Tag Archives: links

Respectful Submission

I’m not talking about anything kinky here, but about addressing editors respectfully when you submit or pitch a story, poem, or article. You’d think this would be a no-brainer–wouldn’t you want to start off on the right foot with the people you hope would publish your work?–but apparently not, according to SF poetry zine Stone Telling co-editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan. In a series of blog posts that are well worth reading, Rose explains how to address submissions to the zine, discusses correspondence with an SFPA representative who addressed important award nomination announcement emails only to Rose and then told her it was because Shweta’s name was hard to find on the Stone Telling website (where both are listed quite prominently as co-editors), and talks about the underlying assumptions and attitudes that lead many people to address letters only to the editor with the three-syllable Jewish name and not to the editor with the five-syllable Indian name.

Now I wonder how many people will address Long Hidden submissions just to me because my name doesn’t have accented characters in it, or just to Daniel because he has a masculine name. Something to add to our submission guidelines, I suppose. (And I will take a moment here to squee that we’ve made our initial funding goal and then some, and are now pushing toward awesome stretch goals like more stories and interior art! It’s really going to happen! Eeeee!)

It irks me that Daniel and I have to think about this, and that Rose and Shweta have to think about this, because addressing a submission correctly is at the same basic level of courtesy, professionalism, and self-preservation as making sure your resume doesn’t have typos on it. When I addressed a submission to Stone Telling, I opened my email with “Dear Stone Tellers”; super-formality is not always required. But I knew it wasn’t required in this case because I already knew the editors and had read past issues of the zine, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t stand on ceremony–and also I wasn’t 100% sure who handled submissions, so I erred on the side of caution by not naming someone who might be the wrong person. This is because I wanted them to actually read and consider my poem rather than rejecting it out of hand. I’m stunned that anyone goes about things any other way.

I understand having internalized and subconscious biases–we all have them, try as we might to uproot them–but I don’t understand letting them get in the way of careful professionalism in business correspondence. The whole point of the concept of professionalism is that it provides helpful guidelines for putting one’s best foot forward.

Just remember that editors are people with feelings and opinions, and that you want to approach them in such a way that their opinion of you will be positive. Everything else follows from that.

A Dream Come True

Some kids dreamed of growing up to be dancers or doctors. I dreamed of being an anthology editor. (Not even kidding. I practically had an altar to Terry Carr and Judith Merril.) Now that dream might come true.

The anthology in question is Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. As we all know, history is written by the victors, and that includes historical fiction. The goal of this project is to focus on and amplify the voices of people who have been pushed to the margins. What was it like to be a Mayan laborer when the conquistadors showed up? to be a newly freed slave trying to start a business after the U.S. Civil War? to be transgender in Elizabethan England? Stories like these will be told in Long Hidden, each with a speculative twist. We have an incredible group of authors lined up to send us stories, including Beverly Jenkins, Victor LaValle, Tananarive Due, Ken Liu, and Amal El-Mohtar. We’ll also be open to submissions, so if you’re a writer, start thinking about sending us a story!

The publisher is Crossed Genres, a fabulous small press that’s known for taking chances on unclassifiable and niche books that would otherwise never see the light of day. They do this by raising money through Kickstarter; advance fundraising means we can pay the authors well and be confident that there’s a market for the book. Here’s the Kickstarter page for Long Hidden. We’re over two-thirds funded already, which is tremendous for our first weekend and has me really hoping we make a few of our stretch goals, like interior illustrations or an audiobook edition. I’m obsessively refreshing the page like an author checking their Amazon ranking on launch day (which I’m sure I’ll do too when the book is actually published next year).

When I was a kid, people who knew my parents (both novelists) would ask me when–not whether–I was going to write a novel. Many of the PW staff have written books, and a year or two back, someone asked when–not whether–I would do one. But really, I will probably never write a novel. I’m not a writer; I’m an editor. So I’m pleased as punch to find my own editorial way to get my name on a book jacket, especially in service to such a great cause and in the company of such a great people. I really, really, really hope we can make this happen as splendidly as the subject matter deserves.

