Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes

I’m a science fiction fan. I have been since primary school. As a kid I used to almost exclusively read science fiction. These days I read of mix of things — but, no matter how far my literary interests may wander, I still find myself being drawn back to science fiction.

The book that started it all for me, in primary school, was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. (I wrote about it earlier this year for Michael Pryor’s blog — see post.) And in my teen years, it was John Christopher’s trilogy The Tripods that was my most re-read favourite (see “Tripods Rule!“). These days, I would still probably list that trilogy as my all-time favourite literary SF. In terms of visual SF it is, of course, Doctor Who.

For this post I thought it would be interesting to ask three other authors what their favourite science fiction books were.

I started off with Michael Pryor. Although he is probably best known for his steampunkish alternative history series The Laws of Magic, he also writes science fiction. In fact, his latest book is science fiction. 10 Futures is a book of linked short stories, exploring ten different possible futures in which the only constant is friendship. But what is Michael’s favourite science fiction book?

My favourite Science Fiction book is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. It’s audacious (recast The Canterbury Tales in an SF mode? Why not?), scary (the Shrike monster haunted my dreams for months after I first read this book), philosophical (not just one, but half a dozen of the Big Questions are tackled in this book), pacey (the chase and battle scenes are first class), moving (heartbreak, romance, parent/child loss, this book can make you cry), and written with a supple, dancing prose that sings with every sentence. Great book.

Next up we have Simon Haynes. Simon is well-known to SF fans as the author of the Hal Spacejock series. More recently, he has ventured into science fiction for younger readers with his Hal Junior series. There are three books in this series so far: The Secret Signal, The Missing Case and The Gyris Mission. I am reliably informed that he is working on the fourth at the moment. Here are Simon’s thoughts on his favourite SF…

Choosing a favourite SF novel is all but impossible, so I’m going to cheat and nominate my fave SF novel from my childhood years.  William F. Temple was a British SF novelist who once shared an apartment with Arthur C. Clarke. He wrote a number of novels for adults, but it’s his series for teenagers, written in the mid-50’s, which really captured my imagination. The first in the series was Martin Magnus: Planet Rover, featuring a crusty troubleshooter aged in his 30’s, who hated authority and bureaucracy, yet was smart enough and skilled enough to get away with being abrasive to just about everyone. However, he also had a big heart and would go to the ends of the Solar System to help someone he genuinely liked. The technology in the books has dated, of course, but the stories are still inventive and great fun.

Finally, I asked Paul Collins, author of dozens of books, including the science fiction series, The Maximus Black Files. In his enthusiasm for the genre, however, Paul was unable to contain himself to one paragraph. So he gets his very own guest post. 🙂 Come back tomorrow to find out what his favourite science fiction book is.

Catch ya later,  George

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Blog, blog, bog

Bog instead of Blog! If I could have a dollar for every time I’ve made that typo. One missing letter and you have a potential catastrophe (albeit a rather amusing one). Mostly it happens on Twitter. I’ll quickly post a link to a bog instead of a blog. I did it this morning.

I wrote a guest post about character names for the blog of fellow author Goldie Alexander (see “What’s in a name?”). The post went online this morning and I Tweeted about it.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Guest post on Goldie Alexander’s bog about character names…

Thankfully I spotted my error and deleted the Tweet within seconds, replacing the offending typo.

Anyway… this got me thinking about blogs. These days, it seems like every author and his dog has one. And all these authors are also doing guest posts on other people’s blogs. I certainly seem to spend more time writing blog posts than fiction.

I write two regular blogs — this one and a DVD/Blu-ray reviews blog called Viewing Clutter. I also write an irregular blog on my homepage. In addition to this I write guest posts on other people’s blogs, mostly as a way of promoting my blogs and my books.

I write my blogs as a way of cementing my ‘author brand’. Although I must admit that I hate that term — ‘author brand’. It makes me sound like a packet of breakfast cereal or some such thing on a supermarket self. But in today’s publishing industry, it’s a reality. Authors need to get out there and create a brand and be recognisable, so that each time they bring out a new book, people will know about it… and hopefully buy it.

Branding aside (god, now I have an image of corralled authors being herded like cattle), I actually enjoy writing my blogs. I like inflicting my opinions on an unsuspecting blogosphere. And there’s no editor telling me what I can or can’t say… which is not necessarily a good thing, but it is liberating.

As for the guest posts… they are usually specifically focussed on promoting a particular book or series of books. So, as well as my post on Goldie’s site, other recent guest posts that I’ve written, have all been about my Gamers books and, in particular, the latest one, Gamers’ Challenge. Want a couple of examples? Of course you do…

I’ve written about setting novels within virtual worlds for Ian Irvine’s blog.

I’ve written about book trailers for Ripping Ozzie Reads.

I’ve written about letting my imagination run wild for ReadPlus.

Etc, etc…

And, of course, I’ve hosted guest posts from other authors here on Literary Clutter. Recent visiting authors have included Ian Irvine, Sean McMullen, Simon Hayes and JE Fison.

Is all this blogging actually helping authors? You know, I have absolutely no idea. I know that people are reading my blogs (In fact, I’ve got stats apps that are telling me exactly how many people.). But I don’t know if my blogging has helped me to sell any more books. Do people who read my blogs also read my books? I’ve no way of knowing.

So, why do I keep doing it?

Well, for the time being I’m enjoying it. And so long as I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep doing it. If it ever gets to be a chore; if it ever stops being fun — that’s when I’ll stop. In the meantime, you’ll just have to put up with me. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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HAL JUNIOR – The Secret Signal

Hal checked nobody was watching, then scooped up the earphones and placed them on his head.

