Thursday, 28 March 2013

the Faber book of reportage Various


John Ed Carey edits a book which takes the best of first person eye witness (in the majority of cases) reportage of disasters, war, sporting events and historical events and puts them chronologically all in one book. Within are many many famous events and famous names and often famous names at events, Churchill, Hemmingway, Orwell to name just 3. It starts in the ancient world and stops in the mid 80’s. Editorial choice is the one bum note here with no consistency, some of the historical accounts are written with modern spelling, some are not, some have translations of the French, Latin, Spanish and other language quotes within (all articled are in English but some have quotes within), others do not, most are eye witness but he breaks his own rules occasionally to put in 2nd hand accounts. However do not let this distract you this is a must read collection if you have any interest in reportage or history. Some of the writing is raw, many of the articles are powerful and some of the writing is purely beautiful. I read in one glut but I feel that this would be best to dip into. It's a massive book (686 pages + notes and index) and I can see how some events have entered our collective consciousness due to the brilliant way they were captured through reportage - Stanley & Livingston, Scott's last diary, the charge of the light brigade etc.

So here's my question - is reportage alive and well and living in blogland or is it dead considering that journalism relies more and more upon press releases and third hand reporting?

The book was published in the mid 80's and I do wonder if there were a Faber book of Reportage 2 what it would look like - would it be blogs and twitter feeds? would it still contain eye witness journalism? Is eye witness journalism a lost art as we all now rely upon TV (and that has changed substantially since the satellite link) & photos, seeing is believing? Who are the masters now in journalism of painting a picture with words?

Overall – Mixed bag, some good, some indifferent but always interesting

the shadow year Jeffrey Ford


I was drawn in by the premise – in the 1960’s a young boy, Jim, awaits 6th grade in a household with an alcoholic mother and a father he rarely sees, an older brother and a younger sister, Mary, who inhabits her own secret world. The boys have created a detailed model of the town, called Botch Town, complete with clay figures. When one night a prowler is spotted the children appoint themselves to investigate and when they discover that when Mary moves around the inhabitants of Botch town this is somehow corresponds to what happens in real life. When a mystery man turns up in a long white car and there are mysterious disappearances the boy’s life gets complicated. We follow Jim through school and his often difficult relationship with his teacher and peers in a semi-typical coming of age style story but with the events of the mysterious evenings, sneaking out to investigate, adding much more interest.

This reminded mostly of wait until spring Bandini with added weird supernaturalness. It is well written but seemed to me to lack something, it’s hard to put my finger on it just felt “light” and not totally satisfying. I enjoyed it and would recommend it but I just felt that more could have been done with it, the premise is cooler than the reality I guess.

Overall – The premise sounded much cooler than the book turned out to be, still a good read though

space captain Smith Toby Frost


Isambaard Smith is a down on his luck former space captain who’s best friend sounds a lot like the alien in predator, especially his penchant for collecting skulls. Smith is offered a ship, piloted by an android who’s only companion is a hamster, to go to a hippy outpost and collect and return a woman who runs a shop. The story wobbily gets started and strikes an uneasily silly tone and it’s not until well into it, maybe the last third that it starts to hang together a bit better and the humour starts to work. It’s the first in a series and I’m tempted to try the second so it wasn’t awful but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Do you like the sillier Carry On films? If so you may enjoy this, the stereotypical bumbling stiff upper lipped English officer who somehow always lands on his feet (like a more comedy version of Flashman, and that’s certainly echoed on the cover), silly alien empire, silly aliens full stop although the sidekick does provide some nice humour when he meets others of his kind, a former sex-bot who can’t help talking in innuendos and a lentil eating tree hugging damsel in distress. It’s not politically correct by any standard, the misogyny of the main character is in danger of being confused with the author, there are in fact some 3rd person parts that are suspiciously misogynistic, and yet despite all its faults I didn’t hate it and was even vaguely amused by the end. The second book promises to be about Tea and is called the god emperor of Didcot which I’m tempted by just for the title! (Didcot is a small town in England that is mainly known for having a very unsightly and dominating power station)

Overall – Very silly but can be entertaining

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Finally had a chance to take a proper look at Katie Green's blog here and can thoroughly recommend it

Mohsin Hamid & Werner Herzog book musings

I went to Bath yesterday to a book event with Mohsin Hamid talking about his new book How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia with my favorite bookseller Mr B's which is a bit of a coup for them as he is only briefly in the country.

