A redhead and a mutant walk into a bar …

So, Andrea Johnson would like to have a drink with Aryel Morningstar. Well, who wouldn’t? Although, as Andrea will discover when she reads Binary, it’ll take more than a couple of pints to persuade Aryel to talk about her childhood …

Speaking of Binary, it’s been a grand week for reviews. Upcoming4.me called it ‘an even better book than Gemsigns’; Jasper de Joode of The Book Plank agrees, and says it has ‘Great characters and a superb storyline that will make you stop and wonder.’ Cheryl Morgan’s review is typically thoughtful and nuanced, and very complimentary; I was particularly pleased that she found the ‘characters [are] all the more heroic for being so very human’. And according to Joanne Hall, ‘Binary is fast, witty, technically adept, with a warm heart beating through it’. (I should reiterate that I’m not only linking good reviews; everything I’m aware of is posted under the menu tab above. It’s just that so far they’ve all been good!)

Back to the delightful image of Andrea and Aryel shooting the breeze over a beer: I was reading SF Signal’s MIND MELD posts because I’ve been asked to participate, so look out for me popping up there to talk about a life-changing book sometime in the next week or so. I’ve also written an essay on damaging narratives for Fantasy Cafe’s Women in SF&F month, which I’m told will be posted on 19th April. My contribution to the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on SF Signal is likely to go up on 6th May. And I’ve been opining on superpowers and social media, as well as doing a couple of interviews, all of which will appear online in the next few weeks, and will be linked under Press + Posts above.

I, of course, will be away at Eastercon next weekend; I’ll tweet from the con if possible, and as usual will report on the experience when I get back. Oh, and look out for another cool announcement coming soon …

Eastercon 2014 schedule

I’ve received my schedule from the organisers of Satellite4, the 65th Eastercon, which this year will be held in Glasgow at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Fri 18 April 17.00-18.00

PANEL: Women in Science and Speculative Fiction

Both female scientists and female writers face gender-related challenges in their careers. Are some of the issues the same and can we learn from one another?

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Clare Boothby, Christine Davidson (moderator), Juliet McKenna, Stephanie Saulter

Sat 19 April 15.00-16.00

PANEL: Future Representation

The panel explores SF literature in the context of what stories actually are, or are not, being told. Who gets to be in the future; what happens to everyone else; and who gets to decide?

Fran Dowd (moderator), Laura Lam, Stephanie Saulter, Donna Scott, Ian Whates

Sat 19 April 21.00-?

Read For Your Life!

A series of short, sharp readings from writers known and unknown. Some works are newly published, others still in progress, all offered up for your evening’s entertainment. Bring a drink and a friend, find your next favourite author!

Hosted by Stephanie Saulter and Mark Barrowcliffe

(Note to authors: You can use the Early Bird token in your registration pack to sign up from 3pm on Friday, with additional sign ups from Saturday morning. All sign ups are in Ops.)

Sun 20 April 19.00-20.00

The BSFA Award Ceremony/James White Award Ceremony

The annual BSFA Awards as voted for by members of the BSFA and Eastercon for Best Non-Fiction; Best Art; Best Short Fiction and Best Novel. Also, the James White Award: results of the competition to find the best short story by a non-professional writer for 2013.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Jim Burns, Alice Lawson, Steve Lawson, Farah Mendlesohn, Martin McGrath, Stephanie Saulter, Donna Scott, Andrew J. Wilson


Apart from that I’ll be in and out of panels and talks, hanging out in the bar, and happy to have a chat. I don’t know whether there’ll be a formal signing session, but it doesn’t matter if there isn’t – I’ll have a pen in my pocket, so if you want me to scribble on stuff just ask.

BINARY extract: Upbringing

She grows up in a city.

They live high above the sweat and dirt and horror that haunts most of it, in the heart of the old, proud seat of empire. She is accustomed to looking out of tall windows at soaring spires and swirling domes, their fairground gaiety at odds with the blocky, bland pragmatism of the modern buildings below. She gazes at the bright temples and palaces for hours sometimes, intensely, as if she could couple her concentration to their sleeping grandeur and bring a lost world to life; and in her mind’s eye she does see the pennants and pageants that they once hosted, the great romances and golden ages and armies marching home in triumph. All her life she will love architecture that curves and sweeps and does more than merely contain.

