First Evidence: Scare Me by Richard Parker

Certain phrases are rich with meaning and far imply more than show. Like “Exhibit A”. It speaks of courtrooms, of mountains of evidence, of judicial red in tape and claw grinding its way through someone’s life, rightly or wrongly. Exhibit A means just the beginning, and with that in mind it could refer to both Angry Robot’s new crime line and the first release from that crime line, ‘Scare Me’ by Richard Parker. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
“When did you last google yourself?”
Will Frost is asked this question inside the first four chapters. It’s a carefully worded linguistic knife, jabbed into the one crack in Will’s otherwise solid armor. He’s a loving husband and father, in excellent physical shape, financially successful and has no worries. Except that question cracks him open and Parker spends the next 300 plus pages showing us just how many problems Will Frost has, and how little notice he’s taken of any of them.

The first of these, the Exhibit A, is the website he’s directed to. At first, it shows photos of Will, his wife Carla and their home. Then, once Will has been sent photos proving his daughter Libby has been kidnapped whilst on holiday with her boyfriend, it changes to a street. Each house is clearly in a very different location, leading Will on a trek across the planet, following breadcrumbs cast by the woman gleefully murdering the inhabitants of the house and leading him towards Libby.
Will has stepped out of the traditional narrative of men like him into a Hitchcockian nightmare of flights, clock watching and always being seconds too late to prevent murder. It’s a brave choice, having your hero perennially behind the curve. Parker uses it not to berate us with how stupid Will is but to show the intelligence of his opponent. Poppy has planned everything meticulously and Will is constantly on the back foot and reacting exactly the way she wants him to. When Will finally takes the chance to gain an advantage, you’re unsure whether he’s being brilliant or stupid. The sense of danger is tangible, and Parker’s refusal to let Will out of his corner and get into the fight, a choice which could annoy, does nothing but make you read faster.

Will’s second problem is more subtle. Parker is brilliant with logistics, and at the exact moment you begin to wonder how Poppy is always a step ahead of Will, he gives you the answer. The first confrontation between the two is electric, especially as it takes place in mid-air en route to the next crime scene. It also serves to show just how deranged Poppy is; she’s both completely unsurprised Will has figured it out and mildly amused it’s taken him this long. Will is never, once, alone in the entire novel. Poppy is there every step of the way and the constant tension only heightens Will’s desperation. Will is a likeable, compelling hero but the assured, psychopathic Poppy is the character who sticks with you after the final chapter.

Will’s third problem is where things get interesting. Having been led by the nose, terrified and sleep deprived, through seven crime scenes that would make John Doe from Se7en applaud their artistry, he realizes he’s been noticed. A lot. The consequences of that lead to arguably the cleverest aspect of the book. Again, Parker has nerves of steel, holding to premise as long as possible and, at the last possible minute, expanding it. A local journalist, Pope, gets wind of Will’s presence through a combination of good luck and rock solid deductive thinking and his actions have an extraordinary effect on the story. Instead of reaching out to Will, he calls Will’s wife Carla, and negotiates. Pope is a man at the end of his run and this story is his last chance to hit it big. In the hands of a lesser author, Pope would be a cheap antagonist driven by ambition but in Parker’s hands he’s a principled, troubled man very aware he’s pushing his luck. Pope wants the story, but he has no intention of getting his hands dirty and that conflict gives the book an extra dimension that puts even more pressure on Will.

Will’s fourth problem is that sometimes the person who only wants to help only makes a horrible situation worse. Carla spends almost the entirety of the novel in Will’s office, running information searches for him where possible and providing a steadying influence when she can’t. These chapters are where Parker really goes to town as Carla’s spur of the moment lies about what’s going on gradually unravel as Will’s secretary and colleagues begin to suspect something is wrong. Carla is constantly trying to work out who’s done this to her family and her rolling threat assessment makes for some wonderfully paranoid reading. Parker also starts to build his end game here, with the events in the office combining with Pope’s plot line to not only place the action noir central plot in context but bring it into land. It’s massively confident writing, each twist completely logical and potentially devastating.

