Thursday 29 August 2013

The Violent century by Lavie Tidhar




They’d never meant to be heroes…


In the 1930’s a German scientist, called Vomacht,  performs an experiment that accidentally(?) creates “The changed”. The changed are kind of like the X-Men and exist in most countries. Our story concentrates on two of the changed called Fogg and Oblivion but along the way we get to meet a good many of them, on all sides. The story here is chopped into many little pieces and thrown together in an enthralling jigsaw. We often swap between the past and the present and yet there is a solid narrative thread running throughout. I am in awe of Tidhar’s skill with the story here and the believable characters, even though they each have superpowers. It helps that he concentrates on the British as the Americans are full in your face superhero types and the Germans are also Ubermenschen (as well as, on the whole,  super-creepy). Oblivion and Fogg work for the retirement bureau and act, mainly, behind the scenes.


The world is lovingly detailed and we get to see the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with an alternative history. Tidhar is playing with structure, playing with narrative and playing with conventions such as how dialogue is usually represented. He pulls it all off admirably. This is a tale, at heart, about people, which is a brilliant achievement considering it is full of ubermenschen. Along the way we get Nazi’s we get noir undertones, we get WW2 re-imagined, we get cool powers, we get a British superhero called Mrs Tinkle, we get Dracul in Transylvania, we get Auschwitz and Mengele and a book packed from cover to cover with great reading.


And yet the eye is drawn to the pictures, the bright uniforms in pixelated garish four-colour. There’s Tigerman, framed dramatically on top of the Empire state building, holding on to a cowering criminal mastermind. There’s the Green Gunman chasing outlaws in the wilds of Texas. The Electric Twins in Detroit capturing Al Capone. Fogg is mesmerised by the images, their brashness, their colour. It is raining on the Charing Cross Road. A grey morning, people hurrying past with black umbrellas over their heads. You’re a good watcher, Fogg, the Old Man says, his voice is in Fogg’s ears. We need men like you. Do not be tempted by the Americans, the loudness, the colour. We are the grey men, we are the shadow men, we watch but are not seen.


Overall - This is the first of a two book deal and I’m definitely impatient to be reading the second. Since this one isn’t actually published yet (I got it as part of my Hodderscape haul) I’m going to have to learn to be patient!


Wednesday 28 August 2013

What I did on my holiday...

Had a great short break in Scotland last week. On Sunday I flew to Edinburgh, hired a car and drove to Loch Ness. Spent a day at the Loch with its black waters of mystery and then drove to the very top of Scotland, jumped on a ferry and went to Orkney. A few days on Orkney sampling the local cuisine, whisky tasting and visiting Neolithic sites. Then to Aviemore, Boat of Garten and the Spey Valley smokehouse (owned by Jethro Tull's Iain Anderson!) and then back to Edinburgh to enjoy the Fringe.

Saw -

Scroobius Pip - spoken word. Very good and he was actually very funny too, bought his book which he was kind enough to sign

Stewart Lee - funny, but not as funny as last year, still much funnier than most other comedians

Bristol Improv - got to support the locals! They improvised a noir story set in "Spaceland", highly amusing with a great cast

Shhhh! - Not bored of improv this one was an improvised silent film about a trapeze artist

Hannah Berry and Gareth Brookes talked about Adamtine & The Black Project respectively which was really good. Bought a copy of The Black Project and got both creators to sign their work

Jura Unbound event in the Spiegeltent at the Edinburgh Book Festival which saw a number of different comic themed events on stage, actors acting out a story, creating a story around 3 panels, live drawing with Paul Cornell and Emma Viecilli. Spent a happy drunken evening in there, chatted a lot with some of the creators and generally had a lot of fun. Missed out on a free whisky though as had no pen...

Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda - they talked about the Fables collaboration, stunning art and a great slide show whetted the appetite, bought a copy obviously

Bryan and Mary Talbot - Talked about their respective careers and their books Dotter of her father's eyes and a new one due out soon about suffragettes

Caitlin Moran started the evening of queuing where we went to 3 events in the same place but had to exit and queue in between with the queues stretching all around the book festival. She was highly amusing.

