Category: Short Stories

Improbable Botany Kickstarter launch

I’ve been looking forward to announcing this for a long time. And now it’s finally here. I’ve edited an anthology of stories about wayward plants. Improbable Botany contains stories by a roster of writers who between them have won every major award in the fields of science fiction and fantasy: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina LA Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle. The book has cover art and six full colour interior illustrations by the very popular Jonathan Burton. There will be an exclusive e-book edition in which I interview all ten authors. The interviews will appear individually elsewhere, but this is the only place they will ever be collected together. Improbable Botany is published by Wayward, a London-based landscape, art and architecture practice – an award-winning collective of designers, artists and urban growers – through Kickstarter. There are various opportunities to buy just the book, or the book and limited edition A2 art prints as well. Find out more here.

Book Review: Echoes From The Macabre: Selected Stories, Daphne du Maurier

As a follow up to my posts about Daphne du Maurier’s fiction and her adopted county of Cornwall, here is a review of her 1976 collection Echoes From The Macabre: Selected Stories (Gollancz), a reprint collection focusing on some of the author’s more horrific tales. The stories date from the period 1952-71. They are: ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Birds’, ‘The Apple Tree’, ‘The Old Man’, ‘The Pool’, ‘The Blue Lenses’, ‘The Chamois’, ‘Not After Midnight’, and ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’. …

Daphne du Maurier Country – Rebecca to the Macabre

If Dorset’s most celebrated writer is Thomas Hardy then Cornwall’s is surely Daphne du Maurier. So never having read it before, I decided to prepare for our holiday by reading her most famous novel, Rebecca. I was familiar with the Hitchcock film, and with the 1997 TV mini-series, but the only du Maurier I had previously read was the novella ‘Don’t Look Now’ and the short story, ‘The Birds’. The former, of course, provided the basis for the great Nic Roeg film …

Book Review: Stardust, Nina Allan

Stardust is one of three books by Nina Allan published so far this year. First was the story collection Microcosmos. Next came the novella, Spin. Now we have Stardust, published as a very striking hardback by PS Publishing as PS Showcase #11. Stardust is subtitled The Ruby Castle Stories, but who (or what) is Ruby Castle? Actually Ruby Castle is a person, rather than a place. But these six stories and a poem tell us very little about her. She only appears in one story, and then …

Book Review: Growing Pains, Ian Whates

Growing Pains is a new collection from the highly talented British author and editor Ian Whates. Whates is the author of the Noise series of space operas and the urban fantasy trilogy City of 100 Rows. He edits the on-going Solaris Rising anthologies and various entries in the Mammoth Book of series, including the Alternate Histories and SF Wars volumes. Whates also manages his own NewCon Press. You can read my review of the recent NewCon Press edition of …

Book Review: Microcosmos, Nina Allan

In the forward to Microcosmos Nina Allan explains that, having forgotten the finer details of the requirements for the collection, with her stories tending to ‘run away with themselves’ and being rather long for short stories, she had amassed considerably more material than the book would be able to contain. She had intended a survey of her work from the publication of her first book, A Thread of Truth (2007) up to The Silver Wind (2011). However, with a target length of 60,000 …

Book Review: Objects in Dreams, Lisa Tuttle

Lisa Tuttle has long been one of the masters of the deeply unsettling tale. Last year her short story Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear opened Jonathan Oliver’s excellent anthology, House of Fear, a collection of haunted and otherwise strange homes. That was one of my favourite books of the year, and that Tuttle’s tale was chosen to open a volume containing new work by such writers as Chaz Brenchley, Eric Brown, Christopher Fowler, Garry Kilworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon and …

