Brother Berserker – Fred Saberhagen

Excellent book. Implacable machines, time travel, Foucault’s Pendulum. . . The anachronisms were few in this or I simply did not notice them. And by that I mean the look of the ‘modern’ technology and the behaviour of the people. There were of course anachronisms all the way through what berserkers and ‘modern’ humans travelling into the past. Reading this I have to wonder if it’s a book James Cameron read in the past because, well, metal skeletons and the change in the last berserker.

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Hothouse – Brian Aldiss

I tried as hard with this but in the end abandoned it three-quarters of the way through. The hothouse world was interesting, weird and a bit of a fever dream, but the story weak. The aimless rambling of the characters made for an aimless, rambling book, and it is also difficult to care about characters when they range from stupid to plain ridiculous, like the ‘tummy-belly men’. There was also a bit too much of the non-invisible author obviously searching to fill up pages with the next sparkly thing, then abandoning it. It all felt contrived and ‘arty’, as if asking me to acknowledge the statements and observations being made as clever, or amusing, and they weren’t. I went from enjoyment at the start through to boredom then irritation reading this. Very little in the way of remembered reading pleasure here.

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London Centric

Militant A.I.s, virtual realities, augmented realities and alternative realities; a city where murderers stalk the streets, where drug lords rule the shadows, and where large sections of the population are locked in time stasis, but where tea is still sipped in cafés on the corner and the past still resonates with the future…
Neal Asher opens the anthology with a story set in his Polity Universe, Dave Hutchinson gives us a novelette from his Fractured Universe milieu, Jeremy Szal takes us to the world of his debut novel Stormblood, M.R. Carey, Aliette de Bodard, Geoff Ryman, Aliya Whiteley and a cast of equally talented writers transport us to Londons near and far…

1. Introduction by Ian Whates
2. Skin – Neal Asher
3. The Good Shepherd – Stewart Hotston
4. Infinite Tea in the Demara Café – Ida Keogh
5. War Crimes – M.R. Carey
6. Fog and Pearls at the King’s Cross Junction – Aliya Whiteley
7. Nightingale Floors – Dave Hutchinson
8. Something Went Wrong in Heaven – Geoff Ryman
9. A Visit in Whitechapel – Eugen Bacon
10. Herd Instinct – Fiona Moore
11. Death Aid – Joseph Elliott-Coleman
12. A Dance of Dust and Life – Aliette de Bodard
13. Commute – Andrew Wallace
14. Scream in Blue – Jeremy Szal
15. About the Authors
Available as an A5 paperback and a numbered limited edition hardback signed by all the contributing authors.

Antique Futures

As I mentioned in a previous post, in seeking not to get wound up in the toxicity on social media lately, I’ve been looking elsewhere. There’s not been much new on the TV that interests me and for some years now I’ve been struggling to read books. Either I’m jaded or I write so much that my editing head is perpetually on. But I made an effort to get back into it and have found myself reading a lot of old SF just lately. Maybe a touch of nostalgia is an antidote to present craziness – an attempt to seek of an old escape route. Interestingly, since posting about those books (on the social media, hah! And here) I’ve seen that a lot of others are doing the same. For the same reason or were they already doing so, I wonder.

In the past I’ve found myself giving up on old SF because of the anachronisms, but this time that isn’t the case. Now I can shrug off when the scientist uses a slide-rule, and when the planetary map-maker puts film in his camera and is shuffling about photographs on a table, while pictures are difficult to take. The depiction of Venus as either a paradise or a sweaty jungle planet and Mars as a hot desert world with breathable air and canals just raises a smile. And the fact that ‘nuclear’ means abracadabra and technology like magic only makes me nod my head at how it has only been supplanted by ‘quantum’ and ‘nano’ nowadays.

