This post was inspired by reading Benchmarks by Algis Budrys and being impressed by how many of the mentioned works were so readily available on SF Gateway

As I mentioned a couple of days ago I’m exploring more and more of SF’s (Speculative Fiction’s) history, which is something I’ve been doing it off and on for ages (see Grass, The Stars My Destination,  Blood Music and The Body Snatchers along with shorts, ‘The Eyes Have It’ from Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett andThe Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaulefrom The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard )I’ve also got a review of Slow River I need to finish writing.

I’ve been reading The Weird off and on since it came out (Published on 8 May 2012, it contains 110 short stories, novellas and short novels. At 1,152 pages in the hardcover edition [though the UK is 1111], it is probably the largest single volume of fantastic fiction ever published, according to Locus.[1]). It contains over 100 years of weird fiction and I’m currently reading Bruno Schulz’s ‘Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass‘, 1937 (translation, Poland), which is very strange, as you’d expect.

I’ve been trying to make some headway with Michael Moorcock – seeing as I read the last one in  September after mentioning it in May  headway might be an optimistic way of saying it. Though, I’m almost done with Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl, so that is some kind of progress. I think I was put off by the bitty nature of Elric of Melniboné but The Fortress of the Pearl is ripping along at wondrous page. Proper old school adventure though I think that one that only Moorecock can tell.

I’m note sure why I want to try and cover more areas with my reading as I’m already trying to read more classic crime (cracking on with Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley. Crispin’s Gervase Fen, Allingham’s Campion, Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey and Bonfiglioli’s Charlie Mortdecai to name a few).

All this and keeping up with the SF present and trying to read more short fiction and that SF criticism. I’m  a little crazy.

Anyway SF Gateway’s Big Number, as of 29th May 2014, they’ve published 2599 classic SF titles. let me say that again: TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE titles.

I knew it was going to be lot as I’ve ben following their grow but they release a spreadsheet every now and again giving an update. That’s a scary number. It’s more than the average reader would ever read but it contains a back catalogue that you can dive into with a huge range of award-winning fantasy. SF Gateway have even provided lists of  BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo and John W. Campbell awards-winners for easy access (which I’ve included at the end of this post).

It’s honestly impressive but also an illustration of how much of a multi-dimnesional-iceberg SF is. Whichever way your approach it it’s yours as Jared kindly pointed out the other day:

No denying it, I do. It’s a struggle to keep diving backwards with the all the new books coming out keeping you current. Or at least I think it is but YMMV. And being as unlimited as it is there really is something for everyone.

What older SF have you read recently?

And if you’re looking for a place to start with some SF here list a long list of   award winners:

 SF Gateway: The BSFA Award-Winners

A staggering 33 of the 43 winners to date are published by Gollancz or SF Gateway. Some have always been Gollancz titles, while others were first published by other imprints but are Gollancz or SF Gateway now. Take a look . . .

SF Gateway:

1970 Stand on ZanzibarJohn Brunner
1971 The Jagged OrbitJohn Brunner
1974 Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. Clarke
1975 Inverted WorldChristopher Priest
1976 OrbitsvilleBob Shaw
1977 Brontomek!, Michael G. Coney
1978 The Jonah KitIan Watson
1979 A Scanner DarklyPhilip K. Dick
1981 TimescapeGregory Benford
1982 The Shadow of the TorturerGene Wolfe
1983 Helliconia SpringBrian W. Aldiss
1984 Tik-TokJohn Sladek
1985 Mythago WoodRobert Holdstock
1986 Helliconia WinterBrian W. Aldiss
1987 The Ragged AstronautsBob Shaw
1988 GráinneKeith Roberts
1989 LavondyssRobert Holdstock
1991 Take Back PlentyColin Greenland
1992 The Fall of HyperionDan Simmons
1994 Aztec CenturyChristopher Evans
1999 The ExtremesChristopher Priest
2001 Ash: A Secret HistoryMary Gentle
2003 The SeparationChristopher Priest


1990 PyramidsTerry Pratchett
2002 Chasm CityAlastair Reynolds
2004 Felaheen: The Third ArabeskJon Courtenay Grimwood
2005 River of GodsIan McDonald
2006 AirGeoff Ryman
2007 End of the World BluesJon Courtenay Grimwood
2008 BrasylIan McDonald
2011 The Dervish HouseIan McDonald
2012 The IslandersChristopher Priest
2013 Jack GlassAdam Roberts

