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Interview with Author James Smythe

James Smythe was born in London and now lives in West Sussex. Since receiving a PhD from Cardiff University, he has worked as both a Creative Writing teacher and as a writer/narrative designer of video games.

His debut novel, Hereditation, was published as part of Parthian’s Bright Young Things series in 2009. His next book, The Testimony, a novel about the voice of God, terrorism and the apocalypse, was published in April 2012 by HarperCollins (Blue Door). In December 2012, HarperCollins (Voyager) published The Explorer, a science fiction novel in the vein of 2001 and Solaris.

In April 2013, HarperCollins (Blue Door) will publish The Machine.

He currently writes a continuing series of articles for The Guardian called Rereading Stephen King. He can be found on twitter @jpsmythe and Facebook.

He is represented by Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge & White.


Tim Ward: First off, I have to ask, at any point from the conception of The Explorer to its release did you ever laugh out loud at how hard it might be for reviewers or interviewers to talk to you about the story without spoiling anything? If not, feel free to do so now.

James Smythe: Ha! I didn’t, I must admit. It never really occurred to me until I was finished about the difficulty talking about certain… developments in the novel. But the pacing was quite careful: even if you have the first reveal ruined, as it were – the narrative-driving one – hopefully the second, more emotionally-resonant reveal will still come as a shock. A few people have mentioned what happens at a certain point in the book, and that’s fine. It’s tough; and maybe they don’t see it as spoilers? Having said that, some people have said that the reveal that Cormac’s crew are all dead is a spoiler, but that happens in the first line of the book, so I think that one is fine.

And you’re right: it is really hard to talk about the book without spoiling anything.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Legend of Ellie Quin by Alex Scarrow

REVIEW SUMMARY: An appealing, character-driven adventure in a future history that is both fun and inventive.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  Nineteen year-old Ellie Quin spends her days planting tubweeds on an oxygen farm anxious for the day that she can escape rural life and move to the domed city of New Haven.  The normal longings of an adolescent girl prove to be anything but normal in this gene-enhanced future.  The day arrives and Ellie puts her plans into motion, unaware that she and her small agricultural planet are on a collision course with forces that could unravel the entire course of humanity, with Ellie being the key to their undoing.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Engaging protagonist; imaginative world-building; strong pacing with a steadily building tension.
CONS: It is not a self-contained story; ends abruptly to continue in second volume.
BOTTOM LINE: The Legend of Ellie Quin delivers a sense-of-wonder exploration of the future reminiscent of Heinlein’s juvenile novels coupled with the accessibility of contemporary storytelling techniques.  It reveals an imaginative future in which humanity thrives in a sprawling universe seen through the eyes of a down-to-earth, likeable character.

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Cover Art Reveal: Bradley Beaulieu’s “The Flames of Shadam Khoreh”, Book 3 of the Lays of Anuskaya

Bradley Beaulieu has emailed us the cover image for his latest, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, Book 3 of the Lays of Anuskaya series.  The artist is Aaron J. Riley.

Here is the book description:

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh begins nearly two years after the events of The Straits of Galahesh. In it, Atiana and Nikandr continue their long search for Nasim, which has taken them to the desert wastes of the Gaji, where the fabled valley of Shadam Khoreh lies. But all is not well. War has moved from the islands to the mainland, and the Grand Duchy knows its time may be limited if Yrstanla rallies its forces. And the wasting disease and the rifts grow ever wider, threatening places that once thought themselves safe. The Dukes believe that their only hope may be to treat with the Haelish warriors to the west of Yrstanla, but Nikandr knows that the key is to find Nasim and a lost artifact known as the Atalayina.

Will Nikandr succeed and close the rifts once and for all? The answer lies deep within the Flames of Shadam Khoreh.

More information about the Lays of Anuskaya series  can be found at Bradley’s website: http://quillings.com/.

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars and History edited by Nancy R. Reagin and Janice Liedl

REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique and interesting resource when looking at history.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Science Fiction tends to be closely linked with contemporary history in more ways than one would expect. In this collection of papers, historians examine the parallels between real-world history and the Star Wars franchise.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A neat and interesting way of looking at history.
CONS: Oversteps its bounds at points.
BOTTOM LINE: Know a Star Wars fan who’s having trouble with history? This volume might be the best way to get them interested.

