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Adam Roberts is the author of a growing number of science fiction novels, short stories, essays and other writings. This site contains not just his blog, but everything you could ever want to know about everything Adam has ever published. And more...

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This is www.adamroberts.com, official homepage of British science fiction writer Adam Roberts. Please use the links in the menu bar above if you're here to find out more about Adam's published books to-date, or more about Adam himself, or if you want to get in touch with Adam.

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Latest News

DIY Cover Design

By Adam Roberts | April 2, 2011
Categories: Book News

I'm wondering about putting out an ebook edition of an as-yet unpublished book. Not sure about it, to be frank; but I am at least wondering. And following this piece of good advice from [namedrop] Paul McAuley [/namedrop] ('one bit of advice - covers. Even a 70p short story needs a good cover. If you don't have any graphic design background get someone who has') I've been thinking about cover design. I wrote a novel called A Solid Gold Penny which hasn't yet been published; and in the absence of regular publishers badgering me to put it out themselves, I'm wondering if it might suit ePub -- either the whole thing, or else the first third, a self-contained novella-length piece about a seventeenth-century orphan who picks up the power of life or death after an alien encounter. Copyediting my own title, proofing it, putting it on amazon and so on are all ahead of me, and all more or less unappealing prospects: but Paul's point about covers is something else again. Probably I should pay someone who has graphic design experience to do a better job. What do we think of the above?
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Update: another go, less funereally rendered, and taking on board Sensawunda's helpful pointers in the comments:

Update 2: still tinkering.

Update 3: picking up Paul R's ideas, and the comments thread in general.

19 Comments to-date;

By Light Alone

By Adam Roberts | March 26, 2011
Categories: Book News


The copyedited MS of By Light Alone has arrived. I'm going through it now. I think I shall change the ending a little bit. Just a little.

1 Comment so far

Cultural Life

By Adam Roberts | March 26, 2011
Categories: Chitchat

In other news, I discover I am part of Frank Skinner's cultural life.

3 Comments to-date;

NMA again

By Adam Roberts | March 26, 2011
Categories: Reviews

I still think, all things considered, that New Model Army is my best novel, though my confidence has been dented somewhat recently by its absence from the 2010 Locus Recommended reading list, the Clarke shortlist, the SF Site 2010 list and so on, and so forth. Anyway, in the circumstances it is heartening for me that there are people out there who do like the book: here, for example, is a thoughtful and perceptive piece by 'Antony' at SF Book Reviews.

4 Comments to-date;

Jeter’s Morlock Night (1979)

By Adam Roberts | March 16, 2011
Categories: Book News

Isn't that a lovely piece of cover design? You can, as the Germans put it, 'embiggenklick' that image to make it larger. What's more, Angry Robot Books have done a similarly impressive job on another Jeter re-release, Infernal Devices (see for yourself).

I'm mentioning this particular piece of SF Classic Reissuance not just for the sake of it, but because this particular Angry Robot edition contains not only an introduction by current Clarke nominee and friend-of-Jeter Tim Powers, but also what the blurb on the back of the book calls 'a Scholarly Afterword by Adam Roberts'. So there we are.

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Rich Puchalsky, ‘On Learning to read Adam Roberts’

By Adam Roberts | March 9, 2011
Categories: Reviews

Typical: you wait for ages for an 'On Learning to Read Adam Roberts' post, then two come along at once! Go to Rich Puchalsky's blog and check this one out.

8 Comments to-date;

Paul Kincaid, ‘Learning to Read Adam Roberts’

By Adam Roberts | March 8, 2011
Categories: Reviews

Read his column at Big Other. Kincaid is up for this year's BSFA Award for Non-Fiction (if you're a BSFA member you can vote for him). I hope he wins.

2 Comments to-date;

Reading ‘Graphs, Maps and Trees’

By Adam Roberts | March 2, 2011
Categories: Book News


Through the letterbox comes this handsomely produced volume: Reading Graphs, Maps and Trees: Critical Responses to Franco Moretti, edited by Jonathan Goodwin and John Holbo [Parlor Press 2009]. Go to the site, there, to download the book under a Creative Commons licence, or buy it for the cheap-cheap price of $18. It is, as it says, a group of essays responding to Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History (Verso 2005; 'one of the most provocative recent works of literary history' apparently), all of which originally appeared as part of a book event on The Valve, now edited into book form. My contribution is one of the least (it is exactly what its title suggests it is, 'A Brief Note on Moretti and Science Fiction'), not because I don't think highly of Moretti's book (I do), but precisely because I didn't have much to add. But you should download or, better still, buy the book: the final essay, Cosma Shalizi's 'Graphs, Trees, Materialism, Fishing', in particular is a doozy. Holbo, half the editorial team, has blogged its appearance on Crooked Timber. Check it out.

