Dec 31, 2014

So endeth the year

2014-12-23 18.08.59 So glad to see the end of 2014.

It wasn’t all bad, indeed creatively it was a really good year.  Getting nominated and winning two Ditmars was perhaps the highlight. Growing as a poet and getting some paid publishing credits to my name was very rewarding.

I became an uncle again. I attended conventions, met some long time friends for the first time in the flesh. I did lose about 20 kilos which I need to keep reminding myself about, because its slipped my mind as an achievement this year.

The end of the year came with disappointments and illness.  I didn’t get a job that would have set me up for the next few years and I underwent treatment for some health issues that seemed to come from nowhere, but which after reflection I can see have been a long time coming.

I participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for the third year running and will need to compile that and a gender audit of my reading and reviewing for the year.   I read more poetry and discovered more poets.

I am still reading for the Aurealis Awards and that has been rewarding and educational.  I recommend saying yes if you get the chance.

So until I have the wherewithal to write again, please have a happy and safe new year.

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Dec 24, 2014

Galactic Chat 62 – Dr Lisa Hannett

As promised Galactic Chat brings you our last interview for the year, conducted by me with the wonderful Dr Lisa Hannett.

In this weeks chat, our last for the year, Sean talks with Dr Lisa Hannett about her upcoming mosaic novel, her recent release through Twelfth Planet Press with Dr Angela Slatter and Icelandic Medieval Literature.  

They also talk about the Australian Gothic, how Australians can be just as nice as Canadians and Lisa's fear of the scaly creatures of the shallows.  Please enjoy and have a safe and merry Christmas. 


You can download the mp3 via the download link on the Podbean site or play below.

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Dec 21, 2014

Book Review – The Canary Press - The Genre Issue (Issue 6)

Issue-6-cover Long time readers of the blog may remember that I gave The Canary Press “a bit of stick” for the way they went about announcing they were going to do a Genre issue. Their approach ruffled a few feathers and they gave an apology to the community (read it here). The best thing they have done though, is produce a good issue.

Issue 6 is the Genre issue.  Leaving aside discussions on genre versus literary divisions and whether they do or should exist.  It’s quite an ask to produce something that covers all genre. An impossible task really, before you even get to various arbitrary subgenre breakdowns (sadly there’s no Werewolf romance, nor Austen/Cthulu mash-ups).

So the Canaries didn’t do that, instead, as outlined in a rather creative editorial that had me laughing ( a good sign), they realised their limitations and just went for some quality genre fiction, providing some oxygen to writing that perhaps goes unnoticed. 

Now you may say unnoticed by whom, and that’s a fair question.  I see this issue as bridging a gap between genre camps (where Literature is a genre) or at least between loosely defined communities.  Most of the folks in the speculative fiction community will for instance recognise the writers outlined below, living or dead, international or local.  So I see this issue as a good way of drawing readers from genre camps into The Canary Press readership while also expanding the reading experience of those who might favour the Lit. scene and already be on board.

What we do get though, is probably slanted more to the speculative fiction reader.  There’s a couple of classics; Stanislaw Lem’s, The Fifth Sally (A) or Trurl’s Prescription and JG Ballard’s (this holds up very well) The Intensive Care Unit. Kaaron Warren produces some science fiction social commentary in the form of Witnessing and some creepy crime flash surfaces from Lee Battersby in, A Suitable Level of Reward. 

Kij Johnson’s 26 Monkey’s Also the Abyss might even introduce some Australian speculative fiction readers to one of America’s best current short story writers. There’s some gangster infused, Australian flavoured, modern hardboiled with All the Ropes Had Blood on Them from Paul Mitchell and a rather surreal story of Unicorn surgery in Unicorn Surgeon from Issac Mitchell-Frey.

I did find that most of the fiction was tending toward the cerebral. I feel that we are presented with writing that goes beyond just telling an entertaining story.  We are presented with ideas and narrative structure that are a little out of the ordinary and consequently we have an opportunity to engage in the fiction in a different way.  Kaaron Warren’s story certainly feels like she’s experimented stylistically (successfully I might add) and the Kij Johnson is broken up into 24 numbered paragraphs that jump around the narrative to good effect. Lem’s work feels very 70’s beat poetry in the way it mixes rhyming prose and a dig at the awful power of bureaucracy and Ballard’s work with some subtle technological changes could still be relevant as a criticism of online culture and the disconnect networked devices bring us.

Presentation  though, is where a paper product can push some advantage and having had my ereader die on me this week I can really appreciate something I can hold in my hand, that doesn’t need powering up or recharging.  The Canary Press prints on a sepia toned matt paper (for this issue at least) and it has the feel and look of quality recycled paper.  There’s a mix of colour and black & white interior art and overall I get the feeling some care has been taken in producing a unique product for the genre issue.

The Canary Press has sourced some diverse and international work to grace the pages and their choices give the journal a distinct feel, my only complaint here is, where’s Kathleen Jennings! Seriously though, there’s some distinctive artwork (that can be purchased through their store) that marks the magazine as a little bit arty and special.  Think more Shaun Tan than Borris Vallejo.

At $40 a year for a subscription( 4 issues per year) I think it’s good value.  As a single issue I think it’s worth picking up for the variety of Speculative Fiction alone.


Issue 6 was provided free by The Canary Press

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Dec 17, 2014

Galactic Chat 61 with Kameron Hurley

So yes, a definite slow down in posting in December, what with reading for Aurealis and intermittent internet issues caused by goodness knows what. Still I am hoping to  conduct one last Galactic Chat interview for the year this evening and have it out for you prior to Christmas.  In the meantime here’s out latest Galactic Chat conducted by the wonderful David McDonald.

You can download the mp3 file from our Podbean site or play direct below.

This week David chats with award winning author and blogger Kameron Hurley. Kameron has been nominated for the Nebula, Clarke and the BSFA, selected for the Tiptree honour list and this year won the Hugo for Best Fan Writer.  Additionally, her essay "'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative" also won the Hugo for Best Related Work.

Please enjoy their chat where they talk about the influences on her most famous trilogy( including a dodgy rental apartment with bugs), when authors should speak out on issues of poor or disadvantageous contracts and what's next on Hurley's agenda.

