Iain Banks

Iain Banks has posted a message on the Banksophilia website: he has terminal cancer, and his next book, The Quarry, will likely be his last.

I’m not much of a fanboy. I don’t follow the lives of writers. Meet too many of them, and you realize that if you love books, you’re probably better off not knowing too much about the people who create them. The stories are what matter, and they’ll always be there.

But this news has knocked me back. I first read The Wasp Factory, his first novel, back in college. My friend Nancy Neibur pressed it into my hands and said, “I think you’ll like this.” Oh Jesus did I. I’d never read anything like it.

Then, years later, I read Consider Phlebus, the first of his Culture novels, and was bowled over twice: once by the audacity of the book, and second by the fact that it was written by the same man who’d written The Wasp Factory. I don’t even like space opera, but here was a writer who’d reinvented it, jazzed it up, and made me turn pages in the way I did when I was ten. But this was entertainment for adult brains. The language and narrative structure were as much a part of the joy as talking spaceships.

I went back and got my own copy of The Wasp Factory, then proceeded to hunt down everything he wrote. When I went to England 16 years ago I made sure to find every book I couldn’t get in the US (this was in the pre-internet days, when it was tough to get UK versions), under both his names: He writes SF as Iain M. Banks, and “mainstream” as Iain Banks, though sometimes you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.  In both modes he’s the master of the grand set piece, capable of wheeling out one seven-layer cake of strangeness after another. He is able to end a 700 page novel with a sentence that makes my jaw drop.

I don’t read him like a writer looking to steal his tricks.  I don’t read him critically at all. I read him like a fan. And at this stage of my life, after 25 years of writing, there are precious few people in that category.

Would anyone but a fan name his son “Ian”?

So Mr. Banks: You’re not dead yet, but it’s looking grim. Before you go, I just wanted to say thanks, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Your fan,



Mage versus Assassin

S.C. Butler -- Sam in noirish black and white

Two of my pals have books coming out this month: Joshua Palmatier and Sam Butler, who writes under the name S. C. Butler. Sam’s new book is Queen Ferris, and Joshua’s is The Vacant Throne, and both of them are high fantasy adventures.

I thought it would be enlightening to interview them head-to-head style. Dueling Fantasy Writers, if you will (and oh, you will. You will.).

Both men are fleeing the world of numbers for the wide open spaces of words. Sam describes himself as “a former Wall Street bond trader who always preferred Middle-earth to the Chicago Board of Trade.” And Joshua has a PhD in mathematics and teaches at State University of New York–Oneonta. (Okay, maybe fleeing is too strong a word. But as an English major, I always like to claim a few wins for the other side of the brain).

Joshua Palmatier -- in color, and stripes

Both are New Yorkers: Sam lives in the city ( he’s in Brooklyn with his wife and a whippet) and Joshua lives upstate. I met both of them the same year, at conventions. Sam befriended me at Confluence in Pittsburgh, and a few months later at Readercon he introduced me to Joshua. I’ll be signing with both of them at the end of January in Hackensack — see the posts a couple down from here.

Enough of the intro. Cue banjo!

Continue reading

Get to know the Right People

If you love yourself — and you know you do — give yourself a treat and read Adam Rakunas’ slightly lewd and very funny story, “The Right People,” appearing now at Futurismic. I love this story. 

Now back to me, and my obsession with self-promotion.

So a couple weeks ago I recorded an interview with Sohaib, the host of the Philadelphia radio show, Fictional Frontiers. I had a great time, and Sohaib was scarily enthusiastic about Pandemonium. You’ll have to listen to the interview to hear who he’d pick to direct the film version. 

You can hear me stumbling over my words this Sunday, October 12, at 11am eastern, on WNJC 1360AM (“Philadelphia’s Renaissance Radio Station” — though I have it on good authority that radio in the Renaissance sucked. The reception was terrible.).  If you don’t happen to be living in Philly, you can hear a live stream on the web. A podcast of the show should be availbable about a week after that — I’ll post the link when I have it. 

