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Underground Reading: Night Walker by Donald Hamilton

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

Donald Hamilton was prolific writer of hard-boiled espionage fiction. I've always classified him as slightly more macho than his contemporaries (especially Stephen Marlowe), but also, in his favour, a bit edgier. 

Hamilton wasn't scared of writing flawed characters, and his success with the modern reader relies a great deal on how well those characters (and their flaws) have withstood the test of time. Novels I've previously reviewed include The Steel Mirror (another standalone, very good) and The Shadowers (part of the Matt Helm series and eergh). I've read about a half dozen more, and, to spoil the ending: I think Night Walker is a perfect expression of Hamilton's strengths and his weaknesses.

So let's get to it, shall we?

Night Walker (1951, Hard Case Crime in 2006) begins with Lieutenant David Young reluctantly returning to the Navy. He served with distinction in World War II, but his career ended when his ship caught on fire (and he, not without reason, had some serious PTSD). He's now been called back to active duty. After sacrificing his train fare to a drinking binge, David is stuck hitching his way to the base to report.

Fortunately, a kind-hearted stranger is there to give him a life. The two bond for a while and, just when David starts to relax, the stranger hits him on the head with a wrench, crashes the car and sets it (and David) on fire. KIDS, NEVER HITCHHIKE.

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Stephen King's Joyland: Pulp & Popcorn Tour

JoylandStephen King's Joyland - the latest Hard Case Crime - comes out next Friday. The author is encouraging people to "stir their sticks" and go buy a copy of the book from their local bookstore. (A great philosophy, although apparently we're all pretending "Ur" never happened. If King's good with that, so am I.)

To support the stick-stirring, Titan have put a vintage popcorn machine on tour, accompanied by four "Hollywood Girls" (sounds like a burlesque night, actually from the book), dressed to match Glen Orbik's cover (shown on the right).

The machine and its escorts will be hitting:

  • Crimefest (Bristol) on June 1st
  • Foyles (Charing Cross) on June 4th (although there will also be popcorn handed out at the other Foyles locations)
  • Forbidden Planet (London) June 7th
  • Stoke Newington Literary Festival on June 9th

Pulp cosplay is nifty, but free popcorn? That's wonderful. I look forward to crunching my way around bookshops over the next few weeks.

It is worth noting that the Joyland limited editions are going quickly - the signed ones are already gone (no surprise there), but the hardcover, with Robert McGinnis art and a Dell Mapback-style reverse by Susan Yule, is still available. (Please note: the "Hollywood Girls" will be dressed for the Orbik cover, not the McGinnis one. Else they'd be very chilly.)

Jack Vance 28.8.16 – 26.5.13 by David Gullen

Truly, one of the great ones has gone.

First and foremost, my thoughts are with his family and friends and I hope they can all take comfort from how much Vance’s writing was loved by fans and admired by writers and critics. I am right there with them. Jack’s writing, every single word, is on my bookshelves. I have read his books until they fell apart and then I bought new ones, and will continue to do so.

Blind since a disastrous operation to preserve his weak eyesight in the 1980s, Vance continued to write using software called BigEd, and producing some of his finest work. His writing style is unique – flamboyant, colourful, sardonic. Every character from fey to king, space pirate to demon, is a master of loquacious erudition, able to cut the banter with sinister menace or dry humour.

During rehearsals Zamp attempted to simplify and modernize certain obscure phrases, and again found himself in controversy with Gassoon, who insisted on fidelity to the original. “All very well,” cried Zamp, “but speech is spoken that it may be understood. Why present a drama which simply bewilders everyone?”

“Your mind lacks poetry,” Gassoon responded sharply. “Can you not imagine a drama of hints and dreams which totally transcends the animal titillations and spasms and hooting sounds upon which your reputation is based?…Authenticity must be our watchword.”  - "The Magnificent Showboats…" (pg.121)

That he was good is not in question – he’s an SFWA Grand Master and has won a clutch of awards .  The New York Times described him as “one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices”. You can find a dozen, two dozen writers such as George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Liz Williams, Dan Simmons and Robert Silverberg that have been influenced by him. In fact these and many others contributed to the anthology set in Vance’s future Earth - Songs of the Dying Earth.

Vance4From Amazing Stories

And that he was loved by fans is obvious. No other author has ever enjoyed such engagement. In 1999 a group of fans began what was to become VIE – the Vance Integral Edition, a six-year project to create a definitive hardback reprint of Vance’s entire body of work – "the restoration of Vance’s works to the state intended by their author."  Produced with Vance’s full co-operation, this totalled 45 volumes.