Her father rarely looks out of the windows. His enchantment is reserved only for her, and she sometimes wishes she could interest him elsewhere, become less the laser-sharp focus of all his days. But she is his light and his life, he tells her, his greatest achievement and the only one which will matter in the end. Outside is only grief and despair and the slow degradation of all else he has treasured. He seems not to share her ability to unhear the moans of the afflicted and wails of the bereaved, to unsee the smoke that rises from a thousand thousand cremations. He worries endlessly about the emptiness of the world in which she will one day have to make her way, about how she will cope and whether she can be happy. To be the only precious child of a rich and powerful man guarantees little in this latter, desolate age.

She knows that he is among those battling against the plague, and that though they may have the answer now to the disease’s vicious question, victory is still far from certain. They have lost so much ground. So few remain to fight. He is one of the rare ones able to protect his own, and he has bequeathed the armour of immunity to her.

It is not his only gift.

Binary (UK trade paperback), pp35-36

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Binary involves not only the multiple points-of-view structure that I used in Gemsigns, but is punctuated by a series of flashbacks. They take the reader into several of the characters’ pasts, creating a parallel narrative with the events which occur in the story’s present.

This is one of those flashbacks.

BINARY extract: Mikal, Eli, and what to make of Zavcka

The midsummer sun was still high enough above the horizon to cast a golden glow over the gathering crowds on the riverwalk an hour later. Eli let himself be carried along in the flow of people heading towards the park, until he could step aside into a little nook where two ancient chestnut trees sheltered an empty bench. He sank down onto it and tried to think.

Zavcka had wrapped her speech up quickly. The grandee who had introduced her bounced back onstage, grinning widely, and invited questions. Eli wondered if Aryel would stay and challenge or slip away as unobtrusively as she had arrived, but she did neither. Instead she had waited until the lights came up, waited until they touched the wall where she stood and Zavcka Klist’s eyes had focused on her and widened, before she sidestepped quickly to the door and out. By then people were on their feet all over the room and salvos were being fired at the stage.

They ranged predictably from anxious enquiries about safety, to what sorts of products she thought might emerge, to quantifying the economic impact. She had gone straight to Mikal’s raised hand, though, despite knowing that he must be about to ask her to explain precisely what she meant by integrating human gemtech.

Work had already begun, she said, in the pre-Syndrome era, on direct interfaces. But they did not understand enough then about how the brain was structured and how it worked; progress was slow, patchy, and ultimately abandoned.

‘We have the answers to those questions now,’ she said. ‘And while we can regret the manner in which much of that knowledge was gained, I don’t think it honours anybody to simply not use it. On the contrary, it seems to me that we have an obligation to turn it into something worthwhile. Much of the original research focused on disability, for example, and working in difficult environments like space. Or underwater. If we can use what we already know to link this,’ she pointed to her own head, ‘directly to this,’ and she took a tablet out of the Festival director’s hand and held it up with the same restrained theatricality, ‘then there are so many problems we can solve.’

She handed the tablet back, her attention still on Mikal. ‘We’re not talking about new gemtech. But I understand the concerns behind your question, Councillor, and I respect them. It’s a question that should be asked.’

A few seconds of silence then, the audience bemusedly contemplating the unexpected courtesy she was showing to Mikal. Eli could imagine the split-lidded blink with which he filled it, something he thought his friend sometimes did on purpose when he wished to be disconcerting.

‘There are many questions that should be asked,’ Mikal had replied evenly. ‘And answered. I look forward to it.’

Eli knew her well enough to recognise the flash of anger in Zavcka Klist’s eyes as she registered the rebuke. A few people seemed to realise that they had missed something, but it sailed too far over the heads of most. Mikal sat back, giving up the floor and watching her weather the torrent.

