Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Genres of Speculative Fiction

The Genres of Speculative Fiction

Introduction – or What in General is a Genre?

Stories have existed since the dawn of history; arguably without stories there is no history and thus they are the definition of civilisation. Stories give us the opportunity to examine difficult issues and explore ethical problems, or to escape from reality and live someone else's life, trials and triumphs. Most importantly, from my point of view, they give the opportunity to speculate: to ask "what if?"

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era

Vernor Vinge
Department of Mathematical Sciences
San Diego State University


Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The 11th logo for the 11th Doctor

I am not sure about it yet; time will tell! The logo is very "now", but will it one day date as badly as the 7th logo...

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Resources for SF Authors

“If at first an idea does not sound absurd, there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein
Speculative Fiction authors face some challenges that writers of non-genre fiction do not face, but also have freedoms that are not universally available. For example, the situations in fantasy and science fiction stories must be exotic and innovative, but the story universe must be internally cohesive and rational: sci-fi must have a scientific basis (unless verging into space opera or writing for Hollywood) and the best fantasy has an internal logic.
With the literature education in this country seemingly concentrating on Shakespeare and the 19th century novel (not that there is anything wrong with those of course), where is a speculative fiction author going to learn their trade with a minimum of trial and error? Here are a few sources and thoughts that I have found intriguing or useful.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Hugo Awards 2009

The 2009 Hugo Awards are announced, and the winning novel will be a popular one among the group, though a controversial choice for a science-fiction award: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I loved the book and the kids are all working they way through it (in fact one bought it for me just so that she could read it!). Neil's previous Hugo winner was American Gods, but you can be assured that The Graveyard Book is family friendly. If you thought that a ghost story involving murder and the undead could not be charming and suitable for pre-teens, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

This month’s book is the award winning The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon (pronounced, in his words, "Shea as in Shea Stadium, Bon as in Bon Jovi", i.e., [ˈʃeɪˌbɑn]).
The preview from Google Books describes The Yiddish Policemen’s Union as:
For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Eleventh Doctor starts filming

Filming has started on the new Doctor Who series due for broadcast early next year. Matt Smith is, of course, taking over from David Tennant, and will be accompanied by Karen Gillian’s character Amy Pond. The Doctor Who website has more details.

There are also galleries of the new look plus the Doctor look through the years.

Personally I prefer the pre-production look, but hey, what do I know about style…

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Ryan Reynolds to play Green Lantern

According to the BBC and Hollywood industry magazine, Variety, Ryan Reynolds has been cast as the Green Lantern in a new comic book adaptation. Reynolds, 32, recently played the character Deadpool opposite Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A spinoff movie for Reynold's Deadpool character is also in development. If the new deal goes ahead, it would make Reynolds the only male actor to have played heroes for comic rivals Marvel and DC. Bradley Cooper, who stars in The Hangover, and music star Justin Timberlake also did a screen test for the role of the superhero who is armed with a magical ring. The film is being directed by Martin Campbell, who also directed 2006's Casino Royale. For those who are not familiar with the comic book, the Green Lantern is the name of a series of characters who wield a magic ring that gives incredible powers as long as they have the willpower and strength to use it. The stories were first published back in 1940 by one of the companies that would become DC Comics.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

EE Doc Smith's Lensman series is heading for the big screen

Yes, that's right. That classic of space opera excess is in the clutches of Babylon 5's creator J. Michael Straczynski and his script is now doing the rounds. The predicted film release date is 2011 You can find more info at and Could they film the Skylark series though?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

British Fantasy Awards shortlist announced

The BFA have announced their shortlist for this year's awards. Those up for the prizes include Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book (which I have just read and loved) and his journal site. Also, Battlestar Galactica is toe-to-toe with Dr Who in the TV category. Voting closes on August 1 and they will anounce the results in September at the FantasyCon in September.


