October’s Sciency Science Fiction New Novel Pick

October is a good month for sciency science fiction novels coming out – the pre-Christmas rush you might say. The pick of the bunch for me has to be:

Salvation Lost

Peter F Hamilton

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The Blurb:

Fight together – or die alone . . .
In the twenty-third century, humanity is enjoying a comparative utopia. Yet life on Earth is about to change, forever. Feriton Kane’s investigative team has discovered the worst threat ever to face mankind – and we’ve almost no time to fight back. The supposedly benign Olyix plan to harvest humanity, in order to carry us to their god at the end of the universe. And as their agents conclude schemes down on earth, vast warships converge above to gather this cargo.

Some factions push for humanity to flee, to live in hiding amongst the stars – although only a chosen few would make it out in time. But others refuse to break before the storm. As disaster looms, animosities must be set aside to focus on just one goal: wiping this enemy from the face of creation. Even if it means preparing for a future this generation will never see.

Salvation Lost is the second book in the Salvation Sequence by Peter F. Hamilton

The Reason:

The first book in the series, Salvation, expounded on the effects of a certain of travelling between planets, moons, asteroids and stars. As well interesting advantages it had limitations. The consequence was the development of humanity in a way that readers have not seen before. And aliens have sat up and taken notice. They have come along and interfered with the way humanity is heading.

From the blurb the second book takes up where the first left off. There were five flawed heroes in the first book. They were still around at the end of the story. I suspect their stories will be extended. Each majors in a different virtue:

  • Yuri Alster – fortitude
  • Callum Hepburn – compassion
  • Alik Monday – resolution
  • Kandara Martinez – strength
  • Jessika Mye – for guidance

This alone promises to make Salvation Lost have multiple foci of interest, each of which I can concentrate on depending on which mood I happen to be in. It will be one of those interesting mixture of ideas and reactions novels that normally promises innovative aspects, human, machine or otherwise.

 

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Distaff Reviews and Distaff-2?

It is now a little over three weeks since the Distaff anthology with its all new science fiction stories by women was released. Nobody has yet pointed out a similar anthology being published this century. This brings its own worrying concerns about the state of play of female science fiction writing since 2000.

What a lot of reviews are saying about Distaff is there is a wide variety of stories. I agree. There is no single predominant sub-genre to this anthology. But it does bring with it one interesting little gem. Of the reviews I’ve seen, seven of the nine stories have been cited as being the reviewer’s favourite in the anthology. SEVEN out of the NINE – over thee-quarters. When did that last happen?

[The remaining two stories I hasten to add have had a slew of positive reviews.]

In fact reviewer who is associated with the sffchronicles forum where this anthology was born said:

As a member of the Chrons (The SFF Chronicles Science Fiction & Fantasy) Community, of which most (all?) of these authors are members, I was afraid any review I did on this collection would be viewed with skepticism. Thus, though I’m loath to admit it, I was (sort’a) hoping there would be at least one story I didn’t like; one I could say something… bad?… about.

No such ‘luck’. I couldn’t even find more than one misspelling in the entire tome (and in any book this size, that’s incredible)! These stories, each of them so unique, are all written by the finest authors I have ever had the privilege to read.

One thing it does imply, which I’m pleased about, is that the standard of editing must be high. Phew!

The anthology has proved so popular that I have now seen a second call for there to be a follow-on anthology.

My reaction? What the heck is going on here? And what will I do about it?

Me being me, my mind flits to the practicalities. I’ve got various writing projects taking up my time between now and Christmas. As far as my involvement in any Distaff-2 (working title) anthology is concerned, nothing doing until the new year. There is because of the way the contract is set up a natural review point in February. I suspect any decision to do Distaff-2 (working title) will be taken then and be dependent on how well it has sold, what further reviews say, if any of the stories get shortlisted for shorter fiction awards and whether the interest is still there after six months.

