mhorians, for example, are racially different to the Nasheenians, and are descended from refugees who were given permission to settle on the world hundreds of years earlier. Clues in the text – a reference to Saint Mhari, for example – suggest they may be Christian.

Hurley does an excellent job with her society-building, painting a picture of two nations with different approaches to a shared religion. The way she integrates the religion and its practice into the daily lives of the characters certainly resembles Islam in a way that Christianity does not. It is not, happily, just the mention of mullahs, burqas or the other trappings of Islam or the Arabic world. Having said that, the easy prevalence of acts and attitudes considered haram does render the end result a little less convincing.

Then there’s the technology in God’s War, which is almost entirely insect-based. Vehicles, called bakkies, are powered by a fuel generated by a sealed hive of cockroaches. People called magicians have some sort of unexplainable power over these insects – pheromonal, perhaps? – which allows them to control them. They even use them as, er, bugs – i.e., surveillance devices. Magicians are masters of biotechnology (I think they are all male), and so of advanced medicine too. Not everyone returns from the front in one piece – but the magicians patch them up, often using body parts from those who didn’t make it. Umayma’s sun is also stronger than ours – or the world’s atmosphere is thinner – and skin cancers are prevalent. Biological and chemical weaponry is used extensively in the war between Chenja and Nasheen, which in turn has its effect on the world’s population.

But perhaps the strangest element of God’s War‘s world, and the least convincing to me, is the presence of “shifters”. These are people who can “shift” into other forms – an animal, and each person is, I think, limited to one other form. One character can transform into a dog, another into a dove, and yet another into a raven. How? Where does all that mass go? There’s a hand-wavey mention of “quantum effects”, and it is stated that shifters didn’t start to appear until the various peoples had colonised Umaymi… But. It just feels a bit unnecessary, a bit over-the-top.

Likewise the magicians’ gyms. For reasons not entirely clear, the magicians are fans of boxing. The sport may be a signifier for emancipation in God’s War, given that it is acceptable in Nasheen but underground in Chenja, and popular in both. The gyms are all interconnected, irrespective of the distance between them – as if the magicians had a secret, and instantaneous, travel network. I couldn’t quite work out the reason for this – it only seemed to impact the story peripherally.

The plot of God’s War is complex but also relatively straightforward. Nyx does something she shouldn’t have done, is booted out of the Sisterhood of bel dames and sentenced to prison. When she is released seven years later, she becomes a licenced bounty hunter. She hires a team – magician Rhys (who is a Chenjan deserter), Mhorian shifter Khos, gun-nut Anneke and comms expert Taite. When Queen Zainab hires Nyx and her team to recover an offworlder, Nikodem, who has gone missing, things get complicated very fast. The Sisterhood don’t want her to succeed. She tracks Nikodem to Chenja, which means infiltrating an enemy country. Meanwhile, Nyx’s sister, a biotech scientist, is murdered, and her work somehow seems linked to Nikodem’s disappearance…

God’s War is a brutal book. Nyx is a brutal protagonist. A lot of people are killed or maimed in the story. A lot of people who have been maimed appear in the story. The magicians’ medicine is sufficiently advanced that even the most severe injuries are survivable, although why this should result in such a low value being put on life is beyond me. There is a lot of violence, and it is graphically described. Umayma is dirty, primitive in many respects, and populated by physically and psychologically broken people. God’s War is a bleak novel, with a cast that are not far from being monsters. I think it was this, more than anything else, that made it hard for me to love God’s War. The world-building is superb, Nyx is a well-drawn protagonist, and the plot is pleasingly complex, but I still found it a little too bloodthirsty for my tastes.

I couldn’t quite see the Gwyneth Jones in God’s War, although there are some small similarities with Richard Morgan’s Black Man. I don’t think it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, though it may prove to be the best book published in 2011 I read this year. I would not be unhappy if it appeared on a few shortlists next year. I will certainly be buying the sequel, Infidel, due to be published in October.

EDIT: I forgot to mention the mention of Deep Blue Something – is Hurley a fan of the group, perhaps? “Nyx pulled her burnous up and followed the dimly lit signs to room tres-bleu-chose.” (p 224)


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Books from my collection: Brooke & Brown

I’ve known both Keith Brooke and Eric Brown for a number of years – I may well have met them at the first convention I ever attended back in 1989. It’s been a long time, anyway. And throughout those many, many years I’ve also enjoyed their novels and short stories. My collection of both authors’ books is complete – except for their books for YA and younger readers.

Keith’s first three novels, published by Gollancz between 1990 and 1992. Head Shots (2001) is a collection, published by Cosmos Books, and one of the strongest short story collections I’ve read for a long time.

