30 June 2013

Fox Pocket links

I've managed to round up a collection of links about publishers Fox Spirit, their Fox Pocket anthologies and Piracy, the first book in the line.

Neil Williamson talks about how wonderfully designed the Fox Pockets are, including some thoughts on covers.

Tony Lane interviews Adele, the fearless leader of Fox Spirit in a 2-part interview.
Part 1: Adele answers questions about the origins of Fox Spirit, the Fox Pockets line, art and the zompoc.
Part 2: Adele talks about the Fox Spirit editorial team, what stories she likes and desert island books.
Tony also reviews Piracy in a later blog post.

The lovely Alistair Stuart blogs about Fox Pockets over at SFX (I may have been a little excited that I was mentioned by name).

Adele is interviewed at the Bolthole where she talks about stories and gives advice for writers.

Jenny Barber talks about mermaids from her story Past Lives.

Here's the rather fun Fox Spirit gallery for Piracy. I'm dressed as a pirate (pirate being my go-to costume) and my husband painted the undead pirate miniatures.

Here's the list of stories and authors in Piracy:

Becalmed – Den Patrick
The Trouble With Daydreams – Catherine Hill
Black Ethel’s Beast – Kit Marlowe
No Quarter – Rahne Sinclair
Leave the Pistol Behind – Chloe Yates
Past Lives – Jenny Barber
Nora – Margrét Helgadóttir
Plunder – Francesca Terminiello
Insurgent – Christian D’Amico
Geronimo – T.F.Grant
Pieces of 2^3 – Rob Haines
The Real Deal – Ruth Booth
True to The Song – Asher Wismer
Silvermelt – Emma Teichmann
Skyway – K.C.Shaw
X Marks the Spot – S.J.Caunt

Piracy is currently available in print from Lulu and is available as an ebook from Wizard's Tower and on Kindle.

Finally, here's a post I wrote for the Fox Spirit site about How the Fox Pockets were Named.

27 June 2013

Q Who?

Episode: s2, ep16

Guinan's hats are as cool as always. Q disappointingly doesn't have a hat this time. The Borg's view on hats is generally unknown, but they like headgear for babies.

What Happens
Geordi jokes with Sonya, a new ensign, because she thanks replicators.* She accidentally spills hot chocolate on Picard. The Captain goes to change his clothes but the turbolift impossibly opens into a shuttle, which is occupied by Q.
Geordi and Sonya go to 10 Forward, where Guinan senses a disturbance in the force.** She calls the Bridge, which is a first, and asks Riker if everything is OK. When Geordi realises Guinan is concerned he checks on Engineering.*** Troi tries to contact Picard and the computer reveals that he isn't onboard or even in the sector. Riker orders a search.
In a shuttle way out in space Q offers to return the Captain if he'll listen to a request. They appear in 10 Forward and Guinan pops up from behind the bar. She and Q have bad history. Q asks to join the crew; he's been exiled by the Q Continuum and has returned to the ship where he had such fun. He even suggests he might be willing to give up his powers. Picard hears him out, but refuses because they don't trust him. Q says they need him for what's coming. Picard and Riker claim that they're prepared and anger Q with their arrogance, so he knocks the ship way off course. Q announces that they'll get a taster of what's to come, Guinan says they should turn back.
Despite the warnings of the mystical bartender Picard decides he's going to explore before heading home. A
cube-shaped ship approaches. Guinan reveals that the ship belongs to the Borg, they scattered her people across the galaxy. Geordi reports an intruder in Engineering. A pale-skinned, cyborg-looking guy silently scans consoles, ignoring communication and attacks. Worf eventually kills it on Picard's orders. Another one immediately appears and continues scanning, it ignores Worf's phaser, collects something from its fallen colleague and silently leaves.
Guinan says the Borg can't be reasoned with. Troi senses a collective mind. A shadowy Q appears on the screen and asks whether they want him on the crew now. The cube holds the Enterprise in a tractor beam, which slices into the saucer. The ship is able to damage the cube and escape the beam, but not without casualties. Riker says they have to find out more and suggests an away mission.
Riker, Data and Worf beam to the cube. This is one of those away missions where Data says the smart stuff, Riker decides things and Worf looks menacing but says very little. There are loads of Borg stored in slots, they seem to be in sleep mode. The Borg walking around the ship ignore the away team completely. Data figures out that the ship is focused on regenerating and Picard orders the team back. The Enterprise leaves, pursued by the cube. Q appears again and points out how hopeless the situation is. He mocks Picard for his earlier attitude. Picard asks Q for help and admits that he was wrong earlier. Q respects this and spins the ship back to where it was before.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is angered by Q's return and says he agreed to leave his ship alone. Q counters by pointing out that they're in a shuttle far from the Enterprise. Picard describes Q as the most unique of the new and different lifeforms they encounter, and there's a sense that Picard is intrigued even while he recognises how chaotic and dangerous he is. Picard's suspicion of Q and refusal to grant his request are justified, but Picard (and Riker) do seem stubborn and short-sighted when they claim they're ready for whatever they find without Q's help. Q is a trickster and his help is dangerous, but it's foolish to deny his greater knowledge.
Picard doesn't head home when Guinan says he should due to his love of exploration, another example of acting from a place of ignorance. Otherwise his actions are fairly sensible and he does ask Guinan to share her knowledge.
At the end of the episode Q reappears to say I told you so. Picard concedes the point and asks Q to deus ex machina them out of trouble. Q respects Picard asking for help. "Another man would have died rather than ask for help." I don't think such men should be captains of things.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker believes they must learn more about the Borg rather than escaping. Not sure I agree, but I can understand his thinking. It's really very lucky for the away team that the Borg ignore them.
The Borg ship is industrial and creepy, all girders and walkways. It's interesting that the Borg are a collective and yet the individual Borg are designed differently and each has a customised slot in the ship. Riker finds the Borg nursery, which has babies wired into drawers. I think maybe this is meant to be sinister, but as Riker's reaction to the babies isn't emotional I'm not actually sure. I did think that it made for good baby cosplay.

