Thursday 30 June 2011

June Retrospective

A Look Back on June

June has been a good month, really enjoyable. Not only did I manage to get in a week away from work, which I spent reading and not much else, I also met Mieneke and Wiebe and saw a lot of literary friends at AltFiction. I went to Alton Towers, which was ace and clearly practice for Florida in September. Reading has gone exceptionally well - and June marked my first self-published novel reviewed on Floor to Ceiling Books. Hopefully there will be many more, I know I've been inundated with requests, and been very pleased by the professionalism of those querying me.

The Kindle reading is starting to pick up - and I've managed to accumulate 71 books on it, so I had best pick it up more often!

Finally, the Open Month reading for Angry Robot books has been going apace. We've almost finished reading the partials (down to the last 100) and then I have 47 (as of today) full manuscripts to assess.

And, big news: handed in my first edited novel for Morrigan Books.


The holiday helped! I cantered through a fair number of novels this month and I'm *almost* back on track to achieve 100 books in 2011. Here are the links to the novels reviewed:

37) Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry
38) The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas
39) The Queen Must Die by K. A. S. Quinn
40) Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson
41) Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck
42) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
43) Sometimes It Happens by Pauline Barclay
44) Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
45) Trust Me, I'm A Vet by Cathy Woodman

9 books! Way better than the previous couple of months!
- 6 books by women, 3 books by men
- 2 epic fantasy, 3 YA, 1 thriller and 3 chick lit - yet again, I demonstrate my inability to stick in one genre
- Of the above 3 were from my own shelves and 6 were review copies.

Best Book of June

This one is a very easy choice, considering I was absolutely blown away by:

Pages Covered

Let's just do a swift calculation! Okay, despite the fact that I read WAAAY more books than May, it wasn't all that many pages, considering the fact that most of the novels I whipped through were 400 pages and less. Page count was 3,608 in June, bringing the total pages this year to 21,569. Longest novel for June was Empire in Black and Gold, while the shortest by a fraction was The Queen Must Die.

Places Visited

Many and varied! London, India, Talyton down in Devon, the Lowlands surrounded by Kinden, Stonewylde. You would think that the place I'd want to go to myself was Stonewylde, being as it is presented as a country idyll, but it all seems a bit too secretish and cultish for me. Personally I love the idea of deepest darkest Devon.

Plans for July

Getting those Angry Robot submissions completed and wrapped up, for sure. I've been working on them on and off since March 1st, and would like to draw a line under the process - I'm sure those waiting for replies appreciate the fact as well. Apart from that, I want to try and fit in a few more self-published novels. If I have any more time, then it'll be trying to catch up with some of the series that I've let slide the last couple of years (Dresden files, Wheel of Time etc). I probably won't be getting excited about A Dance of Dragons, since I have not re-read the previous four just yet - and I don't anticipate George will be speeding up his writing any!

Over to You

How did your June go? What did you read? What did you get up to? Spill!

The History Girls


The History Girls ( is a new joint blog by writers of historical fiction. 26 first-rate writers are lined up to produce a daily blogpost across a range of subjects in the genre. (photo by History Girl Caroline Lawrence)

Prize-winning, internationally renowned authors of YA historical fiction like Celia Rees ,Theresa Breslin, Mary Hooper and Eve Edwards (a.k.a. Julia Golding) are joined by both writers of historical fantasy for younger readers (Katherine Langrish, Katherine Roberts) and those with a primarily adult readership (Louise Berridge, Emma Darwin).

The group ranges from experienced established authors like Adèle Geras and Nicola Morgan to first-time novelists like Teresa Flavin, H.M. Castor and Imogen Robertson. Among us we cover every period from the Stone Age to World War Two (N M Browne, Leslie Wilson, Barbara Mitchelhill). And every period in between, Including the England of Alfred the Great (Sue Purkiss) the Tudors (Harriet Castor and Eve Edwards), George lll (Linda Buckley-Archer), Victoria (Eleanor Updale, Penny Dolan and Catherine Johnson), . Geographically we range from Iceland to Troy to the Wild West, via Venice and Ancient Rome and Egypt. (Marie-Louise Jensen, Adèle Geras, Caroline Lawrence x 2, Michelle Lovric and Dianne Hofmeyr)

We are going to run competitions to win copies of our books, regular feature on our first History teachers, favourite writers, inspirational objects etc. We’ll have reviews, interviews and guest blogs, from other best-selling authors of historical fiction – maybe even a man or two!

We don’t have a specifically feminist take on History; we just found when the idea was canvassed that the majority of the writers in this genre seemed to be women. The blog, The History Girls, goes live on 1st July, with an introductory post by Mary Hoffman on the inspiration for setting the group up, which she did with Michelle Lovric.

History Girls contributors and their specialisms:

Louise Berridge – Military history, 17th century + Crimea
Theresa Breslin – France, Spain, Renaissance Italy, World War I and World War II
N. M. Browne - 1st C AD (Celts and Romans) 5th Century (Arthur/Romano Brits) and 9th (Saxons/Vikings Alfred the Great.)
Linda Buckley-Archer – George III and the Court of Versailles
H. M. Castor – Tudor England
Emma Darwin – 19th century, Wars of the Roses
Penny Dolan – Victorian England
Eve Edwards - Tudor England
Teresa Flavin - Renaissance and Georgian London
Adele Geras – Ancient Greece and Troy, Victorian and early 20th Century
Mary Hoffman – Middle Ages and Renaiassance in Italy
Dianne Hofmeyr - Ancient Egypt, African History, early voyages of discovery including the dhow trade down the African coast.
Mary Hooper – Victorian England
Marie-Louise Jensen – Viking era, Tudor and Georgian
Catherine Johnson – 18th century and Victorian
Michelle Lovric – 18th and 19th century Venice, Peru
Kath Langrish – Viking era and Middle Ages
Caroline Lawrence – Ancient Rome + Wild West
Barbara Mitchelhill – 2nd World War + Shakespeare
Nicola Morgan – 19th century Scotland
Sue Purkiss – Alfred the Great + 19th century
Celia Rees – 17th and 18th century + Shakespeare
Katherine Roberts – Arthurian, Alexander the Great, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia/Persia.
Imogen Robertson – Georgian England
Eleanor Updale – late 19th and early 20th century
Leslie Wilson – 2nd World War

With my love for historical fiction, I have immediately followed this blog, and I look forward to supporting their endeavour!

Wednesday 29 June 2011

AltFiction Panel: Has Fantasy Moved Past Tolkien?

Panellists: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Graham McNeill, Gav Thorpe, Juliet E McKenna

Just a quick thought from me before I head into the details of this AltFiction panel – I thought the make-up of the panel was very interesting, considering the topic being discussed. On the one hand, you have two people writing Black Library work (Graham and Gav) and, whatever else it may or may not be, Black Library fantasy (and Warhammer Fantasy) is pretty Tolkien-derivative, what with the Elves and Dwarves and Orcs etc. At times it moves beyond Tolkien, but most of the basics are straight out of Tolkien. On the other hand, you have Adrian who is creating a really unique world in his fantasy, and Juliet, who writes epic fantasy without all the Tolkien trappings. I commend AltFiction on pulling together a group of panellists who represent both sides of the story, in my opinion.