Now Eli kept an eye on the passing crowd until the giant loomed into view. He raised a hand. Mikal waved back and changed course, navigating to the edge of the flow of people so that Eli could fall into step beside him.

‘Well,’ he said, channelling well-worn irony, ‘that was interesting.’

Mikal laughed, a gusty tone with an edge of bitterness to it. ‘Which part? The rebirth of infotech, the recycling of gemtech, or Zavcka Klist being my new best mate?’

‘That last one is the killer. Did she speak to you again? I slipped out when it looked like there was going to be mingling. No love lost between us, as you know.’

‘I think she would have been nice even to you. She came straight up to me, handshake, congratulations, the whole thing. Said she didn’t think it would have been helpful to get into a technical discussion about neurochemistry from the stage but she didn’t want me to think she was being evasive, they intend to be completely open, blah blah blah.’

‘Subject to commercial constraints, of course.’

‘Of course. Though she did make a point of saying they want to set up a protocol with the regulators to ensure that the protection of intellectual property doesn’t undermine transparency. Quite how you manage that I don’t know, but she’d be very happy for me to help work it out.’

‘Blimey. Do you believe her?’

‘Do I believe that she wants me on her private stream, or popping by the office? That she mortifies herself nightly over what Bel’Natur did? Over what she allowed to happen to Gabriel, and Callan, and goodness knows how many others? No, no and no. She doesn’t look nearly shredded enough.’

The big man sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was medium length and a nondescript lightish brown. The modifications he bore were more than sufficient gemsign; his designers had correctly judged that topping them off with a jewel-coloured, phosphorescent mane would have been redundant. His double thumbs left twin furrows on either side of his head.

‘But is she now genuinely trying to chart a new course? She might be, Eli. She knows they can’t go back to the old days. Innovate or die, as they used to say at Recombin. Infotech has been stagnant for a long time. We are all Syndrome-safe now, gems and norms, even the Remnants. Bel’Natur might be up to exactly what she says they’re up to.’

‘You sound like a politician, Mik.’

‘Go wash your mouth out. With soap.’

Binary (UK trade paperback), ch3, pp31-34

I thought I’d put up an extract today that sort-of follows on from yesterday’s. I quite like this as a kind of contra-Bechdel: two men talking at length about a woman for whom they have a great deal of respect, if absolutely no affection.

This extract business is interesting. I’m discovering what a challenge it is to find passages that hint at what else is to come in Binary, and what’s already transpired in Gemsigns, while not spoilering either! Tomorrow I may put up one of the flashback scenes …


New review! While I was writing this, an email came in with an advance look at the review that’s going to appear in the Birmingham SF Group’s newsletter. It’s by Carol Goodwin and it’s brilliant. I’ll post a link to the newsletter as soon as it’s available.

BINARY extract: The Beginning

We are a split and splintered species. Every pivot-point of need and creed proves the ease with which we fracture; every heartfelt reunion warns against its own necessity. The lines of our division are as many and varied as the sins of our ancestors and the accidents of history; as varied as the lines on the palm of Mikal Varsi’s hand, double-thumbed and huge at the end of a three-foot-long arm, as he raises it and takes the oath.

His eyes, split-lidded like a lizard’s, blink slowly as he listens to the solemn proclamation of the clerk, stumbling over her words a little as she gazes up and up to his face, wondering as she does so if her tiny part in this moment will be remembered; and wondering also, fleetingly and with guilt, whether posterity will smile upon the memory, or revile her for it. Then he opens his mouth, an ordinary mouth, a mouth she has already learned is no less quick with smiles than with wit, and in a gentle, nasal voice repeats after her just as he should, and she thinks, Well that wasn’t so bad.

She turns to set aside the edicts he has sworn to uphold, and he turns aside to the woman who stands behind him, a woman whose height and hands and eyes are steadfastly normal and who would, moreover, tell you that her heart is too; though there are still many who think this unlikely, for she has given both it and her name to a gem, a man designed for service and built for labour. He bends now and the long arm wraps around her body, and the thumbs on either side of that well-lined palm squeeze her shoulder as she tips her head back to smile up at him and receive his kiss. There is applause from his fellow councillors and hearty laughter all round the chamber, but the clerk thinks she sees a hint of her own secret worry flit across more than a few faces.

