Category Archives: john grant

in the bundle: A Writer’s Life by Eric Brown

In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Eric Brown’s A Writer’s Life. The deal is no longer available but A Writer’s Life can still be bought separately: 

 

 

A Writer’s Life

“British writing with a deft, understated touch: wonderful”– New Scientist

 

Eric Brown: A Writer's LifeMid-list writer Daniel Ellis becomes obsessed with the life and work of novelist Vaughan Edwards, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1996. Edwards’ novels, freighted with foreboding tragedy and a lyrical sense of loss, echo something in Ellis’s own life. His investigations lead Ellis ever deeper into the enigma that lies at the heart of Vaughan Edwards’ country house, Edgecoombe Hall, and the horror that dwells there.

In a departure from his science fiction roots, Eric Brown has written a haunting novella that explores the essence of creativity, the secret of love, and the tragedy that lies at the heart of human existence.

“Not only my favourite piece of writing by Eric Brown but also one of the most honest explorations of the writing mentality that I’ve ever read”– Neil Williamson

“Brown’s spectacular creativity creates a constantly compelling read”–Kirkus Book Reviews

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A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke

Eric and I go back a long, long time. We started appearing alongside each other in magazines and anthologies in the late 1980s, first met at a signing in 1989, and quickly became firm friends. We’ve acted as beta-readers for each other for the past 25 years, and while I’m a big fan of Eric’s work a handful of stories have really stayed with me over that time. A Writer’s Life is one of these, the quietly haunting story of one writer’s obsession with the life and work of another, a moving and tragic story of art and love.

Extract

He paused, regarding me. “I was writing in my study at the time. It was late, midnight if I recall. The explosion shook the very foundations of the Hall. I made my way into the cellar, through the entrance in the scullery. I…” He paused, his vision misting over as he recalled the events of over one century ago. “I beheld a remarkable sight, Daniel.”

I heard myself whisper, “What?”

“It was the arrival here of something unique in the history of humankind,” he said, and continued down the steps.

My heart hammering, God help me, I followed.

We came to the foot of the steps. A naked bulb gave a feeble light, illuminating a short corridor, at the end of which was a door. Cunningham-Price paused before it, took a key from his pocket and turned it in the lock.

He looked at me over his shoulder. “I would advise you to shield your eyes,” he counselled.

Puzzled, and not a little apprehensive, I did so, peering out beneath my hand as he turned the handle and eased open the door.

An effulgent glow, like the most concentrated lapis lazuli, sprang through the widening gap and dazzled me. I think I cried out in sudden shock and made to cover my eyes more securely. When I peered again, Cunningham-Price was a pitch black silhouette against the pulsing illumination as he stepped into the chamber.

Trembling with fright, I followed. As I crossed the threshold I heard, for the first time, a constant dull hum, as of some kind of dynamo, so low as to be almost subliminal.

I stepped inside and, as my vision grew accustomed to the glare, removed my hand from my eyes and peered across the chamber.

How to describe what I saw, then?

(end of extract)

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in the bundle: Spotted Lily by Anna Tambour

In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Anna Tambour’s Spotted Lily. The deal is no longer available but Spotted Lily can still be bought separately: 

 

Spotted Lily

“a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp” –Locus

Spotted Lily by Anna TambourAngela Pendergast, escapee from the Australian bush, grew up with the smell of hot mutton fat in her hair, the thought of her teeth crunching a cold Tim Tam chocolate biscuit-the height of decadent frivolity.

Now, though her tastes have grown and she knows absolutely what she wants, her life is embarrassingly stuck. So when the Devil drops into her bedroom in her sharehouse in inner-city Sydney with a contract in hand, she signs. He’s got only a Hell’s week to fulfil his side, but in the meantime he must chaperone her … or is it the other way around?

Shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award.
Locus Recommended Reading List selection.

“I hate giving away the story, but allow me to say that this novel is not going where you think it is….teaming with genuine wit and humor… excellent writing…One thing I’m sure of is that it should be required reading for all those who go into writing fiction with dreams of great remuneration and fame. If it were, Tambour would already be both wealthy and famous.”
Jeffrey Ford14theditch

“…a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp . . . Spotted Lily might just be a particularly inventive comic take on wish-fulfillment, but soon enough it strays far from the beaten path…a dizzying but delightful journey through old myths and modern chaos, turning Faust and Pygmalion on their ear as it cuts its own path toward something like self-knowledge.”
Faren MillerLocus

“The main thing is, the novel is real.”
Jeff VanderMeer

“One of the things I liked most about this book was that it was so difficult to tell where it was going…the book is so well written that for a lot of the time you don’t actually notice that it has a supernatural element to it.”
Cheryl MorganEmerald City

“Funny, believable, refreshingly different . . . Perhaps most of all it is a very funny book, without being what you would call a comedy. . . Anna Tambour, on the strength of Spotted Lily and her earlier story collection,Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales &, is one of the most delightful, original, and varied new writers on hand. ”
Rich HortonSF Site

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaBarnes and NobleKoboAppleSmashwords

A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke

As soon as we settled on the theme of Literary Fantasy for this bundle, Anna Tambour’s wonderfully witty and sharp Spotted Lily was a must-have title. ‘Original’ is a terribly overused label, but rarely is it more appropriate than in the case of Anna Tambour: there simply is no other author like her.

