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Last Week's New Releases: Farnsworth, Ness & Smythe

The week of filler continues with three books that all deserve better treatment. But Farnsworth, Ness and Smythe sounds a bit like a Dickensian lawfirm, which is some small comfort.

Normally I'm not so bothered about shirking my frontlist duties, but last week was one hell of a week for new genre books, and I'm a little upset that I'm slack in reviewing. Whatever sort of science fiction you're in to, last week was packed with red letter days.

I did review Christopher Farnsworth's Red, White and Blood earlier, so this is more a "Hey! Out now!" sort of reminder. Red, White and Blood is the third in the Nathaniel Cade series (which began with Blood Oath and The President's Vampire), but there's certainly no barrier to starting with this installment. Backstory: the President has a vampire. Now you're caught up.

Mr. Farnsworth's series is a cross between Wes Craven and 24 or, uh, True Blood and Tom-Clancy-before-he-jumped-his-own-shark. Funny, witty, silly, smart, the series just keeps getting more and more entertaining - modern pulp at its finest. Read the earlier review for more complete thoughts. 

The machine james smytheMeanwhile, James Smythe.

Mr. Smythe came from seemingly nowhere to publish two of last year's most thoughtful, most challenging science fiction thrillers. This year he knocks it up a notch, Elzar-style, and, with The Machine, has written one of the darkest novels - of any genre - that I've ever had the nightmarish 'privilege' of reading. And don't get me wrong, this is a corker, well worth reading and suspiciously, disturbingly easy to read. But the entire book is keyed at a slightly unsettling note that keeps the reader perpetually aware that THINGS ARE NOT RIGHT. And, nor should they be... in a fairly ruined world (the casual apocalypticism is handled with an unbelievably light touch, and, I hope will join Jessie Lamb in benchmarking the post-Wyndhamism contemporary cozy catastrophe) a young wife is experimenting with the Machine. The Machine is a thing - a big scary mechanical thing -  it looks suspiciously like your office's scary server closet crossed with the screen that you have to plug the presentation into but you can never get to work on the first try - that does stuff to your memories. Initially used as a cure for PTSD, it does... stuff. 

The Machine pokes all the tender places. There are beleaguered teachers and menacing students, long walks across abandoned estates at night, crucifying loneliness, creepy 'friends', oppressive bureaucracies, social isolation, tinkering with minds... all building up to the big question: what is it that makes us human? What's the line? When do we become so lost in ourselves that we aren't people any more? Mr. Smythe clearly refuses to be confined to an easy description, and like its inspiration, Frankenstein, The Machine makes a nonsense of genre definitions. The Machine takes the best of horror - claustrophic, personal terror - and combines it with the frenzied imagination of science fiction and the thoughtful, unanswerable questions of literature. 

Speaking of which...

Continue reading "Last Week's New Releases: Farnsworth, Ness & Smythe" »

Week o' Filler: Noir Recommendations

[Disclaimer: on the road for most of the week plus wrapping up SpecFic. This week's posts are going to be filler cursory discursive.]

Great authors I've appreciated recently – Christa Faust and Megan Abbott – so I figured I'd look for recommendations for more great female contemporary noir authors. 

Fortunately, Twitter had some answers:

Dare-Me-Novel-by-Megan-AbbottHard Bite by Anonymous9 (@FaustFatale) (er, q.v.)

Hilary Davidson (@GregMcCambley)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (the Guardian - backed by @SamsykesSwears, @hollierendall, @zola_the_gorgon, @JoLidds and @tudorstuart)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (@willhillauthor)

Meg Gardiner (@RobHBedford)

Dope by Sara Gran (@NMamatas, @KatWithSword)

Vicki Hendricks (@NMamatas) 

Camilla Lackberg (@tomhpollock)

Asa Larsson (@tomhpollock)

Donna Leon (@tomhpollock)

Sissel-Jo Gazan (@tomhpollock)

Carol O'Connell (@JonCG_novelist)

Sara Paretsky (@KingElfland2ndCuz)

Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes (er, me - I love this book)

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (me again, mostly because I was looking for an excuse to get this)

Cathi Unsworth (Google!)

