Previous month:
June 2012
Next month:
August 2012

Why we need to ask "What if?" by Jeff Norton

I met Jeff Norton at the Worlds of Tomorrow event at Foyles and we chatted a bit about geekiness, getting boys reading and other Lofty Topics. He's an extraordinarily impressive guy, with a lot of insight into the creative industry. Mr. Norton's debut novel, MetaWars, comes out this Thursday, and I'm delighted to give him this space to talk about the importance of science fiction...


MetawarsMore than any other genre of storytelling, Science Fiction demands a stretch of the imagination. I believe that the imagination is a muscle, an important muscle, and it must be worked and stretched if it’s to grow stronger.

Science Fiction (and I’ll use “sci-fi” interchangeably as shorthand) permits us to ask a fantastic, mind-opening question: “What if?”

“What If?” is an important intellectual exercise, a kind of circuit-training for imagination, asking us to speculate on the future, develop theories, challenge pre-conceived notions, and test hypotheses.

People who change the world possess the ability to imagine a “What If?” scenario, envisioning a future that others cannot yet fathom – whether it’s a tech innovation, a start-up, or winning an Olympic medal.

Science fiction is a wonderful playground to test visions of the future; from social engineering to new technologies. Of course, visions of the future can range from terrifying (1984) to inspiring (Star Trek), but importantly, they all require the reader/viewer/user to imagine a world not yet created. The sci-fi genre enables readers to take imaginative leaps both into the author’s world and also into their own possible futures.

This ability to construct a possible world within the confines of the imagination flexes the same muscles that scientists use to construct and test hypotheses, business people use to forecast the impact of new strategies, and politicians (should) use to calculate the impact of new policies. It’s a skill, and it takes practice. Science fiction is a great place to practice this skill, a skill that’s required in critical thinking, thoughtful analyses, and considered debate.

I believe that we need to learn this skill early, and practice it vigorously. It’s one of the reasons I chose to populate my debut novel, MetaWars, with a young protagonist. I could have chosen an adult point of view, but I wanted to offer younger readers the chance to flex their speculative imagination muscles.

MetaWars is a dystopian, high-tech thriller about a teenager in a post peak-oil London that gets swept up in the battle for control of the immersive internet. It’s targeted at young readers (think Alex Rider meets The Hunger Games) and gives boys and girls the chance to ask “What If?” But it’s also a serious analysis of a possible future where the internet dominates our lives completely - and whomever controls the web, controls the world. It’s an extrapolation of a today’s tech wars.

It’s my hope that through MetaWars, readers will not only get an entertaining, thrill-ride of a story, but also exercise their imagination muscle, getting fit for tackling the challenges to come.


Jeff Norton is the author of Metawars: Fight for the Future, released this Thursday from Orchard Books. He is also a filmmaker and the founder of Awesome. You can prod him on Twitter at @thejeffnorton.

Causing Pandemonium: Sales and Souls

Cover%20-%20smokeThe latest news from our tiny corner of the publishing world.

Given that there is big something going on in London, and we've just published an amazing collection of London-based science fiction, we've gone ahead and connected the dots. Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke is now on sale for a paltry £2.49 ($2.99, gringos) - an offer that will end in September, when the travelling hootenanny show picks up and moves on. Smoke contains 17 original stories, written award-winners and talented new voices from all over the world. Plus, illustrations from the amazing Gary Northfield. 

Speaking of time-limited offers...

If you order the hardcover, limited-edition of Lost Souls before 1 August, we'll throw in the Kindle versions of both Lost Souls and Crossroads for free.  

Here are five fun-facts about Lost Souls to get you excited:

Continue reading "Causing Pandemonium: Sales and Souls" »

Underground Reading: The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin

PIA09070The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin is a staggering vision of a post-Apocalyptic world. Or, more accurately, post-post-Apocalypse. When scientists discover that the Sun is turning into a Red Giant a few billion years ahead of schedule, Earth's governments unite to find an escape from destruction. The Spaceship Faction proposes city-sized spaceships. The Earth Faction propose something even wilder: that the Earth itself be removed from orbit and slung across space.

The Earth Faction wins the debate, and an uneasy truce is forged. Enormous "Earth Engines" are bolted across the planet - huge matter-consuming fusion drives. As the world's population moves into enormous subterranean cities, the Earth is slowly stopped in its orbit, slung around the Sun at an increasingly velocity and then flung out into the reaches of space.

At least, that's the plan.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin" »

Friday Five: 15 Awesome Angels

This week's theme is heavenly as we discuss our favourite angels. Our guests are Lou Morgan and Sara Westrop.

Lou's debut novel, Blood and Feathers, is released in just a few short days from Solaris. It has been described (accurately!) as "Wonderland with gun-toting angels". Lou also gave us a glimpse of another realm (although not a particularly cheering one) in "At the Sign of the Black Dove", in Pandemonium

Sara writes stuff and works as the editing, press and marketing monkey for Markosia – home of amazing independent titles like Bayou Arcana, The Boy Who Made Silence, White Knuckle and Hope Falls.

As always, please chime in with your angels - feathered, foul or otherwise - in the comments.


Bartleby and Loki (Dogma)

Kevin Smith and angels aren't necessarily the most obvious of companions, but in his film Dogma, that's precisely what he gives us. More specifically, he gives us the pairing of Bartleby and Loki. These two reprobates got themselves kicked out of Heaven after a slight drinking / sticking-it-to-the-man incident, and are now desperate to get back home - even if it means undoing all of Creation in the process.

