‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ – Review

I have real trouble reviewing books that I really like, what is there to talk about if something is almost perfect?? I cannot praise The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet enough, but I’m gonna try. If you’re a fan of Firefly, Blake 7Star Trek, Red Dwarf, Dark Matter, or any plucky friendship groups in space, this is the book for you. If you like space, science fiction, or aliens, this is the book for you. If you are capable of reading, this is the book for you. Becky Chambers is a genius, go read this book, you will not regret it.

 

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I took this book everywhere with me

The Long Way follows the mixed-species crew of the Wayfarer as they travel through space to create a wormhole (used for travel) to a dark, dangerous corner of the universe. There’s aliens, intergalactic politics, discussions about AI/robot rights, space travel, there’s even lesbians in space, something I didn’t know I needed until this book and now it’s my favourite thing. From now on every book loses points if there is no LGBT representation in space, I’m not sorry.

 

What really blew me away about The Long Way was the world building. Chambers has managed to create a beautiful, believable universe in which every single question that springs to the reader’s mind is answered whilst somehow avoiding an overwhelming info-dump. I was so drawn in to this world and felt so interested in learning more. There were nuanced differences between humans in various places around the universe, but I particularly liked that there were humans who believed that their home planet should be saved and reserved for humanity, and this ranged from extremists who abhorred all life that’s not human, to realistic scientists who are simply trying to do their best. And this distinction in one belief system in one species was mostly a throwaway comment. But it’s those little details that made the book an experience to read. Honestly, I can’t praise this book enough.

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I literally travelled up and down the country reading it and it was the best.

If world building isn’t really your thing (though this book will make it your thing) then read it for the characters. Each character aboard the Wayfarer is unique and each one of them has a beautiful story to tell, even if they may not all seem palatable at first (you’ll know exactly who I mean) but they are all characters worth your time. Seriously, Chambers has a gift, she’s not been twice shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for nothing.

 

As much as it pains me to say it, there is one little issue I had with the book. At first the dialogue struck me as a little forced, not all the way through, just a little at the start referencing mostly Kizzy the ship’s mechanic. Parts of her early dialogue were a little clunky and read almost like fanfiction. Unsurprisingly, when I listened to an interview with Chambers on the Breaking the Glass Slipper Podcast I found that The Long Way was originally self-published online and picked up by a big publisher (any budding SF writer’s dream). This explained the internet friendly dialogue to me, but honestly, there’s only a couple lines that felt a bit off kilter and I had to really dig to find that issue.

This book has become one of my absolute favourites, it’s a beautiful read and I even find myself writing with more gusto after being inspired by it. I am so excited to read A Closed and Common Orbit, the indirect sequel to The Long Way. I know it probably won’t happen but I hope Chambers is going to write more set in her wonderful world.

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‘American Gods’ – Review

My goal in life is to be half as amazing as Neil Gaiman. I love everything he does. Gaiman could, quite frankly, set me on fire and I’d still give it five stars and add it to my Goodreads favourites shelf. American Gods lived up to my expectations and more. There is no way to explain the overwhelmingly beautiful atmosphere Gaiman creates, I can only explain it as a strange mixture of wanderlust and deja vu, the modern America he creates juxtaposes the vibes of the Old Gods so perfectly it’s almost overwhelming. It is all too easy to get lost in this book. The book follows Shadow, an ex-con who is offered a job by the mysterious Mr Wednesday after being released from prison. And what follows is an adventure of epic proportions.

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Showing off my spider coaster for Anansi

I usually pride myself in being well versed in my myths and folklore, but even I was blown away by the sheer amount of research and effort put into creating and personifying the gods. Some of the gods were hinted at with sly, punny names reminiscent of Pratchett, and others were explained outright. It was easy to follow, but also intrigued me enough to go and do my own little bits of research throughout the book. The sneaky education on folklore doesn’t overshadow the characters though, Gaiman has the ability to strike a perfect balance between beautiful description and diverse and fully fleshed out characters.

Alongside the main plot, there were small snippets of fictional characters moving to America and bringing their old gods with them to the new world. These small narratives serve to break up the larger story and expand on the world that Gaiman has created. The stories read like fables, history, and even gossip, so I didn’t even resent the breaks in Shadow’s tales.

