genre stuff


Has Anyone Seen The New Weird?

I’ve said before that the New Weird was a stillborn movement, but it was still the only conscious literary movement in fantasy for considerable time.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a belle lettristic rant, and I want to keep away from its taxonomy.

When I first started out writing fantasy, six or so years ago, it was an exciting period. Riding on the back of the New Wave, a whole host of names were writing challenging fantasy fiction – China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, Steph Swainston, K.J. Bishop. Fantasy suddenly started doing other things, started veering away from the traditional secondary worlds. Entertainment was still part of it, of course, but here were writers who also tried to do more with the genre, to use fantasy for various literary themes, to give extra credibility to people looking in on the genre. As a newbie to the world of writing, it helped me think of the layers and themes within my own work. Suddenly fantasy could do a lot more: it had political or post-modern or cultural influences. Fantasy fiction went out looking for some respect.

And then… the movement as a conscious collective (was it even that?) fizzled out. No sooner had it come then people were announcing it was over. For my part, you submitted a manuscript consciously saying those two words – New and Weird – and you were writing your own rejection slip. Of course, many of those writing such fiction are still writing fantasy fiction.

So what happened to the New Weird – or at the very least a conscious literary movement within the fantasy genre? Did readers not embrace it? Was it sucked into other sub-genres such as urban fantasy? I don’t buy the latter argument, because to me it was not merely a cheap aesthetic.

The last I heard of it was in Jeff’s anthology. I even feel vaguely nostalgic reading the product description: “a clear portrait of a multi-faceted and undefinable sub-genre and a statement that good literature has no boundaries.”

Perhaps I’m just a sucker for literary movements, because these things certainly keeps readers and writers on their toes. But anyway, if you see the New Weird, tell it I said hello.


Old But Good Socialist SF List

A blast from the past (well, in my narrow time frame) admittedly, but thought I’d link to it for more recent converts to the genre. China Miéville’s fifty fantasy & science fiction works that socialists should read.

This is not a list of the “best” fantasy or SF. There are huge numbers of superb works not on the list. Those below are chosen not just because of their quality—which though mostly good, is variable—but because the politics they embed (deliberately or not) are of particular interest to socialists. Of course, other works—by the same or other writers—could have been chosen: disagreement and alternative suggestions are welcomed. I change my own mind hour to hour on this anyway.

I’ve only read about ten or so of these titles, but it’s worth dipping into. Very much recommend Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, William Morris’s News From Nowhere, and Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.


The Real Jumping On Points (Or Some Fantasies That You Should Read)

Aidan at A Dribble of Ink directed me to this largely unremarkable list of jumping-on points for the fantasy genre. I said that this was unimaginative, ironically, for such an imaginative genre. I’m not saying individually the selections are bad (apart from one, and I very much like a couple) but that this smacks of nothing more than wiki research. Fantasy is a vast and diverse genre – but you wouldn’t think so from this.

And as an aside, I didn’t think Goodkind wrote fantasy anyway… 😉

Aidan said: dude, where’s your list? – and here it is. I’ve probably gone on about these books before, so apologies if I’m repeating myself.

The Scar by China Miéville.

Let’s get things clear from the start: this book made me want to write fantasy. Nothing beforehand was inspirational enough. This book clears the deck of everything you knew before, and says: yes, secondary worlds don’t have to be bland, cod-medieval dramas. You can do stuff that’s, quite frankly, bat-shit crazy and make it work. It’s grungy, alive, intense, vivid and varied and dripping in brine. Reading this is a bit like having the best sex of your life; when you’re inhaling on that post-coitus cigarillo, you realise sadly that anything afterwards just won’t hit the spot.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

A meditation on the nature fantasy itself – set in an ancient English woodland. Fucking brilliant book, digging deep into Celtic mythology, and written with such a gentle grace too. It’s real-world setting also makes it very easy for that first step across…

The Book of the New Sun sequence by Gene Wolfe

Okay, some books are slow reads. And you know what? THAT’S OKAY. Reading books isn’t a race. If you stuff a meal down your gob, you taste nothing. If you take your time, chew slowly, you’ll marvel at the flavours within. This is what this book is: Michelin quality cuisine for the literary palate. Take your time, and be amazed at the depth, the symbolism, the beautiful, heady descriptions.

