Category Archives: Books read

Rundown on each book I read

Horizon by Keith Stevenson – review

 

Horizon

 

Horizon is the debut novel of author Keith Stevenson. Stevenson has been active in the Australian speculative fiction scene as a publisher through his small press Coeur de Lion Publishing, which has developed a reputation for publishing some excellent fiction (the anthology X6, for instance, collected a swag of awards). He has had several short stories published, but Horizon is his first novel length work. It has been published by HarperVoyager digital imprint Impulse.

(Disclaimer – I act as an affiliate for Stevenson’s free fiction magazine  Dimension6. I don’t think it’s impacted this review, but who knows? I don’t pretend to understand my own subconscious enough to be sure.) 

The story centres on humanity’s first interstellar trip to explore an Earth-like planet, Horizon. Stevenson uses a range of plausible technologies to describe the means by which the journey is possible. It’s clear that he has thought a lot about the implications of interstellar travel with our current level of technology, including the impacts of relativity.

The crew has been in a form of artificially induced hibernation for the journey, and while they have only aged a little, half a century has gone by on Earth. The changed geo-political status on Earth has a profound impact on the parameters of their mission.

While there is a heavy emphasis on technical verisimilitude, at its heart Horizon is a character driven story. There is mystery (the novel starts with the mysterious death of the mission’s second in command), interpersonal tensions as the political situation on Earth changes relationships on the ship and some big ideas relating to our obligations to maintain an alien biosphere versus obligations to an Earth that is a materially different place to the one you left.

I enjoyed the writing, with clear and engaging prose which kept the story rocketing along. The use of a “who-dun-it” plot line was a great way to balance the other aspects of the book – without it, it would have been possible that some of the other themes (e.g. climate change) might have got a little preachy. Stevenson does a great job balancing these aspects of the story to make it accessible and keeping the reader engaged with the story.

I must admit that I did wonder at times how this crew was selected. There is a lot of interpersonal drama (very necessary for the story), but at times I did begin to question the competence of whatever psychologists signed off on this particular group of people to go into deep space together! The out of balance nature of the relationships can be somewhat explained by the deaths that happen and a last minute, politically motivated addition to the crew. But with billions of people on the planet, there weren’t people equally competent who were also a bit more psychologically stable?

Minor quibble aside, this was an excellent book that I enjoyed reading very much. There isn’t a lot of pure Australian science fiction, and Horizon does a lot to redress the balance.

Highly recommended.

A year and a half ago, I interviewed Stevenson for the Galactic Chat podcast. The interview is well before the publication of Horizon, but if you’re interested in the man behind the book, it contains some interesting insights. You can find the podcast here.

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.

The Female Factory by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter – 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.



The Female Factory

The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett is the 11th book in the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press. The series aims to showcase Australian women writing speculative fiction and has produced some stellar, award winning work over the last 3 years.

Hannett and Slatter have collaborated before, most notably in the collection Midnight and Moonshine. The Female Factory has the polish of a well practiced collaboration, where the voice of the stories is smooth and doesn’t show any seams between the two story teller’s work.

The collection is made up of four stories:

  • Vox - where the souls of children that are never born are used to give voice to electronic devices.
  • Baggage – in a world where the very rich are willing to pay big money for a baby, Robyn’s ability to undertake multiple, simultaneous pregnancies should be an asset.
  • All the Other Revivals – a haunting story where people born in the wrong body can make a change in the waters of the local billabong.
  • The Female Factory – we all know about genetic engineering and the possibility of designer babies. But what about designer mothers?

In most of the stories the collection puts a strong emphasis on fertility, and the mother-child relationship. It provides perspectives that I found fresh and very engaging. It is a mature treatment of topics that are often glossed over or ignored completely.

The writing is very sophisticated, and the authors are able to draw the reader into the protagonist’s world view effortlessly, portraying them very sympathetically while still showing the warts and all. The language is deceptively simple, while still creating imagery and atmosphere that I found compelling.

Another excellent addition to the Twelve Planets series, and one I have no hesitation in recommending.

Regular readers will know that I am an occasional contributor to the Galactic Chat podcast. Back in September 2014, one of the authors, Angela Slatter, was interviewed for the podcast. The interview was conducted by Alex Pierce, and contains some very interesting insights. You can find it here. And if that isn’t enough, Sean Wright also interviewed Lisa L. Hannett for Galactic Chat just before Christmas 2014 (the interview can be found here).

