Archive for Commentary

An update regarding THE CULTURE: NOTES AND DRAWINGS by Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod

We are pleased to share an exciting publication update with everyone who has been looking forward to the release of The Culture: Notes and Drawings by Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod.

As fans of Iain M. Banks’ vastly popular Culture series will be aware, Iain painstakingly designed every element of the Culture’s universe long before the novels were first published. From ships to weapons, language to nomenclature, flora to fauna, the whole of the Culture existed in the form of intricate sketches, notes, tables and charts, many years ahead of its appearance in fiction.

This archival material provides a fascinating insight into Iain’s extraordinary mind. It was originally due to be published as a single volume, accompanied by text from the award-winning Ken MacLeod, who was a close friend of Iain’s. However, to ensure that Iain’s exceptionally detailed drawings can be appreciated in their original format and scale, we are delighted to announce that the material will now be published as two separate editions.

The first release will be a beautiful, full-colour, large-format landscape artbook called The Culture: The Drawings, which will present Iain’s drawings exactly as he intended them to be seen.

Following this, we will publish a Culture companion book that celebrates the world of the Culture through Iain’s own writing. With accompanying text from Ken MacLeod, it will include an extensive selection of Iain’s notes, tables and charts relating to the Culture universe, as well as extracts from the novels.

Given these changes in our publication plans, we are now cancelling the single edition entitled The Culture: Notes and Drawings that was scheduled for 14th October 2021. We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who had pre-ordered this single edition, and we’ll soon be announcing the release dates for the two new publications mentioned above, so please follow @orbitbooks on Twitter for updates.

The end of Shannara has begun…THE BLACK ELFSTONE is out now

The release of THE BLACK ELFSTONE (UKANZ) marks an important moment in the fantasy calendar, and for millions of fans around the world, it’s a bittersweet occasion.

It was in 1977 that Terry Brooks released what was to become one of modern fantasy’s most popular novels ever, The Sword of Shannara. It kick-started a fantasy phenomenon which has lasted for 40 years and over 28 novels, and today Terry’s Shannara books are still as popular as ever. He is lauded as one of the true masters of modern fantasy, with bestselling authors such as Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Philip Pullman, Christopher Paolini and Peter V. Brett all citing him as a powerful influence on their writing and the genre as a whole.

And now with THE BLACK ELFSTONE – the first book in the Fall of Shannara series – it is with both excitement and sadness that fans will see Terry start to bring the world to a conclusion.

In an interview with UNBOUND WORLDS, Terry had this to say:

“This four book set is intended to give readers new and old, but especially those who have stayed with me all these years, one last look at the Four Lands and a cast of characters who will write the final story to how things turn out in my lifetime, anyway, for this world. It does not tie up all the loose ends nor does it answer all questions. But it does look forward, it does hearken back, and it does spin one last tale of characters that will hopefully resonate with readers. Much of what you will read will remind you of things that happened in early books and of what I think were my strengths in writing epic fantasy for 50 years”

You can read the rest of the interview here, and THE BLACK ELFSTONE (UKANZ) is available in all good bookshops now.

From the Editor: Why I love Hugo Award-nominated NEPTUNE’S BROOD

Charlie Stross is a genius. If you ever get the chance to talk to him, you’ll find the ideas flying so thick and fast that you have to shift your brain into a higher gear just to keep up. You’ll also come away from the conversation with several new ideas about how you’re going to change the world and an armful of science fiction reading recommendations (for other writers’ work, not his own, because he’s just that kind of guy).

You know those moving walkways you get in airports? Where you’re walking down them, but the ground is also moving underneath your feet so that when you jump off at the end just walking at normal speed is like hitting a wall, smack, bang, and everything is moving at normal speed again, too slow?

Talking to Charlie, or reading his books, is like running down that walkway.

Now his books might not be for everyone – I understand some people (not us) prefer life in the slow lane, that some readers just can’t handle this much raw plot, character and awesome things happening, that they want something a bit more sedate. I imagine these are also the kind of people who prefer to cook without spices, who like bland TV and even blander books, because anything else might be a bit too much excitement.

But that’s why I’m so pleased by Charlie’s continued success at the Hugo awards. You love Charlie’s work, you’ve supported him at these awards again and again. This is an author who has broken records for the number of consecutive times one can be shortlisted for the Hugo Best Novel. His sixth shortlisting broke the record. NEPTUNE’S BROOD, in the 2014 awards, is his seventh.

NEPTUNE’S BROOD has mermaids, communist squid, roving gangs of accountant-privateers, zombies, spacefaring clergymembers, superhuman assassins, murder, backstabbing, family feuds and an incredibly intricate and utterly unprecedented financial con that could only occur in a universe with no faster-than-light travel.

