Author Archives: E J Swift

Reading recommendations – summer 2014

Some recommendations from the last few month’s reading – wonderful books all:

A Woman in Berlin – Anonymous

I stumbled across A Woman in Berlin in the history section of the beautiful Scarthin Books in Derbyshire – one of those oh this looks interesting moments that reminds you to browse bookstores more. The diaries of a German woman – a journalist in her pre-war career – during the final phases of WWII, it chronicles the Russian invasion and sacking of the city of Berlin. It’s a rare first-hand record of the civilian experience of defeat, and the history of its publication is equally fascinating – the first German-language edition in 1960 received such negative reactions that the text was withdrawn, and it was only in 2003, following the anonymous author’s death in 2001, that it saw print again. With its subject matter of rape and sexual collaboration for survival, this is not the easiest read, but what stays with me is the voice of the narrator; the resilience, the dry humour and lack of self-pity, the will to survive. I was especially struck by the author’s reflections on the returning soldiers. The myth of man, she says, has crumbled – ‘That has transformed us, emboldened us. Among the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex’ – an observation which sadly was not to be proven in the post-war era, but makes this even more of a relevant read today.

tale for the time beingA Tale For The Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Japanese schoolgirl writes a diary which in the aftermath of a tsunami washes up on a remote coastline in Canada in a Hello Kitty lunchbox. I loved the premise of this. Nao’s diaries are instantly engaging (so much so that I missed her initially during Ruth’s chapters); inspiring and heartbreaking all at once. As Ruth becomes immersed in Nao’s diary, the novel expands to reveal the fascinating histories of Nao’s family, including her ‘anarchist-feminist-novelist-turned-Buddhist-nun’ great-grandmother Jiko, her kamikaze pilot grandfather Haruki #1, and her post-Dot Com Bubble computer programmer father Haruki #2. Exploring the dynamics of power and bullying, Ozeki examines what it really means to be a hero.

hired manThe Hired Man – Aminatta Forna

I was blown away by Forna’s memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, and her novel The Memory of Love. The Hired Man is outwardly a quieter novel, but one that creeps up on you with increasing power. Protagonist Duro creates a slow-burn narration, flitting between a seemingly peaceful present, and the darker memories of the past, as the secrets of a Croatian town in the aftermath of civil war are gradually uncovered.

harry augustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August has an outwardly simple premise: narrator Harry lives, and dies, and lives his life over and over again, each time retaining the memories of his previous lives. The way it is told is gorgeously intricate. I loved the circular narrative, the employment of form to echo theme, as the book moves back and forth through Harry’s lives, with some playful and at times truly dark historical visitations. The relationship between Harry and his one-time student Vincent is fascinating; as are the philosophical debates eschewing from that relationship. This is a great read from start to finish.

girl in the roadThe Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne

Two journeys are at the heart of The Girl in the Road – Meena, fleeing from India across the Trail, an energy-harvesting floating bridge which crosses the Arabian Sea. And Mariama, a young girl crossing from West Africa to Ethiopia, bewitched by fellow traveller Yemaya, who she worships as a goddess. There were so many things I loved about this – the wonderfully-rendered near future setting; the way the two characters’ journeys intertwine through stories and mythology; the fierce, at times savage voice combined with a gorgeous use of language. I also liked the way it touched on issues such as race, class, sexuality and mental health, whilst not foregrounding any of these; the narrative always comes first.

bad characterA Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

Kapoor’s A Bad Character explores a very different Indian setting. Sometimes after reading something particularly epic it’s a joy to really focus down, and Kapoor’s novel is exactly that: a distillation of a relationship. Poetic, evocative, burning with suppressed desire and sexuality, it’s told in a series of staccato vignettes by a young woman in Delhi whose name we never learn.

Helen-Macdonald-H-is-for-HawkH is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

If you read one thing this year, read this. Macdonald’s deeply empathetic memoir encompasses two narratives: it’s the story of how she trained a goshawk in the aftermath of her father’s death, and the story of the troubled writer T.H. White. It’s a book about nature and a book about struggling with grief. By turns exquisitely poetic and unflinchingly raw, Macdonald explores what it means to be wild and what it means to be human, and the at times perilously precarious bridge between the two.

