Awards are Always Fun (29/3/12)

Posted in Critical Failures

Go HERE for some good old-fashioned bitching about this year’s Authur C Clarke Award. Don’t see why a man can’t express his opinion, although I don’t see why a man can’t be a little more of a gentleman about it either. Sympathy to Mark Billingham. Should all make Eastercon fun. Please don’t heckle the award judges on any of the panels I might happen to be doing with them.

Anyway, we’ll all forget about it in a week or so, and then in June it’ll be our turn (by “our” I mean “us fantasy writers” when the Gemmell awards come around. Chances of that passing without someone venting their spleen? Not very high. Seemly spleen-venting this year, please? It just sits wrong with me to lay into fallible but well-intentioned enthusiasts when there NHS Bill are News International so many banker bonuses more everything at all to do with the Republican Party right now deserving heck, even the chair on which I stubbed my toe this morning targets for such bile.

The first round of Gemmell nominations closes shortly. Please vote.  Do it now. Be a part of the controversy :-)

Best epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Best debut epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Best epic/heroic fantasy novel cover of 2011 (But not the Rothfuss cover, please not the Rothfuss cover unless you actually physically try and stand in that stance and hold the sword the way its held like I did and can really, truly convince yourself that Kvothe isn’t about to either a) scream in agony as his straining ligaments finally snap, b) cut his own face off the moment he swings his sword because he’s holding it the wrong way round or c) simply flail a bit and then topple over sideways).

Do it. Do it now. Pretty pretty please? (the vote thing. Not the Kvoth pose thing. Do that at Eastercon in the bar where I can watch)

Gemmell Awards 2012

Posted in News

So here’s an excerpt of something of a work in progress.  Dragons are noticably lacking, it’s not something my editor has seen yet, and possibly he might never see it, since this is an as-yet-unfinished manuscript. I have quite a lot of those. It feels a bit more heroic than epic, this one, more swords-and-a-little-bit-of-sorcery-but-actually-mostly-axes and was sort of spawned by a visit to last year’s Jorvik festival.

Speaking of axes, the polls for the David Gemmell Legend Award for the best fantasy books of 2011 are now open. And I want an axe. No, really, I do want an axe, so vote for me, damn your eyes, ME! For I think The Order of the Scales really, really deserves it for the best fantasy cover art of 2011

(OK, yes, you’re actually voting for Dominic Harman).

For the best epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011. And yes, I did mean it about wanting an axe, thanks. I mean, it’s not like there’s anything else of any significance with dragons in on the list…


For the best debut epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Grumpy Jonnic is for someone who indirectly helped with various efforts to burn down Wales years ago. Hello Jon!

Don’t Kick the Puppy (21/6/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

It’s the middle of June. Must mean it’s time for the Gemmells and for all its detractors to, well, detract I suppose. It all strikes me as very disingenuous, but I’m sure to those who think the Gemmells are A Bad Thing, there is some sort of deeply important underlying issue at stake, well worth risking the ire of all those who work to make it happen, usually out of their own time and pocket.

Trouble is, three years in, I’m still trying to see what it is. None of you have convinced me that it is A Bad Thing. Flawed, yes, but that fantasy literature would be better off without it? No. What I do think I see, is meanness of spirit and the use of the Gemmells as a pawn in some rather larger and more important debates within the genre. So I challenge you, detractors, to convince me that you’re right, that these awards are, somehow, harmful to our genre, or indeed to anything at all.

No, wait, that’s not going to fly, because then all I’m going to hear are the same things I’ve already heard, and since those arguments haven’t convinced me yet, we’d all be wasting our time. So I’ll trot out the arguments I’ve already heard and tell you why I think they’re either plain wrong or simply irrelevant and disingenuous, and then you can come back to me with how I’ve misunderstood or somehow missed the point, or with some argument that I’ve never heard before. I’m easy to convince of almost anything, provided you can back it up with evidence and don’t talk in absolutes that are easily shown to be false by reductio ad absurdum.

The mission statement for the award is up on their website, as are the criteria for eligibility. “Traditional, Epic, Heroic or High Fantasy and/or in the spirit of David Gemmell.” If you want to argue that this isn’t the same as “rewarding excellence in the field [of the fantasy genre]”, that the scope of the award is too narrow, that by both their choice of scope and the way the winners are chosen by open public vote, the Gemmells reward mainstream commercial fantasy and neither encourage or reward diversity or novelty, go for it. I’ll not disagree. The scope is what it is. It’s narrow. My only question when you’re done will be so what?

