All posts by mark

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

Clariel by Garth Nix – a review

Clariel by Garth Nix

And now for a review of the last finalist for Best Novel in the 2015 Ditmar Awards, Clariel by Garth Nix.

Nix is an accomplished and successful Australian author. Clariel represents a return to his Old Kingdom series of young adult novels. He was recently interviewed by Alex on the Galactic Chat podcast that I am a (very) occasional contributor to.

For this novel, Nix goes back several hundred years before the events of his original trilogy. He tells the story of Clariel, a young women forced to move to the big city so her mum can take up a big career opportunity. She doesn’t want to go, and spends much of her time trying to find a way to run away from home and return to her beloved forest, which she loves. These themes of being forced down a path by your parents are relatively common in books focused on a younger readership, but I must admit they don’t really resonate with me.

I’ve given it some consideration, and I’ve decided I don’t know what to think of the character of Clariel. At times she was a bit one note, she was certainly selfish and self absorbed. It was an interesting study of someone who gets pushed out of the next into the wide world and utterly fails to cope with it. Nix has written some strong female leads in the other Old Kingdom books, it was slightly disconcerting to read what amounted to quite a weak character. It had that kind of character arc that I’ve begun thinking of as the Breaking Bad arc – where the main character is faced with a life crisis and choses to let it twist them into something horrible, rather than rising to the challenge. I kept hoping that Clariel would pull out of the death spiral. It didn’t happen. But still, there was something strangely compelling about following her down. In the end though, I ended up feeling quite neutral towards her.

I did, however, enjoy the fact that Clariel herself was asexual, and Nix portrayed that element very well. Given the amount of stuff that was happening to her, the ability to ignore romantic overtures was a blessing. Her inability to connect with other people emotionally both added to the depth of her character and to the plot – it made some of the mistakes she made more understandable and led her to ignore choices that would seem obvious to the reader. All in all, Clariel was a complex, but ultimately unsympathetic character for me.

The portrayal of the Old Kingdom 600 years in the past was engaging. I liked the apathetic nature of the Kingdom, a King who has given up ruling, an Abhorsen who would prefer to hunt wild boar than get anywhere near a dead spirit, Guilds ruling the roost. This made for a different setting than the previous trilogy, and I enjoyed exploring it.

One of my favourite elements of the previous novels were the interplay between the Old Kingdom and the mundane world. The mundane world didn’t get a look in this time, and I did miss that element. Still, given the timescale involved (600 years in the past) it wouldn’t have been the same kind of non-magical world anyway.

When I read the original Old Kingdom trilogy, I noted that there was a lot of head hopping between characters which I found quite distracting. It was the same in this novel, although given how accomplished a writer Nix is (I thought all other elements of the writing were superb from a technical perspective) I assume the head hopping is a deliberate choice. I’ve read a couple of novels aimed at younger readers recently, and I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. Perhaps this is a feature of the genre? If so, it is a feature that I wish they’d discontinue.

Nix is an excellent sentence by sentence writer though, and despite the elements of the book I wasn’t keen on, I still found this a page turning read. I am very much looking forward to his next Old Kingdom novel, which starts off in the mundane world (I am led to believe).

If you enjoyed the other books in this series, I think you will enjoy this one as well. If you haven’t yet tried the series, I suggest starting at the start with Sabriel.

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.

Bound by Alan Baxter – a review

Bound by Alan Baxter

In service to my quest to read all the finalists for Best Novel in the 2015 Ditmar Awards, I next turned my attention to Bound, a dark urban fantasy by Australian horror and dark fantasy author Alan Baxter.

The story setup is relatively straightforward. Alex Caine is a cage fighter with a reputation for winning. He has the uncanny ability to read what his opponent is about to do a few seconds before they do it, which he puts down to lots and lots of training. But it turns out Caine is a wizard of sorts, albeit an untrained one. His capacity to read people is supernatural, and he is drawn into that supernatural world by a mysterious Englishman who tempts Caine with the promise of learning more about his abilities. Of course, things go horribly downhill from there.

