Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • August3rd

    I keep a compendium of sentences that I like both for inspiration and for the sheer pleasure of reading them again and again. What gets a sentence onto my list? A number of reasons. A neat turn of phrase. An unusual construction. An arresting use of punctuation. A thousand other things.

    Here are a few Fantasy and Science Fiction favourites I’ve gathered over the years, and I’ve glossed them with the reasons for their inclusion on my list.

     

    ‘On the heights above the river Xzan, at the site of certain ancient ruins, Iucounu the Laughing Magician had built a manse to his private taste: an eccentric structure of steep gables, balconies, sky-walks, cupolas, together with three spiral green glass towers through which the red sunlight shone in twisted glints and peculiar colours.’ Jack Vance, The Eyes of the Overworld.

    This is the opening of the book and it’s Jack Vance in full baroque mode. Sly, spiky, complex and mannered in an utterly distinctive way. Nice use of the colon, too, for which he gets extra marks.

     

    ‘Bright bloomed the morning, and debts were settled beneath it.’ Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light.

    Almost the opposite of the Vance example, Zelazny goes the economical route in this chapter opener. I love the way he plays with word order (‘Bright bloomed the morning’ instead of the more customary ‘The morning bloomed bright’) and then he crushes the clichéd description of daybreak with a hammer blow. The way the sentence finishes is so far from where it started that it takes your breath away.

     

    ‘A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.’ Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

    Never use a strong, unusual word like ‘profound’ twice close together! And certainly never in the same sentence! Except if you’re in serene control like Ursula le Guin was with this one. It’s almost musing (‘after all’) and is profound in its own right.

     

    ‘Atop that, yet more crisp-cut stone towering higher and higher as if men competed with the gods who had thrown up the great rock the whole edifice stood upon.’ Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion.

    Lovely scene setting. Bujold takes her time with this sentence, a lesson for all writers. She doesn’t hurry, and brings it home with a simile that not only a winner, but by its mention of gods it hints at mysteries, vistas and back story that efficiently adds texture to the narrative.

     

    ‘Driving east on the Santa Monica Freeway in the pre-dawn darkness, the moon long since set and the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles standing up off to his left like the smouldering posts of some god’s burned-down house, Crane had been seized with the idea of just staying eastbound on the Pomona Freeway, and all the way out past Ontario and Mira Loma to where it joined with the 15 in one of those weird, semi-desert suburbs with names like Norco and Loma Linda, and then straight on up to Las Vegas.’ Tim Powers, the Last Call.

    How can you make a description of a humdrum world resonate with otherness? This is how. Pop in a disconcerting simile (‘like the smouldering posts of some god’s burned-down house’), use strong verbs (‘had been seized’) and then the world becomes ominous, uncanny, even threatening.

     

    ‘Readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.’ Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

    This is a sentence built around rhythm, using repetition for an effect bordering on the sonorous. Three is the magic number, and using a word three times is like casting a spell.

     

    ‘Heidi’s room looked like the aftermath of a not-very-successful airplane bombing.’ William Gibson, Zero History.

    Sometimes you just nail a metaphor. I can imagine that after writing that one, WG sat back with a small smile on his face.

     

    ‘Joe felt the familiar exultation, the epinephrine flame that burned away doubt and confusion and left only a pure, clear, colourless vapor of rage.’ Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

    Rhythm again. Hear the drumbeats of ‘pure, clear, colourless vapor of rage’? Hammer blows building, echoing Joe’s boiling fury. Add to that the startling image of rage as ‘the epinephrine flame’ and we have a sentence to savour again and again.

     

    ‘True peace required the presence of justice, not just the absence of conflict.’ N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon.

    A neat antithesis, a sentence balanced around the comma which gives it a neat impetus. We read the first part and we know that something is coming either to turn this around or to emphasise it. Clean, cadenced, punchy.

     

    A well-crafted sentence is a thing of beauty, and something all writers strive for. Some succeed.

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  • December21st

    A couple of weeks ago, martianI was asked in to 774 ABC Melbourne for Raf Epstein’s monthly ‘Read with Raf’ book club, to chat about ‘The Martian’. I’d sent in a review based on my blog piece and Raf enjoyed it enough to want more. Raf, Alicia Sometimes and I had a good twenty, twenty-five minutes discussing, analysing and exploring Andy Weir’s book, as well as taking responses from the public via phone and text. We also broadened the discussion into the whole world of Science Fiction and its appeal. Good fun all round.

    Here’s a podcast of the session.

     

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  • October1st

    titles-collage

    Looking for Australian YA Science Fiction rather than Australian YA Fantasy? Here are some top titles with some well-known books next to some you may be unaware of.

