Sunday, 28 February 2016

Patchwerk News and Reviews

It's hard to believe that it's been more than a month since Patchwerk came out; it seems like it happened last week.  Mostly for that reason, I've been a bit remiss in talking about it here, and also completely oblivious to just how much me and other people were talking about it elsewhere.

There have, for instance, been quite a lot of reviews.  And the vast majority have been positive, too; all except one, in fact, which - and I swear I'm not making this up - I now can't find.  Anyway, what's perhaps more important is that the general response seems to be varying between quite and very positive.  For example, Publisher's Weekly suggested that Patchwerk "throws open a surreal and suspenseful hall of science fiction mirrors, and readers will enjoy watching Florrian smash through them all."  SF Bluestocking, despite a few reservations, described it as "a complete and mostly pleasant surprise" and an "an interestingly experimental work".  We The Nerdy gave up half way through their first reading and then revisited it, but still felt that Patchwerk was "a pretty fun little scifi story with solid action and a likeable protagonist" and still gave it 7.5 out of 10.

Back on a definitely positive note, SF Signal said that "it’s no small feat to write about the multiverse without confusing the reader, but Tallerman manages to do just that. I love the detailed “worlds” that each iteration inhabits, and not only is it an exciting read, the characters, which could have been two dimensional in order to facilitate the story, are more than that."  Elsewhere, Skiffy and Fanty suggested that "Tallerman does a great job of both narrowing the scope of the conflict ... and ... making it seem that the scope of the conflict is limitless. It’s an excellent balancing act", while Strange Alliances felt that "the story works extremely well but only because of David Tallerman’s competence as an author to keep it all together and continue to intrigue."  (Aw!)  Black Girl Nerds had a couple of issues but nevertheless felt that Patchwerk was "a very interesting read" and The Exploding Spaceship concluded that "Tallerman does an excellent riff on a clich├ęd plot device by turning it on its head. It is a very cleverly written and plotted story."  Overall, though, my favourite quote has to be from Megan Leigh's in-depth review at Pop-verse - that "...this is what science fiction writing should be."

Although, Andrew Knighton's claim that Patchwerk is the anti-Sliders comes a close second.

Elsewhere, I've been talking a great deal about the book - or in a couple of cases, failing entirely to talk about it.  On that note there were my two Tor.com blog posts, one of which involved praising Ian Sales's splendid conclusion to his Apollo Quartet, All That Outer Space Allows, and the other of which descended into my usual compulsive airing of my obsession with nineties anime!  At least I managed to stay on topic at SF Signal, talking about some of my favourite reality-bending genre fiction in an article titled Teasing the Seams of Reality.  I've also done a few interviews, swapping thoughts with My Bookish Ways about a whole bunch of stuff and settling once and for all with Andy Knighton who would win in a fight between Tolkien and Asimov.  (Hint: it wouldn't be Tolkien.)  I also did one of those old-style talky interviews with Mahvesh Murad of Midnight in Karachi, which once again ending up going spectacularly off-topic and, thanks to my crummy laptop, sounds like I was talking from the bottom of a well.

So if you haven't picked up a copy of Patchwerk yet, there's plenty of information out there to help you decide whether it's worth a look.  (It totally is.)  Or, if you wanted to wait, in a couple of weeks the fourth Tor.com bundle will be out, containing not only Patchwerk but Emily Foster's The Drowning Eyes and Matt Wallace's Lustlocked.  Alternatively, if you're really quick, you can win Patchwerk, along with all three Damasco books, here.  (Admittedly, at time of posting you have all of three hours!)  Lastly, you can always just buy it the old fashioned way - from Amazon UK here or Amazon US here.

On a final note ... it may seem like a small thing, but reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads can make all the difference between a book's success or failure, and whether I get to keep writing for a living depends in great part upon how well this little book does.  So if you've read and enjoyed Patchwerk then please think about taking a minute to slap up a review somewhere.  Trust me, every bit helps.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, Finally Out

It lives and dies and lives again!  Beat it with sticks and it laughs maniacally at you!  Drive a stake through its heart and you'll only make it come back stronger!  Tickle its tummy and it will bite your fingers and try hard to scratch you with its back legs, in a way that seems awfully cute until you realise just how badly you're bleeding!

I'm talking, of course, about my short story collection The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories, which has been under construction for the sort of time periods normally reserved for medieval cathedrals.  For a very long time indeed it was supposed to be coming out from Spectral Press, and there was a point where that seemed awfully close to happening - until suddenly it wasn't, because I'd withdrawn it after one missed deadline too many, and then because Spectral had closed its doors with the announcement of considerable unpaid debts.