There are a few parts in my edition where I felt that the plot was moving along a little slowly, but I did read the author’s preferred text which has about 12,000 extra words that were cut down before the initial publication. In hindsight I’m not sure there was anything that really could be cut out, I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life trying to compare the two and find every single word that was lost. But if you’ve not read either edition, I would recommend picking it up immediately, it didn’t win all those awards for nothing folks, it’s a must read for pretty much everyone!

‘Three Dark Crowns’ – Review

I’m only reviewing this book because it’s on my 2017 Must Read list, I’m going to paste my goodreads review in because I don’t think I could rewrite it any better here! Enjoy!

Full disclosure I didn’t finish this book. It was impossible to finish, I’ve never been so disappointed by a book in my life. I picked up this book full of hope, it came with the promise of strong female characters, politically dramatic plot, magical competition, and a thrilling matriarchal well built world that was sure to blow me away and leave me feeling refreshed and ready to go out and fight the patriarchy with quotes from the text.

It delivered on none of these promises. It did a U-turn. This is Theresa May in book form, I cannot get my head around why this was published or why it’s been allowed to expand its poison into a whole damn series, lemme break this trap down for you so none of you fall into it.

The book has three female triplets in line for the throne, all with different powers, one with poisons, one with nature and what not, and one with the elements, but only the elemental sister actually has any strength, like the book itself the other two sisters fall short and they all have to fight to the death and the winner is the queen. Boom. Sounds amazing no wonder I picked it up right? DO NOT BE FOOLED!

img_1820The strong female characters were carbon copies of each other that differed only in physical appearance and their magical powers, and frankly I didn’t care for them, Blake made no effort to put any actual character into her characters. As well as the three main characters being a let down, Blake threw in about eighty characters with only their names and no introduction or characterisation I don’t know who I’m meant to like or dislike or what. If these characters were a spice they’d be flour.

The plot, though an excellent premise was executed poorly, somehow Blake made it dull as dishwater and tried to force me to drink it, I have no idea how such a brilliant idea could be butchered like this, it’s like an actual butcher who was waiting for her nails to dry was hacking at this book hoping for a prime cut and only got the arse end of a cow. I’m mixing my metaphors and this review is STILL better written than this book.

And finally, possibly the least magical thing about this book, the magic itself. Two sisters have none, which would be great if they went to extremes to hide that fact but they don’t,

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This amazing map really misled me

and when the one sister did exercise her power it was about as exciting as eating stale biscuits with your nan whilst she talks about what Brenda said at bingo last week about her curtains. I’ve never seen magic written so underwhelmingly. Blake made me feel like a sixteen year old whipping up a storm strong enough to shake a building was no more interesting than mindlessly scrolling through Facebook memes in a doctor’s waiting room.

I’m not usually this harsh about books, honestly, but I’ve been looking forward to this book for so long and I’ve never been hurt so bad.

‘Dawn’ – Review

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler is the first of Butler’s books I’ve ever picked up, and the first in her Xenogenesis series, and I’m extremely excited to go on and read more! The novel follows Lilith as she wakes up thousands of years after a great war on Earth, having been abducted by aliens who evolve by melding genes with other species, and they have come to breed with the last few humans.

img_1809The plot was thrilling, though not quite as thrilling as the aliens themselves. It was refreshing to read about aliens that were in no way humanoid, and were in fact alien. Over the years I think that I have accepted aliens as humans painted green or yellow or pink or some other strange colour, but not really thought about the possibilities of how they could differ from humans. Butler taught me to think otherwise, and it was refreshing.

What was once refreshing, but has now become all too real, was Butler’s terrifying look at the failings of the human race, mostly in regards to mob mentality. For years I’ve been strangely terrified, almost embarrassed, of how aliens would view humanity, and Butler seemed to explain that fear perfectly. Though I did enjoy it, I think I might have to look into some more utopias to read very soon.

