Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Body and Mind Update

Here’s a bit of an update on ‘body and mind’. I’m running through this to set the scene because shortly I really must talk about nootropics.

When I started at the gym in the Summer of last year I was still walking silly distances most days, and I had just come back from Crete where I had been swimming and kayaking a lot, so I thought I was pretty fit. My two-hour induction soon disabused me of this notion … well, I was fit, but not in the right places. What ensued then brought me down to Earth with a bump. I thought I could go for a huge walk in the morning and follow that with a session at the gym in the evening, and I did do this for a while. There was a problem, however: I ended up having to take long snoozes during the day because I was absolutely knackered. This was all very well but, y’know, I really needed to do some writing.

I switched to alternate days of walking and gym. This went on for a few weeks but even then I was finding myself getting knackered and effectively losing productive days of work. Next I dropped the walking altogether but, because I never do things by half measures, my time, weights and reps at the gym steadily increased. Since then I’ve been in and out of attempting to combine gym and walking and work and trying not to snooze away my life. Power napping works – if you remember to set the alarm.

I have enjoyed what all those gym sessions have done for me – I now weight over 13 stone but have much less fat than when I was lighter – but I need to find an exercise/work balance. Currently I’m doing three gym sessions a week of an hour and a quarter on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but only after I’ve written my 2,000 words, then some nice long walks at the weekend. I seem to be getting there with this, in fact, my energy levels seem to be increasing. But now I wonder if what has been going on with me physically is rooted more in what has been going on mentally than I would suppose.

Three and a half years ago after what I will dub ‘the shitty life event’ I chose the option of exercise. The other options, apparently, are crawling inside a bottle, pills or excessive work. I think I chose the right one because at the time I simply wasn’t capable or interested in the work. I walked thousands of miles, kayaked and swam – all to stay on top of depression. This was then followed by the bonus of panic attacks and anxiety. I think that during the latter time I was basically driven by the adrenalin and cortisol of the buggered ‘fight or flight’ response. As I then started to come out of that last year I started to pay the cost. I was so knackered all the time because I was still recovering from the effects of having my body overclocked (as a computer) for so long. Is ‘burn out’ the correct term? Probably.

But now? I’m enjoying life again. I’m reading and writing. And now the exercise seems to be getting easier. Still, occasionally, the snooze monster creeps up behind me with a brick in a sock, but hell, I’m 56 and mustn’t expect miracles! But there’s something else I must factor in too, and that’s those mentioned nootropics…

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Eric Jones

People ask me where I grew up, and I tell them Mayberry. It’s not far from truth.


I was born in 1972 on the Gulf coast of Mississippi, in a town with very few red lights and a population of less than 6000. People familiar with the area now know it as a hotbed for casino gambling; when I grew up it was a depressed area whose main industries were building ships for the military or fishing the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

We had a TV - which got ABC, CBS, and PBS. One channel had ghost people that lived in the static. Most of my time growing up during the day (except Saturday mornings) was spent outside in the woods playing army or cowboys and injuns, riding bikes, or rowing skiffs in the bayou to look at gators or find places to build forts.


At night, we watched the news and then one TV show. It was usually my dad or my mom’s choice, but once we watched an episode of this show called Battlestar Galactica. I loved it, and talked my parents into letting me watch it when it came on. A few months later, on a Sunday, my parents told me that they wanted me to watch a show on PBS with them. I really didn’t like PBS because all my dad ever watched on it was the MacNeil/Lehrer report and it was boring, but they said it was like Battlestar Galactica and I would like it. It was a show called Cosmos, hosted by a man named Carl Sagan. I didn’t know that astronomy was so amazing, and I wanted to know everything about it.

A few years later, in a 5th grade literature class, I was exposed to written science fiction. Everyone in class got a massive book filled with all sorts of novellas and short stories and each week we had to read an assigned story and answer discussion questions on its meaning. It was a Ray Bradbury story that did it - “All Summer in a Day” – and I was done for. I actually read every science fiction story in that book that weekend, of which there were just not enough.

My mom saw this and was thrilled. She spent her Fridays scanning the classified ads looking for yard sales to pillage during the weekend as a hobby, and one Saturday after coming home with her loot she tossed a book at me and said, “I picked this up at a garage sale for you, it’s sci fi – you like that, don’t you?” That book was called “Ringworld,” by Larry Niven. Yeah, I was really done for.

I got a library card, and was aimed at the adventure and science fiction section of the library by the librarian. Over the years I gradually worked my way from left to right, top to bottom. I explored the bottoms of the oceans and survived the bends with Tom Swift, and I battled against the Vom with Philip Lynx and his minidrag Pip. I was proud Mobile Infantry with Rico, barely avoided being mind-controlled by a Thrint, and lived in fear of having my almost-overloaded Langston Field collapse while in combat.

I was Dorsai!


As an adult I still read science fiction voraciously. I think that’s one of the reasons why Neal’s books appeal to me the way that they do. When I read his books, especially his polity ones, I’m able to rekindle a sense of wonder that’s akin to how I felt when I was a kid because of how many entertaining and new ideas live inside of them. Except now, instead of living on the Ringworld with Louis Wu and trying to desperately not get killed by the luck of Teela Brown, I’m trying to sneak a gecko mine onto the back of a Prador in the middle of running like hell from Jain-inspired megadeath.


