Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer

Quiet, by Susan Cain

Interesting book about the differences between introverts and extroverts, focussing on what it’s like to be an introvert. Opening with the crucial point that “introvert” does not equal “shy” and “extrovert” does not equal “social butterfly” (very important distinctions), the book goes on to discuss how introverts react to the world around them. There’s perhaps a little to much psychobabble, and the book, written by an American, has an American style and feel, but it is undoubtedly interesting and a good read. I felt that I learned a few things from it.



Another FB meme…

So… I was tagged by Em Tett for the “10 Novels That Have Stayed With You” meme… and here we go for mine.

Gene Wolfe, The Book Of The New Sun

Brian Aldiss, Helliconia

Frank Herbert, Dune

The “big three” of my SF, if you like, these are books I really enjoy re-reading from time to time, and which I think have made a huge impact on SF. I’m also a big fan of the film of Dune.

Tolkien, Lord Of The Rings/The Hobbit

The first and the best, never to be surpassed.

Peter Dickinson, The Weathermonger

Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland

There is something about The Weathermonger (the first novel of The Changes to be published, although it turned out to be the third in the trilogy) that for some reason resonates with me. I re-read it about once a year. I think it must be something to do with the scenario of opening up England to pre-industrial forces, removing cars and machines from the land… a fantasy of mine! It’s a wonderful book.

Richard Adams, Watership Down

Jack Vance, Lyonesse

China Mieville, Perdido Street Station/The Scar

Three marvellous fantasies that never lose their appeal. Lyonesse is for me Vance’s best work, although in volume three he did lose the thread a bit.

John Wyndham, The Day Of The Triffids

Looking at this list, I see that the authors are all white Western men. But all the books above, with the single exception of Perdido Street Station, I read as a much younger man, when there were fewer women getting genre fiction published and almost no non-whites. My reading has broadened considerably since then, and I am a keen supporter of non-Western authors. But I think the theme of “books that have stayed with you” does tug you down the path of books that made an impact when you were a teenager, or even younger – and the list above is almost entirely of novels I read when much younger.



The Weathermonger by Peter Dickinson

The latest FB meme…

I was asked to contribute to the latest meme!


a. What am I working on?

I usually have a few things happening at the same time, and that’s true at the moment. My main WIP is a YA trilogy set in an alternate 1910/1911. It’s set mostly in Britain, but does head off to West Africa. The first two novels – The Girl With Two Souls and The Girl With One Friend – are written as first drafts, and I hope to write the concluding volume over winter. I think this is amongst the best work I’ve ever done; certainly from the point of view of plot and character. The main character is a fourteen year old mulatto girl who (it is thought) has two souls – on alternate days she appears as two different people. Her appalling father is the leading industrialist of the age, who has created a race of automata from his vast Factory south of Sheffield. I’m really looking forward to writing the final volume of this work, The Girl With No Soul.

In 2011 I wrote the first half of a near-future SF novel called Beautiful Intelligence. The setting for this is a race between two informal artificial intelligence research teams. Due to personal circumstances I was unable to complete the novel, but recently I’ve gone back to it, honed the written part, and prepared the concluding half. I hope to write this second half over the summer. As someone who has been interested in human consciousness, evolution, AI and related issues for decades, it has always bothered me how negligent (accidental or otherwise) some authors are with their work in these areas. There are any number of SF books where computer networks mysteriously “become sentient,” or where people “upload aspects of their consciousness or personality,” or things similarly impossible in my opinion. Beautiful Intelligence compares and contrasts this traditional view of AI with an alternate view, set amidst an exciting plot of betrayal, social decay and African cultures. Some time ago I wrote a novel called MuezzinlandBeautiful Intelligence is a volume 1 to Muezzinland’s volume 2. When I wrote Muezzinland I hoped to work on a sequel, and I think now that I will do this, writing a volume 3 to complete my tale of futuristic network/AI themes.


b. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s difficult to say. I’m aware that some of my work is viewed as “challenging,” and I suppose with novels like Urbis Morpheos that is true. But it wasn’t intentionally challenging, I just wanted to write a deep, allusive, mysterious novel about environmental issues in the very far future. I also had a phase of using characters both as real people and as archetypes, and I got some flack for that – for example in The Rat & The Serpent. I think my focus on environmental issues – which was mentioned by John Clute in the SF Encyclopaedia as the reason for my lack of success! – is something that sets me apart from many other authors. I also tend to focus on socially apart, suppressed or otherwise mistreated characters – I do like a good “outsider” as a character. Often I use female characters (I much prefer to write them rather than male ones) and often non-white races. Africa fascinates me in particular. The “outsider” thing is certainly true of the disabled Ugliy in The Rat & The Serpent.


c. Why do I write what I do?

