Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Interview with Marianne de Pierres

To celebrate the imminent launch of Peacemaker, I have an interview with Marianne de Pierres! I have previously reviewed some of Marianne's YA books, Angel Arias and Shine Light and, of course, I posted my review of Peacemaker last month. Spoiler: I liked it. 

Peacemaker started out as a comic (and possibly also a short story). Why start in that format, and how did it end up as a novel?

Actually, it started out as a short story which I then began to turn into a novel. About 60 pages into the novel, I became obsessed with the idea of an online comic. I turned my energies in that direction and managed to find the right artist: Brigitte Sutherland. Then it was a steep learning curve for me on how to write comics. Unfortunately, issue 2 was never released because the artist was drawn away to other commitments and it’s languishing in my files as I write this. I cast around for a replacement artist for a while, but money became tight and so I had to shelve the whole project. A year or so later, I picked up the novel and fell in love with the world all over again. This time the novel took hold of me, and I finished the story.

Why and from where did the idea to make a cowboy/Western themed park in Perth come?

It’s interesting that you perceive that the park is set in Perth. I don’t think I ever really specify where it is in Australia. J As for the cowboy/Western theme … well that was an idea that struck me when I was re-reading the original short story. The SS was actually set in the outback, and I had this huge What if? moment. What if, instead of all that space and sparse population, Australia had become overcrowded, and there was a battle to preserve that last remaining outback? Hard to imagine, eh? That’s what made it so enticing. I talk a little more about that over at Fischblog.

I really liked how Virgin's friendship with Caro was more important to her than any romantic entanglements. Was that focus something you planned from the start, or did it evolve as the story progressed?

Virgin is the kind of character who only has a few significant people in her life. That’s the way she’s wired. She’s not a gregarious, extravert; relationships don’t come easily. When one works, e.g. Caro, it takes centre stage in her life. That doesn’t mean the focus won’t potentially change as the story evolves. But whatever happens, Caro will be an important part of it. In fact, there are some real struggles ahead for Caro.

It seemed like a pretty open ending to me; will there be more books in the series? More generally, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?

Yes, there is at least one more book to come. In book 2, the supernatural element develops as Virgin learns about the otherworld threatening her own. Here is sneak peek at some of the synopsis for book 2.

Synopsis excerpt:
Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for her mother and an organisation called GJIC (the Global Joint Intelligence Commission). Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another.
But in the end Ranger Jackson is a pragmatist who cherishes her freedom. She takes the deal.

Virgin continues in her ranger duties at Parks Southern while working undercover for GJIC, which means building a closer relationship with her designated partner, Nate Sixkiller. This  does not always go well! But the one thing they share is a love and respect for the land, and they find a united cause in protecting Virgin’s beloved park from the threat of the Mythos.

GJIC believe that the Mythos have infiltrated the highest levels of government, public service and religious institutions right through to the lowest levels of criminal and gang circles, in their push to subvert world mythology. Nate and Virgin are assigned the task of identifying key figures in each areas of society and find the links between them. Join the dots and see what shape it draws.

Thanks, Marianne, for taking the time to answer my questions.


You can find out more about Marianne on her website, Twitter or Facebook. She also writes crime and YA books, which you can find out more about at the corresponding links.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Script Kiddie by Michael F Stewart

Script Kiddie by Michael F Stewart is the second book in the Assured Destruction trilogy. You can read my review of the first book here. This review contains spoilers for the first book, Assured Destruction, since the ending of that feeds into the set up of Script Kiddie.
Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn't need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.

But that’s not all.

A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend--maybe even her life.
Where the first book was about Jan doing some questionable things and then being "punished" for it by the bad guy, Script Kiddie is about Jan trying to hold everything together while trying to prevent bad stuff from happening. After the events in Assured Destruction, Jan finds herself sentenced to 2000 hours of community service. Luckily for her, the cop that showed up a bit in the first book, recognises her hacking skills and recruits her as an assistant (sort of) in the cyber crimes division.

