When "A Vision of Fire", Gillian Anderson's science fiction literary debut co-written with Jeff Rovin, was announced I've initially thought that someone surely must be making a bad joke. After her recent stint Young Vic's A Streetcar Named Desire and endless string of impressive roles such as The Fall and Great Expectations, last thing I would've expected from her was to go back to her science fiction roots, no least by a book written together with Jeff Rovin who's writing credits include books set in Tom Clancy's Op-Center universe and multiple movie novelizations including Mortal Kombat and Re-Animator. A series of reviews in lead up to its publication weren't encouraging either so, all in all, whole situation wasn't very promising but I was still hoping for the best.
"A Vision of Fire" is opening novel "The Earthend Saga" and follows the story of child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara as becomes embroiled in a strange case of Maanik, daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations. All of the sudden, Maanik has started speaking in tongues and is suffering from violent visions. Caitlin's initial diagnosis is that Maanik is suffering from a severe case of PTSD because of recent failed assassination attempt on her father's life. However, soon it transpires that Maanik's case is not unique. All across the world teenagers are suffering from similar outburts and Caitlin begins to notice a strange pattern. And it seems that humans are not the only species suffering from this strange phenomena. Before she realises what's happening, Caitlin is thrown a race against time to uncover the link between these seemingly unconnected incidents. Consequences of failure would be dire both for her patients and the world she lives in. To make things even worse, assassination attempt on Maanik's father Ganak has sparked an international nuclear crisis and it against this backdrop that Caitlin must find a solution.
The unavoidable and unfair question on everyone's lips is how does "A Vision of Fire" compare to Anderson's work on "The X-Files". Luckily, the answer is almost impossible to give - these two works are a completely different kind of fish though fans of latter will find plenty to enjoy here. "A Vision of Fire" is written on global, epic scale which has a potential to grow to even bigger proportion in the future and while both works have a strong female leading characters, Caitlin is just an ordinary mom who accidentally finds herself in larger-than-life situation. And no matter whether you like it or not, there's no denying the fact that "A Vision of Fire" is a very brave novel to put out, especially if you come from Anderson's background. It's definitely not a perfect novel but these few kinks that need to be ironed out hopefully can be sorted out in subsequent installments. Until then you should try to enjoy "A Vision of Fire" for what is it - a thrilling supernatural romp with a dash of psychedelic mysticism and philosophy.
Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
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I'm ashamed to say that when “The Island” originally came out I've discarded it as a sugary historical potboiler without opening a single page. I can't exactly remember why as I'm usually addicted to intelligent historical novels but it must have been something to do with chosen cover art and synopsis playing at similarities with Captain Corelli which I really dislike. I've only caught the Hislop bug when eventually I've received a review copy from her American publishers, together with glowing recommendations and so I decieded to give it a go. I haven't looked back since. In fact, her 2012 short story collection "The Last Dance and other stories" is one my most cherished books ever. These short, subdued glimpses into everyday life are worthy of continual rereading.
If you're constant reader of her work you'll know by now about her panache for discovering little known aspects of European history and building a story around them. Her latest novel "The Surprise" doesn't disappoint in that aspect. Set in the summer of 1972 in Famagusta in Cyprus, "The Sunrise" goes straight to the heart of the still ongoing conflict between Greece and Turkey. Back then tensions between these two nations were still on the cusp of an extremely volatile affair that will unfold in 1974 when Famagusta sadly took the brunt of it. Before then this small city was a popular tourist destination and was generally known to be one of the most desirable resorts in the whole Mediterranean. The future held promise for its residents and Famagusta stood as a beacon of hope in stark conflict to the rest of the island which was embroiled in the bloody ethnic unrest. Savvas Papacosta and his wife Aphroditi build "The Sunrise", a luxurious new hotel and their little piece of heaven on earth.
It all changed in 1974 when Greek committed a coup and Turkish forces invaded in return under the guise of protecting the Turkish Cypriot minority. Famagusta was soon under continuous shelling and quickly the city is abandoned by its residents. The idea was that the international forces will soon be involved and before long everything will return to normal. 40 years later this still hasn't happened and the line is sand still stands. The Turkish immigrant moved in parts of the city but vast parts of Famagusta are still abandoned as they were on that fateful night. The story of this ghost city is one of the darkest episodes in recent European history and it is in this abandoned town that Hislop weaves her tale. With everyone gone, two neighboring and conflicting families are left behind - the Georgious and the Özkans. They take refuge in "The Sunrise" where they worked before everything went downhill and feed using scraps found in abandoned shops. As the troops are approaching, amidst all the chaos, an unlikely love is born. One that has a chance to bridge the divide.
