All posts by mark

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

The Godless by Ben Peek – review

The Godless by Ben Peek

The Godless by Ben Peek is the first in the “Children” trilogy. Peek made big news last year with the sale of this trilogy to Tor UK, a major sale for an Australian author.

I’ve enjoyed Peek’s shorter work in the past. Long time readers of the blog might recall my review of Above/Below - a small press publication by Peek and Stephanie Campisi. Given the high profile sale, my interest in Australian speculative fiction generally and my enjoyment of Peek’s previous work, I’ve kept an eye out for the publication of this book.

I won’t give much of a plot synopsis – there are plenty of other reviews of this book, most of which have a more comprehensive description of the plot. Broadly, this secondary world fantasy is based on the premise that the Gods all killed each other in a divine war thousands of years before. As they slowly pass away, their power is leeching out into the world, and some humans find themselves the unwitting recipient of some fragment of one of the former Gods’ powers. These powers have a wide variety of effects, but most of the people who survive the onset of their powers become essentially immortal.

Most of the story is set around the city of Mireea, built on a mountain range that has formed over the body of one of the dead Gods. Mireea is under threat of siege from an army formed on religious grounds.

There are three main viewpoints for the story, Zaifyr – one of the oldest of the “Gods’ Children”, an immortal thousands of years old, Ayae – one of the newest of the Gods’ Children just coming into her power and Bueralan – a mercenary in charge of a small band  of saboteurs hired to operate in defence of the city.

I must admit that this has been one of my most enjoyable, refreshing reads for 2014.

I loved the premise, and in general the concepts behind the writing. It could just be me bringing my own biases into the reading, but I took a lot of parallels between Peek’s post-Gods world and our own slow move out of the shadow of historical religions. The exploration of what it means for society to stand on its own, without reference to supernatural entities. The taking on of power that has been historically seen as the province of the divine. The need to take responsibility to chart our own path forward. The power of even remnants of religion to inspire terrible deeds in the name of holy mandate. I found Peek’s interrogation of these concepts to be quite powerful and thought provoking. If nothing else, the concepts behind this story would have been enough to hook me in.

But this is no worthy but dry tome, meant to educate rather than entertain. I found the work utterly engaging, and it was only in reflecting on it later than some of these themes came through (and as I say, I could be ascribing my own biases to the work). The use of language in this work is delightful, the pacing superb. I found the characters to be vividly drawn and compelling in their motivations. In short it was an excellent read.

I particularly wanted to highlight Peek’s treatment of time. The work seamlessly switches between the past and the present, echoing his description of the nature of the Gods and subtly preparing the reader for some of the reveals later in the work. While the techniques and style are different, I was left with the same feeling I’d had when I first read Catch 22 – the dips into non-linear story telling was enjoyable on many levels. And to do it with such deceptively simple language and style, the ease with which the reader can follow the changes belying the sophistication of the writing needed to achieve that effect. Just brilliant.

I also loved Peek’s treatment of diversity. The novel is by no means a soap box, but built into the fabric of this world was an embrace of diversity that was refreshing. No “default white” characters here – Peek points out the physical characteristics of all characters as they enter the story. Women and men clearly have an equal presence in society. None of this is done in a preachy way, it is presented as mundane fact, woven into the background of the story.

I found the plot to be mature and engaging, with enough turns to maintain my interest. I cared about the characters. I wanted to know what happened next. I read the book over only a few days (unheard of for me these days!) and I’m already hanging out for the next book in the series.

A fantastic accomplishment well worth the initial publicity, with additional dollops of pleasingness based around the fact it has come from an Australian author. Highly recommended.

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


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

Dimension 6 – Issue 3 available now

The latest edition of Keith Stephenson’s excellent Dimension6 is now available. I’m an affiliate site for Dimension6 so you can download the issue here in either .mobi or .epub format, or you can go to the Dimension6 website to do the same.

This issue features stories by Robert Hood, Steve Cameron and Cat Sparks. Sparks and Hood both won Ditmars this year for their fiction, so the magazine is well worth checking out. Especially considering the price!

Monthly Round Up – August and September 2014

Two months for the price of one – I got to mid September and realised that I hadn’t written an August round up, and by the time I had written it up it was almost time for the September version.

So, last time we were chatting about culture consumed I had, on a whim, started to read the Star Wars Fate of the Jedi series. Well, that was several books ago and I’m still making my way through them. I won’t even attempt to claim that I’m learning something about the cutting edge of the genre or anything, but there are lightsabers. Lots and lots of lightsabers. At a time where I don’t have a lot of spare brain power, this series has been just the right level of escapist-just-before-bed reading that I’ve been able to handle.

Two SF TV series I’ve been watching finished up over the period  – Falling Skies and Defiance. I’ve always been a bit of the fence about Falling Skies. The first couple of seasons seemed as much like a cheap copy of The Walking Dead as anything, with aliens substituted for zombies. But the series has been growing on me, and I’m still watching four seasons in, so that has to tell you something. The latest season provided some interesting character arcs, and although there was still the “reseting to zero” aspect to it (they really struggle to build and maintain anything at all in that show), the final episode did provide some intriguing lead in to the next season (assuming there is going to be a next season of course – I can’t be bothered looking up Wikipedia to find out).

