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After years of placing her tales in France and exploring its rich medieval history, in her new novel Mosse decided to do things differently and to return to her home village in the UK. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” takes places in small village of Fishbourne in Surrey in 1912 and follows the story of Constantia Gifford as she accidentally becomes involved in a frightening murder mystery. Connie is twenty-two and is living alone with her father in a house filled with remnants of what was once a world-famous museum of taxidermy "Gifford’s World Famous House of Avian Curiosities". After the museum's closure, Connie's father became a very uncomfortable man to live with. He's bitter and disappointed in life. The events surrounding the closure are still a mystery to Connie as she lost her memory after a particularly nasty fall years ago. The subject matter is a taboo which can't even be mentioned, let alone discussed so she spends her days with stuffed birds as her company, slowly learning her father's trade.

It all changes one night during which it is believed that ghosts of those about to die in the coming year are walking the earth. A woman is found drowned outside Blackthorn House (Gifford's house). Death certificate proclaims the cause of death as suicide but Connie's having her doubt. Soon she becomes embroiled in a search spanning years which will bring back to light some long forgotten memories as well as the mystery at the heart of her father's life.

With her Languedoc trilogy su ccessfully out of the way, Mosse's writing in “The Taxidermist's Daughter” feels completely reinvigorated. She feels fiercely confident in her story and I, as a reader, found this sort of enthusiasm absolutely infecting. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” is simply Mosse's best work yet which will appear more to readers who enjoyed her gothic tale "The Winter Ghosts" (or “The Cave” if you've only read the original, shorter story”) or her recent short story collection “The Mitletoe Brde and other stories” than to those who only read her Languedoc trilogy. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” is a thrilling lyrical tale with a touch of macabre which I can only wholeheartedly recommend.


Review copy provided by Orion Books.
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“City of Stairs” doesn't really feel like a Robert Jackson Bennett's book. I'm so used to his particular way of writing atmospheric Gothic novels that I was initially completely disoriented by this amalgam of fantasy and science fiction. I've even double checked the info on the press release just to make sure that this is the same Robert Jackson Bennett. Luckily, this is not meant to be a complaint. “City of Stairs” is brilliant but just very different to what you would expert from author of “Mr. Shivers” or “American Elsewhere”.

Bennett's story takes place in city of Bulikov, once proud city now conquered by Saypur and largely reduced to just another colonial backwater. Once Bulikov was protected by Gods but they haven't been seen for a long time. Shara Divani arrives to city as just another Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat sent to over-complicate things for locals. However, secretly she's on a mission. Accompanied by her secretary Sigrud (the best character in a book by a mile), Shara is tasked with discovering truth behind the murder of a seemingly irrelevant historian Efrem Pangyui who dabbled into Bulikov's hidden and forgotten stories. Soon she discovers that nothing in Bulikov is as it seems and perhaps even Gods are not as gone as everyone thought they are. Her quest will lead her deep into Bulikov's past to a time when it was still a force to be reckoned with.

Jo Fletcher Books have been publishing some truly imaginative stuff this year and similarly to excellent “Gleam” by Tom Fletcher, Bennett's “City of Stairs” occupies a place in that wonderful niche of literature where the setting itself has a life of its own and carries the book seeming without any need for a story. Bulikov is a wondrous creation, innovative malleable place that evolves together with its residents. I hope this was not an one off and that Bennett will soon return to it.

So is new Bennett better than the old? As you can guess the question is pointless and it's down to a preference of a reader. Personally, I've really enjoyed this reinvention of Robert Jackson Bennett but deep down I still hope his previous reincarnation is not gone for good. I can imagine sidelines continuing successfully together. Until it happens, “City of Stairs” is a completely new chapter in his writing and showcases a new side to his talent. Bulikov is a place you should definitely visit. You'll have one hell of a ride.


Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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REVIEW : Interzone 253

Monday, 20 October 2014

Turns out Interzone readers are a spirited bunch. You see, we have this policy where we try to not publish negative reviews because we feel that it's hard enough to reach audience without us making it even harder. Bad stuff we read we just forget. So suitably, our published review of “Interzone 252” was favorable. It's our favourite science fiction and fantasy magazine after all. However there was a sentence that said that one of the stories in the issue felt like a filler. To put it bluntly, it caused a bit of furore with a few readers and we even received an e-mail from Interzone themselves citing their strong editorial policy. It was a bit funny in a way and hopefully now the situation is sorted to everyone's satisfaction.

“Interzone 253” is another strong issue, not least because it is a second issue in a row that has an original story by one of my favourite fantasy writers at the moment, Neil Williamson. His "The Golden Nose" is another example of his talent. This imaginative story explores the way increasingly complex technological advances can make even the best talent feel ordinary and redundant.

But to go back at the start, James Van Pelt's "My Father and the Martian Moon Maids” opens the issue and is one of those emotionally powerful stories that aims straight to the heart of the reader. It features an older man reminiscing about his youth and will strike a chord with older readers. Andrew Hook’s “Flytrap” is another tale written in a literary fashion that seems to be pervasive in this issue. This was my first encounter with Hook and I've really enjoyed it.

D.J. Cockburn’s “Beside the Damned River” is a 2014 winner of James White Award and is an extraordinarily written SF which just begs for a full novel treatment. E. Cartherine Tobler's “Chasmata” was another story that I instantly liked because of the dreamy way in which it was delivered. On the other hand I found final story, Caren Gussoff’s “The Bars of Orion” to be a bit forgettable. There's nothing wrong with it as such and it's a decent, personal SF drama that mostly suffers because of its vast scope and the sheer quality of other stories included in this issue.

To conclude, “Interzone 253” is an above average issue, jam packed with true feats of imagination. What's best, “Interzone 254” sounds like it'll be just as good because it has a new novella by Nina Allan in it as well as her new ongoing feature. On to reading!


Review copy provided by TTA Press.
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Over the past few months I’ve been asked numerous times why or how I wrote The Surfacing. With a bad habit of politeness, I usually give a credible answer, when I’d prefer not to give any answer at all. Because behind that question I hear either (1) a misguided pedagogical imperative or (2) a mercenary one, or both. (1) Can you (knowledgeable) please give us (ignorant) the book’s intellectual or personal context, which will help us to read it properly. Or: (2) Make your pitch. Lay out something of personal value, in trade for the investment (time, money, attention) you’re soliciting from us.

I’ve heard other authors answering those questions. I’ve heard myself give it a go. In our answers there’s often an element of the Treasure Hunt, of the A-Funny-Thing-Happened-To-Me anecdote, of the Everyman-Seconded-To-A-Quest, and always a fair whiff of memoir. Put on the spot, authors often take refuge in practical detail, as I did here, when recently answering an apparently harmless query about how I got interested in 19th century Arctic exploration:

A French publisher bought the rights to my first novel, Track and Field, (set in 1923) and I wanted to take the opportunity to rewrite one of the last scenes. Looking for a detail to indicate a form of emotional retreat in one of the characters, I had him refer to Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. That sparked a curiosity about Amundsen, who (I discovered) in 1928 set off on a rescue mission in the Arctic (by plane) and was never seen again. From there (Amundsen first made the Northwest Passage) it was a short jump to a curiosity about those who set out to find Franklin.

These details are all perfectly true, but tell precious little about the sequence of words that constitutes a book. That’s probably the point: they serve as a screen against deeper probing, or are offered as a bribe to shut further questions – and myself – up. Shutting myself up has become a more tricky and pressing need recently. When I was a kid, in the days preceding a local election or the arrival of a circus, a loudspeakered van would trawl through the streets blaring its tedious gospel uninvited into every home. That’s the sound you hear when talking in public about yourself.

