Sunday, 10 May 2020
'Museum curator Thomas and ten-year-old Anglo-Saxon, Wulfstan, have to cope with a fifty-year age gap, a huge culture clash and never knowing from one moment to the next who’s going to be in control.
As they’re trying to come to terms with it all, they inadvertently antagonise Wulfstan’s father, King Offa of Mercia. The King is already frustrated with his son’s “late” development and issues the boy a challenge. Wulfstan is given just a year to find and train ten slaves who can beat the King’s own champions in a fight to the death, but there’s a twist.
When his son accepts the challenge, Offa turns the screws to make him back down and limits him to females only. In the brute strength world of Anglo-Saxon battle they surely haven’t a chance, but Thomas convinces Wulfstan that if they can find the right people, a few new ideas and enough practice might just give those women the tools to become the heroes Wulfstan so desperately needs.'
Considering the themes at play in this engrossing story, I must say that the author has done a skilful job at threading them together. Part history lesson, transcendent spiritual journey, an examination of early proto-feminism and with many digs at the corruption of the early church, this is an unusual book. I long for it to be optioned as a series.
The pace is really efficient as it covers a year in the life of young Wulfstan as he sets out to challenge the truly-hissable villain Grimketil. If the history is as accurate as it is portrayed here, then it depicts a frightening age of deprivation particularly if you were poor, female or a slave.
It's interesting to note the power that the church had over literacy, for example, and the way in which education was denied to little girls. I enjoyed all the descriptions of technology that we now take for granted. But it's the foregrounding of female experience here that wins the day, in a genre of fiction that so often privileges the male view. It's a book that wears its emancipated heart on its sleeve. I look forward to future volumes.
Buy it here
Follow the author on Twitter
Friday, 3 April 2020
'The city of iRemember shimmers in the desert haze, watched over by the Bureau, a government agency that maintains control through memory surveillance and little pink pills made from the narcotic plant Tranquelle.
It looks like an oasis under its geodesic dome, but the city is under siege. ‘Off-Gridder’ insurgents are fighting to be forgotten.
Bureau Inspector Icara Swansong is on a mission to neutralise the threat. Her investigation leads her into iRemember’s secret underbelly, where she finds herself a fugitive from the very system she had vowed to protect. She has to learn new rules: trust no one. Behind every purple Tranquelle stalk lurk double-agents.
A sci-fi noir with a psychedelic twist, iRemember explores the power the past holds over us and the fragility of everything: what is, what once was, and what will be.'
When you read a lot of sci-fi (and I do), it is supremely refreshing to come across a voice as assured and consistent as that of SV Bekvalac. The world she creates is compelling - like all the best sci-fi, it includes aspects of AI and opium-for-the-people that are easily recognisable.
It is a world that is still patriarchal but like all the best stories of rebellion, there's a lost princess at its core. The gloriously named Icara Swansong is the beating heart of this future-fable. Aided, abetted and frequently thwarted by the other characters in the book, her personal psychodrama inspires the catharsis that may - or may not - improve the lot of humankind.
I particularly liked the portrayal of our poor old planet; part dystopian Mad Max desert and Philip K Dick last-chance saloon, it seemed simultaneously all too real and just far enough distant for the reader to think 'no! we can reverse all this!'
But back to the author's voice. She writes in a clipped noir style that wastes not a single word. Her style is breathtaking, and this was the stand-out element of the book for me. It ends with a hint at a sequel. We can but hope.
Buy it at Amazon.
SV Bekvalac was born in 1987 in Croatia, in what was then Yugoslavia, but grew up in London.
She studied German and Russian at Oxford, and went to film school in Prague. After almost becoming a film-maker and then an academic, researching cities and films, she found herself writing fiction about cities instead. She started off with screenplays and short stories, but they got longer and longer. iRemember is her first novel.
She has lived in cities all over Europe. Now she lives in London, or in one of her own imaginary cities.
Follow her on Twitter.
Friday, 20 March 2020
'Dr Helene Vermalle is shaping the conscience of a goddess-level AI.
As a leading civilian expert in Emergent AI Socialisation, she has been invited to assist in a secret military project.
Her role? Helping ViraUHX, the most advanced AI in the universe, to pass through four theoretical development stages. But it’s not easy training a mind that surpasses her in raw intellect. And the developing AI is capable of killing her with a single tantrum.
On top of this, she must prove her loyalty to the oppressive government hovering over her shoulder. They want a weapon. She wants to instil an overriding sense of morality.
Can she teach the AI right and wrong without being categorised as disloyal?
Lost Tales of Solace are short side-stories set in the Lost Solace universe.'
Purchase Helene here.
Firstly, sincere apologies to author Karl Drinkwater for the late posting of this review. Covid-19 and its attendant precautions have been a distraction, as I'm sure they have for all of us.
