Ups and Downs

I have a rule with this blog: I don’t write it when I’m annoyed. But here I am, demon­strably annoyed (see below for demon­stra­tion), typ­ing away like a good ‘un.

First, the good news. A per­son whose opin­ion I hold in high regard, Andy Sawyer (lib­rar­i­an of sci­ence fic­tion at the University of Liverpool), has writ­ten a pos­it­ive review of Déjà Vu for the Alien Online. Judging by pre­vi­ous reviews, Andy isn’t afraid to point out the flaws in a work when he sees them, so his kind words come as a mix­ture of pleas­ure and relief. Here are some edited high­lights:

An inter­est­ing debut nov­el that suc­cess­fully blends cyber­punk and tech­no­thrill­er and presents a few good sci-fi ideas along the way. …The scenes set inside the digit­al world developed by Proctor and his part­ner Bruce Shimoda are par­tic­u­larly impress­ive.

…Well worth read­ing, and sug­gests that Hocking (whose first nov­el this is) can cre­ate inter­est­ing scen­ari­os. There are some invent­ive and witty AI con­ceits, and Hocking’s near-future world is neatly extra­pol­ated from ours.’

I also came across a review in a loc­al arts/new pub­lic­a­tion, The Exeter Flying Post, penned by Richard Anthony. It’s a well-writ­ten review and quite insight­ful. Here are a couple of snip­pets:

It’s writ­ten with screen adap­tion in mind…

Er, no it isn’t. (Though I do enjoy the odd film.)

…short chapters, rap­idly cut­ting between dif­fer­ent strands of the story; lots of action; some viol­ence; plenty of clues and motifs hint­ing at what is to come, but enough sus­pense to keep you turn­ing the page.

Mr…

Er, Dr, while you’re there.

…Hocking has an interest in determ­in­ism. Even after read­ing this book, though, I’m not sure where he stands on the issue. This story, how­ever, wriggles out of the prob­lem in a way that some­what under­mines the cli­max. But I think the author is too good a writer to get trapped in the pgieon­hole (black hole?) of hack SF, how­ever well it might pay.

*cough* *splut­ter* *wipes tea from mon­it­or*

Richard goes on to engage with some of the issues con­tained with­in the work, chiefly the determ­in­ism, which is grat­i­fy­ing. It cer­tainly speaks to one of the motiv­a­tions behind my writ­ing: mak­ing the read­er pon­der stuff.

So some aspects of this week have been good. (And let us not for­get a nice art­icle about me and my book pub­lished in Monday’s Express and Echo.)

But the bad aspects are bundled up in this ‘good­ness’. With the reviews tum­bling in — first from the Guardian, then the Alien Online, and with a pos­sible review lined up in the biggest-selling sci­fi mag in the UK — I’m still but­ting my head sense­less against the wall that nation­al book chains have erec­ted to keep out the inde­pend­ent pub­lish­ers who lack the money to play the ‘big boys’ game’ of the coun­try-wide pub­lish­ers.

This Saturday morn­ing, a good friend of mine walked into a branch of Waterstone’s in Exeter, which has agreed to stock Déjà Vu (thanks again to Stephen Palmer, Waterstone’s employ­ee and author, who has worked on my behalf to get the ball rolling). My friend found no cop­ies on the shelves. She then queued up for a bit, spoke to an employ­ee, and was told that Déjà Vu doesn’t exist.

That’s right. This book, reviewed in the Guardian, doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t exist on Amazon, Baclkwell’s Online, Play.com, and least of all does it exist on the web­site of my pub­lish­er, the UKA Press, who are a fig­ment of my well-used ima­gin­a­tion.

As you can see, I’m not speech­less with anger (or per­haps I am; per­haps just my fin­gers are mov­ing). But I am quite grumpy. I have spent lit­er­ally hours trudging around Exeter, Truro and oth­er places with a copy of my book. One book­shop in Truro — remains name­less — decided to stock one book after I vis­ited and phoned them sev­er­al times. One book! When I told the man­ager my book had been well reviewed in the Guardian that very morn­ing, she laughed and shrugged, as if to say “It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, ain’t it?”

Now, I’m obvi­ously not say­ing that one review means the world should reward me with the fame and swim­ming pool of gold bul­lion I deserve, but I didn’t spend four years writ­ing Déjà Vu to not care what hap­pens to it. With every single addi­tion­al read­er that picks up a copy, writ­ing the book gets a tiny incre­ment more worth­while. I’m obvi­ously not say­ing I’m unlucky, either, because (1) get­ting pub­lished required stum­bling across a pub­lish­er pre­pared to read the entire manu­script; (2) I was alloc­ated an excel­lent edit­or; (3) the improb­ab­il­ity of get­ting Déjà Vu reviewed in the Guardian makes me queasy when I look back upon it — at any one point, things might have fallen through. So I’m not bit­ter and I’m not feel­ing cheated. In fact, I’m bet­ter off than most people would be in my pos­i­tion. I’ll hold that thought and attempt to improve my mood by shoot­ing people on my Playstation.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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