Jun 29, 2014

Book Review – Bound (Alex Caine Series, Book 1) by Alan Baxter


It’s great to follow a writer and see that hard work and persistence pays off.  Alan Baxter is one such writer and it was great news to see that he had secured a three book deal with HarperVoyager for the Alex Caine series. 

Bound is the first book in the series and introduces us to Alex Caine, an MMA fighter who uses what he thinks are unique abilities to sense his opponents intentions before they act.  He fights in Sydney’s underground Martial Arts cage matches, coasting along, making a decent living until he’s approached by a mysterious Englishman named Welby, who suggests that Alex could do much more with his abilities.

A reclusive sort, Caine initially rebuffs (although rebuff is putting this nicely – Alex Caine swears like you’d think an illegal cage fighter might) Welby.  That is until a crime boss, who has lost money on Caine’s fight, makes a short holiday to London with Welby sound like a better idea.  What follows is an escalating adventure that mixes epic dark urban fantasy with thriller pacing.

Bound is noticeably different to Baxter's earlier series both in terms of craft and genre.  As I noted above the Alex Caine series is a fusion of thriller an Urban Fantasy. The pressure doesn’t let up the entire novel.  It’s a polished piece of work.  Baxter’s earlier works are more in the vein of horror/dark fantasy adventures. Bound feels like Baxter’s trimmed down the prose to fighting readiness and he’s come out swinging.

I’d compare this series to Jim Butcher’s work in terms of Urban Fantasy, though whereas Butcher riffs of hard boiled tropes, Baxter most definitely riffs of the thriller genre.  I also found Bound to be a little more adult in tone and delivery.  I am so thankful that HarperVoyager allowed the swearing and the dark fantasy/horror elements to come though.  Nothing worse than having a hard as nails cage fighter, talk as if he’s got a plum in his mouth.  The darkness, violence and sex might turn some readers off but I think Baxter and HarperVoyager are treating us as adults with this one and that’s refreshing, it’s not gratuitous but when you have flesh eating fey and bloodsports there is enough there to maintain our suspension of disbelief.

I imagine Jason Statham for the movie role.

This book was provided by the author.


You should be able to purchase Bound from all good bookstores and online from Booktopia.

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Jun 28, 2014

Galactic Chat hits 50 Episodes with Nike Sulway

rupetta Whoa! That happened rather quickly. 

This week Alex chats to Nike Sulway about her writing process, the novel Rupetta, and being the first Australian to win the Tiptree Award. There's also a discussion about feminism, its intersection with motherhood and the WISCON experience.

Links Alex Mentioned:


Interviewer: Alex Pierce

Guest: Nike Sulway

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright


Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com


You can download the file here or stream below.


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Jun 21, 2014

Book Review – Anzac’s Long Shadow : The Cost Of Our National Obsession by James Brown


I read this book in the space of 2-3 hours.  It was equally; compelling, comforting and unnerving. 

James Brown articulates the concerns that I have had for a long time with the growing Cult of Remembrance, with the commercialisation of the day, with the growing stature of the myth that none dare question.  You can mock a person’s religion quite easily and without too much fuss, but say anything about Anzac Day and your likely to be  un-Australianed out of town.

I was sagely nodding my head in the early chapters and then Brown began to outline the costs of our uncritical veneration of the myth, on both our living soldiers and on our future capacity to maintain security. It was a chilling read even for one such as myself who views much of our modern “celebration” of Anzac day with a cynical eye.

This book is about how the myth has shaped us as a nation, how that myth might not actually be the best thing (at least in its current trappings) for our armed forces now as they return from service, nor into the future as our region experiences growing tensions.

I think possibly every Australian should read this book - certainly before we hold our centenary next year, and students studying the first world war should certainly read excerpts from it.

Anzac’s Long Shadow is an opening salvo in a conversation that Australians need to have with themselves about Anzac Day and our interaction with the military as it is now.

The prologue sets the scene for how divorced civilian and I daresay political Australia has become from the reality of modern conflict.  It seems as if our ideas of war can be summed up by the movies Breaker Morant or Gallipoli and Eric Bogle’s, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda or Redgum’s I Was Only 19.

Anzac’s Long Shadow puts forward the convincing notion that as a nation we are divorced from the reality of modern warfare.  That our concept of what a soldier is and does, is what they did at Gallipoli.

