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Descent by Ken MacLeod

DESCENT Ken MacLeod

Author of 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated Intrusion tells a science fiction story for the twenty-first century – what happens when conspiracy theorists meet Big Brother?
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THE LASCAR’S DAGGERGlenda Larke

The start of a brand new epic fantasy trilogy from the author of the Stormlord series – full of scheming, spying, action and adventure.
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Posts Tagged ‘space opera’

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Anatomy of a Badass

When I first sat down to write Devi Morris, I only knew two things about her: 1) she wore powered armor, and 2) she was a total badass. Naturally, the first factor contributed greatly to the second. I dare you to put anything in in a sleek suit of powered armor and not have it become instantly more badass! But equipment alone doesn’t a badass make. If Devi was truly going to be who I wanted her to be, she would have to be just as awesome outside of her armor as she was in it. Her badassery needed to be inherent, a natural element of her being, and before I could write that, I needed to figure out just what a badass was.

What makes someone a badass is one of those things that is instantly recognizable, but hard to actually pin down in objective description. Heroes can be badasses, but not all badasses are heroes (in fact, the badass role is often saved for the villain, whose badassery is used as a threat). And while the classic image of a badass is an aggressive dude, badass is not an inherently masculine or macho descriptor as proven by the enormous number of female badasses in film, comics, television, and literature. It’s also not limited to violence. People who survive impossible situations are also proclaimed badasses even if their feat of badassitude was to simply continue living when most wouldn’t.

With all these differences, the most basic anatomy of a badass can be stripped down to three primary factors: a refusal to give up when the odds are stacked against them, a confident attitude, often aggressive attitude, and some kind of extreme proficiency in a skill. Why these? Well, the attitude part is obvious, but the rest is more interesting. See, humans love to watch people do things very well. Even the simplest, most mundane acts like stacking plastic cups can seem like magic when performed at a world class skill level. We respect talent, even if we can’t actually say how the talent is useful. Likewise, we admire people who stand on their beliefs. One of my favorite lines from Highlander is that uncompromising men are easy to admire. Even when we don’t actually agree, we admire and respect people who stand up for their ambitions/causes/beliefs/dreams and refuse to back down despite overwhelming odds.

Put all these factors together and you can make a badass out of anything. Take the competition cooking show Iron Chef, for example. In the show, chefs from all over the world challenge the reigning Iron Chef to a one hour extreme cooking showdown with a mystery ingredient. Naturally, since this is television, the challenge is designed to seem impossible. How many of us could cook a 5-7 course meal on the fly when every course must incorporate an ingredient we don’t even know until the challenge begins? But the chefs on this show are all kitchen badasses, and they use their years, sometimes decades of experience, creativity, and natural skill to overcome the odds and prove that their cuisine reigns supreme!

So we see that the anatomy of badass can be simple, even formulaic, and when used without thought, this can be a big problem. Think of any mediocre, forgettable action movie and you’ll see a badass that failed not because they didn’t follow the formula, but because they followed it too well. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, but just as great art can never be achieved painting by numbers, a truly memorable, worthy badass must be far more than the sum of her parts.

Being good at something, an in your face attitude, and refusing to back down are all a good starting point, but a badass who is also a good character has to have style. She can’t just say “I’m the best,” she has to prove it over and over again against increasingly crazy odds. She can’t just take a stand, she has to put it all on the line every single time for a worthy cause she and the reader both believe in. She has to be larger than life and human at the same time, which means her problems have to be writ just as large as everything else. She has to be admirable but still rateable, else she risks being a caricature instead of a character.

This was what I learned from reading and watching my favorite badasses in action, and this was the approach I took with Devi. Now that the series is ending, and I’m looking back at everything I tried to do with it, I think creating a badass to be remembered was the one place where I truly succeeded as well as I’d hoped to. Authors aren’t supposed to have favorite characters, but I can’t help but admit that Devi is and probably will always be right up there at the top. She’s the female hero I always wanted to see in the movies, the badass lady I would have pretended to be when I was a kid, and I already miss her more than I should miss someone who is ultimately a figment of my imagination.

