Gollancz Festival 2015: The Apocalypse And Pointers

This year’s Gollancz Festival, held at Waterstones in Piccadilly, was a banter-filled event where writing tips were shared, apocalypses were pondered and electronic cigarettes were smoked.

The first panel of the day in Room One in London saw Gollancz authors Brandon Sanderson, Stephen Deas, Den Patrick, Ian McDonald and Sarah Pinborough pit their creations against one another.

WHO WINS?

Sanderson backed allomancers, saying that magic mixed with science attracts readers because “there’s not enough magic in our lives—except perhaps in quantum physics”. He lamented: “Everything’s been explained. The wonder’s been lost.”

Pinborough, whose The Death House is set during a post-zombie apocalypse, put aside her electronic cigarette and undeadly hangover to support the zombie, which, when considered next to horror stalwarts the vampire and werewolf, “is the one you don’t want to be”. But zombies “are great for showing so many fears”, she argued.

Patrick’s Orfano, Italian Renaissance orphans with superpowers, are pitted against the established houses in Italy in The Boy With The Porcelain Blade. These pubescent mutants have to decide “whether they want to become part of an established system”. Of course, they rebel.

Finally, McDonald, the only author whose latest work, Luna, is pure science fiction, took the higher ground, claiming that sci-fi characters are better dressed and “none of my rivals have any fashion sense whatsoever”. He added that his novel offers “lots of sex” and is set in a cocktail culture on the moon, where the creation of wine and beer would not be efficient uses of the landscape. ‘That’s science’ was the main thrust of his argument.

The second panel of the day featured debut Gollancz authors Antonia Honeywell, Alex Lamb, Al Roberston, Mark Stay, Tom Toner and Catriona Ward, who have all released their first novels this year.

WRITERS GOTTA GET IT RIGHT

They had lots of advice for aspiring writers, including Robot Overlords author Stay’s claim that a writer needs to be told they can write. “That external validation is all a writer needs,” he said. Rawblood author Ward added that friends and family are equally important to a writer: “You need a sounding board, because writers spend all day talking to imaginary people.”

During the third panel of the day, which featured Ben Aaronovitch, Aliette De Bodard, Suzanne McLeod, Bradley Beulieu and Stephen Hunt, attendees heard from Beulieu that new writers must beware explaining their characters and worlds all at once. “Readers want to feel like they have lived and felt it,” he explained.

APOCALYPSE IN A BIT

The fifth and most morbid panel of the day featured Joe Hill, Pat Cadigan, Edward Cox, Paul McAuley and Jon Wallace, who discussed the potential apocalypses that could strike humanity down in the future.

Explaining why the apocalypse is such a popular subject for sci-fi TV, film and literature, Hill said: “The apocalypse wakes us up to our own mortality.”

Hill said he thought the apocalypse had happened when One Direction released a movie. But putting his serious face on, he said: “We’re doing everything we can to get there as quickly as possible.”

Cadigan, who grew up during the Cold War and the threat of atomic war, agreed, explaining that natural disasters and wars throughout the world will feel pretty apocalyptic to the people living through them. Using a quote to illustrate the point, she said: “There’s an apocalypse now, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

The mood became even darker when McAuley pointed out that Earth will be destroyed in about five billion years when the Sun turns into a Red Giant. Hill, to his credit, said that humanity has done well in the past when facing a terrible threat. He said: “We’ve been awfully cunning in fixing our problems. Our story isn’t written yet.”

NOVEL PREVIEWS

The Gollancz Festival goodie bag contained previews to upcoming novels from Hill and Gollancz space opera authors Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds.

Their follow up to Arthur C Clarke’s The Medusa Chronicles, due to be released in February 2016, focuses on the exploits of Commander Howard Falcon, who has been augmented with machines after a horrible accident.

The preview of their follow up, set in the twenty-second century, sees Falcon attend a cruise ship party at the invitation of the World President. Falcon is horribly uncomfortable with what he has become, and jealous of younger astronauts who are stealing his thunder.

But Baxter and Reynolds have peppered the preview of the novel’s first six chapters with plenty of plot points that will undoubtedly be explored. Falcon is planning another mission to Jupiter and a nurse who helped to turn him into a cyborg offers him a neural jack that will allow him to access virtual realities and become human again.

Think of this as a hero’s story. The hero has his faults, but he will have plenty of opportunities to be heroic in The Medusa Chronicles and so redeem and come to terms with himself. Just ask the superchimps.

Hill’s The Fireman is about a disease that causes spontaneous human combustion and pushes humanity to its brink. Hill’s ability to douse human situations like the school day and engulf them in horror is on show in the preview’s opening four chapters. School nurse Harper Grayson is a smart choice for protagonist, because she’s horribly unprepared as a man wanders into the playground and bursts into flame.

The Fireman looks like a class act of an apocalyptic novel that takes an urban legend and sparks it anew.

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