Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Bloody Quarrel by Duncan Lay

The Bloody Quarrel by Duncan Lay is the second book in the Alabaster Trilogy, following on from The Last Quarrel which I read and reviewed last year. The first line of the blurb is a major spoiler for book 1, and my review will also contain other spoilers for the first book. A lot of significant things happened in the latter part of book 1, so if you want to be surprised and unspoiled, don't read this review. Really. Leave now. Don't even read the next sentence.

The prince is dead.

Fooled by the treacherous King Aidan, Fallon has shot down the one man he trusted to save his beloved nation of Gaelland. And yet, when the King could grind Fallon underfoot, he draws the simple farmer and fighter closer, making a hero of him.

Embroiled in plots beyond his comprehension and weighted with the guilt of the prince's murder, Fallon must tread carefully if he is to accomplish the task that first brought him to the cursed capital: rescue his wife, Bridgit, and the rest of his village from Kottermani slavery. If he and his hopelessly ensnared men can survive, they may yet find redemption.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, Bridgit is rallying those around her to spring an escape. But who can be trusted? The ever-present danger of traitors and liars among the slaves, and even among her fellow Gaelish, is poison to her plans.

With an ocean between them and fouler nightmares looming, Fallon and Bridgit will be driven to their very limits to escape their prisons, find each other, and bring justice to Gaelland.

Somewhat unusually for my recent reading habits, I took a long time to read this book. (Goodreads tells me it was just under seven weeks, wow.) This is mainly because of other things going on in my life at the time, and also because, well, the book is kinda long. I didn't put it down because I was bored or annoyed at it, more because I needed something else — mostly something happier — in my life at the time. The Poisoned Quarrel is not a cheerful book, by and large. That's not to say that nothing good happens, but the overwhelming theme of the story is betrayal.

I'm sure I've said before that one of the themes Lay tackles well and consistently in his book is father-child relationships. This was true in the first book of this trilogy as well, but seems to be a bit less prominent in the second book. Fallon still has a relationship with his son who is around for a lot of the book, but that relationship is a bit less central that it was in the previous book. Mostly, I'd say, because the father and son settled into a rhythm and roles that weren't overly disrupted by the plot. I suspect there will be some more disruptions in book three.

The Poisoned Quarrel was also fairly gory, not that that's new for Lay. But right from where it picked up after the cliffhanger at the end of book one, there was a lot of opportunity for violence and descriptions of said violence. It was all relevant to the plot but if you don't want to read about people's head's being caved in (to give a mild example), well, you've been warned. (Minimal sexual violence, though.)

I especially enjoyed watching Bridgit develop as a person while enslaved by the Kottermanis. Since the characters around Fallon were mostly male, with only a few relevant exceptions, it was nice to have the second storyline following a set of characters that were mostly female. That they kicked arse was also a bonus.

I am definitely going to read the last book in this trilogy (The Poisoned Quarrel, already out), but after a short break from epic fantasy. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who's read the first book. And how could you not want to read it after the cliffhanger book 1 left us on? On the other hand, if you hate cliffhangers, this didn't actually have one (I'm as shocked as you are). Most plot elements are left unresolved, but no one is in the middle of being shot of hearing a deeply significant reveal, to pick two examples at random. If you haven't read any Duncan Lay before, then a) I recommend his books if you like epic fantasy, father-child relationships and apparently grimdark (although I wouldn't've called his other books that) and b) definitely start with book one.

4 / 5 stars

First published: February 2016, Momentum
Series: The Alabaster Trilogy book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Imprudence by Gail Carriger is the second book in the Custard Protocol series, following on from Prudence, which I have previously reviewed. It's also set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series (which began with Soulless and ended with Timeless) and the Finishing School series.

London is in chaos.

Rue and the crew of The Spotted Custard returned from India with revelations that shook the foundations of the scientific community. There is mass political upheaval, the vampires are tetchy, and something is seriously wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue’s best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most inappropriate military types.

Rue has got personal problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue’s beginning to suspect what they all really are… is frightened.

When the Custard is ordered to Egypt, transporting some highly unusual passengers, Rue’s problems go from personal to impossible. Can she get Percy to stop sulking? Will she find the true cause of Primrose’s lovesickness? And what is Quesnel hiding in the boiler room?

This book was everything I've come to expect from Gail Carriger plus a bit more. The bit more being the nature of the romantic part of the storyline. Although the plot is mainly focussed on other things, like dirigible captaining and not being killed, there is also a significant romantic subplot that I enjoyed more than I expected to. You can probably guess who is involved if you've read the previous book, but I won't spoil it here. I should also point out, it's not that Carriger's other books didn't have romance in them, it was just handled and presented a bit differently in this one, I though. Initially, at least.

Romance aside, there was a lot of other stuff going on in this book.

The plot structure of this book was a little bit unusual, probably because it's a book two. I don't mean to say it suffers from middle-book-syndrome (I'm pretty sure this isn't a trilogy, for a start), just that it's clear certain things needed to happen and that certain other things were setting up the next book more than happening for their own sake. The first half of the book involves a lot of Rue's family issues, while the focus of the second half is on something else entirely and more similar to the type of adventure she had in the first book. The main difference, I suppose, is that while the first book could stand alone, this second book is more firmly a part of a larger whole.

