Falling Sky

9/30/09

Muse's Resistance


I take this opportunity to direct your attention to a slightly gushy review (by the AR Project, over at Strange Horizons) of Muse's new, sciencefictional, proggish release. The Project loves it prog, and of course loves its science fiction, so is particularly pleased when the two coincide. And isn't the album's cover an appealing piece of work? The ocular 'O' of that colour-sample chart pierced by the filed-off, orange, pyramidic A, with its defiant tiny human passenger. Very striking. I'm not sure I understand what it is, exactly ('resistance', presumably) or why there are two shells of multicoloured hexagonals surrounding the earth. Nevertheless, UK readers of a certain age will understand what I mean when I say: 'I'll have an M, please, Bob...'

9/29/09

The Office of Shadow final cover


Here's the cover for my next novel, The Office of Shadow, the sequel to Midwinter. It continues the story of the struggle between the Seelie Kingdom of Queen Titania and the Empire of Mab. It's a story of high adventure and espionage in Faerie; if Midwinter was "The Dirty Dozen with elves," then this is "The Sandbaggers with Elves." That fellow on the cover is Silverdun, Mauritane's stalwart companion from Midwinter, and the young lady with him is Sela, a new character with an extremely weird and troubled past.

The beautiful cover artwork is by Chris McGrath, and the cover design is by Grace M. Conti-Zilsberger. (Click the image to embiggen.)

In other news, I've sold the German rights for both Midwinter and Office of Shadow to Verlagsgruppe Lübbe. Will I become the David Hasselhoff of fantasy literature? Only time will tell.

9/24/09

For Your Viewing Pleasure: The Silver Skull

Cover Illustration © Chris McGrath
Design by Jacqueline Cooke

A devilish plot to assassinate the queen, a cold war enemy hell-bent
on destroying the nation, incredible gadgets, a race against time
around the world to stop the ultimate doomsday device...
and Elizabethan England's greatest spy!

Meet Will Swyfte—adventurer, swordsman, rake, swashbuckler, wit, scholar and the greatest of Walsingham's new band of spies. His exploits against the forces of Philip of Spain have made him a national hero, lauded from Carlisle to Kent. Yet his associates can barely disguise their incredulity—what is the point of a spy whose face and name is known across Europe? 

But Swyfte's public image is a carefully-crafted façade to give the people of England something to believe in, and to allow them to sleep peacefully at night. It deflects attention from his real work—and the true reason why Walsingham's spy network was established. 

A Cold War seethes, and England remains under a state of threat. The forces of Faerie have preyed on humanity for millennia. Responsible for our myths and legends, of gods and fairies, dragons, griffins, devils, imps and every other supernatural menace that has haunted our dreams, this power in the darkness has seen humans as playthings to be tormented, hunted or eradicated. But now England is fighting back! 

Magical defences have been put in place by the Queen's sorcerer Dr. John Dee, who is also a senior member of Walsingham's secret service and provides many of the bizarre gadgets utilised by the spies. Finally there is a balance of power. But the Cold War is threatening to turn hot at any moment... 

Will now plays a constant game of deceit and death, holding back the Enemy's repeated incursions, dealing in a shadowy world of plots and counter-plots, deceptions, secrets, murder, where no one... and no thing... is quite what it seems.

9/23/09

io9 Book Club Selects The Quiet War for Inaugural Read

io9 have announced that they are starting a book club, and choosing as their first selection, Paul McAuley's Clarke award nominated The Quiet War,conveniently just out from Pyr this month. They write:
The Quiet War explores the tensions between two factions in the solar system. The Outers, who live on the outer planets and their moons, are post-humanists by default. They're reengineering their bodies and environments to make it possible for human societies to spread far beyond Earth. But the Earth governments of Greater Brazil want to stop the Outers' blasphemy against pure, untrammeled Nature. Of course, the real threat is the Outers' greater productivity, scientific innovation, and success as a society. A series of skirmishes escalate into a war, and that's when things get explosive. We picked this novel because it's packed with great ideas and fascinating science.
The book club will discuss the book online Thursday, October 8th, at which time io9 readers will be asked to provide questions for Paul McAuley for a special Q&A follow-up session. So if you were thinking of checking the novel out, now's a good time!

9/21/09

It's here!

This Crooked Way by James Enge is shipping from Amazon. Stores follow soon. Just got my copies yesterday. Damn do they look good!

