Monday, 31 December 2012

The Song of Achilles - Book Review

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. (Synopsis from Amazon)


The Song of Achilles is a retelling of The Iliad for a modern audience, written in a literary style rather than a historical epic. In a lot of ways it’s similar to Mary Renault’s books, but I’m going to avoid comparing this to Mary Renault at every turn as, let’s face it, no author is really going to come out of that well.

Madeline Miller writes with a beautiful, almost lyrical style that at the same time is very easy to read, like a gentle breeze. This immediately gives the book a wistful, almost dream-like quality which I thought was surprisingly effective. It may be based on The Iliad, a very brutal and earthy book, but this novel does something completely different with the subject matter. I found that the dreaminess emphasised the idea that this is a semi-mythical story, slightly vague and ambiguous from so many retellings and so many years of history. However, despite this the characters felt very solid and alive, and their fears and longings were real. Often a dreamy book can create passive, dull characters, but this never happens here. Madeline Miller handles this difficult style perfectly, creating something both lovely and moving.

Rule 34 - Book Review

DI Liz Kavanaugh: You realise policing internet porn is your life and your career went down the pan five years ago. But when a fetishist dies on your watch, the Rule 34 Squad moves from low priority to worryingly high profile.

Anwar: As an ex-con, you'd like to think your identity fraud days are over. Especially as you've landed a legit job (through a shady mate). Although now that you're Consul for a shiny new Eastern European Republic, you've no idea what comes next.

The Toymaker: Your meds are wearing off and people are stalking you through Edinburgh's undergrowth. But that's ok, because as a distraction, you're project manager of a sophisticated criminal operation. But who's killing off potential recruits? So how do bizarre domestic fatalities, dodgy downloads and a European spamming network fit together? The more DI Kavanaugh learns, the less she wants to find out. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Okay, so I’ll admit that part of the reason I wanted to read this book was to see if it really was written in the style of an internet puppy. For those baffled by that comment, see Priestgate 2012. However, that’s not the only appeal of the book. It’s a detective story set in the very near future, with minimal but incredibly interesting science fiction elements. It’s also not set in the USA or London, which makes a nice change. The story takes place mainly in Edinburgh, and the culture, the people, the language, etc, were all quite familiar to me, bringing back happy memories from four years at university in Scotland (I was 1 hour from Edinburgh by train). So, lots that grabbed my interest.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A New Split Worlds Short Story from Emma Newman - A Fair Exchange

Today Emma Newman has stopped by with a guest post and a very special treat - a short story from The Split Worlds! I was lucky enough to read a review copy of the excellent Between Two Thorns, the first novel in The Split Worlds trilogy coming out next year, and you can read my review here. To sum up - I adored it!

Over to Emma...

In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and called "Between Two Thorns". This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra tit-bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It's also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.

Friday, 28 December 2012

I Shall Wear Midnight - Book Review

It starts with whispers. Then someone picks up a stone. Finally, the fires begin. When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer...

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren't sparkly, aren't fun, don't involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy. But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the series of Tiffany Aching novels by Terry Pratchett, set in the Discworld. I’ve enjoyed all the other ones, and this didn’t disappoint either.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Thank You Santa!

Woohoo, it's been a very bookish Christmas this year! Want to say a big big thank you to my UKYABB Secret Santa, who sent me three gorgeous hardback books that I've been longing to read... can't wait!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Delivery from the Brownie Fairy!

In the post today...


(they are yummy)

Charmed Life - Book Review

“There is one absolute rule,” said Chrestomanci. “No witchcraft of any kind is to be practised by children without supervision. Is that understood?”

No witchcraft? Gwendolen Chant - a gifted witch in the making - has other ideas and is determined to get the better of the great enchanter. Her brother Cat, who has no magical gift, is powerless to stop her. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Diana Wynne Jones has been one of my favourite authors ever since I was a little girl. There’s something almost indefinable about her books, something so magical that makes reading them a truly special experience.