Will’s last problem brings him back to his first: he’s lying to himself. The life he’s built isn’t broken but it’s definitely cracked, and Parker uses the inconceivably horrible events of the kidnapping to peel back each layer. Will and Carla are both gifted, driven, decent people, but they’re also both hurting from their pasts. Parker drills down with meticulous precision to the core of this pain. Poppy’s victims may be tortured as they die but Parker tortures Will far more meticulously, stripping everything away until he sees not only how he’s been acting but the consequences. This type of twisted morality play is standard issue in this sort of story, but Parker uses it like a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer. Will is trapped in his way of thinking, and the events of the novel literally force him to think differently, to change his focus. The end result is ultimately positive, but paid for in blood.

The novel’s one potential problem is the laser-like focus on Will, mitigated by the sections dealing with Pope and Carla. Carla in particular is a strong presence in the novel, and Parker does an excellent job of subtly emphasizing how she and Will are equals. Similarly, the closing reveal, whilst potentially a disappointment after the build-up, is tragic and repulsive all at once and leads into the novel’s single, explosively violent confrontation which is exactly as bloody-toothed and frantic as it needs to be. There’s no clean action movie resolution here, only a desperate scrabble for survival that someone is required to lose.
Parker’s refusal to take the clean, easy route resonates through the entire novel, from the Pope and Carla storylines to the one following Tam. Tam is a small Thai child who, entirely by accident, discovers where Libby is being held. He has no idea who she is or why she’s there, and his gradual understanding of what’s going on is yet another example of Parker choosing the longer, more interesting road. Tam’s early sections leave you wondering why he’s there. By the end of the novel he’s not only a sympathetic character in his own right but Parker’s final, and best, salute to the fact that crime, like life, is untidy and that’s what not only makes it interesting, but gives us hope. Tam’s story may, initially, be hard work. Stick with it, the pay off and the very different world view are more than worth it.

For Will Frost, Exhibit A is a phone call asking when was the last time he googled himself. For Exhibit A Books, its ‘Scare Me’, a brutally simple, clean piece of crime fiction that refuses to let you go. It’s an excellent book and a phenomenal start for the imprint. Bring on Exhibit B.

Exhibit A can be found here

Richard can be found here

Guest Post: The Split Worlds – The First Time by Emma Newman

Emma Newman is one of my favorite authors, for three reasons. The first is that Emma writes exactly the sort of urban fantasy I love; combining the supernatural with Shakespearean intrigue and people who just want to be left alone to drink their bloody tea.  She’s one of the best urban fantasy authors working today and I’m both unsurprised and delighted that Angry Robot are going to be publishing the first full length Split Worlds novel, Between Two Thorns, in March 2013. The second is that Emma has embraced the opportunities that the internet gives authors and has spread the Split Worlds stories over a variety of different blogs, getting her a large and growing audience and doing something very, if any, other people have thought to do. I’m both honored and delighted that she asked me to host the latest story and the fact she provides an audio reading of every story warms my blackened little podcaster heart to boot.

Oh and fourthly? That book she’s holding isn’t just one of my favorite books of all time, it’s also arguably the prettiest printing of it in years. So she has great taste too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, it gives me tremendous pleasure to introduce Emma Newman, introducing the Split Worlds story ‘The First Time’.

-

-This is the thirty-fifth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds.  If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here.  You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.  You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.

 

 

The First Time

 

“I still don’t understand why you insisted upon sailing around the continent when we could have travelled through France.” Oliver’s voice had already become tedious and they were only two weeks into the trip.

 

“I’ve already explained it to you,” Will sipped the Sangria his man had brought aboard from the last stop off. “If we went through France we’d have to go through Paris and we’d be stuck at the Court for months. I have so much family to visit there it would have killed our momentum.” He didn’t add that he’d overheard his brother Nathaniel saying he regretted going to Paris first, when he was still so green. “The first place we’ll set foot in is Greece. That’s where it all began so that’s where our Grand Tour should begin.”

