Echogenesis on sale and my favourite books of 2021

These are the slightly modified contents of my regular monthly newsletter where I talk about writing, what I'm working on, and what I've been reading. And anything else that pops into my mind. 

This has, by far, been my best year in writing since 2015, given the continued success of Echogenesis. It means going it alone rather than working with a publishing company has proved to be a successful strategy: successful enough that it's taken me a little by surprise. 

Once January arrives though, I'll be busy getting the ground ready for Proxy, which I now anticipate releasing at the start of August 2022. I still have some very final edits and checks to carry out, and I need to chase up possible cover artists and work on the layout for the print and e-book editions. 


I scored a Bookbub deal starting on the 17th of December. The book is already just 99p in the UK and 99c in the US, where I'm running a separate promotions deal through another newsletter company. The promotion will run for about a week until just before Christmas.

If you're not familiar with it, BookBub is a newsletter service with about ten million subscribers worldwide. It lists currently discounted e-books, many from major publishers, with the rest made up of a smattering of small-press and independently published titles. 

I used to use BookBub a lot as a reader, but not so much now I almost entirely listen to audiobooks, for which it doesn't cater outside the US. But if you read a lot of ebooks it's absolutely worth signing up for.

And the good thing, from the perspective of a writer, is that a BookBub deal can get you in front of a lot of potential readers who otherwise might not be familiar with your work.

Now I'm going to talk about other people's books.


So far in 2021 I've read — or rather, listened to — forty-one audiobooks, of which twenty-eight are fiction and the rest non-fiction. From these, I've picked five favourites. These are:


ENTANGLED LIFE: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake



NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl

WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand


To pick just five books out of some of the amazing works I've read in the last year proved to be challenging. 

Wylding Hall is a late arrival, since I only just read/listened to it the other day. I read another Elizabeth Hand book some years ago, although the title escapes me, and I don't remember thinking much of it at the time. 

But sometimes you read a good book at a bad time, since if Wylding Hall is anything to go by I really should be reading a lot more of Hand's stuff. Check out the review at the end of the newsletter.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel was a difficult choice, given it just barely edges out some of the excellent books I read this year, most particularly Sarah Pinscher’s A Song for a New Day and Laura Lam's Goldilocks. In truth, I can recommend all of them wholeheartedly. 

Marissa Pessl's Night Film, by contrast, was an easy choice, being to my mind a towering achievement and one to which I look forward to returning one day. 

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake is one of those books that hits you with jaw-dropping fact after jaw-dropping fact in between casual mentions of holidaying at Terence McKenna's home in the jungle with his parents when he was eight or so years old. But this is no woolly-eyed mysticism: rather, this is cutting-edge science where biology blends into the quantum realm, mathematics and computing as well as  revealing how our understanding of the natural world and how it operates is undergoing a radical evolution of its own.

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg, by contrast, is terrifying in how close it reveals we came to nuclear Armageddon again and again and how little equipped we are as a species to handle such an enormously destructive weapon.

The author should know: he was closely involved in the cold war planning for the dispersal and possible operation of nuclear weapons, and what he learnt and saw there led in part to his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers, demonstrating that the then US government had been lying to the public about the aims, causes and scale of the Vietnam war.


HOLLYWOOD VERSUS THE AUTHOR edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz REVIEWED BELOW (non-fiction/essays on writing)

WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand REVIEWED BELOW (fiction/supernatural horror)

THE SECOND SHOOTER Nick Mamatas (sf/weird fiction hybrid)

THE KING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD Arthur Philips (historical fiction) REVIEWED BELOW

ENTANGLED LIFE: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (non-fiction/ecology & science. REVIEWED BELOW

THE TOMB (Repairman Jack 1) by F. Paul Wilson (fiction/horror)

POSTER BOY by NJ Crosskey (fiction/sf & near-future contemporary)

A SONG FOR A NEW DAY Sarah Pinsker (fiction/near-future sf)

ROCKONOMICS: How Music Explains Everything by Alan Krueger (non-fiction/economics)

QUESTLAND by Carrie Vaughn (fiction/sf)

SLEEPING GIANTS Sylvain Neuvel (fiction/sf)

MONEYLAND: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule The World and How To Take It Back by Oliver Bullough (non-fiction/crime & economics)

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS BY Stephen Graham Jones (fiction/horror)

THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS by Chuck Wendig (fiction/horror)

TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump (non-fiction/politics & psychology)

LIMINAL STATES by Zack Parsons (fiction/horror & sf)

SPACEFARERS: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars and Beyond by Christopher Wanjek (non-fiction/space exploration)

STEIN ON WRITING: A Master Editor Shares his Craft, Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein (non-fiction/writing techniques)

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis (fiction/near-future speculative politics)

CHASING THE LIGHT: How I Fought My Way into Hollywood by Oliver Stone (non-fiction/autobiography)

RABBITS by Terry Miles (fiction/horror, sf & conspiracy)

BECOMING A WRITER, STAYING A WRITER: The Artistry, Joy, and Career of Storytelling by  J. Michael Straczynski (non-fiction/writing techniques & autobiography)

STRANGE WEATHER by Joe Hill (fiction/sf, horror and contemporary novellas)

THE LAST PASSENGER by Manel Loureiro (fiction/horror)

GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam (fiction/sf)

INFINITE DETAIL by Tim Maughan (fiction/near-future sf)

A HISTORY OF WHAT COMES NEXT by Sylvain Neuvel (fiction/sf)

