Interview with TOM TONER

TonerT-AuthorPic2Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Tom Toner?

Hello again! Thanks for having me. Tom Toner is the author of the Amaranthine Spectrum, an epic space opera/science fantasy series set 12,500 years in the future.

Your next novel, The Tropic of Eternity, will be published in July. It’s the third novel in your Amaranthine Spectrum series. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader, and what can fans of the first books expect from this instalment?

Time to remember the old elevator pitch… The Amaranthine Spectrum — beginning with 2015’s The Promise of the Child — sets its tale in the 147th century Mediterranean, following the misadventures of Lycaste, a shy, giant species of evolved human and his journey into the Amaranthine Firmament, the 23 surrounding stars controlled by the last remnants of immortal humanity. In between we get to see all sorts of odd beasties and MacGuffins, from singing sea monsters to paper fortresses and tin spaceships. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Building the Polity” by Neal Asher

Building the Polity was a gradual process for me that started back in the 80s when, searching for somewhere, anywhere to get something published, I discovered the small presses. These were mostly A5 chapbooks (though some were larger) published from someone’s home and with a readership of no more than a couple of hundred. My interest was SFF so I ordered anything related and read it. I discovered that most of the stories were science fiction whereas before I’d been working on a fantasy trilogy, which now still resides in my files.

So science fiction… Even the fantasy I was working on leaned more in that direction anyway – I was more inclined towards the logical consistency you find in SF while the supposed fantasy elements were technological – super-science. I started off with a story about a man whose cryogenically frozen brain tissue was used to run the body of a cyborg player in a game similar to American football. He was then used as a disposable asset to kill off some revolutionaries. The story was called “Another England” and was published in a magazine called Back Brain Recluse in 1989. However there was very little of the Polity there. Continue reading

Interview with TOM TONER

TonerT-PromiseOfTheChildUKLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Tom Toner?

Hello! Tom Toner is a 29 year-old debut novelist from Somerset with a very patchy beard. Thanks very much for having me.

Your debut novel, The Promise of the Child, is published by Gollancz. It’s already generating quite a bit of attention and praise: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The Promise of the Child is the first of a six part series called the Amaranthine Spectrum. It’s set in the closing years of the 147th century, over twelve and half thousand years from now, and I suppose you could call it an epic blend of space opera and fantasy. The book has a huge cast of characters, very few of them human in the traditional sense: on the Old World giants live in paper fortresses and singing sea monsters haunt the coasts, while up in the stars of the magisterial Firmament the remains of immortal mankind are slowly going mad. The Promise of the Child has a lived-in, antiquated feel: pure fantasy on one hand and the most ridiculous and frenetic of space operas on the other. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE PROMISE OF THE CHILD by Tom Toner

Today, Barnes & Noble’s sci-fi/fantasy blog hosted a cover reveal (and guest post) for Tom Toner‘s upcoming debut, The Promise of the Child, which Night Shade Books will be publishing in September in the US. The novel, which is the first volume in the Amaranthine Sequence, is also due to be published in the UK by Gollancz. The two publishers have gone for similar cover designs, but taken different approaches to the synopsis. So, I thought I’d do another UK-vs.-US comparison posts.

TonerT-PromiseOfTheChildUKFirst (because they revealed first a while ago), here’s the UK cover and synopsis:

In the far future man has spread out into the galaxy. And diversified. Some have evolved physically into strange new forms, some have become immortal. Some hark back to the old ways. We have built a glorious new future. One that stretches from the sleepy Old World, to new terraformed planets and Dyson spheres built around artificial suns. For as long as we can remember (and some have lived 12,000 years) we have delighted in a rich new existence. Yes there have been wars but we are content in our splendour. Art is revered, life is easy, death forgotten for many. But now there are rumours of a bid to oust the Emperor and a worrying story that our history is not as we remember it — not only man left Earth…

TonerT-AS1-PromiseOfTheChildUSAnd here’s the more colourful US cover and more-descriptive/-detailed synopsis:

It is the 147th century.

In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man.

In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.

Lycaste, a lovesick recluse outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.

Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.

Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament — the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.

From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.

