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Underground Reading: Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie

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.

Kiss Her GoodbyeKiss Her Goodbye (2005) moves the Hard Case action outside of the United States. Joe Hope is a leg-breaker for an Edinburgh loan shark. When you need money, and fast, you go to Cooper. If you don't pay it back, and fast, Cooper pays you a visit - with Joe and his trusty baseball bat in tow.

Cooper's a relatively simple man. He's got a ditzy young girlfriend, a lot of expensive whisky, a superiority complex and a nasty attitude. Joe's a more interesting proposition. Initially, he wanted to be a teacher - he fell in with Cooper more out of inertia than anything else. Joe wanted to support his wife and lazily made all the wrong decisions. Or, more accurately, he never made the right ones.

Now, Joe hates his wife (and vice versa) and spends most of his time swilling drinks with Cooper and seeking solace (and only that) with Edinburgh's dazzling array of prostitutes. He bets on horses, he's almost always drunk and, without realising it, he hates his life. The only thing Hope genuinely cares about is his daughter, Gemma. 

So, naturally (this isn't a cheerful book), Gemma dies. Suicide - or so he's told.

Joe flips out. Gemma was staying with a slightly worthless cousin, an obese "writer" named Adam who runs a retreat for other talent-challenged examples of the breed. As far as Joe was concerned, Gemma was Adam's responsibility. He hops on a plane, flies north, buys a baseball bat and tracks the man down... 

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The Kitschies: Winners, Playlists & 2013

AngelmakerLast night was The Kitschies' awards ceremony. This was only our second year of making a "thing" out of the presentation, and the first year of it being a stand-alone event, so we were a little nervous how it might go.

Thanks to a lot of rum, wonderfully enthusiastic guests and a lot of hard work from the Free Word Centre, we think it came together pretty well. As always, please send us suggestions on how we could improve the evening ([email protected]).

The stars of the evening were the winners:

  • Nick Harkaway for Angelmaker (William Heinemann) for the Red Tentacle 
  • Karen Lord for Redemption in Indigo (Jo Fletcher Books) for the Golden Tentacle
  • Dave Shelton for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (David Fickling Books) for the Inky Tentacle
  • The World SF Blog for the Black Tentacle

One of the benefits of this year's set-up was that there were fewer acceptances by proxy, with Nick Harkaway, Jo Fletcher (Karen Lord is on a plane to Australia), Dave Shelton and Lavie Tidhar all there to pick up their prizes. Lavie wore his Tentacle as a scarf for the rest of evening. Nick has since blogged his thoughts about what "progressive speculative fiction" might be... it is a long and brilliant read, so make a cup of tea and settle in for it.

The Free Word Centre did an amazing job of hosting the evening. It wound up being a perfect squeeze, with exactly two more people than we had seats (and that counts Plarchie hogging an extra chair) - next year we'll have to find more chairs (or fewer finalists?).

Rob Sharp's Storify provides an excellent recap of the shenanigans. Plus loads of photos via Sarah McIntyre and the Tor team. Even the Guardian ran a wonderfully tentacular picture of the evening...

The playlist for the evening was provided by finalists past and present. It is insane.

UPDATE: [There's now a Spotify version, courtesy of @inCatastrophe!]

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The Kitschies: The Method, Redemption in Indigo & Competitions!

One last round-up before this evening's fun!

The Kitschies 2012 by Sarah Anne LangtonCharles Human reviews Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo for The World SF Blog and talks a lot about food. He also notes that it is a book about destiny: "not the not the orphan-born- under- a- special- star kinda destiny but the our-choices-shape-who-we-are kinda destiny that Lord is most concerned with, [and] it serves make the story very real and human."

Maureen Kincaid Speller takes a long look at Juli Zeh's The Method, and declares that "If you’re looking for a utopian happy-ever-after, this is almost certainly not the novel for you. However, if you like novels that are intensely argued and which step beyond the conventional rhetoric of the dystopia, The Method is undoubtedly worth considering."

You can find all the reviews - Red & Golden - on The Kitschies site.