With his new mentor dead and finding himself semi-enthralled to a powerful dark supernatural being, Caine is in a race to discover a power that might free him, accompanied by Silhouette, a first generation Kin (read Fae/Fairy) who takes a shine to Caine.

First up, this story is dark. There is violence. There is sex. There is swearing. There are kids in danger. If you don’t like those things, then this probably isn’t the book for you. I like dark fantasy, and it turns out dark urban fantasy is also my cup of tea. But I could imagine certain readers struggling with the content.

Caine is very competent all the way through the book. As well as being a gifted fighter, he is a magical prodigy of sorts and soon has his power augmented. While this does lead to a “training montage” feel to how he acquires skills so rapidly, it was kind of necessary given other choices Baxter makes. The story has a thriller pacing, moving very rapidly from action scene to action scene to keep the protagonists off guard and on the run. As such, it would have been very difficult to justify sending Caine off to Hogwarts for 6 months to really grapple with his newfound powers.

Also, Baxter matches Caine’s growing powers with some truly scary and bad-arse villains, ensuring that you always feel that even with all his rapidly accumulated power, he is still somewhat out of his depth. As such, Caine’s acquisition of power seems more natural while reading the book, and it was only really in retrospect that I contemplated the speed with which that power came.

Perhaps because of that thriller pacing, we don’t get a lot of Caine’s backstory. Again, that didn’t really bother me while reading the book – the action kept barreling along at a very satisfying pace. Baxter builds a very interesting world, with a comprehensive feeling history to many of the races/beings encountered. There are two more books in the Alex Caine series and it will be interesting to see how the world continues to grow and whether we find out more about Caine along the way.

Baxter himself is a highly trained martial artist who runs his own kung fu school, and there is a sense of authenticity in the fight scenes. I just hope he doesn’t have his real life students act out any of the more graphic scenes to ensure authenticity! Baxter is also the author of a short eBook called “Write the Fight Right” which I have found to be an excellent reference book.

All in all, Bound is a fast paced and very entertaining read for those with a penchant for darker works. Well worth a read.

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.

Monthly roundup – April 2015

So, what have I been reading this month? I read Glenda Larke’s second book in the The Forsaken Lands series, The Dagger’s Path. I’ll write up a review for the Australian Women’s Writer’s Reading Challenge eventually, so not much more to say.

Having read two of the five “Best Novel” nominations for the 2015 Ditmar awards, I decided to make my way through the other three. I’ll be posting reviews, but for the record I finished:

I’ve just started an Archie Weller novel, but it is a bit heavy going. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of the language soon.

Game of Thrones started again, but I haven’t watched any of it. Don’t spoil it for me. Seriously.

I did however manage to see the series Agent Peggy Carter from the good people at Marvel. Really liked the setting and the 1950s vibe. With the high tech gizmos that fill the other Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings, there is something refreshing about getting back to some simpler material. The acting is good and some interesting takes on sexism and other gender related issues. I liked the fact that it was only 8 episodes long – kept the story tight and moving at a fair clip. Hope we see more in the future.

Speaking of TV, I also watched a series on Foxtel called The Librarians. It has sort of a Warehouse 13 vibe going for it – the Library collects magical artefacts and stores them away. A bit simplistic in parts, but it is one that I can watch with the kids which is always a bonus. I had the feeling I’d missed some backstory, and a little bit of research told me that the series was based on a series of three “Librarian” movies produced in the 2000s. We had to immediately track them down, and having watched the first two they are indeed as cheesy as I expected. Still, anything that avoids my 600th watching of Frozen gets my vote at the moment.

12 Monkeys is definitely not a show to watch with the kids. I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes, but seems OK. Will give it a couple more before making a final thumbs up/thumbs down decision.

So, should I get Netflix? Pretty much it is only the Daredevil series that is attracting me, but given the other Marvel series coming down the pipeline I suspect I’m going to cave at some point.

