Regeneration! Fantasy in the Court! Nine Worlds!

6 August 2015. The day the ®Evolution ended.

Well, not quite. There’s a short story, Discordances, yet to be released; Regeneration won’t be out in North America until next year; and publication in various editions and territories will roll on for a few years yet.

But: Regeneration, the 3rd book in the ®Evolution trilogy, is out in the UK today. 

Four years ago I was about two-thirds done with the manuscript for what would become the first book. I didn’t know that anyone besides a handful of friends would ever read it, and I had no plans for any more. I didn’t have an agent, let alone a publisher. If you had told me in August of 2011 that this is where I’d be in August 2015, I’d have laughed and bought a lottery ticket.

So how am I celebrating? At Fantasy in the Court, which will entail a suitably epic trek across London town, seeing as there’s a Tube strike on. Given the troubled times the ®Evolution chronicles, hiking on a day of industrial dispute from the urban wilds of Hackney through traffic-choked streets into the literary heart of this ancient city seems entirely apt. Then it’s off to Nine Worlds, the annual tribal gathering of writers, readers and fan-folk of all descriptions, where there’ll be a launch at Friday night’s Jo Fletcher Books summer party, and discussions throughout the weekend of utopias and dystopias, representation and exclusion, and what it means to tell stories; what makes them meaningful, how we reflect and transform ourselves in their image, why they may be the most important cultural artefact we create.

The power of story is something I’m thinking about a great deal at the moment. It’s going to be the big theme of the next book. (It’s also a concern of The Future Fire, a magazine of social-political speculative fiction currently celebrating their 10th anniversary – look out for more on them next week.) It has, I realise, become the big theme of my own life.

I know what stories I’m going to write next. But which ones, I wonder, will I be written into? Four years from now, what tale will I tell?

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July Round-Up

Last month felt like a sort of ramping-up to the release of Regeneration and the conclusion of the ®Evolution trilogy, with an interview and a couple of guest posts, several unexpected mentions, and much squeeing and Twitpic-ing as reviewers received their advance copies. Of course the first review was back in June, courtesy of the Birmingham SF Group (p8); they judged it “an excellent and thoroughly recommended story that examines regeneration on many levels.” An overview of the series and mini-review of Regeneration made it onto Holdfast magazine’s Bookshelf in July, and were equally complimentary. And then there were tweets like this:

… which is about as perfect a reaction as any author can hope for.

The first chapter is available to read over at Carabas. As sometimes happens scene breaks haven’t carried over to the web format, but the shifts are pretty clear I think. Old friends, new characters, and the hint of big new problems …

I wrote about Spreading the ®Evolution for Civilian Reader and Leading Characters for Liz Loves Books, and was interviewed by A Fantastical Librarian. Paul Weimer recommended Gemsigns as a particularly good SF choice for readers of mainstream literary fiction on the Reading Envy podcast. And Itcher Magazine put me on their list of 20 Top Female Science Fiction Authors, which is just … mind-blowing. I’m on a list with Ursula le Guin.

Top that, August.

Counting the ®Evolution: Who Are These People?

I’ve said a number of times over the past few months that I have yet to really wrap my head around the fact that I’ve now written a trilogy: an arc of three substantial and self-contained novels, a coherent and completed vision. A BIG vision. It’s so big I haven’t quite felt like I could see the edges of it.

I assumed it would hit me in August, when Regeneration is published; but I have in fact just now started to grasp the scale of the thing. It’s all Nicola Budd’s fault. One of her (many, many) jobs as editor at Jo Fletcher Books is to prepare the ebook editions; and one of her strategies has been to elicit bonus content from authors, special little Easter eggs that will come packaged in the ebook. I was still bogged down with the actual writing when she first broached it to me, and in a state of desperation and quite possibly insanity suggested that, as Regeneration would conclude a series that has boasted a large and complex cast of characters, I could produce something along the lines of a dramatis personæ for the entire ®Evolution.

She said that was an excellent idea! … At which point I realised that I didn’t actually know how many characters I had created over the years; nor did I have a definite sense of how to break them down into primary/ secondary/ tertiary levels of importance. I would have to work that out, and I’d have to decide who to include in the cast list for Nicola. But I didn’t want to just cherry-pick the obvious characters; I wanted to know who was being left out. So, with Regeneration edits, copy-edits and proofreads completed and this just about the last task I have to accomplish prior to publication, I decided to conduct a census.

