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Friday, August 8, 2008

"The Steel Remains" by Richard K. Morgan w/Bonus Q&A

Official Richard K. Morgan Website
Order “The Steel Remains
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s 2007 Interview with Richard (K) Morgan
Read The Book Swede's Interview with Richard (K) Morgan

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Richard (K) Morgan is the acclaimed author of five science fiction novels including the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning “Black Man/Thirteen”, “Woken Furies”, “Market Forces”, “Broken Angels”, and “Altered Carbon”, a New York Times Notable Book that also won the Philip K. Dick Award. Both “Altered Carbon” and “Market Forces” have been optioned for film adaptation with the latter novel a winner of the 2005 John W. Campbell Award. Richard has also written two six-issue comic book miniseries starring the Marvel character, Black Widow. “The Steel Remains” is the author’s first fantasy novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Ringil Eskiath, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap, is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the Scaled Folk, he makes a living from telling credulous travelers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade, where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives...

Egar Dragonbane, a Majak steppe-nomad and one-time fighter for the Empire, is now the Skaranak clanmaster. Pining for the past, Egar finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervor. But perhaps there is some truth behind the tribe’s gods, the Sky Dwellers

Archeth, an abandoned 207-year-old Kiriath half-breed advisor to Jhiral Khimran II of the Yhelteth Empire, is sent to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. What she uncovers is evidence of a terrifying new enemy that makes the Scaled Folk seem like children…

Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of these veterans of the War against the Scaled Folk are about to be called upon to fight again for a world that owes them everything and has given them nothing…

CLASSIFICATION: Even though “The Steel Remains” is Richard (K) Morgan’s first attempt at fantasy, the book has a lot in common with the author’s science fiction work including in-depth characterization, dynamic prose, provocative themes like sexuality and race, and excessive amounts of vulgar profanity, graphic violence and explicit sex. Of the fantasy aspect, “The Steel Remains” blends old-school sword-and-sorcery with modern sensibilities and a dash of gallows humor irony for a dark and gritty mixture that reminded me of a cross between Joe Abercrombie, Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels, Conan, David Gemmell and Glen Cook’s The Black Company. Recommended for fans of Richard (K) Morgan and anyone who likes their fantasy harsh, cynical, bloody and extreme…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count (ARC Version) is 409 pages divided over thirty-two chapters and an epilogue. Narration is in the third-person and alternates between three main protagonists in Ringil Eskiath, Egar Dragonbane, and Archeth. Poltar Wolfeye and Grace-of-Heaven Milacar are also given narratives, but their roles are minor. Story is mostly self-contained, but “The Steel Remains” is Book One of a trilogy which continues in “The Cold Commands” (TBA 2009).

August 7, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Steel Remains” via
Gollancz. A paperback version is expected from Gollancz in November 2008, while the US Hardcover version of “The Steel Remains” will be published by Del Rey in January 2009.

ROBERT’S TAKE: Fantasy and horror literature will always be my first loves, but recently I’ve become a big fan of science fiction and much of the credit goes to author Richard (K) Morgan who blew me away with “Altered Carbon” and has since become a personal favorite with his consistently excellent reads. So when I heard that Richard was writing a fantasy trilogy, how could I not be excited!?! And despite the buildup, the overwhelmingly positive reviews, and my own high expectations, “The Steel Remains” delivers…

What I like about Richard (K) Morgan is that he’s a jack-of-all-trades. In other words, he can do it all including stylish prose, complex characterization, detailed worldbuilding, sharp dialogue and intelligent plotting. Plus, he has a vivid imagination, can write incredible cinematic-quality action sequences, and his novels not only provide balls to the wall entertainment, but can also be rewardingly thought-provoking. Thankfully, most of these qualities have been transferred to “The Steel Remains”, most notably the characterization which is the driving force behind the novel. Specifically, Ringil Eskiath, Egar Dragonbane, and Archeth Indamaninarmal are the heart & soul of “The Steel Remains” and much of the book is spent defining these characters and their flaws with flashbacks and insightful ‘conversations’ that they have with their selves: “Were you a better man then, Gil? Or just a better liar? Your arse cheeks and belly were tighter, anyway. Your shoulders were bigger and harder. Perhaps that was enough, for them and for you.” As strong as the characterization was though, I did have a few issues. One was that all three characters possess strikingly similar narrative voices which I thought made little sense, particularly Archeth who is a semi-immortal halfbreed. Another was the imbalanced character development with Ringil receiving much more attention in the book than either Archeth or Egar. And lastly, I thought Poltar’s narrative felt out of place compared to the rest of the novel.

