Norwescon 2017

This Easter I’m jetting out to Seattle for Norwescon 40 and the 2017 Philip K Dick Award ceremony. I’m looking forward to meeting the other nominees, to exploring the city, and to catching up with the Angry Robot crew across the pond.

This will be my first US convention, and while I have some expectations (world-class cosplay, people asking me to repeat myself), I’m also aware it’ll be very different from UK conventions I’ve attended so far.

If you happen to be there, my schedule is below. Otherwise I’ll be wandering about, lost, taking photos, or hunting tacos. Please say hello! I’m the lanky ginger one.

Friday April 14th

Philip K. Dick Award: What It Is, What It Means

12:00pm – 1:00pm @ Grand 2

Administrators and nominees for this year’s award discuss the PK Dick Award and the legacy of Philip K. Dick.

Philip K. Dick Awards

7:00pm – 8:30pm @ Grand 2

Presented annually at Norwescon, with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust, for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by Norwescon and the Northwest Science Fiction Society.

Saturday April 15th

The Year is 2067

7:00pm – 8:00pm @ Evergreen 1&2

From the tablet to cell phones, we live in an era forecast long ago in science fiction. Our panelists look ahead 50 years and extrapolate on what the current stories of today may forecast for tomorrow.

I have a few issues with the idea that ‘good’ science fiction demands ‘good’ futurism, but extrapolation is a fun game. The trickiest decision is whether to be realistic, given the current state of play (increasingly devastating automated warfare; unfathomable heat; general savagery; Scotland fitted with propellers and pootling happily towards the Arctic Circle), or plain hopeful (meaningful peace; meaningful communities; cheap, clean energy; free healthcare). Maybe my grandfather had it right when he recently said: ‘You science fiction authors have vastly underestimated how awful things are going to get.’

Overexposed, Bleaklow

There are lots of stories about the moorland round here. Some are out-and-out grim – a torso in a suitcase in a layby, Hindley and Brady. Some are weird, including the ‘Longdendale lights’ – an unexplained phenomenon that might involve land and rocks but is usually written off as ghosts. And then there are local anecdotes: car crashes, near-misses, hardly-romantic trysts. The names behind the little shrines you see fixed into wet stone walls.

I don’t remember when I first heard about the plane wrecks up on the moors. Unlike many of my friends, I was never taken to see them as a kid. But I do know the idea of wrecks being up there has captivated me for a long time, and that I’ve often wanted to go up and find them while driving over the Snake and Woodhead passes.

I guess what fascinates me about these wrecks being there at all is their isolation, the quiet sadness of it. And how strange it is. To leave these broken things up there on bare land, out in the naked peat, seems so unlike the way we do things. The Dark Peak is hardly Everest, after all. And then you start thinking about the families left behind, pilgrimages, unmentioned anniversaries. You think about young school kids on field trips, who, without knowing better, squirrel tiny pieces into their pockets: nuts, bolts, other fixings. You wonder how many people round here keep a piece of old plane in a drawer somewhere in their house.

When we moved back up, we planned to finally get up on Bleaklow so I could finally visit a wreck for myself.

*

On November 3rd 1948, the USAF B-29 Superfortress Overexposed (so-called because it was part of the reconnaissance group that photographed the Bikini Atoll nuke tests) flew out of Scampton near Lincolnshire on a routine flight to Burtonwood, close to Warrington.

The crew, flying in low cloud, started to descend without knowing they hadn’t cleared the gritstone hills on Bleaklow above Glossop. All thirteen on board were killed. According to the brass plaque that memorialises them, it is ‘doubtful the crew ever saw the ground’.

