Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Graced by Amanda Pillar

Graced by Amanda Pillar is the author's début novel, although she has edited several anthologies (such as Ishtar) and had several short stories published. I also interviewed her last year as part of the Snapshot. Graced is secondary world urban/pre-industrial fantasy with vampires, werewolves and magic — Graced — humans.

City Guard Elle Brown has one goal in life: to protect her kid sister, Emmie. Falling in love–and with a werewolf at that–was never part of the deal.

Life, however, doesn't always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it's Elle's very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he's determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost...or the lives lost.

Graced is a very character-driven book. There are four point of view characters not leaving much room for anything other than their interacting story lines. The physical setting, which as I said is pre-industrial, is mostly a background sketch in front of which the characters do their thing. The social setting, however is more fleshed out. We get a good idea of social hierarchy, especially as imposed by different magical traits. For example, the main city is more or less run by aristocratic vampires, aristocratic humans also exist and the poorest people, especially those that fall into debt, end up as slaves to the vampires.

There are also humans with magical powers called the Graced. The type of magical ability is dictated by eye colour, with brown being no power and other colours having telepathy, telekinesis and so forth. Elle, my favourite of the main characters, comes from a Graced family but has no particular power herself, being half brown. Her significantly younger sister, however, has a new eye colour and Elle feels it's her responsibility to look after her and not let her get pulled into their grandmother's suspect machinations. Elle can't stop herself being pulled into her grandmother's plans, however, and ends up on an undercover mission with an unreliable vampire.

Dante, aforementioned unreliable vampire, is a unique character about whom I have mixed feelings. At first it looks like he's being positioned as the bad guy, but he ends up being a sympathetic character, more or less. He's asexual but also painted as odd for other reasons. Other characters call him a sociopath at least once, but I don't think that's medically/psychologically accurate. He doesn't understand other people and behaves unpredictably himself because of it.

The other two characters are Clay, Elle's hot werewolf love interest, and Anton, an ordinary human aristocrat who gets tangled up with Dante (who in turn gets tangled up with Elle, bringing all the characters together).

If you enjoy strongly character-driven stories or like urban fantasy then I highly recommend Graced. If you like the setting to be a character in its own right this one might not quite be for you. This book is self-contained, but the ending is left open for a possible (but not mandatory) sequel.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2015, Momentum Books
Series: Maybe? Book one if it is.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Disclaimer: The author is a friend, but I have nevertheless endeavoured to write an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers' Challenge

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman is a children's illustrated book (more text than a picture book) that I read in audiobook form. That may seem like a strange choice, but I saw it was added to the library lending system and it was too tempting not to reserve it. The chances of me stumbling across the paper version in a convenient location seem pretty low anyway.

While picking up milk for his children's cereal, a father is abducted by aliens and finds himself on a wild adventure through time and space.

Since I didn't experience this book with any pictures, it felt more like a short story than anything else. Although it may have been written for children, the story is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages. I certainly didn't feel like it was talking down to the reader.

The premise is simple: the children's mother goes away, leaving them with a lot of frozen food and detailed instructions for the father. Despite aforementioned instructions, the father forgets to buy milk until it's breakfast time and there's nothing for the children to pour on their cereal. Realising this also means there's no milk for his tea, the father sets out for the corner store.

Some extended period of time later, he returns and, when the children demand to know what took him so long, he regales them with tales of aliens and time travel with a dinosaur. That account forms the bulk of the story, with a few interjections from the children.

It was funny and a quick listen, clocking in at about an hour. I would be interested in seeing the illustrated version, but I didn't feel the story was at all diminished by the lack of pictures. So if you're interested in a fun and light-hearted yarn — especially if you're also trying to keep some kids amused — this is a good choice. And it should go without saying that I'd recommend it to all fans of Neil Gaiman's books, especially his works for younger readers.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2013, this edition Bolinda Audio (same as Audible edition)
Series: No.
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Library e-loan

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein is the third book by the author set, loosely speaking, during World War II. The other two, in order of being written are Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Black Dove, White Raven is set in Ethiopia before and during the start of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes—in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

Black Dove, White Raven had a lot less war in it than the other two books I mentioned above. I was expecting more, really, but the war didn’t actually start until something like two thirds of the way through and didn’t really have a strong impact on the main characters until the last quarter or so. It was compelling when it came, I just wasn’t expecting to have to wait so long.

