In this giveaway you can win one copy of The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, published by Tor UK. Giveaway is open for EU and lasts until 21th January, 2014.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line EMPERORS to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Tor UK for providing us with the copy!
I realized one night while drinking vodka in a Mongolian ger that if I were going to write a book, I needed to spend more time in Asia. That trip to Mongolia had nothing to do with books or writing. It was a vacation, pure and simple – horseback riding, getting lost, eating lots and lots of goat – but while there, I realized that the cost of living in Mongolia (and places like it) was so low that if I saved scrupulously for a year, I could quit my teaching job and move there to write. The dollars necessary for a year in Asia would have lasted about forty-five minutes in Boston or New York. So I saved, I quit, and I went.
The great thing about living in countries where you don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone is that there is very little to distract from the task at hand. Whether I was in Laos or Cambodia, China or Vietnam, the routine was pretty similar: get up in the morning, eat a fifty cent breakfast of noodles or rice, read for an hour, write until lunch, dawdle over tea and soup (again, fifty cents or so), write until afternoon, then go for a very long run.
The writing drove me crazy; the running made me sane again. After hours hunched over a keyboard trying to come up with names for immortal generals, calculating how many miles a giant, man-eating bird might reasonably cover in a day of flying, struggling to map out continents and palaces, secret training islands and long-dead cities, I could feel my dry eyes bulging, the muscles in my back starting to cramp, and so I’d save everything, drink half a liter of water, and run.
I tried to pick towns that would accommodate my habits. Luang Prabang is a wonderful spot in northern Laos where you can run for miles along the Mekong, but my suffering of choice was a small hill in the center of town with a little monastery on top. It was 247 steps up (if memory serves), and I’d run them over and over. Sometimes a little crowd of monks would gather at the summit. At first they looked at me with a baffled wariness usually reserved for creatures dying of brainworm, but, as the days passed, they moved from confusion to good-natured taunting. “Faster!” they would shout as I approached the top each time. “Faster!” It was the only English word I ever heard them say, except for one time when I stumbled on the steps. “Not smart,” said an old monk, shaking his head.
The mountains outside Lijiang, a Chinese town on the border of the Tibetan plateau, are considerably larger, higher, and colder. There were no monks at the top of the nearest peak, a rocky promontory above Black Dragon Pool, but the gorgeous view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was best appreciated in solitude.
I tried to run in Beijing, but the air on a good day had the consistency and color of ash, and the traffic made any kind of athletic exercise outside a park suicidal. I did find a nice circuit around the Forbidden City, and while I ended every workout with diminished lung capacity, I enjoyed looking up at those towering walls as I ran, imagining them as they might have looked to the eyes of someone from the 15th century. The palace must have seemed like the work of gods.
Likewise, the endless temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, some of which have been meticulously preserved, some of which are claimed by the jungle. The sheer magnificence of the ruins suggests the might of the Khmer Empire and the vision of Suryavarman II, who commissioned the most jaw-dropping of the structures. I would pause in my running, panting and soaked with sweat (Cambodia was as hot as Lijiang was cold), to pore over the reliefs carved into the stone, intricate depictions of battles and worship, daily life and stories of the divine. I could have stayed there for months, had I not been laid low by a little bout with dengue fever. After that, I was determined to get far, far away from mosquitoes for a while.
This is starting to sound like a post about running or living in Asia rather than a post about writing, but the two experiences were inextricable. The Shin monks in The Emperor’s Blades owe much to those saffron-robed Buddhists in Luang Prabang. When Kaden is sent to run the Circuit of Ravens, or when he flees into the high peaks of the Bone Mountains, I think of the frigid Himalayan wind pouring down out of Tibet. When Adare strolls around inside the Dawn Palace, there are spots in the Forbidden City that I can’t get out of my mind. And when I imagine the Annurian Godsway, I picture the sweeping avenues of Angkor Wat, some wide enough for several tractor trailers abreast, flanked by their imposing statues of nagas and gods.
I went to Asia because I could afford to write there, but looking back, it’s impossible for me to imagine having written the book anywhere else.
