In which I get overexcited about my new book.

Thus Falls the Shadow is now available on pre-order! Launch will be 1st December but you can get an Advance Review Copy right now. I’m really excited about this book. It’s got everything! Well, not everything, but it has space travel, aliens, gun fights, line dancing robots, gay lead character, swearing (a lot of swearing!), touches of humour, in fact someone on The Book of the Face described it as #funspaceromp which seems as good a description as any other, although the book has a darker side as well.

If you want a copy – click the picture above and it will take you to a site called Booksprout which hosts my review programme. Or if you dont want to bother with that just email me at gablepress@outlook.com and say “Send me the space book with all the swearing in!” or some such message. Or even just leave a comment below.

Bargain Book Section

First up, a selection of free books. I think some of these look really interesting so well worth checking out. Just click the picture.

Also, I’ve just started reading this and I’m really enjoying it. It is a fast paced SF with some imaginative touches and I really recommend it. It is free as well, so worth a click.

Enjoy.

Martin

P.S. Remember, click on the image at the top or just email me to get your free advance copy of my new book ,Thus Falls the Shadow.

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Too many books!

Does this ever happen to you?

I just tried to open my wardrobe door and failed because I had too many books by the side of my bed. Had a bit of a sort out, removed two books I had actually read, took out my kindle (which has a whole virtual pile of books on it) took out two more which were actually my kids books, and I was left with this.

I am currently reading Labyrinths, which is about Emma Jung and the early years of Psychoanalysis. I’m reading this first because one of my students recommended it and I want to get it back to them. It is interesting but harder going than my usual reads!

All Hell Let Loose is a one volume history of WWII covering the conflict across the whole globe. It’s good but I tend to dip in and out. The Stephen Donaldson I picked up second hand, and it’s sitting there while I work out if I need to read the original 6 books again before I read this. It must be ten to twenty years since I read them. The Ian.M.Banks Culture books I also picked up second hand. I got very excited because I was thinking of reading them again and then saw them 50p each in very good condition.

The N.K.Jemisin were a present from my sister, and I feel guilty for not starting them yet, but they are the most recent on the pile. Malice I have had for nearly three months and still haven’t started it.

It’s the same old problem, too many books, too little time.

What are you reading?

Never get out of the boat, part four – Thus Falls the Shadow

A dark tale of romance, obsession and interplanetary war.

Thus Falls the Shadow is my latest book, due for release at the end of November. It’s a story that I didn’t intend to write, a story that crept up on me and took me by surprise.

I wrote the first fragment of a short story called ‘Dust’ in May 2016. I liked what I had written, but I was busy redrafting the first book of my fantasy series, so ‘Dust’ was put to one side. I returned to it in the September and again in October and by November I had a solid start to a story, some characters I liked and a sense of where it was going. I was still thinking of it as a short story, although longer than any short story I had written before.

At this point I put it aside. I had decided I would release The Song of Amhar as a series of novellas and was busy with my first attempt at self publishing. I had also started working on the fourth book on the series but it was here I hit a road block. I had two chapters down but half way through the third I just stopped and couldn’t get going again.

When my Dad had the equivalent of writer’s block he would stick a load of paper on the walls of his studio and just paint anything. He said it just took the pressure off, and eventually he could paint himself out of the corner. I decided to do the same thing and picked up ‘Dust’ again. It worked, the words came and I found myself writing a bigger story, one that looked like it would be novella length. This was good, but something strange was happening and I realised I was treading a familiar path. I had a story recounted past tense by a man who is searching for something, an elusive shadowy figure to be tracked down and a ship travelling through alien worlds.

So here was my dilemma, go with the story as it grew or abandon it as not original enough. I decided to go with it and by Easter 2018 I had a Science Fiction novel.

Thus Falls the Shadow is not Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now, and it is certainly not The Hollow Men. In a sense it is my response to these three pieces of art that have had such an influence on me. There are similarities, and I have deliberately referenced all three works in my book. I’m not going to list those references now, they are to there to find when you read it, but I will say that some are there to make you think, others to make you laugh, or at least crack a smile.

I think the big difference is in the overall themes. Both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness place one man’s obsessive search for another against a background of the effects of colonialism. In Thus Falls the Shadow I have added another theme: love. The protagonist (Will) wrestles between his obsessive search for one man and his love for another. This was another bit of the story that took me by surprise, I was going to write in a woman but it just didn’t feel right. I like to give my characters some agency and it turned out that Will just wasn’t interested in women.

So if you think you might like to read Thus Falls the Shadow, I’m hoping to have ARCs ready in about two weeks. In the meantime can I just draw your attention to this promo. Some great bargains here so well worth a look.

Never get out of the boat, part three – Heart of Darkness.

I’m doing these in the wrong order, at least as far as the chronology of the works goes. I’m doing it in my order, the order that I experienced them, and Heart of Darkness comes third. In the early 2000s I bought a set of ten books called ‘The Banned Books Collection’. It was a great buy, with some great books, and Heart of Darkness was one. It wasn’t the first that I read, but when I did, it made a big impression.

