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!

 

 

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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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Book Review: Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler

 

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“I slapped a strip of duct tape over his mouth.” C.S 

Genre: Humorous Crime Fiction
Pub First Date: 2001
Publisher: UglyTown Publishing/Dell Books
Length: 274 pages
Paperback : Orion Tech on Amazon5.87)

Charlie Swift just pumped three .38-caliber [sic] bullets into a dead polar bear in his taxidermist girlfriend’s garage. But he’s a gun monkey, and no one can blame him for having an itchy trigger finger. Ever since he drove down the Florida Turnpike with a headless body in the trunk of a Chrysler, then took down four cops, Charlie’s been running hard through the sprawling sleaze of central Florida. And to make matters worse, he’s holding on to some crooked paperwork that a lot of people would like to take off his hands. Now, with his boss disappeared and his friends dropping like flies, Charlie has got his work cut out just to survive. If he wants to keep the money and get the girl too, he’s really going to have to go ape…

Gun Monkeys(Back Cover Book Blurb)

That little scene was enough to make me pay out some cash for this title. Gangsters and polar bears? I thought, I gotta have me some of this.

I came to read Gun Monkeys via Twitter of all places. I ‘Follow’ the author, Victor Gischler simply because I find his Tweets amusing. He has a slight acerbic tone laced with humour, writer rants (don’t we all) and glimpses into his family life (such as which film he will be watching with his young son). I’m late to the show – as you can see by the publishing date – but better late than never.

Gun Monkeys has been called by some, a Florida comic crime caper, and Gishler’s love of Noir, crime, gangsters and history of comic writing comes through in this novel.

I usually take longer than most people I talk to, to read a book these days (weeks), I seem to be slowing down as I get older, but the pace of writing and regular action kept me moving along, so I completed it in three days (a record for me!)

Charlie Swift is one of the gun monkeys of the title, he works for crime boss Stan as an enforcer. He is a stereotypical anti-hero – bad guy with redeeming qualities. Many of the characters fit the expected Film Noir tropes – gangster with a heart and a ‘Ma’ he loves, a sassy, intelligent female, Marcie, whom Charlie falls for because, like Charlie, she can she the necessity for plastic sheeting and the multiple uses of duct tape, I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” A lumbering, huge muscle guy, Lou, and sleek-suited mob boss, Mercury. Despite being set in the present day, the lingo used often sounds a little like that spoken by gangsters in the 40’s and 50’s movies – BUT – it doesn’t feel dated, or clichéd. Instead, it moves along at a cracking speed, as Charlie attempts to help his boss, track down the ‘other’ bad guys and deal with consequences that keep springing up.

Charlie is a crack shot with a gun we are told, yet he doesn’t have it all his own way. To be honest, Charlie has a hell of a time. I don’t know if I’d ever want to be friends with Charlie Swift, but I didn’t dislike him, ever, even when he pumps a bullet into some guys knee (and worse).

I found Gishler’s writing and characterisation to be solid, and although the territory – Noir Gangster-land – is very familiar to me, I found a freshness to this writing, which I reckon is pretty difficult to do without slipping on the cliché banana. 

There are some nice comic touches, although as the story progresses the comic elements lessen. There is a lot of violence, but nothing stomach churning. There’s a high body count, but meh, isn’t that the world of gangsters? It’s pulp fiction, it’s fun- despite the violence, it’s overflowing with swearing, it’s contemporary hard-boiled, it’s not Raymond Chandler, but it was an enjoyable read, enough so that I will be taking a further delve into the work of Victor Gischler.

I’m giving Gun Monkeys

4 stars

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Book Review – Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

Image result for hot lead, cold iron book
Hot Lead, Cold Iron Book Cover

Genre: Crime Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dark fantasy, Urban fantasy
Pub First Date: 2014
Publisher: Titan Books
Length: 305 pages
Paperback : Bookdonors on Amazon (£3.72)

” Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.”

Hot Lead, Cold Iron (Back-book cover blurb)

First off, I have a confession to make – I’m one of those people who rolls their eyes when others mention certain themes of TV/Film/Book whatever, that I deem ‘stupid’ or ‘unbelievable’, you know what I mean? Conspiracy theorists, fantastical creatures roaming modern cities, and so on – except, I do read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, so where do I draw the line? Hard to say.

So, when I read that Ari Marmell‘s book was about a Private Investigator who is a Fae, I almost turned tail.

I discovered this book through entering the world of Dieselpunk/Decopunk writing, researching some titles. I read the opening 5 pages and… ordered it!

I think I have mentioned before that I enjoy crime writing, all kinds and in all forms (I have a huge collection of magazines about serial killers – yeah, publishers, you might want to bear that in mind next time you refuse my submissions!!) And this, I would say, is first and foremost a detective story. The protagonist, Mick Oberon is, as I mentioned, a Fae, living and working in 1930s Chicago. But the thing that hooked me is Marmell’s use of language, particularly the language of America, in that time period. The lingo is not only relevant to the time period, but has the humorous yet threatening quality of such well-known characters as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade –

One, I don’t chisel my clients, Archie. Ain’t good for business…And two, get your hand off me before I make you eat it.”. M.O.

This isn’t just a detective story, it’s Noir, one of my favourite film genres.

Mick Oberon explains that he is obliged to speak in this manner in order to function in his present day. I love this style of speech. Watching the old Humphrey Bogart films I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I sure as hell got the inference. Gangster speak is used throughout ‘Hot Lead, Cold Iron’, but not so as you don’t know what characters are talking about.

