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- "The Father of Locks" by Andrew Killeen (reviewed ...
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- "The Choir Boats" by Daniel Rabuzzi (Reviewed by L...
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Official Andrew Killeen Website
INTRODUCTION: I recently found out about "The Father of Locks" by Andrew Killeen and the synopsis and reviews made me order it on the spot from the link above; I waited for it with bated breath and when it arrived I dropped everything I was reading and what a ride it was; though only 330 pages long it is filled with true wonders and paints a superb picture of the Golden Age of Harun al-Rashid of Arabian Nights fame; while the book is self-contained and solves its threads, I hope it will be continued with more adventures of the two main heroes.
OVERVIEW: "The Father of Locks" is a gem of a book - a must for any lover of Arabian Nights as myself, written pitch perfect in its style as stories within stories and taking place where else but in the Baghdad of Harun Al Rashid, but with a modern sensibility that fits the story to the end. While the plot despite its side-complications is fairly predictable, that is not the main attraction but the atmosphere, the stories themselves and of course the characters.
Most notably the title one, Abu Nuwas aka "Father of Locks" so named for his hairstyle, famous poet, lover of boys, girls and wine and luckily living in a time and a place that allowed the indulgent consummation of all at least as long as it was not too publicly scandalous. A somewhat reluctant agent of the famous Wazir Jafar of Arabian Nights fame and sort of court poet to Harun, Abu Nuwas' first meeting with the Caliph is just hysterical, though it almost turned tragic and as recounted later represents a perfect sample of how the book goes.
The narrator and other main character is a young Irish youngster who was sold by his father to Al Andalus traders for wine; he becomes a sort of surrogate child to the two Arab trader brothers, but later when their ship comes back to the Mediterranean and is boarded by Christian pirates, he is captured and cruelly raped by the captain. He barely manages to escape swimming after killing his rapist at night, only to be sold in slavery on the North African coast.
Luckily his passion for learning and ability to spin tales gets him bought by a kindly master Hermes with ambitions of training promising young boys to be sold later at higher mark-up as entertainers and such .
Things turn otherwise and the young Ismail al-Rawia (The Teller of Tales) - as he calls himself - finally makes its way through the Caliphate to the legendary Baghdad where his most fond wish is to read some ancient Greek scrolls.
By (mis) chance he comes to the attention of Jafar and only his quick wit and poetry quoting saves young Ismail from mutilation for theft; the Wazir likes the boy's quick wit and in typical Arabian Nights fortune reversal he sends Ismail to Abu Nuwas as his apprentice to help him investigate a demon-like apparition in Baghdad. Abu Nuwas is in trouble with creditors as usual, while his tongue cannot help but make things worse so it's up to Ismail to save the day from the beginning...
Baghdad is in ferment too since famous visitors, namely an embassy from the far off Franks of Charlemagne is coming and Harun al-Rashid or more precisely his ministers, would like good relations with the upstart Frankish King since his immediate neighbors and rivals happen to be the Caliphate's two big western thorns, the Cordoba emirate where the former Ummayad dynasty - overthrown just a generation ago by Harun's grandfather - still rules and the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
The novel stands at about 300 pages and is divided into 24 "story chapters", with a prologue that will be important later, an epilogue that leaves us wanting more, a map of the world as seen through Arab eyes cca 173 AH (789 AD), a historical note and a very useful glossary of names.
While the book is technically narrated by Ismail, the "stories within story" format actually means that there are a lot of narrators from Abu Nuwas, to a soldier in the Caliph's army that introduced chess to the Chinese Empire, to a widow who moonlights as a witch, an empress and more. The geographical scope of the stories is impressive from Al-Andalus (Iberia) to China as is their narrative power.
ANALYSIS: What made "The Father of Locks" a book that not only exceeded my high expectations but was also a page turner with scenes that made me roll with laughter, but also melancholic and even philosophic ones?
First and foremost it is the narrative style, which is just pitch perfect Arabian Nights, from the Islamic names in all their complexity - there is an appendix helping the reader figure them out - to the lavish Caliphate descriptions, to the casual violence, explicit sexuality and superb (mostly original Arabic and Persian) poetry, all elements that are indispensable to any true rendition of the Arabian Nights.
The Harun al-Rashid Baghdad of 789, so lovingly described here is impressive; while there is poverty, violence, gangs and mischief, there is also a relatively free spirited atmosphere at least as long as the proprieties are publicly followed, the judges are independent, there are libraries and love of learning and of course poetry reigns supreme. The apex of civilization at the time, at least outside of the Chinese Empire of which we get a glimpse too in one of the tales.
