Archive for Guest Posts
Continuing our celebration of International Women’s Day, today’s piece comes from one of our newest authors – Ishbelle Bee
In Space Only Men Scream
“That’s the only way. We’ll move in pairs. We’ll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered. And then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space! Is that acceptable to you?”
One of the most influential female characters for me is that of Ellen Ripley from the Alien films franchise. Female power and Queenship are explored through Ripley and her demonic counterpart, the Alien Queen. Male power is usurped, weak and in some cases artificial (androids); their role reduced to ‘food’ for the alien. These themes have inspired my own work and Ripley remains to me, one of the most powerful and iconic female roles I have come across.
‘The alien is more than phallus; it is also coded as toothed vagina, the monstrous feminine as cannibalistic mother.’ (Creed, 1986, p. 69 ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’ Screen 27)
Giger’s Alien Queen as a divine devourer; where humans are edible offerings, is both beautiful and terrifying. Any thought of a degrading stereotypical female role, which entertains the masculine voyeur is squashed underfoot.
It is a shame, therefore, that we are still subjected to female protagonists who resemble little more than blow up sex dolls: gormless, restricted to minimal dialogue, and liable to puncture easily.
Here is the first of our posts celebrating International Women’s Day!
Female Protagonists in Traditional Fantasy.
Like many fantasy readers, I have grown up reading “The Lord of the Rings”. I adored these books and found myself deeply submerged into the worlds they opened to my imagination. For the longest time I took it for granted that many classical fantasies did not have any major female characters, definitely not among those who drove the events. True, there is Galadriel, and Arwen, and Eowyn, all of them memorable and powerful. But lead characters? Hardly.
Some of the newer fantasy books started successfully introducing women as lead characters and slowly expanding on their role. Many attributed this change to the emergence of major female authors, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley with her Darkover series and her all-time bestseller “Mists of Avalon”. Others said that, at least in fantasy, this had to do with the growing audience of female readers. I am not certain what the real reasons are. I have seen authors of both genders use males or females as protagonists, and I know for a fact that female readers enjoy both men and women in leading roles. In my view, this change has more to do with common sense, a realization that the world, even in books, is more complex than we used to believe. I tend to compare it to the change in painting technique, when, in 15th century, artists realized how to use perspective to show dimension. This happened in the society, especially in respect to women. It took longer in fantasy, but came as a natural step in the development of the genre.
These days we expect strong female leads in fantasy, and would feel unnatural reading a book prominently devoid of women. It is very interesting to observe how female point of view has enriched traditional fantasy, bringing a whole new angle into the story and enabling character development in a number of different ways. On a very basic level, leading female characters greatly expand the range of possibilities of what the main character should be all about. In the old days we got used to warriors, or dark mysterious strangers, or regular guys who are unexpectedly landed with the necessity of saving the world. All of these parts can easily be played by females. But more than that, female leads provide the previously missing second half, enabling the complexity of the interaction between sexes—romance, domination, or competition—with no rules in place. As an author, I find all these angles irresistible to explore.
The leading character in “Blades of the Old Empire”—an elite Majat warrior, Kara—seems fairly traditional on the outside. She is a fighter only a few can stand up to, and thus can easily fill the shoes of a traditional warrior type. She is also a beautiful woman many desire, and she can handle unwanted attention without a problem. But, unlike a typical attractive warrior in traditional fantasy, she is not competitive or aggressive. Instead, she has an inner strain that has to do with having to live with the combination of beauty and skill. This makes her enigmatic, an angle that emerged on its own and was so fun to build upon.
Initially I worked off a simple reversal of roles. Instead of the traditional pair, helpless but gifted girl protected by a strong male warrior, I have a gifted young man, not helpless but definitely a regular guy when it comes to fighting, protected by a strong female warrior. Building on this reversal, I found several aspects that enabled new levels of depth in the story. First, to enhance the enigma around Kara, I removed her point of view, showing her entirely through the eyes of a young man who is in love with her. Second, I gave her a nearly impossible problem to work with. And then it was literally down to sitting back and watching how everything about this woman I created feeds the major conflicts in the story. And yes, her point of view is coming, in the second book in the series. This reversal, getting into her head after I already learned so much about her, was even more fun.