You can find Kameron at her website

Dec 9, 2014

eBook Review – Stillways by Steve Bisley


I happened upon Stillways while lending support at a local gallery and craft shop. Steve Bisley is one of those iconic Australian actors, never perhaps appearing on the big screen internationally (except in Mad Max), but almost always there in supporting roles.  He’s much like Bryan Brown in that respect.  I have a fondness for the roles he’s played and his presence on air has been part of my cultural experience growing up.

Stillways  captured my attention and dragged me away from other more pressing reading work.  I am not a hug fan of memoirs, I have read about 3 in my lifetime, but I couldn’t stop reading.  There’s an honesty and earthiness in this book, humour and dark secrets.  And love, love that hits you square in the eyes in the final pages. I didn’t have cash with me to buy the book but was able to pick it up online.

The opening chapters read like prose poetry and had me wondering where Bisley had been hiding this talent.  There’s a palpable love of the physically environment of Stillways and Bisley’s descriptions bring the place alive in words. 

The soaking wind curves around the channel that empties Lake Macquarie into the Pacific Ocean. It blows across Pulbah Island and reaches to the sodden south. There is no rain, but a thin wetness. There is no whisper through the casuarinas brought by other winds; they are bowed and heavy now and all things feel sunk and riven.

This is the only way to see my home. This is the only true way to see my home.


The later chapters are perhaps less poetic, but I think the content is suited by the change of tone. Particularly around tales of school boy masturbation:


I masturbate a lot. We’ve got a masturbation club going at school. Chris Dodds is the current champion. The rules of the club are a bit loose and ill-defined, but it basically comes down to who cums first, wins. Doddsie’s got his dick in his hand more often than a biro, whenever and wherever the mood takes him, and it takes him a lot, and he doesn’t much care who’s around at the time. He has no shame. None of us do.


or indeed the troubled relation ship with his father:


Our sticks of choice are in our hands.

We have chosen carefully.

Too thin means they’ll break too early and the fury will continue with a belt or worse.

Too thick and the welts will be raw and deep.

There is a crunch outside and then another, measured and quickening.

My eyes go to my sister; her legs are buckling in preparation for the blows, her stout stick is quivering in her hand.

Then he is at the door.

Then inside with us.

His face is ruddy, white spittle blisters his lips and he is shaking and furious. He wrenches the stick from my sister’s hand and cuts a great whistling arc with it. Again and again the stick flails against her till she is screaming and pleading. ‘I’ll be good, Dad!’ she cries, and, ‘No, Dad, no! Please, no!’


It only covers Bisley’s life to age 15 ( I suspect another volume) but there’s more than enough of a life revealed in those pages to feel as though you’ve got value as a reader. Bisley comes across almost as a stereotypical larrikin. I think this book reveals that side of him that we see surface in many of his roles but there is also greater depth here.  If he appears a stereotypical rough talking, straight shooting Aussie, it’s because that’s his background.

Grab a copy while we are waiting for the next fabricated celebrity star to fall and fade.  Bisley’s life is  interesting and colourful, perhaps more so than many of the roles we have come to love him for.

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Dec 6, 2014

eBook Review – Horizon by Keith Stevenson


Keith Stevenson’s Horizon was released through HarperCollins’ digital imprint in November.  Keith’s been a stalwart of the Australian speculative fiction scene for many a year, mainly in his editor/publisher role at Coeur de lion publishing. So it’s good to see him surface with this product from one of the majors.

Horizon is Keith’s debut novel.  How has he fared, stepping away from short fiction and editing/publishing the longer works of others?

Very well I believe. 

In my reading at least, I have perceived a tendency for science fiction novels to move toward the centre in terms of combining narrative and the science of science fiction i.e. we move toward what is scientifically plausible (with some subtle handwavium) and the story centres on character.

I am thinking of James SA Corey’s works and closer to home, Patty Jansen. Space is generally a hostile place that puts characters under stress in extreme isolation. It’s fertile ground for human foibles to be pressured and exposed, for conflict to arise.

So that’s the approach Keith has taken with Horizon

The exploration vessel Magellan has been sent on a 34 light year trip to the Iota Persei system to explore the distant earth like planet,Horizon.  Staffed by a multinational crew it should be a testament to humanity’s ability to pull together in a crisis. Tensions between nations, however, play out between crew members even before they begin the Deepsleep (a half century of life suspension)  portion of the mission.  On waking, Commander Cait Dyson discovers her 2IC dead and their course changed. What was a bold mission into the unknown becomes a tense novel of suspense and second guessing.  Can they trust each other, the ships AI, the half human half digital intelligence Bren?  But most of all can they trust that the situation on Earth hasn’t changed in the 55 years they have been asleep?

Keith combines that sense of wonder we get from the extrapolation and explanation of big ideas (don’t worry, there’s no calculus) with tense mystery and suspense.  There’s competing personalities and agendas, some social and ecological commentary.  It proved to be a edge of the seat experience for much of my read.

Horizon’s strengths were in the presentation of the story world, the explanation of the workings of Magellan and the tense interplay between characters. I didn’t feel quite as convinced by the socio-cultural representation of Earth.  Certainly there was nothing that derailed the story but I felt at times that Keith had done such a great job at other elements that the background for the political and cultural situation on Earth didn’t quite have the same depth.

If you are hankering for some science fiction that makes sense and a tension building read, buy it. Good entertainment doesn’t usually come this cheap.

This copy was provided by the author.

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Dec 1, 2014

The Ark by Annabel Smith

theark-annabelsmithThe book is only the beginning.  But I’ll start there since this is a review.

The Ark presents a form of fiction that while not rare, is perhaps underutilised. I am talking about epistolary fiction, fiction told through letters or documents.  There are examples of the form stretching back six hundred odd years and smattered over all kinds of genre but if you were looking to write a novel it’s not the form I’d immediately choose.


I think it’s a form that battles against the audience’s expectations and experience. It demands quite a clever bit of structuring from the author and  the nature of its communication - essentially stop-start, (a document is experienced as a complete thing in and of itself and has to be written as such to attain verisimilitude) has the potential to break the readers flow.

Essentially it has to look and read like the real thing while delivering the same level entertainment expected of structurally easier formats.

I am, however, glad that Smith took up the challenge.  The Ark is a fairly big diversion from the work she’s previously published and I think she’s done well, very well.

In terms of story she delivers an interesting and timely scenario:

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price.
When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

It reads like an eco/survivor-thriller and it is.  The challenges presented by the form don’t seem to have hampered delivering a tense ending. The beginning is perhaps slower than your normal thriller but this is necessary to build the tension and get the reader reading between the lines.

