Review: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015)

Signal to Noise

There are books that when you first hear about them excite and tease you, though if, like me, you’ve heard about them months before they come out that excitement can fade, mostly because other books get in the way, but some things do stay around with Signal to Noise it was the trio of music, and magic and Mexico which stuck, and that is a pretty good summary of its hook.

Meche is a fifteen year old girl who uses music to mask out the world around her. The love of music is inherited from her father but it’s with her two friends, Sabastian and Daniela, where her passion takes a more practical and disturbing turn when she discovers how to make music weave magic, and we’re witness to how magic doesn’t really make things better.

Moreno-Garcia goes back and forth between Mexico in a 2009 present and 1998 past as she shows us the lasting effect of the earlier events. She doesn’t linger too long in either and makes both interesting enough that you’re happy to get back to either time frame. She also uses the past to confuse and foreshadow present.

You see Meche’s journey as she burns through her friends and witness the breakdown of her relationship with her family at the same time as seeing that it’s unfinished business she may have tried to leave behind but can’t now avoid dealing with.

You know that’s where the first half of the tale ends up pretty quickly because that is how the present section starts but it’s what happens next and why that makes it more interesting.

As an adult you can’t help thinking back to your earlier self and seeing how you laid tracks to the present and wondering if you could change things what would you change? But Meche has no such regrets. Though there is a scene with her grandmother, that we see as an audience, which if Meche had witnessed would, I think, fill her with a lot of remorse.

Even though this story is full of teenage anxieties and issues I’m reluctant to label it as YA because of the effect it had on this adult reader. The power of using those formative events is that emotion is simpler and more intense, which works in its favour, though this could be seen as simplistic if you’re expecting a more nauanced exploration.

Brought together because they’re unhip gives an awkwardness and a camaraderie to Meche, Sebastian and Daniela but it’s more than that because Meche is a leader and Sebastian has a unacknowledged crush on Meche and with Meche confused by her own feelings then Daniela playing go between the two. It’s teenageness in a microcosm.

As for the music, I’d be surpised if Moreno-Gracia hasn’t got her own passion there. The various melodies resonate as you read and the author makes the point that what is obvious isn’t always the most effective.

Back to the magic. Does it make things better? Not really.

At the heart this novel are dysfunctional relationships; with Meche at 15 and 36 dealing with the effect of her father and how she is and was with her friends plus it illustrates effectively how we do, but mostly don’t, change.

Signal to Noise is a great debut that uses music and magic to bring something a little different to the exploration and struggles of teenage years.

Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing is the second published case of the Indian detective Vish Puri.

Early one Delhi morning a 20-foot vision of the Goddess Kali appears to a morning session of the therapeutic Laughing Club who then proceeds to strike one of their members dead before vanishing into thin air.

There is much to love about Hall’s quirky detective. The most immediate is the pet names he gives to his employees. He names them with wry mix of the jobs they do for him and their personality traits. For example, we have Hanbrake (his driver), Facecream (who works undercover), and Tubelight (as he spends most of his time in the dark).

But the cast doesn’t end there. It is truly a family affair with Puri’s mother getting herself involved in her own mystery and this time drags along Puri’s wife. There is a warmer feeling to this series because of the lively secondary characters which you don’t find in most detective novels.

Hall gives insight into Indian culture and beliefs as Puri sets out to disprove that a Goddess can actually manifested but this brings him into conflict with a Guru who has the ear of the Prime Minister. And Puri has then has another disturbing mystery to solve.

It’s fast-paced and it’s pleasurable watching Puri’s clue-hunting, bartering and sleuthing as he talks to all aspects of Indian society to get to the bottom of what actually happen.

Hall seems to be having fun not only with Puri’s quirky, but extremely effective, ways but also complicating his life with his Mother and Wife sticking their noses around the place in the hunt of clues of their own.

The cover quotes a reviewer calling, ‘Puri the Indian Poirot’ and but it’s not Poirot dropped into India it’s more a what if Porit was Indian, though Puri himself is always reference Holmes, though not always in a endearing way.

It has everything I love in a modern ‘cosy crime’ novel. A quirky cast of characters, mysteries which are actually mysterious and an investigation with entertaining twists and turns.

It’s really hard not to enjoy this book and I can’t wait to read The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken.

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

thethreesarahlotz.jpgI finished reading The Three the same day as the horrendous air-crash in Germany, and seeing the events unfold on TV. Because of the intensity of Sarah Lotz’s horror thriller I had emotional connection to the unfolding news I would never have expected. The Three is as much an exploration of effects of a life changing event as it is a creepy, twisting mystery.

The first thing you notice is the structure. Lotz has put a fictionalised real-life non-fiction book, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy, inside her novel with only two framing chapters to let you know it’s a fiction.

It starts with four plane crashes with three of those flights having a sole surviving child collectively called The Three by the media. The opening ‘framing’ chapter provides us with a warning that fuels the events rest of novel. Then we are introduced to the ‘author’ before starting on the mix of interviews, transcripts and extracts which make up the rest of the book.