Baxter's Ark


I've just finished reading Stephen Baxter's new novel, Ark, and it's superb: the sequel to his end-of-the-world narrative of global inundation, Flood, it's an immensely readable account of the building and flight of a starship to take a select few humans to an extrasolar planet where humanity can, hopefully, start again. I'll write a review when I've a moment; but until then I'll just note that the cover, above, strikes me as just lovely. I like the illustration very much; I like the design, and I like the shape and size of the font. Above all I love the way the arc (ha!) of the starship's launch mimics the curve of the 'a'; and the sharp diagonals of the 'k' take us down to the rocks at the bottom of the image.

9/16/09

Mars Now!

While gloom increases about the new NASA budget, widely feared to be too low to fund plans to a return of astronauts to the Moon by 2020, there's been some bullish noises about reconfiguring plans to send manned missions to Mars.

First, there's been a revival of Fred Singer's 'Ph-D project', which suggested establishing a forward base on one of Mars's two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos, before landing astronauts on the planet. It would be economic in terms of fuel, would provide a platform that would allow astronauts to control rovers on the surface of the planet in real time, and would enhance our knowledge of small bodies. The possibility that the moons may harbour ice deposits and could have collected material blasted off Mars by large impacts are enticing bonuses. And Russia's Fobos-Grunt mission, which plans to study Phobos in detail and land on its surface a probe that will return a soil sample to Earth, could pave the way for manned missions. (We'd better make up our minds relatively quickly; the orbits of both Phobos and Deimos and decaying, and in only ten million years the moons will enter the atmosphere and break up and bombard with surface of Mars with debris.)

Second, Paul Davies has an even more radical suggestion to cut costs: send explorers to Mars on a one-way ticket, and begin colonisation of the planet without any prelimary and expensive round-trip manned missions. Supplies could be sent ahead in robot landers; costs would be slashed by 80%; there is, he claims, 'no shortage of eager scientists, young and old, who say they would accept a one-way ticket'. Anyone who's read Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars will feel a definite tingle of recognition; although the pioneers in Robinson's novel were preceeded by manned expeditions rather than a horde of versatile robot explorers, the ethos is the same. As, no doubt, would be the human complications. It's hard to believe that Davies and his supports will overcome NASA's cumbersome caution (although maybe the Chinese would be more receptive), but I thought this raison d'etre very fine:
'A worldwide project to create a second home for humankind elsewhere in the solar system would be the greatest adventure our species has embarked upon since walking out of Africa 100,000 years ago, and provide a unifying influence unparalleled in history.'
And after Mars, why not the moons of Jupiter and Saturn?

Xposted to Pyr-o-mania.

9/15/09

Hitchhiker's Guide Reissues


What do we think of the cover-art for the reissues of Douglas Adams's sublime Hitchhiker's Guide novels? I know what Ian Sales thinks. He thinks the 'new cover art for Hitch-Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy novels makes them look like self-published books.' That's what he thinks. (Check out the complete set here)

9/14/09

The World Falls Under His Shadow

Next summer will see the release of debut author Jon Sprunk's new fantasy, Shadow's Son, the first in a trilogy that continues with Shadow's Lure and Shadow's Master. I'm getting close to being able to debut the awesome cover from Michael Komarck (our first time working with him and all I can say is, "Wow".) Meanwhile, Shadow's Son is still a year out and already making a splash. Jon has already sold French rights to the entire trilogy to Bragelonne, and right on its heels, UK rights to Gollancz. Obviously, this suggests good things ahead for this author. Here's just a quick tease about the novel:

In the holy city of Othir , treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples.

Oh, and Jon will be attending the forthcoming World Fantasy Convention in San Jose, and he won't know anyone, so seek him out if you are going to be there. I'm sure if you tell him "Lou promised you would buy me a beer," he'd be happy to.

Go West, Not-So-Young Man!

Having just completed his first military SF series (which concludes with Starship: Flagshipthis coming December), five time Hugo-winning author Mike Resnick is going to turn his talented hand to a new first for him - steampunk! We've just signed with him for The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale. Picture a fractured America, steampunk technology, cowboys, rayguns, Native American shamans, and, drum roll please, zombies! I feel very safe guaranteeing that the West will never be the same.

Mike Resnick has won an impressive five Hugos and been nominated for twenty-eight more. He has sold fifty-eight novels and more than two hundred short stories. He has edited fifty anthologies. His work ranges from satirical fair, such as his Lucifer Jones adventures, to weighty examinations of morality and culture, as evidenced by his brilliant tales of Kirinyaga. The series, with sixty-seven major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction.

Behold - The Coming of the Vampire Empire! (Cue scary music)

The vampires are coming. Oh, they've been here already, in the comedic fantasy of Mike Resnick, and things suspiciously like vampires (but also unlike them) have popped up in the works of Tom Lloyd and Joe Abercrombie. There are definitely vampire-esque entities in James Barclay and James Enge's work. But we haven't done an out and out, unabashedly vampire book yet at Pyr. This is nothing against bloodsuckers, honest, but I've been looking for the right vampire book, the kind of vampire book that says "this is how Pyr does vampires."

