Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sex Criminals Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals Volume 1, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky is the trade collection of the first five issues of the ongoing comic book series. As you may gather from the title, it is not a comic book for children. I picked it up because of Tansy spruiking it on Galactic Suburbia podcast (and then again in person at WorldCon).
Suzie’s just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we’d ALL do: rob a couple banks. A bawdy and brazen sex comedy for comics begins here!
The difficult thing about reviewing comic books is that the plot moves relatively slowly over an issue and even a collected volume, so it's hard to say much without spoiling the entire plot. So I'm going to keep this short.

Both characters, Suzie (our main narrator) and Jon, recount how they tried to deal with their time stopping sex power when they were teens. Now as adults, they have finally found someone else who shares that power and that doesn't leave them alone after/during sex (other people freeze when time freezes). They get a bit carried away with this information.

There is much humour and it's definitely worth looking closely at the backgrounds of the panels (especially the ones set in the sex shop), so as not to miss any jokes. The plot really takes a turn when the two discover that they are not the only two special snowflakes in the world... Issue #4, I believe, is called "Sex Police" to give you a hint. Also, the antagonist is called (by Suzie and Jon) Kegelface, which shod tell you something about the humour.

So. Sex Criminals is pretty funny and entertaining. I am much looking forward to the next volume (apparently the next two issues are out already, but I've decided comics work better on bookshelves if they're trades). I recommend it to, well, anyone who thinks sex-based time stopping magic sounds amusing. It's a good read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2014, Image Comics
Series: Yes, Sex Criminals ongoing, Volume 1, containing issues #1–5
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Purchased from Forbidden Planet stall at LonCon3

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios is a crowd-funded anthology that does what it says in the tag line.

It's an incredibly strong anthology, filled with thoughtful and creative stories. The stories cover a wide range of diverse characters, with diveristy stemming from race, gender, chronic/mental illness and disability. I was pleasantly surprised to see several stories deal with characters who fit into more than one of those labels. I also found it awesome that most of the stories weren't about being black/queer/sick/etc but had those aspects as background to the main plot, generally a fantastical one (since it is an SFF anthology).

It's really hard to pick favourites in this collection. Although I didn't love the stories equally, there weren't any duds. (The one I talk about disliking below was because of a theme I'm sick of, not because there was anything wrong with the story per se.) Really, I liked all of them. However, some that stood out to me more than the others were: "Cookie Cutter Superhero" by Tansy Rayner Roberts, which was just awesome and needs a novel set in its universe; "Signature" by Faith Mudge, which was clever, amusing and ultimately happy-making; "Careful Magic" by Karen Healey about a magical school and a girl dealing with being an outsider for her eccentricities; and "Double Time" by John Chu, which was about ice-skating and having a pushy parent.

Most of the stories, I found, were reasonably upbeat but the anthology was punctuated with a few sadder stories. For example "The Legend Trap" by Sean Williams and "Krishna Blue" by Shveta Thakrar both have ambiguous and not entirely happy endings. 

It's hard not to comment on all the stories now, but I've already done that below as I usually do with anthologies and collections. Kaleidoscope is an excellent anthology and I strongly recommend it to everyone. If you haven't already picked up a copy, do so!


Cookie Cutter Superhero | Tansy Rayner Roberts — A very strong start to the anthology. A girl with one hand is chosen to join a superhero team. It touches on the lack of female super heroes and deals with the main character’s fear that if the superhero machine “fixes” her, then what does that do to her sense of identity? What would then happen to her when she stopped being a superhero (because they have a limited tenure) and went back to being normal? 

The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon | Ken Liu — A portmanteau of two teenage girls in love and a Chinese Fairytale, with a twist on the take of the Fairytale's ending (I think, I'll have to google it later)

The Legend Trap | Sean Williams — Set in the Twinmaker universe and an odd story. It deals with the idea of d-mat teleportation sending people to a parallel universe and some of the consequences of that. I say odd mainly because of the ambiguous ending.

End of Service | Gabriela Lee — A story about the daughter of an overseas worker from the Philippines, struggling to come to terms with her mother's work choices. And of course with a speculative twist.

Chupacabra's Song | Jim C. Hines — A girl discovers chupacabras, magic and cruelty.

The Day the God Died | Alena McNamara — A short story about a character dealing with some heavy issues and a series of encounters with a dying old god.

Signature | Faith Mudge — I loved this story! It was clever and lovely and funny. Bookshops, supernatural contracts and an especially diverse cast.

The Lovely Duckling | Tim Susman — A story told in transcripts and other documents. A trans character works to escape her oppressive father in a world where people can also be shape-shifters. It had several pretty great elements, including the ending.

Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell | E.C. Myers — A drug that lets teenagers see into the future while they are kidding someone. Or a possible future, anyway. A girl on psych meds has a different reaction to it than her peers do and fixates on leaning more.

Vanilla | Dirk Flinthart — Alien refugees have come to live on Earth in this story about an Australian girl with Somalian parents whose two best friends are aliens.

Careful Magic | Karen Healey — A girl with powerful magic and possibly OCD gets caught up in some of her magic-school classmates' shenanigans. A high-stakes magical story.

Walkdog | Sofia Samatar — A progressively sad story told in the form of a school-girl's essay. (Crappy grammar and all.) It's hard to comment on without spoiling, but the essay is ostensibly about the urban legend of Walkdog, the dog who walks you.

Celebration | Sean Eads — A gay teen is sent to gay camp (you know, the deprogramming kind) but when he gets there it's not quite the kind of brainwashing he expected.

The Truth About Owls | Amal El-Mohtar — A girl from Lebanon moves to Glasgow and discovers the joy of owls, Welsh and the truth about the power she feels inside herself. (Sort of.)

Krishna Blue | Shveta Thakrar — This was a weird story and one of the most horrifying. The story itself is wide open to interpretation, so I don't want to blatantly say what it's about other than a girl who doesn't fit in.

Every Little Thing | Holly Kench — A witch who also happen to be chronically ill, her supportive friend and her crush. About the importance of having friends that understand your needs/problems.

Happy Go Lucky | Garth Nix — Honestly, this story didn't really do it for me. It wasn't terrible, but it reminded me of far too many YA dystopian novels, with the usual variation on a theme. The "privileged youth hits hard times in dystopia" is a formula I've run out of patience for. (But I'm torn as to whether the diverse elements' complete irrelevance to the plot is a good or bad thing.)

Ordinary Things | Vylar Kaftan — Probably the least YA story with a 19 year old protagonist. Girl dealing with the end of a serious relationship and seeking safety in ritual.

