Blog Tour

Is anyone interested in participating in a blog tour?

My next novel, Wolf Unleashed, will be launching around Easter this year, published by Guardbridge Books. When the time comes, I plan to do a blog tour to get the word out – author interviews, guest posts, that sort of thing. If you write science fiction or fantasy books of the sort I discuss on this blog, I’m happy to talk about doing an exchange if you want to do something on this blog to promote your work.

Wolf Unleashed is set in a world like our own, but with werewolves existing as an abused and enslaved underclass. Crystal’s step-brother was bitten by a werewolf and in trying to find out what happened to him, she teams up with the rebellious werewolf Thomas to challenge the established order. With a black, bisexual protagonist and a diverse mix of characters, it explores both real and allegorical themes of prejudice, while still telling a fantasy adventure.

If you’re interested in participating in this blog tour, leave a comment below or contact me via one of the methods on the Contact Me page above.

Three quick reviews

When asked what I want for Christmas or birthdays, I always give my parents a list of books so that they can pick a few items for that list to give me as presents. This means I don’t know precisely what I’m getting, but we can all be sure it will be books I’m interested in reading.

My Christmas book haul this year consisted of three books that had been recommended by others for the queer reading list: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Peter Darling by Austin Chant, and Dreadnought by April Daniels. Rather than do a full review of each book, I figured I would do some quick summary reviews here.

In Other Lands (UK link, US link) – I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those following my Tumblr may have noticed a number of posts commenting on this book as I was reading it. I’m still a little disappointed it didn’t end in a poly relationship between Elliot, Luke and Serene, but never mind, despite that disappointment it was a really good book. Elliot is taken through into a magical land and decides that he doesn’t want anything to do with swords and bows and horrible things like battles. He’d much rather be making peace and meeting mermaids. The problem is that Elliot, after a lifetime of being bullied and abandoned, has no experience of making friends and the abrasive nature he’s cultivated as a defence mechanism is going to drive away the people is really cares about. Elliot’s snark and sarcasm is fun to read, but because as the reader we can see his insecurities, it makes him endearing as a character even as it causes conflict with the people around him.

Peter Darling (UK link, US link) – This was a really interesting take on an old classic. It’s a sequel/retelling of Peter Pan, where Peter and Wendy were the same person. Peter returns to Neverland to avoid being sent to an asylum by parents who don’t understand his insistence that he’s really a boy. Returning as an adult though, he finds that the fun games of his childhood aren’t so fun anymore but Hook is still as interesting as ever. Hook, on the other hand, hasn’t really felt alive since Peter left and his return is awakening memories he’d thought were lost. It’s been a long time since I read Peter Pan, so I’m not sure how many of the ideas about Neverland were taken from the original and how many were created by Chant, but I loved the picture Chant painted of a world shaped by the imaginations of the humans who stumbled into it.

Dreadnought (UK link, US link) – A story that is equal parts coming out story and superhero adventure. Danny’s biggest concern in life is keeping her dad from figuring out she’s trans, but then the world’s most powerful superhero dies right in front of her, giving her his powers and in the same moment transforming her so she has the body she’s always wanted. Now there’s no way to hide that she’s really a girl, and she has to deal with her dad’s fury as well as coming to grips with her new powers. There’s a lot of real emotion in this story in the relationship between Danny and her dad and the book paints a painfully realistic picture of an abusive father, who doesn’t see himself as abusive because he never hits. One of the other things I like is the way Danny experiences sexist microaggresions for the first time (a boy feeling entitled to date her, a stranger on the bus telling her to smile, etc.) in a way she didn’t before her body changed. It’s an interesting way of showing how people are treated differently based on how the world perceives them. But before the dark parts of the book can drag you down too much, it provides fun in the superhero antics and Danny’s relationship with the vigilante Calamity. It’s a perfect balance of serious and light-hearted.

