The story behind The Seeker by S.G. MacLean

The Seeker is the first in a series set in the 1650s London of Oliver Cromwell and featuring Damian Seeker, an army officer in the intelligence services of the Protectorate. Seeker operates in a London buzzing with coffee houses, illicit newspapers, radical lawyers and royalist agents. When one of Cromwell’s favoured officers is murdered in Whitehall Palace, Seeker finds himself delving in to the world of the City, and the secrets of a diverse selection of characters – a wealthy merchant, an impoverished lawyer, a Dutch scholar, a Scottish minister, an itinerant peddler and the dead man’s Royalist widow amongst others – who encounter each other in a coffee house run by an old parliamentary soldier and his niece. The story takes Seeker from the vibrant heart of the city, via the university town of Oxford to the court of the Lord Protector himself, and in the course of the story, it is revealed that Seeker has a few secrets of his own.

The Seeker, like my Alexander Seaton series of books, was inspired primarily by place. The Seaton books, set mainly on the north-east coast of Scotland and in Ireland in the 1620s and 30s were inspired by places I knew well, had long been intrigued by, and whose history, architectural remains and landscapes I had come to love.

However, from an early, stage in our relationship my editor had been pressing me to consider sending Alexander Seaton to London. I had manfully resisted – I had no connection to London or history with the city. I knew little enough about the life of the 21st century metropolis, never mind that of the 17th. Eventually, in a fairly disgruntled manner, I agreed to consider it, but although there were plenty of reasons for someone like Alexander Seaton – a failed minister turned University teacher who does a lot of sleuthing – to go to London in the 1640s, I found he was even more opposed to the idea than I had been: he simply wouldn’t go.

I thought my publisher and I had reached a parting of the ways, but at about the same time, I noticed that BB4 was airing a documentary of seventeenth century London. It was presented by the very engaging Dan Cruickshank, and I was soon hooked. And then he came to the emergence of the London coffee house in the 1650s and I felt the old familiar buzz of excitement that told me there was a story here. I went away and started reading up on 1650s London, Oliver Cromwell’s London, and the new phenomenon of the coffee house in particular. The coffee house was an amazingly egalitarian institution where individuals from all walks of life, strangers or friends, would meet to drink coffee, smoke, and talk, and they talked of anything – trade, politics, gossip, sedition. Concurrent to this was the rise of the newssheet or news book – the fore-runners of our newspapers, and it was in the coffee house that people read and exchanged the news. The London of Oliver Cromwell was obsessed with news, absolutely buzzing with rumour, gossip and intrigue, and I thought a coffee house would make the perfect setting for an ensemble cast of characters to come together. Murder would, of course, ensue.

            I didn’t bother getting in touch with my editor about this – I assumed I’d been tacitly dropped – but I carried on working away at my idea. Then, a week or so before Christmas 2012 she called me and said, ‘How’s the book coming on?’ I only just managed to stop myself saying, ‘What book?’ Instead, I told her my idea, about the coffee house, the cast of characters, the murderer. She liked it very much. Then she said, ‘Of course, you’ll need to think carefully about the detective character.’ Again, I managed to stop myself saying ‘What detective character?’ I had planned that the identity of the killer would just emerge in the course of the story, and had had no thought of a detective character at all. So, at the end of the phone call, I pulled on my wellies and hauled the dog to the woods, racking my brains about what on earth I was going to do about it. It was a typically Highland gloomy, drizzly December day. After about fifteen minutes, we came to a point in the woods where the path splits in two directions, on one side disappearing between a tangle of whin bushes, and in my mind’s eye, through the gloom, I saw a figure emerge from the bushes and present himself to me. He was very tall and strongly built, and was wearing a helmet, boots and a long black cloak – something like a mixture of Darth Vader and Brix, Sarah Lund’s boss from The Killing – and I knew his name was Damian Seeker. Now, I was perfectly aware that I was not seeing this in reality, but the picture came to me very clearly in my mind, and I knew I had my detective character.

            The Seeker is quite different from the Alexander Seaton books in several ways other than simply location. The Seaton books are all written in the first person, from Alexander’s viewpoint, whereas the Seeker books are 3rd person, and show several viewpoints. Alexander is prone to self-examination, angst if you like, and is very driven by religious belief or doubt. Damian Seeker doesn’t do ‘angst’, and he certainly doesn’t do religion. Seeker takes his orders from John Thurloe, Secretary of State and Spymaster General of the Intelligence services of the Cromwellian Protectorate. He is a northerner, a Yorkshireman, utterly loyal to Cromwell, unimpressed by any sort of pretension, and brutal when he has to be. He has, of course, a sensitive side, but one that few get to see. After reading an early draft of the book, my editor and agent both agreed on one thing, they loved him, and wanted a lot more of Damian Seeker in the book. I obliged, but I still haven’t had the heart to tell either of them that he wasn’t part of the initial plan at all.


S.G. MacLean
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REVIEW : Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

 

One of the most anticipated books of the year is here and it is a blast! Final part of Snorri Kristjansson's strange fantasy trilogy set around Norse history and mythology was always going to be good. When you build your story on rollercoaster rides such as "Blood Will Follow" and "Swords of Good Men" even a rethread of familiar ground would be an enjoyable experience but in "Path of Gods" Kristjansson has really upped the ante.

Story of the "Path of Gods" finds Audun and Ulfar driven by common goal. Our immortal couple are the only one who can stop the march of White Christ alliance that threatens the destruction on the North. They're led by King Olav Tryggvasson, a self-appointed leader and their arch-nemesis, who is having plenty of trouble on his own. Keeping peace during the times of war is never going to be easy and there're chancers everywhere just waiting to depose him. King Olav is truly horrific creature, succumbing to doing the most heinous acts imaginable to spread his religion. Unbeknownst to other, an old, forgotten evil is starting to stir. Some very familiar names from the Norse Pantheon make a welcome appearance.

Kristjansson's "Path of Gods" feels like fireworks going on everywhere at the same time. The entire series has been a gargantuan feat of imagination and "Path of Gods" provides a worthy final stop filled with heart-warming revels and blood curdling showdowns. It is completely bonkers, slightly strange, and such great fun. If you haven't done it by now, do yourself a favour and get the entire trilogy - it's truly unique.


Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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REVIEW : Stallo by Stefan Spjut

 

Considering the tremendous success of John Ajvide Lindqvist's "Let Me In", it is something of a wonder that we're not seeing more Scandinavian supernatural thrillers on our bulging bookshelves filled with translated titles. Thinking about it, there's only been a handful of such tiles published in recent history, coming from either from those reliable stalwarts of foreign fiction Pushkin Press and MacLehose, and they've all been invariably great. Seems like those cold Scandinavian nights offer plenty to inspire authors willing to step away from the standard Scandinavian crime literature, especially those willing to explore darker and stranger recesses of human condition as imbued by myth and tradition. Stefan Spjut's atmospheric "Stallo" is a welcome addition to this sadly understated sub-genre and it is instantly an appealing read.

Nothing sets the tone for what follows better than this opening:

"The worm glued to the tarmac is as long as a snake. No, longer. It reaches all the way to the grass verge beside the main door. The boy's eyes follow the slimy ribbon and notice that it stretches across the ditch and curls into the belly of a grey animal. Its eyes are black glass and one paw has stiffened in a wave."

The story continues to revolve around the strange and unexplained phenomena. Ever since a boy disappeared in the woods back in 1978, him mother has claimed that he was abducted by a giant. Of course, no one believed her even when it transpired that a year ago, a wildlife photographer captured another similarly bizarre phenomena on film.

Back in present day, Susso Myren is updating her web page. She's one of those conspiracy theorists who believe in all sorts of dodgy stories including the Yeti and the Big Foot. His father, the wildlife photographer who 25 years before took that bizarre photo, has instilled in her a deep love for photography so when an old woman recount a tale of a strange creature that observers her house for hours on end, Susso sees an opportunity for a story of a lifetime. Armed with a camera, her ex-boyfriend Torbjörn and her mother Gudrun she embarks on an adventure far stranger and perilous than could have possible imagined.

The quote from Karl Ove Knausgård, which graces the cover page, is a good indication about what sort of a book "Stallo" is. Despite its magical and supernatural elements, it is a glacially slow tale that unfolds in layers and is best enjoyed when read slowly. This is my first encounter with Stefan Spjut's writing so I don't know whether this is due to the excellence of translation or just plain old good storytelling, but I found "Stallo" to be beautifully written with plenty of depth that keeps you guessing even when you think you've understood it all. As is often the case with Scandinavian literature, "Stallo" positively destroys the boundaries between genres and is a book that isn't limited by mere limitations of any particular genre. It's serious enough to be enjoyed by those looking for something more mainstream while strange enough to attract those looking for intelligent fantasy fare. "Stallo" is a menacing, atmospheric book that will occupy your thoughts for days. More of the same, please.


Review copy provided by Faber Books.
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REVIEW : Second Life by S.J. Watson

 

"Before I Go To Sleep" was such an unique book. It came completely out of the blue and made S.J. Watson's name as an off-beat author who can instantly grip the hearts of his readers. A successful Hollywood movie starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth followed and sealed the deal. "Before I Go To Sleep" deservedly became an international bestseller and won quite a few rewards. S.J. Watson is now back in the limelight with his new psychological thriller called "Second Life". Brilliant cover art clearly shows what to expect. In a similar way that "Before I Go To Sleep" did, "Second Life" is a about duality but told in a slightly different way which might not appeal to everyone.