On the other hand, if you’ve been reading Wein’s books for the early aircraft and piloting elements, then this is the book for you. The two main characters are the son and daughter of two female stunt pilots that start off making their living doing daredevil air shows. The women are also best friends (I read them as lovers, but this wasn’t explicitly stated in the text) and closer to each other than to the fathers of their children. Delia is African American and her son’s (Teo’s) father was Ethiopian. After a tragic accident kills her, the other woman, Rhoda, continues to look after both children as her own and relocates the family to Ethiopia.

The story recounts a lot of Teo and Em’s childhood and their lives in Ethiopia before war started. There’s a lot of flying around in the family plane (and eventually when the kids are old enough Rhoda teaches them to fly) and fitting in with the locals after they all learn Amharic. The kids also make up stories to tell each other in which they play Black Dove and White Raven, spies. When things get more serious, we have Teo learning about his father's background and wresting with the issue of seeming to fit in while not fitting in (he always sounds American, whereas Em, the white girl, can speak Amharic like a native). The book deals with the issue of Em's father being Italian while she feels her own allegiance is to Ethiopia (but looks obviously foreign).

I found it a gentler story than the other books of Wein's I read, mostly because the horrible war-related things were confined to the last portion of the book. Not that nothing else bad happened; there were certainly sad and confronting moments. I also ended up reading it over a longer period of time. It wasn't boring but it was much easier to put down than Wein's other books. And some of the times I put it down because there was something else I had to read, but I didn't necessarily pick it straight up again either. I enjoyed the Ethiopian bits, but found the earlier childhood bits slower going. Your mileage may vary. I suspect I also would have enjoyed the book more if I'd known going into it that there wouldn't be much war and that it was mainly about the family's life in Ethiopia. But if you've enjoyed Wein's other books or if the subject matter sounds interesting, I definitely recommend reading Black Dove, White Raven.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, Disney Book Group
Series: Stand alone but other books written in the same vein.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Guest Post: Rowena Cory Daniells on Choices

Today I have a guest post from Rowena Cory Daniells, author of many excellent fantasy books such as the King Rolen's Kin series and The Outcast Chronicles. Most recently, her first trilogy has been re-released as an omnibus edition: The Fall of Fair Isle. I haven't had a chance to review it yet (soon, soon) but you can browse my reviews of Rowena's other books here.

It’s the protagonist’s choices that make it interesting

At least it is for me. I like character driven plots. There’s nothing wrong with a natural disaster or a war to test a character, but I like it when the protagonist has a moral quandary and they are bound by their honour system.

Years ago I came across one of the Poldark books. It was back before the internet, when it was hard to find books and I read number five or six so I didn’t know the set up for the story but I liked the way the characters were limited by the expectations of their position in life and their gender. Now there’s a new Poldark series staring Aiden Turner as Ross Poldark. Here he is with Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza.

And I discovered how the author Winston Graham set up the story. Ross comes back from the American war of Independence only to learn that the woman he loves, believing him dead, has agreed to marry his cousin and his father has died leaving him a rundown mine and a barren farm. With nothing to offer Elizabeth, he must stand aside while she marries his cousin. As for Elizabeth, she must honour her word.

The characters’ moral quandaries and the consequence of their actions keeps you watching.

In The Fall of Fair Isle the characters agonise over moral dilemmas while being bound by their gender, race and culture. This series starts after the great battle and explores the lengths the characters go to, to ensure the peace, or in one case to disrupt the peace. Whatever the other characters may think of them, they believe that they are doing the right thing.

