Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Review | The Three by Sarah Lotz

The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn't appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.

Dubbed The Three by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival...


Before the Frankfurt Book Fair a few years ago, a partial manuscript of The Three was sent to a selection of editors. A perfect storm of offers followed, and less than a day later, a substantial six figure sum from the Hodder & Stoughton coffers proved sufficient to secure the company Sarah Lotz's phenomenal novel. On the strength of an excerpt alone, this was practically unprecedented, especially for an author absent a track record to trade on.

But that, as a matter of fact, isn't entirely accurate: though The Three is the first book to bear her name in such a prominent place outside of South Africa, Lotz has been around the block and back—in the publishing business, that is. In the past, she's worked with her daughter Savannah on the Deadlands saga; she's one of three writers behind Helena S. Paige's pseudonymous Choose Your Own Erotica novels; The Three, however, has most in common with the scathing urban horror Lotz and Louis Greenberg collaborated on as S. L. Grey: not enjoyable novels, no—the events the Downside descents document being altogether too terrible to take pleasure from—but blerrie good books, to be sure. As, in its way, is Lotz's latest.

A horror novel with a hell of a high-concept, The Three is a nightmarish indictment of contemporary culture in much the same way The Mall and The Ward were. Instead of demonstrating the darker side of capitalism or the health system, however, here, Lotz sets her sights on the religious right—in particular the way some folks use faith to advance their own agendas.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Book Review | The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

Desperate to find a case to justify the team's existence, with budget cuts and a police strike on the horizon, Quill thinks he's struck gold when a cabinet minister is murdered by an assailant who wasn't seen getting in or out of his limo. A second murder, that of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, presents a crime scene with a message... identical to that left by the original Jack the Ripper.

The new Ripper seems to have changed the MO of the old completely: he's only killing rich white men. The inquiry into just what this supernatural menace is takes Quill and his team into the corridors of power at Whitehall, to meetings with MI5, or 'the funny people' as the Met call them, and into the London occult underworld. They go undercover to a pub with a regular evening that caters to that clientele, and to an auction of objects of power at the Tate Modern. 

Meanwhile, the Ripper keeps on killing and finally the pattern of those killings gives Quill's team clues towards who's really doing this....


In London Falling, Paul Cornell introduced readers to Detective Inspector James Quill and his squad of oddballs, including undercover officer Kev Sefton, analyst Lisa Ross, and Tony Costain, a properly dodgy copper on the road to reform. In the course of investigating a series of mob-related murders, the aforementioned four were cursed with something called the Sight—the ability to see the supernatural forces underpinning the city—which has been driving them half mad in the months since they managed to overmatch Mora Losley.

Catastrophe strikes the capital a second time in The Severed Streets, a solid sequel to a satisfying, if slow starter, but on this occasion, the team is aware of what they're up against... though that isn't to say they're prepared.
Thanks to an interesting series of interactions between this government and certain classes of the general public, it was shaping up to be one of those summers. He and his team had been told that the Smiling Man had a 'process' that he was 'putting together,' and Quill kept wondering if he was somewhere behind the violence. He could imagine a reality where the coalition in power had done a lot of the same shit, but without a response that included Londoners burning down their own communities. Really, it was down to how the initial outbreaks of violence had been mismanaged and a strained relationship between government and the Met that was leaving him increasingly incredulous. (p.15)
Or so they think, in their innocence—for though they know that there's more to London than meets the eye, they don't know much... and who in the underworld is going to bring the police up to speed?

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Scotsman Abroad | Award-Winning Short Fiction

Rather than annoy you all every time one of the columns I curate I is published on, I've allowed them a life of their own of late, but with awards season in full swing, I wanted to make an exception today.

Before the Short Fiction Spotlight, short stories were a blind spot of mine, and I have reason to believe that's the case with a great many genre fiction fans. By dint, I dare say, of our well-documented fondness for vast sagas and expansive narratives, fiction of the aforementioned form is sometimes seen as inadequate, inessential.