If you’d told me before I edited NEPTUNE’S BROOD that something including all those elements would become one of my favourite novels, I might have laughed. How could one book fit so much in it? Now, I would tell you that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that every interstellar colony in search of good fortune must be in need of a banker.’

On top of the squid and the mermaids and the banking, NEPTUNE’S BROOD is also a genuinely moving story about a woman searching for her lost sister. The fact that that sister is actually a copy of her grown in a vat, and both characters are metahumans – the race artificially grown to replace humans when we proved too fragile for the trials of space travel – is by the by.

NEPTUNE’S BROOD is, according to io9, ‘the perfect book for our times’.

SFX call it ‘a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi mind-expander from one of the genre’s most reliable imaginations’, and SF legend Alastair Reynolds says ‘NEPTUNE’S BROOD is fast-paced and imaginative, with fascinating ideas about the economics of an interstellar society constrained by real physics. Above all else, though, it’s just terrific fun’.

But don’t listen to them. Read it yourself, and find out how a space opera with no faster-than-light travel can be the fastest, wildest ride of your life.

NEPTUNE’S BROOD, along with our other Hugo nominees, is currently available at a celebratory price of just £1.99 in the UK. Go, read, enjoy.

The most talked about new release of 2014

With supporters from Joss Whedon and Martina Cole to Lucy Mangan and Jenny Colgan, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is definitely a strong contender for this year’s most talked about book.

We’ve gathered a selection of the immense praise it’s had since hardcover publication in the UK in January, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Out in paperback this week in the UK, and released in beautiful hardcover in the US last week, we can’t keep track of how many people are expressing their love for this book.

If you’ve not read it yet, visit the official Facebook page or read the first chapter today and discover Melanie’s secret for yourself.


Anthony Ryan’s Top 5 Movie Sword Fights

BloodSongPreviously Anthony Ryan – author of this summer’s epic fantasy blockbuster BLOOD SONG – told us his top five movie battle scenes. This time around, in honour of the considerable amount of swordplay in his own novel, Anthony gives us his top five movie sword fights!

Scaramouche – Stewart Granger vs. Mel Ferrer

No fandangos here as Stewart Granger dons the guise of a masked clown in pre-Revolutionary France to pursue a deadly vendetta against Mel Ferrer’s Royalist assassin. This lavish version of Rafael Sabbatini’s swashbuckler is a technicolor spectacle topped off with the longest swordfight in movie history as Granger and Ferrer match blades the length and breadth of a Paris theatre. Can you guess who wins?

The Duellists – Harvey Keitel vs. Keith Carradine

Ridley Scott’s version of Joseph Conrad’s tale of two French cavalrymen fighting a series of duels spanning the Napoleonic Wars owes much of its visual flair to Scott’s background in TV advertising; lots of painterly landscapes and exquisitely lit interiors. But these are contrasted by the fight scenes which pack a brutally realistic punch, none more so than in the mid-point confrontation where Keitel and Carradine assail each other with sabres in a Paris wine cellar. Expert editing and choreography bring home the terror and exhaustion of physical combat to great effect. (more…)

David Gemmell and the Depiction of the Hero

Anthony Ryan is the British author of BLOOD SONG [UK | ANZ], a spectacular debut that is set to be this summer’s blockbuster epic fantasy release. Here, Anthony talks about the influence of David Gemmell on his work and the role of the hero in fantasy literature.

David Gemmell is now regarded as perhaps the finest exponent of the ‘heroic fantasy’ sub-genre, and his works present a rich variety of heroes, from mighty axe-wielder Druss the Legend to brooding gunfighter Jon Shannow, distinct from each other but often sharing the same traits of lingering guilt over the lives they have taken and the stark realisation that heroism often holds scant reward.

LegendThe hero has always been an aspirational figure, lauded for courage and self-sacrifice by lesser souls, and of central importance in fiction since ancient times. However, the real world is depressingly rich in heroic tales that fail to match the classic narrative. In Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers we learn that only three of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima survived the war and, despite a nationwide bond tour and huge press attention, went on to lead lives largely devoid of continued adoration and certainly not marked by any financial reward. It’s also highly unlikely more than a handful of modern Americans, other than military historians, could name them now (for the record: Corpsman John Bradley, Private Rene Gagnon and Private Ira Hayes, and yes, I had to resort to Wikipedia).

