Thursday, 23 April 2015

The story behind Poseidon's Children

Here's a link to a short piece I wrote on the genesis of the whole Poseidon's Children sequence.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Forbidden Planet, Poseidon's Wake, Slow Bullets

With a new book due out at the end of the month, I ought to mention that I'll be signing Poseidon's Wake at Forbidden Planet, London, on the evening of April 30th.

Different people have different "rules" regarding signings. Generally the shop would like you to buy at least a new copy of the book, but I'm very happy to sign older editions if people bring them along. For the sake of the people waiting in line, I'll gladly sign three items at a time, but if you have more - and the line is still behind you - it might be an idea to go around more than once. I'll have to shoot off fairly promptly at 7.00, unfortunately, but while I'm in the shop I'm more than happy to chat, so don't hesitate to come along and ask me stuff.

There hasn't been much advance press on Poseidon's Wake, so I'll keep my power dry for now, but here is the book description as it should have appeared on the inside cover flap:

Two hundred years after the fall of Mechanism, human society has achieved a kind of stability. There are colonies beneath the oceans, throughout the solar system, and beyond: on the worlds of extrasolar systems. Vast hemirelativistic ships connect these colonies, travelling at half the speed of light. Or rather they would, if the ominous presence of the alien Watchkeepers had not led to an enforced moratorium on interstellar travel.

But when a seemingly impossible radio signal reaches the colony Crucible, everything changes: 

Send Ndege

It’s origin is unpopulated, unexplored space. No one could be there – at least, not if they travelled using human technology – so who could have sent it? How did they get there? And what use do they have for the disgraced scientist Ndege Akinya?

Finding the answers will require one of the greatest expeditions humankind has ever launched, a journey further than ever attempted before, conducted under the implacable scrutiny of the Watchkeepers.

But as a mission is prepared on Crucible, it turns out they weren’t the only ones to see the message – or its potential . . . 

Actually, due to one of those inevitable snafus, the wrong version of the flap text ended up on the final copies, mispelling Ndegi's name and mentioning such things as faster than light travel which never had any place in the intended text. These things happen, and the correct text will be substituted at the first opportunity. For my own part, I also managed to make an error in transcribing the epigraph, which will also be amended in future editions, although I don't think that error will be at all obvious to anyone not familiar with the original Edward Thomas poem.

Moving on...

Slow Bullets, my other book this year, will appear in June, but advanced word is already out and I've been blessed with some very kind comments from my peers.

“Alastair Reynolds’ new novella Slow Bullets has the scope of a much longer work (Edward Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empires, say), the literary speed of the most rapidly hurtling bullet, and so many provocative scientific  and / or philosophical ideas that even Steven Hawking’s head might well spin with them. Moreover, Reynolds artfully compresses all these disparate elements into a portable trade paperback or a weightless e-file, the better to accommodate our busy reading habits and the more fully to entertain us.
“Let me also note that Slow Bullets posits a far-future situation akin to the one that we confront on planet Earth today, but leavens his fictional crisis with a hard-won grasp of human psychology and a down-to-the-ground optimism that bestows on its readers reasons for supposing our ‘dammed human race’ nimble enough to overcome our demanding real-world crisis du jour. A fine example of the true science fictionist’s art . . . ‘with a bullet,’ as the editors at Billboard Magazine  used to say.”
—Michael Bishop, author of A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, And Strange at Ecbatan                                                                                                                        the Trees, and Transfigurations

“Alastair Reynolds is the world’s best writer of space opera. If you have any doubts, then read Slow Bullets.”
—Allen Steele, author of Coyote and Spindrift

“The writing is tight, the characters are well developed, and the story itself moves along at a cracking pace.”
Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Corner

 Slow Bullets  is classic science fiction, a space opera, a puzzle story, a character study, visionary science fiction, and a prayer for peace.  I see no reason why you should not love it.”
—Michael Swanwick, author of Tales of Old Earth and Dancing with Bears

“Alastair Reynolds weaves a tapestry of dark, dystopian societies in a tense, colorful narrative.”
New York Journal of Books

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

On the present Hugo mess and why I still want one.

The current unpleasant thing happening in the SF world - there's always something - is the hijacking of the Hugo award nominations slate by a group of vested interests with leanings to the extreme right. Neo-fascists isn't too strong a term. They're racist, homophobic and intolerant of anyone who doesn't subscribe to their ultra-conservative religious beliefs. I won't even begin to unpack the grisly complexities behind this, the Sad Puppies versus the Rabid Puppies, but if you're coming to this completely cold, here is as good a summary as any:

It's a vile, offensive stunt, cynically motivated, and one that does real damage to the reputation of the Hugo award. At the moment, within the constitution of the World Science Fiction Convention, there is only so much that can be done to limit the harm. Those who know the system better than me are trying to work out which is the best strategy for limiting the impact of the Puppy slate - whether it's best to attempt an honest ranking of the nominated pieces in each category, or simply vote "no award" in each slot. Unfortunately, the Puppies have more or less guaranteed to pull this stunt year after year unless their nominated stories pick up the awards. Presently it's not at all clear what can be done, while preserving the spirit of the Hugos.

