Dec 31, 2012

The year in review 2012

So, 2012 hey.  shot_1353378031218

Well I supposed that we part on pretty good terms, there’s a bit of work I have done this year that I am proud of.

I continued submitting interviews for Galactic Chat which has become one of the most enjoyable aspects of being involved with the speculative fiction community.

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat–18 Nina D'Aleo

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat meets Joe Abercrombie

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat 16 Rowena Cory Daniells

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat 15: Tor Roxburgh

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat 14–Trudi Canavan

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat 13 – Deborah Kalin

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat interviews Kate Forsyth

Adventures of a Bookonaut: Galactic Chat 11: Helen Lowe

I launched my own more general genre podcast, imaginatively titled: Adventures of a Bookonaut: Adventures of a Bookonaut Podcast Ep 1.  This was to enable me to stretch my interviewing outside the purview of Galactic Chat, to pay some attention to areas I don’t see being covered in the community.

I published somewhere in the vicinity of 465 posts,  64 of which were reviews. Which hopefully means I provided you, dear readers, with some quality, up to the minute, news and views.

I attended my first ever national convention, Melbourne’s Continuum 8 where I met tons of fantastic writers, fans and readers and realised that I am perhaps getting too old to stay in a backpackers.

I was nominated for two Ditmar awards, one individual, one joint with the Galactic Chat crew.

Continuum 8–There and back again (Part 1)
Continuum 8 There and Back Again (Parte the Seconde)
Continuum 8 There and Back Again (Troisième partie)
Continuum 8 There and Back Again (partie 4)

I attended a workshop with the wonderful Lisa L Hannett which resulted in me writing, completing and submitting my first serious speculative fiction work since 1990.  It also resulted in my joining a group of talented writers (many of whose skills astound me) and making new writing friends in my home state.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Australian Women Writers challenge which, although I officially completed the 10 books and reviews for the Franklin Tastic level sometime before mid year,I kept going ending up with 32 read and 31 reviewed.

So all said, I can’t really have expected more out of this year.  2012 was pretty good. 

Thanks to all readers commenters and friends its been wonderful.

Note: Bonus points if you can identify the skull pictured above.


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Cover Candy - Mourning cloak by Rabia Gale

 

Mourning CloakMourning Cloak is the latest work to spring from the mind of Rabia Gale, a real diamond in the rough when it comes to self published authors.

I can count the number of self pubbed authors that I would shell out money for without question and Rabia would be one of them.

Of course she has a wonderful support crew. Her sister in law does the covers, her husband does the ebook formatting and her beta readers include the likes of Jo Anderston.

She’s so good I think we should import her as per the long recognised Australian trait of claiming overseas talent as our own.

So if you are looking for quality, originality and entertainment to fill up your reader checkout Rabia’s work.


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New to Dr Who podcasts - Verity Episode 0

verity copyThe women of the Verity podcast have got together and release a pre season podcast.  An introduction to the varied bunch of female Who fans that will be bringing a diverse conversation about Who to our eardrums.

As they relate their Journey to Who Fandom in this podcast I am reminded of my discussion with Helen Merrick on the diversity of women in science fiction history.

The participants in the podcast come from vastly different who backgrounds. From those who only started with New Who, to those who have been watching since the black and white days – whose mothers  took them along to fan conventions or meet ups.

It looks to be a promising show.  The first official cast is going to discuss the Christmas special and I think there’s enough dissenting opinion/ varied positions that it will be a good crunchy discussion.


Download: verityep00.mp3


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Dec 30, 2012

eBook Review–Rainbird by Rabia Gale

rainbird_large-682x1024

Rainbird is a novella from Rabia Gale, a self published author who I managed to quite fortunately stumble across earlier this year.

Rainbird is also the name of our half breed protagonist  Part Eerie part human she is seen as a lesser being in both societies.

She works with her human father, helping maintain the Sunway, an amalgam of wires, conduit and metal bolted to the great skeleton of a long dead dragon.

 

Rainbird danced on the sunway to the singing of uncountable stars, music that only she could hear. Her trench coat, too large and shabby, smelling of cigar smoke and mothballs, flapped around her.

Under the thick third hand fabric, her wings whispered, satin-starch-slither. Her long-toed bare feet skimmed the bumpy bone of the sunway, worn smooth and glittering by centuries of inspection. Her oversized lungs pulled in the thin cold air.

The setting, for such a short piece is stunningly original and vivid.  I want to say it has elements of steampunk in the description of the mechanics of the Sunway, in the description of the clothes and the attitudes of the Morality League.  That doesn’t quite do it justice though.  It would be too easy for you to go “pfft more steampunk” and roll your eyes. 

That would be an injustice, for I think Rabia Gale has crafted a world that has echoes of several sub genres and seamlessly woven them together.  Rainbird leaves me wanting more of the world that Rabia has created – a feature rarely experienced in reading self published work and not as common as you would like to experience in traditional publishing either.

To top it off this well sketched work has a nice little engine of an action story powering it.

It’s a truly original tale of action, love and redemption.

At $2.99 it’s well worth it.

This book was provided by the author.


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eBook Review–Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott

perfections1

Perfections is McDermott’s second novel, released in digital format through Xoum publications.

I reviewed Kirstyn’s first novel Madigan Mine, released in both pbook and ebook fromm by Picador - here.

If you liked Madigan Mine, you’ll still like Perfections but they don’t occupy quite the same space. 

Ian Mond, Kirstyn’s co-host on the Writer and the Critic described it as more of a character piece.    Kirstyn herself has tentatively called it modern urban gothic, situating it at the subtler end of the horror continuum.

And I think Perfections is a subtler piece of work than Madigan Mine. I always had suspicions with what was going on with Kirstyn’s first novel, it had a stronger affinity with well known Horror tropes.

