Just a very brief pointer towards some audio entertainment:
I've recently subscribed to the feed for the Beneath Ceaseless Skies podcast. Some nice stories in there, and quite a few of them are short enough to fit into the limited listening windows I have these days. They publish lots more stories in text form online too, but I just can't get into the reading on screen thing (or the print it out and read it on paper thing) so I stick to the audio.
The ever reliable Escape Pod podcastis still going strong too. A recent listen I enjoyed: Garth Nix's Infestation. A fairly straightforward vampire story (with enough of a twist on the trope to make it just a little different) that's got a strong movie-like vibe to it and some entertaining violence.
And on the non-fiction side, BBC radio is doing a looong series of short daily shows telling The History of the World in 100 Objects. The objects in question are items from the collection of the British Museum, and it's narrated by the boss of said institution (who has a slightly plummy English accent of the sort you don't hear all that often these days, which I note not as criticism but just because I find it sort of sweet and cosy in a funny sort of way). Anyway, the episodes are pleasingly brief and to the point, and I've found much of interest in there. Struck me that almost every episode, particularly these early ones that deal with the very distant past, has the seed of a story in it when listened to with the ears of a writer.
So, everyone: welcome to 2010. (A week late, I know, but it's the thought that counts, right?) I hope you enjoy it, and that it delivers at the very least a respectable portion of all that you hope for.
Starting a new year with a new experience can't be a bad thing, I reckon, so you won't hear any complaints from me about the wintry onslaught that has subjugated the British Isles. There's been no sign of the grass on the lawn outside my window for over three weeks now, buried as it is beneath a gleaming white blanket of snow. Nothing remarkable for many of you, of course, including those living at the same latitude as Edinburgh (approaching 56 deg N, for the record - roughly the same as Moscow and the Aleutian Islands), but it's exceptionally unusual round here, where the peculiarities of climates both macro- and micro- mean most winters are all but snow-free. In fact, I don't remember seeing anything quite like it in my life.
I'm a big fan of the big freeze. Everything looks just that little bit unfamiliar and exotic. It feels like we've all travelled to some other place - one quieter, more beautiful and imbued with a faint, cold magic - without having to move. The sound of deep snow crunching underfoot seems to me vaguely romantic and wild and fantastical.
A new computer arrived in my house. I didn't really want one, but the old one was accumulating software glitches and idiosyncracies that nothing seemed to rid it of, and to be fair it was a few years old, so I bit the bullet and went shopping. Turns out PCs have got a whole lot better since I last bought one. Who knew? I mean, have you seen these flat screen things? They're all ... flat and stuff. Amazing.
Anyway, one consequence has been a big clean out and reorganising of my feeds, which gives me an excuse to flag up some new, newish or not new at all podcasts that might be of interest:
1. Tor.com has added a new podcast - the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy - to complement their existing audio fiction one. Both can be found here. The G's G to the G promises to cover a wide spectrum of geeky interests, so should be worth following. (First episode doesn't do much for me, since it's mostly about Left 4 Dead 2, and my gaming days are more or less behind me, sadly, but I'm not letting that put me off).
2. The iFanboy Pick of the Week podcast is my graphic novels and comics-related listening of choice. For any of you out there with a liking for that medium, it gets a great big thumbs up from me. (As does their video podcast, if you're a visually oriented sort).
3.Naked Archaeologyoffers monthly news and views on archaeological research and discoveries. Quite interesting, if you're into that sort of thing. It's a spin-off from the very well known and jolly good Naked Scientistspodcast, as is the newer and potentially interesting (but I haven't actually listened to it yet, so don't blame me if it's rubbish) Naked Astronomy.
And lo, the new year brings a new look for Fall of Thanes. This is the cover for the US mass market paperback edition, due out very soon. And it is, IMHO, a thing of beauty. Possibly my favourite 'look' for any of the trilogy so far. And that's saying something, since all the way through, I've really been jolly well taken care of by the Orbit folks responsible for prettying up my books.
The new year also brings free pdfs of books. Free pdfs of 11,000 books to be precise, including quite a lot of famous ones (and a great many not very famous at all ones, I suspect). They're available at The Book Depository. Now, personally I can't read novel-length stuff in pdf form. Can just about manage a short story, but that's about my limit in that format (and even then, I'll be hoping it's a short short story). But you might be different, so go knock yourself out. It doesn't look that easy to actually find some of the freebies, admittedly, but even right there on the front page, there's links to free Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and others.
