Sunday, June 30, 2013

Upcoming: “The Age of Ice” by J.M. Sidorova (Scribner)

Sidorova-TheAgeOfIceUKThis looks like an interesting novel. It has already been described as “boldly original and genrebending”, and it will apparently take readers “from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris”. Colour me very much intrigued…

The Empress Anna Ioannovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor — all made of ice. Sealed inside are a disgraced nobleman and a deformed female jester. On the empress’s command — for her entertainment — these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning, guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitzyn and his twin brother, Andrei, have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood, stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune to cold.

The Age of Ice is published by Scribner in the UK, and will be out near the end of July 2013.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Upcoming: “Gallow” Trilogy by Nathan Hawke (Gollancz)

HawkeN-Gallow1-CrimsonShieldI caught a tweet the other day from Gollancz’s publicist that copies of the first book in Nathan Hawke’s Gallow series had arrived in their office (oh, how they tease us bibliophiles…). Naturally, this made me seek out some more information about the series. It sounds pretty cool, too. The series is comprised of THE CRIMSON SHIELD, COLD REDEMPTION, and LAST BASTION, and will be published in July, August, and September (respectively). I do like it when publishers release series in quick succession…

Here’s the first synopsis…

I have been Truesword to my friends, Griefbringer to my enemies. To most of you I am just another Northlander bastard here to take your women and drink your mead, but to those who know me, my name is Gallow. I fought for my king for seven long years. I have served lords and held my shield beside common men. I have fled in defeat and I have tasted victory and I will tell you which is sweeter. Despise me then, for I have slain more of your kin than I can count, though I remember every single face.

For my king I will travel to the end of the world. I will find the fabled Crimson Shield so that his legions may carry it to battle, and when Sword and Shield must finally clash, there you will find me. I will not make pacts with devils or bargains with demons for I do not believe in such things, and yet I will see them all around me, in men and in their deeds. Remember me then, for I will not suffer such monsters to live.

Even if they are the ones I serve.

The one thing I’m not sure about is whether or not this is fantasy or historical, or a blend of the two… Nevertheless, this sounds pretty interesting. I’ll try to get my hands on the books to review on the site. Between these and Snorri Kristjansson’s Swords of Good Men, I may come over all Viking this summer…

Here are the other two covers (all three were done by Alejandro Colucci):


Here’s the synopsis for book two, as well (still waiting for the third synopsis to surface on the internets…):

I fought against your people, and I have fought for them. I have killed, and I have murdered. I betrayed my kin and crippled my king. I led countless warriors to their deaths and fought to save one worthless life. I have stood against monsters and men and I cannot always tell the difference.

Fate carried me away from your lands, from the woman and the family I love. Three hellish years but now, finally, I may return. I hope I will find them waiting for me. I hope they will remember me while all others forget. Let my own people believe me dead, lest they hunt me down. Let me return in the dark and in the shadows so no one will know.

But hope is rare and fate is cruel. And if I have to, I will fight.

Upcoming: “Jupiter War” by Neal Asher (Tor)

AsherN-O3-JupiterWarUKThe highly-anticipated third book in Neal Asher’s Owner Trilogy

Alan Saul is now part-human and part-machine, and our solar system isn’t big enough to hold him. He craves the stars, but can’t leave yet. His sister Var is trapped on Mars, on the wrong side of a rebellion, and Saul’s human side won’t let her die. He must leave Argus Station to stage a dangerous rescue – but mutiny is brewing onboard, as Saul’s robots make his crew feel increasingly redundant. Serene Galahad will do anything to prevent Saul's escape. Earth’s ruthless dictator hides her crimes from a cowed populace as she readies new warships for pursuit. She aims to crush her enemy in a terrifying display of interstellar violence. Meanwhile, The Scourge limps back to earth, its crew slaughtered, its mission to annihilate Saul a disaster. There are survivors, but while one seeks Galahad’s death, Clay Ruger will negotiate for his life. Events build to a climax as Ruger holds humanity’s greatest prize – seeds to rebuild a dying Earth. This stolen gene-bank data will come at a price, but what will Galahad pay for humanity’s future?

Jupiter War will be published by Tor UK, on September 26th, 2013.

Friday, June 28, 2013

“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes (Harper/Mulholland)

Beukes-ShiningGirlsA superb, unusual thriller.

The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…

A terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes.

1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times.

Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies.

But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’, Kirby Mazrachi, survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again...

This has been one of the most anticipated novels of 2013. There are ads in many publications, and plenty of posters in the London Underground. I’m very happy to report, then, that it absolutely deserves the hype it has enjoyed. The Shining Girls is a superb novel, and one of the most interesting thrillers I’ve read in a long while. Easily one of the best reads of the year so far.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fairest, Vol.2 – “Hidden Kingdom” (Vertigo)

Fairest-Vol.2Writer: Lauren Beukes (#8-13), Bill Willingham (#14) | Art: Inaki Miranda (#8-13, finishes #14), Barry Kitson (#14) | Colors: Eva de la Cruz (#8-13), Andrew Dalhouse (#14)

Rapunzel lives one of the most regimented lives in Fabletown, forced to maintain her rapidly growing hair lest her storybook origins be revealed. But when word of her long-lost children surface, she races across the sea to find them – and a former lover.

Collects: Fairest #8-14

Ever since I bought Fables Deluxe Vol.1, I have been in love with Willingham’s fantasy series (and everything connected to it). Then Fairest started in 2011, and I found a new comic addiction. This second collection collects award-winning-author Lauren Beukes’s run on the series handling writing duties. And it’s absolutely superb.

[NB: There are some slight spoilers in the review!]

Guest Post: “How Do You make Non-Humans Seem Human?” by Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby is the author of the critically-acclaimed vN and iD science fiction novels, the first two books in the Machine Dynasty series (both published by Angry Robot Books). Her protagonist is a “von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot”. This made me wonder how one goes about making a non-human character relatable and sympathetic? When I was told Madeline was available for guest posts, I jumped at the chance to ask her about this. So, without further ado…


How Do You Make Non-Humans Seem Human?

by Madeline Ashby

Ashby-vNHow do you make non-humans seem human? Well, with self-replicating humanoids designed to love and serve humans, it’s not that difficult. At least, it's not for me. In vN and iD, the robots love humans enough to spend significant amounts of time with them. They have long-term relationships, both at home and at work. The longer they live, the better they learn to “pass,” as human, or at least to behave in the most human way possible.

But that’s not the real issue. The real issue is making them read as human – making them leap off the page in the way that three-dimensional human characters do in other books. I try to do that in a few different ways.

First, I give them flaws. All of the robots I write make mistakes. It’s pretty easy to think of robots as functioning perfectly all the time, only undone by a single syntax error. That’s how pop culture usually depicts them, anyway. But that’s not the case, because that’s not how technology actually works. We all work with machines every day. It’s pretty rare that only one aspect of them ever fucks up. That’s not the nature of systemic failure, and robots are complex systems just like humans are. So do my robots make stupid decisions? Do they make the wrong assumptions? Do they fail to see the full implications of an issue? Sure. They’re limited, but so are humans.

And that’s the thing I’ve always come back to, in my books. I wanted to write a series of books about robots who didn’t think humans were all that special. There are so many other novels out there about how the vampire/angel/zombie/fae/alien/robot thinks humans are just the most special thing on Earth, and they wish they could be just as special. (In fact, Asimov wrote a whole novelette, and then a novel, about it.) And I was tired of that. I don’t buy it. I don’t think any other highly-developed sentient creature, organic or synthetic, would actually feel that way about us. Because feeling that way only comes as the result of a profound sense of self-loathing for your entire species.

