Category Archives: Science Fiction

The Upper World

Time travel is always good, even if in this case Femi Fadugba only lets his characters travel fifteen years. It’s enough, though. And it’s in Peckham. Which is also fine. Stay with what you know well, and in this case that would be quantum physics. And Peckham.

Told from the points of view of Esso and Rhia, we learn what used to be, and what it might become. Esso is a teenager today, and Rhia is the same age fifteen years on, when things have changed quite drastically in some respects. I wouldn’t say that her world is better. It’s scarily regimented in many ways. But then, being black and a bit of a troublemaker in Peckham today is not plain sailing, either.

I like the fact that Femi lets his main characters be good at physics and maths, while also being quite normal teenagers, getting into scrapes, hoping for a decent future for themselves. And trying to explain to your gun-toting ‘friends’ that you travelled into the future that morning, but now you are back, and using science to do so, is quite fun.

And if it’s time travel, does that mean nothing is ever too late?

Flash Forward

His inhaler, a bag of helium, and a games console were the single luxuries Wednesday morning’s three time travelling fantasy writers chose from life today. They should have thought this through more, shouldn’t they?

The indefatigable Ann Landmann was at the book festival to chat to Jonathan Stroud – who played it safe by remaining in Hertfordshire – and who’s written three gazillion books (Ann has read every one of them), and to relative newcomer Ben Oliver and debut author Femi Fadugba. This was, not surprisingly, another really good event.

They all had to start by describing themselves, so now I understand better what’s been happening at earlier events. It’s so people with impaired vision knows who’s who. Ben regretted getting his hair wet on the way, and Femi seemed to wish he’d picked a different t-shirt (I liked it).

We were promised a spoiler-free conversation, and I’m grateful, having read just Jonathan’s Scarlett & Browne, but not the other two books. I want to.

Ben is a teacher from Glasgow, who writes about a character on death row, in a world maybe 150 to 200 years in the future. It’s very dark.

For Femi Physics comes first. His book is two narratives of 4D space time, in Peckham. No, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but it’s how I heard it. (The short excerpt in the Guardian is Very Promising.) And as time travel goes, Femi moves only 15 years into the future. He wanted it to be somewhere well known.

Jonathan on the other hand, has placed his characters in a submerged England, maybe 500 years away, and no one much knows what happened. I expect we’ll learn along with the characters. Jonathan likes using humour, because everyone’s mostly like they would be now. Except Scarlett who started life as a middle aged man, but is now a teenage girl.

Asked if their worlds could become reality, Femi feels that maybe his already is. Ben hopes sincerely not, whereas Jonathan is full of optimism, despite the giant otters. Another question was about possible actors for any films they may have given life to. Femi already knows, but can’t tell. Ben would like young, unknown actors. Plus Hugh Grant. Jonathan, too, goes for someone unknown, as long as she has red hair.

This just left me wanting to read. And that’s really what this should all be about. More. Reading.

Can Robots Be Friends?

The Sunday afternoon event with Elle McNicoll and Alastair Chisholm, chaired by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, was about robots. Not having managed to read either Elle’s Show Us Who You Are or Alastair’s Adam-2 I was a little adrift, but no worse than I could work out I need to read these books. There is a lot of talent in this neck of woods. Well, Elle has left Edinburgh for London, but otherwise they are both from around here.

Elle wore her Blue Peter badge. She has had a lot of jobs so far, which presumably is why her ideal [real] robot would clean for her. Alastair, on the other hand, wants his robot to be like a pet he can look after! His dream hologram would be Ada Lovelace, while Elle’s would be Charles Dickens.

Both their books are about relationships, and their characters are nice people. Or robots, as the case may be. Alastair is a Star Trek-Doctor Who fan, with some interest in Isaac Asimov. Doctor Who is big for Elle as well, but preferably the current day type episodes rather than galaxies far away. And Greek mythology.

And both their readings left me wanting more. They were also well chosen to tempt us. Although both authors had received letters – well, emails – from readers telling them off for not doing what they wanted, which was more books about the characters from the first book, by Alastair, and Elle got strict orders to mix her first and second books.

Elle does not want more robots while neurodiverse humans are not properly understood or treated right. Fair comment, I think. As to whether we can be friends with robots, Alastair said if we are nice enough; because we are the problem.

Asked whether they always wanted to be authors, Alastair said he wanted to be an astronaut and he’s now a computer programmer. Elle used to come to the book festival as a child, so she knew what she wanted, and said the good thing is you can write and do other jobs at the same time.

As for what I want, it is to have been at this event as it happened. It was perfect. Great authors and an excellent chair, talking just the right amount about the right kinds of things. And it was live; all three on the same stage, and with a live audience. Yes, the online event was flawless too. But I want to have been there.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I badly need my towel. Coming face-to-face with two mice in such a short time can take it out of a witch. One [dead] mouse the day I finished reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the next one – highly alive – on the eve publication day, which is today.