Hannah Berry interviewed Neil Gaiman about Sandman - Neil was effusive and so happy to talk about Sandman rather than Ocean at the end of the lane etc. Hannah did a great job despite the nerves and got a huge round of applause at the end.

The evening ended with a tribute to Iain Banks with Ian Rankin, Val Mcdiarmid and Ken Mcleod (and a surprise guest appearance by Neil Gaiman to tell a hilarious story of Iain climbing through a window during a police investigation in the Metropole during a convention. I have heard Iain tell this story too so it was nice to get the bystanders, in this case Neil, view of it) - we ended with a wee dram of Jura

The last show was Wyrd which had a very cool premise (immersive theatre at a séance) but sadly didn't live up to it losing the plot, and any illusion of collusion from the audience near the end. Some interesting ideas to take away though...

Saturday 17 August 2013

Been a bit behind on reviews due to playing the marvellous Last of us and revisiting the world of Gormenghast. However back to it so here's a review for Brother Kemal by Jakob Arjouni



Kemal Kayankaya is a Turkish private eye working in Frankfurt. He is hired by the wife of an artist to find her missing 16 year old daughter who is alleged to be with an older man, a photographer. Whilst he is preparing for the missing person case, he is also hired for a body guarding gig for a Muslim author at Frankfurt Book Fair. The Muslim author has written a book about a homosexual Muslim and is apparently threatened with violence by religious extremists. Both cases are straightforward but once one bleeds into the other it leads to abduction and murder.


This is the 5th book in the Kemal series, I have not read any of the other books. Despite a couple of references to earlier cases and, I suspect, recurring characters I didn't feel it was necessary to have read the other books to follow the plot.


The book has been translated into many languages and has won awards including the German crime fiction prize. It is a very fast read being less than 200 pages long and in an easy reading style. It's not really my cup of tea so with that proviso take the following with a pinch of salt.


It felt as though the author was trying too hard in the first chapter, to establish Kemal as a Sam Spade/ Phillip Marlow style character. It's also heavy on the misogyny as he ogles the woman who is hiring him to find her daughter. I almost didn’t get past that first chapter but luckily the book settles down somewhat from that point for a fairly standard plot. Kemal is in his 50’s and he and his ex-prostitute girlfriend live together and there is a sub-plot of her trying to get pregnant and him wondering what fatherhood would be like. There were a few incongruities such as pretending to be a police officer but having no badge, or police car or convincing story and yet being believed. For me there was nothing to elevate this above the standard for the genre. It was competent and, although well written (a good translation) there was nothing to elevate it or convince me that I needed to spend any more time with Kemal. I won’t be getting the other books in the series.


Overall – Pretty standard PI tale

Tuesday 13 August 2013

So at the weekend I was at Nineworlds, a new, multi-strand Con at Heathrow. The program was absolutely packed and a bit of a labyrinth to manoeuvre through, I only really got to grips with it once I'd downloaded the Lanyrd App. Because there was so much going on I missed out a lot on some things (too many choices) but overall we thought this was probably a good thing. Better to have too much going on, than too little.


I arrived early Friday evening, about 7pm and the Con was in full swing. Good that I missed the queues to register though. My itinerary looked like this:


Just a Minute - with Paul Cornell, Adam Christopher, Helen Keen, Gary Rusell (who won) and Adrian Tchaikovsky. This was a lot of fun and a good start to the Con for me.


I planned to go to new voices but got distracted by lots of beer and wine and authors in the bar (with Jonathan L Howard & Anne Lyle).


The next day was feeling slightly worse for wear, but recovered somewhat after a cooked breakfast. The first thing on the agenda was to go to Paul Cornell's signing where I picked up a copy of London Falling strange that only one other person in the queue ahead of me, or not so strange due to the early time? (10am).


Then I went to The future of technology& society - Hosted by science comedienne Helen Keen with Cory Doctorow, Lilian Edwards, Helen Keen & Charles Stross. This was really interesting, a packed room, lots of discussion about open rights etc.