Ashby-iDYou know who doesn’t experience that kind of self-loathing? Every other life form on this planet. Your dog does not feel bad about not being able to fly. Your cat does not want opposable thumbs. Anyone who’s ever lived with these animals knows that they’re capable of genuine emotions – otherwise, they couldn’t be trained. But that also means that they could feel a yearning to walk like us, talk like us, be like us – just like in that Louis Prima song. Only they don’t. They don’t want more. It’s we who anthropomorphize them, impose human ethics and feelings and customs on them, who teach them how to roll over. We’re the ones who want to be more and do more and live more, despite the evolutionary bounty we’ve grown accustomed to. We’re the ones who hate ourselves.

So I guess I just don’t think that robots would want to become more like us. I think we would build them to look and act and think like us, and then they’d diverge. And I think that the most important divergence in that evolutionary road might just be self-love.


Other Blog Tour Links:

This post is part of Madeline’s blog tour supporting the release of her second novel. Prior to this, the author stopped by The Qwillery, My Bookish Ways, Dark Matter Fanzine,Big Shiny Robot, Escapism from Reality, and, but there are more things still to follow (I’m afraid I’m not sure where, though). Madeline has also been interviewed by Cheryl Morgan. If you’re luck enough to live in or near Toronto, not only am I tremendously jealous of you, but you should stop by the novel’s launch, on July 6th!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Interview with SETH PATRICK


Anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the SFF online community and blogosphere can’t have totally missed Seth Patrick’s debut, Reviver. I’ve seen posters on rail platforms during my commute into London, and seen mentions in print magazines. It is clearly a hotly-anticipated novel of the year. Despite this, I’ve been slow about getting around to reading it. (Shame on me!) Nevertheless, I’m happy to share with you today a quick interview with Seth, in which he talks about writing, the novel and more…

Quick Q&A with SUSAN CHOI


I’ve been trying to expand the coverage of the blog, into other genres and sub-genres of fiction. To this end, today I bring you a Q&A with author Susan Choi, author of My Education, organised by Penguin USA…

Your previous novels deal with high stakes: the Unabomber, kidnapping, wars overseas, terrorism. Did you find writing My Education, a story that deals with more typical problems of passion, ambition, and love, to be a different experience?

I did, in a good way. For all three of my previous books I did tons of research into Twentieth Century history, and politics, and ideology, and loved immersing myself in abstruse and challenging material, and then after finishing A Person of Interest, I had another baby (my second) and the very thought of research just made me pass out. I realized I wanted to write a book about people being young and falling in love and behaving stupidly, and that I probably didn’t need to do research for that. Now my kids are older and I’m getting sleep again at night and I’m back to doing abstruse research!  But this book was a great change for me.

What was your inspiration for this novel?

Hollinghurst-LineOfBeautyApart from wanting to avoid research, I was actually inspired in a very specific way by a book that I love, Allan Hollinghurst’s novel The Line of Beauty.  I haven’t been more enthralled, and admiring, of a novel in I don’t know how long.  And something about the way that book opens, with Nick in a bookstore thinking about a much older, more powerful man that he knows, and being so full of youthful moxie and naïveté, brought an opening scene, fully realized, into my mind.  That’s happened to me a couple of times, and it’s thrilling:  you know there’s a novel, and that you’ve found the entrance, but you have no idea what it contains.

You currently teach at Princeton University and both My Education and your last novel, A Person of Interest, feature professors as their protagonists, so it’s safe to assume you are well-versed in the culture of academia. How does your experience in the world of academia play out in your fiction?

I think I’m less well-versed in the culture of academia than poorly-versed in anything else. Esoteric worlds are hard to resist in fiction, and academia can be pretty esoteric. If I had more experience with the esoteric world of the CIA operative, or the mafia don, I’d definitely write about that. But, I am a professor’s daughter, and I guess that’s bequeathed a certain compulsion on my part to keep poking around in that region.

Motherhood impacts the relationship between Regina and Martha over the entire course of the novel; in the end, it seems to be one of the primary means through which they absolve the past. How have your own children affected your writing and your perception of the world?

SusanChoiOnly totally. Parenthood has completely rewired me. Things that used to enthrall me now bore me, and things I never used to notice now obsess me, and that’s just one aspect of it. I think a lot, now, about children’s lives. Much of what happens to Regina in this book, to my mind, is that she realizes that children are people.

Being a love story, what kind of tropes of romance were you wary of? What did you hope to bring to the table with this novel?

I always saw this first as a story about being young. It is a love story, but the love story is a vehicle for exploring the youthful innocence, and selfishness, and unsustainable craziness of being a young person in love, and of being a young person in general. I think this novel is my way of coming to terms with my not being particularly young anymore.

For Regina, any contemplation of sexual identity seems to be on the backburner. Did you have any intentional reason for refraining from that sort of discussion?

Identity politics are very popular with Regina’s classmates, but they’re just not a part of her being. I’d be dragging the story into didactic territory, and maybe turning it into one of the dreary, insincere term papers Regina writes, if I had her sitting around contemplating her sexual identity, when everything about this situation is equally unfamiliar to her: Martha isn’t just a woman, she’s married, she’s a mother, she’s much older and more accomplished than Regina. For Regina the entire relationship is singular and unprecedented.  She doesn’t think, “Oh, I’m a lesbian,”  any more than she thinks, “Oh, I’m a home wrecker.”  She’s just insanely in love – a condition that makes it hard for her to do much clear thinking at all.

What are a few of your favorite love triangles (or rather quadrangles, to be most accurate to My Education) in literature, TV, or film?

I think we’re talking about a love square consisting of two equilateral triangles sharing one side. I actually had to draw a picture just now, to figure this out. I can’t think of other examples of this particular geometry although I’m sure there must be some. I do love the triangle, as who doesn’t. Two of my favorite books of all time, The Great Gatsby and The Age of Innocence, feature famous triangles. I also love the sad and quiet triangle at the center of J.L. Carr’s magnificent short novel, A Month in the Country. The ménage, a different arrangement altogether, can be very endearing. I loved April Ludgate and her gay boyfriend and his gay boyfriend, on Parks and Recreation. I was sad when she dumped them, but they certainly deserved it.


What do you think of Chaucer and the body of literature Nicholas teaches? Was this of particular interest to you when you were a student, or did you do the research for the sake of this novel?

As of this writing, I know less about Chaucer than Regina did when Nicholas hired her as his teaching assistant. I just wanted a subject matter that felt as far as possible from the groovy poststructuralist stuff that Regina was studying.

Do you have anything else in the works or projects on the horizon?

I am back in the throes of a research obsession, but I don’t know where it will lead me, if anywhere. Once I spent a year researching pirates, and then I wrote American Woman, which takes place completely on land. So I will have to wait and see.


My Education is published by Penguin US on July 3rd 2013, and Short Books in the UK on July 4th.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim rides again! And picks up some new jackets along the way… (Voyager)

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Anyone who’s been reading CR for the past year will know that I’m a huge fan of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first four, and I am impatient to get my hands on the fifth in the series, Kill City Blues, to be published in hardcover this August in the UK (artwork above), and July in the US (artwork below).


In addition to book five, the first four are getting released in paperback in the UK as well. Voyager has commissioned some pretty cool, retro, quite ‘LA-punk’ covers for the books. The first two, Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead, will be published June 20th…


These will be followed by Aloha From Hell and Devil Said Bang, on July 5th and July 18th, respectively…


If you haven’t already tried this series, I highly recommend that you do. With the new editions, I can’t think of a better time, either. Even better, if you’re a UK Kindle owner, they’re currently discounted on Amazon

This is one of my favourite series, which has also managed to maintain its high quality (something that seems rather rare, these days…). Deliciously dark, original, well-crafted, and often surprising.

“Terminus” by Adam Baker (Hodder)

Baker-TerminusAn intense tale, that proves there’s (un)life in the zombie genre yet!

