Alien cauliflower

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


I love these Romanesco brassicas! Not only weird looking, but obvious evidence as to how important fractals are in lifeforms. It’s only an approximate fractal as it’s not infinite, but that just seems picky. The number of spirals on each head follow Fibonacci numbers, apparently. This one came in my weekly organic vegetable box. I could look at it all evening.

I did this interview with Joe back in 2009. He’s a very nice man, although I am insanely envious of his success. He was living in Bath while I was there. We had mutual friends, and was invited down a few times to attend their gaming group. Annoyingly, I never could. Can you guess why? Ah yes, parenthood… From Death Ray #19.

Blood and Iron

War, death, blood and wit. There’s plenty of all in Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy world, the kind of place Tarantino would have invented if he’d read more Tolkien and watched less grindhouse as a kid. We like it, we do.

I’ll let you into a secret. Heroic fantasy shaped and formed me. It made me, at least in part, what I am today.

And then it started to bore me to death. When I picked up a new book, I had an uncomfortable feeling I had read it all before. I had. But I love fantasy, so I keep on trying, always looking for something fresh, a new take on the old stories.

With Joe Abercrombie, I think I may have found it. His is an intensely believable reality full of bone popping violence, death, skullduggery and disease. This is not your typical machine-wash medieval fayre, but two steps away from the grim actualities of life in a pre-industrial age. Like his latest book, Best Served Cold, about a mercenary captain in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy whose quest for revenge gets out of hand. (See the review here).

It’s heroic fantasy right enough, but not in an airbrushed kind of way.

All of which Abercrombie set out to achieve. A 34-year old Lancastrian (the Yorkshire biased DR team grudgingly salutes him) raised on RPGs and fat trilogies, Abercrombie found himself in the profession of video editor, all glam and media, but also intermittent. With time to spare, he had two bold attempts at redefining the genre. The first was not so successful, the second… Well, 250,000 book sales for his First Law trilogy tells that story right enough…


Death Ray: I just read Best Served Cold. It was great, and I really appreciated the fact that it was a standalone…

Joe Abercrombie: The First Law followed the path of the classic epic fantasy, so I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do a standalone book because I’ve got no patience with huge series. Sometimes they tread water, they inevitably have longeurs. As a reader, if someone says to me, “Oh, you should read this,” and then you go into a shop and they’ve got part six and part eight, and you think, my God, I’ve got to read these to get up to speed? It’s all a bit intimidating.

DR: Why Renaissance Italy?

JA: I’ve always been very interested in it – Machiavelli, feuding city states, dodgy popes and poison; at the same time, the vitality of the Renaissance. So as a setting that seemed a bit of a gimme. Having done a more classic medieval style setting, I wanted to go for something that was a little more advanced, a little bit more cynical and nasty, though the first one’s pretty cynical and nasty to be fair!

DR: I liked the ensemble cast, it had a sort of Ocean’s Eleven feel.

JA: Characters are the absolute essence of it for me. If you’ve got good characters, then you can forgive other shortcomings. If the characters are boring and unconvincing… nothing makes up for that, for me as a reader anyway.

DR: As befits the flamboyance of the setting and the characters, there is plenty of humour.

JA: I think a sense of humour is vital. I love things that have got some wit and are fast on their feet. Fantasy tends to be very solemn and self-regarding, or on the other side there is slapstick, self-consciously piss-taking fantasy. There doesn’t tend to be a lot of the middle ground, the humour that we have in real life.

DR: It’s also very visceral, very bloodthirsty. Where are you coming from with that?

JA: It’s personal experience, it’s basically just autobiographical. I’m a very dangerous man in real life… No, it’s a reaction to what I read as a kid, the feeling that that was often very sanitised, though I think a lot’s changed. People like George R.R. Martin, they’re writing grittier stuff, but in the popular consciousness, fantasy is still dominated by shiny armour. Also, fantasy tends to be about the world, about the big wide shots and the huge sweeping grandeur and not very much about the people. I wanted to focus on them, and part of that was focussing on their experience of violence. So it was trying to bring a sense of what you get in a show like the Sopranos, if you like, portray violence as harder and more unpleasant.

There’s a lot of thought in fantasy about how beautiful swords are, but not much about how horrible the wounds they produce might be. One thing that interests me is giving a more realistic sense of the dangers and the price of it.

DR: Your world is only a couple of steps away from a historical novel. A lot of fantasy authors do this. I suspect the real reason is well, I couldn’t be bothered to do the research…

JA: That’d certainly be part of my answer! But quite early on I had a character that needed to be thrown out of a window, and I was thinking, ‘Hmm, so how big windows would they have? How big would the panes of glass be, how difficult would it be to throw someone through one?’ And then it suddenly occurred to me, hold on, it’s fantasy! I can have whatever style of window feels right for the scene. And that is a big appeal of it. It’s cheap and easy and you don’t have to research, but you can also combine a bit of 15th century Sweden with a bit of 10th century Norway if it gives you the right drama. You can take all kinds of liberties. It can be a bit larger than life. I like that. Sin City, if you like, over the top. Lurid!