When I was in grade school, I had trouble reading early on: the books that I had for my classes weren’t doing it for me, and it wasn’t until my parents gave me a couple of youth mystery novels (Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys), that my appetite for reading was realized, and I began consuming books with an ever increasing pace. I bring this up because this was the first thing that sprang to mind while reading through this history text: this is THE book for any kid in high school who’s struggling with the basics of history, and simply needs to look at it in a different light.

Star Wars and History examines various types of real-world history by comparing it to the events in the Star Wars franchise, and for the most part it works. As a fan of George Lucas’s franchise and as a professional historian, the mere existence of this book is exciting, because it combines two passions. On the face of it, it looks like a bit of a strange mash up much like those Victorian era novels juxtaposed with zombies or androids. But, the book reaffirms my belief that science fiction is an inherently political and relevant genre at the time of it’s creation: Star Wars being no exception. Cobbled together from a variety of source material, this book links a number of connections between the franchise and the real world. The topics are pretty far reaching, too: subjects such as insurgency and rebellion are covered, women in warfare, the American Civil War, leaders and power, trade and a whole host of others.

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Interview with Author & RPG Designer Aaron Rosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg is a prolific novelist and roleplaying game designer. His credits run from White Wolf Roleplaying Games such as Exalted and Mage to the Pete’s and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles children’s books to Star Trek media tie in novels and original novels, some under his cooperative publishing venture Crazy 8 Press.

Paul Weimer sat down to talk to Aaron about his work and career.


Paul Weimer: My opening question is the deceptively simple one: Who is Aaron Rosenberg?

Aaron Rosenberg: Heh, yeah, you don’t start small, do you?

And that’s a hard one to answer. In fact, my agent was just asking me the same thing the other day: Who is Aaron Rosenberg? Is he the guy who writes fun, fast, action-packed science fiction like Star Trek and StarCraft and Stargate: Atlantis and the original Dread Remora space-opera series? Or maybe he’s the guy who does fantasy novels like WarCraft and Warhammer, and the modern-day fantasy anthology ReDeus: Divine Tales? Is he the guy who does tense occult thrillers like the O.C.L.T. series? Or is he the guy who writes mysteries, like half of his other books have been, just wrapped up in other genres? Maybe he’s the guy who writes really silly humorous novels like the Eureka novels and his original SF novels No Small Bills and Too Small for Tall? My agent’s advice was to pick one of these and stick to it, because it’d be easier to market myself if I focused on a single area.
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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Editor Erin M. Evans (+ Giveaway!)

Erin M. Evans has a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, but knowing that much about anthropods led her to stick it in box and become a writer and editor instead. Using her inside knowledge, she’s a master of RPGs, using that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. A mother and wife, she also edited Forgotten Realms and other books for Wizards of The Coast for years and now she writers them. Her books include: The God Catcher, Brimstone Angelsand Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils. She lives in Washington State and can be found online at her website: http://slushlush.com or on Facebook and Twitter as @erinmevans.


SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?  

Erin M. Evans: It’s something I’ve always had affection for. I can’t say I remember a particular event or book that did it—I grew up with parents who watched Dr. Who and Star Trek, who delighted in making us believe in magic. It just seems right that I ended up loving it myself.

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BOOK REVIEW: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

REVIEW SUMMARY: A dark, gripping character novel.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Miriam Black knows how and when you’re going to die, just by a simple touch. When she meets a truck driver who’s death she’s going to be present at, she’s pulled into a plot that will test her gifts and outlook on life.

PROS: Strong, character driven novel, with a vivid, high-speed pace.
CONS: Very dark throughout, overly so at points, with a couple of untied ends.
BOTTOM LINE: Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds came highly recommended by a number of friends over the past summer, and after picking up a copy and reading through the first couple of pages, I can see why. It’s gripping from the get go, and jumps out of the gate and never slows down. While none of the characters in Blackbirds are particularly likeable, it’s hard not to root for anti-hero Miriam as she’s pulled into a plot that twists her around into knots.