"Second Life" follows the story of Julia, a woman who live an ordinary and slightly boring life with her husband and son. Everything changes when her sister Kate is brutally murdered. This is a new that shatters her life to bits. Kate and her have always been very close despite the fact that Kate has been living in Paris for a little while now. To make matters even complicated, Kate's son is being raised by Julia for reasons to complicated to explain now. Julia is disappointed by police's investigation and little by little decided to take matters into her own hand. After the discussion with Julia's flatmate Anna, she starts by exploring her sister's effect only to discover the other side of her life - a world of online dating and sex. As Julia digs more and more, her own life starts spiralling out of control and yet, she can't give - for her own and her sister's sake she must know what really happened.



"Second Life" is a much darker and atmospheric tale than "Before I Go To Sleep". It is an accurate portrayal of obsession and the need to put the final stop to a life that ended so tragically. As such, its slow and elegiac opening will be off-putting to those expecting a reprisal of its predecessor. Things pick up significantly in the second part while the surprising twist at the end will leave many readers gasping. However, I don't think "Second Life" will be even close to repeating the success of "Before I Go To Sleep" but that's not necessary a bad thing. Rather than repeating same trick again, S.J. Watson has decided to develop and to try something new. The result is a book that's much harder to instantly appreciate but once you do immerse yourself you'll come to realise how truly interesting and fascinating it really is.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins.
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REVIEW : S.N.U.F.F. by Victor Pelevin

 

A few months ago I wasn't even aware of the existence of the Russian Booker Prize but Victor Pelevin's superb novel "S.N.U.F.F." is already a fourth book that either won it or was shortlisted. Russian Booker Prize is a cunning concept that surpasses the idea of a literary prize. In a regime where the publishing output is carefully controlled to suite the government, Russian author have decided to speak through their fiction. These carefully veiled attacks again the social and political situation in Russia are hard to prove as often they're disguised as Utopian allegories which could go either way. "S.N.U.F.F." is similarly ironical in its dystopian depiction of current political climate.

Pelevin sets his story in a backward Urkaine (not to be confused with Ukraine – sic) inhabitated by 300 million orks. Flying above this landscape is "Big Byz" (or if you prefer "Byzantium"). A technological marvel in itself, it is a city that has around 30 million inhabitants. "Big Byz" controls the lives of those situated below through a onslaught of carefully orchestrated media reports and artificially produced conflicts and events. Blissfully unaware of it all, orks' lives are lead down the path predetermined by those controlling the media. At the heart of it all is "S.N.U.F.F." or "Special Newsreel / Universal Feature Film" through which Orks' emotions are effectively controlled.

"S.N.U.F.F." almost mirrors the current life in Russia. This is particularly evident if you read "Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia" by Peter Pomerantsev, a surreal non-fiction account of Pomerantsev's experience while working in Russian's media industry. Pomerantsev also clearly depicts what happens to those who oppose the regime so it is no wonder that Pelevin relies on allusion upon allusion to get his message across. Ultimately, the joke is on the Russian government because it seems that science fiction has once again become a vehicle for overcoming oppression and censorship. As such "S.N.U.F.F." is wondrously imaginative piece of literature that by far surpasses its humble premise. Obviously, there's probably more layers to it than I'll ever realise but interestingly enough, it works perfectly well even as nothing more than a good story.


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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The story behind A Prospect of War by Ian Sales

A Prospect of War is the first book in the Age of Discord space opera trilogy. The second book, due in October this year, is titled A Conflict of Orders, and the third is A Want of Reason and will be published in March 2016. The trilogy is about a civil war in a large interstellar empire, the people who become embroiled in it, and the historical event which, more than one thousand years earlier, caused it. The trilogy sort of came about like this...

Back in the late 1990s, I was in a British Science Fiction Association orbiter, a postal writing group, with, among others, Justina Robson. At some point, I thought it might be fun to write a space opera featuring a group of unlikeable characters - which is, I guess, what fantasy authors later went on to do when they created “grimdark”. The background to my space opera was, I admit, a bit identikit, although I threw in knightly orders and an aristocracy, likely inspired by the universe of the role-playing game Traveller. In the event, I only got three or four chapters into my space opera before I decided it wasn’t working.

I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time and, some time around the turn of the millennium, a new book store opened in the city. On its shelves, I found copies of the first eight books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, so I bought them and read them. I’d heard a lot about the books, but I only read them because I was interested in discovering what it was which had made them so successful. I never found out. I thought they were badly-written, derivative and clumsily-plotted - although one or two of them weren’t too bad. However, reading the Wheel of Time did give me an idea: that space opera I had trunked, I could try writing it as if it were an epic fantasy…

But my space opera was definitely going to be science fiction, so I threw Frank Herbert’s Dune into the mix - I’ve been a fan of the novel since I was a teenager, although more for its world-building than its prose. In fact, for my space opera I wanted exactly that sort of deep history Herbert put into Dune. I also wanted my story to be timeless, inasmuch as it wouldn’t really date since, like Dune, its setting would be completely unlike the real world.

I spent a long time working on the universe for my space opera, and even put together an encyclopedia, which I briefly considered offering as a companion volume. Since I was “borrowing” from epic fantasy, I thought it might be fun to throw in a few of the genre’s more popular tropes too. So my ingenu hero would be a “peasant hero”, there’d be a “hidden king”, a “dark lord” and a “dark lieutenant”, the plot would roughly follow the “hero’s journey” template, and so on…

However, as soon as I started writing A Prospect of War, every trope I stuck in sort of got turned on its head or twisted out of all recognition. Happily, this only improved the story, so I went with it. For the trilogy’s story-arc, I looked to EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman series for inspiration - each new volume in my trilogy would reveal a deeper level to the conspiracy driving the plot...

But as I started writing about this conspiracy, I realised my personal politics aligned more with the villains than it did with the heroes. I mean, the plot was basically your standard consolary fantasy - nasty dark lord attempts to overthrow good king, but is foiled by a peasant hero with magical power - albeit in space opera drag. Except, a feudal space empire is a pretty nasty place for the bulk of its citizens, and the amount of privilege possessed by a royal family and high nobility I find deeply offensive. However, there’s no reason why I couldn’t mix it all up, have white hats and black hats on both sides - because after all it’s about motivation, about the reason why people do the things they do. In A Prospect of War I even have the leader of the faction fighting to defend the throne described as a terrorist by another character.

I like to think A Prospect of War and its sequels are more political that most space operas, that they interrogate their setting and don’t simply use it as an enabler for a story of interstellar derring-do. Not, of course, that they lack derring-do. I made sure to put plenty of that in. Space operas are pretty much defined by derring-do. In fact, I even dialled it up to eleven - I gave everyone swords. No guns, just swords. And there are battles too. Between armies, or with space battleships. And sword fights... Masked assassins... Mysterious allies... Equally mysterious enemies... A ball in a duke’s palace... An orbital city… A spaceship crash... An abandoned warship…

I didn’t throw everything into my space opera… but not for lack of trying.


Ian Sales
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REVIEW : Uprooted by Naomi Novik

 

There's no other way to put it. Naomi Novik, together with Stephen Deas, made dragons cool again. Temeraire was such a great series so far and with each new instalment Novik grew as an author, offering more and more in terms of sheer depth of characters and pure excitement of action. But while we all wait for the next and probably final Temeraire novel, Novik decided to try her hand at something new. "Uprooted", her new fantasy novel, instantly feels different and refreshing. While Temeraire was a globetrotting historical romp, "Uprooted" is more of a fairylike creature. It also has a Dragon but not one of a kind you would normally expect to get from her.

"Uprooted" is story that follows Agnieszka, a quiet 17 year old girl who spends her life in a peaceful picturesque village surrounded by forest. However, behind the idyllic appearance, the villagers are continuously on edge of the precipice. They're indebted to a Dragon, a 150 years old wizard who keeps the evil forces of the Wood at bay in exchange for choosing a village girl as a servant every ten years. It a disastrous price to pay but the villagers have no choice. And it's not like the girls are killed or worse. In ten years, girls usually return with a sack of silver and education, but no one is really sure what is actually happening as the girl leave the village for good as soon as they return. As the time of the next choosing is quickly approaching everyone believe that Dragon will pick Kasia, beautiful and feisty girl who is Agnieszka's best friend but when the moment comes unthinkable happens. Agnieszka is chosen. Unbeknown to many, Agnieszka has a gift - she has magic. The story truly comes into force when Kasia is abducted by something in the Wood and Agnieszka ventures deep. The last third of the book is one of those moments in reading when the story captives you so much that you forget the world around you.



"Uprooted" is a lovely, pacy magical fantasy steeped in fairy tale traditions, that is simply delightful to read. It clearly shows that Novik is much more than a one trick pony and that there's more to her craft than writing about Temeraire. Funnily enough, after finishing "Uprooted", I couldn't help myself but to start wishing that she would embark on these other works strands often because as I said at the beginning, reading "Uprooted" was such a different and refreshing experience.


Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan.
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REVIEW : The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

 

Terry Pratchett was one of two authors whose loss I've felt tremendously deeply. I'm not ashamed to say that I've even shed a tear. I've never met Terry but I grew up reading his books and it is still hard to accept that his brilliant mind is suddenly gone. Therefore these last few books that are coming out are all the more precious. And yet, ever since it started coming out, "The Long Earth" series has been a subject of some rather harsh criticism. Mostly it was down to people claimed that they're being somewhat slow, slightly boring and just not funny enough. I suspect most of these reviews have been written by Pratchett fans who have never read anything by Stephen Baxter before. Baxter is another of by favourite authors but I have to admit that his writing style stands in stark contrast to Pratchett's. His works are usually completely dry, steeped deep in hard science and relentlessly realistic. There's not a laugh in sight. The entire "The Long Earth" format is pure Baxter. He's specialised in writing this sort of chronologies, which just go over the subsequent years, never fully exploring anything and leaving countless threads open. And while "The Long Earth" spans less than a hundred year, some of his other books like "Evolution" span eons. What Prachett brought to "Long Earth" were the characters. Lobsang, Joshua and Sally are all vintage Pratchett and I don't even have to mention Beagles and Kobolds. I might be wrong but I don't think that Baxter wouldn't be able to produce a character like that even if his life depended on it.