Does Not Compute
The Borg are robot-looking, they're organic beings enhanced and altered with cybernetic technology. They're also really pale and seem to have no emotions. At no point does the episode make any comparisons between the Borg and Data, even though I reckon there's reason to do so. On the away mission Data examines the Borg ship in his analytical way, and is less interested in the newly discovered aliens than he is in humanity. Data's quest for individuality is a mirror of the Borg's collective consciousness.

Blind Engineering
Geordi and new ensign Sonya Gomez have a good scene at the start. Sonya is chatty and nervous, thrilled to be on the Enterprise, but terrified of making a mistake (which makes her very relatable). Of course her nervousness makes her more mistake-prone. Geordi is clearly bemused and gallantly but pointlessly tries to take responsibility when she spills hot chocolate on the Captain.
Later in the episode Geordi guides Sonya as they try to divert power after the Borg attack. Sonya has trouble concentrating as she keeps thinking about the people who died, Geordi tells her they have to focus on the task at hand, they can grieve later. Geordi's people skills work in professional as well as social contexts.

Guinan's Hat: purple
Guinan senses Q's presence when he takes Picard and the shuttle, she's had that feeling before. When Q appears in 10 Forward it looks like Guinan was waiting for him. (Is it coincidence that he and Picard materialised there?) They have bad history going back 2 centuries. Q says "This creature is not what she appears to be. She's an imp, and where she goes trouble always follows." Picard points out that that sounds like Q. Guinan reveals that not all Q are the same "some are almost respectable". While Q is angered by how far humanity has spread, Guinan believes that their ability to adapt is their greatest strength. Little else is said about how they know each other, it's really intriguing.
Guinan plays a bigger role than usual because she has previous knowledge of the Borg. She wasn't there when they destroyed cities and scattered her people, but she's heard about it. She warns that the Borg will not listen to reason and advocates escaping. She's not exactly scared, but she knows that the Enterprise will not do well from the encounter.

The planets near the Borg cube show signs of civilisation, mostly roads. However all the machines have been "scooped" off the surface. Data compares it to the destruction found on planets in and around the Neutral Zone in the last episode of series 1 (though it feels like Worf's discovery since he reports it both times). It was clear then that the Romulans had discovered same thing on their border planets.

Staff Meetings: 1 (with an intermission for weapons fire)
1(a): Picard invites Guinan to the meeting because of her knowledge. She wasn't there at the time but describes the Borg swarming through a system. It's concluded that the Borg intrusion into Engineering was information-gathering. Picard asks if they can reason with them, but Guinan says no. The cube interrupts with a hail that says they can't defend themselves and will be punished if they try. Troi senses a collective mind, and the advantages of this are discussed. The meeting is completely disrupted when Worf reports that they're caught in a tractor beam.
1(b): The meeting restarts with Picard asking Guinan for more information. Q arrives and tells them that the Borg are like nothing else they've encountered. They're only interested in consuming tech. Picard asks Q if it's an illusion, it isn't. The 18 lost crew are mentioned. Riker wants an away mission and Picard agrees, despite Guinan's shock.