Link Roundup

Link Roundup

A Global SF/F Magazine

I didn’t know a magazine of international SF was in the works until I started seeing links to the first issue popping up on Twitter today. It is, quite sensibly, called International Speculative Fiction, and issue 1 features fiction by Joyce Chng, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and Marian Truţă as well as an article by Stanislaw Lem on Philip K. Dick. Issue 0 came out in June and had fiction by Alliete de Bodard, C.M. Teodorecu, and Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro; an article by Fábio Fernandes; and Cristian Tamas interviewing Judit Lörinczy. The magazine is entirely a labor of love: they don’t run ads or solicit donations, and they don’t pay writers or editors. Learn more and download issues 0 and 1 for free here.

More Encyclopedic Digital Goodness

Graham Sleight writes to inform me that the 1997 edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantasy has gone live online in much the same format as the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. From the announcement:

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was edited in the 1990s by John Clute and John Grant. It’s resided for a while in the same electronic format as the Sf Encyclopedia. As we updated the Sf Encyclopedia, we became aware that in several places there were overlaps between the two. (Tolkien, for instance, is surely much better thought of as a fantasy than an sf writer.) There were also cross-references between the two that we had to leave un-linked, and that nagged… So, with the kind permission of editors Clute and Grant, our technical magus David Langford set about seeing if that could be resolved.

The current implementation is thanks to an enormous amount of work from David. The FE has been added to the site in much the same way as the SFE: one entry per page, with the usual facilities to go to next/previous entries etc. Probably the best place to start is the introduction to the online edition. You can also browse a list of all entries, or just of entries by category (for instance, author, artist, theme…) You’ll see the usual search box in the right-hand sidebar. Cross-references between the SFE and FE should now work smoothly, but please contact us if you see any that don’t.

We are not updating the Fantasy Encyclopedia, at least for the moment. Getting the Sf Encyclopedia complete and accurate remains our priority.

Both works are tremendous resources, and deliciously addictive in that “hours of fascinated clicking” sort of way. Highly recommended.


In an unrelated administrative note, Genreville is being hammered with comment spam, so I’ve turned off commenting on all posts more than 14 days old. If you have something to say about an old post, or if your comment has been held in moderation for a million years and you think I might have flagged it as spam by accident, please feel free to email me.

Beware the Frankenstorm

This is direct from the NOAA, no foolin’:


Just in case you ever thought weather forecasting was a boring, dreary job for people with no sense of humor! I love the last clause especially; I doubt many people need Frankenstein explained to them, but totally support taking any chance to namecheck Mary Shelley.

I hope everyone in the path of the Frankenstorm (which I like much better than “Snoreastercane”) stays warm and dry and safe.

Whither Portal Fantasy?

Rachel Manija Brown’s recent blog post on the apparent unmarketability of YA portal fantasy has gotten nearly 200 comments and is still going strong. There’s some interesting discussion of portal SF, immigrant stories, and other related topics. If you’ve noticed the distinct absence of Narnia analogues from the YA shelves of late, it’s worth a read. I think the link to immigration is particularly interesting; in both cases, the driving question of the plot is “What would drive you to leave behind what you know and seek the unknown?”.

I’m still too jetlagged (and neck-deep in catching up on work) to make a strong connection between “agents won’t rep books about people leaving the familiar to explore the unknown” and Paul Kincaid’s “the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion” essay, but I feel like there might be a link there. Kincaid’s conclusion:

This one story illuminates the exhaustion that seems to have overtaken SF and fantasy, the sense that the future is something to be approached wearily because we have already imagined it and rubbed away anything that was bright and new.

He speaks of the future as though it were a secondary world once glimpsed through a portal; and now we have come through the portal and are “living in the future”. The secondary world has become the primary world. Might this lead to general disenchantment with secondary worlds?

Is it in any way useful to think of SF’s oldest fans as immigrants into The Future, the mysterious 21st century so frequently imagined in the 20th? They have certainly taken a long voyage from one to the other and learned that the streets on this side are not in fact paved with gold.

For that matter, is alternate history the new portal fantasy? The whole world has gone through a portal from The Past to The Future, only it’s a different portal than our world went through. I’d count a lot of urban fantasy in this camp, incidentally, since much of it relies on a premise like “then magic returned to the world” or “then we discovered supernatural beings have been living among us all along”.

Maybe what we’re so tired of, so skeptical of, is the idea of a single step through a single door changing a single person’s life.

