Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, Reviewed

Cryoburn is the latest Miles Vorkosigan novel, the thirteenth in a series stretching back a quarter of a century.

Miles is now an Imperial Auditor with responsibility for investigating a company specializing in cryogenic storage that are planning on opening branches on Komarr.

Miles becomes suspicious and travels to Kibou-daini, a world dominated by a populace who want to evade death by going into suspended hibernation, then further skewed by the cryo-corps thawing some of their sleepers early, effectively creating a generation of temporally displaced refugees.

Cryoburnl opens with Miles hiding from a gang of would-be kidnappers, when he is then helped by a young boy hiding among the displaced, whose mother disappeared some eighteen months earlier.

When Miles is reunited with his team, he learns that the cryogenic corporations are involved in a web of corruption that extends to the economic conquest of Komarr.

Lois McMaster Bujold writes deceptively simple  fiction; the characters are likeable, the settings are well depicted, just different enough to be exotic, without ever being so alien that the reader is baffled or put off. the plot issues resolve  smoothly, before looping into the next problem. While it’s tempting to classify Cryoburn as a middle-ranking Vorkosigan novel, it’s worth remembering that she’s already won three Hugos, and Cryoburn has a couple of points that raise it above the norm; one is Jin, who as a supporting character is first rate, and the whole society of Kibou, which Bujold never really exploits to the full, but which is nonetheless fascinating.

All in all, Cryoburn is another excellent read from one of today’s most popular writers.

 

 

• August 12th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

Sales

Cover for Damage Time by Chris Moore

You can tell the authors at conventions. You just have to listen in.  While the fans are likely as not to be talking what brilliant book they’ve read, or what film they’ve seen; the writers will be talking about money.*

Because their incomes can be so precarious, and like any other profession information is like oxygen, writers obsess about their sales. Especially since the information is often up to three to six months late.  A publisher once said jokingly to me “Sometimes I think we shouldn’t let you lot have sales information; you only ask more questions.” (I think he was joking)

About nine months ago amazon made weekly sales information on print books available to authors. The data doesn’t include all sales, but it’s useful guidance, as long as one bears in mind that it can be anything from five to one hundred per cent of the total.

What it does is highlight trends. I have no idea what causes this one, but over the first three months of the year, amazon was selling anything between fifty and a hundred copies a week of my two Angry Robot novels.  And surprisingly, over the first three months, it was Damage Time that was the bigger seller, albeit only marginally – fifty-five per cent to Winter Song’s forty-five per cent. I say surprisingly because I had assumed that Winter Song would be the bigger seller.

But over the last three months the sales have fallen to about half of what they were in the first quarter. I have no idea what’s caused that, because I’m still blogging, which I think is the main influence on sales, but sometimes things just happen. And it’s Winter Song that’s held up better -as I originally thought it would- with the year to date sales for that title now running at fifty-five per cent.

As a friend once said at Unilever, “We know that half of all our advertising spend is wasted – we just don’t know which half.”

And if a company the size of Unilever doesn’t know, with all its power, what chance does a simple author have?

* That’s a wild generalization, of course. The fans are likely as not to be asking writers how they too can become writers, while the writers also talk about what brilliant book they’ve read, or what film they’ve seen..

• August 10th, 2011 • Posted in Books • Comments: 0

Why Your Brain Is Like A Battery

One of the most commonly asked questions that writers are asked is “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

Cover for Damage Time by Chris Moore

Before I answer that, I’m going to digress:

Ideas are the easy part, a lot of the time.  Writing stories is harder. A story requires a narrative arc -that’s the fancy term for beginning, middle and end- adequate characterization, and a plot (the resolution of the conflict you’ve created in your story), as well as your idea.

That’s why I always tell budding writers they should write a lot, and write every day. You should write a lot, because that’s how one learns any skill. Musicians, sportsmen, writers – anyone who wants to get better at something, needs to practice. You think a concert pianist just plonks themselves down in front of the piano on the big day? Really?

It’s dangerous of course to be too prescriptive, but I really don’t know anyone who -on a long-term basis- works in a different way.

So write 30 minutes every day than to write nothing for six days and splurge out with three or four hours of intensive writing once a week. Imagine that your brain is a car battery (you wondered when that was coming, didn’t you?). If you park your car in the garage every day for weeks on end, it drains it, so that the car  won’t run. Writing for a while is like running the car – it does it good to get out and about.

But like a battery, your brain needs constant recharging as well, in this case through reading other writers -as well as maybe going to the cinema or the theatre, travelling, or just having a change of scene — anything that provides fresh stimuli, but especially other writers. Read beyond your genre wherever possible, because when you absorb other people’s ideas and styles, as inevitably you will, the wider the source you have, the less limited you will appear.

