2014 saw the publication of two long format Laundry Files stories—the novella "Equoid" and the novel "The Rhesus Chart", the fifth book in the series. I wrote them at different times and for different reasons, but they share a common theme. (It was also around this time that I got the memo from editorial at Ace—all series of three or more books must have a series title—and was handed "The Laundry Files"by default.)

So let me tackle "Equoid" first. "Equoid" has an origin story all of its own, which I've described at length (and I don't have the energy to repeat myself). What I didn't explain in that essay was why I went with unicorns.

hardback book

Yes, I've got a new book coming out real soon now: "The Annihilation Score" (US kindle edition) (UK kindle edition) comes out on July 2nd in the UK and July 7th in the USA (yes, different publishers release books on different dates: who knew?).

Amazon and the big bookstore chains won't sell you a copy ahead of schedule, but if you happen to be in Edinburgh on Wednesday July 1st I'm going to be reading from (and signing copies of) "The Annihilation Score" at Blackwell's Bookshop on South Bridge at 6:30pm. The event is ticketed but free; tickets available from Blackwell's, more event information here.

If you really, truly can't wait to get a taste of the book, Tor.com will be running an extract on June 30th (and I'll be mirroring it here)!

In addition, I'm going to be doing an AmA—Ask Me Anything—on Reddit's /r/Books subreddit on Wednesday July 8th at 2:30pm ET (7:30pm here in the UK), and (needless to say) talking a lot about the Laundry Files and "The Annihilation Score" for a couple of weeks. Including, if I remember, writing the Crib Notes to "The Rhesus Chart" (now that it's out in paperback) and trying not to give too much away about the overall trajectory of the series (hint: book 7 is mostly written, and I know where book 8 and 9 go in considerable detail—yes there's a series story arc).

What if you want your very own signed hardcover book and can't make it to Edinburgh on July 1st?

Well, Blackwell's will have signed stock to hand after that session, and are happy to sell via mail order: their contact details are here. In addition, Transreal Fiction, Edinburgh's specialist SF/F bookshop, will also have stock and are happy to ship signed copies of the Annihilation Score anywhere on the planet: ordering details here.

Finally, I'm going to be in the United States for Sasquan, the 2015 worldcon, so by late August there are likely to be signed copies available in Seattle and Spokane, if not further afield—and I hope to be able to announce a reading, signing, or other meet-ups in Seattle and Spokane nearer the time.

I grew up reading comics; but unless you're British and of a certain age, they almost certainly weren't the comics you grew up reading.

I'm British, ~50 years old. The weekly printed-on-crap-newsprint kids' comics market was dominated by D. C. Thompson & Co., rigidly gender-segregated, and on the boys' side of the counter contained plenty of short strips heavy on two-fisted derring-do and schoolboy humour, but not so much on superheroes: comics like The Beano and The Hotspur set the tone. For the more militarily-minded there were Commando comics. And, like a bolt from the blue, 2000 AD arrived in 1977, when I was twelve and just about growing out of the whole comics thing; that probably kept me hooked for an extra year, and I have fond memories of the early tales of Judge Dredd. But then I discovered D&D and that was that.

It's a truisim in fiction publishing (as well as movies) that nobody knows anything about what the next big thing will be. The best we can get is some vague entrail-reading on the part of editors, who see far more hopeful monsters cross the transom (or arrive in their submissions email queue) than you or I can ever expect, and who therefore may have a slightly tighter grasp on the zeitgeist than those of us who form our judgements on the basis of new arrivals in the bookshops—arrivals which were commissioned or bought 2-3 years ago.

But what if we could make testable predictions about trends?

(Hugh Hancock here again. Charlie's still beating the squamous and eldrich tentacles into malleable literary form, so I'm filling in for a few days. He'll be back soon.)

It's a weird time right now.

That's true in general. It's fascinating watching sci-fi authors like Charlie sprinting increasingly fast to keep ahead of the Bear Of Social And Technological Change. But it's specifically true right now for storytellers of all stripes, from comics artists (which category, somewhat to my surprise after two decades of movie-making, now includes me), to writers, to games designers, to filmmakers (also still including me).

Over the last year or so I've been taking a step back from my previous single-minded pursuit of performance capture and Machinima to get a broader understanding of the opportunities for anyone who wants to tell stories right now. Whilst Machinima has been pretty good to me, letting me travel all over the world, giving me the opportunity to pretend to be a Muppet on live CNN, and letting me tell stories ranging in scale from feature films to experimental arthouse shorts, it became clear to me that the landscape was changing pretty fast and I was probably missing out on all sorts of interesting things. So over the last year, I've experimented with comics, game development, prose fiction, a little bit of app development, virtual reality and filmmaking in many and various flavours.