 

“I thought mankind came from the armpit of Africa.”

 

“No, western civilisation, you oaf. Philosophy, democracy…”

 

He closed his eyes and let the Mediterranean sunlight perfuse his skin. He’d waited so long for this. The last six months had been an agony of counting days down until the one he and Oli left the Nether, then England and Albion behind. The yacht was perfect, it turned out he didn’t suffer from sea-sickness and stretching ahead of them were four years of travel, culture and-

 

“Women,” Oli said. “Let’s not forget the women. I hear they’re very beautiful in Greece.” He sat up from the sun lounger, his cheeks, chin and forehead a striking red. “You can’t fool me, William Reticulata-Iris. You’re not looking forward to all the history, you’re looking forward to all the…” Oli waggled his eyebrows up and down.

 

“The seafood?” Will asked with mock innocence. “Yes, that’s true, I’d forgotten about that.”

 

“No! The…” Oli’s right elbow jerked out and in from his side a few times and he winked.

 

Will feigned confusion.

 

“The rumpy-pumpy!” Oli blasted out. The waiter cleared his throat and went below deck.

 

“They don’t say that in Mundanus anymore,” Will said. “The footman told me the day before we left. He gave me a list of modern expletives too. Interesting chap.”

 

“What do they call it?”

 

“Shagging. And all kinds of other things. Of course, as gentlemen, we’d never actually say anything like that to one of the mundane ladies.”

 

“I want to have shagging with a woman in every country we visit,” Oli said, lying back down. “The first will be in Greece.”

 

Will smirked. Although he’d never admit it, that was on his mind too. The Grand Tour was supposed to broaden their minds and age them just the right amount to return to Nether Society as men rather than boys. Everyone knew that it wasn’t all cultural experience to be gained. Nathaniel made it sound like he’d slept with hundreds of women all over the world. Was that even possible? He’d never spoken to any eligible women without a chaperone present. He tried to imagine what to say to a mundane girl. Where would they meet them in the first place? He’d kissed one of the parlour maids and the governess’ daughter, but both were clumsy, furtive experiences he didn’t care to repeat. Would Greek women kiss differently?

 

***

In Greece they took their fill of culture but no opportunities to meet local women presented themselves. Will was keen to move on to Sicily but Oliver insisted they go south first to enjoy northern Africa before the summer heat became unbearable.

 

They were dazzled by sights and assailed by exotic smells but none of them had anything to do with women. Halfway down the Nile Oliver gave up trying to hide his frustration and moaned about his virginity over cocktails every night. By the time they reached the Old Cataract Hotel Will was fit to abandon his travelling companion and go it alone.

 

On the second evening he found Oliver talking to a gentleman in the bar. When Will arrived the man clapped Oli on the back and said something that made him chuckle awkwardly. He strode past Will and left them alone with the bartender.

 

“Will!” Oli jumped up. “I have splendid news!” He steered him onto the terrace. “That was my father’s second cousin twice removed. He’s visiting friends he made on his Grand Tour and he told me about a very exclusive club in the Nether here. One for gentlemen only and they specialise in entertaining chaps on their Grand Tour. Will,” his voice dropped to a whisper. “There are women there.”

 

***

 

Neither of them actually said the word ‘brothel’ at any point on the way, but when they entered it was clear what kind of club it was. The air was thick with the scent of perfume and incense and the corners were hidden by draped silks. There were women everywhere, dressed like Arabian Princesses in his sister’s storybooks. All were beautiful and every single one looked at Will as if he were the most handsome and desirable man to have ever walked the earth. His blood rushed away from his head.

 

“Golly,” Oliver whispered and then an older woman was guiding them further in. She knew who they were and, after quizzing them on their preferences, urged them to keep their family names private.

 

Oliver was led away by a woman dressed like a belly dancer. Her beauty was intimidating. Will was pulled up the stairs by the older woman who chattered all the way but Will didn’t take any of it in, too distracted by the hands that brushed him as he passed.

 

Then he was in a room and there was a woman sitting on the bed, pale skinned and blonde haired. Her eyes were so blue they jarred him out of his surroundings.

