New Paperbacks!

Brand new paperback editions of my first two books, the collection THE LAST REEF AND OTHER STORIES, and the novel SILVERSANDS, are now available via Amazon.

They were originally published in 2008 and 2010 respectively, but both have been out of print in physical form for some time. 

These amazing-looking new editions feature covers and typesetting by @auto.erraticism and the correction of a few minor errors that had crept into the original printings.

(Also available as ebooks).

UK Links: Silversands / The Last Reef

US Links: Silversands / The Last Reef

The Fermi Paradox

So, I’ve been thinking about the Fermi Paradox. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the paradox was suggested in 1950 by physicist Enrico Fermi, when he asked, “Where is everybody?”

His argument was that it tool 4 million years for potentially space-travelling life to evolve on Earth, but the universe is a thousand times older, so there should have been plenty of time for other star-faring races to evolve and overrun the galaxy–and yet, we don’t see them.

Many (mostly depressing) solutions have been put forward, postulating some kind of Great Filter that prevents civilisations reaching the level of technology necessary for us to detect them. Candidates for the Great Filter include nuclear war, pollution, the impossiblity of interstellar travel, and killer robots that destroy life wherever they detect it.

On Earth, life evolved in response to a series of great extinctions and a variable climate. When the dinosaurs died out, mammals just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And when climate change started to make life on the savannah difficult for our ape ancestors, they had to get smart or die. They had to diversify their diet, learn to hunt, and ultimately harness fire and travel north, into Europe and beyond. We wouldn’t have survived without our intelligence and desire to explore. But an alien species in a more stable environment (a sub-surface ocean beneath the ice of a frozen moon, for example) might never have the need to develop those characteristics. They may have curiosity, but their options for exploration or technology would be limited by their environment. Their world would be covered by kilometres of ice, beyond which only vacuum lies; and they probably wouldn’t discover fire and smelting on a seabed. The desire to look outwards and seek new frontiers may be an extremely rare trait.

My own personal thoughts on the matter are that given the size and age of the universe, intelligent alien life almost certainly exists, but given those vast gulfs of time and space, we are extremely unlikely to ever meet them.

Look at the picture of the Andromeda galaxy accompanying this post. Look how many stars there are there. Roughly a trillion. If one of those stars housed an alien race at the same technological level as us, how would we ever detect it? You could drop a fair-sized galactic empire in there and unless they were using spectacularly noisy star drives to power their ships, we’d still never know they were there.

But it isn’t just the distance. Every light year we peer into the cosmos is a year back in time. Andromeda is 2.537 million light years away, so we’re seeing it as it was when the first Homo habilis on Earth were just beginning to experiment with stone tools. Given that some estimate it would take humanity only 100,000 years to colonise our galaxy using self-replicating, slower-than-light craft, that’s plenty of time for a species to have done the same to Andromeda. There might be whole reefs of Dyson spheres, and a galaxy-wide civilisation existing there right now, but we won’t know anything about it for another 2.5 million years.

Or perhaps we simply missed them. Perhaps that vast empire collapsed a billion years ago, and we simply can’t see their ruins.

Perhaps vast waves of colonisation have already swept through our own galaxy and we simply don’t recognise their traces.

In our own solar system, there are anolmalies. Mercury appears to be the solid iron core of a larger planet, stripped of most of its crust. Venus spins in the opposite direction to the rest of the planets, and has the slowest rotation of any of the planets. Did something smack into it, or could its rotational energy have been tapped by a supercivilisation in order to power an interstellar wormhole, slowing (and reversing) its rotation? Or perhaps, given that it was once apparently habitable, could it and Earth have been targetted by planet-killing robots that wrecked Venus’s climate and dealt us the blow that birthed our moon?

We exist in deep time and deep space. I live in hope that one day, we’ll find evidence that we’re not alone, but realise that given the distances involved, any species we detect will most likely have gone extinct by the time we detect them. And alas, the same holds true in reverse. By the time we’re spotted, we may be long gone. It would just be nice to know one way or the other.

“Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.”

Foreign Cover Art

Embers of War has been translated into several languages. Here are some of the amazing covers that grace those translations.

Warship Girl Cover Reveal

Cover Illustration: Yoshitoshi Abe
Cover Design: Juryoku Iwago + W.I

This is the cover to WARSHIP GIRL (The Japanese translation of Embers of War), which is being published by Tokyo Sogensha on 1st August. The picture is Trouble Dog in her virtual human persona, and above, in her physical warship form.

I really like it. What do you think?

Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Recollection

Tenth Anniversary Edition

Solaris Books are releasing a special tenth anniversary edition of my novel The Recollection!  Complete with a striking new cover, this new edition celebrates a fan-favourite, and launches in to bookshops and on eReaders April 2021!

Find out more: 

Locus Award Shortlist

I’m delighted that Fleet of Knives has followed its predecessor Embers of War by being shortlisted for the Locus Awards.

And it’s also currently number #5 in the Locus Magazine bestseller list for paperbacks!

Video: Reading & Interview for SRFC

You Can Do It!

Years ago, when I was first contemplating becoming a serious writer, a friend told me, “Things like that happen to other people.”

