Thursday, 31 March 2011

Scorpia Rising - First Chapter Sneak Peek!

Now this is a rare treat for you all! Not so long back I posted a preview of the cover for Scorpia Rising, the final novel in the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. Now I'm pleased to present a sneak peek of the first chapter of Scorpia Rising!

You can find out all the details you need about the Alex Rider series at the website.

SCORPIA RISING is out now, published by Walker Books, £6.99 (PB).

Without any further delay, here is the good stuff *grin*. Enjoy!


The man in the black cashmere coat climbed
down the steps of his private six-seater Learjet 40
and stood for a moment, his breath frosting in the
chill morning air. He glanced across the tarmac as
a refuelling truck rumbled past. In the distance
two men in fluorescent jackets were standing talking
in front of a hangar. Otherwise, he seemed to
be alone. Ahead of him a sign read WELCOME TO
LONDON CITY AIRPORT, and beneath it an open
door beckoned, leading to immigration. He headed
for it, unaware that he was being watched every
step of the way.

The man was in his fifties, bald and expressionless.
Inside the terminal he gave his passport to
the official and watched with blank eyes as it was
examined and handed back, then continued on
his way. He had no luggage. There was a black
limousine waiting for him outside with a greysuited
chauffeur behind the wheel. The man
offered no greeting as he got in, nor did he speak
as they set off, following the curve of the River
Thames up towards Canning Town and on towards
the centre of London itself.

His name was Zeljan Kurst and he was wanted
by the police in seventeen different countries.
He was the chief executive of the international
criminal organization known as Scorpia and, as far
as it was known, he had never been seen on the
streets of London. However, MI6 had been tipped
off that he was coming, and they had been waiting
for him to land. The passport official was one of
their secret agents. They were following him now.

“Heading west on the A13 Commercial Road
towards Whitechapel. Car three take over at the
next intersection.”

“Car three moving into position…”

“OK. Dropping back…”

The disembodied voices bounced across the airwaves
on a channel so secret that anyone trying
to tune in without the necessary filters would hear
only the hiss of static. It would have been easier to
arrest Kurst at the airport. He could have been made
to disappear in five seconds, bundled out in a crate
and never seen again. But it had been decided, at
the very highest level, to follow him and see where
he went. For the head of Scorpia to be in England at
all was remarkable. For him to be on his own, and
on his way to a meeting, was beyond belief.

Zeljan Kurst was not aware that he was surrounded.
He had no idea that his flight plan had
been leaked by one of his own people in return for
a complete change of identity and a new life in
Panama. But even so, he was uneasy. Everything
had told him that he shouldn’t be here. When the
invitation had first arrived on his desk, delivered
by a series of middlemen and travelling halfway
round the world and back again, he had thought
about refusing. He was not an errand boy. He
couldn’t be summoned like a waiter in a restaurant.
But then he had reconsidered.

When the fourth richest man in the world asks
you to meet him, and pays you one million euros
just to turn up, it might be as well to hear what he
has to say.

“We’re on High Holborn. Car four moving to

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. He’s turning off…”

The limousine had crossed the main road and
entered a narrow street full of old-fashioned
shops and cafés. The move had taken the MI6
men by surprise, and for a moment, there was
panic as they struggled to catch up. Two of their
cars swerved across the traffic – to a blast of
horns – and plunged in after it. They were just in
time to see the limousine stop and Zeljan Kurst
get out.

“Car four. Where are you?” The voice was
suddenly urgent. “Where is the target?”

A pause. Then: “He’s entering the British

It was true. Kurst had passed through the gates
and was crossing the open area in front of the
famous building which rose up ahead of him, its
huge pillars stretching from one side to the other.
He was carrying an ebony walking stick that measured
out his progress, rapping against the concrete.
The MI6 men were already piling out of their own
cars but they were too late. Even as they watched
from the other side of the gates, Kurst disappeared
into the building and they knew that if they didn’t
act swiftly, they would lose him for good. There
was more than one way out. It was unlikely that
the Scorpia man would have travelled all the way to
England just to look at an exhibit. He might have
gone inside deliberately to shake them off.

“He’s inside the museum. Cars one, two and
three, surround the building. Watch all possible
exits. We need immediate backup.”

Someone had taken charge. But whoever it was,
his voice sounded high-pitched and uncertain. It
was eleven o’clock on a bright February morning.
The museum would be crowded with tourists and
schoolchildren. If there was going to be any action,
if they were going to arrest Zeljan Kurst, this was
the last place they would want to do it.

In fact, Kurst was still unaware of his pursuers
as he crossed the Great Court, a gleaming white
space with a spectacular glass roof sweeping in
a huge curve overhead. He skirted round the gift
shops and information booths, making for the
first galleries. As he went he noticed a Japanese
couple, tiny and almost identical, taking photographs
of each other against a twisting staircase.
A bearded student with a backpack was looking at
the postcards, pulling them out one at a time and
studying them as if trying to find hidden codes.
Tap, tap, tap. The end of the walking stick beat
out its rhythm as Kurst continued on his way. He
knew exactly where he was going and would arrive
at the precise minute that had been agreed.

Zeljan Kurst was a large man with heavy, broad
shoulders that formed a straight line on either side
of an unnaturally thick neck. He was bald by choice.
His head had been shaved and there was a dark
grey shadow beneath the skin. His eyes, a muddy
brown, showed little intelligence and he had the
thick lips and small, squashed nose of a wrestler,
or perhaps a bouncer at a shady nightclub. Many
people had underestimated him and occasionally
Kurst had found it necessary to correct them. This
usually involved killing them.

He walked past the statue of a crouching naked
goddess. An elderly woman in a deerstalker hat,
sitting on a stool with brushes and oil paints, was
making a bad copy of it on a large white canvas.
Ahead of him were two stone animals – strangely
shaped lions – and to one side an entire temple,
more than two thousand years old, brought from
south-west Turkey and reconstructed piece by
piece. He barely glanced at them. He didn’t like
museums, although his house was furnished with
rare objects that had been stolen from several of
them. But that was the point. Why should something
that might be worth hundreds of thousands
of pounds be left to moulder in a dark room,
stared at by idiot members of the general public
who had little or no idea of its true value? Kurst
had a simple rule in life. To enjoy something fully
you had to own it. And if you couldn’t buy it,
then you would have to steal it.

Ahead of him two glass doors led into a final
gallery. He watched as a tall, well-built black man
carrying a notebook and pen walked through, then
went in himself. The gallery was huge, stretching
out in both directions like an airport runway.
Although more than a hundred people were there,
it wasn’t even half full. Everything was grey: the
walls, the floor, the very air. But spotlights, shining
down from a ceiling five times higher than
the visitors who stood beneath it, picked out the
treasures that the room contained, and these
shone, soft and gold.

They ran along both walls, from one end to
the other, a series of marble tablets with a crowd
of figures that had been brought together to
form a single line. They were men and women,
ancient Greeks, some sitting, others standing,
some talking, some riding on horseback. Some
carried musical instruments, others bundles of
linen or plates and glasses for a feast. Many were
incomplete. Two and a half millennia had worn
away their faces, broken off arms and legs. But
there was something remarkable about the details
that remained. It was easy to see that these had
been real people who had once lived ordinary lives
until they had been frozen in this waking dream,
an entire world captured in stone.

Zeljan Kurst barely glanced at them. The gallery
had two raised platforms, one at each end,
reached by a short flight of steps with a disabled
lift – which must have been used by the man he
had come to see. There he was in a wheelchair, on
the far right, sitting alone, with a blanket over his
knees. Kurst walked over to him.

“Mr Kurst?” The voice was dry and strangled. It
came from a lizard neck.

Kurst nodded. He was a careful man and made it
a rule never to speak unless there was a particular

“I am Ariston.”

“I know who you are.”

“Thank you for coming.”