And then he steps off the platform, eight towering feet of genetically modified humanity moving to take its place for the first time among the elect of the city; and they part for him like a sea, and like the sea close behind him once again.

Binary (UK trade paperback), ch1, pp3-4

It’s Binary’s birthday! My second novel and the sequel to Gemsigns is now out in the UK. Lisa McCurrach calls it ‘another five-star effort,’ and in her interview with me for SF Signal, Andrea Johnson asked me to describe a favourite scene. This is the first of the two that I mentioned, and is the opening passage of the book. I hope you like it.

GEMSIGNS: US Edition Cover Reveal!

I was going to do another Gemsigns extract today, but that has been superseded by the news that – ta da! – the US cover is finally available for public viewing! (In fairness it’s been up on the Quercus US site for a while, but hadn’t been cleared for wider distribution.) Many thanks to the lovely folks over at SF Signal who splashed it up yesterday. So now I can do the same here, along with the full jacket copy:

US Edition

US Edition

For years a deadly syndrome that targeted adolescents threatened to decimate the human race, but a cure was ultimately developed by altering the human genome. The corporations that invented the cure then began to use the process to genetically engineer an entirely new class of workers. Known as Gems, these modified humans were physically and mentally adapted for jobs that could not be undertaken by normal human beings, and branded with a gemsign: glowing, neon-coloured hair or some other visible difference, engineered into their anatomy, forever setting them apart from the Norms they were bred to serve.

Now, decades later, the Gems are fighting for their rights, and for freedom from the companies that created them. As violence begins to threaten the severely stratified society, an international conference is scheduled to decide this critical civil rights issue once and for all. In advance of the conference, Dr. Eli Walker has been commissioned to gather detailed findings on the Gems. As an apolitical, nonpartisan figure in the debate, Walker’s analysis promises to be pivotal in deciding the fate of the Gems.

But with vast corporate profits at stake, and with the bloodthirsty religious zealots of the Godgangs determined to rid the earth of these “unholy” creations, the Gems are in a fight for their very lives against violent and powerful adversaries who will stop at nothing to keep them enslaved forever.

In terms of imagery and emphasis it’s a different approach to the one taken for the UK edition. I was part of the conversation in both cases, and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out in different markets and with different audiences. For the record, I don’t have a favourite – I really do love both sets of cover + copy. But I’d like to know if you prefer one over the other, and why!

By the way, clicking on the US edition in the sidebar will take you to the Amazon US purchase page – which, confusingly, is currently showing the  UK cover instead of the US one. I have no idea why, but I do know that the Quercus US team are in the process of sorting it out. (And of course, the UK editions link to the Amazon UK pages.)


P.S. More guest postage! While I’ve been writing this the ‘Story Behind the Story’ piece that I wrote for Upcoming4.Me has gone up. If you want to know what started the ®Evolution, check it out here. (Moral of the story behind the story: Keep your staff interested in the job at hand. Unless you want them to run off and become writers.)

GEMSIGNS extract: The Declaration


Declaration of the Principles of Human Fraternity

Agreed to be the shared and universal basis for national laws pertaining to all individuals, groups, civilisations and cultures

Issued by the United Nations, Tokyo, 21 December 130AS

The Peoples of the World, having passed through great calamity, and having secured the survival of our Species only by dint of certain manipulations and interventions, executed under direst emergency and with the willing participation and to the mutual benefit of all nations and races, now hereby declare and affirm these several Principles which all human beings, regardless of origin, nation, heritage, circumstance, condition, capability, conviction or disposition shall rightly and reasonably expect to form the foundation of the laws that shall govern our Societies and the rules, regulations and restrictions to which we shall in fellowship submit.

That it shall be the right of every human being:

First: To be at liberty from incarceration, except as properly and lawfully required for the detention of suspects, the punishment of the guilty and protection of the public.

