Friday 28 September 2012

Cover Identity | Tomato, Tomahto, N0S4A2, N0S4R2

Now Stephen King has been on an upswing in recent years, and I'm disappointed that he won't have a new novel published this winter, as has been the case since time immemorial, but I'll be honest: two books and a short story collection later, I've come to enjoy the work of his son Joe Hill as much if not more than that of his famous father, so hearing more about what's next from the author of Horns and Heart-Shaped Box is like music to my ears.

For a while now we've known its name: N0S4A2. We've heard that it will be about vampires, and "a very bad man called Charlie Manx with a very bad car," but beyond that, nary a whisper, and certainly no synopsis.

Sadly, we're still without one, but something interesting did emerge this week. Cover art!

That's the UK edition on the left. The infinitely less interesting North American cover art is opposite.
There's really no competition between the two, is there?

But do take note of the differing titles: Hill's next novel will be known as N0S4A2 in the US, whilst Gollancz have opted to retitle it N0S4R2. And... I don't get it. I'm British to the bone, but the North American l33tspeek makes more sense to me. Unless the stress on the "r" in the UK title means pirates are also involved.

So, pirates vs. cars vs. vampires? :D

No matter who wins, clearly, we lose.

Oh, but I kid! I can't wait for N0S4A2 / N0S4R2, which is penciled in for publication in both territories next April.

Meantime, me hearties, I'm putting my money on the cars.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Opinionated Speculations | Snob vs. Blog

So I had this whole other post all but good to go, then Mr Mark Charan Newton - author of The Legends of the Red Sun and The Lucan Drakenfeld Mysteries, which I'm awfully excited about - twittered a link to an article from The Guardian. The headline sorta says it all:


So proclaimeth Peter Stothard, lamenting the end of an era in his eyes. Specifically the era of literary criticism... because of bloggers. Because we're idiots and amateurs all!

This is nonsense, obviously. Then again, as one such charlatan, I would say that, wouldn't I?

If you haven't already, off you pop: read Alison Flood's interview in its entirety here — and give the comments a gloss if you have the time to. That's where the actual debate is taking place, after all... though it seems to me somewhat one-sided.

That said, it's easy to see why so many are railing against Stothard's comments. Essentially, his argument is that literary critics are in a sense superhuman; in their knowledge and understanding, in their wit and insight, literary critics, according to Stothard, stand apart and indeed above the opinion of the uninformed, unedited and one presumes unwashed that you and I number amongst. In this way the chair of the Booker Prize momentarily lowers himself to give us the bath we clearly dearly need.

Normal people, in other words, don't know what's good for them. Only literary critics do. Thus we should all shut up.

What whole-hogwash!

Or is it?

This may prove an unpopular opinion, but beneath Stothard's snobbery, I wonder if there isn't a glimmer of sense in his sentiments. Because there is a difference between bloggers and literary critics, isn't there? I don't believe it's half so simple as this old blowhard would have it - that one presents an argument whilst all the other has is an opinion - yet there is a split somewhere, surely.

I mean... take me. You all know I write for a fair few sites outside of The Speculative Scotsman, including Strange Horizons and The Science Fiction Foundation, but I certainly don't consider myself a literary critic, and I sincerely doubt many other bloggers would describe themselves thus.

Though please, feel free to disagree.

So there is, least as I see it, a difference. It's hardly killing literature, as per Stothard's discriminatory silliness, but it is changing it. Unrecognisably in certain respects.

For instance, folks tend to attribute Fifty Shades of Grey's mega-success to the phenomenon of self-publishing, but let's not kid ourselves: without word of mouth - without many millions of us contributing to that word of mouth, by blogging amongst other things - it would have come to nothing. In this case, literary critics can't be blamed. They had next to nothing to do with it.

And perhaps that's emblematic of what's really bothering Stothard. Because in ages past, literary critics did dominate. And now they do not. Now they're made to share the limelight with mere mortals.

How awful!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Book Review | The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

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On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings — and to catch their wives.

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment.

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.


On our first sight of the sea-witch Misskaella, who haunts the shore of Rollrock Island, she's "sat exactly halfway between tideline and water, as if she meant to catch the lot of us." (p.3)

So fantasise the fearful children, at least, to whom the haggard old crone at the broken heart of this bitterly beautiful book represents "the face of our night-horrors, white and creased and greedy." (p.5) That would be the exact reaction Misskaella, in her more maudlin moments, mean to elicit, but her position, perched on a boulder on this borderline - with a foot on the land and a fin in the froth - signifies something else. It speaks of a love lost, and a life divided: two of the core concerns of Margo Lanagan's hypnotic new novel.

Initially, admittedly, this prologue is almost incomprehensible. But return to it - as I did immediately after finishing The Brides of Rollrock Island's masterful last chapter - and its intent is resonant, as pure and cold and clear as the godforsaken sea.

Of course, the old witch was young once, and it is the tall tale of her horrid origins that properly sets off this year's best contender. To begin with, wee Misskaella is an innocent, but the last of the litter's little life takes a dark turn when her dying grandmam comments cruelly on her "miscast" (p.16) appearance.
"Her face was all dismay, looking at me. My hand came up to touch my nose and mouth, but they were only the same nose and mouth I had always had; there was nothing new or monstrous about them." (ibid)
Indeed not. Yet nevertheless, Misskaella knows now that something - some strange quirk of chemistry - sets her apart from the island's other young 'uns, and hot on the heels of this question, an answer, for it seems she has some of the seal in her. Some sympathetic power over selkie-kind. Out of blubbery sea-skins Misskaella can call beautiful, wondrous women, and so she does in later life, for a substantial sum — though this is a twisted sort of torture to her, still all ugly and utterly unloved.
"And now I saw a seal-girl's face, straight on and lamp-lit, for the first time. Not quite human, she was all the more beautiful for that. Her dark features sat in the smooth skin like a puzzle of stones and shells; I wanted to look and look until I had solved it." (p.126) 
In time, taking a sea-wife for a bride becomes a tradition on the island, as unspeakable as it is irresistible. This progressively gentles Rollrock's men, and drives away all other comers, frustrated and enraged. Cannily, Lanagan moves away from Misskaella at this stage, so that the reader may see the slope become slippery through the eyes of a number of neat narrators, including a woman blithely betrayed by her husband and son; a young man who abandons his fiery fiance for the "straightness and [...] strangeness" (p.160) of a submissive selkie temptress; and a boy whose love for his mam knows no bounds, and whose mam's love for the sea acknowledges no bond — a mother and son whose actions will change the course of many more souls than their own.

