So come the end of next week I shall be hying myself hence to fabled Manchester, in search of enlightenment and shantih in the company of wise souls and skilled sensei of the SF Way….which probably will come down sharing drinks with Jim Burns, John Jarrold, Lavie Tidhar, Ian Sales, amongst many, luminaries each and every one! But otherwise I shall be engaged in panel moderating, once on the Saturday and once on the Sunday:
The Stars Are Your Canvas
Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)
Space opera is arguably the most unconstrained of SF subgenres, encompassing everything from the realism of McAuley’s Quiet War to the exuberance of Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy. How do writers find their own personal sweet spot between spectacle and science, and develop their own language for describing the biggest storytelling canvas of all?
Michael Cobley (M) Ian Sales, Alison Sinclair, Gavin Smith, Tom Toner, Jo Zebedee
Third Rock and Roll from the Sun
Sunday 20:30 – 21:30, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)
From Sun Ra and Bowie to Janelle Monae and even Coldplay, SF has cropped up across the spectrum of popular music. What – and who – makes good SF music, at the level of the lyric, the song, the album, or the opera? What do we get from SF music that we can’t get from other forms of SF?
Michael Cobley (M), Gary Couzens, Ruth EJ Booth, Phil Nanson, Dave Tamlyn
Should be a blast!
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(An introductory essay about the writing course being tutored by Ken MacLeod and myself.)
The question ‘what is science fiction?’ has remained constant ever since the cultural mainstream started taking notice of the genre back in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of the New Wave writers (like Robert Silverberg, JG Ballard, Ursula LeGuin, Mike Moorcock, John Brunner, Harlan Ellison and others). To the cultural arbiters, though, what was different to the preceding decades was the appearance of two TV series, one in the US, one in the UK, which spread the popularity of science fiction into the mainstream and the wider culture, and in a sense decoded the peculiar tropes and furniture and props for the ordinary citizen. Those series were Doctor Who and Star Trek. There had been science fiction on TV before then but these set out to raise the dramatic level above their pulpy predecessors, and there’s no doubt that they succeeded. Doctor Who and Star Trek set out to raise the dramatic level above their pulpy predecessors
Of course, the world itself has changed almost out of recognition since the days of black and white television, such that we are truly living in a science fictional world. Yet still the anchors and journos of mainstream news and comment programs continue to reveal a certain clodhopping ignorance of the nature and spirit of Science Fiction (while all the time using email, mobile phones, tablets and conference video calls, which were the very stuff of far-fetched SF to their 1950s forebears!).
As writers, living in the mixed up, clashing gaudiness and wildness of the world today (which gets newer and stranger by the day, yet remains hamstrung by a range of very old problems, aka, bad habits that our society seems unable to shake off), we need to take a long, considering look at all of it – All Of It! – then take a pondering look at ourselves and figure out what it is that we want to say. If we want to write widescreen action-adventure that captivates readers with daring and unexpected plot twists and gripping characters, that’s a fine and admirable aim. If we want to imagine what happens at the personal interface of character and an authentically weird imagining of future technology or a fantasy setting, that too is entirely commendable. Or if we want to assess the broad sweep of our development as a species and look ahead to spy out potholes in the road ahead, this is also a worthwhile avenue to pursue – and some might say it is the most worthwhile of all, perhaps even the social function that Science Fiction performs in service to humanity.
I mention all the above as a broad background to the short course which Ken MacLeod and myself will be conducting at Moniack Mhor. It is our intention to help writers understand key points of character, worldbuilding, history, myth and society in the context of both science fiction and fantasy, a brief grounding in the technical aspects of writing prose narrative. But in addition we hope to highlight the essential spirit of both fantasy and science fiction, that indelible storyteller’s thread which runs through a tale and makes it unmistakeably a fantasy story or a science fiction story. That is our task, and we look forward to passing on what we know.
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Here’s our page in the Moniack Mhor brochure.
This will be taking place in Kiltarlity, near Inverness, from May 14th to May 17th. And there are still places available!
For further information try the writing centre’s Facebook page:
Or their actual website:
Once more Eastercon is upon us, and this year its in Glasgow, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to be exact, from this Friday, 18th to Monday 21st.