The implication was that I shouldn’t even try. That it was a waste of time to even attempt to follow my dream. Well, I’m here to tell you not to listen to that sort of negativity. If you have an urge to write, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. You should absolutely follow that urge and chase that dream.

However, please bear in mind it is hard work, and requires a peculiar mixture of iron self-belief and professional humility. You have to be arrogant enough to write a novel and shrug off bad reviews, but also humble enough to cheerfully accept edits and criticisms. You have to be willing to learn how to write good dialogue, how to create characters and plots readers care about, how to come up with hooks that snare an audience, and how to write engaging prose that keeps them reading once you’ve got their attention.

Writing changes you. It requires you to confront the emotional truths of the work. It requires commitment, long hours, and a desire to constantly learn and improve. But, if you’re willing to do all that, and put your heart and soul into your craft; if you work hard and keep honing your craft; if you’re persistent in building an audience and continue to submit or self-publish your work despite all setbacks and rejections; then you stand as good a chance as any of the rest of us.

Ten Lockdown Self-Care Tips for Writers

Over on the Curtis Brown Creative Blog, I have posted my list of ways in which we can take care of ourselves and our creativity during these times of social isolation.

You can read the post here.

My Writing Process

I wanted to give you a real behind-the-scenes look, so here are some answers to some FAQ about me and my writing process:

1. Favourite notebook: A hardback Old World Journal from Peter Pauper Press, which was given to me by my son for Father’s Day, and which is almost too good to use. But for day-to-day use, probably a Moleskine (or cheap imitation).

2. Favourite pen: I tend to write with whatever comes to hand. I’m more than happy using a Bic biro.

3. Writing software: Microsoft Word. I have tried Scrivener, but didn’t get on with it. It seemed unnecessarily fiddly. But that’s probably because I started writing on a typewriter and got used to the idea of starting at page one and writing through in sequence until I reach the end.

4. Hardware: Mac desktop and cheap Hewlett Packard Windows laptop.

5. Taking Notes: Google Keep on my phone.

6. Favourite places to write: The Watershed upstairs bar in Bristol, and the cafe in Waterstones, Bristol Galleries. I find the low level background noise helps me focus and not get as distracted as I sometimes do at home (no housework nagging at me). Plus the staff in both places are chill about you working in there for hours at a time.

7. Words per day: I tend aim to for 1000 words but don’t always make it (and on rare days, I’ll write 2000 or 5000). Some days, I’ll only write 100, but if they’re 100 good words, I’m satisfied.

8. Favourite writing snack: The great thing about working from home is that I can make cheese-on-toast whenever I want.

9. Coffee or tea? Although I love the flavour of coffee, it doesn’t always agree with me. I savour a really good filter coffee every now and again, but generally stick to tea when I’m at home. There’s something gentle and thoughtful about tea. It lifts you up like an enlightened flight of angels where coffee just yeets you into the sky like a trebuchet.

10. Background music: My all-time favourite writing music is Vangelis’ soundtrack for Blade Runner. But if I’m in the mood, almost anything instrumental will do. However, I’ve recently found YouTube videos of ambient noise really helpful: cafes, bookstores, waves on a beach, rain in a forest. It’s the same benefit I get from writing in coffe shops: low levels of background noise that seem to placate the conscious parts of the brain (the bits that worry about laundry and tax returns) and let the creative part take full reign. 

11. Creative heroes. 

  • Miles Davis. For a heroin addict, the guy had a hell of a work ethic. He put out dozens of albums and repeatedly reinvented not only himself but also his musical genre.
  • Patti Smith. I fell in love with her album Horses at an impressionable age. In recent years, I’ve also come to love her books and they way she blends art and life until the border between the two becomes indistinct and permeable.
  • Iain M Banks. Inspiring, fearless science fiction that’s so inventive you sometimes have to take a step back in order to realise just how creative it all is.

12. Plot or Pants? I’m a mixture of both. I have to know where a book’s going before I start writing it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t leave plenty of room for digressions and detours en route. My entire notes for a book might take up a page or less of typed A4. I don’t like to plan in huge detail, because I like to give the characters space to react and act, and find a totally worked-out plot constricts my creativity. Part of the fun of writing is to get to know the characters as you bring them to life, and then see how they’ll behave when you throw problems at them.

13. Editing. Usually, I tell people to write their first draft and get it finished before they start editing, as editing can be an excuse for procrastination — but to be honest, I don’t take that advice. I do the majority of my editing as I go along, so that by the time I reach the last page, the whole draft is in decent shape. I know, I’m a hypocrite, but it works for me.

14. Alien or Aliens? To be honest, they’re both head and shoulders above every other sci-fi horror movie, but my heart will always belong to Aliens. It was the first of the films I saw (I watched Alien a few days later on VHS) and some friends and I snuck into our local Odeon underage to watch it. And I still think it’s a masterpiece of set-up. Those marines aren’t faceless grunts. Before they meet the Aliens, each of them gets a moment that humanises them, which means we’re rooting for them even though we know they’re (mostly) doomed. And I guess the aesthetic of that movie never really left me. You can see it in my writing, and they way most of my characters are grunts in dirty overalls, just trying to do their jobs.

15. Biscuits? Ginger nuts dipped in coffee or tea. 

* This article was originally posted on my Patreon page in October last year.