Microcosms

Microcosms, a collection of short-short stories by Tony Ballantyne and myself, is out today from Infinity Plus Books. Here’s a bit more about the volume…

From the publisher:

Philip K. Dick Award nominated writers Tony Ballantyne and Eric Brown bring together forty-two fantastical short-short stories, featuring new takes on every SF trope from alien invasion, robots, and time-travel, to stellar exploration, the future of computing, and the nature of the human soul. Tony Ballantyne is the author of the acclaimed Penrose hard SF novels, Twisted Metal and Blood and Iron, as well as the groundbreaking and surreal fantasy novels Dream London and Dream Paris. Eric Brown has written many SF and crime novels including The Kings of Eternity, Kethani, and The Serene Invasion. Together they are a hundred years old.

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For more information about the collection, click here.

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Introduction to Micro…

Eric Brown

This volume came about one summer a few years ago when Tony came up to Scotland with his family. We were wandering around the pretty seaside town of North Berwick and talking about recent short stories we’d written. Tony happened to mention that he was working on some short-shorts, which he hoped to place with Nature, and I mentioned a short-short market that I’d recently sold to, Daily SF. I then suggested that, when we had enough tales to form a volume, we should gather them all together and attempt to find a publisher.

Years passed; we wrote short-shorts between bigger projects, and Keith Brooke who runs Infinity Plus Books expressed an interest in publishing Microcosms.

Tony Ballantyne is not only a fine novelist – as equally adept in the Hard SF sub-genre as in Fantasy – but he’s a gifted short-story writer, with several of his stories gracing the pages of Analog and other top markets, and appearing in Best of the Year anthologies. He also excels at the short-short story, where originality and incisive vision are requisite. In his intelligence, playful wit and economy of language, the writer he most reminds me of is the late, great Robert Sheckley. This volume contains such gems as “Dear Burglar”, “The Cleverest Man in the World”, and “The Scooped Out Man” the latter an alien invasion tale to end them all. But my favourite is the irreverent, witty, self-referential story about a writer, Another (almost) True Story, a tale which I would have given my right arm to have written.

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Introduction to Cosms…

Tony Ballantyne

Eric and I met at the 2Kon SF convention in Glasgow in the year 2000. We both had a short story up for the BSFA award. Eric won, I lost, but by way of consolation I made a great friend.

Friendship aside, I remain a massive fan of Eric’s. He has written an impressive number of novels and short stories; his output includes what is possibly my favourite short story collection ever: Kethani (Solaris 2008). As well as being a prolific writer he is an eminent critic with a deep knowledge of the genre. He is a keen champion of the new, the forgotten and the underrated, and is a valuable source of advice to writers no matter where they are in their career (he taught me the trick of just listening to the subconscious, of getting things down as quickly as possible on the page.)

In this collection you’ll find scintillating flashes of his talent. His writing is by turns witty, melancholic, horrifying and deceptively gentle, but always imbued with his trademark sense of humanity. Take a look at “In the Recovery Room”, “Meeting Myself on Planet Earth”, “Memorial” and “History of Planet Earth” to see what I mean.

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 9

Whatever Became of the McGowans?” (Galaxy, May, 1970.)

Coney rings the changes yet again with his ninth published story.

Richard and Sandra Nevis have bought a homestead from the Jade Exploitation Company on the planet of Jade, where they grown Jadegrass which they then sell back to the company. They also feed the grass into a convertor which molecularly transforms the grass into foodstuffs for their own consumption. They’re sequestered on the planet, many hundreds of miles form their nearest farmer neighbours – though there is a vacant farmstead next door to them, empty when they arrived, which once belonged to the McGowans. “Whatever Became of the McGowans?” they wonder from time to time throughout the story. They find out after things start going wrong: a harvester speeds up and runs out of control; they suffer a peculiar lassitude, and their skin turns yellow; their newborn son is similarly listless and jaundiced… Things come to a head when Richard starts to grow tendrils from the soles of his feet, and takes root in the soil of the planet.

If Coney had had this idea later in his career, I suspect he would have spun a more plotted, character-oriented tale. As it is, it’s a pleasing, easy-to-read horror-cum-mystery story, with a bit of an info-dump of a dénouement: for all that it’s yet another entertaining read.

