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February 2012
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April 2012

Stories of the Smoke - Art Auction

Gary Northfield, artist, cartoonist, illustrator and all around great guy, has graciously donated all the original artwork from Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke

We'll be auctioning the pieces off at next week's launch party, with all the proceeds donated to the nice people at English PEN. PEN campaign around the world to promote and protect writers' and readers' freedom. We think Mr. Dickens would approve. (Don't forget, a chunk of every Smoke purchase also goes to PEN!) 

For those that can't make the launch party, we are now accepting advance bids via email. Anne and I will act as proxy bidders for those that are unable to attend. Just email your name, desired piece and maximum bid to jared at and we'll take care of it for you. The deadline for all advance bids is noon (UK time) on Wednesday 4 April. We'll pay for shipping anywhere in the world, so don't hold back. Beautiful work, unique collectibles and a great cause. 

There are six pieces for auction, all below (click to see larger images).

The Unkindness of Ravens

"The Unkindness of Ravens"
Glen Mehn

The Unkindness of Ravens

"Uncle Smoke"
Archie Black

The Unkindness of Ravens

"Martin Citywit"
Adam Roberts

Great Pubs

"A Brief History of the Great Pubs of London"
Lavie Tidhar

The Pickwick Syndrome

"The Pickwick Syndrome"
Kaaron Warren

The Collection

"The Collection"
Elspeth Saxey

Monsters & Mullets: Predator (1987)


We’ve all seen Predator, probably more than once. In fact, we’ve probably seen Predator 2. Maybe Predators. And Alien vs. Predator. And Alien vs. Predator 2. We might have read the comics. (Yes, the Dark Horse comics too.)

Here’s the thing. We all know that the predator is an alien. We’ve known that the predator is an alien since 1987. We can never unknow the predator’s fundamental alien-ness.

And that does Predator a disservice.

Continue reading "Monsters & Mullets: Predator (1987)" »

The Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist

The shortlist for the UK's most prestigious science fiction prize has been revealed:

  • Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
  • Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
  • China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
  • Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
  • Sheri S. Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)

If you have any doubts about the glamorous "most prestigious" description, just look at the discussion going on. And it is discussion. The Clarke is known for its rather unpredictable shortlists (this year being a prime example), but if the knee jerk response is "WRONG", it is almost immediately followed by, "...but I'll read 'em so I can explain why". The Clarke promotes serious debate and consideration of science fiction (both the genre and the definition) and, frankly, bless 'em for it. 

To take part in that debate, a few thoughts on the shortlist:

Continue reading "The Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist" »

Underground Reading: The Steel Mirror by Donald Hamilton

Steel MirrorThe Steel Mirror (1948) is an early work from Donald Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton was the versatile author of several non-fiction works, a handful of Westerns and the long-running Matt Helm series, a 27-book cycle of espionage adventures.* Although The Steel Mirror is set against a backdrop of post-WWII, early Cold War espionage, the adventure is less about paranoia than it is inadequacy.

Emmett is a chemist, taking time off between government jobs to meander across the country. Outside of Chicago, his car dies. Spying a pretty woman at the service station, Emmett makes a half-hearted pitch to play navigator for her. To his surprise, she accepts, and, suddenly, Emmett's hitch-hiking with lovely Ann Nicholson.

There's no such thing as a free ride, and Emmett is suddenly awash in Ann's intrigues. He quickly realises that she's in an extraordinary position: although well-dressed, she carries no baggage. And although she carries a lot of cash, she's awfully shy about being spotted by any sort of authority figure. Ann's evasive about her past and her future - she's going west, and that's all Emmett knows.

Evasive or not, Emmett starts to warm to Ann. But quickly into their shared journey, he discovers that they've attracted some unwanted attention. An soft-spoken older man and his leggy female assistant announce themselves as Ann's psychiatrist and nurse. Apparently she's been under their attention for months - after returning from her time as an agent of the French Resistance (she's not French, she was just married to a French soldier). Emmett's also contacted by both police officers and FBI agents. As well as being a crazy ex-spy, she's also a Communist murdering traitor.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Steel Mirror by Donald Hamilton" »

Easter, Smoke and Steam

Easter weekend is fast approaching and it looks like it'll be a (long) weekend of science fiction spectacle, from Stories of the Smoke to EasterCon to Gail Carriger's Steampunk Soiree.

Stories of the SmokeThe fun starts early with the launch of Stories of the Smoke and Fire on Wednesday night at the Betsey Trotwood pub. After speaking to the pub, we've added a few more tickets - so if you missed out, please check the site again. We'd love to have you join us for readings, an auction for our friends at English PEN and general Dickensian mayhem. There will be walruses.

