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Roil by Trent Jamieson

roil cover rb

New review now up at Slacker Heroes.

Margaret nodded, and David considered her resolute expression, and the way she packed away her weaponry with an efficiency at once beautiful and terrifying. Rather like the Roil.

“We’ll make them pay. We’ll wipe the blasted earth of them. I’ll not see another city fall,” Margaret said, as though she was capable of such things, as though she might singlehandedly save the world.

The Roil is a turbulent mass of darkness, death and monsters that is steadily filling the sky, destroying civilisation and heating up the world til it’s the right temperature for full scale invasion. You know when you look up and the clouds have swarmed over that blue sky you were enjoying? You shiver, and curse the fact that you left your jacket at home. Imagine something like that, but where the clouds are full of things called Quarg Hounds or Wit Moths, and they’re going to block out the sun, kill you horribly and then swarm out of your eyes. You won’t need your jacket any more, honey.

Jamieson’s novel takes us across the land that the Roil is overtaking, following a group of people with nothing in common but the desire to survive and/or destroy the Roil. Can a drug addict, a plucky young woman and a mysterious Old Man stop the encroaching destruction?

There’s a lot to like here, though in places I wanted more. The world building is intricate, imaginative and impressive and I am sure that what we see here represents an iceberg mass that, right now, only Trent Jamieson knows about. I love the variety of people who populate this country, and the thought that’s gone into the towns they hail from. There are the cavalier Drifters who live in the sky and despise the land lubbers, the merciless Verger assassins who kill for the state, and the scary Cuttlefolk, who seem to be man, bird and insect. I was reminded more than once of China Mieville and the original detail of his Bas Lag metropolis. That’s a compliment.

But on a smaller level, scene by scene, the book would benefit from more detail. I’d like to know about the rooms these people are in, the routes they take there, what’s inside their heads. There are missed opportunities to tell us more about this world and these characters. They travels for miles and visit cities they’ve never seen before, and barely react. The writing is so sparse sometimes that it’s more like an outline or a script than fleshed out fiction, which is a shame as I’m sure there’s more to tell. Too much is held back from the reader, which may be a tactic to build tension but can verge on confusion instead.

The nasty stuff is deliciously horrid, with gore and viciousness that Jamieson should be proud of. The concept of the Roil, and the way I can so easily visualise it, makes it a magnificent monster and one I don’t expect to be easily beaten. I liked that; it’s good to read something where I can’t tell if the good guys will win or not. A lot of people will enjoy the original world building here, and might not mind the scarcity of detail which made me balk. I hope so – let me know what you think.

 

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A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

cover of A Long Long Sleep by Anna SheehanReviewed for the British Fantasy Society, on their site now. I really enjoyed this one. Here’s a sneak peek of the review –

In the future Sleeping Beauty wakes up, leaves her stasis chamber and tries to piece together how she was left alone for 60 years. She is now the sole heiress to a massive interplanetary corporation and has celebrity status. But high school is difficult for the best of us… Click for full review

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First Time at FantasyCon, Brighton 2011

view of sunny Brighton from the Pier

Blazing hot Brighton

Have just got back from FantasyCon, the annual British Fantasy Society convention. I enjoyed myself so much that now only liberal amounts of ice-cream and wine are preventing me from rocking, lonely in a corner, muttering ‘Aldiss’, ‘Abercrombie’ and ‘air conditioning’  like an incantation.

I was nervous. I wanted to go to a Con, cos all the cool kids in America are always raving about what fun they have at Comic Con and how GRR Martin coughed on them once in an elevator and they’ve never been the same since. So when I found out that the next FantasyCon was in Brighton – where I actually live, and everything – I knew I had to go. But I also had to ignore the nerves, and the terror, and the surety that all of the Real, Funny, Important people would pick on me. The surety that I’d somehow have a terrible time, despite all the books and the beer and the beach.

