Angular Size by Geoff Nelder in SFerics 2017 on BSFA shortlist

The British Science Fiction Association’s shortlists are up! See here, but full lists below.

Angular Size by Geoff Nelder in my SFerics 2017 anthology is on the short story shortlist. Yes, I did say ON THE SHORTLIST. Congratulations Geoff. You’re the man!

My personal thank you to all who helped make SFerics 2017 possible, Mike Hardwick, Amanda Kear, Gareth Lewis, Geoff Nelder, J S Rogers, Roz Clarke and Andy Bigwood. My thanks also go to those who nominated and voted for Geoff’s story to be on the shortlist.

Not bad for a first anthology! [Now to go and lie down in a darkened room!]

Click on image below to get UK Amazon.

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Full Lists:

Best Novel

Nina Allan – The Rift (Titan Books)

Anne Charnock – Dreams Before the Start of Time (47North)

Mohsin Hamid – Exit West (Hamish Hamilton)

Ann Leckie – Provenance (Orbit)

Best Shorter Fiction

Anne Charnock – The Enclave (NewCon Press)

Elaine Cuyegkeng – These Constellations Will Be Yours (Strange Horizons)

Greg Egan – Uncanny Valley (Tor.com)

Geoff Nelder – Angular Size (in ‘SFerics 2017’ edited by Roz Clarke and Rosie Oliver, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform)

Tade Thompson – The Murders of Molly Southbourne (Tor.com)

Best Non-Fiction

Paul Kincaid – Iain M. Banks (University of Illinois Press)

Juliet E McKenna – The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy (in ‘Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction’ edited by Francesca T Barbini, Luna Press)

Adam Roberts – Wells at the World’s End 2017 blog posts (Wells at the World’s End blog)

Shadow Clarke Award jurors – The 2017 Shadow Clarke Award blog (The Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy). The 2017 Shadow Clarke jurors are: Nina Allan, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Victoria Hoyle, Vajra Chandrasekera, Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Jonathan McCalmont, Megan AM.

Vandana Singh – The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement (Strange Horizons)

Best Artwork

Geneva Benton – Sundown Towns (cover for Fiyah Magazine #3)

Jim Burns – Cover for ‘The Ion Raider’ by Ian Whates (NewCon Press)

Galen Dara – Illustration for ‘These Constellations Will Be Yours’ by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons)

Chris Moore – Cover for ‘The Memoirist’ by Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)

Victo Ngai – Illustration for ‘Waiting on a Bright Moon’ by JY Yang (Tor.com)

Marcin Wolski – Cover for ‘2084’ edited by George Sandison (Unsung Stories)

 

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Published: The Last City!

Today’s the day! Oh, yes it is! The Last City anthology is published and available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback versions!

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It has 14 wonderful short stories by:

  • Robert M Campbell
  • Jo Zebedee
  • Juliane Spink Mills
  • Nathan Hystad
  • Jane Jago
  • Samanda R Primeau
  • Thaddeus White
  • Chris Guillory
  • E. M. Swift-Hook
  • Scott Moon
  • Nick Bailey
  • Darren Bullock
  • Stewart Hotston
And me! Yes, I’ve got a story in there: The Colditz Run. 
It is published by Dust Publishing, an imprint run by two people – Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock. I would like to thank them for giving me this opportunity to have this story published.
So how did this story come about?
We were given a brief that started with: ‘This anthology will be a collection of short stories (5-10k words) from The City, a densely populated station/city, built on a large asteroid they call The Island, positioned in the asteroid belt of a far-away star system.
Amongst the additional details (of which there were many) was an excess of planets in that star system. Well my geekiness set in – the planetary system had been badly disturbed! That meant an interstellar collision or war of some sort. But this city and a few small settlements were all that was left of the human race. So it had to be the war theme. And this war was well and truly over. Or was it? Well, you’ll have to read my story to see.
The Last City has already found itself in UK Amazon’d Best 100 sellers! Yay!

Sciency Science Fiction New Novel Pick for March

The sciency  science fiction new novel pick for March is

Aldo

by Betty Jean Craige

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The Blurb:

Aldo is a mystery/thriller/love story in which a brilliant and dangerous ideologue attempts to eliminate a university’s genetics institute by holding the university’s president hostage.

