Priscilla Hutchins, the young interstellar pilot who is just getting her license in the opening chapters of Starhawk, actually got her start in the 19th century when A. E. Housman heard troops marching by his home. No doubt, he realized, they were headed for the battles then raging in the Transvaal. He went outside to watch as the Redcoats passed.
And there came a moment when one of them turned and saw him. Their eyes locked. Housman felt an immediate kinship with the young man. But the world’s so large, he realized, that they were never likely to meet again.
What thoughts at heart have you and I
We cannot stop to tell;
But dead or living, drunk or dry,
Soldier, I wish you well.
Since I first read A Shropshire Lad during my college days, those lines had stayed with me. In the years that followed, we expanded our exploration of the universe. SETI got up and running, telescopes improved, and new technology came forward. I assumed that it would be just a matter of time before somebody out there said hello. Now we have a report that estimates the Milky Way has billions of Earth-sized planets orbiting within Goldilocks zones. Despite all that, so many years later, the silence remains unbroken.
So what has all this to do with Priscilla Hutchins? In a 1983 story, “Melville on Iapetus,” a Voyager, passing through the rings of Saturn, has discovered a statue on one of the moons. Several missions have made the flight to Iapetus by the time the story opens. The statue is not human, but clearly female, and it has been given the name Jennifer. So the narrative becomes simply an account of one more visit to this mysterious monument, which is described by Terri, the pilot.
“The thing was carved of rock and covered with ice. It stood serenely on that bleak, snow covered plain, a nightmare figure of curving claws, surreal eyes, and lean fluidity. The lips were parted, rounded, almost sexual. I wasn't sure why it was so disquieting. It was more than simply the talons, or the disproportionately long lower limbs. It was more even than the suggestion of philosophical ferocity stamped on those crystalline features. There was something --terrifying-- bound up in the tension between its suggestive geometry and the wide plain on which it stood.”
But it does not take her long to grasp why it is disquieting. The creature is alone. And there is a single set of footprints which match Jennifer’s feet. She’s looking directly at Saturn, which remains serenely in the sky over a nearby ridge. The planet never changes position, of course, because of tidal lock. The sculpture has been dated at about 20,000 B.C.
The visitor has left no other evidence of her passing. Terri, still feeling a desire to know who this was, why she constructed the statue in a place where no one was ever likely to see it, follows the prints, which lead to the top of the nearby ridge. Once there, it becomes evident that Jennifer stood for a time, looking out at the ringed planet, just as the statue does.
Terri continues the narration: “I was beginning to feel the cold, and it was a long way back to the shelter. I looked up (as she must have). Titan was there, with its thin envelope of methane; Rhea and Hyperion, and some of the smaller satellites: frozen, spinning rocks, like this one, immeasurably old, no more capable of supporting a thinking creature than the bloated gasbag they circle. Steinitz had argued for a benevolent cosmos. But Steinitz had never stood alone on that ridge. Only I have done that.
“And one other.
“The universe is a precarious, cold haven for anything that thinks. There are damned few of us, and it is a wide world, and long. I wondered who she was. Long since gone to dust, no doubt. But nevertheless, Jennifer, I wish you well.”
I’ve always been fascinated by a universe that seems empty. Usually, at speaking engagements, someone asks whether I believe in UFO’s. I normally respond that if somebody would park one in my driveway, allow me to kick the tires, and maybe tool around in it, then yes, I would join the believers. That sort of reply tends to annoy people. For reasons that I do not understand, we want desperately to find others out there that we can talk to. The notion that we might actually be alone in this vast universe is depressing. Even though we’d be a lot safer if it were the reality.
But it would leave us with the universe that Terri experiences.
Eventually I realized that I couldn’t let go of the concept. I wanted to take it further. But to manage the effect that I needed, I had to give my astronauts better technology. Specifically, an FTL capability.
Readers who know Priscilla from The Engines of God will recognize Terri’s story, because it is also Priscilla’s. They share the Iapetus experience. They live in a universe that is not completely devoid of intelligent life. But there is an unnerving reality: Civilizations do not live long.
Priscilla has been a major presence throughout the early years of interstellar exploration. But, because of the nature of the series, readers had never seen her at the beginning of her career. Until now.
In this giveaway you can win one copy of Unfashioned Creatures by Lesley McDowell, published by Saraband. Giveaway is open for EU and lasts until 16th December, 2013.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line CREATURES to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Saraband for providing us with the copy!
We are very happy to showcase cover art and synopsis for the new book by Tom Holt, The Outsorcerer's Apprentice. The book is scheduled to come out on 15st July, 2014.
From one of the sharpest voices in comic fantasy comes a new novel of a normal work world filled with extraordinary beings. A happy workforce, it is said, is a productive workforce.
We are very happy to showcase cover art and synopsis for the new book by Sarah Pinborough, Murder. The book is scheduled to come out on 1st May, 2014.
Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, is still recovering from the events of the previous year when Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London - and a more malign enemy hid in his shadow. Bond and the others who worked on the gruesome case are still stalked by its legacies, both psychological and tangible. But now the bodies of children are being pulled from the Thames... and Bond is about to become inextricably linked with an uncanny, undying enemy.
There are some books you write for fun – for pure entertainment. There are some stories you tell because a quirky idea has you hooked and the only way to shake it is it get it down on paper and explore it. I've written a lot of books now, and in the main, they're all books I've wanted to write, for the fun, for the adventure of them. I wanted to entertain people. I've never really had higher aspirations than that.
