I am writing in haste today as in a few minutes I am off at a technology conference – the annual Microsoft Future Decoded event, held out in the old Docklands area. Last year this was well worth going to, for both the scheduled presentations and the informal chats at booths and stalls. As usual, my main interest is in AI, and there’s a fair bit on offer. No doubt I shall relate anything of wider interest in the coming weeks.
So the main content today is to draw attention to The Review, and my particular review there of Theresa Tomlinson’s Queen of a Distant Hive. It’s set in 7th century Britain, when the land was still divided into several different kingdoms coexisting in uneasy truce. The novel is a sequel to A Swarming of Bees, and involves some overlap of characters, but it can be read separately. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (well, both books) as you can discover by reading the review. Moreover, Theresa is providing a copy as giveaway prize, and all you have to do to enter, is to leave a comment at The Review blog page or the linked Facebook page.
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.
Only a short blog this week as lots of other things are pressing in… and it’s all about Timing.
First, paperback copies are now available to go alongside Kindle ones, and Amazon (US, UK and anywhere else) have joined it all up so you can find the different formats easily.
Then The Book Depository is now stocking it, which is good because they do world-wide free delivery. So if you’re not an Amazon Prime customer, or you live somewhere where Amazon charge for delivery, this is an option.
Finally (for today) the first review is now in, at the Breakfast With Pandora blog. Among other nice things, the review says
So here he is, Mit, a dashing yet ethical nerd, threading his way through entanglements virtual, emotional, and both at the same time, while hunting down the shadowy anarchist group “Robin’s Rebels” and sending down versions of new software written on the fly to his superiors, with the obligatory “interim release note.”
Several bits and pieces to talk about today. First, I was nominated in one of these “post seven lines from page seven of your current Work in Progress” challenges. It’s always a bit tricky picking out where page seven is, since I write initially for Kindle. But what follows is a fair guess. The story is (provisionally) called Timing. It opens with Mitnash and Slate back on the Scilly Isle asteroids, having just come in from a long and seemingly dull trip out to one of the moons of Jupiter. They are at Frag Rockers Bar with their friends, and one of them has just mentioned a leaflet which appeared recently, circulated by a group called Robin’s Rebels which Mitnash has never heard of.
Eibhlin took the leaflet from Rydal.
“Here, listen. ‘We are the voice of the downtrodden poor. Financial oppression is slavery; deals and investments are today’s whips and chains. But we speak for freedom and justice, and we have the technical talent to fight back. We will strike again and again at these parasites until the entire system is destroyed, root and branch. We will force out those who grow rich from others by means of clever financial tricks, and make them work at honest labour. You do not know us yet, but you will know us soon.’ Then there’s quite a bit more, all much the same.”
Finn was reading over her shoulder.
“Sounds like they’re up for a fight. Do you think they’re for real or just making noise?”
Robin’s Rebels feature prominently in Timing, along with several other old friends and adversaries – and new ones. As well as on the Scilly Isle asteroids, some of the action takes place on Mars and one of its moons, Phobos. All being well, you will find out more about all this towards the end of the summer…
As well as that, Far from the Spaceports has appeared in several reviews and interviews, which has been very gratifying. There has been something of an international flavour here. Sruti’s Book Blog, over in India, carried a review and two-part interview, which can be found at:
What was interesting about the book besides the awesome set up, and the background, was the author keeping in touch with the subtle ways of humans, way into the future.
Of course, there is fraud and there are people investigating it, but he manages to grab the reader’s interest, right at the start. How do the two of them manage to solve the mystery? How does it all work, in an environment that is so different from ours?
“Wonderful atmosphere, great dynamics between characters and good mystery about the financial case”.
Then finally it was over to the US of A for an author interview with Don Massenzio, including an extract featuring the Frag Rockers Bar, my favourite hangout on the Scilly Isles. This starts with some easy questions like
DM: Can you summarise your book in one sentence? RA: A human-AI partnership tackles hi-tech financial crime among the asteroids.
and then moves through several other questions to finish with the extract I mentioned.
Not much new here this week, since my blogging effort has mainly gone into a guest blog at Antoine Vanner’s Dawlish Chronicles, on the subject Prehistoric Seafaring along the Atlantic Coasts. Normally Antoine’s blog deals with 19th century naval issues, but on this occasion he was kind enough to let me take his readers back into the Bronze and Neolithic ages.
On to reviews. The Flame Before Us has just had a very pleasant 5* review on Hoover Book Reviews. “From the noble, nose in the air, Egyptians to the settlements of peasants to the nomadic clans, we have a tale of loss, hardship, and hope as cultures collide and times change. Kudos to the author for a most enjoyable series. I look forward to more.” And in time, hopefully there will be more.
And finally, for those who haven’t yet seen it, here is a review of Far from the Spaceports. This review is by Ian Grainger, who regularly produces my covers. Science fiction is much more his cup of tea than historicals…
I’ve been away for a few days so thought I would indulge myself again with a quick blog reminiscing about a third book which I have reread multiple times since first coming across it. This one is Hiero’s Journey, which I first read on the recommendation of a friend in my mid teens. The full review is on Amazon and Goodreads; here is an extract.
My paperback copy is old and battered – I gather from other comments that the hugely more recent Kindle version has not been very well executed, so a second hand physical copy might be the best choice if you’re interested.
Review extract :
Hiero and his people combine a religious sensibility with a burgeoning scientific spirit of enquiry, at the same time as practicing a form of magic. They recognise these as three complementary approaches to the world around them, and try to integrate them all into a single coherent lifestyle. For me, this was, and remains, one of the strongest and most compelling features of Hiero’s Journey.
