Thursday, April 02, 2020

Random Items From The Library #3

High Rise, J.G. Ballard Jonathan Cape, London, 1975. First Edition.

Monday, March 23, 2020

It's Free!

Need something to read while self-isolating? Following the example of Tade Thompson, Adrian Tchiakovsky, Emma Newman and others -- there's a good set of links via the BSFA -- the Kindle ebook of my collection A Very British History will be free to download in the UK and internationally from today through Friday.

Some of my stories are also freely available on the internet:

A brand new story, 'Robot and Girl With Flowers' in the online anthology Avatars

A random selection on my aging website.

'Something Happened Here But We're Not Quite Sure What It Was', a Jackaroo story published by (which of course has a huge number of fine stories by diverse hands).

Clarkesworld magazine has an original story and two reprints -- and there are audio versions too:
'The Fixer', about a colony ship's solution to survival of its human cargo.
'Reef', and 'Dead Man Walking', both Quiet War stories.

And over on the mothballed Infinity Plus site, '17'.

Any others I've forgotten? Drop a link in the comments.

Friday, March 20, 2020


There's been a glitch in making the ebook of War of the Maps available in the US. Gollancz's digital detectives have now worked out what has gone wrong, and the ebook should be available on all platforms from March 25th. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

It's Alive

Publication day for War of the Maps in the UK.

And like all other books whose publication has been caught up in the ongoing circumstances, it is a very muted affair -- out in the world, at least. Various appearances linked with publication have been cancelled; Amazon will not reorder any more books once its current stock is exhausted, as it wants to concentrate on essential supplies. And I understand why many readers may be reluctant to go and buy it in a bookshop: I am currently self-isolating, and hope that all of you are staying as safe as you can.

But the ebook is available to download, both here in the UK and in the US (once a glitch that has prevented the ebook showing on has been fixed, that is). And there are places where you can buy the physical book online other than Amazon.

Wordery is currently offering War of the Maps at a steep discount, with free postage.

The Book Depository is offering a 20% discount, and free postage anywhere in the world.

Forbidden Planet has an online shop; you can find War of the Maps here.

In Scotland, there's SFF specialist Transreal Fiction, offering free home delivery in and around Edinburgh.

Blackwell's, Foyles and Waterstones are also selling it online. Blackwell's and Foyles offer free postage, and in the Blackwell's online store the book is currently discounted to £11.75.

You could order it from your favourite independent bookshop. If they don't have it in stock they can order it for you. Many offer free postage or free local delivery. Hive will make a small donation to your local bookshop with every purchase, but it's best to buy directly. Here are a few good independent booksellers in London:
Big Green Bookshop
Bookseller Crow
Burley Fisher Books

Finally, the UK ebook is available from Google Play. 

If you have a recommendation, let me know. I'll add it to the list.

And do think of supporting other books caught up in these difficult times. For instance Aliette De Bodard's House of Sundering Flames, Chris Humphreys' Smoke in the Glass, and Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night, all three also published by Gollancz today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Best Of The Best New Horror

Sometimes I write horror stories. One, a precursor to my alternate Rennaisance  novel Pasquale's Angel, is included in The Best of Best New Horror, Volume 1, edited by Stephen Jones, and available for order from PS Publishing right now.

Here's the TOC:

  • Editor’s Foreword
  • Introduction: Bettering the Best — RAMSEY CAMPBELL
  • No Sharks in the Med [1989] — BRIAN LUMLEY
  • The Man Who Drew Cats [1990] — MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH
  • The Same in any Language 1991] — RAMSEY CAMPBELL
  • Norman Wisdom and the Angel of Death [1992] — CHRISTOPHER FOWLER
  • Mefisto in Onyx [1993] — HARLAN ELLISON®
  • The Temptation of Dr. Stein [1994] — PAUL J. McAULEY
  • Queen of Knives [1995]— NEIL GAIMAN
  • The Break [1996] — TERRY LAMSLEY
  • Emptiness Spoke Eloquent [1997] — CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN
  • Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff [1998] — PETER STRAUB
  • Index to the First Ten Years of Best New Horror
        I: Index by Contributor
        II: Index by Title
        III: Contents of Previous Omnibus Editions

Friday, March 13, 2020


Up now and free to read and download as a .pdf or ebook: Avatars Inc, an anthology of 24 hopeful stories about some of the ways that telepresence avatars could enhance human lives. Accidentally but hugely topical in this time of plague and self-isolation.