No Magic Here
Having a ceature like Q in the show from the start shows that the unexplainable is important. Guinan being a recurring character also shows that there's room for the spiritual and mysterious in the lives of the characters, though she's never treated as a novelty.
The meeting of Q and Guinan is kinda awesome. They have a moment of guarded standoff, making it clear that Guinan can match Q. His name calling and contempt suggests she may have gotten the upperhand over him previously. Q doesn't use his godlike powers that much (nor does he wear any hats), but he does snap his fingers and send the Enterprise spinning 7000 lightyears through space. The visual effect for this is pretty cool. Q's magic is big and flashy and makes the impossible real. Guinan must have magic, but we don't see it, she's a strong presence full of wisdom but also greatly enigmatic. It's no surprise that she's used different names and forms in the past.

Death by Space Misadventure
18 people from the Enterprise are killed when a beam from the Borg cube cuts into the Enterprise and pulls a section into space. Their names are not listed but their loss is felt.
Picard asks Q if it's all one of his tricks, as he normally creates elaborate illusions (if they are illusions) to make his point, unfortunately this time it's real. At the end Picard asks whether the lesson Q was teaching them should have cost 18 lives, Q describes it as "a little bloody nose" and says space is not for the timid.

The End
Picard and Guinan play 3D chess. Guinan warns that Q set things in motion too early (odd since he was the
one who claimed humanity were going too fast). She says borg see them as raw material, but hints that there could have been a relationship, which is a change in tune. Picard says that perhaps they were complacent and a challenge is what's needed. It suggests he's absorbed the lesson but perhaps failed to recognise the full implications of what happened.

* Is that so weird? I sometimes do that with cash machines.
** Guinan is basically a cross between a Jedi and a Time Lord, right?
*** Using a mystical woman as a barometer for Engine problems is almost certainly in the manual somewhere.

17 June 2013

The Road to Bedlam

 The Road to Bedlam 
Mike Shevdon

I got this book at Fantasycon 2012, in fact I got very the last copy they had at the Angry Robot stand. The book itself sustained some damage as I returned home from Fantasycon and was caught in a rainstorm (stupid wet Birmingham). Luckily, after some care from my husband, the book survived totally readable and only a little warped along the edges. In fact the slight wobble on parts of the cover and some of the pages gave the book a slightly 'aged' look and added a tactile element that goes well with fantasy that's steeped in myth and features long-lived characters. Not that I will be purposefully 'aging' my own (or any other) books. To do so would be a sin.

Anyway... this review will contain spoilers for Sixty One Nails, the first book in the series.

The story continues from the previous novel Sixty One Nails and is told mostly by Niall, though the focus shifts towards his daughter Alex. In the first book Niall discovered his feyre heritage, started a relationship with his long-lived guide Blackbird and took the role of Warden in order to find a secure place for himself in the seven courts. The Road to Bedlam sees Niall continuing his training as a Warden and living with Blackbird, who is expecting their baby. A fatal accident means that Niall loses his teenage daughter Alex. An old enemy returns as an envoy and Niall is sent to a northern seaside town to investigate the disappearance of local teenage girls. He becomes convinced that his daughter isn't dead, and is determined to find her.

The characterisation is good. Now that Niall is part of the world of the feyre he has a different outlook and is more prepared for the strangeness he finds, though it's clear he has much to learn about other feyre. His grief over the loss of Alex, his attempts to make sense of the tragedy and the lengths he'll go to in order to get her back show Niall's mettle more than the previous book. Blackbird is still a good character, though her pregnancy forces her to live without magic for a while she still proves to be highly resourceful. There's more detail about Niall's fellow Wardens, and a few characers

The first book struck me as London fantasy with a diversion to the midlands countryside. This book proves that it's fantasy that's willing to explore different locations, thanks to a feyre transportation system that connects sites all over the country. In his first mission as a Warden Niall is sent to a fading northern coastal town, the kind of place that once did well from fishing and seaside holidays, but has declined. There's a strong sense of place and a sense of a community struggling on despite being out of touch with modern life. The minor characters that populate the town are as much part of the setting as the descriptions of the landscape.

The story is well done over all, successfully balancing various strands. The fate of Alex is the most crucial part of the story for Niall. His investigations into the disappearing girls mirrors his search for Alex but it is not directly related. Each part of the search brings its own surprises, shows the differences between the girls and highlights various non-fantastical issues that are faced by modern young women who desire escape. It's interesting that the traditional escape through the discovery of magical powers turns out to be a dead end. There's also plotlines that relate to the series as whole, the reappearance of the self-exiled eighth court of the feyre brings danger to Niall and Blackbird, and also complicates the political situation in the magical world.

