Adventures in London (again) and a NEW ANNOUNCEMENT

Yesterday I went to London to see the lovely people at Audible and be interviewed about the upcoming DARK DEEDS (yes, it seems the release date has been pushed back to 14th November. No, I have no idea why). After a brief alarm when they thought I was a different Michael Brooks who’d written something called The Quantum Stargazer’s Handbook (I’ll be honest, I’d love to be able to say I’d written something with that title) they worked out which author I actually was and got the right questions out! I’ll put a link up to the interview when it’s out, so you can hear me admit for the first time that I probably don’t know Ichabod Drift’s real name.

The NEW ANNOUNCEMENT is that…

(drum roll please)

…I have launched a Patreon! So if you want to read short stories by me on a regular basis then come and sign up. My goal is to get to $200, which (even with the current exchange rate, and tax) I think is a reasonable amount for a short story. I’d be very grateful indeed if you decided to sign up for what I’m sellin’.

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Nine Worlds – Sunday

At long last, the end is in sight.

The Sunday of Nine Worlds is always a bittersweet affair, since although the convention is still going it’s already started to lose attendees, and the sad business of checking out interferes with your ability to go to stuff. I was also tired from DJing the Bifrost until the small hours and then getting up to get breakfast. However, I made sure that I made it to the 10am talk “Space Is An Ocean: Spaceship Design Considerations For Writers”.

This was given by the excellent Nick Bradbeer, a naval architect who managed to expertly balance information with humour as he talked about the considerations for naval ships and then in what way those could be extrapolated to create spaceships that would feel realistic in the mind of a reader. He covered several very interesting points, of which I thought the most fascinating was about fighters ships in space: why are they there? After all, fighters at sea have a distinct tactical purpose, as they can fly much faster than ships can sail and operate in a different medium. However, fighter ships in space are in the same medium as capital ships, and there’s no reason why they should be able to fly any faster. Of course, you can have reasons to have fighter ships – two examples he gave were if long-range sensors weren’t good, so they’d act as scouts, and also if capital ships were excellent at killing each other in warfare but had poor defence against smaller ships, so the big ships would stay back from each other and launch clouds of fighters or bombers – but you need to have thought through why.

Unfortunately I had to bail on the talk before he got to the promised addendum about airships for steampunk, as I needed to go and officially check out of the hotel before I appeared on the “Nine Worlds Podcast – Live”. However, on the way out I was lucky enough to briefly run into Claire North/Kate Griffin/Catherine Webb, who (as Kate Griffin) wrote the Urban Magic and Magicals Anonymous series, and whom as well as being a brilliant author and probably capable of kicking your arse via escrima is also one of the nicest people ever.

So anyway, Nine Worlds Podcast Live: indeed we were live, or at least three-quarters of us were: Misha, who’d co-ordinated the excellent Bifrost Cabaret and Disco the night before, was basically (and quite understandably) a semi-ambulatory hangover by this point thanks to too much alcohol and not enough sleep. However, Matt (a Nine Worlds crewer who is the podcast’s other host), myself and Jeannette Ng (whose debut novel Under The Pendulum Sun is coming out later this year) were all able to form cohesive and consecutive sentences. We hadn’t discussed beforehand what the topics of conversation were going to be and Matt decided to ask us about convention stories and roleplaying, which proved slightly unfortunate as neither Jeannette nor I have been to many conventions, and I’ve never really done any roleplaying (Jeannette does LARP, but not the tabletop sort). We did however hear stories about Matt’s goblin underpants helmet in something he played, we all talked about cats, and I shared my story of being the world’s worst mutant in the only role-play game I ever have played, a very simple X-Men one at Nine Worlds two years ago where I repeatedly catastrophically failed all dice rolls and finished by fatally phasing my head into a wall.

The last part of Nine Worlds for me was a talk on “Different Techniques of POV and the effect they have on the reader” by AC Macklin who has conveniently provided all the slides she used for it here. There was an awful lot of technical language, and I might have been a bit tired to understand it all, but it was still thoroughly interesting (and at least I have the slides to study at leisure!).

And that was it. Both Joe and I had decided that there was nothing else we really wanted to stay for, so we piled into my car and went back up the M1 (Joe fell asleep in the passenger seat, the bastard). And thus ended another (largely) brilliant weekend at Nine Worlds. It would be remiss of me not to mention all my non-panellist friends such as Jamie (whose attendance this year was a little more planned than a spontaneous Friday decision of “sod it, I’m catching the train down from Boulmer to go to a convention all weekend”, although she did end up staying at The Party Hostel again); Runalong and Hedwig; Lauren, whom I’d persuaded to attend and now appears to have decided that Nine Worlds is one of her favourite places ever; Jekri; and Hap, who did the BSL translation for my acoustic set at the cabaret last year (plus anyone else whom I’ve forgotten: my apologies).

I will be going back next year and look forward to meeting up with existing friends, as well as making new ones. If you can make it, I recommend that you do (early bird cheap tickets are only available until 31st August!).

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Nine Worlds – Saturday

Okay, here we go.

The main reason this write-up was so delayed was because of an incident that took place on the Saturday at Nine Worlds, and the aftermath of it. That’s now been resolved, and so I feel I can write about the weekend in full.