There are also a few opportunities to win books going around: The World SF Blog is giving away sets of both Karen Lord's books (Redemption and The Best of All Possible Worlds) and Macmillan are currently offering a signed proof copy of Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass on Twitter. Move quickly, as the competition ends today.

Plus, of course, if you're keen on winning a squashy-wonderful Tentacle of your very own, don't forget to enter the prediction contest. It ends at 7.30 pm, when the festivities start. So get guessin'!

Everywhere but here

TumbleweedTomorrow & Wednesday will be focused on The Kitschies (go figure), then we'll be back with our regular schedule of reviews and other gibberish.

We missed our Hard Case Crime review last week, but will pick up on Thursday with Allan Guthrie's Kiss Her Goodbye (#8). It is a good one, and, off the top of my head, the only book in the series that's set in Britain - so please do join in.

Elsewhere... if you're a member of the British Fantasy Society, I'm pretty sure there's something in the latest journal from yours truly, wibbling on about Weird Westerns. It is in no way self-serving.

Finally, and I'm really excited about this, I'll be leading the reread for one of my favourite books - a contemporary classic that very much deserves a little more attention. I'm grateful to for letting me do this: the book isn't exactly a Rothfuss or Malazan chart-topper, so allowing me a weekly chapter-by-chapter wittering is very generous of them.

Details to follow, but the craziness should unfold shortly - possibly even this coming Friday. (I'm trying to be clever about not giving away the title, but it isn't super hard to guess.)

Stack 'em high

NinevehBeing that I'm addicted to Lotz/Beukes/SL Grey/Something Wicked/Jungle Jim/Etc., I asked Louis Greenberg (half of S.L. Grey!) for some shopping advice on where to go next for South African literature.

Louis rather excitably recommended a billion books, and, after a cursory bit of Googling, all of them sounded good. I gave up on being methodical and ordered ten that had awesome names:
  • Nineveh (Henrietta Rose-Innes)
  • Solace (Andrew Brown)
  • Agency Blue (Alex Smith)
  • Eric the Brave (Johan Volk Louw)
  • The Soldier Who Said No (Chris Marnewick)
  • Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot (Richard de Nooy)
  • Young Blood (Sifiso Mzobe)
  • The Sea of Wise Insects (Terry Westby-Nunn)
  • Men of the South (Zukiswa Wanner)
  • The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods (Jamala Safari)

I've already finished three (Solace, Eric and The Great Agony) - reviews a-comin'. 

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Predict The Kitschies, Win a Tentacle!

Tumblr_midnvl9Uu21s063ugo1_400Here goes... if you can predict all three Kitschies winners (Red, Golden & Inky), you win a cuddly, handmade mini-Tentacle of your very own!

(There's only one mini-Tentacle, so, in case there's a mad influx of oracular genius, don't forget to guess the size of this year's Black Tentacle.)

Poll here.

(Obvious T&C's - we'll ship anywhere in the world. Competition ends on 7.29 pm [UK] time, Tuesda, 26th February. Kitschies judges, board members and finalists aren't eligible.)

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The Kitschies: Red and Golden Review Round-up

The Kitschies by Sarah Anne LangtonSix of the finalists have now been reviewed, with four more on their way. Have a look at what others think about this year's Kitschies shortlist. 

Agree? Disagree? Let the reviewers know what you think!

Red Tentacle:

"Bullington has a gift for dynamic description which invokes all of the senses to woo the reader, willingly or unwillingly, into his world." - Elloise Hopkins (British Fantasy Society) on The Folly of the World

"Harkaway asks a lot from his readers in terms of trusting him to make sense of his squalling, bonkers opening salvos, and always fulfils his promises." - David Barnett on Angelmaker

"This is a wide-ranging, engaging tale that plays fast and loose with a number of conventions. It’s less Space Opera and more Chivalry in Orbit. Seemingly against the odds, a most improbable love story is beautifully rendered..." - Penny Schenk on Jack Glass

(All the Red Tentacle reviews.)

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Review Round-up: What's Black and Red and Everything?

SinnersStill playing review catch-up, this time with Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, Jonathan Craig's Red-Headed Sinners and Stanley John Weyman's The Man in Black.

