Mar 31, 2013

Ditmars 2013 – Best Novella or Novelette

crackle And it turns out I have read everything in this category and still would have if Jason Nahrung’s Salvage had been a sentence or two shorter and fallen into it.  And it’s further proof that having read everything doesn’t help with your voting.  I suspect that there are many worthy reads within the eligibility list, the trouble being  access to them, some hidden away in collections and time to read them.

The nominees are:

Best Novella or Novelette
————————————————————————
* “Flight 404”, Simon Petrie, in Flight 404/The Hunt for Red Leicester (Peggy Bright Books)
* “Significant Dust”, Margo Lanagan, in Cracklescape (Twelfth Planet Press)
* “Sky”, Kaaron Warren, in Through Splintered Walls (Twelfth Planet Press)

 

Comments:

I reviewed Flight 404 here. A good hard science read, where that science is the backdrop, it influences story but is not THE story. My final thoughts on it were:

I really enjoyed this story, felt that that the character was an honest and positive representation of a transgender person and I was captive to the mystery and story right until the end.

Significant Dust is my favorite from Cracklescape, which I reviewed here.  Not my favourite Lanagan short, that honour goes to singing my sister down but as I said in the review of Cracklescape:

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.

Kaaron-SpinteredWalls-011 Sky was part of a fairly even collection, each of the stories presented something of value to me and I don’t have a feeling of Sky standing out above and beyond the others.  Here’s the review for Through Splintered Walls that contains the novella.

Of those that didn’t make it on to the ballot that I have read and that I think really stood out were "Elyora", by  Jodi Cleghorn, in the Review of Australian Fiction.  I am not sure the novella hit a wide enough audience.  I think it sits well in the Australian Gothic Horror genre as outlined in Dr Hannett’s article for This is Horror.  If you’re fans of Nahrung or McDermott I encourage you to check out Elyora, which will be republished this year by a UK publish under a different title and with a longer prologue.

The second is The King’s Man by Rowena Cory Daniells (though I’m not sure it was published in Australia or if that even matters by the rules) its a novella set in the KRK universe.  It’s gritty, largely self contained at still manges to carry the emotional punch of Daniells’ much larger novels. 

 

 


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Mar 30, 2013

Ditmars 2013 – Best Novel Comments

sea-hearts This is the first and hopefully not the last of my commentaries on this year’s Ditmars.  So without further ado lets take a gander at the Best Novel Category:

Best Novel
————————————————————————
* Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
* Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth (Random House Australia)
* Suited (The Veiled Worlds 2), Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
* Salvage, Jason Nahrung (Twelfth Planet Press)
* Perfections, Kirstyn McDermott (Xoum)
* The Corpse-Rat King, Lee Battersby (Angry Robot)

 

perfections1_thumb[1] I have read those highlighted in bold and own the other two.  Such is the life of a reviewer, I often lament, never enough time to read the stuff you buy for yourself.  That being said, I would have bought everything on this list if I hadn’t received review copies… but then I wouldn’t have had time to review them :D

Get on with it Sean.

My thoughts on Sea Hearts are here and I haven’t changed my opinion.  If anyone casually dismisses the field of Speculative Fiction I’d shove this book into their hands. Margo’s Sea Hearts is a front runner.

bitter[3] I reviewed Bitter Greens and interviewed Kate Forsyth here. This book is a triple threat, it delivers are fairy tale retelling or unearthing.  Exposes the hidden historical personality of Charlotte-rose de la Force and helps chip away at our often misconceptions of the power and place of women writers. It entertains and educates and leaves us with an emotional connection, a sad parting of the ways at the end of the reading experience.

Suited has been languishing in my personal to read pile for far too long.  I was very impressed by Debris and Jo has been putting out cracking short fiction.  It is to my detriment that I have not found time to read this work.

Salvage I reviewed here.  Take out the supernatural elements and you have still got a great book that really gets into the blood and guts of a relationship riven by the death of a child/miscarriage. Moody and atmospheric Nahrung somehow manages to make location feel like we are wandering the moors and not a sunny Queensland coast.nahrungsalvage_thumb

Perfections I reviewed here. McDermott’s second novel and I think my favourite of hers.  Perfections was a subtle horror playing on the angst, the friction that families generate.  It’s easy to like or understand the characters in Perfections and that connection is where Kirstyn hooks the reader with tiny barbs and then tugs on them.

Lee Battersby is well known in the Specfic community, his recent sales to Angry Robot indicating that perhaps a wider audience is noticing his work.  Again its to my detriment that I haven’t been able to find time to read this one.

 

 

Those we didn’t get to see.

