Abseiling Lesbians in the House of Lords

Happy New Year to everyone at Night Shade and Night Bazaar. Please forgive the heading, but I wanted to get some attention. Also, it does have an element of truth.

I haven’t worked in publishing or related fields, or written anything commercially, before now (my debut novel, FAITH, is published today, January 3 2012). Most of my career was in the music industry, as Managing Director of PPL, the world’s largest record industry copyright organisation. In 1988 I was sitting in the Public Gallery of the House of Lords in London late one night, waiting for the start of a debate on the Copyright, Designs and Patents Bill. At the time another piece of legislation, involving lesbian rights, was being debated. A group of lesbian activists sitting nearby produced some ropes and climbing equipment and rappelled (in Britain, we’d say abseiled) down onto the floor of the Chamber. It was wonderful. It had the same emetic effect on an ossified, unelected British political institution that punk rock had on music a decade earlier; and it produced the newspaper headline I’ve quoted above.

As you’ll have gathered, I’m British. I live just outside London with my wife and cats (currently two, but there have been as many as six). We have two grown-up children. Apart from my family, London and cats, my favourite things include books and book collecting, cars and driving, football and Tottenham Hotspur, old movies and music. Science fiction books were among the first I can remember reading, and I think they’ll probably be among the last.

My first novel, FAITH, is published today, so as I’m writing this I’m obviously very exercised about how it will be received. There are three things I’d most like to ask readers, the first of which is the most important:
1. Did you want to turn the page and find out what happens next?
2. Did you care about the characters? (Not Did you like them? Characters don’t have to be nice to be believable and complex and make you want to know what happens to them.)
3. Did you think the book tried to be original and different? If you didn’t, what other book or books did you think it most resembled?

Here’s a short synopsis:
“Faith was the name given by the Sakhrans to an unidentified and apparently invincible ship which attacked and devastated them. The Book of Srahr was written by a Sakhran who learnt what the ship was; and when they knew its identity, the Sakhrans questioned their own. Their civilisation declined, gently but irreversibly.
“Sakhrans were agnostic, and they named the ship Faith out of self-mockery. Faith was something they didn’t understand or want; it came suddenly and uninvited; it would not be denied; and when it left, they were ruined.
“Centuries later, Faith comes again. But Sakhra is now an important possession of the Commonwealth, and this time something is waiting: an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth’s ultimate warships.
“What follows is a battle between two apparently invincible opponents: a battle between two alien ships, one sent by the Commonwealth to engage the other, sent by nobody knew who. The battle is fought across an entire solar system, and while it rages Foord (who commands the Outsider) learns more about Faith, piece by piece. The battle is complicated and enigmatic, fought in different languages and with different weapons.
“Faith is like no opponent Foord has ever known: the bastard child of Moby Dick and Kafka, irresistible and strange.  When the battle reaches its conclusion Foord finally sees what his opponent is, and why the Sakhrans turned away from the future and from each other.”

If FAITH has any political resonances, they’re at best oblique. But I hope it has some other resonances. About identity and free will: what makes us what we are, and what makes us what we do. About love and friendship: what forces bring us together, or keep us apart, and why we don’t recognise them. And about the absence of simple good and evil: the complexities which make each of them part of each other.

Favourite novels of 2011 (I’ve interpreted that as read in 2011, whether or not published in 2011):
SF: The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. I only started this recently and haven’t finished reading it yet, but I like its take on where the world might be going: not just dystopia, but a complicated and intricate dystopia which is convincing because you can see its nuts and bolts working – and grinding against each other. A huge, rusting, festering machine, convincing because he’s thought it through and made the details work properly.
SF: Slow Lightning, by Jack McDevitt. I’d heard of him but this is the first of his novels I’ve read. I like it because it has a strong story, well-drawn characters, and is put together and paced very well. Because the characters are believable and the tech, although clearly of the future, doesn’t get in the way, the society he describes is very convincing. It made me want to turn the page.
Non-SF: The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. Her stories exist on the tipping-point between the everyday and the mysterious. Her famous story The Demon Lover is only six pages long, but hints at immensities: at things looming in both the past and the present. To descend to cliches, it’s ambiguous and multi-layered, and leaves a haunting afterimage.

Once again, Happy New Year. I’m so pleased to be doing this!

John Love.