Second Chance by Dylan S Hearn

In the age of the YA dystopia, it’s easy to find fiction that looks at what disaster might come our way and how we might survive. What I haven’t seen much of, and one of the things I really enjoyed about Dylan S Hearn‘s Second Chance, is that this book goes beyond that immediate speculation into a world where humanity has survived its own recklessness. Then it takes a step back and asks, what was the cost of that survival?

Mystery and Suspense

Second Chance is a tight, well-placed near future thriller. A young woman has gone missing, vanished despite the near-ubiquity of electronic surveillance. Many people are interested in uncovering, concealing or using the truth about her disappearance. A politician who will automatically lose her seat when her popularity falls. A detective from a private police company. A data cleanser, a type of researcher tasked with identifying and containing information that might harm his employers.

These plausibly cynical takes on modern professions are one of the book’s pleasures. Things are slightly exaggerated, but in an entirely believable way.

The real joy thought lies in the plot. As each of these people follows their own agenda, their motives mixing the selfish and the noble, the plot twist and turns, maintaining a high level of suspense.

Stripped Down Prose

I was initially thrown by the sparseness of Hearn’s storytelling. There’s very little physical description, and so little attribution of dialogue that I occasionally wasn’t sure on first reading who was saying something. This book is concerned with showing the structures of the world and the minds of the characters, not outward trappings and appearance. If you’re looking for something richly descriptive, or need a lot of description to bring an imagined world to life, then this probably isn’t for you.

But once I got used to it, that stripped down prose really worked for me, and for the sort of story being told. It lets the plot flow smoothly and swiftly without needing to simplify intentions or events. And when details came through, especially during the book’s tumultuous final act, they are all the more startling for that.

An Exciting Read

I really enjoyed this book. Reading it alongside the heavy exposition of Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic and the dense intellectual sprawl of Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman, it was great to have something that cracked along at such a pace, that was smart but still easy to read. I’d totally recommend it.

Full disclosure: Dylan and I know each other through our blogs, and he’s written very nice reviews of my books. He sent me a copy of this book to read. I don’t think I’m being biased in my review – if I don’t like something I generally just don’t write about it. But I felt I should be up front about this.

This weekend I will mostly be reading…

What books are you excited about at the moment? Here’s my current reading heap, or at least the tip of it.

Second Chance by Dylan Hearn

A science fiction story that combines politics, technology and crime in an intriguing near future tangle. Being a fan of abeyance, I like the way that the world is slowly built up through dialogue, thoughts and actions, revealing how Hearn’s imagined future is different from now. It’s definitely a novel that’s focused on plot and pace rather than intricate prose – for example, there’s almost no physical description of the characters, letting you fill in the blanks as you see fit. I’m maybe a fifth of the way through, and really looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell

Several writing buddies have recommended this to me as a top book on plotting. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.

Plus my legs are really tired from working at my new standing desk, and reading this is a productive writing thing I can do while sitting down.

Seriously, my right calf is killing me. Who’d have thought standing still would be so much exercise?

The Bookman Histories by Lavie Tidhar

I’m still slowly working my way through this, and it’s still worth the effort. Somewhere around page 180 of the first book things have taken an unexpected turn, feeling much more pulp action oriented than what came before. The references to history and other works are also becoming less obstructive and more part of the natural flow of the story.

I stand by my initial assessment that this is an incredibly rich read full of fantastic ideas. Now it’s one that’s found some pace as well.

Over to you

What are you folks reading at the moment? Anything you’d care to recommend? And if you’ve read any of these books what did you think? Share your literary appreciation by leaving a comment.


Lies - High ResolutionMy ability to say anything coherent is currently hindered by a heavy cold, and by catching up on work after said cold knocked me flat last week. There’s a reason I watched Knights of Badassdom this weekend, along with about a year’s worth of television over two days, and it’s because even reading took more concentration than I could manage.

Fortunately, other people have written things I can get excited about, as I have two shiny new reviews.