Rating: 5/10

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Space Ace

A new edition of my children’s book, Space Ace, is now available from Barrington Stoke. This version has been rewritten and edited to appeal to the 5-7 year age range.

Billy can’t wait to take a trip around Earth with Grandad. But Grandad’s old spaceship malfunctions and soon the two are zooming off on a fantastic tour of outer space.

Space Ace is a fast-paced story for younger children packed full of amazing facts about the solar system.

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XB-1

The Czech science fiction magazine XB-1 has just translated the first story in my Salvageman Ed series, published over here in the fix-up novel as Salvage, from Infinity Plus Books. The first tale is entitled Dissimulation Procedure”. It will be followed soon by “The Soul of the Machine”, “Three’s a Crowd”, and the rest on due course.

Here’s the rather striking cover…

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 8

zzzzzzzzzzzzconeyTroubleshooter” (If Science Fiction, May-June, 1970.)

I’d read “Troubleshooter” before, many years ago, but returned to it now with no memory of the story. Having read it again, I understand why. It’s a very minor, pedestrian piece about DeGrazza, the troubleshooter of the title, who works for Galactic Computers. When ships belonging to aliens from Altair begin malfunctioning, the aliens blame Galactic Computers, and the company sends DeGrazza to find out what’s going wrong. The Altairean ships are fitted with both Terran computers and their own organic ones – made from the aliens’ minds, which are telepathic. DeGrazza, a troubled soul plagued by nightmares, solves the problem, and is thanked by the aliens: “Goodbye, DeGrazza of the tortured mind and plunging compulsions. […] You are so immersed in self-pity that you are hardly aware of those around you…” which, it is hinted, is why he makes a successful troubleshooter.

The problem with “Troubleshooter” is that DeGrazza’s character is not successfully integrated into the story – we’re told what he’s like, not shown. Also, the plot is perfunctory. In later tales, plotting will become Coney’s marked strength.

Rating: 3/10

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 6 & 7

“Discover a Latent Moses” (Galaxy, April, 1970.)

Although I’ve read this story in Coney’s fix-up novel Winter’s Children, I haven’t read it as a stand-alone, so I’ll comment on the story when I’ve tracked down the issue of Galaxy, April, 1970.

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nwwrtngsns1970The True Worth of Ruth Villiers” (New Writings in SF 17, edited by John Carnell, Dobson Books, 1970.)

Michael Coney’s seventh published story is a wonderful indictment of conservative politics. It’s narrated by a minor civil servant called Archer who works for the local government as a Valuation Officer. We’re in near future Britain and the Darwinist party is in power. Under this regime, every citizen has a Social Value Credit Rating, calculated according to their profession and earnings. Their Value dictates the level of assistance they can hope to receive from the state, when it comes to healthcare or – in the case of Ruth Villiers – when they suffer an accident.

Seventeen year-old Ruth has fallen down an old mineshaft which has collapsed, burying her alive under tons of rubble. Archer is sent in to assess the level of help she can afford, and he decides that an excavator and crew can be brought in to dig her out. However, when the digger hits a seam of granite, the cost of cutting through the seam escalates beyond the girl’s Credit Rating. Archer, a purblind proponent of the system until now, begins to have second thoughts – suffers, in the parlance of the time, Undue Sympathy – and even considers hiring, illegally and to his eventual cost as he might lose his job, a more expensive excavator to cut through the granite. But before Archer weakens fully, his boss comes to the site and suggest a cheaper alternative: a slim bore hole will be drilled, allowing air, food and water to reach the stricken girl. This she can afford, until her Credit Rating runs out in a few months…

She is saved, in the end, by an unforeseen event – a deus ex machina, it might be said, but one that fits beautifully into the remit of the story.

Archer – at one point almost convinced of the inhumanity of the system – has his narrow-minded politics vindicated: “Surely, now, nobody can criticise the system. […] Not even me.”

The True Worth of Ruth Villiers” is Michael Coney’s best tale to date, a nicely crafted, well characterised story of social injustice and the inability of some to acknowledge iniquity. It prefigured the rise of Thatcher by almost ten years.

Rating: 7/10

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Trump

So America has voted a narcissistic, bigoted fascist as its leader. There’s an excellent article about the debacle in the New Yorker.

I’m glad I live in liberal Scotland, but there’ll be no getting away from his evil influence.

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