And I've finally found it.

Enter Clay and Susan Griffith, and their Vampire Empire. The first book in a projected series ("Vampire Empire" is the series title, book one is most likely going to be titled "The Greyfriar"), this is alt. history steampunk vampire. Let's say that again. "Alt. history steampunk vampire." We've just signed it up--most likely for a late fall 2010/early spring 2011 publication--and boy does it push all the right buttons!

"We are thrilled to be working with Pyr books on Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar," they say. "Pyr has always published the sort of rich fantasy we enjoy reading, so it’s a great treat to write for them too. Vampire Empire is the culmination of our love of fantasy, history, and rousing pulp adventure. The world of the novel consists of familiar Victorian history blended with strange twists to create a vast tapestry of politics and war fueled by odd steampunk technology. We think our take on vampires will excite you. But mostly, we promise that we know, as any reader does, characters count more than anything else."

So who are these folks?

Clay and Susan Griffith are a husband and wife writing team who specialize in blending fantasy and historical adventure in prose and graphic novels. They have published works ranging from the dark fantasy novel Banshee Screams (Pinnacle Entertainment 2002) to many issues of the satirical comic book The Tick (NEC Press). Clay and Susan met, probably not surprisingly, in a bookstore. Clay is a professor of history and Susan has a background in journalism, technical writing, and graphic design. They were married in Scotland, the country that provides much of the setting of Vampire Empire. Clay and Susan live with a cat in North Carolina. They have been writing together over 20 years, and are still married!

I'm very pleased to welcome them into the Pyr fold and looking forward to springing their genius on you in due course.

The Time Shaggers


Sorry for going all Austin Powers on you in the title line there; but I thought I'd do some more leavening of Lou's blog-mission. He seeks to bring you SF excellence; I seek to balance that with examples of books that are, shall we say, differently-excellenced. There's today's example, top-of-post, with its ungainly blob-of-psychedelia cover design (a sort of cover that seems to me terribly characteristic of its era): Sam Merwin, Jr.'s The Time Shifters (1971).

It's a splendid little book, actually: pretty much bad from start to finish, but gloriously bad, all spun from a nicely batty premise. Its characters travel through time using high-tech ‘passports’, but in addition to the usual toing-and-froing, grandfather paradoxing and so on, we discover that one side-effect of time-travel is to make the traveller fantastically randy, which enables Merwin to fill most of the book with descriptions of pneumatic sex. What does it feel like to travel through time? ‘It was a fierce, rutting, animal instinct, that of a caveman under a full moon’ [73]. The results make conventional sex seem tame: ‘She kissed him then, and the touch of their loins drew sparks’ [101]. Ouch. Other choice stylistic moments:

‘He ran the light-blue eyes up and over his nephew’s massive person.’ [6]

‘It sounded like a hen laying an egg. Uncle Phil had a hideous laugh.’ [7]

‘She was wearing a skin-tight jump suit of silver lamé with lipstick to match’ [14]

‘The brandy [was] decanted from a pharmacist’s jar labelled Denatured Alcohol, the soda from an aerated keg lettered Liquid Sodium.’ [51]

‘Paula moved like a wraith with a hotfoot, grabbed Chuck by the wrists and spun both of them through an arched opening in the hedge.’ [59]

‘He received an impression of a small sea of featureless pink faces staring at him in wide-eyed astonishment.’ [69]

‘At that moment his libido seemed to have gone into reverse.’ [73]

‘Finding that my new love is my great-grandfather, however happenstantially, requires a certain amount of getting used to.’ [94]

‘Considering this horrid fact, he drained his vodka and soda and motioned to Mullarney to shove up another sheep.’ [95] [Since Mullarney is the barkeep, this is a cocktail, I presume; although it’s not exactly clear in the text]

‘She compressed her luscious African-American lips and shook her head, causing her pigtails to fly in circles behind her ears. “Maybe you need another kind of therapy.”’ [99]

‘It’s …the long accepted theory that a man who could travel faster than light could spin off this planet for a light year or two and return that much younger.’ [172]

9/11/09

This is Mutiny, Mr Christian!!

Mike Resnick's Starship: Mutiny, the first book in his Starship series, has just appeared for the Kindle. This is good, given that books 2 and 4 have been up a while. Also, before you say it, other ebook formats are coming soon!

