Thus begins Chris Beckett’s latest novel, Tomorrow. A single sentence that said so much to me. At once a knowing nod, a jibe, an amusing paradox of sorts. Because I am putting off my novel – if not starting it, at least from tackling it in earnest – and for the same reasons as the protagonist of Tomorrow: I want it to be a novel about everything. It’s unwieldy, it grows in all directions whenever I spend time with it, try to pin it down.
It is the promise of a novel to beat all other novels – ‘chasing a mirage’ – that keeps the protagonist (and me) producing, exploring; and yet it is also what keeps us dissatisfied. The feeling is one.
Sometimes I wonder whether it will always be the case that I will have ‘the novel’ looming over me, the MacGuffin that keeps me moving, but that the real body of work is what happens incidentally in the peripheries. The preparation, the experimentation, the spin-offs and the alternate takes. Often the most interesting things happen by accident or on whims, so doing something wonderful on purpose can seem like a futile pursuit.
Chroma: Calanooka is the third book in the Constructed Sanity series by Carlie Martece, who has brilliantly woven another story that plays out on multiple levels: this is not simply a book to read, but to interact with.
We follow our neurodivergent protagonists, Leandra and Cal, through the desert to a little town called Summerton. They have difficult lives, trying to survive in a world that does not care about them. They are visited by Kalakai, an alien, who tries to recruit them for cosmic battle and warns them things may get worse before they get better.
The winter her grandfather died, Cari Silvestri swapped her home town for a new life. But the past is not so easily outrun. Almost ten years on, Grandfather returns, his stolen memories repackaged by technology giant Merrywhile Industries as a slick marketing promo for their latest project: digital immortality. But when no one believes her, Cari’s search for proof and answers gradually draws her into a lawless digital underworld.
Mel Faith is also haunted by the past. Her journalistic career circling the drain, she finds herself still obsessed with the one piece she never filed – the tragic history of Michael Sommeil, grandson of Merrywhile’s founder. It’s a story with few leads and fewer prospects, but at whose heart – she’s sure – a secret still sits untold.
As their paths intertwine, the two women enter a world of masks and aliases, of mercenary hackers and corporate spies, and where, underlying it all, is the hunt for the Singularity – the point, both feared and hoped for, where AI will finally surpass human understanding, and nothing will ever again be the same.
I knew this book would be for me as soon as I read the description: an experimental, poetic, flow-of-consciousness exploration of reality, fantasy and all the spaces in between. Yes please!
This is the kind of book you bring yourself to, in that you’re never 100% sure whether your experience is what the writer intended or whether you pasted your own meaning over the top of their words. There’s enough continuity, enough thread to hang onto, to make the text flow through an arc, but it also leaves a lot to interpretation.
I read this as the narrator delving into and confronting his own psyche. Perhaps it comes from knowing this was written during the first pandemic wave, when many felt isolated and helpless, but I see someone grasping desperately at straws to find meaning; someone left alone with his thoughts and falling deeper into their clutches. He picks at scabs, seeks out dark corners, obsesses over repeating motifs and patterns, and he digs.
I’ve been reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and I don’t want it to end. I’m not sure what it is that I find so spellbinding about her writing, but it was the same with M Train when I read that last year. Like a pair of comfortable boots, I’d live in them I could.
M Train begins with the line: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” And you may be fooled into thinking it is a book about nothing. Patti talks in streams about coffee, cafes, wandering, memories, books, waiting, superstition and coincidence with little linearity or focus. But in showing us what her down time looks like, she shows us the profound. Poetic vision isn’t some gift radioed in from another world; it’s in the everyday, in the gaps between ego events. Our art is in the little things we notice when we think we’re doing nothing. And sometimes there is no point, no single focus of meaning. Sometimes the only thing we need to take away from an experience is our own natural response.
“Life is at the bottom of things and belief is at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.”