Next up was Keynote: The current state of gaming culture - Leigh Alexander. Which I enjoyed less but was OK. Not really aimed at people who hadn't grown up in the 90's I think. Seemed to be a bit more about 90's music than 90's gaming without really any appreciation for what happened before the 90's. Still there were flashes of interest in the talk despite this.


After managing to get a spot of lunch at the local co-op (the hotel prices were stupidly expensive, they'd already applied a hoover to my wallet for the drinks on Friday) I headed off for a scary but useful critique session on one of my stories with the T-party.


After the mauling I caught the second half of The Infected - Diseases of the Cultural Body - Panel with Dr Julia Gog, Helen Keen, Will Porter & James Vaughan and at this point it looked like Helen Keen was on all the interesting stuff!


A quick stop at the signing table to grab a copy of the second David Tallerman book, Crown Thief and then to a talk on Cyberpunk which seemed to have far too many panellists and turned a little bit into the Charlie Stross show. After he berated a fellow panellist (whose name I'm not sure of) for saying that SF is "inspirational" by saying that this was propaganda and a political statement I lost interest and left - this was the only panel I walked on the whole weekend.


The to the Gin Appreciation with the Steampunk crowd, hugely entertaining and 3 glasses of gin to boot.


More drinks with friends, old and new, and a buffet dinner in the hotel to recharge batteries. Then to the new voices session with Catherine Banner, Zen Cho, Paul Cornell, Laure Eve, Benedict Jacka, Francis Knight, Snorri Krisjansson, Den Patrick, Tom Pollock & Tade Thompson. Zen Cho, Snorri Krisjansson & Tom Pollock were especially good performances.


Night cap then to bed after watching the Alien (from Alien, Aliens etc.) dancing.


The next day was an even later and slow start for me.

First up was Laurie Penny talking about Cybersexism. This was supposed to be a book launch but it didn't come off but Laurie read out a long section and then chatted and answered questions. Really interesting session.


After that I went to Nightmare Fuel: How to Scare your Audience for Fun and Profit - Ben Aaronovitch, Will Hill, Kim Newman& Jonathan Oliver. Being a big fan of Kim Newman this was a no-brainer and the panel didn't disappoint.


Next was The Evolution of Blake’s 7 – Ben Aaronovitch, Alastair Lock, John Medany, Andrew Mark Sewell & James Swallow. Which talked about how the new radio show was made. Interesting insight into radio and TV and how to write a reboot. Plus we got a free copy of one of the shows which was a bonus.


Last event for me was attending the Pod Delusion live podcast where we explored Spock's emotions, the weight of yarn, invisible gorillas and the incomplete genome of the universe. A really good session and fitting end to the Con.


Of course just a list of what talks I attended doesn't really give you an appreciation of just "being at the con" which is half the fun. Watching the cosplayers, talking to old friends, making new friends. Glancing into the weird world of Brony (from a distance), hearing about what other stuff was happening from people who'd gone to different stuff. Buying 12 new books, chatting with Robert Rankin who was hidden away in the basement! spotting Chris Barrie and so much more.


Nineworlds was one of the best cons I've been to and I will definitely be returning next year.

Of course being a Con I did buy some books:

control point by Myke Cole - not my usual fare but may be worth a shot
Theft of swords by Michael J Sullivan - even less my usual bag, may rot on the shelf or go to a friend

2nd hand (from a really good 2nd hand stall):

the house on the borderlands by William Hope Hodgson
the web between the worlds by Charles Sheffield (a childhood favourite author and a book by him I've not read)

Signed books:

London falling by Paul Cornell - strangely there was only 1 other person getting a book signed at the same time, I would have assumed that Cornell would have been huge...
The alchemist of souls by Anne Lyle - we spoke to Anne and she said that her signing was before most people arrived and so hardly anyone turned up, so we bought a copy
Alice on Mars by Robert Rankin - Rankin was hidden away with the Steampunkers in the basement, I managed to have a long chat with him whilst he signed my book, I was the only person in the room, apart from the other stallholders at the time

Random purchases:

And God created zombies by Andrew Hook
Myth-understandings Edited by Ian Whates
Shoes, ships and cadavers Edited by Ian Whates (he was running a store and we got chatting and then bought some books)
A glass of shadow by Liz Williams (A recommendation by Ian Whates)


Thursday 8 August 2013

So it looks like my week for competitions - I must buy myself a lottery ticket and get 3!

