Book Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

Over the last few weeks I’ve read LWW to my five-year-old daughter at bedtime, so I’ll be reviewing the book not only through my eyes and understanding of it, but also her reaction to it, seeing as she’s more the book’s target audience than I.

And it is, thoroughly predictably, fabulous.

Much has been written about the allegorical Christ figure of Aslan, and the Biblically symbolic notions of willing sacrifice in order to overturn the evils of the world. But these ideas do not feature in the minds of small children – or, at least, not fully formed, for even my five-year-old was able to fathom some deep and resonant significance when the Great Lion appeared after being so harrowingly killed, even though she couldn’t quite articulate why.

Rather, the appreciation from a child’s perspective is to be found in the typical sibling bickering which is eventually overcome by understanding what is important. Like Harry Potter, the fundamental message is unambiguous and easy to understand: stick by your friends (or brothers and sisters) through thick and thin.

The language is sophisticated, but never so much that the child lost the narrative thread or couldn’t understand what was happening in the plot, or between the characters. The plot itself moves quickly (not always the case in the Narnia books), especially in the book’s second half, which rattles along once Jadis’s grip of winter has been disturbed.

Talking of Jadis, it’s easy to view her with modern, adult, world-weary eyes as the villain of a thousand tropes. She cries out, “minions!” “Seize him!” and spouts lines such as “how could a common boy such as you understand the deep magic of the world” etc. But through the eyes of a child, Jadis is perfectly preserved for time immemorium, just as she was in The Magician’s Nephew, a terrifying and wondrous creature, invoking fear but also pity, a vicious and seductive villain that speaks to the very basic psychological sweet spots of children, offering Edmund petty treasures such as his favourite Turkish Delight sweets, and the chance to lord it over his father-like elder brother, Peter. But while these petty temptations reflect the limited minds of children, they also reflect the limited minds of adults, for we also recognise all human fallibility in Edmund. She is therefore a Satanic figure, to be sure, set as she is against Aslan’s Christ, but Lewis isn’t so foolish as to strip her of all sympathy; she is, like Lucifer himself, a fallen creature of sorts, whose fallibility is matched by her cruelty and narcissism.

The Pevensie children are, in turn, bratty and brave, squabbling and savvy, sometimes po-faced rather twee at other times, but it’s their pluck and resolve that ultimately make them attractive companions to a children’s mind, and my daughter certainly was able to pick up on the clearly telegraphed differences in character displayed by each of them.

But it is in the character of Aslan that something really sparks in the minds of children. Perhaps it is because even at very young ages they understand and recognise the magnificence of lions, and perhaps it is because he is intimated (by Beaver among others) long before we ever see him, but his very presence in the text brought gasps of hushed awe from my little girl, woe at his demise – which is a very dark and merciless scene for a children’s book, and all the better for it – and wonder at his rising.

It is, to be sure, a classic, but we all knew that. But it was wonderful to see its intended effects first hand; to instil and implant the power of wondrous fantasy adventures in the singular imagination of a child.

Bullshit to Bullseye – Being The Writing Bull

One of the occupational hazards of writing is occasionally submitting / subjecting your work to a public critique during the drafting process. And even though this is usually done in a trustworthy space (I hesitate to use the term “safe space” with all its loaded connotations), it still can be a trial by fire. I hope and expect to receive honest, objective and constructive critiques, be they praiseworthy or critical.

            I recently put up the first draft of the potential opening section to Hole In The Sky for a critique on my favourite writing site, SFF Chronicles, asking the specific question of whether it worked as an opening. I was unsure as to whether to keep Sand’s first chapter as the opening (my preference), or to start with Grub’s more conventional opening chapter. The feedback was split almost perfectly down the middle between people who really liked it, and people who were turned off by it. So in that respect I didn’t really get an answer to my original question, but departed with useful feedback. Tan todo bueno.

            In the end I decided to stick with my original vision for the piece, which was to use Sand’s chapter. I think this is the right thing to do.

