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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 4

vision-of-tomorrow-2A Judge of Men” (Vision of Tomorrow, December, 1969.)

Coney rings the changes with his fourth published story, that old favourite staple of the SF genre – the biological puzzle tale. Spacers Bancroft and Scott come to the planet of Karamba – Bancroft is a trader, Scott a bio-ecologist – ostensibly to trade with the aliens for Shoom, but in fact so that Scott can work out why the Karambans’ birth rate is falling off. Shoom is a much sought-after commodity in the outside universe, a kind of pelt worth millions, and if the aliens die out then the precious Shoom will perish with them.

The Karambans are monopods, one-footed aliens with one eye, one arm, one ear, etcetera: “All in all, they look rather like sawn-off elephants’ legs with a grey daffodil stuck on top.”

Bancroft is an old-hand on the planet, Scott the eager neophyte, and when the latter trespasses upon a sacred Karamban burial ground, landing them in what at first seems like hot water, he makes a discovery that solves the puzzle of the aliens’ declining birth-rate. He comes up with a simple solution which is to the benefit of everyone, humans and Karambans alike.

It’s a minor, mildly entertaining story, graced with an excellent black and white illustration by Eddie Jones.

Rating: 4/10

~

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 3

t1690Sixth Sense” (Vision of Tomorrow, August, 1969.)

Sixth Sense” combines many features which will crop up again and again in Coney’s short fiction and novels in the years to come: a southern English coastal location, a young femme fatal, an ageing vamp, a lonely older man, and a bar-cum-hotel.

Jack Garner, who narrates the tale, runs a small guest-house on the coast. He’s a loner who hates the city and fled to the countryside ten years earlier. As the story opens, he’s distracted and impatient as he waits for a new arrival. He thinks back to an incident, three years before…

Then, two couples arrived for a short holiday, Hera and ‘Piggy’ Piggot – Hera ageing (but still attractive, in her own eyes at least) and ‘Piggy’, overweight and downtrodden. With them are the Blantyres, the mousy Joyce and husband Jim whom Jack characterises as a gigolo-type – he assumes that Hera and Jim are having an affair. With the Piggots is their precocious fourteen year-old daughter, Mandy. What follows over the next few days, as the sultry, stormy weather clamps down on the coast, is the playing out of Jack’s suspicions. Driven from the hotel by her mother’s infidelity and her father’s passive acceptance, Mandy climbs the dangerous Gull Crag cliff and gets into difficulties, only to be saved by Jack.

And how is this science fiction?

Well, in this future the human race is telepathic, and speech a thing of the past. Coney excels at portraying societies in which just one thing has changed, with massive implications, and “Sixth Sense” is a prime example of this. Jack Garner, our narrator, is a freak, a throwback… (but to reveal quite why he is would spoil the denouement) and it is this which allows him to save Mandy’s life.

The story closes on a typically Coneyesque, sentimental note, and a neat last line.

Sixth Sense” was reprinted in World’s Best SF 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, published by Ace Books.

Rating: 6/10

~

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On the short story front I have a few tales appearing in the following venues:

“Bartholomew Burns and the Brain Invaders” in Aethernet.

“Diamond Doubles” in Daily SF.

“The Ice Garden” in Improbable Botany.

“Emotion Mobiles and Sally” in Starship Seasons.

“Iris and the Caliphate” in Fifteen.

salvage-ebook-cover_600wInfinity Plus Books will be bringing out my episodic novel Salvage, which will feature the following original stories: “The Manexan Exodus”, “To All Appearances”, “Salvaging Pride”, and “End Game”, featuring Salvageman Ed, Ella and Karrie.

* * *

Friend and fellow SF writer Chris Beckett has won the 2013 Clarke Award for his fabulous novel Dark Eden. I’m sorry I won’t be at the Pickerel in Cambridge to celebrate, Chris, but I’ll be raising a pint in spirit. Well done! The sequel to Dark Eden, Gela’s Ring, is being serialised in Aethernet, and will be published by Corvus.

* * *

The 2013 Philip K Dick Award was won by Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery (Tor Books), and a special citation was given to Lovestar by Andri Snær Magnason (Seven Stories Press). Congratulations to both writers. My Helix Wars and Keith Brooke’s alt.human were short-listed.

* * *

The new online serial SF magazine, Aethernet, edited by Tony and Barbara Ballantyne, was recently launched at Eastercon in Bradford. It’s full of excellent work by the likes of Chris Beckett, Ian Whates, Philip Palmer and others. A long tale by me will be running in later issues. For more information: www.aethernetmag.com

* * *

Welcome to my revamped website – and a big thanks to Keith Brooke for setting it up and being patient with my IT ineptitude.

