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Posts by James Bradley

That Glimpse Of Truth: 100 Of The Finest Short Stories Ever Written

Glimpse of TruthI’m very excited to say my story, ‘Beauty’s Sister’, has been included in David Miller’s new anthology, That Glimpse of Truth: 100 Of The Finest Short Stories Ever Written, which was released last week. If you’ve seen the book you’ll know it’s just insanely gorgeous object (and with the Christmas season rapidly approaching would make a perfect gift, hint hint), but it’s also amazingly good, and features stories by Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes, Angela Carter, Anton Chekhov, Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Penelope Fitzgerald, Gustave Flaubert, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Ian McEwan, Alice Munro, V.S. Pritchett, Thomas Pynchon, Muriel Spark and Colm Tóibín as well as me (and in case you’re wondering then yes, it is a little daunting to be in such company).

Obviously you can still buy ‘Beauty’s Sister’ as a Penguin Special in either electronic or print form, but I very much recommend taking the plunge and checking out That Glimpse of Truth. It’s available in bookstores in the UK and Australia, but if you can’t get to a bookstore you can compare prices on Booko (Australia, New Zealand, UK, US, Canada) or buy the ebook through all the usual channels.

Clade cover and preorders!

So it’s official. My new novel, Clade, will be released by Penguin in Australia on 28 January. As the blurb says, “A provocative, urgent novel about time, family and how a changing planet might change our lives, from the acclaimed author of The Resurrectionist and editor of The Penguin Book of the Ocean.”

You can feast your eyes on the very sexy cover below, and if you’d like to preorder a copy you can do so through Booktopia and Bookworld. I’ll pop up more links as it becomes more widely available, and post some more details soon. [Update: you can also preorder through Boomerang Books]

Very exciting!

Clade

Fearsome Magics

Fearsome MagicsJust a quick note to say I’ve got a story in editor extraordinaire Jonathan Strahan’s new anthology, Fearsome Magics, which is due out today. The follow-up to Jonathan’s World Fantasy Award-nominated Fearsome Journeys, it’s also the second in his New Solaris Book of Fantasy series.

I haven’t read all of it yet, but the bits I have are terrific. You can check out the full table of contents over at Coode Street, but there are new stories by Garth Nix, Karin Tidbeck, Kaaron Warren, Frances Hardinge, Christopher Rowe, Isobelle Carmody and a bunch of other fabulous people. I think – I hope – my story, ‘The Changeling’, is interesting: to my mind it’s less fantasy than a sort of anti-fantasy, although I’m not going to say more than that.

Australian readers who’d like to pick up a copy can check prices on Booko; otherwise you can check out your favourite independent bookseller, head to Amazon or Amazon UK, or pick up the ebook for iBooks, Google Books and Kobo. In the words of the immortal Molly Meldrum, ‘Do yourself a favour …”.

Immense Heaven

1024px-Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_NevadaOur sun is one of the approximately 300 billion stars that make up the Milky Way. The Milky Way is part of what is known as the Local Group, a formation of at least 54 galaxies galaxies spanning 10 million light years. The Local Group lies on the fringe of a much larger supercluster of galactic groups and clusters which contains more than 100,000 galaxies and spans some 520 million light years.

I’m not sure how many of us can really make sense of these sorts of numbers, or the idea that the universe is composed of a web of galactic clusters that shift and flow like water. Yet there’s something deeply fitting in the news earlier this week that the team responsible for identifying this vast supercluster have named it Laniakea, a Hawaiian word that means “immense” or “immeasurable heaven”, and was chosen to honour the Polynesian sailors who once navigated the great space of the Pacific by reading the stars.

It’s a name whose poetry extends beyond the obvious resonances with the ocean. It often seems there is something irresistible about our tendency to see the ocean infinite, immeasurable, trackless. There’s little doubt it’s an association that runs very deep, but it’s also at least partly a cultural construction, a legacy of Romanticism and the ways technology has progressively alienated us from the environment.

