The Alt. Report 2008

Alt.Fiction 2008 was, as predicted, fun, entertaining, enlightening and…expensive!

Ticket to Alt.Fiction – £20. Various snack meals – £30. Too many excellent small press books and magazine subscriptions – £100. Getting to hear John Jarrold bang his fist on the table whilst telling us all that publishing is a commercial industry – £PRICELESS!

I’ve seen JJ talk at every con and festival I’ve been to in recent years, and to be frank I agree with pretty much everything he says. Publishing is a commercial industry. Good isn’t good enough, new writers have to be great. You need to know the spectrum of writers working in your genre today, thats who you will be compared with, not writers of thirty or forty years ago. Agents, publishers and  bookselers are investing in an authors career, not just one book. JJ was backed up by the commisioning editors for Harper Collins Voyager and Games Workshop Solaris imprints, and novelist Mike Marshall Smith. It was a stark but encouraging message, because what came over clearly was that all the professionals in the publishing biz are really passionate about writing they think is good enough and work damn hard to champion it.

Charlie Stross’ reading was excellent. I now have a signed ARC of ‘Haltiing State’, the novel which has seen Stross summoned to address the Pentagon Defense Commiteee and is on the summer reading list of the United States Secretary of Defense. Stross had brought the wrong notes of a talk he had given at MIT the week before. We were up to it, the audience told him. No you aren’t, he responded, flicking past the third extract from Halting State to a less jargony piece from his yet to be published space opera. I’m going to get an interview with Charlie soon, I want to know more about this Pentagon thing.

Outside the talks, most of the fun and games were taking place in the bar and book hall. Elastic Press had a bunch of excellent small press titles and I renewed by subscription to Interzone and Black Static. I think the money I spend on magazine subscriptions is singlehandedly propping up the specualtive fiction market place at the moment. As usual Alt.Fiction was really about chatting to people in the genre community, and its amazing what you find out. Not that I’m telling you lot, you’ll just have to make it to next years Alt.Fiction  and find out for yourself!

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Roll up for Alt.Fiction

The third annual festival of alternative fiction takes place this Saturday 26th April at the Derby Assembly Rooms, attracting goths, hippies, folkies, cyber-nerds, neo-pagans, sci-fi geeks, trekkers, real ale fans and people from dozens of other assorted sub-cultures – as well as plenty of ordinary folk – all united by their love of a good story and the people who create them.

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Don’t Abandon Hardbacks

Major publishers could be about to discard the hardback just as it becomes more valuable than ever

When Claire Armistead reported the demise of the hardback last week, I wondered why publishers were tossing away one of their greatest assets just when they need it the most.

It’s not every morning I awake with joy at the sound of my doorbell ringing, but yesterday I gave the postman a rapturous grin as he handed over my parcel of books from PS Publishing. The cause of my excitement was two fascinating novellas, Jeff Vandermeer’s The Situation and Zoran Zovkovic’s The Last Book. New publications from PS are always high on my wishlist, not just because of the first-class authors they champion but because their books are fantastic objects in their own right.

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Which rule do you break?

I’ve posted Heinlein’s rules numerous times, but a thred at the Asimov’s forum reminded me of them andyou can never hear them too often so here they are again.
RULE ONE: You must write.
RULE TWO: Finish what you start.
RULE THREE: You must refrain from re-writing, except to editorial order.
RULE FOUR: You must put your story on the market.
RULE FIVE: You must keep it on the market until it has sold.

Number two used to be my big problem. I have a solid rule to never start a new story until the old one is finished now as a consequence.

Which rule do you break? Do you keep tinkering with stories for decades? Perhaps you put them back in the drawer at the first rejection? Or are you a perfect and stick ot them all?

Audio is Our Future

I’d like to gamble that when clever people were kicking around ideas about how the internet would revolutise society, no one predicted the revival of the oral tradition. I know if anyone had told me I’d be using my super powerful computer to listen to stories much the same as my ancesteros told around the campfire, I’d have scratched my head and said ‘What?!’.

Perhaps because I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of great audio productions of my stories, Cthul-You for BBC Radio and Circe’s over at the Drabblecast, I’ve been converted to the potential of audio. Especialy for short fiction, which I think is just at the start of a great renaissance driven by audio.

I think the big abscence from this years Hugo and Nebula ballots is Steve Eley over at Escape Pod. If theres an editor who has brought more new readers into the genre in recent years I’d like to know about them. I’ve found more great stories on Escape Pod than any other venue, including the major magazines, and discoevered some of my favourite writers including Mike Resnick, Tim Pratt and Greg Van Eekhout. And although I’m biased I think Norm Sherman at the Drabblecast is such a top narrator, and his podcasts have such great production that he is quickly coming up behind Escape Pod.

Theres something about a well read story that beats more sophisticated forms of adaptation like video. Maybe because it isn’t an adaptation. You are getting the real story, and if the reading captures the voice of the text then it can be both a very intimate and a very powerful way to engage writer and reader. Its also convenient. Audio fits into our ever more hectic modern lifestyles. You can listen to a story on a commute, in the shower, at night in bed. You can also share it with other people – just like sitting round the campfire again, audio takes stories back to be a communal experience when we want them to be.