Saturday should have begun with “Orkish History 101″, a talk I was eager to attend as I’ve long held a soft spot for orcs/orks (my first internet username was Ufthak, when I joined the message boards of TheOneRing.net back in 2000, looking for information on the Lord of the Rings movies: Ufthak was an orc mentioned in passing by two other orcs in The Return of the King, in a conversation overheard by Sam Gamgee). Unfortunately it quickly became clear that the person giving the talk was unable to do so due to being ill, so I had to decide where to go instead. Sadly my other primary choice, “Archetypes in Fantasy” was already full up, so I went to “How To Write A Location You Can’t Go To” by Melissa Olson. This was a very informative and amusing talk, in which Melissa outlined what she uses to write locations: first, ones that she can visit, and how to maximise the useful time when there, and secondly, the ones that she can’t. Her techniques focus on finding a “useful local” who can answer questions, because how the locals talk and where the locals go is going to be very different to what tourists or visitors do! I also learned about a piece of Los Angeles that fell into the sea once.

After that I attended a panel on “Representations of the City in SFF”, which saw an architect, a couple of authors and an editor (and marketer) talking about how cities can almost be their own character in SFF, and how writing about them and creating them can influence the novel. There was a lot of discussion about things like Brutalism and Modernism too, which I completely failed to understand. Anna Smith Spark apparently took issue with the panel’s representation of what Modernism is about, but then she’s more educated than me.

Not the best photo, I admit.

Not the best photo, I admit.

The next panel was “Fictional Religions In Video Game Worlds”, which was interesting despite the fact that I’m not really much of a video gamer, certainly not the sort of Dragon Age or Skyrim-type games that they were mainly talking about. It was still interesting to hear people talking about religions, and the attitudes to religion within games, especially given that within games the player sometimes gets to choose on how to interact with religions as opposed to a novel where the character’s interactions are determined by the author and the reader just follows along. This panel featured Lucy Hounsom and Jen Williams, both merrily geeking out about their digital adventures (Lucy was in cosplay as someone from Dragon Age, I think, although I don’t know who).

After that I saw this piece of cracking Deathstroke cosplay, and asked to take a picture with them.

Afterwards he noticed my 'Snake Mountain Gym' top and asked to take a picture of it :p

Afterwards he noticed my ‘Snake Mountain Gym’ top and asked to take a picture of it :p

And then came the panel that caused the problems: “Redemption in Scifi – From Vader to Teal’c and Aeryn Sun”.

I’d been asked to appear on this panel, and had agreed. We’d found out on the Friday that the person we’d thought was moderating was no longer going to be, and so one of us stepped forward as moderator instead. Unfortunately for me that person proceeded to violate many of Nine Worlds’ participation guidelines and some of their anti-harassment policies, including interrupting me while I was introducing myself to make a joke about the sexuality that I had (in the interests of diversity and representation) disclosed as part of my introduction. My immediate instinct was to say “fuck it” and leave: I took a spur-of-the-moment decision to stay to as to avoid disrupting the panel. I’m not sure I made the right decision: my opinion as a panellist was that the panel was something of a garbage fire in the end. I hope it was enjoyable for those that attended, at any rate.

(I’m not going to name the person responsible, but for the record it was neither Ro Smith nor Adrian Tchaikovsky. Both of them were lovely and I don’t wish anyone to mistakenly think it was one of them. If you really want to look up the listed panellists to find out who that leaves, so be it)

I didn’t stay to engage in any conversation after the panel as I was due for a signing at the Big Green Bookshop stall immediately afterwards (they’re the ones who were tweeting Harry Potter at Piers Morgan). I was signing right next to Mike Carey, which was awesome, although the difference in our respective lines was a little sobering (although hardly surprising!). I’d like to thank the people that came to either buy a book or have one signed – gratifyingly the stall had already sold out of Dark Run by the time I was due to sign there, although they hadn’t been able to get many in.

I then went to the “Creating Original Dystopia In A Somewhat Dystopian World” panel, where Anna Smith Spark and Adrian Tchaikovsky were talking about this subject as part of a larger panel (including Pat Cadigan, who memorably stated something along the lines of “I didn’t promise you flying cars, I promised you nihilistic dystopia: how do you like me now?”). Anna did state that she was worried about whether or not anyone would actually want grimdark any more, given the general state of the world, and maybe people would just prefer to read about fluffy unicorns instead. However, I wasn’t really in the right mental space to stay for all the panel due to still being furious about what had happened earlier, so I let myself out quietly to get some food before Swordpunk!

Swordpunk! was a workshop where you could sign up to spend an hour learning the very basics of swordplay as taught in medieval documents. I partnered against Joe, who foolishly opted to go for metal swords rather than wooden ones. They looked better, but I had real trouble getting my head (and arms) around one of the moves, so Joe ended up holding his four feet of steel out in front of him with arms extended for long periods of time while I tried to work out what the hell I was doing. We concluded by the end that Joe had the better “feel” for it (he’d done a bit of work with swords before), but when it came to swinging a length of metal for prolonged periods of time, I would have the advantage.