 SF Gateway: The Arthur C. Clarke Award-Winners

1988 The Sea and SummerGeorge Turner (SF Gateway eBook | SF Masterworks paperback)
1989 Unquenchable FireRachel Pollock (SF Gateway eBook | SF Masterworks paperback)
1990 The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman (SF Masterworks paperback)
1991 Take Back PlentyColin Greenland (SF Gateway eBook | SF Masterworks paperback)
1992 SynnersPat Cadigan (SF Gateway eBook | SF Masterworks paperback)
1992 FoolsPat Cadigan (SF Gateway eBook)
1996 FairylandPaul McAuley (SF Gateway eBook |Gollancz paperback)
1999 Dreaming in SmokeTricia Sullivan (SF Gateway eBook)
2003 The SeparationChristopher Priest (Gollancz eBook |Gollancz paperback)
2007 Nova Swing, M. John Harrison (Gollancz eBook |Gollancz paperback)
2008 Black ManRichard Morgan (Gollancz eBook |Gollancz paperback)

 SF Gateway: The Hugo Winners

Following our posts celebrating Gollancz and SF Gateway’s BSFAArthur C. Clarke and Nebula Award-winning novels . . . it’s the Hugo Awards!  And we’re delighted to say we have a very creditable 30 out of 62 winners, including the first and (for another couple of months, at least) most recent winners. Look:

1953 The Demolished ManAlfred Bester (SF Masterworks paperback)
1956 Double StarRobert A. Heinlein (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1958 The Big TimeFritz Leiber (SF Gateway eBook)
1959 A Case of ConscienceJames Blish (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1961 A Canticle for LeibowitzWalter M. Miller, Jr. (SF Masterworks hardback)
1963 The Man in the High CastlePhilip K. Dick (SF Masterworks hardback)
1964 Way StationClifford D. Simak (contained in SF Gateway Omnibus | SF Gateway eBook)
1965 The WandererFritz Leiber (SF Gateway eBook)
1966 DuneFrank Herbert (SF Masterworks hardback | SF Gateway eBook)
1967 The Moon Is a Harsh MistressRobert A. Heinlein (SF Masterworks hardback)
1968 Lord of LightRoger Zelazny (SF Masterworks paperback)
1969 Stand on ZanzibarJohn Brunner (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1971 Ringworld, Larry Niven (SF Masterworks paperback)
1972 To Your Scattered Bodies GoPhilip José Farmer (SF Gateway eBook)
1973 The Gods ThemselvesIsaac Asimov (SF Masterworks paperback)
1974 Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. Clarke (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1975 The DispossessedUrsula K. Le Guin (SF Masterworks paperback)
1976 The Forever WarJoe Haldeman (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds SangKate Wilhelm (SF Masterworks paperback)
1978 GatewayFrederik Pohl (SF Masterworks paperback)
1980 The Fountains of ParadiseArthur C. Clarke (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1990 Hyperion, Dan Simmons (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1993 (tie) Doomsday BookConnie Willis (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1993 (tie) A Fire Upon the DeepVernor Vinge (In Zones of Thought omnibus | SF Gateway eBook)
1998 Forever PeaceJoe Haldeman (Gollancz omnibus paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
1999 To Say Nothing of the DogConnie Willis (SF Masterworks paperback | SF Gateway eBook)
2000 A Deepness in the SkyVernor Vinge (In Zones of Thought omnibus | SF Gateway eBook)
2006 SpinRobert Charles Wilson (SF Gateway eBook)
2011 Blackout/All ClearConnie Willis (Gollancz paperbacks | SF Gateway eBooks)
2013 RedshirtsJohn Scalzi (Gollancz paperback | Gollancz eBook)

SF Gateway & Gollancz: The John W. Campbell Award-Winners

1974 (tie) Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. Clarke
1975 Flow My Tears, the Policeman SaidPhilip K. Dick
1978 GatewayFrederik Pohl
1979 GlorianaMichael Moorcock
1981 TimescapeGregory Benford
1982 Riddley WalkerRussell Hoban
1983 Helliconia SpringBrian W. Aldiss
1984 The Citadel of the AutarchGene Wolfe
1988 Lincoln’s DreamsConnie Willis
1990 The Child GardenGeoff Ryman
1993 Brother to DragonsCharles Sheffield
1995 Permutation CityGreg Egan
1997 FairylandPaul J. McAuley
1998 Forever PeaceJoe Haldeman
1999 Brute OrbitsGeorge Zebrowski
2000 A Deepness in the SkyVernor Vinge
2001 GenesisPoul Anderson
2002 (tie) Terraforming EarthJack Williamson
2002 (tie) The ChronolithsRobert Charles Wilson
2005 Market ForcesRichard Morgan
2011 The Dervish HouseIan McDonald
2012 (tie) The IslandersChristopher Priest
2013 Jack GlassAdam Roberts