Red-Headed Sinners (1953) by Jonathan Craig is a less-than-outstanding example of vintage noir, but still has some interesting points by which to recommend it. Jeff Stoner beats up a witness in the interrogation room and is sacked as a cop. He can't understand why he did it - the woman was provoking him, but certainly didn't deserve the throttling he gave her. Jeff figures that the only way he can restore his reputation is by solving the original crime (a jewellery theft). Unfortunately, as he prowls the city in search of witnesses, they all keep dying - and it may be that Jeff's the murderer. 

There's a lot of heavy-handed pop psychology involved, but Red-Headed Sinners is a solid job of telling a story from Jeff's (very troubled) point of view. Mr. Craig teases the "wrongly accused" formula, but it becomes readily apparent that Jeff Stoner really is the murderer. The tension is then built up around whether or not he'll realise that and, if so, if there's some sort of ultimate act of redemption he can perform.

Noteworthy? This is also one of those novels in which the protagonist is perpetually drinking. Jeff imbibes such a quantity of bourbon that I was feeling pretty hung-over by the time the book concluded.

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Review Round-up: Time After Time

Paul Witcover's The Emperor of All Things and Julie Cross' The Tempest - two books about time and what makes us tick.

Emperor of All ThingsPaul Witcover's The Emperor of All Things (2013) is the start of a sprawling epic. Set in 1758, it features Daniel Quare, a talented journeyman in the Worshipful Company of Clockworkers. The Company is one of the cornerstones of the British Empire, for, as many a general knows, precise time measurement is the key to many a maneuver.

But the remit of the Company extends even further than just making good clocks: it investigates (and quashes) any sort of innovation into time-keeping devices. Daniel's role is a complicated one. He's a double agent within the guild, playing one faction against the other in order to satisfy his own need to learn more about the nature of time.

He's also curious about his own heritage (he's an orphan, naturally). And super-duper curious about the crazy new timepiece that he picked up from the unconscious body of a (sexy) cat burglar named Grimalkin. Something something fairies. Something something French spies. Something something war across dimensions. Did I mention "sprawling epic"? This is a really ambitious book.

For the most part, Mr. Witcover pulls it off: the fairies and the orphans and the cat burglars and the French and the dragons and the time and the espionage. Largely, this is achieved by sacrificing Daniel's agency; he comes across as one of the world's last true innocents, bounding from place to place, attentively listening to vast amounts of exposition.

Granted, being an epic amongst epics, it is revealed that Daniel is Extremely Special, and all the stories that the reader picks up are, inevitably, related to Him. (Of course, any reader that didn't pick up on "Extremely Special" at the word "orphan" is really the last true innocent.)

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New Releases: Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

Gail Martin Ice ForgedBlaine McFadden (I know, right?) kills his father, a long-overdue and universally appreciated act of retribution. Lord McFadden was a brutish thug that had been tormenting Blaine his entire life. Just to be 100% Evil, his hobbies included a) raping his teenage daughter and b) gloating about it afterwards. Still, the law's the law, and, in the greatest act of legal injustice since the opening minutes of Con Air, Blaine is punished to transportation to Edgeland.1

In Edgeland (cold, mountainy, distinctly unfun), convicts mine rubies whilst being crushed under the heel of a corrupt military governor. By serving three years of back-breaking labour, convicts earn their 'freedom', and, as 'colonists', they allowed to perform the same back-breaking labour but for a tiny wage.

Now, after serving six years in this awful place, Blaine has actually managed to thrive - well, relatively speaking). Not only is he the party leader (his group includes a fighter, a bard, an engineer and an assassin), but Blaine's also a respected member of the colonial community. When the supply ships stop coming and the frosty plains of Edgeland become an even more miserable place, Blaine becomes a pivotal figure in the battle for survival that ensues.

Meanwhile, back on the continent, four kingdoms have all gone to war and things are looking grim. Mad King Edgar has unleashed his war sorcerers and Good King Merrill is reluctantly forced to follow suit. As powerful tides of magic wash over the land, all the kingdoms suffer, and the world is changed forever.2 

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