I don’t know; I’m rambling. But I think these things are worth thinking on. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Links for October 16

Josh and I spent the last two weeks in London and Paris, having a splendid time and getting to hang out with an astonishing and wonderful variety of people. Now we’re back, trying desperately to get caught up. While I clean 400 emails out of my inbox (not an exaggeration), I found a handful of interesting links that had accumulated:

  • Avon just launched a Facebook app, Avon Social Reader, that will let readers preview and discuss Avon titles and buy some of them DRM-free from AllRomanceEbooks.
  • I recently signed up for Daily Science Fiction, lured in by Nicole Cipri’s wonderful “A Silly Love Story”, and have been enjoying it; it’s easy to make time to read one short story a day, and the quality’s pretty good. Newcomer SnackReads looks to be aimed at the same market, but instead of a free plain-text email to read in a few minutes, you get a $1.99 epub file to read over a lunch break or commute. They’re launching with Suzy McKee Charnas’s long-OOP story “Scorched Supper on New Niger”.
  • Want even more short fiction? Cemetery Dance is putting out a bunch of short horror e-books to lead up to Halloween.
  • A 12-year-old interviews China Miéville about Railsea.
  • I interview Jo Walton (on video) about Among Others, just before or just after it won a Nebula Award. I haven’t watched this and have no idea whether it came out well, so if you get a chance to watch it, let me know what you think!

Back from Chicago

And boy are our arms tired: Josh transcribed 6500 words of interview and I wrote 3500 words of article and blog post on Monday (holiday, shmoliday) and we’re still recovering! But it will be worth it when the SF/F focus issue comes out this coming Monday, September 10, and you can read the profile of Seanan McGuire, the feature article on genre-blending, and the nifty little sidebar on Christian inspirational epic fantasy, plus a Q&A with Iain M. Banks. PW subscribers get instant access; the rest of you will have to wait three weeks.

In the meantime, some links to tide you over:

  • Justine Larbalestier is brilliant on “Racism in the Books We Write”. If there’s been a theme for this year in my part of the world, it’s taking responsibility; Justine’s post is a great example of how to do that without defensiveness.
  • Aliette de Bodard is equally brilliant on the scale and scope of engineering projects.
  • ChiZine is launching a YA imprint, ChiTeen. Agented subs only at this time. First books will come out in 2014.
  • There are some complaints that Worldcon could have done a better job with accessibility, even given a convention center that was an absolute maze (and probably not ADA-compliant).
  • Ustream apologizes for cutting off the Hugo ceremony; apparently once the automatic ban went into effect, they couldn’t turn it off, but it could all have been avoided if the Hugo administrators had just paid for the service. Apparently that post got a number of angry comments before commenting was turned off altogether.
  • PW reviewer John Ottinger III is part of the movement to make September 7 (today!) National Buy a Book Day in the U.S. Will you #buyabook today?

StoryBundle Launches with “Big Bang” SF Bundle

StoryBundle is a new e-book self-publishing outfit that’s taking an intriguing approach. Each bundle of five books is pay-what-you-like, from $1 on up. If you pay over a certain amount–either a fixed number or the average of how much people have paid so far–you get two additional books (in the case of the first bundle, they’re sequels to two of the other books). You also get to decide how much of your purchase price goes to the authors and how much to StoryBundle. This is a pretty neat end run around both pricing structures and royalty/markup arrangements. The sliders default to a $10 payment split 70–30 between author and seller, which works out to $1 per book if the boost threshold is $10 or less. You can also choose to donate 10% of your purchase to a charity of their choice.

All the bundled e-books will be DRM-free. After the bundle expires, the books will be available from the individual authors, presumably via the e-book store(s) of their choice and going by those stores’ policies on DRM.

The books are all described as “indie”, which seems to mean “self-published” rather than “published by independent presses”; the first bundle is SF, and the only name I recognized in there was Joseph Nassise. A quick glance at the author bios suggests the rest are debuts. I assume StoryBundle is acting as publisher in some capacity, but it’s hard to tell how far it goes. They select books from a slush pile (their site says they’re open for submissions) but don’t seem to offer editing or cover design–maybe they only want books that have already been self-pubbed elsewhere. Regardless, $1 for five books sounds like a pretty good deal, at least if the excerpts on the site appeal to you.

