If you’re looking for a book that’s hugely entertaining, intellectually stimulating and quite unlike anything you’ve ever read before, then this is the one for you. Chasms: Gospel of Freeman is the debut novel of author Gregory J. O. Smith, who has a lot to say and it’s all very well worth reading. The novel is science fiction at heart, but with plenty of added adventure, metaphysical questioning and philosophical debate. The characters are extremely diverse, ranging from talking dogs to tramps to an assortment of mortal immortal beings (humanoid and otherwise) to two scarily powerful and all pervasive and opposed figures – David Isaaks and Soo Yun. It’s up to our hero, Bastion Freeman, to lead the battle to save humanity, however unwillingly.

I asked Gregory some questions about his fascinating novel.

What inspired you to write Chasms: Gospel of Freeman?

I’ve been obsessed with the Singularity longer than I knew the word for it. When I was 6, my dad bought our first computer and raved about how the hard drive, at a whopping 5 megabytes, was so large that we’d never fill it up or need another. I’d be able to leave that computer to my grandchildren! A couple of years later, I brought home a video game too large to play and turned that computer into a paper weight. And since I just knew my father had to be the most brilliant person in creation, I figured that computers must be advancing in some unpredictable way. Coupled with a persistent fascination with the future, adoring The Terminator and Matrix franchises, then the novels of John Scalzi, and the work of Ray Kurzweil… the whole subject has become a sort of obsession. Me and a friend argued for years about whether an artificial intelligence would be malevolent, and my position has always been that if an AI were truly brilliant then it would find better alternatives to war or genocide for purely selfish reasons to optimize longevity. About four years ago, I heard a candy-coated pop song (which I won’t be naming anytime soon) and by the end had the framework for a story about Bastion and Veronica (though both had different names). From that primordial soup, the story has been repeatedly hammered into something else entirely.

Describe the book in 100 words.

The Aquarius corporation, headed by an enigmatic artificial intelligence named Soo Yun, offers recruits the chance to live forever and the ability to reform their bodies and minds in any way they choose. Bastion Freeman joins to escape the Inquisition only to find himself pitted against a genocidal madman threatening to exterminate all life in the solar system in a game of chicken with God.

What’s the attraction of sci-fi as a genre?

Sci-fi is the only genre I’ve seen that really molds the future, or, perhaps, occasionally predicts noteworthy advances. Jules Verne wrote about submarines and spaceships, then reality caught up much later. Once upon a time, James Bond had a phone in his car and decades later car phones became a reality. The crew of the Enterprise all had communicators back in the sixties, then later we all had flip phones. Darth Vader had limbs replaced with robotic replicas, and now our own prosthetics are very close to making fictional ones look deprecated. I would love to see a future with advances like viable negligible senescence, layered virtual realities, and a benevolent AI (or at least self-interested enough to keep humans) who runs things more effectively than people have managed. And I think we could make that happen if we don’t get stuck on a few admittedly substantial hurdles along the way.

Which character in the book would you most like to be, and why?

Soo Yun is as close to all powerful that a mechanistic universe could support, in my humble opinion so far, so that has some appeal. If we’re sticking with the more grounded characters, then all have their upsides. Even the psychotic conviction and ostensible clarity of David Isaaks has some strange appeal. Probably Nebojsa because I have no idea from what crevasse of my brain she emerged, she’s a survivor, and because she has a long and relatively happy existence after the events of the book.

Chasms: Gospel of Freeman has a great cover. Did you design it yourself?

chasms coverThe fellas over at ebooklaunch.com did an excellent job on the cover! I had a general idea of a before and after split-screen image of a face with a business card for Aquarius – admittedly schlocky or like a magazine advertisement for the reformation. But I told them the premise of the story, to run with whatever struck them, and the results turned out excellent!

Your characters are able to opt for many enhancements and additions under the Aquarius project, and most of them ask for a tail. What sort of tail would you choose? 

Definitely something more classic mammalian to start out, see if I like it. Like a spider monkey or a kinkajou.

Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?

At the moment, I’m taking an embarrassing amount of time to get through three books due to work, my own writing, keeping up on the news and a few websites I enjoy, and life getting generally in the way. I’ve been trying this rotation where I’ll read a classic, something popular, then something new/obscure/enriching a few chapters at a time. For a classic, I’m going through The Catcher in the Rye since I never read it in high school. An oddly fun book even though Holden Caulfield is a real shit. He really is.

