"Holy wow. Once I started reading Brasyl, I knew I would never see the world quite the same way again... Brasyl shows that Pyr has serious chops in acquiring new material in addition to picking up previously published gems. Read the review if you want more, but my first recommendation is this: Close your browser, put your computer to sleep, go to the bookstore, buy Brasyl, take off the dust jacket without reading it, and clear your calendar. You’re in for a treat. Along with McDonald’s River of Gods,it is easily one of the best books of the last 10 years."
Meanwhile, Joel Shepherd's two 2007 Cassandra Kresnov novels, Breakawayand Killswitch,tie for # 5.
"There’s not a lot about these books that I haven’t already said in my pair of breathless reviews, and while one probably would have made the list on its own merits, having two of these tomes in the span of a year really takes the cake. Pyr books has been knocking down doors in both publishing original fiction and bringing foreign work to North America, and Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov series demonstrates the second half of this equation wonderfully. Why weren’t these books brought over sooner? How many other authors and ideas are just waiting to get picked up, gussied up with holy-cow-amazing cover art by the likes of Stephan Martiniere, and unleashed upon the unsuspecting North American public? More, I hope."
I was particularly gratified to see that Rob's favorite story was "The Mystery of the Texas Twister," since I have a history with that story predating this collection. It might be my favorite as well, tied perhaps with the final entry in the book. Meanwhile, Rob concludes that, "The strengths of these stories are many. The twisting plots, the quippy dialogue between Begg and Taffy, the interactions between Begg and Zenith, and the cool settings to name just a few. The stories are entertaining and range across the spectrum of Moorcock’s wide canvas. This book will appeal to Moorcock’s many fans as well as fans of dashing, pulpy stories and will fit very comfortably alongside and within Moorcock’s Eternal Champion saga."
Then Jessica Strider interviews Joel for the World's Biggest Bookstore's Sci-Fi Fan Letter. Also speaking about Cassandra here (no surprise), Joel tells Jessica, "She's possibly the least biased and most open minded person you'd be likely to meet on most matters -- a natural pragmatist who is simultaneously intrigued by non-pragmatic things precisely because they're unnecessary. She looks at everything as though it were new and fascinating, which as a writer forces me to do so too."
And remember, first chapters of Killswitch are available online.
Meanwhile, Dave has let me know that he is going to be part of the Library of Congress' "What If... Science Fiction and Fantasy Forums" series, appearing on February 21, 2008.
Paul discusses the way that Resnick's work is "a deliberate attempt...to subvert a genre that, while viscerally thrilling, rarely addresses the deeper implications and ethics of conflict in a universe that isn't painted black and white. There is much to be lauded in this approach -- a more mature and thoughtful way of presenting the classic hero figure."
He notes that while Resnick's hero, Wilson Cole, manages to avoid going in "guns blazing" by applying intelligence beforehand, that "That's not to say nothing happens, though. Far from it; almost all the narrative is subsumed by dialogue –- dry, witty dialogue at that –- and the prose has the feel of being almost cinematic, or perhaps televisual, in that there is almost zero reliance on a third-person narrative point of view, and the characters banter and back-chat with the easy familiarity of sit-com scenes."
He concludes by proclaiming that Starship: Pirate is "a surprisingly thoughtful novel dressed in the clothing of classic SF adventure," and wondering if it's uniqueness will be a handicap in finding an audience. Fortunately, we already know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that isn't the case!
Like the two previous Starship books, Mercenary features the usual appendices. This time Deborah Oakes supplies floor plans of "Duke's Place," a spacestation casino that factors heavily in the story's events.
Meanwhile, we've posted sample chapters of what is my favorite Starship book to date online for you to peruse, along with a swanky banner courtesy of Prometheus' Amy Greenan. (Feel free to swipe it and post it everywhere.) And in tomorrow's Pyr Newsletter illustrator John Picacio has some exclusive words for our readers on how he created the cover for one of the best looking books we've done to date.
