Mar 30, 2015

eBook Review – War Stories by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak (Eds.)

war-storiesThere’s comfort for me, as a reader, in Military science fiction.  A result perhaps of early encounters with Star Wars (with its military elements), stories like Philip E High’s, Come Hunt An Earthman and the Battletech novels. Add to this, Saturday showing’s of 50’s and 60’s Hollywood war movies and its all very familiar territory.

At some point though I felt as though I grew away from the enjoyment of reading about a band of heroes running off to fight an evil enemy, an other. Naturally, as you grow up things fade to shades of grey.  Sure I can be entertained by Independence Day and the seemingly endless iterations of War of the Worlds, I can even appreciate the extremely well done, paint by numbers movie that was Battlefield: Los Angeles.  But to really enjoy Military science fiction these days, there’s got to be a bit more meat to the story, something along the lines of District 9 in literary form. War Stories fit that bill for me. 

Aliens, hi-tech goodies, horror, slow apocalypse, genetic experimentation and cyber warfare, it’s all here along with good deal of variety and smart storytelling. With such a wide scope the editors have broken the collection down into broad categories: Wartime systems, Combat, Armoured Force and Aftermath.  I note too, that in typing this there’s been an effort to try and present the totality of war, its mechanics, the combat and what comes after.

The collection starts with one story outside those categories, Graves by Joe Haldeman, which is more horror than sci-fi and is historical (Vietnam War), still a very nice piece though.  Following the Haldeman is Ken Liu’s In The Loop a story that really did set up my expectations that this was a collection I was going to enjoy. It seemed to underline the cost of war to its participants (even when distanced) as well as problem of relying on hi-tech equipment even when that equipment is designed with the best of intentions. Indeed most of the stories in Wartime Systems seemed to echo this last point. Equipment failure seems to add realism (at the same time as it adds story conflict) to all war stories.  The other two standouts for me in this category were: The Wasp Keepers, which explored the problems inherent with maintaining a peace through strict surveillance and the effect the suppression of outward violence can have on a populace and individuals and Non-Standard Deviation which I found to be a smart take on the development of AI enemys for training combat troops.

In the Combat category it was Linda Nagata’s Light and Shadow and Thoraiya Dyer’s One Million Lira, that caught my attention.  Light and Shadow examines the problem of how to develop the most effective soldier so that when they are placed under pressure they are calm and react in the most efficient way.  In Nagata’s world the military has achieved this through linked skull caps that bind the unit together and suppress emotions/reactions of individual soldiers when it’s determined appropriate.  The tone of the story echoed very much some current discussion the Australian community is having about treatment of veterans – how we train people to deal with combat stress but seemingly abandon them when that training eventually fails or the psychological effects catch up with individuals.  One Million Lira was simply a good, well paced sniper story featuring a female protagonist and antagonist, thankfully absent were powerful US or European powers, this was a dirty, low scale war fought between those left behind.

Warhosts by Yoon Ha Lee in the Armoured Force section was worth a second read and is possibly the best in the collection for me.  It mixed genetic and biological enhancement to a degree to which the reader feels that the humanoids presented are no longer really human. The conflict is between Purples and Reds, between forces that can manipulate their combatants genetically, grafting weapons biologically. It’s wonderfully visceral in its description and alien in its telling. I found Warhosts to be very unsettling in a good way.

Of the final section Aftermath, two stories stood out, combining previously used ideas to good effect.  In War Dog we follow the life of a retired major, a veteran of a war with China and the second American Civil War. It’s set in a Florida ruled by the Christian States of America,  home to fallout of chemical weapons that turn humans into walking fungal spores and where genetic abominations used in the war are hunted down.  War Dog is part love story, part statement on the harsh realities of the aftermath of War. The final story War 3.01 finished off the collection with an interesting take on psychological warfare - an information war fought inside our internet enhanced heads.

Intelligent and entertaining is how I’d describe War Stories with diversity in authors, content and storytelling.  I always felt as if I was reading something new.

This copy was provided free of charge.

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Mar 27, 2015

Review of Australian Fiction Vol. 13 Issue 6 – Warren and Goldsmith

imageThe Review of Australian Fiction continues to support not only Australian speculative fiction but Australian fiction in general, publishing two stories every two weeks. Volume 1, Issue 6 delivers us two great Australian writers, one notably at the top of her game and the other who should be making waves in the very near future.

Kaaron Warren’s Mine Intercom, is everything you’d expect of a Warren story - unsettling and off kilter but subtle and familiar.  It’s well paired with Goldsmith’s The Jellyfish Collector, which while still speculative and unsettling is tonally much lighter.

The Mine Intercom is a story about Xanthe, a resident of an apartment building constructed over a mine that was the location of a mine collapse 20 years previously, entombing miners .  Part of her reason for moving there is the rumour that residents hear voices of the departed and she hopes that she might be able to communicate with her sister.  Warren hooks you in early with sympathy for the protagonist and the life she has endured and then strings you along with hope.  Great stuff.