Speaking of Keith Brooke… While the website was down, I heard the happy news that my novel Helix Wars and Keith’s alt.human (Harmony in the US) have been short-listed for the Philip K. Dick award. So I have two shots at winning… or that’s how it feels, at any rate. Keith is a great friend, and I feel privileged to have been among the first readers of alt.human. The winner will be announced in Seattle on the 29th March.

It’s been a busy few months on the writing front, and the next few months will see a few books hot off the presses. Later this month my first foray into crime is due out. Murder by the Book (Severn House) breaks new territory: it’s a crime thriller set in London in 1955 and features thriller writer Donald Langham and his literary agent Marie Dupré, and their involvement in a series of murders in the London crime writing scene. It was fun to write – I could use simile and metaphor with much greater freedom than I have when writing SF, and it was nice to write in a ‘real’ world known to the reader. I’ll be writing the second book in the series later this year.

Also later this month comes the sumptuous Drugstore Indian Press edition of the collected Starship novellas, Starship Seasons, with a great… laid back, let’s say… cover from Tomislav Tikulin. Later this year will appear the hardback edition containing an original long short story, wrapping up events at Magenta Bay…

In May is the big one, The Serene Invasion, from Solaris, about aliens who invade, peaceably, and change things on Earth for ever. It’s about non-violence and hope, and was the hardest thing I’ve had to write for years. It’ll be graced by a wonderfully atmospheric cover by Dominic Harman.

And later this year the second book in the Weird Space series, Satan’s Reach, is released from Abaddon Books. This one was great fun to write and whistled out, and tells the story of telepath Den Harper and the bounty hunter he’s running from across the expanse of the Satan’s Reach.

Later this year Infinity Plus Books will bring out the collected Salvageman Ed stories, fixed up to read as a novel. I’ve yet to settle on a suitable title for this; so it’s simply Salvaging at the moment.

* * *

And this has just come in from my agent, John Jarrold…

PRESS RELEASE – SOLARIS COMMISSION ERIC BROWN STEAMPUNK NOVEL

Jonathan Oliver, commissioning editor of Solaris Books, has commissioned JANI AND THE GREATER GAME, the first in a new steampunk series by Eric Brown, set in India with a teenage female protagonist.  The novel will be delivered in spring 2014, for an autumn publication. The agent was John Jarrold, and the deal was for UK/US rights.

Eric Brown said: “I’m delighted and excited to be doing a ideatively different novel set at the end of the nineteenth century. It’ll be my first novel-length venture into the exotic territory of steampunk, and I’m already pulling on my plus-fours and brass-studded thinking cap. I love writing about India, and in Janisha Chaterjee I have a strong female lead who subverts all the norms – this will be steampunk done with spice!”

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Introduction to Ghostwriting, a collection of horror stories:

I write very few short stories that can be termed horror, ghost, supernatural, occult, or fantasy. In fact, in a career spanning twenty-five years I’ve written just eight (nine, if you include the novella A Writer’s Life) out of a total of around a hundred and twenty published stories. Most of those have been science fiction, a genre with which I feel more comfortable. The ideas I have just happen to be about the future, concerning the staple tropes of the genre: other worlds, space-flight, aliens, fantastical technologies, time-travel… I rarely get ideas that fit neatly into the horror genre or related sub-genres.

Now, why is this?

Perhaps it’s because my preferred reading, along with mainstream novels, is SF. I’ve been reading it since I was about fifteen and I know it inside out. I do occasionally read horror (or ghost or supernatural), and enjoy the likes of Robert Aickman, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, M.R.James, and more modern practitioners like Joe Hill, T.E.D. Klein, Adam Nevill. And while I can appreciate the literary merits of the genre, I always have to work hard at suspending my disbelief. Fundamentally, I don’t believe in the occult, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, etc… Therefore when I come to write about them, I find it that much more difficult to do so.

Now I can hear you crying, “Why! That’s ridiculous! What makes ghosts, ghouls, vampires etc any less credible than little blue aliens, FTL travel and all the other fantastical trappings of SF?” And I admit that there is, perhaps, nothing more credible about the furniture of SF… other than a sneaking suspicion I have that the things I write about in SF might, just might, possibly, in some way, at some point in the future, come to pass. At any rate, the characters I write about in my science fiction tales believe implicitly in the scientific process and believe that the fantastical things in their world have a credible, rational, scientific basis.

