Milford 2017: One year after, and then some, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

It happened on a Sunday. March 5th, 2017. I remember it specifically because it was the last month of the first quarter of 2017, and I felt like the year had taken off and I was yet to. I had just moved into a new department in the third year of my job at a consulting firm, and had just gotten to that place in a new role where you start to see all the cracks. I splayed in front of the TV that weekend, asking myself how my writing, career and adulting were going to coexist.

The email from Jacey came then, a simple message that moved mountains.

Dear Suyi, it read. I’m delighted to tell you that you’ve been selected for the Milford Bursary in September. Enclosed is your official letter and a form to send back to us.

If there was ever a time I needed a shove, this was it. These were some fine folks, worlds away from mine, saying they had read what I had written and wanted to pay for me to come share more with them. It was acknowledgement; it was validation. It was: You’re one of us. Come have a seat at the table.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

***

I applied for paid vacation. I applied for a visa. I bought a plane ticket and warm clothes.

Suyi and Vaughan

Suyi with Vaughan Stanger in the garden at Trigonos

This is the part I remember. From then on, everything becomes a blur. I remember things in slices: long flights, train rides along the coast, some dudebros at Bangor station sporting Hawaiian shirts in the biting cold and Vaughan remarking, “Some hardy souls right there.” Riding in the cab through pretty Nantlle, watching inclined sheep on the hills–lots of them. Trigonos, with its warm house and staff, a calming stream and a park bench set just so you can see Mount Snowdon when the clouds allow. Confectionery, coffee and tea-time bells. Chatting with Sue about her Nigerian affiliations. Trying to read a sundial with Val, Matt and Phil. A walk in the garden with Jackie. Talking martial arts with Mark. Jacey singing in the library. Dolly and I trying to play a fast one on Phil and me totally messing it up. Liz reading Tiff’s tarot cards. Steph showing me how to use a DSLR. Sara talking about Japanese manga. Terry guiding me through Caernarfon Castle. Exploring Caernarfon with Vaughan. The Milford group’s craving for meat. Drink, lots of it. Chocolate, lots of it. Laughter, lots of it.

I think the thing I remember most is leaving reinvigorated, with renewed purpose. Before I came, I was aching to double down where my writing was concerned, and I left with just the tools to do that. One year down the line, that decision took in and birthed something beautiful.

***

David Mogo GodhunterI sold the book I brought to Milford to Rebellion Publishing.

David Mogo, Godhunter was just a novella then. The first of fruits from Milford was the push I got, aided by my editor, to make it a novel. Just before I started that, Val and Tiff had written stellar references and offered golden advice for my MFA applications in December. Responses arrived in March 2018: I was joining the University of Arizona’s MFA in fiction.

I left my job right then and doubled down on writing David Mogo. May through July, I took the responses I got at Milford and revised and reworked and wrote. I wrote one or two stories and pieces for a couple of venues, and sealed many open chapters in my life (I got married in June), but I kept working at it. I left Lagos for Tucson in July, and I was still writing on the plane, up until a day before resumption at my new life. In November 2018, the book was announced.

The spirit of Milford never left. I don’t think it ever does. At my program now, when I sit with colleagues, share work and listen to responses, I remember Milford gave me my first truly pleasant workshop experience. When I stand in front of my students and talk to them about their writing, I remember how warm it was when I sat in the crit room at Trigonos and saw my opinion respected, saw criticism delivered even-handedly, even humorously. I remember large lunches and breakfasts, evenings at the library, writers gathering as people first. It has informed my dealings with fellow artists and colleagues since.

I will always carry Milford with me, I believe. To say my Trigonos experience in 2017 has contributed significantly to the growth, success and furtherance of my journey as a writer–not just technically, but holistically–would be putting it lightly. To anyone who ever gets a chance to attend, I say: Do it, despite whatever odds you face. There is always space for an extra spirt to carry with you; and for the times when you need it the most, the spirit of Milford never disappoints.

Suyi Davies OkungbowaSuyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of speculative stories, usually featuring gods, starships, monsters, detectives, and everything in-between. His forthcoming novel, David Mogo, Godhunter, releases in July 2019. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Ozy, Omenana and other magazines and anthologies. He lives on the web at suyidavies.com, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, and is @suyidavies on Instagram and Facebook.

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Reading Projects – by Jim Anderson

In 2017 I set myself a project. I am one of those people who view the buying of books, the owning and collecting of books, and the reading of books to be separate albeit connected pleasures. And there were books that had been on my shelves, asking for my attention for too long, and it had come time to pick them up and engage with them.

arabian nightsSo I read Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. it was not what I expected but it’s also easy to see why; it is a vast and sprawling collection of interlinked stories and it has been a source for many people.

