Archive for Guest Posts
We’re delighted to present a brand new short story by recently-signed Angry Robot Author Emma Newman.
Emma has been writing and releasing a series of completely free short stories set in The Split Worlds, as part of the build-up to the release of her Angry Robot debut, Between Two Thorns, which we’re publishing in March 2013.
This is the twenty-seventh tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like Emma to read it to you instead, you can listen to a recorded version at SoundCloud.com. Read More→
We’re very excited indeed to be publishing The Corpse-Rat King in September (although US/CAN print copies and ebook editions will be available from next week). For those who don’t already know all about this terrific piece of work, it’s the debut fantasy novel by Australian writer Lee Battersby, a veteran short fictioneer who’s turned his considerable talents to the longer form with rather fabulous results (check out some of the early reviews on the book’s catalogue page for evidence of that).
By way of a general introduction, we asked Lee to give us a bit of an insight into his background as a writer, what his his most powerful sources of inspiration might be, that sort of thing. Here’s what he told us:
Not the Smashing Pumpkins song, no. The year, the actual I-lived-through-it-coz-I’m-older-than-the-rest-of-you 1979.
1979, I was eight years old. We moved from Narrogin, a wheat-belt town of 18 people and half a dog to a much larger town on the coast, where 26,000 people waited to teach me that I was different and not in a good way; that my English accent made me a target; that using two forms of cutlery in the same meal was foreign and disturbing; and that wearing glasses, being good at sport and maths, and reading without moving your lips constituted an invitation to kick the shit out of me any time they managed to bandage up their knuckles sufficiently for the task.
I’d love to say that 1979 was the year when I discovered that none of that mattered, that it was the year I discovered that being myself, unashamedly and self-sufficiently, was the only journey that counted, that I realised the only way to make myself truly happy was to walk my own individual path with footfalls as loud as I cared to make them and fuck anybody who didn’t fit in with my plan or who didn’t understand the way I saw the world. But hell, I was eight. It mattered. It mattered until it hurt.
But it was also the year my mind bent, irrevocably and for the rest of my life. It was the year when my path was diverted to go the long way round, for long stretches of my life alone, and for many more stretches in the company of people who did not understand but found themselves forced to share the path for short periods. After that year I was never in synch with those around me. Certainly not the ‘peers’ who populated the bogan-sanctuary in which I lived. (Bogan, chav, westie, Okie, call them what you will. You know who they are: the ones who wear the cheapest clothing, who keep the packet of fags under the arm of their t-shirt, who listen to mindless cock rock 24 hours a day, hoon up their moron mobiles and worship at the altar of the V8, who support your team’s greatest rivals and think the mullet never died.)
From that day to this I have never quite fit. Anywhere. Even in places I’m supposed to. University, SF conventions, family. If not for the company of other writers and finding a wife who understands (and who is, perhaps not-surprisingly, a writer herself) I might never fit.
I discovered the Goon Show in 1979, via an LP stashed at the back of my parents’ record collection. A month later, on my 9th birthday, I received my first SF anthology. I still have them both. I rescued the LP from my parents’ when they separated. The book has survived 33 years of house moves, relationship breakups, fire, termites, and children. I’ll never part with them. Because it was those two objects, or more accurately, the texts they contained, that provided the bridge between what I had understood to be the world in which I lived, and the mental plane where all angles of view are acceptable, where all subjects are up for comment, and there is nothing so sacred that it cannot be harpooned and brought to the side of your mind for flensing. Where speed and clarity of thought, and the ability to gene-splice concepts together for maximum effect, are the coin of the nation.
There have been others, since. Other artists who view the world not as it stands to the eye but as a character in a narrative of their own making. Other texts that destroy reality in order to build it up again, but this time with a better colour palette and more laughs. Other voices that prick, tickle, lance, bludgeon, cajole, persuade, entrance, and otherwise daub my eyes in shades of wonder. Douglas Adams. David Bowie. Monty Python. David Hockney. Ridley Scott. Other ‘fuck you’ merchants who watched the status quo turn gray and lifeless and raised a flag of protest against it. Alice Cooper. Rene Magritte. Harlan Ellison. Patrick McGoohan. Over the course of the intervening 33 years I have been exposed to more artists and modes of expression, and divine lunatics than I have space to list. Jackson Pollock. Brian Aldiss. William Blake. Terry Gilliam.