When I do get ideas for horror tales, I find that they’re about the exploration of character. They’re gentle horror tales, often metaphorical, with little or no blood and guts, precious few ghosts, ghouls, and certainly no werewolves or vampires. I prefer to call them psychological horror stories.

* * *

Helix Wars

At the moment I’m working on a follow up to my 2007 novel HelixHelix Wars will be set two hundred years after the events described in Helix – the arrival of the human colonists on the vast, helical construct made up of ten thousand worlds. In the new novel, the human race have the job of keeping the peace among the six thousand inhabited worlds of the Helix. However, when the humanoid Sporelli invade the neighbouring world of Phandra, the humans are drawn into a conflict that will have far-reaching consequences for all those involved.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

The Helix: a vast spiral of ten thousand worlds turning around its sun.

Aeons ago, the enigmatic Builders constructed the Helix as a refuge for alien races on the verge of extinction. Two hundred years ago, humankind came to the Helix aboard a great colony ship, and the Builders conferred on them the mantle of peacekeepers. For that long, peace has reigned on the Helix. But when shuttle pilot Jeff Ellis crash-lands on the world of Phandra, he interrupts a barbarous invasion from the neighbouring Sporelli – who scheme to track down and exterminate Ellis before  he can return to New Earth and inform the peacekeepers.

Helix Wars, sequel to the best-selling Helix, is a fast-paced adventure
novel about the ultimate threat to the Helix itself.

I’m sixty thousand words into the story, and it’s going well. I should have a first draft in the bag by the end of January – with a break for Christmas and the move north to Dunbar, East Lothian. Delivery date is mid-May, and publication is slated for October 2012.

How I work on longer, multi-viewpoint novels – and Helix Wars will probably have four POV characters – is to write each individual’s story in one linear block, taking him or her through the story until near the end. I then slice up the sections and interleave, rewriting to create cliff-hangers, tension etc. Then I write the finale. It’s not how every author goes about writing multi-viewpoint novels, but, as they say, it works for me.

* * *

E-Books

Several of my titles are now available as e-books.

My first novel Meridian Days, the novellas A Writer’s LifeApproaching Omega, the short stories “The Time-Lapsed Man” and “The Death of Cassandra Quebec”, along with my new collection The Angels of Life and Death, are all at Keith Brooke’s infinity plus imprint. Due out soon is my novel Penumbra.

www.infinityplus.co.uk/books

The first volume of the Virex trilogy, New York Nights, is now at Anarchy Books run by Andy Remic:

www.anarchy-books.com

My PS Publishing titles should be available soon from PS Publishing E-Books.

* * *

On the short story front, I have tales due out from Postscripts, Albedo One, The Hub, Andy Remic’s E-anthology Vivesepulture, and Daily SF.

* * *

My next book out, from Abaddon, will be The Devil’s Nebula, summer next year…

Starship Captain Ed Carew and his crew of two – ex-marine Lania Takiomar and ex-convict Gord Neffard – lead a carefree life of smuggling, gun-running and other illicit pursuits in a far future ruled by the fascistic Expansion Authority. But when an Expansion judiciary ship captures Carew and his crew leaving the planet of Hesperides, an out-of-bounds world governed now by the fearsome Vetch extraterrestrials, Carew, Takiomar and Neffard are sentenced to death…

Unless the agree to travel through Vetch territory in pursuit of an human colony vessel which set off for the Devil’s Nebula one hundred years ago.

But why are the Expansion authorities so eager to track down the ship, will Carew and co. survive the journey through Vetch territory – and what might they find when they arrive at the Devil’s Nebula?

The Devil’s Nebula is the first book in a thrilling space opera series, The Weird.

An evil race is threatening not only the human Expansion, but the Vetch Empire, too – an evil from another dimension which infests humans and Vetch alike and bends individuals to do their hideous bidding.

And only if humans and Vetch cooperate to fight of the fearsome Weird do they stand a chance of ensuring their survival…

* * *

My story “The House” was published in the anthology House of Fear, edited by Jonathan Oliver. It a rare (for me) excursion into horror territory, though the story is more psychological horror than out and out gore. Anyway, I think it’s the best tale I’ve written for some time.

* * *

The infinity plus and friends sampler/anthology, infinities, is now
available – free –  from:
www.infinityplus.co.uk/infinities

containing work by Linda Nagata, Scott Nicholson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Steven Savile and others.

* * *

The Kings of Eternity:

1999, on the threshold of a new millennium, the novelist Daniel Langham lives a reclusive life on an idyllic Greek island, hiding away from humanity and the events of the past. All that changes, however, when he meets artist Caroline Platt and finds himself falling in love. But what is his secret, and what are the horrors that haunt him?

