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I’m over on Reddit today, inviting people to Ask Me Anything. So if you’re a Reddit user, please swing by and drop off a question for me to answer later on. You can even watch me answering stuff live there from about 6pm CST.

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So there’s a just a possibility a few folks in the US will have other things on their mind tomorrow, but nevertheless I’m doing an Ask Me Anything over on Reddit on 4th November.

I confess I don’t know it well, but there’s a thriving community of fantasy fans on Reddit and they have their very own home at the Reddit fantasy board. Starting from around midday US (central) time, so early evening UK time, there’ll be a post up there inviting anyone who’s around to fire me some questions – literally about anything, though I guess the assumption is they’ll mostly be writing-related. I’ll swing by that evening (again, US central time) and start answering any and all questions that have been submitted.

I’ll probably put another post here tomorrow linking to the specific question thread, but consider this an initial heads-up: Please do drop by reddit.com/r/fantasy – any time tomorrow – to ask me anything, and if you’re around there in the evening, you’ll even get to see me answering them live … which could get messy, since it’ll be the middle of the night my time.

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… kind of fun. First time I’d been to one of these ‘pop culture’ shows that are sprouting up all over the place now, mixing celebs from film/TV/Sports with bits of toys, comics, all sorts of odds and ends. First time Newcastle had had one too, I think, and the level of interest seemed to have caught the organisers a bit by surprise, so there were biiig queues (at least on the Saturday, I gather it was all more or less under control by the time Sunday came around).

Anyway, I had a good time. Was great to meet Alberto Ponticelli in the flesh and spend a pleasant few hours hanging out with him. Talked to a few folks about Rogue Trooper, signed a lot of copies of the first issue. Got my own, unique copy as a souvenir, signed by me, Alberto and Courtney, the very nice lady from the convention crew who patiently sat with us for the whole day:

All the usual sort of stuff was going on …

… but a few personal highlights/impressions:

  • seeing a Rorschach cosplayer wandering around all day holding a can of baked beans (you’d have to have read Watchmen to get that …)
  • having lunch in the secret guests’ facilities while sitting next to Frank Bruno (you’d have to be a Brit of a certain age, or a serious boxing fan, to get that), and realising he really is as big as he always looked, and he really does have the deeeepest voice ever heard on the surface of the planet
  • watching (and filming, but that didn’t work) Alberto do a Rogue Trooper sketch in three minutes flat – which he then gave to me, because he’s nice like that:

  • being Judged (inexplicably, I was released without charge) …

  • realising I have never, not once in my life, been as much of a fan of any piece of entertainment, or brand, or celebrity, as many of the attendees were. Not being sure whether that was a good thing or bad; but knowing I didn’t regret it for one second.
  • coming out of the ‘celeb’ toilets just as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 was going in, and thinking ‘Huh. Isn’t it funny how life turns out?’
  • being generally very struck by how extremely pleasant and patient and accommodating all the celebs were in dealing with their fans, no matter how big or small their celebritude was (and then overhearing one of them – who shall remain nameless – at the train station after the show telling someone it had been a ‘terrible, terrible madhouse’, and feeling some sympathy. Can’t be that easy, doing what they do at these shows and smiling, being utterly professional, all the way through it.)
  • giving Alberto a sustained and detailed introduction to the correct use of the word ‘Cheers’ in colloquial English (I think he got the hang of it, since he’s using it in his e-mails to me now …)

But you know what the best bit of the whole day was? It was the most striking, most obvious example of something that happened several times: people deriving enormous pleasure from their experience of being at the show. And even though this instance only involved me somewhat indirectly, it was immensely enjoyable to sit there and watch it happen.

A guy came wandering past, saw me and Alberto sitting there and came over to see what was what. He was after a copy of Rogue Trooper, but then he discovered Alberto’s small portfolio of original art pages for sale, and I could see his eyes lighting up in something approaching disbelief. To cut a long story short, this guy eventually (after queueing at a cash machine for about half an hour, spending another fifteen minutes trying to decide) bought a page of original Ponticelli comic art, and he was as happy as a happy person could be.

He said something along the lines of ‘You’ve made my day, I never in my life thought I’d own something like this’, and he absolutely meant it, and he was absolutely delighted. It was great. And it was kind of the point of the whole show, really. Whyever they came, whoever they wanted to see, I guess pretty much everyone who was there was just looking for that moment when they’d think to themselves ‘This is awesome. I never imagined …’

And although, on some really quite profound level I don’t get, can’t share in and indeed find a little dispiriting this whole celebrity culture, this idolisation of actors and characters and shows and films and fictions, this longing to be part of something, there’s no denying the happiness that was abroad in Newcastle on Saturday. And there’s no denying it was infectious.

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Newcastle Film and Comic Con runs Sat 8th and Sun 9th March. I’ll be there on the Saturday, in my capacity as writer of Rogue Trooper – issue #1 of which will, I think, be out in the world (in comic shops and digital sales-places) this very Wednesday. I believe signing and panelling may be involved during my day-trip to Newcastle, so do say hello if you happen to be there.

