Warrior Stone is going to Birmingham

Metaphoric Media have just signed up to trade at MCM Birmingham Comic Con in March 2015.

Very exciting, as this is the first event of this size we have been to.

We're hoping to bring along books from other great steampunk authors, and there may even be an Underland related surprise. More later.

And, on a side note, R B Harkess, Metaphoric Media, and Claire Stone would like to wish everybody a very Happy Christmas, Yule, Hanukah, or celebration of your choice.

Oh, and a Morph-free New Year


Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists (Liesel Schwarz)

The opening line to this book is a superb hook: "This was the place where people came to give their souls to fairies." I settled back, confident that I was in for a good read.

Ms Schwarz paints elegant, delicate scenes, and I loved her technology. One of the problems with steampunk is getting rid of the coal in a way that is a) believable and b) someone hasn't already used it. Ms Schwarz managed both, and wove in clever elements of magic. In terms of world-building, I was ensnared.

Sadly, I gave up around page 200, because I simply couldn't engage with the male or female lead characters. I found both a curious combination of too intense and yet not credible, and ended up not being able to deal with the female lead's moral outrage at yet another scene where she was being predictably manipulated by the male lead. They put me in mind of cartoon characters I once saw by french animator Sylvain Chomet.

The book had great potential. Others, perhaps who like larger than life characters, or who dont have a four foot hight 'to read' pile, may love it.


An unexpected trip through time

At BristolCon this year, I harvested some very speculative books from the 'free' table, as well as a couple of gems. One of these was by Clifford D Simak, and was called 'Space Engineers'. What an eye opener.

Simak is one of the 'Golden Age' writers, although the definition of exactly when the golden age was is open to argument. The only thing I could remember reading of his was 'Shakespeare Planet' where a disparate group of travellers, mapping the apparently random star-tunnels, get trapped on a world were the tunnel has no controller. I figured I as in for a similar bet with Space Engineers. Did I ever get a surprise.

Now, I have to admit (slightly shamefacedly) that my first affair with SF involved a gent by the name of E E 'Doc' Smith. He's famous principally for the seven Lensman books, or perhaps the four books of the Skylark series. I lived it. I all but memorised it. Only when I was quite a bit older did I realise that it was the most hackneyed, corny space opera ever written across decades from the '30s to the '60s. Having said he was corny, in 1966 the Lensman series was only beaten out of the  World Science Fiction Conventions 'Best All Time Series' by ............ Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series.

So here was the shock. 'Space Engineers' was terrible! Honestly. It was the worst of jingoistic American space opera, mixed with insubstantial science and huge doses of Deus ex machina. It was barely a novella in length, and had cardboard cut-out characters with square jaws and the right stuff, or coming over like a cross Barbara Bain in Space:1999 and Jessica Rabbit.

And still I read it from end to end and enjoyed every moment, spun back through time to a freezing cold bedroom, the blankets propped over my head, reading by torch after lights out and poking my head out when I started to run out of oxygen. Nostalgia is a funny thing.


Great advice for writers

I was browsing the blog of Xchyler publishing and saw this image in a selection of sage sayings from their various writers. It left me absolutely helpless with laughter for several minutes, much to the irritation of my partner and the confusion of one of my cats .


Maverick by Robert Harkess - out now

They settled their world hundreds of years ago, turning their backs on technology, closing the Gate behind them. When their children began to develop impossible powers they rejoiced and called them Golden – until they took over. Now the Golden are feared
Elanor comes to her powers not as a child, but as a young woman – a Maverick. The Golden are rumoured to do terrible things to Mavericks, so Elanor runs.
Anatol has travelled from the home world, decades of suspended animation, to stop the Gate malfunctioning and destroying both worlds. 
He and Elanor collide, and form an uneasy truce of science and magic

Metaphoric Media and Robert Harkess are excited to announce that Maverick is now available on Amazon.

'Maverick' is a new writing direction for Robert. Previously known for his Young Adult books Warrior Stone: Underland and Aphrodite's Dawn, this is his first foray in mainstream writing

UK Paperback      UK Kindle      US Paperback       US Kindle


The Evolution of Reading Habits

I've recently been pulled in by 'Stormcaller', by Tom Lloyd. Its Epic Fantasy, which normally just doesn't do it for me any more. In fact, I'd binned two similar books immediately before it, trying to clear space on my 'To Read' shelf for whatever swag I could lift from BristolCon.

