Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

Image result for the spherical trust by Mjke Wood
The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

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Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

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Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

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Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

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Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

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There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

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Book Review: The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

Genre: Fantasy Noir
Pub First Date: 4th April 2019
Publisher:Kyanite Publishing
Length: 350 pages
Paperback: ARC copy from author for review purposes

Titan City, 1933

The wizard Anson Walker’s cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother. Her kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a cosmic event every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. As Anson dives into the criminal underworld of Titan City, he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and dredges up feelings he thought long gone. Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the sinister forces arrayed against him?

Some readers may not have heard of the Fantasy Noir genre before. It is one of those sub-sub-genres that is becoming popular; like Diesel, Stitch and Elf have emerged from the genre of Steampunk. From Fantasy has emerged Alternative, Dying Earth and Futuristic. Also Dark, or Noir, and if you are familiar with the term from cinema, then you will have an idea where Alexander Thomas is coming from.

The Magician’s Sin has, as it’s lead, Anson Walker; ‘Exterminator’, who shares more than a few characteristics of the hard-boiled PI about him – though he does, in one scene, make protestations to the contrary. He’s mature (don’t know how old), intelligent to a degree, cynical and has a smart mouth. He swears and spits and smokes, I like him. I have a weakness for Marlowesque characters with snappy lines and a quick delivery – Anson Walker has a few snappy lines, I would have liked more.

He is ’employed’ – I use the term loosly as she doesn’t pay him, by Caroline Dupree, a young woman not only growing and finding herself, but along the way finds what or who she is and what she is capable of. She develops very nicely as a character, though some of her early growth happens a wee bit too quickly for my liking; she seems to accept the remarkable with remarkable ease.

I really enjoyed the opening scenes, where we are introduced to Walker – and his skills as a wizard. I became quite attached to the Dupree family in their little domestic, after work setting. There are some pretty neat descriptions of characters and places – of the MC: ‘Anson was lanky like a shadow at sunset.’ Of a group of Russian gangster types: ‘Their grim, flat faces were slate tiles.’

I found some of the dialogue stilted, in that it did not flow in a manner conducive to helping move the scene forwards, or it felt unnatural, or innappropriate for the scene. I can’t, for example, imagine discussing much at all whilst in the middle of a three-way fight with an Amazon.

Yes, I did say Amazon, as in mighty female warriors. This was another sticking point for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, I love noir, I love horror, and superheroes, and mythology – you see where I’m going with this? Thomas has included all, and more, of these beings into one story, and for me, the scene outside the nightclub lost all psychological realism – simply too many varieties of beast; vampires, werewolves, Japanese demons, medusa-like women and ogres. This nightclub also has the strange ability, I don’t understand how, it’s not explained, to have people from different eras in the one place – from Roman Legionnaires to Mark Twain. Again, my suspension of disbelief was suspended a little too high.

I think Thomas has come up with an interesting idea, with a great main character and supporting cast – one called Chevron grew on me, and Thomas piqued my curiosity with this guy. The Aberration is a great concept about when the magical energies will be weaker, or at least in flux and it has an exciting finale.

It’s a crazy mix of 1930s detective noir, comic novel, superheroes and mythology, that I’m not 100% convinced Thomas has pulled off. I feel he could have had one story thread, a single arc and one or two fantastical beasts, and it would have been just as good. Sometimes it feels as though the author got over-excited and wanted to fit in as much as possible, and in parts, smacks a little of a D and D game – the amazing devices, shining orbs and jewels, and very powerful magic. I don’t believe I am the target audience for this novel – though I do like all the elements, it’s too ‘noisy’ for my tastes, but if you like your fantasy stuffed with humanoids, feisty women and a snarky lead, then this will be just your thing.

But despite my reservations…

I am curious to know what happens with the two characters in the end scene…will they be back for a second outing? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Magician’s Sin is Coming to E-book, Paperback, and Hardcover 04/04/2019, courtesy of Kyanite Publishing.