For me, M Train was itself on a trajectory of synchronicity. It was exactly a year on from writing Mind in the Gap (which has a main character called M and a string of wacky experiences on trains) that I noticed it, and I was still at a bit of a loss as to what I would do next. I’d been playing about with some ideas, redrafting an old novel, but nothing seemed to gel. Then, somewhere between the lines of Patti Smith’s nothing, I started thinking about my own nothing. And, from a stream of consciousness style notebook I kept on a trip to London, I got a good start on the novella that is to become Endless Circles. Something comes from nothing.
Today sees the release of our very first anthology. It’s been a lot of work, but we are so proud of the final result. Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul and Consciousness in a Technological Age features exciting and thought-provoking contributions from ten fantastic authors.
Chimy and Chrisby Stephen Oram
Chris is a scientist. Chimy is a brain, artificially grown in a vat and developing quietly in the dark… ‘I feel the pipe against my surface and see her push it inside me. “Chimy, speak,” she says. I do not know how to speak. What does she mean? How do I speak?’
Little Thief by J.R. Staples-Ager
Thief has undergone surgery at the hands of Genesyx Corporation in order to become ‘ported’ and donate unused brain capacity to the country’s data processing power. What side effects could this possibly have?
Limited Infinity by Thomas Cline
Hess has lived in a reality simulation for many years by law, along with everyone else. But one day, suddenly, there is no one else. They just – vanish. Can he, and the voice in his head, find out what happened?
Dreamtime by Vaughan Stanger
Jerome is in pain. He can’t sleep and is in desperate need of palliative cancer treatment, but now that AI has supplanted every government, he must make a trade to get it. And there’s something he has that the Partners want more than anything else…
The Weight of your Mind by Sergio Palumbo
Brett is a scientist, working on a theory that thoughts produce gravity in minuscule amounts. The problem is, he only knows this at night when he sleeps. During the day he must live a different kind of nightmare…
The Video by Jonathan D. Clark
Everyone watches the video. You watch it. I watch it. We watch it from a distance with disgust, with tension, with the dark thrill of drama. What does the video say about us? What have we become?
The DreamCube Thread by Ellinor Kall
Everyone wants a DreamCube. Feed the ethically cultivated neural tissue, keep it by your bed, and watch it dream! But people are curious. People have questions. Why are the Makers so elusive? Join the discussion!
Luz Beyond the Glass by Ava Kelly
Huge glass spheres sit in gardens. Everyone knows they absorb pollution from the ground, water, and air, to cleanse the filth our ancestors left behind. What most don’t know is what resides in them…
Every Aspect of Every Recollection by Peter Burton
A wonderfully philosophical piece, taking a wander in a mind that has only itself left. Do our memories give us life? Our fantasies? Is it possible we are each more than a single timeline?
Ancestors by Juliane Graef
There is no way back from what humans have done to Earth. But there might just be a way forward… A touching story depicting the persistence of consciousness and three aeons of what happens after.
You can buy your copy now from any of the following:
I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover this book. Like many other reviewers, I was initially pulled in by the magnificent cover but stayed for the promise of unconscious mind exploration: exactly what I love to read.
A policeman is called to investigate a number of killings in the Submundo Delta: a highly unusual but naturally occurring basin in South America. To reach it he must travel by boat through the Zona del Olvido: a region people forget the instant they leave it, including everything they did there. (Just like sleep, I thought. A gateway to the unconscious.) But the creatures that are being killed aren’t people. Not exactly…
Biohacked & Begging is the second volume of Stephen Oram’s Nudge the Future series, which collects the best of his short near-future fiction pieces.
Containing 25 stories across 170 pages, some of these are obviously very short, but there are so many ideas packed in that it’s a real achievement. It’s a brevity that suits the fast-moving culture we’ve found ourselves in, where apps compete for our attention and information is trucked into our minds at every second. You can easily read a story on a coffee break or commute, though I have to say I found myself racing through this in only a couple of sittings in the end. They’re moreish, see. Like those weird flavours of crisps that you think you’ll try once for novelty and move on, then find yourself licking the packet an hour later… But maybe that’s just me.