I don't mean, from the above, to imply that I didn't enjoy the book. I loved it. I haven't been reading as much as usual lately and Imprudence helped me get back on track. It's delightful and funny and continues to develop the world Carriger has created.

If you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend it, especially if you've liked any of Carriger's other books. I definitely recommend starting with the first book, Prudence, since Imprudence follows directly on from it. You don't have to have read any of the other series set in the same world, however (but they are also good).

5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2016, Orbit
Series: The Custard Protocol, book 2 of ?
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from Google Play

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson, is the third consecutive volume of Squirrel Girl comics. Although they restarted the issue numbering, they thankfully left the volume numbering in tact. For now. It's also not a terrible place to jump into the comics, although I would recommend starting with Volume 1 because then you get more Squirrel Girl and more backstory to establish the other characters with.

New series, New Avenger! With her unique combination of wit, empathy and squirrel powers, computer science student Doreen Green - aka the unbeatable Squirrel Girl - is all that stands between the Earth and total destruction. Well, Doreen plus her friends Tippy-Toe (a squirrel) and Nancy (a regular human with no powers). So, mainly Squirrel Girl. Then what hope does the Earth have if she gets hurled back in time to the 1960s and erased from history? At least Nancy will never forget her friend, but what invincible armored Avenger can she call on to help, through the magic of social media? Decades apart, can they avert doom, or will everything go wrong forever? Howard the Duck hopes not... he has an appointment for a crossover!

The opening issue is somewhat introductory, (re-)introducing Squirrel Girl, Nancy and a few other key characters. There's a bad guy attack that, in true Squirrel Girl style, is more morally grey than you might expect from a monster-of-the-issue incident.

The main story arc of this volume involves time travel to the 60s and Doctor Doom. The Doctor Doom part, actually, is probably yet another reason to read the first two volumes of Squirrel Girl. It's not strictly necessary to follow this story, but I think it still helps to provide some useful context. I quite enjoyed the story arc, especially the way the new (temporary?) side characters were integrated into the story. And I approved of it being more Nancy and less Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk — not that I hate the latter two, I just find them a bit meh.

The final story arc was a two-issue crossover with Howard the Duck, with the Howard the Duck issue included in this volume. I haven't read any Howard the Duck before and this arc didn't especially encourage me to. It wasn't bad, and I didn't mind seeing a new character, but I didn't find him interesting enough to bother following up. Squirrel Girl was much more interesting to me.

I enjoyed this volume of Squirrel Girl and, as always, I am looking forward to reading more Squirrel Girl when it becomes available. I highly recommend the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to fans of humour, female characters, squirrels and computer science. If you're new to Squirrel Girl, this isn't a terrible place to start, but I think Volume 1 is an even better place to start.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2016, Marvel
Series: Volume 3 of ongoing series, containing issues #1–6 (and Howard the Duck #6) of the 2015B run of Squirrel Girl.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: A comic book shop. I think it was Orbital Comics in London\

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Interview with Allyse Near (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Allyse Near’s debut novel, Fairytales for Wilde Girls, won Best Horror and Best Young Adult Novel at the Aurealis Awards, Honour Book of the Year at the CBCA Awards, and was shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming and Inky Awards. Near won Deakin University’s inaugural Judith Rodriguez Prize for Fiction in her second year of study, and was one of the Melbourne Writer's Festival’s 30 Under 30 in 2015. She will be hosting a workshop based around crafting fairytales for the MWF this year. Fairytales for Wilde Girls was recently released in Russian.

You recently spent some time in Japan teaching English. How has this experience fed back into your writing?

I lived in Nakano-Sakaue, right on the edge of Shinjuku. I had visited Japan the year before and found it to be a really inspiring and beautiful place. I loved the strong sense of national identity and the clashing culture – the tremendously modern and the revered past. While there, I came up an idea for a novel that I’m hoping to expand into my first series. It’s inspired by the neon-soaked atmosphere and the ‘Mahou Shoujo/Magical Girl’ genre.

What’s your favourite place to write? 

Russian cover of Fairytales for Wilde Girls
It’s probably terrible for my posture, but I love to write in bed, balancing my laptop on my knee, with a big mug of green tea and some music playing. I also get my best work done fairly late at night. I also like to write at the local library during the summer.

What are you working on now? Can you tell us a bit about what readers can expect to see from you next?

I always have a couple of projects on the go. Currently I’m putting together a workshop for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival’s schools program. It’s about fairytales and how they can be twisted and made contemporary. I’m also working on my first screenplay, and two different novels – one the aforementioned Tokyo-set series, and the other a stand-alone YA. My agent has been very patient with me!

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I just powered through Fleur Ferris’ Black in a day, which is a big deal for me, as my reading speed could be described as ‘plodding’. It was quite thrilling and I’m looking forward to her book. For the most part, I get my recommendations from the @LoveOzYA twitter account and corresponding hashtag. There’s so many gems out there in Australian YA, it’s great to see these books and authors get all the love and support they deserve.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why? 