Great times in Austin, Texas yesterday...Mike Moorcock and I signed copies of The Metatemporal Detectiveat BookPeople, the largest independent bookstore in Texas. Mike did a short reading from the book, and then answered a wide range of questions from the audience. Amongst the topics discussed -- the origins of Elric; his theories on magic; the status of the developing Elric film project; his relationship with the Weitz brothers; his days with Hawkwind; why people should read Barry Bayley; and much, much more.
After that, we signed lots of copies of The Metatemporal Detectiveand hey, even some copies of my artbook, Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio. Mike's birthday isn't until Dec. 18th, but that didn't stop us from celebrating with a decadent Chocolate Eruption cake, sponsored by The Metatemporal Detective'sever-loving publisher, Pyr. Damn good. Here's what it basically looked like, but much bigger (scroll down the link above for "Chocolate Eruption").
After such a fine dessert, Linda Moorcock suggested we have dinner at Hyde Park Grill....fried egg sandwiches; buttermilk-battered fries; Kobe beef burgers; chicken fried steak; corn & cheese tamales; sirloin burgers smothered in cheddar cheese and scallions....so good. If you attended the signing, thanks for coming out, and if you missed out, maybe we'll try to do it again in '08 when Elric The Stealer of Soulsreleases in February.
Meanwhile, Jeff Vandermeer, of Amazon's Omnivoracious blog, recommends Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detectiveas part of Four Great SF / F Gifts. He says, "Put out in a gorgeous hardcover edition from Pyr, featuring the art of World Fantasy Award winner John Picacio, this collection of short fictions will entertain anyone who loves wild imagination wedded to impeccable storytelling, along with liberal doses of humor and suspense. Detailing the exploits of Seaton Begg and his companion Dr. "Taffy Sinclair" as they solve mysteries in alternate universes, The Metatemporal Detective ranges far and wide, from 1960s Chicago to the wild west to Paris and points unknown. Another example of the range and depth of Moorcock's prodigious talent."
"The characters are very well-developed. It's a very interesting premise and a very good story.... I found it impossible to put down, once we got to Planet Green. ...there's a very good human story and a romantic element to this novel." 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Kay Kenyon (Bright of the Sky, A World Too Near)
Feb. 15-17Radcon/Pasco, WA
Feb 29-Mar 2 ConDor/ San Diego, CA
Mar 13- 16 OmegaCon/ Birmingham, AL
July 17 - 20Readercon/ Burlington MA
October 30 - Nov 2 World Fantasy/ Calgary, AB Canada
Alexis Glynn Latner (Hurricane Moon)
Jan. 2 Bay Area Writers' League/Clear Lake City, TX appearance as speaker
Feb. 28 Fondren Library/Houston, TX
Apr. 25-27 Nebula Awards/Austin, TX
Jun. 27-29 ApolloCon/Houston, TX
Aug. 15-17 ArmadilloCon/Austin, TX
Michael Moorcock (The Metatemporal Detective)
Dec. 8 Book People/Austin, TX 3 pm featuring Moorcock and Illustrator John Picacio
Mike Resnick (Starship: Mercenary, Starship: Mutiny; Starship: Pirate; New Dreams for Old; Ivory)
Jan. 18-20 ConFusion/Flint, MI
Jan. 25-27 CoSine/Colorado Springs, CO
Feb. 14-17 CapriCon/Chicago, IL
Mar. 14-16 OmegaCon/Birmingham, AL
May 30-Jun. 1 ConCarolinas/Charlotte, NC
Jun. 26-29 Midwestcon/Cincinnati, OH
Aug. 6-10 Worldcon/Denver, CO
Oct. 2008 ConStellation/Huntsville, AL Mike will be the Toastmaster
Recently, our own Sean Williams' The Crooked Letterlost out to The Princess Bride (which, to be fair, has the advantage of also being a famous film), but Joe has decided to read The Crooked Letter anyway. And he invited his readership to do so as well. Now, thanks to our publicity director, Jill Maxick, Pyr willl be helping Joe host a contest on his blog for those readers that join him. As Joe explains:
"Free copies of The Blood Debtto three lucky readers who finish The Crooked Letter and are ready to continue the series. Winners will be announced sometime in mid-January so start reading."
Photo copyright Nomi S. Burstein.