This is a fine read and, with its predecessor, a great example of modern British fantasy.

I intended to read this anyway, but it was strongly recommend to me by @pablocheesecake of The Eloquent Page. You should read what he thinks, he knows his stuff.

14 June 2013

Pen Pals

Episode: s2, ep15

What Happens
The Enterprise is the first ship to enter a system with some violent geology. Picard and Troi go to the holodeck so Picard can go horse riding. Riker calls Picard to the Bridge because a once-thriving planet is now barren.
At a staff meeting Riker discusses putting Wesley in charge of the geological survey. Wesley is told to
assemble a team, which is daunting because everyone is older and more qualified than him. He has issues giving commands at first but gets a fair bit of advice.
While Data is pursuing his hobby of checking for unusual scans he finds an unusual scan that turns out to be communication from a lifeform. Data interrupts Picard in another riding session to reveal that he has been in regular communication with a young girl from one of the planets in the system, though he was careful not to give details about himself or where he was from. He's concerned because his friend's planet has bad volcanic activity like others in the system. Picard calls a meeting to discuss the situation, much discussion ensues.
Later Wesley's team reveal the cause of the geological problem has been found. It's something to do with crystals, of the planet-destroying, non-healing variety. They think they can reverse the process and Data is told he can contact his little friend again. Worf and a geologist from Wesley's team work on torpedoes, of the non-destructive, planet-healing variety.
Data beams down to ensure his friend's safety. The girl seems weirdly unperturbed by seeing Data, who must
be unlike anyone/anything she's seen before. Data beams her back to the ship because the volcanic wasteland where she lives is unsafe. Data takes the girl to the Bridge and she watches as her planet is healed. Picard tells Pulaski to erase the child's memory, explaining to Data that it's for her sake too.
Data returns the girl to her home and leaves her a singing stone as a sneaky souvenir. Riker congratulates Wesley and invites him to sit in the Captain's chair, but Wes refuses.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard starts the episode by going horse riding in the holodeck, while Troi tags along to watch. He's interrupted before he can start riding, but not before he's given a mini lecture on horses and his feelings for them.
Picard has actually gotten as far as riding the holo-horse when Data tells him about what he's been doing. Picard would have every right to have Data punished, however the Captain raises the issue with senior crew and holds discussion about the best course of action. He shows a flexibility that may not be what Starfleet Command would approve of, but is one of the major things that makes him a sympathetic character.
When Data brings the little girl on the Bridge Picard can't look at either of them and communicaties through Riker. We all know how kids freak Picard out, he hates children being on his Bridge, even when there isn't a massive regulation breach involved.

"In for a penny in for pound" says Picard as he grudgingly agrees to Data beaming down onto the girl's planet. I have to say it's a very English expression, though I don't know whether there's an equivalent French saying.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Wesley's education seems deeply important to Riker, who convinces Picard to put him in charge of an actual mission. I do wonder how often this happens. Do all the kids on the ship get to do this? Or is it just because the senior staff are effectively raising/supervising Wesley as a loose collective? It seems like an opportunity that a lot of budding cadets would love.
Riker really mentors Wesley, providing him with advice whenever he asks for it and guiding him through how to choose a team and how to give instructions. Though his main advice seems to be: WWPD? (What would Picard do?)

Does Not Compute
Data discovers the little girl's transmissions because he has a hobby of scanning for unusual signals, that presumably qualifies as fun for androids. What's remarkable is that not only does Data not report the communication signal, he actually answers back and ends up making friends with a child.
Data is careful not to let the girl know who or where he is, showing an awareness of the rules and how to bend them. He only reveals what he's been doing when he realises that his friend is in danger. Data advocates taking action to save her and clearly has an emotional connection. When Pulaski advocates saving the girl she is told she is being emotional, which means Data must be too.
Data's concern for the girl is clear when he asks whether he can beam down to ensure her safety, shattering the Prime Directive into tiny pieces. When she's in danger he beams her up to the ship, grinding the broken pieces of the Prime Directive into the ground. The girl manages to be fairly calm while impossibly watching her planet from way up in the sky.
Whilst the girl is in the sickbay, before her memories are wiped, she's interested in Pulaski's singing stone. It turns out that the stone doesn't work for Data because he's a machine, which isn't explored but is kinda interesting.