Epic Fantasy is something I just don't get into these days. I used to. I used to consume it voraciously. I would read Lord of the Rings in three days, or the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in a week. Multi-book things were reading of choice.

But that was back in the Nineties. Channel 4 was new and edgy, and CD's were only just coming out. I had an Amstrad Word Processor, because there was no Internet, and PCs were still only in offices. I had two hours of commute, and nothing worth watching on the TV. Books were everything.

Now, I have fifteen minutes a night before I go to sleep. If I have free time, I'm usually writing, or editing, or doing something related to the production of books. I just found out there are five books in Lloyds series. That's almost a whole year of reading for me, and I have 26 books on my 'To Read' shelf.

So I may not even bother to finish this book, now I know there are five of them. The probability of reading the rest of them (and it looks as though #5 may not even be the final part) is vanishingly remote - not because they are no good, but because I don't have the time.

I may have to reassess.

The Maverick is coming


Another astonishing BristolCon

A day or two late, but I've really only just managed to get my head together.

Sadly this was the first BristolCon I've ever had a negative thing happen to me, and have to say one of the panels I was on was disappointingly not as inclusive or well-mannered as I would normally expect, but on the whole, it was again utterly awesome, and I loved it.

I even got a new badge his year (I'm trying to collect a full set). All I did was say I would help out a bit here and there, and I got a STAFF badge. Honoured! Especially when an unofficial 'Minion' badge was added. I feel I was reasonably successful, as I heard no reports of the Art Room displays falling down.

For me, BristolCon has always been as much about the people you meet as the wonderful panels, art and trade rooms. This year was no disappointment; Adrian Tchaikovsky is an absolute gentleman as well as an excellent author, and Paul Cornell an amusing and engaging conversationalist. I was also lucky enough to meet Snorri Kristjansan (excellent, funny panelist) Anne Lyle, and Jacey Bedford. Gareth L Powell and Roz Clarke were also great to share panel-space with.

I was also really impressed by the Art GoH Julian Quaye (www.julianquaye.co.uk). Unusual and beautiful images well worth a look.

Next years GoHs have been announced as Jaine Fenn (good to have on your team at the pub quiz and a 'must' if she is doing a reading) and I think (apols if wrong) Jasper fforde. Not sure who the Artist GoH will be, but I've never been disappointed yet.

A WORD OF WARNING: BristolCon will be EARLY next year, thanks to FantasyCon deciding to muscle in on our date. We could have taken them on, but we dont want anyone to say we cant be flexible. September, not October.


Pre-BristolCon musings

I have upset my cats. They do not approve of me pacing backwards and forwards, practising my reading for BristolCon.

I forgot how challenging readings can be. Trying to find a self-contained, exciting, interesting excerpt of about a thousand worlds is trickier than it sounds, and you really have to practise reading it. It has to be almost automatic, or you dont get a chance to look up at the audience who have (hopefully) gifted you with their time.

So, please feel free to drop by the Doubletree Hotel, this Saturday at 16.45 in room 2, where I shall regale you with a thousand words of Warrior Stone: Underland

Now, if only I had time to prep something for the open mic session.....


I'm a baaaad man

Three months without a post. I'm really not trying, am I. Soz

I have been having half the house ripped apart, a new kitchen put in, and various other 'stuff' going on though. Sort of an excuse. Can't believe I didn't even blog about my steampunk adventures at Lincoln in September. Have a look on my facebook page for those, if you're interested.

So, news. Most important is BristolCon. My favourite con of the year (although Weekend at the Asylum came pretty close). Saturday October 25, at the Doubletree Hotel (five minutes walk from Temple Meads Station).

They have been kind enough to let me play again: I am moderating a panel on writing problems at 11.00, doing a reading from Warrior Stone: Underland at 16.50, and am on a panel discussing social classes in steampunk at 19.00. Load of brilliant panels, a great trade room, and an eye-popping art show if you are in the area.

Warrior Stone: Underland will be on sale at the Convention book stall


Great review for Warrior Stone

A recent great Amazon reviews for Warrior Stone.