The one thing that threw me was Butler’s writing style. My studies in creative writing always had one solid rule I tried to stick to which was ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ (excellent advice for any budding writer right there). But I felt as though Butler did a lot more telling. Some of it was done through the lense of explaining the events to an alien who might not understand, but the reader was most definitely not the alien and the reader got a little bored with reading what started to sound a bit like a documentary style report. As an avid reader of multiple series though I understand that often the first one pales in comparison to a fully built world, and I still look forward to reading the next one!

‘Illuminae’ – Review

Illuminae was recommended to me by a friend, and peaked my interest because it’s written in the good old found file form I used for my dissertation piece. I didn’t think that my dissertation would ruin the form in my opinion for about a month, so it took me a while (and getting my grade back) to eventually pick it up and give it a go. And I’m so glad that I did. Illuminae follows the story of Kady and Ezra, two recently broken up teens whose home planet is attacked, leaving them both on different ships in an escape fleet trying to uncover a whole bunch of craziness. The characters themselves annoyed me a little bit at first, having to wade through their messages to each other was painful and genuinely made me cringe, but that just added to the reality of the characters. All seventeen year olds make me cringe, I’m not sorry. The characters were well rounded, and had intertwined backstories that was exciting to unravel and learn about bit by bit. However much I loved the characters, we’re here for the SF so let’s get to it. There are definitely SPOILERS AHEAD.

img_1797First of all, I loved the ships. The spaceships that is, I wasn’t shipping any characters. Due to the form of the book there was multiple maps and floor plans of the ships which I just really loved looking at and studying. Call me a nerd, but a spaceships floor plan in a SF novel is about as exciting to me as a map in a fantasy novel, by which I mean I loved them and I nearly cried. The variance in ships was interesting to me, there were larger battle ships and smaller science vessels that couldn’t make long distance travel without a larger companion. This called to mind those small fish that latch onto sharks and feed off them to survive, and I like the idea that space travel can be associated with the ocean. Although the authors clearly didn’t intend this I just loved the idea and thought I’d throw it out there.

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Some lovely blood splatter

Second of all, I loved the warfare used in the novel. The characters fled their planet due to capitalist disputes about the mining going on there, and the biological weapons used mutated into a terrifying disease aboard the ships that caused sufferers to basically become blood thirsty crazed killers. And I won’t lie, I loved it. It felt like space travel got an upgrade with zombies, except these zombies are still smart, still human, and are their best friends. I love it. As well as the biological warfare, the larger ships used nuclear weapons against each other which really surprised me. However, as the book goes on it made a little more sense to me, in this future the battles are fought throughout the universe, what really happens if you set off a nuke in space? Aside from hurting the people you’re fighting not much, even the radiation poisoning has a futuristic cure that I thought tied it up quite nicely, but I wish it hadn’t. I love a bit of gore, hence why I loved the terrifying disease plot, but I feel if an author wants to use nuclear weapons in their story and doesn’t explore the general horror of it then they’re missing out!

And finally, the final part of this book that basically made me lose my mind, you guessed it, it was the Artificial Intelligence. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a little too obsessed with robots and AI and god did I love this one. The use of the form let us see directly into the AI’s mind, showing its thoughts and inner monologues as data files img_1801which was actually quite haunting. Throughout, the reader is unsure of if the AI has been damaged or if it’s simply doing it’s job using logic human emotions couldn’t allow and it felt quite reminiscent of Asmiov’s I, Robot, but really a lot more terrifying. I really hope that the future books keep the AI aspect because the AI as a main character was incredible!

In spite of all my freaking out about this book there was one small problem I had with it. The form, though extremely impressive for most of the book, failed a little a few times. There were some parts that had a dark grey font on a black background that was infuriating to try and read, and some dialogue was strewn about pages in no particular order which (although great at depicting the chaos of the scenes) disrupted the reading process for me so badly I put it down for a little while. If you’re able to see past these few little issues I think it really is worth a read, and not just for YA audiences, it’s an excellent book and perfect for any SF lover.

