Mind the Gap: next stop, Down Station

February 12th 2016

Posted by: in: From the Author, News and Updates, Reviews, The Books of Down
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You can’t get off at Down Station, of course, merely glimpse it as you rush by between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly Line. But you can visit the outside of it. It’s on Down Street (unsurprisingly), third road on the left as you walk along Piccadilly from Hyde Park. This is what you’ll see:

Which is unprepossessing, but that door with the blue sign is precisely the door through which our beleaguered travellers find Down. And this is my invitation for you to find Down, too.

There’ve been some more reviews in the last week:

Down Station is filled with choices that mirror well into the real world, the sense that we are never too far away from chaos, and it’s the decisions we make that define our future. 9/10, A ‘must read now’. (SciFiNow)

…a balanced, nuanced, story with no absolute heroes and villains, but plenty of muddled, baffled people trying to do the right thing, to make their own history. (Blue Book Balloon)

This book was really good! Exciting, imaginative and unexpected. It felt different and creative and had a good story. The world was fascinating, the characters diverse and the plot was very intriguing. (How to Become a Heroine)

All of which are good signs. There are over 250 hoping to win a copy over at Goodreads (draw still open at time of posting). And the first three chapters are now online, in lovely audio (not read by Cathy Tyson, who had to pull out at the last minute due to family commitments, but by Thomas Judd, who does a very fine job indeed).

The book itself is out on Thursday, but I’m signing copies (along with Tricia Sullivan, who’s going to be there with Occupy Me) at Forbidden Planet in Shaftsbury Avenue, London, on the 20th of Feb, 1pm-2pm. It’d be brilliant to see you there. I’m also supposed to be at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club on the 23rd – I’m a little unclear as to where that’s actually being held, but hopefully I can snag a native guide to help me find it.

What else can I say about Down Station? If you want a story of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations, which have morally complex and not always noble solutions, where secrets can kill and lies are mandatory, then Down Station is what you’ve been waiting for. Even if it’s not, I’ve had more than one reviewer comment, “I didn’t expect to enjoy this quite as much as I did.”

Open the door. Step through. Find Down in all its terrible glory.

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Climbing the stairs to Down Station

December 4th 2015

Posted by: in: From the Author, News and Updates, The Books of Down
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(photo credit: Peter Humphrey Photography)

It’s a little over two months to publication of the first Book of Down, Down Station. Which means the wheels of the publicity machine are slowly grinding into life (fortunately, it’s not all left to me, because no one will hear of it otherwise…).

There’s been three reviews so far – and all of them good, which is a relief, because no one needs a crap review at this stage in the game. They are, in no particular order:

Fantasy Book Review, who give Down Station 9/10. Which will do for me. “Morden has written a book full of mysteries that are just waiting to be discovered.”

Books by Proxy, who slap on 3.5 hearts/4 stars, and opine, “Down Station is a fun and interesting read which I zipped through in no time at all!”

Random Redheaded Ramblings, hefts 4 stars at it, and lo: “This is an interesting read with a great new world to immerse yourself in, it is fantastical and thrilling, a great book to add to your fantasy/sci-fi shelf.”

There is further news, however, news which had me all a quiver, and I still have a frisson when I think about it. There’s going to be an audiobook of Down Station – complete and unabridged, clocking in at a mighty 11 hours and 17 minutes – from those lovely people at Oakhill Publishing. And they’ve got Cathy Tyson to read it. Cathy Tyson’s been in lots of things – but people of a certain age (my age…) will always remember her starring opposite Bob Hoskins in the 1986 Neil Jordan film, Mona Lisa. That Cathy Tyson. Which, when you realise what Down Station is about and who one of the two POV characters is, is the absolutely perfect choice. Good work.

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Two weeks later…

February 12th 2014

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, Reviews
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So, time for a recap.

Arcanum is launched on a mostly-unsuspecting world on Jan 28th. This is not greeted with universal acclaim: there are rumblings in the nether regions about how (and I quote) “I thought this would be a book about magic”. Weeeel, yes and no. More on this in a moment.

