They're back. I'm a very happy man.
THINGS THE GRANDCHILDREN SHOULD KNOW - Mark Oliver Everett. Touching, painfully honest and occasionally hilarious memoir by E, the man behind Eels. E, the son of quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, lost his entire family and somehow found a way to keep going and even remain optimistic. I'm an enormous fan of E's music, so I approached this with due trepidation. I needn't have worried. E illumimates his own life, touches on the inspiration behind some of his songs, but he doesn't strip away the essential mystery or wonderfulness.
THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION - Michael Chabon. My last encounter with Chabon, the novella-length Sherlock Holmes pastiche THE FINAL SOLUTION left me with mixed feelings, but this is unreservedly brilliant. Whereas SOLUTION was technically assured, time and again I had the sense of a writer who thought he was a bit cleverer than was really the case. I very rarely got that impression with UNION, which seemed to nail most of the targets it set out to hit. Not all of Chabon's metaphors and similes make the grade, but every now and then he pulls out something that has you nodding in recognition and weeping in admiration at the same time. And it's funny, above all else. The dialogue is ready made for the Coen brothers.
THE TERROR - Dan Simmons. Astonishingly gripping - a juggernaut of a book that left me sleepless and dazed. Two steam-powered sailing ships are trapped in ice while scouting for the North West Passage. As their supplies run low, the hapless crews are picked off one by one by a malevolent, possibly supernatural polar bear. While I felt a degree of unease about the way Simmons bolted a Campbellesque horror story onto the speculative fates of actual men, I couldn't deny the staggering, hallucinatory power of this book.
Robert Brown of the SF Bokhandeln took a couple of pics of the signing I did in Stockholm.
I'm probably saying something devastatingly witty at this point. Maths and Jorgen (Stockholm) and Glenn and Johan (Gothenberg) were all great company and I enjoyed hanging out with them and being treated to a couple of lovely meals.
I've given the main site an overhaul. After years of convincing myself that it was still a useful skill to be able to design and edit a page in raw HTML, I've gone over to Tripod's web generating template and editing tool.
I still need to transfer some content back over, but anything really essential will eventually migrate to the revamped site.
It's occurred to me that I need to reinstate the House of Suns excerpts, but I won't have time to do that until I return from Sweden.
Unless you've been living under a stone for the last few years, you'll know about Harriet Klausner - she's the internet's most prolific book reviewer, with (according to Wikipedia) more than 15,500 reviews to her credit. She posts anything up to six reviews a day. Which would be irrelevant if her reviews were in any way insightful or even useful, but unfortunately because Harriet likes everything, without exception, her reviews are little more than extra noise in the system, a background hiss of blanket positivity.
I don't mean to be too hard on Harriet - I'm sure she's sincere, and really does read and critique six books a day. But when I was writing THE PREFECT, and needed a handy index by which to measure the prefects' ability to speed-read, the name "Klausner" couldn't help but jump to mind. Hence, the throwaway joke on P26 (UK edition):
"Sparver stood next to her console, scanning the information scrolling past on multiple panes. Thalia made light of her speed-reading ability, but her Klausner index was still much higher than his own."
The curious thing is, true to form, Harriet has now reviewed THE PREFECT and given it (knock me down with a feather) a five star review.
I can't help wondering - did she even notice that reference?
I'm off to Sweden in a couple of days. I'll be signing and reading in Gothenberg on friday 25th, beginning at 6.00pm:
SF Bokhandeln AB
Ostra Larmgatan 16
Phone: 00 46 31 130670
Then on Saturday 26th I'm in Stockholm from 4.00 pm onwards:
Phone: 00 46 8 215052
More information (in Swedish) here:
Looking a bit further ahead, I'll be signing at Borders Books in Llantrisant (Wales) on saturday May 10th - exact time TBA:
I hope to see some of you there.
