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Review Round-up: Jesus, Bridesicles and New York City

Three recent releases with very little in common.

Love-Minus-EightyWill McIntosh's Love Minus Eighty (2013) is coming this June. I've not read him before, but from what I understand, Mr. McIntosh is sort of an ebook/indie sensation, not in the "sells like Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking" way, but in the "there's this guy quietly making great books in the corner" kind of way. Love Minus Eighty is his first UK print publication and it is a corker.

A hundred years in the future, death isn't... conquered, but it is beat-up a bit. Cryogenics and medicine have both advanced spectacularly, so if you've got the cash, you can hang on for quite some time. If you don't have the cash, but you do have insurance, you can freeze yourself - give yourself that tiny bit of hope that someone, someday will pay to bring you back. And if you don't have the cash or the insurance? Well, look both ways before crossing the street.

One pervy side-effect of this brave new world is the idea of the "bridesicle". Beautiful women in fatal accidents - and without insurance - are carefully preserved. Rich men drop by, interview them, and, if they like what they see, the 'suitor' pays to thaw/fix the young lady in turn for marriage (and all that entails). It is... horrible. Mr. McIntosh lets us know exactly how horrible it is - prostitution, grinding misery, the soul-crushing loss of all agency. It is one of the most grim and least titillating visions of the future ever committed to print. 

Love Minus Eighty is the story of how this premise impacts a half dozen people: a frozen young woman (thawed and killed and thawed and killed over and over again with each interview), a struggling musician who inadvertently kills someone, the woman he kills, a slightly neurotic writer who runs a dating service and a host of minor characters. Love Minus Eighty is a love story, I suppose, but less about people than an ode to love itself: natural, messy, serendipitous, ungainly love. Everyone in the book is busily trying to programme or direct something that refuses to be tamed. Love can't be purchased, wrangled, controlled or predicted - a lesson that everyone in the book learns, occasionally to their own detriment. It should be romantic, but Mr. McIntosh is wisely even-handed. For every couple that wins, there's also one that gets away.

Continue reading "Review Round-up: Jesus, Bridesicles and New York City" »

Underground Reading: The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block

Girl with the Long Green HeartThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here

Well, one week after my least favourite Hard Case Crime (so far), I get to review one of my favourites (so far) - Lawrence Block's The Girl with the Long Green Heart.

Originally published as a Gold Medal paperback in 1965, The Girl with the Long Green Heart was reprinted a few times - an Abebooks search finds it in 1985, 1994, 1999, 2005. And, having read it, with good cause. This is a brilliant stand-alone novel of a faded con man, a beautiful woman and one very, very complicated scheme.

Johnny Hayden is out of prison and living a good, clean life. He works at a bowling alley, saves every penny and takes correspondence courses in hotel management. There's a broken down roadhouse at the edge of town, and Hayden's got his eye on it. At the current rate he's saving money, he thinks he could purchase it in the next nine years. Maybe. A man needs a dream, else he can't get out of bed in the morning.

Enter: Doug Rance. Doug, like Johnny, is a con man - just not retired. Doug's particular art is the smile. Whereas Johnny is naturally trustworthy, Doug's unnaturally charming. Together, Doug suggests, they'd make an unstoppable team. And Doug's got the target for them already prpped - a wealthy (and greedy) small town millionaire named Gunderman. Johnny does his best to resist Doug's pitch but Doug uses the dream against him. Johnny could sweat out a decade in a bowling alley... or make thirty grand in one fell swoop.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block" »

Super 8 and the Big But

Super-8So, we finally got around to watching JJ Abrams' Super 8 a few nights ago, and it was really fun! I enjoyed it more than I expected. Jared enjoyed it more than he expected. It fell into that particularly robust niche of (arguably peculiarly American) storytelling: a boy reconnects with his estranged father. Their story opens with them as far from each other as they can be; by the end of it, they’re playing catch.

There’s a second, interrelated story being told, too: The kid is weird, man: awkward, geeky, likes monster movies and comic books. You know the type. And the father? You know his type, too: distant, damaged, normalized; doesn’t really know how to connect with his kid. In Super 8, the kid’s a model-making weirdo and his dad is deputy sheriff.

The story ends the same way, though: they still wind up playing catch. No matter how different they are as people, the can come together as normal fathers and sons do.