Thankfully The Jellyfish Collector begins somewhat lighter with aquariums, beaches, and fond childhood memories.  The hardships that the protagonist Eva endures are those which most of us are likely to encounter at some stage.  The reader is treated to snippets of Eva’s life and her her trajectory from a child interested in Jellyfish and the sea, to a marine biologist attempting to protect a particular marine ecosystem from development.  There’s faint commentary on political indifference to the environment but essentially it’s interesting science mixed with the fantastic.

The Warren leaves me feeling delightfully chilled. The Goldsmith, while a kinder tale, leaves me with a sense of sad longing.

This copy was provided free of charge. You can subscribe to RAF here.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.






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Dimension 6 Issue 4 is Live


Just click on the badge to the left and you will download your copy of Issue 4 (in epub format, mobi can be found at this link)

This issue features the wonderful talents of 

  • Jen White,
  • Chris McMahon
  • Bren MacDibble.


What is Dimension 6 and How did it come about?

Short answer - a collection of free fiction, free from a price tag and free from DRM but containing the some of the cream of Australian SpecFic Writing.

Long answer – read Angela Slatter’s interview with Dimension 6 publisher Keith Stevenson of Coeur De Lion Publishing.


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Mar 23, 2015

Guest Post – Fantasy: The Versatile Genre by Rowena Cory Daniells

To celebrate the release of the Fall of the Fair Isle Omnibus, one of my favourite Australian fantasy writers has agreed to write a guest blog.  Please enjoy Rowena’s post on:


Fantasy: The Versatile Genre

Science Fiction books can be SF-thrillers, action adventure and mysteries. It is a versatile genre and often explores the philosophical theme: As technology advances will we lose our humanity?

Meanwhile, Fantasy is known for the Quest: Can we defeat evil (which is usually encapsulated in a magical being or object) so that good can triumph. But fantasy is not limited to the black and white portrayal of good and evil.

With King Rolen’s Kin, I set out to write the kind of rollicking action adventure fantasy that kept me up all night when I first discovered fantasy. The narrative was supposed to be an examination of power and what people will do for it, following King Rolen’s four children and the choices they make when their kingdom is invaded. I concentrated on the King’s second son, Byren but before I knew it Byren’s friend, Orrade revealed that he was gay and this led to complications for Byren. Protecting his friend left him vulnerable.

I found myself exploring the question of friendship, brotherhood and being true to oneself. By the end of book four we saw what Byren would do for power and the consequences even if the motivations were pure.


When I wrote The Outcast Chronicles I knew this trilogy would explore two related themes. The narrative followed the fate of a race of mystical beings called the T’En. This gave me a perfect opportunity to explore racism in the denatured setting of fantasy. And since the T’En society was divided into sisterhoods and brotherhoods, I was also able to explore issues of gender and trust. This trilogy was a finalist in the Hemming Award 2013.

The Judges said: “The Outcast Chronicles trilogy is a tour de force of extraordinarily detailed world building. Rowena has created political intrigue, attempts at genocide, a dangerous world of magic that many believe to be gods, with flawed, noble and ignoble characters on all sides. There is poetry and wit in the writing, and characters that stay with you long after you have finished this gripping trilogy.”

I quote this because the fantasy genre gave me the opportunity to delve into characters who were ‘different’ without alienating the reader due to a preconceived prejudice.

3covers72dpi copy

The Fall of Fair Isle was first published between 1999 and 2003, released as three books, now Solaris have released it as an omnibus edition. Set 600 years after The Outcast Chronicles it can be read as a stand-alone.

This is a more intimate story than The Outcast Chronicles, delving into the motivations and dilemmas of the three main characters. Imoshen, named after her famous ancestor, the last surviving member of the royal family, must surrender her stronghold and her island to General Tulkhan, son of the Ghebite King’s concubine, who conquered Fair Isle to win his father’s love. She agrees to help him smooth the transition of power. But all does not go smoothly because Reothe, Imoshen’s former betrothed, has survived and he needs her help to win back Fair Isle.  Should she keep her word to the General or is she bound by her older vow to Reothe?

At its core The Fall of Fair Isle is an exploration of duty and honour, and because Imoshen is a throwback to her T’En ancestors the narrative also examines gender and racism.

King Rolen’s Kin was a rollicking adventure fantasy, The Outcast Chronicles was a political intrigue fantasy and The Fall of Fair Isle is an intimate glimpse of people caught in the crucible of power. All three examine honour and the choices we make using the fantasy genre as the medium.

This genre is really much more versatile than people give it credit and I love it when I find an author who is willing to push the boundaries.

I hope readers will enjoy The Fall of Fair Isle.