Extract

‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ I asked.

‘Six, I think. But, really, dear, this is not my field.’

‘And I read somewhere that you turn us into sort of butterflies, and keep us in lacquered boxes with airholes, for transport.’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment on that.’

The Devil and I were sitting in my room, getting to know each other. He’d just been accepted in our sharehouse, ‘Kitty is thirty-five dollars a week, no coffee or coffee substitutes or power drinks included’ for the room next to mine, which was convenient for both of us.

It was Pledge Week, and we had to make the most of our time, but to do that, we had to get to know each other a little better.

I changed the subject.

‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

He examined the pressed tin ceiling, seeming to be considering whether he should answer. When I had almost forgotten my question, he answered. ‘We have to. We lose too many to heaven these days.’

I knew I had to learn fast, but if he didn’t start to make sense, this was not going to work. ‘Come again?’

He cocked an eyebrow at me, then scratched himself behind somewhere and examined his nails. I tried not to look at his hands. As he wasn’t forthcoming, I tried again. ‘Isn’t forever forever?’

‘Ah … Yes, it is, in hell as it is on earth. But you make the rules, not we. And when you change your minds, you do manage to make an ado for us.’

‘Like what? Please don’t speak in riddles.’

‘A regular omnium-gatherum of disorder, don’t you know?’

I obviously didn’t.

‘A tumult, bother, hubbub, farrago of disorder. A regular huggermugger of change that we could well do without.’

I still didn’t understand his words in this context, and with some of them, in any context. What the hell sprang to mind, but the words that came out were, ‘Could you give me an example?’

He sighed.

‘And could you please try to speak in more accessible language. We are in twenty-first century Australia here. You do keep up, don’t you? You must have some Australians there.’

He bowed, a trifle condescendingly. ‘I will try. Eh, you know, don’t you read the papers? Don’t you see what you’re doing to us? It messes our morale something awful, you know.’

Although the ‘Eh’ was New Zealand, and he was trying a leeetle too hard, I couldn’t quibble with his delivery. However, I was no closer to understanding. I think he must have thought me frustratingly dense, because his brows beetled, and I felt a prickle of sweat chill my back. He waved his hand, and in it appeared an International Herald Tribune. ‘Look at this article,’ he commanded, and threw the paper into my lap. It was singed but readable, and two days old.

I had no idea which article, so began to read down the first page, with rising panic.

‘Oh dear. I do so apologize,’ he said, in either an apologetic or a patronizing tone. It was so hard to read him. He grabbed the paper and opened it up, folded it neatly, and handed it back. ‘Read that,’ he pointed, ‘and do try to think. Think about the after-effects.’

hate it when someone talks to me like that. But I read.

ANGLONG VENG, Cambodia In a case of Disneyland meets the killing fields, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism is drawing up grandiose plans to upgrade the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge into a million-dollar theme park.

I looked up, grinning. ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’

He scowled, something I do not wish to see again. ‘Do I look like a jokester,’ he asked, rhetorically. ‘Read on.’

I did, all of it, including the part that said:

“Pol Pot was a kind man and the only people killed during the Khmer Rouge time were Vietnamese spies,” said Kim Syon, director of the Anglong Veng health center and son of a senior Khmer Rouge leader. “In the next 10 years people will begin to see the positive result of what Pol Pot did.”

I wanted to wash. ‘But this is gross.’

‘No, love, it is normal,’ the Devil said sadly. Do you know how many people we will lose, and do you know what our futures markets are saying about the new arrivals whom we had banked on for the next few years?’

Whomnow. Was he having me on? Was the ‘on’ itself, the dangling preposition—snide? And … and futures markets. Wait a bloody minute. I thought of something Dad said whenever he met someone he thought was serving him potato skin and calling it bangers and mash: ‘There’s something crook in Muswellbrook.’ I felt in this conversation with the Devil, like I was standing in Muswellbrook’s main street as the main attraction—the town fool. It was about time I assert myself.

‘You’re shitting me,’ I told him. ‘Why are you trying to take advantage of my gullibility?’

His eyelashes fluttered. ‘Oh dearie me. You asked, and I’m telling you how it is. I never lie.’