My love for science fiction and astronomy bloomed into a love for physics. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics, and I chased the doctorate dragon in large scale cosmological structure and solar physics.  These days, I live in Florida with my wife and my newborn daughter, and I teach physics and astronomy classes at a state college. My free time is spent doing martial arts, surfing, or working on my classic van.

My daughter doesn’t have a triangle on the back of her neck, I checked.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Writing Update

Ah that’s better. From my previous malaise of mind I have been steadily getting back on track. Most of this has occurred over the last year marked by the return to me of my pleasure in reading. But, y’know, I have a job, and that’s writing books. My standard, before Caroline died, was to write 2,000 words a day for 5 days a week. It was keeping to this that enabled me to get the whole transformation trilogy written to first draft before I had to deliver even the first book. Over the three years after that it was those books that kept me on track with a book every year. It was almost as if I had prepared for it.


In this last year I’ve been getting back to those kind of word counts but never quite there. I don’t think I’ve had one week where I have managed to do the full 10,000. A lot of this was due to me sorting out the mess that was The Soldier – the first book of Rise of the Jain. This was something I’d taken tilts at over a number of years and was very patchy and a bit all over the place. After that I managed to quickly write the next book to first draft but still no full weeks of 10,000 words. Now, nearly 50,000 words into the third book, I’ve just done such a week. I’m pretty happy about that.

I was chatting recently with someone about this tendency of mine to want to have books in the bank, so to speak. I am happy to be writing at the above rate but I would love to have a whole trilogy or some such done before the ink is dry on a contract. However I realize, that upon reaching that stage, it won’t be enough. I’ll want more books in the bank. Then there’s the other stuff I want to do. I would like to stick some more short story collections on Kindle. I would like to write some more short stories and send them to magazines like Asimov’s. I’d like to (maybe) go through the fantasy trilogy I have on file and then put that out on Kindle. Then there’s a book whose title I already have: Walking to Voyla. I’d like to do that.

*sigh*

Uploading to AI crystal and generating a few subminds cannot come quickly enough for me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Here's what I wrote the day after seeing this film:

"Okay, I watched Blade Runner 2049 last night. Well, you know when you go to a nightclub, and it's a bit crap, so they crank the volume up to try and make it exciting. That. The original Blade Runner was understated - the sounds meant something - here they were akin to the bangs and crashes in a cheap horror movie to make you jump out of your seat. Scenes dragged on for too long to try and impart atmosphere and meaning that wasn't there. I didn't care about anyone. Loose threads dangled. It was boring and it dragged. About an hour and a half in I felt I'd fallen into an episode of the Twilight Zone where I would be forced to watch a naff movie forever."



It is interesting to read reviews from others who feel that this is the best thing they have ever seen, or it is a great effort, or it is a suitable sequel. This is a salutary reminder that people's experience of art is mostly subjective. I then begin to wonder if my experience would have been different if the sound hadn't been so high that the crash bangs and music hurt my ears, but no, then I wouldn't have been able to hear what they were saying. Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind? No - good films always grab me and in fact I use them to escape any bad state of mind. Perhaps I just didn't 'get' it? No. The last time I didn't 'get' an sfnal entertainment was when I was learning to walk.

In retrospect: The sound needed to be lower and unnecessary loud shit needed to go. Scenes needed to be much shorter because, hey, I get it now so move on. The attempts at arty mystery, seemingly tossed in at random, were a distraction. I mean, what were those bees about and who cares? What was the point of the 'unresolved' bad guy with the blank eyes? The next film? Why did I care nothing for any of the characters except, just a little bit, for Deckard? 

No, my opinion still hasn't changed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Andrew ten Broek

At a young tender age, living in the south of the Netherlands in Tilburg, my dad installed my love for stories. Even if he himself was more of a music kind of person. I vividly remember mostly watching Jim Henson productions with him, like The Storyteller and the film The Dark Crystal. Even though the Skeksis scared me as a child, I was fascinated by the tale. Reading stories however, I pretty much stopped doing for years because in high school here they tend to force students to read a brand of stories that didn´t gel well with me. Because of this I for years considered myself to be more of a visual kind of person, in that I'd rather watch TV shows and films than read novels.


Things changed when I decided to start listening to some novels in audio format and from then on I was able to pick up novels and actually read them. I became a very avid reader and mostly enjoy the science fiction genre, with a particular love for space opera. I started out with the more easily accessible novels such as Ender´s Game by Orson Scott Card and Ringworld by Larry Niven, then later on started to take in the very thorough world-building and storytelling of Peter F. Hamilton, Neal Asher and Alastair Reynolds. I started reading Neal Asher with Prador Moon and enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue with the Agent Cormac prequel Shadow of the Scorpion. After that I started the original series with Gridlinked and Neal Asher became one of my favourite writers. The main reasons being that I enjoy the relationship that is there in the novels between man and technology, the xenobiology that is part of the world-building and the artificial intelligences that are present within basically all universes that Neal has created.

In my daily life I also run into the interaction between man and technology, although it is more on the financial side because of the pragmatism I was taught at home when choosing my profession. I graduated from Fontys University in Eindhoven in 2006 in Business Informatics. I´m currently an application engineer for bookkeeping and logistics software, working for a construction company that is part of VolkerWessels. Although they mostly build locally in the Netherlands, they have some projects in the UK and Canada as well. The work varies from implementing invoice recognition systems called OCR, to asphalt tracking systems and regular financial management reporting tools.