Yannis Ariston Xenopolos was said to be worth
about thirty-five billion dollars – nearly twenty-five
billion pounds. He had made this fortune from
a huge shipping empire which he controlled from
his offices in Athens. To this he had added an airline,
Ariston Air, and a chain of hotels. And now
he was dying. Kurst would have known it even
without reading the stories in the newspapers.
It was obvious from the sunken cheeks, the dreadful
white of the man’s skin, the way he sat like a
hunched-up Egyptian mummy, his body disappearing
into itself. But most of all it was in his eyes.
Kurst had once been the head of the Yugoslavian
police force and he had always been interested
in the way the prisoners had looked at him just
before he executed them. He could see the same
thing right here. The Greek had accepted death.
All hope had gone.

“I took a considerable risk coming here.” Kurst
spoke with a heavy mid-European accent which
some how dragged his words down. “What is it you

“I would have thought the answer would be
obvious to you.”

“The Elgin Marbles.”

“Exactly. I wanted you to come here so that you
would understand.”

Ariston reached out with a hand that was more
like a claw, gripping a lever on one wheel of his
chair. The whole thing was battery-operated and,
with a soft whirr, it spun him round so that he
faced the room.

“This is one of the greatest pieces of art that
the world has ever produced,” he began. “Take a
look at the figures, Mr Kurst. They are so beautiful
that it is almost impossible to find the words
to describe them. They once decorated a temple in
the heart of Athens – the Parthenon, dedicated to
Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The frieze which
you are examining depicts the summer festival that
took place every year in honour of the goddess…”

Again the claw pressed down, turning him
so that he faced a group of statues which stood
behind him. First there was a horse rising as if out
of water, with only its head showing. Then came a
naked man, lying on his back. Then three women,
all missing their heads. From the way they were
arranged, it was clear that these figures had once
stood in one of the pediments at each end of the

“The horse belonged to Helios, the sun god,”
Ariston explained. “Next comes Dionysus, the god
of wine. The figures to his left are the goddess
Demeter and her daughter—”

“I am familiar with the Elgin Marbles,” Kurst
interrupted. It didn’t matter how much he had
been paid. He hadn’t come here for a lecture.

“Then you will also be aware that they were
plundered. Stolen! Two hundred years ago, a
British aristocrat called Lord Elgin came to Athens.
He tore them off the temple and transported them
back to London. Since then my country has asked
many times for them to be returned. We have even
built a new museum in Athens to house them. They
are the glory of Greece, Mr Kurst. They are part of
our heritage. They should come home.”

The old man fumbled in the folds of his blanket
and produced an oxygen mask, which he pressed
against his face. There was the hiss of compressed
air and he sucked greedily. At last he continued.

“But the British government have refused. They
insist on keeping this stolen property. They will
not listen to the voice of the Greek people. And
so I have decided that although it will be the last
thing I do in my life, I will make them listen. That
is why I have contacted you and your organization.
I want you to steal the sculptures and return
them to Greece.”

In the street outside, four more cars had pulled
up next to the British Museum, spilling out fifteen
more agents. With the ones who had followed
Kurst from City Airport, that brought the total to
twenty-three. They were fairly confident that their
man was still inside the building, but with seventy-six
galleries covering a floor space of a fifth of a
square mile, it was going to be almost impossible
to find him. And already the order had gone out.
“Do not, under any circumstances, approach him
while he is in a public area. This man is extremely
dangerous. If he feels trapped, there’s no saying
what he will do. The result could be a bloodbath.”

Zeljan Kurst was quite unaware of the approaching
MI6 men as he considered what the Greek
billionaire had just said.

“Stealing the Elgin Marbles won’t help you,” he
said. “The British government will simply demand
them back. It would be better to threaten them.
Blackmail them, perhaps.”

“Do whatever it takes. I don’t care. You can kill
half the population of this loathsome country if it
will achieve what I want…” Ariston broke into a
fit of coughing. Pearls of white saliva appeared at
the corners of his mouth.

Kurst waited for him to recover. Then he nodded
slowly. “It can be done,” he said. “But it will take
time. And it will be expensive.”

Ariston nodded. “This work will be my legacy
to the Greek people. If you agree to do it for me,
I will pay you five million euros immediately, and
a further fifteen million when you succeed.”

“It’s not enough,” Kurst said.

Ariston looked at him slyly. “There was a time
when you might have said that and I would have
been forced to agree. But Scorpia is not what it
was. There have been two failures in the space of
a single year. The operation called Invisible Sword
and, more recently, the business in north-west
Australia.” He smiled, showing grey teeth. “The
very fact that you are here today shows how weak
you have become.”

“Scorpia has regrouped,” Kurst retorted. “We
have taken on new recruits. I would say we are
stronger than ever. We can choose our clients, Mr
Xenopolos, and we do not negotiate.”

“Name your price.”

“Forty million.”

Ariston’s eyes barely flickered. “Agreed.”

“Half in advance.”

“As you wish.”

Kurst turned and walked away without saying
another word, his cane beating the same rhythm
on the floor. As he made his way back towards
the entrance, his mind was already focused on the
task that lay ahead. Although he would never have
dreamed of saying as much, he was glad he had
come here today. It was very much his desire to
take on the British government once again. The
failures Ariston had mentioned had both involved
the British secret service.

It was fortunate that the old man hadn’t heard
the full story. Would he have still approached
Scorpia if he had known the almost incredible
truth? That both failures had involved the same
fourteen-year-old boy?

In the end it was just bad luck – bad timing
– that Kurst left the gallery when he did. He was
about to reach the Great Court when one of the
MI6 agents crossed in front of him and suddenly
the two of them were face to face, only inches
apart. The agent – his name was Parker – was new
and inexperienced. He was unable to keep the
shock out of his eyes and at that moment Kurst
knew he had been recognized.

Parker had no choice. He had been given his
orders, but he knew that if he obeyed them he
would die. He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out
his pistol, a 9mm Browning, long a favourite of the
SAS. At the same time, he shouted, louder than he
needed to, “Stay where you are! If you move, I’ll
fire.” It was exactly how he had been trained. He
was both exerting his authority over his target and
alerting any nearby agents that his cover had been

In the silence of the museum and with the ceiling
so high overhead, his words echoed out. A few
tourists turned to see what was happening and
caught sight of the gun. The first seeds of panic
were planted and instantly began to grow.

Kurst raised his hands, one of them still holding
the ebony walking stick, and moved very slightly
to one side. Parker followed him with his eyes and
didn’t see something flash through the air over
Kurst’s shoulder, didn’t even notice it until it had
buried itself in his throat.

The old woman who had been painting a copy of
the kneeling goddess had followed Kurst to the door.
Underneath the make-up she wasn’t old at all, and
her brushes might have had tufts at one end but the
handles were precision-made steel and razor sharp.
Parker fell to his knees. In the last second of his
life his trigger finger tightened and the gun went
off, the explosion amplified by the stone walls all
around. That was when the panic began for real.

The tourists screamed and scattered, some of
them diving into the shops or behind the information
desks. A group of primary school children
who had been visiting the Egyptian mummies
crouched down beside the stairs, cowering together.
An American woman standing next to them began
to scream. The British Museum guards, many of
them old and long retired from their real careers,
remained frozen to the spot, completely unprepared
for an event like this. Kurst stepped over the
dead man and continued to move slowly towards
the main door.

Of course he hadn’t come to the museum alone.
Scorpia would not have risked the life of its chief
executive, even for a million euros, and its agents
surrounded him on all sides. As the MI6 men
closed in from every direction, still unsure what
had happened but knowing that all the rules had
changed, they were met by a hail of machine-gun
fire. The bearded student who had been examining
the postcards had reached into his backpack
and drawn out a miniature machine gun with
folding shoulder stock and was spraying the court
with bullets. An MI6 man, halfway down the West
Stairs, threw his arms back in surprise, then jerked
forward and tumbled down. The American woman
was still screaming. The primary school children
were crying in terror. All the alarms in the building
had gone off. People were running in every

The Japanese man who had been photo graphing
his wife threw his camera on the floor and it
exploded with a soft woomph, releasing thick, dark
green fumes into the air. In seconds Kurst had disappeared.
The Great Court had become a battle zone.