For something popular, a friend got me reading A Song of Ice and Fire and I’m struggling through A Clash of Kings – Martin is an excellent writer but I’m having trust issues with the way he kills off characters. I’m hesitant to get invested in anyone since he’s apparently going to brutally murder all of them!

Then for something new and obscure, I’m creeping through The Transhumanist Wager slowly but surely. I’m not sure if it is the characters, the reporter style writing, or the peculiar mix of Libertarian Objectivist ideology dripping off every page that is not working for me. I’ll be putting a review of this one on my blog as soon as I can muster the willpower to finish the rest since it deals with the singularity, transhumanism, and other themes superficially similar to my book and coming series.

Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?

Leave open lap space for the cat, otherwise the bastard will walk on the keyboard or stand in front of the screen until I get the hint. Gregorian Chants and Folk music helps, or any good soundtrack without distracting or decipherable words. And, oddly, writing a first draft or two in first person then rewriting in third person helps get into character.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author, indie or otherwise? 

I’ve known I wanted to tell stories since I was 11 when I saw a movie (can’t even remember which one, anymore) that I otherwise adored but hated the ending so much that I kept thinking, “I could do better than that!” Time will tell if that prediction turns out true or not. But I never wanted to deal with a publisher – the idea some suit could send my story back and demand a five hundred page rewrite, completely rework the structure, and water a story down into drivel all based on their own guesses which have yet to prove any better than anyone else’s is just maddening. I’ve seen that out of writer’s groups and have no interest in working with any publisher not on my own terms. For better and worse, the audience can decide if I ever get to do this for a living. My hopes are modest. Apparently if I sell a million books this year, I’ve got to convert to veganism… (Eris demands!) My appetite for cheese burgers is not worried.

What are you writing at the moment?

My next book is a toss up at the moment, unfortunately. Recently I heard about the movie Transcendence and older ones like Lawnmower Man and the book Neuromancer that all share similar themes with the prequel I’m writing, so after I’ve gone through these or if I determine there’s little more than superficial differences that I can add (short of being actually optimistic about the future), then I’ll move on to the third book in the series and come back to Gospel of Song afterward, perhaps as a freebie. The third book, tentatively subtitled Gospel of Veronica, is about the 7 day gap in Bastion’s memories in chapter 92 and told through Veronica’s perspective.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors? 

Stop before completing a sentence/thought so that you know where to pick up the next day or session. Helps get the madness flowing. Best advice I ever got.

What do your family and friends think about you being an author? 

A few of my friends are excited and very supportive. My family is also very supportive but they seem to find it more a novelty or strange curiosity.

OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favourite foods?

I’m totally serious about those yellow Asian pears, even though they’re pricey in my neck of the woods. Raw cloves of garlic have become a masochistic self-flagellation of duty – last summer I noticed the mosquitoes left me alone all year for the first time ever and a friend remarked that it might have something to do with the excessive amounts of garlic I was putting on everything to cut back on salt intake… Hmm, yeah, we’re going to just leave that one there.

blurry gregAnd from the (slightly blurry) photo on your Amazon page, I see you like ties. Describe your ideal tie. 

Actually, that picture might be the one time I’ve worn a tie of my own free will. Whenever I try to convince myself how I’m really nothing at all like Bastion, I remember my dad’s first lesson about adulthood was the difference between regular and “power ties”… Imagine if Gordon Gekko and Louis Skolnick merged; that’s my dad.

And finally, anything else we should know about you or your writing?

Anyone that receives a print copy without page numbers, a “quirky” spine, or errors in the front or back matter (entirely my fault), then I’m considering these special gems as “collector’s items” and will be buying them back at inflated prices if the elder gods or simulation programmers or whatever force me to convert to veganism (prerequisites pending).

 

So, I hope you’re tempted to read Chasms: Gospel of Freeman now that you’ve discovered what an interesting person its author is!

Buy the book here:

Smashwords

Amazon.com

And find out more about Greg and Chasms here at his website.

