Category: Guest Post
by August 30th, 2011-
Here come some idle, and quite possibly delusional, musings prompted by a comment from The Exalted Beings of New York (aka the fine folk at Orbit’s US HQ).
Said comment arose in the context of casual discussion about The Edinburgh Dead, my new novel. It’s historical dark fantasy with a liberal seasoning of crime fiction, horror, urban fantasy, science fiction, gothic thriller etc. etc., and that was kind of the gist of the comment: you’ve got a lot of genres in there, haven’t you, Ruckley? Care to explain yourself in public?
Why, yes I do. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 30th, 2011-
So, two of my all-time favourite fictional characters aren’t actually in books, but on screen. And they were both created by Joss Whedon. I’m talking Spike, aka William the Bloody (Awful Poet), and Wesley Wyndham-Price.
On the surface you might not think they have anything in common. Spike burst into Sunnydale as an unrepentant villain, while Wesley minced his way in as the replacement Watcher for Giles, emphatically a white hat. But as the series, and their characters, evolved, as they transitioned from the world of Buffy to the world of Angel, both characters became more and more nuanced, less and less one-note. More complicated. More ambiguous. And as the lines blurred, so did their allure increase. Spike started doing good, but not always for the right reasons. Or for pure, unselfish reasons. And Wesley shed his goody two-shoes persona to reveal a man far darker and more damaged than any of us had ever suspected.
But what they also had in common was, at the heart, enough self-knowledge to know they wanted better, they could do better, they needed better. And that struggle became integral to their journey through Whedon’s fictional worlds.
A few months ago, for various reasons, I started watching The Vampire Diaries. And it wasn’t too long before I found myself actively engaged in Damon’s story. Yes, Damon, the bad boy older brother who’d promised to wreak revenge on his younger brother for forcing him into vampirehood, and who delighted in causing misery and mayhem. The other brother? Stefan? The handsome central love interest, hero to the heroine, steadfast and loyal and honourable and good?
Damon is twisted, he’s complicated, he’s damaged and he’s dangerous. Which means, for me, he is infinitely more intriguing. He fascinates because of his flaws and scars, not despite them. It’s his moral ambiguity that immediately sparks my interest. Every day, he struggles. And in the struggle lies the story.
When it comes to fiction, the morally ambiguous anti-hero – at least for me – is vastly superior to the straight arrow good guy or gal.
The question is, of course, why? Surely we should be most attracted to the stalwart and shiny, morally unambiguous, never tarnished hero? And maybe we are, in real life. Or tell ourselves we are, anyway. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 24th, 2011-
There are authors who chest thump about military experience (the same way guys buff their muscle-cars) and then claim this experience is why their military science fiction is better than the other guy’s (or girl’s). Me? I drive an old Toyota pickup, which hasn’t been washed in donkey’s years, that’s missing one hubcap, and which shimmies at sixty because one rim is bad. It’s a great car, though. Much more useful than a Camaro, that truck carried me across the country twice, hauled just about everything in the world, and is so beaten up that people just laugh when they open the door and look inside – if they don’t throw up.
Germline is my debut novel and it’s military science fiction. But it’s also my response to what I see as a subgenre that’s losing its way, a middle finger to books in which the importance of military jargon overshadows that of sympathetic characters, believable tactics, at least some glimpse of strategy, and a decent ending. Don’t get me wrong: the books I’m flipping-off have a place. They entertain, and a large segment of science fiction readership buys and enjoys them. It’s just that the last time I picked up a military science fiction book and then dropped my jaw at its awesomeness was when I finished The Forever War (in 1983) so when 2008 rolled around it became put-up-or-shut-up time – time to write the book I’d want to read. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 19th, 2011-
Earlier this week I posted about my favourite female characters in fantasy fiction, and mentioned that Terry Pratchett’s characters clearly stood out. I vividly remember the very first Discworld novel I read. It was Pyramids, and I borrowed it from the Galston branch of my local council library, way back in … well, it was last century. Probably the mid ‘90s. I think. Anyhow. I’d never heard of the Discworld, or Terry Pratchett. All I knew was that the Josh Kirby cover looked amazing and I liked the blurb, so I thought what the hey? It’s not like I’m shelling out for a hardcover by someone I’ve never heard of.