As of now, Amazon.co.uk has Arcanum with 3 5* reviews, and on Amazon.com, 1 5* and a 4*. Which isn’t bad. Arcanum is also the Mysterious Galaxy Out-of-this-world Original pick for February. Which is also not bad.

I have a book launch/signing at Forbidden Planet in Newcastle upon Tyne this Saturday (15th Feb), 1-2pm.

Now comes the rub. Friend and colleague (and esteemed script writer) Philip Palmer tweeted last week: “Reading Simon Morden‘s Arcanum – not just a fantasy novel but a glorious hymn to the miracle of science”. Cheers, Philip. That’s pretty much the cat out of the bag.

Okay. Take a deep breath and say it with me: Arcanum is not just a fantasy novel. It’s not, to quote one of the Amazon reviews, about “a merry band of heroes in search of a MacGuffin.” Firstly, the band of heroes aren’t particularly merry, because there’s very little to be merry about – having dodged one existential threat, they find themselves facing another, and this time no amount of fancy footwork will get them out of trouble. Secondly, there is no MacGuffin. Or rather, there is a MacGuffin, but it’s one the heroes have to make themselves, literally forging their own victory out of nothing but ideas and hope.

Arcanum is about politics and social order and religious pluralism. It is also, at its beating heart, about science, both its practice and its philosophy. So you could argue that Arcanum is science fiction – it’ll be interesting to see whether or not it’s considered for any of the SF prizes (like the Clarke Award, hint hint), even though it’s not the first thing you’d point at and say “that’s science fiction”.

Arcanum has wizards and warriors, elves and dwarves, giants and unicorns. It portrays a world in which magic is not just possible, but has been the pre-eminent source of power and authority for centuries. It is also a glorious hymn to the miracle of science. Who says you can’t have both?

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Arcanum is out, or 0 days to go

January 28th 2014

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, News and Updates, Reviews
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It’s not like there was any going back, and the actual release day seems somewhat less significant than it used to be – but here we are, January 28th 2014.

I suppose I have to find something else to do rather than worrying about the public reception of something that took me nigh-on 2 years to create: a spot of really involved sorting-out of some cupboards, or hoover the whole house (I do have to go out and get some milk, and fill the car with diesel – let’s try and not get those two things the wrong way round…), but part of me has set sail with the book, onto the open waters.

And it’s not as if I expect everyone to think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. If experience has taught me anything, it’s that most readers will be mostly indifferent about the release of another huge fantasy book, and will ignore it. And there’ll be some who actively hate it, and by extension, me. That’s pretty much part of the deal.

But there’ll be some who not just like it, but get it. They’ll understand what it was – flawed creature that I am – was trying to do. On that note, here’s an incredibly thoughtful review from Stefan Raets over at tor.com. He lays his cards cleanly on the table, and states upfront that he couldn’t get into Equations of Life, but wanted to see how I did fantasy. And broadly, missteps aside, he likes it. More importantly, he gets it.

It’s worth reading the whole review: he’s done his absolutely level best to make it as unspoilery as he can, so +1 internets to him for that alone… but he ends thus:

“Despite Arcanum’s problems, it’s a captivating novel as well as, in a way, an interesting commentary on fantasy as a genre. More importantly, it’s hard not to root for its characters, who have to overcome their backgrounds and shortcomings and the sheer fact that the entire foundation of their society’s fabric has suddenly been ripped away. It’s a story about very human characters who, all of a sudden, have to learn to be just, well… human.”

We’re good with that.

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Arcanum update

November 17th 2013

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, News and Updates, Reviews
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Kirkus have reviewed Arcanum*. They like it enough to give it a starred review. They also said:

“…Morden, against a gritty, utterly convincing backdrop, anticipates every consequence and wrings out surprise after surprise. An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy.”

Which was very kind of them.

Also, the interview I did for Publishers’ Weekly has emerged from behind the pay-wall. In it, I am witty and self-deprecating.

 

*here be slight spoilers. If you want to avoid them, don’t click through.