Don’t get me wrong though, Perfections is still gut wrenchingly nasty at times, enough to really unsettle you but I was hard pressed to figure out where the horror was going to emerge - which of course kept me slightly on edge.

Now you notice here I am avoiding telling you the story.  And I am not going to reveal anything about the plot, aside from the blurb:

Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences.

Not all fairytales are for children.

It’s best to dive into this one blind, trust the author to entertain you. It’s not one to give you nightmares but Kirstyn will make you love the characters and then let things unravel so that the horror, the tragedy hits you unawares.

If you enjoy King when he does well crafted characters in slightly off kilter realities then I think you’ll enjoy Kirstyn’s work here.  The horror, the suspense comes from or empathy with the characters she has crafted, and what she does to them.

The writing is smooth flowing prose that seems effortless but that I suspect was agonising to refine.

Even cushioned with anger it hurts to say the words, to hear them, and Antoinette knows with gut-sinking certainty that if Paul was standing here before her, if he had the balls to stay and plead his own case instead of sending Greta as proxy, then she would have little hope of resistance. Poised on the edge of her life here, Paul and their flat and the history that seeps from every wall, every photograph stuck careless to the fridge, every half-burned candle and guilty wine stain on the carpet, how easy it would be to close her eyes and jump, to allow herself the exhilaration of free-fall.

There is so much more I would love to talk about but it would give the game away.– the cover for instance and how well it suits the work. What makes it a smart bit of art amongst all the other “male gaze” cover art out there.

Horror has a bad reputation, possibly well deserved in some areas within the genre, where the grotesque comes to the fore, where violence and blood are thrown at the reader to make up for a lack of real substance.

McDermott, however, combines literary skill and a horror that focuses on the personal, on human desires and interactions, to give us a work of quality that should appeal to a broad audience.

Perfections was provided to me by the author.


awwc2012_thumb[1]This 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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Dec 29, 2012

2012 Gender Audit

seal

This is the third gender audit I have done of my reading.  I last posted about it here.  You can see my reasons for establishing the audit and why I think its important for me personally.

Now, this year I partook in the Australian Women Writers challenge so I am hoping to have achieved much better results than last year.

Drumroll please.

The results are in

So yes, as expected the results are almost reversed compared to last year.  Still it shows that with a concentrated and structured effort to read women, there is still quite a strong presence from male authors in my reading.

It suggests to me that just intending to read more women, just being of the view that more women should be read isn’t really enough.  To overcome my own subconscious cultural reading bias, a blunt instrument is required.

I am happy with the 60/40 split and will aim to mirror it again in 2013.

graph (1)

2011

graph (2)

Other reflections

I have heard it said that in establishing a quota that quality will suffer.  This argument presumes that male authors somehow get the top of the field by virtue of merit alone, that women aren’t in best reading lists because they just aren’t good enough.  I personally think this line of reasoning displays a lack of understanding in human psychology but I’ll leave that point there.

In my sample size of “me” I have found that structured reading of women writers has resulted in no discernable drop in quality. Now of course being fully behind the concept of Australian Women Writers I can’t rule out a bias in favour of women writers but I think it more likely that there is a depth of quality in writing and that women writers of quality just need to be given “fair exposure” - I was going to say level playing field but its not really a competition, if we are looking for quality we should be trying to screen for gender bias, should be celebrating diversity.


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Dec 28, 2012

Vale Vox

My Kobo Vox which I have had a somewhat strained relationship with since first purchasing it 11 months ago has died.  It was down to 1 hour battery life, while operating in airplane mode.

So I’m not happy, and although I will get a replacement with a less than generous 3 month warranty, $279 dollars for one year is not value.  A year on what was your flagship device Kobo?

I have been forced back to using a Sony PRS 505 which I had managed to get working again (its 4 years old, holds its charge) and boots up in 2 seconds.

Seriously for a device to read ebooks it kicks the Vox’s ass.

And if you ask me what advice I'd give to someone entering the ereader market it would be go the cheapest, most convenient, most reliable reader for you.  If you want cheap reads go e-ink with an external light source, go a brand that has a good rep and at this point in time it would come down to another Sony or a Kindle.


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Enhancements… of the literary kind

I was listening to Podmentum, the podcast of the Momentum publishing crew in this episode they discus enhanced books and Joel Naoum’s article here, which was formed from a speech he’d given earlier on Digital publishing.

And it’s got me thinking.  I agree with much of what Joel says. 

My argument is basically this: the colourful and exciting part of digital publishing innovation is – for the most part – not something that readers actually want.

Pushing the boundaries of what a book is – whether it’s by blurring the lines between different kinds of media or questioning the linear nature of traditional narrative – is not something that people are looking to book publishers to provide.

Too much of what we call innovation is basically turning our content into a showroom for device manufacturers – and we do it to the detriment of more important and more useful innovation at the back end of the publishing business.

I think what is required is what works for the reader, how publishers/booksellers can support the reader and to really question the need to become embroiled in the IT cycle of upgrades every 6 months.

My Kobo Vox has died after 11 months ( a topic for another post) and although I will get a replacement I am sorely tempted to get a more basic ereader, with a longer battery life and usage, something dedicated purely to reading.

In the Podmentum cast they talked about the Game of Thrones enhanced ebook which has apparently has a drop down map that you can reference at certain points in the story which shows you the location of the characters at at that time, character bios that pop up when you highlight a name( handy when you are reading GOT) but the problem is that these features are inconsistent i.e. not appearing everywhere in the book (IIRC, I listened to the cast a month ago).

All well and good but you also have to determine if your device can support the features, what the enhancements are (publishers seem to be absolutely shit at advertising the features). 

Are the enhancements worth the development cost?