With just a touch, Miriam Black can see when and how people will die. It’s a troubling gift, and its kept her up on the road, right on the ragged edge of the Mid-Atlantic coast. She’s used to the deaths that she can’t prevent, but it’s particularly troubling when she comes across a truck driver who calls out her name when he’s murdered in just a couple of weeks. In short order, she finds herself in the company of a con man and tracked by a violent pair of agents for an even scarier individual who’ll stop at nothing to take back what’s his…

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REVIEW: Spin the Sky: An Orbital Odyssey by Katy Stauber

REVIEW SUMMARY: A somewhat entertaining, but incoherent novel.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fifteen years after the Spacer War, Cesar Vaquero returns to his home station of Ithaca after numerous adventures in a SF retelling of The Odyssey. It’s returning home that’s the greatest challenge.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: An imaginative take on Homer’s epic, with a vivid world replacing the Mediterranean.
CONS: Poor writing and structure completely undermines the story in this novel, coupled with pacing that spikes the action far too soon.

Most of our stories use very old building blocks, and it’s not uncommon to see newer stories incorporating them: just look at the popularity of the Jane Austen mash-ups or John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation to see workable concepts. On the face of it, Spin The Sky looks like it might have a good take on Homer’s ancient story, The Odyssey, updating the story with futuristic warfare and a man trying to return home.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dread Hammer by Linda Nagata

REVIEW SUMMARY: A long conflict between a great kingdom and a small, isolated people is the template and background for a story of love, family and duty.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Rich character based fantasy.
CONS: Central conflict revealed a bit too slowly.
BOTTOM LINE: An unusual but not unwelcome turn into fantasy from a hard SF author.

The Puzzle Lands are a small realm on the borders of a noisome and aggressive kingdom determined to bring their rule and their God to their northern neighbor. The Puzzle lands, lacking numbers, are forced to use cleverness, guile, and the natural terrain to resist being conquered by the Hetawan. The tightly knit ruling family, possessing magical abilities and talents, do all they can to keep their enemies at bay, having been bound to that service generations ago.

A prodigy at killing and war, Smoke, on the other hand, is in hiding from his family in the forest outside of the Puzzle Lands.  His chance meeting with a shepherdess on the road will change him, and unwittingly bring him back to the fold of the family he has fled, for good or ill.

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[GUEST POST] Anderson O’Donnell on Reclaiming Dystopian Fiction

Into the Black: Reclaiming Dystopian Fiction

There’s not doubt about it: Dystopian fiction is a hot literary commodity. In fact, dystopian literature seems to have supplanted paranormal romance as the new “It” genre—bookshelves, both virtual and brick-and-mortar, are awash with sexy heroines who, despite total societal collapse, still managed to apply makeup. Yet, in this rush to realize Hunger Games levels of fame and fortune, publishers and their media brethren have sanitized the genre, stripping away the grit and existential horror that defines classic dystopia.
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BOOK GIVEAWAY: Win A Copy of ‘The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities’ Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Courtesy of Harper Voyager, SF Signal has 5 trade paperback copies of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities to give away to 5 lucky SF Signal readers!

Here’s the description:

The death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead in 2003 at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, revealed an astonishing discovery: the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities.

A carefully selected group of popular artists and acclaimed, bestselling fantasy authors has been assembled to bring Dr. Lambshead’s cabinet of curiosities to life. Including contributions from Alan Moore, Lev Grossman, Mike Mignola, China MiÉville, Cherie Priest, Carrie Vaughn, Greg Broadmore, Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Michael Moorcock , Holly Black, Jeffrey Ford, Ted Chiang, and many more.

And here’s how you can enter for a chance to win:
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BOOK REVIEW: Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales

SYNOPSIS: From an alternate history with both a moonbase and a global thermonuclear war, a band of stranded astronauts seek a new parallel earth to escape to.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Excellent use of space science; doesn’t overstay its welcome; solid prose.
CONS: An ending that feels a bit forced even given its symbolic power.
VERDICT: Interesting premise with solid, if not quite perfect, execution.