It was rather splendid then to read 'Helene', as its portrayal of the burgeoning relationship between an AI and a human doctor distracted me in its turn with its evocation of an empire far far away, complete with a despotic ruler, brutish guards and Machiavellian intrigue. All this would normally have given me a sense of déjà-vu were it not for the grounding effect of the titular heroine Helene. Her exchanges with the AI were humorous, philosophical and spoke of concerns extant in the world right now - as we stand on the brink of increased automation and technological autonomy - just exactly how much control can we exert over that which we create? And what should we be using AI for?
This short story is a precursor to the the Lost Solace series (also by Karl Drinkwater). I haven't read them but on the strength of this tale, I will.
Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but lived in Wales for twenty years, and now calls Scotland his home. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.
He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.
When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.
Monday, 16 March 2020
All the Beautiful Liars
How true are the family histories that tell us who we are and where we come from? Who knows how much all the beautiful liars have embargoed or embellished the truth?
During a long flight from Europe to Sydney to bury her mother, Australian expat Katrina Klain reviews the fading narrative of her family and her long quest to understand her true origins. This has already taken her to Vienna, where she met her Uncle Harald who embezzled the Austrian government out of millions, as well as Carl Sokorny, the godson of one of Hitler's most notorious generals, and then on to Geneva and Berlin. Not only were her family caught up with the Nazis, they also turn out to have been involved with the Stasi in post-war East Germany.
It's a lot to come to terms with, but there are more revelations in store. After the funeral, she finds letters that reveal a dramatic twist which means her own identity must take a radical shift. Will these discoveries enable her to complete the puzzle of her family’s past?
Inspired by her own life story, Sylvia Petter’s enthralling fictional memoir set between the new world and the old is a powerful tale about making peace with the past and finding closure for the future.
How I love a story full of unreliable narrators! I absolutely loved this book. It reaches into the past in an indelible way, blending facts and fiction so skillfully that the reader becomes engrossed. The post-war life of the central character, Katrina, is brought to life very powerfully, particularly the years she spends away from the country of her upbringing.
It's a reminder that to understand ourselves we must understand the past, however unreliably it is told to us. it was also fascinating to me to consider how it must have been to continue to live when you're on the losing side - not just once with the Nazis but also with the Stasi. If love and compassion endure then so does fear and cruelty - sometimes hand-in-hand. Ultimately, I felt I cared about Katrina and admired the way she struck out on her own in the face of familial disapproval to make her own way in life. her indomitable spirit and intelligence are to be admired.
I'd love to sit down with the author and discuss all this, as it's based on on real events. Exhaustively researched, it imbues the story with a spirit of place that I feel could not exist without the the personal emotional investment of the author. Recommended.
Purchase Link: Amazon
Sylvia Petter was born in Vienna but grew up in Australia, which makes her Austr(al)ian.
She started writing fiction in 1993 and has published three story collections, The Past Present, Back Burning and Mercury Blobs. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales.
After living for 25 years in Switzerland, where she was a founding member of the Geneva Writers’ Group, she now lives in Vienna once more.
52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner
Are you ready to become the writer you were always meant to be?
52 Weeks of Writing will get you cracking by making you plan, track, reflect on, and check in with your progress and goals an entire year long.
52 Weeks of Writing will help you dig deep by offering questions and writing prompts designed to unravel whatever truths about your writing you’re ready for.
52 Weeks of Writing will keep you inspired by delivering a thought-provoking writing quote every week.
- Do you struggle with setting goals that reflect your daily reality?
- Do you want to practise breaking goals down into manageable chunks?
- Would you like more insight into your writing habit(s) and figure out why you keep getting in your own way?
- And do you want to create a sustainable writing practice that honours your needs and desires as a writer?
Then the 52 Weeks of Writing: Author Journal and Planner is for you.
52 Weeks of Writing brings together every lesson Mariëlle S. Smith has learned as a writing coach and writer. Wary as she is of comparisonitis and unhealthy competition, this author journal and planner was designed to help writers develop and fine-tune a practice that works for them.
If you’re ready to get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be, pick up your copy of 52 Weeks of Writing today.
Very often, I find the prospect of another 'new' way of holding myself accountable when writing quite daunting, but the pleasant surprise about 52 Weeks of Writing' is that it has built-in progression sections which make it easy to complete. In a way this would be an important document looking back over a whole year, in terms of one's own development as a writer. Only recently on Bang2write there was much dicussion of Malcolm Gladwell's assertion that it takes 10,000 hours to truly develop one's craft as a writer. I can only think that something concrete like this writing journal would be a valuable contribution to this lengthy process.
I particularly enjoyed the themed quotes at the beginning of each week. I also liked the regular opportunities for reflection and personal development. You can literally start the process at any time of year. I wonder if participants of NaNoWriMo might like this approach. For long-term projects and multiple drafts of scripts and novels, it could prove invaluable.
Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, (ghost) writer, and custom retreat organiser. In 2019, she moved to Cyprus, and island in the Mediterranean Sea, where she organises private writer’s retreats, is inspired 24/7, and feeds more stray cats than she can count.