Midnight Crossroad

There is something comforting about Charlaine Harris’s writing style and that bleeds through into her characters. My first exposure to Harris was her Sookie Stackhouse short stories from A Touch of Dead  and then the first two Aurora Teagarden novels. The reason I mention this is that Midnight Crossroad mixes Harris-the-mystery-writer and Harris-the-urban-fantasy-writer.

Reading the Aurora Teagarden books you wouldn’t think that there are any supernatural elements in the world and reading Sookie Stackhouse you’d think their presence was quite normal so I wasn’t sure which way Midnight Crossroads was going to go.

You don’t have to get more the than the preliminarily pages to know that this one is going to have a strong supernatural thread as Harris gives a mini-introduction into four of her main characters: Manfred an internet psychic (also minor character from her Harper Connelly Series), Fiji an owner of a magic shop with powers of her own, Bobo a pawn shop owner and Olivia who catches a lot of flights.

Told in the third-person we get to spend time with several of cast and get to know all the major and minor characters enough to feel their lives are real though, because the people in Midnight all tend to have their secrets, a lot of who they were before moving to Midnight remains a bit of a mystery. However, that doesn’t stop Harris feeding us with tidbits of what may come later.

And knowing that Harris has chosen to bring characters from her other series into Midnight (I spotted a Lily Bard namecheck (does that mean Bobo is a Lily Bard character?)) compelled me order all her other series (Stookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard and Harper Connelly) in an very bad moment of bookish OCD because I love authors who explore their worlds in different ways (it’s one reason I love Asher’s Polity). It’s another reason I need to crack on and read the second book of the Kings’s Dark Tower but I digress.

Unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t want to say whose body is found but that moment turns this into a mystery and it doesn’t happen until we’ve established our feet under the table with a most of Midnight’s residents. From that moment on Harris picks up the pace though still remaining calming in her style does some quite brutal things which means I can’t label it as a ‘cosy crime’ story.

I admit to getting a little uncomfortable with the nature of the ‘big bad’ here and I think that it’s going to to appear again as the series progresses but Harris handles a real world-concern well and it is needed to shatter the cosy bubble Midnight could become without it.

Harris makes the sense of community a priority and having Manfred with the outsider eyes and outside questions makes a good conduit for the reader. He’s likeable, in fact everyone is likeable in some way even the scary characters (both those in the community and the ‘big bad’). It does take a little while to settle (fifty pages or so) as we get to know some of the characters but we have a scene at the local restaurant, this brings most of the main characters together, and sets up most of the dynamics, which Harris then cements quite rapidly.

Overall, Harris succeeds in bringing her comforting style, her love of the supernatural together with her skills as a mystery writer to make a Midnight Crossroad into a pleasurable and enjoyable read. You have characters you’d like to spend time with and care about but you are also dying to know what other secrets they are hiding. I can’t honestly wait for my my next visit to Midnight.


Here are the first tales of the albino sorcerer-prince Elric: lord of the Dreaming City, last Emperor of Melniboné, traitor, kinslayer. Doomed to wander the multiverse, battered by the whims of Law and Chaos, in thrall to his soul-eating sword, Stormbringer, Elric lies at the heart of Michael Moorcock’s extraordinary mythology of the Eternal Champion

I’d better start with a confession. The only work of Moorcock I’ve read, Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, I didn’t love. I just didn’t see it as a Who story as it contained too much Moorcock mythology that I didn’t connect with but  this new project I may change my mind and I’m tempted to read it again after I’ve understood him better and read the 1033 page The Cornelius Quartet, which contains the same (or similar) character of  Captain Cornelius.