 

“This,” the older woman announced, “is someone I think you’ll like. Yes. She is come from the Paris court, a lady and pure, yes. Her family fell from grace and I keep her for a special man. You are that special man. I know your family, very powerful, very rich, only best for you. Look at her. She is like a lily, yes?”

 

The girl’s eyes were empty. There was nothing there, no person, no soul, just something broken trapped in something beautiful.

 

“Young and fresh,” the old woman said. “Young and fresh!”

 

Will tried to imagine bedding the girl but the thought was so repulsive he looked away. What had they done to her to make her so absent? The air went from heady to suffocating and Will ran from the room, down the stairs and out into the Nether, running as far as he dared from the building. As he braced his hands on his knees he realised he wanted his first time to be something better, something meaningful. Unlike Oliver, he was willing to wait.

 

Thanks for hosting, Alasdair!

 

 

 

 

Where I Was For The Last Few Weeks-11th August 2012

Travel, more travel, work, an awful lot of fun, packing for the big move to Nottingham and a family tragedy. It’s been an interesting, and hard, and busy, few weeks. Here’s where you can find the work I did in July.  Also, a quick note. This week I’m starting an Easter egg hunt on these posts. One link will be to something fun and slightly related to something I wrote this week. See if you can find it, and I’ll blog about why I chose it later in the week.

 

Starting with Blogbusters, we looked at love, war, what happens after they both wake up at noon in the same bed, and, of course, what they listen to. Sci Fi Music, Star-Crossed Lovers, a bit of the old ultra-violence and the relationship between a hero and the villain who arches him were all discussed this month.

This month also saw the launch of the superb Monkeybrain Comics, whose launch line I talked about here. I interviewed the creative teams of Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, Aesop’s Ark, Bandette, Edison Rex and The October Girl about their launches, their influences and what’s next for the books.

Keeping with interviewing, I talked to the magnificent Amanda Rutter. Amanda is the editor of Strange Chemistry, Angry Robot‘s Young Adult imprint and I talked to her about the launch, the launch titles and what attracts her to YA as a genre. I also talked to comics journalism legend Joel Meadows about his magazine Tripwire and his campaign to raise funds for a 20th anniversary hardback.

Also this month, I blogged about the Music Humble Bundle, a great fundraiser that allowed you to get a lot of top level nerd music, and help a pair of very good causes, for not very much cash.  I also broke down the finalists of the 2012 Hugo for short fiction, providing links to audio and text versions, and reviewed Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy‘s stunningly great Captain Marvel relaunch.

Oh and I also talked about the Top Ten Non-Mad Scientists in modern science fiction, which went up today. I had a lot of fun doing this piece, especially the flavor text and some of the choices. I stand by number 1 and number 9 in particular.  Always nice to revisit fictional old friends, even if the shows they’re from were endearingly awful.

 

On the right hand column of the site, I looked at the new Dracula series NBC are prepping, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the lead and what seems to be an interesting Steampunk sensibility. However, the piece I’m genuinely very proud of is the write up of Carlo Rambaldi I was asked to do. I suppose it’s an obituary of sorts, for the man who designed ET, who helped design the Xenomorph from Alien and was instrumental in shaping our view of fictional extraterrestrial life. His career was one of quiet, elegant illusions and I found out two things about him that made me smile the whole time I was writing the piece. Carlo Rambaldi was a magician and it was an honor to talk about him.

On the left hand side of the page, I reviewed three of the best new titles I’ve read in years. Lookouts, by Ben McCool and Rob Mommaerts is an expansion of the original Penny Arcade pilot strip, and is superbly realized, all ages fantasy. I also looked at Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel and the Hawkeye relaunch, written by her husband Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja. All three, whilst wildly different, are perfectly distilled pieces of pop culture; emotionally involving, carefully crafted and completely gripping.

