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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I was asked by Marshal Zeringue if I`d like to contribute to his ‘The Page 69 Test’ with regard to Ancestral Machines, where the idea is to open the book at page 69 and see how it relates to the rest of the book, whether its a reliable guide to the rest of the story. That particular page was part of a brief chapter involving a couple of characters who play something of an observer role in the early part of the story, thus this was one of those exposition moments in drag, so to speak.
Here’s the link -
And as you might know, Ancestral Machines is due for publication as ebook on January 12th and as hard and paperback on January 14th. And I`ll be hosting a Reddit AMA on the Monday evening, GMT-time, yes, yer actual Ask Me Anything, so my life in an open book. Apart from the bits that aren’t
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Blog posts, you may find, are becoming scarcer of late. Simple reason being that I am engaged in the furious ongoing writing of The Ascendant Stars, 3rd part of the Humanitys Fire trilogy. Plenty happening, of course, now that the story threads are drawer closer together and the dramatic clashes grow more frequent and more intense. I’m enjoying the hell out of it, and I aint even reached the first really big battle yet!
Patience, my people, patience and all will be revealed. In time, of course.
Says it all really – was asked to contribute my faves to SF Signal’s regular Mind Meld feature. So get ye hence and scroll to the bottom for my pronunciamentos:
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I`ve been reading space opera since I was practically able to read, and before I hit puberty I was already mainlining on stuff like Tom Swift, Doc Smith and Perry Rhodan. All the furniture of it, the extravagant, powertrip technology, the drama and melodrama, the scale and sheer wild proliferation of life, science and worlds was…well, a heady mix, a conceptual blast for a young lad growing up in the post-industrial heartland of Scotland.
So, I’m currently rereading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion cantos, have finished HYPERION and am halfway through FALL OF HYPERION, and most surely it is a rich experience. But the reason that I decided to reread them was to get a close look at their structure and to get a better sense of what that structure does and whether or not it works, at least from my now-crustier perspective.
The first volume, HYPERION , has whats known as a framed narrative: the story begins with the pilgrims gathering for the journey to the planet, Hyperion, within which each character tells their own tale, and each tale presents background and elements of the greater story and enigmas. Previous examples of such a structure would include The Decameron, Canterbury Tales and One Thousand And One Nights. There are 7 pilgrims but since one of them goes missing during the journey 6 tales are related. Simmons also opted to add layers of intricacy to the framed tales as well – the 1st, The Priest’s Tale, is itself a frame for the account of Father Paul Dure, a 1st-person journal narrative, passed on by Father Lenar Hoyt (who is one of the pilgrims). Hoyt is involved with Dure’s story near the end, where his own actions are part of the tale.
The 2nd, The Warrior’s Tale, is much more straightforward, being a 3rd-person narrative from the point of view of Colonel Kassad. The 3rd, The Poet’s Tale, is a 1st-person narrative, bursting with the exuberance and vigour of the narrator, Martin Silenus (which some have said is a thinly-veiled homage to Harlan Ellison), but also a straightforward linear narrative. Likewise the 4th and 5th tales, The Scholars and Detective’s tales, until we reach the 6th, The Consul’s Tale. The Consul is the first character the reader encounters in the book and the overall frame POV is actually his, and when the Consul’s Tale begins it is in 1st person; when we get to the end, though, we find that this account has actually been a recording played back on an antique comlog by the Consul to the other pilgrims. It turns out that the Consul (who remains nameless throughout) is the grandson of the man who made the recording. After this is a short section from the point of view of the Consul himself, relating the actions he took which led up to how the book begins.
Now, laid out like this, HYPERION’s structure of framed stories and points of views seems immensely complex, yet it reads tremendously well – the prose never obstructs understanding yet it provides some wonderfully lyrical moments as well as some terrific characterisation. One viewpoint on conventional linear narrative is that that’s all it is, a convention, and that writers are free to challenge it any way that they like, which is certainly true. But the potential readership is happy with that convention; linear narrative provides a certain rational sequence of cause and effect, which we naturally apply in our attempts to understand and live in the world around us.
And yet, life in the world provides plenty of evidence that synchronicity and unintended consequences abound, which tends to tug on the notion of cause and effect. Perhaps Simmons was trying to stretch the conventions of linear narrative without actually breaking them altogether. One particular writerly axiom says that form follows function, ie one chooses the structure and techniques which will create the kind of story you want to tell, and with HYPERION I think that Simmons employed the frame device (with the additional frames in the 1st and last tales) with the intention of pegging out a truly colossal canvas, the interplanetary web of the Hegemony with all its worlds, its histories, its religions, and its characters. And he managed all that in a single, if large, volume stuffed with invention and a richness of material that many other writers would have spun out into 3 or 4 books.