I´ve an Indonesian mother and, because of that, I love traveling a lot as well and have been in my mother´s birth country a couple of times. This picture was taken when I was a bit younger and riding a foal in Malang, a village near the mountain Bromo on Java. Because of the conservative upbringing I´ve had, I´ve also been to odd places such as Jerusalem, the city of the three monotheistic religions. My interest in mostly British writers and Doctor Who has also lead me to visit different places in the UK from London to Cardiff, and from Nottingham to most recently Edinburgh. I was able to get some hard covers signed in person by Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynold, Stephen Baxter and Ken MacLeod so far. Hopefully I get that chance to do so for some of Neal´s novels some time.

Which brings me to the specific hobby I have in collecting hard covers, which I´m often on the hunt for. I collect both of classic science fiction writers as well as modern ones. My favourite classic writer is Robert Heinlein, who doesn´t seem to have lost its poignancy to me. And as mentioned before Neal Asher is among my most favorite ones of the modern writers. Whether he writes from the viewpoint of a human, crab-like species such as the Pradors, an ambigious entity such as Dragon or androids such as the Golems (especially in Brass Man) he has the power to find the core essence of the beings he´s writing about.


So I want to join the other readers into thanking Neal for the great stories he´s been able to put on paper so far, as well as hoping there are many, many years ahead of us in which he´ll add many more books to our shelves!

Andrew

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

PicRights.com

It’s not been a highly productive few weeks for me. Lots of life stuff getting in the way of writing including a cold that has just been clinging on, followed by a nice finger infection and constant tiredness. I am determined to do better tomorrow!

One nasty thing that came along out of the blue, and used up a lot of my time, was a couple of emails from an organization called PicRights.com informing me that I was in breach of copyright for three images I used on my blog some time ago. Two of these were Press Association Images and one was from Science Photo Library. My immediate response, seeing as this was a demand for money was, ‘Is this a scam?’ I took advice on it and meanwhile received the same from this organization through the post. I emailed the two image libraries concerned and received confirmation that PicRights represented them.

The time drain for me was then to go onto my blogs and delete every image that might be dodgy. Mea culpa here because I did use those images in a blog without crediting their source, though, I have to add that I almost certainly did not get them from the libraries concerned. Probably I got them from Facebook or Twitter. Also, me complaining about this would be a case of cognitive dissonance since I am the first to complain about the torrent sites where people steal my books. One particular post high-lighted this for me. This was from a photographer detailing his expenses and time in obtaining certain images. But I was also annoyed by the fact that I was being hit for long ago blog posts whose visits weren’t above twenty or so, and that this was likely a money spinner along the lines of those used by ambulance-chasing lawyers. I was in a situation where I could have gone to court but it could have cost me thousands, so I paid up.

Those three images cost me £383 for past usage, a deal of stress and many hours of time that would have been better spent writing. I guess this is a salutary lesson to us all. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Soldier - UK Cover

Here's the cover for the UK version of The Soldier - first books of Rise of the Jain. There's more about this here over on Macmillan Tor.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Macmillan Doing Stuff

So anyway, here's a thing: Macmillan are doing all sorts of good stuff. First there are my books appearing on Audible UK. Second, the one you don't know about till right now, is they're doing new covers for my backlist for another push on them. I've seen these covers and they are pretty damned cool. First up will be the Cormac books...


And here, for your listening pleasure, are soundcloud links to those books that are now up on Audible UK:






Thanks Macmillan!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who Reads my Books: David Chapman

Hi,

I started the whole Sci-Fi/Fantasy thing as a spotty nerdy teenager. Managed to lose the spots and teens, still a nerd! Cut my teeth as many of us do on Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Flirted slightly with the extremely misogynist John Norman and his planet Gor (I was a teenager!) and the “esteemed” Ron Hubbard. I later diversified to Sci Fantasy and remember devouring the Belgarion series by Mr and Mrs Eddings. I had an open order for every book as it came out. I still have quite a collection of hard copy books but nowadays most books are “Kindled” on the Ipad.


I got into Richard Morgan’s early books a few years ago and while waiting for the next in the series looked around for similar genre, found the Polity, and was converted! I love the whole Polity universe as it is painted on such a large canvas, there’s blood, gore and hydraulic fluid aplenty but generally Neal’s tone is one of optimism (As long as you don’t let the humans control anything critical). I also find listening to the audio versions an excellent way of covering large distances in the car without being bored to insensibility. Neal, thanks for the mental pictures, whether it’s C or Si based, you flesh (HiCr) out a character superbly. While waiting on the next polity instalment, I’m revisiting Gemmell and Pratchett, both sorely missed.


As for myself, I trained as a foundry engineer at college, left knowing everything and that I was the pinnacle of evolution. One week on the shop floor in a heavy steel foundry soon sorted that out! I started as a technician and worked myself up through production and then into sales. Covered steel, iron, aluminium and nonferrous alloys, die casting, moulding, investment casting and MIM before moving into the black art of metal powder manufacturing.


Anybody who has been associated with foundries will know our aversion to extremely hot metals combined with water. So when it was first explained to me during the factory tour that they atomise a 1650 C metal stream with high pressure cold water, my first instinct was to run!

Fortunately I stayed and moved into the position of Sales Director and got to learn so much about pressing metals, filtered metals and my favourite the spraying of metal powders. Who cannot be impressed watching a -53┬Ám superalloy powder being sprayed through a miniature jet engine at multiple Mach!


