Time’s Arrow to the Cryptozoic!

Here is some evidence from a reputable website that, as suggested in Brian Aldiss’ An Age (published as Cryptozoic! in the US), and much later (or earlier), Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow, time does flow backwards and we are perceiving the wrong way around. Either that or every piece of writing, from book to webpage, needs an editorial once-over.

Click on the image to see full size and read the ‘newer edition’ text at the bottom. ‘See a problem with this suggestion?’




Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson British Library Event

According to a press release from Forbidden Planet, Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson will be in Conversation at the British Library, on Saturday 9th June from 3PM:

Forbidden Planet and Orbit Books, in association with the British Library, are delighted to present a unique opportunity to hear two giants of the genre in conversation about 2012, the end of the world, and the future of science fiction. This event will take place in the Auditorium at the British Library, doors open 3PM, with a subsequent signing 5-6PM.

Iain Banks was born in Fife and educated at Stirling University where he read English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He gained widespread and controversial public notice in 1984 with his first novel, The Wasp Factory and went on to create one of SF’s best-loved fictional settings—the “Culture” in novels such as Consider Phlebas and Player of Games. He’s almost unique in achieving success in two genres: mainstream, literary fiction, and science fiction.

With a list of academic laurels and industry awards to his name, Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer of true “hard” science fiction—a spiritual descendant of Jules Verne and closely aligned with Isaac Asimov; he’s known to use proven scientific fact and technology in his highly acclaimed work. He became familiar to SF readers with his Orange County series of books in the mid 1980s—but is perhaps best-known for the Mars trilogy, Red MarsGreen Mars and Blue Mars, the last of which was published in 1996.

Forbidden Planet is the largest store of its kind in the world. Some of the biggest names in SF, Fantasy and Cult Entertainment have come to our London Megastore for events, including Jonathan Ross, Kevin Smith, Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Terry Gilliam, Christopher Lee, Simon Pegg, William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Stephen King.

Tickets are £7.50 or £5 for concessions. Click for more details. 

Adrift on the Sea of Rains — book review

Adrift on the Sea of Rains is the first volume in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet. Available as a limited edition hardback (75 signed copies), paperback and ebook, this science fiction adventure falls between alternative history and parallel world story.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains - Ian Sales

It is the late 1980’s, the Cold War has gone nuclear and all that’s left of the human race is the crew of the US moon base Falcon. Colonel Peterson is looking for a way home before the food runs out. Hopes lie in a partially understood piece of Nazi technology called the Bell.

To say more would be to give too much away – the story is only 43 pages long. Within this length Sales does a fine job of evoking the detached, almost mechanical efficiency of a team of men who, in the face of overwhelming tragedy have withdrawn into themselves. There is a starkness here reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke at his most nuts and bolts cool.

In what is essentially a hard science fiction escape story unfolded against a detailed and well imagined alternative military / space exploration history, and perhaps too much tec. / maths talk for some tastes, Sales gradually reveals that character is all. There is good reason Peterson is on the moon rather than the front line, and the conclusion is chilling. Anyone who liked the idea of the recent SF film Moon, but found the execution too silly, will much prefer Sales’ more rigorous story.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains comes complete with an extensive list of abbreviations (looking them up while reading the story does tend to break the narrative flow), a lengthy glossary of the history of the US space program (real and imagined), bibliography and online resource list. This extra material totals another 20 pages.

Sales has written a strong story, but it is an unusual approach to self-publish something so short as a self-contained book. At 17,000 words or so it doesn’t quite class as a novella. The author explains the reasoning behind his decision on his blog. Even so, while Adrift of the Sea of Rains would grace any collection or anthology I am not sure it stands out so far ahead of other stories as to deserve individual publication. That said, it is well worth reading and now that it has been published makes a useful addition to any serious SF reader’s library.

June Writing Magazine

The June issue of Writing Magazine is out. Peter James is on the cover and interviewed inside talking about making crime pay. Discover “Why I’ll never write for the Daily Mail”. Julie Cohen discusses My Writing Day and there is advice from non-fiction agent Andrew Lownie, pieces on becoming a columnist, a home and garden writer and much more. Everything from handling controversial topics and moral ambiguity in fiction to help with online marketing from social media expert Rebecca Woodhead. Beat the Bestsellers looks back at Kenneth Grahame and regular features include Grumpy Old Bookman and From Script to Screen. And as usual I’m in there with assorted news and publishing  opportunities.

June 2012 Writing Magazine

Ian Hocking’s Saskia Brandt Series

Ian Hocking has kindly sent me ebooks of the first two titles in his Saskia Brandt Series, Déjà Vu and Flashback. Déjà-VuSet a decade from now these are extremely fast-paced science fiction action thrillers involving advanced computer technology, virtual reality and time travel. As the blurb says, scientist David Proctor is running for his life. On his trail is Saskia Brandt, a detective with the European FIB. She has questions. Questions about a bomb that exploded back in 2003. But someone is hunting her too. The clues are in the shattered memories of her previous life.

