Book Review: The Spider Dance (Nick Setchfield)

Just under a year ago on my honeymoon, perched by a pool in Phuket, Thailand, baking under stunning sunshine, I found myself about to start Nick Setchfield’s debut novel The War in the Dark, one of several books grabbed as holiday reading. What followed could just have been considered a holiday romance – a dalliance with a tome that blew me away by how stylish, urbane, witty and exciting it turned out to be. It was anything but. I have waited patiently this last year for The Spider Dance to see if that experience might be repeated.

The good news is that, on the whole, it has.

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Book Review: War of the Archons #2 – Hangman’s Gate (R S. Ford)

Everyone writing fantasy is living in the shadow of George R. R. Martin these days given the global success of Game of Thrones, and Hangman’s Gate—second in the War of the Archons trilogy—is no exception.

For some writers this could work to the detriment of their product but not R. S. Ford, who seems to have learned a valuable lesson from Martin across this and previous novel in the series, A Demon in Silver – allow your characters to be sarcastic, gritty and almost a touch self-aware they’re in the middle of a broad, fantastical world. Hangman’s Gate continues a series which has all the trappings of traditional fantasy – magic, heroes, kings, mystical lands etc… but, like Martin, his characters are earthy, relatable despite their setting, and often massively out of their depth. In short, they’re frequently very fun to hang out with, which helps the series find its footing.

Hangman’s Gate isn’t afraid to throw new characters into the mix and peel away different layers of the world Ford has created, a world rapidly coming apart.

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Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man (Philip Purser-Hallard)

One of the beautiful things about Sherlock Holmes–the character–being out of copyright is that publishing houses like Titan Books can keep bringing us licensed adventures of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s iconic detective from an array of different writers.

The Vanishing Man is one such tale. Conan Doyle’s stories often were novellas or even short stories as Dr. John Watson, erstwhile partner to the unique and maddening genius Holmes, would recount their ‘problems’ to the reader, and Philip Purser-Hallard gets a full novel sized plot for the detective duo to unravel. In doing so, he doesn’t remotely reinvent the wheel. This is a classic, traditional Holmes & Watson case, set in their heyday during 1896, which could slot perfectly well amongst Conan Doyle’s canon. The Vanishing Man has a solid central mystery, a litany of garish and exuberant Victorian characters, and the joy of a conclusion in which we see Sherlock putting it all together in front of our eyes.

In short, The Vanishing Man is going to scratch the Holmesian itch for fans of these stories nicely.

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Book Review: Green Valley (Louis Greenberg)

From time to time, Titan Books are kind enough to send me advance copies of upcoming novels I express an interest in. When they do, I’ll be reviewing them here on Cultural Conversation.

Dystopian fiction has long been the province of novelists projecting into the future but Louis Greenberg presents a fascinating, contained version in Green Valley of how technology may consume us.

His first solo novel, after having written as part of a team with fellow novelist Sarah Lotz under the name S. L. Grey, Green Valley hinges on a key choice made by society in the not too distant future about how we interface with technology in our lives. The so-called ‘Turn’ saw humanity reject the penetration of advanced virtual reality projecting an existence before our eyes which played out on a technological playing field in exchange for an older, slightly rougher and defiantly more *real* world… except the community of ‘Green Valley’; protected behind a huge wall, flanked by largely abandoned real world communities, and driven by their own laws and systems – an entirely autonomous community significantly more advanced than the rest of the world. Greenberg’s novel is all about the intersection between these two intentionally different worlds.

Green Valley could easily have ended up as an episode of the Netflix TV series Black Mirror, holding up as it does a mirror to our relationship with technology and finding darkness, confusion and terror in the reflection.

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TV, Book, Movie & Podcast Roundup – May 2019

Welcome to June! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black.

Let’s start this month with TV…

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TV, Book and Movie Roundup – April 2019

Welcome to May! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black.

Let’s start this month with Film…

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Plugging Gaps: How backstory is *becoming* story

Remember the time that backstory was just that? Backstory.

Many of the most successful TV shows and movies are specifically built on a sense of their own mythology and world building. Game of Thrones has a series of vast novels to draw on which detail an incredibly complicated social and political eco-system, for example. Backstory, the details of the universes of these tales and the histories of many characters within the stories, provide the unseen depth and ballast to the tale we are being told, the tale we are invested in.

In recent years, however, the trend of this has begun to shift. Our biggest stories within popular culture are now becoming obsessed with backstory not just being developed to enable the narrative, they are instead *becoming* the narrative. Storytellers are actively attempting to try and ‘plug gaps’, for want of a better term, in continuity and canon, believing it seems that audiences are as obsessed with these minor details as the writers of these properties appear to be. We are losing the element of ambiguity, surprise and mystery.

We are losing backstory by exploring too much of it.

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