Artificial Evil (The Techxorcist, #1)

No, nothing to do with the stompy silver fellows. I'm talking CyberPUNK.

I don't normally read two book of the same theme close to each other. It can give rise to unfair comparisons. In fairness, I did separate these two with a blast of Clive Barker, so any comparisons I think are reasonably fair.

So, on the menu we have 'Synners', recently relaunched by Pat Cadigan, and 'Artificial Evil' by Colin F Barnes, first volume in the Techxorcist trilogy.

Superficially, there is much in common between these books; runaway evil virus, urban breakdown, individuals with unexpected abilities, and lots and lots of data processing. But that's about as far as any similarity goes.

'Synners' was like a cool shower on a baking hot August afternoon. OK, not very helpful, but as soon as I started reading I sort of felt like I had come home in a literary sense. Synners was first published in 1991, and as a writer it burns deep inside me that this was only her second book. Also, it feels somehow older then 1991; more like ten years before. It took me back to the time when I was reading a book a day because there was so much to read and I just didn't have time to get to all of it.

The style is the most glorious fusion of William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', John Brunner's 'The Shockwave Rider' (both essential reads) and a just the zest from a 'Clockwork Orange'. Everything is edgy, counter-culture, with LA still hanging on the edge of meltdown and the big corporations sticking it to the public at every opportunity. It sparkles in your mind, with terms you've never heard that still make perfect sense, alien enough to be different and yet close enough to be uncomfortably feasible.

Cleverly, by design or accident, the technology Cadigan uses hasn't really aged, partly by not being too specific about what it is or its capabilities. Sort of hinting at what stuff can do without trying to tell you how. The result is that the story hasn't dated, even if the style is a perhaps a little retro. Having only recently discovered Cadigan through 'Tea from an Empty Cup', I am now a convert and consider Pat living contradiction of the current bull going around that women cant write good SF. I'll have satisfaction from anybody who says otherwise, rapier or pistol, lightsabre or blaster, at dawn.

Barnes offering is cheese to Cadigan's chalk, or perhaps Port to her Brie - nah, stretched that too far. Artificial Evil shares, as I said, some common threads, but the setting is much more Mad Max or Judge Dredd (Stallone version). The characters are very different, too, though no less engaging. Barnes is also a compulsive tale-spinner, and uses the confusion and disorientation of the lead character as he is thrown from a safe and comfortable existence into total confusion compulsively. The like all good writers, as soon as you think you know what's going on, he twists it again. I'm reliably informed all three books in the trilogy are complete and either they are all available or the third is due out momentarily.

Barnes style is much lighter than Cadigan's. Synners was a very dense read, without much space for humour longer than one-liners. Colin scatters little easter eggs through his books, even managing to slip in a 'once does not simply walk into...(Mordor)' line that made me chuckle so hard I woke the wife and got grumbled at.

The second and third Techxorcist novels are on my Christmas list [as are the 2nd thru 5th volumes of Abarat, and anything else by Pat Cadigan, if anybody was looking to buy me... no?... well, can fault me for trying :) ]

Cover Reveal - Aphrodite's Dawn

Relaunching soon.


Blog Neglect: Stamp it out - TODAY!

Blog, Oh Blog, how have I neglected thee?

I plead the usual defence - stuff happened. Hardly an excuse, because surely I should have been blogging about it. Shouldn't I?

Anyhow, a big part of the stuff has been working with Fox Spirit to get 'Warrior Stone:Underland' ready to launch in the new year. Edits are nearing completion, and we have confirmed the talented Linzi Goldstone as cover artist.

The other BIG THING is that Aphrodite's Dawn is going to be relaunched over Christmas; new cover art, new edit, and available as a paperback. All though Metaphoric Media. Should be available from the week before Christmas.

And the last element of the excuse (apart from a new day job) is that I am currently editing or rewriting THREE books; 'Amunet' (Steampunk Urban Fantasy), 'Maverick' (SF), and 'Warrior Stone: White Magic'. I am hoping 'Maverick' will be published some time around May/June, and 'Amunet' has yet to find a home.

I have a feeling 2014 is going to be a very busy year!


BristolCon another resounding sucess

I am home, footsore and liver battered, trying to find the will to sort through my suitcase and goodie-bag.

Knackered doesn't cover it.

But what a time. There was great pre-con conviviality with friend Dom Dulley, plus Kathrine and Lawrence from Crafty Miss Kitty, and great post-con conviviality with the incomparable Ian Whates.

I was lucky enough to be a panelist discussing world building, and I got to moderate a lively discussion on artificial intelligence between Ian Whates, Jaine Fenn and Nick Walters

Actually, who am I kidding. I was terrified. The panel went in completely the opposite direction than I had expected and threw all bar my first question out of the window. Still, with the help of some very good questions from the floor, and three very generous and experienced panelists, the noob mod managed not to make a fool of himself. And thank you to everybody who did turn up, given that we were the last panel of a very long day, and that the other thread was hosting a retrospective of Iain M Banks!

