All posts by mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

Galactic Chat – Ion Newcombe interview

Regular blog lurkers will know that I have been helping out with the Galactic Chat podcast, interviewing the occasional unsuspecting member of the Australian speculative fiction community when they can’t think of an excuse to get out of it quick enough.

Ion “Nuke” Newcombe is the latest victim of my interviewing technique. Nuke is the editor in chief of the Australian online magazine Antipodean SF and a long time supporter of the speculative fiction scene. Full disclosure: Nuke has published some of my flash fiction and has been both an inspiration and provided valuable support to my writing, making it doubly fun to be interviewing him.

Antipodean SF has been going since 1998, and Nuke has some fascinating insights into trends that have happened in the SF scene over that time. He also has some great insights into the world of flash fiction. Check out the show notes for more details, then get your listening ears on.

Many thanks to Nuke for not only putting up with my questions, but providing such an interesting and wide ranging set of answers!

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



Winter Be My Shield cover

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier is the first book in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. This was Spurrier’s debut novel and she has subsequently gone on to finish the trilogy.

This book has sat on my to be read shelf for a long time. I received it at an Aurealis Award ceremony a couple of years back, and it has sat staring accusingly at me from my bookshelf for all that time. And it is too bad that I waited so long to get into the book, because I really enjoyed it.

Spurrier has constructed a cohesive political and social system that sits on top of an interesting and imaginative form of magic. It took me a little bit of time to place the different countries and their relation to each other, but it clicked into place about a third of the way through the book. Something about the politics seemed fresh, I enjoyed the discovery process as we learnt more about the world.

The setting is well realised, the kind of biting cold that it is hard to imagine in Australia (or at least the parts of Australia that I’ve lived in).

It is not for the faint of heart though – the story is definitely on the grimdark end of the fantasy spectrum. There are some very cranky people that express their crankiness in some very direct ways. However the violence and grit never seem gratuitous, rather they add texture to the world.

The main characters were an interesting lot, and Spurrier explores interesting questions of diversity in her treatment of the recently physically disabled main character and the treatment of magic users in one of the societies in the world.

It is a good start to a series and I will be reading the rest.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


Creative Commons License

This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

 

2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot

The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot (the Snapshot) is something that has happened every couple of years over the last 10 years or so. Basically, a group of bloggers get together and try to interview as many people as they can in the Australian speculative fiction field in a fortnight. Each interviewee is asked 5 questions, mostly tailored to them but with a couple of common elements.

In the 2014 Snapshot, I was fortunate to be interviewer Jason Nahrung’s final interview (edit 23/8/2014: actually he snuck one extra in after me – but I was his final interview at the time I wrote the original post!)  in what must have been an absolute mad scramble. In fact, pop over to Jason’s blog and read a much better description of the Snapshot process . Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Now I’m going to direct you back over to Jason’s blog to read his interview with me. I know – making you go all the way over there and back, just to make you go all the way over there again. I am a cruel and fickle friend, make no mistake.

While answering the fiendish questions Jason posed, I realised this is the first time I’ve been interviewed because of my involvement in the field. It was an odd sensation.

I understand that links to the collected Snapshot interviews will be archived at the SF Signal website. I’ll provide a more precise link once it becomes available.

Edit 19/8/2014

The full list of all 2014 Snapshot interviews is now up on the SF Signal website right here.

Monthly Round Up – July 2014

Not a lot read through the month of July. I’m afraid family, work and writing are combining to chew up a lot of my free time. I recently discovered that some fine folk had ported the old D&D games Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II onto the iPad, and they have sucked away what little time I have left.

I did however finish Auxiliary Justice by Anne Leckie. I enjoyed the book – good solid space opera with an engaging protagonist and interesting concepts around ship consciousness when spread across multiple “individuals” and a society where gender is irrelevant to the point where the protagonist thinks of everyone as “she”. A lot has been written about Auxiliary Justice and I’ve decided that I can add precisely zero to the debate, so I’ll leave it there. Worth a read if you’re into space opera.