The Brides of Rollrock Island builds and builds and builds in this way, brilliantly I dare say, until it ends — and just as well, because by then my emotions were about to spill over. I've not been more moved by a book in years.

In part, that's thanks to its unsettling subject matter, which is to say the systematic corruption of those all too human ideals of beauty and purity... though the author is never so crass as to say so in such terms. In fact, very little of Lanagan's latest is explicit - The Brides of Rollrock Island's soaring success is all in the implication - such that one must work at an understanding.

This question of accessibility is a moderate obstacle - I fear Lanagan's lyrical language will be too much for some, and too little for others - but only then at the outset. Indeed, ease of entry into the folksy fairy-tale before us is mirrored by the opening up of Rollrock's initially forbidding front face, as espied by a lady from the mainland:
"The island rose from the horizon. It looked like nothing so much as a giant slumped seal itself, the head towards us and the bulk lumping up behind, trailing out northeast to the tail. Its slopes were greened over, its near side all cliffs and cliff pieces, chewed off but not swallowed by the sea. Every cove and cave looked alike inaccessible to me, most treacherous and unwelcoming.

"But we did not head for that rough bit of coast as we drew nearer; instead we bore westward and around the head there, and once beyond that I could see where the land lowered itself more gently, making room for a town, a small town only, on the slopes above the two long moles built out from the shore." (pp.279-80)
As above, so below. Certainly there is a peculiar poetry to Lanagan's prose: a power - all her own - over those who push through the opaque prologue, and with my every word I would urge you to do exactly that. Other than the lackluster cover, there's nothing not to love about The Brides of Rollrock Island. It's a wistful book, but wondrous. It will break your heart, and remake it.

Surrender yourself, then, to Margo Langan's mesmerising new novel. Allow it to surround you like a shimmering second skin... finer, fuller, and freer, finally, than the first. The Brides of Rollrock Island is all that and then some.


This review originally appeared, in a slightly altered form, on


The Brides of Rollrock Island
by Margo Lanagan

UK Publication: February 2012, David Fickling Books
US Publication: September 2012, Knopf Books

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Friday 21 September 2012

Comic Book Review | The Shade by James Robinson

By all accounts, the New 52 has been a huge success for DC Comics. The relaunch has reinvigorated sales across the board. It's brought forgotten franchises and characters to the fore like never before, yet creatively, I can't help but consider that ancient saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Take the Shade — not to be confused with Shade, The Changing Man: he was an outright villain initially, then an anti-hero, and in the mid-90s - when last we heard of him, excepting cameo appearances in Brightest Day and Blackest Night - a mentor to James Robinson's renowned reinvention of Starman. But whether the Shade was using his unearthly powers for good or evil, or some nefarious purpose betwixt the two, he's always seemed a self-important leftover of another era.

I wasn't always so cynical. Well, I was, but when I heard DC were planning to bring the Shade back as the star of his own series, with none other than James Robinson at the helm... for a while there, I had hope.

But folks? Don't fall for it. The Shade, I'm afraid, is the same as he's ever been, which is to say old, cold, and so full of himself one wonders why he hasn't ascended into the heavens already.

Of course, great stories can still be told about terrible people, and I was ready for this series to take its place amongst them. In my view, Robinson is a woefully underrated writer, and some of the artists involved in the New 52 take on The Shade were worth getting excited about independently. Count amongst the creatives: Darwyn Cooke, of Richard Stark's Parker fame and Before Watchmen infamy; Scary Godmother creator Jill Thompson; Top 10's Gene Ha; not to mention Cully Hamner; Javier Pullido; and Frazer Irving.

Unsurprisingly, then, The Shade looks fantastic. But here's the thing: in comic books - a storytelling medium wherein narratives are complemented by aesthetics, and vice versa - incredible art doesn't immediately equal a must-read series. Must-see, maybe - thus The Shade is absolutely that - but the experience of reading it is... testing.

It starts pretty poorly. With the Shade lamenting the month of October. With the so-called Master of Darkness' girlfriend threatening to leave him unless he has another bloody adventure already. I can only imagine Hope O'Dare wants some time away from her miserable man - soon enough we will sympathise - but as of the offing, their relationship feels false. Small mercy, then, that the author abandons it whole-hog once the actual story gets going, but given its essential irrelevance, why begin with it? Why not in medias res?

The whole of the opening arc, in fact, feels like a poor man's prologue. But don't stop believing, because from here on out, The Shade gets incrementally better. Beginning with the first installment of the three-part Times Past - which occurs in reverse throughout the series, until it begins again in the final issue - the Shade becomes embroiled in a plot involving his blood, both figuratively and literally. It transpires that this is a story about family; about the ties that bind us and how we strive to escape our origins, eclipsing ancient legacies with our own; and about how much easier it is to be evil than do good.

This last sets the scene for a legitimately interesting reflection of our man's murky origins: recombined insight into the circumstances surrounding his dark powers, and his life before he became the Shade. If the series started here, I'd recommend it to you almost wholeheartedly, but whilst it ends very well, I fear it puts its worst foot forward.

Overall, Robinson simply takes too long to find his stride, and even when he has, The Shade comes across somewhat overwrought. Push through the iffy offing and patient readers might find a lot to like, but given the limited scope of this limited series - a trade paperback edition of which will be available in early 2013 - The Shade misses the target as often as it hits it, squandering at least as much of its promise as it spends well. Bear that in mind before you buy in.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Book Review | The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma

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1898. New York socialite Emma Harlow agrees to marry well-to-do Montgomery Gilmore, but only if he first accepts her audacious challenge: to reproduce the Martian invasion featured in H.G. Wells' popular novel,
The War of the Worlds.

Meanwhile, in London, Wells himself is unexpectedly made privy to certain objects, apparently of extraterrestrial origin, that were discovered decades earlier on an ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. On that same expedition was an American crew member named Edgar Allan Poe, whose inexplicable experiences in the frozen wasteland would ultimately inspire him to create one of his most enduring works of literature.

When eerie, alien-looking cylinders begin appearing on the outskirts of London, Wells is certain it is all part of some elaborate hoax. But soon, to his great horror, he realizes that a true invasion of the earth has indeed begun.


In the Author's Acknowledgements appended to the end of The Map of the Sky, both Felix J. Palma and the translator in charge of rendering the whimsical worlds of this Spanish language text into English make mention of "the crushing loneliness of being a writer." (p.593) Though indubitably true, nevertheless this is an assertion utterly at odds with the non-stop narrative of the novel, which so entangles its central character H. G. Wells in the lives of others, and the affairs of a nation - nay, an entire galaxy! - that he scarcely has time to take tea.

