Jan 30, 2012

A small man can cast a large shadow

Everyone will probably die but I’ll still watch it.  Here’s a sneak peak at Game of Thrones Season 2.


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Jan 29, 2012

While we’re on the topic of Lanagan–Black Juice for $6.95

blackjBooktopia have a sale on her collection of Black Juice .  Ignore their categorisation of it as teen fiction, Lanagan’s work is mature, poetic and at times complex. 

The story Sining My Sister Down had me in tears and Red Nose Day is my favourite clown genocide story.

It’s at $6.95 in paperback form.  I’d buy it if I didn’t have it already.

Don’t believe me here’s what others say:

Black Juice runs through us all.


Black Juice is a book of extraordinary stories breathtakingly fierce and surprisingly tender, they explore the dark and the light, and pit the frailty of humans against implacable forces.


Every story in Black Juice is rich, strange, wonderful and compelling. Margo Lanagan is an enormously talented and skilful writer, with a powerful and original imagination.' Garth Nix


'An exceptional collection of stories: strange, strong, beautifully written. Margo Lanagan has a truly individual voice.' David Almond


'Like a song, Lanagan's language imperceptibly builds a place and a time that is unfamiliar yet strangely familiar; a place that we recognise, not by its mysterious rites and objects, but by the tender cry, the outrage, the yearning, the despair of the human hearts we encounter there. I'm jealous. Martine Murray


I want to hire a plane and write Black Juice across the sky so that people will read these intense, rich, disturbing stories. John Marsden.

Click here to purchase.


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Margo Lanagan interviewed about Sea Hearts

A gorgeous 9 minute video where Margo talks about Sea Hearts and about the way she writes.

It’s also the first time I have heard Margo speak. Enjoy


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Book Review–Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

BadPower

Bad Power is the Twelfth Planet collection featuring the work of Crawford award nominee1 Deborah Biancotti.

The jacket copy says “If you like Haven or heroes, you’ll love Bad power.”  While I think Heroes suffers from the American propensity to drag successful ideas out to the point where they lose dramatic tension, I really like Haven. 

Bad power is more akin to the later, more subdued, and understated.  It also makes me think of Misfits, in the sense that having powers is never quite the as good asit might seem.

With Bad Power Biancotti has given us 5 stories2 that connect very smoothly with one another through the theme of power, the setting and the characters.  It’s more in line with previous Twelve Planet releases like Love and Romanpunk and Nightsiders but I would argue that Bad Power touches on becoming novella such is the smooth flow of the narrative between each of the stories.

 

The Stories

  • Shades of Grey - A rich man finds that  he can’t kill or injure himself – What to do? Well what he does lands himself in gaol and we are introduced to the ever present Detective Palmer.
  • Palming the Lady – A homeless woman is harassing the son of a rich doctor.  Detective Palmer questions her only to find that she carries the power to see the future.
  • Web of Lies – Features the rich son from Palming the Lady who discovers that he hears the voices of the dead. His mother previously thought to be a drug addled trophy wife turns out to be …well sinister.
  • Bad Power – This story breaks the temporal connection of the previous three harking back to an earlier time, possibly set in Australia certainly around the 19 century. A woman who can bind others with her words. It deals with the emergence of the “power”.
  • Cross the Bridge – Detective Ponti ( a descendant of the narrator in Bad Power) can track missing children, usually runaways or the victims of child abusers.  This story features him tracking something new and teaming up with Detective Palmer.

Biancotti has done such a wonderful job with character and setting that I would gleefully return to the world of Bad Power.  I love speculative fiction books set in Australia, in places where I have walked the streets.  Fingers crossed Biancotti has something longer in the works based on her ideas presented here.

I think that Bad Power deserves some close reading once you get past the sheer enjoyment of reading what are very engaging stories. She raises questions subtly - about power and its use.

I also love the skilful play with words, evident most obviously in the tiles of the above pieces.  Tight layered writing.


1. Click here for award information ]

2. 1 more story than usual for the 12 planets series, the book is similar in page count to Nightsiders which comes in at 138 pages


awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 


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Jan 28, 2012

'Sea Hearts' by Margo Lanagan – Out at Readings

seahThose lucky few who have Tablets and internet capable ereaders can now access Margo Lanagan’s latest novel Sea Hearts.

It’s reviewed here by Gary K. Wolfe of Locus magazine.

Australian Speculative/Literary fiction author Claire Corbett has also written an essay of Lanagan’s work at Online Opinion that is well worth a look

Marketing the boundaries: The fiction of Margo Lanagan

For the time being it’s restricted to the Readings/Booki.sh service.  I will let you know when its available in my prefered format of downloadable epub.

 


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Jan 27, 2012

Cover Candy–Suited and Night’s Engines

I have reviewed both Roil and Debris from Angry Robot.  Here’s the covers hot of the printers for the sequels of each.

First, Suited by Jo Anderton

suited-144dpi-197x300

 

and

Night’s Engines by Trent Jamieson

NightsEngines-144dpi-198x300


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Book Review–The Devil’s Elixir by Raymond Khoury

devil

I have somehow missed reading Raymond Khoury, despite him having four consecutive New York Times best sellers.