WARDENCLYFFE by F. Paul Wilson (fiction/horror)

THE FUCK-IT LIST by John Niven (contemporary fiction)

DICTATORLAND by Paul Kenyon (non-fiction/politics)

ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells (fiction/sf novella)

NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl (fiction/crime, supernatural & conspiracy)

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY: Two Full-Cast Audio Dramatisations by Douglas Adams (fiction/original BBC dramatisations)

A LIBERTARIAN WALKS INTO A BEAR: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (non-fiction/culture and politics)

THIRTEEN STOREYS by Jonathan Sims (horror)

CONFESS by Rob Halford (non-fiction/autobiography)

EXHALATION by Ted Chiang (sf/short stories)

THE BEST OF RICHARD MATHESON by Richard Matheson (sf & horror/short stories)

OTHER MINDS: The Octopus and The Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith (non-fiction/biology & science)

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE by Daniel Ellsberg (non-fiction/politics, history and technology)


WYLDING HALL by Elizabeth Hand 

Told in the form of interviews with members of a fictional Sixties band to an interviewer preparing for a documentary, this proves to be a perfect set-up for audio, and I’d urge you to listen to the audiobook, voiced as it is by a number of different narrators voicing each of the main characters. 

It’s short, but powerful: Windhollow Fayre are a psych-folk band in the very early Seventies sent off to the eponymous Wylding Hall in rural England to write their second album, far from the distractions of Swinging London. But the singer Julian Blake (and how perfect a name is that?) may have encountered something strange in the woods, and the longer they stay at the Hall, the more Blake seems to become somehow separate from the rest of the band. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the band have their own interpersonal dramas to deal with, all played out against the increasingly eerie background of the Hall. And eerie it very much is, with hallways that never seem to lead to the same room twice, startling unseen presences wandering its rooms and corridors, and the constant motif of something lurking in the nearby woods which the locals refuse to enter after dark.

Altogether a very much superior ghost story.  

ENTANGLED LIFE by Merlin Sheldrake

Sometimes, you can tell something about someone by their name. There’s some excellent and jaw-dropping science in here to do with mycelial research, interspersed with, surprise surprise, observations about mind-altering chemicals derived from plant life and even a little a bit about how to brew your own beer and wine at home – and how that, too, ties into the rich diversity of mycelium.

Really, there's so much in here I find it difficult to precisely recall some of the best bits, my brain having been crowded with so many 'wow' moments: but there was something about how, if you took all of the mycelial threads reaching through the undersoil of the planet and linking wildly disparate forms of plant life and strung them out in a single line, that line would be the width of the Milky Way.

And it's undeniable how far-reaching this ongoing research really is: even to the point of it influencing surprising areas of popular culture, such as the most recent incarnation of Star Trek (which, I was pleased to see, Sheldrake suggests ‘got the science entirely wrong’). 

Even though it's about biological life rather than the farthest stars, this is some of the sharpest, bleeding-edge hard science popular writing I’ve read in some time and it comes highly recommended. 

HOLLYWOOD VERSUS THE AUTHOR by Stephen Jay Schwartz (editor)

Perhaps not of interest to all of you, but certainly to anyone who ever dreamed about selling a script or book to Hollywood.

Yes indeed, there are many horror stories presented here by a wide range of novelists and script writers who saw their work butchered and, in a worrying number of cases, outright ripped-off.

One particular case revolves around the film Gravity, which the director claimed to be an original idea of his own, until it turned out he had consulted on an adaptation of a novel some years before which had exactly the same story and which saw the author struggling to gain recognition and recompense for the theft of her story. Cue the attack lawyers.

But they aren’t all bad experiences. There are stories of success against the odds, and one particularly illuminating essay by a novelist who had both pitched scripts and been the person pitched to. Not essential unless you're a writer, but if you are, you owe it to yourself to check this out.


I'm not normally one for historical fiction, but something about this caught my eye, particularly the title and then the intriguing setup.

The story is of a Turkish doctor sent with a diplomatic mission to the court of Queen Elizabeth the 1st, unaware of the Machiavellian scheming of the powerful man who sent him far away so he could steal both the doctor’s wife and his home back in Constantinople.

 Once in London, he befriends Dr. John Dee and is otherwise quite horrified by the cold, wet, miserable and generally backwards and ignorant England of the time. So naturally he’s even more horrified when he finds himself 'gifted' against his will to the court of Queen Liz. 

Later – much later – after having gone through a forced Christian conversion, he finds himself caught up yet further in the machinations of the court once it becomes clear that Queen Elizabeth is ailing and the nearest and most likely heir to the throne is King James the sixth of Scotland.

There's just one catch: the Scotland of the time is still largely a Catholic country, and England is still licking her wounds from a conflict that saw it torn apart by religious divisions. 

So the doctor is taken under the wings of a spy master who has only one overriding question he wants the doctor, as a relative outsider, to answer: is King James truly a Protestant as he claims, or is he secretly a Catholic who will bring back the worst excesses of the past as soon as he becomes King of both Scotland and England?

And so the doctor must travel north to Edinburgh, there to attempt to win the confidence of the King, and then to find an answer to that single question: to which church does James truly owe his allegiance?

What you get is a twisty, historical spy thriller of games within games and hidden intentions seen through the eyes of a man to whom Britain is a strange, frequently incomprehensible and entirely foreign country. A fascinating and absorbing read.

That's it for this time. Have a great New Year.