Category Archives: Science Fiction

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.

Chasing the Stars

Othello in space. We don’t get anywhere near enough YA books set in real proper ‘old-fashioned’ space. Malorie Blackman’s version of Othello shares much with the science fiction I used to read when I was a young adult.

Set in the future, twins Olivia and Aidan are alone on a spaceship after everyone else has died. Both are very competent technically speaking, but perhaps less so socially, which is not surprising seeing as they have only had each other for company for three years.

Malorie Blackman, Chasing the Stars

Olivia is Othello, so you have to try and look at the story the other way round. The siblings rescue a group of people off a planet (moon?) and things on board the ship soon change, both for the better, but mainly for the worse.

Think murder and back-stabbings, and as with any Shakespeare there is more than one problem for this group to deal with. The twins are 18, but still pretty young and inexperienced and all the new problems soon become too much.

As I said the other day, I don’t know Othello, and I kept trying to think Desdemona (easy) and Iago (harder), and then I gave up. You can read this simply for what it is; a newly written futuristic space drama.

But you know, you could ask yourself what happened to the ship’s original crew. And who is the bad guy on board now? Also, will it end precisely as Othello did, or is there any hope of happiness?

Sci-fi v fantasy

Yes, what’s the difference? That was one question at the event with Roy Gill and Paul Magrs yesterday. According to Paul sci-fi is something that could happen, given certain technical circumstances, while fantasy just couldn’t.

I have never seen the Imagination Lab so full before. They had to keep carry in more chairs for people to sit on. I’d been hoping to learn how on earth you should pronounce the name Magrs, and from what my elderly ears picked up, it sounded rather like the title of Paul’s book, Lost on Mars. So, Mars by Magrs.

Paul Magrs and Roy Gill

Paul was there to talk about his Space Opera, set on Mars (and no, it couldn’t be moved to Venus just because the publisher already had one Martian book on the go). He’d been inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, as well as by Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi.

Apparently many authors treat writing like going to school, although I’ve never heard this before. So Paul started writing Lost on Mars on September 1st and sat at his kitchen table with his newly sharpened pencils until before Christmas, occasionally standing up.

Roy conveniently dreamed the Daemon Parallel. He’s someone who puts his ideas in a notebook, and this sat there for several years until he got desperate. The dream gave him the weird grandma, and to make her truly odd he decided she was going to want to bring her son back from the dead.

As the chair for the evening said, the two books seem quite different, but actually have a lot in common, like the grandmas. She asked them if the main characters could have been a different age than Paul and Roy made them, but they felt not. There is something about that age where they are old enough to be able to do what they need to do, but also young enough that they don’t act like adults.

According to his old diaries, Paul has wanted to be a writer since he was ten. When his school was closed due to snow, he spent the mornings writing a novel, and the afternoons writing Doctor Who episodes.

Writing was a less obvious choice for Roy, who didn’t really get it until he was about thirty. His PhD supevisor pointed out his writing was so good ‘you can get away with very little content.’

Paul read chapter five, which is where the grandma in his story has to have her artificial leg seen to. It almost seemed creepier than when reading it in the book. Roy read the meeting between the teenagers and the weird lawyer from Werewolf Parallel, and I’m not even going to mention the odd chin. (I didn’t mention it!) His daemons are all very random, and the Jenners episode stems from him getting lost in this posh shop as a small boy.

When they were young(er) Paul read and liked Doctor Who. Roy liked Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and he’s a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Paul, on the other hand, was quite old when he discovered these books. And I didn’t totally grasp his tale of exchanging letters in verse with some dinner ladies…

But it’s all fine, and I made it out nice and early to have my copy of Lost on Mars signed. My Daemons had already been done.

Lost on Mars

I have never been this fond of a sunbed ever before. And I just know that either something bad will happen to Toaster, or he will be turned rogue.

The story of Lost on Mars could be straight out of Doctor Who, without the Doctor. This is not so strange, really, as Paul Magrs has written some Whovian books as well. The first in a trilogy, Lost on Mars left me feeling very scared, but determined to find out what happens next. I’m quite certain I know more than Lora, the main character, even though she’s excellent heroine material. And that makes me more scared still.

Paul Magrs, Lost on Mars

Life on Mars is harsh, and we meet third generation Lora and her family – and Toaster – as they try to survive as settlers on the Martian prairie. The setting is very American West, and mixed with the science fiction aspect of space travel it also reminded me of Chaos Walking.

When too many people have Disappeared, and Lora suspects the Martians (yes, they exist) will come for her and the others as well, she takes her family on a journey to find somewhere new and safer to live. She’s only 14, but she shoulders her duties like an adult.

The travelling is hard, and often bad, but arriving is worse. What is the City Inside? There is no way you can guess the direction this will go. I simply hope for good after the bad.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

BZRK Apocalypse

When you approach Michael Grant’s third BZRK novel, Apocalypse, it’s worth remembering what happened at the start of the first one. People died. They seemed nice, but they still died before you really got to know them. To think that the third book is likely to be sweeter and less violent than the first is plain ridiculous.

It won’t be. Can’t be. But how many deaths is Michael prepared to ’cause?’

Quite a few. You know what Apocalypse means, don’t you? That.

Michael Grant, BZRK Apocalypse

At the beginning there were the evil Armstrong Twins, and the slightly better BZRK, fighting them. The twins might be weakening, but not so BZRK. Although, that’s not as good a thing as you’d want it to be.

‘Excuse me. I believe I’m about to go mad. You may want to move away.’ That’s about as polite and collected as it gets, in this book where very many people go mad. It’s not a pretty sight, and it will not end well. Michael has a go at many people we ‘know’ and it would be wrong if he let characters miraculously survive, because they were on the same side as us.

After the first book I could see that someone like Bug Man would change and do things differently. Well, it wasn’t this kind of different I had in mind!

We learn who the main players behind our diminishing group of fighters are; the ones we’ve come to rely on, who will lead wisely, and make sure the world is all right. Hah!

This might be based on games, but there is still a strong feeling that it wouldn’t take much to make this reality. And while I believe that, I’m not so sure that the knowledge and bravery displayed by the ‘good guys’ is terribly likely to be there to help us.

A thrill all the way to the end.

Aliens Stink

Isn’t it odd how two of the books I’ve read this week, to make up for my non-attendance at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, are about aliens? Being one myself, I feel drawn to them. (In moderation, obviously.)

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

Let’s face it. The cover of Aliens Stink would not tempt me to pick up the book. (But then it’s a while since I was ten years old.) What does, is that it’s got *Steve Cole’s name on the cover, and that is always a recommendation and counterbalances ugly aliens and the word ‘stink.’

In this case I only had to pick it up off the Grandmother’s doormat, because Steve sent it to Daughter as a thank you for her help (so her name is in it). She told him astrophysical facts and he ignored them. That’s how they cooperated. I didn’t feel I needed to read the book. I’m glad I did, though, and even the Grandmother read a couple of chapters before I removed it from her hands.

It’s great! It’s fun. It’s pure entertainment. It’s the kind of book I look at and think it’d be both fun and easy to write, except I suspect it’s much harder than it looks. Luxembourg has disappeared under a blanket. Parts of Russia is covered in a yellow substance. The world is strange. Better than before, but no one knows why.

Poor Tim and his goldfish Herbert are not having a good time, however. Tim’s father is a weird scientist and he is needed to save the world. Hah. Herbert listens patiently to Tim’s woes, but what can a goldfish do?

Things come to a head and Tim and his dad and the goldfish suddenly find themselves somewhere else. All of them need to adjust to this new situation.

This is a book about good aliens and bad ones. It’s about clever children (not Tim) and aliens, and stupid adults, and aliens. You just have to love it. (And your pets. Always love your pets.)

* Steve was at mcbf on Wednesday. I’m sure everyone had a great time. Sniff…