1935. Writers Jonathon Langham and Edward Vaughan are summoned from London by their editor friend Jasper Carnegie to help investigate strange goings on in Hopton Wood. What they discover there – no less than a strange creature from another world – will change their lives forever. What they become, and their link to the novelist of the future, is the subject of my most ambitious novel to date. Almost ten years in the writing, The Kings of Eternity is full of the staple tropes of the genre and yet imbued with humanity and characters I hope you’ll come to love.

It’s already garnered a lot of great reviews, among which:

http://scotspec.blogspot.com/2011/03/book-review-kings-of-eternity-by-eric.html

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Meridian Days… An afterword

First novels are curious, paradoxical creatures. To begin with, they are rarely first novels – that is, they’re not often the first novel the writer has written and submitted for publication. They’re a second novel, or third, or fifth… or, in my case – I’m a slow learner – my twentieth.

I discovered the wonder of books and reading rather late, when I was fifteen. I was living in Melbourne, Australia, and during a boring holiday my mother, perhaps in desperation, thrust a Agatha Christie paperback at me and suggested it might keep me from under her feet for an hour or two.

The book – Cards on the Table – changed my life.

From that moment, I wanted to write detective novels. A few days after finishing book, I began scribbling a whodunit which petered out after a few pages.

But I was hooked.

I read everything Agatha Christie had ever written and then, another epiphanal moment in my reading and writing career, came across two SF books simultaneously: Wells’ War of the Worlds, and Silverberg’s Sundance and other stories. After a diet of safe, cosy, country house murders, these books came as something of a revelation.

I was hooked, again. I rarely read crime after that, but devoured science fiction.

And, of course, tried to write it.

I was somewhat behind the times, sequestered all the way out there in Melbourne. I’d come across those wonderful tacky curiosities, Ace Doubles, in a second-hand bookshop, and thought that I could write novel of this length, 40,000 to 50,000 words.

So I embarked on novel after bad novel, all SF adventure, all very short – dreaming of the day I would see my name on the garish, squat cover of an Ace Double. This was in the mid-seventies, and I had no idea that the Doubles were no more, that the editors, Wollheim and Carr, had moved on. I blithely wrote novel after novel, interplanetary intrigue, alien invasion, time travel, colony novels…

I continued scribbling SF after my family and I moved back to England in ‘78, novels just as badly-written and under-realised, but longer now, having discovered that Ace Doubles were no more. I was working full-time in a trouser factory and writing at nights and weekends. According to my files, in 1981 I wrote two novels, twenty-two stories and a children’s play (Noel’s Ark, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1982, and edited by Christopher Burgess, who was to become a great friend and mentor over the coming years); in ‘82 three novels, a dozen shorts, and a children’s play. I was churning out the stuff, and it wasn’t good.

In 1984 I decided to take a year off – from both working and writing – and travel around India. The decision, and the experience of immersing myself in that strange, wonderful, alien country, was instrumental in my becoming, at last, a published writer.

I returned to England in late ‘84 and began writing SF stories with Eastern themes, some of them set in India, informed by what I’d learned of people, and of myself, while I’d been travelling.

The stories began selling. Interzone took two in 1886, and published them the following year – “Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal-Zen Equation” and “The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived”. I sold another tale to a smaller magazine, and a couple of stories a year later to anthologies. In ‘89 an agent contacted me and asked if I’d written a novel, and if so could he represent me. I refrained from boasting that I’d turned out a trunkfull of terrible SF adventures. I trawled through the old mss and found nothing I was remotely happy with, and so instead bundled together a dozen short stories I felt did come up to standard, and wrote to him that I was busy writing my first novel.

By some miracle, he sold the collection. Martin Fletcher at Pan Macmillan bought The Time-Lapsed Man and other stories, and it came out as a paperback original in 1990.

All I had to do then was write a publishable novel.

And now it’s admission time.

I’m not a novelist.

That is, as a form, novels don’t come easily and willingly to me. At heart I’m a short story writer. I love the form, find infinitely fascinating the depth and variety of stories told within what might seem the limited remit of a few pages. I read them voraciously and write them constantly. They’re a labour of love.

Novels, on the other hand, while I admire them by other hands, I find a labour of Sisyphus to write.

So the thought of having to follow up my first collection with a novel good enough to be published filled me with trepidation.

I decided that it had to be short, and handle themes and concerns I’d written about before, and be set on a suitably bizarre colony planet, and be written in the first person, and be filled with sadness and regret and guilt, and have a bit of love in it, and feature artists…

According to my records, I began the novel on the 17th of May 1990 and finished the first draft on the 7th of August the same year. It was 63,000 word long – just a little longer than an Ace Double! It was Meridian Days.

