Jun 04 2019

Wastelands 3: The New Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read a short story collection so consistently stunning. Honestly, there’s not a weak one in the bunch, and that’s saying a lot considering there are 34 tales of post-apocalyptic life in this hefty volume. Whether the end of the world comes about due to war or infection or alien invasion or climate disaster (or other reason I’m presently forgetting,) these stories chronicle the ways life goes on. It is a surprisingly joyous anthology. Hope is one throughline: survivors use the trappings of fallen civilizations to bring their fellows a reminder of a shared humanity, as in Tananarive Due’s One Day Only or Meg Elison’s Come On Down. Change is another, as in Susan Jane Bigelow’s The Eyes of The Flood or Ken Liu’s The Plague, which latter also offers biting commentary on cultural imperialism. The most interesting and worthwhile stories have to do with survivors who aren’t the average protagonist of dystopian fiction, such as the transgender hero in Emma Osborne’s Don’t Pack Hope or the physically disabled heroine of Corinne Duyvis’ And The Rest Of Us Wait.

As you might be able to tell, this is an unapologetically progressive anthology. John Joseph Adams has curated an impressive selection of science fiction that is truly forward-thinking, from some of the most famous names in the business. Even the stories that eschew hope for either a jaded acceptance of the end (Adam-Troy Castro’s inventive The Last To Matter) or to preserve the status quo (Catherynne M. Valente’s The Future Is Blue) do so out of a belief in the power and worth of humanity. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much of a downer 500+ pages of the end of the world would be but Mr Adams has put together the perfect blend of pathos, humor and courage with which to see through the horrors of the apocalypse.

It’s kind of shocking to me how unfamiliar I was with Mr Adams’ work prior to this considering how much speculative fiction I consume. I mean, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are names embedded in my reader’s brain as editorial greats; after this collection, I have a new star to add to that pantheon. Reading this volume brought to mind the days when a tome like this was the most coveted book of the year for me: that interest has waned in recent times, but Wasteland 3: The New Apocalypse has re-sparked my love for sf&f anthologies.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/04/wastelands-3-the-new-apocalypse-edited-by-john-joseph-adams/

Jun 02 2019

The Lovely And The Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Not every teenager knows what they want to spend the rest of their life doing, but Kira Bennett is different and determined. After being rescued as a child from a feral existence by her adoptive mother, she is dead set on following in Cady’s footsteps by becoming one of the best search and rescue trainers and teammates ever. Alongside her adoptive brother Jude and their spirited neighbor Free, as well as the dogs they’ve been raising for this purpose, she’s well on her way to achieving her goal. Sure she still has a problem with human interaction, but that’s something she’s continuing to grapple with and learn.

And then Cady’s estranged father shows up asking for help. Bales Bennett is an ex-military man who first started Cady on her career path, but the two stopped talking after a bitter argument before Jude was born. When Barnes explains that he needs her help to find a missing child, Cady simply can’t refuse. She packs up her kids and their dogs, and they take the five-hour drive to Cady’s hometown of Hunter’s Point, on the edge of the Sierra Glades National Park. Nine year-old Bella Anthony has gone missing from her family’s campsite, and the Bennetts (plus the intrepid Free) are on the case:

We got to work. Within ninety seconds, a plastic bag was being passed around so the dogs could get the girl’s scent. I assumed it contained clothing, until it came to me.

Not clothing–a blanket, I realized, my stomach inexplicably heavy. A baby blanket.

The fabric might have been lavender once, but it was faded nearly to white now. It was threadbare and tattered, and the moment I saw it, I wondered if the little girl slept with it at night. When she was lonely, when she was scared, did she hold on to it? Did she press her face into it?

Did it help?

I will find you. The promise unfurled inside of me, unexpected and with the strength of a creature with a life and will of its own. I will bring you home.

Despite Kira’s emotional investment, she knows that recovering Bella will be a hard task given that the park covers over 750,000 acres of wilderness. Not helping matters is Gabriel Cortez, the surly and secretive teenage boy Bales is fostering, whose assistance seems to run hot and cold. Add to this the unsettling presence of Mac Wade, a gentle giant with a complicated history with Cady, and the overtly hostile behavior of the town sheriff, for whom Bella’s disappearance is only the latest in what’s starting to look like a deliberate pattern, and Kira is soon struggling not to revert to the instinct-driven, violent creature she used to be.