Double Time | John Chu — An elite figure skating teen in a world where it's possible to jump back in time by up to four minutes to watch your practice or even skate with yourself. It was bittersweet.

Welcome | William Alexander — I think this was the shortest story, and certainly the most fantastical in the collection. The moon and earth are connected by a magical bridge, which smugglers cross at night. A whimsical (if not entirely cheerful) end to the anthology.

5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014, Twelfth Planet Press (official Australian launch is October, though, for technical reasons)
Series: No...
Format read: Bit of paper, mostly ebook
Source: Kickstarter rewards

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb is the first book in the new Fitz and the Fool Trilogy (because that's a helpful name given it's the third trilogy about those two). It tells the next story about the characters first introduced in the Farseer Trilogy with Assassin's Apprentice and continued in the Tawny Man trilogy.
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
Robin Hobb remains an excellent writer but there are several caveats that I feel need to be issued to potential readers. First of all, this is not the book/series from which to pick up the story for the first time. Readers who haven't read the first two series will a) be spoiled for many key events and b) will not have the same investment in the characters. On the other hand, I read the Tawny Man trilogy when it first came out in 2001–2003, more than a decade ago, and, although my memory of some events was hazy coming into Fool's Assassin, I had no trouble picking the story up again. (Although I did spend a large portion of the start thinking "Fitz was how young then?!" in mild alarm. I haven't seen it with YA-ified marketing, though. I wonder why?)

Fool's Assassin begins similarly to Assassin's Apprentice in that events are conveyed chronologically and it is some time before we reach the "present" of the main story. Alternatively, you could just think of it as a story told with several jumps forward in time in the first third. It does mean that while the story is eventually told in alternating (first person) points of view, it takes a while for the second character to join Fitz in the narration.

It is very difficult for me to talk abou the plot at all without spoilers. The blurb above, for example, entirely fails to convey the actual thrust of the story and merely summarises the first chapter, which takes places something like fifteen years before the end of the book. There is a very crucial event that happens in the first third of the book which changes everything, including what the book is actually about. However, I think that talking about it in any detail is a spoiler so I will put my discussion under a spoiler tag (hover to read). Not talking about it at all would mean ignoring the main thrust of the story and also precluding a rant I really want to get out. But please don't read it if you want to enjoy the story as it was intended. Knowing a particular outcome would greatly reduce some of the tension surrounding it (more so than usual, I think).

<caution, here there be spoilers>
At the start of Fool's Assassin, Fitz is married to Molly and living in Withywoods, the manor house his father Chivalry and step-mother Patience had earlier retired to. The big spoiler is that, after her children by Burrich have grown and flown the coop and after she has gone through menopause, Molly and Fitz have another baby. And not just any baby; a strange, tiny, pale baby. When she's old enough, she becomes the second viewpoint character. Bee, as she is called, is a compelling character to read and, although she is smart for her years, it was interesting to get a child's view on something we already knew from Fitz's point of view.

On the other hand, it quickly becomes apparent why Bee is such an unusual child and yet no one else realises. Partly this is because no one else can see into her mind to know everything that happens to her like the audience does... But in large part it is because of mistranslated and possibly androgynous pronouns that are applied to a particular explanation. Even so, the child is biologically unusual and also very pale, HMM WHO DOES THAT REMIND US OF? I cannot believe how blind everyone was, including characters who should have known better or should have at least asked the right questions.

On that note, I also found the title a little deceptive. A certain character named in it did not actually appear until the very end. I felt lied to.
</the spoilers be ended>

If you read the spoilers you will have seen a bit of a (spoilerific) rant. Despite that, Fool's Assassin is an excellent read. Really, the above was the only thing that bothered me about it. On the other hand, I don't recommend Fool's Assassin as an entry point into the series. If you haven't read the earlier books, go start with Assassin's Apprentice (and make sure you read at least five chapters, because I remember being a little bored with the first four before the story picked up). I think the Tawny Man trilogy is also important reading for putting the story being told here into context. There was a horrible cliffhanger at the end, which I'm annoyed at, but I will definitely be reading the next book in the series when it's available. I have to know what happens to the cliff-hung characters!

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014, Del Rey (US which is the cover displayed, the UKANZ edition is Harper Voyager and prettier in real life than small online)
Series: Book 1 of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, which itself is the third trilogy featuring Fitz and the... fifth series set in the same world
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart

Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart is a short novella set in the New Ceres universe. It's actually only the second New Ceres story I've read — the first was in The Bride Price by Cat Sparks — although the New Ceres Nights anthology is waiting on my eTBR.
The New Ceres planetary charter forbids the use of all modern technology. Law confines the people to the ways of 18th Century Earth. But beneath the surface, rebellion and revolution simmer constantly.

Proctor George Gordon, a hidden protector of New Ceres, knows all too well how easily these can bubble over, but nothing can prepare him for interstellar warfare in his own technologically challenged backyard.

What odd coincidence brings him to the Sunrise Isles to be confronted by ninja and warrior nuns? Who is the strange but compelling amnesiac girl he finds in the convent, and what do the offworld nations want with her? And how can he really be sure who to trust?
This novella is action-heavy with some really cool fight scenes. The main character, George Gordon, has a fancy future-tech sword that can cut through almost anything and the proliferation of samurai and ninjas in the story gives him ample opportunity to demonstrate it's features.

But of course, the sword  and the fighting aren't the whole story. Gordon is called out on a job which proves to be a little mysterious both to him and to the reader. Also there are fighting nuns. (I thought that should be mentioned.)

I enjoyed Angel Rising and, although it was short, it was a pleasant way to pass an otherwise boring (and, frankly, chilly) train ride. It showed me a very different corner of the New Ceres world to the Cat Sparks story and I am curious to see what other authors have done with it.

Whether you're curious about the New Ceres world or just want to read a good story with space ninjas, samurai and nuns, I can highly recommend Angel Rising. It's certainly moved New Ceres Nights up in my TBR queue.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2008, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: New Ceres universe (stand alone)
Format read: Paper!
Source: TPP stall at WorldCon (LonCon3)
Disclaimer: While I have endevoured to give an impartial review, I can't claim a neutral relationship with Twelfth Planet Press in general
Challenges: Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction written by Jeff Vandermeer and with design and illustrations by Jeremy Zerfoss. As you may have gathered from the subtitle, it's not fiction, but rather a guidebook to writing fiction, specifically speculative fiction. It was shortlisted for a Hugo this year and the sample of it that was in the Hugo voter packet led me to pick it up when I saw it in a bookshop and not put it back down.
This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.
I've read a lot of writing advice in my time, mainly online, I have to admit, and the lack of an SFF perspective has often bothered me. Generic writing advice is great up to a point, but eventually I felt like I'd read most of it before, in one form or another; I had already gotten what I could out of it. And it rarely addressed some of the issues that can come up in writing science fiction (I don't really write fantasy, I should mention up front).

