Posts Tagged ‘Solaris’

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Nik Abnett, author of the excellent Savant was kind enough to answer some questions about her latest novel.

Savant is a unique book – could you explain a little about how it came to be?

NIK: I’d had in mind for a long time to write a book about unconditional love; the sort of constant you find between parents and their children. I didn’t want to write something righteous or proselytising, though, and that’s part of the reason I thought that the SF medium would best suit the theme. Then, I happened to start reading a novel by a friend of mine. I’d bought the book, and got it signed, but when I came to read it, it simply wasn’t my cup of tea. I realised that a lot of contemporary SF leaves me a little cold; much of it seems to be so busy and action-based, and I wanted to read something quieter. It dawned on me that I wanted to write something quieter, too. SF/F is a brilliant medium for all kinds of ideas, because the scope is so endless. Of course, in the end, and in development, the book became about all kinds of things, but it began with that nugget, and I extrapolated as I went along. The original theme may not be transparent in the finished novel, but it’s the kernel from which everything began. In essence, it came to be, because I wanted to write something that I’d enjoy reading.

The setting struck me as retro-sci-fi (like some of those great 1970’s movies) – what was the thinking behind this kind of worldbuilding?

NIK: I’m a child of the seventies, and some of my favourite SF still comes from that period. As children, we are at our most receptive and least inhibited, and I think the stories we read or watch often have the biggest impact on us during that developmental period. I’m not sure I thought about the world-building in isolation. I begin a novel with only a theme to work with, so plot, action and world-building are all a product of the process of writing the book. Much of the world came as an organic response to the characters and situation. Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that I was at school during the seventies and early eighties, and this novel is set in a college environment. Perhaps it was inevitable that the world-building might, in some small way, reflect my own experiences of that kind of institutionalisation… I could speculate endlessly.

Using a savant, Tobe, as one of your main characters is an interesting choice – especially considering his relationship to Metoo – how challenging was that to write and what inspired that choice?

NIK: It’s always interesting to try to represent characters that are in some way ‘other’. Every time a male author writes a female character, or a woman writer a male character, the same thing applies. I’m not a soldier, a monster, an alien, a man or a child, either, I’m a writer, but it would soon become very dull to write about writers and writing. We give little thought to how otherness is represented until it falls within the spectrum of people who are otherwise very like us. We take much for granted. Readers are less likely to take human others for granted, because we all have a social interest in their welfare, and, sometimes, a fascination with their conditions.

I guess the choice of writing Tobe and Metoo was about the line between the intellectual and the emotional. These two characters are simply at either ends of this spectrum of human experience. Some are more intellectual than emotional, and some the other way around. Tobe and Metoo both represent extreme personalities in their different ways. Was it challenging to write? I guess no more challenging than any kind of ‘other’, and the relationship between these two characters helped enormously. When I was in any doubt, I gave Metoo an emotional, but measured response, while Tobe tended to the intellectual, but irrational. Once I got the rhythm, these two were great fun to write.

Your novel also considers the notion of a political state (a very controlling one); what was the idea behind ‘Service’?

NIK: Initially, Service was simply a mechanism to give Tobe routines; order was key to his welfare. Of course, during the writing of the book, it became much more than that. Tobe’s disintegration into chaos is at the heart of this novel, and it had to be massively dangerous in order to set-up Metoo as his opposite, and for her to fulfil her role. What is more dangerous to the individual than the interference of the state?

I toyed a lot with the idea of the State as a controlling factor in my characters’ lives. Everything, as they say, is political. All of our lives are determined by the political decisions and machinations of our leaders, elected or otherwise. Service made the State not only visibly controlling, but it also gave the State a number of faces and personalities.

In contrast to that idea of total control (and spiralling paranoia) is a sense of empathy both from Metoo and certain members of ‘service’ which produces an interesting dichotomy – was that your first intention?

NIK: This was always going to be a novel about people, and essentially character driven. For that to be the case, I think characters always have to be empathic, or at the very least sympathetic. It’s possible to put any amount of data into a computer and come up with an answer, but that answer will never take personalities into account. For Service to feel real, and for the State to have any genuine impact on the story, it all had to be represented by fallible, feeling characters.