Hamid was a fascinating speaker who said that it took him 7 years to write a book, and in answer to a question of why it took so long said that the first 3-4 years he writes drafts that he throws away. This is impresive and perhaps explains why he started the night with a quote from Douglas Adams - Flying is learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss and Hamid said that his publisher describes him as the "reluctant novelist".

Hamid spoke a little about Moth smoke and The reluctant fundamentalist but the main thrust of Nic Bottomley's questions were about the new book. Obviously since it has not yet been published (we were allowed to walk away with signed copied though which was nice) no-one in the room could have read it. Hamid therefore read the first few pages which certainly whetted my appetite to read it (although am in the middle of The Half made world so TOH gets to read it first)

There was a long discussion over the fact that the book was written in the second person throughout, is in the format of a self-help book and none of the characters are named. Hamid explained a little about the latest thinking in cognitive science which luckily I could follow as I have read The Self illusion by Bruce Hood (which I recommend).

Hamid seems concerned here with identity and our sense of self being a story we tell ourselves. Hamid writes in English, explaining that English is his second language but he doesn't have a first (the result of moving to California from Pakistan at a young age so that he forgot Urdu). But said that he struggled with it wondering if he ever expressed himself "properly" in English, by the fact that this was a sell out crowd and The reluctant fundamentalist is on the Mr B's wall of fame I think he must do.

It was a well attended, well run (one the venue staff sorted out the audio issues - why are there always audio issues?) and very much enjoyed event.

Mr B's events list here - highly recommended. This may give you a little taste of the evening

In other book news I finished Herzog on Herzog which I enjoyed although I feel I need to watch a few more of his films, although I prefer the documentaries which weren't really discussed. This was a book of interviews and as always Herzog is fascinating to listen to (or in this case read).

So I picked up a computer virus yesterday. Looks like it must have come from a hotel website, was looking at hotels for a trip to Scotland later this year. Wasn't too nasty - was able to follow a pretty simple 3 step guide from

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Started Jeffrey Ford's The Shadow year last night which was a belated birthday gift which meant it squeezed in before several other books (including guiltily a review book I should be getting to!). The plot has an interesting premise and I've really enjoyed the Ford I've read so far portrait of Mrs Charbuque and the Well Built City.

In other news The Crystal Mirror & Other stories supporter packages have just been extended till end of May so sign up whilst you still can!

Good to see Nineworlds have sent out a survey - am hoping for good things from them!

Bristol comic expo have been a bit silly about a topless picture of Halo Jones, but looks like 200AD have pulled the copyright card

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

So I'm almost finished the Faber book of Reportage (will probably finish it tonight and review will follow shortly) and am wondering what the selection criteria was as its a fairly eclectic bunch of writing.

Wikipedia has this to say about Reportage and the introduction does say that most of the chosen articles are from an eye witness POV. They are also mainly about war, tragedy/catastrophe with a few sporting articles thrown in.

It's a massive book (686 pages + notes and index) and I can see how some events have entered our collective consciousness due to the brilliant way they were captured through reportage - Stanley & Livingston, Scott's last diary, the charge of the light brigade etc.

So here's my question - is reportage alive and well and living in blogland or is it dead considering that journalism relies more and more upon press releases and third hand reporting?

The book was published in the mid 80's and I do wonder if there were a Faber book of Reportage 2 what it would look like - would it be blogs and twitter feeds? would it still contain eye witness journalism? Is eye witness journalism a lost art as we all now rely upon TV & photos, seeing is believing? Who are the masters in journalism of painting a picture with words?
So I've been doing some work on what I'm going to be delivering for this year's Bristol Festival of Literature and have found this very useful!

So what makes a good Logline? for me, for the purposes I'm working on for this year, it would need to be open enough to spark good creativity as well as having just the right amount of boundaries and restrictions, necessity being the mother of invention.

