Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

Zenn Scarlett is the début novel by Christian Schoon. The titular character is a seventeen year old girl living on Mars who is studying to become an exoveterinarian — a vet for alien animals (although they do treat Earthly animals too).

Part of the blurb (which, in my opinion, is a bit too long and too detailed but could be worse):
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.

Zenn lives in a sort of veterinary abbey with her uncle, a nun and a small number of other workers. I wasn't entirely clear why there was a religious order dedicated to caring for alien life forms, but I hope we'll learn more about that in the sequel. Most of the other characters, namely the townspeople, where the abbey was set apart from the town, were very irritating. In a good way, from a writing point of view, but in a very "need a good slap in the face for being a bunch of red neck xenophobic hicks" way. A lot of the tension in the novel arose from the townies being afraid of aliens and barely tolerating the abbey's continuing presence, even when the vets were actively helping them with their own pets and livestock.

In some ways, I felt the story didn't tackle the issues of xenophobia and tolerance deeply enough. For a start, it wasn't until a good way into the story that we learnt why there were so many hicks on Mars — it was used as a transportation colony — a point which rather baffled me up until then. To some extent, it boiled down a bit too much to "good guys nice to animals" vs "bad guys hate the good guys" although it did get more complex towards the end.

A lot of things about Zenn Scarlett improved towards the end. I felt the writing grew more readable as we went along, particularly since there were so many flashbacks near the start. I was also gratified that there wasn't a very long gap between my guessing a plot point and it being revealed in the text. The last quarter or so was full of excitement, albeit the very end, after the main climax, culminated in a very frustrating cliff hanger, however. Frustrating because I could see it coming when there weren't nearly enough pages to resolve new events. I want to read the sequel cliff hanger or not, but there's something slightly soul-crushing about the looming inevitability of not having a proper resolution at the end. (I think I prefer the kind of cliff hangers that sneak up on you... or softer ones with less in the balance.)

I feel like I need to comment on the science in Zenn Scarlett, since that's my thing. I can't say much about the biology because that's not my area, but as the blurb suggests, almost all the animals involved were quite giant. If they were on Earth I'd be questioning the biophysical plausibility, but with Mars's lower gravity, there's more chance of them being OK. There was one slightly creative physics moment that had be heckling the page, but in the scheme of things, it could have been much worse (it could also have been better justified...).

All in all, Zenn Scarlett was a fun read. I recommend it to fans of YA science fiction. I want to say it's good for fans of something a little different, but I have to admit there were aspects which reminded me a little of Avatar (the James Cameron movie), more thematically than literally. I'm not sure I've read any YA on a similar theme, however. Anyway, fans of aliens and alien creatures in their SF will also enjoy this book, I think. I look forward to reading the sequel.

4 / 5 stars

First published: (early) May 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2?
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: the publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 28 April 2013

One Small Step edited by Tehani Wessely

One Small Step: an anthology of discoveries is edited by Tehani Wessely and has just been launched by FableCroft at Conflux, this year's National SF Convention. The blurb:

Sixteen stories of discovery from Australia’s best writers. Each story in some way addresses the idea of discoveries, new beginnings, or literal or figurative “small steps”, but each story takes you to places you far beyond the one small step you imagine… Journey through worlds and explore the reaches of the universe with this collection.

The theme of One Small Step is addressed quite diversely between the stories. My personal favourites (in a very subjective way) were the ones that dealt with discovery in a more literal kind of way.  "Always Greener" by Michelle Marquardt opened the anthology strongly with human colonists on another planet and I felt it set the tone of expectation for what followed. The idea of deadly grass also stuck with me. "Firefly Epilogue" by Jodi Cleghorn about scientific discovery also struck me. "The Ships of Culwinna" by Thoraiya Dyer is another story that really stuck with me. Very well done, it's a story about old discoveries but, I thought, freshly told. "Morning Star"by DK Mok was another space-based journey of discovery and quite an emotional note to end the anthology on. Although they were quite different stories, there was some symmetry between the opening and closing; a search for safety in a hostile universe.

I also quite enjoyed the stories by Deborah Biancotti and Rowena Cory Daniells for their ties to other stories of theirs I've read as much as the great writing. And Tansy Rayner Roberts's story made me smile for certain references sprinkled throughout. "Sand and Seawater" by Joanne Anderton and Rabia Gale was also one of my favourites, with its richly painted setting. (I fully acknowledge that this paragraph is quite biased of me, since they're all authors I was a fan of a priori.)