Imagine a world without Richard Dadd. Imagine it without They Might Be Giants. Imagine it without Salvador Dali or Brian Patten or China Miéville or Ian Dury or Howard Waldrop or Henry Moore or Adrian Henri or The Goodies or Bill Hicks or Roger Waters or Chris Foss or Kurt Vonnegut, or Madness, or… well, you understand.
These artists – and there are more than I have named, many more – have been my pathfinders: every one a Virgil leading me down a path away from simple acceptance; every discovery a tiny nudge off the path that others follow. And of course I’m not the only one who has felt this way, and of course I’m not the only one who has experienced all these artists and all these emotions, and in all probability I’m not even the only person involved in getting this little diatribe onto the net for you all to read who has experienced exactly that same level of dislocation and isolation.
But all those artists, all those wonderful, insane, delightful changers of minds, they came after – further down the years, when I was more capable of assimilating their worldviews and artistic processes and measuring them against my own desires and beliefs. It’s always your first love that you remember most fondly, the first broken heart that you come back to again and again to touch like aluminium foil against a filling.
Truth is, I’ve never wanted to be a science fiction writer. It’s not enough, just to sit within one genre, one form of work. It’s not enough to simply stare at the world through one set of eyes. To be a writer, just that: a writer, of whatever comes to me at the time, unfettered by genre or form or medium, is to be something wonderful and all-knowing. To aspire to polymathic heights, to work across media with equal aplomb, to stare out at the world from a minds-eye as fractured as a Dali painting made music and viewed through as many facets as an insect’s eye can hold: that would be something worth pursuing.
I didn’t understand that when I was eight. There are times I wonder if I understand it now, really understand everything that is required, deep down in my weaselly black soul. But I may never have received the opportunity to try, if I hadn’t dislocated my mind.
(Go on, Spike)
It’s all rather confusing, really.
Here are a few sample chapters for starters:
Adam Christopher’s superior superhero adventure Seven Wonders is published later this month (August 28th in the US, September 6th in the UK – the eBook is published worldwide on August 28th). We asked him to tell us about his favourite 4-colour heroes…
See, here’s the thing: I love superheroes. I love the cheese, I love the colours, I love the spandex. I also love the heroism, the optimism, and the ideals. Since the late 1930s, superhero comics have given us some of the most imaginative and wonderful stories in every genre that exists – and I should say that “superhero” to me is a story type, much like horror or steampunk, not a genre in itself, which allows any kind of story to be told within a specific framework – stories like Seven Wonders, my superhero novel.
So here are my five favourite superheroes from the world of comics – five fictional characters that I love possibly more than any other, whether it be in comics or novels or films or TV. People might know I’m a DC fan, and in compiling this top five, they’ve all ended up coming from that publisher – but if I had gone beyond five, then rest assured some Marvel heroes would have made it, including Iron Man and Daredevil. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering these DC characters in their pre-New 52 iterations, simply because they are the characters I fell in love with. Read More→
Today is the official publication day of the Angry Robot Omnibus edition of the Obsidian & Blood series of Aztec mystery adventures starring Acatl, Aztec High-Priest of the Dead, by Aliette de Bodard. To mark the occasion, we asked Aliette to share her thoughts on the series now that it was complete and this is what she told us…
Six years ago, I wrote my first Acatl short story. At the time, it wasn’t particularly or recognisably Aztec: all I knew of the culture was the few things I’d gleaned from one or two research books, and from my Spanish courses. I certainly didn’t imagine, as I was writing “the end”, that I was going to launch into a whole novel, much less a trilogy!
Now that the last book, Master of the House of Darts, is finished, and the entire Obsidian & Blood series has been collected into an omnibus, I can look back with a sense of achievement: I have finished novels and series, I am a real writer (ha, I wish! My inner panicky self so totally continues to believe I’m faking it and that it’s only a matter of time before I get found out).
More seriously, though, there is definitely achievement in not only writing three books, but managing not to write the same book over and over again–to keep a series going in the same universe while having different plots and an overall progression for the characters that gets carried from book to book. But, because everything has a darker lining, this achievement is also accompanied by regrets. Over at Codex, a writer’s forum I frequent, James Maxey says that all novels are haunted by what they could have been – by the choices that shaped them, the decisions that the writer made, either consciously or unconsciously, and which end up having such a huge impact on the shape and heft of the finished novel(s).