And this is one of the reasons I like to read. I have come to realize the extent to which reading a story is a more interesting, a more engaging and pleasurable experience, if I have an understanding of the literature and the context underlying the story. Reading your stories is more fun if I’ve read the stories you know, because those are the stories you’ve going to reference in your writing.

And we are story telling people and we are only now beginning to come to understand just how much of a story telling people we have always been. As I wrote elsewhere recently, I would love to know the stories the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all of our other cousins told each other, sitting around the fires that created the bubbles against the dangers of the world.

This year, my reading project is the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut. I’m behind but I’ll make my way through. Why Vonnegut? The best answer I can give is, why not? He’s a good story teller and it’s interesting reading everything by a single author over a relatively short period of time, because it gives you the reader, me the reader, the opportunity to get a bit under their skin and examine how they tell their stories.

epic of gilgamesh

Epic of Gilgamesh

As we come to the end of 2018, the question then becomes, what is the reading project for 2019? And I know what it will be. I have always enjoyed Gilgamesh, the oldest written story we have as humans. Preserved by fortuitous accident, it is a story of epic proportions and the source of stories we all know, in a way we didn’t suspect.

And so why not, the oldest stories we’ve told each other. The Iliad and the Odyssey will be there. The Old Testament will be there, and stories from the countries we currently know as India and China and the rest of this vast globe of ours.

We all have projects. The things we want to do, short term and long term. So why not a reading project, taking some of those collected volumes calling to us from our shelves and working our way through them.

 

jim_andersonJim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

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Upcoming SF Movies in 2019 by Jacey Bedford

My friend, H, and I go to the movies most weeks because have the Meerkat Movies two-for-one offer. It means we ‘risk’ far more movies that we would otherwise see at full price. We try to see most SF or fantasy movies that come out (though I confess, we usually avoid horror). I’m always interested to see what’s coming up. I’ve included some animation, kids’ movies or not, as long as they have a fantasy element. If you are a fan of super hero movies and/or comic adaptations this is going to be a good year for you. Please note, the release dates have been gleaned from various internet sources, and may not be completely accurate, especially if UK and USA release dates are different. If there are any upcoming movies I’ve missed please let me know in the comments.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Still in the cinemas as the year turns from 2018 to 2019 are: Aquaman, Mortal Engines, Mary Poppins Returns, Wreck-it Ralph: Ralph Breaks the Internet, Smallfoot, Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse, Bumblebee, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, and The Grinch.

New HellboyHELLBOY
11TH January 2019
(Update – May now be scheduled for 15th April.)
A reboot, not a continuation of the previous two Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy movies. This one stars David Harbour in the former Ron Perlman role.

AD ASTRA
11th January 2019
Engineer Roy McBride embarks on a galaxy wide mission to find his father who disappeared 20 years ago and who has now become a threat to humanity. With Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones.

REPLICAS
11th January 2019
A brilliant neuroscientist who is working on re-creating the human brain for Alzheimer’s research uses his work to replicate his family members after they’re killed in a car accident.

Iron Sky - The Coming RaceIRON SKY: THE COMING RACE
16th January 2019
Post apocalyptic science fantasy. The remnants of mankind are trapped on the disintegrating moon. Salvation lies in sending a small team to the centre of the earth to retrieve the holy grail.

GLASS
18th January 2019
M. Night Shyamalan brings together the narratives of two of his standout originals—2000’s Unbreakable, from Touchstone, and 2016’s Split, from Universal—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller: Glass.

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING
25th January 2019
Grange Hill meets Knights of the Round Table.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
2nd February 2019
The third (and final?) movie featuring Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless.

DARK PHOENIX
5th February 2019
Sequel to X-Men Apocalypse, starring Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as Phoenix

ALITA – BATTLE ANGEL
14th February 2019
Based on Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro

CHAOS WALKING
27th February 2019
A dystopian world devoid of women where all living creatures can hear each others’ thoughts. From Carnegie Award-winning author Patrick Ness. A young man living in a colony on another planet believes all women have been killed by a virus until he meets a mysterious girl who may hold the key to the planet’s secrets. Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley star.

WORLD WAR Z 2
1st March 2019
A sequel

CAPTAIN MARVEL
6th March 2019
Captain Marvel establishes herself before Infinity War 2. She becomes Marvel’s first female superhero to get her own solo movie.

DUMBO
28th March 2019
A live action musical remake of Disney’s flying elephant story.