Second: To be free and protected from unwarranted oppression, indignity, negligence or harm.

Third: Not to be required to provide labour or perform services without compensation.

Fourth: That movement, expression, association and employment shall not be unreasonably restricted.

Fifth: That property and possessions rightfully and lawfully acquired shall not be arbitrarily removed or reduced; but shall be subject to the reasonable and ordinary contributions required by the state, or as agreed under contract or for the settlement of accounts.

Sixth: That alterations, manipulations, procreation or reproduction of any individual, or utilisation of the cellular or genetic material of any individual, be subject always to the consent of said individual.

- Gemsigns (UK paperback) , ch8, pp86-87

GEMSIGNS extract: Gabriel

The big news this week is Binary; but the Gemsigns paperback is also out in the UK on Thursday, and it’ll be published in hardback in the US in a month. Ahead of that the reviews from our American cousins are starting to come in, and I have been overwhelmed by the reactions so far. So in honour of readers like Bookworm Blues and the Little Red Reviewer, here’s a passage from the mind of the youngest protagonist:

He felt Papa look in on him from the kitchen, nod approvingly and step back to check on something in the oven. He didn’t look up. Papa was really good about letting him be, making sure Gabriel knew he was there but not interfering. They were relaxed with each other. Mama would always ask if he wanted something, get down on the floor to play with him or ruffle his hair as she passed. She worried he might not feel right if she didn’t, but really it was more for her than him. He could feel how happy she got when she held him in her arms, gave him a bath or read him a story. They both took care of him, but her need for it was more urgent and anxious than Papa’s.

Gabriel didn’t mind. Mama’s fierce love could be overwhelming, but it made him tingle with happiness. She was home a lot less so most of the time it was just him and Papa, in whose calm, steady affection it was easy to feel safe.

He knew they both worried about him, but they didn’t get scared the way his old parents had. He had a vague memory of the way the people he used to call Mummy and Daddy had flinched and tightened up their minds when he came into the room.

Everything else about them had almost completely faded away. He thought there might have been another place between that long-ago past and the bright present with Mama and Papa, but he wasn’t sure. There was a black space in his head, a yawning gulf of nothingness that lapped right up to the edge of his awareness, and everything on the far side of it was faint and fading. He couldn’t remember much from before Mama had pulled him out of the rubbish and brought him home.

- Gemsigns (UK paperback), ch4, pp48-49


Gearing up, counting down, and supporting your local bookshop

There’s only a week to go before Binary is published, and the Gemsigns paperback edition comes out, and as threatened promised I am popping up all over the internet. In addition to the Civilian Reader and Jo Fletcher Books guest posts, and great reviews of both books from Lisa McCurrach and Sarah Chorn (all linked from here), there’s been an interview with Andrea Johnson and another guest post, about dystopia versus democracy, both on SF Signal. Plus I’ve had more superb reactions to Binary via Twitter from other respected reviewers, and there are more posts and interviews lined up.

If previous experience is anything to go by, the next stage will be people asking, Where can I buy your books? (In fact you needn’t wait; pre-orders are an author’s friend.)

So let me make it easy for you …

If you’re inclined to online purchasing, you’ve got a lot of options. The cover images to the right will take you directly to the Amazon UK pages for Gemsigns and Binary, and if you’re a Kindle user you’ll know they are the only source for your ereader as well as being a place to buy print. You can also purchase directly from the publisher, Jo Fletcher Books, who will have the epub as well as print copies available; and of course if you’re an Apple user you’ll know your way around iBooks. The Book Depository doesn’t do ebooks (as far as I can tell), but they offer good prices on print and – best of all – free worldwide delivery. And there are many other sites through which both print and ebooks can be ordered; if you’ve got a favourite that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to link it in the comments.

Unsurprisingly, there are fewer choices and less certainty when it comes to old-fashioned, pavement pounding, bricks & mortar book shopping. In the UK we’ve got a number of tiny-to-small independents; if you’re lucky enough to have one of them in your neighbourhood I urge you to support it (and again, give it a shout-out in the comments). At the medium-to-large end I can only think of Blackwell’s, Foyles, Forbidden Planet, Waterstones, and WH Smith* … and only two of those are in every town, on every high street … and most of them won’t get in more than a few copies, if any. (You can of course shop from them online as well, and many also carry ebook formats via their websites.)

