Brexit had me hiding from social media these last few weeks. It’s precisely the sort of complicated issue that is impossible to discuss on the confirmation bias machine that is the modern web, so I’ve steered well clear. Potted version of my opinion runs thusly – I can see both sides of the argument, and although I was shocked and very saddened by the result, it won’t be the end of the world. Life goes on.

And so moving on. Commercial necessity brought me down from my ivory tower (well, it looks like an ivory tower, but it’s constructed from papier-mache made of the torn up drafts of rejected stories and the glue of scorn) with the release of The Ghoul King last week. I thought maybe it would be a good time to talk about what’s coming soon.

Last month I went to Nottingham to visit Black Library and discuss my schedule for the next couple of years. The upshot of this is that I’ll be writing plenty for them throughout 2016-2017, including a fair bit of Horus Heresy. We made some further, tentative plans for 2018. If you like my Warhammer stuff, you should be happy. I’ve finished Dante, and am literally about to start typing my next project for them today.

Coming out from BL over the next few months are Shadowsword, the sequel to Baneblade. Crusaders of Dorn collects all my Black Templars fiction thus far except The Eternal Crusader. It includes a text version of my audio drama “The Glorious Tomb” and a brand new story, “The Uncanny Crusade”. And of course there’s The Beheading, the Terra-shaking conclusion to The Beast Arises.

In not-Games Workshop land, I’ve three short stories coming out in anthologies; one which I don’t think I can talk about yet. The second is “The Reckoning”, a mythos-slanted take on Christopher Marlowe’s death for Jonathan Green’s Shakespeare versus Cthulhu.

The third should make a few of you happy. I can reveal that I’m finally writing another Richards & Klein story (though this is more Richards than Klein), which will be actually published in an actual book. I did start a novella for self-publishing purposes, but I’ve been held back by my massively packed schedule and a narrative problem – to advance the story, I need to write about what happened to Klein’s wife, which needs a novel, and the novella wasn’t about that so there was an odd jump in the story and well, you know. Time, never enough time. The novella stalled. I will get back on it at some point.

I’m also writing another top-secret fantasy book which I can say nothing about, and finally, I’ve been working on a collaboration with a certain other SF author. We’re close to getting that to publishers, so will announce it when there’s something concrete to say.

 


ghoulking-largeOut this week is book two of the Dreaming Cities trilogy, The Ghoul King.

In a dark, post-apocalyptic future, mysterious angels rule the shattered North American continent in the name of the Lord.

The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional machine.

But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many.

The Ghoul King is out from Tor.com Publishing, where it is available as a paperback and DRM-free ebook in all formats. You can also buy it from all your favourite vendors. Here’s the link for the first part, The Emperor’s Railroad.

The books are a novella series conceived to be akin to a TV serial, with each one being an “episode”. They’re each self-contained, but build a big story. Quinn’s reality features my characteristic deep world building. I believe a good SF/fantasy story should introduce you to a living, breathing world through its characters. I’m not a fan of worlds dominated by a big idea, which beyond being hosts for a single parasitic meme, don’t have a life of their own. I like settings that make you feel if you took a right turn off the page and wandered about, they would appear real. “Whole cloth” worlds, I call ’em. It’s what I strive for.

But good drama is powered as much by revelation as by character, so in each episode of Quinn’s adventures there’ll be some substantial information about the Dreaming Cities. I promise, eventually, you’ll know exactly why Quinn’s world is the way it is…


A review from #SFX249.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Author: Will McIntosh

Publisher: Orbit

482pp

Genetically engineered pudding

When telepathic “starfish” aliens invade Earth, humanity is in big trouble. Our only hope is the genetically engineered defenders, created to have unreadable minds. But what do you do with a new race created for war when that war is done?

Defenders reminds us of Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson and other, similar tales – a terrible threat, civilisation overthrown, a plucky band of characters who are gradually drawn together, the chapters headed with their names and time-stamped.

But Defenders is a fairly unexceptional example of both the alien invasion and apocalyptic subgenres. Firstly, it’s predictable. Indeed, the first twist, of the defenders turning on their creators, is heavily hinted at in the cover blurb, but it’s not very surprising when the starfish ally with their original enemies either. There’s plenty of handwavium on display too – the aliens can read our minds because, well, serotonin; humanity’s only defence against the starfish, whose invasion starts off very low key, is to create an entirely new race from scratch at the 11th hour, using technologies that are poorly understood; while the starfish’s motives for aggression are not terribly believable.

None of this would matter too much if this were a gripping invasion story, but it is not. It seems to be setting itself up to make a point, but the intellectual content is paper thin, while the war part of it pedestrian. McIntosh writes well, and his characters are great, but ultimately it’s not enough.