The competition is so fierce this year that there’s enough for ten good books on the above ballot.  So here are my picks for also worth reading:

  • Blood and Dust, Jason Nahrung, Xoum.
  • Besieged (The Outcast Chronicles 1), Rowena Cory Daniells, Rebellion Publishing.
  • Exile (The Outcast Chronicles 2), Rowena Cory Daniells, Rebellion Publishing.
  • Reign of Beasts (Creature Court 3), Tansy Rayner Roberts, HarperCollins
  • The Light Heart of Stone (The Promise of Stone 1), Tor Roxburgh, Curious Crow Books.
  • Pyrotechnicon: Being a true account of Cyrano de Bergerac's further adventures among the states and empires of the stars, Adam Browne, Coeur de Lion Publishing.

But even in selecting these books there are others that I think could make the list as well. All of those making the ballot should be very proud.

Who do I think will take home the trophy?

Trying to divorce myself from personal feeling and be objective.  Trying to ascertain the buzz and reach of the books.  I would have to say it’s going to be a close race between Bitter Greens and Sea Hearts.  But then again Salvage and Perfections are Australian Gothic Horror and if you’d asked me if we were likely to see horror novels in the best novel category I would have said it’s unlikely. I know that I will be agonizing over this category myself.


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eBook Review – Ghost Money by Andrew Nette

ghostmoneyv4final

Published by the very pulpy sounding Snub Nose Press, Ghost Money is a solid outing for a first novel.  Though I don’t read a lot of pulp Crime, I think I have enough of a handle on the genre to sense where Nette is going with this novel.  For the most part I think he gives us a pulpy feel without the misogyny, treats the history of Cambodia respectfully and gives us a well paced read.

Ghost Money is pulp detective fiction featuring an Asian-Australian lead, Max Quinlan the son of an Australian ex-serviceman and a Vietnamese mother.  Quinlan’s an ex-cop recently self-employed as a private detective on the trail of an Australian businessman lost somewhere in South East Asia. Chuck in the dismantling of the Khmer Rouge, a country in turmoil and you have an interesting backdrop, with plenty of scope for double dealing and dastardly acts.

What I like about Quinlan, is that once Nette takes him further away from his area of expertise ie investigation, the reality that he is largely on his own, and increasingly out of his depth, impact on the character.  Our tough guy has his limits.

Nette's research and experience working in South East Asia is evident in the novel; perhaps too much so in some cases.  There were times when the history and the ambience that Nette tried to generate though imparting it, felt a little clunky.  A subtler delivery of the information or perhaps less information would have ensured a smoother read for me.

That being said I am a history nerd, with some undergraduate background in Ancient South East Asian history so I enjoyed the history in and of itself.

Ghost Money is gritty without indulging in it and considering the history of Cambodia, that’s a wise decision on Nette’s behalf.  The romantic liaison, a staple I am sure of every pulp detective novel, felt a little light-on for me.  There were two potential love interests and I am not sure if the character’s choice necessarily married up to the effort Nette put into developing the back story. 

Perhaps we’ll see the further adventures of Max Quinlan, where his choice of dame comes back to bite him.

This book was provided to me by the author.


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Mar 29, 2013

They’re back – Writer & the Critic Episode 27

PD*3141165 And they have been away so long this is the first time I have typed a post about them on the new laptop.  This episode starts with acknowledgement that Mondy will be starring in an upcoming episode of Hoarders Australia called Burried in Books as he confess to the fact that he has a massive fire risk in his garage (1500 unread books).

No not really but hey I think I could watch a reality show with Mondy in it.

But seriously 1500 books.

Kirstyn has moved house to somewhere in the wilds of Ballaratia, consequently they had to break into Dave’s house (co-host on the much underrated Shooting the Poo podcast).

This week’s episode covers Infinite Jest and House of Leaves and is complemented by the wonderful personalities of aforementioned hosts.

Go and download this Ditmar Award winning  podcast. Or play from the player below:

Amazon buys Goodreads

goodreads So that’s the Book Depository and now my favorite review location gobbled up by Amazon.  It’s not too bad if they don’t change too much.  I quite like the way that Goodreads does things.  I fear that Amazon will either close it down, incorporate it and slowly bleed off members and then close it down or make all roads lead to Amazon.

I am sure more knowledgeable minds will through their two cents on this, but anytime the book world gets smaller, less diverse I can’t agree that it’s a good thing, especially in the long term.

Your thoughts?


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A Trifle Dead launched

merricktrifleTwelfth Planet Press’ new crime imprint officially launched yesterday in Perth and Hobart,  A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, combines two great Australian loves; food and crime.

In Perth A Trifle Dead was launched by Dr Helen Merrick, snapped here by Twelfth Planet Press Director, Alisa Krasnostein. I believe that the author appeared at the Hobart launch, but shots of the elusive Ms Day are …um ..eluding me.