Defiance  is a great little show, isn’t it? Especially seeing as it was originally set up to sell a game, as far as I can tell. The show is set quite a few years after Earth has been cataclysmically (but only partially) terraformed by the arrival of a series of alien races, and is centred on the town of Defiance, a kind of a “wild west” independent frontier town that has sprung up over the ruins of St Louis. This season has an excellent major story arc centring on a world altering diabolical plot and how that impacts with Irisa – one of the main characters. I really enjoyed the series, and thought the expansion of the world building was done quite well. I don’t know whether the series will go on (the Internet is ambiguous about its chances for a third season) but if it doesn’t get renewed, it went out on a good note.

To keep my quotient of genre TV, I’ve started on a few new series. The 100 is a post-apocalypse dystopia and has a Lord of the Flies vibe, as a group of delinquent children get sent down to the surface of Earth from their space station home to test out whether the nuclear radiation has dissipated enough to support life. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes as yet – not hooked but I’ll give it a few more episodes before I decide. My steadfast march into middle age has made me a bit less patient with teen angst, and I haven’t decided yet on whether there is enough genre elements to offset my general grumpiness.

This is going to sound a bit hypocritical given the last statement, but I really like Teen Wolf. Didn’t think I would when I started watching the series on a whim a few years back. But I must admit it has filled a Buffy the Vampire Slayer based hole in my heart. The last season was great, and so far this season seems a little less cohesive, but I’m invested enough in the characters that I don’t really care.

The Originals is a vampire show. I haven’t really watched many of the vampire shows on TV (True BloodThe Vampire Diaries etc) so I’m not sure what started me on this one. Actually I do know, I was travelling for work and the pilot episode was the only thing on TV when I got back to my hotel room. Don’t mind it so far, will let you know more.

Did I mention I’ve given up on The Walking Dead midway through season 4? I can’t tell you why – I like the show, but the second half of the fourth season has been sitting on my Foxtel hard drive for months now, and I’ve deleted to free up the space. I’ll probably get them on DVD some time in the future, but for now I just couldn’t go on. Don’t judge me.

And then there is the new Doctor Who. We’re only a few episodes in, but so far I’m impressed. Capaldi is great, and injects quite an alien persona. Love the Scottish accent, love the lack of a romantic relationship with the companion, stories have been good so far. It is early days, but I’ll remain a fan for the time being.

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy when it came out. Excellent, best Marvel film for a while. Don’t know much about the comic series, but it was a fantastic ensemble cast and great storyline. If you like the Marvel series of superhero films, you’ll like GotG. If you don’t, it’s different enough that it might be worth giving a go.

I’ve been watching the SBS (short) series The Real History of Science Fiction which has been interesting. So far I’ve seen the episodes on time travel, alien invasion and space exploration. It is mostly focused on TV and movies, with the occasional book reference thrown in. Extra points for including an interesting discussion with Ursula Le Guin on Left Hand of Darkness and the use of a gender-less species. I think it is still on SBS’s online catch up TV thingie if you’re in Australia and interested in watching (note if you’re living in the future and back reading this post, the link above probably doesn’t work anymore).

Next month I’ll be moving off my Star Wars kick and getting back to some other reading. The two books on my agenda next are Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller, an indigenous Australian author whose work I encountered in Walking the Clouds (An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction) edited by Grace L. Dillon. I’ve been picking through Walking the Clouds a bit piecemeal – reading some of the essays introducing stories and some of the stories. It is not, as I initially thought, an anthology of short stories. Mostly Dillon has selected extracts from longer works that illustrate the points being made in the introductory essays. The focus seems to be more North American, but there are a good scattering of selections from indigenous populations around the world. I haven’t approached it in a comprehensive enough way to write a review, but Weller’s work did catch my eye from an Australian perspective. It took a bit of work to track down a copy of Land of the Golden Clouds, and I’m looking forward to the read.

The other book I’ll be reading is one that I backed in a recent Kickstarter/Indiegogo/Pozible (one of them) campaign, Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope is an anthology of young adult speculative fiction where the focus has been on lead characters from a diverse range of backgrounds. It has been getting some good buzz lately and the non-backer version is due out soon (I think you can get the eBook now from the publisher, Twelfth Planet Press).

I’m also continuing with my online reading of Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Roberts has been producing the work serially, and at the time of writing I am at chapter 19. Very enjoyable retelling of The Three Musketeers, with gender changes in many of the main characters. Roberts is running a Patreon campaign to gather support for the story, well worth checking out.

