Grammarly: A not-bad grammar checking tool (30/8/2013)

Posted in Critical Failures

Grammarly: A grammar checking tool

So what follows here is slightly unusual fare for this blog but it’s writing related and turned out to be a bit more of an interesting experiment than I initially thought. So . . . a few months back I was invited to play with a grammar checking tool and, for some reason I still don’t understand, imagined this would come complete with an extra day tucked into the week somewhere in which to play with it. Still, it was an interesting exercise in the end. Continue reading “Grammarly: A not-bad grammar checking tool (30/8/2013)”

What’s It Got In Its Cinemases? (14/12/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

The Hobbit. So this isn’t so much a review as a series of observations which I’ll try to make as non-spoilery as possible but quietly assume you’ve read the book. Purists beware: your source material has been messed with quite considerably although this isn’t necessarily all a bad thing.

The Dwarves: The dwarves come across as something between a gang of Klingons and a bunch of children. Despite all coming from one place originally, they have accents that cover a wide chunk of Europe. They have a similarly absurd range of beards and prosthetics and some of their horses have been to the same rug-manufacturer that George Lucas used for Chewbacca. Despite all this, they worked perfectly well for me. They fit my memory of the book well enough and so does the humour. What I don’t remember is the apparent fact that the dwarves are all 20th level fighters under AD&D rules (20d6 maximum damage irrespective of distance fallen) and also made of rubber and Jell-O and can thus can be dropped from pretty much any damn height you like over and over again without ever picking up any kind of injury. There’s a bit where they find themselves trapped at the edge of a cliff and by then I was thinking: just jump, for pity’s sake. It’s only a mile straight down. You’ll be OK…

Length: I’ve heard it said the movie is too long and they take too long to get out of the Shire. It did feel too long but not for that reason. There’s too much pointless fighting in the second half. Which leads on to…

The White Orc: I get, I think, why this was added. It gives Thorin back-story some of which I think is true to the book and I’m guessing the white orc will become the focal bad-guy for when we eventually get to the Battle of the Five Armies. Doubtless there will be a climactic fight with Thorin that tips the battle and wins the day (I am quietly rolling my eyes). I understand the need to give that enemy a face and thus bring him in in the first movie, but he could have been a) much better, and b) much less present. One encounter with orcs and a back-at-orc-HQ scene would have been enough. Also, since when did orcs live for bloody ages too? And isn’t he a bit Voldemort?

Radegast and Saruman: The other extra material worked for me, even Radegast and his absurd transport system. Incredibly twee, yes, but it felt a part of the world (which is incredibly twee in place), though I haven’t read the relevant source material to see how its accuracy stands up. Radegast and the changes to what happens in Rivendell seemed to me to be about making the six movies into a coherent whole. Not terribly necessary, perhaps, given the first three movies are done and everyone in the world and space has seen them, but the OCD-driven story-teller in me would have done the same.

The Hobbit himself: Grumble. There are a couple of significant scenes (escaping the trolls and escaping the goblin king) where the the events from the book as I remember them are changed in a way that lessens Bilbo’s contribution. Yes, it’s more cinematic for Gandalf to show up and do his GAAANDAAALFFF!!! thing but it takes away from the Hobbit himself. Most of all, these changes felt unnecessary. I found the movie to be largely exquisitely gorgeous and I don’t think it  needs nearly as many ‘big moments’ as it thinks it does. As a consequence, in order to big-up his part in the company, Bilbo does something at the end which seems a unlikely, especially given that none of the battle-hardened dwarves do it first. Shame about that.

There’s a lot more humour than in The Lord of the Rings and it verges on slapstick. Mostly it worked for me. Mostly. Gollum is in the movie for ten minutes maybe and totally steals it. A good half hour of material was, I suspect, sneakily inserted by the New Zealand Tourist Board. I’d have been very happy to have had more of that and fewer CGI wargs. The whole thing was lovely to watch (in 2D at 24 frames/second anyway) – shame about the unnecessary added fighting and GAAANDAAALFF!!! moments.

A Few Reviews (21/10/12)

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Review: The Warlock’s Shadow at Lowly’s Book Blog

Review:The Black Mausoleum from the British Fantasy Society

Review: The Black Mausoleum from the Falcatta Times

If you know of any more, please let me know… A new book will be up for giving away tomorrow. Dragon Queen rewrite continues. Everything else continues to be SEKRIT and thus DULL.

Russian Problem Solving Technique and the Art of Writing (17/1/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

A long time ago in galaxy far far away, or so it feels, I once learned about a Russian methodology for solving technical problems. Genrich Altshuller’s Teoriya Resheniya Izobreatatelskikh Zadach, or the Theory of Inventive Problem solving. At the time I found much that appealed to me in this, and rather rated it. As a means to solve purely engineering problems, I still do, but it’s been an increasingly long time since I’ve had much call for it. Odd, then, that after reading that Strange Horizons review and the comments that followed it, I should find myself thinking of poor old Altshuller.

