Archive for August, 2011


Reality 36 is now out in North America, so here’s an interview with me about it done by Jessica Strider, who works at The World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. Reality 36 is on display there, along with a shorter version of the below text. You can also read it on her blog.

What’s Reality 36 about?

This is a tough question to ask an author, in a way it’s really for the reader to decide this. Also, in what way ‘About’? This could mean the story, or my intention for its themes, or, as it’s SF, the world. Books are a collaboration between writer and author, and as reviews of Reality 36 have shown me, they all see different things, and judge it on different criteria. So, I’ll answer all three.

Reality 36 is the first in what I hope will be a series of detective/action/SF novels set just over one hundred years from now. The main characters are Richards, a Class 5 free-roaming artificial intelligence, and Otto Klein, a German cyborg ex-commando who served in the EU army. They run a security consultancy agency, which means they cover cases from missing persons to small-scale wars.

In this particular story, Richards and Klein are sort of bullied by the AI head of the European Police into investigating the death of Zhang Qifang, the world’s foremost AI rights activist, who appears to have been murdered more than once. As they draw closer to solving this unusual homicide, they discover a plot that puts both the Grid (VR cyberland internet thingy) and the Real (er, the real world) in danger…

Theme wise, it’s kind of about the Singularity. Some people have called this a Singularity book, which is close, but not entirely right, in a way I think of it as an Anti-Singularity book.

I don’t really believe in the Singularity as such, technology may accelerate to dizzying levels of change, but people will remain people. What Richards and Klein are living through might well be referred to as The Singularity by historians in their future, but like our own constantly changing today, to them it’s just everyday life, as all centuries and all times and all cultures are to those that exist within them, no matter how rapid or slow change is within those times. But I can say Reality 36 touches on what it means to be alive, with one of my heroes a machine that thinks it’s a man, the other a man who was made into a machine, the technology of their day throws this question into stark relief.

World-wise, I’ve tried to construct what I call a “whole cloth world”. A lot of SF uses ONE BIG IDEA that changes everything, and then examines those changes, and that idea, in-depth. This isn’t how the world works, it’s how parables work, and though somesuch SF is amazingly profound and I love it, I personally didn’t want to write parable SF. I’ve looked at economics, technology and possible political change (all inspired by history and contemporary developments) to, I hope, depict a believable future. I also don’t really believe in “collapse” or “apocalypse” (also both labels that have been applied to the book). Lots of bad stuff has happened in the future, but you know, life goes on.

As a parallel — to people from the 19th century, our world would be awe-inspiring and terrifying, much of what we think and do in the free west would appal them, as would the consequences of what they did to make our world the world it is. But we’re still here, we’re still diverse, we’re still making love and war. The same logic applies to the future depicted in Reality 36. No togas. No one big idea. No nonsense.

Of course, it’s also a kick-ass, action-packed adventure novel with loads of fights, drama and excitement! All that stuff above, that’s background, and it stays in the background. Reality 36 is a lot of fun, I hasten to add!

Has being a magazine editor helped you with regards to getting your own work published? (In terms of editing your manuscript or understanding more of the inner workings of publishing.)

Kind of, but not in the way you mean. (Background info – I’ve been a journalist since 1997, and worked on SFX, Death Ray, and White Dwarf as well as others).

Magazine and book publishing are very, very different beasts. Like, say, the difference between running a butcher’s shop and an upmarket shoe boutique, I mean, both are shops… My manuscripts are (I have been told) cleaner in terms of errors and the like, probably due to my editorial training. Having said that, I do have a good deal of insight into how book publishing works, among other things, because over the years in the course of my job as an SF journalist I’ve met and interviewed many great publishers, authors and agents, some of whom I’m lucky enough to call friends, and many of whom have given me great advice and encouragement at crucial times. Without them, I doubt the book would have been published.

Likewise, writing so many words every day for 14 years taught me some very important technical lessons that I’ve been able to bring into my fiction.

You’ve interviewed several high-profile authors for your job.  Which author – living or dead – would you like to interview for fun and why?

Actually, I’ve interviewed dozens of writers, including some of the biggest names in the field, and that also taught me a lot. (Specifically, that there is no one way to write. I went into SF journalism to learn this secret. There is no one answer, kids, NO ANSWER! AIEEE! It’s like Lovecraft out there). But anyone? Ooh, HG Wells, because he was a great visionary, but also a priapic love machine (he was an early proponent of free love, and a terrible adulterer)! I’ve never really been able to square the two sides of him in my head… Or maybe Lovecraft, because I’d like to introduce him to some nice black friends of mine, get him a cup of tea, and ask him to calm down a bit.

You’ve posted a number of book reviews on your website.  Do you find reviewing books makes you more critical when writing your own? 

