Opportunities missed

As I may have mentioned, I spent the day on Saturday at the rather splendid GollanczFest, at Foyles bookshop in London. There was a selection of splendid authors taking part in a variety of fascinating, funny, informative panels across the day, with the opportunity to get books signed in the morning and afternoon.

A splendid time was had by all, but at the end of the day (well, more the following day), I was left a little frustrated. With myself, I hasten to add.

You see, I’d spent the day listening to all these fabulously interesting people being fabulous and interesting, and I really wanted to go and say hello, and tell them how fabulous and interesting they all were. There were some authors that I’d read lots of, some I’d heard of but not read, some I follow on twitter (some of whom even follow me back) and some entirely new (but still fabulous and interesting).

But when it came down to it, I found that I couldn’t. Wandering up to a stranger (even a fabulously interesting one) to say ‘hi!’ was just a bit too much.

I wanted to tell Alastair Reynolds that when he retweeted my review of his fabulous Revenger, my blog stats went bananas for the day.

I wanted to say hi to Pat Cadigan, who despite being followed by a ton of people, follows *me* on twitter, and tell her that I think she’s brilliant.

I wanted to tell Joanne Harris how much I enjoy her #storytime on Twitter. AK Benedict how much I loved Jonathan Dark, and to thank her for the guest post on my blog. Tom Lloyd that I’d enjoyed Moon’s Artifice, and that I wanted to read his new book.

The list goes on.

I did however say hello to the lovely Nazia @gambit589, from Orbit Books, who is kind enough to keep me in review copies of fabulous books by fabulous authors. And the event itself was brilliant.

I mentioned this on twitter, and had a chorus of replies saying ‘oh, me too!’, which made me feel better.

Have you found this at a book event, or meeting someone you admire? Any advice for next time?

The Man Who Died – Antti Tuomainen

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A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him. Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.

Everyone should die at least once, if only to see how beautiful the morning can be.

The Man Who Died is one of those books that you emerge from with a small, satisfied sigh, and a smile on your face. I do love Antti Tuomainen’s books (and splendid taste in shirts), and this book, whilst a departure from his usual Helsinki Noir, is a delight. Perhaps creating a new genre, Mushroom Noir?

Maybe not.

It’s delightfully different – here we have a man who knows that he’s been (or being) poisoned, and sets out to solve his own murder. The cast of suspects is fairly short, and Jaakko does like making lists. Could it be his wife? The strange characters at the shiny new mushroom processing plant in town? Or the Japanese clients?

Jaakko follows the trail around town as he investigates, coming across a whole bunch of fabulous characters who wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Fargo. The humour in The Man Who Died is layered and oh so very dark and exactly the way I like it.

Highly highly recommended. The Man Who Died, by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out in October in paperback and ebook. You can find Antti on twitter @antti_tuomainen.

Huge thanks to Anne for inviting me onto the blog tour, to Karen for publishing it, and to Antti Tuomainen for giving us such a wonderful book. And not forgetting David Hackston, for his masterful job in translating. The blog tour continues…

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Game of Thrones – Season 7, episode 2: Stormborn

Or, “Greyworm, Greyscale and the Greyjoys”

WARNING: spoilers for episode 2 of season 7 follow!

And episode 1, naturally.

Dany & the gang have arrived at Dragonstone and the weather is worse than a bank holiday in a caravan in Wales. Even Melisandre rocks up (how far is Dragonstone from The Wall, anyway? Does she have some kind of magic travel stuff going on?). Yara, Elleria and the utterly fabulous Olenna Martell have a conflab, Tyrion tells them about his fantastic plan and everyone’s happy. Well, as happy as they get in GoT.

To be fair, the plan does sound like an improvement on the usual “let’s all pile down to King’s Landing and try and storm it”.

Greyworm and Missandei *finally* get it on, after a touching speech about she being his ‘weakness’. I was slightly distressed that they didn’t bother to close the door, mind you. Must be awfully draughty, that place. Anyone could wander in!

Back in King’s Landing, Qyburn reveals his grand plan to defeat Dany’s dragons. He appears to have invented the crossbow. *slow clap* Joffrey had one *ages* ago. Keep up!

Up North, Jon pays his respects to Ned’s statue in the catacombs when Baelish rocks up. I really thought Jon was going to strangle him for a brief, hopeful moment. But no, he lives to smarm another day. Boo.