Script Kiddie definitely carries the same tone as Assured Destruction, but the angle of the plot is less someone semi-randomly attacking Jan and more Jan trying to help and fix things. I think I enjoyed it more for this reason. Like in the first book, she does make some poor decisions, but most of those were related to not being experienced with what the police wanted her to do. Aside from a few naive and, well, a little eccentric choices, I didn't feel she made quite as many poor decisions. Which, yay, character development. (But she does do some silly things still, don't get me wrong.)

The title comes from her making some forays into the hacking community — a script kiddie is a very low-level hacker that more experienced hackers mock. Tied with the hacking is Jan's changing relationship with Peter, her mum's boyfriend. In the first book he was newer and more distant from the plot (mainly just existing for her to be annoyed that her mum has such an old boyfriend) but he has become more central. I have to admit I'm a little suspicious of his role and I'm wondering what will happen with him in the final book. I hope he really does turn out to be nice, but it's hard to predict at this point.

Although this is a second book in a trilogy and the events do follow on directly from the first book, the plot is pretty stand-alone. I mean, it's still better to read the first book first because of character introductions and back-story, but the plot that arises in Script Kiddie is almost all tied up by the end. The only thing that isn't tied up is Jan's mum's illness — MS — which takes a turn for the worse in this book. That's the only cliffhanger at the end. I was going to read the third book anyway, but now I need to, to find out what happens with her mum. I hope it won't be too sad.

Script Kiddie was a fun read and I'll definitely be reading the last book in the series straight away. I recommend the series to anyone looking for a fast-paced, geeky, contemporary YA series. Each book is pretty short (in fact, my omnibus edition is only a few iPad pages longer than the last BFF I read) and not a huge time commitment.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Non Sequitur Press
Series: Yes. Assured Destruction, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC of the Complete Series edition (see second cover art above)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Assured Destruction by Michael F Stewart

Assured Destruction by Michael F Stewart is the first book I've read by the author. It's not technically science fiction, because it's set in the present and contains only existent technology, but it is heavy on the tech and the coding and hacking, so I feel it fits into the same niche. My review copy is of the complete series (trilogy) — the series also being called Assured Destruction — but this review is of the first book only.
You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive...

Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They're stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

I was hooked into this book more quickly than I expected to be. The pacing is good and it's not very long, making in a quick read in both senses of the word. Janus wasn't the most likeable character ever, but I didn't hate her either. (Except for her name. And when it's shortened to Jan, my brain automatically jumps to pronouncing it "Yan" — thanks Sweden — which is a male name and bleh. But at least it's in first person, so this isn't a huge issue.)

Jan works for her mum's titular small business, recycling computers and destroying hard drives. Except, as the blurb says, instead of destroying them all, she keeps some and makes a network of Twitter and Facebook aliases out of them. On the one hand, the allure of looking through people's private files is understandable, but then turning them into internet personalities struck me as a little bit strange. I mean in the sense that I can understand why the other characters in the book thought she was weird.

Speaking of being weird, Jan is not a traditional loner hacker, despite her array of imaginary friends. She's actually in the cool group (or one of them?) at school and has friends (well, people she hangs out with that aren't outright frenemies) and boys interested in her. She's also smart but not super smart. What I mean by that is that often in these sorts of stories about smart teenagers, they are hyper-intelligent and think several steps ahead of everyone else. Jan... doesn't. She is smart, especially when it comes to computers, but she's not as careful/paranoid as she should be (or, more accurately, as I would be in the same situation) and she doesn't necessarily think everything through, to her detriment. I suppose this is a more realistic portrayal of "smart teenager" but I have gotten used to (and enjoy) the other kind. 

Another less common characterisation choice is that Jan's mother is in a wheelchair because she has MS. I really liked this portrayal because it's not just a background thing. Jan actively thinks about her mum's heath in several contexts; from feeling bad about not helping more at the shop, to hearing her coming because her wheelchair squeaks, to the lift they have to have in their abode, to fearing for her health and whether her mum is having a good day or a bad day. I don't think I've ever seen such a complete portrayal of a disability/chronic illness that wasn't the main character's (and even then...).