On the same day that Isabel Canto, associate director of Pembrook Atlantic University’s Institute for Genome Modification, discovers she is pregnant with IGM post-doc Frank Marks’s baby, Pembrook Atlantic University’s president Mary Ellen Mackin receives a letter from “Aldo” threatening harm if she does not dissolve the institute and fire its director. Isabel recommends that Mackin refuse and not allow a terrorist to dictate what her faculty and students can research and discover, but this advice unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will change many lives forever—including hers.

The Reason:

March is short on new sciency science fiction novels. (This seems to be a recurring theme, which to my mind is worrying.) However, this is a near future daring-do, which covers the throne area of genetics and what we should eb allowed to do with them. Very topical. And it has women as main protagonists! Also very topical!

Here for Amazon UK

Here for Amazon US

Non-Linearity of Written SF

Reading is a linear process. You can only read it one word at a time… you have the subject, then the verb, and then what I call the hangers of objects and subclauses in their various forms. The reader has to absorb ideas one after another. I know it. You know it.

So writers try to make things as linear in terms of not only the words, but how the ideas and things they portray happen time wise. The writing goes from point A to point C through point B. The writing (when done properly) is like travelling along a line that you can’t get off.

Films get round this. You can absorb multiple scenes on the same screen at the same time. The only limit is the eyesight capability and how quickly a human brain can absorb and process what it perceives. So it’s no wonder a lot of written work is superseded by films and the like.

Not everything can be transferred to the scene. Yes, a lot certainly can, but not everything. Abstract concepts are difficult to put into pictures. Nor can aromas come across the screen (though future technology might allow this). Inner thoughts used be expressed as an aside ever since at least Shakespearean plays, but even here programmes have introduced lines being written (this was noticeable in the recent five series of Sherlock by Steve Moffatt). So I would expect in due course technology to make inroads into those areas that can still only be conveyed by written works. For not, novels, short stories and even poetry have a plan win our world.

So how can written works fight back against the disadvantage of having to be linear in terms of word construction?

Literary fiction has to a large extent played with two story threads being portray in intermingled and even in some cases alternative chapters in a novel. This way you have the echo of another viewpoint thread in you mind when you are reading the current chapter. To a certain extent the success of this depends on the reader. This intertwining is now considered a standard technique in science fiction writers’ arsenal of techniques to use.

Another way of doing ‘two viewpoints’ is the unreliable narrator. This entails the narrator giving the reader a view, but gradually the reader starts to realise ‘the truth’ is different because of inconsistencies in the story line. So in effect you get the global truth and the narrator’s biased and distorted view of the truth.

Both these techniques take time to build up their duality or multiplicity of viewpoint. And unless the plot line and characters lend themselves to it, certainly would not appear in flash fiction or short stories.

There is what I call a micro-technique of duality that can be used in a single sentence, but is extremely rare due to limitations of the language. This is the use of word ambiguity. For example, take the sentence: he goes. This could mean he works. Or it could mean he leaves. There could be a context when both is meant at the same time. However, unless a story points out that it is playing with ambiguity at the start, readers are unlikely to pick up on it.

Another micro-technique that comes close to duality is the dear old oxymoron. Basically this is putting two words next to each other that seem like a blatant contradiction. The example often quoted is ‘military intelligence’.

One place where various non-linearities can be described is mathematical equations (don’t worry, I’m not about to bamboozle you with obscure symbols scrawling along a line). It can using symbols describe non-linear forces and their effects. Fluid dynamics has to deal with the non-linear force of viscosity that produces the the sea waves we all know and love, and helps produce the vortex patterns in the planetary atmospheres such as those we see on the Jupiter or Saturn (below is a picture of Jupiter).

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I know from experience it takes a whole paragraph to describe the apparent constructed turmoil we see in such pictures. But what if there was a single word to describe it? Wouldn’t it make the writer’s life so much easier?

Not really. Such words would be rarely used and most of the readers are unlikely to know what the author is on about, which of course is a failure in the author’s purpose.

There is a but to this. Scientists quickly get fed up of having to describe things in many words. So they invent phrases of words to describe frequently discussed phenomena in their small circle of interested friends and colleagues. And yes, similar things have happened in science fiction e.g. warp drive. These kinds of shorthand words only develop when the concept has become familiar in several stories, which of course can only be done over time.

I just have this feeling that it is time for science fiction to experiment with new writing techniques that would somehow condense the ideas and concepts away from a linear set of words to begin able to get a duality and, in some cases, a multiplicity of them to come across to the reader simultaneously.

True, a lot of them will not work, but that is the nature of experimentation. It only takes one spectacular success to make the hard work of trial and error all worth it.