  • Cone Zero (DF Lewis) Megazanthus Press
  • Myth-Understandings (Ian Whates) Newcon Press
  • Subtle Edens (Allen Ashley) Elastic Press
  • The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19 (Stephen Jones) Constable & Robinson
  • The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror (Ian Alexander Martin) Humdrumming
  • We Fade To Grey (Gary McMahon) Pendragon Press


  • Memoirs of a Master Forger (William Heaney/Graham Joyce) Gollancz
  • Midnight Man (Simon Clark) Severn House
  • Rain Dogs (Gary McMahon) Humdrumming
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) Bloomsbury
  • The Victoria Vanishes (Christopher Fowler) Little Brown
  • Thieving Fear (Ramsey Campbell) PS Publishing


  • Elastic Press (Andrew Hook)
  • Newcon Press (Ian Whates)
  • Pendragon Press (Chris Teague)
  • Screaming Dreams (Steve Upham)
  • TTA Press (Andy Cox)


  • Bull Running for Girls (Allyson Bird) Screaming Dreams
  • Glyphotech (Mark Samuels) PS Publishing
  • How To Make Monsters (Gary McMahon) Morrigan Books
  • Islington Crocodiles (Paul Meloy) TTA Press
  • Just After Sunset (Stephen King) Hodder & Stoughton


  • Cold Stone Calling (Simon Clark) Tasmaniac Publications
  • Gunpowder (Joe Hill) PS Publishing
  • Heads (Gary McMahon) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon - Pendragon Press
  • The Narrows (Simon Bestwick) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon - Pendragon Press
  • The Reach of Children (Tim Lebbon) Humdrumming


  • All Mouth (Paul Meloy) Black Static 6, Ed. Andy Cox - TTA Press
  • Do You See (Sarah Pinborough) Myth-Understandings, Ed. Ian Whates – Newcon Press
  • N (Stephen King) Just After Sunset - Hodder & Stoughton
  • Pinholes in Black Muslin (Simon Strantzas) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin - Humdrumming
  • The Caul Bearer (Allyson Bird) Bull Running For Girls – Screaming Dreams
  • The Tobacconist’s Concession (John Travis) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin - Humdrumming
  • The Vague (Paul Meloy) Islington Crocodiles, TTA Press
  • Winter Journey (Joel Lane) Black Static 5, Ed. Andy Cox - TTA Press


  • 30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow (Steve Niles/Bill Sienkiewicz) IDW Publishing
  • All-Star Superman (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely) DC Comics
  • Buffy Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate (Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/ Georges Jeanty) Dark Horse Comics
  • Comic Book Tattoo Tales Inspired by Tori Amos (Ed, Rantz A. Hoseley & Tori Amos/ Various) Image Comics
  • Hellblazer: Fear Machine (Jamie Delano) Vertigo
  • Hellblazer: The Laughing Magician (Andy Diggle/Leonardo Manco & Daniel Zezelj) Vertigo
  • Locke and Key (Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez) IDW Publishing
  • The Girly Comic Book 1 (Ed, Selina Lock) Factor Fiction
  • The New Avengers: Illuminati (Brian Bendis & Brian Reed/Jim Cheung) Marvel Comics


  • Dave McKean (The Graveyard Book) Bloomsbury
  • Edward Miller (Vault of Deeds) PS Publishing
  • Lee Thompson (The Land at the End of the Working Day) Humdrumming
  • Les Edwards (Various)
  • Vincent Chong (Various)


  • Basil Copper: A Life in Books (Basil Copper, Ed, Stephen Jones) PS Publishing
  • Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale (Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook) BBC Books
  • (Neil Gaiman)
  • Mutant Popcorn (Nick Lowe) Interzone - TTA Press
  • What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction (Paul Kincaid) Beccon Publications


  • Black Static (Andy Cox) TTA Press
  • Interzone (Andy Cox et. al.) TTA Press
  • Midnight Street (Trevor Denyer)
  • Postscripts (Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers) PS Publishing
  • SFX (Dave Bradley) Future Publishing Limited


  • Battlestar Galactica (NBC)
  • Dead Set (Zeppotron/Channel 4)
  • Dexter (Clyde Phillips Productions)
  • Doctor Who (BBC Wales)
  • Supernatural (Warner Bros TV)


  • Cloverfield (Matt Reeves)
  • Iron Man (Jon Favreau)
  • The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
  • The Mist (Frank Darabont)
  • The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Bookclub Archive update requested, well at least by someone, here is an up-to-date list of the books read