I have seen little evidence outside of self publishing gurus like Joe Konrath, of taking advantage of the virtually unlimited space that ebooks offer the written word. I haven’t yet seen additional extras in the form of collaboration notes between authors, or deleted “scenes”, or concept artwork penned by the author, or interviews.  Including novellas or short stories exclusive to ebooks for example seems an obvious extra selling point to me.

I think there is value in concentrating on the lowest common denominator, assuming the reader has an entry level device and then giving them extra value that they can access.

Sure nearly everyone has a smartphone but embed a book with multimedia bells and whistles and that $5 ebook comes with extra charges in the form of telecom fees.

DRM is another issue, it’s still a pain in the ass for those with disabilities for example (i.e.  Text to speech software generally requires that the source has no DRM), or for anyone who doesn’t want to break the law and remove it.

So in summing up my thoughts and making some sense (hopefully) I would like to see:

  • Low cost ($70-100) and reliable readers (ie life of 5 years)
  • No DRM
  • ease of access to books regardless of geographic location
  • extra value that enhances the written word and doesn’t distract you from it
  • helping readers find quality work (some publishers websites.. *shudder*) through including social media strategies & podcasts

These are the things that I think publishers can work or collaborate with others on. Some of these things Momentum are doing and I think they are on the right track.


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The Writer and the Critic Episode 26

PD*3141165The latest and the last for a little while as both of the hosts of the show are moving house, so it will be three long excruciating months before we get to hear Kirstyn’s insightful commentary and Ian singing 80-90s cover versions of Bon Jovi/Bryan Adams.

So Episode 26 is a non fiction episode where they tackle Gary K. Wolfe’s Evapourating Genres and James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon , a biography by Julie Phillips.

Now despite it being non-fiction centred, I found it to be one of their better episodes (not that they aren’t all pretty good).  Their discussion on first authors and criticism got me thinking.

And of course they do mention my new podcast Adventures of a Bookonaut so maybe I might be slightly biased.

The Sheldon biography sounds very interesting as well and I’m not really one for biographies.

Anyway go to the show notes here for some more detail.  You can download it as an mp3 here or stream from the player below.

 


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Dec 24, 2012

eBook Review–Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung

Blooddust

Blood and Dust is the just released Australian Vampire novel by dark fantasy author Jason Nahrung.  If you’ve just obtained an ereader recently and you like your vampires dark, sensuous and dangerous - buy it.

I am a fan of Jason’s short fiction, where he manages to infuse old tropes with a distinct aussie flavour, something that goes a bit deeper than location and slang.

Nahrung’s a Queensland country boy, though he now lives in the big smoke and there’s a bit of that country sensibility that comes through in the writing, an attitude, a perspective.

The tale centres around Kevin, a mechanic in his parent’s servo in a dying town in outback Queensland.  Kevin looks set to marry his girlfriend, inherit the servo and maintain the status quo until, by an unlucky twist of fate, he becomes embroiled in a turf war between two vampire clans The Von Schiller Organisation and the Night Riders, a vampire bikie gang.

What I really enjoyed about the novel, aside from the action driven story was Jason’s infusion of Australian flavour, subtle enough to avoid cultural cringe, consistent enough to deliver a tone or mood that is distinct.  There’s an acknowledgement of Aboriginal history, of stolen generations. There’s an observation of country life that most rural Australian’s would have no trouble recognizing.

Bringing a European myth into an Australian setting, especially a rural one and having it stick is, I think, a considerable hurdle.  It’s quiet easy for me to imagine vampires in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney for example but not so much in the “Sunshine State”. But Jason has done it and done it well.

I shake the red earth from my hands as I put the book down and dream fitful dreams filled with the roar of Harleys, the smell blood and Bon Scott singing Highway to Hell.

Give us some more Jason, to slake our thirst.

The book was provided by the author you can purchase it through Xoum and other digital outlets.


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Dec 21, 2012

eBook Review–Havenstar by Glenda Larke

havenstar6highquality

Havenstar has a history, a bit of a sad one.  It was Glenda Larke’s (writing as Glenda Noramly) first novel, released in 1999 under the then Virgin books SF imprint.

It raced up the Amazon charts(getting to 81 on the general list) only to be orphaned and out of print as the publisher imploded.

Thankfully Glenda was made of stern stuff and has gone on to release another 9 novels with more on the way.

She decided to re-release Havenstar as a self published eBook.  No longer do fans have to contemplate inflated prices of paperback copies on Amazon (of which none of the money is seen by Glenda), it’s now  available from a number of digital outlets.

The Eight Stabilities are islands of order surrounded by lethal chaos—and the order is being swallowed by the unstable. The religious leaders of Chantry try to maintain the Stabilities by ordering the necessity of a once in a lifetime pilgrimage across the chaos. And in that ever-changing world, the most important person is a mapmaker who can make a chart of secure pilgrimage routes…

Keris Kaylen is a mapmaker's daughter. When her father is murdered and a mountain disappears, Keris is betrayed by her brother. Forced to flee into the Unstable, she finds her safety is in the hands of a man bonded to the Lord Carasma, the Unmaker…and her ordered life is turned upside-down. Her survival will depend on a map and a place called Havenstar—but she can't reproduce the map, and Havenstar may not even exist…

Havenstar is a debut novel and to be expected there were some sections where I felt  characters voice and register were a bit inconsistent.  That’s really nit picking though, what is a rather original piece of fantasy writing.  A strong female character and mapmaker as lead, an interesting mix of religion and magic. 

I think Havenstar still stacks up against anything current in fantasy and exceeds quite a few in execution and concept. 

It feels familiar in places – a society controlled by the church and its Rule and exotic in others with the concept of the unstable and the unmaking of the world.  There’s enough of a touchstone for a reader of the heirs of Tolkien that you won’t feel lost and enough fresh concept to reinvigorate you reading.