Meanwhile, if you want to see  me stumble over words, Matt Staggs of the very cool Enter the Octopus blog interviewed me, and he got me to confess to several things — what I really think of archetypes (and the dolphins who write about them), why Philip K Dick forced his way into my book, and who is the hottest chick that I’ve ever made into a fictional character.

Two Notes, one reflection, and some noise

Notes from the Narrative Whiplash Wing

My brain still smarts from the gear change I put myself through in August. First I turned in a 95,000-word draft of the second novel to my editor at Del Rey, and then after WorldCon I started work on a very short story — maximum length: 2,000 words. A couple days ago I finished what I think is the final draft of “Glass”, a tale of mirror neurons, drugs, conscience, and psychopathic prisoners that squeaks in at 1,900 words. In about a month it’ll be appearing on the web and print editions of Technology Review Magazine. Not my usual venue, but I was pleased as punch that assistant editor Erica Naone invited me in. 

Oh, and my story “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” will be out next month in the original anthology Eclipse 2, edited by Jonathan Strahan. The table of contents is chock full of loveliness. 

(Cliff) Notes from the “I’ve Got Class” Department

Thanks to a connection made by My Favorite Nephew (Stephen Delafield, son of my good friend Gary, who earned that title years ago when the boy worked at Barnes & Noble and I heard that relatives could receive his employee discount), I was invited to inflict myself on a couple of creative writing classes at Penn State. So on Tuesday this week I woke up early to talk to the students of the poet Camille-Yvette Welsch. Evidently, and I’m a little shocked at how far standards have fallen since I was in school, there are college students who sign up for creative writing classes that meet at 8am—and show up for them. This just wasn’t done in my day. I excpected nothing but slack jaws, but really, the students were lovely, and asked a load of questions, from “how do you start” to “how do I find an agent” (answer: Go to a sci fi convention, kid, and walk into the hotel bar). I also read the opening scene of Pandemonium, as well as the short story “Unpossible”  — though with the second class I ran out of time before I could finish — donk. 

Noise from the Blog-Rhymes-with-Flog Echo Chamber

Reviews continue to roll in on Pandemonium, and jiminy, people are being nice. Here’s the latest from the San Francisco Chronicle, Chris Roberson, the Kansas City Star, ConNotationsMatt Stagg and the Watha T. Daniel Library (!). And for you Spanish-speaking folks, here’s a review by the coolest Colombian editor I know, Hernán Ortiz of Proyecto Liquido. 

And of course, I keep talking about myself. 

In the September edition of DRIN — the Del Rey Internet Newsletter — I opine about “plus 1” stories and why I think Pandemonium is one. On Sci-Fi Wire I talk some more about myself. More online interviews are on the way. And in October I’ll even have a radio interview to talk about.  It’s a Festival of Me. 

Daryl on WPSU's Bookmark

In the WPSU studios, avec book and cheesy smile


Reflections from the Meta Mirror Room: State College Writers on State College Writers

Finally, flogging someone else’s book.

Back in May, 2008 I recorded a review of James Morrow’s The Philosopher’s Apprentice for the Bookmarks program on my local public radio station, WPSU

You can listen to the MP3 of the review.

The Pandemonium Synopsis vs The Ruthless Red Pencil

Friend and fellow-writer Joshua Palmatier has been organizing a pretty cool series of projects that are of interest to new writers, or anyone else curious about the unseemly sausage-making process that is book selling and publishing. First there was the Plot Synopsis Project, in which Joshua invited writers to post up the synopses of their books all on the same day, followed by the Query Letter Project. Now there’s Plot Synopsis Project Part 2, which I jumped on board for.  All the posts went live on September 19.

On my main site you can find four drafts of the Pandemonium synopsis. Why four? because it took me that long to do it adequately. And the only reason I know it was adequate is that I eventually found an agent and the book sold—so at the very least, the synopsis didn’t sabotage the novel entirely. 

