Monthly Archives: August 2017

Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2

Shoreline-Issue-8-5-front-cover

Last week, I finally got to read Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2, the Edinburgh Book Festival Special Edition. Strictly speaking, I could have read it as soon as it came out – I had a digital contributor copy, but I like reading physical books.

It’s a great little collection, and I’m immensely proud to be a part of it, alongside some really great authors. (I hold out that my story isn’t nearly good enough, but people seem to disagree!)

There’s a selection of stories from early issues of Shoreline of Infinity including The Great Golden Fish by Dee Raspin, The Stilt-Men of the Lunar Swamps by Andrew J. Wilson, and, of course, 3.8 Missions by yours truly. Most of the returning stories were ones I remembered, in some cases vividly, and I can recommend all of them.

And then (for me, the really exciting part) there’s an assortment of new stories, contributed by SF authors reading at the book festival. They’re a diverse mix, but Shoreline of Infinity has always been a diverse magazine:

Edinburgh Masks by Adam RobertsI stumbled on Adam Roberts a few years ago, and have something of a love-hate relationship with his work. His books are strange, often frustrating reads, and yet whenever I find one in a bookshop I invariably buy it because the premise is just so… enticing.

He’s also one of the most versatile authors I’ve encountered, so I’m not surprised that I was surprised by Edinburgh Masks. It’s a new spin on some classic, Victorian themes, not at all the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a sci-fi collection. But Shoreline of Infinity being what it is, it fits in well here.

Lowland Clearances by Pippa Goldschmidt: a very strange, very short little story, and for me one of the highlights of the collection. It’s set in an unspecified point in the future that, while very strange, feels very close to home, almost contemporary. Is it optimistic or just unsettling? I’m not sure, but I can’t help recommending it.

The Honey Trap by Ruth EJ Booth: I’ve been reading Ruth EJ Booth’s Noise and Sparks column in Shoreline with interest, so I was even more interested to read her fiction. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not my cup of tea… for very specific and very personal reasons which I won’t go into.

It’s a great pity, because otherwise I really enjoyed The Honey Trap. It’s one of those SF stories that offers full immersion, throwing you into its world and letting you learn the rules as you go. If you’re, well, not me, you’ll probably love it.

Whimper by Nalo Hopkinson: I hadn’t come across Nalo Hopkinson before hearing her perform at Event Horizon and the more of her work I read(/listen to) the more convinced I am that I’ve been missing out. (In fact, I’m going to go and look up her books right now and stick some on my Goodreads list).

Absolutely the strangest story in the collection and, in my opinion, the best. Another story that throws you into its world and leaves you dizzy. I love it, I won’t spoil it, and I look forward to re-reading it.

New Gray Ring to Join the Olympic Five by Ada Palmer: Finally, a short essay-style piece. It’s written in the style of a newspaper article reporting the titular change to the Olympic rings. Does the gray ring represent Anarctica or the Moon? Seemingly neither.

I generally like this style of fiction, but although well-crafted this one left me a bit cold. I’m going to chalk it up to my not really caring about the Olympics!

The collection also features non-fiction by Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross and Shoreline editor Iain Maloney, excerpts from the ongoing Beachcomber comic and SF Caledonia series and a selection of poems including work by Iain M Banks and Jane Yolen.

You can buy it right over here, in ebook and print formats, starting at £3.50. I’d really recommend checking it out, and not just because I’m in it. If you’re new to Shoreline this is a great place to jump in, and if you’ve read it before, you’re sure to love it.

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My Week In Writing (27/08/17)

20170826_142243Well, the festival’s nearly over. I haven’t taken in as much theatre as I’d have liked, but I suppose there’s still time!

This week, I went to see Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at the National Museum.

The artefacts on display weren’t, for the most part, especially interesting to me, but the whole experience was really great.

I’d heard some complaints about how it represented the Jacobites themselves (in particular, there being almost no references to Gaelic speakers) but having seen it for myself I’m not especially troubled. It’s very clearly an exhibition about the Stuarts in exile, not about the ordinary Jacobites.

It’s a very heavy exhibition and gets heavier as you go along, but it also includes this delightful tartan suit so… I don’t really have a point. They’d put shoes on the suit, which made it look a lot less silly.