The USSR and America have ruined the world in a thermonuclear conflagration. The fate of astronauts stranded on a moonbase, their return capability extremely limited, seems to be to slowly die even as the Earth did. But fortunately, they have a Nazi wonder weapon: a device to move an area into a parallel timeline. And so the search is on for a timeline which has not died in nuclear fire, and has a space program far enough along to help them get off of the Moon.  But even when such a timeline is found, the technical challenges in getting back to Earth are not the least bit trivial, to say nothing of the psychological strains of their ordeal…

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REVIEW: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fantastic, character-driven story of alien contact.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Years after Earth is visited by an alien presence, individuals known as Stalkers move in and out of the Zones to illegally collect artifacts left behind. Red Schuhart is one of these Stalkers, and encounters many strange things over his years of collecting.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fantastic and plausible conceptualization of the nature of alien contact, with vividly drawn characters.
CONS: Pacing wasn’t to my liking.
BOTTOM LINE: A brilliant, thought-provoking novel.

I’ll confess that I’d never heard of Roadside Picnic before it was re-released recently by the Chicago Review Press earlier this year. This new edition is the preferred text, following a dramatic history with Soviet censors when it was first published in the 1970s. This edition has a particularly good introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin. Continue reading

GUEST REVIEW: After The Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

L.S. Bassen is a finalist for 2011 Flannery O’Connor Award; Fiction Editor for Prick of the Spindle. Reader for Electric Literature, won the 2009 APP Drama Prize & a Mary Roberts Rinehart Fellowship; book reviewer for Brooklyner, The Rumpus, Press1, bigwonderful press.com, Sobriquet Magazine/The Literary Life blog; poetry in print & online, some awards.

Summary:

Maureen F. McHugh’s collection of stories is an outstanding solo in the zeitgeist fiction chorus including Gods Without Men (Hari Kunzru) and The Truth and All Its Ugly (Kyle Minor) that at long last begins building the bridge between The Two Cultures invoked by C.P. Snow decades ago. In these stories, despite the title, destruction and despair are not the key motif: survival, even transcendence, is. “These are Prodigal stories – what has been lost can be found (changed) again. The author, also a computer game creator, writes tales in which computers become conscious, reminiscent of The Forbin Project, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Karel Capek’s 1920 R.U.R. and E.M. Forster’s 1925 The Machine Stops but even more keenly aware of Kurzweil’s prediction of a 2025 Singularity when AI may supersede humanity.
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‘The Gunslinger’: A Great Entry Point to Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series

I have a new post up over on the Kirkus Review site looking at Stephen King’s The Dark Tower-The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins, Graphic Novel from Marvel Comics. The script is by Peter David, a name comic book readers are well accustomed to seeing (The Incredible Hulk, Young Justice).  He also wrote one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation novels: Imzadi.  The series is illustrated by Sean Phillips (WildC.A.T.S.) and Richard Isanove (Wolverine: Origin), and plotted by Robin Furth (Stephen King’s personal research assistant for The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance).

Here’s an excerpt:

The story opens with Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, tracking the man in black across a desert wasteland.  He comes across a man who offers news of the man in black along with food, water and shelter for the night.  All he asks in return is for The Gunslinger to tell him a tale.  Through flashbacks, we see the day Roland’s ka-tet were slaughtered by the Good Man, John Farson.  As Farson’s followers are stacking up the dead for a pyre, Roland escapes along with another Gunslinger, Aileen.  She is mortally wounded and asks that he bury her in her family crypt back home – in Gilead.

Check out the full article over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.

Fun with Friends—Helen Lowe Talks with Fellow Authors from Australia and New Zealand: Today’s Guest Is Kim Falconer

I have been planning this series with John DeNardo for some time—taking the opportunity to boost the signal for friends and fellow SFF authors from Australia and New Zealand, with a short interview format focusing on “who they are” and “what they do” in writing terms. Some of my guests will be names that are known to SF Signal readers already; others though, I hope may be new. I will be doing one interview a month, so the format may evolve over time, but initially I’ll be asking each author five questions, which I hope will give you a little of the Antipodean flavour. I am calling the series “Fun with Friends” because that will be the initial focus, although I hope and intend to spread the net wider as the series progresses.

