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'It was a complete and utter mess' - James Smythe on Hereditation


I had a conversation with a bookseller recently about debut novels. We were surrounded by piles of Nick Harkaway’s second (amazing) novel, Angelmaker, and talking about how different it is to The Gone-Away World, his (amazing) debut. The bookseller likened TGAW to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: a sense that the book was all-encompassing, wide-reaching, so full of things, of knowledge, of stuff that the authors were desperate to say. He asked about my first novel, Hereditation: whether it shared similar ideas. I hung my head in shame. It tried to, but nobody should read it, I said. It’s just not very good.

Hereditation (and really, what a godawful title) was born out of my doing a PhD. In a story far too long (and potentially litigious) for here and now, I had to come up with a new creative component for my Critical & Creative Writing doctorate when my first supervisor left the university. I had been working on a post-apocalyptic novel about religion (two things I’d revisit when I wrote The Testimony), and when she went, I needed something different. My new supervisor asked if I had anything else, anything fresh that would work. I was going to, essentially, start the PhD again.

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Underground Reading: Two for the Money by Max Allan Collins

Two for the MoneyThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime mystery, in order, one every week. You can follow along here.

Two for the Money (2004) collects Bait Money and Blood Money, two early books from Max Allan Collins (Bait Money was actually Collins' first published work). They're also the first two books in his eight book series featuring Nolan, an aging crook looking for one last score (Mr. Collins acknowledges his debt to Donald Westlake's Parker in the afterword). I've not read any of the other Nolan books, but as a two book sequence, Two for the Money stands very well on its own.

Bait Money starts with Nolan, age 48, recovering from a gunshot. His latest heist had taken him a little too close to Chicago - a no-go zone for him, ever since he killed the brother of an important mobster named Charlie. It had been years since he'd been near the city and Nolan had let his guard down. Oops.

Now Nolan's doubly screwed. He's broke and no one will work with him. The word is out that the mob's neither forgiven nor forgotten Nolan, so recruiting a gang of quality villains for a solid heist isn't happening any time soon. In the hopes of putting the past behind him, Nolan reaches out to Charlie through an intermediate... and learns that things are just getting worse. The mob are on to his secret identities, all carefully established over the years. With a word, all his cover businesses and assets will be reported to the Man, leaving Nolan (who is really keen on retirement now) completely exposed. 

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50 Essential Science Fiction Novels (Part 2: 1979 - 2011)

Ian Sales, J.P. Smythe and I are all sharing our fifty 'essential' science fiction books (inspired by Abebooks' Essential Science Fiction list). You can find Ian's here and James' here. The first 25 of mine (1812 - 1979) can be found here.

The rules:

  • No more than one novel from each author
  • No collections or anthologies
  • You can only list books that you have read

I have excluded (but highly recommend) both Mr. Sales' Adrift on the Sea of Rains and Mr. Smythe's The Explorer, as well as all the finalists for this year's Kitschies.

Here we go...

Choose Your Own Adventure26. Edward Packard's The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) (1979). How convenient that the first of this series is a time travel adventure, but, really, The Cave of Time is just the token representative of this franchise's insane significance in indoctrinating the youf of many generations into science fictional narratives.

27. Thomas Disch's The Brave Little Toaster (1980). Yes, it is about a toaster. And yes, it became a (amazeballs) movie with songs about trash compactors. But also, yes, it is science fiction that's about our relationship with inanimate objects and the stuffs of life. It is about the balance between progress and nostalgic, the tension between "owner" and "owned", loyalty and slavery and, to no small degree, robots and machine sentience. Also, this song is awesome.

28. Julian May's The Saga of the Exiles (1981 - 1984). Sadly, not every selection can possess the same level of literary significance as The Brave Little Toaster. But The Saga of the Exiles is a sterling example of the Vast SF Epic. In a semi-utopian future, the malcontents and misfits throw themselves through a portal to Earth's distant past. There they find that they have company: two disgruntled species of aliens. The four book series juggles politics, adventure, psychic battles and a quest or two. A great example of SF as entertainment - made more so by the complex plot and well-developed characters.

29. Raymond Briggs' When the Wind Blows (1982). With apologies to Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, Nevil Shute's On the Beach and Simon Morden's Thy Kingdom Come, I think this slim and poignant graphic novel makes the most essential of the essential post-nuclear reads. In a few short (and beautifully illustrated) pages, Mr. Briggs brings home the real horrors of the apocalypse.

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50 Essential Science Fiction Novels (Part 1: 1812 - 1979)

This list arose from a conversation with Ian Sales and J.P. Smythe. We all admired Abebooks' Essential Science Fiction list, but, as is human nature, found the list problematic in completely different ways. Being gentlemen, we decided to settle this the old-fashioned way - by scampering back to our various Internet hidey-holes and writing our own lists. (Ian's is here; James' is here.)