So there’s no award for fantasy that doesn’t lie within the scope of the Gemmells. So? The world is full of awards and they all have their own scope, some of them broad, some of them narrow. Does that make them all wrong? Are awards fundamentally bad for having a scope and thus excluding some things from eligibility? Where is the right place to draw a line and say ‘this scope is broad enough and that is not’ and why is your opinion on where that line should be better than mine or those who administer the Gemmells? Criticize the DGLA for their choice of scope if you like – everyone’s entitled to an opinion. Maybe there should be an award for ‘fantasy that doesn’t fall within the scope of the Gemmells.’ Great. I agree. Within reason, I’ll even help.

Criticize the choice of winners if you like. Speech is free, and yes, it’s pretty obvious that if you can gather enough of your friends and fans around you to support you, you can skew the vote, it being a public and open one. So? I don’t hear much criticism of Polish or German or Icelandic or French or Black Library fans for voting for their first choice, and I don’t hear much noise de-crying the apathy of people who didn’t vote. Just the outcome. It’s not perfect. Fair enough. Neither are juries, for that matter (cue endless Booker-Prize-doesn’t-like-genre acrimony).

It is what it is. Criticize it for that by all means. Maybe it could be better. It’s certainly not without its flaws. Complain that it’s not as good as it could be. If the kind of book it seeks to applaud isn’t your cup of tea, you might see very little good in the award. If the money it has raised for charity [1] and the potential for a little social networking between fans and authors and editors[2] leaves you cold, you might see it as having no value whatsoever. A complete irrelevance. I could say that about plenty of things that exist in the world in which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever but which seem to make other people happy, and I’m sure you could too. If it does no harm, so what? Any genre fan who chooses to jump up and shout about something like that would benefit, I suggest, from a little more self-awareness. The world does not revolve around any one of us and what we like. It mostly stopped doing that when we were about five.

That’s if it does no harm. If that’s not true, well then shout and jump and make noises all you like and I’ll shout and jump with you, but so far, I haven’t seen a single convincing argument that says the DGLA is any way bad for anything or anyone.

First complaint: The DGLA encourages mediocrity. Tosh. The Gemmells may by default reward commercial mainstream fantasy of a certain type (and the “of a certain type” is defined by their eligibility criteria). Anyone is entitled to think that commercial mainstream fantasy is all mediocre (“middling or average in quality or performance; rather inferior” – Chambers). That’s a subjective opinion on ‘quality’ and almost by definition incorrect as far as performance goes. In the sum of all opinions, ‘mediocre’ and ‘mainstream’ doubtless overlap to some degree, but neither is a subset of the other. It only takes one person to consider one ‘mainstream’ fantasy book to be of excellent quality for the idea that mainstream = mediocre to be provably false. I don’t need to go very far to find such an example. The idea that the DGLA is somehow in any way responsible for dragging fantasy down towards mediocrity strikes me as ludicrous. How? How does such an award achieve this? Even if you accept the argument (and I don’t, and I cite The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora as counter-examples[3]) that publishers control what is successful, then take issue with that (and I’ll be keeping very quiet and listening very hard at that point). Publishers are fairly conservative and will tend to publish what they think will sell based on what has sold before (sad, but they’re businesses that have to make money to survive). Book-buyers are fairly conservative and will tend to buy what they liked before (sad, but that’s basic human nature). The desire for greater diversity in fantasy, in what fantasy is and what it can do, is laudable, but I don’t see the logical link that goes from that desire to the DGLA being in any way bad. Maybe it does nothing whatsoever to further that desire; well neither do any other literary awards. Neither do grass or trees. That doesn’t make them wrong or bad, it just makes them not relevant to that particular aim.

Note, in passing, that the winners, up until this year’s Way of Kings, were not the great commercial successes of the year in any country. In a way that’s by the by, but note it anyway.