I worked within the engineering group for over 10 years before it was sold to an “Entrepreneur” who wanted to take us all back to “grass roots” Translation, stop trying to stay on the leading edge and make lots of simple things that can be copied and made cheaper in other countries. Ah, the foresight!
I left and the group was bust in 12 months

As many do when we can’t fall back to a real job immediately, I became a consultant! One contract involved doing due diligence on an obscure metal powder company in the middle of Slovakia. I had an option of this or a similar company in Oslo. I had spent most of my commercial life working in Asia and West Coast USA. I hate the cold! Due to an incredible lack of geographical knowledge, I presumed the town in Slovakia with the same latitude as Paris would be a better option in December than Norway. Brilliant deduction, I arrived in Zilina  "International" (2 flights a week only to Prague!) Airport on the 19th  December 2005 to find out that the temperature of -27C did exist outside the polar regions, f***king Oslo was +6C!!


At this time, Slovakia was still very “Socialistic” - grey concrete buildings, no colours aside from the candle lit cemeteries, and of course a metre of bloody snow everywhere. I was slightly surprised therefore to find that my source of more appropriate hat and gloves was a bloody big white building with Tesco writ large on the side. Despite this, the people were lovely even if the factory was tired, unkempt and downright dangerous in areas. I did the due diligence, I reported back and the German company I was working for, purchased the complete site.

A couple of months later I was tasked with going there as a technical consultant for a 3 month contract, 11 years later I’m still here (must cancel that return flight!) now a Managing Director and have never been so content.


I have a lovely house in the village with my very own mountain! The people are still lovely although the language is an utter bastard (Slovaks are SO proud of this), we now have a modern, productive and profitable company and a management team second to none.


I’m still a nerd, and as I’m a totally selfish bastard I live on my own. I still enjoy messing around with computers and playing with the latest available tech. In the UK I was heavily into car restoration and car building but nowadays the idea of a 5 speed gearbox crushing my nagers whilst laying on a cold concrete floor doesn’t have the appeal, I’m getting soft.

One of my first projects during the house reconstruction was to convert one of the garages into a model railway room, if it’s good enough for Rod Stewart it’s good enough for me. Always wanted one as a kid and as I now have the space, money and total selfish indulgence, I can allow my inner child to run free. Of course I tie it in to computer / tablet control / remote access etc.


Holidays in Asia and/or South France are still enjoyable, weekends working on small trains or in the garden, life is good!

Oh and the liking for warm climates? It got down to -30C in the village this Winter! ;-)


David Chapman
Dolny Kubin
Slovakia

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Soldier - US Cover

I've just received this image of The Soldier, first book of Rise of the Jain from Night Shade Books. Very nice indeed.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Book Sale: Transformation Trilogy

I'm clearing out some books in my loft so therefore selling some signed copies. Since there's a right mixture up there I cannot be arsed to sort them all out and list them so will be putting batches up for sale like these. Okay, I have UK mass-market paperback editions of the Transformation trilogy to go. Those are Dark Intelligence, War Factory and Infinity Engine. The cost is cover price plus postage - the books are £9 each while p&p in the UK is £4 and to the US is £11 (for example). These can be just signed or signed to you. I can be tracked down on Facebook and Twitter or you can leave a message here.


 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Paul LaFontaine

I’m Paul LaFontaine, currently living in Breckenridge, Colorado. Love the mountains, skiing, hiking and the outdoors.


I grew up on classic science fiction that had been written 20 years earlier - Heinlein, A.C. Clark, Asimov. Even went really old school E.E. Doc Smith and the Lensman series. Ursula K. LeGuin’s the Lathe of Heaven. The Forever War. Consumed books on nuclear war, mutants, plagues. Always military themes. Fleets, dropship troopers, Mega-tanks, mushroom clouds.

In 1980 I read a novelette in Omni magazine by a then little known writer named George R.R. Martin called Sandkings. My love of bio-based science fiction, kindled by the Bugs in Starship Troopers, was stoked into a roaring inferno by Martin’s Sandkings that would inevitably lead me to a bunch of crabby characters on a certain moon in the future.

My first human science fiction hero was Bel Riose, the hapless General in the failing Empire of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Unstoppable when in command of his legendary 20th Fleet, the politicians ended his career. Aware of the thematic similarities only dimly as a teenager, I applied to and attended the United States Military Academy to become an officer in the Army of another empire in its twilight.


After deploying and participating in the First Gulf War and seeing how grimy and random war can be, I got out and tried business. Not particularly lucky or skilled, I was swept up into a bit of momentum when the internet happened. I got my first taste of the new capabilities that made Artificial Intelligence conceivable. I saw things at scale. Fast forward past a bunch of boring business stuff and I find myself sent to the UK to help build out the internet arm of the benevolent and beloved Ticketmaster. And it all began to come together - love of bio based science fiction, interest in AI and located in the UK where I was one short visit to a Waterstone’s away from crossing paths with Neal Asher’s work.


My first of Neal’s books was Gridlinked. I was blown away. Ian Cormac was a character I really connected with. The Polity had it all. AI, Golems, Sparkind, battle wagons, weird tech and critters of all types. Bless the Prador and the little children. Beware the Brass Man. Enjoy the creepy belly feel of picturing the reified Sable Keech.

I’ve read every book of Neal’s I can download. And that makes for some good reading.


I had a proud papa moment when my 24 year old son sent me a photo as he was deploying to the Middle East to participate in operations there. He took a pic of two books he had picked up for his trip. One was Dan Simmon’s Hyperion (a good one), and the other was Neal’s War Factory. A staple. I have taught him well.

