Friday 30 December 2016

Remembering Piers Sellers

The British-born astronaut Piers Sellers died on December 23rd 2016, only fourteen months after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Piers was a hugely respected figure within the scientific and astronautical communities, a veteran of three shuttle missions who rose to the directorship of NASA's Earth Science Division at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Knowing full well the likely term of his diagnosis, Piers nonetheless preferred to spend the last year of his life working with friends and colleagues, and doing all that he could to spread the word about global climate change. Piers was a passionate and optimistic advocate of the scientific worldview, and despite all the setbacks he believed that human will and ingenuity would always win through in the end.

He was also an avid and informed reader of science fiction, which is how our two very different worlds intersected. A couple of years after I'd left ESA, but while I was still living in the Netherlands, I got a phone call out of the blue from a NASA employee, Tim Kauffman, who was visiting ESA while involved with the International Space Station. Tim was a reader of my books and we happily agreed to meet for a coffee the day after, when he had an afternoon free of meetings. As it happened, Piers joined us and the three of us spent an incredible couple of hours talking space, science and science fiction.

With Piers Sellers, Holland

Later my wife managed to get to the hotel where we'd arranged to meet up for coffee:

The conversation would have flowed, but my wife and I were booked to ride some horses that evening, so with much regret we had to leave. But that afternoon with Tim and Piers left an indelible impression, and we were to keep in touch with both of them.

Piers was exceptionally generous with his time and kindness. I'll mention two things in particular. During STS-121, the flight of Discovery in July 2006, Piers had taken a photograph of that rarest of things: a completely cloudless Wales. He promised to send me a copy of this unlikely image and it duly arrived, signed by Piers, and it's up on our living room wall as I write this.

Piers also carried a print of the first photograph above (the two of us sitting down) into space. He placed it on the frame of the observation cupola in the ISS, with the Earth beyond the glass, and took a photo of that. So I can truthfully say that there was a photo of me on the International Space Station.

Despite keeping in touch over the ensuing years, we only met twice. We came very close to each other on a third occasion - but only because Piers was four miles away, in the Space Shuttle Atlantis, while we watched from the viewing galleries. My wife sent him an email on the morning of the launch. Piers responded - he was actually in the shuttle, waiting to go.


The second and final occasion was a little over a year ago, just before Piers received his diagnosis. In October 2015 I attended the Capclave convention near Washington DC. It was too good an opportunity not to hook up with Piers again. The only snag was that Piers was leaving town shortly after we arrived, with the only available evening being the one where we arrived in DC. Tired after a transatlantic flight, and with just barely enough time to dump our bags at the hotel, we nonetheless made it to Piers' beautiful house for what turned out to be a delightful, stimulating evening of great food and conversation.

With Piers and friends. Paul and Tucker to the left of me, the wonderful Colleen Hartman to the right.
Piers' diagnosis came as a terrible shock to his friends. But I spoke to him last Christmas and his strength of spirit was incredible. I told him about my new telescope mount and throughout the year sent him the occasional image of whatever I'd managed to capture, on those rare instances when it wasn't clouded over.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to have met Piers Sellers will feel an awful void now that he's gone. But we'll be left with his immense optimism and the memory of a generous, genial man.

Monday 31 October 2016

New Merlin story - "The Iron Tactician"

Appearing soon from Newcon Press is the first of the new stories I worked on earlier this year, and I'm very pleased to have it out in the world. "The Iron Tactician" is a 29,000 word novella featuring my recurring character Merlin. Somewhat drunk on his own glory, he's a far-future space traveller at a time of galactic war, on a lone quest to find a fabled super-weapon which may be the only thing that can end the aeons-long conflict. Although his heart's in the right place, Merlin is also vain and boastful, and prone to getting tangled up in the affairs of those smaller human cultures he happens to bump into on his travels. This doesn't always go as well as he might have hoped, as we discover in the new story.

"When Merlin encounters the derelict hulk of an old swallowship drifting in the middle of nowhere, he can't resist investigating. He soon finds himself involved in a situation that proves far more complex than he ever anticipated."

There are four Merlin stories to date, but in typical fashion they weren't written in chronological order, which would be:

Hideaway (2000)

Minla's Flowers (2005)

The Iron Tactician (2016)

Merlin's Gun (2000)

My new novella is the first in a new series for Newcon Press, all with artwork by Chris Moore, and which link together to form a single image. The story is available in both print and electronic formats, and Newcon will be doing a signed edition as well.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Coode Street Podcast

Over the weekend I recorded a Coode Street Podcast with the inestimable Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe. Always great fun, and we touched on a lot of topics, including REVENGER.

Unfortunately laptop hassle meant I had to switch to a backup machine at short notice, and the sound quality on my voice isn't the best at times. Hopefully you can still get some sense out of my ramblings.

Thanks to Jonathan and Gary for having me on the podcast.

Monday 12 September 2016

Tour dates

My good friend Peter Hamilton and I both have new books coming out so we're doing some joint signing sessions through the UK. Unfortunately it wasn't possible for me to synch up with Peter for all the dates on his side of the tour, but we're showing up together for the following joint events:

Monday 26th September: Waterstones Birmingham, at noon.
Waterstones Nottingham, talk and Q&A, 7pm.
Tuesday 27th September: Waterstones Sheffield, (city centre) a signing at noon.
Waterstones Leeds, talk and Q&A, 7pm
Wednesday 28th September: Waterstones Newcastle a talk, 7pm.
Thursday 29th September: Waterstones Manchester Deansgate, a signing at 12.30pm
Waterstones Liverpool One: Talk and Q&A, 7pm.

I don't normally get as far north as places like Leeds and Newcastle, so if you haven't managed to get to one of my signing events in the South, now's your chance.

These are the events with Peter and I; if you can't make those dates or want to catch Peter on his own, he's doing the following extra dates:

Friday 23rd September: a signing at Forbidden Planet, London; 6-7pm.
Saturday 24th September: signing at Waterstones Canterbury; noon.
Waterstones Guildford: Talk/reading and Q&A 7pm.
Sunday 25th September: Waterstones Swindon, signing at noon.
Saturday 1st October, I'll be at Titancon Belfast.