The Devil's Elixir features characters from Khoury’s previous novels but it works effectively as a stand alone.

Not having read Khoury before I had no idea what to expect.  Prior to chapter one he quotes both Carl Sagan1 :

 

There is a lurking fear that some things are 'not meant' to be known, that some inquiries are too dangerous for human being to make.

and Dr Harold Lief  commenting on the life and work of Dr Ian Stevenson2:

Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as 'the Galileo of the 20th century'

These quotes become important towards the end of the novel.

The Story

We begin with the discovery of a rare hallucinogenic drug by a Spanish Jesuit, Eusebio, a  missionary in Mexico in the 1700’s. We are, however, the  shunted forward in a quick succession of three scenes leading up to the present; FBI agent Sean Reilly in a mission gone to hell, then a Federal agent intent on revenge, and finally to a murder. 

A crazed and previously thought dead Mexican drug baron is set on rediscovering Eusebio’s drug and synthesizing it.  He is known as El Brujo, the sorcerer, a believer in magic and the ability of substances to facilitate  travel between the real and the spiritual, between fantasy and reality, future and past. He’s unhinged, intelligent an intent on getting what he wants whatever the cost.

Reilly and a cross departmental team have to figure out what El Brujo’s up to and stop him before the drug can flood the streets.

Non-stop action

The book is, as the Times says, “non-stop action”. The reader is rarely given the chance to stop and reflect on who is behind what, or to put the pieces together, or so it was for me until we hit the point at which the possibility of reincarnation enters the story.

So impassioned is Khoury’s presentation the character of Prof. Dean Stephenson3 that I feared that this was the author’s voice coming though.  I actually contemplated putting the book down, concerned that I had read three quarters of a thriller only to find it a veiled argument for pseudoscience4

Now you may well say what’s the issue, it’s fiction?  I say it’s all in the expectation you help build with the reader.  I can easily read and enjoy a tale in which the characters consort with ghosts and vampires because that expectation is set up from the start.  Khoury had me a little confused and a little worried.

I won’t spoil the ending, continue reading until the end, Khoury redeems himself, but the implementation of the reincarnation facet of the story was a road bump in an otherwise fast paced enjoyment.

Characters with enough meat

Khoury’s been accused of having bland one dimensional characters in some of his other books.  I found his characterisation more than ample for a thriller. 

I appreciated that the main protagonist wasn’t superman.  Reilly is trained, capable but human.  This portrayal helped ground the book as a realistic thriller, making the Reincarnation angle all the more glaring.

The female support character, Tess Chaykin, is bright, educated, resourceful, and a single mother.  Jules, a secondary character and female agent gets a decent action sequence in addition to outwitting the enemy through smarts.  The Devil's Elixir would fail the Bechdel test but there’s no warning sirens when it comes to other more glaring gender issues.

Reilly as indicated above, is no superman and his motivations are realistic.  Khoury introduces tension and motivation with the resurfacing of a past relationship and an unexpected surprise.

So I find the claims of flat characterisation unfounded.

Not for the squeamish

Aside from the slight road bump caused more by my own personal tastes, it’s a good thriller, with engaging characters.  It does involve Mexican drug lords with a penchant for creative torture though. You are forewarned.

 

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.


1. Noted scientist and skeptic who wrote on developing a good baloney detection kit amongst other more impressive achievements

2. Stevenson carried out rigorous and systematic research into reincarnation.  He is criticised for his methodology and the evidence gathered

3. Remarkably similar to Dr Ian Stevenson the quoted researcher above

4. For those readers interested in the work of Dr Stevenson, see here


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Jan 26, 2012

eBook Review–The Shattered City (Creature Court 2) by Tansy Rayner Roberts

city

The Shattered City is book 2 of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court Trilogy following on from Power and Majesty. The third and final book Reign of Beasts is to be released February 2nd1.

Don’t let the cover fool you- the Red Hot Chilli Peppers fifth album, Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic could have been an alternative title for this book. 

Bloody action, liberal use of Animor (magic) and some very saucy sex scenes and the sugar…well there’s honey cakes.

In my review of Power and Majesty I stated that I felt that Roberts had written a well balanced story with all of the above ingredients – I feel that she’s “one-upped” herself with the second instalment of the series.

The Story

When we left Velody in Power and Majesty she was coming to terms with her position as the head of the Creature Court and had vanquished Lord Dhynar a rogue member. At the beginning of The Shattered City we are still not sure why the sky falls some nights nor what the big picture is, though there is a hint of malevolent intelligence behind it all.

Velody is firmly cemented as the leader of the court, though some lords still test her, forcing her to apply some muscle.  A series of murders threatens to throw all her good work into disarray, as it appears that  member of the court is targeting their fellows.  Compounding this is the break down in the rituals of the daylight world which help sustain and rebuild the city after each skybattle. 

Ashiol is haunted by hallucinations of Garnet and he begins to fall into madness.  Rhian, a largely secondary character in Power and Majesty comes to the fore and reveals a secret.  Delphine is dragged reluctantly towards becoming a Sentinel and Velody will have to make a sacrifice to save her city.