Whatever impelled me to read such books again is debatable, but I have an idea as to why I have managed to continue with them. They are on the whole well written. Maybe a reason for that is the filter process they went through in their creation. They were probably written first with a pen with numerous corrections made and then, moving on to the typewriter, a great deal of thought and care must have been deployed since errors and corrections would have involved Typex and actual cutting and pasting. Not for these writers he easy word searches, replacements, deletions and shifting of chunks of text. And then, with the typescript in the hands of a publisher and no electronic file to easily shift about, the editing process must have been just as meticulous.

But still, after all that and for me, there will be the anachronisms, the utter failure to predict our digital age, in some cases complete misunderstanding of distances in space, the rush to find a telephone box to warn that the rubber-head aliens are attacking. Also too are the failures to predict social change, where the heroine is just there as love interest and to be saved, where the hero lights up a Marlborough before doing so. And even I find myself wincing at some of the stuff in them that would have your average SJW fitting on the floor with foam at the corners of the mouth.

I guess it the case that such ‘errors’ I find more glaring the more modern a book is, but these books have been, on the whole, well over fifty years old. As such, this puts them not only at a temporal distance from our present age when written, but they have also moved aside in another way. They are so distant and unrelated I find myself reading them like fantasy. It doesn’t matter that they are wrong because they are simply not set in our world with our rules. They are a bit like steampunk, alternative histories and that sort of thing, which generally I don’t like – perhaps I forgive that because of the reading pleasure they gave me decades ago.  They have shifted off the main timeline and down the probability slope into a parallel world, for they are ‘antique futures’.

But I have to be careful not to allow myself any feelings of superior, 20×20 hindsight. While answering a question about my latest book, Jack Four – about where it fits in the Polity timeline – it occurred to me that my early books are steadily drifting into the above territory now. As I described it: the early books are William Shatner Star Trek, while the later ones are like the series Picard. In retrospect the gap is not that wide, more like Star Trek Generations to Picard. But nevertheless, things have changed, our present science has advanced and, since I read a lot of that, what I can be extrapolate from it, is changing day by day. A perfect illustration of that is how, on a couple of occasions, I have had to alter a book while writing it because I read some science that already made what I wrote dated, or about to be dropped into the well of history. I have changed too.

People ask me when I’m going to write a book about the Quiet War or the Prador/Human War and I generally just shrug about that and reply, ‘Not at the minute, because I’m writing this’. One of the reasons not to do the former is the excellent title ‘The Quiet War’ has already been taken, but that’s beside the point. In the end it is because I’ll be going back, I’ll be winding the clock back and I will be, to bring confusing bookish time travel metaphor into his, going back to an antique future . . . or at least a second hand, one careful owner variety.

It is well to remember that Gridlinked recently had its 20th birthday. There are people reading it now, in fact people who read it quite some years ago, who weren’t even born when I wrote it. It still stands up, if my recollection is correct, and hopefully will do so for another decade at least. But nothing dates quite so fast as science fiction and, it is quite evident, we are on an exponential curve of technological advance, which means it’s going to date faster. I can but hope that in fifty or more years a reader will enjoy it with a wry smile, then put it aside before . . . doing whatever it is they will do then.

Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement

The usual caveats apply here for SF first published in 1954. Cameras with film in them, laying out prints to form maps of the surface of a world etc. The digital, computer, internet age sat firmly in a future not imagined by SF writers then. Nevertheless a wonderfully visualised alien world, characters one cared about, albeit the main ones being hydrogen-breathing caterpillars, with pincers, living on a world whose gravity varied from 3g to 700g, and a stonking good tale too. Very enjoyable.

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Slaves of the Klau – Jack Vance

Heh. Old SF that brings home that often what is imagined can be limited by what is. It’s not possible to write SF that will stand the test of time in this respect unless you’re very vague. You can extrapolate on anything but still get most of it wrong and completely miss other things. But this alone wasn’t much of a problem – one can enjoy the story telling and description and chuckle at the anachronisms. At the beginning, however, I nearly gave up because of the naive pig-headed behaviour of Barch, the hero. Later on the portrayal of the aliens – basically rubber head humans we’ve seen in so much SF TV – also irritated. But now I’m remembering that Vance often wrote annoying characters and as a youth it was all the other stuff that kept me uncritically engaged. Still, this rocked along at a good pace and I did extract enjoyment from it.