The world has been overrun by a lethal infection, ravaged by a pathogen that leaves its victims locked half-way between life and death. New York, bombed to prevent the spread of the disease, has been reduced to radioactive rubble. A rescue squad enters the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan, searching for the one man who can create an antidote. The squad battle floodwaters, lethal radiation and infected, irradiated survivors as they race against the disease that threatens to extinguish the human race.

Adam Baker is an author who has been on my radar for a long time, but for some reason I keep missing his novels. With his third novel, though, I was more proactive. As soon as I got my mitts on Terminus, I dove right in. This is an atmospheric, gripping and suspenseful novel. I loved it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cover Reveal: THE WOKEN GODS by Gwenda Bond (Strange Chemistry)

I haven’t managed to keep on top of my Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry reviewing – certainly not as much as I would like. (They have had a considerable number of awesome-sounding titles coming out recently… I really should get my act together and read more of them…)

Nevertheless, one of my favourite debut reads last year was Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood. I was very intrigued, therefore, to learn about Bond’s next novel, The Woken Gods. I didn’t know much about it, but the cover certainly nabbed my interesting…


The US Congress, the All-Seeing Eye, Egyptian Gods…? Colour me intrigued. The Woken Gods will be published by Strange Chemistry in September 2013. Here’s the synopsis…

Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke around the world.

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne “Oz” Spencer, an intriguing Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father’s secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz–whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn’t? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it.

I’m certainly looking forward to this.

“Promethean Sun” by Nick Kyme (Black Library)

Kyme-HH-PrometheanSunFormer Limited Edition Novella gets a wider release

As the Great Crusade sweeps across the galaxy, the forces of the Imperium encounter a world held in thrall by the alien eldar. While the Iron Hands of Ferrus Manus and Mortarion’s Death Guard battle against the hated xenos, it is the Salamanders who brave the deepest and most deadly jungles, encountering monstrous reptilian beasts and foul witchery along the way. Ultimately, it falls to their primarch Vulkan himself to thwart the sinister designs of the eldar, if the Legions are to liberate this world and bring illumination to its inhabitants.

Promethean Sun was Black Library’s first limited edition Horus Heresy novella. As someone who couldn’t afford it back then, naturally I grumbled quietly to myself about missing out on this part of the series – which has, actually, been a superb example of sustained, multi-volume and multi-author storytelling. There have been wobbles, of course, but for the most part this series has been amazingly strong. So, back to this book. After reading it, I realise I shouldn’t have grumbled. Sad to say (and very surprisingly), this was a disappointment, with greater weaknesses than strengths. The story meanders, the writing’s not as strong as I know Kyme can produce, and Vulkan’s characterisation feels off. For completists only, I would say.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Guest Post: “After Apocalypse” by Gail Z. Martin

Martin,GZ-ReignOfAshMaybe it’s a sign of the times, but we seem to be obsessed with the end of the world.

Sure, such fascinations, both literary and religious, have come and gone in times past. It’s just our luck to live in the midst of a resurgence of end-of-the-world fatalism.

Pick your poison—climate change, asteroid collision, bio-warfare, zombies, or mad scientists, there are plenty of ways to die. Personally, I prefer magic.

In Ice Forged, and the upcoming Reign of Ash, Books 1 and 2 in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, mages on both sides of a devastating war use magic as their doomsday weapon. They manage to destroy civilization on their continent, and magic itself.

Apocalypse-by-mage was a twist that intrigued me. Magic, in the world of the Ascendant Kingdoms, does for them what technology does for us—heals the sick, makes routine tasks easier, reduces effort, and controls the environment. Long ago, people used to do those things without magic, but since the wild power was harnessed so that it could be controlled by humans, people have forgotten the old ways.

That makes it rough when the magic stops working.

There’s a fantastic TV series about “Life After People” that shows just how quickly the modern world falls apart—literally—when people are suddenly removed and no one is left to maintain what has been built. I watched those shows, riveted, as it speculated that in about 250 years after all people disappeared, the world would heal itself and most of our structures would be largely obliterated. We’re not as important as we think we are.

That concept served well as I imagined the apocalypse in Ice Forged. Not only do survivors of the war endure hardship because of the fire that rained down from the skies in a powerful magic strike, they also suffer because there is no magic. Few people know how to treat wounds, protect crops from pests, or do many other essential tasks. Where magic was used for infrastructure, either as a repair patch or to do something important, like keeping back the sea at the sea wall, magic’s failure results in additional disaster. Not only that, but the once-harnessed magic, returned to the wild, becomes a violent force of nature, creating dangerous storms and unnatural monsters.

So when exiled convict and disgraced lord Blaine McFadden discovers that he might be the only one who can restore the magic, the stakes are high. Trying to bring magic back might cause Blaine’s death, and there’s no guarantee the attempt will work. Even if he can restore the magic, it may not function the way it did before, and in any event, the kingdom is in rubble, its leaders dead.

It’s been said that “fortune” is the combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” If you define it that way, then Blaine McFadden is a very “fortunate” man.


The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 21 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit the Ascendant Kingdoms website.

Book Giveaway on Twitter: Every day from June 21-28, I’ll be choosing someone at random from my Twitter followers to win a free signed book. Invite your friends to follow me – for every new 200 followers I gain between June 21-28, I’ll give away an additional book, up to 20 books!


Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in her new The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven and Dark Lady’s Chosen) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread). She is also the author of two series on eBook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Series. Her books are available in bookstores worldwide and on Kindle, Kobo and Nook.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interview with BRIAN McCLELLAN


Brian McClellan’s debut fantasy, Promise of Blood, has caused quite a splash in the SFF community. It blends fast-paced story-telling with a new and interesting world, and a plethora of interesting and engaging characters. Brian has already featured on Civilian Reader a few of times already. He has written two guest posts – on his favourite novel, and also Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy – and I have reviewed the novel already, too. He was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about his fiction, writing practices, and more…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Guest Post: “Why I Didn’t Write My Book in an Elevator” by Jack Skillingstead

Skillingstead-LifeOnThePreservationUSHere’s the so-called elevator pitch for my new novel, Life On The Preservation.

A man discovers his city is caught in a time loop. He fears he may be losing his mind. Then a girl from outside the loop arrives. They find each other and solve the mystery. It’s Dark City meets Groundhog Day.

I never actually delivered this pitch. In fact, I only wrote it just now. One time I did find myself in an elevator with David Hartwell, who is the senior editor at Tor Books. I wasn't even tempted to blurt a pitch at him. All I said was, “Nice tie.” David is famous for his ties. After that, we did what most people do on elevators. We stared at the doors and waited.

On publication day, which was May 28th, I did a public reading from, Life On The Preservation. The reading took place at the University Bookstore in Seattle, Washington. Duane Wilkins, who runs the excellent science fiction section of the store and who is probably as well-read as anyone ever has been in our genre, had this to say in his introduction:

“I don’t know how to explain this book.”

Then he stared into space for a while, repeated himself, and suggested I might do better at describing Life On The Preservation. Presumably, he believed I could describe my own novel because, after all, I’d written it. But I couldn’t, even though I’m a fairly articulate person. If I’d had my elevator pitch handy I might have recited the thing, but I doubt it. Besides, I only wrote the elevator pitch five minutes ago.

People who like to give writing advice will often tell you that if you can’t describe your book in one paragraph you probably don’t have a saleable idea. If that’s true, I’m living in the wrong universe. Though I have described both of my novels in one or two paragraphs, I did it only after the books were finished and sold and the publishers asked me to do it, so they would have some copy to put on the back of the book and to advertise it in catalogues and around the internet.

