Travel Research Grant for Spec Fic writers – applications close 30 September 2014

The Speculative Literature Foundation offers a US$800 travel research grant each year to writers of speculative literature (in fiction, poetry,drama, or creative nonfiction). It’s a brilliant opportunity to have your research partially or wholly funded. The grant can be used to be used to cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses.

Current applications close 30 September 2014. For more inormation, and details on how to apply, head over to

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Some amazing projects have been helped by this grant. Past winners have used the money to travel to elephant sanctuaries to research the relationship between elephants and their caretakers (for a novel that included reference to the well-known story of how the Hindu god Ganesha got his elephant head); to travel to Seville, Ecuador, to research records concerning the Spanish Inquisition and the history of a local family for a historical novel with elements of magical realism; and even to research the history of female astronauts and undertake basic flight training as part of research for a fabulist novel – including travel to NASA Headquarters Library in Washington, DC, Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

[Note: I am one of the jurors assessing the grant applications this year, but if I happen to receive an application from someone I know, well … sorry! No special favours. I will declare my conflict and pass your application to another juror].


Insomnia in dystopian fiction

Black Moon is a new novel by Kenneth Calhoun, and I wonder how it will compare to Charlie Huston’s incredible novel Sleepless?  In both, an insomnia epidemic catalyses radical social disintegration.

Calhoun’s protagonist, Biggs, is one of a few people who has not succumbed to the chronic insomnia ravaging the population. Setting out to find his wife, he has to contend with a world where all around ‘sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it.’

Sleepless is set in a world that is struggling to cope with the global pandemic SLP (aka Sleepless) – a fatal disease that renders the sufferer literally sleepless.  The novel powerfully conveys the dystopian reality of a world that has evolved in response to this disease. It’s dirty, gritty, and corrupt. The characters are themselves dirty, gritty, and corrupt … and painfully engaging. It is at once a dystopian science fiction,a noir detective novel, and a techno-thriller. If you read it, you won’t forget it.

Black Moon is released next week (4 March).

Black Moon - CalhounSleepless UK

‘Reboot’ and fore-edge painting

I recently read Reboot by Amy Tintera. Despite the dystopian setting and intriguing premise (see synopsis at end of this post), it was one of those books that just did not make much of an impact on me–it was not amazing, and it was not awful. I suspect if I was a tween I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But there is one overriding reason I impulse-purchased it, which is the reason I am happy to have it on my shelf:  the edition is edge-printed! In fact, all three “edges” are illustrated, and the image is retained when you fan the pages because the printing sits on the edges of each page as well. Fore-edge printing uses a special process to print on the cut, outside edges of the book block of a publication.

Reboot strip

This is not something you see often on mass-market paperbacks, and it’s not something you would ever notice if you shop online for books, as I do 95% of the time.

Admittedly, this edition of Reboot is not quite in the same artistic league as, for example, the beautiful watercolour fore-edge painting on this 1976 limited edition of Watership Down:

Watership Down fore edge painting

The book experts at AbeBooks summarise the technique of fore-edge painting:

The front page edges of the book are bent back to expose a greater area and a watercolor painting is applied to this surface. After completion the book is closed and the painting cannot be seen. The opposite is also true. The painting is done on the edge of the pages so it can be seen when the book is closed but is not visible when the book was open.

The technique of fore-edge painting dates back to the 17th century (and even earlier, in other forms). I love the gifs of the 19th century “secret” fore-edge paintings from the Special Collections at the University of Iowa (more here):



Reboot by Amy Tintera

In this fast-paced dystopian thrill ride, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, Legend, and Divergent, a seventeen-year-old girl returns from death as a Reboot and is trained as an elite crime-fighting soldier . . . until she is given an order she refuses to obey.

Wren Connolly died five years ago, only to Reboot after 178 minutes. Now she is one of the deadliest Reboots around . . . unlike her newest trainee, Callum 22, who is practically still human. As Wren tries to teach Callum how to be a soldier, his hopeful smile works its way past her defenses. Unfortunately, Callum’s big heart also makes him a liability, and Wren is ordered to eliminate him.