On the writing front, I’m still struggling with the editing phase of Unaligned. To help get my groove back, I’ve started a first draft of the second book in the series and I’m back to writing every night which is good. However, I really need to work out a way to build in some proper editing on the first novel manuscript!

Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Thief's Magic

Recently I’ve been tossing around the idea of what a more technologically advanced society might look like if magic was harnessed as a power source rather than electricity. What might be the same? What would be different? Similar gadgets, but different batteries? Would we still have iPads and laptops and smart watches? Or would we have traversed a completely different technological tree?

I wonder if the same wonderings have kept Trudi Canavan up at night. Her 2015 Ditmar award winning novel, Thief’s Magic, is based (for some of the time) in a world where an industrial revolution is going on, but one based on harnessing magic as a power source. This allows for both an interesting exploration of a secondary world fantasy, as well as having the makings of a very cool set of magic powered gadgets, with a kind of steam-punk vibe to it (magic-punk?).

Magic in Canavan’s world is a depletable resource, with the industrial revolution using up magic faster than it can be replenished. In this way, Canavan explores broader issues of environmental degradation and reliance on non-renewable energy sources. The comparisons are a bit heavy handed at times, but only slightly so.

This thread of the story revolves around Tyen, a young student in the Academy, a combination university and explorers club. He is practiced in the magical arts as well as archeology, and hopes to escape his poor beginnings by graduating and making his fortune. All that changes when he comes into the possession of a sentient book, and finds himself on the run, chased by the Academy and his former mentor.

This storyline also explores issues of imperialism and colonisation, with Tyen’s slow discovery of the wider world outside the Empire while he is on the lam.

The second thread of the story is set on another world that is poor in magic. It follows the adventures of Rielle, who can sense magic but is forced to pretend she can’t. Only the priesthood is allowed to use magic, and they have a “no women allowed” policy. People found using magic are punished, quite severely. Rielle is from a rich, upwardly mobile family that is part of the merchant class. The story follows her as she battles with discrimination caused by her gender and is looked down on by her more aristocratic “friends”. At the same time she is in a position of privilege in her society, and the book explores her engagement with the “lower classes” and her slowly growing defiance of the wishes of her family.

The book interrogates gender issues in an interesting and sympathetic way, and shows a sophisticated take on how you can be both oppressed and privileged at the same time.

Both threads have good pacing, engaging characters and an interesting plot. Canavan is an experienced and masterful storyteller, and that expertise shows in how smoothly the book reads. 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.

Ditmar award results

The Ditmar awards were handed out last night at Swancon, the Western Australian convention that doubles as the National Convention this year. Unfortunately I couldn’t get over to Perth (Easter is a time where small children will not forgive you if you’re not at home to hand out copious amounts of chocolate), however I was watching along on Twitter.

I’ve summarised the results below. Note – these are what I gleaned from watching along with Twitter – any mistakes are mine alone!

A couple of notes from me. Firstly, congratulations to all winners and runners up! A wonderful field this year, and a very deserving set of awards was handed out.

The podcast I do some work for, Galactic Chat, was up for Best Fan Publication in Any Medium. We didn’t win, but the entry that did (The Writer and the Critic podcast) is one of my favourite podcasts, and a thoroughly deserving winner.

I couldn’t be more thrilled for fellow podcaster Helen Stubbs, who took out the Best New Talent award. Helen is a vibrant and energetic member of the SF field and it is wonderful to see her recognised in this way.

A tie for best novel is always interesting in a voted award. I’ve just finished The Lascar’s Dagger (review here) and I’m 1/2 way through Thief’s Magic, and both a very good novels. Actually, it was a good ballot for Best Novel – I’ve read or are reading all of them and I can honestly say I’m enjoying them all.

It was great to see Kaleidoscope recognised in the Best Collection category, and seeing fiction that recognises such a broad range of diversity being voted for in an awards process. If you want to see more of that kind of thing, you could also support Defying Doomsday‘s Pozible campaign – a collection of stories featuring diverse characters who are in a post-apocalyptic setting.

