Sundry news of word and book

20 05 2018

It’s been a more protracted process than I would have wished, but it appears that the severance of my books from Peggy Bright Books, their former publisher, is now complete — or as complete as I am able to arrange. The final step has been the transfer of the PBB editions of Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body and Wide Brown Land: stories of Titan to my own imprint: this was effected overnight, courtesy of the distributor, and those editions have now been cancelled since they effectively duplicated the new self-published editions of those titles. The PBB ebook of Wide Brown Land should disappear fairly quickly, I think, from the online retailers; the print PBB editions are likely to linger for some time at the retailers, until the physical stock is exhausted. But at least I have now ensured that no new PBB stock of those titles can be generated in competition with my own editions. It … has taken a while, and it has been an odd sort of journey.

The ‘unpublication’ has also meant the disappearance of my earlier works: the collections Rare Unsigned Copy and Difficult Second Album, the novella Flight 404, and the stories which were collected in The Gordon Mamon Casebook. I remain uncertain as to whether to re-release Flight 404, but I do have firm plans for two new collections to make available again much of the other material, later in the year. There will be a new, ‘officially complete’ collection of my Gordon Mamon stories, to be titled Murder on the Zenith Express. This will include a newly-completed novella, ‘This Guy’s The Limit’, which like the others is a space-elevator murder mystery with puns. And an unthemed collection, for which I have a title (that is, nonetheless, to be kept under wraps until the wordcount is finalised), will include the strongest stories (both lighter and darker) from Rare Unsigned Copy and Difficult Second Album as well as a significant serving of newer stories. The release date for these new collections is still around four months away, but I’m looking forward to pushing them out into the world.

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Book review: Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

13 05 2018

Nnedi Okorafor is an American speculative fiction writer, of Nigerian heritage, who has become one of the most well-known proponents of what is now termed ‘Afrofuturism’, a subgenre of speculative fiction which draws largely on African lore and culture. Okorafor has won numerous awards for her work, including the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. I’ve previously reviewed the first ‘Binti’ novella, Binti, here.

BintiHome

In Binti: Home, master harmoniser Binti, whose studies at Oomza Uni are (for the most part) progressing well, is drawn to return to her homeland, so she can partake in the pilgrimage which is a rite-of-passage for her people, the Himba. But going home is not straightforward, for Binti has grown in ways that are highly atypical for her people: she has escaped off-planet, she has been exposed to a plethora of alien cultures on Oomza, she has become innately connected with Okwu, a member of the warfaring alien race, the Meduse, with which Binti has been pivotal in securing a truce. To the Khoush people, especially, who live alongside the Himba, the Meduse are murderous monsters: how will they perceive Binti’s decision to have Okwu accompany her to Earth? And for that matter, how will Binti herself cope with the flight back aboard Third Fish, the living ship aboard whom Binti had earlier been the only human survivor of a vicious assault by the Meduse on the flight to Oomza?

Binti: Home is a busy, fizzy, deeply-felt novella that explores the uneasy interaction between tradition, change, and personal growth. It frequently seems to be pulling in several directions at once, ensuring that the narrative is at times disorienting, but the end result is to convey a complicated world—indeed, a complicated universe—that is distinctly larger than the novella it contains. The worldbuilding is expansive and impressive, and Binti is a complex and sympathetic character, wearing her strengths alongside her vulnerabilities (and on occasion mistaking which is which). And Okorafor ensures that readers will want to find out what happens next, in the series’ concluding novella.





Book review: The Darkest Day, by Håkan Nesser

8 05 2018

Håkan Nesser is a Swedish writer, mostly of crime fiction, best known for his series of ten ‘Van Veeteren’ novels set in the fictional city of Maardam, the nationality of which is never specified though it combines predominantly Dutch nomenclature with a somewhat Scandinavian sensibility. He’s a three-time winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award, a winner of the Gold Key Award, and is currently on the shortlist for this year’s Petrona Award. I’ve previously reviewed three of his books here, including two of the Van Veeteren series.

