Festive Chaffy Jam

I hope you're all enjoying the festive season. Here on Dartmoor it's been raining harder than I think I've ever seen it rain before, but we didn't care, because we had Sarah McIntyre and her husband Stuart to stay over Christmas.  We managed to get a few walks in between downpours...

...although it looked a bit apocalyptic out there at times...

                                                                      Photo by Sarah McIntyre

 ...and when it was too wet to go out, we whiled away the time by drawing comics.

Sam's favourite artist is Jamie Smart, who does the brilliant Bunny vs Monkey strip in the Phoenix comic, and is also the author of the Find Chaffy books.

Sam even found an actual cuddly Chaffy in his Christmas stocking this year. So when we started doing a comics jam (that's like comics consequences - everyone takes turns to do a panel) he decided Chaffy should be the main character.  Here's the result...

A Dartmoor Christmas Tree


On the path from Rippon Tor to Cold East Cross there's an outcropping of rocks where a single conifer tree has taken root.  Whether it's self-seeded or whether it's an old Christmas Tree which someone planted there, I have no idea (my guess would be the former, though it's a long way from any plantations).  Anyway, when Sarah and Frodo and I walked past on Tuesday, the last sunny day before the wetpocalypse, someone had decorated it for Christmas.  I'm not sure I approve - the wind had already scattered baubles across a wide area - but I suppose Dartmoor ponies have strong enough stomachs to cope with a bit of tinsel, and I had to admit the golden fruit did look pretty festive in the wintry sunshine...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 

- and, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Santa Pendragon and Four Rusty Knights

There's been a lot of interest in the items I posted for sale here a few days ago with the aim of helping to fund Mossy Hare's Excalibur documentary Behind the Sword in the Stone.  Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, and especially to those who have made donations and will be getting their signed and doodled-in books in the New Year.

Meanwhile, author and blogger Julie Bozza has written a nice piece about the crowd-funding campaign here. And my partner-in-Seawigs Sarah McIntyre has also joined the cause, rather gamely in her case since she'd never heard of Excalibur until she heard me going on about it. She's painted this fine Father Christmas/Sword in the Stone mash-up, which you can read all about - and indeed BUY -  on her blog.

And lurking in my cupboard I found this painting of four rusty knights which I must have done in about 1989 in the gouache/watercolour/indian ink style I used back then. The old piece of Daler illustration board it was done on is showing some speckles of damp around the edges, but the picture seems OK, and these knights are so rusty that a few extra splodges would barely notice anyway.  It's a clumsy thing in many ways, but I quite like it, and it's obviously heavily influenced by the spiky, spiny armour of the knights in the early scenes of Excalibur, so I'm going to make it the final item in my funding campaign: if you fancy owning an early Reeve original, pop over to the Indiegogo page and donate $75 (which is about £45). Then e-mail your receipt to me at thesolitarybee@gmail.com and I'll sign the picture and send it to you.    SOLD.

Four Rusty Knights. Approx. 10x22cm  $75

First editions & original artwork for sale - in a Good Cause!

If you saw my post about Excalibur a couple of weeks ago you'll already that I've been trying to help drum up some funding for Mossy Hare Productions and their documentary film Behind the Sword in the Stone.

Like many other people (but not enough yet) I've made a donation on their Indiegogo page. But while the rewards they're offering contributors all look highly desirable to a dyed-in-the-wool fan like me, I thought it might be worth adding some of my own. So if a signed photo of Clive Swift isn't enough to get you hitting the 'Contribute Now' button, you can claim signed editions of my books or a piece of my original artwork as well.

All you need to do is make a contribution via the aforementioned Indiegogo page, then forward a copy of your receipt to me at thesolitarybee@gmail.com.  I'll then get the item to you as quickly as possible by standard post (air mail if you're outside the UK).

I do realise that this a bad time of year to be running this - I can't guarantee posting anything in time for Christmas now, and if you're anything like me your credit card has just melted from prezzie-buying - but the Indiegogo campaign runs till the 15th January, so hopefully there will be some takers.

I have four items on offer, and they'll be dished out on a strictly first-come, first-served basis.

UPDATE: All these items have now been sold. Thanks very much to all the generous people who donated to Mossy Hare.  I'll be doodling, signing and mailing the books early in the New Year.

1. Sorry: SOLD!
 Goblins and Goblins vs Dwarves, signed and doodled in. 

You may have to wait a while for delivery, because my new book Goblins vs Dwarves is so new that it isn't actually out until next spring (I'd hope to have copies by March). I'll sign them, dedicate them if you like, and draw an original Reeve goblin (or dwarf) on the title pages.

