Some Old Bloke – Robert Llewellyn

When writer, comedian and Red Dwarf actor Robert Llewellyn’s son scrawled a picture of him at Christmas and titled it ‘Some Old Bloke’, Robert was cast deep into thought about life and what it means to be a bloke and an old one at that.

In this lighthearted, revealing and occasionally philosophical autobiography, we take a meandering route through Robert’s life and career: from the sensitive young boy at odds with his ex-military father, through his stint as a hippy and his years of arrested development in the world of fringe comedy, all the way up to the full-body medicals and hard-earned insights of middle age.

Whether he is waxing lyrical about fresh laundry, making an impassioned case for the importance of alternative energy or recounting a detailed history of the dogs in his life, Robert presents a refreshingly open and un-cynical look at the world at large and, of course, the joys of being a bloke.

Ah, Robert Llewellyn. Star of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge (Junkyard Wars to our American chums), lately of Fully Charged and Carpool. Here with Some Old Bloke he tells a delightfully rambling sort-of-autobiography series of tales about a variety of topics, which one could easily imagine him telling over a pint of something nicely refreshing in a pub somewhere.

I’d love to have a chat with Rob in a pub somewhere. He comes across as the sort of guy who’d have a story for pretty much everything, an anecdote to while away the time between the glass being full and oh look, the glass is empty, can I get you another drink?

The stories range from his youthful hippy days driving an ancient van around the country, to the somewhat surprising (to me at least) revelation that he once ran a shoe-making business. There are tales of dogs that he’s owned, of the time he emptied the portaloos for famous people on a film set, to tales from Scrapheap Challenge and its American cousin, Junkyard Wars. It finishes up with an impassioned chapter about the importance of alternative energy. As viewers of his YouTube channel Fully Charged will be aware, Robert has a keen interest in the topic, and he presents a fascinating case for it.

I really enjoyed Some Old Bloke. I guess that as I’m one too (my brother cheekily suggested that I look not unlike Mr Llewellyn, with our short cropped hair, beard and glasses), I’m the book’s perfect target audience. And maybe that’s the case, but if you’ve enjoyed watching Rob on tv or YouTube over the years, then I’m confident that you’ll enjoy this philosophical ramble too.

Some Old Bloke by Robert LLewellyn is published by Unbound, and is out now.

Robert Llewellyn is an actor, novelist, screenwriter, comedian and TV presenter, best known for Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge, Carpool and Fully Charged. He drives an electric car and writes under a rack of solar panels in Gloucestershire.

New Suns – cover launch

Delighted to help launch the cover for New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl (@NisiShawl), and published by Solaris in March 2019.

I have to say, this sounds brilliant. The cover art is gorgeous (props to artist/designer Yoshi Yoshitani yoshiyoshitani.com). Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

New Suns showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange.
Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichéd expectations, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.
Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

Here’s a look at the contents:
• Foreword, LeVar Burton
• The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, Tobias Buckell
• Deer Dancer, Kathleen Alcalá
• The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations, Minsoo Kang
• Come Home to Atropos, Steven Barnes
• The Fine Print, Chinelo Onwualu
• unkind of mercy, Alex Jennings
• Burn the Ships, Alberto Yáñez
• The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, Jaymee Goh
• Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire, E. Lily Yu
• Blood and Bells, Karin Lowachee
• Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
• The Shadow We Cast Through Time, Indrapramit Das
• The Robots of Eden, Anil Menon
• Dumb House, Andrea Hairston
• One Easy Trick, Hiromi Goto
• Harvest, Rebecca Roanhorse
• Kelsey and the Burdened Breath, Darcie Little Badger
• Afterword, Nisi Shawl

Roll on March 2019!

5 Ingredients that make up Rosewater: Characters

Welcome to day three of the ingredients which make up Rosewater. Today Tade is going to talk about the characters of Rosewater.


Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumoured healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

Characters

My secret is that in ROSEWATER I’ve written a stealth character-based novel, but don’t tell anyone. It would have been career suicide to pitch that to a core science fiction audience which is used to massive world-building, technology-porn and space battles.
At its core, ROSEWATER is a character study of Kaaro. Everything else is built around him and the exigencies of his existence. I wrote about two periods in his life to create the illusion of a different character, since he changed significantly from his youth.
I read in all genres, and what I’ve always enjoyed is how writers approach character. My favourite books focus on character. Even Frankenstein is more of a study of creator of the monster if you forget what you see in the adaptations.
I’m not a fan of the cheap character arc, and I don’t believe people change significantly (sorry, self-help folks!). I just like to know how people become…people. Were they secure in their childhood? Did their mother love them? Did they fight or appease bullies in the playground? Who do they love and why?
This was the kernel from which ROSEWATER grew. Who is Kaaro? Where does he live? What does he want? Why does he want this? Does he get what he wants?
That is the simple premise of the book. The aliens are incidental.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson is published by Orbit Books, and is out now. It’s really really good. You should read it.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