Before entering The Michael Moorcock Collection (so called as Gollancz is trying to bring a vast amount of his work to print over a short space of time)  I needed to ask where to start? I tend to start at the beginning if it’s a series and if it isn’t a series well It’s not so hard with a debut author, or an author that has a couple of books as your options as limited, when you get to an author with a larger back catalogue, say Margaret Attwood, it’s trickier, but when you’re talking Michael Moorcock, now, that’s a different thing entirely. There are lots of entry points. Gollancz even wrote a ‘Reading List’ post after a little gentle persuasion. I could have started with Corum, I have The Cornelius Quartet, but Elric ‘the eternal champion’ was the character I most wanted to break:

Elric: An obvious one, this – Moorcock’s most famous creation, the albino prince with a melancholy air and a soul-sucking sword is one of the cornerstones of modern fantasy. Every anti-hero, every complicated loner, is built on Elric. Our new editions tell Elric’s story in the order in which it occurred (in fiction, not in publication), so the best place to start is probably Elric of Melniboné and other stories. There’s an argument for starting with Elric: Stormbringer! which contains perhaps the most famous of the Elric novels, but that isn’t out until March 2014.

So, I’m reading Elric in story order and this collection contains; Return of the Thin White Duke by Alan Moore, Putting a Tag on It, Master of Chaos, Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, And so the Emperor Received His Education…: Elric of Melniboné, Aspects of Fantasy (I), Eric of Melniboné: Introduction to the 1986 Graphic Adaptation, El Cid and Elric: Under the Influence.

I could go thorough the stories one by one but that’s unfair to the flavour of this volume as it acts of an introduction to Elric, describes his beginnings and delves into the history of Melniboné and it makes me wonder if it was the right choice?

It wasn’t a bad choice but is a little disjointed if you’re looking for a pure escapist experience. Partly it’s because of the comic book script. It shows Moorcock has spent a lot of effort giving Elric a solid foundation. They tell the story of how Elric became King winning the throne from his cousin through as series of challenges in the dream realms but you’re not sure how dreamlike those experience are as they have connections to the present.

What does come across is that Moorcock wants to explore further than, say, the setting of middle-earth, which is on one plane of existence. Here we know that there are other dimensions and there are beings of Chaos and an eternal battle for balance being waged. Another this is that Chaos isn’t presented as something black. It isn’t exactly good but it’s not ‘evil’. So things have the potential be to get vert interesting.

To be honest I’m just not sure yet what to make of him as a hero or what ‘real’ adventures are going to be but I’m hoping that will change as Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl is a 224 page continuous adventure for the Pearl at the Heart of the World. And from the glimpses in Elric of Melniboné it has the potential to be quite an adventure.

Blood Music

Should we read older SF? Gollancz seems to think so. Their SF Masterworks line has, for the last 14 years, highlighted SF classics and kept them in print. This series of posts is here to try to do two things. One to expand this authors’ knowledge of classical SF, especially eighties SF, and secondly to ask the question are classics worth reading?

Blood Music is the story of Virgil Ulman, who works at a genetics research lab. As his colleagues work away on a biological chip Virgil has been recoding cells to do something quite different. His abandonment of research ethics leads to trouble from his employer resulting in the suspension of his research but not before he injects himself with the results of his experiment. Virgil is the catalyst but his invention gets centre stage.

‘I will never understand men, as long as I live and breathe,’ his mother said, pouring another cup of thick black coffee. ‘Always tinkering, always getting into trouble.’ p43

Let’s start with the power of genetics. The first 100 pages deals with Virgil’s transformation. He’s the host of his experiment but Greg Bear looks at the effect of his transformation of those around him as well as the effect on himself. It doesn’t seem sensible to inject yourself with genetically altered material without an idea of the outcome though this is exactly what Virgil does. In the present we have several genetic modified crops, gene therapy so it’s not by any means implausible to alter genes but we’ve not quite caused the alterations that occur in Blood Music. To be fair to Virgil he just thinks he’s storing them for later retrieval. It shows how naive he is.

For the first section it appears that Virgil is both Dr Frankenstein and his monster. But he’s not a monster as such. His body and health vastly improve and you’d be forgiven that he’s created a new form of superhuman. You’d also be wrong as in the second half everything changes.

While the focus is on Virgil we get to see him gain a girlfriend. And it’s that relationship which is a bit unhealthy, if not creepy. Actually all his interpersonal relationships are a little odd. I’m not sure if Bear meant to give us a warning about scientists working alone in a lab with obsessions focused only on their work but he has.

