February Update: If the Devil is in the detail, then editing can be like an exorcism.

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Finishing the 2nd draft of novel codenamed Spaghetti 1 at about 70k words, I immediately started on the 3rd draft. This draft will work through the detail of the story. I have the skeleton but it needs to be fleshed out in a lot of places. The organs are there, but some are too small or too big or in the wrong place.

This draft is also about making decisions. I must expunge the narrative scars of ideas that went nowhere. The 2nd draft had a level of ambiguity. For example, two mutually exclusive ideas might have been allow to coexist, I have to now choose, one way or the other. Where there are conundrums in the narrative, I have to solve them as I go along, even if it means taking a few steps backward at times. And of course, any decision can set off an avalanche of new ones. And new ideas are coming, better ideas than before, that must be accommodated in the story as if they had always been part of it.

And every detail needs to be carefully indexed so I don’t have to wade through pages of  text later, getting that horrible drowning feeling, to confirm I’m not contradicting myself. From dress to character, from motive to tea preference, everything must be made consistent.

It’s slow. It can be tedious. But is it worth it? Yes. It’s fantastic to see the story take shape, the characters come alive, and the blur come into focus.

The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe By D.G. Compton

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Katherine Mortenhoe has a terminal illness at an age that is extremely rare in her time. This makes her fodder for a voyeuristic reality television show determined to track the final weeks of her life in humiliating detail. Roddie, whose eyes have been replaced with cameras, is the man charged with this task.

Written in the mid-seventies, this book is haled for its prescience. It certainly is insightful, if bleak. Even the humor that peppers it is grim. Most of the characters are unlikable except for Roddie’s ex-wife, Tracey.  Neither Katherine or Roddie are particularly likable well into the book, but they grew on me as they grew on each other.

The narrative view point moves between Roddie’s first person and the third person of the other characters (predominantly Katherine). Most of these shifts are highlighted by section break but towards the end, a couple of these are missing, presumably in error.

The ending puzzled me. Mulling it over, I’ve come to the conclusion that the book is less about Katherine than Roddie’s rediscovery of his humanity through his relationship with her. He’s the only first person viewpoint, he has the first word and the last. At the start, he wants to build a ‘continuous’ (complete and objective) picture of her, but he (and the reader) are only given glimpses of the connective tissue that binds all the versions of her into a cohesive whole (symbolized for example by the different versions of her name other characters are in the habit of using). In that sense, the original title of the novel, The Sleepless Eye, is more apt.

Greybeard By Brian Aldiss

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The world is going out with a whimper instead of a bang. The entire human race is pretty much sterile due to a nuclear accident. More large animals, except reindeer have suffered the same fate, while other small animals thrive to the point of being a threat. Civilization despairs and collapses, but after a period of barbarity, the apocalypse mellows into something more genteel if still dangerous. The eponymous hero, Algy Timberlane, and his wife Martha flee the village they have sheltered in for several years on a quest to find something better.

They wander through a chaotic world, encountering a host of eccentric characters including the ‘physician’ Dr Jingadangelow. Many deny the end of the world, putting their faith in ludicrous superstitions. Others turn the surviving remnants of past institutions. But the overall mood is one of resignation.

As can be guessed from this, Greybread’s journey is more than physical. It’s a quest for meaning in an increasingly meaningless world. In a sense, it is the opposite of most apocalyptic stories I’ve read. Most are really about a new beginning, a fresh start, but this one is about facing the end of everything. Ignoring that emotional journey reduces the novel into a series of random incidents.

The flashbacks to the immediate aftermath of the disaster, working chronologically backward, were of variable interest but ultimately fed into this theme. I found the account of the events leading to Algy’s father’s suicide particularly moving.