(‘Playing catch,’ I don’t need to point out, is a metaphor. Though often a literal one! In Field of Dreams, they play catch. Literally! Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? They ride off into the sunset together. Literally! You get the picture. Fathers and sons, finally seeing eye to eye.)

I’m an American. I grew up with these stories. They’re everywhere. They mean a lot to me. They resonate.

I’m also a geek. I grew up with those stories, too – how weird kids connect with their ‘normal’ authority figure parent-types. (Or normal kids and their weird parents, but that’s a slightly different kind of story.) Everyone comes to understand each other a little better. Ties are bound. These stories also mean a lot to me. They also resonate, y'know?

But you know what else I am?


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Archaelogy & Unearthed

Only two new purchases this week:

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet. A recommendation from Niall Harrison, looks bonkers and fits my whole "read more stuff in translation" ethos. (Abebooks)

Doctor NikolaDoctor Nikola by Guy Boothby. Doctor Nikola predates Fu Manchu, but there are more than a few similarities. Boothby's character is one of the great EVIL MASTERMINDS of fiction, the recurring villain in five different books. The copy I found is a battered first edition - I mean, properly battered. But the cover art is still there, showing the Doctor's piercing gaze and his (rather bored looking) black cat. It may become my new profile picture... (eBay)

On the "not-purchased" front, this week did involve a lot of digging about in archives. In the run up to The Book of the Dead, I've been doing some work with John Johnston of the Egypt Exploration Society. Although The Book of the Dead (out October!) is all original fiction, we wanted to showcase some of the lost classics of mummy fiction as well. Mr. Johnston has an amazing knowledge of the genre and I'm always happy to go scrounging for stories. We've found a few treasures, including a few stories that don't appear in the archives - which means I'll have a lot of typing to do... The results of this project will be called Unearthed, and will be an eBook, out this September.

I also fell down an rabbit hole reading the papers of the Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne. As one does. One letter to Maskelyne (the fifth Astronomer Royal), sent in July of 1781, was from a correspondent in America, Joseph Willard. Willard concludes his letter (containing observations of longitude, based on a recent solar eclipse) with this lovely note:

"I hope, Sir, no umbrage will be taken my writing to you on account of the political light in which America is now viewed by Great Britain. I think political disputes should not prevent communications in matters of mere science, nor can I see how any one can be injured by such an intercourse."


Two pulp authors tackled this week - Helen McInnes (good lord, those books are boring - I've never read so much about ham sandwiches and Swiss driving!) and Jonathan Craig (much better - his Selby and Rayder books are positioned halfway between pulp and procedural, I'm good with that).

Reviews not forthcoming, I'm afraid - this week also looks like it will be a repeat of last one: Hard Case Crime, KJ Parker and "rushing around like crazy to meet deadlines". 

The Kitschies: Submissions & 2013 Judges

The Kitschies, presented by The Kraken Rum, are very proud to announce the 2013 judging panels. These ten individuals will be searching for the most progressive, intelligent and entertaining books containing elements of the speculative or fantastic.

Red & Golden Tentacle judges (Novel & Debut):

Inky Tentacle judges (Cover Art):

More detail on the judges and their backgrounds can be found here. We owe a huge thank you to last year's judges - Patrick Ness, Rebecca Levene, Ed Warren, Lauren O'Farrell and Gary Northfield. They worked extremely hard and did an exceptional job. Bex and I [Jared] have been judges for several years now and we are both saddened (and slightly relieved) to be stepping down.

Submissions for 2013 titles are now open. There are a few changes from previous years. Most notably, Inky submissions now need to come in separately (books will no longer be considered for Cover Art automatically) and the prize no longer requires physical copies of books - eBooks are welcome. Please read the submissions requirements carefully. Even if you have submitted in the past, we strongly suggest taking a few minutes to look them over.

And, as with previous years, the judges ask for the books to arrive "early and often", rather than in one giant crate in November.

We wish the best of luck to everyone!

Underground Reading: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

The Colorado KidThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime publication, one every week. You can follow along here. After a slight hiatus, we're back with #13 - Stephen King's The Colorado Kid.

This is going to be a very structured review - a bit like a middle school book report. Here's how it'll go:

  • What happens in The Colorado Kid
  • What I like about it
  • What I don't like about it
  • The greater significance 

There's a method to my madness (or, to be more accurate, a madness to the method), in that I've got a fairly complicated emotional relationship with it. Not that, like, this book once shot my dog, but that, between the author and publisher, there are a lot of big weighty "brands" here, and it is important to (try to) treat the text itself as a discrete entity.