But it isn't. I've come to believe that some of the most important stories being told today are expressed in 8,000 words or less. And it's so satisfying to start and finish something quickly, especially for a serial reader like me.

In short, short fiction = awesome. Particularly short fiction along the lines of the two tales I've shone the Spotlight on in recent weeks. And you don't have to take my word for it, either. The subject of the first column I want to point you all towards today—'The Waiting Stars' by Aliette de Bodard—just won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette:
Catherine’s contemplative sections can of course be read as a response to the real-world brainwashing of so-called “savages” by the dominant races of the day: an uncomfortable subject which de Bodard addresses as sensitively as ever. It’s of particular significance that her depiction of the issue does not insist; instead, it suggests, allowing readers to make the story their own by bringing different details to the table. 
This openness is no less than I’ve come to expect from de Bodard’s short stories. She’s an incredibly generous author, well-practised in her purposes and dexterous in their development. Crucially, she’s also capable of writing gripping science fiction. Take the other half of the whole: though it is no less nuanced than Catherine’s, our time with Lan Nhen is more typical, more traditional. It’s practically action-packed, in fact—at points I was reminded of reading a story by James S. A. Corey. 
Likewise, Laird Barron just took home a Bram Stoker Award for 'The Men From Porlock,' an immensely unsettling short that's haunted me since I reread it recently:
Few authors can pull off cosmic horror as confidently as Laird Barron can, and this story is a stellar example of his carefully controlled craft. As Norman Partridge notes in his introduction to The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, ‘The Men From Porlock’ “mates Lovecraft with the best of Sam Peckinpah. It’s The Wild Bunch versus the Old ones, and it’s a magnificently brutal tale that would make HPL cry for his momma.” 
I don’t know about that—dead men tell no tales, and I dare say it’s about time we left off talking about the historical origins of this form of fiction anyway—but contemporary cosmic horror doesn’t get better, and it pleases me a great deal to hear the HWA say so.
Long story less long: please do pop on over to if you're in the least interested in short fiction. And if you aren't, then there are something like sixty editions of the Short Fiction Spotlight in the index as it stands—more than enough to spark a short fiction fire.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Book Review | Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

In the second volume of the Southern Reach trilogy, questions are answered, stakes are raised, and mysteries are deepened...

Following the disastrous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, Authority introduces John Rodriguez, the new head of the government agency responsible for the safeguarding of Area X. His first day is spent grappling with the fallout from the last expedition. Area X itself remains a mystery. But, as instructed by a higher authority known only as The Voice, the self-styled Control must battle to put his house in order.

From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the mysteries of Area X begin to reveal themselves—and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve.

Undermined and under pressure to make sense of everything, Rodriguez retreats into his past in a labyrinthine search for answers. Yet the more he uncovers, the more he risks, for the secrets of the Southern Reach are more sinister than anyone could have known.


In Annihilation, the first of three novels in the Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer, a party of unidentified individuals ventured into Area X, where they discovered—amongst other appalling alterations to that lost landscape—a tunnel, or a tower, and descended into its demented depths.

What they saw there, what they felt—the writhing writing, the lighthouse keeper creature, the impossible passage it protected—I don't expect to forget. Not now, not never. They have, however. They've forgotten the lot, not least how they ended up back in the land of the living:
Just like the members of the prior expedition, none of them had any recollection of how they had made their way back across the invisible border, out of Area X. None of them knew how they had evaded the blockades and fences and other impediments the military had thrown up around the border. None of them knew what had happened to the fourth member of their expedition—the psychologist, who had, in fact, also been the director of the Southern Reach and overridden all objections to lead them, incognito. (p.6)
In this way, as if the knowledge is insignificant—it isn't—the first of the unspeakable secrets behind the scenes of the Southern Reach series is revealed. Authority, of course, has many more in store. It's every inch as sinister and suggestive as its successful predecessor, in large part because of the dramatic departure it marks.

