Apr 30, 2014

Clickbaiting the Stellas

Which is what Nicole Flint and the Advertiser seemed to be trying to do with the article, Stella Prize sends a message that women are incapable of competing intellectually with men, because at no time is that heading backed up with anything resembling facts or an attempt at thoughtful dialogue.

It’s all so much pissing in the punchbowl at the party and with only about 9 comments maybe visitors have found the tone and taste of the “article” a bit tart.

The reader is treated to air quotes or scare quotes, just in case any latent MRA’s or privileged folk who think their position in life is one born entirely out of merit aren’t sure what to get angry at.  Flint lets us know why the Stellas were formed:

The Stella Prize is Australia’s “female-only’’ book award. Apparently it became necessary to create the prize when Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, short-listed all-blokes-and-no-sheilas not once, but twice, in three years (2009 and 2011).

This statement is correct but doesn’t of course contextualise it or mention some of the other reasons why the Stellas came into being. 

It might be worth noting that Australia’s most prestigious literary award is rather narrow, it only focuses on that genre called “literature” and it only rewards writers who write about the Australian experience(whatever that is – blokey, bushy and mostly white according to some critics).  So if I was inclined to be a little disingenuous or to play Flint’s game, I could say that the Miles Franklin says to writers that the only fiction with writing about is …that which contains a distinctly Australian flavour like a Bushells Tea of world Literature.  Forget it if you want to write Science Fiction (unless you can make it look like literature – congrats Alexis Wright) or heaven forfend, Romance. 

Most of us will realise that the Franklin is about trying to engage with what it means to be Australian, in a broad context. 

It might also be noted that in its 50 odd year history up until 2011, only 10 women had won the award and 4 times it was the same woman. 

So what is Flint saying here? That women just don’t write as well as men, for the proof is in the results or do we recognise that in Australian Literature, as in other spheres, that it’s a small fish pond, that all sorts of prejudice and bias comes into play. It should be noted that this underrepresentation of women was noted in other literature awards as well. 

Rather than take Flint’s word for what the award is all about you could go straight to the Stellas:

The Stella Prize seeks to:

  • recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
  • bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
  • provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers
  • reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing

To expect the Miles Franklin to somehow do all the lifting for Australian written culture is expecting too much really.  Can we really only celebrate one book, must we restrict ourselves to only choosing one writer? One view of Australia?

Engaging in a nuanced debate though would have knocked the wheel off the barrow Flint is pushing. 

See, the Stellas aren’t just the Miles Franklin sans blokes, many women( not to mention people of no fixed gender, and men) aren’t eligible for the Franklin by virtue of its narrow scope ie literature about Australian life – Flint’s poster woman, Hannah Kent, is one of them because she’s written a book about Iceland.

Flint likes to fly the flag for Merit but at the time the Stella’s were formed there had been discussions around the “curious” underrepresentation of women both as reviewers and as recipients of review. There is clearly a bias toward male writer’s work in this country(and others if the Vida results are anything to go by), probably not a conscious one anymore but one born out of history and culture. 

Anyone doing even a half arsed bit of research will come across figures.  So if you can’t even be half arsed checkout the figures compiled by… oh look the Stellas.  

Flint offers nothing to back up her claim about the message being sent. Does she apply her funny logic to other disadvantaged groups like Indigenous Australians?  Does Flint, who I understand to have a Doctorate in Law not agree with Equal Opportunity Employment?  Because all of these rely on the concept that there is an inequity( sometimes overt, more often than not systemic)  that needs addressing, an understanding that there are biases that are difficult to combat in any other way than a structural one like a restricted field as per the Stella’s.

Sadly we can’t de-identify books authors and present them to the judges, sans covers and author information, there can be no blind test like the one some orchestras may use to eliminate gender bias in the selection of well performing musicians.

Once you get past the basics of how to write, structure a sentence and structure a novel, there is a fair bit that becomes subjective, prone to the Zeitgeist, to prevailing attitudes.  To suggest that there is some objective criteria that a work can be matched against and then be rewarded on its merits is quite, well, ridiculous. 