The main problem with The Emperor's Blades, debut novel by Brian Staveley, is that it is simply a reviewers worst nightmare. The thing is that the year has just started. It is only couple of days young and here I find myself in the position where I have to make some rather bold claims about a book that I've just read. A book by a completely new author. I have to be sure that I'm prepared to swallow my words if I turn out to be wrong. Ah well. So to finally be done with the dramatics and say the conclusion which is usually placed at the end of the review, The Emperor's Blades is probably the best fantasy novel I'll read this year. It's been months, possibly years, since I've enjoyed a fantasy book this much.
So what makes The Emperor's Blades so special? At first glance it may look like your standard fare epic fantasy. Since this is the opening chapter of “The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne” we are quickly thrown into the world filled with murky quasi-medieval politics and there's lot of ground to cover. Emperor of Annur has been killed and it's up to his children to pick up the pieces. Kaden is heir apparent and this unfortunate event catches him during his 8 year long education in a remote mountain monastery. On the other hand his sister Adare is already in the capital investigating the murder. She's already an experienced politician and becomes a Minister of Finance while their brother Valyn is doing his best to join Kettral, a elite warriors unit who fly gigantic birds as their transport of choice.
So far so good but what sets The Emperor's Blades head and shoulders above the competition is the pacing and the glorious writing. The story is so intricately woven together that the process of turning each subsequent page provided me with such pleasure. Staveley avoids the trap of excessive world-building by building and enriching his characters instead. And while Adare is one character that should have been explored more, by the end of the book I learned how the rest of the cast breathes and lives. This is an excellent and refreshing approach and on which pays off in so many way.
To conclude, in my opinion, The Emperor's Blades is one of the most important fantasy books of the year and judging by the storm it is causing around the web I'm not the only one who thinks so.
As silly and mystic as it sound, the idea for Delia's Shadow started with a dream.
In this dream, a young woman dressed in old-fashioned clothing stood next to a railroad track. Night had fallen, bringing pearly gray fog with it. A satchel sat at her feet and steam from the locomotive billowed around her, swirling and writhing in a very creepy way. Delia was looking over her shoulder, watching for the person following her.
I couldn't get this image out of my head or stop thinking about who was following Delia, and why. Well, it turned out that the person following her was a ghost. Why this particular ghost decided to haunt Delia turned out to be very important. Once I knew why, the whole book fell into my head.
Delia Martin has always seen ghosts, but only as glimpses of faces watching from a corner, or faded haunts walking through walls. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, that changes. The sheer number of spirits seeking her out overwhelms Delia, and she flees to New York hoping to escape ghosts. That works for almost three years.
But one morning she discovers a ghost standing at the foot of her bed, a ghost that refuses to go away. Shadow, as she comes to call this spirit, follows her relentlessly, invades her dreams, and demands things of Delia. Delia finds herself compelled to discover what Shadow wants from her and lay the ghost to rest. She goes home to San Francisco as a result.
At the same time, Lieutenant Gabe Ryan is hunting for a serial killer. This killer treats San Francisco as his own personal hunting ground, picking and choosing his victims at random, and vanishing into the city again. The killer torments Gabe with letters describing how his victims died, and claiming many more victims than the police have found.
Between what Gabe uncovers in the course of his investigation, and what the ghost reveals to Delia, they discover that the killer is the same man who committed a series of murders thirty years before and vanished without a trace.
So I had two major ideas in my head as a result of this dream, two ideas that came together and became one. But ideas are easy. Taking those basic, rough concepts and making them into a novel worth reading is where the real work starts.
Choosing the time period was easy, as was deciding that five of the main characters were women; six if you count the ghost. The women in this book are multi-generational as well. I wanted to write realistic women at different stages in their lives, women with different strengths and weaknesses, but all of whom were determined to make their own choices.
1915 really was at the beginning of what we think of as the modern age. Cars were becoming as common as horse drawn buggies and wagons. Women had already won the vote in California years before and were proud of their independence. Women's roles were changing, attitudes were changing, and the flapper era was just around the corner.
Another early decision was not to let the darkness in this book become the sole focus of the story. Lots of scary, terrible things happen in this book, but the story also revolves around deep friendships and hope, family and love, and the idea that no matter how grim things get, there is always someone there to pick you up and dust you off. That was important to me.
This was both one of the easiest and one of the hardest books I've written. The intense amount of research required meant I spent a lot of time learning about serial killers, how depraved they can be, and what methods for catching a killer were available to a homicide detective in 1915. A lot of what I learned was pretty gruesome.