I’m giving The Magician’s Sin

3 Stars

Fantasycon -2018 Notes from a Newbie

This is a loooonnnnnggggg post, so grab a G&T and a settle in…

fantasycon18

So this weekend – happening now, as I write – is the Fantasycon 2018 convention. I, unfortunately, was only able to attend one day, Friday. (Boo)

Fantasycon, so I was reliably informed, is the extension of what started out in the early 1970s as the AGM of the British Fantasy Society.

I have been to conventions before, just not book/writer ones, and lord knows, writers – especially sci-fi and fantasy and horror writers, are a weird bunch – aren’t they?! So, wasn’t sure what to expect. Would there be loads of teen and middle-aged men in sweat-pants and lank hair wandering about like herds of obsessive bison, intent on visually feasting upon their favourite authors, leering at them through semi-steamed spectacles wiped on too-tight tee-shirts with images blazoned across them of dragons and heavy metal bands or D&D dice and doing heavy nasal breathing? Jeez, I hoped not.

And I was not disappointed. Sure, there were loads of guys, but there were plenty of women too, and none-gender specific visitors. People of all types; the hirsute and less so too!

The event was held at The Queen Hotel, Chester, with a plethora of people stuffed into a series of rooms to listen to a bunch of writers and editors and publishers ply their trade – and I did not hear a single disgruntlement all day. No whining, no arguments, no attitude, just a big group of people who all enjoy the same thing – it was very cool. (The bowler hatted Greeter was an excellent addition I may say.)

So, blah, blah, blah, lunch, G & Ts, admiring the ladies washrooms, big gold doors, what did I actually do? Surely Alexandra, you ask, didn’t you go to meet, connect, get some lowdown on the industry? Didn’t you attend writers panels/talks? After my gin(s), here’s what Alex did next:-

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  1. Blogging in Genre Fiction – on the panel – Kate Coe, Alasdair Stuart and Micah Yongo. Moderated by Kit Power. Kit is a staff writer for Ginger Nuts of Horror, Alasdair has been a journalist and now does RPG writing, co-owner of Escape Artists podcast runs his own blog ‘The Man of Words‘. Kate is a writer of fantasy fiction as well as being an editor and blogger. Micah is the author of Lost Gods and blogs on The Mancophile.

The panel were asked, how did they decide on the content for what to write on their blogs – Kate said hers could be anything from snippets of writing, new ideas, what has inspired her and so forth. She also discussed about permission to write, post information, or photo’s that others might have shared with her; it came across as very important to her that she be appropriate with the material she blogs. Alasdair talked about being naturally enthusiastic, a natural critic and his love of comics. He seemed to have boundless mental energy and just a love of writing in many forms. Kit was keen to give indie fiction a spotlight, a voice. When asked about building an audience, the responses ranged from writing regularly, putting out a newsletter, cross-referencing to networking, linking to Twitter and Facebook and giving time and space on your own feeds to other workers in the industry. How did they find blogging different from their fiction writing? Micah enjoyed the freedom of writing without being edited by someone else, that is used different ‘muscles’ from writing a novel. there is, he added, no obligation to anyone, he came up with a lovely term – ‘palette cleanser’ – in that, one could allow oneself to free flow when blogging, before returning to the oft restrictions of writing in a specific genre.

All in all, an interesting panel with some sound advice for writers who blog. I have visited their sites and signed myself up to them.

2. The Elderly Guard – on the panel – Mark A. Latham, Dion Winton-Polak, David Stokes, R.B. Watkinson. Moderated by Charlotte Bond. Mark is a writer and editor and has around fourteen books to his name. Dion is a freelance editor, with This Twisted Earth anthology and Sunny With A Chance of Zombies under his belt. David runs a small press called Guardbridge Books. Rosa (R.B) is a writer of fantasy fiction. Charlotte writes horror, fantasy and sci-fi. (*I arrived a couple of minutes late so did not account for everyone’s status’ or genres).

The panel were discussing why – if there weren’t – any or more older heroes/heroines in the fantasy genre. Where are the older characters in leading roles? Dion cited Cohen the Barbarian, from Terry Pratchett’s books, as well as the witches; Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. David cited a number of books that do contain older characters – The Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan, the Chalion series by Lois Bujold as well as Kings of the Wild by Nicholas Eames.  Asked about why is fantasy so fixated on teenagers? Dion said  it’s what we read and connect with as children, there is a kind of wish fulfilment which we then slowly lose as we age. The world becomes less ‘pliable’ as we age.

