Sunday, 25 August 2013

Ill-Met at Midnight in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Lovely, lovely Beneath Ceaseless Skies cover art
I've said it before, but one of the best things about being a genre writer is surely the way that utterly bizarre blog post titles just seem to generate themselves.


One of the other nicest things about being a genre writer was receiving a blurb for Giant Thief from Adrian Tchaikovsky, whose Shadows of the Apt series I'm hugely fond of, comparing it to the works of none other than the mighty Fritz Leiber.  As fantastic a compliment as that was, though, I've never been entirely sure that Giant Thief lives up to it.  (Although, in fairness to Adrian, it's probably a closer comparison than anyone else has made.)  Thing is, I hadn't actually read any Leiber at the time I wrote Giant Thief, and so he wasn't - as he would come to be - one of my all-time favourite Fantasy authors.  What similarities there are are purely coincidental, or else were absorbed through intermediaries; there's a fair bit of the Gray Mouser in Damasco, for example, but I suspect it was contracted via Pratchett's blundering wizard Rincewind, another protagonist who spends an inordinate amount of time trying to flee from whatever plot he's found himself mixed up in.

Ill-Met at Midnight, on the other hand, the story I have out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies this week, is me blatantly pastiching Leiber.  Heck, the title is an obvious reference.  The city of Cold Harbour, elegant, rotten and riddled with licensed murder, has plenty in common with that greatest of all cities Lankhmar.  My "hero" Otranto, assassin extraordinaire, is definitely Leiberesque: sharp-tongued, highly competent, and yet driven by the winds of his own eccentricities.  It's the story of a weird and dangerous world full of weird and dangerous individuals, and I think that description about sums up all of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

I'm happy admitting all this: originality is a wonderful thing and something to strive for, but sometimes I think it's okay to play around in the shadows of your heroes.  It was great fun to write Ill-Met, to cut loose with world-building aspects and to have a go at that kind of lurid, exaggerated, extravagant Fantasy, something I'm not sure you see so much of these days.  So much fun, in fact, that I suspect I'll return to Otranto and Cold Harbour one of these days.

You can read Ill-Met at Midnight and its companion story, Henry Szabranski's The Clay Farima, or buy the issue that contains them, here ... or, if you didn't mind waiting ,you can listen to Ill-Met in podcast in a month's time.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Nine Worlds 2013

I didn't see half as much of Nine Worlds as I would have liked.

I think the only way I could have would have time travel, or perhaps the ability to create little homunculi of myself.  Nine Worlds had a lot of programming.  And the more the weekend wore on, the more I realized that even the bits of it that at a first glance hadn't looked even remotely interesting probably were.  I wish I'd hung around the Steampunk track a little more.  Jobeda spent much of Saturday telling me how good the Geek Feminism stuff was, and I caught the end of a panel on Joss Whedon and sure enough, it was tremendous; I've been to entire Cons that contained less enthusiasm and intelligent debate than that one small, overheated room.  I completely missed the Science track, and pretty much all of that looked interesting.  I did a little better with the All the Books track, since I was in it, but I still felt like I'd barely scratched the surface.  We never even got a look in at the Board Gaming, despite that being one of the things we'd specifically planned to do.  And what I've listed there is only scratching the surface of what was on offer at Nine Worlds.

On top of the basic impossibility of doing more than scratching that surface, I quickly discovered I wasn't feeling too well.  It turned out to be a chest infection, but over the weekend it was just a sore throat and a general feeling of crapiness, which did a good job of keeping me out of the bar and stopping me talking to a lot of the people I'd have liked to talk to - which was a lot of people.  I did manage a bit of socializing, particularly on the Sunday, and I got to give Paul Cornell a copy of Endangered Weapon B as a thank you for his brilliant introduction, which was high on my 'to do' list, but all told I spent a lot of time being frustrated that conversation equaled pain.

Francis, Benedict, Me, Den, Emma.
Then last up, and if anything even more distracting, there was the fact that I seemed to spend a large chunk of the weekend working.  Okay, doing a signing was no biggie, and I got stuck with a slot when no one was in the dealer's room, so I mainly spent that chatting with the lovely Forbidden Planet people and my old friend Flick (Hi Flick, good to see you!)  And the panel I was attending on Saturday, Gender and Sexuality in SFF, went smoothly - if unspectacularly - enough.  But those were things I've done before and are just about comfortable these days.  No, what kept me in a perpetual state of Serious Work Mode was the knowledge that I was moderating my first panel on the Sunday, and my being determined to make a decent job of it.
In truth, I perhaps got a bit carried away with my preparation.  I went in with twenty-some questions (many of which had sub-questions!), a separate page of questions for the audience and notes on my panelists, which I'd prepped during a frantic ten minutes spent at the Forbidden Planet stall.  Then I nearly lost all my notes.  Then I found out at the last minute that Benedict Jacka was ill, wasn't coming and had been replaced by someone I'd never heard of.  Then Benedict turned up, and was befuddled to discover that he wasn't expected. 
A scale model of the Nine Worlds hotel, possibly.
But minor, slightly surreal hiccups aside, it went well.  I think, possibly, that it went really well.  Certainly, I had a good time - which frankly was about the least likely outcome I expected.  I felt like we gave out a lot of valuable information, and everyone got their say.  I was fortunate enough to have four intelligent, witty and unusually polite panelists* in the shape of Benedict, Emma Newman, Den Patrick and Francis Knight.  We had some great audience questions, and one in particular that really touched me: it was something along the lines of, "say you were really shy and didn't feel up to mugging editors in the bar at Cons and all of the other things you've been advising us to?  Would it still be possible to get published?"**  That was about the only question I took myself, because - as I explained - I consider myself a basically shy person, who used to be a very shy person indeed, and yet somehow I've ended up doing things like moderating panels in front of dozens of people.  And while of course it is possible to get published without ever so much as speaking to an editor face to face, I think it's also true that confidence is a skill that can be learned like any other, and that Cons are tremendously good places to do that learning.
Which, I guess, is also my conclusion when it comes to Nine Worlds: it did what only the very best of Cons can do and created a hugely inclusive space where everyone seemed comfortable regardless of race, creed or My Little Pony costume.  It wasn't perfect***, but in its first year it was better than many established Cons, it raised the bar in a lot of ways that I hope get taken on board by the wider community, and I'm already looking forward to next year - when hopefully I'll actually get to do and see a bit more stuff.