Imoshen, named after her famous ancestor, has surrendered to General Tulkhan the invader. Her goal is to ease the transition of power but Reothe, her once-betrothed has survived the war and needs her help to win back Fair Isle.

While The Fall of Fair Isle does continue the story of the mystical T’En race, it is set six hundred years after The Outcast Chronicles and can be read as a stand-alone trilogy.

Unlike The Outcast Chronicles, The Fall of Fair Isle has a smaller cast of characters and is a more intimate story, delving into the motivations of the main characters. It is a reprint of my original trilogy which was published between 1999 and 2003.

I hope the Fall of Fair Isle sweeps the reader away and keeps them wondering what the characters will do next.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Delete by Kim Curran

Delete by Kim Curran is the final volume in her Shifter trilogy. I have previously reviewed the first two books, Shift and Control, and have also interviewed the author in the past. Delete was one of the books orphaned when Strange Chemistry went under and I am very glad to see it and the series being given new life now. Before I get into this review, I need to warn you, this entire review from the blurb onwards contains spoilers for the end of Control. Really big spoilers.
The country is at war. Beset by enemies within and without. And all because of the decisions changed by one boy, Scott Tyler. In this ravaged alternative reality, Scott hardly recognises himself. He's a war hero, a leader of a unit of Shifters and maybe the only one who can prevent the country's frail defences from crumbling.

But all Scott wants to do is find a way back to the world he knew, without losing the girl he loves. With every Shift he makes, Scott edges closer towards oblivion. With no one to trust – not even himself – how much is he willing to risk to get home?
At the end of Control, Scott made a massive shift to undo the events caused by Frankie, the main "bad guy" of that book. Well, actually, Scott forces her to undo her choices, so that he can save his girlfriend. Delete opens just as that shift has been made and Scott finds himself in a worse reality, one where world war three (although they don't call it that) is ravaging the UK. All shifter children are recruited to the army to fight, Scott is in charge of the whole fighting shifter department, and Project Ganymede, the programme cutting up kids' brains which Scott stopped in the previous reality, is in full swing on a greater scale. Turns out Frankie's manipulations of world political events, while self-serving, were at least holding war at bay.

It's immediately clear to Scott that the reality he finds himself in now is pretty crappy, but he resists shifting back immediately because he doesn't want Aubrey to be dead. Instead, with slight confusion since he doesn't have any memories of the war world, Scott tries to slip into the role he finds himself in until he can work out what's going on. It was established in the earlier books that Scott is special for being able to remember other realities for more than a few minutes. In the past, he eventually slots the new reality memories into his mind but this time the shift is so big (or something) that he spends the entire book not fully remembering everything. And also not undoing it until the very end.

However, new reality Scott does leak through, providing us with some character contrast. Old Scott didn't grow up on rations or during a war, while new Scott did. Old Scott never had to learn to make human sacrifices for the greater good while army-trained new Scott did. Actually that last one is something our Scott picks up worryingly quickly and I can't say I was happy to watch him let people die that he probably could have saved.

Delete is a fast-paced action story and if there wasn't so much going on in it, I'm sure some of the people around Scott would have had more time to worry about his psychological well being — or at least to stop him being so involved in everything. As it is, they weren't even overly concerned about him running around on a gun-shot leg, so I suppose they're all used to putting the war first. I don't want to go into spoilers, but I found the end a little bit frustrating. I don't think it was a bad ending — it resolved everything and lived up to what we've come to expect from the series — but emotionally it was a bit distressing, possibly because of, well, reality whiplash. (Haha.)

Each book in this series has upped the stakes and Delete certainly continues that trend, this time putting the whole world on the line. I'd say that if you liked the first book but didn't think the stakes were high enough, keep reading!

If you enjoy fast-paced action books then I definitely recommend this series. And if you read Shift and Control, then forgot about Delete because of the delayed publication, then definitely pick up a copy of Delete. The re-released covers have been updated but still use the same art as the original set, so they won't even clash much if you bought the first two books from Strange Chemistry. Win! If you haven't read the earlier books but still read this review, I strongly recommend starting at the start of the series. I don't think it would make much sense otherwise.

