Dimension6 2018 Annual Collection

You might remember that my novella, The Reclaimers, that was published earlier in the year in issue 13 of Dimension6. Each year, Keith Stevenson, the editor, creates a collection of all the stories from that year.

I’m pleased to say that this years collection, the Dimension6 Annual Collection 2018, is out now for the low, low price of $0.99. You can buy it directly from the Coeur de Lion website, or from Amazon etc depending on your preference (links available to various ebook retailers at the website).

Dimension6 2018 Annual Collection cover

I am very proud to be part of this collection. The Reclaimers is my first novella length work, and it is a source of great pride to have it published with such a fantastic collection of wonderful stories.

You won’t find much better value than the Dimension6 Annual Collection 2018.

The Regersek Zone (a story)

I’ve often wondered that if aliens had the technological wherewithal to travel the stars, why they wouldn’t just terraform another planet in our solar system, rather they take the risk of tangling with a sentient species and its associated diseases. That wondering found its way into this very short story.


The Regersek Zone

Rignof watched in unfeigned awe as data from the visual spectrum scanners brought the first images from the Destination up on the screen. Twenty generations of Aarnak had been born, lived and died on the Desolate Hope and finally the giant seed ship was about to reach the end of its long journey. Rignof’s fingers danced over the input device, trying to bring the picture into sharper relief.

There were eight planets in this solar system all told, as well as a vast array of smaller bodies. There was even a dwarf planet, a planetary phenomenon that had been theorised but never before seen. The best scientists on Aarn had determined that it was extremely likely that there would be worlds in the Regersek zone of this messy system, capable of sustaining Aarnak life. They had not been wrong. While gas giants dominated the outer solar system, there were four inner planets that were candidates for colonisation.

The innermost planet was little more than a molten rock – too close to the sun to be viable for any form of life.

The fourth planet was a dry, barren world, smaller than the remaining two inner planets and with gravity only a third of the Aarn home world. The aarnaforming technology contained in the lower reaches of the Desolate Hope combined with the resources to be found across this solar system would be able to convert the planet into an acceptable world, but it would be too chilly for the cold-blooded Aarn when there were other options.

The third planet teamed with life. It was closest in size and gravity to Aarn and would require a lot less modification than the other worlds, but the effort of subduing an entire planet, especially one with an intelligent species on it, was too high for their limited resources. The alien inhabitant’s technological level was not great, but they had split the atom and visited their moon. They may look like furry grozts, but a grozt with a bomb is still dangerous for all that it is stupid.

Besides, the germs! Who the hell would want to live with the ever-present risk of a deadly alien flu?

But the second planet – oh, the second planet was perfect. A little too close to this new sun, but nothing that a well placed array of solar mirrors couldn’t overcome. Completely barren, so the introduction of Aarn native species could go ahead unhindered by alien biology once the initial atmospheric modifications had been made, the surface cooled and the planet’s magnetic field jump-started. It even already had sulfuric acid in the air! This planet could be an Aarnian paradise.

Rignof turned off the display and sighed in satisfaction. Barring misadventure he would live to walk on the surface of this marvellous new world, although he himself would be old and scaleless by the time it happened. He wondered how their soon-to-be neighbours would react to sharing their solar system.

They shouldn’t complain. It wasn’t like they were using the planet.

THE END


‘The Regersek Zone’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 184 (October 2013). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

What’s shakin’? – July, August and September 2018

What have you been looking at lately?

TV

I tore through season 2 of the Marvel’s Luke Cage. I’m enjoying the various Netflix Marvel series and Luke Cage is not exception. Like in season 1, there is a level of African-American cultural references that I suspect are going way over my head, but not in such a way as to make the story incomprehensible. I’ve enjoyed the course they are charting for Luke Cage, and I think they’ve set up for an interesting third season down the line.

Likewise I worked my way through season 2 of Marvel’s Iron Fist. This is still very newly out, so I won’t give away any plot spoilers. Suffice to say I enjoyed it more than season 1, and it seemed like they engaged with a lot of the issues people raised re: cultural appropriation and gender bias (maybe not completely, but they seemed to at least be acknowledged). My perspective should be treated with suspicion though, as I’m as likely as the next person to have biases and blind spots. I’ll be very interested to see how people who have direct experience around those kinds of issues engage with the show.

Final Space is a cartoon space comedy on Netflix. Season 1 is 10 episodes, and I liked it. A little bit Futurama, but a lot more blood and guts. I may have been reading too much into it, but the straight, white guy protagonist was such a doofus that it almost seemed a commentary on sticking someone like that at the centre of a narrative. A bit stupid, but a lot of fun.

Speaking of stupid, I also watched Future Man, another sci-fi comedy. Again a lot of blood and guts, and some funny and self-aware commentary on time travel as a plot device.

The Good Place season 3 has just started – the whole household is very excited by its return.