That said, one imagines our man would far rather the solitude of the writer's life:
"Herbert George Wells would have preferred to live in a fairer, more considerate world, a world where a kind of artistic code of ethics prevented people from exploiting others' ideas for their own gain, one where the so-called talent of those wretches who had the effrontery to do so would dry up overnight, condemning them to a life of drudgery like ordinary men. But, unfortunately, the world he lived in was not like that [...] for only a few months after his book The War of the Worlds had been published, an American scribbler by the name of Garrett P. Serviss had the audacity to write a sequel to it, without so much as informing him of the fact, and even assuming [Wells] would be delighted." (p.3)
The Map of the Sky unfurls with these words, which work overtime here at the outset of this massive melodrama to foreground Palma's unabashed fondness for the self-reflexive - because Wells would surely object to this text, too - as well as setting its strange but (to a point) true story going.

In the several years since his sensational debut, following which Wells traveled in time to the automaton apocalypse of the year 2000, the writer has attempted to settle - following his creating calling and making a wife of the love of his life - but when the publication of his new novel attracts attention from all the wrong sorts, history seems set to repeat itself. Then, when the publication of his new novel attracts attention from all the wrong sorts, history seems set to repeat itself.

Initially, Wells sits down with Serviss to excoriate the aspirant author for his audacity, but ever the gentlemen, he cannot quite bring himself to give the fellow what for. One liquid lunch later, the American sneaks his famous new friend into a secret room under the British Museum: a room indeed full of secrets, wherein the pair are aghast to espy, amongst myriad other marvels, a fin from the Loch Ness Monster, a flash of Henry Jekyll's transformative concoction... and the dessicated corpse of a Martian.
"Wells had decided to accept as true the existence of the supernatural, because logic told him there was no other reason why it should be kept under lock and key. As a result he felt surrounded by the miraculous, besieged by magic. He was aware now that one fine day he would go into the garden to prune the roses and stumble on a group of fairies dancing in a circle. It was as though a tear had appeared in every book on the planet, and the fantasy had begun seeping out, engulfing the world, making it impossible to tell fact from fiction." (p.253)
Thus The War of the Worlds informs much of The Map of the Sky, in the same way as The Time Machine formed the foundation of Palma's previous pastiche — yet this is but a glimpse of what is to come. Nearly 200 pages pass before our unnamed narrator cares to share the remainder of the alien invasion tale around which this novelty novel revolves, because - again in the mode of its successful predecessor - The Map of the Sky is a thing of three parts, and in the first, beyond the prologue's tantalising tease, the author opts to retell another classic narrative.

These days, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell is better known as the novella which spawned Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World — not to mention John Carpenter's later, greater adaptation, nor the recent attempt at a revival of the franchise. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Palma conjoins the paranoid narrative threaded through the aforementioned iterations with the concerns of active Arctic exploration, such that The Map of the Sky's opening act rather resembles that Dan Simmons tome, The Terror.

At the behest of Jeremiah Reynolds, whose Hollow Earth theory has attracted the interest of various investors, the Annawan - captained by a fellow called MacReady, and counting amongst its crew a young Edgar Allen Poe - makes good time to the Antarctic, where Reynolds suspects the entrance to our world's interior must be. But when the long polar winter begins and the ship becomes frozen in, they bear unwitting witness to the last voyage of a flying saucer, whose pilot - a monster able to assume the form of any of the stranded sailors - I dare say does not come in peace.

Eventually, the author ties elements of this opening act to The Map of the Sky's overarching narrative, yet I fear part one - for all that it's a bit of fun - puts the book's worst foot forward. The plucky panache of Palma's elaborate prose is, alas, woefully unsuited to the atmosphere of unearthly terror he aims to recapture. There's simply nothing insidious about The Map of the Sky's first act, surrounded as it is by such silliness.

But hey, two out of three ain't bad, and The Map of the Sky regains lost ground when our lamentably aimless and still anonymous narrator returns to Wells, reeling from the realisation that "From the depths of the universe, intelligences greater than theirs were observing the Earth with greedy eyes, perhaps even now planning how to conquer it." (p.182) Here and hereafter the verve and vibrancy of Palma's prose flows more appropriately; in this relaxed atmosphere, the author's arch assertions do not stand apart so starkly; and though The Map of the Sky's characters are often comically cack-handed, they muddle through the alien invasion in a winning way.

In fact, in this section, and the book's final third - which returns readers to a central perspective from The Map of Time - The Map of the Sky comes alive. There's a whole lot of plot, but even as it accrues it's exhilarating - relentlessly referential yet unerringly entertaining - meanwhile the sense and sensibilities of the ladies and gentlemen on whose padded shoulders rests Earth's continuing existence endears deeply. In the interim, a blossoming love story is sure to warm your cockles, and the going is never less than lively because of the biting banter between certain stalwarts of the series.

Apart a shaky start, The Map of the Sky is a superb and eminently accessible successor to Palma's last, sure to satisfy newcomers whilst appealing equally to returning readers. Come the cacophonous conclusion, one can only wonder as Wells does:
"He had written The Time Machine and then discovered he was a time traveler. He had written The War of the Worlds only to find himself fleeing from Martians. Would he become invisible next?" (p.396)
Here's hoping!


This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on


The Map of the Sky
by Felix J. Palma

US Publication: September 2012, Atria Books

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Monday 17 September 2012

You Tell Me | Embracing Piracy

Today is... a special day.

Today is the first international Cuddle a Pirate Day!

Every year from here, on the third Monday of the month of September, we will be be asked to put aside our differences to give momentary comfort to criminals: to rippers and scanners and hackers, who take the labours of love our artists spends years of their lives eating last night's leavings to create, then distribute them for free on the internet.

I do not approve of these doings. Nor should you, if you've any interest in keeping the writers you love in mouldy toast and so on and so forth.

But that doesn't mean we can't all have a hug. :)

In honour, then, of said strange occasion, I wanted to point you all towards this article on Giant Bomb, which breaks down the huge boost in sales brought about when the developer of a widely-pirated video game - a fast-paced, point-and-click puzzler called McPixel - took The Pirate Bay up on an unconventional offer: essentially, Sos Sosowski agreed to advertise the torrent containing his creation on The Pirate Bay's front page. He urged potential pirates to spend some time with McPixel, and if they enjoyed it, to consider donating a little something something via PayPal.

In short, Sosowski "gave piracy a high five and came out alive."

So I was wondering: could this shock drop in the ocean turn the tide on the pirates?

Well... it's unlikely, isn't it?

That said, I think it could make a real difference in the ongoing conflict between artists and those who seek to steal their ticket to a hot dinner.