That was two weeks ago.

I went through each book, plus an as-yet-unpublished short story, and created a comprehensive (I hope) list of characters. I determined who were the main drivers of the plot, and defined them as primary. Those with whom they interact in ways that clearly impact the narrative have been dubbed secondary, and those whose role is more textural are tertiary.

Then I had to create a combined list of all three, and work out the categories for that – because some characters who are secondary in one book are primary in another, and some never have a major role in terms of plot but are nevertheless key to the actions of other, more central characters.

Based on that logic I came up with a list of fifteen ‘core’ characters – the ones without whom there would be no story – and have just finished writing the promised cast list, complete with short descriptions for each of them. They’re 40-80 words long, about the same as the standard author bio you’ll see accompanying a review or a guest post. They contain key facts about the character and the role they play in the ®Evolution, including major events across all of the books.

Being able to do that for fifteen characters may not sound terribly impressive, and indeed it isn’t. But according to my census, there are ninety-one named characters in the ®Evolution (and many more who aren’t); and I could write a similar bio for every single one of them. I know the backstory and basic personality traits of nearly a hundred fictional people. I know why they’re in my stories and what they get up to there. Many of them – most of them – quite possibly all of them – could carry stories of their own.

I am finally starting to grasp the scale of this thing.

BINARY lands in America

Binary is now out in North America, which officially makes it available throughout the English-speaking world. Accordingly it and I are popping up all over the place, like some kind of brightly-jacketed internet mushroom. I’m really proud of this book; it’s the first thing I wrote after I’d got a publishing deal, when I knew I was a proper writer and also knew that meant I had something to prove. I poured my heart and soul into Binary, and I believe it shows.

US Edition

US

UK edition

UK

But! This is not where I tell you what I think of my own work, because I want you all to go read it and have your own thoughts. I will, however, share some other things I’ve written recently to mark the US hardback and the UK paperback releases. They are all in one way or another about the opportunities and the responsibilities of being a storyteller: tackling an unplanned sequel, creating fictional worlds that nevertheless reflect reality, the kinds of stories we choose to keep telling, the challenge of conveying character and of finding your own voice as a writer.

Asking the Next Question

What happens now? Given what has already been done, and cannot be undone; knowing what we now know, and can no longer pretend ignorance of; how do people move forward? What kind of society do they wish to live in?

Who will they choose, now, to be?

Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities

Thanks to medicine, it is a certainty that no one anywhere in the world will get smallpox ever again. That is a real-life, honest-to-god miracle, accomplished during my lifetime; but there is no glamour attached to it. The fairy dust of fictional extrapolation has somehow passed it by.

Violent Impulses, or How We Think About Conflict

As someone who writes fiction which draws on the social sciences as well as on genetics and information technology, I’m keenly aware of those patterns of belief and presumption – and given that fiction almost invariably relies on some kind of conflict to provide a sense of significance and urgency, it strikes me that how we resolve fictional conflicts is relevant to how we think about real ones.

Finding Voices: Defining the Characters in Binary

If creating this plethora of voices and characters and languages and subtext sounds terribly difficult and complicated, well it is – but no more so than the complex human interactions we engage in and expertly negotiate every day.

(And, because I think you might enjoy it, here’s a little story from my own life before I became a writer.)

New reviews keep coming in, all linked under the tab above. (I do mean all; as long as a review is online and I know about it, it’ll be linked from this site. The only exceptions will be ones that are abusive or excessively spoilery – which hasn’t happened yet – or groups of reader reviews at sites like Goodreads or Amazon.)

BINARY: US Edition Cover Reveal!

I did say there was going to be a Big Reveal today … and here it is! Many thanks to Bookworm Blues, The Qwillery, Sci-Fi Fan LetterCivilian ReaderA Fantastical Librarian and The Bibliosanctum for splashing this about, along with reviews and extracts:

US Edition

US Edition

The UK vs. US cover conversation is already underway on Twitter (for the record I like them both, and I’m proud of the fact that the book lends itself to such different interpretations). The jacket copy is the same in both territories:

When confiscated genestock is stolen out of secure government quarantine, DI Sharon Varsi finds herself on the biggest case of her career: chasing down a clever thief, a mysterious hacker, and the threat of new, black-market gemtech.