I’m not saying anything about the review itself. I’ve had worse, although perhaps not so coherent in its condemnation. The ensuing debate in the comments got me thinking, though. See the foundation of Russian Problem Solving Technique was an immense statistical analysis of Russian patent applications, and the thing I got reminded of was this:

  • About 1% of patents had breakthrough science at their core – i.e. they were based on something fundamentally new.
  • About 10% of patents were new applications of existing science – i.e. the technology was original but the underlying principles were not.
  • The remaining patents were modifications and refinements of existing patented technologies. I.e. they contained nothing really functionally new.

The Strange Horizon comments got me thinking how this applied to books. Now and then something startlingly different comes along, but its actually not all that often, and most books, really don’t push any boundaries. Same epic fantasy tropes, different magic system. Same space opera, different tech dressing. And if they tell their stories well, I think that’s OK, isn’t it?

I say poor old Altshuller, by the way, because he spent a good chunk of his time in the Gulag for his troublesome theories and later wrote a few science fiction novels, some of which doubtless received 1-star Amazon reviews.

Bore of Duty Modern Warfare 3 (30/11/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

I like first-person shooters, I really do. If I’ve got my chronology right, then so far this year I’ve played Crysis 2, Call of Duty MW2 and both Battlefield Bad Company 1 and 2 in the last twelve months. Of all of those, in hindsight, COD MW3 was the worst. Or maybe, to be fair, the least good. The least engaging.

And that, at first, struck me as a bit odd, because MW2 was awesome, if a bit short, and the graphics and settings and well the whole audio-visual experience of MW3 was as good as I remember, possibly better. And the settings! Paris, London, Prague, Hamburg. Beautiful, all of them. And all the little flips out into calling down airstrikes – yes! Explosions! Sense of god-like power! Not to mention getting to shoot the living shit out of the NY stock exchange. I seem to remember using up an awful lot more grenades than strictly necessary on that one.


But but but.

Thing is, we all know, really, that even the prettiest FPS is frequently, in essence, a long corridor with a bunch of corners. Far Cry and others kind of moved us away from that, but y’know, honestly, mostly I just get in the jeep and drive along the convenient road and then it’s a corridor again. Just bendy, instead of with corners. But dammit, Sledgehammer, these magnificent urban environments of yours do end up feeling a hell of a lot like corridors, you know. Would it have hurt to have had a few more alternative routes kicking about? Crysis 2 was probably every bit as bad, but it didn’t feel it.

The kicker, though, are the missions. Follow this bloke, follow that bloke, occasionally protect someone, but them mostly follow someone. And sometimes it’s knuckle-clenching heart-thumping action, but mostly it isn’t, and I can hide around a corner in the corridor and everything very loudly waits for me to get back to following someone.

In the final mission, there’s a sequence at the end where you have to press the right buttons at the right time to get the right outcome. At each critical moment, the game tells you exactly what to do. Kind of like a cut-scene but more irritating unless you’re good at remembering button sequences. Other shooters do the same, but it’s perfectly why MW3 was kind of disappointing. Because well over half of the game felt much the same. It’s a game that allows you to participate in its glory as a bit of a walk-on extra when you were supposed to be the star.

Review: The Ritual by Adam Nevill (13/9/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

Publisher: Pan-MacMillan

ISBN: 978-0-230-75492-8

Four former university friends, now in middle age, go on a walking holiday together in Sweden. Two of them are not, perhaps, as fit as they should be. Certainly not as prepared. It seems obvious, now they are in the wilderness, that the route they had planned is too much of a challenge, so they decide to take a short cut. Just a quick detour through a few miles of primal untouched pine forest and they’ll almost be home. A few miles, that’s all. And that’s where it all starts to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Colours to the mast: Adam Nevill writes the kind of horror I like. His tongue isn’t rammed into his cheek. There are no wry knowing looks. There isn’t much gore and the horror isn’t thrown in your face. Nevill’s approach is subtle and straight and rooted in his characters – a creeping unease, little whispers that something isn’t right the slowly build into an understanding that something is, in fact, terribly wrong. The “monster” is never fully revealed, only ever glimpsed. For the most part, the atmosphere of unease is built and maintained by seeing the world through the eyes and imaginations of story’s protagonists. This is the kind of horror I like, it worked for Nevill’s first book, Apartment 16 (except for the chapter towards the end where Stephen explains everything, grrr, Adam, grrr!) and it works for The Ritual.