The rules:

  • No more than one novel from each author
  • No collections or anthologies
  • You can only list books that you have read

The last one is the nastiest of all, as I can't even fake it - this exercise has definitely exposed some fairly notable gaps (say... Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ, Diana Wynne Jones, Octavia Butler and anyone not Anglo-American) in my reading. Oops.

I also excluded two more categories: my co-conspirators (I particularly recommend both Mr. Sales' Adrift on the Sea of Rains and Mr. Smythe's The Explorer) and finalists for this year's Kitschies ('cause that's a bit weird).

The term "essential" caused a bit of existential wibbling, but I finally decided on a rough sort of definition that these fifty books, as a set, had to paint some sort of picture of the best (the full spectrum of many bests) that science fiction can offer. 

Enough of the caveats, here are my first 25 picks, in chronological order. The remaining 25 will be posted tomorrow.

Frank18181. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1812). This position works both chronologically and in terms of overall ranking. If there's a single, inarguable, essential work of science fiction, here it is. And what's not to love? Brilliant character development, twisty-turny plot, cutting-edge scientific ideas, moral ambiguity, even astounding, epic action. This one has it all.

2. George Tomkyns' The Battle of Dorking (1871). One of the original "invasion literature" pieces, Mr. Tomkyns' short novel describes the invasion of a contemporary Britain by a militarily-superior Germany. It is the grandfather of many apocalyptic scenarios (as it begat Wells' The War of the Worlds) and alternate histories (as it begat through If It Had Happened Otherwise). The Battle of Dorking is also a great example of how science fiction is about the "now" and not the future. Inspired by the Franco-Prussian War, Dorking examines fears that the British may be complacent in their military and naval superiority, and the days of Empire could be on the decline...

3. Edward Abbott's Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884). Probably should get this out of the way early - Flatland is the closest thing I'll have to "hard SF" anywhere on the list. Ostensibly a math text (and, in all fairness, a really good one), Flatland is also a brilliant social satire, lampooning the social rigidity, classism and misogyny of the time. Also, cool illustrations.

4. H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895). Mr. Wells is one of the few authors that could conceivably be on here multiple times, but with Tomkyns (above) covering off invasion scenarios, the choice is narrowed down pretty swiftly. The Time Machine uses a science fictional concept to talk about class (and the Morlock/Eloi trope has informed countless novels since then), has some fairly badass pulp adventure sequences and covers the "dying earth" scenario. This book should be essential for the harrowing final chapters alone.

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'Once my heartbeat returned to normal...' - Joey Hi-Fi and Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls

The Shining GirlsThe South African cover of Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls!

This edition (click it to embiggen) re-unites Lauren Beukes with award-winning artist, film critic and Twitter guru Joey Hi-Fi.

But unlike his stunning illustrated covers for Zoo City and Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds, Mr. Hi-Fi has gone in a different direction with The Shining Girls. Curious about this (and many other matters of the heart), we pushed a few questions at him through the tubes of the Internet.

Pornokitsch: What were your first thoughts after reading The Shining Girls? Did an approach to the cover come immediately to mind?

Joey Hi-Fi: Once my heartbeat returned to normal and colour returned to my cheeks (I was thoroughly harrowed by this book) - a concept for the cover had already taken root.I thought that since events in the book spanned so many different time periods, this should be reflected on the cover. The book also follows the attempts of Kirby in trying to solve a labyrinthine mystery that goes across decades. I thought the cover should also subtly express that idea - someone trying to put together clues in order to solve a mystery. Thus the use of typography and images pulled from the various decades covered in the book.

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Causing Pandemonium: January Update

Cover%20-%201853Updates, updates, updates, updates!

Pandatown and 1853!

The Café de Paris edition of A Town Called Pandemonium is at the printer. They're exceedingly posh (both the book and the printer) and we have high hopes for the result.

The hardcover is over twenty pages longer than the paperback, and jammed with content that's exclusive to this edition. That includes a new introduction, an interview with illustrator Adam Hill, (fewer typos - gulp!), some extracts from the world's background material, an entirely new story and, best of all, a recipe for some kick-ass chili. 

The Café de Paris edition is limited to 75 copies. 39 of these have already been claimed by the kind people who pre-ordered it four months ago. The remaining 36 will go on sale shortly.

Our next chapbook, 1853, is ready to go, with the final edits in from contributors Marc Aplin, Lor Graham and Jonathan Green. Illustrator Adam Hill has created a new cover which you can see here - foxy, right? We'll release both 1853 and the Café de Paris edition at the same time. It depends on the printer, but it looks like mid to late February.

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Underground Reading: Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas

This is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime mystery, in order, one every week. You can follow along here.

