Dec 31, 2014

So endeth the year

2014-12-23 18.08.59 So glad to see the end of 2014.

It wasn’t all bad, indeed creatively it was a really good year.  Getting nominated and winning two Ditmars was perhaps the highlight. Growing as a poet and getting some paid publishing credits to my name was very rewarding.

I became an uncle again. I attended conventions, met some long time friends for the first time in the flesh. I did lose about 20 kilos which I need to keep reminding myself about, because its slipped my mind as an achievement this year.

The end of the year came with disappointments and illness.  I didn’t get a job that would have set me up for the next few years and I underwent treatment for some health issues that seemed to come from nowhere, but which after reflection I can see have been a long time coming.

I participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for the third year running and will need to compile that and a gender audit of my reading and reviewing for the year.   I read more poetry and discovered more poets.

I am still reading for the Aurealis Awards and that has been rewarding and educational.  I recommend saying yes if you get the chance.

So until I have the wherewithal to write again, please have a happy and safe new year.

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Dec 24, 2014

Galactic Chat 62 – Dr Lisa Hannett

As promised Galactic Chat brings you our last interview for the year, conducted by me with the wonderful Dr Lisa Hannett.

In this weeks chat, our last for the year, Sean talks with Dr Lisa Hannett about her upcoming mosaic novel, her recent release through Twelfth Planet Press with Dr Angela Slatter and Icelandic Medieval Literature.  

They also talk about the Australian Gothic, how Australians can be just as nice as Canadians and Lisa's fear of the scaly creatures of the shallows.  Please enjoy and have a safe and merry Christmas. 


You can download the mp3 via the download link on the Podbean site or play below.

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Dec 21, 2014

Book Review – The Canary Press - The Genre Issue (Issue 6)

Issue-6-cover Long time readers of the blog may remember that I gave The Canary Press “a bit of stick” for the way they went about announcing they were going to do a Genre issue. Their approach ruffled a few feathers and they gave an apology to the community (read it here). The best thing they have done though, is produce a good issue.

Issue 6 is the Genre issue.  Leaving aside discussions on genre versus literary divisions and whether they do or should exist.  It’s quite an ask to produce something that covers all genre. An impossible task really, before you even get to various arbitrary subgenre breakdowns (sadly there’s no Werewolf romance, nor Austen/Cthulu mash-ups).

So the Canaries didn’t do that, instead, as outlined in a rather creative editorial that had me laughing ( a good sign), they realised their limitations and just went for some quality genre fiction, providing some oxygen to writing that perhaps goes unnoticed. 

Now you may say unnoticed by whom, and that’s a fair question.  I see this issue as bridging a gap between genre camps (where Literature is a genre) or at least between loosely defined communities.  Most of the folks in the speculative fiction community will for instance recognise the writers outlined below, living or dead, international or local.  So I see this issue as a good way of drawing readers from genre camps into The Canary Press readership while also expanding the reading experience of those who might favour the Lit. scene and already be on board.

What we do get though, is probably slanted more to the speculative fiction reader.  There’s a couple of classics; Stanislaw Lem’s, The Fifth Sally (A) or Trurl’s Prescription and JG Ballard’s (this holds up very well) The Intensive Care Unit. Kaaron Warren produces some science fiction social commentary in the form of Witnessing and some creepy crime flash surfaces from Lee Battersby in, A Suitable Level of Reward. 

Kij Johnson’s 26 Monkey’s Also the Abyss might even introduce some Australian speculative fiction readers to one of America’s best current short story writers. There’s some gangster infused, Australian flavoured, modern hardboiled with All the Ropes Had Blood on Them from Paul Mitchell and a rather surreal story of Unicorn surgery in Unicorn Surgeon from Issac Mitchell-Frey.

I did find that most of the fiction was tending toward the cerebral. I feel that we are presented with writing that goes beyond just telling an entertaining story.  We are presented with ideas and narrative structure that are a little out of the ordinary and consequently we have an opportunity to engage in the fiction in a different way.  Kaaron Warren’s story certainly feels like she’s experimented stylistically (successfully I might add) and the Kij Johnson is broken up into 24 numbered paragraphs that jump around the narrative to good effect. Lem’s work feels very 70’s beat poetry in the way it mixes rhyming prose and a dig at the awful power of bureaucracy and Ballard’s work with some subtle technological changes could still be relevant as a criticism of online culture and the disconnect networked devices bring us.

Presentation  though, is where a paper product can push some advantage and having had my ereader die on me this week I can really appreciate something I can hold in my hand, that doesn’t need powering up or recharging.  The Canary Press prints on a sepia toned matt paper (for this issue at least) and it has the feel and look of quality recycled paper.  There’s a mix of colour and black & white interior art and overall I get the feeling some care has been taken in producing a unique product for the genre issue.