So that’s the context.  The Stella organisers are trying to combat the inequity in the way works are brought to the attention of the community, trying to broaden our scope for what should be considered good Australian writing. Quality on its own isn’t enough to sell a book.  Flint seems to have this funny idea that people judge books entirely by the work between the covers.  We should, but as anyone with a basic understanding of human psychology will understand, that’s not the way the world works.  If just quality writing resulted in reader’s attention publishers could save on their marketing budgets and newspapers wouldn’t have to employ lawyers to write clickbait.

To say to young women writers, that it’s a level playing field, that all you have got to do is write good fiction and you will be rewarded is selling them a lie.

Yes all you should do is concentrate on writing the best fiction you can, because it’s the one thing you have control over.  To say that it’s all that’s necessary, raises false expectations.  Opportunity, attention, base luck all play a huge part.

Implicit in a ‘‘women-only’’ prize is the suggestion that books should be judged by the gender of the author on their covers, not by what the author says on the pages within. This neatly detracts from an author’s skill and content; the things that really matter.


By removing the other gender possibility(and yes the concept of only two genders is quaint and old fashioned) you make it more about the writing, the skills, what is said on the page. The variable of gender is removed from the judgement on the smaller group of writers. The reality is that books are bought and read, marketed with gender as a consideration. 

Don’t believe me? Well Miles Franklin might have something to say about that.

It is interesting to note that Miles Franklin didn’t want to be known as a female writer, she knew full well that it would effect the reception of her book and it did when she was outed by Henry Lawson, who it appears lied about his knowledge of Franklin being a woman in his intro that outed her. 

It’s also interesting to note that another poster woman that Flint quotes in JK Rowling, initially used her first name (Joanne) but changed it on the request of her publisher, who thought young boys might not read Harry Potter, if they could figure out it was written by a woman and if you think that gender and perceptions of reading as a feminine activity aren’t already in place at age 5 you need to read the literature.

It’s also interesting to note that in criticising the Stellas,  Flint has used what I would call ultra successful genre authors:

Agatha Christie(Crime), Barbara Cartland(Romance), Danielle Steel(Romance), Enid Blyton (Children’s Adventure Stories), JK Rowling(Fantasy) and Jackie Collins(Romance/Crime)

While the Stella would be open to all Australian Women working in these genres, I don’t believe the Miles Franklin is - it’s open to “the novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian life in any of its phases”.

Apparently Hannah Kent being one of Australia’s best selling women authors is an embarrassment to the Awards. I don’t quite follow Flint’s logic, but I gather she sees Kent’s best selling status as proof  that a good work always floats to the top.  Let’s put aside the fact that best selling in Australia isn’t a very high bar to achieve (I’d prefer to see figures).  Let’s look a little closer at Burial Rites. 

You have to remember that while Hannah did all the work in writing what would become Burial Rites, her success isn’t just the result of her just sitting down and writing and having the “skillz”.  Kent has talent and an education (not necessary, but certainly it is helpful to have people who focus on creative writing nudging you, testing you, pushing you to perform). Kent initially received a $10,000 award for the unpublished manuscript of Burial Rites and a mentorship with Pulitzer Prize winning Geraldine Brooks.    Can you see how this is coming together?

So yes Hannah still has to do the leg work, still provides something of herself that might make that work special but would Burial Rites have happened without the award, without Brooks there to encourage and challenge? Kent’s also been well supported in the Advertiser, being a South Australian and by the ABC.   There’s also been a hefty investment in the fiction (by way of advance), by her publisher.  The book’s good and has wide commercial appeal -she’s a good investment. 

The Stellas recognize good writing by Australian women across a range of genres. Internationally successful Australian fantasy writers like Kate Forsyth and Trudi Canavan will never be eligible for a Miles Franklin (unless they write Australian Literature), but they could win a Stella.

But one of Flint’s last lines is illustrative

Which brings us to the moral of the story. You can, like The Stella Prize, whinge about alleged inequality and reward people for the mere fact of their gender.

Or, like the Miles Franklin Award you can reward merit and ability, just as that great leveller the free market has rewarded authors like Agatha Christie and Hannah Kent.