Couple of other people to mention that I met for the first time in this BristolCon. First, Chrissie of Great Escape Publishing who took time out to have a long chat with me about small press publishing and printing, and artist Jim Burns. Jim brought along an original piece of his work that had such luminosity and depth it took my my breath away. Also up for an art mention is Dave Powell, who did me an off-the-cuff sketch based on a description of one of my characters. Great work.

And as always, a massive thanks to the BristolCon team, who work far harder than we mere attendees will ever know, and deserve for more recognition than they get. You Are Magnificent :)


Crafty Fox Does it Again

Delighted to find out last night that my short story 'Change of Address' has been selected to appear in the 'Girl at the End of the World' anthology, to be published by Fox Spirit early next year.

Apparently, there were so many excellent offerings that the decision was made to split the anthology into two volumes!

I'm delighted to have been included in such an awesome project. Be prepared for a storm of marketing messages when the luanch dates and covers are announced.


I am now officially Foxy

No, seriouslly. I am.

I can now reveal to the world+dog that Fox Spirit will be publishing my YA Urban Fantasy novel 'Warrior Stone:Underland'. Excited doesn't cover it. My tail twitcheth with delight (which is annoying the cats).

No firm publication date, but some time in 2014.

Lovely bunch of people to work with. They have even given me my own author page and I am now sharing space with personal heroes like Alasdair Stuart (presenter of Pseudopod, amongst other things) and Colin F Brown

News, cover reveals, and firmer dates all to follow in due course.

(Is there a happy fox dance?)


Blog tour: Mark Iles

Mark and I have had the fortune (misfortune?) to have appeared in a number of anthologies together, so I was delighted to hear his debut novel had just come out. Today I hand Harkess Hall over to him to shamelessly flaunt his wares :)

 A Pride of Lions – Blurb When Selena Dillon is caught in an assassination attempt on her planets ruler, she finds herself sentenced to 25 years servitude in mankind’s most feared military force, the Penal Regiments. Much to her surprise she enjoys the harsh military life and is quickly selected for officer training. But something’s wrong, worlds are falling silent. There’s no cry for help and no warning, just a sudden eerie silence. When a flotilla of ships is despatched to investigate they exit hyperspace to find themselves facing a massive alien armada. Outnumbered and outgunned the flotilla fight a rearguard action, allowing one of their number to slip away and warn mankind. As worlds fall in battle, and man’s fleets are decimated, Selena is selected to lead a team of the Penal Regiments most battle-hardened veterans, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens’ home world. If she fails then mankind is doomed. But little does Selena know what fate has in store for her, that one of her crew is a psychopathic killer and a second the husband of one of his victims. Can she hold her team together, get them to their target and succeed in the attack? Selena knows that if she fails then there will be nothing at all left to go home to.

Portrait.jpgMark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, profwritingacademy.com and calmzone.net.
His first full length work was ‘Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo’, and he also has a short story collection entitled ‘Distant Shores’. ‘A Pride of Lions’ is the first in ‘The Darkening Stars’ series. Having written features and fiction for over 30 years Mark applied to do an MA in Professional Writing. ‘Pride’ had been bouncing around in his head for some time, and he seized the opportunity of the MA to produce this first novel as part of the course. Mark says it’s without doubt the best choice he’s ever made, as it really focused him, and that getting this novel accepted is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful experience. He’s now focusing on the second book in this series, ‘The Cull of Lions’.




Review: The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

In a nutshell, The Troupe is about a young man, George, with a preternatural ability on the piano, who gets into a vaudeville theater so as he can spot when a certain troupe comes through; the one run by his father.

Only  they aren't an ordinary troupe of performers. They sing, and seek out, fragments of the First Song, the song sung by the Creator to bring forth the universe. They are chased by the Wolves, who seek to destroy the world by stilling the music, and who are out to destroy the song as well.

I haven't had a difficult to put down book on my bedside cabinet for some time, but The Troupe certainly qualified as such. Bennett creates a plausible, smooth universe and populates it with incredibly dense characters. The plot is never sedentary, and snaps around a couple of twists sharp enough to give you whiplash.

As with most page-turners, this is about the people as much as it is about the plot, and Bennett's five characters are fragile, multi-layered, and are as twisted as the story. In many ways, I'm reminded of the HBO series 'Carnivale'.

A definite 'recommended'.