The Book Of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

It’s a bestiary, not a fiction book. There are monsters in it. Lots of them. Dear readers, please remind yourself there are more than the usual two or three done-to-death creatures out there for use in fantasy books. You need to know this early on.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Fantasy doesn’t really get more ambitious in scope than this series, and with my workload it could be years before I get around to finishing it off, but hey, it’s vast, complex, engaging, and hugely divisive. Whether you love of hate his writing, he’s a fantasy writer that tries to do things, and do things differently.

The Fortress Of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Letham is an amazing writer, and has that cool factor. His writing is Miles Davis cool. More than a hint of the DeLillo to the prose, this charming tale of a New York youth covers a vast swathe of pop culture and racial observations. It’s easily accessible fantasy-cool. With a magic ring.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

If you want to write or read about a fantastic city, you must read this book first. Calvino is a brilliant stylist, and uncovers the psycho-geography of urban spaces like no other writer. This is the starting point.


Some Interesting Things I Never Knew About Being A Writer

Or at least, not until I became one, anyway. These are just some casual observations.

1. You pretty much kiss goodbye to your social life. You have deadlines and you need to hit them. Doesn’t matter how long it took you to write the first book, you have a contract to fulfill, which means not as much going out as you used to. Getting a deal isn’t for those who don’t have the time.

2. Some people hate young writers. I was talking about this with someone recently. Yup, there are a few folk out there who hate the fact that a dude in their twenties gets a publication deal. Why? There are a lot of people who want to be writers out there, and to see someone relatively young succeed can piss them off. I was vaguely saddened by this realization, but hey, that’s life. (Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who think it’s cool too.)

3. Being a writer with the majors can send you into the industry’s inner sanctum. It’s not some boy’s club. It’s not the Free Masons. But getting the book out meant that others spent more time talking to me then they might have otherwise. People with prestige took a little notice. No surprise really, I guess; isn’t that how a lot of the world works?

4. You get sympathy for other writers’ bad reviews. A writer can spend a year or more on a project. It gets read, reworked, read by an editor, reworked. Teams of people are involved; effort and money goes into this. (Another blog post is needed on just who works behind the scenes, and what they do to make a book succeed.) Emotions are heavily invested. Being a writer, I know this now, and to see someone else’s book get pulled apart in a review that’s taken some wit half an hour of their life isn’t easy, no matter if you’re a fan of that writer’s prose or not. You understand the pain. But remember that…

5. There is no such thing as a bad review. Or to paraphrase a much better writer, you don’t read your press, you measure it. The best thing someone can do if they hate your book is not to mention it at all. No conversation kills a book. Just develop a thick skin and deal with what is said, because not everyone will like your work, and especially not everyone will like you. Just remember, you put yourself out there in front of people; you have to deal with it.

6. Science fiction and fantasy readers are the best readers. Why? They talk about books. They shout about them. Every one of them online thinks their opinion is right, and they’ll argue their point endlessly. They’re loyal readers; they’ll buy books year in, year out. When the rest of the publishing industry suffers, SFF is as stable as ever. These are the people you want reading your books.

7. Most people are absolutely fascinated when you mention you’re a writer. They want to know everything. Then they tell you that they fancy giving it a go themselves. “I’d love to be a writer too.” To which you say “Great, what have you written so far?” The reply is more often than not “Well, I’ve not actually done anything…” Do something. Write it down. If you want to be a writer, write!

8. Following the debate on forums and blogs only makes you tired. Of course you want to monitor what people are saying; doesn’t mean you should. Scott Lynch’s summon author spell seems to work for the most part, thanks to Google alerts, but it’s hard to know when to stop.

9. Luck matters just as much as talent. Kind of speaks for itself, really.

10. I knew this anyway, but getting a writing contract doesn’t mean you can give up your day job. Not that I’d want to, since mine is fun, but the money (for 99% of new writers) isn’t enough when you sign a deal. The initial advance is broken into smaller payments, for signature, manuscript delivery, publication in hardcover, paperback etc. Then you need to earn that advance before you get royalties, which takes time to accrue.