As far as the world-building, Richard crafts a fully-fledged fantasy world complete with different races (Kiriath, Scaled Folk, Aldrain, Helmsmen, etc), history (Gallows Gap), societies (Trelayne, the Yhelteth Empire, Majak, Naom), customs, religions (the Sky Dwellers, the Revelation, Marsh idol worship), and even drugs like krinzanz, but the overall result is a mixed bag. The problem is that Richard will describe certain objects or places in great detail like Ringil’s famous Kiriath blade, Ravensfriend, or the city of Ishlin-ichan, but gloss over larger concepts like the Kiriath, the war with the Scaled Folk, or the Revelation.

Creatively, Richard utilizes a number of familiar fantasy conventions such as the barbarian-type warrior, dragons, slavery, portentous warnings, ghosts and the divine interfering with mortal lives, but at the same time the author does leave his own stamp on the genre with the zombie-birthing corpsemites, the alien akyia, the nightmarish Helmsmen, the dwenda and The Ageless Realm, some of which showcase Richard’s science fiction roots :) Speaking of leaving his own stamp, the over-the-top violence, language and sex has already been widely publicized, but it’s worth mentioning again as well as the characters’ sexuality—Ringil is gay, Archeth is a lesbian, and Egar just likes having sex period—and the novel’s various modern flourishes. Action scenes meanwhile, are mainly of the sword & blade variety and are breathless in their execution, whereas themes include everything from heroism to slavery, religion and so on…

The one area that I was disappointed in was the story. Basically, “The Steel Remains” is a character-driven novel, so not only does it take a while for the plot to get moving, but the pacing is a bit slow and suffers from a few predictable contrivances like when the three characters converge at Ennishmin. Another problem with the story is that it’s not very complex, especially compared to Richard’s previous efforts, and the ‘twists’ in the plot aren’t very hard to predict, although the one regarding “a dark lord will rise” is undeniably cool :)

In the end, aside from my disappointment with the story and a few minor issues, I had a blast reading “The Steel Remains”! After all, the book is bold, entertaining as hell, tailor-made for adult readers, and is written by Richard (K) Morgan :) Which is really what it all comes down to. Because if you’re a fan of fantasy and of Richard (K) Morgan, how can you not love “The Steel Remains”…

LIVIU’S TAKE: I've been a big fan of Richard Morgan’s ultra-violent, ultra-dark and quite explicit novels since his extraordinary debut “Altered Carbon”. Though in his last novels the repetitions of themes, plot and gimmicks became a bit tiresome, in “The Steel RemainsMr. Morgan moves to epic/adventure fantasy and reinvigorates said themes. While longtime readers of Richard Morgan will be less surprised at the twists and turns of this novel because of the echoes of previous works, there is a lot of new stuff here and the three main characters—especially Ringil who gets the most face time—are as engaging as ever in Mr. Morgan's newest effort.

Not for the squeamish or easily offended—explicit descriptions of torture, mutilations, mostly homosexual sex both with humans and human-like aliens/wraiths, and repeated profanities fill up the book—“The Steel Remains” is a very dense novel, gripping and with a reasonable resolution of its original issues. But as with most first novels in a series, the larger issues are just now starting to impact the characters.