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


Creative Commons License

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

Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios – 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.



Kaleidoscope

OK, I’m cheating a little bit here. I’ve decided to review a collection of short stories that are not all by Australian women for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Indeed, they are mostly not by Australian women. But wait, before you throw your monitor at the wall in disgust and walk out I have reasons.

  1. It is from an Australian small press that is run by a woman (Alisa Krasnostein).
  2. It has stories by three Australian women (Tansy Rayner Roberts, Faith Mudge, Holly Kench) and one New Zealander (Karen Healy), which is almost Australian.
  3. One of the editors is an Australian woman. OK, it’s the same woman as in 1. above, but in a completely different role. Editor versus publisher. Come on, it still counts as a third reason.

So, if you’re still not buying what I’m selling, then you should stop reading the review here. But you’ll be sooorrrryyyyy!

Kaleidoscope was a crowd funded anthology that sought out YA speculative fiction that was written by a diverse range of writers and featured diverse characters (e.g. people with a disability, mental illness, suffering marginalisation because of race or religion or sexual orientation etc). However the mandate of the book was very clear – while characters needed to have a diverse background, they were not to be defined by their background. I particularly liked the requirement that characters were not to be “cured” of their diversity. Kaleidoscope is a mature treatment of the issues of diversity in the speculative fiction scene, and for that alone I’m hoping it is a sign of much more diverse fiction to come.

(As a side note, and because I’ve justified this review in part by pointing at an Australian small press run by an Australian woman, I might insert a plug here for Twelfth Planet Press. TPP has been supporting Australian women authors and championing this kind of diversity for quite a few years. Alisa Krasnostein, the owner of the press, is also one of the voices on Galactic Suburbia – a must-listen podcast for anyone interested in advancing the conversation on gender equity in the speculative fiction scene. If you haven’t already, go and check out their offerings, in particular the Twelve Planets series which has showcased some fantastic Australian women writers over the last few years. I’ve reviewed all the Twelve Planets books so far for the AWW challenge (including most recently Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love) – if you have even the slightest interest in understanding what is happening in the Australian speculative fiction field, you need to read these books!)

I won’t talk about all the stories, but as this is a AWW review I will briefly mention the stories by Australian women.

Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts opens the collection. The story is set in a world where superhero producing machines have appeared in  major centres around the world and people are selected at random to do a stint as a superhero. It tells the story of Joey, a young woman with a physical disability who has “won the lottery”. It is a funny, and not very below the surface, dig at the comic book industry, well written with Roberts’ trademark snarky style. Very nice opening to the book.

Signature by Faith Mudge was one of my favourite stories in the book, which focuses on the dangers of entering into a deal with Fate. Well written and characters that were well fleshed out, especially considering how little space there was to do it.

Holly Kench’s Every Little Thing gives a few twists on the trickiness of love spells. I enjoy Kench’s writing style, and this story was well constructed and a delight to read.

And for completeness, I will mention that I also enjoyed New Zealand’s Karen Healy story Careful Magic, which focuses on the perils of being a bastion of order in a chaotic world. Healy’s story hinted at a much bigger world, and left me with the desire to read other stories set in the same world.

There are also stories by Australian male writers Garth Nix, Dirk Flinthart and Sean Williams, as well as an array of international authors including Ken Liu, Sofia Samata, Jim Hines and John Chu.

As long term readers of the blog know, YA is not my favourite genre to read. I don’t mind young protagonists as such, but as I complete my transformation into a cranky old man I find myself less and less engaged by some of the themes that seem to resonate with teenagers. I also find the more restricted use of language (i.e. slightly simplified and “cleaned up”) creates more of a distance in the work. Some of the stories in Kaleidoscope suffered from this for me – the writing was excellent, but I found myself unable to “get into” the stories.

That minor (and particular to me) quibble aside, this is an excellent anthology and I commend it strongly to you. If you have ever despaired at the lack of variety in who is represented in speculative fiction, this is the book for you. If you love YA oriented speculative fiction, this is for you. Highly recommended.

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.

Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts – 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.



Musketeer Space

OK, more cheating. I’ve selected Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts for my next review and the book isn’t even finished yet. “Why?” I hear you ask. “How? Isn’t your cheating just getting super blatant now?”