It’s a stand alone book for those with an irrational fear of trilogies (or a lack of time) and a great introduction to Larke, who seems to me to be somewhat of a hidden gem in Australian Fantasy writing circles.

If you are looking for some quality fantasy writing to fill your ereader after Christmas then try it out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


awwc2012_thumb[1]This 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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Dec 20, 2012

A open letter to Rob N. Stephenson

Dear Mr Stephenson,

I had the misfortune to stumble over your Rant and Rave (appended below) in the December  AurealisXpress, an otherwise wonderful newsletter published by the hard working folk in the Aurealis team.

I receive this newsletter as a paid up subscriber.

I want to express my severe disappointment in both the tone and the content of your missive and to respectively ask that if you should think to write something similar that you perhaps think again.

I am expressing my disappointment here on my blog for a number of reasons:

1) the Aurealis offices are closed

2) I prefer frank and open discussion

3) Aurealis does not maintain a forum in which to express these issues 

I am aware that you are somewhat of a longstanding fixture within the SF&F community, I even have a limited edition of one of your earlier works. 

None of which should protect you from criticism.

I have heard comments to the effect that, “oh that’s just Robert” or “I just skim over that section of the newsletter”, along with others by people who were similarly offended.

So to be frank and direct:

What possessed you to think that it was appropriate to post what it essentially a religious sermon, a defence of the origins of the Christian festival of Christmas in a newsletter of science fiction and fantasy, to grind a personal axe?

Has someone in the readership annoyed you? Is the Australian science fiction community full of historically illiterate atheists bent on taking your holy day away from Christians?

Not that I can tell.

Who within the AurealisXpress readership is this directed at?  If no one in particular, it’s verging on religious spam.

Philosophically I am opposed to your beliefs, but as long as you don’t seek to impose you beliefs or proselytise to me, I don’t really care - I’m here for the science fiction and fantasy content, even content that might be thematically religious (see below).

The readers of Aurealis are I presume intelligent, of mixed beliefs and traditions. Your missive treats them with contempt. Your letter is patronising in regards to your readers education, assumes that we are historically illiterate, and states the bleeding obvious.

Now all of you, eat some pudding and have a good lie down.

Really? Can I have a pat on the head with that sir?

Now before you take issue with me asking you to keep your religion to yourself.  I’m not actually.  I am asking you to direct you anger at historically illiterate zealots to the appropriate forum.

Or do what I do when religious zealots tweet that I shouldn’t be able to give presents because I don’t believe in Jesus Christ – ignore them.

Religious content I would have been more than happy with:

  • A Merry Christmas and god bless (because although I don’t believe, you do and your intention would have been sincere and heartfelt)
  • A link to some charities run by prominent SF&F writers - I do believe that Jim C Hines is running one right now. 
  • A howling at the injustice of the Hobbit being shown to Australians 12 days after everyone else in the world (yes I know Boxing day is our most profitable release date).

I attended a panel at the last Natcon on the subject of religion in SF & F, it was interesting and entertaining. It was good to get a perspective from deeply religious people about how they felt treated by writers and the community.  That sort of topic would be appropriate, something that starts a dialogue.

So with sincere respect, enjoy celebrating the birth of Christ.

Regards

Sean

 

  >>> Rob’s Rants and Raves <<<

by Robert N Stephenson

We chase each other into Christmas once again and I hear the same old rubbish about Christmas spirit and true meanings and I even hear the call that it is actually a pagan tradition.

Sorry guys, thus starteth the rave; in 330 AD there was no such thing as Christmas; there were of course hundreds of equinox type celebrations, but no actual Christmas. A group of Christians gathered in Rome and had a party on or about the 25th—no one really knows for sure. Why? Well, all the other Roman religions were having parties so they decided they'd have one to celebrate the birth of Jesus, which was fair enough. If it was good enough for Isis then it was good enough for them.

So in 330 AD the first Mass for Christ was held. Naturally, it was slow to take off and in these yearly celebrations there was no baby in a manger, no wise men and no inn to get rejected from—that rubbish was added later, much in the same way paganism added their version of Christmas, which was about 500 AD. 

So, before you go ranting and raving about the meaning of Christmas, try understanding what you are talking about first. And yes, I do wish you all a very hospitable Christmas in whatever version you want to hold onto. But if you are looking for people to blame for the name and the celebration then it really does belong to the Christians and no matter how much you try to rewrite history it will always be theirs.

Now all of you, eat some pudding and have a good lie down.

 


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Dec 18, 2012

Book Release–Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott

perfections1

Kirstyn McDermott has released her long anticipated second novel Perfections, from Xoum.

I reviewed Kirstyn’s award winning first novel Madigan Mine here.

So without having read Perfections I will give you a warning, Kirstyn is crafty, she sucks you in, gets you to love the characters and then rips their hearts out.

Expect something special, some thing especially nasty.

Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences.

Not all fairytales are for children.

Perfections is the chilling new novel from the author of Madigan Mine.

You can purchase it through Xoum or through Amazon (and other sites shortly).


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Book Release–Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung

Blooddust

I was scooped on this release by Jason himself (helps when you are the author),but it’s here folks, in time for Christmas or just after,  when your previously luddite book reading relatives are looking to fill up their kobo/kindle/tablet/iphone with good fiction.

Kevin Matheson works at his family’s service station in the Queensland outback. Life is all about cricket, fishing, the pub, his girlfriend. Then it all gets blown to hell – he’s caught up in a hideous, unbelievable world of cops and monsters in which two rival gangs of vampires vie for control, all while maintaining a charade of humanity.

Kevin has to cope with his new existence as a vampire, adapt to the destruction of his family and play the politics of the supernatural world. The biker Taipan and his lover Kala make for unlikely allies as they lead the nomadic Night Riders in their fight to be free of the control of the Brisbane-based Von Schiller group, led by the ruthless Mira and her pack of blood-addicted human servants.