Skillingstead-LifeOnThePreservationUKThe truth is, you don’t know what your book is about until you’ve written it, and if the book is any good it lives in the details – details that you discover along the way. At my University Bookstore reading I could have described LOTP as a story of alien destruction, time loops, transhuman survival in an environment of outlaw art, paranoid estrangement and redemption. I could even have said its secret theme concerned living in the world you create – whether you acknowledge you’ve created it or not.

But, while true enough, that description isn’t anything but a laundry list of related generalities. And I must say that, generally, I distrust generalities. Before I wrote LOTP I took several stabs at the one-paragraph description. I even tried to outline chapters. It felt a little like looking at a slide show from a vacation I hadn’t yet enjoyed. Here’s a pretty picture of a beach with random people lying around! Yes, the people are strangers, ciphers, and the beach looks like any other beach. But there it is! And I'm going!

My early efforts of transforming Life On The Preservation from a short story to a novel looked something like a generic beach with sun-bathing ciphers. This is because I was desperate to get organized and write a novel that pushed all the right buttons – you know, the buttons that would make people love the book and shower me with contracts and money. Of course, those first attempts to expand Preservation turned out to be abysmal failures. I learned that – for me, at least – there is only one way to discover whatever it is that might be original within myself. I had to go there and document the journey every inch of the way. Only then could I begin to organize my fancy slide show.


Life on the Preservation was published by Solaris Books on June 6th. Here’s the synopsis…

Inside the Seattle Preservation Dome it’s always the Fifth of October, the city caught in an endless time loop. “Reformed” graffiti artist Ian Palmer is the only one who knows the truth, and he is desperate to wake up the rest of the city before the alien Curator of this human museum erases Ian’s identity forever. Outside the Dome, the world lies in apocalyptic ruin. Small town teenager Kylie is one of the few survivors to escape both the initial shock wave and the effects of the poison rains that follow. Now she must make her way across the blasted lands pursued by a mad priest and menaced by skin-and-bone things that might once have been human. Her destination is the Preservation, and her mission is to destroy it. But once inside, she meets Ian, and together they discover that Preservation reality is even stranger than it already appears.

Monday, June 17, 2013

“Mark of Calth”, ed. Laurie Goulding (Black Library)

Goulding-MarkOfCalthThe latest Horus Heresy Anthology

In this all-new collection of Horus Heresy stories, witness the untold tales of the Underworld War.The Heresy reached Calth without warning. In just a few hours of betrayal and bloodshed, the proud warriors of the XIIIth Legion – Guilliman’s own Ultramarines – were laid low by the treachery of their erstwhile brothers of the XVIIth. Now, as the planet is scoured by solar flares from the wounded Veridian star, the survivors must take the fight to the remaining Word Bearers and their foul allies, or face damnation in the gloomy shelters beneath the planet’s surface.The battle for Calth is far from over

I’ve enjoyed all of the Horus Heresy anthologies that Black Library has produced. So I was very happy when I received this as a gift from a friend. I’ve liked some anthologies more than others, it’s true. But in each one, I think the authors have done a great job of advancing the overall story of the larger Galactic Civil War, as well as fleshing out the mythology of the event that has dictated much of the development of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Mark of Calth takes a slightly different approach, focussing on the after-effects of the Word Bearers’ assault on Calth (as portrayed in Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear). It’s a good selection of stories, certainly, but I definitely think it’s time to move the HH story beyond Calth… (I have high hopes for Vulkan Lives, the next novel in the series, by Nick Kyme; and the soon-to-be-more-widely-released Promethean Sun novella, also by Kyme). So, one after the other, here are some short thoughts on the stories herein…

Friday, June 14, 2013

Excerpt: THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books)


Karen Lord is also the author of Redemption in Indigo, which I first heard of at the Kitschies Award ceremony back in February 2013. It immediately went on to my to-be-purchased list (I’m still getting around to it!). Luckily, I do have a copy of The Best of All Possible Worlds, the author’s second and already-critically-acclaimed novel, which I hope to read as soon as possible. In the meantime, I offer you this taste of the novel, courtesy of Lord’s UK publisher, Jo Fletcher Books…

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Interview with BENJAMIN PERCY


Benjamin Percy is the author of the excellent Red Moon – which I consider one of the best novels of the year (and certainly within the top ten in the past few years). I thoroughly enjoyed what he did with the werewolf mythology, and also how he wove into his narrative many of today’s social issues and prejudices. I had the pleasure of very briefly meeting him at the Arthur C. Clarke Awards (he sat behind me). Last week, he was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions for Civilian Reader

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Artwork: Queens of the Stone Age, “… Like Clockwork”

So, a break from book covers and comic artwork, but I first saw this at London Bridge tube station, and it really caught my eye…


No idea what the album’s like, and I have to admit they are not a favourite band of mine (in fact, I’ve never liked any of their stuff enough to keep an album…). Just thought I’d share the image, which was done by someone known as “Boneface”.

Here’s the title-track’s music video…

Guest Post: “On Editing & Writing…” by Jonathan Strahan

FearsomeJourneys-2013On writing tips for new writers from someone who has never written a story, but has read a few

Many thanks to Civilian Reader for letting me stop by and chat about editing and writing. I’ve been thinking about what you might say to a new writer who wanted to write a short story, a great one (who’d want to write anything else?) When I first started to work on a list of tips on how to write a terrific short story I drew a blank. I’ve not written a short story since high school, so I’m no expert. I’ve not even thought about writing a short story myself. But then I realized that, like you, I read. I read a lot. And what I mostly read is short fiction. So, it’s possible I might have picked up an idea or two.

1. Write

This might seem obvious, but no one has ever finished a short story without sitting down and actually writing. I have a folder full of stops and starts on a handful of short stories and novels, but none of them are finished. So, do that. Write. Write every day and finish what you start.

2. Re-write

I know you think you’re finished when you write “The End” at the end of your newly minted short story. You probably are. But it’s possible, just possible, that there’s still a little bit of work left to do. Put it in a drawer for a week, and come back to it fresh. Suddenly you’ll see, if you’re at all like me when I write anything, all sorts of problems with it. You might also let a trusted reader see it. Get their feedback, try to listen to it with an open mind, and be willing to re-write.

3. Read

The only way to learn how to write a great short story is to read great short stories. Read them a lot and think about them. Try to work out how they work and why. Pick a writer whose work you love and see how their stories work. If you love fantasy stories, try the work of Fritz Leiber or Ursula Le Guin, and see if you can unpick their stories. They knew what they were doing.

4. Keep it short

We are talking about writing short stories after all, so keep it short. You probably only want a single plot line (the story) and a single point of view character (the person whose eyes we’re seeing the story though). Longer stories, novellas and short novels, can sometimes have subplots and more than one point of view character, but basically you only need one.

5. Make your story work

I don’t mean make it great. Of course you’re going to do that. What I mean is make your words count. Everything you write in a short story should do more than one thing. Setting builds character, voice advances plot, and so on. Look very carefully at each scene in your story. You won’t have many of them – this is short after all – so make sure each scene does more than one thing. Each scene should build setting, develop character and move the story forward. Avoid scenes that only do one thing. You want to avoid your story being dull (which it was never going to be, but you know what I mean) and making sure your scenes are doing the heavy lifting helps.

If you’ve already written a great short story you probably know all of this stuff, and possibly far more. If you’re just starting out, though, it might help. And if you are starting out keep going. You’ll probably write some stinkers. You’ll possibly write some stories that are almost exactly like stories written by people whose work you love. That’s fine. That’s what you should be doing. You have to write through that so you can get to the stories that only you can tell, the ones that are definitely going to be great. And when you do, send them to me. I love great short stories.


Fearsome Journeys is out now, published by Solaris Books.