And finally, it was good to see the Atheling award for criticism go to another single topic essay. While I can certainly see the value in recognising people’s broader body of review work, it would be good to see more in depth analysis on a broader range of topics coming from Australian authors. Hopefully this award will help this trend continue.

Anyway, enough from me – Ditmar results follow (winners bold and in red). Note – the list below doesn’t include the results for some of the Ditmar-adjacent awards like the A. Bertram Chandler Award (Donna Hanson) and the Norma K. Hemming Award (Paddy O’Reilly for The Wonders with honourable mention to Lisa L Hannett and Angela Statter for The Female Factory) and the Peter McNamara Achievement award (Merv Binns). I’ve probably missed some others (for instance the WA award – the Tin Ducks).

Best Novel

  • The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
  • Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
  • Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
  • Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
  • The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)

Best Novella or Novelette

  • “The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “The Legend Trap”, Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Darkness in Clara”, Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
  • “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
  • “The Female Factory”, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Escapement”, Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Short Story

  • “Bahamut”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Seventh Relic”, Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • “Signature”, Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Collected Work

  • Kaleidoscope, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Artwork

  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, of Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press)

Best Fan Writer

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work
  • Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
  • Bruce Gillespie, for body of work
  • Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
  • Alexandra Pierce for body of work
  • Grant Watson, for body of work
  • Sean Wright, for body of work

Best Fan Artist

  • Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including “Interstellar Park Ranger Bond, Jaime Bond”, “Gabba and Slave Lay-off: Star Wars explains Australian politics”, “The Driver”, and “Unmasked” in Dark Matter Zine
  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Fakecon art and Illustration Friday series
  • Nick Stathopoulos, for movie poster of It Grows!

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • Snapshot 2014, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright
  • It Grows!, Nick Stathopoulos
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Andrew Finch
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Galactic Chat, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker, and Mark Webb

Best New Talent

  • Helen Stubbs
  • Shauna O’Meara
  • Michelle Goldsmith

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Reviews in The Angriest, Grant Watson
  • The Eddings Reread series, Tehani Wessely, Jo Anderton, and Alexandra Pierce, in A Conversational Life
  • Reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut, Sean Wright
  • “Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?”, in Uncanny Magazine 1, Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Reviews in FictionMachine, Grant Watson
  • The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely

The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.


The Lascar's Dagger

The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke first came to my attention by being nominated for both of this year’s major Australian SF awards – the Ditmar (voted) and the Aurealis (juried). I must admit, while I was vaguely aware of Larke’s name before seeing the nominations, I hadn’t had the chance to read any of her work.

Larke has chosen an interesting setting for this series. While based in a secondary world, it has an 18th century kind of feel to it, in particular around the heyday of the spice trade. The major powers in the equivalent of Earth’s northern hemisphere (socially/politically) are in a race to capture the spice trade from an archipelago of tropical islands. Political and religious forces vie for supremacy.

Religion is portrayed in interesting ways. A Christian-analagous monotheist religion (worshipping “Va” and opposing “A’Va” – the devil) has explicitly incorporated existing religions that have a more druidic feel. When the novel starts, the bricks and mortar part of the church (town-based, worship in built churches) has started to edge out the more nature based parts of the religion. It is a good reflection on how many successful religions spread by coopting local religions in the countries they conquered. It also sets up some fascinating internal conflict.

The magic system centres around the concept of “witcheries”. These witcheries are granted by powers that seem to be linked to nature (the tree-based religion of one region, the water based religion of another, the tropical island based beliefs of a third region). The witcheries are granted to people who give themselves over to serving the land/water, and are usually based on the need of the person at the time they make the bargain. One character, for instance, is desperate to hide when she bargains for her witchery, and she gains the power of glamour, to hide herself or reshape her appearance. These narrowly defined powers with specific purpose make for interesting impacts on the storyline, and the characters are forced to be innovative within the range of their abilities. The motivation of the powers also seem focused on self preservation of the land/water/island – you are granted the power only so long as you are acting in the best interests of the natural world. This is reflective of the strong streak of environmentalism/conservation in the book.