Of the three main characters, Ringil, with his magical/superior alien-tech sword Ravensfriend—moonlighting as tourist attraction in an obscure marginal village at the edge of the League—is the best defined. Since the traumatic events in his teens when his best friend and lover died a gory death by impalement in a cage at the hands of the “moral guardians” of the League for unnatural acts with Ringil—while our hero is spared being of a noble family—Ringil is a man consumed by fury. To his surprise he becomes a hero in the war against the Scaled Folk but only the powerful influence of the alien Kiriath and especially of his friend Lady Archeth—a half Kiriath, half human warrior/mage/scientist—keep him sane and from committing atrocities against whomever stands in his path. Barely...

So no wonder that at the end of the war Ringil looks for solace in obscurity, but when his lady mother requests his aid in saving a cousin from debt slavery, since his powerful father refused to get involved, he gets caught back up in the thick of things.

Meanwhile, the Kiriath abandoned humanity, but Lady Archeth could not follow due to her human heritage—the journey, while very dangerous for pure-blooded Kiriath, is fatal for those with human blood—so she plays the courtier/ magical/tech adviser to the current emperor that she does not like or appreciate that much. Doubly damned in the eyes of the official Revelation priesthood—for being half-alien and for her sexual orientation, though I think that being a powerful woman in a patriarchal society does not help either—only the emperor stands between her and the cleansing fire of the Citadel. So she has to keep showing her worth to the young emperor, who among other things, likes to marginalize almost anyone powerful from his father's reign...

The third main character, Egar the Dragonbane—slayer of a dragon—of the Majak “barbarian” clans has been a chieftain of one such for seven years since the end of the wars, and he kind of hates it, missing the Empire, civilization, sophisticated women, books and shows, while doing his best to forget those memories in girls, drinking and herds. When his chief shaman and his older brothers decide that the clan is better off without Egar, one way or the other, he becomes reunited again with his two friends from the war for one more desperate stand...

The typical Morgan touches that I come to expect in his novels are here and they are perfectly exemplified in “The Liberalizations” laws in the League that made debt slavery legal and moved the underground slave commerce with the neighboring on and off allied/enemy Empire to free and legal trade, while Mr. Morgan’s contempt and detestation of the powerful trampling on the powerless resonate from almost every page of the novel.

Highly recommended…

NOTE: For more reviews of “The Steel Remains”, please visit the following:
Adam Roberts, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Joe Abercrombie, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Sandstorm Reviews, SFF World, The Book Bag, The Book Swede, The Genre Files, The Wertzone

BONUS FEATURE — Richard (K) Morgan Q&A:

Q: As most everyone should know by now, "The Steel Remains" is your first fantasy novel. Was writing a fantasy novel harder, easier or about the same compared to writing science fiction?

Richard: Hard to gauge really. It was certainly different; in places it was harder going, yes; for example, the logistics of travel in a fantasy universe are more rigorous than in SF. In Black Man, I could get my characters from one side of the globe to the other in forty-five minutes on a sub-orbital. In fantasy, journeys of any distance have to be done on horseback or by sail, and it can take days, weeks or even months to get anywhere at all. That applies its own limits, obviously. But the trick is not to let that kind of thing throw you; instead you look for ways to turn it to your advantage. One of the nice things about long, uneventful journeys is that they allow space for character development, something which you don’t have to actually mention, except in retrospect. In one case in The Steel Remains, one of my characters gets a few weeks of road time to work out what’s been done to him and he comes to the next chapter already equipped with the benefit of that thinking time. You drop in the fact, retrospectively, and bang—you’re off and running.

On the other side of the balance, the good thing about fantasy, the thing that was definitely easier for me, was the relaxation on motivation and coherent logic. The kind of SF I write is fairly close to contemporary reality, which means characters’ actions have to make some kind of sense, at least within the context of human behaviour as we understand it. But in fantasy, these constraints are loosened considerably. The actions of gods and demons don’t have to make any human sense. Other planes of reality don’t have to follow any logic we’d recognize. That gives you the chance to really spread the wings on your imagination, really cut loose and do whatever the fuck weird stuff comes into your head. That part, I’ve had a blast with.