Captive_StateCAPTIVE STATE
29th March 2019
Set in Chicago, a decade after an extra-terrestrial occupation. Directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring John Goodman. It explores the lives of a Chicago neighbourhood from both sides of the conflict.

THE VOYAGE OF DR DOLITTLE
5th April 2019
With Robert Downey Junior in the title role.

SHAZAM
5th April 2019
With one magic word a 14 year old kid can turn into an adult superhero. Like the kid that he really is he sets out to have fun, but there’s a villain on the horizon (played by Mark Strong) so Shazam will need to master his powers quickly. Starring Asher Angel as Billy Batson whose adult counterpart is played by Zachary Levi.

AVENGERS: END GAME
3rd May 2019
The second Infinity War movie. Thanos is the big bad once again, and the plot will revolve around the gauntlet. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Brie Larson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Evangeline Lilly and Josh Brolin.

AladdinALADDIN
24th May 2019
A live action movie of the fairy take with Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Nasim Pedrad, Mena Massoud

BRIGHTBURN
24th May 2019
What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister? Superhero/horror.

GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS
31st May 2019
Godzilla pops up again to restore balance after a new threat surfaces

GAMBIT
6th June 2019
Another X-Men spinoff featuring superhero, Gambit.

MIB posterMIB
14th June 2019
A London-based ‘Men in Black’ spinoff with Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson. Action comedy.

JUSTICE LEAGUE 2
14th June 2019
A sequel directed by Zack Snyder featuring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Flash. Starring Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck

TOY STORY 4
21ST June 2019
Another entry in the popular Pixar franchise

TRANSFORMERS 7
26th June 2019
Yet another entry to the Franchise.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
5th July 2019
Sequel to the recent reboot with Tom Holland in the title role. Peter parker and friends go on a summer holiday to Europe. Tom Holland’s Spidey faces off against Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio.

INHUMANS
12th July 2019
A Marvel Movie. Inhumans are unique genetic specimens introduced in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

THE NEW MUTANTS
1st August 2019
A standalone spinoff from the X-Men universe. The New Mutants’ dark path is riddled with horrors as they discover their abilities while imprisoned in a secret facility. Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga

Artemis FowlARTEMIS FOWL
9th August 2019
An adaptation of the popular fantasy book series that centres on a young criminal mastermind who kidnaps a fairy in hopes of ransoming her to an evil pixie in exchange for his father. Kenneth Brannagh directs. Judi Dench and Josh gad star.

GEMINI MAN
4th October 2019
Action thriller with Will Smith playing both an aging hit man and a younger clone of himself.

JOKER
4th October 2019
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the nameless man who will become the Joker in this origin story as the Joker becomes the Clown Prince of Crime.

WW1984WONDER WOMAN 1984
1ST November 2019
Patty Jenkins directs, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine star. Diana’s adventures in the Cold War of the 1980s. Somehow Chris Pine somehow returns from the dead as Steve Trevor.

FROZEN 2
22nd November 2019
You knew there would be a sequel, didn’t you?

TERMINATOR 6
1st November 2019 in the US or 13th November in the UK
A James Cameron production that will follow the events in his sequel, Terminator 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reunite.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
28th November 2019
Remake. Buton, an American trucker faces off against the forces of evil

JUMANJI 2
13th December 2019
Another outing for Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart

STAR WARS 9
20th December 2019
The sequel to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Lupita Nyong’o

WickedWICKED
20th December 2019
Movie version of the musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz focusing on Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West (to be), and her high school struggles (and blossoming friendship) with popular mean girl, Glinda, the Good Witch.

DUNE
31st December 2019
Yet another adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic book

 

2019 MOVIES – EXACT RELEASE DATE UNKNOWN

ARTEMIS
Based on Andy Weir’s book and featuring Jazz, a smuggler, who lives in Artemis, the only city on the moon.

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR
A remake of the 80s movie.

THE FLY
Remake of the remake of the classic horror film

PALE BLUE DOT
Starring Natalie Portman and supposedly based on true events, about an astronaut losing grip on reality after a long space mission.

 

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Last Train – a short story by Jacey Bedford

Stitched PanoramaIt’s a freezing cold station on Christmas Eve. The platform is deserted, the ticket hall closed, the waiting room padlocked. My breath puffs clouds into the air in the flickering glare from the overhead light.

I glance at the clock. Ten-fifteen. The last train is due at any moment.

Tick. Ten sixteen.

I stamp my feet, but they’re numb. All of me is numb.

Tick. Ten seventeen.

I shove my hands into my pockets. All I want is to get home to you.

Pop. The farthest light dies at the north end of the platform.

Tick. Ten eighteen.

