It’s Wednesday, the sun is shining, and I have toast and tea. All is good. And, even better, you can now buy the new anthology ALIENS: THE TRUTH IS COMING from Tickety Boo Press, featuring my story Rent alongside stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tim James, Alex Davis, Juliana Spink Mills, and more.
Here’s the cover, with handy Amazon links as well. Go then – there are other worlds than this…
The truth is out there – almost. Tickety Boo Press release their next anthology, Aliens: The Truth is Coming, at the end of the month, and the full list of stories goes as follows:
In Plain Sight by Juliana Spink Mills
Geometry by Alex Davis
Gods of the Ice Planet by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Island Visit by Nathan Hystad
Even the Klin Are Only Human by Bryn Fortey
A New Dawn by Liz Gruder
Rent by Steven Poore
Salvage by MJ Kobernus
The Devil’s Rock by William Anderson
The Man Who Wasn’t Dead by Terry Grimwood
We Three Remain by Stewart Hotston
Welcome to Cosmic Journey by Michael Chandos
The Zoo of Dark Creatures by Leslie J Anderson
Here by Tim James
If that’s not a line-up to whet your whistle, I’ll eat your hat. Rent is a rare excursion into SF short fiction for me, as most of my recent short stuff has been set firmly in the modern era. Rent harks back to This Place Sucks in tone and style, so if you enjoyed that little shaggy-dog tale, I hope you’ll enjoy this one too.
I don’t have buy/reserve links for the anthology yet, but I’ll add them to this post (and the forthcoming short fiction links page) as soon as they appear. Meanwhile, you can find out more over at the Tickety Boo Press Facebook page. And, as ever, we stand and fall on our ratings and reviews – add Aliens to your Goodreads TBR and leave honest reviews, and make a bunch of authors happy. 🙂
After that frankly pants first half of 2016 (see previous posts) I was looking forward to a day out in Derby. Time to get back in the saddle, dive back into the genre, go see some very good friends and caress some very good books. Yes, I like books. You might already have guessed.
Edge-Lit never disappoints. Alex Davis and his team of non-expendable Redshirts can cope with pretty much everything a summer’s day in Derby city centre can throw at them, up to and including a Caribbean carnival and a king-sized showroom’s worth of high-revving hot ride motorbikes on the pavement outside the bar. Which was what happened, obviously. Sometimes there’s only so much bass you can physically take before you have to retreat into the murky depths of Derby itself in search on bass-uninflected caffeine rations.
I still remember being the hyper-hyper newbie at my first AltFiction (as it was back in t’day) and even back then the whole con seemed a welcoming a cheerful place. On my first day I waited outside a sandwich shop while Ian Watson got a bacon buttie on his way in to the venue. That felt bizarre. Coming back the following year, people were waving to me even before I got through the door. It’s that sort of convention. Hopefully the Sheffield SF Writers who made the trip this time – David R Lee, Kathryn Wild, David Sarsfield – felt that level of positivity too. I know Dave L thoroughly enjoyed his workshop with M John Harrison, and David Sarsfield was making his debut as a published member of the Fox Spirit Skulk, which is a positive force in its own right.
It took me a while to settle down this time, though the red wine at the combined NewCon/Fox Spirit launch definitely helped matters. David Tallerman’s short Cthlonic “school report” reading was a highlight, though I couldn’t really afford the hardback of his collection and came away instead with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Apt collection and VC Linde’s poetry based on three words selected by a collection of different authors (if that makes sense). I’m not usually a great fan of poetry, but the whole concept was interesting enough to draw me in.
Before that launch there were the obligatory panel sessions to attend. The morning panels were more up my street than the afternoon ones. Alistair Reynolds, Ian Whates, Nina Allan and Adele Wearing asked if small presses were producing the best SF (the answer was a resounding yes, if you needed to ask). Marc Turner took the chair for a journey through the landscape of literary fiction and its on-off relationship with genre, with Jen Williams, Edward Cox and Cherry Potts all somehow managing to not mention Michael Moorcock along the way.
