I am chuffAlbedoOne45-Covered to be able to point you in the direction of the latest issue of Albedo One (no. 45 – available in ebook form from Smashwords and Amazon) which features my story, “King Rook”.

The story is one set in Northern Ireland in the mid-eighties and while none of the important stuff in the story is autobiographical, I really did grow up in a housing estate that was in the shadow of a rookery and it really was slowly sliding into a bog.

Anyway, as always when one of my stories is out there, I’m only too aware of its shortcomings and not about to suggest that my deathless prose will change your life but I would recommend that you pick up this (and every other) issue of Albedo One, it’s a very good magazine that deserves your support. And, at just a couple of pounds for the ebook version, it’s very reasonably priced.

I also realised that I haven’t mentioned on here that another of my stories, “And Dublin Wept”, was included in Pandemonium: Big Jim’s Shadow from Jurassic London. This is a flash story (just 750 words long) set in 1914 during the bitter industrial dispute that was the Dublin lock-out lead by the ITGWU You can get the book from Goodreads for free and for 77p from Amazon.

It felt a bit odd having this story in a collection dedicated to James Larkin, since the story pokes a some (gentle) fun at the trade unionist’s reputation as a great orator. It has as it’s central character a fictionalised version of William X O’Brien – a less celebrated figure in Irish labour history. The story is an alternate history that twists around the fact that Larkin at one point proposed sending the children of the strikers to Ebig_jims_shadowngland and Scotland to live with the families of British trade union members. He hoped to ease the burdens on striking families but, more importantly, he hoped to spread support for the strike to the rest of the UK and thought the children would elicit sympathy. However, the combined forces of a hostile press and an equally hostile Catholic Church scuppered the idea.

The lock-out petered out in 1914, with both sides exhausted and forced to compromise. The ITGWU was badly damaged and things got worse when Larkin went off to North America and then, in 1916, James Connolly was killed by the British for his part in the Easter Rising (the leader of the bosses in the lock-out, William Martin Murphy, used his newspapers to agitate for the execution of his old adversary).

William X O’Brien was the man who rebuilt the ITGWU, turning it into a major force in Irish politics. There are songs about Larkin and Connolly but, as far as I know, no songs have been written about William X O’Brien.

The story also features a mention of the SS Connemara, a ferry that plied the route from Greenore to Liverpool. The ship did sink in Carlingford Lough, but not until November 1916. All aboard the real SS Conemara were lost, including my great uncle, Private Robert Kenna, who was returning to the war in France after recovering from injuries.

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I, like lots of other people, got a bit excited when the organisers of Loncon3 sent out the draft schedule for this year’s Worldcon – but I’ve had some ongoing website problems, so it’s taken a while to get this online. But, at last, for anyone who might be interested, these are (provisionally, I think) the panels I’ll be appearing on at what looks like being an absolutely massive convention. Continue reading

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So this year’s elections are over, and lots of people are using the results as an excuse to try and shift their favoured political parties around, so I thought: “Why should I miss out?” I don’t think the European election results are either disastrous or brilliant for Labour. You can’t look at the raw figures and say this performance (25%) isn’t good enough, because since 1999 the European elections haven’t looked anything like other British national votes. UKIP, the BNP and the Greens have all made different “breakthroughs” at Euro elections that haven’t been followed up in subsequent General Elections and, if I was a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that UKIP’s vote will fall back significantly before next year’s election. It is, of course, possible that this election has “broken the mould”, but the probability is always against breaks with history. Continue reading

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specyfiction72ppiSo, the Hugo nominations are out, and there are a number of things I like and many things I have absolutely no interest in. In the end I weakened and nominated some stuff, just so I could feel properly entitled to moan at the final shortlist. I think four of the items I nominated made it onto the final list of 90 or so nominees – I’ll be expecting cash from the lucky few in the next post.

But the really important news about the Hugo nominations isn’t that some weird, slightly cultish, distinctly Tea Partyish, group of American writers have got their arses in gear to exploit the nomination process – anyone with a background in student politics will recognise the effect of organising lists in popular voting – Hackery101. It will be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend of progressive/reactionary organisation for awards. Continue reading

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The_RookDaniel O’Malley’s first novel, The Rook, won the 2012 Aurealis Award for best SF Novel published by an Australian and comes laden with praise from writers like Charlaine Harris, Charles Yu and Lev Grossman. I found it hard to understand why. The Rook is the story of Myfanwy Thomas, holder of the eponymous title in the secret Checquy – an ancient agency of the British government that rolls up the roles of GCHQ, the SAS, MI5, MI6 and more and is tasked with the job of clobbering anything supernatural that threatens the interests of the British state. The story begins as Myfanwy comes to her senses in an unnamed London park. She has no memories. Her only clue about who she is and what has happened comes in the form of a letter in her pocket – written by herself. Continue reading

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I have no interest in nominating anything for the Hugos, but people have been bemoaning the shortage of things they can nominate for the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category outside the usual television episodes. I like short movies, and think it’d be nice to see more of them recognised, so here are some short movies you could consider. I haven’t checked the eligibility but they’re all dated 2013 and all between 8-15 minutes long.

