Out now: A Collision With Reality

My alter ego’s new short is released today. It’s the first of a series of short stories, but can be read as a standalone. More details below:

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Flynn’s new boss is so hot he can’t wait to get home to tell the chatroom how much he wants Dom’s cock down his throat. By Friday, he’s shared quite a few thoughts on what he’d like his boss to do to him. But he’s not as anonymous as he thinks, and Dom’s intent on disciplining him for breaching company policy on social networking. Dom gives him a choice of put up or shut up: he can play out the fantasy in real life, or he can walk out of the office without a word to HR as long as he never talks that way about Dom again. Flynn chooses “put up”—but he’s forgotten about one of the things he said he wouldn’t mind doing.

ISBN: 978-1-9459-5236-4
Series: In Like Flynn 1
NineStar Press (where you can find an excerpt)
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon: Australia ¦ Brazil ¦ Canada ¦ France ¦ Germany ¦ India ¦ Italy ¦ Japan ¦ Netherlands ¦ Spain
Or search on your local Amazon using ASIN: B01MZ2891M

Barnes & Noble
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Booklog: 79) Jennifer Ashley — The Duke’s Perfect Wife

79) Jennifer Ashley — The Duke’s Perfect Wife

Fourth and final book in the Highland Pleasures quartet of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish Lords in Victorian Britain. This book is about Hart MacKenzie, oldest of the brothers, and head of the family since their father’s death. Their father was a brutal monster, whose ill-treatment of his family has damaged all four men. Hart has done much and sacrificed much to protect himself and his brothers, and that as much as the ill treatment has had its effect on him. There are other losses besides, including losing his wife and child to death.

And before that there was Eleanor Ramsey, his first fiancee, who broke off their engagement when she discovered what it was he did to deal with his demons. Now Eleanor is back in his life, with the intention of protecting him from a potential scandal involving nude photographs taken of him long ago.

Hart still loves her, and has no intention of letting her go this time. But holding Eleanor Ramsey will take more than even Hart Mackenzie’s skill at seduction.

It’s a good book, and does an excellent job in rounding off the story arc of the family as a whole. But it doesn’t quite make good on hints dropped in earlier books about the darker strands of Hart’s personality. There were things set up which suggested that Hart had been involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, which may or may not have been consensual, but which contributed to his reputation as a man who could use his social position and wealth to get away with a great deal. As it turns out, Hart has good reason for thinking of himself as having the same capacity for viciousness and violence as his father did, but it’s to do with trying to protect his family. The BDSM isn’t a red herring, but it’s not what we were led to believe in the earlier books. I thought it worked, in part because I eventually felt Ashley may have been making a deliberate point about society’s assumptions about consensual BDSM, but I can see why other readers felt that it was bottling out. There’s fannish gossip about backtracking due to publisher pressure — if true, then I think Ashley did a good job in retconning the setup from earlier in the series.

LibraryThing entry

book log: John Carnell, editor — New Writings in SF 20

52) New Writings in SF 20

One of the 1972 editions of the long-running science fiction anthology series. I was always very fond of this series, but I found it hard to connect with some of the stories in #20. In fact, half way through I was thinking that there was no point in keeping it once I’d read it, as even the ones I liked didn’t make me feel inclined to re-read them.

Conversational Mode by Grahame Leman — decidedly grim short which consists of a transcript of a conversation between an involuntarily committed patient in a mental hospital and a psychiatric program running on a computer. The story is really about the potential abuse of psychiatry rather than the mechanics of such a program, but even so I was rather distracted by early 70s mainframe computer output conventions in software that is clearly at least as sophisticated as any of the AIs running in Turing Test competitions in 2010. Not one I feel inclined to re-read.

Which Way Do I Go For Jericho? by Colin Kapp — It’s the middle of a war, and a scientist volunteers for a military intelligence operation in which he will be left behind as an apparent civilian refugee after a military pullout. The aim is to give him a chance to look at a new sonic laser weapon being used by the enemy. The catch is that he will have to be a very convincing refugee, to the point of making him so starved and ill before the pullout that he will barely be able to function. It’s the sort of science/engineering problem in harsh conditions story that Kapp was so good at. I liked it but am not inclined to re-read it.

Microcosm by Robert P Holdstock — an astronaut visits an alien planet and gets caught in two time streams. I didn’t entirely understand it and didn’t like it. A complete waste of time as far as I was concerned.

Cain(n) By HA Hargreaves — long story about the rehabilitation of a young teen who has been caught for some crime which has been wiped from his memory as part of the rehabilitation process. It’s clear from what he does remember that he has been homeless and living on the streets for years, and has no clear idea of what happened to his family. Beautifully and movingly written to show how he is slowly resocialised and comes to recognise that what he initially perceives as punishment genuinely is an attempt to rehabilitate him to the point where he is fit to serve his time.