For the first half of the book, there are no characters apart from the four hikers themselves. Four middle-aged men with middle-aged lives and middle-aged problems; Nevill picks them up, one by one, and squeezes them until they break. They are lost, short of food and shelter, creeped out by the discovery of various old pagan remains and the growing sense that something is in the forest with them. It’s expertly done, with the focus very much on the characters and their own degeneration, and reminded me of early Stephen King, The Fog in particular. Where Nevill breaks into descriptions of the disquieting relics they find, the language is positively disturbing and crafted to make the reactions of the four protagonists all the more believable as the true nature of the forest and their plight unfolds. This part of The Ritual has some of the best horror writing I’ve read in a very long time.

After the tautness of the first half, I found the second somewhat less compelling. There’s a change of setting and some new characters are introduced along with a lashing of nordic death-metal culture. Neither the setting nor the new characters used in the second half achieve the depth and the claustrophobia of the first. The continued degeneration of the lead character continues to work well, though, the forest itself continues to exude menace and the ending is delightfully ambiguous.

A finely crafted, creepy and disturbing piece of horror.

(originally written for Vector)

Why Comparisons are a Good Thing(TM) (8/3/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

Various quotes from the internet:

“Your review should … make comparisons to other authors or works that may be better known…” (no, the missing words aren’t ‘not’).

“The danger with mentioning comparisons to other authors is that …  you’ll mention an author that somebody doesn’t like.”

“It is good to make comparisons to other authors, but do so with care…”

“I don’t like to make comparisons to other authors, but…”

And my personal favourite: “Comparisons to other authors, however, are Halloween masks for critical thought.”

I can see why some authors don’t like to be compared to others. None of us are the same. We all think we have are own unique shtick that makes us special and unlike anyone else, and it’s probably true that we do. Being likened to some other, more established author is both being put into a box that we don’t quite fit and a reminder that we are still small-fry, struggling to establish ourselves in the big wide world. I can’t say what it’s like from the other side of the fence, being linked to every other upstart new author, but if I think about it, mostly what I imagine is eye-rolling. Mind you, I reckon if that ever happens to me, I’ll be immensely pleased about it the first few times. Sign of having become a pillar of the genre and all, so maybe not eye-rolling after all. On the whole, though, as a relative newcomer, I’ll take what I can get. I think, so far, my books have drawn comparisons to Joe Abercrombie, Anne McCaffery, Robin Hobb, Paul Kearney, George RR Martin, Naomi Novik, Oscar Wilde, and Christopher Paolini on a meth-fuelled bender. Do any of those bother me? Not at all. Bemuse me? I suspect one or two might simply refer to the fact that I have dragons in my book and little else. But on the whole, I don’t see anything for me, as an author, to object to here.

Reviewers then: That’s easy though – you’re job is to serve readers, so you don’t get an opinion :-p

And as a reader, yes, I’ll take a comparison. I like things that are new and I like things that are familiar, and some days I want one and some days I want the other, and if I’m after something familiar, then why not try an author who’s (allegedly) similar to another that I like? It’s patently obvious that the bulk of what people read is driven by a desire for more-of-what-I-had-before-that-I-liked, and that’s exactly what these comparisons serve.

So I have no problem with comparisons at all, provided they’re done well. The point of a review is largely to tell the audience enough about a book that they’re able to draw a conclusion as to whether they’re likely to enjoy it, and if the review is thoughtful and well-crafted, that conclusion ought, largely, to be correct. Comparing X to Y is a perfectly acceptable shorthand for doing exactly that. Fussing about the rightness or wrongness of doing so strikes me as missing the point: A review with a poor or lazy comparison is a poor or lazy review, and those who are minded to fuss about such things would serve the rest of us better if they fussed about that instead.

None of which is to say that they’re not Halloween masks for crical thought – merely that they don’t have to be, and if you take a mask away from a man who wants to wear one, well then he’ll likely just pick up another one instead.

Back to Work (19/10/2010)

Posted in News

Sadly there’s not so much fun to be had with this week’s collection of reviews, but one of them comes from a site called Ranting Dragon, so they’re immediately in my good books:

“Though you will immediately notice the depth of this world, it has not been given the attentions it deserves yet. However, that is what gives The Adamantine Palace its tempo, and I’m unsure if that’s such a bad thing.” Ranting Dragon. Interesting comment. Haven’t seen anyone say anything quite like that before, but that’s definitely the choise I was making when I wrote it.

Also, what amounts to a ’suitability for its target audience’ review for Thief-Taker from Readplus in Australia: The novel does contain positive messages and meaningful themes for teenagers about growing-up too fast and wanting to live in an adult world before they are fully prepared to deal with the full consequences.

There’s an interview up at Literary Musings, in which you can find out one or two little snippets about where the dragon books are going, although I should point out that nothing is certain until it’s published. In a possibly more interesting interview (in that it involves monsters and eating people), Sarah Pinborough interviews Alex Milway on her blog today. In theory.

