Guest post: Ways of Seeing

I’ve written about perception, presumption, and the right to be who you are for the We See a Different Frontier blog carnival, hosted by The Future Fire. I got pretty passionate. Link below:

The Future Fire editors’ blog: Guest post: Ways of Seeing. interview

Here’s that interview I did with Tanya Batson-Savage for

Debut Novelist Stephanie Saulter Talks Facts & Fiction

Tanya was smart and probing, and I really enjoyed talking to her. She also came to the Bookophilia launch, and the interview is illustrated with photos from the night.

GEMSIGNS Jamaica: TV, print, online, in person

The Gemsigns local launch last night was a great success! Many thanks to the team at Bookophilia for the invitation, promotion and logistics; to The Wine Shop for the libations; to my wonderful brother Storm who did loads of organising and also got the word out to his extensive list, and my equally wonderful dad who provided equipment and setup; and of course to everyone who came. I saw lots of old friends, and met even more new ones. I read the prologue and first chapter, to an audience that told me to keep going when I suggested a wine break; discussed the themes and inspiration of the book; and answered some very smart questions. A wonderful audience, I hope to see them again for Binary, and am pleased to report that they very nearly bought all the books available on the night. I’m delighted for Bookophilia, who had a waiting list and so probably will be sold out over the next day or so. I’ll post pictures here when I can; a few are already up on the Facebook page.

In the meantime, here are links to some of the other cool stuff that’s happened this week. My spot on Wednesday morning television is here:

The launch and a description of the novel were also featured in Wednesday’s Daily Gleaner:


… and Tanya Batson-Savage of posted this lovely intro to the book and invitation to the launch, and will be following up with a full interview soon. I’ve also had two other interview requests, will be fitting those in around travel over the next few days!

Smile Jamaica: Gemsigns is world literature

Came out of my first ever interview on live television to another great review of Gemsigns! Many thanks to Claudette Robinson, Neville Bell, Yendi Phillips and everyone else at TVJ for inviting me on to the Smile Jamaica morning magazine programme. I got to talk about Gemsigns, dispel the notion that SF isn’t really a Caribbean ‘thing’ by mentioning Karen Lord and Tobias Buckell, and plug tomorrow’s reading and launch at Bookophilia (6:30pm, 92 Hope Road, Kingston 6). They were charming and kind, and I think it went really well. I’m told the clip should be online in a day or two, I’ll post the link here if and when.

Back at my sister’s house, in amongst the congratulatory texts and tweets, came a tweeted link from Abhinav Jain, who has written a phenomenal review under his Shadowhawk persona over at The Founding Fields. I knew he liked the book, but wow. And I love – love – the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter where people are in the world; Dubai or downtown Kingston, Canberra or Canada. Gemsigns connects.

GEMSIGNS extract on the web, + reviews, + discussion

Civilan Reader has posted an excerpt from Gemsigns, with a review to follow next week:

Excerpt: GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books).

There’ve also been two brilliant new reviews this week; one in the current issue of SciFiNow magazine, and the other on the Australian blog Speculating on SpecFic. Both are linked via the Reviews tab above.

And Jo Fletcher Books has contributed to the ongoing debate about gender imbalance in science fiction authorship and readership on their blog, and I’ve added my tuppence in comments; to the effect that the general public’s ongoing perception of SF as being limited only to a certain ‘type’ of book is at least as damaging as the gender issue. You can read that here.

The Subtext of Gemsigns

This is one of several posts I’ve written for the Jo Fletcher Books blog this month, linked below and reblogged here:

The Subtext of Gemsigns | Jo Fletcher Books.

There are many layers to Gemsigns. You certainly don’t have to be conscious of all of them to enjoy the book – I think a story has to work purely on the level of characters and plot, or it doesn’t work at all.  But my favourite stories are always those that try to examine some deeper truths as well.

Dealing with difference: To a huge degree Gemsigns is about what happens when those who have been overlooked and elided and generally made absent are allowed to emerge, and a society that has become extremely homogenous has to confront diversity. For the most part the gems don’t have the option of ‘passing’ because visible identifiers have been engineered into them so they can always be seen to be different; these are the ‘gemsigns’ of the title. The big foreground conflicts are based in public safety scaremongering, the economic consequences of emancipation, and fundamentalist religious hatred; but the thing that gives all of those issues traction, that fuels the fire of the various factions, is a deep-seated unease with difference.

