Tag Archives: Jeff Vandermeer

British Fantasy Awards 2012 Results

The British Fantasy Awards have been announced. I was happy to be invited to be a judge this year. It was fun, and I got to read a bunch of good books. or re-read in many cases! Here are the winners:

Best Novel (Fantasy): Jo Walton’s Among Others

Best Novel (Horror): Adam Nevill’s The Ritual

Best Novella: Lavie Tidhar’s Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God

Best Anthology: The Weird (edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer)

Best Collection: Robert Shearman’s Everyone’s Just So, So Special

Best Short Story: Angela Slatter’s “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter”

Best Independent Press: Chomu Press

Film: Midnight in Paris

Best Comic: Locke and Key

Best Non-Fiction: Grant Morrison’s Supergods

Best Newcomer: Kameron Hurley

As they have only just been announced there’s been limited chances for response. The Pornokitsch reviews blog make a valid observation about the lack of winners ‘in the room’ at the award ceremony. Perhaps a more relevant critique when one thinks about the controversy surrounding last year’s awards. A controversy which I responded to at the time with a suggestion for a unified SF/F award in the UK.

It’s worth noting that none of these issues were in the mandate of either judges of BFS voters to consider. We set out to award the best fantasy in each category, and I feel very happy we achieved that.

No doubt there will be further debate about the role of both the British Fantasy Awards and their relationship to other awards in the field. As previously noted, the internet has made the SF community much more interconnected across international and genre boundaries. It has changed the role both of fan societies and awards. I’d love to know what people think awards in the field generally need to achieve and how we get there from here.

Who is the wisest Sci-Fi & Fantasy author?

Over on Twitter and Facebook I asked folk to tell me which SF author they would turn to for life advice, for words of wisdom and guidance through the labyrinth of life. And I got quite a response!

[View the story “Wisest of the wise in SF & Fantasy” on Storify]

Popular choices include Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, Jeff Vandermeer, China Mieville, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Philip K Dick and Douglas Adams. Is it just coincidence that these are also some of our most enduring writers?

It makes me wonder, beyond a good story, great characters, cool ideas and amazing worlds to explore, is what we really value in our writers is the wise guidance they offer us through life?

Writing Mind, Big Mind, Judging Mind

My friend Amy Sundberg talks about the Writing Mind, in response to Jeff VanderMeer’s missive that forcing your concentration to meet a fixed daily word count isn’t a universally good idea. Even when you aren’t writing, you can still be writing. The imagination is always busy, and sometimes it does its best work when we give it space and time. I know that for me a daily word count is not all that helpful. The words will come when they come. I might get other words to come, but the chances are that if I force it, they won’t be the words I need.

Amy’s idea of the Writing Mind reminds me of what zen buddhists call the Big Mind. Most of us, most of the time, live in our Small Mind. If you’re worried, stressed, anxious, uptight, angry, being needlessly aggressive or competitive, that’s your Small Mind doing what it thinks it needs to do to keep you alive. I say ‘what it thinks’ because when you look back at the sum total of time your Small Mind spends worrying about things, you can be fairly sure that 90% wasn’t worth worrying about, and the other 10% wasn’t improved by worrying about it anyway. Your small mind is about you. What you need. What you want. Your survival in this big bad world.

The Big Mind is all about We and all about Us. It understands that the world is made up of 7 billion interdependent human beings and that in anything but the short term acting selfishly for your own interests alone doesn’t get us very far. And because the Big Mind understands the interconnectedness of all things, it understands that there is really no need to worry. When you are relaxed, happy, calm, blissful, joyful and at peace, that is your Big Mind being in charge.

(If your internal voices are shouting ‘This is all nonsense! I have to look out for number one first and foremost!’, well…that’s your Small Mind talking.)

The other thing that your Big Mind does is create. Whether it’s a work of art, or an essay, or a business, anything humans create has to come from our Big Mind. Small Mind isn’t good at creating. Creativity is risky. That book might not sell. That essay might get a bad grade. The whole business might go bust. It’s better to do things that are routine. Where the outcome is assured. Keep the money coming in. Pay off that mortgage. Get that pension scheme built up. Don’t, whatever you do, decide to become a writer. If Small Mind has one ultimate commandment, that’s probably it.