Accordingly, here are the things I’m most proud and or two things I mildly regret, with regard to Obsidian & Blood.
Things I Could Maybe Have Handled Better
First-Person as a Limit to the Storyline
I made the choice of first person because it seemed easier to handle as a novice writer, and because it made sense, writing as I did within a Chandler-esque tradition of a private eye haunting the mean streets (er, OK, mean canals) of a city. Were I to rewrite the books now, I’m not entirely sure I would keep that choice. The first drawback is evident: first person is inherently limiting, and I pretty much had to make sure to stay with my narrator Acatl for the entirety of the series, whereas there were plenty of other awesome characters whom I would have wished to follow.
By book three, this has started to become very limiting, in particular in the handling of gender roles: in a gender-segregated society, my male narrator pretty much stuck with other males, which means that female characters, by and large, were elided from the narration. I did my best by giving large roles to priestesses, but I still feel that women could have had a more prominent role if the series had been in alternating third-person point of view.
First-Person as a Limit to Character Exploration
The other problem I had with first person was its intense focus on one character – it’s hard to make said character come across as anything but selfish and self-centred, because he’s talking all the time and only knows about his own emotions and feelings.
As a corollary, it’s also hard to make him have emotional crises without coming across as hysterical – which is a bit problematic in a series which relies on a bunch of emotional crises… :)
I was much less aware of the issues and pitfalls of cultural appropriation at the time I wrote those (though my understanding notably expanded as I was writing the series, and it shows!) I did my best with existing material; and I tried to do justice to a vibrant culture without demonising it, but the fact remains that I’m not writing in a culture that is my own or close to my own. I’m not saying that it makes the series worthless or bad (on the contrary, I very much hope it’s a valuable depiction); but I’m acutely aware that, as an outsider writing about that culture, in both time and space, I might be to some extent perpetuating an exoticism problem! I did try my best, but I most probably stumbled in places.
Je Ne Regrette Rien…
This is the flipside of the cultural appropriation thing I was talking about earlier. I’ve already said that one of the motivations for tackling those books was presenting the Mexica in a more favourable light than the Barbarians demonised by the Spanish, or the bloodthirsty incarnation of evil used as a shorthand for villains in too many genre books to mention. And I think that, at least from those (admittedly low) standards, that I’ve succeeded.
The books bring to life the Mexica as a vibrant culture, advanced in many respects from medicine to astronomy (just like the historical culture). And they do so without sweeping human sacrifice under the carpet: sacrifice is seen as a glorious feat, an act of abnegation that averts the end of the world and elevates the sacrifice victim to the same level as the gods – and not as a scary, inhuman and demonised practise.
Religion and magic in the books
I was trying not to replicate what I’d seen in a lot of genre novels, where religion is a lip-service that not only doesn’t really seem to affect the societal structure (whereas it should, profoundly), but is also not followed by a large majority of the people. I’m not saying everyone subscribed to, say, the teachings of the Catholic Church back in the Middle Ages (there were, of course, practitioners of other religions as well as atheists), but it’s highly unlikely that most of the population would have been against Catholicism, and that 90% of the clergy would have seen it only as a stepping stone to power.
In my novels, Acatl is a profoundly devout man (at the expense of his own social advancement), who trusts not only in the existence but also in the powers of the gods, and religion permeates every aspect of daily life. Which isn’t to say, of course, that the clergy wouldn’t be out looking for their own interests: High Priest of Tlaloc Acamapicthli is the perfect example of a man who cares very much for his own advancement (though he also acknowledges the power of the gods).
Melding the Mystery and the Fantasy
Another motivation for writing the books in the format of an investigation with magic was merging two of my favourite genres. I love fantasy, from Patricia McKillip to Ursula Le Guin and everything in between; but I also gobble up mysteries from writers like Elizabeth George, Tran-Nhut (and forebear Robert Van Gulik) or Arthur Conan Doyle. The one thing that I found really hard to do, when I introduced magic into a mystery storyline, was to strike the right balance: for me, magic should be a little wild and a little dangerous, and not like the magic of a videogame where the rules are set once and for all. At the same time, if magic has no rules, it becomes hard to keep any kind of mystery: after all, if you really can summon the dead from the underworld, why do you even bother having an investigation into a murder? Summon the victim, ask what happened, et voilà, you’re done!
