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The 4th International Science Fiction Conference, Chengdu, China, November 2017

The 4th International Science Fiction Conference, Chengdu, China, November 2017

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I’ve been cataloguing some of my Paddington-the-Bear adventures in 2017. This year was the first time I went to New York (see A Babe in the Woods: Derek’s Literary Adventures, and Questing in New York! NYCC 2017). I had some other secret adventures this fall that I haven’t blogged about, but recently I had a bigger adventure!

For the first time ever, I was invited to a literary conference to be an Author Guest of Honor. It was the 4th International Science Fiction Conference in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. It was sponsored by SFWorld, a Chinese magazine and book publisher, with media and tech giant Tencent as one of the sponsors. I was one of about a dozen foreign authors and editors in attendance. Here’s a shot of some of the billboards outside the event.

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Black Gate Interviews Egyptian Science Fiction Author Mohammad Rabie

Black Gate Interviews Egyptian Science Fiction Author Mohammad Rabie

51JYgQ68kPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One pleasant stop on my recent trip to Cairo was the American University’s bookshop near Tahrir Square. It’s a treasure trove of books on Egyptology and Egyptian fiction in translation. Among the titles I picked up was the dystopian novel Otared by Mohammad Rabie.

This novel, originally published in Arabic in 2014 and published in English in 2016 by Hoopoe, the fiction imprint of the American University of Cairo, is a grim dystopian tale of Cairo in 2025.

After several botched revolutions in which the people repeatedly fail to effect real social and political change, Egypt is invaded by a foreign power. The army crumples, most of the police collude with the occupiers, and the general public doesn’t seem to care. A small rebel group decides to take back their nation, and one of its agents is former police officer turned sniper, Otared. The rebels basically become terrorists, deciding the only way to get the people to rise up is to make life under the occupation intolerable, which means killing as many innocent civilians as possible.

The world Rabie paints reminds me very much of the insane landscape in Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things, with its violence, its cruelty, and its bizarre customs (in Otared almost everyone wears a mask) that begin to make sense once you learn more about the world. Throw in a nightmarish disease that affects only children, plus a national death wish, and you have a grim but compelling read. No science fiction novel has gut punched me this hard for a long, long time.

Mohammad Rabie is an emerging force in Egyptian letters. Born in 1978, he graduated from the Faculty of Engineering in 2002. His first novel, Amber Planet, was released in 2010 and won first prize in the Emerging Writers category of the Sawiris Cultural Award Competition in 2011. His second novel, Year of the Dragon, came out in 2012. Otared was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2016 (popularly referred to as the Arabic Booker). Curious to learn more, I sat down with Rabie (OK, I shot him an email) to speak with him about his writing.

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The First Blade Runner 2 Trailer is Out!

The First Blade Runner 2 Trailer is Out!

Blade Runner is my favorite science fiction movie and it’s probably in my Top 10 Movies of All Time as well. It’s scifi, hard boiled noir with great cinematography. I have the 4-disc Director’s Cut DVD set and a couple soundtrack CDs. I played the PC game through twice and I even have D.K. Jeter’s two not-so-great sequel novels (thank goodness they didn’t turn to those for the sequel!).

I am optimistic that Blade Runner 2049, the sequel out next year, over two decades after the original, will be a good movie. Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original Blade Runner script, co-wrote this one as well. And Harrison Ford is back as Rick Deckard. Now, I think that Ridley Scott played a pivotal role in the look and feel of Blade Runner. He is listed as an Executive Producer on the new film, but he is not directing. So, I’m a bit concerned.

In the new film, Ryan Gosling plays Agent K, a young blade runner who discovers a secret which could destroy society. So, he seeks out former blade runner Rick Deckard (Ford), who seems to have been missing for thirty years, for help. Visually, this has the Blade Runner feel. And I can’t stress enough how important that’s going to be. If watching this new film doesn’t take you back to the original, it’s going to be a failure.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: ‘Dirk Gently’ is Not ‘Timeless’

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: ‘Dirk Gently’ is Not ‘Timeless’

gently_circleI love Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, the novel by Douglas Adams. Which you know because you read my Black Gate post about it. And I liked the sequel, The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. And there were some good bits in the third novel, unfinished at Adams’ death.