1 Comment so far

Fringe Interview

By Adam Roberts | February 24, 2011
Categories: Chitchat

A while ago the estimable Scott Wilson interviewed me about parodies and such for Oz's premier genre magazine, The Fringe. You'll find the original here. If you don't do so already then you'll want to keep up to date with The Fringe, for it is good. At any rate, here's the Q & A:

The Fringe, Dec 2010

Scott: Thank you so much taking the time to chat with us here at The Fringe magazine. I’ve recently finished reading your latest novel, The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Adam: Thankee!

Scott: What inspired you to write the parody of the Hobbit, The Soddit, and now The Dragon With The Girl Tattoo, a parody of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

Adam: I am inspired by the muse of parody, Pistākia. We all are, all of us parodists. Anybody who says otherwise is a dirty liar. She visits us in the small hours and puts the bat of parody up our nightdresses. Metaphorically speaking,

Scott: I’m a big fan of parody books and novels, especially ones like Scary Movie and the like. Do you enjoy this genre of movie as well or do you prefer the written format?

Adam: I like anything that’ll make me laugh: films, TV, books, anything. With written parody there’s an additional level of admiration—writing properly comic prose is just, technically speaking, very hard, for the simple reason that it’s much harder to judge the timing of a gag when you write it for somebody else to read at their pace. Writers who can do that, like Wodehouse or Clive James, are a marvel to me. On screen, or telly, that’s easier (you control the pace, and therefore the timing). But certainly there are parodic films seem to me amongst the greatest masterpieces of cinema. I’m thinking of Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Airplane!, Shrek.

Scott: What do you think about the latest trend of the Mash Up novel, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Do you think they require much skill to write compare to a parody where you are recreating the story in a humorous fashion?

Adam: I have nothing but contempt for a writer who would take a classic English novel and rewrite it so as to include zombies. Contempt, I say. Indeed, contempt is too weak a word for what I feel. I need a harder word. I feel nothing but granite for such writers. I feel nothing but diamond.

Scott: With the introduction of e-book readers, like Kindle and Sony Reader, there is a current debate about the piracy of e-books and the loss of the print media. How do you feel about e-books?

Adam: I feel love.

Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?

Adam: I have kids now: my daughter’s nine and my son will be three in a couple of weeks. God knows I love them, but they don’t half knock a dint into the amount of time I have to write, and perhaps more pertinently the amount of energy. That and the fact that I have a day job, to help me pay the mortgage (I’m Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London) means that my time is squeezed. So the answer to your question is: I write at every opportunity I get. It means, at least, that I’m necessarily more disciplined. About the use of my time than I have hitherto been. If I’m in college, I’ll write at odd moments, usually in the evening. If I’m not, I’ll drop the kids at school and nursery, and go sit in a coffee shop with my laptop. I’ll buy the biggest cup of coffee they sell, a huge porcelain bucket of coffee, plug in my iPod with some suitable music, and then write like a dervish for as long as I can. Well. Not like a dervish, I suppose. Dervishes spin round and round. I don’t write like that. That would make me dizzy.

Scott: What sparked your interest in writing and did you start off by writing short stories or go straight to working on a novel? What markets did you send your short fiction to?

Adam: There are good reasons why new writers start with shorter fiction, to hone their craft, and to get into the habits of submitting work, dealing with rejection, selling stuff, building a reputation and so on, before going on to novels. As it happens, I didn’t do that. I do write short stories, sometimes, but only if someone specifically asks me to. Otherwise I’ll write a novel. There’s something about the novel form, its length and complexity, its elbow-room or its heft, that feels righter to me than shorter modes. So, no, I didn’t start by writing shorts—I wrote novels from the get-go. At first I wrote crap novels. Then I wrote novels that were less crap. Eventually, the crapness quotient of my novels diminished.

Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?

Adam: It’s a pretty weak-ass answer (and I know Australians despise weakness), but “it depends”. Generally a medium path is needful: if I don’t know anything about what I’m going to write it’ll turn into sprawl; but if I know every last detail, all plotted and planned in advance, then the actual writing will become a chore, and that fact will communicate itself to the readers. Actual hard research I’ll partly do in advance, and partly as I go along; but the rest of it I’ll have some sense of what I’m doing, but leave myself space to surprise myself too.

Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what you five favourite books are?

Adam: I read all the time: in bed before I go to sleep, when I’m sitting on the loo, on the train, when I’ve an odd moment, sitting in a chair, whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, whilst the telly is on, whilst I’m cooking (a book in one hand, a pan in another, you see how it goes). My wife told me off for reading whilst I was driving, once. I mean, I wasn’t actually reading and driving at the same time; but—well, you know. Waiting at a red light. A book on the passenger seat. Pick it up, read a sentence, read another, hear the car behind me beeping, put the book down … and so on. If I were asked to offer advice to a new writer it would be: read as much as you can, as widely as you can. What am I reading right now? Well, I’m typing this in the evening (UK time) of the 7th December 2010. I’ve just finished reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, because the Guardian asked me to review it (it’s good). I’ve also just re-read Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907), because I have to lecture on it, this Friday (it’s really, really good). And, connected with that, earlier this afternoon I read quickly through Gosse’s father’s Omphalos (1857) in Google Books’ collection of out of copyright stuff. Omphalos is an attempt to reconcile Genesis with geological science, marvellously and ingeniously bonkers. I’m now reading David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is OK so far, although it’s not really blowing my mind. Or any other part of my anatomy. My five favourite books? That’s a really tough call. The big influences on me as a writer are things like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I read first when I was twelve and have read every year since, more or less; Le Guin’s Dispossessed; Nabokov’s Pnin, or some of his short stories; one of the big late Dickens—Bleak House, maybe; or Dorrit—an early Chris Priest novel and … or wait, is that five?