The genre – fantasy –  seems to automatically attract younger people, who then stay with it; the reader, like the young hero, learns of the world (presented by the author), as the story progresses. The elderly hero already knows his or her world, and so presents a different angle for both writer and reader. Young hero’s, all agreed, have to learn something towards the end of the story – the older one already has – otherwise he/she wouldn’t have reached old age! Although Rosa did point out that older does not necessarily mean wiser! Also posed was the question, a hero having a mid-life crisis, why is that any different from the teen? (Interesting point, speaking as someone in mid-life, am I having a crisis? I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I stop shouting at everything and everyone). There is, it was pointed out, the trope of the ‘old soldier’ on one last mission, who represents resistance to change maybe, this hero knows he needs to change or die – though we didn’t resolve the mid-life crisis question! Annoying stereotypes included, the ‘caring’ mum, the older ones who don’t believe it’s happening, or having dementia. Books cited by the panel also included, The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, The Gunslinger by Stephen King, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and Snakewood by Adrian Selby.

A very interesting and engaging panel.

3. Shared Worlds – on the panel – Dion Winton-Polak, Pauline Kirk, Gavin Smith and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Moderated by Cheryl Morgan. Dion is a freelance editor, Pauline writes sci-fi and, in collaboration with her daughter, thrillers under the pseudonym P.J.Quinn, Gavin is a writer of sci-fi, Adrian writes sci-fi and science fantasy.

The panel were asked what attracted them to the idea of shared worlds. Pauline, coming more from the collaboration angle described how she enjoyed working with her daughter. Adrian and Dion hi-lighted the difference between joining a shared world as a writer, or being the person (editor?) who created the world. It was enjoyable to see what others would make of it, “What people will do with the toys you create.” A.T, and how the hive mind sees things that either might not have occurred to you, or that you don’t have the necessary tools to do so, DWP. Pitching an idea to a publisher might be for a number of reasons – for the cache, for money, or pleasure, but being aware of the canon of the existing world. The ‘bad bits’ seemed to be mostly having to mould yourself to the other world, sticking to the familiar (to the audience/reader), having constraints if you decide to write for, for example – Doctor Who (Oh how I dream of writing for Doctor Who…). Gavin admitted that authors can be quite insistent on doing their own thing and that writing a novel can be rather self-indulgent and although one might have an editor to contend with, writing for an existing franchise means contending with the publisher, the producer, the franchise, editing by committee. As an editor Dion noted that it can become difficult keeping track of what all the writers have produced and ensuring everything fits in the shared world.

What makes a good Shared World? Cheryl asked. “Consistency is vital.”G.S. “In itself it should be credible.” P.K. Adrian suggested the idea that creators should make a ‘bible’ of their world, and include items, backstory and leave ‘hooks’ that other writers can work with. When asked if there was a particular Shared World they would like to write for, both Gavin and Adrian said they would like to write for Wild Cards (George R.R. Martin series), though Gavin said without the least trace of rancour (!) that he would be happy to do anything for financial gain – you heard it here – Gavin Smith IS a gun for hire! Cheryl would like the chance to write for Marvel, preferably X-Men and/or Avengers.

Something I did not know – Amazon is playing with the idea of making a Lord of The Rings TV series (Gag). Asked, if offered the chance, would they write for it. All said yes – apart from Dion who isn’t a writer – with varying degrees of enthusiasm. And what would they NOT want to write in/for? Worlds that aggrandise evil said Pauline, she said these were ideas that she doesn’t share. Star Wars, Gavin said (Liking him more and more). For Adrian it was stuff that’s become ubiquitous – zombie survival and similar tropes.

This was a great panel, with lively banter between the writers; especially Adrian Tchaikovsky and Gavin Smith. A bunch I could definitely enjoy a pint with (if they’d have me)

4. Adventures in Self-Publishing – on the panel – Richie Valentine Smith, Steve McHugh, Iain Grant and Rachel McLean. Moderated by Heide Goody.  Richie writes the Words of Power fantasy series, Steve writes urban fantasy, Iain co-writes with Heide, comedy fantasy and Rachel writes dystopian, political thrillers.