This is a difficult question! I think I’d like to sit beside Tolkien. I could order him a drink and get him to tell me a really long, winding story to pass the time. If I could have the middle seat, I’d like to have JK Rowling on my other side. I’d love to talk to her about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – I have a lot of questions!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Interview with KJ Taylor (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

K.J.Taylor is a cynical, world-weary 60 year old woman stuck in the body of a 30 year old. She went to highschool at Radford College, where she wrote her first novel, The Land of Bad Fantasy, and sold it to Scholastic without telling them she was 18 years old. She then went on to complete a Bachelor of Communications at the University of Canberra, where she wrote her second novel, The Dark Griffin. She now holds a Masters of Information Studies and has a part time job as an archivist. She once wrote a movie script which was rejected by an actual Hollywood agent, and currently lives in a yurt with the world's laziest rat as a housemate.

You had a lot of books come out last year (five of them!) — what was that like? Were you run off your feet doing promo all year?

I had a heck of a lot of publicity stuff to do, yes! Two blog tours in quick succession, with a short deadline to answer a bunch of interview questions or write a suitably entertaining blog post. Since they were e-book only I didn’t get to do any signings, sadly. I also had two audio trailers made, plus I commissioned some artwork (money well spent!).

True story: At the San Diego ComicCon in 2011 I sat on a panel with some other authors, and one of the questions was “what do you think about ebooks?” I answered that I was no problem with them, but joked that “only problem is you can’t autograph an ebook!” At the signing afterward three different fans asked me to sign their e-reader covers, and I did so saying “well, that shut me up”.

It looks like you have more books on the horizon. Can you tell us a bit about them? (And will their release be more spread out, or do you have more busy times ahead?)

I’m currently in the process of publishing the next three books of the Cymrian Saga – a series that began with probably my most well-known book, The Dark Griffin. The original publisher decided not to continue with the series because they’re changing their focus away from fantasy, but I was able to find a new home for it at Satalyte Publishing. The next book in the series, The Last Guard, is currently slated for release in late September this year – in hardcover, softcover, and ebook, with cover art and internal illustrations by the extraordinarily talented Sydney-based artist Amber Goodhart (

For those who have read the previous six books, the story now continues with the tale of Kearney “Red” Redguard, who made an appearance in The Shadow’s Heart as a boy. Now a grown man, Red must fight for his people, the Southerners, as King Caedmon Taranisäii of the North makes good on his promise to invade the South. And the massive dark griffin Kraego, son of the Mighty Skandar, has plans of his own. The sequels to The Last Guard are called The Silent Guard and The Cursed Guard, and their release dates have yet to be decided, but most likely they’ll come out sometime next year.

I’ve also recently been contacted by a University professor in Queensland, whose students are starting up a new publishing label. He asked if I had an unpublished short novel they could edit and publish. I sent him a book for younger readers I had written called The Price of Magic, and they’ve accepted it for publication. The Price of Magic is set in a world where the disabled have magical powers. The more severely disabled they are, the more powerful their magic is. The protagonist, a chirpy boy named Pip who has a gammy leg, is apprenticed to one of the most powerful mages in the world: a woman named Seress. When an rogue mage threatens the entire world, only Seress has the strength to stop him – but she suffers from severe clinical depression. How can you save the world when some days you can’t even get out of bed? It’s up to Pip to find the answer.

And yes I did my research! Not being depressed myself, I did plenty of reading up on the subject while also drawing on my own experiences in dealing with severely depressed people. I hoped that The Price of Magic would help to inspire people dealing with depression, as well as anxiety, physical disability, and terminal illness. The magic in the book was also intended as a metaphor for art – the idea came to me when I was sitting in the waiting room to see a counsellor (I had had a severe nervous breakdown) and found myself thinking “why are artists always such troubled people? It feels as if the more brilliant you are, the more screwed up you are”.

Broken Prophecy came out swinging hard against the idea of prophecies and destiny as seen in fantasy fiction. Last Snapshot, in 2014, you told us the anti-hero in The Fallen Moon trilogy came about because you had grown disenchanted with heroic characters. Are there any other fantasy tropes that you would like to subvert/punch in the face? 

Oh boy, here we go. I’ll just make a list.

  • Entire races/species classified as automatically Evil (honestly, this trope really smacks of racism)
  • Beautiful Princesses (or indeed, any female character) who only exist as cheap plot devices and/or love interests to be rescued by the hero
  • Endless chapters of the characters travelling somewhere, during which absolutely nothing happens (I find travel sequences really boring to write, so 99% of the time I just summarise it in a paragraph or two if nothing important happens along the way).
  • Big Evil Villains who are evil just because and have no motivations that actually make sense. Also villains who are evil because they’re “insane”, which is a cop-out and quite frankly offensive to the mentally ill. And by “insane” I mean that the bad guy is referred to as “mad” but there’s no further explanation or specific disorder shown. He’s just doing bad things to people because he’s crazy! Actually, if I had my druthers we’d get rid of Big Evil Villains altogether and write about three-dimensional human beings who happen to have opposing goals instead.
  • Chosen Ones. Most of the time this is just a cheap shortcut to getting your protagonist involved in the plot, especially when s/he’s the subject of an infallible prophecy. It removes your main character’s agency by forcing him/her to get involved, and makes them “special” when they haven’t done anything to earn it.
  • Giving characters new abilities as the plot requires it
  • The old stories/legends always turn out to be completely true and are never distorted by political or religious agendas (GRRM does a brilliant job of subverting this one)
  • The protagonist becomes an expert fighter/wizard in a very short timeframe without explanation. You can’t become a “master warrior”, or a master anything in three months. It simply isn’t possible. Imagine picking up a plastic recorder and being instantly capable of playing a solo with the London Symphony Orchestra.
  • Beautiful = Good, Ugly = Evil. You can tell if someone is Good or Evil just by looking at them, apparently
  • Horses and other beasts of burden treated like cars. They never get tired or act out or panic when they see a snake and throw you off 
I could go on, but I should probably leave it at that. :p

