Jan 28, 2011

eBook Review: The Smoke Dragon

The Smoke Dragon by Shane Jiraiya Cummings was an Aurealis and Ditmar awards finalist.  As part of Shane's Grand Experiment he's released this novelette on Smashwords for Free and on Amazon for 99 cents.

The Tale
It tells the story of  Yamabushi(a wild mountain fighting monk) Kaidan and his sidekicks Aiko and Yumi as they battle against bandits and their Smoke Dragon and an opportunistic Samurai clan.

It's classic mystical Japan with Kaidan casting spells that augment his martial prowess and dispensing wisdom left, right and centre.  The tone is somewhat reserved, perfect for the genre.

What I liked
This piece of fiction took me back to days spent wasted playing  in the pseudo-historical world of Tenchu - Stealth Assassin

I'd like to read more of these Characters and from the extra chapter included at the end of this download its seems Cummings will be doing that in the not too distant future. 

What I didn't like
Not too much to dislike really.  

It does feel like the opening to a longer tale and while perfectly self contained as a story in its own right I would have liked more so that the characters and their motivation could be filled out.

Final Thoughts
If your a fan of pseudo-historical oriental tales, anime or games, download it. Hell even if you're not into any of the above enjoy a good free read.  

Angry Robot - eBooks done right

One of my resolutions this year was to read more Australian Fiction and Speculative Fiction at that. I also wanted to support and promote Australian Specfic Small Press Publishing, hence my support of the wonderful team that makes up Twelfth Planet Press.

It was being plugged into the Aussie SpecFic community(blame Trent Jamieson), however, that I became aware of Angry Robot, a global imprint based in the UK.  After some cursory investigation I note that they appear to be doing things right (from my point of view at least) in so far as their books are:

  • DRM free (not a big deal considering how easy it is to strip but it the thought that counts)
  • Not Geo restricted
  • Priced under the $10 mark

Now they are not exactly Small press, they were an arm of HarperCollins UK before they were sold to Osprey Publishing, but they are doing right by the consumer so Iam willing to support them as well.  Not to mention they are also picking up Australian SpecFic writers like:

Slights (Angry Robot)Kaaren Warren with Slights

Slights is a deeply intense, disturbing read. Death is not the end, but this is not comforting, heartwarming or safe. The misery memoir craze of the last few years has overshadowed horror fiction’s impact with (allegedly) real-life experiences. Now it’s time for horror and fantasy fiction to fight back.

And some upcoming Steampunk from Trent Jamieson.

Angery Robot's mission statement can be found here.

Those of you who grew up in the 1980's and we fans of the Fighting Fantasy series of books might be interested to know that Angry Robot's Publishing Director is Marc Gascoine, who has been tied up in British gaming and associated publishing for 30 odd years ( you young uns might also know the name from your involvement with Games Workshop)

Apologies to Jonathan Strahan(if he's reading) for the gratuitous use of the term Specfic)

The State of Australian Speculative Fiction

or if that term causes you to generate violent thoughts - Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and the weird stuff that grows in the cracks.

I am a big fan of The Coode Street and Galactic Suburbia Podcasts from the link below you can get access the Australia Day podcast that the two collaborated on.

This is a wonderful discussion that ranges from the history of Australian SpecFic to its future, what makes Australian Speculative Fiction uniquely Australian, how we incorporate landscape into our writing and the cultural appropriation minefield that faces a Australian writers.

Australia Day Podcast

Jan 26, 2011

Shane Jiraiya Cummings -The Grand Experiment

Ever since I discovered JA Konrath and signed up to his blog I have been hanging out for some Australian authors to emulate/replicate his self published success.  I know that we have great authors here in Australia who aren't receiving the same sort of acclaim as Konrath and some of the lesser known success stories that he promotes.