I like Mr Nahrung’s vampires, none of that sparkly, vegetarian stare fest crap from Twilight, yeah you heard me Twilight.

You can buy it at all good digital outlets but start at Xoum and check out there other titles.


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Dec 17, 2012

Book Review– Ayam Curtain by June Yang & Joyce Chng (Eds)

ayam-curtain

Ayam Curtain is an elegant book, in conception, construction and content. A delight to read and perceive. It’s one of those joyous books that is a work of art because of the words on its pages and how those pages are presented.

I first became aware of the project after stumbling across one of the editors, Joyce Chng(@jolantru) on twitter. She, as well as all the writers in the collection are worth checking out - from the Alvin Pang’s to the Clara Yeo’s.

I rarely give out 5 star reviews, generally a work has to really hit me emotionally or be doing something clever or original.

Being a collection Ayam Curtain doesn’t carry the emotional punching power of a novel, but there are pieces that peck at my emotions, stories that that flit in and out of my perception, evoke memories and images that fade with beat of tiny feathered wings.

Ayam Curtain is split into two distinct parts, the first, Speaking Bird Language or kong jiao wei (translated as a cock and bull story, a flight of fancy), is a collection of micro fiction that gives the reader short fluttering glimpses of alternate Singapore.

They can vary wildly in construction and tone from JY Yang’s Interview (which is lucky if it’s more than 100 words long), which manages to cover class, control and language as an inhibitor, to, They called me the hyacinth girl by Victor Ocampo, a haunting passage of a Crow’s flight.

Dejected, rejected it returns to the parliament of trees, the ninth circle of hell where Indian Troops sing to the dead of Changi: Manasu marugudhey, manasu marugudhey

Yet the sum is greater than its parts, with each of the small pieces forming a cacophony of bird calls that seems to have a distinct sound about it, nostalgia seems to perch easily, side by side with perceptions of the future.

The second part of the book, The Ayam Curtain, features longer works of up to 1000 words.  The effect is much the same, diverse tone and style but with an overall synthesis that gives a tangible sense of speculative Singapore.

Woodwind by Clara Yeo points a feathered wing at Singapore’s deforestation, as a young child imagines that she can hear the story of a Rosewood table. While JY Yang posits the real reason for SMRT train breakdowns in The War going on Beneath Us.

The intention of the collection was to

  • uncover the diversity of writers voices in Singapore
  • and to explore local issues

all under the larger wing of speculative fiction.  The editors have achieved this vision.  I step away from the book with a number of new (to me ) writers that I want to follow up and a tangible sense of the issues that are foremost in the minds of the speculative fiction community of Singapore. 

This book deserves wide circulation.  I encourage you to purchase and enjoy.  To enrich your literary experience with the birdsong than is Ayam Curtain.

This book was a gift borne on steel wings, from the Lion Fish City.  You can purchase it from Books Actually, Singapore’s number one independent bookstore.


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Book Review–Cold Days by Jim Butcher

cold-days

Cold Days is Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden Files novel  of which there are fourteen.

I wouldn’t say I am a fan of the Dresden files but I have 3 titles from across the series and also own the TV series as well (not bad for its time, but a little dated now).

It’s hardboiled detective fiction plus wizardry. Gritty urban fantasy with a good dose of witty self deprecation and pop culture referencing.

Now Butcher has been heavily criticised for not having an awareness of his privilege as a white male author in regards to both sexism and racism.  There’s a clanger of a passage on the  first page of the hardcover:

She was probably too young to drink legally and she was one of the lovelier women I’d ever seen in person. High cheekbones, exotic almond shaped eyes

Now yes this is Harry Dresden the character and not Jim Butcher the writer.  It would have been nice though if Harry had gained some wisdom and perspective over the fourteen books.  That being said the series has roots in the Hardboiled genre so unless you are Megan Abbott your going to be relying on a genre that has some hefty sexist baggage as part of its modus operandi.

Cold Days though, is a bit of a departure from that genre, the detective shtick.  It’s more of an urban fantasy adventure novel where the stakes are very high. And that’s where it lost me to some degree – I prefer the smaller scale Dresden.

Cold Days felt long and at just over 500 pages it’s 100 pages longer than Fool Moon, the other Butcher novel I own.  This was exacerbated by the fact that it’s written in the first person and there seemed to be more exposition or info dumping than normal.  I can understand the need to fill-in newcomers to the series, but Cold Days had me skimming some of Harry’s longer passages.

So Cold Days was not as enjoyable as the earlier Dresden for me - but then I am not the same reader I was then either.  I feel that Dresden is outgrowing the Genre that he started, in moving closer to a level of super heroism.

Fans of Dresden will likely have already bought Cold Days.  For the newcomer you’ll enjoy this if you like you urban fantasy on a large apocalyptic scale.  If your looking for the Phillip Marlowe of Urban Fantasy I’d suggest you check out the early Dresden books.

This book was provided by the publisher.


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Dec 16, 2012

Adventures of a Bookonaut Podcast Ep 1

 

Play direct through the player below or download direct as an mp3 or via iTunes ( you will need to go to the podcast home page and click the subscribe to iTunes link).

 

Episode 1 Show notes

Bookpod1In Episode 1 Sean interviews Luke Preston author of Dark City Blue, Joelyn Alexandra, Singaporean crime writer and academic and author of The Secret Feminist Cabal, Dr Helen Merrick.

 

wpid-9781743341018_Dark-City-Blue_coverLuke Preston has recently released his crime thriller through Momentum books. In the interview they discuss the process of being published through a digital first publisher, the impact film and the study of scriptwriting has had on Luke’s noel writing and what the near future holds for Bishop, Preston’s hard as nails hero with a heart. You can purchase Dark City Blue through all good digital retailers with the added benefit of no DRM.