I had to learn about the different social climate and attitudes of one hundred years ago, clothing styles, and so much more. I love doing that kind of work, and nailing the small details that sink the reader deep into the world I'm building. I also have this ingrained drive to get as much "right" as humanly possible. That required a lot of checking and rechecking details, right down to when certain words came into common usage.
The easy parts of this book were the characters. Gabe and Delia, Jack and Sadie and Dora—I loved them all. I just finished the third book in this series and I still love them.
A writer can't ask for more than that.
In this giveaway you can win one copy of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett, published by Tor Books. Giveaway is open to US and Canada and lasts until 24th October, 2013.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line MECHANICAL to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Tor Books for providing us with the copy!
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl came to me as I stood unsteadily in the swaying gondola of an airship buffeted by strong winds as the patchwork fields of England unspooled beneath me and...
No, that’s not right.
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical girl was born in the heat of a faraway place, far from familiar shores, a tumble-down jungle temple overgrown with creepers and weeds where certain death awaited the unwary...
Sorry. That’s just an outright lie.
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is one of true heroism, that of an ordinary man plunged into extraordinary circumstances and finding hitherto undiscovered reserves of bravery and...
Look. There isn’t really a story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. Not an exciting one, anyway. In fact, it’s all rather dull. Not, I hope, like the book itself. Published in the US by Tor and the UK by Snowbooks, this is the first of the Gideon Smith books, to be followed by Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon and Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper. It’s what you might want to call steampunk, or alternate-history, or thumping good adventure. It’s about the titular character, a fisherman, somewhat naive for his years, who goes to enlist the help of his favourite real-life character from the penny dreadful story papers, Captain Lucian Trigger, when Gideon’s father is lost at sea. There are dirigibles and automatons and vampires and villainy. There’s some discourse on the nature of heroism. It’s the sort of book I might want to read myself.
I suppose the Gideon Smith story started back in 2005. I had just had published, through the small presses, my first novel, an urban fantasy sort of thing called Hinterland, which was quite well received critically but sold very few copies. On the back of it I managed to inveigle myself on board with a literary agency run by the esteemed John Jarrold. I imagined that it would not be long before I had a “proper” publishing deal.
So I wrote a book about a fallen angel, set in Prague in both the present day and the 1580s. It didn’t excite many people (though it was later published by the same small press that did Hinterland and got wonderful reviews)
I wrote a book about a cell of pop-cultural terrorist pranksters harbouring a terrible secret in the streets beneath London. It was eventually picked up by another small press.
I wrote a book about a young boy searching for his father in the company of the ghost of Sid Vicious, and featuring a covert department of the British government run by a cranky old woman. I wrote a book about a noirish private detective in a fantasy world drained of colour. I wrote a book about a comic writer who is given an old 1940s character to reboot and starts getting haunted by the fictional creation. I wrote a book about an incursion of fairies into the real world at the height of the First World War, and how the British Government coped (badly).
And none of them attracted the sort of deal that I was really, really hoping would come my way – an acceptance from a big publishing house who would lovingly produce my book, market it, and sell it to hundreds – nay, thousands! – of people.
Just let me go back and count up those books. Six. That’s six novels I wrote before I sat down and wrote Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. One day in December 2011, as we were preparing for my daughter’s seventh birthday party, an email popped into my inbox from my agent, saying that Tor wanted it and two sequels. It was the eighth book I had written, the seventh I had submitted to John Jarrold, in the space of six years.
Sometime after the book about Sid Vicious never sold, I told myself I was no good at the writing lark and resolved to stop. Then I started writing again. When the fantasy noir novel didn’t sell, I decided to stop again. Or maybe I’d write just one more... and this went on until Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was accepted for publication.
So, no blinding flash of inspiration on the bridge of an airship. No temples of doom or anything approaching true heroism. But perhaps there is a story, of sorts, behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl after all... dogged determination, perhaps, and while that might not be quite as exciting, it’s the best I’ve got.
We are very happy to present cover art and synopsis for the upcoming book by Hannu Rajaniemi, The Causal Angel. The book is scheduled to come out on 6th May, 2014.