So it was almost serendipitous when I stumbled across Shane Jiraiya Cummings' plans to do just that.  He's titled it The Grand Experiment.  On his blog he writes:

At the end of this month, I’ll be self-publishing seven (7!) e-books directly ontoAmazon (via their Digital Text Platform, an excellent tool for self-publishing authors) and Smashwords. The titles will be available on all the major e-readers: Kindle, Kobo, Apple, PDF, etc. – although Amazon’s Kindle is my focus.
These new titles, along with my existing novella Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, mean that I have a decent sample of eight titles with which to build my reputation and sales.  I have another few titles in the works, but Mum’s the word on those for now. I’m saving them for later …
At the end of every month, I will post sales figures on this blog/website.
The goals of the Grand Experiment are:
  • My primary goal (to determine whether the experiment is a success) is to sell 1,000 e-books in total (across all of these titles) by December 31, 2011
  • My secondary goal is to sell 1,000 copies of each title (i.e. 7,000 copies) by December 31, 2011.
  • I’m also hoping to demonstrate that word length is far less important when it comes to selling e-books. Novels are the dominant form in bookstores, but I propose that novellas are a better length for e-book readers and that short story collections, when marketed and published the right way, will sell just as well.
Here we have a Australian Speculative Fiction author, traditionally published, and who has the skill set to really take advantage of the self publishing phenomenon.  I will be following his progress over the coming months and blogging about it here.  I have also been invited to guest post on his blog next month. 

If you want to check out his work Shane has made The Smoke Dragon (an Aurealis Finalist) free at Smashwords.

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Library Loot January 26 to February 2 Werewolves and the Ancient World

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link to it via the plugin on the host's page. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week is hosted by Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader

Oryx and CrakeThis week I went on a bit of a borrowing binge at my online Library.  First cab off the rank was a science fiction title from Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake.  A bleak near future dystopian novel.

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to HadrianNext was The Classical World by Robert Lane Fox.  I am reading Cary Corb's The Pericles Commission at the moment and I thought that this would be a complementary borrowing(although I did study Ancient Greece at University).

The Abused Werewolf Rescue GroupNot content with these two fine tombs I also borrowed The Abused Werewolf  Rescue Group as I had heard it mentioned on the ABC's bookclub.  It also looks like its a bit of a parody or comment on paranormal fiction - well see.

Now I know that three books may not seem like a binge (considering some other loots I have read) but this makes about 5 books on my plate at the moment,

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eBook Review: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Power and Majesty is the first book in the Creature Court Trilogy.  The second book in the series, The Shattered City comes out in April of this year.

But on with the Story
Power and Majesty charts the story of Velody and her two friends Rhian and Delphine, as they move to the city of Aufluer and begin their apprenticeships as Seamstress, Ribbon maker and Florist.

The setting is an interesting mix of renaissance Rome with perhaps a sliver of steampunk-the characters catch a train to their hometown and machinery is used to sew garments.

The night she arrives teenage Velody is kissed by a strange boy that falls from the sky, he manages to steal a bit of her innocence as well as a dormant magical power- her Animor. 

But before the story can turn into a coming of age tale, Roberts fast forwards five years to where Velody and her friends are running their own business. 

Unbeknownst to Velody and indeed the entire daylight world, an age old invisible battle is being fought against the sky by the mysterious and internecine Creature Court - humans with the ability to transform into animals and wield Animor(magic).  The Sadistic Power and Majesty(the title of the Ruler of the Court) falls in one of these battles and the Animor he stole from Velody as a girl returns to her, brining with it enormous power and good dose of trouble to go along with it.

Power and Majesty is then chiefly about Velody's coming into this power, the power plays within the Creature court, the political and personal manoeuvrings - all the while dealing with being a dressmaker with two very ordinary and troubled friends.

What I liked.
I found the concept, the setting and the writing original.  While the ability of magic users or Fae to transform into animals is an old trope, I felt that Roberts had an original spin on this and that the descriptions and the visuals of the Creature Court transforming into their various forms had an almost anime like quality.  It was this that steered it away from what could easily be seen as a paranormal romance.  While there’s love and lust within these pages, there’s also a good deal of blood and violence.  I think Roberts has struck the balance right with this one. 

What I didn't like.
The cover- which shouldn't really bother me since its an eBook.  If I didn't know Tansy's work I wouldn't have picked this book up of the self.  I much prefer the style of the illustrations found at Creature Court website or perhaps something similar to Kate Elliot’s Cold Magic.

Final thoughts?
A well written, original fantasy of which I will be buying the next book in the series.  Tansy has roped me in with her pace, deft handling of emotional content and the intriguing and manipulation carried out by the various characters of the creature court.