All my stuff is inspired by the real world – social injustice, environmental issues, etc. There are usually large scale and small scale beginnings. Often I’ll have an idea for a character or a scenario that takes some big theme as its focus – the environment, racism, sexism, etc. Certain aspects of these themes will form the basic theme of a book. Then there’ll be the small things, the pebbles that start the snowball. With Memory Seed, I had a couple of mental images come to me one day as I was walking around Virginia Water in Surrey – a row of moss-covered roofs going down to an ocean, and an ultra-posh brothel that was a cover for something else. For Muezzinland, I was inspired by tales of Princess Diana and her dysfunctional relationship with the Royal Family to create the Empress of Ghana and her two daughters. Unusually, Hairy London, my most recently published novel, began as the title and nothing else; and once I had that title appear in my head I began thinking about what a hairy London might be like…


d. How does my writing process work?

I write fast. I always have been able to, though it doesn’t always work like that. These days I try to write mostly in school holidays (my day-job is in education) so that I can really concentrate on writing the first draft of a novel and getting it as good as possible. I can usually do 5,000 words a day when it’s really flowing. Afterwards, I collapse from exhaustion!

As I’ve mentioned in various interviews, I suffer from writer’s volcano, which is the opposite of writer’s block. It can be tough going! It does mean however that I can have a number of books and stories out there. At the moment I have four novels out in the wild – The Girl With Two Souls, Humani (a far-future environmental/philosophical novel), Vinland (YA alternate America/Britain) and Bad King John (a children’s novel set in the Westcountry).


Now, I’m going to reverse the flow of this blog-hop by linking to…

EM Tett

heh heh!


The Serpent’s Promise by Steve Jones

Quite enjoyed this, but it is one of those “lists of related stuff” books, which sometimes work and sometimes come across as a list. This one, interesting though it often is, is a bit of a list. I’m not sure it was a great concept either. Having said that, SJ tells it like it is, and is often interesting and wise. Bit of a mixed blessing, this one (pun intended). He’s written some fantastic books though.

t s p

The Serpent’s Promise

So totally boring!

This is a bona fide classic for the Naughty Step!

Memory Seed

Memory Seed

The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood

Very good book indeed, covering the idea that our sense of self is a kind of narrative illusion devised by the brain/mind to make life in an exceptionally complex social world viable. Well written and fascinating. The last chapter on social media/internet is a bit of a damp squib, but all that goes before is excellent. Definitely recommended.

The Self Illusion

The Self Illusion


“Talking nonsense”

Yay, it’s a brand new entry for the Naughty Step section – another 1 star review on amazon!

front cover




New short story, online publication

New from me by way of an online publication for a very short short (about a thousand words)… may include images of Wales.





Tomorrow, by Nick Gifford

Luke Warner, the main character of Nick Gifford’s new novel “Tomorrow,” is fifteen when his father dies. Going through his father’s belongings however sets him on a path the like of which he could never have believed possible. His father, it seems, had knowledge of his future…

Except it isn’t quite as simple as that. Luke has two main friends, the spiky, somewhat insensitive (though only through inexperience), yet quite compassionate Alice, who turns out to be not quite what he expected, and his brother Alfie, who also isn’t quite what he appears to be. For this is a time-thriller, where everything has to be doubted…

Opening with sketches of the aftermath of Luke’s father’s death, the novel quickly spirals into a slightly unsettling narrative of strange men saying strange things, strange notes… and then Uncle Phil dies, in an event that seems to have been foreseen. Suddenly, Luke is thrown into a world of computer messages that say far more than their bland exteriors promise, odd events, odd messages, odd people. And then there is Helena. Helena somehow throws a much needed sense of normality into the narrative, but it is this book’s specialism to throw the reader a good number of curve balls, and Helena’s place in the strangeness is not as clear as initially suggested.

By half way through, we have future environmental disaster and social disorder thrown into the mix via the Freewavers, who may or may not know Luke, and who may or may not know that Alfie is in fact the important guy in all this.

By now, the plot is so thick it couldn’t be thickened. We are aware that time-based shenanigans are occurring, that various futures need to be safeguarded, that nobody is quite what they seem to be. As with Gifford’s other novels, the main trio here are very well portrayed – just ordinary teens in a world they don’t particularly want to inhabit and certainly don’t want to be a part of… especially if Helena’s version of the truth is actually true. “It’s a truly awful future, Luke… It really is all about survival.”

And that’s the core of this book. Is “it” really all about survival? Or is that another layer of the plot hidden from Luke, who does his best to understand things, but finds it so difficult? What would you do if push came to shove? How far would you go to safeguard the future? And, of course, beneath all this – when you know nothing, who do you trust?

Well, to read this book the reader does have to suspend disbelief of course, and with time-travel novels that can be difficult. Without revealing the truth of events and the ending, there are a couple of eye-opening plot twists that mean you have to go back to check things over… then try again.

Having read all of Gifford’s published work, I can say this is certainly as good as the others, albeit cut from a different cloth that may not be to your taste if you like the horror and aren’t so keen on twisty-turny plots… very twisty-turny plots. Don’t believe what any of the characters say!


Nick Gifford, Tomorrow


Xana-La now free at amazon

Xana-La, the story that inspired the writing of Hairy London, is now free to download at amazon.

Xana-La cover

Xana-La cover



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