Blogger news

Short Fiction Friday: Tyche and the Ants

Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi, Clarkesworld #104

[no synopsis available]

When I was first presented with Jean Le Flambeur series of Hannu Rajaniemi I thought they were daunting to read and to be compeltely honest I had a ehh? moment more than once. Hannu Rajaniemi has very lively imagination that he isn't afraid to show in his stories. Somethings might be seen as bizar but in the face of Science Fiction, it fits. Science Fiction is about breaking new grounds and this is precisely what Hannu Rajaniemi does, also with this short story Tyche and the Ants. 

What caught me first on this Tyche and the Ants was the very first sentence  "The ants arrived on the Moon on the same day Tyche went through the Secret Door to give a ruby to the Magician". It sounds promising doesn't? What this first sentence does is too say boldly, that this is far from a Science Fiction story but also has roots into a more fantasy way: Moon, Secret Door and Magician. If that doesn't peak your interest, I don't know what will! Soon you get introduced to the little girl Tyche. Tyche is special and she lives on the Moon, where she grows up under the eye of a artificial intelligence known as The Brain. The Brain like her caretaker giving her advice and giving her certain treatments. As you can make from the first senctence Tyche is to deliver a ruby to the Magician and in this first journey, Hannu Rajaniemi doesnt spare you. He directly does what he does best, creating the ehh? feeling. He livens up the journey of Tyche with carefully placed words that first make you say what and then it comes naturally. They might seem oddly placed words but I dare to fight that and say that they are carefully placed words, it build a create ambiance, oh and btw. Space Sharks awesome! as the story progresses you get to read about the seriousness of the situation. Here you see Tyche starting to grow up and you understand just what the whole situation holds. It's quite a revelation and the ending of the story is very beautiful. A Magician might be limited in somethings but not in others. A beautiful ending!

Hannu Rajaniemi knows how to create a wonderful sense in a short story. When you think about Tyche and the Ants, the story has a lot of similarities with Alice in Wonderland, but with Hannu Rajaniemi's spin given on it. Next to this there are also other references towards mythology, and of course, there were people before Tyche on the Moon!

A great story

Book Review: Under Ground

Under Ground by S.L. Grey

The Sanctum is a luxurious, self-sustaining survival condominium situated underground in rural Maine. It's a plush bolt-hole for the rich and paranoid - a place where they can wait out the apocalypse in style. When a devastating super-flu virus hits the States, several families race to reach it. All have their own motivations for entering The Sanctum. All are hiding secrets.

But when the door locks and someone dies, they realize the greatest threat to their survival may not be above ground - it may already be inside . . .

There is a certain theme that gets me really excited: "post apocalyptic" . This can range from a fantasy style to science fiction. What works best for me personally is when you can relate the events to our current time frame. There are doom prophets that say the end is nigh, and when you look at some events that happened over the last years well... Anyway. When I read the synopsis of Under Ground I knew it was the perfect book for me. A super-flu virus is leaving a trail of deaths, finding an escape is hard, but what if you could by yourself into an condo that is completely sealed of from the world and self sufficient for a year? Welcome to The Sanctum. This is my first book by the writing duo S.L. Grey (Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) but after finishing Under Ground they have climbed to the top position of authors to watch, cant wait to read their other books. Their fifth book together will see it's release next year July. 

The story of Under Ground focuses on many different perspectives, all from the inhabitants of The Sanctum. S.L. Grey kicks of the story with a slow start explaining several aspects, how it currently stands in the world, the threat of a new super-flu that kills. Here you get introduced to the different people and families that have managed to bought a spot in The Sanctum. From the start of the introduction you learn that the characters are going to be very diverse, they range from very conserved religious people, to more out going and withing the muscular "jocky" kid and more nerdy gamer kid. When you are locked away in a confined space underground even without any problems, confrontations are bound to happen. The first arrivals all make their way on time but the last arrival already brings along some problems, they have a sick wife with them and just out of precaution they have to be locked in their condo, in order to see if they have the flu or not. You can imagine that this must bring some early tensions in The Sanctum. Soon after everyone has settled and are connected to the things that still connect them to the outside world, WiFi, something terrible happens in The Sanctum. Greg, who came up with the idea of The Sanctum is found dead on one of the lower floors, there is a big pool of blood with a footprint in it. Now everyone is starting to ask questions, what is going on, is their a killer amongst them, and if so who could possible have done it? Can they still trust each other? The worst thing is that with Greg dead, he took a lot of things to his grave about The Sanctum, like the code to open the exit door. Will, who helped build The Sanctum is the only person who has a chance of figuring out how to get out. But with the Greg's death, the whole situation starts to spiral out of control, really really fast. Tensions start to ramp up, people start to distrust each other and in the end it was bound to happen that Greg wasn't the sole death in the situation. It starts to spiral so much out of control that they loose electricity and WiFi connection which means that they are truly alone fifty feet down in a concrete bunker. Now they have to ration supplies, food and drinking water. And they still have a killer loose down there, who is it? And how can they stop him or her? 