Fred Vargas (@JonCG_novelist, @gavreads)

The Secret Lives of Married Women by Elisa Waid (@FaustFatale) (Not out yet, dammit. But this looks like another brilliant Hard Case Crime) 

Who else?

Hoards and Collections

MutilatorsA great week for encouraging the obsessions, with a stack of finds that all slot neatly into existing collections.

The Jeff Noon signing one of the longest queues I'd seen in a while, which worked in my favour - despite being late, I managed to sneak in at the very end. Mr. Noon was really lovely and chatted to everyone. As a result: signed Vurt, signed Pollen and a new copy of the signed, er, Vurt. (Shop: Forbidden Planet. Collection: Arthur C. Clarke Award winners.)

Forbidden Planet also had just moved some Dorchester-published Hard Case Crimes to the sale rack. (HCC publication in a nutshell - initially with Dorchester. Fell through, now with Titan. The Dorchester copies are the first editions, but not... particularly valuable for it.) At £2 for HCC, I'll buy first and ask questions later. Normally this gets me duplicates. In this case, I bought three - two of which (Brett Halliday's Murder is My Business and Steve Fisher's No House Limit*) were new, and one (Russell Hill's Robbie's Wife) replaces a fishy ex-library copy. Huzzah! (Shop: Forbidden Planet. Collection: Hard Case Crime.)

A trip to Any Amount of Books found two more treasures. Michael Bishop's One Winter in Eden goes straight to the Arkham House shelf and Basil Heatter's The Mutilators (what a name!) joins the pile of Gold Medal paperbacks. Gold Medal is my favourite publisher of all time and collecting Arkham House is a matter of, I dunno, geek prestige. I remember ogling the Arkham collections of others when I just started my book-hoarding. Having a few of our own makes me feel, if not the big leagues, at least AA. (Baseball metaphors!) (Shop: Any Amount of Books. Collections: Gold Medal; Arkham House)

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Everywhere but here...

The PanopticonWhere you can find Pornokitschiness elsewhere.

Friday is for folding knives, and we're up to chapter six of the K.J. Parker reread on Caution: contains plague, assassination and other cheeriness. All the posts from the beginning can be found here - you can join in at any time.

If you're on the mailing list for The Book Smugglers, your last email from them contained a vintage ramble from yours truly, waving the banner for bloggers as part of the build-up for Speculative Fiction 2012. If you're not on their mailing list (sign up!), I'll re-run it as we get close to publication. Wibbling is fun.

And, for vintage rambling in the ear, I'm on The Readers podcast, supposedly talking about Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon - a The Kitschies' Golden Tentacle finalists and one of my favourite books of 2012. More importantly, Ms. Fagan is also a guest on the podcast, so you can (please) skip my bits and listen to the lady herself. (I'm curious how much of me actually made it in, what with the sneezing, sirens and occasional tirades about Among Others.)

And, for vintage rambling on dead tree, Anne and I are in Adventure Rocketship. You can pre-order your copy now. It has China Miéville, Lavie Tidhar, Liz Williams and Anne writing about Ladyhawke. If that last bit doesn't sell you on it, I don't know what will.

Two upcoming events:

Continue reading "Everywhere but here..." »

Reading Between the Lines by Janine Ashbless and Adrian Tchaikovsky

Reading Between the Lines
Our latest novelette is now available for pre-order, but if you want one, you need to move very quickly.

Reading Between the Lines is an original story co-written by a pair of fascinating authors, Janine Ashbless and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Structured as a series of letters, Reading Between the Lines tells the story of two men. One in the city, and one in the real city. If you know what I mean... 

Both a mystery and a fantasy, Reading Between the Lines is a tale of secret spaces and overlapping worlds. A bit King Rat or Neverwhere, but in a smaller package. The cover and interior illustrations are by Vincent Sammy of Lost Souls, Crossroads and Something Wicked fame. 