Q: Since you've now written both fantasy & SF, what do you feel are the differences between the genres, and why is there such a great divide between the two in marketing, fan support, etc?

Richard: It beats me, it really does.

I mean, just to start with, I think the divide in terms of subject matter is largely illusory. For instance, how would you classify Moorcock’s High History of the Runestaff? At one level, it’s classic sword and sorcery, but it’s also stuffed full of sentient machines and ruined chunks of technology from an earlier age of what was clearly scientific sophistication way beyond our own. You get essentially that same scenario, though more subtly done, in Gene Wolfe’s Books of the New Sun, in M. John Harrison’s Viriconium series and, I’m told, in C. J. Cherryh’s Chronicles of Morgaine. And that’s before we even touch stuff like China Mieville or Hal Duncan. Are these books SF? How do you decide? And more to the point, who fucking cares? I just don’t get this whole thing of reading exclusively in one genre. It seems pitifully self-limiting, like a little kid refusing to eat anything except chips. If I track back through what I’ve read in the last few months it includes a Steve Erikson Malazan novel (Deadhouse Gates, my first), Charlie Huston’s The Shotgun Rule (contemporary noir thriller), mainstream literature like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (though that’s a weird fucking book, with elements that cross right over into fantasy and horror) and Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon (which, like most Pynchon, defies meaningful categorization), a golden age SF classic (Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants), Hal Duncan’s Ink, a re-read of Robert Sabbag’s cocaine trade classic Snowblind, Karen Joy Fowler’s Sister Moon (no idea what you’d classify that as!) and the graphic novel Shooting War (which you could argue is SF, since it takes place in a putative 2011). Next up on the bedside table is Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union (we’re all still arguing about what that is exactly) and Don Winslow’s The Power of The Dog (Ellroy-style crime novel about the drug wars). Like Heinlein once said, specialization is for insects. Genre boundaries really don’t mean much to me—I’ll read anything if it looks like it might be interesting or well written, and I don’t really understand people who won’t.

Q: Well said! Now last I heard, "The Steel Remains" is set for a January 20, 2009 US release through Del Rey. Do you think the delay between the UK & US release will hinder, aid, or make little difference when it finally hits stores stateside, and will you be making any changes to the US version?

Richard: No—aside from the usual spelling and vocabulary conventions (colour-color, pavement-sidewalk etc)—the two editions will be exactly the same. And I don’t think it’ll make a huge difference that the book is coming out later. A few diehard fans I’ve heard from are going to buy the UK edition because they don’t want to wait, but generally I think people can live with the extra six months. Actually, it’s only with Black Man/Thirteen that the two editions of anything I’ve written have come close to simultaneous release on both sides of the Atlantic. Prior to that, my American editions were all coming out at least six months behind the UK dates, and again, apart from a few diehard fans, no one seemed to mind the wait. So I don’t really think it’s going to be much of an issue.

Q: Recently you were at the center of a couple of controversies—first the article you wrote for Pete Crowther's Postscripts anthology
HERE on "endemic factionalism in SFF", and then a debate about 'hype' on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist HERE. I'm sure you're probably tired of both of these topics, but now that things have settled down a little, do you have anything to add about either subject?

Richard: Only that I was stunned at the strength of feeling in both cases. In the case of the factionalism article, I couldn’t believe there’d be such a strong reaction (both positive and negative) to what was intended as an off-hand rant about something that seemed to me self-evident. What you have to remember about that article is that it wasn’t some bad-tempered blog crusade on my part—Pete came to me for the piece, and I put it together following his suggestion that I “have a rant” about some aspect of the genre I was interested in. At the time, I didn’t think I was saying anything very radical and I was quite taken aback when Pete wouldn’t publish it. I only posted the article on my site because, first it seemed a shame to waste it, and second it was what Pete himself had suggested I do. I really didn’t expect anything to come of it other than most people who read the piece grunting and nodding in agreement and then turning the page.