Arya bumps into Hot Pie for a very weird, very stilted chat. HP is always good for delivering a key bit of info, tells her that the Boltons are all dead and Jon is now King of the North, so she wanders off to see what he’s been up to, though he’s wandered off to have a chat with Dany about that handy stash of dragonglass. Still, I’m sure Sansa will be pleased to see her.

Dear old Jorah. Riddled with greyscale, all set to end things on his terms. But what’s this! Sam appears! Turns out the cure for greyscale is just pulling bits off.

My concern is just how… low does the greyscale go…? Ick.

Finally, the Greyjoys. Specifically Euron. Deliciously viking in his approach to stuff, he’s got that wild-eyed, zero-fucks given approach to problem solving. Awesome ship, rock & roll entrance, glorious.

Next to die: Still Davos. Or maybe Euron. When will I learn not to have favourites?

Random thought lack of undergarments for Missandei and Greyworm. Surely there’d be chafing? Especially when they were wandering around in the leather armour.

The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice – Chris Ewan

Charlie Howard, gentleman thief and famous crime-writer, has gone straight. But holing himself up in a crumbling palazzo in Venice in an attempt to concentrate on his next novel hasn’t got rid of the itch in his fingers. And to make matters worse, a striking Italian beauty has just broken into his apartment and made off with his most prized possession, leaving a puzzling calling card in its place.
It looks as though kicking the habit of a lifetime will be much more of a challenge than Charlie thought.
Sneaking out into Venice’s maze of murky canals, Charlie’s attempts to tame a cat burglar embroil him in a plot that is far bigger and more explosive than he could ever have imagined.

Let me start off with this – I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewans’s ‘Good Thief’s Guide to…’ books since the very first. So I jumped at the chance to read Venice and write up something for the relaunch of the series in their snazzy new covers!

Charlie Howard is a thief, and a darn good one at that. He’s had a number of adventures, from <a href=”http://amzn.to/2svMQQF”(hijinks involving stolen monkey figurines and a damsel in distress), to Paris (oil painting hijinks) and Vegas (more hijinks involving magic, a dead redhead and a casino heist). He’s also an author, writing a series of suspense novels about a gentleman thief called Michael Faulks. Who better to write a thief than another thief?

The books are sheer, glorious fun. Charlie Howard is a fantastic character with a nice line in inner monologue to go with his safe-cracking, lock-picking and general hijink-having abilities!

In Venice, Charlie has taken a bit of time off from nicking stuff to concentrate on his latest novel in Venice. Holed up with his erstwhile editor and friend Victoria, all is going well until a stunning catburglar breaks in and steals his beloved (though stolen, of course) good luck charm – a signed first edition of The Maltese Falcon.

Hijinks ensue, naturally, as Charlie is forced to put his writing plans on hold whilst he goes on the hunt for his missing book. And just who is that mysterious woman…?

Enormous fun – if you’re looking for a witty, fast-paced, high-concept, high-action thriller, then Mr Ewan is your man, and his ‘Good Thief’s Guide’ books should be on your list. And they’ve got some lovely new covers too! They’re available individually, or you can pick up the set on kindle here.

Many thanks to Chris Ewan for sending me a copy of The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice. You can find Chris on Twitter at @ChrisEwan

Right, I’m off to read the next one – Charlie is off to Berlin, apparently! (thanks to Chris for that one too!)

ou can’t keep a good thief down . . . Charlie Howard is back and robbing the city of Berlin blind, until he witnesses a murder being committed right before his eyes

Charlie Howard, part-time writer, part-time thief, has been engaged in a veritable spree of larceny and misappropriation since moving to Berlin, Germany. He’s supposed to be working on his next novel. But high rent and a love for thrill-seeking has been hard on his word count.

But Charlie’s larcenous binge is interrupted by the call to duty—on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. Four embassy employees are suspected of stealing a sensitive item. Charlie is to break into their homes, find the culprit and recover the stolen property. But there’s a catch. The item is so sensitive, Charlie isn’t told what he’s looking for. Not its size, not its weight, nothing. He’s only told that he’ll recognize it when he sees it.

Charlie has been a successful thief because he follows his own rules, the first being “Don’t get caught.” Well, after he enters the first suspect’s home, he has to add a new rule: “Don’t admire the view.” As Charlie stares across the street, he sees something he really wishes he hadn’t—a woman being murdered. And that’s just for starters. What follows is a wild adventure in the former cauldron of spies.

