To The Last Word Blog

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Stephen King – A Beginner’s Guide

For a long time I paid no attention to the writing of Joyce Carol Oates. But I kept seeing her mentioned in the context of modern American Gothic, being recommended by writers whose work I loved, particularly Stephen King. The admiration was mutual. In 1997 Oates introduced King when he gave his first reading at Princeton University. That day she described him as a great writer of Gothic horror. At different points in their careers King and Oates even had the same editor …

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The Invention of Iain M. Banks

This piece was originally posted on 18 April, 2012. I’m reposting it now in memory of Iain Banks, who died on Sunday 9 June, 2013. I have recently reread Iain M. Banks 1988 novel The Player of Games. I did so because I have been selected as a World Book Night book giver, and of the 25 available titles the one I chose to give away was the Banks. I had a hard time picking, and I want to explain why I selected this particular book. But first, if you don’t know about World Book Night take a look …

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Book Review: Objects in Dreams, Lisa Tuttle

Lisa Tuttle has long been one of the masters of the deeply unsettling tale. Last year her short story Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear opened Jonathan Oliver’s excellent anthology, House of Fear, a collection of haunted and otherwise strange homes. That was one of my favourite books of the year, and that Tuttle’s tale was chosen to open a volume containing new work by such writers as Chaz Brenchley, Eric Brown, Christopher Fowler, Garry Kilworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon and …

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Book Reviews: This Shared Dream & In War Times, Kathleen Ann Goonan

Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times, originally published in 2007, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel and the ALA’s Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. A complex exploration of the political implications of alternative history, In War Times begins in 1941, with Sam Dance being given documents that lead to the opening of a parallel world in which Dance’s brother, Keenan, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor to work for a better future — as does Sam in “our” …

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Things Fall Apart

Yesterday I read three articles worth considering for anyone serious about writing fiction. The first was The Widening Gyre: 2012 Best of the Year Anthologies by Paul Kincaid, written for the LA Review of Books. This piece looked at Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction : Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, Richard Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy : 2012 Edition and the Nebula Awards Showcase 2012. Kincaid begins his lengthy and extremely well-argued article thus: ‘The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really...

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Book Review: Adrift on the Sea of Rains, Ian Sales

Adrift on the Sea of Rains is the first volume in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet. Available as a limited edition hardback (75 signed copies), paperback and ebook, this science fiction adventure falls between alternative history and parallel world story. It is the late 1980’s, the Cold War has gone nuclear and all that’s left of the human race is the crew of the US moon base Falcon. Colonel Peterson is looking for a way home before the food runs out. Hopes lie in a partially understood piece …

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A Game of Pride and Prejudice

An interesting piece by Amanda Craig has appeared on the Telegraph website. The article, centered around the HBO television series of George R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones novels, joins the vast pile of opinion pieces addressing the debate ‘can fantasy fiction ever be any good’. Which is to say, should authors use their imagination or confine themselves to looking out the window and typing? These opinion pieces begin by stating the default premise, that fantasy …

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We Need To Talk About Lionel (Shriver)

When it comes to literature men in the UK, US and Germany are reportedly in a tiny minority, reading just 20% of all fiction. Or so, writing in the Guardian, says Lionel Shriver. I don’t know if this is true. I know lots of men who read lots of fiction. Perhaps they are not representative. But then I assumed Lionel Shriver was a man. It’s an easy mistake to make. Shriver, a woman who changed her name from Margaret Ann, and won the female-only Orange Prize for Fiction for We Need to Talk About Kevin, offers what starts out as an excellent article about sexism in book marketing and cover design. She argues that despite the content of her novels having appeal...

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A day with Jane Goodall

We spent Saturday with Dr Jane Goodall. Afterwards Jane asked me to write an account of the day. So here it is. Jane Goodall is excited. “Have you heard?” she says, as we eat lunch in the restaurant at Compton Acres in Poole. “We’ve been shortlisted for an Oscar!” She is referring to the film about her life, Jane’s Journey, which had its first UK showing at Bournemouth University. The scientist, conservationist and UN International Messenger of Peace, Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, spends …

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Some notes on Christopher Priest’s The Islanders

Yesterday morning I received a signed copy of Christopher Priest’s latest book, The Islanders, direct from the author. This is Priest’s first book length fiction since the Arthur C. Clarke Award winning The Separation, and since the release of the film The Prestige, based on the author’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize winning novel of the same name. What follows is not a review but some spoiler-free notes. In the first 22 pages of The Islanders Christopher Priest uses the word ‘adjacent’ three times. By some counts The Islanders is Christopher Priest’s **? book, if one includes works of non-fiction, chapbooks and works written under a pseudonym. Do we count  chapbooks, small publications such as The Song of the Book? Does The...