Oram forgets no one in his vignettes of future life. Young and old, rich and poor; we’re all hurtling forwards with a real possibility of bio-hacked bodies, behaviour-based payment systems and AI-integrated societies. It will affect all of us differently, especially with an approaching climate crisis and political turmoil layered on top. This makes Biohacked & Begging a necessary kind of book for our time, as well as a necessary form. How better to open eyes, start conversations and play around with ideas than in speculative narrative? This is the kind of science fiction that has always been fuel for imagination and drive: far enough from reality that we thank our lucky stars but near enough that we’re left contemplating. What if that was me?
Independent authors are often not given a chance by readers because they don’t have a big name publishing house backing them. There’s this idea that the only reason anyone would self-publish or use an small assistive press is that they aren’t good enough to be picked up by a ‘real’ publisher. But in reality there can be many reasons for choosing the indie route: to maintain creative control, to utilise business and marketing skills, to take advantage of higher royalty rates, as the beginning of a bigger venture to become a small press; or, simply because they don’t care for any of that and just want to get their work out there to be read.
Like it or not, the rise of online platforms and just-in-time printers means that the amount of people choosing to publish this way is on the increase. The good thing about this is anyone can have a go. The bad thing is anyone can have a go. Because of course, low barriers to entry also mean lack of quality control.
I believe that keeping the quality high is the key to being successful as an independent author. The best ones are indistinguishable from traditionally published in terms of polish. But not everyone starting out can afford an editor, and I get that. That’s why, in my opinion, a few typos are forgivable if the overall impression is strong, and aren’t even worth mentioning in a review. However, I’ve seen books with holiday snaps as covers and spelling mistakes in titles. I’ve seen multiple grammatical errors in opening sentences and unfinished lines on the first page. I’ve seen books without formatting uploaded straight from Word and blurbs that sound like the very first scribblings of an idea.
I think all of this comes down to one thing: if it looks as though the author doesn’t care about their work, then readers won’t either.
But it would be a huge mistake to shy away from reading a book simply because it is indie or self-published. Independent authors are doing things traditional publishers are not. They are putting out experimental novellas that would otherwise by considered too short to be marketable. They are flowing free between genres, mixing up expectations instead of conforming to trend. They are are blurring the line that isolates literary from popular fiction and producing heartfelt personal content without censorship. They are adding more diversity, in terms of both characters and the writers themselves. And because the independent publishing model allows books to come to market quicker, I would argue they are also more ‘on the pulse’. That takes passion, dynamism, and talent.
Over the last year I have read a fair few indie books, and have compiled a list of ten I recommend. Every author on this list, I have no doubt, is passionate about their work. Every one has wonderful ideas, characters, worlds and attention to structure. Every one I can give an honest 4 or 5 star review. Not ‘good for an indie book’ but good by any standard. So here they are, in the order I read them: Continue reading “Indie Book Recommendations”→
When you control the fate of others, who is in control of yours?
One of the things I love about indie books is that they often defy traditional classification. Sure, categories can help us find what we are looking for, but what if we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it? Some stories just beg to be told, no matter what genre we might later decide they should sit in.
Almost Surely is a book that breaks the genre mould. It has elements of time travel, sci-fi and low fantasy, but it feels very much like an old noir film in its styling. The way the scenes are framed, the locations, and the jazz soundtrack all add to this. There’s also a charming Murakami-like focus on the animals in the background of scenes that really brings the whole thing to life.
But onto the story. Here Jefferson has created a wonderful mythology, which I bought into from the very first page. The opening to the book introduces four Heralds, located somewhere apparently outside of our usual realms of space and time. There’s Gift, the authority that governs karma, Collector, who takes care of death, Love, and Watcher, the blind embodiment of fate. While all of these exist, looming in the background of the book, the story follows Anthony Hopper: an Agent of Influence who directs the lives of those selected by Watcher.