And, I thought that the BBC miniseries starring Houdini & Doyle’s Stephen Magnon was worth watching. I own audio books of Adams reading Dirk Gently and the excellent BBC radio play of it. So, I’m a fan. I was leery after seeing the trailer for the new BBC miniseries starring Elijah Wood (not as Gently, however). It didn’t look like it was very true to the style of Adams’ books.

I’ve watched the first two episodes. Except for discussing BBC’s Sherlock post-season two, I’m usually pretty positive with my Black Gate posts here. If you are looking for more of that sunshine, skip the following and scroll on down to my review of the new show, Timeless.

With six of eight episodes yet to air, the new Dirk Gently is a festering pile of tripe. It bears almost no resemblance to Adams’ character, and even disregarding that, it’s a ridiculous mess of a show in its own right. Max Landis, who it appears wanted to imitate Quentin Tarentino while showing everyone how talented he is, all but completely ignores Adams’ work.

There is barely a shadow of the actual Dirk Gently in this series. Samuel Barnett’s character is totally clueless, almost completely helpless and neither clever nor funny. He just rolls along with no real insights or ability to influence events. That sound like Adams’ character? And, he’s not even the star, as the show is really about Gently’s reluctant assistant, Todd, played by Wood.

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The Future of Iraq, According to the Country’s Science Fiction Authors

The Future of Iraq, According to the Country’s Science Fiction Authors

1907297246With all the grim news coming out of Iraq, it’s easy to think the country has no future. That’s wrong, of course, because being one of the oldest countries in the world, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

But what will that future look like? To answer that question, UK publisher Comma Press has released Iraq +100, an anthology of Iraqi writers imagining the future of their nation. As the blurb says:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like?

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Poul Anderson’s “The Archetypal Holmes”

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Poul Anderson’s “The Archetypal Holmes”

Poul's wife Karen, also a sccifi author and Sherlockian, drew these for his essay.
Poul’s wife Karen, also a scifi author and Sherlockian, drew this for his essay.

As far as Sherlockians go, I have a rather large Joseph Campbell library. I’ve even written about Holmes and the Monomyth (“The Hero’s Thousand-and-First Face”). Through Campbell, I discovered Carl Jung’s The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. However, all attempts to read it were abandoned rather quickly. I found it tough going. I do have a decent handle on archetypes from Role Playing Games, though.

Anywhoo…The late Poul Anderson was one of the giants in the field of science fiction: he was racking up Hugo Awards when that meant something.  He was also a devotee of Sherlock Holmes and a member of The Baker Street Irregulars. For good measure, he was also a Solar Pona fan and a Praed Street Irregular. Anderson wrote some odd Holmes pastiches and some, insightful, erudite Sherlockiana about the great detective.

In September of 1968, The Baker Street Journal included “The Archetypical Holmes,” a fine essay by Anderson and the kind of excellent Sherlockiana that is sadly all too rare these days – made obsolete by pop-centric, culture-appeasing works. Take it away, Poul!

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Panic!

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Panic!

BG_AdamsDontPAnicTo those who ascribe to Dirk Gently’s belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of everything (the working premise that made him the holistic detective that he was), you might be able to tie together today’s rambling post. If you do, feel free to explain it to me. My Sherlockian approach failed miserably in the attempt. I got to the point where, once I had eliminated the impossible, whatever remained, however improbably, must be the truth. Except what remained was still impossible.

(I wrote about the Gently books here and the television miniseries here. Go ahead and read them. You know you want to.)

And since I’m talking about a mega-successful series, that has sold/rated well in almost every medium short of Mime, you don’t get a Spoiler Alert. If you’re not familiar with Adams’ works, I don’t know why you’re reading this post anyways. Go read/watch/play/listen to some incarnation of this stuff.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is my favorite Douglas Adams book (many folks would like me to explain how that could be!). But I first came to Adams’ just like everybody else: through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Note I use the unhyphenated spelling.

I wouldn’t tackle that controversy without downing at least two Pan Galactic Gargleblasters first. And since I would lose consciousness two swallows into the first one, we can put that issue to bed right now. And I don’t mean on one of the follopping mattresses from the swamps of Sqornshellous Zeta, either. There.

Now we can move along. Though if you want to delve deeper into the issue on your own, see Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion by Neil Gaiman – pages 50-51.

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Deities and Demigods of the Word Count: or, How to Write 500 Novels and Still not be Considered Prolific

Deities and Demigods of the Word Count: or, How to Write 500 Novels and Still not be Considered Prolific

Nice book, but where are the 800 others you lazy git?
Nice book, but where are the 800 others you lazy git?