Two MI6 agents slid to a halt, trying to peer through
the smoke. There was a loud crack, then another,
and they fell to the ground. They had been shot in
the legs by the Japanese woman, who had produced
a pearl-handled Nambu pistol from her handbag.
Meanwhile, holding a handkerchief across his
face, Kurst had reached the main doors. There had
been little security when he came in; there was
none as he left. Out of the corner of his eye he saw
an MI6 agent try to rush him, then fall back as he
was grabbed by his personal bodyguard, the black
man with the notebook whom he had registered
on his way to the Elgin Marbles. The human neck
makes an unmistakable sound when it is snapped,
and he heard it now. The agent slumped to the
ground. Kurst walked out into the fresh air.
There were people running between the pillars,
tumbling down the steps and hurling themselves
across the open area in front of the museum.
Already the police were on their way, their sirens
growing in volume as they came together from
different parts of the city. Kurst’s limousine was
waiting for him at the gates. But there were
two men moving purposefully towards him, both
dressed in charcoal grey suits and sunglasses.
He briefly wondered why people who worked in
espionage had to make themselves look so obvious.
They had become aware of the chaos inside the
British Museum and were racing in. Perhaps they
hadn’t expected him to emerge so quickly.

Kurst lifted his walking stick. It was in fact a
hollowed-out tube with a single gas-fired bullet
and an electric trigger concealed just beneath the
handle. The bullet had been specially modified. It
wouldn’t just kill a man. It would tear him in half.
He fired. The man on the left was blown off his
feet, landing in a spinning, bloody ball. The second
man froze for just one second. It was much too
long. Moving surprisingly fast for someone of his
age, Kurst swung the walking stick through the air,
using it like a sword. The metal casing slammed
into the agent’s throat and he crumpled. Kurst ran
for the car. The back door was already open and he
threw himself in, slamming it behind him. There
was a series of gunshots. But the car windows were
bulletproof and the bodywork was armour-plated.
With a screech of tyres, the limousine swung
out. Another man stood in the way, his gun held
commando-style, in both hands. The chauffeur
accelerated. There was a thud as the man hit the
bumper and he was hurled out of the way.

Two hours later, a man in a blond wig, wearing
sunglasses and holding a huge bunch of flowers,
boarded the Eurostar train to Paris.

Zeljan Kurst hated these disguises, but it was something else
he had learned in his long career. If you’re trying
not to be seen, it often helps to make yourself as
prominent as possible. The flowers and the wig
were ridiculous, but although the police and MI6
were looking for him all over London, they certainly
wouldn’t associate them with him.

As he settled into his pre-booked seat in first
class and sipped his complimentary glass of champagne,
Kurst’s mind was focused on the problem he
had been given. The shoot-out at the museum was
already forgotten. The question was – who would
be the best person to handle this quite interesting
business of the Elgin Marbles? There were now
twelve members of Scorpia, including him, and he
mentally went over them one by one.

Levi Kroll, the former Israeli agent who, in a
moment of carelessness, had shot out his own eye?
Mikato, the Japanese policeman turned yakuza
gangster? Dr Three? Or perhaps this might be an
opportunity for their newest recruit? He had the
sort of mind that would enjoy working out a problem
of this complexity, along with the ruthlessness
to see it through to the end.

There was a blast of a whistle and the train
moved off. Kurst took out his mobile phone –
encrypted, of course – and dialled a number. The
train slid down the platform and picked up speed,
and as they left St Pancras International, Kurst
permitted himself the rare luxury of a smile. Yes.
Razim was perfect. He would bring his unique talents
to this new assignment. Kurst was sure of it.
He had chosen exactly the right man.

Sounds tremendous, non?

Anthony Horowitz is also appearing at the following bookstores for signing events:

Thursday 31st March, 5pm
WHSmith, The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol

Saturday 2nd April, 1pm
Waterstone's Oxford, William Baker House, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AF

Saturday 9th April
11am, Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop, 29 Fortis Green Road , Muswell Hill, London, N10 3HP
3pm, Lion and Unicorn Bookshop, 9 King Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1ND

This is one of the most exciting publishing events of the year for young adult fiction. If you're already a fan, no doubt you're salivating at the idea of finding out about the last adventure of Alex Rider. If you're new to the series, what better time to pick up the first novel Stormrider now that the series is complete?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Positivity About Reading!

I'm tired of talking the negativity in book reading/book blogging. Over the last month or so I've found myself a little jaded, but tonight I picked up a book that I wanted to read and felt excited at the idea of starting it, the idea of reading it and the idea of talking about it. The book isn't important right now. I want to talk about all the positivity of reading.

The positivity starts before you even pick a book. Instead you read blogs, you start conversations on Twitter, you have favourite authors, you browse in bookstores. You engage with the constant, uplifting, enthusiastic and knowledgeable dialogue about books.

From that delirious stream of names and titles and book covers, one book will make itself known to you. This is the next form of positivity. Maybe some of your favourite bloggers have all mentioned the same title? Maybe a blogger you are less familiar with wrote such an eloquent discursive review about a novel unknown to you to that point? Maybe a novel hit the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List? Maybe an award shortlist was issued and one of the novels leapt out at you?

For whatever reason, you decided on a book. Now you have the glorious experience (if you are like me) of heading for a favourite bookstore. If you're lucky, this is a wooden-floored, armchair-filled, coffee-scented haven of an independent bookstore where you know the owner and share recommendations. If you're still lucky, you have a large chain bookstore on your high street. When you arrive in the bookstore, you gaze around at all the brilliant forms of literature - the beautiful colours, the stacks of novels on tables, the titles that give you teasing hints about the contents of a book.

You can't resist trailing your hands across some - maybe idly picking up a few and reading the back of them to see if the blurb piques your interest. You have mentally added half a hundred books to your wishlist before you arrive at the bookshelf that contains the novel you've decided on today.

As you pick it up, there comes positivity the third. That would be the sudden thrill of ownership, the possessiveness even though you have not handed over a penny yet. You gaze at the cover, you might flick through and read a few pages to determine this is, indeed, the right choice.

Even the painful part of handing over money can be a form of positivity as the bookseller asks if you want to redeem your loyalty points on this purchase and you shake your head, knowing that you are building up to a monumental spending spree with those points at some heady point in the future.

You save the book to a time when you are alone in the house and can luxuriate in your favourite reading space - be that your sofa, your bed, your bath. You have a drink at your side. You have no reason at all for being anywhere else; your time is not being demanded by another person.

Here comes the biggest positivity at all: as you turn the first page. Maybe you read the dedication? The acknowledgements? Finally you settle down and start reading this chosen book. And the potential! The worlds you will visit! The characters you will meet!

If you're honest, you know within a few pages whether this novel is one that is going to be a dream to read. Maybe you grin at the author's choice of words. Maybe a character resonates with you as they cry or smile. Maybe you are intrigued to the point of obsession as to WHY a character is in a particular situation.

This now becomes a love affair - an all-consuming heady passion! You cannot do without the book. If you have five minutes to spare you re-engage with the book. When you're not reading the book, you think about the book ALL THE TIME. You draw out the reading experience with the book because you never want it to end. When it does end you feel a sense of sadness, a wistfulness that you will never have quite the same experience as when you first opened this book.

And your final positivity.... TALKING about the book! The joy of finding someone else who adored it just as much as you. The stimulus of finding someone who had a different impression and your ability to discuss, maybe even argue, the finer points of the novel. Even, dare I say, the time when you gather your courage and tell the author how wonderful you thought their novel was. You find a community who liked the book you've read and, EVEN BETTER, know other authors you might like!

This is the positivity of reading. This is why we spend hours in bookstores, why we buy more books than we can feasibly read in a lifetime, why we build communities in real life and online to discuss novels.

It is the wonder of discovering a new-to-you author and realising they've written ten other books.

It is the desire to spend hours on end turning pages and drinking in words.

Reading is a wholly positive experience - and that should never be forgotten.