Lunch was the now-traditional stagger (wine, remember…) through the covered market in search of a £1 tray of chips. And after that exhaustion kicked in as hard as the carnival bass, meaning that the afternoon became a blur of coffee, juice and sitting down in various combinations. Team Newman (Emma and Pete) combined for Emma’s Guest of Honour interview, with readings from both After Atlas and the forthcoming fourth volume of the Split Worlds saga – which I probably shouldn’t have listened to, given that I still haven’t read the third… As ever Team Newman went the extra mile in making more of the time and the format.
With the Edge Lit Quiz on hold this year, the evening’s entertainment belonged to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, hosted by Jen Williams and Pete Newman, with guests Jason Arnopp and Maria Lewis. I’m fairly ambivalent about werewolves in fiction although Maria’s take on the monsters seemed agreeably uncuddly and bloody. Jason’s Last Days of Jack Sparks on the other hand is pitched much better to my caustic, agnostic self.
We shall draw a veil over the shenanigans of the Pinborough-helmed raffle, save only to say that it was not for the faint of heart. And, as I warned various folks beforehand, never sit near the front….
Over at the Fox Spirit Books stall, Adele Wearing and Daz Pulsford kindly agreed to make room for a small pile of (the British Fantasy Award-nominated – have I mentioned that yet?) Heir to the North. I was well chuffed and over the moon to discover that they all sold. I love you, whoever you are 🙂
Taking my cue from Alex Bardy, who this year cosplayed as one of the Expendables and carried it off with remarkable aplomb, I used a few spare moments to point people at other people., networking by proxy. I can point you all at Dan Grace and Gemma Todd, both names to watch out for in the future. Dan’s novella Winter is out now through Unsung Stories, and Gemma’s novel Defender is out early next year from Headline.
Jen Williams and Edward Cox were a delights to talk to, and Adrian Tchaikovsky was very kind. It’s always a pleasure to talk to Shellie Horst and Susan Boulton (Hand of Glory – coming soon!) Other SFSF regulars – Marc Turner, Dan Godfrey, Andy Angel, David Tallerman, Ian Sales – crossed my path and reminded me that it is probably well past time to start planning more events. Which is part of the reason me and Sara Smith were there anyway, to get our collective heads back into gear following the last few months. So no need to worry on that score – SFSF will return.
Amongst the EdgeLit debuts this year was author, editor and Bristolcon-wrangler Joanne Hall. Standing in at short notice for Pete Sutton, it was brilliant to see her again and give some power to the Grimbold presence at the con. T-shirts featuring a fox and a cat riding a dragon were mentioned in all seriousness in conversations with Auntie Fox…
Lastly, it’s not a convention without swag. Some of it is still hidden in the car until I can sneak it all in (I hope Rachel isn’t reading this…) but as well as the Tchaikovsky and Linde, I picked up Dan Godfrey’s New Pompeii, Jen Williams’ The Silver Tide, and Paul Kane’s Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell. The TBR is teetering on the verge of collapse. I wanted a copy of Pete Newman’s The Vagrant as well, but the bookstall ran out of that before I could get to it. Bah. Still hope to have read it and Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown by the time Fantasycon comes around, which means I’ll have read the whole Best Newcomer shortlist.
So, a very successful – if exhausting – day. If I met you and haven’t mentioned you, it’s mostly because I may have been on remote control at that point…
It’s been a long year, and it isn’t quite over yet. But the Chopper On Tour tag is bedding down for hibernation through the winter, after one last hurrah at Derby’s Sledge-Lit event.
And what a hurrah it was! Sledge-Lit turned out to be a very good way to wind down. Alex Davis had done his usual bang-up job of inviting interesting guests of honour – Charles Stross, Alison Moore, Rob Shearman and Adam Roberts – and surrounded them with a host of panels, readings and workshops designed to make you want to be in three places at once. I’m at the point – I think – where workshops aren’t going to add an awful lot to what I already know, so I can’t comment too much on them (there may be a blog post from Sheffield’s SFF Writers’ Group later on that covers one or two of the workshops). Aside from that, I was somewhat busy anyway…
The first panel of the day was on the value of subgenres in fantasy & SF. With me were Julia Knight, Susan Boulton, Rod Duncan, and Gavin Smith. Because of family stuff, I had questions, but I hadn’t been able to pass them around in advance. As a first-time panel moderator/chair, I came into it feeling a bit like a support act without instruments. That soon passed – even though the panel helpfully touched on all of my questions within the first five minutes! – and hopefully we made for an interesting start to the day.
