Thursday, 15 June 2017

Promo with Flame Tree

As promotion for the new round of anthology releases, Flame Tree invited authors to respond to some questions with brief passages which could be compiled on the company blog. Two posts went up where you’ll find comments from me about my piece.

There wasn’t room to do all three from each writer, so here’s the third of my passages (dealing with inspirational sources for my story An Echo of Gondwana):

What are your favourite stories from this genre? (can be films/artworks/other mediums too, or authors/film directors/artists)

“Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, of course; and King Kong must be listed; Burroughs’ The Eternal Savage and The Land That Time Forgot. The writings of Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, Carter and others have many evocative passages which bring the “lost worlds” concept into focus.”

I hope to place with Flame Tree in future as their list expands, and if I can then this anthology may be thought back on of as the start of an excellent partnership! The volume is at press at this time and should be available in the weeks ahead.

Cheers, Mike Adamson

* Royalty-free image from Pixabay.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

In Print, June 2017 (and Progress)

Compelling ScienceFiction #7 went live today, you can read my story Cogito, Ergo Sum on the website!

I also placed a story today, one of my “Tales of the Middle Stars,” titled North of 25, with the magazine Uprising Review. This is an angry, mal-contented little piece, set in the aftermath of the Colonial War, short as it’s pithy, and is the fifth “Middle Stars” story to be accepted.

This takes me to 24 placements, with currently about 65 stories out, and 473 submissions to date.

Cheers, Mike Adamson

* Royalty-free image from Pixabay.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Influence of Art: Chris Foss

When considering the artists whose work influenced me the most in the early days of my creative development, Chris Foss shines bright. Named the “dean of science fiction illustration,” his work became one of the dominating styles of book jacket illustration in the 1970s and later, and remains one of the great franchises of the genre.

I can’t remember my first exposure to his work, but I knew the name and the style when Science Fiction Monthly began in 1974. It may have been his cover for E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Galactic Patrol, which was the first golden-era SF novel I bought and read for its own sake – I remember the newsagent where I used to stare of those fabulous Panther editions, and the cover price was 95c – the year must have been around 1973. I still have it, indeed I’m looking at all the Panther/Grenada ‘Doc’ Smith volumes as I write this. I used to study the painting under a magnifying glass, puzzling endlessly over how Foss “managed to paint out of focus.” This was of course airbrush art, but I had only vaguely heard the term, and it would be six more years before I bought one.

Foss, born in Guernsey, the Channel Islands, in1946, brought to science fiction illustration more than imagination, he brought a grounding in architecture from Cambridge, naturally flowing into technical illustration – much as the American great Syd Mead brought sound technical knowledge to his concept work for US Steel and later movie applications. Foss’s work is characterised by a number of cardinal qualities – such as asymmetry, an artistic rebellion against the symmetrical design often necessitated by “form following function,” but sometimes by mere human preference: Foss’s work proposes that this need not always be so, either by choice, or by form-to-achieve function proceeding from laws of physics with which we are not yet conversant. This alone offers a wildly futuristic implication, so that when viewing a Foss painting one is imbued with a very convincing feeling of looking into another time and place.

It is also a future embodied in dynamism, brilliant colour and a minute attention to mechanical detail. It was said (by the venerable Brian Aldiss in his introduction to Science Fiction Art, Hart Davis MacGibbon, London, 1976) that the machine dominates in Foss’s art, and that any human being which may be glimpsed is invariably a tiny figure, hurried and occupied with his concerns, all of which are subservient to the technical grandeur of the machines of his creation. “When you catch sight of a human being in one of his paintings, he is a tiny, soft creature, generally in overalls, vulnerable, hurried, among the abrasive landscapes of a technological tomorrow.” (This may be ironically counterpointed with his black and white interior art for The Joy of Sex…)

During my younger days Foss represented the summit of the pyramid. I was well aware of the output of many other excellent artists, such as David Hardy, Eddie Jones, Kelly Freas (who also has been called the dean of SF art!) and others, but as a devotee of the machine in science fiction, Foss’s worlds captured my imagination like no other. His strange, almost organic machines, defying the laws of aerodynamics at every turn, implying as they do the unquestioned control of gravity, seemed to represent the ultimate ideal of the human triumph, embodied in the conquest of space. But his work also reflects the price at which these things come – his vessels belching pollution in the form of thick, black engine efflux, titanic explosions as things go very wrong, wrecked spacecraft marooned on exotic worlds, craft in collision, robots the size of mountains treading the natural world beneath their city-block sized feet – and humans minute as insects amongst it all, if they are glimpsed at all.

