Monday 29 February 2016

Reviews - Book of Apex & Azanian Bridges

Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 by Ursula…

Best of Apex Magazine Volume 1
Edited by Lesley Connor & Jason Sizemore
I received this book in return for a review

First of all - what a cover! I love this, and it really sets an expectation of quality that I'm glad to say was more than met by the stories inside. Usually with a collection of stories that are unthemed and from different authors there would be an unevenness and a hit and miss quality. This wasn't the case here - although not all the stories were to my taste there were certainly no bad ones. Indeed as a writer there were plenty of - 'I wish I'd written something like this' moments.

It was also very nice to read a few new authors, although there were also some old favourites (of mine) like Genevieve Valentine, Ken Liu  and  Rachel Swirsky all of whom didn't disappoint. Especially Valentine's story - Armless maidens of the American Midwest which was one of the stand out tales of the anthology.

Other tales that I especially liked were: L’esprit de L’escalier by Peter M. Ball which is a striking tale and one that stays with you for days, telling of a grieving man who decides to descend an endless stairway; Remember Day by Sarah Pinsker in which one day a year a veil is lifted from those who have voluntarily given up their memories of a horrible war and Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli which managed to be both melancholy and creepy at the same time.

Overall I can give this a hearty recommendation. Maybe not all the stories will hit the right spots for you, but if you don't read it you'll be missing out on some excellent examples of the speculative.

Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood

Azanian Bridges
By Nick Wood
I received this book in return for a review

Imagine what South Africa would be like now, if Mandela hadn't been released, if Apartheid didn't end, and where someone invents a device that allows for direct exchange of memories, thoughts and feelings.

We follow two characters - Martin, a white psychologist and Sibusiso, a black man suffering from PTSD after seeing a friend killed in a demonstration where the police use live rounds to disperse the crowd.

Martin, and a friend, have invented the device the plot revolves around. Despite the ethical quandary it poses he uses it to treat Sibusiso and risks his job, and after a warning from the secret police, his freedom.

There is the touch of a thriller as the box becomes an object that different groups desire, for different purposes. The ANC, the secret police etc. Both Martin and Sibusiso are thrown headlong into confronting the inherent nature of such an apartheid state - from different ends, white privilege and black oppression.

There's more than a hint of Orwell's 1984 here, especially with the fabled Room 619 (from which people do not return) although it is brought bang up to date and, as is pointed out in Imaginary cities (which has changed my perspective of dystopias permanently), each dystopia also contains someone's utopia and vice versa.

This is an intelligent book that manages to transcend the thriller style plot to be genuinely thought-provoking. Which is what speculative fiction should be.


Wednesday 17 February 2016

Guest post from David Hulegaard


With encouragement from friends and family, David K. Hulegaard wrote his first novel in 2010, and has cut a swath through Sci-Fi and Fantasy ever since. Lauded for his ability to create complex, meaningful characters, David’s Noble trilogy takes readers on an emotional journey that has garnered comparisons to the works of Philip K. Dick and Stephen King.
David lives in Port Townsend, Washington with his wife Jennie, and their banana-obsessed Welsh Terrier Tobi. In his spare time, he enjoys video games, professional wrestling, and photography.
David dropped in to talk about his new book - Planet of Ice
Learn more about David and his books at, and follow him on Twitter to chat.

Constructing a Planet of Ice

When a mysterious message prompts Delta to leave the crew unexpectedly, Max, Kort and K1RB pursue her to a mining colony on Quaris - a distant planet with a seedy reputation. To find Delta, the team must traverse a harsh, unforgiving environment; face certain death at the hands of murderous mercenaries; and uncover the powerful secrets hidden beneath the planet's frozen crust . . .

I consider myself fortunate to count author Tony Healey among my friends. We both entered the literary fray around the same time, and clicked right away. Not only is he a swell guy on a personal level, but he’s also one helluva storyteller, and I enjoy his work immensely.

We’d always wanted to work on a project together, but without fail, something would come up and derail our progress. Finally, in 2015, we teamed up and published two volumes of an innovative new series called Playlist: collections of short stories inspired by our favorite music.

Not long afterward, Tony presented another opportunity for us to collaborate, only this time he raised the stakes. He needed someone to take on the second book of his critically-acclaimed Broken Stars series, and in short order.

I spent a weekend reading Age of Destiny (the incredible first book in the series) cover to cover twice. With a head full of ideas, I plotted an outline of where I saw the story going next, and sent it to Tony for approval. After a few minor changes, he gave me his blessing, and put me to work on Planet of Ice.