Some good questions came from Andrew Bannister, whose first book comes out through Transworld next year. I managed to miss the panel about small presses while chatting to him and David Tallerman (the new TOR novella is well worth getting hold of), after which it was time to take a break from taking a break and go out for chips (now a firmly-established tradition for me in Derby…). With my SFSF hat on there were brief conversations with Penny Reeve, Helen Armfield, Natasha Pulley, and Tony Ballantyne, as well as a chat with Simon Marshall-Jones, whose Biblia Longcrofta I’ve recently finished reading. Recommended, by the way.
Then it was time for the second panel of the day – the flip side of the subgenre discussion – Is Fantasy Broadening As A Genre? Well, yes, obviously, and a good thing too, was the general consensus from Alex, Julia, Natasha, Stephen Aryan and myself. We wandered over the genre landscape and dished out some sterling recommendations, and I had a bit more of a relaxing time of it since Alex was moderating this one. Fueled by increasing amounts of coffee, I even manned the TTA Press stall for a couple of minutes while Roy popped away. Don’t worry, I know retail. I didn’t sell anything though…
Apart from a few copies of Heir To The North, which is always a bonus. 🙂
For my final panel of the day, I was hiding in the audience, listening to Jacey Bedford rein in Adam Roberts so that Amanda Rutter, Gavin Smith and Andrew Bannister could get a word in edgeways on the subject of dystopian SF.
The Edge-Lit raffle is a thing of legend – almost as legendary as the SFSF raffle, in fact – and if you squinted hard enough and ate enough of Brian Marshall’s vodka jelly babies, you could probably confuse Robert Shearman for Sarah Pinborough. I didn’t win anything, but it’s the taking part that counts….
One thing I didn’t get was any photos – if anybody has some, I’d be happy to see them! And so, with the 2015 leg of Chopper On Tour concluded, it’s time to get some words laid out on TFL and start the planning for next year….
It’s been a busy old month – so much so that I even left the multi-talented Alex Davis in charge of affairs for a day while I was elsewhere. (Alex’s own blog is well worth a read, as I’ve already mentioned, especially since it has recent guest posts from such great folk as Issy Brooke, Andy Angel, Mark West, Helen Ellwood, Shellie Horst, and Jonathan Green.)
Meanwhile, I’ve been popping up in all kinds of other places.
Alex Davis hosts my Q&A session with Kristell Ink whip-cracker Sammy Smith.
I’m not here today – I’m over at Alex Davis’s place, looking after the cat and feeding the flowers. Meanwhile, Alex is over here, feeding the cat and looking after the flowers…
Creating a science-fiction world, by Alex Davis
Ah, worldbuilding. One of the immortal questions of genre fiction. How much do I need to do? How should I go about it? How do I know when I’m finished? It was something that took a while when I was writing The Last War – even though some things were laid down by the publisher who initially took the book on – and something that was a really enjoyable part of the process. I was trying to come up with a new piece on this, but I don’t think I ever summed it up better than this article I wrote for Writers News back in August of 2013. You’ll need to find your own science-fiction landscape for this exercise, but there’s no shorage of images out there you can use as inspiration. I was also lucky enough to chat with the awesome Tony Ballantyne for this one, which is always a pleasure!
A whole new world…
Science-fiction is a genre that is filled with any number of fascinating new worlds. These may be parallel versions of the world we live in, projection of what the future will look like on Earth or indeed stories set entirely in other places – other planets, other galaxies, other universes. And naturally these fantastic settings do not happen by accident – they are usually carefully considered and crafted by authors. There are a number of key reasons for this, of course. The world itself informs the story, offering key developments for the plot and characters. The world enriches the story, providing a vivid setting and evoking mood and atmosphere throughout. Science-fiction author Tony Ballantyne echoes this point in discussing his favourite setting: “One of my favourites is Gethen, from The Left Hand of Darkness [By Ursula K Le Guin]. The setting plays a big part in the mood of the book: it would have been a very different novel if it took place on another world.”
The world individualises the story, setting it apart from all of the other great science-fiction out there. True, there may be resemblances to the settings of past science-fiction stories, but your world is just that – yours and yours only. Readers will respond to an interesting, dynamic and well thought-through world, and often read multiple stories and books set there.