Scott: There seems to be a lot more options available to authors to get published now compared to say a decade ago. What advice would you offer to unpublished writers in approaching publishers for the first time?

Adam: Be professional. It’s probably a good idea to get yourself an agent, but if you don’t: do a little research, treat the publishers as human beings, be professional, show a little respect, and a little common sense.

Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?

Adam: I’d want five very large, very buoyant writers, so I could strap them altogether to make a raft and come home. G K Chesterton, Dumas père, the rather wonderful Sam Sykes, writers like that. To be honest, I don’t know if I like the sound of this desert island very much. What’s the bookshop situation here? How easy is it for me to get coffee, and new books? Do they play cricket? What am I doing here?

Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.

Adam: Thank you! No, it’s a greater honour for me.

I think that about covers all the necessary bases. In the end I finished reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and thought it was OK, although it didn't really blow my mind.

5 Comments to-date;

A new superhero is born

By Adam Roberts | February 20, 2011
Categories: Chitchat

As you can see, this particular Departmental Board didn't hold my entire attention.

When I had finished the doodle, my friend and colleague Doug Cowie leant over and said: 'no he doesn't! He fucks flowers.'

3 Comments to-date;

Zyskish

By Adam Roberts | February 14, 2011
Categories: Book News

So here are “Projekt Stalin” and “Opowieść Zombilijna”, two of my novels rendered into the ancient and beautiful language of Poland and published there by the excellently-named publisher, Zysk i S-ka. I can't judge the skill of the translation, lacking Polish; but I can report that these are lovely examples of book-production, inside as well as out. Projekt Stalin has a some lovely in-cover art and touches, not least a rather startling apparition of, er, me in amongst the saucers on the inside-front cover:

But easier on the eye are the divisions between parts:

And the endpapers:

The UK edition of the Scrooge/Zombie title had illustrations by Zom Leech; but he won't mind that Zysk have commissioned their own striking work:


As I tweeted, upon receipt: 'In the post: copies of Projekt Stalin and Opowieść Zombilijna. Very cool. That the latter is thinner than the former makes me want to sing: 'Zombilijna, Zombilijna, tiny little thing/Zombilijna dance, Zombilijna sing.'

2 Comments to-date;

February

By Adam Roberts | February 8, 2011
Categories: Blogging, Chitchat

In what I can't help but take as another example of this interesting phenomenon, SciFi Crowsnest's 'The Hyper Hundred: best scifi novels of 2010' includes my novel Splinter (Solaris 2007). I'm very pleased, obviously.

2 Comments to-date;

Don’t be Vague: go to the Hague

By Adam Roberts | February 2, 2011
Categories: Events and Appearances

So, what are you doing this weekend? Me, I delivering the New Year's Lecture at the Universiteit Leiden, Campus Den Haag (Friday 5th February, starting at 7pm) at the invitation of the LUC Brill Nijhoff Writing Institute. Here's a (PDF) document detailing this interesting and diverting occasion; I believe it's not too late to register. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Hague that Friday evening, it would be lovely to see you. I shall talk about democracy, about giants, about headlessness, about ignorance, and if I have time I shall cover the meaning of life and the optimum strategy for eternal happiness. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
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Afterwards: as recorded on twitter -- I delivered a lecture on democracy/ignorance/internet and New Model Army to a very lively, intelligent audience of mostly University of Leiden/Den Haag social policy/international law undergraduates. It went extremely well: the students had all read the novel, and the questions and after-lecture discussion was intelligent and informed and really stimulating. All were fluent in English (their classes are all given in English). This in turn made me wonder: when the UK brings in £9,000 annual fees, come September, won't all the best students simply go to the Continent? Much cheaper, and just as good.

4 Comments to-date;

Differently Elvish

By Adam Roberts | January 24, 2011
Categories: Awards

For a second time this month I'm over at MEAD, with this sprightly cartoon-box two-step:

I like the idea of a medal, I must say! And the more people who suggest it, the more likely it becomes, I suppose.

1 Comment so far

BSFA Awards 2010

By Adam Roberts | January 18, 2011
Categories: Awards

I'm very pleased indeed that my reviews of the complete Jordanian Wheel of Time have been shortlisted for a BSFA Best Non-Fiction Award. Exciting. If I win, I vow to complete the series and review all the Brandon Sandon Bransanderson sequels as well. But even if I don't win: it's an honour to be nominated.

