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20th January 2007
Contrary to my hopes for this experiment, it ends now more with a wimper than with a bang. I find I am reviewing this book on two fronts – firstly the novel itself, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, but secondly, I am forced to consider the manner in which I am reading it – these ten instalments – for this is very different from my normal reading pattern and consequently it colours my impressions of the book.
Since I blogged about Chapter Eight, I’ve been immersed in a very involving novel – The Terror by Dan Simmons – (my Sfrevu critique is here). This 750 page masterpiece was extremely engrossing, deeply profound and highly emotional, and so returning to The Glass Book of the Dream Eaters – and I mean no disrespect to the novel in this – I can’t help but feel it rather flimsy in comparison. Of course, such a comparison is deeply unfair – in normal circumstances, I’d have ploughed uninterrupted through TGBOTDE and am certain I would have loved every single page of it. However, having it broken up in this way has essentially also broken my concentration.
As a book lover and obsessive bibliophile, the ten chapbooks released by Viking are as aesthetically pleasing to me as virtually any set of books on by shelves – they’re neat, beautifully designed and very pretty to look at. Yum! And as a complete novel, Dahlquist’s has all the high romance and cliff-hanging adventure one could hope for in a ripping yarn. It is sophisticated, atmospheric, darkly gothic and titillatingly erotic – the character archetypes are unambiguously either villainous or heroic but never stereotypical and there is an awful lot going on that will keep you on the satisfyingly on the edge of your seat…
…but, even though it is episodic in construction, it is also a highly detailed story and one that requires the reader to retain a number of key facts whilst reading it. Given the intermittent dipping in that ten weekly instalments requires, and given the fact that Dahlquist did not (I assume) deliberately design his novel to be read in this way, Viking’s exercise – for me at least – is very much a failure. I say for me, because as a busy reader and reviewer, I have a quota of books that I have to read in a given period. Had the flow of TGBOTDE not been interrupted by the other novels I’ve had to read, I’d have been able to get a lot more out of it, but the bitty, broken-up nature of this reading is not the best way to review. Additionally, you can’t review a novel chapter by chapter – it just doesn’t work that way. To examine something at such close quarters, prevents you from adequately seeing the whole. Books are not to be scrutinised under a microscope in that way – so as a reviewing exercise, this is hasn’t really come off at all.
But the failure of the experiment in no way indicts the novel which is excellent and deserving of the many plaudits it has received. If you’re a book collector, then go out of your way to find a set of these chapbooks – they’re a limited release and already I have seen sets offered on eBay for £75.00 – a figure which will only increase. If you’re curious about reading this novel (and you should be ‘cos it’s good!) then buy the Viking hardcover release which is due out on January 25th.
19th January 2007
What is he a doctor of, exactly? Forgetting to put his trousers on? :
Click here to take the "Which Super Villain are you?" quiz...
(courtesy of Ariel
Your results: You are Dr. Doom
|The Joker||30%||Blessed with smarts and power but burdened by vanity. |
28th December 2006
Back with Cardinal Chang, a rogue element tearing around the big house, throwing spanners in to the works of the evil cabal left right and centre.
Things are at boiling point now in this novel - precisely when the act of reading it in instalments is almost prohibitively irritating. As a novel slips from act two into act three, the pay off and resolution looms large. That, I think is generally the point that one reads more hungrily and attentively in the eager forward rush towards the end game. This may have worked well enough in Dickens' time, but we live now in an age of instant gratification and I'm not sure a modern day audience appreciates being made to wait.
I've been reading a novel between chapters seven and eight (Temeraire : Black Powder War by naominovik - which, I'm sorry to have to say I found very disappointing! - see my review here ) and so was extremely disoriented when picking The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters up again. Chapter eight starts with the assassin Chang hurtling through a series of pipes, possibly/probably on his way to a swift, charcoaly death in a fiery incinerator - trouble was for a while I couldn't recall where he was or how he'd got into this mess in the first place. Remember, Dahlquist is rotating his three POV characters and so it's two chapters since I last read of Chang and that was, perhaps three or four weeks ago now, during the intervening time of which I have read at least two whole novels! It's damn hard to keep track!
But it does seem now, that everything is in place for the final showdown. All three protagonists are at the same location, as are the principle villains, and it makes for nice symmetry that the dénouement is to take place at the big house where everything started.
Chang is desperate and filthy and, as one would hope, makes his escape from the pipes, merely to find himself at the mercy of a thousand other perils - it cannot be denied that Dalhquist is master at continuously upping the stakes and - 500 pages in - he's still not dropped the ball and given any of his characters an easy "get out danger" card. What is really working here is that Dahlquist's protagonists are in real danger and we truly fear for thier welfare andf their safety - this is no sanitised Hollywood kind of violence - instead our people can be hurt, maimed and killed and - it would seem - at any given moment. It's great "edge of your seat" storytelling.
20th December 2006
In a recent email exchange with my fellow reviewer and chum Iain Emsley over at Austgate, I was intrigued to learn that he was finding The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters “extraordinarily odd and old fashioned” – I thought this a rather strange take. I’m finding the piece hugely vibrant and exciting (though reading it in this broken up, chapbook manner is not helping the momentum of the novel in the slightest!) – certainly the construction is conventional (with the exception of the brilliantly executed time overlaps that operate within the action of the alternating POV chapters.) but I’m not mistaking “conventional” for “old fashioned” as I think Iain is doing – aside from the sheer imagination and ingenuity behind the story, there is the period eroticism that underpins everything, a weird duality where the mere flash of an ankle or a petticoat creates a ripple of heat, yet such prudish attitudes are set against the kind of sleazy decadence one might encounter on the Moulin Rouge.
Having just spent some time in Charlie Huston’s modern day Vampyrric New York (see previous blog entry), returning the eminently more elegant city depicted in the Dahlquist novel was rather welcome. Seldom has the line between pulp and literature been so starkly apparent.
Chapter seven, as I suspected, returns us once again to the company of Miss Temple. Having departed from her companions in something that was half huff and half reckless adventuring, Celeste decides to return to the Hotel Royal to confront one or all of the main antagonists. Even though it’s clear that this course is a deeply dangerous, if not entirely stupid one, one can’t help but admire the bravura that as a character she is almost fizzing with. Dahlquist offers enough of her inner monologue for us to will her on, even in spite of the obvious dangers. And she acts with such wilful and admirable front that chapter seven brought forth what I think is my favourite scene so far in the entire novel.
With a large revolver in her handbag and plenty of guts, she arrives at the hotel intent on some sort of confrontation – though entirely lacking any sort plan. She then sets this non-existent plan in motopn by promptly ordering a large and luxurious cream tea, which Dahlquist describes for us in exquisite detail, right down to the very shade and temperature that she insists her tea be served at. It’s a beautifully written scene and reveals so much about this woman – on the one hand so feisty and strong, on the other so easily seduced by a chocolate éclair. It is a delicious moment and it becomes heightened when one of the main villains, the Comte d’Orkancz chances upon her and behind a civilised veneer of coffee and cucumber sandwiches the dialogue seethes with bitter brittleness.
Events soon gather pace once Celeste is thus discovered and before long, she is where one supposes she intended to be – right in the thick of things. The chapter closes with her being frogmarched, barefoot, into further dangers and we learn that the hour of her redemption has finally arrived. She is to be converted, transformed and brainwashed by the powerful magic of the glass books.
That’ll teach her!
6th December 2006
One of my favourite things in fiction – and IMHO genre fiction does this far better than any other form – is wondering how characters will get out of impossible situations. And just how authors concoct such situations for their characters and how they then go about delivering the escape routes, form one of my main criteria for judging how good a work is. If the situation is lame or over-egged then it’s a case of who cares either way. If the proffered solution is too contrived or relies too heavily on luck or coincidence then the author fails in his/her primary objective – suspension of disbelief.