Why and how, then, is what it always comes back to. I allow myself to believe I don’t fully know, and don’t want to. While there’s doubtless a certain strategy in that, the fact remains that I distrust absolutely the coherent, articulate answers I’ve heard myself producing in recent weeks. At first they were tentative, full of reserve and disclaimer and clarification; but the more I heard the question repeated, the more I heard myself refining and honing my spiel. Unsurprisingly, perhaps: after all, I’m practised at narrative construction, and at making those constructions sound. But by and by the thing started to sound like another book, written by another man, in a manner unrecognisable to me. (It sounded like a well-planned and well-executed campaign.) A process that calls to mind lines from Penelope Fitzgerald’s Innocence, about the quarrels of ill-matched newly-weds:

Chiara had no gift for quarrelling at all and could scarcely understand how it was done, nor, really, had Salvatore, since his argument was with himself, and he was therefore bound to lose … Each battle, as it closed, was recorded in their memories, as in an elementary history book. In these books you usually get three or four causes of hostilities given, and afterwards three or four results, which have to be learned by heart.

The clear, solid sense of the answers I’ve heard myself give interviewers makes me long to believe them, but absolutely sure they’re incomplete at best, certainly misleading, and in all likelihood totally false. I didn’t make and then follow a plan. I rewrote the last draft much as I wrote the first. The word-by-word process was tentative in almost every way, contradictory and confused in its intentions, muddled and inconsistent in its means and procedures, and generally disingenuous in its expectations of the reader. If that sounds amateurish, it is and was, but deliberately and persistently so; because I’ve found that the best stuff magically materializes when you’re flailing around, distracted by your own sense of limitation and failure. That’s the zone you want to work in, devoid of any impression of coherence, confidence, or perspective.

In contrast, other writers often seem suspiciously clear-minded regarding their writing process. They make it sound like a holiday taken to an exotic location, involving first research and deliberate planning, then relentlessly perceptive note-taking along the way, and afterwards studious collation and correction of first-hand impressions, done with a particular audience in mind. It’s an engaging metaphor and an admirable method, both of which I’m envious of, but can’t imagine ever adopting. My alternative: writing as the invention of rules for a new game - rules which, like the white lines on a pitch, facilitate by means of restriction rather than restrict per se. Some of the rules of the new game (i.e. The Surfacing) I invented were:

  1. Remove all but the most basic technology. (The book is set in 1850.) A disingenuous strategy employed to offer up characters who are obliged to depend mostly on something called ‘themselves’, and who appear less defined by social and historical context than ought to be credible.
  2. Remove as many basic, reliable, and familiar comforts as possible. These include: a non-hostile climate and a civilian society. I did this by trapping my characters together in the High Arctic. A familiar device of putting ‘normal’ characters in an extreme situation, in order to accelerate and accentuate failings and strengths. It’s what a Materials Engineer (i.e. my wife) would call stress testing. It’s what a writer (i.e. me) would call the ‘Fish-Out-Of-Water’ strategy.
  3. In that ‘alien’ context, re-create a microcosm of the ‘normal’ world. Instead of a man alone in the wilderness, I created a little village there, with elements of the ‘home’ life I hope surreptitiously to represent: various classes and backgrounds; all ages, men and women, and even a child; daily routines, duties and roles; meals and entertainments, births and deaths, and other familiar social opportunities, along with the hierarchies that facilitate them. I’ve taken this village (the Impetus, my novel’s ship) and like a wargamer bending over his board simply pushed it as far as possible to the top of the map, then contrived to give it the means to survive there indefinitely. It’s like covering a pot and turning the heat up (or down, in my case), then standing back to wait for it to explode.