New Books (February #2)


Featuring: Nick Aires, Jesse Armstrong, David Baldacci, Adam Christopher, Sebastien de Castell, David Downing, Mark Andrew Ferguson, Matthew Glass, Daryl Gregory, Austin Grossman, Randy Henderson, Antonia Honeywell, Kameron Hurley, Ben Kane, Dennis Lehane, Evie Manieri, D.J. Molles, Benjamin Percy, Tamora Pierce, Christopher Reich, Loren Rhoads, Anthony Ryan, V.E. Schwab, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Simon K. Unsworth, Jen Williams, Jonathan Wood Continue reading

“Cataveiro” by E.J. Swift (Del Rey UK)

Reviewed by H.

SwiftEJ-2-CataveiroUKSwift nimbly avoids the sophomore slump, with another solid novel.

A shipwreck.

And one lone survivor.

For political exile Taeo Ybanez, this could be his ticket home. Relations between the Antarcticans and the Patagonians are worse than ever, and to be caught on the wrong side could prove deadly.

For pilot and cartographer Ramona Callejas, the presence of the mysterious stranger is one more thing in the way of her saving her mother from a deadly disease.

All roads lead to Cataveiro, the city of fate and fortune, where their destinies will become intertwined and their futures cemented for ever…

Cataveiro is the sequel to Swift’s beautifully-written debut, Osiris. Continuing the story of the world, this is a very good follow up, improving on the first in pretty much every way.

The story at first felt rather disconnected to the events of the series opener. This was somewhat frustrating, given how much I enjoyed reading Vikram’s and Adelaide’s story. This does mean that it would probably not be too difficult for a new reader to start here (although, given the quality of Osiris, I would still recommend you read that, too). The many new ideas, locales, and characters made Cataveiro feel like a new beginning. The lack of any form of lengthy recap for the events of the first book, perhaps even suggest that Osiris is unnecessary. An odd decision, but it works. The fact that Vikram remained rather peripheral to the story, for the most part, was also a little disappointing to begin with. The more I read, though, the more invested I became in the new protagonists and their stories.

The author’s prose is as good as before (in fact, better), and the story does a great job of building the readers’ image of this future. It’s difficult to not be impressed by the world-building. Swift offers an engaging explanation of how the “land” world works, and offers commentary on the old ways that led to the environmental disasters that gave rise to this somewhat devastated world. Cataveiro also introduces us to two new characters. Both of them – Ramona and Taeo – are well-realised on the page, and develop nicely over the course of the novel. They are engaging guides to this part of the world.

Overall, Swift has produced another beautifully-written novel. There’s no doubt, also, that Cataveiro is a better novel than Osiris. The pacing is still relatively slow – this is something I struggled with when reading Osiris, and probably my only real criticism of Swift’s debut. The author has addressed this, here, though, making this a much more satisfying, fluid read. Nevertheless, the world, commentary, characters and – above all – story are interesting and engaging enough to keep us reading until the end. Fans of the first novel should definitely take to this sequel, although I’d be surprised if many weren’t similarly thrown by the apparent disregard of the events in Osiris. I’m certainly intrigued to see what happens in the final volume of the trilogy.

Cataveiro – and Osiris – might not be for all sci-fi fans, but there’s no doubt that Swift is a very talented writer, who is honing her craft wonderfully (in these two novels and also her shorter fiction). I expect she will very soon become a real force to be reckoned with. Definitely an author to watch. If you enjoy beautifully-written, literary science fiction, with less focus on being an action-packed blockbuster, then The Osiris Project is a must read.

Also on CR: Interview with E.J. Swift


For more on Swift’s writing and novels, be sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and visit her Website.

Guest Post: “Inspiration in Translation” by E.J. Swift

SwiftEJ-AuthorPic2The second book in my Osiris Project trilogy, Cataveiro, moves the action from an ocean city cut off from the rest of the world, to a South American continent which has been radically altered by climate change. I’ve always been drawn by the beauty of the South American landscape, but in writing Cataveiro I also wanted to explore something of the continent’s literary heritage. For inspiration, and in the hope that some of their flair might rub off, I started reading Latin American writers in translation.

The obvious place to start was with magical realism, although I was interested to discover a podcast on Latin American literature debating a move away from the form. I’d previously read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but while I admired the novel greatly, Marquez turned out to be my least favourite of the writers I discovered.

One of the first books I read was by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. Last Evenings On Earth is a darkly satirical collection of stories, and proved a good place to start as an introduction to Bolaño’s work. His prose is effortless, clean as a knife, and stylistically, he seems to get away with things that on paper should never work. I’ve only just got round to the book generally acknowledged as his masterpiece, 2666, but already I’m lost in admiration over the seamless weaving of characters and their internal and external narratives.


Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial has proved another favourite: a gorgeous work of fantasy which charters ‘The Greatest Empire That Never Was’ in a series of tales delivered through the classic frame of the story-teller. One of my favourite chapters tells the story of one of the empire’s cities, capturing centuries of history in sinuous, evocative prose. In the final chapter, stories offered by the characters during a caravan crossing of the desert are punctuated with gloriously bizarre riffs on everything from the rise of Hollywood studios to the Beatles.

Nine Nights by Bernard Cavalho is part memoir, part imagined history, in which the author becomes obsessed with an American ethnologist who committed suicide in the Amazon jungle in 1939. Dreamy and mysterious, you never quite know where you are with this narrator. Equally tricksy is the protagonist of Chico Buarque’s Budapest, a Brazilian ghost writer who becomes obsessed with the Hungarian language. This is a beautiful poem of a book where the narrative works like a series of mirrors, illuminating and reflecting back on itself.

I dipped into Borges with Dreamtigers – a collection which is half poetry, half reflection – and Silvina Ocampo’s The Topless Tower, a contemporary of Borges and another prolific writer of the fantastic. Lygia Fagundes Telles’s vividly told The Girl in the Photograph deploys a complex, demanding narrative as it follows the intertwining stories of three young women.

This was only a small sample of the writers I would have liked to read, and there are many more whose work wasn’t available in English. I’d love to read Rachel de Queiroz, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Andrea del Fuego, three recommendations whose work I couldn’t find a translation. What other writers in translation (Spanish/Portuguese speaking or otherwise!) would you recommend, and which are on your to-read list?


E. J. Swift is the author of Osiris and Cataveiro, the first two volumes in The Osiris Project trilogy – published in the UK by Del Rey UK, and in the US by Night Shade Books. Her short fiction has been published in Interzone magazine, and appears in anthologies including The Best British Fiction 2013 and Pandemonium: The Lowest Heaven. She is shortlisted for a 2013 BFSA Award in the short fiction category for her story Saga’s Children.


Guest Post: “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Tell Story” by Jonathan Wood

JonathanWood2When videogames first appeared, they really were games. There were victory conditions to meet, puzzles to solve, opponents to outwit. You could win. But then somewhere along the way, story snuck in, and videogames changed. You were no longer simply trying to win, instead you were struggling to get to the end, to complete the narrative.

Back when I was in college, I watched my friend play Final Fantasy VII. There was a group of us. We’d make an evening of it, gather round as my friend loaded the disc, pour some drinks, and watch what happened next to Cloud, Yuna, Barrett, and the rest of the gang.

Final Fantasy was the first videogame story that really grabbed me. It was epic, operatic, sprawling through twists and turns, through a mythology that was utterly alien to me. The next two games in the franchise were stutter steps for me, but Final Fantasy X held me in its grip once more, as I hastily fumbled through sections of gameplay to get to the next installment of the story.


I started trying to write my first novel shortly after finishing Final Fantasy X. I knew I didn’t want to write a traditional, Western fantasy. Elves and dwarfs did little for me. Instead, I remembered the fresh mythology I’d seen in the Final Fantasy games — summoning towering spirits, battling titanic monsters… I remembered that sense of the new. Turning a corner in the game and having my jaw hang at a glowing vista, at an aerial battle, an intimate scene in the glow of a phosphorescent tree… That inspiration drove the novel. It filled page after page with words.

The rather unfortunate end to this story is that the novel stunk. It was a first novel. These things happen. But it wasn’t the last time a videogame has inspired me.

Videogames are not often known for their literary ambition. It’s a situation that’s starting to change, but only slowly. There is often an uneven truce between story and gameplay, one trying to drive the desire for the other. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons a writer can learn.


My personal videogame obsession is the Mass Effect series. There are moments of magnificent storytelling in the game. The pinnacle for me comes in the first game. You must choose which of two shipmates you will save. On the surface it’s a standard life-and-death question, but due to hours of careful characterization, it goes deeper than that. It’s about loyalty, friendship, morality, and love. It’s about the person you want to be playing this game. It is a very personal set of character stakes brought to a towering crescendo.

I write a series. I can’t kill my main character. That’s off the table. But Mass Effect taught me that that doesn’t have to lower the stakes. Rather, I force my protagonist to make these kinds of choices. Who is he going to decide to be? Far worse than dying can be the things we are forced to live with.