After this, and encouraged by a member of Nine Worlds crew who’d been “off duty” in the Redemption in Scifi panel and had been equally outraged, I went to the Info Desk and informed them of the various infractions that had taken place during that panel. My statements were very sympathetically received and I was advised to put in all in an email so nothing got left out, which is what I then went and did.

Now, the reason why this blog post was so late in coming is that it took until last night for me to be fully updated on what had actually been done as a result of it. That seems like quite a long time – three weeks since the event, in fact. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Nine Worlds is staffed and crewed by volunteers, who all have their own lives to live alongside operating the convention (including going to WorldCon the weekend after, for several of them). I didn’t feel that I could recount the events of Nine Worlds without touching on the thing that made me so angry, but likewise I didn’t feel I could do so without talking about how it was handled. Up until last night, I didn’t know exactly how it had been handled.

What I can say is that, despite the length of time it took to fully communicate with me about what had been done, I am satisfied with the outcome and I feel that Nine Worlds have acted entirely appropriately and in line with their advertised policies and guidelines. They don’t just talk the talk, they do walk the walk as well (it just might take a little time to let you know about the walking).

So, anyway.

After I’d chilled out for a bit following Swordpunk!, it was time to get ready for the Bifrost disco. I caught the end of the cabaret, then (an hour later than planned, because these things never go to time), we opened the disco. I was delighted to find that the huge wait hadn’t put off the waiting crowd, and the dance floor was quickly filled by enthusiastic punters as myself, Lum and Elaine (who DJ’d with me last year) proceeded to play music at people. I didn’t take any pictures of the dance floor, as it would be impossible to get everyone’s consent beforehand, and consent is very important at Nine Worlds, even for photos. However, someone did manage to get a photo of me when I was DJing, and it’s fairly safe to say that I was enjoying myself at this point:

I like to sing along when the night's going well.

I like to sing along when the night’s going well (photo courtesy of Steve Lacey)

I also managed to dance so hard that I knocked the metal tip off one of my New Rock boots:

Whoops.

Whoops.

And just like last year, I had a truly awful creation of my own to drop on the crowd. This one wasn’t my idea, however, as during band practice a week or so prior someone had suggested mashing up Captain Hammer’s “The hammer is my penis” line from Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog with “Cant Touch This” by MC Hammer. And so I did. And played it at 1.30am. And got a mixture of utter confusion and all-consuming laughter from the dance floor, so I call that a win.

I got to bed at some point after 2:30am. And there was still a day to go…

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Nine Worlds – Friday

Friday dawned bright and early, bright enough that even London looked quite good.

And that takes some doing.

And that takes some doing.

With hotel breakfast achieved it was time for the first session of the day: An Audience with Chris Wooding. I first found Chris Wooding’s Tales From The Ketty Jay series in Waterstones because someone working there had marked it as “like Firefly, but with airships”, which was good enough for me. It’s a thoroughly entertaining series, although it was interesting to hear how he’d felt he had to end it because he could no longer think of a way to make air combat sound fresh and new. The talk was a very good insight into the life of someone who’d been writing novels since his teenage years, and whom had basically been making a living from it for most of his adult life (a somewhat different journey to my own).

I perhaps didn't catch the best expression here.

I perhaps didn’t catch the best expression here.

After that I went to a panel in the biggest hall they had, with the somewhat lengthy title of “Police and the Supernatural: Law Enforcement Professionals’ View of Urban Fantasy”. This consisted of a police officer (dressed as Judge Dredd!), a civil servant involved in writing laws and (I think?) a prosecutor or something of that sort (it’s been a few weeks, I’ve forgotten the details) discussing Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London and Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series, and comparing how realistic their depictions of policing were. It threw up some very interesting tidbits, like how police procedures change so fast that basically by the time the novel is published, it’ll be out of date anyway. There were also a couple of truly shocking things mentioned, such as how the Metropolitan Police’s reaction to the Stephen Lawrence murder was to pack all the black officers off to Bristol with virtually no notice to have a conference so they could come back and tell the Met how it was racist… (this was brought up in response to a discussion of how the police would react if supernatural beings were found to exist and they had to find a way to police them: it was suggested that the same thing might happen!)

Between this panel and the next I encountered this giant squid cosplaying as Cthulu:

Something something his noodle appendage?

Something something his noodle appendage?

The next panel was “Classical Monsters In Popular Culture”, which was about how monsters from classical literature had been reimagined and used today. This was a slightly weird one in terms of some of the language used, in that one of the panellists was talking about “Monster Theory”. I thought that she was talking about why humanity created stories about monsters, and why they kept coming up over history, but the way she was talking about it almost made it sound as though she thought the monsters were real and they themselves were trying to find a way into our collective psyche, as active agents. I’m assuming I just misinterpreted that. Either that, or someone might need to call the Met and tell them to be on their guard. However, one truly glorious thing the panel did bring to my attention was the existence of ‘The Birds Barbie’.

Yes, this is/was an actual thing.

Yes, this is/was an actual thing.