            I’m a bullish writer at the best of times. I’ve written before about my confidence in my ability, and my desire to continue to learn and improve. It’s an extremely common trait for amateur writers on writing groups or critique sites, to do themselves down and be overly self-deprecating about their own ability and output. I’m 100% convinced that to be successful you have to be the bull, to dig your horns in when it comes to matters of your own vision.

            The ability to be the bull and furrow your own path is a useful one. It’s what gets books written. I believe that there’s no such thing as awry ambition, just awry execution.

            However, without temperance, bullishness can easily warg into overconfidence, stubbornness, and the dismissal of others’ critiques as bullshit, which is dangerous territory. The feedback of others is critical (pun intended) in helping your book become polished and palatable; striking a balance between the useful feedback of others and one’s own vision is therefore paramount.

            In the wake of my HITS crit, I’ve decided that the overriding ambition, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, should be the defining, central blueprint to which the author should adhere when building their work. Anything else – style, language, structure, form, chronology – is effectively scaffolding, and can be added or taken away or changed at any point. And at some point you will need to change it. By doing this you might end up hitting the bullseye.

            It’s tricky putting your stuff up to crit and not ending up more confused than before, but we’re writers. Somos todos locos toros.

Book Review: Seoul Survivors by Naomi Foyle

Seoul Survivors

In a sea of dystopian, post-apocalyptic SF and speculative fiction, Seoul Survivors bucks the trend by being a pre-apocalyptic novel. SS focuses on the different reactions people have to the news that a massive meteor, dubbed Lucifer’s Hammer, is going to hit Earth imminently.

We follow a gaggle of morally ambiguous characters, primarily based in Seoul but with some brief excursions into Beijing and rural North Korea. Their backstories are left intentionally hazy; just as they lie to each other about their intentions, they also seem to lie and keep secrets from themselves. In a world whose time is short, people seem more reluctant than ever to reveal the truth to themselves; better to coast by on a sea of idealism, convincing ourselves of having lived a worthwhile life before everything is sucked away.

But few characters, in this bleak and dark imagining of a future that’s so near you can almost touch it, emerge with a great deal of credit. The geneticist Kim Da Mi is attempting to ensure humanity’s survival after the meteor using a blend of surrogatism, genetics and robotics that is morally repugnant, yet challenges the reader to consider what price is worth paying to elevate humanity to new levels of understanding, or science. Foyle leaves this question tantalisingly unanswered, but it personally left me with a sour taste.

Damian, the drugs mule who simply wants to get of Korean dodge is the one character – the only Brit, mind – who injects a bit of good old fashioned British scepticism into the mix. Everyone else seems happy to be swept along by their own fallacies, rage and selfishness, and

It’s very raunchy, and sex plays an important part of the novel. Some of the sex is erotic, some is depraved, and some is very violent. With the end of the world imminent, I wonder if this is hypersexualisation is Foyle’s way of hinting at the loosening of sexual morals and, in the fahsion of Sodom and Gomorrah, bring humanity low through excess.

Contrasting with the highly sexually charged Sydney, the depraved and quite deliciously revolting Johnny Sandman, and the womanising Jae Ho, Kim Da Mi is a kind of androgyne, desexualised and playing the role of both tyrannical father and mother nature to her new surrogate children. It’s telling that the brave new world envisioned by Da Mi is in her own image, desexualised and conformist.

Korea makes for an interesting setting, and draws of much of Foyle’s own experiences there, and paints a country that at times seems to struggle with reconciling its own ancient Confucian culture with increasing amounts of Western consumerism and individualism. It’s a brisk, energetic read and leaves the reader with many important and, at times, depressing questions, but which nonetheless seem increasingly relevant.

I’m A Seoul Man

With the World Cup only a couple of days away I’ll be clearing my schedule for, ooh, six days while I follow England’s, er, progress through the tournament. The advantage of supporting a country whose international footballing prowess lies somewhere between that of South Ossetia and the Larsen Ice Shelf is that I won’t be distracted from my writing schedule for too long.