Zavcka Klist, ruthless industrial enforcer, has reinvented herself. Now the head of Bel’Natur, she wants gem celebrity Aryel Morningstar’s blessing for the company’s revival of infotech – the science that spawned the Syndrome, nearly destroyed mankind and led to the creation of the gems. With illness in her own family that only a gemtech can cure, Aryel’s in no position to refuse.

As the infotech program inches toward a breakthrough, Sharon’s investigations lead ever closer to the dark heart of Bel’Natur, the secrets of Aryel Morningstar’s past … and what Zavcka Klist is really after.

The US hardback is in stores on May 5th, and I shall be popping up in various places online in celebration. Thanks to mine hosts!

REGENERATION cover reveal!

Regeneration_TPBO

I’ve been really happy with all my covers, but this may be my favourite of the UK editions – and I’ve had to sit on it for months. It’s gone up on the Jo Fletcher Books site, so I can finally share it here too. (Also coming soon: the Binary cover for the US edition, which continues the theme of the Gemsigns cover and is very, very beautiful.)

Here’s the Regeneration cover copy:

The gillungs – genetically modified, waterbreathing humans – are thriving. They’ve pioneered new aquatic industries, and their high-efficiency quantum battery technology coupled to tidal turbines in the Thames estuary looks set to revolutionise the energy industry. But as demand grows, so does fear of what their newfound power might mean.

Then a biohazard scare at Sinkat, their London headquarters, fuels the opposition and threatens to derail the gillungs’ progress. Was it an accident born of overconfidence, or was it sabotage?

DS Sharon Varsi has her suspicions, and Gabriel sees parallels in the propaganda war he’s trying to manage: politicians and big business have stakes in this game too. And now there is a new threat: Zavcka Klist is out of prison. With powerful new followers and nothing to lose, she’s out to reclaim everything they took from her.

Regeneration is out on 2nd July (but only if I get the copy edits done in time – pressing ‘Publish’, back to work).

2014 blog stats

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Days of Christmas Future

I completed and submitted Regeneration, the 3rd book of the ®Evolution trilogy, a week ago. You would think that means I now have lots of time to attend to neglected things like social media updates and blogging, but oh no – because so much has been neglected over the past few weeks and months (company accounts! bills! VAT returns!) that I am racing to catch up before the end of December arrives and turns me into a pumpkin. Not to mention more pleasurable offline pursuits like friends in town for Christmas and other delights of the season. So for now I’m cheating by reposting a piece I wrote for the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas 2014 Advent Calendar about the significance of Christmas in Gemsigns. (Which means, incidentally, that if anyone out there’s looking for a very last-minute bookish gift idea that has some relevance to the the week we’re in … without necessarily being, y’know, a ‘Christmas Story’ in the traditional sense … Blackwell’s. Forbidden Planet. Foyles. Waterstones. And quite possibly an independent bookshop near you.)

Here you go. I will be back with something new and original soon … possibly on how it feels to have finished! writing! a trilogy! Until then, compliments of the season.

When is a Christmas story not a Christmas story?

I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few years now, ever since I finished writing Gemsigns. Although the events of the novel lead up to and conclude on Christmas Day – a fact which is hugely significant within the narrative logic of the book – you would never know from the jacket blurb or the majority of the reviews that it has anything to do with Christmas.

That’s fair enough, as the narrative is not constructed to reinforce the traditional religiosity of the season, nor the contemporary commerciality with which we are all familiar. The novel is, however, very interested in the construction, interpretation and evolution of myth. Part of what I was interested in when I wrote it is how the founding mythologies and legends of a future civilisation might develop, and how the cultural standards with which we here in the twenty-first century are familiar might morph and shift and adapt themselves to new ways of thinking and being. I don’t buy the idea that ancient cultural touchstones and archetypes simply disappear under an avalanche of techno-advancement, or that they survive only as a sort of throwback primitivism. I think that in the same way the pagan festivals of the winter solstice and the spring equinox were co-opted and adapted into Christmas and Easter, these cyclical commemorations, these holy-days will adapt and evolve again. One of the many things I was trying to achieve with Gemsigns was an imagining of that sort of deep cultural evolution.