I shot him a look that would pierce most people of my acquaintance.

He looked blandly back. However, he seemed truthful.

But first, I had to take care of something that was making this getting-to-know all the harder. ‘Would it be possible if you don’t call me “dear” or “love”? In my culture, it is kind of a put-down.’

He might have been miffed, for he said, ‘Miss Pendergast—’

We could not go on like this. ‘Excuse me, but “Miss” isn’t something I’ve been called since I was fifteen, by anyone with whom I wish to associate.’

He looked uncomfortable, and his brows began to move.

‘My friends call me Angela,’ I added quickly, and then wondered if that would offend. ‘Would you mind calling me Angela?’ Or if you prefer, any other name would be fine. Like maybe Imelda. Someone you know.’

‘Imelda?’

She was the only one who came to mind. Perhaps not dead yet.

I was wracking my brains when he coughed. I looked at his face and he smiled. ‘Angela has a certain ring to it. Look, Angela. Think of Jefferson. Do you know Thomas Jefferson?’

‘Yeah. Great American forefather. I don’t imagine you would know him.’

He scratched somewhere I don’t want to know again, this time with a smug grin. ‘You obviously don’t keep up. He’s in our place now. Something to do with his love life.’

‘You mean…’

‘You decide, we abide, my, er … Angela. And we must keep abiding, which means that our populations are forever moving back and forth … and even disappearing and appearing again.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Caligula? You do know of him?’

‘I saw the movie.’

‘Before the movie.’

I don’t like to be reminded of what I don’t know, but thought it best not to obfuscate. ‘No.’

‘You don’t have to feel defensive. Caligula was a wonderful … what would you say … resident, for centuries, and then faded away. He’s only recently come back to us. And with your attention span these days, it could be that we only have the pleasure of his company for one or two of your years.’

‘Unless “Caligula” is re-released,’ I mumbled, thinking.

‘Come again?’

‘Skip it,’ I said, still thinking.

Suddenly a sharp tang of stink stung my eyes and jammed its choking fumes down my windpipe.

‘I do demand respect,’ he said.

‘Sorry,’ I mouthed. And I was. It was impossible to breathe.

He waved his hand and the worst evaporated.

‘Sorry,’ I repeated, to clear the air completely. ‘I think I’m beginning to understand. ‘But don’t you gain from heaven, too?’

‘Yes. Like I said, we’ve got Jefferson now, and the markets say we’ll have Ghandi soon. You know Ghandi?’ he added somewhat condescendingly.

‘Yes,’ I said, somewhat hurt.

‘Well, it is hard to tell, you know.’

‘The markets?’ I had to ask.

I was secretly (though I couldn’t let it show) happy that he looked at last, confused. ‘Don’t you know markets?’ he asked.  ‘Futures trading? I thought you were all obsessed with it nowadays.’

‘Not all of us,’ I had to remind him. And all of a sudden I realized that for all his ultra-cool appearance, he was remarkably ignorant. Very gently and respectfully I asked, ‘You don’t know much about us, do you?’

‘What do you mean?’ he answered, and I was happy to smell that he wasn’t offended.

‘Well, here we are in a share house, and maybe you need some background on your housemates. Kate, remember—the one who chaired the interview today. She teaches ethnic studies at Sydney Uni, but she also inherited this house which was an investment from her North Shore parents who didn’t think enough of her to leave it to her unmortgaged. So then there’s us tenants who are also her housemates. Jason, who is going to bug you to death on your implants. Did you see his bifurcated tongue? It’s very like yours.’

‘I didn’t notice. I was looking at his tattoos.’

‘They’re only part of his performance. He is a work in progress.’

The Devil yawned.

I tried not to gag. ‘Do you mind if I light a cone?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Incense. I like to burn incense. Little cones of scented natural dried stuff.’

He waved his hand graciously. ‘Be my guest.’

I was crawling over to the little table with its celadon saucer and collection of Celestial Sky, thinking I should possibly change brand names tomorrow, when he grabbed my arm with a grip you might expect the Devil to have.

I thought I was about to die, or whatever.

‘It’s not garlic, is it?’

‘Never,’ I managed to smile.

‘I do apologize,’ he said after a final little squeeze. I felt like a fruit. ‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked solicitously.

‘Only a bit,’ I lied. ‘But what do you care?’

He shrugged, the same shrug as the bank manager gave me in some little French coastal town when he refused to cash my travellers cheque because my signature on it didn’t exactly match the one on my passport.

‘That reminds me,’ I said, (though it hadn’t—I just needed to change the subject), as the scent of, I think it was called ‘Bavaghindra’ filled the room. ‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

‘You aren’t very perspicacious,’ he observed. ‘Pledge Week,’ he said slowly as if I were a child, ‘is necessary because, outside of our permanent population of futures markets operators, Pledge Week provides the only new source of once acquired, stable and permanent population that we have.’