As an author I feel fortunate to have entered the scene at the time when women characters are established an expected. I will probably never cease to feel amazed how female perspective in fantasy brings in a unique angle, a new dimension that both authors and readers can appreciate.
But first the back story: So I was looking for a top-notch literary festival or workshop to go to, to put a bit of a recharge into the writing batteries.
Number one on my list was one of the Clarion workshops – but I just couldn’t get the timing to work out for me.
My first reaction was, ‘Where is Key West?’ Google Maps showed me a looooong, loooong chain of islands stretching from Miami towards Cuba, all linked by a series on long bridges. (Remember that scene in the Arnie movie True Lies, with Jamie Lee Curtis trying to get out of the roof of the limo as it careened all over the place on this looooong, loooooong bridge?)Over 100 miles long, the Overseas Highway ends at Key West.
As Cat advised me – if the workshops you enroll in don’t really work out for you, they also run seminars with world-leading authors – and if the seminars don’t work out for you, well Key West is about the coolest place on the planet.
As it turned out – the workshops were pretty good, the seminars were great and the Key West was in fact the least cool place in the USA (at least in terms of the Arctic front that swept down over all of the USA during January, stopping just short of Miami and the keys. Otherwise Key West is about as cool as it can get: gorgeous white wooden houses, roosters and cats walking freely like they own the place, bands and musicians in all the bars and bars everywhere, and most everything just a walk or bike ride away. Key West also has an annual Fantasy Festival that has to be seen to be believed. Google Fantasy Fest, but be warned to have your content filters either on or off depending on your preferences.
It wasn’t hard to see why the likes of William Gibson, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, John Banville, Lisa Unger and Michael Connelly fly south for the seminars.
Interestingly, although this year’s seminars had the theme of the Dark Side, concentrating on crime and thriller writing, much of the discussions and advice to authors applied across genres.
Some of the worlds of wisdom worth sharing include:
- Hemingway’s adage of write what you know can be supplemented with make up what you don’t know (Elizabeth George)
- Imagination is the most powerful tool we have as human beings and we must use it as much as possible (John Banville)
- I thought, what am I if not this? (Lisa Unger on striving to make it as a writer)
- And one of my favourite, a thought raised by Booker Prize winner John Banville in a panel discussion that wouldn’t be out of place in any Angry Robot publication:
I have this feeling that we weren’t meant for this world we live in. We are somehow living on a beautiful world not meant for us. We are the most effective virus ever released on this planet. So, the people who were meant to live on this planet, how would they have coped – these gentle earthlings – living on a world that was meant for us? – Surely they’d be extinct.
David Tallerman‘s Easie Damasco tales came to a close with the October publication of Prince Thief, and to mark the occasion, he has written a wonderful reflective piece on his site, Writing On The Moon. David has kindly allowed me to reproduce it for you now. Over to you, David! Read More→
What a busy few weeks it’s been here at Robot HQ; so busy in fact, that I’ve been shamefully slow since my last Round-Up! But what better to cheer up a rainy Friday (in Nottingham, at least) than a good look back over our recent highlights:
Let’s start with yesterday’s exciting news that Michael Boatman has become the latest AR author! If you missed the release, check out Lee’s announcement here. Click through for all the info on Michael, his titles Last God Standing and Who Wants to be the Prince of Darkness?
This month we’ve released two titles: Madeline Ashby‘s superb sequel to vN, iD, and also Paul S. Kemp‘s second outing with Egil and Nix, A Discourse in Steel. Here’s the big splash from launch day; since then, they’ve both been kept
in a dungeon, slaves to their computers busy with blog posts, interviews, and also kept happy with rave reviews. To wit:
• Bibliotropic Review on Madeline’s iD: “Ashby has a wonderful imagination, an eye for detail, and characters that I don’t want to part from. From the beginning of the first book to the end of the second, I was hooked, and I’m eagerly looking forward to anything that Ashby does in the future.”