C Horner (thank you C) says 'Stone Rocks', and adds:

“Warrior Stone : Underland” is reminiscent of Neverwhere, and if you liked that you’re likely to enjoy this. Harkess has put a lot of thought into the world he’s created, with the different races; the bureaucratic, cunning Grenlix, the Hrund who provide the muscle, the dangerous, scarcely-seen Angels, who are in no way angelic. He has also done a very good job of getting inside the head of an awkward teenage girl – Claire might be flitting between the Real and Underland, but the problems she encounters in both realms will be familiar to all, from school bullying to embarrassing encounters with attractive boys."

Review: 'Graham's Charlotte' by Drew Farnsworth

Well that was refreshing. Bumped into this entirely by accident, and so glad I did. Now, I dont do summaries of the story (too much chance of spoilers and others have already told the tale), but let me tell you what I thought about the book.

Its a spy adventure/techno-thriller. Whilst its set in a school environment, it neatly avoids most of the cliches and stereotypes of the location (unlike ‘I am Number 4’), and actually turns several of them on their heads. The strong female lead is not so unusual in YA, but Mads is believable and appealing in her uncertainty.

The style reminds me strongly of Malorie Blackman (especially her collection ‘Deadly Dare Mysteries’), or Kimberly Pauley’s ‘Sucks to be Me’ books. The action is tight paced, the secondary characters dense enough not to feel like cardboard cut-outs, and whilst the book touches on schoolyard politics, it doesn’t dwell on them or get bogged down in unnecessary romance.

My only gripe with the book is the title. It does make sense within the context of the book, but its not descriptive or indicative of the content. Dont let it put you off.

Quite my most enjoyable YA read since ‘Shift’ by Kim Curran. Recommended


Warrior Stone: Underland Available Now

I am absolutely delighted to announce that my latest novel, Warrior Stone: Underland is now available as an ebook from Amazon. Paperback to follow soon.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Underland is a twisted copy of The Real that uses industrialised magic to power a weird mix of stolen technology. It’s just enough like The Real to make travellers over-confident and get them into trouble. Which is just what happened when Claire Stone accidentally falls through rushing home one night. Claire is offered a job as a Warrior, hunting down and destroying shape shifting monsters.What adventure-hungry lover of fantasy could refuse? Everything seems great, until a friend goes missing and the Warrior has to turn Hunter.

Cover Art by Linzi Goldstone


First Review for "Warrior Stone: Underland"

A big thank you to Tony Lane for my first review of "Warrior Stone: Underland". I've copied the text for this post, but you can see the original here

The cover art for this book is by Linzi Goldstone. It is quite simple at first glance but it really does put you inside the story. The subtle steampunk hints are in the art and similarly woven in to the story. Except things are not steam powered. There is a magical field in the Underland.
I’d much rather teenagers read books like this rather than ones about sparkly vampires. Underland is a place between worlds. A magical yet industrialized realm tantalizingly close to this one. Only children can jump between realms and they act as guardians against the encroachment from the other side of the Underland.
I usually have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen when I read a book but this one keeps you guessing until the end. Don’t expect everything to be resolved though. The ending closes off the story nicely but it certainly feels like the first in a series. I still have plenty of questions that I’d like answering.
The characters in this book are believable and real (as much as magic using dimension shifting teenagers can be). I found this book to be a refreshing change of pace from my usual reads. It is bright and positive in a way that left me feeling better about life.
Oh and Evie is every bit the kick-ass heroine without the need for overt sexuality or reliance on a male. 


Cover Reveal! Warrior Stone

Cover art by Linzi Goldstone.

Published by Fox Spirit 30th April 2014

Inexpressibly excited about this one. Fox Spirit are a bright and vibrant publishers, and a great fit for this book. I hope to publish many more with them.

Warrior Stone Underland is a steampunk/urban fantasy adventure for all ages, but especially the 12-years-and-over reader.


Amsterdam's Silent Menace

Their Nest

Amsterdam. Quiet, apart from the scaffolding-clang bells of the trams and the gentle chuckling of dope-heads in the cafes. So quiet you would think you would hear them coming. But no, they make no more than a whirr, a whisper, or sometimes a soft tinkle as the buggers come out of nowhere and try to knock you over as you cross the road.

Bloody cyclists!