Then I went on a little trip to see Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2 for sale in the book festival shop, which was very exiting and very stuffy.

I finished reading The Dark Side of the Sun and reviewed it on Goodreads, and also worked through a little backlog of book reviews. And I read Shoreline 8 1/2, or the new short stories, anyway.  Thoroughly recommended, and not just because I’m in it.

I also finished a round of edits on my novel, so I’m now working very diligently to edit it down to a more reasonable length. It’s lost 2000 words already, and hopefully I can keep the pace up. So far it’s fiddly and a bit tedious, but not actually difficult.

Next week, I’m planning to start reading Strata and, hopefully, get another 7-10,000 words out of my novel.

 

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2017 Books

Between job interview prep and the new job, I’m swamped this week. So: I thought I’d cheat a bit, and share some thoughts on some of the books I’ve read this year, since we’re now somewhat past the midpoint of 2017.

On closer inspection, I’ve read 37 books this year and reviewed… well, quite a lot of them. So I whittled my list down to five which I’d most recommend. (Links where possible go to my Goodreads reviews.)

17283497The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon: In a word, phenomenal. I’m struggling to think of anyone I don’t think would enjoy it (though it has some one-star reviews so evidently some people out there hated it!) It’s not perfect, but it’s insightful and grand in its scope and I had a great time.

 

23156005The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Grabbed it in a charity shop while killing time before an appointment, and very glad I did. A rare book about writers and writing that isn’t the ‘sad, aging straight white male’ variety. Creepy, melancholy, and strangely inspiring. (Even if very obviously written by a man.)

10474369Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay: “This is another of those books that really warrants an essay… Red Dust Road is a very personal reflection on family and ethnic and racial identity. It’s a fascinating and moving read.”

 

24999117Steven Universe: Too Cool For School: “(it) will resonate with anyone who’s ever been the shy kid or the new kid in the class (both, in my case). And it blends nicely with Steven Universe’s usual brand of sci-fi – the clash between ordinary humans and the Crystal Gems is always a delight.”

24933757The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin: “In a word, stunning.”

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My Week In Writing (21/08/17)

20170807_220847Obligatory reminder that Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2 is on sale right now, for the low low price of £10!

That shameless shill aside: this week I went to the launch event for, you guessed it, Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2. Listened to some strange and fascinating music, heard some great sci-fi and fantasy from authors in the book, heard some bad jokes, the usual.

I also had the very strange experience of hearing my own work performed – apparently it was a last minute addition to the closing musical performance, so I found out as the performance was in progress.

My thought process was something along the lines of: 1) which story is this? 2) this isn’t very good. 3) Wait a minute. 4) Is this my story?

It was performed by Atzi and the Reverse Engineer, who do, respectively, sensational cello and ambient techno. A very strange, very atmospheric bit of music and ambient sound. They made my story sound way better than I wrote it. Go see them perform, if you were have the opportunity, because they were fantastic and also super friendly!

In other news: I have a job interview coming up this week, which I am most definitely not prepared for.

I’m now editing chapter eleven of thirteen of my novel, so this round of edits should be done fairly soon. I feel like this section probably drags a bit, but cuts are in the next round so I shan’t worry about that just yet!

While I’m talking (very regularly) about Shoreline of Infinity, they also have an upcoming flash fiction contest, which I’m hoping to enter, if I can come up with an ide.a Details here.

I finished reading The Thirteen Guests, which I found a little exposition-y, but it had a solid final twist (and ultimately, surprisingly little murder). I’m now reading The Dark Side of the Sun, largely out of interest in Terry Pratchett’s early work, but I’m actually enjoying it far more than I expected.

Other that that, if I’m going to be brutally honest, I’ve not been doing much at all. Here’s to a more productive week ahead.

 

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Fringe 2017 Reviews: Julius Caesar (With Pirates)

fde992_527ef8796fe0460f800cb789ce6bd666~mv2There’s mutiny afoot on the pirate ship, Rome.  Fresh from his victory over former captain Pompey, Caesar’s tyrannical command causes unrest amongst the crew. A mutiny supported by first mate Brutus might help restore democracy to the ship, if greed and in-fighting don’t get the better of the mutineers’ good intentions.

This is the second production I’ve seen by Some Kind of Theatre. Last year’s Steampunk Tempest was a little rough around the edges, but inventive, funny, and ultimately true to the source material.