As well as continuing progress with Hole In The Sky, which is about 67% complete, I am busy editing my novella The Gigantomachy Of Antonios Costas, about two Greek classicists who descend an enormous sinkhole that appears in Athens to conduct a mysterious archaeological dig (spoiler alert: shit goes down). The hope is that I will have this ready for the forthcoming Tor novella open call in July.

Later this month, on Wednesday 27th June, I’ll joining the British Science Fiction Association at the Artillery Arms in London. Whilst there I’ll be interviewing Naomi Foyle, the author of Seoul Survivors, a sci-fi thriller set in a bleak future filled with fembots and scientific innovation gone awry.

Seoul Survivors is a terrific book, and although it’s five years old now, it deserves to be revisited given the zeitgeist and the wider social robotics perspectives, so I hope that I’ll be able to offer a new perspective to the book.

In return, at the September meeting, the tables will be turned, and Naomi will interview yours truly about Man O’War, a, er, sci-fi thriller set in a bleak future filled with fembots and scientific innovation gone awry. Sounds pretty familiar!

You can find more details on the BSFA’s Facebook page, and anybody who wants to mosey on down will have the company of science fiction aficionados, beer, the chance to win some excellent books, and the option of a bangin’ Thai meal afterwards. Which sounds like just the tonic to ease the disappointment of England crashing out of the World Cup at the first hurdle. See you there!

Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment

It’s no exaggeration to say that Crime and Punishment is one of the most staggering achievements in all of literature. I don’t think I can possibly say anything new about C&P which hasn’t been said before, but I will try and express my own thoughts about the book. What I found particularly fascinating was the book as a modern philosophical (and psychological) representation of the story of Cain and Abel.

It’s no spoiler to tell that Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel focuses on the brooding, maddened, profound character of Raskolnikov, fiction’s most famous axe-murderer. What’s so powerful about Dostoevsky’s intense character study is that, against a backdrop of the emergence of more nihilistic philosophies such as Nietzsche’s critique of Catholicism (wrongly taken by many to be an excoriation, when in fact it was in fact a warning for it to get its act together, and boy was he right) which themselves grew from the seeds of Marxism and Darwinism, he builds up Raskolnikov’s reasoning for committing his infernal acts of violence and murder upon foundations of iron.

The first act of the book leads up to the murder, but is in fact building, brick by brick in Raskolnikov’s head, the justifications and reasons for committing such an act. For Raskolnikov, there are several good reasons for ridding the world of the scraping, grasping, Scrooge-like old pawnbroker woman: it would enable him to rob her and pay his way through law school, which in turn would free his sister from a loveless marriage to a rich but conceited suitor, it would liberate the old woman’s retarded little sister, whom she beats and essentially enslaves. These are Raskolnikov’s practical reasons, but Dostoevsky does not rest there; he also allows Raskolnikov to construct a moral and philosophical argument; he argues that great men, truly great men who have the ability to change the world, find themselves in a position where they have to break free from the paradigms that hold the world in check, because to do so and check their own greatness would itself be an unethical act, and potentially hold back the advancement of civilisation as we know it. That some men must remould thought around what is ethical and what is permissible – and not for anybody, but only for the very greatest of individuals. When this argument is held up against figures such as Marx, bubbling away in the background, Raskolnikov’s reasoning becomes very powerful indeed.

And yet. After committing the crime, we are witnesses to the punishment. Truly, the worst thing in the world is to realise what you have done. And slowly, creepingly, maddeningly, the realisation of what he has done assaults Raskolnikov through dreams, fevers and madness, exhausting him with guilt and distress. He is become Cain, who ran and hid from God after murdering his brother. When God says, “your seed will be punished for seven generations” (I’m paraphrasing), Cain replies, “my punishment is worse than I can bear.” This is what has happened with Raskolnikov. He is consumed by his grievous sin, and the punishment for it is of his own making. What’s interesting about the Cain and Abel story is that we are all partly Cain and partly Abel, and the story represents which part of us do we want to win in our own internal conflicts; the one who makes sacrifices and gets rewarded, or the embittered, impulsive part that destroys the better part of us. Which is exactly what happens with Raskolnikov: he destroys the better part of himself through his actions and agency in the world, and is thus cast into a hell of his own making, and he drags down all the people around him through his dire actions.