What Australian work have you loved recently?

When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach. I’ve never been keen on romance novels, but I really enjoyed this one. It’s not pure romance, mind you – it’s a sci fi romance!

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

William Horwood, so I could ask him endless questions about his Duncton Wood series. More people need to read that series. It’s definitely been a very big influence on me as an author.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Interview with Simon Petrie (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Simon Petrie's formative years, as well as some years that should have been formative but weren't, were spent in New Zealand. He now lives in Canberra. His fiction (which has twice won NZ's Sir Julius Vogel Award and has also been shortlisted for the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards) has been published in many different venues, is showcased in his collections Rare Unsigned Copy and Difficult Second Album, and is upcoming in Cosmos Online and Dimension6. He is the Southern Hemisphere's only licensed velociraptor breeder, a member of the Arcturan Cultural Exchange Program, and an inveterate liar.

Some of your stories share settings. What’s your favourite setting from any story you’ve written? What makes you want to come back to a setting after you’ve already written about it?

My favourite setting, based on the numbers, would apparently be Saturn’s haze-concealed moon, Titan. I’ve so far written nine short stories—or, to be pedantic, eight short stories and a novella—set on Titan; I’m still trying to find a home for the novella, but the shorter pieces have all seen publication, or are in press, in various places.

The things I like about Titan as a setting are that, one, it’s an intriguingly challenging environment—intensely cold, shrouded in a surprisingly thick atmosphere, and with a gravity only one-seventh of that on Earth; two, it’s sufficiently stocked with carbonaceous material such as hydrocarbons that it should be a very promising site for colonisation if humanity ever manages to stumble into the outer solar system; and three, almost all of what we know about Titan—its weather, its methanological cycle, the distribution, depths, and composition of its lakes, its various terrains from craters to mountains to presumed cryovolcanoes to long serried dunefields of hydrocarbon sand—has been uncovered in just the last dozen years, thanks to the Cassini-Huygens mission—which means that, although it’s featured in SF quite a bit over the years, anything written about it over a decade is likely to be no more plausible than the Golden Age stories set on a hot, swampy Venus or on a cultivated, canal-cut Mars. So, while Titan’s not exactly new territory, it’s nonetheless reasonably fresh, and the environmental challenges it poses are hopefully sufficiently unusual as to make for interesting fiction. It’s almost inevitable, given the necessity to resort to guesswork where concrete knowledge is just not available, that my own stories contain mistakes of various kinds (and there are already things I’d change about my own earlier Titan stories), but I hope that the stories can remain somewhat plausible for a few years yet, until more parts of the map are filled in.

And what brings me back? It’s a world; it’s a very different world; and it doesn’t reveal all of its aspects at once. I’m fascinated by the equipment, and by the modes of habitation, that would be required to maintain a human presence in such an unforgiving environment; this equipment obviously isn’t a story in itself, but it can permit the occurrence of certain kinds of stories, and I suppose I’m still experimenting with just what stories can be told with such a toolkit. Lately I’ve written my first Titan-based murder mystery, and I’ve also tried my hand at coming-of-age, wilderness survival, SF puzzle, and armed-combat stories, all of them naturally evolving from the combination of environment, equipment, and human nature.

I like using lots of other settings as well, but Titan’s one I keep coming back to, and I reckon there’s a few stories to go before it will release me from its gravitational pull.

As well as writing, you’ve also done some editing, including issues of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and some anthologies out from Peggy Bright Books. Are there any more anthologies on the horizon? What feels, to you, like a good balance between editing and writing? 

Although I’d certainly like to be involved in further editing projects such as anthologies, there aren’t any in the pipeline for me at the moment. As of October last year, I’m no longer involved with ASIM—after eight and a half years with the magazine, I was feeling quite burnt out—and although Edwina Harvey and I have discussed the possibility of co-editing another anthology for Peggy Bright Books, nothing’s been greenlighted on that yet. We may just have to see what turns up.