A second magic, sorcery, is hinted at as a long extinct power, but in a way that telegraphs it will probably return during this series of books. I’m sure there will be more made of it during future books.

The plot is solid, with some good old fashioned conspiracies and hijinks. There is a great sense of fun in many of the segments, and the interplay between cultures is highlighted in interesting ways.

Sakar Rampion is the main protagonist. Interestingly, the way he is described in the first few pages (as a sort of loveable rogue) doesn’t actually play out in the way the character is represented across the rest of the book. I didn’t dislike Sakar as a character, but I had a slight sense of dislocation when the expectations set at the start of the book weren’t really met. And for a smart guy, he certainly did some dumb things.

One of the other main characters, Sorrel Redwing, made up for my slight disapointment in Sakar. Sorrel has by far the more pronounced character arc, going from a somewhat timid and grieving housewife to an active character with a lot of agency.

Ardhi (the “lascar” of the title) is from the island nations and while he isn’t in it much, those parts seen from his point of view are a valuable “fish out of water” insight into the setting and cultures of the book. He also gives tantalising hints of back story all the way through, as the reader slowly pieces together what happened and how he ended up on his quest.

Some of the other minor characters ran along the fine edge of cliche (the playboy prince not wanting the responsibility of the throne, the resentful princess being married off for political advantage, the wise old shrine keepers etc). However, Larke injects enough freshness into her prose that even these characters had an energy which I found engaging.

All up I really enjoyed The Lascar’s Dagger and will be reading the sequel later in the year (it is out now). Recommended, especially if you are keeping up with Australian fantasy this year!

Update 10/4/2015

A few days after posting, The Lascar’s Dagger took out Best Novel in the 2015 Ditmars, in a tie with Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic.

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


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Burst of crowd funding

I’ve supported a few crowd funded initiatives lately. Why not list them all out on the blog as a signal boost? I thought to myself this morning, then ignored the small voice at the back of myself that said because so few people read this blog that you’re as much use signal boosting as a broken AM radio antenna.

Why be so negative? It’s Easter. There’s chocolate, or at least the promise of chocolate. Look, I’ll come back when I’ve got the blood sugar up to an acceptable level.

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.

.

That’s better. Now, where was I?

Night Terrace Season 2

I loved the first season of Night Terrace, an Australian radio play with a distinct Doctor Who homage vibe. More importantly, my 6 year old daughter loved it even more. We listened to the entire season in one hit while we drove from Sydney to Wollongong to Canberra and back to Sydney in one day. She often asks me if there is “more of that Eddie show”.

Well, I’m now pleased to say that more of that Eddy show is indeed in the offing. Night Terrace season 2 is now being crowd funded through Kickstarter. I may or may not have selected the option that allows you to name a character, just so my daughter can have the surprise of hearing her name included in the season. There are still a few weeks to go – get in there and throw money in their general direction. You’ll be very pleased you did.

A blurb from the Kickstarter page follows:

Scientist Anastasia Black had retired from her job saving the world, preferring the adventure of a good book and a pot of tea. Then her house unexpectedly began travelling randomly through time and space, taking with it hapless university student Eddie Jones. From the far future on other worlds to the distant past of Earth, Anastasia and Eddie have faced deadly monsters, evil corporations and a sinister disco, before finally discovering the origins of the house’s strange power.

But with no way to direct the house back home, there are even stranger adventures awaiting the tenants of “Night Terrace”: impossible spaceships, unlikely quests, ghosts of the past and the most terrible peril of all: a new housemate… 

Defying Doomsday

Regular readers might recall that I supported the crowdfunding of a book called Kaleidoscope last year, which highlighted speculative fiction stories featuring people with some kind of disability. I reviewed the book here as a part of the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge last year.