This was gutting, but it was also probably the single best thing that happened to the book, all told.  Because if it hadn't been for that, it would never have found its way into the hands of Michael Wills and Digital Fiction Publishing, and the levels of effort and commitment that Michael has put into getting this project shipshape - in a fairly trivial amount of time, mind you - are just about incalculable.  In early January it appeared that Sign in the Moonlight might finally have breathed its last, and now here we are, it's not even the end of February, and lo and behold!  We have us a book.

What sort of a book, you might ask?  At least if you've somehow missed all of my dozen posts talking about it before now.  Well, it's the first collection of my short fiction, focusing entirely upon horror and dark fantasy and for the most part a particular brand of those genres, at that.  These are weird tales full of ghosts, monsters and eldritch horrors, heavily influenced by the likes of Machen, Poe, Lovecraft and Wells - though with some distinctly modern twists, because after all it's me writing it and not a bunch of guys who've been dead for decades.  So, for instance, we get a haunting in the shadow of one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century, some distinctly black humour at the expense of the poor, beleaguered child who thinks Innsmouth might make an ideal holiday destination, an off-page cameo from a certain Mr Aleister Crowley, not to mention a brand new novelette treating upon the real-life horrors of the First World War.

Moreover, all that is elegantly illustrated by Duncan Kay, he of that-cover-up-there fame, not to mention ably introduced by Fantasy superstar Adrian Tchaikovsky.  The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories ... it's been a long time coming, but it's out now, and you can buy it in e-book or print in the US here and in the UK here.  Oh, and it's heavily discounted for these first few days, which means that you can pick it up for the practically nonexistent price of 99 cents or 99 pence until this time next week.

Here's the TOC:
  • The Burning Room
  • The Facts in the Case of Algernon Whisper's Karma
  • The Desert Cold
  • War of the Rats
  • The Sign in the Moonlight
  • My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy Aged 7
  • Prisoner of Peace
  • The Door Beyond the Water
  • Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams
  • A Twist Too Far
  • The Untold Ghost
  • A Study in Red and White
  • A Stare From the Darkness
  • The Way of the Leaves

Monday, 15 February 2016

February is Not National Novel Writing Month

A few weeks ago I was determined - for reasons I'm sure we'll come back to one of these days - to try and write the first draft of a novel in the space of about a month.  Like, the whole thing, start to finish, in one month or thereabouts.  Wouldn't that be something?  Maybe not necessarily a good something, but it would certainly be one to cross off the bucket list, assuming that your bucket list consisted primarily of masochistic writing challenges.  Which is to say that I realised it wasn't such a great idea, for me or for the book, and one month ended up spreading into just under two.  That still being, I feel the need to point out, pretty damn quick for writing the entire first draft of a novel!  I mean, at times like this I need to remind myself that the first draft of Giant Thief took me something like three years...

If we're talking in National Novel Writing Month terms, however, I should be more than up to the challenge.  This last couple of weeks I've been writing between 2000 and 3000 words a day, and that's set to err towards the higher end for the rest of the month, now that the final proofs of The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories are out of the way.  My capacity for getting the words down has been steadily rising ever since I began writing full time, with no noticeable drop-off in quality, and I'm also getting more comfortable with writing flat out for longer periods, at least partly because I'm getting better at organising my days.  My pre-planning has also improved by leaps and bounds, to the point where I'm able to just get on and write without too much risk of growing severely stuck or having to go back and make significant changes.  On which front, I'm also much more confident in my ability to remember what I got wrong in the first draft and fix it in the second.  In short, its definitely been a confluence of factors that's brought my daily word count up to this level - which, as a friend recently pointed out, is still small potatoes for a lot of writers, but for me is quite an achievement.

I suppose that I'm mentioning this, here and now, because a small part of me has been wondering ever since I first heard of NaNoWriMo whether I'd ever be capable of writing a novel in a month - or rather of writing 50'000 words in a month, since as I've inadvertently illustrated, the two are far from being necessarily the same thing.  By the end of February, unless something goes terribly wrong, it looks as though I'll have proved to myself that the answer is yes - with the sizable proviso that it took me years of honing my technique, not to mention packing in my day job, to get to this point.