I mention all this largely because our Mr Dahlquist is proving himself quite a dab hand at this very thing – his characters are terribly good at getting themselves into trouble… indeed they walk blithely and boldly into places they have no right to be and this makes for very exciting reading. The stakes are always high for these protagonists – the dangers they face are real dangers – these folks aren’t likely to break and nail or even lose a finger. No – these guys are likely to have their arms torn from their sockets…
Chapter Six returns the Macklenbergian Doctor Svenson to the limelight. With Miss Temple off in huff (I’m presuming we’ll find out we’re she’s gone in Chapter Seven), and the assassin Chang swanning round the Ministry, setting fire to officials, the good Doctor has taken a trip out to the country to find out a little more about the cabal and their dastardly deeds. He’s on the trail of a line of enquiry that implicates Roger Bascombe (Remember him? He’s the fool who dumped Miss Temple before Chapter One and started this whole adventure off) further in the business of the Glass Books. In short, Bascombe’s uncle, Lord Tarr has been found dead (under mysterious circumstances which appear to have been rather too easily explained away by the authorities) and fortuitously Bascombe happens to be heir to his estate – an estate which happens to encompass land containing a large quarry, a quarry which happens to contain a very specific variety of clay, and this clay in turn happens to contain a specific mineral vital for the manufacture of the blue glass with these magical properties.
It all sounds a bit contrived broken down thus, but rest assured Mr Dahlquist puts it rather more elegantly than I do in summery. So, the good doctor, still sore from his breathless adventures of the previous day, takes a train trip to the estate, ostensibly to find out what’s going on, but also in the hope of tracking down the absent Miss Temple. On the train he runs into some very strange people – a couple, stiff, suspicious and hostile, yet the Doctor manages through skilful leading of the conversation, to find out much. It’s an interesting character motif this – our three protagonists progress far in this book on sheer blag alone. It’s a kind of Derren Brown effect – they excude confidence on subjects they know nothing about and thus their target unwittingly offers up much needed information. It’s brilliant technique, brilliantly rendered by Dahlquist and (so far) I’ve not tired of seeing it used.
There are many such people travelling to the estate, but for what purpose remains a mystery – though clearly it’s sinister. "Sinister" is the watchword of this novel, there are a lot of sinister goings on!
Of course, Doctor Svenson gets himself in to terrible trouble once he’s reached his destination – there are plenty of villains around to make his life uncomfortable and, true to the established pattern, Dahlquist masterfuly paints his man into some tight corners.
And, just in case the gaslights, cobbled streets, uptight manners, starched collars and stiff upper lips, corsets and class distinctions were not enough to qualify this novel as classic "Steampunk" (or at least in the mould of the same) Dahlquist introduces a dirigible into the proceedings in this chapter. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a dirigible! Great stuff! I think there is a long overdue resergence of the Victorian fantasy occuring... there are one or two notable titles due out over the next few months that chose exactly this kind of setting. More on that in due course.
A short break now before I hit Chapter Seven, for I must catch up on other review work. I’ve made a start on Charlie Huston’s novel Already Dead, the Orbit proof of which has been hanging round my office for weeks. It’s short and punchy and so I imagine I’ll be through it quite quickly.
2nd December 2006
Already I'm cheating! I'm going to cover two instalments in this entry. Having assumed this would be a simple exercise, I find that reviewing a novel in this staccato way is all but impossible. It seems almost grossly unfair to be breaking a story - particularly a story as involved and richly constructed as this one - in to sections and then analysing each one in turn. The result invariably can be little more than plot summery - for the longer story arcs, and the accompanying subtleties cannot be appreciated or even discovered in the same way as they might be were I simply to read the whole thing without any gaps. And approaching a review in this way makes it all the harder to avoid spoilers - the cardinal sin of the inadequate reviewer! So, be prepared for less insight than I might usually be expected to offer you - I’m not sure that I can give a decent and informed opinion reviewing in this way - except to say how much I’m enjoying it!
This problem isn't helped by the fact that I am reading other things in between these chapbook releases. My "To Read" pile is looking hugely intimidating - this time of a year tends to produce a flurry of proof copies with publishers encouraging reviewers to attend to their particular releases. Since my last entry on The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, I've read Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box and Joe Abercrombie's Before They Are Hanged - both super reads taking place in extremely disparate environments and both commanding 100% of my reading attentions. Returning to the twilight, foggy, cobbled streets of Dalhquist's lamp lit world requires, then, no few mental adjustments.
Chapter Four, as I had hoped, brings together our team of protagonists. The meeting seems to happens largely by the coincidence of Svenson being in the right place at the right time (i.e. at the Boniface Hotel just when Miss Temple is sat in the lobby) but then, why shouldn’t it? Luck should certainly have some place in a plot like this, otherwise the baddies would never be conquered. And of course, Dahlquist has deftly and with beautiful subtlety had our three cross paths already. And so Svenson, Chang and Miss Temple (who we finally find out is less formally known as Celeste) gather together, realise they all have some sort of interlinked purpose against this evil cabal and so compare notes.
This recap was useful to me, having been away for a while, for Dahlquist has each character give a summery of his/her involvement to date – though I might not have appreciated this were I reading this book in a single go! A plan, of sorts, is concocted, the chief conspirators identified, and a course of action determined. However, just as our trio set off to undertake their tasks, Celeste has a moment of - I don’t know what you'd call it! - the vapours, perhaps? And she suddenly goes off on her own, blowing all consolidated plans out of the water. The implication here is that as a pseudo-Victorian-age woman, this is the kind of thing that one simply must expect of the fairer sex. Thus Chapter Four ends on a cliff hanger.
Chapter Five focuses on Chang, our resourceful assassin. Not only is he up to his dark glasses in trouble with the cabal (numerous people now want him dead) but he now has the disappearance of one of his two allies to worry about. Knowing of Miss Temple’s connection with Roger Bascombe, Chang therefore decides to head for the Ministry.
One thing that is very apparent in this novel is the suaveness and assurance of all the characters. Chang spends minimal time skulking in shadows or breaking into places like some sort of common thief. Instead, the approach of both heroes and villains in this world is very like something you'd experience in a James Bond story.
Chang, like Bond, invariably introduces himself by his true name - there tends to be a cool politeness in the air as protagonist explains to antagonist how he intends to foil plans for world domination, and only when the brittle, testosterone filled conversation has taken place does the fighting begin. It's all wonderfully mannered - something Dalhquist has got perfectly right, his sense of period being absolutely delicious - very "Queensberry rules" and "old school tie".
Our main discovery in Chapter Five is who might be the real villain in all of this, and contrary to the previously implied weakness of the fairer sex in the case of Celeste (though of course, she's bound to prove this wrong in subsequent events, I'm guessing) our villain is a lady, and a scheming, alluring and seductively evil one at that.
Bring it on!
18th November 2006
Firstly an apology! I’ve been missing out an entire letter of our author’s name… it is DaHlquist – Dahl as in Roald. My humble apologies to GD for this (because, of course, he’s following this reviewing process avidly!). I get pissed off when folks spell my own name incorrectly (and I’ve seen some really weird variations over the years) so I just wanted to put the record straight for here on.
So… thapter three brings us a third protagonist character, the last as far as I am aware. Particularly interesting at this point is the way Dahlquist overlaps his timelines. Dr Abelard Svenson – as Cardinal Chang did before him – made a brief appearance in the preceding chapter. He is the personal physician to the wastrel Prince of Macklenberg, an oversexed, indulgent good for nothing in the mould of European royals stretching back for centuries.