What do you think of this setup? Will it become the Woot.com of e-books? Or is it asking too much of readers? I’m pretty wired into the industry and I struggled to decide where to put that percentage slider. I don’t think most readers have a sense of what’s a “fair” or “reasonable” split between author and publisher/seller, and I wonder whether people who purchase those bundles will generally leave the slider at 70–30 or adjust it. An interesting experiment, to say the least.

Link Roundup

  • Tim “T.A.” Pratt reveals that T. Aaron Payton is his newest pseudonym, under which he wrote The Constantine Affliction.
  • The Clockwork Phoenix 4 Kickstarter broke the $10,000 barrier just before the deadline, which means that in addition to paying 4 cents a word for stories in CP4, Mike Allen will be launching a fiction and poetry webzine of at least 12 issues, starting in spring 2013.
  • A number of genre authors have contributed to Hazard Yet Forward, an e-only collection (currently only available on Kindle, other formats “coming soon”) by people associated with the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program. All proceeds from this project will benefit Donna Munro, a 2004 graduate of the program, who is currently battling breast cancer. According to an email from Genreville fan* Ron Edison, “Notable contributors include: World Fantasy Award winner Nalo Hopkinson, Bram Stoker Award winners Michael A. Arnzen and Michael Knost, Bram Stoker nominee Lawrence C. Connolly, ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults winner Jessica Warman, Rita finalist Dana Marton, Spur Award winner Meg Mims, Asimov’s Readers’ Award winner Timons Esaias and West Virginia Arts and Humanities literary fellowships winner Geoffrey Cameron Fuller…. Kudos for the project go to Natalie Wolfe Duvall, Matt Duvall and Deanna Lepsch, all former classmates of Donna.”
  • Speaking of popular fiction, PW reviewer Richard M. Rogers sends along this passionate defense of domestic fiction–in the Wall Street Journal of all places!
  • Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have announced that all 15 Liaden Universe books will be available in audio format on Audible.com as of September 4, concurrent with the hardcover release of the newest book in the series, Dragon Ship, from Baen Books. More info here.

* You don’t have to be a Genreville fan to get a project mentioned here, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

One Small Step for a Rover

If you’re even the slightest bit of a space geek, you probably already know that NASA’s Curiosity rover safely landed on Mars very early Monday morning Eastern time. For those who weren’t able to stay up and watch the landing on NASA TV (or in Times Square, where I’m told the crowd was chanting “Science! Science! Science!”), have a video of the “touchdown confirmed” moment at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You might want to have tissues handy, and definitely turn the sound on.

Yep, and I’m all misty-eyed again. *happysniffle*

Sometimes advances in science are hard for science fiction writers and readers to swallow. Where SF asks questions, science has answers, and for futurians who guessed wrong and science fantasists who prefer to paint on blank canvases, those answers can feel like slammed doors closing off avenues of speculation. But watching my Twitter feed explode with space geekery and cheers, watching a tiny, grainy picture get retweeted over 26,000 times (undoubtedly more by the time you read this), all I could think of was how many doors this opens for writers and readers, how many stories will be filled with the literally gritty details of what things are really like on Mars, and how many new mysteries we’ll be able to investigate with six wheels firmly on the ground.

PW Talks with Benedict Jacka, Cont.

I didn’t get a chance to post about this before going out of town, but here it is now: the overflow Qs and As from Joe Sanders’s interview with Benedict Jacka in the July 9 issue of PW.

If you’re into urban fantasy of the wizarding kind, Jacka’s books are very much worth checking out. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people talking about them, since they seem tailor-made to appeal to fans of authors like Jim Butcher and Harry Connolly. The series stars Alex Verus, a London-based diviner who has a sort of magical ADD that lets him see all possible futures at once. Alex’s interactions with the “Light” and “Dark” mages in the area (which groupings are more like D&D “lawful” and “chaotic” than “good” and “evil”) have an interesting dynamic: knowledge is power, but power is also power, so he flips between acquiring and selling knowledge and trying not to get fried or squashed by people who have more direct forms of magic. It’s good stuff. For more info, see our reviews of Fated, Cursed, and Taken–and, of course, the Q&A.

JS: Besides interacting with a growing crowd of vivid individuals, Alex keeps running into Light characters whose actions are at least as vile as those committed by anyone from the Dark side. Is that the only way to tell the real difference between nice and not-nice, by how a person treats other people?