Having said that, some of you will be disappointed to hear that, being such a recent creation, the fourth installment of "The Long Earth", titled "The Long Utopia" is almost pure Baxter. We're at a stage of story when Joshua and Sally have grown old and lost a bit of their passion. They're world weary and just want to be let alone. Lobsang is dead although not in a way you would imagine. He decides to re-inventing himself by becoming a middle aged man and, together with Agnes, adopting a son Ben. The Next are also mostly gone, and while the space elevator is slowly being built, there's no mention of the Gap, Long Mars, or the Beagles. But this calm moment is not to last as the George's refuge turns of out be a host to another one of those strange anomalies strewn across the Long Earth. Anomaly allows one to step North and due to Von Neumann Beetles the fate of an entire Long Earth hangs in the balance. I won't spoil the rest of the plot but this time around the story takes the center point and both the Next and humans must work together to prevent the worst. And there's awfully lot of science, dyson spheres and whatnots. We learn a lot about the history of Joshua's family.



I found "The Long Utopia" to be incredibly exciting and perhaps the best volume in the series so far. Sadly, lots of those mad, bonkers elements are missing but Baxter has done tremendously well in filling up the gaps with science and engaging story. The funny thing is that even four books in, "The Long Earth" feels like it is only just starting and "The Long Utopia" only goes to expand that feeling. There's so many new and completely unexplored threads here that at time I felt that the series going go on for many many more books. I know that now the future of "The Long Earth" hangs in balance but I certainly hope Baxter will continue alone. "The Long Utopia" was a pleasure to read and such a welcome opportunity to once again experience the brilliance of the inimitable Terry Pratchett.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins.
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REVIEW : The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera

 

Milan Kundera is a changed man. This is obvious from the way "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting", or "Immortality" are different from "Slowness" and "Ignorance". Over the years he has grown weary and rather pessimistic. Humour is sadly often missing from his writing but "The Festival of Insignificance", his latest slim volume that can be easily finished over the course of a single sitting, goes a long way to rectify it. In it he attacks the most serious problems with a cheeky refusal to be serious and the results are often laugh out loud.

On the surface story is rather simple and charts the relationship between four elderly friends through a series of disjointed stories that explore the very essence of human condition and the unlikeliest body part, the navel. These episodes are not straightforward but are instead a heady mix of philosophy and history that requires a re-read to be fully appreciated. In Kundera's mind aesthetic is much more important that a self-contained plot and in a way "The Festival of Insignificance" acts like a summary of all his work so far. There are recognizable elements from all across his career and this short novel is both an epilogue and an overview. In short, it is simply Kundera that I love - almost unbearably intelligent author who is by far too clever to let it show.

"The Festival of Insignificance" is a subdued read that will be truly enjoyed only by his constant readers. I suspect the rest will simply be a bit confused but that's the part of the joke.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins.
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REVIEW : Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz

 

There was a public outcry when David Lagercrantz was announced as an author of "The Girl in the Spider's Web", fourth part in the monumental "Millennium" series by Stieg Larsson. This was mostly due to the fact that he's best known as the co-author of "I am Zlatan", autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of today's biggest and most outspoken football stars. Surely, this Lagencrantz doesn't deserve to follow in the Larsson's footsteps? Well, if you scratch under the surface some other facts come to light. Lagencrantz was a notable crime reporter as well and over the 80s and 90s he covered some of the major crimes in Sweden, most notably the Amsele murders, a brutal massacre that happened in 1988 when a whole family was killed over a stolen bicycle. Also, Lagencrantz is a great author. He wrote a rather splendid biography of Goran Kropp, a Swedish equivalent to Ranulph Fiennes and "Fall of Man in Wilmslow" a fictionalized account of Alan Turing's final days.

"Fall of Man in Wilmslow" opens up with events known from history. On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing in found dead at his home in Wilmslow. The story goes that he killed himself with a poisoned apple as a direct result of government's persecution on homosexuals. Detective Constable Leonard Corell is assigned to a case but he instantly feels there's something more about the situation than it's initially apparent. He notices the chemicals and the similarities between the crime scene and the Snow White. Coroner quickly declares the case the suicide but that's not the ending for Correll. He becomes obsessed with Turing's tragic fate and as he digs deeper through his papers, it is increasingly obvious that everything surrounding him is veiled in secrecy. There's even some rumours about him being a target of Soviet spies' blackmail due to his sexuality. Correll's chase leads him to Cambridge where it finally all clicks together. But as the Turing's role in the war becomes clearer so Correll's life comes into more and more peril. He's become a liability. It is a cat and mouse chase whose ending you'll have to discover for yourself.

"Fall of Man in Wilmslow" is an atmospheric Cold War spy thriller which plays wonderfully with paranoia that was so fertile in that era and those horrific social circumstances that spelled the end of one of the finest minds in human history. It's a fascinating and well researched piece of speculative history that makes much more sense than, say, the version of Turing provided by "The Imitation Game". More importantly, it is a successful first step of MacLehose Press' rehabilitation of David Lagercrantz as a serious writer.


Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
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REVIEW : The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell

 

When visiting Hamburg there's every chance that you'll encounter someone who came to a city after reading one of Jan Fabel's books. Currently it's still not huge as it could be but in Hamburg Fabel is quite a great thing. Two of the books have been adapted into quite successful movies and Craig Russell was the first and only non-German person to have been awarded the highly prestigious Polizeistern (Police Star) by the Polizei Hamburg. There's every chance that in the future Fabel will do for Hamburg what Montalbano or Wallander have done for Sicily and Sweden. I've always enjoyed Fabel books and while they're far cry from Sicilian sun-drenched adventures of Montalbano, Jan Fabel's cases are extremely intense affairs. The latest instalment, "The Ghosts of Altona" is no different though it opens with some rather unique elements.

The story opens up with quotes from William Shakespeare and Bram Stoker and is followed by explanation of near-death experience. In the first few chapters there's a Zombie and a Frankenstein. It's a rather a bizarre was to open up a crime novel but everything becomes clear soon enough. As you would expect, Jan Fabel, Head of the Polizei Hamburg's Murder Commission is no stranger to death. As the second decade of his career is coming to a close, he's finds that he's increasingly in an introspective mood. As he's recounting his past, a body of Monika Krone, a woman who went missing some fifteen years ago, has been found. Monika has been a part of the Hamburg's Gothic clique - a crowd of people obsessed with all things macabre. Fabel reopens a case as he sees it rather personally but soon enough things turn rather messy one of the most notorious criminals, a dangerous serial rapist escapes from a high-security prison. As the bodies start piling up, Fabel quickly realises that he has found his match.



"The Ghosts of Altona" is probably the finest Fabel novel so far. Craig Russell has managed to create something rather unique, a story that relies on a rather peculiar subculture, one that owes its existence to horror and which naturally harks on death. I was instantly hooked and I've had an awfully hard time letting go of the book once I've started it. As always, in Russell's writing Hamburg comes to life. If you've ever visited it, you'll remember that it is an incredibly vibrant place but one which, like all the big cities, comes with a dark note to it, especially after the clock strikes midnight. Russell has been tapping this rich seam for a while now and if "The Ghosts of Altona" is anything to go by, he's only just starting. An incredibly addicting book.


Review copy provided by Quercus Books.
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REVIEW : Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

 

Looking at the sheer volume of crime books published each month you would be excused if you thought that nothing new could possible be said in a genre that's been going for so long. And yet, while the nature of the crimes that occur and the mechanism of a subsequent investigation into it almost always follows the same set of rules, it is the characters that always surprise me the most. No genre has the capability to pinpoint the human condition so precisely as crime does and one of the best contemporary authors with a panache for writing gripping and engaging characters is Stuart Neville. His latest book "Those we Left Behind" is a first novel in a series featuring DCI Selena Flanagan who might be familiar to you. It is a bona fide psychological thriller that instantly feels like it might become this summer's runaway hit.

"Those we Left Behind" revolves around Ciaran Devine, a 19 year old man who leaves the prison after serving a seven year sentence for murdering his foster father. When it happened it was a case that shook the nation. Ciaran confessed to murder and Serena Flanagan, then a Detective Sergeant, was the person who took the confession after gaining Ciaran's trust. During his imprisonment he always fondly remembered the kindness she showed him and now that Ciaran's having troubles to re-integrate into society, DCI Flanagan is approached by his probation officer Paula Cunningham. DCI Flanagan instantly notices that there's much more to the case than it was initially obvious.

 

Despite not being obviously so from the start, "Those we Left Behind" is a fiendishly complex tale to pull off. There's more than a few strands happened both concurrently and seven years ago. The troubled relationship between Ciaran and his older brother Thomas towards whom he constantly gravitates throughout the book is done especially well but it is DCI Selena Flanagan who makes the story so appealing and tragic. She incredibly human. As the story open she just returns to work after suffering thought the most human ordeal of them all - a breast cancer, a surgery, and its impact on the family life.

