Aug 31, 2013

Book Review: To Spin a Darker Stair

13543666To Spin a Darker Stair is a collection of two short stories, the first is a reprint of Catherynne M Valente’s, A Delicate Architecture and an original short, Oracle’s Tower, by Australian author Faith Mudge.  The cover and and internal illustrations are by Kathleen Jennings (who was interviewed by Galactic Chat here).

I was lucky enough to get the book for $5 during Fablecroft’s World Fantasy Awards special offer – Kathleen Jennings has been nominated for her work across a number of projects, including many local and international small presses and Fablecroft have been an active supporter of her work.  You should still be able to get it at the all inclusive price here.

The two stories are fairytale inversions or alternates, a growing fave genre of mine.  I like works that examine the often simplistic, often conservative morals of fairytales and either examine and reinterpret them or show the other side of the story.

A Delicate Architecture is the first Valente I have read and the writing is as good as I would expect it to be from her reputation.  The writing is rich and poetic which suits the subject matter of the story perfectly – a girl purportedly made from confectionary seeks the glamour of the Imperial capital.  This story is heartbreaking.

Oracle’s Tower, while less consciously rich in its prose manages to create a beautiful fairytale ambience. It feels more consciously fairytale like to me.  Valente charms you with her command of language.  Mudge rearranges the fairytale building blocks and tropes so that the work has a familiarity but the reader is not sure where they are being led. I don’t want to say much more about the stories themselves.  I had no knowledge of the fairytales they were to riff off beforehand and I think a clean reading approach to the stories is the best way to experience them.

Thematically the stories fit well together and I appreciate the effort Fablecroft went to create this book. They can’t be making too much on this offer and yet we get a very rich deal in the bargain -Valente, Mudge and Jennings in a bound book for less than the coffee and croissant you could enjoy while finishing it.

If you like fairytale retellings and you want to see two skilful proponents with different approaches and styles I think you’ll like it.

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Aug 29, 2013

Book Review – Red Winter by Dan Smith

red-winterRed Winter is a historical thriller set in Russia in the aftermath of The Great War, the  time of the Russian Civil War and the time of The Red Terror when the Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka, carried out mass killings, torture and suppressions of the various groups that sought to resist the revolution.

Kolya is returning home with his brother who has died on their trip.  Tired from too long spent fighting, first against the Germans, now against the enemies of the revolution. He hopes to find his wife and sons, to bury his brother next to their parents, to live a quiet life.  Only when he arrives the village is empty, as if everyone simply walked out.  Desperate and unsure if he is dreaming or losing his mind, he comes across the sole surviving member of the village, so malnourished and raving that he does not recognise her at first. 

When he tries to ask about what has happened to the villagers and his family, all she will talk about is Koschei, and how it was his doing.  Koschei the Deathless, a fairytale bogeyman of Russian myth. Kolya begins to think her insane until she shows him the forest.

What follows is a journey across a country and a culture being torn apart by violence and mistrust.  A journey to discover if Koschei is real, if Kolya’s family are alive.

I had heard of Koschei the Deathless, but I didn’t know his tale.  Smith, through Kolya, retells the tale(or one of them) and is ingeniously vague about the outcome.  I think Smith does a good job of balancing the tension between the outcome of the fairytale and the outcome of Kolya’s story.  

I found Red Winter to be deceptively well paced. It’s related in the first person.  It initially feels slow and ponderous; a tale in which you very much feel the weight of the landscape, the cold and the despair of a man who has lost almost everything.  Like the fairytale form that it shadows though, there is a magic here, born out of a compelling mystery. This is Russia in 1920, it’s not a land of fairytales, no matter how much the reader might like it to be for our protagonist. Much of Smith’s success comes I think from balancing the readers expectations between a fairytale ending and a realistic one.

The tension was so well played for me that I ended up reading it in two sittings, staying up until the early hours because I had to know if our hero triumphs. With a more literary sensibility and by that I mean a focus on the internal landscape of Kolya’s character as much as the external story I was never quite sure, even til the last page just which way it would go.

In tone it felt very much similar to that of Scandinavian crime writing that’s been hitting the shelves.  Whether that stems from the characterisation of the setting; bleak northern European winters or from the fact that the period covered is pretty much untouched in the public consciousness, I am not sure.

If you like fairytale as a metaphor, modern European history, or a compelling mystery with an edge of horror, I heartily recommend it.


This book was provided by the publisher.