Since I am a New Zealand author, I felt my first guest should be an Australian. Given SF Signal is a US-based blog, I also thought: who better than an Australian author that originally hailed from the United States—which led me straight to Kim Falconer. I hope you enjoy this brief insight into her writing life.

Allow me to introduce Kim Falconer:

Kim Falconer writes speculative fiction novels set in the worlds of Earth and Gaela. Her latest release is Journey by Night, the third book in the Quantum Encryption series. The second-in-series, Road to the Soul, was recently shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming award for excellence in the exploration of issues of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability.

Currently, Kim is working on a novella coming out in 2012 and a whole new series set in a very different world. In addition to this interview, you may find out more at kimfalconer.com or her blog The 11th House.

An Interview With Kim Falconer

Helen: Kim, You’re known as an Australian author, but I understand were originally a Californian. Are there overlaps between your writing and geographic journeys?

Kim: Hi Helen! Thank you for inviting me here to SF Signal! Continue reading

Book Review: Further: Beyond the Threshold by Chris Roberson

SYNOPSIS: The cryogentically frozen pilot of a slower than light attempt to reach the stars awakens in a startling future more than 12 millennia hence.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Imaginative post-Scarcity worldbuilding.
CONS: Weak and undeveloped characterization; Plotting and pacing issues.
VERDICT: A disappointing return to novels for the author.

The Sleeper Awakes is a common trope in science fiction. A form of one way time travel, it allows characters from or relatively close to our present to bear witness to futures they otherwise never could. Be it “The Marching Morons” by Cyril Kornbluth, or Buck Rogers, the man from the present travels into the future by means of something like cryogenic suspension, and there proves key to the success of that future time. As a bonus, the trope allows the reader to have a viewpoint character to identify with as he/she interacts with the future world.

I was extremely excited to read Roberson’s return to novels with Further: Beyond the Threshold, where the author has his own take on the genre.

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[Guest Post] Gail Z. Martin On What She Learned From Writing Fantasy

Gail Z. Martin, author of The Fallen Kings Cycle series (The Sworn and The Dread), unveils her sneak peek of Ice Forged, Book One in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, coming from Orbit Books in 2013.

Gail is giving everyone a first look at the cover art for Ice Forged, as well as book excerpts, author Q&A and more as part of her Hawthorn Moon Online Sneak Peek Event.  She’s got exclusive goodies spread out across more than a dozen partner sites, and you can find out about it all on Gail’s site.

Here’s what we asked Gail:

Q:  What are some things you learned from writing fantasy?

A:  One thing I’ve learned is a definite respect for the hardships which our ancestors endured—plague, famine, lack of clean water, lack of indoor plumbing and central heat, high mortality rates from curable conditions, etc.  At the same time, I’m intrigued by how much joy they were still able to take from life through family and friends, small comforts and conveniences, celebrations and holidays, and good food when there was food to be had.
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BOOK REVIEW: Liminal States by Zack Parsons

SYNOPSIS: Mortally wounded, Gideon Long stumbles upon a mysterious pool of water that grants him the power of immortality. Gideon’s would be murderer, Warren Groves, involuntarily becomes his partner in resurrection – partaking in a journey that will cross more than a century of American history and alter it along the way.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Audacious, genre-bending science fiction epic. Parsons successfully writes in the style of three unique genres and weaves together multiple narratives to form a stunning tour de force unlike any you have ever experienced.
CONS: Some questions remain unanswered.
VERDICT: I wouldn’t call this my favorite novel of 2012 just yet, but I can assure you it will be in the Top 5.

Shot by Sheriff Warren Groves during a botched train robbery, the cruel and selfish Gideon Long wanders in the desert in search of one final drink of water. What Gideon finds is salvation in the form of an otherworldly pool beneath the sun baked earth that grants him immortality. What begins as a bloody feud in the proud tradition of a Western pulp evolves into hard boiled detective noir as the decades pass and culminates in a near future dystopian thriller. The story unfolds in the narratives of three souls, bound together by the mysterious pool, as they warp the very fabric of reality.

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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 133): Panel Discussion: Book Spoilers – How Long is the Moratorium?

In episode 132 of the Hugo Nominated SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks our irregulars to weigh in on: Book Spoilers – How Long is Too Long?  Do some people take it too far?

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