Frank Herbert

Spice gives long life; without Spice, space travel is nigh impossible; Spice is the most valuable substance in the universe, but can only be found on one planet. Dune, a planet without water and without mercy, where empires rise and fall. And on this God-forsaken land a new messiah is rising. Winner of the 1966 Hugo and Nebula awards


Isaac Asimov

The time is a future century, in the days of the Julactic Empire – a society of a million worlds throughout the Milky Way. The Old Empire is crumbling into barbarism and Hari Seldon and his band of psychologists see before them only the despair of thousands of years of anarchy, unless they can create a new force – the Foundation – dedicated to art, science and technology – the nucleus of a new empire…

Read the book club analysis of the Foundation series here

2001 a space odyssey;

Arthur C Clarke

On the ancient savannas of Africa, an alien black monolith sparks intelligence into a group of apes, leading to violence and the rise of humanity. Buried deep in the Luna regolith, a magnetic anomaly leads astronauts to discover a black monolith that reacts when exposed to sunlight. En-route to Jupiter to examine another monolith, artificial intelligence descends to madness and one crew member discovers just how far human evolution can go.

The Swarm;

Frank Schätzing

Something strange and terrible is happening deep in the oceans. Tides and currents are shifting, normally peaceful creatures are attacking, ships are sinking, fishermen drowning. The world ecology is in crisis… and this is just the beginning. Led by the claret-loving Norwegian Sigur Johanson and the Inuit whale expert Leon Anawak, a motley group of scientists find themselves in a race against time to prevent a global cataclysm – and to head of those who want to exploit it in their own pursuit of power.

Ender’s Game;

Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is Battle School’s latest recruit. His teachers reckon he could become a great leader. And they need one. A vast alien force is heading for Earth, its mission: the annihilation of all human life. Ender could be our only hope. But first he has to survive the most brutal military training program in the galaxy… Winner of the Hugo (1986) and Nebula (1985) awards

Mortal Engines;

Philip Reeve

London is on the move again. The city has been lying low, skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. The town moves off after its quarry as events within the walls begin to take a sinister turn… Winner of the 2002 Nestle Smarties Book Prize Gold Award and Blue Peter Book of the Year 2003

American Gods;

Neil Gaiman

Days before his release from prison, Shadow’ wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break. Winner of the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, and the 2004 Geffen Award

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy;

Douglas Adams

One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpected ly demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seams already more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and the galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

Revelation Space;

Alastair Reynolds

Nine hundred thousand years ago, something wiped out the Amarantin. For the human colonists now settling the Amarantin homeworld Resurgam, it’s little more than academic interest, even after the discovery of a long-hidden, almost perfect Amarantin city and a colossal statue of a winged Amarantin. For brilliant but ruthless scientist Dan Sylveste, it’s more than merely intellectual curiosity and he will stop at nothing to get at the truth. Even if the truth costs him everything. But the Amarantin were wiped out for a reason. And that danger is closer and greater than even Sylveste imagines…


Stephen Baxter

Sisters matter more than daughters. Ignorance is strength. Listen to your sisters.
As the light of the Roman Empire gutters and fails one woman begins a remarkable quest to protect her family. It is a quest that will last 2000 years and threaten everything we know. In present-day England George Poole is looking for his long-lost sister. It is a search that will take him to Rome and into the heart of an ancient secret: a secret that holds a terrifying truth for all our futures.


Eric Brown

It takes an alien race to show us our humanity When a mysterious alien race known as the Kéthani make contact with the people of Earth they bring with them the dubious gift of eternal life. These enigmatic aliens will change the course of the human race forever but also touch people’s lives on a personal scale, not least in a small town in the English countryside. But do the Kéthani have a hidden agenda and will the human race choose the evolve or turn in on itself in the face of this momentous revelation?