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Aug 25, 2013

Book Review – Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier

black-sun-light-my-wayBlack Sun Light My Way is Jo Spurrier’s second novel and the follow up to Winter Be My Shield (reviewed here).  It’s book two of what I suspect will be a trilogy, though it’s ending surprised me – it didn’t feel like the traditional middle of a trilogy.  I like to be surprised and I am eager to see what Spurrier does in the final book.  I thought I had a handle on where she was going, now I am not so sure.

At the end of Winter Be My Shield, Sierra having managed to learn some control of her powers lets herself be caught by Akharian slavers in an attempt to get closer to Isidro and the potential treasure hidden at Demon Spire.  An uneasy alliance is formed between Rasten, Isidro and Sierra as they manage to manipulate the Akharian’s and gain access to Vasant’s treasure trove of Ricalani magic.

Much of what I thought to be the goals of the major characters seemed to be resolved by midway through the story.  It turned out to be a decoy by Spurrier an easy victory before she really tightened the screws on the characters.  Much of the tension achieved in this novel comes from the testing and twisting of bonds between those characters.  Much of the physical danger and tension comes again from isolating the characters from their allies and from each other.

Rape as a threat to characters and bystanders features heavily in Black Sun Light My Way.  Spurrier, as she did in Winter be My Shield, didn’t restrict the threat or act to female characters.  I like( appreciate maybe is a better word) that she takes this realistic approach ( modern fantasy seems to skirt around the use of rape in conflict as a weapon used against all genders) but the prevalence of it as a way to manipulate the readers emotions came close to being overused for my reading.

There was some anachronistic dialogue that jarred with me much as it did with book one, phrases or figures of speech that sound out of place because they are modern.  But then we are reading fantasy; who says fantasy needs to be written in with an equally unrealistic 19th century English vocabulary?

What continued to impress me was Spurrier’s research and her use of it in bringing the Wild alive as a very visceral setting. Pregnancy as a plot device was an interesting and realistic addition to the story and adds another layer of emotional connection between characters that I am sure Spurrier will use against the reader in book three. 

Despite the points mentioned above Spurrier has an engaging style.  This was an easy book to slip into but very hard to get out of -  I read from midway to the end in one setting.  If you are a fan of Trudi Canavan’s work and are prepared for the adult content then I heartily recommend Black Sun Light My Way and Winter Be My Shield.

This book was provided by the publisher.

An interview that I conducted with Jo for Galactic Chat can be found here.

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please chawwbadge_2013[4]eck out this page for more great writing from Australian women..






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Aug 20, 2013

Book Review – The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon


The Bone Season is Samantha Shannon’s debut novel, one of a planned seven to be rolled out by Bloomsbury. It launches today with much fanfare, and a push from Bloomsbury to be the next Twilight or Hunger games. Imaginarium Studios have obtained the film rights, so it seems there’s a considerable effort being put behind Ms Shannon.

The Bone Season is an alternate history dystopia that has that wonderful gloomy English tone.  An oppressive and moralistic government with religious trappings (the reader assumes it’s Christian) attempts to track down and imprison rogue or free Voyants (any number of different types of people who can manipulate/talk to spirits).  Various criminal syndicates exploit these free voyants while keeping them out of the government’s way.

Our protagonist Paige Mahoney, an Irish immigrant, is working for one of these syndicates until she is captured and taken to the government's holding facility. There begins an unravelling of the truth, the real workings behind the curtain the state has erected.

Imagine Orwell’s 1984, cut with some of the dark fantasy from Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey but without the sex and you come close. 

I wanted to like The Bone Season with as much vigour as Andy Serkis, who blurbs the back of my paperback copy calling it, “Truly Extraordinary and Thrilling”.  I prefer my dark fantasy to have that gloomy, cynical edge that British writers seem to evoke naturally and I do love a good gritty dystopia. Sadly I didn’t find it thrilling or extraordinary and if I had to choose between The Bone Season and Twilight I think the later edges out the winner, at least in terms of telling a compelling story. 

Despite being written in first person I never felt drawn into the character of Paige, never felt that she was truly in danger or that she was going to lose anything of value.  She does lose friends and acquaintances, she is put in mortal danger but I wasn’t immersed enough to care.  I do wonder if the knowledge that there are six books to come undercuts some of the tension.