Queer Reading List Giveaway

In 2017, I launched my queer reading list. This is a list of sci-fi and fantasy book recommendations with strong LGBTQ+ representation. You can filter by different representation types to find books that feature characters with specific identities or sexualities.

Each month in 2018, I will be giving away a book of the winner’s choice from the reading list. You can enter the giveaway through the year and at the end of each month, a winner will be chosen at random from that month’s entries and that person will get to choose a book from the list as their prize.

There are two ways to enter this giveway.

  1. Reblog the Tumblr post.
  2. Suggest a new book for the reading list. You can fill out this form to make a recommendation (or this form if you’re an author and want to recommend your own books). The only criteria are that the book is sci-fi or fantasy, there is strong queer representation (i.e. not just a token character in the background), and that you enjoyed reading it.

Each new book recommended counts as a separate entry to the giveaway and you can recommend as many books as you like.

Please check before making a recommendation that the book isn’t already on the list, and please include as much detail as you can about the representation within the book (this makes it easier to correctly categorise them for the filters).

Please also make sure you include a way for me to contact you in the suggestion form – email address or Tumblr username. This contact information will only be used to inform the winner that they’ve won and communicate about their prize.

The Last Jedi and a failure of plotting

Here be spoilers.

I’d been trying to avoid spoilers about the new Star Wars film, but I couldn’t help seeing some murmurings about it online and I went in there expecting disappointment. Overall, it was entertaining enough but suffered a major problem with plot.

In story telling, a plot is more than just a sequence of actions happening one after the other. It is a sequence of actions that has direction and payoff, that has impact on the story as a whole, that has purpose.

Let’s look at Finn’s plotline for the bulk of this movie. He attempts to run away (completely undermining his character development from The Force Awakens, but that’s a separate rant), meets Rose, they come up with a plan, they go to the casino, get arrested, make a deal with a codebreaker, break onto the ship, get captured, and then manage to escape when the ship is destroyed. Lots of events happen, but to what end? They achieve nothing and end up with the resistance, exactly where they would be if they’d done nothing. There are only two events in their whole plotline that could loosely be considered significant: spreading the story of the resistance, and killing Phasma.

I quite liked the ending with the kids telling the story of the resistance – it was a nice little closing piece about hope being still alive and the resistance message going on – but it’s hardly a major event in the plot of the film overall. Maybe something significant will come of it in the next instalment and make it feel like there was purpose to this little dangling plot thread, but if you look at this film on its own, it was too minor to feel like a proper payoff for their plot.

The killing of Phasma likewise didn’t feel significant enough. She was a non-entity in this film, who only showed up to be killed. I was seeing this film with my parents, both of whom had only seen The Force Awakens once, when it first came out. Neither of them remembered Phasma. If seen in the context of the previous film, this moment might have been worth something, but again, treating this movie as an entity in its own right, she wasn’t a significant enough player for this to be important. If she had been seen earlier on, ordering Stormtroopers to board resistance ships, commanding parts of the battle, playing a role in the conflict with Hux and Kylo Ren, her death might have had more meaning.

As it was, you could have cut that entire plotline and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the story as a whole.

The same applies to Poe’s failed mutiny. What does that achieve? He gets worried that their leader is just running with no real plan, stages a mutiny, gets shot, and then learns that she’d had a plan all along. All it would have taken was her saying, “I do have a plan,” for none of that to have happened. She wouldn’t have even had to reveal what her plan was (although there was absolutely no reason to conceal it), just reassure the resistance fighters that there was a plan at all. Poe only acted because he thought she was just running until they ran out of fuel. This whole conflict was pointless, and it ended exactly the same way it would have done if he’d done absolutely nothing.

These were cul-de-sac plots – they feel like they’re heading somewhere but to end up going nowhere. It felt like Finn and Poe were being given busy work to keep them occupied while the main plot happened with Rey and Kylo Ren.