"Those we Left Behind" is one of the finest books I've read this year. It is an intricately plotted tale that works so well because it manages to perfectly capture all the necessary nuances of one such horrific situation while being clever enough to let most of its violent elements to happen out of the reader's sight.


Review copy provided by Harvill Secker.
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REVIEW : Radiant State by Peter Higgins

 

"The Wolfhound Century" is one of those series that defy easy description. Peter Higgins' literary fantasy tour the force is a historical tale steeped in Slavic mythology and it was quite unlike anything else out there. Oft quoted comparison to China Mieville was particularly apt while that to Vandermeer less so. Any yet, if the first two instalments were hard to classify, "Radiant State" completely tears up the rulebook. It's mad in a way to topple the scales with the final part of the trilogy and yet that exactly what Higgins has done here - he goes out with a bang.

"Radiant State" is a crux of all that happened until now and we see the Josef Kantor's plan as it reaches its fruition. The Vlast Universal Vessel "Proof of Concept" stands proud ready to take his latest reincarnation as President General Ozip Rizhin to the stars. The price of progress, as in countless many versions of Soviet Russia, is the suffering of its people. Vissariom Lom and Maroussia Shaumian don't share his enthusiasm. They're still reeling in the aftermath of the previous volume "Truth and Fear" but there's not time for rest. Standing on the knife's edge they're in their biggest pickle yet. They'll do everything to stop Kantor. And while this short synopsis might make you believe that the story itself is a rather straightforward affair, it is its delivery that sets it apart from other books that occupy similar territory, albeit with a slightly less supernatural elements, i.e. Jasper Kent's Danilov Quartet or Sam Eastland's Inspector Pekkala. Higgins peppers chapter with nuggets of wisdom, all carefully taken from rich soviet literary history. Particularly fitting is the opening quote from Mikhail Gerasimov, Russian poet from early 20th century who said "On the canals of Marks we will build a palace of world freedom". This quote perfectly sets the stage for what's to come. Some are downright frightening and ominous like Josef Stalin's "If you're afraid of wolves, stay out of the forest." All this makes "Radiant State" a rather immersive reading experience.

While I won't go further into details of the story, I'll just mention that I feel that the final, fourth part of the story provides worthy conclusion for the entire ride. It was a glorious tale, and "The Wolfhound Century" as a series has succeeded where many others have failed - it has managed to carve a new niche for itself. I predict it'll be a series against which many others with be judged.  It's innovative, often unique in its setting and so beautifully written. I expect I'll be returning to it many times in the future and if you're even a little bit intrigued by its subject or you like the poetry of Mieville or just plain gold old history, I urge you to give it a try. It might just blow your mind.


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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REVIEW : Interzone 257

I come to Interzone 257 with a slight delay as last few months have been marked by some massive doorstoppers such as the latest from Neal Stephenson and Dan Simmons. After these behemoths, there's only one reasonable course of action and that is to fully immerse myself into short form and you already know by now, no one does it better than Interzone. 257 comes with big guns, nothing less than a new story by Alastair Reynolds called "A Murmuration" but I've instantly decided to leave it for the last. Interzone's greatest strength has always been those new, to me unknown authors, who they always so deftly manage to find.

Second in line is Fadzlishah Johanabas's "Songbird", a powerful and poetic tale about a woman Ariana who is being held captive in a hospital bed and made to produce drugs for her captors. Her only means of escape are vivid dreams that slowly awake her to her forgotten powers and a songstress gene. Fadz, a Fadzlishah likes to call himself so I'll take him on the offer, is a great writer and packs a great punch in this relatively short story. If there's one author I'll take away from this issue, it's him.

Next up is Rich Larson's "Brainwhales are Stoners, Too", a story that about Brainwhales, a whales amalgamated by the use of technology. It's an interesting premise but the story just didn't click it me. Perhaps it is due to the choice of terms used to describe the technological setting: in just a few pages you encounter ThinkTank, Brainwhale, 3D-printed frames and a characters called Vandermeer. I'm sure I'm thinking too much into it so I'll definitely be re-reading this one shortly.

Fourth story is Tendai Huchu's "The Worshipful Company of Milliners", a story that together with "Songbird" was my absolutely favourite in this issue. This being my first encounter with Tendai Huchu, I wasn't sure what to expect but is a metaphysical tale about ideas told through a series of diary entries going in reverse and fragments of tale. It's strange and rather innovative. Well recommended. Tendai Huchu has released his debut novel "The Hairdressers of Harare" in 2010 and I'll be definitely checking it out.

Final story in the issue is Aliya Whiteley's "Blossoms Falling Down" and is up to Aliya's usual standards - engrossing tales that begs for more. Built around a series of haikus and a Haiku Room, it's an interesting tales that's difficult to describe but one which was a total pleasure to read.

Finally to go back to the beginning and to Alastair Reynolds' "A Murmuration". It's seems unfair to put Reynolds in comparison with other authors as I absolutely adore his writings and over the year he has honed his fiction down to perfection. Reynolds is taken best in doses of over 500 pages and "A Murmuration" is only around 10 pages long but it's as playful as its much longer and older contemporaries. It's just great, full of hard science phenomena, chaos that is the publication of scientific papers and off-kilter development.

Not to forget, there's also a new "Time Pieces" column by our beloved Nina Allan and an editorial by Ian Sales so all in all a completely extraordinary issue of Interzone, even by the own rather high standards.


Review copy provided by TTA Press.
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REVIEW : Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

 

The press release that came with Al Robertson's debut novel "Crashing Heaven" is an impressive statement that clearly showcases how much the publisher is behind this book. It is always impressive when William Gibson, Alastair Reynold, Richard K. Morgan and even Neal Stephenson are mentioned in a single breath and the six figure sum always catches attention. Admittedly you'll be disappointed if you expect it to be an amalgam of their works in any shape or form because "Crashing Heaven" simply isn't what's promised on paper. It would be simply an impossible feat to achieve it but Al Robertson touched all of these authors in a small way. There's plenty of imaginative spirit in Robertson's writing and subtle nods to his contemporaries for "Crashing Heaven" to pull it off handsomely and that's an achievement in itself.

"Crashing Heaven" is a bleak, hard science fiction tale set in a future where the Earth is left behind and the humanity has moved to a Station, an asteroid made habitable by sentient consciousness of the Pantheon. Even in space the conflict is still raging and as it eventually folds, Jack Forster and his sidekick Hugo Fist return to the station after a war against a group of rogue AIs called The Totality, only to be accused of treachery. In the middle of the conflict Jack surrendered to the enemy and everyone on Station knows it. Jack was an AI killer, primed for violence and combat. It was a traumatizing experience but despite what really happened, he's been the lucky one here. He has survived while his other friends have died. Determined to discover what actually happened, Jack is set to enter another war, one which threatens to destroy both him and Hugo. However, stakes depending upon the outcome of his struggle are much higher than he ever imagined. Even humanity's future is uncertain. For Jack the time is running out as soon Hugo is set to take over his body so there's not much hope left. Hugo Fist is a strange creation, a virtual entity designed to help Jack fight a war and is a great character in itself. Their internal dialog is such a treat. Similarly, Station as a living, vibrant space is depicted superbly. Robertson manages to capture claustrophobic and chaotic existence of one such place. Existence made bearable only by the application on augmented reality called the Weave - a popular mean of escape from reality.

Still, the synopsis itself doesn't do justice to "Crashing Heaven" because on the surface of it, it presents Al Robertson's debut novel as a set of instantly recognizable SF tropes which includes everything from messy post-apocalyptic aftermath, humanity's migration to space, rogue AIs and everyone's existence balancing on an knife's edge. "Crashing Heaven" is better than the sum of its parts. It's an all-encompassing landscape upon which the story unfolds and at times I was even slightly overcome by too much of everything. And yet, as I've mentioned before, the whole thing somehow works together. "Crashing Heaven" is a completely insane book and for what is worth I believe that publishers were right to believe so firmly in its success. Jam packed with innovative ideas and fresh approaches to storytelling, "Crashing Heaven" could just be the one book that everyone will talk about in 2015. I certainly hope so.


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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REVIEW : Marked by Sue Tingey

 

This is the second time that I'm reviewing "Marked" since my original review got lost due to one unfortunate act of general clumsiness. To be honest I can't say that I find it to be a problem. It is such a nice little read that I profoundly enjoyed so I'll happily go down that route once again. The most obvious place to start is the proof itself. The publicists are always up to no good when it comes to bringing attention to their latest favourite but "Marked" simply pushed the boundaries to a completely new level. Just look at that beauty:

The dragon is on my key chain, of course. "Marked" definitely got noticed but we all know that looks are nothing when it comes to books. Luckily, Sue Tingey's debut is more than smoke and mirrors. This, occasionally bonkers, and exciting descent into hell tells the story of Lucinda De Salle (known to everyone as Lucky), an ordinary, if unloved, girl who has a strange power - she can see ghosts. This instantly marks her as something of an outcast so all through her life her best friend is Kayla, a ghost girl who has been her constant companion even since she can remember. It all changes when she's been called to her former school by the new headmistress. Three pupils have carelessly played with an Ouija board in the attic and summoned something from the great beyond. Lucky is instantly suspicious. The last time she's been to this same attic she has ended up expelled but alarm bells have really started ringing when Kayla bluntly refused to come. This had the potential to end up bad. And it was. She finds a dark man expecting her - an assassin by the man of Henri de Dent (French for tooth) who is after Kayla. The Underlands want her back. So begins Lucky's quest filled with peril, danger and lots of fun.