The balance, for me, is more one of layout versus writing. The first few months of this year were largely taken up with typesetting the two most recent books from Peggy Bright: Adam Browne’s The Tame Animals of Saturn, which involved a lot of finessing between illustrations and text, and Sean O’Leary’s lit/crime collection Walking (which I also edited). There’s been other typesetting work, during that time, for one of the American writers and publishers with whom I’ve been involved over the past few years. The balance between layout and writing (or, on occasion, between editing and writing, or even between reading and writing) seems to waver quite a bit, for me: sometimes I do feel frustrated at not managing to claw out the time to do my own creative writing, but I’m not one of these people who’s able to write every day (I was rather surprised at the speed with which the Titan murder-mystery novella, mentioned above, came together, in only about ten days to complete the first draft, but for the most part it’s usually a process of writing a scene, adding the next one a few days or even weeks later, and tinkering obsessively with the fragments over a reasonably extended period of time), so it’s useful to have other word-based activities with which to occupy myself while the inspiration is less than white-hot. And I enjoy the challenges that such activities occasionally throw up—learning how to build glyphs so as to accurately reproduce characters that don’t exist in a particular typeface, working out how to embed footnotes in a reasonably primitive epub file—and trying, always, to give the page a natural, uncluttered appearance that will, I hope, be pleasing to the reader’s eye. But there are times, almost unavoidably, when such considerations get in the way of the need to write. If there’s a trick to achieving the perfect balance, I haven’t discovered it yet.

What stories are you working on at the moment? What can readers expect to see from you next? 

In terms of the stories I really want to finish: there’s a pigeon-pair of interstellar cloud colony novellas (in the same setting as my stories ‘Dark Rendezvous’ and ‘Trajectory’) that I’m keen to get completed before year’s end. They’ll likely be usurped, though, by another Titan murder mystery novella, which has fixed its beady eyes upon my hindbrain; and I also want to finish off the latest Gordon Mamon story, once I’ve got enough excruciating name-puns to flesh out the list of suspects.
As for what will be out next: my xenobiological-conundrum novelette, ‘All the Colours of the Tomato’, is due out in the October release of Keith Stevenson’s Dimension6 zine, and my Titan story ‘The Goldilocks Hack’, which picks up from the moment its predecessor ‘CREVjack’ closes, is due out sometime soon(ish) in Cosmos Online. [There will also, I suspect, be a successor to ‘The Goldilocks Hack’ itself, but as I haven’t written it yet it’s best not to hold one’s breath on that score.] Beyond that, I have a few pieces out in the wilds, at the mercy of any kindly editor willing to give them a home. Fingers crossed.

What Australian work have you loved recently? 

I’ve been unforgivably remiss in my reading of Australian work over the last year or so—practically the only things I’ve read have been Adam Browne’s The Tame Animals of Saturn and the CSfG’s The Never Never Land anthology. I very much admire Adam’s work, which I think deserves a larger following. And the story that most appealed to me in Never Never Land is Leife Shallcross’s wistful and wonderfully subtle ‘Adventure Socks’. But I must make a point of working through my to-be-read pile, because I know there’s a lot of good stuff out there.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why? 

As fate would have it, I was in Europe on a study tour holiday when these questions reached me, so I have in fact had a long plane trip since then; I was seated next to Edwina Harvey, and we seemed to get along alright. So she would have to be one contender for the position as advertised.

Casting the fellow-passenger net more widely, I’m tempted to nominate my all-time favourite author, the late Finnish writer, illustrator and artist Tove Jansson, but in truth I suspect that might not be such a good idea: she was, in some ways, a famously private person, and I think this, in combination with my not knowing what to say, could make for a rather awkward flight. I suspect I’d feel more relaxed in the company of someone like Spike Milligan or Douglas Adams, who I think would have a lot of naturally interesting things to say about life.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Interview with Thalia Kalkipsakis (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Thalia Kalkipsakis is the author of twenty books for children and young adults. In May 2016 she released the second instalment of the Lifespan of Starlight trilogy, which follows a group of teenagers who discover the secret to time travel. She lives in north-east Victoria with her husband, their two children and two black cats.

The Lifespan of Starlight series is the first novel-length science fiction that you've written. After writing children's books and contemporary YA, what was it like switching into science fiction mode?

It felt hugely freeing and slightly terrifying – like driving on my own for the first time, with the full awareness that I might crash. The first story I ever pitched, eons ago, had hyper-natural elements (in that, I’d started with the natural world and extrapolated into supernatural from there). It was rejected, but that led to the opportunity to write contemporary children’s books. So, right from the start I was working outside my chosen genre. In hindsight it was the best thing that could happen to me because I was forced to develop character and pacing to get the story working, rather than pull out any writerly ‘sonic screwdrivers’ so to speak.

Some of the contemporary stories I pitched during that stage were rejected as being too plot driven – so the urge never left me – but I’m definitely better at drawing characters now than if I hadn’t had the time writing contemporary fiction. Even while writing Lifespan of Starlight the plot twists and action scenes almost felt too much fun, like I was cheating in some way. Although, of course, what’s the point of twists and turns if you don’t care about the characters living through them.

Having written books for a few different age ranges, do you have a favourite? Are there any age groups you haven't tried that you would like to have a go at?

Coming-of-age stories are endlessly fascinating for me – that moment when a young person is given the freedom to make their own way, to determine who they are, or perhaps who they would like to become. That said, however, I don’t see YA as a genre simply for teenagers. Adults who read YA are making a conscious decision to do so, whereas the same distinction doesn’t seem to exist in cinema – think Star Wars and Back to the Future. Adult cinema-goers don’t think, ‘I won’t see Back the Future because Marty McFly is a teenager.’