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Arcanum in “actually quite good” shock

October 5th 2013

Posted by: in: Arcanum, From the Author, Reviews
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Publishers’ Weekly have (behind the paywall) a review – nay, the first ever review – of Arcanum.

I’m not equivocal about reviews, and I don’t think any author is, no matter what self-deprecating noises we make: we either ‘bleed in public or bleed in private’, and especially when I’ve spent something like eighteen months of my life working on the manuscript, whether or not anyone genuinely likes it outside of the people who either wrote it (me), had to read it (editors, proof readers), or read it out of familial duty (wife), assumes an importance that can be a little unnerving.

Even more so that I when I was interviewed over Skype (I have Skype now – fear me, mortals!) for PW, I was listening very intently for any hint that the interviewer hated the book, and moreover hated me for writing it and wasting rather a lot of her time. I have warned you this is a BIG book, haven’t I? Fortunately, she’d liked it, asked me lots of smart questions about the setting and the characters, and about my somewhat original writing process (‘sit down and just write the damn thing’ may or may not have been one of my answers).

So, to the review (very helpfully sent to me by Patrick Heffernan of Mysterious Galaxy Bookshop, purveyor of all your genre needs.)

Starred Review: Science fiction author Morden (the Petrovitch Trilogy) makes a masterful foray into an alternate universe where, a thousand years after the fall of Rome, Europe is divided into numerous petty kingdoms and magic is a tool and a weapon. The cunning Order of hexmasters—whose enchantments create bridges, power cities, underpin commerce, and annihilate entire armies—is the ruthless power behind the throne in the German palatinate of Carinthia. When the magic abruptly stops, enemies amass armies at Carinthia’s borders and mobs take over its streets. Under-librarian Frederik Thaler and illiterate huntmaster Peter Büber are both certain that the library holds the kingdom’s salvation. Capricious adept Nikoleta Agana may be the last remaining hexmaster. Twelve-year-old prince Felix is thrust onto the throne after his father’s death in battle. Willful, shamefully unmarried Sophia Morgenstern is determined to protect her fellow Jews from terror-fueled pogroms. An engrossing rollercoaster of a plot winds up with a solidly satisfying climax that leaves the reader craving more. Agent: Anthony Harwood, Anthony Harwood Literary Agency. (Jan.)

‘Masterful’? Check. ‘Engrossing’? Check. ‘Satisfying’? Check. ‘Craving more’? Yeah, okay. We’re good to go with this.

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Tell me again how brilliant The Curve of the Earth is

April 7th 2013

Posted by: in: From the Author, Metrozone, News and Updates, Reviews
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“The Curve of the Earth successfully opens a whole new chapter for Petrovitch in the best possible way by exploring whole host of new avenues, hopefully leading to many more adventures.”

http://upcoming4.me/news/book-news/review-simon-morden-the-curve-of-the-earth

“Morden peppers the swiftly moving story with high energy action scenes, some of which are impressively original. To the extent that The Curve of the Earth feels like an extended set-up for the next novel in the series, it at least whets my appetite for whatever might be coming next.”

http://www.tzerisland.com/bookblog/2013/3/23/the-curve-of-the-earth-by-simon-morden.html

“Great dialogue, great characters, great settings – this takes post-apocalyptic worlds to a new height, with sensational results. Absolutely riveting!”

http://www.booksmonthly.co.uk/adfan.html

“I just slammed through it, and it’s a blast.”

http://www.sfrevu.com/php/Review-id.php?id=14414

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In which I am not Richard Morgan

March 1st 2012

Posted by: in: From the Author, Metrozone
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Of course, our surnames are very close to each other, and we are often therefore shelved next to each other – but we are manifestly not the same person. All of which is preamble to discussing this review of Equations of Life. Actually, I’m not going to discuss the review (though being given 9/10 and the reviewer risking life and limb to wrestle Theories of Flight from the tbr pile is very gratifying), but this comment here:

As for the idea that Simon Morden is the next Richard Morgan – hm, I’m not convinced. Morden might get bleaker as the series progresses, but throughout Equations of Life there is just too much rollicking joie de vivre bouncing through the chaos and destruction for any true Morganesque comparisons. Kovacs is capable of flashes of savage humour – but the breathless pace of Morden’s storytelling, with the constant plot twists corkscrewing off in all sorts of unpredictable directions without a pause for any sort of info-dump, or tastelessly graphic sex scene, gives Morden’s work an original charm all of its own. In fact, I think Petrovitch’s adventures have more in common with the early Harry Dresden stories…

I’m not exactly certain who’s been suggesting that I’m the next Richard Morgan. Or the next anyone, for that matter, when I pour heart and soul (see the artist suffer!) into being the first me. I am, as I readily admit, the sum total of all the stories I’ve ever read, plus whatever I bring to the table as specifically me. I’m reasonably certain most other authors, unless they’re being explicitly paid to be otherwise, are in the same boat. Or not the same boat – their own individual boats, in fact. The ‘author of the week’ pastiches as played out on Radio 4′s The Write Stuff are incredibly clever and astute, but acknowledged as pastiches. Anthony Horowitz’s latest Sherlock Holmes is both in the style of Conan Doyle, and undeniably Horowitz. So to say author X is the next author Y, is I think a disservice. Yes, of course I’m aware that marketing comes into it: every YA author has (I understand it’s compulsory) to be compared to either JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, and every fantasy tome has “The next JRR Tolkien” on the cover. But I wish they’d stop doing that.

What they mean, of course, is “Do you enjoy famous author Y? Buy this book from complete unknown X! There is a vague similarity in subject and/or style.” Which is fair enough, but it does somewhat indicate that the advance review copies didn’t yield quite enough quotable material to fill out the back cover. It’s obviously tough at the start of a career – if there is such a thing in writing these days – to get noticed. Been there, done that. And am probably still there and still doing that: I’m nowhere near out of the woods yet. Where I’m happier with comparisons is between books – there are a couple of reviews where Equations is likened to Altered Carbon, in that they have a hard-boiled crime-cum-dystopian feel to them, and they both fairly zip along. But even then, according to the Brainfluff review above, I singularly fail at being Richard Morgan.

It would be incredibly sad if, to make it in SF, you had to write as someone else. Richard is very much alive and well and still writing. I don’t plan on going anywhere for the moment. Plenty of room for both Morden and Morgan on those shelves. Just remember to put my books face out, okay?

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Review watch 9: all three

July 23rd 2011

Posted by: in: From the Author, Metrozone, Reviews
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It’s about time I rounded up the non-Amazon reviews (though I would direct your attention to a couple of the more recent ones on the .co.uk site…)

Two reviewers have read all three and reviewed all three in the same blog post, which indeed makes sense. Considering the books in the round, does the series make sense? Is there a story arc that travels throughout? Does all the swearing and explosions get a bit samey after a while? Is there a law of diminishing returns?

Not according to Usagi, who not only loves the Petrovitch (“I’d totally date Petrovitch. In a heartbeat.”) but, after some (possibly accurate) criticism of my writing style from other reviewers – no, I don’t want you to have to reach for the dictionary every other sentence, and no, I’m not a great prose stylist like m’friend Chaz Brenchley (who I love – both him and his books) – says this:

“I think the best part about Sam as a character and Morden as an author is that you really live through Sam’s eyes the entire trilogy. You’re right there with him, right there next to him, inside of his head. This means everything – from his stuttering heart in the first book, to his broken heart over Maddy by the third book. You see, think, feel, smell, touch everything he does. Morden is a master with sensory language and the amount of showing over telling is overwhelmingly, joyously tipped in the “showing” direction – automatically making me love Morden. It’s so hard to do that, and doing that in a sci-fi genre book/series is even harder. I tip my hat in major respect for him being able to do that.”