A daily word count can be a way of dealing with Small Mind, by powering past it. But it can also be capitulation to the Small Mind. Because you are turning the creative act of writing in to a routine act that Small Mind can control. Get those two thousand words written. Sell a book a year. Earn enough from writing to…pay off that mortgage. Get that pension scheme built up. Not that you shouldn’t have these things. But the part of you that wants them isn’t often the part that creates anything splendid and beautiful.


British Fantasy Society logo (circa 2008)
Image via Wikipedia

I’ll be exercising my Judging Mind as a judge for this years British Fantasy Awards. Which is…quite cool and exciting. I can already feel the power going to my head. If you are a member of the British Fantasy Society or attended / attending the 2011 / 2012 FantasyCon you can vote for the shortlist, from which we judges will be selecting winners. So go and vote, and give me some good stuff to read.




And a little bit more on Big Mind…

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Steampunk Reloaded reviewed by Lauren Westwood

Lauren Westwood is graduate of Loughborough University’s MA in Creative Writing and was a project intern for the Writing Industries Conference. She is a young writer with a passion for SF and Fantasy, but had never heard of steampunk until accepting my challenge to review the Steampunk Reloaded anthology. Here she gives a fascinating insight in to how the genre seems to an outside eye.

Steampunk Reloaded
edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
reviewed by Lauren Westwood
I’ve grown up on a diet of Star Wars – I feed the habit often, unashamedly and without judgement. When it comes to being flung into galaxies far far away, I can’t get enough. But science fiction literature, it seems, is now an altogether different cauldron of aquatic vertebrates.
I’m interested sure, but I’m also the first to admit that I know next to naff all about it. Recently I’ve dipped an inquisitive big toe in the pool by sampling some Philip K. Dick; a name I’ve come to associate with ‘master’. But I’ve arrived at ‘soggy socks’ having only briefly paddled. To properly understand the genre I’m going to have get wet.
So, I’ve waded in with Steampunk Reloaded. I scroll along the list of names on the cover, a few of which I recognise. When I say ‘a few’, I mean it in the pure, unembroidered sense of the word. No recollection of the countless other names lining the page appear to be scrambling from the memory bank. Gibson. Baxter. But that’s it. So, where do I start? A vaguely familiar face or a stranger from the unknown? In the end, I opt to begin at the beginning.
What the heck is steampunk anyway?
Luckily, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, the architects of Steampunk and its sequel, are on hand to help explain. Modern steampunk, it appears, has derived from the Victorian fantasies which drew heavily from the steam-powered inventions that defined the period. I’m picturing a mad professor dreaming up his latest contraption over a mug of steaming PG tips. Although it’s possible that there’s slightly more to it…
Correct…And I’m only in up to my ankles!
William Gibson kicks things off with The Gernsback Continuum and doesn’t disappoint. The interconnecting realities of the alternate history he invents for 1930s America reveals that steampunk isn’t restricted by its Victorian roots. Instead it’s made relevant and resonates with a reader intrigued by new visions of a future that never was; I’m hooked.
Steampunk Reloaded offers a tangy taste of the genre; fab, retro illustrations set the ol’ cogs of imagination rolling in reverse and easily-digestible chunks of captivating fiction are crowned by a couple of essays about the culture itself. In identifying the connection between style and literature, steampunk author, Gail Carriger, asks Which is Mightier; the Pen or the Parasol? Here she refers to the fashion of steampunk, ‘the buttoned up brass beauty of old tech and new ideas’; an aesthetic concept that harmonises entirely with the overall design of Ann and Jeff’s anthology. It’s a work of art!
Having splashed about a bit, I’ve learned that steampunk is one of sci-fi’s many appendages, but it’s not a lifeless limb by any means. Alternate history, speculative fiction, time travel; these all exist under the gargantuan gazebo of literature that pokes and plays with known reality, and steampunk nestles in nicely, holding its own as a valued member of the gang. As the Vandermeers testify, the sub-genre is ‘alive and well and manifesting in a myriad of different ways’, and this collection demonstrates exactly that.