(and possibly more - check out Peter's Facebook page for info):

I'll also be attending the Gollancz Festival this coming weekend:

And I'll be making an appearance at New Scientist's big live event at the ExCel centre, London, on the afternoon of 23rd of September, where I'll be discussing The Future with Warren Ellis.

We're trying to firm up an additional signing event in the South West, so I'll post details here when it's comfirmed.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Revenger word cloud

We're still a month out from publication of REVENGER, but early word is starting to creep in and I'm anxiously waiting to see what the world makes of it.

Goodreads has a slew of reader responses - hop over to:

and you can read these observations. also have some early reader reviews:

Meanwhile, Starburst magazine carried the first print review that I'm aware of, which you can read in its entirety here:

In the review, they say: "On the one hand, Revenger is definitely worth a go for space opera fans and followers of Reynolds. Yet even if your tastes are a bit more down to earth, the book is still a must-read as it is an unexpectedly personal and emotionally-driven tale of determination and retribution - with some great twists along the way and a gutsy heroine who will appeal to fans of young adult literature."

Which raises the fair point - is this a Young Adult novel or not? I suppose my answer would be kind of, sort of, not sure really, but what it is - I hope - is a straightforward SF novel that also happens to be accessible, and perhaps accessible to somewhat younger readers, in the same way that I was able to approach books like NOVA and DUNE when I was in my mid-teens. The central protagonists of REVENGER are both on the cusp of adulthood, but they're certainly not children, and the question of their legal identity as independent adults is one that rises in the early chapters of the book. I also wanted to write a book that was fun, colourful, fast-paced, with lots of danger and excitement and larger-than-life characters - a sort of TREASURE ISLAND in space.

It's certainly a shorter book than some of my other novels, coming in at 140,000 words, but that's still lengthy by some standards and in my mind it only reflects a general desire to write more economical books, one that I've been trying to enforce on myself for some while (and often failing, as I'm more than willing to admit). The sheer fun I had in doing the Doctor Who novel (around 110,000) was certainly part of that process, but I also appreciated the energy and pace of Joe Abercrombie's HALF A KING, and I was strongly motivated to try something similar, but in an SF vein. And yes, Joe's book is supposedly YA but I read it with perfect enjoyment as an adult and I never once felt I was being talked-down to. None of this precludes me writing something huge and sprawling again in the future, indeed I'd be surprised if I didn't, but for now I'd like to hold myself to the discipline of a shorter word count.

Meanwhile, for your edification, I offer the Word Cloud above, courtesy of:

Thursday 4 August 2016

Royal Society science books

Today sees the release of the shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book prize for 2016, for which I was one of the judges. The shortlisted titles are:

The Most Perfect Thing by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury)
The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson (Head of Zeus)
Cure by Jo Marchant (Canongate)
The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton (Granta)
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Bodley Head)
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (John Murray)

It was a pleasure - and a considerable challenge - to whittle the initial set of books down to these six excellent volumes. Without patting ourselves on the back too much, I think the judging panel (under the able guidance of Bill Bryson) managed to come up with a healthy selection of topics, ranging from the history of science to the most cutting-edge developments in genetics. While we had to let go of many rather wonderful titles - and each of us championed individual books that did not necessarily find favour with the other judges - we nonetheless arrived at a very encouraging consensus pretty early on in the discussion. That said, the hard work is still ahead of us, in that we have to select a winner from these six - it won't be easy.

The Guardian has a short article about the selection:

Tuesday 2 August 2016

REVENGER - two sketches and an excerpt

REVENGER will appear in a little under six weeks, so I thought I'd post another excerpt and a couple of sketches from my working notebook.

In the extract, the two recently hired sisters - Fura and Adrana Ness - are getting their first taste of working in the Bone Room of the sunjammer Monetta's Mourn.

Cazaray spun the wheel that opened the door to the bone room.

‘Go in,’ he said quietly. ‘Just don’t touch anything – for now.’

Adrana went in first. I followed on her heels, taking care never to lose my hold on the wall. Cazaray came after us, then closed the door, turning the inner wheel so that it latched itself tight against the frame.

It was quiet in there. I couldn’t hear anything of the life-support system, nothing of the sail-control gear – the occasional whirr and whine of its winches and pulleys had become familiar since the sails were run out – nothing of the usual clamour and chatter of the crew.

The room was a sphere, about fifteen spans across, and the skull was floating in the middle of it like the main exhibit in an art gallery. It was trussed up in a kind of bridle, a frame made up of metal bars and struts, and this bridle was fixed onto the walls by dozens of springs.

‘Quieter and stiller we hold her, the better,’ Cazaray said. ‘Trig’s damped the ions, and that helps, but it would only take a jolt to rattle something loose.’

From end to end the skull was about as long as my sister was tall – about eight spans. It was the colour of a bad tooth, rotten to the root. It wasn’t anything like a monkey skull. It was stretched out, all snout and jaw, more as if it had belonged to some giant horse than a person. It was made up of lots of parts, joined together like a sort of puzzle. A dark fissure ran across it, stitched together with a ladder of little metal sutures. Whoever had done that had worked a long time ago, and with care.
The skull had also been drilled and tapped in many places. Slender probes and wires had been pushed through the bone into the not-quite-emptiness within.

‘Tell me what you know,’ Cazaray said, never raising his voice above a murmur.

‘It’s old,’ I answered.

‘How old?’

‘No one knows,’ Adrana said.

‘Good answer. And it’s the truth, too. They were finding skulls in the Sixth and Seventh Occupations, but whoever left them must have been through these parts a lot earlier than that. They don’t fit the morphology of any of the aliens we know about today, not the Crawlies nor the Stingtails or the Tuskers. Some people who ought to know better think they come from dead Bonies or Bug-Eyes, but I’ve seen enough of them to know that can’t be true. My guess is that the coves who used to own these bones died long before people got going. It was some other aliens who left the skulls here, and they used them just the way we do, like a kind of squawk.’