BJ: Well, it’s definitely a better guide than what they call themselves! A lot of readers comment on the fact that the worst of the Light mages are just as vicious as the Dark ones, but if you think about it, it’s really what you’d expect to happen. Just because you say you’re a servant of light and virtue, that doesn’t mean you are one!

JS: Are you pleased with how the Alex Verus books do keep readers off-balance but thoughtful?

BJ: I hope so. When you’re writing a book, it’s very hard to predict whether a book will put a reader off-balance or not. I’ve had some readers praise how unpredictable Fated was, while I’ve had others claim that they saw everything coming. I do get more reviews of the first type than the second, though.

JS: What does give you the most satisfaction—or pleasure or fun, if you prefer—about writing in general and the Alex Verus books in particular?

BJ: It’s hard to predict. Sometimes a section I’ll be working on will go smooth as silk, and at other times I’ll find myself struggling to write a single line (which is the exact opposite of satisfying). In the end, I think the bit I enjoy the most is just knowing that people out there are reading my books and liking them.

JS: How did you create Alex’s smart-ass but sympathetic persona?

BJ: I’m honestly not sure—he just sort of grew that way! I often find that happens with my characters, especially the ones that work out well. To begin with I design them, but the longer they stick around the more they develop their own voice and the direction they go in isn’t something I can predict.

JS: You’ve got a large cast of characters by now, and some prominent early characters have left. Why did air elemental Starbreeze go on leave? And will we be seeing more of the dragon?

BJ: In Starbreeze’s case, I was finding that Alex was relying on her a bit too much: to keep on growing, he needed to face threats on his own without being able to use her as a get-out-of-jail free card. The dragon, on the other hand… it’s possible, but I’ll be using that particular character very, very sparingly. It would lose its impact otherwise.

JS: The first three Alex Verus novels have appeared very close together to establish a presence. Are additional novels ready for publication?

BJ: I’d love to be able to say yes, but unfortunately I can’t write quite that fast! I’m in the middle of Alex Verus #4 at the moment, and it’s about 30% done. With luck and a few late nights I should finish at about the same time that book #3, Taken, is released.

JS: Now that you’ve established Alex as a presence with readers, do you think the series is ready to make a transition to hardcover?

BJ: It’s kind of embarrassing given my profession, but I still really don’t know much about the economic arguments for paperback vs. hardcover. At this stage I’m mostly concerned with overall spread & name recognition, so I’ll go for whichever approach I think gets the most people introduced to the stories.

JS: Any major difference between British and American publishers?

BJ: Americans are faster! There’s the odd exception, but generally the turnaround time for decisions, edits, galleys, etc. seems to be smaller on that side of the Atlantic. Though my British publishers aren’t slow, either, so it usually works out fine in both cases in the end.

Check out the rest of the Q&A for more on Alex Verus’s origins, plus the worst and best writing advice that Jacka ever received.

Giving SF a Bad Name

This newspaper clipping is making the rounds:

A newspaper clipping showing a letter to the editor that predicts the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to enforced polygamy, nuclear war, starvation, and the election of an "American Indian" president who puts all whites on reservations.

What appalled me the most when I read this was not its complete sociopolitical wrongheadedness but the giant logic holes. If all whites have been put on reservations, why is Chester’s grandson (who identifies as white) still living in the family home in California? Why can we afford shuttles to the moon but not food for the starving nation? Why is there more food on the moon than on Earth? Why do people on the moon not know who the U.S. president is or what’s happening on Earth? Why would the legalization of plural marriage mean that someone would be forced to marry people he didn’t want to marry? What sort of rotten grandfather would miss not one but all five of his grandson’s weddings? And that’s a classic “as you know, Bob” paragraph of expository dialogue there–cut and reword, please!

I think it’s pretty funny that I can so easily look past the stupendously flawed premise to critique the way it’s developed, but it’s also sobering. I wonder how many other editors and critics out there let content problems slide, or miss them altogether, while hammering on structural matters. That would explain how a lot of problematic books get published, come to think of it. This is a good reminder to those of us who edit and critique SF/F to dig down below comma placement and character development, and make sure the heart of the story is sound.