Can I smell cinnamon? My insides ache for a hot drink, but the Costa closed hours ago. Damn.

The cinnamon lingers. I imagine my fingers wrapped around a glass of mulled wine, spicy and warm. In my mind I see you sip yours and smile. Your hair is haloed briefly in candle light.

I miss you so much.

Tick. Ten nineteen.

Pop. Another overhead flickers and dies.

Pop. Another.

Cascade failure. The darkness creeps towards me light by light.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

The overheads on the opposite platform succumb. How long before they all go?

Tick. Ten twenty.

I wish I was home already, my arms round your waist, breathing in the scent of your hair.

Tick. Ten twenty-one.

A boot sole scuffs on concrete. I turn. A stooped figure shuffles on to the platform from the car park gate and stands, leaning on a cane, wheezing.

“Train’s late.” My attempt at conversation falls flat.

Pop. The overhead at the south end of the platform fails.

Pop. The next one.

Pop.

Now I’m standing in the last pool of light.

Tick. Ten twenty-two.

“Do you think we’ve missed it?” I ask.

The stranger laughs. It sounds like a death rattle.

Far along the track I see a pinpoint of light. I grin, flushed with relief. I’ll be home soon.

Soon.

I can’t wait.

The light grows bigger.

And bigger.

In a billow of steam the train pulls into the station. It makes no sound. A single door in front of me opens and a sickly yellow light spills out. I step forward at the same time as the old man.

He turns. I see his face. His skin is parchment over bone, his eyes empty sockets. A single maggot wriggles from the cavity that was his nose.

I gulp and step back. “After you, sir.”

He hobbles aboard and beckons.

I don’t think so.

Another desiccated face stares out from the carriage window. It’s you. A tear rolls down your cheek.

A whistle blows. I hear a faint, “All aboard.”

Heart pounding, I hesitate for too long. The door slams in my face and the silent train pulls away. The overhead lights bloom again, yellow as chrysanthemums.

It’s a freezing cold station on Christmas Eve. The platform is deserted, the ticket hall closed, the waiting room padlocked. My breath puffs clouds into the air in the flickering glare from the overhead light.

Stations are all the same. I feel as though I’ve been here a thousand times before.

I glance at the clock. Ten-fifteen. The last train is due at any moment.

AA Steam train night 2

-o0o-

Copyright: Jacey Bedford
First printed in Grievous Angel, 2015.

jacey-novacon-2012-300pxsquJacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her Psi-Tech space opera trilogy consists of Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus. Her historical fantasy trilogy comprises Winterwood and Silverwolf, and Rowankind. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into an odd assortment of languages including Estonian, Galician and Polish. She’s been a folk singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and her claim to fame is singing live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.
http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk

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Riding (and Writing) the Frontier by Laura Anne Gilman

Research – good, solid, grounding research -is essential for any book, but doubly so for a historical fantasy – and thrice that when you’re using extant and still in-use locations for your setting!

Silver-comp-1j-264x400The Devil’s West books are set in the American West, the land that in our timeline was the Louisiana Purchase.  I’d taken a major on American social and political history in college, so the bones of What If were already set: what if our exploration into the West had gone differently?  What if, instead of a Gold Rush and a Land Rush, instead of Manifest Destiny, we’d been forced to slow down, to consider the territory west of the Mississippi a sovereign land, to be wooed and negotiated with rather than colonized?  What if magic resisted “civilization?”

But writing about the Territory brought up a significant problem:  North America is vast.  The continental US alone is nearly 2 million acres, over 4,500 kilometers from one coast to the other, and wildly varied in geology, geography, flora and fauna.

But the magic of the Territory is entirely tied into the land, the adventures Isobel and Gabriel face intrinsically tied to the geography they are riding.  To create a new mythology, one believable to people who lived there, Known History and facts wouldn’t be enough, and neither would imagination. I had to get it right.

And that meant a Research Road Trip.

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I’ve done these before – normally this involves visiting a lot of museums and old buildings, adding texture to the readings I’d done beforehand.  Visceral, but also very methodical, done with a specific goal in mind.  But in 1801 – the time period of these books – humans rested lightly here, and very little remains for the public to see, and its appearance now, tamed to agriculture and urban living, wasn’t what I was looking for.

But while America-the-nation is young, the land itself is not, and it remembers.  I avoided cities entirely, staying in small towns that were barely dots on the map, taking older roads where occasionally we were the only car visible for miles.  And I looked, and I listened.

My research took me through Kansas, finding the restored grasslands and high plains, an undulating landscape that looks plain at first, but hide secrets in its soil, stories in the stones that protrude out of the ground, and were left reaching into the sky millennia after ancient oceans receded.