Harun himself is both enlightened and capricious, cruel and generous while the enigmatic Jafar rules behind the throne; the scenes with the Caliph and Abu Nuwas are both hilarious and unforgettable and the vanity of the Caliph and his courtiers is shown through lots of small details, but is best seen at the royal hunt which needs to be read to be believed, being described so funnily and spot on...
In contrast, the uncouth Franks while great warriors and intriguers make a poor showing against their learned Islamic hosts, though their ambassador who is now writing the Hrouodland (later known as "Chanson du Roland") epic in Latin verse is quite learned too and has great exchanges with Abu Nuwas. And to top it all we have Abu Nuwas' "prophetic words" about the Roman (Byzantine) Empire dying slowly, but the West (ie the Franks) rising and how one day they will come to "claim our lands" and...
Ismail renamed Al-Walid (Newborn) by Abu Nuwas is endearing in his naivete, though he is quite resourceful as befits someone who learned to make his own way from childhood. While more at home with the gangs of teenagers from the city, he manages to acquit himself reasonably well with the high and the mighty, though the mysterious and beguiling Rus warrior-girl from the Frank delegation may be his undoing after all...
Overall just superb, a novel to enjoy and immerse in as well as hopefully the first of more to come featuring al-Rawia and Abu Nuwas.
This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 75 books.
Since we have quite a few books and we want to keep the post manageable and easily navigable, so people do not give up halfway through the list, we are doing just covers, titles, links, but no blurbs. Click on any link and you will find more information about the book or the author(s).
"The Choir Boats" by Daniel Rabuzzi.Release Date: September 1, 2009.
"Hell" by Robert Olen Butler.Release Date: September 1, 2009.
"Flight of the Renshai" by Mickey Zucker Reichert.Release Date: September 1, 2009.
"Intelligent Design" by Denise Little (ed). Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks” by Mike Resnick. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Sea Glass” by Maria V. Snyder. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“The Storm Witch” by Violette Malan. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Vampire a Go-Go” by Victor Gischler. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Walking Dead” by C.E. Murphy. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Dark Road Rising” by P.N. Elrod. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Trick of the Light” by Rob Thurman. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Evil at Heart” by Chelsea Cain. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“City of Fire” by Laurence Yep. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Rosemary & Rue” by Seanan McGuire. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Night Runner” by Max Turner. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Soulstice” by Simon Holt. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“The Midnight Charter” by David Whitley. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse” by Kaleb Nation. Release Date: September 1, 2009.
“The Alchemaster's Apprentice” by Walter Moers. Release Date: September 3, 2009.
"Kells Legend" by Andy Remic. Release Date: September 3, 2009.(UK)
“The Naming of the Beasts” by Mike Carey. UK Release Date: September 3, 2009.
“Orbus” by Neal Asher. UK Release Date: September 4, 2009.
“Nova War” by Gary Gibson. UK Release Date: September 4, 2009.
"How to Paint a Dead Man" by Sarah Hall. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“The Golden City” by John Twelve Hawks. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“The Stoneholding” by James Anderson & Mark Sebanc. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“Level 26: Dark Origins” by Anthony E. Zuiker. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“Dexter by Design” by Jeff Lindsay. Release Date: September 8, 2009 (US Debut).
“Fledgling” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“Stealing Death” by Janet Lee Carey. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
“The Magician’s Elephant” by Kate DiCamillo. Release Date: September 8, 2009.
"The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley. Release Date: September 10, 2009 (US Debut).
"The Other Lands" by David A. Durham. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
"The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“Bauchelain and Korbal Broach” by Steven Erikson. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“The Return of the Black Company” by Glen Cook. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“Ground Zero” by F. Paul Wilson. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“Bite Marks” by Terence Taylor. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“The Coral Thief” by Rebecca Stott. Release Date: September 15, 2009.
“Silksinger” by Laini Taylor. Release Date: September 17, 2009.
“An Echo in the Bone” by Diana Gabaldon. Release Date: September 22, 2009.
“The Grave Thief” by Tom Lloyd. Release Date: September 22, 2009.(US 1st)
“Dawnthief” by James Barclay. Release Date: September 22, 2009 (US 1st).
”The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood. Release Date: September 22, 2009.
“The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey. Release Date: September 22, 2009.
“Transition” by Iain M. Banks. Release Date: September 23, 2009.
“Hellbound Hearts” by Paul Kane, Marie O'Regan, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Grand Junction” by Maurice G. Dantec. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Doubleblind” by Ann Aguirre. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Audrey’s Door” by Sarah Langan. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Frostbitten” by Kelley Armstrong. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Darker Angels” by M.L.N. Hanover. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Soulless” by Gail Carriger. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
"Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“John Dies at the End” by David Wong. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“The Owl Killers” by Karen Maitland. Release Date: September 29, 2009 (US Debut).