 

 

joelynJoelyn Alexandra flew all the way from Singapore just for this interview (no not really). Sean and Joelyn talk about her writing, the Speculative fiction scene in Singapore and dispel some misconceptions about Singaporean writers. The interview was recorded live so apologies for the sound quality.

Joelyn mentions some fine folks in the interview some links to their writing are given below:

Wena Poon - http://www.wenapoon.com
Joyce Chng - http://awolfstale.wordpress.com
Dave Chua - http://davechua.wordpress.com

People in Happy Smiley Writers Group Projects
Sarah Coldheart -
http://www.seriouslysarah.com/blog
Raven Silvers - http://www.ravensilvers.com/blog
Lina Salleh - http://lookykrill.wordpress.com
JY Yang - http://www.misshallelujah.net
Yuen Xiang Hao - http://www.opendiary.com/notkieran
Rosemary Lim - http://www.twotrees.com.sg

Graphic Novelists/ Artists:
Cheeming Boey -
http://www.iamboey.com
Max Loh - http://paperperil.tumblr.com

 

helenDr Helen Merrick is senior lecturer in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtain University, she’s taught cyberculture, women's studies and history.

In addition to teaching in the Department of Internet Studies, Dr Merrick supervises PhD students, and researches feminist theory, science fiction, feminist science studies, sustainability and online cultures.

In this interview Sean and Helen discuss her book, the current state of Feminist SF and consider what men in the genre, might be able to do help cultivate a healthy respect for female writers and feminist science fiction history.

Some of the links mentioned in the interview:

New Eves

Pamela Sargent

Thank you for listening, you may leave audio feedback at https://www.speakpipe.com/Bookonaut, or you may leave written feedback on Facebook, the Podomatic page, or below.

Music: Music featured in this podcast is from the song Voodoo Machine by Lavoura downloaded from the Free Music Archive and Licenced under these conditions

Voodoo Machine (Lavoura) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
 

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Dec 15, 2012

Midnight and Moonshine -The Otherworld Launch

 
 
A good number of writerly and readerly folk braved what could only be described as hellish weather to attend the Otherworld launch of Midnight & Moonshine by authors Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett.  Adelaide turned on 40 degree heat and about 5 mm of rain to make it positively tropical.
 
Where are the Norse gods when you need them eh?
Audience and dignitaries soldiered on though and Russ was able to ramble without being lynched.
 
 
After Russ said nice things about almost everyone in the room and thanked us all for supporting independent press and awesome aussie authors it was over to Kirstyn and Mondy Jason who did a wonderful job of introducing the writers and the text and finally launching the book.
 
 
 
Dr Slatter gave us a reading from near the beginning of the book, braving the trying conditions and keeping us all wrapt and envious of the characters in the icy Nordic
paradise.
The Dr Hannett gave us a reading set 1000 years in the future.  An interesting piece that to my ear seemed to tie in nicely with Dr Slatter’s, perhaps foreshadowing an intricately woven series of connected tales.
CAKE!!
Damn fine chocolate cake with the beautiful cover image by Kathleen Jennings
And before I forget a never before seen picture of the evil Dr Brain?  Not penned by Kathleen Jennings but nevertheless a lovely piece of comic art.

It was a wonderful night and when refrigerated aircon was discovered in the restaurant on the ground floor the group absconded to Brunelli’s for some great pizza. 

I rounded off the night with dinner companions my wife Alison, Jason Nahrung, Kirstyn McDermott and a groovy hat wearing Sean Williams.  Much bookish chat was had


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Dec 12, 2012

Book Release–Havenstar by Glenda Larke

havenstar6highqualityWell technically its a re-release.  Glenda had Havenstar published by the Virgin books imprint shortly before it went out of business.  A terrible blow to a writer whose books had raced u the Amazon charts.

So now, some three trilogies later, Glenda has rereleased her work in ebook form.

The Eight Stabilities are islands of order surrounded by lethal chaos—and the order is being swallowed by the unstable. The religious leaders of Chantry try to maintain the Stabilities by ordering the necessity of a once in a lifetime pilgrimage across the chaos. And in that ever-changing world, the most important person is a mapmaker who can make a chart of secure pilgrimage routes…

Keris Kaylen is a mapmaker's daughter. When her father is murdered and a mountain disappears, Keris is betrayed by her brother. Forced to flee into the Unstable, she finds her safety is in the hands of a man bonded to the Lord Carasma, the Unmaker…and her ordered life is turned upside-down. Her survival will depend on a map and a place called Havenstar—but she can't reproduce the map, and Havenstar may not even exist…

You still might be able to find some outrageously priced paperbacks on amazon but I am fairly sure that Glenda doesn’t get a skerrick of that money.

So enjoy this stand alone from one of Australia’s fantasy talents.

You can purchase through Smashwords, but I found mine on Kobo.


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Dec 11, 2012

Australian Women Writers Challenge one of the 20 greatest moments for women this year.

awwc2012_thumb[1]Daily Life has the Australian Women Writers challenge listed as number 12 in their 20 great moments for women this year.

Click here to view.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Lhuede and the team of women working with her to run the project.  Congratulations also to the women and men who contributed to this years challenge.

You can join up for next year here.  And male reviewers are welcome.


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We’ll pay you in exposure

Dec 9, 2012

Real Humans–A Swedish Speculative Fiction Drama on SBS

Real Humans or Äkta människor in Swedish is a science fiction drama that premiered in Sweden in January and from memory started screening here in November on SBS, straight after Hunted starring Melissa George.

 

It’s three episodes in and it’s holding my interest.  In some ways its a bit old school science fiction with the concept of human robots (Hubots) or Androids - just cast your mind back to how old Blade Runner or I Robot are. 

Indeed it draws on this tradition more than the current Zombie craze as some misguided Entertainment Hack reported.