I required lunch by this point: happily the Novotel in Hammersmith is handily located for a whole bunch of food places (very different to the Radisson Blu in 2015, where the options were the McDonald’s next door or a long traipse into the suburbs to find a pub). After achieving pizza it was time for the next event, which was “Breaking The Glass Slipper Podcast Live!” Breaking The Glass Slipper is a podcast about women in SFF, featuring fantasy author Lucy Hounsom amongst others. I don’t tend to listen to podcasts as I struggle to concentrate on conversations I’m not part of when I can’t see the participants (I think it’s the whole “partially deaf” thing), but I went to see it live because my friends RJ Barker and Anna Smith Spark were on it talking about their recently-released debuts.

RJ (left) and Anna (right)

RJ (left) and Anna (right)

The regular BTGS crew (Lucy Hounsom on the left, the only one I've actually met)

The regular BTGS crew (Lucy Hounsom on the left, the only one I’ve actually met)

It was a very interesting conversation about female characters, traditional fantasy roles, grimdark etc, although I had to leave before the end (because they overran, damn it!) as I had to go and prepare for my own panel: “Interpretations Of An Interstellar Humanity”.

I’d actually come up with this idea for 2016, but although it was originally accepted it then was discarded as they’d overbooked panels. I resubmitted it for this year and, thankfully, it made it through. I wanted to talk about the depiction of interstellar human societies in science-fiction, why creators made the decisions they did when writing about them, how realistic they thought they were, and so on. To this end I was joined by Zoë Sumra, Temi Oh (whose debut isn’t coming out until 2019, because publishing is glacial) and former Games Workshop creator and current Black Library author Gav Thorpe, who graciously stepped in at the last moment when another panellist had to cancel with only a few days to go.

The last panel I was on at Nine Worlds was the “Ewoks!” panel on Saturday evening last year, which was tremendous fun but which also only had about twenty people in the audience. This one filled one of the rooms, which must have been about a hundred seats, and it filled it with five minutes to go before we started to boot. I was moderating a panel where people were actually being turned away.

Also, half of the microphones didn’t work properly.

However, we got around that by sharing, and (at least from my point of view) had a very interesting and thoroughly entertaining conversation about what we wrote, why we wrote it in the way that we did, and what we enjoyed or disliked about other interpretations of it that we’d seen. Part of it was about how realistic you can actually have it if you’re depicting an interstellar society, bearing in mind the huge distances involved (Zoë’s solution involves stable wormholes; mine involves an Alcubierre Drive), and this actually fed nicely into a talk I attended on Sunday morning… but more on that in due course.

After my panel I then had a choice. I had tickets for the Pennywise gig just up the road in Shepherd’s Bush, but there were still panels I wanted to attend. I compromised and went to the “Twisted Tales: The Dark Side Of Fairy Tales” panel (featuring a Chris Wooding now rather more tipsy than he had been at 10am), where the panel discussed various folktales and fairy tales and how the originals tended to be rather more gruesome and grisly than the sanitised Disney versions we see today. However, once that was done I wandered off up the road. I missed out on seeing Teenage Bottlerocket, but did manage to catch most of Good Riddance:

Good Riddance

All of Face To Face:

Face To Face

And then the headliners themselves, a band I’ve liked for close on twenty years but have never seen before. I did have tickets to see them once, for the short period of time when Zoli from Ignite was on lead vocals, but then he broke his coccyx and the gig had to be cancelled:

Pennywise

 

It was excellent fun, and I managed to avoid dying in the mosh pit. As I was leaving I also bumped into my friends Luci and Stuart, which was a nice surprise. Then I walked back to the Novotel and joined the Friday night disco before slinking off to bed at about 1.30am.

And the weekend was not even halfway done…

 

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FITC & Nine Worlds – Thursday

It’s a bit overdue, for various reasons, but I think it’s time for me to do a quick recap of my annual Long Weekend Of Geekery.

I’d sadly lost Eleanor from my Nine Worlds crew this year, as she was going to WorldCon the next weekend instead. However, I’d gained Joe, and on the Thursday morning I drove over the Derby to pick him up before we headed south on the M1 towards London. It was actually a very reasonable journey, and we pulled into the Novotel at Hammersmith not that long after we’d hoped to. Joe headed off to his hotel and I promptly bumped into Anna Smith Spark who was just behind me in the check-in queue at the Novotel. Anna’s debut grimdark novel The Court Of Broken Knives came out in July, so she was attending Nine Worlds as an author for the first time (I first met her two years ago at my first Nine Worlds, in a roundtable discussion about how badly Dorne had been treated in the Game of Thrones TV series). I then went up to my room, and discovered that I had pretty much the same view as last year, minus a building which had now been knocked down…

2016

2016

And 2017

And 2017

I then went to grab a pizza in the Novotel’s bar, which saw Joe trying the same thing only to be resoundingly ignored by the staff who were supposed to be taking orders! In the end I had to collar one for him.

I'm not that easy to miss.

I’m not that easy to miss.

With food achieved I introduced Joe to my friend Alice and *her* friend Kat so he had someone to take part in the Nine Worlds Icebreaker Quiz with, while Anna and I went off to Fantasy In The Court.