From opposite sides we peered into its mysteries.

‘It’s not empty,’ Adrana said. ‘There are little lights, flickering on and off.’

‘Whatever mind was in that skull,’ Cazaray said, ‘it’s long gone. There’s no grey, no brain tissue. If ever there was. But the machinery that was in that brain, it’s still there. That twinkly stuff still twinkles. Still doing something. What, we don’t know. Trying to regain contact with others of its kind? Trying to send signals back home, to whatever part of the Swirly they came from? Singing an endless song of death? No idea, and best not to dwell on it. What matters is what we can do with those patterns. We can imprint our own messages on them, treat them like carrier signals.’ He nodded at the equipment racked around the walls, all neat and clean and organised. ‘That’s what all this hardware is for. And it’s a Bone Reader’s job to send and receive those imprinted messages. The skull won’t work for everyone. Doesn’t even work for me some days. But you have the lamps for it, I think. Ready to try?’

I was about to answer, but Adrana said the word first. ‘Yes.’

‘Behind you. That apparatus hooked onto the wall. Slip it over your head.’

It was a bony metal contraption, halfway between a crown and a torture device. She settled it over her scalp, pushing hair out of the way. A pair of metal muffs folded down over her ears, and there was also a kind of visor that could be pulled down over her eyes.

‘You too, Arafura,’ Cazaray said.

I unhooked my own apparatus and fiddled it onto my head, not as prettily as Adrana had done.
‘That’s the neural bridge. None of this works without the bridge. To speak to the skull you have to mesh with its expectations. The messages come through almost subliminally – it’s like catching a whisper on the wind. The bridge is the focusing device, the amplifier.’

‘I don’t feel anything,’ I said.

‘You’re not plugged in yet. Draw the contact wire from the bridge. Reel it out, all the way.’

The wire was an insulated spool, running into the left side of the bridge. It ended in a little nub.
‘You can hook the wire into any of those probes on the skull, or you can splice onto one of those wires. Gently does it. Normally one connection is sufficient, but you can hook into multiple contact sites if you’re chasing a weak signal. There’s a splitter on the wall.’

Adrana was bolder than I, but even she hesitated to make the final connection. I shared her misgivings. I could not help but feel there was going to be some kind of psychic jolt, like an electrical shock, as soon as the contact was made.

I thought of Garval, tied to her bed.

‘It’s all right,’ Cazaray said gently. ‘Just do it. No one gets the full rush the first time. What happened with Garval . . .’ He shook his head, clearing the thought. ‘You’ll be lucky to pick up anything, even if you’ve got the talent.’

I picked a probe near the open eye socket and clicked the wire home. Not caring to be second, Adrana made her own connection almost simultaneously. The skull bounced lightly on its springs for a few seconds, before the motion ebbed away.

We looked at each other across the skull, daring each to feel the first twinge of contact.

‘When we’ve had a little more experience, when you know where the probes lie, you’ll prefer to work in darkness. Now, empty your minds. Let your senses drift. I’ll be silent.’

There was nothing.

I guessed there wouldn’t be any sense in holding my breath – I couldn’t have kept that up for long – but still I tried to become quiet in my head, ridding my mind of everything, becoming a room with an open door.

I did the only thing I could think of, which was to wait.

Adrana was waiting as well. Our eyes were averted, looking down, but every now and then one of us couldn’t resist glancing at the other, to see how they were doing. Once or twice our eyes met, and the silliness of that moment made us glance quickly away, until the impulse to look built up again and we ended up doing exactly the same thing.

After a couple of minutes of that, I resolved to jam shut my eyes, and not care whether Adrana followed suit.

Cazaray was present, but he made no sound, no observation. Still there was nothing, no whisper on the wind, not even a hint of that wind. Just silence, and the absurd, slowly forming idea that this could and would never work.

I do not know how long it was before Cazaray spoke.

‘Disconnect. Try different probes, a little closer to the base.’

We did as he suggested, this time disturbing the skull much less as the probes went out and in.
I still felt nothing. But for the sake of showing my determination, I floated with my eyes closed, willing something – anything – to enter my head.

‘I think . . .’ Adrana began.

But she fell silent.

‘You felt a contact?’ Cazaray asked.

‘I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t anything. It came and went, like someone standing behind me for a second. A cold presence.’

‘It’s best not to read too much into the first session. The more you want that contact, the more you’re likely to imagine it.’

Despondent, I eased the neural bridge from my scalp, messing my hair back into shape where it had been pressed down. ‘Maybe she was wrong about us, Cazaray.’

‘When I began, I was in here three weeks before I got so much as a twitch out of it. The skull has its moods. It had to get used to me before it was willing to talk.’

Adrana relieved herself of the neural bridge. We uncoupled from the skull and hooked the bridges back onto the wall.

‘Better luck next time, I suppose,’ I said.

‘Luck has nothing to do with it,’ Cazaray answered. ‘What you have is in your lamps, and there’s no mistaking that. You’ll come through, and those bones will talk.’ Then he moved to the wall and retrieved one of the bridges for himself. ‘Normally it’s best to work alone. But you can watch, if you like.’

‘I thought it was getting harder for you,’ Adrana said.

‘It is.’

Cazaray put on the bridge, adjusting it until it was a tight fit over his blond locks, then spooled out the contact wire and slipped it into several probes in succession, concentration making a mask of his face until something eased and he gave the slightest of nods, followed by a half-voiced: ‘I have it. It’s faint today, so you shouldn’t worry about not feeling anything.’ Then he started babbling. His eyes were open, but they had begun to roll up under his lids. We caught words, phrases, but never the whole of it. ‘Down to the Sunward processionals . . . two orbits beyond the Dargan Gap. Opening auguries for the Jewel of Sundabar. Fire Witch, dropping sail at Auzar – assistance required. Wedza’s Eye will close in eight days, eight hours.’

More of that. He stayed in that babbling state for two or three minutes, before his eyes snapped back into focus and, like a man waking from a restful sleep, he at last moved his hands to the neural bridge.

