Thursday 27 June 2024

Much Ado About Nothing






I'm part of a community theatre group based in South Wales. We're putting on Much Ado About Nothing on the evenings of July 11, 12 and 13 up at the lovely Dare Valley country park. Come along and see our friendly production! Although not in the picture above (I was away when we did the photo-shoot) I'll be playing the incompetent Dogberry, alongside Liam (sitting on the ground on the right) as Dogberry's put-upon sidekick Verges. We've all put a lot of work into our parts (even going up to London to see the RCT's brilliant production of Much Ado at The Globe) so it will be lovely if people come along. We'll be performing in the round, and weather permitting, outdoors.

Tickets are 12 pounds plus a 94 pence booking fee from the link below.

https://www.facebook.com/showcasesioegerdd/?locale=en_GB

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/showcaseperformingarts

Wednesday 5 June 2024

To the Stars and Back is out, and more

 Newcon Press's anthology in honour of Eric Brown, "To The Stars And Back", is out in the world and contains a very nice selection of stories. Here's an early review of the book:

https://ww.runalongtheshelves.net/blog/2024/6/1/to-the-stars-and-back-stories-in-honour-of-eric-brown-edited-by-ian-whates

All of the authors offered to waive their contributor fees, which I think indicates the high esteem Eric was held in by his friends and colleagues, and the desire to lend a little support to his wife and daughter.

Again, a link to Newcon Press:

http://newconpress.co.uk/

Another good cause, which I hope you won't mind me mentioning again, is my half-marathon run for Alzheimer's UK. I said I wouldn't go on about it too much, but we're in a new month now, and the donations so far have been very generous, so I feel it's worth pushing on with the fund drive. I mentioned my dear grandmother's affliction with Alzheimer's, and on that note I thought I'd reprint the introduction I wrote for Subterranean Press when they did my last anthology, Belladonna Nights, because it touches on my grandmother (Megan) and her link to my writing.

Introduction: Winter did come.

The early weeks of 1982 were significant in the UK, bringing some of the heaviest snows seen in a generation. People still talk about it, just as those with longer memories still talk about the winters of 1963 or 1947. Schools were closed and much of the country effectively paralysed. Through circumstances that I can’t now remember, my sister and I ended up marooned about twenty miles from home, staying with my maternal grandmother in the Welsh seaside town of Barry, my original birthplace. I was fifteen; my sister a year and a bit younger.

It wasn’t such a bad place to be marooned. Being off school was certainly no hardship. Despite the bitter cold, our grandmother’s house was always warm and cosy. Nanna plied us with tea and biscuits and kept us clean and well-fed. There were Reader’s Digest magazines to keep us occupied, and although there were only three channels on the television, there was usually something worth watching, even if it was only the snooker.

For me, importantly, there was a near limitless supply of lined paper and pens. Nanna had the most wonderful wooden bureau, stocked with stationery supplies – heaven for a quiet, bookish boy with a love of writing and drawing.

So I wrote a short story.

This wasn’t the first story I had written, because prior to then there had been any number of school exercises. But it was a different thing altogether to sit down and write a story that wasn’t written at someone else’s behest; a story that existed only because I felt the need to express something, and which could be as long and digressive – or as short and to the point - as it needed to be.

By that time, I was starting to have an inkling that I wanted to write science fiction at a professional level. And although I didn’t yet understand the mechanics of publication, I realised that for many writers, short stories were a part of the process.

Although the story I wrote was in no sense publishable, it was an important step on the road to taking my craft more seriously. By the end of the year I was teaching myself to type, and I had begun, in a very tentative way, to research the magazine market. Mostly that meant reading the story notes in paperback collections and learning that there were magazines with names like Analog and Asimov’s, which is where these stories had often appeared. Actually obtaining these magazines was going to take a bit more work – quite a bit more, as it happened -  but at least I knew that they existed.