It's yours for a donation of  $25 or more. 

 2. Sorry - SOLD!

The Mortal Engines Quartet (AKA Predator Cities), US editions, signed and doodled in.

Unfortunately the only spare copies I have of the UK edition are the new ones with the sub-X-Box covers which nobody likes. But the US paperbacks are lovely (though UK readers should be warned that the spellings have been Americanised, and they call Shrike 'Grike').

 These four are the only signed copies currently in existence, and if you like I'll do a quick doodle of a character of your choice in each book.

Minimum donation of $50

3.   Sorry - SOLD!  Fever Crumb 1st Edition hardback, signed and doodled in.

As with the books above, I'll draw a character of your choice on the title page. Unlike the ones above it's a hardback, with a fantastic David Wyatt cover complete with peek-a-boo hole which opens to reveal a huge landscape on the endpapers. It's also a first edition. It's therefore quite collectable, and a bit more expensive.

Minimum donation $100

4. Sorry - SOLD! 
A pen-and-ink drawing of London

Last year Scholastic asked myself and Jeremy Levett to write a short guide to the world of Mortal Engines, which we called The Traction Codex.  I think you can find it attached as a sort of appendix to the ends of the current UK e-book editions, and I'm assured that it will eventually be available as a separate e-book (although it seems to be taking a bizarrely long time and there is still no firm publication date as yet).

Anyway, I did some illustrations for this project, and this is one of them: the only time I've managed to draw the Traction City of London and make it look even remotely like the thing that was in my mind's eye when I wrote the book.  It measures approximately 24.5 x 18.5 cm, and it took flippin' ages, so I don't part with it lightly.  I had planned to have it on my office wall, but I'd rather see Behind the Sword in the Stone finished, so I'll exchange it for a whoppingly generous donation of $800 (about 500 of your British Pounds).

For $75 you can have Four Rusty Knights, a very old picture by me. Details here.

Please don't approach the Mossy Hare people with queries about these - this is my own initiative, and I'm sure they have enough on their minds already! All queries should be e-mailed to thesolitarybee@gmail.com. I try to check messages there at least once a day, and will reply as soon as possible.  

Tim Maughan's 'Paintwork'

Reading this recent interview with Tim Maughan on the Sense of Wonder blog reminded me that I've been meaning to repost my Solitary Bee review of his short story collection Paintwork here.  As you'll see if you read the interview, Tim and I are very different sorts of writer: he despises nostalgia and escapism, which are my stock in trade.  But while I'm rummaging happily through the toy box of discarded Sci-Fi tropes, it's great to find someone writing science fiction that's inspired by the real world.  If you haven't read Paintwork yet it's very good value and highly recommended - and I hope it marks the beginning of a very important and successful career.

If you'd asked me before I read Tim Maughan's debut collection Paintwork, I'd probably have said that 'Hip, cutting-edge cyberpunk with a techno-rave attitude' wasn't really my cup of tea.  The observation, familiar from William Gibson and other cyberpunk writers, that the street finds its own uses for cutting edge technology, is indisputably true, but I've never really sought out books and stories based upon it - my own imagination is stuck too firmly in the pre-digital age.

But luckily I happened to sit on a reading by Tim Maughan at last year's Bristolcon, and I was immediately struck by both the crisply imagined near-future setting and the energy of the language.  "...it wasn't the gait-trackers, face-clockers or even the UAVs that got 4Clover in the end. The word on the timelines had said it was a Serbian zombie-swarm hired by an irate art critic that had tracked him down and smeared his co-ordinates all across the Crime and ASB wikis."

There are three stories in this short collection, and each is is set in the same very near and very credible future.  In the title story a graffiti artist called 3Cube stalks the mean streets of Bristol, hacking into the QR codes on virtual reality advertising hoardings to overwrite their corporate messages with his own artwork. In Paparazzi, which again takes place in Bristol,  a documentary maker is hired by powerful players of a MMORPG to infiltrate the game and and secure incriminating footage of a rival faction.  In the third story, Havana Augmented, two young Cubans hack illegally downloaded VR games into new and startling forms.  Each story is short (the whole book runs to 102 pages), but they have a power that is missing from many much longer works, and they linger in the memory.

Personally, I liked Paparazzi the least, but that's because I've never really played a computer game, and find it hard to visualise immersive VR environments or understand their appeal; it's still a perfectly good story.  I preferred 3Cube, busy replacing the advertisements of tomorrow with his own haunting artworks, and the young heroes of Havana Augmented, who hack and soup up their Virtual Reality robo-warriors as skillfully as the previous generation of Cubans augmented their 1950s American automobiles.  There are some exhilarating moments as their massive, digital 'mechs' do battle in the streets of Havana. Indeed, all the stories capture the excitement of the technology that is coming our way.  But, while they are far too subtle to be called 'Dystopian', these are not upbeat visions of the future.  Dystopian stories are basically escapism, smashing up the real world with all its complex problems and replacing it with one which is ostensibly worse, but usually far simpler.  The stories in Paintwork build on the far scarier notion that the future will be just like the present only more so.  Each is about a talented young person who is trapped or tricked by the corporate interests which control their world - interests which have little use for them, or for their skills.  The technology of tomorrow is, all-too believably, used purely in the service of selling us stuff , like the 'spex' which everyone in the world of Paintwork wears, allowing them to see the virtual reality adverts and logos plastered all over it.   When the hero of Paparazzi is asked to meet someone at Starbucks he he just blinks at the Google Earth logo at the bottom of her virtual invitation and his spex show him a trail of football-sized coffee beans hanging in the air, leading up Bristol's Park Street to where, "High in the sunny Bristol sky he could see a ten metre high latte hanging like a hot air balloon, the huge green arrow suspended from its underside pointing down at the store's location."

Of course, Google are actually testing VR specs as I write this.  Paintwork is built around technological developments so imminent that in a few more years I suspect we'll all have them: we'll all be following trails of virtual coffee beans into the future.  Tim Maughan's achievement is to take these dawning possibilities and spin them into pacy, cynical, neo-noir short stories.  I hope he's got a novel in the works.*

Philip Reeve

* He HAS!

Paintwork is available in print or electronic versions from various places: here's a link to Tim's website and further details.

(I notice on the Smashwords site it says that 'This book contains content considered unsuitable for young readers 17 and under,' so You Have Been Warned... but I'm not sure what the unsuitable content is. There are some four-letter words among the dialogue, but nothing you couldn't overhear in the average primary school playground. It strikes me as a book that a lot of teenagers would enjoy.)

The 'Hip, cutting-edge cyberpunk with a techno-rave attitude' quote comes from Gareth L. Powell

This review first appeared on my semi-derelict sister blog, The Solitary Bee.

Macaque Attack!


Like Gareth L Powell’s previous novel, The Recollection, Ack Ack Macaque is a brisk, entertaining read that fizzes with wild ideas.  Unlike The Recollection, it’s completely bonkers...

The titular primate flies a Spitfire and fights Nazi ninjas in a demented virtual reality game version of World War 2, just as he did in the short story of the same name, which originally appeared in Interzone in 2007 (and was voted 'story of the year' by that magazine's readers). You can also find it in the collection of stories called The Last Reef.

In the story, the players and designers of the Ack Ack Macaque game seemed to live in the future of our world, but the novel is set in the year 2053 in a parallel one, where Britain and France joined forces in 1953 to form a ‘European Commonwealth’ under the British monarchy. It’s just as implausible as setting as the never-ending dogfights and zeppelin raids inside the game (and I fear it may scupper any hope of selling French translation rights) but it is entertainingly fleshed out and makes an interestingly off-kilter backdrop for this ripping yarn about murder, mayhem and monkeys.  

Most writers would consider that a fighter ace macaque and a parallel reality would be enough big ideas for one book, but Gareth L Powell obviously has big ideas to spare, and garnishes his endlessly twisting thriller plot with brain-stealing serial killers, virtual worlds, attempted coups, cyborgs, the launch of a Mars probe, personality swaps, looming nuclear war, and giant airships which function as independent city-states.  Everyone talks in boiler-plated action movie clich├ęs, and it builds towards a climactic showdown with an evil megalomaniac in the best James Bond tradition.   (And all this, mind, in a book that doesn't run much over 300 pages...) It could all be quite exhausting, but it's done with such obvious enthusiasm that it's impossible not to be carried along by it.
As usual in Gareth L Powell’s work, romantic love is an important theme - there are two love stories in this book, one between student activist Julie and prince-on-the-run Merovech, the other between Victoria Valois and her estranged and now sort-of-dead husband Paul - but all the human actors are pushed slightly out of the limelight by the irrepressible figure of Ack Ack Macaque himself, the gun-toting, cigar-chomping monkey who escapes from his virtual world early on and goes on to steal all the book’s major scenes.  

He also seems to have escaped into our world now. He has his own Twitter account, and an Ack Ack Macaque prequel drawn by Nick Dyer will appear in the next issue of  2000AD comic (available from 12th December at UK newsagents, or in digital form here). It will be interesting to see where he goes next...

Ack Ack Macaque will be published by Solaris Books in January 2013 (but December 2012 in the U.S and Canada). You can find out more on Gareth's website.

Excalibur Documentary


Long-time readers of this blog may remember me mentioning the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur from time to time.  Here I am on a trip to Ireland a few years back, having a fanboy moment at Powerscourt waterfall, one of the iconic locations used in the film.

Excalibur was what opened my eyes to the richness of the Arthurian legends, so I would never have written Here Lies Arthur without it. But I might never have written anything at all, because it also opened my eyes to a lot of other things - it led me to seek out John Boorman's earlier films, like Point Blank and Deliverance, which in turn led to me to lots of other great film makers; it got me reading Malory and Tennyson and Wolfram von Eschenbach and T.S.Eliot and T.H.White: it introduced me to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, which in turn led to me back to the Romantics and on the Symbolists and thence to Picasso and the whole of Modern Art... In many ways, Excalibur was what I had instead of university.  Perhaps if it hadn't been made I would have seized on some other book or movie as inspiration at that age - but perhaps I wouldn't.  Anyway, my Life'n'Work would have been very different without it.

When I wrote my own version of the King Arthur story in Here Lies Arthur I knew I had to avoid the fantastical, mediaeval fantasy-world that the movie conjures up or I would just produce an Excalibur pastiche,  so that's how my Arthur ended up so resolutely un-magical and as 5th Century as I could make him.  But by way of a tribute I started and ended the book with the same images with which Excalibur begins and ends; riders in a burning wood, and the ship dwindling on a twilit sea.

I mention all this now (and will probably be mentioning it again in the coming weeks) because I've just found out about a project called Behind The Sword In The Stone, a documentary film about the making of Excalibur  by two Irish film makers working under the banner of Mossy Hare Productions.  They've managed to track down and interview most of the surviving members of the cast, as well as John Boorman himself.

Even if you don't share my love of the film (and there are many who don't) it should make a fascinating documentary. I'd kind of forgotten just how many careers it started: Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Cherie Lunghi and (I think) Nigel Terry all made their screen debuts in Excalibur, and it was a fairly early screen role for Helen Mirren too.  Here's a sneak peek:

Anyway, having shot all this great stuff, these Mossy Hares are now seeking funds for post production work - editing, sound mixing, voice-over recording etc.  They have an Indiegogo campaign page where all donations will be gratefully received, and various perks in the form of signed photos, DVDs etc are available to people who donate.  I shall certainly be kicking in something, and I hope other Excalibur fans and lovers of cinema will too - I REALLY want to see this movie!

Thanks to Frank Kelly for telling me about this project.
Mossy Hare Productions also has a Facebook page.

Scrivener's Moon Out Now in U.S.


I just received my copies of the new US edition of Scrivener's Moon, the third Fever Crumb book, and, like all Scholastic's US editions of my books, it looks great. It is available from US bookstores and the usual online outlets now.

The review in The Horn Book magazine says, 'Readers of the previous Fever Crumb titles may be forgiven for losing themselves in her adventures and forgetting that they are prequels to Reeve’s 
Predator Cities quartet. But with Scrivener’s Moon there’s no doubt: it culminates in 
the brutal and spectacular birth of a mobile London (followed by an epic battle) and 
thus of the rapacious Traction Era so brilliantly evoked in Mortal Engines.'

And Kirkus Reviews says,

 'The third (and final?) Fever Crumb story reminds readers of the serious themes beneath Reeve’s 

often madcap, always entertaining tales. ...the rich worldbuilding continues to hold surprises, and the writing never falters.

Both of them have got hold of the idea that this is the final Fever Crumb book.  I sincerely hope they're wrong, as I have the first half of the next one sitting on my desk as I write this.  There may, however, be a lengthy wait before I can publish it, so if you haven't yet started on Fever's adventures I wouldn't wait till volume 4 appears. Fever Crumb, A Web of Air and Scrivener's Moon tell a story which is pretty much complete, although, like many of the readers who e-mail me, I still want to find out what happens to Arlo.