Sunday 31 May 2015

Slow Bullets

Tomorrow is the official publication day of my chapbook novella "Slow Bullets", which I'm very pleased to have published with Tachyon Press, ably assisted by my editor on the project, Marty Halpern. At just a shade under 40,000 words, it's not quite novel-length by the usual rules, but it is certainly at the long end of short fiction.

Like many of my stories, this one had a very long gestation. For several years I'd been playing around with two completely separate story ideas. The first concerned a prison ship, loaded with an assortment of the good, the bad and the ugly, suddenly catapulted into a situation where only the collective wisdom of those on board is going to save the day. I could see the opening scenes in my head - a battle-scarred planet, soldiers and POWs being loaded onto transports, former enemies forced into close confinement with each other. Then something goes wrong...

But that was as far as it went; all I had was the outline, not a stab at the material, as I knew that something was missing.

The second idea was also only a series of outlines. I'd become fixated on the idea of scribes, of regiments of monk-like scholars being forced to transfer information from one medium to another, by hand ... I could see them sitting in the hulk of a crashed ship, half submerged in some alien sea, trying to preserve as much knowledge as possible from the ship's dying memory. Perhaps they'd been doing this for long that they barely remembered what the ship was, or where it had come from ... all that mattered was the task of transcription. The monks had to work to the point of exhaustion, though, because on some level time was against them.

But again, I couldn't go from those outlines/images to a story; I knew that the story would fail unless I found the missing element.

There matters rested. One evening in early 2012 my wife and I were out for the evening - we'd gone into town to see a performance by Holiday on Ice. We got to our seats early and there wasn't much to do until the presentation started. With the lights still up, and people still filtering in from outside, my mind started wandering. That was when I realised that those two story ideas each formed the missing half of the other. I wasn't trying to write two stories, I was trying to write one ... and now the only problem was to integrate the two ideas into a single narrative.

The performance started. I enjoyed it, but some part of my mind was busy beavering away on the connections between those two story ideas. One by one the pieces began to fit together. By the end of the evening, I was in no doubt that I could write the implied story. I knew it was going to be a larger piece - a novelette or maybe even a novella. But even then I didn't anticipate that it would still make me more than a year, and that the finished article would be closer to 50,000 than 40,000 words.

When Marty Halpern contacted me in April 2013, asking about the possibility of a novella for Tachyon Books, it was already more than a year since I'd found a way to merge the two ideas ... and it would be the better part of a year again before Marty had the story. At one point I rewrote the entire thing without using a single comma or quotation mark... before sense prevailed.

And here we are a year later again, with the book now shipping.

Here are some early reactions and reviews:

“Alastair Reynolds’ new novella Slow Bullets has the scope of a much longer work (Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empires, say), the literary speed of the most rapidly hurtling bullet, and so many provocative scientific  and / or philosophical ideas that even Stephen Hawking’s head might well spin with them. Moreover, Reynolds artfully compresses all these disparate elements into a portable trade paperback or a weightless e-file, the better to accommodate our busy reading habits and the more fully to entertain us.

“Let me also note that Slow Bullets posits a far-future situation akin to the one that we confront on planet Earth today, but leavens his fictional crisis with a hard-won grasp of human psychology and a down-to-the-ground optimism that bestows on its readers reasons for supposing our ‘dammed human race’ nimble enough to overcome our demanding real-world crisis du jour. A fine example of the true science fictionist’s art . . . ‘with a bullet,’ as the editors at Billboard Magazine  used to say.”
—Michael Bishop, author of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, And Strange at Ecbatan                                                                                                                        the Trees, and Transfigurations

“Alastair Reynolds is the world’s best writer of space opera. If you have any doubts, then read Slow Bullets.”
—Allen Steele, author of Coyote and Spindrift

“The writing is tight, the characters are well developed, and the story itself moves along at a cracking pace.”
Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Corner

 Slow Bullets  is classic science fiction, a space opera, a puzzle story, a character study, visionary science fiction, and a prayer for peace.  I see no reason why you should not love it.”
—Michael Swanwick, author of Tales of Old Earth and Dancing with Bears

“Alastair Reynolds weaves a tapestry of dark, dystopian societies in a tense, colorful narrative.”
New York Journal of Books

“It’s a more intimate vision than what I encountered until now in Reynolds’ books, but for this very reason it felt more profound and poignant than any other I read so far, and it gave me a new level of interpretation for this author, and a key to a new way of reading his stories. Highly recommended, both for Reynolds’ admirers and as an introduction to this author.”
Space and Sorcery

Slow Bullets is a tightly focused tale that moves forward at a brisk and entertaining pace. It is a satisfying story of survival mixed with an intriguing mystery.”

You can order Slow Bullets from Tachyon Press:

Or from

And if you want the Audible version from the good people at Tantor:

Thank you again to Marty, Jacob, and all at Tachyon and Tantor for making this possible.


  1. I'm ordering this, along with PW and a couple of others in time for my b/day next month.

  2. I received my copy last week after pre-ordering it from ages ago (I'm British, but I live in the USA). I'm not sure how I was lucky enough to get it early, but I can't complain!

  3. Pre-ordered in February from Amazon in the UK. Who have generously undertaken to get it to me by *30 June*, after some nonsensical story about not being able to get sufficient stock in their initial order to meet demand.

    Look forward to reading it - as I do all your work, Alastair - provided they manage to get it to me before I die of old age ...

    1. I spoke too soon - it's being "prepared for dispatch" as I type.

      Apparently shouting at large multi-national internet book retailers *is* effective after all.

    2. WOOHOO!!

      I loved it, it is quite sad. Though I had it on pre order, but turns out I hadn't so ordered yesterday, was at home when I got in from work, and now I'm considering when do I read it again, tomorrow or shall I wait for the weekend, decisions, decisions.

    3. Just to complete the saga - received it, read it, enjoyed it.

      If I'm completely honest, enjoyed it more than "Poseidon's Wake". Sorry.

  4. I recieved my copy at the end of last week and have made a start on it. Do I detect a bit of Spirey and the Queen in it, and maybe a bit of something else as well - Signal to Noise (I cant find my copy of Zima Blue right now!)?

    Anyway as usual its clever and thought provoking, but I cant help but think of Scurl as being NATO, stuck between Ukraine and Russia...

  5. Looking forward to it this as my next book. I'm working on Seveneves and Nemesis Games right now. I'm curious if you have plan to expand this novella into a series, since it's described as having "the scope of a much longer work". Thanks for all the great work over the years.

  6. Finished Slow Bullets a couple of days ago. Read it pretty much in one sitting. I've been thinking for a while now that your shorter form is as good as your longer, this proves it.
    Great read!!

  7. Will the Kindle version be available?

  8. It is, go to the Tachyon website directly and you should be able to find it.

  9. really enjoyed this little novel, great writing and story.