Buy Steampunk Reloaded on Amzon.com

Show Me the (Urban Fantasy) Money

So. Jeff Vandermeer has called on me as ‘someone who comes from the old-school urban fantasy and an appreciation for it’ to ‘investigate and report back’ on the current state of the urban fantasy genre.

Now. Jeff knows of my abiding love for the urban fantasy genre, not just because I mentioned it in asking the question Who Reads Urban Fantasy? not so long ago on this blog, but because we’ve talked some about the genre. So I’m going to take on Jeff’s challenge. And I want your help to do it.

Let me be frank. There is a lot of urban fantasy being published. A LOT. Like any genre cresting the wave of popularity, much of it will, inevitably, be bad. If we are to believe Sturgeons Law that 90% of everything is crap, then when it comes to peak popularity genres, that can be raised to 95% or even 99%. As evidence for this I direct your attention to the Horror wave of the mid to late 80’s.

I do not have time to wade through this crap looking for the undoubted gems it contains. So, knowing that many of you will have already done that wading for me, I call on you now to show me the very best that urban fantasy and its numerous sub-genres have to offer.

A few criteria.

  • Interpret urban fantasy in the widest sense. If you think a book or author fit in the genre, tell me. I’ll make a judgement call about whether I agree once nominations are in.
  • I want books published recently. 5 years at the outer limit, 2 years is better, yet to be published better still.
  • What do I mean by ‘the very best’? I’m looking for the 1-5% of the urban fantasy genre that resist Sturgeons Law. Give me the big names by all means, but what I really want are the sparkly bits of genius that might be being lost in the torrent of urban fantasy currently hitting the shelves.

If I receive enough nominations of a high enough quality, I will review a selection of the best that urban fantasy has to offer, and try and give my answer to Jeff’s question ‘Urban Fantasy, From Whence Came You? And Where Are You Going with That Trope?!’ with particular focus on where it might be that the genre is going.

Make your nominations below, or to me on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Living the Booklife

I have let my Boxing Day be consumed by reading. I can’t really think of anything more wonderful. I will try and give a full review of my new Sony Pocket eReader, but I need a little more time to digest the experience. (It is good, but not without issues)

Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife is, as advertised, filled with strategies and survival tips for 21st Century writers. I can’t think of a writer more qualified to talk on the subject, as Jeff has carved a career out of the quickly evolving landscape of the internet in a way that few writers would be able to emulate. Divided into two halves exploring first Public Booklife (roughly concerned with surviving and thriving in the internet jungle) and Private Booklife (methods for maintaining a creative space in the face of all the pressures to the contrary), with a Gut Check section sandwiched between (a few basic questions you need to confront yourself with if you are going to take on writing as a career). I read Booklife today in a giant gulp, and with a sense of absolute recognition. Regardless of where writing takes me in future, I’m at this moment in time one of a generation of writers who are very much engaged with navigating the turbulent but exciting waters of a writing career in the 21st Century.  And every page of Booklife brought out a new grunt of recognition as I recognised my own strategies and tactics being reflected back to me.

(I’m still not entirely certain I believe in writing as a career, any more than I believe in street preacher, revolutionary leader or polar explorer as careers. But I’m happy to be persuaded.)

Booklife came as a timely reminder that I need to redefine my own Public and Private Booklife, in particular the balance between the two, in the coming year. As 2009 turns into 2010 I will have been writing ‘seriously’ for five years. I measure the point of seriousness from the period I started sending work out, and educating myself about the business of writing. In that time I have made some headway. I have had roughly two stories published a year, plus a few reprints here and there. I’ve been read by Douglas Coupland, won an Arts Council grant, been professionally mentored by Graham Joyce, broadcast on BBC Radio, blogged for The Guardian and been to the Clarion writers workshop and back.

(Where Neil Gaiman told me the audition was over and I needed to show what I could do when I took myself seriously)

I have not: finished the half dozen solid short story ideas that I know I can do and would get published. And I have have not: written a novel. I can offer the excuse that over these five years I have been learning. It is a true excuse. I was technically good enough to finish a novel three years ago, but it would have been a very different novel than I would write today, or a year from now. It’s only in the last year, assimilating what I learned at Clarion, that I feel I have a grip on how to tackle the (technically more demanding) short stories. But really, this is an excuse cloaking a deeper truth.