So, here we go. What happens in The Colorado Kid?

Well, without being funny, not much. The Colorado Kid is a story within a story. A young reporter, Stephanie, fresh out of college, has the unenvious position of intern to a local paper on a tiny island off of Maine. It is now late in the summer and, much to her surprise, she's fallen in love with the town and the two elderly goofballs that run the paper.  

During the course of one day, Dave and Vince (the goofballs) test Stephanie on her powers of observation and deduction. Why don't they tip the waitress more? Why didn't the visitor from Boston trust them? Etc. Stephanie impresses them (she's clearly impressed them the whole summer), so they reward her with a real story - an unsolved mystery that took place on the island in 1980.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King" »

The Lowest Heaven - Limited Edition

Cover - the lowest heavenThe Lowest Heaven is our new anthology of original fiction, published to coincide with the Visions of the Universe exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. It contains seventeen new stories of (vaguely) science fiction, each inspired by one of our closest celestial neighbours.

For added fun, the anthology is illustrated with photography and artwork from the archives of the Royal Museums Greenwich - and we've found some amazing (and eclectic) treasures. 

The whole thing is wrapped up in gorgeous art from Joey Hi-Fi. As well as the cover, he's designed a fold-out map of the Solar System that's included in the 100-copy hardcover limited edition. Joey talks about his work on The Lowest Heaven in a new interview over at the Royal Maritime Museum's Collections blog

The limited edition is on sale exclusively through the Royal Observatory - and you can pre-order your copy now.

As a quick reminder, the book includes stories from Sophia McDougall, Alastair Reynolds, Archie Black, Maria Dahvana Headley, Adam Roberts, Simon Morden, E. J. Swift, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Mark Charan Newton, Kaaron Warren, Lavie Tidhar, Esther Saxey, David Bryher, S. L. Grey, Kameron Hurley, Matt Jones and James Smythe.

The Lowest Heaven (in all its various formats) is released on 13 June. 

Items from the Royal Observatory’s collection of astronomical photography will also be on display as part of Visions of the Universe, alongside images from world-class telescopes and recent space missions. The exhibition opens in June at the National Maritime Museum.


Benjamin-percy-red-moonWell, that was a week - two panels, an awards ceremony, a launch and an AMA! All of it, well, bonkers and delightful. And that's not counting the stuff we missed: book launches by Gary Northfield and Al Ewing, talks by Lauren Beukes and Benjamin Percy, SCI-FI LONDON mayhem and the inaugural Write the Future. That's one geeky, geeky seven days.

[Psst. As always, if you were at "Storytelling without limits" with Lauren Beukes, Ben Percy and Warren Ellis - email us any photos and please, please share any feedback, suggestions or advice!]

But, you know what we get out of week like this? Upgraded books. Rather goofily, that's what I like to think about books that I've already collected that now I get to take to the next level (Elzar style - and yes, I use that clip a lot. But seriously, BAM! Spiceweasel!). 

This week, that meant transforming proofs and first editions into signed proofs and first editions:

- The Shining Girls (Our box of South African editions showed up as well. If our flat shined any more, it'd be radioactive. We're a shine shrine.) So we've now got... signed SA paperbacks & hardbacks, a signed UK proof, a signed viewfinder promo thing (idea stolen from Adam Christopher, who did it first and made me jealous) and... an unsigned UK first edition. Because in all the chaos, that's the one obvious thing and we never got it done. Hrmph.

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Dark Societies and AMA

Anne's hanging out with Kitschies' finalists Frances Hardinge, Adam Roberts at Dark Societies tonight. Starts at 6.30 pm and costs £5 at the door (£3 if you're a member of the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club). Other panelists include Tom Hunter (Clarke Award), Rob Grant (Clarke Award and SCI-FI London) and author Jeff Norton. Should be a fun and provocative panel.

Later, I'll be doing an AMA with Justin Landon for Speculative Fiction 2012. Many of the contributors should be there as well, so should be a very good time. I've never used Reddit before, Justin's a terrible influence on me and I'll be up way past my bedtime (kicks off at midnight, UK time). Thankfully, this is the internet, so no one will ever see it. Right?