Indie Book Recommendations

Independent authors are often not given a chance by readers because they don’t have a big name publishing house backing them. There’s this idea that the only reason anyone would self-publish or use an small assistive press is that they aren’t good enough to be picked up by a ‘real’ publisher. But in reality there can be many reasons for choosing the indie route: to maintain creative control, to utilise business and marketing skills, to take advantage of higher royalty rates, as the beginning of a bigger venture to become a small press; or, simply because they don’t care for any of that and just want to get their work out there to be read.

Like it or not, the rise of online platforms and just-in-time printers means that the amount of people choosing to publish this way is on the increase. The good thing about this is anyone can have a go. The bad thing is anyone can have a go. Because of course, low barriers to entry also mean lack of quality control.

I believe that keeping the quality high is the key to being successful as an independent author. The best ones are indistinguishable from traditionally published in terms of polish. But not everyone starting out can afford an editor, and I get that. That’s why, in my opinion, a few typos are forgivable if the overall impression is strong, and aren’t even worth mentioning in a review. However, I’ve seen books with holiday snaps as covers and spelling mistakes in titles. I’ve seen multiple grammatical errors in opening sentences and unfinished lines on the first page. I’ve seen books without formatting uploaded straight from Word and blurbs that sound like the very first scribblings of an idea.

I think all of this comes down to one thing: if it looks as though the author doesn’t care about their work, then readers won’t either.

But it would be a huge mistake to shy away from reading a book simply because it is indie or self-published. Independent authors are doing things traditional publishers are not. They are putting out experimental novellas that would otherwise by considered too short to be marketable. They are flowing free between genres, mixing up expectations instead of conforming to trend. They are are blurring the line that isolates literary from popular fiction and producing heartfelt personal content without censorship. They are adding more diversity, in terms of both characters and the writers themselves. And because the independent publishing model allows books to come to market quicker, I would argue they are also more ‘on the pulse’. That takes passion, dynamism, and talent.

Over the last year I have read a fair few indie books, and have compiled a list of ten I recommend. Every author on this list, I have no doubt, is passionate about their work. Every one has wonderful ideas, characters, worlds and attention to structure. Every one I can give an honest 4 or 5 star review. Not ‘good for an indie book’ but good by any standard. So here they are, in the order I read them: Continue reading “Indie Book Recommendations”

Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction

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Writing Short Fiction: The Word Count Limbo

JG Ballard once said in an interview:

“I am very grateful that I started my career as a writer writing short stories because you really learn your craft. You can also explore yourself; if you write a huge number of short stories it doesn’t take you long to realize you have certain strengths and weaknesses and that your imagination leans towards one corner of the compass. I think young writers today are tempted into writing novels far too early.”

That pretty well matches up with my experience as a writer so far. And I would add that short stories are a great way to get your name out there, either by sharing them on a blog or submitting to anthologies and journals.

I started out writing fragments of stories: just ideas, really, but written as prose rather than notes, and usually in first person. I progressed to writing ‘proper’ flash fiction with more curated content between 300 and 1,000 words. I wrote them in great numbers and shared them in multiple formats, so I got lots of feedback on what worked and what didn’t. In particular I learned where the uniqueness of my style shone and where it felt forced or mechanical. Continue reading “Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction”

Almost Surely – Gavin Jefferson

Almost Surely by Gavin Jefferson

When you control the fate of others, who is in control of yours?

One of the things I love about indie books is that they often defy traditional classification. Sure, categories can help us find what we are looking for, but what if we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it? Some stories just beg to be told, no matter what genre we might later decide they should sit in.

Almost Surely is a book that breaks the genre mould. It has elements of time travel, sci-fi and low fantasy, but it feels very much like an old noir film in its styling. The way the scenes are framed, the locations, and the jazz soundtrack all add to this. There’s also a charming Murakami-like focus on the animals in the background of scenes that really brings the whole thing to life.

But onto the story. Here Jefferson has created a wonderful mythology, which I bought into from the very first page. The opening to the book introduces four Heralds, located somewhere apparently outside of our usual realms of space and time. There’s Gift, the authority that governs karma, Collector, who takes care of death, Love, and Watcher, the blind embodiment of fate. While all of these exist, looming in the background of the book, the story follows Anthony Hopper: an Agent of Influence who directs the lives of those selected by Watcher.

Continue reading “Almost Surely – Gavin Jefferson”

Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas

The Little Demons Inside by Micah Thomas

Eudaimonia: Having a good attendant or indwelling spirit.

The Eudaimonia books by Micah Thomas so far consist of a novel (The Little Demons Inside), and two collections of connected short stories (Evidence of Changes Volumes 1 and 2). The second novel (The Ghosts We Hide) is out in a couple of weeks. I binge-read the first three books back to back, and wanted to tell you all about them.

From the back cover of The Little Demons Inside:

This is not a love story, but there is love. This is not a horror story, but there are horrors. This is not a true story, but there is truth.

In 2017, something went wrong with the world. Or, at least, in 2017, everyone finally saw it. Henry needed to get off the streets to avoid the heat and volunteered for an experimental drug trial. The permanent side effects made his life dangerous and unpredictable.

Henry doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know his place. He’s a broken version of a wandering superhero. Then he meets Cassie. Their connection is brief and intense. These two lost souls are propelled together, apart, and together again in a mind-bending adventure that challenges them to face their demons.

Content Warning: This book contains vulgar language and depictions of violence and moral decay against humans, including but not limited to psychic possession and sexual acts under said possession.

We have long been obsessed with the idea that there are spaces, dimensions, or worlds beyond the physical. It is one of the things I repeatedly reference in my own fiction, and something I’ve been reading a lot about recently in terms of consciousness theories and psychedelic research reports. In the Eudaimonia series, Micah Thomas explores the possibilities of such spaces, and he does so beautifully. You see, not only do these stories have a strong socio-philosophical element, but they are also gripping, accessible and heartfelt: something that makes a book irresistible to me. Continue reading “Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas”

Telepathic AI, Neuronal Art and Squids, Everywhere!

Pierre Huyghe Image from The guardian

Technology in the Gap

This is the first in a little series of posts about the real-life developments in technology that led to the bizarre extrapolated versions in my new book, Mind in the Gap. In this one, I share some of my research on the possibilities of creating art directly from the brain.

Squids, Everywhere

SQUID is a real device used to detect minute changes in electromagnetic fields, including those in the brain. It stands for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, and has been used in science fiction for years, most memorably in William Gibson’s novels as a way to read-out information stored in neural circuitry.

The current method for brain imaging, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), has limitations in that it is blind to detailed and direct neuronal activity. SQUID is one of the developments being investigated as a replacement for the future.

I used this idea in my story Frankie. I wanted to show such technology becoming so canonical and safe that it was used in a socio-commercial setting as opposed to only in medicine. I created an alternate reality where people no longer carry around mobile devices to interact with the world, but instead wear headpieces that continually read and output brain signals (and actually look like a squids!).

Telepathic AI

Scientists in a Kyoto laboratory have been working on a project that uses AI to analyse data collected during fMRI scans, and to interpret them into visual representations of what the individual was imagining at the time from a database of photographs. They call it Deep Image Reconstruction. Artist Pierre Huyghe worked with this recently by asking volunteers to imagine things he described, and then getting the AI to create a visual from their brain signals.

“If I tell you to think of an apple, the apple you think of will not be the same apple I think of,” he told The Guardian. It is one subjective impression (quale) informing another, which is then interpreted by an artificial intelligence. The resulting images are far from accurate according to those involved; they look nightmarish, fleshy and deformed (see the image above). They are uncanny: somehow recognisable to us but just strange enough that we know they can’t be real. You can read the whole article here.

I like to imagine these are the kind of images AI could think up independently in the future if we tried to simulate human perception. Would these grotesque mashed up images define us as a species in the mind of a robot? And I’m not even going to get into the possibilities of AI becoming capable of spontaneously reading our minds. I’ll save that for when I come to post about the horrors of my story One…

Painting with Thoughts

For several years we have been able use a brain-computer interface to command painting software: painting pictures with our thoughts, choosing colours and placement based on the way we focus our attention. It has been used to help people who don’t have use of their motor functions, and is hoped to even become an effective communication channel for people suffering locked-in syndrome.

Some say we can also use brain painting as a meditative therapy of sorts. If we ‘map’ our thought patterns and create a visual representation of what altering that would look like. It’s a bit like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a visual aid and creative output, and I’d be very interested to see whether this is proven effective in the future.

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Do Androids Dream?

A type of AI called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) has filters capable of abstracting out aspects of images in layers. This has been used in various experiments. For example, we know that CNN can produce new images that combine the ‘content’ of one existing image and the ‘style’ of another – think of the filters you have on your phone.

Google’s DeepDream uses a CNN to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic Pareidolia to produce psychedelic, over-processed images (pictured above) These experiments with neural nets are already evolving at pace. Artwork created by CNN is selling for thousands of dollars, and is informing the way virtual and augmented reality develops.

Frankie

In Frankie, I combined the general ‘output’ ideas of Deep Image Reconstruction, CNN and Brain Painting with the ‘input’ of advanced brain scans at neuronal level. I imagined a little piece of worn tech taking minute signals from the brain, that could output them instantly onto the surfaces around us to create a sort of communal psychedelic wonderland. I thought about what it could be like if certain skilled individuals were able to build the output images up in layers to create hologram-like objects for as long as concentration would allow. My nameless protagonist lives in a world where this is what memes have become.

Being a lover of psychology, I then began to wonder: what, then, might happen if the headpieces could take readings from the subconscious mind to show us things we didn’t realise we were thinking? It could tell us ‘You share an exciting chemistry with that person over there,’ or ‘you are harbouring deep-set doubts about this.’ And what if those thoughts in the subconscious weren’t intermittent, but ever-present in the background, and ever-growing? You’ll have to read Frankie to find out!

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If you’ve already read Mind in the Gap, have you seen the Connections and Easter Eggs page? People are starting to add their theories and findings, and I’d love you to join in. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check out the blurb or pick up a signed copy here. It’s also available as an ebook on Kindle or as a paperback from anywhere that sells books. Thank you!

New Reviews

I’m thrilled to tell you that Mind in the Gap has been getting some very positive early reviews! Here are a couple of excerpts from three fantastic book bloggers here on WordPress.

Alexandra Peel says:

“On a superficial level, one could read these as sci-fi stories. The author’s understanding of science terminology is clear, and so we experience Artificial Intelligence (A.I), quantum physics, immersive technology, black holes, futuristic drugs, and insect sized cameras. There’s a whole world of technology on this level.

On another level, it is about human connectedness, the unconscious mind and our place,, not only within the world of technology, but the world, nay, universe as a whole.”

You can read the whole review here, along with Alexandra’s thoughts on other books, writing, and life in general.

Gavin Jefferson says:

“The science fiction is strong throughout, and some of the ideas blew me away. Some are heart-warming, some are terrifying: one felt as if I were reading a long-lost Hayao Miyazaki story. C.R. Is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.”

You can read the whole review here, along with Gavin’s other reviews, thoughts, and writing journal. I had the privilege of reading his forthcoming novel Almost Surely early too and I highly recommend checking that out. 

David from The Gallifreyan Buccaneer blog says:

“The stories are surreal, short, sharp shocks that transport you to possible futures and are full of bold visions.”

“Sure, it’s metaphysical and tackles some huge issues but it feels to me like a real labour of love. An outpouring of a very clever and very creative mind. It’s literally bursting with ideas and has left me questioning the nature of reality.”

You can read the full review here, along with many other great book recommendations.

The Soldier, the Hunchback, and the Master of Meditation

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In his humorous essay Liber CLVIII, Aleister Crowley refers to the exclamation point and the question mark as the Soldier and the Hunchback due to their shapes. The question mark is symbolic of doubt and enquiry; the exclamation point of startling revelation. As we progress along our chosen path of thinking and learning, we continuously meet doubts followed by revelations that in turn lead us to new doubts. What is this? A-ha! But then, what is this? It is the rhythm of science and the curious mind.

It is also the spirit of my stories: both Fragments of Perception and Mind in the Gap are streams of questions and revelations. Often everything is called into question for the character as the walls of their assumptions come tumbling down, but it is rare that I would leave them without an ‘a-ha’ moment, a revelation, or a point at which they begin to understand the world again in a new pattern. It is also rare for me to leave it without a further question or doubt for the reader… Continue reading “The Soldier, the Hunchback, and the Master of Meditation”