Saturday 28 August 2010

A New Life Awaits you in the Offworld Colonies

Bladerunneresque cityscape, Singapore:

Wednesday 25 August 2010

11K update

My editor and I have been trying to nail down a title for both book 1 of the trilogy, and of the trilogy itself - that "11K" thing, as I hope was clear, was really just my own shorthand for the project as it developed. Well, I think we're there now. There's been some to-ing and fro-ing about whether it's "A: the first book of the B trilogy", or "B: the first book of the A trilogy." But at the moment the state of play is that my next novel will be BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH, book 1 of POSEIDON'S CHILDREN.

There. From the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Worldcon schedule

Here are the items I'm down to participate in during the forthcoming Aussiecon.

What can the mystery teach science fiction?

Mysteries and crime novels remain overwhelmingly popular, and boast a
literary history at least as rich as that of science fiction. What can
the mystery genre teach writers of speculative fiction? How can the
two genres intersect? In an imagined world of high technology or
powerful magic, are the conventional narrative tricks and twists of
the mystery story even possible?

Don A. Timm, Alastair Reynolds, Sean Williams, Peter M. Ball, Jack Bell
Friday 1700 Room 204

Fred Hoyle: Scientists and science fiction

 Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was a noted astronomer and scientist who also
embarked on a long and successful career as a science fiction author.
Using Hoyle as a springboard and example, what is the result when
scientists turn their hands to writing science fiction - what are the
implications for the science in their books, and for the
representation of scientists and scientific process within them?

Cristina Lasaitis, Greg Benford, Jeff Harris, Alastair Reynolds
Saturday 1200 Room 204

The Fermi Paradox

 The great physicist Enrico Fermi asked “Where are the aliens? Why
didn’t they get here long ago?” This is a huge puzzle since the
universe is so old that it is difficult to understand why they have
not already visited Earth, or at least made their presence known out
in space. This is the Fermi Paradox. Have we made any progress
untangling it?

James Benford, Gord Sellar, Dirk Flinthart, Alastair Reynolds
Saturday 1700 Room 219

Far future: Where fantasy meets SF?

Clarke’s Law famously states that any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic. When writing about the distant
future, where do we draw this distinction? Can we? And, perhaps most
importantly, should we?

Rani Graff, Bob Kuhn, Alastair Reynolds
Sunday 1100 Room 211

Objects in space: The giant artefact in science fiction

Science fiction regularly deals with the ‘big dumb object’, the
strange alien monolith that is discovered on a distant planet, or
which floats ominously into our solar system. What is the appeal of
the giant alien object, and why does it inspire it so many science
fiction stories and novels?

Sean Williams, Alastair Reynolds, Alan Stewart, Mark Olson
Sunday 1700 Room P3

Hand-waving, rule-bending and other dirty tricks of hard SF

Hard-science SF isn’t always scientific. Authors who work in this
field use a wide variety of methods to duck and weave around the
facts, allowing their fiction to be unscientifically scientific while
remaining close to what science is needed to make the stories and
novels work. When you speculate beyond what is known and believed by
contemporary scientists, how do you go about making things up?

Greg Benford, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds
Monday 1400 Room P3

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Two cool House of Suns related things

Title says it all: two cool House of Suns related things.

Some while ago I mentioned that Stargate Universe's Joseph Mallozzi was making HOS his book of the month for July. That was amazingly nice of Joe and a few weeks later I got a bunch of questions to answer from his blog regulars. Joe collated my answers, and you can read them here:

I'm still stoked about this, and I hope some of my responses are interesting. Bear in mind I do go into some spoilery territory, so beware if you haven't read the book and still have some intention of doing so. Once again, thanks to Joe. And for those who didn't read my original post on SG:U, I rate it very highly and am looking forward to the new season, which begins in just over a month.

