No SF at the BBC

Well I know that – I tried to watch Outcasts.

Stephen Hunt is getting hacked off with the BBC attitude to genre fiction as we can see in his blog post here. There’s also this article at the Guardian. I’m not sure I entirely agree. The Guardian seems more serious about genre fiction than just about any other newspaper, has published the article I’ve just pointed out, and it’s also joined at the hip to the BBC. What do you think? Maybe it’s only mentioned in the elitist spirit of ‘inclusiveness’ of the sneering intellectual pseud?

The good news is that the BBC has recently woken up to the decline of the printed word as an art form, and has belatedly decided to do something about it. The bad news is, shortly after they belatedly spotted all the high street bookshops going bust, they sent in the Sloanes with Purdey shotguns to lecture us on animal welfare.

Recently we’ve had Faulks on Fiction, where one of the bishops of the contemporary fiction high church, Martin Amis, laughed, ‘People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book. I say, “If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book.”’

Then we were offered World Book Night and a whole evening of BBC book coverage where the contemporary fiction team was trotted out onto the grass to kick the ball about – solely between themselves, of course.

The highlight of this was presenter Susan Perkins in the ironically entitled The Books We Really Read: a Culture Show Special making it sneeringly clear that she never normally reads any of our lowbrow genre tripe (although she might, you know, give it a whirl now, just for the sake of World Book Night). Fiction has to be painful, a little like school, she explained, before gushing all over some bemused beauty salon clients that her favourite must-read was Dostoevsky, who is all, like, really dark and stuff.

Fantasy was not mentioned once during the Perkins farce, fantasy, the very mother root of literature, JRR Tolkien and Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling and Joe Abercrombie and China Miéville and Michael Moorcock all stuffed inside CS Lewis’s wardrobe, the better not to be seen.

Not a single work of science fiction was brought up, so farewell then the brave new worlds of HG Wells, John Wyndham, George Orwell, Iain M Banks, Brian Aldiss, Sir Arthur C Clarke, Aldous Huxley, JD Ballard, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton and Stephen Baxter.

5 Desert Island Reads — Hitch

Firstly, oh my god this is hard! Five isn’t enough! I just hope the rest of my books somehow float my way.

Ok. My five, based on re-readabilty, memories and keeping my sanity whilst I survive on Coconut Vodka and Banana Daiquiris:

1) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Ironic, Witty, Hilarious, Genius. A book and a tale I have read and listenned to for many years wrote by a man who once shook my hand and made me very nearly find religion, though perhaps not the kind that Pope dude would enjoy! I have read the entire series so many times I cannot count the number and it is the #1 choice for me if stuck on a desert island.

2) Ender’s Game. Some love it, some hate it. I adore it and find the personalities and social ingenuity involved, brilliant. Like all the books here, it make my brain come alive and see IMAX in my head. I first read it fairly recently, Emma had it and I’d heard of it but never read it. Then I moved to her place and slowly worked my way around her bookcase and found, for me, and instant classic.

3) Gridlinked. Has to be that one. I love Cowl, I love The Skinner and the rest but to me Gridlinked is the best. It was my introduction to Neal and was right down my alley with its license to kill Agent Cormac. A thrill ride all the way with enough sub plots and twists to make me read over and over. This one I would read when I started to feel my first dose of apathy, to kick start me back into surviving.

4) Battlefield Earth. I know, I know, and I do not care. The author was a complete nut job, this is now certain. The writing isn’t even that good and is very simplistic and child like in parts but its one of the first ‘proper’ Sci-Fi books I read as I got older and I fucking love it. In my opinion only the Revelation Space series has come close to the epic scope of humanity this book offers. Everytime I read it my childhood comes back and I dream of Flash Gordon.

5) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The GF hates this book, with a passion, one that I cannot understand. In terms of writing this is, to me, the best book I have ever read. The alternate past in which it lives is one I dearly wish was the real one. I don’t tend to enjoy ‘fantasy’ books but then again I don’t rate this as fantasy. Its about magic, yes, but more than that, its about the Magicians and once I pick this up I cannot fail to read from the miniscule starts to the fatalistic ends of the key characters. My only regret is that Susanna Clarke seems to be a one hit wonder, but then again it means I don’t have to sneak another book onto the island!

I will say this. If ever stranded on an island with just these five books, I would survive, partly due to them. I would also be found crying at night over everything else I had to leave behind and missed, a lot of those tears would be over Clarke, Reynolds, Gaiman, Pratchett… Oh god, the list is endless.

/me waves to a passing ship and begs a look at the library.


Borders in Wellington

One here from Rob Clubley out of Borders in Wellington New Zealand. They’re still running? Here’s Rob’s blog and website.

Five years ago Caroline and I took a trip to New Zealand. We wandered around Christchurch to eventually find a book shop with a nice stack of my books. I signed them, and signed a wall in the shop covered with author signatures. I have to wonder if that wall is still standing.

