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.

Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own…

From time to time you might have heard me say that a book kept me up late, wanting just one more chapter.

Tall Oaks was one of those books.

Except in this case, I couldn’t stop at ‘just one more’. I couldn’t stop until it was done.

Twenty to three on a Sunday morning. That’s what time I finished Tall Oaks.

That’s how good it is.  The rest of this review is merely set dressing, just go and buy it already. It’s going to be in my top ten books of the year, I can tell you that now.

I’d heard chatter about Tall Oaks on twitter, mainly from Liz of Liz Loves Books. And Liz particularly loved this book, and wasn’t shy about saying so (is she ever?). I’d somehow managed to resist, citing an ever-growing, tottering TBR pile. But in a moment of lapsed attention, I found myself with a copy on my kindle. I settled in for a story of a small town and a missing child, thinking that I’d read stories like this before.

How wrong I was. Tall Oaks is a beautifully wrought tale of small town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.

The characters in Tall Oaks all have their story to tell, and what stories they are. There’s a real depth to these people, quirks, secrets and lies playing out over the days and weeks following the disappearance of three year-old Harry.

The sense of small town America seeps through the pages of this book and I was surprised to find out that Chris Whitaker is, in fact, British – born in London and living in Hertfordshire and yet has captured the feel of the town so brilliantly. What’s even more astonishing is that this is a debut novel – the writing, plotting and characterisation are confident and accomplished, and if this is just the start of Chris’s writing career, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Thankfully we won’t have too long to wait, as his new novel  All The Wicked Girls is out in the summer. My pre-order is already in.

You can find Chris on twitter @WhittyAuthor.

Defender – GX Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is a thriller, of sorts. It’s also part horror, and you could argue there’s a dash of sci-fi in there too. It’s also startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, which keeps you up until far too late.

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

It’s a stunning debut, and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s going to be one of those books that I pester you about until you give in and read it. You may as well just go and read it and save yourself the nagging.

I can’t wait to find out where book 2 will take us. I just know that it can’t get here soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.

The Man Who Loved Islands – David F. Ross

In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honor the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island?

Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my fondness for Mr Ross and his books – The Last Days of Disco was my first experience of a blog tour (and what a way to start!) and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas followed last year, raising the bar once more.

A year later (more or less) and we’re back again with The Man Who Loved Islands, rounding out the trilogy in fine style. I adored the first two books for both their amazing sense of place and time.  Book three continues with this, taking us on a journey through the later 80 and from Ibiza to Shanghai, bringing us up to the present day and back full circle to Scotland as Max, Bobby, Hammy and Joey come together one last time for one final, glorious outing.

This is a book of three parts – we follow the rise and rise of Bobby Cassidy and his ever-faithful sidekick Hamish as they take over the Ibiza music scene. Joey (now Joseph) has become an architect, adrift in the corporate world of Shanghai. A message from Hammy brings Joey back to see his old friend and, when one thing leads to another, hijinks ensue.

And what glorious hijinks they are. Max Mojo and the boys decide to put on a gig and reunite the Miraculous Vespas for one last, epic gig the like of which the world has never seen…

I loved seeing how Bobby and Hammy took on the Ibiza club scene. Growing up around the same era as the books were set gave it something extra for me, though I was never into the club scene, the musical references are, as ever, perfect. Fascinating to see them grow up from the young, vibrant guys in the first books into middle age – still gloriously foul-mouthed (this book is probably not for the prudish!), and with a fine line in bickering.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and ferociously funny, it’s a perfect ending to a fabulous trilogy. If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys

If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys or the incomparable Max Mojo, then get yourself all three Disco Days books, a nice wee dram (or maybe a bottle) of something and settle down for a musical journey through the years.

You’re in for quite a ride.

Book 18 of 2017 The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross, finished last night with a wee dram of @copperdogwhisky. Highly recommended, both!

Enormous thanks to Karen at Orenda Books (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, to David F. Ross (@dfr) for taking us on one last journey back to Ayrshire (and to @CopperDog for the splendid whisky!)

Opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

The Cutaway – Q&A with Christina Kovacs

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?

When brilliant TV producer Virginia Knightley finds Evelyn’s missing person report on her desk, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. But her pursuit of the truth draws her deep into the power struggles and lies of Washington DC’s elite – to face old demons and new enemies.

The new thriller by debut author Christina Kovac is set in the world of rolling news, a world that Christina knows well as she worked in TV journalism for many years in Washington DC. And today Christina is here for a Q&A!

Tell me about a typical day at the office when you worked in TV news?

It depended on where I was working, but my days were often like Virginia Knightly’s workday. Before I went into the office, I’d read the newspapers and websites and peek at the cable news. At the office, I’d read into the stories we were working on and call around to sources. Hunting for news, I’d call it. There were editorial meetings where stories were pitched. Sometimes I’d run out to grab an interview. Other times, I’d spend weeks on a special project, like election coverage or a crime story. It was always busy.

Washington is like its own closed little world to those of us on the outside – which books or films are the best way in?

This is only my opinion, but if you’d like a good explainer for how the United States government became the mess it currently is, read DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer. It’s non-fiction.
If you want to forget what a mess it is, watch Scandal. So sexy, but not even close to realistic, and you’ll need that after you read Jane Mayer.

Who are your writing heroes and heroines?

I read A Room of One’s Own when I was in college. It struck me as a good manual for women who want to do anything creative. It still does. I named my protagonist after Ms. Woolf.

Who do you think tells the best stories about contemporary America?

The sands beneath us are still shifting, so it’s hard to say right now. All we know is that everything has changed. Whoever captures the sense of being utterly lost, of no longer knowing who you are as a country or even what your country wants to be, whoever tells that story has got contemporary America. I say this with great love for my country, and tears in my eyes.