In fact the ocean is anything but trackless. As the achievements of the Pacific Islanders (and other pre-modern sailors) demonstrate, it is quite possible to read the sea, to learn to make sense not just of the stars but of patterns of wind and wave, the movement of birds and fish and driftwood (as several of the pieces in The Penguin Book of the Ocean attest).

The systems of knowledge, of fine-grained observation and remembered experience that underpinned this process were developed over hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Yet because the cultures that encoded them were largely oral, they were also vulnerable, and as the Pacific was colonised, and its cultures disrupted and suppressed, they largely disappeared. Indeed the fact that persist at all is largely due to the efforts of people such as the late Will Kyselka and David Lewis, who worked to preserve and recover as much of them as possible.

That systems of knowledge acquired over thousands of years should have been lost like this is strangely ironic: after all, the colonial project was spearheaded by the scientific voyages undertaken by explorers such as Banks and Cook during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, voyages that were themselves part of the extraordinary project of discovery and description that underpins modern science, and which has led, more than 200 years later, to us being able to map the flow of galaxies through billions of light years of space with such sophistication that it is possible for structures such as Laniakea to be identified and understood.

Lanikea isn’t the first astronomical object to be given a Polynesian name: astronomers have already chosen to name two of the dwarf planets discovered in recent years in the outer solar system MakeMake (for the creator of humanity and god of fertility worshipped by the Easter Islanders) and Haumea (the matron goddess of the island of Hawaii), yet it’s certainly the most significant. Nor should we be so naive as to think giving Polynesian names to heavenly bodies will bring back what has been lost: as Victoria Nelson has observed, “the death of a culture, like the death of a star, lasts longer than anyone can possibly imagine. The sadness, the echoes and ambiguities, persist for hundreds of years”. But reading about the naming of Laniakea I found myself wondering whether it’s possible that by incorporating the language and poetry of the Polynesians into the scientific endeavour we begin to acknowledge the repositories of knowledge embedded in their cultures (and by extension other non-Western and indigenous cultures), and just perhaps, go some small way toward recognising the injustices that have been inflicted upon them.

Laniakea. Immense Heaven.

 

A new novel, a new story and a new anthology …

It’s been a while since I posted, and given how much I’ve got to get through over the next few months it may be a while before I get back to posting more regularly, but I wanted to announce a couple of things.

The first – and most important – is that Penguin will be publishing my new novel, Clade, in Australia in February next year, with other territories to follow. I’ve posted a few bits and pieces about it here and there, but it’s a book I’ve been thinking about and working on for a while now, and I think it’s pretty special. At some point I’ll pop up a proper description, but for now it’s probably enough to say it’s about time, and family and climate change, it moves from the very near future to the end of the 21st century, and that it’s got birds, floods, bees and aliens. I rather love it and I hope other people will as well.

Although I’m currently deep in the process of editing Clade, I’ve also spent the first half of the year working on a couple of other projects. The first is another new stand-alone novel, which is slowly taking shape; the second is a trilogy of new novels. I can’t talk much about either just yet, except to say that the first novel of the trilogy is written and the next two are underway, and I’m hoping I’ll have drafts of both the standalone novel and all three books in the trilogy by the end of next year.

In the meantime I’ve got a couple of other bibs and bobs around the place. One is a new story, ‘Skinsuit’, which you’ll find in Island Magazine 137. The full text of the magazine isn’t online but you can pick up the print version at good bookstores here in Australia or order print and digital versions from Island directly (while you’re there you might want to think about supporting the magazine and its investment in Australian writing and culture by subscribing). The issue also features fiction by Tegan Bennett Daylight, Angela Meyer and Sunil Badami, as well as non-fiction by Alison Croggon and Damon Young, so you’re guaranteed value for money.

The other is a piece in if:book Australia’s The N00BZ: New Adventures in Literature. Edited by Simon Groth, the collection is the culmination of a project that saw fifteen writers including attempt to stretch or challenge their writing practice in different ways. Sometimes the challenges were personal – Sean Williams participated in a sleep deprivation study, and charted the effects on his writing – sometimes, as with Benjamin Law’s decision to learn shorthand, they were technical, and sometimes, as with Jeff Sparrow’s exploration of the experience of not writing, they involved an examination of the author’s writing practice more generally. For me the challenge revolved around trying to develop and write the script for a comic, a project that was both about exploring my lifelong fascination with comics and beginning the process of learning to work in a new form.