Visceral

Visceral is perhaps the best way to describe this book.  It’s fantasy with a distinct mythic flavouring.  The Creature Court, not surprisingly reminds me of Greek and Roman gods, decidedly human in their ambitions and passions.  So on the one hand I get a sense of the fantastical, the changing of the court members into their various totemic animals or their larger Chimera form but on the other the politics and passions are very human.

Things to like

I am finding it hard not to keep referring back to Power and Majesty, which I found to  present an original characters, setting and story.  The Shattered City continues this pattern – Velody’s occupation as a dressmaker continues to play an important part in the actions and outcomes in the story. 

How often in Fantasy does the heroine drop what she is doing to become a <insert weapon here> wielding Valkyrie? How refreshing is it that Velody holds on to her daylight work as a way of keeping her grounded.

In Power and Majesty Rhian was in danger of falling prey to the trope of “female character who has been raped” which explains why they are either tough angry women or skittish wall flowers.  I will say nothing more than Roberts has turned this trope on its head.

Finlay I love the way Roberts lets the reader think at least for a brief moment that Velody has everything under control before sweeping the rug out from under our feet and revealing the depths to which some betrayals go. Never turn your back on the Creature Court even in a world ending crisis.

Summary

Action, blood and lust and a little bit of dressmaking.  If you enjoy well written action, political intrigue, anime like transformation of characters into monstrous beasts and well written sex scenes give the whole series a go.  

The Shattered City can be purchased in paperback and eBook form from Australian online retailer Booktopia. 


1. If you are lucky enough to live in Hobart, Tansy is holding a book launch, details to be found here  

 


awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 


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Jan 25, 2012

Coming soon–Outland on ABC 1 February 8

In a rather astonishing move that will have Margaret Court, wailing and gnashing her teeth the ABC is screening Outland, a sitcom about gay science fiction fans. 

I am hoping it will be a blessed relief from shows that trumpet white middle class Australia (Rafters & Tricky Business) and the countries fascination for recreating cop shows which always strike me as poor imitation of their American forebears.

The show’s a labour of love for writer John Richards who has spent about 7 years trying to get this to the small screen. 

If I recall correctly, it was knocked back by the ABC originally, so the creators made a pilot/short film and toured film festivals to critical acclaim.  Then Aunty1 became interested again and decided to produce it.

The Shooting the Poo and the Writer and the Critic podcast have featured John Richards recently so check those casts out for some more insider info.

I commend the ABC for doing a show about both Science Fiction fandom and gay fans.

H/T Tansy Rayner Roberts for the info.


1. [Aunty is the nickname of our national broadcaster the ABC]

 


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Jan 23, 2012

Book Review–Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex

ThiefofLives_mn

Thief of Lives is the third collection in the Twelve Planets Series1 and continues Twelfth Planet Press’ run of quality product. 

In contrast to Sue Isle’s mosaic in Nightsiders, Lucy Sussex offers the reader 4 widely divergent stories.

The Stories

Alchemy – Set in ancient Babylon, a god or demon attempts to manipulate a perfumer.

The Fountain of Justice – A purely crime fiction piece about the legal system and whether or not it delivers.

The Subject of O – College students, the female orgasm, and who creates the narrative of female pleasure.

The Thief of Lives – A researcher sent to Bristol at the behest of a reclusive author.  A tale about writers and their vampiric tendencies. 

A mixed bag

This collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me, which is not to say that it wasn’t all good.  I enjoyed Alchemy and Thief of Lives the most - it’s no surprise then,  that these are speculative fiction shorts in the collection. 

I appreciated The Fountain of Justice but I think I was too familiar with the message or tone of the piece for it to spark more than an agreeable nod of the head.  The Subject of O made me smile and generated a sniff of nostalgia for bygone university days.

Favourites

Alchemy tapped into my love of Ancient History and I found this story to share some echoes of the Abrahamic myth of the temptation in the Garden of Eden. Only this is temptation is not quite so cut and dried as the biblical story.

Tapputi2 a widow and mother is approached a number of times over the course of her life by the spirit or demon Azubel, who offers to marry her. Azubel’s his bride price is  knowledge of the future and specifically knowledge of what would later become chemistry, knowledge that would benefit her and her station.  To Tapputi’s credit she is confident and intelligent enough not to be swayed.

Azubel while playing the role of the tempter is not evil, selfish perhaps, driven by his own passions but I get the sense that he does really care for her or what she coud do with the knowledge.

A wonderful story with feet in both the fantastical and historic.  Far more believable than a story of an apple and a snake.

Thief of Lives is perhaps one of the most tightly woven short stories I have read all year.  It’s complex and well constructed, so much so that I feel the need to go back and read it again to ensure I haven’t missed anything. 

This story seems on the surface to be quite a well executed and original paranormal fantasy.  But I can’t help but think Sussex is also making a comment on the nature of writing and on writers themselves.  I shall say no more.

Summary

A good introduction to the skill which Lucy Sussex can bring to bear in almost any genre. A little something for everyone.

