Literature

Ice Station: Death – Launched. Thoughts on My First Horror Book.

I’m mostly known as a science fiction writer, and with good reason.  Of the seven books I’ve published, no less than five are SF (the remainder are a comic fantasy and a thriller), so creature horror is not necessarily something readers would associate me with.

Until now.

Ice-Station-Death-ebook-cover

Yes, it’s a creature book in the classic mold but updated to today’s world, a far cry from something like Outside or Siege.  It’s called Ice Station: Death, and you can buy the ebook here (will let everyone know when the paperback comes out).

So what was this experience like?  To put it simply, I had a blast.  Writing monsters isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside.  You need to research (your creatures need to be biologically viable and behave in believable ways), create a credible backstory for where they came from and how come no one noticed them before and also create characters that your readers will care about.  If your protagonists are wooden cutouts, it won’t make a difference to anyone if they’re in mortal peril.

In that sense, it’s a lot like writing SF, and very different from writing a mainstream book.  When you’re writing about things that aren’t real, or aren’t real yet, you actually have to be more careful of being exact than when you’re writing about real life–at least that’s been my experience.

It’s also nice to write a book where the tension has to come to a boil relatively early in the process and then not let off.  So the action is utterly relentless, and you never know who’s going to be left standing at the end of it…

Readers and reviewers will decide whether I succeeded in creating a good book or not but, as an author, I love this one, and hope everyone here will, too.

If you do read it, drop us a line here and let us know what you thought!

 

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London, Frozen in Time

For many of today’s globetrotters, London is a signature city, a mixture of modern design and old-world charm. They go there for reasons financial or for reasons advertising-related and see only the modern, progressive city of young, hip global citizens.  They never stop to think of what the new town was built on.

For readers of Dickens, however, London is a very different city.  For those of us who grew up with his fiction London will forever be the smoky motor of the industrial revolution, full of shady characters and dark, twisting alleys.  The vicissitudes of hipsters, no matter how many generations of hipsters, will never alter that reality.  (Also, filmmakers have gotten the message across as well).

Dickens' London by Charles Dickens

However, there is an even better window into the world Charles Dickens moved in than his novels.  He was also an essayist–well, his writings are almost essays and at the time, they were denominated “sketches”–of amazing note.  His “Sketches by Boz” and “the Uncommercial Traveler” actually made his name before Oliver Twist or David Copperfield turned him into a worldwide superstar.

And he deserved every accolade that these sketches sent his way, if the collection in the Folio Society volume entitled Dickens’ London is any indication (in case you’ve forgotten, we love the Folio Society’s beautiful books).  This book essentially brings together those essays of Dickens’, slightly satirical but still mostly true, that deal with life in the metropolis.  From the condemned cell of the jail (gaol, of course) to lonely midnight walks, it tells you just as much about the writer as it does about the town.  The full force of Dickens’ critical but affectionate relationship with London and with the common people who were its pulse, shines through clearly.

If you have an image of London that coincides with the modern city, this book will correct that error.  The way the great man interacts with the city will leave an indelible image than no amount of traveling in the modern “reality” will ever overcome.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His most popular book is a science fiction novel entitled Siege.  You can check it out here.

Space Opera at Its Best

Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds

It’s no secret that we at Classically Educated really, really like the work of Alastair Reynolds.  I firmly believe that he is the best writer currently working in the SF field by several lengths.  I know his case is helped by the fact that science fiction is currently not going through a golden age–quite the contrary, in fact–but Reynolds is a man who would have been heralded as a great in any era.

His stories take place in the deep future and, though they extrapolate from the present, they don’t pretend that the things that society is deeply concerned about today will matter in a thousand years–or even a hundred.  Thus freed from the fetters of writing boring politically-concerned drivel, Reynolds sets out to explore the galaxy.

And man, does he ever explore.  No distance is too far, and no element of particle physics too obscure for his pen.  His work is made even more interesting by the fact that, with his background as a scientist, he doesn’t take shortcuts: the science in a Reynolds book is limited by what we believe to be the true state of the universe.  No faster-than-light shortcuts to make the plot easier to weave together.  No quantum teleportation on a macroscopic scale.

Pushing Ice is vintage Reynolds.  Humanity is just beginning to push hard into space, with a foothold on the inner planets and profit-driven operations working further out to harvest water ice.  When a moon of Saturn begins to act extremely strangely, the nearest mining ship is sent out to investigate.

The people on board the ship are caught up in events and technology on a galactic scale that they can’t even begin to understand, but must somehow face up to if they want to survive.

As always, Reynolds is unflinching: he gives us a book where believable things happen to the characters, and miracles simply don’t exist which, strangely, ends up making this one an uplifting work.

It’s definitely a solid effort, hard to put down and well paced.  The one thing I didn’t like is that the two main characters often act like spoiled children, and the dynamic between them felt a little forced.

But that’s of little importance when you consider how well this particular drama plays out against the biggest canvas possible.  Another Reynolds winner.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His own sweeping space opera is entitled Siege. You can have a look at it here.

Philip K. Dick Debut

OK, we’ve all seen Blade Runner.  Most of us have also watched the sequel… I remember liking it when I watched it.  The thing is that the movie, in my mind, is more of a collection of sensations, generating the same kind of feeling that noir film of the thirties did, than something I analyze as a piece of science fiction.

Now, I’ve read every major SF writer out there, in depth and in detail… except for Philip K. Dick.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I’ve had the Library of America PKD collection in my shopping cart for about a decade, but it always seems to get bumped out by something newer and shinier.

A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

But on my birthday a year ago, a friend gifted me A Maze of Death, one of his novels.

Let’s be clear, this book is not the conventional door into Dick.  That would probably be the novella that engendered Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Additionally, this is a dark book, whose central theme–as foreshadowed by the title–is the human propensity to cause other people’s deaths.

So what did I think?

This boy has potential.  If even one of his minor works is so intriguing, I can’t help but think that his classics must be amazing indeed.

So let’s have a look at this one.  Without being overly spoilery, this one has three separate layers of reality all transpiring concurrently, of which one, in what, from what I’ve read online, is a typical display of Dick’s sense of humor, is only evident in the chapter list.

The book is interesting more on an intellectual level than as a typical literary enterprise.  The characters are, to put it mildly, unlikable, and they die in mostly uninspiring ways.  Nevertheless, the reader is always kept engaged by the underlying mystery.

The style–perhaps intentionally, I won’t be able to judge fully until I read more of the man’s work–reminds me more of the work of the fifties than the seventies.  It’s reminiscent of A Case of Conscience, or even Mission of Gravity.

So, as a corporate boss might say, this is a good start.  I still need to get my act together and read the meat of his output in order to give my loyal readers a better picture.  Stay tuned!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His own exploration of the human psyche is strongest in his novel Outside.  You can check it out here.

The Great American SpecFic Novel

A few years ago, another writer compared me to Neil Gaiman.

That is the kind of thing that makes writers nervous.  Gaiman, of course, is almost universally revered as one of the masters of the craft.  One might not like his stories per se, but no one doubts his ability or his magnificent talent.  So comparisons with Gaiman tend to take the following form: “Unlike Neil Gaiman’s wonderful work, this writer’s tale…”

Fortunately, this particular writer only commented about the similarity of my hair in a photograph to the good Mr. Gaiman’s.  Even so, it was assumed that I was following in his footsteps…  If I recall correctly, the exact phrase was “did you steal Neil Gaiman’s hair?”  That is the power of Gaiman.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I’ve reviewed Gaiman’s work here before, but, as I mentioned then, still had to sink my teeth into his meatier offerings.  The Tenth Anniversary Edition of American Gods is about as meaty as they come.

So, does the man live up to the hype?  In a word, yes.

The talent is there.  The craft is there.  The concept of down-at-the-heels gods isn’t particularly new, of course (if you’ve read Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, you’ll know exactly what I mean… and if you haven’t, do so immediately) but Gaiman creates a novel of ideas out of this particular well-plowed field.

It’s a big book in more than just heft.  The title of this post is not whimsical.  If we ever do get the Great American Novel, it will likely be structured in a similar way to this one.  It’s a road movie of a book, a sprawling exploration of what America means.  If it’s seen through the eyes of a foreigner, then all the better.  Lolita didn’t suffer for that, and American Gods doesn’t, either.

It’s a book that’s hard to put down, with a compelling plot driving it relentlessly forward, but that’s not what makes it great.  The greatness is in the little things, wonderfully turned phrases and scenes that, though slightly off from reality, are perfectly realized.  Some of those scenes promise to stick in the memory for a long, long time.

In conclusion?  You may or may not like this book, but you will agree with Gaiman apologists that the man deserves the accolades.  The craft and the talent herein are impeccable.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose gods also sometimes walk the earth, particularly in his novel of ancient Greece, The Malakiad.  You can check it out here.

In Order, No Less

Serial killers are fascinating to me only because of the obsessive quality of their work; I don’t really care for the actual murder part of it…  Which probably explains why I enjoy Agatha Christie’s work.  Her cases, though involving the sordid occurrence of the death of one or more human beings, always steer away from any suggestion of violence or mess:  “Ooh. There’s a cadaver, let’s see who made it.”

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

The ABC Murders, though not considered one of Christie’s best, is interesting as it brings Christie’s style to the personality of a serial killer.  The sequence of murders is in alphabetical order, and they are all announced by a note giving warning.

After that setup, however, the rest of the book is classic Christie.  Poirot enters stage right and, though others appear to be leading the investigation, takes command.  He guides us through the plot and reminds us to keep an open mind even when things appear to be leaning strongly in one direction.

His cryptic comments keeping everyone honest are the reason this one stays fair, and I’ll give it high marks in that regard.  Also, readability is supreme, as is the obsession factor to know whodunnit.  I read it in a single day, unable to go to bed without knowing how it finished.

High marks and a good place to keep going once you’ve read the obvious candidates (Roger Ackroyd, Orient Express).

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose novel Outside is science fiction, but with an underlying mystery that should make Christie fans happy.  You can check it out here.

 

Hope and Terror in the Aftermath

I always read the contributor copies of the publications where my stories appear (when they manage to successfully brave the postal system between the English-speaking world and Argentina, that is).  I don’t always read them immediately, though, as they go into the to-be-read pile, which is often biblical in scope.

into the ruins volume 7

So the Fall 2017 issue of Into the Ruins, which contains my tale “Anchored Down in Anchorage” has just cycled through.

When I read the guidelines prior to sending my story through, I remember thinking that a collection of stories set in the ruins of civilization would make for somewhat depressing reading, but the reality is that the magazine was actually a different from what I expected.

In the first place, half of the stories focused on the potential for adventure after the fall of civilization.  It might be worrying if you stop to think about it, but while reading, these tales are mainly entertaining.

The other half of the stories are, interestingly, of the type where humanity falls into its basest patterns… terrifying for different reasons.

So these stories, though set in a world after global warming takes its toll, are not about the catastrophe (even though every single one of them uses global warming and rising sea levels as its starting point as opposed to some other kind of calamity).  The post-civilization world is just a setting to explore the ins and outs of the characters immersed therein.

My favorite was “The Cupertinians” by Damian Macrae, which might best be described as a morally ambiguous romp in the Indiana Jones style.  Wonderful.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His latest novel is entitled Timeless, and you can check it out here.

Casting a New Light

I live about forty blocks from a street named FitzRoy.  A lot of streets, places and geographical elements in Argentina are named after old Robert, as well as his boat (called the Beagle) and passenger (some guy named Darwin).  It’s not particularly surprising, considering that all three made their names in large part because of the time they spent exploring the waters around Argentina and Chile.

Most people will assume that Charles Darwin was the most interesting character on those particular voyages, and perhaps they are correct–he’s certainly the one whose effect on popular culture (not to mention religious controversy) has been most pronounced…

this thing of darkness by harry thompson

And yet, the critically acclaimed novel This Thing of Darkness, by the late Harry Thompson, makes a compelling case for the naval officer Robert FitzRoy as the most interesting man aboard.  Certainly, he comes off as a man whose honor could never be besmirched, and a modern man in some regards.

Of course, in other ways, he is also portrayed as a man of his times (the first half of the 19th century), especially in certain inflexibility and in his religious outlook.  Nevertheless, his character in this book makes one question the silly postmodern conviction that being an officer and a gentleman is somehow a bad thing.  If there’s one thing the modern world could use more of it’s people like Robert FitzRoy.

Apart from casting FitzRoy in the role of the Hero–deservedly so–the book is notable for making a six-year-long voyage of hardship and unspeakable tedium read like an action/adventure romp.  While Thompson probably took large liberties with the characters of the men involved (and delved into their minds with unbridled imagination), he also created a page-turning novelization.

Does he commit the crime of superposing his modern views on some of the characters and events?  Sadly, yes (judging the actions of the past by the standards of today is, of course, imbecilic) but he does TRY to avoid it, even if he’s not completely successful.  As a result of this effort, we gain a picture of this time as a moment in history in which scientific observation was in a life-and-death struggle with the philosophical status quo that had guided man through the enlightenment… and that means that Thompson succeeds where so many other modern writers failed.

This is a good book.  It will make you yearn for the age of exploration and seethe at the injustice of the colonial system, but most of all, it will keep you reading.  Also, it will teach you a bunch of stuff you didn’t remember about Darwin’s voyage.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who also explores historical times.  His novel The Malakiad is a romp set in ancient Greece which… well, let’s just say it isn’t exactly based on facts.  You can check it out here.

The Science Fiction of JRR Tolkien

Yes, I was surprised too.  Tolkien isn’t supposed to be a science fiction writer.  The received wisdom is that he left such trifles to the other Inklings, notably C.S. Lewis, who was a moderately successful exponent of the genre.

However, Papa Tolkien was more interested in SF than most modern students of his work know, and his fascination for the forms of the genre come through in a little-known work entitled The Notion Club Papers.

Interestingly, I came upon this piece not through a search for Tolkien’s SF but because several versions of The Notion Club Papers are included in Sauron Defeated, the ninth installment of The History of Middle Earth, which is also Volume 4 of the History of the Lord of the Rings.  To add to the fun, The Notion Club Papers is part of The History of Middle Earth, but Unrelated to The Lord of the Rings, despite being concurrently with it.  Confused yet?

sauron defeated_christopher tolkien

And while the text is related to the goings-on in Middle-Earth, and therefore possibly fantasy, the framework in which it’s couched is definitely SF.  The story is that the papers are “discovered” in the 21st century after having been composed–documenting the goings-on of a club similar to the Inklings–in the 1980s.  Both of these dates were in Tolkien’s future, of course.

The most interesting part of the papers (aside from the way they segue into the Silmarillion story) is a discussion about the fact that science fiction fails as a genre because the need for a space-ship defies the suspension of disbelief.  Science Fiction (called scientifiction throughout) has merit as a way to explore societies real ills through the lens of a different world, but the act of getting to that other world is what destroys the illusion.

The conclusion they reach is that the only realistic way to reach far-off lands is to travel in the mind, in dreams or somesuch.

That’s a head-scratcher for sure, but there you go.

All in all, this is a brilliant piece of insight into Tolkien’s thinking, and, as a bonus, it also includes the concluding textual history of The Return of the King (see here for more), as well as some other texts linked to the Silmarillion story.

But, after reading his SF, it’s just as well that old Papa Tolkien concentrated on fantasy…  his talents weren’t in the scientifiction realm.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a thriller entitled Timeless. You can check it out here.

 

Being Bad at Middles

writer at work

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m more of a hunter-type personality than a farmer.  This isn’t ideal for living in modern society, but isn’t completely unworkable…  It does, however, have some interesting side effects, one of which I’d like to share, as it definitely has to do with my writing process.

That side effect is being bad at middles.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who love process, in much the way that one is fascinated by gruesome traffic accidents or unusually large insects.  It’s an awful, awful thing, but you just can’t turn your eyes away.  In my case the reason for that is that I don’t understand it.  I love the rush of a new project, delight in the sense of something just about to finish… but have no passion whatsoever for the nuts and bolts of what happens in the middle.  I push forward to the best of my ability, but rely on whatever talent I might have, and the planning I did in the first throes of new-book enthusiasm to get me through at a hopefully high level.

In the middle of something, I often look around and see friends enthusing about their passion for rewrites or for tweaking their hyper-detailed outline for the hundredth time before starting the actual writing and I scratch my head and wonder how they can keep the enthusiasm alive for long enough to actually finish a book.

Honestly, experience tells me that many of them don’t and most books are sacrificed on the altar of perfectionism before anyone can even see their imperfections.

But some of them do get written, and polished, and edited and published.  I find that wonderful, in the sense that it fills me with wonder.  I know I would never have the follow through; I would drown in the mire in the middle.

I’m like that with everything, whether it be a project for work or a book I’m reading–but it seems particularly applicable to writing.  Generally, my enthusiasm for any given piece of work is lowest right in the middle.

I’ve developed a number of strategies to cope.  I often have more than one piece of writing going on at the same time, or I write something really short that I can get finished when the enthusiasm is still upon me.

Another way to cope is to borrow joy across different aspects.  Perhaps a few hundred words on a bogged writing project can be spurred on by the promise of reading the final fifty pages of my book in progress later on… or of starting a new drawing.  Small highs from other walks of life can spur things on.

Of course, nothing renews enthusiasm in writing like a sale… but that’s not something I can control.

Does my method always work?

No.

On those occasions, you need to fall back on that old staple: sheer bloody-mindedness.  It’s gotten me through more fallow periods than I can count.  It does have the downside that you may despise the words you’re putting down, but I’ve found that coming back a couple of weeks later will improve that text immeasurably… even if you don’t change a single letter of it.

Anyway, that’s how I do it.  Your own mileage, as always, will probably differ wildly.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose latest novel is a thriller entitled “Timeless”.  You can check it out here.