1 Comment so far

Tennysoniana

By Adam Roberts | January 17, 2011
Categories: Reviews


I edited the above selection of Tennyson's poetry for OUP in 2000. I was, accordingly, a little surprised when my copy of the LRB dropped through the letterbox this morning (date: 20 Jan 2011), and I opened it to find this review of the selection, by Seamus Perry. It's a fascinating review (occasioned, I suppose, by the fact that Oxford reprinted the edition in 2009) that has almost nothing to say about me, but which instead uses the edition as a springboard for a very perceptive, very interesting general essay on Tennyson. Part of me wonders whether an eleven-year-old edition is the best pretext the LRB editors, or Perry himself, could find for this; but a larger part was anxiously scanning the review for sentences of the 'Roberts has exhumed Tennyson's corpse and shat on its chest' variety. I didn't find any (we get: '...as Adam Roberts says in the introduction to his generous paperback ...', and 'Adam Roberts thoughtfully includes ...' and even '...readers will have to go to Christopher Ricks immense edition, since Roberts has not had the space to include cancelled poems and drafts ...' That's all fine by me; both the warm-side-of-neutral tone, and the scarcity of reference). The review is behind the LRB paywall, which is a shame, since as a piece of general Tennysonian criticism it deserves a wide audience.

2 Comments to-date;

My Elves Are Democratically Constituted Armies

By Adam Roberts | January 10, 2011
Categories: Lit Crit

I like this, from My Elves Are Different, very much.

3 Comments to-date;

Lenin’s Tomb

By Adam Roberts | January 6, 2011
Categories: Blogging

There's an interesting discussion of 'the Swarm', Hardt & Negri and New Model Army over at the Lenin's Tomb blog: go and have a look.

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New Story: ‘The Mary Anna’

By Adam Roberts | January 5, 2011
Categories: Short Fiction

Not entirely new (it appeared in the Starship Sofa Stories Vol 2 collection a while ago, with a lovely picture); but no-one seems to have noticed it when it came out in that venue, so I'm reposting it for free on my Europrog blog.

The story is called 'The Mary Anna': a lump of Golden-Age-esque Kiplingite of which I'm very, perhaps over, proud. I read it again and wonder if it isn't the best short story I've yet written, though the resonant, cavernous silence with which it has been greeted so far suggests the wisdom of the crowd is at variance with my opinion. Still, a writer should take pride in his/her work. Within limits, of course.

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Interview (2009): revisited

By Adam Roberts | December 19, 2010
Categories: Chitchat

Here's an interview conducted by my friend Aleksi (formerly of Finland, now I believe living and working in Russia) early last year. It has hitherto appeared only in Finnish, I think; and dates from after the publication of YBT but before NMA.

1. You’re a SFF researcher and writer at the same time. Does your academic work have an influence on your writing and if so, what kind of influence? Or is it the other way round?

But the other way around would be ‘an FFS researcher.’ I’m not even sure what that is.

I wouldn’t say that my critical writings influence my creative writing, or vice versa, so much as I would say that both sorts of writing proceed from the same premise: that literature is inherently intertextual; that stories and images shape the way we live our lives, just as much as life shapes art’s stories and images. More specifically I suppose I’d say that my novels are, in part, critical interventions into the ‘megatext’ of science fiction, just the way the critical writing is. So: Salt is a midrash on Le Guin Dispossessed and Frank Herbert’s Dune; Stone remixes Jack Vance and Iain M Banks and so on. I don’t think my books are any different to the rest of literature in this regard, except in being, perhaps, a little more upfront about it. But Dune is already a remix of Asimov’s Foundation books via David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia film; and Asimov’s tales rework Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and 1930s Pulp SF. And so on.

2. How did you end up being a professor of 19th century literature AND SFF author at the same time? What was the university’s initial reaction to you emerging as a science fiction author? I mean, you ARE professor of the ”serious literature”. ;)

I like ‘emerging as a science fiction author’: like I’m coming out of the closet.

Well, I don’t know how it is in Scandinavia, but when a Professor of Literature is appointed in a UK University he or she is legally obliged to take up one or other Pulp or Junk-Culture association. My choices were: sff author; country and western singer; reality TV show contestant; burlesque dancer; Man Who Makes Models Of European Airport Termini Out Of Glued-Together Matchsticks or wrestler. For me the choice was obvious.

3. I think that one of your strengths is how you create vivid and plausible worlds in your books. Even the weird vertical world of On or oxygen-filled space of Polystom feel believable. What makes this world creation even more admirable is that you don’t write series but single novels. In series you have much more time to describe the world to the reader than in a 300-page novel. How do you create your worlds and what kind of background work do you do for them?

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this question. The short answer is: strong black coffee. The long answer … well I don’t have time to go into that here.

