The well worn path of Ian Mcewan and science fiction

I published something about Ian McEwan’s new book, what science fiction is and isn’t, Frankenstein, where the word robot comes from, and how this fits with Our Child of the Stars.

Grumpy lifelike male robot
Grump lifelike male robot (photo Pixabay, Pexels.com)

 

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Talk at Quaker Book Centre

There is a long unedited video of me talking to a friendly crew at Friends House in the Euston Rd.   Part one here  It is on Facebook (search for @quakercentre.)   Good event, but we could have covered so much more!

 

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Second helpings: the marvel of sequels

Many great books have great sequels, some even surpassing the first book. Yet the debut author faced with a sequel faces some special issues.

The first book may have taken five years to write and a year to edit. The publisher will want to see the sequel within a year. Building on the audience is key – the book must build on what made fans of The First One like it, but not be a mere reheating. Certainly, it needs to be bigger, bolder… Widening it to reach new fans may annoy the existing ones. Fewer people will review the second, and they may have less compunction about being critical.

Sequels can be close or distant. Close sequels flow easily one to another. The Lord of the Rings was written as one book, divided into three by the publisher. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun follows the same protagonist through his quest with little gaps between books.  Or, sequels can be more distant.  Ursula Le Guin’s second Earthsea book, the Tombs of Atuan, starts in a different country with a different protagonist.  Ged, hero of the first book, turns up half-way through as a foreign prisoner.  In an extreme case, Adrian Selby asked to write another book in his Snakewood world chose to write one set two hundred years before, explaining the origins of a legendary figure in the first one.

Admiring Selby’s gall, there was never much choice for me.  People who wanted to read a sequel universally want to know what happens to Gene, Molly and Cory, in the very different situation facing them after the first book.  And I knew what that was, so I’m happily writing that.

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Reading 16 April, Friends House, Euston Rd, London

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Updates for this book and the next for reviewers and bloggers

I’m enjoy reading reviews of Our Child of the Stars on Goodreads and Amazon, among other places.  It’s not done to respond to those directly, even if I wanted to.

I’m writing a second book, which will strongly appeal to those who liked the first one.  To stay in touch:

Ideally subscribe to my newsletter – which only goes out when I have real stuff to say.

Drop me an email, if you only want the most significant developments.  That goes on a secure list. (The newsletter is easier.)

Follow me on twitter

Follow me on the journey and comments welcome.

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More about Our Child of the Stars

A lost child, the family who try to protect him and the secret that refuses to stay hidden . . .

Molly and Gene Myers were happy, until tragedy blighted their hopes of children. During the years of darkness and despair, they each put their marriage in jeopardy, but now they are starting to rebuild their fragile bond.

This is the year of Woodstock and the moon landings; war is raging in Vietnam and the superpowers are threatening each other with annihilation.

Then the Meteor crashes into Amber Grove, devastating the small New England town – and changing their lives for ever. Molly, a nurse, caught up in the thick of the disaster, is given care of a desperately ill patient rescued from the wreckage: a sick boy with a remarkable appearance, an orphan who needs a mother.

And soon the whole world will be looking for him.

Cory’s arrival has changed everything. And the Myers will do anything to keep him safe.

A remarkable story of warmth, tenacity and generosity of spirit, set against the backdrop of a fast-changing, terrifying decade.

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Free Fiction Offer: A Story A Month

So, I’ll be sending a free story a month and a bonus story to everyone subscribing to the newsletter

…and listing free fiction available online here…

check it out.

 

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The Student, the Kaiju and the Eight Basic Plots – free on Medium.com

The Student, the Kaiju, and the Eight Basic Plots

That night, out in the family boat, when he was ten years old. Sea-mist came from nowhere. He was careless, and fell into chill April water, breathing its knife pain into his lungs. Panic. The current was strong, and the life-jacket could not protect him from cold. The water wanted to hold his head under, a force, a something that wanted to drag him down.

Story here

Golden Gate bridge
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Backstage: Editing A Book is Not Ruining It

I’m due to get my latest set of edits soon.  When I signed with Jo my editor for Our Child in the Stars, I knew from day one that she would want three broad things.

  • A developmental edit, which suggests changes to the structure and tone of the book at a para, line, scene, page, chapter level – character, setting, stylistic choices all up for comment – phew;
  • When that’s done, a copy or line edit, which literally goes through the book line by line saying delete this, unnecessary repetition – phew;
  • and finally, proof-reading, which a fresh set of eyes takes on, checking again eg grammar and consistency about italics etc.

[Added: of course these phases are not rigidly separate.  Things occur to editor and author in the discussions.]

Typewriter sends pages flying into air
Editing can feel like…

No surprise that people have said things like, ‘Won’t this ruin the book?’  ‘Will it still be your book?’

The core thing is that my editor and I share a vision for the book.  What Jo is doing is helping make it happen.  Following untold years in the book mines, her experience helps shape delivering the story well (pace and structure), dialling things up where needed, bringing things out.  If we did not share a vision, then the discussions would be short.

So, ‘There is too much warm family stuff’ is not a line I could work with.  ‘This bit could be faster’, I could.

Imagine you write and direct an amateur play.  You plan to put it on, at your own expense in the local Scout Hut.  Local rehearsals go well, your friends are impressed.  Then an impresario is given a copy, and they want to pay you to put it on.  Bigger theatre, bigger budget, paying the actors, the stamp of success.  How exciting!

That impresario likes it, they really do, they read hundreds of plays before picking this one.  But they have put on the odd play or thirty before, and they know what works.  They will come back with a string of points.  All that comic stuff in Act Two slows the pace and reduces the drama.  Do you need both the heroine’s brothers?  They seem very samey, and it’s boring when they talk to each other.  You need to work on the final speech, which seems to cut across the theme.  The set design is very bland.  Is there a reason the period is so vague?

