Alastair Reynolds on Milford

What a great introduction and insight into the Milford SF Writers’ group. Alistair Reynolds is a real inspiration.

milfordsfwriters

revelation-spaceMilford came at a critical time for me – real make or break stuff. It was the year when I knew I’d have to decide whether I was cut out for this science fiction lark.

The year was 1998. I’d made my first sale nine years earlier. After a long apprenticeship collecting rejection slips it had felt like a significant breakthrough and I was excited when my first pair of stories appeared the year after. I sold two more in relatively quick succession and the reaction to that first clutch of stories was positive enough to provide some encouragement. I felt myself to be cautiously on the up: I had a novel in progress, and ideas for more. Some of my immediate peers were starting to get book deals and attention from international markets. I felt that if only I stuck at it, the same rewards might start coming my…

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The Water Knife

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, 2016)

“Sweat was a body’s history, compressed into jewels, beaded on the brow, staining shirts with salt. It told you everything about how a person had ended up in the right place at the wrong time, and whether they would survive another day.’

the water knifeThis quote from page one of The Water Knife gives the reader a taste of the desperation of people struggling to survive in a world where water is a precious commodity. Those cities with ‘senior water rights’ are building archologies (self-sustaining environments, with clean air, plenty of water and all the amenities the modern world takes for granted), while the majority of the population buy water from Red Cross pumps and wear masks against the constant dust-storms (well, those that can afford to—a dry, hacking cough is the norm outside of the archologies).

Set primarily in the state of Arizona, more specifically Phoenix, the three main protagonists are drawn into the battle over water rights—rights that will give the owner power of life and death over thousands as the water supply to whole cities can be cut by the stroke of a ‘legal’ pen.

Angel—the ‘water knife’ of the title—works for Catherine Case, the leader and ruthless driving force behind the relative prosperity of Las Vegas. Recruited by Case from prison as a young man, he is now a highly trained ‘water knife’ and does whatever it takes to secure the water rights of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada.

In the opening chapter Angel ‘serves papers’ on a water refinery and then escapes as it is blown up. The city it supplies has no other source of water. “It’s the end of times,” he muses as he watches the flames. “Guess that makes me the Devil.” Despite this, Angel (note the name) understands and empathises with the desperation of others. He sees the world for what it is, and harbours no illusions about the future. He does what needs doing. Driving through the desert, he reflects that it is the truest place he’s ever known—“it’s always been a gaunt and feral thing”. Unlike Texas, which had pumped up ice-age water and “thrown on the garments of fertility, pretending to greenery and growth… realising too late that their prosperity was borrowed.”

Lucy is a prize winning reporter, who left the relatively water-rich north (it still rains there) to write about the deprivations suffered by the people of Phoenix—a city struggling to survive the permanent drought—and the Texan refugees who everyone reviles. Texas was the first state to collapse, its population flooding neighbouring states until borders were closed. Lucy is looking for a big story, which she finds when she becomes embroiled in the fight over water rights. After years of bowing to pressure: “All the things you don’t say… All the stories you teach yourself not to tell.” Lucy posts a story that pulls-no-punches, a story that makes her a target for both political and criminal powerbrokers.

Angel feels a powerful connection to Lucy. They had both “seen too much and had given up on pretending the world was anything but a wreck.” Lucy is attracted to Angel, both in his role as a dangerous killer, and in his unguarded moments as “the boy before the water knife.” Betrayal is a key theme, though it’s generally depicted and understood by the parties involved as: nothing personal, just business. Angel is the one person who is steadfastly loyal.

Maria is a teenager struggling to survive alone after the death of her father. She collects water from the Red Cross pumps and sells it on for a small profit to construction workers. Her best friend ‘sells ass’. They are both Texans, the lowest of the low, who are forced to ‘kick up’ part of their earnings to a local crime lord. Despite her best efforts, Maria ends up in the ‘right place at the wrong time’ and her life is forfeit.

Angel is an unlikely saviour. Twice he uses Maria as a foil to save himself, but in both cases she is also ‘saved’. There is one question that she asks several times in the book: “Why do you care?” It points to the harsh reality of her life, and the lessons she learns as the story progresses. She has an impact on Angel: “He had a sudden overwhelming need to balance all the things in the world that couldn’t be balanced.”