 

My first piece for SciFind is part of their ongoing series which takes older, less well known properties and matches them with a currently famous writer or producer. I was handed the frankly demented old Gerry Anderson series Terrahawks and asked how JJ Abrams of Alias, Lost and Star Trek would reboot it. Here’s my answer which I had ridiculous amounts of fun coming up with.

 

The Total Recall remake opened this week and I found myself in an interesting position. I have no time whatsoever for the original, and fly in the face of public opinion as a result. I talked about this on Twitter and ended up agreeing to review the remake for the lovely people at Geekcentricity. This is actually the first of three reviews I’ve done of the movie, which will appear at various other locations next week.

Some great stories on Pseudopod this month, with 290, Jay Lake‘s The American Dead, a moving and deeply unsettling portrayal of what it’s like to sacrifice everything for your dreams, narrated by Roberto Suarez, co-host of the excellent Trailerclash podcast.  Episode 291, Lizardfoot, by John Jasper Owens,  was a welcome and endearingly squicky change of pace, equal parts romantic, shaggy lizard story and horrifying. John Owens, of Sonic Society and Bell’s in the Batfry, did stunning voice work too. 292, Coming Soon To A Theatre Near You was written by the legendary David J. Schow and was another change of pace, a hard-edged piece of urban splatter noir with an oddly hopeful, poetic edge. Dave Robison, a dear friend and the magnificently voiced co-host of Writer’s Roundtable and the host of Tales to Terrify did a superb job of narrating it on his first time at Pseudopod Towers.  Finally, a last minute technical hitch meant episode 294 went up before episode 293. Demon Rum by Charles M. Saplak is a late run contender for one of my stories of the year, a beautifully realised piece of maritime horror read supremely well by the multi-talented Dominick Rayburn.

I’ve been a fan of the Drabblecast for years and Norm Sherman, their host, is a flat out podcast hero of mine. Norm is endlessly wry, arch, funny, fiercely on point and can swing a pretty mean guitar. So I was massively pleased when they asked me to read part of Trifecta XXII for their 250th episode. Their Trifecta episodes are legendary, combining three drabbles under a loose theme and this particular story, The Faithful Servant, by Joel Shulkin, is a wonderful piece of very British armageddon. I had a blast reading it.

 

Want to talk to me about the article? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.

Where’s Al?-The Bigger on the Inside Edition Part 2

Journalism

I filed my first story for a national newspaper this month. The Guardian are producing two ‘Guides to the Night’ at the end of October and the Guide editor, Phil Daoust, contacted me about writing a piece about telling ghost stories to live audiences.
It was massive fun to do, covering environment, story, audience and performance and it really helped me focus in on the mechanics of storytelling. The piece is scheduled for print on October 24th and I even get a photograph, hopefully looking moody standing in an archway. I suit archways.

I’ve also had two pieces published by SFX recently; the first covering the apparent discovery that the melanin in human hair could be used as a conductor in solar cells instead of silicone. It’s a dizzying claim that promises that solar cells could be produced for a quarter of their current cost and, in turn, offers up the possibility of cheap, affordable electricity for some of the world’s most inaccessible places. It’s a dizzying, beautiful concept which sounds too good to be true.

Which, unfortunately, it was. Not long after I filed the piece the student who’d made the discovery admitted it was a fraud. It’s a real shame too as it’s one of those ideas that should work.

My second pieces was much more successful, thanks largely to FantasyCon actually taking place instead of people just claiming it did. My Con report went live this week and includes details of books by Mike Shevdon and John Lenahan, my role in the BFS Awards ceremony and the news that Being Human novels are due next year. Parts of this piece are also scheduled to turn up in the magazine itself as part of their convention round-up.

Fiction
More Twitter fiction, just a single one this time, sold to Jetse Devries’ excellent Outshine and published on September 10th. It’s a tiny little piece but I like it, and would I think, rather like to live in the city it describes.

Roleplaying

With the game just a couple of months away, I can now announce that I’m one of the senior scenario writers on the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. Or, to put it another way, two decades upstream? 12-year old Al is a very, very happy kid knowing he still has this gig to look forward to.