4 / 5 stars

First published: March 2015, Xist Publishing
Series: Shifter series, book 3 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the author

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Norma K Hemming Award shortlist announced

The shortlist for the Norma K Hemming Award has been announced. According to their website

The Norma K. Hemming Award 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.
  • produced either in Australia or by Australian citizens.
  • first published, released or presented in the calendar year preceding the year in which the award is given.

And the short list is...

The Female Factoryby Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter published by Twelfth Planet Press in November 2014 (collection)

Nil By Mouth’ by LynC published by Satalyte Publishing in June 2014 (novel)

North Star Guide Me Home’ by Jo Spurrier published by HarperVoyager in May 2014 (novel)

Razorhurst’ by Justine Larbalestier published by Allen and Unwin in July 2014 (novel)

The Wonders’ by Paddy O’Reilly published by Affirm Press in July 2014 (novel)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay

The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay is the first book in a new trilogy, set in the same world as his other series but in different countries (and I think chronologically later, although I'm less sure when it comes to the Dragon Sword Histories). It is being released in five "episodes", with the final episode due out in a couple of weeks and the collected volume (ie all of book one of the trilogy) due out in late April. This is a review of the full volume, although I also posted a brief review of episode one a few days ago.
In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken.

Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide.

When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end …
I had the luxury of not having to wait for the next episode to come out when I was reading this, since I got review copies of the whole lot in one go. To me this felt like an ordinary novel, albeit one where I had to change files every 250ish iPad pages. I didn't detect any modifications to the flow of the novel to account for the episode structure. The episode breaks came at the ends of chapters (of course) and while they were mild cliffhangers, they weren't any more cliffhanging than chapters normally are. To me it was the usual frustration of waiting to get back to the hanging point of view. But enough about structure, what about the book?

The early parts of The Last Quarrel has two point of view characters, which expand to three later on. There's the Crown Prince, who seems to be the only nice person among the nobility in the capital city. Along with his two offsiders — body guard and scribe/advisor/can't remember his official title — he quickly realises that the weird stuff is going on is not supernatural and tries to get to the bottom of it.

Not believing in a supernatural cause for the trouble is something the prince shares with the other main character, Fallon. Fallon starts off as a village sergeant, the only proper soldier around, and when the county's Duke disappears off his ship in a Marie Celeste situation, he takes it upon himself to investigate. He becomes increasingly convinced that people are behind a slew of mysterious disappearances, but few other people in power agree with him. He does catch the eye of both the Duchess and the Crown Prince, signalling a rise in his fortunes.

There aren't a lot of female characters in The Last Quarrel, but those that do exist are fleshed out proper people with agency. They also happen to become more important as the book progresses. For example, Fallon's wife, Bridgit, starts off without much of a roll beyond mother and wife. But her character has depth, initially in the form of a lot of anxieties. Her fears have a basis but they are a little frustrating since their purpose appears to be to slow down the plot. However, when the plot catches up with Bridgit she gets a chance to come out of her shell of anxiety and over-protectiveness (of her son) and really shine. I was pretty ambivalent about her character until events conspired to give her her own point of view sections. (I'd go into more details, but spoilers.)

Fans of Lay's might be wondering if his theme of having male characters in strong parental roles continues in this series. The short answer is: it does. It takes a little while for Fallon's relationship with his son to become central to the story, but when it does, Lay presents us with yet another type of father-child relationship.

Finally, I found the end a bit frustrating. Honestly, it was more of a cliffhanger than any of the episode breaks. But also, the "twist" contained (in full) in the last few pages was kind of obvious to me and I was annoyed that the relevant character fell for it. And then of course being the ending there were no pages left to explore ramifications. Gah! When does book 2 come out? Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.

