Stephen Palmer‘s eighth novel, the wonderfully strange steampunkish fantasy Hairy London (Infinity Plus | Amazon US | Amazon UK), was published in March 2014, telling the story of a group of gentleman-adventurers on a quest to find the true meaning of love in a London transformed by an inexplicable manifestation of, well, hair. His earlier novels include science fiction (Memory Seed, Glass, Flowercrash, Muezzinland and Hallucinating) and the dark literary fantasies Urbis Morpheos and The Rat & The Serpent (originally under the name Bryn Llewellyn). Much of Palmer’s writing focuses on environmental change, and his prose tends to be vivid and strange: writing about his novel Urbis Morpheos, Publishers Weekly says that “Palmer’s writing can only be called psychedelic. The world is richly imagined, unusual, and creative…” Palmer is also an accomplished musician, playing and recording with the band Mooch and his solo project, Blue Lily Commission. He lives and works in Shropshire, UK.
Keth Brooke had the opportunity to chat with Stephen about his new book, Hairy London, described thusly:
What is love?
One evening at the Suicide Club three gentlemen discuss this age-old problem, and thus a wager is made. Dissolute fop Sheremy Pantomile, veteran philosopher Kornukope Wetherbee and down-on-his-luck Velvene Orchardtide all bet their fortunes on finding the answer amidst the dark alleys of a phantasmagorical Edwardian London.
But then, overnight, London Town is covered in hair. How the trio of adventurers cope with this unusual plague, and what conclusions they come to regarding love is the subject of this surreal and fast-paced novel.
And always the East End threatens revolution…
Keith Brooke: HAIRY LONDON is one of the strangest things I’ve read in years. I should really start with a question, but we need to get that out there from the beginning: HAIRY LONDON reads like Lewis Carroll and Monty Python’s love-child doing drugs and reinventing steampunk. With jokes, and philosophy. I know it’s a standard question for writers of the fantastic, but how on Earth did you come up with a story about revolution and love in an alternative Edwardian London that is…covered in hair?
Keith Brooke‘s most recent novel for adult audiences, alt.human (published in the US as Harmony), was shortlisted for the 2013 Philip K Dick Award. Writing as Nick Gifford, his teen fiction is widely published, with one novel optioned for the movies by Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish’s Caveman Films. He writes reviews for the Guardian, teaches creative writing at the University of Essex, and lives with his wife Debbie in Wivenhoe, Essex. Find out more about his work as Gifford at www.nickgifford.co.uk.
The Most Political Story is a Good One
by Keith Brooke (a.k.a Nick Gifford)
Sometimes things you’ve written down don’t become relevant for years.
That’s both the premise for, and the history of, my recent YA thriller, Tomorrow (published under the name Nick Gifford).
Claude Lalumière‘s Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes (infinity plus, December 2013) collects twenty-five dark stories of sex and death, spanning realism and a breadth of fantastical genres. Previous books include the collection Objects of Worship (2009) and the mosaic novella The Door to Lost Pages (2011). He has edited or co-edited twelve anthologies in various genres, including Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic (2003), Lust for Life: Tales of Sex & Love (with Elise Moser; 2006), Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction (2008), Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (with Camille Alexa; 2013), and Super Stories of Heroes & Villains (2013). With Rupert Bottenberg, he’s the co-creator of the multimedia cryptomythology project Lost Myths.
KEITH BROOKE: Your most recent collection, Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes, falls into three sections: “Shades of Noir”, “Nocturnes” and “Strange Tales of Sex and Death”. What’s the rationale behind this collection and the way it’s organized?