Those restrictions were an integral part of the process of composition, which I’m now rationalising in retrospect. They’re part of a facilitating strategy, which points as much to a desire for disguise as for self-revelation. The importance of that inclination shouldn’t be underestimated, I think. Because even if it might seem wilfully perverse both to plead ignorance and appeal for silence, those seem to me the writer’s natural habitats, more than whatever platform (interview, profile, blog…) now serves for a podium. Little matter if that sounds too sly to be true. Beyond quibbles regarding prurience, simplification or misrepresentation, refusal to elaborate can also serve as a reassuring refuge. And that’s how it should be. A book can very well be your final word on your chosen topic, not a call for further query. For instance, in my own case I recognise that the writing of The Surfacing had something to do with:

-          my own personal reserve, which no doubt feeds

-          a fascination with a certain self-mythologizing mode of masculinity, what it conceals, facilitates, and pretends to ignore

-          notions of paternity (the book was written while my wife was pregnant, then during the first years of my son’s life)

But do I want to discuss these facts or concerns with a stranger? No. Do I want to elaborate on them publicly, in a non-fictional form? No. Do I respect the reading public’s ‘right’ to curiosity and to inquire about them? If I do (actually I don’t), I give far greater weight to any writer’s inclination towards silence (surly or not), disingenuousness, even outright obfuscation and obstructionism. To my mind, a writer ought to be allowed freely to indulge the (perhaps deluded) fantasy of themselves as some kind of truth-teller or world-painter, however subjectively skewed. And all fantasy needs room to breathe, not repeated calls to order or explanation. So let us invent our stilted little worlds, then leave them lying around for you to find and pick up and bring home, and make of what you will. Asking for more, you not only risk having your reading done for you in advance; you also risk making the writing a mere prequel to public self-presentation as a form of self-promotion.


Cormac James
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Poems by Iain Banks with Ken MacLeod will be published on February 5, 2015 by Little, Brown 

Synopsis:


Iain Banks the literary novelist and Iain M. Banks the science fiction writer are too well known to need introduction, but Iain Banks the poet has hitherto been almost undetected: a single poem was published in a magazine and three short pieces within the novels. But he took his poetry seriously and worked on it carefully, though he shared the results mainly with friends.

Readers of Iain's novels will find in these poems many aspects of his writing with which they're already familiar: a humane and materialist sensibility, an unflinching stare at the damage people can do to each other, a warm appreciation of the joy they can give to each other, a revel in language, a geologically informed gaze on land and sea, a continued meditation on what it means for us to be mortal embodied minds with a fleeting but consequent existence between abysses of deep time.

Ken MacLeod, Iain's long-time friend and collaborator, has collected his poems according to his wishes, and they are published here - most for the first time - alongside a selection of Ken's own poetry


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The Dark shall do…? Wait, it sounds… well, not to put too fine a point on it… almost as if I were saying evil shall do what good cannot!

Good and Evil. Light and Dark. Yes, of course there are shades of grey to show that something or someone is not all bad. But Dark signifies Evil; there is no question about that …right? Or, is there more to the Dark?

What or who is the Dark?

We live, all of us, in the House of Light and Dark. Quite literally, our world lies within the confines of Day and Night. But Light and Dark are also symbols of different aspects of our collective character: honesty, goodwill, tolerance are typically characterized as ‘good’, that is to say, Light, whereas destruction and deceit are generally confined to the realm of the Dark.

But the narrator of the story tells us that there are times when the Dark must be called upon…

Indeed, there are times when goodwill is not enough.

There are things that the light of honesty cannot uncover.

There are people who are not touched by plain, honest decency…

I have seen such people. I have witnessed such things. So, probably, have you.

Then where do we turn? When Light comes up short, what do we do?

The seeds of this story were sown almost twenty years ago. I had recently graduated from law school and had made my way down to a – for me - truly unknown part of the world: New Orleans, Louisiana. Part of the American ‘deep South’, but with a sprinkling of glitter and a generous helping of hot sauce! New Orleans is a beguiling place, and holds a particularly cherished spot in my heart because it was there, under the shade of fragrant sweet olive trees and magnolias, doing the Cajun two-step and listening to swampy blues that I embarked upon my life as an adult…

I started my life as an attorney at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Those three to four years – from sapling prosecutor to full-fledged senior trial attorney - were, without doubt, the most satisfying, exciting and heartbreaking years of my professional life thus far.