Fantasy In The Court takes place at Goldsboro Books, just off Leicester Square, and is a lovely evening where authors, publishers, agents and the general public mingle and chat in and out of the bookshop. While I didn’t experience a repeat of last year’s hilarious occurrence where the editor and publicist from a major publisher casually asked Eleanor if she wrote fantasy at all (because you know, that’s just the sort of thing that happens at these events), I did get to chat to the increasing number of wonderful people I’ve come to know on “the circuit”, including the ridiculous, antler-enthusiastic RJ Barker (another recent debutant, with Age Of Assassins); my former Del Rey UK stablemate EJ Swift (go check out the Osiris series) whose new book Paris Adrift has recently been picked up by Solaris; AJ Smith, who was bemoaning that his Head of Zeus editors won’t let him call his collection of mythology from the world of The Long War “The Smitharillion”; and various other authors whose writing names don’t consist of two initials with the second one being a ‘J’, such as Jen Williams and Anna Stephens (yet another debutant, with Godblind currently making waves).

With Fantasy In The Court done (and pretty much everyone else a bit drunk) I headed back to the Novotel, where I bumped into Lum, one of my co-DJs for the Saturday night. She took me down to see the main hall, where the tech crew were putting the sound and light system through its paces. We also found this:

I immediately demanded Premium DJ Fluid.

I immediately demanded Premium DJ Fluid.

And so with that I went to bed, ready (I hoped) for the next day and what it would bring…

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NINE WORLDS!

So we’re a week away from that time of year again, where I go to London for a long weekend of rampant and thoroughly unashamed geekery. Buckle up, dear reader, as we prepare for

nine worlds

Although like last year, this year’s Nine Worlds weekend doesn’t actually start with Nine Worlds for me. Instead it starts with

FITC

 

Fantasy In The Court takes place in (and just outside) Goldsboro Books, just off Leicester Square. You pay a fiver to get in, which can be redeemed against the purchase of a book, and then you can eat cakes and drink wine (or orange juice in my case) and just hang around and chat with a bunch of authors who’ll be knocking around wearing name tags. It’s super-chilled and relaxed, although possibly not recommended if you get nervous in crowds as there’s not a great deal of space! Come and say hi if you’re there, I should be fairly easy to find.

And then, from Friday to Sunday, it’s Nine Worlds.

Nine Worlds is the London Geekfest, a celebration of, if not all, certainly very many things geeky. Fantasy and Science Fiction novels and authors, Doctor Who, various Whedon creations, comics, games (video, board, card and RPG), even down to stuff like how to braid your hair like Danaerys Targaryen or geeky knitting patterns and stuff. I’ll be there from Friday morning until whenever I decide to go home on the Sunday, but here is where you can *definitely* find me:

FRIDAY
5pm – ‘Interpretations Of An Interstellar Humanity’
This is MY PANEL, one that I came up with myself and am running. We’ll be discussing various aspects of HUMANS IN SPAAAAACE, more specifically with authors who’ve created interstellar civilisations for their work and why they made the decisions they did for that, how realistic they think their own creations are, what they particularly like (or possibly dislike) about other famous depictions, that sort of thing. I think it’s going to be fascinating :)

Hat probably not featured

Hat probably not featured

(on Friday evening I’ll be leaving the hotel and heading just up the road to see Pennywise in Shepherd’s Bush! Stealth punk ahoy!)

SATURDAY
3.15 – ‘Redemption in Scifi’
I’ll be on this panel discussing the redemption arcs of various prominent SFF characters, what we think of the trope and whether it’s been overdone, and so forth. I’m on this with a couple of other authors including the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Adrian Tchaikovsky (I hear he likes spiders).

4.15 – Signing
I’ll be at the Big Green Bookshop’s stall doing a signing! This was only confirmed today, so that’s really cool and exciting. So come and say hi and get me to scribble in the books I’ll have been subtly referencing over the two panels.

10pm(ish) – BIFROST DISCO
So after last year’s hilarity, they’ve got me back again! I’ll be sharing DJing duties with Elaine, whom I did it with last year, and also DJ Lum, joining us on the Saturday for the first time. Expect a variety of music, with my contribution (predictably) coming down pretty firmly in the rock, punk and metal genres.

Last year was surprisingly successful!

Last year was surprisingly successful!

 

SUNDAY
11.45 – Nine Worlds Podcast Live
Jeanette Ng and I will be guesting on the official Nine Worlds podcast, hosted by Misha (who also organises Bifrost) and Matt (who organises… a lot of stuff?). I’ve no idea what we’ll be talking about. It’s entirely possible that by this point I’ll be running on a combination of caffeine and chocolate-topped waffles and making very little sense at all.

I'm spending three nights in a hotel where I can get this for breakfast.

I’m spending three nights in a hotel where I can get this for breakfast.

If you’re on the fence at all about coming to Nine Worlds, I’d definitely recommend it. Tickets are certainly pricey by this point, but there are still people popping up on Twitter offering cheap early bird ones that they now can’t use, and if you’re at all a fan of the sort of stuff that gets discussed there then I really think it’d be worth your while. It’s a brilliant atmosphere too: incredibly relaxed, really respectful and welcoming. There are quiet rooms for people to go and chill out away from people, I think most of the hotel has actually been booked out by attendees this year so there won’t be many randomers wandering around wondering who all these weird people are, you can get badges to write your pronoun of choice on, and special lanyards that mean you absolutely positively don’t want to be in any photographs at all, not even in the background, thank you. Cosplay is welcomed but not required, and nor is it “judged”: you can give out tokens to people whose costumes you like, and if they get a certain amount they can claim a prize, but there’s no competitions or anything like that. People just go to activities and panels and stuff dressed as Batman, or a TARDIS, or Hellboy, or what have you.