Her dogs help a lot, but Kira’s real anchors are Jude and Free. It’s so refreshing to see such a tightly knit group of unconventional teenagers who aren’t riven by pettiness and romance. Jennifer Lynn Barnes writes about young people with a naturalness that makes for compelling and often humorous reading, such as here, after the girls have gotten Gabriel to loosen up a little:

A loud and unmistakable sound–followed by an equally unmistakable smell–permeated the air.

“You’ll have to excuse Duchess,” Free said primly. “Cocky teenage boys make her ladyship gassy.”

“Her ladyship?” Gabriel asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Duchess,” I explained, nodding to the dog. “Also known as her ladyship.”

“I hesitate to point this out,” Gabriel said, “but the proper address for a duchess is Her Grace.”

Free and I stared at him.

“What?” Gabriel muttered. “A former juvenile delinquent can’t enjoy the occasional historical romance novel?”

And while The Lovely And The Lost is an excellent young adult novel that grapples with questions of humanity and identity, it’s also a densely layered mystery about missing persons on the very edge of the wilderness that will have you guessing as you compulsively turn page after page. I was really impressed with the way Ms Barnes wove all the different plot strands together to create a highly readable and oddly relatable thriller with a truly unique heroine.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/02/the-lovely-and-the-lost-by-jennifer-lynn-barnes/

May 31 2019

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

“That’s the mystery series where no one dies, right?” said Kid One.

Yes it is, I said.

“Well how can there be danger?”

Ah, that’s the genius of this series, isn’t it? And oh, sweet youth, to think that death is the only kind of peril that’s strong enough to drive a story. Heartbreak, humiliation, loss of status, greed, or even seemingly less fraught things like misunderstandings and miscommunications — all of these can lead to situations that call for the skills of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Then there are happier motivations, like the one that prompts the main case in The House of Unexpected Sisters: the desire to correct an injustice.

The House of Unexpected Sisters

Mr Polopetsi, the exceptionally mild-mannered chemistry teacher who sometimes assists at the agency, knows a woman, “Her name is Charity. She was married to a man called Mompoloki, but he is late now. He was always smoking, you see, right from the time he was ten years old, they told me, and now he is late. Late from smoking.” (p. 23) Immediately before this information about Charity and her late husband, Precious Ramotswe, the founder and owner of the Ladies’ Detective Agency had observed to herself that “There were odd side-roads in any conversation with Mr Polopetsi, and all that business about chemical symbols had been one such deviation. Once you got round all those, though, and were back on track in a conversation, he could explain things clearly enough.” (p. 22) The talk about smoking sends Mr Polopetsi off on another tangent, and it is a while before Mma Ramotswe can bring him back to the ostensible topic at hand. Not before a third sidetrack appears and shows something of both the characters speaking and the society in which they live:

“I was told there are two children,” said Mr Polopetsi. “I do not really know these people, and so there may be more, but I am told there are twins — both boys. They are still young. Maybe five or six — something like that.”
“It is a shame for them,” said Mma Ramotswe. “It is a shame for them to lose their daddy like that.”
Mr Polopetsi looked down at the floor. “There are many children like that, Mma. Remember?”
He did not have to explain further. There had been that disease and it had taken such a toll; mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts — the children had lost all these people, to such an extent that even the grandmothers, those resilient, uncomplaining women who could support the very sky on their shoulders, even they had buckled under the strain of looking after the children who were left behind. (p. 24)

Like many people opining on the troubles of others, Mma Ramotswe is also speaking about herself. Though she was a grown woman by the time her father died, she still feels his loss keenly, and thinks of him nearly every day.

Eventually, though, even Mr Polopetsi gets to the point:

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/31/the-house-of-unexpected-sisters-by-alexander-mccall-smith/

May 27 2019

Hoisted from comments: Father Boyd

Imagine my surprise!

Father Neil's Monkeyshines

“Hi, Doug, I don’t comment on my own books usually. But this is Eastertide. Bless Me, Father (5 books and 3 TV series) was a best-seller in its day, the 1970s. I didn’t expect is to be selling as many copies in 2019. And thousands watch the TV series on Youtube each year.
“I am adding 3 new books to the series on publisher’s demand, the first is out as Father Neil’s Monkey-Shines, the best of the series in my view, but authors’ judgements about their books are seldom accurate.
“I’ve never made public that after 1992 I stopped publishing but continued writing. Laziness? Wanting to spend all my efforts on improving my craft? All I know is a dozen or more of my best books, novels mostly, are sleeping happily on my computer. with titles like THE WORST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS and BAWDY TALES. I’m leaving my literary executor to do what he likes with them.
“I wish you well in all your many endeavors. PS My bestselling book was in Germany: Gottes Erster Diener.”