A post-apocalyptic fantasy with some glorious worldbuilding, The Fifth Season is the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a book to lose yourself in, told through three viewpoints – Essun, on the hunt for her husband who has kidnapped her daughter after murdering her son. Syenite – fourth ring Orogene on a mission to a coastal city to help with a problem with their harbour. And Damaya, a young girl on the way to the Fulcrum, where she will learn to control her Orogeny, and the very earth itself.

Three brilliant, unforgettable strong female leads, each told in a distinct voice. Indeed this takes a little getting used to, the swapping of styles between the three. One of which is told in the second person, something you see all too rarely. Persevere though, and if you give it a chance, The Fifth Season will reward you richly. The rest of the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, both in gender, sexuality and race and all equally fascinating, each bringing more facets and layers to the story.

The worldbuilding on display here is absolutely top-notch, and with every chapter Jemisin draws you into this world which at times has shades of our own, but is otherwise completely… different. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle, sections interlocking piece by piece until you slot in the final segment and see the glorious whole.

It’s a phenomenal work, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

The Fifth Season is the first of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and won the 2016 Hugo Award. Huge thanks to Nazia (@gambit589) for introducing me to this book.

Palm Beach Finland – Antti Tuomainen

Published by Orenda Books, October 2018
Source: Review copy

Jan Nyman, the ace detective of the covert operations unit of the National Central Police, is sent to a sleepy seaside town to investigate a mysterious death. Nyman arrives in the town dominated by a bizarre holiday village – the ‘hottest beach in Finland’. The suspect: Olivia Koski, who has only recently returned to her old hometown. The mission: find out what happened, by any means necessary.

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I loved Antti Tuomainen’s last book, the delightfully different and very funny The Man Who Died, which made it onto my top five crime books of last year and created a new genre of Mushroom Noir.

So, it was with no small measure of excitement that I discovered Mr Tuomainen’s Palm Beach Finland was another venture into the darkly comic. And darkly comic it is. Billed as ‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, Palm Beach Finland is a splendidly odd romp set in the hottest beach resort in Finland.

Undercover cop Jan Nyman is sent undercover to investigate a strange death and finds rather more than he bargained for. The resort (and what a resort!) is populated with a fantastic cast of characters – business mogul Jorma Leivo, the glorious double act of Chico and Robin, and Olivia Koski who only wants to live in her beachfront house in peace.

If The Man Who Died evoked memories of Fargo, then Palm Beach Finland is a heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off.  Antti Tuomainen delivers another beautifully judged dark vein of humour running through the neon and pastels, but lurking behind the colourful facade, there’s a splendid noirish tale of murder.

I loved Palm Beach Finland. Other blogs on the tour will go into far more detail than I will, suffice it to say that this is another gem from the King of Helsinki Noir. Antti gave us #mushroomnoir, and now #flamingonoir. What will he come up with next?

I, for one, cannot wait to find out.

Huge props to the excellent translation work by David Hackston.

Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda for the review copy.
Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards.

Reading more diverse fiction

Recently I spotted this tweet by V.E. Schwab.

I had a look at the article. ONE series out of the ten was written by a woman. ONE. I can see where Schwab is coming from.

My first thought was that I don’t look at the author’s gender when choosing a book to read, so I can’t be biased.

Can I?

I checked my goodreads books. From the 43 books I’ve read this year, 18 of the 43 are by women authors. It’s better than the one in ten from that article, but I want to do better. I’m currently reading NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (which is just stunning), taking it up to 19/44.

In my favourite genres (sci-fi, fantasy and crime fiction), it feels like there’s an awful lot of books by guys.

Jeannette Ng (author of Under The Pendulum Sun, which is now firmly on my list), said

Generalising terribly, straight white dudes get much more of an advertising push than everyone else (they’ll be more copies stocked, placed more prominently in bookstores, etc), so making an effort to seek out other authors is just counteracting that, in my mind.

If the guys get the advertising push, you’re more likely to notice them. They’re being marketed as the default, so you’re naturally more likely to pick them up. And the publishers see that you’re buying books by men (and usually straight white dudes) and think ‘ooh, people like this! We must have more!’

(yes, #notallpublishers, I know)

So, by choosing to read more books by women, books by people of colour, books by minority authors, it’s saying to publishers that we want *more* books from people like that. Let’s broaden our horizons, folks.