A tension between Virgil and his friend, a doctor, shows another side to our scientist, but reinforces that he is difficult and demanding. And through Edward we get one of the most dramatic moments of the book. The trouble is that if feels like Bear is treading water up until that moment because he wants to explore the implications of the experiment being out in the wild but he can’t do that until a big reveal. It’s his girlfriend I felt most sorry for, which shows that Bear can create some interest in characters but it’s not his strength. Or at least it didn’t feel like he’d created rounded ones that would have lasted too far outside this story.

After Virgil’s experiment is released things become less plausible but fascinating and it also gives a strong indication of the atmosphere in the eighties between Russia and America and perhaps Bears views on that. We move away from Virgil’s point of view and it’s replaced by those of another scientist but one we’ve already met, a girl who is all alone and Virgil’s mother who gains some twin companions. These three give different interactions with the experiment’s growing reach.

Bear is asking what if we altered our biology via genes? What if we made something intelligent? What would they do when they interact with us?

We’re now tipping into spoiler territory but the experiment has two effects; billions more observations taking place over a finite area and America’s plight causes hysteria around the globe. The implication, at least at first, is that without America the world would turn into chaos. I’m not sure that’s strictly true. But then we have the question of observation and how observing the universe can cause it to stiffen as observed things aren’t as free to change.

Blood Music is a novel of ideas and for that it is well worth reading. The science may feel a little old and dated though it still raises some valid and interesting questions. The structure is a little bit more problematic. It’s a novella expanded to a short novel and it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not that it’s padded but it spends time in odd ways while before it feels its time to move on. For example the thread with the mother could have been told in one page but there needed to be a journey. But that then took focus away from the scientist and the girl.

Greg Bear makes you wonder how easily the world can change through the power of science and imagination. So does that make it a classic and should it be kept in print? It is a novel of its time and is standing up quite well. It’s a concept that still feels plausible though the worldwide consequences could be a little different now.

The next novel in the SF Masterworks Project is Grass by Sheri S. Tepper  and will be posted towards the end of August.


So this dropped through the letterbox this morning thanks to Waterstones and after spending a little bit reading the opening I tweeted this: 

But it’s not the only place to start. After some nagging Gollancz editor Marcus gave some insight into what to choose and the how the releases of Moorcock’s work is going to happen:

“The most important thing to note is that really, you can start with any series. Yes, all of the works connect and build up into a wider mythos, but each of the series stand on their own. The best way, in my opinion, is to pick one you like the sound of and start from there. That’s what I did as a kid. However, here are a few pointers.”

(Via: Michael Moorcock Reading List | Gollancz blog)

I do like the fact that these are the definitive editions and things have been correctly and ironed out.

Now I really hope I like it.  


The City of Silk and Steel by Mike, Linda & Louise Carey


Once, in a city called Bessa, there was a sultan who was over throne by religious zealots, lead by Hakkim Mehdad, who didn’t like the way the sultan and his people enjoyed themselves. The sultan’s wives and children were slaughtered and his 365 concubines were banished and sent to a neighbouring caliph as a tribute. But something threatened the banished concubines and everything changed.


Imagine you are in the desert and a group of you are sat around a fire and someone starts telling a story about a City of Women. You may think from the way the narrator tells the story of exiled concubines that it is just a tale that has no basis in reality and to be fair it does start as just as story. But our narrator, the librarian Rem, tells us how a city of women came to be and what they did afterwards.

The City of Silk and Steel is this story but it’s built from asides and reflections and futures of those involved and as it grows you end up seeing the full picture.

Even though you could think of it as an Arabian Nights style tale due to its setting and the classical feel it captures. The Careys have managed to take what may have been a safe linear tale and push themselves  into holding a reader’s attention as they pause, re-tell, give backstories, and make you as interested in the events of the characters lives have lead them here as to where they find themselves now.

An example of this is the titles of some the tales. Some are more ambiguous than others for example ‘Tales Whose Application is Mostly Tactical: Bethi’ versus ‘Giver of Gifts’. One of my favourites stories is ‘The Cook’s Story’ as it includes recipes but they are used to make a point. They show the contrast between the old Sultan and Hakkim and how the ascetic movement has effected the kitchens and the merchant’s who supply it. This technique adds a quality that is rare in most stories though to be fair most stories wouldn’t sustain this type of narration.