And yet for some reason I have never read the Chrestomanci series. Don’t ask me why – they’re some of her most famous books. Perhaps they simply never had them at my library as I was growing up, and so I wasn’t aware of them. Still, thankfully I’m now putting this right, beginning with book one: Charmed Life.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

2013 Witches and Witchcraft Challenge - Sign Up Post

I'm signing up for my first challenge of 2013! I really enjoyed participating in a few challenges this year - it's been a great way to get a new blog going and to discover other blogs too. Looking forward to joining in with a variety of challenges in 2013... and it'll be nice to actually be able to begin in January this time, too!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Between Two Thorns - Book Review and Cover Reveal

Between Two Thorns is a fantasy novel by Emma Newman, first in an exciting new series due out in 2013. The cover has now been revealed and it's gorgeous! This is from the same cover artist behind the fabulous covers for Cassandra Rose Clarke's books, beginning with The Assassin's Curse.

Monday, 17 December 2012

UKYABB Secret Santa

Squee! Look what arrived today... a present from my Young Adult Book Bloggers Secret Santa (front present). Yay!

I'm going to be very restrained and put it under the tree, and wait til Christmas to open it.

Thank you Secret Santa! And thanks Lynsey of Narratively Speaking for running the whole thing. It must have taken a lot of organising.

The Magnificently Magic Readathon Wrap Up

This was my first read-a-thon, and I really enjoyed it! I'll definitely be taking part in more of them in the future. It was hosted by Faye at A Daydreamer's Thoughts, and you can see her wrap up post here. There were mini-challenges (all huge fun!), giveaways every day, a twitter chat (which unfortunately I couldn't join because I already had plans to see The Hobbit), and of course, lots and lots of reading. The theme was magical books, either stories about magic or stories that just feel magical. Everyone picked great books - a lot of Christmassy romances! - and I saw quite a few that I'm going to search out for myself.

So how did I do? Well, of course, as soon as I decided to do a read-a-thon, about everything that could distract me did distract me! But I'm still quite pleased with how much I read, and I did manage to meet my personal goal. I read 2 books and got about 15% into a third:

I also took part in all the mini-challenges. You can see my efforts here.

I want to say a big thank you to Faye for hosting the challenge, to the people who came up with mini-challenges and ran giveaways, and to everyone who took part. It's been so much fun!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit - Film Review

This probably doesn’t need much introduction, as it would be pretty hard not to be aware of The Hobbit by this point. The news that the story has been split into three films has been met with quite a lot of scepticism (the book is shorter than any one of the three Lord of the Rings books, and those only got one movie each). So, was it a good decision? And does the film live up to the magic of the book, a beloved childhood classic?

Well... not quite. And I think I managed to go into the cinema without too high expectations. The Hobbit isn’t bad, it just isn’t as good as it should have been, and I don’t think the 3-film decision was a good idea.

My husband and I were talking about it before going in, wondering just how on earth they were going to get three long movies out of the book. I joked that it would probably take an hour for them to even leave the Shire. Oh dear, be careful what you joke! It wasn’t an hour exactly – more like 50 minutes. As in, if this were a TV series, one whole episode would have been dedicated to setting the scene, meeting the characters, and then setting off on the quest. This would actually have been great if it were a TV show, but it wasn’t, and I do think things need to move a little quicker in movies.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Railsea - Book Review

Railsea, by China Miéville: On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Ding ding ding! We have a new favourite book of 2012!

Friday, 14 December 2012

MM Readathon Mini-Challenges

I decided it would be better to create a separate post for the Magnificently Magic Readathon mini-challenges, otherwise the first post will get very long!





Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Magnificently Magic Readathon Has Begun!

The Magnificently Magic Readathon, hosted by Faye over at A Daydreamer’s Thoughts, begins today! The goal? Read books about magic, books that contain magic, or books that feel magical in some way.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Hollow Pike - Book Review

Something wicked this way comes...

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid - after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark - and a twig snaps... Hollow Pike - where witchcraft never sleeps. (Synopsis taken from Goodreads)

Hollow Pike actually has what I think is a slightly misleading presentation – the cover, the blurb, the general feel of the book scream supernatural to me. I was expecting more overt magic in the story. However, this is a case where my expectations were trumped by something better (and this coming from a person who really can’t get enough magic in my fiction). Instead of going for the typical supernatural or Craft-style witches-play-with-their-powers-until-they-unleash-a-darkness-they-can’t-control kind of plot, James Dawson has created a much subtler and creepy, and very enjoyable, story. This is closer to a kind of psychological slasher-horror than it is to the usual paranormal fiction I’ve read.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Magnificently Magic Read-a-thon Sign Up

On December 15th-17th I’m going to be joining in a read-a-thon hosted by Faye of A Daydreamer’s Thoughts, themed on magical books, to celebrate a magical time of year. This is a wonderful idea, and I never could resist a book about magic...