A relevant note

Readers participating in the Australian Women Writers challenge will be heartened to know that Lucy rediscovered and republished the lost works of  nineteenth-century Australian crime writers Mary Fortune and Ellen Davitt.3


1. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total.  The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.[Return to main article]

2. A real person from ancient history, a perfumer in ancient Mesopotamia, widely regarded as the first recorded chemist[Return to main article]

3. See Lucy’s website here.[Return to main article]


awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 


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Jan 22, 2012

Midnight Echo Issue Six now on sale

Midnight_Echo_6_Cover_smallMidnight Echo is the official magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association of Australia. 

Issue 6 features an all South Australia editorial team1 in David Kernot (editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine), Jason Fischer (Writers of the Future winner and Aurealis nominee), and David Conyers (author of The Eye of Infinity, The Spiraling Worm and co-editor of Cthulhu Unbound 3)

Theme

All the stories in this issue are science fictional in nature

What do you get for $1.99

Nine stories and two interviews, or 171 pages of science fictional horror 2 from from well known names in Australian Speculative fiction. Issue 6 features stories from Cat Sparks, Alan Baxter, Helen Stubbs and Joanne Anderton just to name some familiar Tweeters.

Back Issues

Check out the website here where you an also order back issues.

The is also a limited print run put out each issue you can go here to find the print version of the latest issue.


1. Each issue features a different team

2. At this stage I am only going off the media release as their Checkout system requires manual approval ie I haven’t been able to download the purchase yet Strike that, there was an issue with me not getting the links in an email, it should be automated.  The 171 pages is according to my Sony reader software.

 


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Jan 21, 2012

Twelfth Planet Press Seeks Publicity and Promotions Coordinator

 

12pp-newpink-webLGTwelfth Planet Press is looking for a volunteer Publicity and Promotions Coordinator.  If you have the time and the drive I think this is a good way to gain exposure to small press publishing and a wider network of peeps involved in the Australian Speculative fiction scene.

Twelfth Planet Press has a great opportunity for someone looking to be part of a fast growing indie press and gain experience in the world of publishing. The Publicity and Promotions Coordinator will play a valuable and key role in the Twelfth Planet Press team and will drive the promotion and expansion in the international publishing scene.

As the successful candidate, you will love speculative fiction, have knowledge or experience of the publishing industry and a passion for independent press. Publicity, promotions or marketing experience is appreciated, but not required. You will be enthusiastic, outgoing with strong communication skills and interested in building on the networks and promotional opportunities already developed and used in house. You will be a team player, open to feedback and constructive criticism but also an independent worker with initiative and ideas.

Role description:

  • familiarity with Twelfth Planet Press products, both published and forthcoming
  • writing content for press releases, website and social media outlets
  • developing and expanding promotion contacts and networks
  • developing a marketing strategy
  • representing Twelfth Planet Press at conventions and other industry related events

This is a volunteer position with no salary attached. However, it is expected that this role will offer publishing industry experience, writing skill development, networking opportunities, increased industry profile and perks including Twelfth Planet Press products. This role may be filled by more than one person, in more than one location. This role is not limited to Australian applicants.

Your application should include a cover letter addressing aspects of the job description as presented in this advertisement, detailing your relevant experience, your interest and involvement in speculative fiction publishing, why you want to join the Twelfth Planet Press team and what you hope to get out of the experience as well as how much time you have available for this role. Your application should also include examples of any previous promotional work and short writing examples (preferably non fiction).

Email your application to contact@twelfthplanetpress.com along with your current cv by February 29th 2012.

[Source]

Note:  This is not a paid advertisement. 


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Jan 20, 2012

Podcasts aplenty

Galactic-Suburbia-CakeI know I have been working hard when Saturday comes around and suddenly I am three… no,  four podcasts behind.

 

Galactic Suburbia 51

The Women of Galactic Suburbia have sailed past the half century with Episode 51

Their tagline reads:

In which women aren’t funny, don’t write important books, but come in handy as assassins and thieves.

You can find the download here or play direct from the player below

There’s also a competition being run listen to checkout the Creature Court Giveaway.

recliner-smallCoode Street 83 & 84

The elder statesmen dynamic duo of the Speculative Fiction Podcasting Sphere continue to give us solid, rambling commentary on the field. 

Episode 83 features author Elizabeth Hand.

For there Hugo special Episode 84 they even decide to get an awards expert (Cheryl Morgan) in to give themselves credibility.

Download Episode 83 here

Download Episode 84 here


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Lanagan’s Sea Hearts reviewed in Locus Online

BRI_UK_coverLanagan’s selkie novel called Sea Hearts in Australia and The Brides of Rollrock Island elsewhere, has been reviewed by Locus’ doyen of reviewing, the inimitable Gary K. Wolfe here.

Some quotes from the Wolfe review:

[It is] a gorgeous piece of work, perhaps less startling and visceral than Tender Morsels, but in many ways a richer and more complex novel, and it ain’t going to be a musical anytime soon (though it might make a terrific opera).

and

Except for a few comments from distrustful mainlanders, we learn about Rollrock entirely from within, and for a while we seem to live there. It’s not always a pleasant vacation, but it’s a deeply illuminating one, and Sea Hearts may eventually be seen as some sort of masterpiece.

Very nice.  I can’t wait to add it to the Australian Women’s Writers challenge that I am currently participating in.

Sea Hearts is out in February.


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Jan 19, 2012

Renovation madness necessitates Thursday links.