Indeed you’d be far better served checking out IMDB than relying on the only Australian review of the show.

This :

In a parallel present the artificial human has come into its own. Robots no longer have anything robot-like about them. New technology and advancements in the field of science have made it possible to manufacture a product - a kind of mechanized servant - that is so similar to a real human that it can often be considered a perfectly good substitute.

The Human Robot (HUBOT) have also given rise to new problems and dilemmas. Thorny legal questions have increasingly started to occupy people's minds and are still waiting to be answered: Who is responsible for the actions of a hubot? Do hubots have some form of "hubot rights"? Should they be paid for their work? As an ever growing number of people form relationships with hubots, the boundaries between human and machine become blurred. When humans make copies of themselves, which are so close to the real thing they form emotional bonds, the questions arises - What does it really mean to be 'human'? [Source IMDB]

contrasted with this:

You know you're getting a bit ropy when you find yourself watching a new Swedish series about hubots (human-looking robots) and wondering why - when they can get perfect eyes, skin and teeth (only marginally more credible than an eastern suburbs facelift) - they still opt for the stilted movements that year 3 students assume when they act like store dummies that have come to life.

Yes the comment on our consumer society, the concept that there where various versions of Hubot, from cheaper basic models to the high end product escaped you.  The possibility that manufacturers/society might not want to produce Hubots indistinguishable from Humans for a number of reasons.

My problem is not that the Swedes didn't shoot for more naturalism and more subtlety, but that I'm watching another stupid show about undead - never living - people without souls who are never given good dialogue.

No. Just no.  You are talking out of your backside.  If you were selling a product you’d be done for false advertising. Poor dialogue?  FFS its in Swedish, the subtitles are an indication of the dialogue. 

This is a booming genre - that I loathe. As somebody who would prefer to watch Dora The Explorer than a Twilight movie, I realise that I'm in the minority in my horror at the faux-horror fashion.

Might be helpful if you did a little research on what genre you are talking about.  I presume you get paid for basically saying I don’t understand it, I don’t want to understand it and I don’t like it.

Let's be quite clear. Zombies, vampires, ghosts, werewolves and hubots don't exist. So they make poor protagonists because they can't engage with humans. Dogs have a better crack at empathy than a fictional undead invention - especially if it originates in Sweden. [Ms Snarky McSnarkster]

And yet these fantastical creatures of our imaginations are almost timeless.  Humans engage with them repeatedly.

And we sometimes wonder why science fiction shows die in the arse when they get here(Australia). Thank goodness the gatekeepers of msm are dying a slow cranky death (figuratively speaking). 

I don’t expect an entertainment reporter to like everything they have to watch but reporting something akin to reality would be nice.


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Book Review–Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

crackleMargo made me cry again with one of her stories in this collection.  So yes, I liked it.  Like it so much that I saved reading the last story for some six months after buying.

I also love the Twelve Planets range and the cover art of Amanda Rainey. The wasabi green cover of Cracklescape is no different, it helps make an impressive alternative rainbow on my bookcase.

But you’re here for the stories.

There’s four, in line with the brief of the Twelfth Planet Series.  They offer a range of what Lanagan is capable off while also being decidedly more grounded in an Australian setting.

The Duchess Dresser is an offbeat ghost story, a great mood piece that I found unsettling but not distressing.

The Isles of the Sun is a tale of magical disappearance told from the point of view of the child experiencing it and the mother left behind.

Bajazzle I’ll let you discover for yourself.  Witchcraft, an unlikeable but recognizable misogynist protagonist and a whole lot of feeling uncomfortable if you’re a bloke.

Significant Dust, a story of escape woven into a tale of a historical reported UFO sighting.

Significant Dust was the story that had me reaching for the tissues.  It’s not quite so gutting as my favourite Lanagan, Singing My Sister Down, because there’s a hopeful ending or at least Margo has left enough room for me to imagine one.

I’d recommend this collection to your Lit friends that think that the fantasy genre is populist and lacking in depth and quality of prose.  Margo’s one of those writers that you can’t pin down, or pigeonhole. A writer who can turn her hand to almost anything and make it her own.


awwc2012_thumb[1]This 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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Australian Women Writers gets air time thanks to Tara Moss

awwbadge_2013Thanks to the wonderful Tara Moss, the Australian Women Writers Challenge got a mention on Radio Nationals Drive.

You can find the segment here.

And while you are here.

Are you male and have you signed up for the 2013 challenge? If not, why not – feel free to answer in the comments?

 


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FableCroft announces its TOC for One Small Step anthology

fablecroft-profpicIt’s in draft stage at the moment, but Tehani has given us a quick look at the authors who will be dazzling us in One Small Step. 

My comments in italics

“Sand and Seawater” by Joanne Anderton & Rabia Gale

I loved Debris (Novel) and the Bone Chime Song (Short) by Jo - she’s one to watch in my opinion.  Couple this with Rabia Gale who’s work I was impressed with this year and yeah it’s looking good

 

“Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti

Deb Biancotti -, nuff said, loved her Bad Power collection

 

“Firefly Epilogue” by Jodi Cleghorn

Haven’t read any of Jodi’s work yet, but she’s a tireless community minded author/editor.  She’s in good company here.

 

“The Ways of the Wyrding Women” by Rowena Cory Daniells

I am a Daniells Fanboy

 

“The ships of Culwinna” by Thoraiya Dyer

Another writer to watch.  Have enjoyed everything of hers I have read.  Been writing quality for some time now.

 

“Shadows” by Kate Gordon

YA Aussie author, who writes about shapeshifting Tassie Devils.  Fresh and interesting.

 

“By Blood and Incantation” by Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter

These two are dangerous together, dangerously good.

 

“Ella and the Flame” by Kathleen Jennings

Wonderful artist and has stories in my TBR pile.

