Friday, May 30, 2014

The Shadow Master Master - Some Questions for Craig Cormick

Today's guest is Craig Cormick, author of The Shadow Master.

How did you hook up with Angry Robot for The Shadow Master?
That’s an interesting story. I went to a spec-fiction conference, Conflux, in Canberra, in Australia, and they had these pitch to a publisher sessions, and Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot books was there taking pitches from participants. But I didn’t actually pitch to him. However, after the conference I was talking to a colleague who said that it was still possible to send a pitch as part of the deal – so I jumped on the email and said, ‘Have I got a kick-arse book for you!’ etc etc and they like it and it all went onwards from there.

Having said that, I could tell you more stories where it didn’t end up so happily-ever-after, but every author should have at least one dream-run story, right?

What would you say the big inspirations behind The Shadow Master are?
I have been lucky enough to have traveled a lot in my work as a Science Communicator, and I was a conference in Florence a few years back, and while walking around the Galileo museum I got this idea – what if science behaved like magic? And what if, when Galileo invented the telescope, it actually transported you across to what you were looking at – and what if the early chronometers actually slowed down time? And it all started forming out of that magical moment. Incidentally a highlight of the Galileo museum, if you ever get to go there is finding Galileo’s mummified middle finger in a glass jar, pointing at the church. (

Have you always been interested in Italian history?
Not really, and I had to do a lot of research for the book, and found that the Renaissance in Italy was a pretty fascinating period, particularly with the Medici family in Florence and the Borges and the artists and scientists of the time. It was an amazing time of great social change really.

Any more books featuring Lorenzo and company in the works?
Not featuring Lorenzo, but certainly featuring the Shadow Master. I’m working on the sequel between answer blog interviews. The sequel is really, really, really good. It’s set in a Floating City, something like Venice and I’m using the original Italian tales that Shakespeare adapted into Romeo and Juliet, Othello and the Merchant of Venice, within it. A lot of fun and really enjoyable to write.

Who would you cast in a The Shadow Master movie?
Great question. I’m often thinking who would play the person in the book – and although he could be many different people as you’d never quite get to see his face, I think Michael Fassbender has the physique and wicked grin right.

Who is your favorite author?
That’s a very big question. To some extent it’s what ever book I’m reading at the moment that I’m really getting in to. But if I had to think, who would I travel a long, long way to meet, or who would I take a day off work to read their book upon its release, I’d list Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce and Margaret Atwood.

What is your favorite book?
Do you mean what is my favourite book that I’d grab off the shelf in the case off a house fire before I went and got my wife and kids? Another hard question. Of course I’d grab my early copies of the Shadow Master first. But after that I might go to where I have a few collectors items, like my signed Salman Rushdie’s the Satanic Verses, or my leather-bound Don Quixote illustrated by Salvador Dali. Or all my Phantom comics…:

What are you reading now?
I have several books next to my bed calling out to me in the night, saying, “Read me!” “No, read me!” “No, read me.” The one I’m currently enjoying the most is book two of the Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. It’s very enjoyable and it was only when I was half way into book two that I discovered that Robin is an XX chromosome person. She does the young male’s point of view very well.

Is there a book that made you want to be a writer?
Probably the Narnia Chronicles, which I read when I was about ten or so and they really transported me to another world and after finishing them I wanted to write more books in the series to make the story go on longer. I still have the first book I ever wrote – when I was about 11-years-old or so – it was called the End of the Second Eon and was a hand-written fantasy book. It had knights and ravens and magic and .... hmmm, I’d better go and dig it out and look it over and see if it was truly atrocious as I fear, or whether there might actually be the gem of a good idea in there that I could re-use.

Is The Shadow Master was your first published work?
Nooo – I’ve published about 20 books and over 100 short stories, though mainly in literary areas and a mix of fiction and non-fiction, although I’ve always been strongly interested in history and reinterpretations of history. Readers can check out some of my work and samples here.