I really liked the story that S.L. Grey put down in Under Ground. It is just full of playing into fears you might have. For starters, you go underground in a luxurious condo, surrounded by concrete wall, claustrophobia anyone? When you learn that there is no way out this fear is only becoming much more pronounced. Secondly, being locked in underground with a way to get out AND a killer on the loose, no dark corner is safe anymore, maybe even your own condo isn't as well. The emotion that was put behind several of the characters was done really nicely and you could see their fears. I have to admit that I am always a bit hesitant when it comes to reading a co-authored book, but the writing style of this duo is perfect. It flows really naturally, I don't know who wrote what, but with the different perspectives I guess that each author took on a different character. Anyway, story wise it was an amazing piece to read, highly eventful, you don't know what will happen next and even if you guess you will be wrong in the end. Because..

That ending! wow just brilliant stuff. I read some early reviews that stated that the ending wasn't that great but well I am going to through that comment over board. I loved the ending of the book. From the start with Greg's murder and some of the other that follow, you try to play police officer for your own, trying to figure out who could have done it. But what is somethings weren't really done on purpose, what if somethings were circumstantial? There is a lot of speculation by the people in The Sanctum but no one knows and in the end, also no one knows. Or? I have to stop now but I found the ending fitted perfectly with the build up. And when you think back on the start and how people behaved well. Again spot on. 

As for the characters, I was directly drawn to one of them in the beginning Jae. I liked him, he reminded of how I was when I was playing WoW. He is heavier than normal and his early confrontations with Brett doesn't make his stay in The Sanctum any easier. But he doesn't let it drag him down and he starts to connect with other people and here something starts to blossom with another Sanctum inhabitant. One of the families that I liked a lot were the Dannhausers, Leo has an extensive background, a background that once certain things come to surface doesn't make him a popular guy.. Of course there are plenty more character that have shady backgrounds or where motivations aren't really clear or that have dominant behaviour. One cool thing that was shown in the story was that for every inhabitant a background scan was carried out and this was on the personal computer of Greg. But if fell in the hands of some of the Sanctum people and this opened a whole can of worms. I mention above already that the inhabitants of The Sanctum are diverse and there are tensions a plenty. However within the bleak prospects there are some nice moments though if only for a few seconds. 

I do have one small remark though and that is the timeframe in which it all took place. When I read the story it wasn't clear for the full 100% when what took place and if there were days of weeks in between several events. Once the families are all safe in The Sanctum and things happen it happens fast, some people get beat up pretty badly or even stabbed but it all cures rather fast. For me a better known time frame on which day happened what would have given it for me a more realistic feel. Some of it is corrected in the end of the book, but I think it would have given the start and mid also a lot more thrilling feel. 

Under Ground is an awesome read. S.L. Grey have created a real thrilling feeling with the story that will play directly into your fears. It is all carefully constructed and executed leaving you clueless until the very end on who did what. From the start of the story I was hooked and they managed to keep a very nice momentum of the story all throughout the mid until that perfect ending. As I said when you relate certain events from the beginning and mid of the story it does make sense. Normally when I am so into a book I would say, wish it was longer but actually, Under Ground is just the right length, clocking in just under 300 pages. The story is always in motion, very dynamic and there isn't a moment of dragging the story forward. If the story was 400 pages it might have well have happened. S.L. Grey's next book is out July 2016, I will keep my eyes open, already looking forward to see what scenario they will present me with.