TheDarkestDay

The Darkest Day (Människa utan hund, 2006, translated by Sarah Death) is the first of Nesser’s ‘Inspector Barbarossi’ series, although the Inspector himself does not feature at all until page 185, over a third of the way into the novel. The focus is on a family celebration gone disastrously wrong, as what should be a momentous and happy occasion turns into a slow-rolling train wreck of a reunion. Newly retired patriarch Karl-Erik Hermansson is celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday on the same day that his robustly businesslike elder daughter Ebba is turning forty; his outwardly-devoted wife Rosemarie Wunderlich Hermansson, a fellow newly-retired teacher, nurses a secret ambition to kill either herself or her husband over his ambition that they sell up their home of thirty-eight years in the (fictional) Swedish town of Kymlinge to relocate to Spain’s ‘Costa Geriatrica’; only son Robert has disgraced himself, some months previously, through an inebriated act of spectacularly public masturbation during filming of a lowest-common-denominator TV show in which he had been appearing. It’s the kind of setup which, in a lengthy and slow-moving novel, could well turn turgid, and yet Nesser’s characterisation and portrayal is a delight. There’s ample time given, in an introductory sequence that busies itself with the kind of skeweringly precise social observation that somehow the Van Veeteren novels (perhaps due to their deliberately muddled location) have not seemed to accommodate, to get to know the several principal members of the Hermansson clan, and therefore to feel genuinely invested in their welfare when first one and then another of those family members goes inexplicably missing within a 24-hour interval.

The novel is well-imbued with black humour, arising more from the character interaction than from the situations unfolding within the tale, and yet the tension of the last hundred pages or so is almost excruciating, as forces converge towards a chillingly disastrous finale. It is, I have to say, very well done.





Book review: I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, by Connie Willis

4 05 2018

Connie Willis is an American SF / fantasy writer best known for a series of multiple-award-winning ‘time travel’ novels, but with a lengthy bibliography of other notable works. She’s won eleven Hugo and seven Nebula Awards.

IMetATravellerInAnAntiqueLand

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is a novella in which the protagonist, Jim, an author seeking refuge among the rain-swept streets of Manhattan following a deeply antagonistic radio interview, stumbles into the doorway of a hole-in-the-wall second-hand bookstore, Ozymandias Books. The bookstore’s shelving can best be described as ‘chaotic’, with obscure works by Herman Melville and Shakespeare placed cheek by jowl with various ephemera such as The Vagabond Boys Go To Carlsbad and a Tiger Beat picture bio of Leonardo DiCaprio, and the pricing on the books can safely be called nonexistent. As can the store’s customers: there’s just Jim and a sales clerk (he supposes) seated at a desk near the storefront. In short, it’s difficult to see how such an ostensibly anticommercial enterprise can endure in such a competitive and high-rent urban environment. And when Jim takes it upon himself to follow an employee back through the ‘Staff Only’ door, then down an improbably long sequence of staircases into a vast storage space, the mystery deepens … just what kind of operation is this Ozymandias Books?

There’s a strong subcurrent of portal fantasy to Willis’s novella, grounded though it is in the ostentisbly-recognisable world of the real. It’s a tale which, when assessed against some of Willis’s work over the years—I’m thinking here, especially, of such classic and groundbreaking stories as ‘All My Darling Daughters’ and ‘Even the Queen’—might seem slight, but it’s closely imagined (and full of the titles of unreachable books which sound, in various ways, as though they’d be fascinating) and leads to its conclusion with both inevitability and sadness, as seems appropriate for a story which is, at heart, both a paean and an elegy to the printed book.





A brief publishy update

27 04 2018

There has been progress, of sorts, in the ongoing saga of my books. While the older editions have yet to disappear from the main online vendors (the wheels of behemoths sometimes turn slow, if indeed behemoths are those things that have wheels, which they’re probably not), listings for the new editions (which will be self-published) have begun to crop up.