You can check out Ms Day’s website here.  And follow her on Twitter as @liviadaysleuth.

If you want to get a sneak peak at Australia’s best kept Crime fiction secret check out the first chapter below:

Chapter 1.

You can tell a lot about a person from their coffee order. I play a game with the girls who work in my café—guess the order before the customer opens their mouth. It’s fun because half the time you’re spot on—the bloke who would rather die than add anything to his long black, the girl who doesn’t want to admit how weak she likes her latté, the woman who’ll deliberate for twenty minutes as to whether or not she wants a piece of cake (she does), the mocha freak, the decaf junkie.

The rest of the time, you’re completely wrong. An old age pensioner requests a soy macchiato, a gang of pink- haired school girls want serious espresso shots, a lawyer in a designer suit stops to chat for half an hour about free trade… The best thing about people is how often they surprise you.

Ever wondered what kind of coffee a murderer drinks? Yeah, me neither.

I tumbled into the kitchen of Café La Femme, arms full of bakery boxes, a vintage mint-green sundress swirling around my knees. Late as usual, but at least I was wearing my favourite sandals.

A gal can cope with anything when her shoes match her bra.

Nin paused in the middle of kneading focaccia dough to stare at me from under her expressive eyebrows. I love her eyebrows. They make Frida Kahlo’s look meek. ‘They’re here again,’ she said, and went back to kneading. [read on…]


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Ditmars – the final stretch.

image201107290001 It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted by congratulations from several folks as I booted up twitter Wednesday morning.  I had arrived at work only to witness the efforts of some creatively stunted individuals who had tagged half the school.  I mean seriously if you are going to be a rebel, put some effort in. 

Now I don’t usually get unsolicited congratulations, so I enquired as to what I had done.  To be met with “you’re up for a few Ditmars”.

Which did honestly shock me because

a) I swear I only just finished nominating and

b) I still haven’t really got over being nominated last year.

I listened to Robin Pen on a controversies panel at last Natcon where, and I’ll paraphrase him incorrectly, he said something akin to “We should take the awards seriously but perhaps not ourselves.”  Apologies to Robin if that wasn’t your intention/train of thought. I think its important to take the appreciation of your peers and the Science Fiction community seriously, that the good regard the hold you in means is what really matters.

It is an honour for me just to be nominated. I share the various nomination fields with a great bunch of people and I am looking forward to the awards night even though its highly unlikely I’ll make it to Canberra.

I would like to do a series of posts on the various fields but knowing what my life’s been like lately that might be stretching it, but we’ll see. 

So what did I do to receive such a wonderful accolade?

I’m nominated in the Fan Writer Category for the work on this blog, all the reviews and news lumped in together. I am also nominated in group nominations twice in the Best Fan Publication in Any Medium; once for my audio interviews for Galactic Chat and one as part of the wonderful team who did the 2012 Snapshot.

The voting links lie below you have to be a member of this convention or last’s from memory.  So go ahead knock yourself out I’m still struggling to put down votes for thr first category so solid is the field.

 


The official ballot paper, including postal address information, may be
downloaded as a PDF format file from:

http://ditmars.sf.org.au/2013/2013_Ditmar_ballot.pdf

Once voting opens, votes will be accepted via email to:

ditmars@sf.org.au

However, if possible, please vote online at:

http://ditmars.sf.org.au/2013

Postal ballots will be distributed in the near future.

Voting for the Ditmar Award is conducted in accordance with the rules
specified at http://wiki.sf.org.au/Ditmar_rules, and is open to members
of Conflux 9 (including supporting members) and to members of
Continuum 8 who were eligible to vote in the 2011 Award. Voting in all
award categories is by the optional preferential system, and each
eligible individual may vote only once. All ballots (including emailed
ballots) should include the name and address of the voter. If you have
questions regarding the ballot or voting procedure, please email
ditmars@sf.org.au.


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Mar 26, 2013

Booki.sh Bids farewell

This release from the Booki.sh Blog:

22 MARCH 2013

Ebook sales via Booki.sh to end on June 30

Today, we let our retail and publishing partners know that we’ll be ending ebook sales via the Booki.sh platform on June 30 this year. We have been privileged to work with Australia’s best independent booksellers as we all fought for a place in what is a difficult market, and we did not come easily to the decision to end our retail operations. We thank the proprietors and staff of Readings, Fullers, Avid Reader, Mary Ryan’s, Imprints, Books for Cooks and Gleebooks for their willingness to be part of this project, and for their input and guidance along the way.

Customers who’ve purchased ebooks from our retail partners will continue to have access to those titles and to their Booki.sh libraries, and we’re very proud to see the browser-based reading technology that started with Booki.sh grow into an integral part of OverDrive’s library, school and retail platforms.