4. Describe your normal day as a writer (and why not as a professor also)? Are you a cafeteria writer like Jonathan Lethem or do you take a months vacation to Tokyo just to make sure you get the right feel to the novel like Jon Courtenay Grimwood?

Not all writers are called Jon, you know.

Jon Lethem has the right idea. Jon Courtenay Grimwood—whom I know a little—is both a very nice and an effortlessly cool individual; I couldn’t do what does, being neither. Actually, I don’t travel very much. In part this is a principled belief that I’d rather be Diogenes the Cynic, living in a tub, than Alexander the Great ranging far and wide. But it’s also the fish-out-of-water sensation of being in a country where I don’t speak the language, something I dislike. Practically that limits me to: France (since I speak a little French, with a suitably atrocious English accent), or Scandinavia, where everybody from University Professors down to the guy who sells lotto tickets on the street speaks flawless English. I don’t know about Japan. I’ve never been there, and whilst I’m kind of curious my sense is that Japanese is a really hard language to learn.

My work routine is very simple. On a writing day I (a) drop the kids at school/nursery, (b) cycle to the Costa or the Starbucks in central Staines, (c) buy a large black coffee, find a table, set up my laptop, put loud music on my walkman (at the moment I’m listening to Who’s Next) and write. I do that all morning. Then in the afternoon I go home, answer my emails, sort out admin, other stuff; and this is also when I revise stuff I’ve written on previous days. I can’t listen to music whilst I’m revising, or reading proofs, because I need to concentrate; but I can’t not listen to music when I’m writing my first draft, because if I don’t then I over-concentrate on what I’m doing and that clogs the process. This latter is also sometimes called ‘writers block.’ The good news is that there's a simple cure for it. Listening to music whilst you work.

My life as a professor at the University of London (‘non-writing days’) involves: (a) dropping the kids at school/nursery, (b) cycling to college (c) teach students, do admin and other university-style duties (d) er, that’s it.

5. Do you misuse your power as a professor and spread the gospel of SFF in your lectures? (Sorry, I just had to ask that.)

Hallelujah, yes

6. Many of your main characters are NOT likeable (e. g. Salt, Swiftly, Splinter). Actually, some of them are even repulsive. Why do you torture your readers with so unlikeable characters?

Because they’re more interesting. Some of my characters are unlikeable, I agree; but I’d say that most are just conflicted, or fucked-up, or tangled in various ways—I don’t find it hard to like them. This is how most people are, in the world, I think. SF as a whole has had something of a problem with characterisation: a tendency towards ‘likeable’ characters ‘with whom people can identify’ overcoming obstacles, going on a ‘journey’ of self-discovery; all that can-do positivity crap. Its not that it’s sappy wish-fulfilment, or even that it’s existentially mendacious—although it is both those things. It’s that it’s boring. As far as characterisation goes, I’d rather read Samuel Beckett or Nabokov than 99% of that sort of book. Iago is a more interesting character than Cassio, after all: but more to the point so is Othello, and he’s neither villain nor especially unlikeable, although he is conflicted. Severus Snape is a much better piece of writing than Harry, Ron or Hermione.

7. In your novels you’ve described (sexual) violence more than once. In Salt and On there are those kind of scenes and actually the whole Land of the Headless revolves around possible rape and guilt. What’s your comment on this?

It’s a serious matter, one I don’t take lightly. What I mean is: it would be easy to slip into a facile use of rape (say) as a sort of short-cut to a particular sort of affect, or readerly reaction. I’d hope I don’t do that; although there is a sense in which a desire to fuck-about with (again) the conventions of the genre, the long tradition of blithely sexualising and objectifying female characters, leads me to this sort of violence of representation. But it makes me a little uneasy, yes. Land of the Headless is the last of my novels to do with rape, and I think will be the last. It’s too gruesome and upsetting a subject to handle, I think. Besides, sexual violence has very little to do with sex, and a great deal to do with violence, which leads to your next question.

8. Actually this is a continuation for the previous question. When asked about the detailed and almost clinically described violence in his novels Jon Courtenay Grimwood answered something like violence isn’t pretty or cool and he wants people to keep that in mind. Like Jon you have sometimes very vivid and disturbing scenes of violence in your novels. What are your reasons for having them?

Violence in novels and films very rarely has any relationship to actual violence in the world; and I think (although I’m not specifically thinking of J C-G here) that most of the ultra-noir self-consciously gritty violence popular in film and books nowadays is just as much about the vicarious male fantasies of empowerment as any Bruce Lee or James Bond movie. I’m not really interested in that; or, I suppose to be fair, I don’t often indulge in it. The Jacobean or Gothic aspects of what I write, the violence in that sense, has more to do with a desire to rupture the conventions of the text; to fuck things up.

9. Okay. This is my trademark question. I’m too fond of it not to ask it everytime I have a chance. If your novels were music, what kind of music would they be? What’d you play?