This book depicts a world after the devastating impact of climate change. The characters take this fact as a given, and so the only reference is an advert on bottled water: “Your purchase helps us mitigate the impacts of climate change on vulnerable peoples around the world.”

In the struggle between California, Arizona and Nevada for valuable water rights, it seems that there is no ‘right’ thing to do (despite Lucy’s protestations). No matter who wins, there has to be losers. As Angel says: “Someone’s got to bleed, if anybody’s going to drink.”

This is a masterful depiction of a society fighting to survive in a world damaged by greed and wilful blindness—another strong theme in the book. Bacigalupi takes us on a journey where we are confronted by the filters through which we view the world, and brings us face-to-face with difficult truths.

My favourite quote:

“If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.”

Saint’s Blood – Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood, Sebastien De Castell, Jo Fletcher Books

The third in the series detailing the life of Falcio val Mond and his constant struggle to save Tristia, his cess-pit of a homeland. Together with his fellow ex-Greatcoats, Kest and Brasti, Falcio fights to restore the ‘King’s Law’, even though said king is dead—betrayed by the Dukes whose greed and corruption is driving Tristia to its knees.

The Greatcoats are magistrates with a difference. Re-envisioned by the late King Paelis, they are duellists trained in all manner of combat. They ride the roads of Tristia, hearing cases in towns and villages and delivering their judgements. Cases are often decided via trial by combat—the Greatcoats overriding mantra is ‘fight hard, ride fast’.

Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow are set after the death of the King, with the Greatcoats reviled as traitors, scattered around Tristia trying to both survive and follow their last, secret, orders from their King. Falcio rescues a teenage girl, Aline, who turns out to be the King’s daughter. The trio of Greatcoats fight Ducal intrigues, assassins, and a pretender to the throne in their attempts to have Aline recognised as the rightful queen.

Saint’s Blood continues the story, with their greatest adversary ever: an actual God. All three books are packed with fast moving action, as you might expect, with expertly drawn and compelling one-to-one fights and larger group battles. The action is underpinned by believable and engaging characters, which you can’t help but empathise with and root for.

The books are written exclusively from Falcio’s point-of-view, giving the reader an insight into a man who was driven into the role of ‘protector’ by the rape and murder of his wife—a man who inspires others to his cause, despite his many flaws. The relationship between Falcio and his two best friends, Kest and Brasi, is masterly portrayed. The female characters that take a lead role in the story are portrayed as intelligent, determined and a source of impressive strength.

Saint’s Blood opens our heart to fear and then demonstrates by acts of uncommon valour by men and women alike how to overcome those fears.

I’m looking forward to the next book: Traitor’s Throne.

London Journal of Fiction

OK, so this isn’t an SFF story. Who said I could only write in one genre? This story was inspired by an emotionally charged moment, the subtle reaction of a crowd that both surprised and disappointed me. It stayed with me. And then found expression as a story:

London Journal of Fiction: Not This Time.

 

Existence is Elsewhen

Published today – Existence is Elsewhen, Science Fiction anthology headlined by John Gribbin

Twenty stories from twenty great writers, also including Rhys Hughes, Christopher Nuttall and Douglas Thompson

 9781908168856-188x300DARTFORD, KENT – 18 March 2016 – Elsewhen Press, an independent UK publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction, is delighted to announce the publication today of Existence is Elsewhen, an anthology of twenty science fiction stories from twenty great writers. According to Peter Buck, Editorial Director at Elsewhen Press, “The title paraphrases the last sentence of André Breton’s 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, perfectly summing up the intent behind this anthology of stories from a wonderful collection of authors. Different worlds… different times. It’s what Elsewhen Press has been about since we launched our first title in 2011. We were thrilled when John agreed to headline.”

Headlining the collection is John Gribbin, with a worrying vision of medical research in the near future. Future global healthcare is the theme of J.A.Christy’s story, while the ultimate in spare part surgery is where Dave Weaver takes the reader. Edwin Hayward’s search for a renewable protein source turns out to be digital; and Tanya Reimer’s story with characters we think we know, gives pause for thought about another food we all take for granted. Evolution is examined too, with Andy McKell’s chilling tale of what states could become if genetics are used to drive policy. Similarly, Robin Moran’s story explores the societal impact of an undesirable evolutionary trend, while Douglas Thompson provides a truly surreal warning of an impending disaster that will reverse evolution, with dire consequences.

