22Apr

Argentina Remembers: Mobilizations Mark 33rd Anniversary of Military Coup

From Monthly Review.

The weekend that the hemisphere’s Presidents met in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas marked the same weekend that Cuba defeated the US in the Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago. At the Summit, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega recalled the invasion in a speech that rightly criticized US imperialism throughout the 20th century. President Barack Obama replied, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”

However, as the US President, Obama inherits a bloody legacy that is still very much alive in today’s Latin America. Just weeks before the Presidents met in Trinidad, thousands of Argentines marched once again to demand justice for 30,000 people disappeared in a US-backed military dictatorship.

On March 24, 1976 a military junta took power in Argentina, and until 1981, General Jorge Rafael Videla presided over the country in a reign of terror, torture, surveillance, and murder.

20Apr

J. G. Ballard

Well, it is certainly a sad day for science fiction (or indeed any fiction).

JG Ballard, who has died aged 78, once described himself as “a man of complete and serene ordinariness” (to the disbelief of his interviewer). In fact, he was one of the most strikingly original English writers of the past half-century. Esteemed for his wayward imagination and his ability to create a distinctively Ballardian world, his fiction moved through various phases while remaining instantly recognisable.

Now there was someone who could write. I’ve only read a few of his novels, my favourite being the mind fuck of a surrealist masterpiece, The Atrocity Exhibition, which covered topics form mass media to psychosis to war, exploring inner and outer landscapes.

Not many novelists could hope to have an adjective named after them, and I think it sums up his career nicely.

(adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

There really wasn’t anyone better at lifting the lid and battering all that was wrong with contemporary culture. I’m not going to go on about how good he was—there are hundreds better than myself to do this. I just want to encourage people to give some of this books a go, if you haven’t, and see what all the fuss is about.

17Apr

Graeme Visits Villjamur / As Does King Of The Nerds

Yep, I’m being solipsistic again. Here’s another review over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review.

I finally got round to picking the book up last weekend and finished it last night in a fit of ‘I can’t stop reading, I really must find out how it all ends…’ It turns out that everyone was right and my anticipation of ‘Nights of Villjamur’ was well founded…

… The bottom line is that Newton writes an engaging tale full of different subplots that all come together to form a picture you’d only half guessed at while you were reading. ‘Nights of Villjamur’ has something for everyone and it’s all good. If you’re after a noir thriller then follow Inquisitor Jeryd down the mean streets as he attempts to solve a murder that has everyone baffled. If you’re after something political then Villjamur is full of competing factions that are all out for power and will stop at nothing to get it. If all you want is a bit of honest thievery and the sound of swords clashing in anger then there is plenty of that as well.

The events portrayed in ‘Nights of Villjamur’ are guaranteed page turners and the characters involved are just as engaging. Newton takes his time going into what it must be like living in a world approaching its end and how this can affect people’s decisions. Some characters stick to what they know whether that’s the upholding of the law or following their own base desires. In a dying world where change can be seen as pointless some characters do develop and these journeys are the ones that are worth following. There is enough going on in these pages to make reading the sequel pretty much essential as far as I’m concerned…

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

I don’t know where I lost that .75 of a point. Must. Try. Harder.

And here’s another just in, from King of the Nerds (what a great blog name!):

This was by and large one of the best titles I’ve read this year. Had Tor U.K. not sent me an ARC for review I’d be converting my dollars into pounds and not regretting that fact for a single moment…

The subtle blending of fantasy, horror, noir, and fantasy results in an interesting and enthralled final product that has a lot to offer just about any reader. Marketing material and reviews mentioned Charon amongst such speculative fiction luminaries as M. John Harrison, Stephen Erikson, and even China Mieville. To an extent those comparisons are accurate but to be fair I think Newton has managed a synthesis of styles that deserves to be examined in its own right rather than solely with the context of his literary forbears. As I’m almost certain I’ve mentioned before that is courtesy I do not necessarily extend every book my way. As a debut novel (at least with a major publisher, The Reef had a small print run but I might have to track it down anyway, but even as a second novel) Nights of Villjamur is surprisingly mature bit of prose that I would hope to see on any list of modern fantasy classics and in the coming years I’m willing to be we’ll be seeing Newton’s name amongst those aforementioned luminaries (maybe on some other new author’s book). As I said before there is no official U.S. date, a shame for fantasy fans here stateside and the U.K. market has to wait to June to pick this one up. This is a book that fantasy fans are going to want read; highly recommended.

Now that’s set the weekend up very nicely indeed.

14Apr

Review @ The Agony Column

Rick Kleffel over at the popular review site The Agony Column has written up a lovely review of Nights of Villjamur.

an impending ice-age, driving refugees to seek solace in a city that takes its cues from The Pessimist’s Guide to the Afterlife, a city populated by cults like that of Sri Chinmoy, a city where the dead are banging at the gates. That would be Villjamur, where a variety of intriguing characters are on a collision course, none of whom is a wise wizard waiting to retire, a farm-fresh country boy with a special destiny or hot farm girl handy with a sword. Instead, you get a dash of Lear, with a King’s daughter, and, always a great sub-plot driver for entertaining fantasy, a murder mystery. Cults, con-men and genocide round out this sunny vision without giving a single hint that everything will be solved in climactic sword fight between the farmboy and a wizened but magically-powerful antagonist.