Because I can't mention every story, I've included some brief comments/notes below that I made as I finished reading each of them. And author name links go to my other reviews of their works.

One Small Step is a showcase of some really great Aussie spec fic. (And, as I just learnt, it's the first all-female Aussie spec fic anthology.) I highly recommend it to fans of the genre or to anyone looking to sample a variety of spec fic authors.


"Always Greener" by Michelle Marquardt — colonists on a difficult frontier world. There are aliens and hardship, but at least the grass is greener.

"By Blood and Incantation" by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter — Loosely speaking a story about motherhood and magic and things going horribly wrong.

"Indigo Gold" by Deborah Biancotti — A journalist in the same universe as Bad Power. Over much too soon. Would love to see a novel in this world.

"Firefly Epilogue" by Jodi Cleghorn — a surprisingly sweet story about fireflies in Malaysia and brain waves.

"Daughters of Battendown" by Cat Sparks — a post-apocalyptic story set in a well realised world. A story of hardship and hope.

"Baby Steps" by Barbara Robson — grabbed me from the start. A fairytale told though emails.

"Number 73 Glad Avenue" by Suzanne J Willis — A story of time travel and the twenties. Like if the Doctor was a woman and also threw parties (so quite dissimilar to Doctor Who).

"Shadows" by Kate Gordon — Quite readable. About a girl who sees shadows. Thought it ended a bit abruptly.

"Original" by Penelope Love — Post-human people, spread throughout the the galaxy, come face to face with an original human.

"The Ships of Culwinna" by Thoraiya Dyer — People of a primitive culture encountering other cultures less and more technologically advanced.

"Cold White Daughter" by Tansy Rayner Roberts — A tale of the Frost Queen's daughter, carved of ice. Inspired by Narnia, I suspect.

"The Ways of the Wyrding Women" by Rowena Cory Daniells — One of the longer stories. A tale of power, loyalty and plots. Set, I believe in future world of the Outcast Chronicles.

"Winter's Heart" by Faith Mudge — A woman goes in search of a sorcerer for help. Interesting shift of perspective towards the end.

"Sand and Seawater" by Joanne Anderton and Rabia Gale — Creepy sentient dolls (kind of cute, I thought, when not being creepy), protection magic and a volcano island.

"Ella and the Flame" by Kathleen Jennings — Sisters and villagers with burning torches. I liked the story within a story.

"Morning Star"by DK Mok — When most of the human population of Earth suddenly dies, an android, a sentient ship and a peculiarly immune boy set out to look for survivors among the stars. A lovely and at times sad tale. The longest in the anthology.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2013, FableCroft
Series: no
Format read: eARC
Source: review copy courtesy of the publisher/editor (but you can get a copy here)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 27 April 2013

And the Ditmar winners are...

The nice thing about the internet and Twitter age is the prevalence of live-tweeting events one cannot attend. It almost feels like being there. Sean has also made a nice Storify collection of the event here. Meanwhile, I've attempted to collate all the award winners in this post. They're not in the order they were announced (roughly reverse order, actually, because I copy-pasted from my shortlist post) and I hope I didn't miss any of the extra awards. I think I got them all, but please correct me if I accidentally skipped something.

And of course, a big congratulations to all the winners!

Best Novel
Best Novella or Novelette
Best Short Story
  • “The Wisdom of Ants”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Clarkesworld 75
Best Collected Work
Best Artwork
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Midnight and Moonshine (Ticonderoga Publications)
Best Fan Writer
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
Best Fan Artist
  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work including “The Dalek Game” and “The Tamsyn Webb Sketchbook”
Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Best New Talent
  • David McDonald
William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let's Unpack That.”, in tor.com 
Peter McNamara Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Nick Stathopolous
Norma K Hemming Award
A Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement
  • Russell B Farr

Thursday, 25 April 2013

New Booksies

I have been a little slow on the reviewing front of late. This is partly medical (I'm well enough to go to work, but not to do much else besides) and partly because I've been One Small Step which is a short story collection and it's much harder to plough through several unrelated short stories by different authors than it is a novel.

But, that said, since my last New Booksies post, I've acquired a small number of exciting new books, all of which I'm really looking forward to.