Vance’s stories transported me to worlds of wonder, of beautiful nightmares, of fey magic - all so real I felt I had been there, stood on the ground and walked through those incredible cities and landscapes myself. There’s nothing more I can say except: "Thank you, Jack Vance, for so many worlds, so many, many hours of pleasure I found in your books."  

Raise a glass, Mr. Vance liked beer, and so do I. The man is gone, jazz musician, sailor, writer. His work remains. Foreverness.


Recommended reading:

Lyonesse trilogy (Lyonesse: Madouc received the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel)

Night Lamp

The Dying Earth

The Eyes of the Overworld

The Man in the Cage (Edgar Allen Poe award)

The Dragon Masters (Hugo award)

Araminta Station

Bad Ronald

You can buy e-book versions at Vance’s own shop.

You can leave your tributes and thoughts at Vance’s official site.


David Gullen's short fiction has appeared in Catastrophia,  Art from Art and ARC Magazine. More on his website.

Collections +1

The DamnedA few bits and bobs that bolster existing collections:

John D. MacDonald's The Damned. For years, the first (and only) hardcover edition of a JDM book was the first British printing, generally done by Robert Hale. This is true for the Travis McGee series, especially - making many of the 1960s Hale printings quite valuable. The tradition was revived by Hale in the 2000s, and they produced lavish (perhaps a better word is "lurid") hardcovers of many of JDM's standalones. Again, for many, the first UK printing and the first hardcover. These modern Hales are almost universally horrendous - serious eyesores. And this copy of The Damned is no exception.

Interestingly enough, I'm not sure these even sold especially well. They're pricy (this one was £17.99 in 2005), and most of the second-hand copies either go for twice that or pennies. The latter category, like this one, are ex-library books. My deductive reasoning sez: the books only sold to collectors and institutions. Anyway, the JDMs were all in an sulk because I praised Ed McBain on Friday. They're needy, so I got them a new friend. (Abebooks)

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Underground Reading: The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain

The Gutter and the GraveThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here. Last week was one of the best so far, Lawrence Block's The Girl with the Long Green Heart. The tough task of following Block falls to Ed McBain. Can he handle the pressure?

The Gutter and the Grave (2005) was first published in 1958 as I'm Cannon - For Hire, a Gold Medal paperback written by no other than "Curt Cannon". The rough and tumble Cannon appeared in a few short stories, but was one of McBain's shorter-lived experiments - his handful of appearances falls far short of the 344 books in the 87th Precinct, for example. For the Hard Case Crime edition, the Cannoning was excised entirely: McBain's own name went on the cover and the protagonist was renamed "Matt Cordell". [Side note: I'd love to know why.]

I really like Ed McBain. My handy catalog says that we've got 112 McBain books around the house, which is probably selling my fandom short as I'm sure I haven't tagged every pseudonym. This collection even includes a copy of I'm Cannon - For Hire, I'm proud to say. However, the thing is about McBain, I'd never say I loved him. He is invariably a high-quality reading experience (I'm making him sound like a car), but only extremely rarely does his work go so far as to knock my socks off.

John D. MacDonald, by contrast (198 books - eep!), is of infinitely more variable quality - pig's ear to silk purse and everything in-between. Yet the two share more similarities than just being my two most obsessed-about authors: both MacDonald and McBain had careers that spanned genres and, perhaps more importantly, decades. They both wrote populist fiction that reflected the trends, themes and concerns of the time(s). McBain and MacDonald both specialised, if you'll pardon the apparent contradiction, at being flexible. If they weren't literary chameleons, they were certainly commercial ones.

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The Lowest Heaven - Launch Party - 13 June


We would be delighted if you could join us for the launch of The Lowest Heaven on 13 June, between 6 pm and 9 pm at the National Maritime Museum.

Guests include over a dozen of the anthology's contributors, including... Alastair Reynolds, James Smythe, E. J. Swift, David Bryher, Maria Dahvana Headley, Simon Morden, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Mark Charan Newton, Lavie Tidhar, Adam Roberts, Esther Saxey, Matt Jones, Archie Black and Sophia McDougall, as well as Marek Kukula, the Royal Observatory's Public Astronomer and your noble & hard-working editors. 

The launch will be part of the festivities surrounding the late night opening of the new (and spectacular) Visions of the Universe exhibition, featuring a stunning collection of astrophotography. As well as readings, signings and general shmoozing with your fellow book lovers, there will be games, music, comedy, cocktails and (as noted) an amazing new exhibition.

