Many thanks to those who came to hear my talk last week on a few past members of The Savile Club in London, members who just happen to be among the most famous authors of science fiction, fantasy and horror literature.
The Savile Club, which was founded in 1868, quickly established itself as a meeting place and convivial watering hole for authors, artists, musicians, and scientists in the Victorian world and it is still going strong as it approaches its 150th anniversary. With the help of my editor at Rebellion Publishing, the talented and knowledgeable Jonathan Oliver, I had the pleasure of addressing a cross-section of the current membership last week in the ballroom where I attempted to put “speculative fiction” into perspective. My message: it’s not all about spaceships, ray guns, and bogeymen. Genre fiction actually often puts contemporary society and its concerns into sharper focus by injecting elements of the fantastic. In other words, the future is now.
The Savile boasted writers from every subject, but in what is now termed speculative fiction the club was particularly fortunate. Members here included HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, H Rider-Haggard, MR James, Rudyard Kipling (yes, he did write some SF and fantasy), and Algernon Blackwood.
Can a club take credit for their genius? No, but as a meeting place it had a definite role to play as a point for the free exchange of ideas and conversation. One member, a newspaper editor who had one leg and a fondness for rum, once insulted Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson turned him into Long John Silver. And in a case of what you might call “cross-fertilization”, Algernon Blackwood wrote a story that was adapted for a West End musical that Savile member Sir Edward Elgar wrote the music for. A few decades later, in 1936, HG Wells’s “The Shape of Things to Come” was turned into a film with a score by his fellow Savilian, Sir Arthur Bliss and starring yet another Savilian, Sir Ralph Richardson. Ah, serendipity indeed.
photo: Markus Lind
“Mancunicon”, otherwise known as Eastercon, is the great annual conference of the British Science Fiction Association. And beginning this 16th of April it will be the 67th such gathering. And as the organizers say, it wouldn’t be Easter without Eastercon. The convention, which you’ve no doubt guessed will be held in Manchester, has four outstanding Guests of Honour: Aliette de Bodard, David L. Clements, Ian McDonald, and Sarah Pinborough. I’ve been asked to appear on a panel this year to talk about the changing world of horror fiction which to those of you not overly familiar with my work might be cause for a bit of head scratching. Historical fiction and horror?
But if my first novel, Gideon’s Angel, doesn’t evoke a bit of that old House of Hammer spirit, I’ll eat my cavalier hat and the ostrich plume too. I’m looking forward to talking about how the horror genre has morphed into so many others, following a similar path to fantasy in general– a continual re-invention of the familiar with the new– as genre fiction continues to explore virgin territory while also cultivating well-trodden paths.
British Fantasy Con is almost upon us (23-25 October) and the organizers have just released this year’s programme which looks exciting, jam-packed, and wonderfully eclectic with a cast of thousands (well nearly). This year we’re in Nottingham and I’ll be participating on a panel session looking at crafting the perfect fight scene and hopefully later that weekend also reading from my forthcoming novel, The Guns of Ivrea, launching next February. Here’s the skinny:
Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
Whether melee, missile or magic, combat scenes can make for some of the most compelling in genre fiction or film. But what are the essentials for creating telling your story through action?
- the mechanics of fighting: how much do you need to know?
- from one vs. one to massive scale battles
- making sense of mayhem: choreography, pacing, tension, tone & sensory overload
- tips for showing character through action
- weapons of mass destruction: when is too powerful, too much?
There’s only one way to settle it…FIIIIIGHT!!!
Moderator: James Barclay
Panelists: Clifford Beal, Juliet E. McKenna, Brandon Sanderson, Jo Thomas, Danie Ware
I’ll be in some great company and though I believe most of us are leaving our swords at home this time, should still be informative and fun if slightly less physical than Fantasy Con 2014.
David Langford’s column in the February issue of SFX magazine was, as always, entertaining reading. But this one got me rather ticked off. Not because I disagreed with him but because it was about the all too frequent mindless blather of SF-hating journalists and commentators. Langford ran through nearly a dozen examples of what I suppose you could call speculative-fiction bigotry by ostensibly educated people who really ought to know better than to consign every example of a particular genre to the dustbin.
Some of the more egregious samples he gives: AA Gill gassing on in his collected TV reviews that “…people who don’t like or understand literature read science fiction.” Or the presenter (and recent ballroom dance failure) Fern Britton announcing on a TV programme that “I hate sci-fi as it’s not real and all these people who are fans think it’s real and it’s some sort of religion to them.” Or the Weekly Standard writer who opined “Lots of its authors, and a slew of its readers, like to think that science fiction sails on the ocean of science, but mostly it just paddles in the shallows of literature.”
Langford’s response to that last comment really hits the nail on the head. He writes: “The objection is that it shamelessly wallows in the gutters of popularity.” And that is what really sticks in the throats of most indiscriminating critics of genre fiction. It’s for the masses. I gave some fightback myself along these line in a Goodreads post a few months back. The battle between literary fiction and genre fiction has raged for a long time. Needlessly really, as the two can coexist and indeed sometimes morph from one into another. Many of the books we consider “classics” now, whether written by Dickens, Dumas, Conan-Doyle, or Kipling, were the genre-fiction of their era. Other works that were once lauded in 1870 as truly literary masterpieces are now absolutely forgotten in the mists of time. I realise that popularity isn’t always the bellwether of worth and staying power—I don’t reckon Fifty Shades of Grey will be bobbing around the pool of popular literature in ten years’ time never mind fifty or 100. But the point is, that there is good genre fiction as well as bad just as there is literary fiction that soars and some that stinks. And, to put paid to AA Gill’s obnoxious viewpoint, I’ll be reading Stephen King, George RR Martin, or Michael Moorcock one month and then Joseph Conrad, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, or Gore Vidal the next.
At its best, speculative fiction, horror, science-fiction, or fantasy—call it what you like—can shine a brilliant light on the human condition because it uses the fantastic to break out of the confines of normal existence. Naysayers ought to actually read before they leap.
But as for “chick-lit”….