After this rather bleak opening, "Marked" tones down a bit and is rather handsomely easy to read and that is why I found it so pleasurable. It's simply not a standard urban fantasy fare, filled with broken hearts, downcast glances and gloomy characters despite notionally having all the familiar elements. If anything "Marked" more closely resembles John Connolly's "Samuel Johnson" series that a book with a black feather on its cover. Sue Tingey's debut is such great fun and a delight to read so I certainly hope there's much more to come in the future. I know I would love to read more and luckily this is marked as a first instalment in The Soulseer Chronicles. Let's hope that editor doesn't lose this review as well:)


Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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The story behind All That Outer Space Allows by Ian Sales

With the publication of All That Outer Space Allows at the end of April, the Apollo Quartet is now finally complete. And this last instalment is a little bit different to the preceding three volumes - Adrift on the Sea of Rains, The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself and Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above. For a start, All That Outer Space Allows is a novel, not a novella. Albeit only a short novel, just shy of 45,000 words.

When I decided Adrift on the Sea of Rains would be the first of a quartet about the Apollo space programme, I knew the final book’s title would be All That Outer Space Allows and it would be about a woman who wrote science fiction and was married to an Apollo astronaut. I remember explaining as much to a friend at the 2012 Eastercon, the day after launching Adrift on the Sea of Rains. Of course, before I could actually start writing that fourth book, I needed to write and publish books two and three. And who knew what might change in the interim…

As it happens, not that much. All That Outer Space Allows remains broadly true to my initial vision of three years ago. But it’s certainly a much more complicated, and longer, book than I’d envisaged. It wasn’t enough, I’d decided, that Ginny Eckhardt, the wife of (invented) Apollo astronaut Walden J Eckhardt, wrote science fiction. No, I also had to include one of her stories in the novel - and I had to have that story both be a reflection of her life up to the point she wrote it, and then reflect back on her life afterwards. And all this while documenting her life as a housewife. In Houston. During the 1960s. With an astronaut husband.

None of the books of the Apollo Quartet have been easy to write, and the amount of research I’ve had to do has often horrified even myself. For All That Outer Space Allows, however, it was much, much harder. The Apollo space programme is well-documented, and there are thousand of books on the topic, some even written by the astronauts themselves. There is also a lot of technical documentation on missions to Mars - although perhaps not as I described it in The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself. And even the Mercury 13 have been the subject of several books, including a pair of autobiographies by Jerry Cobb, the lead figure in Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above. But there are remarkably few books about the Apollo programme from the point of view of the astronauts’ wives. In fact, I found only two: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel, published only in 2013; and The Moon is Not Enough, by Mary Irwin, wife of Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin. I’d made the research a feature of the first three books of the Apollo Quartet, but for this final novel of the series it looked like I’d have to do a lot of reading around the subject…

Now that the quartet is finished, I’m looking forward to putting away the two piles of research books on the desk beside my laptop - not to mention the one on the floor next to the desk. While All That Outer Space Allows has been the hardest book of the four to write because so much research was required, Ginny Eckhardt was the protagonist I most enjoyed putting myself into the head of. If that makes sense. Peterson from book one and Elliott from book two were both defined by their actions, and Jerry Cobb in book three was a real person whose character was based on her own words in her autobiographies… but Ginny was entirely invented. Yet she had to remain true to her time, her nationality and her gender. I hope I’ve managed to pull it off. It was certainly a challenge trying to do so. And that, I suppose, is what made her so much fun to write. And writing a 1960s science fiction story as Ginny was a lot of fun too.

I’ve just had the first book of a space opera trilogy published by Tickety Boo Press, A Prospect of War, so I’ll be thinking about widescreen commercial space opera for at least the next eighteen months - blowing shit up and turning tropes on their head, that sort of thing. On the other hand, the Apollo Quartet sits in a space in the genre that I certainly think is worth exploring further. Someone described the quartet as “art house hard science fiction”, and I think it’s a fair label. The idea of bringing literary fiction, or art house cinema, sensibilities to hard sf provides ample opportunity to do interesting things. I’ve proven to my own satisfaction - and, I hope, other people’s - it’s a space in which I can produce good work. So it would be a shame to abandon it. But I’m looking forward to a short holiday writing the sort of science fiction I can just make up as I go along...


Ian Sales
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Whippleshield Books

The story behind The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax didn’t start where you might think, in an American desert, but in story-time, served up day or night by my Dad starting from when I was aged about 3. At the time, I was too young to question why all my Dad’s off-the-cuff kids'  stories seemed to involve an angry raven as black as night or some other dark, devious swooping animal. These dark tales were so exciting to my burgeoning desire for disturbing stories I just wanted more and more. Forty years later when he was diagnosed with depression I would figure out that my Dad’s scary dark stories were perhaps his creative outlet to attempt to off-set his hitherto undiagnosed depression. So, by a very young age I was hooked on the dark and edgy content and, after a brief flirtation with Enid Blyton and traditional adventure stories, I returned aged 10 or 11 to the macabre. I became an almost a permanent fixture in the newspaper shop at the end of our street which, at the time, was wall to wall magazines from all corners of the earth. There I could buy True Crime, True Detective and every other murder mag import from the States. By this time I had a sideline washing cars and had carved up our local Fulham territory with another local kid. We never strayed onto each other’s patch or it would have been squeeqees at dawn. And now, because of my growing empire, I could basically afford anything a child might want to buy and, most likely because my addiction to pictures of freshly dead bodies and gory stories greatly increased his profit margins, the newsagent never questioned my rather adult choice of reading material. 
 
My inability to look away from the horrific images and descriptions of murder forced me to question why people committed these crimes, and why I was so obsessed with such horror. Why did this person die? And why did the killer do it? How is not as interesting as why. Not to me. It’s the psychological make-up of the perpetrator that is the key to everything. And I believe that this is also the key to creative writing for every character a writer presents their readers/audience. We do our characters a disservice when we present them as mono-dimensional. Relying on ‘twists’ when writing is very limiting for reader and writer alike, burrowing deep down into your characters psyche whether they be your protagonist or antagonist is where it’s at for me as a writer. I want to know, both as reader and writer, if I follow a character for hundreds of pages I’m going to learn more about them as a person than I knew on page one. Otherwise, why bother reading on. And, if there is going to be ‘twists’ they better come from characterisation and not be the deus ex machina of plot randomly swooping down to save the day. 
I use the ‘why’ to create everything else a novel requires: characterisation, plot, structure, setting. All of it. To me everything should be developed organically from character, the why. When I wrote The Killing of Bobbi Lomax and explored the characters of Clark Houseman and Marty Sinclair it was important for me to understand and characterise why that recurring black raven of my Dad’s stories was so very very destructive. It's that search for why a character behaves as they do that keeps me writing every day.   
 
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is out now (Faber and Faber, £12.99)

Cal Moriarty
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REVIEW : Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel

 

May sees the publication of the new English edition of Philippe Claudel's seminal novel "Grey Souls". Originally published in 2005 as "Les Âmes Grises", upon its publication "Grey Souls" was both a critical and commercial success and it even won the prestigious Prix Renaudot. In hindsight it was a crucial novel for Claudel as it set the stage for many works that followed in its wake, most notably "The Investigation" and "Monsieur Linh and His Child". Similarly to these "Grey Souls" deals a metaphysical aspects of an investigation and the consequences of living an ordinary life during the horrific war.

"Grey Souls" revolves around a murder of a young girl which was committed in 1917 but only solved two decades later. The story is set in a small French town situated near the Western Front, in fact the battles are fought so close that the sounds and smells of death are palpable in the streets. One winter morning, a ten year old daughter of an innkeeper is found strangled in a canal. In the chaos of war, blood boils fast and soon enough, two men, deserters, are accused and quickly executed. Witnessing this impromptu sentencing was our narrator who, after being deeply shocked by the injustice and the brutality of the event, has never been able to escape its influence. Now, 20 years in the future, our narrator is a policemen who is slowly trying to piece together the story of what truly happened to that poor girl.



"Grey Souls" has deservedly been a tremendous success and is firmly one of the Claudel's most enduring works. The contrast between the conflict in which countless died and the killing of a single young and innocent girl is a frightening thing to experience and certainly leaves a lasting impression. Claudel always knew how to stir up intense, vivid emotions in his readers (just remember "Perfums") and "Grey Souls" is no exception. It's just beautiful in that subtle, thought provoking fashion.

In short, "Grey Souls" is a welcome addition to the bibliography of one of the finest contemporary European authors at the moment and finds him at the height of his power.


Review copy provided by Maclehose Press.
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REVIEW : Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

 

To be honest, as I've already mentioned before, I was initially slightly worried about how Charlaine Harris will move on from Sookie Stackhouse because the needless controversy that followed the ending would be enough for everyone to simply give up but it was foolish really. A writer must write and she just skipped over troubles and proceeded on to the next stage of her career with aplomb.  When it arrived "Midnight Crossroad" was such a pleasant surprise. It was great. The thing that charmed me most was that it was amalgam of her various books but done in a way that was entirely fresh. I love when authors manage to pull off stuff like that - to simply reinvent their back catalogue and bring it all back together. "Midnight Crossroad" was always imagined as a series and now its next instalment is finally here. To dispel any illusions, it is a treat.

Trouble is never far away from psychic Manfred Bernardo. On a working weekend in Dallas he encounters Olivia Charity, a mysterious resident of Midnight, Texas. Even for such a small town where gossip is rife and secrets are impossible to keep, Olivia is something of a question mark. She's beautiful and apparently dangerous. She lives with a vampire Lemuel but that's as far as it goes. On that fateful day in Dallas Manfred see Olivia with a couple only to later learn that they're dead. Things get even worse when one of Manfred's regular clients dies during a reading. Manfred runs back to Midnight hounded by the press and being suspected of having something to do with death in question. Residents quickly turn to Olivia for help. Is that really clever?