I have two panel items;
1) Grand Designs: Worldbuilding, at 8pm on the Friday, which I will be moderating in the company of such stellar colleagues as John Meaney (Guest of Honour), Simon Morden, Chris Beckett and Kim Lakin-Smith.
2) The Way Things Might Have Been at 6pm on the Saturday, a panel on Alternate Histories, in which I will be a panel member along with Dave Row, Martyn Taylor, Mark Alder, and MD Lachlan.
Should be a hoot, and am looking forward to seeing a lotta folk!
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Waaay back at the start of the century, ho ho, my first novel, Shadowkings, was published by Simon & Schuster’s SFF imprint, Earthlight, itself a labour of love by its editor, John Jarrold, who was the one who decided to take me on as a new author. Sadly, various corporate shenanigans led to John bowing out to be replaced by Darren Nash, himself a staunch fan and champion of all things SF and Fantasy. He shepherded the second book, Shadowgod, into print, but then later more corporate musical chairs led to Darren likewise departing while Earthlight the imprint was dissolved. The third book, Shadowmasque, was published, garnered a number of positive reviews yet overall the sales could not make sufficient headway, for various reason.
Anyhow, the situation is that the Shadowkings trilogy shall once more be making its grimdark presence felt, in ebook and audiobook formats. More information (and cover art) shall be forthcoming nearer publication, but as a foretaste here a link to the Bandcamp page of Peri Urban, Edinburgh electronic musician of the first water, and the music that he originally composed back in 2001 – with yr humble scribe providing gruffly intoned lyrics. Take it away…
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Yes, tis now the week after my significant trip to Sweden, to be one of the guests at Swecon-Fantastika 2013. I had a tremendous time, and was absolutely knocked out by the courtesy and kindness of Swedish fans (and those who came from Finland, Norway and surrounding regions). I shall blog some more about this at the weekend, when I have a little more strength – am suffering from a resurgence of the sinusitis that was bedevilling me before I went so its back to the hot drinks and throat medicine again!
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NO RUSH TO EXIT SECC TONIGHT! – SOLD OUT/ SET TIME JUST SHY 3 HOURS
Progmeister General’s Rating – 5 CYGNUS STARS/5
[VIP In Attendance - MR COBLEY ESQ.]
Well this is how it should be done, we arrived at SECC expecting something of a mixed bag, especially after the 2011 tour’s MOVING PICTURES/TIME MACHINE set. They did not disappoint with 3 sets of “70s 80s & 90s” then current “CLOCKWORK ANGELS ” cd & finishing with “THE CLASSICS”.
Exactly on 19.40 they began with their usual filmed comedy build-up to the entrance of the Canadian trio which always ends up with GEDDY LEE, ALEX LIEFSON & NEAL PEART arriving on the stage to a tremendous ovation, this time kicking off with “SUBDIVISIONS” off the highly-regarded ”SIGNALS” cd. These three men can make this music sound epic & always have done; 36 years+ on the road & this was done to a very high standard indeed. During set one they powered through highlights like BIG MONEY, LIMELIGHT, GRAND DESIGNS, ANALOGUE KID & finishing up with FAR CRY from the excellent “SNAKES & ARROWS” — then Geddy announced that as they are getting older its break time, so off they went.
Not an extended interval though, just enough and then we were off again. This time the 2011 “CLOCKWORK ANGELS” was highlighted for an hour, A very good song selection of CARAVAN, CARNIES, WE WISH THEM WELL, HEADLONG FLIGHT HALO EFFECT & the outstanding THE WRECKERS powered the new stuff to great heights along with the addition of a six piece string section, to a climax of CLOCKWORK ANGELS, THE ANARCHIST & THE GARDEN — outstanding set & a lesson on how a band should promote & play new material to an audience. No interval this time just lots of pyros & lights, Then THE PROFESSOR of drums gave us a masterclass in drum solos on YYZ, then it was on full steam ahead (quite literally) to the finale of “RED SECTOR A” and the amazing excerpts from the RUSH fans voted favourite cd “2112″. The band accepted their well deserved plaudits then returned for two sublime encores of SPIRIT OF THE RADIO & TOM SAWYER before finishing the night with more “2112″ classics & the inevitable fireworks which almost blew the roof off the SECC (not a common reaction in this shed). Just one final thank-you to the crowd & the Canadians had exited stage left & the end of their movie was played.
