Thursday, 1 November 2018


The new issue of Prog magazine includes an interview with me where I talk about my record collection, especially the prog-rock side of it. It was really fun to do. Thanks, Prog!

I was asked to pick ten significant records, and to keep it "purist" I confined myself to choices where I had the album on vinyl, even though, for instance, I might otherwise have included The Damned's Black Album.

These were my (not all strictly prog) choices:

 The London Philharmonic Orchestra: A Stereo Space Odyssey

Genesis: A Trick of the Tail

King Crimson: In the Court/Larks Tongues

Yes: Relayer

Hawklords: 25 Years On

Kate Bush; The Dreaming

B52s: Bouncing off the Satellites

Talking Heads: Little Creatures

Sound of Ceres: The Twin

War on Drugs: Lost in a Dream

A friend asked me why I hadn't mentioned The Fall. I felt that might have been pushing my luck just a bit...

Monday, 29 October 2018

RIP Tony Joe White

On listening to the ever-excellent Cerys Matthews blues show on Radio 2, I learned that Tony Joe White had died on the 24th of October, a day after I linked to his "Rainy Night in Georgia" in my last-but-one blog post. 

Thanks for the music, Mr White.

Obituary here, via the Guardian:

Friday, 26 October 2018

Paternoster elevators

My previous post was picked up on File 777 where the discussion drifted onto the topic of paternoster elevators.

I've never used one, to the best of my recollection, but for a few years I did have the option, as the Claremont Tower in Newcastle - where I studied - featured a paternoster elevator. There was almost certainly a normal lift (as well as stairs) as although I took many classes in the Claremont building, I never remember using the paternoster. I do however remember being strongly disinclined to use it by virtue of a story that was in circulation. The gist of that story was that someone had died while going around over the top, something you were not meant to do. That always struck me as worrying, because what if you simply neglected to get off at the top (or bottom) floors? Never mind the business of getting on and off the thing.

Years later I reasoned that the story must have been a carefully engineered rumour designed to stop people using the elevator in a way that wasn't intended, not because of the risk of injury (or death) but because it caused problems with the mechanism, perhaps leading to the elevator shutting down or needing maintenance. I could well imagine that the authorities would "leak" a story like that just to stop students larking around and causing expensive breakdowns.

But (being a grisly sort of fellow) the File777 article prompted me to read up a little bit more paternosters and their history of accidents, and rather shockingly the first such account I read about was indeed one in the Claremont Tower, in 1975:

The story, then, was completely true. Gulp.

I'm sure paternosters are much safer, per journey, than many forms of travel I gladly accept. Nonetheless, I'm not at all sorry I never used the one in the Claremont building (which, as it happens, was involved in another accident the year after I left, and then dismantled).

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Oh, Atlanta

In January 1992 I made my first trip to the United States. I was 25 and had been consumed with the idea of visiting America for most of my life, a desire that had only hardened as I grew into my teens and twenties. It had begun, I think, with an almost indecent fascination with American cars - the big gas-guzzlers of the sixties and seventies - as featured in such period cop shows as Cannon, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, McCloud, The Streets of San Francisco and so on.  Toy models of British cars were alright but what I really wanted was a Lincoln Continental like the one Frank Cannon drove. It was something about that rakish overhang at the front, a feature lacking or much less evident in British cars.

American TV shows, and American music, shaped and coloured my mental geography of the United States. America was The Banana Splits, Ironside, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch, the Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files - all of which had more exciting title sequences and theme music than any British series of the period. By the Eighties, I was consuming shows like ChiPs and Hill Street Blues, but still no nearer to visiting America. Part of the attraction of a career in science, though - especially astronomy - was precisely the opportunities it offered for travel. It wasn't a TV show that came to mind when I thought of Georgia, though.

It was Tony Joe White:

Years earlier my dad had made me a tape of a Tony Joe White album and "Rainy Night in Georgia" was now imprinted on my mental soundtrack.

I can't tell you how thrilling it was to finally make it to the States. It was cold but crisp when I arrived in Atlanta for a science meeting, and I took a short train ride from the airport to the hotel and convention complex where I was staying. At that point, I doubt that I'd stayed in more than a dozen hotels in my life, so it was with some amazement that I checked in to the astonishing Marriot Marquis, a building like no other that I'd seen. It (and much of the surrounding part of Atlanta) was the work of the architect John Portman, as documented in this recent Guardian article:

What I didn't realise at the time was that this building was already iconic, and a popular location for film shoots. Later on the same trip I went to a reception in an art gallery across town and had the prickly feeling that I'd been in the building before. How was that possible? I asked around and it turned out that the location had been used as Lecter's prison in Manhunter, the 1986 adaptation of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. When I got back to the UK I rented Manhunter again and realised that the Marriot Marquis was also in the film, although it obviously hadn't registered on first viewing. Atlanta (see that article above) was and is a popular shooting location, especially because so many of Portman's designs still look futuristic, in a sort of retro-seventies way. Indeed, another film - the not very good Freejack, with Mick Jagger - was shooting in Atlanta when I was there.