*

1

Getting on to Bleaklow isn’t hard at all. Drive about ten minutes out of Glossop on the A57 Snake Pass, and you reach a sort of natural plateau whose edges have been tarmacked and gravelled. Here you put on your waterproofs (and in our case, baby carrier) and set out on the narrow path that takes you a mile or so up the moor. On a clear day, you can see a lot from there – Manchester city included. We, however, are walking directly into heavy cloud, which only thickens as we start to wind our way through banks of peat, winter heather, and hardy brown grass. It’s pretty squelchy, and we quickly lose sight of car headlights on the Snake.

2

After half an hour or so, and with the cloud now fully around us, we leave this path and cut into the moor proper. The rain and wind are immediately harsher without the protection of the banks shielding the path; visibility is so bad that you could be trapped in your own pocket universe, the only people left on earth. Civilisation drops back. The ideas of driving, or central heating, seem utterly futuristic. Our only markers for a time are the large white canvas bags full of ‘geotextiles’ that have been airdropped to cover areas of exposed peat. These bags look like excavated white stone blocks from a distance, and up close seem invasive, completely out of place in the landscape. While the walking here is easy enough, carting a heavy toddler up and down some of the shelves is starting to become a challenge.

We ascend gradually for the next twenty minutes or so. In the squall it grows harder to hear (or speak), and the boggiest areas are hungry for your boots. Our son wakes and isn’t happy about the situation, but apart from his keening, we’re all silent, concentrating, and – maybe for the first time – getting a bit of a sweat on. In that kind of weather, and almost soaked right through, it’s impossible not to feel lonely.

3

The first piece of plane debris we comes across makes me think of a strange creature’s remains. To say it’s been there for sixty years is bizarre: a clean-looking metal rib, stitched with rivet holes, and showing hardly any visible corrosion. More debris quickly appears in the dips between moguls of dark peat. In a larger area there are three almost-intact engines and various chunks of fuselage. There’s also a whole section of landing gear. It’s silent. At this point we’re struggling to see beyond twenty metres, and the desaturating grey light is nothing less than unsettling. The only thing that seems remotely human about the place are the poppies and crucifixes left on the last Remembrance Sunday. ‘The old boys come up and do it every year,’ my brother finally says.

4

I take my pictures and can’t decide if it’s perverse to be excited by seeing the wreckage first hand. There’s an interesting aesthetic to abandoned things, yes, but there’s something else that’s hard to qualify; more like a mix of feelings that definitely take in loss – of the past, of lives. A strong sense that Overexposed might have only come down yesterday. And so too comes the sadness I always figured I might feel. Our waterproof jackets are the only colourful things in a mile radius. I’m glad to finally be here, but more glad to know those men died quickly.

6

 

Philip K. Dick Award

Today was going to be an odd day for plenty of reasons. This morning’s news that Graft is nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award has made it all the weirder.

To say this means a lot is a ridiculous understatement. Dick’s work (particularly his short stories) has been hugely influential on my stuff, so to have my strange little novel anywhere near his name is an honour.

Big, big thanks to everyone who’s read and supported the book. To celebrate, it’s currently on sale over at Angry Robot. Pick up the ebook here.

2017 Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced

The judges of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society, along with the Philip K. Dick Trust, are pleased to announce the six nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:

CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo (Jolly Fish Press)
HWARHATH STORIES: TRANSGRESSIVE TALES BY ALIENS by Eleanor Arnason (Aqueduct Press)
THE MERCY JOURNALS by Claudia Casper (Arsenal Pulp Press)
GRAFT by Matt Hill (Angry Robot)
UNPRONOUNCEABLE by Susan diRende (Aqueduct Press)
SUPER EXTRA GRANDE by Yoss, translated by David Frye (Restless Books)

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 14, 2017 at Norwescon 40 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, SeaTac, Washington.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States during the previous calendar year.  The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the Northwest Science Fiction Society.  Last year’s winner was APEX by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot) with a special citation to ARCHANGEL by Marguerite Reed (Arche Press). The 2016 judges are Michael Armstrong (chair), Brenda Clough, Meg Elison, Lee Konstantinou, and Ben Winters.