“It really is a modern I, Robot, but with a lot more grit, moral depth, and more interesting prose. Madeline Ashby ought to be seen as one of the big new names in science fiction.” Hardcover Wonderland
• Madeline’s blog tour featured interviews and blog posts, and she’s a rare beast that always manages to say something fresh and new with each stop:
• Madeline speaks out on the SFWA Scandal on Dark Matter Fanzine in a piece brilliantly entitled, ‘Stalin, Playboy, and Lady Writers’; talks to Civilian Reader about how to make Non-Humans Seem Human;
• John Scalzi featured Madeline on Whatever‘s The Big Idea, and it’s a moving read: on facing fears, on telling the universe “to fuck right off and die”, and about living through the impossible. Read it.
• A Fantastical Librarian and My Bookish Ways have great interviews with Madeline, as does The Qwillery whilst Madeline faced up to Ten Questions About iD with Chuck Wendig, and My Shelf Confessions was lucky enough to nab Javier for a chat!
• Cheryl Morgan recently met up with Madeline and they sat down to discuss iD, and how Madeline uses robots to ask interesting questions about gender.
• SFSignal featured vN for a recent review and had this to say: ”Unrelenting and surprising conflict drives a fast-paced read; genuine, human-robot dystopia; powerful character arcs; evokes series addiction.” If you haven’t already read vN, get it and you might as well get iD at the same time…I doubt you’ll want to wait between books!
• Last night Paul took part in an AMA on Reddit and go there to see what kinds of dirt they had him dish up!
• The fantastic cover, by Lee Gibbons, rightly gathered attention pre-launch, such as on Graeme’s SFF
• “Kemp gives us a great fast paced romp packed with action and with enough character and world building to satisfy without slowing anything down.” I agree, Eoghann.com! And check out these other amazing reviews:
• ”This is adventure fantasy at its finest…Kemp is a superb writer. If you enjoy sword and sorcery, adventure, and nonstop action, this is the book for you.” Adventures Fantastic
The Founding Fields: “Egil and Nix back once again kicking serious ass in this sequel”
• Silver Pen Scribe: “enjoyable ride of pure fun fantasy.”
• Being A Big Sandwich: It is in the characters, particularly Egil and Nix, that Kemp shines and draws the reader in…The interplay between the two is well-done, and their friendship is the bedrock of the story.”
• Kobold Press: “This book has all the elements that fans of sword and sorcery should enjoy…The characters are deep and fun to get to know, the story is interesting, and the action is top shelf.”
• Odd Engine: “filled with new magic and mayhem that makes it a truly enjoyable read.”
• Mikel Andrews: ”This is the fantasy you’ve been craving.. If you’ve been dying for some real originality in the fantasy realm – with a scene of revenge that would make even Kick-Ass’ Hit Girl do a double-take – then Discourse in Steel is your next stop.”
A forthcoming title that is receiving a lot of attention – and do stay tuned for Jay’s impressive blog tour and a cool tour competition – is Three, the debut by renowned games writer Jay Posey. Take a look at some of these couple of early reviews:
• The Book Plank: ”Three is a great start into a new series. The post-apocalyptic world that Jay Posey created in Three is brilliantly constructed, it’s just chock-full of the cool stuff, futuristic gadgets (guns and the like), augmented people and not forget the Weir.”
• Book Realms: “The book has the hard-edged, gritty feel of postapocalyptic fiction. The dialog is terse; the action sequences pound along. But don’t think you’ve escaped into a world without tenderness. It’s there, even if in some cases its encased in armor and eclipsed by the need to survive.”
• If I could only show you the early reviews that haven’t been published yet…but not long now! Three, the first title in the Legends of the Duskwalker series is out in the US & ebook on 30 July and in the UK and RoW on 1 August.