With the director of the eponymous organisation gone, if not forgotten—certainly not by her stalwart second in command, Grace, who in her heart of hearts believes her boss will be back, bringing a new understanding of the world in her wake—an interim leader is needed. Enter John Rodriguez, the "son of a woman who lived in a byzantine realm of secrets." (p.81)

That he calls himself Control after a malicious comment made by his gun-toting grandpa tells us all we need to know about this comprehensively confused fixer. Assuming his mission is to impose order upon this flailing organisation, he has his work cut out in any case, given that Grace sets herself against him from the first. She questions his suggestions, withholds essential information, accuses him of conduct unbecoming; she does everything she can do to undermine his authority, in short.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

But I Digress | Orbit Angers Fans

Orbit has been riding high recently. As an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group, it was named publisher of the year at The Bookseller Awards, and a number of the novels it published in 2013 have been nominated for something of a smorgasbord of genre honours. Most notably, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie has won a slew of said already, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association’s Award for Best Novel. It’s also up for a Locus, and a Hugo, too.

And here’s where the situation gets iffy. Last week, you see, Orbit released a statement saying that they wouldn’t be giving away thousands of copies of three of their books for free this year, and people on the internet got a little pissy.

But let’s start at the start, with the press release that explained the imprint’s decision to include in the Hugo Voters Packet extended extracts of the nominated novels—namely Parasite by Mira Grant, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross—as opposed to electronic editions of the texts in their entirety:
We are of course very much in favour of initiatives that help readers to engage with important awards, and we are always looking for new ways to help readers discover new authors. However, in the case of the voter packets, authors and rights holders are increasingly feeling that if their work is not included in the packet it will be at a disadvantage in the awards. It’s difficult for anyone to know for certain whether this is the case, but either way we don’t feel that authors and rights holders should feel under pressure to make their work available for free. There are a lot of different attitudes to the idea of giving work away for free, but we hope most people would agree that writers and rights holders should be able to make their own choice, without feeling that their decision might have negative consequences.  
We would like to make it clear that this was our decision, and not one requested by any of our authors. It is a complex issue, with many different perspectives and opinions, and we believe that we are acting in the best interests of our authors while continuing to support the voter packet.
Orbit can’t have expected this "complex issue" to gather the negative momentum it has, however. More than fifty comments followed the blog post above, many of which we might politely describe as declarations of outrage. Boycotts have been plotted; Orbit has been called any number of names; and several of its employees have been singled out on social media.

Which is to say—and I hope we can agree here—the situation’s gotten rather out of hand, hasn’t it? Because whether or not Orbit’s decision to include excerpts rather than entire texts was the right one, at the end of the day, this is not how a community which we all wish the wider world would treat seriously behaves.

To be clear, I’m also disappointed in Orbit’s decision. It stinks of business. But it is what it is—a perspective reflected by the three authors implicated in the publisher’s policy, who put out the following open letter together:
It has become customary in recent years for authors of Hugo-nominated works to provide the members of the World Science Fiction convention who get to vote for the awards with electronic copies of their stories. The ball started rolling a few years ago when John Scalzi kindly took the initiative in preparing the first Hugo voters packet; since then it has become almost mandatory to distribute shortlisted works this way. 
Unfortunately, as professionally published authors, we can't do this without obtaining the consent of our publishers. We are bound by contracts that give our publishers the exclusive rights to distribute our books: so we sought their permission first. 
This year, Orbit—the publisher of Mira Grant's Parasite, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, and Charles Stross' Neptune's Brood—have decided that for policy reasons they can't permit the shortlisted novels to be distributed for free in their entirety. Instead, substantial extracts from the books will be included in the Hugo Voters Packet. 
We feel your disappointment keenly and regret any misunderstandings that may have arisen about the availability of our work to Hugo voters, but we are bound by the terms of our publishing contracts. The decision to give away free copies of our novels is simply not ours to take. However, we are discussing the matter with other interested parties, and working towards finding a solution that will satisfy the needs of the WSFS voters and our publishers in future years. 
Finally, please do not pester our editors: the decision was taken above their level.
At the very least, let’s take that last statement seriously—and please, leave off the authors also.