“Tiger One…docking successful. The board is green. I repeat, the board is green.”

He could hardly believe it. He was listening to the pilot of a real spceship!

Hal Junior, The Secret Signal is the first book in new science fiction series for junior readers by Simon Haynes. It’s full of great characters, wacky humour and adventure.

With a and a best friend called Stephen ‘Stinky’ Binn and his own patented inventions, the reader knows right from the start that Hal Junior is not your average kid and his life is far from ordinary.

Hal Junior’s wild ride starts with a confrontation with a recycling chute and he is saved only by the electronics expertise of Stinky who reverses gravity in the chute.

Hal is a great character. He’s smart, funny and just a little bit naughty. Hal is a bit of a trouble magnet. He means well, but his wild schemes and crazy plans never turn out as expected.

His relationship with brainiac Stinky also provides great humour and they have complementary qualities that allow them to get out of some serious scrapes.

One of the things I liked about this book is the clever way Hal and Stinky use basic science principles. Readers will enjoy the futuristic space station setting which provides the perfect backdrop for adventure.

Written and illustrated by Simon Haynes, Hal Junior, The Secret Signal is dotted with quirky black and white pictures.

I can see this book appealing to kids who like fun, adventure and science fiction. There are a lot of sound effects written into the text that give the book a cinematic quality, adding something extra for reluctant readers.

Hal Junior, The Secret Signal is for readers aged 8-12.


Going it alone

Self-publishing ain’t easy! Even though new authors (and established authors, for that matter) often find it difficult to get a traditional publisher to take interest in their work, self-publishing is not necessarily the easy option. But for some people it is the right option. Self-published author David McLean wrote a guest blog about his experiences last year (see Self-publishing Coaby), and now we have Simon Haynes visiting. Simon’s story is a little different, as he started out with the traditional publishing model and eventually exchanged it for self-publishing.

Simon is the author of the humorous science fiction novels about Hal Spacejock. These books were published by Fremantle Press and distributed by Penguin Australia. But now he’s turned his back on the traditional publishing model in order to self-publish his new series, Hal Junior. Simon has been kind enough to write a guest post with some advice for anyone considering the self-publishing path. Take it away, Simon…

Advice for self-publishing
by Simon Haynes

There are three common complaints about self-published books: amateurish covers, unedited or poorly written content, and typos. The good news is that you can fix the first two problems by hiring professionals, and you can avoid the other with a manuscript evaluation. Read on to find out how …

For one reason or another you’ve decided to self-publish. Maybe you’ve written a niche book, something which probably won’t sell enough copies to attract a trade publisher. Or maybe you’re writing the third novel in an ongoing series and the first two still haven’t found a home. Either way, you’ve decided to go it alone.

Before you pay for cover art or editing, can I suggest you seek a manuscript evaluation? This is very important, especially if you’ve never had anything published before. It can be crushing to get negative feedback on your precious work, but skipping this step could lead to a carefully-edited but ultimately flawed novel.

If funds are limited you can enlist help via online writing groups. There are many of these, including the Online Writing Workshop, Critters and the Share Your Work section on Absolute Write. The way it works is that you critique other writers’ work and they return the favour. Be honest with your critiques and ask others to do the same.

After ensuring you’ve written something people might pay to read, it’s time for structural editing. This is where you hire an editor to tear your work apart, questioning every decision, character motivation, plot twist and resolution. I’ve suffered through half a dozen of these, and by the time I’ve finished explaining (or apologising) to my editor, I’m ready to give up writing for the simple life of a space shuttle test pilot.

A good structural edit will shine a spotlight on every aspect of your book, from an effective beginning to a satisfying conclusion, and everything in between. Characters must behave consistently, and gaping plot holes have to be written out or papered over.

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about grammar or spelling, which is what many people think ‘editing’ is all about. That’s the next stage.

Once the structural edit is done you’ll go through at least one more draft, fixing typos and rewording clunky sentences. (Did I say one more? I do ten to twelve drafts at this point … and I have the printouts to prove it.)

Now it’s time to share! Send your manuscript out to willing first readers and ask for feedback. Again, ask them to be honest. I write notes for my first readers, asking them to put a cross in the margin whenever they think the novel drags or gets boring. I also explain the kind of feedback I’m after, which is something more than ‘I liked it’ or ‘Have you considered another career?’

What you do with the feedback is up to you. I work on the following rule: two first readers equals one author. In other words, if two or more of them point out the same major issue I’ll consider rewriting that section. If one person flags a problem I’ll still look at it, but it could just be a matter of taste.

When the final edits are done it’s time for copy-editing and proofing. (There is a difference between these two, explained here.)

Hal SpaceJockAt last we turn the spotlight on creative spelling and dodgy grammar! But why right at the end of the process? Because there’s nothing worse than polishing a scene for weeks, only to drop it from a later draft when it no longer fits the rest of the novel. This is why I switch off background spell- and grammar- checking. It’s also why I polish the humour in the very last draft.

After all these revisions, your novel is finally ready. Before you publish, please consider hiring a professional cover artist and jacket designer. It’s hard to sell self-published fiction at the best of times, and you want to give your novel the very best chance of success. All that editing is wasted if you can’t get potential buyers to click on the cover.

I hope I’ve driven home the importance of editing. Trade published novels go through all these stages before hitting bookstore shelves, and that’s what you’re competing with. If you want to leave a great impression you have to follow the same steps.

George’s bit at the end

To find out more about Simon and his writing, check out his website. Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, is the first in his new series for independent readers aged 9+.

Catch ya later,  George

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