As I said, I enjoyed Assured Destruction more than I expected. It wasn't perfect, but it was fun. I'm planning to start the next book straight away. I would recommend it to fans of contemporary SF or code/computer-based stories. Like I said, it's not technically SF, but it is about a computer geek, and to me that seems to appeal to similar sensibilities. Oh, and fans of contemporary YA should also check it out.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Non Sequitur Press (omnibus edition, April 2014)
Series: Assured Destruction, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC of omnibus edition
Source: publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina

Blades of the Old Empire is the first book I've read by Anna Kashina. I decided to read it on a whim, and I'm glad I did. I must say, I'm not overly fond of the blurb — it's a bit melodramatic and slightly spoilery for an event admittedly close to the start — but it's not too bad so I'm still including it.
Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?
There was a lot to like about Blades of the Old Empire. For me, the real strength of the book was the way everything came together into a smooth package. It opens with Prince Kyth being attacked by some mysteriously powerful bad guys (the Kaddim) and some troubles with the priesthood regarding Kyth's ability to succeed his father. The main characters set off in a couple of groups to deal with the religious issue and the story mostly follows them on their journeys (even if the "journey" doesn't necessarily consist of much travel thanks to complications).

You know how in some books, poor timing and coincidence is used to send characters off on misinformed missions of revenge and so forth and you're left shouting at the page in frustration? Well, Kashina doesn't take it quite that far, which was a nice change. I mean, I like books which toy with my emotions and make me yell at them (well, not if I'm yelling because they're crap, but that's not what I'm talking about here). But it was nice to have some of the suspense of that but not necessarily played out to the worst possible conclusion. I didn't realise how much less stressful that would be! ;-)

I should probably admit that I have a soft spot for assassins guilds. It certainly wasn't the only think I liked about Blades of the Old Empire, but it helped. So did the implausibly awesome warriors (one of whom, Kara, adorns the front cover). The Majat Guild has a ranking system based on gem stones; Diamond rank is the best, Jade rank indicates particular proficiency with ranged weapons, a group of Rubies plus one Diamond form the king's guard, that sort of thing. There are three Diamonds in the group of main and secondary characters, so we have ample opportunity to read about their implausibly good fighting abilities. The only think I would have liked is a glossary or appendix listing the ranks in order since that didn't come up in the book in very much detail (beyond what we needed to know about the characters). Actually, a list of characters — especially the rulers of the other kingdoms, which I briefly lost track of — would also have been good. And of the roles of Keepers, another powerful sect in the world. I do feel like some of this stuff will slot into place better upon reading the next book, however.

All the main characters were enjoyable to follow. The two main(-est) assassins have very few point of view sections (I think only when no one else is around for a plot-relevant scene) which serves to make them even more mysterious since we only have the other character's observations and thoughts to go on. The prince and friends were also very likeable characters. I particularly liked Ellah, who probably has the most complete emotional journey throughout the book. And, needless to say, I liked that there were several female characters (really, most of them) who actually got to control their own destinies, despite living in a fantasy world. Always good to see.

I enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire a lot and I highly recommend it to all fantasy fans, especially fans of BFF (big fat fantasy) books. Once I got a few chapters in, I found it very difficult to put down (you would think that having relatively short chapters would make this easier, but it was not the case). I will definitely be picking up the sequel which, apparently, is due out in (Northern) "summer". Looking forward to it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Angry Robot
Series: The Majat Code book 1 of ? (at least 2)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tsana's April Status

I had a few unusual things going on this past month. The first would be that I wrote a blog post celebrating Women's History Month (which was March) over on Gillian Polack's blog about Emmy Noether. She was a mathematician whose theories are very important to quantum physics. If you're interested, you can check out the whole list of Women's History Month posts Gillian ran. You can also check out my most recent round-up of speculative fiction by Australian women over on the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog.