I also finished Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier, however I’m writing up a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t give away any thoughts here.

As reported earlier, I’m also reading the serial novel Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A lot of fun so far, and I’ve also been enjoying the ecosystem she has been creating around the novel. As at the time of writing I’ve finished chapter 9 and am a couple of chapters behind.

My six year old daughter and I watched Star Wars for the first time (episode four) and that has given me a bit of Star Wars nostalgia. I’ve dipped into and out of into the Star Wars novels since they first started coming out, and in honour of my daughter’s first step into the universe I’ve decided to dip into a sequence of Star Wars novels I have yet read – the Fate of the Jedi. The series kicks off with a novel called Outcast  by Aaron Allston. Previous forays into the Star Wars novel universe have met with mixed results, it’ll be interesting to see how this goes.

By the way, my daughter’s verdict on Star Wars? “It’s good. I particularly like Princess Leia’s hair.”

On the podcast side of things, I’ve been rapidly running through the back catalog of Tea and Jeopardy by Emma Newman. An interesting SF interview show out of the UK, that adds a little radio play style bit before and after the main interview, in which the interviewee is put into (and often escapes) a spot of mild peril. I’m really enjoying it, and there is a certain sense of continuity that is keeping me listening to the episodes in order. I’m almost caught up!

I thought I’d mention TV here as well, if there is anything of interest. Main genre TV watching for me at the moment is Continuum (the Canadian SF series about a time travelling cop from the future and the group of terrorists she’s chased back to our time). This season has been good – I’ve particularly liked the greying of the lines between “good guy” and “bad guy”.

I’ve also been watching the first few episodes of season 2 of Defiance, which has been suitably interesting. More on that in future months.

The Tomorrow People is heading towards the season (and series) finale. I think the show had some potential, but I can understand why it got axed – it wasn’t quite hitting that potential.

Looking forward to the launch of BBC First on Foxtel where they are giving us all 10 episodes of Musketeers, which looks very good from the previews.

I’ve recorded the first couple of episodes of The Strain as well, but I’m as yet undecided as to whether I’ll be watching.

That’s all for this month. What have you been reading/listening to/watching? Any suggestions?

Writing update – all in the computer

So, about four months back I posted that I’d finally written the words “THE END” in a notebook, signally the first draft of my novel length work was complete.

Of course, that was longhand writing. I still had about 30,000 words that were sitting in notebooks that needed to be typed up.

About 8 weeks ago I posted that, due to starting writing other things, I hadn’t quite got around to writing up those words. I promised you, dear reader, that I would knuckle down and get this bad boy written up. You have been very patient, and as such I am pleased to finally reward that patience by announcing that, last night, I once again wrote the words “THE END” – this time on the keyboard.

As per my current writing process, I have been taking the chance to tweak things as I type them up, but the work is still very rudimentary. Still, it is now at least a complete electronic entity that has been backed up in a few locations. It’s good to know that a freak laptop explosion that causes my writing desk to catch on fire and incidentally burns all my notebooks is no longer the risk it once was.

I mean the likelihood is the same, but the consequences are way less.   I’m downgrading that sucker from “high” to “medium” risk overall.

One of the advantages of typing everything up is getting more accurate stats about the impact of my new writing approach. The total length of the book as it stands is just over 110,000 words. You might recall that I decided to start writing one page a night as a mandatory minimum, and that one page equals around 100 words in my notebooks. This was to try and get some kind of momentum with my writing.

I had been a bit concerned that this would mean that I only ended up writing the 700 words a week minimum, however during the time that I used this technique, I averaged about 2,800 words a week, demonstrating that the “make yourself do something even if it is tiny” technique really works for me.

So, what now? I’m reading through a book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’m generating a Kindle version of the book so I can read it in a different format and really start to wince at the cliches and gaping continuity errors. And the telling, not showing. Soooo much telling!

(BTW is it a cliche yet for writers who are talking about their first drafts to say there are too many cliches? Ah, what the hell. This is the first draft of this post as well)

From now on I think I will alternate weeks, one week writing new work, one week editing the novel. We’ll see how that goes.

