BSFA Award Nominations for SFerics 2017

The long lists for the BSFA awards are now up on the BSFA website. I’m absolutely delighted the two short stories from SFerics 2017 anthology are on the BSFA best short story award:

  • A Glitch in Humanity by Mike Hardwick
  • Angular Size by Geoff Nelder

Also up for the best artwork is Andy Bigwood’s cover – see below.

Congratulations to all three who made it to this stage, especially as this is not the run of the mill science fiction anthology.

sferics 2017 front onlyMy thanks go to all who made this anthology possible, and a special thanks to Roz Clarke who took on the ‘interesting’ job of doing the editing.

For those wanting to read this ‘esteemed’ book – see here for UK Amazon.

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Happy New Year…. and yes it’s that time of the year when people try to look forward to what the future holds for us and what they want to achieve.

So what does the future hold for science fiction, especially in the UK?

Well, let’s take a small step back into last year. I asked a friend why there weren’t more women science fiction writers? Two stories came out of the ensuing conversation…

  1. There was a male writer who wanted to write and publish science fiction. He kept being rejected. So in the end, he wrote a thriller, which did get published. It was only after his success with thrillers that he was able to get his science fiction published.
  2. Everyone knows that the women science fiction writers could get published more easily in that middle of the last century if they adopted a male pseudonym or just used their initials. Those that did become successful under their own names tended to concentrate on the female-interest topics e.g. Anne McCaffrey on romance and Ursula Le Guin on social issues.

Turning these two frustrating aspects – the difficulty of getting published in science fiction by anyone and the difficulty of a female science fiction writer get published under own name – will continue. Both cases are like turning a huge tanker round in a gale force storm.

But I’m reminded of another campaign that reached a semi-successful conclusion a hundred years ago next month. The passing of the parliament bill to extend voting rights to women over 30. It was a decade later that it was brought down to the same age as men. The momentum for it had been building up over decades, but it took the first world war to show everyone that women did their part for the defence of this country. There would have been howls of derision had parliament not allowed the votes for women.

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And so it is with the two topics – getting into science fiction writing in the first place, and writing under your full name as a lady science fiction writer. It’ll take a similar drastic (though hopefully not as disastrous) event to get either accepted. But still, like the tanker slowly turning, progress will be made on both these topics during 2018, because neither topic will go away.

On the science front, there will be a spate of interesting spacecraft launches in 2018. Expect more announcements on exoplanets – the search for new ones is going full pelt. As for particle physics, the LHC is still experimenting. Quantum computers will develop at a considerable pace, but remember, they’re not processing-wise like the computers we know and love. This will feed interest into near term science fiction, but as to when the impact of this is seen in publications, well that could be several years away.

In the UK we will also have to contend with Brexit. It’s taking up a lot of people’s time and energy, either organising it or opposing it. That means less time for reading novels, including science fiction. Yes, there will be some who will use the entertainment as escapism from all the nastiness being slung around, but that’s what it will be, escapism. Which should mean an even greater bias to the fantasy end of science fiction.

But after the shouting, wrangling etc has toned down (it’ll never be done, because whichever way things go, it will be unfinished business), the attitude will veer to getting things done. So somewhere about the Autumn I expect to see an inflection point where the interest starts to turn to the more sciency science fiction. Because it’s coming from such a low ratio (about 6 fantasy to 1 science fiction) it will not appear to make much of a dent to start with. It’s only if this trend continues for a few years will things change. I suspect it will, on the grounds that people, once they see the benefits of sorting things out for themselves, will want to continue to do so. I have also seen signs that the publishing industry realise instinctively that this is the trend of tomorrow. (I’m not sure they’ve worked out the socio-economics behind that instinct.)

So what will 2018 bring on a personal front for me?

Although I will never stop ‘twiddling with it’ (read that as polish-editing), I now have a novel I can tout it round the bazaars if I want to. I know what’s in that novel – I’ve read some incredible science fiction that left me with jaw-dropping impressions and my novel has that feel (despite me being my usual over-critical self of my own work) – so I’m going be fussy as to where it gets published.

It does mean I get chance to start a completely new novel this year. It’s going to stretch my capabilities, but that’s a good thing.

Short story-wise, The Colditz Run in the The Last City anthology will be published in the next month or so. I’m drafting a couple of short stories which should be ready later in the year. I suspect as the year progresses there will be more short stories that will demand my attention to get them written.

Happy New Year everyone, may it be better than 2017 for all of us!

 

 

 

Look Back to 2017 SF

It’s that time of the year when we look back to what we did well, what we left unfinished and try to make sense of the crazy world around us.