The Canary Press has sourced some diverse and international work to grace the pages and their choices give the journal a distinct feel, my only complaint here is, where’s Kathleen Jennings! Seriously though, there’s some distinctive artwork (that can be purchased through their store) that marks the magazine as a little bit arty and special.  Think more Shaun Tan than Borris Vallejo.

At $40 a year for a subscription( 4 issues per year) I think it’s good value.  As a single issue I think it’s worth picking up for the variety of Speculative Fiction alone.


Issue 6 was provided free by The Canary Press

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Dec 17, 2014

Galactic Chat 61 with Kameron Hurley

So yes, a definite slow down in posting in December, what with reading for Aurealis and intermittent internet issues caused by goodness knows what. Still I am hoping to  conduct one last Galactic Chat interview for the year this evening and have it out for you prior to Christmas.  In the meantime here’s out latest Galactic Chat conducted by the wonderful David McDonald.

You can download the mp3 file from our Podbean site or play direct below.

This week David chats with award winning author and blogger Kameron Hurley. Kameron has been nominated for the Nebula, Clarke and the BSFA, selected for the Tiptree honour list and this year won the Hugo for Best Fan Writer.  Additionally, her essay "'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative" also won the Hugo for Best Related Work.

Please enjoy their chat where they talk about the influences on her most famous trilogy( including a dodgy rental apartment with bugs), when authors should speak out on issues of poor or disadvantageous contracts and what's next on Hurley's agenda.

You can find Kameron at her website

Dec 9, 2014

eBook Review – Stillways by Steve Bisley


I happened upon Stillways while lending support at a local gallery and craft shop. Steve Bisley is one of those iconic Australian actors, never perhaps appearing on the big screen internationally (except in Mad Max), but almost always there in supporting roles.  He’s much like Bryan Brown in that respect.  I have a fondness for the roles he’s played and his presence on air has been part of my cultural experience growing up.

Stillways  captured my attention and dragged me away from other more pressing reading work.  I am not a hug fan of memoirs, I have read about 3 in my lifetime, but I couldn’t stop reading.  There’s an honesty and earthiness in this book, humour and dark secrets.  And love, love that hits you square in the eyes in the final pages. I didn’t have cash with me to buy the book but was able to pick it up online.

The opening chapters read like prose poetry and had me wondering where Bisley had been hiding this talent.  There’s a palpable love of the physically environment of Stillways and Bisley’s descriptions bring the place alive in words. 

The soaking wind curves around the channel that empties Lake Macquarie into the Pacific Ocean. It blows across Pulbah Island and reaches to the sodden south. There is no rain, but a thin wetness. There is no whisper through the casuarinas brought by other winds; they are bowed and heavy now and all things feel sunk and riven.

This is the only way to see my home. This is the only true way to see my home.


The later chapters are perhaps less poetic, but I think the content is suited by the change of tone. Particularly around tales of school boy masturbation:


I masturbate a lot. We’ve got a masturbation club going at school. Chris Dodds is the current champion. The rules of the club are a bit loose and ill-defined, but it basically comes down to who cums first, wins. Doddsie’s got his dick in his hand more often than a biro, whenever and wherever the mood takes him, and it takes him a lot, and he doesn’t much care who’s around at the time. He has no shame. None of us do.


or indeed the troubled relation ship with his father:


Our sticks of choice are in our hands.

We have chosen carefully.

Too thin means they’ll break too early and the fury will continue with a belt or worse.

Too thick and the welts will be raw and deep.

There is a crunch outside and then another, measured and quickening.

My eyes go to my sister; her legs are buckling in preparation for the blows, her stout stick is quivering in her hand.

Then he is at the door.

Then inside with us.

His face is ruddy, white spittle blisters his lips and he is shaking and furious. He wrenches the stick from my sister’s hand and cuts a great whistling arc with it. Again and again the stick flails against her till she is screaming and pleading. ‘I’ll be good, Dad!’ she cries, and, ‘No, Dad, no! Please, no!’


It only covers Bisley’s life to age 15 ( I suspect another volume) but there’s more than enough of a life revealed in those pages to feel as though you’ve got value as a reader. Bisley comes across almost as a stereotypical larrikin. I think this book reveals that side of him that we see surface in many of his roles but there is also greater depth here.  If he appears a stereotypical rough talking, straight shooting Aussie, it’s because that’s his background.

Grab a copy while we are waiting for the next fabricated celebrity star to fall and fade.  Bisley’s life is  interesting and colourful, perhaps more so than many of the roles we have come to love him for.