Please share with me some of your most positive experiences!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

World Book Night Update 2

Two of my favourite bloggers received their copies of Dissolution this week :-)

Firstly Ria from Tea and Tomes:

And Mieneke from A Fantastical Librarian (plus a bonus picture of her tremendously cute daughter, Emma):

Are you all as jealous of Mieneke's bookshelves as I am? *grins*

I am loving receiving pictures from the various people who I sent Dissolution to - I really hope they all read and love the book!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Radio Silence

Okay peeps, bit of an apology regarding the deafening silence on the blog currently.

Genre for Japan is kicking my ass in terms of how much work I am putting in. Am also keeping up with Malazan re-reading for, doing slush reading for Angry Robot and beta reading for a good friend.

I haven't picked up a book for reading in days now...

Will be back soon! Don't forget me!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Announcing Genre for Japan - Press Release

Genre for Japan

Press Release: Time to Donate Prizes!

We’ve all heard the news and seen the horrific pictures coming from Japan in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami – and no doubt we’ve all wondered how to help.

Following the example of Authors for Japan, where bids are now closed, we’d like to introduce Genre for Japan, a chance for the comics, science fiction, fantasy and horror communities to unite and show our generosity to those who need it right now.

We are planning to run auctions for genre-themed prizes and we need YOU to donate. We are looking for really fantastic prizes: examples might include signed first editions, coaching sessions with agents for that perfect submission letter or original artwork!

Some of the prizes already donated include a year's supply of books from Tor, signed artwork from Solaris Books and editing/critiques from professional authors and editors.

The prizes will be auctioned on our website, through JustGiving, in aid of the British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal.

If you have something really special to donate, please drop us a line at including information such as a starting bid amount, a sentence or two about the item, and whether you wish to send the prize to a central collecting point or would be willing to post it to the winning bidder. Photos would also help us to list the item, if relevant.

The deadline to receive offers of prizes is 25th March, with the auction set to begin on 28th March.

Find out more information on our website:

Follow us on twitter: @genreforjapan

E-mail us:

Genre for Japan is organised by:

Amanda Rutter: reviewer and webmistress at Floor to Ceiling Books

Jenni Hill: editor for science fiction, fantasy and horror publishers Solaris Books

Louise Morgan: author and interviewer for the British Fantasy Society

Ro Smith: writer and reviewer; blogger at In Search of the Happiness Max

Alasdair Stuart is the editor of Hub magazine.

World Book Night: Update 1

This is just a quick post to say that some of the World Book Night copies of Dissolution by C J Sansom that I sent out across the world have reached the grateful (although probably slightly bemused!) recipients!

Here is Chris Hawks (SaltMan-Z):

Here is Stefan Fergus (Civilian Reader):

Here is Jonathan Green (author!):

I hope those pictured love the book as much as I did! Look out for more of these posts over the next week or so :-)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Black Halo by Sam Sykes

The adventurers led by Lenk have managed to retrieve the Tome and are attempting to return it to their current boss, Miron - but life is never simple. An attack by a gigantic sea serpent - an Akaneed - leaves the adventurers split up and stranded on the island Teji. Lenk, Kataria, Dreadaleon, Denaos, Asper and Gariath first have to decide whether they even WANT to meet up again! What follows is a rollercoaster ride of fighting, sneaking, magic and a few hallucinations involving talking monkeys - there might even be a little romance as well... - as the band of not-so-merry adventurers try to win the tome back, learn a little about the netherlings and Ulbecetonth, and learn a lot about themselves.

I have been waiting to get my hands on Black Halo for AGES, having thoroughly enjoyed Tome of the Undergates. I'd had a few quibbles about that book, but Tome was the debut novel of Sykes, and I figured those problems would be ironed out as Sykes grew into his trade as a novellist. Is Black Halo better than Tome? Yes, in a lot of ways - in fact, in most of the ways that Sykes was criticised about in reviews following the release of Tome! In some ways, it is still a little shaky - but again, never enough to spoil my overall enjoyment.

First of all, I really appreciated the splitting up of the gang for a portion of Black Halo. That really worked for me. For one thing, it kept me turning those pages because I wanted to a) get back to finding out what was going on with each of them since Sykes employed some rather pesky and effective cliffhangers and b) see the adventurers as a glorious dysfunctional team again. In addition, since they weren't snarling at each other, there was a lot of revealing of inner thoughts as they pondered the nature of life, the universe and everything which helped to continue the character development that Sykes hinted at in the last third of Tome.

Secondly, Sykes is possibly the most breathlessly imaginative author working right now. Seriously. I say this because I literally never know upon turning the page what I will encounter - from various lizardmen, to purple women, to giant sea serpents, to fiery pee, to roaches that expel defensively from their anus.... Yep... And I guess therein lies the main problem. Sykes is genuinely not afraid to follow the thought 'Wouldn't it be cool if...?' to its unnatural conclusion, but sometimes the ideas are wacky for the sake of it. I use as an example the heralds we encountered in Tome. In that novel they were rather freaky, fluffy seabirds that totally freaked me out - one of the best parts of Tome. In Black Halo they have morphed into truly odd birds with mouths where their foreheads should be. Which felt unnecessary!

In Black Halo Sykes shows us some more of the world he is building than just sea and islands, and his worldbuilding is rewarding if still a little sparse. He doesn't hold his reader's hands in info-dumping the nature of the world we're reading about - there are hints that the netherlings come from off-world, that there have been various titanic battles in the past, mentions of cult-like Jackals, and much more about the nature and rules of magic. This adds a richness and a depth that was absent at times in Tome of the Undergates.

As I mentioned in my review of Tome, Sykes demonstrates a skill with prose that is rather stunning at times. Oddly poetic, even in the midst of all the killing. That is very much present in Black Halo.

Oh, and there were a couple of scenes in Halo that I had been waiting for through the WHOLE of Tome - involving Lenk and Kataria! *cheeky hinting*

Okay, in conclusion - after my rather rambly discussion of Black Halo - this was a very fun book to read, with some surprising depth. The humour prevents it being at all po-faced - which other author would include scenes involving a monkey discussing philosophical ideas or trees with latent desires for peace? Or a conversation about the nature of hallucinations by three men wearing just loincloths? For those slightly disappointed in Tome of the Undergates, I think you'll find what you're looking for in Black Halo. For those who loved the first - hold on to your pants, you're in for a wild ride!

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Wise Man's Fear Giveaway Winner!

Thank you so much to everyone who supported my blog by entering this contest! As always, there can be only one winner and that person is:


Congratulations to you Nate - your book will be in the post very shortly!

Commiserations to everyone else, but remember The Wise Man's Fear is out in all good bookstores right now, so go out and pick up a copy.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Literary Initiatives for Japan

You honestly have been hiding under a rock if you haven't heard the news and seen the pictures from Japan. The world has watched aghast as Japan has suffered more than seems possible. My heart goes out to them and I confess that part of me wonders what worth book reviewing etc is in these times, where various countries are imploding around us. I'm genuinely scared at the moment. Scared and depressed.

But two items of news have helped me realise that, in times of trouble, people are still prepared to help.

A good friend of mine - Johnny Mains - sent me the following email and I would encourage you to support his endeavour:

Ever since the earthquake hit Japan, the seventh largest in recorded history, the images that have come from all aspects of social media have been overwhelming and heartbreaking and you would indeed, have to be made of stone not to feel for the bereaved and the displaced during this time.

I feel like I need to do something to help, and while my means may be limited - I do have several pieces that I will put up for auction in the hope that it raises some money for charity.

AUCTION 1: One of the last remaining copies I have of BACK FROM THE DEAD and signed by 8 of the contributors. Bidding will start at £50 for this book and all blind bids will be emailed to panbookofhorrorstoriesATgmailDOTcom.