It took me through Wyoming, where hot springs and steam geysers rumbled underfoot, and the roads zig-zag through towering mountains and dangerous late-spring snows.  Seeing bison (buffalo) at a distressingly-close range, and grizzlies at a far greater but still unnerving distance. Watching as an elk doe watched me, aware that if she decided to charge me, I was toast.

And it took me to Louisiana, and the banks of the Mississippi, snake and croc-hosting marshes and swamps, under trees far older than the buildings around them, fertile soil that was flooding at the time, and soul-sucking humidity.

(okay, my personal bias may be showing with that last bit).

I put my hands in the soil, breathed the air, saw what the sky looked like when a storm blew in, and the sun set.  What the night sounded like, and how the rain smelled.  And I didn’t touch the manuscript, drafted and waiting, but let it sink into my skin.  It was a purely emotional experience, not an intellectual one.

And when I came home again, I poured all of that into the structures I’d already written.

Were the scenes I wrote after that different from the ones I’d drafted beforehand?  Emphatically, yes.  Having that emotional resonance pulled the landscape from world-building into character-development.

Road trips are physically exhausting, and even staying in cheap motels and eating PB&J by the side of the road, the costs add up.  But I think the payoff was well worth it.  10/10, would totally do again.

 

Laura Anne Gilman photoLaura Anne Gilman’s work has been hailed as “a true American myth being found” by NPR,  and praised for her “deft plotting and first-class characters” by Publishers Weekly.  She has won the Endeavor Award for THE COLD EYE, and been shortlisted for the Nebula Award, the Endeavor Award, and the Washington State Book Awards.   Her novels include the Locus-bestselling weird western series The Devil’s West, (SILVER ON THE ROAD, THE COLD EYE, and RED WATERS RISING), the long-running Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy series, and the “Vineart War”  trilogy, as well as the story collections WEST WINDS’ FOOL and DARKLY HUMAN.   Her short fiction has recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction and THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY.  A former New Yorker, she currently lives outside of Seattle with two cats and many deadlines.  More information and updates can be found at www.lauraannegilman.net

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Book Recommendations

Just in time for Christmas here are some book recommendations from Milford committee members past and present. They are books that we’ve read this year (not necessarily books published this year). Contributors: Karen Brenchley, Jacey Bedford, David Gullen, Jim Anderson, and Sue Thomason.

 

KAREN BRENCHLEY

Red Waters RisingLaura Anne Gilman : The Devil’s West trilogy: Silver on the Road, The Cold Eye, Red Waters Rising.
In this Old West tale, the Spanish Protectorate spreads up from the south and covers the land to the east of the Pacific, the United States holds the land west of the Atlantic, and in the middle is the Territory, known as the Devil’s West. In a saloon in the Territory, the Devil will give you what you ask for and take what you offer for trade, so be very careful what you ask for. Izzy, newly sixteen and released from her indenture, is ready for a change. Gabriel, a traveler interested in testing himself in the casino, has a problem he wants to solve. They each ask the Devil for what they want, and Isobel and Gabriel find themselves traveling the Road through the Territory on the Devil’s business. As they face challenges both physical and magical, for protection they have each other, silver, and the power of the Devil’s Hand to protect them.

I’m a bit of a snob about Weird West tales, since I grew up in the American West and have lived most of my adult life here, but Laura Anne Gilman gets it right. She has clearly done extensive research, including traveling through the areas where the story takes place. A refreshing and original trilogy, and recommend it for those looking for a different kind of magic.

 

JACEY BEDFORD

Argumentation of HistoriansJodi Taylor: An Argumentation of Historians – Chronicles of St Mary’s #9
By implication I recommend the whole Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Does time travel make them science fiction, or are they pure fantasy? I don’t know and I don’t care, I love them. They are funny and serious at the same time. Quirky is probably the best descriptor. The staff of St Mary’s observe and record historical incidents as they happen thanks to their time travel pods. In one of the early novels Ms Taylor introduces the arch villain who attacks St. Marys historians up and down the timeline, in particular Max and by association, her loved ones. An Argumentation of Historians is an attention-grabbing read. There’s a quick trip to see Henry VIII fall off his horse in a tournament, and a trip to Persepolis, but Clive Ronan is still causing chaos, so Max and the time police set a trap for him. Well, it seems like a good idea, but when have Max’s good ideas ever worked? As a result, Max is dumped in the Medieval period and no one knows where she is. She knows where she is – in St Mary’s but about 600 years in the past. She has to learn to live there and to make a new life for herself because she doubts she’ll ever get home again. She’s desperately missing Leon, but there’s someone in 1399 who can offer her protection. She knows Leon would be the first to tell her to find a way to survive, even if that means marrying. We’ve known for a while that there was a traitor at St Mary’s feeding Ronan information. At last we find out who. Jodi Taylor is on my buy-on-sight list, so this is a must-read for me. Highly recommended.