‘Dune’ – Review

I won’t lie to you, I found Dune to be a little dry, pun intended. Pro-tip number one, don’t read this book in a heatwave, I’ve never been more grateful for tap water in my life. The sheer importance of water in the book has a surprising impact, I’ve had so much water that my skin looks amazing now, seriously, this book has health benefits guys! But sadly it didn’t do more than that for me. I was actually quite disappointed in this book, despite the hype, and I stopped half way through to read two other books I’m not even ashamed!

img_1503Though I can recognise the cultural significance of this novel (the worldbuilding was really quite incredible, though I believe it really should have been editing down a whole bunch) I found the characterisation lacking. Those of you who know me know I love a character driven story, but this story was slow and was driven by nothing. I suppose in that way it was like a gruelling exhausting walk on the surface of a desert planet. The main character, Paul, was the prophesied Messiah of the Freman people, and basically read like a SF Jesus. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with much scripture but Messiah’s by definition are kind of two dimensional, and though this worked within the plot, it did the reading experience no favours. Most of the characters didn’t develop at all, nor did their relationships, once Paul sees the future he shares a vision of love with a woman he just met and BOOM two pages later they have a son. Not to mention the fact that this son is never seen in the text, and the one child that img_1795is has been magically imbued with an adult mind. Basically, though Herbert may have a great imagination, I don’t feel he executed it well at all.

As well as character development I felt that the plot was sadly quite lacking. Though the story itself was interesting, and there were even a few sections where I couldn’t put it down, a majority of the time it felt like whole chapters could be cut out. The book was split into three parts, and really it should have been one. The beginning seemed to stay a beginning for far too long, dragging out the various assassinations, political backstory, and not much else for hundreds and hundreds of pages. By time the plot got to the classic final epic battle, about fifty pages were left and it all felt rushed in a way that didn’t do the former build up justice.

I feel like I am being a bit harsh with this review, I really went into this expecting more. Countless people have told me that I’d love this book and that it would change my life. And in a way I suppose I did like it, despite the problems I pointed out with it, I didn’t put it down and I usually just drop a book if I’m not feeling it. Something sort of compelled me to keep reading, though I needed plenty of breaks to get through it. Basically, I thought it was alright, but were it given a harsher edit I think it would have blown my mind the way it did to everyone who recommended it. Maybe I’m just not patient enough, but I have a copy of Dune Messiah (Messiah is the buzzword of this series) and it looks significantly shorter, so I might give it a go!

‘A Gathering of Shadows’ – Review

Before I officially start this review I’d like to take a moment to feel bad about myself! It’s been so long since I posted anything on here, mostly due to university deadlines and desperately trying to finish my dissertation (I wrote SF, surprise, surprise). Thankfully though, this means I’m done with uni reading for the summer (until I start the dreaded MA) so I can get to reading some stuff I actually want to read! Including some of the works on my 2017 Must Read list. Prepare for spoilers ahead!

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My magical book with my magical things

I managed to read VE Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows one of the books on my list, the second in the Shades of Magic series that are absolutely brilliant. This installment in the series followed the characters (plus one quirky addition as per) battling through a magical tournament that brings together three kingdoms. Sounds a little Goblet of Fire doesn’t it? In fact it even ends with the evil in the series rekindling in full force. Despite this fantasy deja vu, it was still a very fun read. Though the tournament did little to move the plot along in itself it offered a great look at the magical world Schwab created, opening up the story to more kingdoms, and a more detailed look at the worlds magic. It also introduced an emotionally complicated and relevant (in that it made the plot interesting not it was just thrown in for the sake of it) LGBT story line, revealing one of the characters to be bisexual, so yeah, this was basically Christmas for me.

I’d like to say that I wish more had happened, as the plot didn’t move on much, but who doesn’t love a good magic tournament? People were fighting with magic!! Schwab more than made up for the lull in the series with some action packed fight scenes that were so entertaining I couldn’t put it down!! I sped through it, and was left with a cliffhanger that essentially crushed me, thankfully, the third book had just come out so I went right out and bought it. I’d like to try and make a bit more sense with this review, maybe critique the text a little more, but this was the first book I read after finishing my uni reading list and that basically made it the best book ever for me. This series might not challenge the reader in the same way A Song of Ice and Fire, but it is genuinely enjoyable, exciting fantasy and frankly half of why I read genre fiction is just for plain fun!