A note on this fictional place “Macklenberg”. It is very much along established Ruritanian lines. Germanic, or perhaps Balkan and very militarist. A little bit like Vulgaira in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(though much less comic) or Syldavia and Bordoria as invented by Herge in his Adventures of Tintin
. The characters from Macklenberg as described by Dahlquist all created images in my mind’s eye of stiffly held, starched collared officer types sporting impressive moustaches, duelling scars, bright epaulets and monocles. Great stuff and ripe for intrigue and betrayal.
And so it proves. In the previous chapter, Cardinal Chang stumbled upon a potentially scandalous business involving this feckless prince. He was seen being carried off down a dark corridor by a number of uniformed men (one of whom it turns out, was the good doctor) and furthermore, he was seen to have the strange facial scarring first described during Miss Temples jaunt to the big house. Dalhquist now begins to flsh out the details as to what is going on. There are powerful figures involved in this conspiracy – industrialists, diplomats, financiers, men high up in both government and the military. Quite what the conspiracy is though, isn’t yet clear, but already it is becoming a very involved affair and the Prince seems to at the heart of it.
Doctor Abelyard, who one gathers at the start of his chapter is a decisive and strong character, soon manages to find himself in a scrape as dangerous as the previous wo we’ve already experienced and it is clear that Dalhquist will begin to steer these three protagonists together, their collective job to somehow foil whatever bad business is going on here.
One prime discovery Ableyard makes amongst the Princes personal effects (after the Royal has disappeared, perhaps kidnapped) is a small glass tablet that the hapless drunken Prince has made a poor attempt to conceal. It is a “small rectangle of blue glass, approximately the size of a calling card.” On looking into this object, the Doctor is transported, experiencing a sudden vertiginous point of view something akin to what a modern audience might recognize in the film Being John Malkovich.
Once again – third time in a row – Dahlquist hits the chapter’s end only after a breathless chase scene in which seemingly impossible odds are overcome. He’s very, very good at this … I hope he can keep it up!
5th November 2006
A second chapbook brings us a second protagonist. In the initial instalment of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Miss Temple’s adventures are brought to a close as she boards a train and thus escapes from the dangers of the big house. She is bloodied and conspicuous and Dalquist notes that as she enters the carriage, her presence – though seemingly not her state – is acknowledged by its only other occupant, an anonymous fellow in a red coat and, strangely, wearing sunglasses, even though the hour is late. This then is Dalquist’s neat segue into Chapter Two.
Cardinal Chang is a charismatic and meticulous assassin, a man of steady habits and curiously sharp instinct. He is, it seems an independent agent – an enforcer for hire. As he did so with Miss Temple, Dalquist quickly sketches a background for this new protagonist – we learn something of his origins, that his name is assumed (I recall that the author still has not told us the full and proper name of protagonist one – perhaps keeping such key information from the reader is thematic in this novel. Concealment and secrecy is looming large) and that whereas his red coat is something of an affectation, his wearing of dark glasses is something of a necessity.
As with Miss Temple previously, this brief background sketch is really all that is needed by way of introduction. Dalquist is seems, is very skilled at revealing his characters through their actions rather than by relating through exposition their history – and you know what? I’m all for that! Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.
And there’s something of masterstroke in this chapter, for having sketched Cardinal Chang for us, Dalquist places him at the big house during time of Miss Temple’s visit there - thus giving a context as to why we met him on the train. Chang arrived there – like Miss Temple – via a circuitous route and on entire (apparently) unrelated business. He was in fact there to perform a murder – which he singularly failed to do. As we meet him, he is dealing with the consequences of this failure and we learn that he would have performed his task, had he not discovered that his quarry was already dead by someone else’s hand. This is a curious twist – something else I see developing as a welcome motif in this work.
This delicious twist is itself twisted further when Chang is approached by a prospective female client who wishes to engage his services in tracking down a young woman last seen departing a big house (and you can guess which big house) and believed to have left the area by train. She would have been easily recognised due to her bloodied and dishevelled state.
Chang of course gives nothing away – he isn’t the type to betray himself. However, he does being to make enquiries as to this woman’s whereabouts. It is likely, his prospective client tells him, that the woman is a prostitute and so it is at the city’s brothels that he begins his search. However, it becomes apparent that others are also engaged in the search for this young prostitute and with so much attention focussed on his quarry, Chang soon becomes searched for himself.
This is darn good stuff, folks! Dalquist very neatly and efficiently thickens his plot – everything so far ties into events at the house. There are hints of intrigue at the highest level (remember Roger Bascombe, the Ministry man – well I’m guessing he’s involved up to his armpits) and there are undercurrents starting to form that indicate corruption and scandal in top ranks of this society. A breathless midnight chase through the gas-lit streets offers the perfect ‘ending on a high’ that a reader wants on completing a chapter and already, I’m chomping at the bit for next weeks instalment.
29th October 2006
The first task for the novelist (as far as a reader is concerned) is to create a hook. Truly great writers can do this in a sentence - for example, "It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen," is my all-time fave opener to a novel, followed closely by "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed." Such effective first sentence hooks are rare indeed, and though time well tell if The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is to be a classic or not, its first sentence really shows some hefty promise.
Consider... "From her arrival at the docks to the appearance of Roger's letter, written on crisp Ministry paper and signed with his full name, on her maid's silver tray, three months had passed." There's a hell of a lot of info here - a lot of questions arising and it's the desire to have those questions answered that hooks the reader and is what forces them to drag their eyes to the next sentence and to the one after that and onwards right to the last page.
So, we learn that our protagonist (for we must assume that this is whom we're dealing with) is female and we know how long she’s been wherever she is - presumably some city with a port and accompanying dockside. We learn something of her social standing - she has a maid, after all - a maid she can afford to provide silver trays with to serve up letters upon, so she’s rich. And this letter? From a man she was on first name terms with, a man who holds or held some sort of government post and who has written to her on formal note paper and signed his name in a very formal, businesslike and impersonal fashion. Not a bad yield of stuff from a single sentence. Dalquist gives us all this and thus immediately peaks our interest. His hook, then, works like a dream.
Miss Temple, the woman in question is a indeed lady of some social standing. Born with the proverbial silver spoon firmly in her mouth, she comes with the backing of family money made in plantations. She's here (here is non-specific so far, but I'm picturing 1900s New York) to make her entry into society and was doing rather nicely until Roger Bascombe, her fiancé, dumped her so stiffly and unceremoniously.
Miss Temple (Dalquist has yet to reveal this lady's Christian name) reacts, first with tears - as one might expect - but these turn to frustration given that she simply has no idea as to what might have prompted Roger's behaviour. She determines to find out - and thus Dalquist takes us on a journey with Miss Temple, to try and make sense of this bombshell news.
Miss Temple is an innocent abroad in the world, that much is certain, but she's no fool. In her, Dalquist - even within a few pages - has created a feisty and admirable young woman - daring, reckless, cool-headed and all the while hugely vulnerable. She is brave and innocent, so much so that she can even shock herself with her courage.
Miss Temple, not wishing for a confrontation per se, nevertheless elects to follow her ex-fiancé one afternoon, in the hope of at least seeing him in the company of another woman - that at least would give her some rationale for what she’s suffered. She goes so far as to gather together the accoutrements of intrigue - a concealing cloak, opera glasses, even a notebook in which to record her discoveries and from a distance she follows his activities. Much of it is routine, for she knows his habits by heart – but late in the day she finds herself following Roger as he takes a train to the country. Now this is not in his daily routine, not at all.
All the while Dalquist is feeding our curiosity – Miss Temple knows no more than we do at this point and already we care about her getting too far out of her depth. Alone, miles away from home she watches as her ex makes his way to a large country estate in the company of other high-ranking toffs, to attend a masked ball of some kind. She bluffs her way in somehow (ingeniously, actually) and Dalquist begins to darken the tone of his story considerably by adding a huge dash of the shadowy and sinister to the goings on. Miss Temple is in way over her head and the episode is breathless and exciting as we fear she could be discovered at any moment. At the same time, Dalquist drops heavy hints that such a discovery would be unlikely to be punished by simple ejection and a finger wagging. Miss Temple has seen things in this house that would require her silence, perhaps her permanent silence.