I think it’s going to be brilliant. Again.

 

 

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DARK SKY IN ONE WEEK!

Hello, America! And a happy Independence Day to you (and a happy belated Canada Day to you too, Canada).

In one week’s time (that’s the 11th July for those of you counting) DARK SKY is released in North America. I’m incredibly excited about this, but also a little nervous. Why? Well, DARK RUN did okay in the UK in terms of sales, but did much much better in North America. Like, four-times-as-well-in-half-the-time better. So I’m really excited and hoping that DARK SKY can continue the trend, but I won’t lie, there’s always the slight worry that it won’t.

However, I can at least report that there’s some good press for it! Andrew Liptak over at The Verge has been kind enough to put DARK SKY on his list of 16 SFF and horror books that people should read this July, and I’m delighted to say that it’s received this rather lovely starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! I’m quite happy for it to be called a “heart-stopping sequel” and to get quotes like  “Brooks writes action that is nearly nonstop and pleasingly varied while still allowing time for character description and development. This is a great space-rogue adventure in a setting with vast potential for further stories.

So, let the count-down begin! And if you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, then feel free to do so to make sure you don’t miss out…

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A Little Late To The Party

In two weeks, DARK SKY will be out in the US. Just two weeks. But I’m not going to write about that this evening. I’ll write about that in a few days, probably.

Tonight I’m going to write about Wonder Woman.

First off I should say that the thoughts I have on it cannot be properly explained (at least not by me) without going into spoiler territory. So if you have not seen Wonder Woman, I advise you not to read on yet. At least if you care about spoilers. And hey, go see it. It’s the first female-fronted mainstream superhero movie in however long, it probably deserves some support.

So apart from supporting it as a challenge to the massively male-dominated superhero movie scene, is it worth supporting? Is it a good movie? Ehhhh… no. Not in my view. It’s okay. There are certainly some good bits. But overall… well, let’s get into that.

First off, the good bits:
– Badass Amazons. Loads of female warriors of various different sizes and shapes kicking arse. Great.

– The chemistry between Diana and Steve was actually really good. Particularly in the sailboat.

– In fact, many of the performances were really good. The actors did excellently at portraying what they were told to portray. Can’t fault that.

– Diversity! Sikh British soldiers! A Native American guy! A North African guy (I’m assuming via the fez)! Something showing that it wasn’t just a whole bunch of white guys and some black Americans (if you’re lucky) on the side of the Allies was a really refreshing change. And there was racial diversity in the Amazons, too. Excellent stuff.

– I had no idea David Thewlis was in the movie, let alone what role he was playing, so that was a pleasant surprise. And he did it quite well, until it got a bit too CGI. But it was good to see him bring out the menace that lurked in Remus Lupin at the point in Prisoner Of Azkaban where you find out he’s in league with Sirius Black and you’re supposed to think that’s a bad thing. I also liked the bait and switch they did; I saw that coming, but not who the switch was going to be.
And now, the bad bits:

– Do the Amazons all wax, or something? Or are they all just born without body hair?

– Aaaaand basically, all of the plot. Lazy, lazy writing. See below.

– Hippolyta doesn’t want Diana trained. Then she does. Then she doesn’t want Diana to leave the island with Steve. Then she realises she can’t stop her. So with her daughter going out into the world, knowing full well what she is, does she send any help with her? Does she send an army of Amazons out to protect the world, their sacred duty and everything, and also maybe help keep Diana safer? NOPE. On your own, love. WHAT.

– Diana has a plan. She carries out the plan, or thinks she does. Then she finds out that the plan hasn’t worked, and her reaction isn’t “Oh well, let’s try to stop all the horrible deaths”, it’s “well, clearly if that doesn’t work everyone deserves to die.”

– And speaking of dying (and this is my main gripe)… most of this movie is one superhero knocking seven bells out of mortals. And yes, she’s using knees and the shield and throwing people into walls and stuff, but she *does* use the sword, and she *does* deflect bullets into other people, and she tips over tanks with people inside them and she collapses buildings on top of people. She kills a hell of a lot of German soldiers and, get this, she does so while believing that they are acting under the influence of Ares. So far as Diana is concerned these people aren’t in their right minds, and yet she kills them anyway.
And you know what… okay. We can have a conversation about that. We can talk about how she’s trying to get to Ares to bring the war as a whole to a close. We can talk about how she knows she can’t get there with these people in her way, and they’re not going to stop being in her way while they’re active combatants, so she has to take them out. We can talk about necessary collateral damage (you know, what she ranted at the British Colonel about). We can talk about the end justifying the means. BUT WE DON’T. We don’t have that conversation. We don’t have the bit in Captain America: Civil War where Tony and Steve (Rogers) argue over what is an acceptable use of their abilities, and who should get to decide how they’re deployed. She just goes ahead and does it.

