As some of you may have gathered from social media, I’ve been busy-beeing away running the Hay Festival Twitter feed again this year. What a joy it’s been too: so many insightful, thought-provoking ideas flying around. Amazing to be there to help celebrate 30 years of Hay – I’m totally exhausted and completely inspired!
As well as Twitter, I wrote a summary of the industry news from the first half of the Festival for BookBrunch, and also joined the journalists in the media room to write a few Facebook posts for Hay: Continue reading Reporting from Hay Festival 2017
Once in a while, a book comes along that totally blows your mind. The Hate U Give is one of those books and everyone should read it right now. Even better, the author Angie Thomas, is a total sweetheart, absolutely bursting with passion. Here’s our chat – and you should totally check out the full article on BookBrunch – but you should also buy the book.
Angie Thomas has shot to literary stardom in recent months, as her debut novel The Hate U Give, skyrockets to the top of the NYT bestseller charts. Set to be published in 18 territories and counting – and already out here through Walker Books – the YA novel follows 16-year-old Starr, who lives between the poor Mississippi neighbourhood where she was born and a posh high school in the suburbs. When she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, she comes face to face with police brutality and systemic racism
After the intensity of the book, Thomas herself is a slight surprise: a generous smile, regular laughter, and a soft Mississippi accent. Her passion and conviction shine through, however, and she has much to say on publishing, on the importance of books, and on America itself.
The struggle to write
Though Thomas has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, it took her a long time to believe that being an author was something she could do. “For one, I never saw or met any authors who looked like me. Mississippi has a rich literary history, but most of them are either white or dead and I was neither! So it felt like it was something that I, as a black girl in a poor neighbourhood in Mississippi, just couldn’t do.”
Continue reading BookBrunch | Hot new American novelist Angie Thomas, author of bestseller The Hate U Give, on race, writing and resistance
Fellow space-nerds might be quite excited by reports over the last month of a brave group of scientists trying the capture an image of the supermassive black hole sitting in the centre of our twinkly Milky Way. It’s a thrilling proposition for many reasons, but my excitement was piqued further after reading Stephen Hawking’s Black Holes: The BBC Reith Lectures, with an introduction and commentary by David Shukman.
This slim, pocket-sized volume is easy to read in a lunchtime, but might take weeks or years to really comprehend. It illustrates once again that subtle boundary between physics and philosophy – and that black holes are no exception to the true weirdness of quantum physics. Continue reading Book Review | ‘Black Holes: The BBC Reith Lectures’ by Stephen Hawking
In the midst of writing a dystopia of my own, it strikes me on an almost daily basis the degree to which society has come under the thumb of a very fickle dictator: money. Further, money within the context of an inherently unstable and unjust neoliberal capitalist system. For a searing criticism of the failures of this system, flawlessly melded with a scintillating story, I point you in the direction of Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.
The Mandible family has a sizeable fortune, but when a bloodless world war wipes out their millions they, like the rest of America, find themselves out of their homes and on the brink of starvation. Crammed into their poorest relatives’ house, the financial crisis brings out the best in some, and the worst in others. But, as society continues to devolve and culture breaks down, the choices ahead only get tougher. Continue reading Book Review | ‘The Mandibles’ by Lionel Shriver
Spoiler alert: This review contains massive plot spoilers about Fahrenheit 451.
In a year when readers seem to be turning to dystopias for sanity, there seemed to be no better time to return to Bradbury’s sometimes overlooked book, Fahrenheit 451.
Named after the alleged temperature at which books burn, the story follows Guy Montag, who lives in a world where books are banned, as they are thought to be the source of discord and unhappiness. As a fireman, it is Montag’s job to burn any books that are found. Yet, unhappy in his marriage and unsatisfied with life, Montag finds the lure of books too much to resist – and once there are books in his house, there is nothing to stop the feared Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department from tracking him down.