“The Broken Teaglass” by Emily Arsenault. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Child of Fire” by Harry Connolly. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“Generosity: An Enhancement” by Richard Powers. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“The Vampire Archives” edited by Otto Penzler. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
“The Hunt for Atlantis” by Andy McDermott. Release Date: September 29, 2009 (US Debut).
“The Everafter” by Amy Huntley. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
"Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger. Release Date: September 29, 2009.
Hannah Daughter of the Sea by Kathryn Lasky 9/1
The Key To Rondo by Emily Rodda 9/1
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble 9/1
Gruffen by Chris D'Lacey 9/1
The Wyrm King by Holly Black 9/8
Earth Magic by Pamela F Service 9/8
Forest Born by Shannon Hale 9/15
The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin 9/22
The Eyes of a King by Cathrine Banner 9/22
Commanding Stone: The Osserian Saga by David Borbes 9/29
The winners of Light of the Burning Shadow by Chris Evans have been picked. Originally there were 10 copies of the book to give away but the great people at Sneak Attack Media upped the number to 20 so we have 20 winners!
The random winners are: Ruth Ann Francis (Texas), Mary DeBorde (Illinois), Gef Fox (Canada), Shaheer Gillani (Pakistan), James Yarker (England), Scott Pedersen (Australia), Elizabeth Nelson (Washington), Chuck Graham (Alabama), Greg Lincoln (California), Jake Lsewhere (New York), Mike Jackson (England), Joel Simard (Canada), Andrej El (Germany), Todd Johansen (Utah), Paul Weimer (Minnesota), Ann Perry (Kentucky), Loni Gofran (Texas), Ana Cristina Amaral Alves (Portugal), Jessica Lay (Texas), and Janan Cheskis (Illinois).
Thanks again to all who entered, and to the people at Sneak Attack Media for making this contest possible!
Max Turner at Harper Collins
Order "Night Runner" HERE
INTRODUCTION: “Night Runner” by Max Turner. Release Date: September 1, 2009. Published by St. Martin’s Griffin. Thanks to Stephenie Meyer, teen fiction and vampires is on fire and the past couple of years has seen an explosion of new series riding the popularity wave. One of the newest entries in this subgenre is Max Turner’s debut which was originally released in Canada last year.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Not quite 300 pages long, “Night Runner” is a nonstop, high-speed adventure/mystery/thriller starring 15-year-old Zack Thompson who discovers that he’s—what else—a vampire! The initial setup is actually pretty interesting with Zack living in a mental institution to care for his ‘condition’, but from there the book starts falling into more mundane territory including finding teenage love. Fortunately, the novel really picks up towards the end with some unexpected surprises and revelations. Plus, even though the book is undoubtedly the first in a series, the author does a reasonably good job tying up loose ends.
Max’s vampires meanwhile, are of the more generic variety, but he does institute a couple of cool twists like vampirisim being a retrovirus “that alters the DNA of the host” so they may develop certain ‘talents’ such as shapeshifting, reading people’s thoughts, being granted visions of the future, and so on. Unfortunately, it also means that most people infected with the virus don’t survive for more than a year, and those that do, eventually end up going mad, or what is known as ‘Endpoint Psychosis. The book also features vampire hunters, the Fallen—humans who serve vampires, and the mysterious Coven of the Dragon.
Writing-wise, “Night Runner” is a solid effort with Zack’s charming, humorous and energetic first-person narrative voice the book’s best quality. (Personally, I felt Zack’s innocence and naivety was a little hard to swallow, but I guess he has a reasonable excuse). A close second are the characters which also includes a decent supporting cast in Zack’s best friend Charlie, potential love interest Luna, uncle Maximilian, and the menacing Baron Vrolok.
In the end, “Night Runner” is a pretty enjoyable book . . . if you’re a teenager. Because of its lack of depth and PG presentation, adults might find the novel unsatisfying like myself. Therefore, I would mostly recommend “Night Runner” to teens, especially male readers since the book is less about romance, and more about action and adventure...
Official Daniel Rabuzzi Website
Read Several Chapters (pdf extension) and See Interior Illustrations
INTRODUCTION: "The Choir Boats", the first book of the "Longing for Yount" series attracted my attention by its synopsis and the excerpt on the author' site linked above. I requested a pdf arc for review and once I got into the novel and immersed myself in its wonderful atmosphere and its usage of charming archaic language and obscure or made up words that fit perfectly, I could not put it down until I finished it. The second book of the series "A Tax from Heaven" became another asap book for me.
