Re-Read: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

I’m an Alastair Reynolds fan.

Not ashamed to admit it, he writes crunchy science fiction that sits well with my critical mind. You know – the bit that competes with your enjoyment of a novel by whispering, “that’s not very realistic, is it?” in the back of your mind.

I’m not a very good fan though.

I found his books by accident, trawling the shelves of a local bookstore many years a in search of good science fiction, something which can be very hard to come by when you don’t know the genre well.

In the intervening years, I’ve read Reynolds intermittently, chancing upon one novel or another, and getting that spark of author recognition when I saw his name. I’ve enjoyed every single one, to a greater or lesser degree.

I recharged my kindle for the first time in about two years when the coronavirus-related confinement limited my entertainment options, and while flicking through books I’ve read and know well, I chanced upon Revenger. I remembered the title, recognized Alastair Reynolds’ name on the cover, which seemed familiar.

But I couldn’t remember anything about it.

Brilliant! A second run at a novel I’ve already bought, courtesy of a faulty transfer from short- to long-term memory.

The downside of reading a book you already know is that you read it much faster than the first time around, as your memory starts to fill in ever larger bits of the story for you. The upside is you get to rediscover work you enjoyed enough not to delete, which in my case is a sure measure of quality. I’m not short of memory on my kindle, but I’m still picky about what gets to fester there.

After I finished, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Revenger and found that it’s referred to as “hard” science fiction. That I have to object to. Although much of Reynolds’ oeuvre is hard science fiction, this isn’t. The “glowy”, the “ghosty” and the “quoins” are anything but, and they’re central to the story. That said, his departure from the strict confines of hard science fiction poses no problem for me.

Fura Ness, as a protagonist, gets most of her character development out of the way in the first third of the book, and spends the rest of it coming to terms with the person she’s developed into. The world-building is, while not on a par with Seveneves, absolutely top notch. Reynolds’ willingness to kill off significant characters keeps you on your toes, but he doesn’t forego the character development of each of his victims for all that, which gives you the shock that a death in a novel ought to.

Finally, the moral complexity the book hints at is refreshing (at least to me), in a context where the real world seems ever more defined in absolutes. Even the protagonist and the anatgonist have, as we finally discover, a side to them that mitigates the obvious judgement their behaviour draws. It’s possible, in fact, that the most evil characters are on the periphery of the story, looking in.

I’d forgotten about Revenger, and I really enjoyed rediscovering it. I also discovered that there are two sequels, which I will now have to read, and other books by Reynolds that had passed unnoticed, and which will find their way onto a list that informs future reading decisions.

Coronavirus Workplace Upgrade

The impact of coronavirus on my personal situation comes with a particular silver lining.

Unable to go to the office to work, I worked from home in London for a while. After a while, that was unmanageable and a solution needed to be found. The solution I came up with was to relocate the family to the countryside until this blows over.

Continue reading Coronavirus Workplace Upgrade

TV: The Walking Dead, Season 10

If there’s one thing a virus-driven lockdown is good at, it’s creating opportunities to catch up on lots of unwatched TV.

You know: all that time you thought you’d spend writing, which in fact gets lost while binge-watching someone else’s output.

It’s hard to get mad though, because there’s a lot of very good stuff to watch out there, and the Walking Dead franchise is, in this sense, the gift that keeps on giving.

Like any ten-season series, it’s had better and worse seasons, but whatever supernatural process the druids of screenwriting employ to regularly turn out excellent episodes has been perfected by the team behind The Walking Dead.

After so long on the road and on the threshold of disaster, we now have our survivors in communities that, while they have their differences, more or less manage to work together. This is in no small part because they face a common enemy, and I’m not talking about the Walkers, because since season 9 we now also have the Whisperers.

The Walking Dead has always had other living, breathing humans as the main cause of suffering in their post-apocalyptic world. If it weren’t for other survivors, our survivors would be getting on just fine. These other groups have either slipped happily into Mad Max-style lawlessness in the absence of a socially-imposed code of conduct, or they’ve put their own survival ahead of their sense of morality, and justify any number of horrors as a consequence.

The Whisperers are different. While their leader’s motivations are complex, conflicted and emotional, as a group they’ve become what they are to survive, and as a consequence of their leader’s cult-inspired approach to people management. They’re not faking it, they’re a full-on proper cult, and they worship the walkers. That makes them a different kind of threat; one that can’t really be negotiated with.

It’s nice, in these last couple of seasons, to have seen some glimmer of light through the sometimes all-pervasive darkness that is the post-zombie-virus world. The communities thrive and the people find plenty of time for happiness amidst the struggle for survival. Of course the story only provides this to have something to tear down, and it’s not just the whisperers who challenge the survivors, it’s also the sheer difficulty of living in a post-technological age with the constant threat of annihilation outside the town walls.

Some communities just don’t make it.

Against this setting, The Walking Dead manages to successfully deploy themes of vengeance, justice, injustice, redemption, sacrifice and above all community. Perhaps the dark backdrop of the series provides fertile canvas for these kinds of stories, perhaps the writers are just, after all this time, truly great at what they do, but season 10 is undoubtedly excellent, despite some unexpected cast adjustments.

