Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hampstead Heath, January - June 2020

Snapshots from Sunday morning walks in the grasslands and woods of Hampstead Heath, in the first half of the year.







Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Writing The Anthropocene

An interview I did with the novelist Eliot Peper about Austral and writing about geopolitics and the Anthropocene is now up on his site.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Random Items From The Library #6

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1972.

Friday, June 19, 2020

'Could You Kill Monsters With It?'

From War of the Maps:
The lucidor slept surprisingly well. He had placed his fate in the hands of others and had nothing to do now but wait. He woke when the stable boy brought his breakfast – pickled fish fillets rolled around slices of gherkin, thin dry slices of black bread, and chai with butter melted into it. The boy set the tray on the stand and at the door hesitated and asked the lucidor if he was a soldier.
Not exactly. But I am heading towards the war.’
Do you fight with that stick?’
The boy was looking at the staff, which leaned against the wall by the head of the bed. It was a single piece of supple black oak a little under two spans in length, shod with iron at both ends.
It’s called a staff,’ the lucidor said. ‘Haven’t you seen one before?’
The boy shook his head. He seemed to be about eleven or twelve, a skinny creature with milky skin, curly red hair shaved high around the sides, wire-rimmed spectacles. The legs of his denim coveralls were rolled at his ankles and the corner of a thin paperback book stuck out of one of the pockets.
He said, ‘Have you ever killed people with your staff?’
I prefer to disarm and subdue them.’
Could you kill monsters with it?’
I don’t know. I have never tried.’
I want to fight the monsters,’ the boy said, ‘but people like me aren’t allowed to join the army.’
By people like you, you mean wights.’
The boy nodded. From somewhere below, a man’s voice called out something in the wights’ language.
The lucidor said, ‘What’s your name?’
There are other ways of fighting the invasion, Panap. A woman I met yesterday is making a study of monsters. Different kinds of small ones, from the sea. She is trying to find out how they were made and how they live, and how to stop them spreading any further. It seems to me that it might be the best chance of defeating the invasion.’
But you’re going to fight,’ the boy said.
I am not a philosopher, and it’s too late for me to learn how to become one. But a boy like you, bright and curious as you are, might make a go of it.’
The man’s voice called out again.
I hope you kill lots when you get to the other side,’ Panap said with sudden fierceness, and was gone.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Virtual Chat

I was supposed to appear at the Cymera convention in Edinburgh this year. For obvious reasons the physical meeting was cancelled, but the organisers have put in a huge effort to create a digital festival instead. As part of that, I've been interviewed by fellow author Ken McLeod, and our pre-recorded conversation will go live at 4.15 pm Sunday June 7th.

The full timetable and other details about the digital festival can be found here.

[Added 10/06] A recording of the interview has been uploaded to Cymera's YouTube channel.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Out In The World

War of the Maps was published a couple of days before the coronavirus lockdown swung into place here in the UK; as a consequence I haven't been able to see copies in their natural habitat -- the shelves of bookshops -- out in the wild. A very minor personal disappointment, noted only because I have just now signed and sent off a small stack of bookplates to the mail order division of Forbidden Planet, so signed copies of the book should, shortly, be available.

Meanwhile, it has been accumulating reviews.

Some links to pieces in Crime Time, SF Crowsnest, SFF World, Salon Futura and the Times (this last paywalled).

There are two long reviews in Locus, one from Gary K. Wolfe, and the other from Paul Di Filippo.

Adam Roberts has posted a chewy and insightful analysis on his blog.

And a review in SFX concludes  'Following on from the extraordinary climate change novel Austral, this is further evidence that Paul McAuley may just be the best SF writer we have.'