Now to the panel itself. Much as I like and respect Juliet, and much as it is a current vogue to talk about women and publishing, I did feel that this was the wrong panel to have the first point be about women in fantasy. For one thing, fantasy is a much healthier arena in terms of women being published. Unlike in science fiction, I could name you a HUGE group of women who are currently under contract and turning out excellent novels. Let’s try this as an exercise: Juliet herself, Fiona McIntosh, Sharon Shinn, Elizabeth Moon, Celia Friedman, Kate Elliott, Mary Gentle, Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, Ekaterina Sedia, Lois McMaster Bujold, Trudi Canavan, Mercedes Lackey, Amanda Downum, Aliette de Bodard, Lauren Beukes, Gail Carriger, Celine Kiernan, Helen Lowe, J V Jones, Rachel Neumeier, Karen Miller, Mira Grant, Glenda Larke, Jo Graham, Kate Griffin, N K Jemisin, Rachel Aaron, Jacqueline Carey, Holly Lisle, Jude Fisher, Elizabeth Haydon.... I mean, these were seriously off the top of my head and then with a brief look on t’Internet. There are LOADS of women writing fantasy – and, within that, there are LOADS of good strong female protagonists.

I felt this was the wrong way to start because of a) the reason above; and b) the fact that Tolkien was writing as a product of his time and hence women were not going to be as dominant characters as men.

Of much more interest was the point that there should be a definite difference between female heroes and heroines. The female heroes drive the plot themselves, while the heroines wait for the men to drive them. The former are not defined by their menfolk, while the latter are. I thought this was a great distinction to make, and a real measure to set against women in fantasy fiction.

There was also some mention made of the fact that most fantasy is set in a medieval setting, and therefore women fit into a pre-defined notion of being less independent than their menfolk. A member of the audience did raise the point that, even if a medieval world is being used, a FANTASY author is able to play around with the preconceived notions of society. Therefore, a matriarchal society would be just as valid – as long as it is constructed well – as a “men are best” society. Adrian was quick to point out – and I agree with him – that his society holds men and women as equals. Just because medieval societies are used is no excuse to not present women as strong characters.

From sexism, we moved straight along to racism – and I felt a little sad by this. Do we have to see our fantasy in these terms? Again, Adrian made a fine point – he stated that the Beetles in his Apt series (including Stenwold Maker, a key character) are all black. I was astounded by this, frankly, because it is never mentioned explicitly. And then I realised that this was the point: in other novels with all-white protagonists, there is never a need to say that they are white, so why should the rule apply if you include black protagonists. The very best authors are able to introduce characters of race without it ever being made an issue. I thought then about Erikson – until I saw a picture, I was never entirely sure whether Quick Ben was black or white. He is black, but it doesn’t MATTER in the scope of the story, so it is never brought to the fore. Clumsy writing is the sort that will be bound and determined to make clear what skin tones everyone has.

Under the section on race, Gav made a point that was swept to the side a little, but that I think had great validity and could have been discussed more. He talked about differentiating between race and species. For instance, Dwarves are a species – but, within them, race is never discussed. When was the last time you saw an Asian dwarf, or a black dwarf?

This led neatly onto the fact that Tolkien has left this legacy whereby all Elves are tall, fair-skinned and graceful; Dwarves are all squat, gold-loving, bearded Scotsman. There are few novels that use these species and then go against the archetype. Although some of the best novels do play with the audience’s pre-conceived notions. A key novel mentioned was Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett, where the Elves are discovered to be a little less... nice than expected. (I love this novel, by the way, and for the very fact that I was shocked and thrilled by the rather nasty elves!)

I liked the fact that Graham raised the idea that possibly there hasn’t been a massive reaction against Tolkien, but against the poor Tolkien knock-offs that we were subjected to as fantasy fans. A lot of us – even if we don’t like the novel – accept the place of The Lord of the Rings in fantasy canon. Is it more that we got sick of people trying to replicate Tolkien (in The Sword of Shannara, and The Eye of the World, amongst others)?

A member of the audience suggested there was WAY too much focus on Tolkien, considering the people who were writing both before him and at the same time as him. Fritz Leiber, for instance, and C S Lewis were producing fantasy worlds and strong characters around the same time and just before, and yet they don’t receive the same adulation and castigation as Tolkien. Why is this? Why is there SO MUCH focus on Tolkien?

I raised the point that urban fantasy could have developed as a real kick back against Tolkien – moving the action to the cities, and away from the leafy idyll that Tolkien wanted to see; putting females centre stage who were more than capable of taking down their enemies, without the loophole that Eowyn needed to fight the Witch King.

In some “urban” fantasy – such as China Miéville and Mark Charan Newton – we are seeing a real remove from the travelogue fantasy/quest fantasy that used to be written. Now characters are unable to leave their troubles behind – all of their actions have consequences, since they will not be moving on the next day to a new place. I liked this part of the discussion, and felt that very valid points were made.

A final point I shall leave with you is the idea that the panel should have been called: Has Fantasy Diversified Beyond Tolkien? And the answer would be a resounding yes!

What did you think of this panel? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points made above?

Tuesday 28 June 2011

AltFiction Panel: Is There Anywhere New For Science Fiction To Go?

(Panellists: Alastair Reynolds, Tony Ballantyne, Ian Whates and John Jarrold)

This panel aimed to discuss whether there is anywhere new for science fiction to go.

First of all, the panel discussed some generalities. I think a small problem is that the bulk of the panel was formed of authors who write science fiction, so of course they were going to say that there are still places for science fiction to go!

They commented on such beliefs as: science fiction is the literature of possibilities, so, until we know everything there is to know, there will always be more to say. I think this was a very fair point – it wasn’t *that* long ago that gravity was discovered and the world was deemed to be round rather than flat! We’ve moved on so far, so swiftly that progress even further is inevitable and will lead to more literature of possibility.

Alastair indicated that science fiction writing is almost a defence mechanism to the science emerging now – it is a way to comment on how we will deal with the new technologies.

I was interested in the discussion about “spaceship” science fiction. Although the panel concurred that there was still a place for epic space opera (a relief, no doubt, to Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton and Iain M Banks!), they also agreed that retro should be avoided. This was linked to the discussion they had about whether science fiction holds itself too fondly and looks backwards to a “golden age” too much. It’s funny to me, because within the fantasy genre, there is a definite harkening back to writers such as Tolkien and a desire to emulate, whereas science fiction always wants to push on and try not to look back.

I was dismayed by the panellists’ general reaction to YA, when it was suggested that one of the futures for science fiction was to introduce more YA fiction. There was a statement that, in fact, some authors have done everything possible to avoid being “lumped into” YA! I’m surprised at this slightly sneering attitude to an area that is exploding with possibilities and ideas, especially given the success and ability of such authors as Patrick Ness. For me, there is a real opportunity to start drawing in readers from a YA level into the genre of science fiction – young readers who might then progress to the aforementioned space opera kings. Certainly fantasy has been enjoying the crossover appeal of YA, with some fantasy authors such as Stephen Deas and Chris Wooding openly embracing the inherent appeal of YA. I think that these authors are ahead of the game, frankly, since YA readers will recognise their names when browsing the adult fantasy shelves and hence be more likely to pick up their novels.

I also don’t like the sneering tone that was applied to YA. Why do we always end up looking down on some form of fiction? We get so annoyed when people do it to science fiction and fantasy – why would we then do the same to other areas of fiction, especially one that is, frankly, enormously lucrative and progressive?

Inevitably, the question of women in science fiction came up in this panel. It was commented on that the panel was formed of four middle-aged white men, and that was felt to be derivative of what science fiction was offering right now. The problem is that none of the panellists could give a good reason for why there are not more women represented, except that John Jarrold did offer the fact that less women submit science fiction. Having been slush reading for Angry Robot and focusing particularly on the science fiction submissions, I would concur. I would like to support the women by suggesting their manuscripts but when they aren’t even submitting, that becomes an issue. It was said that there are currently only six women in contract to write science fiction as well – I can think of Trish Sullivan, Jaine Fenn, Gwyneth Jones, Elizabeth Moon, (tentatively) Lauren Beukes (depending on whether you feel she writes science fiction or urban fantasy *grin*), Lois McMaster Bujold.... Anymore?