Well, the publisher (Twelfth Planet Press) of Kaleidoscope is at it again, this time starting a Pozible campaign to fund a new book called Defying Doomsday. There is a similar premise (stories featuring protagonists with a disability), but this time the landscape is post apocalyptic.

It’s great to see a broader audience develop for books with different protagonists, and Defying Doomsday certainly seems to be continuing that trend. Going off the quality of KaleidoscopeDefying Doomsday will be of excellent quality and well worth your support. I’m also very interested in seeing how Australian editors Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench go with this project.

From the campaign page:

We love apocalypse fiction, but we rarely find characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments in these stories. When they do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. We believe that disabled characters have a far more interesting story to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, and we want to create an anthology sharing those stories. 

Defying Doomsday

We want to create an anthology that is varied, especially among protagonists, 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 or sad, adventurous or horrific, etc, but we are avoiding stories in which the character’s condition is the primary focus of the narrative. 

The stories in Defying Doomsday will look at periods of upheaval from new and interesting perspectives. We want to 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.

Con Man

OK, this one doesn’t need a lot of boosting from me. Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion (from the ill fated TV series Firefly – and if you don’t know what that is then you’ve missed out on a treat – and this project probably isn’t for you!) have decided to create a web based series based on a familiar premise. Fillion and Tudyk play actors who starred on a TV series Spectrum that ran for 14 episodes and was cancelled. Fillion’s character went on to acting success, while Tudyk’s character makes the rounds of science fiction conventions. Semi-auto-biographical.

The reason this campaign doesn’t need much boosting from me is that they are currently sitting on $2.6m from a starting target of $425,000. They were obviously prepared for success though, they have been revealing extra stretch goals as they go along, and those stretch goals are clearly well thought out.

Still, I love the premise and the “sample” video they have seems pretty funny. Well worth checking out.

From their website:

Wray Nerely (Alan Tudyk-Me!) was a co-star on Spectrum, a sci-fi series which was canceled -Too Soon- yet became a cult classic. Wray’s good friend, Jack Moore (Nathan Fillion) starred in the series and has gone on to become a major movie star. While Jack enjoys the life of an A-lister, Wray tours the sci-fi circuit as a guest of conventions, comic book stores, and lots of pop culture events.  The show will feature all the weird and crazy things that happen to Wray along the way to these events.

The series is a light-hearted take on the personalities, luminaries, and characters in the sci­fi community we are privileged to call ourselves members. Con Man is a way to share some of the surreal occurrences we have had, while telling the story of a guy learning to love and embrace his fans. 

I wanted to make a show that featured all of my favorite convention artists and friends together. Not only that, I wanted to celebrate the world where heroes, villains, zombie hunters, and space pirates all overlap. I especially wanted to work with my friend Nathan Fillion again.

Serial Crises: Car, Cat, and Root Canal!

And finally a crowd funded initiative that is slightly less frivolous. Kij Johnson is a speculative fiction author in the US who has had a string of bad luck. I’ve always enjoyed Johnson’s work, and while sad to see that bad things had happened, I was glad to see the power of crowd sourcing to help out. This one probably isn’t of interest unless you are familiar with Kij’s work (you might be familiar with the short story The Man Who Bridged the Mist which received a lot of acclaim a few years back), but if you are you should go and check the campaign out.

From the website:

Hello, all! I’m Kij Johnson, a writer of science fiction and fantasy. At the moment, I’m in dire straits, and I really hope you can help me. We all have horrible things happen that eat away our emotional and financial reserves; mostly I manage fine, but this last week, I finally hit the wall, so I’m asking my world for help. This is hard for me, and I feel weird doing it, but the stress of not doing it is rapidly outweighing the stress of asking. 

Here’s the troubles, all of them: My beloved Subaru Forester (it’s the blue of summer skies when you look straight up) destroyed its engine when I was on my way to a conference last weekend. I had it towed back to my mechanic. The bad news is that it needs a replacement engine, but we found a good used one with the same mileage ($4500 installed). 