I also found some of the world building got in the way.  Any time a new type of Voyant is revealed in the text we get to know if they are an Astragalomanceror, a Chiromancer or an [insert]-omancer and my reading brain just skips over the word when I read it, because mostly its not relevant to the story.  I’m also not sure if the flashbacks, that added depth to Paige’s character, didn’t actually break the flow of the story.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, Shannon can write and there were places in the novel which glided effortlessly by.  Overall it was a middle of the road read for me, entertaining enough not to skip pages with some niggling bits and pieces that might just be my personal taste. 

Is it the next Twilight or Hunger Games?  Time will tell.

This book was provided by the publisher.

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Aug 14, 2013

Aussies represent! The World Fantasy Award

crandolinAs announced by Tor a couple of days ago the shortlist for the world fantasy award has been announced ahead of the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton this year and it’s great to see four Aussies( and some other notable non-Anglophone personalities) in the running for what is a world fantasy award. The nominated peeps are:




  • Sky,” Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls)









and a shout out to the ever hard working Charles A. Tan for his Bibliophile Stalker blog  which is up for a Special Award—Non-professional.

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eBook Review–Aurora: Darwin by Amanda Bridgeman

9781743342336_Aurora_coverAurora: Darwin is the debut novel from Perth author Amanda Bridgeman.  The folks at Momentum publishing have done a great job with the cover art (reminiscent to my mind of the Astropolis covers that Orbit did for Sean Williams) and associated extras. They can be found here.  Not entirely necessary for your enjoyment but good art can shape your perceptions.
Bridgeman is a fan of sci-fi thrillers and that shows in Aurora: Darwin. If you are a fan of Aliens 2 and other Sci-Fi films of that era then you’ll like the mix of action and suspense that Bridgman delivers. 

A distress signal on the edge of inhabited space. A mission that is far outside normal parameters. Two very different people with one common goal survival.
A group of soldiers are sent to investigate a comms error on a classified military station near the asteroid belt.  Three women are added to the all male crew as part of some PR exercise.  There’s tension between the crew, between the Captain and Command and information on the situation is almost non existent.
There’s some interesting comment here on the treatment of women in the military that seems to be more about current problems that women have to face. Though I must admit I am not sure if its unrealistic to think that attitudes won’t have changed in the future or that its a case of (as with a large amount of science fiction) science fiction commenting on the issues and culture at its time of writing through the lense of the future.
If you are looking for a solid scientific underpinning and the lack of such ruins your enjoyment then perhaps Aurora: Darwin isn’t for you.  If you are just here for the thrill and the tension then, well it’s worth it.
The above point aside, Aurora: Darwin was not without its problems for me and I think this can be put down to it being a first novel.  The beginning was a little slow and I think there was an over use of narrative summary, a focussing on detail that was largely irrelevant to the story.  I am a pretty tolerant reader and I read widely. I am not sure that other readers would stay as long as I did.
I did and the middle 50% of the book is nail-biting edge of the seat action and suspense that I expect from much more seasoned writers.  The tension that Bridgeman maintained here was brilliant. 
The story is nothing new (and I mean this as no slight against Bridgeman) but there’s skill in taking a trope or a well used scenario and making it seem exciting and fresh.  The reader knows what’s likely to happen and it’s the way in which the author sustains the tension, between that knowledge and the characters edging closer to danger, that makes this part of the novel and ultimately carries the rest of it.
The ending seemed a little off the pace for me, there was renewed tension but I found the team’s last obstacle a bit of an anti-climax, the action and tension was highest at the end  of the second act.
While Aurora: Darwin feels a little unbalanced structurally, on the middle part of this book alone, I will read Bridgeman again. I dare say she’s got a bright future ahead of her writing Military/Space Opera thrillers.

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awwbadge_2013This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

Aug 13, 2013

Not a book review–Writing Fiction for Dummies


This isn’t a review as such because I don’t really have the time to give the book the attention it deserves and there’s parts of it yet that I haven’t got to and don’t need to yet.


I wanted to note that despite my instincts and the aversion to Dummies titles, this book has turned out to be invaluable.

You see I have two manuscripts, one stalled at 50 thousand words the other at 10 thousand.  I have been to  a smattering of courses but not one has really covered the basics in the way this book has.  With some of these courses it’s outside their scope and with others, well I guess its assumed knowledge or the instructors simply don’t approach their writing in such a structured way.  I guess it can be hard to teach the basics when you yourself have learned largely by doing.