Read the book club analysis here

The Road;

Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned Ame rica, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other. Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer and 2006 James Tate Black Memorial prizes

Read the book club analysis of The Road here

Troll Fell

Katherine Langrish

Peer Ulfsson stood miserably at his father's funeral pyre, watching the sparks whirl up like millions of shining spirits streaking away into the dark. But someone else is also at the funeral. Peer's half-uncle, Baldur Grimsson. Peer watches helplessly as Uncle Baldur sells his father's property and pockets the money. Peer is then forced to move away from the world he knows in Hammerhaven, and live with his two half-uncles at their mill near Troll Fell. Peer hopes his other uncle will be more welcoming and less ferocious than Baldur, but Baldur is an identical twin, and Grim Grimsson is just as mean-spirited and greedy as his brother. Peer lives a life of servitude, with only the company of his faithful dog, Loki, until he meets spirited Hilde, whose family farm on Troll Fell, and Nis, his uncles' house spirit. Between them, they must foil a plot by the Grimsson brothers to sell one boy and one girl to the trolls who live on Troll Fell. But the Grimssons want riches, and they will do anything to get them. And as everyone knows, trolls are rich! but they are also cunning.

The Skylark of Space

E.E., "Doc" Smith

“the Skylark flew through the infinite reaches of interstellar space with an unthinkable, almost incalculable velocity – beside which the velocity of light was as that of a snail to that of a rifle bullet; a velocity augmented every second by a quantity almost double that of light itself.” Classic, and original, space opera from the 1920's. This is reputed to be the first interstellar story.

Read the book club analysis here


George Orwell

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

The Player of Games (The Culture)

Iain M. Banks

The Culture - a human/machine symbiotic society - has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest of these is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player Of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game... a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life - and very possibly his death.

Star Trek Destiny: Gods of Night

David Mack

The Borg return -- with a vengeance! Blitzkrieg attacks by the single-minded aliens with their hive mentality and their mission to assimilate every intelligent being they encounter are leaving whole worlds aflame. No one knows how they are slipping past Starfleet's defences, so Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise crew are detailed to find out -- and to put a stop to it if they can. Meanwhile, thousands of light years away, Captain Will Riker and the crew of the Titan follow bizarre energy pulses to a mysterious, hidden world. There they find a figure out of legend: a Starfleet captain long thought dead. And at the same time, over in the Gamma Quadrant, newly promoted Captain Dax and her crew investigate the wreck of the Earth starship Columbia NX-02, missing in action for more than two centuries.

Speed of Dark

Elizabeth Moon

Lou is different to 'normal' people. He interacts with the world in a way that they do not understand. He might see things that they see, but he also sees many things that they do not. Lou is autistic. One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou's work. but now they want Lou to change - to become 'normal' like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.

Startide Rising (Uplift Trilogy)

David Brin

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker has crashed on the uncharted water world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history. Above, in space, armadas of alien races clash in a titanic struggle to claim her. Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battle armed rebellion and a hostile planet to safeguard her secret - the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.

The Many-coloured Land

Julian May

The 'Saga of Pliocene Exile' is a narrative surrounding the adventures of a group of late 21st and early 22nd century misfits/outcasts who travel through a one-way time-gate to Earth's Pliocene epoch, in the hopes of finding a simple utopia where they can finally fit in. However, the reality is far removed from the dream.

Friday, 1 May 2009

2009 Hugo Nominations

I see that the 2009 Hugo Award nominations have been announced. OK, a little while ago, but I have been busy %-) It looks like there is plenty of interesting reading and viewing in this list.

Best Novel

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
  • Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Best Novella

  • “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
  • “The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
  • “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
  • “Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette

  • “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
  • “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
  • “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
  • “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
  • “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story

  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
  • “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
  • “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Related Book

  • Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
  • Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
  • The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds. (Baen)
  • What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
  • Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story