After its recent debut, the new small press ChiZine is expanding this fall with several books including "The Choir Boats" and if this one is an indication of the quality of their offerings, I believe they will have a long successful run and I will keep an eye on their titles for anything that is of interest to me.
OVERVIEW: It is London 1812; our historical London except for some "details" like the "reality" of people like "Lucky Jack Aubrey", "Horatio Hornblower" - and several other Hornblower series characters - after all we are in the Napoleonic wars period though they do not impinge directly on the story so far - while those fellows with the magic ring "Sam and Frodo" are part of folklore and history.
And of course Yount, the mythical land that came "in tune" to Earth some 400 years ago and is accessible by ocean travel, with "drifting" gates in the Indian Ocean and more recently found also in the Bermuda triangle. However the passage to Yount is not straightforward and involves inter-world travel through places of danger, desolation and death where no living people have been found, though artifacts exist.
The McDoon family is somehow related with Yount and in the course of the novel we will find quite a few details about that, but here I just want to mention that some humans have the capacity of perceiving Yount, capability which is related with the "ansible" technology the people there use to keep track of far away, inter-worlds travelers, and which seems to run in families.
Sally and Tom, the 2 nephews of merchant Barnabas McDoon are inquisitive spirits with Sally bookish and in the thrall of strange dreams and Tom adventurous, and straining at his uncle imposed boundaries, while Barnabas and his partner Sanford have some secrets between them, so their past will become the hook the Yountish will use to make them help.
Unbeknown to them, Maggie the former black slave who escaped with her parents as a child from a Maryland plantation and now is a math prodigy teen working as maid in London, dreams of Yount too, though of course as opposed to the McDoon's who at least have a book purposing to describe the strange world, Maggie has no idea what and why she dreams...
The Yountish themselves have appropriately evocative names like Salmius Nalmius, Nexius Dexius or Reglum Bammary and their terminology is also suitably strange with terms like "fulgination", "eudiometry", "xantrophicius forces", all easily understood in context and adding to the sense of wonder.
And of course there are various opposing parties with their own agendas, some Earthly, some Yountish, some of unknown origins so far at least, most notably the fearsome "Cretched Man" aka Jambres who lives in a "skin-suit", well a 19th century version of one, not a space marine one...
"The Choir Boats" stands at about 400 pages and has 3rd person POV's mostly from the characters above, though the book has a quite largish cast. All through the novel there are superb illustrations made specially for it, images that add a lot to its feel and of which you can get a sample in the link above. The ending is at a natural stopping point in the action and contains a superb twist, so "A Tax from Heaven" is a highly awaited book.
ANALYSIS: What makes "The Choir Boats" a novel you want to pick up and read? For me the answer started with the archaic but beautiful style of the author which gives the novel a "mythical" or maybe "fairy-tale" feel; though none of those words are truly appropriate since on one hand "The Choir Boats" is very straightforward told, with characters that act and talk like "real life Londoners of 1812" did as far as we know from historical records, so no "mythical pathos" here.
On the other hand the book has quite a few dark spots, bad things and tragedy happen, people die or are hurt, there is no whitewashing of slavery or poverty and while Yount may seem as a land of legend at first, it has its own troubles which actually may be greater than we imagine since one of the theme of the novels is that "Yount has been punished" by a higher power and needs to redeem itself to get out of the current "limbo" - and the McDoon family may be a key to that... So no "fairy tale" glossing of reality either.
However the "magical feel" above stayed with me throughout the book and it was one of the reasons I decided to read it and then it became such a favorite; the subject of the book is fairly conventional and the characters while interesting do not jump at you from the page, with the possible exception of Maggie - though we see only snippets from her life so far but it seems she will play a major role in what comes next. However the inventiveness and sense of wonder coupled with the writing style make the book stand out and I encourage everyone to try the sample chapters and decide for themselves.
The touch of name-dropping famous characters as "real, contemporary" people adds also to the depth and I enjoyed it a lot. Despite having a large cast of which I only mentioned the most important protagonists above, "The Choir Boats" is an easy read once you immerse into it; there are no problems with pov jumping or scene interruptions that sometimes mar similar "many characters named and with speaking parts" novels. If there is one niggle is that some of the villains seem to be "really villainous" so to speak, but there is a lot of nuance and anyway we do not know the real story so far...
All in all, "The Choir Boats" is another novel I read twice and probably will read more as time goes, enjoyed a lot and put on my large "current series following with next book asap" list.
Official Gary Gibson Website
Order "Stealing Light" HERE
Order "Nova War" HERE
INTRODUCTION: Scottish sf writer Gary Gibson burst onto the scene in 2004 with a very ambitious debut Angel Stations which made me a big time fan. While having some debut flaws like lack of balance and even too much ambition for the relatively limited page count, Angel Stations is not your "average" debut, but a very complex and mature novel that pays several close readings.
