Guest Post: “Love and Hate for 4x4s” by Jon Wallace

WallaceJ-AuthorPicFor those of us who navigate London by tube and bus, it can be easy to resent the city’s Range Rover drivers. The hulking black monstrosities are every bit as staggeringly inefficient a modern indulgence as the plastic water bottle, the sort of thing that makes us throw up our hands and ask: ‘have we all gone quite mad?’

For what good do they do driver or pedestrian? There are no mountains to conquer in London; no swamps or muddy tracks. They bloat beyond their parking paces. They burn through fuel and fume out our streets; and they draw the eye to our unequal distribution of wealth, almost as such as the ubiquitous chauffeured Black Mercedes.

Well, perhaps that’s the point; their presence on the tightly packed, jumble of central London streets could be a willfully calculated offense to those with shallower pockets. Bring on climate change, the drivers seem to say. Drown the riff raff, make it a swamp again, and let us dominate the surface alone! Continue reading


Excerpt: STEEPLE by Jon Wallace (Gollancz)

WallaceJ-2-SteepleUKThe second excerpt of the week (after Al Robertson’s Crashing Heaven). Published in the UK yesterday by Gollancz, Steeple is the sequel to Jon Wallace‘s well-received Barricade. Here’s the synopsis:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep meets The Raid in this high action SF thriller.

Another high action SF dystopia perfect for fans of Richard Morgan and Alfred Bester alike. The follow-up to the acclaimed Barricade this another short, sharp and kinetic SF thriller

Kenstibec is a Ficial – a genetically engineered artificial life form; tough, skilled, hard to kill. Or at least he was. He’s lost the nanotech that constantly repaired him. Life just got real. Just like it is for the few remaining humans in this blighted world – the Reals; locked in a fight over a ruined world with the Ficials they created to make Utopia.

And now Kenstibec must take a trip to the pinnicle of our failed civilisation. The Steeple is a one thousand storey tower that looms over the wreckage of London. It is worshipped, feared and haunted by attack droids and cannibals. And the location of a secret that just might save Kenstibec’s life.

The only way is up. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Writing Real Women” by Jon Wallace

WallaceJon-AuthorPicI reckon that one of the hardest things in the world, when you’re starting out as a writer, is when a friend critiques something you’ve written. You’ve put (what you regard) as a lot into it, you’re convinced it’s unparalleled genius, and when you meet to discuss your work you sit there confidently expecting praise.

Your friend normally starts off by giving you what you want: “I loved this, that bit was cool, I really enjoyed the way you did such and such”. You sit there, nod in agreement that it’s all great and think: Excellent, my skill is acknowledged. Then come the words:

“The only thing is…”

My longest standing and most trusted critic is my brother. Back when I started writing in my early teens it seemed natural to show him my stuff first, knowing him to be well read and of good taste. I think the first thing I shared was a script, the first in what I was sure would be a series of hot-listed blockbusters. I expected the elder Wallace would agree, but I was in for a shock: I can remember sitting in a pub garden, gleefully listening to him tell me what he liked, before the dreadful line came:

“The only thing is… you really can’t write women.”

It was as if he had smashed his pint glass and stabbed me in the gut – only much more painful. I can’t remember for sure, but I probably lost my temper.

Because friendly criticism stings much more than others. You respect and admire your friends’ opinions, and the chances are they’ll be right. Once I’d cooled down I read over the script again and saw what he meant: my female characters were either blanks, or saintly projections of whoever I happened to be in love with that week. Rarely were they believable. Rarely were they real.

WallaceJon-BlogTourBannerSince then, whenever I sat down to write, I had the brother’s criticism ringing in the ears. Each time I was determined to prove him wrong. And, as I left the awkward teenage years and came to realise that women are actually people, I got better at writing them. I worked hard to write believable, fleshed-out female characters.

Then, in my late twenties, I came to write Barricade: my first real attempt to write a complete novel: the perfect opportunity to showcase my improved skill at creating proper female characters.

Only something odd happened: I ended up doing the complete opposite. The lead female character, Starvie, is in many respects a construct of unrealistic male expectation and base desire. Why? Because she was designed that way.

To explain, in the story Starvie is a member of the “Ficial” race –engineered super humans who have been created to bring man back from the brink of extinction. They do so through “optimisation”: that is a process by which their minds and bodies are adapted for particular professions, whether engineering, mining or soldiering. Ficials were created to mitigate climate change, create clean energy, build great new cities and defend them. Their creator, Dr Leo Pander, certainly never intended them to be designed like Starvie – but when the Ficial industry was privatised, the Pleasure Models appeared: Ficials created to do nothing more than have a perfect appearance. Starvie’s model was a singer, a model and an actress, but most of all she was beautiful.

When I started writing her I was worried. Wasn’t writing her this way surrendering all the progress that I’d made over the years? Well, no, I don’t think so.

First, it made sense to me that the moment sales and marketing got involved in the Ficial project, some new models (both male and female) would be optimised by sex appeal and stereotype rather than usefulness.

Second, the more I wrote her, the more I liked her. Her speech was loosely modeled on noir femme-fatales, complementing the main character Kenstibec’s laconic, Chandler-esque delivery – giving her what I think are some great lines.

Third, she arguably has more going on inside than any other character in Barricade: Kenstibec, as an original, pre-privatisation model, has no emotions: they are burned out during the optimisation process, to create more efficient workers. Starvie, on the other hand, has her emotions left largely intact. She is also programmed to display a series of modeling ticks and gestures – to make her more desirable to human customers. As a Ficial she hates this about herself, and constantly struggles to contain these traits.