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/27/hoisted-from-comments-father-boyd/

May 26 2019

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) by Kendare Blake

I would not have predicted any of this from first starting this series, and I absolutely love that about these novels.

All three queens have managed to survive the events of the first book, but Queen Katharine has come back… different. Betrayal will do that to you, of course, but even so, her former-and-perhaps-still beloved, Pietyr, thinks something else has driven her return from certain death. Meanwhile, Queen Arsinoe is trying to come to grips with her powers even as her best friend, Jules, discovers new facets of her own. Queen Mirabella, once the favorite to ascend, is now questioning whether she even wants any of this. The lack of freedom as sole queen would be bad enough, but having to murder her sisters to take the throne is a price that now seems far too high, especially after the revelations of the last book and the continuing lessons of this one.

I was actually really pleased by the ending, for the queens, at least. Becoming queen of Fennbirn is a nightmarish process, and I’m happy that it can seemingly be escaped without death altogether. I felt really badly for Katharine, tho: I know she’s been the most villainous of the sisters in this installment but even without the supernatural influence, I can see why she’d go super dark. And then to discover at the end the cost of her upbringing on her body was so rough, and so dark, and so weirdly satisfying to me as a reader.

Kendare Blake sets up her narrative targets then lops their heads off with perfect strokes, and it is so much fun to read along as she weaves together more twists than Detective Pikachu can focus a magnifying glass on. The only thing I didn’t really understand was Jules’ decision at the end. I sorta got it, and since it wasn’t a point-of-view chapter of hers, I could hardly expect more internal explanation than was on the page, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her motivations explored in the next book, which I’ve put on hold with the library tho who knows when I’ll be able to actually get to it. Terrific series with two really strong installments so far: here’s to reading more!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/26/one-dark-throne-three-dark-crowns-2-by-kendare-blake/

May 22 2019

The Sign Of Nine (Warlock Holmes #4) by G.S. Denning

I wonder if the Warlock Holmes series has a bit of the Star Trek (+Galaxy Quest) movies syndrome, where each other one is really terrific whilst the rest are somewhat average. Which isn’t at all a slur against either series, as both are still entertaining even when not at peak quality.

The Sign Of Nine, the fourth book in our extraordinary pastiche, cleverly collects two sets of tales from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon — the ones dealing with addiction and with, mostly unrelatedly, Italians and other assorted foreigners — to present Doctor John Watson’s descent into self-destruction. Because, despite the name on the series, the real deductive hero here is Watson as he tries to corral the efforts of our small-w warlock Holmes, the vampiric Inspector Lestrade and the literally trollish Inspector Grogsson as they solve particularly odd crimes and foil malevolent supernatural entities. Unfortunately, as the book begins, Watson has unwittingly discovered the joys of mystical drug abuse, which he uses to chase visions of the elusive but captivating Irene Adler through space and time.

Alas, she only appears here in said visions (a by-product of Sir Conan Doyle’s writing about her in only one story himself,) leaving poor Watson to the real-world predations of that insufferable treasure hunter Mary Morstan. I had wanted a showdown between the two women, but I suppose that that will have to keep till the next book, The Finality Problem, hopefully coming out in a year or so’s time. What I did get in this novel was the heartbreaking threat of the permanent dissolution of the bond between Watson and Holmes, rendered far more convincingly (and affectingly!) than in the source novels. G. S. Denning has managed to make me care about these characters far more than Sir Conan Doyle ever could, and has actually made me go back to consult with the canon on the cases featured. That’s about the best thing any loving pastiche could possibly do: spur the reader to revisit the source material and reappraise its worth for the better.

That said, this novel isn’t perfect: while I know Mr Denning was satirizing the the xenophobia of the originals and Victorian society at large, it was still a bit uncomfortable reading the bit about the Italian/chimpanzee, but there is only so much gold one can spin from dross, after all. Elsewise, this is a refreshingly modern (in terms of manners, if not setting) and hilarious paranormal take that I recommend to anyone who enjoys mysteries + humor + weird fiction.