So what now? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. The backlash has been bad enough that Orbit could conceivably admit their mistake and put aside a policy that is undoubtedly detrimental... though I dare say the damage is done.

And not just to Orbit’s image; the fact is that this negativity is apt to have an impact on the three awesome genre novels nominated in the first for a Hugo Award—and that’s not just right, readers. Agreed?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Book Review | Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, ed. Kij Johnson

The Nebula Awards Showcase volumes have been published annually since 1966, reprinting the winning and nominated stories in the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. The editor selected by the SFWA's anthology committee, chaired by Mike Resnick, is the American fantasy writer Kij Johnson, author of three novels and associate director of the Centre for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. 

This year's winners and contributors include Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, and Aliette de Bodard, E.C. Myers and many more.


The Nebula Awards Showcase series has been published on an annual basis since 1966, reprinting in each edition a selection of the previous year's finest speculative fiction. Its is a long legacy, then, which guest editor Kij Johnson—herself a recipient of the Best Novella Nebula for 'The Man Who Bridged the Mist'—evidences a welcome awareness of.

In her introduction she discusses how things have changed in the nearly fifty years since the founding members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America rewarded its first round of genre authors—Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Brian Aldiss and Harlan Ellison, which is to say an array of talent no award can match today—as well as touching on those things that have stayed the same.

In this fitting fashion the 2014 edition of the Nebula Awards Showcase series begins... with a look back at beginning. But as Johnson reminds us, this is a time to look to the future too.
One conventional wisdom is that our field is a graying field; the writers and readers at its heart grow older; the In Memoriam lists at each year's Nebula Awards banquet lengthens. And it is hard not to stare backwards, ticking each loss off a roster of living greats. 
There is a second conventional wisdom that pulls contrary to this current, that the field is not graying but growing. In recent years, speculative fiction storytelling has exploded across modes and media to fuel 100,000 person conventions and rule the theatres. Even the cloistered garden that written SF sometimes seems to be is immeasurably vaster than it was fifty years ago. (p.9)
Size matters—that's a fact—but bigger is not necessarily better, as this slim Nebula Awards Showcase shows.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Book Review | Glow by Ned Beauman

A hostage exchange outside a police station in Pakistan.

A botched defection in an airport hotel in New Jersey.

A test of loyalty at an abandoned resort in the Burmese jungle.

A boy and a girl locking eyes at a rave in a South London laundrette...

For the first time, Britain's most exciting young novelist turns his attention to the present day, as a conspiracy with global repercussions converges on one small flat above a dentist's office in Camberwell.


Though admiring them is absolutely natural, it's not always easy to enjoy Ned Beauman's novels. Take Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident: two basically brilliant books, but both are unabashedly bizarre, and decidedly distasteful. No less so Glow, in which one of Britain's best and brightest new writers trains his tremendous talents on today as opposed to the improbable parts of the past he's explored before.

On the surface it sounds almost normal—a conspiracy thriller above a lovelorn Londoner caught up in a plot by an ailing organisation which aims to make massive amounts of money by monopolising the market for a revolutionary new recreational drug—but peer beneath this veneer and Glow is revealed to be as progressive, and at the same time excessive, as its predecessors.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Book Review | The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Once the Oversight, the secret society that polices the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their number can be tallied on a single hand.

When a drunkard brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled—but the girl is a trap, her appearance a puzzle the five remaining guardians must solve or lose each other, and their society, for good.

As the borders between the natural and the supernatural begin to break down, brutal murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow.