So there’s that. But I was already struggling to come up with the money for two other urgent situations: my small, charming black cat (who has no official name but is generally known as The Black Cat of Ulthar; that’s her in the picture) is popping out all over her stomach with fatty tumors that need to be removed ASAP (this is probably $1200 or so) — and I need a root canal (my share is $600). Both urgent and both not happening: I’ve been stalling both for the last four months, even knowing how ill-advised this is, because I’m trying desperately to save for food, rent, and student loans over my unpaid summer — I just haven’t had the time to build any financial pad.

This all adds up to $6300, which is a lot, I know. Anything at all helps! 

I see that people don’t usually offer rewards for donations here at indiegogo life; but I’m a writer, and that’s how many of you know me. So here are some collective rewards. 

1. If we make $2000, I’ll post online for free an epic chicken poem. It’s a sequel to Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” and it’s funny. To me, anyway.

2. If we make $4500 (paying for the car: I need the car to drive the cat places!), I’ll post online for free a poem or story about a car. I haven’t written this yet, so I’ll be on my game. 

3. If we make $5700 (adding the cat), I’ll give her an official name, and it will be brilliant and awesome. 

4. If we make $6300 (adding my teeth), I’ll write a story that involves cars, cats, and teeth. 

As I said, it feels very strange to be doing this, but I’m hoping that some of you will remember some story of mine you read for free online (my website is www.kijjohnson.com, but I have free fiction all sorts of places), and might consider helping out. It would mean everything to me, my cat, and my car.

 

How about you – have you supported any crowd funded projects recently? Let us know in the comments below.

Monthly roundup – March 2015

Welcome to my round up of March 2015. I’m going to focus on being more consistent with these monthly updates, and include a wider range of culture consumed if I’ve got something to say. I’ll also be including brief updates on my writing.

I finished my run through the Xbox One game Dragonage Inquisition. I don’t play many games these days – too much other stuff going on in life, work and writing. But I thought I’d mention Dragonage particularly. Its strong emphasis on story telling made the experience very enjoyable (and a bit addictive – my wife has been a bit annoyed at the amount of time I’ve spent with the game). There is a wonderful spread of gender, sexual orientation and general diversity in the casts of characters, and a lot of the writing/voice acting is surprisingly well done. Well worth the price of admission if you like your fantasy epic and your games role playing.

My wife and I have been watching, and enjoying, the TV series Grimm. Season 4 started recently on Foxtel, so we’ve been following along over the last couple of months. I really like Grimm – the take on the storybook monsters is interesting and there have been some great storylines over the first three seasons. Season 4 has been good so far, and I’m particularly enjoying the digging into the broader world building. They have introduced/developed some of the female characters over the last season, which has provided some good balance to the earlier series (which was very male-dominated). This season continues the “strong women” theme.

I also dipped into up and coming Australian SF author David McDonald’s work, with his recently released short collection Cold Comfort and Other Tales. You can read the full review here, but spoiler alert – I liked it!

I’ve been a bit disturbed by how few of the Ditmar and Aurealis award nominated novels I’ve actually read. With that in mind, I’ve started by Australian speculative fiction award nominated reading with The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke. A full review will come soon (it will double as my first Australian Women Writer’s 2015 challenge novel as well).

I’ll be moving on to Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan, Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix over the next few weeks. I’ve also nabbed Phantazein by Tehani Wessely. That will get me through the Ditmar shortlist (when you add in The Godless by Ben Peek that I reviewed last year), but there are still a lot of novels on the Aurealis lists that I’ll need to get to.

On the writing side, I’m still struggling to find time to edit my novel length manuscript Unaligned. I’m finding that while I can write first draft materials in fits and starts, I don’t seem to be able to dive into editing without a long stretch of time (at least a couple of hours). A busy job and two small kids don’t provide many opportunity for that kind of time. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit stalled over the last month or so.