On this blog, I ran two interviews. One with Christian Schoon (author of Zenn Scarlett and Under Nameless Stars), which also includes an extract of Under Nameless Stars. And one with Glenda Larke (author of The Lascar's Dagger and lots of other lovely books). Go check them out, especially if you need convincing to read The Lascar's Dagger; it's one of my favourite books of the year.

What have I read?

What am I currently reading?

I planned to pick up Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek to read a few stories to break up novels... but I ended up being distracted by the first issue of Dimension6, new spec fic magazine being produced by Aussie press Coeur de Lion Publishing and available for free. You can download a copy here. It's only got three stories, but I'm not quite down with it yet. And then I'll get onto Dead Americans.

Novel-wise, I've almost finished reading Blade of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina, the first of a new fantasy series from Angry Robot. I'm enjoying it more than I expected to, so that's always nice. Expect to see a review very soon. After that, I'm not sure what I'll read. At the moment it's a toss up between Emilie and the Sky World (sequel to Emilie and the Hollow World) and Assured Destruction (see below).

New Booksies:

  • Crudrat by Gail Carriger — This is from a Kickstarter to make an audiobook of Gail Carriger's first SF book. So far I've only got the ebook because the audiobook is still in production (and I won't mention it next month by when, hopefully, I'll have the audio version) but I plan to enjoy it in audiobook form. Really excited to see what this will be like. I've loved Carriger's humorous steampunk books but I'm not really sure what to expect from this.
  • The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke — awesome. First in her new series. Already reviewed.
  • The Grinding House by Kaaron Warren — novella, was on sale, like Kaaron Warren.
  • Essence by Lisa Ann O'Kane — YA from Strange Chemistry. Review copy.
  • Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin — another review copy. I came across a few "if you like <author I like> you should read Gail Z Martin" in a row, so when Solaris offered me a chance to review it, it seemed like a good idea.
  • Assured Destruction (The Complete Series) by Michael F Stewart — caught my eye on NetGalley. YA with tech wiz girl and identity theft shenanigans. Or something like that. Not technically SF, but the kind of book that seems close enough for me.
  • Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb — OMG I can't believe I actually got a review copy of this. I absolutely loved the original Assassin books. They were among the first serious/BFF fantasy books I read as a teen. I didn't get into the Shaman's Crossing series and didn't bother with the recent dragon series because that part of the Liveship books didn't grab me... but now Fitz is back for a third series! Yay!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M G Buehrlen

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M G Buehrlen is the first book of hers I've read and I'm pretty sure it's her début.
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.
I have mixed feelings about this one. The very start immediately got me interested with Alex playing a prank on one of her teachers. But she does whinge a lot, especially at the start, about how she has these weird flashbacks (which, to the reader, are obviously the point of the story) and thus it's better if she has no friends. I mean, I liked Alex overall, but there were times when she thought she was doing something special (by making herself an outcast) when really she was just being a teenager.

Then she meets Porter, who plays the role of adult mentor. Of course, he drags out his explanation of WTF has been going on as long as possible and manipulates her into working for him without fully understanding what she's actually doing. It's not all bad, but he is definitely on the morally ambiguous side of things. The revelations we get towards the end are partly not that surprising, once the climax begins, and partly satisfying. A mixed bag. Oh, I will add that I found some of the earlier "here is what's going on" explanations from Porter a little too info-dumpy for my liking.

Really, I found the first half of the book a little slow. I didn't quite share Alex's connection with 1920s Chicago, and it took a while before we learnt what and why was happening. And then once it was explained, the worldbuilding — or more specifically, the way Alex's (and others') abilities worked. Nothing major, but a few little "hang on, what about..." moments which I won't go into detail on because spoilers. They were ultimately minor enough to be overlooked, though.