I was amused at how fervently Alastair Reynolds talked against mash-ups within science fiction. He likes his sci fi as pure as possible, from the sounds of it. I did accept his point, though, that since science fiction is the genre of possibilities, as soon as you add impossibilities (like vampires or zombies) it dilutes the profound effect that science fiction can have.

Military science fiction was also touched upon. I asked whether this would always be a future of science fiction, since we are constantly dealing with the realities of war in real life. The panel said this is how it “should” be, but wasn’t since a lot of military science fiction is actually Napoleonics in space *giggles* It was considered that a potential future to science fiction might arise when those who have been involved with Iraq and Afghanistan turn their hands to writing fiction, and imbue their writing with a flavour of modern warfare.

Finally, the different cultures that can be brought to science fiction was addressed. Obviously Lauren is writing with a strong African flavour, and Al Reynolds forthcoming novel is going to involve Africa as well. India has been used by Ian McDonald. Lavie Tidhar is aiming to produce anthologies featuring writers from different cultures, starting with Chinese. Now that we are a far more international community, it seems fitting that our science fiction reflects this fact.

Finally, I leave you with the thought that Tony Ballantyne put across: when they were looking for the next Elvis, they found the Beatles. When they were looking for the next Beatles, they found Led Zeppelin. These were organic discoveries and demonstrated that looking for something similar can open your eyes to something new.

Do you have any thoughts on the points made in this panel? Were you listening in at AltFiction as well – did I miss anything crucial?

Monday 27 June 2011

Trust Me, I'm A Vet by Cathy Woodman

City vet Maz Harwood has learned the hard way that love and work don't mix. So when an old friend asks her to look after her Devonshire practice for six months, Maz decides running away from London is her only option.

But country life is trickier than she feared. It's bad enough she has to deal with comatose hamsters, bowel-troubled dogs and precious prize-winning cats, without having to contend with the disgruntled competition and a stubborn neighbour who's threatening to sue over an overzealous fur cut!

Worse still, she discovers Otter House Veterinary Clinic needs mending as much as her broken heart. Thank goodness there's an unsuitable distraction, even if he is the competition's deliciously dashing son...

Trust Me, I'm a Vet is most definitely a novel of two parts. I say that because the vet aspects and the animal stories were handled beautifully and practically brought me to tears on some occasions, whereas the "chick lit" part of the novel - the contrived way of bringing Maz to Otter House Veterinary Clinic, the romance, the larger-than-life characters - were clunky and cliched.

I do think that Cathy Woodman has talent as a novelist, and I have no doubt that the other novels in this series will pick up in terms of quality, but I think that she needs to find some way of sitting the vet story within the chick lit story more naturally.

I did like Maz as a central narrator - she was warm and lovely, with an incredibly realistic voice. Self deprecating and sad by turn, she gave a great anchor to the novel. Of course, I found Alex Fox-Gifford attractive, in the same manner as Hugo Beauchamp (Fiona Walker) and Rupert Campbell-Black (Jilly Cooper) are two of my favourite male protagonists. I do like a bad boy that you think might be tamed by the right woman!

However, the various personalities from the sleepy village got lost in amongst each other. I kept having to flick back and forth, to tell my Fifi's from my Cheryl's, which I thought was a weakness of the novel. And, frankly, I couldn't stand Emma - the vet who asks Maz to take over while she flits off on a six month trip round the world. Who on earth would leave their best friend to deal with the situation she has managed to put her vet's practice into?

Also, I found Trust Me, I'm a Vet to be both too realistic and not realistic enough! I say this because I like my chick lit to be escapist, and so having financial troubles as one of the central issues was a little too close to read life. And yet I found it ridiculous that Maz was so against living in Talyton, because we weren't given realistic reasons for her not wanting to stay.

So, definitely a mixed bag. However, the animal stories were *so* good that I am more than prepared to pick up the second book in the series to see if Woodman can find a way to reconcile both aspects into one awesome story. Therefore recommended tentatively - at the worst, it's a light read that goes well with Pimm's on a summer's afternoon.

Sunday 26 June 2011

AltFiction 2011

The weekend just gone was AltFiction in Derby. For the first time it was held over the full weekend, rather than the one day event I attended last year. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one of the days - and it took me until the very last minute to decide to go, besides - but I really wanted to get there for at least one day because I had such a good time last year.

So, convoluted explanation complete *grins*

I'm really happy to report that AltFiction was tremendous. It is very quickly becoming one of the must-attend cons of the year. Unlike all of the others, it is both incredibly focused on books, reading and writing and also aims to appeal to ALL fans of speculative fiction. This was evident from panels that ranged from science fiction to fantasy to horror to script writing to YA - a lovely, diverse mixture which ensured there was always something for someone to see.

I did notice that one of the people involved with the organisation of Eastercon this year posted the tweet: "Good day, if a bit unfocussed and 101 in spots." I would have to say that the more I think about Eastercon this year, the more negative I become - it was dark and depressing, and, if not for the people I met, I would probably have never wanted to go to another convention. AltFiction, for me, is like the anti-Eastercon.

I say this because AltFiction is a) bright and airy, in a modern building with great facilities in a city centre; b) accessible to all speculative fans, no matter what flavour of genre they enjoy; c) great for first-time con-goers - that "101 aspect", for me, is what makes AltFiction so great. Anyone can go and feel welcome. In addition to this, it is still a beautifully compact little con where you can talk to anyone and manage to get to most of the people you intend to see (although, as is now usual, I found myself heading home thinking of all the people I really wanted to talk to and only got a snatched few minutes with - yep, @ghostfinder and @stephendeas, that definitely means you!)

I attended the following panels (I would also say that I attended 50% more panels in one day than I attended in all three days at Eastercon, testimony to how attractive the panel titles were - few of the Eastercon panel titles made me excited):

1) Is there anywhere new for science fiction to go?
2) Has fantasy moved past Tolkien?
3) Guest of Honour: Alastair Reynolds
4) The World of Publishing
5) The AltFiction raffle

For the first two panels, I plan to do separate blog posts for each, since I wrote copious notes and found myself fascinated by all the discussion within them.

Al Reynolds spent some time chatting about the influences on his writing career, and what led him to choose science fiction. He has definitely piqued my interest about Blue Remembered Earth, which sounds EPIC and has an African flavour. He spoke about whether science fiction should be dystopian or utopian. And, interestingly, he let slip that he wanted Pushing Ice to be called Chasing Janus. I found him to be intelligent, spiky at times (when someone asked about the relevance of cyberpunk these days) and good-humoured the majority of the time. Woefully I haven't yet read any of his work, but he certainly made me more inclined to over the course of an hour and I REALLY want to start with Blue Remembered Earth.

I would say that The World of Publishing panel was possibly the most 101 of them all (although for any first-time con-goer, it would have been utterly fascinating to hear these things for the first time). The most interesting part that I took away is that publishers are aiming to attract a book buyer's attention in Waterstones within the first seven seconds. The first second or so accounts for whether a customer is attracted by the cover, the remaining amount is for the copy blurb on the back. If either of these fail, the casual customer will NOT pick up that book and there is a lost sale. It is truly frightening that publishers work to those time scales - and this accounts partly for why cover art is so terribly important.

For the raffle, I will only sulk that I didn't win any of the awesome prizes and state that Sarah Pinborough and Guy Adams were a brilliant double act as the presenters!