Book Review: Roboteer

Roboteer by Alex Lamb

The starship Ariel is on a mission of the utmost secrecy, upon which the fate of thousands of lives depend. Though the ship is a mile long, its six crew are crammed into a space barely large enough for them to stand. Five are officers, geniuses in their field. The other is Will Kuno-Monet, the man responsible for single-handedly running a ship comprised of the most dangerous and delicate technology that mankind has ever devised. He is the Roboteer.

Will is a man bred to interface with the robots that his home-world Galatea desperately needs to survive. He finds himself sent behind enemy lines to discover the secret of their newest weapon. What he discovers will transform their understanding of both science and civilization forever... but at a cost.

Not so long ago I read a very daring Science Fiction story that was also published by Gollancz, Crashing Heaven from Al Robertson, which I loved. Science Fiction is a genre where lots of things can and are explored. An aspect where Alex Lamb doesn't shy away from as well. Roboteer well what more is there to say than that it is a heavy contender for getting on the best of Science Fiction list for 2015. Roboteer is daring, it is engaging and has just a lot of cool concepts working in very well. A truly stellar debut. Gollancz is on the right track when it comes to publishing SF, already two very solid titles under its belt!

In Roboteer you follow the main protagonist, Will Kuno-Monet. When I read the first sentence of the book I was like: What!? Then I read it again and I was like: What? Then I decided to continue and it all started to make sense. This first sentence alone triggered my curiosity, nicely done. Here you learn that Will is a Roboteer, a Roboteer has the gift to interact and control machines, from drones to big robots etc. how cool is that! Will is a Galatean, humans who fled the Earth to some very hostile places in the universe and resorted to genetic engineering to make sure that they had any chance to survive. Earth is still inhabited by people who see themselves as normal and where the Galateans are seen to as filth, they have a mission and that is to wipe the Galateans of the Earth. For a long time this was has gone on already, though the Galateans are far more superior in their technology, the Earthers have strenght in numbers which make gaining the upperhand a tough job. During a mission Will learns that the Earthers have a piece of technology that is far stronger than what they had been able to design over the last years, and he learns that it will, not could, but it will end the war in favor for the Earthers. They now both have strength in number and the technology. Will gets drafted onto a special Galatean spaceship with other elite memberst to find a way to make sure the Earthers technology doesn't see the light of day. A race is on to stop the Earthers, a dangerous race where Will discovers some amazing secrets of the universe that could just make the fight in their favor... could just. 

I am mightly impressed with the story that Alex Lamb has put down in Roboteer and the more I think about it the more I start to like the story and premise that he has created. The story is divided into multiple perspectives that of Will, Ira the commander of the Ariel and that of the religion Earthers, General Gustav. The executing of these perspectives is very well done, the perspectives are mostly personal scenes that you read and this added a very nice depth, pacing and forces you to find out what happens next. And as I always say when you see all the sides of a story, the dynamic is high, since you see each side plotting and thinking about their next strategy. Alex Lamb has a very engaging writing style, directly to the point, without a sacrifice of showing how big his universe truly is, the sense of wonder is easily achieved. 

When it comes down to the characters. The main protagonist Will is mostly in the picture, it is his adventure. What makes Will a lovable character is the background that Alex Lamb has created behind his character, it is extensive and it comes to show that Will hasn't had the best of youths possible. In his current situation its also not for the better, when he steps on board the Ariel, he is facing another rough time. With all this happening to Will's character I really started to feel for him, he just wants to be accepted for what he does. Because what he does, is remarkable and his crew should thank him for what he can do to be honest. From the rough start up until the end of the book there is nice development in Will's character as he becomes more and more resolute and starts to shine. The secondary characters in the book, like Will's other crew members and the prophets each contribute to the storyline and readily help to make it go forward, I liked the characters don't get me wrong, they had their own quirky habits and personalities but in the end I kind off missed that little bit extra that would have made them really stand out and also connect with them more.  
As I mentioned above, Science Fiction is the genre to show technology, and here Alex Lamb is no stranger. There are many different forms of it, from the genetic engineering side and what the Galateans are all capable off, down to the sun-tech part and the spaceships. It's just awesome and the way that Alex Lamb explains the things, it isn't high tech at all, it feels like every day technology, you don't have to have a PhD in science to understand. In the end its just awesome. Again I have to stress the part of Will and his being a Roboteer and all that he is capable of, just frickin awesome. I want to be able to do that! Added to this comes a very nice world building. There is great diversity in where it takes place, in outer space in the Ariel and scenes back on Earth with the Earthers prophet. What cannot be missed in such a Space Opera is of course a higher entity then the human. Oops did I say to much? 