Entry is absolutely free, but booking is required - and tickets are going quickly. (Visions of the Universe is not included, but can also be booked ahead of time.)

The Lowest Heaven limited edition hardcover will be available on the evening. You can pre-order your copy through the Royal Observatory shop (and you may want to - they're also going very quickly!).

We've also set up a group on Facebook,  join in for the latest updates about the launch!

The Lowest Heaven, The Readers, Knives and a Rocket

No new stuff here today, but a quick round-up of some other adventures:

Cover - the lowest heavenThe first reviews of The Lowest Heaven are out! Anne and I have been bouncing around like ferrets, we're really delighted that people seem to like the astounding stories. We do (hell, we love them), but the authors have done amazing work and it is great to see how people respond to it.

Starburst says:

Overall it is a well-crafted ensemble and the solar system theme never seems like a constraint.... Starburst has no hesitation in recommending it to any serious reader of science fiction. (8/10)

And says:

There can be no questioning the value of this artful anthology: it’s as inspiring as it is inspired. But The Lowest Heaven is also a timely and ultimately touching reminder of what we stand to lose by turning inwards as opposed to venturing again into the unknown. [This is a long and wonderful review that talks about many of the stories, their art and their themes - check it out!]

Plus Joey Hi-Fi talks about his celestial inspirations over on the Collections Blog of the National Maritime Museum

With The Lowest Heaven being an anthology, the brief was to create a piece of artwork that would tie all the stories together. Since the book features stories based on various celestial bodies in our Solar System – creating a bespoke solar system map seemed like an interesting way to do that. Plus, having a fascination with all things cosmic (bordering on Kosmikophilia), I couldn’t resist. I used to draw maps of alien solar systems as a kid – peppered with space battles of course. So this is a childhood dream come true.

If you're interested in how he made his (gorgeous) cover, he also shares a few of his working secrets. There are also some close-ups over at A Dribble of Ink.

The limited edition of The Lowest Heaven is on sale exclusively through the Royal Observatory's shop. This means that, no matter what Amazon or any other bookseller says, you can't order it through them! The paperback and ebook editions will be coming in early July.

The launch party will be on 13 June at the National Maritime Museum as part of the Visions of the Universe late night. We'll have a separate blog post about this, but you can book (for free!) here and tell us you're coming on Facebook here.

In other news, you can hear me rambling with Gav as a guest host of The Readers. We talk about small press publishing (the Jurassic strategy is revealed as "a series of fortuitious accidents"), the difference in "quality" between literary and genre fiction ("yes and no") and other meaty topics. It was a lot of fun.

Plus, the reread of The Folding Knife continues over at We're now over halfway through (booo!), including the break to discuss one of Parker's shorts, "One Little Room an Everywhere".

Finally, after launches in London and Bristol (fancy!), Adventure Rocketship has now blasted off into the wild. It has cool new stuff from China Miéville, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Liz William, Michael Moorcock, Lavie Tidhar, Tim Maughan and many others. Plus, as previously noted, Anne tackles the the soundtrack to Ladyhawke and I wibble on about magic in Phonogram. (Basically, buy it for the real authors, get two bonus wibbles for absolutely free!You can get signed copies through Forbidden Planet.

New Releases: The Skybound Sea by Sam Sykes

Sky-bound-sea-sam-sykesIt is fair to say that this, Sam Sykes' The Skybound Sea (2012) is a review I've been trying to write for almost five months. It isn't a straightforward one, so, with that in mind, I'd like to ask two favours, gentle reader:

  • Bear with me, as this will be even more wibbly and discursive than usual
  • Read the whole review (or at least skim it), as any single thought or line won't work out of context
  • (Bonus favour: don't stomp on me when I use phrases like "gentle reader", as much as I deserve it)

The Skybound Sea is the conclusion of Sam Sykes' debut trilogy, The Aeons' Gate. Lenk, Kataria, Gariath, Asper, Dreadaleon and Denaos are adventurers - a profession quickly (and repeatedly) established as lower than pondscum. At the beginning of Tome of the Undergates, Lenk & Company were tasked with retrieving the titular tome. By the end of that book, they had managed to embroil themselves in an island-hopping apocalypse, with beasties of all sizes and planar origins competing for the prize. This is still the situation as The Skybound Sea opens - the adventurers are now in an extreme state of (for lack of a better word) decay, and evil is everywhere

Physically, the group is utterly delapidated. They're injured, hungry, bruised, battered and miserable. Emotionally they're no better off - at some point in the trilogy, everyone has been captured, knocked unconscious, horrendously violated, betrayed or left for dead. They've got some mental wounds - deep ones. Lenk, for example, has been wrestling with nothing short of demonic (or is it angelic?) possession. He's got a lot of little voices in his head, and they'd really like him to kill stuff. His enemies. His friends. Anyone to hand. To top it off, his uncomfortable thing with Kataria has gone volcanic (not in a good way) - they've got smouldering red hot lust, boulders of shame and, uh, ash clouds of weird racial issues. 