Worldbuilding is, naturally, a complex business, and can feel overwhelming if you are relatively new to the genre. First of all, I’d always say develop it in a way that you are comfortable writing – there doesn’t need to be a lot of complicated technology and science if you don’t consider this your forte. There is a distinction between hard science-fiction – which applies strict technological and scientific rigour throughout, and often focuses on these elements – and soft science-fiction, which looks more at the societal aspect of alternative settings. You don’t need to be a scientist to write science-fiction!
The exercises below are designed to help you create a world which could be a background for your stories, but of course if you have the story in mind already then it’s important that the world fits that. Tony Ballantyne says of his writing process: “Most of my first drafts take place against a half sketched world. It’s only on the later drafts that I really begin to fill in the details. By this time I’m really enjoying myself and I take a lot of pleasure in shaping my world and allowing it to shape the story.”
Let’s Get Physical
It may well be that much of what your story zooms in on are the cultural aspects of your world, and how the hierarchy and society is built. But without a physical sense of location, it is impossible to envisage what this society might look like. The physical element will also impact on the society itself – a world heavily filled with rivers, for example, may never develop cars in favour of boats, or have people living in houseboats rather than fixed abodes. This then has an impact on where and how people work, what people’s relationships are like, what leisure activities they may pursue and much more. As such, to begin with trying to develop your culture could well prove counterproductive.
Let’s take on an exercise using the image opposite, in which we try to give the physical landscape some real depth. First off, I’d like you to name and describe one of each of the following:
An animal that lives on the surface of the land
An animal that lives beneath the ground
A plant that grows in the location
Then I’d like you to consider the weather in the location. Just how hot – or cold – is it going to be? Is there much rain, or snow, or hail, or any other form of precipitation? Are there storms, gales, strong winds?
Last of all, I’d like you to write a short scene in which you spend a night in this setting. What forms of life do you encounter? What weather do you have to endure? What sounds inhabit the landscape? What do you eat or drink? Really try and orient yourself within this setting in order to truly bring it to life.
The Big Society
The reason for beginning with the landscape and weather elements of your world is that this will give you an immediate insight into what kind of culture would develop there. So let’s pick up from our previous exercise and looking at building a society from scratch.
The first question – and one I consider vital in the worldbuilding process – is about how people live. Are they in robustly built houses, or cramped flats, or something far simpler? Do they live alone, or with family or acquaintances? Do people live in large cities, or small villages? These kind of details will again feed into much of how the society operates.
Once you have a sense of where people live, from there you can consider things such as what sort of relationships people have with each other, what kind of family units might exist, and also what kind of jobs people might do. If people are based in cities, then their working life will differ substantially from those who live in the country. What would the prime industries be?
It is often worth at this stage drawing up a spider diagram, which will allow you to think freely about these important matters for your world. You may also want to consider:
Laws – are these restrictive or quite free? How are they enforced, and what punishments to people face for crimes?
Government – is the structure dictatorial, democratic, communist or anarchist?
Wealth – are there distinctions between rich and poor? Does this feed into a class system?
Technology – what technology exists in your setting? This may be very advanced, or simply resemble today, or indeed be less forward than what we have now.
Leisure – what do people do for leisure, and how much time do they have to pursue interests and hobbies? Do people tend to enjoy their pursuits alone, or play games/sports in groups?
Social interaction – are people likely to have parties or social gatherings? Do people tend to meet at their work, or in some other way? Or are people very isolated and lonely?
Food and drink – what do people eat, and where do they get it from? Is food and drink simple, or are there a range of options and choices to be enjoyed?
Locating the Conflict
One of the major benefits of this approach to worldbuilding is that it often makes developing characters and plots significantly easier. Now we have a sense of the landscape and the culture of your setting, the next step is to consider just what the story might be. The set-up phase of the story provides the ideal opportunity to introduce readers to your world, establishing not only the characters you are going to be following but the setting they inhabit. It is when we come to the conflict phase that the story really picks up, and this is where the value of your worldbuilding will be seen.
