A quick plug for the excellent sf webzine Daily Science Fiction.
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, DFS provides subscribers with new sf and fantasy every weekday, spanning the length and breadth of the genre(s) from traditional fantasy to hard sf and everything else in between.
It's free and only takes a couple of clicks to subscribe.
I've just received word that my short story Thin Blood has been accepted by Aurora Wolf and should be online this weekend. It's a Celtic fantasy and one of my first attempts to use elements of Irish mytholgy in my writing.
It'll be a good start to 2011 and hopefully a good omen for the coming year.
In an act which is probably best described as cultural barbarism, the UK government has cut the subsidy to the UK based book charity Booktrust, taking away some £13 million pounds.
The charity's national book-gifting programmes are well-known and wide-reaching. Bookstart gives a free pack of books to every baby in the UK, Booktime donates a book pack to children shortly after they start school, and Booked Up enables each child starting secondary school to choose a book for themselves. The charity's aim is to give everyone the chance to experience what it calls "the delight and power of books and the written word" regardless of income, literacy skills, disability or culture.
The government's £13m was used to generate a further £56m-worth of sponsorship for the bookgifting schemes from publishing partners and corporate sponsors.
In an age when concerns about literacy levels are increasing every day, and the cost of higher education is becoming prohibitive for all but the well off (or those prepared to start their working lives with debts of more than £30,000) it is nothing short of madness to add to this trend rather than attempt to solve it.
If I was a writer of speculative fiction (and I am) I would see this as the first step towards creating a drone underclass, incapable of anything other than taking orders from those who have set themselves up as their social superiors. Eugenics, anyone? There is a chilling Orwellian taint to this whole thing, mixed liberally with a touch of Aldous Huxley, and a whole helping of Thatcherism.
To my mind it is only common sense to help create a literate, educated population, particularly in a time when traditional industry has all but vanished from the United Kingdom and when we need to look more and more to non-traditional and creative industry but without an educated population we cannot do this.
Our government is a sham, to say the least, caring little or nothing about the working classes, or indeed the middle classes.
Many writers, teacher and librarians have already expressed their dismay and disgust at the withdrawal of the Booktrust's funding, (leading to a partial about-face by the Liberal/Conservative government.) I am adding my voice to this, if you care about the future of literacy in this country, please add yours.
My short story "And Other Such Delights", which appeared in the excellent Beneath Ceaseless Skies earlier this year, has been mentioned in Lois Tilton's Short Fiction Reviews in Review at Locus Online as part of her summary of the best fiction from 2010.
Today I recieved the final edits for my short story, Forged in Heaven, Tempered in Hell, which features in the new Ricasso Press anthology Through Blood and Iron, due in 2011.
Edited by Rob Santa and showcasing heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery in all its action-packed glory, the anthology features a whole bunch of excellent writers including Christopher Heath, Bruce Durham, Nathan Meyer, TW Williams, Steve Goble and many more.
I am, to say the least, delighted to be in such august company.
"I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from [John] Bunyan to [A.S.] Byatt."Michael Moorcock
"I hate those writers who have been terribly influenced by Lord Kafka or Franz Dunsany -big show offs. Personally I was influenced by guys like Clifford Simak and John W. Campbell Jr... A fellow with science fiction writing ambitions should read science fiction." Isaac Asimov.
I recently re-read the above quotes and it got me thinking about my own reading habits. First of all, as I have said many, many times before, I am an unashamed and unabashed lover of science fiction and fantasy literature (quite a lot of movies and TV stuff too, but let's just stick to books for the moment, shall we?) and it makes up a large part of my literary diet. In the last year I have read (or re-read) books and stories by Joe Abercrombie, Robert Silverberg, M. John Harrison, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Tanith Lee, Scott Lynch, Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, Karl Edward Wagner, Jack Vance, Peter Brett, Mark Charan Newton, Michael Moorcock, Andrzej Sapkowski, Brian Aldiss and JG Ballard (to mention quite a few) and thoroughly enjoyed them.
Equally I have read (or re-read) works by Joseph Conrad, Voltaire, Malcolm Lowry, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Shakespeare, T.S Elliot, William Blake, Jean Paul Satre, Virginia Wolff, May Sinclair, Martin Amis, Wells Tower, Dante, Graham Greene, Charles Bukowski, Daniel Defoe and Christopher Isherwood (to name virtually all of them) and gained a huge amount of pleasure from those as well.
As if that wasn't enough I've also read histories of the Crusades, the Greek and Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian Wars and the fanciful studies of Atlantis and Lemuria by William Scott-Elliot (which are a hoot and a half).
I've also read a fair bit of Kafka and Dunsany over the years, too, so I guess you could say that I read a lot and like to keep it varied.
For me, reading science fiction and fantasy is and always has been a pleasure, but I fully understand that a writer can get stymied by following such a path and runs the risk of disappearing up a literary cul de sac. Michael Moorcock makes a good point, particularly if you are more interested in literary growth than straightforward adventure stories, and is a good warning against simply recycling well-worn tropes and plots. But by the same token, though, I agree with the words of Isaac Asimov in that too much of the overtly literary can alienate a reader (or a writer) who is simply looking for entertainment and, of course, if you are not familiar with the tropes and plots of sf there is always the chance that you will recycle them unwittingly (working for weeks or months on that Grandfather Paradox story only to discover that Robert Heinlein did it years ago).
The truth lies somewhere in the middle, I feel. Opinions on what constitutes good science fiction and fantasy vary wildly, even within one person's own judgement - I hugely admire M. John Harrison's Viriconium sequence, for example, but also absolutely adore the work of Philip K. Dick although he was never a literary stylist in that same way that Harrison is. Is one necessarily better than the other? No, of course not.
As readers we take away different things from different writers, regardless of the genre in which they work (given that we can refer to 'literary' fiction as a genre), something that is doubly so as a writer: lessons about structure, point of view, handling the narrative, characterisation etc. I
It's healthy, I feel, for a writer to read both within and outside of his or her chosen genre, adapting techniques to suit their own writing, using literary experimentation when it suits or fits. After all, the world of books is a huge one... why limit yourself?
Some very kind words about The Song of Tussagaroth and Innsmouth Free Press from Deborah Walker at Skull Salad Reviews where she describes the story as "reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith". (Wheeeee!)
To say that I am delighted would be the understatement of the season, particularly since The Song of Tussagaroth was/is my attempt to do a story with a Hyperborea vibe to it and is the first of a series of sword and sorcery mythos tales that I've been tinkering with over the past while.