What's next for Craig Cormick?
There’s always something in the pipeline - and I’ll probably need to call a plumber around to clear it out – but I’m just looking over the proofs of a novel I’ve written about Adolf Hitler having been found hiding in a small fishing village in Australia during the Falkland’s War, and I’m getting near the end of the editing of a book on the science of the Australian Bushranger Ned Kelly. ( It involved editing a collection of pieces from all the different scientists who have worked on identifying Ned Kelly’s bones and remains that were recently located at a prison cemetery. It involves forensic pathology and DNA testing and archaeology and detective work through the records and is absolutely fascinating story. Watch this space!

Any advice for aspiring writers?
My favourite advice for writers is this quote from the German poet Rilke. Every writer should have it stuck up on their wall somewhere.

“There is only one way. Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must," then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.”


My second favourite bit of advice is this cartoon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Full Measure

Full Measure: A NovelFull Measure: A Novel by T. Jefferson Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Patrick Norris returns home after being discharged from the Marines, he finds the family avocado farm devastated by a recent wildfire. His older brother Ted still lives at home and is kind of a loser. How can Pat help his family when he's still adjusting to life away from Afganistan?

I got this ARC from Netgalley.

I've seen T. Jefferson Parker novels on bookstore shelves for years, right after Robert B. Parker. I don't know what I expected from T-Jeff, as I now call him, but it wasn't this.

I'd thought T-Jeff was a crime writer but this felt more like general fiction with a few crime elements. I expected a mystery around who set the wildfire but it was barely touched upon. The bigger story was the contrast between Pat and Ted, the Norris brothers.

I felt sorry for Ted. He tried as hard as he could to please his father and generally fit in but was socially inept and had bad feet and a history of drug abuse. Plus he had a pet tarantula. Since I had one for a brief time when I was a young teen, I felt some kinship for him. Pat seemed like a good guy but I sure wouldn't go drinking with him. He's really keyed up from life in the marines and can't seem to relax. Alcohol does NOT help.

The story wasn't what I expected but I still found it interesting. There was the mystery behind what Lucinda's deal with and what messed up thing Ted would do to prove himself. For me, the biggest mystery of the book was why Iris would put up with Pat's crap. She saw him beat the dog shit out of some guy and he and some of his ex-marine pals got tanked and trashed her place.

Besides Pat and Ted, I found the rest of the Norris family interesting, even when I didn't agree with them. The final scene of the book was my favorite part and I was worried a specific character wouldn't survive. I was pleased at how it turned out.

Final random thought:
Avocado farming seems like a hard life. Did you know it takes years and years for an avocado tree to bear fruit?

Three out of five stars. I think one of T-Jeff's Charlie Hood books would have been a better choice to bust my cherry with.

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DeathworldDeathworld by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When professional gambler Jason dinAlt is hired to run a stake up into the billions by some colonists, he is intrigued by tales of their world and opts to return to it. However, Pyrrus is the most hostile world in the universe, with every life form bent on the extermination of the colonists, even the plant life.

I read a few of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books years ago and decided to give this one a try. It was free on the Kindle so the price was right.

Deathworld is a tale of man vs. environment. Is it better to tame the wilderness or live in harmony with it? That seems to be the theme of the novel.

Jason dinAlt is a gambling scoundrel, probably a literary descendant of C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith. Jason goes to Pyrrus out of curiosity and winds up leading a revolution of sorts.

Deathworld, aka Pyrrus, is a heavy gravity world where the plants and animals are trying to kill the colonists and have been for centuries, evolving at a frightening rate. The colonists continually try to exterminate the hostile life forms and keep on colonizing. Sound familiar?

The story kicks into high gear when it becomes apparent that the colonists aren't the only humans on the planet and the core theme is really driven home.

Even though there's an ecological message, it's not heavy handed and even people who are anti-environment will find it entertaining.

It's a pretty slim book and I don't want to blow all the surprises. It's a fun read and doesn't feel as dated to me as a lot of its contemporaries. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Slept with Slender Man

I Slept with Slender ManI Slept with Slender Man by Emma Steele
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Virginia, the prettiest senior in Killmeister High, has a problem. All of the boys are too intimidated by her beauty to ask her out. When she witnesses her classmates having an orgy, the Slender Man appears to satisfy her needs...