(While we’re checking our credulity at the door, let’s not forget to verify our sources. This letter does indeed appear to have run in the June 14 edition of The La Jolla Light; you can see the whole paper on Issuu here, and find the letter on page A19. A complete transcript is at the Gawker page linked from the top of this entry.)

How to Vote for the Hugo Awards

Hugo voting is open, and several voters have noticed that the voting website doesn’t include voting instructions. Since the Hugos use instant runoff voting rather than first-past-the-post, and since a vote for “no award” can make a real difference in the rankings, this is a significant omission. Fortunately Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light has put together a quick guide for first-time and forgetful Hugo voters. You can learn more about the awards and how they work at the official Hugo Awards website. Don’t forget that the deadline for voting is July 31, 2012.

Link Roundup

I spent the last week on vacation and came back to a pile of links in my inbox! The least I can do is share them with all of you.

What else happened while I was out?

PW Talks with James Treadwell, Cont.

Eugene Reynolds did a spectacular Q&A with James Treadwell, author of Advent, for this week’s PW. Treadwell gave us far more material than we could fit into the magazine, all of it excellent, so here’s the overflow.

Eugene Reynolds: The book is set in Cornwall, and one character (Hester) swears an oath to remain there “so long as I live.” What drew you to that corner of the isle of Britain? Have you sworn a similar oath?

James Treadwell: If I had, I’d be an oathbreaker many times over. I live in London, and love it, and don’t want to live anywhere else. However, my maternal grandparents moved to Cornwall when I was five, and I went there on holiday at least twice a year throughout my childhood. It must have got in the blood. I kept going back even when I grew out of family holidays, and nowadays I go there with my own wife and children, two or three times a year, though my grandparents have long since left. Cornish people tend not to be very happy about holidaying Londoners coming down to their patch and romanticizing it. I tried to leave at least a bit of the unglamorous toughness and dirt and damp in my version of Cornwall. And I’m sneakily rather proud of the fact that my totally non-Cornish surname happens to begin with “Tre” (for those who don’t know, you can’t go more than a couple of miles in Cornwall without finding yourself in Tresillian or Treburyett or Tremeer or Trevarno or Trethewey or Tregenna or…)

ER: The non-human characters (such as the puka, dryad, and orca spirit) seem more humane than some of the humans. How did you approach making them both accessible to the reader yet at the same time keeping them alien and mysterious?

JT: Somehow, the problem doesn’t present itself in this way when you’re actually writing. When a character’s there in your imagination, and you can hear them squawking or singing away, you don’t suddenly lift the pen from the page and ask yourself, “Hang on a sec, am I making this accessible to The Reader?” I suppose I feel that if they’re accessible to me, that’s probably accessible enough. If I feel like I myself have grasped the way those particular characters are both vivid and mysterious, then I just have to hope that I’ve written them down in such a way that the vividness and mystery will be equally available to my readers.

I suspect any writer would tell you that their characters surprise them all the time. We don’t sit at our desks thinking about how we need to arrange them. (Or at least I don’t.) We just watch them and listen to them as carefully and thoroughly as we can, and then write down what they say and do. If it doesn’t look/sound right, we cross it out, close our eyes, and listen harder.

With the puka and the dryad, I found that the clearest impression I had of both characters was their voices—the grammar and vocabulary as well as the tone. That was my way into them. Then I realized that they can’t lie. Perhaps that’s what makes them seem a bit more sympathetic than some of the human characters. When people—especially English people—are talking to each other, there are huge realms of unspoken assumptions and implications and codes underpinning the few things we say aloud. Most of the work of communication goes on below or around the actual spoken words. My non-human characters don’t use language that way. Their words express their natures much more immediately. So perhaps that comes as a relief after all the tight-lipped strangulated Britishness.

ER: Magic is depicted as a more intense experience of the unity of Nature. Why is it limited to only certain people, places, and events?

JT: I think magic is very resistant to the question “why?” Our whole understanding of our (non-magical, rational, materialist) world is built on causes and effects. It’s hard for us to deal with a field in which the question “why?” no longer applies. No wonder my poor protagonist has such a rough ride.

I’m also rather reluctant to associate magic too strongly with “Nature.” That’s one of the reasons I knew it was all right for Holly to sing Christmas carols: she’s not just “nature,” she’s culture as well. If the spirits can talk, they’re not just “nature:” nature doesn’t have language. Perhaps this is just the old academic in me. People who study literature tend to be very touchy about the idea of “nature.” See, even now I can’t type the word without putting scare quotes around it.