With that in mind, could this ironic reversal be applied to publishing? Because of course novels are widely torrented too: thanks to enterprising scanners, free e-books can often be downloaded day and date with the release of official printed or electronic editions.

So authors, talk to me: how would you feel about doing something along these lines? Would you be prepared to pop in to The Pirate Bay or the Mobilism forums to basically shame potential pirates into paying their way, for once?

Meanwhile, readers: I have a question for you too. What effect do you think this would have? Smelly as I don't doubt they are, put yourselves in a pirate's shoes — and let's not pretend we haven't all been tempted at some stage. Would the pleas or remonstrations of an author immediately below the big Nick This! button put you off your mooted pursuit, or are pirates simply criminals, oblivious even to personal appeals?

For my part, I believe this could be a reasonably effective means of taking some of the anonymity out of piracy. I'm sure it isn't a fix, but then I don't know that any such thing exists, or ever will.

And better a band aid than an open wound, no?

But what do I know? You Tell Me, me hearties!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Books Received | The BoSS Strikes Back

Let me tell you what's awesome about this edition of The BoSS...

...everything! :)

I dare say there's a clear highlight courtesy Joe Abercrombie's next novel - huge thanks to the good folks at Gollancz for an early look at that - but I'm psyched for all the other contenders too.

In fact, in honour of the intolerably exciting selection we have to talk about this afternoon, I'm going to cut the crap and get right to it.


The Ward
by S. L. Grey

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 01/10/12
by Corvus

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: Lisa is a plastic surgery addict with severe self-esteem issues. The only hospital that will let her go under the knife is New Hope: a grimy, grey-walled facility dubbed 'No Hope' by its patients.

Farrell is a celebrity photographer. His last memory is a fight with his fashion-model girlfriend and now he's in a bed in No Hope, alone. Needle marks criss-cross his arms. A sinister nurse keeps tampering with his drip. And he's woken up blind...

Panicked and disorientated, Farrell persuades Lisa to help him escape, but the hospital's dimly lit corridors only take them deeper underground - into a twisted mirror world staffed by dead-eyed nurses and doped-up orderlies. Down here, in the Modification Ward, Lisa can finally have the face she wants... but at a price that will haunt them both forever.

My Thoughts: You may or may not recall that I really rather enjoyed The Mall. If not, here's the review I wrote at the time. 'Twas, in short, a shock of modern horror with a sharp satirical edge, and I've been keen to see what S. L. Grey has stashed up its pseudonymous sleeve ever since.

Now, finally, I'm about to find out. I'll be reviewing this book for - otherwise it might not be such a sure thing - so keep your eyes peeled for my article over there.

In the interim, Pornokitsch have written it up already, and Jared's clearly a fan. This bodes terribly well...

Let the Old Dreams Die
by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 30/08/2012
by Quercus

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: Whatever happened to Oskar and Eli? And what became of the beleaguered families from Handling the Undead? Find out in Let the Old Dreams Die.
In other tales from this collection, a woman finds a dead body and decides to keep it for herself, a customs officer has a mysterious gift which enables him to see what others hide, and a man believes he knows how to deceive death.
These are the stories of John Ajvide Lindqvist's rich imagination. They are about love and death and what we do when the two collide and the monsters emerge. 
My Thoughts: Now I haven't exactly been on the edge of my reading seat waiting to hear what become of the beleaguered families from Handling the Undead - in point of fact, I've long thought this the weakest of Lindqvist's novels - but the thought of spending a touch more time with Oskar and Eli out of Let the Right One In really does intrigue me... I'll admit it.

Then again, I don't know that I've read any of Lindqvist's short stories before, so this collection isn't guaranteed to be the fever dream I dream of. We'll see here on The Speculative Scotsman shortly.

Throne of the Crescent Moon
by Saladin Ahmed

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 17/01/13
by Gollancz

Review Priority
3 (We'll See)

The Blurb: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms - land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers - are at boiling point. A power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince is reaching its climax. In the midst of this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. Only a handful of reluctant heroes can learn the truth, and stop the killing.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. Zamia Badawi has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her father's death.

That is, until she meets Rasheed, and learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father's killer. When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the city, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

My Thoughts: What an awfully complicated plot!

Sounds sort of like cross between The Long Price and Alif the Unseen, and if it's anything along those lines, then obviously I want it in me.

But blurbs, like movie trailers, have a way of painting a pretty picture of even the ugliest subjects, so the real reason I'm interested in Throne of the Crescent Moon: when it came out in the US almost a year ago, many of my favourite book bloggers loved it. So sure, I'll give Saladin Ahmed's much buzzed-about debut a good, long look before it hits Britain in early 2013.

When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 30/08/12
by Harper

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: Hannah Payne is a RED.

Her crime? MURDER.

And her victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child.

Lying on a table in a bare room, covered by only a paper gown, Hannah awakens to a nightmare. Cameras broadcast her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes - criminals whose skin has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime - is a sinister form of entertainment.

Hannah refuses to reveal the identity of her father. But cast back into a world that has marked her for life, how far will she go to protect the man she loves?

An enthralling and chilling novel from the author of Mudbound, for fans of The Handmaid's Tale and The Scarlet Letter.

My Thoughts: The publicists are leaning on that comparison to Atwood's classic pretty HARD, aren't they?

Well, either Harper are setting themselves up for an awful FALL, or they're actually onto something here, and truth be told, I wouldn't want to miss that. Not only, but also: Publisher's Weekly seem to echo the acclaim that's been heaped on this latest, would-be greatest dystopia. So I'll give When She Woke a minute, and hope there's something to the hubbub for once.

Then again, if the end of Jordan's novel is as disappointing as legions readers seem to agree, I'm going to be PISSED.

What can I say? Dramatic caps make me irate...

Red Country
by Joe Abercrombie

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 18/10/12
by Gollancz

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: "They burned her home. They stole her brother and sister. But vengeance is following..."

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own, and out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust...

My Thoughts: Made you wait for this once, didn't I? :)

Methinks I need say little more beyond the following: I have a galley of Red Country and I'll be reading it immediately. For review elsewhere, I'm afraid, but I'll point you in the right direction come release week.

After The Heroes - far and away Abercrombie's best book to date, in my eyes - I've such high hopes for Red Country, not least because it's a western, and I plum love a good western. I can't wait to see for myself how Abercrombie handles the genre.

In fact, what I really need to do is stop blogging, make a cup of coffee, and start in on the first chapter.


What a week!

I've got my work cut out for me, clearly, but if there's something you think I'm missing, please feel free to give me a kick in the rear in the comments.

