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All the new year feels

I think on the whole 2017 is best forgotten. I did have some good times – conventions in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, for example – but on the whole the year was a bit of a dead loss. I had plans, I had modest plans. I failed them all. Well, I didn’t manage to get much done during the year outside the day job. I’m hoping 2018 will be much better in that regard.

Having said that, it’s hard to be optimistic when your country has decided it would sooner be racist and poor instead of prosperous and a member of the planet’s largest trading bloc. And then the US elected a posturing baboon to the White House, and the GOP seems determined to roll back every piece of legislation that had begrudgingly dragged the US into the 21st century… So, the world went to shit and it sort of killed my motivation to do much other than lose myself in movies.

I’m not expecting 2018 to be any better politically or geopolitically. I’d like to move to a more civilised country. But it’s hard to change a situation that isn’t personally broken – I work four days a week at a job I enjoy, for money that more than pays for the stupid number of books and films I buy. And my current situation certainly doesn’t prevent me from writing, or reviewing. I’ve done both in previous years.

So in 2018, I want to start writing again. I want to finish the third book of my space opera trilogy, A Want of Reason. Which is all plotted out and about a third written, and will likely turn out to be the most un-space-opera space opera that ever space opera’d. I’m basing an entire chapter on Le grand meaulnes, FFS. It opens with a terrorist attack. By one of the good guys. And wait until you see the Space Communists from Space… I also have several ideas for novellas I’ve been mulling over for a few years. I could have a bash at the Poseidon Quartet (as mentioned in Apollo Quartet 5: Coda – A Visit to the National Air and Space Museum). Or maybe the Jupiter Quartet, which I’ve been thinking of doing for a while… I’d like to write some short fiction too, although I am notoriously crap at it, well, at finishing it. I envy people who can sit down and bang out a first draft in one sitting.

I also intend to drag SF Mistressworks out of mothballs. I read several books that qualify for it during 2017, so I just need to write the reviews. And I’d like to start reviewing again for the venues I reviewed for previously. It’s all very well banging out a couple of hundred words on books I’ve read, and films I’ve seen, on my blog, but most of those “reviews” sort of turned into rants and I really need to be a bit more disciplined in my criticism. In fact, I’d like to write more about science fiction in 2018. At one point, I was going to write a whole series of posts, Fables of the Deconstruction, on individual sf tropes. I did space travel (see here) and robots (see here), but never got any further. And then there’s the spoof how to write space opera guide myself and another award-winning sf writer drunkenly hacked out one night… We really should finish it.

Of course, I’d like to read more books too. I managed to reduce my four-figure TBR pile by exactly one book in 2017. That’s excessively rubbish. I didn’t make my target of 140 in the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I finished the year on 128), so I plan to beat that for 2018. I’m an inveterate list-maker, so I’ve already started putting together a list of the books I want to read this coming year. I think I should buy less books too – I mean, buying eleven per month on average is not good for, well, for the fabric of the building I live in. I should probably have a clear-out at some point, but some authors I’ve been collecting for so long I’m reluctant to get rid of their books, even if I no longer read them…

So, resolutions… They should be in a handy list (see above). Twelve is a good number; there are twelve months in a year, twelve days of Christmas, twelve eggs in a dozen, er, eggs… So how about twelve resolutions for 2018?

  1. Read more books than last year – I have to beat 128 books but would prefer to beat 140 books
  2. Speaking of which… only start reading a new book when I’ve finished the last one
  3. Read at least six books from countries whose literature I’ve never read before
  4. Watch less films than last year – I mean, 602 is a bit fucking excessive; anyway, now LoveFilm has packed in I’ve only got one DVD rental service
  5. Finish the damn space opera novel – it’s all there in my head, and has been for a two years; I just need to get it down on paper
  6. Complete at least one novella – they’re probably going to take a shit-ton of research; why do I do this to myself?
  7. Complete at least four short stories – bonus points if I can actually sell the bloody things
  8. Get SF Mistressworks back up and running, start reviewing books again
  9. Write more about science fiction on this blog, so it’s not all films I’ve watched and books I’ve read
  10. Drink less wine
  11. Exercise – I’ve made half-hearted attempts at developing a running habit several times in the past; it usually lasts a month or so
  12. I plan to attend two Nordic cons in 2018, but maybe I can squeeze a third one in?

There, they look achievable. All I need is a bit of motivation. And self-discipline. I don’t expect to complete all twelve, but they’re mostly about getting me back to where I was before 2016 landed on my head at the day job. And then, in 2019, I can start building on them…

Happy New Year.

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The Marching Morons

To all the people who read Liz Bourke’s review on Strange Horizons of Michael J Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords, and didn’t like the review because:

a) historians should not review epic fantasy
b) “intellectuals” should not review epic fantasy
c) women should not review epic fantasy
d) a negative review will upset the author
e) a negative review will negatively impact the author’s sales
f) popularity and quality are the same thing, as any fule kno
g) bad prose is better than good prose, as is demonstrated by any best-seller list
h) taking quotes from the novel “out of context” would make any author’s prose look bad
i) you read the book and enjoyed it so it can’t be bad
j) the book is meant to be “fun” and “light reading” so it can’t be bad
k) a negative review is obviously not objective since you disagree with it

Congratulations. You are officially stupid. If you want to know why genre fiction is not taken seriously, go and look in the mirror.


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How to write a good review

First, see this review of Michael J Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords on Strange Horizons. See its long comment thread. This post is not aimed at Liz Bourke, who has written an excellent review of what is plainly a bad book. This post is for some of the commenters on that thread, who clearly don’t understand what a review is for, or how a book is reviewed.

1 A dishonest review is a bad review.
2 Not all books are good.
3 It’s not just good books that deserve reviews.
4 If a book is a bad book, it’s dishonest not to say so.
5 If a book is not a good book, it’s dishonest to refuse to review it.
6 Books can be bad for a number of reasons; most of those reason are a result of failure of craft.
7 Reviews are not written for the author of the book being reviewed; their audience is potential readers of the book being reviewed.
8 A good review is not opinion because it will contain evidence supporting its assertions.
9 Whether or not a reviewer enjoyed a book is completely meaningless, since enjoyment is unrelated to quality and is entirely subjective.
10 A review does not have to meet the expectations of people who have read the book being reviewed.
11 A review is based on a critical read of a book; this means the reviewer has probably put a lot more thought into their reading of it than you have.
12 If you come across a negative review of a book you thought was good but you did not read the book in question critically, then you are not qualified to comment on the review’s findings.


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Another Catastrophia review

Library Journal have posted a review here of Catastrophia, edited by Allen Ashley. My story, ‘In the Face of Disaster’, is one of four from the anthology mentioned in the review. Although the review only gives a short précis of each of the four stories, it says the anthology is “inventive though somewhat uneven in literary quality”.

There’s also a review of LE Modesitt Jr’s new novel, Empress of Eternity, on that page. Library Journal apparently liked it a great deal more than I did – see my review in this month’s Interzone.


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Mentioned in despatches

It must be some sort of milestone in a writer’s career when something of theirs is reviewed in the national press for the first time. Today is that day for me. In the Guardian Reviews section, Eric Brown has reviewed the Catastrophia anthology edited by Allen Ashley, and in which I have a story. Eric mentions four stories from the anthology, one of which is mine, and writes: “…the more sober, literary examination of the breakdown of society when humanity suffers apperceptive prosopagnosia – face-blindness – in Ian Sales’s affecting ‘In the Face of Disaster'”. You can see the full review here.