Fifty years on from its initial publication, growing post-truth, anti-intellectual sentiments in Western society have given Fahrenheit 451 new relevance, indeed in parts with almost uncanny precognition on Bradbury’s part. Many elements come into play during this book: the frustrating loss that comes with conformism; the borderline madness that comes with rebellion; the senselessness that must, after a certain point of tyranny, accompany political hope. Yet, to me, it is the end which is most pertinent in the current climate. Continue reading Book review | ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury
On Wednesday night, I attended this launch of Snapshots II, a collaborative book produced by BookMachine and Kingston University Press. Each year, the Kingston Publishing MA students get together and hand pick their favourite articles from the BookMachine blog and curate them into one beautiful, publishing-nerd-friendly blook.*
Very excitingly, the 2015 blook featured, not one, but two articles by me! I am incredibly thrilled to have been featured at all and I have been thoroughly impressed by the final product. This year’s students really outdid themselves! Continue reading Launch of SNAPSHOTS II from Bookmachine & Kingston Publishing MA
A little literary fiction for you today, The Outsider by Albert Camus. It’s a classic, for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because it’s disarming, desolate and unforgiving.
Our protagonist, Meursault, is an unconformist. Existing in the realms of dysfunctional emotional disconnection, he experiences both the death of his mother and his engagement with a profound unfeeling. Then, a random act of violence on a sunny summer beach catapults his life into shadow. He’s in trouble with the law and experiencing the sharpest edge of the world’s ‘tender indifference’, but even then, his lack of expression and feeling may be enough to condemn him. Continue reading ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus
I am a great fan of a good bromance and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is all about the ultimate bromance. It’s a gorgeous, fantastic story of intelligence, friendship and betrayal told through hundreds of years, as one man lives his life over and over again throughout the 20th century.
Like so many novels, it benefits from a lack of spoilers, so I won’t say too much about the plot. It focuses on one mister Harry August, a man who after his first life, finds that he is born again instead of passing on. Instead of dying, he finds out that is he an Ouroboros, destined to live the same life over and over again, retaining awareness of every life and living on forever. Inducted into the Cronus Club, he finds others like him, and fits into a network of communication spanning across the centuries. But when he receives a message that the end of the world is fast approaching, he is drawn into a web of danger and cunning an attempt to prevent it. Continue reading ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ by Claire North
Zombie fiction has become almost unfashionably in vogue this year, but The Girl With All The Gifts changes that, breaking every cliche. It’s got the pseudo-scientific theory and political commentary of World War Z, and is as unputdownable as Sci-Fi blockbuster book of the year, The Martian.
Protagonist, little girl Melanie, is a very special child. Kept in a compound with a group of other children just like her, she waits with excitement for her favourite part of her strictly controlled life, her lessons with the lovely and kind Miss Justineau. But the compound, and her life, are not as safe or regular as they seem, and when tensions rise between her keepers, she is forced to ask questions about who and what she is. Continue reading ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ by M. R. Carey
Descent is the story of Ryan and his friends in a near-future world, where Scotland is independent, CCTV sees all and augmented reality is on the rise. It’s sold as an alien abduction adventure, full of government coverups and conspiracy theories, but it’s actually much subtler than that.
As teenagers, Ryan and his friend Callum are caught up in a bizarre incident that they conclude must have been an alien abduction. Yet, the story of the abduction, and whether or not it was real or imagined, is secondary for much of the book to Ryan’s experience as a young person in MacLeod’s near-future sandbox. Ultimately, it’s a story of evolving science, genetic evolution, technology, the fashion of tomorrow, augmented reality – and the political impacts all these technological developments might have on us. Continue reading ‘Descent’ by Ken MacLeod
Until I was in my mid-teens, I lived in Fantasy and largely ignored Science Fiction. Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley is a perfect example of the reasons why I began to pay attention.