One of the advantages of the form is that we, the reader, have different perspectives presented to us.  We begin to create one perception of the book’s reality based on the narrative explored in one set of emails, only to have that impacted or even undermined by revelations in other communications.  The reader is caught in a game trying to decide which character is presenting the most accurate state of affairs.  In that sense it’s perhaps more akin to a murder mystery thriller but without Hercule or Miss Marple to hold our hands.

So narratively,  The Ark worked very well for me.  The production of the book, raised the bar further.  If you are going to set a story in 2041 that occurs in cyberspace, then aside from say… presenting the story as an App (which Smith also did) you have to give the reader some small sense that they are not reading a book, you have to transcend the book to some extent. 

I did read my version in ebook form (I'm not sure if there is a paperback) which does a great job normally of simulating a standard paperback.  To break down that sense that we were reading a book though, Smith has designed the documents we read to appear as emails (ie not just text with address headers), blogposts, newspaper extracts, etc. Aside from verisimilitude it generates, this choice gives a literal change of scenery.

To have left the project there, would have been fine.  A nice terse future thriller, that makes some quiet comment on ecological issues and presents the reader with some variety in their narrative consumption. 

Smith went further giving us an expanded interactive multimedia experience and for that you can checkout yourself.

awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.







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Nov 27, 2014

eBook Review – Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds


I read Anzac’s Long Shadow earlier in the year and found it to be a critical and refreshing look at aspects of Australia’s military history and the detrimental or skewing effect that our martial myths have on both our soldiers and the collective consciousness and culture of the Australian people.

Forgotten War is similarly a book that looks at our forgotten war(s) (the only ones fought on Australian soil for control of it) and our cultural amnesia in relation to it.  If I can crudely sum up an Australian’s sense of history it might go something like this.  Captain cook landed, settler’s and convicts arrived, there was isolated problems with the indigenous population but on the whole Australia is a peaceful nation of beer drinking sportsmen and women, that’s never known war on its own soil.

Forgotten War outlines succinctly and accurately that colonisation was not a largely peaceful process and that for a good 140 odd years settlers fought a series of conflicts for control of the continent and Australia’s aboriginal inhabitants resisted, forcefully and with some early successes until numbers, technology and the bushcraft of the colonisers improved.

White Australia has a problem with its acceptance of this history. It’s a curious situation.  I can understand the racist impetus to obliterate the Aboriginal side of this history. What could be worse than defeat?  Why, enforcing the view that you never really fought to defend your land anyway.  In doing so, however, we bury the history of white settlement and of white settlers, neglect the harsh realities they had to face, the conflict they fought.

This situation is as ridiculous as suppressing the reality of the Indian Wars in American history.

Reynolds has produced very accessible text, you needn’t be a history nut to enjoy this.  Indeed it helps open up that era of colonial settlement, and give it some balance.  You’ll understand why settlers living on the frontier walked to the wash house or barn fully armed and in twos.  Not because they harboured some unrealistic notion of the danger posed by Aboriginal warriors but because they had first hand experience of an ongoing conflict and a skilled and fast moving enemy.

Reynolds opens with an overview and lays out several points for consideration.  At what point did the narrative change from frontier war into something else? Can we call it a war?  What kind of war was it?  What were the costs of conflict in property, livestock and human lives (at 6000 settlers and 30,000+ Aboriginal dead it’s our countries third largest loss of life due to conflict).  Was a genocide carried out?

This book should get you thinking about why (when military historians regard the resistance as a conflict) we don’t honour the settlers nor the early aboriginal warriors in our military myth through the War Memorial, why we don’t teach the history of early conflict when it’s there in black and white print from the pages of almost any colonial newspaper. The only answer I can come up with is that it doesn’t fit some very deep seated and erroneous concepts of self, Australians have.

This book caused me to reflect upon my country’s singular reverence for its war dead.  Our Cult of Remembrance outstrips even religion in terms of what is sacrosanct.  Australians will rarely allow Diggers to be slighted, or the rose filtered view of our ANZAC soldiers to be questioned.  Suggest that perhaps we should move on, tone down the focus and you’d be tarred and feathered.

Yet I could find any number of folks who would not bat an eyelid at suggesting that Aboriginal people should forget the past – forget a conflict of 140 years, the deaths and the associated social and cultural costs.

This is a book every Australian should read if they want to be honest with themselves about the beginnings of our recorded history.

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Book Review – Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

mitosisSub-headed as a novella on my copy, Mitosis, stretches the definition of the term.  This beautifully produced hardback contains the title story, some illustrated character dossiers and a chapter from the upcoming sequel to Steelheart, the January release, Firefight.

The story follows our protagonist David Charleston, a Reckoner as he walks the streets of the now freed Newcargo (Chicago of a future besieged by corrupted humans with superpowers).  He and his group of normal humans have defeated the tyrant Steelheart and life seems to be returning to something nearing normality.  Refugees are returning to the city, now free from the corrupt Epics (evil super powered humans).  There is hope.  That is until disgruntled Epics, start seeking out the human that killed Steelheart.

To be honest with you, Mitosis is really a long short story, indeed many of the short works I have been reading for the Aurealis Awards are longer.  The title story comes in at around 44 pages of large text.  The story is however smoothly written and action packed, working well as an introduction to the larger series for newcomers, like myself and drip feeding diehard fans with more of what they love.

I did feel compelled to go and read the start of the series.  So I tips my hat to Mr Sanderson. I did find some of David’s mannerisms…”like” annoying, but he grows on you after awhile.  The concept of super powered mutants is hardly original but Sanderson manages to somehow infuse it with a neo-western feel (perhaps that’s just David’s mannerisms). I do like some of Sanderson’s writing and he seems to have a lighter touch here than he did in The Alloy of Law, which although I enjoyed, did almost feel at times like I was reading a role playing game sourcebook in relation to his outlining of the magic system.

I’d personally baulk at paying the full cover price for what is essentially a short story and some advertising for the next novel.  It is, however superbly written, with some wonderfully interior illustrations.  A great Christmas present for the fan, but as a first purchase I think the fantasy loving reader in your household would probably prefer that you start with Steelheart (or purchase it as well).  Once you get into the story you’ll want more of it. 