Over the next three or four years I kept writing short stories, still in long-hand for the most part, because I was too slow to type efficiently, but gradually the latter winning out. By the mid eighties I still hadn’t seen a single copy of Analog or Asimov’s, or any of the American magazines I had been reading about. They were exotic creatures of far shores, never venturing into the bookstalls and libraries of South Wales. By lucky chance, though, I became aware of Interzone, which at the time was really the only British science fiction magazine of any standing. And so I concentrated my efforts on submitting my stories to that magazine, and really only that one.

Interzone took a chance on a story of mine in 1989, although it wasn’t published until the following year. My first piece was a near-future, Earth-bound story involving Inuit communities and strange messages sent across time. My second piece, published not long after, took place on a plague-ridden starship travelling between alien solar systems. My third piece for Interzone was another Earth-bound story, this time about sentient weapon systems in the aftermath of a nuclear war. I’d go onto publish one or two more Earth-centric stories before returning to a space-themed setting.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that early template of switching between the near and distant future, between the local and the distant, hasn’t served me too badly across the ensuing thirty years, as I hope this collection demonstrates. The bulk of the work here stems from the last decade, but my abiding concerns – and indeed my methods - are much the same as they were at the start of my career. You’ll find plenty of starships and far-off worlds in these pieces, as well as sentient machines and alien plagues. But there are also no small amount of stories set much closer to home, and one or two that inhabit in almost contemporaneous versions of the present day. Although my novels have tended to be set in remote or unrecognisably transformed solar systems, centuries or even millions of years from now, I can’t say that I prefer one mode over the other. What I’d chafe at would be forced into doing only one type of thing.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting these pieces – it’s surprising how quickly even a new-ish story stops being fresh in the mind – and I hope that readers will find something to enjoy as well. While the writing of novels, coming as it does with the necessary engagement with the commercial side of publishing, can at times bring stresses as well as joys, I’ve very rarely found writing short fiction to be anything other than a delight. Certainly, one gets a repeated buzz from finishing things, far more frequently than with novels. And the turnaround from completion to publication is often quicker, meaning that stories can feel like bulletins, rather than distant reports from one or two years ago. I have had great fortune to be able to sell these pieces, and I’m indebted to the editors and anthologists who took a chance on them. Even more so, though, I’m indebted to my Nanna and the cold winter of 1982.

Thank you for reading, and if you're encouraged to drop something into the pot, my fundraising page (along with updates on my running) is below:

Cheers and best wishes,

Al









Wednesday 15 May 2024

Brum Group and Cardiff Half Marathon fundraiser

 A couple of updates - I was extremely flattered to be asked to take on the role of Honorary President of the Birmingham SF Group, following the passing of Chris Priest. I've had a warm association with the Brum Group since my first time as a published novelist. A talk for the group was the first bit of public promotion I did for Revelation Space, back in early 2000, and although I was extremely nervous about the whole thing, I was made to feel very welcome. I'd done plenty of public speaking as a scientist, none of which fazed me, but to talk about myself, as a writer, felt like very unfamiliar territory. I've got a little more used to it since then, thanks in no small part to the other events I've done in and around Birmingham, not just in direct connection with the group, but including signings at Andromeda Books, attendance at various Novacons and last year's Fantasycon, where there was much overlap of friendly faces and the same relaxed, welcoming spirit that I felt for the first time in 2000. Of course one would much prefer that Chris Priest was still in the role of Honorary President (and it was kind of CP to listen in on zoom during my last visit to the group, back in 2023) but I will do my best to (partially) fill the great man's shoes.

In other news: although it's not until October, I thought I'd get the ball rolling on a fundraising initiative for Alzheimer's UK. I'm participating in the Cardiff Half Marathon and hoping to raise as much money as possible for this deserving cause. I know, of course, that many of you offered generous support when my wife and I did the Cardiff Memory Walk for the same charity. If anyone feels they can dig in again, no matter how small the amount, it will be greatly appreciated. If you can't - no worries!

https://www.justgiving.com/page/alastair-reynolds-1713971449990

I won't keep banging on about this, but I will post a small reminder about once a month between now and October. And if you feel like sharing a link to this blog or the fundraising page on whatever platform you use, that would be very kind.