It works here as there is no main character as such, unless you’d define it as the city of Bessa, instead you have characters who are important to the tale. There are those that make decisions like Zuleika who changed the entire direction of the women’s lives,  Gursoon who makes sure they survive Zuleika’s actons, Rem not only narrates but gives commentary on events as she was there affecting them not in small part due to her sight of the past, present and future. Then there is Anwar Das who grows to be much more than a camel thief. There are other characters and other stories including the act of kindness that the women will come to regret in the end.

But it does show rightly that you can have all sorts of strong female characters and what women can achieve. When the tale starts most, but not all, of the women have no other recognisable skills than those needed to survive their role as concubines, which involve not only looking after the sultan’s physical needs but ensuring, along with his wives, that they diplomatically cool his fires when he could make rash decisions.

But as they need to survive outside the city their underused (and unacknowledged) skills have to be used and honed in order to trade as well as fight when needed. And this the heart of The City of Silk and Steel and the source of its title. The silk is the women and their soothing nature and the steel is the fight inside them and both are needed. Though it may not be enough but not for the reasons that you may think. A city run by women is a very successful one but compassion is sometimes a weakness.

The ease with which regime change occurs may be have some readers pausing to wonder why it wasn’t harder but then again it’s a story that plays out over several years and its focus is on the characters not particularly on capturing a true ‘reality’. The narrator freely admits that is a story not a historical record though it is both.

It is the record of Bessa but also a story about Bessa.


I was truly enchanted by The City of Silk and Steel. The narrative style is refreshing. The way in which the story passes back and forth. The changes in focus. The way it builds. And the devastating way it ends. You may think that it’s bound to be a happy tale. It is in lots of ways as the women are practical but even that isn’t enough.

The Carey’s sometimes gloss and lubricate in some places where more grit and resistance would make the journey feel tougher but when it matters they don’t hold back. You want the women to beat the odds. You know the dangers of what they are doing and all you can do is read and wait.

If you like classical feeling fantasy tales with modern complexities, which is enchanting, captivating and enjoyable then The City silk and Steel should be top of your list.

I’ve been keeping a record of which books are coming out when. Not only does it help me get organised as to what would be better to read when (if I have a review copy) or what I’m expecting if I’ve preordered it (though I tend to order ebook/paperbacks). It’s also interesting to see what’s getting released at the same.

So with that in mind here a selected few from the books that are coming out this week either for the first time or now as paperbacks:

The Curve of the Earth

The Curve of the Earth by Simon Morden


Post-apocalyptic London, full of street gangs and homeless refugees. A dangerous city needs an equally dangerous saviour.

Step forward Samuil Petrovitch, a genius with extensive cybernetic replacements, a built-in AI with god-like capabilities and a full armoury of Russian swear words. He’s dragged the city back from the brink more than once – and made a few enemies on the way.

So when his adopted daughter Lucy goes missing in Alaska, he has some clue who’s responsible and why. It never occurs to him that guessing wrong could tip the delicate balance of nuclear-armed nations. This time it’s not just a city that needs saving: it’s the whole world.

I started the first book of this series (this is book 4) when it first came out to sample Simon’s writing but sadly it got pushed aside for other things. So when Orbit but out the first trilogy as an omnibus ebook earlier month (The Petrovitch Trilogy)  I thought it was a good chance to catch up especially as Pornokitsch are such fans.  Equations of Life is zipping along. I really have no clue what’s happening but it’s got that pulp thriller feel that’s dragging me along and it’s glorious for that.


Wolfhound Century

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

A thousand miles east of Mirgorod, the great capital city of the Vlast, deep in the ancient forest, lies the most recent fallen angel, its vast stone form half-buried and fused into the rock by the violence of impact. As its dark energy leeches into the crash site, so a circle of death expands around it, slowly – inexorably – killing everything it touches. Alone in the wilderness, it reaches out with its mind.

The endless forest and its antique folklore are no concern to Inspector Vissarion Lom, summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist – and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police. A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown terrorism with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists. Lom has been chosen because he is an outsider, not involved in the struggle for power within the party. And because of the sliver of angel stone implanted in his head at the children’s home.

Lom’s investigation reveals a conspiracy that extends to the top echelons of the party. When he exposes who – or rather what – is the controlling intelligence behind this, it is time for the detective to change sides. Pursued by rogue police agents and their man-crushing mudjhik, Lom must protect Kantor’s step-daughter Maroussia, who has discovered what is hidden beneath police headquarters: a secret so ancient that only the forest remembers. As they try to escape the capital and flee down river, elemental forces are gathering. The earth itself is on the move.

