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Aug 222016
 

The second in Jemisin’s trilogy storms out the gate – mysteries are deepened even as they turn to secrets and are uncovered. The scale of what she’s working on – from the role of humanity as a form of social control through to the meaning of parent child relationships – is starting to become clear, and Jemisin is nothing if not ambitious. The mystery of the Obelisks deepens.

Nassun is found, and may be lost.

Alabaster is still alive, sort of.

The world is ending, and no one quite yet knows.

Humanity is put to the test, and is pretty well found wanting.

 

 Posted by at 01:00
Aug 192016
 

There are four seasons in a year, but the danger of a fifth season lurks everywhere. The ground is unstable: volcanoes, geysers, and earthquakes loom, and a massive, planet-killing event waits just around the corner to usher in an unending winter in which humanity must struggle to survive. Orogenes have the skill to mediate the seismic – or cause them, manipulating geological energy, and so they are hated, feared, and enslaved, as the economy of the world rides on their shoulders. This is the book I’ve been waiting for from Jemisin: grapples with slavery, tropes, gender, class, empire, and much more.

 

 Posted by at 01:00
Aug 172016
 

If you like your fiction horrible and terrifying like the end of the world might be ushered into via a council estate via a disabled man with a hellbourne mobility scooter, this might be the book for you. It’s endlessly inventive and dark, as it weaves together the people that the modern world has left behind – from social workers and pub-dwellers to the distraught and disabled residents of a sink estate to have to save the world by reassembling the eponymous Night Clock. This is an astonishing debut that’s truly inventive, new, and different. Could be the rebirth of Weird.

 Posted by at 01:00
Aug 182015
 

Paris, after the war.

You know. The big one. The one with the massive bombs that ended the age of empires.

The one that meant that angels were kicked out of heaven.

The first world war.

De Bodard has linked the wars to create a postapocalyptic Paris as her backdrop.

This is a story of the failure of colonialism and empire, on both grand scales and personal. It’s a story of unlikely alliances – immigrant, human, newly Fallen, and head of House, and how they can conspire to restore – or upset – the social order.

It’s haunting and sticks in the mind.

Aug 102015
 

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Every time a digital product manger says the word ‘content’, it makes me cringe. Sometimes, it’s appropriate, but mostly it’s a careless shorthand way of commodifying everything, with or without meaning.

When I was younger content referred to the actual meaning of what you were painting, reading, making a film of, or whatever. I got told off by a teacher for reading X-Men and Childhood’s End rather than The Scarlet Letter. (I did, actually, read TSL. It was good, just not what I always wanted to read). She, of course, hadn’t read either, but comics were all story, devoid of any real content.

Fast forward a decade or so and there’s this… Internet thing. I think the first time I heard the word “content” was about 1998, when the company I was working for brought in a specialist to help us strategise what the website was going to be, outside of the main functionality. Did we want people reading articles (there were no blogs), or to come away with something besides an efficient dispute resolution process? The content of the website was what mattered.

It still made sense, then.

Everything on the Internet is described as content now. Words. Pictures. Videos. Flash mobs. Happenings. Content has turned into a catch-all phrase, a commodity. It’s a convenient shorthand, and there are people for whom it works, but it puts in the same bucket The Onion, The Atlantic,

And here’s the thing: a commodity by definition isn’t unique, it’s interchangeable. If you’re buying pork belly futures or soybean oil it doesn’t matter if you get those things from east or west. You get the oil, the grain, sand, whatever, and it does the job, however it works.

But what we’re calling content is – usually – different. The written word is a precious thing. If I go to The Atlantic to read Ta-Nahesi Coates I don’t want to read words written by Boris Johnston. It’s not a commodity, but we treat it as though it is.

I would suggest that if you want better content for your website (or, you know, whatever web-enabled 2.0 property) that the first order of business is to stop referring to it as such. Call it writing, or films, or articles, or whatever. Writers write words. They don’t create content. Good writing is unlikely to have an expiry date. Unlike, hopfully, this post.

Jul 232015
 

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A very long time ago I was diagnosed with severe depression – the type you hear about, and that if you’ve never experienced, you really haven’t a clue what it’s like. Being sad and breaking down into tears and crying for no real reason, sometimes not being able to get out of bed, lethargy, inability to do get yourself together to do the things that you want to do. It was terrible, and I got treatment

(yay, the 90s – minimise actual contact with therapists and maximise the new wonder SSRIs. To this day I’m not sure if the drugs actually did anything or if it was something else.)