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Jan 25, 2011

Blog under Re-construction

Under-ConstructionYou may have noticed some changes to the template.  I was inspired by Rachel over at And the Plot Thickens to clean up the blog a little so it’s a work in progress at the moment.

Jan 23, 2011

Twelfth Planet Press · Twelve Planets Announcement

Peeps with the finger on the Australian Speculative fiction pulse will already have heard about Twelfth Planet Press' recent announcement.  The release of  Twelve Planets  

What is this Twelve Planets? I hear you ask.

The Twelve Planets are 12 collections by some of Australia’s finest short story writers. They will vary in genre and style but each will contain

  •  four short stories 
  •  a unique glimpse into worlds fashioned by some of our favourite storytellers. 
Some collections will feature linked stories. Others will demonstrate the writes breadth of style and skill.

So who are we talking about?

The 12 authors are

Who's up first?
The release of the collection will be spread out over two years but up first we have 
  1. Nightsiders by Sue Isle (March), 
  2. Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (May) and
  3. Title 'TBA' by Lucy Sussex (July)
Now I am a bit of fan of Tansy.  I absolutely loved her novella Siren Beat and have been won over by her tale of seamstress turned demigod Velody in her fantasy novel called Power and Majesty.  I can't wait to see what she's done with "Romanpunk".


You can check out Twelfth Planet Press here.  I heartily recommend them.

Jan 22, 2011

Australian ebook store where you can’t download your purchases

I was over at Teleread this morning skimming the various stories for some relevant news when I cam across an article on Readings books.  For those of you who don't know Readings is perhaps Australia's largest independent book store -though they are geographically limited to the state of Victoria.

Readings is apparently beta testing a cloud computing model of eBook/digital format provision developed by a company called Book.sh.

So what? You ask.
The idea behind this technology is that when you purchase an eBook through this technology, you don't actually get to download the file, you get access to it.  It's out in the computing cloud, safe unless the earth is hit with a huge EM pulse presumably.

On the one hand it sounds great.  It's an always available book that you can access from a number of locations and devices, no worrying about backups of your files.

The problem?
Being an Australian company you'd think that Readings might have thought of this(maybe they have) but outside of certain areas in major cities wireless internet connection is patchy, even in the city there are black spots.  Move out to regional and rural areas and it's worse; for example my wireless internet connection only works in very specific places in the house(and I am lucky, my ISP is flabbergasted that I actually get reception).

So if myself and others in my predicament want to read via this system we have to ensure that we are able to be connected to the internet(I assume it would cache some of the file), and are limited to reading in those areas that we can get a signal.   To me it sounds daft especially considering the state of internet infrastructure in Australia and the problem associated with wireless reception.

Teleread Article:
Booki.sh launches Australian ebook store where you can’t download your purchases | TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics

Jan 21, 2011

Tired of Sparkley Vampires?

Well then you might be interested in Dead Red Heart -Australian Vampire Tales, edited by Russell B Farr and published by Ticonderoga Publications.

It's a collection of Vampiric writings from some of Australia's best speculative fiction/horror writers.  There's 32 stories (400+ pages) with a distinctly Australian take on the Vampire myth.

It's set for release at this year's Swancon in April.  There will be a limited edition Hardcover available through Indie Books Online and a paperback version.

Worth looking out for if more 'traditional' vampires are your thing.  Well traditional in the sense that they are evil, bloodsucking nasties not a metaphor for abstinence.

H/T Alan Baxter (one of the authors)

Jan 20, 2011

Fantasy Maps and Ebook Issues.

Map from Power and Majesty
I think we can blame Tolkien and his rather anal approach to creating secondary worlds for this one.  It's obligatory for a Fantasy novel to contain maps, nice hand drawn ones if possible, not something that's been sketched out on an auto-cad. I think it adds to the suspense of disbelief the authenticity of the secondary world that's been created.  

Which brings me to one of the drawbacks I have discovered with eBooks (and I am talking about epub versions).  I recently bought Tansy Raynor Roberts Power and Majesty which contains three nice hand drawn maps by her mother Jilli Roberts.  Unfortunately they don't scale up the eReader,so much of the detail is hard to pickout.

