Category Archives: Writing

Nominations and nominality

Quoth the redoubtable Nicholas Whyte:

This is a very well done and well executed piece of work, and I really enjoyed reading it and can understand why people nominated it. However it is clearly a work of fiction, so I won’t vote for it at all in the Best Non-Fiction category.

Well, it’s clearly not a work of non-fiction, if you’ll excuse the double negative; I think it’s just as clearly not a work of fiction, either, or at least not entirely. It is a hybrid thing, a mutant, a creature of the liminal; the spotlight is not flattering to such animals, which is why they shy away from it.

The same may be said of its author.

More dreams, fewer pipes

I get published, y’know.

Now, I announced the release of the Noir anthology from Newcon Press aaaages ago, but the world of reviewing moves pretty slowly when it happens off-line, and only now has this incredibly flattering write-up of my story “A Boardinghouse Heart” made it onto the hallowed pages of Vector, courtesy of the mighty Martin McGrath (who is not know for cutting crap fiction any slack, I might add). Quoth McGrath, the story:

“… is very fine indeed — compact, dense and intelligent, it is more-or-less everything I’d hoped for when I picked up the collection. It’s a detective story — or at least it’s a story with a detective in it — set on the slippery streets of a richly realised city. The protagonist, as should be the case in all good noir stories, is hopelessly out of his depth and beset by those more powerful and cleverer than he is. The most effective element is the way in which the story immerses you in a city, gives it history and heft, yet never burdens the reader with hefty exposition. I also liked its refusal of any heroic narrative. It’s a fine achievement and worth the price of admission on its own.”

That price of admission is £2.01 as a Kindle ebook, and rather more for paperback or hardback (signed) versions, should you be tempted by this effusive praise.

There have been few reviews of the Twelve Tomorrows anthology, possibly because MIT Tech Review took a somewhat “fire and forget” approach to promoting it, but the October print edition of Locus picked it up in two separate columns, in one of which Gardner Dozois declares:

“[t]he best stories here are Lauren Beukes’s “Slipping” and Paul Graham Raven’s ”Los Piratas del Mar de Plastico (Pirates of the Plastic Ocean)”, both of which manage to inject human drama into their visions of the future, as well as characters you care about who are faced with situations where they have something and something significant at stake.”

Which is a fairly writer’s-workshop-y kind of compliment, perhaps, but it comes from a man who’s been in the anthology editing game for almost as long as I’ve been alive, so I’m gonna go right ahead and take him at his word. Twelve Tomorrows also available in ebook form for UK readers via everyone’s favourite rapacious and riparian online retailer, for a mere £5.99. A steal, really, when you see who else is in there alongside me.

Last but not least, albeit considerably less glamorous, here’s an article I wrote for Water & Wastewater Treatment Magazine about Pipedreams, one of the big meta-projects of the Pennine Water Group, wherein I am currently embedded as a postgraduate researcher. Even though I struggle to explain my own research concisely, I can at least explain that of my colleagues, wot?

Poppytar noir

So, I sold a story a while ago. Not quite as long ago as I wrote the story in question, mind — that was during the second semester of my Masters, which feels like a lifetime ago.

Anyway, the sale went to Ian Whates at NewCon Press. Here’s as much as anyone other than Ian knows about the project in question:

“… the project that started life as ‘write me something featuring a femme fatale’ has evolved considerably.  In fact, what began as a single anthology has subsequently budded, amoeba-like, and developed into two independent volumes; a duo-anthology (no, I’m not too sure what that means either, but it sounds impressive).  La Femme and Noir, two thematically linked books, each with their own distinct identity.

Both books will be launched on the Friday evening of this year’s Eastercon in Glasgow, 6.00 pm on April 18th, unveiled at a launch party which will also see the release of a new collection from Eric Brown and “The Moon King”, Neil Williamson’s debut novel.”

Two books, two TOCs:

La Femme:

  1. Introduction — Ian Whates
  2. Stephen Palmer – Palestinian Sweets
  3. Frances Hardinge – Slink-Thinking
  4. Storm Constantine – A Winter Bewitchment
  5. Andrew Hook – Softwood
  6. Adele Kirby – Soleil
  7. Stewart Hotston – Haecceity
  8. John Llewellyn Probert – The Girl with No Face
  9. Jonathan Oliver – High Church
  10. Maura McHugh – Valerie
  11. Holly Ice – Trysting Antlers
  12. Ruth E.J. Booth – The Honey Trap
  13. Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Elision

Noir:

  1. Introduction — Ian Whates
  2. E.J. Swift – The Crepuscular Hunter
  3. Adam Roberts – Gross Thousand
  4. Donna Scott – The Grimoire
  5. Emma Coleman – The Treehouse
  6. Paula Wakefield – Red in Tooth and Claw
  7. Simon Kurt Unsworth – Private Ambulance
  8. Jay Caselberg – Bite Marks
  9. Marie O’Regan – Inspiration Point
  10. Paul Graham Raven – A Boardinghouse Heart
  11. Simon Morden – Entr’acte
  12. James Worrad – Silent in Her Vastness
  13. Paul Kane – Grief Stricken
  14. Alex Dally McFarlane – The (De)Composition of Evidence

Very chuffed to be there… and very chuffed to have sold that story, which collected apologetic personal rejections from all of the best genre ‘zines on the interwebs. Just my luck someone was doing an anthology where grimly ambiguous tales of monumental self-pity, possibly fraudulent magic, police violence and certifiable drug abuse would be a good fit, eh?