Did you know?

Will McIntosh won the Hugo Award for his short story “Bridesicle” in 2009.


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As promised, here are a couple of beastmen. Me and my regular gaming partner are playing a little Path to Glory campaign at the moment. As I’ve bought a fair few beastmen to play with in Age of Sigmar, I had to include some in my warband. The campaign has given me the excuse (if I really needed one) to buy some Slaves to Darkness models too. I find the start collecting boxes great value, so I got one of those and a box of Chaos Marauder Horsemen. Actually, only the Chaos Warriors are currently in my little army, but like I said, excuses to buy more models…

I really enjoy the opportunity to put whatever I like in my army. It works particularly well with Chaos, which is so diverse an alliance. I’ve got a bit sick of painting orruks for the time being, so having that all important gaming rationale for working on a bit of this and a bit of that is very welcome.

One thing I’ve noticed in putting all this stuff together is how constrained the sculptors were by having to get the units in old Warhammer to rank up. The older models, while nerd-ticklingly cool, lack the dynamism of the latest Age of Sigmar products, so I did a fair few arm and weapon swaps on my 30 beastmen to get a bit more variety and some attacking poses.

I’m halfway through the first little lot of ten Gors. Then I’ve ten Ungors to paint. I dismissed these as being puny in game, but I’ve become rather fond of their goaty little legs and their angry little faces. Pictures soon(ish).

Letters to Lovecraft, a book review

Posted: June 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

A review from #SFX257.

Lovecraft pic

THREE AND A HALF STARS
Editor: Jesse Bullington (editor)
Publisher: Stone Skin Press
280pages

Love letters to Lovecraft
If your skin crawls at Lovecraft pastiche or sub-par mythos shenanigans, don’t be put off this book. The premise is intelligent – to engage with Lovecraft through his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. The eighteen authors picked a quote, and wrote a story inspired by it. The results are variable, and the introduction could certainly have been pithier. But although non-Euclidean geometries and Deep Ones raise their fish-eyed heads, refreshingly the majority of the stories are non-mythos, and all are fiction of the better sort.

Chesya Burke’s “The Horror at Castle of The Cumbernauld” is most affecting. This tale of gross injustice shocks with its real-world horror, and is also genuinely “weird”.

In fact, Burke’s story is so effective it brings into stark focus the problem with modern horror: few of these stories are horrifying, frightening, or even that weird. Lovecraft’s own fiction is so chilling because its wellspring was the real (if repugnantly erroneous) terror he felt for the other. Burke’s story works because it too is powered by strong emotion – she is an African-American writer directly engaging with the terrible engine of Lovecraft’s creativity.

Unlike in H.P.’s time, modern life is too lacking in pain, madness, and fear to inspire terrifying literature. Most of us have enough to eat, and spare pennies to spend on Cthulhu plushies. Letters to Lovecraft reflects that.

Did you know?

Jesse Bullington is a writer who expends his efforts exploring Lovecraft’s mythos. This is his first anthology.

Firefall, a book review

Posted: June 10, 2016 in Journalism, Reviews

From SFX #254.

FOUR STARS

Author: Peter Watts

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Pages: 761pp

Human obsolescence beckons.

Firefall is by turns brilliant and merciless, a science-fictionalised philosophical argument that human sentience is neither inevitable nor necessary, and that freewill is an illusion. Dressed up, naturally, with aliens and spaceships and such. Originally two books, it’s released here in the UK in one volume.

Blindsight (original publication date 2006) is set at the tail end of a post-singularity 21st century. The catalysing event is the unexpected survey of Earth by an alien intelligence. A mission is sent out to investigate, crewed by a bunch of barely human transhumans and a vampire. (Watts’ vampires are an offshoot human species that died out, resurrected from junk DNA by modern idiots).

Sequel Echopraxia (2014) concerns a second mission. Another story where characters sit around in a spaceship arguing the ontological toss makes for over-familiarity, and it lacks the first’s impact.

A sort of callous Rendezvous with Rama, the book’s tone tends to the didactic, while the over the top abilities of Watts’ vampires in particular betray the author’s contempt for the human condition. Watts is a sort of anti-H.G. Wells, or a latterday Invasion of the Boys Snatchers Kevin McCarthy shouting unbelievable, unpalatable truths into the traffic. However, there is an immense amount of actual science, applied creatively – Watts’ aliens are almost inconceivably alien, for example – and it gives much food for thought. By no means nice, this is science fiction that is harder than granite, and about as compromising.

Did you know?

There are “synthesists” in the book, who process complex information for consumption by the masses without understanding it. A sly pop at SF writers, we think…