CLAUDE LaLUMIÈRE: As a reader I love the concept of the thematic collection, so, as a writer, I try to organize my stories and books that way, too. I’ve known for a few years that I had a collection brewing on the related themes of sex and death. Its exact breadth and scope kept changing, though. Of course, sex and death are a big part of most stories we tell, but I wanted to assemble those stories of mine that put those themes explicitly – and intimately – in the forefront. Until recently, I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the book come together and make sense as a statement or united work.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the UK science-fiction scene was reinvigorated by an influx of young writers whose short fiction started appearing in Interzone magazine, and in anthology series like Other Edens, Zenith and, then going through one of its occasional revivals, New Worlds. These writers included the likes of Eric Brown, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross and one Simon Ings, an author who, apparently effortlessly, managed to combine striking innovation with the slickest literary style (it’s no surprise that Ings has collaborated with one of British SF’s most stylish authors, M John Harrison). Ings went on to write novels ranging from smart post-cyberpunk thriller Headlong to the quirkily different fantasy City of the Iron Fish. This year UK publishers Gollancz are re-launching Ings’ backlist in what they describe as ‘a collectable set of paperbacks designed by award-winning illustrator, Jeff Alan Love’ – the same artist responsible for the striking cover to Ings’ new novel Wolves (Gollancz, January 2014).
KEITH BROOKE: Your novels show a clear career path over the course of fifteen years or so, moving from genre heartland (be it SF or fantasy) to psychological, literary thrillers. With Wolves you’re back in SF with a novel that leads us into a near future on the brink of collapse, with reality increasingly overlaid with augmented reality veneers. Is that a fair overview? Is this return to SF a deliberate move, or merely the sign of a writer following the muse?
SIMON INGS: Well, much as I would have liked to have followed a grand plan, I’ve pretty much spent my life scrabbling around looking for venues that won’t completely misrepresent me to an audience. I’m not slagging off publishers here – I do think I’m a genuinely hard sell. I tend to write difficult, read-em-twice books – and then stick guns in them. With readers gobsmacked and driven up the walls in roughly equal measure, necessity has meant that I have pretty much hurled myself down whatever rabbit-hole has presented itself to me at the time. And because I find writing hard, I counter that by trying not to repeat myself. It completely foxed me that some people thought my last novel, Dead Water, was a work of science fiction. I didn’t mind – I was just disconcerted, as though I’d spent a day walking up a hill only to find myself within earshot of that morning’s campsite.
Frank Chadwick has designed or written over one hundred games and game-related books. In the science fiction field he is probably best remembered for his work on Traveller and Space: 1889. He also writes military history and his Desert Shield Fact Book (1991) reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list. His debut print novel, How Dark The World Becomes, was released by Baen Books in January of 2013. The Forever Engine will appear in January of 2014 and he is currently working on the sequel to How Dark The World Becomes. He lives in east-central Illinois.
Keith Brooke: Published earlier this year, How Dark the World Becomes is the story of a second-generation human native of a brutal colony buried beneath the crust of the inhospitable planet Peezgtaan, and his quest for freedom – and survival. Your protagonist, Sasha Naradnyo, is described as ‘toughest thug in Crack City’ – was he fun to write?
Kit Reed has two new books this year: her spontaneous human combustion novel, Son of Destruction from Severn House (US and UK), and her “best of” collection, The Story Until Now, from Wesleyan University Press. The collection includes some classics and some favorites, as well as six new, never-before-collected stories. Earlier books include What Wolves Know (PS Publishing), a Shirley Jackson Award nominee in 2011, and Enclave (Tor, 2009). She is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.
Keith Brooke: Your work could be labeled SF, fantasy, horror, suspense, weird, literary and/or any number of other things, but taken as a whole (and even in many cases individually) your stories defy categorisation, and you describe your work as “transgenred”.
Kit Reed: I do, because there are so many things my stories are, or aren’t. Some them are clearly SF, if you read that as Speculative Fiction, but some of them are straight-up realism, or “literary,” and it bothers me that “literary” has become both a “genre” and a dirty word. And, me as transgenred? I think I made up the word because I moved around so much as a kid. It opened up so many possibilities that people don’t get when they’re rooted in one place. The word fits because I’m like the boll weevil, I go everywhere and I don’t belong anywhere.