2012-01-19 14.29.01I have a couple of book reviews coming but have been flat out renovating the past two days(see studio conversion to the left) so they are peculating at the moment.

So instead I have some interesting links that I have cleaned out of my Google reader.

 

First we have a post from the Australian Author Patty Jansen on her year of self publishing.  I think its good for those who might be ensnared by the publishing success of Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking.  It’s Patty’s

Ten Home Truths About Starting In Self-publishing

Rowena Cory Daniels brings our attention to a very well paying short story comp being run by the Fantasy Faction site in

Calling Short Story Writers

Australian author Gary Corby’s second Athenian Mysteries Book has been released as an ebook - The Ionia Sanction.  The first is The Pericles Commission.

And finally Bad Film Diaries podcast is back with a cast on Tower Heist, Tin Tin and Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows (might contain some rough language).

See you all in a couple of days.


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Jan 16, 2012

Book Review–Nightsiders by Sue Isle

nightsiders-2Nightsiders was the first release in Twelfth Planet Press’ Twelve Planets Series.  A series that showcases 12 of Australia's top female speculative fiction writers.*

The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total.  The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

I think the concept is a brilliant one.  I have had the chance to sample authors I’d heard mentioned, but never read, discovered some authors I didn’t know about and finally, gained an appreciation of the powerhouse of female speculative fiction writing that goes largely unnoticed.

But on with the Review

Sue Isle gives the reader 4 short stories set in a futuristic  Australia on the brink of ecological and societal collapse.  There’s been a war and climate change has rendered the country dryer and more dangerous that it is currently.  Apart from one story, most of the action takes place in a futuristic Perth termed Nightside, as night the only time the majority of the population can get up and move around due to their sensitivity to heat and light.

Nightsiders is a bit of a mosiac, the stories are linked by setting and characters, though each varies in tone and subject matter to give you a distinct well rounded picture of a bleak future.

 

The Stories

I don’t want to discuss the content in too much detail as I find with short fiction that it can rob the stories of some of their impact.

The Painted Girl - A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child

Paints a picture of what living outside the cities is like, what people are willing to do to survive and to profit.

Paper Dragons - a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old. ( shortlisted for Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Short Story, 2010)

I liked this story because it focused on the arts and what an important part story telling is to civilisation.  I was briefly reminded of a scene in the movie Reign of Fire, where survivors act out the Empire Strikes back as a stage performance.

Nation of the Night - a boy born into the wrong body;

The only tale that takes place outside of Perth.  Set in Melbourne with a Nightsider as a central character, it’s a sympathetic portrayal of a transgender character in a near future dystopia where resources are scarce, our understanding of technology fading.

The Schoolteacher’s Tale - a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide.

I like it when schoolteachers are central characters.  When they are seen for the important service/role they provide.  I found the tone of this story more hopeful than the others.

 

Summary

This collection tapped into my love of futuristic dystopian narratives that started probably with the Mad Max films, though you won’t find petrol heads and spiked leather mutants here.

Isle provides us with a snapshot of a bleak future Australia, where everything we know has crumbled.  It’s a harsh world, but there are survivors and there is hope.

Nightsiders is refreshing and honest in a way that I think dystopian tales like Mad Max aren’t -people get on with their lives, those born into the new life know nothing else and feel no loss. We don’t turn into gun toting maniacs**.

 

*I feel compelled to mention the quality of TPP products. Beautiful covers, wonderful binding.  You feel like you are getting a top flight product – and you are.

**I still went and played Fallout 3 after reading it though.


awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 


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Jan 15, 2012

Galactic Suburbia racks up a half century -Episode 50

 

Congratulations to the women of Galactic Suburbia for reaching such a hefty milestone(oh and the silent producer).

I can’t tell you how much this show has altered my perspective for the better…well I can but I think you should give the show a listen and experience the awesome goodness that is the Galactic Suburbia team.

50 episodes of entertaining speculative fiction commentary with delicately infused feminist perspectives, that creep up on you and lift the veil of privilege from your eyes (getting a bit wordy aren’t I?).

ehem…. just download it you won’t be sorry.

Episode 50

In which we leap happily back and forth (with occasional ranting) over those fine lines between feminist critique and anti-female assumptions, plus share our bumper collection of holiday culture consumed. Happy New Year from the Galactic Suburbia crew!

You can download the show here or click play in the flashplayer below

 

You can send feedback to the team at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow them on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs.


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The Bookshow profiles the The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

windupI am still to read The Windup Girl but I enjoyed Ship Breaker and some of the short fiction in Pump Six.

Here’s Radio nationals profile of the book and the author:

Science fiction is often seen as a genre that presents a future, takes wild rides in cyber space, or delves into strange and confronting realms.

But rarely does a sci fi novel begin with a discussion about mangosteens.

Yet fruit, vegetables and dwindling food resources in a post oil-era world are the focus for award winning writer Paolo Bacigalupi's first published novel The Windup Girl.

Read More

You can download the short segment (7mb) here.

If you’re concerned about corporate farming this one will be right up your alley.


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Purchase the eBook from Google eBooks Australia.

