Agony Column Exclusive Commentary


WorldCon Hugo Morning
The Agony Column for August 23, 2005
Commentary by Rick Kleffel
It's long past, but frankly, it was only yesterday that we felt we'd returned. In the intervening days, we'd been to Hereford, London, run like crazy through JFK, lost luggage, found guests, then lost them as well. Some things stay with you as the best part of a vacation and the Hugos were their usual, quizzical selves.

But it was the whole Sunday that made up the Hugos, not just the awards ceremonies themselves. Once again, early in the morning -- well 10 AM, and that's early for some -- I found myself at the Press Booth, doing interviews. I'd seen Susanna Clarke and Colin Greenwood upon my arrival at the SECC, and they were kind enough to grant me some time with Susanna, a Hugo nominee for 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell'. They almost recognized me from the previous interview ("Chicago, right?"), but then, I knew for a fact that they'd been on the publicity-go-round for so long that any vestigial trace of recognition was a boon. Once I'd set that up, I managed to wander into Richard Morgan. We set up an interview later that afternoon.

Susanna Clarke was quite relaxed and certain that she was not going to win the Hugo for 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell'. She was quite honored to be nominated, and proud to be welcomed as part of the field. We talked about the upcoming movie adaptation of her novel, and about the part that women play in the field of science fiction. She was every bit as literate and entertaining as one would expect were one to read her novel. And in many ways, she's on the vanguard, she's the future of science fiction; a writer who considers herself well a part of the genre tradition who finds her work accepted well outside that genre.

As Susanna left, my wife Claire arrived. Claire had the joy of sitting through my brief talk with China Miéville. China was a true joy, but my gear was not; bad batteries bought at the train station crapped out and cut the interview short. What a helluva nice guy!

Thus we toddled off to see what we could see. Since readers know I'm a fan of the Victor Gollancz imprint, it will come as no surprise that I decided to attend their presentation, which was quite amazing. Sitting on the panel were authors Geoff Ryman and Jon Courtenay Grimwood, as well as all-star editor Simon Spanton. We were near the back of the room, so we couldn’t really see, but I think James Barclay was there as well, and in fact he was certainly featured.

More like this please.
With the release of 'Demonstorm', his latest novel of the Raven and company, he -- and Gollancz are taking the unusual step of retiring a great series while it is still great. Barclay's next will be set in a new environment, feature all new characters and be a two-part work. 'Cry of the Newborn', at 800 pages and £10.99 has got to be one of the great bargains of this year. Barclay writes the kind of stripped down, kicks-ass fantasy that we'd like to see more often. There's not a lot of room for windy speeches or Barclay's work, and there is a lot of room for major characters to get themselves killed quite unexpectedly. Even better, Barclay does it without bathos, without whining and his character move on as they should. 'Cry of the Newborn' centers around four children born with powers of magic in a world that has not known magic in quite some time. Barclay's done some great work in the past and we expect this to be no different.

One of the striking notes in the VG presentation was their propensity to publish difficult authors. Of course, Geoff Ryman comes to mind with his prickly and bizarre combination of science fiction and magic realism. But he's also quite well known in the States, which is not necessarily the case with James Lovegrove and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Spanton lamented that Lovegrove, a highly talented author, turned in one utterly different novel after another. So in case you wonder what happened to those kind of novelists, well, alas, the answer is they don’t sell as well as they deserve to.

Thankyou Gollancz. Keep your yarbles about you, please!
Now for me, an author being capable of great range is a BENEFIT. I DON'T WANT TO READ THE SAME BOOK AGAIN AND AGAIN. I do like consistency, and I do enjoy some series fiction, but I also enjoy non-serial fiction. Look publishers and booksellers, hear your CUSTOMER'S PLEA. WE HAVE MONEY AND WILL GIVE IT TO PUBLISHERS WHO PUBLISH BOOKS BY WRITERS LIKE GEOFF RYMAN, JON COURTENAY GRIMWOOD, AND JAMES LOVEGROVE.

(By the by, the new Grimwood is out in TPB from Del Rey. Now you have the opportunity, rare though it is, to purchase a top-notch UK writer in an American edition. Even if you've already read the book, it's worth picking up to hand out to itinerant friends-in-need.)


Got that? Booksellers especially, you chain buyers need to get on the stick and help readers find these books. It's not a difficult task, is it? I mean, there are a lot more readers than publishers --with tons of remaindered wannabe-best-sellers -- or booksellers -- want to admit. Nobody wants to say that perhaps there are enough mumble-mumble books in the world. Or that perhaps they didn'd need FIVE HUNDRED copies of putyourleastfavoriteauthorsnamehere latest slab of tree-death.

BUT WE LIKE GOOD FICTION. PLEASE DON'T SELL OR TRY TO SELL US ANYTHING REMOTELY RESEMBLING "THE NEXT" THAT BOOK. Please don't try to sell us the next 'Lord of the Rings'. One is quite enough, thank you very much. Please do try to encourage writers like Grimwood (whose '9Tail Fox' was a highlight of my ride back) and Lovegrove who break new ground every time.

Maybe I'm done with that bit, then eh?


OK, spittle on the screen cleaned.

And onward.

To talk to Richard Morgan. Claire sat in while I did this interview in the sort-of-dead-of-afternoon. Morgan and I had a grand time talking about the future of science fiction, the reality of his comics work, and extensively about his next novel, 'Black Man'. Morgan is leaving behind his Takeshi Kovacs universe and working on a near-future story of genetic engineering and its unfortunate side effects. And you know there will be side effects, and the sort of techno trash -- think landfills full of vacuum tubes -- that we'll experience from the bio-revolution. Morgan is always refreshingly frank and really very funny. We had an even better time when I turned off the machine and we talked about California politics.

Then it was time to do a bit of shopping. We loped over to the dealer's room and I was all set to buy Ken Macleod's latest -- only to find it sold out everywhere. That always happens to me, it seems; I put off buying a book in the dealer's rooms and lose my chance entirely.

Must have it.
I do have to say that the dealer's room seemed very sparsely populated with booksellers. I missed more than a few of my favorite UK booksellers. Still, I did manage to find a few great titles. One I'd been looking for for quite some time was Ian R. Macleod's 'The Light Ages' in its UK hardcover first edition, with a cover by Les Edwards. I also found someone selling Dave Langford's 'The Leaky Establishment', his sort-of non-fiction book about his time working for the UK nuke-making machine. The title should give you an idea of how it was regarded from within. Of course, I bought the Tachyon titles as well, the Tim Powers and the Brian Aldiss. At least something hadn't escaped me. And that was it, and I frankly felt that I had been pretty restrained.

So there we were at 4 Pmish. I'd done my book buying, and we'd have to be back early for the Hugos. At that point then, we trudged across the tundra, mile after mile, from the SECC to the train station, got on the train and headed back to the hotel to pack -- because we'd be leaving early Monday morning for Hereford -- and to rest up for the big award night to come.