Similarly to "Midnight Crossroad", the best thing about "Day Shift" is in its playfulness. Harris plays with mystery at the heart of the story with such tremendous ease and even sets up couple of additional threads that I suspect will play part in future instalments. Also there's a tiny but sweet treat for all the careful readers of Sookie Stackhouse because some familiar faces make quick cameo appearances. Still, if you haven't read the opening novel you should know that apart from that "Midnight, Texas" has wildly different feel to it but please give it a try anyway. It's fresh, innovative and damn good fun to read!


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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REVIEW : The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay by Andrea Gillies

 

Regret and the quest for a redemption are at the heart of Andrea Gillies' poignant new novel "The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay". When she was growing up Nina was torn apart between two brother. She was in love with Luca but somehow ended up marrying Paolo because Luca was already married. Things just happened like than and now, as her life is on the cusp of a major change and she and Paolo are finally getting separated after 25 years of marriage, she's ruminating about the one who got away. Being in an introspective mood she decides on a whim to travel to a Greek island where she spent her honeymoon all those years ago. A moment of clarity comes when she ends up in hospital after an accident. She's been hit by a bus. Story of her past pours out of her to Christos, a doctor and a good listener, and as she follows the events of her past she realised how many small details worked together to influence her decisions and led her to her mistakes. Eventually she ultimately comes to understand the relationship between her and the brothers and what is the main reason she married Paolo in the first place even though they were always better as friends than as lovers. It is clear now what went wrong with her marriage.

It's an interesting take on the familiar theme and if there's one thing that Andrea Gillies completely succeeds at, it is making Nina feel like an ordinary human being. With an omnipresent view, we as readers see clearly why her life derailed as it did but at the time of her stay in hospital Nina is none the wiser. Even long after the moment of her enlightenment comes she struggles to understand. The realisation comes slowly and as always hindsight is such a wonderful thing even though it changes nothing. She's initially baffled by the realisation that everything could've been so much simpler but then what does it all mean now? Is it too late to put things right?

"The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay" is a very different book from her superb debut "The White Lie" but one thing is instantly familiar to those who've read it - Gillies' talent for writing fascinating and deep characters who, even at moment when nothing much is happening (for most of its time "The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay" is unfolding in hospital bed) capture the reader's imagination. Her clarity when dealing with difficult themes such loss and regret means that her writing always leaves a strong and long-lasting impression even in those moments when the story itself is not grasping your full attention. "The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay" is a beautifully written thought provoking book that deserves to be enjoyed slowly - much like the holiday on of those small islands in Greece. An excellent second novel.


Review copy provided by Other Press.
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REVIEW : Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

 

I've been incredibly excited about "Seveneves" even before I knew what it is called or what it is about. During one of the "REAMDE" promotional interviews Neal Stephenson mentioned that the book he is writing at the moment will be a hard science fiction one and that was enough for me. In my mind I was already reading something akin to "Anathem", one of my all-time favourite books and the book I would probably choose as the one I would take to a desert island with me. "Anathem" has everything. It's is full of science, philosophy, innovative concepts. It is also incredibly dense - up to a point where it has its own invented language - and benefits from multiple re-reads. Compared to it, its successor "REAMDE" was an easy walk in a part - a whole enjoyable action movie which you could enjoy without using too much of your brain. So, yes, perhaps I expecting too much from "Seveneves" but still, even when fully aware of my completely unreasonable wishes it was slightly disappointing when I stated reading it. I really shouldn't have worried but before I go too far, here's what "Seveneves" is about.

It is a novel that opens with one of the most spectacular and bombastic statements in contemporary science fiction:

"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

With the moon suddenly gone, everyone's instant reaction is bafflement closely followed by panic. As the days pass by it soon become evident that nothing particularly bad is going to happen to the Earth, that is until the scientist which resembles Neil deGrasse Tyson in everything but a name steps up to the plate and quickly reveals that due to a phenomenon dubbed as "Hard Rain" in mere two years the whole of the Earth's surface will be rendered inhabitable. What follows is a frantic race to put as much material and people as possible into orbit. It's a stunning story about the possibility of human achievement. All the industrial potential and production are streamlined into this one final effort. The future habitat is quickly built around the ISS by using multiple modules, most of which are made using made do and mend attitude. But everything's not rosy. There's plenty of human sacrifice and on the future astronauts' selection process is heavily compromised. There's a sham lottery and politicians rear their ugly heads, all the time threatening to derail the whole effort. As the Hard Rain comes right on time and Earth goes quiet, the drama moves to space. The ISS is now an amalgam of many elements and in its micro-climate many factions are already appearing - a veritable class system - but still everything slowly ticks on. This fragile social equilibrium is suddenly completely torn apart by the arrival of one person I hoped we left behind on Earth. In an all too predictable fashion and in a move completely untypical for Stephenson this person does appear out of nowhere and goes on to skew the whole story in a direction about which I didn't care too much about. But there's still plenty of incredibly gripping stuff. There's daring do in guise of another character resembling Elon Musk and the mad dash around the orbit while being strapped to a comet.

This first part of "Seveneves" takes up over 600 pages and for most of its parts reads like an action version of Stephen Baxter "Flood/Arc" duology which explores similar matters in a slightly more sombre and brutal way. Despite being great on this own there's one thing that's missing in this whole build up - there's no trace of that bonkers humour that Stephenson often uses and there's lots of bad sex.

But luckily, just at the moment Stephenson takes the story into the far future and delivers the last third of the book in a fashion that completely blew my mind. Poetic, scientific and beautifully written, these last 200 pages are some of the finest stuff he has ever written. During these pages his imagination is off the scale and while the big reveal is once again slightly predictable, the finale completely blew my mind. In hindsight it feels like those 650 pages were an overwritten introduction for the last 200 where's the vast extent of his Seveneves concept is finally revealed. As evolution, helped by a healthy dose of genetic engineering, makes it course across the generations each of the seven eves has effectively kickstarted a race on her own – each with their own intricacies and traits that make them special. It's incredibly complex and well worth re-reading many time. If only it was longer.

To conclude, "Seveneves" is a book that will probably polarise the readers. The premise is unquestionably great but the duality of the book might be off putting to some. It is miles away from my favourite works such as "Anathem" or "Baroque Cycle" and vastly different to "Reamde" but there's one thing that you simply can't mistake. It is that uniqueness that separates Stephenson from everyone else. Conceptually it is simply unlike anything I've read before and it is only after I've re-read it that I've truly realised how consistent it really is. Quite simply, one of the books of the year.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins.
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Lisbeth Salander and the Day of the Girl

 

Well known fact about "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is that its original Swedish title is "Män som hatar kvinnor" which translates to English as "Men who hate women". This infinitely more disturbing and unsettling title goes a long way to show what Stieg Larsson had in mind when he wrote his landmark trilogy. In fact, Larsson felt so strongly about this original title that he, as his partner Eva Gabrilsson later revealed, refused to let the publisher change it into something more commercial. The subject of violence towards women weighted heavily on his mind all throughout the entirety of his life ever since he supposedly witnessed three of his friends sexually assaulting a girl and he has done nothing to prevent it. The veracity of story has never been verified but whatever the truth, Larsson pushed all his disgust and hate towards such people into Lisbeth Salander, the girl at the heart of the "Millennium" series.

Lisbeth is an almost impossibly vivid and complex creation. She's a rape survivor herself, has been abused as a child and yet she's not labeling herself as a victim. She fights back instead. She's incredibly intelligent and capable. Both beautiful and ruthless. She has style and prowess for violence. She's capable of love and not ashamed about her sexuality but behind the facade she's also insecure about her appearance. She's highly introverted and most often than not a completely antisocial person that challenges the norm and is hard to accept by general population. And I haven't even mentioned her computer skills. All of this goes a long was to form that elusive creation. A character that is complex enough to feel real. Because aren't we all a bit like that? There's always something horrible in our past, we always worry about how we look, and we distrust the government at least a little bit. Our lives are similarly messy but we're not nearly gutsy enough to do something about it. Lisbeth does it all for us. That's why Lisbeth is so fascinating to us as readers even though I'm pretty sure that most of the people would be a bit scared of her if they met her in real life.

Lisbeth is a perfect modern literary heroine - strong, feisty, independent and damn clever. She's the main reason behind the success of the "Millennium" series so it is no wonder that fourth novel in the series carries the subtitle "A Lisbeth Salander novel". So let's all forget for a moment how truly silly the notion of celebrating fictional character's birthday is, and raise our bottles for Lisbeth and this Day of the Girl.


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REVIEW : Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

 

Justina Robson is one of those one-of-a-kind authors that defy easy classification. Her "Quantum Gravity" certainly looked like run of the mill action science fiction if you judged it solely by the covers but once started digging deep you would probably be surprised by what you would find - complexity, philosophy and all around strangeness. Robson's first standalone novel in years, "The Glorious Angels" doesn't hide away behind its cover art. The synopsis states it clearly and instantly promises "a thrilling mix of science, magic and sexual politics". "The Glorious Angels" delivers all this and plenty more. It is Justina Robson coming at its readers with all guns blazing.

