New Version of Guns and Guano

A new, revised version of my novella Guns and Guano is now available for free at a multitude of e-book stores. This rewrite doesn’t substantially change the story, but is still something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’ve tidied up some of the prose and tried to subtly improve the way the character of Isabelle is presented. The place of women in Victorian society is an important issue in this series, and this story in isolation wasn’t dealing with that the way I wanted it too. The result of the changes is far from perfect, but it sets the tone better than I could a few years ago.

Guns and Guano is a tale of action, adventure, and strange events on an Atlantic island. It’s about dealing with the past and looking to the future. There are gangsters, conspirators, and a chisel-jawed hero punching a shark. Honestly, what more could you want? Go get a copy, you know you want to.

Coming Soon – Dead Men and Dynamite

Adventurer Dirk Dynamo finally has all the clues he needs and is heading into Egypt to find the lost Great Library of Alexandria. But as he sets out on the final leg of his trail, others are there ahead of him, people who would use the knowledge of the Great Library to nefarious ends. As he races spies and criminals through the land of the Pharaohs, Dirk must decide how far he will go for knowledge, and what he really values most in the world – life, love or learning.

Find out the final fate of Dirk Dynamo and the Great Library in Dead Men and Dynamite, the fifth and final book in the Epiphany Club series, published in February 2017 and available to pre-order now.

Ocean Gods, Roman Blades Review at Writerbee

Ocean Gods, Roman BladesWriterbee has just published a review of my novella Ocean Gods, Roman Blades on her book blog. It’s very positive, with highlights like “Knighton writes with insightfulness, using the perspective of the protagonist to spy into the complexities of the characters surrounding him”. So if you haven’t read this one already then go read the review and see what you’re missing out on.

Voids by Tim Jeffreys and Martin Greaves

VoidsScience fiction novella Voids by Tim Jeffreys and Martin Greaves isn’t a cheery read. The title says it all – this is a story about the absences in people’s lives, the chasms left when something of value is lost. Yet it’s not hard going, the pace and writing carrying you through a sad but worthwhile tale.

Population Problems

Population problems are a common feature of social science fiction, as we face the fear of an over-crowded planet (Public Enemy’s less well-received follow-up album). The sort of laws society might use to tackle this come up, and often appear draconian. Voids handles things more subtley.

Danny Seraphine is a sterilisation agent. He hunts down runaway fathers who are dropping kids left right and centre then not taking responsibility for them. Once he finds them he stops them carrying on that way, courtesy of his sterilisation gun.

When I started reading the story, I feared this was going to turn into a preachy story about individual liberty, in which Danny learns the error of his ways and joins the resistance. Instead, the subject is tackled more obliquely. Danny just gets on with his job. We see political opponents, and they don’t come across well, but neither are the sterilisations left unchallenged. I didn’t feel like the novel was passing judgement on this way of tackling social problems. It just put it out there and explored some of the consequences.

The exposition wasn’t perfectly smooth – I’m not a big fan of the big exposition dump – and used a few longer paragraphs of dialogue unconvincing enough to annoy me. But it’s rare for any story to avoid a red mark on my anti-exposition meter, I’ve read books from big names that were worse for this, and the few exposition problems stopped once the story got into its stride.

A Personal Problem

That might make this sound like a cold, abstract story, which it isn’t. Part of the reason the setting’s morality isn’t grappled with directly is that Danny faces more personal problems. His marriage is falling apart. He’s haunted by the memory of their stillborn child. His wife desperately wants a child, but Danny’s reticence and fear of sterility hang over them. And then there’s the fear behind that reticence, as Danny considers his own past and how it has shaped him.

All of this hit me right in the feels. Over the past six years, my wife and I have dealt with the difficulties of conception, the grief of miscarriage, grappling with our own psychological pasts, and eventually the sadness of separation when things didn’t work out. A lot about Danny’s life struck a chord with me, and I felt that it was handled sensitively, not exploiting the emotions these things bring, but teasing them out for readers to explore.

As a result, I can’t guarantee that this novella will strike the same emotional chord with others that it did with me. But personally, I thought that Danny’s experiences made for a compelling and moving story. By making the story personal, Greaves and Jeffreys were able to open up the theme of their setting without beating readers over the head with it.

Novellas Again

This seems to be the year when I’m going to get into novellas. As I said when discussing David Tallerman’s Patchwerk, stories of this length are increasingly common, as changes in publishing expand the possibilities for what can be sold. Voids was the perfect length for the story it had to tell – long enough to go into depth and have real emotional punch, but not so long that it out-stayed its welcome. Patchwerk wrung more excitement out of its literary sprint, but Voids opened up emotional issues that society often sweeps under the carpet, handling them with great deftness. At eighty pages long, it’s well worth the time it takes to read.