First off I got a mail from the fine folk of Angry Robot to say I'd won their pre-competition competition for correclty guessing that RFAD stood for "Robot for a Day". I'll be getting a goody bag from them which is cool.

Then even more exciting news! my story An unexpected return won the Dodo short story competition over at Hodderscape here:

I'm off to 9 worlds (  tomorrow so watch out for my convention report next week...

In other news here's a couple of reviews:

Eat him if you like Jean Teule


Based on a historic incident from the summer of 1870 this small but powerful book tells the tale of an incident when a town seemed to lose its mind and become a howling bloodthirsty mob. Alain de Moneys, a well-liked young nobleman visits the local fair before he goes off to fight in the Franco-Prussian war. An overheard comment about the war, badly misconstrued leads to de Moneys being targeted by an angry mob. If you don’t like graphic descriptions of violence and torture then this book is really not for you even though the unremitting darkness is sometimes tinged with ghoulish humour. This is a car crash of a book, it makes you wince, it may even turn your stomach but a sense of grim fascination draws you ever on.

Overall – powerful, sad, gory, horrific yet compelling reading

The last banquet Jonathan Grimwood



The book begins with Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont as a penniless orphan eating dung beetles and when a passing noble takes pity on him and gives him Roquefort his future, as a creature of taste as the ultimate sense, is born. The book follows his life from this inauspicious start through his school years, his training to be a soldier, his friendship with a couple of nobles and his later career as master of the menagerie at Versailles. His life rushes along, with lifelong friendships made and loves found and lost, towards the 1790’s and the advent of revolutionary France. He corresponds with Voltaire and meets Benjamin Franklin and always throughout all his experiences he explores the world of taste. Peppered through the book are recipes, my favourite being the one for Wolf’s Heart (although, of course, I haven’t had the chance to try it). It is a large stage and our players have some difficulty filling it, there is a lack of dramatic exploration of the historic backdrop as our narrator remains firmly on the sidelines. However it does have lots of drama at a human scale and throughout it is Jean-Marie’s quest for taste that makes the book. Grimwood, through Jean-Marie, looks dispassionately at pre-revolutionary France seeing both the good and the bad and Jean-Marie's dislike of Versailles comes through in his often graphic descriptions of e.g. people defecating in the flower beds or urinating in the corridors.

Overall – A fantastic idea competently executed but didn’t have that extra spark to make it great, yet is still a tasty treat.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

A couple of rejected stories

The Time machine

I opened the door noting how it was already slightly ajar, a dusty footprint in the centre of it, the flimsy lock broken open. The house was in darkness but the light from the streetlamps was enough to see the bundle on the floor. My heart in my mouth I seemed to go from standing at the door to kneeling by my wife with no transition. I saw the blood, such a lot of blood. And a knife dropped a few feet away from the body. Did they come for the machine? Did my wife disturb them?

I spoke to the police, told them I saw the body first, then the blood, then the knife. They said they’d send someone. I needed to check the machine. My hands shaking I opened the cellar door. The familiar smell of ozone, burnt electrics, fuel oil and damp assailed my nostrils. I flicked the switch and descended. The machine was still there. Untouched.

There was a lot of unpleasantness to deal with before I could get back to the machine. Police, reporters, forensics, uncomfortable questions. Eventually though I was left alone. Left to brood. I went mad for work, spent hours on the machine, went without sleep, existing on a diet of caffeine and nicotine until some days later, spent, I dozed next to the machine.

Later I covered the walls in equations, working through the probabilities. I was unshaven, unbathed, manic with caffeine, working non-stop. I ignored the doorbell, neighbours, relatives, whoever, I didn’t want their sympathy, their consoling words, their pity. I fell asleep with a spanner in my hand, woke to equations going round in my brain. Hours bled into days which haemorrhaged into weeks. I was nearly there. It was nearly ready.