In terms of age range, I’m more likely to start with the story concept and then write it in the genre that best suits the idea – so it depends where my ideas take me.

Are you working on any other speculative fiction books, besides the concluding volume in the Lifespan of Starlight Trilogy? Either way, what can readers expect to see from you next?

My husband teases me because I’m constantly saying that I’m going to take a break from writing after I’ve finished the current project – and then after a few weeks without writing I’ll begin tinkering with something new. At the moment I can’t see past the end of the Lifespan of Starlight Trilogy, but I do have an idea bubbling at the back of my mind. It has elements of The Mosquito Coast but set on a space ship or somewhere equally claustrophobic.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I admit, it wasn’t ‘love at first chapter’ but Clade by James Bradley really came to life for me as the story progressed. It follows a family over three generations, with climate breakdown as a backdrop – it’s raw and achingly real with an authentic sense of hope.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

George Orwell, without a doubt. I wouldn’t be rude enough to quiz him on all this if it we were on a plane for real, but I’d love to hear his take on the contemporary world: populist democracy, class structure in the technological age, capitalist marketing machines and the state of the media … Our accelerating world needs another George Orwell.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Interview with Jennifer Fallon (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Jennifer Fallon is the author of 17 full-length bestselling novels and a number of published short stories in genres ranging from horror to science fiction, and a bestselling series on writing.
In addition to 4 complete fantasy series - The Demon Child trilogy, The Hythrun Chronicles, the Second Sons Trilogy, The Tide Lords Quadrilogy and the Rift Runners series - Fallon has written both a tie-novel and short fiction for the TV series, Stargate SG1, an official Zorro story, a novella for the Legends of Australian Fantasy Anthology and has a superhero - The Violet Valet (Chicks In Capes).
Fallon has a Masters Degree from the Creative Arts faculty of QUT. A business consultant, corporate trainer and application specialist, Fallon currently works in the IT industry and spends at least a month each year working at Scott Base in Antarctica.

With the release of The Lyre Thief earlier this year you took readers to the world of the Hythrun Chronicles for the third time, after a bit of a break. Is there a particular appeal to writing books set in a world you’re already familiar with, compared with books set in a completely new world?

I swore I would never go back there at all for many years, but now I have, I am having a ball. In fact, it's kind of addictive to go back into a world so clearly defined, working with characters I know so well, besides discovering new people and their stories that inhabit this world.  If anything, I am now in danger of never wanting to leave. As I get further and further into this series, introducing new characters and new parts of this world, I keep wanting to tell their stories, too. This series, I suspect, may not be the last, although I do have some "issues" to sort out with the US publisher going forward before I decide that for certain. Stay tuned!

You had plans to release a “director’s cut” version of the Second Sons Trilogy, which I see from your website has been delayed. Is this still forthcoming? What can readers expect from this new version?

We had an inquiry from a UK production company about a TV series for the Second Sons. Everything was held up while we worked through this, and by the time it was resolved (as in, did not proceed) the deadlines for the War of the Gods series were looming. It will still happen, but not for a while yet. It has been bumped for the priority of the other series.

What are you working on next? Other than the second and third books in the War of the Gods trilogy, what can we expect to see from you in the nearish future?

Second book, Retribution, is done. About to start Covenant. Nothing else in the pipeline. I work full time as an IT consultant and have a thriving Social Media Management business in addition to my writing. There are only so many hours in a day!

What Australian work have you loved recently?

See above! I literally cannot remember the last time I read anything for fun, from Australia or anywhere else. Everything I do is research, research, research, for my writing or my business life. I haven't even gotten around to watching the latest GOT series. I am hoping someone will make a scientific breakthrough that enables me to have either another couple of days a week, or an extra couple of hours a day. Either would do. I'm pretty much down to 4 hours of sleep a night, so not really any wriggle room there.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Great question. Been pondering this for days. In the end, I think it might be Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind. I would dearly love to talk to her about her research, her feeling for the characters, wondering if she realised just how toxic a relationship her grand romance was. The characters in that book are very self serving and often not very pleasant, and yet she makes them heroes in an indefensible world. I find that skill fascinating and would love to know it she did it on purpose.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Interview with Patty Jansen (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

Patty Jansen lives in Sydney. She used to work as research scientist for CSIRO (budget cuts ahoy!), has run an online non-fiction bookshop and has been writing since 2003.  She dabbled a bit in short fiction, winning Writers of The Future in 2010 and selling a few stories to “pro” magazines (Baen’s Universe, Analog, Redstone SF). She first self-published the novella His Name In Lights in 2011 and self-published the first original novel, Fire & Ice, book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy, later that year. Twenty-five books later, she is a full-time writer, and could live off her writing if she didn’t have three cars and three adult kids at home and university. Her most popular books at the moment are the Ambassador books.
You can find Patty and all information about her books at

After many years of experience, you have become somewhat of an expert on self-publishing. Do you think you would have taken the same path with self-publishing if you had started writing ten years earlier or ten years later?