Although it's a day away from its official release day, copies of HOS were on sale in Forbidden Planet last week, and Amazon.co.uk have already started delivering pre-orders. I don't live near a large bookstore myself, but I'd assume that copies will be available in the next few days, if they aren't already on the shelves. I did a signing last week, a few interviews over the last month or so, and I'll be signing at a few places in Sweden at the end of the month - but that's it, basically: the book is done, the hard work is at least a quarter of a year behind me, and my thoughts are now largely dominated by the next one. That's not to say that I'm emotionally disengaged from HOS - far from it - but the fact is, by the time the book begins to be read by more than a handful of close associates, I am, of necessity, directing my energies elsewhere, and it tends to feel like finished business.
As a writer, the one thing I've never been excited about is seeing my name on a bookshelf. I've met aspirant writers for whom that's the big (imagined) kick, but - if my experience is at all typical - it's not something you should hang your career on. Writing is a long, slow, protracted business, but the upshot is that the best moments - the only really ecstatic ones, if I'm being honest - are those that happen during the act of creation, behind the keyboard or at the writing desk. It's when a problem resolves itself, when you write a sequence that you know you'll still be happy with a year or ten down the line, when you pull some insight out of nowhere and surprise yourself. It's when you write something so deliciously unexpected or logically satisfying that the only response is to grin like an idiot, do a little jig and play some bitchin' air guitar (or in my case, having just bought a Telecaster, real guitar).
Those moments don't happen very often (I count on maybe one or two per book, if I'm lucky) but they're the primary reason I do it, and maybe the only one. Rewriting stuff is enjoyable, finishing stuff is enjoyable, selling stuff is cool, good reviews and award nominations are nice, but nothing gives me quite the same jolt as writing something good in the middle of a long project. I mention this only because I suspect that the outside perception of a writer's existence is such that the publication of a book must surely be the emotional capstone of the creative process, but to me it's a step, a detail, almost an afterthought.
I had a great time in Minneapolis, courtesy of Minicon. I'd like to thank Keith Malgren and Andra St Arnauld for their hospitality and friendship during the entire time I was in town. Rachel Kronick did a fine job with the programming. I'm also grateful to Graham Weathers and his lovely wife Becca for their kindness, and to everyone else at the con who made it so thoroughly enjoyable. Quite apart from the free bar, I would rate this as an excellent convention, one that I'd be happy to attend again. Jetlag be damned.
It was a fun trip in other ways. I arrived in Chicago, partly because I'd have had to fly via Chicago anyway, but mainly because it gave me the chance to ride the Empire Builder up to Minneapolis. I've never made any secret of being a train fan (why hide something so harmless?) and this was a big tick for me. OK, it wasn't quite the train it used to be in the days of the old Great Northern, and I didn't ride it all the way through the Rockies to Washington state, but it was still a delightful experience.
This eight and a half hour train ride took me through three states, and was a blast - very comfortable, great scenery, excellent service and friendly fellow passengers. I was impressed with Amtrak's whole approach and would definitely consider doing something similar again.
I liked Chicago. I stayed in two hotels - one on the Lakeshore, a long way from Downtown (my mistake - should have done my homework first) but within comfortable walking distance of the fabulous Museum of Science and Industry, where they have the original Burlington Zephyr. The other hotel was much more central, close to the John Hancock building and a ready supply of Starbucks concessions. I enjoyed visiting Sears Tower and strolling down the Magnificent Mile, gawping at the under-construction Trump tower and riding the elevated railway around the famous Loop. Weather and time conspired against me visiting any more museums, but I liked Chicago very much and hope to get back there one day.
Centuries ago by our Earth time, Jonathan Strahan had the excellent initiative to put together an anthology of new SF stories aimed at younger readers. I wrote a story, and then sat back in the full and certain expectation that the book would soon appear.
Frustratingly (not least for Jonathan) the book hit delay after delay, but the good news is that The Starry Rift is now available and is beginning to pick up a good buzz and some welcome reviews.
In connection with the launch, Jonathan has created a website website dedicated to the book, so be sure to check it out and consider buying or (if you're outside the US) ordering a copy.
I am very pleased to be a part of what promises to be a landmark anthology, and hope it does well for Jonathan after all the effort he put in.
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...
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.