 

TinytowncoverThe modern Science-Fiction market can easily be classified as a saturated affair, with most innovation considered tapped and very few openings readily available. To squeeze in, something distinct and uncontaminated by the stale waft of ideas is necessary, and not only by virtue of its title, Tinytown by Derby Gallagher has slipped its way into the Sci-Fi stage. Despite the giants that dwell there, this plucky book has more than earned its place.
With its uncompromisingly dry and dark sense of humour, a fast pacing and a cast of colourful characters, the book spins a fascinating and yet scientifically credible story. Starting in the year 2051 in an overcrowded Great Britain populated by 110 million denizens, the failure to pay a “size fee” results in the shrinkage of the unfortunate to a mere 20% of their original size and their placement in the titular Tinytown, where the shrinkees are viewed at best to be second-class citizens, despite the implementation of these dubious population-control measures by the government. And so enters the long-suffering Tom Flack, flat-out broke from paying the alimony resulting from a messy and legally one-sided divorce to a drug-fuelled and thoroughly unpleasant high-maintenance wife. Despite being reduced to a hero the size of an Action Man, Tom shows himself to be a man of action and campaigns for the rights of the shrinkees in Tinytown, all the while weathering larger-than-life opposition from aforementioned ex-wife and her nauseating brother Lloyd, with just a little help from the marginally prickly yet definitely compassionate Holly.
The book itself is a delight to read; the writing style pulls no punches be it certain characters candidly discussing their drug habits to an adrenaline-spiked car chase, all the while the omnipresent yet omnipotent dryly dark humour drawing for than a few well-deserved smirks from the reader.
All in all, Tinytown is larger than life and most worthy of a place on any e-reader!

Books Are Cool interviewed Darby about Tinytown in particular and writing in general.

darbygallagher1. Tell us briefly about Tinytown.
It’s set in England in 2051, where technology allows humans to be shrunk. People are miniaturised if they cannot pay a size fee. The country’s rulers think this is great – it allows them to divide the country so the rich can live in full-sized splendour while the poor are hidden away. People who have always had a diminished social stature now have a diminished physical stature. Of course, it’s a grossly unfair system but has been established and is accepted by the population as just the way things are. Tom Flack gets shrunk and discovers what happens to small people. He fights back, and his struggle brings him into conflict with his ex-wife, Vanessa, her vile brother Lloyd, and Lloyd’s boss – Moffat P Perculie. Size insurance in 2051 has similarities to private health insurance in 2013 – if you have a good job or a lot of money in the bank, you don’t have to worry about it. But the people at the bottom miss out. David Cameron’s Tories would definitely sign up to Tinytown technology given the chance. Take the vote away from the people you shrink and you’re left with a permanent majority of the electorate. It’s gerrymandering – together with social cleansing – through science.

2. What’s the story behind the story? Why did you write the book?
I felt I had something to say about the world and the kind of self-serving people I’ve met at various times in my life. I also had wanted to write a novel for a long time and often imagined possible futures. I like inventing situations, systems and objects that don’t yet exist. I enjoy not having too many restrictions – like the laws of physics, for example – so I can let my imagination have free rein.
3. Are you a tall or small guy?
I’m 5ft 10in in real life. But when it comes to the big and small people in Tinytown, I definitely see myself on the side of the small.
4. Was it an easy story to write?
I had a rough idea what I wanted to happen in the book but getting from A to B, then C then D, took a lot of hacking at the shrubbery. Certain bits came easy and were a joy to write, but mostly it was tough. Like trying to assemble a car from a pile of parts when all you’ve ever done in the past is drive one.

5. Which character are you most like?
I think I’m like Tom Flack, the hero, but my wife says that I’m somewhat like Lloyd Vincent, Tinytown’s bloated villain. She’s kidding – at least I hope she is.

6. Which of your inventions in the book do you think is most likely to have become reality by 2051? Butt chips maybe?
Yes, butt chips definitely. I would guess something like that will come into use in the next few years. People are always losing their bank and ID cards or having them stolen. Having all that info embedded on a chip inside your body would mean you would not have to worry about losing things. It would also make it easier for authorities to keep track of people.

7. Did you design the cover yourself?
Yes, on a laptop using a mixture of PowerPoint and Gimp – with the help of my 14-year-old son.

8. What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?
I have a few situations and characters rattling around in my head. One idea involves the evil owner/editor of a mighty London newspaper. But I have just fragments really – not enough to form a story.

9. Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?I’m reading two novels right now. The Understudy by David Nicholls seems really funny from what I’ve read so far. I can’t wait to get back to it. I’ve not read any Nicholls before. He’s most famous for One Day, which was a mega-seller and was made into a film. I’m also reading Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. I’ve read a lot of Coupland before and never been disappointed. He’s such a good writer.
10. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
At the age of 7 or 8. But it took me 30 odd years to actually start writing a book.   

11. What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Have your own voice. But writing is easy compared with getting people to read it. That is tough.

12. OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favorite bloke’s gadgets and why?
A Segway, a Zorb ball and a hoverboard (from Back to the Future 2). I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker, and did several skydives when younger.