Within a couple of pages I was truly, madly, deeply in love. And now I own all of the Discworld novels, as many in hardcover as I could find. They remain one of the great literary pleasures of my life, and my memories of the dinner I shared with Terry Pratchett and the late, wonderful David Gemmell (back when I had a bookshop and put on a convention with them as the guests) are something I will forever treasure.
Much has been said and written about the inclusion, or exclusion, of female characters in speculative fiction. A common observation made is that, so often, too often, women in fantasy, science fiction and horror fiction are reduced to objects of desire, sexual adjuncts to men, rendered pathetically helpless so they can be rescued, or are killed off as soon as possible in order to provide motive for the male hero’s journey, or pretty much airbushed out of the narrative altogether. Unfortunately there is merit in these criticisms of the genre, but one thing I can say without hesitation: you simply cannot point that particular finger at Terry Pratchett.
Throughout the course of his Discworld novels, Pratchett has created some of the most fantastic, three-dimensional and iconic female characters to be found in the realms of speculative fiction. In no particular order of personal favouritism they are:
Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, Angua, Lady Sybil Ramkin, Cheri Littlebottom, Agnes Nitt., Tiffany Aching, Susan Sto Helit. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 17th, 2011-
Don’t you just love reviews that start with those words? I do…at least when they are talking about one of my books.
When I have a new book out, I am in a state of total panic, worried that this time I’ve made a muck of it, that no one will like it, that the story will be totally rubbished by incredulous reviewers who can’t get past page 5. I’m torn between ignoring the internet, pretending it doesn’t matter if no one ever reviews the book, and googling furiously in the hope that someone has.
Every book is the same. Every publication date results in nail-chewing, chocolate-raiding terror on my part. Yep, eating chocolate helps a little, but the relief doesn’t last…that only comes when I have a good review. Then I know at least one person likes it!
And the odd thing is that every time my initial reaction to that first favourable review is total disbelief. Really? You liked it that much? Are you sure you read my book?
And the week the last book of a trilogy comes out is the worst of all. Because until I have produced an end that satisfies (most) readers, I really haven’t reached my goal. The Stormlord trilogy is over half a million words in length. That’s a long journey to keep a reader interested, and I am both touched and a little astonished that people stay with me — or rather with my characters — over the space of several years and that many words to find out what happens. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 16th, 2011-
I attend very little programming at science fiction and fantasy conventions because I’m too busy socializing with writers, readers, and publishing professionals I don’t have a chance to see except at conventions. At AussieCon last year in Melbourne, Australia, I happened to sit next to New Zealand writer Russell Kirkpatrick for an hour of scheduled book signing. Since we were not busy in the second half of the hour, we got to talking.
Russell is a geographer. He knows maps. He is passionate about maps from a thoroughly knowledgable point of view.
I am a world building dork. I love maps.
At the end of the autographing hour I felt we had just gotten started, but he had to run because he was giving a two hour seminar-workshop titled MAPS, FANTASY, CULTURE, & BOUNDARIES.
TWO HOURS of maps, fantasy, culture, and boundaries. Catnip! Read the rest of this entry »
by August 16th, 2011-
When I was asked to write some blog entries for the Orbit site, one of the great suggestions made was that I take a look at some of my favourite female characters in the realms of speculative fiction. So I did … and guess what I found? They were nearly all created by Terry Pratchett. I’ve decided to write another post just on his characters shortly, but in the meantime…
As much as I passionately adore Terry Pratchett’s female characters, I’m pretty fond of a few others, too. And if you pinned me in a corner and asked me to choose my absolute favourite?