The fingers of fate frolicked upon my back in a most disconcerting manner. I shrugged, which not only made me feel great and I hope, annoyed him in the same can’t-admit-it way as his shrug did to me, but I think established my position far closer to the peer level necessary to our smooth working relationship.

He must have thought I still did not understand. ‘When you come with me—’

‘My coming is forever.’

We looked into each other’s eyes for so long that I wondered whether it was a blink contest. Eventually I had to blink. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘When you come with me, your coming is forever.’ And his face changed from its solemnity, to one of Christmas cheer.

The actual elements of his smile, when I could steel myself to really look, were rather heart-flutteringly beautiful, and not at all like Jason’s barracuda-shaped mouth of crooked, filed teeth. The smile of the Devil was broad, and his teeth looked good enough to be capped.

(end of extract)

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New: infinity plus singles, 16-20

Just out from infinity plus, the latest batch of infinity plus singles:

Pilots of the Purple Twilight by Kit Reed Pilots of the Purple Twilight
by Kit Reed ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #16 [Mar 2012]The wives spent every day by the pool – this was where the men had left them, after all. A moving, incisive story that gets right under your skin from an author whose prose style has been described as “pure dry ice” by The New York Times Book Review.

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords

Memories of the Flying Ball Bike Shop by Garry Kilworth Memories of the Flying Ball Bike Shop
by Garry Kilworth ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #17 [Mar 2012]Understand the one you hate. What did the old Chinese man smoke? He smoked his enemy, and when he had smoked the hated man he would know him. “The best short story writer in any genre” (New Scientist).

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All the Little Gods We Are by John Grant All the Little Gods We Are
by John Grant ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #18 [Mar 2012]A moving tale by award-winning author John Grant about a man discovering that somehow the story of his past has been written all wrong. A superbly measured fantasy about loss, and sorrow, and the pain of dealing with past passions.

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Closet Dreams by Lisa Tuttle Closet Dreams
by Lisa Tuttle ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #19 [Mar 2012]”Something terrible happened to me when I was a little girl…” So begins this extraordinary, International Horror Guild Award-winning  tale of abduction, survival and escape from the author Stephen Jones has called “a major force in macabre fiction.”

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Fear of Widths by David D Levine Fear of Widths
by David D Levine ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #20 [Mar 2012]Home for his parents’ funeral … all the familiar, yet unfamiliar, things. And the horizon. How could he have forgotten the horizon? Mind-bending fiction from a Hugo-winning author.

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Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: The Sub-Genres of Science Fiction

Strange Divisions and Alien Territories

Just out from Palgrave Macmillan:

Strange Divisions and Alien Territories explores the sub-genres of science fiction from the perspectives of a dozen top SF authors, combining a critical viewpoint with exploration of the challenges and opportunities facing authors working in SF today.

Explore hard science, deep space and aliens; consider alternate history and time travel; look at utopias, dystopias, superpowers and religion; think about who we are and who we might become in the not-too-distant future, and be guided by authors who, between them, have won Hugos, Nebulas and other major science fiction awards many times over.

Contributors to this volume are Michael Swanwick, Gary Gibson, Alastair Reynolds, Justina Robson, Catherine Asaro and Kate Dolan, John Grant, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts, Keith Brooke, James Patrick Kelly, Paul Di Filippo and Tony Ballantyne.

Contents:

  • Foreword – Michael Swanwick
  • From Slide–rules to Techno–mystics: hard sf’s battle for the imagination – Gary Gibson 
  • Space Opera: this galaxy ain’t big enough for the both of us – Alastair Reynolds
  • Aliens: our selves and others – Justina Robson
  • The Literature of Planetary Adventure – Catherine Asaro and Kate Dolan
  • Infinite Pasts, Infinite Futures: the many worlds of time travel – John Grant
  • Alternate History: worlds of what if – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • The World of the End of the World: apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction – James Lovegrove
  • Does God Need a Starship? science fiction and religion – Adam Roberts
  • No Place Like Home: topian science fiction – Keith Brooke
  • Who Owns Cyberpunk? – James Patrick Kelly
  • Beyond the Human Baseline: special powers – Paul Di Filippo
  • Just Passing Through: journeys to the post-human – Tony Ballantyne
  • Postscript – Keith Brooke

Over the coming weeks we’ll be featuring interviews with contributors on this blog.