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Harry Potter Studio Tour

On Saturday I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour near London. This is a big site with two hangars full of Harry Potter stuff – memorabilia, costumes, sets, models, props, animatronics, concept art, architectural models, special effects, and tons of information about the making of the Harry Potter movies. Between the hangars is an outside area where you can stop for a glass of butterbeer and hop on the Knight Bus... or take a picture of yourself driving crashing the Weasleys’ car. So much fun!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Tales of the Nun and Dragon - Book Review

“Come, rest your weary bones, draw a flagon and hark to the tales of Nuns & Dragons, of bravery and steadfastness in the face of mighty and implacable foes. Settle down and indulge yourself in wild flights of fancy brought to life by your fellow travellers.”

Tales of the Nun and Dragon, edited by Adele Wearing, is an anthology of short stories and one poem by a range of different fantasy and horror writers, some well-known, some new names. There are a lot of stories inside, all with their own unique interpretation of the nun and dragon theme. Nuns, dragons, nuns verses dragons, nuns who are dragons, nun on dragon action (yep, that happens), pubs called The Nun and Dragon... not to mention lizardmen, knights, magic, time-travel, the end of the world, rituals, flying ships, dragonflies, baby dragons, undead dragons, and all manner of strange beasts. After reading these stories you’ll never think of nuns or dragons in the same way again.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Case of the Deadly Desperados - Book Review

Introducing P. K. Pinkerton, Master of Disguise. When twelve-year-old P. K. (Pinky) Pinkerton's foster parents are murdered by Whittlin' Walt and his gang of ruthless desperados, Pinky goes on the run. He's forced into hiding with Ma's priceless last possession: the deed to a large amount of land and silver mines in the Nevada Mountains. But relying on disguises will only keep Pinky hidden for so long, and the desperados are quickly closing in... (Synopsis taken from Goodreads)

The Case of the Deadly Desperados is the first in a new series of mystery books from The Roman Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence. It follows P. K. (Pinky) Pinkerton, a twelve year old private eye in the year 1862. This series seems to be ‘The Western Mysteries’ if you’re in the USA, or ‘The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries’ if you’re in the UK, because apparently our children don’t really know what a western is anymore. Hopefully this series might change that, if the strength of the first book is anything to go by. It’s an exciting, action-packed adventure in which Pinky never seems to be out of danger. All the traditional elements of a western are there, as well as plenty of interesting facts about the real Wild West.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sharps - Book Review

Sharps, by K. J. Parker, is a fantasy set in two neighbouring kingdoms that are finally enjoying an uneasy truce after a long and terrible war. As some factions desperately attempt to keep the peace while others plot to spark conflict once again, a team of reluctant fencers is sent to represent their country in a special tournament. One slip could cause a political incident; one mistake could mean war. And the fencers soon find that they are expected to fight with sharps, not the blunt performance weapons they are used to.

Sharps is ‘low fantasy’, a story set in a world that is definitely not our own, but without magic or strange creatures, featuring no supernatural beings or non-human races. It could be historical fiction except for the fact that it does not fit into any actual historical setting of our world. The setting felt vaguely Renaissance to me, but different enough to feel like a true fantasy world. This is a very different kind of fantasy from the dragons and wizards of other stories, or even the gritty battles and adventurers of the more modern fantasy epic. Dealing with the aftermath and politics of war, it is realistic but not grimdark, and though it follows the fate of two countries, it is essentially a character driven story, narrowing in on a specific set of people and exploring not only how events affect them, but how they could change the future of their nations. For a story about sword-fighting, it is a more thoughtful, slower-paced and political book than one might imagine.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