Damn, this is some crazy shit. After reading Debbie Does Monsterland, I decided to give Emma Steele's initial effort a try. This is monsterotica with flavors of horror and bizarro stirred into the mix.

Wikipedia tells me The Slender Man existed before this short story. However, I don't think Slender Man got to impale a high school senior with DD breasts on his twenty foot penis before this story.

The writing is more like horror or bizarro writing than erotica. Still, the sexual component is there, only very, very, very strange.

I Slept With Slender Man is a pretty powerful and memorable short story. I'm not sure I liked it but it's memorable enough to hit four territory. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Journey to the Abortosphere

Journey to AbortosphereJourney to Abortosphere by Kirk Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While in mourning for his first love, an ivory shoe horn named Katherine, an unemployed loser named Ed buys a bizarre machine at an auction, a machine that has a very humanlike anus built into the side and may hold the key to all reality. And after that, things get a little strange...

I've read a ton of bizarro books over the years. Some proved to be fairly ordinary stories with a few weird elements welded on to them. Others were pretty strange. This one takes the taco.

Journey to the Abortosphere has its roots in the fabled Philadelphia Experiment, an alleged military operation in invisiblity from radar that went horribly wrong, seeing men partially materializing inside the bulkheads of the ship and/or lost somewhere in space-time. Kirk Jones asks "What happened to the anuses?" or something to that effect. The tale is peppered with time jumps, parallel realities, government agents who may or may not be obsessed with waffles, and buttholes.

I feel I should mention early on that the Abortosphere has nothing to do with abortion. It's God's first attempt at heaven, abandoned and used as a dumping ground.

The story is pretty crazy. Ed finds himself teleporting back and forth to the U.S.S. Eldridge in 1938 and 1983, as well as to his parent's house and to hospital. Once the Eldridge was wandering space-time, pursued by a twelve ton cast-iron fetus bristling with alien weaponry, the story's true depths unfolded. Also, there was some talk of a creation myth starring some Transformers.

There were some big ideas being thrown around but it was mostly a story about inanimate objects with human anuses and the end of space-time as we know it. Three out of five stars.

For more information on the Philadelphia Experiment:

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Debbie Does Monsterland

Debbie Does Monsterland (F*ck All Monsters, Book 1) - Emma Steele
Since growing 50 feet tall and being imprisoned in a scientific research facility, Nancy has trouble satisfying her womanly urges. That is, until, she sees a documentary about Monster Island on TV and knows what she has to do. Can Nancy escape her prison and make it Monster Island to satisfy her carnal urges?

Monsterotica is apparently a big deal. While I find the concept somewhat ridiculous, I had to give this one a shot when it was free on the Kindle for a day. How was it?

Dirty fun entertainment, that's how it was. It's twisted smut and has some hilarious prose, both a parody of Monsterotica and (probably) some of the best written Monsterotica ever put to paper.

There's a certain poetry to the prose, funny considering it's a story about a 50 foot tall woman boning various daikaiju, or giant monsters. Rodan, Gamera, and others all get a turn. My main gripe with the book was that Godzilla didn't get a go at Nancy.

This was a three star read for me. Monsterotica enthusiasts will probably rate it even higher.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Doctor Who: The Bog Warrior

Doctor Who: The Bog Warrior (Time Trips)Doctor Who: The Bog Warrior by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the Doctor witnesses a masked ball on a far off planet, he finds himself in the middle of a dispute between two factions. Who are the Bog Warriors? And can The Doctor get Prince Zircon and Princess Ash together? Of course he can! He's The Doctor...

I got this from Netgalley.

The Time Trips series has been a mixed bag. I enjoyed the hell out of some of them but others didn't hold my interest. This one is firmly in the "meh" category.

On the surface, this is a retelling of Cinderella on an alien world with The Doctor involved. Unfortunately, he's only on the periphery for most of the story. As I've said in the past, when I read a Doctor Who novel or short story, I'd like the Doctor to be front and center, flying around in the TARDIS and reversing the polarity of the neutron flow like only he can. He was pretty much a background character in this.