The story is written in first person – Mick Oberon’s – and so we get a pretty thorough explanation of Fae. Marmell has actually given some thought to magic and how it is used; Oberon’s magic is not the same as another type of Fae’s magic for instance. The world of the Fae – the Seelie Court (and it’s darker counter-side, the Unseelie Court) are almost copies of the real world, brilliantly explained by Marmell, as a result of Fae lacking creativity but being excellent mimics.

No matter how unusual some of the plot-line or characters or environs may seem, Marmell has written with psychological realism, thereby ensuring the story does not fall apart due to some random shit he wants in there. Though I did struggle somewhat to visualise some of the setting of the Seelie Court in Elphame, my impression of size kept shifting, so I was unable to get a clear understanding of the size of structures or beings. And I did enjoy the time spent in our world more than in Oberon’s home world.

Oberon is a likeable, milk-drinking, wand-toting good guy with a hard-boiled attitude that he wears like his coat. We don’t, in all honesty, know too much about his background – he’d tell you to mind your own business. And this is another aspect of the writing I enjoyed, Oberon often directly speaks to the reader, he gives you enough to understand the world you are entering, but also enough to pique the interest for further reading – “My name is Mick Oberon, or at least it is now.” He says things like – “You Joe’s.” Referring to humans and the reader alike, he doesn’t always reveal the whys and wherefores of his actions, you are being introduced a bit at a time to his way of living – “And if you think it all went easy for me, you ain’t been paying attention.”

This kind of story, with these kinds of fantasy elements, could easily have fallen flat – or worse. It’s success rests on the main character’s voice; as much as the plot and setting need a certain amount of historical accuracy, it is how Marmell has written Oberon’s voice that makes it work well. And it’s not just (if you like this kind of language) the gangster speak, Oberon is an intriguing character and charismatic too.

If you get gangster speak and understand a little about the world of faeries, you get the title – Lead as in bullets – Iron as in faeries hate it.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron is action-packed fun, well-written with wisecracks enough to satisfy Raymond Chandler fans, it is the first in a new series by Ari Marmell – ‘A Mick Oberon Job’ or Mick Oberon #1.

And I will be purchasing the second book – Hallow Point.

I’m giving Hot Lead, Cold Iron

4 Stars

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Steampunk Collection

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler
Steampunk Adventures

I forgot to mention – This:

A book, I wrote!

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction 

It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.

It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!

Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)

Extract:

I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;

An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”

You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”

Damn! I thought.

Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”

Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”

I beg your pardon?!”

Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.

 

Created and only available on FeedARead.com

 

lucylockhart
L.A.G. Lockhart

 

 

Book Review – The City and The City by China Miéville

Image from  https://locativeliterature.wordpress.com/sections/section-1/

 
Genre: Science Fantasy/Crime
Pub First Date: 2009
Publisher: Pan Books
Length: 373 pages
Paperback : Local Library (£7.39)

 

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

The City and The City, (back-book cover blurb)

The City and The City by China Mieville
The City and The City by China Mieville

 

China Miéville is perhaps best known as a writer of ‘weird fiction’ [self termed], of science fiction, fantasy, urban fiction – a number of genre terms have been applied to this English writer who has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and the British Fantasy Award twice.

Years ago, I dipped into a story by Miéville and was confounded by the twisting, corrugated way he wrote. I don’t think I reached the end. What the hell was that all about?! I wondered.

Then I tried again – ‘Looking For Jake and Other Stories’, and the same thing happened. Was I stupid? Is my command of the English language so infantile and undeveloped? Most recently, I read ‘Embassytown‘, I say read, I got half-way through and abandoned it.

So why, you may ask, did I bother to continue?

There is something about Miéville’s work that keeps drawing me back. I’m not sure what this elusive thing is that draws me, but I can’t leave it alone. Am I ashamed to have not reach the end of previous novels? Hm, maybe. But ‘The City and The City‘ is different. For one thing, I finished it, secondly, it’s crime, and I’m a sucker for crime stories, and this writing I found more accessible than any of the previous I had read.

The world it is set in is familiar, though the prime cities of the title do not exist. To me, it smacks of East and West Berlin, divided by a wall – in Berlin an actual, concrete structure – in the novel, by ‘unseeing’ and and it is this ‘unseeing’ that gives the story it’s flavour.

In the city of Beszel, where our protagonist; Inspector Tyador Borlú lives and works, the people are living in a grey, sort of post Soviet state. In Ul Qoma, it’s neighbour, the economy thrives; more or less, it’s a chic modern place with better transport, better clothing and so forth. Parts of the two cities overlap, some buildings are even shared by both – BUT – the citizens of neither place are allowed to notice the other.

Trained from childhood, and enforced by both countries’ governments and populaces, the citizens pass each other in the streets without looking or ‘unseeing’ each other.

It’s a bizarre concept. But this is more than a straightforward crime story – of course it is, it’s Miéville! It’s about how we do this ‘unseeing’ ourselves, in real life. We ‘unsee’ what we don’t want to know about – the homeless, we ‘unsee’ what doesn’t affect us directly – an attack on another’s person, we ‘unsee’ what goes on in other countries politically.

Added to this bizarre brew is Breach. To breach an area of one city to another is a crime, the details of how to and how not to are as convoluted as Cold War politics. To breach is punishable. But Breach is also a shadowy, secret and invisible, till it wants to be seen, power. When a citizen has breached the boundary in any way, these dark figures emerge at unnatural speed to ‘clear up’ the situation. When Breach takes someone, they may be extradited – or never seen again.

This is intelligent and original writing. Miéville offers us a Ballardian type world where the rules are both clear, yet unclear, it looks like reality but smells like fantasy, it’s both a murder investigation and a metaphor for our times, and Inspector Borlú is as dogged a policeman as you will ever meet.

 

I’m giving The City and The City

4 Stars

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