Straight in with – the benchmark for average earnings of a professional writer is…       £10, 500. The panel were all very honest about where they were in relation to this, some hovering below, others above, a couple way above. Iain maintained that a main skill in self-publishing was to understand that you had to become a salesperson in most instances – 30% writer, 70% salesperson. You need to be persistent about self-promotion, “…just because it is good, doesn’t mean it will sell.” He and Rachel also talked about how important book covers are; readers will forgive poor grammar (apparently) as long as there is a good story and engaging cover – the cover draws people in, and once they have bought it, then that’s it, sold.  Heide claimed to enjoy the variety of moving between the writing and marketing. Richie spoke of persistence and making contacts. Rachel told us to be entrepreneurial, learn new skills – and this- publishers do NOT always do the marketing for you! So how to divide your time – Iain is lucky in that he does 90% of the writing most of the time, whilst Heide seems left to write AND market their books! Although Steve does have a publisher, he still does his own publicity, via social media. Richie does not have any social media accounts and sees this as his downfall, plus he offered a little piece of info for budding self-publishers of sci-fi – the BFS does NOT revue self-published books. Rachel was insistent that engaging with other writers on social media does not help with sales, you need to find readers, you need to join Facebook groups, you need to be prepared to read other peoples work, keep communicating and learn the skill of marketing – not sales. When asked what they would spend £300 on in regards to self-publishing, the cover came top for most of the panel – get it properly edited, proof-read, copy edited, line edited and so forht – but the cover will sell the book! Some examples given, for the writer who pays for everything are – cover: up to £1000 if Fantasy, £160 for comedy. Editor £200, Marketing £500 and up. Rachel revealed that she had spent £400 for all her editing (of one book), £200 for a proof-reader  (70 – 80,000 words) and £300 on the cover.

This sort of practical information is what I found really helpful, often there is a kind of moving mass of information of ‘around this much’, ‘depends on…’ and so forth. This panel’s openness was refreshing. they also gave some hints and tips:-  visit Deviant Art for potential cover artists. Join reader Facebook groups. Do not e-mail another author. Do not add people to your author page. Do not bombard people with your latest title. Be nice.

5. The End of The World – on the panel – Tiffani Angus, Helen Marshall, Jane O’Reilly, Duncan P.Bradshaw. Moderator was Leila Abu el Hawa. Tiffani is a university lecturer and writer of Fantasy, Erotica and more, Helen writes about weird realities and the apocalypse, Jane writes sci-fi space opera, Duncan writes horror and post-apocalyptic zombie tales.

This was, despite the theme –  the End of the World guys! A really light-hearted get together. Leila asked the panel members, as it was the end of the world, who would be your sidekick, what song would play and what special skills did they bring along? Jane chose Captain America as her sidekick, because, duh, looks good as well as kicking ass. She chose REM ‘End of the World’ and as she is a self-proclaimed bossy person, her special skill was supervising Steve Rogers. Duncan very diplomatically chose to have his wife (who was in the audience!) as his sidekick, he chose ‘Well Done’ by The Idles as his track and his special skill is that he is annoying! Helen chose co-panellist Tiffani as her sidekick (because apparently she’s scary to cyclists! I dunno, wasn’t me who said it!) ‘The Final Countdown’ as her track and her special skill? Summon soup – this turned out to be some kind of in-joke that kept getting referred to throughout. Tiffani kept with the apocalyptic them by choosing Imperator Furiosa as her sidekick, ‘Mo Fo’ was her song and her skill is that she is bossy too!