Green Man's HeirJuliet McKenna: The Green Man’s Heir
One of my favourite books so far this year, this is a modern fantasy, rural rather than urban. Dan works with wood, moving from place to place so he doesn’t get too close to anyone. A century ago, a person with a secret could simply move to the other end of the country and take up a new identity, but nowadays with CCTV and social media, it’s not so easy. Dan has a big secret. His mother is a Dryad and that makes Dan… different. When a young woman is murdered and left in Derbyshire woodland, Dan realises that the culprit is from his world. She’s not the first. The police are never going to find the serial killer, so it’s up to Dan. Dan is a great character, always trying to avoid that attention of the local police, but rarely managing it. He’s a big lad with powerful fists and usually at the top of the list when the Law comes around asking questions. There’s a wealth of British folklore in here, and a damn good story. This book is getting a lot of attention, so I do hope Juliet McKenna makes this the first in a series. I’d love to read more.

MarkedBenedict Jacka: Marked – Alex Verus #9
Another installment in a long-running (ongoing) series. I have every respect for Mr Jacka. Sustaining this length of series is a marvelous achievement, especially to keep characters developing. This time Alex is sitting on the Junior Council (as a Dark Mage) in Morden’s place while Morden is in jail awaiting trial/punishment for magical crimes committed in the previous book. No one quite knows what Morden is up to. It’s certainly not like him to sit back and wait to be executed, but whatever it is has left Alex once more in the deep brown stuff. It seems that half the council wants him dead and the others are only keeping him around because he’s being useful, reclaiming some of the missing imbued items that were stolen in Book #8. Assassination attempts are a regular occurrence. Alex is beginning to realise that if he’s going to protect his friends he needs to a) play the council game and b) acquire more power. Is he beginning to want power for power’s sake? Are there elements of Dark Magery he’s gravitating towards? Dark is not necessarily evil… but there’s a fine line between the two. Alex is also finally admitting to himself what we’ve known for several books… his feelings for Anne. About time Mr. Verus. These books are a buy on sight for me. My only problem is that now I’ve caught up with the latest, I have to wait for #10. Highly recommended, but start at the beginning with Book #1.

FoundrysideRobert Jackson Bennett: Foundryside – Founders #1
Sancia Grado is a young thief who escaped slavery and now scratches a living in the Commons of Foundryside, the squalid shanty town that’s grown up in Tevanne between and around the campos where the four leading merchant houses exist in their own comfortable enclaves, thanks to their wealth and their magic/technology – scriving. Scrived objects are created with industrialised magical inscriptions. They power everything: carriages that move without horses, ambient flying rigs, and weapons that are powerful enough to shoot a bolt through metal. Sancia has a talent. She can hear the chattering and murmuring of scrived objects and by touch can learn the nature of whatever she touches. She saves this for inert objects. Touching another human is frequently too painful. When her usual fence offers her a job that will pay a small fortune, the fee is simply too tempting to apply her normal caution. She steals an ancient artefact, which has some very peculiar properties, but before she can deliver it and get paid, people start to die. From then on she’s trying to get out of the resulting scrape, but she can’t do it alone. The pace is lively, the characters interesting and the magic system complex (and occasionally boggling). This is the first in a new series.

 

DAVID GULLEN

Hannah SmithMichael Marshall Smith : Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence
I loved MMS’s early work and his ‘Straw Dogs’ series, then lost contact with his work. This turned out to be a great place to resume. Hannah Green is a clever, funny, supernatural adventure about time, the Devil, and bad people doing bad things. Laugh out loud moments, an easy style, and strange and dangerous encounters. A perfect winter night read.

 

 

Nine Lives

William Dalrymple : Nine Lives
Dalrymple is my favourite travel writer/historian at the moment, and this is one of his best books. Subtitled ‘In Search of the Sacred in Modern India’, WD helps us understand what it is to be a Jain nun, a Budhist monk, a story-teller, A Sufi, and more. Some of these ways of life endure, some, like a 25th generation statue-maker and last in his line, he catches at the very end of their times. Dalrymple writes with a transparent style, filled with warmth. Not many travel writers can make you cry.