Alex Lamb's debut, Roboteer is hands down an awesome debut. Science FIction is a saturated genre but Roboteer breaks through it and, well smashes through with is with some very cool new ideas. Alex Lamb knows how to write a cool and engaging story. From the big picture of world building down to the critical features of mechanisms that make it twist and turn, the technology, and most importantly the characters, everything is shows until into the fine detail. I am looking forward to reading more of Alex Lamb's books, if this is just the start, hang on to your hats!

Book Review: The Devil's Only Friend

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells, John Cleaver #4

John Wayne Cleaver hunts demons: they've killed his neighbors, his family, and the girl he loves, but in the end he's always won. Now he works for a secret government kill team, using his gift to hunt and kill as many monsters as he can...

...but the monsters have noticed, and the quiet game of cat and mouse is about to erupt into a full scale supernatural war.

John doesn't want the life he's stuck with. He doesn't want the FBI bossing him around, he doesn't want his only friend imprisoned in a mental ward, and he doesn't want to face the terrifying cannibal who calls himself The Hunter. John doesn't want to kill people. But as the song says, you can't always get what you want. John has learned that the hard way; his clothes have the stains to prove it.

Dan Wells is an author I had previously heard from mostly because of his book series The Partial Sequence. I hadn't heard about this series John Cleaver and when I saw this book in the Tor catalogue I thought it was a first in series or stand alone. But actually it is the fourth book so far in the series, which I found out in my mid reading session. However as you can make up from the above notice, you can pick up the John Cleaver series very well with this fourth edition. It's like it was written with this in the back of Dan Wells' mind. I also have to make a confession: I didn't liked Dexter at all but I loved The Devil's Only Friend a lot!

The story of The Devil's Only Friend focuses on John Cleaver, who shares his name with that of the series. John isn't your ordinary teenager, he hunts demons for a living. What I learned early on is that he is sort of a veteran in the business, in the three earlier books his path to what he has become was explained. So, John and his team of special selected people hunt supernatural creatures called Withered. This is where the story picks up where John is about to hunt and dispose of some Withered, just to mention his team consists of FBI agents. He isn't really freelancing it! The information that John receives on where the Withered are, is given through Brooke, a very close friend of John who was inhabitated by a demon called Nobody, Brooke went through a lot and is now in a special institution. Anyway one of the first Withered they face is a nurse called Mary Gardner, her profession places her in close contact with vulnerable people, now you might think just what she might do to her victim, erase that thought please. You won't be able to guess just why she is at that hospital and I won't spoil it for you. At the time of Mary Gardner, John and his crew are also invistigating another Withered Cody French, who just as with Mary, has a unique ability. With these two in the end out of the way, John stumbles upon a much larger plot, the events leading up to this twists were action packed but after this twist, Dan Wells really managed to ramp up the speed. As now John and the FBI have to find the most dangerous Withered to date, and he is misleading them, placing them on the wrong trail and keep on murdering innocent people. This Wither calls himself The Hunter and now it seems that these Wither hunters, a.k.a. John and co. are the hunted.. The tables are turned and John's life and that of everyone he holds dear are in danger. 

What Dan Wells managed to put down in this book, in only 300pages is remarkable. Even given the fact that it felt that I got a lot of the background talk from what happened in the first three books as well. Dan Well's certainly knows how to catch the reader with the first sentence and doesn't let you go. The writing style is very easy to get into and highly addictive, pacing is spot on. The story is just over too soon.

But where The Devil's Only Friend get's it true strength from is the protagonist John Cleaver. I already said that I loved the story of The Devil's Only Friend, comparisons have been made with the tv show Dexter, well I watched it and I didn't like it. There might be similar things but John Cleaver is much more interesting than Dexter. He is much more complex, he has thoughts of killing people, but there is always only the thoughts, he doesn't give in putting it into action.He has sociopathic tendencies, he has his own rules to which his friends has to live by, basically he is weird and sort of a ticking time bomb. And this all make him very unpredictable. When I first read about John in the beginning of the book, I directly felt a lot of emotions, a struggling character, which made it easy for me to connect with. He doesn't like what he has to go through and is therefor very protective, for himself, not getting out of his comfort zone (altering his rules) and protective of his friends. Now there are some very nice scenes in the book, where he ventures just that bit out of his comfort zone with remarkable results, but you can feel the struggle with him. From all the books that I have read so far I can safely say that John Cleaver is definitely one of the most complex characters that I have had the pleasure to read about. Dan Wells did a remarkable job with designing and executing John's character, putting the narrative in John's hands in a first person perspective only makes the story that much stronger. 