Asked what they enjoyed about apocalyptic fiction, Tiffani said she liked playing with the idea of how things fall apart and are put back together again. Duncan said we would discover people’s skills, our innate abilities and that quality humans have for muddling through. Jane said in regards to writing, one can kill off everyone you hate, but that she found apocalyptic stories fundamentally optimistic; people survive, we can go on after disaster. How has Apocalyptic Fiction changed? Jane said the social situation has changed, the rise of different diseases and technology. Helen remarked at the way people in 14th century literature were much better at thinking about and dealing with death – ‘Dying well’ – which we seem unable or unwilling to do nowadays. After lots of discussion about the role females do or don’t play in dystopian/apocalyptic stories; including TV shows, the panel were asked, What tropes are you tired of? Jane said why is everyone always filthy?! There are tonnes of baby-wipes out there to use. Tiffani hated the way women still had shaved armpits. Helen lamented how quickly people became cannibals. And Duncan was tired of the same old gangs – every story has the heavy-handed, thick-headed leader, etc. And what would these guys save for our future dear reader? Turns out flushing toilets, soap, libraries, music and chocolate!

I think it was a wobbly discussion that seemed more about the writers sharing with each other, than offering budding writers much to go on.

 

Embarrassing moments –

When asked if I was an author too “…I do write, er…I suppose so… am I a writer? yes, yes I am a writer.” Honest mate! I suddenly felt like a complete fraud. I was talking to a guy who had published 5 fantasy fiction novels – what the hell have I done?!

To meet or not to meet. I have an appalling habit (I call it a strength) in that my Default position is –  Tactless, I once vaguely insulted Richard Hammond from Top Gear, but that’s another tale. So I had just listed to Dion Winton-Polak talk, he had once rejected a story I submitted – to introduce oneself or not?! Hm, how to not be offensive – Christ! I might need to go back to him at some point in the future! “Hi…I just…I wasn’t sure if I should…I just wanted to say hello…” He shook my hand, peered at my name badge and… it was fine. Phew. He was in fact, extremely pleasant and I didn’t insult him.

Waving. And waving some more, at some guy who didn’t even know me!!!!! I don’t know why. I just did. Okay!?

Getting caught mooching around the hotel corridors – I wasn’t a staying guest – I’m just a nosy person.

That concludes my ‘report’ about my first ever Fantasycon. Would I do it again?

Hell yeah!

 

 

Caveat Emptor

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Writers Beware!

This week I received an unsolicited e-mail from this company, FlipLoud. So what? We all get this kind of stuff. I hate it with a disproportionate vengeance. Except, I had one of these a few months ago and didn’t even read it that time, it went straight in the rubbish bin (possibly with other stuff I should have read!) You might recognise it…

Hi Honorable Author Alexandra Peel,

I hope your book “Sticks & Stones” is doing well.

I am an associate of Fliploud.com -one of the biggest book promotion companies.

At Fliploud we reward book readers with Gift Cards when they read books listed in the Fliploud library hence it gives a lot of exposure to new books and authors.

Here are few key features of our Fliploud Book Promotion services-

1. We will list your book on our site for 30 days. The benefit is that you can get more sales from our site visitors. We get more than 75,000 visits per month.

2. Featuring your book in our weekly email newsletter to more than 65000 subscribers.

3. Promoting the book on social media to more than 1 Million combined followers.

4. Recommending your book to our 1000 social media contacts with a personal message.

If you are interested in listing your book on Fliploud, please visit Fliploud Book Listing for more details.

You can also promote your other book too, which book you want.

For any further questions, please feel free to write to us.

Thank You

Team Fliploud

Okay. That’s the letter. Yep, it’s promotional. Initially it appears to be promising great things – What! You’re gonna promote the shit out of my book and I’ll make a tonne of dosh?! Woo!

You know when you go on a first date and he/she does something you might find odd, not cutesy, what a funny character odd, but ODD – alarm bells may ring – you should always take note. So let’s look a little closer at the e-mail I received…

*At this point I want to say, I have NO PROOF THAT THIS COMPANY IS REAL, FAKE, LEGIT OR OTHERWISE – I am not on a defamation mission, all I’m attempting to do is raise awareness in the writing community about those that are willing to make money off your efforts.* Other ‘companies’ are available*

So –

1) ‘Hi Honorable Author Alexandra Peel‘. And yes it is bold type in the original. No-one in the western world calls one another ‘Honorable’. This is specifically an eastern trait in the spoken and written word. As a Brit, I also recognise the spelling as not being UK English – honourable, is how we spell it. So this is either someone working in Asia, or an Asian working in America. This introduction immediately puts me on alert – it’s over the top, it comes across as creepy, sucky, and you don’t know me, so don’t say ‘Hi’! Where did they get my details? Who’s been trolling for business? What else of my stuff have you accessed!!