If you walked up to me on the street (or more likely in a coffee shop) and asked me what I would be doing in five years, I don’t think I would say ‘being a writer’. I take writing very seriously, but the reality of being a writer still seems eternally distant, a destination I will forever be struggling towards but never arriving at. So despite good advice to the contrary, I still don’t, quite, take myself seriously. And, if I’m going to continue, I need to.

A few idle distractions for those of us living the booklife:

Notes on being a grown-up, Year 2.

If you too unwrapped an eReader for Xmas, load up on free content at Feedbooks.

Serious Fantasy

I’ve been a bit quiet since World Fantasy. Blame it on recovery from jet-lag and reacquanting myself with my day job, which decided to go and get all creative whilst I was away. But I’ve told it what’s what, and I think it’s learnt its lesson.

World Fantasy was head and shoulders the best convention I have ever attended. EasterCon, FantasyCon and Alt.Fiction all have their strengths, the British fan base are extremely friendly and very passionate, but its always been disappointment for me that for many if not most of the fans speculative fiction as literature is a secondary concern to their real passions for Dr Who, Star Trek, Buffy and other mass media SFF franchises. Not only do I primarily like written SF, I also like SF literary and read much mainstream and literary fiction alongside. So I was incredibly happy to find that audience for WFC were very much in the same ballpark as me. There were no Star Trek or any other kind of costumes (with the exception of a steampunk party on one night). The panels all had genuinely insightful themes and incited real discussion about fantasy fiction (and were well attended). The dealers room was full of treasures, and there were no stands given over to self-published authors. In short, WFC was a precisely the professional convention that it biled itself as, that above all took fantasy fiction seriously. (Small whoop of joy for that please)

The greatest reward of my long journey to the convention was to meet so many other people who take fantasy every bit as seriously as I do. I got to meet for the first time many established professionals in the field who I have talked with online including John Klima, Neil Clarke, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer and John Courtney Grimwood. And many others who I encountered for the very first time. But the most fantastic surprise of the convention was rediscovering my friends from Clarion ’08 and our counterparts from Clarion ’09. I found very quickly that Clarion grads seem to share a bond just as strong accross years, and the best moments of the convention were spent in their company.

There were a large number of Clarion graduates at the convention, and also a number of young writers aiming to attend in future. In all there were at least a hundred writers in their 20’s and 30’s (and a little older!) who were extremely passionate and dedicated but yet to really become established. This gave the convention a much younger feel than any British con (Alt Fiction comes closest). There were also many more women at the convention (probably about half the attendance? would be interested i figures if anyone has them) which was a welcome sight. I would love to see this kind of demographic reflected at British conventions, but I have little hope that it will unfortunately.

My moment of the convention? Asking Ted Chiang if he was going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year? Almost fainting in front of Robert Silverburg? Exchanging opinions on how crappy Fosters beer is with Garth Nix? No. The best moment was the look on the till girls face when we filled up a tiny taqueria with twenty or so Clarion kids from ’08 and ’09.

I’ve been hit with SAD getting back from WFC and the California sunshine. My resolutions to tackle this are to get up before dawn and get as much daylight as possible, exercise every morning and blog every night to keep my mind sharp. So expect many more blogs. I’ve also made a long planned writing resolution, which I’ll announce in a few days.

A few interesting links:

Jeff Vandermeer accompanies the launch of his Booklife writing guide with a set of online resources for writers. I received an ARC of Booklife, so can recommend it as thoroughly worth any writers time to read.

Parker Peevyhouse incites a little more debate on the question of the death or otherwise of sci-fi, and reminds me that I need to expand on the idea of Post SF.


Are you prepared to change the world?

Dear friends,

It is with perhaps a modicum of trepidation that I recommend to you the fittingly titled Errata, the latest work of penmanship from Mr. Jeff Vendermeer, published this day at the web journal of Tor.com. I should not have to tell regular readers that despite my interest in the fantastic, I am not in the habit of giving way to common superstition. Hence, while I have often found myself entertained, fascinated and on more than one occaision deeply moved by the meta-fictional cavortings of Mr Vandermeer, I have not until this day been so genuinely terrified of the consequences such linguistic acrobatics might have upon the world as we know it. Continue reading Are you prepared to change the world?