And it gets even better, because John isn't only a having murder thoughts sociopath, his attitude is somewhat also very funny, some of the dialogues that he had with his FBI friends really cracked me up, sometimes John was made fun of but other time he could place quite the joke on them. It's this dialogue dynamics that really finished the story for me. Very nicely done! 

The setting of the book is also very interesting. John is a teenager, working together with the FBI to hunt the Withered, these demons don't live on grassy flower filled patches or play in the sunshine. Though they don't also dwell in the eerie dark places, they live the life of humans and here Dan Wells plays into a big psychological aspect. The Withered that we read about have roles as the innocent neighbor with a dog or the hospital nurse, this make for a creepy atmosphere in the book, Dan Wells doesn't reveal anything of how the Wither react against John's moves and this turns it into a highly predictable story, you learn and live on the go. There could be trouble behind every door, even if it is your neighbor with a dog. 

The Devil's Only Friend is a perfect book. It's hard to place in a particular genre, thriller/crime, horror and urban fantasy (I wouldn't place it in young adult though). From the start of the story I was hooked. Dan Wells has a gift it capturing the reader and not letting you go until the story has been told. Storywise, The Devil's Only Friend is just awesome, I loved the story and in a saturated fiction genre this is precisely the book that I need to get out of some more mainstream stories. The protagonist of the series, John Cleaver, is by far one of the most complex characters that I have read about, he definitely lifts this story into another dimension. Awesome reading material, I urge you to read it, you won't be dissapointed. 

Media Alert: Jock's 'Ex Machina' concept work to be released as 'Ava Evolved'

Media Alert: Jock's 'Ex Machina' concept work to be released as 'Ava Evolved'

The creative process behind the break-out science fiction hit movie of 2015, Ex Machina, is to be opened up in a very special book this August.

Alex Garland’s directorial debut has confirmed his position as the master of indie SF cinema and artist Jock’s concept work behind the film’s robot AI and the heart of the story, Ava, is being printed for the first time in a unique showcase format.

AVA Evolved is a very special limited edition art book, that will feature loose-leafed A3 scale portfolio pieces, collecting Jock’s incredible concept art, detailing the evolution of Ava, from early mood-pieces to detailed key concept art.

This stunning sequence of drawings, paintings and collages by the concept artist behind DREDD (2012) provides real insight into the creative process behind one of the most striking SF films of recent years. The book also includes an introduction by Garland, whose directorial vision has seen Ex Machina become a sleeper hit, as more audiences have discovered the film’s incredible aesthetic, complex characters, and insightful moral questions.

The book is limited to just 500 copies and will be available exclusively from the 2000 AD webshop at

A handful of special editions will also be available at the 2000 AD booth (Booth 2806) at Comic Con San Diego, 9th-12th July, where Jock will be signing on the Thursday of the event.

Jock said: “It’s been an incredible experience for me seeing Ava come to life in the final film, and the response people have had to her. I worked with Alex in the very earliest stages of production, and this portfolio contains all the images from that time, before she was handed over to the amazing VFX team at Double Negative. It was a few intense weeks trying to figure out what this machine was and I’m looking forward to people getting to look behind the scenes and see the process from the first sketch to the final concepts in this beautifully designed package from Rebellion.”

Ben Smith, Rebellion Publishing’s Head of Books and Comic Books, said: “Ex Machina continues to surprise and delight audiences, so it is a privilege and a pleasure to bring Jock’s work on Ava into the light. Ava Evolved really is a unique opportunity to see the process behind the character’s look in a showcase format, as well as learning so much about one of the most in-demand concept artists in movies today.”