There needed to be payoff to the plotlines for the story to work as a whole. This payoff needn’t have been the characters’ intended goals but it should have impacted on the rest of the story as a whole. If we take the original Star Wars film as an example, Luke and co’s goal was to deliver R2 to Alderaan. Instead, they found Alderaan destroyed and were utterly unable to complete the mission they were intent on. But that inability to complete the mission led to the rescue of Leia. The Last Jedi needed the Finn and Poe plotlines to result in something.

Rey and Kylo Ren were on one ship on the fleet while Rose and Finn were breaking in to try and shut down the tracker. I was never clear whether they were on the same ship or not, but if they were, the plotlines could have intersected. Kylo Ren was knocked unconscious after the fight with Rey, so why not have the same happen to Rey? Finn and Rose could have escaped from the Stormtroopers, found Rey, and the three of them escape together. Or they could have sabotaged the weapons allowing more transports to escape. They could have achieved something on that ship to give a purpose to everything that came before.

The same goes for Poe after the first five minutes of the movie are over. His conflict with the admiral was entirely pointless, both because it could have been avoided with a single line of dialogue and because it achieved nothing. He needed a purpose to his plotline. Maybe the admiral was being secretive because she was afraid a First Order spy was sending their ship location and that was how they were being tracked. Poe could have been uncovering a spy and saving the ship that way while everything else was going on.

The film was enjoyable enough to watch while it was going on, but incredibly frustrating to think about afterwards. It still outshone the prequels in a big way, but I think it missed being what it could have been because of failures in plotting.

Christmas Fairs

Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a handful of Christmas fairs. The main purpose was to sell and promote my books, but I also had a sideline of various cross stitch bits and pieces to help cover the cost of the table.

The first fair was very slow. I don’t know whether it was the weather (miserable and rainy), the fact that I was upstairs, poor marketing, or something else entirely. Everyone else seemed to be finding business quite slow too, so I didn’t take it personally, and I did sell some books.

Craft Fair stall

The highlight of that first fair was when a boy was being led off down on aisle by his parents only to spot my stall. He yelled out, “books!” and instantly rushed over to me. In the end, his parents decided (probably correctly) that he was a little too young for my books so they didn’t buy them, but I heartedly approve of that attitude on seeing a table covered in books.

The second fair was much busier and I sold each of my books at least once, some more than once. What surprised me though were how well the cross stitch badges went. I nearly ran out of stock! I had to get busily sewing before the next craft fair.

There were a few highlights from that second fair, including the woman who literally recoiled in horror when I said the books were science fiction – I’ve never seen such a strong reaction and it made me laugh. There was also the guy who bought eight of my badges, including a Babylon 5 Earth Alliance logo, despite not knowing Babylon 5 – I guess he really liked badges. But the best moment of the fair had to be the expression on a teenaged girl’s face when she saw I had the pan pride flag as one of my badges. She just lit up with excitement on seeing it in my little badge collection. I’d been a little hesitant about doing the pride badges (especially since one of the fairs was at a church hall and I wasn’t sure what the reaction was going to be) but that expression made it all worth it. I’m definitely sewing a replacement of that for the next set of fairs.

This weekend was the final fair. I covered my table costs and sold a couple of books, but only because I sold some things to other stallholders. In terms of general public, the fair was dead. More than half the time there was no one looking around at all, so it was just all the stallholders chatting to each other. On the plus side, I sold a bookmark before I even finished it. I’d taken along a half-finished bookmark in case things got slow (I should have taken several because slow didn’t cover it) and one of the stallholders saw me working on it and asked, “Is that spoken for?” She bought the bookmark when it was still incomplete and I spent the next couple of hours finishing it before I joined the ranks of the bored stallholders.

Review: Riptide by B C Matthews

Riptide coverRiptide by B C Matthews (UK link, US link) is a book that straddles the boundary between fantasy and horror, romance and drama. Mark, the protagonist of Riptide, is a part-siren who starts this book by luring his boyfriend into the sea and eating his heart. I was therefore surprised how quickly and how deeply I started to sympathise with Mark. The opening of the book shows him grieving and full of guilt for his boyfriend’s murder, but then he begins to grow hungry again, craving human flesh. When his friend Sam discovers his secret, Mark begs him to help, to keep him from murdering anyone else. From there, they quickly slip into an unhealthy and abusive relationship, with Sam using this secret as leverage to keep Mark under his control.