DR: Well, it certainly works, and you even manage to make a point about men’s lust for but horror of violence…

JA: First of all, the thing I try to do is make it fast and exciting and entertaining that has got to be the first priority. Any kind of have to be totally secondary to that. Hopefully those things arise out of trying to depict characters as carefully and as truthfully as you can do. Otherwise it can overwhelm most reader’s palettes.

I’m put in mind of the game Metal Gear Solid. It has this hamfisted anti-war message combined with ‘Wow! Look at these guns! Ooh, you can look at every gun you’ve got and you can zoom in and zoom out and you can attach little bits to it, wow man these guns are so cool… Oh, but war is so wrong…’ I think that men do have that. For all my blathering about the evilness of violence, my books are reveling in it at the same time as well.

spaceHulk_boxI spent a delightful few hours in the capital yesterday. And by that you will know I of course mean York, capital of Yorkshire, and not London, which is some big place full of bankers in another country. I was there to meet Lee Harris. Lee published my first novel, with Angry Robot, and has gone on to achieve great things. There was some talk of possible future projects. If any come to fruition I’ll let you know.

Mainly I was there in the name of having a life. After six years in the parental bunker with my son (no one gets in, no one gets out. It’s a bit like being that guy Desmond in Lost, pressing buttons, only with wailing in place of sixties hits as a soundtrack), he is now reaching an age where he is a little more independent, so I’m engaged in the pleasant process of reconstructing my social and professional networks. Baby steps – Benny is still only young and thus needs a lot of looking after – I’ve not left him to fend for himself on the streets or anything. But it is nice to get out of the house.

While in York, I picked up the Dungeons & Dragons starter set (for Benny, I’m starting him young) and also Space Hulk (for me, because I’m a terrible nerd). I missed Space Hulk last time it was released, and have regretted it ever since. This time I had to have it, although I couldn’t really afford it. (Don’t worry Mrs H, if you’re reading this I promise no hobby spending until December).

Funnily enough, I never played it the first time it was out years ago. This is despite my brother Aidan having all the expansions and everything. I dismissed it somewhat foolishly as “not proper 40k”, and to be honest the banana-fingered plastic terminators came off poorly in comparison to the metal models of the day. Forgive me, it was early days for plastics back then. Through playing it with Jes Bickham after the last release I learned that it is one of the best board games ever, so more fool me.


Look! It’s chock full of stuff!

I bought it after a two-pint lunch, and I kind of forgot that I was cycling back from the station. Now, Space Hulk is immense. The box is large and packed topped to bottom with stuff. It is the best value gaming product I have bought this year. Great! But so full is this box that it weighs as much as a small horse. Riding a bicycle home while dangling a massive slab of a game out of one hand is not easy. There were some physics at play, pendulums and so forth, but I just about managed. I’m a real man me. Or a 41-year-old nerd struggling to get his toys home on an unsuitable mode of transport while trying not to look like an arse. I will let you, dear reader, decide

The Champion of Mars giveaway is over!

Posted: September 22, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The Champion of Mars giveaway has finished. Sorry there was no reminder via Twitter, a little foolishness there on my part not taking into account differing timezones. Anyhow, in the end 773 people entered. I thank you for your interest. Only five could win. You know who you are. Your books will be posted later this week. Well done!

I was quite pleased by the level of interest this giveaway generated. Champion of Mars‘ “to-reads” went from around eighty to 399. So I will be doing more soon. Keep an eye out on this blog for further announcements on this matter. That’s all.

Out today is The Black Pilgrims, my latest Black Templars story. I’ve been asked as to whether or not I’ll be exploring the links between the Adeptus Ministorum and the chapter. Read this story and you’ll know the answer to that question.

I would have posted earlier, were I not in Bolsover helping my brother remove a whole lot of lath and plaster from his new house. It’s a glamorous life, this writing business.

I enjoy this sort of mid-budget, pet project SF made by auteur wannabes in the same way some people enjoy rubbish horror films. This sort of film fits into a category all of its own, where slightly mismatched ideas (usually one or three too many) are crammed into a stylish, dark world where the creator tries very hard to work out their intellectual kinks. You can practically smell the tortured creativity, along with whisky and salty tears. They are always too clever by half, and therefore not clever at all.

A large number of French SF/fantasy/horror fits into this category (Eden Log, The Martyrs, Malefique are good examples. Click on the links for reviews, where available. English language representatives include Split Second, Reign of Fire, Outpost and Perfect Creature). They all fail somewhere, but they are glorious, admirable failures nonetheless, like Franklyn. A review of the DVD release from Death Ray #20. Read the rest of this entry »