A probably rather greater incentive to say hello is that my rather talented collaborator on the comic, the artist Alberto Ponticelli, will be at the con on both days, signing Rogue Trooper #1. He’s created a rather splendid variant cover for the first issue, specifically for this and other Showmasters shows in the UK. Obviously, since he’s the interior artist, of all the covers so far done for the series, this is the one that most closely replicates the look and vibe of what lurks within.

Got to say, I’m kind of looking forward to the show. Partly because it’s my first chance to actually meet Alberto in the flesh; partly because I’ve never previously been – in any capacity – to one of these big ‘pop culture’ conventions that have kind of taken off around the world in the last few years. I’m curious, you know? I’ll take my camera, report back here on my impressions.

Incidentally, you can get a sneak peek at Rogue Trooper #1 – the first seven pages – over at comicbookresources right now.

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A few miscellaneous bits. Starting with by far the most important thing, the minor frustrations of my life. Because that’s what really matters, right?

So, I’m going to talk to some students on the MLitt course at Stirling University today. Enthuse or dispirit them on the subject of the life of a published author; could go either way, I suspect. Naturally, given that appointment, today’s the day I wake up with a sore throat, cough and general feeling of mild grottiness. Typical. Harrumph. Does it affect the odds of the enthuse or dispirit outcome? Time will tell.

Raising my eyes (reluctantly) from my own travails, I see B&N is heading into turbulent waters. Looks like those hoping the Nook might save them from a slow fade into history might be disappointed. And for reasons that are mysterious to me, it seems the founder wants to break up the company, taking over the the bookselling bit and cutting adrift the digital/Nook bit. It all looks very much like decline to me, terminal or otherwise. Given they’ve already said they’re going to be closing stores, it’s the slow-motion chewing up of a formerly strong but now very definitely fragile company. I’m kind of sceptical, to put it extremely mildly, much of it’s going to be left intact by the time the mastication is over.

Creative destruction’s all very well, but the future of writing, publishing, selling and reading books does not look a hugely appealing place to me these days. Quasi-monopolistic dictatorships are rarely pretty. We’re all going to have to live there, though, so might as well try to make the best of it.  Enjoy your nearest bricks and mortar bookstore while you can.

And here’s The Miniature Earth. What the world would look like, numbers-wise, if it was a village of 100 souls. Not a great deal that’s hugely surprising, but it’s kind of interesting, and elegantly done.

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A MeTube

There’s a video of me reading from Bloodheir at the Alt.Fiction event up on YouTube. I’m not, though, going to embed it here, for two reasons:

1. Like most people, I dwell in a happy little fantasy world in which I sound and appear to everyone else exactly as I sound and appear to myself within the confines of my own skull. This pleasant illusory state of mind is directly (and cruelly) contradicted every time I hear my voice as it is heard by others, and having a permanent reminder of the glaring discrepancy staring out at me from my own blog would be just too masochistic. In this case, I choose to preserve my feeble illusions, thank you very much.

2. More importantly (as if anything could actually be more important than preserving my precious self-image!) the reading contains what might well be considered SPOILERS for not entirely insignificant plot developments in Bloodheir, so a little bit of distance is probably a good thing for those who might want to consider whether they really want to watch it. If you prefer your reading experience to be entirely unsullied by advance knowledge of what’s coming up, proceed no further. You Have Been Warned.

For those undeterred by these two caveats, here’s the link. You will have to excuse my not exactly masterful reading technique; first time out, and all that. If I get to repeat the exercise at some point in the future, I’ll try to do a bit better. There are plenty of clips of other authors showing how it should be done elsewhere on the Orbit Books YouTube channel.

If you’re looking for a detailed report of the goings on at the Alt.Fiction event in Derby this last weekend, this is probably not going to be quite what you’re after. But I did go to Alt.Fiction, and this is what it was like to go there, be there and come back. For me, at least.

Arriving at Edinburgh train station just as the largest hen party I’ve seen in years was decanting itself from a train and trying to find its way to the street. A crowd of glammed-up ladies milling about in a raucous miasma of obscenities, spangly toy cowboy hats and snatched camera phone photos.

Crossing the Tyne, in the heart of Newcastle (always my favourite bit of the ride south), beneath low cloud, in drizzle, and watching a sparrowhawk flying lazily close alongside the train, amidst all the metalwork and noise, above the grey water.

Walking into the Alt.Fiction venue, and instantly feeling both entirely at home, and vaguely like a fraud about to be exposed …

Feeling bad, with authors flitting to and fro on all sides, about not having read nearly enough of their books. I should have read all of them. I should read every book that comes out, in every distant by-way of every speculative genre, as soon as it comes out. But I can’t.

Buying copies of Interzone and The Third Alternative from the TTA Press stall, and thinking, for neither the first nor the last time: Damn, I’ll be sad if this kind of magazine really does go the way of the dinsoaurs, squelched by the incoming meteor of the online revolution. They’re just such pleasing objects to me, both physically, and in what they signify. (And hearing Charles Stross, at the last panel of the day, talking about the ‘death spiral’ of the paying magazine markets for offline sf/f short fiction, and knowing he’s probably right, in the long run.)