To break the impasse, I’ve started writing some more first draft material for other work just to make sure the daily creative juices are flowing. I’ve done a bit of editing on a shorter work and I’m trying to use shorter amounts of time more effectively. We’ll see!

So, what have you been watching/reading/playing/writing/creating lately? Update us all in the comments below.

Dimension6 – Issue 4 available now

Dimension6Medium term readers would remember that this site acts as an affiliate for Dimension6, a free magazine showcasing mostly Australian speculative fiction. Editor Keith Stevenson has brought together an impressive lineup of stories over the first four issues of the magazine.

There is a Dimension6 page under the “Links” menu item along the top of the screen, that contains links to the ePub and mobi files for all four issues.

This issue features stories by Jen White, Chris McMahon and Bren MacDibble and is excellent reading that I commend to you.

Cold Comfort & Other Tales by David McDonald – review

Cold Comfort and Other Tales

David McDonald is an Australian speculative fiction author on the rise, with a lot of short fiction credits to his name and even a recent announcement of a novelisation of a Canadian movie in the works.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a collection of three of his science fiction short stories from Clan Destine Press, consisting of two reprints (Cold Comfort and Through Wind and Weather) and an original story (Our Land Abounds).

The first story, Cold Comfort, is based on a post apocalyptic Earth where the planet is covered in snow and ice, with the remnants of humanity confined to a series of giant domes, each a heated oasis in a desert of cold. The main character, Vanja, is a trader, moving from dome to dome to make a living and in search of knowledge about the past. Vanja is a strong female protagonist, in a world where societies in each dome have reverted to more primitive forms and in many cases don’t smile on women taking an active role. She uses a mixture of guile and sheer competence to make her way, which makes her a very sympathetic main character.

I liked the world building here, with society reduced to “cargo cult” status, eeking out an existence utilising the technological infrastructure of the past without understanding how it works. It built to a very satisfying conclusion, and I could very well imagine a longer story set in the same world.

The second story in the book, Through Wind and Weather, is quite short, almost a vignette of a pilot, Nick, seeking the help of a sentient spaceship to deliver vital supplies to a colony world. In order to get there, they have to navigate their way through a massive solar storm. The story was originally written for a themed collection (I won’t tell you the theme – it would ruin the end). In some ways it is a flash fiction piece, built around a single idea. However, once again McDonald has sketched in a broader world with a few deft strokes. I could well imagine more stories set in the same world.

The last story in the collection, Our Land Abounds, is original to the collection. In current Australian politics, there is a lot of debate over our approach to immigration. As a country whose modern structures are built on an immigrant population (recognising of course that we have ancient structures built on the worlds longest continuing culture), we continue to debate levels of population and immigration as a fundamental building block of our future. Successive governments have grappled with controversial issues around unsanctioned immigration of different types. I’ve noticed that this debate has continued in the fiction of various Australian authors.

McDonald posits a world where Australia’s isolation has worked to its benefit, and in the face of global catastrophe the new Republic of Australasia has become an oasis of relative plenty. In order to deal with the swarms of refuges now trying to reach the country, Australia has adopted a strong military presence around their borders. Inside the country, a much more nationalistic culture has taken root. The story follows an officer in the border patrol, as he deals with a refuge’s story that hits a little close to home.

It is a good story well told, although I suspect that it needed a little more space to reach its full potential. The main character’s arc felt a little forced and with a little more space it may have resolved a little more naturally. I’d also be interested in how an international reader engaged with the story, if not exposed to the current Australian debate (feel free to leave a comment below!).

McDonald is an upcoming author to watch in Australian circles, and this short collection is an excellent way to engage with his work if you haven’t had a chance to before. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I do a small amount of work with McDonald on the Galactic Chat podcast. I don’t think that has impacted this review, but who knows? 

Update 29/3/2015

It turns out that McDonald’s new novelisation referenced above is out already (blame my faulty research). The novel is called Backcountry, and can be found here.

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.