‘Did you hear me?’

‘Yes,’ we answered.

‘I don’t always remember all of it. And a lot of it isn’t worth remembering – it’s just noise, certainly nothing Captain Rackamore needs to hear.’

‘And this time?’ I asked.

‘Did you hear me speak of auguries? That’s useful knowledge. Intelligence. Someone else’s idea of where and when baubles will open, and for how long. Knowledge like that can make or break an expedition.’

‘Then why would anyone share it?’ Adrana asked.

‘They don’t mean to.’ Cazaray unplugged from the skull and hung up the neural bridge. ‘We operate alone, for the most part, but there are other ships that we’ll occasionally help out, if they’ve done the captain a favour in the past. Some of the other ships, though, operate together all the time. They’re run by governments, or the private combines. And they have to communicate, to coordinate their efforts. Squawking’s all right – but it’s slow, easily intercepted, and signals don’t always get all the way through the Congregation, especially if the Old Sun’s putting out a storm. The superloom – that’s what we call the system of the skulls – is much, much faster, it’s hard to jam it, and there’s not much signal attenuation.’

‘But you’ve just listened in,’ I said.

‘They take matched skulls, matched pairs of readers, and put them on different ships. But if you’re good – if you’re experienced, and you’ve got a skull that’s especially sensitive in its own right – like this one – then you can catch a rumour of a rumour.’ Cazaray gave a self-deprecating shrug. ‘I make it sound easy.’

I smiled. ‘You don’t.’

‘You said it was hard to jam,’ Adrana said. ‘But you didn’t say it was impossible. What would it take to do that to a skull?’

Her question had been innocent enough. But something clouded his face when Cazaray answered us.

‘Nothing you’ll ever need worry about.’

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond

After the disappointment of the confused, incoherent Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is at least a film that can be enjoyed on a surface level without too many objections. I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the rebooted series as a whole, finding the films to be visually spectacular, excellently cast, genuinely moving and/or funny in places, but otherwise shallow, with gaping inconsistencies in basic plot logic - a failing I also found in the first of the new Star Wars films, which started unravelling in my head almost before I'd got to the carpark.

But Star Trek Beyond is probably the best of the three, and a desperate improvement on the second. Once again, I can't find anything to complain about in the casting; all the central roles are beautifully handled by their respective actors, with the recurring parts inhabited with a wonderful conviction, while also bringing fresh touches to these long-established figures. It also, for the first time, felt much closer to what a Star Trek film ought to be like, with a clear narrative line and a strong sense of Starfleet both growing out of and emblematic of a Better Future - and we could certainly use a bit of that optimism now.

The opening sequence - after a comedic episode with Kirk trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some scrappy, puppy-like aliens - is terrific, with the Enterprise docking inside a ridiculously vast Starbase, with some lovely shots of the ship sliding through glassy tubes that penetrate the main living space of the enormous structure. It's also completely bonkers, with several cities worth of skyscrapers folded up into a gravity-defying Escher-like interior landscape, so complexly visualised that it's a fair bet it's going to have to turn up later in the film just to justify the rendering costs. Minor quibbles were starting to circulate at this point: if it's the twenty third century, and this structure has been built anew in space, why is the civic architecture of these buildings so crushingly familiar, as if all the skyscrapers had been transplanted from Toronto, Sydney, etc? Why do the plazas and malls look like they're contemporary civic settings CGI'd into this virtual space? Because they are, I suspect, and perhaps it's no bad thing as the entire sequence functions as a loving throwback to those episodes in the original series where a Starbase would look suspiciously like a 1960s university campus or shopping complex. It did, however, all remind me of the similar alien mall-scape in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Things quickly go awry when the Enterprise leaves the Starbase to respond to a distress signal, which in grand Star Trek fashion turns out to be a trap, and before long we're back into the same "villain with superweapon" plot which underpinned the two previous episodes. But at least the story is well handled this time, cross-cutting between the main groups of characters in a way that was mostly followable and developing a story that, while in no way groundbreaking, at least still feels narratively satisfying by the time you've left the cinema. The main new character, Jaylah, is very good and it would be nice to see more of her in the follow-up, presuming such a thing happens.

So it's a colourful, fast paced action film with some very enjoyable character beats, impressive effects and a plot that does at least withstand superficial scrutiny. What it isn't is a film in any way interested in new ways of thinking about the future. It's put together very well, and it's thrilling in parts, but if science fiction is the literature of ideas, this isn't science fiction.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Beyond the Aquila Rift is out

Today sees the UK publication of my huge Best Of collection, "Beyond the Aquila Rift" - around two hundred and fifty thousand words of short fiction, plus exclusive story notes. Here's the UK cover:

And here's a link to the Amazon page for the book:

None of this would have happened without the indefatigable efforts of Jonathan Strahan and Bill Schafer, who worked together to produce the Subterranean Press edition, which eventually appeared a few weeks ago. I am grateful to both of them, and the whole Sub Press team, for their enthusiasm and support over many years. I am also indebted to Gillian and Robert, my editor and agent respectively, for working hard to make it possible to have this near simultaneous release of the UK edition.

Publishers Weekly said:

“This collection of 18 long and short stories by Reynolds (the Poseidon’s Children series), one of the most gifted hard SF writers working today, displays his facility for building fascinating settings and integrating romance and mystery plots into space opera… Readers will greatly appreciate the breadth and variety of this deeply enjoyable collection.”

While Paul di Filippo, writing in Locus Online, said:

"Combining the melancholy fatedness of early George R. R. Martin, as found in Dying of the Light, with the clear-eyed cosmicism of Stephen Baxter, Reynolds gives us a galaxy where the gravity of astronomical phenomena is counterbalanced by the dark energies of the human heart. This collection should stand as a cornerstone of the contemporary SF edifice, showing us exactly how to elegantly fuse those separate but overlapping magisteria."