Everybody knows Amsterdam is the cycling capital of Europe. The picture is of a multi-storey bike park adjacent to Central Station. A multi-storey bike park. Just think how many bikes must be in their. They are chained to every bridge, every railing. They have bike parks under the canal bridges. They are everywhere.

Thing is, Amsterdam is held up as being a paragon of 'the bike'. And it is. Bike have their own lane almost everywhere, although they do have to share it with uncouth mopeds. Super safe. Their accident rate must be next to nothing. For the cyclists.

For the pedestrians, its a different matter. Roads are six lanes wide; bike/car/tram/tram/car/bike. In fairness they have many light controlled crossings, which sounds good until you realise that cyclists in Amsterdam ignore them with even more enthusiasm than our home-grown breed do.

It is almost as though the extra authority given to cyclists in Amsterdam has gone to their heads. When the cycle lane is busy, they happily ride on what little pavement there is left for foot traffic. Zebra crossings they don't even acknowledge.

In all seriousness, I found it quite intimidating. I injured my neck trying to figure out which way I should be looking for threats each time I crossed the road - because they seem to go both ways along each cycle lane.

I'm all for making things safer on the roads, but surely it needs to be safer for everybody, not just for the single-interest group shouting loudest at the moment. Amsterdam is a living example that solving the bike problem is not just about giving cyclists somewhere safe to ride, but also in the still-unaddressed arena of forcing them to be responsible for their own safety and that of others.

Sadly, seems that wherever you are, that is still something being ignored.


Individual Cases

I am so fed up with hearing those two words, and knowing that they are being used as a cop-out by someone in a position of authority.

Immigration department ministers who wont discuss a family they are persecuting, or why they wont eject a murderer from another country.

The (so called) justice system being caught out in another miscarriage, or the police afraid to acknowledge they let another vulnerable person die in custody.

Hospitals killing patients through neglect.

Admittedly, it's not all the time, but its often enough to announce that somebody has done something embarrassing and they are trying to get out of talking about it.

The latest one is facebook. A Facebook group (unnamed) abused 14 year old Izzy Dix, who hung herself last year. Now trolls from the same group are targeting the child's mother. The police are being their usual (in)efficient selves when it comes to technology crimes and - although facebook have removed the group - their line is that they dont comment on individual pages.

Wouldn't it be nice if all the weasley evaders and liars were forced to talk about the individual stuff. After all, that's what we are - individuals. Policies dont matter, nobody ever sticks to them. Surely what matters to us is how we are treated.




Celebrity Witch Hunt

I'll get this out right away. I have no sympathy for people who predate on women and children, sexually or otherwise, and they should be prosecuted wherever possible.

But (you knew that was coming, didn't you)

I cannot agree with the current witch-hunt being propagated by the police and the CPS against middle grade celebs.

Leaving the Saville issue aside for the moment, lets consider a few of the more absurd points of these attempted prosecutions.

First, I'm sorry but I defy anybody to honestly be able to recall an event that happened 40 years ago with sufficient clarity to base a criminal prosecution on it.

Second, much of what is being held up as sexual harassment or assault is being measured against today's norms of acceptable behaviour. Regardless of the legal view, much of what is being classed as a crime in these cases was considered acceptable practise at the time the act was committed. In my mind, this violates natural justice.

Third, the argument 'well he was a famous celeb, nobody would listen to me' is utter rubbish. The police might not have, but the papers would have torn into any of the celebs currently being tried/charged with glee in a feeding frenzy of supposition and innuendo, with only the slightest hint of verification to the story.

These three considerations make the prosecutions of DLT and Bill Roach, and I suspect Freddie Star and Rolf Harris an utter mockery of the legal system.

Its even more of a mockery if you accept the significant probability that of them were intended to be followed up by civil cases for extensive compensation. And there surely has to be a strong, if not compelling argument to suggest that in the VAST majority of the cases brought against the men listed above, and even against Saville, the prospect of a payout is the driving force behind the accusations. Over a hundred people are today making representation in the High Court to strip the CHARITABLE TRUST of a man never found guilty of a crime except by the media.