Thanks Neal for your work! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Gridlinked Free in Australia & New Zealand

Gridlinked free! This is a promotion for Australian and New Zealand readers. Gridlinked is free for one week, from yesterday, featured in iBooks First in a Series Free. Spread the word! Repost!





Thursday, September 07, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Benjamin Eriksen

I was born in 1975 and am still not dead. When I’m not sleeping, eating, teaching, fighting or seeing my girlfriend or my kids, I like to read weird books. Science fiction, esotericism, popular science, the obscure and arcane, general weirdness with hooks and jaw muscles that lock up and bleed you dry. Through the years I’ve been paid money to do different things, like selling people books, screaming at men dressed in camouflage, calling people named Chris (Wherever you need to call an office, ask for Chris. He knows EVERYTHING. Debt collection was no different. I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people called Chris.) and trying to make kids believe in their ability to master the Oxford comma. I’m Ben. Hi.


I’ve been favourably likened to a crazed berserker, which is plainly a load of dingo’s kidneys. I do yoga and read books. I got hooked on science fiction in grade school, when one of my oldest and dearest friends and I would check out as many anthologies from the library as we could, and then spent afternoons throwing those books back and forth between each our sofa. The floor was lava. The books smelled like vanilla. Our minds reeled. He is a professor of organic chemistry today. I am a schoolteacher. Back then, we dreamed of travelling to distant worlds, building generational spaceships, breaking the lightspeed barrier, watching the event horizon of a black hole, time paradoxes, artificial intelligences, alien species, quantum physics and escaping a world’s gravity well by use of nanotube space elevators. We were ten.


Aged 15, I was given “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams and laughed for a month. My mother would tell me she could hear me laughing through the wall and I had to go to school the next day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or so help me. Twelve years later I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the canonicity of that book series, and I still can’t decide if it was a really clever piece of work or I was trying to shout louder than Adams’ detractors. Even his biographers insisted his works were nothing but light entertainment.

There’s a certain sensitivity to the hilarity of the almost irrationally grotesque that I’ve only found within the works of some very few authors, such as Adams, Iain Banks, Alfred Bester and of course Neal Asher. Too often, science fiction could become too drawn-out, too senselessly descriptive. As all the purists know, be they on the space opera or hard sci-fi side of the fence, the truly great science fiction is about humanity. And when you get right down to it, the history of humanity is a kaleidoscope of grisly, seemingly unbounded brutality, walking hand in hand with a very inappropriate sense of humour.

When I was little, my mother gave me a piece of advice that I never forgot. “You can do two things about life. You can laugh, or you can cry. Your choice.” Where I think Asher stood out from all the science fiction I voraciously consumed through my adult years was in how it transfixed me like a deer caught in a truck’s headlights, insecure about its future as a hood ornament. I had bought “The Gabble”. I had no clue.


For those of you not in the know (Shame on you. Seriously.), the Gabbleduck is an enigmatic, pyramidal life form that is arguably sentient, seemingly indifferent to other life forms and speaks in weird vocalizations that never. Ever. Repeat. It baffled me. There was an almost Lovecraftian horror to the Gabbleduck. It spoke of hidden horrors, a race that had collectively lobotomized themselves in an ancient conflict, for possibly draconian reasons. It was hilariously funny and mind-numbingly dreadful at the same time. It was like discovering that your kindly grandfather kept the livers of dead men in neatly labeled glass jars in a hidden room in his basement, and he invited you to inspect and admire his collection as he regaled you with the curious stories of how they ended up in his care, laughing with fondness and a twinkle in his eye. It was all for the glory of the Dread Voice from the Beyond. And here is my collection of rare, vintage toothpicks.

Needless to say, I read every single book I came across by Asher. I laughed. I was nauseated. I was intrigued. Sometimes I tasted that painful ache of existential angst that sometimes spills out, and curiously, on those occasions I’ve felt reassured as if by Neal’s own hand reaching out, telling me it’s OK. And it was better than OK. Even in an uncaring, senselessly brutal and frequently hilarious universe, it’s better to laugh than to cry. Shakespeare’s oft-quoted passage about life being a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing is definitely not valid here.


On a related note, Shakespeare had so-called “trouble plays”, which defied categorization as either tragedy or comedy, somehow synergistically managing to create better comedy AND better tragedy at the same time. I like to think that Asher does something very similar in creating stories that straddle the gap between poignant tragedy and side-splitting comedy while still managing to keep their metaphorical trousers from splitting.

Keep writing books, please. I need them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Sea of Rust - C. Robert Cargill

As you know I occasionally get books sent to me for comment. Some I don’t comment on because I don’t like them. The worst ones are those that are okay. How do I make a comment without damning by faint praise? But I had no real problems with this. Here’s what I sent back to the publisher:



Thanks for sending me 'Sea of Rust'. I've read it now and here's a few thoughts: I had my doubts at first reading a book without human characters but in the end that made no difference at all – they were human really. I did think it a bit US-centric and grimaced at the usual 'red-necks are the bad guys' stuff but otherwise I did enjoy it. The writing and story-telling were engaging and, despite them being robots I cared about the characters and more besides. In the end, robots with plasma weapons and chain-guns, battling in a post-apocalyptic world ... what's not to like?