So for everyone who’s been waiting to see how the story ends, I really hope you enjoy HEAVEN’S QUEEN (US | UK | AUS). I put a lot of thought into creating a suitably badass ending, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And for those of you who haven’t met Devi Morris yet (and who’ve been sufficiently entertains by this post long enough to get all the way down here to the end), I invite you to read a little more and check out the first chapter of FORTUNE’S PAWN (US | UK | AUS), the beginning of the Paradox series. Thank you everyone for reading and for making this series a success! I look forward to writing more Paradox novels. I can’t promise more Devi, but really, do you think I can keep her down?

Not a chance.

ANCILLARY JUSTICE makes the Clarke Awards Shortlist!

Our congratulations go today to Ann Leckie, who has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award for her debut novel, the fantastic space opera ANCILLARY JUSTICE!

This means that ANCILLARY JUSTICE has so far had an unbroken chain of shortlistings for every science fiction award of the year: that’s the Kitschies (where it already won the Golden Tentacle), the Philip K. Dick Awards, the BSFA Awards, the Tiptree, the Goodread Reader’s Choice Awards and the Nebula Awards. What a record!

The shortlist this year has been characterised by several debut novels – Ann Leckie, Kameron Hurley and Ramez Naam are, impressively, all first time novelists. Alison Flood at the Guardian wrote about the debuts here: ‘SF newcomers invade Arthur C Clarke award shortlist’.

Big Orbit congratulations to Ann, and to all the shortlistees! The full shortlist is here:

ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie
GOD’S WAR by Kameron Hurley
THE MACHINE by James Smythe
THE DISESTABLISHMENT OF PARADISE by Phillip Mann
NEXUS by Ramez Naam
THE ADJACENT by Christopher Priest

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Why Powered Armor?

In the interview section at the back of FORTUNE’S PAWN, I explained that the reason I originally decided to write the Paradox books was because I wanted to read an action packed SF romance and couldn’t find one, so I created my own. This is a true story, but it’s also true that my sudden reading urge wasn’t the only reason I decided to write about a female soldier turned mercenary who fights aliens, has a romantic subplot, and gets herself involved in a conspiracy that might doom all sentient life in the galaxy. You see, before all that, before Paradox and the xith’cal, even before Devi sauntered into my brain and informed me that I was writing her novel right that minute, I was already on the hunt for somewhere to put the Lady Grey.

I’ve been in love with powered armor since I watched my first mecha anime as a pre-teen renting anime tapes from Blockbuster in the dark days of the mid-90s. The idea of wrapping a person with all our fragile, soft flesh and emotional instability inside a machine that granted super human powers, but only under limits and often at huge costs, was like catnip for my young story-obsessed brain. I actually liked the price even better than the power it bought. Power alone is boring. It’s what power does to people—why they want it, how it changes them, and what they’re willing to do to keep it—that’s where the novel is.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a well told superhero story, you already know that the most compelling part of a any hero is their humanity. We don’t love Batman because of his toys, we love him for what he does with them, and why. We are, in short, far more interested in the man than the bat. Similarly, superheroes who have no weaknesses are boring. Even Superman, the most wish-fulfillment of all wish-fulfillment characters, needed kryptonite to be compelling in the long term.

Powered armor takes this idea a step further. Devi’s suit gives her what are essentially superpowers. She’s super fast, super tough, and super strong. She has eyes in the back of her head, the ability to look up almost any information with a thought, and a literal photographic memory. But none of this power is really hers. She’s just the driver, the breakable, fragile human at the heart of everything, and the knowledge that her power can be damaged, taken away, or even simply run out of energy, is what makes her plights that much more interesting and tense.

Powered armor certainly wasn’t the only way I could have done this. There are a million ways in Science Fiction to make someone super powered. I could have given Devi implants, or made her a genetically modified super soldier. But all of these things would have been hers, and I didn’t want that. I wanted Devi’s powers to be something she something she had to pay for and  could only use at great personal risk, because the person who has the guts to willingly put their neck on the line for the power to achieve their goals is also the person who can function without it. Take Superman’s powers away and he becomes a whiny embarrassment sulking in his Fortress of Solitude. Take Batman’s money and gadgets away and he’s still freaking Batman.