I’m liking this – a lot! Dalquist has a very literary style, but also a great sense of plot and pace. I love the Victoriana involved in this world - gas lights, steam trains, braided uniforms, corsets and laces, coquettish ladies and stiff, formal gentleman. All these bits of set dressing make of a fabulous background to a story that very quickly promises intrigue upon intrigue.
So, does Miss Temple escape? What exactly is it that she’s witness in the house of masked ball? And why did Roger dump her so cruelly. As the man says… “Tune in next week”!
28th October 2006
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
by Gordon Dalquist
Published in weekly instalments by Viking, UK from October 2006 (available by subscription only) and in hardcover 25th January 2007, priced £16.99.
A Blog Review
I thought it might be an interesting experiment to write a review of this novel that somehow matched the manner of its release - i.e. something to be read in instalments. Viking have chosen to publish Gordon Dalquist's debut novel (already seen from Bantam in the US) to a subscriber only audience over a ten week period. Around 1500 readers will have the story delivered directly to them in the mail and will experience this fantastical Victorian thriller the very same way that contemporary readers got to grips with works like Dickens' Great Expectations. It's a lovely idea and Viking have done it great justice in producing such a strikingly handsome set of chapbooks that will doubtless very soon become collectors items.
I plan to comment on each instalment as I finish it - this differs from my normal review formula where I am able to take a holistic view of a novel and comment upon the piece as a complete thing. Regular readers of Sfrevu will know that the brief I always give myself when reviewing is very simple. Is it any good? Is it worth the money? Is it worth the time? I leave the question of whether a novel is "important" or not to other more qualified and more learned critics (and am happy to do so!). My angle is always to look at piece as a reader, first and foremost.
Even before I've written the first instalment of this review, I worn readers of possible, indeed probable spoilers. I'm guessing that this will prove an impossible exercise should I attempt to avoid all talk of plot - for the entire aim of the instalment process is to tease the plot out the reader, leaving them gasping for more. Let's hope that's what happens!
My thanks to Amelia Fairney at Viking for supplying review copies.
One final thing is to tell you that sadly the instalment edition of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is no longer available to subscribers. To read it you'll have to wait until the hardcover edition is published on Jan 25th 2007. Or, if you're desperate, the US edition can be ordered online now.
2nd March 2006
Let's not talk about how crap I am at blogging. There's no need to reflect further upon how I so rarely add anything to this journal that the whole enterprise is a very questionable endeavour indeed. Surely it's a matter of quality, not quantity? And as it happens (he added, defensively), I do read the blogs of all my chums here on almost a daily basis - so I maintain my previous claim of being a far better reader than I am a writer! So, now that's out of the way, let me share with you the thing I felt worth recording here.... :
I came back from work today to find the following business card posted through my mailbox...
An eyebrow was raised at this unusual piece of junk mail - not least due to its sheer strangeness. Did anyone else on my street get one of these shoved into their post boxes, I wonder? Have I stumbled into some modern day Mancunian version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes"? - I mean even this guy's name leaps out from the kind of fiction I read. And "brining [sic] back loved ones"; "breaking black magic"; "contact deep forest man"? Whooaaa - I had no idea there was much call for any of this stuff round our way! Cool!
Hey, if anyone out there wants this fellow's number, just drop me a line!! Meantime, perhaps it's a sign - I'll start blogging more regularly if any more cards should appear.
26th June 2005
Still dragging my heels at home - or to be precise, dragging my lower
limbs, but with considerably more ease than a few weeks ago. :
My convalescense had been lengthy to say the least - about five weeks
now since the disaster of the Glass Back occured (see previous blog!).
to looking on incredulous as the physio told me I wasn't even to step
foot in the deli first for a week and then, after the second
appointment, a further two weeks. I'm due for another appointment on
and I've really got to hand it her, as my right leg is now pretty much
symptom free. Only the merest trace of numbness still lingers around
the smaller toes, but really nothing more. I though this would never
happen - after the mess the condition made of my other leg and foot
(the partial paralysis, permanent numbness and muscle wastage) I just
this one would go the same way. Not so, I'm delighted to report.
Normality (or as near to it as I can get with such a fragile
physiology) seems tantalisingly close. I have reached and passed the
glorious moment when I have found myself at the top of the stairs and
that I have made the journey without thinking - and gone is the
companionship of my trusty old man's cane.
And my stamina is returning - though I still largely feel knackered and
lacking in energy, I'm not so sure I can blame it on my back, so much
as the fact that I've been doing relatively little (which, is _due_ to
my back, I suppose). When I do get back to work, which I'm assuming will
be later this coming week, it's going to be quite a shock to the system.
Recent reading has included The Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde - I read
this in almost a single sitting, and jolly entertaining it was too! I'm
not so sure that Jasper (like Pratchett) is a writer capable of ever
showing us anything otherthan his schitk (or however that's supposed to
be spelt) but he takes what he does and re-presents it to us with each
new novel, and it's pretty much what we want from him. Very funny and
awfully clever stuff.
I finished Chris Wooding's Braided Path
trilogy - and was chuffed to
see that I had a quote on the rear cover, my first with a name credit,
too! - bit of a slogger, and not really earth-shattering, but worth it,
Conversely, I'm just coming to the end of The Confusion
- the second
door-stopping tome in Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy
- and I haven't
found that a slog in the slightest. Yes, it's long - damn long - and
long-winded too, but it's so clever and really is great fun in places.
I read Adam Roberts's piece (on Infinity Plus?) rounding up this
year's Clarke nominees and he was quite disparaging about the
Stephenson trilogy, but I don't agree with him in the slightest.
Admittedly, I'm only two thirds of the way through, but there is
something glorious about committing oneself to such a work, knowing
that it'll take absolutely ages to get through, a kind of secret
covenant between writer and reader. It's such a pleasure indulging in
plot events that play out over such lengths of time and so many pages -
and this, I think, is due largely to the fact that the reader can
wholeheartedly believe with unstinting confidence that the writer in this case, _will_ resolve
matters satisfactorily. Stephenson surely won't let me down... will he?
16th June 2005
I'm in the process of photocopying the original manuscript of "On Stranger Tides" for my research - perhaps my favourite of all Tim Powers' novels. This draft is entitled "Shandy". :
It's a labour of love, each page having to be placed on my scanner and copied seperately - it's too fragile a thing to run through one of those automatic feed machines. And I'm hampered by pages themselve - much of it is typescript with holographic annotations, all on US letter sized paper. I'm copying it onto A4 and so each page has to be made to fit so that not a single detail is lost. Often Powers inserts entire handwritten pages, sometimes on foolscap, sometimes on the rear of any old bit of scrap paper he had to hand at the time. Often he will draw maps or make notes on the rear side of his typescript, adding bits of dialogue or some plot suggestion or some random jotting not connect to the book. In these instances I must run the copy through again on the reverse so as to not miss anything crucial. Tim's handwriting is tiny, and scrawls right to the very edges of the page, making lining it up with the copier extremely difficult.
The manuscript has that heady, sweet smell of old paper, infused with tobacco smoke.
It's going to take me weeks to finish this - 75,000 words not counting the holograph inserts, but once I'm done this will be the only copy of the original in exsistence, which makes it a pretty cool item to have around.
Of the material I currently have on loan, this is only a small part. The OST boxes contain, I think, at least two further drafts of the novel, (later typescripts?) plus the earlier plotting notes which go right from the inception of the idea. The whole package is an incredible insight into how the author's mind works - you can literally see him carving the novel out of the marble block - truly amazing stuff.
For the PS book, I am excerpting much of these notes - no one had _ever_ seen this material before. It's so damn exciting!!