We'll talk again the next time The BoSS strikes back.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Press Release Your Luck | Join the Voyager

Even these days, with self-publishing so regrettably prevalent, it isn't easy to turn that manuscript you've been tip-tapping away at for the better part of a decade into something substantial: into a book, with a cover, media-savvy marketing materials and a purposeful publicity push to get it into stores other than Amazon, and hands other than those of your immediate family.

A large part of the problem is that no publisher in its right mind is going to open the floodgates to unagented submissions. Maybe things have changed since I last looked into it, but the act of convincing an agent that he or she has a chance of successfully selling the fruits of your fingers has ever been an almighty obstacle, and a dam against the inexorable flood of utter rubbish.

Every now and then, though, an organisation will break with tradition, presumably looking for precious gems amidst all that filth. Angry Robot Books have opened their doors before, to widespread applause, and now, divisions of Harper Voyager in the UK, the US and Australia have joined forces to do it all over again.

Have a gander at the press release for more details:
"In this time of accelerated evolution in the field of digital publishing, the editorial leaders of Harper Voyager in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia are delighted to announce an exciting joint venture that will offer talented aspiring writers the chance to join the global science fiction and fantasy imprint.

"For the first time in over a decade, Harper Voyager is offering writers the chance to submit full, unagented manuscripts for a limited two-week period. The publisher is seeking new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling story-lines. Harper Voyager is home to some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy, including George R. R. Martin, Kim Harrison, Raymond E. Feist, Robin Hobb, Richard Kadrey, Sara Douglass, Peter V. Brett and Kylie Chan, among others.

"The submission portal [...] will be open from the 1st to the 14th of October 2012. The manuscripts will then be read and those most suited to the global Harper Voyager list will be selected jointly by editors in the USA, UK and Australia. Accepted submissions will benefit from the full publishing process: accepted manuscripts will be edited; and the finished titles will receive online marketing and sales support in World English markets.

"Voyager will be seeking an array of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly novels written in the epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural genres. Submission guidelines and key information can be found at"
Much as I sympathise with the slush readers one can only imagine Harper will have to hire on worldwide for this epic endeavour, I love that this sort of this seems to be becoming a tradition. A year-round open door sounds like a recipe for disaster, quite frankly, so there needs be some compromise, and if you ask me, declaring a brief free-for-all is exactly the way to go.

In short, if you've been looking for the chance of a lifetime of late, then make no mistake, my fellow wannabe authors: this is very probably it.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Book Review | Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Buy this book from /
IndieBound / The Book Depository

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura — a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by a hooded supervillain. When Tony develops super-powers and attempts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the
Seven Wonders - the local superhero team - aren't as grateful as he assumed they'd be...


Hot on the heels of his neat noir debut, Empire State author Adam Christopher returns with a winningly widescreen story about the fine line between right and wrong, and though Seven Wonders is a little lacking in terms of character and narrative, its action is excellent, and the sense of pure exuberance pervading this pulpy morality play proves persuasive.

Heroes and villains abound in Christopher's new book, and it isn't always easy to tell the usual suspects apart — not for us, nor indeed for them. Take Tony Prosdocimi, whose lifelong career in retail has left him exactly as satisfied as you'd imagine. To make matters worse, one day he wakes up with the first in a time-tested onslaught of superpowers.

You must be wondering, why worse? Who wouldn't want to be able to bend steel without breaking a sweat? Consider, then, that old adage: with great power comes - you guessed it - great responsibility, and Tony... Tony isn't exactly into that. Furthermore, he doesn't have the slightest clue how to control his inexplicable new abilities, so this strange development is as nerve-wracking as it is awesome with a capital AWESOME.

But hey, at least he's lucky in love! Doubly lucky, I dare say, to have a girlfriend happy to help him become the new man he'll need to be to master flight, X-ray sight and the like. But is Jeannie too good to be true? Why in the world would a woman like her take an interest in Tony, anyway? He was a nothing. A nobody.

Now, suddenly, he's become a something. A somebody. Then, when opportunity knocks "on an ordinary workaday morning, in an ordinary workaday bank in downtown San Ventura" (p.17) - the scene of a heist masterminded by the Shining City's resident supercriminal - Tony acid tests his powers against the Cowl. He doesn't win this war of wills... but he doesn't lose outright, either. Thus affirmed, and all ideals, Tony promptly resolves to clean up the luridly-lit streets of San Ventura, up to and including the black-clad oppressor whose reign of terror has gone on too long.
"Unusual causes of death in San Ventura were not, well, unusual. Plasma incineration, bones powdered with a superpowered punch, flesh rendered molecule by molecule: the SuperCrime department had seen it all. Including, on very rare and significant occasions, the results of a knife so sharp it fell through solid objects." (pp.97-98)
Of course, Tony isn't the only hope of the modern metropolis he calls home. Far from it, in fact. Renowned the world over, the Seven Wonders have saved the citizens of San Ventura from any number of threats, but to our man they're at best ineffectual. At worst, the assembled avengers represent an obstacle he'll have to overcome in order to take down the Cowl once and for all, because "if there was one thing guaranteed to piss the Seven Wonders off, it was a new hero on their turf." (p.42)

Meanwhile, in the aforementioned SuperCrime department of the SVPD, Detectives Sam Millar and Joe Milano are on the Cowl's trail too, but they go where the evidence leads them, and soon enough it suggests another avenue of investigation: a certain Big Deal employee, Tony Prosdocimi.

In the acknowledgements, the author tips his hat towards the groundbreaking comic book Astro City, which Seven Wonders rather resembles. For all intents and purposes, the pair share a Technicolor setting, a disparate notion of narrative, and an interest in the psychology of the superpowered — not to mention those mere mortals who become caught in their orbit. Let me stress that there's nothing sinister about said similarities: assuredly this novel owes a debt of gratitude to Kurt Busiek's greatest creation, but so do any number of subsequent series. It is, however, a useful point of comparison... one that leaves Seven Wonders wanting.

To say it's all spectacle and no substance would be to overstate the case, though there is, alas, an imbalance. Seven Wonders moves inexorably from set-piece to set-piece, each as compelling and impressive as the last, but the transitions between these scenes could be smoother. Conversations in which the dialogue borders on the obvious can take several chapters to wrap up — though they're short chapters, and over quickly, so there's that.

More meaningfully, I fear, Christopher's Kryptonite appears to be character development: in Seven Wonders, as in Empire State, this is either lackluster or abrupt. At one point a narrator remarks about how easy it would be to be evil with hyperspeed and ultrastrength on your side, then immediately a good guy goes bad, robbing a convenience store for no real reason that I could see. To a certain extent this dovetails - albeit broadly - with Seven Wonders' core concern, which asks what it means to be a hero, really. Christopher even considers the question in relation to his villain.
"The Cowl wasn't evil. Nobody was. Everybody in the whole world was the center of their own life drama. Everybody was their own superhero, everybody was a good guy. It just so happened that the Cowl's "good" was the opposite of most people's." (p.185)
But when this superhero come common criminal starts slaughtering police officers instead of stopping to wonder about what's been begun, what little credibility the cartoonish characters of Seven Wonders had earned till then is spent. Hereafter the novel's many twists and turns have precious little impact, because when good guys go bad and bad guys come good, you start to expect the unexpected.

Ultimately, Seven Wonders is a fairly entertaining amalgamation of comic book, crime fiction and pulp pastiche about power, complete with a well-sketched world and an alarming quantity of action — to boot astutely put. If you're looking for something light, Adam Christopher's second novel might just be right on the night, but ask for much more than a few evenings of frivolous fun and you're likely to find that Seven Wonders' arch-enemy is its own ambition.


This review was originally published, in a slightly altered form, on


Seven Wonders
by Adam Christopher

UK Publication: September 2012, Angry Robot
US Publication: August 2012, Angry Robot

Buy this book from /
IndieBound / The Book Depository

Recommended and Related Reading

Monday 10 September 2012

Giving the Game Away | Alif, Seen!

To tie a little knot on top of all the fun we had with G. Willow Wilson's tour-de-force debut, I thought this afternoon I'd announce the winners of the giveaway the lovely sorts at Corvus were kind enough to organise.

As ever, I received entries from all round the world, but on this occasion, alas, I was only able to accept those from the UK and Europe.

Before I give the game away, let's remind ourselves of the question I asked you to answer:

Which letter of the English alphabet is
the Arabic character 'Alif' equivalent to?

The solution to this particular riddle? 'Twas as easy as blank, B, C:

The letter 'A'

And almost everyone who entered the giveaway got it right. Next time, let's shoot for the moon, folks!

But enough beating around the alif. We have three lucky winners, and they are:
  • Kathleen Hooper, of Nottingham
  • John Elder, fae Glasgow
  • and Latvia's own Ieva Zalite
Hearty congratulations to the winners — meanwhile my commiserations to the less lucky.

Kathleen, John and Ieva should expect to receive an email from me to confirm their details within the next few days. All else who entered, I'm afraid you'll have get your grubbies on this book the old fashioned way.

By bartering precious stones for it, of course. :D

Friday 7 September 2012

Hot or Not | The Dirty Streets of Heaven

Remember when I went to America, and The Speculative Scotsman was host to a month's worth of guest posts?

Remember how one of the bloggers I asked to entertain you all in my absence smartly parlayed my gentle suggestions of more standard subject matter to talk, instead, about sex?

Justin Landon's tongue-in-cheek review of the best and worst sex scenes in contemporary fantasy fiction was a huge hit — both with me and mine and, according to the analytics, you and yours. It's sprung to mind whenever I've come across questionable erotic content since, so I thought the thing to do was to fold what is admittedly a touchy subject into a semi-regular series of features.

Beginning today, and continuing whenever I see something particularly filthy - say a sex scene that makes me wince - I'll run an installment of Hot or Not, wherein I ask exactly that. There will be abbreviated arguments, and evidence by way of brief excerpts from the texts in question, but the final decision is on your shoulders, folks. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to judge whether a specific sex scene is - you guessed it - hot... or not.

With which, we begin.

And what a corker we have to start with!

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is the first volume of Tad Williams' urban fantasy series starring one Bobby Dollar, an advocate for the Highest's interests on Earth. His daily bread is to represent the dead on their day of judgement: to make a case for the soul's salvation whilst his old adversary pleads for its eternal damnation.

But as the blurb of this headlong new novel insists, Bobby Dollar is far from your average angel, so he isn't above falling for a lovely lady... nor indeed an evil demon.

I've bolded a few of the best bits from Williams' description of this dodgy dalliance:
"I rolled over and wrestled her to the floor again, then began to lick and kiss and nibble my way from her face to her toes and back up again,stopping somewhere in the middle of the second traverse to nose my head between her things. She yanked down one of the flimsy curtains surrounding the bed and let it settle over us, then took an end of it and looped it slowly and lovingly around my neck, using it as a bridle to speed me up or slow me down as I indulged myself in her astonishing, wonderful wetness. I heard her cry out my name until even that last word disappeared into less articulate sounds. but as much as I loved the taste of her, the cold skin and the warm, salty damp, I couldn't wait long — in fact, I couldn't wait any longer. As she lay catching her breath I sat up between her thighs and began to position myself over her, but she was not going to let me do it, not yet. She rolled me onto my back, putting a finger over my mouth to silence my questions, and then squatted on her heels above me, teasing my hardness with her own silky softness, rubbing back and forth without allowing me to penetrate, until I was almost as desperate as in the most frightening moments of our struggle, with her knife pressed against my neck. Then, as if we still struggled, I suddenly summoned my remaining strength and wrestled her onto her back. This time I was the one who stabbed at her, and she was the one who gasped out a cry that sounded like agony. Cold, cold, her skin was so cold... but inside she was as hot as a furnace. I cried out then, too, shocked and amazed and overwhelmed that it could be like this — that anything could be like this." (pp.236-7)
As did I.

But wait, it gets better! Because the bearers of the aforementioned hardness, not to mention the astonishing, wonderful wetness our dear Dollar is so in awe of... well they decide to go at it again, as follows:
"'Ooh,' she said, reaching down and giving me a squeeze. 'It appears your chariot is no longer swinging low, Mr. Dollar.' Her voice dropped down to a husky rasp. 'What do you say, Wings? Would you like to... carry me home again?'" (p.239)
So bad. And yet so, so good! :D

There's your evidence, anyway. Now it falls to you folks to make the call: are these excerpts from The Dirty Streets of Heaven hot, or not?

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Comic Book Review | The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Fancy having your heart broken, folks? Look no further than The Underwater Welder!

If there's a contemporary comic book creator in greater demand than Jeff Lemire is these days, then I pity the poor person. The Canadian writer and artist has been busier than ever since DC reinvented itself with the New 52 late last year: in addition to his dual duties on Sweet Tooth, he committed to scripting several other monthlies, and as much as I've enjoyed his take on Animal Man, and to a lesser extent Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE - the jury's still out on Justice League Dark - this original graphic novel is emblematic of Lemire's inimitable talents in a way nothing has been since The Nobody in 2009.

In point of fact, Lemire was hard at work on The Underwater Welder as early as ought eight, even before his meeting of minds with the editors at Vertigo. This, then, is a labour of love, and how apt it is that this sublimely soulful story about the love lost and won between fathers and sons has heart from the start.