— Virginia Murdoch

 

I have never been a fan of the Booki.sh system for purchases.  But it’s sad to see an Australian product disappear.  The technology lives on in the Overdrive Read technology that anyone who’s signed up to an Australian ebook library ecosystem powered by Overdrive, will be familiar with.

And I think its really the right sort of environment for library lending.  Call me old fashioned, but I felt that if I was paying full price for a book then I owned the file/container it came in. For that reason I only ever used Booki.sh to view book files I uploaded or free content.

It will be interesting to see what solution the independents go with now. 


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Aurealis Overhaul

aurealis_58_cover_180_pixel The crew at Aurealis have undergone an overhaul, with old hands retiring to direct their energies elsewhere -checkout the website for the full run down but here are some highlights:

      • We have appointed Elsie Michael in the new position of Reviews Manager.  All reviews will now appear first in Aurealis issues and will be archived on the Aurealis website later.

      • We have appointed Julian Thumm in the new position of News Editor.  He will be seeking out and collecting the sorts of news items that Carissa has in the past.

      • Our Social Media Coordinator, Dan Allan, will be placing the news items, depending on what they are, on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Google+, as well as a new Aurealis blog.  You will no longer have to wait for the monthly AurealisXpress to get the news.

      • We have appointed Angelika Arvela as our new Submissions Manager, replacing Sari Webb.  After a short break, we are now open to submissions again.  We thank you for your patience.

        [source]

So new blood and probably a better approach to the news/ events happening side of things(near impossible to run a newsletter service in the age of Facebook and Twitter).  I shall miss Carissa Thorp’s work and no doubt will miss a few other people that have been a regular feature. I wish them the best of luck.


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Writing update - Poetry

image201107290001Work is keeping me busy but I have found time to pen two poems and submit them in the past couple of weeks. And today decided to kick my arse into gear for a short story prize - The Carmel Bird Award.

So on the writing front I picked up a rejection from the magazine I sent Bad Ground (my Cthulu-esque/weird poem) to.  They were very kind in their rejection and gave positive feedback, so I am taking the rejection as an indication that I am on the right track and I just need to keep going/refining. 

After taking said poem along to my writing group (after I subbed) who gently teased it apart I was worried that It might get published and it wouldn’t be as good as I can see it becoming.  So, close call there (and what a way to rationalize a rejection).

I decided to enter the Kernewek Lowender literary prize that’s held in South Australia’s little Cornwall – Moonta.  I had no idea what sort of poetry they were after, however, the theme for this years prize was Smugglers and Sinners so I penned The Smuggler’s Reply; a poem in iambic tetrameter by an anti government/establishment smuggler or free trader. 

Learnt quite a bit about Cornwall and smuggling in researching the background for that one.  Won’t know ‘till about May if I had any luck, as there’s only a winner and runners up announced/advised, all other entries are destroyed.

Mar 24, 2013

Fablecroft Goodreads giveaways!

Fablecroft are giving away two of their latest click through the links to Goodreads and register in the draw.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories

by Joanne Anderton

Giveaway ends April 20, 2013.
See the giveaway details

at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway


One Small Step by Tehani Wessely

One Small Step


by Tehani Wessely


Giveaway ends April 20, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Rabia Gale interview on Adventures of a Bookonaut Podcast

(Download Link – Mp3)

In Episode 4 I talk to Speculative Fiction author Rabia Gale about her diverse collection of published work.

We discuss self publishing, the freedom it gives to experiment with form and genre, and the reading canon that is the legacy of commonwealth countries. If you haven't come across Rabia's work before you are missing out. She's one of those writers that make the genre work for her and not the other way round.

Check out her blog at Rabia Gale - Writer at Play

Thankyou 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 at my blog.

Music

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

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

Mar 21, 2013

2012 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

Yes those hard working judges have narrowed down the selections from hundreds (750 or so) of hopefuls to a handful of worthy works.  Judging co-ordinator Tehani Wessely (of Fablecroft fame) noted that the standards remained very high this year and that there were a record number of entries.  The amount of quality e-published fiction continued to rise as well [source]


Commentary

Fantasy Novel

A close field, which I note is 80% women. I have only read what I would consider the big guns; Bitter Greens and Sea Hearts.  With the recent short listing of Sea Hearts for the Stella I’d have to say I think it has the edge in this race(which is based entirely on my subjective impressions of Buzz over these books).

Fantasy Short Story

The field dominated by women and by small presses, with only one from the big publishing houses.  I have only read the Lanagan and despite the fact that Margo is on fire this year I can’t rule out any of the others.  Very tough field.


Science Fiction Novel

I have only read one in this selection, the field again showing a strong contingent of female writers and a self published work, which is a pleasant surprise.  No idea who is the front runner here.  On reputation; a Nix versus Anderton ticket maybe?