It’s interesting but I rarely see the Stella folk whinging, in fact the only person who seems to be whinging is Flint.

Writing is a craft, a good writer is a product not only of their talent but their training, their access to networks and to mentors and a good measure of luck. 

If you start writing because you think your talent and hard work is going to be rewarded, choose another career, perhaps journalism- steadier pay and it looks like you can still make up things as you go.

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Apr 26, 2014

Ditmar Prelim Ballot 2014

So the prelim ballot has been announced for this year’s Ditmars.  So barring any mis-categorisations or ineligibilities this is what it should look like for voting.

Best Novel

  • Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside Press)
  • The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
  • Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Only Game in the Galaxy (The Maximus Black Files 3), Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)

A noticeable absentee is Aurealis winner Lexicon by Max Barry, but other than that it’s a good spread of small and independent publishers.


Best Novella or Novelette

  • "Prickle Moon", Juliet Marillier, in Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • "The Year of Ancient Ghosts", Kim Wilkins, in The Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • "By Bone-Light", Juliet Marillier, in Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • "The Home for Broken Dolls", Kirstyn McDermott, in Caution: Contains Small Parts (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "What Amanda Wants", Kirstyn McDermott, in Caution: Contains Small Parts (Twelfth Planet Press)

Ticonderoga and Twelfth Planet Press have cornered this field.  Due no doubt to the excellent work of Marillier, McDermott and Wilkins, but also because this seems to me to be the area where small to medium independent presses can really shine.  I haven’t read any of the Prickle Moon stories but I have read the Wilkins and one of the McDermott’s.  For me it’s probably the Wilkins after my fan boi gushing over the entire collection, but I have been saving The Home for Broken Dolls so it’s possible it could change.


Best Short Story

  • "Mah Song", Joanne Anderton, in The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories (FableCroft Publishing)
  • "Air, Water and the Grove", Kaaron Warren, in The Lowest Heaven (Jurassic London)
  • "Seven Days in Paris", Thoraiya Dyer, in Asymmetry (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • "Scarp", Cat Sparks, in The Bride Price (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • "Not the Worst of Sins", Alan Baxter, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies 133 (Firkin Press)
  • "Cold White Daughter", Tansy Rayner Roberts, in One Small Step (FableCroft Publishing)

I have read three of these.  Might have to chase down the Baxter and the Warren.  But just on those that I have read, it’s a really strong field.


Best Collected Work

  • The Back of the Back of Beyond, Edwina Harvey, edited by Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
  • Asymmetry , Thoraiya Dyer, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, Joanne Anderton, edited by Tehani Wesseley and Kaaron Warren (FableCroft Publishing)
  • The Bride Price, Cat Sparks, edited by Russell B. Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)

A category I am almost across, I own all the collections and have either read part of or all of them.  Really, really difficult choices here.  I really like the Sparks.  Feels to some degree like comparing apples with oranges and pears.  The Back of … is a comedic piece, Asymmetry and Caution are 4 story collections and The Bride Price and The Bone Chime… are larger collections.


Best Artwork

  • Cover art, Eleanor Clarke, for The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey (Peggy Bright Books)
  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, for Eclipse Online (Nightshade Books)
  • Cover art, Shauna O'Meara, for Next' edited by Simon Petrie and Rob Porteous (CSFG Publishing)
  • Cover art, Cat Sparks, for The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
  • Cover art, Pia Ravenari, for Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier (Ticonderoga Publications)

To my mind this is a very good field.  For the past couple of years this has been Kathleen Jennings category, but this year I feel that we have some really strong competition.


Best Fan Writer

  • Tsana Dolichva, for body of work, including reviews and interviews in Tsana's Reads and Reviews
  • Sean Wright, for body of work, including reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut
  • Grant Watson, for body of work, including reviews in The Angriest
  • Foz Meadows, for body of work, including reviews in Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbows
  • Alexandra Pierce, for body of work, including reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work, including essays and reviews at www.tansyr.com

I am really honoured to be included here.  Tsana has been a bit of a reviews workhorse this year and I am very happy for her to be included.  Grant is a silent achiever, steadily putting out interesting content.  Then we get Foz, Tansy and Alex.  Alex is one of my favourite reviewers (check out the Bond series she has been doing with her husband).  Tansy and Foz are the real workhorses when it comes to non-reviewing thinky goodness.  I think it will come down to these two, depending on what your definition of fan writing is.