Shame On You, Bloggers! (Or: Why Aren’t You All Reviewing Robert Holdstock’s New Book?)

I’m going to call you out. James, Graeme, Aidan, Pat, Wert, Liz & Mark, Larry, Gav and Mihai. There are more bloggers who I’ve missed out here (I am in a rush!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching…

Robert Holdstock is one of the finest writers in the fantasy genre. And he’s written a new book called Avilion, which is a Mythago Wood Cycle book. Last year I wrote about the first book in the cycle, called Mythago Wood. I’ve recently purchased Avilion, and will be reading it very soon, but although major newspapers have sung the praises of this novel, I’ve noticed too little coverage across the blogosphere. This is an online crime.

These are fantastic books, and here are some reasons why you, bloggers, should be reading Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood Cycle, and telling everyone about it.

1) His novels are meditation on the very nature of fantasy, and what it is to imagine.
2) He writes with such a delicate and sensitive prose.
3) Whereas China Miéville is the master of urban spaces, Robert Holdstock lords over the rural setting.
4) If you have an appreciation or interest in mythology, particularly celtic mythology, or indeed British culture, then you will love these books.
5) He’s criminally underrated.
6) He’s a lovely man.

So, who wants to give them a go?


Podcast & Features

I’ve been a busy boy.

Here’s a podcast I recorded with the wonderful Hagelrat at Unbound! That’s her full name apparently: Hagelrat Unbound. Listen to me talk about bits and pieces to do with me (how solipsistic!), the industry, and the follow up to Nights of Villjamur.

Also, here’s a tongue-in-cheek feature on hype, which I wrote for the Pan Macmillan newsletter.

It starts out innocently enough. You’re a new author, your book – your cherub – is soon to be released, and proof copies have been doing the rounds. You watch with glee as the first reader responses are positive. It puts your heart at ease. You fully expected them to serve your arse back to you on a plate, but no – they liked the book. Actually, they loved the book. Your website stats indicate that someone other than your editor and your mother knows you’re alive. Suddenly more reviewers across the blogosphere begin making meerkat postures, demanding their review copy. A while later, a lot of positive reviews roll in. Forums throng.


Bestiaries a.k.a. Monster Pr0n

I love a good monster. I love books about monsters just as much.

I’ve mentioned in a few places how much I dig Borges’ Book Of Imaginary Beings, and have used it as inspiration for some of the creatures in the Red Sun series: notably garudas and banshees in the first book, and more to come. It’s certainly useful to have as a fantasist’s handbook, and wades through mythologies from across the world, traversing the heavens and dredging the most aphotic places, to present to the western world an inspirational book of monster pr0n.

And what should I stumble across on the interwebs this morning, but a medieval bestiary. Although it covers mostly common fauna, it’s the descriptions which get exotic. For example, here’s one for the eagle.

When an eagle is old, its eyesight dims and its feathers and wings become heavy. To rejuvinate itself, the eagle flies up to the region of the sun, which burns away the mist over its eyes and burns off its old feathers. The eagle then plunges three times into water, and its youth is restored. Also as a result of age, the eagle’s beak grows until it can no longer eat; by striking it against a rock, the eagle breaks its beak which then grows back.

And more: an online mythical bestiary. This should keep me going for a while.


Congrats To Adrian Tchaikovsky

Before I head out the door, I wanted to say a quick contratulations to fellow Tor UK stablemate Adrian Tchaikovsky, who has signed a US deal with Lou Anders at Pyr.

We’ve just done a deal to bring Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling, and Blood of the Mantis out here. All three books will be appearing from Pyr in early 2010, published in trade paperback in three consecutive months , March-April-May, so US readers can catch up with this dynamic series fast. Shadows of the Apt is a fantastic fantasy, with steampunk elements, that absolutely blew me away when I read it. Airships, steam trains, giant insects, fantastic characters, great action…

They’re both absolutely great guys, and I wish them oodles of success.