For a book that mostly about ideas, "The Glorious Angels" sports a suitably impressive setting. The story is set on a matriarchy world ruled by mind-linked empresses. There's magic that shapes the world and is literary connected their their fickle moods. The power is spread across 8 cities and as the story open we're in Glimshard, second city of the Golden Empire and Westernmost Outpost of Civilisation. As Tralane, an engineer, is working when she overhears that Karoo has been seen. A strange creature that threatens to bring the war. That is just the beginning for her as the story unfolds through the eyes of many different very effectively used points of view we learn that Glimshard is not immune to political manipulations, backstabbings and social disorder. Amongst all this an archaeological site slowly enters the picture and brings about the chance of finding a long forgotten technology that has the power to usurp everything.

 

I'm intentionally obtuse about the plot as I don't want to spoil the story but if there's one advice I can give to all new readers it is that you should read "The Glorious Angels" slowly. There's an insane amount of characters, information and philosophy that just begs to be explored in details. As such, "The Glorious Angels" is one of those books that deserves a re-read and I hope to do one soon. I won't pretend that I understood everything the first time around and I've read few paragraphs more than once but that's the beauty of Robson's writing. She never looks down on the reader. Best of all, "The Glorious Angels" is a book about women - one which plays with tropes but sets them on a level playing field, which is exactly what we're all fighting for. I waited for something this intelligent for a long time and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Having previously mentioned that this was a standalone, the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel or two so it'll be interesting seeing whether something will happen in the future. All in all - a tremendously deep read! One I would recommended to all veteran readers of the genre fiction.


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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REVIEW : The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser

 

Charles Kaiser's impressive new book "The Cost of Courage" brings back to life the true story of Christiane, Jacqueline and Andre, three youngest children of middle-class Catholic French family Boulloche as the fiercely fought against Gestapo and the German occupation of France. It's a fascinating and impeccably researched tale that though many documents and letters ultimately reveals how many little events worked together to send Boulloche siblings on their trajectory. Christiane, Jacqueline and Andre's tired-less and brave work proved paramount for the success of French resistance.

In 1943 Andre became Charles de Gaulle's military delegate and served as a coordinator of all Resistance activities over nine northern regions of France. After being betrayed by one of his associates, Andre was captured by the Gestapo and spent the rest of the war in no less than tree concentration camps. Even there he made a change for the better. Unwilling to succumb to despair he became something of a leader of prisoners and improved the living conditions and morale in any way he could. He survived and spent the rest of his life fighting through politics for the reconciliation of Germany and France. However, no everything finished well for the Boulloche family. Three weeks before the liberation Gestapo came to his parents' apartment looking for Catherine. Unable to find her they've taken his father, mother and his brother Robert despite all of them being completely innocent. After horrific torture all of them perished.

For many years details of the story of Boulloche siblings have been unknown. This was partly due to Christiane, Jacqueline and Andre not willing to go back to those unbearable traumatic events of the past. "The Cost of Courage" changes all that. In a landmark move, family has decided to talk about the history with Kaiser. Equally important for the authenticity of the book, after a successful petition Kaiser has managed to secure the release of many, until now, classified documents. For all these reasons "The Cost of Courage" is an indispensable account of the history of French Resistance and the way a single, heroic, person can really change the course of history.


Review copy provided by Other Press.
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The story behind The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari

At six a.m., as every other day, Mr Marseille and I opened our eyes, dark lashes counterweighted to the light.

And so begins Book One of the ‘The Doll Maker,’ titled Anabelle.

Usually, when I start a new novel, I begin with a what if, followed always with a why. What if this were possible, and why is the villain doing all these terrible things?

This time it was a little different. The idea for ‘The Doll Maker’ came to me unbidden many years ago — long before I had any notion of writing fiction — in the lyrics of a song by one of my favorite bands of all time, Golden Earring.

The song is “The Wall of Dolls.” The first four lines are:

This is the wall of dolls
Secret world of smalls
Look at them all my friend
You’ll be one of them in the end.

I’ve never been able to shake the mental image of a ‘secret world of smalls.’

When it came time to write the book, the eighth novel to feature Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, I knew that this song would be the guiding light.

Much of my work has centered around people who inhabit worlds unknown to most of us. In ‘The Stolen Ones,’ Luther haunts the catacombs beneath the city of Philadelphia. In ‘Play Dead,’ Joseph Swann moves through a house made of mirrors and mazes, a decaying mansion with stairways leading nowhere.

As the story of ‘The Doll Maker’ began to take form, I soon realized that the two central characters of the piece would be different from any other characters I’ve ever created.

Anabelle and Mr Marseille are young, exceedingly polite, always impeccably dressed, and seem to be from another era, a more formal time of gentility and grace. Theirs is indeed a secret world of smalls. Their friends are made of delicate porcelain, with crystal eyes and fine mohair wigs. Every day Anabelle and Mr Marseille have a formal tea, with centerpieces and place cards. On special occasions they hold a thé dansant, a tea dance. Sometimes, they invite a guest.

The guests never leave alive.

At the opening of the story, Detectives Byrne and Balzano investigate the murder of a teenage girl. She is found at a train station, posed on a newly painted bench. Nearby is an invitation to a tea dance, to be held exactly one week later.

As promised, one week later, they discover more victims, and another invitation.

In doing research for the book I found that doll collectors can be somewhat eccentric, certainly different from collectors of other things; say, coins or stamps or exotic automobiles. Many times, the hobby of doll collecting begins with a particular doll that comes along at a time in life when the world of make-believe is quite real, and the emotional attachment is just as tangible.

I learned that all dolls have a name.

My journey took me to doll shops, estate sales, antique stores, flea markets, house sales. At these venues dolls were almost always reverently displayed on a shelf or a table, rarely just thrown into a box. Many times, when I inquired about a doll, I received a detailed history, including the doll’s childhood.

I also discovered the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Created in the early 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee — one of the founders of the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard, and the first woman ever to be appointed captain in the New Hampshire State Police — the Nutshell Studies were a series of miniature dioramas of crime scenes, all recreated to the finest detail. Friends of Mrs. Lee, which included Perry Mason-creator Erle Stanley Gardner, said the studies, which are now in possession of the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner’s office, were the culmination of the woman’s passion for dolls, dollhouses, and forensic medicine.

When I heard about this, I knew I had to enter this world.

During the course of their investigation, Detectives Byrne and Balzano encounter an elegant older woman named Miss Emmaline, the proprietor of a West Philadelphia doll shop called ‘The Secret World.’

She tells them:

“When my sisters and I were small, my grandmother only took out her doll on special occasions. Her name was Sarah Jane. The doll, not my grandmother. We had to be bathed and scrubbed every time we touched Sarah Jane, had to have very clean hands when we held her. When we got older, and took to tom-boying, we had to wear our Easter gloves. Imagine.”

I imagine that Anabelle and Mr Marseille are, right at this moment, dressing in their finery, setting a table, and clearing the room for a thé dansant.

You are invited.


Richard Montanari
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REVIEW : Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

 

It's a story that's instantly recognizable from media headlines but one that starts innocently enough. "Sleeping on Jupiter" opens as three women spend fourteen hours in Coach A2. Gouri, Latika and Vidya are excited as this is their first outing together and as they're sorting out their berth arrangements Gouri encounters the fourth person in their compartment. A girl busily exploring her travel guide. It soon transpires that Nomita Frederiksen is from Oslo and travels the world trying to research material for her documentary on religious tourism. Nomita leaves the sleeper train at one of the stations only to be violently and sexually attacked minutes after for apparently no reason. In the meantime her train starts to pull off out of the station and Gouri, Latika and Vidya are worried for the girl and want to do something. For a moment they think pulling emergency stop is the option but afraid that they'll pay a hefty fine in the end they don't do anything. Nomita is left behind.

The story that follows unfolds across the subsequent eighteen days and initially Gouri, Latika and Vidya's dream holiday is marred but what occurred. They're worried for Nomita so when they meet again some five days later, they're both thrilled and relieved. On the other hand Nomita is embarking on a pilgrimage of the soul - on a quest to finally face her horrific past, one that almost impossibly hard to read. Nomita's traumatic childhood is revealed through flashbacks and is painted in contrast to oppressive climate of violence that permeated all aspects of society.

Needless to say, "Sleeping on Jupiter" is often a harrowing read but one which is crucial to understand correctly. Anuratha Roy is incredibly courageous for writing a book like "Sleeping on Jupiter" and one that will be an important part of that huge swelling wave that'll eventually stop the horrific violence perpetuated daily against women in India.


Review copy provided by Maclehose Press.
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The story behind Poseidon's Children by Alastair Reynolds

The Saturn V rocket had been broken into its constituent stages and laid out horizontally, end to end, along the vast length of one of the public buildings at the Kennedy Space Centre. Simply to visualise this incredible machine lifting itself off the ground was astonishing enough. It required a real leap of the imagination to think of it carrying three human beings all the way to the Moon and back. And yet this piece of technology was already forty years old, conceived and fabricated in an era when computers filled basements, and had about as much processing power as a cheap cellphone …

It was 2008. My wife and I had arranged our trip to Florida around the chance to see one of the last few space shuttle launches. By the time we were committed to the trip – flights, accommodation and rental car all booked – the shuttle launch had been indefinitely postponed. All the same, we couldn’t turn down the chance to visit KSC. With a year to go before the anniversary of Apollo 11, thoughts were already turning back to those heady years of the late sixties, when anything seemed possible.