I am the Elvis Costello of SF. Either that or the Moby Grape of SF. But I’d rather be the Elvis Costello of SF.

10. Could you name a authors that you’re reading at the moment. Is there any new SFF stars on the British soil that we should be watching for?
I read a lot, partly because I review a lot and write criticism and so on; but mostly because I love reading. At the moment I’ve just finished Adam Fould’s non-sf novel The Quickening Maze. Before that I read Thomas Pynchon’s latest, which isn’t very good. There are a lot of very good younger British SFF writers coming up: Alex Bell, Mark Charan Newton; Kit Whitfield; Joe Abercrombie (though he’s not so young now). I’m reading (in MS) a really good Viking/Werewolf novel called Wolfsangel by M D Lachan at the moment: watch out for it next year.

11. Okay. Take a deep breath, because this is a LONG (but not necessarily a good) one. It’s actually a bunch of questions tied to a knot but it seems to me hard to separate them… If you don’t get what I’m aiming at, just skip this question. It’s about your ambitions as a writer. Are your ambitions still the same as they were when you were writing your first novels or have they changed along the road? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember you saying in interviews that in every novel you want to come up with a new, original idea and not just write something you’ve already done. Do you still maintain true to this cause, and if so, why? (The origin of this question is actually a personal matter. In June we were discussing with Jukka about writing – because we both have ambitions in writing – and I was just about to give up the whole thing. Jukka said to me that if you have ambitions to write, you still have them when you’re nearing fifty or sixty no matter what you do. So the best way to deal with them, according to Jukka, is to try to achieve them. Otherwise they’ll just cause you more pain by haunting and accusing you. Well, that was the main point of Jukka, anyway. So, actually the thing I really wanted to ask is: From where does your ambition to write spring from and how do you cope with it? By coping I mean that the things we try to achieve usually turn out to be very different from what we were trying to achieve. So, in a sense, we often fail to achieve the original goal. Jeez, wasn’t that a badly structured question!

Is the question here the last seven words? Because the answer to that is: no.

To try and address the whole thing. My experience is that there are people who, perhaps vaguely, like the idea of being writers, and then there are actual writers. The difference between these two groups is that the former can take it or leave it, depending on various circumstances; whereas the latter have no option but to write. The hearts’-blood writers I know have to write; it’s more like a compulsion than anything else. If this is the case, then you should give it a go; Jukka is perfectly correct, in his impressively massy and sculptural way: if that’s the case with you, then it’s not going to go away, and you probably do owe it to yourself to try it. For me, writing borders on compulsion. As for writing a different novel every time: well, that has a lot to do with me not wanting to bore myself, or to bore the reader, by doing the same thing over and over. I’m afraid I’ve got a low boredom threshold. Asking how to cope with one’s ambition … that’s a very interesting question, and I’m not sure of the answer.

12. As Cheryl Morgan said you charmed the Finns in Finncon with your witty sense of humor. There was even a rumour going on that you had been a semi-pro stand-up comedian once. What do you thnk of that? Does this make you consider change of career?

Change my career? Ooh, I don’t know. How much does it pay?

[Clears throat] ‘My brother smeared creosote all over the entrance to my house. I had to kick him out. I said: “brother, never darken my doorway again …”’

13. Although you’re very witty and funny in live situation and joke openly the humour in your novels tends to be somewhat different kind - it’s subtler (YBT might be an exception) and has darker shades. One could even argue that the saying ”Devil is in the details” applies to the humour in your novels. Stone, for instance, is quite funny, but the source of funniness is the way in which the narrator, Ae, recollects and comments his/her story and describes the little oddities of the novel’s world (like nose enlargement for you-know-what…). The subtlety in your ”serious” novels is almost the opposite of the parodies you write. Do you agree/disagree? Why is there so big a difference – or is there truly?

I wouldn’t say so. What interests me, as I said above, is rupture … controlled rupture, I suppose; a breaking-through; or to put it in more positive terms the leap into something completely other, ‘transcendence’ the sense of wonder. That can be achieved conceptually, or in terms of narrative; but laughter is also that sort of rupture, or transcendence.

14. Some of your novels have this ”document” style which is to say that in them (e.g- Snow, Polystom, Stone, Salt and Yellow Blue Tibia) the text itself is an official document of some kind with footnotes and such. Is there any specific reason for you to write this way?

Aren’t all novels necessarily ‘documents’?

15. It seems to me that you write a lot about guilt, forgiveness and redemption. The most obvious example is, I think, Land of the Headless which revolves around the redemption of the poet Cavala. In Polystom the poor Stom is, even though he doesn’t seem to understand it, carrying the guilt for the death of his life. At least that’s the way I see it. And then there’s Eleanor in Swiftly, who is responsible for his husband’s death. And so on. Do you consider these themes crucial to you or am I just imagining it?