I know my wording it that way will annoy some people, but it is a fact, and its absurd that these people may be able to get a payout on no more proof than it is more probable than not that Saville was a bad man. Given that it is not the man who is to be stripped, but the trust he set up to benefit others (regardless of motivation), I have to conclude this is wrong. I make no defence of Saville, and suspect that there is no smoke without fire, but raiding a charitable trust for personal gain is also questionable.

And yet the real tragedy in all this is those who had been truly assaulted. I am not talking about 'he stood too close to me' or 'he put his hand on my arm and left it there too long' (both Saville accusations). That's not assault. I'm referring to those who were genuinely hurt, and who need help and closure. Their needs, their truth, is being drowned out by the feeding frenzy of low-lives who see an opportunity to work the system and milk themselves some compo.

Sadly, while we continue to accept and promote the compensation culture exported by the USA, this sort of thing will keep happening, and justice will continue to be overshadowed by potential personal profit.


Child Killers of Belgium

I’ve held off blogging on this to give tempers time to cool and heads time to regain equality with hearts.

There has been a huge furore in Belgium over new legislation that allows for the children to be killed by the state. Sorry, what I meant to say there was that minors had been given the same right to ask for their intolerable suffering to be ended as adults have - and should have world-wide.

The usual cries of ‘oh but it can be abused, and children could be coerced into asking to be killed’ came screaming from the religious fringe hiding behind the misnomer ‘pro life’. We can manage pain, they say.

But they can’t. The medical profession does not yet understand pain. It cannot reliably medicate to relieve back pain, let alone the pain of advanced cancer. Or perhaps the pro-lifers - sorry have to stop there for a moment because every time I use that phrase a bubble of nausea forms at the back of my throat.

These anti-choice pundits are not ‘pro-life’, because what they advocate is not life, it is existence - in pain and horror and suffering, and usually because they are religious. There is no ‘life’ in the horror they would have people endure.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Or perhaps the ‘life-haters’ really do think that wrapping somebody in a fog of opiates until they can’t remember who they or their loved ones are counts as palliative care?

I cannot repeat often enough that it is a relatively simple matter, at least for a society that gives a damn, to put measures into place to adequately protect everybody, adults and children alike. Measures that already exist in a number of other European states and which the ‘life haters’ don’t like people to mention. This is how I would do it.

After an application for surcease of suffering, the case must be reviewed by a panel of doctors, at least two of which must not be professionally connected to the applicant’s doctor. If that panel agree that surcease is an option, the matter goes to a second panel, whose default response is to refuse and who must be convinced that there is a reasonable cause, that the applicant is aware of what they are requesting, and that there is no evidence of coercion

And let’s be honest. Any system can be abused, but if somebody is that determined to relieve themselves of an awkward grandparent or child, there are much easier ways than doing it than through ‘voluntary euthanasia’

The ability to end one’s life, or to request help ending one’s life, when it has become intolerable through terminal or whole-life ill health should be a basic human right, of adults and children, and we should not be held hostage to dying in pain and horror by a bunch of outdated fools who are more interested in their religion than in the well-being of others.

Gently, Gently

I confess to being a 'George Gently' fan and I am very much enjoying the new series. As with all TV, I tend to be far behind the curve. For example, I still have the complete season 4 of Haven on my sky box, waiting to be watched.

But as the latest Gently drew to a close, for me at least on Sunday evening, I was stuck by just how perfect a fit for the role of George Gently was Martin Shaw. He was good as Judge John Deed, but Gently seems to be one of the very rare cases. Which, of course, set me to arguing with my partner about other such matches.

Surprisingly we both agreed instantly as Ken Stott as John Rebus - another match made in heaven. Then it got a bit more difficult. My partner raised the stakes with Megan Fellows as Anne of Green Gables, but I felt unqualified to challenge. Then it was my turn to raise of call - and I realised I had nothing. Compared to Stott and Shaw, I actually couldn't come up with a role that was so 'it couldn't be anybody else'.

I was surprised.

Any suggestions? Dare you offer anything? It will almost certainly be disputed, if not ridiculed. :)


Gods Of Chicago

Quick heads up to my loyal fan. I bumped into this initially as the first part of a 'serialised novel' and immediately decided to wait until it was released in its entirety because I hate antic....

...pation and waiting for the next instalment. Based on the bit I have read  - go try this. It has steampunk, diesel punk (sort of) gritty noir investigative journalism and demons. What more could you want?