Including my story 'Robot and Girl With Flowers'*, and others by Madeine Ashby, Julie Novakova, Aliette De Bodard, Charles Yu, Dr. Harry Kloor, K. Chess, Jeffrey Ford, Mere Fenn Wolfmoor, JY Yang, Tade Thompson, Pat Cadigan, Tom Seterlitsch, Ken Liu, Julianna Baggott, Robert Reed, Indrapranit Das, Johanna Sinisalo, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Nino Cipri, Kelly Robson, James S. A Corey, Sarah Pinsker, SL Huang.

Available as a .pdf or ebook download here.

*Yes, an homage to Brian Aldiss's classic Robot and Girl With Flowers'

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Random Items From The Library #2

Bad Moon Rising, An Anthology of Political Foreboding, edited by Thomas M. Disch Harper & Row, New York, 1973. First Edition.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

In The Beginning

The inception of War of the Maps was, okay, its world. Specifically, as mentioned in an earlier post, an odd kind of star-wrapping Dyson sphere. But that was only the seed. An unsprouted potential. The real beginning of the story was a character and a situation. Everything followed from that. The complications of the narrative; the unfolding of the character's world, and what he found in it. I had a beginning, and an idea about an ending, but the protagonist's path through the world was mapped by his needs, desires and beliefs, and his interactions with other characters.

My previous novel, Austral, elaborated itself in the same way; so is the (as yet untitled) fable of the post-Anthropocene I'm presently working on. I had problems with the beginnings of both: in Austral, failing to understand that the protagonist should be in narrator; in the current work, starting it in the wrong place. As far as I'm concerned, the trick isn't building the world or charting the topography of the narrative before beginning; it's finding the character's voice, and the right situation. But War of the Maps was one of those lucky books where I had the character and the situation right at the beginning, and with only a few wrong turns the rest (to borrow an image from Robert Frost), like a piece of ice on a hot stove, flowed with its own melting.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Random Items From The Library #1

 Planets in a bottle.

Saturday, February 08, 2020


Epigraph of War of the Maps:

I have noticed from the study of maps
The more outlying the island –
The further out it is in the remote ocean –
The stronger the force that pulls us towards it.
David Greig, Outlying Islands

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


War of the Maps, along with novels and collections by Elizabeth Bear, James Bradley, William Gibson, N.K. Jemison, M. John Harrison, Lavie Tidhar, and many others, is one of the books that Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan are looking forward to this year. Here's a link to their podcast, and a complete list of their most anticipated titles.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Skim ice on a puddle, photographed on Hampstead Heath this morning. Which was the first properly frosty morning of this otherwise temperate and often rather wet New Year, here in London. We should enjoy these traditional winter days while we can, I suppose. The last decade was the warmest on record, and the past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series dating back to 1850. Which might explain why crocuses and miniature narcissi are already abloom, in my garden.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Rembrandt's Window

The current exhibition of Rembrandt's paintings and etchings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery shows off his mastery of light and shadow to great effect, but it was a tiny self-portrait at the very end which caught my attention. One of many in which Rembrandt tried out techniques using the closest model to hand, in this example he leans in to the reflection he's capturing on the etching's copper plate, and a trick of perspective makes it seem that, instead of looking at the picture from the outside, we are somehow on the inside, looking out at the artist looking in, and the whole of the gone C17 world is going about its business beyond the borders of that little window.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Hampstead Heath, July To December

More snapshots from my Sunday walks around and across Hampstead Heath's sprawl of meadows and woodland. First half of the year here.