Have finally started writing again after what’s been month off altogether now. The Black Mausoleum rumbles onwards once more. And yes, I’ll put up an page for it in the bibliography at some point. Maybe when it’s done.

Best Review Ever Not (12/10/10)

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The next stop in the Chainsaw Gang tour: Alex Gordon Smith reviews interviews David Gatward.

And an assortment of review for Thief-taker that have piled up over the last few weeks.

“…Berren’s imaginary city is full of recognizable people and emotions all of which are brilliantly conveyed in Stephen Deas’s spare and powerful storytelling”

“any reader, young or old, should give this a try and see what I am talking about.” Literary Musings

“…gripped me enough that I want to read the sequel! Great, unique storyline with well-crafted characters.” Chicklish

One from Australia too: “The characters are interesting and even mysterious … a good, well-written story for teens.” Ysfetsos

But the world is a big place, filled with diverse opinion. “The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice’ by Stephen Deas is another example of mediocrity that shouldn’t have been let past the editor’s desk,” Yes. Stupid editor. Blame him, but don’t worry, the hose is quickly turned on me. We could also call it “very soggy and misshapen cake, or book, depending on how far we’re taking this analogy.” Why? Well because it plot has been “thrown against the wall like the proverbial pasta to see if it’ll stick” with “one contrivance after another” and “Nothing is explained, everyone acts entirely unrealistically, and by the end of the book the characters you have been reading have as much depth as a sheen of water on the driveway.

Crikey, Fantasy Book Review. That sure sounds like a that sucked as a reading experience. And I kept you up late and made you miss sleep and everything, even though you skimmed and skipped large chunks? I do apologise.

Reviewed by an aspiring fantasy author who, I guess (I hope!) reckons he could do a lot better. Well go on then. Let that wasted evening goad you into achieving something and not be wasted after all.

In Defence of the Urban 4×4 Driver (14/9/2010)

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Ah well. Drawn a blank there, so I’ll wallow in self-indulgence instead. Take this Trudi Canavan (at last)!


There’s also another review that looks at both The Adamantine Palace and King of the Crags: “The first book was a marvellous debut.  The second book trumped it hands down.  The excitement, thrills and spills anticipated in the final book promise to be an incomparable fantasy ride.” Media Culture. Makes me wonder how you reviewer folks deal with trilogies – sure, the first book has to stand on its own, but does the second book? Or does the first book influence how you review the second? Do you go back and re-evaluate the whole trilogy when you’ve read all three? How often do you find yourself thinking differently about the first book after reading the last?

Something for another day. Back to the self-indulgence, and here’s a whole slew of reviews for The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice (the thematic similarity of the covers in this picture says something. I’m just waiting for the local Waterstones to have a special hooded man display (or in the case of City of Ruin not-actually-hooded-but-trying-to-act-like-he-ought-to-be) in their SFF section).


First off, an interesting review from LEC book reviews that tries to consier the novel from both an adult and a YA perspective:

“With writing, plot and characters on par or above any other YA fantasy I’ve encountered, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is an exciting start to a new series. This book deserves to find its way onto many, many bookshelves, be that of younger or older readers.

Total SciFi Online have a go at seeing from both angles too: “The characters are solid and the setting believable, and though the story takes a little while to get off the ground, the narrative developments are engaging, and there’s enough action and revelations to keep the pages turning. The Thief Taker’s Apprentice is the perfect adventure story for teens.

An old fan of The Adamantine Palace: “[Has] the clear potential for a great series if the foreshadowing and hints of much deeper stuff materialize in further installments.” Fantasy Book Critic

There’s something slightly flattering about being in the 200th edition of SFX, even if three stars and “An engaging read” is the best I can get out of an it-was-OK review there. Ho hum. However, I’ve had a pretty good response to my request for younger reviews. All six copies have gone out and a couple more besides and the first review is in:

“I very much enjoyed The Thief Takers Apprentice. I was enthralled by the world, the characters and, most of all, the plot.” F – aged 13.

Probably doesn’t mean all that much to anyone else, but I am insanely pleased.

Finally a review in Locus, stuck at the bottom here because it’s scanned. Hard to pull a quote from it, but rather nice if you read it in its entirety.

TTA locus 1

TTA locus 2

Awards Again and More Reviews (11/5/2010)

Posted in News

With King of the Crags out, I’ve not been paying much attention to The Adamantine Palace, but I suppose I should be, what with it being on the Gemmell Award shortlist for best debut of 2009. I’ve seen comments ranging from ‘going to get my vote’ to ’shouldn’t even have been nominated in the first place,’ and I don’t think I really mind either way. Reading so many different reviews for one single book, ranging from what’s in SFX to what’s on Amazon or posted up at Goodreads, I appreaciate more than ever how everyone has their own opinions and how different they can be. So if you’re one of those who liked The Adamantine Palace, please vote for it at the Gemmell Award website. If you’re not, please go and vote anyway. It’s like with the government – no point about bitching about who wins if you don’t vote.