The ending, though subtly foreshadowed throughout the book, was a bit abrupt. (I can’t say any more without spoiling it.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

 

Of Men And Monsters By William Tenn

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Humankind has been reduced to intelligent vermin in an Earth ruled by giant alien monsters. Humans live in small communities in burrows in the walls of the invaders’ homes, living on whatever morsels of food and material they can steal. The Human species, subjected to evolutionary pressure, has fragmented and diverged, sometimes radically. Rituals have kept Eric the Only and his tribe alive but now they are about to reach the end of their usefulness. Eric is forced repeatedly to reevaluate his understanding of his world while he struggles to survive against human and monster alike.

In general terms, the concept is reminiscent of the film Fantastic Planet but there’s no attempt at rapprochement between the humans and their persecutors. The monsters are too alien and too dominant for that, the humans reduced to irritating pests that must be subjected to periodic extermination. At the first glance, this novel feels very pulpy, but scratching the surface reveals hidden subtlety. Little details are left unexplained for the reader to ponder. It contains some interesting observations on our knowledge of the world and our blind acceptance of dogma.

Often, the novel has its tongue firmly in its cheek, but it can be quite brutal too. I thought the ending of the story was very apt.

No Escape is now FREE!

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My new fantasy short story, No Escape, is now free on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other stores.

A desperate warrior carries a baby girl across a foreign desert. Although truth and honor are tattooed on his cheeks, Tharo has abandoned both virtues in his quest to protect his charge. But it’s only a matter of time before he fails her. Another man stalks them, a hunter no prey can escape, the dreaded Souldiviner.

The Dragon Waiting By John M. Ford

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This book is set in an alternate 15th Century Europe where a pagan Byzantine Empire dominates Europe and Christianity is a minor religion. Except for a rump buffer state, France has been carved up between England and the Byzantines. The empire is infiltrating the Italian city states and is now plotting against their English allies. A magician and a small group of like-minded individuals travel to England to attempt to stymie its plan.

Initially the setting struck me as a bit strange in the sense that a lot of the big name political characters and institutions are the same as in our world. Surely, the failure of Christianity to dominate Europe would have a multiplicity of effects, great and small, that would alter history more radically. Then I remembered the vampires and put such thoughts aside.

Though short, this novel is challenging. It is very dense and sometimes deliberately opaque on characters’ motivations. Some sentences are knots of meaning, elusive or enigmatic. It’s up to the reader to decode it without the easy cipher of exposition. This made it difficult to bond at first with some of the characters and to sympathize with their aims. The Byzantine Empire may be the ultimate villain, but it spends most of the novel as a distant shadow. A big help in interpreting the text was the fan-made commentary Draco Concordans. (Thanks to the reviewer Niki on Goodreads whose review mentioned it.)

I struggled through the first half of the book. I struggled to care. But by the end, I loved it, won over by its rich detail, thriller pace, and memorable images. It’s not an easy read, but if you stick with it, it’s a rewarding one.

 

 

The Affirmation By Christopher Priest

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Peter Sinclair has broken up with his girlfriend, lost his job, and is miserable. He has moved from London to the country to renovate a house for a family friend while he tries to rebuild his life. He starts to write a book about…

Peter Sinclair has won the lottery and left his home city of Jethra to travel across the impossibly vast Dream Archipelago to undergo an operation that makes him immortal. He carries with him a book about a version of himself living in an imaginary city called London…

At the start of the book, it appears clear that the first Peter’s world is reality and the other is a wish-fulfilling fiction, but these two worlds merge and interact to the point that initial perception is challenged. What you have here is effectively a rolled cake of two realities then sliced in such a way that you can see the distinct layers but not the swirl.

And the jam in between these layers is absolutely packed with scrumptiousness. This book has a lot to say about the nature of creativity, memory, and the perception of reality. Is an imagined London any more real than an imagined Jethra simply because a physical version of the former exists?

There are surprises and revelations throughout the book, both stories are engaging, but it’s best to approach the book with dream-like acceptance. Don’t get too hung up on teasing the two threads into something clinically logical, but instead delight in their entwining. The ending is absolutely perfect for the book. It ends like a dream.