FoF_Text The Fall of the Fair Isle can be ordered through booktopia.


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Mar 20, 2015

Norma K Hemming Shortlist 2015

wonders-cover-usa-web-192x300 The Australian Science Fiction Foundation has announced the shortlist for the 2015 Norma K Hemming Award.  The award is given to works that focus on topics of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in speculative fiction.  This year’s list is fairly varied.  The only work I was not aware of is Paddy O’Reilly’s, though the more I think about it I may have seen him her interviewed on the Book Show.   Booktopia have some signed copies here, if you are quick.

EDIT: Paddy O’Reilly is actually a woman.  My apologies to the author who I obviously hadn’t heard of.


The Female Factory  collection by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter, published by Twelfth Planet Press in November 2014

Nil By Mouth novel by LynC, published by Satalyte Publishing in June 2014

North Star Guide Me Home novel by Jo Spurrier, published by HarperVoyager in May 2014

Razorhurst novel by Justine Larbalestier, published by Allen & Unwin in July 2014

The Wonders novel by Paddy O'Reilly published by Affirm Press in July 2014


Further information can be found on the Awards here.


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Mar 10, 2015

Book Review – The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

the-beesPoetry can be a risk, hence my suggestion that if you are dipping your toes in for the first time, libraries (if the Neo-conservatives in you country haven’t closed them) are an excellent place to begin.

Poet Laureates of the American or English variety are also good places to start. The Bees is Carol Ann Duffy’s first book as England’s Poet Laureate and demonstrates her amazing and varied facility with form and sound.

The theme of Bees ties this collection together, but you don’t have to be a budding apiarist to get full enjoyment.  It’s not all about Bees.  Most poetry collections I have read before present a poet with a very distinct style or tone.  Reading Duffy’s The Bees I am truly in awe of her facility with sound, particularly internal rhyme and how she manipulates the speed of the poem.

If you think that rhyme or playfulness with sound is dead in contemporary poetry than I think you should check Duffy out.  That’s not to say its all sunshine and roses.  Duffy brings uses her considerable skill to tackle the serious themes in poetry.  Take The Last Post as an example:



Note the skilful internal rhyme?

I think poetry is at its best when its accessible (generally plain speaking) and when it starts to use the tools that are particular to it (rhyme) for greatest advantage.  I enjoyed this collection enough to purchase it and I am confident enough that I’d pick up anything of Duffy’s and find it entertaining.

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Mar 9, 2015

Poetry Book Review – Weather Central by Ted Kooser


Ted Kooser like Billy Collins, another American poet laureate, strikes me as a keen observer of the everyday. Reading Weather Central I am drawn into the culture and rhythm of the American Midwest.  Hardships (past and present) faced by rural communities, the rhythm of life. He’s one of those poets who can draw our mind to an everyday event and make it seem momentous or profound.

His conversational tone, his uncomplicated diction and syntax, make him accessible to a broad audience and I’d especially recommend him to starting readers of poetry or those with an interest in extending their experience of free verse that isn’t too confronting in format. 



A fenced-in square of sand and yellow grass,

five miles or more from the nearest town

is the site where the County Poor Farm stood

for seventy years, and here the County

permitted the poor to garden, permitted them

use of the County water from a hand-pump,

lent them buckets to carry it spilling

over the grass to the sandy, burning furrows

that drank it away—a kind of Workfare

from 1900. At night, each family slept

The American Midwest has some cultural similarities with the rural communities I live in, both in terms of relation to the land and the effect of economic decline.  Kooser’s focus on this subject matter strikes a chord with me and I think if you're a fan of someone like Phillip Hodgins (though he was much more of a rhymer) you’ll enjoy Kooser’s work.

Overall I found the tone of the work to be reflective.  If you like being drawn into a brief poetic tale you won’t be disappointed.

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Book Review – The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

the-three-body-problemI have been interested in The Three Body Problem since I heard Ken Liu talking about his translation of it on our own Galactic Chat podcast.  I do really like Ken’s work ( I am eagerly awaiting his fantasy novel) and I was also interested in seeing the difference in the translated work and Ken’s own style.

So what to expect from China’s most popular science fiction author?

Well if you were thinking of some workers paradise in the stars, where the dirty capitalists learn the error of their ways, you’ve possibly been watching too much Fox news.

We begin in the late 60’s and the Cultural Revolution is in full swing.  For the rest of the novel the reader moves between that past and the present until the two meet in each timeline’s important characters. So initially The Three Body Problem had a strong historical feel to it and I got a sense that Cixin was really laying some very solid foundations. 

For much of the novel the reader along with Wang Miao, the nanotech researcher who is our present day protagonist, is pulled along by a mystery; strange deaths of scientists involved in fundamental physics research, virtual reality games that seem to simulate a mathematical conundrum and an alien civilisation, a powerful alien force that seems to be able to affect the universe on a fundamental level.

