give us another map fragment from the upcoming Lane of Unusual Traders
- which opens for submissions in late May -
and I’m loving the rabbit!
And I’ve heard a rumour about music and the lane…
more and more curious.
“This isn’t a nice story, and this isn’t an easy story. But it is a story about fairies, so feel free to think of it as a fairy story. It’s not like you’d believe it anyway.”
Oh. My. Grosh.
This is a brilliant little bit of fiction – I loved this book. The voice, the plot, the faeries. Absolutely fantastic, and very high on my list of books-to-recommend-to-everyone.
As the novel opens we see Mori and her twin sister performing magic, and the magic in this book is very cleverly thought out, and even more cleverly applied. The trick to the magic is, in essence, that you can never tell whether it has been done. Did you use magic to change the bus schedule, as well as all the lives of all those people who catch that bus, or did it arrive two minutes early organically? Was that factory going to close down anyway, or did throwing a flower into a pond make it close?
Mori and her sister have to perform magic, after the fairies ask them to. They must perform magic, to stop their mother from taking over the world, from ever having ruled the world. Mori is crippled in the attempt, and her sister is killed, her mother goes insane (or was she always insane?) and Mori is forced to leave Wales, and to go to boarding school at her long-absent father’s insistence. She is forced to live, among others.
Sprinkled through with arguments and praise for famous science fiction and fantasy authors (Mori is a huge fan), I loved absolutely everything about this book. It’s Harry Potter, backwards.
“I did not buy a book called Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson, which has the temerity to compare itself, on the front cover, to ‘Tolkien at his best.’ The back cover attributes the quote to the Washington Post, a newspaper whose quotations will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they? And how dare the publishers? It isn’t a comparison anyone could make, except to say ‘Compared to Tolkien at his best, this is dross.’ I mean you could say that even about really brilliant books like A Wizard of Earthsea. I expect Lord Foul’s Bane (horrible title, sounds like a Conan book) is more like Tolkien at his worst, which would be the beginning of The Simarillion.
The thing about Tolkien, about The Lord of the Rings, is that it’s perfect.”
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naively insipid idealism which deprecates the aesthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to uplift the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite sensitiveness.
The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from every-day life. Relatively few are free enough from the spell of the daily routine to respond to rappings from outside, and tales of ordinary feelings and events, or of common sentimental distortions of such feelings and events, will always take first place in the taste of the majority; rightly, perhaps, since of course these ordinary matters make up the greater part of human experience. But the sensitive are always with us, and sometimes a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head; so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood. There is here involved a psychological pattern or tradition as real and as deeply grounded in mental experience as any other pattern or tradition of mankind; coeval with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it, and too much a part of our inmost biological heritage to lose keen potency over a very important, though not numerically great, minority of our species.
The short arm of the law stretched out, grabbed me in the halls of the Gare du Nord – you can never call the French polite, but they were, at least, not rude about it. Gallic apologies flowed – Je suis désolé, monsieur, pour tout inconvénient … mais on fait quoi? - as they fingered through dirty novels and the clean underwear I had carried in my jaunt across the continent. A shrug, a muttered curse – they could not hold me, I knew. I had nothing.
All of France was ablaze, speculating. I was light-fingered, it is true, and the lustre of ancient treasure is always a temptation.
Always have an accomplice .
And make her a pretty one.
She walked quickly across the deserted platform, the click of her heels against the concourse mimicked her racing heart, her panicked breathing seemed to fill the space around her. Calm, she thought to herself. Stay calm. She had seen them swoop on the thief. It almost felt wrong, she was too obvious – red cocktail dress, stiletto heels, black bolero, silver clutch. The Gendarmes certainly watched her. The Afghan crown was collapsible, and they had carried it away, and snatched him away at the last moment. She looked up at the timetable, and made a decision.
She threw her mobile away, and caught the wrong train.
Always have someone else to take the blame.
And make sure he’s a fool.
I fell down,
into an ink-black,
and told me
all the secret sins of my generation.
led me away from the places I used to know.
The ghosts of places
I once haunted.
It taught me new illusions
and new conceits, as its
secrets awoke in me a strange flower -
a black mist, an emptiness, a magic
I had not known.
I fell down,
into that ink-black,
darkness, and stepped out
into the gas-lit streets,
weaving their blinding neon
into the curses that I already knew.
never uttered on these
stained, goat-path, cobbled streets,
ancient words of power.
I scratched runes onto broken,
kicked-in doorways, hexes and wards.
Pictoglyphs, untranslated but
still-heeded by the mob.
I summoned vast intelligences,
forgotten demons, unloved gods.
They danced with me.
They surrendered their power.
Not willing, but willed.
I fell down,
I consumed that
darkness. I made the world my own,
and cast off the fetters of mortality.
And now you, child.
I pass unto you this black flower,
Together, we can watch
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantastic book. I was sure I wouldn’t like it. A Georgian social comedy, in the style of Jane Austen, according to the cover. Fantastic, I thought. I hate that style. I hate Austen.
I loved it.
Brimming with footnotes, some of which flow well past the chapters that they originated in, full of wit and the history of English magic.
The book flows, even at over 1000 pages, there was a moment in the novel where I just stopped, put the book down and could only say ‘fucking hell.’ That almost never happens.