It was heady stuff for a kid, and I have to wonder to what extent these mega-machines helped shape my thinking. I have never forgotten the feelings those paintings inspired, the exotic and the alien made tangible, reachable, with the promise of technology overcoming the barriers of mundanity to free humans to explore the universe. And of course, the mechanical minutia, the intakes and exhausts, antennas and lights, every structural support and shock-absorber, represented with loving attention to detail and rendered with the brilliance of a very fine artist indeed.

When I think of the artists who have brought science fiction to visual life, Foss is invariably top of the list. I could rattle off dozens of names, each of whom has something special to bring to the table, a uniqueness of style or approach, visual tricks that stamp their work – but Foss is king. Perhaps it is the impact of his studied airbrush work, counterpointing traditional brushwork and the exquisite application of oils – a fineness of technique I have never yet been able to fathom. (How does one paint a perfectly straight, hair-thin line in oils?) Maybe it’s the outrageous vision, which marries artistic abstraction to hard machine technology; perhaps it’s the expansiveness of scope, the wide open spaces of the universe, made real. Whatever, “Foss-esque” has become a word in my vocabulary (yes, I tried his sort of fine detail, his strange not-quite-English lettering styles and plethora of antennae in watercolours as a kid), and there are times I’m more than tempted to visualise story material through the eyes of such imagination. After all, while one might never be able to afford to commission concept art from the maestro, one can always imagine it!

Now 71, Chris Foss is still working. After more than a thousand book covers, he has become his own industry, in a sense, not exactly cornering his own market but certainly preserving his own niche, distinct from the great many other brilliant artists in the field. There was a time when a Foss painting on the cover was almost guaranteed to sell an otherwise indifferent book, and art directors called for other artists to emulate him – which justifiably rankles the artist as it cost him work. The first major collection of his art, 21st Century Foss from Dragon’s Dream (1978), is a hard-to-find classic now, and the binding was less than flash when new – beautifully printed but the pages disengaged quickly from the sort of perfect-binding adhesive in use. Hardware, from Titan Books is a 240-page all-colour opus dating from 2011, and well worth adding to any connoisseur’s library.

Find Chris’s official website here.

What can I say? Foss helped shape my outlook on the universe, and his imagery remains both an inspiration and a standard.

Cheers, Mike Adamson

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

In Print, May 2017 (and Progress)

Things have been happening in a variety of ways – domestic stuff, illness in the house, has certainly taken its toll, but the writing endeavour has kept on rolling.

A couple of pieces of important news take pride of place – on April 7th Flame Tree Publishing in the UK picked up my story An Echo of Gondwana to feature in their forthcoming anthology Lost Worlds. They asked all contributors to keep it under their hats until the contents were formally announced on their blog – here’s the entry:

 It’s a very proud moment to be featured as one of the new contributors to a collection also featuring classic works by names like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert E Howard, Rudyard Kipling, H P Lovecraft, Jules Verne and H G Wells! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would feature on the same contents list as luminaries like these!

This was also my first sale for full professional rates, thus something of a turning point. It’s wonderful to be able to cite a pro credit!

And I can now also cite a second – on May 2nd my short story Cogito, Ergo Sum was picked up by Compelling Science Fiction, another pro market, and will be going to press June 1st in their seventh issue. Two pro sales a matter of weeks apart is very encouraging and I have done my best to maintain output, with new ideas going into my notes, new stories appearing, and older works being given tweaks and revisions.

The Overcast magazine has shortlisted my story “Cursed with Clarity,” while Storyhack is making great strides toward their next release, in which, I have every reason to hope, I will be appearing.

Lovecraftiana went to press April 30th and the edition can be ordered as a POD paperback here:

I have entries in a number of writing competitions, with others on the way.