The machine stood proud of the cellar, sparkling amongst the debris, as if a reverse explosion had taken place. It was finally ready. I was finally ready. I gave silent thanks that the money hadn’t run out, that the electricity still ran, that I was still (mostly) whole, in health and mind. No time to waste. The parameters were set, the dry runs and experiments had gone without a hitch. Time and tide wait for no man they say. Now, now I would prove them wrong.

I press the button, the machine whirrs, light flashes past. It will work, it will be well, I will get her back.

I saw the body first, then the blood, then the knife. Did they come for the machine? Did my wife disturb the intruder? Did they come for the machine? I saw the knife then I saw the blood and then the body.

I will get her back, it will be well, it will work. The light flashes past, the machine whirrs, I press the button.



The Light

We are standing in the planetarium contemplating all the star stuff, spread across the false sky like dandelion seeds flying across the face of the universe. Light reaches us from dead and dying stars, in time travel. We see their light even though some of the stars we see were extinguished before the earth was born, you, me, everyone else that has ever lived or will ever live on Earth, sees mostly the same stars. The light turned on.

We are standing in the planetarium contemplating all the star stuff, spread across the false sky like dandelion seeds flying across the face of the universe. Light reaches us from dead and dying stars, in time travel. We see their light even though some of the stars we see were extinguished before the earth was born, you, me, everyone else that has ever lived or will ever live on Earth, sees mostly the same stars. The light changed colour.

We are standing in the planetarium contemplating all the star stuff, spread across the false sky like dandelion seeds flying across the face of the universe. Light reaches us from dead and dying stars, in time travel. We see their light even though some of the stars we see were extinguished before the earth was born, you, me, everyone else that has ever lived or will ever live on Earth, sees mostly the same stars. The light turned off.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Having just read this: which has a number of comments from agents about what not to do at the beginning of your novel. A few of these are no brainers but many are just a matter of taste? As a reader I not only don't mind a prologue, if done well, but also feel it may add a huge amount to the theme and feel of a book. Look at Tigana (which breaks two of the "rules" discussed)  - minor spoiler in next paragraph

There is a prologue, a damn fine prologue in my opinion, and Kay kills of several characters in the first chapter (can't remember if it's a "false beginning" as such though?!) Tigana is a fine book which happens to have several structural faults. If it were Kay's first book would it have been published? Would he have got an agent because of it's faults?

Exposition/description in the first chapter? would Gormenghast make the grade nowadays?

Don't like the opening line being "My name is..."? "Call me Ishmael" is a famous opening line

Are there any book openings that immediately put you off reading something?

In other news the restrictions placed on Apple are really quite stringent - a lot can happen in 5 years:

and in other exciting news the box office is now open for BFL -

Friday 2 August 2013!/events/1405784389637998/

Bristol Festival of Literature Event - Kraken Rises!




Parlour & Secret locations


With - David Gullen, Jonathan Howard, Tim Maughan, Emma Newman, Gareth Powell, Gaie Sebold


Join a one-day creative writing competition with access to 6 authors in 4 locations, including activities such as making a book, cut up techniques and digital hands on including interactive maps. The Top 10 stories will be published by Angry Robot. Other great prizes to be won. The first 50 entrants will be given a copy of Robinson Crusoe kindly donated by Wordsworth Classic Editions. Details of what to write will be given on the day - no writing in advance! Terms & conditions apply, see  for details

We are also running an illustration competition as part of this event

 Cover art competition

 Your mission is to create the cover and title art for a new book being published for Bristol Festival of Literature by Angry Robot. The book will contain the Top 10 stories from our Kraken Rises! creative writing competition and will be sold as an ebook. Submit as a hi-resolution jpeg to by 30th September 2013.   The winner and commended runners-up will be announced on October 4th, by email, and all entrants invited to the Exhibition Launch at The Parlour, College Green, Bristol BS1 5TB on Fri 18 Oct, 7pm, and the winner will be invited to the launch of the book itself on Sat 26 Oct.

