Review: Great Sky River, by Gegory Benford

Benford is one of the SF greats and Great Sky River one of his great books. As an act of imagination it’s a triumph, as a piece of storytelling and writing it is by turns soaring, lyrical, and poetic. And sometimes it falls a bit flat on its face. That’s OK because in the main Great Sky River works very well and the failings are because Benford seems to be pushing his considerable talents as a writer to the limit – and those sorts of failings you can easily forgive.

So sometimes he over-indulges himself with explanation, and sometimes he doesn’t quite break free of the preconceptions of his own era. As a result the narrative can meander or jerk in a few places. On the other hand his views of machine intelligence, its struggle and failure to understand organic life and the catastrophic consequences that result, all told through the story and characters of this bold novel, are as thoughtful and profound as anything you’ll find in fiction.

It’s his gifts as a writer, his empathy with the human condition and universe-building that make me think of him as a kind of Ian Banks of his era. Except in Benford’s universe humanity lives in no perfect culture. The glory days have long gone, mankind is flat on its face and struggling to rise again. Still bold and brave, still striving to understand, broken, bloody, and in its beaten and bested way still magnificent.

Friday Flash – Get With The Program

Cervelaf sprawled on his mossy woodland throne. An empty tankard dangled from one finger, his great antlered head lolled.

The doe-woman, Devnet, emerged from the forest edge, bow in hand. Graceful as ever, she crossed the clearing and bowed before Cervelaf. ‘The Marasmus has returned.’

Blood surged through Cervelaf’s heart. At last! He leapt to his feet, seized his hunting horn and gave three blasts.

Echoes of the horn faded among the trees. Cervelaf drove his fist into his palm and paced the clearing.  Boar-warriors, fox-people and collared men gathered around.

It was time to hunt.

~

Number 14 in the ‘Beyond the Streets‘ sequence.

Friday Flash – On The Beach

On the Beach

The north paddock was waterlogged. McAndrews studied Thea’s letter then walked her to the south side of the village. That runway was in no better condition.

‘When will this weather break?’ Thea said, frustrated. Hastily she added, ‘Sir.’

McAndrews shrugged at the slate-grey sky, filled his pipe, tamped and lit it, and took a few mournful puffs.

High above the clouds lay the blue vault of the sky, brilliant sunshine – and the reason for Thea’s existence.

‘Why have they posted me here if there’s nothing to do?’ Thea said.

McAndrews gave a wry smile. ‘Well spotted, captain.’

~

This is #13 in the ‘Beyond the Streets‘ sequence.

Book launch! Shopocalypse!! Free Beer!!!

A last shout-out about the launch party for Shopocalypse.(not that I haven’t mentioned this a bazillion times)

Wednesday, 9th October, 18:30, upstairs at the Two Chairmen, 1 Warwick House Street, SW1Y 5AT. (Just off Trafalgar Square.)

Hope you can make it! I’m really looking forwards to seeing you there.

——

“Dave Gullen’s debut novel is huge, enthralling, packed with bold ideas and genre-shattering extrapolations. And his characters get so deep inside your head you’re still arguing with them days later. Seriously, you need this book.” – Mike Carey

“Global warming has really begun to bite, but human consumption of resources has become more frantic than ever in this clever, dark and often very funny satire on rapacious capitalism.” – Chris Beckett

“A sharp and witty take on the perils of consumerism. To be honest, it was fairly terrifying — very believable.” – Francis Knight

“Subversive. Hilarious. Touching. Brilliant.” – Jaine Fenn

—-

Mermaid Rescue

Last weekend we were visiting friends over in New Cross Gate and saw this delightful thing. DSCN3581

 

We both fell in love with her straight away (this always happens when you see a mermaid). DSCN3586

 

 

It was also obvious she needed rescuing, and also obvious fate had drawn us to her for that very purpose.

 

.Obviously.

 

DSCN3584

 

 

 

We’re still not sure what her name. Perhaps you know?

 

 

 

~

Friday Flash – Ellen’s Prognosis

Ellen’s Prognosis

The deck rolled in the swell under Tremayne’s feet, the wind fresh on the port quarter

Cargo ships ploughed along the coast in steady procession. Their dark hulls low in the water, laden with whatever burdens they carried, they showed running lights only.

Last night a pleasure cruiser rounded the headland in the other direction. Coloured lanterns swung from the rigging, every porthole shone like a full moon. Carefree laughter floated on the onshore breeze.

Tremayne cast off. He swung the wheel, sails snapped taut, Blowzabella’s bows pointed to the blue wide horizon. Neither route was his way.

~

This is #13 in the ‘Beyond the Streets‘ sequence.

Audio narration available here.

Interview – Bristol Literature Festival

Here’s my recent interview with Sophie Davies of the Bristol Festival of Literature. I’m on of the authors involved in the Kraken Rises open story-writing event, which should be a lot of fun.

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1. First of all, we’re massively looking forward to having you at the Bristol Festival of Literature… Tell us about what you’re going to bring to the Kraken event? 

Thank you. I’m really quite excited about being at the Festival. Kraken Rises is a great idea, it’s been fun so far and the day itself will be filled energy and fun. It’s flash-mob fiction, collaboration and invention combined, deliberately bringing together the sources of inspiration that usually are spread across time and space to hot-house an anthology. I’m looking forwards to meeting everyone who will be exploring the strange alternative Bristol we’ve invented, or simply discovered seeping from our dreams and find in the shadowed angles and corners of the streets and buildings as the city itself remembers and is changed by things the inhabitants have long forgotten.