What’s immediately clear is that Lotz has a talent for not only characterisation but voice. Each segment has its own feel and style. There is a tangible change in tone as we swap back and fore between the different ‘evidence’ which make up The Three.

Lotz weaves four main narratives. Three following the journey of those closet to the surviving children as their families find out that they are not quite the same about the children they were before. They act out of character. The fourth deals with a message recorded by Pamela May Donald and the person who hears it.

That’s a thread that’s better left to be experienced though it does involve the theme of religion and how power and religion aren’t always too far away from each other. I’m mentioning it as this thread has an implication which in the end Lotz underplays.

Maybe knowing there was a sequel, especially being aware of where it is to be set, subtly changed the way I read The Three. Not in a big way. I think I spotted the occasional reference to events in the sequel and I paused to ponder where the next book might go.

But I wonder if this had been a one-off book if Lotz would have risked making some elements bigger and bolder rather than leaving the lingering feeling she was holding something back?

This one ends cleverly so I really need to know how Sarah Lotz is going to tackle the next one, especially if it’s have the same format, and why is it called Day Four?

Thank You Terry Pratchett, RIP

Last Thursday I saw a tweet which confused and worried me:

And then I saw three tweets which broke me:  1/3

2/3

3/3

And the most I can manage at the moment is to share my own tweet:

Thank you Terry Pratchett.

Awards: The Kitschies 2014

The Kitschies reward the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. Now in our sixth year, we are proud to be sponsored by Fallen London, the award-winning browser game of a dark and mysterious London, designed by Failbetter Games.

The Kitschies’ 2014 finalists were selected from 198 submissions, from over 40 publishers and imprints. Congratulations to all who made the shortlists, and thanks to everyone who submitted a title for consideration.

2014 FINALISTS

The Red Tentacle (Novel)

  • Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (Egmont)
  • The Peripheral, by William Gibson (Viking)
  • The Way Inn, by Will Wiles (4th Estate)
  • The Race, by Nina Allen (NewCon Press)

The Golden Tentacle (Debut)

  • Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne (Blackfriars)
  • Memory of Water, by Emmi Itäranta (HarperCollins)
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers (Self-Published)
  • The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara (Atlantic Books)

The Inky Tentacle (Cover Art)

  • The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, design by Steve Marking, lettering by Kimberly Glyder (Weidenfeld and Nicolson)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming, cover by Ben Summers (Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Through the Woods, cover by Emily Carroll and Sonja Chaghatzbanian (Faber and Faber)
  • The Book of Strange New Things, cover by Rafaela Romaya and Yehring Tong (Canongate)
  • Tigerman, cover by Glenn O’Neill (William Heinamann)

The Invisible Tentacle (Natively Digital Fiction)

  • echovirus12, created/curated by Jeff Noon @jeffnoon, Ed @3dgriffiths, James Knight @badbadpoet, violet sprite @gadgetgreen, Richard Biddle @littledeaths68, Mina Polen @polen, Uel Aramchek @ThePatanoiac, Graham Walsh @t_i_s_u, Vapour Vox @Wrong_Triangle
  • Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer
  • 80 Days, by Inkle Studios
  • Sailor’s Dream, by Simogo

Learn more about this year’s judging panels.

Now here is a shortlist to get excited about I especially want to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as it is self-published also the The Invisible Tentacle makes a lovely edition to the categories.

Updated with the winners:

The winner of the Kitschies Red Tentacle for 2014 was Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (Electric Monkey). Judge Kim Curran said, “We loved all the shortlist, and Grasshopper Junglewas, in the end, the novel with the biggest chance to actually blow a young person’s mind.”

The Golden Tentacle for debut went to Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre (Jonathan Cape). The judges noted the audacity and craft of the novel.

The Inky Tentacle for cover art went to Tigerman, cover by Glenn O’Neill (William Heinemann)

Our first-ever Invisible Tentacle for natively digital fiction went to Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer.

An Interview With Neal Asher (Dark Intelligence)

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

 

You may not know but I’m a huge fan of Neal Asher’s work especially this Polity Universe. So much so his publisher in the UK, Tor, invited me to write an introduction to it. I wrote 1200 words and could have easily written 1200 more. If you’re interested in thought-provoking but fun space opera please go check out the link.

I was also lucky enough to score interview with the man himself to talk about his new book Dark Intelligence and the return of Penny Royal.

Gav: Could you describe Dark Intelligence in five words or less? 

Neal: Transformations, vengeance and super-science.

Gav: Penny Royal has appeared in the short story ‘Alien Archeology’ and The Technician what makes him a character you keep returning to? 

NeaI: have a bit of a fascination with powerful and morally questionable characters (that’s not a bit of an understatement of what Penny Royal is). But it also seems that I agree with my readers on this. A previous example is the Brass Man, Mr Crane – I liked him, the readers liked him, so I resurrected him and dedicated an entire book to him. Much the same has happened here.