Again, because of my job  I’ve actually written hundreds of reviews; there are only a few examples up on my blog, although I am trying to write more. In a way, reviewing made me less critical of my own work — not because I think it’s awesome and I am the best writer in the whole wide world EVER — but because for a very long time I was too critical of my own work, and that sent me to the pub rather than to the typewriter. And I’m not talking about the standard aspiring writer rant of:  “They published this? I could do better in my sleep!” What really helped me is in reading so many hundreds of genre books, and then being forced to critically appraise them, it made me aware of what works and doesn’t in a novel, and how to form one to a specific end and market, and then to apply that to my own writing, although I stress this is all within the small cone of my own preferences.

Reviews are, after all, only opinion. But reading and writing reviews, or rather the thought behind the reviews, definitely helped sharpen my own storytelling skills up. They made me better at writing what I like, if that makes sense.

What made you want to be a writer?

I love stories. I like to be my own boss. On top of that it’s a lot safer than being a stand-up comic, which I wanted to do for years, but never had the nerve. If you’re a rubbish comedian, people throw things at you and boo. If you’re a bad writer, you can read awful reviews at home and weep in private, so cowardice might be one reason. I wanted to engage with people, I always have. It’s an approval thing. I’m a mess. You should see me repeatedly googling for reviews. It’s sad. Help me.

In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why? 

Tough choice. I don’t really have a favourite. Richards and Klein both, maybe.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

No. Their world is in an even worse mess than ours! But like all authors, my creations are reflections of me. I’m a bit up and down. Richards is cheeky and attention seeking, Klein morose and introspective. Both are determined. Zip them together and you get a version of myself. Ahem, I should make clear that I am neither a 170 kilo military cyborg nor an advanced artificial intelligence. And I’m not German. Well, not much.

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

A book called Tales of Infinite Adam, it was basically the plot of that Jet Li film The One, but with poor comedy and lots of whining (all my early characters were drunken, self-doubting, Northern whiners, I had to write three books to get that out of my system). That took me about six years to get two-thirds of the way through, and then The One came out and spoilt it. I was there first Li, y’hear!? (Er, best not say that too loudly, he might kick my head in).

When and where do you write?

I am a new writer and a father, and thus poor. I work in a gap between my tiny house’s stair banisters and my bedroom wall on the landing. Seriously, this is God’s honest truth. I do a lot of my thinking in the shower, in that weird semi-dream state running up to a nap, and when walking my Malamute, Magnus.

What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The life — wandering o’er hill and dale with my dog, and spending loads of time with my son (I work part-time, and look after our three-year old half the week). The opportunities for drinking… The worst is the pay. Note to self: Get more famous.

Oh, sorry, you mean writing writing? Thinking up a story is great fun, like telling a campfire tale in your head, making it work, dreaming up cool bits of dialogue — all great, and I do that a lot, and have great fun writing it up. Among others I have ideas for six more R&K novels, so please buy this one so they’ll get commissioned, folks, as I’d like to write them.

Actually getting a book down is a horrible, painful, difficult slog which is about as much fun as mining coal; except you’re a coal miner who doubts his mining ability with every painful swing of the pick. Rewriting is lots of fun again. I liken it to sculpture, only you’ve got create your own block of marble (the raw copy) before you can chisel out your statue (the redrafting). Imagine squeezing marble out of your behind… It’s metamorphic, you know, a lot of geological effort goes into making it. (Shudder).

I’m getting carried away here. It’s a great job. I love it. At least I better, it’s taken me 20 years to get here. I’m in a pickle if it’s not what I want, aren’t I?

What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

There’s not much I didn’t know, really, as I’d had so much contact with it beforehand. Sounds immodest, but I think I had a grasp of the basics. (NB, I know NOTHING about the actualities of making and distributing and accounting a book, just the point up to where it is sent to the printers).

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write. Don’t just talk about it. Let people read it. Listen to them. Let professionals read it. Listen to them REALLY carefully. Don’t think you are brilliant when people tell you your work is rubbish repeatedly (it probably is) don’t think it’s awful when people tell you it’s great repeatedly (it most certainly is, and no, that doesn’t include what you mum, gran, or the dog says). My biggest problem with would-be writers (and I mean from before I got published) is massive, misplaced self-confidence. And never, ever, self-publish, unless you’re putting out some worthy academic tome, then it’s a useful. Those people fleece hopeful folks of cash.

And then, when you’ve taken all that on board, write some more. The actually writing part is key here. Do it lots until it is good enough.

Any tips against writers block?

