Diving for pearls with a reviewer

I hadn’t really had much chance to read expansively into science fiction over the past three years. I was up to my eyeballs in Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald… The whole classic crew, who (somewhat miraculously) I still have a soft spot for, despite a lifetime of picking apart and over-analysis. A chance meeting, however, with a book by J. G. Ballard and a copy of I Am Legend being lent by a friend would begin my shift of interest over to the side of SF and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction. I am particularly partial to a bit of hard SF.

I wanted to write a short, quick post about the past year, roughly when I started reviewing and getting deeper into SF. If there are any pearls of wisdom you can take then that’s a happy bonus. Let’s dive:

1. Trying to keep up with review requests is impossible but that’s okay.

I put my details up on a site called http://www.tweetyourbooks.com (Twitter @TweetYourBooks) and it was an incredibly successful way of putting myself out there. I get a lot of traffic from it. When I first began receiving requests, I was rather panicked at the thought of having to reply to every single email. I didn’t want to offend anyone. As I went on, I realised the authors are understanding and there’s nothing to worry about. They get it. And I really appreciate everyone’s requests, it’s encouraging to know there is so much creative writing talent out there. To those authors I have not been able to get back to I’m very sorry, keep on writing and sharing your creativity. To those whose books I am still nursing for review, I apologise. I am getting there. The best tip I can give to help reviewers starting out is to make sure you categorise your email mailbox from the very beginning. This may seem obvious in hindsight but at the time of starting I had no idea how many emails I would get. Keep to a simple method that works for you, don’t over-complicate things. This can be even worse than an unorganised mailbox. Another lesson I learned the hard way.

2. I have enjoyed reviewing!

This may seem like an obvious observation but as I hadn’t done it before who knew what could have happened? I especially enjoyed talking to many authors about their work. I’ve made firm friends through the medium of SF. Twitter is a great platform to get chatting.

3. Have a game plan for fitting in creative moments.

Then again, it’s virtually impossible to ‘plan’ when you’re going to be creatively inspired. I often write at 5am before I go to work, as that’s when I happen to be most spurred on to be creative, just figure out what works for you. For everyone things always happen unexpectedly: meetings; cleaning; laundry; a flat on your car; just life in general. Then, when you have a few minutes you never have the right gear with you (yes, sometimes we all need some particular stationary or notebook we are attached to before we can really let the flow go). My key to mastering this unpredictability of life is an application called Evernote. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s brilliant. Easy to download to all your tech. If I have a spare half an hour on a train, I can write notes on my iPhone then get home, open up my laptop and the notes will be there too. No sending files or waiting ages for each piece of tech to catch up with the sync (which takes seconds, if that). Evernote is useful for everything, no more needing to worry if you brought this list or that list with you, it’ll be with you everywhere. I’m firmly a paper and pen kind of person but Evernote is an indispensable addition. Frankly, I’m not the most high tech of people, there may be better out there than Evernote but it works perfectly for me. Side note: if you’re on O2 you get a year’s free Premium of Evernote. Yes! So you lot on O2 like me, no excuses.

4. Green tea is awesome.

I can’t drink coffee without it sending me to sleep – go figure – so my introduction to green tea was a life saver.

5. Life sometimes gets in the way.

I suppose this depends on the person. A perfectly organised person who quickly settles into routines or had more life experience probably could have handled it better. Me, I was just starting out living alone in my first flat far from home and beginning my first full-time position post-university. I had a lot to prove to myself and I think I was trying to do too much all at once. I had always dreamed of living alone and living life dictated at my own pace. I just hit the ground running a bit faster than I could handle! Saying that, I’ve now found my rhythm and reviewing only adds to this sense of achievement.

An aim that I am putting out there (so you can pull me up on it if I don’t fulfill it!) is that I am going to up my game with the original purpose of this blog: The SF Masterworks collection. I keep looking at the wealth of SF Masterworks copies on my bookshelves and they are just crying out to be read. Those people who have reviewed SF Masterworks, I would love to hear what you thought, add your pearls to the mix. It will add fuel to the reading fire.

Here’s to diving for pearls.

Pearl divers

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REVIEW: J.S. von Dacre: A Guy Like Me

“What goes around, comes around,” was the phrase that sprung to mind when reading “A Guy Like Me” by J.S. von Dacre. A phrase that isn’t quite fair on the main character, as I will attempt to explain… Or perhaps you will disagree. The controversial perspectives of this book forms the beauty of it.

We are introduced to our main character (nameless) who, from his own admissions, describes himself as a womaniser and he is quite happy with this lifestyle. In fact, some of his comments I almost wanted to poke him in the eye for. But as we get further into the story we are given glimpses that all is not a deliciously corrupted lifestyle any longer. His womanising ways have dwindled to almost nothing over recent years and he has turned into something of a lone wolf, haunted by a ghost of the past, present and future all rolled up into one; Caroline.

We are pulled deeper into the knowledge that this one woman alone occupies his thoughts. He wonders if Caroline has “found herself a guy like me”. I am fairly sure this dominating thought is why his womanising ways have slowed, as it has occupied his thoughts increasingly for the past few years. Which is where my own thought occurred, “What goes around, comes around,” as I reached the end of the story.

I couldn’t help sympathising with his character. As much as some of his narration had the same effect on me as waving a red rag at a bull – as is the intention – there is a vulnerability that he doesn’t want to admit. He has been pulled into a situation his character is not familiar with, or ever expected to be immersed in. Suddenly, the morality of being womaniser might not be the worst outcome of a man…

This book is a provoking address of a controversial situation. I know there will be many conflicted points of view by readers over good and bad here with many opposing opinions about the characters. It is a hard hitting and emotional topic, preying on the reader’s own experiences with this personal situation. For a short story, J.S. von Dacre has packed in a lot of moral turmoil to deal with and shows a talented skill. I enjoyed the depth that was achieved in “A Guy Like Me” and I can heartily recommend this book.

Get J.S. von Dacre “A Guy Like Me” here:

US link

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TVLFI2Y

UK link

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00TVLFI2Y?*Version*=1&*entries*=0