The complete story selection is as follows:

Great Wall of Mars
Beyond the Aquila Rift
Minla's Flowers
Zima Blue
The Star Surgeon's Apprentice
The Sledge-Maker's Daughter
Diamond Dogs
Thousandth Night
Trauma Pod
The Last Log of the Lachrymosa
The Water Thief
The Old Man and the Martian Sea
In Babelsberg
Story Notes

Quite a lot to get stuck into, and a nice selection of material covering different modes and themes, I think. The Orion cover, illustrated above, is gorgeous, but I'd be remiss in not showing the equally lovely illustration done by Dominic Harman for the Sub Press version. Dominic and I communicated closely during the execution of this illustration, as Dominic was determined to get the lighthuggers just right - and he did.

The Lettered edition is sold out, but Sub Press still have copies of both the Trade and Limited versions, and if you go for the latter, you'll get the slipcased one with my cover:

Rather pleasingly, this edition also has a fold-out rendition of Dominic's artwork, and splendid it looks as well. Really you can't go wrong with any of them.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Slow Bullets wins Locus award

Although I couldn't be there in person, I was delighted with the news that Slow Bullets had won the novella category in this year's Locus awards, held in Seattle. I've never won a Locus award before, although I did get close with Revelation Space, so this was doubly welcome, especially as I've always found the Locus staff to be excellent company.

Locus has the complete breakdown of results:

Congratulations to all.

And here's a photo (picture by Patrick Swenson) of Jacob from Tachyon Press kindly accepting the award on my behalf:

I wrote a few words for Jacob to say on the night:

"Thank you to all who voted for my story. I'm overjoyed to have won this award, especially for a story
that was written as a personal project over a very long period, with no real idea of what the world would
make of it. Marty Halpern did his usual meticulous job as editor, and I couldn't have hoped for a more
enthusiastic and committed publisher than Tachyon, who did a superb job in making sure the story got
noticed and read. Thank you to Jacob, Jill, Jim, Rick and all at Tachyon for giving the book such an excellent
push. I'd also like to thank those writers, including Michael Bishop, Allen Steele and Michael Swanwick who
were so kind as to provide endorsements for the book. Once again I was blessed to be part of such a welcoming
and generous field as ours. Thank you!"

I can only reiterate that it was a pleasure from the word go to work with such people, and everyone else who had any involvement in the distribution and promotion of the book, including Subterranean Press and the Washington Science Fiction Association.

Monday 13 June 2016

Why I'm for the UK remaining in the EU

In a very short while the UK will be holding a referendum on the country's continued membership of the EU. At the moment, judged on the polls (which are of course often inaccurate, as with the last general election), things seem to be heading the way of a vote to leave.

I think it would be a great shame were this to happen. As a young scientist, I benefitted tremendously from the freedom of movement allowed within the EU. I'm not talking about my time within the European Space Agency, which is a non-EU organisation, although that experience certainly helped frame my views on European cooperation and integration. But having left ESA in 1994, I was immediately able to take up a two year postdoctoral position at a Dutch university, and I did so with the minimum of hassle and paperwork. Once again I was immersed in a pan-European working environment which I found stimulating and encouraging.

After my postdoctoral position expired in 1996, I found myself unemployed. There were a handful of possible job opportunities back in the UK, but I had grown fond of the Netherlands, and my partner at the time, who later became my wife, had a full-time job. She too had benefitted from freedom of movement within the EU. Disinclined to leave Holland, therefore, I signed on for unemployment benefit from the Dutch state, while continuing to look for work opportunities within the area where we lived. I applied for one job in Delft, working on satellite monitoring of the Earth's atmosphere, but was not made an offer.

Luck eventually intervened, in that I saw an advert in Nature for a newly founded business in Haarlem, which would revolve around developing scientific software for astronomical applications. It seemed right up my street, almost literally so, in that Haarlem was only a short train ride from where we lived near Leiden. I applied for the job and was suitably astonished to learn that the driving force behind the business was an old colleague of mine - and a Welshman, like me, who had settled in the Netherlands. We met for an interview, which went well. While there was a strong prospect of working for the company in the future, though, there was still going to be a few more months of unemployment. I therefore continued to sign on, while going through the motions of looking for work. It was an odd, unsettling time, but - in hindsight - a blessing, because it enabled me to dust off the abandoned manuscript of Revelation Space and finally give it the polish it needed prior to submission. That was early 1997, and the book sold two years later. Those months of unemployment were therefore literally life-changing, and I owe them to the Dutch state and EU regulations on worker's rights.

Many of the arguments for and against membership of the EU seem to revolve around economics, which seems to me to be an extremely narrow metric. Even if we are better off out of the EU, which we probably won't be, so what? This is already a wealthy country, and leaving the EU won't mend the widening inequality between the very rich and almost everyone else. More than that, though, look at what would be lost. Friendship, commonality, freedom of movement, a sense that national boundaries are (and should be) evaporating. When many countries (including the Netherlands) moved to the Euro, it was a joy not to have to pack Guilders, Belgian francs, Deutschmarks, for a simple drive to visit to family in Germany a few hours away. The eradication of visible borders did not lead to a smearing out of regional cultures, but instead it made it much more easy to sample those cultures and gain a deeper sense of European history. I never stopped feeling that living in the EU was a thing to be proud of, and more than ever I am content to think of myself as European before British. I therefore hope that the Remain vote will win the day.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Medusa Chronicles at Foyles

"Saturday 4th June 2016 3pm - 4:30pm 107 Charing Cross Road Literary Event, Chargeable Event
In association with The Arthur C. Clarke Award and SFX Magazine.

Join us for a conversation with two leading figures in science fiction, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, as they discuss their new collaboration The Medusa Chronicles. Inspired by the classic Sir Arthur C. Clarke's short story ‘A Meeting with Medusa’, The Medusa Chronicles continues the story of Commander Howard Falcon over centuries of space-exploration. One of the most compelling novels of either author’s career, it combines moments of incredible action with an intricately-realised depiction of an expansive universe."

Saturday 30 April 2016

Galaxy Quest

At last, an image of M101. This is a quick and dirty stack of six ten minute sub-frames, aligned using Photoshop. There is a lot of electronic noise in the frames which I would like to remove.