‘I, Robot’ – Review

I have never read any of Asimov’s work prior to reading I, Robot. But now I have collected Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, as well as The Bicentennial Man and I’m slowly collecting the rest of his robot novels, but only in copies 17586932_1912233089006072_3997068153896042496_nI like so it’s a slow process. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that I, Robot was incredible.

Each story was something beautiful on its own, but what I really loved was the framing narrative. Each story came about as part of an interview with Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who was recounting a history of trying to perfect robotics. With her calculating, scientific eye the stories became something wondrous and life altering, not just simple tales of robots. Basically, my outlook on robots has been completely changed.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

My two favourite stories were ‘Robbie’ and ‘Reason’ and I’m about to tell you why so buckle up kids. ‘Robbie’ is the story of a young girl who becomes too attached to her robot playmate Robbie resulting in her parents taking Robbie away and trying to distract her. This doesn’t work, obviously, and it ends with her father pulling a huge stunt to reunite them and prove to the overbearing mother that Robbie is actually great at protecting her daughter due to the three laws of robotics. This story got me because I suppose it’s what some would call “soft science fiction” in that it takes a social view rather than a scientific one. It also looks at the effects of robots in the home on young

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This guy lives at my local pancake house, I go there to see him.

children, much like Channel 4’s Humans which is one of my favourite shows of all time. I quite like soft science fiction, it’s all well and good to look at the facts, but what use are facts if they don’t have some sort of repercussion on the humans studying them. The soft SF angle was such a good way to start off the collection and it really got me pumped to read the rest.

 

‘Reason’ was f*cking brilliant. I’m not sorry for being rude, it altered my entire life view. No one really warned me that Asimov was going to have such an impact. In ‘Reason’ Cutie the robot doesn’t believe that the humans could possibly have made them, as they’re clearly the superior species. Cutie then creates a Robot Cult, leading all the other robots in their religious beliefs and essentially keep the humans from doing anything. But the thing is, their religious beliefs don’t interfere with their programming, they still do their jobs perfectly and it’s not really hurting anyone. So basically, everyone’s like “f*ck it” and just leaves them to it. Because robots are tools. And if they function then nothing’s wrong. But also why would religion ever get in the way of a good job being done. There’s so many layers to this story, I love it. I love this whole book and mostly I love it because of it’s approach to robots, primarily through the three laws of robotics.

The Three Laws of Robotics are genius.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
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Doctor Who’s getting scary again I love it

Seems foolproof, right? Haha, hell no, the entire collection is basically the rules hindering what robots can do and making them difficult to work with, and it gets to the point where you’re wondering, why bother? There is a story where the first law is only slightly tweaked to prevent the robots constantly stopping humans doing necessary, dangerous work. And all hell breaks loose. Essentially, Asimov isn’t saying robots are the problem, he’s saying humans are responsible for anything and everything their tools do. And this is still something that’s argued today, for those of you who watched the most recent Doctor Who episode Smile it is very similar to Asimov’s robots, basically any problem in the robot, is a problem caused by something beyond the robot’s control (The ending undermines this a bit, but my complaints about Doctor Who really should be a whole separate post).

 

‘The Martian’ – Review

Due to some stupidity on my part I somehow managed to destroy my original review, so here’s the revised edition. Sorry folks!

Recently I find myself wanting to be part of a crowd surrounding TVs in a shop window waiting to hear about the astronauts travels. But that feeling, the feeling of watching a historical moment on a screen with your heart racing is exactly how it feels to read The Martian. There were several points where I think I stopped breathing! It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited by a book!

img_1325Weir has a gift for storytelling. At the beginning of the book I was intimidated, my lack of scientific knowledge was glaringly obvious, but the talkative tone of the diary entries kept by Watney (The Martian himself) are full of explanation in a way that doesn’t feel forced or patronising. I feel significantly smarter coming out the end of this book. The first half, was a little slow because of the amount of explanation needed, but it was by no means boring, the second half is where the book really started to pick up. Each new page seemed to hike up the tension of the text. It was very much an “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” sort of text, to the point where if something went right I felt mistrustful and scared. Imagine how stressed a man stranded on Mars would feel if it distressed me just reading about it.

