The Nameless Horror

Charlie Stross on our dreadful future

Charlie Stross’ keynote for the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig in December sees him on top form on why everything is going wrong.

Paperclip maximizers that focus on eyeballs are so 20th century. Advertising as an industry can only exist because of a quirk of our nervous system—that we are susceptible to addiction. Be it tobacco, gambling, or heroin, we recognize addictive behaviour when we see it. Or do we? It turns out that the human brain’s reward feedback loops are relatively easy to game. Large corporations such as Zynga (Farmville) exist solely because of it; free-to-use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are dominant precisely because they are structured to reward frequent interaction and to generate emotional responses (not necessarily positive emotions—anger and hatred are just as good when it comes to directing eyeballs towards advertisers). “Smartphone addiction” is a side-effect of advertising as a revenue model: frequent short bursts of interaction keep us coming back for more.

Well worth your time.

Review: The Bone Keeper

What’s this? It’s only a review of The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste, which isn’t even out until March. Sorcery!

The Bone Keeper

Disclaimer: Luca has said nice things about my own writing in the past before he became famous, and he has several of my family members and at least one pet held hostage in secret locations around the country, each strapped to (or in the case of Mr Tiddles, trapped inside with nothing but a squeaky mouse for company) a nuclear weapon. He’s a maniac and must be stopped.

In his latest, Luca veers away from his police procedural series to venture into serial killing urban legend territory (though one of the central characters is still a detective).

A woman (whose surname, possibly coincidentally - there’s a few of us around, is Rickards) is found staggering down a street, bloody and clearly tortured. All she’s able to say to start with is a fragment of a local childhood rhyme about the mythical “Bone Keeper”, said to lurk in the woods and kill people to steal their bones, and who, presumably, may not be as mythical as the adult officers who know the rhyme from their own childhoods might have told themselves.

I can’t say much about how it develops because, hey, spoilers, but the Bone Keeper himself is enjoyably nasty and alien, the other characters have plenty of depth, the various plot elements roll along snappily, the families of his other victims and the effect the killings/disappearances have had on them are particularly nicely drawn, and there’s a very clever bait and switch: one character lost her brother to the killer, one has a tragic fire-related history, and Luca lets you believe it’s not the character you think has either, without making you feel at all cheated when clarity comes.

For the most part it plays out like any good slasher story - the Bone Keeper remains creepy as you like (in a similar way to the killer in Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine, if you’ve read that (and you should)) - until the truth comes out. When things come to a head, I was immediately reminded (without spoiling anything; this reference could mean anything) of Hot Fuzz. Not that it’s comical at all - not at all, but rather there’s an aspect of what’s happening that… well, spoilers. It’s no bad thing - Fuzz is a great menacing British murder story as well as a comedy - and the resolution is entirely bought and paid-for by the build up to it.

Well worth your time and filthy, filthy money when it’s out…

Now please can I have Mr Tiddles back, Luca?

2017, then

So here we are again, blowing away the cobwebs once more. The year’s been insanely busy with editing work - at one point before Easter I was booking up short stories over two months in advance, and it’s taken me a month to finish writing this post - and that’s limited lots of things, like work on my own stuff, reading for fun, writing about the latter. And dealing with the existential dread that comes with living with 2017’s political fucknuttery, of course.

So here’s a couple of things in brief form.

Bullet Gal (Andrez Bergen)

It took me a long time to get to this and I feel bad for that because Andrew’s had one hell of a year (and it’s getting little better; he’s currently thousands of miles from his family again undergoing further rehab for a stroke). But it was worth it - this is a return to Heropa (a city whose first outing I loved) and a look at its most legendary superhero. It’s punchy, wryly funny, and carries all the flair and imagination you’d expect from Bergen. He’s had a bastard of a year so do yourself a favour and buy some/all of his stuff.

Then She Was Gone (Luca Veste)

Many, many years ago, Luca wrote reviews and said lots of nice things about my Levels books. Somehow in the interim he’s written a zillion books of his own and minstrels fanfare his every entrance at publishing events. He sent me this ages ago and I read it ages ago and said nothing because I’m a bad person. This is accomplished and engaging British police procedural and I’d happily read the others in the series. The serial killer standalone he’s got out next year looks swish too.

Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I do enjoy peering into approaches to storycrafting, and this is a good one. More practically-minded than ones like Into The Woods, less prescriptive than most. There’s some repetition in the breakdowns, particularly Jaws, but that’s forgivable and there’s plenty of good stuff here for writers of all stripes.