The Story of the Glass Spine- Based on Real Events.
Oh dear! Look it's today, and a disgraceful
amount of time has passed since I last blogged...
...and an awful lot has been going on!!
I could conveniently make the excuse that
due to what's been occurring, I've simply been too busy (dahhhlink!) to blog,
but that wouldn't be true. Fact is, I'm not much of a diarist - clearly! Stuff
certainly goes on that is worthy of comment, and I'm not shy about expressing
myself via the written word. What I lack is any kind of writer's discipline. I
cannot habitually manage to place my fat arse in front of the keyboard and
write with any kind of regularity. It's a little different with reviewing and
other deadline driven work, but this blogging business required a streak of
obsessiveness. Then again, it's not advertised as a daily update (this one
isn't, certainly) so instead, I'm pretending that I'm here just to jot down
what I want, whenever I want, and if you don't like it, TOUGH! (Of course, I'm imagining
that I'm the only one whoever reads all this random nonsense!)
Two major things since I last blogged...
1) My sister got married. Unbelievable - my
_kid_ sister. This development now means, of course, that I am over one hundred
years old, and destined to live out the rest of my days (few, quite probably)
as a lonely old man, to die alone with nobody to mourn me and to leave no
genetic pattern behind me when I go. A cheery thought!
2) Fucking major disaster with my back...
again! With a history of problems going back over twenty years, two lumbar
laminectomys and a broken ankle and bad back days too numerous to mention, I
had the most experience towards the end of May that landed me in hospital for
six days. I'd felt my back tiring during the course of the previous week, just
general knackardness from the deli, but on a day when I was really the only
person around, I had to take in some big (and heavy) deliveries. Okay, so I
should know better, but the fact was there was no-one else around to help and I
can't leave three huge fucking palettes on the shop floor - not when some of
the order needs refrigerating straight away and when customers are likely to
fall over them. So, I had to move them and though it didn't have an effect at
the time, by Sunday my back was telling me there might be trouble in the offing.
So, there I am on Sunday night and, taking something out of the over, I feel it
At this point, I should have begun worrying
- but no - being inured to the discomfort after suffering for so many years, I
just carried on, a little more gingerly than normal, but otherwise ignoring the
symptoms. Again - I really should know better.
On getting out of bed the following
Wednesday, someone slid a white hot knife into the base of my spine. The
explosion of pain was complete and devastating. Immediately my back spasmed, my
sciatic nerve (the biggest in one's body) squealing in protest as its root was
crushed by whatever had just shot out of my disc. Imagine a dead leg administered
by a charging rhinoceros and you're about a third of the way towards how it
Fall to floor.
Stay on floor, unable to move for a good
Eventually I got myself together and
managed to haul myself back into bed. So, what are my options? I know my back
is seriously fucked. You just know, don’t you when it's bad? A kind of clammy
resolve comes over you as you resign yourself to the truth. You're in deep shit
and you've got to hold it together. So, I call the deli and tell my brother
that I'm probably not going to make it in today - he takes the news
ungraciously. I have no drugs, but I can just about manage to struggle to the
loo, though it's kind of like climbing Everest. Back in bed, I wonder what the
hell I should do - I clearly need treatment, but my immediate support network
is decidedly thin. My sister is away on her honeymoon and my parents are away
in the US. My brother is useless.
It really fucking hurts and this is
clouding my concentration. I call my uncle Barry, who immediately springs into
action. He gets me booked in to see some wonder-physio guy that he knows of.
Appointment at two. Okay... this is something... now if I can only struggle
into some clothes and get to my car.
It's not far and I make it without running
myself off the road. Driving is hard when your accelerator foot is at the end
of a leg that's on fire. I pull into the driveway of this place and try the front door. It's locked. I see the
secretary coming back from lunch. "We'll be with you in a minute,"
she says, and goes through a side gate.
I wait. I am in pain.
Twenty minutes later the secretary appears
from the gate. "We can't get in. The door's been locked by the last
therapist and it's a special...blah...magnetic lock...blah, blah...shouldn’t be
too.... blah....long...blah, blah..." - I can't hardly hear her through
the pain. I ask how long. "Not long," she says.
I wait. I really am in pain.
Three quarters of an hour later, she comes
out again. I am sweating, but refusing to get shirty. She falling over herself
apologising, but I don’t really give a shit. A locksmith is on the way - won't
Now, of course, we're I in a coherent state
of mind, I would have gone home and lay down - clearly these people were
unfortunate, but really I have my own problems to deal with and standing around
in your fucking car park, is possibly not the best way to be dealing with them.
But no - desperate for somebody to do _something_ to help me, I wait like a
idiot in their car park. At four, she comes out again. There's a delay. It
occurs to me that I have not had anything to eat the entire day - being unable earlier
to make it down to the kitchen. I am in serious distress, and I'm hungry too.
Things are not going well.
I decide to go off in search of some food
and return, by which time the locksmith will have arrived and healing hands
will be laid upon me and all will be well.
I squash myself into my car, each movement
a jolt from a thousand electrified needles.
Thankfully M&S is not too far away and
they do a credible prawn sandwich. I return to car with said late lunch and...
the fucker won't start.
I recall having better days.
I also recall recently thinking how it was
probably time to get my car serviced, what with that dodgy starter motor that
could go any minute.
I try not to cry. It's hard. The sandwich
doesn't seem all that appealing anymore, but seeing as I don't have much else I
can do, I eat it. I wait. It's at least twenty minutes before the engine
decides to start.
Back at the physio's at least they've
managed to get the door open. I am treated...
... but the treatment involves lots of
rubbing and pressing and palpating and frankly, it fucking kills. When I leave
the place I am less able to walk than when I had arrived - even after standing
in their fucking car park for so long. The journey home is blinding agony. I'm
lucky I dodn't crash.
Home. I lock the door and climb the
Matterhorn that is the stairs. Bed offers little relief. What am I to do?
I lie there. I can find no comfort on my
back, on my front or on my sides. I cannot move. My thoughts are ragged and
broken up by the pain. I lie there. The hours pass. I cannot sleep for the pain
and I have no drugs, apart from some Ibuprofen in the bathroom. The bathroom is
million miles down the hall. I need to take a piss. The toilet is in the same
bathroom as the drugs. I hold it in.
The hours pass. I cannot sleep. I _really_
need to piss. Ah, the trusty bedside Evian bottle! A quarter full, but though
I'm risking problems later, I soon get rid of that and my god, what a relief! I
must be careful not to knock the bottle over. Manoeuvring is a painful and
delicate operation. As the night passes, the bottle slowly fills. I'll be lucky
not to be overflowing by the morning.
I do not sleep a wink, not even for a
minute. I'm very, very alone. Stranded on the ocean of my bed, unable to even
call for help.
Morning. The doctor's surgery opens at
nine. I count the minutes to seven thirty, the hours at which it would not be
too early to call. There's nobody there yet. I call Louise, who works for us. She’s
just got up for work. I tell her I won't be in and ask her to cover me. She
Something occurs to me. Once I've made all
these calls, people will be coming to my house - doctors, perhaps my uncle Barry
to take me to hospital, where I'll clearly have to be going in this state -
they will arrive to find the front door locked. They'll be no way to get in and
my keys are in the front door. I need to get downstairs to open the door. Fuck.
It is a trial of Hercules to get myself to
the top of the stairs. I have a cane, but it may as well we made of sugar for
all the help it is. With the stiff gait of a statue I make it to the bottom
landing, whimpering. I stop for a breather, but I am gripped by a spasm so
powerful that it drives me to the floor in a crumpled heap. I am now crying,
tears of helplessness pour down my cheeks.
All I'm trying to do is get to the damn
front door!! It just over there. Through my tears I can see it two or three
metres away. But I cannot make it. I cannot make it.