2. Is there anybody else that you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?

Yes, absolutely. It’s always great to meet new people, and of course there will be a few friends I haven’t seen for a while. As for events, I’m really hoping I can make Nick Rawlinson’s audio master class.

3. What do you get up to when you’re not at the Bristol Festival of Literature

I work 3 days a week in IT Technical Support, and write for much of the rest of the time. My SF novel, ‘Shopocalypse’ has just been released, I’ve an anthology due out in November, and I’m coming to the end of the first draft of a sweeping modern fantasy adventure – so I’m keeping pretty busy. Recently I’ve also been learning and experimenting with spoken word on Youtube. I’m also just restarting my leatherwork – I used to make costume, armour, and accessories for live-action gamers. I had to stop when my father became ill.  I’ve realised I really miss working with my hands. I also garden a lot, grow tree ferns (they make excellent pets) and at the moment watch an awful lot of Farscape.

4. Who’s your favourite writer and why?

Writers whose work I really enjoy at the moment are Chris Beckett (Dark Eden, Holy Machine), and Mike, Lin & Louise Carey for their City of Silk and Steel. These are all extraordinary books, filled with imagination and humanity, and hugely enjoyable.  I grew up reading a vast amount, mainly SG and Fantasy. These days I also read a lot of non-fiction – history and autobiography of less well-known people and their lives. Two of the later are Beryl Markham’s ‘West with the Night’ is an amazing story of childhood in Africa and the pioneering adventures of an early aviatrix. Greg French’s ‘Frog Call’ is nominally about fishing in Tasmania and is anything but – mythic, spooky and uplifting.

Jack Vance and JG Ballard are probably the writers who have had the most enduring influence with their body of work. I wouldn’t say I try to emulate them, but I love to read their books. Vance’s style and imagination are unique – and so is Ballard’s voice, his darkly suspicious view of human nature, as if he stood in a different place and saw things askew.

5. Any advice for aspiring writers?

There’s endless amounts of advice available from many places. You need to find your own methods and techniques. I can recommend Dwight V Swain’s ‘Techniques for the Selling Writer‘ as a practical pragmatic book on nuts and bolts writing.  Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey makes a good contrast with its emphasis on mythic structures. My own advice?

  1. Writers write
  2. Finish what you start
  3. Write for yourself
  4. Focus on process not production

~

I’ll also be back in Bristol the weekend after, taking part in BristolCon. Maybe I’ll see you there?

~

Friday Flash – Mother is Late

Mother is Late

At a time like this. On days like this. Gehena peered down the empty street then stepped away from the window. The thin curtain fell into place. Gehena subsided into her chair hunched with worry.

Shadows swung slowly across the room. At long last Gehena heard the key scrape in the lock. She sprang to her feet, ‘Where have you been?’

Her brother sagged against the door frame, exhausted. Behind him the growing cone loomed over the quiet city. He tossed the package onto the floor, ‘There was another fight. I’m sick. You have to leave. Now.’

~

This is #12 in the ‘Beyond the Streets‘ sequence.

Audio narration will be here soon.

Friday Flash – Mexico

Mexico

‘Ready, my Lord?’

It was Lord Ustral now. That was less of a laugh than a sick joke. Ustral scowled at the burning keep across the immense breadth of the turbulent river. His keep.

Down on the quay ships laden with knights, cavalry, siege engines and men-at-arms waited.

The three queens had kicked him in the nuts. Kicked the whole empire in the nuts. There really was very little choice.

High summer, the sun was merciless. Overhead a buzzard wheeled. Ustral realised this was likely his last day.

He blinked back tears, spun on his heel. ‘Ready. Lead on.’

~

#11 In the ‘Beyond the Streets’ sequence. Audio version coming soon.

Cover Art – Mick van Houten

MVH - Always Coming Home

Always Coming Home, by Mick van Houten
Cover art for the book by Ursula Le Guin

Yes, Jack Vance is one of my favourite authors, and Mick van Houten‘s evocative and romantic illustrations added enormously to the editions I owned. To my mind Mick is one of the finest cover artists there is, his covers always add to the stories, bringing mood, texture and visual detail specific to the work. I used to dream that one day, when my own books were published, I might have a Mick van Houten cover for one of them.

MVH - Road to Corlay

The Road to Corlay, by Mick Van Houten.
Cover art for the book by Richard Cowper

Painting in the pre-digital era, using acrylic and ink on watercolour board, Mick produced beautiful fine-art covers for many writers, including Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, and Ian Watson. I particularly like his use of light and mood, which often evoke a twilight calm. I think he deserves far more recognition than he receives.

I’m not sure if that dream of mine is now likely to happen, but to console me I have just bought some prints of some of Mick’s work. The quality is astonishingly good, detail and colour are wonderful,  and I am absolutely delighted with them.

Night Lamp, by Mick van Houten

Night Lamp, by Mick van Houten.
Cover art for the book by Jack Vance

 

 

Of course I had to get some Vance covers. The one shown here is for Night Lamp. I also bought the Lyonesse trilogy covers as well.

Now I need to get them framed! And get some more walls.

~

(Mick’s web site displays several pictures per page so the links for the pictures here go to the page not the picture. Always Coming Home is page 1, row 2, right; Road to Corlay is Page 1, row 2, left; Night Lamp is page 3, row 2, middle.)