Monday, June 10, 2013

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey (Penguin)

Yancey-5thWaveA Sinister new YA Dystopia Series

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother – or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

There is a lot to like about this novel. The world-building is interesting, the characters are (for the most part) well-defined and well-written. The story is focused, giving it a quick-pace and addictive momentum. I really enjoyed reading this, despite one major niggle around the middle. Certainly, it’s easy to see why people have been talking about the series, and why Penguin think they are on to a winner. Among the better YA dystopia series, certainly.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Excerpt: IRENICON by Aidan Harte (Jo Fletcher Books)


Here’s an excerpt from Aidan Harte’s debut historical fantasy novel, Irenicon, the first in the author’s The Wave Trilogy. For more on Aidan’s work and more, be sure to check out the interview he did for Civilian Reader. Irenicon is the first in a series. The sequel, The Warring States, was published earlier this year.

Read on for the first chapter of Irenicon…





And when the wise men returned with report of a new-born King of the Jews, Herod was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children in Bethlehem from two years old and under.

Amongst the lamentation of the mothers, the voice of Mary was heard in mourning. Her child, with the rest, was slain.

And behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and flee into Egypt: for Herod will seek the Mother, to destroy her also.

Barabbas 2:1–13



Madonna! Where was he?

If the boy got hurt, the Doc would mount her head on a stick next to the Bardini banner. Valerius might be a handful but the little stronzo was their only Contract this year. Besides, a dead Concordian would imperil all Rasenna. Sofia’s dark eyes flashed with anger and she swore again: in her haste she had forgotten her banner. Being unarmed in Rasenna used to be merely careless. These days, it was suicidal.


Valerius ran down the sloping streets with his head in the air, pursued by his shadow made strangely large by the blood-washed light. Smashed roof-slates crunched underfoot like leaves in an autumn forest. He followed the trail of the topside battle as it moved downhill towards the river, focused on the jagged red slash of evening where the towers leaned towards each other across the emptiness. The Concordian had the pale blond curls, soft skin and, when he tried, the disarming innocence of a cherub. Now, scowling, he resembled something fallen and impious. Sofia, only five years older than Valerius, watched him like his mother. He had endured this ordeal since his arrival last Assumption, but to return to Concord unblooded? Ridiculous.

The hunt was practically the whole point of a year in Rasenna – that was what his father had paid for, not endless drills and lectures on banner technique. So when this chance came to sneak out, Valerius took it, vowing to get the General’s money’s worth. Two households in combat: what a story! This was Rasenna’s real meat: raids and rogue bandieratori. He wasn’t in real danger; this was still Bardini territory. Sofia wouldn’t be far away.

He couldn’t see the individuals leaping between rooftops, just the banners they wielded. Bardini black outnumbered Morello gold four to six, and the Morello were retreating – noisily. These boys weren’t bandieratori, they were like him, just bored students looking for fun. So it was an unofficial raid, then; the gonfaloniere would never sanction such a pointless attack.

Valerius followed through one backstreet after another, concerned only with keeping up. A black flag vanished behind a corner. He turned it himself and saw nothing but swallows listlessly drifting on air rising from the empty streets.

No Morello, thankfully. No Bardini either. Valerius stopped to listen. The wall he leaned against was built around the ghost of an Etruscan arch, the gaps between its massive blocks stuffed with crude clay bricks, bulging like an old man’s teeth.

He could hear the river now, but not the battle. He had been in Rasenna long enough to know that most raids ended ‘wet’. How could so many raiders disperse so swiftly? It began to dawn on him that Bardini flags need not be wielded by Bardini.

How could Sofia be so irresponsible? He was the Bardini Contract, the Bardini’s only Concordian student, and that made him an obvious target for the Morellos; he should be protected at all times. The General would hear of this.

‘Keep calm, Concordian,’ he rebuked himself, just as the General would have. He knew northern streets pretty well after a year, didn’t he? Not like a Rasenneisi, not as lice know the cracks, but well enough. He looked for clues to his location. That ceramic Madonna, perched in a streetcorner niche and drenched in blue-white glaze, that would orientate a Rasenneisi. The ghastly things all looked the same. The superstitions of Rasenna were not the answer; he would rely on Concordian logic. The raiders had led him down and south. If he followed the slope up he would eventually reach the shadow of Tower Bardini and safety.

He turned around. Now he had a plan it was easier to fight the urge to run for it. Yes: he was impressed with his courage, even if he did keep glancing overhead. If only his footsteps wouldn’t echo so.

At last, something familiar: the unmistakable drunken tilt of Tower Ghiberti – the Bardini workshop was close after all. Valerius’ relieved laughter trailed off when a rooftop shadow moved. Another silhouette emerged on the neighbouring row. And another. Lining the tower tops, above and ahead of him. He counted seven, eight, nine – a decina – but forced himself to keeping walking. Whoever they were, they were interested in him alone. It was not a flattering sort of attention.

Behind him someone landed on the ground and he was torn between two bad choices, to turn defiantly, or to run.


‘Sofia! What are you doing?’

‘Exceeding my brief. Doc said babysit. He didn’t mention

stopping you getting yourself killed.’

‘I wouldn’t be in danger if—’

‘I said keep walking!’

He whipped his head round to continue the argument, but went suddenly mute. Anger enhanced the Contessa’s beauty. Her dark eyes were wide and bright, her olive skin glowed like fire about to burn. She looked fabulous just before a fight.

‘What do we do?’ Valerius asked, his confidence returning.

Her wide-shouldered jacket was a bold red, in contrast with the earthy colours favoured by most bandieratori. She was not tall, but she held her head proudly. Below her large brow and sharp Scaligeri nose were the smiling lips that graced statues of cruel old Etruscans.

But she was not smiling now and her pointed chin jutted forward. ‘You’ll do as I say. I’m going to help these gentlemen get home. Give me your banner.’

‘I don’t have it,’ Valerius whispered, losing hope again.

‘Madonna. This is going to be embarrassing. I’m not exactly in peak condition.’

Valerius looked down at the sling on her arm. Without a single banner, against a decina, even Sofia...

‘What do we do?’

‘When I say run, run – Run!


Sofia led the way through the maze of narrow alleys, not looking back or up. She knew by fleeting shadows overhead and loosened slates smashing around them how closely they were pursued. She skidded to a stop when they reached Piazzetta Fontana. The alley leading north was blocked by five young men. And now Valerius saw what Sofia already knew: they were not students. They were bandieratori. Their ruckus had been part of the deception.

Sofia pushed Valerius into an alley on the right – it was barely a crack between two towers, but it led north.

‘Run. Don’t look back.’

He didn’t argue.

She boldly stepped forward. ‘You bambini must be lost in the woods. You’re on the wrong side of the river.’

There was consternation as the southsiders saw who they had been chasing. ‘What do we do?’ asked one.

‘Her flag’s black. That makes her Bardini,’ said the tallest boy with assurance.

‘I don’t know – if Gaetano—’

‘Show some salt! There’s one of her and lots of us. Haven’t you heard who broke her arm?’ The tall boy continued talking even as he approached her. ‘She’s hasn’t even got a flag—’

Way too casual. Sofia was ready. She dodged his lunging banner and snatched it away in one movement and his jaw had no time to drop before she floored him with a neat parietal-tap. By the time she looked up the others had vanished, gone to get Valerius before she got them. Sofia returned to the narrow alley and vaulted left-right-left up between the walls.

Etrurians said that Rasenna’s towers were different heights because not even the local masons could agree. But they made good climbing, and bandieratori jumped between towers as easily as civilians climbed stairways. The upper storeys were peppered with shallow brick-holes, invisible from the ground, which had originally supported scaffolding but which now allowed the fighters to scale what they couldn’t jump.