All valid questions, but stick with me people. Have I ever steered you wrong?

Musketeer Space is the latest endeavour by Tasmanian based speculative fiction author Tansy Rayner Roberts. It is a gender swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers, in a space opera setting. In an interesting twist though, Roberts is writing the book in serialised form. She is releasing a chapter each week on her website, and has invited patronage through the Patreon system, where interested subscribers can pay to support her writing efforts. There are also a variety of perks depending on the level of subscription that you enter into (including an eBook of the whole novel once completed).

So a book you can read for free, but if you want to tip some money in you can also consider (and call) yourself a patron of the arts. What’s not to like?

At the time of writing, Musketeer Space is at chapter 33 and a little over half way through the story. One of the reasons I wanted to review it at this point was to signal boost an endeavour which is interesting both creatively and from a business standpoint. I’m fascinated with how people are experimenting with new forms of publishing in the internet age, and this is a great case study to follow.

A note on the Patreon model. It very much is a patronage relationship you’re entering into. For an effort like this that goes for at least 12 months, even at the lowest contribution of $1 per month you would be over-paying for an eBook if that was your only goal (I don’t know how much Roberts will charge for the eBook at the end of the process, but I very much doubt it will be $12). So unlike something like a Kickstarter campaign, you are not “pre-purchasing” the final product. You are making a conscious decision to support an author create a work that wouldn’t other exist – very much like patrons of a bygone age, just distributed through the power of technology.

To the story itself. The prose is characterised by Roberts’ sly wit, and filled with feisty, brave and competent characters. It has been very interesting to watch Roberts adapt the original storyline, and the choices she has made to accommodate both the new setting and new genders. The Three Musketeers was originally a serialised novel as well, and the parallels have been interesting to watch there too.

There is a lot of humour in the book, and if you enjoyed any of Roberts’ other books (e.g. The Creature Court trilogy) you’ll love Musketeer Space.

The pacing is excellent, especially considering the need to stick to the overall structure of the original text. Roberts balances action with emotion in the stories, and has created some very well rounded characters that it is very easy to care about.

As a part of meeting one of the targets of her Patreon campaign, Roberts has recently (as of Christmas 2014) released a novella length Christmas themed prequel to Musketeer Space called Seven Days of Joyeux. I haven’t read it yet, but extra content is just another reason to get on board this Musketeer road train!

In summary, this is a great book that is supported by an innovative funding mechanism. I’d highly recommend that you all go directly to the Patreon page and throw your support behind an Australian author doing interesting things in this brave new age of the internet.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads (although a cut down version of this review without the Patreon discussion). View all my Goodreads reviews.


Creative Commons License

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

Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love – 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.


Secret Lives

Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love is the 10th book in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. It is a very quick read, coming in at 80 pages.

Now what did I think of the collection? In summary: beautifully written, surreal verging on absurdist, punchy, insightful and satisfying.

I’ve debated how much to write in this review, as I’m almost certain that my attempts to describe the stories will represent their magic poorly and may even put you off reading the collection. With that in mind, I’ve tried to briefly capture the flavour of each story below. Hopefully you’ll get a sense of the madcap and slightly bizarre nature of the collection (in a very good way).

The collection is made up of five stories:

  • Secret Lives of Books – a recently deceased man comes to terms with his sentient and increasingly militant library
  • Kiddofspeed – a woman bike rides around Chernobyl… or does she? And does it really matter where she did or not? With the help of the Internet.
  • Qasida – where do lost things go? To Mars of course. A story of a lost love with appropriate flashbacks to the British Empire’s flirtation with the colonisation of Mars.
  • The Kairos Moment – tells the tale of the search for that moment of pure musical rapture in the name of academic research, and then considers the potential military applications.
  • The slut and the universe – a family discussion between three generations of women, and the inevitable cross-generation misunderstandings, becomes a therapy session of sorts for Gaia.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favourite, but if forced to I’d probably lean towards The Kairos Moment. The sheer fun of the describing the attempts to capture a moment of musical departure was hilarious. In fact, hilarious is a word I’d use often in a longer review of this work. There are some serious themes explored in this book – feminism, relationships, colonial ambitions etc. But it is delivered with such a strong thread of humour that I spent the entire read being delighted by various turns of phrase, and only really considered the implications of the stories once I’d finished.