(If you're at work, you might not want to watch them in action, by the way…)

Continue reading "Friday Five: 15 Awesome Angels" »

The Great Day of Our Lists: July 26th, AD 2012

Anne (@thefingersofgod): Connerylastcrusadeumbrella

1. Thunderball
2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
3. The Name of the Rose
4. Outlander
5. Highlander

Paul (@Paul_Cornell):

1.Raindrops on roses
2. And whiskers on kittens,
3. snowdrops
4. and posies
5. and warm woolen mittens.

Stef (@booktrunk):

1. socks
2. trainers
3. lemonade
4. handcuffs
5. vibrator

David (@davidbryher):

1. Pencil
2. caltrop
3. aeroplane
4. pebble
5. sheep's eye.


Continue reading "The Great Day of Our Lists: July 26th, AD 2012" »

Hindsight: Sarah Lotz and Five Things She'd Change About Her Books

The MallTo really get into the nitty gritty of what I’d like to change in my books, I’d have to reread my own work. And because I’m a coward, I can’t. Even looking at proofs makes me feel like puking and the You Could Have Done Better demons start stabbing me with their hindsight pitchforks. So – from memory – here are the top five things I’d change (I can’t even bear to consider the short stories – seriously, the horror):

1) My second crime novel, Tooth and Nailed features a thinly fictionalised account of a lion attack that happened to me and my family while we were camping wild in Botswana. Bad idea. (Not camping wild and being attacked by lions, that was … interesting, I mean shoehorning personal experiences into books, especially when they don’t move the plot forward).

Continue reading "Hindsight: Sarah Lotz and Five Things She'd Change About Her Books" »

The Kitschies present... Beukes, Miéville and Ness (Tuesday, 11 September)

All three winners of The Kitschies’ Red Tentacle are coming together for the first time.

Kraken+Galleon-400pxLauren Beukes (Zoo City) joins China Miéville (The City & The City) and Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls) in a discussion of science fiction and social change. An evening of readings, discussion, tentacles and drinks.

The event takes place on Tuesday, 11 September at the Free Word Centre, starting at 6.30 pm. This is a ticketed event - please purchase yours through the Free Word Centre's website. There will be a reception following the readings/panel and an opportunity to get your Miévobeuksanessian loot signed. 

There will be a few additional goodies and surprises on the night, courtesy of The Kitschies and our sponsor, The Kraken Rum. Join us on Facebook and Twitter in the run-up to the event for more details.

Hope to see you there!

[Publishers: the 2012 Kitschies are currently open for submissions.]

Robert W. Chambers: Fallen Titan

Robert W ChambersH.P.Lovecraft, in a 1927 letter to Clark Ashton Smith, referred to Robert W. Chambers (1865 - 1933) as a “Fallen Titan - equipped with the right brains and education but wholly out of the habit of using them”. Lovecraft's derision proved prophetic, and, today, if Chamber is remembered at all, it is as a failed author of "Weird" fiction.

The most recent (and perhaps only) modern critique of Chambers' work is S.T. Joshi’s The Yellow Sign and Others (2000) [later reprinted in his Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004)]. Mr. Joshi follows Lovecraft's lead and prefers to focus on the author’s flaws, portraying Chambers as a disappointing writer who never again achieved the heady horrific heights of his early work: “The career of Robert W. Chambers... is the sad tale of a man who... discovered popularity too quickly”. Together, Lovecraft and Joshi combine to paint a compellingly tragic picture of wasted talent.

This is neither accurate nor just.

Chambers wrote almost a hundred books: primarily romantic or historical fiction, but also children’s books, fishing guides, essays and contemporary "issue-based" literary novels, the latter probing such sensitive topics as adultery, alcoholism and divorce. A few (perhaps six) contained elements of the supernatural, but almost all his books were best-sellers. During his lifetime, Chambers was a literary sensation.

Continue reading "Robert W. Chambers: Fallen Titan" »

The Long Weekend

This is what happens when you do your Friday Five on a Wednesday

We're back next week with some great stuff. Currently scheduled: a heavenly Friday Five (on a Friday!), the start of a new series of guest author posts, extracts from Lost Souls, a tentacular event, a bit of ranting and - wait for it - actual reviews.

See you then.

Friday Five: The Covers of Something Wicked

This week's Friday Five (we're not crazy, see below) features the editor of Something Wicked: Joe Vaz.

We're proper devotees of South Africa's first and foremost SF/F/H magazine (see our brief review here). Right now, there's a campaign going to raise enough money to fund the first Something Wicked anthology. The perks are magnificent: $35 (that's like £20) gets you a complete set of the magazine's e-issues: $75 (that's like, what, £40?) gets you a set of the the print magazines. Collectors and fans should note that these include appearances from Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz. Swoop now, or spend the rest of your life staring at them on eBay. 

The campaign ends on Saturday, so we've declared today an honorary Friday - so there's plenty of time to read this, empty your piggy bank and support the cause of great geeky fiction.


When I started Something Wicked, back in July of 2006, my intention was mostly to showcase new and as yet undiscovered writers from South Africa. Obviously I needed some art to go with the magazine, but the intention was purely to put out a ‘cheap & nasty’ magazine, much like the mags I had grown up with. Newsprint paper, ragged edges, black and white line art sketches. The focus was to be on the written words, not on the packaging, so it might seem strange that my Friday Five is about artists rather than writers.

It all started with Vincent Sammy...

Within a week of my opening art submissions my plans for a simple, mostly text-based magazine began to crumble. The very first piece of art that arrived in my inbox was by Vincent Sammy.

Vincent Sammy

Those of you who are familiar with Something Wicked will of course recognise the image as the cover of our debut issue. As the weeks progressed every artist featured in issue 1 delivered more and more extraordinary pieces, eventually turning our little mag into the design-heavy black and white glossy that it turned out to be.

Continue reading "Friday Five: The Covers of Something Wicked" »