Science Fiction Short Story

I have only read the Lanagan in this field, but a strong showing from others whose works I have read.  Significant dust was my favourite of the Cracklescape stories so my heart goes there.

Horror Novel

A field that’s received an injection of works compared to last year. And I have read 75% of the entries. Of those three entries read,  all are different kinds of Horror.  I think possibly its a race between Salvage and Perfections.

Horror Short Story

A good showing here from old hands and new blood - Hood and Warren flying the flag for established Australian Horror writers. I liked Sky and its observations about small town country life. 

Dowker, Anderton and Cleghorn with strong showings from writers beginning to really flex their muscles.  I read and REALLY liked Elyora ( which may have some non-Awards news related to it).  I think Cleghorn’s the dark horse here, but its a very solid field. And I note again 80% women.

Young Adult Novel

I have only read the Lanagan, so won’t comment any further.  Other than to say that if Margo doesn’t take home at least one award I’ll be surprised.

Anthology

Or should I say the Jonathan Strahan Field.  Jonathan has been very busy, brining us top quality anthologies but Pillar, Grzyb and Helene are all damn fine anthologists too.  The numbers are on Strahan’s side perhaps, giving him a slight edge, but hmm too close to call.

Collection

I am going to say a Warren vs Hannett & Slatter competition based on Buzz  Such different books though.

Feel free to ruminate below.  I think in terms of storytelling this years Aurealis Finalists shows that the Australian Speculative fiction scene continues to have a depth of talent.


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Mar 17, 2013

Episode 77 and Galactic Suburbia hits 3 years

2678367136_6fa96e3d11 And that’s more than most television series.  I have been an avid listener for about 2 years of that time and must say that Galactic Suburbia has changed the way I look at a number of things, reading, writing and life in general.  And they have done it all through an indirect conversational promotion of feminism.  So Happy Birthday, Tansy, Alisa, Alex and Finchy for bringing us quality commentary for free.

The Show Notes

News

TIPTREE AWARDS
Random House and their new digital only imprints - specifically Hydra.
SFWA response to Hydra letter
Random House responds
NOTE: Since we recorded this, revisions have been made to the Random House imprint contracts.

Culture Consumed


ALISA: the life of a publisher…
TANSY: A Game of Thrones (the book) and nothing else ever again because THERE ARE MORE BOOKS.
ALEX: Warehouse 13, season 1; Shadow Unit (http://shadowunit.org); Arc 1.4; The Triangle; Anita Sarkeesian’s first Tropes vs Women in Video Games

I also get a short mention this episode for the points I raised on twitter regarding Grimdark that blossomed into this post.

You can play the episode from the player below or you can download it here.

 
Photo: By George Eastman House showing how short a time its been since women had to campaign for the vote.

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Spec fic festival 2013

Amie Kaufman & Garth NixLisa Hannet & Liz GAngela Slatter & Jenny BreukelaarAlan Baxter & Russell FarrThoraiya Dyer, Jo Anderson & Kirstyn McDermottJason Nahrung, Zena Shapter & Rob Hood
Susan Wardle & Cat SparksJuliet Marillier & Thoraiya DyerWeird
The Weird panelJane McCredieJane McCredie & Rose PowellRichard HarlandSophie MassonSophie Masson
Ineke ProchazkaIneke ProchazkaRussell B Farr

Spec fic festival 2013, a set by Cat Sparx on Flickr.

Take a gander at these lovely photos taken by Cat Sparx at the NSW Spec Fic Festival

Mar 14, 2013

Booktopia Free Shipping till Monday

fairy tale Booktopia have a free shipping special running until the 18th of March.  So I decided to purchase Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, mentioned on the Coode Street Podcast in their interview with the author.

 SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE is a very English story. A story of woods and clearings, a story of folk tales and family histories. It is as if Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris had written a fairy tale together. It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phonecall from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery. He arrives at his parents' house and discovers that they have a visitor. His sister Tara.

Not so unusual you might think, this is Christmas after all, a time when families get together. But twenty years ago Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back and as the years have gone by with no word from her the family have, unspoken, assumed that she was dead. Now she's back, tired, dirty, dishevelled, but happy and full of stories about twenty years spent travelling the world, an epic odyssey taken on a whim. But her stories don't quite hang together and once she has cleaned herself up and got some sleep it becomes apparent that the intervening years have been very kind to Tara.

She really does look no different from the young women who walked out the door twenty years ago. Peter's parents are just delighted to have their little girl back, but Peter and his best friend Richie, Tara's one time boyfriend, are not so sure. Tara seems happy enough but there is something about her. A haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it's as if she's off with the fairies. And as the months go by Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family...

 

Click here to go to the Booktopia Website.  And type the word MARCH in the coupon field to get the shipping deducted.


