Tuesday 31 May 2011

Manic Pop Thrills podcast

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of returning to St Andrews after twenty years. During my stay I was well looked after by Yvonne and Mike Melville, and it was a delight to record a podcast for Mike's excellent Manic Pop Thrills blog. Mike and I have distinctly similar tastes in music.

Part 1 is up first; I rabbited on for so long that Mike had to split the podcast into two. During the podcast I talk about music and writing, and we introduce a few songs along the way. Mike will get part 2 up soon.


Thanks to Yvonne and Fife libraries for making the trip possible. My talk (not the podcast) was part of the Sci-Fife program - Iain M Banks has already appeared, and Ken Macleod will be talking later in the year (with, I think, Charles Stross at some point as well). It's a brilliant initiative and well worth checking out if you live in the area. Thanks also to Waterstones for their support on the night.


Monday 30 May 2011

Skylon concept looks a bit like something from Gerry Anderson

Mention in the previous comments thread of the similarity between the ESA/UK Skylon concept and Fireball XL-5 reminded me of this even more striking similarity (basically the same concept, I think, just a few years back) with the doomed Fireflash atomic airliner:

Personally I think the world would be a better place if more stuff looked like it had come out of Gerry Anderson shows.

Let's just hope they can get the wheels down for landing, though. Curse that Hood!

Yes, it's a slow news day.

Monday 23 May 2011

Current reading

I'm away from home at the moment, and have a book I need to read for review, so with regret (and not wanting to travel with two hefty hardbacks) I've had to set this aside until I return. It's a measure of the book that I can't wait to get back into it.

Mitchell is one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and Thousand Autumns ... doesn't disappoint. It's a mesmering window into a truly fascinating period - the dawn of the modern age - and a snapshot of the intersection of two radically different cultures - feudal Japan in and around Nagasaki, and a corrupt outpost of the Dutch East India Company in 1799. Mitchell is a brilliant, cunning engineer of narrative hooks - it's difficult to imagine a more compulsive, page-turning narrative - but he's also a great writer of character, and on a line by line basis the writing is quite beautiful. When he mentions a bat, "chased by its own furry turbulence", he hooks an image into my mind that I think will stay with me forever.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Terminal World on Wales Book of the Year shortlist

Delighted to report that Terminal World has made the shortlist for Wales Book of the Year 2011.

From the BBC Wales website:

"A poetry collection, travel novel and sci-fi story are among the works shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year.

The English-language titles are What the Water Gave Me by Pascale Petit, Cloud Road by John Harrison and Alastair Reynolds's Terminal World.

On the Welsh-language list are Caersaint by Angharad Price, Lladd Duw by Dewi Prysor and Bydoedd by Ned Thomas.

The winners in each language will be announced on 7 July in Cardiff."

Wales Book of the Year 2011

More on the award itself:

Literature Wales

Congratulations to all the longlisted authors; it's a pleasure and an honour to be in such company, and I'm genuinely delighted.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

BRE, Troika etc

Yesterday I sent Blue Remembered Earth back to my publisher, after a substantial round of general cutting and tightening. The draft I submitted in December was 212,000 words; yesterday's was a much leaner 177,000. That's still a big book, of course, but it's comfortably shorter than anything I've done to date. 35,000 words, the difference between the two drafts, is about 100 pages of print, so we're talking about quite a substantial chunk of deleted material. It's never that simple, though, since part of the rewrite also involved adding and amplifying stuff - so the number of words dropped from the original draft is actually a bit more than 35,000.

How do you go about losing that much wordage from a finished text? Stephen King, if I remember correctly, advocated the cutting of 10% between first and second drafts, which has always struck me as basically sound advice. I've gone further than that with some of my books and stories, sometimes much further, but there's always a point where you're cutting too much, beginning to damage the narrative flow with jerky transitions, over-short chapters, too-snappy dialogue and so on. Brevity is a virtue, but we've all experienced books and films which feel over-edited, over-curtailed. There's an argument for ruthless self-editing, cutting and cutting until the text has been reduced to little more than a diagram of itself - but take that to its logical conclusion and there'd be no point in writing novels at all; we'd just skip to the synopsis. Books depend for their effect on contrast - a book that was all tightly-written action, or all cut-to-the-bone dialogue, would be as wearying as one that consisted of nothing but long, descriptive passages. But when you're knee-deep in the writing, it can be hard to take a step back and identify the necessary modal shifts of tone and pace that need to be there. Writers usually learn to make scenes do double or triple duty, so by the time you're editing a book, it can be difficult to delete a scene without damaging something else. That thousand words of introspection in chapter eight may look like a prime candidate for deletion when you're under the gun and looking for something to cut, but if it establishes key information that absolutely has to be in place by the time the reader gets to chapter twelve, it may have to remain.

Anyway - job done. Book off to publisher - though we're not done with editing just yet.

Taking a break from work on BRE, I also finished and sold a new story. "Trauma Pod", a sick and twisted piece about near-future battlefield medicine, will appear in ARMORED, a Baen books anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. Not sure of the pub date of ARMORED, but I'm guessing 2012 is more likely than 2011.

I should also mention that VOICES FROM THE PAST is now available, so if you'd like to contribute to a worthy cause - the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital - get on over and purchase your copy. The ebook contains my story "Ascension Day".

Voices from the Past

Finally (sort of), thanks for the kind words on my Hugo nomination for "Troika". I try to keep these things in perspective but 22 years after my first pro sale, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very, very pleased to have made the Hugo ballot. Even if it never happens again, I'm enjoying the moment. And I'm equally delighted that "Troika" is also on the Locus shortlist.

While we're on the subject, the Subterranean Press edition of "Troika" will be available before very long. I've signed the sig sheets, and I know they're back in the States.

More information here