I'll be honest - I've had a decidely mixed relationship with the award. As a young SF reader, I was drawn to books that had won the field's two big awards - the Hugo and the Nebula. They seemed like badges of merit that could be trusted. Of course I had no idea how these awards actually functioned. That only came later, once I'd entered the field as a writer and begun to understand something of the wider SF community and its mechanisms.

I always thought it would be great to win a Hugo or a Nebula. Technically, I've been a professional SF writer for twenty five years, although I'm not sure whether Interzone, where I made my first sale in 1989, would have been considered a qualifying market. Nonetheless, I got paid and soon began to try placing my stories and novels with other markets. There were times when I couldn't sell anything, and it still took a decade before I got a book deal, but at no point did I feel like the field was actively conspiring to prevent me getting ahead in my career. I just figured that I wasn't quite hitting the right marks. It never bothered me that I wasn't on the radar of the Hugo or Nebula awards. That, I hoped, would come later, if it came at all.

I did eventually get a Hugo nomination. That was in 2011, at the Reno Worldcon. It was for my story Troika, which I'd written three years earlier. I was stoked - absolutely over the moon.
As it would be my first Hugo ceremony as a contender, I made a real effort to smarten up. The evening was exciting. I remember waiting in the holding area before the ceremony proper, looking at the changing light over Reno as the sun went down. The sky was an intense lemon yellow, something I've only ever seen in the desert. I didn't really rate my chances of winning, but at the same time, I couldn't honestly dismiss them either. I was a bag of nerves as the novella category finally rolled around.

I didn't win. No biggie. I'd made it onto the ballot - that was all that mattered. Afterwards, I went to one of the parties running in one of the big hotel suites. The atmosphere was jolly and I enjoyed winding down from the tension of the ceremony. I hung out with the Locus crew. It was a relief that the whole thing was over, and my mind was turning to the long journey I had facing me the day after, and the early start that was necessitated.

I missed the 2012 Worldcon for some reason or other. In 2013 I made it to San Antonio. My wife was with me in town, and since she didn't have a membership, and rather than leave her on her own for the evening, I thought the best thing would be to skip the Hugos and go to see a film. As it was I fell soundly asleep in the cinema, so I'd probably have nodded off during the ceremony as well.

In 2014 I was again at the Worldcon, but I'd been involved in a starship seminar all afternoon (as you do) and once more couldn't make it to the ceremony. I went to the pub instead, catching up on the news as it filtered through via social media and the live television feed running in the pub.

I hadn't gained another nomination since Troika, and far from heralding a long and glorious imperial phase of hitting the Hugo ballots with ominous regularity, I'd actually done progressively worse in each successive year. My stories were not only failing to make the nominations, they were sliding ever further below the cutoff! I'd be lying if I said this didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the Hugos just a wee smidge. The truth is, lots of writers get one nomination in their careers. Be grateful for that, I suppose. Plenty of writers better than me have never had a nomination at all.

Enthusiasm dented, though, I didn't bother voting after 2011. I didn't feel sufficiently well informed about the state of the field to do so. My reading was falling ever further behind the curve, and besides - I felt that if I had horses in the race, or at least potential horses, it wasn't really my job to vote. I wouldn't vote for myself, but equally I didn't want to vote myself off the ballot by unwittingly nudging another piece ahead of my own.

That said, it never occurred to me that there might be some kind of institutional conspiracy going on to keep the likes of me off the ballot. And even if I had suspected that - well, screw it. Life's too short. Move on and worry about something else.

 SF is about tolerance, inclusiveness - the accepting of other viewpoints, up to a certain point. Or at least, it used to be. Most of us involved in the field, I think, still want it to be like that. Friendships are more important than ideologies. Art is more important than doctrine. The Puppies can't see that, though. A handful of middling talents haven't yet managed to get their works on the slate through orthodox means, so they've elected to game the system.

The odd thing is - or perhaps it isn't odd at all - is that the ongoing trouble with the Puppies only makes me feel more warmly disposed to the Hugos. I certainly should have voted. It would have taken a lot more of us to outweigh the block voting effect of the slate ballot, but that's no argument not to have tried. As I've mentioned earlier, I've been striving to read a lot more short fiction this year, and I already feel a lot better informed about the state of the field in 2015 than in recent years. And yes, while the Hugo award has been damaged - it's hard to see a way around that, irrespective of what happens later in the summer - I would still like to win one eventually. I hope the award can weather this storm, and continue on as it should be - a prized part of SF's collective heritage.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Bad Science - 7th April

If you're in the area tomorrow, why not pop along to the Edinburgh Science Festival? In company with Doctor Stephen Brusatte, I'll be talking about the science - good and bad - in Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park.

Event info and tickets: