Thursday, April 02, 2009

Eternal Return

The new reprint of Eternal Light is published today, along with nine other titles in Gollancz’s space opera promotion.

It was first published in 1991, although I began working on it a couple of years before that - about twenty years ago, in fact. It still means a lot to me. I’d already published two novels and a short-story collection, but Eternal Light was a big step up: far more ambitious and, although nowhere near as long as the 600 page epics routinely turned out these days, fairly hefty for its day. I wrote it under fairly difficult and depressing personal circumstances, and in the middle of the first draft moved from Oxford to St Andrews, Scotland, to take up my first and last proper full-time job. So much of the writing was done in a corner of a dismal university flat, which I shared with a tribe of trilobite-sized silverfish, in the middle of my first Scottish winter, while grappling with teaching and trying to re-establish my research programme. Still, I persevered, typing away on my very first, and fabulously expensive, PC. I was fiercely ambitious, then, and the writing flowed, as Robert Frost put it, on its own melting, propelled by Mahler and Robert Johnson.

I wanted to write a new kind of space opera, punkishly incorporating and reimagining all the tropes from the various kinds of old space opera I’d loved to read as a teenager, starting in excavated ruins on an alien planet with a storm coming on, moving halfway across the galaxy to the supermassive black hole at its heart and stranger regions beyond, and returning to a transfigured Earth. Whether or not I succeeded isn’t for me to say, but rereading the first pages I detect a promising if not altogether refined vigour:
It began when the shock wave of a nearby supernova tore apart the red supergiant sun of the Alea home system, forcing ten thousand family nations to abandon their world and search for new homes amongst the packed stars of the Galaxy’s core. Or it began long after one Alea family had slaughtered most of the others and forced the rest to flee the core, when a binary star came too close to the black hole at the centre of the Galaxy. Or perhaps it began half a million years after that, when Alea infesting asteroids girdling the red dwarf star BD +20̊ 2465 destroyed a Greater Brazilian flyby drone as it shot through their adopted system. That’s where it began for Dorthy Yoshida, for instance, although it happened a dozen years before she was born . . .
Eternal Light was the first of my novels to be nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, it was on the short-list for the BSFA award (it lost both times, hey-ho), and it was my first US hardback. Twenty copies of the British hardback were numbered and signed before publication, although I don’t think they’re worth much more than ordinary signed editions; an unknown number were bound upside-down (again, nothing especially valuable), and there’s a rare alternate dust jacket - I have one, and gave another away in a competition: these may be the only survivors. And now it’s back!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In Perspective

Rooting around in the cellars of the web, I came across these beautiful depictions of the spacecraft that might have been used in the various manned missions to Mars planned over the past 45 years. Of course, the perennial cry of critics has been that missions like these would be fantastically expensive - far too expensive to contemplate doing it in the near future. But let's get those costs into perspective. President Obama has estimated that taxpayers will have to pay in the region of 2.3 trillion dollars to bail out the American banking system. It'll probably be more: this estimate was announced February and if we've learned one thing during the ongoing crisis it's that everything costs way more than any estimate. Even so, that's enough to fully fund five manned missions to Mars, assuming each costs around 450 billion dollars, the high end of estimated costs. Likewise, the cost of bailing out just two UK banks could fund three missions. Seems like a bargain to me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Bigger Splash

Mars is famously peppered with craters of all sizes. And like Earth, it's still encountering meteorites which are creating fresh craters on the surface; Mars's atmosphere is vanishingly thin compared to Earth's, and therefore offers less protection to incoming space debris. The team operating the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter have spotted a number of fresh craters since they've begun surveying the surface, and some appear to have excavated water-ice from beneath the surface in mid-latitude regions, suggesting that ice beneath the surface, known to exist around the north and south poles extends a fair way towards the equator: more evidence that Mars's inventory of water is much larger than many people expected. And if small meteorites can dig up ice, so can astronauts.

(Full story at Universe Today)

So It's Come To This

Yup, a list. While thinking about the SF and fantasy creative writing workshop, I came up with a personal list of essential SF titles. Only one title per author, and it ends at 1984 for not quite arbitrary reasons. I have 48 titles so far; anyone care to suggest two more to round the number up to 50? Novels or short-story collections are acceptable. (Yes, I have read them all.)

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus MARY SHELLEY 1818
Journey to the Centre of the Earth JULES VERNE 1863
After London RICHARD JEFFRIES 1885
The Time Machine HG WELLS 1895
The House on the Borderland WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON 1912
Brave New World ALDOUS HUXLEY 1932
Star Maker OLAF STAPLEDON 1937
I, Robot, ISAAC ASIMOV 1950
The Martian Chronicles RAY BRADBURY 1950
The Dying Earth JACK VANCE 1950
Childhood’s End ARTHUR C CLARKE 1953
The Space Merchants CM KORNBLUTH & FREDERIK POHL 1953
Tiger! Tiger! ALFRED BESTER 1956
The Death of Grass JOHN CHRISTOPHER 1956
The Seedling Stars JAMES BLISH 1957
The Midwich Cuckoos JOHN WYNDHAM 1957
Starship Troopers ROBERT A HEINLEIN 1959
A Canticle for Liebowitz WALTER M MILLER JR 1959
Solaris STANSLAW LEM 1961
Hothouse BRIAN ALDISS 1962
A Clockwork Orange ANTONY BURGESS 1962
Cat’s Cradle KURT VONNEGUT JR 1963
Martian Time-Slip PHILIP K DICK 1964
The Crystal World JG BALLARD 1966
Flowers For Algernon DANIEL KEYES 1966
Lord of Light ROGER ZELAZNY 1967
The Left Hand of Darkness URSULA K LE GUIN 1969
The Fifth Head of Cerberus GENE WOLFE 1972
Ten Thousand Light Years From Home JAMES TIPTREE JR 1973
The Forever War JOE HALDEMAN 1974
Inverted World CHRISTOPHER PRIEST 1974
The Female Man JOANNA RUSS 1975
Arslan MJ ENGH 1976
The Ophiuchi Hotline JOHN VARLEY 1977
The Final Programme MICHAEL MOORCOCK 1968
Engine Summer JOHN CROWLEY 1979
Timescape GREGORY BENFORD 1980
Neuromancer WILLIAM GIBSON 1984
Divine Endurance GWYNETH JONES 1984

Next, 50 essential fantasy & horror titles . . .

SF and Fantasy Writing Workshop

I'm getting into the creative writing business:

Science Fiction and Fantasy: workshop for writers
Paul McAuley

  • Monday 18 May 2009: 6pm-9pm
  • Tuesday 19 May 2009: 6pm-9pm
  • Wednesday 20 May 2009: 6pm-9pm
  • Thursday 21 May 2009: 6pm-9pm
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Kingston University
Penrhyn Road
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT1 2EE

Stephen Jones, award-winning editor, writer and anthologist, will be making a guest appearance, helping me to explain how to get published and build a career (I need all the help I can get in the latter department, clearly). At £180 for four nights (£160 if you book before April 16th) it's a snip.
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