Tuesday, September 17, 2019

War Of The Maps

I've just sent the amended copy-edit of War of the Maps back to the publishers; the next stage will be combing through the proofs, and after that it will become the actual object. As the cover suggests, it's set square in prime science fiction territory: the very far future, after the Andromeda galaxy has collided with the Milky Way, and the Sun has evolved into a white dwarf. But as Adam Roberts pointed out in a recent essay, 'SF worldbuilding is part of the system of a science fiction text; but the point of SF is not its system.' Worldbuilding aside (and if you want to know a little about that, here's a link to the research paper that set me to thinking about the world of War of the Maps), what is this novel about? I'll skip the recent trend for reducing novels to bullet-point lists of fashionable tropes, and mention instead the novel's themes: the limits of heroism and how heroes are defined by the villains they pursue, and the razor-edge boundary between duty and obsession. This particular pursuit drives our hero to leave behind everything he knows and takes him into the heart of a war against a transformative alien invasion. That's all I can tell you about right now, except that the UK publication date is March 19th 2020. And if you like the sound of it, you can already preorder it here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Something I'm In

The Apollo moon landings turned out to be the beginning of the end of the first space race, not the end of the beginning, and for a while, they were also an end to stories set on the Moon. But after a couple of decades absent actual science, science fiction began to reclaim our sister world, and this anthology, edited by Neil Clarke and published a week before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, collects a nice variety of those post-Apollo lunar stories.

Table of Contents:
  • Introduction
  • Bagatelle by John Varley
  • The Eve of the Last Apollo by Carter Scholz
  • The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick
  • A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis
  • Waging Good by Robert Reed
  • How We Lost the Moon by Paul McAuley
  • People Came From Earth by Stephen Baxter
  • Ashes and Tombstones by Brian Stableford
  • Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam Troy Castro
  • Stories for Men by John Kessel
  • The Clear Blue Seas of Luna by Gregory Benford
  • You Will Go to the Moon by William Preston
  • SeniorSource by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas
  • The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt
  • Fly Me to the Moon by Marianne J. Dyson
  • Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball
  • The Fifth Dragon by Ian McDonald
  • Let Baser Things Devise by Berrien C. Henderson
  • The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das
  • Every Hour of Light and Dark by Nancy Kress
  • In Event of Moon Disaster by Rich Larson

Sunday, July 14, 2019

In The Woods

Monday, July 08, 2019

Podcast: What If...

I was recently a guest on What The If ..., the high-octane, cheerfully irreverent speculative science podcast run by documentary filmmaker Philip Shane and scientist and author Matt Stanley. They let me play around with a question related to War of the Maps: What The IF we could save the Earth from the inevitable death of the Sun? Check it out here.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Doctor's Story