  • The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle Written by Jim Butcher, art by Ardian Syaf (Del Rey/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
  • Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Fables: War and Pieces Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, art by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, color by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo Comics)
  • Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)
  • Serenity: Better Days Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad, color by Michelle Madsen, cover by Jo Chen (Dark Horse Comics)
  • Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan, penciled/created by ia Guerra, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr. (DC/Vertigo Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, story; Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, screenplay; based on characters created by Bob Kane; Christopher Nolan, director (Warner Brothers)
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola, story; Guillermo del Toro, screenplay; based on the comic by Mike Mignola; Guillermo del Toro, director (Dark Horse, Universal)
  • Iron Man Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, screenplay; based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby; Jon Favreau, director (Paramount, Marvel Studios)
  • METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc)
  • WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • “The Constant” (Lost) Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof, writers; Jack Bender, director (Bad Robot, ABC studios)
  • Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen , writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • “Revelations” (Battlestar Galactica) Bradley Thompson & David Weddle, writers; Michael Rymer, director (NBC Universal)
  • “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” (Doctor Who) Steven Moffat, writer; Euros Lyn, director (BBC Wales)
  • “Turn Left” (Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies, writer; Graeme Harper, director (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Ellen Datlow
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Gordon Van Gelder
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Lou Anders
  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • David G. Hartwell
  • Beth Meacham
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist

  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • Bob Eggleton
  • Donato Giancola
  • John Picacio
  • Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine

  • Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kris Dikeman, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin J. Maroney
  • Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fanzine

  • Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
  • Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
  • The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
  • Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Writer

  • Chris Garcia
  • John Hertz
  • Dave Langford
  • Cheryl Morgan
  • Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist

  • Alan F. Beck
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Sue Mason
  • Taral Wayne
  • Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Aliette de Bodard*
  • David Anthony Durham*
  • Felix Gilman
  • Tony Pi*
  • Gord Sellar*
*(Second year of eligibility)

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Great Opening Passages in SF

Great books have great openings.

Actually, sometimes they start mundane and slowly build to a nail-biting climax. And sometimes they promise so much and fail to deliver. So perhaps I should rephrase my own opening:

Great selling books have great openings.

If you are standing in a bookshop and are toying with two or more tomes and cannot decide between them, then the opening passage is often the clincher.

Some authors excel at the opening and others just start telling the story. For me, a good opening should intrigue and entice; it should knock your perspective sideways a little, or a lot, and tell you that this book will say something new. It should have poetry, as well as prose, and a twist.

This is a personal list; I am sure that you can add more to it. Interestingly, some of my favourite books do not feature, and some others appear though I do not rate the rest of the work. It just goes to show that you cannot always judge a book by its cover, or its opening…


Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small and unregarded yellow sun.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is anther theory which states that this has already happened.

The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe – Douglas Adams

The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.

Life, The Universe And Everything – Douglas Adams

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport”.

The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul – Douglas Adams

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blacken and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked , in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Arnold Potterley, PhD, was a Professor of Ancient History. That, in itself was not dangerous. What changed the world beyond all dreams was the fact that he looked like a Professor of Ancient History.

The Dead Past – Isaac Asimov

Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor had told him that there were no bugs in his hair. After he had taken a shower for eight hours, standing under the hot water hour after hour suffering the pain of the bugs in his hair, he got out and dried himself, and he still had bugs in his hair; in fact, he had bugs all over him. A month later he had bugs in his lungs.

A Scanner Darkly – Philip K Dick

The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Passed over for inclusion in almost every publication from the Doomesday Book to Thirty Places Not Worth Visiting in Berkshire, the small hamlet is also a cartographic omission, an honour it shares with the neighbouring villages of Hiding and Cognito. Indeed, the status of Obscurity was once thought so tenuous that some of the more philosophically inclined residents considered the possibility that since the village didn’t exist then they might not exist either, and hurriedly placed ‘existential question of being’ on the parish council agenda, where it still resides, after much unresolved discussion, between ‘church roof fund’ and ‘any other business’.

The Fourth Bear – Jasper Fford

The sky above the port was the colour of a dead television, tuned to a dead channel.

Neuromancer – William Gibson

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as a wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea.

A Wizard Of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin

“Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.” The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or other wise, he’d done it as an infant.

I already knew eighty ways to kill people, but most of them were pretty noisy. I sat up straight in my chair and assumed a look of polite attention and fell asleep with my eyes open. So did most everybody else. We’d learned that they never scheduled anything important for these after-chop classes.

The Forever War – Joe Haldeman

When the office door opened suddenly I knew that the game was up. It had been a money-maker – but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same sombre expression and heavy foot that they all have – and the same lack of humour. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.