This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

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Nov 26, 2014

eBook Review – Phantazein – Edited by Tehani Wessely

phantazeinThis collection was never intended to see the light of day, indeed as Tehani, the editor says, “it really shouldn’t exist”  Phantazein grew out of the slush pile of the submissions call for another Fablecroft anthology, Insert Title Here

As I was reading the slush, I uncovered several stories that resonated with me as working very well together but not, it seemed, in an unthemed anthology. To include them in Insert Title Here would have unbalanced the nature of that collection. These stories felt like they belonged in a different book altogether. A fantasy book. This book.

- Introduction, Phantazein.

Now my participation as a judge in the Aurealis awards precludes all but the most general commentary on a number of the stories in this collection. A fact that makes telling you how good it is rather difficult.

That being said you have Tansy Rayner Roberts with a fusion of Greek myth and fantasy in The Love Letters of Swans. If you have come to enjoy Tansy’s work, this is her doing what she does best, fusing her fiction talents with her professional knowledge of the classics.  Interesting to see her working with Greek myth/history as opposed to Roman.

Thoraiya Dyer, delivers an interesting take on Arabian myth in her story Bahamut. If you liked the historical stories presented in Gilgamesh Press’ Ishtar, Dyer’s work in fantasy, especially here, would work well in that milieu.

In Kneaded, SG Larner delivers a sickly sweet( I may never be able to drink Raspberry cordial again) tale that plays with elements of The Sugar Child and other folktales that involve baked or manufactured children.  Twelfth by Faith Mudge also gives us a dark and interesting perspective on those group of tales that fall under The Twelve Dancing Princesses line.  Working with fairytales I think can be a two edged sword, they are familiar and so it’s difficult to be original and you have centuries of expectation as to how and why these stories should be told.  Thankfully all the writers in this collection have managed to walk the blade edge.

The Nameless Seamstress is a beautiful tale by the late Gitte Christensen, presenting Chinese mythic elements.  Having read it, loved the ambience its execution conveys, I am truly saddened that we have lost this talent.

It’s good to see another work by Rabia Gale, a Pakistani American writer whose work I have followed for some time. Her Village of No Women, continues to show growth in her abilities.  I have always found her work to be distinctive and original and this story reaffirms my thoughts that she is one of those writers that can work with genre elements and reshape them to produce something original and distinctively hers. 

Thematically Phantazein seems largely split between retellings of fairytales and retellings or reworkings of ancient history/myth.  If you are a fan of the current trend of dark retellings of either of these sources then there’s enough dark here for you.  Not all stories end sadly but there is a gravity, a depth to all of them.

I love that Tehani included an illustrated work of poetry from Foz Meadows (illustrated by Moni).  You probably wouldn’t get Scales of Time outside of small press, or somewhere like Strange Horizons – a poem about friendship and love from the perspective of a dragon.

For a collection that seems to have magically coalesced, Phantazein is a solid production.  I’m not sure you could get a stronger collection by asking for direct submissions.  Kudos to Tehani’s eye for talent and story and kudos to the writers who took long raked over material in a lot of cases and breathed life and originality in to them.

Phantazein showcases the depth of talent Australia has in the fantasy field and gives us a glimpse at some other international authors who we may not be familiar with.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.






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Nov 15, 2014

Galactic Chat 59 – LynC

Melbourne-based science fiction writer LynC talks about her recent released novel “Nil By Mouth” and exploration of gender and reproduction across the four species in her novel. She also discusses her commitment to writing throughout her life and the support of her late husband and her writing group, Alternate Worlds. She also talks about her hearing impairment, and the importance of daydreaming to writers. 

You can stream the show above or download it here.

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Nov 13, 2014

Horizon Blog Tour - From the Ground Up: Building a Planet By Keith Stevenson

I’d like to thank Sean for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.eCOV_Horizon_C2D2

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by HarperVoyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

While the main focus of the story is the tense drama that plays out between the crew in the cramped confines of the ship, a lot of the grunt work in good science fiction goes into imagining the worlds that space travellers visit. The way I see it, there are four key elements in creating a believable world to serve the needs of the story:

  • spatial location

  • physical attributes

  • geological past, and

  • current environment.

To make sure my crew is sufficiently isolated from the rest of humanity — and cut off from any possible outside help — I needed a star that was quite a distance away. Iota Persei is a main sequence dwarf star 34.4 light years from Earth. The sun is slightly bigger than our own. Although no planets have been detected around it so far, that could change. Planetary discovery is a ‘boom industry’ at present, with the Kepler telescope alone responsible for discovering 978 confirmed planets and over 4,000 potential candidates in the five years since it launched.

Because my target planet Horizon is Earth-like, I imagined a ‘typical’ system with seven planets, including Iota Persei F, a gas giant twice the size of Jupiter, which the ship briefly orbits.

Here’s a description of that close meeting:

Space closed in all around, stars piercing the darkness as the leviathan to port threatened to swamp her senses. It seemed much too close.

Microlasers tracked eye movement and the helmet induced a slew of orbital data directly onto her optic nerve, overlaying the information on the roiling clouds of Iota Persei F. She blinked it away, preferring to focus on the swiftly moving bands of cloud, watching tendrils weave and curl around each other where they met, like smoke from an incense stick. The colours were striking: emerald greens, oranges, electric blues, all interspersed with fingers of white. Nothing like this existed in their backwater solar system: twice as big as Jupiter and far more garish.

An ominous purple eye hoved into sight, a gigantic anticyclone standing proud of the surrounding cloud deck. It stirred up the bands where they touched, shredding them, sucking them into its vortex and scattering them back along its path to slowly reassemble and await the approach of the next storm.

The main prize in the system is the planet Horizon or, more correctly, Iota Persei B, which is second from the sun. As I wanted Horizon to be Earth-like, it had to possess similar physical properties to Earth, so it’s approximately Earth-sized. From that follows similar gravity and air pressure. It also meant positioning the planet in the ‘goldilocks zone’ — where it’s not too hot, not too cold, but j-u-u-u-st right — so it has suitable surface temperature variations as well. And like Earth — and indeed any other planet — Horizon also needed a geological history, a history that is written across the face it presents to the world:

Day was dawning over a wide, undulating plain. Purples, pinks and golds shifted across the sky and seemed to ripple in reflected glory across the land. The effect lasted only an instant and then the sun broke over the horizon, a diamond flash that arced across the sky, banishing the last of the shadow to reveal a desolate kind of beauty that stole Cait’s breath away. Even from a cruising altitude of one hundred metres, she could see that the ground was covered in a white aggregate, no doubt the source of the colourful dawn reflections. Spindly grasses pushed their way through the landscape, but apart from that the view was uninterrupted all the way to far-off low, rolling hills. The bot executed a turn and a river came into view, snaking into the middle distance. Its banks were covered with lush vegetation, which quickly gave way to sparse grasslands again.