We were all hooked on podcast Serial and Netflix’ Making a Murderer. What do you think about the dramatic retelling of true crimes in a way that sets them up as entertainment?

Making a Murderer was so great, because you never knew who was telling the truth—which is how it is. You get to be the armchair detective in an investigation where everyone lies—or bends the truth. And the stakes are so high. Life and death, freedom or incarceration, innocence and guilt and the social stigma that comes with being accused, and don’t forget—the murdered girl who deserves justice.

Do you think people in power often get away with the abuse of the vulnerable?

Yes. They will often do what they can get away with. It’s up to the media to throw a light on abuse. That’s why we need a strong Fourth Estate—and whistle blowers.

How do you think books especially fiction coming out of the Trump era will differ from those that preceded it?

We’ll have to see. It’s only been two months! Doesn’t it feel like years? I do know it was much easier to write good prose under “No Drama Obama,” as we called him.

Who are your favourite literary heroines?

When I was a girl, I loved the MM Kaye female protagonists. They were adventurous and smart and carried me along with them to foreign lands—England, Zanzibar, India! Scarlett O’Hara got me through my parent’s divorce. Recently, I loved Tana French’s Antoinette Conway. She didn’t need to be loved. She just needed to do her job—and that made her lovable, to me.

 

Thanks Christina!

You can find Christina on twitter @christina_kovac and THE CUTAWAY is out now in hardback and ebook and is published by Serpent’s Tail (@serpentstail).

Get a copy at:

 

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

Returning to the world of fictional characters – guest post by Marianne Delacourt

Delighted to welcome Marianne Delacourt to the blog today. Marianne is the author of the Tara Sharp novels which have been freshly revamped under the Twelfth Planet Press crime imprint Deadlines.

Today Marianne is here to talk about returning to the world of fictional characters. And thus, without further ado, I shall turn you over to Marianne.

Returning to the World of Fictional Characters
Marianne Delacourt

I just love the topic EsspresoCoco chose for this blog post because it’s one of the main reasons that I write at all. When I was about twenty, I was living in a remote community in Western Australia. I took a long time to fit in and for a few years felt quite isolated. Watching the EastEnders kinda got me through. It was then that I realised the power of attraction that familiar characters have over their audience. They give us a place to go – a home.

It’s the reason, I believe, that television is having such a resurgence in popularity, and why movie franchises like The Fast and the Furious can thrive. I would much rather make an emotional investment in characters who I can visit with time and time again than a one-and-done visit.

In the last few years, I’ve sought out long running series in both books and television so that I can hang out with characters/people I know and love. There is so much satisfaction in watching them persevere until they succeed, and huge comfort to be gained from being in their lives.

As the author of fictional series, the same principles apply. Writing several Tara Sharp novels has allowed my cast to grow. I see it pretty much like raising a family. Take Tara Sharp herself… when we meet here she’s a bit of mess, but slowly she pulls herself out of that hole and takes some control of her life, and we get to go along for the ride. Then there’s Cass… she’s a runaway who can barely read or write at the beginning, but Tara’s influence in her life helps her chose another path. Then there’s Tara’s security chief Wal, who at in his middle age falls in love for the first time. And Tara’s crush, Nick Tozzi, who must negotiate the rocky path of a failing marriage.

So, don’t feel sorry for the starving writer in the garret living on apples, they’re having the time of their life, hanging out with people they’ve constructed and worlds they’ve built. To my mind, that’s about as lucky as you can be!

p.s. One Tree Hill FTW!

The third novel in Marianne Delacourt’s series of paranormal crime novels about unorthodox PI Tara Sharp, ‘Too Sharp’, launched this week. The novel is available from all online retailers, including Twelfth Planet Press and Amazon. Readers new to Delacourt’s Tara Sharp series can spark their addiction with ‘Sharp Shooter’, the ebook of which is available for free for a limited time to celebrate the launch.

Too Sharp - Marianne Delacourt

Marianne Delacourt is the alter ego of award-winning, internationally-published Science Fiction writer Marianne de Pierres. Renowned for dark satire in her Science Fiction, Marianne offers lighter, funnier writing under her Delacourt penname. As Delacourt, Marianne is also the author of Young Adult fiction series Night Creatures (Burn Bright, Angel Arias and Shine Light). She is a co-founder of the Vision Writers Group and ROR – wRiters on the Rise, a critiquing group for professional writers. Marianne lives in Brisbane with her husband and two galahs.
You can find more about Marianne’s Tara Sharp novels at tarasharp.com.au, more about Marianne herself at mariannedepierres.com or on twitter @mdepierres

 

The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

I just loved this from the first page. Fast-paced, with funny dialogue which fizzes with snark and a glorious cast of characters. We’ve got grand Houses battling for influence with the Emperox, wormholes, sarcastic space captains, pirates, dukes and a glorious cast of minor players in the empire-spanning game of power.

Favourite character is hard to pick – there’s the deliciously foul-mouthed Kiva, daughter of the House of Lagos, unafraid to speak her mind (and she does get most of the best lines). Cardenia, newly-annointed Emperox Grayland II, ruler of, well pretty much everything, and not entirely thrilled about it. The rival Houses, with their Machiavellian schemes to gain or influence power reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune (though slightly more foul-mouthed).

The plot veritably bounds along from planet to planet (or slightly more accurately, from planet to Hub) as we follow our heroes (if you can call anyone here a hero) on an exhilarating, rip-roaring galaxy-spanning adventure.

Book one of a new series, and I cannot wait for Book 2.