Recommended.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Dave Coster


My Name is Dave Coster, I grew up near Cambridge, (UK) and People call me Bear, seems to be based on physical resemblance rather than sexual proclivity, and, I am a Gearhead, this being the generic descriptor for those seemingly unable to stop fiddling with all things mechanical (cars, motorcycles, airplanes, that sort of thing, Turbo charged preferably but not fussy) I started with radio controlled cars and boats, Helicopters, then I discovered motorbikes when I was about 13, Dad had them, so I had them. I still have them.


This mechanical predisposition is apparently genetic, my Great grandfather, Carl Skinner (mothers side), was also known to dabble. He and his brother examined the flow of fuel flowing through a glass sided carburettor and dissatisfied with the atomisation of the fuel at low engine speed, came up with a variable venturi carburettor, this became the S.U Carb (skinner union) fitted to all kinds of things, from Morris minors to the Hurricane and Spitfire. My Grandfather, Peter Skinner and his sister Barbara, were very well known car racers, hill climbers in the 1930's. I can definitely feel it in the blood.....

I started an apprenticeship at 16 in 1989 at a Cambridge aerospace company, and have been there ever since, (am I lacking imagination? Quite possibly!) starting as an airframe fitter on L1011 and MD11’s, then moving to Hercules C130 (RAF), now working as a Airframe and Engine Technician on C130J superhercules, which I really enjoy. (28 years this year) I did have a brief spell on the Pegasus Satellite launch vehicle in 1993, so that is my one claim to space fame!
I started a family in 1999, two boys now 17 and 13, sadly divorced in 2010, but then happily remarried (nice lady, madder about Mbikes than I am!)

In 2004 I had a brush with the big C. This was a scary time as any who have been through it or had a loved one go through it can attest to. I had probably the best one you can have (ie most treatable, Testicular) but still had a time of it, orchidectomy, chemo, followed by a large operation, followed by MRSA, which was worse than the cancer, and lead to the surgical incision (24 inches) splitting open again, 67 metal staples to be removed, 8 months to recover, such fun, but, a positive result, and I am still here. This is down to the NHS, much berated, but ultimately they saved my life, the team that dealt with me were all without exception above average human beings in every sense of those words. We cried a lot as a family, but we also laughed a lot, we found something good in every day, we got through it. I am always happy to talk about the experience, there is a stigma that need to be broken here I think.

My science fiction addiction took an early hold with Star trek (TOS) and Tom Baker as the doctor, terrified behind the sofa, followed by Blake's seven (running around the woods arguing over who is going to be Avon.....), Starwars, Blade runner, Alien etc etc etc, This was followed (begrudgingly at first, I had not been struck by the reading bug) by some Arthur C Clarke and then with enthusiasm, C S Lewis, Fred Hoyle, H.G Wells, Asimov, Wyndham and others of the time and before,  and later, much later, discovering Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Donaldson (Gap series!) Patrick Ness and of course our Beloved Neal Asher, who has consumed the entire top shelf of my bookcase, and is now starting on the second shelf, poor old Asimov has had to shuffle along......

So Neal Asher.
I will try not be embarrassing but Neal can always edit it,  what is it that draws Me in? Basically it boils down to Physics, the man writes beautiful Physics! models that are sufficiently robust in the face of all he is trying to achieve in the story. Many have tried and failed before him, but inevitably if you find a hole, disbelief creeps in, suspended no longer, you find yourself making allowances for your writer, skipping over these inadequacies to continue the story line......not so with Neal, lots of research and intelligent extrapolation are evident AND he can tell a story in a modern but unique and thoroughly refreshing manor.

Thank you Mr Asher Sir, for all till now and for the future

PS , is it Me, or are a lot of Asher fans seeming involved (past or present) in aircraft engineering ??

Dave Coster

Aeronautical Engineer

Marshall Aerospace

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Sharon E. Sasaki

Like everyone else who has contributed a bio so far, I have also read a great deal of science fiction, starting with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time at age seven and Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein not long after that. I was hooked and have read many of the great authors that others have listed. You all have great taste in books! What caught my eye with Neal Asher’s Gridlinked in 2006. Here was an author who had more futuristic ideas scattered on every page than many SF authors had in their entire book! And he was introducing these new concepts with a single word!: aug, chainglass, plasteel, runcible, U-space, etched sapphires, the Polity. Mind Blown.

          
In The Skinner, again Asher introduced multitudinous mind-bending ideas as if they were commonplace and I loved his characters: the Old Captains, the war drones, the hive-mind, even the leeches. His understanding of biology was extensive and impressive. So many ideas spinning around in my mind, I thought I had found the motherlode! I have bought everything of his I can get my hands on. Still searching for a Mason’s Rats. Haha!


Neal said write about yourself and your life. I am a Canadian woman of Japanese descent. Both sets of grandparents came to Canada around the 1900s. My father’s family was interned during WWII in a camp as possible enemy aliens. They lost everything. My father never felt anger about what happened. These things happened in wartime. At least he was not deported to Japan and he survived the war. So many young men did not. I got to grow up in a country that allowed women to study medicine and become doctors. I originally was in a PhD program in Neurophysiology but I got bored so I completed a M.Sc. in Neuroscience before I went into medicine. I found research was not for me; no people contact!

I practiced as a family physician in a small rural town in Southern Ontario while I raised a beautiful son and a daughter with my husband, David. In Canada, people do not comment on the fact that I am Asian and David is Caucasian. I am Japanese heritage and David was born in England, I was baptized a Protestant and David a Catholic. People are most shocked that I am a physician and he is a chiropractor. Even that is being more accepted these days. That is Canada, for you.