Of course, I’m not saying that I’ll never read a book by a straight white guy again (seriously, they’re EVERYWHERE), as some of my favourite authors are just that. But I’ll be making more of a conscious effort to expand my reading.

And maybe find some new favourite authors.

So I put out a call on twitter for recommendations for my list.

And the book recs rolled in. I’ve compiled them here, for my benefit and yours. Apologies if I’ve missed any – I’m always up for more recommendations in the comments too!

Some authors I’ve already read (or am currently reading):
Claire North (HUGE fan), Martha Wells (Murderbot Diaries), V.E. Schwab (Vicious and Vengeful are superb)

Several books/authors were recommended by several people:

  • Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Kameron Hurley (Bell Dame Apocrypha)
  • Seanan McGuire (as Mira Grant)
  • KB Wagers space opera series
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • Catherynne M. Valente

Also recommended:

  • Cassandra Khaw
  • TJ Berry (Space Unicorn Blues)
  • Nicky Drayden
  • Sarah Gailey
  • Elizabeth Moon
  • JY Yang
  • Marie Brennan (Lady Trent)
  • Madeline Ashby (Company Town)
  • Delilah S. Dawson
  • Mur Lafferty (Six Wakes)
  • Spare and Found parts by Sarah Maria Griffin
  • @RoanhorseBex
  • The Reader and The Speaker by Traci Chee
  • Ana Mardoll
  • Emma Newman
  • Kameron Hurley
  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Gail Carriger
  • Cherie Priest
  • Ada Palmer
  • Delilah S Dawson
  • Anne Leckie
  • Emma Newman
  • Kate Milford
  • Fran Wilde
  • Jeannette Ng
  • Clockwork Boys and also Wonder Engines by T Kingfisher
  • @meganeabbott
  • @MegGardiner1
  • @LauraMLippman
  • @KathyReichs
  • @GearBooks

Should keep me going for a while… Who’s with me?

Vengeful – V.E. Schwab

Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.

But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her newfound power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other once more.

With Marcella’s rise, new enmities create opportunity—and the stage of Merit City will once again be set for a final, terrible reckoning.

Having just finished Vicious, which had languished on my TBR pile for entirely too long, I was delighted to discover that I’d cunningly avoided the five-year wait for book #2 as Vengeful was just about to be published, and I jumped at the chance to read it.

Hooyah. I thought Vicious was good (it is). Vengeful takes the fantastic characters and wonderful worldbuilding and plunges us right back into the action. We’re also introduced to the utterly brilliant Marcella Riggins, wife to mob boss Marcus, and soon to be the driving force behind Vengeful.

Once again we’ve got the time-hopping jumps between the then and the now, though this time round I found it a lot easier to keep track. We’ve also now got our new EO to follow across those timelines, and much as I love our antiheroes Victor and Eli’s stories, it was Marcella’s that I wanted to get back to.

That’s no reflection on Victor and Eli – we get to see some more of Eli’s backstory come to light and follow Victor’s quest to repair the damage done in Vicious. Eli and Victor are still hell-bent on stopping each other, and do some quite astonishingly unpleasant things along to way to a lot of people. I spent a lot of this book fearing for Syd and Mitch, and being fully prepared never to forgive the author if anything happened to them. But there are no spoilers here.

Vengeful is a hefty book, clocking in at just short of 600 pages, but the hopping between times and characters, coupled with short chapters meant that the story absolutely flies by and I had to keep stopping myself from polishing it off  – it’s one of those books that you want to savour, and never to end.

But end it must, and it does so in an entirely satisfactory way which will leave you sitting back, taking a deep breath and just holding onto it for just a few more minutes.

Easily one of my favourite books of the year along with Vicious, I shall be picking up more of V.E. Schwab’s books at the earliest opportunity.

I just wanted to say something about the actual hardback itself. I love a good hardback, but Titan Books have outdone themselves on this one. The cover is gorgeous, with silver daggers catching the light as you turn it. The endpapers are equally gorgeous, something which is so often overlooked. Well played, Titan Books, well played!

Huge thanks to Lydia Gittins and Titan Books for the advance copy of Vengeful. You can find V.E. Schwab on twitter @veschwab or on Instagram – her Instagram stories are wonderful.

V.E. Schwab is the No.1 New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including This Savage Song and the Darker Shade of Magic series, whose first book was described as “a classic work of fantasy” by Deborah Harkness. It was one of Waterstones’ Best Fantasy Books of 2015 and one of The Guardian’s Best Science Fiction novels. The Independent has called her “The natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones.”