Like I say, my con experience only went over one day so I can't comment on the second day - but, unless the second day was TERRIBLE, I would say that virtually everyone going would say that AltFiction is one of the, if not the, premier conventions on the circuit now.

Just a few other observations:

- the calibre of the attendees, from guests of honour to panellists to people I chatted to in the bar, was very high.
- AltFiction is one of the best networking opportunities for those wishing to get into the writing industries - all the major genre publishers seemed to be represented to some extent or another, and there were agents and editors wandering around and willing to chat in exchange for a pint
- It is *awesome* to pop an author's cherry *ahem*. Sarah Cawkwell (the ONLY female novellist for Black Library right now - not including shorts) was thrilled that I knew who she was and that I can't wait to read The Gildar Rift. Thrilled but maybe a *little* freaked out.
- As usual, was tremendous to meet new people I'd only spoken to via Twitter before now: @DarrenGoldsmith @pyroriffic @damiengwalter @JonCG_novelist @E_M_Edwards
- getting the #duckcon gang back together for a few brief hours was great

And thanks must go to @cbosteve @figures and @markchitty for once again putting up with me and my soapbox - you're the best con companions! Mwah!

Okay, in conclusion: go to AltFiction next year. It fucking rocks.

Friday 24 June 2011

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

From the back of the book (because I'm having a lazy moment): The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace for decades, bastions of civilisation, prosperity and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbours.

But meanwhile, in far-off corners, the Wasp Empire has been devouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, its killing Art... And now its hunger for conquest and war has become insatiable.

Only the ageing Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path.

But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim.

Empire in Black and Gold is an interesting little discovery. Adrian Tchaikovsky has been quietly churning out this series, which receives lots of solid but not glowing book reviews, for the past few years and now is the first time I've felt inclined to pick it up.

I say an interesting, rather than brilliant, discovery because Empire in Black and Gold is a mixed experience.

On the one hand, the worldbuilding premise that Tchaikovsky utilises is truly brilliant and unique. The concept of kinden - different races of people who have insect traits, such as mantis-kinden being swift and deadly - is like nothing I have ever seen before. I absolutely lapped it up. I adored the fact that each race had these different traits. I liked that there were Apt and non-Apt insect-kinden, with different approaches to life - mystical (on the part of the Moths) versus mundane (on the part of the Beetles). Tchaikovsky lavishly peopled his world with this wonderful idea.

Alongside this, Empire in Black and Gold is no usual medieval fare. Instead, an industrial age - with all that encompasses, including business, treaties and pollution - is what the reader is presented with. And this just adds further to the unique feel of the novel.

And, although it was rather heavy-handed at times, I enjoyed the moralising on how an Evil Empire cannot be generalised. The use of Thalric's point of view (one of the Wasp generals) allowed the reader to see that an invading force is made up of many people: "Well, next time you shed my kinden's blood, think on this: we are but men, no less nor more than other men, and we strive and feel joy and fail as men have always done." The Wasp Empire has echoes of Third Reich Germany, whether intentional or no, and this certainly adds a resonance and meaning to the novel that lifts it above other fantasy debuts.

I also admired the strong characterisation of both male and female protagonists. Although some of them, at times, felt a little like the stereotypical fantasy characters encountered elsewhere, they were all lively and embued with real charisma. I particularly liked Tisamon, the enigmatic Mantis-kinden, and will be interested to see where else his story is taken in future entries to the series.

On the downside, the plot - that of the aforementioned Evil Empire, with young protagonists able to tweak its nose as they come into their full powers - is much more pedestrian and familiar. As is the prose. No soaring heights here as from authors such as Jacqueline Carey or Guy Gavriel Kay. Merely a perfunctory job that conveys the storyline.

Without intending any derogatory meaning, I would say that Empire in Black and Gold is good solid Fantasy 101. With the lack of language, the minimal on-screen blood and guts, and the familiar tropes of fantasy, I would say this could be offered to readers just embarking on their fantasy reading "career". It gives everything you could want, to demonstrate what fantasy is all about, while also offering a wonderful world for the reader to discover and immerse in. Tchaikovsky has written a very commendable novel that doesn't reach the heights of such debuts as The Lies of Locke Lamora, but definitely offers more than the ordinary fantasy.

I guess the very best I can say is that I closed the last page of Empire in Black and Gold, and felt truly glad that this was the first novel in a series that looks to run for a lengthy period - because I want to be on board for the duration.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Reasons Why Malazan Could Never Be A TV Series

With the success of A Game of Thrones by HBO, and the sign-up of American Gods by the same, there is now plenty of discussion as to which other fantasy series would make for good television.

At first I loved the idea of a Malazan series - those dragons brought to life, the sweeping epic battles, the magic, the tremendous characters. Plus the series is actually complete (a big plus over A Song of Ice and Fire *snickers*) But then I really started to think about it and realised that I would NEVER want Malazan to be optioned for TV. Here are my reasons....

1) There are lots (and lots and lots and lots and lots) of characters... In Dust of Dreams there are two hundred and forty four characters listed! Some might say that you could excise minor characters, but then you start to wonder exactly which characters could be removed? I mean, you need all the gods for a start, the ascendants are important, maybe the odd Bridgeburner here or there could go, but, truly, Erikson always gives his characters plenty of screentime and/or reason for being there.

2) The ten novels of the main Malazan Book of the Fallen are entirely interlinked. As I know from the Tor readalong, the veterans, who have read the series many times between them, are constantly saying things like 'wow, that scene totally foreshadows what happens in book seven!' when we touch on something in book two. Imagine if HBO picked up the series, but then only made Gardens of the Moon because of ratings - there would be so much that people would miss out on that had already been hinted at.

3) Malazan is not for the casual reader, so a TV series would either have to dumb it down enormously (and then what is the point?) or would have to rely on viewers to pay attention to the extreme. Malazan would be like Lost - except one hundred times more complicated, and look at how people complained about that!

4) I honestly don't think that TV budgets could handle Malazan. Unlike A Song of Ice and Fire (where the dragons and the Others are pretty much the limit of otherworldliness), with Malazan there are full on mage battles; there is a gigantic floating rock; there are multiple shapeshifters; there would need to be some representation of Warrens; there are Elf-like beings in the form of the Tiste.... I could go on!

5) Anyone can die. I mean, we know this from A Game of Thrones as well, but, honestly, I have never been so devastated by character death as when reading the Malazan novels (and I'm only up to the third!) Not just major characters, but minor deaths rend the heart, and I think a casual TV audience would find that enormously difficult to take. In addition to this, Hood is doing an abysmal job in keeping the dead or almost-dead dead, since we keep seeing people we presume dead come back to life.

6) In order to take on Malazan, I presume HBO would need to negotiate contracts not just with Erikson, but with Esslemont as well, since it is a shared world. That adds extra complication and expense. In addition, if they are to become advisors on the series, it would result in trying to fit into the calenders of two busy authors.

7) People in the series have multiple names and titles, which would just cause unnecessary confusion. Some people take on the bodies or forms of other characters. Some characters come back as different characters. I have the capacity to become confused while reading the series and have to skim backwards and forwards - I can't imagine how a TV series would cope.

8) To do the books justice, you would need to commit to AT LEAST ten series. What TV executive would take that chance, knowing how complicated Malazan is?

9) For whatever reason, Malazan is just not as popular as A Song of Ice and Fire (probably because of that habit Erikson has for dropping his readers into the centre of events with no hand-holding). Even non-genre friends of mine were muzzily aware of GRRM and his series as it was being signed up by HBO. NONE of them had heard of Malazan before I mentioned it.