Which brings me to the other major practical factor – the availability of the contributors to do the background work to go from draft stories to finished project to after book-launch care. We came together as a team and we had the time and spare capacity to do these behind the scenes tasks. That may not be true in the future. This was very much a volunteer anthology.

Luck also plays a part. Distaff was extraordinarily lucky in having its book launch at the EuroCon / TitanCon in Belfast this year. It was convenient for several of Distaff’s authors. I cannot see this being the case for Distaff-2. And importantly it raised the profile of the anthology. Distaff-2 would need something similar, though it will have the goodwill generated from Distaff behind it.

Turning from the practical to the ideal… judging by the response of the reviews etc, people want to see more of this type of science fiction stories published. There is a great big hole in the science fiction publishing spectrum. Don’t ask me to define the boundaries of this hole, it is so big I can’t see its edges. And because there is nothing inside it, don’t ask me to define what should be there. All I know is that it needs to be filled with something.

Its existence means there is a wide scope for science fiction stories for Distaff-2, which is good news for such a follow-on.

Judging by the success so far of Distaff, we really do need a Distaff-2 to encourage women science fiction writers. Whilst Distaff was a group of us getting together just to prove it could be done, I’m not sure about the legality of advertising for female-only contributors to a paying anthology. In fact, I think it might be illegal, but could be wrong. I, for one, am not sure what can be done about this.

In the meantime, enjoy Distaff. (At least you can read the first part for free… ahem…)

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British Science Fiction Magazines

For various reasons, I have collated a list of British Science Fiction magazines that are currently taking science fiction short story submissions or are only temporarily closed to such submissions. I’ve managed to find seven of them. So here are The Magnificent Seven with a few details and links.

Aphelion:

  • Publishes the first Sunday every month except January in Webzine format
  • Non-paying
  • Flash – up to 1,000 words; Short Fiction 1,001 to 7,500 words; Long fiction and serials longer than 7,500 words.

Long Fiction and Serials guidelines

Short Fiction guidelines

Flash Fiction guidelines

Compelling Science Fiction:

  • 1,000 to 10,000 words.
  • Submission window: submissions are currently closed. They will open again in 2019 from Oct 1 to Dec 1.
  • Pay rate: 6 cents/word (1 cent/word for reprints)
  • Has recently changed publishing schedule from every two months to what appears to be six-monthly. Best check on their website.

Fiction submission guidelines here.

Future Fire:

  • Reasonably flexible with regard to length, but are extremely unlikely to publish any story over 17 500 words.
  • Payment of $20 for each original story over 1000 words accepted, or $10 per flash piece (up to 1000 words) (to be paid via Paypal on publication).
  • 4 issues per year in pdf, epub and mobi formats.

Fiction submission guidelines here.

Interzone:

  • Up to a maximum of 10,000 words.
  • Pay rate – unknown.
  • Publishes every two months in paper format and in electronic means (can be bought on Kindle).

Fiction submission guidelines here.

Kraxon:

  • Story must be from an active member of sffchronicles forum.
  • Publishes as an e-magazine
  • 1,000 (+/- 50) words excluding the title.
  • Publishes one story every month and a 12-part serial, one part per month.
  • Payment £60 per short story.

Fiction submission guidelines here.

Kzine:

  • Print-On-Demand physical copies of all the Kzine. Kindle issues on the Amazon Website
  • From 1,000 words to 8,000 words.
  • 3 issues per year (January, May and September) as ebook or paperback
  • Royalties of 50% of profits per issue divided between authors based on story length will be paid. An advance against royalties of £3 per 1000 words will be paid one month after publication.

Fiction submission guidelines here.

Shoreline of Infinity:

  • Currently not open to submissions.
  • Digital and Print versions.
  • A maximum of 7,000 words.
  • Not sure of frequency.
  • £10/1000 words.

Fiction submission guidelines here.

New Science Fiction Story Out Now!

I have a new short story out – published just yesterday – Decision Required – at Kraxon magazine. It can be found here.