During that time, people – people who loved and cared for me – wanted to help, and they had lots of nice advice for me. Mostly “It’s OK, it’ll get better.” I’ve spoken to quite a few people over the years with this kind of issue, and here’s the thing:

They’re wrong.

It doesn’t get better.

It gets easier, mind. Bit by bit. Here and there.

You find tricks that you can use to keep yourself out of the danger zone, to muffle the horrible voices and the feeling of worthlessness. For me, a lot of it is keeping busy. Having lots of deadlines that keep you distracted. I have loads of tricks to keep myself interested in work, even when work’s boring.

The feelings and the voices never really go away, though. They’re always there. Sometimes it comes out as black humour, or they get used as voices in my writing, or… you know, whatever.

It can all come back if you get knocked by a loop – if there’s a death in your family, or a close friend, or if you end up with some sort of health issue as I’ve had the past couple of months. It’s always there.

What can you do about it? Talk to someone. If you can get to a therapist, that’s the best thing, but you can talk to loved ones, parents or friends, your priest or imam. If you don’t have anyone, find someone. Go to Samartians or TalkLife. There are probably other places. Talking helps. Even if it’s hard.

It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get better.

It gets easier. Over time. And it’s worth it.

;

(Friend or loved one? Don’t know what to do? Listen. Don’t offer advice, unless it’s asked for. Just listen and be there. Don’t freak out.)

Jul 172015
 

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Bloom County is back, and that’s kind of amazing.

When I think on the wonderful things from my childhood I think of reading Bloom County in the Sunday papers, along with Calvin and Hobbes and comics from the X-men and Spider-man. There was something about the characters that drew me in, got me giggling, and got me thinking.

Bloom County, though, was astounding. It was surrealist-ridiculous without any kind of particular caveat – it was as clever as Doonesbury (which it prompted me to read, the text being so similar, though I often didn’t get the jokes) whilst being as human as the Peanuts. Its dark, twisted humour made light of so many things.

It was, for me, for then, what Jon Stewart is now. It got me thinking about the roles of politicians – what we wanted from them, and what they told us to want from them. It was irreverent, making fun of Trump, Caspar Weinberger, and others. It made me want to pay attention to politics and economics.

At the same time, it had a storyline about a little boy hacker and his artificially intelligent PCjr. The boy had few friends, but was frightfully clever and did all the things boys who liked computers wanted to do with their computers in 1983. The young kids were wise beyond their apparent years, and looked deep into the twisted, dark soul of humanity.

And then there was Bill the Cat. Some sort of love child of Borges, Irvine Welsh, and Dalí, he was the embodiment of a bit of Hunter S Thomson’s brain that had got away. He played in a metal band and ran for President, and it was insane and surreal and bonkers.

And gentle Opus, the butt of many jokes, with no butt.

It was a special thing in a dark time, that said that it was OK to laugh at ridiculous people, no matter how important they were, and it was OK to laugh at dark things; it might help some time.

Want to know how good it is? He published this joke, and then this is the spike in google traffic for “suds nuns”.

Bloom County is back, and that’s kind of amazing.

Jun 042015
 

When I started Department 19 it felt like a very well done but pretty standard hero’s journey story: Young teenager discovers a secret government department hunting vampires and of course he’s got a place in it.

What’s evolved over five books is something much richer and much darker – the final volume should be humanity’s war against Dracula – a war for its very survival. But humanity has to face a darker enemy: itself. Humankind has done horrible things in the name of – or under the cover of – war, and despite being a YA book, Hill doesn’t shy away from humanity’s horror.

Jun 012015
 

Ian Sales has finished his Apollo Quartet, and the final book is brilliant. You should read the first three first, as they will loop you into this series of worlds all linked by the Apollo programme, all four obsessively researched, in very slightly alternate histories.

The fourth book focusses on the wife of an astronaut going into space, and she has, as a shameful – to him – secret: she is a science fiction writer. The book is gorgeous, a bit longer than the novella-length of the other three – fulfilling this conceptual series, and serving as an exquisite capstone to the quartet.

May 252015
 

1968, Chicago. Thirteen year old Sam is the son of a prominent civil rights activist, a protegée of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but the Black Panthers have come to town; his older brother Stick believes in their message.

What’s amazing about this book is how it does not fulfil expectations: Hollywood will never pick up this script, because it doesn’t portray anyone as right, wrong, good, or evil. There are complex choices to be made, as in life, and their effects will be measured in human souls and blood. Buy it for a young person. Read it.