The DGLA encourages mediocrity? Discourages any other kind of fantasy (presumably any kind outside its scope)? Those who think either of those things, I suggest have stepped off the reality train and been seduced onto a branch-line of some other agenda, because really, the Gemmells simply aren’t that significant. As an author, as someone who’s spoken to a lot of other authors, some successful, some still aspiring, the idea that any kind of award has any kind of influence on what we write seems ludicrous. The award that matters most is a contract. Maybe, just maybe, if the DGLA was an award for arthouse books far removed from the mainstream that would struggle to achieve viable sales figures, then you might have an argument to say that whatever its eligibility criteria were, they could influence what authors choose to write. But it isn’t. It rewards the kind of fantasy that already tends to be rewarded by success because it’s the kind of fantasy that sells; in that context, the DGLA and its selection criteria are irrelevant. Yes, a miniature axe and a pat on the back are nice, but besides selling enough copies to make an independent living, irrelevant.

The DGLA is an award for a certain kind of fantasy, and that’s a kind of fantasy that tends to sell well. If you don’t like that kind of fantasy, good for you. If you do, good for you too. I don’t see a shred of evidence to say it has any affect on what gets published and what doesn’t, what gets written and what doesn’t. I challenge its critics again: prove me wrong. Not with unsubstantiated opinions, but with concrete examples. Otherwise, to claim that the DGLA has some bearing on what the fantasy market looks like, that’s just like kicking a well-natured puppy because you don’t like what its master does for a living.


[1] In previous years. This year’s auction was to fund the award.

[2] Yes, I’m reaching a bit – but the potential is there.

[3] Very commercially successful debut novels that were certainly not pushed extremely hard on their first release. Pushed a bit, as many debuts are, but not like, say The Passage. And yes, publishers do control what is successful by what they choose to publish; still, they will follow trends in what people choose to buy. Maybe we’d all like them to be more adventurous, and they’d probably like it too, if someone could just show them how to do it without going bust.

Gemmell Awards Again

Posted in News

It’s that time of year again. The King of the Crags and The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice are on the long-list for the Gemmell Legend Award and the cover of Thief-Taker is up for the Ravenheart award (which, let’s be clear, is an award for the artist, not the author).

You can vote here for the Legend award (at the time of writing that’s the only award that’s set up for voting) or find out more about the Gemmells on their home page here.

There are a lot of good titles to vote for, at least a few of which I happen to think are better than mine. If you happen to disagree but can’t decide which one to vote for, got for King of the Crags. Sadly (not) you can only vote once!

I’m going to start something a little different in the New Year once my logjam of deadlines is out the way. In the mean time, happy holidays and have a good start to 2011

Diamond Cascade and the Annoying Inter-Dimensional Interlude

Posted in DC

Deep in the gnomish tunnels, joyful from his victory over the forces of darkness from under the mountains, Diamond Cascade dreamed of a future filled with peace and glory. Of dragons and princes and a realm at peace with itself…

Sort of. There was this dragon. It was white and tediously repetitive and kept going on about how it was hungry and some bloke called Kemir that it might or might not want to eat. An indecisive dragon. I bet there’s not many people who dream about one of them.

The night after, there was this annoying smarmy bloke who reckoned he was a prince or an emperor or something. J-something. Prince J-Hall or Prince Jimbo, I dunno. Don’t remember. Tedious and full of himself, wittering on about some sort of Gummy award. I told him to piss off. Mostly I wanted to smack him.

Then there was this fat old bloke with hardly any hair who reckoned he was some sort of god-of-the-gods. Reckoned he was bloke who’d sent the dragon and Prince Jimbo with some sort of message I was supposed to pay attention to. Something about this Daily Gummy award again. Reckoned I was a figment of his own imagination, so I bloody well ought to do whatever he said. Being how I was dreaming, I reckoned that actually he was a figment of my imagination and I told him to piss off too. Persistent bugger. Came back night after night. Was getting to the point where I was casting about for an exorcism spell, but eventually it stopped.

Now the next night, that was a different matter. Must have been a different gnome on mess-with-Vale’s-dreams duty. A seriously fit bird all dressed in shimmering wafty clothes that had a way of flashing all sorts of bits of skin. Wolfgirl, The Gnome, that bargirl from Neverrest whose name I’ve already forgotten, they could all learn a thing or two. Actually a lot. And God-dudes, if you have a message you want to sent, forget the fiery angels and wrathful demon shit. This is the way to do it. A hot sex-kitten gets your prophet’s attention way better.