Netherspace- Andrew Lane & Nigel Foster

Delighted to be part of the blog tour for Netherspace, a new collaboration project from Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster. Netherspace is start of a brand new science fiction series in which contact with aliens is only the beginning…

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Contact with alien species was made forty years ago, but communication turned out to be impossible. There is only trade in technology, which allows humans to colonise the stars, but at a heavy cost: alien netherspace drives are exchanged for live humans. When a group of colonists are captured by a group of Cancri aliens, a human mission is sent to negotiate their release. But how can you negotiate when you don’t know what your target wants?

I’ve got an extract from the novel for you today. Enjoy!

~~~

Marc Keislack stared at the spherical display unit. On the other side of the crystalline metal his nanoforms were mixing and interacting like miniature weather systems. Each one was a different colour, separated from one another by a gooey transparent nutrient medium.
Despite the seals around the tank – still necessary when anyone was mucking around with nanoforms – the slightly vinegary smell of the nutrient medium hung in the air of his studio. Light from the large windows at the far end of the room illuminated the space. Dust hung and glittered in the buttresses of light, despite the best attempts of his cleaning bots to eradicate it. Outside, the rolling Welsh hills were illuminated by a low sun. Cows stood in small groups in the field that bounded his property, and larks drew scrolling lines across the deep blue of the sky, while inside the studio he was waiting for his own life – his own artificial life – to decide what it wanted to be. He ran a hand through his long hair. It needed cutting, but he had been so wrapped up in constructing this latest piece of art that he had forgotten about it. He would need to get it cut before the show. His agent, Darla, would insist upon it. “Don’t believe the crap about artists in garrets forgetting to eat or wash and still being romantic,” she’d told him at his last show. “People who can afford your art expect short hair and an expensive cologne. And don’t fall on the vol-au-vents like you’re starving.” She’d paused at that point, then added: “Of course, if there’s an alien in town, wanting to pick up some art in exchange for some new kind of battery or something, then all bets are off.”
“I was followed around by an Eridani for three weeks, remember? It took five art installations, leaving behind something GalDiv took away for deep investigation.” He’d laughed bitterly. “Who knows why the damn aliens trade anything?” He didn’t say – it wasn’t necessary, there were plenty who’d say it for him – that it was the Eridani interest that had made the unknown Marc Keislack rich and famous.
Darla had smiled tightly. “Of course I remember, darling. And I would have gotten you a much better deal – even with an alien.” She didn’t say that being the alien’s darling – the Eridani and more recently the Cancri still traded for his and only his artwork, no other artists need apply – meant that Marc didn’t need an agent at all, only a lawyer and an accountant.
He’d smiled back more gently. “That I would like to have seen.” Keeping alive the polite fiction that Marc Keislack was as talented as any other successful artist and not just a lucky bastard.
Now he glanced around the studio, at the works that were going into the show, which his agent wanted to call simply Here. Across the far side of the room was a tank of seawater in which luminescent Aurelia aurita the size of coins drifted, coming together and apart in a thousand different shades of colour, as dictated by the artificial genes that he had spliced into their DNA. The jellyfish were effectively immortal, as far as he knew. As long as they floated in a nutrient-rich broth and had a little natural light they would just keep on going, moving and glowing, forming different pictures as they did so. Given the human mind’s amazing ability to see patterns in chaos, if you stared into the tank long enough you would start to see faces staring back at you: grimacing, laughing, screaming. Marc had given it the title All Human Life Is Here, and Darla had said that if he parted with it for less than a hundred and fifty thousand virtscrip she would part with him, violently.
His gaze skipped to another piece: this one an earlier, unsold work. It was a self-portrait entitled My Life Is Here. Artificially grown muscle, fat and skin tissue, generated from stem cells taken from Marc’s own bone marrow, had been carefully arranged over a brass skull on a stand inside a transparent case. The flesh had been crafted to mimic his own face, but initially aged a hundred and twenty. The cells had been programmed in such a way that they would gradually alter over time: the skin becoming firmer, the fat reduced and the muscles better defined. His face would get younger as he, the artist, grew older. It had already regressed to the age of 115, although it had to be said that there was very little difference visible between now and when it had started. There would be a day when the two of them – the artwork and the model – would cross, and one of the terms of the sale was that Marc would, on that day, sit inside a similar case next to it, wherever the purchaser was displaying it, making himself part of the work. Another one of the terms of sale was that when the face had developed to infancy the work would be destroyed – a stipulation backed up by automatic cell death programmed into the artwork’s genes. The aliens wouldn’t understand the fine print, of course, but he didn’t care. The art was the art.
“Wonderful,” Darla had said when he had told her about the idea. “A reversed Picture of Dorian Gray reproduced with technology.”
“The what? Who?”
She had glanced at him, frowning. “Never mind. Just keep coming up with ideas.” Marc had no interest in the past, only his own present and future.
A momentary eddy in the tank beside him caught his attention. At the border between the mass of blue nanoforms and the transparent nutrient medium they existed within, small vortices were forming. It looked like the kind of effect one saw at the edge of fractals, or coastlines on a map. The nanoforms themselves were artificial, of course, but based on genetic material harvested from slime moulds of Fuligo septica. Their behaviour was pre-programmed in their simplified DNA and based on a handful of simple rules. Were they surrounded by others of their own colour, or by those of another colour? Were they in an area where nutrients were plentiful or sparse? Were they on the outside of a mass, exposed to ambient light, or on the inside, in darkness? How old were they? The rules themselves were simple, but the outcomes would be anything but. In computer simulations the virtual nanoforms automatically came together in small groups, which acted as individual entities: moving as one, co-operating with others of their kind, absorbing others not of their kind and then producing smaller versions of themselves which grew over time. It was emergent behaviour, not pre-programmed, but it seemed to replicate many of the features of more complicated life forms, all without instinct or intelligence. This one was entitled All Life Is Here, and he was still waiting to see how it developed.

