Very Quick Review: THE LAST SEASON by Phil Jackson (Penguin)

JacksonP-LastSeasonUSPBPhil Jackson’s memoir for the final year of his (first) stint as Lakers coach

An inside look at the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty — Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and the LA Lakers

For the countless basketball fans who were spellbound by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2003-2004 high-wire act, this book is a rare and phenomenal treat. In The Last Season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson draws on his trademark honesty and insight to tell the whole story of the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty. From the signing of future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Kobe Bryant rape case/media circus, this is a riveting tale of clashing egos, public feuds, contract disputes, and team meltdowns that only a coach, and a writer, of Jackson’s candor, experience, and ability could tell. Full of tremendous human drama and offering lessons on coaching and on life, this is a book that no sports fan can possibly pass up.

I recently read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent, entertaining Three-Ring Circus: an account of the LA Lakers’ three-championship run in the early 2000s. Coached by Phil Jackson and led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the team was dominant, impressive to watch, and dysfunctional. Pearlman’s book is a warts-and-all, humorous examination of the team and the characters that comprised it. I wanted to read more about the team and the NBA of that time, so I picked up Jackson’s memoir of his the 2003-4 season. What I found was an interesting, informative, and engaging read. Continue reading

Quick Review: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLessons from the city-state of Los Angeles

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. (It has its own dreams.) Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. (It has its own compass.) Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically, an independent territory, defined less by distinct borders than by an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny — this is the city-state of Los Angeles.

Deeply reported and researched, provocatively argued, and eloquently written, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now approaches the metropolis from unexpected angles, nimbly interleaving his own voice with a chorus of others, from canonical L.A. literature to everyday citizens. Here, Octavia E. Butler and Joan Didion are in conversation with activists and astronauts, vampires and veterans. Baldwin records the stories of countless Angelenos, discovering people both upended and reborn: by disasters natural and economic, following gospels of wealth or self-help or personal destiny. The result is a story of a kaleidoscopic, vibrant nation unto itself — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Baldwin’s concept of the city-state allows us, finally, to grasp a place — Los Angeles — whose idiosyncrasies both magnify those of America, and are so fully its own. Here, space and time don’t quite work the same as they do elsewhere, and contradictions are as stark as southern California’s natural environment. Perhaps no better place exists to watch the United States’s past, and its possible futures, play themselves out.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

It’s not just America that’s obsessed with Los Angeles. I’ve long been fascinated by the city (even though I’m not sure I’d like to live there). It’s one of my favourite fiction locations, and its diverse and fragmented nature allows for incredible variation in the novels, TV series and movies set within it. In Everything Now, Baldwin does a very good job of showing us the city from a number of different angles — some familiar, some new, all interesting. An interesting and engaging journey through various facets of Los Angeles, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE FIRST OMEGA by Megan O’Keefe (Orbit)

What happens when a corporate hunter is deemed obsolete…?

It doesn’t matter what you call her. Riley. Burner. She forgot her name long ago. But if you steal from the supply lines crossing the wasteland, her face is the last one you’ll see.

She is the force of nature that keeps the balance in the hot arid desert. Keep to yourself and she’ll leave you well enough alone. But it’s when you try to take more than you can chew that her employers notice and send her off to restore the balance.

Then she gets the latest call. A supply truck knocked over too cleanly. Too precise. And the bodies scattering the wreckage weren’t killed by her normal prey of scavengers. These bodies are already rotting hours after the attack.

Cowering in the corner of the wreckage is a young girl. A girl that shouldn’t be there. A girl with violently blue eyes. Just like hers.

The First Omega is a new, stand-alone novella from the author of (most recently) the acclaimed Protectorate sci-fi series. When it was first announced, the description that this was like “Mad Max meets X-Men” caught my attention. A bleak picture of a blasted future, one with a Western feel, it is a story of nature-vs-nurture, and how to face obsolescence. I rather enjoyed it. Continue reading

Interview with SAMMY HK SMITH

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Sammy H.K. Smith?

Well, right now I think I’m a human but the lack of decent sleep or coffee is blurring my reality a bit…

I’m a mother, writer, publisher (owner of Grimbold Books), and police detective specialising in domestic abuse and sexual offences. I dabble with all sorts of genres but SF&F (and speculative dark fiction sub-genres) gather my interest the most.

I live and work in Oxfordshire next to the Cotswolds and Warwickshire border, which is an utterly beautiful part of the country.

Your new novel, Anna, is due out in May via Solaris. How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

ANNA is a story of one woman’s survival in a cruel world where might is right and regardless of gender, if you display any weakness, you’re fair game to those that want to control both the lands and the people.

We follow Anna’s story and emotional fallout of dealing with sexual abuse and PTSD in a dystopic future not far from our own reality and timeline. Her strength comes from within and she shows us that whilst physically she appears weak, she’s so much more inside. Continue reading

Quick Review: RED WIDOW by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

When you work in a building of smoke & mirrors, everyone and everything should be questioned…

The story of two women CIA agents whose paths become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division – one that’s coming from inside the agency.

Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague — now Chief of the Russia Division — recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, where she was known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been exposed — including one of her own — and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she unearths a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…

I haven’t read all of Katsu’s previous works, but as a long-time lover for espionage fiction, I knew I had to read this as soon as I could. I’m very glad to report that it is an engaging, twisty espionage novel set in the halls of Langley and D.C. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Deleting Digits” by Oliver Langmead

LangmeadO-AuthorPicA confession: I don’t know how much a billion dollars is. Not really. Sure, I can write it down ($1,000,000,000), but that number doesn’t really mean much to me. I imagine that it gets even more meaningless the more zeroes you put on the end. I know how much a tin of beans costs, and I know how much my monthly rent is, but I would genuinely struggle to tell you the major differences between a millionaire and a billionaire, despite the staggering disparity between their relative fortunes (billionaires have more jet planes?).

Similarly: I don’t know how long a thousand years is. It’s beyond my ability to comprehend. When it’s written down as a figure (1000) it’s lovely and neat, and I know it’s a hundred decades, or ten centuries, or any amount of artful mathematical ways of putting it, but I struggle to imagine what living through a thousand years would actually be like; how that vast amount of time would feel. Neither can I effectively contain all the events that would happen during a span of a thousand years in my head. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Genre Mashups” by Tim Major

Perhaps all novels are genre mashups, in some sense. Or at least, any novel has several key influences circulating within it, informing its tone, the tendencies of its characters and the directions of its plot. Few romantic novels are exclusively about the mechanisms of two people becoming a couple. Few SF novels concern solely scientific concepts.

But the pitch for my novella Universal Language is more overt than most. It’s an SF murder mystery. I’ll be honest: it’s refreshing to be able to pitch one of my books in such simple terms. You like SF? You like murder mysteries? Come over and take a look! Continue reading

Upcoming: THE DESERT PRINCE by Peter V. Brett (Voyager/Del Rey)

PrettPV-1-DesertPrinceUKThis August, the highly-anticipated new novel by Peter V. Brett is due to arrive on shelves. The Desert Prince is set in the same world as his best-selling Demon Cycle series — only, 15 years later, and is the start of an as-yet-untitled new series. It’s UK and North American covers were unveiled recently, so I thought I’d share them here. If you haven’t yet had the chance to read any of Brett’s novels, then I’d highly recommend them: The Painted Man (UK)/The Warded Man (US) is one of the best fantasy debuts I’ve ever read.

Here’s the synopsis for The Desert Prince:

Fifteen years have passed since the end of the war with demons, creatures of darkness who have hunted the night and plagued humanity for time out of mind. The heroes of mankind’s hour of need have become legend, and those that remain struggle to escape their shadows.

Olive Paper and Darin Bales have grown up in this new, peaceful world. Demons have all but been destroyed, but dangers still lurk for the children of heroes.

PrettPV-1-DesertPrinceUSOlive, Princess of Hollow, has her entire life planned out by her mother, Duchess Leesha Paper. A steady march on a checklist to prepare her for succession. The more her mother writes the script, the more Olive rails against playing the parts her mother assigns.

Darin faces challenges of a different kind. Though free to choose his own path, the weight of legacy hangs heavy round his shoulders. It isn’t easy being the son of the man people say saved the world. Everyone expects greatness from Darin, but the only thing he’s ever been great at is hiding.

But when Olive and Darin step across the wards one night, they learn the demons are not all gone, and those that remain hunger for revenge. Events are set in motion that only Prophecy can foresee as Olive and Darin seek to find their own places in the world in time to save it again.

Peter V. Brett’s The Desert Prince is due to be published by Voyager in the UK and Del Rey in North America, on August 3rd, 2021.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Painted/Warded ManThe Great Bazaar & Brayan’s GoldThe Desert SpearThe Daylight War, and Messenger’s Legacy

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with G.R. MATTHEWS

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is G.R. Matthews?

That would be me. Hello!

I am a fantasy and sci-fi author who has written a number of books; some set in Ancient China (to try and express my love of martial arts movies from Gordon Liu to Donnie Yen), some set in the far future where we all struggle to exist under the ocean waves (Jack Reacher with more sarcasm, and water).

I live in Kent, in the United Kingdom where I also work in education – writing is a relief from the noise, stress, and pressure of that.

Your new novel, Seven Deaths of an Empire, is due to be published by Solaris in June. It looks really intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Seven Deaths of an Empire is at heart a story about loyalty, honour, and duty. How much does it cost to keep true to those ideals, to yourself? How much would you sacrifice?

Oh, and there are great big battles, small skirmishes, magic, and political double-dealing. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Writing During Lockdown” by Dan Coxon

CoxonD-AuthorPicUntil 8 April, Unsung Stories are crowdfunding a new anthology called Out of the Darkness. The theme of the anthology is mental health – with contributions from writers like Alison Moore, Jenn Ashworth, Tim Major, Aliya Whiteley and Simon Bestwick – and all royalties and my editor’s fees are being donated to charity Together for Mental Wellbeing. The Kickstarter campaign has meant that my attention has been turned towards mental health more than usual, and at the same time the topic is frequently in the news, as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are felt. Everyone has struggled to cope during the lockdowns, and often during the more ‘open’ periods in between, and writers are no exception.

When the first UK lockdown was announced in March 2020, I saw several comments online about all the free time we’d have – and in particular (given the circles I move in) the amount of time to write. The everyday distractions of the outside world would be behind lock and key, and we’d finally all have time to ourselves, to let our imaginations run riot and our pens (or keyboards) flow freely. We’d have so much time, so the supposition went, that there would be a flood of new novels and short stories once the lockdown was lifted. I almost believed it myself. Continue reading