While we’re at it, here’s a rather nice review from over at SF Crows Nest.

“I like it when you get a book that you find yourself completely immersed in. You find yourself almost besotted. You open it up, read the first chapter and bang, real life is boring, irrelevant and petty. This is the world now and be it filled with good or evil, it’s a bloody improvement on hearing about the Iraq war, footballers sex lives and the constant unending threat of annihilation through global warming.

That’s how I felt when I opened up The Adamantine Palace.”

Good, that’s what was suppoed to happen. Exactly that. Plot plot plot and never mind the characters… oh, wait.

“The Adamantine Palace’ is a no holds barred look into how awful characters can be. They are evil. They are sordid. They are completely self-centred. All of them. That’s what makes this book.”

“With a marvellous sweeping prose, a twisting plot and a lead character that is both venomous and awesome, this novel screams out for attention it rightly deserves. It’s a novel that clearly acknowledges its debt to the dragon sub-genre but is so strongly plotted through its characterisation that it pushes itself up into the realms of high political fantasy to threaten the likes of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.”

Now some people have read The Adamantine Palace and hated it, I guess. Maybe for exactly the reasons this reviewer loved it so much. But it’s still a real kick to read a review like this and know that there’s someone else who read my words and got out of it exactly what I was trying to put into it.

It’s not all roses though…

“a quick, fun political thriller on the same level as a Hollywood blockbuster or modern video game that uses dragons cleverly enough to feel somewhat original. The chapters are short, the pace fast, and the page-count moderate for epic fantasy. But ultimately, it remains unremarkable, in spite of my attempts at the opposite.” from Neth Space


“If Christopher Paolini decided to go on a meth-fueled writing bender he probably still wouldn’t come close to writing his dragons so devilishly.”

Oh, wait, not that bit… this bit

“…short, tight chapters that push the story along in a Thriller type fashion. However, the pushing is at a sacrifice to the characters and the world-building.” from the Mad Hatter

Ah well. I bet the first reviewer will now be slightly disappointed by King of the Crags, while the others will praise its deeper world-building and characterisation.

The Order of the Scales is now with my first reader. I think I can promise a return to the furious pace of the first book, at least in the second half.  Otherwise I’m currently rewriting The Warlock’s Shadow and contemplating what comes next… about which I shall say a little more next week.

King of the Crags – more reviews (22/4/2010)

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More reviews trickle in, so far all to my liking. The Locus review is interesting (Locus really liked the first book), insofar as it goes out of its way not to express a good/bad opinion (something which more reviewers could usefully do in my opinion), but manages to convey something of a sense of awe, almost of fear(!) “I can only hope Deas returns to his world, not with rosy visions of restoration, but to give his humans some reason not to pack it all in…”

The Booksmugglers, who were in the more-depth-less-speed camp last time around seem to be converted. “Questions aside, I finished reading The Adamantine Palace only just about interested about reading this sequel. I closed The King of the Crags knowing for a fact that I will be picking up the final instalment in the trilogy come rain or come shine.”

And then finally one from a site I’ve missed up until now, with a pertinent comment at the end.

“Overall, a very strong sequel and one of the best second entries in a trilogy I’ve had the chance to read. In the final paragraph of my Adamantine Palace review I said that The Adamantine Palace was not top notch…well…forget that. It might have been on its own but with The King of the Crags as its sequel it now certainly falls into that category.” LEC Book Reviews

See that bit about The Adamantine Palace? Thank-you LEC – a series should be more than the sum of its parts.

So Crags is better than The Adamantine Palace? That seems to be the consensus so far, but not everyone agrees.

“An impressive sequel that boasts the same flare and excitement of its predecessor.” Total SciFi. But then they did rather like the first one.

One quite contented author.

Easter Shenanigans and Shortlists (7/4/2010)

Posted in News

Eastercon was a blast, as Eastercons are wont to be. First highlight the Swordplay for Writers panel, from which I took copious notes which would have been directly relevant to the sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice had I not promptly lost them (if anyone who reads this was there, Steve Kilbane gave out his contact address… pretty please?). Second highlight was the JET panel, simply because it told you all you need to know about how to describe credible fusion containment. Last and best highlight was the company. This could be a very long post if I went on about everyone who was there, but star performer award for all-round good company goes to Gollancz author Gavin Smith, whose debut, Veteran, comes out later this year. I’ve read the first chapter, I liked it very much (reminded me of neuromancer, only in Scotland, so more dirty) and I’ll be reading a lot more just as soon as I get my signed ARC back from wherever it ended up…

Other Eastery things: There’s a new issue of SFX out, and might it have the first review of King of the Crags in it? Yes, it might…

When it landed last year amidst considerable fuss, it was hard not to be a little disappointed with Stephen Deas’s debut, The Adamantine Palace.  Here was a novel that promised a tougher, new fantasy style that take on the old fantasy’s stock creatures, dragons.  It largely delivered, but along the way some of the world-building and characterisation were a little wobbly.

