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Fiction: '(0,0)' by Robert Sharp

Hi there, friend. Is this seat taken?


Your first time here, right?  You gonna eat? Well, let me tell you something right now, the biscuits here are amazing.  You should order the biscuits. I'm here most days, it's true, and most days I have the biscuits.  She makes them every morning and they’re just divine.

Janet! Two of the biscuits and gravy, honey?  And some coffee?

My name's John.

So you're a tourist? Not hard to tell. That hair on your shoulders looks like most of my students.  And I don’t mean the girls. You on vacation? Family? What?

Aw, Jeez, man, I'm sorry, I didn't know.  A lot of folks around here are out of work too. It's those Wall Street sonsofbitches who messed up, and it's you and me who have to pay. 

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Review Round-Up: Trouble OF GOR

I'll get back to longer reviews next week, but for now, a very quick run-down of some recent books and bits (the "What I Read During the DGLA Reviews To Keep From Going Insane" edition):

TroubleNon Pratt's Trouble (2014) is definitely getting a proper review from me next week, but this book was fantastic. Fifteen year old girl gets pregnant, new boy in town does her a favour by pretending he's the father. It feels like a rom-com set-up, and, to her credit, Pratt manages to treat extraordinarily heavy issues with a grace that keeps things from ever being ponderous or worthy. That said, Trouble isn't ever trite or silly - it is filled with powerfully, wonderfully real characters, dealing with stuff. The protagonists are smart and confused, good-hearted but overwhelmed. I wish rom-coms were this good. Great book.

John Norman's Tarnsman of Gor (1967) is... terrible. But I've been shouting "...OF GOR" so often on Twitter recently, I thought I should do some research into the primary sources. It took me about the halfway point until I realised I'd read this a zillion years ago as a kid. This revelation took so long because: a) Tarnsman is nearly identical to Burroughs' John Carter series and b) it is really, really boring. Words can't express it, but by the end, I was actually wishing for scenes of infamous Gorean sex-slavery, if only to break up the monotony. Alas, the prurience is few and far-between - apparently the proper 'fun' doesn't show up until later books. Instead, Tarnsman is the chronicle of a fairly insufferable guy who flies back and forth on a big bird, broken up by monotonous observations about the state of society. Weeeeeee.

William Sutcliffe's The Wall (2013) is another of last year's highly-praised YA books. It takes place in a (fairly heavy-handed) analogue of an Israeli settlement. The protagonist is a thoughtful (and very lonely) kid that finds a secret tunnel to the outside and, upon seeing what's happening out there, starts to question everything going on in here. I think The Wall seems cued for pretty young readers - but, even despite the simplicity of the language, it doesn't reduce the issues. Definitely one that'll be taught in schools: an empathetic protagonist that manages to see all sides of a (vast) problem, plus the compelling parallels with his own family. Not a particularly 'happy' story, but a good one, and oddly inspiring - there are no villains, just... people.

David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It (2013) was a pretty big disappointment. Ewalt seems like a great guy, but the main thing I took out of this book was: "He likes Dungeons & Dragons". Sub-theme: "He'd be fun to play with." Unfortunately, his story is just that - a story - and merely a superficial look at the origins, rise, decline and... wherever it is now... of one of the world's largest and most intriguing games. Everything is filtered through the lens of David's own experience, so the brief history of wargames is drowned out by his experience trying a game in the mall. Ditto, LARPing is captured by one session. It is a fast read, but a cursory one - made more frustrating by the fact that Ewalt does occasionally brush up against some really interesting points. What's happening to the 4e players that feel 'abandoned' by the company's disavowal of that edition? Are video gamers coming back to pen and paper, or are they still fleeing it? What's going on with the rise of Pathfinder and 'old school' gamers? Why did the company overextend and fail so badly? What did WotC - and then Hasbro - see in it? All of these are very, very lightly addressed, and invariably in a fashion that is somehow laudatory to the game and its creators. But the book spends more time going through Ewalt's personal relationship with the game (as extended metaphor) than, say, a bit of valuable muck-racking. (By contrast, this article in The Believer is fantastic, infinitely more balanced and, despite the shorter word count, a lot more detailed.)