While the story is a fantasy novel, the relationship between Mark and Sam draws on a lot of patterns and behaviours of real-world abusive relationships, which makes the whole thing seem more real. Things like Sam demanded to know where Mark is at all times, making Mark depend on him, making Mark feel like he deserves the abuse, all come from a very real place and make it clear that the author has done his research on abusive relationships.

One thing I especially like about this book is that it doesn’t romanticise the abuse. Often in books that are shelved as dark fantasy romances, there are abusive patterns of behaviour that are glossed over or treated as though they’re something to aspire to. Here, the abuse is made clear for what it is. Early on in the relationship, Mark is warned off by an ex-lover of Sam’s. A friend is clearly concerned when Mark freaks out that Sam might learn of a minor incident that happened while on a night out and a character explicitly talk about the relationship as abusive. The book makes it clear through text and subtext that this relationship isn’t something that should be aspired to while still showing the emotions behind why Mark stays in a way that’s very understandable.

Even though Mark is a killer, we get to see the story from inside his head and that makes it possible to empathise with him. He is like an addict, wanting to taste human flesh again but knowing that he shouldn’t, craving the next hit and terrified of what will happen if he gives in to it. As readers, we see his struggle and sympathise with him, while Sam deliberately manipulates that struggle to inflict further harm and to make sure Mark stays locked in the cycle of abuse.

It’s probably clear that this is a book that deals with some very dark themes. If you have a history of abuse, this may be a difficult book to read. The emotions feel very raw and real. If you can deal with reading books on such a difficult subject, then it is well worth the read. The only criticism I have is that I wish the ending had been a little bit longer. I would have loved to have seen a little more about how the characters adjust to certain things that I’m not going to spoil for anyone. Other than that, it’s an engrosing and highly emotional read. Five stars.

Queer Reading List Search

I am in the process of updating my queer reading list. The old list is just that – a list. I list science fiction and fantasy books that contain significant queer representation and which I have enjoyed reading.

The new version, I’m hoping will be more useful for people looking for SF&F books that contain queer representation. It’s a bit more visual, with a list of books and their cover images on the left.

Reading list screenshot

Through the use of filters, people can search the list for specific types of representation – e.g. a book with an intersex protagonist, or an asexual major character. The main page shows broad categories for representation.

Reading list screenshot 2

But there are arrows underneath the list that let you scroll through different pages. The other pages focus in on a specific group of representation and let you narrow down the search in more detail.

Reading list screenshot 3

You can find the new version here: http://www.plot-twister.co.uk/queer-reading-list-search/.

It is currently a work in progress, so I would be interested in hearing feedback or ideas for improvement.

I’m also interested in finding contributors to the list. The old list was put together solely by myself, which means new books could get added only at the rate at which I could read them. If I can find more people interested in adding books to the list, then this can becoming something much longer and more useful. If you are interested in adding books to the list, please let me know.

May Contain Dragons

Dragon BridgeI recently had a short trip to Slovenia and while I was in Ljubljana, I went on a walking tour of the city. I usually like walking tours because you get some background and some nice anecdotes and see some things that you might not notice walking around on your own. This was a particularly good one. It lasted over two hours but it never felt slow because the guy doing the tour (our tour guide was Peter) was extremely entertaining. He was very cheerful and made it fun while telling his various stories.

One such story involved dragons. If you ever go to Ljubljana, you will see an awful lot of dragons. Not live ones, unfortunately, but as statues on the aptly named Dragon Bridge, in the gift shops, in carvings, and so on. Apparently there is also a cave with salamanders that the locals once thought were dragon hatchlings, at least until they laid eggs and had babies of their own.