Good news for a good friend

I am absolutely delighted to be able (finally) to announce that my goof friend and mentor, Terry Jackman, has landed a book deal for her novel 'Ashamet'

Terry runs the Orbit writers groups, organised by the BSFA, and has been instrumental in getting my writing to the point where it does not look like the output of a gifted four-year-old. I first read her book about four years ago, and thought then it needed to be published.

Well done, Terry :D

Matt Smith to Leave Doctor Who

Or so it was announced yesterday by the BBC. Now some will think I am going to be bouncing up and down with glee at this, as I've been a little vocal in my lack of support for the current era, but I'm not. I'm actually disappointed.

See, in my humble (stop laughing) opinion, Matt Smith could have been one of the Great Doctors, but he's been let down by poor choice of companions, poor scripts, and this utterly abysmal thing that's crept in about short, broken up series.

One of the things I really cant get my head around is how Moffat and Gatiss can do such a jaw-droppingly great job on 'Sherlock', yet consistently get it so wrong with Doctor Who. It is almost as though they had too much on and didn't concentrate on it. Wonderful sidekicks have been shockingly ignored - I would love to have seen a spin-off Steampunk-esque series with our favourite Victorian crime-fighting trio :) - and there has been a constant theme of ending through the last series, as well as a very poor choice of companion in Jenna-Louise Coleman.

What I am now afraid of is that we have entered another period of terminal decline (if that makes any sense) in Doctor Who, much as we did with Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

I hope not.


Review: Urban Occult(ed Colin F Barnes)

Horror is not my bag, yet. I’m still learning. I know enough to realise I don’t like spatter-gore, or horror that involves detailed explanation of the removal of body parts. Fortunately – for me -  Urban Occult, edited by Colin F Barnes and published by Anachron Press, has no truck with this type of horror.

Urban Occult is focused very much more on what I call (probably erroneously)  psychological horror, or Hitchcockian horror. It’s less blatant, less in your face, and more situational, suggestive.

I won’t pretend that I liked every story. I questioned the inclusion of a couple, and simply didn’t get a couple more, and some I thought were well written, but not particularly horrific. The majority, though, are snappy, compelling, and thought-provoking.

The anthology covers everything from creepy golem-children, through a people eating house, to moving tattoo jigsaw. In fact, Pieces by Julie Travis, for which the latter is the subject, is one of the outstanding stories of the collection. 

Other specific mentions are hereby awarded to James Brogden for The Remover of Obstacles  and The Strange Case of Mrs West and the Dead by Sarah Anne Langton

For me, though, Wonderland by K T Davies was the scream of the crop. Yes – I did mean to just that word. Wonderland skirts the edges of insanity and fantasy, both urban and classic, and kept me up far too late finishing it off.

Whilst I reviewed this anthology in return for an e-book copy provided by the editor, my comments are fair and impartial, Even so, I still recommend this book as a fine read.


Craft Fair in Solihull Wednesday May 1st

This is a bit out of my normal patch, but a very good friend of mine will be in the craft market so anybody who is in the area should drop along and keep and eye out for 'Crafty Miss Kitty'


Long time no post

Its been an interesting few weeks. Seems my partner's coping strategy for me no longer being in gainful employ is to find massive home improvement jobs for me to do on top of being a House Husband :) I'm not bitter. It all needs doing and I've probably been avoiding it.

Also, I've been working on a secret project, which has just come to a very successful and satisfactory conclusion - but I can't tell you anything about it. Well then it wouldn't be secret, would it :)

One thing I would like to tell you about is 'Human.4' by Mike A Lancaster, which I finished reading last night.

There seem to be fewer books that I feel stand out from the crowd, but there is something about 'Human.4'. It might be that its a really good 'boy book'. That's not to say that it wouldn't appeal to girl readers, but its unusually short, ultra-fast paced, and very well laid out. I had to fight not to read it in one sitting. Indeed, YALSA recommended it as a 'Quick Pick for Reulctant Young Adult Readers', and I wholeheartedly agree.

As usual, I'm not going to tell you anything about the book. Very difficult to do so without letting out a spoiler when a story is as compact as this.

I gave it five stars on Goodreads - which I haven't awarded for some time - and thoroughly recommend it, especially for boys 12 and up.


All change, please

A huge change is sailing resolutely towards the iceberg of my life. All right, its not like I didn't know it was coming - I was told I was being made redundant more than three months ago. Its just that its happening on Thursday (the day before Good Friday)

Now, I freely admit I am in a much better place than most in such a situation. My wife is still working, and we can continue to function on what she brings in for some time. So this leaves me with a decision I'm not sure I've made yet. What do I do now?

The traditional solution is, obviously, get a job. But the job market in IT is quiet, especially in mid-low management, and the last job kind of beat the enthusiasm for IT out of  me for a while. So it would be nice to take a break - if it weren't for the received wisdom that taking too long a sabbatical between role makes you more difficult to employ.