I quite liked Jensen, Alex's only, albeit not straightforward, friend in the present. Her family were also all great characters. The only disappointment was that other than her family (which included her parents, two grandparents and two sisters), there were no female characters that she was on good terms with. All the non-familial "nice" characters were male. And at one point, she even says (out loud, to Jensen) that all other girls are vapid. Which is so not cool.

I'm not sure whether I'll read the sequel, The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare. For much of the book I was thinking probably not, but then the climax piqued my interest and there were sufficient threads left hanging to keep me interested. And there are reveals left to come that I want to know if I've guessed correctly about. So I'll probably decide when it comes out. For now, I'm pencilling it in as a maybe.

I recommend The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare to YA fans looking for something a bit different. It's not perfect, and it has slow bits, but it wasn't bad. I think other people will enjoy some aspects, like the worldbuilding, more than I did.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 1 of (I think) 2, Alex Wayfare series
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam is the latest instalment of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. While, like all the Discworld books, it is a self-contained story, I think long-time Discworld fans will get more out of it than newcomers to the series. It builds most on the goblin plot line in Snuff and — as will be obvious from the blurb — the earlier Moist von Lipwig stories, Going Postal and Making Money. None of them are required reading, especially if you're already familiar with Discworld, but I think it would help. Also, this review contains some spoilers of varying degrees for the aforementioned books and minor spoilers for some of the Watch books.
To the consternation of the patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork - a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it's soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.

Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work - as master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital... but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don't always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse...

Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi' t'flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he's going to stop it all going off the rails...
To me, what the most recent Discworld books have really been about, especially the Moist books, is progress sweeping through Ankh-Morpork. Starting from Going Postal, which was about reviving the postal service, the clacks (semaphore communication) system made a serious appearance and brought fast communication to the Disc. Although the previous Moist books have been ostensibly about Vetinari forcing Moist to reform and run various useful services (post, bank, mint and his wife runs the clacks), Raising Steam has Vetinari throwing Moist in on the ground floor of the budding rail system.

It seems obvious on the surface that the fast progress made in these books is mirroring, to an extent, the rapidity of progress in the real world. I don't know if we'll get it, but the next logical step might be a full-blown industrial revolution with Vetinari steering the ship. Progress, as they say, marches on. The evolution of Ankh-Morpork (and the Disc) is even more obvious if you look at the Watch books alongside the Moist books. The general arc of the Watch books is Vetinari getting Vimes to clean up first himself and then the Watch, turning it into a well-run machine. We see some of the after-effects of Vimes' leadership in Raising Steam when watchmen in faraway places are noted as being trained in Ankh-Morpork. Especially if we look at the past depicted in Night Watch, it is evident that Ankh-Morpork is becoming more modern and safer (for a given definition of "safe"). I hope we do get to see a few more books in this vein. Progress in the Disc is not remotely identical to Roundworld's history, despite various bits in one being analogous to bits in the other. I want to see where Pratchett takes it.

Speaking of comparisons with other Discworld novels, Raising Steam also put me in mind of Moving Pictures. Both are about new technologies being developed — and are about the technology as much as the people — and both are arguably before their times. However, where everything goes horribly wrong in Moving Pictures, it works out well in Raising Steam. I am left wondering whether it was Vetinari's oversight that made the railway a success or whether it was the fact that the railway is built on physics and careful measurements whereas Holy Wood had a much greater reliance on more esoteric elements. (And I feel like a rift in the spacetime continuum was involved, but it's been years since I read it, so I'm not sure.)

Key characters in Raising Steam other than those I've already mentioned are Simnel, the engineer who invented the steam engine train, Harry King and his wife Effie who have been previously featured in their role of running the nightsoil empire (well, mostly Harry has appeared in earlier books), and Of The Twilight The Darkness, a goblin who might have appeared in Snuff but I can't remember. Surprisingly, Drumknott, Vetinari's secretary, played a larger role than he has previously. Also, many old favourites made appearances, especially Vimes, Angua, Detritus and Cheery Littlebottom.