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Book Review – Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson

capital

Capital Punishment is the latest from Gold Dagger Award winner Robert Wilson. An author with a raft of books that I have yet to discover and a couple of television miniseries based on his works. 

Now when it comes to crime fiction and espionage I am a fan of gritty realism, well researched and constructed secondary worlds, and good pacing that never lets you relax for too long. 

Some may think it’s easier to write a work that’s set in a world only slightly removed from our own – no races or continents to construct.  I’d argue that it what it might save in terms of the building of a realistic secondary world is paid out in attention to detail, detail that can at the press of a key, be double checked by your readers.

How does Capital Punishment hold up?  Pretty good.  Not enough perhaps to knock the earlier works of Barry Eisler off my favourite crime/espionage/thriller list but the attention to detail is there and most importantly the pacing.  As long a you don’t write a clanger of an error, good pacing, I think can cover a few sins.

Capital Punishment is a gritty blend of espionage, terrorism and old fashioned crime. Charles Boxer is a kidnap recovery specialist, ex-army, now working in the private sector.  He’s hired by Indian billionaire Frank D’Cruz to help recover his daughter from the hands of a professional kidnap team.  It’s set primarily in London, with some scenes in India for flavour and has that understated English feel to the narrative – gritty environments, hardened professionals, no-nonsense criminals.

The pacing was excellent, and I finished the book within a couple of sittings.  The only let down for me was the ending, which seemed a little anti-climactic to me.  I felt as though Wilson hadn’t made me worry enough about the characters or the situation.  What was high stakes seemed to pan out okay in the end and I kept waiting for a twist that didn’t come.

That being said I’d gladly read Wilson again, the journey was enjoyable even if the ending was a little underwhelming.

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


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Asymmetry give away

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Mar 11, 2013

Book Review – The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

the-wild-girlThe Wild Girl is Kate Forsyth’s latest foray into the milieu of fairy tales.  I have been eagerly awaiting its publication since finding out it was in the works in my interview with her last year  It features the same attention to detail that fans of Bitter Greens enjoyed, that feeling of immersion in the past, created by a confident rendering of the tumultuous years surrounding Napoleon’s rise and fall.

Where the two books differ, however, is that The Wild Girlis a historical fiction, where Bitter Greens was a mix of historical fiction and the fantastique, skillfully weaving historical fiction with fairy tale.

Where they do share similarities (apart from Forsyth’s beautiful and subtle writing) is in the revealing of a woman obscured by history.  Forsyth brought to life the wonderful Charlotte-Rose de la Force in Bitter Greens and in The Wild Girl she gives us the life of Dortchen Wild. 

Dortchen who?

If you are not into history or perhaps even fairy tale scholarship then you probably didn’t know about Dortchen Wild, when even a mention of the Grimms these days will get you a blank look or a reference to the TV show, it’s perhaps not surprising.  Dortchen Wild was the girl next door to the Grimms, the source from which they gleaned about a quarter of their stories and later the wife of the brother Wilhelm.

The Wild Girl is Dortchen’s story, a story which parallels a number of fairy tales in both the misfortunes that beset her and her eventual triumph.  At 538 pages it is not a slight tome, but Forsyth’s skill as a storyteller makes the narrative a pleasure to read through, a joy of immersive reading.

I must give fair warning that what starts off as a nice dramatic historical, does take a darker turn, for some of the tale.  Some elements of the narrative will be confronting, despite the deftness and sensitivity Forsyth brings to bear on them.  Without spoiling it too much, let us say the tale All Kinds of Fur is one of those tales that parallels Dortchen’s life.

I emerged from this story feeling as though I had some sense of the woman and her times, that this could have been her life.

I hesitate to call The Wild Girl a romance, though of course we know from the beginning that Dortchen and Wilhelm get married and that outcome end stops the story. I’d call it a drama, if that would encourage male readers to pick it up.

Please do, pick it up that is. I think your reading life if not your wider existence will be enriched by the process.

This book was provided by the author at no cost to myself.


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This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 

 

 

 


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Coode Street Episode 137

Our two gentlemen ramblers cover the Tiptree announcements and then raise the shadowy spectre of the “Grimdark” in modern fantasy, prompted by the twitter discussion that formed part of the background for my Grimdark post. 

You can play direct from the player below or you can download via this link.


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Mar 10, 2013

An imbalance in the Grimdark

I’ll begin by saying that “Grimdark” as a term gives me the irrates, like a whole lot of other memes/hastags that attempt to distill everything down to one all encompassing word,  I find this feature of modern internet culture ( the distilling of things to a hashtag like label) often results in discussion being curtailed, and points of view being neglected by the very virtue of being labeled with a tag.

first law That is not to say that I don’t see problems or inadequacies or that we shouldn’t be harsh in our criticism, that we can’t be derisive, but we have  language and words cost nothing so let’s use them to make our points clear.