The Stella’s - condescension, tokenism and quotas

 

I’ll preface this post with a disclaimer; a lot of what I say here has been written already, possibly more eloquently and definitely more notably by women. It’s hoped that by throwing my hat in the ring that I add mass to the momentum, rather than it being perceived as “mansplaining”.

A Good Summary

I read A woman's place by Jane Sullivan in yesterday’s age.  It’s a good piece that summarises the debate on gender bias in literature, in Australia.  Once I got passed the irksome opinions of V. S. Naipaul1,  I settled in for what turned out to be a good summary of the discussion.

Thankfully, sensible debate, as far as I can see, does not descend to the blatant sexism evident in Naipaul’s opinions. There is, however, some remarkable resistance from both men and women to a suggestion that something should be done about the issue of gender bias.2

I was a little dismayed at reading Jennifer Byrnes quoted comments in Sullivan’s article.  I respect Byrnes and I am a fan of her show.  She is quoted as saying:

that the Stella Prize made her feel  uncomfortable: "I don't think women need to be condescended to in that way.'' On the Miles Franklin criticisms: "I don't know what the point is people are trying to make. Is it an accusation of bias against the judges? Are you saying women are constantly being overlooked? Maybe that was just the opinion on the night.''

There’s a couple of things to draw out here.  My criticisms here are less a direct criticism of Jennifer Byrne and more of the sentiment she expresses.

Condescension

I can see why a woman might find a female only prize condescending.  It could be perceived as –“well your‘re not really good enough to compete against the boys but here’s a prize and a nice condescending pat on your sweet little head”.  That point of view would hold water if there were a level playing field, if literature was judged purely on merit alone(if you think it is or you’re any sort of literature judge that does, read on).

Recent references to Prize lists, publishing schedules, review outlets demonstrate skewing toward male writers despite increased (an in some case dominant) numbers of women being involved in both writing and publishing.

The judges are biased?

The second point in the Byrnes quote is the incredulous3 response to the possibility that Judges would be biased.  My response to that would be of course they are.  Not biased in the Naipaul sense- a blatant misogynistic bias against women (or other groupings in the community for that matter) but a hidden, unconscious or implicit bias. 

The employment sector dealt with this some time ago, mainly in relation to race, yet despite yeas of EEO policy,  many fail to understand why affirmative action for any disadvantaged group is necessary.

A little aside on Implicit bias.

It’s been found that most people have an implicit and unconscious bias against members of traditionally disadvantaged groups, this despite their education and their positive opinions(however strongly held).  It is quite possible to be strongly in favour of promoting equality, women's writing, yet still be biased in your actions judgements toward it.

Elizabeth Lhuede alludes to how this type of bias might form, particularly in women.  My own observations from teaching support the notion that gender stereotyping begins at the kindergarten stage( and probably before).

The Miles Franklin

The Stella would be condescending if the Miles Franklin was a fair race and it’s not, based on it’s historical results and the existence of implicit or unconscious bias.

How might bias, unconscious or otherwise effect the Miles Franklin or any other prize for that matter?

  1. Selection – The Miles Franklin is judged on books submitted by publishers and who knows what sort of decisions are made by publishing houses? Do they choose their “best horse” or do they throw all eligible authors in the race?Who at the publishing house gets to decide and what biases, conscious or unconscious are in play there?
  2. Judging - Next come the judges and I hasten to add this is not an attack on them, they have an unenviable task – between 60-70 books read and deliberated on in a matter of months.  Do they screen for unconscious bias? How would they?  A retrospective analysis of their reading patterns and choices? A structured critiquing of each others decisions? They whether male or female ( and the gender balance for 2011 as 60/40 in favour of women) are all subject to bias.

What’s to be done?

The judging panel is relatively stable and the gender representation is good ( at least 60/40 in favour of women for the last 10 years). On the face of it you could think that having more women judging would result in better representation of women writers in the results and hence the skewed results are actually reflective of quality of the work.

I would argue that implicit bias pays no heed to the gender of the judge, that specific training of judges, or the institution of structural or systematic tools to filter out as much bias as possible needs to occur. So that, if faced with an all male short list in 2012 we can have confidence in the notion that at least for that year we ruled out as much potential gender bias as possible. 

Perhaps the judges, some or al,l do try and address the issue, there’s no statement to that effect on the website though.    The judges already have to read all the texts once, the long listed works twice, prevaricate over decisions, all while holding down demanding day jobs.  What tools systems do you use to account for hidden bias, gender or otherwise that don’t turn what is already a gruelling job into one of the labours of Hercules?

A separate prize for women strikes me as a very easy way of countering gender bias in that respect – though it will have its own issues with bias4

Quotas and Tokenism

Instituting a quota system is a fairly rough tool, a quick fix that gets around training and consciousness raising of people who make employment decisions – which as the literature seems to suggest is very difficult even with people who hold positive opinions of disadvantaged groups.  I don’t think anyone would push for a quota in the Miles Franklin but an understanding of the existence of implicit bias and perhaps some attempt to reflect on how it might be affecting judgement would be a start.