It was a great project, and one I enjoyed being involved in immensely, and having read the contributions of the other writers I’m confident they enjoyed being involved in the process as much as I did. If you’d like a taster you can read my contribution online, but I really do recommend you check out the entire collection, which is currently available in digital form with the print version to follow in August.

Best Books 2013

The KillsBecause it’s Christmas Eve and I’m sure everybody’s mind is focussed on matters literary I thought I’d take a moment to pull together a list of some of the books I’ve most enjoyed over the past twelve months. As usual I’ve already made a start in my contributions to the annual roundups in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which also have contributions from Delia Falconer, David Malouf, Geordie Williamson, Felicity Plunkett and a lot of other people: if you have a chance I really do recommend checking them out.

As I said in my list for The Australian, I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that the best new book I read this year was Richard House’s 1000 page metafictional thriller, The Kills, a book I’ve been proselytising about ever since I read it back in August. In a time when it’s occasionally difficult to make a case for the novel House’s book (or books, I suppose, since it’s really four short novels) is a reminder of exactly why fiction matters: smart, savage, politically ferocious, it’s also technically and formally audacious, pushing the boundaries of what novels are by incorporating video and sound into its structure.

I was also hugely impressed by Rachel Kushner’s dazzling study of art and politics, The Flamethrowers, a book that’s distinguished both by its intelligence and by the electric energy of its prose, Margaret Atwood’s occasionally frustrating but ferociously funny Maddaddam, Karen Joy Fowler’s characteristically smart, self-aware chimpanzee experiment novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Philipp Meyer’s sprawling Texan saga, The Son and Patrick Flanery’s brilliant, angry and thrillingly unstable exploration of contemporary America, Fallen Land.

Another book I liked very much but which seemed to receive less attention that I would have expected was Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life. Although I’m a big admirer of Barnes I was a bit underwhelmed by The Sense of an Ending. But Levels of Life is a remarkable book, exhibiting both extraordinary control and a palpable sense of the raw, unprocessed (and largely unprocessable) nature of grief.

RevengeMeg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is another book that seems to have found a while to attract the attention it deserves, so it’s pleasing to see it turning up on a number of best of the year lists. Warm, capacious and very smart about the nature of friendship and the way age and success alters the dynamics of relationships, it’s also one of the most consistently enjoyable things I’ve read this year. And while I suspect it slipped under a lot of people’s radar, I loved Yoko Ogawa’s splendidly sinister matryoshka doll of a collection, Revenge.

There are also a couple of books I came to late, but which blew me away. The first is A Death in the Family, the first part of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic six-volume autobiographical fiction, My Struggle. I’ve yet to read the second, A Man in Love, which was released in an English translation earlier this year, but I was mesmerised by A Death in the Family. The Sydney Review of Books has just published a brilliant review of the two of them by editor James Ley; if you only read one piece about Knausgaard it’s the one to read, not least because it’s very articulate about the reflexiveness of Knausgaard’s project, and about the Proustian edge to the books, which seems to me to have been mostly misunderstood. I suspect a lot of the impact of A Death in the Family is due to the power of the final third, and its unflinching depiction of the narrator’s father’s death of alcoholism and its aftermath, but the book is also fascinating for the way it explores the tension between mimesis and banality.

The other book I came to late was the late Ian MacDonald’s thrilling study of The Beatles, Revolution in the Head, which I read alongside Pete Doggett’s whip-smart account of the lead up to and aftermath of their breakup, You Never Give Me Your Money and Tune In, the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s huge but often fascinating biography of the band and its members, All These Years. While the others are all good, MacDonald’s book is hands-down the best book of pop music criticism I’ve ever read, although it’s given a run for its money by one of the other standout books I read this year, Bob Stanley (late of pop group, Saint Etienne)’s endlessly absorbing, occasionally problematic and constantly delightful history of pop, Yeah Yeah Yeah. I want to write something longer about Yeah Yeah Yeah at some point: for now I’ll just say that while Stanley lacks MacDonald’s deep critical intelligence he’s never less than engaging and his command of his extraordinarily diverse material is remarkable, and like many such works my arguments with it only added to the pleasure of reading it.