I dig the cane into the laminate and push.
Like this I heave myself along the floor. Each effort brings forth a stab that
takes my breath away. The tip of the cane leaves dark marks of rubber on the
floor as I push. In a heap in the front door well, I rest. I am sobbing now,
drowning in self pity and dreading the return journey - for I cannot stay here
until I am found. Surely I will die before then.
I'm thinking of those mother's who lift
vehicles off their children. I'm thinking of a boxer going back in for a second
round with a young Tyson. I'm thinking of lion's jaws closing as I slip my head
I snatch for the key, which I turn and
withdraw in one deft, if tortuous motion, and I head back. There is nothing I
can add about the return save for the reverse, bum shuffling manner in which I
ever so slowly negotiated the stairs. Crawling forward on my elbows I crossed
the threshold of by bedroom, the brass carpet runner a finishing line, and
sweated into the pile.
It's nine o'clock. I phone my brother. At
first he suspects it's a heavy breather. I am gasping for air, exhausted by the
quest for the key. I tell him I probably won't be coming in today. He takes
this news ungraciously and is further irritated at the inconvenience when I tell him he must come
to my house and pick up the shop keys to give to Louise.
I wait for him. He takes a million years to
arrive, but eventually I hear the front door open and call down for him to come
up. As soon as I see him I am in bits again, bawling like a child. He is cold,
all pragmatic but only for his own worries and interests. He is thinking how
this disaster is effecting _him_, how it is making _his_ day difficult. I am
too paralysed to even throw my overflowing piss bottle at him. Later I would
realise that he was in problem-solving mode, and that my condition and
inability to work caused mucho problemos that need working out real quick - but
at the time, I was, naturally, feeling a little sorry for myself. He goes.
Call the doctor’s - get someone over here
ASAP. I wait. My bed clothes are damp. I am hypnotised by the pain now, the power
of it obliterating thought. I wait, but time means nothing right now - there's
only the pain.
Eventually, eventually a noise downstairs
alerts me. I call down. It is the doctor and her secretary. They sweep into the
room. It is strange to see other people in here. I am examined. The
oh-so-clever-guru-like-omniscient doctor announces her diagnosis. Apparently
she reckons I have a problem with my back. Hypocrites would have been so proud.
I come as near to laughing as I have been in two days. I asked her if she could
give me something for the pain. She wrote me a prescription. Something NOW!!
She shruggs - "I don't have anything now," she tells me. Some doctor!
Doesn't even carry a bag full of morphine. I mean how the hell do I _know_
she's a doctor. Every time I go to the surgery, it's a always a different
doctor. I don't even know if this woman is my registered doctor! She hands me a
prescription. I decide to take some control.
I demand, in the sweetest way possible, to
be admitted to hospital. She tells me to call an ambulance. I become even
nicer, explaining that I have BUPA and really think I need to be in hospital -
can she please arrange for something to happen, else I might kill myself by
chocking on her prescription. She tell me to sit tight - like I going
somewhere. They leave.
I call Barry and ask him to collect my prescription.
He's round within half an hour with some soup. He is visibly distressed by my
circumstances and dutifully empties my piss bottle. He gets my prescription and
I have to restrain myself from overdosing.
From there, from that tale of unrelenting
woe, that comedy of errors, things actually moved on with speed and an absence
of surrealism. The surgery arranged for a consultant to admit me and told me BUPA
would call. They duly did and I had the paperwork to hand having earlier asked
my brother to bring it from my office. With no-one to take me in, BUPA arranged
an ambulance, which turned up within an hours.
Two drivers in green, a burly bloke and a
woman who could have been his twin come into the room. They are most welcome,
here to take me away from this lonely place to the sanctuary of a hospital,
where I will not have to piss into Evian bottle, or suffer this pain or feel so
helpless. But first, I must get to the ambulance. This is a problem as they
quickly ascertain I cannot walk. Indeed I can barely stand. But these green saviours,
lofty as they are not flummoxed by such trifles. They produce a contraption
that resembles a luggage trolley, into which they gently hoist me. The
lightness of their touch is amazing. I am in love with them both. I am wrapped
in a red blanket and strapped in. They lift me along the hall and execute a
stunning three-point turn. I am heavy, but they smile through their gritted
teeth - they are saving me.
Down we go - they do not even mark the
walls., not that I'd care much anyway, not at that moment. At last I am
squinting in the brightness of the day, weightless and bobbing over my garden
gate like a helium balloon. I see the neighbours watching the drama and feel
instantly ashamed, like a helpless animal. It's a most uncomfortable feeling.
I've never been in an ambulance before.
This one was really a kind of taxi, so there were none of the beeping things
and tubes that see on Holby City. Still, it was a curious experience, prone in
that luggage trolley, staring at the ceiling. The windows were frosted all
except for the last six inches and I followed the journey by the tops of the
trees and the chimney stacks of Manchester. I do not know how long the journey
lasted. the painkillers from the prescription were making my head fuzzy. Before
long the doors open and I am wheeled into the reception and quickly taken down
to x-ray. I am expected - the system when it works, works well.
I feel very happy now - the weight of
matters slipping from my shoulders and becoming someone else's problem. I happy
release myself into their care as the plastic tag is slipped onto my wrist - I
think that's in case you die. I'm not worried. The pills are working. The
consultant who has admitted me breezes through, I shake his hand and he's gone
as quickly as he appeared.
MRI scan - a big, noisy tube in which you
must concentrate like crazy on not freaking out. I am questioned about metal
knees and pacemakers. Have I ever had metallic splinters in my eyes? I think
about what might happen if I had and picture my eyeballs being sucked out by
the spinning magnet. I must not freak out. I am soothed by the offer of music and
chose The Beatles to help me through the next twenty minutes. They slide me in
and I hum "I must not freak out" to the tune of "Love, Love Me
I am admitted to a room and given more
drugs and, at last, I sleep.
Later, the scan reveals a clear disc
prolapse -L5/S1 - the jelly from the disc discharged into the spine and putting
pressure on the right sciatic nerve.
No shit, Sherlock!!
Six days later, I'm out. I am currently still
( Find Out What!!Collapse )
The worst is over
16th May 2005
So, I see that : Iron Council
the Arthur C. Clarke award - I'm very happy for China. I like him and
his work very much. And this year, at least, I don't really have an
objective overview of the shortlist, having only read the winning book
and Richard Morgan's Market Forces
. Thus I cannot really say whether China's book ought
to have won. Certainly, though I'm a big fan of Morgan's stuff too, I didn't think Market Forces
was an award winning piece. Iron Council
though, I had a lot of difficulty with. It's a dense work, mired in its
own political agenda and that really robs it of its entertainment
value. I infinitely preferred Perdido Street Station
- surely one of the best genre books of the last ten years, but I found Iron Council
a hell of a slog to get through.
There is, of course, a deserved place for political works in SF -
indeed through the genre our best writers are able to explore their
beliefs and leanings, but my own reading tastes are firmly in the camp
of escapist and entertaining fiction. Sometimes, if the writer's agenda
is too overt - as I felt it was in Iron Council
- the resulting novel is dry, reading more like a manifesto than a
character driven story. When that happens, picking the book up feels
more of a chore and a duty than a pleasure.
It is all, of course, a matter of preference.
I'm not a political animal and as such I can't help but feel resentful
when the opinions of others are forced down my neck. For example, I
didn't vote in the recent election - does that mean I wasted my vote?