At this moment I have 21 placements from 453 submissions, less 68 stories currently on submission (my record is 73 or so), which equates to an average of 18.3 rejections per acceptance across the entire campaign from the beginning of last year. This is a somewhat skewed figure, as acceptances did not begin to roll until September 2016, after my very first actually appeared in print.

It’s a while since I’ve posted any new essays on the craft of writing – I’ve been busy actually writing stories! But I’ll see what I can come up with, all the same!

ADDENDUM – my SF short story Fear of the Dark was picked up on May 19th by Aurealis, one of Australia's flag-carrier SF magazines, in print since 1990. It should be appearing later in the year in issue 104. I'm delighted to have a short-listing convert to an acceptance! And also, my fantasy short Magus, one of my "Avestium" stories, was just picked up by 4 Star Stories, for publication next year.

Best wishes,

Mike Adamson

Monday, 24 April 2017

In Print, April 2017 (and Progress)

Things have been a little slower lately, the pace of acceptances has been down since February, with a total of nineteen on the scorecard to date. I have an important announcement for next month, so will hopefully be posting news in two or three weeks. (Apologies for being so quiet lately, but I’ve been writing intensively too.)

Coming available at the end of April will be the Walpurgisnacht edition of Lovecraftiana, featuring my short story Fall of the Dark God, and I seem to have struck up a good working relationship with this publishing house. I have a story in their stand-alone anthology Sword and Planet (By the Moons of Grolph) and in the last week placed another piece with the magazine. My Cthulhu Mythos piece With Strange Aeons is slated for the following issue of Lovecraftiana, due for release July 31st. This is my first repeat publisher. Sales links as they come available!

The new magazine Storyhack is dedicated to action and adventure in all their forms, and I pitched a “pure” adventure, i.e., taking place in a real world/historical context as opposed to a genre setting, and the piece was solicited. I penned a World War II adventure about a British fighter pilot shot down on the coast of France endeavouring to escape back to England, and formulated it as if it were a memoires written in the late 1970s. This is easily the most intensively researched piece I have ever written. The editor was unable to fit the story into his inaugural volume but would like to consider it for the second, so I’m very hopeful this will firm up into a placement in due course.

I have a short-listing with Andromeda Spaceways, which is great news, but apparently they buy only 5% of stories on the shortlist anyway, so the odds remain around the level of random chance even after passing two rounds of reading – nobody said it was easy! On the same note, two more short-listings have come in in quick succession. The young readers’ magazine Cast of Wonders like my piece Salazar’s Flying Emporium, while the Aussie SF mag Aurealis, just coming up on their milestone 100th issue, fancy my deep-sea horror piece Fear of the Dark. My fingers are crossed for both!

My new record for total number of stories on submission at any one time stands at 73, and I expect it to go higher in the near future. I have made 429 submissions to date, and completed 24 stories so far this year.

I’ll hopefully have some new essays soon, and am always eager to report new sales!

Cheers, Mike Adamson

Sunday, 19 March 2017

In Print, March 2017 (and Progress)

The commissioned story Lux Aeterna has been published in Helios Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 1, and the sales links are now active:

I think this one has gone live a little behind schedule, but that’s okay! Catch the interview with me in this volume also.

In progress, I have another short-listing, this time with Andromeda Spaceways, and should know in a couple of months if I make the cut. At least they’re up-front about it, if you pass two rounds of reading to reach the shortlist, you still have only a five percent chance of being selected.

The contracts came in for the two anthologies The Chronos Chronicles and First Contact, featuring my stories The Winds of Time and Dreamlogger, respectively. They should be appearing in a few months, and I’ll post links when they are available.

My tally of stories on submission recently hit a new record of 62, and I have been very busy so far during 2017, with seventeen new stories completed so far, most doing the rounds at this time, and many new markets having been identified.

UPDATE: As of March 22nd (this side of the dateline), my vampire short story Stalking Nemesis was picked up by the magazine Bloodbond (from Alban Lake) for their November 2017 issue. This is the third of my "Lucinda Crane,Vampire/Hunter" stories to be published, a fourth is on submission with Flame Tree in the UK for one of the new batch of anthologies, and I have one other, longer story on paper as well.