Just sit down and write. I always find having too many books on the go and several deadlines helps plenty to clear blockages. I’m not sure writer’s block really exists, anyway. When I get it, it’s a mix of pathetic anxiety and bone idleness, and I kick myself hard for it. If I get tired of one book or job, there’s always another task to be done, and then I go back to whatever I’m “blocked” on  (I still do magazine contracts, which helps break it up).

How do you discipline yourself to write?

See above.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Um, well, dunno really. In total I’ve had like seven or eight, but for many different things. I was lucky to be mentored by a publisher for a while who saw some promise in me, and I listened to her very, very carefully (see above), and she was harsh! My eventual writings weren’t to her taste, but she helped a lot. I had one book nearly published which failed near the end of the process, that was tough, and that was done face to face, but most of the rejections I’ve had were positive, ie “You can write, this is awful/ not bad/ not quite good enough (as my career progressed), but you can write, so write something else.” In fact, nearly all of them have been the much coveted “personal rejection”. Eventually, someone said yes, then several someones said yes.

I have a lot of ideas, and the process of publication is so long —the book I referred to above, the one that nearly got there, took nigh on four years from initial interest to final, crushing refusal — that by the time people get back to me I’m on to something else rather than hanging around in a tizz waiting for approval or emotional demolition. I always reuse my ideas anyway, nothing goes to waste. Now I’ve five books coming out over the next two years, so I must be doing something right. I hope. I really like this job. Please buy my book.


Yesterday I finished and handed in the sequel to Reality 36, Omega Point. It’s a bundle of high-octane excitement, at least that’s what I hope you think when it is released next year. Today, after faffing about with my tax returns, I start earnest work on Champion of Mars.

But before that, I thought I’d write a post that might shock people who know me well. Nothing contentious (I’m not going to confess to being a Nazi/alien/ mermaid, I don’t perform Al Jolson hits in full minstrel regalia in my bedroom, nothing like that).  Just the music I’ve been listening to while writing Omega Point. GASP!

The reason this may shock certain folk is that I have been at great pains for much of my life to avoid talking about music, becoming almost angry (okay, no almost about it) when cornered on the subject.

I’ll tell you why my ire is sparked. For a start, I find any conversation that endlessly dissects any aspect of popular culture to be extremely dull, it’s as if, sometimes, we’ve let our obsession with entertainment overwrite our interest in the real world. Yeah, yeah, I take part, and yeah, that’s the major part of my job, but it goes too far, too far my friends! Sometimes, I just wish people would shut up about which special effects technician was responsible for the artful wrinkles on the third Kroton from the left in episode whatever of Doctor Frickin’ Who (great show, by the way, could we just leave it at that?).

Worst of all these conversations, however, are the conversations on musical taxonomy — which particular subgenre a particular song belongs to, and why. That kind of a conversation makes me want to kill. The way they become ever more anally precise, like fractals, they never seem to end, just go on and on and on. It’s all so subjective and bloody pointless. Listening to musos chunter on is like falling down the rabbit hole to find Dave Lee Travis squatting at the bottom, bearded face agape, waiting to swallow you whole.

Calm now Guy.

But that’s not the principle reason. What really puts me off talking about music is that expressing a preference for one artist or another immediately allows people to pop you in a box, and judge you for it. It is the sheer partisan nature of music loving that annoys. People  need to put other people into small, easily labelled categories as much as they need to pop music into mental filing cabinets. I don’t like to be judged, and I don’t like to be laughed at because I like Abba. Not because I don’t like being laughed at, but because I  can’t be arsed enough to care enough to laugh at someone else for the kind of music they like, for something that, for me, does little to define my identity.

Identification with something like a musical genre is so false, methinks, like the fake tribes of football teams (another thing I abhor). I will not, refuse to be, placed into someone or other’s subculture. It’s why I dress neutrally, why I don’t follow team sports. Or talk much about politics. In this world, it is hard to take one thing from there and another thing from here, one must buy a whole package of being-in-the-world, wear its colours with pride and close one’s mind to other facets of life. Well, bollocks to that. I am me, not somebody else’s label of what I am, nor am I my own interpretation of what I think I should be.

By way of illustration, one of the funniest things I ever saw was a The Prisoner convention, where people talked about how The Prisoner was about iconoclasm and individuality in the face of the man, daddy-o, yet all of them were wearing exactly the same clothes — number six badges, straw hats, and blazers, knowingly tipping said hats at each other, proclaiming their separation from the mundane, while in reality just swapping one convention for another (forgive the pun). Or like gothy kids, who try to prove how different they are by all following the same worn route of self-expression, and thus all looking the same.

Okay? Call me a misanthrope.

Futile, because I inadvertently fit a great many stereotypes without even trying, and subscribe, again without trying, to certain ways of being. Humans are hard-wired for this shit. Ah! The bitter irony.