Best Fan Artist

  • Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including "Defender of the Faith", "The Suck Fairy", "Doctor Who vampire" and "The Last Cyberman" in Dark Matter
  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including "Illustration Friday"
  • Dick Jenssen, for body of work, including cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop and SF Commentary

Most of this artwork should be online.  I encourage you to go out and view it.  History favours Jennings, but I know Haynes has really put effort into her website this year.


Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • Dark Matter Zine, Nalini Haynes
  • SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Galactic Chat Podcast, Sean Wright, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, and Mark Webb
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

I think this is almost identical to last year’s ballot, bar some personnel changes in Galactic Chat.  Who do I think will take it out…? Well considering we have three Hugo nominated casts on the category, there would be some skewing toward them (to be fair they are great shows). SF Commentary keeps us in touch with Zines of the past so their might be some sentimental folk who appreciate the format and the work Bruce does.  Nalini has made her website a one stop shop for SpecFic reviews, panels and articles, so she’s my pick for a dark horse.  To the crew at Galactic Chat, thanks for your work, it’s been a pleasure working with you (and fingers crossed).


Best New Talent

  • Michelle Goldsmith
  • Zena Shapter
  • Faith Mudge
  • Jo Spurrier
  • Stacey Larner

How do you evaluate this section?  I know all of the people here (some more than others) all worthy in some way.


William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex, Alexandra Pierce
  • "Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson's Carnacki stories", Leigh Blackmore, in Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1 edited by Sam Gafford (Ulthar Press)
  • Galactic Suburbia Episode 87: Saga Spoilerific Book Club, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
  • "A Puppet's Parody of Joy: Dolls, Puppets and Mannikins as Diabolical Other", Leigh Blackmore, in Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Master of Modern Horror edited by Gary William Crawford (Scarecrow Press)
  • "That was then, this is now: how my perceptions have changed", George Ivanoff, in Doctor Who and Race edited by Lindy Orthia (Intellect Books)

I really love the make-up of this category, in that it’s more critical in nature.  I am happy that its more about articles or focussed pieces because that’s personally what I like to see here.


Thanks to all who participated, thanks to those who nominated me and the team at Galactic Chat.  See y’all at Continuum.

Apr 21, 2014

Book Review – Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

foreign-soilI came across Maxine Beneba Clarke quite by chance earlier in the year when I listened to her read the short story, Harlem Jones, (which appears in this collection) for the Overland Podcast.  From there I picked up one of her poetry collections from Picaro Press, nothing here needs fixing, which as you can read from the review, I was quite enamoured of.

Reading between the lines, I sense that Foreign Soil could easily not have made it into its current form.  Indeed Clarke tips her hat to the Victorian Premiers Unpublished Manuscript Award judges for being instrumental in securing this book a publisher.  Putting aside the fact that publishing is somewhat more akin to water divining than science when it comes to picking books that are going to break even let alone sell well, I scratch my head as to why you’d not see the quality of the work contained herein.

No waxing lyrical, no reaching for big words that I have forgotten since my brush with literary criticism at uni - these are just plain good stories.  In The Sukiyaki Book Club, the final story in the collection, we are treated to a parallel narrative; a fiction story that Maxine is creating and a autobiographical recount. In part of that recount we are presented with some of the rejections that Clarke has received.  I assume that autobiographical recount is sufficiently factual (though you can never tell with writers) and that some of the rejection letters pertain to the works contained in the collection.  They make for interesting reading, where interesting is scratching your head and wondering if they(the editors) read the same work as you did.

There wasn’t a story in this collection that I didn’t connect with.  I wonder if I need to type this twice, because there’s some indication that certain editors felt there would be problems with the public engaging with characters, language or themes.  I, the reader and Clarke the author, have vastly different life experience, but her skill as a storyteller makes that difference irrelevant. 

If you can’t connect with this book, then the problem isn’t in the book.

