Teahouse on the Tracks (Alastair Reynolds)
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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Arthur C Clarke
Now Playing: Not a lot

I'm sorry to hear of the death of Arthur C Clarke. To a large extent, I owe my entire interest in written SF to early exposure to Clarke's writings. From around the time that I was eight, I started reading Clarke's short stories in the back pages of "Speed and Power" magazine, a boys-orientated UK periodical that ran for a year or two after 1974.  At the time, I had no idea that these stories were not original to the magazine, written new each week. In fact, most of them were at least a decade old - stories like "Transit of Earth", "Into the Comet", "The Sentinel". They had a terrific effect on me, not least because they were well illustrated, with imaginative colour paintings in a style not unlike that of Chris Foss. For the most part, these were stories about space exploration, told realistically. In the early seventies, it was still possible to view these stories as snapshots from a future that was more or less guaranteed to happen.

One story hit me particularly hard - "A Meeting with Medusa". It was serialised in S&P over several weeks, beginning with Howard Falcon's airship crash - again, brilliantly illustrated. But it was only at the very end of the story that we found out what had really happened to Falcon. The artist's depiction as Falcon-as-cyborg (a human torso in a business suit mounted on what appeared to be a set of aircraft undercarriage) scared the hell out of me. But I couldn't get the story out of my mind. That was the point, I think, where Clarke really bit into my imagination. Not long after, I read (but didn't really understand) 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wasn't to see the film for several more years, by which time I'd already read "Rendezvous with Rama". "City and the Stars", "The Sands of Mars", "Childhood's End" and "Earthlight" soon followed. The latter two were Christmas presents, given a year or so apart. I can still remember the thrill of curling up in bed at the end of Christmas day, beginning to read. Clarke never let me down, and those books still resonate tremendously. Clarke's non-fiction - especially "Profiles of the Future" - introduced me to the popular science. To a large degree, it also shaped the way I think about technology and the future. I'm fundamentally an optimist and think that - no matter how inauspicious things may appear in the early decades of the twenty first century - the human species does have a future in space. If Clarke indoctrinated me in that mode of thinking, then I'm more than happy to have been indoctrinated.

I'm in Chicago at the moment, travelling. If I were home, I'd be inclined to sit down and read one of my favorite Clarke stories. Maybe it would be the one about the haunted spacesuit - I was talking to a group of people in a library in Cardiff about that story only a couple of weeks ago. Or that beautiful and sad vignette about the "moonquake", or the astronaut falling towards certain death when his launch catapult fails... 

I was born in Barry. Across the Bristol channel, on a clear day, you could see Minehead. It was only a few miles away, as the crow flies...

Posted by voxish at 4:12 PM MEST
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
So Fa, so good
Now Playing: Nowt

The good chaps at StarShip Sofa are doing narrations of all the stories on the current BSFA short fiction shortlist. They haven't got to Sledge yet, but should do so in the next few days. In the meantime you can listen to the existing podcasts by going here. It's an excellent initiative, one that should be warmly applauded.

Update: Sledge is now posted, and a very good narration it is too. 

Posted by voxish at 12:59 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 15 March 2008 12:32 PM MEST
Monday, 10 March 2008
Signing, and other things
Now Playing: Moby

I'll be signing copies of HOS - and anything else anyone feels like bringing along - in Forbidden Planet, London on April 12 between 1 - 2 am. More details here.

An interview with me appeared this week on Fantasy Hotlist, while last week I did a brief piece with Sci Fi Wire in which I mainly talked about The Prefect.

In other news, as they say, I delivered "Troika", a 25,000 word novella to Jonathan Strahan for inclusion in his forthcoming Science Fiction Book Club anthology GODLIKE MACHINES. The other authors in this book are Cory Doctorow, Greg Egan, Stephan Baxter, John Scalzi and Robert Reed - it should be well worth having.