So, is The Last Quarrel worth reading? Absolutely. If you're a Duncan Lay or BFF (big fat fantasy) fan then I highly recommend it. It took a little while for me to get far enough into it to really start enjoying myself (the opening wasn't bad, it was just more fun once the plot got into the swing of things). If you've read one or two episodes and are undecided about continuing, I would urge you to do so. The book improves, and the cast broadens, as it goes along. I think that's a danger in episode-ising a BFF novel. If the set up isn't super gripping then readers might be lost along the way. Compared with readers who might feel obliged to keep going if they bought the novel in full, and then end up enjoying it. So I'm not sold on the concept but I am sold on the novel and this new series of Duncan Lay's.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Episode One from January, Episode Five March, Complete Edition April, 2015, Momentum Books 
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3 (not sure what the trilogy names is, but apparently book two will be called The Bloody Quarrel)
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Tsana's March Status

My life has not become less busy or stressful since my last post. A lot of things have happened but most of them did not result in extra reviews. For example, Ditmar Ballot (Shortlist) was announced, as was the Aurealis Awards Shortlist. On the announcing front, Holly Kench and I announced our upcoming anthology,  Defying Doomsday, which we will be running a Pozible crowdfunding campaign for in April and which will be out in 2016 from Twelfth Planet Press. Stay tuned for more announcements relating to that and get ready to preorder your copy in a few weeks. And finally, you might want to check out my Australian Women Writers review round-up on the AWW website.

What Have I Read?

Not enough. Some pretty solid books though.

Currently Reading

The rest of The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay, for obvious reasons. I'm also part way through Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. I've put it down for the moment since I'm not quite in the mood. I'm also part way through A.K.A. Fudgepuddle by Fin J Ross, a cute book about the inner lives of cats (in a fictional sense) that I keep dipping into.

New Booksies

More than last month. And all of them except one are by Australian women. Go team AWW!
  • Graced by Amanda Pillar — review copy, also the author is a friend
  • Liesmith by Alis Franklin — my husband wanted it based off an internet recommendation
  • The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim — review copy
  • God's War by Kameron Hurley — the only not AWW, bought because of something the author said online and because I liked The Mirror Empire.
  • Pyramids of London by Andrea K Höst — Purchased because I've enjoyed the author's other books
  • Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin — early copy because I helped proofread it. Already reviewed
  • Skin by Ilka Tampke — Purchased because it contains my favourite Welsh historical figure
  • Hunt for Valamon by DK Mok — review copy


Friday, 13 March 2015

The Last Quarrel: Episode One by Duncan Lay

The Last Quarrel: Episode One by Duncan Lay is the first of five "episodes" of the BFF (big fat fantasy) novel The Last Quarrel. They're being released a few weeks apart and as of writing episode four has just come out with episode five due in the last week of March. My plan was to review the whole book in one go since I'm not a huge fan of rationed episodes (I prefer to binge watch my TV as well), but since things have been quiet on the blog of late I thought I'd do a short review of episode one to whet your appetites. I'm still planning to review the rest of the episodes as a complete edition when I'm done.
In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken.

Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide.

When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end...
The blurb above sums up this novel opening fairly well. As well as Fallon, we are also introduced to Prince Cavan, who is involved in his own investigation of strange occurrences in the capital city. While Fallon is concerned with selkie rumours, Cavan is dealing with accusations of witchcraft (not directed at him). I'm enjoying The Last Quarrel so far and I'm looking forward to getting through the rest of the novel.

I was sort of expecting this episode to end on an artificial cliffhanger, you know, to make people want to read the next one straight away. There sort of was, but it was the kind of mild cliffhanger that you would expect at the end of a chapter. I'm glad I didn't actually have to wait for the next episode, however. I flicked over to the next one straight away and read about another half a chapter before going to sleep.

So if you're used to reading fantasy books without enforced breaks, I would recommend having all the episodes lined up before you start. On the other hand, if you're not already a fan of Duncan Lay's, or haven't read any of his books before, Episode One offers a substantial chunk of story to help you decide whether to keep reading. More than a sample for a fantasy book would normally contain. (And as I type, Episode One is free from the Momentum store (usually $1), so why not give it a go?) I'm not sure I've been converted to the idea of episodic book releases, but reading the discrete episode files does give a feeling of satisfaction when you get through them quickly.