Cataveiro paperback out today!

Cataveiro, Book Two of the Osiris Project, is out in paperback today!

Copies are available through Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, and The Book Depository, which offers free shipping worldwide.

Here’s the synopsis:

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…

And a few reviews:

‘… the soulful latest instalment in The Osiris Project and a superior sequel… new lead characters, a fresh story and some real action… CATAVEIRO has a soulful, lonely quality as Taeo and Ramona embark on their solitary missions, haunted by memories of the past and visions of what lies ahead… Their imperfections keep them grounded and likeable, preventing EJ Swift from slipping into predictable and clichéd characterisation… as dystopian fiction goes it is an intriguing world to get lost in.’  –  SciFiNow

… the standard dystopian set-up has given way to a compellingly drawn post-collapse world that feels scorchingly real and virtually limitless in its horizons. This is a very human book, a boldly compassionate book, a novel bulging with important questions about our own world which cannot fail to engage the sympathy and imagination of the reader.’ – Nina Allan

‘The characters within are fully rounded, have some wonderful little quirks and when added to the arc really generate a caring response within the reader. Back this up with great prose, solid pace work and of course some magical twists which, when backed with the authors own identifiable writing style all round, makes this a book that hit the spot for me as a reader. Top notch.’ – Falcata Times

‘Another beautifully-written novel… 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.’ – Civilian Reader

And Osiris, the first book in the series, was reviewed over at J for Jetpack earlier this week:

‘Machiavellian politics, city in the sea, allegory for our times, great prose, human characters. An excellent debut novel that deserves to be read.’

LonCon3: Postscript

So, this weekend was LonCon3, and in the by now familiar spirit of cons, a mad, exhausting and marvellous one it was, full of all-too-brief meetings with new friends and old. I can’t imagine how much work went into programming such a vast event – huge thanks to all the organisers and volunteers who have done such an amazing job.

Highlights included meeting Frances Hardinge and Greer Gilman for the “You Write Pretty” panel on the Saturday (Frances was by far and away the winner with her Jabberwocky quote, but I’m still holding out for Jennifer Egan), and a thought-provoking discussion with David Hebblethwaite and Anne Charnock for the “Bridging the Gap” panel on Sunday. Also a big thank you to Adam Roberts who joined us at the last minute as our moderator was unable to be there on the day.

The Del Rey party on Saturday night was a lovely relaxed affair – thanks to everyone who stopped by and chatted (and to those who took a book! I do hope you enjoy). Blogger Voltron followed, and it was great to get the chance to put a few Twitter handles to faces.

As always, I didn’t get to see as many panels as I planned, but “The World at WorldCon: South and South East Asian SF” was fantastic, and I really enjoyed “My Opinions: Let Me Show You Them”, with a panel full of bloggers on the Sunday. I also managed to attend the NewCon launch and pick up a copy of Nina Allan’s wonderful new novel The Race.

By Sunday evening I was more than ready to swap the windowless hangar of the ExCel for the sofa, so followed the Hugo excitement from afar – only to learn that had I stayed, I might have caught a glimpse of David Tennant.

Next time.

Update on The Osiris Project in the US

A few people have asked me what’s happening with the next two books in The Osiris Project trilogy in the US, and I’m now able to give a proper update. Night Shade Books will continue to publish Osiris in print and ebook form, but they will not be publishing Cataveiro (Book 2) or the third installment in the trilogy.

For readers across the pond, if you’d like to get hold of a print copy of the Del Rey UK edition of Cataveiro, I’d recommend ordering from The Book Depository, which offers free delivery worldwide. The trade paperback edition is available now, and the smaller paperback will be published in September.

I’m also hoping to have a US ebook of Cataveiro available soon – more information to follow as I have it.

Irregularity

Delighted to say I have a story in upcoming anthology IRREGULARITY from Jurassic, the details of which were posted today – very exciting as it’s the first I’ve seen of the table of contents. Here’s a bit about the inspiration behind the anthology:

“Using the Longitude Act as the jumping off point, Irregularity is inspired by the great thinkers of the Age of Reason – those courageous men and women who set out to map, chart, name and classify the world around them. The great minds who brought order and discipline to the universe. Except where they didn’t.