 Every time there is a great comet in the sky Bristol suffers a bout of extra weirdness. These events are called “kraken events”. The SS Great Britain ramming a giant squid in the Bristol channel? A Kraken event. Giant tentacles emerging from the city sewers? A Kraken event. What we’re looking for in the cover is an exercise of imagination - illustrate a new Kraken event for us! Don't forget the comet and make sure that it is recognisably Bristol! Be clear and bold - the cover will need to work in ebook retailers around the world! The title text will be Kraken Rises! and you can include it in your design or leave it to us, either way is fine, but leave space for it!

 All entries will have their work digitally displayed at the festival hub (The Parlour) from 19-27 October and the first 50 entrants will be eligible to receive a copy of Robinson Crusoe, courtesy of Wordsworth Classic Editions, to be picked up from the festival hub during the festival. To enter (or to ask further questions), email us now to say you're taking part, on:


Follow #Krakenrises!     On Twitter via @Bristollitfest      Plus get the news and full programme on


Please read the rules carefully before entering.

1. Kraken Rises! cover art competition is open to all U.K. and non-U.K. based artists

2. Closing date for receipt of entries is 30th September at midnight BST.

3. Entries must be made via email to

4. There is no entry fee, 1 picture per artist only

5. Entries will not be returned. Please keep a copy. No corrections or alterations can be made after receipt.

6. Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and must never have been previously published, in print or online (including websites, blogs, social network sites), or broadcast or won or been shortlisted in another competition. Any entry found to have been plagiarised will be disqualified.

7. All entrants must agree to have their work published in the Kraken Rises! Anthology in e-book format

8. The winning artist will receive a free copy of the e-book

9. Entry implies an acceptance of all the Kraken Rises!  Cover art Prize rules. Entries that fail to comply with the entry rules and requirements may be disqualified.

10. The competition will be judged by a panel from BFL and Angry Robot. The judges’ decision is final.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Die Wand (The Wall) by Marlen Haushofer



A middle aged woman is staying at a holiday villa with relations when one morning she wakes to find that her relations have not returned from town and there is a mysterious invisible wall cutting her off from the rest of the world. Her only companions are a few farm animals and the book is a memoir of the first few years of isolation. We know she is writing about the past and she writes with plenty of foreshadowing. This is a quiet, understated little book that stays with you and makes you think. It isn’t an action filled book and concentrates more on how she feels and how she copes with isolation, feeding herself, keeping warm and looking after her animals.  Her constant references to what was going to happen meant that when it finally did happen, and was very abrupt, you are left wanting more. I think this means that the book will reward a re-read. Looking at the other reviews on LT I am wondering about the expectations of the people who read it. This is post-apocalyptic but not dystopic and definitely not an action story, however it is a great read.


Overall – A quiet contemplative read, recommended


Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes




I was aware of Capa before reading the book, but didn’t know much about the story. The book starts in mid-30’s Paris when Endre Friedmann  (Robert Capa) meets Gerta Pohorylle (Gerda Taro) and Gerta agrees to be Friedmann’s manager. After a distasteful stint as photographer to a German paper (both Friedmann and Pohorylle are Jews) in Spain Friedmann returns to Paris and the two start an affair. When Gerta realizes that Friedmann would have more luck as an “American” photographer they both change their names. They then both go to cover the Spanish civil war where Taro, the first woman war photojournalist, loses her life. Fortes states at the beginning of the book that Spain owes Capa a book and this is it, originally written in Spanish. I don’t know if it was the translation, or if the original book had the same problem, but the writing is alternatively grandiose and banal, the characters fail to come to life and I wasn’t overjoyed to find it was a historical romance with many sex scenes. In the end this book just wasn’t for me, there is a great story here, Capa’s life and Taro’s life are fascinating and so is the historical period. Fortes sadly isn’t a good enough writer to bring it alive though.


More info on Capa here: and Taro here: which will tell you much more than reading this book


Overall – disappointing and boring

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