Review: Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown

The fact that I finished this book a week ago and have still been unpacking my thoughts on it should be sufficient indication how much I enjoyed it.

I’m a die-hard fan of the first Red Rising trilogy, so I knew what to expect when diving into Pierce Brown’s latest, 600-page offering. I just wasn’t expecting Iron Gold to so wildly depart from the structure of the previous books, while still maintaining so much of the series’ identity, jacked up on Sevro’s steroids.

Never before has the world felt so alive and rich and full of wonders and danger. The world-building is a lot smarter this time; there’s no lengthy info-dumps; there’s droplets of exposition and hints of how this world and it’s microsocieties function, from the scarcity-minded people on the Rim who’s decorative tastes and methods of torture match their lifestyle aesthetics, to the political arenas on Luna taken directly from democratic councils in ancient Greece, to the cyberpunk-esque superstructures and the people that inhabit them. The world(s) slowly build in your mind until there’s a very vivid and very personal universe coming alive on page. It commands attention, and it deserves it.9780425285916

And just of commanding of attention are the characters. Going for four PoVs was the correct choice, although some were much more interesting than others. Ephraim’s guff, raw attitude could have been pulled straight from Blade Runner, Lysander’s complex and nuanced storyline and characterization made me hate how much I loved him, Darrow is as delightfully rash and stubborn as ever, and Lyria’s cocky attitude brings a new set of eyes to the world. Lyria’s PoV was decidedly the weakest, and her character arc felt a little too sudden. And if there’s any fault I can find in this book, it’s that Darrow is more absent from the on-screen narrative than he should be. Darrow’s the heart and soul of this world, after all, so it was disappointing not to see him and the Howlers (and Sevro, the little devil) taking a more on-screen role. I’d have gladly swapped a good chunk of Lyria’s PoV for his.

But in saying that, each of the characters are phenomenally sketched, their emotions and feelings so sharply detailed that it’s impossible not to care about them ever so much. The events of any given narrative cannot emotionally support itself unless it has the central characters and their feelings, reactions and social views providing the backbone. And in Iron Gold’s case, each of these characters’ reactions to the unfolding events is a quiet revelation. Their feelings are messy and rash and motivated by spur of the moment decisions (which they may or may not soon regret), filled with heart-break and rage, and it’s wonderful to embroil yourself in the middle of this chaos. I felt like I was with them every step of the way, right until the bitter end that felt me hating how much I love Pierce Brown, but also want to scream at him.

This book is nothing less than a phantasmagorical mash-up of science-fictional exuberance jacked-up to the hilt. There’s so much richness and goodness bursting out of the seams of the characters, technologies, planets and cities of the world it threatens to spill over. Science-fiction is said to be the genre of ideas, and never has it been more true here. The action is rich as ever, the politics as cuthroat as ever, the world several shades darker, the almost endless cast of characters play their roles as productions of their culture and upbringing to levels so theatrical it’s almost Shakespearean. Brown’s velvety prose is so rich and jam-packed with detail and tiny literary gems it’s like he didn’t think he’d get the chance to ever write another book. Even on its own, every page is a delightful morsel. As a whole, this book is a dessert masterpiece.

Pierce Brown has absolutely out-done himself in almost every way and should be given a round of applause for producing something so stellar it reaches meteorological greatness. It might be too early to call it book of the year, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The wait for Dark Age will be unbearable.

The Novel is DONE

It’s done. 123,566 words and I typed THE END on my space opera noir novel.

After 91 days, it’s finally, finally done.

It was done last Thursday, but I’d written 6,000 words that night and I didn’t want to see another keyboard for a weekend at least. But now I’m happy to announce that it’s done and finished.

The first draft, that is. It’s going to take a mountain of effort to unscramble that mess and knock it into something resembling a coherent narrative.

But it’s done.

I feel like Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, standing above the restaurant dojo of Crippling Self Doubt and seeing all the defeated brain weasels on the bloody floor and saying, “All your words are belong to me”.

I wrote everyday for over three months. Every single day. Even the day where I had a ten-hour shift and went out in the evening, even if it was 100 words before collapsing asleep. I kept chiseling away to get the end result.

I absolutely love this novel. After my last project burned me out I had to write exactly what I wanted to write. Genre tends or hot-off-the-press type work be damned. I wanted to take a shot at writing a murder mystery in the deepest reaches of space, with a strong sense of space opera exuberance, and I did.

My plan is to write up a sketchy synopsis of the novel, as well as a detailed list of things that need to be fixed. But I’ll be taking a bit of a break. After a few weeks I’ll try my hand at a short or two, polish up an ugly draft that I’ve got sitting around, maybe do some nonfiction, and then it’s time for revision. A lot of revision.

But for now, I need to clear my mind and take a mini-holiday. After writing almost 125k in 91 days, I think I’ve earned it.

And I’m going to try my best not to think about just how much it sucks and needs work. Wish me luck!

 

Translations Destroy Podcasts on StarShipSofa! (Not really)

So. Something’s been brewing behind the scenes at StarShipSofa. Something we’re sure you’ll all be excited about.