Although I was intimidated to take the reins from someone as gifted as Tony, I was equally excited to play in his sandbox. He’d created such an intriguing universe with Age of Destiny, filled with mystery, action, suspense, and very likable characters. Oh, and did I mention aliens and space travel? My inner geek was tingling.

My goal with Planet of Ice was to expand upon the fantastic groundwork Tony laid with Age of Destiny. He established a solid blueprint around Max, the main protagonist, so I wanted to build off that by examining his crew and exploring their team dynamic a bit deeper.

Delta is one such character Tony introduced in Age of Destiny, and I loved her instantly. She’s a real bad ass with a “take no crap” attitude, and joins the team with reluctance during a fight-or-flight situation. Although we learn a bit about her criminal past in the first book, I felt as though we’d only scratched the surface of her character. With that in mind, I developed Planet of Ice around the consequences of her involvement. Ghosts from her past come back to haunt her, and the boundaries of her friendship with Max are tested.

Focusing on Delta was also important to me because I feel as though strong female characters are at a premium in the sci-fi genre, and that’s a shame. But she’s not just strong. She’s fearless, funny, smart, resourceful, and crafty. She’s not a role model by any stretch of the imagination, but when push comes to shove, she’s definitely someone you’d want to have your back.

If you like action-packed sci-fi, The Broken Stars series is right up your alley. But don’t just take my word for it:

“This book has plenty of non-stop action, character development, suspense, and vivid world building.” – 5-star review on Amazon

Begin Max’s adventure across the stars in Age of Destiny.

Continue his journey in Planet of Ice.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Some quick reviews

What did the beginning of the year bring us reading wise?

Apart from Toby Litt & NewCon Press titles that is...

Writing Poems (Bloodaxe Poetry Handbooks) by…

Writing Poems (Bloodaxe Poetry Handbook)

This was more a 'why write poems' and 'how to write better poems' than a basic primer. This is not a one stop shop if you want to learn how to write poetry (or indeed write better poetry) and fails as a primer, assuming that you have the basics already. It also seems to assume that the reader will be teaching others to write poetry. Still it's a book that would be handy to you if you ever did decide to write poetry, but I can't help thinking that there are better out there. This does get a vast amount of great reviews, so perhaps there aren't?

Open to recommendations on writing poetry books...

Light on a Dark Horse by Roy Campbell

Light on a Dark Horse by Roy Campbell

Campbell is like the poetic version of Hemmingway - he was a bullfighter, s deep sea fisherman, he fought in the Spanish civil war (on the side of Franco) and was fully immersed in 1920'2 & 30's literati society. He was born in South Africa and this book (the first in a two book anthology) covers his early childhood and early literary success. I would have like to learn more about his exploits in Spain and WW2, but that would mean tracking down volume 2, and I'm not sure I can be bothered.

Campbell is an interesting character but very not PC (surprise!) and pretty right wing. I've not read any of his poetry (which I think I should, just because I no know lots about his life) but expect it to be just as dismissive of leftish leanings.

It's an interesting read despite the dodgy politics, good old fashioned racism and misogyny because it does conjure a lost world of pre-world war two (he tried to sign up to fight in WW1 but was discovered to be too young).

I mainly got this because of As I walked out one Midsummer by Laurie Lee, where Lee meets the poet, who makes a big impression on him. The introduction to this book is by Lee.

Galore by Michael Crummey

Galore by Michael Crummay

A whale is washed up dead on the Newfoundland coast. There is a man in the belly. He is alive. He has miraculous powers. There is a sprawling family saga between the Sellers and Devine families. When I got to the end of part one I put it down and wasn't inspired to pick it back up again. i don't know how it ends and have no desire to find out. The writing wasn't bad as such, but the characters were studiously quirky and the type of family saga with no real plot didn't really do it for me.

The Refuge Collection- Volume One: First…

The Refuge collection volume one

This is a collection of short stories set in the strange town of Refuge (where everything is clearly NOT alright) with more than a soupcon of horror. All the proceeds go to refugee charities and therefore it's worth supporting for that. Luckily it's also a great little collection where each story adds layers to the town and the recurring characters and with there being several more volumes coming I'll be following along. Full disclosure - I'll be writing a story for a later volume so there's that too.

Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to…

Wired for story by Lisa Cron

Our brains are wired for story - it is a result of our evolution and why we are so successful as a species (if you believe that - and we aren't the equivalent of yeast about to drown in our own waste... ) and this book uses the science of psychology to highlight what good stories do. It is the usual mix of storytelling advice wrapped in a pop-psychology jacket. It is actually a good writing advice book. But it's not the only one out there and you may get on with another better. Anyone who tells you they have THE answer when it comes to storytelling is either mistaken or trying to sell you something...

Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay

Bone by bone by Sanjida Kay

(More on this elsewhere - the launch is soon and Sanjida will be providing a guest blog)

Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov

Lectures on literature by Nabokov

I was so looking forward to this book. I have huge respect for Nabokov as a writer and looked forward to getting his insights into several classics. Sadly the lectures seemed to mostly be summaries of the books that were set texts for the course. Having struggled through Mansfield Park I flipped through the lectures on Bleak House and although there are gems in there (no doubt) they were buried in the summary. It's an odd mix, fully expecting the student (reader) to have read the text (which I confess I ddin't) but then spends around 80% of the lecture summarising what happened chapter by chapter and the other 20% is mostly detail about the period...

A Slip of the Keyboard

A slip of the keyboard by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett wrote numerous essays over the years, many of which were published in various newspapers. This book collects them together. They are, as you'd expect, amusing, erudite and eloquent. I sat down to read "a couple of essays" and before I knew it I'd read most of the book. This is an essential purchase for Pratchett fans and also well-worth buying if you are an aspiring writer (lots of insight into being a writer).

I found that for the last few chapters, as pTerry  struggles with Alzheimers and the ethics of choosing your own way to die were just heartbreaking. For me (and until fairly recently I assumed everyone else but several people have disabused me of the notion) the fear olosing your mind is much greater than that of physical injury and the thought that you'd lose it by degrees knowing that you were losing it, and not being able to do anything about it, or end it whilst you were still you, fills me with horror. That it happened to someone like pTerry is a tragedy, and I did find that there was something in my eye as I read through some of those final chapters. In 2013 at World FantasyCon I had the chance to go and see pTerry in public for what was one of the last times. I decided that I didn't want to remember him struggling under the weight of the terrible disease that had took hold of him. Others that did said it was like watching a dragon die.

I did a tribute to Terry Pratchett for Far Horizons magazine which can be seen in our anniversary issue last April available here

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to…

What If? by Randall Munroe (XKCD)

The guy who draws XKCD has a blog where he allows people to ask stupid questions about science (he's a physics graduate & self-proclaimed science geek) which he'll try to answer with serious science. The questions are in the style of - "what would happen if the sun went out" or "what if i took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool." amongst many many others.

Munroe does both an admirable job of explaining the science simplistically and also give entertaining answers, with amusing illustrations. This is a bit of a dipping into book and ideal for the mini-library by the side of the toilet (what do you mean you don't have one?)


What is Moozvine?

There's a new publishing platform over here:

Moozvine is a crowdfunding platform where users can download and read straight away, without needing to sign-up or create an account.  

Funding is currently open for Alex Shvartsman’s humourous, science fantasy story, High Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity, a sequel to the story Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, which is already available for free on the site.

We asked our friends at Publishing Push what it was all about - 

It’s not often something completely new comes along to shake up an established industry. is doing just that with their innovative model for funding and releasing ebooks under a Creative Commons licence. 

What that means for you is that you can go there and download any book that has been released completely for free. You can read the books, download them and even share them with your friends and it’s all completely legal.

Why would the authors let you do that? The way it works is that when a book is first put up there, it has a two week window during which the public can pledge money to enable the release. If the book’s release threshold is met the money is paid to the author and then anyone can get the book! After a book is released, the public can continue to support the authors they love by paying any amount they want whenever they want.

Right now they are focused on Sci Fi and have some amazing short stories and novellas from some of the big names in Sci Fi at the moment, including many Hugo and Nebula award winners.

Go over there and read some of their stuff. And while you are there, why not support their currently funding story with a few dollars!

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Interview with Toby Litt

Toby Litt is best-known for writing his books – from Adventures in Capitalism to (so far) Life-Like – in alphabetical order; he is currently working on P.

(Toby Litt at Bristol Festival of Literature. Photo courtesy of Paul Bullivant)

Why did you choose to call your collection of essays Mutants?

I was thinking of calling it Mutoid Attack!!! That was the name of a game me and my gang used to play, when we were about nine or ten years old.

The real reason is that I was asked to write something about Carlos LabbĂ©, a Chilean writer. This was for Granta online. It was one of those occasions where a little commission, a few hundred words, forced me to formalize something that had been inchoate for a long while. I was very direct in my language.