On the whole, contender for gig of the year & a masterclass of how to control yet excite an audience - Thank you guys!!!
FOOTNOTE - How many drummers get 3 solos & triumph on them all?? Answer 1 — NEAL PEART ! – fantastic!
Once again, the dry ice billows and a sparkly cape rustles amid the haze, for the Progmeister is back with another ace review. Take it….away….
“THE BLACK CHORD CHIMES OUT IN TUTS”
4/5 WAKEMEN-CAPES FOR MUSIC. SOLD OUT!
Well first of all I have a puzzle for you … how do you fit 3 prog/rock bands into a maximum allowance of say 3 hours? Answer is you can’t. This is the continuing problem in this venue (as I have said before). Doors are 20.30 – actually they opened at 20.50 – resulting in all bands having to perform shorter sets. But as all Progmeisters know this cannot be done with our genre of music. Its relies long, building passages very much like an orchestral recital.
This started right away with support bands HIDDEN MASTERS and PURSON performing what seemed rushed sets, but I must say they both won over the crowd with different types of Prog/Rockabilly/Goth Rock music.
ASTRA arrived on stage at 22.20 & immediately encountered technical problems (this being down to using old-fashioned type equipment for their music, Moogs/Mellotrons & Fender Rhodes etc). After this false start off they launched with track from new cd THE BLACK CHORD – QUAKEMEAT, a great intro for this very competent young five piece band from San Diego. After a great show of virtuoso heights they then continued to play five more songs, THE BLACK CHORD , THE RIVER UNDER, OUROBOROS, THE RISING OF THE BLACK SUN & the showstopper THE WEIRDING. Great music, all with highs a plenty, long soloing but never appearing indulgent, 23.30 on the button & ASTRA were gone rather disappointingly, no encore due to … well you know the rest! And after talking with two of the band afterwards found out they wanted to play at least two more songs but local curfew stopped this. A masterclass performance apart from all these problems.
Maybe my next review will not mention CURFEW – I really do hope so because that means it was a perfect night for us all.
Message to promoters at KTWWH – sort this out & let Prog Thrive again in Glasgow.
Sad to recount, Debbie Miller, a good friend and great fantasy writer, has passed away. I first met Debbie when her first novel, Talisker, was published by Simon & Schuster’s Earthlight imprint at the same time as Shadowkings, part one of my fantasy trilogy. We were both ’discovered’ by the redoubtable John Jarrold, prince among men, who was head honcho for Earthlight. At that time she was writing under the name Miller Lau, having adopted her (formerly) married surname as a nom-de-plume. Talisker was book of her determinedly Scottish fantasy sequence, The Last Clansman trilogy. Round about the time that the final volumes of both our trilogies were due to appear, Simon & Schuster had a fit of deck-clearing; having already dispensed with John Jarrold and promoted Darren Nash to editor, they then decided that Earthlight was unnecessary and ditched Darren too, with upsetting consequences for their stable of writers. (Its worth pointing out that John and Darren went on to higher, greater greener pastures in subsequent years.)
Anyway, not wishing to laboriously go into a detailed historical account (although it should certainly be noted that the David Gemmell Award would not exist were it not for Debbie’s iron resolve and cheery and creative persistence) I need only say that the last time I saw Debbie last year she was looking better than she had for a while, having been through gruelling courses of chemo, and was looking forward to regaining some of her former energies and forward momentum.
But it was not to be. In January of this year the cancer reappeared and this time she was not able to overcome it and on May 7th she passed away. The field has lost one of its champions, and I have lost a good friend – part of me feels diminished by the loss, but my memories of her genuine nature and her indefatigable joy more than makes up for it.
Vale, Debs. Safe journey.
Cannot believe that I somehow forgot to post the link here to the movie-trailer for The Ascendant Stars – it was on the list of posts and reachouts to fulfill but….ach, must have had a senior moment of some kind. Darn, another coupla million braincells gone west. But anyway, now, here it is!
The animator is a Yorkshire guy called Ingram Blakelock, who has done various other pieces including the video for the band, A Forest Of Stars, for their track Gatherer Of The Pure. Here’s a link to it -
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