Likewise no one wants to see women included just to make the awards look like they are handling the issue of gender bias. I do think though, that there is enough depth of talent in Australian literature that once you reflect on whether your reading selections and judgements are skewed by bias, broaden your reading,challenge your own perceptions, that there will be no shortage of quality writing by women. I am confident that it would only be the ever diminishing blatant misogynists that will raise a call of tokenism.

In summary

A literature prize for women is not condescending, it’s not condescension to ensure that men and women begin the race on the start line.  It’s a practical and efficient way of combating the weight of history and the power of dominant culture that affects us unconsciously. 

Those who decry affirmative action are ignoring reality, perceiving such awards as a head start, or  to really murder the racing analogy, a performance enhancing drug. When in reality women have been running with their shoelaces tied.

Extra reading:

A long, long way to go: different tools for new wave of feminism

 


1 A man who should be held in contempt for his views on women's writing in much the same way that HP Lovecraft should be held in contempt for his racist views. A man who claims that in a couple of paragraphs her can determine a writers gender.  I wonder if he has been called on this, put to the test or is he viewed like a kindly but embarrassing uncle that still makes Sambo jokes at family get togethers.?

2. And there is most definitely an issue, you can excuse a year here and there in the Miles Franklin results but a long analysis hints at something not quite right (see Sophie Cunningham here)

3. To be fair Byrnes may just be questioning the critics, tone in text and all that.

4.Race, Transgender Authors, etc. all topics worthy of another post.

Jan 14, 2012

Book Review–Gone by Jennifer Mills

GNCvr

A young man is released from a Sydney prison, his hands empty, his identity gone. He catches a southbound train out of town, then hitchhikes west. He hasn't been home for fifteen years.

I have been delighted by Mills writing since I bought a chap book of her poetry, Treading Earth.  Large parts of Gone remind me very much the writing contained within that collection, particularly her observations of the minutiae of human interaction.

Another spill over from her poetry are the raw observations that are both economical and evocative.

Gone is both a road trip and a mystery. The road trip is an examination of an Australia that most readers, I would argue, are not used used to reading about.

The route is one generally only frequented by those that live in the major regional centres along the Stuart highway, the odd combi-van hiring tourist, selected grey nomads and truck drivers. It’s sparsely populated, vegetated and for the most part bone dry - the real Australia for a lot of people. 

It’s refreshing then to have a narrative of Australia that isn’t “Kings in Grass Castles” or some faux bohemian, inner city “Secret Life of Us” story – important though each of these is.

Equally refreshing is the landscape and interactions viewed through the eyes Frank, a member of two underclasses; the ex-con and the sufferer of  a mental illness.

Frank as an invisible and fragmented observer presents the reader with a largely non judgemental picture of the land and its people and allows Mills to present the route and the characters as free from judgement as possible (hers at least).  The reader is left to make the judgement and come to their own conclusions.

Mills has written for left leaning publications like New Matilda before and there’s always a danger that when you have a character representative of a social underclass that some of those views might bleed through into the characters voice.  Not so with Frank, his fractured psyche doesn’t really allow that sort of coherent thought to be put into his mouth, he’s got his hands full working out who he is and where  he’s going.  There’s mentions of topical issues, like mining, but these are in the form of dialogue spoken by those who give Frank a lift and they come across as honest and genuine.

Similar to the observations of landscape, the reconstruction of Frank’s past requires a fair bit of effort from the reader.  Mills is deliberately ambiguous with his fragmented remembering's, which works well with the presentation of Frank as someone who is suffering a severe mental illness.  The reader is drawn in to trying to figure out what Frank’s done or is doing.  It’s hard to like him in that sense, I never really felt totally at peace with him, could never entirely trust the character.  I have sympathy up to a point but that sympathy is tempered by an uneasiness as to what Frank might be capable of or have done.

Gone is not a book that I think you can fall in love with nor a book that you can sit down and enjoy as a light piece of reading.  It requires some effort and careful reading (some of it between the lines) particularly when it comes to piecing Frank’s life together.  I enjoyed the observations of and interactions with, the people who Frank comes into contact with on “The Track”.

Some may be unsatisfied with the ambiguity surrounding Frank’s life but I think it’s the only honest way to portray the character.  There were some humorous instances and there were some eerily suspenseful and gut wrenching revelations. 

I can heartily recommend it for tight and evocative prose, for an honest representation of an ex-con and someone suffering a severe mental illness.

If you are looking for a unique Australian narrative Gone is it.  

Disclaimer: The book was provided by the author at no cost


awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 


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Jan 11, 2012

Lifetime membership of SA Writers centre awarded to Sean Williams

Sean-Williams-788887Australian Speculative Fiction Author Sean Williams received an honorary lifetime membership from the South Australian Writers Centre. 

Only two previous life memberships have been awarded.  It’s great to see Sean recognised for his work and support of the the South Australian Writing scene.

So, congratulations Mr Williams.


About the Author

Sean Williams is a New York Times best selling novelist with 35 Award winning novels and 75 short stories to his name. 

He’s most widely known internationally for his work on the Star Wars franchise but has a written a slew of original science fiction works.

You can check out Sean and his work over at his blog.


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'via Blog this'

Heads Up - Salvage by Jason Nahrung

salvage

Twelfth Planet Press is accepting pre-orders for Jason Nahrung’s novella Salvage which is due out in June this Year.