I was also enamoured with the action in Savant – the work stations and surveillance of ‘service’; compared to something like Fiefdom, how hard was it to create that kind of tension and atmosphere?

NIK: The tension was all there in my head, once I’d worked out what the novel was going to try to do. Getting that tension onto the page takes a certain amount of disciple to ensure a good build-up. There are a few simple tricks to that in the writing. Repetition is important, and rhythm. A good example can be found in Ravel’s Bolero with its repeated phrasing and increasing tempo. I think it’s also useful to be quite declarative on the page, matter-of-fact; obfuscation pulls focus. The other thing is pacing. Often, writers want to go faster, take shortcuts as the tension builds. I think it’s more useful to add detail, to slow things down, from time to time, to keep the reader hanging, so that the denouement is reached naturally and the story isn’t all over in a rush.

There’s a fantastic positivity and humanity at the heart of Savant – what can we expect from next?

NIK: Thanks. I’m glad you think so… I thought so too. I’ve actually begun writing a companion piece to Savant, working title Seekers. It’s set in space on the other side of the shield, so there’s a chance to find out what the threat to the Earth might actually have been. I didn’t tackle space, spacecraft or aliens in Savant, so it’s a chance to do something about that, although, don’t hold your breath for a more convention shooty-death-kill-in-space experience.

You can find Nik at –

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/nicola.vincentabnett
on Twitter: @N_VincentAbnett and @VincentAbnett (with Dan Abnett)
and on my blog: http://www.nicolavincent-abnett.com

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Author Yoon Ha Lee was kind enough to answer some quick questions about her book Ninefox Gambit, some of the ideas behind her story and what we can expect next.

Could you give a brief introduction to who you are and to your novel Ninefox Gambit?

I’m a Korean-American writer living in Louisiana with my family and a very lazy cat. I got my B.A. in mathematics from Cornell University, although I’m not always sure my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with my degree!

Ninefox Gambit is about a disgraced captain, Kel Cheris, who teams up with an undead general, Shuos Jedao, to retake a fallen star fortress.
The good news: Jedao is a brilliant tactician and he may be the only one who can help her. The bad news: he’s also a mass murderer, and Cheris has to keep him from going rogue–if he doesn’t kill her first.

I found the symbols used in the book to be unique – could you explain a little on the inspiration for the ideas of moths (as space ships) and the signifiers of fox, raven and others?

I came up with the voidmoths because I wanted the spaceships to be biotech. Although the heroine doesn’t realize this, they’re actually enslaved cyborged spacefaring aliens. I went with “moth” because they’re creatures that can fly and it was a nice, succinct, one-syllable word. (Contrast, for instance, having space flamingos. Too many syllables! Also, very pink.)

The idea of a ‘calendrical’ technology was equally intriguing – can you expand on the ideas of math in the story?

The origins of the idea came from a couple places. First, I read a book by Marcia Ascher on ethnomathematics called Mathematics Elsewhere. It talked about different cultures’ calendar systems. For example, the Trobriand Islanders rely on the biological clock of marine annelids to set their calendar. I thought a lot about how the simplest act of scheduling relies on a mutually understood timekeeping system and cultural norms about being on time (or not).

Calendrical warfare came partly from the notion that dates come to hold particular significance in a given culture. I didn’t read Peter Watson’s War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology until after I’d written Ninefox Gambit, but it shows that the idea of exploiting other cultures’ special celebration dates in warfare for extra psychological effect is not a new idea.

Finally, I got the idea that different calendars induce different magical systems from vector calculus in college. It’s been a long time, but I was fascinated by gradients and vector fields, so I had this idea that at each point in space-time, you would have an associated set of laws of magic based on what calendar was dominant at that point.

The social landscape within the hexarchate is an interesting mix – what inspired the blend of ‘houses’ and hierarchical autocracy?

The hexarchate was always going to be a horrible police state because I wanted my characters to have something to rebel against. The houses, or factions, were inspired primarily by Alderac Entertainment Group’s Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), a roleplaying game and collectible card game (soon to be relaunched as a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games) that I played for years.