I'm not sure what the moral is here, except to say that I'm a little bit more convinced than I already was that if you're serious about becoming a professional writer then NaNoWriMo isn't the most productive of exercises.  Because, yes, I could have just written this fast eight or whatever years ago, when I was just starting out, and maybe I could have even managed 50'000 words in a month without my face exploding, but would I have learned even a tenth of what I've learned doing it the long way?  I think not.  Which isn't to say that NaNoWriMo can't be a meaningful or a fun exercise - plenty of people have assured me that it is, and why would they lie? - just that I'm not persuaded it's a shortcut past years of graft, because I'm not convinced that any such shortcut exists.  Then again, perhaps I'm the only one who ever imagined it was supposed to be, and I'm entirely missing the point.

On a side note, in the actual National Novel Writing Month, November, I'll be writing - assuming my schedule hasn't changed in the meantime, of course - a measly forty thousand words or so, meaning that, in the first year I might have seriously considered giving it a go, I still won't.  But who knows?  Maybe in 2017!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Book Ramble: In the Shadow of The Shadows of the Apt

I really don't read epic fantasy.

This has nothing to do with how much I like or don't like epic fantasy, but everything to do with a lack of hours in the day, or at least a desire to read as diversely as I can in the limited time that I have.

So it was that when I picked up Adrian Tchaikovsky's debut novel Empire in Black and Gold, it wasn't with any intention of reading beyond that point.  I didn't know Adrian back then, I wasn't familiar with his work because I was hopelessly ignorant of the publishing scene in general, but he'd been kind enough to provide a blurb for Giant Thief and I had an idea of thanking him in a small way by picking up one of his books.  It seemed like about the least I could do; but not being a reader of epic fantasy, I fully assumed that that would be the end of it.

Yet here we are, however many years later, and I just finished Seal of the Worm, book ten in the series that Empire began.  So clearly something went very wrong.  Or very right.  Or perhaps a bit of both.

First up, I feel obliged to point out, if only to myself, that The Shadows of the Apt isn't really epic fantasy at all.  I mean, yes, it's epic and yes it's fantasy, but ... okay, maybe it sort of is.  But that's about the lowest level it's operating on; epic fantasy is SotA when it's idling, and how many such series can claim that?  It's the premise, that's the thing: a reality where humans have acquired what amount to superpowers by emulating various insect species, and then are further divided into the technologically able Apt and the magically inclined Inapt, who understand so little of machinery that they can't so much as pull the trigger of a crossbow.  It's a setting that works equally well as science-fiction and fantasy, and SotA treads a hair-thin line between the two, but those twin central concepts have advantages well beyond that.  They lead to a world, for example, that can still offer surprises all the way into its tenth book, as we're drip-fed new insect-kinden with new, crazy powers, but also entire new cultures, each detailed with loving affection.  Those two marvelous notions collide against each other in endlessly interesting ways, and while perhaps neither alone could warrant seven thousand and some words, somehow the two in combination provide an all but limitless scope.

(I'll admit it here, slightly shamefacedly: I got to the end of book ten and found myself wanting more.)

If that was all SotA had going for it, however, I suspect I'd have drifted away, a little sadly, somewhere round about book four or five.  The thing is, The Shadows of the Apt is also an alternate history of about two hundred years of human progress, twisted and reshuffled but still potently reminiscent of our own recent triumphs and misdeeds.  At the risk of slight spoilers, the world of the Apt sees its own blitz, its own industrial revolution, even its own terrible equivalent of the holocaust.  And only as I got towards the end of the series did I fully appreciate how much that was what kept me reading: beneath the magic, the fantasy, the intriguing alternate technologies, there is in these ten books a deconstruction of our own development as a species, at our worst and our best.  The results are sometimes devastating and sometimes hopeful; Adrian's bug-people aren't quite us, and often they avoid our mistakes, or else manufacture even worse horrors of their own.  Still, there was rarely a point when I felt I was reading a work with nothing to say about my own reality and its bloody, tragic, occasionally marvelous history.  In the end, these books aren't escapism; instead, they're a side step into a might-have-been world with all the frailties and potentialities of our own, one that in turn has no end of things to say about the ways we've chosen to make ourselves and each other suffer, how we might have done better, how we might do yet.

There's plenty more I could talk about here - Adrian's Miyazaki-like refusal to give us villains who are anything less than fully comprehensible human beings certainly warrants an essay all of its own - but in the end it's perhaps enough to just point out that these are tremendously good books, works of exceeding cleverness and imagination, and you should absolutely give them a go if you haven't already.

Just be prepared for the fact that once you start, it might be a while before you stop.