For balance, I've been interviewed on the Coode Street podcast about a few books I have recently enjoyed, including Lavie Tidhar's By Force Alone, Alastair Reynold's Bone Silence, Denise Mina's The Long Drop and Kate Atkinson's The Big Sky. And I've just finished Evie Wyld's intricate and compelling cross-generational novel about persistent patterns of toxic masculinity, The Bass Rock, and am about to start James Bradley's new novel Ghost Species.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Random Items From The Library #V

Phase IV (1974, dir. Saul Bass), limited edition Blu-ray, 101 Films, 2020.
Phase IV, Barry N. Malzberg Pan Books, London, 1973.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Twitter Interview

I took part in an interview about War of the Maps over on Twitter this week. What follows is a transcription of the questions and answers. Some questions are from my publisher (Gollancz); others are from readers -- I've used their first names rather than their Twitter handles. I am, of course, 'PM'. Spelling mistakes and abbreviations have been tidied up; otherwise the answers are as I typed them up at the time, with only a brief pause (or none at all) for reflection; as in a face-to-face conversation, there is, I hope, a nice degree of spontaneity.

Gollancz: Firstly, to kick things off, tell us a little about yourself.
PM: Old white guy who has just published his, what, 22nd, 23rd? novel. Now working on the next one, as I still haven't learnt any better.

G: Speaking of novel ideas...can you briefly tell our followers what War of the Maps is about? 
PM: Deep time, obsession, the fine line between justice and revenge, things falling apart.

Lucy: What was the inspiration behind the world building? 
PM: From the initial ideas? The central character is journeying across a country not his own. Apart from a few facts -- scale, a very basic history and so on -- the details of the world developed through the people and situations he encountered. I had no idea that there would be giant crabs until they popped up. The background is borrowed from a research paper about building relatively small Dyson spheres around white dwarf stars. What if the white dwarf star was the sun, in terminal decline? And that merged with a picture of a wounded lawkeeper pausing at a desert spring, in a country not his own.

Lara: Why did you chose to create the word 'lucidor'?
PM: I needed to translate an official rank that doesn't exist in our culture or time. 'Lucidor' sounds a little like some ancient title, I hope.

Lara: It is biologically possible to get 'infected' by an outer world plague?
PM: Depends on whether panspermia is true or not. That is, if the off-world plague has its roots in a biology that shares a common ancestor with ours. But it's difficult to catch stuff from most animals (eg ants), let alone plants; more so for something separated by billions of years. My old novel The Secret of Life turns on this question, by the way.

Borja: Would you say War of Maps is fantasy, science fiction or both?
PM: Science fction, definitely. The thing about the far future isn't that anything is possible, but anything that is possible may have already happened. Which does inform the lives of the people inhabiting an improbably (but possible) large structure.

Andy: Do you write while listening to music, and does this book, for you, have a soundtrack?
PM: Some of my books do have a fairly specific ambience, but War of the Maps didn't, especially. Apart from frequent periods of silence.

Lara: In this book you use the word MAP with different meanings (DNA, islands...) It was a conscious decision or it was playing with words?
 PM: Oh, that was conscious. I didn't plan in a huge amount of detail, but the nature of the invasion was clear to me before I began. As was the title.

G: What is your current quarantine reading? 
PM: A lot of crime novels (currently rifling through Denise Mina’s work). And some nonfiction research for the next novel, such as David Farrier's In Search of Future Fossils.

G: If you didn’t write science fiction, what other genre would you be interested in dipping into? 
PM: Well, I have written a couple of crime/thriller novels. Players, Mind's Eye etc. And although I've written a fair number of horror stories (my way of dealing with the happening world), I haven't yet written a straightahead supernatural novel.

 G: If you could pick a character from a different author/film’s work and put them into the lucidor’s world, who would you choose? 
PM: Clint Eastwood, maybe. His lone avengers, especially from Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter, do inform the lucidor's character. Although the lucidor isn't as remorseless, or otherworldly.

G: Avoiding spoilers, but do you have a favourite moment in War of the Maps
PM: One of the quieter passages. Perhaps when the lucidor is walking through the coastal landscape, after the spot of trouble with the diggers. It has a bit of (M.R.) Jamesian hauntology, that passage. The novel and its world are patchworks.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Random Items From The Library #4

Esta Fue Tu Vida, Jack T. Chick 1973.  Found on sidewalk, Santa Fe NM.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

A Brief History Of Far Future Fiction

Future time far outruns time past. The universe exploded out of the Big Bang a mere 13.8 billion years ago, but its last end, when even black holes have evaporated, all matter has disintegrated into fundamental particles and everything everywhere is at a uniform temperature approaching absolute zero, is reckoned to be 10100 years down the road. Since any substantial voyage into that vast ocean of time will leave the present far below the horizon, it isn't surprising that most science fiction is content to kick about in the shallows. To stick within hailing distance of the reassuringly familiar shore of now and tell stories that are recognisably rooted in the present. Even so, a small but significant body of fiction attempts to find human meaning in the long evening of the universe, and tell cogent stories about distant futures when almost everything that can happen has already happened long ago.

