2017, and other strangeness.

It's my desk! MY PEN! It’s been a year, almost? 

It’s been a year. And if you had asked me to guess at what that year would hold, I would have been flat-out wrong.

I tried to write a novel. I also tried to sell a novel, but that’s a different story.* The novel I tried to write was a tight, character-led thriller about a professional bounty hunter finding a dead body instead of the person they were trailing, they are accused of the murder, and the hunt for the real killer begins…

But the further we got into the dumpster fire that was 2016, the less real that story felt. The America I had set it in was changing, and my story was oblivious to it. Untouched by it.

And in the tech world, stories kept cropping up that caught my eye. People queuing at a Maker Faire to have subdermal implants injected into their bodies. How companies use metadata to track you. How apps on your phone listen to you to predict your searches. The stratification of society regressing to the point where companies no longer see people as consumers, but as product.

And so the story changed. It had to. Because I couldn’t sit and think about security and surveillance all day long and not write about it. So a banker became an information broker, a chase where my bounty hunter uses the tricks of the trade to evade capture became a chase where evasion was almost impossible because the methods of tracking are so advanced that even the most dedicated individual will struggle to stay lost in a crowd.

And the world it takes place in – one that is almost identical to our own, perhaps five years down the line – has changed too. What was a parade is now a protest. What was an indifferent public is now an engaged one.

It’s a different, darker America that I am imagining in the new book. What’s changed along with it is that there are plenty of people pushing back against the dark. Those people I didn’t have to imagine.

Not sure where I’m going with this? Fine. I’ll try again.

It’s Person of Interest meets The Winter Soldier

Anyway. Back to it. Stay good.

 

*the moral is, yet again, close but no cigar. So it goes. 

Girl at the End of the World

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With all the excitement of surgery waiting for me, I missed off an update about this anthology. The Girl at the End of the World is the latest anthology (in two parts) from Fox Spirit books. Part one includes a story by me: The Ending Plague.

The remit for submissions was a fairly open theme – the title gives away exactly what that was – and I decided to try my hand at a secondary-world fantasy apocalypse. Hopefully people will enjoy reading my contribution as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s always nice to rub shoulders with people you know online and from conventions, but this one was made a bit more special as it includes a story by James Oswald, who has the same agent as me. Team Mushens Fistbump! There’s a special bond between all of her clients. Sometimes we like to get together and compare bruises she has given us, or swap stories about the number of times she’s chased each of us with a hammer. It’s all true.

Anyway. You can find the ebook of The Girl at the End of the World (Part One) on Amazon UK, Amazon US, or as a paperback (UK, US)

 

Review: The Boy With the Porcelain Blade

Porcelain Blade

I’m sorry folks (and Den) – no GIFs in this review. I know it’s a desperate betrayal of all you know of me, but…honestly, I’m too tired to go hunting for really good swordfighting gifs. Instead, I thought I’d try my hand at a proper review. It may all go horribly wrong. There should be no real spoilers.

Lucien de Fontein is an orfano. As the name suggests, orfano are children of unknown parentage who are fostered into noble families. Even more than this, each orfano carries a mark – a disfigurement – that sets them apart from everyone else. In Lucien’s case, he has been born without ears. In spite of their disfigurement (or, perhaps, because of it) orfano rise fast in the nobility. Quick with their wits and skilled at arms, they draw intrigue to them as naturally as other men might draw breath.

Lucien’s star, however, is not ascendant. When we meet him he is on the verge of becoming outcast, bent double under the weight of a terrible burden: the truth.

The Boy With… is not a book about the revelation of this truth, although it is nonetheless revealed, told in part through a series of chronological flashbacks that alternate with the main timeline, each one a turn of the key that winds de Fontein’s soul tighter until we meet him in the present. It is about finding the strength to confront that truth. The sweet reek of corruption lies heavy on Landfall, and Lucien is not only forced to contend with the Machiavellian schemes of the other orfano, but also with the temptation of his own heart.

The least afflicted by the curse of his birth, he is the least accepted of the orfano. While everyone happily endures the monstrous Golia, his arms sheathed in spikes an outward reflection of his natural brutality, Lucien is mercilessly bullied for daring to pass – for desiring normality. His need to be accepted – to be respected – is as much the heart of this novel as the outward conflict with the mad King and his Majordomo. Lucien is not a glorious or dashing hero: all of his weakness and fragility are laid bare on the page and it is this that sets The Boy With… apart as a singular and brilliant fantasy debut.

The author’s prose is lean – this is no doorstop of a novel – but it is richly woven for all that. The world is not ours, but the thread of Italian terminology woven through the narrative conjures up a comparison to Dumas’ Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, the wheels of intrigue turning, torchlight warm on a damask hung over marble. It’s Rafael Sabatini by way of a tab of acid.

The Boy with The Porcelain Blade is released in Hardback and Kindle editions on the 20th of March. You can see Den Patrick and Jennifer Williams at Blackwells in London (of course)* on March 10th.

 

*Book events in the north? HA.

 

Tales of Eve release!

So! I have another story out which, if you don’t count audio publications (which I totally do because I’m just like that okay), doubles my publication list. Oh yeah.

Baby steps, guys. Come on.

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It’s in the anthology Tales of Eve, from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Mhairi Simpson. It features eleven stories surrounding the theme of women creating their perfect companions.

You can pick up a copy via Spacewitch or Wizard’s Tower books or even Amazon if you so desire.

So, yeah! Cool. I hope you enjoy it.

The oldest book I own.

This is the oldest book I currently own:

Workshop Receipts For Manufacturers, Mechanics, and Scientific Amateurs by Ernest Spon.