Jack Joseph works as an underwater welder on an oilrig off the coast of Nova Scotia, repairing pipes and the like on the ocean floor, the only place he knows he can go to be at peace. At peace with his tortured past, his high-pressure present, and all the responsibilities of tomorrow... because Jack has a baby on the way, and a partner who needs him - now more than ever - at home.

But home is not where Jack's heart is, so before the baby is born, he slips off for one last dalliance in the sea's deep darkness. So ensconced, and starved of oxygen, he spots - or not - the strangest thing: a rusted old pocket watch that reminds him of the only real gift given him by his drunken dad, who died while diving for forgotten objects on Halloween twenty years ago.

I don't want to say much more about the plot of Lemire's latest, and in any event, The Underwater Welder's core focus is on character. On a man out of his depth, and floundering; a man coming to terms with the loss of his father on the eve of becoming a father himself. Come to that, calling him a character simply doesn't cut the mustard: Jack Joseph rings so absolutely true that he feels less like a creation than a memory - a feeling, even - given form and voice. He has haunted me ever since I began this incredible graphic novel.

As has Lemire's harrowing art. His pencils and inks are not now, nor have they ever been, for everyone. You could say they're an acquired taste: some panels look like raw roughs rather than finished images, and rendered in stark black and white, as they are in The Underwater Welder, I'm afraid there's no getting away from this issue. Everything is on display in this 200+ page paperback — for better or for worse, depending upon your preference.

For me? For better, for sure. I wouldn't trade Lemire's art for all the Alex Ross in the whole wide world. His mastery of atmosphere is unparallelled; his sense of composition truly beautiful to behold. There are astonishing spreads at the beginning and end of each the four sections. There is imagery - of ripples in water, the lost pocket watch, and our man examining himself in the rear view mirror - imagery that becomes exponentially more powerful with every recurrence. And in the interim, a quiet riot of unassuming panels that wordlessly tell The Underwater Welder's tale as adeptly as any amount of text.

I was not prepared to be as affected as I was by The Underwater Welder, nor will you be, no matter how many times I tell you that it's as seminal as comic books come: a subtle thing, all suggestion and implication, yet markedly more moving than it would otherwise be because of the magnificent way Lemire leaves the most meaningful things about it unsaid.

Make no mistake, The Underwater Welder is the greatest work to date of one of the greatest talents in the industry today. It's all I can do to urge you: read it - and if you're anything like me, weep - immediately.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

About the Author | Meet G. Willow Wilson

In the inaugural edition of About the Author, I introduced you to Tom Pollock, author of The City's Son, one of my favourite first novels of 2012 to date.

Today, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the wonderful author of another such novel to The Speculative Scotsman: a tour-de-force debut that I made no bones about adoring in my review. In fact, it's safe to say Alif the Unseen may feature in my roundup of the year's best books, when the time comes to make such declarations. It really is that good, guys.

In the interim, if for some mysterious reason you're still not convinced, perhaps the fascinating chat I had with G. Willow Wilson will tip the balance in the correct direction. You need only read on, readers!


A very good afternoon to you, Ms. Wilson. I’m Niall. Pleased to meet you – and doubly so to have you here on The Speculative Scotsman.

It’s my pleasure! Thanks for the invitation.

First things first, then: could you tell us a little bit about yourself? For those folks not yet in the know, who are you, and how did you come to be here?

Let’s see: one of the questions I get asked a lot is “What does the G stand for?” the answer to which is ‘Gwendolyn.’ I’m about to turn thirty. I was born and grew up in the United States, but after university I moved to Cairo, Egypt, where I spent most of my early and mid-twenties. I got married and built a home there, and the city, as well as the wider Middle East, remains one of the primary inspirations for my work. I’m about to have my second child. I was a latecomer to video games, but now I love them. I think that covers the critical stuff.

Though it’s been available in the United States for some time, your first novel proper, Alif the Unseen, came out in the UK late last week. I’m of the opinion that everyone with eyes should buy it, but why? What do you think makes your fictional debut distinct?

High praise! And that’s a good question. When I finished writing my last book, The Butterfly Mosque (which was nonfiction), I wanted to do something completely different, giving free rein to both my pop cultural sensibilities and my interest in politics and religion. Alif was what came out. I suppose what makes it unique is the free mixing of low-tech mythology and high-tech computer culture. Djinn using wifi. Djinn ex machina. I don’t know that that’s been done before.

Given the opportunity, which I know many marketing departments deny their authors, how would you blurb your book?

A young Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed oil emirate falls in love with the wrong girl and goes on the run from a shadowy state security apparatus known only as The Hand. Plus genies, the Islamist girl next door, a car chase through the desert, and much speculating about the place of myth and religion in the modern world.

As I’ve alluded, Alif the Unseen is a debut in technical terms, but it’s very far from the first piece of work you’ve had published. Could you talk a little bit about the many and various other things you’ve written?

Gosh, there’s a lot. I worked as a journalist for several years while living in Cairo, and then got into comics pretty seriously — I’ve written a graphic novel, one monthly series and several miniseries for DC Comics and Marvel, the two biggest comics publishers in the US.

Your first ongoing comic book, AIR for Vertigo, about an acrophobic flight attendant who becomes caught up in a terrorist plot to take over the skies, ran for 24 issues before being cancelled in mid-2010 due to low sales. That is, if I’m to believe Wikipedia.

Should I? Or is there maybe more to the story?

There isn’t more, I’m afraid. AIR garnered a fair amount of critical praise — it was nominated for an Eisner Award — but it just never sold very well. It was born into a soft market, and it was a very, very weird book. But it’s had a bit of a second life in the backlist. Someone sent me photos a couple of years ago of a woman cosplaying the main character at San Diego Comic Con. That made me feel I’d arrived.

Two years later, how do you view AIR today? I’ve been reading the first few trades in readiness for this interview, and this is no slight – as of the third collected volume, I’m enjoying the series a great deal – but AIR is very much a product of its time, isn’t it?

Very much so. I joked with Karen Berger, who edited the series, that in ten years AIR would look like a period piece. AIR was a response to a very particular post-9/11 moment in American history, when we came to see air travel not as this luxurious, jet-setting mode of transport, a la the 1960s, but as a threat to national security, a hassle, and the symbol of a changed world. Something in the American character really altered, and AIR is a sort of psychadelic tribute to that.

Is Alif the Unseen, equally? A product of its particular period, I mean.

Not intentionally! When I started writing it, no one had any inkling that the Arab Spring was right around the corner. I knew change was afoot in the Middle East and I knew that young computer savvy hacktivists were a big part of that, but I had no idea it was going to blow up the way it did. I frankly thought I was overselling the importance of the digital youth movement in the Middle East. But I wasn’t.