That’s really quite lovely. And to continue the theme, Holly at Books for One has other nice things to say. She spots that I’ve actually written a character-driven SF series. SF is not renowned for its production of full-rounded characters, and yes, it often eschews character development for gadget-strewn, plot-heavy shininess (which I do enjoy, but sometimes it’d be nice to have people I care about in all the shenanigans). She finds Petrovitch’s determination “endearing” and is completely on-side the whole time, despite his anti-hero tendencies.

It has been pointed out that there are a lot of strong female characters. I didn’t consciously mean it to turn out that way, but that’s what organically evolved. Here’s what Holly says about some of them:

“There’s Valentina, a true Soviet communist to her red core and demolitions expert. Lucy, the schoolgirl found hiding in a bathtub from the outies who saves his life more than once. And of course Madeleine, the amazonian, Catholic trained bodyguard who does things to Petrovitch’s synthetic heart that has nothing to do with the fact it’s constantly malfunctioning. I adored all of these guys, they were all useful fully realised people, no extra bits of skirt who are only good for the hero to perv over in these stories…”

She concludes: “If you’re looking for something clever, fast paced and exhilarating then you can’t do much better than these three books. In Communist Russia book reads you.” Happy author is happy.

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Review watch 8: all three

June 9th 2011

Posted by: in: From the Author, Metrozone, Reviews
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Colour me confused. Now, I’m fully cognisant of the concept of ‘not owning your books once you’ve published them’, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m not keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.

Which is why I’m baffled at some of the contradictory responses to the words what I wrote…

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned either the Amazon or Goodreads reviews here before: ‘my’ Goodreads page is here, and by clicking on each individual book, you get a breakdown of readers’ responses. There are comments, too, and some of the reviews I’ve mentioned elsewhere also pop up here. All well and good – it’s a bit of fun, sharing your response to a book with others. And I’m gratified to see, I get some 5s, loads of 4s, some 3s… and so on. And no, I don’t expect everyone to love the books – they’ll appeal to a certain section of the audience, while leaving others meh.

The Amazon responses are a bit more, well, serious. It’s a market place. It’s where people come to buy books, not just swap opinions about them. I’m not going to poke holes in individual reviews, but yes. Contradictory about sums it up.

So – Equations of Life: Blue Gargantua calls Equations  “hands down, some of the best cyberpunk I’ve read in quite awhile”.

SFRevu has it’s third review of Equations (some sort of record?) by Liz de Jager: “Equations of Life is a great opener to this trilogy by Simon Morden. Petrovitch’s character shines brightly and Morden has given us a new kind of anti-hero, one who is likeable for all his unlikeability, and that is no mean feat.”

I’ve also stumbled on SFFMeta, which is a sort of review agglomerater. But rather than just take all reviews, it takes them from “trusted online sources”. Since publication Equations of Life has sat quite happily in the “Last 90 days high scores” table, and since reprinting, the “Last 90 days high scores – reprints” table, with a respectable 73 – which puts me in some very respectable company. And now the score has gone up to 75. Take that, rubbishy Amazon reviewers!

Reviews of Theories of Flight are still thin on the ground, but the first Degrees of Freedom ones have started appearing. There’s the usual (possibly slightly incoherent) one from Harriet Klausner. It means 4 stars on Amazon.

Best of all is TChris’ – now, he’s been reading the series through, and has had criticisms to make of both Equations and of Theories. I’ve won him over with Degrees, though! It’s a long quote, but it’s worth printing in full.

“It’s not that often I come to admire a fictional character, but Petrovich is a truly admirable creation:  a self-sacrificing hero, an idealist who refuses to be seduced by power and fame.  Petrovich is the kind of unwilling leader we wish for in the real world:  someone with the wisdom to exercise power nobly for the betterment of society before standing aside to let everyone else do their part.  He’s a character of sufficient complexity to experience guilt about the consequences of his actions without feeling remorse for doing the right thing.  He gives a speech toward the novel’s end about how he’s changed because of the events described in the trilogy, how he’s learned to be unselfish, to value his friends and to be a reliable friend to them, but it’s clear that Petrovich had integrity from the start, and it’s his integrity, his consistent refusal to take the easy path when he doesn’t feel it’s morally correct, that makes him so interesting. “

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