Finally (for now) Jonathan's young-adult anthology, THE STARRY RIFT, will shortly be appearing in the States. This contains my dark cyber-pirate story "The Star Surgeon's Apprentice".

Posted by voxish at 7:54 PM MEST
Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008 8:15 PM MEST
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Still more HOS
Now Playing: Steve Earle
I've posted another (brief) chapter from HOS on the main site - go to here.

Posted by voxish at 1:34 PM CET
Updated: Wednesday, 27 February 2008 1:38 PM CET
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Cardiff Afterlife
Now Playing: The Manics

Just a note - 'though I've mentioned it on the main site already, so hopefully anyone who needs to have seen it will have done so - but I'm doing a meet-the-author event in Cardiff this thursday (February 28th). The event in question is at the Fairwater public library, starting at 6.00 pm, and lasting about an hour - although I'll stick around as long as required, within reason. The library is on Doyle Avenue in Fairwater.



Posted by voxish at 1:31 PM CET
Thursday, 7 February 2008
More HOS
Now Playing: Grieg

I've added an excerpt from HOS to the main site: go here. I've also made a few minor updates to the site; more to follow over the next week or so.

Posted by voxish at 11:35 PM CET
Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008 11:40 PM CET
Monday, 4 February 2008
House of Suns cover
Now Playing: More Prokofiev

The cover of House of Suns:



Contrary to what I posted a few months ago, there's been no change in the look of the covers. Orion did play around with some new ideas, but the feedback from booksellers was such that they decided to keep the existing designs.

I will post an excerpt or two on the main website in a few days. 


Posted by voxish at 1:34 PM CET
Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008 11:10 PM CET
Friday, 25 January 2008
Sledge is up
Now Playing: Something gloomy and Russian

Interzone's Andy Cox kindly offered to host "The Sledge-maker's daughter" on the TTA website. You can read it here:


Above all else, if you like the story, I would strongly recommend a subscription to Interzone.

Posted by voxish at 10:24 AM CET
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
BSFA, Heath Ledger, writing stuff
Now Playing: Some indierock

I got the news that THE PREFECT has been shortlisted for the BSFA award, while my Interzone story from last year, "The Sledge-Maker's Daughter", is up for the short fiction category. Very pleased with this, needless to say - good luck to all involved. You can see the shortlists here:


I got home last night after an enjoyable night out with friends to learn about the sad death of Heath Ledger, one of my favorite young actors. If you pinned me down, I'd probably say that my top film of the last ten years is "A Knight's Tale", that gloriously anachronistic re-take on jousting and all things Medieval. I know some people who dislike it, but it's a film my wife and I have watched with great pleasure many times over - it's up there with Fargo and The Big Lebowski in terms of the number of times we've sat through it, without ever feeling we'd seen it once too many. It's also, of course, a film with lots of quotable lines to bore people with. It was the first film I saw the excellent Paul Bettany in, and - of course - one of Ledger's earliest big films. Somehow I don't think we're ever going to watch it with quite the same sense of unalloyed pleasure.

In the comments for the previous post, "loon" asked me a few questions about writing which I felt would be best served by an entry in its own right, so here goes.

Loon asked if I outlined.  It depends, really. I've written novels with only a vague sense of where I'm going, and I've also written novels based on reasonably detailed notes. THE PREFECT, because it was a twisty sort of book with an underlying procedural theme, seemed to demand outlining on at least a chapter by chapter basis, so that's how I did it. I opened a word file, and made some sketchy notes as to what needed to happen in each chapter - although those chapters were a working convention, more like internal markers, bearing only a vague relationship to the chapters in the final book. HOUSE OF SUNS was always going to be a much looser book, so I did nothing like the same degree of outlining. I did, though, start a notebook in which I explored plot ideas and backstory, and kept that notebook with me wherever I travelled. Much of the book was hatched on the train between Cardiff and Paddington.

