Spring is almost here but we’re already looking forward to summer and autumn 2013! That’s because we’ve got some amazing books coming up for the rest of this year with freshly designed covers to share with you. This isn’t our whole list of published titles for the year – just the covers we think you might not have seen before.
Click on the individual cover images below to see the larger version and let us know your favourites!
During our recent conversation about his Laundry novels, Charlie Stross mentioned he’d started out seeking to revitalize the horror behind Lovecraftiana by drawing a connection between unknowable dangers and the very familiar terror of the Cold War arms race. I found that particularly interesting. After all, the Laundry series and the Milkweed books share a subgenre that pits agents of the secret state against super- or paranormal entities. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that we’ve both recast the thermonuclear deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction as something even more precarious: the threat of a mystical and far more absolute annihilation.
(We even followed parallel lines of thought when it came to titles. Charlie called his story of the Shoggoth Gap “A Colder War,” while I went with THE COLDEST WAR for my tale of mystical brinksmanship.)
I was a child when the Reagan-era arms race began. But I had an early interest in science, so I’d already scoured the school library to read everything I could find about those wondrous things called atoms. Which unfortunately meant I had a vague notion of these things called atomic weapons. (Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to let me read this stuff? Way to go, mom and dad.)
Thanks to classroom discussions of current events at the time, I also knew we were building them as fast as we could. Halfway around the world, so was another monolithic power. And we were aiming them at each other, like lions circling and snapping their teeth. But at that age I didn’t understand why this was happening, or why our enemies were so terrible that global annihilation was preferable to their triumph in some abstract and incomprehensible conflict. All I knew was the world teetered on a razor’s edge, and that my fate rested in the hands of people who knew nothing of me, my parents, or my cat (good old Gadzooks).
That’ll mess with your head when you’re 10 years old.
And so I spent the early 1980s filled with an almost paralyzing dread. (more…)
This week sees the release of THE COLDEST WAR (UK | ANZ) , the second novel in Ian Tregillis’s landmark series, the Milkweed Triptych. The trilogy began with BITTER SEEDS (UK | ANZ) and concludes with the forthcoming NECESSARY EVIL (UK | ANZ).
These novels feature a secret history of Twentieth Century conflicts in which scientifically-enhanced superhumans and dark magic collide. The result is described by Fantasy Faction as ‘oh-so compelling, fascinating and frighteningly convincing’ and by Cory Doctorow as, ‘some of the best – and most exciting – alternate history I’ve read. Bravo.’
It’s possible to draw a few parallels between the themes in the Milkweed novels and Charles Stross’s highly popular Laundry Files (including the recent THE APOCALYPSE CODEX – UK | ANZ) – a series of science fiction spy thrillers featuring Bob Howard, once an IT geek, now a field agent working for a British government agency dealing with occult threats. They’re what SFX calls ‘beautifully handled, believable and well envisioned – a highly enjoyable bit of spy-fi.’
For that reason we were really interested to hear these two exceptionally clever Orbit authors in conversation about their series. The results are below!
Ian: In an afterword to THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (“Inside the Fear Factory”) you mention that while writing the first Laundry novel you were advised to avoidTim Powers’s novel DECLARE. And that later you were made aware of the Delta Green supplement to The Call of Cthulhu RPG, which again resides in a similar neighborhood.
(After BITTER SEEDS debuted, people assumed I had been influenced by DECLARE, Delta Green, *and* the Laundry novels! But, like you with DECLARE, I wanted to avoid cross-contamination. So I didn’t dive into THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES until after I turned in THE COLDEST WAR, at which point I was 2/3 through the Milkweed trilogy and the story was on a ballistic trajectory.)
But of course even Powers wasn’t the first to marry espionage and the occult –Dennis Wheatley’s novel THEY USED DARK FORCES first appeared in 1964, and Katherine Kurtz‘s LAMMAS NIGHT was published in 1983, as just two examples.
In the above-mentioned afterword, you make a strong case for why it’s natural to blend horror, the occult, and espionage. So is this an idea that’s continually bubbling into the aether to be rediscovered by other writers? Or have we reached the point where we’re having a conversation within an actual subgenre?