Last week, M Harold Page posted an interesting article here on Black Gate about achieving a steady word count as a writer, giving some insights into his own practice. He said,

I manage 1,000 words a day at the start and an average of 3,000 words a day once I’m underway. Sprinting – 5,000 to 7,000 words a day; that’s for the last half.

Many newbie writers would screech in horror and say no one can write that fast, while most MFA snobs would turn up their noses and say it’s impossible to write anything of worth at that rate, that writing must be an agonizing process of constant revision and polishing. They’re both wrong, as Page’s own writing attests.

The fact is, however, Page’s speed is rather modest. Mine is about the same, so I’m not knocking him. I know how hard it is to keep up a good momentum while maintaining your responsibilities to family, not to mention the distractions of the Internet and local pub. I’m fortunate enough that writing is my day job, so at least I don’t have a separate career getting in the way of my productivity.

Page and I may both have a bunch of books to our name, but we are mere henchmen, mere spear carriers to the great Deities and Demigods of publishing — the truly prolific. Dean Wesley Smith, who has written well over 100 novels and about 500 short stories and only seems to be picking up speed, recently shared a link to an interesting blog post titled 17 Most Prolific Writers in History. I have a lot of quibbles with this list, as I’m sure you will too, but while it isn’t authoritative or entirely accurate, it’s certainly inspiring and daunting in equal measure.

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Here Come the Replicants! – Blade Runner 2 Moved Up

Here Come the Replicants! – Blade Runner 2 Moved Up

BladeRunnerThe long awaited sequel from Ridley Scott, starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright and Dave Bautista (yes, the former wrestler), was originally slated for January of 2018. That’s not exactly prime release time. Or a sign that the studio has confidence in the film. Instead, it’s been moved up to the weekend of October 6, 2017, which would put it in the Oscar discussion. If it is any good, of course.

Feelings about the sequel are certainly mixed. Though I think folks should remember that Blade Runner was not a hit upon release and had fared so poorly in test screenings that the film was recut before general distribution. However, it has grown to cult status. It’s one of my favorites and certainly a classic of scifi noir.

The script continues the story from the first film, which was an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Which is well worth a read.

K.W. Jeter wrote two official sequel novels, which I’m happy to say, have nothing to do with the film. The first was readable: the second was terrible.

If you enjoyed Blade Runner, there’s a superb book on the making of the film, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner.

I remain hopeful about this film. And Vangelis is 73 years old. Will he be doing the soundtrack? It was a big part of the original.

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SFFWorld Announces Kickstarter for Ecotones Ecological SF Anthology

SFFWorld Announces Kickstarter for Ecotones Ecological SF Anthology

ecotoneslrgThe folks over at SFFWorld are working on their latest in a series of themed “pro-am” anthologies. These anthologies bring together big names, rising stars, and relative unknowns around a common theme. This year’s book, Ecotones, is taking a speculative look at ecological issues with stories by Lauren Beukes, Tobias S. Buckell, and Ken Liu. It will come out in December 2015. Other authors include Matthew Hughes, Stephen Palmer, Daniel Ausema, Victor Espinosa, Andrew Leon Hudson (also the editor), Kurt Hunt, Christina Klarenbeek, Jonathan Laidlow, Igor Ljubuncic, P. J. Richards, and Rebecca Schwarz.

(Full disclosure: Contributor/editor Andrew Leon Hudson is a friend of mine here in Madrid. He’s also my most obnoxious beta reader, so he’s serious about clean prose.)

You can check the project’s teaser page to learn more about the stories, which appear to span the realm of speculative fiction from space opera to urban fantasy.

SFFWorld is trying to raise £1,000 to cover costs and pay the authors via a Kickstarter campaign. As inducements they’re offering the anthology, plus bundles including their three previous anthologies and other goodies. Rewards start at the £3 mark, which is cheap for a Kickstarter. While the authors have already been offered a nominal fee, the Kickstarter is pushing for additional  £2,500 and £5,000 goals in order to pay them semi-pro or pro rates.

The Kickstarter is on for the entire month of November.

Click here to help the Kickstarter. Check the anthology’s blog for more information and updates.


Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles, including his action series set in World War One, Trench Raiders. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.