As a collaborative platform then pretty much all of the other parts of this will need to be open - the writers filling in as they go along probably

More info when I'm allowed to start publicising this!

Also stumbled (or rather was guided to it by Angry Robot) across this which is an intriguing concept - 16 authors get together to create a blog...

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Marcher by Chris Beckett



I didn’t know that this was set in Bristol before I bought it and so was pleasantly surprised to be in a very familiar location. Beckett has written an intelligent SF novel where Charles Bowen, our protagonist, is an immigration officer. However the immigrants he’s concerned with are “shifters” who travel the timelines/alternative realities using a drug called <i>Slip</i>. In the world of Marcher the percentage of the population who are unemployed (“Dreggies”) live in “inclusion zones” separated from productive members of society. The shifter problem seems to be getting worse and when Bowen is called to an inclusion estate in Bristol to investigate a group of shifters who, as a group, have realised that they can get away with whatever they want and, using slip, get away scott free. As the cult, based loosely on Norse myth (Dunner = Thor, Wot = Odin etc.), get ever more bold in their lawbreaking the shifter problem gets more and more attention. Beckett uses the premise of the novel to explore the themes of boundaries and identity and in our protagonist we see a very conflicted character obsessed with mirrors. The plot hurtles along to a bit of a rushed, and slightly clumsy denouement but you get the impression that Beckett was more interested in the inner lives of his characters than the plot and there is a coda at the end. The edition I read was littered with grammatical errors and words that were spelt correctly but out of place (Breath instead of Breathe for example) and read more like a pre-edited draft than a completed book, maybe the publisher didn’t do much more than run it through a spell checker? It didn’t spoil the book totally for me but be warned.


Overall – intelligent alternative worlds thriller

currently reading The Faber book of Reportage

Marcher raises some interesting questions, if you could travel to an alternative dimension, with a significant other or even others, would you? It's very tempting for people who have messed up in one way or another to walk away from their lives - you hear stories of men who walk out on their families and set up another. If you had a guaranteed escape route where you knew you would not be punished for any wrongdoing, although you'd have to leave the life you know behind, what would you do?



Friday, 15 March 2013

My review of Frankenstein's Cat by Emily Anthes


Anthes takes a tour through the weird world of modified animals, be it via genetic engineering, cloning or robotics. We are coming on in leaps and bounds in what we can achieve with biotechnology and combining the electronics revolution with animals. Along the way Anthes raises ethical questions about whether we have the right to modify nature or if animals should have their own rights. There is a comprehensive set of notes if you want to explore more of the details she mentions. Anthes also gets to meet some of the movers and shakers in the fields she is investigating and also some of the animals, taking great delight to meet cloned cats and buys her own fluorescent fish. The possibilities for biotechnology are growing all the time and although Anthes makes clear that it is but a tool that can be used for good or ill you can’t help but feel a little trepidation about how it could be used for ill at the same time as being excited about how it could be used for good. The recent news of modified and highly armed dolphins escaping, with shades of We3 by Grant Morrison shows one possible nightmare scenario and can we be comfortable with remote controlled insects in the hands of governments pursuing a surveillance society strategy? At the same time it’s exciting to see that experiments on paralysed rats may offer hope for people who have been paralysed through accidents or that animal prosthetics are finding uses in human prostheses and that there are some new exciting therapies for some brain diseases coming. Although reality is more prosaic than say oryx and crake or the windup girl we should be thinking hard about these issues and Anthes book is a great place to start. You can see Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail that Anthes spends some time with, here and it is inspiring to see that Winter is used to help children who have lost a limb come to terms with that.