AUCTION 2: A letter from editor Herbert van Thal to one of his Pan Horror authors. These letters are very rare and nearly non-existent, so you will have a unique piece of genre heritage. Bidding will start at £30 for this letter and all blind bids will be emailed to panbookofhorrorstoriesATgmailDOTcom

AUCTION 3: Is THE VAMPIRE STORIES OF R CHETWYND HAYES as published by Fedogan and Bremer. It is a slip-cased edition, only 100 of these were done, this is #85 and it is signed by R Chetwynd Hayes, Brian Lumley,Stephen Jones, Les Edwards and Jim Pitts - but what makes this book truly remarkable is that the artists Les Edwards and Jim Pitts have each drawn a one off, unique picture of a vampire inside this book and this is the only time that both artists have done so to my knowledge. Bidding will start at £70 for this book and all blind bids will be emailed to panbookofhorrorstoriesATgmailDOTcom.

Please header your email with 'Japan Auction' and in the body of the email, your name, what auction you will be bidding on and how much your highest bid will be and you will be notified if somebody has bid above you so you can rebid if you wish. The auction will end on the 26th of March and the highest bidder will then be contacted and after funds have been sent, I will then post off the prizes free of charge (worldwide).

I will then post the winners of the items on my blog and post proof that all donated money has been given to my charity of choice, in this case it will be The British Red Cross.

I hope you will bid on these items.

His website can be found here, and a quick check of the site shows that he has added further auctions. Please support him.

The second initiative is Authors for Japan.

As it says on the website:

The auction is LIVE – comments are open and you can start bidding!

To bid, you’ll need to leave a comment (with the amount of your bid) in the relevant comments box.
The auction will close at 8pm on Sunday (the 20th).

At the conclusion of the auction the bidder who has made the highest bid in UK Pounds will be deemed the winner. (Convert currency at

Winning bidders will be notified by email and instructed to make their donations to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal.

Lots include:

  - A frank and fearless 1000 critique from best-selling author Katie Fforde
 - An exclusive short story from Miranda Dickinson starring the winning bidder
 - Character name in Melissa Hill's next novel

There are 175 lots on the website, so many, many opportunities to a) give generously and b) receive something utterly unique.

If you know of any other literary initiatives for Japan, then please tell me in the comments or by email and I will add to this post.

We can help make a difference, people. Start bidding!

Is Fantasy Violence Okay?

Last night I attended the pre-publication launch of Department 19 by Will Hill and got talking to a group of bloggers and publicists. I was busy recommending Long Reach by Peter Cocks - a very fine teen thriller - when one of the people present said that a prominent London bookstore are thinking about removing Long Reach from their teen bookshelves due to the nature of the violence within it.

This rather surprised me. Yes, there is some rather nasty violence in Long Reach - it is a novel about a seventeen year old going undercover within a London gang, with all the threats and murders that this would entail - but I wouldn't deem the violence to be any worse than Department 19, which is gory to the extreme in places.

But then it occurred to me that in the former example people are killing people, whereas in the latter people are killing vampires. Does the fantasy aspect of it make the violence okay? Can we therefore distance ourselves from the blood and nastiness because it isn't a "real" person.

I then wondered about Black Swan - the film about a ballerina descending into madness while she rehearsed a particular role. This film garnered a 15 certificate - but the nature of the horror was, once again, fantasy. She was dreaming her way into horrific situations. If it had been a film about a serial killer with the same horror and tenseness and nasty scenes, would it have received an 18 rating to ensure that young minds weren't terrified?

What is your opinion? Does the fantasy aspect mean that violence and horror is overlooked?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Midsomer Murders - Controversy? Really?

Midsomer Murders is a British television drama that has aired on ITV since 1997. A detective drama, it focuses on the main character of Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby played by John Nettles. The stories revolve around Barnaby's efforts to solve the numerous crimes that take place in the fictional English county of Midsomer, assisted by successive Detective Sergeants - DS Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), DS Dan Scott (John Hopkins), and DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). It is based on a series of crime novels by the author Caroline Graham and was previously adapted by Anthony Horowitz.

We're talking sleepy Cotswold-type fare. Cricket on the village green, fayres, a local public house where the publican knows everyone in the village. So far, so M C Beaton, right?

Well, this beloved series - certainly beloved with the older generations it has been written to appeal to (as comfortable Sunday evening viewing) - has stirred up a little shitstorm of controversy.

You see *gasp* the show has never featured any black people.

How dare they?! How dare they represent a sleepy English village without adding a token black person?

I'm not racist at all. I found it fairly amiss when Friends didn't include many black people, considering the sitcom took place in the cosmopolitan city of New York. But this? I almost find it more offensive that people now want to shoehorn in a black character to an English village which is unlikely, in real life, to have many, if any, black people.

One argument that has been made is that since Midsomer is a fictional place - and it truly is, considering the sheer amount of murders committed in such a small location! - then those involved can include whoever they please, which means black people could be added easily.

Apparently ethnic minorities make up 1.4% of the rural community, and white people represent 98% of Oxfordshire, which is where Midsomer Murders is filmed and loosely based on. Surely this means putting in a token black person to appease politically correct minded people would stand out as a deliberate effort, rather than feeling natural?

If we were talking a series set in London, or Manchester (such as Eastenders or Coronation Street, which both have prominent ethnic characters) then it is very reasonable to assume black people should be included.

Ack, my view is that this is mostly stirring up trouble for the sake of it. Maybe Midsomer Murder ratings are dipping somewhat and they need the additional publicity? This all feels very much like the Huck Finn issue I previously highlighted on my blog - people meddling in forms of entertainment and art when it should be left well alone to develop as seems fitting depending on what is being represented.

Do you have any views on the subject?

The Flight of Dragons

When I was a kid, certain films used to find their way into the VHS player more often than others. Disney's version of Robin Hood, The Last Unicorn, The Family Ness, My Little Pony - and The Flight of Dragons.

The Flight of Dragons is an animated film from 1982, and is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Peter Dickinson.

Magic is failing, and science is on the rise, so the green wizard Carolinus calls together his three wizardly brothers to ascertain what they should do. He believes they should create the 'Last Realm of Magic', a protected place where magic will live on once humans have moved entirely to science and stop believing in magic. Ommadon - the red wizard - refuses to aid his brothers (there's always one, isn't there?) Instead he wants to dominate humankind and infest them all with greed, so that he can prevent the death of magic through force and dictatorship.

The only way to prevent Ommadon succeeding in his nefarious plans is to take his Red Crown, the source of all his powers. To achieve this, Carolinus seeks a hero in the modern world, and transports Peter Dickenson - a dreamy scientist - to the world of magic so that he can quest for the Red Crown and destroy it.

Ommadon tries to stymie the quest by using magic to put Peter into the body of the house dragon Gorbash. Since Peter knows nothing about being a dragon, he is accompanied on his quest by the dragon Smrgol (check out all those consonants!) who is old and gruff and tries to teach Peter how to be a dragon. There is a lovely dichotomy between Smrgol using magical explanations for breathing fire and flying, and Peter trying to explain them away with logic and science.

After various adventures and other companions joining the party, Peter and the rest reach Ommadon's Red Realm, and suffer grievous injuries as they try to defeat Ommadon and his red dragon Bryagh. Eventually Peter uses the power of science to deny magic, and Ommadon is unable to survive the idea that science can defeat magic. He dies from disbelief, but Peter is thrown back into the modern world because he has demonstrated that he doesn't believe in magic.

Here is our geeky hero!

This film has not yet been released on DVD in the UK as far as I can tell, and, in some respects, I'm quite relieved. Some of my childhood watches have stood up to adult rewatches - The Last Unicorn, Transformers the animated movie - whereas others suffer when watched through cynical eyes - Thundercats, Dungeons & Dragons. I honestly don't know whether The Flight of Dragons would fall into the former or latter camp!

What I do love about this film - or remember loving, anyway - is the heroic nature of the fantasy. This is genuine sword and sorcery, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons territory - what with the magic and the dragons and the elves. Lifting it above this aspect of the film is the discussion of magic versus science, and the fact that neither can exist in the same world.

This theme helps to warn against the dangers of science, the fact that technological advancement can lead to abuse and great evil. But it also shows - through the fact that Ommadon does evil acts using magic - that eventually magic or science or "insert other concept" are merely tools that can be used for either good or evil.

The Flight of Dragons seems to be one of those films that provides effective entertainment and commentary for both children and adults - certainly the film and the score are whimsical and humorous enough to let children dream about flying with dragons.