 

 

Kingdoms of ElfinSylvia Townsend Warner: Kingdoms of Elfin
Back in print after forty years, this fine collection of stories from the courts of Elfindom are lyrical, witty, cruel, and charming. As anyone who truly understand the fey knows, they might not be nice, but they can be funny. Essential and pleasurable reading for anyone who enjoys gently grotesque stories.

 

 

 

 

JIM ANDERSON

Embers of WarGareth Powell: Embers of War
I’ve not done a lot of reading this year. Day job and life and the complications thereof, and yes despite it all, I do love the day job. But even with all this, there is a recommendation I would love to make. This book. This is the book. If you read one book, then this is the book to read I would love to make that recommendation about Moby Dick, and I’d be happy to write that about Moby Dick. As much as I love the book, I’m aware that it’s not to everyone’s taste (though it should be). But more importantly, it’s not a book I’ve read it 2018. Though it is on the list for 2019, because the cycle has turned and it’s time.

As it turns out, I have read a book for which I would be happy to make that recommendation. Embers of War by Gareth Powell. It’s hard to recommend one book among all the books, because there are so many great books. But more than once, I scared the cats by how I reacted to the exploits of Trouble Dog, though decorum demands that I say nothing more than that.  I don’t want to give hints and I don’t want to give spoilers. All I want to say is, go out. Read this book. Enjoy this book. Delight in this book. Go.

 

SUE THOMASON

ProvenanceAnne Leckie: Provenance
Ingray Aughskold is a young woman of good family, inexperienced, bright, terrified of being found incompetent, and with a tendency to burst into tears when things go unexpectedly wrong. Which they do. I liked her the moment I met her, and the more I found out about her, the more my liking grew. Her society values “vestiges”, artefacts that have been the dumb witness to great events; this is a story about how our Stuff tells us who we are, how we make and experience Value and Tradition, and what “authenticity” means. A bitingly perceptive story told with empathy and warmth.

 

China Mountain ZhangMaureen F. McHugh: China Mountain Zhang
Favourite Missed Classic of 2018; how did I miss this one first time round? Zhang, the eponymous protagonist, is a young engineer, in a socialist-republic USA which is economically and culturally subordinate to China. Zhang is both gay (officially disapproved of) and genetically modified (also officially disapproved of), and he’s trying to have a life – a nice, happy, fulfilled life, that doesn’t come at too great a cost to himself or his friends… I love this one because Zhang is an engaging character, the setting is audacious and well-realised, and because the story is witty and imaginative while insisting that actions have consequences – seen and unforeseen.

Watchmaker Filigree StNatasha Pulley: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
I think this is probably steampunk. Main characters are Keita Mori, a Japanese master-craftsman in clockwork who is able to see probabilities (and is therefore able to act, sometimes, to nudge particular futures into being); Thaniel Steepleton, a pianist who sees sound in colour, working as a telegraph operator to support his widowed mother and her two younger children; Grace Carrow, inheritor of upper-class privilege and social restriction, a physicist who is on the track of a fundamental discovery about the nature of the luminiferous ether (which in this world evidently exists), and Katsu, a clockwork octopus who steals socks. A constantly, charmingly imaginative romance.

ArtemisAndy Weir: Artemis
The plot can be summed up by deploying words like “heist” and “caper”, it’s set on the Moon, there is engaging nerdy stuff about how to smelt aluminium in lunar conditions, but also has the best economic justification for a lunar colony I have ever come across. The protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is instantly likeable, and the plot, characters and setting all pay a certain homage to Heinlein.

 

 

 

Sea of RustRobert Cargill: Sea of Rust
Set on a future-Earth where AI has wiped out humanity, this is the first-person narrative of Brittle, a Caregiver bot searching the deserts of the American Midwest for spare parts to prolong her existence. Starts out like a classic Western, but the struggle to prolong existence turns into a search for meaning, with side orders of speculation on the nature of freedom and personal identity. So, good for both shoot-‘em-up lovers and philosophers.

 

 

Rise & fall of DODONeal Stephenson and Nicole Galland: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
This is… like Charles Stross, but kinder and funnier. The Department Of Diachronic Operations is a shadowy government entity whose mission is to use quantum science to go back in time and prevent the extinction of magic (said extinction having been caused by photographing a total eclipse of the sun). In other words, the plot is totally mad, but it works because there’s a lot of very good worldbuilding and logical extrapolation from the original premise. The characters are interesting and sympathetic, and the use of language is brilliant (apart from someone’s attempt at the Anglo-Irish of 1601). Tremendous fun.

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The Unexpected Sequel by Ben Jeapes

Originally posted on October 26, 2018 on Ben’s own blog http://www.benjeapes.com/index.php/2018/10/the-unexpected-sequel/

The short version: my novel The Xenocide Mission is re-released in print and on Kindle.