There is a story in Ljubljana that the Greek hero Jason, when he was sailing back with the golden fleece, sailed through the area and came face to face with a dragon. Of course Jason, being a Greek hero, fought the dragon, defeated it, and went sailing on his way. Dragon TrainThe dragon, which was supposed to be the protector of the region, holed up inside a mountain to sulk about being defeated. Peter speculated that this might explain why Ljubljana spent so many centuries under foreign rule.

The dragon is supposedly still there.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

a closed and common orbit coverA Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (UK link, US link) is a sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The interesting thing to note though is that it follows a completely different set of characters. The main characters of Common Orbit, Sidra and Pepper, appear in Long Way, but only in a few places. On the flip side, the main characters from Long Way are mentioned a few times but they never actually appear in Common Orbit. This means it’s possible to read Common Orbit without having first read Long Way. If you do read the books out of order, then the events of Common Orbit will give spoilers for a single plot thread of Long Way but not the main plotline. I heartily recommend both of these books and you can tackle them in whichever order you choose.

A Closed and Common Orbit is a story about figuring out who you want to be and making a purpose for your own life – which doesn’t have to be a purpose given by an outside force. It has two plotlines interwoven. The “present” plotline is focused on Sidra, an artificial intelligence program recently, and illegally, installed in a kit designed to mimic a human being. She has to deal with her new body, the restrictions imposed on her by her programming, and the fact that getting caught would mean her death. She navigates her new existence with the help of her friends Pepper and Blue, and later a new friend Tak (not to be confused with a character of the same name in the previous book). The “past” plotline tells of Pepper’s history. She was originally Jane 23, one of a group of girls genetically engineered to work in factories, her entire life focused on the tasks she was given. At the age of 10, she had never seen the sky and had no idea that there was a world outside her factory. This plotline tells of her escape from the factory and how she grew up, learned the skills she needed to survive, and came to the place where she is first encountered in the previous book.

The two plotlines come together towards the end of the book with the events of the past plotline becoming critical to the present plotline.

While there is some action, the story is primarily a character-driven one, dealing with the emotional growth of these two people, how they cope with their circumstances, and how they choose to define themselves. There is an underlying layer around the subject of exploitation, with both Sidra and Jane created for the purpose of performing task for their “owners”.

The story is very well written so that it tugs on the heartstrings and makes the reader invested in the lives of these characters who have gone through some awful things. The book deals with the after effects of those things – with characters having panic attacks and nightmares, struggling to deal with massive changes as they come out of traumatic events into somewhere safe. Even in the rich and imaginative setting, the emotional reactions of the characters feel grounded in reality.

Well worth a read and, as I said at the start, you can pick these books up in whichever order appeals to you. I found I actually liked this book better than Long Way, which surprised me because I really enjoyed that book too. Five stars. This one has been added to my favourites list.

Audio Dramas

I usually recommend and review books on this blog, but story telling can come in many forms and I wanted to talk about some audio dramas that I would recommend.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy

This is an old series, the original incarnation of this amazing collection of things. Many people are aware of the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (UK link, US link), but not all of them know that there was a radio play first. The radio play and the book (and the film and the TV series and the game) start off basically the same way, but then head off in different directions, so if you’ve read the book and its sequels you will still get a new story by listening to this radio play.

My dad had the whole original series recorded on cassette tapes when I was a kid, taped from the radio as it was broadcast, but the series is now available on CD (UK link, US link) as well as places like audible. The first two “phases” of the radio play are the original drama written specifically to be heard as an audio drama, the third and fourth are adaptations of the books which don’t work quite as well because what works on a page and what works in audio format are not quite the same.

The story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, rescued from Earth moments before its destruction by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien. What follows is a romp of humour and silliness through time and space, with the characters ending up in utterly bizarre situations. It’s completely ridiculous and amazing. If you’ve read any of Douglas Adams’ books and enjoyed them, you will love the radio play.