~~~

Netherspace is published by @TitanBooks, and is out now. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Sci-Fi Bulletin.

Movies of 2017: Ghost in the Shell

In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

Ghost in the Shell. 2017, a somewhat disappointing 6.9 stars on IMDb. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano and directed by Rupert Sanders.

Based on the acclaimed anime of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning, a noir-esque mishmash of a daylit Blade Runner cityscape crossed with the action of The Matrix. Scarlett Johansson’s Major is a brain in a cyborg body, put to work combatting terrorism as part of the elite Section 9 but soon delves deeper into the mystery of who she really is, who is the ghost?

So, the action is gloriously choreographed, the special effects are absolutely top-notch, the supporting cast are, with few exceptions (the cockerney member of the team did grate a tad), splendid. Takeshi Kitano simply oozes cool as Aramaki, head of Section 9. Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones – I *knew* I recognised him!) is wonderful as Batou, Major’s sidekick of sorts and Michael Pitt is a convincing villian in Kuze.

Weak point if any is the usually reliable but here woefully underused Juliette Binoche who is called on to do little other than stand by the Major, do some medical mumbo jumbo and look suitably angst-ridden. I was initially amused by how often someone mentions the word ‘ghost’ or, to a lesser extent ‘shell’, which got a bit much in the end.

I saw Ghost in the Shell in 2D, but I could imagine that it would look glorious in full IMAX 3D. I might even be tempted to go find out.

Overall, I give Ghost in the Shell 7 cyborg Scarletts out of ten. Definitely worth checking out on the big screen.

Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

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1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame … As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth. A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending.

Recently I went along to the Orenda Roadshow in Leeds where Karen Sullivan had assembled some of her lovely authors (including her co-pilot Thomas Enger) to do readings from their books. I’d already read books by quite a few of them, and had books from one or two more, but one which really grabbed my attention was a guy from Newcastle telling a story about a murder. As you’ve no doubt guessed, that was Matt Wesolowski and he was reading from his debut novel, Six Stories. And he was up against some stiff competition that evening, I can tell you. I knew I had to buy a copy.

Six Stories is unlike anything I’ve read before. Told in the form of six episodes of a Serial-style podcast, we delve into the mysterious events at Scarclaw Fell twenty years ago when a young boy goes missing and is ultimately found dead.

Each episode is an interview with one of the group of friends who were there that evening, and Matt deftly weaves an intricate, multi-layered plot, letting us in on one secret at a time. And there are so many secrets…

It’s an astonishingly confident and compelling novel, all the more impressive for being a debut. Matt manages to capture the distinct voices of the cast of characters perfectly, with all of their teenage angst and worries, the shifting group dynamics and emotions.

Six Stories is dark and disturbing in places, with an unsettling feeling of dread creeping up as you delve further into the story and the events on Scarclaw Fell.

I know it’s only March, but I will call it now – Six Stories will be one of my books of 2017, and I would be very surprised if it’s not very near the top of the list. I highly recommend it.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available now. You can find Matt on twitter @concretekraken.