What's really great about Vandermeer's book is that it starts with the assumption that you're writing some form of speculative fiction. It covers some generic writing advice as well, but puts everything in the context of spec fic, even while using examples from more realist fiction. The chapters cover key elements of fiction writing: "Inspiration and the Creative Life", "The Ecosystem of Story" (including narrative elements and so forth), "Beginnings and Endings", "Narrative Design", "Characterisation", "Worldbuilding" (which, obviously, is much more central in spec fic than real-world fiction), "Revision", and some extra stuff and writing exercises in the appendices.

Other than the focus on fantasy, what really stands out about Wonderbook are all the gorgeous illustrations. The book's accompanying website (which I have not explored in detail) gives a good idea of the aesthetic. The whole thing is trade paperback sized (I don't think there's a hardcover version) and filled with glossy pages. To give you a clearer idea of the illustrations, I've taken a few crappy photos with my four-year-old phone. At night. With a paper Ikea lampshade doing most of the lighting. We have the endpaper + inside cover, an illustration of story structure (more or less), and the journey of a writer. Click to embiggen (but not really to enhance much).


The only thing I didn't love about Wonderbook was that it did focus more on fantastical fiction (rather than science fiction). This mostly came across in specific examples, so it wasn't a huge problem and there were some SF examples. But I felt there was a bit of an emphasis on degrees of surreal fiction — reflective, I think, of what Vandermeer writes. People looking for specific subgenre advice (other than what I've mentioned) won't quite find that here. But that did not, for me, diminish the value of the book. I will definitely come back to it as a reference down the line.

If nothing else, I would come back for some of the writing exercises, of which there are several (and of which I only attempted a few). I should also note that I found the process of reading Wonderbook inspiring in itself. It inspired one short story semi-directly and helped me finish another that I was part-way through. The main text is also broken up with short essays from other writers on specific topics, which I can also see being useful references to come back to.

I highly recommend Wonderbook to writers of speculative fiction looking for an extra push. Or to beginning writers wanting to learns skills through something other than trial and error. As you might guess, it's not the kind of book you read straight through without stopping but it is a book worth reading all of. Including the appendices, which contained a very interesting interview with George RR Martin. Or, really, you could just buy it for the pictures.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, Abrams Image
Series: No.
Format read: Paper! Illustrated! Pretty!
Source: Purchased from a real-life bookshop, and also a present

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Tsana's August Status (Snapshot, Worldcon and, of course, books)

It's been a super busy month on the blog, mostly thanks to the Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. There have been a bajillion interviews posted over the two weeks. I would love to link you to the link round-up on SF Signal, but as I write this (in advance) it's not up yet. Instead, I'll just point you in the direction of all the interviews on the blogs of: Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, Sean Wright and here. If you want a more structured list of the interviews I've run, here it is:
  1. KA Bedford 
  2. Trudi Canavan
  3. Nina D'Aleo
  4. Jennifer Fallon
  5. Donna Maree Hanson
  6. Richard Harland
  7. Edwina Harvey
  8. Simon Haynes
  9. Jay Kristoff
  10. Justine Larbalestier
  11. Jason Nahrung
  12. Simon Petrie
  13. Amanda Pillar
  14. MC Planck
  15. Jo Spurrier
  16. KJ Taylor 
And in case you're interested in seeing me interviewed in the Snapshot, you can read Stephanie Gunn do it here.

On a completely different note, starting today (posting day), I'm going to be at LonCon 3, this year's World Science Fiction Convention. While there, I'm going to be on two panels and, of course, I'm planning to attend a bunch of other panels, parties and get myself a small book pile from the Dealer's Room. If you're going to be there and would like to watch me talk about stuff, these are my panels:

The World at Worldcon: SF/F in Australia and New Zealand
Capital Suite 3 (Level 3), 4:30pm - 6pm, Sunday, August 17
Amanda Bridgeman, Tsana Dolichva, Ian Nichols, Ben Peek, Janice Gelb

From afar, Australian SF publishing seems to be in good health, with books such as Nike Sulway's Rupetta (winner of this year's Tiptree Award) and publishers such as Twelfth Planet Press attracting international attention, and writers such as Ben Peek and Rjurik Davidson scoring international publishing deals -- not to mention already high-profile exports such as Greg Egan, Margo Lanagan, and Shaun Tan. To what can the current depth and breadth of the Australian scene be attributed? Which other writers should we be looking out for?

SF and Space Travel: Pragmatism or Pessimism?
Capital Suite 11 (Level 3), 12pm - 1:30pm, Monday, August 18
Guy Consolmagno SJ, Rohan Shah, Ben Bova, Tsana Dolichva, Mary Turzillo

Charlie Stross has said the idea of space travel happening any time soon is complete nonsense. Not everyone has agreed with him, but does the discussion he started highlight something about the proliferation of near term science fiction? Does the dearth of spaceships on TV, and the glut of climate-change thrillers on paper, indicate that we have lost faith in the idea that humans will travel among the stars? Or should we be engaging with issues much closer to home anyway?

After LonCon, I'll be holidaying for a couple of weeks so the blog will be a bit quiet. I'll probably have some reviews queued up while I'm away, but expect the blog to be very quiet. Possibly twitter as well, once the Con is over, although who knows.

Aaaaand that's most of my news. On a completely different note, you can read my link round-up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

What Have I Read?

...which is not very many books, but that's because of Snapshot.

What Am I Currently Reading?

Too many books at once. I compulsively picked up Juliet Marillier's collection Prickle Moon (which I started reading a while ago because two stories were shortlisted for Ditmars) and read a few stories. I still have a lot to go, although they can't all be particularly long given how many pages I have left (I'm halfway-ish through according to Goodreads).

Also on the short story front, my copy of Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, arrived in the mail (and in my email for the ebook), so I had to start reading that. I'm not very far in, but it is awesome as expected.

I've just about finished reading Wonderbook, a writing advice book by Jeff Vandermeer, which was really awesome. I've just got some appendices to go and then I'll post my review. It will probably be the next post after this one.