I think this is absolutely right. That nexus of things does fascinate me: guilt and shame; atonement and redemption. The reasons for that are doubtless very personal, rooted subconsciously as much as consciously. In turn that’s partly a cultural thing, what it means to be English in this day and age; and it’s partly that personal angle, the stuff the Killers sang about in their song ‘All These Things I Have Done.’ But the author is dead, as I’m sure you’ve heard, so it’s hard for me to be sure about the specifics of that last one.

16. In Yellow Blue Tibia Konstantin says when discussing with Dora: ”Science fiction is the Olympics games of the imaginatively fit.” Nicely put! Is this how you think about the SFF genre as well? Or is it your ideal of SFF?
Yes.

17. You like to pay homage to your predecessors and you don’t deny it. You even alter other people’s stories like in Swiftly and Splinter. What (SFF) novels would you like yet to ”revise” and why?

As I said above, I’ve reworked several of my key texts in this way. What haven’t I done yet? Well, I’ve long harboured the dream of combining two of the novels that have had a massive influence upon me (Lord of the Rings, A la recherche du temps perdu): to write a Tolkien-style fantasy after the manner of Proust. This would be a twenty-four book Fat Fantasy sequence, 800-1000 pages per book, in which there’s very little plot, but it’s all written with an immensely detailed, fine-grained prose. I have yet to persuade my editor at Gollancz that this would be a commercial proposition.

Otherwise: I’ve toyed the idea of writing a sequel to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, to be called Twenty Eighty-Four. Set (obviously) a century later, it would have no individual human characters. Instead the logic of Orwell’s dystopia would have succeeded: states would exist but individuals would not. That wouldn’t be very jolly, though. One thing I have written, but which may not be publishable, is a properly medieval heroic fantasy: not just modern characters running around a medieval-style world with wizards and orcs and so on, but a properly realised pre-Modern realm, in which shame rather than guilt is the social logic. Since it wouldn’t be possible to write such a pre-Modern world in a Modern form like the novel, I had to write this as an alliterative poem, using the form of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. That was fun to do; but it would take a brave, or commercially suicidal, publisher to take it on. How many fans of Fantasy fiction go into a bookshop saying to themselves ‘what I really want is a Fantasy written in the form of fourteenth-century alliterative verse …’? Not many. Also I've never really written a Time Travel novel, but I'd like to, at some stage.

18. In the preface of the Palgrave The History of the Science Fiction (great piece of work) you write: ”And since we are on the subject of gratitude, let me record that I am not in the least grateful to the British Arts and Humanities Research Board - - A plague on their house. That this book was ever completed owes nothing to them at all.” Wow! Can you REALLY say that in an academic work? I bet they aren’t giving you money in the future, either. :D

Fuck ’em.

19. In an interview some time ago you admitted that you have some kind of fixation for gravity. And true enough, novels like Polystom, Gradisil and On are wrapped around this premise. But to me it seems that you’re also interested in the fabric of reality. In Polystom there’s this question of who created who and in Yellow Blue Tibia the reality is even more uncertain concept. What’s your view on the concept of ”reality? (Hmm, I’m not really sure I put it right. If you don’t get what I’m getting to, just leave it.)

Reading Philip K Dick at an impressionable age, as I did, can have a profound effect upon a person.

20. Even though you are ”only” a linguist, your novels are often founded on some state-of-the-art theory or theories which are sometimes explained in detail. How do you keep yourself up-to-date on these things and is it hard to create novels that are scientifically right without not having an education of physics/mathematics/etc..

How do you mean, ‘linguist’? Perhaps you were misled by what I said about Japanese, earlier? To be clear: I can’t actually speak Japanese. I’m really not sure that speaking English, and being able to say ‘la plume de ma tante’ with a very thick English accent, qualifies me as a linguist. I’m kind of flattered that you said so, though.

6 Comments to-date;

By Light Alone

By Adam Roberts | December 19, 2010
Categories: Book News


I'm pleased as a peacock (are peacocks pleased, proverbially speaking? Have I got the wrong end of the tailfeather?) to have finished my next novel, By Light Alone. It's presently with my editor: July 2011, it seems, is the most likely release date.

In the meantime, I look about this old place and think to myself: 'hmm, needs more content.' So over the next few days I shall provide some.

2 Comments to-date;

Tattooed Dragon, out now!

By Adam Roberts | November 27, 2010
Categories: Book News


In all good bookshops. There's also a map.

5 Comments to-date;

CATASTROPHIA

By Adam Roberts | November 19, 2010
Categories: Book News


A copy of Allen Ashely's top-drawer collection Catastrophia popped through the door today. As a contributor (my story is called 'Noose') I got the fancy-pantsy traycased polyautographed hardback edition -- you can see what it looks like over on Ian Sales blog. But you can get your own edition, a full £30 cheaper than that, at the PS Publishing Site. I urge you to do so. It's a very good collection:

Did you grow up on a diet of catastrophe novels? Classics such as "War of the Worlds", "Death of Grass", "Day of the Triffids", "Greybeard", "The Purple Cloud" and so forth? Did you hone your teen angst through a diet of disaster stories?