To save Callum, Wren will have to risk it all.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence, now in SF Masterworks series

I was thrilled to learn today that Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence is being republished as part of the SF Masterworks series. I read it a couple of years ago, and summed it up as “an un-heralded classic that left me feeling liked I’d been punched in the gut – and I mean that as an absolute compliment to the power of the book.” It’s bleak, intense, and absolutely exquisite. From the back cover copy:

Paying meticulous attention to the evolving rhythm and syntax of speech, and their alliance with class and race, Womack demonstrates that woven into the mutable nature of language are clues to the dark and shifting potentials for the future of the society in which we live.

Random-Acts-of-Senseless-ViolenceIt’s just a little later than now and Lola Hart is writing her life in a diary. She’s a nice middle-class girl on the verge of her teens who schools at the calm end of town.

A normal, happy, girl.

But in a disintegrating New York she is a dying breed. War is breaking out on Long Island, the army boys are flamethrowing the streets, five Presidents have been assassinated in a year. No one notices any more. Soon Lola and her family must move over to the Lower East side – Loisaida – to the Pit and the new language of violence of the streets.

New banner artwork for She reads speculative fiction or, Zoetica Ebb is a creative genius

Today, the She reads speculative fiction site got a little upgrade: a glorious banner illustration by Zoetica Ebb.

Zoetica describes herself as “a Moscow-born, LA-raised artist, writer and photographer, dedicated to proving that life is as beautiful as we make it.”  And beyond that, words are entirely inadequate to convey the extent of her myriad talents. Her website is a must-visit if you want to know more about Zoetica, and see more of her art, design, and photography:

I still can’t quite understand how she was able to turn my stick-figure concept, which I scribbled on the back of a shopping receipt while sitting on the bus, into the wonderful image that now sits at the top of my website (oh, wait … that’s right: creative genius!). This is the actual sketch I sent her, along with vague instructions that I’d like it to look something like a cross between Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince illustrations and her own Space Friends sticker set:


And she made this:


I believe my response was: I totally totally totally LOVE IT!

And I do. I totally love it. I hope you do too.

The Dead Roots Comic Anthology on Kickstarter or, Zombies!

As you know, I have a bit of a thing for zombies, and if you do too, you might be interested in this fine project over on Kickstarter: help print The Dead Roots Comic Anthology. It’s a four-part (180+ finished page) shared-world zombie comic anthology.

Mike Garley, the project’s creator, explains his idea:

‘I wanted to create a shared world anthology that even though told by multiple creators was still about the characters, so I needed a way to cut through all the potentially page-wasting exposition and create a world where the problem was obvious, that way the creators can get straight into what they do best, and that’s telling great stories.

Zombies gave us that way to cut into the crux of storytelling. Although sometimes overused, there’s no mistaking what zombies are, they’re scary kill or be killed monsters, that more often than not signify the end of the world.

Instead of focusing on the zombies we focused on the characters and how they would react in the initial hours of the outbreak, avoiding clichéd, gun-toting stories, and dealing with real world problems… amplified by zombies.’

And, making the stakes even more exciting (for me, at least), is the first stretch goal for the project: if this goal is reached, there will be an additional six-page story by Adam Christopher, author of Empire State, The Age Atomic, Seven Wonders, and the forthcoming The Burning Dark.

Today is Day 2 of the campaign which ends, fittingly, on Hallowe’en–Thursday 31 October at 7:59pm EDT, to be exact.  Go and do your part for this creative expression of the zombie apocalypse.

Death Knocks - written by Gordon Rennie, art by Lee Carter, letters by Mike Stock

Death Knocks – written by Gordon Rennie, art by Lee Carter, letters by Mike Stock (

Get your free digital copy of New York Review of Science Fiction #300

The New York Review of Science Fiction’s 300th issue is available now, and its free:

As a thank you to the many people who have made it possible for us to reach this milestone, the digital edition of NYRSF Issue 300 is FREE. It’s a sampler of all the types of material NYRSF publishes—appreciations of authors both well-known and forgotten; reviews, long and short, of good science fiction, fantasy, and horror books; theatre reviews; personal essays related to the larger f&sf field; and a vigorous letter column.

You can download a copy of the issue in ebook (epub or mobi/Kindle format) or print-ready PDF.