As with our other novelettes, Reading Between the Lines is limited to 26 lettered, signed, softcover copies, at the slightly ridiculous price of £8 plus S&H. 

We offered Reading to the Pandemonium mailing list for an exclusive first chance to buy. As a result, twenty of the twenty-six copies are already claimed. If you're interested in getting your own copy, email jared at It will not be available through any other retailer: online, offline or inter-dimensional. 

Reading Between the Lines will ship in May 2013.

On Criticism: Pornokitsch, Memes and the Shadow of Roger Ebert

Roger EbertRoger Ebert, the eminent American film critic, died on Thursday night. He was seventy. As ill as he had been for the last decade, the news of his death was still shocking. I followed him on Twitter. I read his reviews. I read his last announcement, made the day before he died, that he was going to be slowing down in his reviewing going forward. It was still a shock. As of now: a world without Roger Ebert.

Movie criticism was, for maybe 20 years, the first form of criticism people encountered. Reading the Friday papers, with their reviews of the week's new releases, very often informed the weekend's activities. And even if one didn't get to the cinemas before the film left, or the movie one was interested in wasn't showing anywhere accessible, it would be on the shelves of the local video store in less than a year. Watching a film, and agreeing or disagreeing with the review of it one had read: well, that's critical engagement in its purest form.

The first form of criticism they encountered, I should qualify, that mattered. We were certainly all encouraged to engage critically with school texts, for example, but that was work. Engaging with movies, and with movie reviews - that was fun.

Continue reading "On Criticism: Pornokitsch, Memes and the Shadow of Roger Ebert" »

'Don't ever try bacon and banana bolognese' - Frances Hardinge interviewed by Tom Pollock

A Face Like GlassTwo great authors (and Kitschies finalists!) for the price of one.

Tom Pollock, of The City's Son and The Glass Republic, exchanged a few questions with Frances Hardinge, author of A Face Like Glass, Fly By Night and a handful of other amazing, beautiful books. Two of our favourite authors - young adult or otherwise - having a chat about world-building, rebellion, character development and cheese. 


Tom Pollock: In A Face Like Glass's Caverna, you create a delightfully bonkers subterranean world: hallucinatory dairy products and amnesia inducing winery and bifurcated rulers and daring master thieves. It's a raucous, vivid and very broad mix. What made you pull in such a load of different fantastic elements into one novel?

Frances Hardinge: When I step out through my front door, I see a world that's raucous, vivid and a very broad mix. An imaginary world lacking those qualities would feel 'thin' and unrealistic to me. I'd find it hard to believe in it enough to write about it.

Continue reading "'Don't ever try bacon and banana bolognese' - Frances Hardinge interviewed by Tom Pollock" »

Underground Reading: Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn TwilightDragonlance. 

I'm afraid this isn't going to be a conventional review, more a series of, er, discursive notes, all rather indelicately glomming together to form one of my more specious arguments.

As far as an actual review: 

I think the Dragonlance Chronicles - Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984), Dragons of Winter Night (1985) and Dragons of Spring Dawning (1985) - is of a time and a (hand-wavey, theoretical) place. I've reread the three books recently, and that's not really an experience I'd recommend to anyone else. 

For the sake of this blog post/ramble, I'm more interested in the Chronicles influence, which I believe has been criminally downplayed.

So... what makes a book an influential fantasy - and by that, not just having an impact on one author, but across the entire genre? For the sake of some sort of structure, I'd argue that the answer is a combination of both innovation and ubiquity.

The former is pretty straightforward. Unless there's something innovative or new involved, there's no change to measure. Reiterating the status quo may be a type of influence, but we can't measure a negative. A book needs to do something different for us to track how those changes promulgate.

