Tag Archives: Gareth L. Powell

#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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Review of Hive Monkey – Book 2 of the Ack-Ack Macaque series by Gareth L. Powell

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book Ack-Ack Macaque – see my review herehivemonkey – in which this bio-engineered gaming hero blasts out of his reality to find himself stranded in another timezone. Would this second book, which has been hanging around on my TBR pile far too long, be as entertaining?

In order to hide from his unwanted fame as the Spitfire-pilot-monkey who emerged from a computer game to defeat the nefarious corporation that engineered him, the charismatic and dangerous Ack-Ack Macaque is working as a pilot on a world-circling nuclear-powered Zeppelin. But when the cabin of one of his passengers is invaded by the passenger’s own doppelganger, our hirsute hero finds himself thrust into a race to save the world from an aggressive hive mind, time-hopping saboteurs, and an army of homicidal Neanderthal assassins!

This alternate world adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up as the action continues full-bore throughout this entertaining read. While I have read the first book, I think you could dive into this series with Hive Monkey, as Powell ensures new readers are fully briefed. Ack-Ack is a cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed, hard drinking character who is all too keen to get involved in bar brawls as his constant anger and loneliness finds an outlet in such behaviour. For all the chirpiness of the narrative, there is a poignant undertow as all the main characters grapple with life-altering loss. The monkey leaps off the page with splendid vividness, such that I’m very grateful I’ve only encountered him between the pages of a book – I certainly wouldn’t want to invite him to dinner…

The other main characters are similarly adrift – the airship captain Victoria Valois, whose brain is augmented by experimental gelware after suffering major brain damage; her hologram husband, Paul who is uploaded in the ship’s operating system. And K8, the young hacker who initially freed Ack-Ack from the corporation who had been exploiting him, before he burned out and died like all his predecessors, as well as struggling science fiction writer, William Cole. As Powell shifts between his main characters while the story hurtles forwards, we get to learn about the sorrows and losses that motivates each of these people.

What could so easily be a fairly downbeat read avoids being so because there is a bounce and relish to all the mayhem. I very much enjoyed the zaniness of the storyline and the twisting plot – chiefly because Powell writes with attention to detail and ensures there is rigour in his plotting and science, despite the oddness. There are a couple of nifty surprises that I really enjoyed and the antagonist was also all too believable, as well as creepily convincing.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and provided a welcome break from the dreary rain that seems to be constantly falling this January – and if you are yearning for a similar escape, I can recommend this slice of mayhem.
9/10

Review of Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

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Himself and I heard Gareth read an entertaining slice of this science fiction alternate history romp at the World Fantasycon in Brighton last year, featuring Ack-Ack and afterwards we promptly went and bought both books in the series. Annoyingly, this one then went missing – not that we have too many books knocking about the house, or anything… So when it finally turned up, was it worth the wait?

ack-ackIn 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.

A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband.

The rest of the back cover blurb is into Spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it there. As you can see, we are into alternate history. But this is as different to C.J. Sansom’s grim reworking of our recent history in Dominion, as you can get within the same sub-genre, covering the same time – Powell’s breezy delivery scurries the action along at a brisk clip. While I enjoyed Ack-Ack’s exploits, he wasn’t the character that drew me into the plot.  The character I really cared about was Victoria.  Because she happened to be covering the Prince of Wales’ Falklands trip the previous year, she was on board when his helicopter crashed – and that single event not only changed her life forever, but drags her into this adventure.

Powell’s ability to write full-on action scenes where blood flies in all directions doesn’t prevent him from also managing to effectively depict a young grieving widow with power and economy.  For all the gung-ho bravado, the plot steadily unfurls as Victoria and Ack-Ack continue creating different types of chaos – Ack-Ack’s version being more of the bullet-pocked, noisy sort – and with each action scene, we get closer to what is actually going on. I enjoyed the fact that Powell produces Ack-Ack’s flourishes as extra treats, rather than expecting them to stand in as plot progression, which so often happens in action thrillers.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable adventure – and Ack-Ack’s gun-twirling and caustic one-liners provides plenty of light relief in a book with dark undertones that poses some hard questions Humanity will shortly have to start facing about the extent of medical intervention. If you enjoy reading entertaining science fiction that is intelligent and thought provoking but doesn’t take itself too seriously, then hunt down this offering – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
8/10