Friday Five: 5 Fighting Fantasy Favourites

This week's guest is Jonathan Green, master of the gamebook. As well as writing several of the notoriously awesome Fighting Fantasy series, he's the author of YOU ARE THE HERO  - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, and as if that weren't enough, he's founded the first Fighting Fantasy Fest. The Fest - the first ever Fighting Fantasy focused convention is on 7 September, and features Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, amongst many, many others (more information in the Facebook group, too). 

Turn the page to begin.

The-warlock-of-firetop-mountain-2a8tbzwI love Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Always have, always will.

I remember the day my love affair with Fighting Fantasy began quite clearly. It was bright and sunny, and I had been dragged into town to go shopping with my mother. The torment was lessened by the promise of a visit to a bookshop. As I walked through the doors, I was hit by the smell of dusty carpets and freshly-printed books – a smell I still savour today. And there, on a small display in the middle of the shop, was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. At the time I had no idea who the two authors were, but the image of the mysterious wizard summoning a dragon from his crystal ball had me gripped. Then I opened the book… I was ten years old.

No one book has had a greater impact on my life than The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. If it had not been for that book, I would not have had my first Fighting Fantasy gamebook published, which would have meant I would not have become a freelance writer, and I would not have written YOU ARE THE HERO – A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.

To single out just five gamebooks from a list of over sixty titles is hard, but here are five which have all had an impact on my life, if only because they helped guide the choices I made in life that have lead me to where I am now.

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Reviewing the DGLA: The Best Epic Fantasy of 2013 is...

hack hack hackTomorrow night, the winners of this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards will be announced. Which makes this the perfect to pick my own favourites. 

To cover all possible bases, I'm going to try and address each category in three ways: which book best fits the DGLA criteria, which book is my personal 'best', and which book I think will actually win. It is worth noting that the past two years have proven me to be the worst ever at predicting the DGLA voters, so if you're having a last minute flutter, you'd do well to seek advice elsewhere.

Please join in with your own favourites and predictions!

Before we get stuck in, probably worth a reminder of what I've (arbitrarily) selected as the DGLA criteria:

  • Spirit of Gemmell: Is it in a secondary world? Is it traditional? Is it heroic? Is it epic? Is it high fantasy?
  • Excellence: Is it entertaining? Is it innovative? Is is not a reactionary piece of shit?

The explanations for all these criteria, and how I derived them, are all here.

Enough of that, let's start swinging the axe... 

The Ravenheart Awards for Best Cover

Here are the finalists (the links go to a pop-up image of each cover):

Best fits the criteria: Not sure this works here. I think they're all suitably epic, traditional and heroic (even Skarsnik, although its hero is non-traditional). Hard to give the edge to any one of them. Pass

My 'best': I think She Who Waits, Emperor of Thorns and The Republic of Thieves are all genuinely good covers. And Promise of Blood ain't bad. All in all, this is - by far - the best crop of covers we've ever had in the DGLA's short history.

My pick is She Who Waitsthis is a thriller-inflected cover that captures an atmosphere that's not only reflective of the book but enticing as all hell. (Caveat! In the interests of transparency, this is a Hodder & Stoughton title and I think the editor is nifty. So there you go.)

Who will win: Emperor of Thorns. As an aside, the DGLA is Brandon Sanderson's stomping ground. So how bad must the A Memory of Light cover be to not appear on this list? Ah. This bad. 

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Underground Reading: [Sort of] War Master's Gate by Adrian Tchaikovsky

[This is part of a series reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards.]

War-masters-gate-cover-artAdrian Tchaikovsky's War Master's Gate (2013) is the ninth book in the ten volume Shadows of the Apt series. The official summary from the publisher goes as follows:

Relentlessly advancing towards Collegium, the Empire is again seeking to break down its walls. The mighty imperial armies have learnt from their failures, and Empress Seda will brook no weakness in her soldiers. However, Stenwold Maker has earned his title, and the War Master has strategies to save his city. His aviators rule the skies – but the Wasp Kinden Empire has developed a terrifying new aerial weapon.

Yet the campaign may be decided far from marching armies and the noise of battle. In an ancient forest, where Mantis clans pursue their own civil war, the Empress Seda is seeking lost magic. Some dangerous shadow of old night is locked up among these trees and she is wants its power. Cheerwell Maker must stop her, at any cost, but will their rivalry awaken something far deadlier? Something that could make even their clash of nations pale into insignificance. 