India, Birthdays, and Lots of Books

I haven’t posted on here in a while, having been in India and very busy, but now I’m back! It certainly seems like a lot longer than a few weeks – I feel like I’ve done so much. So, here’s a quick catch up of what I’ve been up to.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Does Size Matter? - Fantasy Shorts

It's Short Story Sunday, and I've written an article over on Fantasy Faction about fantasy short stories. Containing information about the history of short stories and fantasy, what makes short stories different from longer novels, and places to find them... click here to read more!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fantasycon - Convention Report

Over the weekend I went to Fantasycon, a convention held each year for writers, editors, publishers and fans of fantasy (mainly books and short stories, but also some comics and films). This year it was held in Brighton at the Royal Albion Hotel, beginning on Thursday with a meet and greet for early arrivals, and ending on Sunday with the British Fantasy Society Awards and the Dead Dog Party.

This was my first Fantasycon and I was a little nervous. I knew a few people from Edge Lit, but this was a much bigger event and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t need to worry – everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and I soon started meeting tons of new people as well as catching up with others. I can certainly see how Fantasycon has earned its reputation as the friendliest con!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

#StoryEachNight is One Year Old!

#storyeachnight, a project started by Nicole Cushing to read a short story every night and then tweet about it, with a mini-review if you like, is now one year old! Read more about it and about short stories in general in a series of blog posts, including a guest post from me, in the next week on Nicole Cushing’s blog: Laughing at the Abyss.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ante's Inferno - Book Review

Ante’s Inferno, by Griselda Heppel, tells the story of 12-year-old girls Ante and Florence, as they journey through the Underworld with a boy called Gil who died a hundred years earlier. Following a path that leads to the centre of Hell, they face strange dangers and mythical monsters, while at the same time learning more about each other. For Ante, worse than the dangers of the Underworld are the fears that Florence may actually be dead, and that she, Ante, may have killed her.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Short Story Sunday - Clarkesworld to go Pro?

A quick piece of short story news for this Short Story Sunday. Clarkesworld, one of the bigger speculative fiction online magazines (and probably my current favourite) is aiming to go pro! That means they would like to pay pro-rates to their writers as well as a reasonable wage to their staff. This is great news, and I hope Clarkesworld is successful!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Updates - My Week in Woolly Retro Goodies, Needles and Milestones

I've been a bit quiet on here and on Twitter this week; things are a little crazy! A sudden opportunity has come up to go to India with my mother, so I've been racing about like a mad thing trying to get passport and visa sorted out, and getting far too many needles poked in both arms. The injection count is up to 8 different diseases and viruses at the moment - my body is extremely unimpressed with me.

In other news, I now have a Kindle, and so I will be able to accept books in Mobi as well as Epub formats to review! It currently has 158 Tor ebooks loaded on it, but I can't say that I haven't already been browsing through the Kindle store, wondering what my first purchased ebook will be... I think I'm leaning towards a short story collection from an indie publisher. Any recommendations?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Hugo Award 2012 Short Stories - Review

Today the 2012 Hugo Awards will be presented at Chicon 7 (WorldCon), the ceremony beginning at 8pm CDT. And, since it’s also Short Story Sunday on my blog, I thought I would take a closer look at this year’s nominated short stories.

Homecoming, by Mike Resnick

This is probably the most ‘sci-fi’ of the bunch, though none of them are particularly focussed on SF/F genre tropes – with the obvious exception of John Scalzi’s story, which I’ll talk about below. Homecoming was originally published in Asimov’s.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Magic or Madness - Book Review

Magic or Madness is a YA novel by Justine Larbalestier, telling the story of fifteen-year-old Reason Cansino. Reason has been brought up by her mother, Sarafina, moving constantly across Australia in order to elude Reason’s grandmother Esmeralda, who has claimed custody of her. Sarafina has told Reason that Esmeralda performs all kinds of terrible rituals in the name of magic. When Sarafina is taken to hospital, Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda. Reason begins to explore the house, hoping to learn the truth about Esmeralda. However, when she steps through the mysterious back door and into New York, she is forced to wonder if magic might be real after all.