Needless to say, that would have made a really brief series, so I sought to convey a sense of cosmology – an overarching logic that would be followed by magic and by the gods without being a framework so rigid it killed every possibility. By and large, I think that worked pretty well: the magic in the story feels real to me, alien and large and unpredictable, but I never found myself scrambling for reasons to hide information from my main characters. The universe provided everything I needed on its own :)
Nezahual-tzin and Teomitl
And, last but not least, something far smaller-scale, a.k.a. my favourite duo of characters. Teomitl is Acatl’s brash and impulsive student of magic, whereas Nezahual-tzin, who the ruler of a beleaguered city, is more measured, more used to hiding his true feelings. And, of course, his fondness for courtesans adds an extra layer of fun, since Teomitl is a bit prissy. Whenever those two are involved in the narration, sparks fly – and the scenes involving those two together were easily my favourite to write.
There you go, my favourite and most instructive things about the series, in a universe that has been following me around for six years, three books and three short stories. Hope you enjoyed the retrospective, and don’t forget to pick up the omnibus!
Obsidian & Blood is out now and available from all good booksellers – online, offline, chain and indie alike – in both print and ebook formats. Speaking of the latter, you can pick up a DRM-Free ePub edition from our very own Robot Trading Company webstore.
Come into the Split Worlds
So the dust is settling and my little corner of the internet is returning to normality following the announcement that the Split Worlds series is now in the gentle care of our favourite Robot Overlords. I thought it would be a good time to promise to send you a free short story set in the Split Worlds every week for a year and a day, if you want me to that is, and explain why I’m offering to do so.
As I mentioned on the lovely Adam Christopher’s blog, the Split Worlds series started life as a self-publishing project and up until very recently I was gearing up to launch the first book of the series Between Two Thorns. Part of that process involved releasing a short story every week set in the Split Worlds for a year and a day, a total of 54 short stories, plus a bonus one if people signed up to receive the stories by email.
It’s quite a daunting thing to commit to, but something I don’t regret at all. Here’s why:
I’m a great big geek.
For me, the Split Worlds project has never just been about writing lots of stories and several novels. At the risk of sounding a bit silly and pretentious what I want to create is something immersive, something that incorporates elements from my favourite hobby: roleplaying.
I’ve been playing and GMing for years. I missed out on early experiences of D&D, my schooling was in White Wolf’s World of Darkness games such as Vampire: The Masquerade. At university I was in the Roleplaying Games Society and student life was a glorious few years of regular tabletop and live action games ranging from high fantasy to gritty cyber-punk, occasionally interrupted by lectures and essays and exams. It played a big part in spawning my love of dressmaking and it’s where I caught the world-building bug too.
As a player, one of the things I love most about a really good game is the total immersion. I want to see it all in my head, I want to experience things outside the scope of my normal life. I love little details and the depth that long-term campaigns can create between characters. As a GM I revel in the creation of other worlds and characters within them, of tensions and alliances between factions and snaring my players in twisty plots.
Since those heady days I’ve knuckled down to novel and short story writing and my aim with the Split Worlds is to bring all of the things I love most together into one project. I want to create an opportunity for people who love characters and fantastical worlds to really be able to climb inside, to notice little details and make connections, to find hints and clues to things that will spill out into the real world (more about that another time). The stories are the first part of this, not only do I want them to introduce you to the Split Worlds, I also want to give you that moment of quiet satisfaction when you read a passing reference to an event in Between Two Thorns and you know what really happened.
Does this mean someone has to read all those stories to enjoy the books?
No, not at all. I really want to emphasise that. The Split Worlds novels are written to be enjoyed without any of the stories and those in turn could be read alone as nothing more than little glimpses into the Split Worlds. But if you do want to read the stories, I hope they deepen your enjoyment of the novels and make some of the future events I have planned a richer experience.
Each of the stories is short enough to be read in the time it takes to have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. All you need to do to sign up is complete the form below (or over at www.enewman.co.uk/free-stories) and look out for the activation email you need to act upon to confirm you signed up and not an evil spammer or particularly clever cat walking across your keyboard.
Once that’s done you’ll get a story straight away and then one every seven days until the very last one. That’s just over a year of weekly tea-break reading. You have to bring your own tea though.