The supporting characters are no less well constructed. I won’t go into all of them here, but Svidrigailov, Doumia and Katia are all wonderful characters in their own right. However, special attention ought to be paid to Razhumikin, Raskolnikov’s great friend. Razhumikin is loyal, passionate, strong, and has a strong sense of what is morally right, and stands up for an individual’s means to assert himself in the world – he is, then, a classical foil to Raskolnikov’s nihilism. But he can also be read as Abel to Raskolnikov’s Cain; he is the better part of Raskolnikov; he uses his philosophical skills to construct ethical frameworks of hope and aspiration; he works hard, he champions the individual over the collective, and he tries with all his heart to help his dearest friend and his family, even in direst need. And, at the end, when Raskolnikov faces his fate alone, Razhumikin has also been broken by the knowledge of his brother’s sin.

I’ve said more than I intended. But I was compelled to do so. No book has exhilarated me this much since I read The Name Of The Rose for the first time, and I feel that it is one of the most devastating philosophical takedowns of the brutal idea that the “ends justify the means”. Like 1984, Crime and Punishment is a book that everyone should read.

Building Empires In The Sky

March 28, 2018

And like that – [clicks fingers] – March was gone. Time flies when you’re busy, regardless of whether you’re having fun. But busy can be fun, too. It makes you feel like you’re heading in the right direction.

Since I last updated these pages a few things have been going on. Man O’War has smashed through, er, the top quarter-of-a-million rankings on Amazon. With the hardcover version scheduled to be available just after Easter, I expect to break through into the top two-hundred-and-thirty-five-thousand within weeks. Upwards to the sky!

One of the absolute bestest things about writing books is that occasionally people will ask you for an interview about it. This is even more betterer when the interviewer has actually read the book, which is a fantastic rub-down for the old ego. So it was that I was given a proper third degree and no mistake by Pete Long, who hosts an excellent SFF blog way down in them thar web parts. We covered the themes of Man O’War, my literary influences, and did some extra thinking about writing in general. The interview is available to read here.

A couple of Saturdays ago I took part in the annual Essex Authors Day in Chelmsford. I did a reading of Man O’War (chapters Dhiraj I and Nita IV), which you can see above. I also ran a workshop on subbing and pitching, which was very well received by the audience (one woman called it “inspirational”!); alas I wasn’t permitted to film the workshop, so no video. Next year I shall have to secretly film it a la the Fake Sheikh.

In other news, which my frequent visitor may have noticed, I’ve added a new section to the website for my brother Darryl’s band Sky Empire, who have just released their debut album , the title track of which is loosely based upon the Robert Browning poem, and even more loosely upon the Stephen King epic. I wrote lyrics for three of the album’s five tracks, which I’ve helpfully posted up here. If you like your music epic, and proggy, and hard, then Sky Empire is definitely up your Imperial, like.

With the craziness of the March launch out of the way, April beckons. I shall make my way to the annual jaunt that is the London Book Fair, and anticipate the hardcover launch.

Knee Deep In Snow (books)

It’s been quite a week, and that’s before we even get to the festivity surrounding the launch of you-know-what. Despite the best efforts of the Beast From the East, I’ve slogged through the snow to host a three-day meeting for colleagues visiting from all across Europe for the space robotics project in which the UK Space Agency is participating. It’s this project which informed a lot of the thinking around the robotic themes which form so much of the plot of Man O’War.