L5R takes place in a fantasy samurai setting with zombies and dragons, and it has clans with different specialties, from the Crane, who dominate the courts with their artisans and duelists, to the Lion, who are honorable warriors with a strong connection to their ancestors. I loved the way that the clans gave people an immediate way to connect to the setting. Admittedly, I’m not sure anyone is going to identify with the hexarchate’s factions, because they’re pretty evil!

There’s a lot of political intrigue within Ninefox Gambit but also suggestions of a much larger universe – will we see more outside of the hexarchate?

Not much, unfortunately. We only really see glimpses of the world outside the hexarchate, mainly because there was so much plot already I ran out of space to do more than hint at anything else.

The ‘servitors’ also seem to be more than they appear – if it’s not a spoiler – will their importance become clearer in the next books?

Yes! They have important roles in the next two books, even if most of the characters don’t realize what’s going on.

Lastly, when is the next book available and where else can we find your work?

According to Rebellion’s website, the next book, Raven Stratagem, is due out in June 2017.

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I really like pulp fiction for its sheer entertainment factor. The no-frills, action-heavy type stuff can be just what a reader needs. After another huge, cross hemisphere move and with all my books in storage again, as well as a lost kindle cable, it was great to find a shared world novel published by Solaris in my new, local charity shop. Set in the realm of the Afterblight Chronicles – a post apocalypse caused by disease and blood type – author Rebecca Levene has taken the idea to insane proportions. Literally. What follows is a robust adventure across America that features zombie- esque hordes in Cuba, end-of-days parties, eunuchs, naked shoot-outs and more.

The main protagonist, Jasmine, has been trapped in a remote government bunker for five years, zonked out of her skull on opiates. A research scientist looking for a cure to the Cull, she and her colleague create a solution to the Cull, the disease sweeping the planet, but it comes with it’s own set of problems; mainly turning the cured person totally bonkers. After she and her fellow scientist Ash test it on themselves, all hell breaks loose and Jasmine ends up trapped in the bunker trying to quieten the voice in her head.

After being freed from her prison by the enigmatic and piratical Queen M, ruler of a flotilla of ships and islands in the Caribbean, Jasmine discovers that Ash has been hard at work, listening to his own voice. Whilst struggling against her addiction and schizophrenia, Jasmine realises she doesn’t want to be indentured to the tyrant Queen. Yet after escaping to Cuba she discovers that Ash has created a new cure, one with terrible consequences and vows to find a way to stop him. Unfortunately she is just a mere pawn in the games of these new world warlords with both Queen M and Ash playing her off for their own nefarious ends.

Levene has produced a brilliantly entertaining take on the post-apocalyptic landscape and the plot is fantastic. The twists and turns toward the end are entertaining and the action through out is thoroughly crazy and justifiably brutal. It’s a page turner that keeps the pace going right up to the classic pulp fiction showdown conclusion. I’ll be looking out for more Afterblight Chronicles after this.

Secondhand copy
Published by Solaris

Whilst I’m not a big fan of romantic storylines, both the titles below sound as though there’s a lot more going on. The first, The Death House, is from Sarah Pinborough an acclaimed thriller writer who has taken on the idea of star crossed lovers and death in a most unflinching style. The second, Signal to Noise is a debut from Silvia Moreno-Garcia who has structured her fantasy novel around the connection we have as humans with music.

Check out the blurbs and covers..

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Toby’s life is perfectly normal . . . until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes

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Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has only two friends and whole lot of vinyl to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music the future looks brighter for the trio.

Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns alone for her estranged father’s funeral. What happened back then, and is there any magic left?

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Continuing my way through the excellent anthology, Dangerous Games, and following once more the advice of the equally excellent editor Jonathan Oliver, I set to reading South Mountain by Paul Kearney. Whilst I expected a re-enactment story about war games, I did not expect it to be so fine.

I think fine is the correct word. It’s both poignant yet restrained, both detailed but not overloaded. It’s crafted and subtle as opposed to Lavie Tidhar’s brutal effort in the same collection whilst carrying the same power.

Concerning a group of Civil War re-enactors, led by a grizzled Vietnam vet and joined by a first-timer skeptic, the tale sets out the characters and setting with a delicate touch. Each man is given their due and soon talk turns to the war and their feelings behind it. As the newcomer, and a black man at that, the protagonist is put on the spot by his Union chums. With his mind set on his ancestors as sleep drifts over their camp, things change from playing at war games to actually being in the war.