But some backstory first.

It goes without saying that all of us at the District of Wonders welcome stories from all over the globe. We’re an international podcast, and naturally interested in finding stories published in another language. With English-speaking (particularly American) stories dominating the market – and understandably so – it can be quite difficult to get work translated from another language into English to reach a wider audience, and even harder to find them once they have. We have authors such as Andrzej Sapkowski and Cixin Liu rising to popularity, but for the vast majority of non-English authors it’s maddeningly hard to shatter that language barrier and find an audience they deserve.

So I’m doing something about that.

Starting soon, StarShipSofa will be playing one whole month’s worth of stories translated from other languages as part of our Translations Month Special. These four stories are diverse in content and sub-genre as they are in country of origin. Ranging from cyberpunk to time travel to transgressive dystopian, our stories come from France, Japan, Russia, and China. The table of contents are below:

 

  • “The Smog Society” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan (translated from Chinese).
  • “Sense of Wonder 2.0” by Laurent Queyssi‏, translated by Edward Gauvin (translated from French).
  • “White Curtain” by Pavel Amnuel, translated by Anatoly Belilovsky (translated from Russian).
  • “Violation of the TrueNet Security Act” by Taiyo Fuji, translated by Jim Hubbert (translated from Japanese).

 

Half of these were picked up directly from slush, the other half were procured with assistance from John Joseph Adams and the team at Skyboat Media. A big thank you to them.

This project has been a long time in the making. We’re looking very much to bringing these incredible stories to you, showcasing the international diversity of science-fiction and the different favours that each country specializes in. And of course, we’re always open to broadening our horizons and welcome both more translated stories, and authors and narrators from all territories. But for now, I hope you enjoy what’s on tap this month and all the stories to come.

If you like our stories and the work we’re doing, please consider making a donation on Patreon. Every bit helps to cover our server costs and work towards becoming a paying market. The District of Wonders has adapted and published over a thousand stories over a decade-long period, and with your help we’ll go for another decade yet.  The link is here: https://www.patreon.com/districtofwonders

As always, let us know what you think of this project and the stories on Facebook, Twitter or email. And please, enjoy this special Translations Month, coming soon to your earholes in a podcast near you.

 

 

The Galaxy’s Cube out in Abyss and Apex!

Well, this is certainly overdue. But no matter: my short story “The Galaxy’s Cube” went live at Abyss & Apex for their 58th issue, Q2 2016. It takes place on a Thailand-inspired colony world – there’s a strong biopunk favour, lavish descriptions of haunting cities, dormant AIs, relationships and the sense of wonder and sorrow. It’s also a bit of a love letter to the choatic, beautiful sprawling mess that is Bangkok, Thailand and the wonderful people who reside there. I’ve lived in the place and visited it more than a dozen times and I’ve never had a bad experience.

I wrote this story back in late 2014 or so. It gave me hell at the time of writing, I had no idea where I was going with it, what I’d do, how it would turn out, etc. But I pressed on, finished it, and sold it to Abyss & Apex very quickly. A&A have published work by  Aliette de Bodard, Marie Brennan, Rae Carson, J. N.K. Jemisin, Will McIntosh C. J. Cherryh,  Paul Di Filippo, Jay Lake,  Tim Pratt, and others, so it’s an honour to appear in their pages. So far it’s gotten pretty good reviews, including one in SF Revu where they called it a “fantastic, heartfelt story.”

It’s not perfect of course, considering I wrote it a year and a half ago, but I think it’s one of my better stories, and I feel it’s one of those stories that I “leveled up” with. Considering that they only publish 20 or so stories a year, and frequently get Honourable Mentions in the Year’s Best, I’m pretty happy to be in their pages. Many thanks to  my editors Wendy and Tonya who pushed for it to be the leading story of the issue.

So yes. Sit back and go to a future Thai colony and do let me know what you think of the story. You can find it online for free here.

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Words and words and words, starting a new project

For those of you who’ve been following my tweets recently, I’m neck deep in a new project. Not a new short story, a new novel. I finished my YA epic Slavic fantasy about a month back. I took a short break before thinking about what I was going to do next. I didn’t want to jump into edits straight away – me and my YA fantasy didn’t have a very good relationship in the last third of the book. We needed, need, time away from each other. In a couple of months I’ll come back and start hacking away at it with an axe.

But until then I needed something else. I’ve had this idea boiling in the basement of my skull for quite some time, but didn’t have the backstory to support it. I took a few days to flesh it out, do some outlining, then threw myself into writing. No side projects, no short stories, no editing. Nothing. Just words words words.

I stated that book two and a half weeks ago, about 18 days. Right now it’s sitting at 19,000 words. That’s my part time job at the moment. Butt in chair, pouring my mind on the keyboard and screen. No inspiration quotes, no #amwriting hashtags on twitter, no in-the-zone yoga mind experiments.

Just black words on white paper.

My minimum target is 1,000 words per day, not including plot outlining, world-building, and running off to jot down some cool idea. And so far I’m not doing too badly. I know where my characters are going, where they’ve come from, and (most) of the world around them. I can’t say much about the project, but it’s a space opera crossed with a murder mystery. It’s not YA either, my first adult book since my first rubbish attempt at writing a SF/F when I was in highschool.

I’m not thinking about how to sell it, how to pitch it, if the current market is good for it, nothing. I’m just having fun and getting that work down. It’s hard sometimes, and I hate every sodding word on the sodding page, but I’m doing it. It’s going to be one ugly half-breed when it’s done (coming from a half-breed), but it’ll be done.

One of the worst things I ever did was let my YA fantasy sit and rot for whole months at a time over a stretch of one year and three months while I was finishing university. It grew old and stale, and even now it’s in desperate need of a scrub up and tweaking. So I’m not making that mistake here. I’m living and breathing this world and this world alone, and it’s pouring out of me fast.

By this time next week I hope to be at 26,000 words, perhaps a little more. By the time this is over my fingers are going to be worn down to the bone and my brain having gone through a deep fat fryer, but no one said this job was meant to be easy.

‘Until then….

Interview over at SF Signal

It’s been a busy week, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve reached 9.6k for my new space opera novel. That’s roughly 1k a day, and will be more if I manage to reach 11k by the end of today. But I want to take the time today to really cement the fundamentals of the world in my head and have that high-concept, ultra-epic coolness that helps the universe stand out from the rest. I’ve literally got a note stapled above my screen that reads “up the weird, add the cool, mix it up”. And that I will do!

But in the meantime I also managed I do an interview over at SF Signal, talking about me, my writing process, my job as an editor, how I managed to get onboard as an editor for a Hugo-winning podcast at the age of 19, etc. If you ever had a burning sensation to know what it was like working with William Gibson, Christopher Priest, Robin Hobb, and George R. R. Martin while Season 5 of Game of Thrones was airing, you can settle that satisfaction right now! It was almost surreal, typing that all up and realising just what we managed to achieve.

Anyway, the interview is here if you want to check it out. Enjoy!

2nd story publication at Nature

My second story from Nature, System Reboot, launched recently over at their website!

It’s my most experimental piece, and my first published story in present tense. I don’t usually write in it, but in this case I felt that the story demanded it and I think it turned out pretty well. Colin must have felt so as well, because it’s doing pretty well. I’ve had quite a number of people talk about it online, and government scientists and professors of AI neuropsychology have been tweeting about it. I was blown away by that (and I think my head is still reeling).

And the artwork….

They really do not skip out on the artwork at all.

I wrote about my inspiration for the piece and a bit of background here, so check that out if you want. And if you prefer the pdf version of the story, that’s available here as well.

Enjoy reading!

 

Also, in other news, my other Nature story, Daega’s Test, will be appearing as a reprinted and translated into Polish over at Szortal. This will be my first story translation, so that’s marvelous. I’ve got a bunch of Polish family members and friends who don’t speak English well (if at all), so now they’ll have no excuse but to read it! I’ll post when it’s up!

’til then…

StarShipSofa: Final Slush Update

Hello everyone,

The slush is done. It’s done. It’s over. And now I know how Frodo felt after throwing the ring into Mt. Doom.

I’ve been so ridiculously busy. Over the course of the submissions I’ve suffered two illnesses, traveled around the globe and back, and a bunch of other personal issues that I’d rather not discuss publicly. On top of that I’m in my final semester of university, and I’ve barely had a second to myself. But you guys all understood and gave me your unending patience, and for that I am grateful. I’ll definitely be looking at getting both an intern for StarShipSofa permanently and a few slush readers to help me out. But right now, I’m so busy that I don’t have the time to hunt down an assistant to help me out because I’m so busy. If that’s not a paradox, I don’t know what is.

It’s been an incredible experience for me, not as just as an editor, but a writer as well. I’ve never really been on the other side on the coin, as they say, in terms of submissions and shifting through slush. But the experience was worth it.

There have been stories I absolutely hated letting go off. There were some that I wrestled with for days and days, completely unsure of what to do. Damn, do you people write fantastic stories. I hated myself for saying no, and writing that letter came with a heavy heart. But the decisions have been made and the acceptances and rejections have been sent off.

For those of you who got acceptances, I’d have given you my personal email address. If you haven’t already, please send your story file and your bio (pasted in the email) over to it. Do not try to reach me via the submissions email – that’s purely for reading slush.

StarShipSofa will absolutely be reopening to submissions. When? I don’t know. I definitely need to graduate from university first, and we’ve got a lot of stuff to sort out over at StarShipSofa. When I get a second I’ll be writing more detailed blog posts about my experience doing slush and the common pitfalls, what to avoid, etc, etc. And if I rejected you, don’t give up. Drag yourself back up and shoot me a story that kicks me in the gut (not literally) and one that I cannot say no to. But more on that later.

It’s been an absolute blast to read your excellent stories, and it’s going to be even more fun working with you all and seeing what the final production looks like. I’ve heard some of them already and they’re excellent. I’m hoping you guys will be as proud of them as I am.

Until then, thank you all so much. And never, ever, ever give up.

Jeremy

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