This dark Dickensian fantasy spins a tale of witch-hunters, magicians, mirror-walkers and the unlikeliest of heroes drawn from the depths of British folklore. Meet the Oversight, and remember: when they fall, so do we all.


Charlie Fletcher, author of the Stoneheart trilogy for children, gives Suzanna Clarke a run for her money in The Oversight, a canny urban fantasy about a secret society sworn to protect the people from supranatural shenanigans.
"We were founded long ago," Sara said, "when the world was less crowded and people liked to fill up the space with four or five long words where one simple one would do: we are the Free Company for the Regulation and Oversight of Recondite Exigency and Supranatural Lore." (p.42)
That's magic to you and me—which is to say "strange, hidden things that happen without a normal explanation" (p.42)—and the very reasonable rules governing its usage; rules the Oversight exists to enforce... or has done, historically. These days, though, they can hardly keep their own house in order, so what hope do they have of overcoming a conspiracy of wicked witchfinders?

Once upon a time, there were many Hands in many lands, with five fingers each and an abundance of extra digits insisting on enlisting—the better to defend against those who would use their supranatural skills for ill. Then the Disaster happened; the Oversight was betrayed by its own, and you might measure the cost of its lax attitude in lives, given that the Great Fire of London was the result.

Fast forward to the year eighteen something or other. The society has been dramatically diminished in the centuries since the Disaster. No one trusts the Oversight any more, thus there's just the one Hand left standing, led—insofar as any Hand can be—by Sara Falk, a Glint who sees herself reflected in the serving girl who, at the outset of Fletcher's text, is deposited on the doorstep of the house the last Hand shares on Wellclose Square.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Guest Post | "Stranger Than Fiction" by Sarah Pinborough

I am not a natural researcher when it comes to writing fiction. I find it slows the act of storytelling down—I like to get into a flow with the words and pausing to check facts can be jarring. I love reading historical fiction but I vowed to myself I would never write it. Then I came across the Thames Torso murders, and having read Dan Simmons' The Terror [doesn't get better, does it? — Ed] I felt inspired to give writing a blend of fact and fiction ago. 

I took advice from several friends who've written historical fiction and their universal top tip—which I've since passed on—is not to get bogged down in trying to research everything before you start. You can get lost in it, and by the time you come to need a small piece of information, like for example, what a middle-class late-Victorian family might have for dinner, you've forgotten what your research told you. 

Also, you can get caught up in tiny details and miss big things. While writing Mayhem I very nearly missed the Dockers' Strike of 1889, and given that some of my action takes place in the wharves, that could have been disastrous. When planning Murder the first thing I did was a quick search on major events that happen during each year of the book. Although Murder is quite a claustrophobic story of paranoia, Queen Victoria's diamond Jubilee took place during one of the years of the story. It was a huge nationwide celebration and to not feature it would have damaged the authenticity of the narrative.

Writing a novel set in Victorian London can also be a double-edged sword in that we each have an image of the era in our heads from various film and television adaptations of famous novels. In some respects, that's great in that you don't have to set up the entire world for the reader, but the danger is that your description can become generic. Luckily, if you dig around on the internet (the saviour of the modern writer) you can find some great contemporary accounts of various parts of the city written by journalists and diarists of the time which help with small details and getting the atmosphere of the place right.

Newspaper archives are also great for understanding the feel of the era. I subscribe to the Times Archive (all the newspaper articles in both Mayhem and Murder are authentic), and I searched for murders that made the papers of the day and investigations that both Dr Thomas Bond and Henry Moore were involved in (other than the most famous, the Jack the Ripper case) to use as the backdrop to events in Murder.

When I'd found those I also read other sections of the newspapers to try and get into the mentality of the period—the social issues, the politics etc. in order to make my characters' behaviours more realistic. It's surprising how similar in many ways we are to those who lived at the turn of the twentieth century. We both exist in fast-changing times with huge divisions between the rich and poor and the problems that come with that.