The majority of the characters in these stories are people of colour and the settings range from the West Indies, to England and Australia. The are number of Englishes presented, which might present a problem for some ( personally I find Scottish English harder to understand than Jamaican and really, if you can be bothered to put a smidge of effort in to get “your ear in” so to speak, well…) but on the whole the collection is presented in Standard AU/UK English prose.

I enjoyed every story in the collection but some were real standouts.  Shu Yi really got to me, not only because it was a well structured story with a gutting ending, but because it rang true with much of my personal school experience, both as a student and a teacher. For readers of speculative fiction a couple of these stories delivered the same sort of emotional gut punch you’d get with reading something like Margo Lanagan’s Singing my Sister Down and Railton Road is certainly one of those. Set in Brixton, an area that later became famous for the Brixton Riots of 1981, it tells a story of a group of black activists engaged in the enlightenment of black British youth.  It’s one of those stories that builds tension well, that generates a sense of foreboding, and compels you toward an end that you know is coming but that you don’t really want to see, nor accept as happening. The aftermath of this story, the complexity inherent in race tensions still sits with me long after having finished it

Gaps in the Hickory is possibly my favourite and for a number of reasons.  It’s a longer piece, indeed at 52 pages I think it ties with The Stilt Fishermen of Kathaluwa as the collection’s longest and as such it has more time to immerse you in the story.  I think that I might have enjoyed a novella with these characters or even a novel. I like that it presents another English, a Mississippi dialect if you will, used by southern white folk that’s every bit as non standard as the Jamaican English that’s presented  previously in Hope.  I like that Clarke has chosen to present a number of stories in different Englishes and that her editors have gone with it.  It’s another tool that works to get the reader firmly bedded down in a place that (in my case) is different to what they have experienced. There’s some subtle misdirection in this story too that works very well, but enough said about that. 

Reading should be about expanding your experience as a reader (at least some of the time) and I feel that this story in particular did that.  Clarke has that knack of taking characters who you share nothing in common with (at least on the surface) and making you care desperately about them.

The Stilt Fishermen of Kathaluwa, hits closer to home being the story of a “Boat Person”, an asylum seeker.  If we could just let 60% of Australians stumble across this story, then perhaps we might chip away at the two dimensional, goodies versus baddies approach to Asylum seekers this country seems determine to take.  It captures beautifully and tragically the realities of lives caught up in the situation.  The desperation of those seeking asylum, the impotence experienced by those who dedicate their life to helping others and the negligence of the silent, wilfully ignorant, majority of Australians who just don’t want to know - and all that without preaching.

We need more writers like Maxine Beneba Clarke, not just because she’s a woman, or a person of colour but because she tells a damn fine story, and likely not one we’ve heard before.

Foreign Soil is released on the 29th of April, you should be able to get it from all good bricks and mortar bookstores and online as well.


This review copy was provided by the publisher.

awwbadge_2014 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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We have a Winner

BEST SFF 8 It’s my pleasure to announce that after completing a random draw, reader Penny Stirling has won the giveaway copy of Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8

On behalf of Solaris and myself I’d like to thank all  who participated. 






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Apr 18, 2014

eBook Review- Stepping Over Seasons by Ashley Capes


I decided to get serious about poetry last year (and by serious I mean skill up, write, rewrite, resub. and read).  Part of that plan was seeking out current Australian poets and reading their work.  Something you’d think easily done in the era of the internet.

It’s been and continues to be an interesting journey.  But it’s not been a particularly smooth one.  Australian poetry still seems somewhat fragmented to me as something of an outsider, islands of culture rather than one big continent(and perhaps this has advantages).  The Best Australian poems series by Black Ink certainly helps but I have been steadily making my way around these various communities, and know that what’s to be found in these is not the full story. 

Ashley Capes was featured in one of these tomes, but I don’t believe that’s where I first came across him.  Perhaps it was Twitter or his blog. In any case I feel as If I have come to his writing without the imprimatur of some college professor or a salon like group of poets meeting in a bohemian cafe(please, poets still do this don’t they).  I think these kinds of discoveries, the ones we make ourselves without the influence of others are important, they allow a genuine connection.