Kindle Kimota

Graeme Hurry’s Kimota was one of the many small press magazines in which my stories were published, in the days before I was a fat, rich and famous author. The short stories of mine he published are Alternative Hospital, Gurnard, The Torbeast’s Prison, Tiger Tiger and the original booklet of the Mason’s Rats stories. Now he’s publishing Kimota on Kindle – this issue containing Alternative Hospital and stories from other Kimota authors.

You can find it here.

5 Desert Island Reads — Rob Dalby

Hi Neal

It’s proved incredibly difficult to cut this down to five, and since two of the five would have been yours (The Skinner and The Technician) I decided to arbitrarily exclude your stuff in order to not look too much like I was blowing smoke up your you-know what..

Others bubbling under the top five would be David Brin’s Brightness Reef (representing it’s trilogy), The Illium and Olympos duet by Dan Simmons (as well as his The Terror which I think is Sci-Fi for reasons too complicated to go into here) and Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls.

Anyway, on to the five.

The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.
One of Larry’s lesser known works (along with it’s sequel The Smoke Ring) and from the period when he was arguably past his best, but for me the story of Sharls Davis Kendy, Checker of the starship Discipline, keeping his ancient watching brief shows that Niven’s huge imagination was still as fertile as ever, with it’s description of a long-lost society of humans growing up among the bizarre vegetation and creatures of a gas torus.

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
To some extent this is representing it’s three siblings (Hyperion, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion) but this one is my favourite of the four. Simmons has a remarkable talent in creating an entire , fully realised, civilisation within a single novel where others might take a whole sequence to get to the same amount of detail, and the world of the Hegemony of Man is one which we would love to live in, at least until we find there is a worm buried in the apple. It’s crammed with breath-taking vignettes, and I’ve been haunted by the final choice of Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone since I first read the book getting on for 20 years ago.

Helliconia by Brian Aldiss
Perhaps cheating a little here, but my version of The Grand Old Man of British Sci-fi’s best work has all three volumes of the Heliconia cycle in one book, so I am having it as one of my five. There is a wonderful sense of momentum – the slow tumbling cycle of history, in the complex dance of the two stars of the Heliconia system and the effects the resulting centuries-long seasons have on the fortunes of the two sentient species of the world. There are discomforting parallels (for me) between the way our society seems to be developing and the parallel story of the deteriorating Human mission to Heliconia observing the planet below from their space station.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
For me the mark of great Sci-FI is to create so compelling a world that as soon as you put down the book you want to know what happens next – want to go back there. I’d hate to think that Reynolds might not revisit the remarkable society of the Terminal World, which he leaves with many questions unanswered. Much of the pleasure in the book comes from following the clues Reynolds leaves as to the real nature of the world he is describing.

Surface Detail by Iain M Banks
A return to form for Banks, whose sci-fi output has been (for me at least) disappointing of late. I read it in one sitting while crossing the Atlantic in a B747, and the wonderful twist at the end, dropped in so gently it feels like an afterthought, more than made up for the six hour delay in leaving London. It’s always great to visit the Culture (another society we’d surely love to live in – and for me a sort of mirror image of the Polity) and Banks has excelled in creating another in his long line of memorable villains and slightly punchable sort-of-heroes.

Anyway, that’s the top five, at least for today. Probably be completely different by tomorrow



Before They Are Hanged — Joe Abercrombie

Okay, Joe Abercrombie has got me. I’ll keep buying his books so long as he keeps producing excellent tales like this. Before They Are Hanged is easy reading full of enjoyable characters that change in ways you like to see them change, throughout a stonking story. The subtext added by the torturer Glokta’s thoughts as he carries out his ‘duties’ raises a chuckle at such (understandable) cynicism. I enjoy Luthar’s climb out of naivety and Logen’s pragmatic wisdom, and I love every one of the other northern ‘named men’ who have already crept up into the region of legend in my mind: Black Dow, Dogman, Harding Grim, Threetrees and Tul Duru Thunderhead. Honestly, reading this book has made me realize that I didn’t go off fantasy over the last couple of decades, I just wasn’t getting hold of any of the good stuff.

This is the good stuff.

Incidentally, his blog is worth a look too.

5 Desert Island Reads — Todd Sanders

First…curse you Neal Asher for limiting it to five books.

That out of the way I am subverting your rules slightly in order to pick ‘some’ of my most favourite books – ones I’d always want to have with me. Let’s pretend 9 is 5 in new math.

Crown of Infinity – John Faucette: For some reason I come back and back to this book. It has elements of Cordwainer Smith in it, early grand ‘today-style’ serious grunge space opera (echoes of Reynolds, Asher, Mieville and Banks within), with cybernetic human/machine/ship amalgams and a story of revenge that takes millennia. I do not know much about Faucette other than he is paired with a number of other authors in many of my Ace Doubles.

Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester: SF Grandmaster with good reason. This book currently seems in fad again with everyone calling ‘teleporting’ – ‘jaunting’. While based on a classic French novel – The Count of Monte Cristo – it is a fundamental building block to many later cyberpunk tropes. For me it is a guilty pleasure if I need a quick and bracing read.