Canary by Dan Morgan — The canary in question is a human being used the same way that canaries were used in mines — he’s a psychic who’s sensitive enough to the possibility of his own death that he can be used as an early warning of the outbreak of nuclear war. There’s some nice discussion of the problems faced by the sane members of government on both sides of a cold war in trying to stop their hotheads from stirring up trouble.

Oh, Valinda! by Michael G Coney — on an alien planet, icebergs are harvested for fresh water. Since the locals sold the rights to the icecaps to humans long ago before they realised there might be any value to them, it’s the humans who transport the icebergs to the seaboard cities where they’re needed. But the unusual mode of transport requires the help of a hired local — some of the icebergs are inhabited by giant worms who ingest seawater and filter it for food before expelling it. Persuade the worm to point in the right direction and the water jet can propel the berg. But it’s a complicated business finding a worm and keeping it going…

LibraryThing entry

Book log: Roger Elwood — Continuum 1

Book 61

This is the first of a 4 book anthology series, where the series concept is to have a set of four stories from each author, one per volume, which can each be read as individual stand-alone stories, but which together make up a story arc. It was published in 1974 and was edited by Roger Elwood, which is an entertaining and informative tale in itself.

I bought my copy of volume 1 about thirty years ago, and for various reasons (including the dreaded “it was only going to be in storage for a year or two”) I probably haven’t read it for close to twenty years. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that I only remembered two of the stories — the one by Philip Jose Farmer, which I don’t actually like very much and don’t think works as a standalone; and the story from Anne McCaffrey, which is the first part of what later became The Crystal Singer, and which I’ve thus read a fair number of times in the novel. The others seem completely unfamiliar to me. This is surprising, because there are some good stories in here. I read a library copy of volume 4 a few years after buying this volume, and can vaguely remember something about the closing stories of only those two authors as well. (I think I liked the Farmer sequence better for having seen the end of the arc.)

Philip Jose Farmer – Stations of the Nightmare
Guy shoots at quail flock in his neighbour’s field, and hits a very small flying saucer instead. It escapes into the woods but releases a golden pollen-like substance, and it eventually becomes clear that guy has been contaminated by it. Except nothing much actually happens, and this story doesn’t seem to have any closure that makes it work as a standalone.

Poul Anderson – My own, my native land
Coming of age story on a recently colonised planet. The settlement is up on a plateau where the atmosphere is breathable for Earth-born humans; one of the colonists has had to crashland a survey shuttle down on the plains, where the conditions are barely survivable without some form of life support. The colony can’t spare another shuttle to retrieve the salvageable parts and datatapes by air, but it’s still worth taking them out by road. The problem is having to cut the road first, in an environment that’s not actively hostile but requires immigrant colonists to wear life support if they want to do any heavier labour than slow walking. The shuttle pilot recruits one of the locally-born teenagers to go back with him for the salvage parts. Enjoyable as an individual story.

Chad Oliver – Shaka!
A trading company’s spaceship finds a way around the prohibition on cultural contamination in order to protect their trading partners on a primitive planet from an aggressive neighbouring tribe. They use an obvious historical model — but some time later have to find a way to ameliorate the effects of their cultural tampering. Enjoyed this.

Thomas N Scortia — The Armageddon Tapes
Now this one worked as a standalone for me, while leaving me wanting to read the rest of the arc. Someone who was as a child part of a group abducted by aliens and integrated into their spaceship’s ecology has recently been returned to Earth, and is being interrogated by the minions of what is clearly a deeply unpleasant dictatorship. The interrogation is not exactly going according to plan…

Anne McCaffrey – Prelude to a Crystal Song
This is the first segment of what later became the novel The Crystal Singer, although MacCaffrey re-wrote large chunks of the anthology series material, in particular giving it a different ending. I always loved this short story and the novel that grew from it, in part because the heroine really isn’t always likeable – and the author knew it. But in spite of Killashandra having, as McCaffrey says, a generous portion of the conceit and ego needed for her chosen profession of opera singer, she also has courage, the self-understanding to recognise her self-pity for what it is, and the maturity to indulge herself just a little with self-pity after a crushing disappointment at the end of her time as a music student and then move on to practical consideration of what else she might do with her life. Fate hands her the opportunity to take her inborn talent and hard-won skill to another profession, one where the rewards – and the risks – are a worthy challenge.

Gene Wolfe – The Dark of the June
Very short piece that can’t be reviewed without spoilering it.

Edgar Pangborn – The Children’s Crusade
Thirty years after a limited nuclear war combined with biological warfare has drastically reduced the population, the people in a small Vermont village are mostly getting along fairly well with the level of tech they’ve managed to retain. Then along comes the Children’s Crusade, led by a man who was a very young child at the time of the war. He’s not an evil man, but he certainly has the potential to be a threat. Two of the villagers join the Crusade as it leaves the village after staying for a few days. I’d like the story a lot better of the author didn’t openly hector the reader about what I presume are the author’s political views – and I say this even though I either agree with or am neutral about most of them. Notable for discussing the issue of global warming back in 1974.

Dean R Koontz – The Night of the Storm
Four members of a robot civilisation go on a hunting expedition where part of the point is to deliberately cripple their senses and physical strength so that the hunt is a more equal match between robot and animal. They tell each other campfire stories, including the story of the legendary “human”, a creature that is an animal that can think. And as with all good campfire ghost stories, they start to see things in the shadows, where it’s just that little too dark for them to see clearly… Loved this, and it would be my main reason for keeping the anthology in order to re-read.

LibraryThing entry

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Dead of Light

Benedict Macallan doesn’t share his family’s talent — nor their taste for power and violence. He turned his back on them; walked out of the family, if not out of the town that they control. But when a cousin is murdered in a manner that promises danger to the whole family, he’s pulled back in against his will. Only for the funeral, only for long enough to say goodbye to a cousin he loved in spite of everything — but then the body count starts to mount, and whatever Ben may feel about his family, they’re his *family*.

The publisher calls it a horror novel, but it’s more of a story about a Mafia-like family, seen through the eyes of a dropout member who understands how they look from both the inside and the outside. The horror element comes in the weapon used by the family to maintain control of their territory, one that’s only hinted at initially, and gradually revealed during the first half of the book. Power corrupts, and the Macallan clan has held power for a very long time. Now someone is reflecting that power and threat back at them, killing Macallans as casually as they’ve killed others. Ben’s left trying to protect a family he despises and that mostly despises him; and the outside friends who are afraid of him now they’ve been reminded exactly who he is; and himself. But Ben has no power of his own…

Brenchley deftly interweaves a coming of age story with a murder mystery, gradually building a picture of a strange but only too human family, and Ben’s love-hate relationship with them. There’s some fine world-building and character development to back up the rising tension as Ben tries to solve the lethal riddle. And the use of language is superb, making the book a joy to read for the pure pleasure of the prose. It’s not exactly your traditional whodunnit, but the magic elements are never used to cheat the reader, and the clues are there for those who want to play the game. Dead of Light is both lyrical and a gripping, fast-paced read.

Dead of Light — hardback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon uk
Dead of Light (New English Library (Hodder and Stoughton).) — paperback at amazon us
Hardback and paperback direct from the author

Book Review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer series

I’ve been reviewing the individual books of the Outremer series as I finished each one, but the series could be considered as one long novel, and now I’d like to look at the series as a whole. A quick bit of background from when I asked Chaz about whether I should get the UK or US edition — the series was originally conceived as a quadrology, but part way through the UK publisher asked for it to be done as a trilogy, which led to the final volume being paced a bit differently to the original intention. When Ace bought the US rights, they chose to split the original three books into two volumes each, and issue the series as six books. Chaz took the chance to tidy up the third book of the trilogy, so apart from the splitting into two, there’s also a significant difference in the actual text. If you read the US edition, as I did, it’s worth bearing in mind that each pair of volumes is really a single book, and paced as such.

read more on The Books of Outremer

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

I still need to write an overview of the series as a whole, but here’s the review of the final volume in the US edition:

Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

Over the last five volumes, Brenchley has laid out a large number of plot strands. Now he weaves them together in a final volume that sustains the tension almost to the end. The folded land of Surayon is folded no more, and has become a battleground for multiple warring armies, not all of them human. The different human armies are at war with one another, but face a greater enemy — if they can recognise it in time. The central characters of the series face their own battle to protect the many people and things they love, not all of which are on the same side. Marron’s battle is particularly harsh, for he has sworn, with good reason, to never again use the power of the Daughter to kill.

Even in the midst of battle, this is a character-driven story, and there’s some beautiful development of character, as each of the surviving main characters is tested to the breaking point. That’s “surviving”, because right the way through this has not been your fluffy fantasy where only the redshirts die. There’s no gratuitous gore, but that’s not because the author flinches away from showing the reality of a land at war. As a result, there’s genuine suspense right to the last chapter.

At the end of the battle for Surayon, there’s one last conflict to resolve. The King of all Outremer has until now been an off-stage figure, shown only through what others say about him, and the effects of the magical power he wields. And the survivors from various sides have questions they would like answered about his failure to intervene in their war at an early stage. They get their answers, but answers that pose more questions.

While Brenchley answers the reader’s questions, it’s far from a neat and tidy ending. A satisfying one, with Julianne, Elisande and Marron pragmatic enough to be content with what they’ve got, but certainly not a tidy one.

As a whole then, this is a wonderful and unusual fantasy series, with this volume providing a fitting conclusion. And while romance isn’t the be-all and end-all of the plot, the series is definitely one for fans of unconventional romance, so long as they don’t insist on all parties getting an unambiguous Happy Ever After.

Outremer #6: The End of All Roads (Outremer, 6) 6/6 at Amazon US
Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer) 3/3 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website