Quick Review: CITY OF DEVILS by Paul French (Riverrun/Picador)

FrenchP-CityOfDevilsUKAn intriguing glimpse into Shanghai’s pre-war underworld

A spellbinding and dramatic account of Shanghai’s lawless 1930s and two of its most notorious criminals…

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made – and lost.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren — a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

Until City of Devils, I had only read Paul French’s shorter books on Asia — mainly on early 20th Century China, but also an excellent short book about Kim Jong-un. In City of Devils, French turns his attention to the criminal underworld of Shanghai in the 1930s, and two foreigners who managed to turn certain sectors of the city into their own private kingdoms. It’s a fascinating look at extraterritoriality, Westerners’ fascination with China, and their willingness to take advantage of their hosts. Continue reading

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Interview with CHRISTOPHER RUOCCHIO

RuocchioC-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Christopher Ruocchio?

I am the author of Empire of Silence, a new space opera/epic fantasy out in July. I am also the Assistant Editor for Baen Books, where I have edited the military SF anthology Star Destroyers and the upcoming Space Pioneers. I sold my first novel — this novel — at age 22. I graduated from North Carolina State University, where I studied English Rhetoric and Classics. I am a boxer, and former fencer, and the owner of half a suit of replica first century Roman armor. I worked as a waiter for seven years, during which time I wrote and paid my way through college at the expense of any sort of social life. I remain an enthusiastic student, and am blessed with what I consider the world’s greatest family, a lovely girlfriend, and better friends than one of my stormy disposition perhaps deserves. Continue reading

Music Recommendation: NOTHING MORE

NothingMore-TheStoriesWeTellOurselvesRecently, I feel like I’ve become rather unadventurous in my music taste. There are a handful of bands whose albums I will always buy — for example, In Flames, Trivium, Within Temptation, Five Finger Death Punch, Asking Alexandria, and Sia — regardless of whether or not I don’t find the albums particularly compelling (I realized recently, for rather random reasons, that 2011 was a bad year for some of my favourite bands). In this respect, I adhered to Chuck Klosterman‘s truism that music fans (apparently especially men) “have a weird sense of loyalty toward the bands they like; they sometimes view record buying as a responsibility,” regardless of  the quality of the album.

Few bands, however, have recently had such an immediate impact on my listening habits than Nothing More. Earlier this year, I stumbled across the video for the band’s “Don’t Stop” (below), and I haven’t been the same since. That’s a rather grand statement, to be sure, but the band’s latest album The Stories We Tell Ourselves is phenomenally good. I’ve since gone back and picked up their previous albums, as well. Continue reading

Music: “Alone in a Room” by Asking Alexandria (Sumerian Records)

Just wanted to share the latest music video from Asking Alexandria, one of my favourite bands. Taken from their latest, eponymous album, it’s also one of their best songs. Just an all-round fantastic band. Could listen to their latest album and From Death to Destiny any day of the week and still love them.

Follow the Band: Website, Twitter

Quick Q&A with PATRICK S. TOMLINSON

TomlinsonP-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Patrick Tomlinson?

Author, comic, provocateur, husband, kind of an ass.

Your new novel, Gate Crashers, was just published by Tor Books. It looks rather fun: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

First Contact meets Armageddon and hilarity ensues.

Is it part of a series?

It’s part of a universe at the very least. Tor’s bought three books at a minimum, although I have ideas for half a dozen or more. The sequel, Starship Repo, is already written and turned in. Each book will have commonality with the events of the larger universe, which we’re calling The Breach, but the intention is to have each book be a new jumping off point for readers and stand-alone to a large degree. Think Terry Prachett’s Discworld books. Like that. Continue reading

Interview with WILLIAM MARTIN

MartinW-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is William Martin?

A guy who has been writing stories for forty years, since I left the USC Film School. And I’ve been very lucky. After a few screenplays, my first novel made the New York Times Best Seller list, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s now eleven novels, and counting, a PBS Documentary on the life of George Washington, book reviews, essays, and a cult classic horror film, too.

Your latest novel, Bound For Gold, will be published by published on July 3rd by Forge. The latest book in your Peter Fallon series, how would you introduce the novel and series to a potential reader?

History meets mystery, in a grand intermarriage of past and present. It’s about the California Gold Rush, one of the seminal moments in American history, when anyone could get rich if he was lucky enough, unless he was Chinese or Mexican. Those people, of course, faced the kinds of prejudices that have always boiled over wherever men of different races meet. And they boil over in the book. Continue reading

Guest Post: An Annotated Chapter of RAVENCRY by Ed McDonald (Gollancz/Ace)

McDonaldE-AuthorPicWhen I was asked to provide a first chapter critique of my own book, I thought that this was an excellent way to explain the way that my own writing craft works, and to point out the level of complexity that comes into play through many rounds of editing.

I think that I have to stress that the first chapter did not look like this at the end of the first draft. So many of the details, the events, even the character of Levan Ost, all changed multiple times during the editing process. These were the details and events that remained when the dust settled.

Throughout this text I’ve interrupted the narrative to point out why I made particular decisions. Everything in this chapter is a conscious choice, and hopefully I’ve been able to explain why I made some of them. Writing is a deeply personal and individual craft and no two people’s are the same. These were the right choices for me.

It should be noted that although there are no direct spoilers in my commentary, if you’ve not read RAVENCRY yet, then I will be pointing out particular details that are specifically of interest later in the book.

Continue reading