On a lighter note, there is satire as Steve Harrison uncovers who really owns the Earth (and why); and Ira Nayman, who uses the surreal alternative realities of his Transdimensional Authority series as the setting for a detective story mash-up of Agatha Christie and Dashiel Hammett. Pursuing the crime-solving theme, Peter Wolfe explores life, and death, on a space station, while Stefan Jackson follows a police investigation into some bizarre cold-blooded murders in a cyberpunk future. Going into the past, albeit an 1831 set in the alternate Britain of his Royal Sorceress series, Christopher Nuttall reports on an investigation into a girl with strange powers.

Strange powers in the present-day is the theme for Tej Turner, who tells a poignant tale of how extra-sensory perception makes it easier for a husband to bear his dying wife’s last few days. Difficult decisions are the theme of Chloe Skye’s heart-rending story exploring personal sacrifice. Relationships aren’t always so close, as Susan Oke’s tale demonstrates, when sibling rivalry is taken to the limit. Relationships are the backdrop to Peter R. Ellis’s story where a spectacular mid-winter event on a newly-colonised distant planet involves a Madonna and Child. Coming right back to Earth and in what feels like an almost imminent future, Siobhan McVeigh tells a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of using technology to deflect the blame for their actions. Building on the remarkable setting of Pera from her LiGa series, and developing Pera’s legendary Book of Shadow, Sanem Ozdural spins the creation myth of the first light tree in a lyrical and poetic song. Also exploring language, the master of fantastika and absurdism, Rhys Hughes, extrapolates the way in which language changes over time, with an entertaining result.

Existence is Elsewhen, published today by Elsewhen Press on popular eBook platforms, will also be available in paperback from the 25th March with a launch at the 2016 Eastercon in Manchester.

VAULT Festival – 252AM (After Man)

VAULT Festival (Waterloo) is amazing. Going along to experience their short plays/events is becoming a habit.

252AM (After Man) by Rebecca Pollock:

Rebecca-Pollock-252-AM-After-Man-landscape-2-Supporting-image-01-300x169

When planet Earth belongs to women, who will fight for the rights of men? All the men on Earth are dead, and have been for 252 years; a fault in the Y chromosome killed them off, so no new men can born and survive. The countries of the world have been sharing the stored sperm to create new generations of women, but supplies are running out. They have to find more.

Set on an inter-planetary starship, crewed by women, who after hundreds of years of searching have finally found a planet with a compatible male genotype. The question is, do they invite men from this new planet back to Earth in the hope of re-establishing the ‘old’ male-female family unit. Or do they capture men to take back for their ‘contribution’ to the new all female society?

When the Captain finds out about the hidden agenda (capturing men and not allowing male children to be conceived, except to be kept for their future ‘contributions’), she says something along the lines of, ‘So all these years I’ve been the Captain of a slave ship?’

In one short hour this play raised a lot of questions. It has certainly left me with a great deal to think about. The all-female Earth has no wars, is calm and seemingly peaceful. But history has been rewritten, with the work of male writers/artists/musicians now ascribed to women. Male artefacts are restricted to museums, and men themselves are portrayed as aggressive and controlling. Everything is decided by consensus, but it is a consensus that contrives to put women in boxes with specific roles (e.g. the highest honour is to be granted the status of a mother, but once granted, that’s your position for life–literally). So, are the women in this new and perfect society any better than the men they vilify?

There are plans to develop the play into a full length run. It’s something I would go and see.

 

 

More Books, More Details, and a Reader Poll

A brilliant author who writes equally brilliant books. I can’t wait to read more.

Brian Staveley

I GET TO WRITE MORE BOOKS!

I GET TO WRITE MORE BOOKS!

Actually, I suppose I would be writing more books no matter what. Let me rephrase that:

I’M GETTING PAID TO WRITE MORE BOOKS!

I’M GETTING PAID TO WRITE MORE BOOKS!

The official deal announcement at Publishers’ Marketplace is as brief as it is sweet:

COqENWYUEAAOooX

I can shed a little more light on what I’ve got planned through a hypothetical Q&A. Or a real Q&A with a hypothetical interrogator. You get the idea…

Are you writing another trilogy? Not yet. Each of these books will stand alone.