Interview with the author to come soon! Meanwhile, check out my first interview with him on the release of the preceding book in the series, My Grave Ritual. You can also look for my reviews of his other novels in the search box above.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/22/the-sign-of-nine-warlock-holmes-4-by-g-s-denning/

May 19 2019

Hitler’s Empire by Mark Mazower

In Hitler’s Empire Mark Mazower, a professor of history at Columbia University, describes how Nazi Germany ruled most of the rest of Europe. Briefly, Nazi rule was both incompetent and inhumane. In that sense, Mazower’s book does not break much new ground. Instead, it takes on several other interesting tasks. It situates Nazism “as an extreme version of a common modern European phenomenon — nationalism.” (p. 9) It notes Axis allies “like Italy, Hungary and Romania that had fought alongside Hitler and run parallel occupations of their own. The Croats and Slovaks had acquired their own states, Bulgaria had swallowed up neighbours’ lands, and Hungary regained much of the territory it had lost in 1918.” (p. 8) Opportunism was not limited to Europe’s eastern parts. “Europeans fell into line and contributed what [the German occupiers] demanded anyway. After 1945, this was conveniently forgotten. … Berlin’s dealings with cooperative businessmen and civil servants in western and central Europe went unmentioned. So did the fact that thousands of unemployed French, Dutch, Croatian, Spanish and Italian workers had volunteered to work in factories in the Reich before the slave labour programme came in.” (p. 8) He also takes issue with the idea of totalitarianism as the best lens for examining Nazism. Mazower says that there are some things that “the totalitarian paradigm” gets right, notably Hitler’s prime importance to how the Reich was run. He says that the paradigm misses complexity within Germany itself, that “Germans, on the whole, did not have to be coerced into fighting, and even in the final days there was no wholesale collapse as there had been in 1918.” (p. 10)

The most important thing to consider about Nazism, he writes, is the war. “Above all, there is a real problem with discussions of National Socialism that fail to take into account the catalytic impact of the war itself. Nothing perhaps illustrates the point better than the evolving terror apparatus. In September 1939, the six main concentration camps in the Reich housed a mere 21,400 prisoners between them; by the start of 1945 the system had metastasized into an enormous and appallingly run network of camps containing more than 700,000. There was, in short, no single system of terror that sprang fully formed from Hitler’s brow. It was the policing of conquered territory in the East that allowed the SS to make its dizzying ascent until it became the most feared organization in occupied Europe. It was the war that completely altered the position of the Führer himself, allowing him to trample over what was left of judicial discretion in Germany and making him simultaneously more remote and less constrained. It took only a few months, in the winter of 1941–2, for the Nazis to allow more than two million Soviet POWs to die in crowded camps, unseen and largely unrecorded. It took only three years — 1941 to 1944 – for them to invent and build extermination camps, kill over five million Jews and press-gang more than six million Europeans to work in the Reich. None of these things had happened – or even been contemplated – before the war broke out.” (p. 11)

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/19/hitlers-empire-by-mark-mazower/

May 18 2019

Barbarossa by Alan Clark

So I asked the friend whose copy of Barbarossa I had acquired what the virtues were of an account published in 1965. He replied that Clark wrote clearly and was particularly good on the politicking among the German generals, and between the German high command and the leaders in the field.

Barbarossa by Alan Clark

Thus encouraged, I picked up the book, but I have set it down now that the author has reached the end of 1941, and I do not think I am likely to pick it up again. The main reason is that I have read a lot of German, Russian, and East European history by now, and I am not learning enough that is new to hold my interest. As a description of the German invasion of Russia, it’s perfectly serviceable for someone new to the subject. Even then, though, I would be hesitant to recommend Clark’s book for the simple reason that much more is known about the subject now than in the mid-1960s when Clark was writing. Roughly twenty years after the German surrender, when Clark was writing, Soviet archives were entirely closed to Western researchers. One of the reasons that Clark is good on German infighting — and he is, my friend was right — is that he had sources to draw on, whereas there was far more guesswork about Soviet actions and motivations.