10) My last reason is way more personal and selfish. These characters, these places, live in my head. I have pictures of what they look like. I can't imagine actors taking on these roles. Ask me who should play Anomander Rake, from actors performing today, and I could not think of ANYONE who would do the role justice. Let alone Quick Ben! And Kruppe.... Gosh, I'm not even touching the surface and I'm already lost as to who could play these characters.

So, HBO - and any other TV station - leave Malazan Book of the Fallen well alone! I'm not sure Erikson and his publishers etc would thank me for this, but I firmly believe that this series is one that should NEVER be made into a series.

Pitch in, people! Tell me why I am right or wrong! Do you have actors in mind who could play these characters? How would you get round the issues mentioned above?

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Authors Beware!

Okay, authors, you've got your awesome idea. You've written the novel. It's been tweaked until it is as good as you can possibly make it.


Your readers might not have the patience to read through the hundreds of pages where you lovingly set up the scene and introduce the characters.

I asked on Twitter how long readers gave a book before they would give it up, and the answers were mixed, but I'd say to you all - err on the side of snappy and get things going quickly!

@FunkyScarecrow: 150 pages. If the writer hasn't hooked me by that point, they're never going to.

: a hundred unless it is truly awful.

@J_Oliver: 50 - 100 pages, but it varies. I put Eragon down after the first page. I stopped reading Polansky's Low Town after the second.

@adribbleofink: Generally 100 pages or 1/4 the length of the book, whichever comes first. Of course, there are exceptions.

@empireofbooks: I normally play the baseball rule. 3 strikes and your out. One chapter = a strike. Or a strike can be a cringeworthy moment/scene!

@mygoditsraining: The least I've given a book was 29 pages. Usually I'll stick with a book to the bitter end, but as I've aged I've lost patience.

Luckily there are a few more patient peeps out there:

@The_Ladylark: as far as I recall there are only 2 books I never finished. Both just forgot about rather than an active decision. I'm stubborn. I even finished Twilight, and The Da Vinci Code (nearly threw that one across the room though).

@cbosteve: These days, I try to finish every book , cos I know no matter my opinion, it was a long tough journey to print

@ibc4: The last page. Just like a bad play or bad film: there is always the chance of a glimmer of Gold on the last page, scene or frame.

So, there you have it, authors! I'm teaching you to suck eggs by saying 'Entertain your readers or lose them!' In all seriousness, readers know how many books there are published all the time. None of us will ever read all the books we want to, no matter how much we kid ourselves... Hence, readers are becoming much more discerning. I know a lot more people these days who won't hesitate in dropping a book as soon as it bores them, or the pace isn't snappy enough. Novels like Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch are held up as great books partially because of the nippy pace. I do think this is a lesson that should be taken by all prospective novellists. You may like that lengthy description of what the light looks like as it falls through trees - but, by the time you get to the good bit, you readers might have gone elsewhere (where the tree is hewn down by some axe-wielding shades of grey anti-hero who is most definitely NOT on a quest *grins*)

Howabout dropping me a comment letting me know where you stop reading a book, and what turns you off?

Film Review - Senna

I think I am a member of the last generation to come through who actually watched Ayrton Senna race. I was fourteen years old when he died. I remember my dad calling him a cheating bastard when he and Alain Prost collided to give Senna the Championship that year. I remember that I always wanted Mansell to win over Senna (obviously, being British). But I realise, having watched this wonderful film, that I never ever knew Ayrton Senna as a person and a racing car driver as opposed to a caricature.

Senna is a beautifully shot film - utilising a documentary style - of the famous racing driver's brief stint in the limelight. It tells the story from when he crashed out in Monaco in 1984 to the final moments of his life in 1994. The whole film uses archive footage, with subtitles and voiceovers, rather than any "talking heads" and interviews, and I believe this to be one of the strengths of the films - one of the aspects of it that draws you in.

And this is a truly absorbing film. I have little interest in Formula 1, if I'm honest. I follow it enough to know a few of the names each season. I tend to know who has won the most recent Championship (especially if they're a GBR driver, as has been the case recently). But, when it comes to driving, I prefer two wheels to four - and have a rather large crush on one Valentino Rossi.

Despite all of this, Senna won me over entirely. From the rather blurry in-car footage, to the family home videos, we are shown the character of Senna. And what a character! Sometimes explosively argumentative, flirtatious with the ladies, concerned for his fellow drivers in the event of accidents (to the point where he pulls his car over during qualifying to go to attend to someone who has crashed) - the man Senna is presented during this film as someone worth knowing. Religious, bolshy, sometimes shy, but never less than utterly charismatic - my eyes never left his face.

One of the central aspects of Senna is the high tension relationship between him and Alain Prost. Their virulent battles both on and off track were documented fairly, showing that errors were made by each man. We are used to knowing about various rivalries in sport, but I think this one was by far the most controversial and dangerous - not least of which because they were both driving the fastest cars around at the time.

And this film does not shy away from the very dangerous side of the sport. There are some crashes documented, but done in such a way that you never feel the director was glorifying that part of the sport. Instead they are massively tragic accidents.

There is a tension and continual propulsion to the film, driving towards its inevitable end. And yet the impact of that last race, and of the horrifying consequences, still left me utterly moved and with tears in my eyes. That is the power of this film.

I think that Senna is receiving a limited run in cinemas, because of the specialised nature of the film, so I would urge you to go now to see it. It is worth the big screen experience, and it is definitely worth a viewing. Even those with little interest in Formula 1 will find much to enjoy. This film was mesmerising and poignant, and gives a fitting memorial to that most mercurial of sports personalities, Ayrton Senna.

Guest Post: Matt Rees, author of Mozart's Last Aria

Today I am really pleased to welcome another guest blogger to Floor to Ceiling Books. This time it is one Matt Rees, author of Mozart's Last Aria. First of all, we'll hear from Matt and then I'll show you a little bit of info about his novel.

"When I first had the idea for MOZART’S LAST ARIA, my new historical crime novel about the death of the great composer, my picture of the Maestro was no doubt similar to that of most people: he was a bit of a buffoon who somehow managed to write sublime music. It turns out to be an idea coloured by some snobbish letters by Imperial Viennese artistocrats who thought Mozart rather gauche. But it was cemented in the public imagination by Amadeus, Peter Shaffer’s stage play which was directed so successfully for the cinema by Milos Forman in 1984.

As I researched the book, I saw that Mozart was far more complex, intelligent and liberal than he has been given credit for. Of course, for a crime novel set in an autocratic police state, all of those elements of his character are very useful – because they’re so dangerous.

Wolfgang’s letters and his friends’ recollections show that he was a deep thinker who had great admiration for Enlightenment ideals. That would’ve put him in jeopardy with the Emperor’s spies much greater than the risk he faced from Court Composer Salieri, whose jealousy is credited in Amadeus with Mozart’s murder. Wolfgang was excitable after musical performances, but then The Rolling Stones have been known to drop television sets out of tenth-floor hotel rooms to let off steam and they’re no Mozarts.

The Wolfgang I’ve come to know from my research and from intense listening to his music was no fool. He was one of the great minds of history, and I hope my novel will help rescue his reputation as an intellectual whose concern for his fellow man was rooted in a profoundly caring, warm personality.

Mozart himself hinted to his wife that his intellectual life had endangered him. Six weeks before he died, he was promenading in the Prater Gardens of Vienna with Constanze, to whom he was married for the last nine years of his short life. He told her he had been poisoned, that he was to be sacrificed and knew he would die. His wife tried to cheer him up, but the conviction that he had been poisoned remained with him until his death in early December 1791.

The premise of MOZART’S LAST ARIA is that Nannerl, Wolfgang’s gifted sister, learns of her brother’s belief that he had been poisoned and travels to Vienna to find out the truth. (In fact, she never went to Vienna after his death, though she lived a further 37 years in and around Salzburg.)