Or maybe not. I don’t know that I was paying quite as much attention to the words as maybe I should. Kind of distracted. Anyway, apparently I have a message for the world from the gods themselves. I think it’s this:

Vote Adam Ant eying Alice for the Daily Gummy Morningstar Award. The gods command you.

I was kind of hoping after that this Zephyr chick would be back on a regular basis, possibly with some friends. I mean come on, gods, I delivered the message right? Right? She comes back right enough, all righteous wrath and flips me a finger and tells me I’m a dick.

Awards Again and More Reviews (11/5/2010)

Posted in News

With King of the Crags out, I’ve not been paying much attention to The Adamantine Palace, but I suppose I should be, what with it being on the Gemmell Award shortlist for best debut of 2009. I’ve seen comments ranging from ‘going to get my vote’ to ’shouldn’t even have been nominated in the first place,’ and I don’t think I really mind either way. Reading so many different reviews for one single book, ranging from what’s in SFX to what’s on Amazon or posted up at Goodreads, I appreaciate more than ever how everyone has their own opinions and how different they can be. So if you’re one of those who liked The Adamantine Palace, please vote for it at the Gemmell Award website. If you’re not, please go and vote anyway. It’s like with the government – no point about bitching about who wins if you don’t vote.

While we’re at it, here’s a rather nice review from over at SF Crows Nest.

“I like it when you get a book that you find yourself completely immersed in. You find yourself almost besotted. You open it up, read the first chapter and bang, real life is boring, irrelevant and petty. This is the world now and be it filled with good or evil, it’s a bloody improvement on hearing about the Iraq war, footballers sex lives and the constant unending threat of annihilation through global warming.

That’s how I felt when I opened up The Adamantine Palace.”

Good, that’s what was suppoed to happen. Exactly that. Plot plot plot and never mind the characters… oh, wait.

“The Adamantine Palace’ is a no holds barred look into how awful characters can be. They are evil. They are sordid. They are completely self-centred. All of them. That’s what makes this book.”

“With a marvellous sweeping prose, a twisting plot and a lead character that is both venomous and awesome, this novel screams out for attention it rightly deserves. It’s a novel that clearly acknowledges its debt to the dragon sub-genre but is so strongly plotted through its characterisation that it pushes itself up into the realms of high political fantasy to threaten the likes of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.”

Now some people have read The Adamantine Palace and hated it, I guess. Maybe for exactly the reasons this reviewer loved it so much. But it’s still a real kick to read a review like this and know that there’s someone else who read my words and got out of it exactly what I was trying to put into it.

It’s not all roses though…

“a quick, fun political thriller on the same level as a Hollywood blockbuster or modern video game that uses dragons cleverly enough to feel somewhat original. The chapters are short, the pace fast, and the page-count moderate for epic fantasy. But ultimately, it remains unremarkable, in spite of my attempts at the opposite.” from Neth Space


“If Christopher Paolini decided to go on a meth-fueled writing bender he probably still wouldn’t come close to writing his dragons so devilishly.”

Oh, wait, not that bit… this bit

“…short, tight chapters that push the story along in a Thriller type fashion. However, the pushing is at a sacrifice to the characters and the world-building.” from the Mad Hatter

Ah well. I bet the first reviewer will now be slightly disappointed by King of the Crags, while the others will praise its deeper world-building and characterisation.

The Order of the Scales is now with my first reader. I think I can promise a return to the furious pace of the first book, at least in the second half.  Otherwise I’m currently rewriting The Warlock’s Shadow and contemplating what comes next… about which I shall say a little more next week.

Easter Shenanigans and Shortlists (7/4/2010)

Posted in News

Eastercon was a blast, as Eastercons are wont to be. First highlight the Swordplay for Writers panel, from which I took copious notes which would have been directly relevant to the sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice had I not promptly lost them (if anyone who reads this was there, Steve Kilbane gave out his contact address… pretty please?). Second highlight was the JET panel, simply because it told you all you need to know about how to describe credible fusion containment. Last and best highlight was the company. This could be a very long post if I went on about everyone who was there, but star performer award for all-round good company goes to Gollancz author Gavin Smith, whose debut, Veteran, comes out later this year. I’ve read the first chapter, I liked it very much (reminded me of neuromancer, only in Scotland, so more dirty) and I’ll be reading a lot more just as soon as I get my signed ARC back from wherever it ended up…

Other Eastery things: There’s a new issue of SFX out, and might it have the first review of King of the Crags in it? Yes, it might…

When it landed last year amidst considerable fuss, it was hard not to be a little disappointed with Stephen Deas’s debut, The Adamantine Palace.  Here was a novel that promised a tougher, new fantasy style that take on the old fantasy’s stock creatures, dragons.  It largely delivered, but along the way some of the world-building and characterisation were a little wobbly.