    1. Displaced Person – Lee Harding. What happens when you start to vanish along with everyone else? Identity, sense of self, sense of place. An Australian classic.
    2. Deucalion – Brian Caswell. Colonialism, intolerance, understanding, in an SF scenario. Thought-provoking.
    3. The Broken Wheel – Kerry Greenwood. Yes, that Kerry Greenwood. Post apocalyptic tribalism. Gritty.
    4. Singing the Dog Star Blues – Alison Goodman. Time travel, aliens, and some funky harmonica playing. Cool.
    5. Burn Bright – Marianne de Pierres. A Gothic, dark dystopia. Stylish.
    6. Ink, Inc – Jack Heath. Want to see how a single technology can change the world? Clever.
    7. Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden. Yes, it’s SF. Australia hasn’t been invaded, has it? Iconic.
    8. Black Glass – Meg Mundell. Mass surveillance, authoritarian government, young rebels. Juicy.
    9. Omega – Christine Harris. In space, which way does death lie? Wondrous.
    10. Eye to Eye – Catherine Jinks. Machines can think. Can they feel? Challenging.

    And note how I resisted adding my own 10 Futures, Machine Wars, Blackout, The Mask of Caliban or any others? See my Novels pages for details :-).

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  • December20th

    And here it is: the superb, stylish, sensational cover of Machine Wars, my 33rd book, due in April from Random House Australia.

    Machine Wars

    I love it!

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  • December13th

    It’s that time of the year again, andwinner 2 small I’m not talking about the festive season. I’m talking about the end of year musing that gives us the parade of ‘Year’s Best Books’ lists or ‘Holiday Reading Guides’ that are starting to feature in the arts pages and corners of the online world.

    I must admit a certain weariness with which I contemplate these lists, for I’ve read them for years forlornly hoping that one of them, one day, would feature a genre title.

    And by genre, I mean Fantasy and Science Fiction. Occasionally, the compilers of these lists let a Crime title creep in, probably because it lends the compiler a touch of raffishness, hinting that they could go out onto those mean streets if they needed to.

    What I look for so vainly is a ‘Year’s Best’ list that understands that quality comes from all aspects of literature. Instead, I see repeated year after year a narrow, blinkered selection that excludes a wide and rewarding range of literature.

    I’ll go out on the limb and guess that the compilers of these lists haven’t read lots of Fantasy and Science Fiction and then said to themselves, ‘Well, really, none of these measure up’. I stick my neck out and claim that they haven’t read any (or much at all) in these fields. It’s like they’ve eliminated these books from contention even before the contest has been announced.

    They’re not even considered.

    Yes, I know that I’m guessing and that I’m possibly traducing thousands of ‘Year’s Best’ list compilers, but my view has been formed after seeing decades where NO genre books have appeared on such lists. Read More | Comments

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  • November15th

    I was inspired by Linda Nagata’s thoughtful article to write this one. Hard SF can be a hard sell. Of all the multifarious and diverse aspects of Science Fiction, Hard Science Fiction is the one most likely to get non-readers recoiling in horror. It’s the SF sub-genre most parodied, most vilified and most misunderstood.

    Which is a shame because, as with most things, the best of it is superb. Hard SF discusses, foregrounds and takes seriously an aspect of modern life that is shamefully neglected in literary fiction: science and technology. If these feature in literary fiction today, it’s superficially or with, at best, a jaundiced eye.

    As has been my wont with these recommended reading lists, I’ll foolishly venture a definition: Hard SF is the branch of Science Fiction where accurate representations or extrapolations of science and technology are vital to the story. It has many overlaps with Space Opera and other SF sub-genres, but fuzziness like that is part of the glory of genre definitions.

    Ringworld – Larry Niven (1970)

    One of the great Hard SF adventures, this rattling good yarn takes the notion of the alien artefact and runs with it, imagining an artificially constructed world that rings a sun. The world is nearly two million kilometres wide and has a diameter roughly that of Earth’s orbit around our sun. It’s a jaw-dropping conceit, and it’s just the backdrop for shipwreck story of monumental proportions. Great fun.

    Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)

    The first of a trilogy, this book is a rigorous exploration of exploration, where humanity is opening up Mars for colonisation. The technical, engineering challenges are foregrounded, but the ecological and the political are by no means ignored. Absorbing and ultimately moving.

    Permutation City – Greg Egan (1994)

    Australia’s own Greg Egan . It doesn’t get much harder than this, with quantum ontology, artificial intelligence and simulated reality just part of this onslaught of cutting edge concepts. It’s philosophical, abstract and dense. Tasty stuff.

    Revelation Space – Alastair Reynolds (2000)

    Space, with all of its unlimited possibilities. Lots of nanotechnology, human modification, and heavy spaceship engineering doesn’t overpower the character exploration and interaction, which is sharp and profound in this far future world.

    Up Against It – MJ Locke (2011)

    More nanotech in a society in our asteroid belt. The everyday difficulties of living in such a hostile environment are presented with verve and panache, with a rogue Artificial Intelligence thrown in for good measure. This is extrapolation of the best kind. It’s careful but creative with its prognostications and never forgets the importance of a strong narrative.

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