• Book Snobbery: “The Big Reap is the most ambitious of Holm’s Collector stories so far, and the payoff at the end is huge. HUGE”
• Tolerably Smart: “Book Three was a game changer much to my enjoyment”
• Raging Biblioholism: ”Smart, funny and unassuming… Our world is a better place with Sam Thornton in it.”
• Every Read Thing: ”Sam is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. While he carries with him the attitude of a blockbuster movie action star, he’s also a tragic character at heart. In my opinion, this is Holm’s finest work yet.”
• A Fantastical Librarian: ”I think I loved Any Other Name even more than Between Two Thorns, if that’s possible. [Any Other Name is] engaging, funny, romantic, and imaginative and placed Emma Newman solidly on my must-read list of writers. I can’t wait for the conclusion to this story in October, when All is Fair is released. In the meantime, I think I’ll go and reread some of the short stories set in the Split Worlds.”
Thoughts from the Hearthfire ”Emma Newman definitely knows what she is doing…In short, great characters, fabulous settings, complex plots, resolved threads within each book with plenty to arc across titles as well. I wholeheartedly recommend it!”
Kindle-aholic’s Book Pile made me giggle with this one – it’s so true: “You know you are getting into a book when you want to pull characters aside for a little chat. Will, you are an idiot. An idiot with good intentions, but you pissed me the hell off. Max, you need to listen to your gargoyle more. Mr. Sorcerer – there is something so very off about you. I feel some good bits of secrets spilling in book 3. I gave up sleep to finish this book and was very glad I did.”
• And if you want to read more about Emma, check out this SFX interview! Don’t forget that Emma also has some really fun stuff on her website. You can sign up for free Split Worlds short stories. Also, there is her Three Wishes campaign, as well as her new podcasts, Tea and Jeopardy. Emma’s now up to Podcast 6 which is with Karina Cooper; previous
hostages guests have included Chuck Wendig, Sarah Pinborough, Paul Cornell, Jennifer Udden, and Dave Bradley. So, grab yourself a mug of tea and settle down with Emma for some mild peril!
Mike, our fantastic North American Sales & Marketing Manager, and I had a great chat with Wesley Chu this week about all things The Deaths of Tao; for everyone anxiously awaiting the next instalment of Roen and Tao’s adventures… T-minus 4 months! To those who haven’t yet read The Lives of Tao, check out these reviews and prey tell me, how you’ve missed this summer blockbuster?
• Fantasy Book Review: “The Lives of Tao is a fun book with a lot of energy and it really worked for me. Full of action, adventure, martial arts, gunplay, and large quantities of geeky goodness.”
• Sarah Says Read joins the now-squadron-sized army of those who all “want a Prophus alien living in my brain!” She loved it so much, there are bullet points to describe how (which I love!) but the summary says it all: “You guys, this book was just AWESOME. I literally don’t have a single complaint about it. It was an action-packed, fun-filled joy ride and I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for Roen and Tao.”
• Not a Natural Writer is certainly a Natural Reader and has this to say on The Lives of Tao: “The writing style is very easy to get into, and the story moves along at a fair old lick. The actions scenes in particular are very well crafted, with a great sense of motion, excitement and tension.”
My Bookish Ways: “It certainly makes me think that there might something in all of us that can make us great (even if it’s not an alien being), and it’s Roen’s humility, and yes, bravery, in the midst of a very extreme chain of events that makes this book what it is: one of the freshest, most fun debuts I’ve read in quite a while! I can’t wait to find out what’s next for Roen and Tao!”
• Vinx Books: “There’s a dash of romance, plenty of action and the plot carries you along but with nice variations in pace so it isn’t all go go go. It is all combined very well and I really appreciate that the violence is not romanticised or gratuitous. Roen’s reactions to the fighting is very human and I think brings a moment of contemplation.”