The spur for this post today was listening to Graves by Joe Haldeman on the Star Ship Sofa podcast. Give it a listen, it really is an amazing (and pretty creepy) story.

Anyone elese have any audio recommendations? I’m always looking for more good stories.

James Patrick Kelly praises The Fix

Jim Kelly, award winning SF writer (and Clarion tutor) praises The Fix…

Luckily for fans of the short form, a new site, The Fix, has arrived on the scene. Andy Cox, of TTA Press, publisher of Interzone and Black Static, and Eugie Foster have created a site that is visually pleasing and intellectually stimulating. The size of their staff of columnists and reviewers is impressive. I counted over fifty; most are themselves working or aspiring writers. Of course, the skill and style of the reviewers vary; for the most part they give plot summaries and in some cases offer a critical, or at least a personal, reaction to the story. The intent would seem not so much to pass judgment as to describe stories that a reader might want to look for. The columns are quite astute—I can particularly recommend James Van Pelt’s The Day Job and Scott Danielson’s Audiobook Fix. The Fix is one of the most promising new sites of 2007.

Read the whole article

…well done Eugie and Andy. I read The Fix daily and really enjoy writing my own reviews for it, so its great to see it getting more of the attention it deserves.

Clarion Journal: Reading Geoff Ryman

Its been a little over a week since I found out about getting a place at Clarion. The excitement has been pretty intense, its been very difficult to stop thinking about it. A number of other semi-major life events have occured – I have barely even noticed. I’m getting towards being calm about it now though.

I’ve thrown myself into pre-Clarion reading this weekend. I’m starting with Geoff Ryman, partly because his books were the first I could lay my hands on and also because I’m doing a write-up of the Ryman inspired Mundane SF issue of Interzone in the next couple of weeks and this is good research.

I read Pol Pots Beautiful Daughter yesterday. Its a beautiful story. Set in post-liberation Cambodia it follows the odd life of, as the title suggests, Pol Pots (probably fictional) daughter. Asian culture is a frequent feature of Geoff’s writing I think. Stylistically his writing reminds me of the handful of Japanese authors I’ve read, a similar mythologising of mundane urban life as Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. There is something about characters who find happiness by accepting mundanity as well that he shares with these authors. The political aspect of the story is interesting, a massive subject to take on (genocide) but dealt with in a very modern way. The characters in the story use the trappings of modern life as a buffer between themselves and the stark realities of the past – Pol Pots daughter lives in a multi-storey house stuffed with TV’s and mobile phones. In turn we use the characters as a buffer for the subject matter. Pol Pots daughter has youth and beauty on her side, and finds a kind of redemption and release from the pasts horific events, and through her so do we.

I’m about a third of the way onto Air. This is much more challenging than the short stories by Ryman that I’ve read. It is an odd combination of difficult to take in and massively engaging. It is set in a foreign culture, who are in turn on the brink of radical transformation so there is very little familiar detail to cling onto. But the human stories are very grounded and very intimate. There is something very magical in Geoff’s writing but I can’t quite pin down where it comes from. I think it might be that his characters are dealing with  longing and unhappiness. Both Pol Pot and Air remind me of the space of time after you have been very upset by something, and everything feels at a distance. I need to read more to see whats going on here though.

As always the reality of something like Clarion kicks off unexpected changes. I wrote in my application, and now just again on my student profile, that one thing I want to get from my time on the workshops is an idea of what I really want to write. At the time it felt a bit like the kind of thing people say in this kind of situation, its only thinking it out that I realise that real is what I’m looking. Looking at the six tutors for Clarion makes you realise how distinct each ones work is from the others, and from other writers at their level. Its both an exciting and an intimidating prospect to know that I (and likely the other 17 students) still have the process of finding our own distinctive voice in front of us.

More Ryman this week, then on to Jim Kelly I think.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 2008

The May 2008 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction kicks off with a hint of horror provided by Albert E. Cowdrey’s “Thrilling Wonder Stories.” Knowledgeable science fiction readers might recognise the title as a reference to a real (and recently relaunched) pulp magazine, and the story is set in the era of American history these magazines have come to symbolise.

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The Politics of SF

I don’t remember when I first saw the words “Nebula Award Winner” emblazoned on a science fiction paperback. It might well have been alongside “Hugo Award Winner” on the cover of The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clarke, which won both of speculative fiction’s premier awards in 1979 and 1980. I can’t have known that the Hugos were named for editor Hugo Gernsback and awarded at the annual science fiction WorldCon, or that the Nebulas were awarded by the membership of Science Fiction Writers of America. What I did know was that any book that had won one or both awards stood a good chance of being amazing. Following the Hugo/ Nebula trail led me to Philip K Dick, William Gibson, Ursula K LeGuin and a host of other writers so wondrous I can barely imagine life without them.

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