Science fiction, because it is progressive in so many ways, is more likely to succeed at this than other genres or even literary fiction. I would further suggest, that science fiction could overtake the avant garde aspect of literary fiction.

Now, it’s back to some experimentation for me…

Science Fiction with the Future

Damon Knight had a point to make when he said: ‘Science fiction is what I point at when I say science fiction’. Amongst other things it means that science fiction is not easily definable. Why?

Over the centuries, science fiction has taken many on board many sub-genres, whichever way you split up science fiction. Indeed, there is still some debate about the line drawn between science fiction and fantasy, which keeps moving as more science is discovered and technology developed. It has now got to the stage that a lot of science fiction followers accept the definition of the genre at any one point in time is at best nebulous and cannot be pinned down.

So now we have Margaret Atwood come along to say: “I’m not a prophet,” she says. “Let’s get rid of that idea right now. Prophecies are really about now. In science fiction it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have.”

Whilst a lot of science fiction is a reflection about today’s society placed in a ‘future setting’ to exaggerate the points of concern or debate, not all of it is. However, some of science fiction is about the future and what it will bring. Yet more science fiction is about how a small event could have changed world history. And still more science fiction is about what we would like to see e.g. faster than light travel, teleportation and immortality.

She could argue that we write science fiction through the lens of what we experience today. A lot of writers do. I have no issue with that. They have something to say and I can understand why people may want to read it.

But she seems to have forgotten what science is based on, namely the principle of when you set up the same conditions, the same thing will happen, over and over again. As Ernest Rutherford said: ‘Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.’ (All the other sciences eventually boil down to the need to use physics.) Science is about guaranteed repeatability of results.

Science has a powerful tool in its armoury, mathematics. Maths can be used to predict things we have not observed. Such examples go back to the discovery of the planet, Neptune. In 1845, John Couch Adams, successfully predicted the position of where to find the planet using a new, but sound, mathematical technique. Quite a few people at the time did not believe this was possible, including the then Astronomer Royal. In the end Neptune was observed in 1846 in the part of the sky where he said it would be. Such was John Couch Adams’ achievement that his statue is one of two at Royal Astronomy Society’s headquarters in London, the other being of Sir Isaac Newton.

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We’ve come a long way in other understanding of science and mathematics. And with that greater understanding comes better predictions of where our future is going. A good example current today is the effects of climate change. And there are quite a few science fiction novels about the future impact of climate change on us humans. As the near-term impact cannot be avoided, then it will happen. This is an example of science fiction about the future.

I think it is worth reading Robert Heinlein’s novel, Friday, about how predictable the future will become… and yes, it gives the background reasons why this happens.

So I fo not agree with Atwood’s definition of science fiction. In fact, I feel insulted by it, because, having done two Masters degrees in mathematics, I know how good these predictions are becoming.

I’m trying to write the science fiction of the future based on this kind of solid predictability. It’s difficult, because there are so many factors to take into account. I feel as if she has trashed what I’m trying to do. Worse, with the clout as a high-flying writer, which she deserves for writing what she does write, it means my type of science fiction will have even less chance of being published, because it will be deemed as not science fiction. She has been arrogant enough to decree that: ‘In science fiction it’s always about now.’ I on the other hand accept science fiction contains many sub-genres, including her writing, which in some ways follows in the footsteps on H G Wells.

 

British Women SFF Writers

I have been doing a little research into women SFF writers, namely the date and title of their first SFF publication (not necessarily their first publication as they may have published in other genres). The list is below. Of course, I may have missed something, so do let me know if I got things wrong or there are further names to add to the list.