ER: Several characters have religious affiliations, and worship is entwined with magic. What are the roles of religion and magic in a secular age? Do you see them as being aligned or opposed?

JT: Religion’s a mode of magical thinking, probably the most widespread and respectable one in the world after superstition/luck. Perhaps that’s why it made sense to me that many of my characters would revert to a religious language when faced with the advent of magic. The book doesn’t have anything to say about actual religious experience, of course. Some of the characters instinctively use that framework; others don’t. That’s up to them. As for my own views on religion versus (or not versus) magic: I’m pretty sure they’re not relevant to the book. Generally speaking, I’m more sympathetic to magical thinking in all its forms (religion, sentimentality, superstition, romance) than most people seem to be, but perhaps that’s not surprising for a writer of fantasies.

ER: Your antagonist, Johannes Faust, is a figure with a rich literary history, which you subvert neatly. What led you to Faust? How does it feel to be sharing him with Christopher Marlowe and Goethe?

JT: Embarrassed, in a word. I didn’t actually know that my magician character was Faust until I was a fair way into the first version of the book. It came as something of a surprise, but it made sense of lots of aspects of his story. Needless to say, the last thing I want to do is invite comparisons with Marlowe or Goethe…

ER: The Faust sections are written with a reversed chronology. What impression did you hope to make on the reader? Are we being made to feel how it is to know the future but not be able to change it?

JT: That’s an interesting suggestion. I didn’t have any specific effect in mind, except for the idea that the magus’s story, like the other parts of the book, needed to unfold from mystery towards revelation, and that it was therefore important not to know who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it when he first appears.

In fact, though, the reverse narrative probably owes itself more than anything else to the fact that I knew where I wanted the book to start: the man leaving the sleet-swept city in the winter night, hurrying aboard ship, fleeing some kind of obligation, taking something with him which he knew he shouldn’t be taking. After that, the only direction his story could go was backwards: what thing? What obligation? Who’s he fleeing?

And if I’m honest I also had in mind a nod to one of the most perfectly structured of all novels, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, whose story proceeds simultaneously backwards and forwards. Not that I’d dare to suggest actual comparisons with Le Guin, any more than I would with Goethe.

ER: Advent is the first part of a trilogy. Did the story naturally suggest a three-part structure when you started writing, or did it grow in the telling?

JT: The idea always was that Advent would be a complete story, and in many ways I think it is indeed finished: it relates a kind of homecoming, and it ends by bringing the protagonist where he belongs. In the course of that journey, though, it became increasingly clear that while his journey may be in some sense concluded, for more or less everyone else the adventure is just beginning. He gets the answers to a lot of questions, but everyone else is left facing those questions for the very first time. So I realized I wanted to write about that as well. I’m beginning to suspect that there is a single story underpinning all three books, which is, roughly, the story of magic in the world. Our world, that is—the one we think of as being empty of magic. Broadly speaking, if Advent is about the, er, advent of magic, then the second book is about what happens as it arrives, and the third book will be set a bit further along in the aftermath. I think they’ll all be fairly different from each other.

ER: You have published academic non-fiction. Was writing fantasy similar?

JT: I think the mechanics of producing a book are the same no matter what kind of book it is, and by “mechanics” I mean the basic fact that you start with a blank sheet and end with X number of words. In that sense, and in that sense only, having two published volumes under my belt before I started Advent was an advantage. There are days, or weeks if you’re unlucky, when it’s not going well, and fortunately for me I already knew what that was like so I didn’t panic. In one sense, writing is just labor. Whatever the subject, you have to keep plugging away. But then there are all the ways in which writing isn’t labor at all, and in those senses writing a novel is nothing at all like writing non-fiction. The most surprising thing for me was the rigor that fiction demands. If you’d have asked me before, I’d have guessed it was the other way round: I’d have assumed that it was scholarly work which required the greater precision and discipline. But it turned out that I felt a much stronger need to try and get every sentence exactly right in Advent than I did in either of my non-fiction books. And, needless to say, I know all too well that I failed to do so.

