Tag Archives: Ben Jeapes

#Authoring Annals – Bristolcon 2018 #Brainfluffblogauthoringannals-3 #Bristolcon2018Report

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This is the first conference I’ve attended in the past two years. But I was determined not to miss this year’s Bristolcon for the simple reason is that it’s my favourite. It’s known as The Friendly Con and with good reason – the first year I came along on my own, I was invited to join one of the groups sitting in the bar by the lovely Jaine Fenn.

This year I wasn’t on my own – my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson stayed over on Friday night, so on Saturday morning we could catch a 6-something train to Fareham, where we changed for Bristol. While the GWR train was flipping cold, at least everything was running on time and we arrived at Temple Meads station just after 10, all set to consume Second Breakfast at our favourite pasty shop before braving the bitterly cold wind for the walk to the conference hotel.

We hadn’t even got sufficiently organised to decide which panels to attend, so naturally we needed to swing by the bar to sit down and sort this out. I was delighted to see Juliet McKenna and congratulate her on the wonderfulness that is The Green Man’s Heir. I’m thrilled to report there is another book in this series being written – if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this is one of my favourite books of the year. I was also able to catch up with Sarah Ash, another wonderful author whose writing I love.

Sarah was taking part in one of the excellent panels I attended Here Be Dragons. And Yokai. And Tokoloshe. And Kupua… which discussed the pros and cons of using spirits and mythology from other cultures – when does that become cultural appropriation? Sarah’s expertise lies in Japanese mythology, including anime and manga, while Zoe Burgess-Foreman is very knowledgeable about other Asian mythological creatures in addition to also being expert in Japanese culture. The other members of the panel included Nick Hembury and Steve McHugh, while the discussion was ably moderated by Jessica Rydill. The consensus was that whenever using ancient gods or spirits, ensure you are respectful of the context and any cultural issues – Steve aptly summed it up with the phrase, ‘Don’t be a dick about it.’

The second panel I attended was also great fun – Ben Jeapes moderated a discussion about the panellists’ most hated cliché in SFF writing, which would be then voted on by the audience and consigned to Room 101 – another cliché, perhaps? The cliché that overwhelmingly got voted into Room 101 was Jo Hall’s distaste for beautiful protagonists and ugly baddies. The beautification of Hester in the upcoming film Mortal Engines was cited as an example of this insidious trend, given that her face is horrifically scarred in the books.

The final panel I saw was Writing the Non-Human which brought together Su Haddrell, who moderated, Cheryl Morgan, Gareth L. Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith and Dev Agarwal to discuss what approaches they used when writing from other species’ viewpoints. It was fascinating to see the widely differing methods these experienced and capable authors adopted when working on their non-human characters. Everyone agreed, though, that you need to have a good grasp of the environment from which they originate and a clear idea of the character and how it responds to the unfolding situation within your story.

The closing ceremony was typically warm and celebratory where the Guests of Honour Jo Hall, Dave Hutchinson and Andrew Skilleter were applauded, along with the date for next year’s special 10th Anniversary Bristolcon.

As for books – I was very restrained, only purchasing Joel Cornah’s The Sky Slayer over and above the two books in my goody bag, partly because I truly am trying to be more sensible about my out-of-control book buying habit and partly because I had a long train journey ahead of me and books are heavy… The other two I acquired were K.M. Alford’s Atlantic and the Game of Time and Tracing the Shadow by Sarah Ash.

During the afternoon in the bar, I had a long chat with Mags L. Halliday on the necessity of evolving a con-clone for the next conference. We discussed the feasibility of a device that splits you into at least one other copy, though I personally think two would be ideal – just after you pick up your goody bag and then re-absorbs your cloned copies before you reel home. I was also thrilled to see the wonderful Sophie Tallis, someone else who warmly welcomed me to my first Bristolcon, – as well as Jo Hall, who I haven’t spoken to for far too long. And it was also great to be able to have a word with Gaie Sebold and Janet Edwards.

But as Mhairi and I trudged back to our hotel when we finally called it a night, I was aware that if only I had my clone alongside, I could also have managed to meet up with Sammy Smith, Jessica Rydill and Rosie Oliver among others – as well as attend those panels I missed, such as The City As Protagonist and Spaceship Top Trumps as well as Sophie’s silk painting workshop. Maybe a cloning device will be available next year – the need is surely great at all Cons, but particularly at Bristolcon – the Friendly Con.

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Favourite Aliens in Literature – Part 2

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This is the second half of my rundown of favourite aliens – so far – in the books I’ve read. What defines the creatures that have made this list? That fact that I’ve remembered them, to be frank. I have a shocking memory – leakier than the Pobble’s sieve – so any creature that has lodged in its recesses means that it struck a chord. I’m also very interested in the concept of the ‘other’, so am always fascinated how other writers tackle this difficult topic. So in no particular order…

The Morrors from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Yes… I know it’s a children’s book – but that doesn’t prevent it being a cracking, insightful read and this non-child absolutely loved it.

mars evacueesWhen I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

The Morrors are cooling down Earth to make it habitable for their species, causing Alice and her companions having to be evacuated to Mars. McDougall has produced an exciting adventure story, with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns and a memorable alien species. And if you are wanting a bit of enjoyable escapism during this everlasting January, then track this down. Read my review here.