 

And that, dear reader, in a very roundabout fashion, is where I get my ideas from – from reading a lot of books and internet posts, from walking a lot, and from constant, constant practice.

 

I’ll be coming back to this at some point in the future.

• July 27th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

The Future In Blogs

I like to see what other writers are doing on their blogs. Three of my favourite blogs all deal to some extent with the future. (There’s a surprise, I hear you mutter – you’re a science fiction writer.)

Actually,  SF is often as much to do with the present, and much though I love the genre I’m not really a scientist.

But Gareth L Powell has a clear view of what may come, and in thi

s excellent post he deals with the implications of a future that looks increasingly influenced  by Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Meanwhile, Madeline Ashby is working on various projects involving the futures in media, and is also blogging for Tor about the differences between her fiction and her futurism work.

Charlie Stross is perhaps the pre-eminent blogger in this area and generates more ideas in a couple of weeks than some writers do in a year. Here he blogs about obsolete threats to the world, while here he posts about potential new ones.

• July 4th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

More On Workshopping & AltFiction

Only three days now until I take my first workshop at AltFiction. If you’re interested to see who else is teaching what subjects at the event, read on. And full details are here.

Saturday the 25th

10am-11am:

Rod Rees – The All-Important First Page

11am-12pm:

Tony Ballantyne – How to Make Your Writing Boring

12pm-1pm:

Kim Lakin-Smith – Fleshing the Bones – Dark Fantasy and Characterisation

 2pm-3pm:

MD Lachlan – Start Your Fantasy Novel – Six Principles for Success

3pm-4pm:

Colin Harvey – Creating a Science Fictional Setting

4pm-5pm:

Graham Joyce – Writing Sharp Dialogue

5pm-6pm:

Graham McNeill?

 SUNDAY the 26th

10am-11am:

Paul Finch – Prose to Screenplay

11am-12pm:

Juliet McKenna – Every Word Must Count

12pm-1pm:

Dan Abnett – Shooty Death Kill in Space 101

2pm-3pm:

Jonathan L Howard

3pm-4pm:

Paul Kane/Marie O’Regan – Setting and Location in Genre Fiction

My workshop’s topic slightly overlaps with Paul and Marie, except they’re taking a broader approach, since setting a location in SF can differ slightly from other genres; nonetheless, it’s good to know that if people miss one workshop, there will be others covering similar themes; in fact, there are five different panels covering the start of a novel from different angles.

Perhaps I should have picked closing a story as my topic?

• June 22nd, 2011 • Posted in Appearances • Comments: 0

The Feline Queen, Reviewed

Joanne Hall is the author of the Hierath trilogy of fantasy novels, which has attracted a small but loyal following. Her first collection, The Feline Queen, has just been published by Wolfsinger Books.

            Subtitled Tales of Myth and Magic, The Feline Queen is made up of nine short stories published in small press magazines between 2005 and 2008, together with three original stories. The opener, ‘Candlefire’ establishes several recurring themes; a woman accused of witchcraft and threatened by a brutal husband and seeks help from the local witch, who uses cunning to defeat the villain. The villains in these stories are almost always male and use physical brutality as a weapon against women who are unable to adequately fight back, although ‘The Witch On The Wall’ runs counter to this trend (but even here, the witch’s ‘evil’ is explained). In the second story, ‘The Last of A Million Wishes,’ a fairy is trapped by a spoilt young boy who tortures her until she is rescued by her friend in a satisfying twist.

            It’s interesting to see Hall ring the changes on the various archetypes that she uses; the title story is one of two featuring Hoff the Barbarian, a muscle-bound ox of a man who has more cunning than intelligence, but who is amiably entertaining when meeting a lost tribe of amazonian warriors. Better though is ‘The Caves of Otrecht’ in which he undertakes a quest with other warriors, all of whom claim to be ‘the chosen one. The ending is clever and unexpected.

            All but two of the stories are set in a sort of archetypal fantasy kingdom, two of which (at least) share the same setting; ‘The Ship-Breaker’s Daughter’ features a young-girl with a siren-like voice who must choose whether to obey her tyrannical father and cost men their lives, or revolt. In ‘Ismay’s Run,’ runners pass messages from town to town, but Ismay, who loves to run, finds herself betrothed to a local lord.  

            These recurring themes are distilled in ‘The Company of Women,’ the last –and longest- story in the book, in which a quasi-immortal liberates battered women from their oppression and founds an independent and isolated community away from male oppression. But when they try to free the women from a major temple, the violence escalates and threatens to spiral out of control.

            It’s a fine way to conclude a short but effective collection in which fantasy is used to mirror and magnify contemporary concerns, and should establish Jo Hall’s reputation.

Cover art by Andy Bigwood.

• June 17th, 2011 • Posted in Reviews • Comments: 0

Workshopping at Alt.Fiction

As I posted about three weeks ago, I’ll be one of about a dozen or so writers conducting one hour workshops at Alt.Fiction on the 25th and 26th of June.