Charlie: It is indeed an actual subgenre! Or maybe a sub-subgenre: a corner of that section of urban fantasy that is preoccupied with the interaction between agents of the state and the occult. (more…)
Infamous Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre launches into the world of science fiction today with BEDLAM (UK|ANZ) – a first person shooter of a novel – a thought-provoking, funny look at what it really means to be human in the 21st Century. Want to know more? Here’s what everyone’s saying about it!
“A fascinating, fast-paced but thoughtful blend of science fiction and techno-thriller” – Iain M. Banks
“Funny jokes, characters you can empathise with and devastatingly employed swearwords.” – Ed Byrne
“It’s warm, funny, excellently violent and highly recommended. Game on.” – SCIFI NOW
“Brookmyre hits another high score with this brilliant, fast-paced nightmare.” – Charles Stross
PRISON OR PLAYGROUND?
Ross Baker is an overworked and underpaid scientist developing medical technology for corporate giants Neurosphere, but he’d rather be playing computer games than dealing with his nightmare boss or slacker co-workers.
One rainy Monday morning he volunteers as a test candidate for the new tech – anything to get out of the office for a few hours. But when he gets out of the scanner he discovers he’s not only escaped the office, but possibly escaped real life for good. He finds himself trapped in Starfire – the violent sci-fi video game he spent his teenage years playing – with no explanation, no back-up and most terrifyingly, no way out.
Would it be your ultimate fantasy to enter the world of a video game? Or would it be your worst nightmare? This is where you find out if you’re in a prison or a playground.
You: you’re a civil servant, working in an administrative or support role, within SOE X Division, commonly known as the Laundry. You have signed the Official Secrets Act. You know the score. You know that when you carry out certain computation operations, it has echoes in the Platonic realm of pure mathematics – echoes audible to beings from other universes, who can be bound to act at our command. Magic is a branch of applied mathematics, and there are agents out there working ceaselessly to protect the realm from esoteric alien threats. You aren’t one of them – yet.
You believe you can contribute more to the organisation by taking a proactive role. You’re a dynamic self-starter and a team player, flexible and able to plan and execute on your feet while remaining within official guidelines. And you want to get out from behind your desk.
Do you have what it takes to handle an active service assignment?
We’re looking for the next Laundry field agent to assist our rising star employee, Bob Howard. Bob has seen service. He’s dealt with nameless horrors you could only dream of, and with only limited . . . mishaps.
Starting today, we will be releasing clues that will allow you access to the Laundry Vault. (more…)
Rule 34 of the internet is, “if it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.”
(Please do not attempt to test this rule using Google with safe search switched off. That which is seen cannot be un-seen . . .)
It’s hard for us to remember today that mass adoption of the internet is less than twenty years old. Although the first routers were switched on in 1969, the net remained a toy for academic and computer industry researchers for its first twenty years. I first met it in 1989, in the course of a computer science degree; even as late as 1993, the idea that one might get internet access in one’s home was kind of outlandish.
It took the invention of the world wide web – which many people today mistake for the internet – to make it visually accessible and appealing to the masses. But in the following 20 years, it became probably the most pervasive single communications medium in human history, extruding tentacles of connectivity into our pockets by way of smartphones, infiltrating our working lives and our dreams. Not to mention our nightmares.
Back in 2010, contemplating the idea of writing a police procedural novel set perhaps ten or twelve years in the future of the internet, I found myself trying to get a handle on police practice and computing. Policing in the 21st century UK has been changing bewilderingly fast; the Home Office has, over a decade and a half, been engaged in a project of systematically replacing the main body of our criminal law (which accreted over centuries) with a properly designed, fit-for-bureaucratic-purpose replacement body of legislation. Similarly, the practice of policing has undergone successive upheavals, both in response to scandals of injustice (corruption and the fitting-up of suspects for crimes they didn’t commit) and in an attempt to grapple with maintaining order in a rapidly changing society. But policing the UK is an enormous job. You can’t get a handle on it by talking to any one person; they can only give you a worm’s eye view of what they’re involved in. In actual fact, the various British police forces employ around as many officers as the armed forces have soldiers, sailors, and airmen: and the range of activities they’re involved in is extraordinary, from handling specialist poison-sniffing dogs (used in the Scottish borders for protecting endangered raptor species from farmers and gamekeepers) to guarding nuclear reactors – by way, of course, of the Saturday night public order circus at pub chucking-out time.