Recent historical research gave me the opportunity to have Nannerl investigate several more likely causes of Wolfgang’s death than Salieri (who was considerably more popular than Mozart in his day, even if his music is now forgotten, and would therefore be unlikely to suffer the kind of deadly envy portrayed by Shaffer.)

The new research shows that Mozart’s interest in the ideas of the Enlightenment put him in the same intellectual sphere as the French Revolutionaries who were, at the time of his death, preparing to execute Marie Antoinette. Who happened to be the sister of the Austrian Emperor. Not such a smart move, Wolfgang…

Further, Mozart was a member of a Masonic lodge that was more or less illegal and infiltrated by secret agents of the Imperial Secret Police. He may have been involved in espionage involving Vienna’s Prussian enemies. And in his last great opera, The Magic Flute, he espoused – by my reading – a provocative reinterpretation of Masonic regulations which could’ve put him in trouble with other Masons and the Emperor himself.

To find out which of these – if any – turns out to be behind his murder, you’ll have to read the book!"

Here is the official blurb for Mozart's Last Aria: It is 1791 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is enlightenment Vienna's brightest star. Master of the city's music halls and devoted member of the Austrian Freemason's guild, he stands at the heart of an electric mix of art and music, philosophy and science, politics and intrigue. Six weeks ago, the great composer told his wife he had been poisoned. Yesterday, he died. The city is buzzing with rumours of infidelity, bankruptcy and murder. But Wolfgang's sister Nannerl, returned from the provinces to investigate, will not believe base gossip. Who but a madman would poison such a genius? Yet as she looks closely at what her brother left behind - a handwritten score, a scrap of paper from his journal - Nannerl finds traces of something sinister: the threads of a masonic conspiracy that reach from the gilded ballrooms of Viennese society to the faceless offices of the Prussian secret service. Only when watching Wolfgang's bewitching opera, The Magic Flute, does Nannerl truly understand her beloved brother once again. For, encoded in his final arias, is a subtly crafted blueprint for a radical new tomorrow. Mozart hoped to change his future. Instead he sealed his fate.

Doesn't it sound fantastic? Mozart's Last Aria is out now and receiving some awesome reviews. Make sure you pick it up!

If you want any more information, Matt Rees can be found HERE and HERE.

Monday 20 June 2011

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments is set in a newspaper office, just before Y2K hits, in smalltown USA. The Internet is still a novelty and two members of staff - Beth and Jennifer - spend time sending emails back and forth. Lincoln is the Internet security officer hired to ensure that staff aren't abusing the new email/Internet privileges, and find himself drawn into reading their emails each night. He learns about every aspect of their lives, from the musician boyfriend of one to the pregnancy woes of the other. Before he realises, Lincoln is falling in love.... but how can he possibly tell this girl why he knows so much about her? Is there any chance she could ever forgive him? And does she believe in love before first sight?

This is a perfect chick lit book - it is humorous (and I do mean laugh-out-loud at some points), it is very sweet and it is wise about the ways of love and relationships. I found myself entirely bowled over by Attachments and read it in one sitting.

Part of the reason for this is the delightful format that Rainbow Rowell uses. I've seen the email plot device in other stories, but here the conversations between Beth and Jennifer are interspersed by third person encounters with Lincoln, and all the areas of his life. Because of this, it felt both immediate and very intimate.

Lincoln himself is a *wonderful* character, and shows tremendous growth through the course of the novel. Usually we see our leading ladies develop into meaningful human beings in chick lit books, but here it was all about Lincoln. A victim of a broken heart, he has lived with his mother for a while at the start of Attachments and spends his Saturday nights playing D&D with friends. His night shift work precludes him from meeting people who keep normal hours, and he finds himself lonely and out of touch. Under these circumstances, it seems almost reasonable that he would be drawn into the warm and happy lives of two friends who gossip and tease each other to get through the work day.

The lack of privacy concerning Beth and Jennifer's emails - and the fact that Lincoln reads them - could be a source of discomfort to some readers, and might make Lincoln a person that they feel unable to sympathise with. I didn't have this problem so much, since every office I work in has some form of Internet security where emails are monitored. Saying this, I would be deeply uncomfortable at the idea of someone reading all of my personal conversations with a friend!

I found that that prose in Attachments, plus the snappy dialogue, lifted the novel above your run of the mill chick lit novel - this is definitely a superior example of the genre, and one that I would feel very comfortable in recommending to someone who wanted to dip their toe into this style of novel.

I also liked the location. Most of the chick lit novels I read are either located in Ireland, London or New York, so to be given such a refreshingly different location - with all the culture and food and sayings that accompany it - was a real breath of fresh air to someone who has read a LOT of chick lit books.

For me, Attachments is one of those rare beasts - a genre novel that actually becomes more. Becomes something you would enjoy reading time and again, and want other people to read in order to savour the goodness. A really excellent novel and well worth your cash - this one is a keeper!

Sometimes it Happens by Pauline Barclay

Last month I made the decision to accept self-published work as well as books via traditional publishers. I did this because of the slush reading I have done for Angry Robot - I've discovered that there are many GOOD works going unpublished, and thought that it would be a good idea to highlight self-published works since these authors do not have the marketing machines behind them that published authors do.

Pauline Barclay was the first author to contact me once I had made this decision, and offered up her novel Sometimes it Happens.

In Sometimes it Happens we're introduced to the Villas Bonitas as we meet Doreen Wilkinson. Doreen is a true rags to riches story - a council estate girl, a single mother, living on the breadline; someone who suddenly wins millions on the lottery and has to adjust to her new-found wealth. The Villas Bonitas are also home to a number of other characters, who we gradually come to know over the course of the novel. These characters range from the sweet, to the downright horrible, and all have a story of their own.

Pauline Barclay's prose is exuberant and has a real sense of fun. She sets the scene with a holiday atmosphere, and I could almost feel the sun lounger under my back and the drink in my hand as I read this story.

In Sometimes it Happens Barclay also takes some time to examine the different ways in which money might affect a person, especially someone who has previously had nothing. It was great to see Doreen remaining true to her roots, but I also appreciated the idea that winning the lottery would not instantly make a person's life full of happiness and serene.

Barclay's characterisation is also pretty good. There are some very well-defined characters here, and I never had any problems telling them apart, which can happen at times when you have a large cast of people within a novel.

On the self-published side of things, I felt that the text was perfectly readable. There were some errors and Barclay made a habit of using commas a little flagrantly, which sometimes caused sentences to read oddly, but I didn't stumble too often.

The most difficult part of the novel for me, and the part that I felt let Barclay down, was the dialogue. She was determined to retain the down to earth nature of Doreen, but unfortunately it led to some clumsy speech that interrupted the otherwise relatively smooth prose: "Gawd gel, you don't fink I'm old do yer? I ain't no spring chicken I grant, but I ain't no gerry-attic eever." Perfectly understandable, but a little difficult to read.

Altogether, I'm pleased that my first foray into self-published works was a success. I was entertained by the story of Doreen Wilkinson, and would recommend this as an easy read on a summer's afternoon.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck

Kelsey Hayes has to do summer work placements before college, and is told to present herself at a circus. While there she works with the white tiger Dhiren, and agrees to help transport him back to India when he is sold. Once in India, Kelsey learns that she is the key to unlocking an ancient curse. Accompanied by the princely Ren, she has to perform a number of tasks, but finds herself in the gravest danger - including falling in love...

I can see that Houck has worked incredibly hard to present a very different culture from the usual YA fantasy romance - here, she presents a vision of India, all lush jungle, exotic food and strange mythology. I enjoyed having a different background to the plot.