My thanks to the editor and his team at Kraxon for letting this story to be seen by so many people. I’m especially delighted with the artwork he has chosen to go with the story. I don’t know how he managed finding the right pictures to go with it, but he did. (You’ll understand this comment if you read the story.) Enjoy!

***

Decision Required is in many ways a contrast to The Ice Man recently published in the Distaff anthology.

Talking of which, I will reading an excerpt of the latter at the BristolCon Fringe on Monday, September 16th, at The Gryphon, 41 Colton Street, Bristol, BS1 5AP. Doors open at 7pm, with readings starting promptly at 7:30pm. The event usually finishes around 9pm.

The event is free to attend and there will be a Q&A after the readings where the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions to the authors.

Reading alongside me is Juliet E McKenna – her bio (if you didn’t already know it) –

Juliet E McKenna has always been fascinated by myth and history, other worlds and other peoples. Her debut novel, The Thief’s Gamble, first of The Tales of Einarinn was published in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis. She reviews for the web and print magazines and blogs on book trade issues. She teaches creative writing from time to time, and writes diverse shorter fiction. Recent stories include contributions to the anthologies Alternate Peace, Soot and Steel, and The Scent of Tears. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy, published by Wizard’s Tower Press in 2018, and The Green Man’s Foe is the eagerly anticipated sequel. The Green Man’s Heir is a finalist for the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel at this year’s British Fantasy Awards

Both I and Juliet will have copies of their latest books for sale on the evening.

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That Million Word Rule for Science Fiction?

Accepted wisdom was that to be a good violinist, or indeed musician, you had to have practised for 10,000 hours by the time you were 20. In fact, the latest research found found that while the less skilful violinists clocked up an average of about 6,000 hours of practice by the age of 20, there was little to separate the good from the best musicians, with each logging an average of about 11,000 hours.

In other words once you reach a certain standard of good playing, other factors come into play (please excuse the pun). More detail can be found here.

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There is a similar rule for authors. A novice writer has to write a million words to the best of their ability before she or he is competent to write. There are variations on this theme and who said. If want to go into more depth on this point a good article can be found here. 

In science fiction terms that is writing and throwing away ten novels of normal length. Yes I did say TEN, which is 10.

Horrible thought isn’t it? All those long hours of work, brain sweat if you want to call it that, before you’re ready to produce a good novel, which would under normal word-counts be novel number ELEVEN = 11.

So congratulations, you’ve reached the competent level with ten novels hidden under your belt that will never be published.

But if the study into the violinists is anything to go by, there needs to be something else. Suggestions include quality of practice, teachers and parental support. I would like to add a fourth suggestion, genes that give the physiology for the manipulating the violin. Some physiques are more natural to playing the violin that others.

So what are those somethings in writing? The obvious include: growing up with people who speak excellent english; being brought up on books that widen the appreciation of styles in writing; not being susceptible to repetitive strain syndrome in the wrists; and quality to writing tuition. Of course most of these  better done when a person can learn these things more easily, i.e. when growing up.

So writers who come late to writing are at a distinct disadvantage, aren’t they?

Well… I would agree in a literary and a lot of genres. But not necessarily science fiction.

Science fiction needs a combination of much more background information and much more imagination than many other genres. If you have those, you can to a certain extent compensate for the lack of writing practise etc when you were young.

I still remember being in a critiquing circle of writers from many genres. I threw in a scene that I thought, yeah, well not a bad scenario, good standard science fiction. What took me by surprise was that everyone was very encouraging by what I have developed – it was imagination and background knowledge gone wild to them, but kind of second nature to me.

So back to that million words ‘rule’… let’s just say when I add up the novels etc I’ve done, it comes to very roughly 600,000 words… oh well only another 400,000 words to go… better get a move on, hadn’t I?