The Low King of the Dwarfs, who we most recently saw in Thud! (I think) is an important minor character as part of the plotline concerning grags fighting against modernity and Ankh-Morporkisation. On the one hand, the grags and their recruits struck me as having strong parallels with religious terrorists, on the other hand, the more interesting dwarf subplot was the continuing discussion of dwarfish gender. For part of the time while I was reading I found myself wishing there was a more in-depth discussion of dwarfish gender, but then I don't think that would have been very Pratchetty. (There was also a period of confusion when, in tiredness, I misread a pronoun and thought someone was gay for a while when they really weren't, but that wasn't the book's fault.)

The dwarfish expression of femininity seems to be (still) mostly confined to chain mail skirts and makeup which I don't really get (since I am female and wear neither skirts nor makeup very often). On the other hand, there was more discussion about why a dwarf's gender is secret until they want to reveal it. While my first thought was that surely genderless dwarfs meant that there was a reasonable amount of equality for them, what I didn't consider until it was pointed out in this book is that by marking all dwarfs as male by default, they were culturally erasing women, not equalising them. It was a case forcing women to pretend not to be, whether they wanted to or not. It's a far cry from Angua introducing Cheery to lipstick and heels and it might not look like feminist progress on the surface, but in this context, turns out it is. Aside from one minor twist which I picked up on before it was revealed (albeit only because I was flicking back through the book in my pronoun confusion), I didn't quite see the nuances of the dwarf-gender discussion coming. It made for a more satisfying ending than I had been expecting on that front.

Obviously, if you are a fan of Pratchett, you should definitely read Raising Steam, especially if you are otherwise up to date. If you haven't read Pratchett before: goodness, why not? But this probably isn't the book to start with. There are a lot of places to start, though, and most of them don't include the very first book. I recommend googling around. The Discworld series has evolved in style since Pratchett started writing it in the 80s (as you'd want to hope it had) so the very early books and the middle period books aren't very similar to the latter period books. A good and particularly standalone example of a latter period book would probably be Monstrous Regiment and a good place to start if you want a lead-in to Raising Steam would be Going Postal.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Doubleday
Series: Discworld, apparently book 40 (It seems like only a couple of years ago book 30 came out, but I'm pretty sure that was when they weren't counting the YA Discworld books as "proper" Discworld books. Progress marches on.)
Format read: Hardcover, oh my!
Source: A RL shop! I think it was a Dymocks.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Interview with Glenda Larke

Today I have an interview with the inimitable Glenda Larke, author of The Lascar's Dagger which I recently reviewed. It's an excellent read (I gave it five stars) and if my review didn't convince you to read it, hopefully this interview will.

In the world (well, the Va-cherished hemisphere of the world) that you've created in The Lascar's Dagger, it struck me that there's more gender equality in the clergy than the nobility. This is somewhat at odds with the real world. Can you tell us a bit about that choice?

Religion and society don’t always match up very well, even after centuries of interaction and parallel development. Looking at our modern world, the mismatch is sometimes striking. For example, in both the West and East, you often find a large segment of society is more progressive and liberal than the more religious communities and their leadership. Religious communities can be far more adamantly anti-gay, anti-contraception, anti-female than the more secular segments of society, possibly because  religions often have a vested interest in maintaining the staus quo. If they allow change, then it hints that their original God-inspired basis had errors, i.e. God was wrong.

I decided to make the religious institution more inclusive, and more progressive, especially when it came to gender equality, from the beginning. In other words, it is the culture that should change to catch up (I like being contrary!) It was an easy reversal to make, because I think that Va-Faith with their basis very strongly rooted in the natural world rather than in a single patriarchal type god had a better chance of being an equal-opportunity employer.

Where did the idea for the character of Saker, clergy spy, come from? It's not a very common combination.

I don’t know why it’s not more common! Clergy in centuries past were often heavily involved in politics. I can only imagine that Cardinal Richelieu of France, for example, who was also the French king’s principle minister and immersed in French politics and wars, must have had a widespread network of spies. In all probability, many might have been clergy.