Some of this is so obviously right you nod.  Some of this might be very challenging.  You had some clear ideas right back at the beginning you might need to give up on.  Some comments you vow you will agree to only over your dead body.  Some involves looking up the first draft again and getting out bits you’d abandoned.

Your initial response might be to Google ‘How much assassinate theatre person London?’  Or that it would take a year to do all that, so the play is doomed.  But you remember that Shakespeare probably had the same thing, and less time to do it in.

So, you muse on it all.  Somewhere, some of the more critical points start to strike you as having the ring of truth.  The editor’s suggested cuts in Act Two miss the mark, but you realise a much better way of addressing her concerns.  You find you don’t care that much about one brother or two, and just roll over on that.  The finale speech is really important, you will need to discuss what she means further.  If she didn’t understand… that means you need to flag the theme up even stronger and earlier in the play.   And she’s just factually wrong on Norfolk sheep farming.

You see the point.  Of course, in a play, the actors are important co-creators, as is the director, the designer and a host of other people.  A book comes down to you and the editor.

What you end up with, you both hope, is a work which delivers in the real world the characters, story and themes of your play/book, but more effectively.  So, during the edit, there will be cursing, but you are working with a professional who after all, is investing time and money your book’s success.  To stretch another metaphor, it’s like a marriage.  If you ask ‘who is winning’ the relationship is in trouble.  The book ought to be winning, and the readers.

An agent tweeted recently that editing was ‘enjoyable’.  I’d say it’s more like doing a run for charity.  Some of the training, some of the post training, the run itself, the aftermath – some of this is enjoyable.  Some bits aren’t, some bits involve sweating and swearing, but you know you need to see those through to do what you want to achieve.

All these books were edited…
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The Twelve Days of Star Trek Original Series isn’t very good

Nothing says Christmas like moaning about old TV.  I am watching Star Trek The Original Series –  I used to love this when I was ten or so.  It lit up my world with wonder.  Now, rewatching, please send help, because it’s terrible.

I’m not particularly fussed about the terrible clunky sets, the lack of common sense like seat belts, and the fact that it was thirty years behind written SF in addressing either bold speculative ideas, or social issues.  In the Christmas Spirit of putting the boot in, I call in evidence:

  1. The teeth-gritting sexism. Female characters as one episode love interest, professional women constantly characterised as flighty idiots incapable of driving a shopping trolley, women getting no lines except screaming and screwing things up.  The uniform with incredibly short skirts.  Women who get married leave Starfleet.  Everyone wanting to shag Kirk (ewwwww).
  2. The balls-aching line of command. No-one ever has any independent authority.  Kirk has to tell Spock to tell someone to do the bloody obvious thing.  In a real warship, they’d be blown out of the sky waiting for permission to wipe their own arses.
  3. The teeth-gritting sexism can’t be entirely excused by the times. The pilot famously had a cool, competent, strong First Officer who was a woman, and they dropped the character because test screenings didn’t like it.  In the pilot, all the Starfleet women wore trousers and weren’t stupid.  So, don’t tell me the team were prisoners of their time – they backed down under pressure.
  4. Even as a kid I noticed that they sent exactly the wrong people down to the surface, and let’s all face front so the monsters can jump them from behind. Although some nerd has shown wearing a red shirt is not an indicator you are going to die.  Endless terrible decisions.
  5. Broadly racist, white Americans tend to hold all the positions of power. My ten-year-old-me’s crush, Nichelle Nichols, was urged to stay by Martin Luther King; she inspired other black women into TV; I know she’s an icon, but she’s never given that much to do.  Sigh of relief when Uhura’s shown with a soldering iron doing something.  Soldering, not just smouldering.
  6. The science. I don’t mind ‘handwavium’ – I don’t think the point of science fiction is to explain exactly how your faster than light works.  It is the GCSE level science that everyone watching ought to know.  Like, if you bombard a planet with incredibly bright ultraviolet light, aliens hiding in the dark still won’t be touched by it.  Light doesn’t bend round corners.  Humans looking up would be burned or blinded.  Also, antimatter isn’t ‘evil’.
  7. The world seems inconsistent from episode to episode. For example, if you don’t have enough energy to run the warp engines, can you still have enough energy to have shields and full impulse power?  This stuff really matters to the story, different episodes give different answers.  What happens when a nut locks themselves in Engineering, which happens every Wednesday?  Different solutions in different episodes.
  8. Primitive people enslaved by a god/god like computer – three times in the last eight episodes I watched.  Women choosing flightily.  Immortal chasing immortal for all time (twice).
  9. Spock is not that credible a character, Vulcan an unbelievable society, Amok Time might be the worst episode of any science fiction programme ever. Not least because of the teeth-gritting and illogical sexism.   (The modern take – Vulcans have emotions but suppress them, is far more logical, believable, and dramatic.)
  10. Jim, Bones and Spock ‘joshing’ humourlessly may cause cancer and should be banned.
  11. Characters give speeches which are plot points, not consistent with their character.
  12. The story telling is sometimes ponderous, the acting hammier than a pork sausage, but AT LEAST THE MUSIC SUBTLY TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK. Oh, the Woman is Being Seductive
  13. Bonus point, Chekov is impressively annoying as a character. The Wussians probably agreed to a nuclear arms treaty on the promise Chekov would be frozen in ice for two billion years.

STTOS is optimistic.  It espouses diversity and peaceful cooperation, even if it doesn’t deliver.  It aspires to progress.  Its penal system is based on rehabilitation, the culture aspires to be meritocratic.  Not every episode is terrible.  But sometimes when you go back to something, the river has flowed on.  Nothing ages like the future.

(Apologies to Pigs In Space)

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