Xenocides in The Xenocide Mission – Book 2 of The Ark series by Ben Jeapes
I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, xenocidedespite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans.

The depiction of the Xenocides is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. Read my review here.

Tao from The Lives of Tao – Book 1 of the Tao series by Wesley Chu
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he lives of taowas losing it. He wasn’t. He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

This is another memorable offering that stood out for me because Roen isn’t some lantern-jawed alpha-male, but a rather overweight desk jockey whose adventure comes in screen form. His conversion to the other type is both painful and hilarious, although that doesn’t alter the fact that the struggle for Earth is a gritted, serious business. I haven’t got around to tracking down the second book in the series – yet. But I really must, as I want to know what happens next. Read my review here.

Kirizzo from The Trilisk Ruins – Book 1 of Parker Interstellar Travels by Michael McCloskey
This Indie offering caught my eye when sampling the extract on Amazon. Telisa Relachik studied to be a thetriliskruinsxenoarchaeologist in a future where humans have found alien artifacts but haven’t ever encountered live aliens. Of all the aliens whose extinct civilizations are investigated, the Trilisks are the most advanced and the most mysterious. Telisa refuses to join the government because of her opposition to its hard-handed policies restricting civilian investigation and trade of alien artifacts, despite the fact that her estranged father is a captain in the United Nations Space Force. When a group of artifact smugglers recruits her, she can’t pass up the chance at getting her hands on objects that could advance her life’s work. But she soon learns her expectations of excitement and riches come with serious drawbacks as she ends up fighting for her life on a mysterious alien planet.

Except the book doesn’t start in Telisa’s viewpoint – the Prologue pitchforks us into the head of the intriguing forty-legged alien, Kirizzo, whose strangeness is engrossing and memorable.
Read my review here.

Portia from Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in childrenoftimethe footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

But the creature who actually are uplifted in an unforeseen twist, are not monkeys at all. And Portia is one of them… This witty, enjoyable adventure both charts the gradual evolution of a creature into sentience and the journey of a generational ship desperately trying to hang on until they reach a suitable planet. Both stories are engrossing, but I do find Portia regularly skittering through my head at all sorts of odd moments. Read my review here.

So there you have it – a selection of my favourite aliens. What about you? What ‘other’ creatures have ticked your boxes, and why?

Review of The Xenocide Mission – Book 2 of The Ark series by Ben Jeapes

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Lieutenant Joel Gilmore is part of a multi-species space observation team stationed in a distant solar system, who find themselves attacked by the very aliens they were supposed to be watching. Now Joel and his allies, the enigmatic Rusties, explore the parameters of trust in a lethal confrontation with a deeply alien third species: one with a nasty predilection for mass murder on a planetary scale.

xenocideThis book was marketed as a YA science fiction, but I had no trouble getting fully engrossed in the story which started with a bang and kept going right to the end, despite the fact that I hadn’t read the first book, His Majesty’s Starship. The story is told in multiple viewpoint – and Jeapes joins that select handful of science fiction writers who are brave enough to have a serious stab at writing from an alien point of view. In fact, there are two major alien species in this adventure. The vicious variety with teeth, talons and a propensity for ripping apart anyone who seriously upsets them – and the Rusties, who have formed a coalition with humans. So, the question has to be – does Jeapes pull it off?

As far as the bad guys, known as Xenocides, are concerned, the depiction is excellent. We get a really good slice of their political and cultural life without any info-dumps silting up the narrative pace, which is always a lot harder to achieve than it looks. There is even some humour in there and I particularly enjoyed Oomoing, who had the job of evaluating the captured human. The twist near the end of the story was one I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. By the end of the novel, I had a really good sense of what they looked like and how their society ran. But the overall impression of how the other species – the First Breed – operated, their appearance, and their relationship with the humans was a lot less sharp. However, I am also aware that this is the second book in a series and I got the feeling that the storyline featuring this particular species was highlighted in His Majesty’s Starship.

As far as the main human story running through the book, Joel makes a solidly convincing hero as someone who reacts quickly and selflessly when the unthinkable happened – and then finds himself up to his neck in trouble as a consequence. He manages to care about issues like honour, duty and loyalty without coming across as some lantern-jawed dummy, which also demonstrates Jeapes’ skill as an able, technically gifted writer. His relationship with Boon Round, the First Breed also caught up alongside him, is nicely sharp.

The ending is well executed, with all the lose threads across all three main species satisfyingly tied up. Overall, this slickly convincing multi-species adventure story is a really good read – and I’m going to be looking out for more of Jeapes’ writing.
9/10