Writing

The Motherman Is Coming…

…in December 2019. Probably.

[Edited to add: looks like this will now actually be sometime in 2020.]

DreamForge Magazine has accepted my story “Climbing the Motherman” and it’s currently slated to appear in issue #4. Really pleased by the news, as this is one of my favourite stories. (I say that every time, am I right? But this time I really really mean it!)

The original inspiration was “The Willow Man” sculpture created by Serena de la Hey, which we pass quite regularly on our way to/from our summer holidays in the West Country. One night I dreamt it was infested by tribes of feral humans… as you do.

Anyway, glad to see this story found a good home. More about it later in the year.

“The Willow Man”, photo taken and processed by yours truly.

On The Origin of Giants

My story “On Ohab’s Land” is out in the Spring 2019 edition of Kaleidotrope. No it’s nothing to do with whales. Here’s a taster:

Grass stubble crunches beneath Ohab’s feet as he approaches the giant. The long, dry summer has baked the hayfield a deep golden brown, and late-blooming poppies sprout from between the ridges of cracked mud, nodding like amiable premonitions of blood as Ohab passes by. The last wisps of early morning mist have burned away, and crows, unfazed by the giant’s presence, flap lazily between the barrel-trunked oaks that dot the field’s perimeter.

Don’t ask me how many attempts it took to get that first paragraph just so. Many. Many attempts. No really. If you have a figure in mind for the number of revisions then I’m pretty sure it’s too low. Yes. Even that figure. Waaaaaay too low. And I’m still not sure about the extra comma or the two instances of “Ohab”. Yes, these are things that give me sleepless nights.

The story’s first-pass name was “The Origin of Giants”, a rather grandiose title from under which it could never really escape. Although “Land” deals more or less with the physical origin of giants (in this story world), it nowhere near adequately approaches the origin of true giants, those not of merely physical stature… for that you’d be better off reading something like Jose Pablo Iriarte’s The Curse of Giants. So the title had to change, and the story had to find a new heart… which I think it does, at the end. Probably it’s too optimistic of me to consider Ohab a suitable case for redemption, but in order to be a writer you really do have to put aside the pessimism now and again. Do I believe that change for the better — for people and the world — is possible? Sometimes. Yes, I really do.

“Giant” by Saryth Chareonpanichkul

Repeated Sins

The anthology Sins and Other Worlds, edited by Eric S. Fomley, is now out in e-book and print format, available from the retail arm of the world’s most popular cloud computing platform provider. It contains a reprint of my dark little flash story In the Maze of His Infinities, first published by Perihelion SF.

Table of Contents

  • The Plague – Ken Liu
  • The Far Side of the Wilderness – Alex Shvartsman
  • The Last Racist – Laird Long
  • Floating in My Tin Can – Gerri Leen
  • Tough Crowd – Holly Schofield
  • Nothing – Douglas Smith
  • The Memory Ward – Wendy Nikel
  • About Time – Mike Murphy
  • God State – Michelle Ann King
  • Tugship – Russell Hemmell
  • When There’s Only Dust Left – Jeremy Szal
  • Angels Behaving Badly – Rhonda Eikamp
  • The Dust Bathynaut – Dennis Monbauer
  • A Fully Chameleonic Foil – Christi Nogle
  • The Service Call – Ed Ahern
  • The Sin of Envy – George Nikolopoulos
  • Flies – Robert Silverberg
  • Between Two Distant Shores There Lies Space for an Ocean of Troubles – Jez Patterson
  • Death, Where is thy Sting? – John H. Dromey
  • Last Long Night – Lina Rather
  • Apocalypse Beta Test Survey – Gregg Chamberlain
  • In the Maze of His Infinities – Henry Szabranski
  • Most Valuable Player – Eric Choi
  • Benchwarmer – Mike Resnick & Lezli Robyn
  • The Cyclops – James Dorr
  • Remembrance Day – Liam Hogan
  • The Eye Patch Protocol – Vaughan Stanger
  • Once Was Lost – Alan Baxter
  • The Assassin Program – Christina Sng
  • The Plan – Mike Murphy
  • Stewardship – Holly Schofield
  • Walls of Nigeria – Jeremy Szal
  • Whom He May Devour – Alex Shvartsman
  • Event Cloak – Ken Liu
  • Job Qualifications – Kevin J. Anderson

Kill Cast

Mark Linsenmayer’s podcast of “Kill Switch” is now up at Constellary Tales, along with an interview with me about the story. Brian Hirt and Ken Gerber have somehow edited my voice to sound much posher and more articulate than it actually is, and boy I do not sound anywhere near as nervous as I actually was during the recording. But judge for yourselves.

Also, a great excuse to post up another great Juno image. 