In the following books in the Barricade series I promise there are more Real women characters coming. In the meantime, Starvie’s character is a nice way to poke fun at the brother and his criticism, which has stayed with me all this time. I’ve got to get my own back some way, right?


Jon Wallace’s Barricade was published yesterday in the UK by Gollancz. It is part of their 2014 Debut eBook deal, and is just £1.99 until June 26th!

Be sure to follow Jon on Goodreads and Twitter.


Upcoming: Gollancz Debuts 2014

I’ve already featured Edward Cox’s upcoming debut, The Relic Guild, and Den Patrick’s The Boy With the Porcelain Blade, but I thought it would be good to take a quick look at Gollancz’s other 2014 debuts. All of the novels will be included in the £1.99 eBook promotion. So, in order of release, here are Gollancz’s other four 2014 debuts…

HuntS-FCS1-InDarkServiceUKStephen Hunt’s In Dark Service (May 15)

Carter has been kidnapped. Enslaved. But he’s determined to fight to the end.

Jacob is a pacifist. His family destroyed. He’s about to choose the path of violence to reclaim his son.

Their world has changed for ever. Between them, they’re going to avenge it.

Jacob Carnehan has settled down. He’s living a comfortable, quiet life, obeying the law and minding his own business while raising his son Carter… on those occasions when he isn’t having to bail him out of one scrape or another. His days of adventure are – thankfully – long behind him.

Carter Carnehan is going out of his mind with boredom. He’s bored by his humdrum life, frustrated that his father won’t live a little, and longs for the bright lights and excitement of anywhere-but-here. He’s longing for an opportunity to escape, and test himself against whatever the world has to offer.

Carter is going to get his opportunity. He’s caught up in a village fight, kidnapped by slavers and, before he knows it, is swept to another land. A lowly slave, surrounded by technology he doesn’t understand, his wish has come true: it’s him vs. the world. He can try to escape, he can try to lead his fellow slaves, or he can accept the inevitable and try to make the most of the short, brutal existence remaining to him.

… Unless Jacob gets to him first and, no matter the odds, he intends to. No one kidnaps his son and gets away with it – and if it come to it, he’ll force Kings to help him on his way, he’ll fight, steal, blackmail and betray his friends in the name of bringing Carter home.

Wars will be started. Empires will fall. And the Carnehan family will be reunited, one way or another…

I’ve never read anything by Stephen Hunt, but they’ve all sounded great – this is not his debut novel, just his Gollancz debut.


WallaceJ-BarricadeUKJon Wallace’s Barricade (June 19)

A kinetic, violent and hugely intelligent SF road thriller – a desperate journey through a ruined future world.

Kenstibec was genetically engineered to build a new world, but the apocalypse forced a career change. These days he drives a taxi instead.

A fast-paced, droll and disturbing novel, BARRICADE is a savage road trip across the dystopian landscape of post-apocalypse Britain; narrated by the cold-blooded yet magnetic antihero, Kenstibec.

Kenstibec is a member of the “Ficial” race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Originally optimised for construction, Kenstibec earns his keep as a taxi driver, running any Ficial who will pay from one surrounded city to another.

The trips are always eventful, but this will be his toughest yet. His fare is a narcissistic journalist who’s touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that’s just the start of his troubles.

On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race. He also finds time to uncover a terrible plot to destroy his species for good – and humanity too.

This sounds like a pretty cool SF novel.


Caltabiano-SeventhMissHatfieldUKAnna Caltabiano’s The Seventh Miss Hatfield (July 17)

A spellbinding debut from a hugely talented young author, featuring time-travel, 19th-century New York, unrequited love and a mysterious portrait…

Rebecca, a 15-year-old American, isn’t entirely happy with her life, comfortable though it is. Still, even she knows that she shouldn’t talk to strangers. So when her mysterious neighbour Miss Hatfield asked her in for a chat and a drink, Rebecca wasn’t entirely sure why she said yes. It was a decision that was to change everything.

For Miss Hatfield is immortal. And now, thanks to a drop of water from the Fountain of Youth, Rebecca is as well. But this gift might be more of a curse, and it comes with a price. Rebecca is beginning to lose her personality, to take on the aspects of her neighbour. She is becoming the next Miss Hatfield.

But before the process goes too far, Rebecca must travel back in time to turn-of-the-century New York and steal a painting, a picture which might provide a clue to the whereabouts of the source of immortality. A clue which must remain hidden from the world. In order to retrieve the painting, Rebecca must infiltrate a wealthy household, learn more about the head of the family, and find an opportunity to escape. Before her journey is through, she will also have – rather reluctantly – fallen in love. But how can she stay with the boy she cares for, when she must return to her own time before her time-travelling has a fatal effect on her body? And would she rather stay and die in love, or leave and live alone?

And who is the mysterious stranger who shadows her from place to place? A hunter for the secret of immortality – or someone who has already found it?

How cool is that cover GIF? I’m really intrigued by this novel. Sounds different, and should be a stand-out of the summer.


JacobsJH-IncorruptiblesUKJohn Hornor Jacobs’s The Incorruptibles (August 14)

On the edges of the Empire, life is hard – and men must be harder.

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky.

And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

I have been hearing a lot of great things about this novel. Can. Not. Wait to read it.