In its far prehistory, Horizon was subject to massive glaciation — far more than Earth. In fact there was a point where the surface was all but entirely covered by a thick mantle of ice: a snowball planet. That type of pressure, and the abrading force of the glaciers, created undulating plains out of the previously thrusting mountain peaks, which are now scattered across the land as aggregate. The sparse plant life is another clue to the effects of that glaciation, with only the hardiest plants surviving the ice age and perhaps only now beginning to reassert their presence on the landscape. It’s an important element of the story that planetary environments are subject to massive change on a geological timescale, and what appears Earth-like (even our own Earth) was not necessarily as supportive of life in the past, and may indeed change again in the future through natural processes. Which brings us to climate, and as Magellan arrives, Horizon is certainly feeling the effects of a massive weather event:

He tapped the controls and the bot’s-eye view on the screen rolled as it dropped towards the storm.

‘There’s a lot of water vapour up here,’ Nadira said, almost to herself.

And then the bot entered the central column of the hypercane, accompanied by an eldritch flash that almost swamped the photosensors. Inside was darkness strobed with lightning that picked out patches of purple and green among the greys of the surrounding eye wall. Cait imagined how deafening the storm must be, even in the relative calm of its centre.

Placement, properties, history and current environment: shorthand for building a dynamic, changing world. One where the crew of Magellan are faced with a whole raft of problems.


Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog


Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via

His blog is at

Nov 9, 2014

eBook Review – Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

picnic-lightningCollins was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and still is one of America’s most loved and successful contemporary poets both in monetary and critical terms. 

I am, as I have stated before, attracted to formalist poetry, to fairly distinct and repetitive rhyme and rhythm.  My enjoyment of Collins then, came as a bit of a surprise. 

Picnic, Lightning is a collection of everyday musings in poetic form and from what I can ascertain, this is standard for Collins’ kind of poetry.  Indeed his poem In the Room of a Thousand Miles presents us with a manifesto.  Though perhaps that’s too strong a word:

In the Room of a Thousand Miles

I like writing about where I am,

where I happen to be sitting,

the humidity or the clouds,

the scene outside the window—

a pink tree in bloom,

a neighbor walking his small, nervous dog.

And if I am drinking

a cup of tea at the time

or a small glass of whiskey,

I will find a line to put it on.


My wife hands these poems back to me

with a sigh.

She thinks I ought to be opening up

my aperture to let in

the wild rhododendrons of Ireland,

the sun-blanched stadiums of Rome,

that waterclock in Bruges—

the world beyond my inkwell.

…[read on]

This focus on the everyday, the mundane, the “suburban” as Collins himself calls it, has led some to view his work as a bit bland.  For sure, you won’t find rage here or angst.  You might find humour, wit and playfulness though and perhaps that puts people off that think poetry should be about important things (as If laughter and lightness aren’t important) or about “plumbing the depths of one’s soul”.  Collins is far more contemplative.

Personally I get the same sort of feeling reading Collins that I might reading Japanese forms like Haiku and Tanka, in that they are often very particular observations of the ordinary and yet more than that as well.  The diction and syntax is fairly straight forward, enhancing his general appeal and accessibility. The poems tend to seep in under your defences and a poem that first is about returning to the house for a book, walks you gently into a meditation on alternate possibilities/realities. 

Readers of speculative fiction might not view the following as all that strange but if you are fairly linear in your thinking, then this poem opens up possibilities:


I Go Back to the House for a Book


I turn around on the gravel

and go back to the house for a book,

something to read at the doctor's office,

and while I am inside, running the finger

of inquisition along a shelf,


another me that did not bother

to go back to the house for a book

heads out on his own,

rolls down the driveway,

and swings left toward town,


a ghost in his ghost car,

another knot in the string of time,

a good three minutes ahead of me—

a spacing that will now continue

for the rest of my life.

I enjoyed Picnic, Lightning for its relatively easy “entrance exam”, almost any lover of good written words could pick Picnic, Lightning up and enjoy it.  Many of the poems could have been formatted as prose, as flash fiction, but there is something to be be gained by the arrangement of line breaks, in drawing you eye and pacing your reading.  Collins draws your attention to the ordinary and most of the time finds for us the extraordinary. It’s his consistency in delivering this to the reader, I suspect, that grants him success. 

Death and pain are big themes in poetry but sometimes we need to be reminded of the extraordinariness of life.

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Nov 7, 2014

Margo Lanagan is joint winner of The Barbara Jefferis Award for 2014

sea-hearts Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan is joint winner of the Barbara Jefferis Award for 2014.  The award is given for :

the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society

Sea Hearts or The Brides of Rollrock Island shares the award an prize money with Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest.

Margo has the acceptance speech she gave on her blog and I would encourage you to read it:

Sea Hearts and The Night Guest win the Barbara Jefferis Award

I'm really pleased to announce that Sea Hearts is joint winner, with Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest, of the Barbara Jefferis Award for "the best novel written by an Australian Author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society".

The award was given at a lovely event last night hosted by the Australian Society of Authors in the foyer of St Barnabas Church, Broadway, at which Tara Moss spoke—and isn't she a brilliant speaker! Better Read Than Dead bookshop sold many, many books, and champagne flowed and the music played and the room was full of friends and colleagues and really, I couldn't have been happier, for my selkies and my self.

Here's my acceptance speech:

Thank you Margaret, Georgia and Dorothy for all your work and consideration as judges of this year's Barbara Jefferis Award. Amy, Tracy, Jacinta, [Read On]


I reviewed Sea Hearts back in 2012 and really enjoyed it.  I think really good writing challenges you and makes you think, makes you reconsider positions.  When an author can do this while entertaining you through fiction, the experience can be transformative. I like the way Margo’s writing gets under my skin.  So, a well deserved prize and further accolades for what is one of my favourite books.

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Nov 6, 2014

The Godless by Ben Peek on special at Booktopia

the-godless (2)I had the pleasure of reading Ben’s book earlier in the year.  You can take a look at my review below if you are interested.  