1666 Duchess Margaret Cavendish Blazing World
1818 Mary Shelley Frankenstein
1827 Jane C Loudon The Mummy
1890 Lady Florence Dixie Gloriana
1922 Cicely Hamilton Theodore Savage
1923 Susan Ertz Madame Claire
1926 Charlotte Haldane Mans World
1930 Aelfrida Tillyard Concrete: A Story of Two Hundred Years Hence
1935 Naomi Mitchison We have been Warned
1943 Mea Allen Change of Heart
1955 Margot Bennett The Long Way Back
1957 Jane Gaskell Strange Evil
1969 Doris Lessing The Four-Gated City
1969 Josephine Saxton The Heiros Gamos of Sam and An Smith
1971 Louise Lawrence Andra
1975 Monica Hughes Crisis on Conshelf Ten
1977 Gwyneth Jones Water in the Air
1977 Mary Gentle Hawk in Silver
1981 Lisa Tuttle Windhaven
1987 Storm Constantine The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit
1987 Susan Price The Ghost Drum
1988 Anita Mason The War against Chaos
1991 Liz Holliday Third Person Singular
1991 Molly Brown Bad Timing
1992 Nicola Griffith Ammonite
1992 Sue Thomas Correspondence
1992 Malorie Blackman Trust Me
1993 Lisanne Norman Turning Point
1999 Justina Robson Silver Screen
2000 Jo Walton The Kings Peace
2001 Liz Williams The Ghost Sister
2005 Sophia McDougall Romanitas
2005 Frances Harding Fly by Night
2007 Marion Arnott The Drummer Boy
2007 Nina Allan A Thread of Truth
2007 Janet Edwards Earth Girl
2007 Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army
2008 Jaine Fenn Principles of Angels
2010 Georgina Kermis The Many Deaths of Johnny Silver
2011 Emma Newman 20 Years Later
2011 Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb
2013 Jodi Taylor Just One Damned Thing After Another
2014 Jacey Bedford Empire of Dust
2016 Emma Geen The Many Selves of Katherine North
2016 Naomi Alderman The Power
2016 Helen Sedgwick The Comet Seekers

Pat Cadigan should be on this list, but I had difficulty determining her first novel… probably me having a blip moment!

What I haven’t down is separate the women between science fiction writers and fantasy writers. Some have written both, which makes life confusing. And then there’s the old chestnut of where you draw the dividing line between the two genres. (I’m not going down this road in this blog.) However, I fairly certain that Frances Harding is a fantasy writer and I would drop her from the list if I concentrated purely on science fiction writers (even if she did go to the same college as me).

As you would expect, there has been an increase in the number of British Women SFF debuting in the later years. But there are some, as yet unexplained, gaps e.g. 2002 to 2004 with no new woman author.

While going through the lists, I noticed a lot women had links, one way or another, with the USA.

There was a noticeable number of early women writers who benefitted from patronage of one form or another to get their work published.

Make of this list what you will. But it’s at least a starter for ten in gathering the information.

New Sciency SF Novel Pick for February

It has been difficult to find any sciency science fiction books being published in February by the top notch publishers. This is happening about every other month now, and is making me wonder what publishers have got against such mind-bending wonderful novels. Thankfully, Baen Books have come to the rescue with an interesting offering.

The pick is:

Mission to Methone

by Les Johnson

The Blurb: 

Humanity is not alone in the universe. Across the galaxy, a war rages between advanced alien races. And its about to be brought to our doorstep.

The year is 2065 and an accidental encounter in space leads to the discovery that we are not alone in the universe–and that our continued existence as a species may be in jeopardy.

Chris Holt, working in his office at the Space Resources Corporation, discovers that one of the asteroids he is surveying for mining is actually not an asteroid at all but a derelict spaceship. The word gets out and soon the world’s powers are competing to explore and claim for themselves the secrets that it holds.

What they don’t know is that across the galaxy, a war has been underway for millennia. A war between alien civilizations that have very different ideas about what should be done about emerging spacefaring civilizations like our own. The artificial intelligence resident in the derelict Holt discovered has been in our solar system since before the dawn of human civilization, watching, waiting and keeping quiet lest the interstellar war return and wipe out the sentient race that now resides there–humanity.

And that war might soon be again coming to our front door. The truth can only be discovered on Methone, a tiny, egg-shaped moon of the planet Saturn. Who will get there first? And will it be in time?

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Amazon UK here.

Amazon US here.

The reason I picked this is that Les Johnson is actually a NASA scientist, and you can bet your bottom dollar that he will have drawn on his experience as a scientist to write this novel.

The biography for Les Johnson from Amazon is:

Les Johnson is a NASA physicist and author. By day, he serves as the Senior Technical Assistant for the Advanced Concepts Office at the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. In the early 2000s, he was NASA’s Manager for Interstellar Propulsion Research and later managed the In-Space Propulsion Technology Project. He was technical consultant for the movie Lost in Space and has appeared on the Discovery Channel series, Physics of the Impossible in the “How to Build a Starship” episode. He has also appeared in three episodes of the Science Channel series Exodus Earth.  He is the author of Rescue Mode, coauthored with Ben Bova, as well as Back to the Moon and On to the Asteroid, both coauthored with Travis S. Taylor. He is the coeditor of the science/science fiction collection Going Interstellar.