Have you watched The Flight of Dragons? What did you think of it? Do you have any other beloved children's films that you're now worried about watching for fear they won't stand up to adult eyes?

Angry Robot signs Adam Christopher (+ Interview!)

Those busy metal fellows at dynamic SF publishing imprint Angry Robot have pounced upon the debut novel of British-based New Zealander ADAM CHRISTOPHER.

Christopher is well-known to many at the heart of the British science fiction community through his strong presence on Twitter, under the nickname @ghostfinder. It was through reading his posts that AR first became aware of him – a lesson to other prospective authors, perhaps. In keeping with Angry Robot’s emphasis on the new channels for promoting all of its authors, he will of course continue to promote his work via Twitter.

The deal, for world rights to two novels across all formats, was done between Christopher and Angry Robot editor Lee Harris.

EMPIRE STATE is a story of superheroes, and a city divided in two. Detective Rad Bradbury picks up the trail of a murderer, only to discover that the world he has always known is a pocket universe, recently brought into existence by an explosion of phenomenal power. With a superhero on his tail he crosses into a city that bears a remarkable resemblance to his own – a city called New York. There he uncovers a deadly threat to the Empire State, and finds that the future of both realities are at stake.

Lee Harris of Angry Robot said, “It’s always a great feeling when you find a new author – especially one with Adam’s talent. Empire State is reminiscent of China Miéville’s The City & the City – the existence of superheroes within Adam’s world serving to underline the very human struggle for survival. We’re pretty excited.”

Adam Christopher added, “I’ve been following Angry Robot ever since their mothership landed in 2009, and they quickly became one of my favourite imprints. Over the last couple of years they’ve built a brilliant list of authors and titles, and to be part of it all really is a dream come true.”

Empire State will be published in January 2012, with a second superhero-themed fantasy, Seven Wonders, to follow before the end of the year too.

More information can be found at and Adam’s site … and of course via @ghostfinder and @angryrobotbooks

Angry Robot is a new genre publisher, bringing readers the best in new SF, F and WTF?! All titles are released as paperbacks and in all major eBook formats. Distribution is through Random House (North America) and GBS (UK). Angry Robot is part of the Osprey Group.

For more information, review copies, interview and feature requests contact Mike Ramalho ( or +44 (0) 186 581 1325).


Adam is a great friend of mine, and I couldn't be more pleased and proud for him at this news. I've had sneak peeks of some of his work, and Angry Robot have signed a fantastic new talent. When I heard that the press release was imminent, I begged Adam for his first interview and he graciously agreed.

AMANDA: Since you're an author now, how about putting into words exactly how you felt on hearing that you were to be signed by Angry Robot? How did you celebrate? Does it feel real yet?

ADAM: It was pretty unreal. It still feels pretty unreal! Becoming a published author is a dream come true – suddenly all that work, the long hours early in the morning and late at night, weekends lost in a haze of typing, really was worth it. I guess all authors feel like this when they make their first novel sale. Writing is a very solitary pastime, especially for authors who have not sold that first book yet. Until you do, you’re really just writing for yourself, hoping that you’ve got something good enough to entertain other people. So when you get that phone call, your life really does change in an instant.

So: exhilarating, exciting, bizarre and surreal. Does it feel real? I’m… undecided! The contract is signed, the announcement has been made, and I even know the ISBNs of the first two books. But I think this feeling is going to last quite a while, until I actually see a copy of Empire State sitting in a bookstore! It’s no secret that Angry Robot are one of my favourite imprints and I’ve been reading them since their first releases back in mid-2009, so for them to have actually said “yes” is pretty cool (the understatement of the year, I suspect).

My wife and I celebrated by going out to dinner, possibly more than once. Champagne may have been involved, but I’m a little hazy on the details.

AMANDA: Can you tell us a little bit about the submission process, and the novel that Angry Robot will be publishing?

ADAM: The first book is called Empire State, and it’s sort of a science fiction-detective-noir. Private detective Rad Bradbury, who lives in this dreary, fog-bound city called the Empire State, is called to investigate a gruesome murder, only to find himself being chased not only by a superhero who is supposed to be dead, but by a couple of masked agents who seem to know an awful lot about him. His investigations reveal an alarming secret about the Empire State and its connection with another place called New York, and he gets caught up in a conspiracy that threatens both worlds.

Empire State is very much flavoured by the Prohibition era and the paranoia that gripped the US in the 1950s. It’s got rocket-powered superheroes, strange men in hats, an airship or two, and an old man in a big house with something hidden in his basement. It was a lot of fun to write!

Seven Wonders, which is coming out at the end of 2012, is a superhero story in the more traditional sense – all spandex and primary colours and people in capes shooting laser beams out of their eyes. I’m a big fan of superhero comics, so perhaps not surprisingly this has found its way into my writing!

The whole submission process was pretty straightforward – I knew the Angry Robot guys online (as the press release says, nothing would have happened if it hadn’t been for Twitter!) and sometime in mid-2010 I dropped by their office for a visit. Over lunch I described Empire State, and outlined a few other novels I’ve also written (including Seven Wonders). Marc and Lee liked what they heard and invited me to send it in.

After that it was pretty much the usual thing – sample chapters and a full synopsis, and then the full manuscript was requested. The whole process from that initial meeting to signing the contract took about nine months. People talk about the publishing industry being slow but it’s a complicated business. There were a lot of individual stages and checkpoints that Empire State had to get through before they made the offer.

AMANDA: Were Angry Robot the only publisher you submitted to? Why did you pick them?

ADAM: Yes they were the only ones. I’d been following them since they launched, as their whole approach to SF seemed pretty fresh. I knew when I started writing Empire State back in September 2009 that it was going to be an odd book – part science fiction, part hardboiled Raymond Chandler detective story, part retro superhero action. It was pretty clear that it would fit with what Angry Robot were doing – not everything I write has quite the same number of different elements mixed in, but Empire State really felt like an Angry Robot book.

That’s not to say I wrote the book specifically for Angry Robot. I had a story I wanted to tell, and that’s the book I wrote. When the book was done, Angry Robot was a very obvious choice. And they agreed!

AMANDA: What advice can you give to those writing novels now?

ADAM: This is a tricky question – I’m a debut author right at the very start of my career, so I can only talk about my own experience and what seemed to work. I’m certainly no expert and as with any writing advice, not everything fits with everyone.

But I think there are two things you need to do in conjunction. The writing comes first, obviously. You’ve just got to get your butt in the chair and write, and keep writing. The more projects you finish, the more chances you have for getting them out there. Empire State was the third novel I wrote. I started writing it just after I finished the second novel (which was actually Seven Wonders), and when Empire State was done I went straight on to the next book.

The other thing is making contacts. I got myself into a position to talk to Angry Robot (who, aside from the open reading period in March 2011, do not accept uninvited or unagented submissions) because I made friends with them online. And I really do mean friends – Lee and I share a similar taste in books, comics, films and television, so it was only natural for us to gravitate towards each other on Twitter. Twitter and other social media outlets are tools for writers, and essential ones at that, but it’s like writing itself: you shouldn’t write books because you want to get a book deal and become a best-selling author. You should write books because you need to write books. Stephen King didn’t sit down to write his first novel Carrie with the intention of becoming rich and famous. He sat down to write Carrie because he had a story to tell. So that’s the writing first – if you write, and keep writing, and get better at writing, everything else will flow from it.

As it is with social media. I didn’t join Twitter in order to get a book deal or to promote myself. Sure, I talk about writing and what I’m working on, and I blog about that too, but I got on Twitter to join the conversation. It’s a great place to find like-minded people and engage with them. I love writing, and I love books, and there are a lot of people who share those interests. Some of them happen to be editors or agents or publishers, and if you know them and they know you, you’ve got a head start when it comes time to actually show your work to someone.

That might sound a bit like “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, but that’s not true. You’ve got to have the goods to back it up, of course. It’s no good building a platform or filling a notebook with useful names if you then don’t have anything to show to people.