Stepping Over Seasons is Capes’ second collection and I am late to the party( it was released in 2010) and if I were to pick one defining feature of this collection, it is his striking ability to present clear imagery succinctly, to let just the right amount of words carry the feeling and point of the poem.

That and he can take the most mundane of objects and imbue them with meaning.  Maybe he’s just deploying focussed attention, developed through his work with Japanese forms of poetry like Haiku and Senryu, which I know he’s a dab hand at.

A case or poem, in point is the first in the collection:

other objects

my wedding ring is a plain silver
barrel band. same as dad’s, very modest
and very hard to keep smooth,
with scratches I can’t keep track of and
don’t want to hide. it’s no good pretending
the marriage is perfect, no use
hanging all our memories and every
step of the future on just one symbol. other
objects speak of love, too. the weeping
maple we’ve shifted to every house, the
cup we fill with knives and forks
or the handwritten address you gave me
the night we met, walking the city
and flinging orange peel into hedges, things
that endure, things that have lines
and marks to prove them.


I am suspicious of ebullient expressions of emotion, they can easily ring false (it depends on the Poet and what you know of their life an experience) but Capes is often understated in his expression of sentiment. All this Ink speaks of the struggle of writing, of hoping and believing that this writing is going to lead somewhere:


if I sit up tonight and all this ink

becomes poetry, I could point the wheel

to a place we’ve never been,

watch Venice sink a little more

or show you stability in three bedrooms,

and looking back, you wouldn’t see

smoke stacks or the front door.


and August Rain sketches out beautifully the reality of being in that position where sometimes the only thing you can do for some one is be present. This is not not to say that the collection is all reserved, contemplative poetry.  There’s some cynicism and criticism that comes through in Overlook, a piece that criticises the great poets who romanticise their cities, a piece that challenges them to find in Capes’ home town “…   a moment worthy of haiku, where sewerage and the paper mill meet.”

I laughed out loud at Sunrise Today which dryly eviscerates morning television variety shows. Four years on this poem is still right on the money, proof of every claim that Capes lays at their feet. 

But I return again to his ability to focus, to deliver succinct, and inspired observations. A stanza from Small Town could be the epitaph of half the regional towns of South Australia with

marks on the footpath

don’t fade and the cemetery

never shrinks, only the town around it.

These three lines speak more truth about my experience of rural towns than anything you’ll find by Banjo. 

In one of those serendipitous moments I happened also to be reading a Ted Chiang short story about a society in which we have the ability to record and recall everything and anything we experience (imagine being able to prove that you had indeed put the toilet seat down).  Chiang is seductive in that piece, in that I almost feel that such a thing(as he outlines it) wouldn’t be so bad.  Then I read Capes’ Late Night, and suddenly the seductive reasoning was a little more shaky. It ends with…

I guess the great lie of our time is capture –

it’s comforting to believe

everything can be caught, recorded

and remembered,

so we don’t have to appreciate

anything in the moment.


Stepping Over Seasons, continues to resonate with me.  Just in writing this review  I experience that aha! moment again as I pluck out quotes for you.  This collection had a very high hit rate for me.  Capes I find to be a keen observer and communicator with his poetry, it’s some of the most enjoyable free verse I have read.

I encourage you to discover Ashley Capes for yourself.  You can buy the collection in paperback and eBook form, or you could encourage your Library to purchase it like I did.

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Galactic Chat 45 _ Jonathan Strahan

Just in case you don’t subscribe to the Galactic Chat feed or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, here is the interview that I did with Jonathan Strahan last week.

This week Sean chats to moonlighting Mullah of Coode Street Jonathan Strahan about his career, the direction of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field and his latest year's best from Solaris.

Other topics covered include:

  • How Jonathan compiles his anthologies, what processes he has in place to counte act bias
  • The changes in Small Press Publishing
  • Where he sees the field going.

Jonathan can be found at:

The Coode Street Podcast and on Twitter.


You can download from here or play the episode below:

eBook Review - The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8.

BEST SFF 8I tried last year subscribing to a number of online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines in a vain attempt to try and get a handle on the field in its short form.  I still have a digital pile of unread magazines that I probably won’t make it to, what with being a reviewer, producer and a creative myself.