– Getting into (and out of) the castle of the German High Command was ludicrous. A Native American guy just wanders up and steals a posh car, because there’d be no-one watching them. Then the guard lets in someone without an invitation because it’s all got a bit awkward at the gates (and lets remember he’s working for a General who likes to shoot captains in the head to keep the men on their toes). Then Diana just mugs a socialite woman and… what? Gets in the car and the driver doesn’t notice? Walks up with a sword sticking down the back of her dress and says she forgot her invitation? And then after Steve stops her from killing the General she just runs out again and he follows her and none of the guards think this is at all strange?

– We’ve found the general! He’s at an airfield that must be pretty much right next to the castle where the high command were! We’ll signal this using smoke signals, because we have a Native American with us (right…), and we’ve somehow managed to cut down a pile of trees as big as all of us put together and set them on fire and even though we’re right next to the airfield no one’s patrolling or has noticed this…

– The fact that Diana needs to “believe in love” to actually bother to save anyone is… awful? I mean, if you combined the endings of The Fifth Element and Captain America: The First Avenger, you basically have the ending of Wonder Woman. And don’t get me wrong, I liked both those movies, but come on.

– And so at the end, when Ares is defeated, the German soldiers and the (three) Allied soldiers are all happy and laughing or crying and they’re free from Ares’ control. Even though he told Diana under the Lasso of Truth that he wasn’t controlling them, he just gave them ideas. But if that’s the case, then why weren’t those Germans still trying to shoot  Samir, Charlie and the Chief (and Diana, although I guess I can understand not trying to shoot her when she’s just killed a god and also killed a whole bunch of your mates)? Which was it?
If it was that they were under his control (as is suggested by what actually happens), I find that really uncomfortable. Not only does it mean that, as mentioned above, Diana’s slaughtering her way through what are essentially people without mental capacity who also have no hope of matching her in combat, it also means that this film has completely removed human agency from the entire First World War. Think about that for a moment. This isn’t the Red Skull. This isn’t “Yeah, Hitler was a thing, this is just one of his goons who went even more rogue, that you haven’t heard about”. DC has gone “That massive global conflict that killed millions? That wasn’t the result of incredibly complex human politics. A god did that.”
A god did that.
We’re watching conflict spread over and around the Middle East on a terrifying scale, here, now, in this timeline. Daesh/Isis/Isil is butchering people and destroying cities and generally fucking over a few countries-worth of people, not to mention influencing people who may or may not be directly associated with them to commit acts of terrorism in the cities of the “Western World” too, and they are doing it (or they claim they’re doing it) in the name of a religion. In the name of a god.
I hope you will forgive me if I say that I find “A god did that” to be an unhelpful oversimplification for anything, given where we are at the moment.

So, that’s where I am with Wonder Woman. It looked fantastic and had very good acting, I’m just perplexed at what the actors were asked to do, and how little sense most of it made. I appreciate that it’s fantastic to finally have a superhero movie about a female superhero, but I’m somewhat appalled that she’s presented as a superpowered, naive child who’s incredibly intelligent in some ways but appears to lack much in the way of logical thought and whose personal ethics appear to be shaky at best and downright terrifying at worst. She really is basically Leeloo from The Fifth Element, but more powerful.

It’s so annoying. I wanted to like it. Loads of my friends love it. I wanted it to be the movie where DC knocked it out of the park instead of desperately trying to copy and play catch-up with Marvel. And yes, DC did a female superhero movie first, and that’s good. But I can’t say that it’s a good movie. It’s a movie which has good bits to it. And that’s a real shame.

However, at least it’s made loads of money, so maybe studios will at least realise that female superhero movies can be bankable, and they’ll keep making them.

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A Rush Of Democracy To The Head

I should probably be blogging about the upcoming North American release of DARK SKY. And I will. But it’s (still) not out for over a month, and right now I have more important things on my mind. Yes, more important than the US release of my second novel. I know, I know.

On Thursday June 8th the UK has its General Election, as by now I hope you would have gathered if you have any ability to vote in it. And there’s a been a whole boatload of facts shuffled backwards and forwards, and opinions raised and shouted and various things brought up and discredited. And I’m not an expert in economics, nor am I particularly well-versed in the politics of international relations, and I certainly have no expertise in countering terrorism. So I could link to the article penned by over a hundred economists worldwide who say Labour’s financial plan would be better for the country than the Conservatives’, and I could link the article from techno-security experts who claim that Theresa May’s plan to basically decrypt everything in the country would be a) virtually impossible, b) very expensive and c) probably the worst idea anyone’s ever had in terms of financial security at least since someone first said “Hey, let’s get a mortgage from the Lehmann Brothers”, and probably well before then, and I could point out that a whole bunch of people (including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, at times) have thought that bombing people in other countries is likely to lead to more terrorists, not less… but I don’t actually know if they’re telling the truth, any of them. I don’t have the expertise or knowledge to look at what they’re saying and go “Hmm, yes, valid points”, or alternately, “what a load of codswallop”.