I’ve not just got to play in the official Doctor Who universe I’ve also got to shape it a little bit, expanding a couple of the lesser alien races and building an interesting little playground that should make a fun location for players to bounce off from time to time. I’ve had immense fun and the two scenarios I’ve got in the game are a nice combination of classic Who (Something nasty in the green and pleasant land, let’s solve things with science! Run! Run some more!) and my own unique style (Government conspiracies! Brave new world! Radio 4!). I’m both very excited and a little nervous about how they, and the adventure seeds I contributed, are going to be received. Not long to go now…

Reviews

A few years ago, I contributed a story to Andrew Hook’s ‘The Alsiso Project’ anthology. It was a gloriously odd idea, taking a spelling mistake and using it as the starting point for twenty three completely unique stories. Mine was a lecture, delivered by someone who has discovered that Alsiso is the name for something we haven’t quite reached yet, a linguistic tenth planet of sorts.

It was also pretty much hated on release, which is fine, each to their own after all. However, CERN Zoo just put up a spectacularly good review of both the book and my story which I’ve linked to here. I always rather liked my Alsiso story and it’s a real pleasure to see someone else does too.

So there we go, a busy couple of months. Thanks for sticking with me and check back soon for more pop culture goodness.

Where’s Al?-The Bigger on the Inside Edition Part 1

It’s been a busy few weeks, so busy, in fact that ‘Where’s Al?’ needs to be broken up into two entries. First off, let’s take a look at what’s been going on at Hub, Pseudopod and Escape Pod recently..

Podcasting
Orrin Grey’s ‘The Worm That Gnaws’ followed Mark Felps’ ‘Raising Eddie’ at Pseudopod. It’s a great piece, a period story about the very real and very supernatural dangers of grave robbing.

Blake Vaughn’s ‘The Leviathan’ was up next and is one of my favourite Pseudopod stories in a while. It’s a piece about what it’s like to brush up against something unknowable on both the intimate and the supernatural scale and reminded me more than a little of Ray Bradbury’s classic ‘The Foghorn’.

Things got meta the week after that with the debut of the first ever Escape Artists metacast. It’s interesting listening, with Ben our CEO, Steve, our founder, Rachel the co-editor of Podcastle and myself all contributing with details of where the company stands, what processes go into making an episode and how we feel about doing the work.

The week after that, Felicity Bloomfield’s haunting ‘Wave Goodbye’, a story that balances first world guilt with third world horror to terrifying effect.

Regulars’ was up next, with Frank Oreto deftly using the social contract between barkeep and customer to focus the deep, personal horror of the piece.

Jim Bihyeh’s ‘Reservation Monsters’ followed it, exploring Navajo culture with tremendous subtlety and atmosphere.

Most recently ‘Got Milk?’ by John Alfred Taylor explored what happens when you don’t notice reality start to curdle until it’s much, much too late. I narrated this one as well as introduced it and it’s a blast, simultaneously very funny and utterly revolting

I also spent a month in the woooorlld of tomorrow! Or Escape Pod as we like to call it, where I guest hosted four episodes. The first ‘Cathargo Delenda Est’ by Genevieve Valentine is a story about what happens when something is about to happen, that moment before the singularity, before everything changes.

Skinhorse goes to Mars’ by Jay Lake was up next, a highly entertaining combination of demented pulp invention and grounded, almost Firefly-like universe building.

The Monkey Will Never Get Rid Of Its Black Hands’ by Rachel Swirsky followed it, which I also narrated. This, to my mind, is one of the best stories we’ve ever run, a fascinating, troubling combination of alternate history, seething fury and vast human tragedy.

Finally, ‘Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’ by Eugie Foster is yet another in a run of massively inventive, intelligent stories from Eugie. This and Rachel’s piece are two real highlights in what’s been a very strong year for all three podcasts.

Hub

Issue 95 kicked off with ‘Last Flight’ by Malin Larsson as well as a look at the Vampire in fiction by our new columnist Janet Neilson and reviews of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes 19-21 by Richard Whittaker.