His second novel, Against Gravity, quite different in tone and setting was much tighter and imho is a class above the later, similar themed but better known Black Man/Thirteen by RK Morgan. I will do a dual review of these two standalone novels sometime this Fall.
Turning his hand to "popular" new space opera on a galactic canvas and with all the associated paraphernalia, Gary Gibson started the Dakota Merrick series of which Stealing Light (pub 2007) was my top sf novel of the year, while volume 2 Nova War will be most likely a co-#1 sf novel for 2009. Look for a review of Nova War (including a discussion of Stealing Light) next week.
So when Mark Chitty from Walker of Worlds approached me about co-interviewing Mr. Gibson with the interview to be run on both FBC and Walker of Worlds, I was very excited and the result is here. Most questions were asked by Mark with mine noted by initials. We are deeply grateful to Gary's Tor publicist for arranging the interview and to the author himself for his candid answers.
1.Many thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to answer a few questions. First off, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write - and why science fiction?
Gary: I started writing when I was about fourteen, then took a break until my mid-twenties. I can't remember when I started reading SF, but it was pretty young, I think. Marvel comics too. Your brain's still forming important neural connections until you're something like 21, so if you pick up a serious interest before that it can end up hardwired into your brain and personality. SF is now a fundamental part of who I am and the way I view the world. It's definitely the cognitive dissonance that did it for me back then, the sense of having your sense of reality jarred by some seriously mindblowing idea.
Some of the books I read back then came from my Dad, who was a journalist for Glasgow newspapers for many years, and since he shared a desk with the guy who wrote book reviews he brought home a lot of SF for myself and my older brother, since none of it ever got reviewed in the papers. I read Heinlein and Asimov, and they were definitely part of that process of self-induced indoctrination, but so were writers like Harlan Ellison and JG Ballard, even though I didn't always understand what I was reading when I was younger. My brother read a lot of sf too - his bedroom was literally wallpapered with pages taken from SF Monthly, an enormous fold-out magazine from the mid-Seventies filled with amazing illustrations by people like Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington. I definitely nicked some books from him.
I came back to the idea of writing in my mid-twenties after a desperately abortive attempt at being a rock guitarist. Let's just say it didn't work out, and a damn good thing too. Most of the budding musicians I met back then were endowed with levels of self-delusion that utterly beggar belief. I came close to a fist-fight in a rehearsal room as the result of what might loosely be termed 'musical differences' and realized I was wasting my life with would-be bands that always broke up before even so much as playing a gig. After that particular incident it occurred to me that if I tried writing again, I didn't have to deal with anyone but an editor. It seemed so deliciously simple. I stopped playing music for good there and then, wrote a short story within twenty-four hours and sent it to Interzone. It didn't sell, of course, but I just kept writing and writing and joined a writer's circle just after scoring my first short story sale in 1990.
That was the first epiphany. The second in the early 00's when I decided to make getting a novel published my absolute top priority. I resolved to keep working and working until I damn well sold a book or died in the attempt. I started up my blog as a way to chivvy myself along - and rapidly sold Angel Stations, to my considerable surprise.
2.What books and authors have influenced you and your writing?
Gary: Where to start? Dick, Ellison, Ballard, (the other) Gibson, Sterling, Neal Stephenson ... and about a thousand others. Or rather, they've inspired me to write, but I don't know whether any of them have influenced my writing style.
I would also have to say that certain publications influenced me - I used to jones like crazy for my issue of Interzone to come through the front door back in the Eighties. Interzone was one of the few things that made that grim and grey decade bearable for me.
3.Do you still find time to read, and if so anything in particular?
Gary: I read a lot more now since I got a Sony Reader. There aren't too many English-language books for sale where I'm living these days. One of the drawbacks is not everything I want is available electronically, but I've been reading a combination of bought texts and stuff freely given away on sites like Tor.com and elsewhere.
In terms of SF, I've been reading quite a bit of Robert Charles Wilson, whose Spin is utterly outstanding. I highly rate Anathem. Stephenson's stuff sometimes really screws with my head - and my patience - but he's one of those writers with whom if you just persevere, you find yourself diving headfirst into a series of gloriously demented headfucks and eyeball kicks. Cory Doctorow's books also just seem to get better and better. Sometimes he misses, but mostly he hits the mark.
Otherwise I've found myself rediscovering short fiction in the forms of anthologies, particularly a few of those edited by John Joseph Adams. Short fiction works *very* well on ebook readers. I've also been reading a fair bit of non-fiction - stuff about Iraq seems to have featured greatly in my diet. I recommend Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast in particular. Bonkers stuff, and all true. Non-fiction about current ideas in science also features quite a bit in my diet - a good source for ideas.