Flashback further complicates matters. In 1947 a Santiago-bound plane crashes into the Andes minutes after confirming its landing time. In 2003 a passenger plane nosedives into the Bavarian National Forest during a routine flight. Although separated by more than 50 years, these tragedies are linked by seven letters: S, T, E, N, D, E, C.Flashback - Ian Hocking

Both books, written in a sometimes dense, staccato, English, are highly imaginative but I found them too breathless and densely plotted, offering little time for reflection or  involvement. I suspect the author had an eye on TV, and if you like J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe) and would like a UK version (perhaps Bugs with harder SF and more pace) here it is. Both titles have proved highly popular with readers on Amazon and if the customer comments are anything to go by you may enjoy these more than I did. Don’t just take my word. No less than Ken MacLeod described Déjà Vu as ‘A crisply-written, fast-paced thriller that makes assured use of cutting-edge science fiction ideas’.

The Invention of Iain M. Banks

World Book Night logoI have recently reread Iain M. Banks 1988 novel The Player of Games. I did so because I have been selected as a World Book Night book giver, and of the 25 available titles the one I chose to give away was the Banks. I had a hard time picking, and I want to explain why I selected this particular book.

But first, if you don’t know about World Book Night take a look here. And here is a list of the 25 books featured in 2012 (if you are in the US there is a different list of 30 titles). When you apply to become a World Book Night book giver you pick three titles in order of preference. I was fortunate to get my first choice.

So on Monday I will be giving away 24 copies of The Player of Games. Iain Banks has long been one of my favourite writers and The Player of Games is one of my favourite of his many novels. But there is more to it than that.

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, 1st Edition cover

Iain Banks does something so vital that, as cliché has it, if he didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Banks is writing proof that the genre / literature divide is a nonsense. A figment of our imaginations.

There is only one type of book worth reading – a good book. Following up on the theme of this post, I believe that discriminating against books on the grounds of their subject matter is, well, exactly that, discrimination – the literary equivalent of racism or sexism. There are good books, bad books, great books, execrable books. The genre of any particular book says nothing about its quality. Genre is irrelevant. A literary red herring. What matters is how good the book is, not what it is about. A great writer can write a great book about anything. A poor writer will never write anything worth reading, no matter what they write about.

Banks is a casual iconoclast. He writes in different genres, and just gets on with it. Some write under different names in different genres or for different perceived audiences. Ruth Rendell is also Barbara Vine. Banks adopts a pen name only in the most obvious way, inserting the initial M. into his name when he writes – shock, horror, whisper it – science fiction.

The Wasp Factory, original paperback cover Why should this be shocking? Lots of people write science fiction. But Banks was different. He started as a darling of the broadsheet intelligentsia, making his name as a ‘literary’ author with his controversial début The Wasp Factory (1984). He was immediately taken seriously by the literary establishment, which would not have happened had he made his début with one of the science fiction novels he had already written but failed to have accepted by a publisher.

Rather than follow with more of the same, Banks next novel was the surreal Walking on Glass. Then came The Bridge, a book which spanned the gulf between the mainstream and the fantastique. All three were published as contemporary literature, far from the taint of genre. In paperback they sported elegant black and white covers. Banks was a respectable brand.

Then Banks went and surprised almost everyone. In 1987, instead of publishing his next novel Banks published two. As a statement of intent this could not have been more clear, more brilliant. Espedair Street, published with a monochrome cover to match the previous three novels, was his most mainstream work to date. It had none of the macabre elements of The Wasp Factory, none of the uncanny features of Walking on Glass or The Bridge. It was contemporary realistic literature.

Had Banks continued purely in this direction he would doubtless sooner or later have won major literary prizes. Except, he didn’t.

Banks other new book for 1987 was Consider Phlebas. Taunting the critics, it had a big red spaceship on the cover and, for anyone who didn’t get the point, under the title the proud words, ‘A Science Fiction Novel’. Consider Phelebas, first edition cover

No hiding or denying the genre or pretending it was something else. Consider Phlebas was not just unashamedly science fiction. It was space opera. The enfant terrible of Scottish fiction had done the unthinkable. He had written Star Wars. For adults.

Crafted with the same wit, feeling, imagination and intelligence, Espedair Street and Consider Phelebas were pure Banks. One had spaceships, one rock ‘n’ roll.

Espedair Street, original paperback cover

For the last quarter century Banks has continued in much the same way, publishing a new book roughly once a year, alternating; black and white, colour, black and white, colour…

Except sometimes Banks mixes it up. Published as one of his mainstream novels, Transition was pure science fiction, though of a different character to his regular SF. Where Banks books with the colour covers tend to far future space opera, sometimes involving a society called ‘The Culture’, Transition is a parallel world novel unfolding on present day earths. Meanwhile Banks other novels have ranged from family drama (The Crow Road), to thriller (Complicity) to offbeat  drama (Whit, The Business). Some are better than others, but anyone who only reads half of Banks output is missing all the point.

The best Iain (M.) Banks books are brilliant. They are wonderfully written, filled with memorable characters, ingeniously plotted, exciting, moving, funny, shocking and brimming with barbed insights. This doesn’t just apply to the SF novels, but to the mainstream novels as well. Of course it does. The same person wrote them all.

The Player of Games happens to be one of Banks best SF titles. For World Book Night I would have been as happy to be giving people the thrill of discovering The Crow Road or The Bridge, or almost any of Banks other works. Great writing is great writing. Whatever the colour of the cover.