Tuesday 9 November 2021

Time and Space


My new book, Hell's Gate, is out. It marks my return to Space fiction since Shakespeare's Requiem. It's very different. In a way, it needs to be, considering Shakespeare's Requiem's relative lack of popularity. That was my first novel, and I've written about its problems recently on this blog, so I won't rehash the details, but Hell's Gate is a more traditional space opera with a much wider scope.

Space opera or military sci-fi?

I struggle to tell the difference, sometimes. Certainly, Hell's Gate is about a singular battle on a distant world, and aficionados of history will detect the references to a certain battle in our own history that I won't give away. In fact, I was going to reference another battle, further back in ancient history, but that was lost in the edits. But it's certainly a military story, and all the key characters bar one are military personnel in the midst of doing their duty.

But there's a wider sweep that will travel through the stars in the rest of the series, and an obvious subplot of genetic enhancement that frames the story. It's also the tale of particular individuals; their loves, lives and tragedies. And science, politics and ideals. There will be new worlds for readers to discover. And more battles to fight.

Call it Military Space Opera. Or Space Military Fi. I don't mind. In the end, as with all my stories, it's about people. It's the only thing I really care about.

Space Fiction. It's fiction set in space. It's about the characters.

Oh, but Science Fiction is a genre of ideas.

No, it's not. It's a genre that rips off ideas, and there's nothing wrong with that, but when it's packaged as being somehow original and more important than the idea's source, then it just becomes pompous and deluded. And it attracts the pompous and deluded. Some people like to grab hold of something to make themselves feel more important. They call themselves enlightened. Psychologists call that insecurity.

But I'm insecure too. The thing I'm most insecure about is my writing speed. I write slow. My competitors fellow Indie writers seem able to crank out a novel every month. The successful ones, at any rate. Their success makes them more visible, obviously. The ones that write like me are probably also invisible to me, as I am to them. In the Indie publishing world, speed equals success. Not always, but mostly. In this new age of social media, it's about catching attention (a difficult thing in itself) and then holding attention. I imagine that if the average Instagramer stopped posting for a few days, weeks or months, their readership would lose interest and they would slide down the algorithms until they no longer feature near the top of people's feed, thus rendering them invisible. Less likes and shares makes them more invisible still, and so it goes. Indie publishing is the same. Without a publisher to promote us, a book store to feature us or reviewers in mainstream media to recommend us, the Indie writing world adapted by adopting the social media model. It was the only one available. The sheer number of writers out there makes it difficult for a single book to get noticed by a casual browser, or even a more determined browser sometimes. So tactics are required. I'm not complaining. It's just something I've had to learn about the mass digital age. We're working in a crowd. It's natural.

It's not a tactic I can use. I tried, once. There's numerous posts and videos out there about how to write quickly: Outlining, formulas, writing routines. The trouble was, when I attempted the same, trying to just let my fingers flow over the keyboard, injecting the first thing on my mind, the result was, well, formulaic and routine. Vanilla characters in a vanilla plot, walking and talking through a vanilla world. It was boring. Because it's hard to come up with something nuanced and thoughtful when you're typing as fast as you can. Especially if you're planning to publish it the moment it's finished, rather than going back and rewriting it. Write several books like that, and they'll essentially be copies of the previous book and formula with the names changed.

Maybe I'm just not a genius. Because of that, the next book in The Gene War series won't be published until next year, so if you're new to my writing and you're hoping to see the next book out by Christmas, then I'm sorry. There's a lot of ideas to unpack from Hell's Gate - and so many directions for the new series to take - that I have a lot to think about. I think a lot while I'm writing, which is why I'm slow. I very much explore the story while I'm still in it, and I'm not above going back and rewriting whole sections if I've had a better idea later on.

And this new series isn't planned. It's as much an exploration for me as it will be for you. I don't know quite where it will go. That doesn't mean that it will be a bunch of random shit that doesn't really fit together when you get to the end. I'm too professional for that, and I've learned a lot about the craft of writing since I started all those years ago. I mean, the Survival EMP series that I did - my one successful series - wasn't planned at all. Neither the series, nor the individual books, were outlined in advance. All I had were a few basic ideas and the odd scene. But what I produced was a tight narrative with the perfect ending - if I say so myself. So I don't write wild, disjointed crap. I like it to be worth everyone's time, including my own.

So it will be with The Gene War. Average lead time for one of my books, if I'm honest, will be about eight months. Some people don't want to wait that long. That's okay. But that's my speed. It just takes me time to come up with new ideas (or rip them off). But I promise you that this series will cover a dynamic, far-reaching and varied story. It will be - what's the word? - Epic. And if you read Hell's Gate, you may catch a glimpse of the wealth to come.

Just don't expect the next one in a month. Patience.

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