The Witcher is another popular RPG series that puts a strong emphasis on storytelling. The focus is on the character Geralt, a monster-killing badass fueled by magic and drugs. On the surface Geralt is everything you could want a hero to be, competent, slick, and cold as a sharp steel blade. The games are everything I want them to be. And yet, I’ve never completed one.

TheWitcher-GameThe problem is, I don’t like Geralt. As competent as he is, nothing is ever done to make me actually feel for him. I am simply thrown into his skin and told to go forth and kick righteous ass. It feels hollow.

Readers like characters to be competent. But that’s not enough on its own. That’s what The Witcher taught me. To make sure there’s something human in my characters to hold on to. A sense of humor, a love of cats, an inability to bite ones tongue. We like characters for their qualities, but we fall in love with them for their flaws.

Writers are encouraged to read, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that advice. In fact, I think it’s critically important. But I also wouldn’t say that books are the only storytelling medium that writers should pay attention to. I wouldn’t even limit it to books and videogames. Movies, newspapers, conversations around the dinner table. The world is full of stories, and each one contains a lesson. And if we choose to learn them from videogames, we even can do it while stabbing monsters in the face.


Jonathan Wood is the author of NO HERO and YESTERDAY’S HERO, first published by Night Shade Books, but coming later this year from Titan Books (March and September). A third novel in the series, ANTI HERO, is due to be published in March 2015. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Goodreads for news, etc.


Upcoming: “No Hero”, “Yesterday’s Hero” and “Anti Hero” by Jonathan Wood (Titan)

Wait, the first two of those books have already been published, right…? Well, yes. Now, though, they are going to be published by a better publisher with better distribution and better artwork. This series made a bit of a splash when No Hero first appeared in 2011. Since then, Wood’s original publisher (Night Shade Books) has experienced a number of… troubles. But fans of the series – existing and prospective – have nothing to fear, for Titan Books has recently acquired publishing rights for the Arthur Wallace series! Here are the details of the three books (thus far):

WoodJ-1-NoHero2NO HERO

“What would Kurt Russell do?”

Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace asks himself that question a lot. Because Arthur is no hero. He’s a good cop, but prefers that action and heroics remain on the screen, safely performed by professionals. But then, secretive government agency MI37 comes calling, hoping to recruit Arthur in their struggle against the tentacled horrors from another dimension known as the Progeny. But Arthur is NO HERO!

Can an everyman stand against sanity-ripping cosmic horrors?

No Hero is due to be published in March 2014.

WoodJ-2-YesterdaysHero2YESTERDAY’S HERO

Another day. Another zombie T-Rex to put down. All part of the routine for Arthur Wallace and MI37 — the British government department devoted to defending Britain from threats magical, supernatural, extraterrestrial, and generally odd.

Except a zombie T-Rex is only the first of the problems about to trample, slavering and roaring, through Arthur’s life. Before he can say, “but didn’t I save the world yesterday?” a new co-director at MI37 is threatening his job, middle-aged Russian cyborg wizards are threatening his life, and his co-workers’ are threatening his sanity.

As Arthur struggles to unravel a plot to re-enact the Chernobyl disaster in England’s capital, he must not only battle foreign wizards but also struggle to keep the trust of his team. Events spiral out of control, friendships fray, and loyalties are tested to their breaking point.

Yesterday’s Hero is due to be published in September 2014.


What do you do when your best friend becomes a supervillain?

Agent Arthur Wallace is used to dealing with danger that is extraterrestrial, supernatural, or generally odd. But when a drone-strike interrupts his best friend’s funeral, it becomes clear that his next assignment is going to be stranger than usual. When it turns out that the drone was hijacked by a rogue, digital version of that friend… well then nothing is clear to Arthur any more.

Now the man Arthur counted on most is set on destroying humanity in a grand scheme to save the natural world. And the CIA is set on destroying that man. And Arthur can’t work out who the hero is any more. But he has to work out the all the answers fast, because now he’s staring into the bloody maw of the zombpocalypse itself.

Anti Hero, which has not been available before (to my knowledge), is due to hit shelves in March 2015. I’ll be sure to share the artwork as soon as I spot it.

Also on CR: Interview with Jonathan Wood, Guest Post on Living With Consequences

Guest Post: “And the World Turned Gray: Gritty vs. Classic Heroes” by Kameron Hurley

KameronHurley-AuthorPicKameron Hurley is an award-winning writer and freelance copywriter who grew up in Washington State. She is the author of the book God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture, and her short fiction has appeared in magazines such Lightspeed, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest Heaven and Year’s Best SF.