With only one working arm, Sofia knew her climbing was awkward and inefficient. Even so, when she made topside she took a moment to catch her breath and scan the endless red roofs, feeling no need to hurry despite their head-start. This was her territory, and she knew every roof, every crumbling wall. They did not, and in the wan light of dusk they’d have to be cautious.

In the heat of the chase the boys let one of their number fall behind, and it wasn’t long before Sofia caught up. His falling scream was cut off by the crash of broken slates.

Two down, out-classed on strange rooftops. Normally in this situation it would be each raider for themselves, but these three knew that their only hope of ever getting home was to regroup and turn and fight together. They were waiting on the next tower Sofia leapt for, and gave her no time to recover her balance. Two of them launched a noisy attack to make her retreat, while the third slipped behind. As Sofia dodged flags she was struck in the back of her knee.

‘Ahh!’ she cried as she landed on her back, sliding a little before halting herself. She had no time to rise before she felt a flag-stick prodding against her neck. She lay still before the pressure crushed her larynx.

‘Beg your pardon, Contessa.’

Sofia ignored their giggling. She still had the advantage. She knew every tower bottom to top, their flags, the fastest routes, how old they were. She kicked her heel and a slate came loose, then several fell in its wake and the tower shed its skin with a shudder that drowned out the boys’ shouts as they all slid and tumbled together. Sofia went over the side with the rest of them, but she reached out and grabbed the unseen flagpole. She didn’t look down. No need.

She heard them land with the slates, breaking all together.

Sofia hauled herself onto the flayed rooftop, then climbed back down. She found Valerius waiting streetside with an amused expression on his face which, like his clothes, was splashed with blood. The boys’ bodies lay where they’d fallen, perfectly arranged in a semi-circle around him as if hunting him even in death.

‘Where’s the rest?’ she asked, more to herself than Valerius. She had been occupied, yet the others hadn’t gone for the Concordian. Wasn’t he the prize?

Valerius ignored her, more interested in rolling the corpses to see their last expressions.

‘Show some respect!’ she snapped. ‘The dead are forgiven.’


‘Come here,’ she said, pulling Valerius towards her.

‘Oh Sofia, I was frightened too!’

She pushed his embrace aside roughly. ‘I’m checking for wounds, cretino!’

But no, none of the blood was his. Doc’s charge was intact, the Contract secure. ‘You got blooded, Valerius. Satisfied?’


It was a blade-sharp February, but this winter’s night the alleys around the workshop were ablaze with torches. Groups of Bardini bandieratori gathered on the corners, banners up, tense and jumpy. Sofia nodded to a tall young man slouching against a wall, his hood pulled low. The other boys intended to keep darkness at bay with a constant uproar, but Mule contented himself with silence. A flatfaced boy, he had a drooping eyelid that suited his sleepy air. Nobody had ever called him stubborn, and that was enough in Rasenna to earn him his nickname.

‘What’s got so many flags out?’

‘Burn-out,’ he said. ‘Ghiberti’s.’

Sofia saw the ruse now and swore. ‘We going over tonight?’

Mule shrugged. ‘Check in with the Doc. He was worried about you.’

‘He was worried about Payday here,’ said Sofia, angrily pushing Valerius forward. ‘Move it, will you?’

She led him to Tower Bardini. Black flags bobbed aimlessly around the base of its ladder. The single calm face in the crowd looked up. With no neck to speak of, the Doctor’s bald head hardly broke the hill of his shoulders. He made no large gesture when he saw her, just raised his eyebrows. Sofia nodded back and pulled Valerius out from behind her. When he saw the Concordian, the Doctor paled.

Sofia patted Valerius’ cheek and held up a blood-smeared hand. ‘Don’t worry, Doc. It’s not his.’

‘Are we safe now?’ Valerius asked.

She nodded briefly, keeping her eye on the Doctor’s reaction as he approached.

Valerius stepped forward and slapped her. ‘Show me some respect!’

The Doctor leaned forward and grabbed Sofia’s arm before she could strike back.

Valerius stuck a finger in her face. ‘Noble or not, you’re still just a Rasenneisi!’

The Doctor put his sturdy frame in between them. ‘We apologise, my Lord. My ward forgot her place through her zeal to protect you.’ His fingers tightened around her arm. ‘Right, Sofia?’

‘Right,’ Sofia managed through clenched teeth.

Valerius looked sour for a moment, then nodded. ‘Fine. I’m hungry after all that. Doctor?’

The Doctor released Sofia and bowed to Valerius. ‘I shall await you.’

Valerius watched him leave, then turned, smiling, to Sofia, the guiltless cherub once more. ‘I thank you for saving me, Contessa,’ he said stiffly and then, lowering his voice, ‘Look, sorry I had to do that. Concord’s dignity—’

‘Demands no less,’ Sofia said. ‘No apologies but mine are necessary, my Lord.’

‘Oh, Sofia! Don’t be so formal. Let’s be friends again,’ he said, and leaned forward to kiss her cheek.

She watched him scurry up the tower’s ladder. Had he stayed, he would have recognised the glow surrounding her. It was not her throbbing arm that had made her angry – and not even Valerius; the Concordian was acting properly, in his own way. It was the Doc, and that she was party to his appeasement. Distrusting herself around either of them, she decided to retire to the Lion’s Fountain. Mule and his brother were probably at the tavern already. The smoke of another burn-out tasted bad in every mouth. First, though, she grabbed a workshop flag. It wouldn’t do for the Contessa to be caught unarmed twice in one day.



Thursday, June 06, 2013

Books Received (May-June) – Or, “An Embarrassment of Riches…”


I’ve been lax about keeping up-to-date with these posts (I like to give every book I receive at least a mention on the blog), so this is a bit of a bumper-edition of Books Received. It has been a wonderfully busy few weeks, too…

First Batch…

BallantineP-KindredAndWingsPhilippa Ballantine, Kindred and Wings (Pyr)

On the back of the dragon Wahirangi, Finn the Fox flees the world he has known. As he sets out to find the brother he never knew of, he still holds in his heart the memory of the Hunter. He has denied his love for her, but he cannot deny it forever.

In the halls of the Last Believers, Talyn begins to uncover her own mysteries, but her lust for the death of the Caisah is still strong and clouds her vision. She must choose her path, as the Seer of her people or as the assassin of the overlord.

Meanwhile, Byre, Talyn’s brother, must venture into the fiery world of the Kindred, to rebuild the pact that his ancestors made. He will risk everything he is as he forms a new pact that will change his people forever.

Dragons and myths will be reborn, as the Hunter and her Fox face each other once more.

This is the sequel to Hunter and Fox, which I have sadly left in New York… I will be reunited with it soon, though, and hopefully get caught up.

Also on CR: Interview with Philippa Ballantine


Enge-WrathBearingTreeJames Enge, Wrath-Bearing Tree (Pyr)

Into the Unguarded Lands...

The masked powers of Fate and Chaos are killing gods in the land of Kaen, facing the Wardlands across the Narrow Sea.

Vocates Aloe Oaij and Morlock Ambrosius go into the Unguarded Lands, on a mission to find the reasons for the godslaying, and to avert any threat to the lands the Graith of Guardians has sworn to protect.

After crash-landing on the hostile coast of Kaen, they will face vengeful frightened gods, a calmly murderous dragon, a demon called Andhrakhar, and a bitter old necromancer named Merlin Ambrosius.

Amid these dangers they will find that they can trust no one but themselves—and each other.

Ah, James Enge… An author I’ve always want to read, but always start a novel when I’m not really in the mood… I’ll get there eventually, I promise. This is the sequel to A Guile of Dragons, and part of the Tournament of Shadows series.