Thankfully larger versions can be found on the Creature Court Website.  I wonder then with eBooks on the rise we might see the disappearance of these particular artifacts.

Your thoughts? Do you like maps in your Fantasy books? Are they necessary?

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a Reader or Follow me on twitter.

Jan 19, 2011

Library Loot January 19 to 25 Diamond Anchor

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link to it via the plugin on the host's page. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week is hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader.

Only one title for Library loot owing to the fact that a)I haven't been near the bricks and mortar library in the past week b) I have won landslide of books in a couple of competitions c) trying to keep my reading manageable while I attempt to write some fiction.

This week I went out on a limb to try something a little different.  I offer you The Diamond Anchor by Jennifer Mills.  Jennifer resides in my old home town of Alice Springs.  I had the pleasure of hearing her read excerpts from her  poetry chap book Treading Earth (and got it signed).  

This was Jennifer's first book, she's just about to release Gone, her second book and from reading her twitter feed she's currently crafting book three.

I know very little about the Diamond Anchor other than what is written in the blurb below:
An unexpected letter from her childhood friend Grace forces May to relive their extraordinary past and confront the events that drove them apart fifty years earlier.

May's father won the Diamond Anchor, a dilapidated pub perched on the ocean's edge, in a game of cards - a gamble which positioned her at the heart of the close-knit community for seventy years, and gave her custody of its stories.

Now, trying to maintain a careful balance between the demands of the collapsing building and her own solitary life, May must decide whether to reach out to Grace, whose health is fading, or let her go.

With all the humour and storytelling of small-town life, The Diamond Anchor is a brilliant tale of the places and relationships that define us. 
If her writing sounds of interest to you, check out her blog .

Book Hunting at Wallaroo - a Neil Gaiman double

I seem to have had a run of good luck recently, either that or a number of old sci-fi fans have been dropping off their perches and donating their collections to charity.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to visit the small coastal town of Wallaroo * on the Yorke Peninsula, this is a favorite holiday spot for many South Australians, a mix of old and industrial, with giant grain silo's dominating  the quaint historical town centre.  I have always thought that the council could redevelop the centre of town and make it unique - something similar to Newtown in Sydney

But on to the book loot
American Gods: A NovelI was lucky enough to come across two Neil Gaiman books in pretty good condition, the first of these is the best seller American Gods.  Here's the description of the book:

After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the time until his release ticks away, he can feel a storm brewing. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But the storm is about to break...Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Gaiman's epic novel sees him on the road to the heart of America.

Anansi BoysThe second was Anansi Boys which I have read takes place in the same setting as American Gods, though some time after the events in that story.

To make note of another fortuitous coincidence, the Book Show happened to interview Gaiman in the same week that I found these books- it's linked below:

Neil Gaiman's Stories - RN Book Show - 6 January 2011

So what about you?  Any rare finds on your book hunting expeditions?

*The name Wallaroo comes the Aboriginal word 'Wadlu Waru' meaning wallabies urine. The early settler's tried to copy the aboriginals by calling it Walla Waroo, however they found this too big to stamp on the wool bales, so they shortened it to Wallaroo.

Locus Magazine Goes Digital

Locus - The Magazine for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field has gone digital.  You can subscribe to it or buy it as a single for $5.50.

It's mid January and I am still chewing my way through the magazine- some 238 pages worth on my ePub version.  This is the first time I have bought Locus - the ability to have industry news more or less current (rather than waiting months for the paper version to be shipped) and the price sealed it for me.

Good so far, only up to page 51, having read through a number of interviews of industry players(commentators and writers) on the Digital revolution, from blogging to eBooks to online fanzines and podcasting.

Jan 15, 2011

eBook Review: Sharp Turn by Marianne Delacourt

Sharp Turn is the second book in Marianne Delacourt's crime series featuring protagonist Tara Sharp. It's a departure from my usual reading, I am not a huge fan of the crime/romance/paranormal genre.  Indeed mention of the characters ability to read aura's had me rolling my eyes - it's a credit to Delacourt's skill and craft that I kept reading.

The Story
Our Protagonist Tara Sharp is an Amateur Private Investigator with a special talent(she can see Aura's).  In this outing she's hired by a Race Team owner to investigate who is tampering with his bikes and preventing the team from taking out the championship. She also gets to see more of the underside of Perth when she's called in to help investigate trouble at an upmarket brothel. 