I didn’t need to be nervous. As well as meeting lovely people like Lou Morgan who went out of their way to be friendly, it was easy to relax in a crowd where I could chat about all things genre and be certain that every other huddle in the bar was having similar conversations. Thanks go to Chris Limb who listened to my detailed exploration of which series of Buffy was best and whether Amy Pond is shit or not (as well as figuring out that I was referring to Farscape and The Time Tunnel based only on my vague, gesture-laden descriptions of half-remembered shows). We had hoped to meet other new people at the Newbies Corner part of the bar, but when Chris went to check it out the corner was occupied instead by Robert Rankin, deep in conversation with a friend. What a swizz 😉

Being surrounded all weekend by people who knew what I was talking about, who read the same books and bitched about the same things, was brilliant. My local friends don’t read or watch the same things I do, so I’m more used to having those conversations online than face-to-face. This was like the internet, but in real life. Woah.

In the same way, instead of reading the blogs and twitter feeds of people who matter in the industry, I was eavesdropping on them in person, heh. Same conversations, different situation. With seagulls, and fish ‘n chips, and crowds of tourists and parties in the background outside the hotel. As I commented on Christopher Fowler’s blog, I’m sure the screaming from the pier rides and Strange Bungee Thing made the horror writers feel at home. One stag weekend that passed along the promenade was twelve guys in Storm Trooper outfits and one in full Darth gear. They should have joined the Con.

swag

Swag

There was a fab programme of panels, readings, book launches and films, running from Friday to Sunday, as well as a Quiz, Raffle and Disco. Yes, with capitals. The panels covered a wide range of subjects, including Trends in Fantasy, YA fiction, Genre Movies (Best and Worst) and How to Scare Your Readers. Every panel I attended ended up talking about being online and whether ebooks were evil or not. Me, I’m firmly in the ‘ebooks are the best thing ever’ camp, and my reading (and book buying) rate has tripled since I got my Kindle, so I was surprised at how much ill-feeling there seemed to be towards them. Think I’ll save that for another post…

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

The main things I got from the panels were ‘Carrie was not a YA novel’, ‘No, we don’t know why women aren’t writing SF’ and ‘Write a Great Book. Don’t be a Wanker’. My favourite bit of wisdom was this from Brian Aldiss –  “remember just two words…’fuck ’em!'”. Aldiss was the con’s Special Guest of Honour and was interviewed in a very hot, very full room on the Saturday afternoon. It was surprising to hear how much of his fiction, which is so conceptual and far flung, started from incidents and issues in his real life. He talked about how certain events – rejection from his mother, army life, the loss of his children – were explored and worked through in his stories, though he wasn’t always aware of that while writing them. I was inspired and daunted by how much he’s experienced, how prolific a writer he is, and how funny he can be. I don’t think the interviews or panels were recorded, which is a shame as I’d definitely listen to his interview again.

I didn’t attend much of the programming for the other Guests of Honour, illustrious though they were (Gwyneth Jones, Peter Atkins, Joe Abercrombie, Christopher Paolini), but I did stand next to John Ajvide Lindqvist and was pretty spooked. He looks like he could have starred in Let The Right One in, not only write it, though apparently he used to be a stand-up comedian.  I should have stalked him more to get a better measure of him. Or maybe he was a really spooky stand up as well?

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

I won A Prize at the Raffle, w00t! Bitching loudly about how Graeme Reynolds kept winning while I was empty-handed eventually paid off, and I came home with a slip-cased limited edition of Stephen King’s ‘One for The Road’ from PS Publishing, signed by the illustrator. It is very gorgeous, and you’re right to be jealous. I added it to my bag of swag, and my boyfriend was delighted to see me bring even more books into the house.  Honest. Other swag included skull-shaped chocolates and Hammer Horror cupcakes (thanks to Jan Edwards & Peter Coleburn), as well as a stack of free novels, samplers and a notebook from Jo Fletcher Books. Solaris gave away books at their event, and the basement was full of dealers peddling piles more paperbacks.

I missed the disco, though I hear that ‘Paperback Writer’ went down a storm, as well as ‘Amadeus’. Wish I’d had the stamina to stay and boogie but I was flagging in the heat. What a lightweight. I hear that dancing was compulsory and went on past 4am. I hope they played ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Let me Be Your Fantasy’ and ‘Monster Mash’ too (but not ‘Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel’, given the drubbing that the angel genre got from the panels).