Instead, I was mobbed with e-mail from people saying how glad they were someone had come out and said this—which was very nice, obviously, but as I said, genuinely unexpected. And of course then there was this general (though admittedly rather attenuated) grumbling undertone across some of the genre sites, something along the lines of Leave us alone, we LIKE bitching and squabbling. Well, fair enough, it’s a free internet, I guess—but I’m really not buying the it proves how vibrant and alive we are as a genre end of that argument because, first the most vibrant and alive SF fans I’ve run into tend to be pretty laid-back and live-and-let-live about this stuff, and second, despite the later qualifications I offered, you can go look at the equally vibrant crime genre scene and you simply do not see the same levels of rage. I guess in the end what this has proved is that there are a lot of people out there who dearly love their indiscriminate rage and don’t want to have to give it up.

Interestingly, I was in Croatia when all this broke loose, and my Croatian publisher, Neven Anticevic, told me he remembered going to a meeting of an SF society decades ago (they were arguing about Blish, which should date it for you) and listening to this tiny group of fans raging at each other about whose understanding of SF was better, who’d read what and how much more valid it was. Sound familiar? Neven’s theory (and he’s a smart, worldly guy whose theories bear paying close attention to) is that decades of exclusion and thinly disguised contempt from the mainstream has driven the SF genre into a reflexive posture of vicious defensiveness, and that the reflex becomes so ingrained that we know no other way to express ourselves. So if we’re not snarling at those bastards in the mainstream for excluding us, we have to find someone else to snarl at—and that ends up being anyone with even slightly differing views or tastes to our own. The more I think about this, the more I think Neven might be onto something there. But the fact remains—it’s a great shame we can’t just grow out of it.

As for the hype debate, I’ve already made my position clear in my comment on the thread, but I think in retrospect the whole thing manifested some of the same uncalled-for ill-temper as the factionalism debate. It took only the most level-headed of comments from my editor querying the use of the word “hype”, and suddenly the site was crammed with abusive response. He was arrogant, he was manipulative, it was all part of some evil marketing scheme…I mean, come on, people. To Pat’s eternal credit, he took those people down pretty smartly, but still, it seems you only have to scratch the surface anywhere in genre and suddenly the air is full of toxic anger. What I want to know is what are these people so furious about? Reminds me of Sandra Bullock’s character in Crash where she says “I’m angry, all the time, and I don’t know why.” Quite. Perhaps we should look into that.

Q: In an interview Jay Tomio recently conducted with Ian Cameron Esslemont
HERE, the following quote by Michael Moorcock was brought up: "If you want to write fantasy then read everything but fantasy", which kind of brings up another debate—should fantasy authors be well-read in the genre or not?

Richard: Hmmm. I find myself getting very uncomfortable when that word “should” crops up in connection with writing—it suggests (incorrectly, in my view) that there is a given right way to go about creating fiction, and I think there’s no better way to stifle creativity than to lay down prescriptive (and proscriptive) writing guidelines. Just look at the Hollywood school of screenwriting and where it’s taken creative endeavour in mainstream movies.

That said, I suppose a certain amount of prior genre knowledge is handy. Obviously you don’t want to go re-inventing the wheel—look, it’s a sword with magical powers! how cool is that! So forth. You need to know the ground, not so much to avoid re-using motifs and concepts (which is both inevitable, and in some senses the very essence of what modern fiction is about), but so that you have a reasonably up-to-date base from which to launch your own particular re-working of what the genre already has to offer. But then, I don’t think Moorcock was really being proscriptive in that quote. I think what he was getting at (hoping he’ll forgive my presumption here!) is that there is often an unhealthy insularity to genre fans (we’ve covered some of this above) and that any aspiring fantasy writer whose reading habits are already enslaved to the genre is likely to come up with rather dull, derivative work. Someone, on the other hand, whose influences are broader, has a far better chance of bringing something fresh and innovative to the form. And obviously we all like to see fresh, innovative voices emerging because that’s what keeps the genre healthy and dynamic (though perhaps it should also be pointed out that the well-worn, derivative and generic stuff does tend to sell awfully well! Shannara, anybody?)