All I can basically do is go on a gut feeling. Do I know if Labour can do what they’ve outlined in their manifesto? No. Do I know if it’s costed correctly? No. On the other hand… do I *want* Labour to do what’s in their manifesto? Pretty much, yes. Do I think the Tories can achieve what’s in their manifesto? Probably. Do I *want* them to achieve it? HELL NO, by and large.

See, that’s the thing. I might not be an expert in all the stuff I laid out above, but I’ve worked with some of the most vulnerable members of society for the past thirteen years and I know as sure as I can know anything that five more years of a Conservative government is only going to lead to more misery, more poverty, more hunger, more food banks and, yes, more deaths. Potentially avoidable deaths. Some people will undoubtedly be better off under a Tory government than under a Labour one, but it’ll be the people who wouldn’t be that badly off under a Labour one either, when you look at the big picture. I mean, as a reasonably affluent middle-class 35 year-old married White British male, I’m pretty much the Tories’ target audience. I’d probably be better off financially under them than under Labour, but not spiritually. Damn right I’ll pay more tax if I think it’s going to go to the NHS rather than to give tax cuts to billionaires and Google.

As for the rest, it’s pretty irrelevant. Sure, vote for the SNP in Scotland: hell, I’d probably vote for them if I could since they’d likely just ignore the referendum result and halt Article 50 by any means necessary. The Lib Dems could have nailed their colours to the mast on that front but they bottled it and went with a “second referendum” approach, so they and their minibus full of MPs are going to continue to be a sideshow unless May winds up a handful of seats short of an actual majority, in which case we’ll see if Farron is made of sterner stuff than Clegg. The Greens are lovely (and got my vote in the last election, because I live in a safe Labour seat and besides, no way was I going with the Tories-in-red-ties Labour or the Lib Dems that had legitimised Cameron and his cronies) but they’re not relevant now except in Brighton. And I’m not going to dignify The Other Ones by naming them, I’m pretty sure it’s all just Adrian Edmondson doing a bizarre long-form comedy skit, and he actually seems to agree.

And then we have the fact that Theresa May called this election based on her huge lead in the polls and then watched it crumble away, as she tottered around parroting catchphrases that got rebooted every fortnight and meeting carefully-selected groups of registered Conservative voters, at least since she met that lady with the learning disability in a market. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn actually found some charisma from somewhere and began treating the whole country like it’s all his personal constituency, and people have actually lapped it up. The man’s on the front page of Kerrang! this week, for crying out loud. Not that my MP will approve: Chris Leslie might be Labour but he hates Corbyn with a passion. “I never voted for Brexit, no matter what the Lib Dem leaflets say!” he whines in his latest email. And no, he didn’t vote for it, but he didn’t vote against it either, even though he says he thinks it’s an abysmal idea that will wreck the country and Nottingham: he abstained, which is like putting your fingers in your ears, whistling and hoping someone else will fight the forest fire for you. I can’t stand the man’s self-serving brand of politics and lack of loyalty to his party, but I’m voting for him because I don’t want the faintest chance of Nottingham East turning blue. But that aside, just looking at the two leaders, you have one who called the election based on her “strong and stable” leadership for Brexit etc who then didn’t turn up to the Leaders Debate and sends other prominent Tories out to speak to the media for her, and a bloke who’s been up and down the country drawing huge crowds.

Not that it’ll matter. That’s the sad thing. Despite the sudden charisma injection, despite the rallies, despite drastically narrowing the polls, Labour are still behind. Someone worked out that if every demographic turned out to vote at the level the over-65s do, we might get a hung parliament. That’s best case scenario, for those of us who really don’t want the Conservatives in government: they might not get a full majority. But they probably will. And then two things will happen:

Corbyn will suffer another leadership challenge. And this one might work.

If Theresa May doesn’t extend her majority she’ll probably suffer a leadership challenge too. Johnson, Gove or Rudd would be my guess, although after Rudd’s showing on the Leadership debate I think that one’s less likely. And then, after the Tories got into power off the back of campaign literature that was basically “Theresa May and her friends” we’ll potentially have a new Prime Minister that isn’t Theresa May.

And we’ll be right back where we started.

So on June 9th, I’ve booked the day off work to go and watch polar bear at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park to cheer myself up. But if you’re reading this, and you’re eligible to vote, and for whatever reason you haven’t decided who to vote for yet and you’re prepared to take the advice of a speculative fiction author with a stupid haircut… please, vote for whoever in your constituency is most likely to beat the Conservative candidate.

Unless it’s The Other Ones.

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DARK DEEDS release date and cover art!

So.

In July, North America gets DARK SKY, just over a year after DARK RUN came out. But then, hard on its heels in October (October 10th, to be exact) comes the third in the quintology (assuming I get that far), DARK DEEDS!

Now, I’ve seen the cover art before, and I’ve also had an idea of when the release date was. What I didn’t realise until today is that Amazon and Barnes & Noble both have the cover art and the actual release date, and have them on their websites. So I figure, well, I can share them now as well.

Feast your eyes:

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 18.18.08

Rather nice, I think you’ll agree.

Now, this is of course the North American release date. You can get it in the UK via mail order, but I’m not yet sure what the deal with be with actually getting it off the shelf in Waterstones and the like. More news as we get it.

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