Similarly, without ubiquity - not just presence, but omnipresence - we can't assume that a book had the opportunity to make an impact. Arguably, for something to be an influence on this scale (genre-wide), it needs to be so large that it doesn't even matter if another author has read it. We can assume that someone in the publishing chain (from the rights team to the commissioning editor to the sales director to the copy editor to the agent) has read it and we can assume its presence is so vast that, even subconsciously or indirectly, its innovative presence has been somehow communicated.1

One example - just to set a benchmark. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is a major influence. It is the best-selling series in fantasy, and its presence on HBO has brought more new readers to genre fiction than anything since Harry Potter. Martin's work is a mainstream success, it has recognisable reference points that can be found in the fantasy books that followed and it is very, very good (that latter point isn't actually relevant in this context, but still a Nice to Have). It is hard to make any sort of claim that Martin's books aren't influential on modern fantasy.2 

Ground rules established.3 

Which brings us back to another series, predating Martin's by ten years, that possesses the same critical combination of ubiquity and innovation: Dragonlance.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman" »


Battle LinesThe results of this week's shopping expeditions.

Will Hill's Department 19: Battle Lines. A signed copy. Despite the size of the Department 19 books, I find them to be incredibly quick reads. I'd love a good, clean day without interruptions (or deadlines) (or work) (or all those other things that come with being an adult) to plow through this. I'm a big fan of the series, which is a bit, um, Dracula meets Gossip Girl (I mean that positively - I love Gossip Girl.) (Forbidden Planet)

Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap was something I picked up after reading the review on Practically Marzipan. High school existentialism. What's not to love? (Abebooks) 

Dava Sobel's Longitude is research for a 2014 Pandemonium project. (Mysterious!) (Abebooks again)

Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours (Cy Dethan and Graeme Howard) is a lovely-horrific graphic novel from independent publisher Markosia. I'm a big fan of their work - they've got a few delicious commercial titles propping up a whole stable of utterly bonkers, extremely edgy work. This book is also Pandemonium research, and damn if I'm not enjoying it. (More mysterious!) (Publisher's own site)

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Friday Five: Gateway Smut

With one notable exception, we've never actually written about porn on Pornokitsch. Or erotica. Or any other sort of sexually-charged literature. And, all joking aside, this is a huge and diverse genre, and, to an outsider, more than a little intimidating. What's it about? What's good? What are the classics? Where do we start?

Fortunately, we've got Tiffani Angus, here to explain where smut begins...


I read erotica. I write erotica. But as a young reader, I didn’t jump right in and start with Anais Nin. I built up to it, reading things that didn’t seem like smut. Gateway smut, if you will, where the sex scenes weren’t the most important parts of the book … but those few pages were always the most handled.

Flowers-in-the-attic The summer I turned thirteen, my best friend and I spent hours lounging around on the couch, scanning through her mom’s stacks of Harlequin paperbacks to find the dirty goods. This was the early ’80s, when the Harlequin status quo of virginal heroine gave way to new imprints that allowed the girl to have ‘done it’ already. Sadly, my friend’s mom didn’t read those, so we were left with vague (and much too short) sex scenes. Still, it was a start, albeit a disappointing one.

No Fifty Shades of Grey back then, being read openly on the bus. Your smut was either out there, in the form of Playboy, or it was buried beneath glossy dust jackets of ‘women’s lit’. But life finds a way, and the smut got found.

Here are five novels that that taught me about smut, and will probably continue to teach others as well...

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews: Children hidden away in the attic of a mansion, two generations of incest, and filicide. The spawn of several sequels (the final one finished by a ghostwriter after Andrews’ death), Flowers was popular among my young teenage friends and me because the narrator is a teenage girl like us... only trapped in an attic with her handsome, sensitive, strong older brother. Hey, he wasn’t our brother, so we could understand the attraction. With each page the adult characters’ actions became more reprehensible — and unrealistic — but we couldn’t look away. We knew the incest was taboo, but that’s part of what made it so hot  since the scenes weren’t terribly explicit.

Continue reading "Friday Five: Gateway Smut" »