This sequel marks a step change.  As sharp as anything by George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie this is a fast moving, confident offering from a writer who’s clearly found his rhythm and pace and who doesn’t mess about.   Crags picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off.  By way of a darkly humorous reminder that fire-breathing lizards are dangerous, we’re straight into the the action.  Frankly, you expect the intrigue and hints of revolution in the offing that Deas serves up, but more impressive is the way he re-engineers familiar fantasy elements.  The neo-religious zeal of his red riders for example has clear parallels with our dangerous world.  Prince Jehal the chief villain has evolved from a black hat to a altogether more nuanced character.  Quite why he does what he does may even be a mystery to Jehal at times you suspect, which makes him gloriously unpredictable.  And then there is the white dragon that drives so much of the plot, a creature that has recovered from a chemical castration that keeps its brethren cowed.  Whenever snow – which as names go is like calling a tiger Tiddles – is around, there is a vivid sense of an altogether alien presence.  While the wider world that forms the backdrop here could still be better realised, it appears the new fantasy has another new star.

Hard, really, to find anything to complain about there. If you happen to read the SFX review column, you’ll notice another Gollancz offering that happens to be due out on the same day as King of the Crags: Tome of the Undergates. Tome got itself a pretty good SFX review too, and then someone who might have been me had this to say about it…

“Wildly descriptive slaughter-fest fantasy with a surprising pathos. Monstrous, murderous, psychotic, deranged, possessed and insane – the only question is what our heroes hate more: The demons they’re fighting, each other or themselves. Sam Sykes has invented a whole new genre – Call Of Duty: Demon Warfare.”

Did I like it? Yes. Grew on me after I’d finished, which is always a good sign. You can see the X-Box version as you read (and to me that’s a good thing), and while I have some reservations here and there, I think (I hope) this could be going somewhere special. A fine companion to Crags, they come out on the same day, and if you like surreal, go you can follow @SamSykesSwears on twitter too.

And one other little thing… (of which more later)

TAP - Gemmell

They Live! (24/3/2010)

Posted in News

Gemmel awards last reminder: You vote for the Morning Star award here, the Legend award here and the Ravenheart (cover art) award here. Inside information is that the Ravenheart award in particular needs your love, and given the passion of debate about cover art I’ve seen here and there over the last months, that’s a bit of a surprise. Vote, if you haven’t, and if you have, make ten other people do it. And then make each of them make ten more people vote. Build your own block-voting pyramid scheme! Anything, as long as it’s not apathy. Apathy would be bad. This round of voting is just for the shortlists, after all. A month from now, I shall be bothering you all about this again.

Today’s news is that the final printed copies of King of the Crags have arrived, and very fine they look too:

Shiny shiny, shiny books of dragons...

Shiny shiny, shiny books of dragons...

Nice sample on the back of the hardcover, too: He’d tried to hide deep amid the darkness, beneath layer upon layer of leaf-shadow and branches, but they always found him. He’d tried to run, but the fire always followed him and the forest turned to flames and ash behind him. He’d tried the freezing waters of the river and the dragons had simply boiled it dry… (from chapter one).

On Order of the Scales, I spent the last few days rearranging the chapters in the first third until my eyes bled, trying to get the pacing right. But that’s done, and once I can see again, I’ll be about halfway through by the end of the week. I’m very close to a draft that’s ready to submit with this one.

Oh, and at the Gollancz quiz night last night, I think I got at least one question right, and we all left hot with the buzz about the latest offering from Adam Roberts, who largely stole the show with his plug for Yellow Blue Tibia III, Yellowest, bluest, most-tibia-like-thing. Or something like that. Am already looking forward to any news on part IV, Yellow Blue Tibia with A Vengeance.

I may also finally be living my childhood dreams. Or I may not. For now, this is as uncertain as Adam’s aliens.