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This edition was published in 1879, and provides instruction in the art of “bronzes, cements, dyeing, electro-mettalurgy, enamels, etching, fireworks, fluxes, fulminates, gilding, gums, japanning, lacquers, marble working, nitro-glycerine, photography, pottery, varnishes, &c &c &c”.

Flicking through some of said instruction, it’s amazing that anyone survived to pass them on.  Victorian artisans were a bunch of absolute mentalists.

Take, for example, the preparation of Gold amalgam for use in gilding.

Amalgam of Gold in the Large Way – A quantity of quicksilver is put into a crucible or iron ladle, which is lined with clay, and exposed to heat till it begins to smoke. The gold to be mixed should be previous granulated, and heated red hot, when it should be added to the quicksilver, and stirred about with an iron rod till it is perfectly dissolved. If there should be any superfluous mercury, it may be separated by passing it through clean soft leather; and the remaining amalgam will have the consistency of butter , and contain about 3 parts mercury to one point gold.

So, in short, add red hot Gold to a container full of Mercury so hot that it is smoking.  This isn’t even one of the dangerous preparations in the book!  About a third of the way through, it gives instruction in the preparation of fulminate of silver, before explaining that the compound is so reactive that it is practically useless for any reasonable purpose.

It’s a fascinating look back at how chemistry was once an integral part of a workshop, and required no real specialised course of training, instead relying on recklessness bordering on the insane coupled with lots of ironware and a lightweight roof.

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bagicalupi is a 2009 novel of dystopian future, a world where an advanced level of genetic crop manipulation has produced two almost-cataclysmic results – the development of advanced and destructive disease strains (it’s left to the reader to decide whether these strains have formed through evolution, or have been synthesised) and a global monopoly on the gene patents of disease-resistant fruit and crops.

The story itself takes place in Thailand, one of the few strongholds of meaningful resistance against the monopolisation of the “calorie” companies – the only reason they have held out successfully is through the aid of defected geneticist and the possession of a massive seed bank, thousands of genetic samples of pre-manipulation and disease-free plant material that can be used as genetic stock for the generation of “fresh” produce lines.

That’s not to say Thailand is without problems, though.  Corrupt to the core, two government factions struggle for power over the other, primarily concerned with the largely insular Kingdom’s strict trade and customs systems, while various underworld and street factions take their share and hold de facto sway over the industrial sector and the streets themselves.

Stuck in the middle of it is a cast of disparate characters: Anderson Lake, operative of a calorie company on the hunt for the elusive seed bank location; Hock Seng, survivor of an Islamist purge of Malaysia and foreman in Lake’s cover operation, an experimental spring factory; Jaidee, Tiger of Bangkok, incorruptible Captain of the White Shirts – the enforcement arm of the Environment Ministry; Kanya, Jaidee’s second-in-command; and Emiko, the titular Windup Girl, a genetically-modified, vat-grown, built for pleasure but ingrained with specific, controlling flaws – the irresistible urge to obey, the staccato motion of her muscles – dumped as an economic sacrifice by her owners and found at the start of our story being debased on-stage in a Thai sex show.

I should start with what’s good about the novel.  I enjoyed it, for a start, and read through the entire thing in almost a single sitting during a day’s relaxation after the start of my Christmas holiday.  It’s not a difficult read for anyone willing to familiarise themselves rapidly with the jargon of a world based on biotech and genetic tinkering – in fact, I found the Thai words slipped into things more jarring than the tech-speak – and the characters are readily sympathetic if not exactly angelic in their respective agendas.

The writing, too, is excellent.  Stirring, evocative imagery: just the right amount of research in there to give the world shape, colour, tone, and not so much that you feel like you’re getting a lecture.  The author skips lightly over action sequences and fights, and rightly so – the few times that more detail is required, things take a treacle-slow turn for the worse and you find your eyes skipping description just to find out what’s actually going on.

For all that, though, the plot builds nicely, both in the macroscopic scene-by-scene flow of things and the overarcing build of pressure as the government factions kick off a battle of escalating wills.  If anything it peaks a little too early on, and the final lifts feel shallow compared to the city’s implosion at the two-thirds mark.

On the downside, it’s hard not to make obvious comparisons to superior work.  I am, if anything, a child of my influences, and it would be disingenuous of an author to present such a postmodern work without expecting readers to sit and pick parts apart.

The biggest problem I had with the entire thing was the Windup Girl herself.  She’s a mish-mash of imagery, a sex doll inconceivably gifted with the ability to move at superhuman speeds, to break all genetic and social codes programmed into her and self-emancipate.  Granted, she’s pushed hard on that journey, but it still feels convenient, a little too inspired towards producing an image instead of something that fits into the plot.  One second she’s an alien machine-person, loathed, reviled, desired, punished for her existence, next thing she’s punching people in the throat and moving with a fluidity and grace that Pris couldn’t quite manage even with a male stunt double.  Near the end she pulls the joint of an elbow apart catching herself on a balcony and in that long, drawn-out moment dangling above the dark alley you can’t help but recall Major Kusanagi’s cyborg body just plain giving up the battle between her irresistible will and the immovable lid of a spider tank.

Taking the wider view, the entire book is good, but more than anything else it makes me want to read The Quiet American again.  Greene’s prose is more clipped, less vibrant, but nevertheless the simmer of his plot is more subtle, more controlled.  Very little happens that the reader doesn’t experience first-hand in Windup Girl, and given the controlled, corrupt nature of the various factions at work it might have been more fun to have more reaction, more subtlety to events.  I realise that’s not a fashionable publishing view – the here and now is very much in vogue – but it’s the immediate difference that sets The Quiet American apart as a classic and denies the Windup Girl similar status.