Friday, 27 April 2012

Friday links

It's Friday again and that means links:

An old post this (in more than one sense), but I rediscovered it on Google Reader and would like to share.

Gollancz are teasing us with news of M. John Harrison's latest weirding.

Strange Horizons has a piece on our favourite method of transport, the airship.

Charles Stross on the interesting news that Tor are to remove DRM from their ebooks.

From io9, 33 science fiction and fantasy films for the summer. You'll be oblong-eyed, as my mother not-quite-used to say.


Monday, 23 April 2012

Why Steampunk Romance?

Meljean Brook by Doug Crouch
Meljean Brook's second post on Steampunk Romance:

I know that the idea of steampunk romance is a head-scratcher for some readers of both genres – the two genres seem quite different. Steampunk often possesses a gritty, industrial aesthetic and a story that challenges (or at least comments on) a socio-economic and/or political status quo, whereas romance often tells the story of beautiful people, sex, and normalized happily-ever-afters. 

On the surface, it does seem as if an unbridgeable gap exists between the two genres, but I’ve found that two particular aspects of steampunk lend themselves spectacularly to romance. One is the technological component – not necessarily the gadgets (though those are fun), but the effect of changing technology on society. Setting the series in the middle of that cultural shift opens so many avenues of conflict, whether it stems from characters who resist the changes, from alterations in class structure, or from an individual character’s uncertainty about where he fits in this new world (and, of course, the conflict that always arises when a character’s idea of his place clashes with society’s idea of his place). 

The second aspect is simply invention, which we see over and over again in steampunk. Technology can be used to oppress and dehumanize – but its creation can also be rebellion, or a triumph of human ingenuity. And a sense of wonder, adventure, and danger so often accompanies invention; it’s that new idea that may very well blow up and kill whoever tries to explore it...but the potential gain or discovery is well worth the risk. So a steampunk setting – a world crammed full of inventions – doesn’t allow for wimpy heroes and heroines. Whether they’re desperate or driven, they have to venture out into this world, and that exploration may very well kill them.

...and I’ve just used a lot of phrases that describe my ideal love story. A steampunk setting provides plenty of external conflict, and the opportunity for the kind of adventure that I love writing and reading. But more importantly, the romantic conflict echoes everything I enjoy about steampunk. That means I write about characters who might resist the emotional and social changes a burgeoning relationship forces upon them. It’s an examination of where they’ll fit in someone else’s life (and it’s always best if they don’t fit easily.

And as for love ... well, we all know that love can be oppressive, and a powerful tool. But falling in love with someone can also be liberating, and require a great deal of bravery – particularly if the characters know that, if something goes wrong, it can blow up and destroy them...but once again, the potential gain is worth the risk.

Steampunk romance isn’t going to be for everyone. There will be both steampunk and romance fans who will read The Iron Duke with a “What in the world is this? I can’t believe some author thought this would work” caption floating above their heads. But in my opinion, the genres fit together beautifully – and I’m only surprised that there aren’t already dozens of steampunk romances in bookstores.

Hopefully, there soon will be.


Friday, 20 April 2012

Friday links

Here are some links to while away your Friday:

A piece about Neal Stephenson's excellent-sounding project Hieroglyph.

Adam Roberts reviews the entire 2012 Clarke Award short list in his usual entertaining manner.

The lovely folks over at Pornokitsch review Jason Starr's The Pack.

Various reports on the goings on at Eastercon.

Catherynne Valente has a post about what would happen if Christopher Priest were a woman.

And, lastly, Marcus at Gollancz on the Fall and Rise of Vampires.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Jason Starr talks The Pack

Watch this short film of Jason Starr giving us the low down on The Pack,  out very, very soon.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Friday links

Every Friday we'll gather the best SF&F links. This week:

Christopher Priest's The Islanders won Best Novel at Eastercon's BSFA ceremony.

John Scalzi suggests five films to show aliens to avoid annihilation.

The David Gemmell Legend Award short list was announced at Eastercon.

Via the excellent Forbidden Planet blog, Alan Moore on the BBC's Hard Talk.

And more nominees, with the Hugo short list announced.

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

What is Steampunk Romance?

A guest post from author Meljean Brook, whose book The Iron Duke is out today.