Many thanks,

Al R

Monday 8 April 2024

CP, Gollanczfest, Eric, new book etc

 Now that a month has gone by since Locus published a number of appreciations of Chris Priest, I think it's safe to offer up my own contribution. I could have said a great deal more, of course, but that would still only scratch the surface of the times I spent with Chris over almost a quarter of a century, on and off. His friendship meant a great deal and while our tastes in science fiction were not always aligned (but sometimes were) I took every chance to learn from him as a writer. I think his books and stories will endure and I encourage anyone who hasn't read them to take a deep dive into his work. All of it is worth anyone's time and the very best of it will leave the reader profoundly changed.

Friday 16 February 2024

First newt of 2024

 I mean to say something about Chris Priest, but in the meantime, I did a bit of pond-dipping for the first time this year (it's remarkably mild and a friend turned up a frog yesterday) and found one of the resident newts doing well.




Friday 26 January 2024

The Artwork Revisitation

 If you've been reading this blog for at least a couple of years you might remember this bit of acrylic art I put up early in 2022:


It was OK but something about it wasn't quite clicking with me. Then I read a recent article in The Guardian which included the brilliant Chris Foss talking about AI-generated imitations of his own style, and how they could never be mistaken for the real thing. 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2024/jan/21/we-need-to-come-together-british-artists-team-up-to-fight-ai-image-generating-software

I looked at the images in the link to Midjourney provided in the article and agreed that they only looked superficially Chris Foss-like - big bristly spaceships floating over alien landscapes etc - but the particular thing that the artist noted was that the images lacked depth, something undoubtedly characteristic of his pictures. He nonetheless noted that the AI-generated images might serve as useful prompts for composition and lighting, so he wasn't dismissing them entirely. 

It occurred to me then that one of the faults with the painting above is the absence of depth - there's some atmospheric misting to push the towers back a bit, but the spaceship is just floating there more or less side-on, with no real reference points to place it in the scene relative to the other elements. Sometimes I use one or two point perspective construction lies to give a sense of a spaceship emerging from a scene, but in this case, I just winged it and drew it without any reference to perspective, figuring it would come out all right. I'm still happy with the ship, but in light of the Foss article - and a bit of renewed mojo for breaking out the airbrush - I thought I'd take another look at the canvas. And, rather than show the finished result, I thought it might be more fun to illustrate the process, even if it all ends up going horribly wrong.

So here's where we are now:



I did a bit of additional masking and spraying on the ship itself, bringing out its forms a bit more clearly by defining shadows and highlights, but the main thing has been to start work on some foreground elements which project out into the scene and serve to push the ship back. In this case I picked a single perspective point and drew some lines projecting out to the vanishing point, which (when finished) will be walkways or landing pads of some kind. I could envisage some smaller spacecraft and/or figures in the nearer foreground.

I also added a touch of contrasting colour in the sky, but this came out much too heavily and will need to be pushed back a bit.

I still don't know whether this will end up being a piece of art that I'm satisfied with, but the journey is fun and these corrective steps and additions can be very educational, so even if this painting fails, the lessons learned will hopefully inform the next one, and the one after.




Thursday 18 January 2024

MACHINE VENDETTA out in UK and US

 My new novel is out - published on Tuesday in the States, and today in the UK. It's the third in the Prefect Dreyfus sub-series and also a book in the Revelation Space universe. It's likely to be the last word on the RS universe for a bit, not because I'm fed up with it, but because I want to concentrate on standalones from now on.

There have been a few early reviews. Publisher's Weekly called it "a touching and spectacularly intricate sequel that also functions well as a standalone", while Booklist said "Reynolds pulls out all the stops ...readers’ fingernails will be left ragged."

The Daily Mail called it "an immersive, compelling, slow-burn space mystery" while SFX called it "a brilliantly realised melding of police procedural and hard SF".

That's it for now. I've not so far had any promotional activities offered to me but we'll see what eventuates. I'll also put up information on signed editions as and when there's something concrete to report.

best, and thanks to all who have pre-ordered.

Al R