4.How do you go about your writing – are you a meticulous planner, make it up as you go or somewhere in between? Do you have a regular routine when you’re writing?
Gary: I'm pretty disorganized and not nearly as disciplined as I'd like to be, but I still try and get a certain amount done each day. I'm mentally and habitually messy. The writing's been a tiny bit fallow recently, because I've been working out a plot for the next book, and ideas tend to come when they want to, not when I want them to. It's frustrating waiting for an idea to fully germinate, but it's finally starting to move along where the next book is concerned..
I sometimes tell people I 'guilt' myself into writing. When I start to feel guilty about not having done anything, that's when I start getting work done. And however messy my habits may be, I do get it done. I tend to plan stuff out quite heavily, however - the outline for Stealing Light was close on twenty thousand words. Most outlines I write are at least several thousand words long. Now there's diagrams as well. Big, scary diagrams. I can't write anything now unless I know precisely what's going to happen at every single step of the story from beginning to end.
5.Along with some other published authors, including Hal Duncan and Mike Cobley, you’re a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle. Has being a part of this helped you in your approach to writing and editing?
Gary: I think it's helped a great deal. I think writer's circles are very useful both for giving yourself a social context for your writing when you're still in the early learning stages, as well as figuring out how to put words in the right order along with a bunch of people of a more or less equal level of skill. What also helped was that the GSFWC liked to style itself as an 'anarchist collective' in the sense that nobody was really running it except whoever felt like it at any particular time, although in reality that naturally devolved to a single person who took on certain necessary duties. Although it certainly helped me a great deal, I've noticed that when people start to sell and develop a career, they'll increasingly show stuff not to the whole circle, but to a smaller group comprised mostly of other pro's.
In a sense, what makes you a better writer is learning to internalize the various members of a writer's circle until you can literally anticipate their objections in your head while you're writing alone at home. When you get to the point where you know exactly what somebody would say about a particular sentence you've written, and understand why they would say it, that's when you're really getting somewhere.
6.Angel Stations and the two Shoal Novels, Stealing Light and Nova War, are Space Opera – do you favor this specifically or do the stories you want to tell naturally fit this sub-genre?
Gary: I love space opera, but I love lots of different types of sf too. Starting fairly early in your career you have to pick one genre or sub-genre and pretty much stick with it, because that's what the market expects. That's fine, because I really enjoy writing space opera, and I hope to be writing it for quite a long time. But one of these days I'm going to have to take some time out to do something different. Almost certainly sf, but not space opera. Maybe under a pseudonym.
7.(LS) I read your debut "Angel Stations" pretty much on publication after some great reviews made me order it "unseen" from the UK and it made me a big time fan. The novel is quite an ambitious one with several shifting POV's and action that moves between a relatively familiar Earth and an alien planet. I think that everyone who loves your Dakota Merrick series should give it a try since it fits comfortably in the "New Space Opera" niche, though it has some "near future" vibes too; how would you describe it to someone new to your work?
Gary: As a first novel, really. I was trying out ideas in Angel Stations I'd had stored in my head for years. If I'd describe it as anything, I'd call it 'almost too ambitious'. I had enough in there for a trilogy, although I should say I don't see myself returning to that particular world. I'm having too much fun inventing new ones. But novels like Stealing Light certainly built on the experience I gained from 'Stations.
8.(LS) Your second novel "Against Gravity" is a very different one both from Angel Stations and the current series; it is set mostly on Earth with some action in the Solar System and it is both a personal journey and a political undertone. From the striking beginning "It began on the day when Kendrick Gallmon's heart stopped beating for ever" to the superb open ended finale, "Against Gravity" is a page turner following Kendrick's path of revenge and coming to terms with what happened, as well as the back-story that seemed a real possibility when the novel was published though it has receded somewhat today. Would you write this novel in the same way today or would you change the geopolitical setup?
Gary: I don't think I could write any of my books the same way if I had a second chance to do so, because you change over time as a writer. It's partly based around the notion of the dissolution of the US, and that might happen in ten years time, or a hundred, or a thousand. Nothing lasts forever, especially not nations on that scale. Technology and history will bring change eventually; it might be violent, it might be peaceful, it might be so gradual a shift that only historians would be able to discern the fact long after it had taken place. That part of it, I think, would almost certainly remain the same, and that view of the US was influenced by the observation that almost no one predicted the collapse of, for example, the Soviet Union. Some of the biggest historical shifts are 'black swan' events that only appear inevitable with the benefit of hindsight. And besides, it's a great source of story conflict.