My approach to short fiction - by which I mean anything that ain't a novel, up to an including novellas that would easily have qualified as novels forty or fifty years ago - depends on the piece and my mood as I go into it. Generally, I don't feel the need to make outlines or notes when I begin. If I don't have at least an intuitive sense of where I want the story to head, and importantly end, I won't make a start on it. Often, it's seeing that final scene in your head that gives you the mental green light.

It's a rare story indeed that doesn't give me some problems part way through the execution. A detail that I've glossed over in my head turns out to be crucial and problematic, and I can't see my way around it. That's when I get out a sheet of blank A4 paper and start brainstorming my way around the problem. I'll block out the story on a scene by scene basis, with rectangles of text summarising the action in each scene. Typically, I'll know what needs to go in the final box - that's the ending, which - in theory at least - I should already have nailed down, in my head if not on screen. But the nature of the problem usually means there's a box or two which I can't fill. It'll often be the penultimate scene, or pair of scenes, that cause difficulties.

What I find, though, is that the very act of diagramming the problem in paper goes some way to freeing up the mind and pointing to a resolution. If I don't see it immediately, or at least a hint as to where I need to go, I'll block in a number of alternative approaches, running in columns down the page. At that point, there may be one resolution that feels more emotionally satisfying, or in some way more elegant, than the contenders. Or it may be that all possibilities look equally attractive (or unattractive). Really the only thing to do in such a situation is go with your gut instincts and take one approach. In the act of writing, you may feel that one of the other pathways is to be preferred - or you may see a combination of options you didn't notice before. Whatever happens, you've got a story. It may not be the best story in the world, it may not even be the best story you're capable of writing on that day, but it's a starting point for improvement, which is more than can be said for a series of unfinished fragments.

Loon asked what happens when I realise that some technical detail - say, a neat innovation that I can't resist inserting into the story -  invalidates some earlier decision taken in the writing. Well, that's what rewriting is for. It may be that the story can't accommodate the new innovation - it breaks the basic premise. In that case, you shelve the cool idea for another story - maybe it merits one entirely to itself. More often than not, though, the story can be made to function with some deft reworking. Back when I started breaking into the SF magazine market, the way you did this was - horror of horrors - to retype the entire story. (OK, I was a late convert to word processing. I was still usign a manual typewriter well into the nineties). These days, you save a draft to the hard drive and go and make the necessary changes to the working version of the story - dead easy.

As may be evident from the above, I'm an undisciplined and unsystematic writer - I veer from one approach to the next depending on my mood and - just as crucially - whatever it was I did last time. I make great use of scrap paper, post-it notes, and Word documents containing cryptic notes and story ideas. You don't need anything hi-tech, though. One of my favorite writing accessories is an office whiteboard and some coloured markers - great for scrawling mental memos to myself. I also make great use of Word's ability to change font colour. In the middle of a draft, I'll typically select one colour to indicate raw or problematic text, another to indicate text that's been through at least one polish or rewrite, and another to indicate text that I'm happy with and don't envisage changing. The theory is that as the revision work proceeds, you see less and less of the raw colour and more and more of the final one. I'll also use various colour permutations to keep track of viewpoint, narrative track, etc - anything goes, basically.

Posted by voxish at 12:02 PM CET
Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008 12:46 PM CET
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Now Playing: Prokofiev

Back after a month - where does the time go? I hope everyone had a good end to the year and a good start to the new one - I know I did. Final edits on HOUSE OF SUNS are now complete, and the book should enter production any day now. Again, I'll post an extract (probably back on the main website, rather than the blog) when I get a chance.

Precious little to report, in other respects. I'm working on a new novella, thinking hard about the next book, and planning a couple of trips. Reading: Soul Circus, George P Pelecanos - hardboiled DC crime. Just finished: Spitfire, Jonathan Glancey - nonfiction about the eponymous aircraft. Listening: the new Radiohead album, which I bought from a record shop using money.

Posted by voxish at 12:52 PM CET

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