Ever so convenient purchasing links:


Snapshots: John Grant interviewed

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing a fairly massive encyclopedia of film noir. I’m not yet certain what the title will be – the publisher and I have batted around possibilities like A-Z of Film Noir and Dictionary of Film Noir. My personal favourite at the moment is The People’s Encyclopedia of Film Noir. It’s going to be very different from other books with similar titles in that (a) it’s going to cover far more movies, somewhere in the 2000 to 3000 range, I’m guessing – and (b) its coverage is going to be truly international – not just the usual suspects (geddit?) like the US, UK and France but also the other European countries, Eastern as well as well as Western, plus Australia, HK, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, the South American countries, you name it. My eyes are getting sore from reading all those subtitles.

What have you recently finished?

I think the most recent book I’ve finished – aside from some stuff I’ve ghostwritten – is the novella The Lonely Hunter, which is coming out Real Soon Now from PS Publishing. I’m not sure exactly when: the pub date hasn’t been formally announced yet, but the artwork has been done and dusted and I’ve signed all the endpapers and so on.

What’s recently or soon out?

Well, I’ve just answered part two of that question!

As for its part one, last fall saw two of my nonfiction books released. One, from Prometheus, was Denying Science, which has so far been surprisingly well received. I’d been expecting far more of an uproar from the denialists than there’s actually been. One review site went berserk because, so far as the reviewer is concerned, climate change has been proven to be a complete hoax and I was living in a fantasy world if I thought otherwise. Meanwhile, in the real world, the daffodils have been coming up a month early around here the past two springs.

The book earned me, from writer Gregory Frost, an accolade that I’ll treasure ’til the end of my days: “John Grant is the living heir of Martin Gardner.”

The other major nonfiction book of mine to come out last fall was also my very first straight-to-ebook publication, Warm Words and Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews, collecting most of the reviews over the past fifteen years or so from venues like Infinity Plus and Crescent Blues that I’m still prepared to acknowledge. I was startled to find, when I was putting the book together, that the final text came to something over 150,000 words. If I’d put in the reviews I’m not still prepared to acknowledge, who knows what the total might have been!

This struck me – and my publisher, Keith Brooke of Infinity Plus Ebooks (hey, that’s you!) – as a perfect example of how ebook technology ought to be used. Not many print publishers would look at a collection of book reviews as a viable project, but the extraordinarily low production costs of ebooks made it, I think, worthwhile for author and publisher alike.

There were also ebook publications of three of my short stories in the Infinity Plus Singles range.

Describe your typical writing day.

Get up. Smooch wife, who’s usually up before me. Have pee. Make tea. Ruminate about pointlessness of latter two activities. Spoil various cats. Switch on computer. Stare at screen. Open up Thunderbird and check email. Open up Firefox and check cricinfo.com. Stare at screen a while longer. Open up WordPerfect 5.1 (because I’m a boring old fart and still prefer a DOS program that does everything I want to whatever the latest Microsoft product is). Start writing.

It’s slightly different at the moment, because I’m working on a movie book. As when I was writing the three editions of my Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters and my book Masters of Animation, not to mention the movie threads of David Pringle’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and my own and John Clute’s The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, part of the day is likely to involve watching one or more movies. My next phase of work on the film noir book is going to be a couple of months during which I have to watch and write about four, five or on occasion even six movies a day. Friends say I’m a lucky dog to get paid for watching movies. I tell them to try as much as a weekend’s worth of that sort of intensive viewing.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?

Everything!

You mean you want me to narrow things down a bit? Well, of my novels I’m really proud of The World, The Far-Enough Window, The Dragons of Manhattan and Leaving Fortusa – all four of those do things I think really needed to be done, and in my humble opinion do them well. I’d also stand by my novel The Hundredfold Problem; one of the reviewers said that he read it on the basis that it was fun, and enjoyed it, but that it actually forced him to do some thinking about pretty profound issues. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

As for my nonfiction books? Well, the Disney and Fantasy encyclopedias, obviously. And I think I’m doing something worthwhile in the books I’ve been writing over the past few years on the misunderstanding of scientific issues: Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, Bogus Science and most recently, as noted, Denying Science. I was extraordinarily chuffed a couple of years back when John Marburger, formerly Science Advisor to the White House, congratulated me on these and described them as important.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?

There are other authors and books?

In fact, I think lots and lots of books and authors deserve plugs. My reading tends to be, by design, pretty scattershot – I cringe when people say things like “I read a book by Melvyn P. Scroit and I loved it so much I read everything else he had written, front to back!” Me, if I really love a book, I start rationing out the other books by that author, to make sure I get the very best out of each of them. I still haven’t read The Quiet Woman by Christopher Priest, even though he’s one of my Top Ten Living Authors and even though it’s been on my shelf for fifteen years and even though I’ve read several of his other, more recent novels since getting that one. He’s good enough that I let myself read a novel of his no more than every year or three, or more. I’m a great fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, too, but I still have plenty of those stashed to read. And so on.

With a writer like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, on the other hand – another great fave – it’s easier, because his books are being released into anglophone markets only slowly.