Other things have also become known. Clark writes, “The third source from which the [Soviet high command] derived information concerning its enemy’s plans was its Swiss agent ‘Lucy.’ Lucy’s identity has never been established, but his—or her—importance was crucial.” (p. 151) In the intervening time, Lucy’s identity has been established, although as with any good spy story, some things remain uncertain even at this great remove. Nevertheless, historical scholarship has advanced quite a bit in the last half century, and Clark is not such a great stylist that I would recommend him over a more recent account, nor is his book so foundational as to be important for understanding the historiography.

In short, if the subject were mostly unknown to me, I would seek out a more recent history, one that can draw on Soviet records as well as sources about German actions. For my personal tastes, I would also seek out one that is more than just accounts of which units went where, with what intentions and what results. The subjects thought suitable for history have also expanded considerably since 1965, and that is much to the good. Ivan’s War, by Catherine Merridale, is an extraordinary account of how Soviet soldiers experienced the Eastern Front, just an amazing book. From some of Clark’s asides, I am not sure he would have considered Ivan’s War proper history, but then I recall that he was just a twentysomething when he wrote Barbarossa, and an Etonian at that. His Barbarossa does what it says on the tin, but it’s been superseded.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/18/barbarossa-by-alan-clark/

May 14 2019

An Interview with Tim Major, author of Snakeskins

Q. Every book has its own story about how it came to be conceived and written as it did. How did Snakeskins evolve?

A. As far back as 2015 I wrote the idea in my notebook, after learning that during a seven-year period, every cell in the human body is replaced. I loved the idea that instead of happening gradually, this process might occur at a single moment – and that the old skin would be shed like a snake’s skin. I’m pretty sure that the additional complication was included in that original idea – that the Snakeskin would be alive, and sentient. I wrote a short story about a teenage girl experiencing her first shedding. It was pretty good, I think, but I was immediately aware that I wasn’t doing the idea justice – and that there was a novel’s worth of extra material to explore. The teenage girl remained my central storyline, but I also decided to imagine the effect of this miraculous power on the members of society who didn’t have the ability to shed their skins and rejuvenate in the process. Teenager Caitlin’s story is primarily about her grappling with her identity, but a lot of the novel is also concerned with the idea of privilege, and unequal societies.

Q. I loved the many dense contemporary topics that Snakeskins grapples with: from themes of identity and humanity to the costs of isolationism and the centralization of political power. Which real-world social and political issues did you have in mind when you were writing this novel, if any?

A. Ha! I should have read the questions before I started answering them, because in my last answer I was reaching for the same concept that you’ve stated very eloquently. As I say, the idea of grappling with your identity was the starting point. I have a particular irrational fear – though I think it’s very similar to a fear most people have. The fear is that somebody else might do a better job of being me. Is that really weird? Partly, it’s about my anxiety about not using all of the opportunities I’ve been given and the potential I may have, but it’s also a worry about not living life to the full. I’ve always been fascinated by doppelgänger stories, and I think the idea of facing an exact duplicate of oneself is horrific – but what if that person also shared all of your memories and talents? How would you decide who was the more valid human?

As for the societal issues… I wrote the first draft of the novel before the EU referendum which kickstarted the Brexit process – but while Brexit wasn’t a starting point for the idea of an isolated Britain, you can be sure that the tone of politics in the UK fed into later drafts of the novel. Trump, too, of course – his brand of nationalism and isolationism was an almost equal influence. I don’t think it’s too controversial, or too much of a spoiler, to say that I’m not a fan of either Trump or Brexit. In Snakeskins, Britain’s response to families being gifted Charmer powers is to cut itself off from the rest of the world to protect its special status, and the Great British Prosperity Party ends up running the country for generations – its corruption provides the novel with its political-thriller plotline.

Q. Do you write with any particular audience in mind? Are there any particular audiences you hope will connect with this story?

A. It’s a tricky novel to define absolutely in genre terms. While I consider Snakeskins to be a speculative novel, the process of sheddings might as well be magic, given that none of the characters understand it to any degree – so I suppose weird fiction, or even urban fantasy would be appropriate enough labels… There are three point of view characters, but undoubtedly the central one is a 17-year-old girl, whose storyline is essentially about determining her character as she enters adulthood, so I’d understand if people felt there was a YA element to the book too.

Good grief, that’s a woolly answer, isn’t it? The book is a strange beast. If I’m honest, I’m hopeful that there are no particular audiences who will find any obstacles to enjoying the novel.