So, that’s the end of my writing update. How is your writing going? If you are not writing or are not a writer at all:

  1. Why not?
  2. Feel free to update us on any other hobbies and pastimes that you happen to indulge in.

Come on. Share with the group.

Watermarks by Jason Nahrung (Cosmos magazine)

I don’t normally mention individual stories that I come across, but one of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, has a story in the latest edition of the Cosmos magazine (June/July 2014). The story is called Watermarks.

Cosmos is an Australian popular science magazine, where local speculative fiction luminary Cat Sparks edits the fiction. She usually chooses stories that are related to science in some way, and has a very discerning eye (so discerning that I wouldn’t even dare submit any of my work!). But that eye for quality means that you can always be guaranteed a good read with whatever short story she chooses.

And so it is the case with Watermarks, which represents a vignette of life in a future, drowned Brisbane. It is a story of unrequited love, of the slow erosion of society when faced with unparalleled but sedate disaster and of the importance of sunblock. I enjoyed it very much, and recommend picking up a copy of Cosmos at your local newsagent and giving it a read.

Dimension6 – Issue 2

Dimension6 is a free speculative fiction magazine, produced by Coeur de Lion Publishing and issue 2 is out now!

This website is an affiliate of Dimension 6, where you can download each issue.

Issue 2 – (July 2014)

Issue 2 features:

‘At Dawn’s Speed’ by Dirk Strasser
Swift and her tribe have been running their whole lives, because the touch of the sun brings the ‘silvering’.

_________________________________

‘Upon a Distant Shore’ by Alan Baxter
Astronaut Anatoly Novikov wanted a mission that would inscribe his name on the ages. Finally he got one.

_________________________________

‘He Ain’t Dead’ by Robert N Stephenson
It’s simple really. Don’t mess with native American burial mounds.

Monthly round up – June 2014

I took two novella length works for my plane reading when going down to the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Horn and Bleed by Peter M. Ball were published by Twelfth Planet Press a few years back. Both have the same main protagonist, who is a burnt out ex-cop with a strong connection into the world of the fae. I enjoyed both works, I liked the hard boiled main character, the story lines were entertaining and moved along at a good pace. I think both could have stood to be a little longer, but that is probably because I was enjoying them and didn’t want them to end quite so quickly!

I also read the latest Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game. What can I say, I like the series. Not much really to add to previous reviews – this one was a heist novel, moved along at a good pace and I liked the unexpected plot development towards the end involving a particular kind of sword. I think the novels are starting to overly rely on the intervention of the Christian God, with a little too much “let me explain away this giant coincidence that resolves the novel in a  very convenient way by invoking one religion’s God and his/her ineffable plan” for my liking. But hey, when you back your characters into the kinds of corners that Butcher tends to, you probably need an all powerful deity save the day.

Apart from that I’m still working on Ancillary Justice and Winter Be My Shield. I’m enjoying both books but not getting a lot of time to read.

On the TV front, I started watching the new series of Defiance which is being fast tracked from the US on Foxtel. I enjoy the show – feels like a well used universe and I like the interactions between the alien races (feels a bit like Farscape from that perspective). Will be interested to see where they take the season this year.

I’ve also been watching the new season of ArcherArcher: Vice. Ah, Archer. So problematic. So funny.

Continuum is a good Canadian sci-fi series, well worth checking out. I’ve also been watching the remake of The Tomorrow People, but mainly in solidarity from vague but fond memories of the series from my youth. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

That’s all for this month. Stay tuned.

Continuum 10 – There and Back Again

Over the June long weekend, the 53rd annual Australian speculative fiction national convention was held. This year, the “nat-con” was hosted by Continuum 10, an annual SF convention held in Melbourne.

My decision to attend was a little last minute. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get away, even though I do like trying to get to at least one convention each year.

However, due to my very kind wife I was able to free up some time, so Saturday morning I flew down to Melbourne to attend the Con.