 

“Original” by Penny Love

Haven’t had the pleasure

 

“Always Greener” by Michelle Marquardt

Haven’t had the pleasure

 

“Morning Star” by DK Mok

Haven’t had the pleasure

 

“Winter’s Heart” by Faith Mudge

Haven’t had the pleasure

 

“Cold White Daughter” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Fanboy

 

“Baby Steps” by Barbara Robson

Haven’t had the pleasure

 

“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J Willis

Haven’t had the pleasure

So with 50% of the collection filled with damn fine writers I have read and respect I think this might go on the Birthday list.  Its coming out sometime early next year.


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Reynox Writers' Centre closes

jenfaIn some sad news Jennifer Fallon advisers us that Reynox House, her writers retreat in New Zealand.  The Christchurch earthquake made the house unsafe for residential retreats but it sounds as if battles with insurance companies has really put the nail in the coffin.

here’s the press release from Jennifer

So, the insurance company got the better of us. We have been forced to admit defeat.

As of the Dec 7, 2012, Reynox House is permanently closed and has been sold for redevelopment to someone with far deeper pockets than ours.

Hopefully, the new owners can afford the six-figure legal bill to fight AMP, WH Mainzeal and Vero to have the seven-figure repair bill from the September 2010 earthquake covered.

Time now, for our family to get on with life. As for me, I will concentrate on my very cool day job which takes me to Antarctica every year for a month and working the 5 books I have been commissioned to write. Just won’t be writing them from Reynox House.

Cheers

Jenny Fallon

[source]

So sad news for writers, especially in NZ.


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Dec 8, 2012

Rejected – My first fiction submission

seanandbut I really had no expectations that I would get published with my first piece. 

What I didn't expect was a personal response, a short note on what they though the strengths of the piece were.

So you know what? I actually feel pretty damn good about myself.

Rejection printed and framed for posterity.


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Dec 7, 2012

Midnight & Moonshine Launch–Adelaide

moonJust a reminder folks that Drs Slatter and Hannett will be launching their book Midnight and Moonshine in Adelaide on the 14th of December.  I shall be going of course to get my hands on a signed copy and to chat with some fine folk of speculative fiction disposition.

The details:

14 December
6pm for a 6.30pm start
South Australian Writers Centre
2nd Floor, 187 Rundle Street


Note: If you can’t make it you can still get a personalised copy if you order at indiebooksonline before 8 December (UTC)the book will ship 17 December and should reach most of Australia in time for Christmas. (International orders welcome, though sadly they can't guarantee a shipping or receiving date for overseas orders).

Order here


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The majority of sci-fi & fantasy readers are men

unclesam (1)was the first point in a response to Tansy Rayner Roberts cross posted article on Tor  (Go read it, Tansy has a Doctorate in Ancient History and she’s an award winning fantasy author).

For those staying here -Tansy’s points as mansplained by me are:

  • “But it’s historically accurate” is not a defence when your fantasy work is sexist
  • Because our understanding of history is largely filtered through male primary sources and subsequent male historians, its only by looking at social historians and digging a little deeper that you begin to see the influential roles women play
  • And fantasy is not history, if you are repeating sexist norms in fantasy you must ask yourself why?

But back to the title, I think the title and its subsequent points at the TOR post are in interesting statement of a mistruth, a misperception, a myth if you will. Not that I think the commenter was being consciously sexist, just not willing to challenge their own assumptions (Never mind that there’s a host of problems defining what science fiction and fantasy is and looking for actual evidence beyond anecdote).

Myth: That SF & F is the domain of men and women are recent interlocutors.

I am beginning to see this myth or something similar to it rebirthed, retold and rehashed.  And I must be honest I have been at times victim to it myself.  It’s a myth that women are only a recent addition to the community and that there needs to be time for adjustment for men.  That the expectations of men have to be moderated down.

You see, I have been reading Helen Merrick’s, The Secret Feminist Cabal which takes a good look at female participation (and all that entails) in the genre of science fiction. You should read it if you want to gain appreciation of a fuller history of SF.

Ask yourself the question – When did women really start participating in Science Fiction?  What’s your perception?

The 1970’s, 80’s?

The answer is - from the beginning, certainly the early part of last century, as writers and readers and increasingly as vocal participants in fandom.  But this certainly didn't gel with my original perceptions gained from being a reader, a fan.  It feels to me as if every decade (plucking a figure out of my backside, perhaps generation?), the consciousness of the community seems to reset itself and thus we get the feminism 101 discussions, the mistaken beliefs that only men read SF & F  rehashed. That women who cosplay are fake geek girls. That only boys read comics. That women only came to Doctor Who because of David Tennant.

I think I, and others have been guilty of assuming that our personal male centric view of the SF&F community is reality and owing to a larger culture that doesn’t challenge this we happily continue reinforcing this belief for ourselves and others.

And I think it leads to men in the community letting themselves off the hook.  “This is the way it is because its the way its always been.  But hey things are changing and getting better for women so I don’t have to do much”.

A hundred odd years is a long time for things to be getting better.  It’s a long time for women to be told that sci-fi or fantasy isn’t their domain.  It’s a long time for women to be knocking on the door and saying we’ve been here all along. It’s a long time for us to be continually forgetting their involvement.

I think its long overdue that men of the science fiction and fantasy community take up the responsibility of challenging what is written and said about women by men of the above opinion(and some are).  Time to stop letting cranky old sexists off the hook because “hey you know this women in SF & F is a new thing and you gotta give people time”.

The buck stops with us.  Let’s accept that we share this genre with women, that their stories are great and always have been.  Let’s expect more from writers and their treatment of women (and other minorities), let’s not always look first to excuse men’s bad habits, with talk of market forces or arguments from history

There are only benefits to this approach.


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