I’m surprised they chose Julius Caesar as a follow-up – if I had to guess, I’d have expected them to stick with the comedies, not tackle one of Shakespeare’s heaviest plays. The other productions of Julius Caesar at the fringe this year include an all-female production described as ‘relevant and gritty’ and a production set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

Some Kind of Theatre takes a totally different route, presenting Julius Caesar – with PIRATES! And you know what? I’m all for it. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, and the soothsayer is a talking parrot.

Aesthetically, for the scale of the production it looks great. It’s part of Some Kind of Theatre’s Shakespeare on the Sofa project, portable productions designed to fit into any venue, intended to make Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience.

The storybook backdrop is ingenious, simple but very effective, and the piratical aesthetic is very slick. If you’re smart enough you don’t need a whole lot to make a real impression. It’s a nicely choreographed, visually appealing, concise little production.

The concept of Julius Caesar as a pirate captain is an interesting one – sailing the ship of state, perhaps? Ha. There is some cognitive dissonance from the fact that the characters are now ostensibly outlaws rather than the state government, but given what a light-hearted production it is, I’m willing to let that slide.

I was pleased to see that, silly as the premise is, they didn’t shy away from the play’s darker moments – despite the talking parrot and the swashbuckling swordfights, it’s still a story about politics and murder, and the bloody heart of it comes through.

Julius Caesar has (I gather) a complicated plot and a lot of characters and for the most part they’ve done a good job of condensing it down into an hour and the minimum of players. However, I was a bit uncomfortable the resulting handling of Mark Antony.

In this production, Mark Antony is a woman – and Caesar’s wife, combined with the character of Calpurnia. On one level, the gender flip is a bit of a masterstroke.

When Mark Antony is a woman, you get a story in which Caesar’s murderers don’t expect any retribution because they’d never expect Mark Antony to declare war on them. They let her speak at Caesar’s funeral because they assume they can control her. The line Your voice shall be as strong as any man’s /In the disposing of new dignities takes on a whole new meaning.

But did she really have to be Caesar’s wife? I recognise that someone had to have the portentous dream (that Caesar ignores) but that role could have gone to Antony without their being married.

I’m of the opinion that, as a general rule, you can either have two Shakespearean characters who are, in the original text, close platonic friends be lovers or have one of them be a woman. When you do both, the implications get a little unfortunate.

I’d be more charitable here were it not for the fact that last year’s Steampunk Tempest also contained some… strange cross-gender casting (I’ve never seen a woman play Caliban before, and frankly it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat). I’d suggest that they think through the possible implications in future!

Otherwise, though, I had a good time! It’s not the smoothest Shakespearean production you’ll see at the Fringe this year – some of the cast do struggle at times with the dialogue, making the plot hard to follow for those of us who haven’t read the play – but it’s certainly one of the cheapest, and the only one with pirates. And a talking parrot (puppet).

Julius Caesar (With Pirates) is on until August 18th 7PM @ Black Market. Entry is free, suggested donation £5. Take your friends, get some culture, enjoy some pirate antics.

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My Week In Writing (13/08/17)

20170811_183900Well, first of all the big news: the book I’m in came out yesterday! Shoreline of Infinity Issue 8 1/2, available now in ePub, PDF, Kindle and print formats. Price starts at £3.50. Go grab a copy! I’ll be sure to shill it again once I’ve read it.

The launch is on Wednesday evening, and I’m very excited.

Otherwise: still settling into my new job, and looking for something more permanent.

I’m working my way through my novel – so far, I’ve only found one pressing issue with this draft, so I’m feeling pretty happy with it. I wish I had more time to devote to it but, work.

I’ve been listening to Doom Coalition 2, which so far I’m enjoying more than the first volume. Also, I only just now realised River Song is in it (spoilers!) – really excited to see what Big Finish does with the character, because I adore Alex Kingston. Otherwise, full review upcoming.

I’m still reading The Thirteen Guests, which is taking longer to get through than I expected – it should be quicker now, though, because the murders have started and I’m itching to find out where it’s going.

And I went to see a PBH Free Fringe production of Julius Caesar – now with pirates! I intend to review it when I have the time (preferably before the run finishes) so watch this space.