Ten years earlier…

Truth is, I self-published my first book in 1995. It was niche non-fiction and I sold every single copy I printed (no ebooks back then). In 1985, I would have been way too young.

I self-published my first fiction in 2011, which was not terribly early. In those days everyone was still adhering to this thoroughly silly mantra that if you self-published, you’d shoot your career down in flames. There were some people out there in a little corner saying “Hey, come here, the water is nice,” but I wanted to make sure I did not publish a first draft, or even a final draft of my first book, before I knew I would not be embarrassed by it later. I started with some shorter work that was out of contract. The first novel I published did, in fact, get a contract, which I chose not to sign.

In short, self-publishing always had my name on it, but I wanted to make sure I put work of acceptable standard out there. If I started right now, I would be even less inclined to go traditional. I want a career in writing and thoroughly dislike the idea of that career be on the behest of someone else’s business. My husband travels to Canberra to work every week. The plan is that he can stop doing this and we live off  my writing income. I’m about halfway there. Either I double my income, or we boot our kids out of the house.

You have been organising a lot of cross-promotions among self-published authors. Do you find this more effective than other means of promotion?

There are a lot of things that fall under the umbrella “promotion” that would not at first sight appear to do so. Getting the right cover is promotion. Getting your book in the right categories is promotion. Getting reviews is promotion. Getting people on your mailing list is promotion. Paid advertising is only a small part of it.

About a year and a half ago, there was a big push from some prominent self-published authors to build up mailing lists via Facebook ads with the incentive of giving away a first book in  a series for free in return for that person’s email on your mailing list. This has, by the way, been proven a highly effective means of promotion in case anyone reads this and goes “oh, but those people only sign up for the freebie”. Sure, some do, but you’re not interested in those people. You’re interested in the ones who buy the rest of the series.

Anyway, some people were much better at the Facebook advertising thing than I was, and all of a sudden they had giant lists without a clue what to do with them. I knew what to do with the lists, but lacked the lists, so put the two together, add some authors with giant followings on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and you have a pretty powerful promotion engine. On the first weekend of each month, over 100 authors make their books free or 99c, I put them on a page and we go kill the internet with it.

It’s been surprisingly effective, has given me a can-do community of people I can go to for help of any kind, and it’s a lot of fun.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming releases. What can we expect to see from you next?

Currently, I’m about two weeks off finishing the Moonfire Trilogy, the sequel series to the Icefire Trilogy. This is post-apocalyptic fantasy turned into almost-hard SF. After that, I will write at least one book in the Ambassador series, maybe more depending on how the wind blows.

I write about five full-length books per year, and like I did in 2016, I want to start something new in 2017. I might finally take the plunge and start my Urban Fantasy series that will be based on the area where I live (Sydney’s North Shore), councils, corruption, murder and were-possums. I guess I’ve been threatening to write this thing for long enough now, and I should actually go and do it.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I read more non-fiction than fiction these days, but I’ve read Glenda Larke and have Kate Forsyth on my TBR pile. Other than that, I read a lot of ebooks, and kinda baulk at some ebook prices of newly released books. As consequence, I’ve bought a lot more self-published than traditionally published, and none of those are Australian, especially in my genres.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I am terrible, terrible at fangirling. I would just prefer to read my favourite writer’s books (it’s C.J. Cherryh, by the way) and not know her as person and find out that she’s not what I’d imagine her to be. I really don’t like talking with writers about their books. I tried and it’s just soooooo awkward. 

That said, I would *love* to sit next to Kim Stanley Robinson, because he is such an interesting person and has so many great ideas. We probably would barely say a word about his  books, though. I prefer to enjoy those in private.
I know, this is nuts.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts (Snapshot 2016)

This interview is one I conducted as part of the 2016 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot. You can read and introduction to the project here and follow the rest of the reviews that will be posted over the first two weeks of August at the Aus SF Snapshot blog.

 Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of books including the Creature Court trilogyLove and Romanpunk, & Musketeer Space, as well as the co-editor of Cranky Ladies of History. Tansy has won all kinds of awards including the Hugo (twice), the Washington SF Small Press Award (twice), various Aurealises and Ditmars, and the William Atheling for Criticism and Review (five times!). Tansy also writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, and listen to her on Galactic SuburbiaSheep Might Fly or the Verity! podcast.

You have recently launched a new podcast called Sheep Might Fly, where you have been reading out short stories, alternating between previously published and original works. Do you see this now as a main destination for your future short stories?

Absolutely - I started the podcast because I love reading stories (author readings are my favourite things to do at conventions) but also to justify the kinds of stories I really want to write, which aren't always easy sells to books or magazines. I love serialised stories following the same characters, I love the longer novelette/novella length, and with my Patreon running I can now justify writing those pieces from a financial/career/audience point of view. It's also nice to have a way to extend the life of my favourite previously-published stories, and maybe extending their readership - I'm not someone who loves to listen to fiction rather than read it with my eyes, but there are so many readers who do prefer this medium.