 

 

Where are we?

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I realise after the fact that I’ve been hibernating for a while. As I threatened during my chat with the wonderful Anne Charnock at Mancunicon last March, we left that London and returned to the north at the end of May, and have now moved into a little house on the edge of the Peak District. I’ll swerve the hagiography, but it still feels a bit raw to be back after four very happy years down there. (So far I most miss the smell of Turkish ocakbasi in muggy summer as you come up the Kingsland Road.)

If it’s all been a bit hectic on the home front, it’s been a decent run creatively. Time apart, time stolen – our son coming along has forced me to be more disciplined, and in some ways more determined. (So much so that when people say, ‘How do you find the time?’ I feel like I’ve missed something – as if I might have already failed him.) Still, a brand new novel is now drafted (and redrafted) and pretty much ready for submission. So we’ll see…

Politically, of course, there have been profound jolts in the time since I last posted here. As much as anyone is, I’m still processing it all, especially as things continue to metastasise. But I do know that leaving the capital coincided with Brexit campaigning at fever pitch. For me, returning to a fairly conservative environment, this summer provided eye-opening exposure to a lot of anger, and in some cases to a vicious politics I’d not encountered for a long time – especially not in our London bubble. (Which isn’t to say I was ignorant: my fascination with ultra-nationalism in particular – a hangover from writing The Folded Man, I think – has kept me close to the wire. As Jo Cox’s horrible assassination proved, it’s not histrionic to say there are people in the UK preparing or even agitating for civil war.)

Still, I haven’t wanted (or been able) to say much about any of it – whether here or in social media. Partly because others do a much better job; partly because I don’t know enough; partly because I’ve been privately enjoying my son’s development. But mostly because I’ve just been way too despondent. Now we sit and watch a sort of conformity being ruthlessly enforced on all sides of the argument, and see in hindsight how easy it was to retreat into the plushness of our echo chambers. Now we watch the rise of demagogues, and previously unthinkable ideas entering the mainstream. Now we watch our government, apparently unopposed, thrashing around in post-Brexit bafflement – while pushing through things like the IP Bill, which might well lead to a country in which dissenting opinion, niche interest or even honest research will eventually be prosecutable…

And all the while, the dog-whistlers go on whistling, the hard-right marches in total lockstep, and the left continues to fragment and self-cannibalise.

So where are we? For me, at least, fiction is helping – reading to see, writing to understand. Maybe that’s pathetic – it definitely feels like cowardice sometimes. Silence can be consent, after all. But if reading is empathising, writing is also therapy. And, as Nina Allan notes in her excellent round-up of 2016, it can be a powerful form of resistance.

Heart to Heart

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Last Friday I was lucky enough to catch a preview of artist Yu-Chen Wang’s new work for The Imitation Game at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester Art Gallery. I’ve already waffled on about my involvement with the project – but even after a good few weeks writing and editing fiction with Yu-Chen and museum curator Sarah Baines, it was still a brilliant surprise to see Yu-Chen’s vision fully realised.

Through fiction, film, pencil drawings and live performance (the shot above is Marc Parry playing a Linotype 78), Yu-Chen has created a rich, questioning work that explores and celebrates heritage and humanness. That it works so differently across both sites makes it even more fascinating.

On a personal level, I feel really lucky to have been involved. There’s no point sugarcoating it: writing collaboratively is challenging. It takes patience and compromise on all sides – not often the qualities of someone used to writing alone, obviously. But at the same time, this project is easily one of the most fun, rewarding things I’ve worked on. To go from nothing to three interlinked stories in a fairly short time was a big rush, and I loved and admired Yu-Chen’s imagination and sense of purpose; Sarah’s deep insight and humour. Plus how often do three people get to sit in a room and nerd out about machines?

The whole thing is definitely worth checking out if you’re in Manchester before June. And if you can make May’s live performances at the Science and Industry Museum, even better – the actors are ace.