However, when the Doctor was on stage, he was perfectly rendered, saving this book from one star territory. The Bog Warriors were also interesting. The rest of the story, not so much.

I'm not familiar with Cecelia Ahern's work but maybe people who are would get more mileage out of this one. Two stars and it had to work for them.

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Ceremony of Flies

Ceremony of Flies - Kate Jonez

When a showgirl named Kitty accidentally kills her boss, she quickly finds herself on the run with a petty criminal named Rex. When two more people wind up dead, Kitty, Rex, and an odd young boy named Harvey head for Mexico...

I got this from Netgalley.

The DarkFuse novella series continues to impress. Ceremony of Flies is a road trip novel through the American southwest, from Las Vegas to Mexico, with lots of killing and creepy shit along the way.

Even though it's a pretty slim story, there's a lot going on in Ceremony of Flies. Kate Jonez does a great job of pacing, both in action and how she doles out the backgrounds of Kitty and Rex is small morsels. I liked how Kitty gradually made Rex and Harvey her family, despite Harvey being one creepy little kid. Although, when you pick up a strange kid at the crossroads, you're pretty much asking for it.

Kitty is a pretty good narrator, her black humor a nice counterpoint to the generally icky feeling the book gradually acquires along the way. Oddly enough, the part of the book I found most revolting was the swim in the Salton Sea, one of the foulest lakes on Earth from what I'm told.

3.5 out of 5 stars. I'll be watching for more Kate Jonez books to pop up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Hangtown (Janelle Watkins, Private Investigator, #2)Hangtown by Karen Sandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a teenager is found hanging from a bridge near her house, Detective Janelle Watkins doesn't think it's suicide. But does that have anything to do with the threatening texts Janelle has been getting?

I got this from Netgalley.

Damaged goods P.I. Janelle Watkins is back in another thriller from Karen Sandler. She's no longer burning herself but Hangtown explores more of the darker aspects of her past, namely a string of anonymous bar hook-ups, in the course of her investigations.

Multiple threads are woven through this tale: Janelle's stalker, the murder of Zach Stinson, and whatever is going on with the guy she's trailing for fraudulent insurance claim. However, my favorite part of the book was the way Janelle's relationships with Ken and Cassie evolved from the first book.

The book wasn't a runaway candidate for thriller of the year, though. I thought the resolution was a little unsatisfying and the plot line regarding the homeless man living on her property seemed thrown in. It was one of those mysteries that is no way solvable, which I'm not a big fan of.

So, I liked it but I wasn't in love with it. I'm also not sure if I liked it enough to continue on with the series. Too many books, too little time, etc. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Shadow Master

The Shadow MasterThe Shadow Master by Craig Cormick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his brother is killed, Cosimo de Medici declares war on the Lorraines. Too bad a close associate of the Medici family, Lorenzo, protege to Galileo, is in love with Lucia, daughter of Duke Lorraine...

I got this from Angry Robot via Netgalley.

In an alternate world resembling 16th century Italy, a plague has ravaged the world and much of humanity takes refuge in the Walled City where the Medicis and the Lorraines vie for superiority. The Medicis have Galileo and the Lorraines have Leonardo.

There was a lot of enjoyable stuff going on in this. While the basic plot resembles Romeo and Juliet, there's a whole lot of other things going on, like arcane science practiced by Galileo and Leonardo. The politics of the Walled City are explored, including the plague victims, and the nature of reality is touched upon. The mysterious Shadow Master and the Nameless One pull the strings from the shadows. I wasn't really sure where the story was going to go.

The writing was really good. There was some unexpected humor and Cormick painted a vivid picture of his world. I liked that The Shadow Master rose above it's Romeo and Juliet roots.

However, I'm not precisely sure what actually happened in the later parts of the book. I kind of understood what the machines of the ancients did but I found the ending really muddy. I liked parts of the book quite a bit but it lost me near the end. Three out of five stars.

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