I was going to write a blog on something to do with Alexa, but that will now appear after the Christmas holiday break. That’s partly because I have been moving rocks and making new gravel paths, and ending the day somewhat fatigued…
So instead, this is just a short post about an email I received last night, saying that Half Sick of Shadows has been awarded an IndieBrag Medallion.
Specially, I read this:
We have completed the review process for your book “Half Sick of Shadows” and I am pleased to inform you that it has been selected to receive a B.R.A.G. Medallion. We would now like to assist you in gaining recognition of your fine work. In return, we ask that you permit us to add your book to the listing of Medallion honorees on our website www.bragmedallion.com.
Well, needless to say I haven’t yet had time to do the stuff at their website – that will follow over the next few days – but that was a very nice piece of news just as the holiday break is starting!
A follow-up to my earlier post this week, catching up on some more news. But first, here is a couple of snaps (one enlarged and annotated) I took earlier today in the early morning as I walked to East Finchley tube station.
The Moon, Jupiter and Mars, annotated
The Moon, Jupiter and Mars
All very evocative, and leads nicely into my next link, which is a guest post I wrote for Lisl’s Before the Second Sleep blog, on the subject of title. Naturally enough, it’s a topic that really interests me – how will human settlements across the solar system adapt to and reflect the physical nature of the world they are set on?
In particular I look at Mars’ moon Phobos, both in the post and in Timing. So far as we can tell, Phobos is extremely fragile. Several factors cause this, including its original component parts, the closeness of its orbit to Mars, and the impact of whatever piece of space debris caused the giant crater Stickney. But whatever the cause… how might human society adapt to living on a moon where you can’t trust the ground below your feet? For the rest of the post, follow this link.
And also here’s a reminder of the Kindle Countdown offer on most of my books, and the Goodreads giveaway on Half Sick of Shadows. Here are the links…
Half Sick of Shadows is on Goodreads giveaway, with three copies to be won by the end of this coming weekend.
All the other books are on Kindle countdown deal at £0.99 or $0.99 if you are in the UK or US respectively – but once again only until the end of the weekend. Links for these are:
It’s been an exceptionally busy time at work recently, so I haven’t had time to write much. But happily, lots of other things are happening, so here’s a compendium of them.
First, Half Sick of Shadows was reviewed on Sruti’s Bookblog, with a follow-up interview. The links are: the review itself, plus the first and second half of the interview. “She wishes for people to value her but they seem to be changing and missing… She can see the world, but she always seemed curbed and away from everything.”
Secondly, right now there’s a whole lot of deals available on my novels, from oldest to newest. Half Sick of Shadows is on Goodreads giveaway, with three copies to be won by the end of next weekend.
All the other books are on Kindle countdown deal at £0.99 or $0.99 if you are in the UK or US respectively. Links for these are:
I was going to do part two of Left Behind by Events, but when this review came out on the Before the Second Sleep blog, plans changed. You will guess when you read it that I was very happy about this – not just the review itself, but the way it brought out comparisons and associated thoughts. I’m going to quote extracts from the review here… for the full thing you’ll have to follow the link.
And if you do, there’s a bonus – leave a comment at the linked blog (not this one) and your name will go into a hat for a free giveaway copy of the book.
Contemporary author Richard Abbott takes this one step further by incorporating his own already popular literary bents—historical and science fiction—into a highly accessible re-interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, itself based on the life of Elaine of Astolat, a tragic figure within the Arthurian catalogue. Written in prose and sectioned off a few more times than “The Lady of Shalott,” Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows takes us into a world of beauty and cruelty, loving and longing, a world of isolation in which the Lady yearns for her own voice and must choose which sacrifice to perform.
The metamorphosis of this re-telling gifts readers the feeling that they are receiving the Lady’s story for the very first time. For those familiar with Abbott’s previous work, the historical may be an expected element, but the speculative angle is a definitive bonus, and done with a subtly that enhances rather than reduces the Arthurian and historical within Tennyson’s version. There is a machination about the mirror, in its gathering of data as the Lady sleeps between instars, or growth states, and during her acquisition of knowledge, and periodically we hear a word or phrase (e.g. gibbous) that injects the story with a small flavor of the author’s previous forays into a galactical colony.
For me, this speaks volumes about Abbott’s ability to transition from genre to genre: he clearly is comfortable writing in a variety, and with Half Sick of Shadows we see this taken to another level as he combines it into one: history, mythology, fantasy and speculative. Perhaps some might even add mystery and/or romance, for the Lady catches a glimpse of Lancelot in her mirror, and from then on everything she acts upon, whether in pragmatic caution or foolish abandon, is in response to the spell she knows she is under, a magic that will destroy her should she try to look directly at the world outside. The manner in which Abbott expands upon the Lady’s life and events within, simultaneously breaking ground while remaining true to Tennyson as he retains the spiritual within the legends of Camelot, is inspiring and captivating. The imagery and descriptive language is economic yet rich.