The writing of this collection is superb. The language dances from sentence to sentence, and concept to concept. The stories are only loosely plotted, but that hardly seems to matter. While the ideas get more and more outlandish, the prose stays clean and pragmatic, which only adds to the deliberate dissonance of the read.

I enjoyed this book very much, but to describe it further has diminishing returns. It won’t take long to read. Go and buy it. Now.

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.

North Star Guide Me Home 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.



North Star Guide Me Home

North Star Guide Me Home by Jo Spurrier is the third book in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. You can read my review of the first book, Winter Be My Shieldhere and the second, Black Sun Light My Way, here. There are some spoilers for the first two books in this review, so if you haven’t started on the trilogy yet, you might want to wait until you’ve read the first two books before reading this review.

The Blood Mage Kell, who loomed so large in the first two books, is gone and the three mages (Isidro, Sierra and Rasten) have to come to terms with what their lives are without him in them. I mentioned in the review of the second book that I was surprised by the ending but didn’t mention what that ending was for fear of spoilers. The death of Kell was that ending – I had assumed that at least one thread of the story would have focused on Kell right until the end of the trilogy. However, in retrospect, killing Kell in the second book made sense. It was clear that Sierra and Rasten wouldn’t really be able move on without confronting Kell, and their stories (in particular Rasten’s) faced limitations without moving through that issue.

The story isn’t all good cheer though – Spurrier still puts the characters through the ringer. Hands are chopped off, a lot of blood is spilled and most of the characters are given an emotional workout. However, there isn’t as much graphic torture or degradation in this book. Indeed, while the atmosphere of the third book is just as hard and unforgiving as the first two, I found that the story more oriented towards recovery.

As with the previous books, there was some interesting exploration of how people from different cultural backgrounds interact and form families. The politics of the world were also well realised and expanded in this third book.

I normally don’t comment on endings as I don’t like to spoil the books I review too much (and indeed, please feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re yet to read the book). The whole trilogy came together well and I didn’t have any issues with the ending as such. However, I was expecting more major characters to be killed, and killed in a heart wrenching way. As it was, the ending seemed a little, well, nice considering the tone of the rest of the books. Still, given how much hell the characters went through, I should begrudge them a little happiness, should I?

Overall this is an excellent end to a trilogy. If you’re interested, definitely go back and start with Winter Be My Shield though. North Star Guide Me Home isn’t really a stand alone book, and you won’t get anywhere as near as much impact without having seen the characters through their earlier trials.

As in the last review, I should also mention that back in 2013, Sean Wright, leader of the intrepid Galactic Chat crew, interviewed Jo Spurrier for the podcast. That podcast can be found here.

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.

Black Sun Light My Way 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.



Black Sun Light My Way

Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier is the second book in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. You can read my review of the first book, Winter Be My Shield, here.

The political and social system that was introduced in the first novel is solidly developed in this second novel. We learn a lot more about other societies, and the gradual expansion of the readers world view is handled well, with information provided at a good pace. There are nice touches which show the depth of the world building – for instance, the marital structures of a society mired in a harsh environment that incorporate multiple parters of both genders into a family unit. These elements provide some real depth to the story.

The series continues the portrayal of a hard and dangerous world, where characters aren’t trying to be too nice. Issues of torture and rape are canvassed, and Spurrier doesn’t shy away from exploring the real consequences of these actions. To that end, the character of Rasten (the main bad guy’s apprentice) is used as a vehicle. Over the course of the novel, the readers perception of Rasten transforms from a pure villain to a more complex, tragic figure who has been scarred, both physically and emotionally, by long term abuse. While his actions remain unsympathetic, he becomes more understandable.

In the first novel, I found one of the main characters (Isidro) was a little bit too understanding of other people’s points of view. A lot of interpersonal drama was resolved by him seeing things from the other point of view and then disarming the situation. While this was very sensible of him, it did sometimes feel a little too “easy” as a way of moving the plot forward. In this second novel, the character is portrayed with more issues, including bouts of severe depression. This lent a better balance to the character, and given that he features strongly it helped the balance of the book overall.

The book ended with at what seemed to be, at first blush, a surprising point. Spurrier sets up a particular “quest”, which is actually resolved by the end of this book. While reading, I kept waiting for another complication to be introduced that would delay the completion of the quest and was surprised when that complication never emerged. However in retrospect I can see that it was a necessary step to allow the characters to grow. Without it, the third book would have run the risk of being repetitive. So, when I sat back and considered the book, the confusion I felt on first reading was well and truly resolved.