AMANDA: Where do you see yourself in five years time? What is next for Mr Christopher?

ADAM: Ask me in five years! It’s so hard to say – still writing is the obvious answer. I’ve got enough ideas for novels to last the next decade, and that’s just the number of cards I can fit on the corkboard on my office wall! Angry Robot have me contracted for two novels initially, so we’ll see how it goes. There’s work to be done between now and Empire State (and then Seven Wonders) coming out, so my focus is going to be on those two, as well as whatever I’m writing now/then – I’m currently working on novel five, and also novel six (which is a collaboration). Meanwhile novel number four is out with my crack team of beta-readers. You gotta keep on truckin’!

Later this year I’ve got a steampunk novella called The Wasp in the Lotus coming out in a five-story anthology, Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance, from US-based Echelon Press – hopefully we’ll have copies ready in time for Alt Fiction in June, which I’ll be attending alongside the two other British authors in the anthology, Jennifer Williams and Kim Lakin-Smith. I’ve also got another short coming in Hub soon. I don’t write short fiction very often, so it’s always a pleasure to have it featured in such a great online magazine.

Writing is something I have to do and something I enjoy doing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. So long term, perhaps one day I’ll be able to ditch the day job and do this thing fulltime. That’s the dream, but let’s talk again in 2016 and see what happened, shall we?

Thanks so much, Adam! I hope you'll all join me in wishing Adam huge congratulations and the very best of luck in his writing career with Angry Robot.

Friday, 11 March 2011

We Are the Mainstream!

We've seen many posts and discussion over my first year of blogging dealing with the fact that genre fiction - namely, fantasy and science fiction - is the poorer cousin of literary fiction.

But, dare I say it, I'm starting to feel massively sorry for poor old literary fiction. I was doing some research earlier on fantasy and science fiction literary prizes (mostly to see how many awards Lauren Beukes can possibly win this year for Zoo City *grins*) and these are the awards I could find without delving too hard:

- Arthur C Clarke
- John W Campbell Award
- Philip K Dick Award
- Gaylactic Spectrum Award
- Hugo Award
- Nebula Award
- Prometheus Award
- World Fantasy Awards
- David Gemmell Legend Award
- BSFA Award
- Locus Award

Without searching hard, I have found eleven ways in which we lavish praise on our brilliant authors and celebrate all manner of speculative fiction. We shout from the rafters about how excellent our science fiction and fantasy is!

On the literary side, the main award they have is.... the Man Booker Prize. And we're trying to get in on that too! One of the recent complaints is that genre fiction is not recognised by the "mainstream". Based on the above, I would say that we have quite the glut of awards right now and have no need to muscle in on the Booker Prize, thank you very much. We are the mainstream.

Some people are getting their knickers in a twist about the fact World Book Night did not highlight any fantasy and science fiction authors. Umm, I saw David Mitchell, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, and Philip Pullman. They might not get shelved in "our" section all the time, but they all write speculative fiction. Out of 25 authors, that is a fair proportion, I'd say, considering that crime took a relative back seat and chick lit - although deemed to be a profitable part of the book shelves - only had one representative.

This week we have seen a prominant fantasy novel hit #1 on the New York Times list The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. A lot of people were saying 'Boo yah literary fiction!' and nudging each other about the fact that people would have to sit up and take notice now!

I think that they have been taking notice, guys. They know that The Lord of the Rings, C S Lewis, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games - many of the massive phenomena in the literary field over the last few decades have been speculative fiction. Two huge classics are Dracula and Frankenstein - beloved by millions. We have never been the poor cousin. We are dominant and powerful and have a voice heard by many.

This is why I say... poor old literary fiction! Let's allow them the Man Booker Prize, it's all they have!

Well Groomed by Fiona Walker

Tash and Niall have been living together for six months when they decide to invite Tash's batty family round for Christmas lunch. In the confusion of pets and presents, Tash's grandmother spots a plastic ring from a cracker on her granddaughter's finger and mistakenly announces that Tash and Niall are engaged. As her family make arrangements for the wedding of the year around her, Tash realises that, far from being happy about getting married to Niall, she is dreading the big day - and thinks she might instead be in love with the arrogant Hugo Beauchamp...

Well Groomed picks up the tale of Tash and Hugo begun in French Relations. I absolutely love French Relations, and was desperately keen to read more about the ever-flustered Tash. I think she is an adorable heroine, and I was rooting for her to end up with the right man.

Saying that, however, Well Groomed is, in a number of ways, a lesser book than French Relations. There are more incidents where you want to shake the heroine and insist she pulls her act together. There are times where you wonder why she would even want Hugo, when he acts in such an appalling manner towards her. The whole subplot involving Lisette and her threats towards Niall is tiresome and interrupts the flow of the novel.

Yet in other ways Well Groomed is the superior novel - there is more emotional depth, especially involving the death of one particular event horse, and the climax to the novel is better and less wishy washy.

Fiona Walker's prose is as smooth and delicious as always - I gulped this novel down in long, lazy reading sessions and enjoyed the clever wordplay, the gentle punnery and the sometimes poetic descriptions. She genuinely is one of the most talented female writers out there in terms of these large, sprawling, sexy novels.

In this case she was let down a little by a plot that ended up in dead-ends, or introduced new characters for little purpose. Both Niall and Tash acted in a manner that seemed contrary to the way they'd been written in French Relations. It was frustrating to feel that Well Groomed could have been stunning - as it was, I found it entertaining and compulsive, but not at all plausible.

Once again, by far the best part of the novel is Walker's treatment of the animals and their characterisations. Here we have the shivering, neurotic dalmation Enid; the boisterous and puppy-like Beetroot; the ever-wonderful and bolshy chestnut stallion Snob. And then new horses: nervy Surfer; couragous Bod, gentlemanly Hunk and clumsy Mickey. I adored them all by the end of the novel - almost more so than most of the human characters! It is enormously clear that Walker has a real love and appreciation for horses, and she writes them brilliantly.

If you read French Relations, you will want to read Well Groomed to catch up with the wonderful cast of characters introduced in the first novel. You will also find yourself reading stupidly late into the evening, and idly picking up the novel in every spare minute, the prose is that compelling. But you might find yourself just a little disappointed based on the strength of French Relations.

The Wise Man's Fear Giveaway!

Okay, y'all, thanks to some impatience on my part I went out to buy The Wise Man's Fear and then discovered that the lovely chaps at Gollancz had also sent through a copy.

So, thanks to their generosity and my impatience, I now have a spare copy that I want to give away *grins*

This is open worldwide. Drop me an email at magemanda AT gmail DOT com with WISE GIVEAWAY as the subject header. Pop your mailing address in the email. I will pick a lucky winner next Friday.

Good luck!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Want to Know What Joe Abercrombie does when not writing?

The masterful Joe Abercrombie writes exciting books in sharp suits:

But I have recently found out what Joe does when he is not writing.....

He keeps goal for Arsenal!

Alright, so not an exact replica, but still similar enough that it made me chortle t'other night *grins*

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

I Have Never.... Lied in a Book Review!

When I was at university, we used to play a daft combination of truth or dare and drinking game called 'I Have Never' - at university, it involved making "risque" statements like "I have never... had a threesome!" Everyone who had, or at least was willing to confess would have to stand and take a drink. I'm bringing it to my blog in an irregular series, with less alcohol, but asking the questions that can be considered a little risque in the book blogging world and listing the answers here. This is a massive just for fun exercise and do join in with comments and tales of your own. I'll even accept drunken university tales in lieu of actual replies to the questions.

So... I have never lied in a book review. Straight up. What you see is what I feel. If I loved it I gush. If I hated it I say so - the only concession I will make is trying to make it at least a little constructive rather than just vitriolic hate towards a book.

I asked this question on Twitter and some people kindly allowed me to use their replies!

The simply gorgeous Adele (especially now she's smiling and kick ass in her Twitter profile pic!): "No, but I have thought I might have reviewed something differently in light of stuff I've read since." (I actually agree a little here with Adele - having read more books in particular genres, I almost want to revisit books I read and gave harsh reviews to, to see if I feel differently).