It’s a big step moving from writing condensed, powerful and original short fiction to a multiple book, epic fantasy.  As different as say running a 5km run and a marathon.  In each case you use the same skill but the end objective, your tactics, how you cross the finish line or complete the work is different, enough to challenge the best runners or writers when they are used to one kind of event, one format.

So how did Peek fare?  He’s a very good short story writer (see Dead Americans) and The Godless is an epic in every sense of the word.

Granted a trilogy is not an uncommon sight on fantasy shelves but I get the sense that in some at least there’s a fairly straightforward structure designed to move the story along, hook in readers who will become loyal – an understanding if you will between commerce, story and entertainment that produces an easily digestible product, where the text is transparent. 

Then there are books like The Godless that I think need the space for the scope and definition of the storytelling.  The Godless is an epic, not just in terms of size but in its selection of characters and its apparent scope.  [read on]


The reason why I mention Ben’s book again is that Booktopia have this first paperback printing going at about half price and they are also running their last free shipping promo for the year.  You’ll have til next Tuesday night to take advantage of the free shipping using the code SMART.  Click here if you want to go direct to Ben’s book.

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Cover Reveal - The Female Factory


Another awesome cover for what I am confident will be another great book in the Twelve Planets Series.  Congrats to Twelfth Planet Press for securing the artistic talent of Amanda Rainey and the writerly talents of Hannett & Slatter.

What is The Female Factory?

In The Female Factory, procreation is big business. Children are a commodity few women can afford.

Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing.

From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Vox
  • Baggage
  • All the Other Revivals
  • The Female Factory

You can check out publication and order details here.

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Nov 1, 2014

Book Review – Selected Poems by Thom Gunn

thomgunnThom Gunn has been one of the happy discoveries wrought by my self imposed regime to read more poetry and to read more widely.  I can’t remember how I stumbled across the name but I am glad that I did. 

I am very glad to have picked up this particular Selected Poems edited by August Kleinzahler, because I think, in my limited knowledge of the poet, that Kleinzahler has done a very good job of presenting a cross section of Gunn’s work.  I also found the introduction by Kleinzahler to be one of the best I have read in a book of selected poetry in recent times. I was left with a very well rounded sense of the poet. While that in itself was not necessary for enjoyment, I felt it beneficial nonetheless.

I am a fan of form poetry, of rhythm and rhyme.  I like writing and reading it and although I write free verse as well, I never seem quite so happy as when I discover a well wrought form poem or manage to crank out one myself. 

Gunn, writing from the mid 19,50’sright up to the turn of the century begins as a formalist, transitions through syllabic poetry and ends up writing free verse.  And looking at the whole of his work (as presented here) I can gain an appreciation for all of it.  An appreciation for what’s possible along that continuum.

This collection spans some 50 plus years but I did feel as though I was reading a very contemporary poet, much of this is owed, I think to the content. With my penchant for nostalgia I really enjoyed Last Days at Teddington (which sadly doesn’t appear online anywhere) and likewise Hug, although Hug is as much a love poem.

The Hug

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined

    Half of the night with our old friend

        Who'd showed us in the end

    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.

        Already I lay snug,

And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.


Gunn covers the big topics, like love and death.  There’s also a strong vein of poems that focus on nature or a simpler life.  Indeed, a poem like The Night Piece reminds me very much of Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.


Here are the last few streets to climb

Galleries, run through veins of time,

Almost familiar where I creep

Toward sleep like fog, through fog like sleep




The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.


The collection is broad enough to have something for all readers.  What I like in particular though is his consistent use of rhythm and rhyme.  The content and the language changes from earlier to later poems but to me shows what’s still possible with form poetry as we edge into the 21st century. If you like poetry that sounds like poetry, that plucks at emotions and that doesn’t shy away from topics like sex, suicide and illness, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


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Oct 31, 2014

A prayer for the small things– Poetry and an Update

2014-01-14 16.05.49Busy four weeks as you may be able to tell from the slow post count.  I have been working full time, helping manage the downward decline of our 18 year old cat, trying to read Aurealis Award Submissions and reading the odd review title as well.  This weekend should see some reviews of books I finished weeks ago.  Until such time I shall inflict some poetry on you.  I subbed this to an Inkermann and Blunt anthology and sadly it didn’t make it.  So here it is:


A prayer for the small things

Oh, say a prayer for the small things
for in all things, small things matter.

Oh, say a prayer for love’s gentle touch
for too much is made of passion.

Oh, say a prayer for a stranger’s smile
for while here, such joys are fleeting.

Oh, say a prayer for an unkindness spared
for where unkindness lives, it festers.

Oh say a prayer for a listening ear
for to hear a sorrow, helps heal it.

Oh, say a prayer for a considered word
for once heard, words have no master.

Oh, say a prayer for the small things
for in all things, their sum’s the larger.


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Galactic Chat 58 - Ken Liu

  You can download here or stream  above.

In this week's episode David interviews Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Ken Liu.  They talk about the short story form, the difficulty in translating from Chinese to English, Ken's translation of the Chinese sci-fi masterpiece The Three Body Problem by  Liu Cixin and Ken's own epic fantasy novel series called The Grace of Kings.  

You can find Ken at his website.



Interviewer: David McDonald

Guest: Ken Liu

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post Production: Sean Wright



Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com


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Oct 30, 2014

Twelfth Planet Press – New Subscriptions Tab

12pp-newpink-webLG_thumb[5] Released on to the interwebs yesterday:


Twelfth Planet Press offers a curated experience of fiction that seeks to interrogate, commentate, inspire or provoke thought by way of the Twelfth Planet Press Tab Subscription.

Want to make sure you maintain a complete set of Twelfth Planet Press books?

Let us do the admin for you. Subscribe to have every book automatically sent to you on publication.

Choose where to start, whether to exclude any particular titles, or select ebooks or print only.

And when your tab runs out, we'll send you a friendly email with the option to renew.


Check out the subscriptions page here.  It’s well worth a look as I have found that TPP consistently produce a good product, paper or digital.


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Oct 17, 2014

Galactic Chat 57 – Karen Miller

You can stream from the above player but it’s a long interview. 

You can download from the Podbean site instead here (right click and save as). 

In this week's episode I chat with Karen Miller or KE Mills as she is known for her Rogue Agent series.  Karen Miller has written for the media properties Star Wars and Stargate in addition to creating three of her own fantasy universes and populating them with books.  