From Simon Petrie and the lovely people at Peggy Bright Books, I received Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, an anthology edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie, and filled with Aussie spec fic.

From Del Rey Spectra via NetGalley, I received Blood of Tyrants, the latest (upcoming-est?) instalment in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, set around Napoleon's invasion of Russia, I believe. I haven't actually read the previous one, Crucible of Gold (set in South America), because Harper Collins UK/Aus seem to not have got the rights to it (yet?) but I've ordered the almost released paperback from Book Depository so I'll have plenty of time to read it before Blood of Tyrants. And in case you haven't heard of the Temeraire books, think Napoleonic Wars plus dragons.

And from Angry Robot, also via NetGalley, I received Any Other Name by Emma Newman, the sequel to Between Two Thorns which I reviewed quite recently (fast publication schedules and fairly advanced ARCs FTW). I'm excited to get back to this world, too.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Norma K Hemming Awards Shortlist

Another award shortlist has been announced. This time it's for the Norma K Hemming Award, which "marks excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the form of science fiction and fantasy or related artwork or media."

The winner will be announced during the Ditmar ceremony at Conflux this weekend. In the meantime, here's the shortlist. Links go to my reviews. Also, you can read some of the judges' comments here.

I'm quite pleased that I've already read all but one of the books. It's also nice to see a trilogy being treated as one work (and the fact that all three books were released in the same year definitely helps with that).

Of the books I've read, I particularly liked the way disabling injuries were dealt with in Winter Be My Shield and the Outcast Chronicles. It's also difficult to go past the detailed exploration of gender politics in the Outcast Chronicles (and on a smaller scale Sea Hearts). All the books were really great reads.

Also, I don't think Winter Be My Shield has gotten as much reader attention as it deserves, so hopefully it's inclusion on this shortlist as well as the Aurealis will help with that.

It's a strong shortlist and I wish all the authors luck.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan has been nominated for all the awards (Ditmar, Aurealis x 2, Stella...) and, reading it, it's easy to see why; the writing is lovely and the story is thoughtful. The blurb gives an idea of what it's about:
On remote Rollrock Island, the sea-witch Misskaella discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But what cost will be borne by the people of Rollrock - the men, the women, the children - once Misskaella sets her heart on doing such a thing?
But this doesn't get to the heard of the story. Sea Hearts is told in several sections from the points of view of different characters. Is spans several generations of Rollrock residents, and one lifetime (Misskaella's). There's a lot to discuss in this novel and I fear my review won't really do it justice.

Misskaella is one of the two characters we spend the most time with. Growing up as a social outcast, mostly because of her dumpiness and strange affinity with seals, Misskaella discovers there's more to her abilities than that. Upon discovering that she can turn seals into beautiful (and docile) women, she sees an opportunity to make the town respect her (and pay her), even if they don't like her. The rest of the novel deals with various ramifications of that decision.

It's not just that a man can pay to get a beautiful wife and prevent her from leaving him by hiding her seal skin, the men are also enchanted by their seal wives, despite previous relationships. The tensions this inevitably causes with the human women of Rollrock, leads to an unusual dynamic on the island. The strength of Lanagan's story telling method in this novel is that it allows us to watch Rollrock change and more and more men take sea wives. And then what happens when the seal wives have been trapped on land too long.

Sea Hearts is a thoughtful read rather than a fast-paced adventure. It is marketed as YA, but aside from having mostly young point of view characters, I wouldn't say it deals with uniquely teenage problems; it's a story for readers of all ages. I highly recommend Sea Hearts to all fantasy fans.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012 Allen & Unwin (titled The Brides of Rollrock Island in the US/UK)
Series: No
Format read: Real paper book
Source: Purchased from a real Australian bookshop (Dymocks, I think)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells is the latest offering out from Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that I've loved almost everything Strange Chemistry have put out, and Emilie and the Hollow World is no exception. A blurb excerpt:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.
This is a first and foremost an adventure novel with a large dose of exploration thrown in. It's maybe the sort of thing Jules Verne would have written if he'd written YA in modern language and had a tendency to include subtle feminist commentary (so, OK, not that similar to Jules Verne except for the exploration and adventure part). It's also a more steampunkish setting, with magic and aether currents powering the vessels which travel to the inner world — the one on the inside surface of the planet's sphere.