 13. Where would you rather eat – at a Happy Eater or a Little Chef?
Neither. Both were synonymous with synthetic, plasticised, bland food and I prefer a greasy spoon where the food is real and made to order.

 14. Please describe your perfect day away from writing.
At Old Trafford watching Manchester United, or Twickenham watching a rugby international.

 15. And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?
In real life I’m a subeditor (copy editor) on the Guardian newspaper in London, am married and am father to two teenage boys.
You can buy Tinytown here:

The recent release of the film World War Z, based on Max Brooks’ novel, has brought zombies to the forefront of literary attention again. They’re perennially popular with some readers, although for a long while it’s been a case of love ‘em or hate ‘em. However, there seem to be many shades of zombies now, so some should appeal to all tastes.

I came across my favorite zombie in Nicholas Forristal’s The Chronicles of M, if ‘favorite’ is a word it’s OK to use in connection with an undead monster. This book is a fabulous combination of thriller, the paranormal, sci-fi, demons, fantasy, dark humour, action and, obviously, zombies. As well as being so successfully multi-genre, this book is one of the not-so-many examples of really effective writing in the present tense. This can trip up so many authors, but Nick Forristal isn’t one of them. In his hands, the present tense brings immediacy and atmosphere to his writing. He also handles multiple points-of-view expertly. This is something that can set some readers off on a rant when it’s disjointed and intrusive. However, with this author, as we move from one narrator to another, all that happens is that we see the full complexity of the action and characters he’s created.

M, apparently a young sociopath, has been possessed by a demon, a soul eater. Retiree agent Samuel Horne is called in by Thomas, a man he’s never met before, to help control the unexploded bomb that M represents. He’s practically unmanageable and wreaks havoc whilst fighting evil with methods that aren’t sometimes that far off evil themselves. It’s hard going for Samuel. He encounters zombies, of whom Uhler, now a doctor, is a very unique example. He’s a Stage 5 zombie. I’m not going to explain so you’ll just have to read the book to find out about that and the other four stages. Samuel is introduced to the underground facility that houses M and his various support staff, much against his better judgement, although he does meet the likeable ditzy although highly intelligent Dixie and the accident prone coats (scientists). As repugnant as the demonised M is, he reaches out to Samuel who can’t give up on his mission to help M regain his humanity, especially once he learns the truth about M.

As well as being a hugely entertaining work of imaginative fiction, it’s also only the first in a series. The second book is coming out very soon, so it is definitely time to read The Chronicles of M. That way you’ll be ready to pounce on the following instalment of the chronicles the moment they’re published. And you will not be disappointed … I can guarantee that.

It’s not just me that likes the book. Check out the trailer to see who else recommends it …

I’m delighted to welcome Jeno Marz to my blog today. Jeno has recently self-published her first book Falaha’s Journey: Descent, which is book one of a sci-fi trilogy. It has a very unusual heroine – a five-year-old alien girl, Falaha. Here’s what one reviewer on Amazon has said about the book: This is not for the kiddies. The main character is smart and interesting and gives the bad guys a run for their money. Even though the main characer precocious, she still has moments of being a child, which adds to the believability. I loved the twists and turns of the plot and the relationships between the characters. If you like “Ender’s Game” then give this one a try.

I totally agree; it’s an excellent book.

Now, over to my interview with Jeno.

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog, Stephanie.

1.    What inspired you to write Falaha’s Journey: Descent?

This tiny story has quite a huge story behind it. I’ve been writing fiction since high school. The universe Falaha’s Journey is set in was “officially” born in summer 2001, right after I graduated from high school. I was an avid reader as a teenager (adult books, of course) and this was when I decided to write a novel. (I mean, everyone’s doing it, right?) The invented world had a lot of transformations since then – the biggest was its genre: from Fantasy to Science Fiction (education does impact how you see things and this was when I died as a Fantasy reader.)

So, for 10 years I’ve been trying to write a novel. I was also studying in the University and working full time during that time until I graduated, and continued to work full time until autumn 2008. The progress was very slow. But even during the hardest times I never abandoned the work on the novel, even if it was one word before I fell asleep. Sleep deprivation was my usual state of mind.

After I quit my job, becoming a full time freeloader (occasionally doing some ‘serious’ and ‘respected’ work for cash) and marrying the guy I’ve been ‘dating’ since kindergarten (sounds familiar?), I reworked everything I’ve created, so instead of one novel, there are now two in progress (I will tell about them later). But something didn’t add up in these two books. By this time the Danna already thrived in my head. Yet something was missing.