The Confessions of Dorian Gray

I’ve talked about this before and I’ve listed the series on my queer reading list even though it’s an audio drama rather than a traditional book. The premise of the series is that Oscar Wilde wrote his book based on a real person, who didn’t die at the end but continued living on as an unaging immortal. Dorian lives on through the decades, encountering (and often fighting) supernatural creatures while just trying to have a good time.

This series is a mix of humour and horror, made up of half hour episodes. There is some ongoing story between episodes, with some recurring characters as well as some plotlines that span multiple episodes (especially in series 3) but for the most part each episode works on its own so it’s easy to dip in and out of. Some of the episodes veer more to the horror side of things, some to the comedy side, with others feeling like fantasy adventures. Even the stories that are written like horror stories still have plenty of humour in them to keep them from being too dark. This series is a lot of fun, with some great characters and a lot of depth even for a character who is largely in it for his own pleasure.

I put it on the queer reading list because Dorian, the protagonist, is either pansexual or bisexual, as well as there being a number of other queer characters who show up, including the recurring character of Simon (canonically gay) and Toby (“the love of Dorian’s life”). One story has Oscar Wilde as a character, another has a character clearly based on Alan Turing.

Juno Steel (The Penumbra Podcast)

The Penumbra Podcast produce audio dramas and make them available over the internet for free. There are some standalone stories, but most of the stories they write fall into one of two series – The Second Citadel (a fantasy series involving knights fighting monsters, including a disabled knight and a female knight both desperate to proof themselves) and Juno Steel.

The Juno Steel stories are my favourite of their work, which is why I’ve highlighted them specifically here. Juno Steel is a detective written in the style and using many of the tropes of a noir detective – but set on Mars. The stories are a lot of fun, with great humour (especially in the interactions between Juno and the thief Peter Nureyev) and an interesting plotline. Most of the stories are two parters, with each part being between 30 minutes and 50 minutes long. These two part stories tell a tale which feels complete in itself – with beginning, middle, and end – but which tie into longer plotlines that span across the series. The plots themselves are interesting and engaging, but it’s the humour that brings me back to the series.

There are some fun characters. I’ve mentioned Peter Nureyev, a thief and conman with a dry sense of humour who has amazing chemistry with Juno, but there’s also Rita, a secretary who can seem utterly stupid in some ways but then show utter genius in others. She cares for Juno deeply and will make decisions to protect him whether he likes it or not (like locking him in his apartment when he’s ill).

Welcome to Night Vale

This is a podcast that went viral and became a model for podcast drama success. The series is based around the community radio of a fictional town called Night Vale and each episode has Cecil, the local radio presenter, talking about recent events, upcoming community activities, local issues, and similar. This all sounds perfectly normal for a local radio show – except that the town is strange in every conceivable way. Monsters run city hall, librarians are horrific creatures that eat stray readers, there’s a dog park no one can enter patrolled by robed figures, blood sacrifices are a part of everyday life, there’s a teenage girl whose entire body consists of a single hand, another teenager who changes shape every few minutes, angels who no one is allowed to acknowledge, an underground city beneath the bowling alley, strange lights in the sky, a glowing cloud on the school board, the list goes on an on, getting stranger with each episode.

Although many of the things that the episodes focus on could be seen as horrific, there is a lot of humour in this series. There is still the horror element (the Faceless Old Woman is incredibly creepy) but also romance between Cecil and the beautiful scientist Carlos, as well as some moments of drama (the scene where Cecil’s portrait of Carlos gets broken is heart-breaking) and some instances of excitement and triumph.

Each episode has a focus or plot, but there are also longer plot threads that flow through several episodes, as well as running gags and recurring characters, not to mention running gags and recurring characters that turn into important plotlines. There are a lot of episodes now, more than a hundred, so catching up on the back catalogue will take some time.

The show has also spawned two novels and a series of live shows that tour the world. The live shows have their own storylines so they can be listened to separately from the podcast and so that listeners of the podcast won’t be missing anything critical if they can’t attend the live shows. I’m excited to say that I have a ticket to the live show in London in October.