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SPFBO2017: The First 26 Reviews!

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I'm participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition - all the background, details and updates are here.

The first step is to filter through the buffet of 301 books that have been sent my way. Although I'll bring some fancy-shmancy grading criteria in later in the process, at this stage I'm being unabashedly subjective: do I want to keep reading it?

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Otared, Graustark and The Winning of Barbara Worth

OtaredOne very modern book and five very old ones. Are there common themes? Is there a pattern?! Not really, no.

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Mohammed Rabie's Otared (2016) is a harrowing existential thriller, set in a near-future Cairo. The city has been occupied by a mercenary army - a sort of quasi-Masonic organisation that swept through in a sudden coup with distinctly Cruaderish underpinnings. Cairo persists - everyday life plods along, despite the foreign invaders and the ominous ring of battleships.

Otared is a former policeman who, infuriated by the way the government rolled over, has joined the rebellion. His job is distasteful: assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist - everything in-between. Otared repeatedly asks the same question - how far would you go? - with different nuances and inflections each time. The voiceless people of Cairo are choosing between two - if not 'evils - brutalities. Otared decides what he will do, how far he will go, in the name of a city that he never particularly liked and certainly never liked him. It is particularly telling that the resistence is led neither by civilians nor military, but policemen - who Otared describes less as a public service and more like a necessary evil. 

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What of the fans?

Journal of Science FictionThe Journal of Science Fiction was published by a fan group based at the University of Chicago. Like many zines, it was short-lived - despite some (now) star-studded issues, it only existed for four short issues. 

I can't vouch for the tone of the first three, as I've not found them yet, but the fourth is a corker. Whether the JSF was established with this particular tone, or if the editors took to the final issue with nihilistic zeal, the content - especially the editorials - is passionate and, er, rather blistering.

The editorial begins with a succinct explanation of the Journal's demise - 'malnutrition, both of material and of readers'. The editors also note that 'if a publication fails to satisfy the needs and desires of its time; it deserves to die'. Thus they sail, with stoic aplumb, into the darkness. But not without burning some bridges behind them with this - timeless, and ever-relevant - rant...

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Review Round-up: A Queue, Two Devils, Some Magicians and an Empty City

9781612195162_custom-9dcd78cb1494554fe2ead2adb48ab8c65e917d12-s400-c85I'm way behind on writing reviews - a combination of life, SPFBO reading, sekrit projects and watching Ariana Grande and Chris Martin sing "Don't Look Back In Anger" on continuous loop. But whilst we all wait for me to get my act together, here's a quick catch-up on recent reading:

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (2016, first 2012). In an unnamed country, the people are ruled by a faceless bureaucracy. All paperwork challenging the state must be notarised by officials at the 'Gate', the accepted nomenclature of the 'powers that be' that work at entrance of the government building, but the Gate never opens...

Over time, a huge queue forms, and with it, a new society. People come and go, trade gossip, form a new, grey economy. The Gate seems to know everything and be everywhere, but its actions are nonsensical and baffling. Set against this... a mystery, of sorts. A man, shot in an uprising that never happened by soldiers that weren't there using guns that don't exist, is standing, wounded, in the queue. The maze of paperwork around him, if he exists, captures a handful of others, as they make extremely difficult choices in the face of overwhelming indifference. 

The Queue isn't quite as abstract as I'm making it sound. It is a good Orwellian thriller, with compelling, heart-breaking characters. Although inspired by Egypt, The Queue is one of the great fictional dystopias, with horrifying relevance to, well, everywhere. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

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The Operative: Joss Whedon’s most political villain?

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Warning: This month’s post spoils the shit out of 2005’s Serenity, the feature film culmination of Joss Whedon’s gone-too-soon TV space western, Firefly. So if you haven’t seen it, (a) what is the matter with you and (b) stop reading immediately.

It was Dolores Umbridge that got me thinking about the Operative. I know – because they have so much in common, right? One is a cowardly shrew of a witch with no discernible fighting ability, while the other is a mild-mannered, stone-cold killing machine. And yet they do have a lot in common, if you scratch just beneath the surface. They’re both government employees acting on behalf of something bigger and largely invisible. And they both belong to that rarest – and arguably most dangerous – species of villain, the True Believer.

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Small Press Shakedown: Dave de Burgh of Tickety Boo Press

Tickety Boo

The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week our featured publisher is Tickety Boo Press.

Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

Tickety Boo Press was started at the end of January, 2014 by Gary Compton, who remains our driving force and managing director. We're a small, independent publisher, and we publish Science Fiction (through our Space Dock imprint), Fantasy (through our Phantasia imprint), edgy, crazy, not-your-usual SpecFic thrillers (through our Critical Mass imprint), and Horror (through our Spectral Press imprint). We follow the traditional model of publishing, submissions, etc.

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Finding Balance in Opposites in Asterios Polyp

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We live in a world today which seems, or is made to seem, more divided than ever. Asterios Polyp is a book about division, but it turns that which divides us into positives, finding balance in opposition and progress in compromise. David Mazzucchelli, best known as the artist for the seminal Batman: Year One, is sole creator on this book and, while he doesn’t deal in geopolitical division or the problems of race or wealth that plague the world currently, the lessons that can be learnt from the deeply human philosophy in Asterios Polyp are ones that we all need to be reminded of.

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The Last Dangerous Visions

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The Last Dangerous Visions might be the most famous science fiction book to never exist. 'TLDV' was the long-mooted and nearly-almost-published sequel to Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) - two vastly important and influential publication in modern speculative fiction.

This ambitious anthology, seemingly intended to be the final word in contemporary SF, was delayed for numerous reasons, documented elsewhere by both Ellison and many others. The anticipation, the delays, and the numerous authors it affected made for, to put it mildly, a great deal of drama. 

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Small Press Shakedown: Gary Budden of Influx Press

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The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week our featured publisher is Influx Press.

Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

I’m Gary Budden, one of the founders of independent publisher Influx Press. I set it up in 2011 with Kit Caless (now of Wetherspoon’s Carpets fame…) with the aim of producing one anthology and things snowballed a bit from there.

We originally started out with the idea of producing what we called ‘site specific’ writing, i.e. writing with a strong sense of place. That’s broadened out a little now to whatever great fiction and creative non-fiction takes our fancy – which is one of the benefits of running your own press, of course.

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