4 / 5 stars

First published: January 2015, Momentum Books
Series: Well, episode 1 of 5 of The Last Quarrel, which itself is book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin

Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin is the twelfth and concluding (sort of) volume of Twelfth Planet Press's Twelve Planets series. I have reviewed almost all of them (my review of The Female Factory will come after the Aurealis Awards are announced), and you can browse reviews of the other volumes here.
Tulliæn spans a fractured mountaintop, where the locals lie and the tourists come to die. Try the honey.

Briskwater crouches deep in the shadow of a dam wall. Ignore the weight of the water hanging overhead, and the little dead girl wandering the streets. Off with you, while you still can.

In Haverny Wood the birds drink blood, the dogs trade their coughings for corpses, the lost children carve up their bodies to run with crows, and the townsfolk stitch silence into their spleens. You mustn’t talk so wild.

The desert-locked outpost of Boundary boasts the famed manufacturers of flawless timepieces; those who would learn the trade must offer up their eyes as starting materials. Look at your pride: it will eat you alive.

Sooner or later, in every community, fate demands its dues — and the currency is blood.
This collection is very strongly linked thematically. I think the stories are all set in the same world, but they needn’t be. What links them more clearly is the recurring idea of exclusion and of differences being consumed by a place or an idea or the ideal of a place. As usual, I've put my thoughts on individual stories at the end.

The writing in all of them is beautiful without weighing the story down with dense prose. When I read my first Deborah Kalin story, I knew this was a collection to look forward to. And I was right. Whether or not you've read any Kalin stories before, if you're at all a fan of fantasy or horror (especially the kind of horror I read, see: this blog you're reading), do yourself a favour and grab a copy of this book when it comes out (in a month).


The Wages of Honey — A man comes to a town looking for his cousin. The locals creep him out a bit and are maybe a bit too enthusiastic about their local honey. A creepy but not overly scary tale. An enjoyable read.

The Briskwater Mare — It was a very sunny day when I read this book and this is not a sunny day story. With this story I’m starting to sense a theme of places that, metaphorically or literally, consume people.

The Miseducation of Mara Lys — Probably my favourite story. A girl goes to the school where elite watchmakers (loosely speaking) sacrifice everything to learn the craft. Of course there are secrets and Mara, rejected from the profession she yearns for, wastes little time discovering them. It’s less cliched than I think I've made it sound.

The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood — Another enjoyable story. I felt like part of the landscape of this one had distinct Australian inspirations (although it was definitely not actually set in Australia). The story is about a mother and daughter who are different in a village with very strong beliefs and traditions.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2015, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: Twelve Planets, volume 12 (but they are all 100% standalone)
Format read: Proofs
Source: Well I have a subscription, but I actually read it while proof-reading for the publisher.
Disclaimer: See above.
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Friday, 6 March 2015

Announcing Defying Doomsday

I have some exciting news today! For the past year*, I've been working on a project I haven't talked publicly, but now I can share some of the details with you. I am going to be editing an anthology, with Holly Kench (of Stuffed Olive), which will be published by Twelfth Planet Press in 2016. Titled Defying Doomsday, it will contain apocalypse-survival fiction featuring disabled/chronically ill/neurodiverse/mentally ill characters.

*Wow, I didn't realise it had been that long until I checked.

Apocalypse fiction rarely includes characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments. When these characters do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction.

The anthology will be varied, with characters experiencing all kinds of disability from physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters. There will also be a variety of stories, including those that are fun, sad, adventurous and horrific.

The stories in Defying Doomsday will look at periods of upheaval from new and interesting perspectives. The anthology will share narratives about characters with disability, characters with chronic illnesses and other impairments, surviving the apocalypse and contending with the collapse of life as they know it.