Talking about e-books (I did mention the one dollar Winterbirth e-book, didn't I?), a few other fragments of the discussion about the technology that have come to light recently:
Orbit's own Tim Holman talks at some length about e-books on the Dragon Page podcast. It's well worth a listen. Anyone who doubts that publishers are expending a lot of precious brain time on this whole area will quickly be disabused of such notions. Anyone who thinks publishers actually know what's going to come of all the changes infiltrating the industry will be similarly disabused. But knowing isn't what's important; preparing flexibly and imaginatively for unpredictable change, and being willing to try stuff and see what works, is what's important. I think.
Another publisher - this time a new one, Angry Robot Books - wants to know how much an e-book is worth to you, the reader. It's not a brilliantly designed survey (says he huffily, knowing only just enough about survey design to make him wildly over-confident and huffy), but the basic question is obviously at the heart of where this technology is going. And it's a tough one to find a fair answer too.
Just how tough is evidenced by ... the 9.99 e-book boycott on Amazon. At the time of writing, irritated readers have now tagged over 800 e-books on Amazon.comas being unjustifiably expensive. Not an unreasonable sort of price point for the protestors to settle upon, you might think (and I sort of agree), but check out the commenters on that original GalleyCat post. Not everyone is onboard, and there's no doubt the situation is not as clear-cut as a lot of the protestors probably think.
This one's going to run and run and run. The tough questions certainly aren't going to go away, indeed I suspect they're only going to get tougher as time and technology advance. I have no clue what the publishing industry and the world's reading habits are going to look like twenty years from now. I remain somewhat unconvinced that anybody else does either, and I still think all the amazing opportunities opening up before us are balanced by definite risks in the medium term. Which makes it all jolly interesting, if nothing else.
And mildy related: by coincidence I had two folk e-mail me this week asking, in their different ways, whether an audio version of the Godless World trilogy was available, or ever likely to be. Short answer is that such a thing doesn't exist at the moment, and as far as I know isn't likely. I'm almost certain - I could check my contract to be absolutely sure, of course, but it's filed away, I'm feeling lazy right now and I expect someone will correct me if I'm wrong - that the rights to such a version reside with Orbit, so they are probably the people to ask about it, if there's an army of you out there craving Wintebrirth in your ears.
... breaking blog silence, briefly, for this update.
... writing!Fall of Thanes is making its way through the publication process (still seems to be on course for a summer 2009 release date - early summer, at that), so my attention turns elsewhere: to short stories, specifically. One of 2008's nicer surprises was being invited to contribute stories to a couple of upcoming anthologies. Nice, but a bit scary. Writing short stories is hard.
Books: Infoquake by David Louis Edelman. First sf book I've read that's essentially a corporate boardroom thriller. Only about halfway through it, but so far it's interesting and feels at least somewhat original, which is (almost) always a good thing.
World War Z by Max Brooks. Subtitle is an 'Oral History of the Zombie War'. Seriously clever idea: the story of the zombie apocalypse, told as if it's non-fiction through transcripts of interviews with those who witnessed and survived the struggle.
Comics: Or graphic novels, I suppose, since I only ever read this stuff in collected trade paperback format nowadays.
Umbrella Academyis an sfnal superhero romp, with robots, apocalyptic music, time travel, sentient chimps and a hero whose head has been grafted onto the body of a space gorilla. Very well written (despite the fact its author is considerably better known as a musician), and with great art. It feels full of excitement at the freedom offered by the medium, and is positively wanton in its flinging about of crazy ideas and striking images.
Scalped is quite a contrast. A crime story set in a modern day Native American community, it's stuffed with brutal violence, spectacularly bad language, sex, drugs, local and cultural politics and messed up relationships. Very definitely not for kids (or easily offended adults). The characters, setting and tone are interesting enough to make me want to read more.
One thing about both these comics that appeals to me is that they keep their plot and character cards quite close to their chest. They both very deliberately create the sense that they have a hinterland, as yet unrevealed, of plot and history and setting, and there is an implied promise that we will be digging deeper, peeling back layers, in future volumes. I like that.
To tales of financial armaggedon on the NPR Planet Money podcast. An accessible, often illuminating and occasionally even amusing, guide to the ongoing implosion of the world's financial system. It's like watching/listening to a slow motion car crash in which an endless succession of security vans laden with our money plough into one another and explode, incinerating their contents. Boom! There goes another billion. Smash! Yes, that's your pension turning to ash ...