In other writy-publishy news, I just finished a commissioned book chapter. Don’t congratulate me; it was originally due in November last year. Given it’s for a collection of scholarly essays, I expect it’ll take at least as long to get to press as the story above, if not longer… always assuming, of course, that the editors don’t wisely decide that the piece I’ve sent them is that little bit too much weirder than even my abstract had led them to expect. Guess we’ll see…

Stuff by me elsewhere

Haven’t done one of these for a while, but seem to have had a spate of publications since finishing my Masters, and what else is the point of a blog if not for bigging one’s good self right up, as the kids say? What, indeed. So, yeah.

That huge essay on Nordic LARP that I (somehow) wrote during the middle of my dissertation was published over the last three months of 2012, and can be found as parts one, two and three. The Verge listed part one in its “best tech writing of the week” round-up, for whatever that’s worth. People have been sending me emails regarding those three parts being reprinted as one piece in a forthcoming “best of Rhizome” anthology, which is nice. No money in it, but hey; I was paid for the original publication, Rhizome is a donation-driven organisation, and the collection will apparently be CC licensed. If it happens, that is. We’ll see, I guess.

Where does experimental theatre end, and consensual indoctrination into a covert ideology begin? Can a temporary intentional community, in and of itself, be a form of performance art? Can a performance art piece become a political movement instead of just a statement? These questions pivot on the fluid dualities of fiction and reality, of reader and subject, which can be upended with a flick of the wrist or a twist of the frame; if we assume altermodernism to have accepted and integrated (if not fully approved of) the ubiquitous ontological hollowness of the postmodern condition, then might Nordic larp be one of the first truly altermodernist forms, an experimental laboratory for the breeding of new metanarratives?

It was a lot of fun to research, quite quick to write, but took literally months to edit and reformat. But I got to accuse the Six Sigma framework of being a larp for gullible yet earnest middle management, and to talk about the free party circuit of Nineties, which is a topic that seems to be floating around at the front of my mind quite a lot, lately. I put this down entirely to the sudden revival of the German army parka as an indie-kid standard. D’you know that genuine eighties vintage German army parkas are now sufficiently rare and in demand that a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe is making clones of them, purely for the fashion market? Bill Gibson, eat yer heart out. Denim authenticity is just totes Noughties, right? Fosh.

[Update: pdf proofs of the article formatted for the anthology arrived literally during the drafting of this post. Looks like it’ll be a thing, then.]

Strange Horizons ran my nearly-nine-months-late review of Bruce Sterling’s story collection, Gothic High-Tech.

You’ll also run into trouble if you go looking to Sterling to tell you that you’re on the right side of something, or indeed anything. This deep-running moral ambiguity is what I believe made The Caryatids unpalatable for many readers: not only does it feature a cast of exaggerated types, but the extrapolated incarnations of our current ideological dichotomy—which we still label Left and Right, even though those terms are ludicrously outdated and hollow—are both revealed to be as blinkered, fractious and destined to fail as one another.

My completely gratuitous sideswipe at magic-pajama-wearing celebrity homophobe Orson Scott Card only racked up one proxy defender in the comments. They must all be busy fighting the good fight in gaymarriageguncontrolclimatechange threads.

Just after Xmas, Simon Ings realised just how easy a book reviewer I am to troll, and sent me the disingenuously misnamed Green Philosophy by tobacco-shill Tory and all-round hired-gun thinktank wankbag Roger Scruton, with results that are doubtless as predictable to read as they were cathartic to write. One can probably see a theme developing, too:

This is the mentality of those who rule the world, or who aspire to rule it: they’re so entrenched in their dogma, dialectical oppositions and centuries-old political clubs that they have forgotten how to think, let alone how to do so beyond the confines of a rapidly shrinking box. It’s like watching two teams of fat middle-aged former public schoolboys doing a tug’o’war on the village green for the rights to decide which way the stripes should go on the cricket pitch while the entire fucking village is burning down.

Mm-hmm.

What’s next? Oh, yeah, I appeared briefly in a post at Tor UK about Julian May’s Saga Of The Exiles, which is being republished this year, and which I am reviewing for SH at some point fairly soon. …Exiles, as long-term VCTB visitors may remember, was my science fiction gateway drug. It’s going to be interesting to return to it with the critical goggles on. (I’m hoping the process doesn’t spoil it for me forever, but I think that’s a risk that needs to be taken sometimes.)