This vulnerability is why I think powered armor is such a staple in our collective imagination. It’s the ultimate unstable power—a supreme weapon that’s stealable, breakable, hackable, and only ever one technological glitch away from being a metal mausoleum—and the character who chooses to use it even in the face of all those flaws is practically guaranteed to be the sort of hardcore badass you want to read about. I put Devi in the Lady Gray precisely because I wanted her to be the sort of heroine  who, when I blasted her suit full of holes, would use the sharp edges to go for her enemy’s throat. The Lady Gray made Devi every bit as much as she made the Lady Gray, and I wouldn’t want either of them any other way.

Rachel Bach is the author of Paradox, a three part, heavy ordinance blast of Science Fiction that starts with FORTUNE’S PAWN (US | UK | AUS) and continues with HONOUR’S KNIGHT  (US | UK | AUS), out now! Want to find out more about the Paradox series? Read the interview, which appeared in the back of FORTUNE’S PAWN.

 

ANCILLARY JUSTICE wins the Golden Tentacle!

We are delighted to announce that Ann Leckie won the Golden Tentacle at the Kitschie Awards last night, in a ceremony at London’s Seven Dials Club. The judges were charged to find the most progressive, intelligent and entertaining genre novel written by a debut author in 2013, and picked ANCILLARY JUSTICE, Ann’s incredible space opera tale, released by Orbit last October.

Other winners on the night were Will Staehle, who won the Inky Tentacle for best cover art for his work on THE AGE ATOMIC; Ruth Ozeki, whose TALE FOR THE TIME BEING won the Red Tentacle for Best Novel, and Malorie Blackman, who won the Black Tentacle for a special contribution to genre literature.

Previous Kitschie winners include Patrick Ness, Lauren Beukes, China Miéville and Nick Harkaway. Winners receive £2,000 in prize money, as well as one of the prize’s iconic handmade Tentacles and (of course) a bottle of Kraken rum.

The Golden Tentacle!

Here’s what others have been saying about ANCILLARY JUSTICE:

‘Our #1 pick for the year’s best science fiction or fantasy book . . . this Iain M. Banks-esque tale was the book that made us most excited about the future of science fiction in 2013’ io9.com

‘It’s not every day a debut novel by an author you’d never heard of before derails your entire afternoon with its brilliance’ Liz Bourke, Tor.com

‘Unexpected, compelling and very cool – Ann Leckie nails it. I’ve never met a heroine like Breq before. I consider this a very good thing indeed’ John Scalzi

‘Thrilling, moving and awe-inspiring’ Guardian

‘Signals the arrival of a hard science fiction author who just might fill the gap left by Iain M. Banks. ANCILLARY JUSTICE is a highly original novel. Highly recommended’ Independent on Sunday

‘Total gamechanger. Get it, read it, wish to hell you’d written it. Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY JUSTICE may well be the most important book Orbit have published in ages’ Paul Graham Raven

‘Establishes Leckie as an heir to Banks and Cherryh’ Elizabeth Bear

You can read a sample from ANCILLARY JUSTICE here. To find out more about the author, check out her website or follow her on twitter at @ann_leckie.

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If you look at the early reviews of my new novel, FORTUNE’S PAWN (out now, by the way! [US | UK | AUS]), you’ll find one word repeated over and over again: fun. This word also appeared in reviews of my fantasy series, THE LEGEND OF ELI MONPRESS (written as Rachel Aaron [US | UK | ANZ]), so much so that I was actually joking to my husband that I should call myself “Rachel Aaron, the fun author!”

And you know, I’m okay with that.

Fun is a seriously underrated novel component. There are plenty of serious books that make you cry or think in a different way or show you something beautiful and deep. I strive for all that in my works as well, but never at the cost of a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a cathartic cry as much as the next person, but the books I come back to over and over again are the ones that left me smiling and exhilarated and hungry to read more.

Too often, we say “escapist reading” like it’s something lesser. Like we should be ashamed that we’re enjoying something just because it’s fun. I think that’s absurd. It’s like saying ice cream is lesser because all it does is taste delicious. We need delicious, because life is hard. Bad things happen even to the luckiest of us, and the world can too often be a stressful, dark, unfriendly, unkind place. A good, fun book is like an escape hatch from all that grim reality. It’s a safe space where we can run away and have a good, dramatic, thrilling time, and sometimes, when you really need to a respite, that can feel like a miracle.