Other writers participating in PSP Part 2:

Paul Melko’s first novel is the best book I haven’t read yet this year

I like Paul Melko. Don’t tell him that, because he’ll become insufferable. But just between you and me, his short fiction rocks, and if his first novel, out today, is anything like his short stuff I’m going to like it a lot. 

Singingularity’s Ring CoverThe book’s called Singularity’s Ring, and it had its genesis in one of his best short stories.  More info about the book is at www.tor-forge.com/singularitysring, and you can also buy it from Amazon. 

So who is Paul Melko? Glad you asked. Here’s a short bio, and a Q&A with and about the man himself.


Paul lives in Ohio with his beautiful wife and four fairly wonderful children. He is an active member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, where he sits on the board of directors as the South-Central Regional Director and is chair of the Grievance Committee.

Paul’s fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Spider Magazine, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Talebones, and other magazines and anthologies.  His work has been translated into Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, and Russian, and it has been nominated for the Sturgeon, Nebula, and Hugo Awards.  Singularity’s Ring is his first novel.

His blog is at http://paulmelko.livejournal.com/

1) What was your inspiration for writing Singularity’s Ring?

This is all Lou Anders’ fault.  He was inviting authors to write stories for his upcoming anthology entitled Live Without a Net back in 2001.  “Give me something where the internet and computers are not the be-all and end-all of technology.  Give me something different,” he said.  “What kind of future would that be?” I wondered, thinking his anthology wouldn’t find a lot of takers.  Of course, my subconscious rolled the idea over and over, and by the next morning I had the genesis of “Singletons in Love.”  That story went on to be reprinted in Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and it became the second chapter of Singularity’s Ring.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

As a youth, I read to escape and loved a good science fiction yarn: Heinlein, Farmer, Harrison, Haldeman, and Panshin.  These days, I’m reading more YA fiction as my daughter starts to read: Westerfeld,  Rowland, and Tolkien.  Just this last week, my son started reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It’s been fun to re-read it with him.

3) Summarize the book for our viewers.

Singularity’s Ring is set several decades in the future, and the world has collapsed in a technological cataclysm.  Most of humanity has died or disappeared in a singularity event, and what is left of humanity is being shepherded carefully by Pod Society.  Pods are an experiment in multiple humans: duos, trios, quartets, and quintets of humans that share thoughts and emotions among themselves.  The environment is unstable and the world seems on the brink of another cataclysm.  Apollo Papadopulos has been bred to fly a starship through the Rift, a remnant of the singularity event.  Only forces don’t want him to succeed.  And, amazingly, someone has come down the space elevator from the supposedly empty Ring.

4) Why did you decide to make Apollo a quintet?

My protagonist is not one person, but five.  Lou Anders didn’t want silicon computers, so I created a biological computer:  Apollo Papadopulos is five humans altered to think as one.  As such, his thoughts benefit from the synergism of their network; he can make great intuitive leaps, understand things quickly, and come to more logical conclusions.  Of course, there’s a trade-off.  You or I would see him (them) standing still, grasping hands for seconds at a time while he (they) come to consensus.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Recently I took up Taekwondo.  My children started last year, and it looked like so much fun, I joined them.  I was right; it was fun.  We’re all blue belts.  We’ve managed to not break anything in the house yet.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

Singularity’s Ring is an adventure story that follows Apollo from the Rockies to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit to the Amazon and Congo.  There’s also, of course, an orbital structure, the Ring.  The scope of the book allowed me to draw on the details of these exotic locales, as well as create a technological artifact that’s larger in diameter than the Earth.

7)  What are you writing now?

I just turned in the novel-version of my Hugo-, Nebula-, and Sturgeon-nominated novella “The Walls of the Universe.”  This is a parallel universe story in which one version of my protagonist tricks another version out of his life.  Farmboy John Rayburn is cast into the multiverse, and tries to get home again.