9. (LS) What is about augmented people (Elias, Kendrick - even though against his will, Dakota) that fascinates you so you make them the focus of your novels?
Gary: I think Against Gravity and the use of implant technology, certainly, was at least partly influenced by a UK writer I hugely admire called Simon Ings, although this didn't occur to me until I'd actually finished writing Gravity. Technological augmentation seems a fairly reasonable step forward for human beings, though in reality I suspect it may be rather more subtle and less physically intrusive than what I've described.
If you study the work of any author closely, you'll see certain themes or ideas recur in their work. That's because once they've worked out one set of implications derived from a particular idea, they might come up with a whole new bunch of implications from that idea. Basically, I hadn't finished with the idea of implants when I finished Against Gravity. I think the reason they extended into Stealing Light was because for one very brief moment when I was still outlining 'Light, it occurred to me to set it in the far future of Against Gravity.
I decided against that within seconds, but from that moment the idea of an implant-equipped navigator stuck with me. Besides, it gave Dakota a certain uniqueness within her environment that allowed her alone to communicate with the derelict starship, so in another sense the requirements of the story drove the decision to use implants as well.
10.(LS) In a follow up to the previous question, how do you see this developing in our future? Do you think "augmenting" people will be possible soon? Acceptable to society at large?
Gary: That's a tricky one. The first augments will undoubtedly be the disabled, which Anne McCaffrey saw coming a long time ago. A lot of us are already augmented - people have heart implants, or artificial limbs, you name it. I have a plastic lens in one eye. According to some, like Hans Moravec, a lot of us already are augmented.
You might even argue that in a world of internet technology and mobile phones, we're all augmented. There's no real reason augmentations have to be physically implanted in one's body. I think we'll see a kind of common technological telepathy coming into play over the next fifty or so years in the form of wearable or skin-contact telecommunications technology. Our children's children are going to learn to think in a very different way from their grandparents. I find that notion endlessly exciting.
11.Without giving away too much can you briefly outline Nova War?
Gary: It leads on immediately from the end of Stealing Light, with Lucas and Dakota captured by a Bandati Hive. They're out in the wider universe now, learning all the stuff Trader and the Shoal never wanted humanity to know. Their presence, along with their Magi ship, is enough to trigger war between rival Hives who want to grab the power the Magi ship represents. One Hive sides with the Shoal, the other with a previously unknown FTL-enabled species called the Emissaries who've been at war with the Shoal for a long, long time.
12. One of the things that struck me about Nova War was the alien species and societies that were present. I found them very believable and they gave an excellent viewpoint to aspects of the story. Where do you start when creating these and how easy/difficult is the process?
Gary: I wish I knew how to tell you because sometimes I find myself wondering just where this stuff comes from. I wrote a new species for Empire of Light and thought, 'where the hell did that come from?' I found with the Bandati that one idea kicked off another. The Bandati towers were inspired by photos I saw of Ethiopian termite nests which are like mud chimneys, sometimes reaching several meters in height, Once I'd thought of sticking ledges all over the Bandati version of the towers, I found myself developing a whole reproductive cycle for them that didn't even get into the book; one idea generates another, and that generates another.
I figured if the eggs are on the ground, when they hatch, an individual's standing in his society is determined by how high he can fly, and therefore which tower platform he reaches first. Say each platform carries certain foodstuffs that trigger certain genetic changes on ingestion, and the social role of the individual is thereby fixed. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'high flier'.
With Nova War, I definitely deliberately set out to come up with the most batshit ideas possible. I wanted to give readers as many 'wtf' moments as I could possibly manage. Hence the hungry restaurant. I just loved that notion of a living restaurant that's perpetually on the edge of eating its diners. I'm so damn proud of that. I think I was channeling Douglas Adams there.
13.(LS) When reading the Dakota Merrick series which is just superb sf, new space opera at its best, I was struck by the many references to the genre. Freehold is the obvious one, maybe not quite what Heinlein intended but an homage nonetheless, while the Uchidans are probably the next obvious example, but I thought a lot of other names, places and even species are a twist on old and new offerings in the genre. Was that intentional and how do you see the "big picture sf" or space opera if you want, through the whole sff genre perspective?
Gary: The references were partly intentional, and partly an unconscious regurgitation of everything I've read in my entire life that affected me in any way. It's very hard to be genuinely original - not that I don't try. But I was aware that I was treading on familiar territory, and in a sense I felt freed by being able to deliberately stick in references throughout Stealing Light, particularly the very deliberate nod to Iain Banks (the reference to The Wasteland'), and a couple of other bits and pieces where I was winking heavily to the reader.