I’m definitely going to go to more conventions now, even ones that aren’t 15 minutes from my house, and if you’re tempted to try one but scared, let me push you into trying it anyway. By the end of the weekend I was so used to friendly strangers, so comfortable chatting to the people next to me, that I forgot to stop when I left the convention and started chatting to people in the supermarket on the way home. Which is a pretty cool frame of mind to end the weekend with, don’t you think?

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Stacia Kane’s ‘Unholy Ghosts’ reviewed at Slacker Heroes

unholy ghosts cover

I reviewed the first book of the Downside series at Slacker Heroes this week. Here’s  a taster – click through for the full version on the site. (Then go buy the book/s. They are amazing. Best series I’ve read in years).

“And the living prayed to their gods and begged for rescue from the armies of the dead, and there was no answer. For there are no gods.”

-The Book Of Truth, Origins, Article 12

Welcome to the church of Stacia Kane.

The old church fell apart years ago, when the dead started to rise and it turned out you did not want to be in that number. Brutal, sadistic murderous ghosts, regardless of how nice a Grandma they were when alive, ruined the theory of a fluffy afterlife and threatened everyone living. Governments and religion were powerless to stop them and the cities filled with the dead. Only a small cult could banish them, The Church of Real Truth, who quickly rose to power. Now the old churches lie in ruins, and the dead are (mostly) kept safely underground. Time to meet Chess, Terrible and get a punk-rock tour of Triumph City – trust me, it’s a tour worth taking.

Chess is a Debunker – she visits people who say they are haunted, even though the Church should be controlling all the ghosts. If they really do have ghoulish problems, Chess banishes the ghost and the Church pay the haunted a large sum of money as compensation. If they are faking it for the money, Chess will find them out and report them. I read the opening as a Kindle sample and the action kicked in on the first page, with Chess in trouble trying to banish a real ghost. Maybe she’d be in less trouble if she wasn’t hankering for her next fix of pills. I’d bought the rest of the book before the sample ended, because I was fascinated by this world and had to find out what happened next.

Chess’s pill-popping and her role working for the Church converge when her dealer, Bump, wants her to investigate a haunted airport for him. If she refuses he’ll raise the interest on her debts and make her addiction public knowledge, so she has no choice but to agree. Bump sends his main enforcer, Terrible, along to help/intimidate her. Terrible drives a  black ‘69 Chevelle, has tattoos made with gunpowder and impeccable Stooges-Misfits-Sonics taste in music. Thus begins my favourite pairing of characters since, um, ever. Together they find dark sacrifices, bloody amulets and ghost soldiers, while Chess’s church work stirs up a demon only she can see and rumours that have even Church staff worried.

Chess’s drug habit and the itch for her next dose work as a great device to add tension; no one wants to be trapped in a rival drug gang’s HQ or attacked by hooded phantoms with teeth dripping blood, but going through that when you need a fix soon, and you can’t be sure that what you’re seeing is real – that’s tension. Attracted to the main beef in two rival drug lord’s gangs, both of whom are blackmailing you? Tension some more. Add to that that she’s supposed to be a good girl working for The Church and she’ll lose everything if they find out about her addiction – it’s fair to call Chess’s life complicated.

Her drug use isn’t glamourised, instead it shows us her flaws, her vulnerabilities. It’s the things Chess is self-medicating to avoid – stability, relationships, a fridge with more than just beer in it – that she really needs, but she keeps herself in trouble instead. There are a few points in the series when I want to reach in and shake her, or stop her from messing things up some more, and it is this is that makes her such a strong character. When I cringe for her I relate to her, more than I would if she always knew what to do or didn’t get twisted into tight spots all the time. Chess is on the edge and could go either way – a happy ending isn’t guaranteed, and that makes you turn the pages faster as you worry about how she will make it to the end.

This is the first in the Downside series, and I raced through them all in a week. You can read the first five chapters for yourself here – I suggest you dig out your Ramones t-shirt, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride

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