Of Techno-Oligarchs and their Gas Giant Mining Operations…

Image of Jupiter’s swirling cloudscape captured by NASA’s Juno probe.

…is a great name for a 70’s prog-rock concept album, but is also partially the subject matter of — as promised last month — a second story that (only very briefly) mentions the Discontinuity featured in “The Veilonaut’s Dream“. My story “Kill Switch” has been accepted for publication by new SF magazine “Constellary Tales” and will be podcast hopefully later this autumn. Yay for podcasts! — they always seem to make my stories sound great. Can’t wait to listen to it.

Also a great opportunity to showcase as the blog image the swirling clouds of Jupiter as captured by NASA’s Juno probe, currently still swooping around old Jove. Despite the imminent collapse of Western civilisation it’s great to be living in a time when we can receive such amazing photos from the outer reaches of the solar system.

A Final Update from the Observatory

“The Veilonaut’s Dream” is, I think, the most widely reviewed story of mine so far, and for the most part these seem to be broadly positive. Please indulge me as I list a few below… it’s not often I get the chance.

“A beautiful story that weaves through the distant mysteries of space, contemplating the impossible depths of the universe and the existence of life beyond our tiny stake in the ground. It’s part space exploration, part terror, leaving you a bit dizzy as your imagination tries to keep up with the originality of so many space landscapes.”

Jacob Olsen, Reviews & Robots

“In this literary, mesmerizing, multi-layered story”…. “Szabranski is a master at building tension.”

Jeffrey Steven Adams, Tangent Online

“The piece is tense and centers memory and distance. Not just the distance the Discontinuity stretches, though, but also the distance people keep from it, trying to avoid the dangers it represents but also, maybe, missing out on what’s really there—what’s really possible. It’s a story about being lost and, maybe, depending on how you look at it, being found.” … “To me, an argument for faith where science fails—not religious faith, exactly, but rather a leap of faith in humanity, that maybe we can find out way even in the vastness of space. A great read!”

Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews

“A very eerie story with haunting imagery that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Definitely recommend this to anyone who likes darker sci-fi with a slight mystical feel.”

Stephanie, Goodreads

“How did Szabranski keep me reading? This is certain death.”

“Uncle Josh”, Better Writing Through Reading

“It’s a classic science fiction story told with heart.” … “There is particularly effective use of altogether different science-fictional imagery as the titular ‘dream’ is revealed near the story’s conclusion, linking the narrator’s personal drama of the explorers with a the grander story playing out. The whole comes together to tell a great space exploration story.” … “Highly Recommended.”

Eclipse Review of Science Fiction

“…a story that’s an entrant in that evergreen subgenre: “unfathomable alien technology.” … I liked the relationships between Mads and the younger veilonauts as well as the synchronicity between her relationship with her partner and with the Discontinuity.”

Karen Burnham, Locus

Now… is this truly the final update from the Observatory, out there beyond the orbit of Pluto? Perhaps not. The Others and their Discontinuity feature in a few of my stories (not an intentional series, more like a handy future history backdrop I can dip into), of which “The Veilonaut’s Dream” was the third written. I’ll post news about the fate of another one of those stories next month…

outer-space-science-fiction

On Persistence (Part 2)

I’ve written about persistence before, but it’s a subject I want to return to. See, I’ve been sending stories to Clarkesworld for years now. Because of its fast turnaround time (typically a rejection only takes a couple of days, sometimes even less) it’s one of the first places I and many other writers send a new story. It’s high paying, prestigious, publishes great stories by some of the best writers in the field, has great art direction and production values — why not see if your brand-spanking new story is one Neil Clarke might be interested in before sending it anywhere else? So that’s what I’ve done. Many times. Over the years. 15 times, to be exact. Each time rejected.

Until my sixteenth submission, a few days ago.

Yes, this is a sly way to announce my story “The Veilonaut’s Dream” has been accepted by Clarkesworld. I still can’t quite believe it.

So you — yes you, with your seemingly endlessly growing pile of rejection e-mails — there is hope. If not this story, maybe the next. Keep trying. Keep improving. Stay professional. Read the guidelines. Push on through that dark night of the soul — we all get them, all of us. Try new styles, new subjects, new ideas, new characters. Keep getting feedback, keep an open mind, keep the faith. Because one day… you never know.

(PS. Just make sure it’s not a zombie story.)

“The Long Route to Acceptance”

Mythic Spring

Spent Father’s Day with the boys and wife, tootling around Oxford in the afternoon. Unfortunately tickets weren’t available for the new Tolkien Exhibition at the Bodleian Library, but instead we browsed around the Ashmolean Museum and rummaged through the nearby city centre bookstores, followed by pizza and cheesecake. To cap it off, came back home to find the 2018 Spring edition of Mythic magazine landed on the doorstep. So all in all — for me — a pretty good day.