Interestingly, the wikipedia entry on the 2nd book, FALL OF HYPERION, says that it uses “a more conventional chronological narrative (although several jumps in time take place)”. I would disagree; to my mind, FALL OF HYPERION is actually less conventional than HYPERION, employing shifting POVs and tenses that were not seen in the 1st book. But more on that in a later post.
Steve Stone is The Man – it was he who created the covers for my Shadowkings books, three wonderful images that I`ll treasure forever, and now he’s done it again for my new book, SEEDS OF EARTH, due out in March next year from Orbit UK.
What you’re seeing are the three colonyships which flee from an Earth under siege, one which ends up 15,000 light years away, at a world where the human colonists finally settle. They call the planet Darien and go undiscovered for 150 years, whereupon they become the focus for all manner of high melodrama and galaxy-shattering events!
Hello, hello, come on in, take a seat while the courtesy drone takes your coats (and piles them in a heap somewhere in the hall). My name is Mike Cobley, writer, critic, micropolitician and rant technician, and this is my new home on the net. In this the new and forward-grooving world of tomorrow and the next future after that, webbification is all-important so I is getting webbified with the best of them. And for why, you may ask? Well, the unavoidable truth is that all our heads/minds/cognitive cisterns are being drawn ever further into the paradimestores of cyberspace and if you ain`t got yer stall set up in or near that glittering flowing glow….well, dude, you may as well be writing verse in dactylic hexameter in a backwoods cabin off in wildest Azerbaijan. In the 50`s.
Now, I have a new book coming out in March `09 from Orbit Books, the 1st volume of a trilogy/sequence (never too sure of the difference between those two words these days!) entitled Humanity`s Fire, being an interstellar epic chock full of the most baroque aliens and hyperspace vehicles I can think of. Volume 1 is called `Seeds Of Earth` and tells the tale of a lost human colonyworld rediscovered after 150 years. The original colonists were part of a desperate attempt by the human race to ensure its survival since at the time, a century and a half ago, Earth was under attack from a pitiless insectoid horde called the Swarm, and humanity seemed on the brink of annihilation. Several colonyships were planned but only three reached completion and were launched off into the depths of space before the Swarm could lay siege to Earth.
The lost human colonyworld is called Darien, populated by the descendants of the original colonists who comprised Scots, Scandinavians and Russians. The Darienans find that Earth survived the attack of the Swarm, and that this region of the galaxy is teeming with a plethora of alien beings, lifeforms, cultures, arguments, wars, faiths and communities and, as fate would have it, they find their world becoming the focus of savage real-politik, newborn hunger for power, and ancient longlived hate.
Before long, I hope to be able to post some extracts from the book, along with some background information, just to sharpen the anticipation!
Also, I`ll be writing posts on the likes of books, music, politics, philosophy, computer games (my own personal life-eating pandora`s box), and anything else that comes to mind.
Oh, and in case you wondered about the odd title of this here blog, well it`s a reference to an earlier persona of mine, waaaay back in the 1980`s, before I was even professionally published; back then, as an eager cyberpunk fanboy (and dementedly energetic letterwriter – oh, letters were blogs except that you wrote them on paper and posted them off? Nutty, eh?), I started a single page broadsheet in homage of sorts to Cheap Truth, the clarioncall cyberpunk pamphlet written and distroed by Vincent Omniaveritas, being the writer Bruce Sterling. So, I started my own, snarkily titled `Shark Tactics`, which ran for 6 snarling, polemic issues. Funnily enough, I unearthed the original masters for the broadsheets (which I`d laid out on A3 sheets of card – hey, none of yer desktop publishing then, matey) just last week before I headed south for the Orbital Eastercon. I have the vague idea of running off some more copies for giving away, maybe even put them together as a pdf so folks can come along and download them, look them over and laugh like drains at my/our febrile naivety!
I had thought about naming this blog Shark Tactics, but that would imply that I`m intending to perpetrate certain anonymous bombardments upon targets in the SF/fantasy field. No – this is a personal blog…with links to my past and future, and possessing inevitable connotations. Besides, I reserve my vitriol these days for those who truly deserve it, those who lied to get us into a war, who concocted immense cathedrals of deceit and ordered good people to do terrible things in Iraq and Afghanistan.