From War of the Maps:
‘People of our age sometimes have the foolish notion that they must prove that they have not been brought low by time,’ the doctor said. ‘After living full and useful lives, they suddenly realise that the end of the road is only a little way ahead of them. They begin to fear that they are no longer relevant. That the world is moving on without them. They believe that there may yet be time for one more grand adventure, want to prove that they can still make a mark and win respect. But an important part of growing old is accepting without regret that all lives end in some kind of failure. We never do everything we hoped to do, or do what we have done as well as we would have liked.’
‘Are you talking about me, doctor?’ the lucidor said. ‘Or are you thinking of yourself?’
‘Oh, I got over my foolish need for adventure when I was very much younger. It is a story of madness and failure with a kind of happy ending. Or so I like to think.’
When she was a student, the doctor said, she had become interested in medicinal herbs. The creator gods had seeded the world with a wealth of plants that possessed healing properties, but only a small number had ever been cultivated, and many had died out in the wild. But now and then a new species was found, or ones thought lost to the world were rediscovered, and after she had earned her medical qualifications the doctor used a small inheritance to fund a plant-finding expedition of her own.
‘I lived for a year amongst the folk who lived in the mountains to the north of this town,’ she said. ‘Although they are a patriarchal people, being a woman turned out to be to my advantage. Most of their healers are women because caring for people is considered women’s work, and while their men would tell anyone about everything, their women confided their secrets only to each other. And, eventually, to me. With their help and advice I found several useful plants unknown to my profession, including one whose leaves yielded an effective painkiller when mashed with slaked lime. And because I worked hard to gain the women’s trust, I was at last allowed to take part in a ceremony they called “Touching the Hands of the Godlings”.
‘It involved the ritual ingestion of a small portion of a mushroom found only in the mountains. A mushroom said to have been used by those who were ridden by godlings when the world was still dewy fresh and everything in it was their plaything. I was inducted into the secret by a shaman who seemed to me then to be incredibly ancient, but probably was no older than I am now. She and the other old women of her village took me into a system of caves, where she and I were stripped naked and bathed, and I was painted from head to foot with patterns of dots and dashes that matched the patterns of the tattoos that covered her body. Prayers were sung, and she led me deeper into the caves, at last squirming through a narrow passage to a kind of cell whose flowstone walls were painted with the likeness of godling spirits: slender long-limbed human figures each with a single large eye, and decorated with the same patterns as the shaman’s tattoos and my body paint. There, in the light of a single small clay lamp, the shaman chewed a portion of her sacred mushroom, and with a deep kiss transferred it to my mouth. It was a solemn, thrilling moment, and it changed my life. Not so much for what I saw, but for the obsession it planted in me.’
‘What did you see?’
‘We sat together for a long while, and when I was beginning to believe that nothing would happen the painted figures on the walls began to move in the flicker of the lamp’s flame. They danced, and stepped down and invited me to join in their dance. The ceiling of that little space was so low I couldn’t stand, yet I seemed to be in a much larger space, and the godlings took my hands and spun me around and passed me from one to the next. They talked to me, too. Or sang. Of what, I can’t recall, but I do remember the feeling those songs and that dance gave me. It wasn’t unique. Many experience it through prayer, meditation or ecstatic trance. Some say that it is the most primal state of consciousness, gifted to us by the gods. Perhaps you have experienced it yourself. But there, deep underground, out of my mind on shaman spit and mushroom juice, it seemed to last forever. A feeling that there was no part of me separate from the world, and no part of the world was separate from me. I felt that I had floated off into a limitless ocean that contained all of time and all of space, and at the same time I felt that ocean opening up inside me.
‘At last it subsided, and the godlings faded back into the walls. The little clay lamp was still burning steadily, and when the shaman guided me back to the cave entrance I discovered that it was still night, and scarcely more than two hours had passed. I wanted to experience the vision of the dance again, craved it as an addict craves soma, but as far as the shaman was concerned it was a rite of passage that should not and need not be repeated, and neither she nor the other women, nor any others I asked in the other villages, would tell me where that mushroom grew. I begged. I tried to bribe them. I tried to threaten them. Nothing shifted them. I looked for a year, walking mountain trails familiar and unfamiliar, and never found it.
‘By then I had run out of money. I took a job in a city in the mountains of the south-west, hoping that I might find the mushroom there, but had no better luck. I dread to think what might have happened to me if I had. Fortunately, I was young, and was able to outgrow my foolishness. The obsession slowly lost its grip, and when I learned that the doctor who ran this infirmary died I applied to take his place and was successful. I have been here ever since, treating the townspeople as best I can and cultivating a little herb garden, and have never regretted it. And there is the happy ending.’

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hampstead Heath, January to June

I take a photograph or two whenever I go for a walk on Hampstead Heath. There's no plan, no search for the ideal image; the photos are little more than snapshots of whatever catches my attention. Memos taken with an old Android phone, some unprocessed, some with simple filters. Here are six, from the first six months of this year.







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