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Descent by Ken MacLeod

DESCENT Ken MacLeod

Author of 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated Intrusion tells a science fiction story for the twenty-first century – what happens when conspiracy theorists meet Big Brother?
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THE LASCAR’S DAGGERGlenda Larke

The start of a brand new epic fantasy trilogy from the author of the Stormlord series – full of scheming, spying, action and adventure.
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Category: Commentary

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BloodSongPreviously Anthony Ryan – author of this summer’s epic fantasy blockbuster BLOOD SONG – told us his top five movie battle scenes. This time around, in honour of the considerable amount of swordplay in his own novel, Anthony gives us his top five movie sword fights!

Scaramouche – Stewart Granger vs. Mel Ferrer

No fandangos here as Stewart Granger dons the guise of a masked clown in pre-Revolutionary France to pursue a deadly vendetta against Mel Ferrer’s Royalist assassin. This lavish version of Rafael Sabbatini’s swashbuckler is a technicolor spectacle topped off with the longest swordfight in movie history as Granger and Ferrer match blades the length and breadth of a Paris theatre. Can you guess who wins?

The Duellists – Harvey Keitel vs. Keith Carradine

Ridley Scott’s version of Joseph Conrad’s tale of two French cavalrymen fighting a series of duels spanning the Napoleonic Wars owes much of its visual flair to Scott’s background in TV advertising; lots of painterly landscapes and exquisitely lit interiors. But these are contrasted by the fight scenes which pack a brutally realistic punch, none more so than in the mid-point confrontation where Keitel and Carradine assail each other with sabres in a Paris wine cellar. Expert editing and choreography bring home the terror and exhaustion of physical combat to great effect. Read the rest of this entry »

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Anthony Ryan is the British author of BLOOD SONG [UK | ANZ], a spectacular debut that is set to be this summer’s blockbuster epic fantasy release. Here, Anthony talks about the influence of David Gemmell on his work and the role of the hero in fantasy literature.

David Gemmell is now regarded as perhaps the finest exponent of the ‘heroic fantasy’ sub-genre, and his works present a rich variety of heroes, from mighty axe-wielder Druss the Legend to brooding gunfighter Jon Shannow, distinct from each other but often sharing the same traits of lingering guilt over the lives they have taken and the stark realisation that heroism often holds scant reward.

LegendThe hero has always been an aspirational figure, lauded for courage and self-sacrifice by lesser souls, and of central importance in fiction since ancient times. However, the real world is depressingly rich in heroic tales that fail to match the classic narrative. In Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers we learn that only three of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima survived the war and, despite a nationwide bond tour and huge press attention, went on to lead lives largely devoid of continued adoration and certainly not marked by any financial reward. It’s also highly unlikely more than a handful of modern Americans, other than military historians, could name them now (for the record: Corpsman John Bradley, Private Rene Gagnon and Private Ira Hayes, and yes, I had to resort to Wikipedia).

History does offer a few notable exceptions to the forgettable nature of heroes, antiquity tells of mighty Horatius holding the bridge to save Rome from the Etruscans and many in the UK no doubt still recall Colonel H. Jones winning a posthumous Victoria Cross for charging a machine gun post in the Falklands in 1982. But can you remember off-hand the name of the private who won a VC in Iraq in 2004? Or the nursery worker in London who suffered severe injuries whilst protecting children from a madman with a machete in 1996? If, like me, you had to resort to Google, you will know them as Sergeant Johnson Beharry and Lisa Potts. Sergeant Beharry is still in the army but continues to suffer from his injuries and Lisa Potts has experienced repeated bouts of severe depression resulting from post-traumatic stress. Read the rest of this entry »

Francis Knight interviews Benedict Jacka, author of the Alex Verus novels

In September we release CHOSEN (UK|ANZ), the fourth Alex Verus urban fantasy novel from Benedict Jacka. In an interview below, another Orbit fantasy star Francis Knight
(author of FADE TO BLACK – UK|US|ANZ, and the soon-to-be-released BEFORE THE FALL  -UK|US|ANZ) finds out more about the writing of this highly popular series . . .