It’s hard to tell if the actors had had enough, or if there are spin-offs being prepared in the wings, but there is an external force that rips characters unexpectedly off the chessboard, without killing them, never to return (or at least not in this season). If I had to think of one thing to criticise from season 10, it would be this. In the manner of their disappearance is a strong sense of real-world factors imposing constraints on the cast and script. Maybe there was no better way of dealing with it. It doesn’t do much to diminish the viewing pleasure, but it does make you wonder where the series is going.

Strongly recommended for quarantine viewing, watching the survivors in the Walking Dead will certainly make you re-evealuate the difficulty of being stuck at home because of our, comparatively less threatening virus.

The Walking Dead Season 10 is available on Netflix and via Amazon Prime.

So. Good News… You’ve Caught This Virus…

My brain did a weird inversion of the whole coronavirus thing a couple of weeks ago and had what I thought at the time was a great idea.

I tried to put that idea to paper in the form of a short story.

After writing something I was not at all happy with, I decided the idea was not so good after all.

But perhaps the idea is fine, just not in my hands. My brain won’t stop grafting new ideas onto this one, turning it into some epic nonsense of a multi-novel series, with occasional subconscious plagiarising from Maze Runner. I had

So instead of giving you a story, I’m going to dump the idea here. Your imagination can write the rest.

Continue reading So. Good News… You’ve Caught This Virus…

Adventures in Fiverr – Book Cover Designers

There are lots of things I’m not particularly good at that I do anyway. Making my own book covers has been one of those things. They’re not particularly good, but my ‘books’ are really only short stories and I was giving them away for free.

While I’m fine with giving away some of my work to connect with an audience that likes my writing, I’m not so sure about spending money to put a cover on a free piece of writing.

Perhaps I was wrong about that, but it’s hard to know.

I’ve got a series of shorts coming together, with a jeans-and-leather wearing female exorcist with a bit of an attitude problem as the main character. I wanted a cover and after a few hours playing around, I decided I wasn’t good enough at cover design to do it myself.

I turned to Fiverr.

About a week later, my opinion of my own cover design skills has gone up considerably.

Continue reading Adventures in Fiverr – Book Cover Designers

Short Story: Rare Gifts

I don’t do all that much horror, but sometimes that’s just how a story turns out. Not that my horror is all that horrifying, but this story very clearly veered towards that genre about a third of the way through the writing process, and there was no clawing it back after that.

At about 1350 words, it’s pretty short, so it’s quick to read and easy to digest. I hope you like it.

Here is “Rare Gifts”.

Continue reading Short Story: Rare Gifts

New Fiction – What You Might Find

The Christmas holidays are – despite appearances – an impossible time for me to write anything substantial. I have made zero progress on my more substantial projects (other than call into question everything I’ve written so far), and I’ve been unable to find the time to write any more of the short story or novella series that I’ve been working on.

Without the routine of home, there isn’t any time to sit at a keyboard and hammer out anything more sophisticated than a very short story.

But I have managed that, a very short story. Particularly in response to prompts over at Reedsy.

This particular story is a reaction to “write a story about a very skilled pickpocket”. It’s about an immigrant pickpocket in a big city. Unusually for me, there are no fantasy of science fiction elements at all. I did have some in mind, but as the story decanted onto the page, none of them made the transition.

You can comment on it below, or over at the story page itself on Reedsy. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

What you might find. By Nick Lavitz.

You can check out the short stories I’ve written on Reedsy by going to my author page on their website.

I like writing in response to prompts because it allows me to generate a short story that’s hermetically sealed away from the longer-term projects I’m working on. Writing straight from my own imagination, without a prompt, results in my cannibalising bits from my stories-in-progress. I currently lack the mental discipline to write a spin-off of an unfinished story, instead I compromise the story itself as my imagination goes off in new directions with an unfinished universe.

New Fiction – Rewind

Cover for Rewind by Nick Lavitz

I’ve been writing some short stories (and a much longer story) for a while now but they’re not ready. Sorry.

They’re a new direction for me and they’ve taken a lot of time to get off the ground as I frequently bring them to the shredder to start again.

New beginnings are painful.

I was, however, browsing the web recently when I came across Reedsy. There they have a competition page with writing prompts, and one of the prompts for the month bounced off some random thought, which resulted in a quick and cheeky short story. Which I submitted.

They’ve put it on their website, so I invite you to take a look at Rewind, and let me know what you think, either over there or over here.

Rewind – by Nick Lavitz

Short Fiction : Snow

The Ortholan’s crew barely survive their crash on an icy moon, and they owe their narrow escape to the least popular member of their crew, the Navigator, whom they call Blue. But they will need him again if they are to survive, because he is the only person aboard capable of flying the ship back to civilization. Unfortunately, without access to their medication, Navigators become somewhat unstable, and the crew’s only hope of salvation may well be the one who kills them all.

Available on Amazon by clicking here .

Eternal Child

Not All Writing Is Created Equal

Today I finally took the advice “do something that scares you”, and published Eternal Child, a novella I’ve been sitting on for quite a long time.

I’m a little confused as to where Eternal Child should sit in the traditional fiction categories. It’s a supernatural horror story with very little actual horror, but a ton of subtle foreboding.

If you’d like to read it, you can find an excerpt below and a full version of the book over on Amazon (click on the image to the right).

I would really like to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below, or by email.

Continue reading Eternal Child