It was with deep satisfaction that I heard a jury deliver a verdict of Guilty as Charged against the man who had starved his infant son to death, and his daughter to within an inch of her short life (she was developmentally delayed as a result). But the loss was irredeemable, and the satisfaction felt hollow.

It was equally rewarding when another jury convicted a man who had repeatedly raped his two young stepdaughters. He was sent to jail for the rest of his life, but the children had suffered unimaginable psychological and physical trauma, and contracted incurable venereal diseases. It was a bitter victory. Who could feel happy?

Such is life? No, I do not believe it is inevitable that a child should starve to death when the entire community could – no, should ­- have known about it and done something before it was too late. The police? The law? The state? Clearly, despite its power and resources, the state, with all its laws and police, is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.

So it was in New Orleans that I met Shadow, where it explained – from behind its glass wall at Audubon Zoo – about the Blind Policemen in Pera…

In Pera, each Blinder is elected from among the most respected members of a given community – perhaps a geographical area somewhat larger than a neighborhood. The Blinder does not have power of arrest, but he or she is expected to accompany the police to crime scenes. But the Blinder has a far more important role than to keep the police in check. The Blinders are assigned in pairs to walk all night through their respective communities, listening to and talking to people. In this way they are kept up to date about any problems and concerns affecting the community. In Pera it is an honour to be elected a Blind Policemen, for it is an indication of the respect and trust placed in the individual by the community. And the process is transparent: whatever the Blinders discover during their patrols must be communicated to all the communities.

But where or what is Pera, I hear you ask? Pera is the world in which the Blinders, Shadow, the Hunter, and so many other colourful, wonderful characters cavort. But Pera is also a real place. It is the old name given to the historic part of Istanbul, and it means, ‘the other side.’

Pera, behind the Light Veil, is on the other side of reality: an alternate place to experiment with ideas. There are light trees there that eat sunlight and bear fruit that, in turn, lights up and energizes (literally) the community of Pera. There are light birds that glitter in the night because they have eaten the seed of the lightberry. The House of Light and Dark, which is the domain of the Sun and her brother, Twilight, welcomes all creatures living in Pera. But amidst of all the glitter, laughter and the songs, it must be remembered that the lightberry is poison to the non-Pera born, and the Land is afraid when the Sun retreats, for it is then that Twilight walks the streets...

In Pera, as in our world, there is deceit and cruelty. There are people who would harm defenseless children, and those who would jeopardize the health and wealth of their communities for personal gain. There is nothing new in all this.

What happens, though, when the Sun is not able to shine her light into the repulsive crevices of humanity? When, with all the goodwill in the world, we cannot keep the children safe, or the forests intact. What happens when the rivers are polluted irreversibly, and we can hear the land groan: barren and toxic? And the people have lost their savings, their homes and their communities…

Then, the Dark shall do what Light cannot.


Sanem Ozdural
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The promise of Star Trek is the mythology that forged Glass Shore. No poverty. No hunger. No war. Smart medicine. Star travel. So how do we get there? What decisions have to be made to keep us going forward into prosperity and new constant wonders instead of stagnation and degradation?

Sometimes a character bubbles to mind and introduces their world to me. That came later. Her name is Nikki. But the Event was first. I saw it clear and cold. My Big Bang Theory. Destroy and Rebuild. The story grew from the restoration theme. America had to calm the world and repair the damage to a great swath of the Pacific Northwest. The government in my world created a policy for reconstruction that employed millions of people. New enterprises in manufacturing and production created new wealth and allowed for mad ventures into high-risk economic sectors. From great tragedy sprang enormous profit. Every avenue of adventure, design, engineering and scientific discipline was well funded. The government also reasoned that a Positive Inducement Program was required to help people from slipping into depression and hysteria due to the horrible Event. They wanted to foster a culture of people that Think Differently so they employed overtly optimistic advertising, as well as subliminal dissemination of higher mathematics and reckoning and compassionate considerations. The Pii program was installed into all reflective surfaces like household and industrial glass and mirrors. So that when people see themselves, they receive a flash, or twinkle, of good will and sound math.