A pass through confirms the pointing:

And here's a crop, with some contrast tweaking, of the galaxy itself:

The string of stars in the lower left corner (and elsewhere) is the result of individual hot pixels being shifted and duplicated as I did the manual alignment. This is the kind of electronic noise which I'd like to remove when I get a bit more time.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Slow Bullets on the Hugo ballot

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the Hugo administrators to let me know that my novella "Slow Bullets" would be one of the finalists in that category. I was pleased, but not without some obvious misgivings. I'd been unhappy about the inclusion of my story on the recommendation lists of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, especially given that the latter was to all intents just another slate, designed to encourage block voting. At the time no one really had a clear idea about how dominant the Puppy factor was going to be in this year's shortlists.

Trying to have my cake and eat it, I suggested to the administrators that I'd gladly accept the inclusion now, but that I might change my mind when I saw the extent to which Puppy choices had (or not) dominated the ballot. The best case I was realistically hoping for would be one or two obvious Puppy candidates showing up, but an otherwise fair selection which didn't show blatant signs of block voting. I'd had high hopes for Slow Bullets, after all. I considered it a strong story, and it had picked up enough positive reviews and recommendations throughout the year that it didn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility that it might make the ballot. That's not to say I was confident, but that just that the omens were about as good for that story as they had been for any of my recent pieces.

The adminstrators, quite reasonably, wanted a clearer, less ambiguous commitment from me. After a friendly and productive transatlantic phone call, I came around to the view that I'd not only accept the nomination, but take whatever came after it.

As several commentators have noted, the eventual ballots are quite strongly biassed in favour of Rabid Puppy choices. The unpalatable conclusion to be drawn from this is that my story, good as its chances were, probably wouldn't have made the cut were it not for the RP block vote. However, I didn't ask for those votes and in fact I expressly requested that my story not be slated. Kate Paulk (of the Sads) and Vox Day (of the Rabids) both declined my requests.

Since the announcement of the ballots, there's been quite a lot of discussion about the rights and wrongs of the finalists withdrawing their stories. Quite honestly, I'm very sympathetic to both sides of the debate. If I knew then what I know now, I'd probably have declined the initial nomination. But I didn't, and beyond that I made a commitment to the administrators not to withdraw at a later stage. On that basis alone, therefore, I'm keeping "Slow Bullets" on the ballot. I can't say I'm exactly over-joyed about this decision, though - from my point of view it just feels like the least worst choice of a very bad hand. Compare and contrast to the situation when my only other nomination happened, for "Troika", and my mood couldn't be more different.

Let's hope things are better next year.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Pattern Recognition

Technology marches on. Sometimes I find myself caught entirely unawares by some capability which not only works flawlessly, but which has become almost freely available to the consumer or enthusiastic amateur. I still remember buying a digital SLR camera which had face recognition built in almost as an afterthought. I'd given it no great thought until - with the camera sitting powered-up on a coffee table - I noticed that it was locking in on the picture of the queen's head on a five pound note! It was a shock to realise that this supposedly futuristic image-processing functionality was not only highly robust, but so cheap to implement that it was barely mentioned in the camera's sales material.

I had a similar experience earlier today. After a long run of cloudy nights, I've finally been able to get outdoors with the telescope and attempt to continue my long-running adventure in astronomical imaging.

This being Spring, one of the obvious candidates is M13, the globular cluster in Hercules. It's easily visible in telescopes and not hard to find in binoculars. I've looked at it many times over the years, but only this week did I manage to get a picture of it.

I shot this using a telescope on a GoTo mount. The mount contains a computerised database, and provided it's set up reasonably well at the start of a night, the "kit" enables the telescope to automatically locate and track astronomical objects. So, although I can find M13 for myself, I didn't need to: I just typed "M13" into the handset and off it whirred. The pointing accuracy was such that the cluster ended up close to the field of view and there was no difficulty obtaining images,

M13's fairly easy game, though, and I fancied a stiffer challenge. High in the Spring sky, near the "handle" of the Plough, is M101 - a "grand design" spiral galaxy of quite exceptional beauty. It's also very faint and a reportedly tricky object to see by eye alone, even through a telescope. With light pollution and a bright moon, there was no chance of that - but I was still optimistic that I could obtain an image. After all, at least I didn't have to worry about the pointing part - the telescope and its GoTo mount could take care of that for me.

However, I didn't succeed. Here's one of several frames I took over two clear nights:

Fascinating stuff, eh. Some random stars and electrical noise, and no sign of anything resembling a spiral galaxy. Now, I mentioned that the GoTo mount does need to be set up properly at the start of the night - accurate polar alignment and all that - so there's always a possibility that it isn't quite aiming in the right direction by the time it thinks it's found M101. Compounding that, the digital camera that I attach to the telescope samples a smaller field of view, so the object of interest might be falling just outside the camera's reach.

It was then that an astronomer on Twitter, Andrew Gray, mentioned that there is such a thing as "plate solving", The idea is that a sufficiently powerful pattern matching algorithm can analyze an image of some stars and work out exactly where in the sky they correspond to. That's an incredible feat of computation, especially if you don't know in advance little niceties like angular scale, brightness calibration and so on. Now, I was distantly aware that something like this capability existed, but I had no idea it was now easily within reach of the amateur such as myself.

However, within minutes I had uploaded my frame to:

And almost as quickly I had a set of annotations for my frame:

This is ASTONISHING. Not simply because it comfirms that M101 was indeed within my field of view - but presumably too washed out by glare to show up - but that this capability exists and is free for use, and returns results quickly enough to be useful for astronomers actually sitting at their telescopes, trying to find stuff. I didn't even have to submit the image in some fancy, astronomy-only image format, either - I just sent a Jpeg.

For the sheer hell of it, I also ran my M13 image through the processor:

I'm amazed, and impressed, and excited by the possibilities. Truly we are blessed to be living at a time when such miraculous feats of technology are easily within our grasp.