It is an interesting premise on the time travel trope, fuelled by the protagonists memories and feelings. It’s not a hammer blow but the author has delivered a subtle, moving story.

Review copy
Published by Solaris

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Clearly I’m having a short story bonanza at the moment but my recent reading choices have been perfect. Short and sharp is great when you have little spare time but still want for the enjoyment of reading.

Die by Lavie Tidhar fits the bill of short and very sharp effectively. Extremely so. I read it on the recommendation of editor Jonathan Oliver’s introduction and it’s a stunning story. The writing is sparse but all that space allows the imagination to run wild. A twist on Russian Roulette, there is little detail to the whys and where of it all but what is there manages to touch at ideas of cruelty and horror but also the depths of humanity.

Lavie Tidhar has produced a brilliant take on the game motif. I wanted to fill this review with expletives and exclamations and too many punctuation marks; it’s that hard hitting.

The Stranger Cards by Nik Vincent is another inventive take on the idea of game. Her story has the feel of a horror as the creeping, unrelenting truth of the situation crawls into the consciousness of the protagonist. A lawyer sent to meet a death row inmate due to be executed for a series of murders. A child’s game played on an old deck of cards.

For those clever with numbers, patterns are laid out but it becomes clear that the game the serial killer taught the lawyer is oh-so-very-sinister. A fantastic and atmospheric tale that reminded me of that horror writing great Stephen King, Stranger Cards manages a lot in with a little and does it brilliantly.

Review copy
Published by Solaris

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I have one or two (I’d need to check the tower of book boxes) Chuck Wendig novels stashed away, yet to be read so I thought it fitting to start with his story as I began the anthology Dangerous Games. It’s a great premise for a set of stories and Mr Wendig’s opening gambit sets a terrific and terrifying tone.

What seems like a set piece, road-rage tale of a man lost and losing his senses changes by turns, each stranger than the last, into something more odd and unsettling than I could have predicted. The mix between the visual failure of the protagonist’s car and his inner monologue, cataloging his many errors, creates a powerful setting. The innocuous confrontation that begins the chase is fuelled with emotion.

However, the game is something else here and it’s for Chuck Wendig to tell it. A superb intro story: a bit weird, a bit wild but very entertaining.

Chrysalises by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a totally different ball game altogether (excuse the pun). I’ve read one of Benjanun’s stories before and this strange tale is just another example of her unique talent. The premise, ostensibly, is the notion of war as a game and games as metaphors for war. However, Chrysalises is something else.

It’s hard to pin down Sriduangkaew’s style which is both sublime and aesthetic. There’s a real beauty to the writing and an ungraspable imagination at work behind it. Once again I’m struck by this author’s ability to meld ideas into a world so alien yet so grounded, so strange yet so understandable. I know I’ve not said much about the story but this is truly brilliant piece of work that is well worth seeking out.

Review copy
Published by Solaris

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Whilst I received a bounty of reading material this week, I wanted to check out a couple more stories from Fearsome Magics and I’m glad I did.

First up, I read On Skybolt Mountain by Justina Robson. It’s a wonderful little tale that meanders along, sucking you into the world of a seamstress. Her inner dialogue paints the picture of a spinster forced to move from village to village, trying to escape the rumours that she is a witch.

But, a little magical mishap at the local fair, sees her under suspicion once more and it’s not long before the lord of the area is demanding her appearance. Suffice it to say, the lord has some pompous plans regarding a dragon and it’s treasure whilst the little seamstress is so much more than the rumours could even hint at.

Robson’s story is hugely entertaining and subtly written. Plus, its an brilliant take on the notion of dragons…

Aberration by Genevieve Valentine is a weird and ephemeral tale that drifts and whorls like the metaphor of smoke which pervades the story. It’s difficult to describe in terms of a linear plot. Ghostly yet solid, the main character displaces across space and time to witness the end of things. Unseen yet present, she feels nothing but is wrenched from her own existence. Placeless, she seeks only to stay.

It’s a powerful and poetic piece of writing that lingers as you ponder not only the imagery but also the idea behind it. The fractured nature of the protagonist’s experiences mirror the idea of the character herself – something impossible to pin down.

