Friday 29 November 2013

The Not Yet by Moira Crone, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The Not Yet by Moira Crone (UNO Press, pb, 272pp). Malcolm de Lazarus is the Not-Yet of this book’s title, an orphan who spent his childhood performing in gruelling Sims to entertain the Heirs, a transhuman ruling class with fading memories of what it was like to really live. His earnings went into his Trust, and when he reaches the Boundarytime those savings should pay for his own longevity treatments. He’ll become one of them, shrunken and shrivelled within a spectacular skin-suit and headpiece – and he can’t wait. In 2121 we see him struggle to discover why his Trust is in escrow; whether a beloved mentor has betrayed him. Chapters from 2117 and subsequent years see the Sims business in ruins and the orphans in search of alternative work, bringing Malcolm into contact with Dr Susan Greenmore and her efforts to understand the chronic fogginess that afflicts the oldest of the Heirs. From earlier than that we see episodes from his childhood in the orphanage, where the children are taught to endure and shrug off the worst that can happen: it’s all Prologue.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Ten artists by whom I own more albums than is really justified by how often I listen to them

Ten artists by whom I own more albums than is really justified by how often I listen to them:
  1. The Smashing Pumpkins
  2. Mansun
  3. Ride
  4. Ryan Adams
  5. Spiritualized
  6. Muse
  7. Nine Inch Nails
  8. Moby
  9. The Smiths
  10. Toto
How about you?

Wednesday is sometimes list day on this blog of ours. This is list #12.

Monday 25 November 2013

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki by Ramsey Campbell, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Leonard Fairman is an archivist at Brichester University, whose unwise curiosity regarding a series of occult volumes leads to his involvement in the events described by Ramsey Campbell in The Last Revelation of Gla’aki (PS Publishing, hb, 137pp; pdf ARC supplied by publisher). He is invited by Frank Lunt to Gulshaw, a run-down seaside town, to collect the series, which includes such titles as Of Humanity as Chrysalis, Of the World as Lair, On the Purposes of Night, and Of the Uses of the Dead. But Lunt has just one volume, and directs Fairman to the possessor of the next, and so it goes. Reading each of the books brings on strange thoughts and visions, and Fairman becomes desperate to leave this strange, damp, sticky little town. But everyone seems awfully pleased to have him there, and as they say: “there is so much more to see”. Or is it that there’s so much more to sea?

Friday 22 November 2013

A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

A Cold Season (Jo Fletcher Books, pb, 342pp), by Alison Littlewood, is the story of Cass and her son Ben, and what happens when they move to Darnshaw, the town where she grew up. She’s a young widow looking to reboot her life, he’s an angry little boy who misses his dad, lost to the war in Afghanistan. But when they arrive at their new home, theirs is the only apartment in Foxdene Mill that’s been finished and let, even though newspapers are piling up at the flat next door. It’s a bad start to a new life that only gets worse for Cass: bit by bit she loses the means of travel, her connection to the outside world, her ability to put food on the table, her relationship with her employer, and, worst of all, her connection to her son. All of these things have perfectly reasonable, non-supernatural explanations – snow has blocked the roads and downed the lines – but as friendly old Bert tells her, “It allus comes in like this, when he wants it.”

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Ten tips for dealing with pdf proofs

Ten tips for dealing with pdf proofs:

  1. PDF proofs are for annotating, NOT editing.
  2. Adobe Reader XI (free) has a good set of annotation tools.
  3. Sticky notes are best saved for general notes about a page or section.
  4. The Text Correction Markup tool is the best way of showing text changes.
  5. The highlight text tool is the best way of commenting on specific text and asking questions (e.g. Is this font too small?) or giving instructions. Also good for simple changes.
  6. The underline tool can be used to ask for italics.
  7. Squiggly underline can be used to ask for bold.
  8. Show don’t tell, so far as possible – e.g. if something needs deleting, a swipe with the Strikethrough tool shows it more clearly than a highlight with instructions that say what needs deleting.
  9. Repeating yourself is really, really helpful – if the same thing needs doing in ten different places, it’s really worth copying and pasting the same instruction into each comment rather than referring back to earlier comments.
  10. Users with iPads should consider getting Goodreader. It’s cheap and fantastic.
Any other tips? In particular, has anyone found anything as good as Goodreader for Android devices?

Wednesday is list day. This is list #11.

Monday 18 November 2013

Journey into Space: The World in Peril by Charles Chilton, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Journey into Space: The World in Peril (BBC Audio, digital audiobook, 10 hours; Audible purchase), written by Charles Chilton, is the third story in the saga of Jet Morgan and his crew, following on from Operation Luna and The Red Planet, both of which I adored. The CD release of this conclusion passed me by, so it was an utter delight to discover it on Audible.