With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterisation and his unrivalled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science Hannu Rajaniemi has swiftly set a new benchmark for SF in the 21st century. And now with his third novel he completes the tale of his gentleman rogue, the many lives and minds of Jean de Flambeur. Influenced as much by the fin de siecle novels of Maurice leBlanc as he is by the greats of SF Rajaniemi weaves, intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of wild future and deep conjecture on the nature of reality and story. And now we find out what will happen to Jean, his employer Miele, the independently minded ship Perhonnen and the rest of a fractured and diverse humanity flung through the solar system.
We are very happy to present cover art and synopsis for the upcoming book by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Life's Lottery. The book is scheduled to come out on 3rd July, 2014.
The Empire stands victorious over its enemies at last. With her chief rival cast into the abyss, Empress Seda now faces the truth of what she has cost the world in order to win the war. The Seal has been shattered, and the Worm stirs towards the light for the first time in a thousand years. Already it is striking at the surface, voraciously consuming everything its questing tendrils touch. Faced with this threat, Seda knows that only the most extreme of solutions can lock the Worm back in the dark once again. But if she will go to such appalling lengths to save the world from the Worm, then who will save the world from her? The last book in the epic critically acclaimed Shadows of the Apt series.
Since Wisp of a Thing is my second novel about the Tufa, a mysterious and secretive group of people living in Appalachia, you’d think the story behind it would be, “I had to write a sequel to the first book,The Hum and the Shiver.” But Wisp (or at least, a very different but still recognizable version of it, an Ur-Wisp, if you will) was written first.
I wrote this Ur-Wisp in the early 2000s, inspired by the story of the Melungeons, my experiences at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN, the movie Songcatcher, and an idea that music might be more than just a way to pass the time. Some elements of the final book appeared in this original: the hero still came to town after getting his heart broken, he still met the Overbay sisters, and Rockhouse Hicks was still the villain. And it was good enough to get me signed with the agent who still represents me today. But it never quite worked well enough to sell, and I had to write a whole other Tufa novel, which eventually became the first one published, to realize why.
First, my hero wasn’t very likable. It was a deliberate choice: I wanted him to grow through the events of the novel. Unfortunately, I started him a bit too far back on his story arc, with a huge chip on his shoulder, and nobody stuck around to see him evolve into a nice guy. He wasn’t terribly motivated (his girlfriend had simply left him for a sailor, and he had no real goal for coming to Cloud County), and he was drawn into the Tufa conflict through a vague threat to his masculinity, rather than sympathy for someone else.
Second, there was no “ticking clock,” as my editor likes to call a story’s sense of urgency. Events transpired, people fought and loved and struggled to understand, but there was no weight to these things. You got the sense that life would go on as it always had, whatever the end of this particular story.
Third, my two female protagonists had no goals of their own; they simple wandered through, alternately fell in love with the hero, and wandered out. My ending flirted with wish-fulfillment, and certainly didn’t achieve the frisson of dangerous faery magic I was after.
So after the submissions had run their course, I put it aside and wrote a second, stand-alone Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver. Since I’d already created the world, I was now free to play in it. And it worked.
When my publisher wanted a sequel to The Hum and the Shiver, I thought I’d simply polish up the Ur-Wisp and send it out. Heh. I’ve been more wrong in my life, but not by much. I ended up totally deconstructing that version, followed by a careful rewriting that tried to save the good stuff but put it into a much stronger story. And let me tell you, that’s much harder than just writing from scratch.
But it’s also, in some ways, more rewarding. I was able to create a lot of the emotional effects I’d been after in that earlier draft, both because I was a better writer ten years on, and because I just stayed out of the story’s way. The process also taught me many things about own writing process that have been a tremendous help. And readers get the benefit of both the original inspiration behind the Ur-Wisp (which will never see the light of day), and the polish and skill I was able to bring to the final version.
It all began with a short story, and it all began on one particular day, the 16th of October 1985.
I was 26 at that time, student at the University of Stuttgart and supposed to study aerospace engineering. But instead, I spent a lot of time in a literary group, where students of all faculties met every week to present their writings to the others in order to get critizised by them. I was writing since I had been 12 years old, had spent my school years more or less behind a typewriter, and the reason I was studying aerospace engineering was because of what everybody had been telling me for years: Writing is a hobby, but nothing you can ever hope to make a living from.