What of it, now? I haven't been back to Atlanta since 1992, but the hotel did have one lingering influence on my work which that article prompts me to mention. Those swooping interior elevators left a big mark on me, and when I came to write Revelation Space - which I started later that year - they became the model for the elevators in the Nostalgia for Infinity, especially the part where Ilia Volyova's elevator plunges through the vast interior of the cache chamber. When, in Chapter Two, Ilia's elevator announces its arrival at the "atrium" and "concierge" levels, that's all down to the Marriot Marquis. I'd never been in an elevator that spoke before.

As for Tony Joe White, it was with some enjoyment that I did indeed spend one rainy night in Georgia. That was just before the full-on blizzard that forced us to de-plane and spend another night in airport hotels. If anyone ever tells you it doesn't snow in the South, don't believe them.


Thursday, 27 September 2018


Earlier this year I wrote a new novella about time travel, which I'm pleased to say will appear from Tor books in March 2019.

Cho reached into a pouch behind the pilot’s position. He drew out a document and passed it to me. It was a scarlet brochure, with a translucent plastic cover. On the front was the World Health logo, followed by a statement in several languages to the effect that the contents were of the highest security rating.

I looked at him doubtfully, before I opened the document.

“Go ahead,” Cho said. “You’re committed now.”

I opened the document.

On the inside page was a logo. It was a six-armed snowflake with three letters in the middle of it.

The letters were:


I turned over to the next page. It was blank except for three words in Russian:

Permafrost Retrocausal Experiment

I like novellas, both as a reader and a writer. Lying somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words, according to the people who decide these things (other definitions are available), they've got a bit more room in them than novelettes or short stories, but don't risk overstaying their welcome in the way that some novels do. Themes can be developed at a depth not really possible in the shorter forms, but at the same time the novella still encourages a tightness of approach, usually confining itself to a single viewpoint. It's been said that the form is particularly well suited to science fiction, and while I don't know how healthy the novella is in the wider literary world, it's certainly enjoying a period of renewed vitality within SF. The long-established print magazines such as Asimovs have always found a home for novellas, and in the last decade or so specialist publishers such PS Publishing, Subterranean Press and Tachyon Books have championed the form via various chapbooks and collector's editions. Even more recently, the form has been embraced by Tor with a line of novellas that have done very well, including such fine works as Nnedi Okorafor's Binti.

As daunting as it is to join such company, I couldn't be happier to have been given the chance to write this story, especially as it involved working with the ever-excellent Jonathan Strahan, an editor who not only knows and understands my work, but has published no small amount of it. When Jonathan kindly approached me about the possibility of doing a novella, I was fairly sure that I wanted to tell a time-travel story. I've long been fascinated by the form - one of my earliest memories is of watching the George Pal version of Wells' The Time Machine - but for the most part it's one I've kept well away from in my published fiction to date. Yes, there's a sort of pseudo-time travel in Century Rain, and some stuff about quantum signalling from the future in Redemption Ark (and elsewhere) but neither of those instances are real, true-grit time travel stories. By which I mean, one in which a protagonist goes back in time and gets to see, feel and taste the past. That's what I wanted to write, though, albeit with some self-imposed restrictions. Without getting into spoilers, I knew the sort of story I didn't want to end up with, and that included any plot that involved a time machine that functioned as either a vehicle (something you got into) or a portal (something you stepped through). I also didn't want a story that involved time-loops or time-paradoxes as they are conventionally handled, but I soon realised that making certain kinds of time-loop front and central to the story could be interesting, especially if handled in a matter-of-fact, technical manner, as it would be to any highly-organised time travel project.

I've said too much, so that's enough from me for now, but in the meantime you can find out a bit more about the book here:

There'll be another book from me in early 2019, as well - Shadow Captain, which is now edited, proofed and in production - but I'll say a bit more about that in another post. In the meantime, I'm half way through Bone Silence, and tentatively beginning to think about the book beyond that.

Tempus, as they say, Fugit.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

Swansea and Cardiff with Peter Hamilton

On Monday September 3rd, Peter Hamilton and I will be doing two joint events in the Swansea and Cardiff branches of Waterstones.

The Swansea event (which appears not to be ticketed) takes place at noon:

The Cardiff event (ticketed) takes place in the evening, beginning at 6.30.

I'm between new books at the moment, but Peter will be promoting his excellent new novel Salvation, so come along and hear what he (and I) have to say about life, the universe and everything. We'll be delighted to see everyone in these two fine cities.