This is one of those early review buzz novels. I’m not sure the blurb does it justice but a sample review:

“Peter Higgins does two things amazingly well. The first is turn a phrase: his imagery is studied, vivid, measured, striking: at times gorgeous, at times repellent, but never less than apt. The second is tone: there is a fantastically melancholic-yet-oppressive air about the scenes in Mirgorod, a combination of claustrophobia and instability accentuated by Higgins’ facility with the numinous—and he brings the numinous to the fore.”

(Via: “Wolfhound Century Is On My Back/But I Am Not A Wolf”: Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins |

To be honest I’d be reading it now if I wasn’t reading this instead:


The City of Silk and Steel by Mike Carey, Linda Carey & Louise Carey

Once, in a city known as Bessa, there was a sultan named Bokhari Al-Bokhari, who was thrown down by the zealots of the ascetic Hakkim Mehdad. The sultan, his wives and children were put to the sword, while his 365 concubines were sent to a neighbouring caliph as tribute, Hakkim having no use for the pleasures of the flesh.

But a day after the caravan had departed from Bessa, Hakkim discovered the terrible secret that the concubines had hidden from him.His reaction was swift and cruel.

Kill the women of the harem forthwith, along with their children and maidservants. Let not one survive. Their bodies let the desert claim, and their names be fed to silence.

This, then, is the tale – or tales – of how a remarkable group of women fight together to survive both the fury of Hakkim and the rigours of the desert. It is the tale of Zuleika, whose hidden past holds the key to their future, and of Rem, the librarian whose tears are ink. Of the wise Gursoon, who defines the group’s conscience, and of the silver-tongued thief, Anwar Das, who knows when to ignore that conscience.

This is the tale of the forging of a rabble of concubines, children, camel-herds and thieves into an army of silk and steel. It is the tale of the redemption and rise of Bessa, fabled City of Women. And it is the tale of an act of kindness that carries the seed of death, and will return to bring darkness and the end of a dream . . .

I’ve not finished it yet but I’m enchanted. The way it’s told with stories within stories weaving together like a tapestry. The female character are so varied and full of strength and it’s nice to see a story told from that angle. There are so many enjoyable things. 

I’ve also nabbed an interview will all three authors, which is going live on Thursday. 

That’s it for this week. Anything I’ve missed?

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I was recording today’s episode of The Readers and Simon and I talked about challenges. I don’t really do challenges. There are so many out there that I could join in but it’s not really my thing. Simon though was talking about his Persephone Project and something clicked. Why not have a personal, self-directed reading project of my own?

Since I’ve not been accepting review copies on mass (a few sneak in the house but I’m OK with that) I’ve had a chance to really tackle the shelves and one thing I’ve been doing is organising. Simple things like putting all the books by the same author together unless they are Vintage Classics or SF Masterworks whose spines make a great sight.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve got a small batch of SF Masterworks (The Body Snatchers, Gateway, Roadside Picnic and The Forever War) that are currently unread and I’ve not really read that many more books in that cannon. Strangely, after I had this moment I saw on Graeme’s blog that he has near enough a shelf to tackle of his own.

Now, part of my anxious state is that I’m feeling a little lacking in older works as well as being behind on what’s current. So what better solution than giving myself the challenge of reading at least one SF Masterworks a month?

I asked twitter what they’d choose so I’ve selected another four to those above:

  • Flowers for Algernon
  • Rendezvous With Rama
  • Lord of Light
  • Babel-17 

They are already on their way.

I think that these eight are a good mix to get me started but I wonder what the others will be? I’ve got a minimum of four to find. Any suggestions?


This is the latest iteration of the cover for my forthcoming Collected Short Stories, which Gollancz are putting out next year. It is, in a nutshell, yet another blinder played by the genius people at Blacksheep. I’m very conscious how lucky I have been with my cover art, and each of the last few (all Blacksheep designs) have upped the bar. I didn’t think it was possible to get any better than the cover for Jack Glass, but this comes close to topping it.

(via Adam Robots)

I have a bit of a thing for covers on books and this has got to be one of my favourites for quite some time.

Also, I’m very much looking forward to reading some short stories from Roberts as I love him as a novelist. Anyone know if he has any shorts that are easily accessible at the minute?