Another member of this group was a certain Michael Matzer who one day, after I had presented a short story that met criticism by the group as being „rather entertaining“ (which meant: no art at all), took me aside after the meeting and explained that he was an editor of a small literary magazine called „Flugasche“ (engl. „fly ash“), specifically responsible for everything around science-fiction. And he wanted to know whether maybe I had him a science-fiction short story for publication? He had four pages at his disposal.
„Yes“, I said. „Of course I have one.“
But that was a lie. Or let’s put it mildly: I was wrong. (At that time, I was a wanna-be writer. You recognize wanna-be writers easily: They ask themselves all the time why they and their outstanding talent aren't discovered by the world, while in fact they have not very much to produce that could be discovered.) Being challenged this way, I had to realize that the drawer I imagined being about to spill over was, in fact, empty.
But the prospective to be published electrified me. I couldn't literally find no sleep that night. Give me anything, I will print it! This was what Michael had told me. I simply couldn't let this chance pass by.
So I scanned my ideas notebook. (Since ever I jot down all my ideas, the good ones and the bad ones, and keep these notes carefully. Meanwhile it has become an impressive collection of mostly bad ideas – but here and there I find some treasures. You don’t need more than that to build a career upon – one good idea out of hundred.) I stumbled upon a few scraggy scribblings about carpets made from women’s hair, so subtle and fine that a handcrafter couldn’t make more than one carpet in his whole lifetime. In that moment and state of mind, that looked like something one could make a decent story of.
I started to write the next day while sitting in the lecture. It was Wednesday, 16th October 1985. I must have staggered around that day like a sleepwalker. I have no idea what else happened around me, because I was totally immersed into my writing. I was scribbling phrases, paragraphs, drafts on paper, while everyone else was copying mathematical terms and diagrams from the blackboard. I wrote during lunch, and afterwards I hid myself in the library to write even more, longhand, on any piece of paper I had with me. The whole day was one continuous „flow“ experience, and in the evening, the story was finished. All I had to do was to type a fair copy, and it was published in December 1985 in the „Flugasche“.
Writing it had been nothing less than an ecstatic experience – seeing my words in print for the first time in my life was rather not. The issue stood under the overall title „children“, the whole magazine was sprinkled with children’s drawings, and my story had been put in a place that did it no favor: You had to search for it in order to find its beginning and end, and the whole thing looked downright disappointing.
But to my surprise it happened quite often that someone mentioned the story, even more surprising given the fact that the literary magazine sold, as usual, only a few hundred copies. The most impressive encounter happened in December 1990, when I met the chief editor of the „Flugasche“ while attending the small book fair of Stuttgart, the „Stuttgarter Buchwochen“. When I was presented to him, he shook my hand, nodded gently, obviously all routine – but then he paused for a moment and asked: „Ehm … Wasn’t it you who wrote this story about the carpets made of hair?“
I was stunned. Somebody who compiled a literature magazine every two months, somebody who must be reading and evaluating manuscripts ceaselessly, remembered a particular story he had published five years ago? That was the moment I realized that the story „had something“, that it touched a string deep inside of readers.
Had it really been me who wrote it? Sometimes I can hardly believe it. Thinking back it is as if a strange, powerful spirit took possession of me and my writing hand on that day. A spirit from another world, where a lot more stories demanded admission to ours. By and by, this peregrine cosmos grew in background and substance. One day I began to write down all the stories that surged from this source, and it was in doing so that this vast, almost untellable tale emerged that connects them all.
It finally ended up as my first published novel in 1994. It did sell modestly in the beginning, but to my big surprise it won the prestigious German SF Award (Deutscher Science Fiction Preis) 1995 straightaway – a surprise not least because until the moment I received the announcement letter, I wasn’t aware at all that such an award existed. My publisher was impressed. And believe me, it is a good thing for a first time author to have a publisher who is impressed!
Since then, „The Carpetmakers“ have been my entry to a lot of language areas. The novel was translated into French in 1998, my first translation at all and, by the way, the first translation of a German SF novel into French since 18 years! Afterwards, a lot of other languages followed – Italian, Czech, Polish, English, Spanish and so on, and the novel has won other literary awards in other countries. Other novels followed as well. Today I am writing fulltime and make, indeed, a living from it – and all started 28 years ago on a day I was living in another world.