Then I gone done a thing for the Locus Roundtable blog thingy, a “five golden things” list to balance out the recent spate of “best [x]” debates. So, being the sort of person you can’t reliably take anywhere nice, I steered the conversation around to drugs.

Even in the rhizomatic global cultures of Gibson’s novels, the functional addict is always already enslaved, always at the bottom of somebody else’s private pyramid of clout, an asset to be passed or traded between clients and associates as required, a human resource with a built-in and fully transferable loyalty program.

This time I managed to irk Gregory Benford, who — obtuse as his comment may have been — is surely a better class of irkee than OSC’s fanbase.

I have also found a rather super local arts rag here in Sheffield who have started taking music writing from me: here’s my ‘scenius’ editorial for the February issue’s music section (which I’m inordinately pleased with, considering how short a period I had to put it together), and my review of Swedish post-metallers Cult Of Luna, who were reet gud, as they say round here. Now Then Magazine actually comes out in print most months, too, and they make a gorgeous job of the production; a proper left-leanin’ local scene labour-of-love, which is the sort of set-up I’m always happy to do freebies for. Getting physical copies of your work in print is always a good buzz.

I think that’s pretty much everything of mine that other people have published of late, really; I’ve done a couple of long essays on science fiction and science and foresight and futures studies and all that jazz over at Futurismic, if you’re hungry for more? See me snark an energy-weapon-research/skiffy-novel Kickstarter campaign (SRSLY), or read as I roundly denounce, once and for all, the seemingly unkillable notion that science fiction can in any useful way “predict the future”!

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Stay tuned for more stuff at sporadic intervals; I keep meaning to get back into regular blogging, but everyone with a blog upon which they’ve become irregular says that, and the next few months are looking uncertain enough that I’m not making any promises to anyone, not even myself. (Unless they want to send me a cheque, or send me to an interesting and hopefully warm country where they’d like me to write a book or something.)

So, who knows? Things are happening, bad mojo keeps knocking down good people, and the times are getting weird; as such, the weird is doing its best to turn pro. Which is fun, but exhausting. Selah.

Colinthology

Colinthology cover art (by Andy Bigwood)Here is an ebook you might consider purchasing. The Colinthology is an anthology of stories collated by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall in celebration and memorial of Colin Harvey, a novelist late of the Bristolian SFF parish, and one of my clients from my webdev days.

Reasons to buy:

  • 21 genre fiction stories for just £2.99
  • DRM-free multi-format ebooks, bought direct from an independent publisher (i.e. “screw you, Amazon”)
  • All proceeds go to charity
  • An appropriate send-off for someone who went way too soon

If the reasons above aren’t sufficient, then I doubt this one will make much difference, but nonetheless:

  • The first story in the book is “Biz be Biz”, a collaborative story by myself and Gareth L Powell

“Biz be Biz” takes place in the (currently mothballed) New Southsea universe I was still playing around with at the time, and grew out of one of my Friday Flash Fictions. It was a lot of fun to write; I talked about the process (which ended up as a sort of brinksmanship tennis match, in the best possible way) on a panel about collaborative creation at Bristolcon this weekend just gone, and hopefully the audio will crop up online somewhere at some point, should you be curious to know more. (It was, by all accounts, a fairly interesting panel; I certainly learned a thing or two.)

I was asked to write a few words about Colin for the book, which I think would be suitable for sharing here:

I only met Colin two or three times in meatspace. He was a client in my webdev days, so we chatted via email — but email is no intimate medium, and we mostly spoke of business.

Colin at conventions was different thing; there, the easy-going character familiar from his emails was overlaid with a garrulous, generous bonhomie. The sort of chap who, on seeing you passing, would not merely nod but actively drag you right in to whatever conversation he was involved in; an extrovert, for sure (or so he seemed to me), perhaps with a well-leashed hint of Jack the Lad lurking behind the grown-up façade, but the sort of extrovert whose happiness seemed to derive in significant part from the happiness of those around him. A fun guy to be around, in other words — though tiring, unless you could match his herculean tolerance for alcohol in the early hours of the morning.

There’s a third Colin, too — the one I wish I’d got to know better, the Colin who blogged about rescuing injured baby blackbirds. I only caught the last fifteen minutes of his movie, so to speak; I never got to see the full range of his character, the depths and subtleties.

But you can tell a lot about a character from their final scene, can’t you? And that the writers and readers that knew him have come together to honour his memory with an anthology says, I think, a lot about a guy whose honesty and drive had a knack of making things happen — for himself, yes, but also for others.

He’s still doing it now, as you can see.

A good sort, in other words. The Bristol scene feels Colin’s loss very keenly, and the anthology is a testament to that. I’m very pleased to have my work in there.

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Other miscellaneous updatery: I move house this Friday! I haven’t properly started packing yet! I have deadlines dropping on me like bat guano on a spelunker’s hard-hat! Everything’s going a bit mental! Nothing seems quite real! But yet I’m still oddly excited!

More on this before the move. Or, if I manage to manage my displacement activities appropriately, after the move. One or the other. Ahem. Yes.