2) ‘I am an associate…’ we will return to this…

3) ‘One of the biggest book promotion companies‘. Well, I’ve never heard of them, but that doesn’t mean shit, I don’t know heaps of things… I asked around and no writer I spoke to had heard of them. Online, people have, but in a puzzled ‘who’? Kind of way. On their Support For Indie Authors discussion thread – Goodreads members have shared some feelings about the ‘company’. – https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/19147288-fliploud

It’s a pretty bold claim to make. But hang fire a moment – it doesn’t say where in the world it is the biggest book promo company! It could be Outer Mongolia, the Faroe Islands, anywhere! So they may be the biggest wherever they are. We just don’t know because it doesn’t tell us much on their web-page!

4) ‘we reward book readers with Gift Cards when they read books listed in the Fliploud library‘. Whoop-de-doo. This is pure, self-promotion on the part of the company. Remember, you don’t get anything for nothing, this is a way to drive traffic to their own site and thus increase revenue.

5) ‘We will list your book on our site for 30 days‘. So what? They claim to have 75,000 visitors a month, but we have no way to substantiate that claim. Maybe they do, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t be sending e-mails to writer’s like me if it were true. Besides, twenty minutes work to stick a picture of your book up, then just leave it there on the site page is no big deal. And 30 days is not a long time.

6) ‘1000 social media contacts with a personal message.’ Go and check out the links. They aren’t personal at all. In fact, when I looked at them, I discovered – 1 Facebook profile did not open/exist anymore, 2 had the same Profile picture (which always smacks of fake to me), and there are no personal posts or photos that would suggest that real people exist behind these accounts. No personal stuff on Twitter and Facebook is often an indication of dodgy goings on.

7) ‘Thank You Team Fliploud‘ – see #2. The letter began with a single person and ended with a team! Who wrote to me? What’s your name? This is not how you structure a letter, especially a business one.

Fliploud does not come up on a UK company search. I did a number of searches on business company check sites, including international. There is no contact address on the site – it does not, as far as I can see, even say where in the world they are based. Two of the #handles have the same initials as those of whomever set of the website. It all begins to smell a little suspicious to me.

Fliploud says it promotes your content online. I’m not disputing that. It does (maybe), to a greater or lesser degree than you imagine. But you need to be aware that there are charges, of course there are, it’s how they make their money, you get nothing for free remember! So how much will it cost you?Their page tells us they they will promote your book on Facebook, Twitter, and their own website. It costs: $19 (£14) Basic/ $29 (£22) Standard/ $49 (£37) Premium. But it doesn’t explain which of these rates, Basic, Standard or Premium relates to the number of posts they will generate on your behalf.

And another thing – Fliploud also promotes Apps, Online Stores, Online Courses, Competitions and Crowd Funding events – it isn’t just about books – it isn’t a publishing company – it is about them making money off you. We are all aware that models are told never to pay for a portfolio of pics, well this is similar – you shouldn’t need to pay to promote your work. Ultimately it’s your choice though.

My Spidey senses tingle the more I read about this company. I may be totally wrong, but I strongly suspect that this is an individual, or small group of individuals, who are extremely tech savvy. They have time to have multiple accounts and time to keep promoting these on a weekly basis – bear in mind, that there are jobs that will pay you to sit at home and type stuff for them, on an hourly basis.

All I’m saying is ‘Buyer Beware’

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P.S: If anyone can prove me wrong in my suspicions, then let me know.

Book Review: Mind in the Gap by C.R. Dudley

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Mind in the Gap by C.R.Dudley

Genre: Science Fiction, Metaphysical, Philosophy.
Pub First Date: September, 2018
Publisher: Orchid’s Lantern
Length: 242 pages
Paperback : £7.99 (Copy from author for review purposes)

We all need a bit of chaos. “The body likes continuity. It’s part of the deal. But the truth is, there are gaps everywhere. Gaps only the mind can slip through…” Follow M – a strange and chaotic being who professes to be the outcast of a black hole – on a journey like no other. Flowing freely through the back streets of hidden realms, she drives her companion to meet commuters who cross dimensions, embody future technology, and peek behind the scenes at consciousness: all with one purpose in mind.