And then, one day somewhere in November 2011, I was reading a book about aliens (Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials by Michael A.G. Michaud.) And for some reason I though what if an alien kid sent us a message in reply to something she had received? And what if that kid is freely allowed to do it and has access to high tech? And what would that message be?

That’s how a character named Falaha was born. She was the one who would send us humans a message, and our world would never be the same again (in good way or bad way, who knows – might be devastating consequences.) Kind of makes her a villain.

I published that little story on my old blog and forgot about it… For two months. (You can still read it  on my new website, I’ve kept that pilot relic.) Then I noticed such thing as blog serials. I discussed this with my good friend, and we decided to do a blog series – I write, she checks my English to make it human-readible. I’m not a native English speaker, and my grammar was really not so good and still isn’t. She said my writing has improved a lot in the half a year. Episode One came out at the end of January 2012, and the last episode (Baro’s Bane) came out in July 2012. (This is what a revised and edited Descent is now, 34 episodes. And it is the reason it is and the novellas will remain being told in “episodes”.)

No outline, no character sketches, nothing. In January I had a 5-year-old girl, some extensive worldbuilding for my novels, and a nameless spacecraft. And it just happened on its own.

Thanks to this story I’ve learned two things about myself and my writing method: I’m a pantser, detailed outlining was killing my stories for years; awesome things happen when a writer drops a character into a situation and lets her figure it out, logically and emotionally – you just have to listen to her voice and write.

2.    How is your book different from the sci-fi that’s already out there?

First, there are no humans in it. They exist (and the Danna know about them), because the story takes place in the Milky Way some 3600 Earth years into the future from now, but they are not the part of this thing at all. The Earth is not the center of the Universe.

Second, it’s a girl’s story. It’s a girl’s journey on many levels to become a strong woman. Not a butt-kicking, gun-wielding sort, but a strong, accomplished person, a competent leader with a head and a heart. It’s a journey which starts in the early childhood. Everyone is welcome to read it, but I think it will be more appealing to women (a sci-fi for women, which is not a romance, though romantic notions present, or a space fantasy; it has an extra dimension if you get all the scientific and logical clues!) It’s a seemingly simple story, but it has layers. Many things were unintentional, it was a free-write after all; but even now when I think about it, I find more and more hidden themes there. Ok, I’m not that much of a philosopher. 😀

One notable thing that my husband pointed out was the scene with a ‘safe journey’ sign in episode 31:

Personal matters settled, I gave Eyuran the list of requested parts and materials.

“The bloodless guy is all yours,” I said and sprouted my helmet on. Eyuran did the same.

“Be careful.” He raised his hand, palm open towards me in the ‘safe journey’ sign as I walked away.

Then he shows me this and says, is this it? I’m like “Well, yes… Wow, for real!” And then we laughed that if the Danna ever found that plaque, from this picture they would think the Earth wished them a ‘safe journey’. Thanks, humans, what a nice ‘card’. Have fun staying on your rock.

3.    Falaha’s Journey: Descent has a great cover. Did you design it yourself?

Yes. I have experience in graphic design and illustration, so I wouldn’t let anyone design my own covers. I always wanted to design a book series. Now I had my chance! But I’m saving the prettiest cover I drew for the complete trilogy set. It has a stubborn redhead on it.

4.    Which character from the book are you most like? Falaha? Eyuran? Baro?

Every character I’ve ever written has something from me since they are the products of my mind. But I tend to resemble my male characters more, maybe because I love writing male characters. Falaha is an exception, since I’m writing her in the first person.

5.    Once you’ve finished the Falaha’s Journey trilogy, what’s next?

I’m going to finish the novels, a two-book series. Each of these is quite big, epic size.

The first one is called Rjg. It tells a story of the war between the two dominating species on Dannan (Falaha’s homeworld), that took place long ago, the story of the emergence of the powerful civilization, and feature Falaha’s most prominent ancestors as protagonists. Can be read as a stand-alone novel.

The second one has no name yet, but it tells the story of THE Ancestor, who is present here as the MC and the protagonist; the large conflict, foreshadowed in Falaha’s Journey, and the reaction event chain triggered by Falaha’s actions in the trilogy will be examined in more detail and resolved in this book. I’m sure the readers will meet Falaha and her family here as well, but as the supporting/episodic cast.

After that I will write something else. I will think about it when I finish these two.

6.    Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?