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Dec 6, 2014

eBook Review – Horizon by Keith Stevenson


Keith Stevenson’s Horizon was released through HarperCollins’ digital imprint in November.  Keith’s been a stalwart of the Australian speculative fiction scene for many a year, mainly in his editor/publisher role at Coeur de lion publishing. So it’s good to see him surface with this product from one of the majors.

Horizon is Keith’s debut novel.  How has he fared, stepping away from short fiction and editing/publishing the longer works of others?

Very well I believe. 

In my reading at least, I have perceived a tendency for science fiction novels to move toward the centre in terms of combining narrative and the science of science fiction i.e. we move toward what is scientifically plausible (with some subtle handwavium) and the story centres on character.

I am thinking of James SA Corey’s works and closer to home, Patty Jansen. Space is generally a hostile place that puts characters under stress in extreme isolation. It’s fertile ground for human foibles to be pressured and exposed, for conflict to arise.

So that’s the approach Keith has taken with Horizon

The exploration vessel Magellan has been sent on a 34 light year trip to the Iota Persei system to explore the distant earth like planet,Horizon.  Staffed by a multinational crew it should be a testament to humanity’s ability to pull together in a crisis. Tensions between nations, however, play out between crew members even before they begin the Deepsleep (a half century of life suspension)  portion of the mission.  On waking, Commander Cait Dyson discovers her 2IC dead and their course changed. What was a bold mission into the unknown becomes a tense novel of suspense and second guessing.  Can they trust each other, the ships AI, the half human half digital intelligence Bren?  But most of all can they trust that the situation on Earth hasn’t changed in the 55 years they have been asleep?

Keith combines that sense of wonder we get from the extrapolation and explanation of big ideas (don’t worry, there’s no calculus) with tense mystery and suspense.  There’s competing personalities and agendas, some social and ecological commentary.  It proved to be a edge of the seat experience for much of my read.

Horizon’s strengths were in the presentation of the story world, the explanation of the workings of Magellan and the tense interplay between characters. I didn’t feel quite as convinced by the socio-cultural representation of Earth.  Certainly there was nothing that derailed the story but I felt at times that Keith had done such a great job at other elements that the background for the political and cultural situation on Earth didn’t quite have the same depth.

If you are hankering for some science fiction that makes sense and a tension building read, buy it. Good entertainment doesn’t usually come this cheap.

This copy was provided by the author.

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Dec 1, 2014

The Ark by Annabel Smith

theark-annabelsmithThe book is only the beginning.  But I’ll start there since this is a review.

The Ark presents a form of fiction that while not rare, is perhaps underutilised. I am talking about epistolary fiction, fiction told through letters or documents.  There are examples of the form stretching back six hundred odd years and smattered over all kinds of genre but if you were looking to write a novel it’s not the form I’d immediately choose.


I think it’s a form that battles against the audience’s expectations and experience. It demands quite a clever bit of structuring from the author and  the nature of its communication - essentially stop-start, (a document is experienced as a complete thing in and of itself and has to be written as such to attain verisimilitude) has the potential to break the readers flow.

Essentially it has to look and read like the real thing while delivering the same level entertainment expected of structurally easier formats.

I am, however, glad that Smith took up the challenge.  The Ark is a fairly big diversion from the work she’s previously published and I think she’s done well, very well.

In terms of story she delivers an interesting and timely scenario:

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price.
When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

It reads like an eco/survivor-thriller and it is.  The challenges presented by the form don’t seem to have hampered delivering a tense ending. The beginning is perhaps slower than your normal thriller but this is necessary to build the tension and get the reader reading between the lines.

One of the advantages of the form is that we, the reader, have different perspectives presented to us.  We begin to create one perception of the book’s reality based on the narrative explored in one set of emails, only to have that impacted or even undermined by revelations in other communications.  The reader is caught in a game trying to decide which character is presenting the most accurate state of affairs.  In that sense it’s perhaps more akin to a murder mystery thriller but without Hercule or Miss Marple to hold our hands.

So narratively,  The Ark worked very well for me.  The production of the book, raised the bar further.  If you are going to set a story in 2041 that occurs in cyberspace, then aside from say… presenting the story as an App (which Smith also did) you have to give the reader some small sense that they are not reading a book, you have to transcend the book to some extent. 

I did read my version in ebook form (I'm not sure if there is a paperback) which does a great job normally of simulating a standard paperback.  To break down that sense that we were reading a book though, Smith has designed the documents we read to appear as emails (ie not just text with address headers), blogposts, newspaper extracts, etc. Aside from verisimilitude it generates, this choice gives a literal change of scenery.

To have left the project there, would have been fine.  A nice terse future thriller, that makes some quiet comment on ecological issues and presents the reader with some variety in their narrative consumption. 

Smith went further giving us an expanded interactive multimedia experience and for that you can checkout yourself.

awwbadge_2014This 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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