Overall this is an excellent second book to a trilogy. Well worth the read, however I wouldn’t consider it a stand alone book. If you’re interested, definitely go back and start with Winter Be My Shield.

I should also mention that back in 2013, Sean Wright, leader of the intrepid Galactic Chat crew, interviewed Jo Spurrier for the podcast. That podcast can be found here.

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.

Monthly roundup – November and December 2014

Once again I’ve been somewhat lax, both with my summaries and with this website in general. In my (somewhat poor) defence, I have been flat out at work in the lead up to the end of the year. I love the organisation I’m working for at the moment, and my new role gives me the chance to work with some fantastic people. But it is busy. Very, very busy.

On a related note, I understand a couple of those fantastic people from work have decided to find out a bit more about my life outside of the office by tracking me down online. Hi Sally and Robyn in particular!

So, a summary of both November and December reading and watching. Many of the books mentioned below are due a full review as a part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Challenge, so not much detail will be provided here. I’ve got 6 reviews to write over the next couple of days.

Regular readers will know that I read the first book in Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun series earlier in the year (Winter Be My Shield). The plot was compelling enough that I continued on to read the second and third books in the trilogy over the last couple of months – Black Sun Light My Way and North Star Guide Me Home. Both will add to my AWW challenge total, so nothing further to add here.

As many of you would know, I’ve also been reading Musketeer Space – Tansy Rayner Robert’s gender swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers, set in a space opera universe. I’ve continued on with my reading, and I’m almost up to date. Even though the story isn’t finished yet, I’ve decided to do a review of the first half for AWW, mostly as a signal boost for the book, which I’m enjoying very much.

I’ve also finished Kaleidoscope – the anthology released by Twelfth Planet Press. Given the Australian publisher and stories by some Australian women in the book, I’ve also decided to review Kaleidoscope for AWW.

Rounding out my AWW reading for the year are two further books from Twelfth Planet press – Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love and The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett. Like the above, they’ll both be reviewed on this site soon.

I’ve found the AWW challenge interesting in 2014. It is the third year I’ve undertaken the challenge, and in previous years I’ve breezed in, finishing much earlier in the year. In 2014 I was reading right up until late December in order to consume my 10 books by Australian women writers. I’m going to reflect on this a little more in my end of challenge post, just as soon as I’ve written up the remaining reviews!

Having enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie earlier in the year, I’ve gone on to read the sequel Ancillary Sword. These are very good space opera, with some continuing fantastic reflections on the nature and impact of colonisation. I particularly like the representation of the main character (Breq), who used to be the AI controlling a whole space ship, and able to split her focus between multiple “ancillaries” (dead bodies animated and controlled by the AI) – now reduced to a single ancillary. The way she sees the world is coloured by this experience – I found the voice of the novel to have a freshness that I quite enjoyed. I’ll definitely be reading the third book in the trilogy when it comes out.

The Wild Card series, which I began re-reading as an exercise in nostalgia more than anything else, released a new book, Lowball, over the last couple of months. I enjoyed it more than some of the recent Wild Card books – it was a continuation of the Fort Freak storyline, and has that mosaic novel kind of feel. If you like the Wild Card universe, its well worth checking out. If you don’t (or have never dipped your toes into the Wild Card waters), this isn’t the place to start.

Having now read all the Wild Card books that have come out as eBooks, I came across another wildcard book – this time a graphic novel called The Hard Call. I enjoyed it – the story focused on one of my favourite characters (Croyd Crenson) and the art gave life to the strangeness of the Wild Card universe in a way that was very different from just reading prose. Having said that, I do prefer the novels – they have more depth.

I also read the next in the Long Earth series, The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I like the conceit of this series, the existence of multiple Earths that humanity can “step” into. The evolution of the world of the books has been quite satisfying, as humanity spreads out across the multiverse. Good writing, excellent dialogue, but I found myself without much more to say than in previous reviews.

Rounding out my reading was Keith Stevenson’s first novel, Horizon. I try to review and promote Australian works more broadly, so I think I’ll be writing a full review on this one too (the unwritten reviews are starting to form a log-jam!). Very enjoyable though – especially if you like science fiction on the more realistic end of the spectrum. Get out and buy a copy, don’t wait for my review!