Just to end, here's a close-up of M13:

The light I caught had travelled 25,000 years to reach my telescope. If there's ever a day when that sort of thing doesn't send a shiver down my spine, please feel free to shoot me.

Monday 28 March 2016

Foundation 123

Will Slocombe of the University of Liverpool has kindly contributed two articles to the current issue of Foundation, the International Review of Science Fiction. There's a lengthy interview with me - which we did face to face on a park bench in Cardiff last year - and two reviews, one of Poseidon's Wake and the other Slow Bullets.

"What both Poseidon's Wake and Slow Bullets suggest is that Reynolds has yet again managed to switch tones and styles in his writing, but retain his sense of perspective and invention to still keep readers hooked."

I am very grateful to Will for these contributions.

Foundation is published three times a year by the Science Fiction Foundation:

Monday 21 March 2016

New stories for old universes

Pleased to announce that I've sold a pair of stories set in two of my established universes. The first, "Belladonna Nights", takes place in the House of Suns timeline a few million years earlier than the events of the novel. Campion plays a part in the story. This will appear in an as-yet-untitled original anthology with an exceedingly interesting conceptual premise, and I was really thrilled to be able to contribute something.

The second, longer piece, is entitled "The Iron Tactician" and is a new novella featuring my long-running character Merlin. Previous Merlin stories were "Merlin's Gun" (1999), "Hideaway" (2000) and "Minla's Flowers" (2007). The very tentative plan at the moment is that the novella will appear as a standalone chapbook, but we should have a firmer idea in a few months, and of course I'll give fuller details on where these stories will appear in due course.

It was enormously enjoyable to dig back into these two universes, after nearly a decade away from them, and in both instances I felt the distant glimmerings of new story ideas. So we'll see.

Saturday 19 March 2016

"Slow Bullets" and the Sad Puppies

I was away for a few days without internet access and discovered when I returned that my novella "Slow Bullets" has been included on the "SP4" Sad Puppies list for Hugo nominators.

At this point it's of no concern to me whether this is a slate or a set of recommendations. Given the taint left by last year's antics, I don't care for any work of mine to be associated with any list curated by the Sad Puppies.

The list was announced at Kate Paulk's website Late last night I left a comment asking - politely, I hope - for the story to be removed, but after I checked the site in the morning I couldn't find my comment and the story was still listed. I've tried to leave another comment to the same effect.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Hey Joe

Here are some one-line plot synopses from a TV series set close to the present day.

After a military coup, a dictator misappropriates global aid funds to develop drone warfare technology to use against his own citizens. A stricken submarine ends up in the territorial waters of a Central American failed state, threatening to derail international peace talks. In a Middle Eastern Sultanate, a political assassination leads to a constitutional crisis, imperilling the progressive, democratic policies of the rightful successor to the throne. In the Arctic, a nuclear accident heightens an already tense East-West standoff…

Failed states. Democracies. Autonomous weapons. Middle East crises. Rising nuclear tension. The East and West at each other’s throats …

Sound familiar?

This is the world of 2013 – or rather the world of 2013 as envisaged in 1968, when Gerry Anderson began making Joe 90, the last of his series to be based exclusively around Supermarionation. Never as popular as Stingray, Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 nonetheless remains strikingly prescient in its vision of a messy, mixed-up twenty first century, neither entirely good nor entirely bad, neither simplistic utopia nor grimdark dystopia. The storylines may be rudimentary, and there’s seldom any real sense of jeopardy in Joe’s adventures, and yes, it’s puppets (you have to get past the puppets, I’m afraid) but the world presented here is a much closer fit to our present than that predicted by almost any other TV series of similar vintage.

No one wears shiny suits or shoulder pads. People wear normal clothes, live in normal houses or thatched cottages, they drive on normal roads with normal road markings and road signs. There’s still a Dorset. They go on skiing holidays, fishing trips, attend piano recitals and so on. Even the vehicles, while futuristic, look perfectly plausible to modern eyes. Unlike Star Trek, which presented a flawless post-monetary future completely detached from our own, Joe 90’s future was built on the present. This was something Gerry Anderson got right in almost all his puppet shows – a sense that, even decades hence, a lot of old stuff would still be hanging around, and while global institutions might come and go, the world would still be as busy and complex as it is in the present. There would still be money, and where there was money there would still be bank robbers and forgers.

The Anderson shows didn’t necessarily share the same future, although it generally looked as if they did – but what they did share was a common idea, a unifying notion that, for all the gadgetry and hardware, some things just won’t change. It shouldn’t be a radical notion, but it’s one that Gerry Anderson alone seemed to really take on board. Of course there are lots of things missing from the series – there’s nothing like the internet, there are no digital media, there is no hint of climate change – and the race and gender politics is at times very dated, although no more so than in any other series from the same timeframe.

But the central triumph is that Anderson created a future one could believe in, rather than some idealised daydream of starships and warp drives. Even the world of Captain Scarlet, overshadowed by the ultimate War on Terror, is fundamentally our own. Apart from the Mysterons threatening to blow up stuff or assassinate people, life goes on for most people – as it does in ours. Much the same applied to Thunderbirds: unless you were caught up in the disaster of the week, the world of the Tracy Brothers seemed a fairly livable place. Especially if you were stupidly wealthy, and could afford to hang out in Monaco.

Thunderbirds is coming back, of course – this time it’s Thunderbirds are Go! – and while I’m quite indecently excited at the prospect (can you tell I’m a diehard Anderson fan?) I also hope that the new series doesn’t stray too far from the spirit of the old. I’m not talking about puppets versus CGI, or whether the new vehicles look better or worse than the old – I mean the setting, the larger world in which the action takes place. I want that same sense of continuity with the present, looking forward but also acknowledging that the future will be just like Now, only with more stuff. Anderson got that splendidly right in the sixties, and by the time I came to his shows in the early seventies – via battered old Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet annuals, Dinky toys and the occasional blink-and-you’ve-missed-it TV re-run – it made the twenty first century seem exciting. I wanted to live long enough to see Gerry’s world.

Now it seems I have.

