I was recently delighted to be granted an advance review copy of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds from netgalley.com and this is my spoiler free review of the book.
In a nutshell, this is a rollicking science fiction adventure yarn that left me wanting more.
Turn on the radio and take note of the first thing that is mentioned. Use it as the basis for either the start of a story or an entire story – whichever, it should be no more than 500 words. Imagine a character, someone who is central to what the story is about. Try to use clear, vivid language so that your reader can see the character. Use some of the characterisation techniques we have talked about so far.
The first thing I heard was an article about refugees and the response of French right-wing politicians to the Syrian refugee crisis. And so, this.
“Trying to picture the worst place for you to try to write can help you realise what your best venue might be
“Imagine two different venues for writing – one that seems most suited to you, and one that you would find bizarre or too difficult. Write a paragraph describing two writers at work, one in each of the venues”.
Review the notes you’ve collected in your notebook to find a character to develop further.
Pick a character. If you’ve collected, in your notebook, details about people you’ve spotted or spoken to during this week, pick one of these characters. Alternatively, you can pick one of the characters from the opening video.
Write a short character sketch – no more than 200 words – in which you concentrate on appearance and any particular mannerisms you noted.
You will come back to this later so save a copy on your computer or device. Read more…
I’ve signed up for a ‘Start Writing Fiction’ course with FutureLearn and the Open University. I’m going to be posting my exercises here for posterity.
This is my effort for the first exercise.
I really, really enjoyed this book. I received a review copy from Netgalley and then devoured it in a few hours of breathless reading. I liked it enough that on finishing it I immediately logged in to my Kobo account and bought all nine of the other books I could find by this author.
At its heart, Life or Death is a good old-fashioned crime thriller that reminded me of Richard North Patterson or John Grisham at their best. The plotting is very neatly done done, with the story unfolding in a series of neat and logical revelations that prove to be very satisfying by the end. Some might complain about the ‘luck’ and coincidence that ties the story together, but for me it was very fitting to the subject matter and never strained credulity past the breaking point.
I’m pleased to say that there was no evidence of characters acting stupidly to further the plot or to provide artificial tension or twists. While people act foolishly at times in the book,they do so in ways that are consistent with their characterisation, histories and circumstances.
A lot of crime thrillers seem to taper off towards the ending or introduce an artificial scene where the protagonist is endangered unnecessarily just to ramp up the tension in a fairly transparent way (I am so sick of authors writing scenes where the protagonist can’t reach their support network of police or other allies due to storms, phone problems, being suspected of being the murderer, and so on…) but Life or Death has an ending that is as satisfying as its beginning.
Finally, I really enjoyed the characters in this book. They all felt like living, breathing people with hopes, dreams, and fears, and the protagonist Audie Palmer is one of the most likeable fellows I’ve read about in recent memory. Even the villains are portrayed as more than thumbnail sketches of eeeeevil with their own motivations and rationalisations for their actions.
This book is highly recommended. Comparisons with Rita Hayworth and the The Shawshank Redemption are well-earned.
I received an Advance Review Copy of Slow Bullets from Netgalley and read it a few weeks ago (before devouring the sublimely wonderful Poseidon’s Children by the same author. If you haven’t read that and the rest of the series – Blue Remembered Earth and On The Steel Breeze you should do so immediately).
The publisher’s website describes this book thusly:
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.
On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.
Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.
My initial response to the book was one of disappointment, but only because I had been hoping for a novel rather than a novella. Once I got past that, I found Slow Bullets was a short, enjoyable read that managed to pack in a surprisingly large number of interesting ideas and concepts in a small amount of space. The Slow Bullets of the title are data storage devices that replace the function of dog-tags in this far-future setting, but they are only the most literal representation of the motif in this story.
Words, written for posterity; people who travel across interstellar distances at slower-than-light speeds and thus become displaced in time; these too are slow bullets fired through time.
Fans of Alastair Reynolds’ work will almost certainly enjoy Slow Bullets, but this would also be a good jumping on point for those who are new to the author. It isn’t set in one of his established settings and forms a self-contained and intriguing story that could well whet people’s appetites for more of his work.