As for writers you’ve never heard of who deserve a plug? Well, there’s C.S. Thompson, whose City of Strange Dreams is, I think, pretty wonderful. And then there’s a whole slew of little known authors the reviews of whose books you can find in Warm Words and Otherwise, hint, hint.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?

(a) Write. It sounds like a joke reply, but it isn’t. I’ve lost of count of how many people I’ve met who want to be writers but who seem reluctant to do the stuff of actually, y’know, writing. It was a piece of advice offered to me first by, of all people, Alec Waugh, who I met at some bash or other when I was even callower than I am today.

(b) Finish the first book. Again, it sounds like a joke reply, but isn’t. If you’re like I was, you’ll be about three-quarters of the way through that first novel, or more, when you realize it’s total garbage. Even so, finish it. For ever after you’ll know you’re capable of writing a full-length book. When you sit down to write the next one – the one that’s going to win you the Booker and draw the attention of the Nobel committee – you’ll know it’s not going to be one of those unfinished, unpublished masterpieces.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing?

Pretty morose, I’d say. The POD revolution and then the ebook revolution were supposed to “democratize” publishing, and that seemed to be a good thing. The major corporate publishers had reduced literature to the point that there was more interest in a new book “by” Lindsay Lohan than in something you’d actually want to read. Lots of very good books were not getting published because of this dumbass, short-termist, look-at-the-bottom-line attitude. Quite a few of those were getting picked up by small presses (e.g., Akashic) or medium-sized presses (e.g., the Prometheus imprint Pyr), which suffered the disadvantage that they weren’t able to bribe Barnes & Noble to pile the books up at the front of the store, but were still better than nothing at all. Even so, many good books were just not getting published. Come the POD and ebook revolutions, and this’d be sorted. What has in fact happened is that about a billion novels have been published among which a mere several are worth reading.

A lot of that billion have been published for free download. Given the choice between a free book and one you have to pay for . . . You’re following my line of thought, aren’t you?

So our hypothetical reader downloads to his or her Kindle, for free, dozens of books of the generic form Porno Zombies Hit On Sparkly Vampire High School Cheerleaders and discovers they’re all complete mindrot. Does that reader go back for more, even though this stuff is free? Does s/he go further, and investigate books that actually cost money?

You tell me.

More…

John Grant is author of over sixty books, both fiction and nonfiction, and the recipient of two Hugo Awards, a World Fantasy Award, and several others. He coedited with John Clute The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and wrote The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters. Described in Argosy magazine as a “modern Renaissance man,” he has written on subjects as diverse as beer, dreams, science and beyond; most recent (fall 2011) is Denying Science. He is currently writing a major book on film noir.

John wrote the chapter ‘Infinite pasts, infinite futures: the many worlds of time travel’ in Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2012).

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Guest review by John Grant: The Dreamthief’s Daughter by Michael Moorcock

(Earthlight, 342 pages, hardback, 2001 )

In pre-WWII Germany, with the Nazis on the ascendant, Count Ulric von Bek is one of the many who look upon developments with dismay — but a largely passive dismay, for fear of the bully-boys. He is not allowed to continue thus, however, for the Nazis, in the person of his cousin Prince Gaynor von Minct, seek the ancestral sword of the von Bek family, Ravenbrand, as well as the Holy Grail, also entrusted to the family but reputedly lost by von Bek’s mad father. Von Bek contacts the Resistance, and, with the enigmatic Herr El and the lovely wildling Oona, who is like himself an albino, makes plans to retain the status quo. Another albino appears frequently to von Bek in dreams and visions — a berserk-seeming figure who has a savage cast to him.

Before much can come of any Resistance schemes, Gaynor has von Bek thrown into a concentration camp where, despite physical torture, he declines to reveal the location of Ravenbrand. At length, as he nears death, the albino of his dreams appears magically with Oona and an enigmatic British agent, Oswald Bastable, to free him. They flee to Hameln where, … la Pied Piper, von Bek splits open a rock using the regained Ravenbrand and they enter a subterranean realm, Mu-Ooria, populated by the mentally superhuman Off-Moo. Here they are pursued by Gaynor and his Nazi demon sidekick Klosterheim.

And here, too, the mysterious dream albino — who is of course Elric of Melnibon‚ — gains a greater reality, in due course managing to combine himself with von Bek so that the two become one. The dual entity returns to Tanelorn, where as Elric it discovers that Gaynor has ambitions far beyond the mundane ones of the Nazis: through forming a duplicitous alliance with the Goddess of Law, Miggea, Gaynor hopes to overthrow Chaos and gain the rule of all the multiverse. Elric, as an arch-prince of Chaos, must resist him.