Books

Hidden City by Alan Baxter – an urban fantasy with strong horror elements (as you’d expect from Baxter). I enjoyed it, pace was good and Baxter develops the characters quickly and well. From Goodreads:

When the city suffers, everyone suffers.

Steven Hines listened to the city and the city spoke. Cleveport told him she was sick. With his unnatural connection to her, that meant Hines was sick too. But when his friend, Detective Abby Jones, comes to him for help investigating a series of deaths with no discernible cause, Hines can’t say no. Then strange fungal growths begin to appear in the streets, affecting anyone who gets too close, turning them into violent lunatics.

As the mayhem escalates and officials start to seal Cleveport off from the rest of the world, Hines knows the trouble has only just begun.

Cabaret of Monsters by Tansy Rayner Roberts – got this through Robert’s recent Kickstarter to resurrect her Creature Court trilogy. I enjoy Robert’s writing a lot, and this was no exception. Very much stand alone, although it I think it adds something if you’ve read the Creature Court trilogy (I’m planning a re-read when the new editions come out). From Goodreads:

Saturnalia in Aufleur is a time of topsy-turvy revels, of the world turned upside down and transformed before your eyes. The city’s theatres produce an annual display of reversals, surprises and transformations.

In this city, flappers can transform into wolves. Even the rats are not what they seem.

Evie Inglirra is on a mission to infiltrate the theatrical world of Aufleur and discover what lies beneath their glamorous cabaret costumes and backstage scandals. Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

Luna and Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald – great space opera.

I’ve been enjoying the Murderbot series by Martha Wells (not the only person on the planet that this is true of) so I decided I might try one of her fantasy books, and picked up Death of the Necromancer. Really good fantasy, set in a secondary world with a kind of 18th/19th century feel (muskets and swords, not medieval). Unfortunately, a lot of the books she has written based in this world don’t seem to be available in Australia, but I’ll keep looking.

Starting the Galactic Suburbia book club where they are reading How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ. Only up to chapter one at the moment, but I can tell it will be a very interesting experience.

I’m not reading as much as I should!

Movies

Normal superhero palaver – Ant Man and the Wasp, Deadpool 2, even went and saw Venom last night. I remain a sucker for superhero movies, even the bad ones. Ant Man and the Wasp I really enjoyed – funny, light hearted enough to be a good antidote to the slightly depressing Infinity WarsDeadpool 2 was funny, I’ve just picked it up on DVD and looking forward to watching the extended edition. Venom… wasn’t great, but watchable and I do like the anti-hero trend at the moment.

I suspect my daughter will insist on going to see the Teen Titans Movie some time these school holidays, and I’m also looking forward to the Spiderman cartoon with Miles as Spiderman.

Games

I’ve downloaded some old games onto the iPad – Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2. I loved those games when I was younger, and I love them still! Have completed BG1 and working my way through BG2 as a Cleric/Ranger character (which I’ve never played before).

I also bought the new Tomb Raider game, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet as my 10yo daughter has decided she is going to be Laura Croft when she grows up and is devouring the game herself.

Writing

I’ve gone back to my novel manuscript, and have been slowly working my way through it editing. It is a very slow process – I don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing at the moment, and what time I have tends to be late at night when I’m not at my freshest.

Dimension6 Issue 15 out now

The latest issue of Dimension6 is out now, a free Australian magazine of speculative fiction. You can get your copy at the Couer de Lion website, or download a copy here.

My novella, ‘The Reclaimers’, appeared in Issue 13 of Dimension6, so you know the editor has excellent taste. Well worth checking out.

Issue 15 features:

‘Zodiac’ by Mark Barnes
She was the only living woman in the Never Never. They didn’t stand a chance.

_________________________________

‘Easy Like Arsenic’ by Ephiny Gale
This ‘once upon a time’ is nothing like the others.

_________________________________

‘The Shaming’ by David Coleman
Never question a Scrutineer. Ever. But Rosie would.

Matters Arising for the Identification of the Body by Simon Petrie – a review

Another delayed review from a book I read a while back – I’m trying to catch up!

From Goodreads:

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

‘Matters Arising’ won the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella or Novelette, and was shortlisted in the analogous category in both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

This novella by New Zealand born/Canberra based Simon Petrie was recently re-released under his own imprint. Petrie has a series of stories based on a colonised Titan (one of the moons of Saturn), and while most of them are straight sci-fi, Matters Arising is a sci-fi/detective story crossover. Perhaps due to the number of stories he has set in this world, there is plausible, in depth world building that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative which is a great starting point.

For instance Petrie creates an interesting conceit, having an arm of the government work to establish the details of suicides to see if the society can learn anything from the circumstances. It is an interesting reflection on how culture/government might evolve in a constrained environment like a Titan colony.