Using real people and events from history creates its own problems when weaving a story around them but I've thoroughly enjoyed it. There's a magic in having written a book about people who you come to think of as 'your' characters and then searching old newspaper reports and learning more and more about their fascinating lives. I love writing fiction, but if there's one thing I've learned from writing these novels, it's that there is sometimes nothing stranger than fact.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Book Review | Murder by Sarah Pinborough

Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, thinks he has finally recovered from the terrible events of years before. He no longer has nightmares about Jack the Ripper—or the other monster, an enemy even more malign who hid in Jack’s shadow and haunted the streets of London at the end of the 1880s. He has made his peace with his part in bringing calm back to the East End.

His fame as a profiler of criminals is increasing, his practice is steads, and Dr Bond is beginning to dream of marriage, and children. Life is good.

But when a woman’s body is found brutally beaten to death in a railway carriage and a letter written years before is discovered by the police, the past he has fought so hard to put behind him begins to taint the present, and he can no longer fight his new suspicions.

Just when he thought life had returned to normal, Dr Bond is about to discover that some things will not remain buried: once again his uncanny enemy is loose on the streets of London... and this time Dr Bond is alone.


Mayhem was "a moody whodunit with an horrific twist, set in London during Jack the Ripper's red reign." This was essentially set dressing, however. Instead of simply reiterating that grisly business, as many such texts have been content to, Sarah Pinborough's plot revolved around "another real life serial killer, namely the Thames Torso Murderer, and the factual figures who set out to apprehend him," including Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, who returns—rather the worse for wear—in Murder.

It's been six years since the shocking events at the end of Mayhem, which saw Bond and his assistants in all things mystical—a priest and a pauper—catch and kill the Thames Torso Murderer: one James Harrington; husband of the beautiful Juliana, whose heart the doctor dearly desires.

Harrington, for his part, was hardly to blame for his horrendous descent: it was the Upir—a violent parasite he picked up in Poland—which led him down that dark path. And though the host is dead, the creature he carried on his back lives still... and hungers, I shouldn't wonder.

Murder begins with Bond feeling free of these fears for the first time in recent years, and planning, at long last, to propose to Juliana. But his hopes have to go on hold when an American friend of Harrington's arrives in the capital with a collection of confessional letters which implicate their late acquaintance in some truly unspeakable deeds.

To keep up appearances, he has to be seen to take these seriously, and inevitably, his investigations lead him back to Jack. Harrington, he realises, couldn't have been the Ripper, as he had in his heart of hearts hoped... but perhaps his parasite played a part. Perhaps the mayhem that the Upir created in its wake drove another member of Juliana's family to madness. Perhaps her outwardly affable father, whose alibi falls apart the moment Bond subjects it to the slightest scrutiny, is a killer in their midst.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Book Review | The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

The Noah: a city-sized ship, half-way through an eight-hundred-year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened.

Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah's telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime... if not longer.

And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.


No one on the Noah knows how or why or when the Earth went to hell—only that it did, and if humanity is to stand the slightest chance of surviving, the monolithic generation ship that these several thousands souls call home for the moment must succeed in its ambitious mission: to populate the planet Canaan.

In the interim, mimicry:
Look up at the fake sky with its fake moon and fake stars. Beyond the skyline of the tall crystal towers of Edo Section is a horizon. It is how the night might look back on Earth if it were not just a blasted wasteland, with a toxic atmosphere too thick for light to penetrate, and no one and nothing left alive to see it. Almost always a gentle breeze goes through the city, generated by carefully designed ventilation ducts behind the simulated sky, interacting with thermal radiation from the warmer street level. There are seasons too in the Habitat, also patterned after Earth. 
The Noah has days and nights because humans evolved with all these things, with a sun, with a moon and stars, with weather and seasons, and biologically, we do not do so well without all these environmental signals related to the passage of time. (pp.12-13)
Even the best laid plans have a habit of unravelling, however, and 800 years yet from its eventual destination, unrest in on the rise aboard the Noah.