Talking of which, my debut novel finally hits bookshelves today. And on World Book Day, too! Why, it could almost have been planned that way. What’s more, my publishers at Snowbooks have even managed to deliver some on-message Siberian weather systems to coincide with the launch (Icy what they did there etc), and if all that doesn’t add up to a compelling argument for buying a science fiction novel about sex robots and industrial corruption, then I don’t know what does.

Still, it’s best not to sit on one’s laurels and rely on the beautiful weather alone to do one’s marketing, so I have been doing my best to be out and about this week. Last Saturday I was at Forbidden Planet’s Small Press Expo featuring Fox Spirit, Snowbooks, Grimbold and NewCon. Also there were my fellow SFF Chroniclers Bryan Wigmore and Steven Poore. A small consignment of signed copies of MOW remain, if anyone wants to mosey down and pick up a copy. We made new friends, flogged lots of books, and even made plans for world domination (or, at least, parts-of-west-London domination), which I might explore a little more in a separate blog post some time soon.

Earlier this week I was interviewed for SFF World by the wonderful author of Heart BladeJuliana Spink Mills. Juliana really dug into the themes of MOW and gave it a five-star write upfor which I’m very humbled. I was also interviewed by DJ (no relation) at My Life, My Books, My Escape. I’m currently doing another round of interviews with Pete Long of, er, Pete Long’s Blog. Pete is another friend and fellow SFF Chronicler, and his blog is one of the most thoughtful and well-articulated meditations upon science fiction and fantasy books out there.

Next week I’ll be trying to draw breath, and will be avoiding the trains into London if at all possible. Stay warm!

Man O’War Character Sketch #6: Tilda Boulton

Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Tilda Boulton.

Tilda Boulton

Like Adem and Salazar, Tilda wasn’t initially among my list of POV characters. But, whereas it became very quickly apparent to me that Adem’s and Salazar’s stories were pivotal to making the novel work, I was a long way into plotting and writing the novel before I realised I needed a sixth character to balance out the story and connect the dots between the subplots. When I realised this my first instinct was to make the Tilda character an investigative journalist. She could still have access to the necessary crime scenes and would be possessed of that journalistic drive to connect the clues. Plotting Tilda The Journalist led me a little way through the plot jungle, not to the clearing leading to the Way, but to another dead end. The problem was that it became necessary in the plot to instigate the amnesty of sex robots, and the Tilda character needed both reason and ability to help influence the people to make this happen. The influential folks within the Civil Service – folks like, say, Adem Johnson, would be required to cooperate with the police, but not the press in this matter. In fact, they would want to keep the press away at all costs.

So she became a detective. Perhaps a little cliché, but it gave Tilda access to the crime scenes, close access to the sex robots themselves (being evidence, or part of those crime scenes), and it gave her sufficient proximity to those higher up the food chain with influence. But it wasn’t until I’d figured out Tilda’s back story that I really brought her character into the light. In some ways, Tilda’s back story is the most developed in the story, and I was really pleased with its emergence. Without giving anything away, Tilda’s backstory became another example of the secondary impacts of technology. For a character like Salazar, the spillover effects of new technology, in its hard adaptations at the hands of engineers can be imagined quite easily. But in Tilda’s case, we see how technology can have softer impacts upon us as humans, and how we perceive ourselves, and others. Tilda’s views of herself, and of people like D’Souza, and people like Nita, and then the kokeshi robots themselves, are indicative of how technology can colour a whole range of issues, or even introduce new issues that never existed before. If engineers are serious about bringing many of these technologies to light in the real world and not the fictitious one of Man O’War, then I hope they give serious consideration to some of these implications.