With academic writing, you’re always, always aware of exactly who you’re writing for, partly because there just aren’t very many of them. You feel them over your shoulder all the time. But when you’re trying to tell a story that you have in your head, your only duty is to the story itself. You’d think that would be more relaxing, liberating even, but alas, it’s not so.

ER: The book has appeal to a wide range of ages. Did you have an “ideal reader” in mind when writing?

JT: Anecdotal evidence suggests that quite a few people have noticed what you’ve noticed, which is that the book has a Young Adult plot but doesn’t really conduct itself in a YA manner. From the point of view of the publishing market that’s a quirk, I suppose. All I can do is be grateful that my publishers have been willing to look at the book for what it is, rather than trying to shoehorn it into marketing categories.

I didn’t write Advent “for” anyone; not for teenagers, not for adults, not for fantasy readers. I didn’t write it “against” anyone either, of course. I’d love to think that kids of my protagonist’s age (he’s 15) would enjoy the book. I’d also like to think that people my age (43) would enjoy it too. But at no stage during the writing of it did I think to myself, “Is this paragraph right for a fifteen year-old? Will forty-three year-olds get this bit? What happens if no one understands the allusions to the Trojan War?” You write what you feel you have to write, and in the end you hope that something of what excites you about the story will communicate itself to your readers, whoever they may be.

Read the rest of the Q&A in this week’s issue of PW.

PW Talks with Alastair Reynolds, Cont.

In this week’s PW, Lenny Picker chats with Alastair Reynolds about Blue Remembered Earth. Here are the Qs and As that didn’t make it into the magazine.

Lenny Picker: Many of your novels have been called dark and dystopian-do you agree?

Alastair Reynolds: Not really. “Dark” is such a cliché. And I don’t see my work as being particularly dystopian. Most of my futures are democracies. They might be stressed by external effects but that doesn’t make them dystopian.

LP: Do you embrace the space opera label?

AR: Occasionally, but more and more often I’m getting weary of it. It imposes a set of expectations which are as often as not are not going to be met. Just because a book has space travel and other worlds in it doesn’t make it space opera, but you’d be forgiven for thinking the opposite judging from some of the reviews and commentary in the field.

LP: With a limited number of science fiction plots, how do you avoid repeating yourself?

AR: I don’t think sci-fi’s toolkit of plots is in any way more limited than any other sphere of literature. Really, it’s what you do with the plot that matters. Readers will forgive any old hackneyed plot if the story is told with a freshness of vision. I don’t worry about it. I’m not the same writer I was 10 years ago so even if I attempted to re-tell one of my existing books, it would come out differently.

LP: How have religion and politics evolved in the future of Blue Remembered Earth?

AR: I don’t say much about religion. It’s probably there in the mix somewhere. I’m not religious myself but I don’t see religion

disappearing as a force in society any time soon. I suppose I’d like to see a bit more of a shift in the direct of enlightenment thinking generally, but—as they say—some of my best friends are religious and they seem as tolerant and open-minded as anyone else. Political systems in the book are, I think, broadly similar to today: there’s mention of a scandal in the Pan African parliament, for instance, so we still have parliamentary democracy, a version of the UN etc. I didn’t want to make it like Star Trek where all these contemporary institutions have been swept away.

LP: How much of an effect does readership requests have on continuing a series or writing sequels?

AR: Not much. I’ve steadfastly resisted requests for a sequel to Century Rain (lots of people didn’t like it, but a pretty good number did, judging by the emails). On the other hand, I’ve always said I’d like to return to the universes of Pushing Ice and House of Suns and I hope to do so one day.

LP: Will you return to the Revelation Space universe?

AR: Yes, one day.

LP: You’ve praised a book I’m unfamiliar with, Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix—can you talk a bit about it and how it impressed you?

AR: I’m in danger of saying too much about it. It’s a wonderfully dense and imaginative slice of space-based SF, dealing in the grandest of themes. It was the first cyberpunk space opera, with an imaginative boldness almost unseen in the field beforehand. A reviewer at the time described the book as feeling as if Sterling had been to the future and come back to report on what he’d seen. That captures very well the feeling of off-hand weirdness and stone-cold plausibility running through the thing. It’s dated in only very minor ways since 1985: the characters record things onto tape, there’s no real sense of virtual or augmented reality. But in every other respect, it’s still ahead of the game.

Read the rest of the Q&A in this week’s issue of PW.