Unfortunately, I have to say that that was the best part of the novel. Tiger's Curse was simplistic and formulaic, at the same time, which meant my interest wandered even at key points.

Other reviewers have talked about the breathless romance between Kelsey and Ren, but all I could see was all the other occasions when a teenage girl has fallen hard for a supernatural chap when she doesn't really know him!

For me, the overwhelming feeling while reading Tiger's Curse was one of irritation. I got tired very quickly of the Dear Diary approach: 'I woke up. I got dressed. I ate breakfast. I spent time talking to a tiger'. Kelsey was a sickening character - one of those girls who is mystically powerful, beautiful but overly modest and seems to constantly require a man to protect her.

The realism in the novel was lacking. I do understand I was reading a fantasy novel, and hence there will be some lack of realism, but this went to ridiculous levels: Kelsey is supremely talented at looking after a tiger, even though she has no prior experience of looking after dangerous animals. She decides that it will be fine to touch said tiger, because it "feels" as though he won't hurt her. She thinks it is fine to travel to India with a man she had met on two other occasions, in order to look after a tiger because she'll miss it after having spent just two weeks taking care of it.

The switch between rather ordinary circus adventure/travel itinerary that comprised the first hundred or so pages (seriously, we are told the entire specs of the plane she travels on to India; we hear about various hotels she stops at) and the supernatural quest/Indiana Jones tale that finished the novel gave me whiplash, it was so sudden. And when I say Indiana Jones, I mean it - we have a whole sequence where Kelsey and Ren have to deal with a tomb that throws up unexpected surprises, such as bugs and spikes through walls.

I ended up rolling my eyes so many times - not least when Kelsey starts to over-analyse her relationship with Ren. I mean, she's clearly attracted to him and kisses him often, but Houck decides to string this out through the last third of the novel, with an entirely unconvincing resolution.

Altogether Tiger's Curse was about two hundred pages too long, and shared far too many similarities with other YA fantasy romances. It frustrated me more than it thrilled me, and I would say categorically that I have no intention picking up the other two novels in the trilogy.

I know my review is tough, so here is an alternative view from someone who adored it: Serendipity Teacher

Friday 17 June 2011

Forthcoming from Black Library!

I want to open this post by assuring you that I do not work for Black Library, or represent them in any way. I feel I have to do that because I've been going gaga on Amazon checking out the forthcoming titles from Black Library. They are looking SWEET!

I have to say - if you want pulp science fiction or fantasy, there are none better than Black Library right now. In my opinion, you can gain just as much pleasure reading these books if you have never tried the tabletop games. In fact, I'd guess there are now many readers of Black Library books who don't realise that the tabletop games came first, and that the novels they're reading are based on background material first presented in army books.

I think we need to remember that Black Library now have a number of NY Times bestselling titles, and have award winning authors. They are also diligent in showcasing titles, covers and information about their novels in advance. And their audio books are second to none. (Yes, I know I sound like part of their marketing team - that's why I felt I had to preface this post with that first sentence!)

The long running Horus Heresy series (which goes from strength to strength) has two entries on the following list, but there is much to look forward to over the coming months.

I'd urge you to try out some Black Library fiction - start with Horus Rising by Dan Abnett if you prefer science fiction, and I would suggest Heldenhammer by Graham McNeill if you're more of a fantasy afficionado.

(Release dates/cover images might be subject to change)

Deliverance Lost - Gav Thorpe

2nd January 2012

The Outcast Dead - Graham McNeill

When an Astropath has a vision about the end of the heresy, it falls to a group of renegade traitors to get him off Terra.

10th November 2011

Nocturne - Nick Kyme

The Salamanders fight to defend their home world against the traitorous Dragon Warriors in the blistering conclusion to the Tome of Fire trilogy.

(Previous novels in the trilogy are Salamander and Firedrake)

10th November 2011

The Gildar Rift - Sarah Cawkwell

In the depths of space, the Silver Skulls take on the might of Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs.

8th December 2011

Hammer and Anvil - James Swallow

The Sisters of Battle are the Emperor's most devout worshippers, fierce warriors preaching the purity of the Imperium and scourging their enemies with bolter and flamer. On a distant world, the Ecclesiarchy outpost of Sanctuary 101 was wiped out by an implacable foe - the fearless, soulless necrons. Now, a mission of the Sisterhood has returned to reconsecrate the site - but the metallic nightmares still lurk in the darkness, guarding a secret that has lain dormant for millennia. A vicious battle will be fought - one that can only end in the total destruction of the unrelenting xenos, or the annihilation of the proud Sororitas.

8th December 2011

Path of the Seer - Gav Thorpe

The ancient eldar are a mysterious race and each devotes their life to a chosen path that will guide their actions and decide their fate. Thirianna abandons her simple existence to embark upon the mysterious Path of the Seer. She will tread a dark and dangerous road that leads her to the otherrealm of the warp, where daemons are made flesh and nightmares are manifest, for only there can she realise her psychic abilities. After unleashing her powers in battle and communing with the spirits of her craft world, Thirianna turns her skills to discerning the future amidst the myriad strands of fate. Her visions reveal a great threat descending on Alaitoc, and both the living and the dead will march to war to defend it.

1st September 2011

Sons of Ellyrion - Graham McNeill

30th August 2011

Thanquol's Doom - Clint Werner

Grey Seer Thanquol uses his deadliest invention to battle the dwarfs in their mountain holds.

13th October 2011

The Red Duke - Clint Werner

Bloodthirsty vampire lord the Red Duke is resurrected from his ancient slumber to terrorise the lands of Bretonnia.

10th November 2011

Age of Legend - edited by Christian Dunn

2nd January 2012

Are there any here tickling your fancy?

Do you read Black Library novels? Which is your favourite?

Thursday 16 June 2011

Kindle vs Book

Hello y'all! I'm celebrating my 600th post on Floor to Ceiling Books by talking about my reactions to my Kindle after a couple of months of use. (No, I didn't think I'd make 600 posts either...)

I got my Kindle for my birthday and started loading up the odd book here and there. Today I have 40 books on it, and have read 1, although I've started a couple of others using the Kindle.

I'm going to say straight out - although I can see the usefulness of the Kindle (and it is WAAAY lighter than hoofing around three or four books whenever I travel away from home), I have not fallen in love with the reading experience, and, if given the choice, start reading traditional print books over my Kindle any day.

One feature of the Kindle I adore is the case I lovingly purchased - it has an inbuilt light which runs off of the Kindle power supply. It means I can read the Kindle at any point without disturbing other people by needing lights on.

It is also great being able to carry around so many books at one time. I am a definite mood reader, and I find that I need a few novels to choose from whenever I finish my current read. The Kindle is perfect for this - like I say, I have 40 books which range through sci fi, crime, fantasy, chick lit, and YA. Every situation is covered.

I also like the fact that I can accept ebooks from self-published authors. I realised while doing the Angry Robot slush reading that there are a LOT of talented authors out there who do not have traditional representation via agents and publishers - and these are the people who need extra help when it comes to marketing. Since having the Kindle, I have accepted a number of self-published novels and aim to read and review them.

Also, I am a naughty person and read while I eat on the majority of occasions, and not having to hold pages open is just ACE.

So, there are reasons I LIKE my Kindle, but I'm struggling to fall in love the way I do with "proper" books. Here are some of my theories:

1) I like the weight of a book in my hand. I like the tactile element and the turning of actual pages.

2) I like a page count. I DETEST the % value completed shown on the Kindle - it makes it all mathematical and clinical, and I become utterly obsessed with completing the book and keep eyeing the % value and it disturbs my reading rhythm.... ARGH!