I submitted it to my agent later that year and received a contract for the novel in March the following year.

It came out in an oversized paperback edition in 1992… and then the reviews started trickling in.

Fortunately, I’ve always had a pretty philosophical reaction to reviews. Even back then, with my second book, I could take with a pinch of salt what the reviewers might think and say of my work. My view is that, after all, a reviewer or critic is only one person whose opinion matters no more than thousands of other readers – the main difference being that reviewers have a forum in which to air their views. A book is written, is published, and goes out into the world: some people will hate the book, others will have a strong reaction neither for nor against, and some people – even if it’s a minority – will love the book. This is true, to varying degrees, of every book ever published. It’s a comforting thought. All the writer can do is try to make sure that their work is the very best they could write at the time, and then let it go.

The reviews of Meridian Days were mixed.

Mary Gentle in Interzone wrote: “There is really good stuff in here, but it is not used effectively… there isn’t any kick.” “… the concepts deriving from that science in Meridian Days, are strictly yesterday’s tomorrow.”

Stan Nicholls, writing in The Dark Side: “Brown will write splendid science fiction novels. He is just finding his feet and making the mistakes common to most first novelists…”

Brendan Wignall in the Oxford Times: “Meridian Days… reads more like an over extended short story […] Brown has yet to transfer his talents in the short story form convincingly to the arena of the novel.”

Then there were the good reviews. Edward James in Vector wrote: “I need hardly add that I recommend this novel very highly, and I have no doubt that it will confirm Eric Brown’s reputation as one of the very best of the new generation of British SF writers…”

And Gary K. Wolfe in Locus: “… a deftly plotted and suspenseful adventure which never loses its strangely elegiac and haunting tone.”

While Martin Tudor in Critical Wave thought: “This is a superb novel, peopled with beautifully drawn characters, living in a disturbingly alien world, caught up in murderous mysteries and chilling corruption. If you read no other sf novel this year, you must read this one.”

I had not read Meridian Days again until Scorpius Digital Publishing decided to bring it out as an e-book and Bridget McKenna e-mailed me the proofs.

I printed them out and procrastinated. I did other things. My wife and I had bought a house in the village of Haworth a year earlier, and things still needed doing to it. So I did them in lieu of getting down to work on the proofs, immersing myself in the horror of reading something I’d written what seemed like a lifetime ago.

And then I read the proofs, and refrained from re-writing the odd overdone description, or tampering with the dialogue, or adding drama to certain under-realised scenes (like Abe’s arrest on Brightside, and the fight scene between Bob and Trevellion’s guards in Abe’s dome). I could have started rewriting and never stopped, and turned Meridian Days into a hybrid collaboration with my earlier self.

I never realised this at the time, but now I can see that the novel is very influenced by some of my favourite SF writers. I’ve long been a fan of Michael Coney. He writes quiet, humane novels more concerned with how human beings are effected by science and technology than with the science and technology itself. His best novels, Brontomek!, Hello Summer, Goodbye and The Girl with a Symphony in her Fingers are full of mystery and intrigue, well-drawn characters, doomed love and a haunting quality of loss… just what I was trying for in Meridian Days. I can also detect Ballard in there, in some of the descriptions of the artists and their world. Lee Killough’s wonderful book Aventine was also influential: it’s the quintessential artists-in-an-alien-world sub-genre of SF, a series of linked short stories reminiscent of Ballard’s Vermilion Sands: Killough writes about love and loss and strange art-forms… and I think, in retrospect, that I borrowed the tone for Meridian.

My own view of the book, some thirteen years after writing it, is that it’s an honest first novel, obviously influenced, and very representative of my writing at the time, even if I have moved on to other concerns more my own, now, and fully dramatise the action in my later novels… I hope.

From ‘92, my writing career has stumbled, stuttered, and very occasionally (very occasionally!) flown, but never quite stopped. There have been times when novels haven’t sold, and publishers appeared intent on wrecking my career with decisions which seemed bizarre, to say the least – but less about them, the better.

It’s a long time since that fifteen year-old was given the Agatha Christie paperback and told to read it – twenty-eight years, to be precise, and thirty novels, and over seventy published short stories, and plays and articles and reviews and forewords and afterwords, and I’m still writing – more for young adults these days, and more mainstream than SF, though I always take time out to work on my first love, SF short stories – and I’m still reading and loving SF. From time to time I even take an Ace Double down from my SF shelf and caress it lovingly, much to the concern of my wife.

Eric Brown

Haworth

July, 2003

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