In terms of genre television, I’ve started on two main series. The Flash has recently started playing on Foxtel. I enjoy Arrow, from which The Flash is spun off, so I thought I’d give it a go. OK so far, but need a few more episodes to form a full opinion.

I’m somewhat late to the True Blood party, but with the final season now out and Foxtel having all 7 seasons available through their on demand offering, I decided to wade in. I’ve watched seasons 1 and 2, and have just started on season 3. I like the way the world is coming together – the politics of the supernatural world are starting to come into focus. Interesting structure of episodes, with almost every episode finishing with a very deliberate cliffhanger that get resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode. I can see it would have been very successful at building a loyal base. I also like that it is set in small town southern USA – a very different starting point than most shows. Season 2 was a lot better than season 1, and I think I’m in for the long haul.

This is turning into a long post, so I’ll leave it there. Stay tuned for more AWW reviews over the next few days.

Monthly Roundup – October 2014

Another month flashes past. October 2014 went by very quickly, people. On the writing front, I’ve been typing up the first 20,000 words of a space opera I started writing longhand earlier in the year. I’ve also been thinking through the editing process for Unaligned, the manuscript I typed “the end” for not that long ago.

I’m struggling with the editing process. Not so much the theory of it. I can think of a lot of things I need to do, and there is a lot of useful advice out there on self editing. The manuscript needs a lot of polishing before I can get other people involved in reading it. I recognise that.

However (and this is a big however), I’m struggling to fit editing into my life. With the first draft writing by hand, I could find 1/2 hour here or there and get a little bit more writing down. My at-least-1-page-per-day system worked well. With a busy job and two young kids, small snippets of time are all that seem possible. But that approach is not working for me when it comes to editing. I find I need more time, the capacity to really submerge myself into the work for an extended period, before I seem to be able to edit properly. Trying to do a little bit each night is not working. In fact, on some occasions it is actually counter-productive.

That’s why I started writing another manuscript (the space opera – working title Untethered). It was easier to fit in.

So, my current strategy is to find a couple of interruption free days to kick start the process. Perhaps once I’ve delved into the manuscript in a focused way, subsequent editing bit by bit will become more feasible. Negotiations have begun with my wife to free up a weekend so I can work sans-kids (of course I’ll need to return that particular favour!). Negotiations have begun with my parents so I can grab their caravan down in Wollongong for the isolation. I’d like to find some time pre-Christmas. Wish me luck.

On the culture consumed side, I read and reviewed The Godless by Ben Peek. Excellent book, but you’ll have to read my review to find out why.

As flagged last month, I started the YA collection Kaleidoscope, but haven’t yet finished. OK so far, like the diversity theme but have my normal struggles engaging with YA work. It’s not them, it’s me.

Read another one of the recently re-released Wild Cards series, Aces Abroad. Love the flash back aspect of reading an 80s/90s series. There is one story set in Australia, and the airlines referenced were Ansett and TAA. Love it! As previously commented, some gender issues that jump out now that I didn’t notice on first reading, but not as bad as it could be. All up, I’m enjoying the re-read.

Also started The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Only a little way in though, more to report next month.

On the TV front, I’m not liking The 100. In fact, I think I’m about to give up. It has been vaguely interesting, but they’ve just introduced a new character on the space station with a new strand of political intrigue and I realised I didn’t really care enough about what happens to the characters. I’ve got too much of a backlog of TV, I think I can afford to give this one away.

Heard an Australian podcast recently talking about the new TV series The Flash (a spin off of Arrow), but I have not been able to find it here in Australia. They must have been obtaining episodes by other means. I saw a “coming soon” ad on Foxtel though, so I would imagine it is not too far away.

The rest of my superhero fix is coming from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and Gotham. AoS has been good, I’m liking the darker, short of resources world of the second season. Arrow remains just a little over the top melodramatic, but I really like the flashback approach to showing backstory. Jury is still out on Gotham, but so far so good.

In terms of TV series finished this month, I watched the last episode of season 4 of Teen Wolf (a much shorter season this time around) and The Strain. Enjoyed both shows, with a slight preference for Teen Wolf.

So, who else is overdosing on superhero TV? Read any good books I should be considering? Any other interesting culture consumed?

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.


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