That’s one reason why I find works like The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 8 handy.  It’s a curated volume of some of the best works of the year, in the field.  For sure it’s Jonathan Strahan’s idea of what’s best and he’ll naturally have a different idea to other long running editors but I personally have found this particular volume to provide ample comfort, challenge and diversity.

There are works that are simply enjoyable and what we expect from well known authors; Abercrombie’s story Some Desperado featuring Shy from his Red Country novel and Gaiman’s off kilter fairytale, The Sleeper and the Spindle jump to mind. 

Not having read any Greg Egan before I was delighted to find Zero for Conduct engaging, accessible and in line with the growing trend to present gender and cultural diversity. Prior to this story I had an impression that Egan might be a little too “hard science” for my tastes, but if he has longer work in the same vein as this short, I’d gladly read more.

M. John Harrison’s Cave and Julia, created a sense of enjoyable unease, and probably deserves a second reading because I got lost in his prose the first time.  If your are the kind of reader that thinks Science Fiction is all about ray guns and rocket ships then you might check out Harrison’s work to witness some stylistic diversity.

Ramez Naam’s work Water, is one of my favourites, a story that takes current trends and extrapolates.  You get an interesting and believable concept taken to its logical conclusion and in turn are obliquely encouraged to reflect on the present.

Ted Chiang achieves something similar with The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, where he presents the scenario of a society where we are able to record and recall almost instantaneously every waking moment.  He explores the ramifications of such through the narrator , a journalist who is exploring the use of such technology himself while at the same time presenting a parallel story of the effect the introduction of English writing and written technology on an oral culture.

Both Naam and Chiang give you stories that keep you thinking long after the story has ended.

Priya Sharma’s Rag and Bone, turns us away from science fiction toward a distinctly Dickensian Weird.  This tale has a nice twist to it which I think elevates it from being just another, albeit very well realised and written, outgrowth of Steampunk/Alternate Victorian genre meshed with the weird.  This story makes me want to track down more of Sharma’s work.

The inclusion of Charlie Jane Anders The Master Conjurer, is proof that writers of Speculative Fiction have a wicked sense of humour and works to bring some levity and offers contrast with some of the darker or serious works.

I am pleased to see Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Fade to Gold included.  Sriduangkaew is one of the only short fiction writers I have managed to keep track of in the past year.  A fan of her science fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to see a work here, fantastical in nature, riffing off (what I assume) is Thai folklore, I was instantly reminded of some of the work Paolo Chikiamco collected in his anthology of Philippine Fantasy, Alternative Alamat.

The goodness continues with a Kiernan, an Ashby and an Ian Macdonald to name but three.  I tip my hat to Strahan (and to the writers he’s selected) because he’s presented a good representation of the field, he’s made me feel comfortable with the inclusion of works that fall in line with my tastes and presented works that showcase other parts of the genre, even authors I am not familiar with.  I get a sense that there’s a certain forward momentum with what he’s presented.

There’s enough material out there I’d say, to give a readership an entire collection of works not much different to an anthology collected a decade ago.  But the genre is moving on, with sub communities launching their own generation ships off in different directions, some boldly exploring the new, others staying a course.  Its nigh impossible to hold a full picture of everything contained within the Speculative Fiction universe but I think Strahan like a wizened navigator, can and has, presented us with an excellent guide.


This review copy was based on an electronic Arc provided by Solaris.

Readers can purchase a copy of from Booktopia or if you are quick you might be able to enter into a draw to win a copy here.

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Apr 5, 2014

The Aurealis Awards 2013

Apr 4, 2014

Dimension 6 Issue One 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 #1 features:


  • ‘Ryder’ by Richard Harland
    Sent from bustling Sydney to boring country NSW during World War I, life is undeniably dull for Sally. Until she meets Ryder.


  • ‘The Message’ by Charlotte Nash
    On a future Earth ravaged by the Event, a soldier with a terrifying secret must travel behind enemy lines.


  • ‘The Preservation Society’ by Jason Nahrung
    For the undead, blood is more than sustenance. It’s a connection to the memory of life.

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