This is a clever book, with more layers to it than I first expected. After the first few chapters I was sure that Sarafina was completely nuts, and that Reason would have to slowly come to terms with the fact that Esmeralda is not the monster Sarafina made her out to be. Sure enough, Sarafina is taken to a hospital for the mentally ill, and Reason finds that Esmeralda’s house is not as Sarafina described it. Esmeralda herself seems completely normal. Then, slowly, a more sinister picture begins to emerge. There really are weird ritual objects hidden around the house. There really is the corpse of Sarafina’s pet cat in the cellar, with its neck slashed. The boy who lives next door seems to believe magic is real and that Reason can use it too. And then Reason steps through the back door into another country and suddenly everything changes.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

From Dark Places - Book Review

From Dark Places is a short story collection by Emma Newman. The stories are mostly very short (three or four pages, usually), and deal with the darker, bizarre side of human nature. These are all character-focussed, subtle, yet deeply moving stories, and often quite funny too, exploring where the magical meets the ordinary, and where supernatural horror connects with the horror of the human mind.

The stories are beautifully written. Emma Newman seems to have a touch for capturing all the little things people do that make them human, their vulnerabilities and quirks, their grief and their humour. All her characters feel completely real and believable, and it is these characters that really drive the stories. The author delivers the messages and the horror within the stories with just the right tone, subtly yet insistently, and with a very good feel for pacing. About two lines in, I was hooked every time. The stories grab hard, and do not let go until the end.

Short Story Sunday

I’ve decided to begin my first regular feature on this blog – *drumroll* – Short Story Sunday!

I absolutely love short stories; they’re something very different from a longer novel or novella, and something very special, too. A short story, naturally, must be briefer than a book. It has to come at the story a little differently, usually focusing more on character, building a world with the slightest, deftest touch, and making expert use of suggestion and symbolism. A short story can relay as much, and in some cases more, than an entire novel. Short stories are also a wonderful medium for exploring new ideas, for taking risks and for blowing genre boundaries completely out of the picture.

And they fit nicely into a lunch break too!

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Babel Fish Challenge

So, you might have heard a lot of talk about DRM lately. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management; it's that digital lock on your ebooks that stops you lending them to a friend, or transferring them from one device to another. It's annoying for readers, and there's evidence to suggest that it actually has no affect on piracy. Because of this, some authors and publishers have been pushing to get rid of it altogether.

And now Tor, the SF/F imprint of Macmillan, has decided to do just that. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Tor are by no means the first; many smaller publishing houses, and even the Pottermore site (Harry Potter books), have been doing this for some time. But Tor is the first of the publishing 'giants' to take this step, and hopefully others will soon follow suit. Tor's new DRM-free ebooks can be bought directly from their online store. (The link takes you to the UK site. For the US click here)

But what does this have to do with Babel Fish??

Friday, 10 August 2012

Poison - Book Review

Poison, by Chris Wooding, is the story of a sixteen year old girl called Poison whose sister is stolen by phaeries. Poison, unwilling to accept her sister’s disappearance or the changeling left in her place, sets out to find the Phaerie Lord and demand her sister’s return. Poison soon finds herself pitted against weird and terrifying fairytale creatures. When she faces the mysterious figure of the Hierophant, the most powerful of the Lords, she finds herself in a fight to control her own fate, as well as the future of all humanity.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Alchemist of Souls - Book Review

The Alchemist of Souls is a fantasy alternate-history by Anne Lyle. Set in Elizabethan England, it follows two characters: the down-on-his-luck swordsman Mal, and Coby, a girl masquerading as a boy, who is working as the tireman of a theatre company. When Mal is hired to protect the Skrayling ambassador during his stay in London, and Coby’s theatre company is to act in a competition in the ambassador’s honour, their lives are drawn together. Meanwhile, something very strange and sinister is going on, something that involves the Skrayling creatures of Viking legend discovered in the New World. As Mal learns more about the Skraylings’ powers, he realises that England’s alliance with the Skraylings may be under threat, and that his own soul is in jeopardy.

Monday, 23 July 2012

White Cat - Book Review

White Cat, by Holly Black, tells the story of Cassel Sharpe, a teenage boy from a family of curse-workers. Cassel has always felt alienated, neither curse-worker nor ‘normal.’ His mother is in prison, his brothers either absent or indifferent, his father dead, and the fellow boarders at his school mistrustful. Worse than this, he lives with a terrible secret and struggles every day to face the crushing guilt it causes. When he begins sleepwalking and a strange white cat visits him in dreams, he starts to unravel a sinister plot, as well as some shattering truths about his family and his past.