Find it here


Secret Cargo Review

This is the first thing I have seen from Charles Christian since ‘This is the Quickest Way Down’ and I was instant taken back to the quirky style I remembered. This is slightly outside of his Urban Fantasy playpen; much more Steampunk and very good at it too. The technology concepts are quite delightful.

Having said that I did think that both the main characters turning out to be unlikely closet ancient (20th Century) history geeks stretched the plot a little and did in some ways seem a vehicle to mention a lot of books and films. I didn’t quite get what that was to do with the story, and it did distract a little from the main plot. Which was a shame, as I enjoyed the simplicity of the setting and the retelling of a classic abandonment story.

On the flip side I loved the idea of an AI system that had a primary interface about as helpful as a DOS session
Of course, I can’t tell you much else about it without going into spoilers. It is, after all, a short story. I’ll settle for saying that its very much up to the standard one would expect from Charles.


Guilty Pleasure

I need to confess to a guilty pleasure. A book sat on my TBR shelf for many months. Years in fact. More than half the time it was in the back row an never go tot see the light of day. I bought it, hardback, for a pound at a charity shop. I’m not sure I ever expected to actually read it. You see, it was by William Shatner.

Couple of things. I love Bill. He was the closest thing I had to a father figure in my childhood (which would explain much) and I have a lot of time for the old sod. But lets be honest, unless you had previous knowledge, who amongst us would not look at a book by Bill and expect cheesy kitsch of he highest order. Also, there were two other names in much smaller print under his (Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens), and I’ll leave it to you to figure out which names did most work.

And yet I loved it. In fact, I devoured it, and it cost me many a late night and a groggy morning in work the next day. The story covers a time before Kirk and Spock entered StarFleet, and so the book could even be called Young Adult.

Kirk and Spock, pursuing two different lines of enquiry, end up connected by the very things they are investigating. The story deals with many subjects that are alluded to but never fully explored in the ‘original series’ universe – Spock’s dispute with his father and the ubiquitous ‘Finnegan’ to mention only two – and manages to do so in a way that does not require time travel or an alternate reality. They even manage to squeeze in a passing nod to Jonathan Archer.

And I think that may be one of the things that appealed to me. Rather than bending and existing reality to fit the new and exciting model (whisper softly the names of all the films that have done just that), this is carefully constructed to fit with an existing and well loved universe. Without going back through to check – and why would I want to spoil things by doing that – I cannot remember anything that jarred me as being out of context.

The book was well-paced, humorous, and the characters were in the main believable. In truth, Jim did not ‘bed in’ quite as well as Spock, but again it was not enough to distract from the story.

Do I recommend it? Not sure. It very much suited me, but on this topic I may be a niche market. If you were to see it in a charity shop, though, for a pound...


Retrospection free zone

Personally, I don't get this obsession people have to summarise their year in January. Seems a little to close to oanistic for me. If the events you are bragging about were sufficiently bragworthy, they would have been mentioned at the time. If your followers are interested, there is a diary on your blog to let them scan back through the high spots.

Face it, the majority of people who see your 'that was last year, post already know what's in it.

Rather than sitting in a dark corner of the pub mumbling into a half-finished pint over past glories, I am more of a standing alertly at the bar with a nice glass of Chateauneuf du Pape, enthusing about how much I have to look forward to this year.

My short story "Change of Address" will be out in the Fox Spirit anthology 'Girl at the End of the World' early in the new year.

"Warrior Stone: Underland", a YA urban fantasy novel, is scheduled for publication in February, again through Fox Spirit.

"Maverick", a SF/Fantasy mash is due for publication through Metaphoric in May.

Plus, Amunet is now edited and ready to find a new home. Anybody who knows an agent looking for a brilliant new talent with a Steampunk/Urban Fantasy YA/NA novel ready to go, drop me a line.

Hmm: busy, busy, busy - but never boring :)

Be successful, be happy, and be splendid


Tales of the Fox and the Fae

fox-and-fae front-cover-1

Sorry to start the new year with an advert. There's a more personal post coming an a few days I promise. I did just have to tell everybody about this: Tales of the Fox and the Fae, from Fox Spirit (my publisher) is out soon and it looks so good I wanted to let you all know. Available soon on Amazon, or take a look at the link here