Historically, many religions — in the interests of keeping the homogeneity of the beliefs in their flock — spied unmercifully on their own, killing, maiming, torturing and burning those who were in any way rebellious or nonconformist. The State religion of various cutures in our history has also often been defended by their own armies. When you go to war, having spies is part of the deal.

The religion of Va and oak and water shrines is an interesting mix of monotheism and nature-worship. How did that come together for you?

Going from a nature-based faith to a monotheistic one is a common progression, I just tweaked it a bit. Instead of just having bits of old beliefs (kneeling before statues, winter solstice celebrations, etc) incorporated into the new faith, I kept the dominance of the nature-base. Va (God) became a unifying force, bringing the water-based and the tree-based elements together as they had once been anyway, but the idea of Va never really captured the hearts and minds of the rural folk. Administratively, Va worship works because the Va-faith leadership has always stressed tolerance. However, as always, there are those who would change everything if they could…

After reading The Lascar's Dagger, I am very excited to get my hands on books two and three. Do you have release dates and titles for those yet?

Book 2 is slated for January 2015.  Book 3 is not written yet, but should be published a year later.

I take it we'll be seeing more of the Spice Islands in subsequent books. Can you tell us a bit more about them?

The Spice Islands and the Chenderawasi Archipelago of my story are based on the Spice Islands in our own world. They were called that by Europeans, not Asians, and are to be found in eastern Indonesia, perhaps better known to us today as the Moluccas (or Maluku in Indonesian). They were the place to go to obtain nutmeg, mace and cloves and other spices. Subsequently they suffered because of the value of those spices, even to having their populations decimated or forced into economic slavery to feed the greed of European traders.

The Chenderawasi Islands of my trilogy are visually a tropical paradise, but they are in the same precarious position as the Moluccas were in the 18th century. The difference is that the people have magic…

Four of the main characters of The Lascar’s Dagger visit Chenderawasi in Book 2. And there are pirates and a huge reveal about the nature of Chenderawasi magic...

Thanks, Glenda, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Thank you!


You can find out more about Glenda on her website or her blog (which often has lovely nature photographs), or by following her on Twitter. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Aurealis Award winners announced!

The Aurealis Awards ceremony was held this evening (5/4) in Canberra. Thanks to some savvy live-tweeting from people at the ceremony (especially Alan Baxter), I was able to follow along with the ceremony from far, far away. Isn't the internet great? And it means I can post the winners while the attendees are still drinking the night away ;-)

There were three ties among the winners this year, which just goes to show how high the quality of the work was. And particular congratulations to Allyse Near, who took home not one but two awards: Best YA Novel and Best Horror Novel for Fairytales for Wilde Girls. (Which was one of my favourite books from last year, I totally called it.)

EDIT: You can also look over the tweets as they happened thanks to Sean's Storify thingy.

EDIT 2: And the official announcement is here.

The winners are bolded below and links to go to my reviews. Congratulations to all the winners and all the finalists!

Kingdom of the Lost, book 2: Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)
Refuge by Jackie French (Harper Collins)
Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
The four seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin)
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
Ice Breaker: The Hidden 1 by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Savage Bitch by Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr (Scar Studios)
Mr Unpronounceable Adventures by Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)
Burger Force by Jackie Ryan (self-published)
Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two by Shane W Smith (Zetabella Publishing)
The Deep Vol. 2: The Vanishing Island by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer (Gestalt Publishing)

The Big Dry by Tony Davies (Harper Collins)
Hunting by Andrea Host (self-published)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“By Bone-light” by Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon, Ticonderoga Publications)
“Morning Star” by D.K. Mok (One Small Step, an anthology of discoveries, FableCroft Publishing)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (FableCroft Publishing)
Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)
Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012 by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Eds), (Ticonderoga Publications)
One Small Step, An Anthology Of Discoveries by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

Dreaming Of Djinn by Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year: Volume Seven by Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Night Shade Books)
Focus 2012: Highlights Of Australian Short Fiction by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