This piece originally appeared in SciFi Now magazine in 2015.

Thursday 18 February 2016


If you’ve ever tried to sleep in a grumbly old house with pipes that hiss and clank, floors that creak, walls that groan, windows that rattle, you’ve maybe a tenth of an idea what it’s like to try sleeping on a ship like the Monetta’s Mourn. If it wasn’t the restless noises of the ship it was someone barking out an instruction, someone calling the hour of a watch, or a mad woman screaming while bound to a bed.

Just when I might have managed to sleep for half an hour, there was a soft knock, and then Mattice drew aside the curtain that shielded our quarters, making enough of a gap for his big beardy face to loom into my vision and say: ‘Morning watch. There’s hot tea in the galley, hot water in the washroom. You’ll feel like death now but we’ve all had our first night on a ship and it gets better.’

‘How many nights does it take?’ Adrana asked.

‘Oh, not many. Sometimes as few as twenty.’

‘Thank you, Mattice,’ I said, shivering despite all the layers I’d pulled around myself in the night.

‘Take your time. But not too much of it if you want to see the sails run out. Hirtshal’s already begun.’

Running out the sails got everyone twitchy. Hirtshal was the master of sail, the man in charge of them, but if something went badly wrong at this stage, half the crew would need to go out in suits to untangle the mess.

‘We run a tight crew,’ Rackamore told me, while we were gathered at the hemispherical window, watching the sail-control gear swing out from the hull. ‘That’s not just because a light ship is a fast ship. It means we don’t have to split our profits too many ways.’

‘I want to learn what I can,’ I said.

He nodded. ‘That’s a fine attitude. And you will – within reason. Knowing how to wear a suit, operate an airlock, find your way around the outside of the ship – that’s basic survival ability. And some knowledge of the other areas of expertise is always useful. You’ll want to know a little about baubles, a little about relics, and so on, if only because it’ll give you a healthy respect for what you don’t know.’ His jaw tensed. ‘But I have to draw a different line with my Bone Readers. You’re scarce . . . too scarce to expose to the risks that the other crewmembers naturally accept.’

Prozor, next to us, said: ‘What he means is, girlies, you’re goin’ to be pampered, so get used to it.’

Beyond the glass, the barbs that had been folded along the Monetta’s hull were angling out, just as if that bad-tempered fish were stiffening its spines in some defensive reaction. These were the anchor-points for the rigging, the whiskery filaments which linked the ship to her sails. Under Hirtshal’s supervision, they’d be tugged and released all the while, making up for tiny shifts in the solar flux and accommodating the changes in our course that Rackamore had in mind.

‘We don’t run out the main sails all in one go,’ he was saying. ‘They’d snag and rip. Hirtshal uses the drogue sails first. Do you see them, unfurling about a league away from us? They’ll take up the slack in the lines, get them handsomely taut and aligned, and then we run out the main sails, a thousand square leagues of reflective area.’

He had a way of saying ‘main sails’ that sounded as if the two words were running together.

‘It might seem simple,’ he went on. ‘It’s anything but. The sails are as tricky as they’re delicate.’

Hirtshal was already outside, standing with magnetic boots on the back of the Monetta, using controls that came out through her hull for exactly this sort of operation. If something jammed or tangled, he could sort it out before it got too bad. The launch was ready as well, just in case something got snarled up tens of leagues beyond the ship.

But all was going well. The drogues snapped open, blossoming like sudden chrome flowers, and they in turn helped the unfolding of the main sails, intricate, interlaced arrays of them. I don’t mind saying: it was properly marvellous, the way they gradually opened out, planing apart along seams we’d never have known were there, layer after layer of them, snapping wider all the time. It was like a conjuring trick, something a cove would do in Neural Alley, with cards and a sly gleam in his eye. The sails blazed back at us, each glittering facet silver tinged with red and purple, reflecting the world-filtered light of the Old Sun. The rigging was invisible, but already it was straining to move the ship. In response, Monetta’s creaks and groans had a different sort of music to them. An eagerness, now. The ship was straining, wanting to catch the photon winds.

And so we sailed. Monetta’s Mourn no longer had to slink around on ion thrust, or cower from the gravity well of a swallower. She’d become the thing she was always meant to be: a vessel of the deep void, a creature of the Empty.

That ship of ours was a sunjammer.

Excerpt from REVENGER, copyright Alastair Reynolds 2016, due to be published in September.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

The Best Of

I'm immensely pleased that 2016 will see the publication of my Best Of, courtesy of Subterranean Press and Orion books, who will both be doing editions. Jonathan and Bill have done a sterling job selecting the stories, no easy task given the number to choose from, and  - since I was party to the whole process - I can state that there were some very difficult choices to be made about which pieces to omit or include. The book is physically huge, and it really wouldn't have been feasible to include any more material than what has been selected.

Subterranean themselves will be doing two editions, one of which is the Limited, which features my own artwork as shown above. The piece was done specifically for the book, while not being based on any one story - although since spaceports figure in more than one of them, it's not inappropriate. Meanwhile, Dominic Harman, who did some of my Interzone stories, is working on the cover for the main Sub Press edition. I've seen some roughs, and Dominic's cover is going to be wonderful. To add to the goodness, there will be a separate cover again for the Orion edition - and the roughs I've seen of that look pretty lovely as well.

You can find out more about the book, including the table of contents, at the Sub Press website:

I've been publishing short stories for 25 years (and this year will be 27 since my first professional sale) but I can honestly say there wasn't a point in all that time where I was ever bold enough to think I'd see a "Best Of" published. Now that it's nearly here, I'm truly grateful for the continued opportunities and friendships that the field has offered me, and offer thanks to the editors and readers who have kindly seen me this far.

Friday 15 January 2016

Asimov's reviews

Just a note to say that I'm still continuing with my 2015 Asimov's reviews, for the few that are interested, but (of necessity)  I'm reading a few other things at the moment before I return to the magazine.

In the meantime, for those thinking of nominating stories in the various awards, here are the issues I've done to date:

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April/May 2015

June 2015

August 2015