Chosen, an Alex Verus urban fantasy novel by Benedict Jacka, perfect for fans of Jim Butcher, in an interview with Francis Knight, author of Fade to BlackFrancis Knight: So, Alex Verus, wizard in London. I suppose certain comparisons are inevitable, if a bit easy. So who and/or what were your inspirations for this series? I know when I start, the first idea generally morphs into something bigger. What was the initial spark, the first ‘what if…’ that led to the book becoming reality?

Benedict Jacka: The Alex Verus setting is an adult version of a YA setting that I’ve been using on and off for almost 15 years – the whole mage world and the magic types was something I first came up with back in 2000-ish.  Between 2000 and 2008 I wrote four YA books in the setting, all with teenagers as the main characters who all had elemental powers of some kind.  None of the books got published, so I kept giving up and shelving the series and trying something else.

In 2009 I decided to pull out the setting yet again to give it another shot, with an adult main character this time.  I was getting dissatisfied with the elemental mages as protagonists, though, and at some point I had the idea of using a protagonist whose abilities were information-based instead of brute force.  The rest of the story snowballed from there! Read the rest of this entry »

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There’s something about cities in science fiction and fantasy. I mean I love the countryside myself, born a country girl, but anyone can write it – there’s only so much you can do without it coming across as odd or unbelievable (unless you’re a genius, obviously).

But where people, or aliens, get involved, anything can and does happen. In real life, and in fantasy. So, I love fantasy cities, towns, places that people have made, because they reflect the people who live there and, crucially, how they think.

So, a few favourites . . .

The Fellowship of The Ring by  J. R. R. Tolkien, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black Tolkien has his flaws but being unable to build believable yet fantastical cities is not one of them. I’d would love, I mean give an arm or something, to walk the ways of Rivendell, to see the Mallorn in Lothlorien, behold the golden hall of Meduseld in Edoras, wind the twisting streets of Minas Tirith. They are clearly fantasy posing as historical (okay, except the elves) but they feel so . . . real. Like they really do exist somewhere, I just haven’t found them yet.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to BlackOther cities come near to that status in my mind (hey, you never forget your first love). Camorr, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorawith its waterways, its dark and grubby underbelly, its Renaissance feel. A city that works, even though I know its fictional.

London Below, of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a London that feels almost, just not quite, the real one. As though if I scratched the surface on say Bakers Street, I’d find the Marquis, and all the rest, just waiting for me.Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black

Discworld’s Ankh-Morpork, which is so real to me I can smell the river when I open the pages of the book. Or maybe it just stinks that much! The little nooks and crannies that are a hallmark of an old, old city, the weird ways that seem normal to inhabitants but make outsiders wonder what drugs they must be on.

The thing that, I think, connects all these cities is their internal consistency. They work, such as they do, because thought has gone into working out how they work and why, factoring in how odd people tend to be. And each little factor just adds to the realness of the city.  Of course Ankh-Morpork has a thieves guild. Because it’s a city of moneymakers, and that’s a perfect example of taking what is there and squeezing it till gold coins fall out. The Elder Glass of Camorr shows us a city where things are not always as they seem, that even the city itself has two faces.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, in a piece on fantasy worldbuilding by Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black Minas Tirith and Edoras reflect the men and women who live there – on constant guard, where skill at arms isn’t just posturing, it’s necessary, and so are the defences and the oaths and honour the people who live there take so very seriously, and for good reason – oaths and honour are perhaps all that have kept them alive all this time against what lies to the East. Hobbiton, by contrast, reflects the hobbits – laid back, little thought to anything much except is it pleasing, to eye or stomach?