Kibitzing on the anonymous blogs of working cops, you run across all sorts of illuminating rants about the day to day irritations of the job: from the best type of boots to wear when pounding the beat all day (German or Dutch paratroop boots are the business), to the headaches of the modern desk sergeant’s end-of-shift hand-over (passing your colleague the personal mobile numbers of all your constables, making sure you’ve got the correct logins and passwords on the various databases you need to update with every incident), and gripes about IT services. IT services? Well yes: policing doesn’t revolve around scraps of paper any more, the back end is as heavily automated as any other large cumbersome enterprise – and this was in 2010, remember. It’s all a far cry from the police procedurals of yore . . . by which I mean 1990.
So where, I wondered, was policing going in 2022? And, more to the point, what is policing going to entail in the world of the Internet of Things – when 3D printers have become as pervasive as personal computers in the late 1980s, so that dreams and nightmares that currently only exist on the net can extrude themselves into the physical world? What’s it going to be like, when organized criminals (whose business acumen is usually so poor that they turn to crime because they can’t compete in legitimate markets) finally begin to catch up with modern business processes? And what sort of police are we going to need to maintain order in such a chaotic and rapidly changing world?
Welcome to RULE 34. That which is seen cannot be un-seen. No exceptions!
One of the major influences on Rule 34 was a throwaway idea I borrowed from Vernor Vinge — that perhaps one of the limiting factors on the survival of technological society is the development of tools of ubiquitous law enforcement, such that all laws can be enforced — or infringements detected — mechanistically.
One of the unacknowledged problems of the 21st century is the explosion in new laws.
We live in a complex society, and complex societies need complex behavioural rules if they’re to run safely. Some of these rules need to be made explicit, because not everyone can be relied on to analyse a situation and do the right thing. To take a trivial example: we now need laws against using a mobile phone or texting while driving, because not everyone realises that this behaviour is dangerous, and earlier iterations of our code for operating vehicles safely were written before we had mobile phones. So the complexity of our legal code grows over time.
The trouble is, it now seems to be growing out of control. (more…)
One of the hoariest of science fictional archetypes is the idea of the artificial intelligence — be it the tin man robot servant, or the murderous artificial brain in a box that is HAL 9000. And it’s not hard to see the attraction of AI to the jobbing SF writer. It’s a wonderful tool for exploring ideas about the nature of identity. It’s a great adversary or threat (‘War Games’, ‘The Forbin Project’), it’s a cheap stand-in for alien intelligences — it is the Other of the mind.
The only trouble is, it doesn’t make sense.
Not only is SF as a field full of assumed impossibilities (time machines, faster than light space travel, extraterrestrial intelligences): it’s also crammed with clichés that are superficially plausible but which don’t hang together when you look at them too closely. Take flying cars, for example: yes, we’d all love to have one — right up until we pause to consider what happens when the neighbour’s 16 year old son goes joy riding to impress his girlfriend. Not only is flying fuel-intensive, it’s difficult, and the failure mode is extremely unforgiving. Which is why we don’t have flying cars. (We have flying buses instead, but that’s another matter.) Food pills out-lived their welcome: I think they were an idea that only made sense in the gastronomic wasteland of post-war austerity English cuisine. I submit that AI is a similar pipe dream. (more…)
I feel like announcing this with some kind of roar or perhaps a drum roll as I’ve been waiting for this for so long and today is actually LAUNCH DAY! But as we’re open plan and I’m highly unmusical I’ll let this do the job …
Charles Stross’sRule 34 (UK | ANZ) is many amazing things. It’s a fast-paced Edinburgh-based crime novel set a few years into the future. It also displays lashings of Charles Stross’s wry humour and I enjoyed more than a few winces and chuckle-out-loud moments. Another aspect I really enjoyed was Stross’s extrapolation of our current technology, where our usual gadgets have been moved on a step or three. The BBC’s Click technology programme covered augmented reality just last month, but in Rule 34 it’s a useful, fully-fledged reality.
But perhaps most importantly, I found myself completely caught up in the colourful characters (a detective inspector, a young scalleywag called Anwar and a master criminal showing signs of psychosis known as the Toymaker). There’s not the space here to revel in the bizarre crimes DI Liz Kavanaugh has to investigate (domestic appliances in unlikely places …), or talk about the highly suspicious Eastern European bread-mix young Anwar is peddling. But you can sample for yourselves by reading this plot summary or by enjoying chapter one here. (more…)