To celebrate the fact that it’s been 42 years since Douglas Adams iconic guide was first published, it’s been reissued, filled to the brim with illustrations by Chris Riddell. Except I have to admit to having been so taken with reading this book again, that I barely had time to look at the pictures of Zaphod and Marvin and the rest.

This is surely testament to the book’s charm; that rereading it after decades it’s almost as if it was new, except that I remember most of the witty quotes as though it was yesterday. Basically, dear reader, this book is as much fun as it ever was. Possibly more.

I’m hoping that 42 years on there will be countless new readers discovering this story about hitching lifts through space. For me, it’s almost impossible to decide whether I like Arthur Dent or Marvin the most. It used to be Marvin, but Arthur is so very, well, British. ‘Why, do you think it’s the sort of thing you’re likely to say?’

And I’m almost getting the Ford Prefect name thing now. It was a completely meaningless joke four decades ago. As it was to Ford Prefect himself.

Sparrowfall

Nick Green’s new ebook Sparrowfall is quite something. Nick reckons it’s adult fiction, whereas I feel it’d be fine for younger readers as well. Some serious topics are covered, but children and teenagers today are exposed to these kinds of things.

(And now that I’ve read the book, the cover makes a lot of sense.)

This is science fiction, and it takes you to a harsh and completely unknown landscape. While in its other half you find a perfectly ordinary setting as well.

Let’s start with the ‘normal’ story, which is about 12-year-old Eleanor, recently adopted and loving living with her new parents. She also loves the must-read fantasy novel Myriad, and acting. So when she gets a part in the new film of Myriad it feels as if life is perfect.

Myriad is set in a strange world, with strange people and strange goings-on. We don’t see all that much of it, as it’s primarily the film set which matters here.

And then there is the world of Captain Luke S Zeit, which is beyond anything I could imagine. My mind simply boggled as I tried to envisage where Luke is and where he goes. Even what he is. What is quite clear however, are his feelings. He comes across Becca, a refugee from some unknown corner of his world and she changes his life.

It’s not the world of Myriad, though. I suppose that would have been too easy. But if it’s not, how are the parts of this story connected? It took me unusually long to discover, and even when I had, I needed to unsee what I’d found. And I still couldn’t work out how this was all going to work out.

And what of the man sleeping rough in London?

This is refreshingly beautiful, and Nick’s science fiction world is truly different.

The real mystery of course is why Sparrowfall isn’t out there as a big-selling actual book printed on paper, and not just as an ebook. The advantage here is that it will only set you back £2.95, so there is no need for procrastination. Buy it today! And tell your friends.

The Starlight Watchmaker

I could be wrong, but I don’t normally associate the Barrington Stoke books with science fiction. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Lauren James and The Starlight Watchmaker.

Lauren James, The Starlight Watchmaker

This story was both fun and sweet and a little different. There is an android, my second in mere weeks, and little green men, not to mention a sort of stone character. They are all people. Although, the androids are perhaps seen as less than others.

Hugo is an abandoned android watchmaker, living and working alone, when he meets student Dorian, who is rich and spoilt.

Dorian has a problem. And soon it’s apparent that the problem is more widespread than it seemed at first, and it’s down to Hugo and Dorian to solve the puzzle and hopefully solve the danger that the planet might be in.

This is about friendship and equality, and how we are all different, but we are still valuable in our own way. And it’s exciting!

Cymera on the small screen

I have to confess I didn’t know there was going to be live coverage from Cymera on its Facebook page. But it was a nice thing to discover when my knees refused to go out this weekend. Had I known well in advance – about the filming, not so much the knees – I could have planned to make better use of it.

Thus it was that I did that time-wasting staring at Facebook post-cup-of-tea yesterday, and arrived just as Cymera started off on James Oswald, or JD as he was for the weekend, with his Sir Benfro hat on. Not that he wore a hat. But on the very small screen on my phone, the ‘camera eye’ unfortunately sat right on top of his head, leaving only the beard and the pink jacket visible. But I know what he looks like.

(Yes, the image was better on the computer. But it buffered an awful lot.)

JD Oswald and David Bishop

But anyway, I got to see James talking to David Bishop and that’s what I had wanted to do all this time, after discovering he was going to be there, and after reading the first Sir Benfro book.

Much of what he said has been covered in my own interview from four years ago, but I was struck by how James said he now has three books a year to write. Plus being a farmer. And then someone asked what he likes to read! As though the man would have time to read.

Actually, he does, and he listed a number of books, but like me, he forgets immediately, making it hard to recommend books. And he ‘cheats’ by reading audio books when out on his farming duties. It’s mostly fantasy. Seems he doesn’t like reading crime! (So before you send him yet more crime novels for a quote; don’t. Send him fantasy instead.)

There was a somewhat abrupt end to the filmed event, but it was far better than nothing!

Below is the ‘only good’ photo Clare Cain got of the Ghost event with Claire McFall, Rachel Burge and Helen Grant chatting to Sarah Broadley. I imagine they are hearing ghostly voices there. Or something.

Claire McFall, Rachel Burge, Helen Grant and Sarah Broadley, by Clare Cain

And even more below, is another stolen photo from Sunday morning’s event where Moira McPartlin chatted to Sarah Broadley [Sarah does seem to be everywhere, doesn’t she?].

Moira McPartlin and Sarah Broadley

Don’t forget Cymera

I trust you will remember to attend Cymera next weekend? I mean, you already have your tickets, or at least a hitlist for events not to be missed, and your bag is packed and all that?

Good. I’ll be generous. Your hitlist needn’t be the same as mine. It’s not technically possible to see it all, unless you are Hermione Granger, so choice needs to enter into things. There are some events where I’ve really had to decide who’s more important to me.

And then the question is whether I’ll get up early enough on the Saturday to see Philip Caveney, who will now be without his partner in crime, Dawn Finch. (Of course I will. Just teasing.)

The other question is whether you can outlast me. Let me be the first to tell you that yes, you can. However keen I am, I will flag at some point.

But you know, there are so many people I like, like Helen Grant – wearing her YA mantle, but talking about her adult Ghost – and Moira McPartlin, Claire McFall, James Oswald, and yes, Philip Caveney. Robot Chickens. As well as these excellent people, there will be another 70 mostly unknowns [to me] so you won’t have to worry about any inconvenient quiet moments.

Get your tickets here. Now, before they sell out. Which would be a good thing, but not for you.

Cymera – meet the boss

If you haven’t already met Ann Landmann at some event, you’re in for a treat at her Cymera weekend. And today, as a bonus, I have asked Ann a few questions from which you can find out, roughly, how to start your own litfest. That is, if you have even a fraction of Ann’s energy.

How do you even come up with the idea of starting your own book festival?

I love book festivals, big and small, and living in Edinburgh obviously means I have one of the best on my doorstep. Over the years I have noticed that SFFH authors don’t feature in book festival programmes as much, and while I know there are lots of conventions, a lot of them are down South.

The easy solution to bringing authors that I love to Scotland was starting my own book festival. So, armed with festival experience, events organiser experience, an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and a lot of enthusiasm, I found some equally crazy people and here we are.

Was it obvious what category books and authors you wanted?

Yes. Cymera is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and we pretty much stuck to those categories. As to authors, we’ve been super lucky – the support from publishers has been great, and we actually got almost every author we asked for. I suspect the lure of Edinburgh, Scotland, played into this too!

According to the press release you have 81 authors. Have you read all of them?

I have read a lot of them, but not all (yet). There’s still time though …

How do you go about finding a venue?

From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to create the buzz you get when everything is in one venue, like at a convention. We also needed a bar, it had to be accessible and have lots and lots of space.

For my old job as Events Manager for a local bookshop I’ve always stayed on top of what venue in Edinburgh does what, and I knew the Pleasance just had a refurbishment making it more accessible. EUSA, who run the Pleasance, have been great to work with, and hopefully the space is as perfect as I am envisioning it.

Has it been hard to get volunteers? Who is volunteering?

We’ve had a fantastic response for our call for volunteers for the weekend! We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, from students to people that have volunteered at festivals before.

Are you actually looking forward to the Cymera weekend, or just to it being over?

I can’t wait! I hope we’ll get that buzz going, that everyone has a great time, makes new friends, discovers new writers – all those things that make a successful festival!

Dare I ask; once it’s over, will you do it again?

We fully intend Cymera to become an annual event that people look forward to every year. There’s definitely plenty of authors out there to fill an annual programme, and we have lots and lots of ideas of what we else we can do. 2019 is the year we are trying things out, and we are hoping for lots and lots of feedback that we can build the 2020 festival on.

I like the convention idea! Now all I need is a bed under the stairs.

See you there! (At Pleasance, not under the stairs.)

Cymera

Today I give you a ‘mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.’ Or you could just accept a new, great sounding, Edinburgh based, book festival.

Cymera

Cymera, as it is called, is Ann Landmann’s new baby. As if she didn’t have enough to do anyway, she is doing that thing many of us think might be ‘nice’ but seems like too much work so we don’t, which is set up our very own litfest.

Cymera is Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing, and it is taking place in Edinburgh the weekend of 7th to 9th June. Lots of people I sort of know, are taking part, as are countless more that I don’t really know, because I haven’t specialised in all that much horror, and have only recently returned to science fiction, and there is a lot of fantasy in this world.

I haven’t counted, but somewhere I saw the words eighty authors mentioned, and that sounds like a lot. A quick look at the programme tells me I will have to make actual choices, unless I work out how to be at several events at the same time.

And the food..! That sounds good too. And there will be books to buy, and workshops have been planned, and there will be a quiz, and an open mic session. If you know where Blackwells is, then Cymera is a short way east of this lovely bookshop, so it should be easy to get to.

I have to admit to having tweaked my holiday dates so I don’t need to miss anything. Will I see you there?