Right, so that's one cool House of Suns related thing ... here's the second. A little while ago I heard from Morgan Smith, guitarist in San Diego based band Midnight Rivals (something of a supergroup, with proper rock pedigree) that they were working on a song called House of Suns. Morgan sent me a link to some other work by Midnight Rivals, which I liked a lot, so you can imagine how ridiculously happy I was about this. Morgan tipped some nods to my work into the lyrics, but not gratuitously so - this ain't a sci-fi rock song.

You can listen to HOS here:

I think it's pretty great, and I look forward to the album and maybe even checking out Midnight Rivals the next time I'm in San Diego, which just happens to be one of my favorite places on the planet anyway...

I'll be back tomorrow with my Worldcon schedule, for those who are going to Aussiecon.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Kilimanjaro - The Teardrop Explodes

Over the weekend I picked up the deluxe reissue of The Teardrop Explodes' magnificent Kilimanjaro, their 1980 debut album. I already own a copy of this, but for various reasons I felt compelled to have it. For a start, it's got the better, not entirely terrible cover, and with two additional CDs worth of bonus material, and a nice booklet, it covers pretty much all you need to know about the early phase of the Teardrops' brief but glorious career. Really, this is one of the truly great rock albums, and I really ought to know as I've been listening to it for long enough. Not only is there not a weak track, there isn't a single track that isn't full-on genius. From start to finish it's just bug-eyed brilliance all the way through, and there's nothing remotely awkward or dated about the production. What an absolutely fantastic time it was, the cusp of the eighties, as punk shaded into post-punk. All doors were open and anything seemed possible, and vaultingly ambitious albums like this seemed to pop out at about one a month.

The only minor grumble, as far as I'm concerned, is the entirely justifiable omission of "Reward" from the reissue CD (although it's on one of the bonus sides included in the pack). "Reward" was not on the album when originally released, so it's "authentic" in that regard - even though it should therefore have the crappy cover, rather than the zebras one. But since I've only ever had a copy of the later 1981 release, having "Second Head" followed by "Poppies", rather than going straight into "Reward" ... it's just wrong, man. The seamless transition from "Second Head" to "Reward" is one of the most exciting moments in pop, and it's not here.

Never mind, I suppose - I still have the old album.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

I'm always a bit alarmed when my tastes align with the zeitgeist, as appears to be the case here. According to the estimable Radcliffe and Maconie, tracks from this album are the second most downloaded items of music anywhere on the internet, pipped only by Lady Gaga. Which makes me a bit cautious in my enthusiasm, if I'm going to be honest, because when it's that sort of mass culture, everyone's listening to it type thing, I usually find my interest levels waning pretty quickly. And yet ... track six, "City with no children", has to be one of the most immediately thrilling pieces of music I've encountered in many a moon ... but is that a good thing? Does great rock music disclose its pleasures so readily? It's too damned long, as well - a fault shared by the two previous albums, both of which I now find dauntingly unapproachable in their very hugeness and sense of self-importance. I've yet to listen to the The Suburbs in its entirety. And there are seven of them. There have never been any good rock bands with more than five members, and five's pushing it.

Still. There's so little big, modern, commercial rock music around lately, it seems churlish to complain about abundance.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Trigan Empire State of Mind

A few weeks ago I was browsing a second hand book shop in Brecon when my eye chanced upon this:

It wasn't too expensive and the hardcover was in pretty good condition, so I snapped it up. But who remembers The Trigan Empire? Not many of you, I'm willing to bet. For a start, you probably had to be a Brit, and not only that but a Brit growing up in the sixties/seventies. For me, though, The Trigan Empire was very much part of my induction into the world of SF - although I came to it by rather roundabout means.

The Trigan Empire was a comic strip running in the children's magazine "Look and Learn" between 1966 and 1982, although (according to Wikipedia) it actually commenced in Ranger in 1965, before Ranger was swallowed up by Look and Learn. Magazines and comics swallowing each other up was very much part of the texture of British publishing then, and probably still would be, if there was a magazine and comics industry worth speaking of. Stephen Baxter has just done a very good overview of the insanely complex history of Eagle magazine in the most recent issue of Vector, but no comic was immune to these factors. My own experience of the process came via the swallowing up of "Speed & Power" magazine, which my parents had been buying me from issue one. Here's a typical S&P cover nabbed from the internet:

Speed & Power was great, especially if you were eight and almost insanely obsessed with machinery and technology. More particularly - as I've mentioned elsewhere - it did me the singular service of reprinting classic Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov short stories, which was pretty much my portal to the world of written science fiction. I still own every issue. Speed & Power, though, was obviously not a big commercial success and alas it was eventually doomed to be swallowed up by Look And Learn in November 1975.