Grimdark is a pejorative term of mixed origin.  It started as a catch all phrase for the grim, teen and testosterone fuelled  world of the Warhammer universe that fluffs out the tabletop war games produced by Games Workshop. It has become of late, a label applied to the dark fantasy fiction of the works of Joe Abercrombie, George Martin, Mark Lawrence, and a few others.  I’d prefer that we criticize these authors specifically then simply label them “Grimdark” and give them a wide berth.

I read Joe Abercrombie’s defense of grittiness and I have also read his response to the claims leveled against him in his presentation of female characters in his earlier works.  He writes what he writes because he sees it as the best way to reveal the truth of the narrative, but he’s also willing to see where he has done a crap job of presenting characters (specifically women).

Tansy Rayner Roberts (whose works I might add, excitingly blends traditional female roles with grit) pointed out two follow-on articles by Foz Meadows and Kate Elliot.  Foz does a great job of poking some holes in that defense and raises the point that an author’s “reality”, their understanding of the grittiness of the real world transposed on the fantasy one, will have a raft of biases that shape it.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting realism in your fantasy – most readers demand it to some extent – but that doesn’t mean we’ve all agreed on what realism in fantasy is. It’s a mistake to assume that your preferred flavour of honesty is the only legitimate one; or, just as importantly, the most legitimate one.   [source]

Kate’s article focuses on the apparent aversion of consensual sex in “realistic” fantasy, arguing for its inclusion as important in the portraying reality (citing  historical documents)

To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters? [Source]

All three articles coalesced and took a darker turn for me.  I tried to think of any examples in the authors cited as “Grimdark”, who I have read – Martin and Abercrombie, that dealt with the reality of male sexual violence against males.  I tweeted that thought and received a number of responses that seemed to echo my thoughts - that this is an area of “gritty realism” seldom covered or explored within the “Grimdark” novels.  This despite the very real historical and modern reality of male rape, especially in conflict zones, the abuse and hazing of men in the military, the abuse of young men by institutions.  It strikes me as a monolith of a reality, a giant elephant in the room that authors can’t or won’t see.

This is not to say that I particularly desire the depiction of male rape in my gritty fantasy, or female rape for that matter ( but the later is a staple trope).  Take as a case in point the capture of Brienne of Tarth in the Song of Ice and Fire. She is repeatedly threatened with rape when captured by the brave companions. :

“Shout it a little louder, wench, I don’t think Urswyck heard you. The sooner they know how little you’re worth in ransom, the sooner the rapes begin. Every man here will mount you, but what do you care? Just close your eyes, open your legs, and pretend they’re all Lord Renly.”

Mercifully, that shut her mouth for a time.

A Storm of Swords – G R R Martin

gameNow the Brave Companions have a reputation as being the lowest of the low, and they do not baulk at chopping the hand off Jaime Lannister, but not once is Jaime a exemplar of masculinity, a hard and cruel bastard, ever threatened with sexual assualt?  What would have been the effect on his character had he endured the treatment of this man.

I suspect its not written about for a number of reasons

  1. Its not part of the tradition, damsels have always needed saving from evil monsters of men
  2. Its extremely uncomfortable for white male authors and readers
  3. ….

Its no surprise to me then that the best (appropriate to the narrative and lacking in gratiuty) portrayal of the “reality” of sexual violence by men on men  that I have read comes from women writers.  I point to Margo Lanagan’s The Goosle, which caused a stir in some quarters because it dared to relate a very dark and we may argue plausible version of Hansel and Gretel.

I would also add the recent works of Rowena Cory Daniells who manages to combine male on male sexual violence as well as the consensual sex Kate Elliot called for, in her Outcast Chronicles.

I’d like to see some of the male writers tackle these themes in their gritty fantasy fiction.  I know I found male sexual violence against males in the Outcast Chronicles confronting, it also forced me to more closely examine the staple tropes of sexual violence against women in fantasy.  To come to understand how those representations might affect female readers, why they might tire of being hit over the head by the damaged women stereotype.

If the “Grimdark” authors value honesty I think to hold on to that standard they need to see the elephant in the room. Perhaps there are other authors who do tackle the points I have raised, feel free to mention their works below.


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Mar 9, 2013

Adventures of a Bookonaut Podcast Ep. 3 Kylie Scott

 

Please find for you listening pleasure the interview I conducted with Kylie Scott author of Flesh and Skin via momentum publishing.  In this episode I talk to Kylie about her post apocalyptic erotic romance line of books from Momentum publishing. So if you are intrigued about how one goes about writing erotic romance set in an Australia overrun by the walking dead - tune in.