About the Campaign:

Following the success of Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press's multi-award-nominated 2014 anthology, Defying Doomsday will be funded via a Pozible campaign, with the assistance of a Crowbar grant from Arts Tasmania. The campaign will run from April 1 2015 to May 1 2015, with a funding goal of $13,000 to cover production costs, reward items, and the funds to pay authors a professional market rate.

About the Editors:

Tsana Dolichva is a Ditmar Award-nominated book blogger and Holly Kench is the managing editor of Visibility Fiction. As editors and readers of science fiction who also live with disability and chronic illness, Tsana and Holly have often noticed the particular lack of disabled or chronically ill characters in apocalypse fiction. They are excited to share Defying Doomsday, an anthology showing that people with disability and chronic illness also have stories to tell, even when the world is ending.

Twelfth Planet Press:

Twelfth Planet Press is an award winning Australian publisher, championing underrepresented voices in speculative fiction. In 2011, Alisa Krasnostein won the World Fantasy Award for her work with the press, and Twelfth Planet books and stories have won Shirley Jackson, WSFA Small Press, Aurealis, Ditmar, Chronos and Tin Duck awards.

Social Media links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DefyingDoomsday
Website: http://defyingdoomsday.twelfthplanetpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DefyingDoomsday
Tumblr: http://DefyingDoomsday.tumblr.com

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu was originally published in China and has been translated into English by Ken Liu. It's a hard science fiction novel set mostly in the approximate present in China, and partly during the cultural revolution.
Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
The Three Body Problem is probably the best hard science fiction novel I've read in a long time. Admittedly this is partly because I've been put off by a lot of the books I picked up being either too sexist etc or, well, not being hard. Although, since I've started thinking about it, if I had to compare the style and scope of ideas, Greg Egan springs to mind. But anyway, on with the review.

The book opens during the Cultural Revolution in China, with Ye, a graduate student, watching her father beaten to death. Through the course of the revolution she ends up at a remote top secret radio telescope base where all is not quite as it seems. The first few chapters were about Ye but then the story jumped forward to the approximate present and we didn't get back to her story for quite a while. It's not that I didn't enjoy where the story ended up going, but I felt a little "bait and switch" with the opening. But I was glad when later we did get to find out the rest of her story.

The other part of the story (two thirds, maybe?) followed Wang, a physicist in nano material research, set in the approximate present. The start of his story is a horrifying nightmare for a scientist. Weird and inexplicable and inconsistent physics results start occurring. Particle accelerators start producing chaos, the cosmic microwave background flickers and a glowing countdown follows Wang around, appearing every time he takes a photo, no matter what camera he uses. Wang is terrified, as would I be if I were in the same situation. I thought it was a really clever and terrifying concept that was especially suited to the science fiction genre. I don't think it would freak out non-scientists as much (when reading the book, I mean), but that's kind of the point.

The last third of the story is more unusual. In the course of events, Wang ends up playing a virtual-reality immersive video game (pictured on the cover), which has strange rules and doesn't have any clear goals at first, other than to not die. It takes a little while to work out its relevance. On the other hand, while reading it's clear from the context that the game is relevant to the strange things happening in the world, just not quite how until much later. It also provided an interesting commentary on some aspects of the history of science.

The Three Body Problem is a very idea-dense novel. There's a lot in it, especially if you're not familiar with recent(ish) Chinese history. That said, the culture is very accessible. However, I find it harder to comment on the accessibility of the science, since I'm a physicist. There are some footnotes both from the author and the translator explaining some of the references, mostly to science in the first case and culture in the second.

I would very highly recommend The Three Body Problem to fans of hard science fiction. The main overarching plot — which does take a little while to be revealed — is very science and idea driven, with the characters spending a lot of time trying to work out what's happening. I am definitely keen to read the next instalment which should be out in October this year. (Although Ken Liu is not translating the second volume, only the first and third. It will be interesting to compare.)

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2008 in Chinese, 2014 in English by Tor
Series: Three Body book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley