It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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A man of taste and distinction

Steampunk and science fiction author Lavie Tidhar, whose novel Osama was this year shortlisted for the BSFA Award but cruelly not for the Arthur C Clarke Award, has reviewed Adrift on the Sea of Rains on his blog. He writes: “This is probably the best piece of science fiction I’ve read so far this year, and would be a more than worthy nominee for a BSFA Award next year.” Which makes me most happy indeed.

Lavie’s review, in all its complimentary glory, is here. As he says himself, I urge you to read it.


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I am literary

My contributor copies of The Maginot Line, the third anthology from The Fiction Desk edited by Rob Redman, have just arrived. It is not a genre anthology, and marks my first appearance in a non-genre venue.

The Maginot Line contains nine stories, one of which is by me: ‘Faith’. I’m not entirely sure how to describe ‘Faith’. It’s about the US and Soviet space programmes. Sort of. It’s about astronauts. Sort of. And it’s about nineteen turns.

The other eight stories look very good indeed, and I’m looking forward to reading them. For the record, the contents are:

  • Matt Plass, ‘The Maginot Line’
  • Mandy Taggart, ‘The Man of the House’
  • Justin D Anderson, ‘Automatic Pilot’
  • Benjamin Johncock, ‘The Rocket Man’
  • Andrew Jury, ‘Exocet’
  • Shari Aarlton, ‘The Pest’
  • Claire Blechman, ‘Trevor Gets Shot’
  • Harvey Marcus, ‘Blind’
  • Ian Sales, ‘Faith’

Now go buy a copy.


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A – Z meme

Memes are cool; I like memes. I came across this one on David Hebblethwaite’s excellent blog Follow the Thread. He writes that he found it on the Musings of a Bookshop Girl blog. As memes go, it is beautifully simple… and bloody hard to complete. Just list a favourite book for each letter of the alphabet. To be honest, for a couple of letters I had so many choices, I wasn’t sure which one to pick. Other letters – you know, the high-scoring ones in Scrabble – were not so easy…

A The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (1960)

B The Balkan Trilogy, Olivia Manning (1981)

C Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)

D Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1974)

E Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)

F The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles (1969)

G Glimpses, Lewis Shiner (1993)

H How Far Can You Go?, David Lodge (1980)

I Icehenge, Kim Stanley Robinson (1984)

J Jerusalem Fire, RM Meluch (1985)

K Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)

L Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence (1928)

M The Master Mariner: Running Proud, Nicholas Monsarrat (1978)

N Nightwatch, Andrew M Stephenson (1977)

O The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley (1977)

P The Prodigal Sun, Sean Williams and Shane Dix (1999)

Q The Quincunx, Charles Palliser (1989)

R The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979)

S Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)

T Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)

U The Undercover Aliens, AE van Vogt (1950)

V Voyage, Stephen Baxter (1996)

W Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

X X, Y, Michael Blumlein (1993)

Y The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon (2007)

Z Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (2010)

Sadly, it’s a poor showing on the gender parity front – only 15% women writers. There were a number I wanted to include, but I happened to like a book beginning with that letter by a male writer just a little bit more. Also, I am generally a bigger fan of the oeuvres of women writers than I am of individual works by them.

On the other hand, I hadn’t expected science fiction to make such a strong showing, though it has formed the bulk of my reading since an early age. The numbers go: sf 62%, mainstream 31%, and 1% apiece for fantasy and horror. While I find mainstream novels of a higher quality than sf overall, some of my favourite novels remain science fiction ones.

Finally, the 1980s and 1990s are the most popular decades, with 27% and 23% respectively. I’ve no idea why, since I may not have read the books in question during those decades. The first decade of the twenty-first century scores a measly 8%, and there’s only one book from this decade.


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A good year for… something

Sometimes I feel like Bart Simpson when he keeps on reaching for the doughnut Lisa Simpson has electrified. Each year, I eagerly await the shortlists for the Arthur C Clarke and Hugo Awards; each year, I’m disappointed by the novels or short fiction chosen by one or both. I have already written about the Clarke (see here). I’d like The Testament of Jessie Lamb to win, but I expect Embassytown will. (Incidentally, it occurred to me reading Adam Roberts’ excellent report on the Clarke shortlist books here and here that his response to The Testament of Jessie Lamb mirrors mine to Embassytown; and vice versa. Sort of.)

Then there’s the Hugo Award shortlists…

The less said about the novel shortlist, the better. Oh, all right…

My thoughts on Leviathan Wakes are laid out quite clearly in my review on SFF Chronicles here. I am quite angry it has been shortlisted. I gave up on A Song of Ice and Fire several years ago after reading one of its humungous installments in which fuck-all happened. I gave up on epic fantasy as a genre a couple of years ago after getting sick to death of its shallowness, its use of rape as a trope, and its general lack of invention or innovation (though I will acknowledge there are some worth reading – RA McAvoy’s Lens of the World trilogy, Steph Swainston, KJ Parker, Carolyn Ives Gilman, A Princess of Roumania, for example). Deadline is the middle book of a trilogy about zombies. Zombies are passé, they have been done to, er, undeath. It’s time they were put to, um, rest. The world has moved on, it’s all krakens and sea monsters now. I think. Among Others I have heard mostly good things about, but I have not read it. And Embassytown, while I think it does not entirely succeed (see here), is probably the one book that does belong on this shortlist.

If I had bothered to pay for the privilege of voting, my choices would go: 1) Embassytown, 2) Among Others, 3) No Award

And the short fiction shortlist:

The Resnick is old-fashioned crap. As have been every one of his shortlisted stories in recent years. Clearly he has his fans; clearly they need to read a lot more widely. The Liu is what I think of as a “clarion-style story”. It is sentimental, uses a metaphor to illustrate its core emotional argument, and then beats that metaphor to death. I do not like such stories. The Scalzi is a jolly jape and does not belong within five thousand kilometres of a shortlist. Unless said shortlist was posted on April 1st. This one was not. Shortlisting Scalzi’s spoof does not prove that fandom has a sense of humour, it proves only that it thinks one of the best five stories written during the previous year was a stupid spoof knocked off in a weekend by a popular writer. That’s not only dumb, it’s a perversion of the whole concept of “best short story”. Nancy Fulda’s story is another “well-meaning parents try to use tech to cure autistic kid” story. There’s usually half a dozen of them published in any one year. Fulda’s is no better and no worse than most but, crucially, it brings nothing new to the trope. It’s also sentimental; I don’t like sentimental. The Yu is a piece of whimsy which threatens to mean more than it seems but never quite does so. It at least has some claim to a place on the shortlist.

My votes, had I paid to vote, would be: 1) E Lily Yu, 2) No Award.

I shall whinge about the novelettes and novellas in another post. I shall not bother with the other categories. I still don’t understand why fandom bothers with the dramatic presentation Hugos. The film and television industries have their own awards ceremony, and they spent a shitload more money on them than sf does. As for the remaining categories…

Did I say “bah humbug”? If I haven’t, take it as, er, read…


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Pimp and circumstance

Praise continues to trickle in for Adrift on the Sea of Rains…

On Twitter, Dave Hutchinson (@HutchinsonDave) tweeted: “I recommend that you beg, steal, borrow (but preferably buy) Adrift on the Sea of Rains by @ian_sales, because it’s a little cracker”, and then added on Facebook, “All people of good intent should read Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales, as I did today. I loved it.”

On Twitter, Martin McGrath (@martinmcgrath) tweeted, “Cracking novella (and appendices)”, and Stuart Wallace (@soapyfrogs) said, “just read and loved ‘Adrift On The Sea Of Rains’ … More please!”

On his blog, Early Days of a Better Nation, Ken MacLeod wrote about alt.fiction and mentioned that Adrift on the Sea of Rains was “very good indeed”.

Robert Day has written a very nice review of it here on LibraryThing, and Cliff Burns has given it a five-star review on Amazon here.

Plans to create an internet Whippleshield empire continue apace. I’m still working on the website, but as soon as it’s up and running I’ll make sure everyone knows. I am also now the proud owner of a copy of Scrivener, and I plan to use that to create EPUB and MOBI editions of Adrift on the Sea of Rains. So expect it to be available for Kindle in a week or so.

Meanwhile, I need to get cracking on with the second book of the Apollo Quartet, Wave Fronts, in which the first man on Mars investigates the disappearance of Earth’s first exoplanet colony and discovers something which will completely change humanity’s relationship to the universe…


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alt.fiction 2012

Last weekend was the sixth alt.fiction, and the first in a new venue in Leicester. I’ve been to every one so far. The first alt.fictions took place in the Assembly Rooms in Derby, which I quite liked as it’s a well-known piece of Brutalist architecture. After a couple of years, it moved across the Market Place to QUAD, a cinema and arts complex. This year, however, alt.fiction has moved somewhat further – all the way to the Phoenix Digital Arts Centre in Leicester.

The move to Leicester doubled the journey time by train for me, but it’s still much closer than many other UK cons. I took with me a suitcase filled with my remaining copies of Rocket Science, and a few dozen hardback and paperback editions of Adrift on the Sea of Rains. Because of this, I took a taxi from the railway station to Phoenix Square, though it’s only a five-minute walk away. I arrived about eleven o’clock, so I missed the first item on the programme. (Some people had arrived in the city the evening before and stayed overnight.) As soon as I walked into the venue, I spotted Colum Paget and Iain Cairns, contributors to Rocket Science. (Later that evening, Craig Pay, another contributor, turned up.)

The day proved to be one of spotting people I knew, and saying hello but very little else. Some people I knew were present I never actually saw. I had several lengthy discussions, on topics as diverse as writing, science fiction and, er, programming methodologies. I didn’t make it to any of the programme items. So no change there. The dealers room, as at past alt.fictions, wasn’t very good. Terry Martin of Murky Depths had a table. And someone else was selling independent graphic novels. There was also a volunteer from Waterstone’s with a table full of paperbacks by alt.fiction’s guests. He kindly agreed to sell copies of Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains. And he did a good job of it, too, selling most of the stock I’d given him.

I ate at Phoenix Square, and it was a pleasure to be able to say to the staff “no dairy”, and for them make no fuss over it and provide what I wanted in a dairy-free form. I hadn’t dared do that at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel during the Eastercon. I pretty much spent the entire day in the café/bar on the ground floor of Phoenix Square. In the evening, a large group of us went for a curry, which was much better than the one I’d had in Heathrow the weekend before. The restaurant was called, unsurprisingly, The Curry House. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where we were all staying, the Ramada, and filled up the bar. I eventually went to bed about two am.

I’d enjoyed the curry, but I don’t think all of it agreed with me. I was fine when I woke up, and had the usual hearty hotel breakfast… Though I have to admit I think they’ve gone down in quality over the past few years. Somehow hotel chefs do something to fried eggs that makes them look and taste completely unappetising. I like fried eggs, I have one or two most Sundays. But those gelid primary-coloured things you see sitting in a bath of grease at hotel breakfast buffets bear only a passing resemblance to them. And the bacon… Do chefs have some philosophical objection to cooking it? Or do they get a kick from the thought of diners spending fruitless minutes trying to chew rubbery fat?

Anyway, by about eleven I was starting to feel ill, and I recognised the symptoms. Something I’d eaten had contained dairy. None of the meals I’d eaten had on previous occasions caused me any trouble… except I did have a tarka daal with my chicken saag and pilau rice in The Curry House. Perhaps there was ghee in the daal? I don’t know. I ordered a plate of chips for lunch in Phoenix Square, but I couldn’t eat it. I went outside a couple of times for some fresh air. I even went and sat in a programme item, to see if that would help. The panel was on “The Return of the Short Story”, which the panel members admitted was a misnomer as the short story had never gone away. I lasted about fifteen minutes before needing some more fresh air. I didn’t actually feel any better until I got to the railway station around quarter to two.

I’d only been there about twenty minutes when Ken MacLeod appeared on the platform. It seemed we were catching the same train, although he was getting off in Derby to catch a connecting train back to Scotland. I was staying on until the terminus in Sheffield. At Derby, Ken disembarked. When I reached Sheffield, I climbed the stairs from the platform… and saw Ken MacLeod looking somewhat lost. (He explained that his train had stopped for ten minutes in Sheffield, so he was looking for somewhere to buy a coffee.)

So that was alt.fiction #6. I like the new venue. There are less stairs than the QUAD, and the café/bar in the foyer is bigger and more pleasant. There was a terrace, but it was too cold to use it. Leicester city centre, or at least that portion where Phoenix Square is located, seemed curiously deserted throughout the entire weekend. So no marching brass band playing outside like last year’s alt.fiction in Derby. (Or drummers practicing in the room next to the bar as at a previous alt.fiction in the Assembly Rooms.) The hotel was modern and very pleasant, and conveniently close to Phoenix Square. It is, I think, an all together better venue for alt.fiction. I certainly plan to go next year.

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