Think of all the things a piece of fiction must have. Who can ever get it all right? For example, we're told to excel at plot, character, setting, point of view, dialogue, backstory, conflict, and style. If it's science fiction, add cool science ideas and scope. This list is long and demanding, and no author gets them all right. But which ones are worth your utmost effort?
Before I go on, let me set the ground rules. I assume you know at least the basics of writing and storytelling. Books, magazines, and the internet abound with advice.To get a sense of the craft, read, read! (See Holiday Books, below, e.g.) So on to the Big Four.
Originality. Publishers look for an exciting premise. It doesn't have to be brilliant, but it does have to shine! Don't short change your writing with a weak or warmed-over concept. Keep digging untill you find an intriguing premise. Think Diana Gabaldon, Outlander series; Kathleen Goonen, Queen City Jazz. Toby Bishop in Airs Beneath the Moon. Not every premise can be as original as: "Dinasaur DNA retrieved from amber." But don't settle for plain.
Vivid Environment. One of the worst mistakes beginners make is a bland setting. This is a real crime in science fiction, of course, but true for every story. We lead modest, safe lives, most of us! For heaven's sake, take us somewhere interesting--such as the offices of a high-powered law firm or a small town in the 1950s. In science fiction especially, a sense of wonder--grounded in vivid detail--is a sure win. It's fun, too. I plan about 60% of a world, and let the next 40% surprise me as I write. Some recent favs in speculative fiction: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell; River of Gods; Brasyl.
Strong Lead Character. We've head this a million times. Give your lead an abiding strength and a nagging handicap. Too much strength and we've got a cardboard character. Too much weakness and the personality lacks charisma. A little of both, please. If you don't give them a special ability, give them a driving desire. For a lovely balance of strength and weakness see Justina Robson's Lila in Keeping it Real.
Conflict or Tension on Every Page. Focus your story around a problem. Out of problems arise conflict. To deepen the conflict sufficiently, make sure something terribly important is at stake. Interest in your story will be in direct proportion to the degree of tension on the page. You don't need meaningless action to tart up scenes, but you do at least need sustained and escalating tension. That's a high bar. Aim high.
A novel doesn't have to have everything right. Remember Randall Jarrell's wonderful line: "A novel is a narrative of a certain length with something wrong with it." Even so, readers will love a novel with two great strengths. Give them four and you're playing with aces.
Science Fiction and Fantasy:
No fair skipping this article. I know this isn't a glamorous topic. But if you're not getting writing done, I can almost guarantee that you have No Schedule.
If you're waiting for a free hour or two to write, you're on a course for failure. The world won't beg you to write. In fact, the world with its mundane (and critical) demands will always expand to fill 24 hours every day. And please don't wait for inspiration to strike before sitting down to write. Inspiration almost never shows up ahead of time; rather it arises from the act of writing. Carve out the hours you can for writing.
The picture above is me at my keyboard during my scheduled writing time. All right, me and my cat. But I'm not going to tell you my schedule, because for you, it's irrelevant. I can't tell you the best schedule to have, because it's got to suit your unique circumstances and preferences.
So carve out a tailored writing time and stick with it. If you're just starting out as a writer, it may help write in a paper notebook. It's often easier to give yourself permission to write draft material if it isn't on a computer screen. If you feel empty, write lists of topics. Or journal. Talk to yourself about recent books you've read, and what you loved about them. If you've started a piece of fiction, write the next scene, warming up to it with a quick edit of the last one.
Be flexible, too. If you've made some progress, let yourself quit early. If you haven't, stick with your commitment to those hours. Keep distractions at bay. No phones, no household chores, no email. Remember that it may take you a long time to warm up to your writing session. Don't give up because you are doodling for the first fifteen minutes. Don't chastise yourself because you got nowhere. The next session could well produce a startling insight or piece of writing.
Your success as a writer depends on being faithful to a work schedule. Isn't that sort of a relief, that it isn't about raw talent?
These are my winter thoughts about writing fiction. Thanks for letting me know some of the things you want discussed--I'll work them in. Meanwhile, how about a New Year's resolution to set a writing schedule?