They also talk about the effect that Fifty Shades of Grey has had on the publishing industry and the absence of non gender binary characters in post apocalyptic film and fiction

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

You can download direct here.


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Book Review – Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre

bedlam

In Bedlam we see Brookmyre diverge from his usual fare of Scottish crime novels and venture into science fiction.  That being said, Bedlam is still at its heart mystery fiction, with our hapless protagonist required to unravel who he is, where he is and how to take down the bad guys.

Ross Baker is computer scientist working for a shady American firm in the charming surrounds of industrial Stirling.  He works hard but never seems to get ahead, he thinks his girlfriend is about to leave him and the office psychopath has just screwed him over again when he decides to help one of his colleagues, Solderburn, who is working on side project.

He consents to be scanned by Solderburn’s new cobbled together scanner and wakes up inside a 1990’s first person shooter called Starfire.  From this point on he’s on his own and has to figure out where he is, if he’s still Ross Baker and how to get home.

It’s not a new idea, being transported into a video game, but Brookmyre has reworked the idea and given us a story that will be a trip down nostalgia lane for anyone who grew up gaming from the late 80’s onward combined with some techno thriller trappings.  There’s some good in-jokes and some not so subtle social commentary – Brookmyre did win a laugh from me with a reference to Daily Mail readers.

I did, however, find it a bit slow going until the last quarter of the book where the pace picked up and both the reader and Ross had a better picture of where things were going. There’s also an info dump at the end of the book which is an info dump in both the literal and narrative sense.  Ross gets injected with updated information on what’s going on in the outside world bringing he and the reader up to date. It felt like Brookmyre was glossing over what might have been good techno-thriller material but I don’t know that I can suggest another way to have worked the information into the story without revealing some of the mystery.

If you are looking for a mystery novel with a difference, if you enjoy Brookmyre’s humour and you’re a fan of gaming you’ll enjoy Bedlam, as for the techno thiller aspects, it just doesn't move fast enough for me.


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Mar 7, 2013

Xoum picks up another Spec Fic writer

xoum_logo Angela Slater reliably informs us that Xoum, publisher of Perfections and Blood and Dust has picked up her contemporary novella Narrow Daylight.  It’s interesting to watch digital first or digital only publishers form in a response to the changing market.  Keep your eyes open for Angela’s work and more exciting stuff from Xoum.

And if you are keen on watching what the big publishers are doing it’s also interesting to note that Little Brown Books have got a digital only imprint launching mid year called Black Friars.


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Writing Updates

image201107290001 Well, let’s see its been nearly 2 months since my last confession.  My first story has had three rejections and currently its spending time in solitary, contemplating how it could be better.  I know I should have sent it out again, but in the intervening time I have picked up a part time job that has all but killed my time and motivation. 

I did, as you will have noticed rediscover poetry in February which resulted in my writing a speculative fiction poem that I have submitted for publication in an online magazine.  So I haven’t been totally sedentary.  It’s called Bad Ground and has an Australian/Cthulu-esque vibe. 

I tell you though if you think its hard working out submission requirements for short stories, well poetry guidelines seem to be even more nebulous and seem to amount to make sure it’s good and if you write traditional poetry ie metred verse with rhyme, make sure it’s bloody good.

So do I think I have a chance…no idea. 

I am not a big fan of free verse, I prefer the likes of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Or maybe it’s the quality of the free verse I have read?  For I can be put off by wrenched rhyme and clich├ęd turns of phrase as much as the next person. 


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Mar 3, 2013

eBook Review – The Ode Less Travelled – Unlocking the Poet Within

the-ode-less-travelled

One perhaps does not automatically think of poetry when mentioning Stephen Fry, he is after all famous for his comedy and television appearances and as a bit of an ubergeek.  But as he mentions in The Ode Less Travelled , Fry harbours a dark secret, a love of writing poetry and not the sort of poetry one might associate, with his rather modern technophile persona ie post-modern.

No, Fry is a fan of what might better be described as “traditional” poetry, works constrained or supported by form, metre and rhyme. Fry argues that its these qualities that give him enjoyment far more than modern free verse which he has described as anemic.

This book aims to give you the basic understanding of the technical aspects of traditional poetry and to encourage you to experiment even if it is only for personal pleasure.

It contains observations examples and exercises, all delivered with typical Fry humour.  And contains I think one of the best exercises I have come across for “getting your ear in” in terms of iambic pentameter.

Poetry can be seen as both elitist and a little bit embarrassing and Fry works hard to get us to shuck these silly self imposed restraints on our creativity.  How can writing poetry be any worse than pottering in the garden, or any other number of hobbies that we get great joy from.

I enjoyed and treasure this book so much that I intend to hunt down a hardcopy.

This book was borrowed through the South Australian ebook library


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