Enter Nikki. Her goal was to restore her father’s name and repudiation. Nikki’s father was globally recognized as the worst human in Earth’s history. Nikki’s father was responsible for the Event at Puget Sound. The government proved without doubt that his actions created the Glass Shore. Yet Nikki was sure this fact was a lie. She lived, worked, and played, deceived and loved high and low in her pursuit of the truth. I followed Nikki like paparazzi in this new world. And I listened to her because she had something to say. (I have successfully fooled myself into believing I always have something to say.) Nikki was active, vivacious, smart, focused and she was fun with a purpose. Then she found her it. All of it. A moment later, they tried to kill her. Good thing she had protection. She had hired Apollo, her lover, and a private detective with style. Apollo was a bad seed with high self-esteem. He enjoyed life and was serious about his job. Nikki and Apollo were quick to fit like a hand in glove.

Now Glass Shore had life. And this is where the dreaming gets fun. Wondering about future gadgets, I reviewed old science and of course researched new ideas and found a smartly designed item by Meng Fandi that I had to use in my story. Nikki used an alarm worn on her finger to awaken her with a gentle vibration rather than an acoustic signal. The ring alarm is a real product available for purchase.

In a world of magnetic conveyance, where vehicles travel unimpeded, what need of an obsolete underground railway structure? How best to use that real estate? I redesigned the New York City subway system into over a hundred miles adult playground.

Soon the story offered miscellaneous oddities things that all made perfect sense. New weapons, energy sources, recreational activities, advertising, transportation, language, architecture and fashion became commonplace to me and I was complete with that soft sense of home, that feeling that settles in when you live in a place for an extended time. But I never had a chance to feel ennui or melancholy because of the roaring tributaries of Nikki and Apollo’s lives – their wild and foolish actions and fierce romance, and the dark politics that enveloped all and flowed to the Glass Shore.

Like Jerry Lewis, I work with jazz. I’m sure the music influences my writing. I’m a drummer, so there is always a beat in my mind. The frenetic and vibrant horns, sharp keys, and syncopated beats are in the background when I lay down the early drafts of a story. And I favor the mellow paces and strident exercises in expression during the editing phase. Thanks to the good folks at Elsewhen Press for challenging me throughout this stage. On example, my editor noted that certain dialogue was out of taste for my character. I wanted to argue my point – thinking the language was a perfect display of the character’s anger and emotions, but I reviewed the line a few times, said it aloud and realized it wasn’t right. So I changed it. I was so happy that someone understood and cared about my characters.

I have fun writing and working on Glass Shore was amazing. And that’s the point. Enjoy writing. Have fun. Play with your mind. Your stories will never be boring and your readers will love you for it.


Stefan Jackson
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Hard Freeze and Hard as Nails by Dan Simmons will be published on April 28, 2015 and August 25, 2015 by Mulholland Books

Synopsis:


Reason to Kill...
Joe Kurtz, former investigator and convicted felon, is on parole. But his years in Attica for snuffing the mob killers of his beautiful partner didn't make his old haunts any safer. Back on the streets, he's already marked by a local Mafia don with unfinished business.

A Reason to Live...
If watching his back wasn't enough, Kurtz has been hired by gravely ill John Frears whose daughter met a grisly fate at the hands of a child-murderer. Frears wants one thing before he dies: for Kurtz to find the fiend that the authorities couldn't. But the calculating killer-a master at changing identities-has a little unfinished business of his own.

A Reason to Die...
Dodging a contract on his head, and tracking a serial killer on the loose, Kurtz is plunging headfirst into the icy waters of revenge-as both victim and private avenger. It's going to be a tough winter in Buffalo for Joe Kurtz-cold enough to freeze the blood.


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