What I really want to tell you about is the place I work. I am a surgical assistant at a community hospital in Southern Ontario and we are a United Nations at work. Everyone not only gets along, we love where we work and the individuals we work with. We have physicians - anesthetists, surgeons, gynecologists, internists from Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Canada, Egypt, Ghana, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Taiwan, Slovakia, etc. We have physicians who are Catholic, Protestant, Coptic Christian, Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Atheist (I am not aware of any practicing Buddhists). We have gays, lesbians, transgender individuals and heterosexuals among all of the employees in the surgical department. I think our differences make us stronger. We Canadians appreciate so much more what we have because we work with people who have risked their lives, left their families, been in jail, and risked death to come to Canada. We learn about other people’s customs and they are not evil. I find it an honour and privilege to work with these individuals who have so much to give to our society. When one works towards a common goal - treating people and saving lives - differences in people don’t count. It is the humanity in us all that binds us together and makes us such a powerful force for the good of the community. I wish other countries could see our small hospital in action.


I began writing science fiction to try and give people a sense of what it is like to be in a medical facility where differences don’t matter. I placed the medical hospital in the future in space and used androids and robots to tackle the issue of prejudice. The books are humorous because I am a teeny weeny bit of a joker - not just with Neal. (It is a disease).

(The links are here if anyone is interested in checking them out. The first book, Welcome to the Madhouse by S.E. Sasaki, is free on most sites and the second book, Bud by the Grace of God, is available until end of September for $0.99. Then it returns to $4.99. I hope you enjoy them and they make you laugh out loud. Sorry for the shameless plug but Neal encouraged me more than once to put them in!)






If I can make one appeal on this blog, which reaches people from all over the world, please reach out to others who are not of your country, your race, your religion, your gender, your community and try and find common ground. The Other is not so scary or so different when you get to know him or her. Under the few millimeters of skin, we are all the same. I know. We open people up every day and everyone by and large are built the same on the inside. Why do people think the amount of melanin in the skin cells is so important? It’s not.

Thank you for your attention,


Sharon


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Who Reads my Books: Sean Sutherland

Dear readers,

My name is Sean Sutherland, and I’m a 30 year old Physics teacher originally from Halifax, Yorkshire but now residing in rural Lincolnshire. Aside from the obvious interest in Science, I’m also very keen on strength training and compete in the sport of powerlifting - Socrates himself said, ‘It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit’. Not too sure I’ve got the beauty part covered though.


I can remember back when I was around 6 years old, being allowed to spend a lot of time in the library of my first school, picking out my first books - always revolving around some sort of fantasy element. First book that springs to mind was a classic about a Dinosaur Called Minerva with a sore tooth! Throughout the rest of my childhood science-fiction was the genre that appealed to my voracious curiosity and captured my imagination the most. I still have strong memories of sci-fi video games such as Battletoads and Star Fox, and spending hours as a teen playing nearly every sci-fi title released. However, throughout my teenage years my reading choices were mostly non-fiction, popular science types such as ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Hawking or ‘Black Holes, Wormholes and Time-Machines’ by Jim Al-Khalili. It was books like these, and my sci-fi oriented childhood that led me to study Physics at University.


A lucky trip into a second-hand bookstore in Preston in 2005 saw me buying two books which changed my reading habits forever: Wheelers by Stewart and Cohen, and Cowl by, a then unknown to me, Neal Asher. The former introduced me to the concept of using complex factual scientific ideas to weave a fictional story - discussing creatures, formed from molecular hydrogen and organic compounds, floating in the clouds of Jupiter. The latter (costing me all of 20p) opened my mind to a new world - it was the hardest sci-fi I’d read to date and it was the first book to bridge the gap between my love for sci-fi games and films, and my love for reading.

Post-Cowl I remember saving up and going on a bit of a shopping spree, buying the Saga of the Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson (still a favourite, even though not particularly well written), the Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton, the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds, the first three Culture novels by Iain M Banks and every Neal Asher book I could get my nerdy little hands on. This post-cowl glut kept me going for a while, but still to this day Asher/Hamilton/Reynolds are where I go first, and if there is nothing new then I try to expand my horizons a little.

The most notable reads other than my ‘main authors’ have been the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, the Hyperion/Endymion series by Dan Simmons and the ongoing Expanse series by James SA Corey.

All I can say Neal is thank you. Thank you for creating the Polity universe as one of my main escapes, and may there be many more to come!

Sean S

Monday, August 21, 2017

STAN - Brian Aldiss

Sad loss, but the work lives on. Brian Aldiss 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017. 




