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Shiny new paperbacks of The Modern World have finally shipped and are available from all good book retailers, including Amazon.
There's also a new review: Keith Brooke in The Guardian says 'Swainston's world is impressively complete, a setting that is richly detailed and gritty.' You can read the full review here.
Flying insects have been a theme for the past month. In my garden at the end of June stag beetles flew every night at dusk between 9:30 and 10:00, trying to find mates. They fly upright, their ‘antlers’ pointing vertically, their great glossy black wing cases held open like car doors and all their legs splayed out - as if they’re uncertain and need to brace themselves. They look like gothic shuttlecocks. Their deep, heavy buzz suits them and I heard their wings rattling together as they zigzagged overhead, bouncing off walls and crashing into foliage. They’re lousy fliers - they’d be comical if they weren’t so big. They look out of place in an English garden: more reminiscent of the weirdness of ancient Egypt and as large as a rainforest bug.
Although stag beetles are becoming rarer, they were quite numerous in our garden because we have piled up rotting railway sleepers for the grubs to live in. I counted ten and one ‘lesser stag beetle’ - which doesn’t have long mandibles. They live inside old wood for five years before emerging as adults. If you pick them up you can feel the sheer arthropod strength of their legs pushing against your fingers and the joints of their thickly-armoured bodies bending. They are shockingly powerful. I pity the warriors of the Fourlands - if stag beetle strength was scaled up to horse-size or man-sized Insects imagine the courage it would take to stand against them in a shield wall.
Last week a shower of rain brought out another breathtaking insect phenomenon. All the black garden ants in the town swarmed at once. All the colonies: in patios and in the pavement cracks came to the surface simultaneously - as if the rain was a signal. The street was black with them scurrying in all directions, but along definite chemical paths, so many I couldn’t see the flagstones. The queens started climbing plant stalks and posts to take off and the alate males, four times smaller, followed. How many citizens of Wokingham were aware their town was playing host to an orgy? For two hours ants were all over the cars, people’s clothes and in the air. Afterwards I saw queens on their own, throwing off their wings and looking for hideaways where in time they could start new colonies. I also saw workers clustered around dead or injured queens but I don’t know whether they were trying to save them, just attracted to them, or if they were intended as food. One can’t anthropomorphise too much, but I’ve watched so much ant behaviour I know they are often surprising. Once, watching a battle between red and black ants, I saw black ants new to the battlefield rescuing exhausted ones by feeding them and carrying them away.
The best, though, are the dragonflies. Living helicopters. Honed by a long evolution, the larvae are supreme hunters underwater and the adults are perfect hunting machines in the air. They look prehistoric - they haven’t changed much since the Devonian and my friend’s garden pond seems too genteel for them. But they have decimated the tadpole population and I don’t much fancy the sticklebacks’ or smooth newts’ chances, either. Dragonfly larvae move camouflaged through the pondweed like stalking tigers. Their jaws shoot out and they grab prey with such force the recoil sends them backwards. Fantastic things. I have just spent a happy hour watching them climb reeds to just under the surface, where they wait to check the coast is clear and then emerge from the water. The larva then clings to the stalk and halts, seemingly dead but the adult is visible pressing against the inside. The back of its thorax splits open, and the adult arches out. It pulls its head free and hangs upside-down, rests for a while, then with a mighty effort swings back, grabs the empty larva shell and pulls its long abdomen out. It stands on the shell, shaking its head vigorously (god knows why) and expanding its limp wings. In a few hours they dry, harden and darken - then it takes off without warning and flies away. It goes some distance from water to avoid falling prey to mature dragonflies returning to the pond to mate. In The Modern World I have adult Insects moving away from the ravenous larvae so they don’t fall prey to their own offspring.
Imagine if we grew up like that, from one form into a completely different one with new abilities. Would we be able to remember our previous forms? Would we have the urge to keep the old shells or give them decent funerals?
The Modern World has received a glowing review from Dreamwatch, who remarked "Swainston is not afraid to take the fantasy rulebook, set it on fire and throw it out the nearest window" and gave it a blistering 9/10. (To be honest I'm not sure she ever had a copy of the rulebook in the first place!) You can read the full review here.
Publishers Weekly have hailed "A dramatic and compelling plot, plus inventive and convincing descriptions, [that] elevate this above the common run of contemporary fantasy fiction."
I've posted this as Steph is currently in bed, being attacked by flu viruses. I'm sure she'll be back on her feet and resuming normal service soon.
A quick reminder that I will be signing copies of The Modern World and the other Castle books at Waterstones in Piccadilly tomorrow (Thursday, June 7th), 5:30pm to 7:00pm.
Also at the scene will be Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Robert Holdstock, Steven Savile, organiser Chris Dolley, Andrew Dennis, Eric Brown, John Lambshead and David Devereux.
This will be Europe’s largest signing event in Europe’s largest book shop (eight and a half miles of shelves), so do come along. I’ll see you there!
The Modern World is now officially released.
The book is generating a lot of interest already. There is:
What's it about? Here's the blurb:
The Emperor San and his Circle of immortals lead the people of the Fourlands in their endless struggle against the terrifying, alien Insects that threaten to annihilate them. A war for survival has long since become a grinding war of containment. But now Frost, the Circle's architect, unveils a visionary plan to break the stalemate and finally defeat the Insects.
Jant, the Emperor's winged messenger, has more immediate concerns. Lightning, the Circle's archer and Jant's best friend, asks him to find his rebellious teenage daughter who has disappeared in the sprawling city of Hacilith. Jant starts a search that takes him into his past, through the criminal underworld, across the bizarre worlds of the Shift, and to the very limits of temptation. The girl is seventeen and beautiful but if Jant so much as touches her, Lightning will kill him. Will curiosity be the death of Jant?
As Jant struggles with his newly-found conscience, Frost's plan produces shocking results. The Fourlands suddenly faces a greater threat than ever before. Can the Circle survive the dawn of a new, modern world?
You can buy The Modern World on amazon.co.uk or in all good bookshops. Signed copies are available at Goldsboro Books and Cold Tonnage. They also include an 'official' signed photograph. Goldsboro and Cold Tonnage both have excellent service and if you want a dedication - the book signed to yourself or any other message - just let them know or drop me a note via the contact form.