Similarly to the rest of her opus, "The Sunrise" is a fictionalized account of everyday lives of small people living through a tumultuous historical event. Set in two parts, before and after invasion, Hislop's characters are confused by what's going on around them. They can't make sense of it and they're often lacking sense of nationality that's powering the conflict. Mostly they just want to live their lives in peace and are more interested in love than war. This is exactly the thing that makes me enjoy Hislop's work so much. She never lets us forget that amid all the ruin there's some beauty to be found. Sure, as a species we're mostly illogical and senseless but there's always some hope left.
"The Sunrise" is an enlightening and touching read which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Review copy provided by Headline.
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Thanks to a fortunate coincidence, about a month prior to reading Joan Sales' magisterial tome about Spanish Civil War, “Uncertain Glory”, I've read and reviewed "Victus - The Fall of Barcelona", a recent book by another Catalan literary master Albert Sanchez Pinol. Pinol's "Victus" is concentrated on events taking place in 1714 when Catalonia was originally annexed to Spain. Over two hundred years later these events still echo heavily on the psyche on proud Catalans as evident by their continuous fight for independence and I would argue that they also partly form basis for events depicted in "Uncertain Glory", first novel to show the Spanish Civil War from the defeated side. Spanish Civil War, in all its tragedy and sadness was always hard for me to comprehend. However, the more I've read about it, the more it became clear that its origin was a culmination of everything that happened over the past few centuries in combination with a complicated situation resulting with having a relatively small area of space and whole peoples and religions at odds with each other. In circumstances like these nothing is black or white and no one says it more clearly than Sales. His "Uncertain Glory" is entirely based on this moral ambiguity.
And Sales knows what he's talking about. Using his own experiences as an foundation to build a story, Sales was for much of the conflict part of the infamous Durruti Column, anarchist military unit which fought against Franco. Later Sales was posted to the 30th Division and after Aragonese front eventually collapsed capture he was imprisoned and exiles. All this is reflected in a tale of three main protagonists who are divided by conflict but united in their love for the same woman. Opening with experience of Louis Ruscalleda, formed lawyer fighting on Aragon front, it moves on to reveal life in Barcelona through experiences of Trini Milmany, a geologist from an anarchist family. Told with compassion and full of emotions, "Uncertain Glory" is very untypical war novel which is mainly told through letters and using time jumps as a narrative device. Each of the main protagonists in the story is nothing more than a pawn in that huge, unreasonable and often senseless game called war but still ideals never die. There's no conflict as such and its protagonists are more prone to philosophy than to fighting. As such, a reader will definitely benefit from healthy dose of patience and a little historical background will be very welcome as Sales initially keeps his cards close to his chest, only gradually revealing each subsequent layer in his dense tome. It's very easy to get completely overwhelmed.
Originally published in 1956 in a heavily censored form, Sales was never accept the limitations of politics so he continued trying to improve the original text. "Uncertain Glory" published here by MacLehose press is a definite, final version that Sales finished and published in 1971. Reportedly it is wildly different to 1956 version which so far I haven't had pleasure to read. "Uncertain Glory" has already been compared to works by Hemingway and Orwell and I would tend to agree. "Uncertain Glory" is a stunning and magnificent piece of work which has been rightfully restored to its place as one of the finest novels about war ever written.
Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
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Some Here Among Us by Peter Walker will be published on February 3, 2015 by Bloomsbury.
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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman will be published on February 3, 2015 by William Morrow.
Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things—which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog,” written exclusively for this volume.
In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.
Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.
A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.
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It has been way too long since Margaret Atwood published a collection of short fiction. If I'm not mistaken “Stone Mattress: Nine Tales” is first such collection since 2006 when she published "Moral Disorder". As I'm someone who cherishes her short stories even more than I do her novels this was a long wait. Truth be told I did manage to read few of the stories collected here before when they were originally published but having them presented together is a completely different proposition. The thing is that even though these nine stories were written over a relatively long span of time they complement each other perfectly. Each of them, in its own particular way, explores the volatile nature of relationship and the consequences of it going wrong or, very occasionally, right.