... in awe of the ruthlessness and efficiency of Nature!
A sparrowhawk killed a pigeon in the back garden not so long ago, and spent close to an hour sitting on the grass right outside the window methodically dismantling its victim. The pigeon was plucked and devoured with awesome precision, and its remains were then carried off, leaving just a near-perfect circle of feathers, a few strands of gut and a bizareely neat and tidy little pile of corn, presumable decanted from its crop. The corn was soon gone, eaten by other birds - pigeons, as likely as not - picking it out from amongst the remains of their late colleague. That's recycling for you. No room for sentiment out there in Red-in-Tooth-and-Claw World.
World's briefest interview! In terms of the number of questions asked, at least; not in terms of my answer. While you're at that site, check out the huge library of links to online reviews of fantasy novels in the sidebar. Very handy if you're wondering what to buy next.
I've got to admit I'm not a big fan of Torchwood. Not even a small fan, really, though I kept watching the occasional episode in the vain hope of falling in love with it. But I quite like this idea: a special radio episode to mark the switching on of CERN's now famous Large Hadron Collider. You can download the mp3 of it here, but only for the next five days or so. It's not remotely enough to turn me into a fan, but it does make me wonder: might I actually have liked it more if Torchwood was a radio series instead of on TV? On this evidence, I think there are ways it benefits - or could benefit - from the different constraints and opportunities of the audio medium. And from having to comply with the requirements of a pre-watershed broadcast slot, for that matter.
And this is my idea of a top quality movie trailer: Quantum of Solace. I'm looking forward to this more than I've looked forward to a Bond movie in ... well, ever. Although there were a few doubting voices when he was first cast, Daniel Craig now looks - to me, anyway - as though he was born to play the role. The tuxedo fits.
To be honest, there are already enough short fiction podcasts to make it tough to keep up with them, but the latest addition is far too cool to ignore: TTA Press, the publishers of the UK's major sf/fantasyand horror fiction magazines, as well as a rather good (if excessively infrequent) crime one, have launched Transmissions from Beyond, podcasting selected stories from their huge, multi-genre back catalogue. I'll be listening.
Another new podcast: Reality Breakis putting out interviews with authors, most of them originally done for radio in the 1990s. Some notably big guns have already been deployed: Will Eisner, Cory Doctorow and the late Robert Jordan.
Since Watchmen featured in the last post here, thought I'd mention an interesting transcript of a 1988 round table discussion about the series. But first: BEWARE! This is as SPOILERIFIC a discussion as could possibly be contrived by the wit of Man. If you have not yet read Watchmen, or if you want to see the upcoming movie without actually knowing every last detail of the plot in advance (and, believe me, you really do), FLEE! The imminent link will utterly and completely ruin the whole thing, including all of the many surprises the story has up its sleeves. Seriously. For those who have already read Watchmen, it's a fascinating discussion, because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are involved, and it unpicks in great detail a lot of the story's many layers, influences and concerns. It can be found here.
Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed asking about a release date for Fall of Thanes. It's nice that people care enough to be interested! I wish I had a more definitive answer to offer, but at the moment I don't. It's taken longer than I hoped and intended to finish the thing off, for a mixture of writing and non-writing related reasons, but it is almost done. Should be going to the publisher for consideration in the next few weeks. In the past, it's taken about a year to get from that point to publication. Sorry I can't be any more specific than that yet. More news as and when it's available. It has been raining all day. Raining hard, for a lot of it. Frankly, it's all a bit disappointing, as the weather has been for weeks and weeks. So I thought I'd post a photo, grabbed in one of the few sunny interludes I remember from the last couple of months. It commemorates the chance discovery of a wonderful country lane, thick with wildflowers, bees and butterflies. As I sit here listening to the rain gurgling along the gutters and down the drainpipes, perhaps it will provide a little remembered warmth, and remind me that we do still notionally have things called summers, even if these last couple of years the only possible description of that season has been 'damp squib'.
A dip into the pond of my podcast subscriptions to see if anything of any interest to someone else might turn up. Nothing in here that podcast veterans won't already know about, I suspect, but you never know ...
PodCastle: the fantasy sibling of the long(ish) established EscapePod (sf) and PseudoPod (horror) fiction podcasts. Haven't managed to listen to more than a handful of the stories they've put out, but there's been some good stuff. I liked, for example, The Osteomancer's Sonby Greg van Eekhout, partly from a technical point of view: takes a clever writer to effectively sketch in as much context and backstory as you'd expect in a modest novel without crippling a short story. Plus, the central idea of doing magic with bones is nicely spun, I thought.
