Friday, January 29, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Some may call this Hugo Award pimpage, and maybe it is, but I'd like to suggest that I'm doing the SF community a service.

It's that time of year when nominations for Hugos are made, and I want to ask people who are able to vote - people who attended last year's WorldCon in Montreal, and supporting and attending members of this year's WorldCon in Melbourne - to vote for one of my novels. You see, I've never been on the short list for a fiction Hugo. Oh, my pal Kim Newman and I were shortlisted for the Hugo for best dramatic presentation, short-form, for our presentation of the Hugo ceremony in 2005, but none of my fiction has ever been shortlisted for a Hugo. And that's a shame.

Not for me, you understand. I can live with it. But listen: the fact that I haven't been shortlisted for a fiction award reflects badly on all the great authors who've never been shortlisted for a fiction Hugo either. People like J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Lester Del Rey, M. John Harrison, Michael Moorcock, Tim Powers, Peter Straub, AE van Vogt. I mean, think about it. I really don't deserve to be in their company.

So listen up. Here's what can be done to remedy this terribly embarrassing situation. I have it on good authority that because it wasn't published in the USA until 2009 and because it didn't make the short list last year, the eligibility extension bylaw of the Hugo Awards allows my novel The Quiet War to be eligible for nomination for best novel in this year's Hugo Awards. So if you liked it enough to nominate it last year, please, think about doing so again. And if you've read it and liked it, but haven't yet nominated it, why not give it a shot? You could also nominate Gardens of the Sun, too, of course. Just in case.

I know that my continued failure to be shortlisted is an amazing honour. But really, I'm not worthy.

PS This novella is eligible too.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I really do like this list of the top fifteen fascinating exoplanets an awful lot. Not only for the pretty pictures (although they are awfully seductive) and the neatly encapsulated biographies (although they do contain some neat and startling stuff), but also because it shows how much we've learned since the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasus b, aka Bellerophon, was detected in 1995. As of this date, we know of some 429 extrasolar planets. They orbit main sequence stars, red dwarfs, binary stars, pulsars. We know of several stars with more than one planet - solar systems like our own. Most are the size of Jupiter and many orbit close to their parent star, but that's not surprising, given that current detection techniques favour finding that kind of planet. But as the list shows, there's enough variety to begin to create a rudimentary taxonomy of planets in other solar systems, and to understand how they formed and what they might look like.

And I'm especially interested in that, because I'm writing a novel set in and around planets of a particular nearby star, and I'd much rather have some data to ground my speculations than make up stuff out of whole cloth. When I started reading SF, in the 1960s, there were an awful lot of stories set on alien planets, but the planets were all much the same. They were all mostly habitable, all mostly extreme variations on Earth's geographical, climatological and ecological features; only a few writers, notably Hal Clement, Poul Anderson, and Larry Niven, tried to create wholly exotic yet believable alien worlds. It's a very different game now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Something Old

(I'm trying to ramp up the first draft of a new novel right now. So in lieu of a post on e-books, which I haven't had the time to finish, here's a brief note on a Soviet-era SF novel, originally published in F&SF.)

Sannikov Land by Vladimir Obruchev, 1926.

If you like lost world novels, I guarantee that this obscure Russian classic will press all your buttons. There are encounters with prehistoric megafauna, beautiful and willing savage women, war between stone-age tribes, weird shamanistic rites, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and a boy's own enthusiasm for bagging big game. It's true that the characters are indistinguishably wooden mouthpieces for the author's opinions and the plot is pure pulp, but those faults are redeemed by the novel's rigorous scientific sensibility.

Obruchev was a geologist and academician, high in the former USSR's scientific hierarchy (amongst other things he had a mineral, a mountain, and a crater on the Moon named after him). His descriptions of the harsh beauty of the Russian Arctic Circle, and of the privations experienced by his explorers, are crammed with telling detail; given the abundance of frozen mammoths in Siberia, one suspects that he may have been drawing on experience when recommending roast mammoth trunk as a particular delicacy. There are lyrical infodumps about geology and prehistoric fauna; the lost land, nestled in a vast Arctic volcano, is drawn with evocative vermisilitude.

Sannikov Land has been long out-of-print -- the edition I have is an English translation published in 1955 by the Foreign Languages Publishing Association of Moscow -- and as one of a series of 'Soviet Literature for Young People', it was a small part of the former USSR's Cold War arsenal. When it was published, it was probably illegal, or at least ever-so slightly dangerous, to own it in the USA, so it may be hard to find. But believe me, the search will be worthwhile. I'm off to look for Obruchev's other scientific romance, Plutonia. It's a hollow-earth story, and I can't wait to read it.*

*I eventually tracked down a copy owned by China Mieville. He hadn't read Sannikov Land, so we made an equitable trade.
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