This is where my work and fiction lives connect to some degree.  There’s a movement and there has been for some time towards explicit teaching, moving away from whole of language theory.  And that’s what I find this book is explicit teaching with a broad range of examples from Austen to Tom Clancy.

There’s structure to a good novel, and whether you’re a panster or a planner you really need to know what that structure is, or it least you should know because the structure works.

And I am finding that having applied what I have learned I have some idea where I am going and I can see the end of these manuscripts in sight.  Its a book that I find myself returning to and re-reading.  It’s a book that has helped me in my reading of fiction as well-enabling me to better articulate why a story does or doesn’t work.

And while critics might say that its formulaic I would counter with the observation that I can write a Shakespearean sonnet with its fourteen lines divided into 3 quatrains and final couplet, its rhyme schemes and its theme/problem and resolution but no one will ever mistake my poetry for that of Shakespeare. The devil is in the detail.

So if you’re stuck and not really sure what the three act structure is and how it applies to some of our great works of literature and to commercial genre writing  then I suggest taking a look at it.  It also has an excellent list of extra reading that focus on specific areas.  To those that say you can’t teach writing I’m inclined to say horseshit.  You can give a person a box of tools, show them how to use them and in the end what they make will be up to them.

You can buy Fiction writing for Dummies at Booktopia.  But I was able to borrow my copy from the library.

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Kate Elliot interview by Author Magazine

Kate Elliot who I reviewed here, was interviewed by Author Magazine.  Enjoy!

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Aug 11, 2013

eBook Review–Charlotte’s Army by Patty Jansen

charlotteCharlotte's Army is a novella set in Patty Jansen’s ISF- Allion universe – a character driven group of stories with a solid hard science underpinning.  Other works in the series are: Luminescence(novelette), His Name in Lights (novelette) and Shifting Reality (novel).

All the works can be read independently of one another and in any order - they occur at different times in the “world history” but together weave an interesting and expansive backdrop.

I have seen the works classified as Space Opera/ Military Science fiction but don’t find either of those categories particularly helpful for describing Patty’s work.  She tends to work with protagonists that fall outside the standard for military/space opera fiction.  The heroes here are scientists, teachers, and doctors.

In Charlotte’s Army our protagonist is a medical officer involved in coding mindbases for the ISF clone program.  Great effort and resources have been ploughed into a program that will deliver an army of clones ready to defeat Allionist forces.

Only there’s one small problem, each of  the clones seems to have developed a romantic obsession with Charlotte – all several thousand of them.

If it was anyone else I might have found the premise a bit of a stretch.  But I have come to trust Patty’s judgement as an author, that and I have just had my computer crash so the idea that an error in coding could cause a massive glitch is not outside my personal experience. 

I enjoyed the rather humorous predicament that Charlotte was put in and the philosophical issue’s that surround the act of fixing the clones (essentially wiping their personalities).

As with all of Patty’s work I liked the drip feed of background or technical detail.  We are not given a treatise on the way spaceflight occurs or how gravity works on the ships but their are pointers that indicate that Patty has this worked out.  And because she has it worked out there’s no “clangers” that drop you out of the story.

I think if you are after a balanced read with, some action, some romance and a focus on story then you’ll enjoy Patty’s series and Charlotte’s Army. It’s accessible and interesting in a lot of ways that your standard military Sci-Fi might not be (war stories in space).

Charlotte's Army is a novella so there is limited room.  I think that it could have easily been expanded into a full length novel, and that’s my only qualm with the work.  The ending felt a little truncated.

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awwbadge_2013This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

Aug 10, 2013

Jonathan Strahan’s - Infinity Project

Coming hot on the heels of the announcement that his Best of …series would be taken up by Solaris is Jonathan Strahan’s revelation of the cover of his next anthology in the Infinity project also from Solaris – Reach for Infinity.  The cover is by Adam Tredowski, and is confirmed as the final cover.  The names of authors may be subject to change.

Check out Jonathan’s post here.

The book is due out in the middle of next year.



If you are keen on Jonathan’s taste in authors (it’s impeccable) or if you are just looking for great Sci-fi short reads I note that Booktopia have the two earlier books in the series available and they have a free shipping deal running.



The two titles above can be picked up for $11.50 and $10.50 respectively.

Just add the code PARTY at the end of the checkout process.  Clicking the images above will take you directly to the book summary and purchase pages.