This sequel marks a step change.  As sharp as anything by George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie this is a fast moving, confident offering from a writer who’s clearly found his rhythm and pace and who doesn’t mess about.   Crags picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off.  By way of a darkly humorous reminder that fire-breathing lizards are dangerous, we’re straight into the the action.  Frankly, you expect the intrigue and hints of revolution in the offing that Deas serves up, but more impressive is the way he re-engineers familiar fantasy elements.  The neo-religious zeal of his red riders for example has clear parallels with our dangerous world.  Prince Jehal the chief villain has evolved from a black hat to a altogether more nuanced character.  Quite why he does what he does may even be a mystery to Jehal at times you suspect, which makes him gloriously unpredictable.  And then there is the white dragon that drives so much of the plot, a creature that has recovered from a chemical castration that keeps its brethren cowed.  Whenever snow – which as names go is like calling a tiger Tiddles – is around, there is a vivid sense of an altogether alien presence.  While the wider world that forms the backdrop here could still be better realised, it appears the new fantasy has another new star.

Hard, really, to find anything to complain about there. If you happen to read the SFX review column, you’ll notice another Gollancz offering that happens to be due out on the same day as King of the Crags: Tome of the Undergates. Tome got itself a pretty good SFX review too, and then someone who might have been me had this to say about it…

“Wildly descriptive slaughter-fest fantasy with a surprising pathos. Monstrous, murderous, psychotic, deranged, possessed and insane – the only question is what our heroes hate more: The demons they’re fighting, each other or themselves. Sam Sykes has invented a whole new genre – Call Of Duty: Demon Warfare.”

Did I like it? Yes. Grew on me after I’d finished, which is always a good sign. You can see the X-Box version as you read (and to me that’s a good thing), and while I have some reservations here and there, I think (I hope) this could be going somewhere special. A fine companion to Crags, they come out on the same day, and if you like surreal, go you can follow @SamSykesSwears on twitter too.

And one other little thing… (of which more later)

TAP - Gemmell

One Last Review (30/3/2010)

Posted in News

Well, straight to the point, and here it is. There have been others for TAP since it came out in the US, but they don’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, while this one, I thought does. Even if it’s as thumbs doen in the end :-(

And that’s it. No more TAP reviews being posted, because here comes The King of the Crags. I have copies in my sticky hands and some of them will be coming to Eastercon with me (but not very many). Special opportunity to get an advance signed first edition copy for the two of you who are actually interested. One lucky fellow who won the spot the difference competition more than a year ago will get to be the first person IN THE WORLD to read it. Well, apart from everyone who had anything to do with its creation. And everyone who got advance review copies (and where are the reviews, boys and girls – you’re all being very good about waiting for release day, but it’s killing me here! Not even one of you being a bit naughty)?

OK, so maybe not the first person IN THE WORLD. Maybe about the twenth-seventh. But Lewis, it’s in the post right now and I hope you enjoy it. At some point I’ll dream up another competition. One that involves less waiting around for an entire year for the prize…

In other news, the re-write-athon continues. The penultimate rewrite of OOTS got rudely interrupted last week by the copy-editing of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice. It’s wierd jumping back and forth between the two because they’re really very different. The dragons books move at a hectic pace, jump from character to character and deliberately show the world in fragments. TTA… doesn’t.

Anyway, that’s out of the way now. OOTS is still just about on schedule to be rewritten by mid-April and then comes…

MYSTERY PROJECT X. In which I get to write some new material for the first time in six months and about which I shall say nothing. Yet.

Here’s One I Made Earlier (12/1/2010)

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Busy busy busy. The Adamantine Palace is coming out in the US in less than three weeks and so there’s interviews and guest blogs and and and… And a copy of the book too, and it’s a hardcover and even prettier in the flesh than it was on a screen. Two suich beautiful covers! How can you choose between them? Order of the Scales re-write number one is going slightly better than expected, the page-proofs for King of the Crags are due in a fortnight and and and…

Then there’s the Gemmel Awards to mention. Go vote! Don’t make Mr Abercrombie mad! And I’ve been reading some other titles due out from Gollancz too. Tome of the Undergates and Wolfsangel. Both will receive some more attention closer to their release dates.

Right now, though, I don’t have time to do justice to anything. So here’s a review I made earlier for Vector for a book you can (and should) go and buy right now.