Companies take advantage of this myth to sell all manner of products, vast sums are spent on venerating long dead soldiers while many live veterans struggle for appropriate services (support for female veterans one of many issues not handled well  by the military nor indeed long running community associations).  Much of our charity sector that focuses on veterans needs an overhaul and we know next to nothing about our past decade’s worth of involvement in world conflicts. Our politicians of any stripe (bar a couple) aren’t shown in too flattering a light either – disinterested to the point of negligence or blinded by veneration. 

But lest you think this is an ex-serviceman come to settle some scores, Brown’s critical eye falls on the armed services and it’s not pretty.  He paints a picture of a service( an underfunded one) that seems to have issues gathering and storing information on itself e.g. relatively simple statistics on how many people served in Afghanistan were hard to come by. A service that falls short in assessing performance and suitability for leadership. A service that has never generated an amphibious landing manual, that doesn’t teach the mistakes made at Gallipoli (unlike the US army that used the Gallipoli debacle to inform their own operations in the 30’s which led to successful campaigns in the pacific). A service that perhaps believes in the myth itself too much.

Ultimately though, you can read the deep respect Brown has for his fellow servicemen and women.  This book is an early warning bell.  It’s a book that says we need to wake up, pay tribute to the past certainly but ensure we are a capable and secure nation heading into what is likely to be a time of continued turbulence.  We need to understand that there will most likely always be Australians at war or in theatres of conflict.  That we need to understand what these Australian’s are doing and why it’s important.  That we need to become critically engaged and involved with our military services, to laud their efforts and be informed critics of their failings.

The book can be purchased at all good bookstores or online at Booktopia.

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Jun 19, 2014

Canary Press delivers a great apology

It’s not often that you get great apologies or even apologies so please take a look at The Canary Press:

An Apology To Genre Writers


If you’re a genre writer, our pitch probably seemed pretty gormless.

We chose an out-of-context baseball analogy and made lazy references to space aliens. And we’re sorry for it.

In the original pitch we used the line, “We want to bring literature to the cheap seats.” Short stories used to be a stadium sport. A problem faced by the Australian literary scene is that most people who read short stories these days are playing on the pitch. The bleachers are empty.

[Read On]

If you are scratching your head, this incident was what I was referring to in my post here.

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Jun 15, 2014

Book Review – Hide me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

hide-me-among-the-gravesIt was a disconcerting coincidence that brought this book to me and if I weren’t a skeptic and a rationalist I might be worried.  I had been researching the history of Speculative Poetry for a panel I was moderating at Continuum X and had of course come across the English poet Christina Rossetti, most famous perhaps for her poem Goblin Market, a snippet of which is presented below:

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
'Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.

Now what I hadn’t put together was that Rossetti, was the niece of John Polidori, contemporary of the Shelleys, and Lord Byron and the first to pen the modern Vampire tale. This tied in nicely in my mind to the formation of modern speculative fiction.  You hear quite a bit about Shelley as the mother of modern science fiction, but not much about Rossetti.

Now this will not be news perhaps to historians or poets that love the Pre Raphaelite movement but it did put a smile on my face.

What has this got to do with Hide Me Among The Graves?  Patience dear reader, I am getting there.

So it was on the Friday morning before the convention proper that I chanced upon that most assiduous and talented publishing couple, Russell Farr and Liz Grzyb, in The Book Grocer.  After assaying a good many fine tomes at the ridiculous price of ten dollars, Russell handed me Tim Powers’ Hide Me Among The Graves, saying that I should read the book as it was one of his better ones. Note, at this time Russell had no knowledge of my research or panel.

The book was promptly packed and forgotten, to be read at some future date and to spend time next to another Powers title on my to-be-read-when-I-retire-from-reviewing pile.  It was not until the end of the convention, when I was awaiting takeoff that I read the blurb and discovered a slightly unnerving coincidence.

Hide Me Among The Graves, is a fictional account of the Rossetti family and their battle with an entity that puppets their dead uncle, Dr John Polidori. It’s a doorstopper coming in at just over 500 odd pages but what Powers has done in that space is… wonderful.  He’s managed to create a space in which I can enjoy several seemingly disparate interests. 

We have a tale of horror that artfully mixes vampire myth and history with ancient and alien entities, ghosts and a subculture of other entities that commune with them (all aptly named with appropriate sounding working class slang), suppressed Victorian sensibilities and poetry. 