Others include Dan Abnett, Tony Ballantyne, Paul Finch, Graham Joyce, Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan, Kim Lakin-Smith and Juliet E. McKenna.

It’s going to be left to the individual tutor what subject they cover, and what methods they use.

At the moment workshops are predominantly fantasy or at least cross-genre oriented, so I’ll be focusing on SF. The workshop will be titled ‘Creating A Science Fictional Setting’ and (subject to change)  will run between 3 and 4 p.m. on Saturday 25th.

I’ll be happy to workshop previously written pieces, specifically from the perspective of how the setting is worked out and explained (although time permitting, we’ll look holistically at the entire story), but if you’re attending and you don’t have any previously written work, I’m quite prepared to collectively workshop settings from scratch.

You decide. If you want to go, here’s the link to the membership page. I hope you come – the more brains we bring to this the better!

• June 15th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Events, Writing • Comments: 0

Final Stats on Hours Worked

The final stats for the academic year 2010-11…

Awaaaaay back at the beginning of December, I blogged about keeping a track of how many hours I worked each day and on each subject; the four modules that I was taking , plus general reading, blogging, networking and most importantly, writing. And ‘others,’ which I think is pretty much self-explanatory.

I worked a grand total of sixteen hundred and fifty hours a week; over the thirty weeks of the academic year (inluding holidays) I’ve worked fifty-five hours a week. February was my busiest month, working sixty-one hours a week. But tiredness is as much a cumulative result of working long hours and sleep debt….

In terms of work split, I did about one hundred and sixty hours each on Writers Workshop and Feature Journalism, and about one hundred eighty on Film and Genre. But Genre has yielded three short stories and two novel outlines, so it was worth it.

 I spent just over two hundred hours writing fiction that wasn’t involved with uni, and two hundred and five reading (but not for class). Another one hundred and eighty on networking – going to cons, and on social networks, and about one hundred and ninety hours each on blogging and reviewing, and on Others.

On the positive side, it meant that nothing ended up being neglected. On the downside, I’ve found it hard not to note the time this morning, despite it only ever being an eight-month experiment…

So that was my year (well, eight months of it, anyway) – what did you do in yours?

• June 1st, 2011 • Posted in Uncategorized • Comments: 0

New Article on Suite101

In which our intrepid blogger reneges on a commitment he made to himself and friends…but he has his reasons…

Some time ago I decided to stop writing for Suite101. I’d become increasingly frustrated with the poor returns, and saw no way -short of working myself into the ground, or hitting the blogging equivalent of the jackpot- that I was ever going to earn more than three or four dollars a month however much work I put in, which was frequently ten hours a month or more.

I didn’t make a general announcement, but did tell some friends, which left me with the chance to keep my options open. But now, as part of my decision to optimize my blogging that I talked about yesterday, I’ve looked again at their demands.

Now Suite have cut their  quota of targets, and since I have a couple of articles left over that probably won’t get past the gatekeepers of most magazines, it seems to be a good time revisit that decision, even if it is for only a few more months. And for the first time, posting one article a month will give me the clarity I’ve been seeking for a long time.

Sometimes in business, one has to look again at previous decisions.

• May 31st, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Blogging: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Revisiting the topic of improving blogging and blogs – including this one.

 I’m a member of the Codex writing group of pro, neo-pro and aspiring professional writers. The group, which has at least 130 members, includes one of last year’s Hugo and two of this year’s Nebula winners amongst their ranks; they are collectively and individually, a formidable group.

Perhaps arising out of the Codex Blog Tour which I’ve been participating in --along with Aliette, Gareth, Alathea, Gray and many, many others—there’s been a lot of discussion just lately about the quality of blogs, and how to improve them. And change starts at home; that is,  here.

Author Sandra Taylor, has started posting on the topic, while Amy Sundberg has started a series of posts titled Get A BackboneThis has led to me to do some more head scratching about my own blogging.

Based on stats that internet usage drops by 40% at weekends as people spend their time doing things rather than sitting in the office surfing the net, I’m going to drop one of the weekend posts, and perhaps one of the weekday ones.

I’m aware that this blog doesn’t really have an identity – in that respect, my earlier blog -Random Mumblings- was probably a good title for this one.

Is that eclectic nature a strength or a weakness? Do you prefer specilist blogs rather than my grasshoppering across subjects? Short blogs every day or long ones once a week? (Madeline Ashby and Tania Hershmann are examples of the latter sort, whereas the former is more the default setting)

If you’re posting a comment and your website has a commercial orientation (ie Wolverhampton computer repair dot com) you might want to leave your website off your comment, so that the ever hungry spam filter doesn’t eat it.

I’ll post more on this whole topic in a few days.

• May 30th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 2