* Seriously, this was the most polite panel ever.
** Wait, we didn't say that.  Buy drinks for, not mug.
*** Main imperfection being the extraordinarily pricy bar.  No pint of Coke on earth should cost six pounds.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Prisoner of Peace up at Pseudopod

I should probably be saying something about Nine Worlds here, but I'm still recovering, so let's come back to that one when my Con fatigue has settled down and instead I'll mention my short horror story Prisoner of Peace, which went up in podcast at Pseudopod on Friday.

There was a very good reason that it went live on that particular date, the 9th of August; it's the anniversary of the US Atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki, an event which - without giving too much away - Prisoner of Peace is greatly informed by.  It's a subject that I have strong feelings about, a subject that it should be impossible not to have strong feelings about, and I hope I've done it some sort of justice, in however small a way.

Every time I've gone back to Prisoner, I've been surprised by how much effect it has on me: how much it creeps me out, and how wrenching I find certain scenes.  Listening to Caith Donovan's reading last night with the lights off didn't make things any better.  Caith does a great job in bringing out both the horror and the sadness of the story, and nailing the many points where the two entwine.  I'm grateful too to Al Stuart for his astute endtro, giving his own thoughts on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and their repercussions and explicitly discussing a lot that I could only nudge at in the story.

While we're on the subject, I should mention again that Prisoner is also available in Eric Guignard's terrific After Death anthology.  It's one of the best, most unusual, most lavishly illustrated anthologies I've been lucky enough to be a part of, and plenty more people should be reading it.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Nine Worlds Schedule

In about half an hour I'll be heading off to the first ever Nine Worlds conference.  I've been lucky enough to meet some of the organizers, to hear them talk about their grandiose plans and even to have some very minor input behind the scenes, so I can say with confidence that it's going to be a really exciting weekend.  No one's ever tried anything exactly like this in the UK, and whether it's a colossal success or an extravagant disaster, I'm glad I get to be there.  (Obviously, I'm expecting more of the former than the latter!)

Anyway, asides from the usual commitments, (i.e. the bar), this is how I'll be spending my weekend:

All this and more!

1 PM - 2 PM: Signing @ the Forbidden Planet Stand


With: Roz Kaveney, Tricia Sullivan, Rochita
Loenen-Ruiz and moderated by Jon Weir


15:15 - 16:30: MY FIRST TIME: DEBUT

With: Den Patrick, Benedict Jacka, Francis Knight,
Emma Newman
and moderated by me.

Yes, that's right, I'm moderating my first panel!  I'm already terrified, so by Sunday I should be entirely petrified with panic!  Why not come and watch me stare blank-eyed at the audience for five minutes, then jabber something about buns and the Industrial Revolution and topple off my chair, whimpering like a recently castrated puppy?  It promises to be the high point of the entire weekend!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

It's Not a Popularity Contest...

...But if it was, Giant Thief would at least be somewhere in the running.  Because there it is, proudly occupying one corner of the "Popular Reads" table in Waterstones Covent Garden.

I got a tip-off from the prodigious Mr Lavie Tidhar that it was there last week, but it was a few days before I could investigate for myself.  When I finally did, though, sure enough, there it was: Giant Thief on display and being recommended, surrounded by some astonishingly fine Fantasy fiction.

A better photographer would have managed to get the "Popular Reads" sign actually in the shot, since you're now having to take it on trust that this isn't the "books that are so unpopular we're giving them away for free" table.  And a better photographer would probably have emphasized the fact that Giant Thief was sitting directly under Good Omens, which was possibly my favourite book as a teenager.  But then, said better photographer would have been organized enough not to rush in carrying two bags and a suitcase, on their way to catching the train home to Leeds ... so all things considered, I think I did okay to at least make sure that the title was readable.  And I surely deserve bonus points for signing all of their stock* and having a brief but pleasant chat with the nearest shop assistant about Good Omens (she didn't understand what the fuss was about) and still managing to catch my train with whole minutes to spare.

* I mean, all of it that I wrote, obviously.**
** Well, and a couple dozen copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.