Fade to Black, book one of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series by Francis Knight - in a post talking abotu the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettSo when I started ‘building’ Mahala for Fade to Black, I tried to make sure the city informed the people, and the other way around. My main character Rojan Dizon is who he is – a sardonic, womanising bounty hunter – at least in part, because of where he lives. I doubt he’d be such a cynic if he lived in Hobbiton. The very fact of the way the city is run, the geography of it, the politics of it, and how that affects him, has helped turn him into who he is. Anywhere else, Rojan’s brother Perak might have just been some amateur daydreamer who likes playing with things (and would have probably long ago blown himself up!), but due to Mahala’s reliance on alchemy, he’s given everything he needs and is told to go and invent things. Which he duly does, and then changes the city forever when he invents the gun.

That’s what makes a fictional city work or fail for me – it works, in context, with the people who inhabit it, they showcase each other. They just fit.

 

***

Francis Knight’s debut novel FADE TO BLACK (UK | US | ANZ), book one of the Rojan Dizon novels, is out now. Book two, BEFORE THE FALL (UK | US | ANZ), releases on 18th June this year. The third and final novel, LAST TO RISE, releases in November 2013.

Fade to Black, book one of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series by Francis Knight - in a post talking abotu the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettBefore the Fall, book two of the Rojan Dizon fantasy book series, following Fade to Black, by Francis Knight - in a post talking about the worldbuilding of Tolkien, Scott Lynch and Terry PratchettLast to Rise, the third and Final Rojan Dizon fantasy novel by Francis Knight, following FADE TO BLACK and BEFORE THE FALL

 

 

 

 

ABADDON’S GATE and our Top Five Scary Spaceships!

Abaddon's GateNext month sees the release of ABADDON’S GATE [UK | US | ANZ], the third novel in the Expanse series that began with the critically acclaimed LEVIATHAN WAKES [UK | US | ANZ] and was continued in CALIBAN’S WAR [UK | US | ANZ].

io9 described the series as being ‘as close as you’ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form’ and they’re absolutely right. This is a space opera series that incorporates everything that we love about this subgenre: epic space battles, a terrifying alien menace and a healthy dose of mystery and intrigue. And of course, spaceships.

It’s a spaceship that actually kickstarts the entire story in the Expanse series – or to be more precise, an abandoned spaceship issuing a distress call (which I think we can all agree is never a good sign). Captain Jim Holden and his plucky crew investigate, and what they find quickly sends the entire solar system into chaos.

This got us thinking about creepy, abandoned spaceships (or not-so-abandoned-spaceships, as the case may be). Here’s our top five.

The Engineer ship from Alien

alien_ship_002_1196992514

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Prometheus we now know a lot more about this spooky abandoned spaceship and its infamous sole inhabitant, the Space Jockey. But back when Alien was released, we knew no more than the doomed crew of the Nostromo, who decided – in true horror movie style – that going inside the creepy spaceship was a Really Good Idea. The gloomy interior of the ship, not to mention the discovery of its long-dead inhabitant, fuels a growing sense of tension and unease that makes this sequence one of the most gripping of the entire film. Read the rest of this entry »

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“It is the greatest gift of my people, that we can bring our dreams to life for other eyes. Fantasy is a tool; like any other tool, it may be used poorly or well. At its best, fantasy reveals truths that cannot be shown any other way.”

–        Sören Kristiaan Hansen, aka Deliann Mithondionne, the Changeling Prince (BLADE OF TYSHALLE, book two of the Acts of Caine)

A few years before I was born, an American journalist named Edward R. Murrow hosted a program on the CBS Radio Network called This I Believe. Each episode only lasted five minutes, of which three and a half were given over to an essay by a different contributor, each speaking about the specific personal convictions that they felt gave their lives meaning. In the generally terrifying atmosphere of the early Cold War, this program was the closest the 1950s ever got to a viral video. It was the most listened-to English-language program in history at that time, and it spawned books, and records, and other radio programs – some of which continue to this day.