The Three Body Problem is fairly low key science fiction in the sense that it probably closer to the heart of traditional science fiction where a story is built around solid scientific ideas or process.  Indeed we never leave Earth or the current day in this book.  Much of The Three Body Problem deals with the characters and how the cultural revolution directly or indirectly affected their lives and I suspect gives strong reasons behind future actions.

What kept me reading was the mystery, while some of the science had me wavering it was the revelations that Cixin artfully drip fed to us that kept me turning the page.  The Three Body Problem is more Contact than Leviathan Wakes, but its an exceedingly well done work and I find myself anticipating the next novel.

On the translation I believe Ken has done a great job, I certainly don’t feel like I am reading Ken Liu but I am entertained and intrigued nonetheless.

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Mar 8, 2015

eBook Review – Cranky Ladies of History


I was a backer of the Pozible project that made this book a reality.  Now whether that predisposes me to like Cranky Ladies of History, I’m not sure.  I am both fan and friends of the editors and some of the contributors.  Still I shelled out $50 upfront and no amount of friendship or fanboishness would assuage the pain if the book turned out to be a stinker.

Thankfully, perhaps even a little surprisingly, Cranky Ladies of History, turned out to be a great collection.  I was expecting the collection to be good, a belief firmly founded in Tehani Wessely’s and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ eye for good story and good project.  I wasn’t expecting to be quite as fulfilled and engaged. 

Touted as a celebration of 22 historical women, some of whom we might be familiar with but many of whom have been relegated to history or specialist courses of study, Cranky Ladies of History demonstrates that there is ample interesting and underutilised historical material for writers to work with if they want to go with female protagonists. 

Many of us are used to reworkings of King Arthur, Richard III, and William Wallace.  What I found delight in here, was not only original takes on some of the women that I did know about but exciting unearthings of those I hadn’t read about before.

The works run the gamut of straight historical to historical fantasy.  Deborah Biancotti manages to give us a rather straight historical retelling of Elisabeth Bathory or  Erzsébet Báthory.  It was a pleasantly free of vampires, the history being sometimes far more gruesome than the fantasy.  Dirk Flinthart on the other hand manages to give us Irish myth with a tint of Cthulu mythos, in his piece on Grace O'Malley.

While all the stories were self contained, many of them left me hungering for more, for longer tales. Thanks to Foz Meadows and Bright Moon, I want to read more of Khutulun, cousin of Kublai Khan and not the pacified version that informs the western version in Turandot. Likewise, Haava Murat’s, The Pasha, the Girl and the Dagger would easily sate those looking for that historical milieu of  European Christianity versus the Ottoman empire without having to resort to endless retellings of the life of Vlad the Impaler.

I am sure that it would be possible to fill a book with stories from European history alone, so it’s also encouraging to see the diversity in this collection from Amanda Pillar’s tale of Hatshepsut and her daughter, to Thoraiya Dyer’s story of Queen Ranavalona Manjak of Madagascar.

For me Cranky Ladies of History is a unique project in that it delivers entertainment while spotlighting 22 women of history that we should all know more about, even if it’s for the simple reason that their stories are different to those we are used to hearing.

The review was conducted on an advanced reading copy.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Mar 7, 2015

Book Release – The Fall of the Fair Isle by Rowena Cory Daniells

unnamedFor those of you who missed out on Rowena’s first trilogy, she is set to rerelease it as an omnibus edition in the coming month. I’ll keep you updated as more details come to light.  The artwork as always, looks magnificent.








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Incoming - Defying Doomsday Fundraiser

12pp-newpink-webLG The folks at Twelfth Planet Press are going to be fundraising for an anthology to be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench.  Titled Defying Doomsday, it’s an anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled and chronically-ill characters.  Here’s a snippet from the press release:

The anthology will be varied, with characters experiencing all kinds of disability from physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters. There will also be a variety of stories, including those that are fun, sad, adventurous and horrific.

The stories in Defying Doomsday will look at periods of upheaval from new and interesting perspectives. The anthology will share narratives about characters with disability, characters with chronic illnesses and other impairments, surviving the apocalypse and contending with the collapse of life as they know it.


Fundraising for the project will launch on April 1st and they will be attempting to raise $13,000 through Pozible and with the assistance of a Tasmanian Government Crowbar grant.  For further info check out the specific landing page at Twelfth Planet Press.


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Mar 1, 2015

The Stars like Sand gets some lovin’ from the SMH

starsThe Stars Like Sand Anthology that I featured in last year has a bit of review love from the Sydney Morning Herald.  I like how the reviewer begins:

One of the most enterprising, unusual and rewarding anthologies of the last year is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, edited by New Zealand writer Tim Jones and Australian poet PS (Penelope) Cottier.

Read more: SMH



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