Nov 27, 2014

eBook Review – Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review – Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

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

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

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

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

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

This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

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Nov 26, 2014

eBook Review – Phantazein – Edited by Tehani Wessely

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

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

- Introduction, Phantazein.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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






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Nov 15, 2014

Galactic Chat 59 – LynC

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

You can stream the show above or download it here.

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Nov 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

  • spatial location

  • physical attributes

  • geological past, and

  • current environment.

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

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

Here’s a description of that close meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog


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

His blog is at

Nov 9, 2014

eBook Review – Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

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

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

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

In the Room of a Thousand Miles

I like writing about where I am,

where I happen to be sitting,

the humidity or the clouds,

the scene outside the window—

a pink tree in bloom,

a neighbor walking his small, nervous dog.

And if I am drinking

a cup of tea at the time

or a small glass of whiskey,

I will find a line to put it on.


My wife hands these poems back to me

with a sigh.

She thinks I ought to be opening up

my aperture to let in

the wild rhododendrons of Ireland,

the sun-blanched stadiums of Rome,

that waterclock in Bruges—

the world beyond my inkwell.

…[read on]

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

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

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


I Go Back to the House for a Book


I turn around on the gravel

and go back to the house for a book,

something to read at the doctor's office,

and while I am inside, running the finger

of inquisition along a shelf,


another me that did not bother

to go back to the house for a book

heads out on his own,

rolls down the driveway,

and swings left toward town,


a ghost in his ghost car,

another knot in the string of time,

a good three minutes ahead of me—

a spacing that will now continue

for the rest of my life.

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

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

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Nov 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Hearts and The Night Guest win the Barbara Jefferis Award

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

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

Here's my acceptance speech:

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


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

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Nov 6, 2014

The Godless by Ben Peek on special at Booktopia

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


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

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

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

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


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

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Cover Reveal - The Female Factory


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

What is The Female Factory?

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

You can check out publication and order details here.

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Nov 1, 2014

Book Review – Selected Poems by Thom Gunn

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

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

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

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

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

The Hug

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined

    Half of the night with our old friend

        Who'd showed us in the end

    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.

        Already I lay snug,

And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.


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


Here are the last few streets to climb

Galleries, run through veins of time,

Almost familiar where I creep

Toward sleep like fog, through fog like sleep




The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.


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


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