My answer would be Lieutenant Eve Dallas, created by JD Robb, (aka Nora Roberts) for her futuristic ‘In Death’ crime series.
Eve is a homicide detective: tough, committed, courageous, prickly, unexpectedly vulnerable, dedicated, ruthless and relentless in the pursuit of justice. She is always surprising, never a stereotypical female character, sexy and appealing because of her strength … and the flaws that go hand in hand with it.
Even more exciting is that Eve’s not the only great female character in this series. Her partner in hunting murderous criminals is the fabulous Delia Peabody, who’s smart and feisty and loyal and brave. Broadcast journalist Nadine Furst is a great foil, psychologist Charlotte Mira and free spirit singer Mavis Freestone are both fully realised women with their own lives and agencies within the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 10th, 2011-
Whenever aliens invade, it doesn’t really seem to matter how technologically superior they are. They almost always lose. Star Wars took a lot of flack for its Ewoks beat the Empire elements, but when you think about it, this is almost how it always goes.
In Independence Day, aliens with giant spaceships that can devastate whole cities not only lose, they lose after having already devastated most of the planet. You would think after wiping out billions of human lives and destroying billions of dollars of vital infrastructure that they would have a lock on victory. And you’d be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »
by August 5th, 2011-
For some time now I’ve been running a feature on my website called SF/F Song of the Week. Like a bar which sells books and also serves chocolate, this has the merit of combining several really good things under a single roof. And I’ve invited a number of writer friends and other folk connected with the genre to contribute their choices — as ‘blogjay’ of the week.
The selections have been fabulous, as you’d expect, with such a huge wealth of science fiction and fantasy related songs to choose from. But for my money, the intros have been even better than the music — some of them are love poems to favourite songs, many are rich in autobiographical detail, and all offer insights into the writer’s heart and soul.
I relish Mike Cobley’s account of his experiences at University when selecting Space Station Number 5. Stephen Hunt has written a gorgeous account of his youth as a young geek in love with Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip; before maturing into the very grown up and sophisticated geek that he now is. Mike Carey wrote a joyous piece about Genesis, a band who also dominated my teenage years. Adam Roberts wrote a piece about Gary Numan that made me laugh out loud. Lilith Saintcrow chose a filk song that made me laugh out loud even louder. Read the rest of this entry »
by July 27th, 2011-
I love aliens. My belief is that science fiction is a genre which may and should deal with serious themes and complex ideas, but it’s also a form of fiction which is uniquely positioned to celebrate the full gamut of the fantastical and the amazing and the extraordinary.
In other words, unless the SF writer in question has a compellingly good excuse, there should ALWAYS be aliens.
Some aliens are allegorical; they’re a way to explore themes of, er, alienation and identity. Some aliens are just B.E.M.s — aliens of the bug-eyed and monstrous variety, who are only there to be zapped or blown up by a muscular hero. But some aliens are the good guys, who rebuke us with their higher moral code. That can be a little tiresome — my own theory/thesis is that for all its flaws, the human race will not prove to be the MOST evil or pernicious species in the universe. Plus, nobody loves a goody-two-shoes.
It is, I’d argue, pretty much impossible to write a credible alien, unless you ARE one. All a writer can do is hint at a strangeness beyond comprehension; which tends to result in aliens that come across like Buddhist monks, or dysfunctional nerds with no social skills. I know no examples of the former; but most of my friends fall into the latter camp. So, actually, aliens to me aren’t all that strange.
It’s also pretty much impossible to create an ORIGINAL alien. There are only so many permutations of carbon-based life-forms that can be imagined. Two legs, three, four, or many more. Head in the wrong place. Different eyes, more eyes than we’re used to, no eyes at all. The marvels of the insect kingdom have inspired many SF writers; the monsters of the ocean deep are also a great source of inspiration. But frankly, if it’s not a crab or an insect or a squid or a snake or a dog with the head of a jackal, it’s going to be an alien disguised as a human being. Read the rest of this entry »