White Cat is a dark, witty and entertaining story set in an alternate universe in which a form of magic known as ‘curse-working’ exists openly. Those who can’t curse-work are suspicious of those who can, and the curse-workers are considered dangerous – little more than criminals. Laws have been put in place prohibiting curse-work, which do not distinguish between the bad (killing, injury, manipulating memory, etc) and the good (bestowing good luck, using emotion-work to help heal people, etc). This means that the curse-workers are often manipulated or threatened into a life of crime, or driven into it by desperation.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Fish who had Funny Eyes, and Other Stories...

My dad is moving house soon, so I've been looking through numerous boxes of old things. Old books, letters, UCAS forms, photos, beady-eyed cuddly animals, and so many memories... I'll be walking around in a little cloud of nostalgia for weeks! In between all the rummaging and amongst the old toys, I found one of the first stories I ever wrote:

The Fish who had Funny Eyes

Once a fish gave someone a fright, and she ran away. The girl told her dad and he came down the path to the pond. "Help!" yelled her dad, and they both ran away back up the path.

Her dad told her mum, and they all walked down the path to the pond. "Help!" yelled mum, "let's go!" So they ran back up the path and into Granny's house.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Edge Lit - Convention Report

Edge Lit is a new convention for writers and fans of SF&F and horror, held in Derby (UK) and run by Alex Davis. This year’s Edge Lit took place yesterday, on Saturday 14th July at The QUAD, Derby.

With all kinds of authors and publishing professionals present, eleven different panels and talks, seven workshops, and fourteen author readings, Edge Lit was a packed and exciting day. Unfortunately, one of the guests of honour, Geoff Ryman, couldn’t make it, but Graham Joyce stepped in and gave a very interesting Question and Answer session.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Mass Effect 3 Endings Post Extended Cut DLC - What's the Right Choice?

So, following on from my review of the Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3 (read it here), I wanted to discuss the (now four) different endings in a little more detail, taking into account how the Extended Cut has affected them. Warning – this will be a LONG post. When I mentioned all the speculation in my bio, I really wasn’t kidding. 

Obviously, massive spoiler alert! I'm going to talk about the ending to Mass Effect 3 in depth, Extended Cut DLC included, so if you haven't played it yet, get away now while you can!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC - Game Review

It’s pretty hard to avoid spoilers while reviewing an extended cut of the ending of a major game, so if you haven’t had a chance to play the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC yet, be warned that spoilers are going to abound. Bookmark this page and come back when you’ve experienced the new ending ;-)

Mass Effect 3 had one of the most controversial endings ever, certainly in video gaming history. Many (the majority of?) fans disliked it, and the backlash was so strong even Forbes covered it. Reactions ranged from well thought out criticism, to the absurd (but funny), and even some pretty excessive hate.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Hufflepuff Love - Sorted This Way

Image by Jmh2o (Wikimedia Commons)
I just found something awesome I'd like to share - this Hufflepuff Pride Video on YouTube.

I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter (books and films), but there has always been something about the world of Hogwarts that I find slightly disturbing. And that’s the house rivalry. Splitting students into houses is pretty common in British schools (I’m not sure if this happens in other countries so much?), but this is clearly not a good idea where wizards are concerned. House rivalry is supposed to encourage healthy competition and working in teams, but when ‘competition’ involves the power to blow things up, perhaps the wisdom of this needs reconsidering. Particularly when the school decides to give each house its own common room in what seems like an attempt to actively discourage the different houses from socializing after school hours. Why this pointless factionalising wasn’t trashed after the whole Voldemort thing is beyond me. Why exactly do they want to be encouraging more rivalry and prejudice in the wizarding world? And why oh why at the end of the seventh book is Harry Potter encouraging his own child to engage in it? After everything he’s seen?