Emilie was a great character. She constantly compares her current situation with books (always nice to have something in common with the main character) and she takes the dangerous and outlandish situations in which she finds herself in stride. I also appreciated that she didn't have a particularly morbid and depressing reason for running away from her aunt and uncle, but also that her reason wasn't too trivial. She had a proper plan when she set out that could have worked if things hadn't gone awry.

This is above all a fun read. If tales of adventure and exploration of exotic and completely unknown lands appeal to you, give it a shot. Equally, if you're looking for lady adventuresses and some of the opposition they might face (mild sexism, nothing too hideous although a few of the male characters said and did punch-worthy things, in my opinion), definitely give this a shot. As well as Emilie, there's also Miss Marlende, the adult daughter of a scientist-explorer who takes Emilie under her wing, and Rani one of the inner-world people, who seem to have different ideas about women and their place (whereas the outer-world people's opinions are similar to real-world Victorian times, more or less).

I'm rather excited to discover that there's another Emilie book in the works, Emilie and the Sky World, due out next year. I did feel the first book set things up nicely for an indefinitely long series of adventures with Emilie. That said, it stands alone perfectly well if series aren't your thing (but I'm usually a fan of getting more of a good thing).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes! Book 1 with more to come, but reads as a standalone.
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Aussie Horror Reading Challenge, Round-up One

It's only April and it seems I have already completed the Australian Horror Reading Challenge I set myself. A large part of the reason is that I was only aiming for a minimum of five books. I was concerned that I would have difficulty tracking them down, but apparently I needn't have worried.

This post is just a summary of what I've read so far. I plan to write down more interesting thoughts I'm having on the genre as I learn more about it. My brain is a bit goopy at the moment though and I figured more posts is better than fewer.

The books I've read with excerpts from my reviews are below. Surprisingly, three of the five are collections of short fiction, not something I particularly planned. And not that there's anything wrong with short stories, but it's interesting to note how many more horror short stories there are out there by Australians, compared with novels (see my recent Aurealis stats post). I hope to read more novels in the future (not at the expense of short stories, hopefully). I also notice this list is entirely made up of female authors, again, not entirely intentionally (although the AWW Challenge did contribute). I do have some male-authored stuff lined up, so that probably won't be the case the next time I write a round-up.

After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
Although the book is called After the Darkness, it's really about how hard it is to leave the darkness behind. ... It's also about how darkness is often contagious, touching on the way in which abuse victims often go on to re-enact their trauma as a way of coming to terms with it. And the hopelessness that comes with fearing for your life. And having to relate to people in a life you have to pretend is normal.

Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (review) — one of the Twelve Planets, containing three short stories and a novella.
"Mountain" — The mountain and its ghosts hold many secrets, which they don't always share with passers by.

"Creek" is about quaking women who drowned in creeks. They claw their way through Australia's shallow creekbeds and call out, demanding to know what happened to their loved-ones.

"Road" is a tale about an older couple who [are] quite used to injured people running up to their house and asking to use their phone ... and they always lay out a wreath for the accident victims.

"Sky" — The protagonist, Zed, is not very likeable at all (he is, in fact, a rapist — you've been warned). From when we first meet him as a child, seen through his school-teacher's eyes, to the main action when he finds himself in Sky, I didn't relate to Zed at all, but kept reading because I wanted to know what happened next.

Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (review) — A collection of three novellas about the goddess Ishtar, in the past, present and future.
"The Five Loves of Ishtar" by Kaaron Warren is a story spanning thousands of years in the Mesopotamian region. Told from the perspectives of a series of Ishtar's washerwomen — each the daughter of Ishtar's previous washerwoman — it focuses partly on the men in Ishtar's life and partly on life generally at that time.

"And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living" by Deborah Biancotti follows Adreienne, a detective given an unusual set of homicides to investigate. Of course we know the supernatural origins of the bodies — since Ishtar has to show up at some point — but it was still a compelling story. I enjoyed watching Adreienne slowly uncover the truth.

"The Sleeping and the Dead" by Cat Sparks
My favourite aspect of this story was all the allusions to earlier events, particularly to Ishtar's roots. It relies on knowledge of the previous stories more than one would expect from an ordinary collection, but in this context it works beautifully.

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
McDermott made me think about the relationship between the mundane and the horrifying. One doesn't have to peel back many layers to find unpleasantness in the sisters' lives, but McDermott keeps peeling until all they're left with is reality (or some facsimile thereof) and each other.