Q. I very much enjoyed following Caitlin Hext’s journey, chuckling aloud at your line “Caitlin only had herself to blame for being so insufferable.” A lot of your long-form fiction has to do with teenagers or other people on the cusp of maturity being forced to grow up. It could be argued that the Britain of Snakeskins is being forced to grow up, too. Is this a topic you’re drawn to, and why do you think that is, if so?

A. That’s a good point. My previous book, Machineries of Mercy, was a YA novel, about young offenders being imprisoned in a virtual reality world designed to appear like a quaint English village – so there was always going to be a coming-of-age element to that. But you’re right – my first novella, Carus & Mitch, is about a teen girl and her younger sister living in total isolation, and Blighters is about an adult woman who behaves like a teen and who is forced to mature (then again, it’s also about giant alien slugs). I started writing when my wife and I were expecting our first child, so perhaps because of that timing a lot of my work relates to families – and I think it’s fair to say that children becoming adults is one of the big crisis moments in any family.

The idea that Britain itself is being forced to grow up is very interesting! I’ll have to go away and have a think about that, but I’m sure you’re onto something. The Britain of Snakeskins has lost in way in terms of openness and inclusion – issues that certainly apply to the real world too. So if Britain in the novel is on the cusp of growing up, it’d be nice to think that Britain in the real world might be about to do so, too.

Q. What is the first book you read that made you think, “I have got to write something like this someday!” If I guessed John Wyndham’s Day Of The Triffids would I be very far off?

A. Impressive! You wouldn’t be far off at all. The Day of the Triffids was my gateway to adult SF, and the biggest influence on the type of SF I write (high-concept, very British, cosy catastrophes). But I had the ambition of being a writer before that point. When I was about seven years old my mum won an electronic typewriter in a short story competition. She lent it to me, and I would write my own stories, but more often I would simply type out my favourite stories from published books – I was in love with the act of writing before I even had big ideas for my own stories. But in particular, it was reading and collecting classic-series Doctor Who novelisations that turned me from a reader to a bibliophile, and I remember announcing that one day I’d write a Doctor Who novel of my own. It hasn’t happened yet, though!

Q. How did you learn to write?

A. In 2012 I heard about NaNoWriMo, the internet community in which people try to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel during the month of November. I was eager to have a go – writing a novel was my specific ambition, rather than publishing one, so this seemed a good way of blasting through and ticking the task off my list – but I couldn’t wait, so I did it alone in February of that year. It wasn’t a good novel at all. I had another try in November of the same year. Still not a good novel, but I honestly didn’t mind, because I was learning a huge amount about the business of writing – things I’d never even considered as a reader, such as how to identify viewpoint characters, where to ‘point the camera’, how to condense dull-but-necessary sequences and alter pacing to emphasise action or suspense…

Q. Do you adhere to any particular writing regimen? Does your work as an editor help or hinder your own creative process?

A. I don’t have any particular regimen in any sense. I have two young sons (aged 2 and 5) and while they now usually sleep through the night, so I have my brain back a little, my life is still geared around their needs, and my wife and I share childcare duties. So I work part-time, and my writing has to be carved out of that time. Generally, I manage about 10 hours per week, but I rarely manage to write every day. I don’t think it’s as important as some people make out.

I love my day-job work as an editor but I’m not sure it feeds into my own writing, although the fact that I’m freelance means that I can switch between writing and work very easily, as I remain sitting at the same desk in both cases! Far more important is what I read for pleasure, which has a big influence on whatever I’m writing at that point.

Q. Are you a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a plotter?

A. A plotter, and more and more so. I was fairly freeform in my early novels, but all that really meant is that I plotted in detail during later drafts. I seem to remember that my first published novel went through eight drafts. Nowadays I write very detailed synopses, scene by scene. I feel perfectly able to veer away from the plan when I’m writing, though!

Q. What can you tell us about your next project?

A. In terms of publications, the next book will be And the House Lights Dim, my first short story collection, which will be published in July 2019. I’ve just delivered the manuscript of my next novel to Titan Books, which is due to be published in May 2020. It’s called Hope Island, and it features a remote island, creepy children, a cavern full of ethereal song, and dead bodies. Quite a lot of dead bodies. Also, I’ve just put the finishing touches to an SF novella, a detective story set on Mars. I’m very excited about my next next novel, which is shaping up to be bigger and weirder than any so far.