• Tiffy Fit: “imaginative, enjoyable, wondrous. ”
Chuck Wendig continues to own the internet, largely because he’s too scary to stop*, but hey, it works out well for our books. Take a look at all of this goodness:
• “Wendig’s filthy dialogue and layered characters mean that it’s never less than raucously entertaining.” SFX, August 2013
• Book Chick City: “The Blue Blazes is one hell of a read, with a complex cast of morally grey characters. It’s a heart-stopping ride from beginning to end. I think it is my stand out book of the year so far.”
• The Tattooed Book: “With superbly vivid characters, ballsy action and a ton of twists and turns Chuck Wendig hits home with another all round enjoyable novel.”
• The Qwillery: “If you are looking for something well written and verging towards horror, then I urge you to read The Blue Blazes. I would advise not to read too close to bedtime, however, without checking under the bed a few times first!”
• Fangs for the Fantasy: “This book is stylistically excellent. It’s thematically excellent. The writing is amazing. The characterisation is awesome. The world is incredible.”
All Things Urban Fantasy: “Think Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere written as a mob book…I’m kicking myself for not checking out Wendig’s work before now. Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
• My Bookish Ways: “The Blue Blazes is something very different, very twisted and very, very good. You’ll have lots of fun-I know I did!”
• With a shout-0ut to the fantastic Joey Hi-Fi cover, CheffoJeffo also says: “A Rollicking, Riotous Rampage…The Blue Blazes is the most fun I have had in years.”
For Chuck’s dulcet tones, here’s some handy interview links:
If you live, or will be, in Brooklyn on July 17, be sure to call to Word and see Chuck with Strange Chemistry author T.L. Costa as they consider the current state of speculative fiction, in both YA and adult. There’ll also be a signing and a Q&A.
You’d think that would be enough of our authors working on taking over the world, but nope, we’ve got all of these who have also been busy…and that’s the way we like them:
Mike Shevdon‘s series, The Courts of the Feyre, comes to a conclusion with The Eighth Court, and the mighty Tim Ward at SFSignal has this to say: “Fascinating magic; powerful and scheming villains; engaging and surprising mystery; epic conflict; dramatic and sympathetic conclusion to character arcs.”
• No More Grumpy Bookseller: “The Courts of the Feyre series is a win in every way in my humble opinion – the world, the characters, the stories, the setting, the history…it’s been a wild and crazy entertaining ride!”
• Lavie Tidhar‘s Omnibus collection of The Bookman Histories was released earlier in the year and Black Gate certainly recommend buying up this trilogy: “this is a guy who is clearly going places. Ignore him at your peril.” The Bookman Histories contains The Bookman, Camera Obscura, and The Great Game and is available in the US and ebook.
We’re fast approaching publication date for Ramez Naam‘s follow-up to Nexus, Crux, and here’s an early review from the IEET: “I advise readers to start with Nexus, but then to pick right up with Crux. Both books are excellent, thoughtful, and fast-paced. They are worth your time, and will leave you thinking hard about some core future questions.”
With the excitement building up towards the release of Crux, we were delighted to announce we’ve signed Ramez up for a third book, which will be released in late 2014, and here’s LitStack reporting on the deal.
If Reggie Lutz had this to say about Empire State: ” He makes the reader feel that we understand and recognize the place we are in the fiction…which makes the plot complications and world-instability issues contained therein all the more effective.” and Fantasy Faction say this about The Age Atomic: ”[Since Empire State] Adam Christopher has grown as a writer and the growth shines through here, his prose has become stronger, his characters more real; his ideas, settings and themes bright and full of depth…he’s grown to a stylish and exciting writer, with ideas that are full of adventure and mystery.”, how damn good does that make both Empire State and The Age Atomic!
And on that note, I’m outta here – well as far as the café for lunch, but you know what I mean.
Happy Friday, everyone!
**I’ve never met him – but, so I hear.
To celebrate today’s launch of Any Other Name, the second in the Split Worlds series, Emma Newman gives us an insight into what life as a narrator is like, but specifically what it’s like for an author to narrate his or her own characters. With praise for Between Two Thorns recently coming from The Guardian describing Emma as “J. K. Rowling meets Georgette Heyer”, we’re even more excited than normal for this fantastic release.