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New Releases: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Blood SongBlood Song (2013) is the first volume in Anthony Ryan's Raven's Shadow series, a new epic fantasy saga published by Orbit. Blood Song has been lurking around as a self-published ebook for a while (gaining insane reviews) - now it is being released as a book-book. 

Blood Song is the story of Vaelin Al Sorna. As a child, he's abandoned at the gates of the Sixth Order by his father, Battle Lord (sort of "high marshal" to King Janus). The orders are monastic organisations - each has its specific focus (2: philosophy, 5: healing, 6: kicking ass), and joining one is pretty much a life long commitment. You forget your family, forget your past - do nothing but train, learn and study. The curious thing is that the Orders are devoutly irreligious - the "Unified Realm" (four kingdoms squished together) has long eschewed belief in gods and myths. When the Orders are rooting out "heresy" (the Fourth Order's task), they're persecuting faith of any sort. A nice little twist.

Of course, forgetting one's past is easier when you join the Order as a street urchin. When you're Vaelin, heir to a noble family and child of a Big Name, it is harder to shed the outside world. In the epic fantasy tradition, much of Blood Song focuses on Vaelin's training years. As well as all the anticipated difficulties that come with joining an organisation of lethal lunatics, Vaelin's also got his own issues to deal with. Why did his dad dump him here? Who was his mother, really? Are people trying to kill him (that is, people besides his classmates and instructors)? Why do some of his fellow students hate him so much?

I don't think it gives too much away to say that the answers to most of these questions are wrapped up in revelations of Vaelin's Chosen One-ness. Vaelin's destiny has been predetermined by a lot of different players - his mother, his father, the king, the princess, the Order, the other Orders and forces even more esoteric than that. It doesn't help that, as Vaelin stumbles through his training and his first combat experiences, he keeps bouncing against other prophecies. Prophecies that, in a resolutely secular world, ought not exist.

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Pandemonium Updates: New & Old Titles [Updated!]

New titles, old titles, things moving around:

Cover - speculative-fiction-2012Speculative Fiction 2012 is now available as an ebook for the Kindle. It took some doing, but thanks to the hard work of Gav (@gavreads & @handebooks), we got there, and last year's best online essays and book reviews are now packaged up in a convenient online format. That is to say, we've made an digital book out of a print book out of digital work. [Amazon US ($3.99) | Amazon UK (£2.99)]

All proceeds from Speculative Fiction are donated to Room to Read.

Meanwhile, Lost Souls is now available as a paperback! Our third anthology, Lost Souls collects over twenty forgotten stories of woe and triumph and ghosts and Popes and all sorts of interesting things. [Amazon US ($9.99) | Amazon UK (£7.99)]

On other fronts...

Amazon is very, very slowly making all our chapbooks free. 1853 is free for both the US and the UK. Stocking Stuffer 2012 is now free (in the US only). All our chapbooks are already free on Kobo, but if you've got a Kindle, they're steadily coming your way...

The Lowest Heaven limited edition is on sale (pre-order) exclusively through the Royal Observatory (e.g. don't order it through Amazon or anywhere else, because that way you won't get a book!). The paperback and ebook are being released on 3 July. If you're keen to read this (amazing) new collection first, I'd suggest grabbing your copy before they're all gone...

A blast from the recent past - Lou Morgan's "At the Sign of the Black Dove" (from Stories of the Apocalypse) is now up on Tales to Terrify as audio. Hop over and have a listen!

Don't forget to submit blog posts to Speculative Fiction 2013 and your short stories to Ash!

We're aiming to announce two new titles next week and next spring's anthology in mid-June. Crikey.

UPDATED: Forgot to mention - we dropped off a half-dozen copies of Reading Between the Lines and A Town Called Pandemonium (the Cafe de Paris hardcover!) at Forbidden Planet. They're not up on their website yet, but if you're interested in snaffling one of the last few copies of these lovely signed & limited editions, get in there...