Yellow Blue Tibia (Gollancz; ISBN 978-0575083578 )

Author: Adam Roberts

World War II is over. The Soviet Union has defeated Hitler and Stalin is convinced that Europe and America will soon fall. Global Soviet peace will follow; and to prepare for that peace, Stalin calls Konstantin Skvorecky and a handful of other Soviet science fiction authors to a secret dacha in the countryside. The new communist world will need some new menace to hold it together, something to give it a unity of cause and purpose. In short, it will need the threat of an alien invasion, and the job of this group of writers is to create one, a fiction but a plausible one. No expense will be spared in staging this invasion. It will begin with the destruction of an American spaceship and a huge explosion in the Ukraine…

When their job is done, the writers are unceremoniously ejected and told to forget what they have done. Mostly they consider themselves lucky not to have been shot.

Fast-forward some forty years. Skvorecky, now ex-SF writer, ex-alcoholic, part-time translator and dedicated cynic finds himself asked to act as a translator for a rather odd pair of Americans. As he leaves, he is approached by the last other survivor of Stalin’s SF cabal, now working in the KGB, who tries to convince him that the alien invasion they created is becoming reality: It’s 1986. The Space Shuttle Challenger has exploded, something is afoot in the Ukraine at Chernobyl, and aliens appear to be secretly invading the world.

So there’s the set-up. Skvorecky quickly acquires a taxi-driving nuclear physicist sidekick and proceeds to be bounced from one slightly bizarre and surreal episode to the next in what is, in the end, an exquisitely crafted and cerebral mystery.

Now, I have this idea that stories engage with readers in two fundamentally different ways. They engage with us on an emotional level, with adrenaline-pumping action, tooth-grinding tension, white-knuckle drama; with love and joy and hate and revenge and possibly too many adjectives. And they engage with us on an intellectual level, with ideas and philosophies that educate and amuse and stimulate and enrich. Yellow Blue Tibia is firmly entrenched at the latter end of the spectrum. Skvorecky and his taxi-driver never emotionally engage with the story in which they find themselves; rather, Skvorecky observes his own trajectory with a detached amusement, while his taxi-driver is a realistic depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome. These are both deliberate choices by the author and, as with everything else here, expertly crafted; in fact, this sort of detachment is probably necessary, as some of the strangeness they encounter would likely drive anyone else (reader included) to distraction trying to work out what could possibly be going on. Right up to the end, it’s not clear whether this is a mundane KGB conspiracy, a comedy of errors, a narrator who’s lost his marbles or whether there are, indeed, some aliens somewhere. Adams seems fascinated with the phenomena of UFOs, the are they-or-aren’t-they of them, the weight of the anecdotal set against the utter lack of hard physical evidence. Yellow Blue Tibia even offers a rather tidy answer.

The real strengths of this book are in the easy flowing prose (I occasionally had to stop and read a scene again simply to admire how well it was put together), in Skvorecky’s sardonic wit and in the marvellous central idea, revealed at the end, which gives almost perfect coherence and sense to all the seemingly random events that precede it.

In summary, the writing is elegant and yet straightforward, the mystery is engrossing and the idea at the core is inspired. Readers after an emotional connection may find it difficult to engage with the story, but for those who are after a piece of old-school science-fiction brain food that makes you think, Yellow Blue Tibia delivers in spades.

(Post review note: I read this in the summer of 2009 and still find myself thinking about it. It’s just such a neat idea. Even if it violates the second law of thermodynamic and thus casts the whole premise into the realms of. . . But no: that’s a battle for another day :-)

The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice (17/12/09)

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I’m splitting my time between four books at the moment. Two are Gollancz releases for next year: Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan and Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes. Of all of these, Wolfsangel is the one that’s most likely to be a hit. I haven’t got very far with it, but from what I’ve seen, this is going to get some rave reviews. So far it’s Vikings the way Vikings should be: dark, bloody and dangerous, and the atmosphere is so strong that every time I stop it comes as something of a surprise that I’m not surrounded by fjords.

Tome, on the other hand, is an unashamed D&D adventure. If you play, I suspect you will find it very hard not to snicker at the party bickering and the complete inability to agree a plan and then stick to it. I’m rather enjoying it but then in this case I’m biased in more ways that you can shake a stick.

In some slightly less important news, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is now polished up well enough to go to Gollancz for editing (phew) – finishing that is why this post is both short and a couple of days late. Complete drafts also now exist for the second and third books in this series, although extensive rework is already clearly necessary <grrr>

A couple of days off now, I think, and then time to crack some knuckles and get back to burning  shit down with dragons.