Heroes Die, book one of the Acts of Caine novels - a gritty action fantasy series by Matthew Stover, endorsed by Scott Lynch and perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks and Assassin's CreedWhen the good folk at Orbit decided to pick up my Acts of Caine novels, they asked me to contribute a blog-post-slash-promotional-essay or two for their website. I dislike writing about myself in any kind of biographical sense; if I thought that where I was born, my family, education, hobbies and pets and private life generally were any of your business, I’d write memoirs, not heroic fantasy.

I also have very little interest in commenting on my stories. My comments are the stories. Now – despite my dislike – I’ve done both of these things, and reasonably often, because that’s what people keep telling me I have to do to promote my books. The Good Folk, however, gave me license to write whatever I want.

I want to write about what I believe.

Most of what follows will be about story, because I make stories the same way I breathe: even to pause requires an act of will, and if I ever stop, it’s because I’m dead.

So… This I believe:

 

Not all honest writing is good, but all good writing is honest.

 

What’s not said is as important as what is. Often more important. Most of the trick to writing is knowing what to leave out.

 

It’s easier to make people cry if you’ve already made them laugh. And vice versa.

 

Whatever a story’s other virtues, if it’s not entertaining you, you’re wasting your time. A story is only great if it’s great for you. Personally.

 

What any work of art means depends on who you are when you look at it. What you get out of a book depends on what you bring to it. A book is only marks on a page (or pixels on a screen). The story is what happens in your imagination as you scan those marks. Books aren’t deep. Some readers are.

  Read the rest of this entry »

Why BITTER SEEDS blew me away

Bitter SeedsAs an editor, there’s no better feeling than reading a submission that blinds you with its sheer brilliance. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s one of the most exciting things about working in publishing.

Bitter Seeds was one of those submissions. I’d heard some positive murmurings coming out of the US about Ian Tregillis’s debut novel, but began reading the book with no particular expectations – and was left amazed by its vivid prose, bold action sequences and the wonderful depth of its characterisation. Not to mention the underlying plot that regularly crosses into the realms of sheer genius.

Bitter Seeds – and the other two books in the Milkweed Triptych, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil – have something of the chameleon about them, in that their underlying plots are constantly shifting and evolving. Just when you think you might have figured them out, they’ll change direction and completely shatter your expectations (my jaw dropped so many times when reading this trilogy that I attracted more than one strange look from my fellow commuters).

These novels are also chameleonic (totally a word, I looked it up!) in the sense that they weave so many different elements together to form something unique. At heart, the books are adventure stories – Nazi superhumans battling British warlocks – with a dangerously high dosage of action and espionage. Yet these novels are also subtle and extremely intelligent, weaving plots that shock and delight in equal measure, not to mention packing a serious emotional punch when the stakes are at their highest.

There are a host of complex, memorable characters within the pages of these books, such as Raybould Marsh, who must constantly balance his loyalty to his country with his love for his family, and Will Beauclerk, whose powers may end the war but destroy him in the process. Yet most memorable of all is Gretel, a gypsy orphan who wields a manipulative power so great that life itself is just another pawn in her Grand Design – the ultimate outcome of which only she knows.

One thing is for sure: you’ll certainly never see it coming.

Bitter Seeds [UK | ANZ], The Coldest War [UK | ANZ] and Necessary Evil [UK | ANZ] are all available now in paperback and ebook.

Praise for Ian Tregillis and the Milkweed novels:

A confident and thrilling debut” – SFX

“An imaginative tour de force” – KIRKUS

“[An] astonishing, brilliant, pulse-pounding debut trilogy” – CORY DOCTOROW

“Compelling, fascinating and frighteningly convincing” – FANTASY FACTION

“Ian Tregillis is a major new talent . . . I can’t wait to see more” – GEORGE R. R. MARTIN

                          Coldest War Necessary Evil

Presenting: Matthew Stover’s ACTS OF CAINE novels

One of the most highly regarded fantasy series EVER is finally coming to the UK.

Presenting a gritty action fantasy series like no other. Welcome to the world of Caine: Assassin. Hero. Superstar. . .

Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife and Caine's Law - the four novels int he Acts of Caine gritty fantasy series by Matthew Stover - a favourite of Scott Lynch and John Scalzi

Several huge names in the fantasy world have been shouting from the rooftops about the sheer brilliance of this series by New York Times bestselling author Matthew Stover. Par exemple:

SCOTT LYNCH says:

‘Oh, you fortunate people. HEROES DIE and BLADE OF TYSHALLE directly informed the writing of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA . . . I’d dare say they were what taught me how to craft a novel. Matt is criminally underrated, and these books are bog standard for him, which is to say ‘brilliant.’ They’re bold, startling, multi-layered, humane, and laugh-out-loud wonderful at frequent intervals . . .

. . . A gritty, bloody, deeply touching work of genius’

JOHN SCALZI says:

‘A heaping plate of kickass kickassery with a side of kickass sauce . . .

If you are a fan of the meaty, bloody but smart fantasy of which authors like Joe Abercrombie and Richard K. Morgan currently traffic, you really do owe it to yourself to check out the whole Caine series . . . I doubt very seriously you will be disappointed, and if you are, well, I don’t know what to do with you, except maybe wonder if your brain chemistry is off in some unique and disturbing way. But I’m willing to bet your brain is fine and you’re going to eat this stuff up.

So: fans of  fantasy, this is my recommendation. Get this one. Get them all’

FELICIA DAY says:

‘Talk about a dark anti-hero. Talk about a cool alt-SF/Fantasy world. Talk about some violent assholes who populate BOTH universes. I mean Hari is one of the biggest badasses I’ve read in a LONG time. Seriously flawed, very nihilistic world/WORLDS really he’s involved in. And yet, his journey is so full of emotion, you root for him every step of the way. This is an Alpha male you can get behind. Damn. Hot damn.

Don’t read if you don’t like profanity, unlikeable characters and awesome fight scenes. :D

THIS WAS FANTASTIC! . . . If you like really really gritty, dark fantasy like George RR Martin, Richard Morgan (Takashi Kovaks books) or ESPECIALLY Joe Abercrombie, you should get this book’

Not convinced yet? What’s wrong with you?!

All four books in the Acts of Caine series – HEROES DIE, BLADE OF TYSHALLE, CAINE BLACK KNIFE and CAINE’S LAW – will be released digitally in the UK & ANZ on 27th May 2013.

Pre-order now for a special introductory price on book one, HEROES DIE.

Hear from the Orbit team why you need to read Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed Trilogy

Today week we’re releasing NECESSARY EVIL (UK | ANZ) by Ian Tregillis, the conclusion to the spectacular Milkweed Triptych. The series began with BITTER SEEDS (UK | ANZ) and THE COLDEST WAR (UK | ANZ).

Bitter Seeds, Teh Coldest War and Necessary Evil, the three novesl makign up the Milkweed Triptych, a supernatural alternate history of World War II and the Cold War featuring superhuman Nazis and British warlocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to express just how much we are all head-over-heels in love with this series. This time, it’s not just me, Ian’s editor, who’s wanting to tell you how great the books are. The whole Orbit team has been clamouring to tell everyone just how much these books will blow your mind:

James Long, Editorial Assistant for Orbit UKJames Long, Orbit Editorial Assistant

“The Milkweed Triptych is simply one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read. These books are beautifully written, meticulously plotted and tell an incredible story built around a host of wonderfully-drawn characters. At heart these books tell an exciting adventure story about British warlocks fighting a secret war against Nazi supersoldiers, and are appropriately packed with explosive action sequences. Yet they’re also deeply moving, intelligent novels that will repeatedly shatter your expectations and make you ponder all sorts of questions about the power of love and the nature of evil. Quite simply, they’re brilliant and utterly unmissable.”