Her latest foray into fiction is the beginning of an epic five book series called The Tarnished Crown.  If you enjoy the deadly politics of A Song of Ice and Fire and a take no prisoners approach to character death you should enjoy this latest offering in Book 1: The Falcon Throne.

Karen and I talk about what it takes to write for media properties, the difference in writing fantasy and epic fantasy(in terms of author workload) and the importance of fitness if you are considering a long term career as a writer.

This interview is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.awwbadge_2014






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Oct 10, 2014

eBook Review – Kaleidoscope by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (Eds.)

KaleidoscopeI can’t remember at which point I forgot that this collection was diverse YA and just plain enjoyed the read.  I’d backed this particular project out of a belief in the publishing team, the writers they managed to bring on board and the idea that a diverse world is a better world.

So I am biased, but bias can only get you so far if the product is lacking.  Thankfully (though I can’t say I honestly doubted the editorial team) Kaleidoscope, is not lacking, far from it.  Sure there were stories that weren’t “my thing” (two from memory that I just couldn’t get into) but on the whole this project seemed to have a coherence, flow and quality that I have come to experience more in single author collections.

I can’t comment on some of the stories due to Aurealis Award Judging commitments but I will draw your attention to stories that in light of current discussions around YA in Australia, struck me as pertinent:

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, Cookie Cutter Superhero, really buried any idea that YA fiction can’t interrogate complex issues.  Tansy came out swinging in this story and never really let up.  I kept saying to myself “Oh, she didn’t just…yes she did.”  You can view this one as a critique of the comic book industry its sexism and lack of diversity. This story doesn’t “make nice”.
  • “Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix is another interrogation of complex issues, this time refugees.  I read this as Australia, in the form of Scott Morrison is attempting to give himself the power to effectively do what occurs in this story.  Very timely.
  • Having some awareness of issues around the Filipino Diaspora, I found End of Service by Gabriela Lee, to be very clever and very subtle.  Yet again we have another story that looks at exploitation, pair this sort of story with a critique of vulture capitalism and you can approach another complex issue from fiction and non-fiction standpoint.

So there were stories that focussed on broad issues and included diverse characters as part of the backdrop i.e. not every main character had to be the diverse character and not every story was about that diversity.  Some stories mentioned gay characters in passing, as in John Chu’s Double Time, where there’s a one line mention of the male coach’s boyfriend. Others like Garth Nix’s Happy Go Lucky had gay parents as secondary characters. There’s no reason why any author couldn’t do this in an effort to present more diversity.

All the stories though, put story first or  entertainment first, Karen Healey in Careful Magic takes an OCD witch in training, which would have been interesting just as an exploration of that condition in a contemporary world with magic and turns it into a edge of your seat story of suspense.  John Cho meshes short term time travel with figure skating and overbearing parents; high concept meets human story.

Only one thing is better than finding a character that you can identify with, who is just like you. That thing is having other people see and perhaps gain insight and understanding into what it means to be “different”.  Kaleidoscope, should achieve this, it has for me.

If you are critical of YA fiction I’d like to have you read this collection.  If you can find stories that tackle diversity better than this collection, I’d also like to know. On reflection I am content to say that if this collection is anything to go by, Kaleidoscope is evidence that some of the best diverse fiction is being written in the YA category.

awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Oct 3, 2014

Galactic Chat 56 with Tiny Owl Workshop is live

You can stream the show above or download from Podbean here.

This week Galactic Chat reporter Helen Stubbs chats with Sue Wright of Tiny Owl Workshop.  Tiny Owl Workshop are the new small press outfit from Brisbane responsible for a number of quirky and popular projects such as Napkin Stories, Krampus Crackers and Pillow Fight.

They talk about starting a new enterprise from scratch, how each of these projects got their inspiration and what's in store in the near future.

You can find Tiny Owl on Twitter and Facebook or at their website.

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D6 Issue Three is live


Just click on the badge to the left and you will be taken through to the Dimension 6 page where you can download your copy of Issue One (in Mobi or epub format). Or you can click here if the image isn’t showing in your browser.

What is Dimension 6 and How did it come about?

Short answer - a collection of free fiction, free from a price tag and free from DRM but containing the some of the cream of Australian SpecFic Writing.

Long answer – read Angela Slatter’s interview with Dimension 6 publisher Keith Stevenson of Coeur De Lion Publishing.



Issue 3 features:

‘Shark-God Covenant’ by Robert Hood
You never make a deal with the Devil. But what about the child of a god?


‘The Last of The Butterflies’ by Steve Cameron
Let me tell you a story about when I was young and the world was a very different place.


‘New Chronicles of Andras Thorn’ by Cat Sparks
Just like his uncle, Andras Thorn wanted adventure and excitement. Unfortunately he found it.


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Oct 1, 2014

City of Masks Giveaway

maskI reviewed City of Masks by aussie author and poet, Ashley Capes.  If you have a totally strange and unnatural aversion to poetry don’t worry this is a stunning debut from Ashley into the commercial speculative fiction genre.

You can enter the giveaway here at Goodreads.






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Writ. Poetry Review is Live

shot_1393622253215 After some teething problems that extended the launch time a little longer than expected, Writ. Poetry Review is up and running.  The site is reasonably minimalist, designed to showcase art and words.  It also looks as though it’s been designed with tablets and mobile phone access in mind. 

They feature a poet every issue and that poet gets a selection of their work shown and an in depth interview.  Then you are treated to a number of other poems, some from new or emerging poets and others from luminaries in the field.

The feature poet in the Alpha Issue is Scott-Patrick Mitchell. Some other names you might recognise are: Mark Tredinnick, Zenobia Frost, Nathan Hondros and Benjamin Dodds.

The Alpha issue features a number of poets (some 30 odd poems) and artwork.  I am pleased to find myself in very good company.

Enjoy Writ. Poetry Review


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Sep 18, 2014

eBook Review – The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter


Angela Slatter has, along with her regular partner in fiction Lisa L Hannett, been one of those authors I have collected yet never really got around to reading due to the reviewing pile taking precedence over the personal reading pile.  Sure, I have read single stories on occasion, enough to know that the money I have put down on her other collections is well spent. The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings from Tartarus, is then the first collection that I have read in its entirety. It’s also possibly the first mosaic novel that I have read. 

It works well, both as a collection of separate stories and as collected narrative.  One of things that is hard to do within in a short story and which our best writers often achieve, is creating that sense of a wider realised secondary world within a small word count. 