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Zoo City - Book Review

Zoo City also has one of the best covers I've seen

Zoo City is an Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning urban-fantasy book by Lauren Beukes. It tells the story of Zinzi December, an ex-journalist and recovering drug addict who became ‘animalled’ after her actions led to her brother’s murder. Now she carries around a sloth, as well as a nasty drug-money debt and a lot of guilt. The day she gained Sloth she also developed a new, magical talent for finding lost things. When she is hired to locate a missing girl, one half of a famous teen pop duo, the case begins to lead her to darker and more dangerous places than she had expected.

Zoo City was not quite what I was expecting, but then, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. Perhaps something in which the fantasy or science fictional element was more prominent, not necessarily the focus of the plot, but at least more central. In this, the animals, the magic, the strangeness, are all just there, while Zinzi gets on with things. But you know what? This is a large part of what makes Zoo City so brilliant. Not only are the magical elements never fully explained (which I often prefer anyway), they are not even really important. Except that they are, just not in the ways the reader might think. Animals and the consequences of being animalled are vital to the characters and their world, as well as allowing the author to explore ideas of prejudice, guilt and the stigma attached to rehabilitated criminals, amongst other issues, without ever becoming preachy or heavy-handed. Each element that makes the world strange – the animals, the undertow, the mashavi – is revealed almost as a mundane detail in the background while the missing-person mystery takes centre stage. And then, suddenly, all these little details become vital as the plot takes a darker turn, and the existence of the animalled becomes central to the story after all. This seems like a risky approach, but it is a risk that really pays off.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Embassytown - Book Review

 Embassytown has just won the 2012 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. In his thank you message, China Miéville described the book as a homage to some of the science fiction authors he grew up with and was influenced by, including Ursula le Guin, Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, and Joanna Russ. This is quite a lot for Embassytown to live up to, but thankfully, it really does. (And I say that as a complete unashamed fangirl of Ursula le Guin, whose review was one of the main reasons I decided to read the book.)

Embassytown, by China Miéville, is a science fiction story about human interaction with an alien race called the Ariekei, whose Language (capitalised here on purpose, as it is in the book) is very different from any human language. The Ariekei, “insect horse coral fan things,” speak with two mouths but one consciousness, and they cannot lie. In fact, they cannot speak in, or seemingly even perceive of, abstractions. This makes communication extremely difficult, sometimes all but impossible. Only specific humans – the Ambassadors – can speak Language, and so all interaction with the Ariekei must go through them. One day, sent by Embassytown’s suspicious mother-planet, a strange and impossible new Ambassador arrives to speak to the gathered Ariekei diplomats. The consequences are unexpected, and devastating.

This is a book about language and its complexities, but also about the disturbing and shattering effects one society can have on another, the clash of two very different cultures, imperialism and power politics, and a colony struggling to find its independence. Finally, it is about the breakdown of the Ariekei culture, the attempts of the humans to prevent this for various reasons of their own, the Ariekei struggle to change their often simplistic worldview in an ever-increasingly complicated world, and the resulting mix of triumph, understanding and lost innocence this brings. However, it seems some readers have fixated a little too much on what the book’s Big Message might be, forgetting that it is also (and first and foremost) a truly fantastic, gripping and emotional story. By the end I had been taken on such a spiralling journey of shifting sympathies that I felt exhausted. But in a good way. The ‘can’t put down, staying up all night to see what happens’ kind of exhausted that only comes with a really compelling read. This is easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

British Books Challenge 2012

Just signed up for the British Books Challenge, to read and review 12 (or more) books by British writers in 2012. Starting a little late (well, ok, more than a little late), so I have some catching up to do! Find out more here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Economics in Spec Fic - Podcast

In my last post I reviewed the latest issue of Clarkesworld magazine, in which an article on economics in speculative fiction particularly seized my imagination. I wished that the article could have gone a little deeper into economics in popular fiction, as well as into some well-known sci-fi such as Star Trek, but this was beyond the scope of the article. The article provided fascinating ideas about how to include economics and trade when world-building, but it left me wondering - what is the potential future of economics? Are the futures presented in some science fiction novels - and all the currently-popular dystopia stories - actually possible or realistic?

Then I came across this interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, in which he discusses economics in science fiction and fantasy, with John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley from the podcast 'Geek's Guide to the Galaxy' (which is well worth checking out, by the way). Clearly economics is a hot topic in spec fic right now, and this interview is fascinating.