Not only that, but Emma is running a competition to win the audio book of Any Other Name, details here:http://www.enewman.co.uk/
Happy book birthday, Emma!
Audio books, authors and readers – oh my!
I’ve been narrating audio books for a few years now and it’s something I enjoy immensely. Narrating a book is like climbing inside it; I feel I’ve really understood and explored a novel I’ve narrated on a much deeper level than one I’ve just enjoyed as a reader.
As a narrator, I feel just as responsible for a listener’s enjoyment of an audio book as the author – which is an odd thing to feel, especially as I’m an author too. If my performance is poor it could be a barrier to someone consuming the story so I do my best to deliver the narrative at the correct pace and in such a way as to stay interesting (i.e. no monotonous drone!) as well as delivering information in the correct way. Sentences can have their meanings altered just by a change in inflection and it’s my role to ensure my own interpretation isn’t contrary to what the author intends – something I, of course, have to guess from what I read.
Audio books don’t just change the medium of story delivery
When a person listens to an audiobook, they’re letting a third person into the relationship: writer, narrator and listener, rather than just writer and reader.
If you think about when you read a book, the character’s voices as well as the narration emerge from your consumption of the text. When a narrator gets involved everything changes; you hear what has emerged from the text for them first. I interpret how I think the characters would speak and deliver their words accordingly, thus having an influence on how a listener may feel about that character. Of course, that isn’t nearly as powerful as watching a film or TV adaptation that’s been through many, many people before reaching the screen, but it’s a factor nonetheless.
The hope is that the narrator enriches the experience, or at the very least, doesn’t get in the way!
Then I signed the Split Worlds deal with Angry Robot
After I’d calmed down a little (and asked Lee if he really had said what I thought he did) one of the first things I asked about was the audio book version. Specifically; would I be able to do it?
Brilliance Audio produces Angry Robot’s audio books and there was no guarantee they’d want me to narrate – they have lots of professional narrators to pick from. However, much to my delight, they listened to samples of my audio work online and offered the narration to me.
It’s different when it’s your own
I’ve narrated a collection of my own short stories before, for Iambik Audio, so it wasn’t the first time I’d narrated my own work, but working on the Split Worlds audio books was a whole new experience. For one thing I was in a studio working with a sound engineer and director. Such a joy! No more hours of editing and re-recording errors in my home office! However, I went from recording in half hour bursts to 5-6 hour stretches a day over a week or so and that demanded some stamina.
The other difference is that in a studio you wear headphones that play your own voice to you as you read. That is weird. You quickly get used to it, but your attention and concentration is split between producing verbal output and analysing aural input at the same time. With each line you’re focused on the best delivery and a beat later thinking “did that sound right?” so you get very tired by the end of the day. I do still love it though. There’s a joy in intense and deep concentration (can you tell I’m an introvert?) that the work provides in spades.
The thing about being the narrator and the author of the work is that the internal editor gets louder. I have many author friends who tell me they sometimes edit on the fly when performing readings at events – well, the urge to do that has to be squashed in the recording studio as your reading has to be text perfect. No matter how many times you edit your book, you’ll always find something to worry about when you next read it – and all the doubts and fears about how it will be received increase tenfold when you’re recording it! However, the good thing is that it catches those tiny typos that might have missed the proof reader’s eye if the book hasn’t gone to press yet.
The best thing about narrating the Split Worlds novels
When I wrote Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name (the first two novels in the series and the ones I’ve recorded to date), I spent a lot of time with those characters in my head. They’re still there actually, I’ve no idea when they’ll decide to leave. Anyway, I know what they sound like. As a narrator I don’t have to make as best a guess as I can – all I have to do is do my best to convey what is already in my head. The intonation, the inflection, the pause as a character struggles to say the right thing is all there already.
Being the author and the narrator means that relationship goes back from three to two people. It’s just me and you, surviving in the Split Worlds, and I like that. I hope you do too.
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.