Book one of the Humanity’s Fire trilogy, Seeds of the Earth is set some years after humanity was forced to flee from Earth by alien warfare. Three ships of humans were sent out from Earth, one of which landed on Darien after the AI on their ship rebelled against them. Isolated, without knowledge of the fate of Earth or the other two ships, they live alongside the native alien population of Darien, the Uvuvo, with their strange beliefs in the power of nature and the spirit of their planet. Over a century passes before they are contacted by the outside world. The message? Earth is out there still, and things have become political. As a devastating war threatens to erupt across the galaxy, the inhabitants of Darien find themselves in the centre of it, their people and their planet riddled with deadly secrets. Continue reading ‘Seeds of Earth’ by Michael Cobley
It should be noted that this is not the first time I’ve read Stormchaser. Over the years, I have probably read this book five or six times from cover to cover. It’s the first of The Edge Chronicles that I read, though arguably it was not the best place to start: the Chronicles are divided into an ever-growing series of trilogies, of which this is not the first of any. In fact, it’s the second in the Twig Trilogy, the first of the trilogies to have been written.
It was bought for me by utter fluke by an aunt and uncle one Christmas, and I’m always grateful for that because it is such a great read. Twig is a young Sky Pirate, who goes on a quest to find the elusive substance Stormphrax, which is only made in their heart of storms. Taking the lead of a merry band of academics and sky pirates, he pilots his sky ship, Stormchaser, back to his childhood home, the Deepwoods, in this action-packed YA/children’s adventure. Continue reading ‘Stormchaser’ by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
More Clive Barker for you, this time Weaveworld, which is my all-time favourite of his novels. I first read it in my gap year, but I am a great fan of the re-read and have dipped in and out over the last few years quite regularly. It came to me from a long-overlooked bookshelf in my grandmother’s house, a 1988 edition which has clearly been read, though not by any of my family members. A mysterious arrival for a mysteriously fantastic book!
Weaveworld is about a fantastical other-world that was sewn into a carpet when apocalypse called. Ever-threatened with being unravelled, it is stumbled upon by two humans from earth, Cal and Suzanna, who are drawn into the intricate and extraordinary fate of the Weaveworld. Continue reading ‘Weaveworld’ by Clive Barker
I have been told by many people that Neal Stephenson is an acquired taste. To which my response is normally, “Then you should acquire it.”
To me, he’s the height of intellectual science fiction, without taking it into the realms of abstraction as achieved by someone like Gibson, or lending it the academic dryness you quite often find, for example, in the fantasy of Tolkien. I mean, who but Stephenson could possibly come up with a way to make quantum mathematics interesting by comparing it to pink farting dragons?
Having said that, Stephenson does take patience. As with nearly all his books, it took me between one hundred to two hundred pages to get gripped, but after that, the next four hundred just fly by!
Anathem follows Erasmas, a young academic living in a sanctuary of learning, closed off from the public except for one day every ten years. He has an idyllic, secluded life, free of concerns until one day his mentor is expelled from the sanctuary and Erasmas and his friends begin to notice strange lights in the sky. Imparting the intricacies quantum mathematics with his usual narrative dexterity, this is a classic science fiction adventure tour de force from Stephenson. Continue reading ‘Anathem’ by Neal Stephenson
It is a great grievance of mine that Science Fiction and Fantasy are often seen as lesser genres to literary fiction, or that if you write in a literary style you cannot appeal to audiences of these genres. To me, these views are utterly false. Thankfully, I think Karen Thompson Walker would probably agree, and neither of these quite popular views seem to have held her back when she created her extraordinary first book, The Age of Miracles.
Set in the near future, The Age of Miracles explores a world in which the planet Earth has begun to slow on it’s axis, and the experience of this by Julia, an American teenager. It’s a fantastically wrought piece, unfolding beautifully and eloquently across the pages. It’s almost oppressively anxious, without directly expressing much fear. The characters emotions are imparted obliquely and concisely, leading up to the final sentence with absolute poetic clarity. This is a book to read if you want to feel human. Continue reading ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker
The Discworld Novels are no-doubt familiar ground for sci-fi and fantasy fans everywhere. I am late to the party. Whilst I devoured the witches books as a teenager, seeking out any story that contained pointed hats in between Harry Potter releases, I don’t think I fully appreciated what Terry Pratchett was about until quite recently.