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Into The Out Of – Alan Dean Foster

Two Americans are chosen by a Maasai Laibon to help him close an opening breach into the ‘out of’ because the shetani are coming through – a wide selection of deformed demons with some nasty habits and intentions. Again I enjoyed Foster’s story telling and again some aspects of this felt dated. Some things did annoy, like the woman going off to pee behind a bush at one point and being grabbed by Shetani, then doing exactly the same thing later with the same result. The man’s perpetual disbelief in the shetani that went on long after one had tried to bite his foot off and he’d agreed to go to Africa. The woman’s ineptitude and the fact that she was only there to provide love interest and be rescued. But overall a solid read.

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Lockdown Tales

As I said in the previous post, during lockdown I wrote a few novellas. Well, I’ve been sporadically writing novellas for a while – very often when I sit down with the intention of writing a short story it grows in the telling. Two of them have in fact turned into the first two books in my next contract with Macmillan.

I’ve published some of these over the last year or so. One was Monitor Logan in World War Four edited by Sam M. Phillips and Adam Bennett in March last year. Another is Moral Biology in a magazine I once read copies of when a teenager, and even then they were old. Analog Science Fiction has been running since 1930 and to me, just like Asimov’s, is a legendary publication so it was great to be published there. And another called The Bosch I published myself to Amazon Kindle and POD.

But still I had plenty more yet to find a home and, trying to be tidy about this, I decided to publish them as a collection. That I’d written a few during lockdown and come to the decision to publish them at this time, Lockdown Tales seemed like the perfect title. Happily I can announce that the collection will be published by Ian Whates of NewCon Press in the UK, so that means stuff like limited signed editions and other good stuff.

Lockdown Tales consists of six novellas and novelettes (depending on what your definition of those are) and amounts to about 150,000 words (about the length of The Skinner). These stories are:

The Relict is found buried in old lava in what is coming to be called ‘Far Future Polity’.  The first part exposed is a huge metal claw. . .

Monitor Logan was published in WWIV and not. Call this the director’s cut if you like. In this I tell the backstory too. Science fiction High Plains Drifter.

Bad Boy is what, with their tendency to understatement, the Hoopers of Spatterjay have named a giant whelk, which has come up from the ocean floor to denude islands and sink ships.

Plenty is the name of this ‘Far Future Polity’ world where Ben has been stranded. He is surviving, just, despite the Night Stalker. And he too discovers the utility of old technology dug out of the ground.

Dr Whip is the only survivor of a virus aboard a space station. He has been changed, irrevocably – not by the virus but by the one who brought it to the station: Penny Royal.

Raising Moloch sees the return of Jonas Clyde the hooder expert so, of course, hooders are involved. Raising a monster can be a risky occupation. . .

There you go. I’ve written an introductions to these as a whole and individually. Publication date is to be decided – maybe towards the end of this year. I hope you’ll enjoy them!

My Lockdown

We’ve been in lockdown now for three months. When this started I was immediately sceptical because it seemed a hysterical overreaction, along with, in the UK, the Tory need not to be seen as the ‘nasty’ party. With the death tolls coming in I changed my mind about that and thought maybe it might be necessary, and I’ve wavered between the two poles ever since. I’m not going to get into all the reasons why it may have been necessary or unnecessary. There’s plenty of information out there and one must make one’s own decision – search out ‘lockdown sceptics’ for example. Even after this is all over the arguments will rage on because, as it seems with every major ‘issue’, this has now become politically polarised. One thing we can be sure of is that we’ll be paying for the damage caused by the lockdown for a long time to come.