My antipathy to musical chat is  maybe a bit pathetic, it’s a hang up left over from school, where you really weren’t allowed to like heavy rock AND Kylie, adults obviously aren’t like that. OR ARE THEY? EH?

Look,  I’m trying to work through this, so be nice.

So, as part of my therapy, here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to while penning Omega Point. This hurts me to do this, I hope you all realise, so you can fuck off if you want to get in touch with me and point out I got the details wrong, I don’t care, y’hear?

I expect a psychoanalytical posting from Matt Keefe about this, I really do.

The Soundtrack

Supermassive Black Hole –Muse

Super Trouper –Abba

Nothing Ever happens – Del Amitri

Waiting in the Weeds –The Eagles

Venus in Furs –Velvet Underground

Solar Sailer –Daft Punk

Star Trek: First Contact –The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (who else?)

Say What You Want –Texas

The Fear –Lily Allen

Close to You (remix)  –The Cure

Paul Takes the Water of Life –Toto

Who Knew –P!nk

Mad World – Michael Andrews and Gary Jules (the Donnie Darko version)

Brothers in Arms –Dire Straits

Human – The Killers

Tron Legacy: Closing Credits – Daft Punk

These last two are what I regard as ‘the themes’ to the book, like, they play over the credits in my head (as it’s a book, these credits are rather short)  especially ‘Human’, because that’s what the books are all about. Sort of, not dancing obviously. Oh, just leave me alone.

There, I talked music. Don’t expect a repeat performance, I’m writhing with discomfort inside as I press publish.

Laters.


Hi there. Just a very quick post today, as I’m up to my neck in the finale of Richards and Klein: Omega Point, and need to get it done. I am, as always, running behind on my work. Is it my fault I have a copy of SF strategy classic Master of Orion 2 (one of my all-time favourite games this, and Master of Orion 3 one of my all-time biggest disappointments) just sitting there and smiling at me from my desktop? I work all day, but my intentions to work in the evening have been… Compromised.

Well, yes, but enough! Please go here and vote for Reality 36 in The Guardian‘s “Not the Booker Prize”, for which a nice man nominated me. A free mug and a small amount of kudos is at stake!

Also, here’s another five-star review for the book here. Thus far, no negative reviews. One guy didn’t like Tarquinius and Jagadith (though he loved the book) and a couple more were irked by the cliffhanger. Otherwise, not one bad word has been said. w00t As I believe they say, or possibly said, I’m so behind the times.

Expect a proper post on interesting stuff as soon as I’ve finished Omega Point. I promise I’ll stop blithering on about Reality 36. Really.


It’s finally over! The long wait until published novelhood is done, my very first book is out today. I decided I wanted to be a writer twenty years ago, and it’s been a long slog getting here, but now, if you go into Waterstones, you can see a book in the science fiction section with my name on it. I sometimes thought it would never happen, but I suppose it just goes to show that you can achieve your goals with a lot of perseverance.

There’s another review of the book on Amazon here. (Um, handily you can also order the book from there too!) Don’t forget that you can read sample chapters right here on this blog, as well as a free novella featuring my characters Richards & Klein, here. Also, don’t miss out on my new Reality 36 and timeline page under the Richards & Klein section of the this website.

Thanks to everyone who has already bought it!

Now, I must be off, Richards is facing off against k52 as Otto races against time in a robot body to defuse a giant bomb as I write the climax of Omega Point


Howdy folks. Well, it’s only a day and a half until Richards & Klein: Reality 36 hits the shelves in the UK, and the digital noosphere the world over! I am very excited. Americans have to wait until 30 August for the paper version, I’m afraid. That will be followed on 13 September by the audiobook.

Here’s a bit of a surprise for you. Reality 36 was not the first Richards & Klein case I wrote about. To pitch the idea to Angry Robot, I wrote a 20,000 word novella called The Nemesis Worm. In this story, Richards and Klein are forced to investigate a series of murders when the evidence seems to point firmly at Richards himself. And guess what? You can download it from this site . One day I’m sure it’ll be part of a Richards & Klein short story collection, until then, it’s available here for free as a simple word doc (WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload epub and PRC, sadly), and exclusively via Amazon for Kindle in the United States, also for nowt.

Why am I doing this? Partly because I want to promote Richards & Klein, mostly because I wrote it, and I always write things to be read.

This isn’t actually the first Richards & Klein case, where we join them in The Nemesis Worm, which takes place in the summer of 2129 just before the events described in Reality 36, they’ve been working together for a few years. I’m sure I’ll write about how they met in good time. Until then, and until the release of Reality 36 (this week THIS WEEK!), here’s a taster of the sort of adventures you can expect in the near future (and the 22nd century). I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

R&K The Nemesis Worm