‘James Bolivar diGriz I arrest you on the charge –‘

I was waiting for the word charge, I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped right on top of the cop’s head. He squashed very nicely, thank you. The cloud of plaster dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a bit annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.

‘…On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery –‘

The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison

As George Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Metamorphosis – Kafka

It all began with the aurochs.

The Paradise War – Stephen Lawhead

It was a lifeless hulk – its back broken, its skin rent, its mammoth form half buried in the shifting sands of a mountainous dune – and it was even more beautiful than Jadzia Dax remembered.

Star Trek Destiny, The Gods Of Night – David Mack

Noe glances towards the heavens, something he does a lot these days. Scanning for clouds. None visible amid the stars, so he finishes urinating, shakes himself dry and makes his way back to the house. Inside, the wife pokes desultorily as a pot of stew hanging over a fire. It is late for supper; the others have eaten and retired to the sleeping room. Noe squats against one of the rough lime-washed walls and points at a terracotta bowl. He’s roughly six hundred years old: words are unnecessary.

The Flood – David Maine

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more grey each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Saunders had been dead for almost two weeks now and, so far, he hadn’t enjoyed a minute of it.

Red Dwarf – Grant Naylor

The most beautiful girl aboard turned out to have a husband with habits so solitary that I didn’t know about him until the second week. He was abut five feet four and middle-aged, but he wore a hellflare tattoo on his shoulder, which meant that he’d been in Kzin during the war thirty years back, which meant that he’d been trained to kill adult Kzinti with his bare hands, feet, elbows, knees, and whatnot. When we found out about each other, he very decently gave me a first warning, and broke my arm to prove that he meant it.

Flatlander – Larry Niven

In the night-time heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.

His foot length queue was white and shiny as artificial snow. His skin and depilated scalp were chrome yellow; the irises of his eyes were gold; his robe was royal blue with a golden stereoscopic dragon superimposed. In the instant he appeared, he was smiling and waving. But the smile was already fading, and in a moment was gone, and the sag of his face was like a rubber mask melting. Louis Wu showed his age.

Ringworld – Larry Niven

There was a moment so short that it had never been successfully measured, yet always far too long. For that moment it seemed that every mind in the universe, every mind that had ever boon or that would ever be, was screaming its deepest emotions at him.

Then it was over. The stars had changed again.

The World of Ptavvs – Larry Niven

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

1984 – George Orwell

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

The Fall Of The House Of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort.

The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett

The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse.

It is danced under blue skies to celebrate the quickening of the soil and under bare stars because it’s springtime and with any luck the carbon dioxide will unfreeze again. The imperative is felt by deep-sea beings who have never seen the sun and urban humans whose only connection to nature is that their Volvo once ran over a sheep.

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain lashed hills.

The night was a dark as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which the gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

There was a pause.

Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’

Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

Mortal Engines – Phillip Reeve

The dead ship was a thing of obscene beauty.

Skade looped around it in a helical pseudo-orbit, her corvette’s thrusters drumming a rapid tattoo of corrective bursts. The starscape wheeled behind the ship, the system’s sun eclipsed and revealed with each loop of the helix. Skade’s attention had lingered on the sun for a moment too long. She felt an ominous tightening in her throat, the onset of motion sickness.

It was not what she needed.

Redemption Ark – Alastair Reynolds

One day the sky fell. Plates of ice crashed into the lake, and then started thumping on the beach. The children scattered like frightened sandpipers.

Green Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson

Juan Narcisco Ucanan went to his fate that Wednesday, and no one even noticed.

The Swarm – Frank Schatzing

In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott

There is in Uruk the city a great platform of kiln-baked brick that was the playing field of the gods, long before the Flood, in that time when mankind had not been created and their alone inhabited the Earth. Every seventh year for the past ten thousand years we have painted the bricks of that platform white with a plaster of fine gypsum, so that it flashes like a vast mirror under the eye of the sun.

Gilgamesh the King – Robert Silverberg

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

No one would have believed, that in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet mortal as his own… Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

The War Of The Worlds – HG Wells