Irregularity contains new stories of natural law and those that disobey it, including:

  • “Fairchild’s Folly” by Tiffani Angus
  • “A Game Proposition” by Rose Biggin
  • “Footprint” by Archie Black
  • “A Woman Out of Time” by Kim Curran
  • “The Heart of Aris Kindt” by Richard de Nooy
  • “An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought” by Simon Guerrier
  • “Irregularity” by Nick Harkaway
  • “Circulation” by Roger Luckhurst
  • “The Voyage of the Basset” by Claire North
  • “The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle” by Adam Roberts
  • “Animalia Paradoxa” by Henrietta Rose-Innes
  • “The Last Escapement” by James Smythe
  • “The Darkness” by M. Suddain
  • “The Spiders of Stockholm” by E. J. Swift

IRREGULARITY will be available in ebook, paperback, and a limited edition hardback.

I’ll be attending the launch event at the National Maritime Museum on 24 July – tickets are a fiver and you can get them here, so do come along if you can.

Upcoming events – WorldCon & Fantasy in the Court

A couple of events updates: firstly I’ll be attending Fantasy in the Court, an evening for fans and writers organized by Goldsboro Books on Tuesday 12 August, which already has a fantastic line-up of authors.

I’ve also received my draft schedule for this year’s WorldCon (Thursday 14 – Monday 18 August), and from everything I’ve seen it’s shaping up to be a really interesting programme. I’m down for the following panels:

You Write Pretty

Friday 21:00 – 22:00

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, so let us behold some fine fantastical sentences. Our panel have each picked a sentence, and will have a chance to make their case for why theirs is the fairest of them all — but it will be up to the audience to decide.

with Geoff Ryman (M), Greer Gilman, Frances Hardinge, Christopher Priest, E. J. Swift

Bridging the Gap

Saturday 16:30 – 18:00

Iain Banks’ work was famously divided into ‘mainstream’ and science fiction, but this division wasn’t always applied consistently. For example, Transition was published in the UK as mainstream fiction, while in the US it was classed as science fiction, and Banks himself declared that it was ‘51% mainstream’. This sort of boundary blurring can be seen in both ‘slipstream’ texts and in mainsteam works that engage with science fiction. In this panel we will discuss writing that crosses boundaries – real or imagined – between science fiction and the mainstream. How has the divide been understood and characterised? How has this changed over time? Who is currently writing across this divide and to what effect?

with Preston Grassman (M), Anne Charnock, David Hebblethwaite, Grá Linnaea, E. J. Swift

Looking forward to both of those!

Reading recommendations – spring 2014

It’s been a while since I posted about recent reading – but I’ve finally got round to some recommendations from the first half of this year.

NW – Zadie Smith

Taking the Willesden area of London as its epicentre, NW follows the intersecting lives of a group of Londoners, at the centre of which is the intriguing relationship between once-and-ostensibly-still best friends Leah and Natalie. Each section is stylistically, experimentally different, but I particularly enjoyed Natalie’s narrative. Despite Natalie’s struggle to reconcile the shift in her lifestyle and identity, and a voice that seems designed to distance the reader, Natalie somehow ended up being the most relatable of all the characters. I loved the sense of London, and the cultural references which are cleverly embedded, if at times a little too oblique. On a related note, I was excited to read that Smith is reputedly planning to write science-fiction. Her short story Meet The President! in the New Yorker may be a taste of things to come – something to look forward to.

God’s War – Kameron Hurley

It felt like I’d read a lot about God’s War a long time before I got round to actually reading it, despite a general tendency to avoid reviews as much as I can until after I’ve finished a book. Originally billed as bug-punk, I just wasn’t expecting God’s War to be my kind of thing, and was therefore pleasantly surprised when I found myself hugely enjoying the book. It’s a fast-paced narrative (the much-quoted first line grabs you by the teeth and it doesn’t let go from there on), but character always trumps plot for me, and much of my enjoyment was in the superbly-rendered character of bounty hunter Nyx, and the shifting dynamics between her motley, multinational crew. For a far more eloquent review take a look at Nina Allan’s thoughts over at the Arc blog, but in brief – if, like me, this isn’t the kind of thing you’d usually pick up – do give it a go. You may be surprised…

The Violent Century – Lavie Tidhar

I’ve been a big fan of Tidhar’s work since reading the superb Osama, and despite not being especially well-versed in the superhero genre, I had no doubt that I would enjoy The Violent Century. And I did, very much so. It took me a while to settle into the short sections and clipped prose, but the style comes into its own as the narrative moves back and forth through past and present, and conflict echoes after conflict. Tidhar is by now a dab hand at integrating pulp culture, historical figures and events, and in this The Violent Century is no different, by turns irreverent and deeply haunting.