I’ve finished reading Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury, a really interesting science fiction tale. And I’ve briefly swept through my dose of fiction I had downloaded for free on Amazon, so I’m waiting for the two new paperback books I ordered this week to arrive. These are Thin Air: Encounters in the Himalaya by Greg Child and The Death Zone: Climbing Everest Through the Killer Storm by Matt Dickinson. I’m really into this stuff.

7.    When did you first realise you wanted to be an author, indie or otherwise?

As a tiny shrimp of a kid. No, seriously. Leaving aside my desire to be an astronaut and a rock climber at the age four, for me it was always a very serious thing, to write stories. My first alien race (I think it was alien, I don’t really remember what they were) I wrote stories about was designed at the age of three and a half. They were mostly picture stories, but I already could write at that age. But then I was distracted by real life, growing up and all. I came to full realization in high school.

8.    What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

Write. Write as your life depends on it and get better. Never quit. I doubt there is anything else to consider. You grow when you practice all the time.

9.    What’s the one best thing and the one worst thing about self-publishing, in your experience?

The best thing is the total control of the process; the worst thing is that the promotion might get expensive, especially if you are from a non-English-speaking country and have to rely on internet only. Very exhausting and time-consuming as well.

10.    OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favourite foods?

Tempura or battered butterfly shrimps with dark soy sauce; chicken cutlets (personal recipe); homemade Olivier salad (family recipe). I love to cook for special occasions; my hub is a self-proclaimed kitchen god and cooks every day; the cat approves.

I have enough pictures of me like this to write a book series titled Fifty Shades of Meat.

11.    What would you not be seen dead wearing?

Skirts. They are the abomination of women’s wear. Utterly uncomfortable. While I admit there are pretty ones and many women look good in them – I have some in my wardrobe, of course – but nope. Over my dead body.

12.    And finally, please describe your perfect day away from the computer and writing!

That would be any day away from writing AND reading, but not necessarily away from the computer.

Plan A) would be sleeping, especially on rainy days. Snoring the hell out of this house and the whole neighborhood!

But it never happens as I plan it – I wake up in the middle of the night to write a few sentences into the notepad in my phone; I write every day, even if these are a few sentences or paragraphs, if not on the computer, then on my phone or paper notepad.

Plan B) would be doing things with my husband. I’m a geek, but I need breaks from it sometimes. Occasional outdoor sports/tours are good, games, both computer and tabletop, are good, team cooking, team anything is good. In winters we have to clean our yard from all the snow, so the day can be perfectly spent on a snowball fight and fortress building.

I’m also an avid watcher of anime and a reader of manga. I can spend the whole day watching/reading something alone or with my hub and the cat.

Plan C) would be nature stuff: taking pictures somewhere in the woods, exploring old castles’ ruins, going to the beach to take some more pictures…

Plan D) Well, this is not really a plan; it is when relatives remember you exist. The day can be anything, but it is perfectly wasted from a writer’s perspective.

Plan E) I receive a call starting with “My computer isn’t booting…” or something. Occasionally I want to reply “Yes, this is cat speaking” but then I remember I’m getting seriously paid here. The greedy “I’m finally going to buy me a…” switches on. Writer? She’s absent today.

The best way to describe this courageous epic of a novel is philosophical sci-fi with a touch of fantasy. It’s an ingenious blend of different genres and the end product is a thoroughly absorbing work of fiction. Amateur philosopher Sophia Xiao is caught up in the horrific consequences of an epidemic of disease and nuclear war. She takes it on herself to travel through the ruined country and find out what’s behind it all. She takes two unlikely friends with her. There’s Newman, a theologist whom she met at a party, and Hyle, a scientific journalist, who rescues her from her flattened house, even though he’s recovering from an attack by a death squad. And there’s a fourth, mysterious figure who intervenes to keep her safe. They meet the Prophet, Asha Zendik, leader of a cult, who assigns Sophia a leading role in a prophesised battle.

There is a successful meeting of opposites in Between the Shadow and the Flame. There is both adrenalin pumping action, and plenty of it, and thoughtful, serious dialogue in the novel. The three main characters probe the causes of the war, using their own particular knowledge and sets of beliefs. We learn about the ancient philosophers such as Socrates and the various types of them, Stoics for example, during the conversations but it never becomes dull. The author keeps the dialogue realistic and never becomes bogged down in the explanations. And we’re given all this knowledge for a reason – not only to challenge our own preconceptions, but so that we can appreciate the outcome of the story, even if we couldn’t predict it. This is the perfect book for readers who want to think about what they’re reading and about their own values.