Little Girl LostLittle Girl Lost (2004) is by Richard Aleas, the pen name of Hard Case Crime series editor, Charles Ardai. Obviously, there's some potential for disaster here - when the boss picks up a shovel, it takes a brave man to point out that his trenchwork is shoddy. 

Fortunately, this is no ordinary boss.

Mr. Aleas/Ardai's short work had already been published in several magazines (and selected for multiple 'Best of...' anthologies, and Little Girl Lost, his debut novel, is a wholly credible addition to the series. Hard Case was not the first to publish Little Girl Lost - it was released earlier in 2004 as a hardcover from the imprint Five Star. The book later went on to be nominated for both the Edgar and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel. 

And, you know what? It ain't bad.

John Blake is a New York City private eye with a penchant for ill-considered, self-destructive acts of chivalry. When his high school girlfriend (and first True Love) winds up dead on the roof of a strip club, his angst factor goes nuclear and he drops his (non-existent) workload of (insurance) cases and starts prying into her death. Last John had heard of Miranda Sugarman, she was off to college in the Southwest and on the road to becoming a doctor. What happened?

Blake wants to solve the murder, but, even more critically, he wants to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. His life, he believes, is a bit of a disaster. He's got no money, no girlfriend and a dead-end job. Miranda is the one that got away - not from him, but from mediocrity. John has always needed to know that she was out there living life to its fullest. Miranda resurfacing as a grimy corpse in one of New York's seediest neighborhoods extinguishes that one tiny point of light in his life. As John grinds away at his investigation, he pictures a thousand scenarios, all with Miranda as the innocent victim (the "little girl lost") of horrible circumstances and sinister conspiracies.

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New Releases: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

Isbn9780340998212-detailRed, White and Blood (2012) is the third installment in the adventures of Nathaniel Cade, the President's Vampire. Cade is, well... exactly what the title says: a vampire sworn to obey the US President. This is the result of a blood oath impressed upon him by Marie Laveau during the tenure of Andrew Johnson.

Cade lives in a secret chamber underneath the Smithsonian, and with the aid of his human handler, Zach Barrows, he fights all the dark and forbidding nasties that conventional operatives cannot. His previous adventures have seen him come to blows with Osama-the-Lizard-Demon and zombie Nazi super-soldiers animated by Victor Frankenstein. Plus a shadowy occult cartel (or two).

It is all exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. 

In Red, White and Blood, Cade's up against his oldest foe: The Boogeyman. (Stop laughing.) The Boogeyman is something like The Saint of Killers, something like the anti-Christ and something very much like Jason from Friday the Thirteenth. He's an ancient spirit, worshipped by back-alley Satanists and corporate conspirators alike. Every generation or so, he arises - taking a mortal host and going on a killing spree. 

The Boogeyman is a meta-entity straight out of a (good) Wes Craven film. Phones die around him. The weather is always stormy when he appears. Luck always runs his way. He's never dead the first time (or the second) and he'll always kill the sexually active first. There are rules he must obey, but the game's hugely broken in has favour. Fortunately, he's always stuck to low-profile targets and he's always been out-fought by Cade.

That is, until now. 

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The Kitschies: Shortlists Announced

The Kitschies, presented by The Kraken Rum, reward the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic.

Winners share a total of £2,000 in prize money, an iconic Tentacle trophy and a bottle of The Kraken's fine black rum.

The 2012 finalists for the Red Tentacle:

  • Jesse Bullington's The Folly of the World (Orbit)
  • Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass (Macmillan)
  • Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker (William Heinemann)
  • Adam Roberts' Jack Glass (Gollancz)
  • Juli Zeh's The Method (Harvill Secker)

The 2012 finalists for the Golden Tentacle:

  • Madeline Ashby's vN (Angry Robot)
  • Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon (William Heinemann)
  • Rachel Hartman's Seraphina (Doubleday)
  • Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Tom Pollock's The City's Son (Jo Fletcher Books)

The 2012 finalists for the Inky Tentacle:

  • La Boca for Ned Beauman's The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
  • Oliver Jeffers for John Boyne's The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket (Doubleday)
  • Tom Gauld for Matthew Hughes' Costume Not Included (Angry Robot)
  • Peter Mendelsund for Ben Marcus' Flame Alphabet (Granta)
  • Dave Shelton for his own A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books)

Congratulations to all the finalists, and thanks to all the publishers and authors who submitted books for consideration. In 2012, The Kitschies received a record 211 books from over 40 publishers and imprints.

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Thy Kingdom Come (to the BSFA shortlists!)

Unbelievably pleased to share that Joey Hi-Fi's cover to Simon Morden's Thy Kingdom Come is on the shortlist for this year's BSFA awards.

Congratulations to Joey Hi-Fi and all the other finalists. You can see the complete list at

Enough of the small talk, let's get down to the hawt cover acktion.

 Caution, very large (and very lovely) images after the jump:

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