What I liked
Delacourt's writing is polished, the story light with a hint of romance, a lot of action and bearable amount of that eye rolling aura stuff.  It's a quick read and despite it not being my usual fair I found myself quiclky turning the pages at the end to find out what happened.

What I didn't
The aura stuff - I don't know why this affected me so much.  I am perfectly okay with magic in a fantasy or urban fantasy setting, so I can't understand why I baulked at this.  Perhaps because I know people who believe this stuff seriously?

The Martial Arts - I found Tara's level of skill after one self defense class too unbelievable, especially considering her opponent. 

Credit to Delacourt though, her writing got me over these two roadblocks in my suspension of disbelief

Final Thoughts
If you like paranormal adventure fiction with a female protagonist, this one's for you.  It's a light refreshing read with a nice twist at the end.  

Jan 14, 2011

Book Review: Managing Death by Trent Jamieson

MDeathManaging Death is the second book in Trent Jamieson's Death Works Series, I reviewed the first, Death Most Definite here.

The Story
We pick up the story from the end of the first novel.  Steven de Selby is the newly appointed (if that's the right word) Death for the Australian region.  

He's put off a regional apocalypse but  Mortmax Australia is in a bit of a shambles, and so is de Selby.  The Stirrer god is coming, Steve is hitting the bottle, testing the strength of his relationship with his newly resurrected girlfriend and despite having the powers of a Regional Manager someone is still trying to kill him.

Not to mention he's trying to organise a Death Moot.

What I liked
This book is perfectly paced and as good an execution of a second book as as your likely to find.  You could read this book without having read  Death most Definite, or indeed if you can't quite remember what happened(I read them within a week of each other).  It can become tiresome when an author has to recount the story of the first or preceding book, but Jamieson manages well the weaving of major action and plot points of the first novel into the telling of this tale.

Managing Death also gives us more information of the workings of the Orcus and the Mechanics of the Underworld. Jameison's vision is distinctly refreshing while having solid ties to the familiar cultural mythology  surrounding Death and the Underworld.

There is a lot more action in Managing Death and it slips further away from black humor and urban fantasy and into horror. I think by the final book it will be mayhem and death with a capital D.

What I didn't 
Nothing to dislike about this book.  An excellent execution of a second book in a trilogy.

Final thoughts
If you liked or enjoyed Death most Definite, I think you would be doing yourself a disserice not to read Managing Death.  The humor is diminished and we can begin to feel the ominous approach of a climactic battle in the final book but it's still the reluctant hero de Selby, handling things in a uniquely Australian fashion.

This book was supplied at no cost to myself by Orbit  Australia.

eBook Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Tender MorselsOnce upon a time Faerie Tales & Folk Tales were for adults.  Tender Morsels fits nicely into that category of tale.  It's a retelling of  SchneeweiƟchen und Rosenrot or Snow White and Rose Red.

I came to this book with the knowledge than it had been promoted as YA  in some markets(I found it in the Teen section of an Angus & Robertson) and that in my experience Margo Lanagan has a penchant for slightly dark, slightly quirky but emotionally confronting and challenging stories.

I was not let down with this book. The tale is enchanting in the truest sense of the word - it had me spell bound within the first few pages.  The prose is skillfully crafted, rich in imagery and emotion, the characters despite the fantastical nature of the story, are 'real' - indeed it has been a long time since I have developed such deep emotional attachment to a character in a book.  

The Story?
I am not going to tell you any more than I have alluded to above, it's a refashioning of a folktale.  I believe that you will  derive the most benefit from knowing the least about it. Be forewarned though there are confronting encounters in the book, though masterfully and tastefully handled. Lanagan's weaving of  magic,  custom, and legend create a world that is so strikingly familiar that you could swear it was real at least once upon a time.

Final thoughts
If you are a parent that sees the YA or Teen label as a endorsement for buying books for your twelve year old, I'd suggest that you read it first.  This book is probably more suitable for the 14+ category. 

If you are an adult that doesn't like reading YA, I personally wouldn't call it a Young Adult novel- it's appropriate for the above age group, but in reality this is a tale for all ages.


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