As my need to rely on the official blurb might signal, I'm not able to review this one. It isn't because it was bad (it wasn't!) or because I don't think it is a legitimate contender (it is!), it is simply because this is the penultimate volume in a long-running series. It doesn't stand alone, but nor is it meant to. Since I've not read the previous books, I'm in no position to say what's going on or what this means.

Voting is over, but if you're looking for a few good thoughts on War Master's Gate for comparative purposes - a very glowing review at Fantasy Book Critic (which, gratifyingly, also reinforces that this should be read as part of the series) and a generally positive and slightly-spoilery one from Superior Realities - the latter seems more handy for those already familiar with the series.

But I've got airtime to fill, so let's talk about this predicament for a second, shall we? Why is not being able to judge this book interesting? And what does this situation mean for awards in general?

Continue reading "Underground Reading: [Sort of] War Master's Gate by Adrian Tchaikovsky" »

Fiction: 'Sackville Street' by Archie Black

Sackville Street: August, 1913

First it was Drogheda Street, long ago, until they widened it and tore it down and built it up again; huge grey buildings on every side, windows blank and faceless, a great European boulevard for Dublin. That was Sackville Street. It changed again, and how could it not, with all it saw and all it knew: the buildings this time not torn down but blown apart and burnt away until nothing remained but shells and shadows. They renamed it again, in 1924, for the King of the Beggars who stood at its feet. A new beginning. A final after. O’Connell Street. Stones have no memory. Statues have no voice.

But we do.

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Underground Reading: The Grim Company by Luke Scull

[This is part of a series reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards.]

The Grim CompanyLuke Scull's The Grim Company (2013) is the first in a trilogy of 'gritty epic fantasy' novels. Its world is a bleak one. The gods themselves are dead, and their rotting corpses fuel the power of the Magelords: the handful of semi-omnipotent wizards that engineered (and managed to survive) the great 'deicide' (brilliant word). 

Now, the world has settled into a vicious game of resource management as the Magelords and their subjugated city-states scheme against one another and hoard their remaining god-juice. Meanwhile, in their shadow, rebels and renegades all plot to topple the system entirely.

What happens?

The delicate balance of powers is toppled in the opening pages of The Grim Company when the Magelord Salazar dumps an ocean on his rival city of Shadowport - a grotesque show of strength that establishes him as the grandest of all magical poobahs in the region. It also annihilates tens of thousands in what is easily the book's most dramatic scene. The repercussions of this act echo throughout the land, and, of course, the book. 'Adventures' (in the loosest sense of the world) from all corners of the world are dragged into action, all part of a greater whole. Etc. etc.

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It's my present for ME!

Me!In an annual tradition that is now, uh, 2 years old, I buy a stack of books from the wonderful people at the Book Lounge in Cape Town. Then I mail them to myself and pretend I have a secret admirer with incredible taste.

Last year, I got a list of recommendations from Louis Greenberg, a man that knows his literature, and they were fantastic.

This year, I turned my Sauronic gaze upon the booksellers and asked them for a few recommendations. They'd already figured out my taste for genre fiction, so they ran my request through their special propriety independent bookstore recommendation algorithm ('Being Good at Their Job' - patent pending) and came up with a few nifty suggestions for my order. 

As most of these aren't out in the UK, I've included plot summaries. If you're interested in any of them, a few are available as ebooks, but I'd definitely suggest contacting the nice people at the Book Lounge (the shipping's also less than you might expect!):

Devil's HarvestAndrew Brown's Coldsleep LullabyStellenbosch, the present... The body of a young woman is found drifting in a river, and Detective Eberard Februarie is called in to investigate the case. A man struggling with his own demons, Eberard discovers secrets that lead him to an underworld of sexual hedonism, to the rotten core of this old university town. Stellenbosch, seventeenth century... Martin van der Keesel’s skill as a viticulturist is matched only by his cruelty towards the slaves who work under him. When he takes an interest in the Boorman family, and their young daughter Sanna, events are set in motion that will ripple through the early colonial society.