Q: Speaking of Ian Cameron Esslemont, if you look at the Malazan co-creator, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Jacqueline Carey, Daniel Abraham, Paul Kearney, and yourself, more and more authors these days are writing fantasy that is ambiguous, gritty or blatantly defies traditional fantasy tropes. What are your thoughts on this movement, the audience's response to such books, and fantasy tropes in general?

Richard: To be honest, I’m not hugely familiar with those guys—the only thing I’ve read by any of them is Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates, and even that had to wait until after I’d finished writing The Steel Remains (I mean, have you seen the size of that book??? Reading Erikson is a major commitment!). Most of the epic fantasy I know was written before 1980 (and in a lot of cases, well before). Exceptions to that are Glen Cook, Steph Swainston and Scott Lynch (and of those three, I’m not convinced Steph would be all that keen on being labeled epic).

So, from this position of very limited knowledge, I’m not sure I have much right to comment. But it does seem to me, very broadly speaking, that epic fantasy has been dragged kicking and screaming into a more grown up sensibility over the last decade or so. Erikson and George R. R. Martin should probably get a major part of the credit for that, as of course should Cook for his unrepentantly pulpy Black Company books. But I think you also have to credit the other areas of fantasy, the really weird and wonderful cutting edge stuff like Kelly Link or China Mieville or Neil Gaiman, which has upped the ante for everybody. Those guys have ensured that all but the most stick-in-the-mud Tolkien worshippers now have raised expectations of the genre, whatever sub-section of fantasy they like, and that general upgrade has more or less enforced the ascendancy of guys like Erikson and Martin. To borrow from Voltaire, if Erikson et al hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent them—just to keep epic fantasy credibly afloat.

Q: Back in April, your most recent novel, "Black Man/Thirteen", was awarded the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Obviously this is a great honor, but how does it compare to your Philip K. Dick Award win, and do you believe these awards validate your work as an author?

Richard: Well, I think the Clarke pays a little more than the Dick :)

Seriously, I don’t think anything will ever compare to the PKD win, because it was my first novel, and to be honoured that way with the first thing you get published is indescribable. I won’t say I wasn’t bowled over when I won the Clarke, because I was (go check the video of my rather shaky acceptance speech for some sense of just how bowled over!). But these days I’m a full time pro with five years work under my belt, five books in, a sixth coming out, and in that position you can’t ever get back that sense of rookie wonder your first book gives you. And obviously, you can only write your first novel once!

As to validation, yes, obviously it’s very nice when a group of informed people get together and say your work is worth something. It’s also very nice when your books sell well, for a similar reason—a very much larger (though possibly less well informed) group is also telling you your work has worth. Getting the Clarke for Black Man was especially nice because the book got such a mixed response from the readership (though, oddly, it still sold very well). But in the end, you have to keep a sense of perspective about these things (awards and sales). If you’re a decent writer, you’re writing for yourself, and that’s the initial audience you have to please. It’s nice when what you have to say chimes with others, but if you genuinely believe it’s worth saying, that won’t sway you very much. As far as I’m concerned, my books are validated when I let them out the gate in a form I’m happy with. Anything after that is just icing on the cake.

Q: The last time we talked, both "Altered Carbon" and "Market Forces" had been optioned for movie adaptation. Is anything going on with these films? How about other adaptation new?

Richard: Not really. Both those options are still in force, and there’s some talk about Black Man going the same way but no action or cash to back the talk up yet. It’s strictly a waiting game—it doesn’t pay to brood on it too much.

Q: Considering your experience with not only writing novels, but also movie scripts and comic books, what do you think of the cross-pollination today between different mediums such as films, novels, comic books, television, et cetera? Is it getting to the point where it might be more advantageous for a writer to have experience in more than one format in order to be successful?

Richard: Well, I think it’s always advantageous to have more than one basket for your eggs, yeah. Success is an elusive little motherfucker, and it pays to look for him wherever you think he might show up. And personally, I like the novelty of learning new forms, exploring what you can do with them—I find it keeps you fresh. So that kind of diversity strikes me as a good thing, both in purely pragmatic terms and in terms of personal development.