The weekend itself is dominated by EasterCon. For those that have never been, EasterCon is the UK's semi-nomadic, semi-erudite, largely-literary annual convention. This year it is back at the outskirts of Heathrow and boasts guests like George RR Martin, Tricia Sullivan, Cory Doctorow and Paul Cornell (plus, if you leer at the attendee list, you're looking at a who's who of British SF). 

We'll do a post closer to the time, but we'll be lurking around from Friday to late Sunday night, including the BSFA Awards. We'll have a really big bag for the trophy, so in the slim chance we don't win (cough), we can drown our sorrows in the dealer room.

Continue reading "Easter, Smoke and Steam" »

Friday Five: 15 Pieces of Nonsensical Nonfiction

Friday FiveThis week, we turn to our bookshelves for inspiration. Not the brightly-lit sensible parts with all the lovely fiction, but the nooks and crannies: the reference books, the academia and other nonfictional oddities.

Joining us is award-winning writer Kaaron Warren.  She's the author of three short story collections, The Grinding House, The Glass Woman and Dead Sea Fruit, and several novels, including Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification [Editor's note: that one's our favorite!]. We're delighted that Ms. Warren could take part both in this and in Stories of the Smoke. Her "The Pickwick Syndrome" is a dreamy tale of lost children and, er, pigeons.

We've each picked the five weirdest nonfiction books from our shelves. What are yours? 


PaprikaThe Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968) by G. Legman. This book is 800 pages long and only volume 1; apparently volume 2 had an appearance of The Aristocrats. Here's a New Yorker article about the book.

Cleopatra’s Nose (1990) by Jerome Agel and Walter D. Glanze. I found the inspiration for my Smoke story “The Pickwick Syndrome” in this book. It lists verbal shortcuts ‘in popular parlance’ back to pre-6th Century BCE.

Baby-Guide for Mothers (1936) by ‘the Quins’ Doctor’. The Quins were a cause célèbre in the thirties, as became their doctor. The first chapter is “An Expectant Mother’s Best Friend is Her Doctor”. A later chapter includes instructions on how to make a soap stick that actually gave me nightmares.

Hungarian Paprika through the Ages (1963) by Zoltan Halasz. Illustrations include “Pig-killing”, “The Laws of Ha-Ha”, “Testing Pungency” and “Fish soup tastes best cooked in a cauldron”. There are a dozens of recipes for goulash. I do love a good cauldron-cooked goulash.

The Complete Guide to Police Writing (1984) by Karen Jakob. I love books and magazines specific to particular occupations. This one has a tip for a full description: WANTED. What. Appearance. Number. Type. Extraordinary. Dollars.

Continue reading "Friday Five: 15 Pieces of Nonsensical Nonfiction" »

Random Tangents: Sir Richard Owen

Richard OwenSir Richard Owen (1804-1892) showed up on fuckyeahhistorycrushes today, which is awesome. There are a few things I want to add, though.

A caveat: this is a fast and loose summary of an extensive research project I've been working on for years and should not be taken as a source of information. 

Since this came about as my response to a post on Tumblr devoted to "crushes on historical figures," let's start superficially! Owen was legitimately good-looking as a young man. He’s in his fifties in the portrait on the right, but check out this portrait. Here he’s in his early forties and has just shot to fame with his research on the nautilus. (He’s portrayed holding the shell and standing next to a preserved specimen in a jar.) Look how delighted he is! This portrait is in London's National Portrait Gallery, and I strongly encourage everyone to visit it.

Owen stood six feet tall and was very thin. He was also known to be quite vain; in portraits, photographs and even cartoons he’s often portrayed in expensive and flamboyant fabrics and colors. As Owen aged, his height (six feet was very tall in the nineteenth century!), his prominent eyes and his slender build made him look less shaggable than, well - evil. By the end of his life he looked like no one so much as Professor Moriarty. (With a side-trip through Severus Snape-ville.) And, unfortunately, he'd developed a pretty evil reputation by then, too.

Secondly - and this is where it gets interesting - Owen was the most famous British naturalist of his day. He was also cantankerous, ambitious, and enormously controversial; debate dogged his entire professional career, from questions about his integrity to his self-styling as a professor (although he gave public lectures and wore academic robes, he was not a traditional academic) to his frequent and heated quarrels with his contemporaries - particularly his famous conflicts with Darwin and Huxley.

Continue reading "Random Tangents: Sir Richard Owen" »

30 Book Reviews, 30 Words Each

The challenge: Review a book in thirty words. 

The fun part: Do it thirty times.

The caveat: I have no idea how articles, hyphenations or contractions count, but according to Word, each of these reviews is exactly 30 words. That'll have to do.

Purty Spacer

Lest darkness fallNightmare by Edward S. Aarons (1963)

A naïve bank worker is framed for robbery and murder! Which beautiful woman will save him - redhead, brunette or blonde? It is charmingly sleazy and the mystery actually surprises.