Several of the characters, in fact I’d hazard to say, the majority of the major characters are real persons and poets. Powers quotes and borrows liberally from them for chapter beginnings and in the text.  It’s not often that a book ticks so many boxes and manages to stay on track as a story.

And that’s what I felt I got with Hide Me Among The Graves, a great multilayered layered story, brimming with verisimilitude. All of the genres that this book treads in are well trod and Powers has done what good writers do, take disparate ideas and forge them into something that appears new and wholly original.  If it’s not clear, this book makes me want to dig into gothic horror, classic literature and speculative poetry of the 1800’s all at once.

My one issue, one that was overridden by Powers’ skill, was the conceit that the poets and painters produced their best work only when possessed or influenced by the entity Polidori. The muse myth I hates it.

So if you abhor sparkly vampires and prefer subtle and unnerving portrayals of sensuality, if you prefer largely suggestive horror rather than gore then try it out.  Only one thing would make this better and that would be a movie of it directed by  Del Torro or J.A. Bayona

Booktopia has copies of the paperback for $17, I think my copy was the only one at The Book Grocer in Collins Street.

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Jun 14, 2014

The day Literature came to town

A rider approached from the East, a slowly growing smudge against the shimmering heat. Even at this distance I could tell that he was a long way from home – he sat too straight in the saddle for one thing.   We get his kind from time to time, visitors who see the Genre Territories as chance to blood themselves, say they been there ‘n’ done that.

I let my hand slide from the handle of my Le Guin 45 where it had subconsciously fallen. This was some wetback from the East, not one of those scarred veterans of the Genre Wars.  I waited patiently, chewing a plug of Martin & Abercrombie - a rich, dark blend.

“You the Sheriff my good man?” he asked, standing slightly in the stirrups.  Whether this was to give himself greater height to look down his nose or to relieve the soreness in his buttocks, I don’t rightly know. I don’t like to judge.

I shrugged,” You could say that, though we tend not to do things quite that way round here.”

“Well, I have come to spread the word, ” he said, loosening his canary yellow cravat.

“And what word would that be?”

“The Good Word. To bring literature to the masses.”

I raised one brow, “Is that so?”

“Yes but in a form they can understand.  Why, we could have talking ducks, killer turtles… space aliens!”

I chewed.  Sometimes it’s better to let these types run it out a little.

“It’s my firm belief that genre works can still speak to some greater human truth.” Then with a mischievous wink, “ If they don’t, well, they’ve still got space aliens.”

I shifted uncomfortably and wondered if I should let him get down of his horse before I broke the news to him. I was about to divest myself of a little wisdom garnered from watching the coming and goings of our quaint one road genre town, when he spoke again.

“Look. It’ll be a hoot my good fellow.  Like something written by that Vonnegut chap.”

I spat my plug of tobacco into the dirt and cleared my throat, “Now son.  Can I call you son?” He nodded, looking a little wary. “ Who’s it going to be a hoot for?  Huh?  I mean you make this big ol’ trip to the territories thinking you’re going to bring culture to the masses who love genre, that we are going to go down on bended knee and thank the Good Lord for preserving you from roving bands of Neckbeards, just so we can benefit from the wisdom of literature infused with our tropes.  Some of us frown a might unkindly on folks in the appropriation business.  Perhaps you sought to educate us in the possibilities, without checking to see that we already are aware of them? Or did you come here looking for help?  We can be a good lot to have on side in a shootout – plenty o’ practice in that medicine show.”

“Umm well…,” he began to visibly deflate.  He reached inside his riding coat to pull out a copy of a magazine. “Look we do really great printed copy, it’s cheap relatively speaking, great value for what you are getting.”

“Now look”, I said, motioning with both hands for him to calm down. “ I am sure it’s a nice glossy magazine, but we long ago moved into the digital and a lot of our best short fiction is online, for the masses, for free. We kinda don’t need ya.   Now we’re not a rude bunch as a rule but we can get rubbed up the wrong way especially by folks who come across as a might pretentious.” I tapped the time piece on my chain and brought up some three dimensional links that floated in the heat shimmer . “Here you go, son try these on for size: Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons they’re a taste of what we do.”

He looked nervously before whispering, “Thank you” and urging his horse forward.

“Oh and one more thing.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “You might be tempted to try that spiel over over at Rosie May’s Bodice Bursting Emporium of Romance Fiction, I’ll tell you now, those women know how to band together and run a business, don’t need no help from no one. . . but they are always accommodating to newcomers”

He tipped his hat in reply and made his way on down the road. His back a little less straight. 