The remainder of this tale twines its way absorbingly through various aspects of the multiverse — Moorcock’s great conceptual creation, the myriad related worlds in which stories are eternally played and replayed, with archetypes as the puppets of unknown puppeteers. In the end, of course, the balance between Chaos and Law is restored, at least for now.

The novel (although divided into three) has essentially four parts: von Bek’s time in pre-War Germany; his and Oona’s adventures in Mu-Ooria; the adventures of Elric and of the dual Elric/von Bek entity in and around Tanelorn; and the long, complex final section in which Elric, von Bek and the ever- resourceful Oona — who is Elric’s daughter by the dreamthief Oone, and with whom von Bek, despite an uneasy sensation of incest (for he and Elric are alter egos), falls in love — journey between the worlds and bring a resolution to the main conflict while also, in the conflict of this world, bringing a resolution of sorts by turning the tide of the Battle of Britain back against the Luftwaffe.

The four sections succeed to greater and lesser (mostly greater) extents. The Mu-Ooria sequences, with their Edgar Rice Burroughsian ambience, in the telling hark back even further, to the sort of 19th- or even 18th-century otherworld fantasy in which the otherworld itself is deemed to be of such marvel that the reader is intended to be entertained by somewhat painstaking, plodding accounts of the geography and populace rather than any plot advancement. There are longueurs here and also a sense of alienation on the writer’s part, as if Moorcock recognized while writing them that the sequences were failing to lift off the ground but could not abandon them because this section of the book is integral to the rest.

That rest, by contrast, in general sings. Von Bek’s experiences in Nazi Germany, and his growing knowledge that he is part of a greater mystery, are as gripping as any World War II adventure story. The sequences where Elric and later the dual entity must quest, with Moonglum, through the bleak and alien world into which the goddess Miggea has transplanted Tanelorn, like an orchid into a desert, are superbly conceived High Fantasy and eerily evoke the dream-sense; while the long concluding section — with the small exception of the clumsily handled, contrived-seeming sequence in which a dragon-mounted Elric and von Bek attack the advancing waves of the Luftwaffe, thereby giving rise to the legend of the Dragons of Wessex — demonstrates why Moorcock possesses the towering status he does in any consideration of the history of fantasy. In this final section he is creating new structures of fantasy, rather than recrudescing the old — a rare achievement, alas, in the modern genre.

Of great interest throughout is the question of identity and the workings, through the nature of the multiverse, of not just the multiplicity of a single identity but the coalescing into a single identity of a multiplicity; one has the sensation, reading this book, of this going on all the time in a kind of endless flow, as reality itself shifts and twists — rather like an analogy of the impermanent alliances the villain Gaynor forges with the different gods. Von Bek is at one and the same time both Elric and not-Elric, and that duality persists even once their two identities have fused. (The same obviously is true of Elric, who is both von Bek and not-von Bek.) Elric’s sword Stormbringer and the von Bek family’s sword Ravenbrand have a single identity, even though they are physically twain and remain so, even when in proximity. Oona is both a daughter and a lover to the double identity that is Elric- von Bek. Gaynor is at one and the same time a human being and an eternal Evil Principle. There are other examples.

That this is in fact a true nature of reality is plausible in a post-Heisenberg frame of reference (whose analogue might be Chaos, by contrast with Newtonian-style Law), which sees identity as a transient property, dependent upon, among other factors, the act of perception. It is pleasing to see such notions worked out in a novel of, ostensibly, High Fantasy — not a subgenre noted for its deployment of scientific thinking, and indeed generally marked by antiscientism.

This is also an intensely political novel. Time and again Moorcock explores the motivations behind the parasitic quest of tyrants for power and their obsessional need to stamp order (Law) on that which should not be ordered — to wit, humanity. The relevance of this is obvious when Nazism is the despotism under consideration; but there are not so subtly encoded references to other, more recent, “democratic despots” of the Right. The name of the Goddess of Law, Miggea, seems a clear anagrammatic reference to Maggie/Margaret Thatcher, a political figure who while in power earned the public hatred (or fear) of many surprisingly disparate creators. Here, for example, is Moorcock’s description of the world Miggea and her rule of Law have created:

Miggea’s was no ordinary desert. It was all that remained of a world destroyed by Law. Barren. No hawks soared in the pale blue sky. Not an insect. Not a reptile. No water. No lichen. No plants of any kind. Just tall spikes of crystallized ash and limestone, crumbling and turned into crazy shapes by the wind, like so many grotesque gravestones.

Later Herr El (aka Prince Lobkowitz), in talking of the rise of the Nazis but also of any regime of obdurate Law, however convivial its veneer — any regime that pretends the solutions to complex problems are simple, and then imposes through the use of power or force those simple, but (or hence) profoundly wrong solutions on the world — is the mouthpiece for a sideswipe at Thatcher’s American counterpart:

They are the worst kind of self-deceiving cowards and everything they build is a ramshackle sham. They have the taste of the worst Hollywood producers and the egos of the worst Hollywood actors. We have come to an ironic moment in history, I think, when actors and entertainers determine the fate of the real world.