Hearing someone had a blast reading my books is the greatest complement I can receive as a writer. I’m proud to be a trusted provider of quality life escape hatches. And while I can’t guarantee my story will change your world forever, I can promise that it’ll be one hell of a ride. So come have fun in my imagination. Let me entertain you. At the very least, you’ll never be bored.

FORTUNE’S PAWN is available now! Check out the first chapter here, and get ready for even more fun this Thursday. Rachel Bach will be joining authors Daniel Abraham (1/2 of the James S. A. Corey writing duo) and Ann Leckie tomorrow for an evening of science fiction, technology, and space opera. RSVP to the Google event today

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He Said, She Said

I decided pretty early on, when I first was playing with the elements of what would become the universe of ANCILLARY JUSTICE (US | UK | AUS), that the Radchaai wouldn’t care much about gender, and wouldn’t mark people’s gender in their speech. Not because I wanted the Radch to be any kind of prejudice-free utopia–far from it.* But because I (somewhat naively) thought it would be interesting.

It actually took me a while to realize what a can of worms I was opening. To some extent, I’m still realizing it. But at first, I was faced with a purely mechanical problem–how to portray a society that just didn’t care about gender, while I myself was using a language that required me to specify gender at every turn. It’s pretty much built into English to specify a person’s gender, even when it’s is totally irrelevant to the topic at hand, and it’s difficult–not impossible, mind you, but difficult–to talk for very long about a person without mentioning their gender. **

At first I tried just asserting that Radchaai didn’t care about gender, and then using gendered pronouns throughout. I was unsatisfied with this. (And unsatisfied with those first couple of novels, which are in a drawer hidden from view until further notice. Only a few people have seen them.) I became more unsatisfied with it the longer I considered it, in fact. In the end I decided to pick one pronoun (at least for the sections where, presumably, my narrator is speaking Radchaai) and stick with it in all cases.

Often people assume (wrongly) that “they” as a singular pronoun isn’t “proper” English. It is in fact entirely grammatical and available to use. It’s most often used to refer to a nebulous “someone” whose ambiguous existence makes gender difficult to guess, but there are an increasing number of recent examples of singular they used in cases where gender is known and/or not a simple matter of either/or.*** I could have used it for Ancillary Justice, but it didn’t feel right. I’m not a hundred percent sure why.

I could have chosen any one of the ungendered pronouns that have been proposed over the years. This also would have been entirely workable. And inclusive–though we’re used to thinking of gender as an obvious either/or, male/female, really things aren’t always that clearcut. On the minus side, using any of those pronouns would have made getting into the story difficult for readers unfamiliar with them, at least at first. This is not a reason to never use those pronouns, of course, but I admit it was a consideration for me here.

I could have gone with the old standby, “the masculine embraces the feminine,” and just called everyone “he.” This is, in fact, the choice made by Ursula K LeGuin when she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness (Which is awesome, and if you haven’t read it, it is my considered opinion that you should.) Years later, she expressed some dissatisfaction with having made that choice. It made the Gethenians seem to be all male, which they were not, and failed to convey their non-binary nature. Read the rest of this entry »

Who would you cast in an Expanse television series?

This week Variety announced that Iron Man and Children of Men scribes Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby will script the pilot of The Expanse, based on a series bestselling novels written by James S.A. Corey, for Alcon Television Group.  Check out the full scoop here.

This of course begs the question: who would you like to see cast in any television adaptation of the series?  Go wild. We can’t wait to hear who you would choose.

Leviathan Wakes   Corey_CalibansWar TP   Corey_AbaddonsGate_TP   Corey_CibolaBurn_HC

Like the freshly unveiled cover of CIBOLA BURN? Go to SF Signal to see a larger version and also the cover of Daniel Abraham’s upcoming THE WIDOW’S HOUSE, book four of the Dagger and the Coin series.

