The Guest of Honor of Åcon 9 is British author Emma Newman. She writes dark short stories, science fiction, and urban fantasy. She also narrates audiobooks, and co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated, Alfie Award winning podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs.
We asked a friend of Emma’s (and of Åcon) Cheryl Morgan to introduce her to us. This is what she wrote:
I first met Emma Newman back in 2011 when she did a launch event in Bristol for her first book, a collection of short stories called From Dark Places. Two things were immediately obvious. Firstly, Emma had the most amazingly elegant clothes, which I discovered she made herself. And secondly she was very nervous about appearing in public.
Anxiety is a funny thing. Some people are comfortable spouting the most appalling nonsense to huge audiences. Others, who have amazing ambition, drive and talent, get nervous in front of the smallest gathering. Emma is in the latter group, and thankfully talent will out. Two years later, the first of her Split Worlds novels came out from Angry Robot. Emma had been noticed by Lee Harris, who has since moved on to create a hugely successful novella series for Tor.com proving his eye for a good writer.
Between Two Thorns begins with a young man staggering home drunk one night through the streets of Bath and meeting some fairies. These fairies, however, are not in the least bit cute. To start with they are committing a burglary. Thus begins a story of politics and intrigue which has grown to five novels, the final volume being due out in early June, but is actually much more than that.
The Split Worlds universe began as a role-playing game which spawned a series of short stories. Most recently Emma held a live action role-play event in the Guildhall at Bath, allowing players to act out events from the fictional world in the actual real world venue. I popped in briefly and was very impressed with the size of the gathering and quality of costumes. There were a few authors involved in the game, including Clarke Award winner Adrian Tchaikovsky.
In the meantime Emma and her husband, Pete (also a successful writer) had begun their hilarious podcast series, Tea & Jeopardy, in which Emma invites guest writers into her Secret Tea Lair, entertains them with tea and cake, and subjects them to Mild Peril. Thus far it has been a finalist for the Best Fancast Hugo three times, and must surely win soon.
That Emma is very clearly a fan should be very obvious. That puts her in the fine tradition of writers who grew up through fandom and became big names (Clarke, Silverberg and Haldeman spring to mind). To do so, of course, means that she has to produce spectacular work, and she is starting to do just that. Her latest novels, Planetfall and After Atlas, are both serious science fiction. They also show a strong awareness of politics and feminism. Both were on my Hugo ballot in their year of publication, and that’s a pretty high bar to cross.
Planetfall is set in a human colony on an alien world. There are many aspects to it, but the one that caught everyone’s notice is the brilliant portrayal of a character struggling with mental illness. Emma has bravely chronicled her own issues with anxiety which have clearly given her an insight into related conditions.
After Atlas is a parallel novel telling the story of what happens back on Earth after the colony ship has left. It is very politically astute, taking in issues such as zero hour contracts, malware, online privacy, food poverty and the hijacking of global politics by the super-rich. It is deservedly a finalist for this year’s Clarke Award. Hopefully this will bring Emma’s work to a much wider audience.
Given how much Emma’s work has improved (from a pretty good starting point) over the years since I first met her, I can’t wait to see what she produces next.
(Photo credit: Lou Abercrombie)