Whether re-visiting or new to the legend, readers will cherish Abbott’s novella, an original and enthralling re-telling suitable to current sensibilities, with a blend of Victorian sensory and critical, and the Modernist aim to further pique cultural curiosity. It is a merger in which Abbott splendidly succeeds.
In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she
has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.
At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she
sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot.
The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost,
swallowed up by the past.
But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will
her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?
A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.
And to celebrate the release, I am running an Amazon reduced price offer on all my previous books, science fiction and historical fiction alike, timed to start on May 1st and run until May 8th. So you can stock up for the reduced cot of 99p / 99c for all of these. Links are:
There have been some great pictures of Mars coming out recently from the Indian Mars Orbiter spacecraft so I thought I’d include a few here, together with an ESA video of a simulated flyby of one of the great valleys on Mars, the Mawrth Vallis.
So here is Phobos, tiny against the curve of Mars and very close in its orbit. Most of chapter 2 of Timing takes place on this moon, partly at Asaph, a (hypothetical) settlement facing away from the planet. and partly at a sort of industrial estate in the Stickney crater facing inwards.
And here is a three-d representation of Olympus Mons, the second highest mountain in the solar system. In the book, there’s a financial training college on the lower slopes of the mountain, roughly in the foreground as you are looking at the picture.
To celebrate all this I am running a science fiction Kindle Countdown offer right now – prices start at £0.99 / $0.99 and slowly increase to the normal price by next Monday. So don’t delay… Links are:
Finally, here’s the ESA video flyby of Mawrth Vallis. It’s one of the various places where – long ago – liquid water most likely ran and shaped the terrain we see. Now it is of course dry, but it’s a place that will be the focus of science at some point in the international effort to explore the red planet.
I was nearly set up to start a series of blogs on Kindle formatting, having been reading a lot about that recently. But those aren’t quite ready yet, so instead I am just advertising that a Kindle Countdown offer is now running on my historical fiction series.
So all this week, up until Monday 12th, you will find the following books at reduced price on the Amazon UK and US stores;
The giveaway for Timing has started today and runs until November 21st.
Just drop along to https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/211275-timing and click the Enter Giveaway button to be in with a chance of winning a free copy.
When quick wits and loyalty are put to the test
Mitnash and his AI companion Slate, coders and investigators of interplanetary fraud, are at work again in Timing, the sequel to Far from the Spaceports.
This time their travels take them from Jupiter to Mars, chasing a small-scale scam which seems a waste of their time. Then the case escalates dramatically into threats and extortion. Robin’s Rebels, a new player in the game, is determined to bring down the financial world, and Slate’s fellow AIs are the targets. Will Slate be the next victim?
The clues lead them back to the asteroid belt, and to their friends on the Scilly Isles. The next attack will be here, and Mitnash and Slate must put themselves in the line of fire. To solve the case, they need to team up with an old adversary – the only person this far from Earth who has the necessary skills to help them. But can they trust somebody who keeps their own agenda so well hidden?
I have had major broadband problems this week as BT have struggled to get their equipment working properly. So today is just a short post, mainly to say that Far from the Spaceports is on Kindle countdown offer for the next few days.
Meanwhile, I am preparing the sequel Timing for release later this year, probably in the early autumn, and here is a short extract to be going on with.
Rydal opened her door just as we turned into the little access corridor down to her door. Slate had signalled Capstone, presumably. Like a lot of the entrances I had already passed since the dock, the approach was decorated with murals. She had chosen a butterfly theme, and I touched the delicate blue wings of one as I passed.
My greeting was awkward, and whatever words I chose didn’t sound at all fluent, but she didn’t appear to notice. It finally occurred to me that her anxiety about the coming crisis was back in the ascendant, and she didn’t have much emotional space left to be attuned to my problems. She hugged me in a sisterly way, and turned back inside.
“You’re a bit earlier than I thought, Mitnash. Come in for a few minutes while I finish getting ready.”
We went in. She had suspended gauze in loops and strands from the ceiling to soften the bluntness of the original drilling. For some reason it gave the sense of being in woodland. She gestured towards the back wall.
“You go and talk to my pets for a while. I won’t be long.”
The idea of pets intrigued me. I thought of the parakeets that flocked around the St Mary’s market area, and wondered if she had a couple of those somewhere.
There was a clear panel, floor to ceiling, separating the living room from a separate, much narrower chamber. At first all I could see was vegetation, lots of leafy stems with exotic flowers. It was all too small and cluttered for parakeets, and I was perplexed.
Then something moved. I had thought it was a flower, but it had wings, and with an abrupt internal shift I realised that it was a butterfly. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see more in there, a couple of dozen, of several different varieties. Most were resting, others were eating some sort of syrup. All at once, with no signal that I could see, two of them took flight, wings alight with colour as they danced around the chamber for a while before settling again.
“So how do you like my little friends?”
Rydal had come back while I had been fascinated by the pair. I kept watching, hoping to see another one in flight.