First up, Dylan Hearn has given Lies We Will Tell Ourselves a glowing write-up in his recommended reads section, highly recommending the collection for sheer breadth of imagination. It’s a really nice review, and I’m delighted that someone enjoyed the book so much.

Meanwhile, Adventures Fantastic gave a positive review to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 22, which includes my story ‘Feathers’, describing the issue as ‘well worth checking out’. Obviously I agree!

So if you’re looking for something to read, why not give these two a go? And while you’re about it, check out Dylan’s blog – it’s full of recommendations for other indie books, as well as his own science fiction.

Now excuse me, I need to go drink more Lemsip, the sweet lemony up side of having a cold.

Inducing inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It’s an idea that we romanticise, especially when talking about the arts. But it’s also a vital artistic tool, and one that we should constantly work on if we can.

Dylan Hearn wrote an interesting piece on his blog about this, and it got me thinking about my views on inspiration. So, because I’m a worse bandwagon jumper than revolutionary France, and because Dylan wanted to hear more from me  on this, here’s my take on how to encourage inspiration.

Muscular metaphors

We have a lot of different models and metaphors for how inspiration works.

Some people see it as a magical, mystical process. Something wild and uncontrollable that strikes out of nowhere.

I don’t buy into that view. Inspiration is something that happens in our brains, and one of the beautiful things about being human is that we can reshape our minds to do better. In fact, I think that mystifying inspiration is dangerous for an author. It implies that it’s something you can’t control, can’t work at and develop. That can give you an excuse not to put the words down – ‘I wasn’t feeling inspired’ – and of course it’s an excuse not to work on becoming more inspired – how can you if it’s not up to you?

I also don’t accept views of inspiration as a finite resource. Like you’ve only got so many great ideas in your head, and when the well runs dry that’s it.

In my view, the best way of understanding your mind’s capacity for inspiration is as something like a muscle. The more you flex it and train it the more it grows. Sure, if you over-use it you can get burned out in the short term, but in the long term you need to stretch it to do better.

Training regime one – the busy brain

One way to encourage your inspiration is through busyness, doing all the things that will get the cogwheels whirring in your head.

Research is one great way to do this, filling you full of facts, bouncing them off each other until they spark new ideas.

Practising coming up with ideas is another good way to develop those inspiration-making muscles. Nick Bentley’s 100:10:1 method is good for pushing yourself further, exhausting the obvious ideas so the great ones come out. Mumaw and Oldfield’s Caffeine for the Creative Mind has exercises for sparking creativity in different ways, and though it seems to be targeted at people in marketing it’s still useful for us mere writers.

And then there are exercises and guides to teach you how to think in different ways. Edward de Bono’s How To Be More Interesting has a terrible title and a sometimes pompous tone. But it also contains a really good breakdown of different ways to expand upon an idea, as well as some exercises to practice developing ideas.

But really what all of this comes down to is practice. However you do it, you should practice coming up with ideas and connections between them, because then more will come.

Training regime two – the quiet brain

Your body needs rest between bouts of exercise, so that it can recover and rebuild itself better, faster, stronger. The same applies to your brain. Spend the whole time busy and it will get overwhelmed.

Take some time to let your brain be quiet and relaxed. Not the distracted sort of relaxed that comes with the TV on, but the empty relaxed. Let your mind wander while you’re walking or washing up. Try emptying out your clutter using mindfulness exercises. Give your brain some peace and quiet.

The thing about that peace and quiet is that it won’t last, and that’s part of why it’s so valuable. Ideas will bubble up unbidden. I came up with the climax of an upcoming novel while driving, my brain drifting while on long straight roads and then ticking over at traffic lights.

Train your brain to come up with ideas, and then give them space in which to emerge.

Just like with this blog

My blogging is an example of this in action. I used to struggle for things to say, but for the past year I’ve written five or six blog posts a week. Now my brain is trained to come up with blog posts and so blogging inspiration strikes all the time. I’ve got a notebook of ideas, and some of the older ones will never see a computer screen because new ones keep flooding in.

So train your brain to be inspired. Don’t just wait for your muse to strike, because that way lies an atrophied inspiration muscle and a very long wait.