In podcast world, I’ve finished my binge listening to all the back-espisodes of Tea and Jeopardy, and I am loving the podcast more and more as time goes by. The host, Emma Newman, has been running a Patreon campaign. Apparently if you support the podcast, you get to read the story of how she came to have her butler Latimer in her employ. When it was first mentioned I though “meh, who cares” but as time goes on I’m finding myself more and more intrigued. I’m getting close to the “I must know” state of being than I ever thought I would. Great interview/radio play format – well worth checking out,   especially if you’re interested in the Angry Robot stable of authors.

I’m now also listening to a new Australian writing podcast So You Want to be a Writer, hosted by Valerie Khoo and Alison Tate. It’s takes the form of writing news and interviews with authors. Not a SF podcast, but does keep my in touch with a broader range of writing news than I might otherwise hear. Main problem is that I don’t think I will ever be able to catch up on the back catalogue, so I might just have to skip forward to the more recent episodes.

That’s all my culture, and when it’s written out like that it seems like a lot more than it really is. Enough from me – what have you been up to?

Authentic Empathy to be published on Antipodean SF

Nuke, the editor over at Antipodean SF, recently put a call out for stories to include in the upcoming 200th issue. He asked for people that had previously published in the magazine, and was particularly interested in people whose first publication was in Antipodean SF.

I ticked those boxes. My first ever publication was a story called Shipwrecked which was published in issue 163 back in January 2012.

Given that I met the criteria, I put in a submission and was very pleased when Nuke accepted my submission for the flash fiction piece Authentic EmpathyAuthentic Empathy will be my 10th story published in Antipodean, and I remain very grateful to Nuke for all the support he has given my work over the last couple of years.

In September 2014 Antipodean is at issue 195, so issue 200 won’t come around until next February. I’ll be very interested to see what else Nuke does for the anniversary.

A full list of my published stories can be found on my bibliography page.

Galactic Chat interview – Alex Adsett

Long term gentle readers of the blog are aware of my dalliance with the Galactic Chat podcast, interviewing the occasional unsuspecting member of the Australian speculative fiction community before their agent tells them it is a bad idea.

Well, this fortnight I decided to skip the middle-person and went straight to interviewing an agent, on the premise that presumably she wouldn’t have anyone to warn her. “Who agents the agents?” I thought to myself. “She’ll never see it coming. It’s fool proof.”

I then may or may not have let out a maniacal cackle.

Alex Adsett, of Alex Adsett Publishing Services, was kind enough to fall into my trap come on the podcast and answer all kinds of questions relating to what’s interesting in the Australian speculative fiction scene, when an author needs an agent and some tips when considering contracts, amongst many other topics.

She was articulate, knowledgeable, engaging and passionate in her advocation for her authors. Sounds like everything someone might look for in an agent.

The interview is online now – you can find it on the Galactic Chat website under episode 55, on iTunes or wherever good podcasts are sold.

Do yourself a favour and check it out.

Rabbits, turtles and binge TV watching

Does anyone else remember the time in the 90s when commercial TV wasn’t showing Star Trek: TNG or Deep Space 9 in any kind of consistent order, and you suddenly discovered that your local Video Ezy was bringing VHS tapes in a couple of episodes at a time? There was a glorious period where you realised that the video stores were a good couple of years ahead of what you’d been watching on TV, and you were able to gorge yourself renting out videos and watching  as many episodes as your sleep deprived brain could cram in each night.

It was a feast. A fiesta. A good time was had by all. Right up until the time when you caught up, and then suddenly you were finding excuses to pop into the store every few days on the off chance they had the next tape.

There’s a word for that. Rhymes with pladdiction.

Now, of course, we engage with TV series this way as a matter of course. They build up on our Foxtel until our hard drives groan with their weight. I recently bought my wife series 1 and 2 of Orphan Black. The actual heart of the gift was not the DVDs themselves, rather it was the sensation of relief she felt when she was able to delete all those episodes from our IQ hard drive and get our “percentage free” figure up into double figures.

And then you find yourself tearing through a season, watching a couple of episodes each evening, having debates about whether you should head off to bed at 10:45 or whether you could fit just one more slice of Walking Dead action in. And it is excellent, consumerism at its best. A constant sugar rush high.

But – and I grant you this may be old age setting in – but…. do you remember any of it?

I enjoy watching series that way. I know I do. I remember enjoying myself. But the episodes all blur together and 6 months later I’ll catch 5 minutes of something while I’m channel surfing, and be struggling to remember whether I’ve seen it before or not.

Recently, I’ve been watching a few shows where I’m seeing the episodes week to week. And, while the shows haven’t necessarily been the highest quality in and of themselves, I’m finding my recall of them is much better. I spend a small amount of time each week wondering what’s going to happen next, testing out particular scenarios in my mind. I’m engaging with them better.

So, culture vultures I’m wondering – is your experience of a TV series changed by the manner in which you consume it? And do you think this will have an impact on future fandom? Will the next generation of fans be as across the detail (“No, I didn’t spend a week obsessing over what happened to the bump on the eye of the lead actress in Continuum. I just pressed play on the next episode”)? Or will they engage utterly differently with the material?

Go on. Be honest. This is a safe space.

I promise.

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.


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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?