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (review) — a collection, as the title implies.
Overall, I was very impressed with Anderton's worldbuilding in all the stories. Each story read like a glimpse into a complete and carefully constructed world. Just because the stories are short, Anderton in no way skimped on the thought put into them. Even for the stories set in some approximation of the modern world, careful details made them stand out.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton is, as the title suggests, a collection of short stories. For those of you who've read Debris and/or Suited, these stories were very different in tone, surprising me a little with just how macabre they were.

Overall, I was very impressed with Anderton's worldbuilding in all the stories. Each story read like a glimpse into a complete and carefully constructed world. Just because the stories are short, Anderton in no way skimped on the thought put into them. Even for the stories set in some approximation of the modern world, careful details made them stand out.

I've included some thoughts on each story below, but I'm afraid they're not as coherent as I'd like them to be. Each story blew me away and, quite frankly, I think we're lucky I managed to say anything coherent at all, immediately after reading.

Anderton's stories in this collection can be loosely grouped into three categories: macabre fantasy world stories, macabre more-or-less real world stories, and macabre post-technological science-flavoured stories. (There may be a common thread running through them.) All the stories involve dead things and/or death, and often constructions from dead things. My favourite of the bunch, "Sanaa's Army", falls into the latter category and has my favourite cat of the bunch in them.

I've said, repeatedly, that the stories are macabre and deal with death, but I didn't find it to be in a depressing way. Well, OK, some of them were a bit depressing. But generally, there were many stories about life coming out of death. Or art or solace or something else constructive.

The more futuristic stories generally dealt with the struggle to live on in a world become more hostile. "Mah Song" deifies the vestiges of advanced technology in a world that's all but forgotten how it works. These stories brought to mind Arthur C Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Anderton takes it a step further at times, calling one of the AIs in "Out Hunting For Teeth" the Witch and her cyborg constructs Spells. (That was another of my favourite stories, in part for the ending.)

Ultimately, I was glad I didn't have a cat watching me while I read I really enjoyed this collection. Not all the stories were the kind of thing I would usually read, but it was mostly those which I ended up enjoying most. I'm not at all surprised that two of the stories have picked up award nominations and I wouldn't be surprised to see the collection itself shortlisted for next year's awards.

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories is being launched at Conflux in Canberra on April 26, but in the meantime, you can pre-order a copy from the publisher here. I highly recommend this collection to spec fic fans who like their fantasy dark or who might want to venture out of their comfort zone and become a little more acquainted with dead things. But really, if any of the above or below piqued you're interest, I urge you to give it a go; it really is an excellent collection.


Some very brief reactions/descriptions of each story which I jotted down immediately after reading it:

The Bone Chime Song — (Ditmar shortlisted) Eerie, well imagined. A complete world glimpsed through a short story.

Mah Song — Cyborg technology, a future world where computers are alive and revered as gods and people depend on them for food and heeling. The main character desperate to take her brother's place as cyborg sacrifice. Technology mixed with mysticism.

Shadow of Drought — Nothing like the first two stories. A story of modern rural teenagers in a horror movie scenario who are aware of the fact.

Sanaa's Army — (Aurealis and Ditmar shortlisted) Another set in the real world. Another about bones, in a different way to "The Bone Chime Song", but not that different. Interesting that these two should be the Ditmar shortlisted stories.

From the Dry Heat to the Sea
— A strange story of drought, of industrial poison, of water, of being an outsider.

Always a Price — Short, contemporary, magic and a cat.

Out Hunting for Teeth — Not what I expected from the title, although making things our of human remains comes up again. A science fiction story of the "sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic" variety, somewhat literally.

Death Masque — Eternity in an afterlife or a final death? This is the choice a grieving father makes for his son.

Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden — Floating gardens in a desert. This is another story that particularly impressed me with its worldbuilding.

A Memory Trapped In Light — Another post technological world with scraps if technology left behind. A girl protecting her younger sister from dystopian forces.

Trail of Dead — Zombies, the ones who fight them and the one who summoned them.

Fence Lines — Post-apocalyptic, but that wasn't the point. A sugarcane plantation as a safe outpost, guarded by ghosts.