Q. What are you reading at the moment?

A. I’ve just finished Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, and which was selected by an SF book club of which I’m a member. This morning I started reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the 1924 Russian dystopian novel which was the precursor to Brave New World and 1984.

Q. Are there any new books or authors in weird fiction that have you excited?

A. Yes! Helen Marshall’s recent novel The Migration is, I think, close to perfect. Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty and The Arrival of Missives are two of my favourite modern novellas. Naomi Booth’s Sealed is horrific and compelling. Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne is punchy and has an amazing central concept. Malcolm Devlin’s collection You Will Grow Into Them and Marian Womack’s collection Lost Objects are both subtle and sharp. All of the authors with stories in Dan Coxon’s anthology This Dreaming Isle are terrific.

Q. What made you choose weird fiction as your primary means of expression?

A. I suppose you’re right that weird fiction is my primary means of expression – even though Snakeskins is touted as an SF thriller, there’s definitely weirdness at its heart. My short stories are mostly very weird. I guess I feel that weirdness is a valid way to explore the world, or at least the way I experience the world. Families are weird, when you look at them close enough. Society is weird. Life is weird.

Q. Tell us why you love your book!

A. Oh! I tell you what, at this moment I feel like the book is a child I need to protect, now that it’s suddenly thrust out into the world. So when I think about what I love about it, I feel immediately defensive! Let me take a breath before I answer… I love the characters, first and foremost – I wish I were as headstrong as Caitlin, as dogged as Gerry, as capable of change as Russell – though part of their appeal is that they’re all terribly flawed, and I’ve always rooted for underdogs. I love the two Hext family shedding sequences, the strangeness combined with family bickering – they stick in my mind even though I haven’t read the novel myself for a while. More than anything, I think I like the tone of the novel and the dialogue. I’ve always intended to write about big ideas in a down-to-earth manner, and I think Snakeskins achieves that. I’m proud of it, I really am.


Tim Major’s love of speculative fiction is the product of a childhood diet of classic Doctor Who episodes and an early encounter with Triffids. Tim’s novel about spontaneous clones, Snakeskins, was published by Titan Books in May 2019, with a short story collection, And the House Lights Dim, to follow. Previous books include Machineries of Mercy, You Don’t Belong Here and a non-fiction book about the 1915 silent crime film, Les Vampires. His short stories have appeared in Interzone and Shoreline of Infinity and have been selected for Best of British Science Fiction and The Best Horror of the Year.

Visit his website at Cosy Catastrophes.

Doreen’s review of Snakeskins may be found here.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/14/an-interview-with-tim-major-author-of-snakeskins/

May 13 2019

Acceptance (Southern Reach #3) by Jeff VanderMeer

Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to do a competent review of this book without spoilers, so you’ve been warned, dear reader, spoilers abound ahead!

The third book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is by far the weirdest. Whereas Annihilation was a love story in a creepy sci-fi expedition setting, and Authority was a gothic horror of bureaucracy at the edge of the unknown, Acceptance is a sort of explanation of how Area X came to be and where it might be going next, as told through the viewpoints of the Director, Ghost Bird, Control and the Lighthouse Keeper, Saul. It’s a heavily metaphysical look at science fiction, done in such a way that I finally get some of the choices made for the dreadful movie adaptation of the first in series.

Basically, it’s aliens. But aliens so much smarter and more technologically advanced that everything we experience in Area X is difficult for us with our tiny human minds to quantify. Mr VanderMeer tries to capture that sense of incapacity with references to brightnesses and music and quasi-religious ecstasies that are then juxtaposed with scenes of monstrosity and horror. It works only inasmuch as anything doomed to failure can work. He conveys the indescribability of it all by not being able to adequately describe it all.

A lot of readers will dig that kind of thing; I’m not 100% certain that I did. One thing I’ve learned about his writing, tho, is that it tends to grow in the imagination long after you’ve put the books down. So I can’t say that I didn’t like the book, or even rate it as less than good, but it felt as if it was constantly verging on narrative collapse simply because we’re not meant to understand what’s happening. Props to Mr Vandermeer for making the attempt, but it was less entertaining for me as a novel than as a thought experiment with a narrative structure.

Laura is even more scathing in her review of the series here.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/13/acceptance-southern-reach-3-by-jeff-vandermeer/