If you consider the culture of the present day, there are all manner of conflicts that surround us. These may of course be literal conflicts – we’ve seen many wars and battles fought over the last 100 years – but they may well be something far more subtle. It might be a conflict that a character fights against a corrupt system, a conflict that someone fights on behalf of a wronged relative or loved one, a conflict fought against a criminal underworld. Take some time to look at your world and spot where these kind of trouble spots may be. On the surface, you might have a location that appears peaceful and settled, but as an author your task is to dig beneath that surface and find those ‘flashpoints’ within your setting that are just waiting to explode. Rest assured, they are there! Take a look at your spider diagram, and the physical elements you’ve created, and see what kind of problems and struggles could emerge.
The key phrase you are looking for is ‘what if?’ – the two words that define so many stories, in any field.
Expanding Your World
The other benefit of creating a persuasive, in-depth and vivid world is that it will stand you in good stead for many years to come. Most science-fiction series are set entirely within one world, and may well follow the same characters over the course of time. You might even decide to move on from those characters and explore other aspects, other characters and other locations. A powerful setting can give you plenty of material going forward as an author, so it is time well-spent for any writer looking to work in the genre.
There is, however, a final note of caution – worldbuilding is important to SF stories, but it should not be all there is! You still need dynamic plot and character, and you still need to write the book once the setting is established! Tony Ballantyne says: “I find that too many writers, especially beginners, are so in love with their worlds that they forget about their plot and characters. Worldbuilding can easily become something people do rather than getting on with writing a story. It’s fun, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that you’re writing!”
EdgeLit is a highlight of my calendar, and as close to a “home convention” as it is possible to get right now – I’ve attended each of the previous three events in Derby, and I certainly wasn’t going to break the habit this year. Not least because I had a reputation and a crown to defend…
That crown being EdgeLit Quiz Champion, of course. Our team – Kevin Redfern, Hayley Orgill, Alex Bardy, Roy Gray, and myself – have beaten allcomers for the last two years, and we were looking for an unprecedented third win in a row. This year’s quiz promised to be a mighty tight and difficult affair, with organiser, host, MC and all-round decent chap Alex Davis out to break our winning streak… but more on that later.
EdgeLit has grown year on year into an absolute must. Guests included Joanne Harris, Mike Carey, Samantha Shannon, Claire North, Paul McAuley, and John Connolly; workshops were being run by Kim Lakin-Smith, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Rod Duncan, Jenny Colgan, and Gav Thorpe amongst others; the programme was packed full of book launches from exciting British small presses, panels, readings, and the now-infamous Edge-Lit Raffle. It’s a two-day con condensed down into a single day, and there’s so much to do and so many people to chat to that it’s outright impossible to do everything you’ve marked as interesting on the schedule (although that didn’t stop one member of our writers’ group trying!).
That’s not a criticism, by the way – hell no, it’s the mark of a good convention. I used the schedule as a starting point, and then just wandered about. Stephen Deas chaired an interesting discussion on the interface between history and fantasy fiction, although it was obvious early on that all the panellists were on the same page; Fox Spirit author and SFSF Social regular Jo Thomas launched her new book Pack of Lies alongside Alec McQuay and writers from Boo Books. Spectral Press launched three novellas – Stephen Volk’s Leytonstone really did catch my attention, although by that point I was already running low on funds. One for the future, however.
Gary Compton, main man behind Tickety Boo Press, had come down from the North-East with a truckload of books to sell. I helped set his table up, just outside the main dealers’ room. I recommend you buy Goblin Moon, Abendau’s Heir, The Last War, Oracle, A Prospect of War – it’s a bloody good catalogue he’s building up there. He had cakes too; I managed to stop myself eating more than one.
I hadn’t seen Kate Laity for several years – not since AltFiction in Leicester – so it was cool to be able to say hi to her and get a signature on my copy of White Rabbit. I also chatted to David Tallerman (who will be running a workshop at Nine Worlds later this year), Ian Sales (also promoting the fourth volume in the Apollo Quartet; more on that when I’ve read it), Aunty Fox Adele Wearing, Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan, Amanda Rutter.
Oh, and there was a quiz too. Did I mention that?
See, we have a secret weapon – we have a Roy.
Roy promotes TTA Press titles – Interzone, Black Static, novellas – at pretty much every convention in the UK. But to say he just does that would be doing him a great disservice. A convention without him would be a dull place indeed. And believe me, he knows his stuff.