His dry, often sarcastic and ironic humour, is not my native ground and it’s taken me a while to develop a taste for his work, but now that I have, I love it. Bit by bit, I’m trying to make my way through all the Discworld books, but even as I expand my Pratchett-knowledge, I still love the character of Death best of all. So, of course, when I picked up Mort and read the blurb, I knew I was going to love it from the off. Continue reading ‘Mort’ by Terry Pratchett
Spoiler alert: This review contains massive plot spoilers about Mister B. Gone.
For some years, I was under the false impression that Clive Barker wrote exclusively in the fantasy genre, and had no idea he wrote horror at all. However, when I was a teenager, I discovered his huge collection of horror works and, while horror is by no means my favourite genre, I loved his writing enough that I thought I’d give it a go. Turns out, horror is still not particularly my thing – but I did stumble across Mister B. Gone, which offers much to the faint of heart and horror fans alike.
Told directly to the reader by a demon who was removed from hell, Mister B. Gone focuses on a building war between heaven and hell. The magical reveal moment – and to my fourteen-year-old self it was masterfully done – is when you realised that the devils and angels are fighting over Continue reading ‘Mister B. Gone’ by Clive Barker
I’ve been doing some work experience in the Publicity department at Little, Brown recently, helping out particularly with their science fiction and fantasy imprint Orbit. I cannot express how happy being this close to so many SFF books makes me, and how much I don’t care that aside from travel and lunch, I am being paid in books. I become more convinced by the day that living on books is a perfectly feasible plan. I can eat dust-covers right?
Anyway, I digress: I have been reading Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan in light of the upcoming release of its sequel The Crimson Campaign on the 6th May, a delay from its original release date. The first instalment of The Powder Mage trilogy, Promise of Blood is the beginning of a fantasy epic about gods, kings, mages and, of course, gunpowder. The book opens with a bloody coup, undertaken by Field Marshall Tamas, in which every dying member of the Royal Cabal utters the sentence,”You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” What does this mean? Continue reading ‘Promise of Blood’ by Brian McClellan
In an attempt to embrace the changing times, it’s not very often that I recommend specifically buying a book in print anymore, but John Saturnall’s Feast is really worth getting a physicla copy of. If you can, get it in hardback. The design team worked a charm on this book, with crinkle-edged pages and sumptuous illustrations, that all go toward making the reading experience. But beyond that, this is a genuinely fabulous read: well-paced, well-written, well-characterised, and with an enchanting hint of destiny.
There are two protagonists in this novel: the first is the orphan-boy John Saturnall and the second one is food. Left with nothing after the death of his mother, John Saturnall is taken into the 1620s kitchen of a grand manor house. Living through times of great political upheaval and cooking feasts for both peasant and king, John Saturnall is a fire-filled protagonist whose passions for food and love light up the pages of the book. Continue reading ‘John Saturnall’s Feast’ by Lawrence Norfolk
I will warn you before we begin, this is not a book for the faint hearted. It is, however, a brilliant, painfully emotive evocation of the powerlessness of women in patriarchal societies, and also in a more subtle way the miseries we inflict on those suffering mental illness by not approaching them with due humanity. As such, I strongly recommend it.
As it typical of Sam Youd (writing here as Hilary Ford), the plot is character-driven, fast-paced and gripping from the outset. Our protagonist is a young lady, apparently orphaned, working for a forward-thinking banker in the 1800s. Without great wealth, but with the love-interest of a solid young man named Michael and a steady income, Sarnia is pragmatic and positive. However, when her unknown relatives, the Jelains, turn up on her doorstep determined on reuniting her with her estranged father, she undertakes a trip to Guernsey which will change her life. Youd paints the darkness into this novel slowly, building an increasing sense of doom and captivity until you can hardly breathe. Continue reading ‘Sarnia’ by Hilary Ford (AKA Sam Youd)