The successes for me:

  • Cyber Control short story being voted the favourite story of 2016 in Kraxon Magazine
  • The Courage of Care short story published in Kraxon Magazine
  • SFerics 2017 anthology that I published in October with near future science fiction stories for other writers
  • Completion of the first draft and one serious round of editing of my C.A.T. novel  – obtained three Honourable Mentions from the Writers of the Future short story contest for the last three chapters of the novel
  • Explorations Through the Wormhole anthology, in which my short story, AI Deniers, continues to be the Amazon best sellers lists
  • Acceptance of my short story (if you call c. 8,600 words short), The Colditz Run, for The Last City anthology due out in 2018 (contract has been signed, so it’ll be earlier in 2018 rather than later)

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As for the failures, well, as it’s the Christmas period, I won’t bore you with those (consider it my Christmas gift to the you, the readers).

As for newly published Science Fiction, I consider it a weird year. It has the feel of an interregnum when there the genre is struggling for a new major theme to play with. The awards have clung onto the tried and tested. Major authors are still orbiting the fantasy end of their writing in order to attract profits for publishers. And there are gloomy predictions about the future of fiction publishing as a whole (mind you, we have often heard such predictions about science fiction in the last 20 years).

For me, there have been three stand out novels published this year.

The first is Adam Roberts’ The Real-Town Murders.


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This takes a theme and turns it into science fiction in a kind of literary way. It’s one of those books that makes you want to keep on reading to find out what happens next. And it’s got loads of background science in it, some of which is very important to the story.

The second standout novel is Jeff Noon’s  A Man of Shadows.

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This also takes a theme, the absence of night, and plays about with the implications in clever ways.

My final selected standout novel is by a new British writer, Lucy Andrews, Crater’s Edge.

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A near future mystery to be solved, and what a mystery it is. No. I’m not doing spoilers for you.

The fact that all three novels have mysteries to be solved maybe an accident, or maybe not. It could be the up and coming trend for science fiction.

But as I noted earlier, this past year has the feel of an in between themes year, a kind of inflection point, but to where is as yet unknown. This has resulted in a few novels peeping through the waiting cracks on their own terms, which might not have otherwise occurred.

A New British Lady Sciency SF Writer

There’s a new British Sciency Science Fiction writer in town. And she’s a lady! She’s Lucy Andrews and recently had her first novel published – Crater’s Edge.

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The blurb:

Crater’s Edge The year is 2235 and Earth is colonising the planets. Work on the new city at Three-Craters has nearly stopped. Deep underground, strange accidents and power failures plague the site and the miners believe that the place is cursed. Kalen Trinneer is sent to investigate but finds that Three-Craters will not give up its secrets easily. Is the site really cursed? Do the answers lie in the other time zone whose population share the planet? Kalen’s search for answers takes him on a dangerous journey where he finds love and betrayal, a journey that doesn’t end until he eventually discovers the truth about himself and the society in which he lives.

I’ve read the first section of the novel and will be ordering it from my (not so) local Waterstones. From what I’ve seen, it’s well written, full of tension and set in an interesting world.

You can buy it from Amazon UK here.

The slightly sad part of this is that she was published by an American Publisher – Solstice Publishing on 6th November this year. I would have loved it to have been a British Publisher.

As for the lady herself, I know very little. She did a guest blog about how she wrote Crater’s Edge here.

 

Writing SF Novels in the UK

There have recently been too articles about writing novels in the UK. And neither makes for pleasant reading.

The first (see here) is there has since the mid-noughties been a collapse in general fiction book sales (see the graph in the article). For instance: ‘In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.’

Reasons suggested include the recession, the impact of the internet (though this has far from made up for the lack of physical book sales), Amazon and the continuing effects of the demise of the net book agreement in the 1990s. The books sales have got to such a low state that the Arts Council England are seriously considering intervening in the market place – including giving authors grants to continue their work and asking the government to relieve small presses of some of the taxes so they can survive. While their intentions are well-meant, these measures can only act as a stop-gap until something better and more permanent can be sorted out, which means the publishing industry will have to stand on its two feet, because no government wishes to subsidise industry forever.

The second article also makes for gloomy reading (see here). It predicts the horrible impact of Brexit on the UK publishing industry. Each year the UK publishes 200,000 books, the highest number for any country worldwide. The industry is worth £1.2 billion annual sales of which a third go to the EU. A lot of British publishers have exclusive rights to Europe because Britain is part of the EU. Once Britain leaves the EU, those rights will lapse (unless a trade deal can agreed). This means the American publishers will have more of an equal footing in the EU market, and inevitably, the UK publishing industry will lose some of its market.

The impact on authors is divisive. The big authors will be more in demand because of their reputation are more likely to get sales. But a squeeze will be put on up and coming authors. Their contracts will be worth less.

Now we’ve seen this vicious circle before – lack of new authors means dwindling choice of novels which means lack of income which means less authors come into the business and so it’ll go on in ever decreasing financial circles. In fact I see one science fiction press recently tread precisely this path.

What can realistically be done about this all these nasty effects?

Write better books perhaps? There’s a limit to the talent available, Those authors that are in the business today have to be talented in the first place. I won’t say we’ve reached the limit of our talent pool, but we aren’t that far off it.