Things Fall Apart

Yesterday I read three articles worth considering for anyone serious about writing fiction. The first was The Widening Gyre: 2012 Best of the Year Anthologies by Paul Kincaid, written for the LA Review of Books. This piece looked at Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction : Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, Richard Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy : 2012 Edition and the Nebula Awards Showcase 2012. Kincaid begins his lengthy and extremely well-argued article thus: ‘The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion. In the main, there is no sense that the writers have any real conviction about what they are doing. Rather, the genre has become a set of tropes to be repeated and repeated until all meaning has been drained from them.’ Kincaid considers the crisis of identity and confidence within SF, a genre now so uncertain of itself that it willingly expands to encompass without seeming contradiction the now much more commercially popular Fantasy genre. He compares a 40 year old story “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” by James Tiptree, Jr. – included in the Nebula anthology as a tribute to the late author – and finds it to have a ‘life and vitality way beyond anything else in these three anthologies.’ Kincaid concludes that there is now a ‘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.’ Has science fiction become old, introspective and complacent? And if so, what can we do about it? And does Kincaid’s argument extend to other genres, to mainstream literary fiction? I would suggest that it does. That much fiction has become a tired, ironic game, devoid of conviction. Immediately after the Kincaid I read an article on Twitch Film by Jim Tudor called After The Boys of Summer Have Gone: A Look Back at the Summer Movie Season and found essentially the same view as Kincaid’s being expressed, this time regarding the year’s big summer movies. Tudor employs an inspired device of heading sections of his article with lyrics from the 1984 Don Henley hit ‘The Boys of Summer’. This evokes a nostalgic sense of better days now irrevocably lost, while simultaneously pointing back to an era when genre films – Blade Runner, The Thing, Videodrome, The Fly, The Terminator – were more frequently crafted with the idea that what was on screen meant something beyond box office dollars. The current bland, forgettable, hollow remake of Total Recall, loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, stands for the whole malaise.   Tudor concludes, ‘Indeed, the summer movie season has come to represent something … A certain something, a flair, that’s time may’ve passed. Or at least we like to think it’s passed. Innocence … Wonder … Unapologetic fun … These are things that Hollywood seems to have all but forgotten, and we may not even realize that we need.’ Finally, written in response to Kincaid’s piece, and relevant to Tudor’s, is a superb blog entry by UK critic Jonathan McCalmont on his Ruthless Culture site titled Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future. McCalmont goes deeper, citing the domination of neo-liberal capitalism and post-modern modes of thought as explanations for SF losing its direction, purpose and engagement with what may actually be our future in favour of retreats into sanitised fantasies devoid of moral or political relevance to the real world. It is the longest and best of the three articles and is an important piece for anyone who is serious about their writing, regardless of genre. In the end, if you don’t believe in anything, how can you write a story or novel that means something?

Some notes on Christopher Priest’s The Islanders

Yesterday morning I received a signed copy of Christopher Priest’s latest book, The Islanders, direct from the author. This is Priest’s first book length fiction since the Arthur C. Clarke Award winning The Separation, and since the release of the film The Prestige, based on the author’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize winning novel of the same name. What follows is not a review but some spoiler-free notes. In the first 22 pages of The Islanders Christopher Priest uses the word ‘adjacent’ three times. By some counts The Islanders is Christopher Priest’s **? book, if one includes works of non-fiction, chapbooks and works written under a pseudonym. Do we count  chapbooks, small publications such as The Song of the Book? Does The Book on The Edge of Forever count? – an account of the non-publication of another book (Last Dangerous Visions) by another author which if it did exist would be an anthology of stories many other writers. But even if we consider only Priest’s fiction it is still difficult to reach an agreed number. What of the two slightly different versions of the story collection Real Time World? Do we count one, or both? Or the different revised texts of the novel The Glamour – for which Priest also wrote another version as a BBC Radio play? Itself which exists in two versions, one running approximately 100 minutes, the other, containing exactly the same material but time compressed to fill a 90 minute broadcast slot. The Islanders is Priest’s **? novel, if we count works written under a pseudonym. But which pseudonyms? It’s well known that Priest wrote the ‘book of the film’ of eXistenZ as John Luther Novak, but what about certain other books which have long been rumoured to have been the author’s work, but which Priest has always denied? As Chaster Kammeston writes in his introduction to The Islanders, ‘I did not write this book, although there have already been rumours that I did.’ Just as no one can be sure exactly how many islands there are in the world  – ‘There are no maps or charts of the Dream Archipelago. At least there are no reliable ones, or comprehensive ones, or even whole ones.’ – no one can be sure how many books Christopher Priest has written. All we can affirm is that The Islanders is one of them. The Islanders documents certain aspects of The Dream Archipelago, the central setting for Priest’s story collection The Dream Archipelago. The Dream Archipelago was of course location for half of what is perhaps Priest’s greatest novel, The Affirmation. The Islanders is not a sequel, it is perhaps not a novel in the conventional sense, but a geographical, historical, biographical gazetteer of a place which seemed an ‘alien’ world in The Affirmation, half of which was located in a world parallel with our own (in that it contained a country called England with a capital city called London), while the other half introduced us to a country called Faiandland with a capital city called Jethra and a previously unknown chain of islands spanning the entire girth of the planet. In The Islanders Priest writes about the world which is home to The Dream Archipelago as if it were exactly as real as the world in which we live, of which so far he has made no mention. In a year or two, if shelved in order of publication The Islanders will separate Priest’s previous novel, The Separation, from his next, to which it will be adjacent. That novel already has a title. It is called The Adjacent. * You can read my interview with Christopher Priest here.