Issue 96 featured ‘Obsession’ by Jo Thomas as our story and featured my look at Ivan Reitman’s flawed but fun Evolution in our Big Screen Future feature. It’s not a perfect movie, but I’d contend any film which allows David Duchovny, Seann William Scott and Orlando Jones to sing ‘Play That Funky Music, White Boy’ has got to have something going for it. The issue is rounded out by a review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode 22 by Richard Whittaker.

Issue 97 featured ‘The Locked Room’ by Gaie Sebold and Martin Owton. The reviews section was given over to a Blockbuster round up covering Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Orphan. The issue was rounded out by Gary McMahon’s excellent Bleeding Words column, looking at the difficulties of transitioning from the small press to the big leagues.

Most recently, issue 98 featured an exclusive; ‘The Clockwork Hunter’ is a short story by Andy Remic set in the same universe as Kell’s Legend, his new novel from Angry Robot. It’s a fantastically nasty, very odd fantasy world delivered with Andy’s usual flair and this story is a perfect chance to see if it’s your thing.

The reviews cover Sarah Pinborough’s superb The Language of Dying, Neil Blommkamp’s fascinating District 9 and a combined review of Inglourious Basterds and Shorts. I’m a big fan of movie reviews at the best of times, you may have noticed, but the Inglourious Basterds review is something genuinely very special. I don’t agree with some of the points raised in it but I’ve yet to see another review approach the film as an exploration of film itself in quite so much depth.

The other stand out review this issue is a double header, as both Janet and I take a look at Personal Effects: Dark Art. A fascinating, transmedia novel that comes with a packet of documents that inform the story and sits in the centre of a cloud of websites that allow the reader to interrogate the story, it’s the print debut of podcasting giant JC Hutchins. Check out the reviews to see what we thought of it.
The issue is rounded out by another Big Screen Future, this time looking at James Cameron’s The Abyss. To my mind it’s not only Cameron’s best film but also the one that his new movie, Avatar, appears closest to in terms of approach. Whether Avatar will be instantly successful, in the way The Abyss wasn’t, is going to be fascinating to see.

So that’s what’s been going on with the podcasts and Hub recently. Check back tomorrow for a break down of what else has been going on.

Four Angry Robots

Angry Robot is a new science fiction, fantasy and horror imprint from Harper Collins. Their first two books launch this week, with the next two arriving in August and, as a friend of mine is the assistant editor on the line I was lucky enough to be sent review copies of their first four titles; Moxyland, Slights, Book of Secrets and Nekropolis.

With the web now all but ubiquitous and Twitter beginning to crest into something genuinely fascinating, it seems eminently appropriate that one of Angry Robot’s first books is a remarkably tech savvy thriller with a very different perspective. Moxyland Book CoverMoxyland is set in Capetown, ten years into a future where connectivity and online communications has become something close to currency in its own right and being offline is tantamount to being an outcast. Toby, a slacker who toys with the underworld finds his life intertwined with Kendra, a woman so desperate to be accepted she’s become a sponsorbaby, a nanotech enhanced living advert. At the same time, Lerato, a corporate programmer who is as bored as she is brilliant and Tendeka, a revolutionary trying to bring down the corporate culture choking her hometown take actions that will bring them into the orbits of Toby, Kendra, and each other.
The genuinely difficult thing about near future science fiction is to make it both convincing and different. Don’t do enough and it becomes a contemporary thriller, do too much and it becomes dystopian science fiction. On top of that, the ghost of Blade Runner hovers like Banquo over the proceedings, daring authors to tilt at the definitive Cyberpunk windmill.
Moxyland avoids all those pitfalls due to three very simple, highly effective elements of the book. The setting is the first and most important, Cape Town becoming a vibrant, fascinating, evolving city that shares DNA with Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles and Akira‘s Neo Tokyo but is still a unique entity in its own right.
Secondly, the book is cheerfully pragmatic, the characters all flawed, normal people with the same concerns we have, albeit projected ten years into the future. These aren’t Cyberpunk stereotypes, strutting around, flexing their cybernetic angst muscles but normal, flawed, slightly desperate people. Finally, there’s the book’s cheerful, maniacal invention, taking in everything from the sponsorbabies to art with genetic structures and sculpted attack dogs. It’s a resolutely normal, resolutely different, fascinating world that Lauren Beukes has incredible fun showing to her readers. As debut books for both the author and the line go, this is as good as it can get.