The loss of jobs, businesses and lives destroyed is a cost yet to be counted. The recent riots and the destruction they have caused I would firmly blame on the lockdown. It’s difficult to rage at a virus or attempts to ameliorate its effects, so some, feeling anger and frustration, want people to blame, or an event to focus their feelings on. This is of course exacerbated by the MSM, social media and the sheer reach of the internet now. We can get news and on the spot videos of events all around the world almost instantly on our mobile devices. As I’ve said before: when we had that tsunami it was there for us to see in minutes. Fifty years before it would have been a few column inches on page three of the Sunday newspaper. This instant news imparts an impression of perpetual chaos because, well, crap happens all the time somewhere and always now someone is filming it and hoping it will go ‘viral’.

So, in respect of the riots, it is worth considering how much of the present impression of a world gone mad, is an artefact of all this. Should some be thinking ‘end of civilization!’ because maybe ten assholes pull down a statue or because thousands are rioting in scattered cities, across a world whose population is near eight billion? That being said, seeing British police kneeling to Marxist protestors, the corporate virtue-signalling and people kicked out of jobs because of being insufficiently politically correct, is nauseating.

But fuck all that.

At first, the lockdown didn’t really change my lifestyle much. Throughout winter in the UK I simply write, exercise and get jobs done. The first thing I lost was visits to my local gym, but in their stead I started going for long walks and brought my weights inside, cleaned the rust off, and started using them. Next, on a couple of occasions, I drove to the shops then simply turned round and went home again – soon learning to time my shopping trips so as to avoid the ridiculous scattered out queues. But even if your lifestyle is like mine the frustrations build. I first made the mistake of engaging with all the social media rage which, to be honest, seems more infectious than covid. That made me feel crappy and I soon stepped away from it. A ‘fuck it’ attitude then led to me hammering the booze, which made me feel crappy and I’ve stepped away from that too. This was all exacerbated for me when my first flight to Crete was cancelled, and now on my fourth cancellation frustration has turned to resignation.

But there have been upsides to all this, for me at least, and the lapses from self-discipline have been few. After coffee and a (limited) browse of the social media, here’s my routine on most days: I turn on my main computer to write and read through five science articles, interspersed with editing and writing. I do this for half an hour because I’ve learned the dangers of sitting all day at a desk. I then get up to write in my journal, in Greek, for a quarter of an hour before returning to the computer. I alternate like this throughout the day – transitioning to reading Greek out loud when I’ve filled in a journal page, and transitioning to writing only once I’ve read those articles. On most days I extend the quarter hour away from the computer by doing five-minute sets of weight training – totalling 20 to 30 minutes a day. Come the end of the writing day, with (mostly) 2,000 words of fiction written, I put on my trainers and go for a 7 mile walk – sometimes further when feeling particularly pissed off (17 miles is the longest so far).


I’m not sure of the numbers now, but during this lockdown I’ve edited a book and written three or four novellas and had some stuff published. The latter are a novella called Moral Biology in Analog and a novella called The Bosch I published myself to Amazon Kindle and POD. The book I edited is Jack Four – a standalone set in the Polity telling the story of a clone delivered to the King’s Ship (the home of the prador king) and the tale that ensues. There will be monsters – I promise monsters. The three (or four) novellas include one Owner novella while the others are Polity ones. These last, combined with a number I wrote before, will be published as a collection called, inevitably, Lockdown Tales.

Book Cover: The Bosch

Another upside has been my reading. Tending to avoid the rage mob on social media and finding little to interest me on TV, I’ve pushed my nose back into books. For some years now I’ve had a problem with this, maybe related to past anxiety and depression, or to the addictive attraction of the internet, or to a degree I’ve become jaded with it. I’ve found myself abandoning book after book – pushed out of them for various reasons. Sometimes with more modern books this is because of overt political correctness, and sometimes it is because, spending so much time writing, I often still have my editing head switched so the errors are glaring. But either way I’ve been finding it difficult to recapture that ‘suspension of disbelief’ and sensawunda – difficult to escape into books. But this time, going back to reading some old stuff, I’ve been able to recapture some of that, as you will see by the reviews that have appeared here. In the last couple of weeks I’ve read more books than in all of last year.

Anyway, that’s enough of a ramble. I just hope that all of you out there can garner some benefits from this interminable confinement, perhaps even a greater appreciation of life when this shit-show is over.