History does offer a few notable exceptions to the forgettable nature of heroes, antiquity tells of mighty Horatius holding the bridge to save Rome from the Etruscans and many in the UK no doubt still recall Colonel H. Jones winning a posthumous Victoria Cross for charging a machine gun post in the Falklands in 1982. But can you remember off-hand the name of the private who won a VC in Iraq in 2004? Or the nursery worker in London who suffered severe injuries whilst protecting children from a madman with a machete in 1996? If, like me, you had to resort to Google, you will know them as Sergeant Johnson Beharry and Lisa Potts. Sergeant Beharry is still in the army but continues to suffer from his injuries and Lisa Potts has experienced repeated bouts of severe depression resulting from post-traumatic stress. (more…)

Francis Knight interviews Benedict Jacka, author of the Alex Verus novels

In September we release CHOSEN (UK|ANZ), the fourth Alex Verus urban fantasy novel from Benedict Jacka. In an interview below, another Orbit fantasy star Francis Knight
(author of FADE TO BLACK – UK|US|ANZ, and the soon-to-be-released BEFORE THE FALL  –UK|US|ANZ) finds out more about the writing of this highly popular series . . .

Chosen, an Alex Verus urban fantasy novel by Benedict Jacka, perfect for fans of Jim Butcher, in an interview with Francis Knight, author of Fade to BlackFrancis Knight: So, Alex Verus, wizard in London. I suppose certain comparisons are inevitable, if a bit easy. So who and/or what were your inspirations for this series? I know when I start, the first idea generally morphs into something bigger. What was the initial spark, the first ‘what if…’ that led to the book becoming reality?

Benedict Jacka: The Alex Verus setting is an adult version of a YA setting that I’ve been using on and off for almost 15 years – the whole mage world and the magic types was something I first came up with back in 2000-ish.  Between 2000 and 2008 I wrote four YA books in the setting, all with teenagers as the main characters who all had elemental powers of some kind.  None of the books got published, so I kept giving up and shelving the series and trying something else.

In 2009 I decided to pull out the setting yet again to give it another shot, with an adult main character this time.  I was getting dissatisfied with the elemental mages as protagonists, though, and at some point I had the idea of using a protagonist whose abilities were information-based instead of brute force.  The rest of the story snowballed from there! (more…)

How to Build a Fantasy World: The Greatest Fantasy Cities

There’s something about cities in science fiction and fantasy. I mean I love the countryside myself, born a country girl, but anyone can write it – there’s only so much you can do without it coming across as odd or unbelievable (unless you’re a genius, obviously).

But where people, or aliens, get involved, anything can and does happen. In real life, and in fantasy. So, I love fantasy cities, towns, places that people have made, because they reflect the people who live there and, crucially, how they think.

So, a few favourites . . .

The Fellowship of The Ring by  J. R. R. Tolkien, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black Tolkien has his flaws but being unable to build believable yet fantastical cities is not one of them. I’d would love, I mean give an arm or something, to walk the ways of Rivendell, to see the Mallorn in Lothlorien, behold the golden hall of Meduseld in Edoras, wind the twisting streets of Minas Tirith. They are clearly fantasy posing as historical (okay, except the elves) but they feel so . . . real. Like they really do exist somewhere, I just haven’t found them yet.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to BlackOther cities come near to that status in my mind (hey, you never forget your first love). Camorr, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorawith its waterways, its dark and grubby underbelly, its Renaissance feel. A city that works, even though I know its fictional.

London Below, of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a London that feels almost, just not quite, the real one. As though if I scratched the surface on say Bakers Street, I’d find the Marquis, and all the rest, just waiting for me.Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black

Discworld’s Ankh-Morpork, which is so real to me I can smell the river when I open the pages of the book. Or maybe it just stinks that much! The little nooks and crannies that are a hallmark of an old, old city, the weird ways that seem normal to inhabitants but make outsiders wonder what drugs they must be on.

The thing that, I think, connects all these cities is their internal consistency. They work, such as they do, because thought has gone into working out how they work and why, factoring in how odd people tend to be. And each little factor just adds to the realness of the city.  Of course Ankh-Morpork has a thieves guild. Because it’s a city of moneymakers, and that’s a perfect example of taking what is there and squeezing it till gold coins fall out. The Elder Glass of Camorr shows us a city where things are not always as they seem, that even the city itself has two faces.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black Minas Tirith and Edoras reflect the men and women who live there – on constant guard, where skill at arms isn’t just posturing, it’s necessary, and so are the defences and the oaths and honour the people who live there take so very seriously, and for good reason – oaths and honour are perhaps all that have kept them alive all this time against what lies to the East. Hobbiton, by contrast, reflects the hobbits – laid back, little thought to anything much except is it pleasing, to eye or stomach?

Fade to Black, book one of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series by Francis Knight - in a post talking abotu the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettSo when I started ‘building’ Mahala for Fade to Black, I tried to make sure the city informed the people, and the other way around. My main character Rojan Dizon is who he is – a sardonic, womanising bounty hunter – at least in part, because of where he lives. I doubt he’d be such a cynic if he lived in Hobbiton. The very fact of the way the city is run, the geography of it, the politics of it, and how that affects him, has helped turn him into who he is. Anywhere else, Rojan’s brother Perak might have just been some amateur daydreamer who likes playing with things (and would have probably long ago blown himself up!), but due to Mahala’s reliance on alchemy, he’s given everything he needs and is told to go and invent things. Which he duly does, and then changes the city forever when he invents the gun.

