Friday, June 13, 2014

Something weird in your neighbourhood? You better call Tigerman. Or possibly just Nick Harkaway

What is the connection between Twitter, the CIA, Graham Greene, crowdsourced space elevators and superheroes with secret identities?

The answer is author Nick Harkaway, who was a guest in Abingdon on Wednesday, and who took us on a prodigiously entertaining journey between how all these links led up to his latest book ‘Tigerman’.


The evening felt like being taken on rollercoaster of thoughts and ideas, but then so does reading his books.

‘Tigerman’ is an impressively intelligent novel of big thinking, search for purpose, international shenaningans, multiple identities, fatherhood and explosive action.

It is the story of burnt-out soldier Lester Ferris, sent to the ends of the earth and the island of Mancreu, who may possibly oversee the end of the world.

Nick was a screenwriter for ten years before becoming a novelist – and the restriction of screenwriting led almost directly to the delight of him being able to give full reign to his imagination in writing in a medium where nothing is impossible to film or to find a budget for.

Perhaps no surprise then that his first two books were packed full of breakneck plotting, shadow worlds, ninjas, mechanical bees and near-planetary destruction. He doesn't so much push the boundaries of genre, he kind of bends them to his will, moving between science fiction and literary fiction. In doing so, his novel ‘Angelmaker’ won him the Kitschies Red Tentacle award (which goes to books that "elevate the tone" of genre fiction) –  for the most intelligent, progressive and entertaining speculative novel of the year.

‘Tigerman’ is placed more firmly in reality, which, in a way, makes it more frightening. Set in a post-colonial world and an island on the verge of environmental collapse, Mancreu has become home to all the worst things in the world: the notorious, the powerful, the criminal – the natural home of everything from drug barons to extraordinary rendition and torture.

International forces agree that the best solution for Mancreu is obliteration, but when Lester teams up with a small local boy it becomes as much a novel about the need to humanise and our responsibilities to the next generation, as it does about power and the price of eternal vigilance.

It's a joyous rollercoaster for the reader, but - as Nick tells it - probably way more fun to write. ‘Tigerman’ is a seriously impressive novel. A sincere 'thank you' to Nick for making our evening just as seriously impressive - and a great deal of fun. As one of our audience said '"I fell like my brain has been given a massage - and I mean that in a good way".

During the evening we managed a big discussion about the joys - and horrors - of social media, particularly Twitter. Via plenty of commentary on technology - and his book 'The Blind Giant' - Nick explained his accessibility online, and his love of the micro-blogging world (the power of now - 'hey, let's crowdsource a space elevator'). We talked about power, its ludicrousness, and how Nick's experience of firing a handgun for the first time led him to think 'this is too easy to be this powerful and dangerous'. As we had a father's day theme, we touched very briefly on his famous father (and we were secretly delighted at how many of the audience didn't know) and ended up on a nice discussion about how he does a nice line in romance - and love - which runs subtly through all his writing.

This was our first event in the newly refurbished Crown and Thistle in Abingdon, and a huge thank you to them for looking after us brilliantly - we will definitely be doing more events here. It was a sublime venue for such a thrilling rollercoaster of an evening.

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