Save The Cat! (Blake Snyder)

This, however, is (mostly) not. There’s some decent general advice, though nothing not covered elsewhere, and a whole lot of trumpet-blowing and guff. It’s also gratingly ’old Hollywood’ in its treatment of gender at times (maybe more so because I read Alex’s book right before this one). I know Snyder had a track record - selling thirteen scripts (IIRC), two of which were made, and teaching widely - so he was no idiot and maybe the style carried better in person, but I kept being reminded that the two he did see made were Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (though he only mentions this one once, presumably because his screenplay won a Razzie and the movie is widely regarded as one of the worst mainstream films ever made) and Blank Check (only mildly better regarded), and maybe my expectations lowered to match. In all honesty, Michael Moorcock’s ’Novel In Three Days’ advice or the Lester Dent Master Plot are probably as useful or more so, easier to digest, and above all, free.

To Catch A Rabbit (Helen Cadbury)

Helen tragically died a few weeks ago, but she was a fine writer and her work has all the awareness and sharpness of the best Britcrime. Go read.

So there we go. In between, I’ve made it to Harrogate crime festival for the first time in years, released a complete and bundled version of Portal of the Gods into the wild, and stopped completely neglecting my own self-pubbed work, for now at least.

In the meantime, back to editing.

Not dead, PORTAL OF THE GODS starts

It’s perfectly normal not to post anything beyond a poor bird pun for seven months. Shut up.

In all seriousness, I’ve not had much to post; I’ve fallen off the reading wagon, partly as a result of starting a bunch of things that didn’t grab like I’d hoped, partly as a result of time and editing workload. It’s harder to read for fun when you’re reading a lot for work. But I’m embarking on clearing some of the backlog of completed-and-unused output gathering dust on my hard drive, and my workload has eased off for the moment (so if you’re looking for an editor then now’s the time…), so here’s a thing! A thing that is, in fact, the first of several things!

Portal of the Gods 1: Shadow

Portal of the Gods 1: Shadow

In the foothills of the Andes there’s a relic of a pre-human civilization, the gateway through which the gods themselves supposedly first walked the Earth. A door to other worlds, other times. A portal through which you can take back everything you’ve ever lost, or ever had taken from you, if you can master it.

Jack Harker’s a washed-up adventure junkie with a knack for languages and getting himself in trouble. But when armed strangers break into his house looking for his parents’ old notes on the legendary lost city of Huayacapo, they inadvertently draw him into a secret war that’s been raging for a century and a half, a shadow conflict to unearth the past, and to control the future.

It’s going to be a long, strange road, and it starts here.

Portal of the Gods is an episodic secret history conspiracy thriller of which SHADOW is the first, shortest, instalment.

Find it on my own site, or else at Amz US, Amz UK, Amz Ca (etc.), Kobo, iBooks.

The two of you (hi, mom!) reading this who also know my Tragic Backstory may know that my agent quit on me while I was midway through a book in a genre he’d encouraged me to try in the first place, without telling me. This is the book. (I’ve since busied myself writing something else and I’m now finally getting my shit together to get a fresh agent.)

It was planned and written in four discreet sections (aside from a prologue and epilogue, split by geography; this is a pulp-ish adventure story and I’d be damned if I was going to write one of those without an element of line-crosses-map-with-accompanying-plane-footage to it), and so I’m releasing it in episodes, cleaning and tidying as I go. (Badly, as it turns out; I managed to use the UK-spelling version of the draft for SHADOW because I’m a fucking idiot, but it’s such a hoop-jumping process getting price-matched on Amazon that I’m buggered if I’m changing it now. Americans will have to live with “favour” etc. until the second episode.)

This, the first, is free (or will be, once the various branches of Amazon catch up with the US), with the other three, novella-length entries costing a pittance. I’m a fan of try-before-you-buy and this seemed like the best way of doing it.

Lost cities! Secret histories! A conspiracy that has absolutely nothing to do for once with either big business or the Catholic Church! And so on. In truth, while I took a pulp sensibility to the general story, and as much as I enjoy a spot of Lester Dent/DOC SAVAGE, I’ve not used it in the prose, and I’ve been careful to try to make everything grounded. No screaming dames, no thousand-year-old deathtraps that mysteriously still work with perfect mechanical precision, no action without a real sense of threat here. But there may be monsters and exotic locations and undead horrors as the series progresses…