That’s it for 2015: here’s wishing to all readers a very good 2016…
I thought for today I would post a couple of reviews, not of books I have just encountered, but of ones which have been firm favourites for many years.
Before getting to that, though, it is worth mentioning the Goodreads giveaway at https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/166293-far-from-the-spaceports. At the time of writing there is about a day and a half left for this (it runs out on December 23, 2015 at 11:59PM) and there has been a very positive response. If you want to enter, navigate there and complete the online form.
So, reviews. First is a childhood favourite, which I still dip into from time to time – Heather Hill. by Elleston Trevor. I have the privilege of having supplied the first review of this book – published in 1946 – on both Amazon UK and Goodreads. The review reads, in part,
The language is deliberately archaic, foregrounding the sense that this place has been left behind by the outside world. In many ways, Elleston Trevor portrays his animals in the same way that Tolkein does his elves – they are little by little falling silent and becoming separate, progressively disconnecting from humanity. There is the same sense of self-sufficiency, and the same sense of loss…
like all good children’s literature, there are potent adult themes here. For me at least, the haunting narrative style, and the unashamed foregrounding of personal loss and difficulty, make this a truly memorable work. The verbal imagery, the absorbing world, and the quirky personalities described have stayed with me for years, and I am sure I will revisit Heather Hill many times in the future.
The second book I discovered a little later in life – Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. Happily, this one has been found by others too, who for the most part also appreciate its mix of up-front science and fascinating fiction. My review is again on Amazon UK and Goodreads, and reads in part
Inevitably some of the dates have been and gone without humanity achieving the technological targets Aldrin and Barnes set out. Of itself, that no more detracts from the story than the absence of hover boards and flying cars does in 2015!…
Ultimately, Encounter with Tiber is a hopeful book, and one which affirms a positive view of life. Realism is present – things go wrong, people (and aliens) make mistakes and do bad things – but these are presented against an optimistic view of history rather than a pessimistic one. Courage, self-sacrifice and loyalty are universal virtues – they do not guarantee success, but they mitigate the worst effects of failure, and enrich the journey regardless of the outcome.
Far from the Spaceports is vintage Richard Abbott, a splendid good read, even if it is science rather than historical fiction, the genre of his three previous novels… you have Mit, who uses computer programming the way Indiana Jones uses his whip. You also have Mitnash’s “persona,” Slate, a fascinating AI computer who combines some of the aspects of the HAL “2001: A Space Odyssey” computer with what can only be termed sexy geek girl partner… Add to this a number of well-drawn supporting characters (including the dashing South Asian spaceship captain Parvati and her partner Maureen, and Mrs. Riley, who is more than just an old lady B&B proprietress), a non-obvious economic mystery to unravel, and an ugly little persona that hacks in to Slate, and you have a nifty and entertaining short novel with much room for further adventures, possibly the best thing the author has done to date.
Also, for those on Facebook, there is a book launch evening coming up on Monday December 7th between 7pm and 9pm UK time. All are welcome.
An American theme for today’s blog! July 4th is coming up which, while largely unnoticed over here, will be the cause of all kinds of celebrations over there. So I am joining in the vicarious fun with an American theme.
First, my review on The Review Group for a western called Chasm Creek has just gone live. I hadn’t read a western for many years – possibly not since school days, which surely has to count as many years – so found myself unexpectedly delighted by this book. The depiction of the natural world of Arizona completely sucked me in, along with the storyline. Check out the review on the Review Group (or Facebook) and add a comment if you want to go in for a free prize draw copy of the book.
Also, the next in my series of author interviews will go live on 4th – on this occasion I am inviting Suzanne Adair to tell us about herself. Suzanne (who of course is American) writes about the US War of Independence and I reviewed a couple of her books not so long ago – Hostage to Heritage and Camp Follower.
Here is Suzanne’s bio to whet your appetite:
Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. October 2015, look for the release of her next Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thriller, Deadly Occupation.
The time is 1200 BC, and the situation is dire for the established civilizations on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. A large group of marauders invades from the west, destroying Ugarit, the west Syrian metropolis, and threatening the Nile Delta itself, as well as Egyptian vassals in Canaan, including the cities of Gedjet (Gaza) and Shalem (Jerusalem).
These invaders are dubbed the “Sea Peoples” because of their preference for using ships as a means of transportation. Scholars have been divided as to where they come from, but Abbott settles on the hypothesis that they were Greeks. He goes one step farther as well and takes them for the Greeks who attacked and destroyed the legendary city of Troy.
So, ambitious this book is, but in characteristic fashion, Abbott focuses less on sea captains with wind whipping their hair than on what we have come to know after Iraq as “collateral damage:” the ordinary people affected by these events.
To be sure, Abbott can’t resist a scholar’s interest in the Sea Peoples’ ability to defeat conventional chariot-centered warfare. But there are actually zero eye-witness descriptions of large battles. Instead, the on-stage violence, so to speak, is always personal and jarring.
Several threads of characters, two from the sacked city of Ugarit, two from Egypt, two from Canaan, one from Greece, and one of the Ibryhim (Hebrews) form the material for Abbott’s tapestry; there are so many characters, in fact, and the historical situation is so complex, that Abbott helpfully includes extensive explanatory notes at the end of the book.
But despite their number and diversity, each set of personages is distinct and vivid in its own way, and helps to create a full picture of what life must have been like in the uncertain times at the end of the Bronze Age. A surprising tenderness in the face of brutality, loss, and displacement is the emotion that underpins the action.
The reviewer goes on to muse how his favourite character is Hekanefer, the Egyptian scribe attached to one of the Egyptian army units trying to defend the land. I must admit to very much enjoying him myself, especially the different ways he relates to different family members. I have seen several blogs recently doing “meet my character” posts, and this made me think that this would be a good plan for hear. Watch this space…