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Review: Doom Coalition 1

doomDoom Coalition is the second in Big Finish’s run of Eight Doctor boxset series, a sort of series of mini-series. The first, Dark Eyes, was something of an experimental piece – the first volume was actually intended as a standalone. Doom Coalition was apparently planned as four boxsets from the outset.

And I’m not going to lie, it does feel like a little bit of a cashgrab. Dark Eyes was experimental and a big risky and it paid off, so naturally they have to do another one, equally ominously-titled.

But I can hardly complain. After all, I did buy all four volumes, and it’s not as if I didn’t have great fun listening to the first four stories:

The Eleven by Matt Fitton

The Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey to deal with a dangerous escaped criminal: the Eleven, a Time Lord who, for reasons unknown, has retained the consciousnesses of all his previous incarnations.

The Eleven is mostly an action-packed thriller, a solid hour of the heroes trying (and failing) to keep the Eleven from escaping Gallifrey, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Classic Who’s handful of stories set on Gallifrey are, in my opinion, generally a bit weak. They generally lack both the budget and the creativity to properly realise the seat of the Time Lords. The Eleven is a rare gem, playing up both the familiar (graduate students) and the alien (mind probes) elements of Gallifreyan society.

The Red Lady by John Dorney

The Doctor and his companion Liv travel to London circa 1963, where they meet new companion Helen Sinclair and find a deadly menace lurking in a collection of antiquities.

This is some seriously creepy stuff. I think the only word for it is Moffat-esque; eerie, psychological, and mysterious. It follows in the footsteps of Blink and The Impossible Astronaut, but still manages to feel fresh and original.

The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt

The Doctor, Liv and Helen travel to Renaissance-era Florence in search of the Doctor’s old friend Galileo, only to find the city beset by a mysterious plague, terrifying monsters – and that Galileo wants them as far away from him as possible.

I remember that I enjoyed listening to The Galileo Trap, but a week or so on it’s some of difficult to remember the plot. There’s just so much going on, the script juggling setting up the boxset finale with a complicated plot involving Galileo, outer space bounty hunters, and cyborg police officers. The result is a bit of a jumble, but a fun one.

The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier

Straight into the next adventure, the Doctor decides to spring the trap and goes straight to the Eleven’s new stronghold – a planet-sized factory floating between Mercury and the Sun.

The Satanic Mill is seriously atmospheric, with a setting that’s viscerally disturbing. Left on their own, Liv and Helen really get a chance to shine, rallying the factory workers into a revolution.

In retrospect, though, the main focus of the narrative is really just the Doctor figuring out what’s going on in the factory. Once that mystery is solved, the remainder of the story is mostly just him escaping the Eleven’s trap with relative ease, a lot of running about and shouting, and a whole lot of unanswered questions as the Eleven refuses to explain his grand plan.

That said, the concept behind The Satanic Mill is so twisted and so brilliant that it’s hard to complain.

Overall, as I said, I had a really good time listening to Doom Coalition 1. It’s four hours of good, solid Doctor Who.

The standout story is definitely The Red Lady, which is a little disappointing as it’s the only standalone story in the boxset – it’s a pity it outshines the main drama.

Helen Sinclair has the potential to be a great addition to the TARDIS team – I like Liv Chenka in theory, but in practice she’s such a grim, jaded character that she can get a bit wearing. She’s definitely at her best when she has a brighter, less cynical companion to balance her out.

After her first story Helen didn’t have as much to do as I might have liked – she spends a lot of The Galileo Trap being bewildered at what’s going on and The Satanic Mill is focused heavily on the Doctor and the Eleven. However, there’s still three more boxsets (twelve more episodes) to come so room to grow!

I have mixed feelings about the Eleven. The idea of a Time Lord with multiple consciousnesses in the same body is a logical and interesting extrapolation from existing canon, but it’s saddening that the writers felt that such a character naturally had to be a villain, given how stigmatised DID and other similar disorders are in real life.

Even leaving that aside, in the stories I’ve listened to he’s come across as ‘the Master, but he does funny voices sometimes’, which is a disappointingly common trap for Doctor Who writers to fall into, when writing Time Lords villains!

I’d give it a solid 7/10, and I’m looking forward to volume 2.

 

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