End state

2017. A small country, seized by nostalgia for a country that never actually existed to start with, begins to implode…

My writing year peaked early with my trip to Seattle for Norwescon 40 and the Philip K. Dick Awards ceremony. Fittingly, science fiction conventions always have something of the slipstream about them. As Claudia Casper points out in her own excellent write-up, you exist, for a few days at least, in a sort of pocket universe – in this case a very beige airport hotel – into which a hundred different fandoms are squashed. And then you go home again, unsure about exactly what happened, but weirdly relieved it did.

From the moment I landed in Seattle, I was brilliantly well looked after by the convention staff and Angry Robot crew, and felt super grateful to be nominated and there at all. Highlights include signing the back of a Kindle for a woman dressed as a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who; joining the ‘League of Extraordinary Redheads’ (thank you, Lisa M); doing a panel alongside Possibly the World’s Loveliest Man, Ethan Siegel; and walking for miles to marvel at downtown Seattle.

Congratulations again to the wonderful Claudia Casper, whose novel The Mercy Journals took home the prize. Here are the four (of six) of us that made it, looking… writerly? From left to right, winner Claudia Casper, some tosser, Kristy Acevedo, and special citation winner Susan diRende. (Photo by William Sadorus.)

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What else? Well, I spent the rest of the year writing a short novel to make two drafted since Graft, and (re)learned five important rules for the game. Namely:

  1. Publishing is weird
  2. Really, really weird
  3. The only thing you can control is your writing
  4. So if you’re on sub, or waiting on news, keep writing
  5. Also, a watched inbox never dings

Elsewhere, and between dadding, working, editing and writing (and playing Titanfall 2, the best multiplayer game ever made), I didn’t make enough time to read everything I planned to. Here are my four favourites of the books I did get to:

Sarah Hall’s new collection Madame Zero enthralled as much as it unsettled. She writes a kind of subtle horror, which, like Alison Moore’s, gets under my skin in a very particular way. These stories seem especially focused on motherhood and parenting, and are acutely honest. Two in particular – ‘Later, His Ghost’ (originally published here) and ‘Evie’ – are ridiculously good.

Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heightswas a masterclass in understated thriller writing. I don’t mean to say it’s a quiet novel – it’s anything but – but the writing, while propulsive, is beautiful without being showy; full of technical detail without ever being dull. That’s how you do it, Mr Weir…

Having watched Tom Ford’s glassy Nocturnal Animals on a plane, I finally picked up Tony and Susan, Austin Wright’s 1993 novel(-within-a-novel). Literate, clever, unashamedly meta. And, in places, unbearably tense. If you’ve seen the film and found the family’s ‘encounter’ with the gang tough-going, the book is even more wrenching, full of impotent anger and melancholy.

My best read this year was Svetlana Alexievich’s astonishing oral history Voices from Chernobyl (recently retranslated/republished over here as Chernobyl Prayer, which I’d totally missed). In some ways this book is almost revisionist for me – I think our cultural understanding of the Chernobyl disaster is skewed away from the apocalypse wrought on its victims and constructed instead as ‘look at these cool photos of a deserted Pripyat.’ I’ve thought about it every day since I finished it. Harrowing, angry, sometimes bleakly funny, and deeply strange. Frankly, it serves to make most science fiction irrelevant.

And that’s really about it. Here’s to 2018, and a good solid bunker.

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