Gav: Transformation is a theme which runs through your work in the Polity was there a reason behind putting in front and centre in this trilogy?

That came about during a back and forth with Bella Pagan. I was all set to call it the Penny Royal trilogy but, as she pointed out, only those who have read my previous stuff will have any idea what that is about. New readers might well be picking up editions of the Herb Garden. Initially the title of the first book was to be Isobel, then it became Transformation, but then thinking about overall themes I realized that transformation was it for the whole trilogy. Each book is very definitely a transformation. The title of Dark Intelligence came about during that exchange with Bella – not quite sure how, but it fits perfectly. Now, of course, there’ll be a similar discussion about the other books, which are provisionally titled Factory Station Room 101 & Spear and Spine.

Gav: You left the Polity for a trilogy of books in the The Owner Series and now you’ve returned to the Polity. How did it feel to come back? 

Neal: It’s a fact of life for a writer of serial books set in the same future (or set around the same town with the same cops if you’re writing a police procedural) that you can get stale. But try to do something different and you can get pilloried by your fans. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I took that risk with The Owner Series (wasn’t too much of a risk because most of the staples my readers like were there) and, afterwards, returning to the Polity, felt refreshed.

Gav: And I guess following on from that how do you balance writing about something familiar with keeping things new and exciting for you as you write?

Neal: In one respect, see the answer above. But it can be difficult when working with the constraints of everything you’ve written in previous books. When I wrote The Skinner there was only Gridlinked to reference so I let my imagination run riot – it’s probably the book I enjoyed writing the most. There’s also a point you reach when you realize that it has become the day job. Yes, it’s one of the best jobs in the world, but still the day job. New and exciting occurs when I push my imagination, when I twist and expand things and try to go outside expectation. For example, man shoots another man in the head, blowing his brains out. The victim falls to the floor dead. That’s nuts and bolts writing. When the victim sits up and goes, ‘Ouch, that smarts,’ and grins, then you’re getting more into the kind of territory I like. Even more so if his brain drops out of his skull and crawls off under a nearby table.

Gav: You started a lot of chapters in earlier books with extracts of ‘works’ which often had some bearing on the events which followed, something I really enjoyed, but you’ve not that done that this time, you also start Dark Intelligence with a first person narrator is there a reason behind the change of style or is it just an evolution of you as a writer?

I have used first person narrator before (Hilldiggers) so it’s not a major change. It’s a good way of getting right inside the skull of your character. However I find it stifling just to stick with that when I want to deal with other aspects of the story so I also use third person. As for the chapter starts – those little excerpts from ‘How It Is – by Gordon’ and the like – I just didn’t want to slow things down with them this time. It is also the case that having done so many of them I’m noticing a tendency towards repetition.

Gav: Following you on twitter, even if someone hasn’t read your work, it becomes pretty obvious you keep up with field of biology, which immediately evident in your novels. Is something you do for purely research purposes or it is a wider passion that feeds into your work?

It’s both. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on at the forefront of science. When I decided that writing was going to be what I would pursue properly it helped that it was inclusive of all my other interests. Now I try to make it part of the discipline by reading 5 or 10 science articles in the morning as a mental warm-up before I start writing. In these latest books you’ll see how that has impinged what with the use of meta-materials, matter printers and that all-time favorite of mine the grotesque parasite.

Gav: I think I’m right in saying you’ve finished the story, if not all the edits, for the next two books in The Transformation and that leads me to two questions; did it make it more relaxing to know you could go back and fiddle with earlier bits the closer you got to the end? And secondly, how does it feel getting to the end of a big project, does it get any easier knowing you’ve done it three times before? 

I started out aiming to write a trilogy and wrote all three books in one hit, to first draft, because that way it was easier to sort out the inconsistencies. I didn’t want to put myself in the position whereby something I’d written in book one made it impossible, difficult or overly complicated to resolve something in book three. I also wanted the option to add stuff to the first book to make the resolution at the end more logical, or natural. So yes, it did make it more relaxing to be able to go back and fiddle. Getting to the end of a big project like this is still hard because it has to have a satisfying ending to all plot threads and the overall story. However, it is easier having done it before because of simple experience. I’m now not afraid to make major alterations, to rip the thing apart and stick it back together in a different shape, because I know I can.

Gav: Finally, 2015 is the date travelled to in Back to the Future and it’s not what was expected in 1985. Do you think we’ll be brave enough to start transforming ourselves in the near future?

Yeah, I just saw a thing on Facebook about people’s predictions of what phones would look like by now, and only one of them got close. As for transforming ourselves, that’s already happening. We have bionic eyes and thought-controlled prosthetics now, we have brain implants like those used to kill the tremors in Parkinson’s sufferers. I would bet that within the next 10 years some of this stuff will have moved out of the realm of just medical science. Even I am about to transform myself into an SF writer cyborg by having refractive lens replacement. It’s happening.

Thanks Neal. 

PS: I’ll have a review of Dark Intelligence up in the next couple of weeks.