"Alphinland", one of the stories which together with "Revenant" which is about poet Gavin Putnam and "Dark Lady" about twins compromises a triptych of loosely thematically connected stories about people who knew each other, revolves around a widowed fantasy writer Constance who's still coming to terms with the loss of her husband. Suddenly she hears a voice of her deceased husband Ewan everywhere and it slowly leads her through life. Creating a escape hatch in her literary creation Constance copes in her own way. "The Freeze-Dried Groom" is about a man who buys a storage space on auction only to get more than he's bargained for while "Lusus Naturae" recounts a tale of woman whose genetic abnormality cause her to be mistaken for a vampire. Incidentally if you enjoy "The Freeze-Dried Groom", Atwood has invited her readers to write a companion story and give their own take on what actually happened. Rather interesting literary experiment which runs until October 31st. Centerpiece of the collection, "Stone Mattress" is about 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite, arctic cruise and a crime done to its main protagonist many years ago while ominous closing tale "Torching the Dusties" is about an older woman suffering from Charles Bonnet syndrome who is struggling accept the nature of her condition and the bizarre events that surround her while a group on younger nasties are preparing to burn old people's home where she's living down.
In "Stone Mattress: Nine Tales" Atwood's literary flame seems to burn brighter than ever before. After the tremendous success of her MaddAddam trilogy I would have excepted her to slow down a bit but in these stories Atwood is better, sharper and more playful than ever. Not to forget, she's at times very very twisted. And while other authors are content with reaping the rewards of their previous work, over 50 books later Atwood keeps on successfully reinventing herself. A wonderful collection which will be enjoyed both by her constant readers and those new to her work.
Review copy provided by Bloomsbury.
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Riding the Serpent's Back by Keith Brooke, Deep Future by Eric Brown and The Iron Wire by Garry Kilworth are available now from Infinity Plus.
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The inspiration for each of the Tom Mariner books has come from a different source. For the first few books, what came first was a strong premise, usually a ‘what if?’ scenario. The Worm in the Bud, which was the first in the series, was based on a ‘what if?’ arising from my experiences working with children on the autistic spectrum: what if the sole witness to a murder was a man with autism who was unable to communicate what he’d seen? Quite often there will be a ‘scene’ to accompany the idea that lodges in my mind. In that case, it was a couple of bewildered police officers attempting to interview a man who they believe must be ‘out of it’ on illegal substances.
‘Dead of Night’ had a different beginning and I think reflects my increasing tendency towards using multiple viewpoints. I’ve long admired other writers, like Kate Atkinson, who do this very successfully. This time inspiration came in the form of a number of characters who seemed to present themselves, and in the first instance, they arrived by air! Birmingham, where the Mariner stories are set, has everything a crime writer could possibly want. This includes the nationally renowned Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which has one of the country’s top military medical facilities. For several years now this has meant the regular presence of Chinook helicopters, flying low over the south of the city as they bring in wounded personnel from Afghanistan. Perhaps because of what the Chinooks represent, they seem somehow to be a much more imposing and sinister presence than the more familiar Police surveillance and Air Ambulances, and I quickly found myself very attuned to the distinctive engine sound, itself louder, deeper and rather ominous. Each time a Chinook flew over, I couldn’t help imagining the people and drama surrounding its arrival; and from that curiosity emerged Private Craig Lomax and critical care nurse Dee Henderson. At around the same time I was getting another recurring scenario in my head; of a small girl waiting outside school at the end of the day, for a mum who never appears. That child became Dominique. Finally, the confident and rebellious teenager, striding along Broad Street flicking a defiant cigarette, was Grace Clifton. As the characters began to emerge, the central narrative that would link them together also began to take shape. I find it’s never quite possible to predict the exact direction a story will take, although most times I have a good idea of where it will end up, and in Dead of Night my perpetrator was known to me right from the start. There have been exceptions; in Mariner 2: Blood of the Innocents I realised about two-thirds of the way through writing the book that I had put the wrong person ‘in the frame’ and some substantial rewrites were needed to make sure that justice was done!
The inspiration for the book I am currently working on, which will be the next in the Mariner series, came from out of left field. Titles are something I generally struggle with, but this time it was the title that came to me first and is driving the narrative. It’s a little frustrating, as I have a couple of other series ideas and had planned to give Mariner and his colleagues a rest whilst I developed one of these. Then this title took up permanent residence in my head, so I have to do something about it.