Getting back to the matter at hand, might I ask how the new book came about?

I don’t rightly know. I wanted to talk about the digital underground, and while I was mulling it over a hacker friend — upon whom Alif is very loosely based — disappeared from the internet. Like disappeared. And I thought, how might one go about that? And suddenly there was a book in my head.

You’ve spoken before about how Alif the Unseen was born out of rage. Could you explain what that means here?

I was tired of being forced into boxes. Pre-Arab Spring, people only seemed to want to hear about a handful of things when it came to the Middle East: terrorists, the exotic undeveloped Orient (which no longer exists), and The Crisis Of Muslim Women, about which most honest-to-God Muslim women are somewhat perplexed. Even for nonfiction, there was a script, a narrative one was supposed to follow. The fact that Arab youth were not only adopting cutting-edge technology, but using it in revolutionary ways, was not interesting to people. It didn’t fit the script. It didn’t involve camels or gender segregation. It was very, very frustrating. So I said screw it, I’m writing a novel. And then came the Arab Spring.

In a one-off column for Vertigo Voices, way back when, you wrote: “Once upon a time an observant therapist told me I had categorized and self-analyzed my subconscious so well that I could talk for hours without revealing anything about myself.” How then does Alif the Unseen speak to who you are?

I said that? How pretentious. Well, it’s true. And in that vein, Alif is the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written, and I’ve written an autobiography. Alif is a pretty good image of what my head looks like. I don’t perceive a proper line between the seen and the unseen, or between high culture and pop culture. I live a very odd life — I’m a comics and media junky living in a very conservative religious community, shuttling between civilizatons. Alif contains elements of all those things.

They say home is where the heart is. If I may, where’s your heart, Ms. Wilson, and how has that factored into your fiction?

Home for me is one place: Boulder, Colorado, which is a little university town in the Rocky Mountains.

It’s where I went to high school; my parents still live there, and I make yearly pilgrimages to see them and catch up with old friends at my favorite cafe. But like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I can’t quite go back to living in the Shire, much as I might want to. I've seen too much of the rest of the world, and living in a small town involves a lot of pretending that the rest of the world does not exist. I suppose the profound psychological displacement that entails must have an impact on my fiction, but other people are usually better at detecting it than I am. To me, being unsettled is normal.

As a comic book writer, a journalist, an American Muslim, a successful memoirist and now (if I may) a genre novelist, I think it’s fair to say you engage with some significantly different audiences. Is there a hope that Alif the Unseen will perhaps bridge these gaps? 

Come to that, the book’s been out in the US for a few months. Has it?

One can always hope. That was one of my big goals with this book. Comics fans are very loyal and will follow one into whatever genre one pursues, but the reverse is less common. Will people who like reading nonfiction pick up a book like Alif? Butterfly Mosque seems to have resonated most intensely with women (I’ve done many a reading to a 100% female audience) and Alif is absent a lot of the qualities of personal intimacy and reflection that attracted those readers. It’s a little more action-y, and involves young men doing stupid things. There’s a whiff of comic book about it. So it’s difficult to say.

What would you say to people who think “genre” is a dirty word? And how does hearing Alif the Unseen described as such sit with you?

I’m perfectly happy to hear Alif described as genre. I think people need to get over the idea that genre fiction cannot have literary merit or political relevance. In fact, with trends being what they are — look at the success of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire — I think that’s already happening. Let’s not forget that genre fiction started out as a way to sneak cultural commentary into a highly censorious environment. (I’m thinking of the great sci-fi pioneers of the 1950s and 60s.)

Changing gears, are there any particular authors or novels that have been an inspiration to you?

Neil Gaiman; Neal Stephenson; Peter Milligan’s graphic opus Shade: The Changing Man, which I consider the best comic book series ever written; Umberto Eco — especially Foucault’s Pendulum, to which I feel Alif owes something; EM Forster, who never wrote a bad book; and a lot of 1980’s high fantasy, particularly Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders.

Meanwhile, how does it feel to inspire others in turn? Even if you aren’t convinced that it has as yet, I don’t doubt that your work will, Ms. Wilson.

I never know how to respond when readers say I’ve inspired them--it’s such an intense compliment that simply saying “thanks” seems inadequate. If you’ve written me a fan letter saying as much and I haven’t written back, that’s why. The most important thing is to go out and use that inspiration, because it’s precious. Where it came from almost doesn’t matter.

I dare say it’s about time we closed the book on this interview, but before I let you off the hook, how can people keep up to speed with all things G. Willow Wilson? I’ve already made reference to your blog, but I do believe you tweet, too!

I tweet like a bandit. That’s probably the best way to get in touch with my directly. I’ve become a very bad, neglectful blogger, but I do post when I can. My website also has info on upcoming appearances and links to buy books.

Speaking – albeit briefly – of tweeting, is social media going to bring down the world as we know it? I’m referring here to your essay entitled Who’s Afraid of Pop Culture?

Social media isn’t going to bring down anything, except perhaps work productivity. People used to be afraid of the printing press, but that didn’t turn out so badly, did it? Yes, there are intensely stupid conversations on Twitter and Reddit and Facebook, but there are intensely stupid conversations in real life. Listen to the idiot in front of you in the checkout line at the grocery store. That’s Twitter. That’s life.

With which, what’s next for you? Another novel? Will you be going back to comics? Or is mum the word at the moment?

I’m in the midst of another as yet untitled novel, set mostly on the high seas. Fans of a particular long-haired lothario djinn from Alif will be pleased to see him again. There’s nothing on tap at this very moment comics-wise, but I’m sure there will be before long.

Last but not least: in the spirit of the secret world that features in Alif the Unseen, tell us something about yourself that no-one knows.

I never wear matching socks. This is not a reflection of my profound iconoclasm; only the disarray of my sock drawer.

And that’s that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Ms. Wilson. Getting to know you a little bit better has been an absolute pleasure on my part, and I'm sure the folks at home feel the same way.

Thank you!


G. Willow Wilson was a great sport agreeing to speak with me in the first place, and I'm deeply in her debt for answering even the most inane of my questions. She was last seen (by me) in the comments section of my review of her book, so if for instance you've already read Alif the Unseen and you'd like to tell her how much you enjoyed it... well, by now I warrant you know what to do.

Coming up on The Speculative Scotsman shortly, my thoughts on The Underwater Welder by comic book mastermind Jeff Lemire, and the first flush of fun new feature wherein I ask that eternal question: is this sex scene Hot, or Not?

We'll all be talking dirty tomorrow! :P