Susanna Clarke has nailed the comedy of manners in this book, and as both Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell flit (or stomp) through polite society, interacting with some of the more famous personages of the age, from George III to Lord Byron, Lord Wellington and Sir Henry Walpole.
I still do, I suppose.
I’ve always (ALWAYS) wanted to go up into space.
And I figured – how awesome would it be to write while you’re up there?
The first fiction written in space, the first fiction (that we know of) written somewhere other than the planet Earth.
Unfortunately, it is not to be.
Astronaut Don Pettit is responsible, and is the first human to write fiction while not on Earth, with his Diary of a Space Zucchini.
“My gardener fusses with my leaves. I am not sure if I like that. I now have four and I do not quite understand why he behaves this way. He sticks his nose up against them. Does he take me for some sort of a handkerchief? Apparently he takes pleasure in my earthy green smell. There is nothing like the smell of living green in this forest of engineered machinery. I see the resultant smile. Maybe this is one of my roles as a crewmember on this expedition.”
The voices came, gurgling up the drain-pipes, snatched-at, growling, shadow-whispers.
The rain fell. The floodwaters rose.
The voices came, now indecipherable, like shattering glass, a guttural howling, a scratch against a pane of glass.
Still the waters rose.
We hunkered down, upstairs in our apartment block, surrounded by the recluse and his three cats, our next-door-but-downstairs neighbour, Raj, and his wife. She was heavily pregnant. She spoke no English, but filled the room with her bird-song native language, her swollen belly and the smell of bubbling curries. Bottled water and tinned beans, mixed with her spices.
We looked down, to watch the monsters swim in the streets; I had difficulty swallowing, as I watched them gorge outside, these new faces for the voices down the drains.
We waited. For the waters to subside, for the monsters to submerge.
For the food to run out. Theirs, or ours.
We eyed each other, hungrily, monsters upstairs and below.
This is yet another Lane of Unusual Traders teaser, from the Tiny Owl Workshop –
those are my words, the introduction to the anthology.
And yes, I realise there’s a spelling error there.
The Lane of Unusual Traders is a collection of
dark fantasy/magic realism/horror (maybe) stories -
it’s exactly the kind of thing that the label “speculative fiction” was invented for.
The submissions window opens in May.
I’ll keep you posted!
Aaah, dystopian science fiction. One of my favourite subgenres – if it’s done properly. Novels and films set in dystopian futures stand as warnings, as extrapolations of modern trends and projected far into the future. It’s social commentary as setting. George Orwell’s 1984 was (and still is) an attack on fascism and a predictor of the surveillance state, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a brutal take-down of the pleasure society and the class system. Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale - all on my bookshelf, by the way. I’m a big fan of this genre. The fact that these novels stay with us shows how much there is to fear, and the box office takings of modern films like Elysium and District 9 show how easily one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Now, onto my completely subjective list of dystopian films that I quite like, in no particular order:
1) Demolition Man (1993)
Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone are in this film. Need I say more about why it made the list? It’s an early 90′s movie, which means it carries a lot of the hallmarks of 80′s action films. This is a good thing.
In Demolition Man, Pizza Hut has won the Fast Food Wars, crime has been all-but eliminated and Sandra Bullock plays a character named Lenina Huxley, which is a direct reference to Brave New World.
Smoking is not good for you. Anything not good for you is bad. Hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat… bad language, chocolate, uneducational toys and spicy food. Abortion is illegal, but so is pregnancy if you don’t have a license.
Giant nautilus shells, trailing grey clouds and death in their wake. First contact.
These tentacled hunters, a flotilla adrift on some unfelt current, feeding.
We hid, like rats in the walls, like the terrified mammals we were, engaged in silent, gestured conversations.
Are they still there? He glanced up, nodded.
We’re running out of food. We’re running out of water. She mimed understanding, shrugged, as if to ask what he had expected. They drifted nearer.
I can’t make the baby stop crying.
I can. He smashed its head against the rubble.
She screamed, her voice echoing through the ruins.
I’ve a feeling that the Tiny Owl Workshop isn’t going to stop with these teasers.
They’ve gotten me excited.
I can’t wait for the Lane of Unusual Traders…
Number 17 was different. He - it – looked like he - it! - was smiling. We added the external valves and tubing just to reinforce his - it’s! If you’re recording this then the least you can do is sound impartial! - mechanical nature. People empathised with Number 17; we designed him that way.
There was a wheezing, on the stairwell. The heavy thud of metal against an ancient, frayed runner. The creaking of wood, like nightingale floorboards. There was a shout – there often was. A shout, followed by screaming, and the sound of shattering glass, a crystalline waterfall, cascading onto the street. A woman crying. Number 17 transmits all audio-visual stimuli back to the laboratory for processing. He’s too dangerous. Too unpredictable to make his own decisions.
Humans must decide what the next course of action will be – even though Number 17 would make the same assessment.
This way there’s someone to blame, if it all goes wrong.
Number 17 and its ilk were designed to make use of an extraordinary power source: souls.
It’s a new kind of magic – one that works.
Naturally, only humans have souls, or at least the correct type of soul, that ephemeral, unmeasurable quality that separates us from the animals. And, precisely because each soul is unmeasurable, no legal action can be taken against that exploitation. Certainly the process of processing can lead to psychological trauma, but without scars no tissue is strong.
Without scars there can be no emotional growth.
One wonders why the plebeians run.