And yet, I can already point to a few short stories that I consider are worthy of being kept in print:

  • Cold Pressure
  • Agents of Repair
  • C.A.T.
  • Getting There
  • Cyber Control (longer version)
  • Flex and Flux
  • The Ice Man

Don’t ask me to put my finger on why these. Just they kind of feel right – and believe me, they were all rewritten to the I lost count number to times. But each of these stories have the oomph in different ways of imagination behind them. Which backs up my point about the science fiction genre being one that should break the million word rule.

 

 

 

 

Is Distaff Truly Avant Garde SF?

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Every so often I go into organising lists mode – and the above map is no exception. It is the list of my published short stories that are associated with a place on Earth – all limited to Europe. Of course I’ve written far more stories in space. In fact I’ve had stories published for every one of the Solar System’s planets except Saturn – odd that as Saturn is probably the most varied of the eight planets. Maybe it has a richness too far for me!

Of course the latest addition is The Ice Man set in the far north of Sweden, which was published in the Distaff anthology. Rather than me talk about it I shall leave you to look up what the reviewers say. (After all, I have a biased opinion of The Ice Man!)

Thank you to all the reviewers for taking the time to review Distaff. I am very pleased to see that each one I’ve seen so far thinks ALL NINE of the stories are good to very good. It means there is not a single story that is duff. In fact one Goodreads reviewer said:

As a member of the Chrons (The SFF Chronicles Science Fiction & Fantasy) Community … I was afraid any review I did on this collection would be viewed with skepticism. Thus, though I’m loath to admit it, I was (sort’a) hoping there would be at least one story I didn’t like; one I could say something… bad?… about.

No such ‘luck’. I couldn’t even find more than one misspelling in the entire tome (and in any book this size, that’s incredible)! These stories, each of them so unique, are all written by the finest authors I have ever had the privilege to read.

I’m proud that my eight lady comrades have produced such a high standard of science fiction. Thank you ladies, it was a privilege to work with you on such anthology.

The Distaff anthology started out on the sffchronicles forum as a result of a few passing comments to try to prove that there were enough lady authors to produce an all female anthology by actually doing it. Well, we certainly proved that!

But this does leave an interesting question. If these stories are so good, why hadn’t at least some of them found a home elsewhere, in more prestigious outlets? Yes, I do know from comments the authors have made to me that some were looking for home and I know others were ‘hot off the press’. (I’m not saying which is which.)  The short and easy answer is that these stories did not fit into the mould of the more established short story publication outlets. They were too avant garde!

And yet here we are, with an interesting, one reviewer even describing them as eclectic, mix of stories that are getting good reviews. Every single story!

There could be another reason lurking behind this situation. Dare I mention it and risk the wrath of commentators? Could it be there is still a publishing bias against female science fiction authors? I have no evidence to suggest this is the case, but the suspicion after all the years of struggle by female writers is there. Others may know better and I’ll leave it up to them to say their piece.

The publicity, organising and sorting out day to day matters of Distaff is now in the capable hands of Jo Zebedee. The formal book launch party will be on Friday at Titancon / Eurocon on Friday evening 7-9pm Lisburn room.

But I still have one worry… with all these lovely reviews, what if many, indeed even all, of these avant garde short stories end up on the long list for British Science Fiction Association’s shorter fiction award for 2019?

(I still have nightmares about the 2017 BSFA awards ceremony when Geoff Nelder’s short story, Angular Size from SFerics 2017, which I published,  was shortlisted for the award and I was at the time  recovering from shingles! I certainly don’t want another bout of shingles!)

 

 

 

Distaff All-Women Anthology Out Now!

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It’s been one heck of an experience. I am both honoured and humbled to be part of this project. Thank you to my co-conspirators collaborators, all of them, no matter how small the contribution, who helped made this happen.

Distaff contains all new science fiction stories written by women. As far as we are aware it is the only anthology this century to do this.