Maybe there’s hope for you yet, I thought and I sat down, returning to one of my favourite books:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

A tongue in cheek reply to a call for submissions from The Canary Press, whose original call out featured a line about Literature and cheap seats.  I think their heart is in the right place but couldn’t resist a creative response. So if you do want to, please submit here

Jun 11, 2014

So…umm Ditmars

2014-06-11 14.37.22You will hopefully have noticed my absence from the blog and social media until today. It may lead you to think that perhaps I had bunkered down in the reading trenches and was chewing through my stack of review copies.

Not quite. 

I have in fact been at Continuum X in Melbourne for the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention.  It was a blast, as it was two years ago when I went to my first.  Great speakers, great friends, awards and entertainment, but more on that later when my memory of the events recovers. It truly was a wonderful event that deserves its own post.

I managed to lock myself out of twitter on my ancient Kobo tablet on the Friday, and it’s never handled Facebook well so I spent the entire time off social media. I did have withdrawals, particularly when I got email notifications from people having fun. At least until I realised that I was at the event they were tweeting about and could experience it first hand.

Sunday night the Ditmar Awards were held. Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond had a rest from comparing this year and were I think it’s fair to say, given a run for their money by Narrelle M Harris and George Ivanoff.

They performed a wonderful comedy routine, keeping the awards flowing fairly smoothly.  George, a man with excellent elocution and diction managed to drop an unintentional f bomb when he ran the phrase “if I can ask” together too quickly when calling Kirstyn McDermott(I think) to the stage.  Like a true professional he hammed it up and was very particular in his pronunciation thereafter.

But to the topic of the post.  I managed to pick up two Ditmars – a joint one for Best Fan Production in Any Medium shared with my Galactic Chat colleagues: Dave MacDonald, Mark Webb, Helen Stubbs, and Alex Pierce.  I was surprised at this win.  Not that we weren’t worthy but that we were up against some of the best Specfic podcasts that Australia produces.  It truly was a great reward to a really good year of interviewing. My thanks goes out to the team - who may be able to tell me what I said in the acceptance speech because I have no recollection.

Before I had time to let that win sink in I was being called up again to accept the Best Fan Writer award for my body of work on this blog.  It was a very humbling experience, there was much dust in the air causing my eyes to water. I managed to thank my fellow nominees, and my readers.  So thank you again if you read this. Thank you very much.

The other category winners can be viewed here.  Congrats to all those who won.

Oh and Kathleen Jennings artwork and the Ditmar combined, sheer genius.

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Jun 3, 2014

Book Review – The Neighbour by Julie Proudfoot

9781922057983-214pp InkWeight.indd The Neighbour was one of this year’s winners in the Viva La Novella competition run by Seizure.  The competition had four experienced and talented editors chose a manuscript from among a pool of 150 hopefuls and The Neighbour is an end result of that process.  Blurbed as an astute psychological drama set in contemporary suburbia, The Neighbour, struck me as a perfect fit in terms of tone, content and pacing for the novella form. 

It’s a prime example of what can be achieved when an author takes full advantage of the tight focus the short form brings and the freedom it gives the author to make best use of the English language. Proudfoot is a published poet and it shows in the careful attention to language in The Neighbour. It’s a text, that while not taxing, still demands that you notice its words, the vivid imagery that it paints for you and the weight of the world it draws you into.

The Neighbour lulled me first with the normality of life in Australian suburbia and despite the fact that the plot is sketched out on the back cover, still managed to blindside me with the inciting moment.  Perhaps it was denial though; that I didn’t want to think that Proudfoot would do what she did.  Once I was over that initial shock (one that had me put the book down for a moment), I was drawn back in as she slowly began unravelling personalities, mysteries and histories.

It was a tense journey that kept me close, half wanting to know the answers to all my questions and half wanting to tear my attention away from the breakdown of relationships and the protagonist's faltering grip on reality.

I guessed successfully at some of the mysteries early in the novella but looking back I wonder if I didn’t get what was going on just when Proudfoot wanted me to,  the mystery providing impetus and tension, to keep me moving through Luke’s transformation.

The ending was a surprise that I didn’t see coming and left me with the feeling that I had been thoroughly at the mercy of the author’s skill.  I hope this is only the beginning for Proudfoot.


This book was provided by the publisher



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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