 Self-proclaimed scruffy bastard Paul Graham Raven: "Yes, when I first started. You don't want to be the new guy hatin' on stuff that the big names like, do you? :)" (Well, I scoffed rather at a few points in Joe Abercrombie's debut novel, so I don't think I follow this line of reasoning *grin*)

Glamorous and very tall Ewa said:  "When I wrote a few reviews for a local paper as a teenager, definitely. I was unnecessarily positive." (Please blog more, Ewa - PLEASE!)

Andrew - still fairly new to blogging, welcome him! - said: "I've never lied in reviews, but I hate pointing faults out. I would say "not for me" or "not my age group"." (I think that pointing out faults is essential in order to be honest - but there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve this. Sometimes I manage to achieve this, sometimes I don't!)

Blogger extraordinaire Civilian Reader (seriously, if you're not reading this blog, why not?! He does a great line in Black Library reviews) explained: "Never lied; but same as @, though less a lie than change in situation. Sometimes change mind after review, with hingsight. Actually, in some ways yes; I often tone down praise - I'm put off by hyperbole, so often my reviews seem drier than they should."

Another fairly new blogger, Lisa, said:  "I've never lied, but I've definitely felt guilty saying anything mean about an author's work b/c I know how tough criticism can be" (I think Lee Harris from Angry Robot put it best when he said that any person who has managed to complete a novel deserves praise in terms of that, even if the novel itself doesn't succeed on particular levels. I do believe us book reviewers sometimes fail to remember that - and therefore the guilt in giving negative reviews should remain, since it tempers the harshest criticism).

Jo from Once Upon a Bookcase said: "Nope, never. I've never seen the point. I'm as positive or negative in my review as I actually feel about the book." And Mr Cheesecake agreed with this: "My posts are just my opinion. No point in lying. I want people to read what I think not what I think they want to hear."

I think the overwhelming response was similar to that provided by Adam from the Wertzone (pre-eminent fantasy blog): "No. However, hindsight, reading experience or just plain age sometimes changes things. 12-year-old Wert loved Eddings, 32-year-old Wert less keen."

Other responses can be found on my Twitter feed.

Go on, your turn! Have you ever lied in a book review? Confession time is open!

A How To: Writing a Successful Long-Running Series

Over the past few weeks, I've been collecting together an archive of all those series of books that I own at least part of and I was truly astonished by how long-running some of these series appear to be - with absolutely no sign of quitting any time soon.

I firmly believed that long series were the province of urban fantasy/paranormal romance (however you want to term it at the moment!) Indeed, a fair number of these long-running series come from the pens of authors such as MaryJanice Davidson, Christine Feehan and Laurell K Hamilton. But I did notice that historical fantasy is also one for going on at length at times; crime can outstay its welcome - and, of course, in the fantasy arena we've seen some of the longest series by far if you classify by wordcount *grin*

In a recent blog post I dealt with the Law of Diminishing Returns. So today I thought I would highlight some of the long series that I think could continue for a longer period and tell you why.

Horus Heresy

This series of novels by the Black Library details the arc of story dealing for Horus' fall and the turn to chaos. I think that this series succeeds on many levels. One is the fact that different authors have been invited to write within the series, which instantly lends different characters and voices to the books being released. Another factor is the extraordinarily rich Warhammer 40k background being utilised - there are many factions, aliens, planets etc that can all be explored. Although the series is working on a large story, individual novels within the series take a microcosm of the whole situation and tell the story of individual battles, or famous characters. Two of the novels in the series - A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns - looked at the same conflict from both sides. All of this ensures an incredibly fresh feel to each novel.


Now, apart from the fact that Terry Pratchett is a remarkably clever and witty author, I think that part of the success of this massive series stems from the fact that there are series within series. If you like the City Watch, you can confine yourself to them. Prefer Death? Just read books like Reaper Man and Hogfather. There are also standalone novels where you can get a taste for the Discworld without fully investing, such as Pyramids. Younger readers can now embark on their Discworld journey by tackling the Tiffany Aching books. As a consequence, Sir TP is more popular and beloved than ever.

Women of the Otherworld

Kelley Armstrong's series is one of those rare urban fantasy series that somehow manages to retain interest over what is now twelve novels - the reason behind this is that Armstrong uses different narrators within her world. One of the most famous is the werewolf Elena, who we were introduced to in the first two books Bitten and Stolen. After that, Elena hovers in the periphery as other women tell their tale. Characters intersect the stories of others. We see the perspective of different supernatural beings - werewolves, witches, ghosts, vampires. Armstrong is incredibly good at writing from the point of view of very different characters, so, although it is one series, it can feel like individual novels.

Shadows of the Apt

Empire in Black and Gold was published in the latter half of 2008. In the last two and a bit years we've had a further five books, with another due later this year. That kind of ferocious pace is very appealing to a person who jumps on board a series - no interminable wait between novels. Add to that some incredibly nifty cover work and a unique premise in a fantasy field that is glutted with traditional tropes, and it adds up to a feeling of great warmth from readers for Adrian Tchaikovsky's work.

Newford series

The Newford series by Charles de Lint has stretched to 23 books so far and shows no sign of ending. The secret to the success of this series of novels is that the setting is the only linking point - the city of Newford. Some characters drift in and out of each other's tales, but you could honestly pick up any of these novels, at any point in the series, and enjoy them thoroughly. This sort of inclusiveness is incredibly effective when it comes to writing a long series.

Dresden Files

It's all about the quality, this one! Although Jim Butcher has one protagonist, and a world and background that requires you to read from book one in a linear fashion, the high quality retained throughout the whole of the series is what keeps readers coming back. The pulpy nature of the story, the short novels - we're talking compulsive and addictive.

Let's hear from you! Which long series do you still read compulsively? Why do you think they are so successful? How do you feel about embarking on a series that seems endless? Have some series already outstayed their welcome, yet the author keeps writing more?

A Wild Light by Marjorie M Liu

A Wild Light is the third novel in the Hunter’s Kiss trilogy by Marjorie M. Liu, and concludes the ongoing story ARC concerning the veil being torn between the world of humans and the demon prison. Maxine Kiss wakes from a world of nightmares to discover the body of her grandfather next to her, covered in blood, and a man she doesn’t recognise who tells her they are lovers. What follows takes Maxine to the very limits of her emotional resources as she discovers the secrets of her ancestors and tries to close the veil for good.

Strangely, this was my favourite of the trilogy. After reading the first two books and feeling generally underwhelmed and confused, I was not really looking forward to the third but wished to read it for the sake of completism. I’m glad I did. Although it wasn’t great, it tackled some of my issues from the first two novels and presented a much more linear plotline.

My favourite part, by far (and has been my favourite all the way through), are the demons that inhabit Maxine’s skin as tattoos during the hours of sunlight and become corporeal when the sun sets. Dek, Mal, Aaz, Raw and Zee are terrifying and cute in the very same moment – fabulously characterful as they hum Bon Jovi hits in Maxine’s ears and eat cuddly teddy bears. Maxine’s curious relationship with her ‘boys’ is the true highlight of the trilogy, and I was pleased to see more secrets concerning this being revealed in the course of ‘A Wild Light’.

Marjorie M. Liu also deigned to explain more of the ongoing situation – dealing with Avatars, Wardens, demons and zombies. In The Iron Hunt and Darkness Calls, I found myself struggling to follow the events of the books – I understood that the veil was failing, but much of the detail was lost on me. In A Wild Light Liu recaps in a manner that illuminates many of the characters and situations so that my enjoyment was maintained through the whole novel.

My general impression of this book, and of the trilogy as a whole, is that it is written in stunning fashion but lacks a driving plot or any real tension. The concepts are wonderful – demons that live on the skin, zombie parasites feeding on pain – but they nestle in a trio of books that don’t truly go anywhere. It is all style and no substance. Marjorie M. Liu’s trilogy is beautiful but ultimately forgettable.

This review appeared originally on and parts of it were used in a trilogy review for Vector.