Cover Story: FORTUNE’S PAWN by RACHEL BACH

œF��$¿�Ƒ$�8Ò�ò¤»�däå¸R8BIFORTUNE’S PAWN (US | UK) and the Paradox Series by Rachel Bach is coming out this Fall in November 2013.

I’ve had a particular attachment to this project. As a father of a three year old girl, I love that the covers for this series are showcasing a strong female character. My kid already has to listen to me quote Ripley to her on a daily basis, now she gets to listen to Devi quips too.

Putting this book together was a challenge beyond figuring out how the series was going to look. It was really executing that vision that was the biggest obstacle. I wanted Devi’s face to be front and center. I wanted a snapshot moment of a badass female with an unamused expression to set the tone of the series, then have the cover of each volume expand on that moment. As if each cover was a visual interstitial for the series.

I had to create the initial illustration of Devi herself which I was going to use in the following two volumes. This was a combination of finding the right face, illustrating the armor and tech Devi uses in the books in a cool way, and bring that together in a badass way.

Once her portrait was done, the next phase as putting the face in the a couple contexts to give more depth to her character. I love idea or her floating I space with that jaded look on her face. As if the reason she’s there is just one more thing she has to deal with before getting done what she needs to get done.

Here is a small gallery showing the various stages of the FORTUNE’S PAWN.

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Here are the final covers for all three book in the Paradox Series!

Neptune’s Brood: First Chapter and Short Story

The cover of Neptune's Brood, a brand new space opera from science fiction legend Charles StrossOur brand new space opera from Charles Stross, NEPTUNE’S BROOD (UK|ANZ), will be released next week!

To help you occupy the time between now and the July 2nd release date, there’s not only a sample chapter up on the Orbit site, but Charlie has posted an entire short story set in the same universe, ‘Bit Rot’, at his blog!

“I can get you a cheaper ticket if you let me amputate your legs: I can even take your thighs as a deposit,” said the travel agent. He was clearly trying hard to be helpful: “It’s not as if you’ll need them where you’re going, is it?”

 “Is it possible to find a better price by booking me on a different routing?” I asked. “I’m very attached to my limbs.” (Quaint and old-fashioned, that’s me.) “Also,” I hedged, “I don’t have much fast money.”

 The agent sighed. His two eyes were beautiful: enormous violet photoreceptors that gleamed with a birefringent sheen. “Ms. Alizond. Krina. How can I put this? That could be a problem.” [READ THE REST OF THE SAMPLE CHAPTER HERE]

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Abaddon's GateWe’re thrilled to announce that ABADDON’S GATE (US UK AUS) is a New York Times Bestseller hitting the extended trade paperback list at #22. Congratulations to James S. A. Corey – the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

ABADDON’S GATE is the third and latest installment in James S. A. Corey’s breakneck space opera that began with LEVIATHAN WAKES (US UK AUS). If you are a fan of science fiction and its subgenres, then you know that there are a thousand and one ways to die a horrible death.  James S. A. Corey breaks down some of the worst ways to go.

10) Energy Monsters

Classic Trek all the way, here.  Let’s face it, half the planets in the galaxy have some form on nasty energy monster on them, and they all kill in nasty ways.  Sucking out the iron from you hemoglobin, frying your nervous system, disintegrating you.  Your phaser won’t work on it.  But take comfort in knowing that the exact horrific manner of your death will give the important characters clues on how to defeat the creature.  So thanks for that.

9) Id monsters

The most famous examples (and still the best) are the monster in Forbidden Planet and Mr. Hyde.  The Id monster is someone else’s fault and your problem.  It’s not that is doesn’t want anything.  It wants to strip you into ribbons in a rage haze because of an unresolved Oedipal complex.  As you’re being ripped apart, you’ll know that this is happening because of unexpressed and unrealized frustrations of some other person, and knowing won’t help.  Kind of like working tech support, only literal.

8) Sandworms

Sandworms don’t chew.  They just have a thousand meters of digestive tract.  Enough said.

7) Sarlacc

Speaking of digestion, Jabba the Hutt claims that you digest in the belly of the Sarlacc for a thousand years.  Figure you die of thirst after three days.  That’s still a rough three days.

Read the rest of this entry »

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