And it's no exaggeration to say that the world of a lot of these artforms has been upended -- or in some cases entirely created -- in the last decade or so. And the next decade's going to make the last one look comparatively stable.

So what media are going to rise? Which are going to fall? Is VR going to look awesome then fail to deliver again?

I've got no certainties, but I do have some hunches and a lot more information than I had a year ago.

Feature Films

Right now, the world of indie feature films is fucked up.

(Hi - Hugh Hancock here. Charlie is still grappling with a Laundry Files novel, so I'm helping fill in this week. He'll be back later.)

Just why is Cthulhu so popular?

Sure, H.P. Lovecraft's horrifying vision of an uncaring universe is pretty good stuff. Sure, he was one of the first writers to tie all his creations into a single semi-coherent universe. Sure, he was drawing on and remixing ideas from older writers too, such as Robert Chambers' "King In Yellow".

But there are a lot of great fictional universes out there -- even great horror universes. What is it that makes writers -- including both Our Gracious Host, Charlie, and myself -- gravitate so hard to the big squid?

This is something that I've been thinking a lot about recently, because almost all my artistic output at present has a strong Cthulhu flavour. Notably, even the title of my just-released comic is taken from the Mythos and its forebears: Carcosa, the City By The Lake in which the King In Yellow waits.

So why does the Mythos have such draw? Is it because the Mythos is classic?

Absolutely not. It's because, comparatively speaking, it's modern.

The Cthulhu Mythos is almost 100 years old. And it's the most modern part of our mythology that we're allowed to access.

A product testimonial of sorts:

I've now had my new retina Macbook for about two weeks, and completed my first multi-day trip from home with it. Verdict: it's not perfect but it's a keeper. On the other hand, it raises some disturbing questions about the future ...

I get asked this question a lot, so I'm going to answer it once, definitively, here on the blog: where are the UK audiobooks?

(More specifically: "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue" were released as audiobooks in 2013. Why aren't any of my other novels available as audiobooks outside North America?)

I'm going to tackle this in two stages: first with a bit of background, then with an FAQ.

My Dark Age adventure, Shieldwall: Barbarians! is Young Adult, meaning, in this case, Sharpe or Conan but without the shagging, and with slightly more moral compass - really you can read it as being "in the tradition of" Harold Lamb and the Pulpmeisters of Yore and ignore the YA tag. When I wrote it, I had in my head "Robert E Howard does Rosemary Sutcliff (but not that way (though they would have made a lovely couple))".

It's also an old-school young officer story, albeit with a barbarian prince as the protagonist, and it's set in the Dark Ages during Attila's invasion of Europe. 

All this seemed like a good idea at the time.

So I have been defending Traditional Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval Fantasy (Traditional Fantasy for short), and in the process growing a thicker skin.

We've done "Piss off, I enjoy this stuff" and why I think it needs saying. The latter  part of that - OMG the Bad People are Beating on the Pixy Folk -- was perhaps a little controversial. However, it's not everyday one gets compared not just to the "puppies"* but also to the "gators"**!

*Black Gate Magazine, where I blog, of course turned down a puppy nomination. It shouldn't take much empathy to imagine how that felt, and how easy it would have been for us to collectively shrug and plaster our stuff with "Hugo Nominated" - this isn't just about getting a pretty badge, it's about how our hard-won careers shape out.

** As for the "gators" comparison; I'd put in some time meditating on my male self-entitlement except I'm too busy keeping house for my more dynamic wife, facilitating my daughter's interest in science and astronomy, and bringing up my son to, among other things, treat people as people rather than "other" them because they have a different perspective.

My next post, "The walls are high, but the sandbox is lovely", being more about literature, led to an interesting discussion with some bemoaning of the way that Traditional Fantasy still seems so dominant (is it dominant?)

Elderly Cynic made a very perceptive comment:

Actually, the modern stories are NOT built on European history, so
much as the tradition of romantic fables ('Arthurian'), and that is
very much a Western European phenomenon.

Charlie said I would talk about self publishing. He also mentioned something about "shameless plugging". So, let me also tell you about writing a metric tonne of franchise fiction, my really very rapid writing process, and why I self published my book Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. I promise it won't be all sales pitch, except for the very last paragraph.