Short Fiction Friday: Madeleine

Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar, Lightspeed Magazine June 2015

[no synopsis provided] 

A while back I read the short story Pockets from Amal El-Mohtar which was a very cool story and I have been keeping my eye out for another story to appear from her and this month in the special issue of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! from Lightspeed Magazine wherein another one of her stories appeared: Madeleine.

I read the store once and didn't really know what to make of it (feelings wise). I read it again and just reading the first few sentences I understood the hidden beauty of the story. In the recent short fiction review I read more lighthearted stories, with Madeleine Amal El-Mohtar delves deeply into an emotional front. 

The story focuses on Madeleine who lost her mother to the disease of Alzheimer. SInce Alzheimer has a degree of running in the family, Madeleine has chosen to sign up for an experimental drug procedure. SInce the medication is experimental, some side effects are still unknown. Madeleine starts to experience strong flashback of her mother and sees another girl in them. A girl similar in her age to which she bonds. Her doctor however claims that these flashback are no side effects and that it would be better for Madeleine if she would be examined at the hospital. But as the flashbacks become more frequent, it becomes clear to Madeleine that the women is real. And that this women means much more to Madeleine than she had even dared to think. 

With Madeleine Amal El-Mohtar has produced a very strong and provocative story, that will make you view things different. What I have been able to read of Amal El-Mothar's short fiction, shows to it is diverse, tackles a wide range of subject. It's a treat to read.

You can read the story for free here

Book Review: The Water Knife

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust.

When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.  

With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Paolo Bacigalupi is best known for his book The Windup Girl, which received both a first place win in the Hugo and Nebula awards of 2010. Winning both these prestigious awards is quite a feat. Now Paolo Bacigalupi is with another stunning book, The Water Knife. I read some very good dystopian stories over the years, varying in different degrees in their severity of the projected world from completely destroyed to changes in certain small aspects. In The Water Knife Paolo Bacigalupi present a what could be very realistic picture in a few decades, because what is the water scarcity persists and only a few places have enough? The Water Knife is a thrilling story of what could become reality. 

As I mentioned above, The Water Knife tells the story of a severe drought in America,  states in the Southwest region have dwindling supplies of water. Several very strong rules and regulations have been put up, and the poor people are the ones that have to pay the price, they have to pay a lot of money for water at local, collective water pumps, it is no longer a commodity but a luxury item. For the rich people life is still as comfortable as ever, they live in big sprawling arcologies, where no one will look twice when you leave the tap running for just a few second longer. Catherine Case is one such person who stands at the head of the big arcologies, she has to make sure that she can keep her people happy with water. Here comes Angel Velasquez into the picture. Angel is far from angelic, he is hired by Catherine to do the dirty work for her, he will go through many lengths to get the job done. Rephrase, he will go over bodies. Dead bodies. To get what he needs. Angel is just one of the three perspective that you follow in The Water Knife, his task is clear, but it all is about to change when rumors of a new water source become know to Catherine and Angel is sent to make sure it gets into her hands. The second point of view is offered by Pulitzer price winning journalist Lucy, she has chosen on purpose to report on the harsh conditions of the water shortage. She makes sure that the rich people like Catherine are put in the wrong daylight. Lucy cares a lot about people and she want to tell the truth, she also hears about the new source, a source where the poor people have only been able to dream about. And she investigates it to get the scoop and thus Angel's and Lucy's paths get crossed, not all for the better.... A third perspective is offered by Maria, who together with her friend and family live in Phoenix and have a very hard time to just get by, through her view you really get to see the nasty details of how hard it is living for water. 

The story of The Water Knife took a bit to get flowing, but after the quarter mark the story somehow transformed as the tension started to increase and of course also the bodies started to pile up. The way that Paolo Bacigalupi sets up the story first telling about the individual character before letting their faiths merge also produced a slower start, but a start that paid off in the end as you got much more acquainted with the different characters, before you are put in a thrilling rollercoaster ride. 