Heart of Darkness is a novella by the Polish-English writer Joseph Conrad. First published in 1899 it tells the story of a journey by paddle steamer up the Congo river in Africa. It is a framed narrative, with the narrator, Marlowe, sitting with friends on a yacht anchored in the Thames, and recounting the journey. Marlowe describes his mission to travel up the Congo to find Kurtz, a station chief and Ivory trader who seems almost a legendary figure. Every time Marlowe meets a European, they talk about what a great man Kurtz is, how he will do great things, how he will become a big figure in ‘the company’. After a long and difficult journey Marlowe finally gets to meet Kurtz only to find ‘the great man’ wasted by illness, yet still able to cast his hypnotic power over the African tribespeople. The last words of Kurtz, echoed by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now are “The horror! The horror!”. The “manager’s boy” announces to the rest of the crew, in a scathing tone, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead”.

Twenty years later the quote is used by T.S.Eliot to preface ‘The Hollow Men’.

It is a brilliant book, beautifully written. Conrad draws on his own experiences of travelling up the Congo in 1890 to capture both the dramatic landscape and the otherness of being in an alien place. The framing of the narrative enables Conrad to create a parallel between what Conrad calls “the greatest town on earth”, London, and Africa as places of darkness. It is essentially anti-colonial, although it has since been criticised for its depiction of African people.

I once took a tourist boat up a river in Turkey when I was on holiday. It was in a sparsely populated area and we were going to view ancient rock tombs cut into the cliffs on the side of the valley. I remember the heat, the sound of the motor and the reeds slipping by on either side. It was a strange, dream-like experience, I felt dislocated from the world, an observer of an alien landscape. It is the same feeling I get when I read Heart of Darkness.

Never get out of the boat, part two – Apocalypse Now

It is strange that I can’t remember where I was the first time I watched Apocalypse Now. It is one of a handful of films that have had a significant effect on me (Bladerunner is another) and it is certainly the most haunting. Somehow it got under my skin and it never went away.

If you haven’t seen it, Apocalypse Now tells the story of a special forces captain, Willard (played by Martin Sheen) who is given a mission to find a renegade special forces Colonel by the name of Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’. Kurtz has gone insane, setting himself up as a demigod with a tribe of indigenous people as his worshippers, carving out his own kingdom on the borders of Cambodia, fighting his own war against the Viet Cong. Willard joins a PBR, a river patrol boat, commanded by Chief, with crewmen Lance, “Chef”, and “Mr. Clean” to head upriver. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film is now recognised as one the greatest war movies of all time.

In Apocalypse Now, Coppola takes the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness from the Congo in the mid to late 19th Century and plants the story in Vietnam in 1969. Willards’s voiceover provides the narrative as the boat travels from one set-piece incident to another, a story that reflects Willard’s own war-weary and cynical view of the conflict. Reflecting on Kurtz’s alleged war crimes he says:

“Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500.”

Another telling quote is:

“They were gonna make me a Major for this, and I wasn’t even in their fuckin’ army anymore”

In a surreal incident where Willard and Chef leave the boat to collect mangoes and are then hunted by a tiger, Chef loses it. “Never get out of the boat” he says. “Never get out of the boat…I got to remember:  never get out of the boat,” He goes on and on, while Willard’s voiceover comes in over the top.

“Never get out of the boat.  Absolutely goddamn right.  Unless you’re going all the way. Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin’ program.

Somehow, never get out of the boat feels like the key to the whole film. The boat seems like a place of safety, an objective point from which Willard observes the insanity of Vietnam. Kurtz, by “getting out out of the boat”, has committed himself, accepting the reality of the war. His crime, his madness, is his choice to commit wholeheartedly Vietnam as his new normality. Within the insanity of the war, Kutz’s actions are sane.

At the end of the film, in a haunting finale, Willard tracks Kurtz to a ruined temple. In the final scenes an overweight Marlon Brando sits like a giant Buddha statue and read’s T.S.Eliot’s The Hollow Men. The Poem which Eliot prefaced with a quote from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

“Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”

Next post: Heart of Darkness

Never get out of the boat, part one – T.S.Elliot

Never get out of the boat…never get out of the boat…I got to remember:  never get out of the boat,

I have a bit of a weird obsession which revolves around three things:

Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness and The Hollow Men.

I’m going to deal with The Hollow Men first.

When I was fifteen I pulled one of my Dad’s poetry books off the shelf and started to read. When I say it was my Dad’s, I mean he owned the book. He hadn’t written the poems, although he did write. He was an artist, and mostly he drew and painted obsessively, but there was a period after we moved house in the 70s when he didn’t have a studio and he wrote a lot then, poems, part of a novel. I read some later and it was good, but he never did anything with it. Painting was always his first love.

The book was T.S.Elliot and I was blown away. It was like nothing I had read before. I didn’t really understand it but I didn’t care, the imagery was everything. I read ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and it was like stepping into another world, a world more infinitely interesting than mine. And then there was The Hollow Men…

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar

That’s the first verse. The final two lines are perhaps the most famous in the history of poetry:

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

Eliot’s poems are complex. Images and characters collide in a seemingly random manner. If his poems were paintings they would be cubist collages, unrelated fragments that combine to create something that is meaningful but not coherent. Eliot’s poems twist under your gaze, you think you have sight of the poet’s intent, but then he slips from your grasp with a fleeting smile.

In a way I was lucky. Growing up in a house full of abstract paintings left me open to literature that was less than obvious. Yes it felt strange, but it also felt right.

Wanting to share my discovery, I went and told my sister of my new love for T.S.Eliot. She, eight years older and back home from art college, told me I would grow out of it.

I never have.

Next post: Part Two – Apocalypse Now