This book won't exactly take you back to that Golden Age . . . because the purpose of "Catastrophia" is to revitalise this sub-genre of Science Fiction for the early twenty-first century. To bring a modern sensibility and craft to the business of ending the world as we know it. These days, there's plenty of catastrophe on screen - whether it be at the cinema or on TV - but we have somewhat let the subject slip in the literary world. No longer!

Award-winning editor Allen Ashley has collected 18 brilliant brand new stories from a mix of established and emerging authors that will take you way beyond Wyndham and well past Wells. Catastrophe stories are alive and kicking.

Buy this book, read this book . . . while we still have a world in which to do so!

Fade - David Gullen
A Hard Place - Carole Johnstone
Up - Andrew Hook
Stephen's Boat - Billie Bundschuh
Noose - Adam Roberts
Check - Robert Guffey
Something For Nothing - Joe Essid
The Phoney War - Nina Allan
Happy Ending - Simon Clark
Nanoamerica - David John Baker
Pixels on a Screen - Patrick Shuler
Scalped - Jet McDonald
Gravity Wave - Douglas Thompson
In The Face of Disaster - Ian Sales
Trouble With Telebrations - Tim Nickels
The Long Road to the Sea - James L. Sutter
Crashes Stuart Young
Hapless Humanity - Brian W. Aldiss

I re-read my story over lunch. It's not at all bad. Now to read all the other stories.

1 Comment so far

Opowieść Zombilijna

By Adam Roberts | November 17, 2010
Categories: Book News


More Polish splendour.

But wait: they haven't translated my name!

3 Comments to-date;

Projekt Stalin

By Adam Roberts | October 15, 2010
Categories: Book News


Jest to bardzo ekscytujące. The publishers of my soon-to-appear Polish translation of Yellow Blue Tibia, the to-be-called 'Project Stalin' by the to-be-called 'Adama Robertsa', have put together the above promotional You Tube fillum. Is it cool? It is very cool.

4 Comments to-date;

Friday 8th October: Birmingham SF Group

By Adam Roberts | October 6, 2010
Categories: Events and Appearances

I will be talking to the Birmingham Science Fiction Group on Friday: it's in the Briar Rose Hotel, and things kick off at 7:45pm. Come along! We could grab a drink afterwards, if you like ...

6 Comments to-date;

Aéroplane

By Adam Roberts | October 6, 2010
Categories: Book News


As you can see, this is the Chinese language edition of my Palgrave History of Science Fiction. Nice to see it being disseminated into such a large and important realm, and the 400 pages of ideograms look beautiful, if incomprehensible, to me.

If I'm honest, I am pleased that this book, with its (original, I think) argument about the origins and nature of SF is still in play; although of course it goes without saying that it lacks the quality and influence of Gary K. Wolfe's Soundings.

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Gary Numan

By Adam Roberts | October 6, 2010
Categories: Blogging, Non-Fiction

That's right: Numan. The estimable Philip Palmer invited to me contribute something on SF Music to his blog -- if I've held back from mentioning his blog here earlier, it must be because his blog is so much more varied and interesting, not to say so much better designed, than mine. But go check out what I have to say about Numan. Then stay to explore the rest of Philip's domain.

1 Comment so far

Zone NMA review

By Adam Roberts | August 31, 2010
Categories: Reviews


Jonathan McCalmont's review of New Model Army has just been posted at The Zone. I don't think I've ever read a more pleasurably gobsmacking review of something I have written. I'm a little amazed at myself, and a touch suspicious, how pleased it makes me. Over at his Ruthless Culture site, McCalmont summarises thuswise:

New Model Army is not merely a good book or an enjoyable book. It is a book that has the potential to reinvigorate science fiction as a literature central to the cultural and political life of the 20th Century. My review examines New Model Army through the prism of a particular understanding of the development of the modern novel. An understanding that suggests that the mainstream literary novel shaped and was shaped by a fundamental change in the way that we see ourselves as a species. A change that gave birth to the concept of the Human Right but also to the capitalist system that we currently live under. By virtue of its tendency to hug the walls of a literary ghetto, science fiction is rather less wedded to this particular politico-literary gestalt than the mainstream literary novel and while this has maginalised science fiction in the eyes of some critics and writers, this marginalisation has resulted in a greater degree of freedom in the ways in which science fiction can depict the human condition. New Model Army is a work that attempts to forge a new way of looking at human events. A mode that seems well suited to this particular time and this particular place and, as a result, the novel has the potential to change things.

Here's hoping.

5 Comments to-date;

The Food of the Gods

By Adam Roberts | August 27, 2010
Categories: Book News


Arrived in the post yesterday: the lovely Gollancz SF Masterworks ed of this Wellsian minor masterpiece. It's a lovely cover, even if I'm not entirely sure how it relates to the gigantic subject matter of the novel. (Sings: 'gigantic, gigantic, gigantic'....)

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