Caspar HendersonI have to confess I didn’t read as much Australian fiction as I should have this year, but of the things I did read a couple of books really stood out. One was Tim Winton’s Eyrie, a book that in its portrait of the contradictions underlying the West Australian boom was more explicitly engaged with contemporary Australia than a lot of Winton’s fiction, but the real standout was Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Flanagan seems to have spent most of his career looking for a way to marry his family history to the national narrative; in The Narrow Road to the Deep North he’s done just that, with remarkable results.

On the genre side of things I very much enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Graham Joyce’s slyly unpredictable follow-up to the wonderful Some Kind of Fairy Tale, The Year of the Ladybird, and Ann Leckie’s terrific debut, Ancillary Justice, as well as Paul McAuley’s final Quiet War novel, Evening’s Empires and Madeline Ashby’s queasily acute exploration of the line between human and Other, iD, but I think the thing I enjoyed most was Guy Gavriel Kay’s gorgeous, allusive sequel to Under Heaven, River of Stars. All Kay’s books are terrific but I suspect River of Stars is the best thing he’s written to date.

Of the non-fiction I read this year the best thing was Caspar Henderson’s prismatic exploration of our ways of thinking about animals, Nature and ourselves, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, but I was also dazzled by Mark Cocker and David Tipling’s astonishingly beautiful compendium of bird lore, Birds and People. I admired Cocker’s last book, Crow Country, very much, but Birds and People is a much more singular creation, and, interestingly, one that has more than a few resonances with The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. Other non-fiction books I enjoyed include Tim Dee’s deeply disquieting study of four spaces, Four Fields, Philip Hoare’s peripatetic exploration of the ocean and its meanings, The Sea Inside, psychiatrist Stephen Grosz’s wonderfully humane and psychologically sophisticated The Examined Life and John Ogden’s magnificent study of Sydney’s southern beaches, Saltwater People of the Fatal Shore (if you’ve got a moment the interview with Ogden on the ABC’s Late Night Live is well worth a listen).

And last, but not least, a book I came to late but loved quite immoderately, Stephen Collins’ delightfully weird contemporary fable, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. As I said in my piece for The Australian on the weekend, even if you don’t normally read comics please take the time to track one down; you won’t be sorry.

And finally my best wishes to all of you for the holiday season: I hope you’ve had a great year and the twelve months ahead are full of life, love and all good things.

Stephen Collins, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Stephen Collins, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Best Australian Stories 2013

Best Stories 2013Just a quick note to say how delighted I am that my story, ‘Solstice’, has been selected for Best Australian Stories 2013. Originally published as part of The Big Issue’s Fiction Issue, it’s also the first part of my new novel, Clade, which will, with a bit of luck, be published later next year.

My copy of the collection only turned up in the mail an hour or so ago, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But this year’s collection, which was edited by two-time Miles Franklin-winner, Kim Scott, and includes stories by Kalinda Ashton, Tony Birch, Georgia Blain, Tegan Bennett Daylight, Ashley Hay, Andy Kissane, Wayne Macauley, Ryan O’Neill and Favel Parrett to name just a few, looks particularly impressive.

There’s a full list of contributors on the Black Inc website. Alternatively you’ll find copies at any decent bricks and mortar or online bookstore. I’m not sure if the electronic versions are available internationally, but if you’d rather go electronic it’s available for Kindle, KoboGoogle Play and iBooks.

And while I’m here, I should mention how pleased I was a little while back to see my Rapunzel novelette, Beauty’s Sister making the Recommended Reading List for The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene. The full list, which includes works by writers including Joanne Anderton, Margo Lanagan, Jason Nahrung and Kaaron Warren is available on the Ticonderoga website and is well worth a look.

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