Streamline the publishing process? The publishing industry is already doing all it can in this area to survive. Yes, there maybe the odd percent or two where it could be streamlined further, but that falls way short of replacing what has and will be lost.

Any other options? Short of getting hold of and waving a magic wand or coming up with a new publishing technology or process, there aren’t any I can see.

So what options does an up and coming author have these days? Especially one who has got an interesting newly completed novel on her hands?

Well, there really is only one strategy that I can see working… try to get the novel published in this country before Britain leaves the EU and failing that try to get the novel published in the USA first.

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur C Clarke at 100

Arthur C Clarke was born a hundred years ago today. He is considered to be, along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, one of the big three science fiction writers. His famous works include:

  • The Sentinel (on which the film, 2001, A Space Odyssey, was based)
  • Childhood’s End
  • The City and the Stars (first version being Against the Fall of Night)
  •  Rendezvous with Rama (Nebula and Hugo Award winner)
  • The Fountains of Paradise (Nebula and Hugo Award winner)

With a collection like that, you would think his science fiction writing alone would be a lifetime’s achievement. But no, his other achievements include:

  • Popularising the use of geostationary satellites as telecommunications relays (idea published in 1945, well before Sputnik went into orbit)
  • While diving, the discovery of the original sunken Koneswaram Temple off Ceylon (now Sri Kanka), including the discovery of the Chola Bronzes from the original shrine
  • Founded the Arthur C Clarke prize for the best science fiction novel written in the previous year

And as for his day job… well you can look it up on wikipedia.

All in all a remarkable and gifted man, who used his talents far and wide. The great shame of it is that he suffered from polio, which curtailed his activities from the 1961 onwards.

If you look at his life and the stories he wrote, there is a strong follow-through of his life’s experiences into his novels. In other words, he relied on his experiences to write a lot of his fiction. How many people these days can say they’ve deal with space, underwater diving, civil service, the film industry, etc? Or indeed how many science fiction writers these days can show experience in such a wide variety subject matter? I’m sure the answers can be placed on a postcard. Thank goodness, Arthur C Clarke was there.

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Science for Science Fiction

Well, there sure has been a lot discoveries lately… the first of course is Oumuamua, or the visitor currently passing through the Solar System. It’s got a lot of people puzzled because instead of being a blob shape, it’s an elongated thing with a ten to one aspect ratio (i.e. it’s ten times longer than wider). And that’s the problem. It shouldn’t be this shape (this is an artist’s impression) …

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It’s large – 180 metres by 30 metres by 30 metres. Objects that large have mass and wherever there is significant mass there’s significant gravity. It’s this gravity that should turn such masses into blobs over time.

Oumuamua is clearly no blob. So how was it formed and why did it stay this shape?

There are other blob shapes around the Solar System. These are when two rocks get close to each other and meld into shape – but that would only produce a shape of around 2 to 1 aspect ration. This is 6 to 1 – so it would take roughly three such combined two-rock blobs to be place together in a chain somehow. Extremely unlikely, but possible.

What other processes could there be?

  1. Molten rock or liquid ice being spurted out in a stream before surface evaporation. The question becomes where from? A supernova tends to suggest itself to my mind, because anything smaller would beg questions about how that she was formed.
  2. A rock shard from a planet or large moon that was suddenly destroyed. Depending on the rock formations concerned this could be possible.
  3. Of course, what everyone wants it to be – an alien spacecraft. Something along the lines of a lighthugger slowed down to pass through our solar System, as used in Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series.

Take your pick, but this sounds like an interesting PhD topic for a talented astrophysics student. It would have the added advantage that the study may one guide how we humans could build an interstellar ship, because as we all know, such long narrow ships have the advantage of minimising the hull damage interstellar space dust can cause.

But I have a second issue with Oumuamua. It’s going at speed through out Solar System, well if you can call 26.33 km/s at speed (though it did speed up when it was closer to the Sun). Are there other interstellar objects travelling at speed from the same direction, and if so could one of those hit Earth? Admittedly the probability of an impact is extremely low. And even we can spot them in time, will we be able to do anything about them? These are questions that can only be answered by experts.

So many unknowns, so many answers required. In the meantime, us science fiction writers can have fun writing stories, speculating on what might be.

The other discovery that caught my eye was that they have discovered certain collections of molecules can behave like magnetic monopoles, which could occur naturally i.e. not forced to exist or manufactured. The article can be found here.

This goes very much against what we were taught at school i.e. a magnet will always have a south pole and a north pole no matter how small you make it. This may just be the start of the path that leads to a major update of Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism – yep, it may that fundamental. Yes, the theorists have already worked out what those equations should look like etc etc. But the important thing is that Dirac proved that if magnetic monopoles exist, then electromagnetism can by quantised… and this thought alone gives me a headache! There’s enough bizarreness to quantum physics as it is without adding more to it.

But again, speculation of where this can lead can produce some very interesting science fiction stories.

Go write!