This is all very well and good, but for readers, the proof is in the reading. Newton writes prose that’s both direct and detailed, moving the action but embedding it in a heavy, grungy atmosphere. He does a great job of integrating the supernatural, the science fictional and the surreal into his fantasy.

I’m sure someone is bound to rip into the book sooner or later. At this rate I’ll be getting a touch of the Joe Abercrombies…

12Apr

Easter Updates

Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the second book in the Legends of the Red Sun series. I’m determined not to fall into the trap of series fantasy and having it seen as a ‘middle book’, by forcing the story arcs into vaguely standalone components (with connecting threads, much like the Malazan novels). So, new characters, new plots. It gets significantly weirder. I won’t say too much just yet, since a lot can change in the editorial process, and the first book isn’t even out yet. So it’s off to my agent with that.

I’ve recently finished re-reading Tales of the Dying Earth, and forgot how mad the whole thing was. Very trippy, almost a collection of surreal, dream-like images. I noticed a good review at OF Blog of the Fallen. Now for some Lud-in-the-Mist.

10Apr

Ten Years Of Malazan

I just saw this over at The Wertzone, in relation to the tenth anniversary of Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels.

it is now ten years since Gardens of the Moon, the first novel in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series, was published. Preceded by tremendous reviews (JV Jones’ review in SFX and the Stephen Donaldson cover-quote were probably instrumental in the book being as successful as it was), the book led to no less than nine sequels (seven of which have already been published) and Erikson becoming one of the most-discussed epic fantasy authors of modern times.

I’m not a genre writer who shuns the genre, and Erikson really brings out the fanboy in me. Although I’m only four books in —and it’ll take a good while until I get anywhere near finishing the series— I love it. This really is one of the most pleasing, immersive and challenging epic fantasy series I’ve ever known. I remember reading Memories of Ice and actually being awestruck at what Erikson was trying to achieve, and it really isn’t often that happens to me as a reader. The sheer scale, the sheer depth, the history—it’s incredible. The guy can slap down good prose, too. And to be able to produce one of these books a year, every year, on schedule, is an immense feat as a writer.

9Apr

“Night Poem” by Margaret Atwood

There is nothing to be afraid of,
it is only the wind
changing to the east, it is only
your father the thunder
your mother the rain

In this country of water
with its beige moon damp as a mushroom,
its drowned stumps and long birds
that swim, where the moss grows
on all sides of the trees
and your shadow is not your shadow
but your reflection,

your true parents disappear
when the curtain covers your door.
We are the others,
the ones from under the lake
who stand silently beside your bed
with our heads of darkness.
We have come to cover you
with red wool,
with our tears and distant whipers.

You rock in the rain’s arms
the chilly ark of your sleep,
while we wait, your night
father and mother
with our cold hands and dead flashlight,
knowing we are only
the wavering shadows thrown
by one candle, in this echo
you will hear twenty years later.

6Apr

Aidan Reviews “Nights of Villjamur”

Aidan, over at SF/F blog A Dribble Of Ink, gives a very satisfying review of Nights of Villjamur, and picks up on all the main things I was hoping for: mainly that it can be enjoyed on numerous levels.

The most immediately jarring asset of Newton’s debut is the prose. Shockingly contemporary, one has to wonder if this tale of political intrigue might be set not on a fictional fantasy world, but in a far future version of our own, corrupted beyond recognition. Newton sets few ground rules with his prose – noirish and moody…

Certainly happy that the graft gets noticed!

Nights of Villjamur is being bandied about by reviewers and publicists as a literary fantasy, delving into the underused Dying Earth sub-genre and written to appeal to those looking for something more from their fantasy. While this is certainly true, I was surprised at how much more there was to the novel from the perspective of a Terry Brooks fan. I was worried I would find a dense, overwritten piece of philosophical literature hidden under a fantasy verneer (think Terry Goodkind’s Naked Empire, but not piss-poor), but what I found instead was a tightly plotted novel that worked just as well as a fantasy novel as it did a piece of introspective literature.

Splendid. Now, time for some beer.

4Apr

Comics: They’re Not Just For Nerds, You Know

Bit of a write-up in the Telegraph about how comics joined the literary establishment.

If you think you’re not the sort of person who reads comics, you will a) be heartily sick by now of words like “graphic novel” and “Watchmen” and b) be feeling, perhaps, a bit left out. Publishing houses such as Jonathan Cape and Faber & Faber run flourishing lists of graphic fiction, and the comics shelves in Borders and Waterstone’s continue to grow. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis outstripped Harry Potter to become the best-selling novel in Foyle’s bookshop last year. Independent creators devise and publish their own work for free to devoted fans on the internet. And there are agencies in Hollywood that specialise in pitching graphic novels to the film studios.

But comics continue to divide opinion. I have several friends who will read anything as long as it’s a comic, and several who will read anything as long as it isn’t. I started in adolescence, puzzling my way through imported copies of MAD magazine before moving to 2000AD, the seminal British science fiction comic in which luminaries of the form such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison cut their teeth. But I know plenty who began as adults with George Herriman’s Krazy Kat strips, beloved of Picasso and E E Cummings, or who picked up Watchmen on special and found something, well, special.