Post-emancipation politics: I’m really interested in the ‘what do we do now’ moments – the bits that come after the monster has been slain, the catastrophe averted, the battle won. It’s common in fiction for that to be the point at which the story ends, but I often think that’s when things really start to get interesting. Who picks up the pieces, and how do they put what has been broken back together again? How do the survivors actually survive? How does the experience of what they’ve been through alter the decisions they make and shape the society that results? An early, abortive attempt at writing the book had the action set before the Declaration of the Principles of Human Fraternity, when the gems were still fighting for even limited freedoms. I got a few thousand words into that version and thought, Hang on. I’ve read this story – I know where it goes and how it ends. What happens after that? That’s the story I decided to write.

Mothers and children: It bugs me how few believable family relationships we see in science fiction. They crop up more often in fantasy, but even there they are rarely explored beyond the standard tropes – the Denied Daughter, the Special Son, the Troubled Teenager, the Vengeful Wife, the Cruel Patriarch. But the dynamics of family are far more complex and subtle than that; not to mention fundamental to forming us into the people we become. What happens to family in a world where children are doomed to die? Or where mothers may bear children but not keep them? Where generations of children are raised by institutions instead of parents? Putting a child’s fate at the heart of Gemsigns gave me a way in to exploring those questions. The relationship between Gaela and Bal and their adopted son Gabriel is central to the story, but the fates of many other mothers and children are chronicled as well. If the big headline question the book asks (as has been noted by many others, not least Jo Fletcher herself) is: What does it mean to be human? then the smaller, subtler, but no less important question is: What does it mean to be a mother?

GEMSIGNS extract: Passing

Several platforms had merged into an apron where departing passengers pushed past him to get to their trains as the arrivals queued up to go through the turnstiles. Eli, lost in thought as he waited his turn to shuffle forward and place his identity pass on the scanner, started at a harsh buzzing from one of the turnstiles. A petite, remarkably pretty woman stood on his side of the barrier, the rejected pass in her hand, as she stared at the flashing light on the machine.

She looked vaguely familiar, but unlike the sense of almost-recognition he’d had with Zavcka Klist, Eli knew that what he was identifying here was a type, not an individual. It was something about her littleness and delicacy of bone structure, her excessive prettiness and the shyness with which she carried it. She stood out in a way that had become rare since the Syndrome. Even Klist did not exceed the usual height-weight-attractiveness ratios nearly as much as this woman. Yet there was something incoherent about her, some subtle counteraction to her beauty. He was no follower of fashion, but he sensed that something about her appearance was wrong.

He was struck by her hair. It was shoulder length and stylishly cut, but the dull, matt-black colour was at odds with her modish grooming and fashionable clothes. Eli felt a glimmer of satisfaction at identifying the disguise. He considered whether it was a wig or a dye job, decided on dye. A wig might slip, and besides if this woman had decided to take such a risk she’d have chosen a better wig. No, she’d dyed her hair, poured on layers and layers of light-barring pigments and fixatives to block the telltale gem glow. He wondered what colour it really was. A gentle rose pink maybe, or pale lilac.

For the briefest moment she raised her eyes to the man who was waiting for her on the other side of the barrier. He looked at least twenty years older, and better at hiding his discomfiture. His hair was receding and grey, and he wore the kind of well-cut, conservative suit that made Eli think of a banker. He had a confident, well-cared-for air. Someone used to money and privilege, universal rights and automatic respect. Definitely not a gem.

‘Must be due for renewal,’ the man said, in a voice intended to carry. Although he was looking at the black-haired woman, Eli thought the comment was meant for the turnstile guards. The one on the bodyscanner was watching the woman keenly. Those adjacent to her in the crowd took in her looks and her unease, and edged away. The woman bit her lip as she carefully lowered the pass onto the scanner again. This time a soft, welcoming tone accompanied a steady green light as the barrier gates hissed open. The woman stepped through and prodded her slim climbcase into the luggage scanner.

Intrigued, Eli sidestepped into the queue for the same turnstile to watch what happened. He was certain the woman was a gem, travelling on a forged – or stolen – norm pass. It was a serious violation, and on the face of it an irrational one. Gem travel had not been restricted since the Declaration – not yet anyway – and she would have been allowed through on her own pass.

