"Hey guys, it's me again, stuck in a hole.” - An interview with Ryan North

Romeo And/Or Juliet

Jared: Romeo and/or Juliet! It is an amazing feat! How do you even set about writing something like this?

Ryan Q North: I tried to write a non-linear second person style book before I did To Be Or Not To Be and I got nowhere. I literally did not know where to start. It's like what am I doing? This is a waste of time. I should never do this again. And I stopped; and then, when I had the idea for To Be Or Not To Be, the backbone of the Shakespeare play gave me a place to start with, a place to bounce off of, a place where, if I wasn't sure what would happen next, I could at least have the canonical version of the play to see what Shakespeare did.

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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1980 Review)

Dungeons & Dragons

A review of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from Ares: The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy Simulation. The core rulebooks of AD&D were published between 1977 and 1979, and this review was published July 1980. 

The timeline is important here, as Ares was founded and published by Simulations Publications, Inc. - which was also a producer of tactical and strategic boardgames... and role playing games like Dragonquest, coincidentally published later in 1980 (and obliquely mentioned in the final paragraph). Teaser ads for the core rulebooks of Dragonquest appear, coincidentally, in this very issue of Ares. The review of AD&D is certainly not unfair, but the context should also be taken into account.

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The Georgette Heyer Historical Fiction Prize

Georgette Heyer and Misty Dawn
Georgette Heyer (the wolfhound, Misty Dawn, is not the prize).
Photograph from the Georgette Heyer Estate, via the Guardian.


Something else I've learned this week - the existence of "The Georgette Heyer Historical Fiction Prize". This was proudly emblazoned on the spine of Zemindar, which I promptly bought for £2. See, awards do sell books!

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Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

51zj-nLhlaL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_A flashback, as I reviewed Nineveh a few years ago - I'm a Nineveh hipster!

However, the topic is well worth revisiting, as this excellent book is now published in the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon [that American cover is amazing!] and in the UK through Belgravia Books (as well as other retailers).

Katya Grubbs is an exterminator - more a relocator, actually, as she’s a fundamental believer in vermin’s right to life. A swarm of mysterious beetles infests an idyllic suburb and Katya is hired to do her thing. Her investigation brings her in contact with pests of all shapes and sizes - including the suburb’s sleazy developer and her own wayward father.

Despite the lack of any SF/F elements, Nineveh is a contemporary urban fantasy classic, along the lines of Zoo City and King Rat; a tale about a hidden world and the people (or creatures) that live beneath our notice. Katya is an exterminator with a heart. Eschewing her father's brutal approach to the job, Katya tries to move the insects rather than killing them.

Her standards - ethical, moral, professional - are all put to the test when a wealthy developer hires her to clear his new suburb of a beetle infestation. This is where things get creepy, crawly and a little bit chilling. The beetles don't behave the way bugs should, the previous exterminator on the job was her (mysteriously absent) father, and the property itself is inherently disturbing: a surreal landscape of abandoned wealth and unfinished buildings.

Nineveh works excellently as a metaphor for gentrification and class structure, but, for me, the real strength was in Katya's own journey - an exploration of empathy and the tenuous impossibility of finding balance. Katya tries to travel between two worlds; she's a good soldier and a loyal daughter, but also attempting to adhere to a greater moral code. The resulting novel is a haunting mystery and a perceptive character study; an unsettling and gorgeous tale of what lies beneath.

[Editor's note: Londoners, there's a launch gig tonight at Gallic Books!


Ramón K. Pérez: a man of many styles

Wow

It’s not unusual for a comic book artist’s style to develop or progress as their career continues. It’s a bit rarer for an artist to totally change their style or technique over time or between projects, although many artists do experiment. It’s rarer still for an artist to use two totally different styles or techniques at the same time, in the same book and even on the same page... but one who does is top comic artist and cartoonist: Ramón K. Pérez.

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Review Round-up: The SPFBO Finalists (Part 2)

I've reviewed four of this year's #SPFBO finalists already - you can find those here, as well as my (slightly whiny) approach to scoring. The best way to keep up with all the reviews is through this page, where organiser-and-author Mark Lawrence keeps track of the scores and reviews.

This set includes assassins and demons and all sort of fantastic goodies, so let's get stuck in.

51PgaT9Q0sL._SY346_Assassin's Charge by Claire Frank

A throwback! Huzzah! Assassin's Charge is easily one of the most readable of the finalists - a zippy, accessible fantasy that's quick to pick up and easy to read. Rhisia Sen is one of the classic fantasy tropes: the badass assassin. We're introduced to her in all of her badass glory: she plots a job, does some remarkable gymnastics, flings awesome gear about and, steely-eyed, gets the job done. Then she returns home to her mansion, gets pampered, has sex with gritty boy-toys, and is generally, you know, badass.

Except even Rhisia's badassery has its limits. Her handler gives her the job of a lifetime - an incredible payout that will allow her to retire in total luxury. She travels out to a village in the middle of nowhere, ready to do her assassination thing, but... the job is a kid (child, not goat). Rhisia's heart might be badass, but it still beats. In an unprecedented act of unprofessional behaviour, she calls the job off.

Unfortunately, the job has other ideas. It turns out that Rhisia's handler - backed by the Emperor himself - has betrayed her. And Rhisia now has a price on her head. With her (still-breathing) victim in tow, and a sexy smuggler to help, Rhisia sets out to solve the mystery, turn the tables and, of course, save her skin.

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Stark Reviews: Lemonade Joe (1964)

Lemonade Joe

Stark says: “Wounds, shock, sore feet, Kolaloka will cure all!”

Ever since I staggered headfirst into a clip from Lemonade Joe on YouTube, I’ve been dying to review it. “Who the hell is that?” I thought, watching a man with a curly moustache prance through a musical routine, “what is this film? Why are those Jan Švankmajer-style wax heads spinning around? Wait, IS THIS A WESTERN?”

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Villain of the Month: Stringer Bell

Stringer revisedWARNING: This month’s post contains spoilers for The Wire.

Ah, String. Easily one of my favourite TV characters of all time, from one of the greatest television shows ever made, HBO’s The Wire. Amid a large and stellar cast of characters, String stands out; only Omar Little gives him any real competition for Best in Show. This is down in part to the suave, physically imposing presence of Idris Elba; he literally towers over nearly everyone else. But it’s also because, like Omar, Stringer Bell is textured and sympathetic enough that you’re almost tempted to consider him an antihero, in spite of his – uh, let’s say casual – regard for human life.

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