City planner Hana Dempsey has been out of it for a bit at the beginning of David Ramirez's dizzying debut—on breeding duty, which every man and woman must do. But after nine months of deep sleep she comes to, feeling blue. Preoccupied by the fate of her baby, taken from her before before she awakened, Hana struggles to do her job properly, and her high-flying friends are hardly helpful. Instead, she seeks solace in the arms of a wolfman by the name of Barrens: a sensitive detective who has been there for her before, never mind his animal inclinations.

But Barrens has his obsessions as well, and as the relationship between he and Hana deepens, the pair share their secrets. She wants to know what happened to the child she took to term, while he is haunted by thoughts of his former boss, the remains of whose body Barrens saw.

Considering that Callahan's terrible death is on the record as a Retirement, he hasn't informed management of what he witnessed, for fear having his memories manipulated. He hasn't given up, however; he hopes his imminent transfer to Long Term Investigations will free him up to investigate the Callahan case, but the answers he happens upon only beg bigger questions.

In time, "a terrible pattern can be discerned. People are being erased from the system. As if they had never been born. Others have had their files modified, evidence of falsified Retirement." (p.45) It becomes clear that there's a murderer aboard the Noah—Mincemeat, our couple christen him, or her, or it—or perhaps a cabal of killers, because, quite impossibly, these deaths seem to have been happening for hundreds of years.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Quoth the Scotsman | Nick Harkaway on The Imagery of Britishness

This year promises to be a pivotal period for the population of Scotland. In September, in case you weren't aware, the people will participate in a referendum on independence, the results of which will determine whether or not our country remains in the UK.

Now this is not, nor will it ever be, a political blog, but what it is to be British—what it means, really—has been a question asked frequently recently, and I found the following diatribe from Nick Harkaway's new book, which I'm currently reading for review, illuminating in that light:
Dealing with Brits was tricky. You had to listen to what a Brit was saying—which was invariably that he thought XYZ was a terrific idea and he hoped it went very well for you—while at the same time paying heed to the greasy, nauseous suspicion you had that, although every word and phrase indicated approval, somehow the sum of the whole was that you'd have to be a mental pygmy to come up with this plan and a complete fucking idiot to pursue it. After six years working with the Brits in various theatres he'd come to the conclusion that they didn't do it on purpose. The thing was, Brits actually thought that subtext was plain text. To a Brit, the modern English language was vested with hundreds of years of unbroken history and cultural nuance, so that every single word had a host of implications depending on who said it to whom, when, and how. 
Originally—when he had believe it was some sort of snobbish post-colonial joke—this all had made Kershaw dislike the Brits, but now apparently he sort of admired it. His brother Gabe was a literature professor at Brown, and when Kershaw brought this up with him Gabe had nodded and said, yeah, absolutely, but you had to read T. S. Eliot to understand. So Jed Kershaw had bought The Waste Land from Amazon dot come and read it here in Mancreu. The Waste Land was a fucking terrifying document of gasping psychological trauma, and it was plenty relevant to the island, but the important point about it was that Eliot was trying to make use of something called an 'objective correlative,' which was an external reference point everyone would understand in the same way without fear of misapprehension. Kershaw found this revealing, he said, because it was very British. [...] Only a Brit would imagine that adding a huge raft of literary imagery to the sea of human emotion and history which was English would clarify the situation in any fucking way at all. All the same, there was something glorious in that complexity, in the fact that Brit communication took place in the gaps between words and in the various different ways of agreeing which meant 'no.' (pp.95-96)
Tigerman is out in the UK in late May, and I'll say today that it's great... if not necessarily what I expected next from the author of Angelmaker.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Guest Post | "Haunted Homes" by Alison Littlewood

There are so many things that make haunted houses ideal for a good chilling tale. Home is where the heart is, they say; it’s also where family is, the things we love. It’s where we feel safe. Not so in the haunted house, where our refuge becomes a place of nightmare. Family, more likely than not, becomes a source of terror instead of love. Death walks the hallways and rattles at the doors, and we can become trapped by the very walls we build around ourselves.