When I wrote Tilda’s pivotal scene, on Lambeth Bridge overlooking the river Thames, I was kind of surprised that this subplotline had weedled itself out in this way. I hadn’t intended for her character to represent anything overly political – she was to be a plot device, poor thing (though a well fleshed out plot device) – but in the end her backstory became rooted to the principal themes of fragmentation and atomisation that run through Man O’War. She is broken by her past, and indirectly by the introduction of technology into our human lives. Without wishing to sound like a Luddite (not a good stance to take in my line of work), there is a philosophical knot requiring untangling that suggests the introduction of technologies that represent the intention of bringing humanity together, may end up atomising us irrevocably. The obvious example is social media, and when even Facebook states that it (social media) may be harmful to mental health, maybe it’s time to think about this in greater detail. As Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) says in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied trying to find out if they could do something they didn’t stop to ask if they should!”

Tilda isn’t a showy character like D’Souza, or burning with ambition and visions of doing great deeds for humanity like Nita, but she carries herself with a rod of drive and shines a light on herself and others in unexpected ways. I don’t know whether her ending is happy or not; I’ll leave readers to decide that, but it’s the one that gave most satisfaction to write. I’ve no idea what happens to her (or any of the other characters) once they depart the text, but I think she probably deserves a little slice of happiness more than most.

Tilda is the last of the POV characters in the book, and thus endeth my little run of character sketches, which has been fun. There is one more POV character in MOW, but you’ll have to read the book to find out. But anyhoo! The book’s out next week, and it’s been a long journey to get here.

Tomorrow I’ll be at Forbidden Planet with some advance copies to sign and flog, so if you fancy getting your mitts on one before the official launch date, Forbidden Planet in London is the place to go. Also there will be my friend and author of the jaw-dropping The Goddess Project, Bryan Wigmore; Jonathan Green, author of YOU Are The Hero, a brilliant history of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (among other things); and one of my other fellow wanderers, author of the excellent Heir To The North, Steven Poore. It’ll be quite a get-together. With beers afterwards.

Man O’War Character Sketch #5: Ademuyiwa Johnson

Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Adem Johnson.


Ademuyiwa Johnson is the son and heir of Joseph Johnson, who heads up the powerful Johnson Petroleum Corporation in the Niger delta. Adem’s character and story is one of the most multi-faceted in the book; like D’Souza, he straddles multiple identities and struggles to define himself against several different contexts. More than any other character Adem allowed me to explore ideas and themes that aren’t overt in other parts of the book, such as father-son relationships, sibling rivalries, and responsibilities disposed towards two different countries.

I’ve been asked a couple of times why I picked Nigeria as the setting for the latter half of the book and, therefore, the country of Adem’s and his family’s birth. The simple answer is that on a high level it satisfied many of the geographical and political criteria I set; it’s oil rich (and getting richer), it has a coastline, and it has a colonial history with the UK, allowing for geopolitical ties to be easily established in my imagined world. Nigeria is also the site of a long-running and tragic historical grievance, which allowed me to easily imagine its evolution into a bloody insurgence run by guerrilla Marxist revolutionaries who hid and moved in the delta, much like the Marxist revolutionaries of Colombia. I almost chose Saudi Arabia as the foreign setting instead of Nigeria, particularly because of the Al-Yamamah business deal, but settled on Nigeria because of the watery wilds of the delta, and the fact that I was lucky enough to know people who’d worked in the oil and gas industry over there.

So Adem Johnson is Nigerian, but his career in London means he feels – and, to his father, seems – more like an Englishman than a Nigerian. I wrote Adem as a sort of well-to-do throwback, with more accentuated genteel English mannerisms than many of the English members of the cast, but his father’s shadow looms large, and he is not so genteel. At a basic level all Adem wants is to win the affections of his father, but beneath that his intentions and schemes are more Machiavellian.

The difficult relationship Adem has with Joseph – and, by extension, his squabbling siblings – is a result of this slightly fragmented sense of self he has. His brother Remus is an undeconstructed boor, while his sister is a left-wing firebrand who doesn’t hold truck with her family’s nefarious dealings in the oil sector. In every sense Adem is the Golden Boy of the family; he’s the eldest, he has a respectable job, an excellent network of contacts, and the business acumen to hold him in good stead during his future position at the head of the family business. And yet. Families crackle with relationships that don’t make sense. Joseph is hypermasculine, unrefined and direct. Families are rarely as close knit as they ought to appear on the surface. Conflict brews within every in-joke and every dig. But it makes for good writing!