Rynemonn – Terry Dowling: I quickly fell in love with the tales of Tom Tyson when i first found these stories collected in 4 books and a few anthologies. One part Cordwainer Smith, one part Moorcock, one part lowtechpunk, one part just damn fine literature. This is the ‘current’ final story collection in the series and collects many of my favorite stories, the last one of which “Sewing Whole Cloth”. I have read probably 20 times and, each time, I find the ending strikes me in a different way.

Use of Weapons – Iain M. Banks: As I look at the books I’ve picked I find most of them have a common theme of revenge and love. This is certainly no exception to that. It is my personal favorite Banks novel. I thought the ending stunning and it still moves me.

Time Enough For Love – Robert Heinlein: I’ve read all of Heinlein’s works over and over (and though I know he is currently out of favor for many of his views he is still and forever will be one of the founding fathers of SF). This book strikes me as him at the top of his game in the long novel form. I feel for Lazarus in this as he watches those he loves grow old around him. The chapter with him and his wife being held hostage by rapists and Lazarus’ subsequent solution to that dilemma is still exciting even though I know what will happen. This is one of the few books in my collection with a cracked spine and well-worn pages. And that is saying something for me.

The Confluence Trilogy – Paul McAuley: To me – a beautiful circular trilogy/bildungsroman about a boy growing to manhood and the mistakes he makes. McAuley had a wonderful mix of Ringworld style world building with a variety of cultures of different technology levels and biological types. Of special interest to me is that the 3 volumes are circular and end where they begin. I once read all 3 of these twice through and found the second immediate reading does change after you read all the books the first time and arrive at the circular point and begin again.

Last Legends of Earth – A.A. Attanasio: I think he remains little known as an author but I quite enjoy this book and have read it several times. It is the 4th in a series with massive overlapping of narratives in multiple instances of time and space. It has an Olaf Stapledon eon-spanning feel to it. Again another book of love and revenge and how the two intertwine.

Souls in the Great Machine – Sean McMullen: Australian air-punk (not even steampunk level tech allowed in this alternate Australian future) featuring living computers made of slaved mathematicians, a huge cast of Canterbury Tales style characters and a unique to me plot mystery solved over the course of the three books of the trilogy.

Elric – Michael Moorcock – still my favorite fantasy series. What more can be said?

5 Desert Island Reads – Disco Stu.

I suggested a few posts back that maybe you reading this would like to send me a picture and a little narrative about your favourite 5 SFF books. In fact I’ll widen that to include any book. Also, please remember that all the other ‘get people involved’ stuff is still open. I still want a biography plus picture from people to go in the ‘Who Reads My Books’ posts, I still want pictures of your book collections, and pictures from local bookshops of displays of my books. My email is at the bottom of the biog to the right here.

Here are Disco Stu’s five books:

Revelation Space – One of my “fed up with fantasy” first buys a few years ago. A real slow burner. Reynolds draws the story together in a way that just drew me in. Its a pleasure to read and I savor his breadth of vision. I’ve found it splits opinion like marmite – people either love it or hate it.

Downbelow Station – I think my first space opera type read as a teenager. Devoured it. Picked up secondhand from a market in Nottingham. Never met anyone else that has read it – if you haven’t I highly recommend BUT, not read it since then so remembered through teen eyes. On my ‘to read’ pile now.

Forever War – (book pictured is the omnibus) – First military scifi that I read. LOVE the time travel nature of it. Remember being anxious (at about 13 years of age) whether Mandela would actually meet up again with his bint. (Watched ‘Somewhere in Time’ about then so I was exploring unrequited time travel romance it seems…8)…)

Nightwinds – A novel I obsessed about through my teen years! I was a big role-player (D&D, Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP etc, etc) and here was a novel that brought to life perfectly that kind of world. Wagner can be klunky in some of his work but I think this is the best of it for me. ‘Undertow’ STILL gives me goosebumps. Ah…happy days.

The Skinner – This book along with Revelation Space changed my reading direction. After them, I must have bored people silly by my repeated plea for them to ‘start reading some of these UK authors publishing NOW- and stop telling me you once read ‘I, Robot’ or the Foundation series years-ago whenever I talk about scifi!!!’…..ok, I’m calm.

This book made me keep saying ‘wow!’ every few pages. Good money spent at Ottakars in my opinion.

These books are my five ‘Desert Island Reads’.

Z is for Zelazny, Mostly.

Here’s the last of my general SFF collection. I may yet put up something about the collectible books I’ve obtained since entering the publishing world too. But how about something from you? My brother suggested something along the lines of the first favourite five (alliteration there for those waiting for another ‘On Writing’). Send me a photograph along with some explanation of why you like the books, or maybe some history of your acquaintance with them.



Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

I picked up this Neil Gaiman clip via an SF Signal twitter. Rather similar to an earlier speculation of mine that book piracy might be an electronic version of the second-hand book shop. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Does this apply outside SF? How does it apply for lesser known authors? How does it apply to authors who aren’t regularly publishing books?