Giveaway to win…
• THREE paperback copies of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner,
• TWO paperback copies of Tarot for Creatives: 21 Tarot Spreads to (Re)Connect to Your Intuition and Ignite That Creative Spark, and
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Tuesday, 25 February 2020
'When Matt Howard’s grandfather told him he must alter history to protect his newborn son, Matt thought the old man was crazy…
… Then he realised it was true.
Overstrike spans 4 generations of a family haunted by the prospect of an approaching alternate reality where their child has been erased from history.
Touching on themes of retro-causality, ethics and free will, and exploring ideas of cause, effect and retribution, it follows the path of Matt Howard, whose child, Ethan, is at risk, as he, his father and grandfather attempt to use their own abilities to manipulate reality in order to discover and prevent whoever is threatening Ethan.
Overstrike is volume I of Fixpoint, a trilogy about a family who discover their inherited ability to manipulate reality. It enables them to effect changes in order to safeguard themselves and all that they hold dear. But even seemingly small changes in a timeline can have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences. Follow the stories of the Howards, on a journey exploring reality, time and our own sense of self.'
When I heard that this book was about the multiverse, I was immediately intrigued. The science in this book is pretty plausible and I liked its interweaving with the family dynamic of four generations of the Howard family - the youngest of whom will be killed in the future unless their forebears utilise their unique talent for bending time and matter to their will to ensure their descendent's survival.
The great thing about the Howards is their relentless ordinariness. They're a lower middle-class family doing ordinary things - apart from their inherited condition of being able to see the Rift - all the parallel universes that exist side by side with ours. As a rapacious and increasingly fascist British government attempts to control the Howards' innate skill to its own nefarious ends, the family becomes increasingly wily in outwitting them, building up to a truly wonderful climax in preparation for book 2 of the series. It was an absolute page-turner in its final moments and you can't say any fairer than that.
That said, I felt the female characters in this book were underused and seemed rather passive and unquestioning of the husbands who are constantly absent with no explanation. Hopefully this will be addressed in book 2.
It's a great concept that would translate well to film, I think, it reminded me very much of 'Years and Years' in terms of its epic sweep and use of bodily invasive tech.
CM Angus, author and writer of Speculative fiction, Sci-fi and Horror grew up in the North East of England and now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and children. He is interested in all things creative & technological.
Currently working on Fixpoint, a series of books with each piece tackling different aspects of discontinuities in time and is a Speculative Fiction spanning 4 generations of a family haunted by the prospect of an approaching alternate reality where their child has been erased from history.
Overstrike, Volume 1 of Fixpoint, will be published by Elsewhen Press in early 2020.
To buy in the UK, click here.
To buy in the US, click here.
Follow CM Angus on Twitter here.
Thursday, 20 February 2020
She killed her unborn child. The punishment will fit the crime.
Feminism has been defeated.
Equality is a memory.
And abortion has been criminalized.
Three women find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Kate, carrying the child of a sexual predator.
Grace, whose baby will be born with a fatal deformity.
And Cindee: abused, abandoned and pregnant.
Can these three very different women come together to fight an oppressive system and win their freedom?
Find out by reading Unborn, a chilling dystopia combined with a gripping legal thriller.
I love dystopia and I love anything with birth and the reproductive rights of women as themes. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a girl will do that to you!
Unborn is set in the very near future in the easily recognisable USA of practically now – a country of right-wing, misogynist, reactionary patriarchy where even a late miscarriage will not engender any degree of support and compassion from the authorities but rather suspicion, and a set of race-based stereotypical assumptions. However, this opprobrium is not confined to poor black women; middle-class white women (hitherto always able to choose) also find themselves the wrong side of the law… Add to this heady fin-de-siècle mix a female doctor trying to protect the women in her charge in a correctional facility, and a frightened young white girl trying to survive while she awaits the birth of her unwanted child and you have a page-turner.
There is always balance in the book: not all the men are power-crazy sleazeballs, the white female lawyer is not (thankfully) the white saviour of the poor black woman, and the frightened girl is not quite the victim that she might have become in less skillful writing. There’s a legal procedural thread in the book that is an absolute doozy!
This is the first book of a series and a powerful reminder of how far women have come in terms of reproductive rights. How easily it could all be taken away. This is a story of our times. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
Buy it here in the UK.
and here in the US.
'My name's Rachel McLean and I write thrillers that make you think.
What does that mean?
In short, I want my stories to make your pulse race and your brain tick.
Do you often get through a thriller at breakneck pace but are left with little sense of what the book was really about? Do you sometimes read literary fiction but just wish something would damn well happen?
My books aim to fill that gap.
If you'd like to know more about my books and receive extra bonus content, please join my book club at rachelmclean.com/bookclub. I'll send you a weekly email with news about my writing research and progress, stories and bonus content for each book. And I'll let you know when my books are on offer.'
Follow Rachel McLean on Twitter.