“I have never seen anything like it. They are quite extraordinary.”
I caught my breath as another pair took to the wing and circled each other for a while.
“It must be difficult keeping the environment just right for them.”
I didn’t know much about butterflies, but I had heard that ones this large needed a lot of heat and moisture. She moved close to the glass, watching the pair flit about. I looked at her reflected face, peaceful in contemplation of flight.
“Not very different to us humans, when you compare it to what’s outside of here.”
She gestured towards the ceiling. The first time I had been on the Scilly Isles, I had been disturbed by the thought of airlessness so close. It had seemed different to the experience on board a ship, in some visceral way I could not explain. That had changed, and I was now unphased by the thinness of the skin which kept me safe here. Instead, I was captivated by her words, and was imagining us as human butterflies, straying out of our inner system home, moving away from the sun which had overseen our birth.
She turned suddenly, to catch me looking at her, and the spell was broken. Her anxiety and my shame resurfaced.
Before I begin, I should mention that Far from the Spaceports is on special Kindle offer for the week starting June 29th. Prices start at £0.99 UK, or $0.99 US, and increase over the course of the week – get in early for the best deal.
OK… now for smuggling.
Smuggling is one of those human activities which spring up with great regularity. The high profile cases are usually those with the most reprehensible of moral dimensions, such as drugs, weapons, or people. But all kinds of very ordinary commodities get smuggled wherever the potential reward outweighs the risk. I recently visited Robin Hood’s Bay, in North Yorkshire, which was a major centre of smuggling during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Smuggling arises when rulers and governments artificially inflate the price of a good by means of tariffs. Sometimes this is done for reasons of security or national health, where the people at large may well have some level of acceptance of the tax. Alcohol or cigarettes are today’s health examples, and taxes on petrol can be justified by environmental protection. But historically, tariffs have also been applied to quite ordinary products, as a way to boost government revenues.
Popular sympathy soon drains away when the motives appear to be purely acquisitive. People begin to find creative ways to avoid the tax, and smuggling begins. At its simplest, smuggling is just an equation – getting some item into the country, past the revenue officers, and into the hands of a customer has a certain level of cost. If the customer is willing to pay enough to meet that cost, with a dollop extra to cover the risk, it’s worth it. Meanwhile, the customer wants the savings made by avoiding the taxes to be big enough to cover their own anxiety about being found out. If the equation works, everybody’s happy. Except for the revenue officers. It all depends on the relative costs, compared with the likelihood of detection. It has often been big business. In the late 18th century, one moralising pamphlet lamented about the thousands of men turning from respectable trades to smuggling, presumably finding it more lucrative.
Now I had known from years ago about smuggling which went on through the counties along the south coast, from Cornwall to Kent, taking advantage of the short Channel crossing. Kipling’s poem “brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk” comes from there – Kipling had strong associations with Sussex. The poem highlights not only the trade itself but also the way people from all levels of society took part in it. But I had never heard that there was a thriving trade going through Yorkshire!
But yes, it seems that Robin Hood’s Bay was a real centre for smuggling, across the North Sea, especially from Holland. It was sufficiently serious that the government stationed a unit of dragoons there up until the 1830s, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to control it. My guess is that judicious backhanders helped the soldiers to look the other way sometimes.
The trade through Robin Hood’s Bay consisted of silk, tobacco, various strong drinks, and above all tea! Duty on tea was hiked several times during the 18th century, to finance the war effort of the British government. Tea could be bought for about 7d per pound in Holland (that’s 7 old pence, or about £0.03 after the currency change in 1971), but after taxes, and depending on quality, you could easily pay 50 times that. That’s a lot of margin to play with. Revenue efforts to control the trade were definitely an uphill struggle. It has been said that three quarters of all tea drunk in England during those years came into the country via smuggling. So when you drink a cup of Yorkshire Tea, spare a thought about this piece of history.
Why Robin Hood’s Bay? Well, it was useful in several ways. There was good access from the sea, but the nearest major ports were some distance away. Once landed, the goods could be hidden or moved out on any of several routes across the North York Moors, where local knowledge was at a premium. Finally, the village itself is built on a steep bank coming up from the sea, with the houses packed tightly in to narrow twisting streets. It was said that a bolt of silk could be passed from house to house, using windows, tunnels or hidden hatches, without setting foot outdoors, from the shore all the way to the ridge above. All in all, an ideal place to shift contraband!
The heyday of Robin Hood’s Bay smuggling was over by the 1850s. But tea smuggling had declined rather earlier, when the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger passed a bill slashing the tea tax from 119% to 12.5%. Overnight, the risk-reward equation changed. He recouped his government’s money via a window tax, leading to countless house windows up and down the country being bricked up – unpopular, to be sure, but not likely to lead to smuggling.
So far, I haven’t used smuggling in the plots of either my historical or science fiction. Something to explore in the future, perhaps. Since it happens so very often throughout history, I’m sure a smuggling plot could fit in either place.