Steampunk has been earning quite a bit of buzz recently, but if you aren’t familiar with the term, trust me – it’s not as alien as it sounds. At its most basic, steampunk is historical science fiction. More specifically, it’s historical science fiction where the ‘advanced’ technology is powered by steam engines or clockworks, or utilizes historical scientific theories in some fashion. Simply imagine a movie like Sherlock Holmes combined with steamy romance and airships, or Pirates of the Caribbean with clockwork gadgets and automaton robots.

Steampunk is often set in the Victorian era (the Iron Seas series is set during a pseudo-Victorian period) but it doesn’t have to be. Other time periods are fine – other worlds are fine. Steampunk can be set in Feudal Japan, it can be set before (or during, or after) the European colonization of Africa, or before the conquest of the Americas. Anywhere, anywhen. The important bit is the steam, and writers can set an industrial revolution or technological advancement anywhere in history that they like. It’s science fiction, after all.

It’s also historical romance – a thrilling adventure, featuring bold, sexy characters exploring an exciting new world – with a steampunk twist.

In the Iron Seas world, that twist came from a small change in history that, over the centuries, completely altered the course of historical events: In this alternate history, the Mongol Horde didn’t halt their military advance into Europe in 1241 A.D. (as they did in our history), but came later with war machines and powerful technology. Much of Europe and Africa fled to the New World, but almost everyone in England remained at home, believing the Horde’s lack of a navy meant they would be safe. They were wrong, because the Horde used a weapon that was too small to see coming: nanotechnology that infected the population and enslaved them.

Using this twist in time, I was able to create an England that looked very much like the Victorian England that we know and love in our romances, but with some significant cultural changes. At the opening of The Iron Duke, England has only been out from under the Horde’s two-hundred year occupation for a decade ... and the man who freed them all – pirate captain Rhys Trahaearn – is a national hero. It’s not until he meets Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth that he becomes worthy of being a romance hero, however.

And as much fun as the steampunk worldbuilding is, this story is all about the romance. The conflicts that arise from the setting – the class issues, the changing technology and social roles, the zombies and the giant squid – they are all challenging or just pure fun, but the real reason for all of these conflicts is so that I can create characters who have to struggle to find their happily-ever-after. I want them to fight for each other and fight to be with each other. I want it to matter that these two people fall in love and hold on to their happiness, and I like to think that the Iron Seas world is changed for the better when they do.

In my story, the Iron Duke will do anything to have Mina, even if that means changing the world to be with her. That, to me, is pure romance ... and I hope that everyone enjoys the adventure with me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Why do we read the books that we do?

The book you're reading right now – why are you reading it? Was it a gift? Is it the latest from a favourite author, or are you re-reading a book you've loved since childhood? Did you like the cover, or did the blurb entice you? Or are you reading The Hunger Games because you want to find out what all the fuss is about?

As readers, we don't often think about why we end up reading our books (publishers do, publishers obsess over why people read books, which may be why it is so damn hard to get it right). But when we do look into the reasons why we're reading a particular title, sometimes an interesting story emerges.

Take Pavane, the book I've just finished. This novel by Keith Roberts is an alternate history of England. Like many alternate histories it is predicated on a single change to the past to force subsequent history down a new path. In Pavane's case that change is the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I, which allows the Catholic Church to reverse the tide of Protestantism sweeping across Europe as well as snuff out the spark of the coming Enlightenment. In consequence, Europe is plunged, if not quite into a new Dark Age, but, we could say, into a Dim Age for the next four hundred years. With the Papacy choking almost all scientific, technological and political progress, England in the Twentieth Century is still a largely medieval country, replete with a guild system as well as a babble of languages which help keep its people divided. The story Pavane tells, through a series of 'measures', is that of a number of individuals who become involved one way or another in the resistance to the stranglehold the church has over England.

Published first in 1966 (the current edition is based on a revised 1968 text), Pavane is part of Gollancz's excellent SF Masterworks series, first seeing print in 2000, I think. I have been aware of it since then and yet why has it taken me until now to read it?