The twenty-episode story begins with Jet (captain), Mitch (the engineer), Lemmy (the radio operator) and Doc (have a guess) arriving back on Earth after their disastrous Martian mission, with news of a possible Martian invasion. Put into seclusion to keep Martian agents from knowing they survived, and to prevent a panic, the boys kick their heels until a new mission comes their way: to go back to Mars. A fine reward!

Friday 15 November 2013

Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The heroine of Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long (Night Shade Books, pb, 312pp) begins her story not on the far-off Barsoomian world of the title, but here on earth, getting groped by an asshole in a Californian car park. She’s a tall, strong biker chick who trained in the Airborne Rangers, and so he’s soon dead, she’s soon on the run, and like John Carter before her she ends up in a cave whose contents transport her to another world. She was “just too fucking big for this world”, and that goes double on Waar, where she stands out like the redhead burning in the sun that she is. Despite the friends she wins with her bravery, kindness and sensitive bedroom advice, her loneliness drives her desire to get home. To do that she’ll have to help gorgeous, delicate Sai-Far, son of Shen-Far, Dhanan of Sensa.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Fifteen albums I bought without hearing a single song by that artist, and whether I like those albums now

Fifteen albums I bought without hearing a single song by that artist, and whether I like those albums now:

  1. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, M83 (yes)
  2. Digital Dump, The Jackofficers (no)
  3. Volume 2, Echoboy (no)
  4. Surfing on Sine Waves, Polygon Window (yes)
  5. Compilations 1995-2002, Hood (not really)
  6. This Is the Day, This Is the Hour, This Is This! Pop Will Eat Itself (yes)
  7. Possessed, The Balanescu Quartet (yes)
  8. Alpha Centauri, Tangerine Dream (yes)
  9. Unreleased? Fire! with Jim O’Rourke (yes)
  10. 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields (yes)
  11. Decade, Neil Young (yes)
  12. Avant Hard, Add N to (X) (yes)
  13. Endtroducing, DJ Shadow (yes)
  14. You Make Me Real, Brandt Brauer Brick (yes)
  15. The Noise Made By People, Broadcast (yes)

Have you bought any albums like that, just on the basis of good reviews, a nice album cover or an interview in the newspaper?

Wednesday is usually list day. This is list #10.

Monday 11 November 2013

Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In Hatchet Job (Picador, digital audiobook, 7 hrs 53 mins; Audible purchase) Mark Kermode, perhaps the UK’s most prominent film critic and certainly one of its most respected, covers all the big issues involved in writing reviews: being honest and only saying things you actually believe, trying to get the facts right, writing well, being entertaining, and, sometimes, changing your mind. He talks about the review as an art form in itself, and speaks scathingly of the idea that the only critics of any worth are those hoping to become film-makers. Kevin Smith, who espoused that view and, for example, cancelled the screenings of Red State for UK critics at the last minute, comes in for a great deal of criticism, as does Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, for his habit of publishing any old nonsense that his readers might find interesting, whatever its source, and his practice of publishing anonymous reviews of unfinished films.

Friday 8 November 2013

The Empathy Effect by Bob Lock, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In The Empathy Effect (Screaming Dreams, pb, 144pp), Bob Lock introduces Cooper Jones. Named for his father’s profession, he’s a slightly psychic traffic warden. He can sense feelings, which comes in handy on the mean streets of Swansea: it may not stop him getting punched in the stomach, but on a good day it’ll give him time to clench. In this short comic novel he teams up with Albrecht von Wallenstein the Fourteenth (Alby for short), a testicular retriever who seems to share his special gift, to investigate the case of a missing girl.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Avoiding author meltdowns: twelve tips for reviewers

In my experience, the vast majority of authors are absolutely lovely, but a handful are terrors and everyone has their bad days and tender spots. Bear in mind that these are tips for avoiding author meltdowns, not necessarily rules for reviewing in general:

1. First, put out of your head the idea that you can avoid all author meltdowns. If you write honest reviews of all the books you read, they’re inevitable. All you can do is avoid some of them!

2. You might avoid reviewing a book if you’ll be the only one reviewing it, or if it’s likely to be the only review the author is going to get for a while. The longer they have to stew on it, the more likely they are to kick up a fuss.