In film, I’m a sucker for a good haunted house. All that sneaking around at night completely gets to me, possibly because it’s redolent of my own childhood fears of what might be hiding in the dark. And there are those cheap jump moments that are almost expected—the thing glimpsed in the mirror as the bathroom cabinet closes; the reflection in the window; and, of course, the dreaded cellar, that emblem of the subconscious, where who knows what might be lurking. Still, I’ll jump at all of them, in part precisely because I expect them.

In literature, it’s not really about the jump moment so much as a creeping sense of dread, of the things we don’t expect, the darkness lurking inside ourselves being reflected in the things around us. It’s about atmosphere, as evoked so beautifully in some of the classics of the genre—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, James Herbert’s Haunted or Susan Hill’s Woman in Black.

The written word also has the facility to place us on the inside, sharing the character’s thoughts but also their flawed perceptions and understanding. One of my favourite haunted house novels of recent times has just such a flawed protagonist. The eponymous Audrey, of Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan, is struggling to emerge from a broken relationship and an upbringing with a mentally ill mother. She moves into the Breviary, an apartment building constructed by proponents of a movement called chaotic naturalism. When we discover that her ridiculously cheap apartment was recently a crime scene, we can feel the walls closing in before anything supernatural happens. Audrey, an architect, soon finds herself obsessed with doors, adding them to plans where no doors should be. When she is compelled to build a door in the middle of her apartment—leading to what?—the fear ramps up. It’s tense, clever and genuinely scary.

Another favourite of mine is Dark Matter by Michelle Paver [Ooh! I liked that one too—Ed]. Often, haunted houses are isolated, removed from sources of help and the normalising effect of other people. Here is an Arctic outpost rather than a house, but for the main character, Jack, it becomes his only home and refuge in the midst of a wilderness. Poor and disillusioned, he is recruited for the expedition by a group of men he sees as being a ‘cut above’, but problems beset the others until only Jack remains. The outpost becomes his home, one surrounded by snowy wastes and the endless dark. As it begins to seem he isn’t quite alone after all, we begin to wonder whether the haunting is a ghost or the effects of extreme isolation on Jack’s personality. The novel is set in the 1940s and is told in Jack’s diary entries, and it is his idiosyncratic voice that is a great part of the novel’s strength.

Short stories can be ideal for evoking an atmosphere, for encapsulating a moment in time or a distilled emotion, and as such they lend themselves well to the haunted house theme. House of Fear, edited by Jonathan Oliver, is an anthology of contemporary ghostly tales by practitioners like Stephen Volk, Adam Nevill, Robert Shearman, Sarah Pinborough, Christopher Priest, Tim Lebbon and many more. It’s a showcase, not just of some very fine authors, but of the huge range of approaches that can result from the theme: some traditional, some distinctly modern, others more surreal, while others question the concept of what it is that constitutes a haunting at all. The creativity on offer shows how far the concept of a haunted house can be reinvented and given fresh life; certainly, the tried and tested idea seems to be in no danger of dying out.


Alison Littlewood is the author of A Cold Season, published by Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus. The novel was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, where it was described as “perfect reading for a dark winter’s night.” Her second novel, Path of Needles, is a dark blend of fairy tales and crime fiction, and her third, The Unquiet House, is a ghost story set in the Yorkshire countryside.

Alison’s short stories have been picked for The Best Horror of the Year and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies, as well as The Best British Fantasy 2013 and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10. Other publication credits include the anthologies Terror Tales of the Cotswolds, Where Are We Going? and Never Again. Alison lives in Yorkshire with her partner Fergus. Visit her at