Tied to the Waste — Post-apocalyptic, making things out of dead things. Cats.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2013, Fablecroft
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Challenges:  Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Horror Reading Challenge

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Aurealis Statistics

Last night, hubby and I were talking about the Aurealis Awards shortlist and the topic of there being more fantasy books published by Australian authors than science fiction or horror came up. In the course of events, I went to have a look at the entries for this year's awards and before I knew it I had a spreadsheet and graphs and things. It just happened.

So since I have these graphs, I thought I might as well share them with the world. I don't think they reveal anything ground-breaking or terribly exciting, but I'll let you be the judge of that.

The abbreviations I use in the charts below are the same as from the Aurealis entries page:
  • SFN = Science Fiction novel
  • SFSS = Science Fiction short story
  • FN = Fantasy novel
  • FSS = Fantasy short story
  • HN = Horror novel
  • HSS = Horror short story
  • YAN = Young adult novel
  • YASS = Young adult short story
  • CN = Children's fiction (EDIT: told primarily through words includes short stories and novels!)
  • CPB = Children's picture book
  • AC = Anthology/Collection
  • IW = Illustrated Work

EDIT AGAIN: And then someone pointed out another error I made in counting fantasy categories, so I've fixed it and updated all the graphs. Sorry folks!

First up, the number of entries in each category:

So among the short stories, no surprises that fantasy are the most numerous. Perhaps slightly surprising that there were 1.5x as many horror as science fiction. Keep in mind, however, this counts works submitted to multiple categories as one entry per category, so many of the horror and science fiction short stories could also have been submitted as fantasy and so forth. Also no surprises in the novel categories, except perhaps that there were more children's novels than YA (well, I find that surprising at least, but other probably won't). EDIT: Since CN includes children's novels and short stories, this is suddenly less surprising.

If we turn the above data into a pie chart to show the proportion of all the reading that was done for each category... we get something that probably shouldn't really be represented as a pie chart, especially given the multi-category entries I already mentioned, but eh, pie charts are fun. For these purposes, I'm counting children's picture books as short stories (EDIT: but remember that CN also includes actual short stories).

Then we come to entries which were submitted in multiple categories. The next chart shows the percentage of entries in each category that were submitted to one or more other categories as well.

Children's picture books, as well as graphic novels and collected works which I omitted from the chart, do not have any crossover. Not surprising.

Making equivalent pie charts but only looking at entries into one category each... we don't get anything terribly different to the first set of pie charts except that most YA short stories are also entered into other categories. Given that they short stories have to be spec fic due to the nature of the awards, perhaps what we should be surprised about is that not all the YA entries also made it into other genres.

So do these results surprise you? Alarm you? Make you go "hmm"? Let me know in the comments!

EDIT: Upon request from Alisa Krasnostein on Twitter, I crunched a few more numbers and I give you the break down for self-published entries only. I should point out, these are entries I flagged as self-published myself. It's possible I missed some, especially if they're listed as <author's self-pub company name> or if it's through a vanity press I've never heard of. But I think I caught most of them.

First we have the number of self-published entries per category by themselves and as a fraction of the rest of the category.

There was one self-published short story entered and all the novel categories and the collected works had some self-published entries.

And the multi-category self-published entries:

Next, because my like of pie charts hasn't suddenly evaporated, the pie-charty genre breakdown for self published entries. Aside from the inclusion of collected works (which I skipped in the earlier pie charts) and the removal of the horror novel category, there isn't an awful lot of difference in the distribution of SF, fantasy, YA and children's. So to a first approximation, the distribution of self-published genres is similar to the distribution of the entire sample.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Australian Shadows Awards Winners

The Australian Shadows Awards winners have been announced! You can read the official announcement here. From the website:
The Shadows are awarded to the stories and collections that best typify the horror genre, delivering a sense of ‘creeping dread’, leaving the reader with chills and a reluctance to turn out the light.

And the winners are.... (with links to my reviews)

Perfections – Kirstyn McDermott

Sky – Kaaron Warren 

Birthday Suit – Martin Livings

Surviving the End – Craig Bezant

Through Splintered Walls – Kaaron Warren

Congratulations to all!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott is the author's second novel and has been shortlisted for a pile of awards this year, despite having only been released last December. It's picked up shortlistings for Aurealis Horror Novel, Ditmar Best Novel and Australian Shadows Award Novel. Reading it, the award nominations are hardly a mystery. The blurb is short and sweet:

Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences.

Not all fairytales are for children.