Moorcock’s contempt for the politicians of Law is of course allowed to be seen more naked when the subjects under consideration are safely distant in history, like the Nazis and (in brief references) the Stalinist despots of Soviet Russia. Late in the book there is a long and hilariously — though darkly, bitterly — satirical scene in which a disguised von Bek, inadvertently thrust into a car with Rudolf Hess, must listen to an interminable outflow of arrant, antiscientific, credulously ignorant nonsense from the Deputy Fuehrer. Hess and by implication his colleagues in the Nazi hierarchy are portrayed as what Brian Stableford has termed “lifestyle fantasists”, the attempted reification of their particular brand of insane and simplifying fantasies involving, of course, untold human suffering. Hence Elric’s — and one presumes Moorcock’s — detestation of Law and adherence to Chaos.

As mentioned, there are some doldrums in this book, but they are in a relatively early part of it and easily ploughed through. Overall, The Dreamthief’s Daughter is mightily impressive not just as a demonstration of the fantasticating imagination in full flight but because of all the different aspects of meaning which it embodies — analogues, in a way, of the myriad diversely aspected worlds of the multiverse. It is one of those rare fantasies that merits repeated reading with, each time, a different facet of its full meaning to be derived.

Warm Words and Otherwise

This review, first published by infinity plus, is excerpted from John Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews, published on September 19 by infinity plus ebooks:

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor ofThe Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.

Warm Words & Otherwise is available from:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)



Guest review by John Grant: Collecting Candace by Susan M Brooks

(Small Dogs Press, 200 pages, paperback, 2005)

The nameless protagonist of this neo-noir piece first encounters Candace in a Florida bar, and is instantly captivated by her. Long legs, skimpy clothing, cute face, suggestive tattoo, beaucoup de bosomry — what sensitive, reconstructed male ascetic could resist her? He picks her up — or is it the other way round? — but not for sex: not only is she seemingly oblivious to the notion that sex might be anticipated, but his desire for her is entirely psychological, you understand, rather than physical, so that an act of sex with her would destroy the iconic Candace he has so swiftly created for himself. He wants to discover her mentally rather than carnally . . . with the carnal option perhaps left open for later.

What he discovers about her is that all the previous males in her life — notably her three husbands — done her wrong in one way or another, perhaps most particularly through their quite inexplicable eventual dumping of her. It soon becomes plain to the reader why all this inexplicable dumping went on: Candace is a vapid moron of the most tedious imaginable kind. The protagonist, however, effectively conceals this patent fact from himself, finding her a constant maze of fascination and desirability. He casts himself into the role of her Knight in Shining Armor, and sets off, with her in tow, to exact revenge upon those males in her past who have so grievously ill treated her. In merry road-movie-psycho fashion, the pair of them cheerfully and gruesomely slaughter Candace’s exes, the inspiration for their crimes being almost as much the searingly hot Florida summer as the protagonist’s obsessed quixotry.

This is a novel with a great deal going for it, and its central premise has a sort of brutal effectiveness. However, the fact that the central femme fatale is seemingly such a complete bimbo, complete with a love for the Bible coupled with a total inability to understand the first word of the New Testament’s message, means that soon the reader is filled with the same urgent compulsion to escape her company as her exes undoubtedly experienced. The protagonist is little better: the novel’s conceit, initially intriguing, that he can be capable of such profound self-deception over Candace, eventually plummets to become exasperation and even incredulity that he could be such a halfwit. If she were banging his brains out one could at least understand his addiction to her: is there a male who cannot look back on protracted periods of gonads-driven idiocy? But that’s not the case, and can’t be: he’s made her into a figure of chastity.

Collecting Candace could get around these problems if it were exquisitely written. Unfortunately, the writing is rather clumsy. Were the two central characters possessed of one single scintilla of appeal, this roughness could add to the novel’s overall noir ambience. As it is, the roughness soon begins instead to grate.

Oddly enough, Collecting Candace is worth reading despite all these adverse comments . . . if you can stomach the unremitting bleakness of its vision of the most Neanderthal aspects of, and indeed members of, modern American society. It is from such ground that there springs the culture-of-ignorance whose current dominance has done so much to topple our country so swiftly from the position of world leader to world laughing stock. Brooks is to be heartily and very sincerely congratulated on having managed, in such a brief work, to do so much to explain this phenomenon.

Warm Words and OtherwiseThis review, first published by Crescent Blues, is excerpted from John Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews, published on September 19 by infinity plus ebooks:

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor ofThe Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.

Warm Words & Otherwise is available from:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)



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