Why aren’t you writing another trilogy??? I want to explore a lot more of the world I’ve created, and I want to try my hand at a shorter form.

I WANT ANOTHER TRILOGY. Sorry. Also, that wasn’t a question.

Isn’t calling a 175K-word novel “short” sort of ridiculous? Not if you’re comparing it to…

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FantasyCon

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FantasyCon this year. Great panels, great people and a wonderful atmosphere. Such a packed and varied programme that I (and plenty of others) skipped lunch in order to attend as many interesting and (to us writers) valuable workshops and panels as possible.

Needless to say, I took loads of useful ideas away with me. Here are a few little gems:

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History (Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E McKenna, Toby Venables, Susan Bartholomew)

  • What you think is true about history probably isn’t.
  • Think about: what are the usual rules in this time/society?
  • Find the base line (i.e. the ordinary people), so that you can then show what it means to be extraordinary in the time period.
  • There are so many ways that humanity has not changed over the millenia.

 

Protag/Antag: Character Creation (Ruth Booth, John Connolly, KT Davis, Peter Newman, James Oswald, Caroline Hooton)

  • Every character is a hero in their own minds (can justify their actions)
  • Play fair with the rules you have created
  • Keep your characters interesting and believable (know why your characters behave they way they do) then it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • The hook can be not what you know about the character, but what you don’t
  • Less is more in many ways

 

Blades, Wands and Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight Scene (Clifford Beal, Juliet E McKenna, Kevin Murphy, Jo Thomas, James Barclay)

  • Think about the psychological aspects of a fight: when experts fight, their moves and counter moves are done automatically
  • In real life, sword fighters aim to disable via strikes to the neck, wrist and behind the knees
  • The aim is to get as many combatants off the field as possible. If you kill your opponent, his/her colleagues will just step over them and continue the fight. If you injure you opponent, his/her colleagues are more likely to want to take them to a medic (so three off the field with one injury)
  • Young men are more afraid of being disabled than being killed
  • Luck plays a huge part in any fight/battle
  • All fights happen one-to-one, whether in a duel or a battle
  • Tactics when confronted: 1. Run Away; 2. Break their will to attack
  • When fighting: Don’t look at the eyes (they can fake you out); Don’t look at the weapon; LOOK at the body language.

Quote: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

The last quote applies to fighting, but I think you can apply that to writing too!

There was lots of fun stuff to do in the evenings, of course. I particularly enjoyed the performed reading of ‘One for the Road’. A comic short story by Paul Kane, ably performed by James Barclay, Guy Adams, Lee Harris and Phil Lunt. They certainly brought to life the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

The live edition of Tea & Jeapardy was excellent and very entertaining. Emma Newman, assisted by Latimer the butler, interviewed Brandon Sanderson over tea and cake (and a cursed shield). Great stuff!

I’ve already booked my ticket for next year’s Fantasy Con, to be held in the wonderful seaside town of Scarborough.

 

Bristolcon

This was my first visit to BristolCon – a one day SFF convention. I have attended the larger events (EasterCon, FantasyCon), which are great (an understatement, really). BristolCon offered all the types of events (panels, workshops, author readings, art gallery, dealers’ rooms) that a larger convention does, just on a smaller, more intimate scale. I was going to say more friendly, but in my experience all conventions are unerringly friendly and welcoming.

I attended panels on lost cities and abandoned places, the rise of AI’s and FTL travel. The guest of honour interviews were both interesting and entertaining – Jaine Fenn (author), Jasper Fforde (author) and Chris Moore (artist). The workshop on Multiple Story Arcs, run by Jonathan L Howard was particularly useful.

Favourite quotes from the Lost Cities and Abandoned Places panel:

“We project onto ruins our own stories.” Jaine Fenn

“Cities eat themselves.” Pete Sutton

There was a wonderful display of Chris Moore’s art – here’s my favourite piece”

chris moore

Book Review – Two of a Mind – S M Stuart

I have recently written a review of ‘Two of a Mind’ by S M Stuart for the British Fantasy Society. You can read it here:

http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/reviews-old/two-of-a-mind-by-s-m-stuart-book-review/

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