Perfections is about two sisters, Antoinette and Jacqueline, who live in Melbourne. The story opens with Jacqueline going off to Brisbane for work shortly after Antoinette's boyfriend dumped her. They don't have much in common other than a shared childhood and a mother. The story follows their separate issues as their lives become increasingly entwined.

Perfections isn't what I think of as psychologically-scarred for life horror (a la Slights) but there is a distinct creepiness to it and there were definitely a few disturbing bits. (Not enough to keep me up at night, but your mileage may vary.) For a large chunk of the book I thought it could be classed as the horror version of magical realism but it got a bit too... much towards the end for such a tentative label.

McDermott made me think about the relationship between the mundane and the horrifying. One doesn't have to peel back many layers to find unpleasantness in the sisters' lives, but McDermott keeps peeling until all they're left with is reality (or some facsimile thereof) and each other.

As I write this, I realise that going into Perfections I had little idea of what the book was actually about, beyond that there were two sisters. None of the reviews I read prior to picking it up (via AWW, one, two, three) reveal the instigating event near the start that kicks off the plot. Which strikes me as odd because it's not what I'd usually consider a spoiler. But I suppose I'll jump on the bandwagon; leave a comment if you want to know.

Perfections was an enjoyable read. McDermott is a skilled writer and uses a few different stylistic tools in some chapters to great effect. I definitely want to pick up her other novel, Madigan Mine, and will be keeping an eye on what she writes in the future. I recommend Perfections to fans of horror and speculative fiction generally. I suspect there's much in there to appeal to a fan of dark contemporary fiction as well (it's not that similar to After the Darkness, but if you enjoyed that book and you don't usually read genre fiction, I'd suggest giving Perfections a shot).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2012, Xoum
Series: No.
Format read: eBook on iThings
Source: Purchased from iBooks (publisher page)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Horror Reading Challenge

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Caszandra by Andrea K Höst

Caszandra is the final volume in Andrea K Höst's Touchstone trilogy. This review contains minor spoilers for the previous books (mostly just the relationship kind). If you haven't yet, I suggest reading my reviews for the earlier books — Stray and Lab Rat One — before reading the rest of this review (and ideally, reading the first two books themselves too). The series is about Cass, a Sydney girl, who accidentally falls through a tear in reality onto another planet, meets psychic space ninjas, and discovers that she has some powers of her own.

Caszandra picks up where Lab Rat One left off. Which is good because there was a bit of a relationshippy cliffhanger at the end of the previous book. Cass's relationship with Ruuel (now called Kaoren, his first name) progresses quite quickly in terms of seriousness, which made me a bit wary at first, but which turned out for the best in terms of story telling, I've decided. Another related aspect, which I don't want to be explicit about because spoilers, also made me a little uncomfortable, but ultimately I think that was more due to my own dissimilarity to Cass as a person than anything else.

Caszandra continues the overarching plot well established in the earlier books: learning about Cass's power, fighting monsters and trying to learn about Muina's past. Muina being the planet Cass was first transported to and which had remained inaccessible to the alien people for a thousand years until she came along. This book ups the danger levels and the stakes. The Setari (psychic space ninjas) and Cass were always trying to protect people but in the lead up to the conclusion, the urgency for definitive world-saving becomes extreme. And, unsurprisingly, Cass continues to almost die in new and exciting ways.

The climax might have lost a smidge of tension due to the diary nature of the narrative — we knew Cass survived because she told us about it all being over before regaling us with the tale. However it was still all very dramatic and didn't loose any world-saving oomph. The end was satisfying in tying everything up nicely and I think other fans of the series will approve. (And for readers that want more, there's always the Gratuitous Epilogue, which I admit to skimming and reading the last chapter of.)

I don't recommend reading Caszandra without reading Stray and Lab Rat One fist. However, I can't imagine why readers who enjoyed the first two wouldn't go on to the final volume. I enjoyed this series a lot and I will definitely be reading more of Höst's books in the future.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Touchstone, book 3 of three
Format read: ebook on my iThings
Source: Purchased from Smashwords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Friday, 5 April 2013

Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst

Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst is the second book in the Touchstone trilogy, following on immediately from Stray. This is definitely not the kind of series you could read out of order and still easily follow what was going on.