Like all the characters in Man O’War, I like to think that, under Adem’s scheming skin there beats the heart of somebody who wants to do something good, both politically and personally. I don’t buy into the notion of evil very easily; in some way every ambition can be justified, however skewed and warped that justification may be. Like the rest of the cast, I found Adem’s written sweet spot snared somewhere between bad decisions and good intentions. In this respect he makes for a perfect associate for Nita Rhodes, who also is trying to balance those multiplying spinning plates. They really are made for each other, because I made them that way.

I always felt Adem was my classically tragic character, the man who is dragged to his fate by his own designs. The question is: can he draw himself back from the brink? As he covers his tracks he finds himself dealing with Tilda Boulton, the DS with a grudge. We’ll take a look at Tilda next week.

Man O’War Character Sketch #4: Salazar Gomez

 Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Salazar Gomez.

Salazar Gomez

When I had the original draft concept for Man O’War I had three POV characters whom I knew would drive the story: my jellyfisherman, Dhiraj; my corporate leader Nita Rhodes, and my gangster Agarkka D’Souza. Appropriately they are the first POV characters we meet, and their conflicting ambitions are what open up the first half of the story. As the web of plots and subplots became more intricate it became apparent I needed more points of view from which to tell the main story, and that there were many more types of people who’d be affected and dragged into this kind of story. So I created my “second wave” of POVs: Salazar Gomez was the first of these.

On the face of it, Salazar is like Dhiraj – another everyman character. He just wants what’s best for his daughter, his beloved Lily (his “Chou Chou”), and to try and improve the wretched lot he’s found himself in. But he’s more than just an everyman. His ambitions are familiar to us all, but unlike Dhiraj, he is already immersed in darkness when we meet him, and his story peers through a glass, darkly. Salazar is an engineer of advanced robotics, specialising in sexual plastics and systems. In the world of Man O’War, such a niche specialism might be legitimately used for prosthetics or medical purposes; in Salazar’s case, awful decisions taken in his past life have scuppered any chance of a medical career, and so he has turned to working on illegal sex robots manufactured in the French underworld.

Salazar’s world is violent and seedy, but unlike D’Souza, he doesn’t revel in it. He wants out. But he has enough street smarts enough to manipulate his reprehensible situation for his benefit. When we meet him, he’s secured an interview with Nita Rhodes’s firm, EI Systems. And he’s willing to do anything to get him and his precious Chou Chou out of the slums of Lyon.

More than any other character, I think Salazar represents the potential for what I’ve called the “secondary use of technology”. That is, where tech is being adapted or co-opted or manipulated for purposes that not related to the original intended purpose of the system. To be frank, nobody really knows how technology is going to be co-opted and used until it is dragged from the testing conditions of the lab and into the pool of human ingenuity that is reality. An amusing example would be how magnetrons developed for radar arrays were accidentally adapted to create… ta-da! The microwave oven! A less salubrious example would be the way in which terrorists adapted mobile phone devices to act as triggers for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). I wonder how robotics will be adapted by enterprising individuals, for good or ill? It’s almost certainly going to happen, and I wonder how much thought goes into this area of thought? It’s not really an engineering discipline, and it’s not really a philosophical one. It sits somewhere between the two, I think.

One of my hopes for Man O’War is that it sparks off ideas about these possibilities for technology. Engineers often have a blind spot about how their technologies might be co-opted in the real world, because they are – understandably – distracted by the technical excellence of the product or capability they have created. It’s frequently down to artists and amateurs to explore how these things might be used in different ways. Salazar is an engineer, but for him, necessity becomes the mother of invention.

He might not have been inventive had Adem Johnson not leant on Nita Rhodes quite so heavily. We’ll come to Adem next week.