Poor O'Brien
When Riker takes Data down the transporter bay to beam onto the planet he instructs O'Brien to take a nap so he won't be involved. Despite this Riker then asks O'Brien to ensure that Data is beamed back in 10 minutes, meaning he is definitely involved. When Data requests two to beam up O'Brien does it but comments that "there's going to be hell to pay".

The Boy
Since the first series Wesley seems to have learned some humility, which makes him less insufferable. Possibly he's matured, possibly he's less sure of himself without his mother around. Either way, Wesley's uncertainty about what to do in a leadership role and how to deal with people older and more experienced than him makes him more sympathetic. At least, I can sympathise with someone feeling out of their depth. He confesses his nerves about leadership to Pulaski. He interrupts Riker while he's chatting with a lady in the bar to ask his advice, even though it's clear that he feels awkward about doing so.
When Wesley asks geologists to do extra tests they tell him he's fussing. Later when he's considered WWPD and asks them again they have no problem, which suggests to me that they were just stalling because they had plans when he first asked. Predictably it's those extra tests that save the day (obviously the show can't fully get rid of the Mary-Sue vibe). When briefing the Captain Wesley is businesslike and doesn't smugly gloat, which is a definite improvement.
The real indicator is that Riker offers Wesley a chance to sit in Picard's chair, but Wes refuses. He says he's not qualified yet, which shows he's taking his position on the ship seriously.

The Prime Directive is a Harsh Mistress
...unless there's a sad kid in danger. Then all bets are off, it seems.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Riker asks Picard, Pulaski, Geordi and Troi for opinions on putting Wesley in charge of the planetary survey mission. Pulaski points out he's a young man, not an officer in training and they shouldn't push him too hard. Picard approves of testing him and giving him command experience. Wesley is called in and told about his assignment, everyone is very formal with him. Picard tells Wesley that the officers are there to guide him and it's better to ask than blunder blindly through pride.

2. Picard invites Riker, Worf, Geordi and Troi to his quarters to discuss Data's illicit communications. Picard starts by staying Data was wrong, but they need to decide what to do next and not cast blame. Worf sees the Prime Directive as absolute so there are no options, Picard dislikes that rigidity. There's much discussion about playing god and deciding when interfere. Picards the point that if they interfere now why shouldn't they always interfere when anyone's in trouble. Pulaski takes the humanitarian view that they should save lives if they can, and because it means something to Data. Worf is scornful of this attitude. Data points out that they are also required to help those how request help, but it's all just discussion. Picard commands Data to cease all communication, allowing the girl to die. Then the Captain hears the lonely little girl searching for her friend and changes his made.

3. Wesley and two of the geologists on his team brief Riker and Picard on their findings. They've found the problem and will work on fixing it. The survey team leaves. Riker and Picard discuss Data, who has been monitoring his friend's planet. Neither like the idea of letting the girl die, nor do they like what they have to do to save her.

The End
Data apologises to Picard again. Picard reflects on friendship and says Data has taken a step closer to understanding humanity.
Personally I think he's taken a giant leap.

8 June 2013


I'm excited to announce that Piracy the first of the Fox Pocket* books from Fox Spirit Books is available from Lulu.
My story 'The Trouble with Daydreams' is the second one in the anthology.

The following is from the press release:

Small but perfectly formed collections of stories by a den full of talented writers, put together by Fox Spirit books for your enjoyment.
The stories are flash fiction, giving the reader bite sized introductions to Fox Spirit and the writers we love to work with. All designed to fit perfectly into the pocket so you can take a little fox with you everywhere you go.

There are ten books to the collection being published during 2013 and 2014 and titled:
Piracy, Missing Monarchs, Shapeshifters, Guardians, Under the Waves, In an Unknown  Country, Things in the Dark, The Evil Genius Guide, Reflections, Piercing the Veil

Stories in Fox Pockets will wander unfettered between genres, mixing horror, fantasy, science fiction and crime. The subjects are deliberately loose to invite a wide range of interpretations. This pocket series showcases some of the wealth of new talent coming through in genre fiction.

The books will be available as a paperback through Lulu for 24 months after the release date of each volume. Ebook releases will take place a month after the paperback and will be available for longer, but not forever.

Fox Spirit will be offering a subscription to the paperbacks as part of a giveaway through the newsletter this summer so please subscribe on our home page to make sure you don’t miss out.

More about all our titles at www.foxspirit.co.uk

* I'm a bit proud to say that I inadvertently came up with the name Fox Pockets. It was a bit of a joke between me and Adele Wearing, the fearsome leader and main force behind Fox Spirit.