Also on CR: Review of God’s War


Peake-GormenghastI’ll sometimes hear folks musing about where the “gritty” hero came from. And though you’ll get a lot of knee-jerk responses of the “Well, it’s a reaction to traditional goody-goody heroes,” I’d argue, in fact, that gritty, unlikeable heroes have been around a lot longer than you’d think. Gormenghast wasn’t exactly full of heroes. It was full of idiots and backstabbers. We just didn’t celebrate them. They were funny.

Oh, sure, what littered the shelves as I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s were indeed mostly traditional sorts, I suppose. But there were notable exceptions – Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger, Mary Gentle’s Ash, and let’s face it, you know, Conan wasn’t a sweetheart fun dude.

Hobb-1-AssasinsApprenticeUKBut the hero who broke all the rules – who didn’t really save the world, who didn’t get the girl that tore me up the most – was Fitz in Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. I’d argue Hobb’s semi-tragic hero, who did not slay the dragon or win a kingdom (even Joe Abercrombie’s characters sometimes win a kingdom) or run off with the love of their life, was among the first to start the shift toward a hero who was a bit more gray, a bit more complex, and whose end was a lot less predictable than most. Fitz was the Catalyst. He was the person great events moved around. He was not the active agent. Only the spark.

In truth, on looking at a lot of fantasy heroes and heroines of the past, what I found had changed most between, say 1970 and 2004 wasn’t the level of grit or gritty. After all, there was a lot of dark, messed up stuff going on in the New Wave (The Stars My Destination, for a brief departure into SF-land, was hardly full of nice people). Instead, what changed was this idea that the good guys were always going to win. That the Big Bad would be defeated. So you got heroes like Fitz, and KJ Bishop’s war-wrecked veterans, who, it could be argued, often did more harm than good. Maureen McHugh writes complex characters whose endings always tend to be ambiguous, sort of non-endings, more abrupt halts than tying up all the loose ends.

What we’re falling in love with, over time, isn’t necessarily the grittiest jerk with a sword – we had Conan for that. What began to happen is that we craved more complexity in our stories. And with complexity comes a good deal of ugliness. The bad guys sometimes win. Sometimes it’s not even clear who the bad guys are. Oh, sure, folks wrote dark, complex fiction prior to when the term “grimdark” popped up, but grimdark – tragedy, complexity, brutality – of this type has been especially sought after from the early 2000’s. Just as New Weird started becoming a Named Thing, the dark fantasy writers were beginning to get more attention, too.

ME3_Cover_ArtIt’s been interesting to watch video games go through this same tilt toward the more complex, the tragic. I sobbed my way through Mass Effect 3, while the galaxy was being destroyed around me. And… I found it deeply cathartic. But… why? What are these complex stories giving me that fluffier, more comfortable stuff isn’t?

I’d argue this love of the grim and complex isn’t just about the maturity of an art form, but a reflection of the times we live in. The United States has been at constant war since 2001. That’s thirteen years of war. That kind of war – even one conducted on far shores, and brutally ignored in our media – seeps into everything. The world looks a lot more complex when you’re fighting in residential areas and sending drones to blow up wedding parties, doesn’t it?

Our fiction, the stories we were interested in, changed too. Because war gets into your bones. Veterans come home. The war they fought not only affects them, but everyone around them. It bleeds into everything.

And that seepage is nothing compared to the grim reality faced by those whose countries we waged war in.

So when people tell me that the rise of gritty, complex fiction is a reaction against traditional heroes, or something only aliened teen boys read, I can’t help but sigh. Because I’m seeing the desire for grim stories from another angle. From the position of a people who perpetuate violence on others but have very little experience of violence. People struggling to figure out who the good guy is, because, increasingly, as they look in the mirror they realize that it isn’t as clear as it once we.

We look for ourselves in our stories. It’s how we make sense of the world.

The gritty and traditional heroes are products of their times. We used to believe we were right. We’d always win. The world was black and white. As the world is split wide open with greater access to information and instant communication, many are waking up to that fact.

It’s the gray heroes we see – the ones who don’t always win. The ones who bring more war than peace. Who solve disagreements with brutality. With force. And fear. And fault.

We see ourselves.

And we’re not traditional heroes.


Kameron’s God’s War, Infidel and Rapture are published by Night Shade Books in the US and Del Rey in the UK (only God’s War has been released so far in the UK).


US Covers


UK Cover (Paperback) for God’s War