9/6/09

Into The Night

While browsing Emily Lakdawaller’s inestimable blog at the Planetary Society’s site the other day, I came across this great list of active planetary probes - where they are and what they are doing in various parts of the Solar System. What really caught my attention was the entry right at the end of the list: a reminder that the two Voyager probes are still going strong.

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 on Grand Tour trajectories that took advantage of a favourable alignment of the outer planets. I was in the middle of my Ph.D studies back then; the space shuttle prototype Endeavour flew for the first time; Elvis died; and Star Wars was released. In 1979 both Voyagers swung past Jupiter, discovering volcanoes on Io and evidence for an ocean beneath the surface of Europa. I gained my Ph.D that year and began my first stint of postdoctoral research; Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister; Sid Vicious died in New York; Y.M.C.A. was the best-selling single in the UK. The next year Voyager 1 reached Saturn and swung past Titan to investigate the moon’s dense atmosphere, a manoeuver that flung it out of the plane of the ecliptic and ended its planetary tour (instead of flying past Titan, it could have gone on to reach Pluto, in hindsight a better option, but back then we didn’t know that Pluto had three moons and an active atmosphere).

Voyager 2 reached Saturn in 1981, the year I started work in the University of California, Los Angeles. Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married; President Reagan was shot in a failed assassination attempt; the first personal computer was launched by IBM. In 1986, when Voyager 2 swung past Uranus and discovered that one of its moons, Miranda, looked as if it had been shattered and badly reconstructed, I was working in Oxford University, Chernobyl blew its top, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated soon after launch, and Phil Collins won a Grammy. Not a great year, all in all. Voyager 2 reached Neptune in 1989, discovering evidence for active geysers on the ice giant’s largest moon, Triton. In the same year I moved
to St Andrew’s University in Scotland to take up my first (and last) real job after a decade of scraping by on postdoctoral grants; the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Empire began to crumble away; George Bush the First succeeded Ronald Reagan as US President; the Chinese pro-democracy movement was crushed at Tiananmen Square; the first full episode of The Simpsons was screened.

Twenty years later, The Simpsons is still going; I’ve written a bunch of short stories and two novels that have made extensive use of images of the outer planets and their moons taken by Voyager 1 and 2; and the two probes are still sending data back to Earth. Voyager 1 is 110 Astronomical Units - 16.5 billion kilometres - from the sun, beyond the Kuiper Belt and every known large body in the Solar System apart from long-term comets; Voyager 2 is presently some 90 AU from the sun. Both probes have passed through the termination shock point, where the velocity of solar wind particles falls below its speed of sound and becomes subsonic. At some point, as yet unknown, they will pass through the heliopause where the flow of solar wind particles is halted by pressure of gases in the interstellar medium, and enter true interstellar space. They will continue to transmit data about the Solar System’s boundary until they no longer have enough power to run any instruments, around 2025, 48 years after they were launched. They’ll continue to fall through interstellar space (unless they are intercepted by alien probes) until, after a couple of billion years or so, their fabric finally disintegrates. They carry with them greetings from Earth, including two golden phonograph records (remember them?) containing images and sounds from Earth. One of the musical tracks is Blind Willie Johnson’s haunting blues lament, ‘Dark Was Night, Cold Was The Ground.’ Never as dark, nor as cold, on Earth, as the long night through which Voyager 1 and 2 are sailing.



(Clip from Wim Wenders' contribution to Martin Scorsese's The Blues; Ry Cooder used Johnson's music in his soundtrack for Wenders' Paris, Texas, released in 1984, two years before Voyager 2 reached Uranus.)

9/4/09

Brave New Wurlitzer


I'm starting to feel my role, here, is to provide balance: Lou lays before you excellent cover after excellent cover. It's going to get cloying unless every now and again I toss in a cover that's, well, not quite so excellent.

Today's example comes via the estimable John Holbo, who calls it 'a fun take on the Aldous Huxley classic' and 'a tarted-up middlebrow style of cover design.' That's philosophers for you. 'Fun'? That lady's dress is clearly on fire. Where's the fun in that? You'd need to have a cruel sense of humour indeed to find any fun at all in such a scenario. Of course, every cloud, even a cloud of smoke, has a silver lining: and in this case the blaze has at least resulted in a blush-sparing smoke loincloth for the nude geezer. But this doesn't address the key questions, viz: what's up with the lady's left armpit? Why are they stepping through the gateway from The City On The Edge Of Forever? What's with the giant crystal wurlitzer in the background? What has any of this to do with the novel, at all?

9/3/09

It's here!

Paul McAuley's brilliant novel of war (and anti-war), The Quiet War,is now in stock at Amazon. Should be in stores soon too. Here's another shot at Sparth's gorgeous art and Jackie's gorgeous design: