“The Boy with the Porcelain Blade” by Den Patrick – A Review


(Gollancz, 320pp, pb £8.99/hb £20.00/eb £7.49)

This review was originally published in issue #252 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

When challenged, I usually describe myself as a lapsed fantasy fan, in much the same way as others might consider themselves lapsed Catholics. My journey into the world of genre started with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Anne McCaffrey.

A large part of what ended up putting me off fantasy was a perceived lack of imagination within the confines of the genre itself. So you can see why Den Patrick’s “The Boy with the Porcelain Blade” appealed to me.

A fantasy in a renaissance-ish Italian setting, rather than the medieval western European model which has become so prevalent; it claims to offer something different. Which is a good starting point for a novel of any genre.

The shame of it, from this reader’s perspective, is that it fails to capitalise on that.


Heresy of the Week – Not everything needs to be filmed

dragonriders of pern

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

There is, with high profile and successful book properties, always a rush or a drive for that property to be adapted for screen — whether for TV or cinema. Alongside the film industry’s ongoing originality drought, books are proving the go-to option for film companies. But not everything is filmable, and not everything should be filmed.

Read on…

Heresy of the Week: Star Wars’ universe needs a spring clean

star wars expanded universe luke

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

In its apparently ongoing quest to sacrifice all of geek-culture’s sacred cows, Disney has announced to predictable outrage that it intends to ditch the ‘expanded universe’ which has grown up around the six films. But, once again, Disney is exactly right to do so, and if the fandom could calm itself down for five minutes, it might agree.

Read on…

Making the Case for Libraries

Think of all the knowledge, stored in all the libraries, in all the world. Breathtaking, no? Is that really something we deem expendable?

Today is National Libraries Day. There, I bet you didn’t know that?

It’s pretty much what it says on the tin- a day for raising awareness of libraries, and of celebrating all that they contribute to our lives and communities. It’s also of special significance to me, both as a writer and as a campaigner to save Wokingham’s libraries from privatisation.

To me, the library is the mark of civilisation. It shows that we value knowledge so highly, and believe so strongly that it should be available to all (and for the betterment of all) that we are willing to provide access to it to everyone. A bold idea, but a good one, and fundamentally a right one.

A library, to me, is like a magic cave in a children’s story. Filled with untold wonders, just waiting to be uncovered. I have been lucky throughout my life to live in very close proximity to excellent libraries. As a child, learning to read at primary school, I savoured the hour or so after the day finished, when I could go and lose myself amongst opening pages and chapters as I tried to narrow down my decision to just one book.

More than ever, our libraries seem to be under threat now. In these hard times, they present an easy target for the pruning shears of local government. So many are being cut back, closed down, or (in true Wokingham Tories’ style) sold off. On today, of all days, we need to understand and appreciate how short-sighted and foolish that is.

Libraries offer so many things to us. To the our children, they give endless worlds of fun and imagination right at our fingertips, never to be cut off by the parental cry of “We can’t afford it”. They offer a lifeline of internet access to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it, so essential in our increasingly digital and virtual world. They offer every one of us the answers to so many questions we wonder both casually and urgently.

Every pound spent on library services is an investment, never a waste. The influence libraries had on me was a lifelong passion for reading, and an avenue of escape which I now look to make a career. And if they did that for me, imagine what they could do for others.

Can we live without libraries? Of course we can. But ask yourselves, what sort of life would that be?

Words in Wargrave

This humble building (Wargrave Library) houses a vital element of local community life, and is under direct threat from the local council.

I love libraries. I think it’s probably a by-product of my love of books. The primary school I went to was  next door to the village library, and as soon as I could read, I used to love going in after school and picking out a book to read. There’s something beautiful about the concept; enough books to keep you fascinated and entertained forever. Books on all manner of subjects, you can literally learn anything you like in a library.

So it should be no surprise that, having gotten back to Wargrave yesterday afternoon, one of the first things I did today was get myself down to Wargrave Library. I joined a few years ago, when I moved to the area, but being at university for the past three years, I hadn’t used it in a while, and couldn’t for the life of me find my library card. Fortunately, the lovely staff helped me out by providing me with a replacement, and I’m now sat reading a lovely copy of “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard.

The reason that I bring this up, is because library services are currently under threat. With central government piling cuts onto its local counterpart, library services are at risk the country over. In many places libraries are facing closure, in an effort (hugely misguided, in my opinion) to save money. That is not happening in Wokingham Borough. Instead, they are resorting to traditional Tory fare, and handing the whole lot over to the private sector.

The party line is that this will save jobs and services, preventing the council from having to resort to harmful closures. Except, I’m not so sure. Granted, I’m an ardent critic of the Tories, but I think there are some distinct flaws with this idea.

Firstly, and most obviously, privatisation means that profit will automatically take precedence over any concept of duty or public service. In a small village like Wargrave, the local library provides a central focal point for the community. As I learnt last night, at a fantastic Wargrave Words event for Wargrave festival (featuring fascinating talks from crime authors Sophie Hannah and Simon Brett), there are ten book clubs in the village. Ten. In a village of roughly 4,000.

If a private company takes over this service, they will want to make a profit. I struggle to see where this will come in (maybe someone can enlighten me?) save for cutting back on the quality and breadth of services provided. And if there isn’t a profit margin, then the company will be forced to shut down the library. Hence there’s even less protection against the risk of closure than if it was still council controlled. Local residents can at least exercise a level of control over the council, after all.

So here it is. The library provides a key community service. A place where learning and entertainment can be attained without charge. A place where residents can socialise and form community bonds. A cornerstone of the kind of involved society which the government claims to want to promote. Any threat to the library, therefore, is a direct threat to the community.

There is an online petition, and a fledgeling campaign, already set up to lobby against this decision. I strongly urge you, if the library matters to you, to speak up and sign it. Petitions can make a difference, and the will of the people is a tremendous force in a democracy. And beyond the petition, there will in the near future be a by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward (the precise details of I will certainly be blogging about at a later date). This will give Wargrave residents an opportunity to protest against this Conservative disregard for their library. And I can promise you now, the local Labour Party will always be a strong and vocal advocate for the importance of local library services.