The night I finished the book though, I heard the news about SpaceX successfully relaunching and re-landing a used Falcon 9 Rocket, and my mind was completely blown. The reuse of a rocket is half of what is needed to make space travel affordable, and essentially make The Martian possible. When I heard about this massive leap forward I sped through the second half of the book hungry for a story that could suddenly become reality. 

My weird science fangirling aside, this book was absolutely incredible, and the film was incredible too! I don’t usually go in much for film adaptations, whilst they’re good fun Hollywood always seems to miss something important (or at least something found important) from the book. However, the film of The Martian was hilarious, and just as exciting as the book. It even made me like Matt Damon who I previously wasn’t a big fan of. But anyway, to finish it off, here’s me face-swapped with Matt Damon to prove how dedicated I am to this book:

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Yup.

I recently had a friend tell me that his next book is going to be about aliens and faster than light space travel! I’ll be very excited to eventually read it and review it here, bring on the aliens, Weir.

‘The Last Gasp’ – Book/Event Review

Before I launch into this review I want to make a quick apology about my lack of posts recently. I’ve been (thankfully) finishing my dissertation and getting it all handed in. For those of you that don’t know I’m a creative writing student and I actually submitted an SF story for my dissertation project and it was so much fun to write, and the book I’m about to review is something I picked up through my dissertation research.

Okay so now the admin’s out the way, onto the book! I recently read The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle, an SF eco-disaster in which the oxygen of the planet slowly depletes due to pollution and industrialisation. It was a very interesting read, but, sadly, not a very gripping read in terms of style. The actual text was a little heavy on the science for my tastes, I much prefer character driven books, but that’s my own personal quirk, and if you love science then you will love this book.

img_1229The story follows marine biologist Gavin Chase as he discovers the slow death of phytoplankton – the plant responsible for almost 80% of the planet’s oxygen. The text jumps through years quite quickly, starting in the 1990’s going all the way to the 2200’s but unfortunately each section seemed to end and jump just as it got interesting? I wanted to see the collapse of civilisation, the desperate evacuation of over polluted cities, the general self-destruction of man. Maybe I’m a little dark in that sense, but that’s what I find interesting in SF, I like seeing the worst possible outcome, but every time he got to those interesting parts Hoyle jumped fifteen years into the future after all the drama had settled down. As well as this he seemed to focus mostly on the politics of the situation, it was full of UN meetings, government funded operations, and Cold War references, when really I wanted to see some people choke on their aspirations (I might actually be as sadistic as Darth Vader, who knows). In general this was quite disappointing, it seemed to me like Hoyle simply lacked the imagination to write what could have been an exciting novel. That might be a little harsh of me but I got into SF because the thought of being attacked by a triffid made my heart race, this book was about as exciting as nipping out to buy milk, which is probably why it took me a month to read.

That being said I do think the actual premise of the book was great. Though the story itself was not that impressive, the general message of the text was an interesting one. Hoyle essentially tries to get out a terrifying message: we’re killing the planet and we need to stop. A message that I, personally, find very relevant and terrifying, hence why most of my pictures of it have alcohol in, it’s difficult to face up to without a drink! Even though this book was alright, if a bit boring, I still decided to attend Hoyle’s York Literature Festival event, and hear him talk about the book.

img_1295About eight people attended this event and I was the youngest person there, but I’ve been the youngest person at many events I’ve attended since I was old enough to attend events without my mom having to take me, as I’m probably a secret grandma. The event was a the typical, casual talk about the book and the process and the themes, but what really blew me away was something I hadn’t known before entering the event; The Last Gasp has been republished! I had read the much older version but a couple years ago it was rewritten to be up to date (not realising what major events would take place shortly after). Now this rattled me a little and I couldn’t figure out why until I mused upon it a little more later on. If a book is good, it doesn’t need to be rewritten! It should stand the test of time, and if it doesn’t maybe just write a whole new one! As well as getting my book signed and finding out exactly what Hoyle would have voted in the American election, he also told a great little story about the time he met Philip K Dick, which was, sadly, the highlight of the show.