But then she would have been recorded as having arrived in London. He could think of two reasons she might wish to avoid that. One was common to any criminal, gem or norm, who wanted to cover their tracks as they moved from city to city. The other was specific to gems who simply wanted to disappear, fall off the index of the underclass and slip into norm society. If their appearance allowed them to pass, the cleanest break with their old life was to register in a new location under their new identity.

He thought the latter was more likely in this case. There was something about the woman that seemed inconsistent with a city-hopping professional crook. Her nervousness and her companion both suggested someone unused to this kind of endeavour. He wondered if the man was a lover, a well-heeled gent past his prime but with the means and nous to attract a beautiful companion who would be grateful for the life he could offer. Such cases were not unknown; were not even restricted to the rich. It was very much at odds, he thought, with Zavcka Klist’s analysis.

The climbcase hissed swiftly through the automatic sensors, and paused rather longer at the visualisation monitor. Eli could see a guard bending down to peer at the screen. He knew this was a waste of time: the chemical sensors and hazard-recognition software were much more perceptive than human faculties. The same was true of the bodyscanners. The guards were really there to deal with the people and luggage that the machines flagged up, not to identify problems themselves. Until a year ago they had had very limited authority to intervene once the equipment had signalled acceptance, but this had been extended as part of the hodgepodge of post-Declaration protocols. Approval by the scanners of papers, person and possessions no longer guaranteed swift passage.

Which was why Eli wanted to see what would happen if – as he suspected – the woman did not set off the bodyscanner. She stepped up to and through it with a bit more confidence, and stood on the exit mat waiting for the light to turn green. No physical abnormalities then, no strange internal anatomy. The guard glanced at the monitor, then peered around it to give her a long look. Eli thought he was manually overriding the lights to keep her on the mat. He was focused on her hair. She stood perfectly still, barely breathing, still biting her lip, not lifting her eyes from the ground.

A mistake, that, thought Eli. It would be more natural to glance over at him, see what’s taking so long. He found he was holding his breath too, waiting for the guard to press a button that would make the lights flash red, to stand up and ask the woman to step aside and follow me, please. She seemed resigned to it. He could see her companion draw himself up in readiness.

Happy Hallowe’en! Look what I got.

I’m a little old for tricks, but maybe not for treats. Remember a few weeks ago, when I was agonising over cover copy? Well the process turned out to be even more fraught than I anticipated. Turns out that the more characters and plotlines and Big Overarching Themes you have, the harder it can be to nail down just how much or how little of them should be mentioned on the back of the jacket. Fortunately, with the great Jo Fletcher for an editor/publisher, all turned out right in the end. Here’s my Hallowe’en delight, delivered just now by a mysterious messenger cleverly disguised as a servant of the Royal Mail.


The actual copy reads thus:

Humanity stands on the brink. Again.

Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.

After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.

Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.


GEMSIGNS cover blurb

My publisher asked if I wanted to have a crack at the jacket copy for Gemsigns. This is, of course, hugely important; how many of us decide to buy a book – or not – by picking up a likely-looking volume, flipping it over and reading the back? (Or the inside flap of the jacket if it’s a hardcover.) You’d think it  wouldn’t be too difficult, but it turns out that 2-3 short, punchy paragraphs that capture the essence of the story without giving too much away, that are enticing enough to hook a prospective reader, are not simple to construct at all. I’ve read my latest draft so many times now it’s a blur. So this is an attempt to crowdsource opinion. Would you buy this book?


Humanity stands on the brink. Again.

Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically altering every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their fair share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic. And a legacy of servitude, to which they will not return.

When the gem Gaela finds an abandoned child with an unregistered ability, events are set in motion that will drag every element of her fractured world into conflict: the vicious intrigues of the gemtech that created her, the holy war of the godgangs, and the fears and prejudices of the norm majority. Ruthless executive Zavcka Klist will do whatever it takes to retrieve little Gabriel. Deformed, unaccountably formidable leader Aryel Morningstar is hiding secrets of her own. Only norm scientist Dr Eli Walker can be trusted to navigate this treacherous terrain, in a desperate search for the truth.

Likes and/or comments much appreciated!

  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

    In the meantime check out Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, available wherever good books are sold.

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