It's not as if I'm uninformed - quite the opposite. I wake up to the Today Programme
and watch Newsnight
take a real and sincere interest in what is happen in my country and in
who runs it. But I choose not to support one party over any other - to
me the divide between the three main parties is almost invisible and
inevitably whoever gets in will renege on their promises. I don't trust
any of the them - in fact I actively distrust
And so, in choosing not to vote, not to condone or support a single
party or single candidate, I make my views known. But, of course, I am
accused of "wasting" my vote, of not exercising my "democratic right" -
not so. I simply ticked the non-existent "none of the above" box - or
would have done, had there been one. This does not mean that I don't
have opinions of my own, but there really is only a single scenario in
today's political climate that would cause me to cast my vote and that
would be to keep some extreme and unsavory political party (the BNP,
for instance) from gaining a majority in my constituency. Luckily they
did not field a candidate in my part of the world, and I'm thankful for
that, for it saved me having to make an uncomfortable choice.
Enough politics!! And well done China!
4th May 2005
Wedding, Wedding, blah, blah blah.
Time has deprived me once again of any regularity to my posting here -
not that it really matters given that nobody but myself is reading it -
probably! There are even more demands on my precious spare time right
now as my sister is getting married on Sunday and so it's all hands on
It's a weird thing, having your younger sister go off and get hitched.
By default, it ages you (well, me, anyway) and forces you to take a
look at your own circumstances. Right now it looks like I'll never
follow this course and that, in turn, seems a little sad. I'm pleased
for her though, and I'm sure the day will be splendid.
I've deliberately kept a low profile during the arrangements. It has,
in truth, been a little draining hearing nothing but "wedding, wedding,
blah, blah, blah, wedding" for the last few months. Actually it's been
a pain in the ass, though it's not been politic to state that
publically. And my parents have been so immersed in the arrangements
that I've simply stepped back and let them get on with it. I'll be glad
when it's over though and hope that things can return to some sort of
normality - whatever that may be for my family nowadays.
I believe I am required to "usher", which I understand means wearing a
buttonhole in the lapel of my hired suit and telling people where they
are supposed to go and sit - as if I'm supposed to know! It's odd to me
that I can't simply be expected to enjoy myself, but then I guess it's
my duty to do what I'm told to do. So, that's what I'll do.
That aside, I had my day off work today and so went to see the Hitchhiker
movie. It was enjoyable enough whilst I watched it, but I left with a
profound sense of disappointment at what I'd seen. It left a mere
shadow of the impression that the original radio show and novel and TV
series had branded on my teenage consciousness - HHG2G was a real
formative experience for me. I remember queuing to see Adams at a book
signing years and years ago. Indeed the movie was very much like
watching a completely different animal - a re-imagining of the original
rather than a new version of it. The whole thing left me cold - and
feeling very old!
Have finally (thank god) finished Vellum
and it was slog! It's going to be a bastard to review, not simply
because it is a beautifully written but largely incomprehensible and
plotless work, but also because the SF literati
guaranteed to latch onto it as the "best thing since sliced bread",
and I have no wish to seem a dissenting voice. It's clear to me that
the bed-rock of the kind of stories I love to read is a solid plot. I
need to know that something is going on and that what I'm reading about
is leading somewhere. That doesn't happen in Vellum
it's almost three-dimensional in it's construction. It goes sideways and
backwards and off on tangents all the time and with all the multiple
character POV's, Christ, it asks an awful lot of the reader. I was so
near to putting it down part way through, but ultimately I determined
to see it through. I'm glad I did in terms of sheer bloody-mindedness,
but as a reader, I don't feel rewarded by Duncan for having done so.
I can state categorically that the man is a true writer down to the
marrow of his bones though - his use of language is just staggering -
but, and it's a big
though it is hugely admirable in it's construction and execution, Vellum
is not an entertaining or enjoyable novel in the least. I won't be in a much of a hurry to take on the second volume.
19th April 2005
More of the Same
Two days off and what have I done exactly?
Goddamn it's tough being here whilst life appears to be happening
elsewhere. My time off work is so precious, yet so easy to squander.
I'm beginning to wonder if I'm suffering from narcolepsy. If I try to
read for more than twenty minutes I enevitably end up waking up an hour
or so later with my glasses skewed and drool on the pages. This isn't
helped by the fact that I prefer to read whilst lying on my bed, I
Still, somehow yesterday, I managed to finsih up Dan Simmons' Song of Kali
- a very impressive and deeply harrowing read. I've never been someone
who was drawn to visit India, and having read that novel, I don't think
it's a place I ever
visit. Simmons' vision of Calcutta is of a hellish, humid,
incomprehensible place, swathed in myth and groaning under the weight
of its own poverty and filth. Hardly a travel brochure! But certainly
I'd recommend the novel to you (whoever you are!) and I'm particularly
pleased that I managed to place the little review I wrote with Sfsite
. (Don't know when it'll be up there though.) I like to moonlight there occassionally.
Quite pleased this week to have been contacted by Steve Savile
, who with the unfortunate demise of The Alien Online
as a review venue, is looking for somewhere to place his work. Ariel
passed him on to me and I'm chuffed to bits at the possibility of
working with him. Bloody shame about TAO though.
Have started reading the proof copy of Vellum
, the much anticipated debut novel by Hal Duncan
that Tor UK are publishing in August. (I met Al at Eastercon and spent
a little time drinking and singing "Born Free" with him). It's really
quite an extraordinary piece (100 pages in), quite unlike anything I've
read before. It has a kind of free form "stream-of-conciousness"
narrative, beneath which a deeply mythological story is occuring, and
though it's extremely approachable and readable, it's not at all clear
who is who and what is what just yet. I have a feeling that it will be
extremely difficult to review!!
Other than all this reading (for which, thank God), things remain kind
of empty and limbo-like. Back to the deli tomorrow. More coffee and
cake and what-have-you. Is that really all I've got to look forward to?
14th April 2005
Manchester - So much to answer for.
It bothers me that there is no discernable SF community in Manchester. Actually, perhaps there is, but I sure as hell don't know about it - which is just as bad as it not existing at all. This is a hang up of mine having moved out of London, where, of course, the main body of sciffy people tend to congregate and I had some fantastic evenings (not that I can remember much of them through the alchoholic haze) with some brilaint genre folks.
I truly miss the community feel of hanging round with writers and readers, publishers, agents and editors - generally putting the world to rights whilst slurring one's words and knocking back vats of red wine. Of course, I still get to see these chums at the odd convention I manage to get to, but I much prefer the social aspects of such gatherings than the fannish ones.
So why is nothing going on in Manchester? There are one or two notable genre people in the city and surrounding area - not least Ariel of TAO fame - (who incidentally has a fab blog of his own) and Mike Rowley (of Waterstones SF dept) - but we're short, as far as I'm aware, on actual writers - or known ones at least. The only one that comes to mind is Andy Remic, the author of Quake and Spiral, currently with Orbit. Nick Royle lived up here a year or so ago, but I'm not sure if he still does (he came into the deli once wearing a Man City shirt and I was (understandably) rude to him about it. He's not been in since!. Any others? There must be some!
Other cities/areas seem to produce/house writers in abundance - London, obviously, but Brighton is very popular too (Liz Williams, Robert Rankin, Gwyneth Jones (who at least is originally from Manchester)) - The Midlands has people like Graham Joyce, Peter F. Hamilton and Ian Macleod, Glasgow has a vibrant community of new writers like Gary Gibson and Hal Duncan, and there are other Scots or Scottish based writers like Charles Stross, Debbie Millar, Banks and Macleod. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but Manchester seems like a real dead spot for genre.
I wonder why that is?