“I like fiction that seems to reinvent itself as it goes along—to change not only its rules but also the premises on which those rules are based. This is a fiction that goes beyond metamorphosis and becomes, instead, a kind of seething, perpetual mutation. It doesn’t start from a state of generic-genetic purity; it was hybrid to begin with. Each stage of its development is one of mutation from mutation, outgrowth from outgrowth. And yet, when it reaches an end, dies or slides off out of sight towards further incarnations, it is possible to discern that this creature-of-literature had a consistent form—and an indwelling set of premises that weren’t discernible before.”

Afterwards, I realized this explained a lot about the kind of writing that I see myself as doing, and why it doesn’t always meet with comprehension.

Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it? Is process important?

The simplest answer is no. There are certain things I return to repeatedly – certain kinds of notebook for instance – but that’s because they’re the best ones I’ve found; if I found better, I’d switch. I am superstitious, but the means I use to write change with each book. However, I don’t like to think of it as ‘process’. Although I teach writing, and have explanations for lots of technical aspects of prose-making, the moments when it goes well are very mysterious.

Where do you stand on the axiom "write every day"? (& please explain why)

I stand here: If you have to force yourself to write, you’re not (my kind of) writer; if you have to force yourself not to write, I greet you as a fellow shirker of life. Whenever I can sneak off to work, you will not find me with other people. This causes problems frequently.

Do you prefer the long or short form? How do you feel about Flash Fiction? 

For some reason, perhaps because it’s what you can produce in half a day, I have settled to a story length of between 2,500 and 3,000 words. I would prefer these stories to be longer, but they seem to fit into around ten to twelve pages.

Flash Fiction doesn’t resonate with me. I will write something that’s a sentence long, but I’ll just think, ‘That’s all there is. Why isn’t there more? Because anything more would be crap.’ Usually, I don’t make an attempt to publish or circulate sentence-long things. They stay in the notebooks.

What did you learn about writing from writing comics?

That writing comics is hard. That comics are a much younger, freer form (in terms of using a consistent point of view) than novels or short stories. (This may seem a minor point, but I realized that novels and short stories are extremely rule-bound as far as point of view goes.) That it is useful for prose writers to think about writing on multiple levels simultaneously. That the masters of comics writing are masters of syncopation. That writers for comics are part of a Fordist production line where you do your bit, pass it on.  That comics readers are some of the best, most passionate, most critical, that a writer could find.

And a similar question - what did you learn about writing by collaborating on an opera?

Ah, well, I think comics and opera libretti are very similar forms. BIG WRITING. With a comic, every reader has to hit each beat at the same time. A spread out revelation is a flubbed revelation. Look at Brian K. Vaughan’s writing for Saga. When he does a BOOM, everyone gets it. Similarly, with an opera, everyone in the auditorium should be at the same resonant frequency. It’s ‘If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.’ That’s my take on the libretto form: it’s the poetic triumph of the bloody obvious. “I am full of grief – I am anguished.” That would be terrible in a short story. Leave subtlety to the composer. Make your vowels singable and don’t car crash your consonants.

Which piece of your own writing are you most proud of? and why?

I have just submitted something new, and long, to an editor. Right now, I hate everything I’ve done, and wish I was another writer entirely. None of it has done anything that really seems important. Feeling like this is what happens between books. I am glad I wrote some of the lyrics that Emily Hall has set – ‘At the Edge of the Field’, ‘A Field of Snow’, ‘Waltz’. If you were to press me about prose, I’d say either the opening of Journey into Space, or all of deadkidsongs, or the story ‘The Hare’.

What are you going to do once you've reached the end of the alphabet (with book titles I mean - rather than any sort of existential word hoard crisis)

Word hoard is a wonderful image; Anglo-Saxon, no? That would make me a great Smaugesque dragon, sitting on top of the glistering pile, wanting more.

Answer: I have a plan. I have only told one person that plan. You are not that person.

Are you particularly influenced by any writers? If so who and why? If not why?

Many, many writers; constantly. At the moment, consciously, Osip Mandelstam – ‘Journey to Armenia’ and ‘Fourth Prose’; Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond. More generally, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, J.G.Ballard, David Foster Wallace, Franz Kafka, Muriel Spark, Samuel Beckett.

I read what they do and see how intensely other it can be. Because they have reached the point of perceiving a world that isn’t common. They mutate language in a way that’s enviable, necessary, and sets me off to try again.

But I’m also equally influenced by musicians and visual artists.

In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

Enjoy being a new writer; value energy over expertise – don’t be reasonable.

You must be a mutant.

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