Mind in the Gap (back cover blurb)

Mind in the Gap is a quick and easy read.

Mind in the Gap is a difficult read.

Contradiction? Well, kind of, but not really. Bear with me, it’s a hell of a ride!

Dudley has presented us with an anthology of 14 short stories which can be read individually – but – are actually interconnected; which is one of the themes running through this book.

On a superficial level, one could read these as sci-fi stories. The author’s understanding of science terminology is clear, and so we experience Artificial Intelligence (A.I), quantum physics, immersive technology, black holes, futuristic drugs, and insect sized cameras. There’s a whole world of technology on this level.

On another level, it is about human connectedness, the unconscious mind and our place, not only within the world of technology, but the world, nay, universe as a whole.

At times, reading Mind in the Gap was a vertiginous experience – as though standing with one’s back to a precipice and craning to look up into a high tree – dizzying.

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On a technical level, the writing is competent, there is no purple prose, Dudley never gets carried away with irrelevant description, it’s clean and concise. The author evidently has an extremely broad set of interests, that are admittedly, all interconnected – including art, science, philosophy, and I feel there might be too much pressed into service here.

Admittedly, I don’t have a great grasp on modern technology, let alone potential/future tech, but it wasn’t a problem, the author does not create anything overly complicated in her future worlds. But I did have to plunge into a dictionary every now and then.

What, I wondered, is Hermetic Philosophy? (A religion/philosophy based on the esoteric writings of Hermes Trismegistus). What is qualia? (Individual, subjective, conscious experience). The first thing I had to look up was The Kybalion, I’d never heard of it and I would say that this might be the one thing that could potentially let the book down. I’m not sure readers should have to look up the meaning of words, names or phrases so much that it interrupts the flow of the storytelling. I’m not overly intelligent, but neither am I unintelligent, I discuss psychology, philosophy, Freud and Jung with partner and friends – but when so many ‘foreign’ concepts are presented in such a small format, ie; short stories, then I worry that the author is deliberately overloading the reader, baffling the senses to keep one off-balance, using terminology that we don’t encounter in everyday situations. I struggled to explain to myself why the writer had used so many concepts.

However –

It works. And this is the point – we are all interconnected – we are all parts of a greater whole (even if that happens to be a black hole!) – we share the need to see patterns, we all have a shared set of symbols; Jungian archetypes – we all dream. And we are all, on a daily basis, off-balance, some of us just don’t know it!

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Dudley presents us with this: – we are all linear creatures living in a non-linear universe that we can only vaguely comprehend/connect to when we allow ourselves to access the unconscious. What would happen if technology became somehow entangled with, by choice or otherwise, our unconscious minds? Could technology, or drugs, be used to assist us in accessing the greater truth? Does technology interfere with our unconscious receptors?

How does one feel any attachment for a mechanoid? But I did. ZXXX84 makes a discovery that propels us into intrigue. We shift, paragraph, by paragraph into alternate reality as we ride the bus with Alex. How much do we put up with to NOT have the truth revealed to us? Have we surrounded ourselves with so much technology that we cannot ‘hear’ the universe?

I found ‘Winter Triangle’ heartbreaking. I identified with Nav in ‘Mapmakers’; I felt I had to navigate the stories. I recognised the protagonist in Frankie. The final story, ‘The Last Man’, is poignancy wrapped in hope – or the other way round.

The stories are not random, nor are they randomly organised, you do need to read from beginning to end. The author has nothing in the book that does not, I believe, have some kind of resonance for her – therefore, I felt obliged to discover the relationship between the question mark at the opening – ? “Ready!” and the exclamation mark at the ending – ! “Ready?” And I’m not telling, you will have to discover for yourselves!

I have never read anything like Mind in the Gap before. It is interesting, well-crafted, entertaining and informative – as well as being extremely thought provoking. My mind is still boggling with this extract of dialogue –

‘I’m immanentising the Eschaton!’ Demari in ‘The Fold’

 

I am giving Mind in the Gap

4 stars

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