13th April 2005
You Lucky People
How I envy you seasoned bloggers who manage to write regular entires : and
them interesting too! I guess the fact that most of you (at least those
who I have tagged as friends around here) are professional writers has
much to do with it - indeed, most of you simply can't help it, you
souls, afflicted as you are with the need to write, but I envy you
nonetheless. This, of course, doesn't reveal any deep-seated ambitions
of my own to join your ranks - I'm a reader, not a writer after all,
but it'd be nice to have the time to say something on a more regular
basis. I guess it all comes down to time. I've never been one to do
things quickly, preferring to move at glacial speed. When I was an
actor - spending alot of time sitting waiting for the phone to ring,
time was a commodity that I had in abundence. I had great globs of time
to wade through, huge mountains of it to stare at and vast, shoreless
lakes of it to contemplate. Now, of course, with the lifestlye changes
moving back to Manchester and starting the deli up has brought, time
become the most precious commodity of all. I hardly have any of it left
and the few shreds of time that I manage salvage during my working day
are generally spent doing the most mundane things - washing, paying
bills, answering emails &etc. My reading time has been decimated
and it now takes me even longer than it used to to finish up writing a
So feel justifiably envied, you wonderful diaryists, and keep writing, please.
I finished up the new Steph Swainston novel No Present Like Time
and, yep, it's a cracker. Not, perhaps as impactful as her debut novel,
but then again, this time the reader has expectations and when that's
the case, it's so much harder for the writer to meet them. She's an
extraordinary writer though, someone really thinking (and writing)
outside the box. I managed to finish up my review in three hours or so,
but I'll probably have to revise it before it goes to Sfrevu. I worry
that I haven't done the book justice.
With my quota met for the May issue, I've started reading Song of Kali
Dan Simmons - this purely for pleasure. I've long wanted to read this,
as Simmons, I've always felt, is such an approachable author and one
whose work I'm never tempted to rush through.
Recently received: Tanequil
Terry Brooks (mmp) from Pocket and a couple of things from Elastic
Press which look interesting, but not much else. DHL managed to lose
the April review copies from Orbit - they really the most
incompetant tossers (DHL, not orbit!). Last time I got something from
them, their driver left the obligatory yellow chit in my letterbox, but
neglected to fill it in. I drove over to the depot (a twenty minute
journey) to be told that they had no trace of the parcel. I stood
around for twenty minutes huffing and puffing before they realised it
was on a shelf right in front of me! Tossers!!
9th April 2005
I had a dream last night that I was being chased through the corridoors of an unfamilar primary school by a giant ostrich! :
Can anyone interpret this?
I should stop eating cheese before bedtime.
6th April 2005
I feel foolish now, this after having felt like a heart-sick teen for
most of the day - which I'm embarrassed about, but strangely rather
proud of too! :
This evening I spent a few hours with my friend F. whom I've known for
about a hundred years - well, for most of my life certainly. She used
to have everything in terms of domestic bliss - grand house, husband,
three cherubic children &etc. Then, out of the blue, she finds out
that said husband has been having an affair and with her best friend
too. Double wammy.
Of course, most of her conversation currently is about this tangled
nightmare and of the ensuing divorce. There's no question that she'll
come out the other end without a good wad of cash, but she'll also have
to bring up three young children on her own. I remember a very
difficult telephone conversation I had with her a few months ago, when
this whole thing was still really fresh and recent. Never have I had to
sit through such a string of venemous bile, and who can blame her? I
listened dutifully, but my goodness, it was hard going. She's a little
more philiosphical now, and the situation is deep into the
machiavellian twists and turns that divorce cases must go through. And
it's still hard to see her going through all of this, but her iron
resolve is hugely admirable not only in the way she copes with the
physical business of keeping her household going and protecting her
children from the worst of it, but also with the tremendous self doubt
that she suffers - "I can't help thinking that I must have done
something wrong," she says, followed always by "No! Fuck it. That's
wants me to think.".
Good on you F. You'll get through all this shit and how.
Of course, this kind of puts things into some perspectivefor me. My
little liason of earlier in the week hardly rocked my world, and there
are no little people to consider in the minuscule and easily gotten
through fallout. F, on the other hand, is sitting stoically enduring a
nuclear winter, with huge composure and extraordinary fatalistic calm.
Didn't half make me feel like a wanker!
Oh, and she gave me this link
, telling me this would be a good way for me to earn £150 an hour. At least I think she said "earn" and not "spend".!
5th April 2005
A Modern Tragedy
What a depressing few days!
Work at the deli has been drudgery broken up by only the most fleeting
moments of enthusiasm. I guess I'm still adjusting to it, but it's been
nearly eighteen months since we opened it, and so I really should be
feeling much more gung-ho than I do.
Clearly I've been effected by the other main event of the last few days, which in short goes like this...
Boy meets girl. They get on. They
meet again. Fumble, fumble. They meet again. Fumble, fumble, fumble.
Girl suddenly doesn't phone. Boy, like an asshole, chases, unable to
stop himself. Girl eventually texts. End of "relationship"
Oh well. That'll teach me to bother with the human race, I guess.
Actually, the whole experience - a rare one for me - has shown me why
such a rare occurance. Lost sleep, through both late nights and teenage
angst, unnecessary expense, truly idle conversation, inability to think
straight, disruption to a carefully maintained routine and the pathetic
realisation of one's own vulnerability. It's clearly safer to lock
one's heart away in order to maintain one's status quo. On the other
hand, it's not all that harmful to learn that one is never too old to
be emasculated and ego-smashed by one's own foolish desires. Still,
I've never been dumped by text before. It makes me feel very up to date
Now that this nighttime ship has passed, perhaps I can get my shit together! That would be nice!
31st March 2005
Richard Clifton-Dey Will Bankrupt Me
Ah, my precious day off, and I've only mildly wasted it. Right now, I'm chomping at the bit to get back to work on the Powers book, but I'm still waiting for my designer to come back to me. It's pretty frustrating, given that I've gone about as far as I can go for now, and the next step depends entirely on starting the layout. With each page having to be individually designed, control of the project - specifically the rate at which it can move forward - is no longer in my hands. This might be a good thing, when we eventually get going, given that it's only been four or so years since I started the damn thing! :
Yesterday I got an email from the lady who helped me secure my first ever art purchases - the painting that Richard Clifton-Dey did in the 80s for two Powers books. Here they are...
These covers have been embedded in my brain ever since I first laid eyes on them and I've coveted them for years. The impact they have in these little jpgs is not even a fraction of a fraction of what youu get when you see the original art. These things just blow you away! And there they are, on the wall of my lounge. [GLOAT} The original took some serious tracking down, and they're the most extravangant thing I've ever bought and the thing I've bought that I'm most proud of! I know - I should get out more.
So, AE emails me to tell me that she's located the artist's prelim sketches for these to pieces and would I like them? Well, do bears shit in the woods? So, I'm now thinking of which kidney I should sell. Anyone?
IN TODAYS MAIL: A good post day actually. Courtesy of Macmillian/Tor, the HC release of Neal Asher's Brass Man
- a very impressive novel. I'm a big fan of Asher's kick-ass SF, all explosions and limbs flying everywhere. It's brash, unapologetic and always entertaining. This new one is one of his best, second on my fave list only to The Skinner
. Also from Tor, the mmpb of Dragon's Treasure
by Elizabeth A. Lynn. Not sure this is my thing. Dragon's I can live without on the whole, though I'd be quite interested to eat one.
From Hodder, courtesy of Kerry Hood, John Connolly'sThe Black Angel
, a hefty and impressive looking HC. I meant to read this one when the proof came in a couple of months back, but it got shunted down the pile. I doubt I'll get to read it now, but it sure looks tempting.
On request from Weidenfeld & Nicholson (for whom I have just reviewed Sean Stewart's Firecracker
- absolutely brilliant!) a proof of The Pirates In An Adventure With Whaling
. I'm a sucker for anything to do with Pirates (with the exception of scurvey).
Also, a kind of sampler thing from Orbit and the new Bloomsbury catalogue, both of which imply interesting forthcoming releases.
Gloating about my paintings
One episode in and we're told that Christopher Eccleston will not be retuning to play Dr Who
in the recently commissioned second series. I'm guessing that's bad news, but it's hard to say having only seen him play the part once so far.
bad news is that Billie Piper isn't quitting along with him!