The Water Knife really gets a really strong point from the diverse and strong characters. Angel, Lucy and Marie. Each of their personalities are different. Angel Velasquez, is a water-knife, a sum of assasin, spy, hitman and much more. Basically there to take care of the dirty work. In the beginning of the story this is precisely how you see him, he will make sure to get the job done... Seriously. The ending proved for me very provocative in the way that Angel reacted on one side towards Catherine, it is not often seen, for me. His loyalness to be exact. Lucy is a very strong female protagonist. Where a lot of reporter are saying to go the extra mile, Lucy actually does it and as a female navigating through this hostile world she encounters more than one hostile situation. Maria is just as interesting and as I mentioned, she offers a completely different view, how to survive on the streets, where the bigger and tougher and stronger and more guns you have the more powerful you are. Even when she tries to make a legal sort of living, she has to give in. Her choices in the end of the book are therefore much more understanding, she has had and is having a hard time, logical than she wants to get out in the best possible way. 
What I liked most about The Water Knife was the whole setting that Paolo Bacigalupi introduced, the world building around it is just amazing. Drought is a current issue in America and forecast reveals that in the next years it will continue. So the effects that are described in The Water Knife, well who knows. Paolo Bacigalupi for me creates the perfect ambiance surround this theme, a truly thrilling and terrifying story. Highly recommended. 

For this version I got the audiobook from Audible. I have been listening to some over the last year and this is my first that is narrated by Almarie Guerra. She really makes it a great performance. Angel is Mexican, Latin America and the accent she places on his character is just spot on. The other character are also very fine narrated and Almarie Guerra really strikes a perfect pacing with accelerating and slowing down the story in certain events. 

Guest Blog: Creating and Recreating Renaissance Italy

Guest Blog: Creating and Recreating Renaissance Italy by Craig Cormick

Big question 1: Can you write about somewhere effectively if you have never been there?

Big question 2: If you’re creating a fantasy world, is there anywhere that you can visit that will actually be like it?

So I was asked to blog about my Italian influences and world building, in relation to my two books the Shadow Master and the Floating City. They are both set in a version of Renaissance Italy, where science works like magic. 

Where that idea came from is easy to tell. I was in Florence for a work conference – thankfully out of season – and after spending a few days sitting in conference rooms with ornate paintings and frescos, I went to visit the Galileo Museum. It’s a pretty awesome place – if you ever get the chance to visit.

So I’m walking around and looking at all these telescopes and pulley-machines and all these marvellous things that he invented, and I’m thinking that these must have seemed like magic to the people of the time. And then I thought, what if they were magic?  And that was the germ of the idea for everything.

But I like to scaffold my worlds on both the imagined and the historical, as well as literary precedents. So first I did a lot of research into Renaissance Italy – particularly the Medici family. Wow – they were kick-arse, and were a story unto themselves! Power and corruption and assassinations and family feuds – but being instrumental to triggering the whole artistic rebirth of the Renaissance as well. They had to go in the book!

Then I looked for examples of Italian literature to build upon. For the Shadow Master, a lot of people presumed the young male and female protagonists were adapted from Romeo and Juliet – but in fact they were adapted from the Betrothed (Il Promessi Sposi), written by Alessandro Manzoni in 1827. It’s quite an interesting book set during the plague years in northern Italy –  etc etc if you ever get the chance to read it.

I didn’t really expect anybody to pick that – but one rather clever reviewer did!

Anyway, the sequel – the Floating City, was something different. I wanted to set it in a Venice-like city and found that I was in two minds about whether to visit Venice to research it. I was keen to go, but talking to a friend of mine who had just been there – albeit in peak season – she said the reality of it ruined her imagining of what it would be like. 

Hmmm. That got me to thinking. So I decided not to visit until after I’d written the book, and for my imagining of Venice to stand as the city I wanted to write about. I did read a lot of histories of Venice though, and watch lots of videos, and spent a lot of time stalking the streets and canals on Google Maps.

So when people ask me if I went to Venice in researching the book, I say, ‘I went to Italy more times than Shakespeare did.’

And Shakespeare was the basis for my literary scaffolding of the three main female protagonists in the Floating City. They are the Montecchi sisters: Giuliette, Disdemona and Isabella.

They might sound like variations of Shakespeare’s characters: Juliet, Desdemona and Isabella (from Romeo and Juliet, Othello and the Merchant of Venice). But in fact they are the original characters from the Italian folk tales that Shakespeare adapted his plays from. Think of them as “origin” stories if you wish.

The original stories are worth checking out if you’re interested in seeing the way that Shakespeare built upon them and changed them in his own world-building: Luigi da Porto’s Giulietta e Romeo of 1530, Ser Giovanni’s Il Pecorone (the Dunce) of 1558, and Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi of 1565.