Slights book cverSlights by Kaaron Warren is the latest in a series of novels which are slowly but surely rebuilding the horror genre as a rich, inventive field. Stephanie kills people. She’s very, very good at it and the fact she does it has never bothered her until now. Because Stephanie’s mother is dead, Stephanie almost died in the same accident and when she did, she went to a room fillled with all the people she’s ever killed. They bite and scratch and claw at her but she survives, only to become more and more obsessed with the room, the people in it and what it feels like to die instead of kill.
Slights is about as horrific as its possible to get, a novel that trawls the depths of human depravity to explore what happens at the edge of human understanding. Waaron has a keen ear for prose and dialogue and a very strong sense of the normal, making the horrific events of the book all the more unsettling. Where Moxyland drops you in at the deep end and allows you to swim to the edges, Slights holds your head under water until you almost black out, lets you up, then does it again. This is kitchen sink horror, pragmatic and savage, brutal and human all at once. This is a story the Man in Black would be happy to tell and I can think of no better praise than that.

Book of Secrets book coverChris Roberson’s Book of Secrets heads up the second pair of releases, scheduled for the 6th of August. Spencer Finch is a reporter searching for a book that everyone from cat burglars to monks seems to want. It’s a difficult case, a rabbit hole that he finds himself running headlong down and that appears to have something to do with a chest of golden age pulp magazines left to him by his grandfather. Something terrible is bound up in the book of secrets, and whether he likes it or not, Spencer’s life is intimately connected with it.
Expanded from Voices of Thunder, one of Roberson’s earliest novels, Book of Secrets incorporates many of the author’s favourite tropes. The love for golden age pulp is here as is the idea that books hold power, that ideas have weight and shape and form. It’s a fascinating book, paced at breakneck speed with a hard nosed first person narrative and some great offhand jokes. A lost Greek play is referred to as ‘No Mr Nice God’, armies of masked vigilantes parade across the page and the true history of mankind is revealed. Which isn’t bad going for a journalist who just wants to file a story.
The real star here is Roberson’s easy going prose, that carries some big ideas along with elegance and grace and places the story in a unique hinterland somewhere between steampunk and action thriller, weaving Spencer’s life into ancient Greek literature and the pulp stories written by his grandfather. It’s arguably the most commercial of the four books but that isn’t to say that it’s the least. This is a smart, literate thriller written by an author whose love for the form is clear.
There are a million stories in the dead city in the pit, a million lives and unlives powered by deceit and passion. Some of them get in trouble, some of them need help and some of them find Matt Richter, a private eye who is already dead himself.
Nekropolis book coverNekropolis by Tim Waggoner, does similar work to Roberson’s Book of Secrets in so far as it crosses genres. However, here the two genres are supernatural thriller and hard boiled crime, Matt Richter’s unlife owing as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to Mary Shelley. This is, after all, hell and Matt is not so much the Chandlerian ideal as a man trying to do in unlife what he tried to do in life; the right thing, no matter the cost. It’s a tough sell, bringing these two genres together, but Waggoner’s dark city of ash and bone is the perfect connective tissue for the story, raising it above cliché and into realms of surprisingly dark horror. This is the first in a series of three stories and I’m fascinated to see where Waggoner goes next.

A quartet of disaffected twenty and thirtysomethings, a serial killer who wants to die, a journalist on the trail of pulp history and a private eye deader than most murder victims. Four unique protagonists for four unique books, all of which bring something new to the table be it author, perspective or style. This is a great start for the imprint, a quartet of unique, fascinating voices that make a powerful statement about the imprint’s intentions as much as tell good stories in their own right. This robot should be angry for a long time to come and that does nothing but bode well for genre fiction.