In the foreward of Space, time and Nathaniel (NEL 1971), Aldiss asks, ‘What happens to old science fiction? Is it as expendable as last year’s calender?’ to which the answer is, ‘Maybe.’ Nostalgia comes into play, and SF, though usually concerning the future, possesses a history worthy of study. In technical detail, science fiction stories do date quicker than bananas. Already with some of my own short stories I’m finding evidence of a lack of mobile phones, and when you look back to stories published more than thirty-five years ago you can but cringe when Captain Zorge calculates his next hyperspace jump on a slide rule. My edition of Stan (the acronym by which this book came to be known) can only be described as much loved and deeply in need of Sellotape. Just looking at the cover with its acorn-headed failed man gazing with its huge turquoise eyes into some immeasurable distance, sitting cobwebbed on a pile of bones, provides me with the thrill of remembered reading pleasure. Yet, Aldiss says of even this edition, ‘a whiff of period charm hangs over it’. However, Stan contains what for me are some of the classic short stories of the genre, and is well-worth a read for any of those who might think they are doing anything new. My favorite has to be The Failed Men. This excellent time travel story tells of a relief effort run by the fourth millennium Paulls to which twenty-fourth century humans have been recruited – both races brothers in comparison to the people, of millions of years in the future, that they are trying to help. And what is the plight of these last? They have buried themselves alive because they have ‘failed’. Put across in this story is the incredible frustration of the rescuers in trying to find out precisely what is meant by that failure – frustration in some cases leading to despair. No real explanation is offered and it is from this enigma that comes the appeal, that and the sheer story-telling ability. I don’t know whether or not this book is available now. It ought to be, not least for students studying the genre, but mostly because, slide rules aside, a good story is timeless. 

Who Reads my Books: Luke Allen

Alas, I don’t really have much in the way of hobbies. I have many interests but none are really hobbies as such, apart from reading as much as I can (I also doodle absent mindedly and have written the odd short story with varying degrees of success). The fantastical has always held more of an interest for me in all mediums - mainly horror, SF and high fantasy - but SF has been the big draw, especially space opera. I’ve been interested in space since a very young age so there’s something about quests across multiple worlds and star systems, meeting new species and exploring the possibilities of future technology that I’ve always found fascinating.


I guess I started reading Neal Asher’s work thanks to Jon Sullivan. I will admit I’d never heard of Asher, with my knowledge of SF authors at the time being limited to Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton, and I just happened to be looking in the SF/Fantasy section of Southampton Waterstones when I saw a crazy looking book featuring a guy in the cockpit of a spaceship, flying over a lush looking planet, with a shit ton of wires and tentacles sticking out of his back. The book in question was The Line of Polity and I was instantly sold purely based on Jon Sullivan’s artwork. Also turned out this was book two of a series and, ever the completist, I bought all the Agent Cormac books just to find out about that crazy looking man in his spaceship.


Fortunately, it turns out that not only are Asher’s Polity novels terrific, they were what I needed. I got into SF quite late, having fed on a diet of almost exclusively of Stephen King since about the age of 16. It was only after a friend recommended The Forever War by Joe Haldeman that I realised just how special SF could be. Sure, I’d watched Star Wars and the occasional episode of Star Trek TNG, but what The Forever War taught me was that lofty ideas and allegory (in this case, anti-war) could easily be paired with the usual tropes of SF.


What I love about Neal’s work though, is that, yes, he has the lofty ideas and dense science up front and centre but this is all mixed in with enormous sequences of action and lashings of the old ultra-violence. Some of his ideas are also flat out bonkers. Zero Point spends much of its time detailing the hows and whys of inertia-less travel whilst also featuring the highest body count of any book I’ve ever read. The Skinner, one of his best books, has three characters making their way to the planet of Spatterjay for their own ends as well as featuring immortal sea captains and living sails that speak in a cockney accent.

So long as Asher continues to blend the scientific and the outlandish, I'll always read his work. One of his regular characters is a war drone in the shape of a tank-sized scorpion. If that doesn't convince you, nothing will.

Luke Allen

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lament for the Fallen - Gavin Chait

The Man Fell to Earth was the Silver Surfer, but that’s being a bit facetious. I found this slow going at first with its focus on a future African/Nigerian culture, but I cannot fault the world-building here. Another thing that slows this down is that habit Gene Wolfe has of getting characters to tell stories which, to me, adds nothing and is merely a page filler. But as I persevered, and the far-future human turned up occupied by a symbiotic semi-AI, it did engage me. You got the ‘cruelty of Africa’ here and the sense of a future of environmental disaster combined with space elevators, cities in orbit and matter printing. All SF readers are after that sensawunda and this story certainly has it. I noted in comments about this story that the bad guys were too one-dimensionally bad but didn’t think that the case. To me the good guys were too good, too angelic, with too much in the way of hugging and moral probity. It also suffered from the kryptonite factor: I never felt the protagonist was in any danger because he was just too powerful. Also, the high-note terminal conflict then progressed into the kind of wind-down you get at the end of LoTR, which was a little wearing.

However, this is a big book and I read it from cover to cover so there’s that. The writing is engaging and you do care about the characters. It may well be that it simply wasn’t to my taste. I tend to grimace at environmental disaster SF in a future where ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’.  It may will be to your taste so why not give it a try? Here's what some others think:

"Refreshingly different . . . exhilarating . . . a compulsively readable, life-affirming tale told in direct, lambent prose, and Chait does a masterful job of juxtaposing a traditional African setting with a convincing depiction of a far-future alien society." (Eric Brown GUARDIAN)

"Lyrical prose and imaginative world-building . . . the book is gripping, powerful and frequently impressive . . . an ambitious and intelligent work that marks out Chait as a writer worthy of further attention." (Saxon Bullock SFX magazine)

"Richly drawn . . . a smart, ideas-driven novel . . . a promising and ambitious debut." (SCiFiNOW)

"Loved the whole experience as Gavin brought solid world building into the mix alongside cracking pace as well as dialogue that just tripped off the page . . . a great read . . . Magic." (FALCATA TIMES)

"Highly readable . . . Chait should be applauded for managing that all important trick of getting you to keep turning that page until there aren't any left . . . smart, ideas-led science fiction with a literary fiction bent." (STARBURST magazine)