The novel I'm reading — or really, have only just started — is Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb. So far I've only been reading it at night in bed until I pass out, which has not gotten me very far. Nothing much except the initial inciting incident has happened so far, and we still don't know what the ramifications of that are. I've actually spent most of the book trying to remember what happened in the earlier two series an, crucially, how old they all were. Fitz was really young in the Farseer trilogy, even by the end.

New Booksies

Not a huge haul this month, with only three review books and two crowdfunding rewards, but I'm sure WorldCon will help me buy too many books for next month's update.
  • Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead — already reviewed
  • The Godless by Ben Peek — new fantasy series by an Australian author
  • Aurora in Four Voice by Catherine Asaro — audiobook of a collection I supported on Kickstarter
  • Zac & Mia by AJ Betts — Aussie book about cancer and teenagers (I will admit that "Aussie Fault in Our Stars" is the first thing to pop into my head)
  • Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios — anthology of diverse YA (contemporary) fantasy

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell

The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell is the first book in The Talismans trilogy and the author's début. I don't think I've ready any of the author's stories before, so this was all new to me.
Queen Ellyria just wants her sick triplet sons to live, each ruling over a third of the kingdom as their dying father wished. When she finds herself trapped in a deadly bargain with a Dark Spirit, she recruits a band of young mages to help - but a terrible curse takes over. The Dark Spirit befriends her enemies and seduces her friends, and Ellyria soon finds that famine, pestilence, betrayal and bereavement are all in its arsenal. Can Ellyria unite the elvish and mortal sides of her family and in so doing, save the kingdom?
It only took me a couple of pages to get interested in the story, but a few chapters to be sold on the concept. The start initially struck me as a little contrived — basically the events described in the blurb — with the Queen getting into trouble through a momentary lapse. On the other hand, it does make sense if you think about it analytically. This was actually a minor issue that recurred throughout the book; some events made sense but felt a little off when reading.

On a similar note, I found some of the dialogue a tad improbable. There was a lot of people saying exactly what was on their minds and explaining their motivations in careful detail. That just isn't how people talk and a little obfuscation would have gone a long way to adding an extra layer in some instances. Similarly, sometimes decisions were made too easily. Again, they made logical sense, but lacked an extra layer of depth. This particularly applied to the climactic battle/war scenes, which lacked tension and left me ambivalent. On the other hand, there were some smaller-scale fight scenes earlier, which I thought were quite good — like the first one between an elf and a group of dwarfs.

Of the characters, I enjoyed reading Ellyria's story, but I felt I connected better with Tammi and Jedderin, who were younger. I didn't like Beverak, Tammi's husband and Ellyria's son, at first, but warmed to him as he began to see reason and let go of his prejudices. I get the feeling that this trilogy will follow one triplet-brother (and his family) per book so in this book we learn a lot about Beverak but very little about the other two brothers. I would be interested to learn more about them in future books.

One thing that was done well in The Dagger of Dresnia was foreshadowing. There were a few scenes where I was wondering how they fit into the narrative only to have it revealed later on when it slotted in famously. The ending kind of did this too. I had a suspicion it was coming but the way it actually happened was great. (No spoilers!) It was hilarious like a pun, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I don't think I can say more without spoiling it though.

The Dagger of Dresnia was a reasonable read. It was a little shaky at times, but that's not unusual in a début. Flavell shows promise and I'm interested to see how this develops in future books. The first book finishes with a lot of unresolved badness, so there's definitely a lot of hook to hang further plots off.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2014, Satalyte Publishing
Series: The Talismans, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: review copy provided by the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Guild of Assassins by Anna Kashina

The Guild of Assassins by Anna Kashina is the second book in The Majat Code series. I read and reviewed the first book, Blades of the Old Empire, earlier this year. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed book one, book two didn't really do it for me. Note that this review contains spoilers for the ending of book one.
Kara has achieved something that no Majat has ever managed – freedom from the Guild!

But the Black Diamond assassin Mai has been called back to face his punishment for sparing her life. Determined to join his fight or share his punishment, Kara finds herself falling for Mai.

But is their relationship – and the force that makes their union all-powerful – a tool to defeat the overpowering forces of the Kaddim armies, or a distraction sure to cause the downfall of the Majat?
The story follows the same group of characters from book one, although with some emphases shifted. Ellah and Alder were point of view characters in the first book but in The Guild of Assassins they are merely background characters. The point of view focuses strongly on Prince Kyth, Kara the highly trained assassin and, somewhat unexpectedly, Magister Egey Bashi. Lady Celana, who was a minor character in book one, plays a more visible role in book two.

Egey Bashi gets a surprising amount of point of view time for someone who's less directly involved in the action than some of the other characters. I suspect that might be because he's the only sensible adult around (well, Mai, a central character who doesn't really get point of view sections, is in his early twenties, but...) and is a useful tool to explain why other characters are doing silly things, or why those things are silly, and to fix some of the problems they cause. Unfortunately, that didn't make him a terribly exciting character. I didn't have strong feelings about him in book one and I still don't. Unfortunately, he plays such a large role in book two that I probably should have had a stronger reaction to him.

The first thing that bothered me was actually a holdover from Blades of the Old Empire. Towards the end of that one it's revealed that Mai is in love with Kara and that storyline is explored extensively in The Guild of Assassins. It wasn't a storyline that I found worked for me very well and I didn't find it very interesting. It also meant that the relationship aspect of the story turned into a love triangle which I felt, again, pretty ambivalent about. But at least it wasn't like a cliched YA love triangle.

What really bogged down the story for me was the copious introspection of all the characters. I think this existed in the first book but, for whatever reason — more interesting personal problems? A broader range of characters? — didn't bother me then. Here it often felt repetitive and I found myself skimming over a lot of inner monologue. Most of it was either about the love triangle from Kyth and Kara or about other characters' actions/motivations/mistakes from Egey Bashi.

On the bright side, that made it feel like a quicker read than it otherwise might have. And I should add I wasn't bored or annoyed enough to stop reading the book (I considered it, but ultimately decided it wasn't that bad). I am not sure if there is a sequel (my guess would be yes) and, if there is, I don't know that I'll be reading it. The plot of The Guild of Assassins very much centred around defeating the evil brotherhood that had taken over a monastery (and was trying to take over the world) without very many side plots (other than the relationship one). By contrast, there was more mystery in Blades of the Old Empire, since we didn't know anything about the evil brotherhood, which kept things interesting. Given a sufficiently interesting plot, I might be tempted to have a go at a book three.