While I’m writing, further inspiration for the Mariner books comes from my surroundings, chiefly (though not exclusively) Birmingham and the midlands. Like Mariner I’m a keen walker, both inside and outside the city, and I will often come across a location that will prompt certain aspects of a book. It’s only a matter of time I’m sure before someone reports overhearing a suspicious conversation between my husband and me, as we discuss the logistics of disposing of a body at a particular site! Of course, in addition to these real locations, I also take a great deal of artistic licence with the city. I have a kind of my map in my head of the key landmarks, but I deliberately leave the bits in between ‘blurry’, so that I can insert specific features where I’d like them to be. It’s always fun (and flattering) at local book talks when people tell me they know some of these (Mariner’s canal side home is a favourite) and I have a reader who is convinced that she’s visited a café in London, featured in ‘Written in Blood’ that is pure fiction!
The themes of the Mariner books are naturally rooted in ideas that interest me, due to experience or reading – what I would call the ‘write about what you know’ stuff. Like other writers I keep a folder of cuttings; news stories and magazine articles that have piqued my interest. And sometimes it can be a chance conversation that sets me thinking along a particular thread. When I was starting out, one of the main ingredients – the process of policing – was relatively unknown to me, and so was an area where I really had to focus my research. Having absolutely no contacts in the police at that time, I took what seemed the most logical approach and phoned our local police station, about a quarter of a mile away. After a slight false start (the press office were too busy), I was quickly put in touch with a DI who happened to be on duty, and have never looked back. I’m always grateful for the generosity of officers who are willing to share their time and experiences. I have developed a good working relationship with one particular contact, whom I meet at least once per book. Fortunately for me, although he ‘retired’ a couple of years ago he has returned as civilian support role and continues to work on the front line of murder investigations. When we meet I always have a list of specific questions relating to the book I’m working on; for example, for Dead of Night, I needed to establish how the police would work with other services when a young child is discovered to be ‘home alone’. I always end up with pages of detailed notes, but not all will be used. Authenticity is important but can’t eclipse what should be a compelling and entertaining story, so again artistic license plays its part. With the recent growing emphasis in the police service on admin and record keeping, some details have to be adjusted or ignored: ‘Mariner completes a CP451B’ would hardly make for gripping reading. One of the biggest tensions is around the need to have a protagonist who is involved in the action, at a time when an officer of Mariner’s rank of DI (and acting DCI in Dead of Night), would delegate groundwork such as questioning and interviewing to more junior officers. However, some things still surprise me. Knowing that the brand new mortuary at the QE includes a high tech viewing room with high definition screens, I wondered if perhaps the preference might now be for police officers to observe a post mortem via these, but I was assured that most would still prefer to be ‘in the room’ standing alongside the pathologist to see everything first hand. During these meetings we also chat more generally about current real life cases and often some detail will lodge in my mind that can be drawn on at a later date. A particularly gruesome incident in ‘Stalked by Shadows’ is based on one of these chance discussions.
My process for writing the books from start to finish is rather a mix-and-match approach. I’d like to think this is due to increased experience and maturing techniques, but suspect that it has more to do with what else is going on in wider life at the time. As I haven’t yet taken the plunge to be a full time writer, I also juggle a day-job alongside fiction writing. However I do have a number of strategies that work for me. I make sure that I write something every day; I identify times when writing has to come first and stick to these (family and friends have learned to be accommodating), and, when I can, my real luxury is to take the occasional weekend ‘retreat’ to a holiday flat in a town about an hour’s drive away, where I can hole up to work more intensively for a couple of days.
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Long ago when I was young I read a fairy tale based on the ancient Irish story known as “The Wooing of Etain”. To put it simply (which I hate to do, because it is a deliciously detailed and complex romance) it is a love story involving reincarnation and interactions between humans and the legendary immortals known either as the Tuatha De Danand or the Sid or Sith (pronounced shee).
Later, I read the whole complicated story in a black-backed Penguin Classic called Early Irish Myths and Sagas, my copy of which is now falling apart. In the original, Etain is one of the immortals, married to Mider, but taken from him by sorcery; after more than a thousand years she is reborn into the human world, grows up to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland, and marries a chieftan named Echu. She has no memory of her previous life, and when Mider comes to her one day looking like a handsome young stranger, she is quite naturally not interested in abandoning her rich and powerful husband to run away with him as he proposes. The two men soon enter into competition with each other until finally Mider tricks Echu into granting his right to Etain. Although the fairy tale ended with Etain and Mider flying away, magically transformed into swans (birds known to mate for life), the myth continues with Echu’s pursuit of Mider – by digging into the mounds that are a feature of the Irish landscape and which were known as the dwelling places of the Sith – until Mider gives Echu another chance. He sends out fifty identical women and tells Echu to find his wife. He makes his choice and takes her home. Later, Mider appears again, and reveals that when he took her, Etain was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, and it is that daughter that Echu has unwittingly chosen. The real Etain is still in the Otherworld with him.