And, if you’re not interested in the Hugos either, hey, they’re still good little movies.

West of the Moon
Based loosely, apparently, on interviews with children about their dreams. This is kind of lovely, fantastic and peculiar. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/06/west-of-the-moon/

Time travel. It’s a familiar idea – how to change the past – but it’s very nicely done and affecting. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/08/recordplay/

C: 299,792 km/s
A Kickstarted movie, and a really enjoyable one. Old-fashioned in style and production (complete with Sagan-ish inserts) it’s a pacy space story done well. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/01/29/c-299792-kms/

Dr Easy
A robot doctor is sent into a siege situation. A Film4/Warp film with very high production values and Tom Hollander from Rev. It ends a bit abruptly. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/06/21/dr-easy/

Unable to face the things she has lost and return home, a miner on the Moon makes a decision. A touch melodramatic and edging towards the sugary but nice. http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/05/16/expo/

Other options: I liked Cargo better than anything in The Walking Dead (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/11/cargo/) but it’s touch obvious; A Little Bit Behind  (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/04/23/a-little-bit-behind/) is a funny Australian effort but it’s really just a sketch;  From the Future With Love (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/09/06/from-the-future-with-love/)  has near-future cops doing stuff – should have ended after the bit in the diner; Abe (http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2013/10/30/abe-2/) frankly a bit unpleasant, effectively a robot slasher movie, but undeniably well made.

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the-echo-by-james-smytheSo my grumpy review of James Smythe’s The Echo is now online at Arcfinity.

I’m not normally bothered by the science being wrong in fantastic fiction if it makes the story better – that’s normally true when the author has made a deliberate choice to warp or twist reality. What bothered me by this book (and it’s prequel) is my feeling that the scientific stuff that was wrong didn’t add to the story – indeed that it distracted from it – and that the author was obviously capable of not making these mistakes.

I note that one paragraph from the review got edited out, that’s fair enough, it was too long, but it explains why I think the wrong science matters in this particular case. Continue reading

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Okay, so, if I wanted this to be any use to anyone I’d have done it weeks ago, but I didn’t and there was always just one more book to try and squeeze in… And if I wanted this to be remotely interesting to anyone, I’d probably have written a long explanation as to why some of these books didn’t make my nominations – I have long and tedious explanations for the absence of both The Adjacent and Ancillary Justice from my nominations – but I didn’t have time.

The deadline for the British Science Fiction Awards nominations is tomorrow. If you can but haven’t nominated your favourites: DO IT NOW!

If anyone cares, here’s what I’ve nominated for the BSFA Awards this year: Continue reading

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Peacock-Cloak-coverThe thing that I like best about Chris Beckett’s short stories in general, and this new collection, The Peacock Cloak, in particular is the rage that is bubbling under the surface and that occasionally erupts from the page.

Not all the stories grip you by the throat, “Atomic Truth”, the first in this collection, is a story in which a young woman reaches a moment of epiphany while brushing briefly against the life of a man with mental illness in a near future London. There’s little enough going on the surface, but underneath there’s a sense of something deeply wrong. Continue reading

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existence-brinI did not like David Brin’s Existence. It is a book so distressingly unpleasant that it left me wondering – and this is no exaggeration – whether I had had enough of the whole of science fiction. I suppose you might say it caused something of an Existential crisis.

Boiled down to its basics, Brin’s novel is simple enough. An astronaut finds an alien artefact that immediately begins to attempt to communicate with humanity. Once the first artefact is discovered it is soon clear that Earth, indeed the whole solar system, is infested with these crystals – all containing the personalities of many different alien ambassadors, all offering radically different advice to humanity and many intent on destroying every other crystal they can reach. The overall message, however, becomes obvious. The Fermi Paradox – the fact that the sky is not ringing with the sound of thousands of alien races – is a result of the fundamental fragility of advanced civilisation. They have failed to solve the problems and threats posed by growing complexity and we probably will too. Brin weaves this basic story through a bewildering variety of, sometimes only marginally, interconnected threads.

There are many, many things wrong with Existence. Continue reading

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