Finding Philip Palmer to be a thoroughly companionable, knowledgeable and grounded chap. And feeling guilty all over again, because I still haven’t read Debatable Space, damn it, even though it’s on my list …

On an obscure exterior wall of the venue, high up on the brickwork, where no one would see it unless they were looking for it, a tiny, plain plastic sign that said ‘The Darwin Room Sign’. I stared at it, bemused, for longer than I should have.

Forty or more fancy dress rockers, at a Derby bus stop. The guys in sharp suits, plastic quiffs and stuck on sideburns. The dolls in pink puffy dresses.

A fine rant on the perfidy and lunacy of the Hollywood scriptwriting machinery, courtesy of Graham Joyce.

The limitations of Quentin Tarantino’s conversational ability being revealed by Chaz Brenchley.

The role of ‘maverick cocks’ in genre fiction being inadvertently revealed by Michael Marshall Smith. (You had to be there).

The Lady Boys of Bangkok, or the sound of them and their audience at least, rising exuberantly from the theatre next door to contend with the wisdom of the later panelists: a vaguely fantastical backdrop to musings on fantasy. Their audience seemed fractionally more excitable than that of the authors. Can’t imagine why.

Getting a lift back to the hotel (or, more to the point, to the hotel bar) from a Hobbit. Seemed appropriate.

Riding back to Edinburgh on hot wheels. Half the train had to be sacrificed at Newcastle, and its passengers relocated, for it is possible for wheels to get just too hot. Had the train been busy, perhaps tempers would have warmed up too, but it wasn’t, so all was calm and good-humoured. Customer reaction to failure is context-sensitive.

Northumberland: Rabbit Heaven. Little crowds of them in what seemed like every trackside field for mile after mile, all clustered close to the railway line as if the titanic earthly vibrations of these roaring iron horses call out to and soothe some primal level of their little bunny brains.

Standing in the midst of a vast, empty field, within sight of Edinburgh: a single roe deer, watching us pass. Frozen in a patch of bright sunlight, as if locked between fascination and alarm at the sight of us.

So that was Alt.Fiction 2008 for me. It was good.

The programme for Alt.Fiction, the one day sf/f/h extravaganza in Derby in April has been published. It amounts to a seriously packed day of genre goodies, with so many authors crammed into a few hours and a few rooms that it makes you wonder how they find the space for anybody else. If you like your fiction speculative, it’s definitely the place to be on April 26th.

Me, I’ll be talking worldbuilding in the afternoon, and then I’m apparently launching a book. That’ll be Bloodheir, then. Means a little reading and signing, I guess, so hopefully the printing presses are gearing up even now. What it also means is that if you’re at Alt.Fiction, you might get the chance to acquire a copy of Bloodheir a whole six weeks before it turns up in the shops. Bargain. UPDATE: No, Bloodheir won’t be available on the day. Too soon. Oh well.

Anyone else who wants one can also have a signed copy of Bloodheir, mind you. Transreal Fiction will take orders for signed (and optionally dated, dedicated, inscribed, whatever) hardbacks and post them off to you as soon as it’s published. As far as I know, the cost is just cover price plus whatever packing and postage costs are to your part of the world.

On a wholly unrelated subject, if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare, turn your sound on and go try this awareness test. It’s not easy …

Alt.Fiction is a one day spec fic jamboree in Derby on Saturday, April 26th. Sort of a mini-convention. I will be there, but fortunately so will a whole host of much more interesting and famous folk. Those who have been in previous years tell me it’s a good day. If you like the look of that list of attendees, why not come along?

Here’s one of the most deserved blog-to-book deals I’ve ever heard of: Strange Maps is to be immortalised in print. I predict a big success, especially if the publisher’s got the muscle to get some offline publicity going.

Advance notice of a potentially cool addition to the podcasting world: the long-delayed PodCastle will finally be starting April. If the quality matches that of its stablemates PseudoPod and Escape Pod, it should be good.

This here is a pretty good comic. Just saying.

I mentioned Public Lending Right a few posts ago, and Lo! It is under attack. Not life-threatening attack, but erosive ‘if we make lots of little cuts maybe they won’t notice’ kind of attack. In government terms the amounts of money involved are microscopic, but for many authors and illustrators (not me at the moment, but one day who knows?) PLR income is a big chunk of their total earnings from their creative work. If you’re a UK citizen, and happen to think PLR cuts are a bad idea, there’s an online petition you could sign. Only if you feel like it, obviously.

I know 2007 feels like a long time ago already, but here’s Locus’ summary of the sf/f books that appeared on the most Best of 2007 lists. That’ll be the ‘best of the best ofs’ or something, then. I have read precisely one of the books mentioned, which is clearly a pathetic effort of which I should be ashamed, but hopefully it doesn’t make me a bad person. The one I have read is The Terror, which is very good in all sorts of ways.