3) I can't take my Kindle in the bath - unless I'm, y'know, stupid! And I do a great deal of reading in the bath. It's my favourite place to read, because I'm warm, comfortable and relaxed and absolutely no one can disturb me. Also, I can't take Twitter in the bath, which is a horrendous distraction from reading, so I get way more done.

4) I can't look at all the books I own on the Kindle. I can see them in a list, sure, but I like to see the covers and the spines. I love my bookcases - the colours and the names and the different thicknesses of the books on display! They look simply gorgeous and allow me to see in a moment what I could read next. I've resorted to writing a paper list of all my Kindle books to remind me of what has now slipped to page 3 and 4 on the home menu.

5) I have a nasty habit of skimming words on a computer screen - the instant nature of blog posts and online articles etc mean that I no longer read with absolute attention when a screen is offered. Hence I find myself skimming Kindle books way too fast and having to go back over and over to pick up all the details.

If anyone has any suggestions for how to turn this like to love, I'd really appreciate them! I've tried reading a very familiar book already, but that didn't work. All suggestions gratefully received. And I'd love to hear about your Kindle reading experiences.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

Christine Lucas suffered a car accident that causes an anomaly with her memories - every time she goes to sleep, she forgets who she is and what has happened to her over the last twenty years. On the morning we meet Christine she is called by a Dr Nash, who tells her about a journal she has been keeping. The reader discovers, along with Christine, what her story is - and is drawn into a taut emotional thriller that keeps you guessing from page to page. Don't trust Ben.

Before I Go To Sleep is an incredibly thought-provoking novel, as well as an exciting psychological drama. The nature of memories, and how they create a personality, are discussed thoroughly here, as we follow Christine's story. This lifts Before I Go To Sleep into truly literary realms, providing plenty of arenas for debate.

Without our memories, who are we?

How much do memories define us?

Is lying to someone in their best interests?

This debut novel by S J Watson seeks to explore these matters, and does so within a story structure that works unbelievably well. First of all, we wake with Christine, in an unfamiliar bed, with a strange man next to her. We feel her panic, we're desperate to know what is going on and who this man is. We're aghast with her when we find out that this man is her husband. We're curious about Dr Nash, and finally we're completely engrossed as we read the story of Christine's journal, learn about what has been taking place over the last twenty years.

While the plot is simply excellent, Watson's prose cannot be dismissed as something lesser. It is his prose that keeps the reader turning pages - its simplicity, starkness and, at times, bluntness creates the atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia.

At times I was deeply uncomfortable with the subject matter and found myself confronting ideas that demand dissection. This includes the nature of consensual and non-consensual sex. If you are told that a man is your husband, if you believe this to be true and yet feel uncomfortable when he initiates sex, is this non-consensual? I have to say, every single time I put down Before I Go To Sleep, I found my thoughts returning to it. I was desperate to go back to Christine and couldn't bear the idea of not finding out what was happening.

This is one of those books where you would pay extra for another copy if your original was missing the last chapter! Before I Go To Sleep is the type of novel where you seriously consider only catching a few hours sleep yourself in order to finish reading it.

It is breathless, highly accomplished and damn near perfect. Go and buy this book today.

DGLA Auctions for Awards Night

On Friday evening (17th June) the glittering ceremony for the David Gemmell Legend Award presentation will take place (tickets still available!) As part of the proceedings, an auction is going to be held to raise funds for the continuing administration of the award. The auction prizes have now been released and are as follows:

1) A one-to-one workshop, on your manuscript, with Jo Fletcher, the exceptional editor and publisher! Kindly donated by Jo Fletcher. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless

2) A stunning signed, framed Edward Miller print of THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE OF JULES VERNE, measuring 31 x 24 inches. Kindly donated by Les Edwards. Bids start at £20. Retail price: £150

3) An exclusive Orbit Books bag filled with the complete DRESDEN FILES series of thirteen books by Jim Butcher. Kindly donated by Orbit Books. Bids start at £20. Retail price: £120

4) A cameo in Scott Lynch’s forthcoming novel THE THORN OF EMBERLAIN. Escape a horrible death by the narrowest of margins! Kindly donated by Scott Lynch. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless!

5) A bottle of Laurent-Perrier Champagne and two LEGEND AWARD champagne glasses. Kindly donated by Gollancz. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless!

6) Two tickets to the GOLLANCZ 50TH PARTY – the genre publishing event of the year. Invitees include famous genre authors, agents and editors. Kindly donated by Gollancz. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless!

7) A gold chalet (for 6 people!) at the SFX Weekender, taking place in Prestatyn from 2nd-5th February 2012! Kindly donated by SFX. Bids start at £20. Retail price: £690

8) A one-of-a kind print of THE ROGUE cover, framed and signed by Trudi Canavan. Kindly donated by Orbit Books. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless!

9) The DGLA ‘lawn sign’. Signed by every author, artist and genre big-wig who attends the award ceremony! The perfect momento of a perfect award ceremony. Kindly donated by the DGLA. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless!

10) An exclusive, framed, signed pencil sketch original of DRUSS THE LEGEND by Didier Graffet. Kindly donated by Didier Graffet. Bids start at £20. Retail price: priceless

Awesome, huh?

So, all opening bids are £20. And the best news is that you DON'T have to be attending on Friday evening to make a bid on the items above.

If you want to make a silent auction bid, then there are two ways to do this.

EITHER contact Christine at:

OR place your bids on the Facebook page, however please remember to be quick as online bidding closes at 6pm GMT on Thursday 16th June 2011.

What are you waiting for?

Monday 13 June 2011

Sir Terry, I Salute You!

The Guardian have reported that Sir Terry Pratchett has started the process to end his own life. It is a rather sensationalist headline, considering that Sir TP still wants to complete the novel he is working on, plus: "Pratchett, the creator of the Discworld novels who was 60 when he was diagnosed, said his decision to start the formal process did not necessarily mean he was going to take his own life."

This news fills me with sadness. Sir TP is a talent that will never be equalled in the field of comic fantasy, satire, and the sheer joy of mocking social trends. His books are absolutely beloved by millions, from the adventures of Tiffany Aching, to the trials and tribulations of one Sam Vimes.

Equally, though, I feel proud of Terry Pratchett. He is currently facing one of the greatest taboos and asking all of us to talk about it in an adult manner. He is bringing death into the spotlight, and asking WHY people are not able to choose the manner of their death.

Currently the manner of birth is chosen, how to celebrate birthdays, how a funeral should be conducted, how a wedding takes place... The only area in which a person is not given complete control is over their death.

This is a particularly grave subject to me because I watched a man I loved very much die in pain and anguish, with all dignity stripped from him. His wife was forced to look after him like a child during his last few weeks. He was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. In his remaining months he helped to trial new prospective treatments - in the end, one of these killed him. He took as much choice as he was allowed; he tried to help other sufferers by using his body as a living experiment - but I feel sure he would have preferred to wrap up his affairs and choose a day to pass quietly and with self-respect intact.

I know this is an enormously delicate subject and we all will have views on the matter, but I, for one, am glad that we are being encouraged to talk about it and make it less frightening a possibility by one of our best-loved authors. His public battle with Alzheimer's, and the fund raising for the connected charity, and, now, his struggle to choose his own death have, in my opinion, benefitted every one of us.

I hate the idea of losing Terry Pratchett. But I would rather lose him while his memory is one of a fiercely intelligent and humorous human being, than of someone who "used to be able to write, who used to be good". I would rather he retained all dignity.

And this is why I say 'Sir Terry, I salute you!' and I am behind him in his battle to die as he chooses.