It was quite a challenge to entangle the three stories together in a way that did not give one more prominence than the others. But it was the same challenge for balancing the three elements of history, my imagining and literary precedents that I use in world-building. 

To my thinking it’s like building a three-legged platform out of three different sets of building blocks. You have to keep adjusting and rebalancing, and you only know you’ve got it right when whatever you balance on the top no longer tips off.

And for me that’s the mysterious character the Shadow Master, standing up tall like a Renaissance statue, using his magic and wiles to maintain the balance of things. He’s pretty awesome and kick-arse himself and etc etc etc if you ever get the chance to read it.

Guest Blog: How to hook your reader

Guest Blog: How to hook your reader by SL Grey

We were asked to share a few tips on how to make horror writing more believable, but it’s less realist credibility than a suspension of disbelief we aim for when we write. That way, readers can trust what they’re being shown and can get drawn into the story. That’s when we know our writing is working – when we hook the reader in emotionally and physically. These are some of the strategies we try:

Do the research

Since coffee-swilling writers locked in small garrets don’t make for the most exciting protagonists, at some stage we all have to go beyond the famous advice to ‘write what you know’. In The Mall we drew on our shared fear of shopping malls and consumerism, and in The Ward we mined our collective experiences at the wrong end of a scalpel, but when it came to our third novel, The New Girl, we chose to delve into topics that were way beyond our personal experience, including paedophilia and the phenomenon of reborn dolls.

And for Under Ground, our fourth novel, we took an almighty leap out of our comfort zone. It meant doing a great deal of research on the setting (a luxury survival bunker in Maine), various disaster scenarios (some of which will definitely have us blacklisted with the CIA), as well as imagining the lives of a group of survivalist characters who came from a vast array of different backgrounds from ours, and all of whom had different motivations for investing in the end of the world. It’s ideal to travel to the location you’ve chosen to write about, but this isn’t always possible with a writer’s budget and time constraints, especially if it’s halfway across the world, so reading local books, watching documentaries about the place and people helps build a picture of an unfamiliar place, as does a virtual visit with Google Earth.

We also sought out experts in the area we were writing about and were surprised by just how generous people are with their time. Most people just want to be asked to share what they know. We spoke at length with an architect who advised us on a possible layout for the building, while a security expert and ex-mercenary shared insider info about everything from automatic weapons to the type of knife one of our more gung-ho characters might use. We read several online accounts of the prepping philosophy, as well as working through many documentaries.

But … after doing all that research, you need to be selective with it. Too much information can become boring and get in the way of the story – fiction readers dread the ‘info-dump’.  In the end, only a tiny portion of our new arsenal of facts made it into the book.

Let characters live

If you’ve written a detailed synopsis or plan before starting the book, it’s tempting to force characters to stick to pre-determined actions to keep the plot moving forward. But many writers talk about characters having their own minds and taking on a life of their own in the story. It’s a cliché of writing-process columns for a reason. Characters really do reveal themselves and become clearer to you as you write. Whether you believe it’s a mystical process or sheer psychology, if you force a character into a situation that clashes with his or her internal motivation, you might lose your reader’s trust and belief in the story. Don’t be afraid to change those early plans. Keep reworking until your characters’ motivations and reactions are internally consistent.

Describing fear

‘She was now really really scared’, though tempting to write, doesn’t engage the reader much. Don’t just focus on the mental effects of fear, but the physical as well – for example, the taste of adrenaline, the speeding pulse – your readers will find themselves breathing faster, their hearts racing if you suggest it to them. We want them to have a physical reaction to the story, just as much as they’re looking for excitement.

Also remember that different characters’ reactions to fear will differ. Some will get snappish and defensive, others will become withdrawn and introspective. Some will give up. Know your characters and be consistent.

Less is more

H.P. Lovecraft, who knew a thing or two about scaring the crap out of people, said: ‘Never state a horror when it can be suggested.’ Over-describing can blanch a scene of its power. The boogeyman is always scarier when you can’t see all of him. If you leave gaps and dark corners for your readers to imagine their way into, they’ll fill those spaces with their own deepest fears. You’ll be using their fears to make the book more engaging and invigorating than you could do alone, sinking your hook into them deeper than you could ever reach yourself.

Under Ground by S L Grey, published by Pan Macmillan, £12.99