That said, I am a novelist, a story-teller, first and foremost, and as a story-teller I have been singularly unimpressed with some of the cross-pollination we’ve seen of late. I mean, if 300 and Sin City are anything to go by, then the trend has been a colossal disaster for story-telling as an art. Ditto the movie of Doom (I mean, for god’s sake, what was the point of that? Ruin a perfectly good video game by copying it into a format where you can’t actually play? Why?). Then again, I thought Beowulf and the first Resident Evil movie worked pretty well, so maybe the news isn’t all bad.

I think the trick in dealing with different media, is to keep in mind that they are different. Which is why Sin City works as a comic-book, but—after the impact of the first ten minutes—absolutely doesn’t as a movie. It’s why Bladerunner is almost nothing like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but still manages to be a brilliant piece of cinema. It’s why the movie and the original novel of The Prestige are so different, but each still works well in its own right. Moving from medium to medium involves exploring what the other medium has to offer, what its potentials and its limitations are; not slavishly transferring what you’ve done in one form directly to another. It’s a delicate thing, and it’s not easy to succeed at. It takes intelligence and finesse—and maybe that’s the key point, because both 300 and Sin City were dumb as fuck.

Q: Lastly, with entertainment becoming more technology-based, which in turn is becoming more and more advanced, is the print format (books, comics) in danger of becoming extinct, and what can publishers & authors do to adjust to the changing times? Additionally, what are your thoughts on ePublishing?

Richard: Yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about this—the death of print and so on—but most of it sounds to me like good old moral panic bullshit. I can’t speak for the US, but in the UK book sales are up, and have been trending that way for some considerable time. And look at the Harry Potter phenomenon. Thing is, books are nice things to own, they make good gifts, there’s a genuine visual and tactile pleasure to holding and using them, and their technology, to be honest, is pretty near perfect. I mean, this little hinged and printed thing with no need for batteries, charger or external power supply, and it enables you to disappear into a virtual world in complete silence wherever you happen to be. How incredibly sophisticated is that? What more could you ask?

Oh, sure, you’ve got the adolescent male mindset that can’t relate to anything other than Halo 3 or Spiderman, but then we’ve always had those guys around. They were never big readers before and they certainly aren’t going to join the club now that the field of brain-dead entertainment has blossomed so massively. But I don’t see the technology itself as a threat—the real problem is the catastrophic failures in schooling that mean so many inhabitants of supposedly first world nations are coming out of education with a reading age of about six. That’s the real threat—fuckwit right wing government and its long-term failure to fund social systems effectively. But if you can beat that, if you can elect someone who actually gives a shit about the broad swathe of the population, and then if you teach people to read properly, teach them to get benefit and pleasure from reading, then it’s like riding a bike—they never lose it. Take me as an example—I play my fair share of video games, but that doesn’t stop me reading. Why should it? I go rock climbing as well, but no-one would suggest that’s going to dissuade me from buying books. It’s not a zero sum game—you get different things out of different forms of entertainment, and if you’re educated to it, you can make that distinction easily enough and act on it.

Also, if you look at what’s happening on the tech front, a huge amount of R&D right now is being ploughed not into replacing reading as an activity, but into creating more effective versions of the existing technology, which is to say developing a book with all the benefits of the original format but with massively improved acquisition and storage capacity. Look at Kindle. Look at the on-going search for a viable form of “e-paper”. As far as I can see, these are not signs of the death of print—they’re signs that it’s right there at the cutting edge of the entertainment field as much as it ever has been. Of course, there’s going to be the issue of data piracy once e-format books become commonplace, but I suspect that the anti-piracy science we’re seeing developed in the music industry at the moment will probably solve that problem for us pretty efficiently by the time it arises. For the rest, the future of print looks pretty bright to me.


Anonymous said...

him, charles stross, and Ken MacLeod make look england before america in leading the field in sci-fi that matters.


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