How did it come about? A couple of stray comments on the SFFchronicles forum when someone asked if there were any science fiction anthologies with stories produced solely by women and someone else noting there were enough women writers to produce an anthology. So we got together, and this is the result!

The pre-release reviews have all been good ones. If you want to find out more about the anthology see here.

UK Amazon link here.

US Amazon link here.

Newsy Bit and Bobs

It’s been a weird few days for me… but everyone suffers a bout of them now and again. One of weirdnesses is my fellow conspirators are getting excited, anxious, feeling the burden coming off their shoulders about the Distaff anthology, and trying to cope with that is interesting enough. The Kindle version will be published on 15th August. But remember the price will go up then. If you want it at the cheaper rate get it before Thursday – the link to Amazon is here

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Over on another website, one of the stories’ authors, Damaris Browne, has come up with a very succinct paragraph about what topics are covered – which is below. Her full report can be found here. 

…there are twists of all kinds, with aspects of comedy, horror, romance, tragedy and everything in between. We have Nordic police and Nordic myth, environmental messages and examinations of grief, icy inventors, lovelorn ships, planet-saving AIs, rainbow ponies, staring chickens, plagues and immortality, guilt and nowhere-near-enough guilt, clever children and dead children, art and actors, a degraded Earth and an Earth being reborn.

That’s a heck of a lot of science fiction topics covered. Talk about getting value for money.

***

One thing I’m still scratching my head about is an e-mail correspondence with an editor. As some of you know I’m working on developing a new novel, still at the background and exploring ideas stage. Long story short, is this editor (whom I’m deliberately keeping anonymous) on hearing of one of the ideas, said go for writing the novel. My reaction? But, but, but… there are seven more ideas I need to work up first. (Not the whoa, I’ve something here and let’s get on an write this kind of reaction.)

***

If you people want to know what I’ve been reading recently, check out this link. The rest you can infer for yourselves!

Colonising Mars – Time to Stop talking Nonsense!

It is going to be much, much easier to colonise Mars than it is to solve global warming on Earth. The reason is simple. A lot fewer people would be involved in going to and living on Mars, which means less arguments.

Even so, it’s going to very difficult to colonise the red planet. In fact some people believe it will never be done. See here for instance. The main problems they cite are:

  • Radiation leading to disease and death
  • Lack of heat
  • Lack of atmosphere
  • Psychological trauma due to being cooped up underground or well protected surface habitats
  • Reduced Gravity leading to physiological difficulties

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Radiation is being dealt with in the wrong way – after all if we cure cancer, then we can administer regular treatments to cure radiation sickness. A lot of work is being done at Newcastle University to cure cancer, which would be along the lines I would expect to prevent radiation sickness.

Lack of heat – well that does need infrastructure – and that requires effort and time. But it is doable and there are various methods to deal with that.

Lack of atmosphere – if we can solve this one we can also solve the psychological trauma one. In Alastair Reynold’s The Great Wall of Mars, he calculated we would need to build an enclosing 200 kilometres high to get the necessary dense atmosphere at the bottom. Well it’s a start, but it is like taking a sledge hammer to tap a small pin into soft wood. Well let’s start by building a wall at the ends of the Valles Marineris, which is 8 kilometres deep. Only another 192 kilometres to go! It will certainly save on some wall building! But give this problem to a systems engineer, and they will certainly find a solution that does not required all 192 kilometres of wall height. And you’ll be surprised how much lower the wall becomes. And no, I’m not talking about a dome cover here.

That leaves gravity as the serious problem. Mars has 38% of the gravity we experience on Earth. It gives all sorts physiological problems. It’s not like free floating in the International Space Station, which has virtually zero gravity. So it is not as bad as it can be. But something will have to be done about this – I’m not a medic, but I suspect a lot of the answers will have to come from medical research for this. And from what little I know, I think this is feasible.

So as far as I can see, we should be able to colonise Mars, maybe not in the next decade, but certainly in the next century. But not quite in the way science fiction has portrayed it to date.

 

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