Embedded (Dan Abnett) (2011)

An obvious SF analogue of Iraq that manages to avoid all discussion of the morality of war. Deliberate statement or just oddly superficial? Good fightin’, but curiously absent of depth.

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp (1941)

Alternate history ‘classic’ sends an academic to Ostrogothic Rome. He rebuilds civilization from first principles - essentially, hard SF. Would be improved with more character and plot, less self-congratulation and racism.

Ghosts Know by Ramsey Campbell (2011)

An arrogant radio host is suspected of murder. Is a charismatic local spiritualist to blame? Or is this the karmic result of being a dick? Not spooky but still tense.

Brodmaw Bay by F.G. Cottam (2011)

Londoners’ perfect yuppie lives are disrupted by brutal plebs. But this scenic coastal haven seems ideal… Hot Fuzz without heroism or humor. Protagonist is a global warming skeptic – instant alienation.

One Second After by William Forstchen (2011)

For fans of Jack Ryan and Newt Gingrich: apocalyptic escapism for middle-aged white men. America’s enemies zap the homeland with an EMP - fortunately, right-wing southerners have been ready for years.

Continue reading "30 Book Reviews, 30 Words Each" »

Hard Case Crime Files: In Heat

Two more from the Hard Case Crime library - Robert Silverberg's Blood on the Mink and Christa Faust's Money Shot.

Blood on the MinkBlood on the Mink (originally 1962, this edition 2012) is a crime thriller from Robert Silverberg. Silverberg, of course, went on to bigger and better things, earning a collection of SF silverware that includes a stack of Hugo and Nebula Awards.* 

Blood on the Mink has an interesting origin story. The main character, "Nick", an undercover operative, first appeared in the 1959 issue of a new crime magazine, a companion magazine to Fantastic Universe. The editor loved the story and asked for a novel-length follow-up piece. Silverberg complied and churned out Blood on the Mink. The company then folded before the story ever hit print. Silverberg later resold the novel in 1962 to Trapped, who printed the story... and then folded as well. Let's hope that the Ring-like curse is now broken, as I'm really very fond of Hard Case Crime.

Blood on the Mink is clearly an early effort. To call it "raw" would be a bit generous; the book is neither shocking nor strongly-voiced, merely filled with recycled tropes and petty misanthropy. As mentioned above, the hero is Nick, a government agent who is an undercover specialist. He jumps from job to job with only a few days in-between. Silverberg emphasises the rapidity of the change-overs both at the beginning and the end of Mink, presumably by way of excuse. Nick, in the way of all undercover cop dramas, may be beginning to lose himself in the role(s). Sadly, this is never explored, so the reader is left assuming that Nick isn't going insane, he's just kind of an asshole.

Continue reading "Hard Case Crime Files: In Heat" »

The Weeks that Were

Goths! Mermaids! Bloggers! Adventure!

Plenty of reviews over the past few weeks:

  • Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns (2011) (and being thin to win) (a guest post from Lizzie Barrett)
  • David Dodge's Plunder of the Sun (1949 / 2005) (and being a slave to money)
  • Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody (1975) (and consistent cosmology)
  • John McPartland's Big Red's Daughter (1953) (and finding one's way through romance)
  • Wade Miller's Branded Woman (1952/ 2005) (and the perils of belonging to someone)
  • Wade Miller returned with Mad Baxter (1955) (and the joys of pre-packaged maturity)
  • Peter Rabe's Stop This Man! (1955 / 2009) (and the temptation of shiny things)
  • Donald Westlake's The Comedy is Finished (2012) (and don't stop believing, hold on to that feeling)

David Moore swung back to talk about wizards and Jenni van der Merwe helped us remix some of our favorite films. We also made some helpful suggestions for the Hugo Awards and Monsters & Mullets returned with a Splash (1984).

The Kitcshies presented a Gothic Evening at Blackwell's on 8 March - some of the pretty pictures are here, and a full list of the guests can be found here. Thanks again to everyone that showed up and took part!

We showed off the tables of contents for Stories of the Smoke and Fire. There are still a few tickets left for the launch party on April 4 - come along! Pandemonium Fiction also got a brand new website, with a few cheeky previews of our other 2012 and 2013 titles.

What's up next? After the launch party (hintyhint), Anne will be paneling about at EasterCon and Alt.Fiction. We're at the London Book Fair in mid-April, and there are some big Kitschies-related announcements that'll be coming out around then. (Mysterious!)

Plus, the Kitschies are involved in the Society of Authors' lovely shindig at Foyles on 22 May, but we'll have more on that next month - expect a hearty focus on YA and kids' books for that month.

As always, thanks for dropping by over the past few weeks - and we hope you stick around!