Lord of Stone is fantasy, published by Cosmos Books in 2001; it is very Orwellian and very good. Genetopia was published by Pyr in 2006. The Accord is Keith’s most recent novel from 2009, though he is currently working on a new one, alt.Human. Parallax View is a shared collection, with Eric Brown, of stories set on the same world. My edition is the Sarob Press one from 2000, although a revised edition was published by Immanion Press in 2007.

The Time-Lapsed Man is Eric’s first collection, and was originally published as a paperback in 1990 by Pan. The hardback edition was from Rog Peyton’s Drunken Dragon Press. (There was also a signed limited edition, but I don’t have it.) Deep Future (2001) and Blue Shifting (1995) are collections. Meridian Days (1992) was Eric’s first published novel. It was followed by Engineman (1994) and Penumbra (1999).

A pair of trilogies: the Virex trilogy of New York Nights (2000), New York Blues (2001) and New York Dreams (2004); and the Bengal Station trilogy of Necropath (2008), Xenopath (2009) and Cosmopath (2010). Annoyingly, the first two books of the Virex trilogy were issued in hardback, but the third wasn’t.

Bengal Station (2004), published by Five Star, is the novel on which the trilogy above was based. It didn’t sell many copies – probably because it was difficult to get hold of. Threshold Shift (2007) is a collection from Golden Gryphon. Kéthani (2008) is a fix-up, and one of Eric’s best books.

Some novellas from PS Publishing: A Writer’s Life (2001) is a supernatural story, rather than sf; The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne (2005) and Gilbert and Edgar on Mars (2009) both feature famous writers as their protagonists.

Some more novellas: Approaching Omega (2005) is a sort of zombie cyborg generation ship story. Starship Summer (2007) and Starship Fall (2009) are set on the same world of Chalcedony and feature the same cast. There are, obviously, two more books to come in the series. Starship Winter is scheduled to appear from PS Publishing later this year.

The Fall of Tartarus (2005) is a another fix-up novel. Helix (2007) was Eric’s first novel for Solaris, and features a unique BDO. Engineman (2010) is a revised edition of the original novel, and also includes eight associated stories. I’ve yet to read Guardians of the Phoenix (2010) or The Kings of Eternity (2011), although Eric assures me the latter is the best thing he’s written.


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Battered books? Criminal!

On Monday, David Barnett wrote a paean to tatty paperbacks on the Guardian website here. He even included a photograph of one of his most treasured books, a battered copy of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It is, quite frankly, falling apart. I’m surprised it’s still readable.

I, on the other hand, hate battered books. Almost every book I own appears brand new. I have paperbacks I bought in the 1970s which look like they were published last week. Some of the books I’ve given away or sold – on eBay or Amazon marketplace – are in as good condition as those you’d find on the shelves of your local Waterstone’s, though they might be ten, twenty or thirty years old.

I have bought tatty books, of course. Some books that I want to read, but have no intention of keeping, I will buy irrespective of condition – usually from charity shops. And they’ll go back there once I’ve read them. Books that are going in the collection, however, have to be fine or near mint. But if I discover that I really like the book and want to keep it, and it’s pretty dog-eared – then I’ll go and buy a new copy of the book.

I have lent books to people and been seriously pissed off when they’ve returned them with broken spines and creases in the covers. When you borrow a book, it should be handed back in the same condition it was in when it was lent. You don’t borrow someone’s car and then return it with dents and scrapes and smashed headlights, after all. And yet, some books you really want people to read because you love them so much. Some books you will accept the possibility of damage because you want someone else to share your opinion of them.

It’s not just the condition of books. Genre fiction has a fondness for series. I admit to having inherited the “squirrel gene” from my father. (This doesn’t mean I’m half-man half-squirrel, it just means I collect things. Books, obviously, in my case.) Series are good for collecting. Except when publishers change the cover design halfway through the series. Or when two books of a trilogy are published in hardback, but the third is only published in paperback. I find that really annoying. I’ve been known to wait until a trilogy is complete so I can buy all three books with a matching cover design. I have also replaced books in a trilogy so I have them all in the same format, rather than one in trade paperback and two in A-format paperback.

Given that most of the books I buy are out-of-print and second-hand, you’d think I’d be a gibbering wreck most of the time. I find the book I’ve spent ages looking for on eBay, click on “Buy it Now”, and days later a parcel is shoved through my letter-box… Sellers on eBay tend to display a wide variance in their interpretation of terms such as “fine”, “very good” or “good” when relating to condition. It can make book-buying a bit of a lottery. I have returned books because they were not at all as described. But usually I tend to only buy from sellers who post a photograph of the book in which the condition is plain to see. As a result, I’ve not bought books I really want even though there are copies available. I’d sooner wait until I see a copy in a charity shop, second-hand book shop, or dealers’ room at a convention, where I can see in person whether or not the book’s condition is good enough.

There is probably a fancy Latin name for the above behaviour. I don’t care. What it means to me is that my books will last. I can return to them again and again, and not worry about pages falling out. After all, you can’t read a novel when it has pages missing.

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