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Aug 8, 2013

Choose your Adventure

Em Craven who I have had the pleasure of

a) meeting in person
b) work-shopping stories with
c) being interviewed by

is attempting to get Choose Your Adventure off the ground
check it out:

It features a who’s who of Australian genre writers for your Australian adventures, no doubt international readers will recognize some of the names of your own genre writers.

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Aug 6, 2013

Twelfth Planet Press News

tpplogoI am reliably informed that Cat Sparks, previously slated to bring us one of the Twelve Planets tomes, had to step away from the project – *le sigh*

but there is a silver lining…

the Evil Dr’s Brain i.e. Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter have combined once again to give us something that will no doubt be delightfully good in their collection to be called Baggage.

And I notice that we have a name for Deb Kalin’s collection too - THE APPORTIONERS.

Livia Day fans will already be aware that the sequel to A Trifle Dead has been announced – you can fins out the details on DROWNED VANILLA here.

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Book Release - The Blood She Betrayed by Cheryse Durrant

The-Blood-She-Betrayed-front-cover-199x300Just a heads –up to let you know that debut novelist Cheryse Durrant will finally be releasing The Blood She Betrayed through Clan Destine Press, in September.  Cheryse sustained a broken knee earlier in the year that delayed publication - see writing can be a dangerous activity.

Cheryse will be running a blog tour in the next couple of weeks but you may want to get in early and have a look at want Clandestine and Cheryse are doing for the launch of the book

You can check out Cheryse’s post here.

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Saga 1 & 2 for under $31–Free Shipping Booktopia

sagaJust passing on the good news that Booktopia have free shipping on at the moment.  I am deep in edit land for the Galactic Chat podcast and haven’t had time to search through their bargain bin yet.

But I would like to recommend the graphic novel SAGA – Volume 1 which my library got in for me.  Mature, witty and some of the best writing I think I have read in this form.  So if you have the cash I recommend it oh and SAGA two is just out as well.  By them both for less than $31.

Caution though, this is not a tome for the kiddies.

The free shipping code till midnight tomorrow night is FUN

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Aug 4, 2013

eBook Review – Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen


Shifting Reality is a science fiction novel set in ISF-Allion Universe that Patty Jansen has been developing over the last couple of years.  Other works in the series are Luminescence (novelette), His Name in Lights (novelette) and Charlotte’s Army (novella).

I mentioned in my review of Luminescence above that I wanted longer works set in the ISF- Allion Universe and while I don’t think Patty was specifically listening to me, she has steadily delivered, writing Charlotte’s Army and then Shifting Reality.

Shifting Reality is the tale of Melati Rudiyanto the granddaughter of expat Indonesians who form the labour force on the aging space station of New Jakarta.  The space station comes under ISF(International Space Force) jurisdiction and Melati joined the an ISF training program to repay a debt to the Doctor who saved her and to give herself a chance at a better life.  Her family sees her as betraying them and her people.  She sees them as stuck in the same cycle of poverty, unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

Her job is to train/teach human constructs (clones) through their accelerated growth period. The action begins when one of the clone children displays an understanding of adult concepts and language that he should not have yet developed.  Melati’s concern and care for the children in her charge leads to an unravelling of a larger station threatening plot.

What I particularly like about Jansen’s science fiction (she writes hard–sf as well) is that it’s rare that the tech or the science is the reason for the story but when it does surface, it’s well thought out, realistic and logical.  It makes for a quick immersive read with no oddities to drop you out of the immersion.

What I particularly like about Shifting Reality is the choice to have a person of colour and a woman as the central character and that she is a teacher.  It’s refreshing to have a protagonist who is not military special forces in high tech spandex.

I don’t know enough about Indonesian culture(s) to know how well Patty has transported it to the life on board a space station but she does a convincing enough job of playing off tensions between family, work and the wider community for me.

While Shifting Reality sits somewhere within the sphere of military science fiction I like the focus on the other aspects life at New Jakarta Station : tourism, refugees, organised crime and human trafficking.

I also like the way in which Jansen slowly builds her “world” with each outing, enabling the attentive reader to pick up on actions and outcomes that occurred in earlier works.

If you are looking for something less over the top than space opera, but still with a broad scope. If you are looking for something with a solid scientific under pinning that’s different to all the “square-jawed Marines save space” narratives, then I think you should check Jansen’s Shifting Reality out.  But I'd also recommend reading the entire ISF-Allion series of works to appreciate the scope of the “world” Jansen has devised.

This book was provided by the publisher.

awwbadge_2013This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.




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