Gemsigns opens with a short introductory passage related by an omniscient narrator who speaks in the riddling, mythopoeic voice of legends, epics, and sacred texts:

When describing a circle one begins anywhere. Each step precedes and succeeds with no greater or less meaning: the tale they tell remains unvaried.

The narrator then tells of a hunted child fleeing unnamed but terrifying pursuers; an escape whose end is indeterminate. Told in the present tense, the subsequent context makes it clear that this incident has occurred in the story’s past, forming an in-the-beginning backdrop to a tale that unfolds in our future: in a London that has survived the apocalypse of a generational pandemic and the dystopia of the resulting slave state. The omniscient voice is gone now, for in the confusion that follows few people are sure of anything, and absolutely no one knows everything.

Day by day over a winter week, the reader witnesses events from the perspective of a range of characters who identify with different political, social, economic and, yes, religious camps. But it is only on the sixth of these days that the reader learns precisely which week they are witness to: for the sixth day, the day of reckoning, is Christmas Eve and the seventh day, the day of resolution, is Christmas.

Within the world of the story these commemorations are no longer the common knowledge of our own era. They are significant to some of the characters, and that significance drives their actions within the narrative, but they no longer matter to society as a whole. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are historical artefacts, observed only by a minority and neither commercially nor socially important.

This is not, then, a Christmas story. Except it kind of is. Among its many characters and influencers are a small child of great significance to the world he inhabits, a powerful bureaucracy (and outlaw theocracy) who are threatened by what he represents, and a band of second-class non-citizens struggling to assert their own humanity and their right to the same freedoms, privileges and responsibilities as everyone else. Their ability to do so is both compromised and symbolised by their commitment to protect and cherish the child, whose existence has the potential to undermine the system under which they are oppressed.

The fact that these conflicts play out to their conclusion over Christmas was not merely for the convenience of the plot. I very consciously wanted to construct a new cultural paradigm within a science-fictional setting. Science fiction rarely, it seems to me, takes the past as seriously as it does the future (one could make the parallel argument that fantasy rarely takes the future as seriously as it does the past, but that is a subject for another essay); it rarely acknowledges how much of its future-world-building must perforce be influenced by the full depth and richness of what has gone before. I thought it would be interesting to use a holy-day of great historical and cultural significance for the unveiling of a new revelation; to take the date that gave us anno domini and from it launch a new era. What happens in Gemsigns at Christmas is what that day, in that possible future, will be remembered for.

This is not, of course, something that religious traditionalists – either within the world of the book or out here in the ‘real’ world – are likely to be pleased about. They generally cannot countenance the notion that the way people live and the things they believe can, must, should be constantly subject to question; subject to change. But I like to think that the legendary rebel whose life informed and whose death founded our own era, if he ever existed and was as good and brave a man as we imagine, would approve.

Sci Fi November: Two Dudes Interview

I’ve been interviewed for Sci Fi November by the Two Dudes in an Attic speculative fiction blog, following their earlier review of Gemsigns. The questions were interesting and thought-provoking; in fact they provoked so many thoughts that the interview was split in two! Both sections are now up (and they’re not that long, promise). I like it when the questions I’m asked let me talk about things that I think are important, and these did. Here’s part 1, and here’s part 2.

Many thanks to Andrea Johnson for inviting me to participate, and introducing me to the Two Dudes.

US Edition

US Edition

Holdfast #4: Diverse Reflections

It’s been very quiet on the blog for weeks and months now … and it’s going to stay that way until book 3 of the ®Evolution trilogy (no longer Gillung, it’s now titled Regeneration) is complete, which I reckon will be in another 4 weeks or so. I may write about some of the challenges later, when they are all firmly behind me … but for now am only popping my head up briefly to direct you to the latest issue of Holdfast Magazine, Diverse Reflections. Co-editor Lucy Smee interviewed me for it back in the summer; you can read that here, but do also check out the fiction and non-fiction, the bookshelf and playlist recommendations, and the cross media articles. Holdfast has also successfully crowdfunded their first anthology, and I’m told that should be ready by Christmas.

  • 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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  • UK edition

    REGENERATION

    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK edition

    BINARY

    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK Edition

    GEMSIGNS

    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    REGENERATION

    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    BINARY

    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    GEMSIGNS

    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

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