This time last year, I was recovering from having written four short (40K words; about the length of an old 1970s Lin Carter paperback ) franchise tie-in novels at a rate of roughly one every four months. Since each novel had to fit the setting, one of those months went on research.

These days, franchise novels, that is novels "tying in" to an existing story world, typically belonging to a video game, aren't disposable trash (if they ever were).

They're part of both the franchise's brand and that of the author, which is another way of saying that reputations ride on their quality. Not just reputations; nobody sane becomes a writer or an editor unless they like getting books right - there's no point in being (comparatively) skint and if you're not going to have fun!

Many, many, good writers mix franchise with original fiction. Two examples you might have missed are: Paul S Kemp, Star Wars fablemeister who also writes the exquisite Egil & Nix books  (which I will get to in part 3 of my Defence posts); and Howard Andrew Jones who writes Pathfinder adventures, but is responsible for the amazing Desert of Souls, basically Arabian Nights fan fiction and a good example of non-western Fantasy.

There are good reasons for writing for hire.

Over on Black Gate Magazine, I've just reviewed some Osprey "Dark" and "Adventures" books - fictional military history texts from a publisher that usually deals in facts. Two are squarely Traditional Fantasy; one about the mythical wars of Atlantis, the other about Orc warfare , complete with all the tropes: goblins, dwarves, trolls, dark lords and minions.... it could almost be a guide to one aspect of the Oglaf mileu...

And did I mention Oglaf (really very NSFW)? That um... raunchy... webcomic is a romp through a Dungeons and Dragons-esqu world, and derives its humour not from sending up the genre, but from the situations it creates.

Then there's Dungeons and Dragons itself, and a zillion tabletop and screen games that scratch the same itch. Nobody goes, "OMG. 'Mage' Knight. How clichéd!" They're too busy playing. Nor, for that matter, did anybody stop to complain when Terry Pratchett pretty much segued from taking the piss out of what I've been calling Traditional Fantasy, to using it as his sandbox.

Because Traditional Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval Fantasy is a great sandbox. Let me put on my (very minor compared to our godlike host) writer hat... (Clunk! Yes, it is a helmet)... there. OK, here's how I see it...

Charlie blindsided me by promising I'd talk about German Longsword. That's like saying, "He'll talk about his Blues band." 

It's just too big a topic!

So let me turn the tables and tell you about how swords led to me meeting Charlie, and how both Charlie and swords led to me becoming a professional author. The story is not what you'd think.

Back when the world was young, a large Goth (long hair and black clothes, rather than long hair, pointy helmet and lamellar as per Shieldwall: Barbarians!) threw me through a pile of chairs.

As he helped me up, I realised he'd cured the nagging shoulder pain I'd been suffering.

That miracle cure was the least of the many good things that stemmed from that moment. (Though if we'd turned it into an alternative therapy, perhaps we'd both be rich! Stand here madam. Try to relax while Igor lovingly hurls you through our stack of handcrafted homeopathic crystal chairs arranged on a bed of natural herbs according to a traditional feng shui pattern...)

My name is M Harold Page and I recently sold a short story with a dragon in it.

As I wrote the story, I could hear the voices of snarky snobbery in the back of my head:

"Oh look, LOL, you could reduce all Fantasy maps to a blotchy version of Europe but swap in Orks for Mongols.... OMG another book about E'lves and D'warves... (chortle) Historical fiction for authors too lazy to do research."

And:

"Sigh. Isn't it time to explore other cultures?"

Yes it's pretty easy to snark at -- call it - Traditional Fantasy, and also to give it a political kicking critique. It is, after all, a genre in which everything is possible, and yet where it usually delivers European-style secondary worlds and archetypes.

I think the snarks and critiques rather miss the point. However that's for a different blog post. Instead let's consider the short defence of Traditional Fantasy, which is the starkly simple...

Hi! I'm about to head off to France for a weekend at Imaginales, a French SF/F convention. While I'm gone, you can expect the usual guest blogging to take place.

To start things off, I'd like to introduce M Harold Page, Scottish author and amateur swordsman. He blogs regularly at the Hugo-puppyinated heroic fiction site Black Gate Magazine, and this weekend he's here to shamelessly plug "Shieldwall: Barbarians!", his Dark Age adventure yarn which you can buy from Amazon. He's also going to be talking about some other topics, including self-publishing and (I hope) German mediaeval martial arts.

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