Overall - Anthes writes with great intelligence and enthusiasm on her subject and I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

My previous book - reviewed. I have also finished Frankenstein's Cat which I'll do a full review of soon.
My life with the Taliban by Mohammad Zaeef 


Mohammed Zaeef was the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan and this is his autobiography translated from Pashtun. Zaeef grows up the son of an Imam who is orphaned at an early age, always interested in learning he wishes to become an Imam himself and becomes a Talib (student) of Islam. When the Russians invade he joins the Mujahedeen in their 10 years struggle against the invader. When the Russians leave and “The time of men with guns” happens Zaeef has achieved his dream of becoming an Imam, however as Afghanistan becomes ever more lawless he is one of the core of the Taliban who seek to oust the warlords and create the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They are successful in driving away the warlords (many of who form the Northern Alliance) and protecting the people from their rapacious ways. He then, in turn, becomes the governor of the banks, the minister of industry and mining and the ambassador to Pakistan. He is the ambassador when the Bamyan Buddhas are destroyed, and he deals with the various interested parties seeking to avoid the destruction. He is also ambassador for the whole “Osama issue”, 9/11 and throughout the American invasion and is eventually arrested and taken by stages to Guantanamo, there,  he eventually secures release and returns to Afghanistan. The last chapter is what he thinks of his country now (the book was published a couple of years ago). This is a compelling and fascinating read seeing the momentous events from a very different point of view. I find it interesting that his wife gets barely a mention, I don’t think she’s even named, although he does talk about his children. It’s also telling that what motivates him to join/help form the Taliban is not that the warlords are killing people or extorting money and goods from everyone on the road, or even that they were drug addled dangerous psychopaths (and these were our allies in the war) but that they “took part in adultery and homosexuality”. His attitude to the Bamyan Buddhas was also interesting, when the Japanese said that they had great respect for the Afghan people for being important in Buddhism he replies that the Japanese people need to evolve to a real religion, when he makes the point that the Buddhas are man-made and just stone and therefore not sacred the Japanese counter with the fact the Kaaba is man-made and just stone, that ends the meeting.


Overall  - Highly recommended autobiography of a Taliban leader
previous book - Frankenstein's cat by Emily Anthes
Next book - Marcher by Chris Beckett

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Best explain my review ratings -

Unfinished - self explanatory really, it was so bad I couldn't finish it

Average - an OK book but one I wouldn't really recommend

Good - a good example of the genre, one I'd recommend

Brilliant- books that everyone should read, really outstanding and memorable

First review on the blog is for - Between two thorns by Emma Newman


The first book to be set in the split worlds which consist of Exillium (the Fae realm), The Nether (Neither here nor there) and Mundanus (the “real” world). At some point in the past the sorcerers banished the Fae from the world (Exillium is Latin for Exile) and thus created the split worlds. The sorcerers and Arbiters still seek to keep the influence of the Fae and their human puppets that live in the Nether from meddling too much in the affairs of mortals in Mundanus (yuck, what a horrible word that is!). The human puppets have patrons in the Fae like Lord Poppy and Lady Rose and there are several families of Rosa for example, as a neat way of avoiding silly fantasy names Newman has just used the Latin names for the flowers that the families are themed upon, for example Rhoeas-Papaver (a species of Poppy). Living in the Nether means that they do not age and seems to be stuck in a regency style culture, at least in Aquae Sulis (shades of Pride & Prejudice perhaps?).  

In this first instalment we follow three main protagonists; Sam who lives in Mundanus Bath (Aquae Sulis in the Nether) with no idea that the Nether or the Fae exist who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver who has run away from the Nether to create a life for herself in Mundanus Manchester and Max an Arbiter on assignment in London (Londinium in the Nether). I do wonder if the choice of cities are for ease of introducing the books to the States being three of the most well known cities of the UK. Newman drops you straight into the story with little to no expositionary world building which was nice, although 200 odd pages in one of the characters explains how the world works to a Mundane which is a bit of an odd choice as by then you’ve picked it up from what’s been going on.

There’s a lot to like here, I thought the arbiters a neat idea and especially liked the split soul nature for them & being able to use statues to communicate. I liked that some of the action was in Bath which I know quite well. I really liked that you have to work at the world building rather than have everything on a plate and that the characters are plausible. There are a few things that made me raise an eyebrow though, some of the Fae stuff is a little twee - the Tinkerbell style Fae for example, although they are like the quote from Sandman in Midsummer Night’s Dream about Puck – “I am that ‘ giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to-life-and-limb” The swearing seemed a little incongruous also, I understand, or think I do anyway, that Newman is using it a shorthand way to differentiate between the overly formal speech of the folks of the Nether and the more plain, modern speech of Mundanus but since some folks here don’t like cussing it may alienate a few potential fans. In summary though the little things that detracted seem a bit nitpicky and I would unhesitantly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys modern fantasy.