Adventures in SciFi Publishing: lots of author interviews, sf/f publishing news etc. etc. For some reason I can't quite pin down, I just find this one really, really easy and relaxing to listen to. Possibly something to do with having aurally personable hosts and a tone that's enthusiastic without becoming over-excited or feverishly fannish.
In Our Time: the heavy duty end of the podcasting spectrum. This is a BBC radio programme which basically consists of academics discussing their specialist subjects. Covers a huge range of stuff: history, science, philosophy, literature. Often more accessible than it sounds, though it does rattle along at a fair pace, and you have to been in the right kind mood. If it's on a subject you're curious about, worth checking out. Recent ones I've listened to: The Library of Nineveh, The Black Death, Lysenko. (None of which I seem to be able to link to directly, unfortunately - past episodes seem to get scrubbed from the website, so I guess you need to subscribe to the feed and grab anything you want as it shows up.)
Starship Sofa: the long-running podcast on sf writers has gone through big changes in recent months. It's now putting out a mid-week sf 'audio magazine' with one or two bits of fiction, some non-fiction, even poetry. An interesting venture - I'm flabbergasted by the amount of effort various people must be putting into this podcast, and others, for basically zero financial reward. It's a real 'for the love' thing, and more power to their audio elbows, I say.
As I might have mentioned here before, I have an intermittent love affair with podcasts - intermittent only because I just don't have enough time to listen to as many of them as I'd like. Until I discovered the blessed technology of the podcast, I never really gave much thought to audio fiction. Now, I find myself making time to squeeze in an audio short story now and again. Forget all that music stuff: this is what mp3 players were made for. So I thought I'd just offer a round of applause for one or two of my favourites:
At the risk of becoming a bit random, a few more pointers to how I've been spending my (increasingly limited) online time in the last week or so.
A handful of feeds I've subscribed to recently:
FreakAngels. An online comic written by Warren Ellis, distributed in weekly chunks. The comics industry, like book publishing, is still trying to figure out what the digital age means for it; this is one of the signs of change, I guess. I think it's got an 'adult content' warning, by the way.
Alt.Fiction Day. A blog for the one-day sf/f/h event in Derby this April. The early versions of the programme I've seen are full of good stuff. Big names like Charles Stross, Ramsey Campbell, Mike Carey doing their things: well worth a ticket if you're in that neck of the woods, I should think. I should be there, doing the panel thing and generally milling about, so say hello if you bump into me.
Best of Natural History Radio. I like me some wildlife, so this BBC podcast is overdue as far as I'm concerned: features on all kinds of things that crawl, fly, grow and eat each other.
Stephen Fry's Podgrams. Stephen Fry is one of those rare people who can talk for 25mins without a script and be conversational, coherent and engaging. (He's a very well-known and ostentatiously clever UK actor, writer and presenter, for any non-Brit visitors who've never heard of him). This is his new podcast, starting off with a report on what it's like to smash your arm to pieces in the middle of the Amazonian nowhere (answer: not much fun).
And don't forget you can find a feed for this very blog here, if you've got an itchy subscription finger.
A couple of links to stuff I've noticed recently:
Neil Graf offers a list of notional Tintin titles fit for the 21st century. My favourites are probably Tintin in Darfur and Tintin Parties at the Everest Base Camp, not because they're particularly funny but because I can immediately all but see those comics: perfect topics for dark, seriously twisted takes on Tintin's world. I think someone should write/draw them. Someone unafraid of litigation, probably.
Another minor signpost on the road to the end of liertature as we know it: fiction originally written on, distributed by and read on mobile phones dominates Japan's bestseller lists. Japan doesn't always play its tune to the same beat as the rest of the world, so this might not catch on elsewhere, but it's still a sign of the times. It's all quite entertaining, the multi-stranded digital Ragnarok that seems to be slowly closing in on the worlds of publishing and writing. God knows where it will all end up, but I expect things'll come out OK in the end. Majorly different, perhaps, but OK. The world does get destroyed at Ragnarok, I know, but a new one comes along shortly thereafter (albeit with a rather different set of Gods, which undeniably might be a bit worrying if you're a current God of publishing).
And finally, this, for no good reason other than that I found it curious enough to watch twice. What firefighters get up to when there're no fires to fight:
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.
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.