Here’s more from the press release:

What if machines sitting in museum stores could remember, talk and interact with each other? What would they say, think and remember? Do machines have human qualities? Do humans have machine qualities?

In Spring 2015 Yu-Chen Wang was artist-in-residence at the Museum of Science and Industry. Her research and reflection on the Museum’s collection and historic site has led to a major new work, Heart to Heart for The Imitation Game, which encompasses text, performance, film, drawing and installation. Her work can be seen at both Manchester Art Gallery and the museum.

Following the residency, Wang collaborated with science fiction novelist Matt Hill and museum curator Sarah Baines to write the story of four characters inspired by a chosen group of objects at the Museum, who reminisce about their past and imagine their futures, revealing the interconnections between machine and human histories. The fictional text has become a script for a live performance, featuring the four machine characters.

A film of the performance is showing in the Liverpool Road Station building at the Museum of Science and Industry and an immersive installation using video projection, sound and drawing to evoke the machine dialogues is on display at Manchester Art Gallery.

Heart to Heart live performances at the Museum of Science and Industry run on these dates:

Friday 20 May: 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Saturday 21 May: 10.45am, 12:45pm, 3pm, 4.15pm

Monday 23 May: 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Tuesday 24 May: 10am, 11am, 1.45pm, 3.15pm

Tickets are free but places are limited – see eventbrite.co.uk for booking soon

A wild Graft appears

After a mild print hiccup delayed the UK print run, Graft is now officially launched in all Angry Robot territories. I think I’m allowed to breathe again.

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Ebook, US, UK. And a nice rug. Not pictured: an estranged audiobook.

As part of our publicity assault drive, I had a short essay published on SF Signal that delves into the responsibilities of writing fiction based on bleak reality, along with a piece at Upcoming4me about the car theft that inspired the book. Two more Q&As with me went up at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape and My Bookish Ways, too.

I’m also happy to say there’s an official launch do happening at Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester, on Thursday March 24th. Angry Robot has organised this to coincide with Eastercon 2016, which is in Manchester this year. If you’re about that evening, pop in for some wine and my first public reading from the book!

And that’s it. Angry Robot have done such a lovely job of the book, and I’m proud as anything to see it out there. Back down the mine from next week.

Nearly there…

GRAFT.jpg

Most writers would probably agree that an impending release causes a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. So it feels ace that with only a few weeks until Graft is published, some reviews and mentions are starting to pop up around the internets.

In its review, Publishers Weekly says Graft ‘captures the dark underbelly of Manchester in visceral prose’, and that the book’s world is ‘tinged with a sense of foreboding in this refreshing take on a futuristic mystery’.

Bad Cantina gives the book a thoughtful, positive write-up, too:

The world of Graft is a fascinating place to be. Hill’s deft writing immerses the reader in an abrasive, desperate universe, where corruption is rife and ethics are murky. Sol and Y are striving to get by, despite the avalanches of callousness and greed thrown their way, and their efforts are achingly relatable. Graft is dark and perilous, but it contains pure beams of love and beauty which gleam well beyond the final page.

(Following my earlier interview at SFF World, there’s also an interview with me at Bad Cantina where we go into flatpack furniture and austerity.)

The lovely people at NetGalley UK include Graft in their top-ten UK books released in February, calling it ‘a brilliant piece of dystopian futurism’ and ‘science fiction at its most astute’.

Carabas also include the novel in their new book recommends for February.

And then the brilliant Nina Allan mentions Graft in her excellent round-up of 2015 novels:

Hill’s mean and broken future Manchester is pretty inimitable. You’ll meet some amazing characters navigating some profoundly dangerous situations in an environment of true weirdness that has a touch of the William Gibsons about it whilst at the same time presenting a science fiction that’s very personal, very British. In a word, it’s fantastic.

All this and I got my hands on a physical copy of the diddy US edition, which I love to bits.