I had a great time, it was fantastic to sit in on some interesting panels, attend a couple of book launches (and snag a very limited edition of Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections) and catch up with lots of people. Some highlights included:

  • Catching up with my fellow Galactic Chat podcasters Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, Alex Pierce and David McDonald. And then winning a Ditmar with them!
  • Catching up with writers like Jason, Kirstyn, Jodi, Ellen, Sean and many others and hearing about where everyone is up to with their writing, getting some advance intelligence on what might be coming next and generally talking shop.
  • Having lunch on Saturday with Tess, who was new to the convention scene and with whom I had an absolutely delightful conversation about her writing ambitions.
  • Attending the launch of Kirstyn McDermott’s book Perfections, which had previously been released as an e-book but was in print for the first time. Unfortunately, the batch of books Kirstyn had just picked up from the printer had the last page missing, however Kirstyn turned disaster into a marketing triumph by promising new copies for anyone who purchased the book, as well as personally writing a little vignette ending in each book purchased (and renaming it “Imperfections“). It was a great reaction to what would have been a very stressful situation, and my copy of Imperfections is now sitting proudly on the book shelf.
  • Attending several panels where people talked about their own experience engaging with speculative fiction from a range of different perspectives than my own, including different religious beliefs, different sexualities, different disabilities and different mental states.
  • Two fantastic guest of honour speeches by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Jim C. Hines. Unfortunately due to my early departure I wasn’t able to hear Danny Oz and Sharon Moseley speak on the Monday.
  • Some great meals and some great bar discussions on a wide range of topics.
  • In between sessions and programs having some time to write and edit some of my work in the hotel room.

I had a great time, and I know the party kicked on after my departure (unfortunately I had to head back to Sydney Monday morning and missed most of the Monday program).

Thanks to everyone who I had a chance to speak with over the weekend, and to anyone I missed out on talking to there is always next time!

And the winner is…

So, as regular readers of this blog know I’ve been helping out with a podcast called Galactic Chat, in which we interview people in the speculative fiction field. Usually authors and usually Australian, although not exclusive on either front.

Recently, our podcast was nominated for a Ditmar (which are the Australian national voted speculative fiction awards) in the Best Fan Publication in Any Medium category. It was a great honour to be nominated, however we were up against some absolutely fantastic competition (the likes of Galactic SuburbiaThe Writer and the Critic, The Coode St podcast - all of which are up for the internationally recognised Hugo award this year). I don’t know about the others, but I spent quite some time practicing my gracious loser face, in case the television cameras panned to me when they announced someone else won.

(What do you mean it wasn’t broadcast on national television? What about local television? You mean that was just some guy with his own video camera? Sheesh)

There were a lot of awards to give out (the Victorian Chronos Awards, the Ditmars and a few additional individual awards that defy classification), but MC’s George Ivanoff and Narelle Harris did an excellent job keeping things moving. Soon enough we got to our category, and I sat in the audience with what I hoped was a congratulatory grin on my face.

And then we won!

It was a shock, I can tell you. Sean Wright, our intrepid leader and absolute backbone of the Galactic Chat podcast, led us up on stage and before I knew it we were each being handed a trophy.

Me and my DitmarAs you can see from the photo, it is a very pretty trophy.

Sean and Alex did the talking for us on stage, but I’d like to use this post to thank my fellow interviewers (Sean Wright, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs and David McDonald) and in particular thank our fellow nominees – I listen to all the other podcasts and always take a huge amount of enjoyment from them and both fanzines listed have a long and distinguished history in the Australian speculative fiction scene. I’d also like to thank Jason Nahrung and Keith Stevenson, who were the very patient subjects of my newbie interview techniques during the qualifying period.

Congratulations to all the winners on the night, in particular Sean Wright who also took home the Best Fan Writer award.

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who voted for us. You know who you are.

For a full list of all nominees, you can go here. At the time of writing, a list of the full results hadn’t been published, but I shall come back and edit this post when they have.

Edit 11/6/2014

The results are on Wikipedia now.