The Freehold started off as a kind of Heinleinian nod, definitely. but I'm greatly inclined to believe that any society riffing off of that particular set of values is likely to end up extremely marginalized, as the Freehold do. A bunch of guys telling you're they're always right and under the delusion of super-competence are going to be nothing but trouble. That kind of unwavering self-belief is also one reason the Freehold are perpetually losing ground to the Uchidans. They need to wake up and smell the coffee, but simply can't.
(LS) Another topic of the series regards the dangers of technology and the price of progress. Do you think that ftl travel at the cost from the series is worthwhile and could allow an equilibrium to develop or is a Nova War inevitable?
Gary: Difficult moral dilemmas are great to play with in a book, and in Stealing Light I was trying to figure out just what the right thing to do would be under that particular set of circumstances. In all honesty I still don't really know the answer. I firmly believe that none of us really know ourselves until we find ourselves in the kind of difficult, possibly life-threatening situation that can test your core values. It can be being caught in a war, or jumped by muggers, or having to help somebody who's had an accident.
I also suspect that in real life, there are some situations where any outcome is a bad one, that somebody's always going to get hurt, and I wanted to reflect that in the story. Trader certainly thinks a nova war inevitable, and it's that belief that leads him down a very dark path in Nova War. Think of the Dakota books as me trying to figure out the answers as I go along. Dakota tries to do what she thinks is morally right, but again ... the best laid plans, as you'll see in the new book.
14. The events of Nova War lead to a very interesting point - what can we expect from the next book in the series, Empire of Light?
Gary: Empire goes slightly back to the format of Stealing Light, in that much of the action is focused around a single mission on one ship. There are very clear consequences to the events at the end of Nova War that I try to address. Saying anything more might give too much away.
15.Will you be doing any signings or appearances for the Nova War release? If so, where will these be held should anyone want to go along?
Gary: Not for Nova War, since I'm currently living in Taipei in the Far East (Good food, and everything's dirt cheap). But I'm aiming to be back in the UK next year, at which point I (and my wife) will immediately feel poor again. If I did do anything, it would probably be down south somewhere like London, assuming my editor thought it was a good idea. But I do enjoy conventions. I'd like to make it to next year's Eastercon, so I've tentatively - tentatively - penciled that in, depending on various hard-to-predict circumstances. So I can whine at everyone about how expensive everything in Britain is.
16.Recently both you and your publisher, Tor UK, put up two possible designs for the book cover of Empire of Light in what I thought was an great move and one to get feedback from the fans who would end up buying the book, sometimes based on the cover alone. What did you think of this idea and are you pleased with the feedback received from it?
Gary: It was my editor Julie Crisp's idea, and I thought it was a great one. I was really pleased so many people voted in just a day or two. I might have kept it running longer, but it was pretty obvious from very early on just which one was going to win by a very, very wide margin. .
17.What do you think your strengths are as a writer and storyteller?
Gary: I'm terrible at analyzing my own writing - I'm sort of 'blind' to it, in a sense. I sometimes think it would be nice if I could be hypnotized to not recognize my own stuff when I read it so I can know what I think of it. But apparently my stuff makes people want to turn the page, and turn the page, and turn the page, and that's pretty good. I like being able to write stories that make people just want to keep reading all night until they've finished, as some people have told me they do.
18. And any weaknesses or areas that you feel you need to work on or improve?
Gary: As long as I keep getting better, I'm happy. I'm constantly trying to improve my writing. I think if you slack off and just coast, you're doomed creatively. Even though like I say I'm rubbish at being objective about my own stuff, I do try to be regardless and perhaps I'm getting better at it.
19.Regular readers of your blog will know that you’ve been looking into different projects for the future away from your typical output. Are these going to be a complete change of scenery or are you still looking at genre-related stuff, for instance fantasy?
Gary: There are several good ideas on the back burner that like I said earlier I would love to work on, but my main priority right now is my stuff for Pan Macmillan. What I'm doing is writing up rough notes and outlines and allowing myself a day or so a week to spend on them. It's stuff I might one day write concomitant with the spacier stuff, or it might just end up in a drawer.
I'm sometimes greatly tempted by fantasy, but not of the sword and sorcery variety - I could never get into it. If by 'fantasy' you mean Danielewski's 'House of Leaves' (one of my all-time favorite books), or Harlan Ellison or Lucius Shepard or Paul Di Filippo's stuff, then yes. Or even Jonathan Carroll, another favorite writer - not that I could hope in a million years to write anywhere near as well as any of those guys. Not worthy, etc.
I do like the idea of doing some kind of incredibly far-future science fantasy, I must admit, although I have zero ideas for stories in that style. What can I say? I'm like every other writer, with a million and one ideas bursting to get out of my head, and only so much time and energy to write them.
20.Anything else you'd like to add?