The Language of Dying is different. It was not a book I wanted to write. It was a book I needed to write.
I can't talk about this book without giving some context because The Language of Dying lives in the blurred space between fact and fiction. Several years ago a friend of mine (my ex-father-in-law to be exact) came to stay with me while he was dying of cancer. His son and I were long divorced by then but he and I had always got along and so it was that he moved into the little room at the back of my house and there he stayed until the night before he died.
He was an unusual man – there was never a simple conversation, everything was analysed in depth, frivolous or otherwise, over several cups of tea and many cigarettes. He was a recovered alcoholic, a psychiatric nurse and a divorced and devoted father of five. He was my friend and I loved him, but I have to be honest, I wasn't entirely certain of the decision I'd made. I have a horror writer's imagination – we think about the fear far too much – but my friend? As far as I could fathom – he seemed completely unafraid of death. They dying part bothered him, but whatever fears he might have had, he made it easier for me by not sharing them. We talked about it - we picked out coffins and visited crematoriums - but I never once saw his fear. Like I said, he was an unusual man. But still, in many ways that I didn't realise at the time, it was a harrowing experience. I still had both my parents – the slow dissolving of a life wasn't a situation I'd experienced before. It lingers with me still. I haven't used Listerine mouthwash since that time. The smell of christmas candles burning always takes me back there – and if you read the book, you'll understand why.
The Language of Dying is based on my experiences of the last week of my friend's life, when he'd gone to bed and stayed there, and family gathered round and nurses and doctors came and went. The characters are fictitious although there are elements drawn from my life and others', strands of fact and fiction woven together to make a new, maybe stronger, cord.
After a few months had passed since my friend's death, I knew I needed to, rather than wanted to, write the book. Nature heals us. Time passes and we forget things that damage us – it's easier that way. I didn't want to forget the details of that experience though, because I knew they were important. This was not a unique situation – people are living through it now, and we will all come to play the central role when the time comes. I didn't want to remember, but I didn't want to forget, and the writing process was cathartic for me. Writing is the way I deal with the world. I get to put it down on paper and then I can put it away in my mind.
It's a book I think my friend would be proud of. It's an emotionally honest book, as much about life and living as death. It's about families and love and the strengths we don't know we have. It's about the rippling effects our lives have on each other. It's about how the indignities of death are not what lingers of a person.
And, also, of course, it's about a strange magical creature that sometimes visits in the night.
We are very happy to showcase cover art and synopsis for the new book by Arne Dahl, To the Top of the Mountain The book is scheduled to come out on 26th June, 2014.
After the disastrous end to their last case, the Intercrime team - a specialist unit created to investigate violent, international crime - has been disbanded, their leader forced into early retirement. The six officers have been scattered throughout the country. Detectives Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm are investigating the senseless murder of a young footballer supporter in a pub in Stockholm, Arto Söderstedt and Viggo Norlander are working on mundane cases, Gunnar Nyber is tackling child pornography while Jorge Chavez is immersed in research. But when a man is blown up in a high-security prison, a major drugs baron comes under attack and a massacre takes place in a dark suburb, the Intercrime team are urgently reconvened. There is something dangerous approaching Sweden, and they are the only people who can do anything to stop it.
The only problem I have with reading Neal Asher's books is that by the time I finish them I want to read some more. And then some more. And then more. However, since I read much faster than Neal writes this plan obviously has a fatal flaw. Eh. But not to go on a personal tangent here, Jupiter War has just been published and it is a conclusion of the Owner trilogy which started with Departure and Zero Point. As such it shouldn't be read as a standalone novel. The events from all three books are pretty much one continuous affair and despite the fact that there is a small chance that you'll manage figuring it all out, you just shouldn't do it. Having said that, I must admit that I'm having hard time looking at Jupiter War as a book on it's own as it's heavily ingrained in the general story of the series.
If you read the first two books in the series you'll remember that both Departure and Zero Point were quite hopeless and bleak. Jupiter War continues the trend and is more of the same. After he dropped the satellite network on The Committee, effectively freeing Zero Asset citizens, Alan has left the Earth in tatters. These days Alan is part-human and part-machine and is still caught in machinations surrounding the Mars rebellion. He is doing his best to save his sister and if, in the process he manages to leave the solar system, all the better.
On the Earth, a radical leader, and by now quite possible a dictator, Serene Galahad is up to her usual evil tricks and is literary trying to start an interstellar conflict. The third spoke of the story comes in the guise of Clar Ruger who by a streak of luck holds the most important bargaining chip of them all - a stolen gene-bank data which contains seeds necessary to rebuild Earth. Chaos ensues. Jupiter War is very big on bombastic, massive, bloody fights and as it concludes it becomes perfectly clear that it's a provides a stunning ending to the Owner series. But is this really the end? I seriously doubt as in my opinion there's still plenty more to tell. For example, what happens once Alan Saul leaves the solar system? I would definitely love to read that book.
To conclude, Jupiter War is a proper Neal Asher book and that just about sums it up. As always, Asher is the master of creating tangible and uneasy tension which makes you completely forget about sleeping and forces you to keep on reading all the way to the end. You simply shouldn't miss it if you like exciting, wide reaching science fiction. And that goes for the series as a whole.
In this giveaway you can win one copy of The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough, published by Jo Fletcher Books. Giveaway is open for EU and lasts until 13th December, 2013.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line LANGUAGE to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for providing us with the copy!