Several of my older titles—Rare Unsigned Copy, Difficult Second Album, Flight 404, The Gordon Mamon Casebook—will either be retired or will be put up on blocks in the workshop, in preparation for re-tuning, repair, and possible subsequent re-release. (I’m currently halfway through a new Gordon Mamon story, so that may give some hint as to which titles may or may not be back in some form.)

For now, the titles which will come closest to maintaining continuity of publication are my two most recent books, Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body and Wide Brown Land: stories of Titan. The (re)release dates for these are April 30th (ebooks, both titles) and May 4th (paperbacks, both titles).

(Brief publishy update ends.)





Another incoming review

20 04 2018

In the absence of further clarity on the publication status of my books, I can at least mention that Sue Bursztynski, a former colleague from my ASIM days, has posted a detailed and thoughtful review of Wide Brown Land:

WBL_frontcover_draft_midres

There are no space cadets in these stories, no mad scientists, no lunatics trying to take over the universe, just ordinary people trying to live a normal life in a place that isn’t normal. This is hard science fiction written by a scientist who knows his stuff. If we ever do go to Titan, it will very likely be much like this. The world building is first-class.

As usual, I’ve provided merely a snippet from the review, and recommend that you head across to Sue’s blog, The Great Raven, to see it in its entirety.

 





Book review: Dregs, by Jørn Lier Horst

20 04 2018

Jørn Lier Horst is a Norwegian crime fiction author and former Senior Investigating Officer in the Vestfold police force. His work has won several notable Scandinavian crime fiction awards, including the Riverton, Glass Key, Martin Beck, and Petrona Awards. He is best known for his series of eleven police procedural novels featuring detective William Wisting; the latter six of these novels, starting with Dregs, have been published in English translation. I’ve previously reviewed the most recent instalment in the Wisting sequence, When It Grows Dark, here.

Dregs

Dregs (Bunnfall, 2010, translated by Anne Bruce) opens with the discovery of a waterlogged running shoe washed ashore in Stavern’s bay. It’s the second such running shoe to have beached in the past week. This would hardly be a coincidence worth remarking, except for three things: one, the shoes don’t match in brand, size, or age; two, they’re both left shoes; and three, they each still contain the severed left feet of their respective owners. While the first shoe’s discovery had not automatically been taken as an indication of foul play—bodies lost at sea can break up over time, and shod feet are sometimes found in isolation as a result of natural processes—the second raises a clear red flag. Wisting is placed in charge of the resulting investigation.

The premise of Dregs is sufficiently unusual that it engages the reader’s curiosity from the outset. This, and the novel’s careful, precise detail are major drawcards. Lier Horst’s earlier police career gives the book a verisimilitude analogous to that found in the crime fiction of former Norwegian policewoman, lawyer, and Justice Minister Anne Holt, or of Swedish criminologists Leif G W Persson and Christoffer Carlsson, though the sparsely descriptive, somewhat self-minimising tone of Dregs is closer than any of these to Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s pioneering (and excellent) ‘Martin Beck’ series. (It’s refreshing, too, to encounter a Nordic sleuth who isn’t, in one way or another, in the thrall of substance abuse.) The characterisation, notably the capable Wisting himself, his journalist daughter Line, his colleague Torunn Borg, and the convicted-murderer-turned-mechanic Ken Ronny Hauge (who is one of the ex-cons Line is conducting in-depth interviews with, for a major article she’s writing) is certainly strong enough to help keep the reader invested in the story. (Mention should also be made, however, of one of my frequent pet peeves in Scandicrime, which Lier Horst’s characterisation falls hostage to: the Obviously Irritating Colleague, played here by the promotion-hungry Assistant Chief of Police, Audun Vetti. While such characters can occasionally play a useful role in a story, they need to be sculpted with care so as to convince the reader of their validity; all too often, they’re mishandled.)

What most impresses with Dregs, and what seems most likely to linger in the mind, is the crime, which has been constructed with a robust eye to detail and which resonates because of this. It’s an excellent starting point for those curious about Lier Horst’s fiction (particularly since the five preceding books in the series haven’t yet been translated). Recommended.