That’s what makes a fictional city work or fail for me – it works, in context, with the people who inhabit it, they showcase each other. They just fit.



Francis Knight’s debut novel FADE TO BLACK (UK | US | ANZ), book one of the Rojan Dizon novels, is out now. Book two, BEFORE THE FALL (UK | US | ANZ), releases on 18th June this year. The third and final novel, LAST TO RISE, releases in November 2013.

Fade to Black, book one of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series by Francis Knight - in a post talking abotu the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettBefore the Fall, book two of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series, following Fade to Black, by Francis Knight - in a post talking about the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettLast to Rise, the third and Final Rojan Dizon fantasy novel by Francis Knight, following FADE TO BLACK and BEFORE THE FALL





ABADDON’S GATE and our Top Five Scary Spaceships!

Abaddon's GateNext month sees the release of ABADDON’S GATE [UK | US | ANZ], the third novel in the Expanse series that began with the critically acclaimed LEVIATHAN WAKES [UK | US | ANZ] and was continued in CALIBAN’S WAR [UK | US | ANZ].

io9 described the series as being ‘as close as you’ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form’ and they’re absolutely right. This is a space opera series that incorporates everything that we love about this subgenre: epic space battles, a terrifying alien menace and a healthy dose of mystery and intrigue. And of course, spaceships.

It’s a spaceship that actually kickstarts the entire story in the Expanse series – or to be more precise, an abandoned spaceship issuing a distress call (which I think we can all agree is never a good sign). Captain Jim Holden and his plucky crew investigate, and what they find quickly sends the entire solar system into chaos.

This got us thinking about creepy, abandoned spaceships (or not-so-abandoned-spaceships, as the case may be). Here’s our top five.

The Engineer ship from Alien








Thanks to Prometheus we now know a lot more about this spooky abandoned spaceship and its infamous sole inhabitant, the Space Jockey. But back when Alien was released, we knew no more than the doomed crew of the Nostromo, who decided – in true horror movie style – that going inside the creepy spaceship was a Really Good Idea. The gloomy interior of the ship, not to mention the discovery of its long-dead inhabitant, fuels a growing sense of tension and unease that makes this sequence one of the most gripping of the entire film. (more…)

Matthew Stover, author of the ACTS OF CAINE: “This I Believe”

“It is the greatest gift of my people, that we can bring our dreams to life for other eyes. Fantasy is a tool; like any other tool, it may be used poorly or well. At its best, fantasy reveals truths that cannot be shown any other way.”

–        Sören Kristiaan Hansen, aka Deliann Mithondionne, the Changeling Prince (BLADE OF TYSHALLE, book two of the Acts of Caine)

A few years before I was born, an American journalist named Edward R. Murrow hosted a program on the CBS Radio Network called This I Believe. Each episode only lasted five minutes, of which three and a half were given over to an essay by a different contributor, each speaking about the specific personal convictions that they felt gave their lives meaning. In the generally terrifying atmosphere of the early Cold War, this program was the closest the 1950s ever got to a viral video. It was the most listened-to English-language program in history at that time, and it spawned books, and records, and other radio programs – some of which continue to this day.

Heroes Die, book one of the Acts of Caine novels - a gritty action fantasy series by Matthew Stover, endorsed by Scott Lynch and perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks and Assassin's CreedWhen the good folk at Orbit decided to pick up my Acts of Caine novels, they asked me to contribute a blog-post-slash-promotional-essay or two for their website. I dislike writing about myself in any kind of biographical sense; if I thought that where I was born, my family, education, hobbies and pets and private life generally were any of your business, I’d write memoirs, not heroic fantasy.

I also have very little interest in commenting on my stories. My comments are the stories. Now – despite my dislike – I’ve done both of these things, and reasonably often, because that’s what people keep telling me I have to do to promote my books. The Good Folk, however, gave me license to write whatever I want.

I want to write about what I believe.

Most of what follows will be about story, because I make stories the same way I breathe: even to pause requires an act of will, and if I ever stop, it’s because I’m dead.

So… This I believe:


Not all honest writing is good, but all good writing is honest.


What’s not said is as important as what is. Often more important. Most of the trick to writing is knowing what to leave out.


It’s easier to make people cry if you’ve already made them laugh. And vice versa.


Whatever a story’s other virtues, if it’s not entertaining you, you’re wasting your time. A story is only great if it’s great for you. Personally.


What any work of art means depends on who you are when you look at it. What you get out of a book depends on what you bring to it. A book is only marks on a page (or pixels on a screen). The story is what happens in your imagination as you scan those marks. Books aren’t deep. Some readers are.