“Fencelines” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“The Sleepover” by Terry Dowling (Exotic Gothic 5, PS Publishing)
“The Home for Broken Dolls” by Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)
“The Human Moth” by Kaaron Warren (The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Miskatonic Press)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)
The First Bird by Greig Beck (Momentum)
Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft Publishing)
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)

“The Last Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff (Thomas Dunne Books)
“The Touch of the Taniwha” by Tracie McBride (Fish, Dagan Books)
“Cold, Cold War” by Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Scott H Andrews)
“Short Circuit” by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a little super goes a long way, Crossed Genres)
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette Australia)
A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan (self-published)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix (Jill Grinberg Literary Management)
Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)

“The Last Tiger” by Joanne Anderton (Daily Science Fiction)
“Mah Song” by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
“Seven Days in Paris” by Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry, Twelfth Planet Press)
“Version” by Lucy Stone (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57)
“Air, Water and the Grove” by Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium Press)

Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette)
Trucksong by Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)
A Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)
Rupetta by Nike Sulway (Tartarus Press)

And the final two not-quite Aurealis Awards....

Peter McNamara Convenors' Award For Excellence
Jonathan Strahan

Kris Hembury Encouragement Award
Tristan Savage

Monday, 31 March 2014

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation by Malinda Lo is the first book in the author's YA science fiction series. I have previously reviewed Ash, which was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Adaptation is set in the almost-present in the US.
Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands of people die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same.

On Reese's long drive home, along a stretch of empty highway at night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened.

For Reese, though, this is just the start. She can't remember anything from the time between her accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: she's different now. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?
I had mixed feelings about this book. Some of the time it was a mix of irritation and meh, but ultimately I enjoyed the read, I just didn't love it. I'll say up front that I do intend to read the sequel when it becomes accessible.

The first thing that irritated me was the airport scene at the start. After — as the blurb says — flocks of birds hurl themselves into aeroplanes, all the flights in the US are grounded and no one in the airport the main characters are stuck at behaves like sensible travellers would in that situation. It wasn't particularly relevant to the plot but it annoyed me. Especially when Reese's friend tells her they're worried airports are going to run out of food because they can't fly more in. WTF? She's at Phoenix Airport, a reasonable-sized city. Also, food is generally shipped to airports in trucks, especially when they're in cities (I mean, maybe super-remote ones, OK, but that is not the case here). Anyway, as I said, it wasn't relevant to the plot, but it pissed me off, not least because of the amount of time I've spent in airports of late.

Most of the book leaves the the science fictional aspect on the back-burner and focuses on Reese recovering from the car accident and Reece's budding relationship with Amber. I found this part of the book enjoyable but a little bland, apart from the hints of weird stuff having happened post-accident. The action picks up again as Reece and friends start investigating why her and David's accident treatment is so top secret.

There was a particular trope used during the climax — I won't say what because spoilers, but it wasn't a YA-specific trope — which I am sick of seeing and which almost pushed the book down half a star. But Lo subverts it quite satisfyingly, which salvaged the ending nicely.

There wasn't a love triangle in this book — although Reece had two love interests — and I liked the very accepting way everyone treated Reece's relationship with Amber. It was nice to see a homosexual relationship not being treated as a big deal, which I think is exactly what Lo was going for. I have to say, though, I felt ambivalent about Amber as a character.

Ultimately, it was a pleasant read, though not a remarkable one. I liked it, but I did love it. I recommend it to YA fans, especially those looking for a bisexual main character, which doesn't come up in many books (I can only think of one other series off the top of my head). I hope the science fiction element is stronger in the sequel, as that was the aspect I found most interesting.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2014, Hodder Children's Books in the UK/ANZ and 2012, Little, Brown Books in the US
Series: Yes. Adaptation series, book one of two so far.
Format read: eARC of UK/ANZ version (mind you, it retains US spelling, of course, apart from the blurb)
Source: (ANZ) publisher via NetGalley