You may agree with me that this is an unsatisfactory ending. Why didn’t one of the women say something? What was the whole experience like from Etain’s point of view? We never have a clue as to what she really wants. And what about that identical, silent daughter?
Myths, no matter how useful Freud, Jung and others have found them for describing psychological states, do not contain much psychological content. They are not about characters, but story – people do things because these actions are required of them. And in this one, the woman might as well be a cow or a piece of land the two men are fighting over. But the origins of this tale may extend back to the Neolithic; the theme of alternating lovers is connected to the changing of seasons, and although it was told for entertainment, it also had a deeper meaning to its earliest hearers, one we can only guess at.
Novels, unlike myths, are all about character – not just what people do, but what they think they are doing, and how they feel about it. I had already used the idea of a lost lover reincarnated in a novel of psychological suspense (Gabriel) but that wasn’t enough; I was still haunted by “The Wooing of Etain.”
The power of myth remains even when you don’t understand it – maybe expecially when you don’t – and it remains for every reader to reinterpret, to use it. When I finally began to write the book that eventually became The Mysteries I wanted to write a contemporary fantasy that would import some of the magic of ancient Celtic myths and legends. I wanted to tell the story of a modern Etain, through her own eyes. But the story resisted me. What happens when you meet a powerful, immortal being who tells you you’ve had a life you don’t remember? What could I say about anyone’s experience of the Otherworld? Being there would not be like life in another country; I certainly did not want to reduce it to that. If it was not mind-blowingly different to dwell in the kingdom of the immortals, my character, Peri, might just as well have run away with a foreign exchange student. Writing about the Otherworld, I thought, would be like describing a drug-trip, or a dream, utterly absorbing to the person experiencing it, but not quite so interesting to a reader, or comprehensible as story.
So I ended up writing about it from the outside, from the point of view of someone who started as a minor character in an earlier draft, a detective hired to find a missing girl. And once I had his voice, the novel became as much about Ian Kennedy, and his obsession with searching for people who disappear. This allowed me to go back to other stories that had haunted me since I first encountered them as a child, in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” and the books of Charles Fort. I revisited some of the great unsolved mysteries of the past, such as the story of the man who walked around the horses, and the three lighthouse keepers on the Flannan Isles. I’d also long been intrigued by the similarities between modern “close encounters” with aliens and UFOs, and the much older stories about people abducted by fairies – so all of these things became part of my detective’s history, and of The Mysteries.
My novel takes the form of a detective story, but even when he solves his cases, questions remain. I’m very fond of a quote from “For Want of a Golden City” by Sacheverell Sitwell, used by one of my favourite writers, Robert Aickman as an epigraph in one of his collections – I was tempted to use it myself:
“In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.”
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It's good that the winter is finally coming around because reading "Waiting For Doggo" during summertime wouldn't be the same. Mark B. Mills' novel is one of those furry creatures that makes you all fuzzy and warm inside so bad weather is essential for complete enjoyment. It simply wants to make you curl up in your bed under a blanket.
Story opens as Dan is left by Clare, his long term girlfriend. They've been together for four years and all he has to show for it is a "Dear John" letter and Doggo, a mutt she rescued from London's Battersea Dog and Cat Home. After a spectacular run of bad luck, Dan is simply not interested in owning a dog. Even his job is in tatters. He's planning to get rid of him as soon as possible because it is the last thing he need right now. It'll just remind him of Clara, and not in a good way. To make things worse, Doggo is not particularly easy to like. He is damn ugly, nearly hairless and, well, strange. But despite the looks and initial impression, he's clever in a way that only dog can be. And he's full of strange kinks which only add to his personality. Take for example his unhealthy obsession with Jennifer Aniston. It quickly turns out that there's something endearing about him and Dan's defenses are slowly broken down. Slowly he changes his tune and this unlikely duo strike a friendship. Eventually he even realises that Clara leaving him was a blessing in disguise.
So what's the thing that makes Doggo so special? Well, I think it's because the whole book is in fact a carefully hidden celebration of our inner ugliness. "Waiting For Doggo" invites readers to scratch under the surface and see what lies behind the facade. It is also a swan song for all your weird habits and those strange ideas that make you who you are. If there's one thing that's bad about "Waiting for Doggo" is that it's simply too short. This slim volume can be read in just a couple of hours of casual reading and then it's over. All in all, this way a lovely read. Grab yourself a cuppa, curl up under a warm blanker and prepare to meet Doggo.
Review copy provided by Headline.
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