Firstly, I have never really liked the cover. It's not bad. I like the yellow signal tower. But there's something about the landscape and the steam engine trundling up the road that I have never warmed to. There is a not-quite-finished, computer-generated feel to it. Something ersatz that has always put me off. I've bought books with worse covers, but when you're taking a chance on something, when there are other choices, sometimes it is the littlest of things that can decide it for you.*

I agree, this is a poor excuse. But I remember picking this book up and putting it down on more than one occasion. The idea is neat and simple. The book has numerous accolades and champions. On my desk sits a copy of Anthony Burgess's Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 – Pavane is in it. And yet.

So what did nudge me over the edge?

It started, I think, with this review of a new US edition by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post on February 29th this year. Then here I by accident came across another (older) mention - a review that is quite critical by Larry Nolan of the always excellent OF blog. Then not long after that Paul McAuley wrote a lovely post about how he as a kid discovered Pavane (thereby showing considerably more wisdom than I ever had, without even the benefit of the intertubes).

Somebody out there was telling me something.

So I bought it. Read it. I greatly enjoyed it (not the cover though, that still irks me).

While I was reading Pavane, I met a very good friend of mine. His first question to me was – what are you reading? Before I could answer he told me he was reading this great book called Pavane. Had I heard of it?

I was curious. Why had he chosen it? It was simple really. For a few years now he's been working his way through the SF classics. Pavane was just the next book on his list.

I am nothing like as systematic in my reading as he is, but Pavane had also been the next book on my list. Only I did not know it until I got to it.

Why do we choose to read the books that we do?

Sometimes, it seems to me, the books reach out and choose us.

Colin, Copywriter

* I've subsequently done some checking and discovered the cover is by the great Jim Burns. Either it's just me, or everyone has an off-day.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Cheryl Morgan on The Clarke Award

Nice piece by Cheryl Morgan offering a reality check on the 2012 Clarke Award kerfuffle kicked up by Christopher Priest.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Book of the Month: Grave Dance

One of our feature pieces of the Berkley UK Blog will be our Book of the Month. Think a SFF Richard and Judy Book Club. (Although sometimes it might feature two - or three - books as they are all so good and we all have a different favourite so to save some serious in-fighting amongst the Berkley team, we might have more than one per month).

And so, to kick off this month is a book we actually published in February, but I love it so much I can’t stop talking about it. It’s Grave Dance by Kalayna Price, which is actually the second novel in the addictive Alex Craft series, which began with Grave Witch. If you love feisty kick-ass heroines with a sexy, unexpected and unconventional love interest, then this is the series for you. And here to tell you a bit more about it is Kalayna Price herself. She kindly did an interview with me about the series so read on to hear all about it…

Claire: For those who haven’t yet discovered the brilliant Alex Craft series - which includes the novels Grave Witch and Grave Dance - can you tell us a little about it?

Kalayna: The series follows Alex Craft, a witch who can question the dead. She uses this skill in her struggling PI firm, Tongues for the Dead, and as a consultant for the police on murder cases. In Grave Witch, when she is called in on a case involving a dark cop, a sexy reaper, and a ghost-silencing killer, she discovers that more than her rent is on the line … she might just lose her soul.

Claire: We love Alex and her powers that allow her to speak to the dead. Can you tell us a little about her day job as a Grave Witch?

Kalayna: Alex raises shades, which are emotionless recordings of a person’s life stored in every cell of their body and given form by magic. It’s cold work, as she has to straddle the chasm between the living and the dead and let the chill of the grave into her own body. Her ability is also slowly degrading her eyesight. When she’s using her magic to help the police question victims, the price is a small thing to pay. It is a little less worthwhile when she’s working for private clients who want to know if great uncle Bernie really did have a secret stash of cash hidden in a Caribbean bank account, but hey, a job is a job, right?

Claire: There’s a wonderfully rich and complete magic system in these novels. What was your inspiration for this and did you have to do a lot of research into myths and mysticism in order to create it?

Kalayna: One of my hobbies is studying folklore and mythology, so a lot of folklore makes its way into the stories. I enjoy taking creatures of legend and putting them in a more modern setting.

Claire: Death features as quite a different character from what we would typically expect, as he’s Alex’s potential love interest in this series. Why did you decide to portray Death with a deliciously romantic side rather than a ghoulish taker of souls?