Change jobs? At my age the prospect of going back to being little more than an intern doesn't hold much charm.

Write? Full Time? [You'll have to imagine the pregnant pause, and the speculative look on the face]

Heck, its what I want to do. Right now I even have an interesting secret project in progress, and some cracking ideas that are begging to be outlined. I have two sequels I would like to right, and outlines for a 5-book Urban Fantasy series. I have enough 'work' to keep me writing for two years, even without a day job to get in the way.

I guess time will tell.

I know this is a very 'internal' post, but hey, isnt blogging all about sharing your thoughts? :)


New Short Story

Hi folks

Just a quick shout to tell everybody that my evil twin's short story "Eyes of the Child" is in SQ Mag, published  on Friday March 1.

The mag is free, so spin over to SQ Mag and register for your free Kindle or ePub copy now, or drop by any time Friday onwards to read this and other great stories online.


Great Royal Mail RipOff...

So, I ordered some goodies from the US. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Rarely been charged import duty on anything I've ordered before, but I know it can occasionally happen. You pay the postie, problem solved

Until I get a snotty little slip poked through my hole this morning. 'You owe a fiver in tax on this, and we at the Royal Mail are going to charge you EIGHT QUID just for the privilege of allowing us to collect it from you'.

So some little snot take 2 minutes to write the card out (and get my name wrong, and not put a reference number on it), I have to go all the way to the sorting office to pay cash or cheque (for gods sake who still uses cheques!), and I still end up having to pay them.

The Royal Mail constantly says it has to put up its charges because fewer and fewer people are using the service.

I wonder why.


Paracetamol Knee-Jerk

It was great to hear today that deaths from paracetamol overdose (and thus liver failure) have dropped dramatically since legislation was passed to limit the number that cold be bought at any time. There is an article on the BBC News website about it.

What I'm not so happy about is that the lead researcher seems to think that there should be further reductions in the number of pills anyone can buy at a time, and even that the amount of active ingredient should be reduced.

Time out!

Paracetamol is pretty bloody useless as a painkiller anyway. Its the very ineffectiveness of it that makes it so dangerous when people are trying to self-medicate serious pain. Sticking plaster on a slashed artery comes to mind. I recently had a serious infection in my sinus that made every tooth on one side of my mouth scream in agony. Luckily I had some serious pain meds available to me that I knew were safe, or I would have been in a very poor state and probably not able to make rational judgement.

So if its so damned dangerous, pull it from sale. I'm tired of half-way measures on half-effective treatments.

If its not that dangerous, then stop penalising me for people who cant be bothered to read or understand the warnings on the packet.


First Birthday

There was a really interesting article in Publishers Weekly recently (Jan 15th) about so-called Young Adult books. 

Did you know that 

"84% of YA books were purchased by consumers 18 or older – and a full 35% of YA books were bought by consumers aged 18-29, by far the largest demographic. The second-largest demographic was age 30-44; within that segment, dispelling the notion that the YA books are gifts or purchases for teens, fully 80% of respondents reported “they bought the book for themselves.”

SO, today is the first birthday of my first novel, Aphrodite's Dawn. You have no excuse not to try it just because you can vote. In fact, according to the research above, you are almost required to get a copy just to help maintain the stats. Amazon can help you in your quest, either in the UK, or the US.

Buy now, or you'll never be a trendsetter :)


The Room of Infinite Distractions

At the top of the stairs, first door on the right, is a dark and forbidding man-cave.

My Office

I used to have the light and airy second bedroom, but now I have the box room.

Its where I go to concentrate on my writing, to work from home on occasion, to think deep and meaningful thoughts. My 'productive zone'

Except is isnt. Not even close. If I want to get any work done, I end up working at the dining room table, usually with nothing more than a notepad, a fountain pen, and my phone to play music.

'Why?' I hear you cry in astonishment, envious that I have a cave and incredulous that I dont work there. I shall tell you. Laptop (and thus internet), TV, DVD, Sky+ (tivo), Xbox.

My lovely quiet working environment has mutated into a second lounge where I get away from the bustle of others and endless TV soaps, and replace them with endless reruns of House MD, Eureka, and Warehouse 13.

The moral of this story? Be strong, and keep your work area clean, simple, and free of distractions


Be vewy, vewy, qwiet.......

... I'm hunting Agents. Heheheheheh

OK, not everybody is going to get the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd reference. Oooh, scary thought: what if nobody gets the gag? Horror!

Anyhow, I just declared open season on agents and I have every intention of bagging one this year. Been through my copy of 'Writers and Artists' and made myself a monster list, polished my cover letters and synopsis, and empties my mailbox ready for action.

Now, if someone would just like to volunteer and save me a couple of months of of hope and heartache...?