Also on CR: Interview with James Enge (2011)


HoffmanE-ShieldOfSeaAndSpaceErin Hoffman, Shield of Sea and Spice (Pyr)

Vidarian Rulorat, called the Tesseract, a powerful magic-user whose abilities spread across multiple elements, finds himself at war with the Alorean Import Company, a powerful cabal of merchants wealthy enough to buy nations. By opening the gate between worlds, Vidarian released the Starhunter, goddess of chaos. With her coming, wild magic returned to the world of Andovar, bringing with it shape-changers and strange awakened elemental technologies, including many-sailed ships powered by air magic, and mechanical automata lit from within by earth and fire. Now, Vidarian discovers that the Alorean Import Company is determined to eliminate two-thirds of this new life on Andovar in the hopes of hoarding more magic for themselves in a new, worldwide plutocracy. Along with his human, gryphon, and shapechanger allies, he must stop the Company if he is to safeguard any future for the diverse life of Andovar, including his and Ariadel’s newborn daughter. With the existence of whole species hanging in the balance, Vidarian is locked in a race for the future of the world.

Really striking cover art – couldn’t help but stare at it for a little while, when I opened the package. Sadly, I haven’t read the previous novel in the Chaos Knight series. I’ve heard some interesting things, though, so I will try to get to it at some point soon.


KaneB-Hannibal2-FieldsOfBloodBen Kane, Hannibal: Fields of Blood (Preface)

The fields of Cannae provide the setting for one of the bloodiest battles in history. But who will triumph? Hannibal and his warrior army, or the mighty legions of Rome.

Hannibal’s campaign to defeat Rome continues as he marches south to confront his enemy.

With him is a young soldier, Hanno. Like his general, Hanno burns to vanquish Rome. Never has the possibility seemed so likely.

But a stealthy game of cat and mouse is being played as Rome’s generals seek to avoid confrontation.

Eventually the two armies meet under a fierce summer sun. The place is Cannae – the fields of blood.

The battle will go down in history as one of the bloodiest ever fought, a battle in which Hanno knows he must fight as never before – just to stay alive.

Also on CR: Interview with Ben Kane


McDonald-BeMyEnemyUKIan McDonald, Be My Enemy (Jo Fletcher)

Everett Singh has escaped with the Infundibulum from the clutches of Charlotte Villiers and the Order, but at a terrible price. His father is missing, banished to one of the billions of parallel universes of the Panoply of All World, and Everett and the crew of the airship Everness have taken a wild, random Heisenberg Jump to a random parallel plane. Everett is smart and resourceful, and, from a frozen earth far beyond the Plenitude, he plans to rescue his family. But the villainous Charlotte Villiers is one step ahead of him.

The action traverses the frozen wastes of iceball earth; to Earth 4 (like ours, except that the alien Thryn Sentiency occupied the moon in 1964); to the dead London of the forbidden plane of Earth 1, where the emnants of humanity battle a terrifying nanotechnology run wild—and Everett faces terrible choices of morality and power. But Everett has the love and support of Sen, Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, and the rest of the crew of Everness—as he learns that the deadliest enemy isn’t the Order or the world-devouring nanotech Nahn—it’s yourself.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this series (for work), and I’m really interested in trying it out. Be My Enemy is the sequel to Planesrunner. I have both of the novels, and hope to get to them ASAP. (They are published by Pyr Books in the US.)


Nevill-HouseOfSmallShadowsAdam Nevill, House of Small Shadows (Macmillan)

Catherine’s last job ended badly. Corporate bullying at a top antiques publication saw her fired and forced to leave London, but she was determined to get her life back. A new job and now things look much brighter. Especially when a challenging new project presents itself – to catalogue the late M. H. Mason’s wildly eccentric cache of antique dolls and puppets.

Rarest of all, she’ll get to examine his elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals, depicting bloody scenes from World War II.

When Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at Red House itself, where she maintains the collection, Catherine can’t believe her luck. Until his niece exposes her to the dark message behind her uncle’s "art". Catherine tries to concentrate on the job, but M. H. Mason’s damaged visions raise dark shadows from her own past. Shadows she’d hoped therapy had finally erased. Soon the barriers between reality, sanity and memory start to merge. And some truths seem too terrible to be real...

I’ve never read anything by Nevill, before. After a discussion about horror at work, in which he was mentioned, this rather fortuitously appeared in the mail! It must be fate. Colour me intrigued. Even if the cover gives me the willies…


Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era (Princeton)

A non-fiction book, obviously. I don’t know why I included that in the picture… I have received other non-fiction books, and they belong on Politics Reader. I’ve actually already finished this slim volume. It was good, but somewhat wanting. Review on the other site in the next few days, hopefully.


Pryor-CryptThiefMark Pryor, The Crypt Thief (Seventh Street)

It’s summer in Paris and two tourists have been killed in Père La Chaise cemetery in front of Jim Morrison’s grave. One of the dead tourists is American and the other a woman linked to a known terrorist; so the US ambassador sends his best man and the embassy's head of security – Hugo Marston – to help the French police with their investigation. At first, Hugo is stumped. How does this killer operate unseen? And why is he stealing the bones of once-famous can-can girls?

Hugo cracks the secrets of the graveyard, but soon realizes that old bones aren’t all this serial killer wants: his ultimate plan requires the flesh and organs of the living. And when the crypt thief spots the former FBI agent on his tail, he decides that Hugo’s body will do just fine.

This is the sequel to The Bookseller, which I thought was a pretty interesting debut. It wasn’t perfect (what is), but I enjoyed the writing, the character and the location. Pryor does a great job of bringing Paris to life on the page.


RyanA-RS1-BloodSongUKAnthony Ryan, Blood Song (Orbit)

We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.

Vaelin Al Sorna’s life changes forever the day his father abandons him at the gates of the Sixth Order, a secretive military arm of the Faith. Together with his fellow initiates, Vaelin undertakes a brutal training regime – where the price of failure is often death. Under the tutelage of the Order’s masters, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly.

Now his new skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin is the Sixth Order’s deadliest weapon and the Realm’s only hope. He must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

The latest self-published author to be given the traditional-publisher roll-out, I’ve been hearing good things about this series for a while. A number of reviewers have reviewed the novel before Orbit picked it up for wider distribution. I’m certainly intrigued. I’ve also heard there’s a cockney urchin in it. This troubles me… Nevertheless, I’ll be reading it pretty soon, I hope.

And hey: broody-fella on the cover? Not wearing a hood!


SaulterS-GemsignsStephanie Saulter, Gemsigns (Jo Fletcher)

For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered.

Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr. Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom.

But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.

I’ve already reviewed this novel (see, I told you I’ve been slow about getting this posts written…). Great novel. Highly recommended.

Also on CR: Excerpt from Gemsigns


NebulaAwardsShowcase2013Various, Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 (Pyr)

The Nebula Awards Showcase volumes have been published annually since 1966, reprinting the winning and nominated stories in the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. The editor selected by SFWA’s anthology committee (chaired by Mike Resnick) is two-time Nebula winner, Catherine Asaro.

This year’s volume includes stories and excerpts by Connie Willis, Jo Walton, Kij Johnson, Geoff Ryman, John Clute, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Ferrett Steinmetz, Ken Liu, Nancy Fulda, Delia Sherman, Amal El-Mohtar, C. S. E. Cooney, David Goldman, Katherine Sparrow, E. Lily Yu, and Brad R. Torgersen.

A smorgasbord of fiction from a number of interesting authors. I’ll dip in, now and then.


WilliamsM-2-KnifeSwornMazarkis Williams, Knifesworn (Jo Fletcher)

After years locked in a tower, Prince Sarmin has come into his own. He has been crowned emperor; he has wed Mesema of the horse tribes; the Pattern-Master is dead. Everything should be happy-ever-after.

But war has begun, Sarmin has no royal assassin, and both his wife and mother have given birth to sons, throwing the succession into question.