But here’s the thing about bookshops large and small that I think customers often don’t realise: you can always order what you want from them right there at the till. The store will have it delivered, and you can collect it at your leisure. I’ve had too many people say to me, frustratingly, that they looked around their local bookshop, couldn’t find my book, and left without further inquiry. If you’ve been following the very fraught issue of the (under)representation of female science fiction and fantasy authors (as well as authors of colour, books in translation, non-heteronormative perspectives and anything else that’s not white, Anglo-American, male and straight), you’ll know we already have a mountain to climb when it comes to getting shelf space in bookshops; not to mention front-of-house table space.

Progress is being made on this last point, as reported by Emma Newman and indicated by Foyles’ assurances to Sophia McDougall, and I am delighted by that. But when a book isn’t in the store to begin with, interacting with the staff and placing an order through them is another small, simple, non-confrontational action that anyone can take and that quietly helps to redress the imbalance; purely as a side effect of getting you the book that you want while giving them the sales that they need. That’s because it does two things.

First, it makes the booksellers – the people who actually interact with and make recommendations to the public – aware of a book they might not otherwise have even known existed. Verbalising information makes it sticky; they’ll remember that they took a customer’s order for such-and-such a book. Second, it creates data that pings back to head office (assuming you’re dealing with a shop large enough to have one), and tells them what said public is walking into their stores and asking for. It creates a contradiction to the narrative that keeps the book from being on the shelf in the first place: the trope that it’s not worth carrying in-store because it won’t sell. This is usually difficult to refute in sales terms, because standard practice makes it circular and self-fulfilling; and bookshops are under such tremendous pressure in today’s market that simply haranguing them to take what they perceive as a commercial risk is likewise a difficult ask. It’ll only become less difficult as it’s perceived as less risky.

So if you’re inclined to shop in-store instead of (or in addition to) online, and you don’t see what you’re looking for, do me and your other missing author(s) a favour. Don’t assume that the shop has just sold out (that would be lovely), or that they’ll have more copies in next week (not likely). Make the inquiry. Order the book. That will let them know there is a demand, and nudge at that damaging narrative.

My book birthday is in a week. It’s the best present I could get.


*Who I don’t think will have Binary in print for a while, as they only carry mass-market paperbacks and the Binary MMP won’t be out for a year.


Monday madness! Or is that magic?

What a grand day I’ve had. A few weeks ago I received a request from Civilian Reader to write a piece for the Influences & Inspirations series; and as often happens, having to write about it made me think about it, and see connections that were always there but that I hadn’t been consciously aware of. The post turned out to be all about stories, and went up early this morning:

Influences & Inspirations | Civilian Reader

Then the first review of Binary was posted – and it’s a corker:

Rewriting the Script: A Review of BINARY by Stephanie Saulter | Over the Effing Rainbow

And … corker redux! A new review of Gemsigns:

GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter | Bookworm Blues

Will I ever turn into one of those writers who ‘never reads the reviews’? Not as long as they’re like this.

(I’m even feeling chuffed enough to put up another link to this post. Because Friday was pretty marvellous too.)


  • Stephanie Saulter

    I love stories.
    Binary is now out in the UK & Commonwealth. It's the sequel to Gemsigns, which will be published in the US in May. I like to think they're literary science fiction, but you can make your own mind up. This is where I talk about what I'm working on, ask your opinion, and generally think out loud.

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    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

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    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

  • Upcoming Events

    • Satellite 4 (Eastercon) April 18, 2014 – April 22, 2014 Crowne Plaza Hotel, Glasgow, UK
    • GEMSIGNS US edition! May 6, 2014
    • Calabash Literary Festival May 30, 2014 at 10:00 am – June 1, 2014 at 8:00 pm Treasure Beach, Jamaica
    • BSFA interview June 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
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