 

 

Disclaimer:

Apparently this is also the year of disclaimers. Tim Jeffreys sent me an advance copy of Voids after I was involved with another of his projects. But as I’ve said before, if I don’t like a book by someone I know then I won’t make up good stuff – I just won’t write about it here. This blog is my happy space!

 

And remember, my new book A Mosaic of Stars, collecting together over a year’s worth of weekly short stories, is out now on Kindle. It’s only 99c for the first week, so go make the most of the bargain.

Patchwerk by David Tallerman – the Novella as Action Movie

Patchwerk“Sometimes all you need is an infinite number of heroes.’ – tagline to Patchwerk.

Patchwerk, the new novella by David Tallerman, is a complete action story that takes place over the course of a single flowing scene, yet shifts across half a dozen realities. The protagonist, Dran Florrian, is the inventor of the Palimpsest, a machine capable of reaching across the fabric of reality, linking one universe with the next. When someone tries to steal the Palimpsest, and so to turn Florrian’s invention into a weapon, the device is triggered. Florrian finds himself on the run across realities, all without leaving the aircraft he’s on.

Except that now the aircraft is an airship. No, wait, it’s a train. Nope, it’s some kind of living, throbbing vehicle, and Florrian’s an insect.

Florrian is in for a difficult ride.

Action and Adventure in 134 Pages

The novella format lends itself well to the story Tallerman’s telling here. With fewer pages to play with, the story doesn’t get strung out, and a keen reader could get through it in a single long sitting.* Like a well-made action movie or a good graphic novel, it maintains a pace that keeps you going, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be getting the payoff soon. The different worlds Florrian is exposed to are interesting, and there’s an emotional heart to the story that gives it extra substance, as well as a satisfying finale.

The Anti-Sliders

Remember that TV show Sliders? It came out in the 1990s, when TV executives had realised that science fiction could sell, but weren’t yet willing to give it a decent budget. Week after week, the heroes jumped from one reality to the next. Most of the worlds they visited looked almost exactly like a modern American TV lot, and none of the adventures carried much emotional weight, as each one was wrapped up before they jumped worlds. Reasons to care were thin on the ground.

Patchwerk is the opposite of that. With only a few words, Tallerman hints at worlds which are both familiar and very different from our own, creating the sort of richness that emerges from careful implication. Because the characters and situation carry over from one reality to the next, you’re already engaged in each one. If you care enough to get past the first few pages then you will keep on caring.

It’s not a story of vast depth and substance, but as an adventure story it’s very satisfying.

The Return of the Novella

 

For those watching the publishing industry, Patchwerk is also a marker in a wider trend – the growing diversity of formats. As indie authors have been pointing out for several years, novellas sell, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. How you sell them is a trickier issue and one that publishers Tor have tackled in launching a range of novellas. From sprawling epic series to stand alone flash fiction, there’s a wider range of reading options available than ever before, giving readers huge choice.

Yet there’s still resistance to this in traditional publishing. After all, resistance to change is what established institutions do. Ten minutes after thrusting Patchwerk into my eager hands, Tallerman himself was declaring that fifty thousand words doesn’t count as a novel, even though it’s an accepted length in YA, indie publishing and romance – the latter being the most flourishing market out there. Ole mental habits die hard. Tor have stepped cautiously into trying something new with novellas, and there are plenty of people predicting that they’ll fail, or that what they’re doing won’t catch on.

This line of novellas may or may not work for Tor. If they fail, traditional sf+f publishers will once again declare the novella dead, and probably not dig any deeper into what went wrong. If they succeed, expect others to tiptoe slowly onto the bandwagon.

In the meantime, we get some cracking short reads, Patchwerk among them. If you like quick adventure stories or tales of parallel realities then give it a go.

 

Disclaimer: David is a friend of mine, and he gave me my copy of Patchwerk. If I hadn’t liked it I just wouldn’t have blogged about it – a general policy I take to books, so that I can keep this space positive. But still, bias warning, I was pre-disposed to like this one.

 

* It took me two, interrupted by the arrival of my new Playstation.

Out Today – Ocean Gods, Roman Blades

Ocean Gods, Roman BladesAncient history meets epic fantasy in an action packed novella of war, magic and one man’s struggle to find himself.

Varus is the fiercest soldier in the Roman legion, and the most undisciplined. Fighting Thracian pirates on the high seas, he faces attacks not just from spears and arrows, but from divine magic. With the enemy closing in, Varus finds himself in a desperate battle for survival, made worse by his own divided instincts. Will Roman blades be strong enough to survive against ocean gods?

My latest story, Ocean Gods, Roman Blades is out today as an ebook from Amazon.