The longer bit: I am aware of the financial realities of publishing; I know that publishers like to know an author has more than one novel inside them, and that very often said novel will be a sequel. I am not averse to sequels or serieses (they are overlapping circles on a publishing Venn diagram). Without moving my head very far from where I sit, I can get the entirety of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar series staring back at me, and my life is richer for it.

But I have never set out to write a novel with the intention from the start of following it up. A very helpful early bit of writing advice was that a novel should be about the most exciting thing that has ever happened to the hero. I still stand by it, though I would add “up to that point of their life”. This doesn’t preclude writing a sequel, but it should certainly make you pause a little. Bujold managed it, by and large; Miles’s life gets more and more interesting as it goes on, and when she’s got as far as she can go, she shifts attention to other characters. Other writers’ heroes have followed a distinct bell curve of being interesting, but I couldn’t possibly name Orson Scott Card or any other offenders.

His Majesty's StarshipFor the 1994 Milford I took chapters of my space opera in progress, His Majesty’s Starship, which was very definitely planned as a standalone novel. I wrote it with an aim; that aim was achieved. Feedback was positive, helpful … and unexpected, in that when I explained the background plot (alien race wants help from the humans) an immediate reaction was: the aliens want us? With our history? Why? Can’t they do better? Milford does that – if you’ve got a blind spot, someone will spot it, never fear.

So, by the end of that crit session I had spontaneously generated a race of warlike aliens who had, for reasons no one including me quite understood, wiped out the native life on the next planet in their own solar system. Sooner or later they would discover faster-than-light travel and emerge into the galaxy as an active menace – so, for my friendly aliens, time was short.

That fixed the plot point, but what was I going to do with these aliens? They didn’t fit into the novel and I couldn’t possibly leave that point open. Fortunately, the same session made the criticism that my hero was a bit bland. He needed more background. He needed a family! An eighteen-year-old son Joel also generated spontaneously from the ether.

And these two things together, son + warlike aliens (with a smattering of inspiration from New Scientist), gave me enough material to write The Xenocide Mission, in which we learn exactly why the aliens did what they did. And yes, they did have their reasons.

I plotted a large chunk of The Xenocide Mission whilst staffing the company stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 1998. This had the advantage of looking a lot like actual work, and people who came up to me with work-based queries actually apologised for interrupting. Well, quite, art was happening. But I graciously answered their queries.

The Xenocide Mission did okay; it made it into Waterstones, which is more than His Majesty’s Starship ever managed. It paid off its advance, so, royalties. Early in the new century I got the chance to feel very futuristic and science fictiony when I was asked if I would like to include it in Random House’s fledgling ebook programme. I gaily signed away the rights, not noticing in those days of electronic infancy that there was no kind of reversion clause …

As of 2017 it was still in print, occasionally sending a trickle of pennies my way in royalties, more usually holding payment over until next time for not crossing the royalty threshold. Eventually I decided enough was enough and asked my agent to see if he could get the rights back. Random House promptly responded that it wasn’t out of print because it was available electronically and always would be … I pointed out that we knew it wasn’t OOP and were asking them to make it so, given that royalties were negligible and surely costing them more to administer than they got back. I also prepared a host of arguments exploiting ambiguities in the original contract and addendum, prepared to try and wear them down until they just gave in … And then, lo and behold, my superior logic worked and the rights reverted. Just like that.

So, here we are: The Xenocide Mission, lightly edited (but only lightly; by and large I take the Pontius Pilate approach to standing by what I have written) and available in print and Kindle.

Footnote 1: Two versions meant sending Amazon two copies of the rights reversion letter from Random House, proving that I was allowed to do this. In fact, for the print version it meant sending off several copies: I had to make changes to the typeset content and it seems that at every stage of the printing process, something triggers the Amazon protocol droids to ask again and yet again whether I have the rights.

Footnote 2: When I tried to launch Amazon advertising campaigns for both versions, they were declined as I was using a very generous quote provided by Al Reynolds for the original edition. This was not a verified customer review … I know the limits of my patience and I know how far anyone gets when arguing with the protocol droids, so I de-Reynoldsed the ads and they seem to have gone through. But here it is anyway:

“Anyone who missed Ben Jeapes’ first novel, His Majesty’s Starship, missed one of the best first contact books in a long while – a gripping, logical, original and fundamentally optimistic retake on one of SF’s richest themes. Brimming with humour and tension, The Xenocide Mission amply fulfils the promise of its predecessor.” – Alastair Reynolds.

 

bjeapes01

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least. www.benjeapes.com

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