Valentine has created a solemn, strange tale with a stirring vibrancy. A truly odd yet compelling read.

Review copy
Published by Solaris

Part of the reason my reading has been sporadic of late has been due to moving house – and country… So, all my books, new and old, are now in several towering columns of boxes. Thankfully my wife provided us with a kindle so that we can continue to indulge in one of our favourite past times.

Just as thankfully, I received some great looking ebooks recently. First up is Rogues , an anthology from the great minds of George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois.

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If youre a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this latest story collection from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois is filled with subtle shades of gray. Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire.

Follow along with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis, as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand, in this rogues gallery of stories that will plunder your heartand yet leave you all the richer for it.

Next up is Dead Man’s Hand , an anthology of weird west tales that I’m very keen to delve into as the cover alone looks awesome, never mind the listed authors.

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From a kill-or-be-killed gunfight with a vampire to an encounter in a steampunk bordello, the weird western is a dark, gritty tale where the protagonist might be playing poker with a sorcerous deck of cards, or facing an alien on the streets of a dusty frontier town.

Here are twenty-three original tales—stories of the Old West infused with elements of the fantastic—produced specifically for this volume by many of today’s finest writers. Included are Orson Scott Card’s first “Alvin Maker” story in a decade, and an original adventure by Fred Van Lente, creator of Cowboys & Aliens.

Other contributors include Tobias Buckell, David Farland, Alan Dean Foster, Jeffrey Ford, Laura Anne Gilman, Rajan Khanna, Mike Resnick, Beth Revis, Ben H. Winters, Christie Yant, and Charles Yu.

Finally, and continuing their awesome run of anthologies is another collection from Solaris. Dangerous Games has an interesting sounding premise, one I want to explore very soon.

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Edited by critically acclaimed Editor Jonathan Oliver with an incredible range of authors that includes Hugo award-winners, bestsellers and exciting new talents, Dangerous Games is out December 2014.

Featuring tales of the deadly, the macabre and the strange, Dangerous Games continues Oliver’s journey as the rising star of short form fiction, bringing together a highly original collection of new tales that take a slanted look at the world of gaming: from parlour games to role-play, the traditional to the futuristic.

As 18 authors sit down to play, the cards may be marked, and the dice are certainly loaded, but as Oliver states in his introduction “win or lose, Dangerous Games are always worth playing.”

The wonderful people at Titan books also emailed me some Terminator Salvation tie-in novels. As a huge fan of the films I’m definitely going to be checking these out soon as well. So, all in all, an email haul; expect reviews aplenty soon.

A sick ten month old and some truly disturbed sleep has keep me on the short story path this week but what an interesting journey it’s proving to be. Delving into another of Solaris’ anthologies, this time Fearsome Magics I read two stunning tales by two authors I will definitely be keeping an eye out for in the future.

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The first story I read was Safe House by K.J. Parker, a fantasy tale with an intriguing, magical setting. It’s a tale that twists and turns through a post-war landscape of magicians, weaving around the ‘safe house’ and what it means to the world Parker has created. Transported here, we’re quickly introduced to the Studium and one of its adepts, on a mission to find a natural magician who may be under persecution by the local, less-than-friendly-to-wizard population.

It’s a wonderful piece of writing, packed full of humour and told in the voice of a brilliant character. The story unravels the world with some insightful touches and the ideas behind it are very engaging. I’m not going to say much more but as I don’t want to spoil such a great fantasy tale but the eponymous house is, it’s fair to say, anything but safe.

Much like K.J. Parker’s story Migration by Karin Tidbeck does an equally excellent job of creating a whole world in just a few brushstrokes. Using hints and clues that point to all manner of ideas, Tidbeck’s tale is an enthralling trip into a weird world of silos, ‘caretakers’ and forgotten histories.

Tidbeck’s writing is simple yet enticing, employing an uncertain protagonist at the heart of the story, making for an evocative journey. The fantastical strangeness of it all is captured with subtlety and the end puts a punch to the tale. Both Tidbeck and Parker have got my attention and I’ll definitely be reading some more from Fearsome Magics.

Review copy
Published by Solaris