Lab Rat One continues to tell Cassandra's story, the Sydney girl that took a wrong turn and ended up on another planet. The story continues with more of her training with the Setari — psychic space ninjas — and more discovery's of the alien people's past. As with the first book, the plot is driven in large part by things unexpectedly happening to Cass, often as part of the larger experimentation with her still mysterious powers. It gave me the inescapable feeling that she is both terribly unlucky and very lucky to still be alive. She continues to almost die a lot.

The writing has gotten tighter in this volume. Whereas in book one I felt there were some slow bits, I didn't get that feeling in Lab Rat One, where everything moved things along or was hilarious. The last quarter or so of the book (roughly from the snowball fight onwards, for those familiar with it) made me giggle a lot and the very end, though slightly surprising, was well done and made me happy and keen to keep reading.

The way the romance was done (or not done) in this book appealed to me. Without spoilers, Cass has a crush (since Stray, actually) on one of the Setari but decides that a relationship between them is unlikely to happen. She spends a lot of time trying not to have a crush on him, unsuccessfully but without it getting tedious for the reader. The former aspect struck me as realistic in the circumstances. She also doesn't let her feelings get in the way of almost dying her work.

One thing that didn't quite fit for me but I couldn't quite put my finger on when I was reading Stray is the YA label for this series. At first I put it down to the diary entry style being unusual, but I think it's more than that. Yes, Cass is eighteen so if the only requirement for YA is a teenage protagonist, it does technically fit the bill. But the story starts after she's finished school when — aliens notwithstanding — she would be starting to make her way in the world as an adult. Much as I'm not fond of the moniker, perhaps "new adult" is more apt than "young adult". Don't let either of those labels put you off though; it's first and foremost a science fiction book and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to readers of all ages. (Or if the term "science fiction" puts you off — why are you reading this blog? — my all means latch onto one of the other labels.)

I loved Lab Rat One and I couldn't not pick up the third book after I finished it (which was very inconvenient, since it was the middle of the night). For anyone who enjoyed Stray, this is a must read. If you thought Stray was kinda all right but weren't sold on reading more, I strongly encourage you to give Lab Rat One a go.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2011
Series: Touchstone trilogy, book 2
Format read: ebook on my iThings
Source: Purchased from Smashwords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

New Booksies

I went on a bit of a non-counting towards restrictions book buying spree over the weekend because I was sick and feeling sorry for myself and it was some sort of public holiday. I recovered from the sick the day after the purchase which strongly indicates to me that I should've bought all the books earlier. Obviously.

I bought Lab Rat One and Caszandra by Andrea K Höst, the rest of the Touchstone Trilogy that started with Stray. And because I saw it and half of it was Aurealis shortlisted, I also bought her Medair duology (in one volume with, sadly, a less nice cover than the separate novels).


I also bought Rare Unsigned Copy, a short story collection by Simon Petrie and Blood and Dust, the multi-award nominated novel by Jason Nahrung. And not part of my buying spree but bought as an achievement unlocked book, Valley of Shields by Duncan Lay, the sequel to Bridge of Swords.

I received two review copies this week: The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke, the sequel to The Assassin's Curse, which I loved last year; and Awakening by Karen Sandler, the sequel to Tankborn which I've been meaning to get a hold of and haven't gotten around to (and which has a prettier cover than the sequel).

Whoo, books!

On a related note, you might be interested in having a look at my speculative fiction round up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, over on their website.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hugo Awards Shortlist

And on the back of all those other shortlists that have recently been announced, we have the Hugo Awards shortlist/ballot. I'm not going to reproduce the whole thing in this post, but you can go read it in full here. I just want to highlight a few categories. Links to my reviews where they exist.

Best Novel
I think this is possibly the first time ever I've read more than one nominated book before the shortlist was announced (of course for Aussie Con 4 back in 2010, I attempted to read all the novels but that was post-announcement). I also have plans to read Redshirts at some point and I've heard lots of good things about the other two books. I must admit I'm partly barracking for the Bujold in the hopes that a win would spur her into writing more Vorkosigan books (apparently she isn't currently planning to!).

Best Fancast
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
  • SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
  • StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
In the new category of Best Fancast, it's lovely to see two out of five Australian podcasts — 40%. Go Aussies, go.

Best Fan Writer
  • James Bacon
  • Christopher J. Garcia
  • Mark Oshiro
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Steven H Silver
And our very own Tansy Rayner Roberts also appears in the Best Fan Writer category, for her blog posts. (Incidentally, she also writes great books.)