The Adjacent – Christopher Priest

There’s a wonderful analysis of The Adjacent in Adam Roberts’ 2014 Clarke Award round-up over at Strange Horizons, but suffice to say this has all the classic trademarks of a Priest novel – multiple selves, magicians, counterfeits, creepy and inexplicable happenings, world wars and intricate plot devices. The narrative moves between various settings, visiting WWI, WWII, a near-future Islamic Republic of Great Britain which is blighted by climate change (the description that stayed with me is of a building that appears “clamped” to the ground to withstand the storms), and at one point hopping across to the Dream Archipelago of previous works. As always, the complexities of the plot are belied by the clear and eloquent prose. One of my favourite passages was towards the end, as the protagonist is watching a series of Lancaster planes take-off from an aircraft hangar, which was so beautifully rendered you can practically hear the engines and smell the gasoline.

2666 – Roberto Bolaño

There’s so much to say about 2666 it’s difficult to know where to begin. For a start, it’s over a 1000 pages long, an epic undertaking that’s taken me three months to read – but it has been worth the investment. There are five parts to the novel, which was published posthumously and may or may not have originally been intended by the author to be published as five separate novels: The Part About the Critics, The Part About Amalfitano, The Part About Fate, The Part About the Crimes, and The Part About Archimboldi. Despite its length, the prose tends towards sparse rather than bolstered with description. It’s a maze of a novel, packed with narratives embedded within narratives, stories leading off at random tangents, down levels upon levels of digression, but somehow always leading back to the original pathway or protagonist/s.

Bolaño’s classic themes of writing/the writer and violence are ever-present. Over the course of 2666 he takes us from the landscape of literary criticism in Europe to the scene of serial killings in Mexico and back in time to the German writer Archimboldi’s experience of World War II. I struggled immensely with The Part About the Crimes. This section forms a centre piece which all of the other narratives reflect back on. It takes the form (in as much as Bolano adheres to form) of a police procedural: a fictional account of a real-life proliferation of unsolved serial rapes and murders of women, which occurred in Mexico in the 1990s. Bolaño’s fictional Santa Teresa is a stand-in for the border town Ciudad Juarez. The 300-page section is utterly relentless as a read, not because the violence is gratuitous (indeed, much of Bolaño’s power lies in what is not said – for example, the detective reflecting on a woman who suffered five heart attacks before she died – we are left to imagine exactly what manner of torture brought on those heart attacks) but in the sheer volume of deaths, the often clinical style in which this section is narrated, and the brutal reality of the lack of justice for these women, which we are never allowed to forget.

It’s an extraordinary work and I’m glad to have read it; equally I’m glad to have finished it. I will definitely be reading more of Bolaño’s work, but not just yet.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After an epic 3-month read I raced through Americanah in a week. I’d been looking forward to Adichie’s latest since it came out in hardback last year, and the novel proved a delight. The back cover blurb describes it as a love story, but although the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze forms an underpinning narrative, Americanah is primarily about identity, belonging and growing comfortable with the person you are. Ifemelu is a forthright, complex character; the social observations on race and culture are cleverly drawn and at times very funny. With a writer’s (and SF) hat on, I was very interested to see how Adichie portrayed the experience of adjusting to a different culture. Ifemelu’s childhood and adolescence in Nigeria feel familiar, even though – as a British reader – her experience is not familiar; whilst when she reaches the USA, the American experience feels strange and disorientating. It is only once Ifemelu reaches America that comparisons are made with back home, and when she returns to Nigeria there is a shift again, and her perceptions change as she readjusts once more. Overall, this is a thoughtful and highly enjoyable read.

Just started reading: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.