In H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, the famous forerunner of forays into the far future, the conflict between the Eloi and the Morlocks a mere 800,000 years or so distant from the Time Traveller's present is an amuse bouche for the final vision of a haunted beach on a dying Earth under the fading ember of the sun, thirty million years in the future. The idea of a dying sun and the end of all life on Earth was fixed in the Victorian mind; according to the dominant theory of solar physics developed by Hermann von Helmholtz and William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), the source of the sun's thermal energy was gravitational contraction, which would be exhausted within a mere hundred million years. As Wells explained in a lecture given in 1902, a few years after publication of The Time Machine, 'there is reasonable certainty that this sun of ours must radiate itself towards extinction and that this earth of ours ... will be dead and frozen, and all that has lived upon it will be frozen and done with.'

Eleven years later, when gravitational contraction was supplanted by theories that radiation was the sun's heat source, Wells added a footnote to that lecture, saying that 'the discovery of radio-activity has changed all this.' But while we know now that the sun will not leave the main sequence and bloat into a red giant for 4 - 5 billion years, the idea that its life-giving heat and light will be extinguished within the span of the human species has long persisted in science fiction, allied with visions of entropic decay and reversal or corruption of evolution. In William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, the sun has gone out, nightmare monsters prowl the Earth, and the last of humanity has taken refuge in a fortress keep. Humankind is saved from heat death when the dying sun is reignited in Clark Ashton Smith's story 'Phoenix', while time travellers from the present rescue the remnants of mankind from extinction in Raymond Z. Gallun's 'When Earth is Old' and John W. Campbell's 'Twilight'. And at the end of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun its hero and unreliable narrator sets out to rekindle ancient Urth's dying sun.

A few fictions attempt to give a human perspective to histories of cosmic scope. Thanks to time dilation at near lightspeed, the crew of a damaged starship witness and survive the collapse of the universe and its rebirth in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero. In Stephen Baxter's Timelike Infinity, the second novel of his ambitious Zeelee sequence, the physicist Michael Poole is hurtled into the far future and translated into a discorporate observer wandering a dying universe littered with relics of war; a conscious echo, perhaps, of Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, in which the nameless narrator swoons into the night sky from a contemporary hillside, witnesses to a 100 billion year history of intelligent life, and encounters the universe's creator, the titular and rather grumpy Star Maker.

Such cosmic perspectives are rare. For the most part, the entropic decay of the universe is figured in the long evening shadows and ambiences of exhaustion and ennui that haunt stories set on dying earths, or expressed as the decadent decline of empires and human endeavour, as in Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories, Jack Vance's Dying Earth sequence, M. John Harrison's Viriconium stories and novels, and Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time trilogy. Gods behave like spoiled children; magic either supplants science or becomes indistinguishable from it; every possible story has been told and retold; and the world threatens to end, like the universe, not with a bang but a whimper.

My new novel, War of the Maps, mixes up the entropic, cosmic and decadent flavours of far future fiction. Its world is the whimsical creation of minor-league posthuman godlings: an enormous sphere wrapped around the white dwarf remnant of Earth's sun and inhabited by the descendants of human playthings. An abandoned toy that's slowly coming apart under a sky figured with the aftermath of the collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy. All of which is the background for the old, old story of a lone hero intent on bringing his nemesis to account, and a journey towards the battlefront of a transformative alien invasion.

The hero's search for relevance in an artificial world whose maps are littered with the signifiers from five billion years of human history turns out to be very much like writing late-stage science fiction. Both are haunted by monsters and archetypes from older stories, and try to find fresh meaning in shopworn tropes passed down through the generations. At the far end of the far future is the end of the Earth and the sun, the end of history, the end, in the end, of everything. But here and now there is not yet, I hope, an end to new stories about it.

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.

N.B. IstvánB has alerted me to this useful list:

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
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