It’s very much a “first in series” book though and although one of the plotlines is resolved (although bound to have repercussions in the later books) others are not and the book ends with a hook drawing you to get the next, which is not available yet so be warned if you like to read series in a glut as I do. Newman also wrote a year of stories set in the split world that are available on her website  either as text or audio and you can find out more about the split worlds here: I feel that Emma Newman is going to be a big name with these books and there is a definite feel of rising star (she was recently featured in SFX).


Overall – First in what promises to be a great series in a great world
It's always nice to get packages through the post and today I was able to go and collect my review copies from Oneworld. One of the books I'm not allowed to review until April so will keep under wraps, it's by an author I've really enjoyed in the past though so watch this space.

The other book is Frankenstein's Cat by Emily Anthes (you can get your copy here:

Intriguing in the release notes is this:

How do you feel about the following?

Hypoallergenic cats - just as cuddly, but sniff free
A beagle who glows red in ultraviolet light
A goat whose milk contains antibodies to cure human ills
Salmon designed to grow to twice their normal size, even in winter
Enviropigs whose excrement contains 50% less phosphorous

Lots of interesting thought provoking stuff inside this book then. I did Environmental science at university and one of more interesting modules was on the genetic revolution and my dissertation was on the environmental factors of genetic diseases such as Eczema and Psoriasis. So this is right up my street.

I read Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake and Paulo Bacigalupi's Windup girl with interest and scepticism disagreeing with many of the "it could happen" comments others have made. Technology is always more prosaic than fiction would have us believe and probably the headline grabbing "Frankenstein X" where X = food, clones or whathaveyou are trying to sensationalise the tip of the iceberg where the rest of the iceberg is the more prosaic and acceptable uses the biotech people are making.

Previous Book - Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman
Next Book - Not sure yet

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

2013 challenge

So a bunch of us over at LT are doing a 2013 challenge. What does that entail? well in 2010 I joined the challenge to read a number of books fitting 10 categories and it was a lot of fun so I also did 11 in 11 and 12 in 12. This year we thought that 13 categories may be too much for some people so changed the name to the 2013 challenge.

At the weekend I was in London, in Forbidden Planet, for a signing by Emma Newman of her new book "Between Two Thorns" which I've dived into straight away and am enjoying so far. Nice to meet some new people at the pub afterwards even if we did have to scurry off early...

Previous book - "My life with the Taliban"

Next book? - I am due to pick up a couple of books from Oneworld for review so probably one of those

A short introduction

So my adventures in publishing, after a serious hiatus, started up again last year. I had a vague plan in my 20's that I would "get into publishing" and went on the Oxford Brookes PGDip in Publishing - lots of links there in London and Oxford naturally. Not so many in Bristol and Bristol I came back to. Then in 2009 prompted by my other half I joined Librarything and after slowly rediscovering my love of books, by reading more and more per year in 2011 I went to the first Bristol Festival of Literature My thought at that time was "it's about time Bristol had its own Lit Fest!". Inspired by that I sent a mail off to the organisers offering to help. Some months later I was delivering a literary treasure hunt as part of the 2012 festival based upon Treasure Island that the nice folks at Wordsworth donated 100 copies to.
Having met a bunch of great folks at the festival and continuing to review books for LT I thought it was time to start a bit of a blog. As you can probably tell I've been inspired by the BLDGBLOG when it comes to a name...

So that's my brief introductory note to the blog, now I need to work out how to do pictures and other snazzy stuff...

Its all shiney!

OK so here's a new blog. About books and literature and stuff.

I'm a Lit Fest organiser
I'm a book reviewer (here soon) & at Librarything
I have a day job in the Telecoms industry at "Orange Corporate Services Ltd"
I live in Bristol

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