Like many of my generation, I’d spent much of my life both excited and frustrated by our subsequent progress in space exploration. On one level, there was much to celebrate. We had gained an unprecedented knowledge of almost all the planets in the solar system, as well as many of their moons. But at the same, progress in human spaceflight had been faltering and directionless. The shuttle hadn’t turned out to be the reliable and inexpensive space taxi many had hoped for. The space station, decades in the planning, seemed hobbled by compromise. No one was actually sure what it was for, or what to do with it next. In the four decades since Apollo, people had gone no further than low Earth orbit. It was hard not to wonder about the missed opportunities, the roads not taken. Why were we no closer to returning to Mars, or even the Moon, than we’d been in the eighties?

And being this close to the start of it all, seeing the pads, the crawler, the assembly building – it didn’t leave me feeling dispirited. Quite the opposite. There seemed to be a buzz in the air, a sense of better things to come – a real chance for NASA to regain direction and purpose. New ships and capsules were on the drawing board – new plans to return to the Moon and beyond.

Suitably galvanised, I spent the rest of the trip with my head swimming with ideas for a grand new series of novels. I could see the shape of a trilogy, each book expanding on the last, taking us from the familiar locales of the solar system out to the depths of interstellar space. Well-trodden territory for a science fiction writer, perhaps, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make it feel new and fresh.

The structure of the thing would be simple, based on an exponential progression. The first book would span about a hundred years of future history. The next, one thousand. The third, ten thousand. Eleven thousand years, plus change. I started referring to in shorthand as the “11K” sequence.

Bad mistake. Never talk about things until you’re absolutely sure where you’re going.

I started work on the first book. I had the plot early on – a family saga involving the legacy of a dead space explorer, also the matriarch of a powerful industrial clan. What I didn’t have was anything that made it feel distinct or fresh. By chance, though, I’d been listening to a lot of world music. A particular track by the Ugandan musician Geoffrey Oryema began to paint images in my mind. I could see a woman, of African heritage, standing on the bridge or control deck of some vast spaceship, some unguessable number of years in the future, far from whatever place she might have called home. I knew that this woman was faced with a terrible decision, one that would involve the sparing or the destruction of countless lives, but that whatever action she chose would also have momentous costs for others.

I didn’t know the name of this woman, or have any sense of how she fitted into the arc of the trilogy. But I knew I had to find my way to her, and tell her story.

By anchoring the trilogy on an African family, in a future in which the African nations have risen to immense economic and technological prominence, I felt I had something fresh to bring to the table. I’d read enough SF novels in which the default assumption was that the future belonged to the West. Why not try something different? People seemed to have no trouble believing in an American-dominated future, or even a Russian or Chinese one, so why not Africa? In the end, for plot reasons (I needed the action to happen in the vicinity of Kilimanjaro) I opted to locate my Akinya family in the area of what was once Tanzania and Kenya, although by the time of the novel these nations have been subsumed into the East African Federation, an economic union that has already been proposed and discussed. I populated my novel with mostly non-Western characters and tried to hint at the linguistic complexities of my rich, populous, multicultural mid-twenty second century society. At the same time, my protagonists were for the most part standard SF archetypes – scientists, explorers, politicians, businesspeople and so on – they just happened not to have Anglo-Saxon names. My world was peaceful, prosperous and yet recognisably derived from our own. Although not conceived as a utopia, it was certainly a contrast to the prevailing mode of pessimism about the future often found in SF – not least in some of my own novels.

Once I’d finished Blue Remembered Earth, I began work on the second books in the sequence, On the Steel Breeze. According to my 11K scheme, it had to span about one thousand years of future history. Quickly, though, it became obvious to me that I couldn’t make it work. I wanted the whole sequence to be a family saga, but the implied shift from the first to the second book made it really hard to maintain any sense of continuity. I wanted to skip a generation, maybe two, but not five or six! With some misgivings, I dialled back from the 11K idea. The second book would advance the story by a few centuries, that was all. And indeed the third book – Poseidon’s Wake, which is now about to be published – eventually takes us to about a thousand years from now. In that sense, I bottled out. But I think the sequence is stronger for having a clearer thread of family relationships running through it, and there are characters who overlap between each of the books.

The odd thing is, despite all this, I don’t think I’ve quite scratched that 11K itch. Perhaps one day I’ll have another shot at it – or something similar. Or perhaps there will be a fourth novel in the Akinya saga, if I can think of a sufficiently compelling story. It’s a trilogy as it stands, but the individual books have been structured to be read as independent novels, and while the third book does resolve the major themes and mysteries set in motion by the preceding volumes, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t scope for a continuation.

But not now. Not for a while. It’s been fun, and challenging, and occasionally terrifying, but for the time being I’m done with it. I am grateful for the editors who had the conviction to back me when I first started talking about the sequence, those who worked with me through the enterprise, and for the readers who followed me through the trilogy, even though I was definitely giving them a different flavour of SF to what they might have expected given my earlier books.

As for the spark that started it all, back at the Kennedy Space Centre – there have been ups and downs since 2008, to be sure. But at more than any time in decades, there does seem to be a renewed sense of optimism about what we can achieve in space. And I consider myself very fortunate to be alive to see it happening.


Alastair Reynolds
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REVIEW : Poseidon's Wake by Alastair Reynolds

 

When news of Alastair Reynolds' latest contract broke into headlines I was filled with such immense feeling of satisfaction but not for the reasons you might initially imagine. Sure, the contract was for cool 1 million and it was for ten books but I was not only happy for the fact that I'll have new books to read for the foreseeable future. In this instance more important than the books themselves was the fact that Alastair's work was truly appreciated by both his publisher and the public. When it comes to my heroes it often happens that one or the other is missing so the author ends up being in that dreaded "underrated" category. But no such worries for Alastair. By all accounts the entire "Poseidon's Children" trilogy has been a huge success. It is filled with innovative storytelling, life-affirming plots and now with "Poseidon's Wake" it finally comes to a close.

Similarly to its predecessors "Poseidon's Wake" is a standalone novel thematically connected to previous installments "Blue Remembered Earth and" "On the Steel Breeze". However, a note to those encountering "Poseidon's Children" for the first time: "Poseidon's Wake" relies heavily on many events that happened before and while it is certainly possible to understand everything, you'll enjoy the story at much greater depth if you read everything in order in which it was published. In "Poseidon's Wake" we once again meet members of Akinya family as their generations rush by us. Similarly as before, through their eyes we, as readers, are in a unique position to explore the world that surrounds them. It's a great literary device and the pace of change in society is obvious. It's such a treat to have such a clear and omnipresent view. This time the story unfolds through two strands that follow Kanu Akinya and Goma Akinya at they go through their paces. One of them occurs on Mars where an interesting evolution involving a rogue AI civilisation is taking place and while other unfolds on Crucible, a planet situated near Sixty-One Virginis and colonized by humans where one can meet Geoffrey's intelligent elephants known as Tantors as well as see ‘’The Mandala”, a strange alien artefact in the sky surrounded by the mysterious and notoriously erratic Watchmakers. When a message arrives from Gliese 163, a distant unexplored system, there's a mention of Eunice Akinya. In a leap of faith two Crucible starships that can achieve half a speed of light are dispatched to discover the truth.

In a typically Reynolds' fashion this is a story full of intriguing scientific concepts, technological marvels and complex biological systems. "Poseidon's Wake" is a purest example of Reynolds I've learned to enjoy and love over all those years. Though the lives of his characters he's actually exploring the human condition - what makes as tick - and, as always, he does it in such a superb and thought provoking fashion. In my opinion, "Poseidon's Children" is his finest moment yet and "Poseidon's Wake" is a glorious conclusion of the trilogy. A wonderful book and best that British SF has to offer at the moment.


Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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The story behind Superposition by David Walton

Imagine yourself in the jury box.  On the witness stand is a Russian-born woman with connections to the mob.  Her lover has been murdered, crushing their plans to fake his death and run away to Switzerland together.  She is so hostile that she practically snarls at the lawyers on both sides.  Fiction?  Nope.  This is the real life trial I sat on as juror several years ago, that served as part of the inspiration for my latest novel, SUPERPOSITION.

None of the details of that case are in the book.  Instead, it was the experience of watching a story unfold a little at a time, as each witness told what they knew.  It was a fascinating way to tell a story, out of time order, the whole finally coming together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

At the same time, I was reading non-fiction books about quantum physics.  If the reality of that trial seems crazy, the physics of subatomic particles is even crazier.  At the subatomic level, nothing behaves the way we expect.  Particles exist in more than one place, or more than one state, at the same time.  Electrons move from point A to point B without ever existing in some of the places in between.  Measurement of one particle instantaneously influences another, regardless of the distance between them.

From these two unlikely parents, the idea for my novel SUPERPOSITION was born.  In the novel, as you might have guessed, the crazy properties of the quantum level start showing up in the larger world—-thanks to a new technology and the interference of an alien quantum intelligence.  Everyday objects jump through walls.  Bullets diffract instead of photons.  People exist in more than one place at the same time.

I love stories that tie my mind in knots, and this novel does that, combining the weird world of quantum physics with the out-of-time structure from the trial.  It's mind-bending, but it’s no cerebral drama.  It’s a fast-paced thriller, with high-stakes danger and a race to the finish.  It starts when a former colleague shows up at Jacob Kelley’s door full of unbelievable tales and fires a gun at Jacob’s wife.  When the colleague shows up dead, Jacob is accused of murder.  Soon he and his teenage daughter are on the run, pursued by the police and by a quantum intelligence unconstrained by the normal limits of space and matter.  Father and daughter have to pick up the pieces, following multiple paths of possibility to get to the truth and put their lives back together again.

It’s a whirlwind from beginning to end, and it was great fun to write.  I hope you’ll give it a try!


David Walton
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