3. So far as possible, criticise the book not the author. You’ve no idea what might have happened to the text between author and print. At a convention I once heard an editor say he had rewritten a passage to change the sexuality of a character so that they could seduce a guard and escape from a jail cell. It went to press without the author seeing it. In that case it might well be appropriate to say the book didn’t take its treatment of the character’s sexuality very seriously, but the author might justly feel aggrieved if accused of homophobia. Another book I saw went to press with the final page of one chapter turning up between other chapters much later into the book. A proofreader, noticing this, had added ellipses at the end of the chapter’s penultimate page and at the beginning of the orphan page. Again, fine to criticise the book for what would have seemed very odd to readers, but not the author’s fault (except in so far as they should have checked their proofs more a bit more carefully!). (The corollary of this is that authors must remember that reviewers are considering the entire product, not just the writer’s contribution. There’s nothing unfair about reviews that mention bad cover art, Kindle formatting, proofreading or other elements of the book that are not always within the author’s control.)

4. Try to make your review watertight and avoid woolliness. If there’s something you can’t back up, don’t include it in the review. When reviewing Alison Littlewood’s very good debut A Cold Season, I developed a wonderful theory about horror being about the loss of agency and control over your environment, and that book being the epitome of that, and somehow (I don’t remember how) Peggle was involved! It read well, but on the point of sending it to the reviews editor I suddenly thought of half a dozen counter-examples to my theory and went back to square one. Stick to what you can say with confidence, and if you’re not confident about something say as much.

5. You might want to avoid speculating about the author’s intentions or saying they should have written a different book. It can really bug them: we don’t know what they were thinking or aiming for and if you’ve got it wrong it leaves you wide open to criticism.

6. You might want to watch out for authors who make a habit of nitpicking reviews, and avoid reviewing them. Keep a list. Only review them if you’re feeling robust!

7. Where possible don’t email the review directly to the author or editor of the book. It’s when they try to thank you for it through gritted teeth that the worst things are often said.

8. Another way of avoiding trouble is, when someone thanks you for the review, to just say Thanks, or Hey, thanks, or No worries, rather than getting into a discussion. Everything you said in your review may have been carefully thought out and checked against the book, but if you let slip in an email that you thought Sandy had red hair and Ginger had blonde hair it will fuel their rage!

9. You might refuse to write negative reviews. It’s certainly an option, though not one likely to win you the respect of other reviewers. How much credit can anyone give your praise if you praise absolutely everything? If you’ve made a conscious decision to only say positive things about books, you’re not writing reviews, you’re writing appreciations. It will, however, mostly avoid author meltdowns, though even then there will be people who get angry about being praised for the wrong thing!

10. You might want to avoid writing reviews altogether. It’s inevitable that you’ll have an author lose it with you at some point, and the more reviews you write the more likely it’s going to happen.

11. You might want to keep your reviews on your own territory. Writers are I think more likely to go berserk over reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, partly because of the bigger readership, but perhaps also because there may be the thought at the back of their minds that if enough people complain, they could have the review taken down.

12. You might want to avoid Facebook. It won’t do anything to reduce meltdowns, but it makes it more likely that you’ll be happily oblivious to them!

Wednesday is sometimes list day on our blog. This is list #9.

Monday 4 November 2013

Doctor Who: The Light at the End, by Nicholas Briggs, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Doctor Who: The Light at the End, by Nicholas Briggs (Big Finish, digital audio, 2 hrs; purchased from publisher) gives us the impossible dream: a team-up of Doctors four (Tom Baker), five (Peter Davison), six (Colin Baker), seven (Sylvester McCoy) and eight (Paul McGann) in their prime, accompanied respectively by companions Leela (Louise Jameson), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Peri (Nicola Bryant), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Charley (India Fisher). That’s not to mention cameos from Sara Kingdom, the first three Doctors (somehow!), Jamie, Zoe, Tegan, Turlough and I’m sure many others that I missed on a first listen. With all those people involved, does the story matter? You get to hear the fourth Doctor talking to the eighth Doctor! Who cares what they’re talking about?

Friday 1 November 2013

Theme Planet by Andy Remic, reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Theme Planet by Andy Remic (Solaris, pb, 384pp). Dexter Colls needs a holiday. Investigating some shady business going down in the rough side of town, he was lucky to avoid being blown up, and it’s starting to get to him. Where else would a family man take his adoring wife and more or less adoring kids but Theme Planet: it’s better than drugs, better than sex, and “if you haven’t been sick, you soon will be!” Rollercoasters stand five kilometres high and plunge an equal distance beneath the waves. A reluctant Dex slowly unwinds, encouraged by his family’s enthusiasm, and it’s shaping to be the holiday of a lifetime – until he wakes to find Katrina, Molly and Toffee missing from the hotel. Thus begins an orgy of mindless violence that won’t stop for wine, cheese and Spunky Spunk Chocolate until he gets them back.