Sheep Might Fly is certainly not the only destination for my fiction - I rarely have time to write shorter pieces on spec to send out, but I write stories when solicited for projects that excite me,. I recently had "Kid Dark Vs The Machine" published on The Book Smugglers, which is a sideways sequel to "Cookie Cutter Superhero" from Kaleidoscope. But I'm currently taking a break from novel writing after I finished my last full-length manuscript, and still haven't lost too much of my writing momentum because of my podcast - those weekly deadlines are very inspiring!


Some of your work, like Siren Beat and the Cafe La Femme books written under the Livia Day pseudonym, is set in Hobart, where you live. Do you find that you are drawn to the local setting? What’s the main appeal?

It's a little bit the other way around - it took me a long time (more than a decade as a published author) to start feeling comfortable writing stories set in my own backyard. I was brought up to think of Tasmania as a literary space, rather than somewhere that genre could thrive, which held me back for a while, and I was always weirdly self-conscious about writing "local." But the more I did it, the more fun it got - especially when I can mix up the real and the unreal, as in the imaginary town I created for Drowned Vanilla, or when I threw a kraken at the Hobart docks.

The truth is, I know this space better than any other, and I'd be crazy not to use that familiarity to write it. It can be difficult, because Tasmania has such a strange liminal identity in Australian culture - you hardly ever see it on TV, and many mainlanders only experience it as a holiday destination - so what feels normal and realistic to us can feel unrealistic to them. (also like 95% of book set here are super grim and depressing, like we're living in some kind of ghost-drenched backwater... okay that's partly true but we have good coffee and quite a lot of sunshine too!) I still remember hearing my early fantasy works being criticised for having an overly English flavour to them instead of wearing their Australian identity proudly - but Tasmania has a very English side to it at times. (plus I'm half English, so that's always going to be there in my work too)

What new books and stories do you have in the pipeline? What can we expect to see from you next?

My current serial at Sheep Might Fly is "Unmagical Boy Story", which takes on the queen bee/mean girl trope and is about friendship, magic and postgraduate study. I have a story about retired assassins called "Death at the Dragon Circus" coming out in the book And Then: The Great Big Book Of Adventure Tales, from ClanDestine Press, later in the year - I love this story to bits, and excited it's finally coming out. That's another one I'm going to put on the podcast eventually because I want to write lots of sequels with dragons and trapeze artists and handsome men fixing things with tools.

Livia Day has a brand new murder mystery novel coming out towards the end of 2016 - it's called Keep Calm and Kill the Chef, and has Tabitha Darling as prime suspect in the killing of an unpopular celebrity chef during the filming of a reality cooking show. I'm changing up the usual format of these books, dividing the point of view between Tabitha and another character, so I'll be interested to see how it clicks with readers. 

We've just released The Mocklore Omnibus, with fantastic cover art by Tania Walker - this contains Splashdance Silver and Liquid Gold, my very first comic fantasy novels, first published in the late 90's. Fablecroft have done a great job at promoting my backlist, and there is still one more title to come out this year - a collection of Mocklore short stories and novellas, some previously published and some not, featuring the characters of Bountry Fenetre and Delta Void. They're a mix of adventure fiction, romantic comedy and magical mysteries.

Apart from that, there's a few exciting projects shifting around in the aether that aren't ready to be announced yet - including an anthology to be crowdfunded, a novel still looking for a publisher (Victorian fairies, mad science & love-potions-are-not-consent, anyone?), a superhero novella, and so on! 

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Just finished watching Cleverman, which is an amazing achievement - just having such overt, intelligent and political Australian science fiction on our screens feels like a win in itself, and that's without getting started on the powerful use of indigenous themes, stories and performers. It wasn't a perfect piece of television (a lot of story threads especially the white people plotlines that didn't resolve as strongly as I would have liked, and I wanted more scenes with the indigenous and hairy women in the story) but it was very well done and I hope is a precedent for Australian drama in television to offer us stories that are different and challenging and original. I'm really looking forward to Series 2.

It's cheating a bit to mention Defying Doomsday, because it's an anthology that I'm in, but honestly I think more people need to be talking about this extraordinary book of apocalypse fiction with disabled protagonists centred in every story. Not all the authors are Australian, but the editors and publisher are - I'm really glad this book exists, I'm proud to be part of it, and I think there will be a lot of stories from this book competing over awards next year.

Books I'm currently in the process of reading and enjoying include Kate Forsyth's The Rebirth of Rapunzel (essays based on her fairy tale research), and Ben Peek's epic fantasy debut from Tor, The Godless.

This one's not SF, but a shout out for Robert Hoge's Ugly, particularly the kids edition of the book - my daughter owns her own signed copy and STILL took another copy out from the school library and brought it home because she likes it so much. That's the sign of a book that has won the hearts and minds of children.

Oh and since you said work, not just books, I would like to add that I am addicted to buying Kathleen Jennings art from Redbubble, particularly the silk scarves. I even wore one to my wedding.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I want to say Joanna Russ, but the truth is I think I'd be too scared to open my mouth and ask her any questions! So I'll go with Diana Wynne Jones, because I'd love to be able to talk to her about what her stories have meant to me over the years, and listen to anything she has to say about her characters and her writing! I'd have to make sure to take my Kathleen Jennings "I belong to Chrestomanci Castle" cushion on the plane with me.