If you enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire, then give The Guild of Assassins a go, particularly if you thought Mai and Kara together would be an interesting story. If you felt more meh about the first book, probably give this one a miss.

3 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014, Angry Robot
Series: Book two of the Majat Code
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 8 August 2014

Snapshot 2014: KA Bedford

K.A. Bedford lives with his wife Michelle somewhere in the radiation-blasted wastelands north of Perth, Western Australia. He has twice won the Aurealis Award for Best Australian Science Fiction Novel, and his novel TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2009.

I gather you have a new novel, Black Light, approaching publication. Can you tell us a bit about that?

BLACK LIGHT will be my sixth published novel, and unusual in a number of ways, including my first foray into writing fantasy. I think the publisher, Fremantle Press, is planning to lean more on the "supernatural crime thriller" aspect, but to me it's always been a fantasy novel that just happens to be set here in Western Australia, in the 1920s.

The story concerns a woman, Mrs Ruth Black, a Great War widow who lost her husband in the Battle of the Somme. She's English, from an aristocratic family, but after the death of her husband she moves to Australia, and takes up a career as a writer of scientific romances, which do moderately well, inspired by the great revolution in physics underway in Europe at the time (the advent of quantum mechanics, in particular, and its challenge to Newtonian physics). She's independently wealthy, and lives in a home in the WA seaside fishing town of Pelican River (a town which is fictitious, but inspired by the real-world town of Mandurah, 72km south of Perth). One thing that drives her is that she's never been completely convinced about the death of her husband, Antony, and in this book she begins, whether she's ready or not, to unravel the truth about him.

In structure and form the book presents as a crime novel with supernatural aspects, in that someone in Pelican River begins tormenting her with mysterious notes hinting at mysterious aspects regarding the death of her husband, and these rapidly lead to blatant extortion, which leads indirectly to murder, and things going very badly indeed.

Your two most recent books, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait and Paradox Resolution follow the same character, a time machine repairman. What inspired you to combine a murder mystery with time machine repairs?

I just like crime novels, and I like sf novels, and I know there's a great tradition in sf of writers mixing crime with sf, so it seemed like it might be fun. Also, two of my three earlier novels were also sf/crime hybrids (ORBITAL BURN, and HYDROGEN STEEL). I have sometimes tried to write straight crime fiction, but somehow it always ends up with spaceships and aliens and weird stuff. I'm like the guy who always has to have tomato sauce with everything he eats.

As for the issue of combining murder-mystery and time-travel: that just seemed like a neat challenge. Because if you're the homicide squad, and you've got access to time-travel, it would be easy to see what happened when someone got murdered (or you could prevent the murder). And I had a world where everybody has time machines the way today everybody has phones and tablets. So I needed a way to make life hard for the coppers, so that I would have something for my protagonist to do.

What can we expect to see from you next? Will there be sequels to books you’ve already written, or something completely different?

Next? I'm thinking about a third Spider Webb book, but I'm also thinking about a murder/ghost story book about a new character, taking place in present-day (or very near-future) Perth. So, to answer your question: a bit of both!

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The Australian book that has knocked me sideways just lately is Andrew Macrae's TRUCKSONG, which was tremendous! A coming-of-age story in post-apocalyptic Australia, with sentient cyborg trucks, mysterious signs and portents from the heavens, and lost people roaming about, trying to figure out a way to get back to when everything worked and the world was whole. Whole thing gave me a feeling of THE ROAD and MAD MAX, as well as its own wild, diesel-powered, red-dust-stinking, self, where you absolutely fear the Brumby King and its mob of murderous trucks. When I first heard about the book, I remember the phrase, "trucks having sex and reproducing", and right there I knew I had to get this book. Not because, you know, truck-related porn, but because someone had dreamed up what seemed like an actual, shiny, fresh idea: living, intelligent trucks, not just motorised AIs, but they're alive, and have interests and intentions and passions and schemes. And there's a kid caught up in the middle of the whole thing, searching for his truck-kidnapped lover. It's a powerful, often poetic, cracker of a book!

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

So far I still work the way I've always worked, with traditional publishers, and everything that goes with that. I work with the Canadian firm, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, based in Calgary, Alberta; and with local publisher Fremantle Press. I first worked with Fremantle on the Australian edition of TIME MACHINES REPAIRED WHILE-U-WAIT, and I wanted to go to them again when I was preparing BLACK LIGHT.

As for five years from now: I have no idea. For instance in five years I don't know if I'll even still be writing, let alone deciding how I want to be published. I'm not sure. I'm fairly sure I don't want to take on all the huge responsibility that goes with self-publishing. I've come to see how critically important editing is, and the powerful effect a really great external editor can have on a manuscript. I could hire one for a self-published book, but the expense is way out of what I could afford. Likewise, the cost of promotion, publicity, marketing is also out of my reach. So I really don't know what the future will bring. It would be nice to still be involved in the scribble caper in some way. I've made some tremendous friendships through writing and publishing, both here in Oz, and in the US and Canada (especially Canada), and that's been the most rewarding aspect of the whole process.

As for what I'll be reading in five years? Probably very much the same sorts of things I read now, which is to say, lots of crime fiction, lots of classics, and some sf. As I get older (I'm 51 now) I find that really high-end hard science fiction seems to require so much knowledge and understanding on the part of the reader that it often seems as if you need a degree in science, and preferably physics, simply to get what a writer is trying to convey. Then there are the writers who fill their books with neato in-jokes that I, at least, often don't get. Whole chunks of these books often feel as if they're being aimed not at the general, interested sf reader, but at specific groups of readers who get the joke. I don't like books that make me feel stupid in either of these respects, so I find crime fiction and classics much more rewarding.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: (here)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Snapshot 2014: Edwina Harvey

Edwina Harvey has over 30 years experience as a writer, specialising in speculative fiction though also writing children’s stories, articles, and interviews. Her work has been published in a wide range of publications.

Edwina also has 10 years experience as an editor, editing several issues of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight magazine, the Australian SF Bullsheet (2002-2010), Rare Unsigned Copy by Simon Petrie (published by Peggy Bright Books, 2010), Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear (co-edited with Simon Petrie, published by Peggy Bright Books, 2012) as well as editing the double novella, Flight 404/The Hunt for red Leicester for Peggy Bright Books, 2012. 

Her website is

Your collection The Back of the Back of Beyond was shortlisted for a Ditmar Award this year. Do you think you’ll be writing more stories set in the same world, or have you said everything you wanted to say with it?

I've had some great reader feedback about The Back of the Back of Beyond, and it's encouraged me to write more in the universe the collection is set in.

You’ve been on both sides of the editing process, having written many stories and edited anthologies and magazines (as well as manuscript editing). What are some of your favourite aspects of each side of fiction production?

I like the "escaping to different worlds" that writing offers me, and I like sharing those worlds with people that having my fiction published offers me.

As an editor, I get a lot of satisfaction from helping authors tell their stories more succinctly so their readers can better understand and  appreciate what they have to say.

What can you tell us about your current or future projects?

In the past few months, Simon Petrie and I have seen our second collaborative effort, the anthology, Use Only As Directed, published by Peggy Bright Books.  We're both pleased that it's been selling well and receiving such good reviews.
I've just finished editing a very good fantasy novel by British author, Terry Jackman for American publisher, Dragonwell Publishing.

I'm looking forward to editing Simon Petrie's forthcoming fiction collection, Difficult Second Album, later this year and I'm also currently on the lookout for publishing projects for Peggy Bright Books.

I'm about half way through writing a children's novel, and wish I could find more time to devote to my writing.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I've only just started reading LynC's first novel, Nil by Mouth, and it looks like it's going to be good.

I'm really looking forward to reading Guardian, the third instalment of Jo Anderton's Veiled Worlds series. I'm so glad it's been published because it's a great series, and so pleased it's been picked up by an Australian publisher.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
The emergence of small presses like Peggy Bright Books and Dragonwell Publishing have provided me with the opportunity to work in the publishing industry that I mightn't have otherwise had.

I'm really looking forward to going to Book Expo Australia at Olympic Park, Homebush at the end of August to promote myself as an author and editor as well as sell titles for Peggy Bright Books and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

I hope to have a few more of my own books published in the next five years.

I love editing, specially encouraging emerging writers to find their writing feet, so I hope I'll be more involved in that, and I'm sure I'll still be reading five years from now. But it's interesting — I was given an e-reader for Christmas this year, and think it's great for reading review books, or having a number of titles with me, or for being able to access references on the internet when reading non-fiction books, but I still want to buy paper versions of the books I really want. I think reading e-copies will continue to grow in popularity, and in many ways that's a good thing, particularly from a publisher's point of view, but I secretly hope there's still a place for words on paper. I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: (here)

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Snapshot 2014: KJ Taylor

K.J.Taylor was born in Australia in 1986 and plans to stay alive for as long as possible. She went to Radford College and achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications at the University of Canberra, where she returned to obtain a Master of Information Studies in 2012. She now holds down a “real” job as an archivist.

She published her first work, The Land of Bad Fantasy, through Scholastic when she was just 18, and went on to publish The Dark Griffin in Australia and New Zealand five years later. The Griffin’s Flight and The Griffin’s War followed in the same year, and were released in America and Canada in 2011. The Shadow’s Heir, The Shadowed Throne and The Shadow’s Heart have now joined them in both Australia and the US.

K.J.Taylor’s real first name is Katie, but not many people know what the J stands for. She collects movie soundtracks and keeps pet rats, and isn’t quite as angst-ridden as her books might suggest.

You have serialised your new novel, Wind, posting weekly instalments on Wattpad. Can you tell us about the story and why you chose the path of serialisation?

I’ve always been interested by the different character “types” who tend to show up in stories, and one of those types is the character I call “the Messenger”. They’re not the protagonist or the villain – instead their role is to be a catalyst. They might be a mentor figure, or the protagonist’s friend, but they do things like provide valuable information, or give the hero that little extra push they need to save the day. For example, Rafiki from The Lion King is a Messenger. As a teenager, just starting out, I wrote an entire series of books about that kind of character. More recently I decided to revisit the idea, and that’s what got this new project started. The character who binds each installment together is a mystery figure who has seen the future and knows who she must find and what they have to do. I made the setting Germanic since I’ve been studying German – which I love.

When I wrote the first part, Wind, it turned out to be quite short (publishers prefer fantasy novels for adults to be about 200+ typed pages) and I was feeling pessemistic about the fantasy publishing environment generally – right now it’s very hard to sell anything new in that genre, because its rise in popularity has made it much more competitive. So I decided to go ahead and put the book out myself, with a plan to charge money for the sequels. That said, my agent has now looked at it and is about to send it off to publishers, so that plan isn’t set in stone yet. If it sells I’ll be taking it down – but for now you can read it for free!

In the Fallen Moon trilogy the main character is an anti-hero. What inspired that choice?

Actually, he was meant to be the villain. I had grown disenchanted with heroic characters, and had noticed that the villain is often more interesting. So I decided to write about one, and deliberately gave him all the traditional hallmarks – I made him pale, thin and not very masculine, gave him a tragic backstory and, in a final very unsubtle touch, I gave him the title of “Dark Lord”! It was all deliberate, and meanwhile his nemesis is a blond square-jawed orphan with the sadly all-too-common “heroic” trait of being a racist moron.

Of course, later on I found out that I’d wound up with an anti-hero, which isn’t so surprising since I couldn’t make him out-and-out evil – that would have made him too unsympathetic, and unrealistic as well. In any case, darker characters are popular at the moment – I think society has become pretty cynical as a whole, which would explain the prevalence of dark, gritty stories in both book and film. I think I came along at just the right time.

Since Fallen Moon, which I wrote in about 2006 when I was barely out of highschool, I’ve discovered that heroic characters can be just as interesting and fun to write about, so I’ve moved away from the whole anti-hero thing – while still keeping my trademark dark, cynical tone.

What’s next for you? Will you be writing sequels to Wind, more griffin books or something completely different?

Wind has three sequels, one and a half of which have been written. The griffin series is fifteen books long, and I hope to publish the remaining nine volumes eventually – I’ve promised fans that if I can’t sell them I’ll just put them out myself. Either way they’ll get to find out how it all ends. In the meantime I have a few other things out there with my agents, and am currently writing the first of an entirely new series. Obviously, I’m not one to hang about. Readers of the griffin series (which really needs an overall title – I’m considering “Chronicles of Cymria”) may be interested to know that I’m also working on a spinoff project; an urban fantasy series set in the same universe, hundreds of  years after the ending of the original series. So now the originally medieval world, which has reached its equivalent of the Renaissance by the end of the series, has progressed to having cars, phones, the Internet, big cities, and so on. But the griffins and magic are still around. I’ve written several instalments in that series, and it’s looking great.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

That’s a tricky question, since I don’t generally take note of where a book came from. Plus I have a tendency to read the same books over and over again, and don’t necessarily read “new” books as they come out. However, one recent Australian book I enjoyed was Ink, inc., written by my friend Jack Heath, who asked me to launch it for him. But I’m not just saying that to shill for a friend – I genuinely enjoyed it, which is saying something since it’s science fiction, and I don’t read a lot in that genre. Some of my other favourite Australian authors are Jackie French, Robin Klein and Gillian Rubenstein – all of whom I grew up reading.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

The world of publishing is in flux right now, thanks to the increasing popularity of e-books. According to my Australian agent, book sales are down by 30% across the board, pretty much as a direct result. It’s also become a lot harder to sell a new book to the publishers, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed bookshops are shutting down all over the place. Personally, I believe this is a transitional phase. The former head of Voyager told me she believes that one day the majority of books will be electronic only, and that printed books will become a luxury item, with only bestsellers and classics being produced in that format. In other words, the cheap paperback will become a thing of the past. Since my day job is in archiving that does trouble me a little bit – I know all too well how fragile digital data is, and a lot of books could be lost in consequence. Nevertheless, I think that’s where the future lies. I explained all that to my grandmother when she grumbled to me about the state of books – but of course she didn’t want to hear it!

In all seriousness – people will always tell stories. We’ve been doing it since we evolved language. Stories aren’t just entertainment; they’re the way we pass on the things we have learned in our lives. The fastest way to teach anyone anything is to put it in the form of a story, and it’s been proven that we learn things much more quickly that way. The way in which a story is communicated really doesn’t matter. Once we passed them along orally, then we started using pictures, then we invented the written word, and after that we had movies and TV, and more recently video games. All forms of storytelling are valid – I don’t care what Luddites like Alan Moore say. Whether a story is given to you as a book, a film, or an anecdote on the bus – it’s still a story, and that’s what counts. Even if the printed novel eventually dies out, which I doubt it will during my lifetime, I won’t mind. In any case, I’ve been trying my hand at screenwriting; as a film fanatic, suceeding at that would make me very happy indeed!


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: (here)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Snapshot 2014: Nina D'Aleo

Nina D’Aleo, who wrote her first book at age seven (a fantasy adventure about a girl named Tina and her flying horse). Due to most of the book being written with a feather dipped in water, no one else has ever read ‘Tina and White Beauty’. Many more dream worlds and illegible books followed. Nina blames early exposure to Middle-earth and Narnia for her general inability to stick to reality. She also blames her parents. And her brother.

The Last City, Nina’s debut novel, was nominated for an Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel. Nina is the author of three novels including The Last City, its sequel The Forgotten City, and The White List, available now from Momentum Books.

You’ve just had a new novel come out, The White List. Can you tell us a bit about it and what some of the inspirations behind it were?

The White List is a story about secret agencies, supernatural powers, plots to take over the world and love – all the big stuff :) Inspiration sparked from a lot of different books, movies and artworks that I love such as X-men, Heroes, James Bond, all the superhero comics/movies/stories in all their variations, as well as a whole lot of urban fantasy books, where strange things happen under the surface of our normal world.


Your first two published books, The Last City and The Forgotten City, are set in the same genre-blended world. Was it the setting or the characters which came to you first for these books?

Good question. I think I’d have to say the characters and then the setting, as some of the characters grew from early drafts of other books that I was writing at the time (which was over ten years now).

What’s next on the cards for you? What can readers expect to see next?

Next, I’m hoping, will be book 3 of the Demon War series and hopefully a few other separate stories as well :)

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The most recent Australian work that I’ve read and loved was Amanda Bridgeman’s Aurora Pegasus (book 2 in the Aurora series) – very cool sci-fi! 

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Another great question. I don’t think the changes have really influenced me, I’m writing the same way and the same type of story as I always have, but I do have an amazing agent who handles all the business side of everything. The biggest change I’ve made is swapping the majority of my reading to ebook. I resisted for a long time because I thought it would be like reading on a computer screen but discovered it really wasn’t, and now I’m addicted. In five years time, I’ll still be searching out and reading fantastic stories in whatever form they come and hopefully I’ll still be writing the kind of fantasy/sci-fi that I love as well.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: (here)

Monday, 4 August 2014

Snapshot 2014: Simon Petrie

Born and raised in New Zealand but now, like Phar Lap, claimed by Australia, Simon Petrie has had numerous stories published, in venues such as Redstone SF, Murky Depths, Sybil's Garage, and elsewhere. Many of his stories are collected in Rare Unsigned Copy: tales of Rocketry, Ineptitude, and Giant Mutant Vegetables (Peggy Bright Books, 2010). He is a member of the Andromeda Spaceways publishing collective and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and has twice won NZ's Sir Julius Vogel Award: in 2010 for Best New Talent, and in 2013 for Best Novella / Novelette (Flight 404, Peggy Bright Books, 2012).

You’ve recently had an anthology you edited with Edwina Harvey come out. The title and theme are Use Only As Directed. Is there a story behind the inspiration for the theme?

Insofar as there’s a story, it starts back in the closing months of 2006, when I’d just rekindled my interest in writing fiction after a quarter-century hiatus and had, in the process, discovered the burgeoning local publishing scene. Keen to be a part of this, I wrote not one but two stories specifically crafted for the particular 17th-century spacefaring worldbuilding of the new New Ceres webzine and submitted them in eager anticipation, to have them summarily rejected in due course. They weren’t very good stories—but their signal failing was that they weren’t stories that I could send anywhere else, either. It was a formative experience for me: tight themes can be a real straitjacket.

Slushreading for ASIM reinforced this message, too. I don’t think anyone who slushreads can long remain ignorant of trends in anthology themes. After you’re read three Machine Of Death 2 rejects in a row, you start to spot a pattern ...

The above considerations have naturally coloured my experiences as an editor of anthologies. And it’s worth mentioning that Use Only As Directed is the third such, and follows the precedent set by the other two. My first anthology, also co-edited with Edwina Harvey, was Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear (Peggy Bright Books, 2012), and we pretty much agreed we didn’t want to place too many obstacles in the way of the authors’ imaginations. Last year, with Robert Porteous, I co-edited Next (Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild)—again, it was a case of trying to leave the theme sufficiently broad to permit as many interpretations of genre as possible. So this time around, because this was the second anthology Edwina and I had done together, we felt a clear necessity to keep faith with Light Touch Paper by adopting a similarly loose theme for Use Only As Directed, and I’m really pleased with the variety of stories that our wonderful authors have given us as a result.

You’ve written a lot of short stories over the years and many of them were collected in Rare Unsigned Copy. Are there any stories that stick out to you as having been particularly memorable to write?

Often, the ones which are most memorable are those which have a difficult birth.

The standout of these is possibly ‘Running Lizard’, my were-raptor story from Rare Unsigned Copy, for which I wrote the initial grisly murder-investigation scene across a couple of lunch hours at work sometime in 2008. I then did nothing with it for over a year—I’d just been word-doodling at the time, sketching out a scene for which I had no further plans—until one evening I was trawling through my fiction folder, saw a filename I didn’t immediately recognise, and started reading. I couldn’t even remember having written it at first, but got caught up in wanting to tell the rest of the story ... which meant, of course, that I needed to work out what was the rest of the story. There’s a moment in it—I’ve always been sceptical of those authors who say that their characters sometimes surprise them, because obviously that’s just bullshit, I mean the author’s the one sitting at the keyboard dictating the characters’ actions ... but I swear, that scene where Charlotte goes back to her car ‘to get some rope’, I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but she did ...

The other story that I particularly despaired of ever getting finished was ‘Flight 404’, which again came about in a somewhat unorthodox way. I was in the living-room with my daughter one day when she suddenly announced, without preamble, “They’re dead. They’re all dead.” I hadn’t been paying attention, but, as I think you’ll admit, it didn’t sound good ... so I looked up, to see that she was indicating the vase of flowers on top of the TV cabinet. But the apocalyptic nature of her statement niggled at me, I had the germ of a story idea; and ultimately, after a lot of blind alleys, a terrific amount of self-doubt, and more rewriting than I care to remember, it was done.

I’ll mention a third memorable story, which stands out for a different reason. Writing’s usually a solitary game, but sometimes we can let others play in our sandpits. Within the past year, I’ve co-written a story (which I can’t name, because it’s currently under blind review) with Edwina, and I’m sufficiently pleased with the process and the result that I’m hoping we can repeat it when the opportunity presents itself. There’s still lots to learn about the collaborative process, but the great thing about trying your hand as a writer is that there are always new directions to explore if you know where to look for them.

What are your future writing plans? Do you intend to keep writing mainly short fiction, or do you think you might try your hand at some longer works, like another novella or maybe even a novel?

It’s still common advice, I think, for would-be writers to start out with short fiction and progress to longer material as they get their eye in. It works very well for some people, whose bent is towards the short form, but others are natural-born novelists and really struggle until they’re let loose on something with a bit of room to sprawl.

I’ll definitely continue with short fiction, because (a) I like the scope it gives for the exploration of a wide variety of SF ideas and settings and (b) I honestly don’t yet seem to be ready to ‘graduate’ to novel-length material—which is not to say that I haven’t made attempts at the latter. But I think the tendency for me is still to gravitate towards a reasonably compact frame for my stories, even though it is stretching out gradually over time. It’s no longer quite the exception for me to write something of novelette length, or longer—I’ve written three of those in the past nine months or so, and as I say the will is there to write novels. Just to get the ambition off my chest, as it were, I want to finish a novel that completes the story of Charmain Mertz’s homecoming after Flight 404—there are some really crunchy ideas I want to throw into that, about sexuality and religion and tolerance and family and belonging and interstellar politics, all wrapped up in a ten-generation-old mystery and a murder rampage; I also want to complete a humorous first-contact novel in which a ship crammed with gifted specialists travels via FTL to the Galactic core to intercept the source of a SETI signal that, as yet, no-one has satisfactorily been able to decipher; and, in what I think of as ‘novel writing by stealth’, I’ve been writing a sequence of short stories set on Saturn’s smog moon, Titan, which introduce the characters who will feature in my Titan novel Wide Brown Land, when I get around to writing more than the first three proper chapters of it. And there’s a novella, Panumbra, that I must get around to finishing sooner or later–it’s set in the dense-interstellar-cloud milieu of a couple of my earlier stories, but hopefully avoids ending up being quite as bleak as they were.

Having said all that ... the next thing I have coming out is the follow-up, as it were, to Rare Unsigned Copy. My second short-fiction collection is to be called Difficult Second Album, it’s once again edited by Edwina Harvey and published by Peggy Bright Books, and assuming all goes to plan, it’ll be out at the start of October. It’s subtitled more stories about Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Zombies in Love, and if that doesn’t tell you more than you wanted to know about it, it has a new Gordon Mamon murder mystery novella, a new and very nasty Titan story, as well as stories about comet mining, fridge whispering, interplanetary freight delivery, choosing the raygun that’s right for you, and the mating habits of spacefaring squid. There’s plenty of hard science fiction in there, some whimsy, some action, and a couple of puns. Three, tops. Honest. (Carefully uncrosses fingers behind back.)

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’m going to be shamelessly partisan, and say at the outset that the list has to include those stories I edited or co-edited myself, for Next, The Back Of The Back Of Beyond, and Use Only As Directed. Outside of those volumes, much of my reading time over the past year or so seems to have been swallowed up by the 2013 Fantasy Short Story reading for the Aurealis Awards, and so that’s very much coloured what has stuck in my mind. I read a lot of good, and often very good, stories for the AAs. I suppose some that particularly stood out for me were Jay Kristoff’s ‘The Last Stormdancer’, Kim Wilkins’ ‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’, and Thoraiya Dyer’s ‘After Hours’. I also very much enjoyed Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings ... and I’m sure I’ve forgotten other books or stories I should have mentioned at this point, but the nature of these questions is that I never seem to function well in attempting to answer them.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

It’s perhaps not exactly what you had in mind ... but the shift towards e-books has meant that, as someone who dabbles in layout and typesetting, I’ve had to learn how to format e-books as well as books for print.

I think e-publishing, and self-publishing, have changed things quite dramatically over the past five years, and I would imagine that change will continue, though I’ve no idea exactly how it will proceed. I do definitely like the idea that there seems to be more of a niche for novellas (novellae?), in this new read-it-onscreen world, because I think that can be liberating both for writers and for readers—the more scope there is for variety, the better. Bring it on!

I don’t know that any of this has much affected the way I work as a writer, though—I don’t think I’m the sort to follow trends in fiction, which probably reflects itself in my (lack of) sales ... I write the stories it occurs to me to write, in the way it seems to make the most sense at the time, and if people enjoy reading them, that’s great.

What will I be writing five years from now? Hopefully, the final chapter of my third novel ... or the start of a new short story. Who can tell?

Now, where did I leave the keys to that time machine?


This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: (here)