Felice Howden, Marketing Manager for Orbit UKFelice Howden, Little, Brown Marketing

“I was initially enamoured by this series from the description: X-Men meets Inglorious Basterds. When I opened the first page to a Nietzsche quote and a scene where one child cunningly engineers the death of another, I knew it was something special. Then I discovered one of the main characters was a prescient German girl; a puppeteer manipulating the others on her choice of path through wars, births, deaths, friendships and hatred; making moves calculated years in advance with unimaginable consequences; throwing stones that rippled through the lives of everyone around her. And I was in love.”

Anne Clarke, Editorial Director or Orbit UKAnne Clarke, Orbit Editorial Director

“I love the way the plot threads around and twists back on itself, just when you think you’ve got it all worked out, both within the books and between them. Every new page gives you another thread to pull. The writing itself is phenomenal, but it’s the characters and the plot – my god, the plot! – that have got me so hooked. I can’t wait to read Necessary Evil and find out how Ian manages to resolve such a tangled web. Ian’s poor protagonists dance like puppets for the unbearably sinister Gretel, but there must be a master plan behind it all. I can’t believe she doesn’t have one – though I do hope poor Raybould foils it and that he finds the redemption he so desperately wants. He deserves a break after all he’s been through!”

Anna Gregson, Commissioning Editor at Orbit UKAnna Gregson, Orbit Commissioning Editor

“After having devoured the entire Milkweed Triptych at the speed of light, I can only conclude is that Ian Tregillis is an absolute genius. The Milkweed books are simply one of the cleverest, most engrossing series I’ve ever read. I often found myself chuckling out loud in public places at the pure brilliance of the plotting, the devious intellect of the protagonists, and the masterful skill of the author’s turn of phrase… Ian Tregillis takes an idea which is already hugely exciting in a very superhero-comic kind of way (mad warlocks fighting scientifically-enhanced Nazi übermensch), but then delivers the concept with such intelligence, such emotional power and such literary flair that you cannot help but fall head-over-heels for him as a writer.”

***

If you haven’t started this series yet and want to find out just why we’re going so crazy about it, you can get a taster with a free extract of BITTER SEEDS here.

Will X-Men-style superhumans become a reality in our lifetime?

The poster for the new Xmen film The Wolverine 3D coming in 2013 - in an article about genetic technology, superhuman powers and Ian Tregillis's Milkweed novels starting with Bitter Seeds

Poster for The Wolverine 3d film – coming in July 2013

I was interested (and I’ll admit it – a little excited) to read this recent article, stating that advances in gene technology could lead to a race of genetically superior human beings by the year 2045. These were apparently the findings of a Ministry of Defence think tank during a two-day summit last summer.

Alright – so sources such as The Sun and The Daily Mail might have sensationalised the think tank’s statements a touch by claiming that in a few years time, people will have Wolverine-style adamantium claws busting out all over the shop, and will be spontaneously whipping up tornadoes left, right and centre à la Storm.

But although a real-life X-men army might not exactly be right round the corner – the underlying gist of the claim could be entirely reasonable: that we’ll likely soon be using genetic technology to enhance the strength of the human body, to eliminate imperfections and to increase stamina.

But as time goes on, who knows what the limitations will be? Who knows if by genetically developing certain parts of the brain, we’ll discover unknown abilities – telekinesis, psychic powers, control over natural elements? One needs to have an open mind, and it might not happen in 30 years time – but it’s not entirely beyond belief.

Neither are the apparent risks and dangers that certain individuals developing those powers would present.

The MoD think tank also claimed that “it is possible that advances in biology, unequally shared across society, could generate genetic inequality”.

Bitter Seeds, book one in the Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis - in an article discussing the possibility of X-men style superhumans becoming a realityBut it might not just be within one particular society that inequality is a risk. What happens, in fact, if one nation develops superhumans before another? Will it lead to an “arms race” of human augmentation, the winner of which will become the next superpower?

This is the terrifying and thrilling concept behind the Milkweed trilogy by Ian Tregillis. It starts with BITTER SEEDS (UK | ANZ) and THE COLDEST WAR (UK | ANZ), and concludes with NECESSARY EVIL (UK | ANZ – releasing this coming Tuesday). Read the rest of this entry »

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