I have read some of Nahrung’s short story offerings and am eager to read him in a longer format.

You can check out his blog here.

 

Salvage:

Seeking to salvage their foundering marriage, Melanie and Richard retreat to an isolated beach house on a remote Queensland island.

Intrigued by a chance encounter with a stranger, Melanie begins to drift away from her husband and towards Helena, only to discover that Helena has her own demons, ageless and steeped in blood.

As Richard’s world and Helena’s collide, Melanie must choose which future she wants, before the dark tide pulls her under … forever.

 

Jason’s calling it a seaside gothic which is captured quite well in the cover art by Dion Hamill.


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Jan 1, 2012

eBook Review–Debris by Jo Anderton


debri - Copy
Someone is doing a damn fine job at Angry Robot in picking up talented authors.  Debris is Jo Anderton’s debut novel, though you wouldn’t know it on a reading of Debris.

Jo blends genres with the skill of someone who has more than one novel under their wing.

The story begins

In a far future where technology is all but indistinguishable from magic, Tanyana is one of the elite.
She can control pions, the building blocks of matter, shaping them into new forms using ritual gestures and techniques. The rewards are great, and she is one of most highly regarded people in the city. But that was before the “accident”.
Stripped of her powers, bound inside a bizarre powersuit, she finds herself cast down to the very lowest level of society. Powerless, penniless and scarred, Tanyana must adjust to a new life collecting “debris”, the stuff left behind by pions. But as she tries to find who has done all of this to her, she also starts to realize that debris is more important than anyone could guess. [source: Angry Robot]

Like Jamieson’s RoilDebris is a book that avoids being easily categorised.  Angry Robot calls it Science Fantasy and  files it under Science Fiction. I am at a loss to come up with anything more definitive or more accurate than that. 

The world building is infused with a number of influences that create a unique and coherent world.  The naming of the characters has an Eastern European or Russian flavour, this combined with the symbol of the bear, the ever watchful “puppet men”, the cold and the references to the old city gave me a strong post glasnost/ final fantasy feel.

The magic system, while definitely fantastical is presented in such away that it feels very much like a technology, the result of a revolution like the Industrial.  Pion’s to me, don’t seem to be a mystical force, more like sub atomic particles.  It feels perhaps like magic but with modern technical sensibility or perspective placed upon it.

The wonderful world building aside, the core of this novel is the unravelling of a mystery and a search for justice'- there’s adventure, some explicit romance but ultimately Anderton hooks us in and tantalises us with mysteries both central to the plot and tangential. 

Tanyana is a strong character and Anderton has done a wonderful job of pointing her in harms way without resorting to clich├ęd fantasy tropes. There’s no rampaging orcs, or evil outsiders.  Indeed there’s a small element of distrust in the powers that be, the powers that are supposed to look after the people of the city of Movoc-under-Keeper.

It’s worth noting that Debris written in the first person, which can be a difficult perspective to pull off for experienced authors.  Anderton has done it well, all the more so for it being her first outing. This point of view created an intimacy that drew me in as a reader, that and the fall from grace and resurrection made her readily identifiable and familiar. 

For all its brilliance I felt the ending was a little toned down. A side effect  of Anderton’s wonderful world building.  I was expecting more revelations perhaps. This is a small disappointment though and I would heartily recommend it to lovers of science fiction and fantasy. 

It falls into that category of wonderful books that play successfully with different genres in interesting ways.
You’ll enjoy it if you like Roil, The Alloy of Law or Burn Bright.

It is both gritty and fantastical. I can’t wait for Suited (book two) in the middle of the year.

awwc2012This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.



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Obligatory end of year post

shot_1324173000391Well time’s running  run out to do the obligatory end of year reflection.  So here it is on January 1st 2012:

Highlights of 2011

Offline:

  • Survived another year of relief teaching – not quite sure how many more I have in me.
  • Met several authors who I admire in person at Supanova –Rowena Daniells, Marianne de Pierres, Kylie Chan, Trent Jamieson and Ian Irvine 
  • Met my new nephew, who will I am sure grow into a fantastic speculative fiction fan.
  • Wrote 40,000+ words of my first novel
  • Helped restore my house to its 1891 glory

Online:

  • Conducted two recorded interviews for Galactic Chat with Kelley Armstrong and Ian Irvine
  • Recovered from a blog hacking of my word press version of this blog
  • Read 73 books and reviewed 60 of them.
  • Achieved 25,000 hits for the blogging year.
  • Guest posted for the ROR blog.
  • Wrote a Feminism 101 blog in which I didn’t sound like an idiot
  • Got linked to by Neil Gaiman
  • Grew my subscribers & held my first giveaway

Blog Stats

25,800 page views

Most popular post = A response to Dmetri Kakmi with 302 views

Most readers came from the United States, followed by Australia, then the UK

 

Tentative 2012  Goals

  • Finish Draft 1 of  The Axeman’s Daughter
  • Have 2 short stories published
  • Conduct more recorded interviews
  • Go to Adelaide Writers Week
  • Go to Supanova
  • Continue to raise profile of Australian specfic authors (with focus on women)
  • Read and interview some South East Asian specfic authors


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