I didn't much care for Look And Learn, if I'm going to be honest, and bitterly resented the way "my" mag had been reduced to a miserably small logo on the new masthead. Plus, there was lots of stuff in Look And Learn that didn't particularly rock my nine year old world. Stuff about the Bible, stuff about history, lions, kings and queens - all deeply boring, in my considered opinion. I wanted stuff about aircraft carriers, tanks, lasers, sci-fi, not all this boy's own all the world's knowledge rounded education type nonsense. Nonetheless, there was one rather fantastic thing about Look And Learn, and that was The Trigan Empire. I loved it immediately, if only because it offered the one piece of recognisable sci-fi amid all the improving, educational dross I detested.

The Trigan Empire was great for several reasons. Firstly, it was beautifully illustrated - the artist, Don Lawrence (who drew the strip until 1976) had a fantastic eye for scenery, figures and technology, and the use of colour was tremendous. The stories were also easy for me to get my nine year old head around - there was a sense of history behind the strip (it had been running for ten years) but it wasn't hard to get up to speed. Best of all, though, it was proper sci-fi, albeit of a somewhat unusual kind. The strips looked like retellings of Bible stories, except that the various characters and tribes also had access to advanced weaponry and nuclear-powered aircraft. I cropped a couple of frames from internet pages, which I hope constitute fair use in the context of this post.

As the Wikipedia entry puts it:

"The fledgling Trigan nation is established under the leadership of Trigo, with the trappings of a Romanesque civilization with swords, lances and Roman-style clothing, but with high tech ray guns, atmosphere crafts and high-tech navy. In a later story, they create a rocketship in months to fly to one of Elekton's moons. Several of the other civilizations show a blend of low tech and high tech."

It was SF, though. In the first strip, which is reprinted in the volume I found in Brecon, we learn that the action takes place on a planet in a different solar system, inhabited by 12 foot tall humanoids. In fact these humanoids are now extinct: the entire history of The Trigan Empire has been translated by a human researcher, based on documents recovered from a crashed Trigan spacecraft. It all happened long, long ago, lending the whole thing the heft of legend. Nothing overtly fantastical happens in the strips; everything is rationalised. Indeed, one of the main characters, the immensely old and bearded Peric, is a scientist figure. As such, it sits squarely in the tradition of Dan Dare, that other great British SF comic series of the immediate postwar decades.

It's all hideously old-fashioned, of course, from the "typeface" lettering in the speech bubbles, to the resolutely non-PC depiction of women and people of colour in the various adventures. The heroes - Trigo and his mates - are all blonde, square-jawed and muscular; the adversaries are generally dark-skinned, Mongolian-looking baddies. Women exist mainly to scream or scheme. It's futile to complain about these things now, though - I doubt that The Trigan Empire was any more sexist and racist than any other comic strip dating from the same period. What's not in doubt is that by the time I came aboard, the days of Look And Learn - and by extension The Trigan Empire - were already numbered. In punk terms, with its meticulously rendered artwork, sensible plotlines and stoic fifties worldview, it was like Emerson Lake and Palmer versus the snot-nosed Sex Pistols of 2000AD. It couldn't last, and it didn't. But since I threw out all my Look And Learns, I'm very glad to have at least this small part of my past back with me again, and if the stories now seem quaint, Don Lawrence's artwork remains as marvellous as ever.

In other news, I'm delighted to report that my story "The Fixation" won the Sidewise award for best short form alternate history - many thanks to the judges for selecting my piece, and commiserations to the other shortlisted authors. Chuffed to bits about that, me.