The last thing anyone needs is for Kavic, the Yrkman peace envoy, to be murdered in his bed. There are numerous possible killers, and with no convincing explanation for Kavic’s death, there is no hope for peace. It’s up to Grada, Sarmin’s trusted investigator, to solve the mystery – no matter how close to the throne the answer may lie.

I enjoyed The Emperor’s Knife, the first in this series. I’ll be interested to see how it continues, and hopefully before the third novel comes out, later this year.

Also on CR: Interview with Mazarkis Williams



And, the Second Batch…

Baker-TerminusAdam Baker, Terminus (Hodder)

The world has been overrun by a lethal infection, ravaged by a pathogen that leaves its victims locked half-way between life and death. New York, bombed to prevent the spread of the disease, has been reduced to radioactive rubble. A rescue squad enters the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan, searching for the one man who can create an antidote.

The squad battle floodwaters, lethal radiation and infected, irradiated survivors as they race against the disease that threatens to extinguish the human race.

Adam Baker has not featured enough on this blog. His novels all sound pretty cool, and right smack-dab in the middle of my wheelhouse. (Eh?) So, when I learned of the premise of his third novel (zombies in New York!), I knew it would have to get read very quickly. So expect a review of Terminus very soon. (It’ll be my next read, after I finish Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere, but I’ve stored up a few reviews now, so it’ll be a couple of weeks before the review actually appears…)

Also on CR: Interview with Adam Baker (Video), Guest Post on Trauma


BarryM-LexiconMax Barry, Lexicon (Mullholland)

Two years ago, something terrible was unleashed in an Australian mining town called Broken Hill. Thousands died.

Few people know what really happened.

Emily Ruff is one of them. She belongs to an elite organisation of ‘poets’: masters of manipulation who use language to warp others to their will. She was one of their most promising recruits until she made a catastrophic mistake: she fell in love.

Wil Parke knows the truth too, only he doesn’t remember it. And he doesn't know why he’s immune to the poets’ powers. But he knows he needs to run.

As their stories converge, the past is revealed, and the race is on for a deadly weapon: a word.

Because the poets know that words can kill...

Max Barry is a superb author. Jennifer Government was superb, so I’m really looking forward to reading Lexicon. It’s going to be placed very near the top of Mt. TBR.


BrennanML-GenerationVM.L. Brennan, Generation V (Ace)

Reality Bites

Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.

But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him…

I first heard of this via Bastard Books (whose taste in Urban Fantasy I respect and value very highly), so when this turned up, I was most intrigued. I’m working on an interview with the author, too. Watch this space!


Human-ApocalypseNowNow-UKCharlie Human, Apocalypse Now Now (Century)

Baxter Zevcenko is your average sixteen-year-old-boy — if by average you mean kingpin of a schoolyard porn syndicate and possible serial killer who suffers from surreal  nightmares. Which may very well be what counts as average these days. Baxter is the first to admit that he’s not a nice guy. After all, if the guy below you falls, dragging you down into an icy abyss you have to cut him loose — even in high school. That is until his girlfriend, Esmé, is kidnapped and Baxter is forced to confront a disturbing fact about himself — that he has a heart, and the damn thing is forcing him to abandon high-school politics and set out on a quest to find her. The clues point to supernatural forces at work and Baxter is must admit that he can’t do it alone. Enter Jackie Ronin, supernatural bounty hunter, Border War veteran, and all-round lunatic, who takes him on a chaotic tour of Cape Town’s sweaty, occult underbelly.

What do glowing men, transsexual African valkyries, and zombie-creating arachnids have to do with Esmé’s disappearance? That’s what Baxter really, really needs to find out.

I’ve actually already read this novel. It’s kinda awesome. Review sometime in July…


LordK-BestOfAllPossibleWorldsKaren Lord, The Best of all Possible Worlds (Jo Fletcher)

The Sadiri were once the galaxy’s ruling élite, but now their home planet has been rendered unlivable and most of the population destroyed. The few groups living on other worlds are desperately short of Sadiri women, and their extinction is all but certain.

Civil servant Grace Delarua is assigned to work with Councillor Dllenahkh, a Sadiri, on his mission to visit distant communities, looking for possible mates. Delarua is impulsive, garrulous and fully immersed in the single life; Dllenahkh is controlled, taciturn and responsible for keeping his community together. They both have a lot to learn.

I’m really intrigued by this novel, so I was very happy to get a copy in the mail. I’ll also be sharing an excerpt of it in the near future. (Can’t remember the exact date I settled on, but be sure to keep checking back.)


Marmell-ICC1-InThunderForgedAri Marmell, In Thunder Forged (Pyr)

An action-packed steam-tech fantasy that combines elements of epic wartime adventure with thrilling cloak-and-dagger espionage.

The Iron Kingdoms are at war – a war fought with machine guns and magic, knights of valor, and earth shaking titans of steam and steel. And now that war may hinge entirely on nothing more than a sheaf of papers.

An alchemical formula, stolen by an ally they thought they could trust, could cost the brave soldiers of Cygnar everything. Their only hope: a cunning spy, a knight out of her element, and a frighteningly small unit of the best that Cygnar has to offer.

Arrayed against them is not only a single, devious enemy, but the combined intelligence apparatus-and possibly the full military might-of the most brutal martial power Cygnar has ever known.

This is the first novel in a new tie-in series, based on the Warmachine: Iron Kingdoms roleplaying game. I know nothing about the game (except for a quick visit to their website – it looks kinda interesting), but I’m a fan of Marmell’s novels (the Widdershins YA series, and also The Conqueror’s Shadow, the sequel for which I really need to get around to…). I’m going to have to squeeze this in near the top of the TBR mountain.

Also on CR: Interview with Ari Marmell (2010), Guest Post


McIntoshW-LoveMinusEightyWill McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty (Orbit)


The words were gentle strokes, drawing her awake. “Hello. Hello there.” She felt the light on her eyelids, and knew that if she opened her eyes they would sting, and she would have to shade them with her palm and let the light bleed through a crack. “Feel like talking?” A man's soft voice. And then her mind cleared enough to wonder: who was this man at her bedside? She tried to sigh, but no breath came. Her eyes flew open in alarm.

The Minus Eighty... Where millionaires browse the catalogue of icy women, judging on beauty ratings and revival costs. Where a freezer’s gentle hum plays the background symphony for the world's most expensive first dates. Where death is only the beginning.

This has been lauded around the SFF reviewing community already (and beyond – it’s causing quite the stir), so I’m hoping to get to it ASAP. It has a superb premise, too, which can’t fail but grab your attention.


PatrickS-ReviverSeth Patrick, Reviver (Macmillan)

Death won’t silence them. Revivers. Able to wake the recently dead, and let them bear witness to their own demise.

Twelve years after the first reviver came to light, they have become accepted by an uneasy public. The testimony of the dead is permitted in courtrooms across the world. Forensic revival is a routine part of police investigation.

In the United States, that responsibility falls to the Forensic Revival Service. Despite his troubled past, Jonah Miller is one of their best. But while reviving the victim of a brutal murder, he encounters a terrifying presence. Something is watching. Waiting. His superiors tell him it was only in his mind, a product of stress. Jonah is not so certain.

Then Daniel Harker, the first journalist to bring revival to public attention, is murdered, and Jonah finds himself getting dragged into the hunt for answers. Working with Harker’s daughter Annabel, he’s determined to find those responsible and bring them to justice. Soon they uncover long-hidden truths that call into doubt everything Jonah stands for, and reveal a threat that if not stopped in time, will put all of humanity in danger...

This has been getting a fair bit of buzz on the Twitters, so I’m hoping to get to it relatively soon. It sounds pretty cool.


Which of these grab your fancy? Any other upcoming books you’re really looking forward to?