Next week might be competition time. I have an idea…

Screaming in Fear of Success (8/12/09)

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Today is publication day for Der Drachenthron[1], The Adamantine Palace auf Deutsch. The mad fools at Heyne who bought the rights before I’d even finished chapter 7 (from memory, and bear in mind the book has 70 chapters) are about to find out whether they’ve bought a piece of the next Wunderkind or the next Wunder-turkey. I fully expect a room full of long faces, shaking heads and a general demeanour of never again

But maybe they weren’t so mad after all. The Adamantine Palace is doing rather well, it seems. Not awesome, but well enough. I find it hard to believe, but slowly, this possibility is being bludgeoned into me as a fact. Being in a list of someone’s ten most anticipated books of 2010 boggles my mind; at least, given that the list wasn’t written by my publicist or my mum. Most of me assumes that it was some sort of freak accident, a moment of insanity brought on by the fact that there’s no new Pat Rothfuss, no new Scott Lynch or Joe Abercrombie coming out in 2010. I mean good grief – on the same list as KJ Parker? As the mighty Al Reynolds? Hoy! I feel so not worthy.

Still, this is all thing, right? Of course it is.

It’s also terrifying. Grand vistas of uncertainty and possibility threaten to open up before me. And they’re all good, but WHAT IF THEY GO WRONG? Eh? What if I embrace the dream and it all turns sour, eh? EH? What if I quit my well-paying stable and secure job to hop onto some wild roller-coaster ride to oblivion and ecstasy only for it to crash? What if I end up watching my family starve, living in rags, eh?[2] What if they all end up hating me?

Don’t be fooled – in the occasional moment when I’m not chain-smoking and quivering with fear, I’m stricken with delight. Fortunately, King of the Crags is done, edited, re-written, ARCs printed, finished all bar the proof-reading. King of the Crags is all good. If you liked The Adamantine Palace, I reckon you’ll like King of the Crags. If pressure-paralysis is going to set in, it’ll be the third book that suffers, but I don’t think it will. Writing stories is an escape from all that.

There’s a diem out there, just out of reach[3] but tantalisingly close. If the chance comes to carpe it, it will be a quivering unsteady hand that reaches out, but seize it I will. Because that’s what you have to do.

Thank you, all of you who bought TAP. Thank-you very much indeed. Now please excuse me; I have to go binge-eat on Ben and Jerrys.

[1] Complete with a map (Entschuldigung – Landkarte).

[2] Yes, I know, realistically the worst that will happen is probably that they’ll have to put up with not having access to the latest console games technology, but kids can be harsh, man.

[3] That’s right Mr day-job, we’re not done yet. Not yet.

Vive La France (Dragons World Tour: France) (17/6/09)

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Bon chance, mes amis. J’espere que vous ce trouvez c’est merveilleux!

So allegedly it’s out. And allegedly I learned some french once, too. Fortunately the book was translated by a nice woman called Flo rather than me.

Also a new review. The usual split of opinions, only this time packed into a single review. “I swear that to read this book, is probably the closest you will ever get to being inside say, the Borgia’s inner circle.” and “…the plot in this book is utterly fascinating…” but “I am, essentially a character-driven reader who missed someone to connect with and to truly root for (or even against).”

I’ve added some commentary over there.

Dragon World Tour: Australia (and other reviews) (3/5/2009)

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There’s a very fine new review up on the net here. My new best friend, I think…

“…sledgehammering the dragon mythos into fragments, in his awesome new novel The Adamantine Palace”

or how about “…a novel where the dragons finally get pissed off, and do something violent about it.” Yes, yes, the man understands… The Adamantine Palace is about power. And those who struggle for it. Who lie for it. Who kill for it.” Yes yes yes yes!

“These are the dragons your mom warned you about, the ones lurking in the shadows, doing bad things. Horrible things. These are the predators; the ones that floss with velociraptors. Unapologetic. Vicious. Intelligent. Unstoppable. And they might not even be the biggest monsters on the block. That distinction may be reserved for the people that ride them.

One of the best fantasy books of the year.”

OK, OK, I’ll stop before I end up copying the whole review. I guess you can see by now why I’d want to…

A less good review from Lisa Tuttle writing for The Times who is firmly in the ‘want more world-building’ camp (see, it’s become such an even split of views that you can’t get a review from one side without one coming in from the other…)

“It finally begins to come to life on page 135, when we get up close and personal with a wonderfully unusual dragon … If Deas can improve his world-building skills … [spoiler deleted] … future books in this series will certainly be worth reading.” The Times online.

And, following the reprint and making the good news come in threes: Today is publication day for the Adamantine Palace down under. So come on Australia, make a decision that my Brit readers can’t: Better for being skeletal, fast and focussed in on dragons, or better to have had more world-building. The first salvo has already been fired…

(We went to Australia for our honeymoon, so please buy lots of books so we have an excuse to come back and visit again, like, very very soon).