Kalayna: What later became the opening lines of book one was actually the first inkling of the idea for the story. The lines are “The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother’s medical chart at him. As far as impressions went, I blew it, but I was five at the time so he eventually forgave me.” I knew from that point on that Death and Alex would have a complicated relationship. A creepy grim reaper just didn’t fit the bill. One who looked good in jeans and a tight t-shirt was more to my liking.

Claire: Alex’s little faithful companion PC is a hairless Chinese Crested. Why did you decide to pick this breed of dog in particular?

Kalayna: I could copout and just say I like Cresteds, but in truth, I gave a lot of thought as to what kind of dog Alex should have. I settled on a Chinese Crested because they are purebred dogs that many people take one look at and assume the dog is ill (if not just odd and ugly). Nicer comments often run along the line of Cresteds being so pathetic looking that they’re cute. Alex comes from a ‘good’ family, but has been disowned for being different. She’s seen as odd. The parallel appealed to me. Also, I like Chinese Cresteds.

Claire: Alex Craft’s magical talent lies in speaking to the dead. If you could speak to one dead person, who would you pick?

Kalayna: That’s a hard choice. Probably someone shrouded in mystery. There are more than a few literary geniuses of the past I’d like to know more about.

Claire: Can you tell us a little about the next book in the series, Grave Memory, which will be hitting the shelves here in the UK in July (and we can’t wait!)?

Kalayna: Alex has gone through a lot in the first two books. She’d like to settle back and have some time to cope with the changes. Unfortunately, life doesn’t cooperate. When she takes a job involving an apparent suicide, it should be an open and shut case, but the shade can’t remember the events leading up to his body’s death. Which means despite the very public manner of death; this is murder.

Claire: Do you have an idea about what the future holds for Alex yet?

Kalayna: I do! But if I tell you, that would give away spoilers. Let’s just say she has quite a few adventures, discoveries, heartbreaks, and quite a bit of danger to face before she has any chance of reaching her happily ever after.

Claire: We know you love hula hoop dancing with fire. How did you discover this and have you ever got burnt?
Kalayna: I started hoop dancing in 2009 for the health and social aspects of the activity. I quickly learned it was a lot of fun as well. Groups of us gather several times a week to jam. I ‘burned’ (as in used a fire hoop) for the first time that November, and let me tell you, burning is an adrenalin rush. The worst I’ve ever done is singe a little hair, but this is one of those don’t try this at home activities. My group is big on safety. We each get a crash course in fire safety before we burn and we always have people standing by with fire blankets and extinguishers, just in case. That said, when you’re in the centre of roaring flames, the rest of the world fades away.

Claire: How do you relax after a hard day’s writing?

Kalayna: I am a girl with too many hobbies. Hooping, obviously, and reading of course, but I also enjoy playing violin, making jewellery, and video games.

Claire: What book did you last read that you really enjoyed?

Kalayna: I’ve read several great authors recently, including a novella by the writing team Illona Andrews, the latest by the fabulous Faith Hunter, an adventure fantasy by Rachel Aaron, I just started the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh, and I’m currently looking forward to starting the latest by Melissa Marr. Reading is something I enjoy immensely. After all, the magic of a good book is what inspired me to write in the first place.

Thanks, Kalayna.

Claire, Editor


Welcome to the new Berkley UK blog.

We launched our brand new SF/F list here in the UK in September 2011 as a sister imprint to Penguin Ace and ROC in the US and already we’re off to a flying start with seven titles already published. We can promise lots more excitement to come this year with news about our latest titles, exclusive competitions and previews and lots of gossip from the world of SF/F.

We have a fantastic list of authors, including Devon Monk, Rob Thurman, Jason Starr, Kalayna Price, Meljean Brook, Karen Chance, Emily McKay and Joan Frances Turner – keep a look out for exclusive posts from them from time to time.

Our blog is here to not only tell you about new Berkley UK releases but also to be a community in itself- we want you to get involved - to leave comments, ask questions and generally just have a chat about what interests you in the world of SF/F.
From dark fantasy to steampunk to dystopian fantasy to science fiction, we hope to cater for all your tastes, so be sure to keep a lookout to see what’s coming up next.

You can also check out all the latest news on our Berkley UK Facebook page.

Claire, Editor