Andrew Brown's Inyenzi - From the moment he sees the beautiful Selena in the seminary grounds, the gates of Melchior’s world are thrown open to love and pain. A Hutu priest, Melchior’s love for the Tutsi woman is forbidden by his church, and stands in opposition to the ethnic hatred that will tear Rwanda apart in the 1994 genocide. In the eyes of the Hutu extremists, such as his childhood friend Victor, she is nothing but a cockroach - an inyenzi - that must be crushed. Heartbreaking, riveting and powerful, Inyenzi captures the innocence of first love, the beauty of Rwanda and the horror of the genocide in a stirring narrative that will be remembered long after the final page has been read.

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Big Jim's Shadow, Awards, Giveaways & Other Jurassic News!

All sorts of Jurassic London news lately. More details over on that particular neck of the Internet woods, but to round up:

Cover - big jim's shadowBig Jim's Shadow is out now! Four stories set in Dublin, 1913. Featuring work from Archie Black, Martin McGrath, Damien Kelly and Stuart Suffel - plus a cover from Jennie Gyllblad. Really proud of this one. It isn't particularly SF/F-y (although it includes an alt-history twist that'll make a big difference to the shared world of Pandemonium), but the stories are great examples of how to pack a lot of power into a very small space. Free on Kobo, Goodreads, Spacewitch. Pennies on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Sidewise Awards! Adam Roberts is up for "Tollund", his delightfully subversive tale from The Book of the Dead. (Find it here.)

British Fantasy Awards! Sophia McDougall is up for "Golden Apple", her deliciously haunting story from The Lowest Heaven! (Find it here.)

British Fantasy Awards! Again! Speculative Fiction 2012 is up for Best Non-Fiction! (Find that one here.)

British Fantasy Awards! Seriously! Joey Hi-Fi is up for Best Artist! Granted, Joey did spectacular work for so many publishers last year, but I've got a soft spot for his gorgeous retro starmap for The Lowest Heaven. (Very pretty.)

Giveaways! We've sent a stack of books - physical and virtual - to The Cultural Gutter to help with their annual Gutterthon. They're one of our favourite sites and we're proud to support them. Check it out!

Glaze! We only published the limited edition of Kim Curran's brilliant new novel, but if you missed out, there's now a paperback edition! (Find it here.)

New website! Well, template. The second one this year! But it was bugging the hell out of me, and it also needed to be responsive. And voila - now it is!

More! So many announcements! Starting this week, we'll be announcing or detailing a book each week - including a new novella, the details of Irregularity and the first peek at next year's big Jurassic anthology! 

As always - our mailing list gets first crack at orders, pre-orders and submissions...

Friday Five: Most Excellent X-Person

Today's Friday Five features three of your Pornokitsch mainstays - Anne, Jon and Jared - plus a special guest from J for Jetpack, all picking their favourite heroic mutant with the mostest (we'll do villains some other day, although you'll note a couple snuck in). Without further ado, let's crank up the Blackbird and go punch some damn evil!

Jon says:

MEmma Frost: Probably the least likely breakout figure of the countless characters that came out of Claremont’s years and years of X-writing, though tellingly it’s other people who’ve made her so. She was already on an interesting road when Grant Morrison and then Joss Whedon got their hands on her. Since then she’s become so much a part of the X-Men that it’s hard to remember a time when she wasn’t. Plus, even though she initially came off worst in the confrontation, you’ve got to love someone who sets out to nick Jean Grey’s man.

Rachel Summers (or Grey, what day of the week is it?): Actually the most interesting of the countless...yada yada.  Whether it’s rat-tail Rachel, Phoenix Rachel or inexplicable trenchcoat Rachel, they’re all great. My favourite thing about Rachel  is that during Avengers Vs X-Men, a series whose entire existence is predicated on the belief that a human being can’t possibly host the Phoenix force without turning into a planet-eating maniac, she casually notes that she hosted the thing for years without eating a single planet. (Except that time with the Beyonder, but let’s make allowances for dealing with someone with that hair.)

M: Ah, Monet St Croix! What’s not to love? Super strength, super speed, super arrogance, etc.  Not for nothing did Jubilee once snark that her main power was "being perfect". In ‘her’ first appearances she was secretly a merged version of two of her siblings, impersonating Monet while she was held in an extradimensional prison by their brother. No, seriously. Since she became herself she’s been a mainstay of Generation X, X-Corps, X-Factor and is now part of Brian Woods’ “X-Women” and generally kicks all  sorts of ass wherever she goes.  Monet is the X-Person I’d secretly like to be.

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