Just some of the subjects covered: Asimov, The Foundation and psychohistory; how alien attack will end the recession in 18 months; socialism and capitalism in sci-fi; the economics of building a death star; Star Trek's utopian vision; and what evil will really look like in the future.

Listen to the interview here.

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Clarkesworld Issue 69 - Review

Target Detected, by Mark Davenport

 Clarkesworld is an online, monthly science-fiction and fantasy magazine. Every issue contains at least three short stories, as well as non-fiction articles of interest to science-fiction and fantasy fans. The latest issue (issue 69, for June 2012), includes three stories, ‘Immersion’ by Aliette de Bodard, ‘If the Mountain Comes’ by An Owomoyela, and ‘You Were She Who Abode’ by E. Catherine Tobler; and two articles, ‘Energising Futures: How SF Fuels Itself’ by Stephen Gaskell, and ‘Neither the Billionaire nor the Tramp: Economics in Speculative Fiction’ by Jeremy L.C. Jones, as well as a quick look at the statistics behind Clarkesworld’s readers and authors by the editor-in-chief, Neil Clarke.

All three stories are strongly character-driven and genuinely emotional. Each deals with a distinctly different subject, but there is a beautiful, bittersweet feeling that runs through all three, complementing each other nicely. One non-fiction article, dealing with sources of energy and fuel in science-fiction, is very interesting, but it is the article on economics in speculative fiction that is particularly fascinating, as well as being a subject that's rarely touched on. These articles approach speculative fiction from a more technical and factual perspective, looking at world-building and what powers these new worlds, providing a contrast to the very character orientated approach of the writers in the three fictional pieces. I enjoyed all of it, though for me the highlights were certainly the stories (which is probably how it should be).

The following is a more in-depth review of the stories and articles in the issue.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

Photo by Alan Light
Sad to hear that Ray Bradbury, one of science fiction and fantasy’s greats, author of Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Martian Chronicles, among many others, died June 5th aged 91.

On the website io9, which broke the news earlier today, Bradbury’s grandson Danny Karapetian shared these words about his grandfather: "If I had to make any statement, it would be how much I love and miss him, and I look forward to hearing everyone's memories about him. He influenced so many artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and it's always really touching and comforting to hear their stories. Your stories. His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know."

Ray Bradbury was one of those authors who clearly loved writing and books so deeply and so passionately that it came through in every sentence, drawing readers in and bringing out the same joy in them, for the future, for the imagination, for vivid new worlds and mythical tales, and for the wonderful power of stories. He will be remembered mainly for the books mentioned above, but for me, some of his short stories have had the deepest effect. In many, such as ‘R is for Rocket’ and ‘The Golden Apples of the Sun,’ Bradbury provides a magically optimistic, exciting vision of the future. Amongst today’s more jaded, dark and ‘gritty’ speculative fiction, it’s always nice to be able to read back over Bradbury’s stories and feel that childlike, hopeful wonder for the unknown again. This does not mean that Bradbury thought the future, or human nature, was all roses. There are stories that warn against the misuse of machines and weapons (for example, ‘The Murderer’ and ‘The Flying Machine’), or that comment on racism and prejudice (e.g. ‘The Big Black and White Game’). But there is a refreshing sense of hope and love for life that runs through most of his short stories. He seems to have always remained the boy from ‘The Sound of Summer Running,’ with his new tennis shoes and his awe of a beautiful future that is alive with possibility. It is well worth picking up a collection of Ray Bradbury’s shorts.

Many authors are deeply indebted to Bradbury and the influence he has had on their own work. On his blog, Neil Gaiman expresses the beauty of Bradbury’s fiction and the profound effect that it has had. Gaiman also writes that Bradbury “was kind, and gentle, and always filled with enthusiasm, and the landscape of the world we live in would have been diminished if we had not had him in our world. And I am so glad that I knew him.” Read his tribute here.

Bradbury liked to tell a story about meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, when he was a young boy. At the end of the show Electrico touched the boy with an electrified sword to make his hair stand up, and commanded him to “Live forever!” Bradbury said that he started writing every day since then, and never stopped. Bradbury’s stories are so loved and so popular that he does indeed seem to have fulfilled Electrico’s command – he will never be forgotten.