Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winningly full: Harkaway's TIGERMAN

A joy.

Tigerman's hero is straight from Graham Greene (say, The Comedians or The Heart of the Matter): profoundly engaged with his own interior life, posted to a spot on the map that his British mind finds impossible to comprehend, the protagonist can't see himself as a hero, but he has to rise to the occasion for pressing moral reasons. Unlike a Greene character, however, Nick Harkaway's Lester Ferris is a man who must, in these times, act boldly in the physical world. He cannot change things for the better through an ambiguous gesture or by speaking the truth or a lie at a given moment; rather, he must, while also using such diplomatic means to achieve his ends, be what he frequently terms "a sergeant," a man who knows how much force to apply when encountering resistance as well as when to yield to stronger forces.

The less said about the plot, the better, but I'll provide this: on a dying, lawless island off the African coast, Sergeant Ferris's friendship with a wickedly smart young boy drives Ferris to build a counter-narrative to the failing world around him. Harkaway provides vivid depictions of the characters we truly need to know; it's an uncluttered novel because Ferris's world is so interior, unlike the wild island whose recesses and people he has mostly come to know through departures and destruction. The story feels utterly modern—through both the openly darker politics of the post-9/11 world and the internet-and-comic-lingo-savvy boy who shadows Ferris— but remains moored, texturally, in the recent British post-colonial past. Harkaway toys with the responsibilities and behaviors of lost empires, all the while providing proof that there's still room for the kinds of heroic thinking that formed—and malformed—those empires. Indeed, the narrative twines life and death about each other in a hug that is like the hugs that form the novel's central motif: sometimes people reach hesitantly for each other; a few times, a hug is suggested but not given; at key moments, the hug is a desperate grasping after life.

And how long should we hold on to what must pass into oblivion?

Smart and exciting, and featuring that rarity, a third act that pays off in every way, never neglecting the themes it has set in motion, Tigerman is, in its words, deeds, and deeply felt passions, a joy.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Overview review: The Old Man stories

Writer and Cambridge-dweller Jay O'Connell (author of Dystopian Love) gives a nice overview of my in-process Old Man series here.

I've been poking and prodding at the final story, but I've also been working on an unrelated piece of short fiction. More news soon.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Free Fiction

Till 5/25, "Vox ex Machina" (Asimov's, Dec. 2013) and "A Crisis for Mr. Lion" (Zoetrope: All-Story prize-winner, 2006) are free (and together).

Thursday, May 8, 2014

And here's another story

"Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key," the fourth story in my Old Man series, recently published in Asimov's Science Fiction, is now available as an e-book via Amazon.

Friday, April 25, 2014

More stories via Kindle

I have joined together two stories that, really, have no business being together . . . except that I wrote them both. "Vox ex Machina," which ran in the Dec. 2013 Asimov's, and "A Crisis for Mr. Lion," which won the 2006 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Award, are for sale (less than a buck!) via Amazon as one e-book. I believe Amazon Prime users may "borrow" them for free, but perhaps I've misunderstood something about the process.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reviews of "Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key"

I've received several thoughtful personal notes about the story; I thought I'd post here the links to some online reviews.

Tangent Online

Singular Points


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Regarding "Each in His Prison" in the new Asimov's

The fourth story in my "Old Man" series is in the April/May 2014 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, on shelves this week.

"Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key" is a direct sequel to "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down," my Doc Savage/pulp hero homage that appeared in Asimov's in 2010. This latest story relies on not only the first "Old Man" tale but also 2011's "Clockworks," which takes place in 1962, and 2012's "Unearthed," which takes place in 1925. (All three stories appeared in Asimov's and are available in e-format via Amazon.) Readers will learn what has become of the Old Man in the five years since "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" and will join a "gifted" young lieutenant who wants to solve the dangerous puzzles surrounding the Old Man. The story also sets up readers for a final tale, "The World Will Be the World Again," coming in the not-too-distant future. (I'm working on it! I'm working on it!)

I appreciate readers' continuing (and new!) interest in these tales. Let me know what you think of these stories.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Last week I read two books. One book took me someplace I'd never been, provided rich descriptions of a strange world, and delved into a history of discomfiting beliefs and beings. The other book was science fiction.

Tom Kizzia's Pilgrim's Wilderness is stunningly good. A non-fiction account of a dominating and demon-haunted family patriarch who takes his wife and 14 (later 15) children into the Alaskan wilds, the book is written with such energy, it feels novelistic—but not in the way of some fake suspenser masquerading as nonfiction, like The Hot Zone. The book is novelistic in style—employing rich language to provide vivid descriptions—and in structure, shifting through time according to the demands of the narrative. To say much about what happens is to spoil some of the book's surprises. Suffice it to say that "Mr. Pilgrim's" story begins in a past cluttered with privilege, tragedy, and unexpected connections. It would end with deprivation, tragedy, and horror. What the man did to his family makes for a disturbing tale, but reporter Kizzia also wants us to see how people responded to "Pilgrim," how communities struggled to both accommodate the varying impressions the man purveyed while also being mindful of his children.

Some of the actors have much to answer for, as their own paranoid politics fuel perspectives just as damaged as Pilgrim's. But Kizzia is evenhanded in treating both the people of the town of McCarthy (and other human developments through which the family passed) and the U.S. government, which in some ways mishandles the Alaskan wilderness and the people who live there. The author has a dog in the fight, too, as he and his wife (now deceased) had constructed a cabin in the region, drawn by the beauty and isolation. This is an American story. People do sometimes want to be left alone. Yet sometimes people only say they want to be left alone. Some people head into isolation for reasons that may not be isolating, but binding, as they look for connections amidst the vast emptiness. And some people are hiding. Like many stories of the American wilderness, it's a story of survival—and as in many stories of survival, the most dangerous animal is human.

Read Pilgrim's Wilderness.

The book was such a dramatic contrast to James Gunn's deeply disappointing Transcendental, about which the less said, the better. The blurbs that hawk its connections to Chaucer are disingenuous: there's a ship named the Geoffrey and some aliens tell stories on the way to wherever-they're-going, but beyond those superficial nods (and occasional other tossed-off literary hiccups), there's no deeper commitment to the types of wild stories told by Chaucer's pilgrims; in fact, all of the stories are similar, the voices are similar, and the aliens weirdly lean toward thinking that, annoying as humans are, maybe their systems of culture and government are better, with the elephant-type creature going so far as to declare that maybe humans, with their monogamy, have the right idea. Almost nothing happens in the novel; "transcendence" itself doesn't seem especially transcendental, once it's explained (so the final let-down isn't much of a surprise), and the novel appears to be a set-up for a series of books . . . unless Gunn truly intended for this to be merely a shaggy dog tale.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Next "Old Man" story

The next story in my "Old Man" sequence, "Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key," will come out in the April/May 2014 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction (which, due to the magic of magazine time travel, will be available beginning at the end of February).

The previous stories in the sequence ("Helping Them Take the Old Man Down," "Clockworks," and "Unearthed") continue to be available via Amazon.

The final story, "The World Will Be the World Again," is still being written.