What I think the mosaic format allows Slatter to do is give herself some wiggle room for story and style and let the layering effect of drip fed world details in each separate tale slowly envelope the reader to give us that realised world  That isn’t to say that Slatter isn’t doing a grand job of combining style, story and detail within each tale but that structurally the envelope of the mosaic helps in some cases to accentuate the impact of certain stories, while at the same time containing deviations is form and style in others.

In Terrible as an Army with Banners, Slatter crafts an effective piece of epistolary fiction. It’s distinct from many of the stories in the collection in terms of tone and style but works equally well in maintaining a sense of increasing dread and darkness.  Likewise The Maiden in the Ice meshed together horror elements that reminded me of The Ring with a a clever riff on a well known folktale.


For a while she tries to keep her eyes firmly fixed on her destination, on the silver-ash clump of sedge not so far—yet so very far—away. But the panic she’s tamped down hard gets the better of her, and she looks to the sparkling, treacherous ground upon which she moves, seeking the cracks, the veins, the fissures that are surely forming there.

But what she sees is something entirely different.

An oval face; skin sallow—in the sun it will become olive; dark-flecked, large eyes; thick straight brows; an unbalanced mouth, the top lip thin, the bottom full; and hair as black as Rikke has ever seen. Black as nightmares, black as a cunning woman’s cat, black as the water she is trying to escape. Older than Rikke, caught between girl and woman, and suspended in the solid lake as if she’s a statue, standing; head titled back, one arm reaching up, the other pointing downward.

from The Maiden in the Ice.

The Bitterwood Bible is a neat package that has allowed Slatter to explore, examine and re-imagine the fairy/folktale milieu.  There’s a balance achieved here too;  I never felt that I needed to rush through the stories to the larger resolution.  I was able to enjoy each of the tales as a separate entity and I suspect that were I to reread it as Lisa Hannett suggests in the afterword and focus more on the connections between each story, I would have another equally pleasant and slightly different experience.

I am left feeling the beneficiary of sumptuous and stylish storytelling, Slatter, I suspect is at her best here.

This book was supplied by Tartarus Press.

Disclaimer:  I am a Judge for this years Aurealis Awards and some of the stories contained in this volume are eligible. Hence my review only comments on those not eligible and on how the collection works as a mosaic novel.


awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Sep 1, 2014

Published - a Haiku in A Hundred Gourds

shot_1394577960482 Well September has come around far too quickly but it has brought with it the small joy of publication.  My Haiku “Morning Chill” features in A Hundred Gourds 3:4 September 2014

A Hundred Gourds is a quarterly journal of featuring a number of Japanese poetic forms and the western interpretations of these.  You will find Haiku, Renga, Haibun, Tanka and Rengu along with essays.

Please enjoy.



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Aug 28, 2014

Book Review – On a moon spiced night by Jude Aquilina


In a short space of time I have come to really enjoy Jude Aquilina’s work.  On a moon spiced night, released in 2004 by Wakefield Press, is however, the first collection solely made up of her work that I have read.

On a moon spiced night fits neatly into the kind of contemporary poetry that I have, through the course of the last couple of years, come to discover I like.  It’s accessible, it riffs of nostalgia, it hooks me in and elicits an emotional response.  That’s not to say that it’s simple nor that I don’t appreciate works that require some poetry reading experience to fully appreciate.

That Aquilina is a South Australian poet writing at times about South Australia, obviously adds a little extra.  I know the places that she is describing and evoking.

It’s a diverse collection structured in four separate categories: Habitat, Love’s Dream, Seeds and Creature Acts

The poems in Habitat seem to centre around experiences of growing up in Adelaide or observations of the city and suburbs.  There’s some subtle experimentation with concrete poetry and some clever choices in format and presentation and I find myself noting some of the choices she has made for my own learning.  The poems Street Fabric and Pointillism best display what I am talking about but are hard to present here in the appropriate format.

Grace versus The Highway is my favourite poem in this section, outlining the struggle of a South Road (presumably) resident who has survived a husband’s death and sons moved to foreign cities, only to have her home bulldozed so the government can widen the highway.

A hanging garden chokes verandah posts;

violets and agapanthus bury the pathways.

Entwined in her nest, Grace is safe for now

until the rats in suits and ties arrive

bearing smiles and papers to sign.

Her shrine will be desecrated by July.


Love’s Dream collects Aquilina’s love poetry, whether this be yearning, remembrance, celebration or vengeance.  We have the racy The Lonesome Cowgirl Blues with such suggestive lines as:


…I wanna feel like Dolly P  when I hold

your hard mike between my parted pouted lips.


and the chilling calculation of a murderer in  Diary of a Poisoner. 

Overall I found a playfulness in this section, an invitation to enjoy love and life, passion and yearning. 

Seeds, which featured a collection of poems about Fruit and Vegetables didn’t grab me as much as the other sections in the book, except for perhaps Outside the Market, 7 am. which illustrates the callousness and indifference that we can have to the destitute when presented with it on a regular basis.  The opening lines resonated, because this sort of indifference was part of my youthful experience:


Don't worry luv

their ears go blue

when they’re dead,

the market man says.


Creature Acts as you might expect contains observations of and questions asked of our pets, wildlife or ourselves.  King Gussie reveals me as a lover of cats and by extension of cat poems, his antics remind me so much of my own that I had no chance with this poem. 

But lest you think its all fluffy and cute Aquilina gives us some of her emotional heavy hitters here, particularly with The Horologist, about a father who was a fan of clocks, whose interaction with them is a daily ritual. Its a skilfully evoked and executed snapshot of a mans life and its ending.

For decades, he sat at a felt covered bench

poring over tins of sorted springs,

cogs like serrated coins, one eye shut

the other adhered to a magnified lens.

Then suddenly his heart beat stopped

and one by one the clocks followed.


Selling poetry whether it be the actual selling of poems or the concept of the art appears to be a difficult act these days outside of the community of poets.  I have some inklings, some gut theories about why this might be.  Folks baulk at paying the same amount  (or more) for a collection than they do a novel.  So I hope that my discussion here has awakened interest, particularly in those who normally pass over poetry.

I think On a moon spiced night has wide appeal and if the thought of taking a chance on poetry (which admittedly can offer diverse and strange fruit) makes you hesitate, try and find a copy at the library. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women..





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