Also, today I received a solicitation to write an action/adventure story for the pilot issue of the new magazine Storyhack, and will be beginning work on the piece tomorrow. This will be my eighteenth story for 2017 -- averaging six a month this year!

More news as it breaks,

Cheers, Mike Adamson

Thursday, 9 March 2017


Whence cometh the flame of inspiration? Who can say? We are inspired by what interests us, what excites us, or by what strikes a chord, whether anticipated or otherwise. Every writer has experienced block and burnout, going stale on a project and having to set it aside, and there are techniques for overcoming this – pacing, occupying the mind with other things when not working, writing something else – but nothing matches the pure light of inspiration.

“Success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration,” is a hackneyed truism. Yes, we know this, and, having sweat gallons, every working writer knows all about the balance between wanting to do it and having to do it; but when inspiration strikes, the results can be amazing. My short story By the Moons of Grolph (picked up last month for the Sword and Planet anthology from Horrified Press) was written in one day. It was a reworking of an idea I first put on paper as a teenager and have long forgotten the inspirational sources, though I remember it being in the “New Age” era of weirdness-as-social-challenge. The story took on its own life, rooted in a distant memory (the original is longhand in an ancient notebook, long since packed away) and developed in a 4500-word rush to a wholly new conclusion. That was inspirational writing.

I have a novelette out on submission at the moment, “Annie Lustrum’s Psychedelic Shag Wagon,” a tongue-in-cheek adventure which makes no bones about being SF on the Western formula. This is a 26, 000-worder, I launched into it based on four lines of notes – and wrote over 8, 000 words on the first day. That’s the most inspired/driven I have been in a very log time, my previous record was 10, 000 (longhand) back in the mid-eighties.

So, what’s the tactic when inspiration dries up? I’ve found reading helps – read till your cup runneth over, and when it does so, catch the drops on paper. Lately I read a nonfiction work making a case for the Pharaoh Tutankhamen having been murdered –  a theory which has been substantially challenged in the twenty years since it appeared, but the book was a great read all the same. This was part of the research for my short story “With Scientific Detachment,” an archaeological piece about Ancient Egypt, currently on submission in the UK. Before that I read an illustrated volume about Victorian and Edwardian London, both as a personal interest and as research for possible steampunk tales and other outings featuring Victoriana and later. This was another very entertaining read and contributed to my fantasy piece “Silver Scales” which is doing the rounds. Before that? A massive illustrated volume, The Discovery of the Nile, tracing the history of exploration for the headwaters of Africa’s greatest river, from ancient times down to the dawn of the 20th century. You can bet the sweep of history depicted in that one will be providing background to stories – I have one in notes already, something very much in the Lovecraft vein.

Currently I’m enjoying some stories by Clarke Ashton Smith I’ve not read before, having obtained one of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy anthologies edited by Lin Carter (vintage 1971); and continuing with The Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Some would say I’m pouring in all the wrong things, of course, two writers from eighty years ago can’t possibly prepare one for today’s market. Well, yes and no. Their imagery and concepts are inspirational, execution is what styles a work for a market.

I look through my files of notes and, typically, an idea from long ago will jump out at me and gel almost of its own accord – sometimes two ideas flow naturally together and become a more solid, effective whole. It’s important, I think, when this happens, to listen to your instinct, go with it, let it happen – and trust those instincts to know if it isn’t working at any point.

Imagery is inspirational, powerfully so. Three photographs turned into my vampire short “Dance of the Trees,” currently on submission; one was of an autumn wood, another was a gnarled, split but living tree, the third was a pool in a titanic cavern… They went together seamlessly and in two days another property was in the folder. If I feel myself needing to write but unable to focus I will look through photographs or artbooks and the chances are, some image will speak to me strongly enough my mind begins to construct the circumstances surrounding the image, and this leads to a new project.

I have three unfinished pieces from last year, a pure fantasy, a historical fantasy and an SF. I must get back to them, and I’m waiting for some particular spark of enthusiasm to rekindle. I’ve tried forcing it – it doesn’t work.

I should write again today – I wonder what it’ll be?

Oh – the image above has been doing the rounds on social media lately, no source or credit attached… I found it, yes, inspirational!

Cheers, Mike Adamson