In fact, Matters Arising packs a lot into the novella length. As well as setting a good pace, Petrie uses the extra space of a novella to flesh out the main character nicely, showing glimpses of family and other background information which creates a much stronger connection between reader and protagonist.

The mystery at the core of the story is intriguing, and the payoff at the end satisfying. The mystery itself depends on some of the technological advances outlined in the world building, which I like in a sci-fi/crime story. When the mystery could be set anywhere, it seems to defeat the purpose of using a futuristic setting.

All in all, I found Matters Arising a thoughtful, exciting piece, well and truly worthy of its award winning status. Highly recommended!

What’s shakin’? – June 2018

So, what have I been up to in June, culture consumed wise?

TV

Finally got around to finishing a couple of TV seasons that I’d left half done for some reason.

Lost In Space Season 1 – visually spectacular, good characterisation, tense. So if it was so good, why did I pause half way through and not come back to it for about 2 months? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it had to do with the Dr Smith storyline. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and people to work out what she was up to created a tension that took the edge off the show for me. However, when I got back into it it was a good run to the end, and it was an intriguing cliff hanger.

Shadowhunters Season 3 – don’t generally love the angel/devil based urban fantasy (I love urban fantasy, just not the Christian element) but I remain vaguely interested in this one. Not enough to watch religiously (pun intended), but every now and then. I could make some comments about world building, but honestly I think I like it mainly because I can switch my brain off and just watch along.

The Magicians Season 3 – now this was excellent TV. I’ve liked The Magicians all the way through, but I thought this season stepped it up a notch. It goes without saying that Margo and Elliot steal the show as always, but using a portal fantasy setup to allow for the meta-examination of the tropes of fantasy makes this show stand out for me. If you haven’t been watching, definitely go back to season 1. But put it this way – any show that uses misheard request to result in “trial by wombat” is always going to have my vote.

Also watched the end of The Flash and Supergirl (my daughter loves both). I’m less of a fan these days, I think the characters on both shows (as well as Arrow) makes questionable ethical decisions, at least from a utilitarian point of view. Still, it is a good experience sharing with my daughter.

Next month, I watching along with Gotham (bonkers!) and looking forward to watching the next season of Luke Cage.

Books

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley. Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just not smart enough to understand a book? The Stars are Legion has got a lot of love from a lot of people whose opinion I respect, but I didn’t fall in love with it myself. Didn’t hate it either, my reaction was more of the “meh” variety. I appreciated aspects of the novel, what it was doing with gender etc. But it didn’t grab me me by the throat and I had to drag myself through. Just goes to show, all the novels aren’t for all the people!

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – I know I’m a bit late to this particular parade, but I liked this novel. It had that William Gibson/Bruce Sterling kind of feel which conjured up that warm, snuggly feeling you get when you are reminded of your teenage reading habits. Some really interesting comments on the long term impact of intellectual property law taken to an extreme. Some great characters as well – I like a novel that can write from the perspective of both the protagonist and the antagonist and still make both have sympathetic elements (as well as non-sympathetic ones).

Next month I’ve got Alan Baxter’s Hidden City on my reading list, not sure what else yet. As always, happen to entertain any suggestions in the comments.

Movies

My 10yo daughter has fallen in love with Oceans 8, and has insisted on seeing it three times at the movies. So I actually got to go and see it one of those three times. Does a great job at replicating the feel of the first movie, but still being a very fresh take on the theme. Script was tight, acting great – a fantastic movie, but if my daughter’s experience is anything to go from, particularly good for any young women in your orbit.

Speaking of heist films, I also saw Solo towards the start of the month. I know it hasn’t received as much love as previous films, but I really liked it. It was good to see another aspect of the Star Wars universe, and I thought the plot was good for the style of film (fast paced). There were enough nods to the history to keep fans happy, but I think a non-fan would also get a lot from it.

Next month, it’s Ant Man and the Wasp on the radar. I’d also like to see The Incredibles 2.

Writing

The experience of having my novella (‘The Reclaimers‘) released in Dimension6 earlier in the year was fantastic. Since then, I’ve been motivated to start editing my novel draft (Unaligned) and working on a new short story that I’m excited about. Family life and work have left less time than optimal for writing (and this blog!) over the last few years, and I’m trying to reboot now.

Dimension6 Issue 14 out now

The latest issue of Dimension6 is out now, a free Australian magazine of speculative fiction. You can get your copy at the Couer de Lion website, or download a copy here.

My novella length story, ‘The Reclaimers’, appeared in Issue 13 of Dimension6, so you know the editor has excellent taste. Well worth checking out.

Issue 14 features:

‘#WhiteWitch’ by Shauna O’Meara

Facing danger at the top of the world? You need #WhiteWitch.

_________________________________

‘All in Green’ by Adele Gardner

Rappo and Finn were joined in life like no-one else. But what if one should face death?

_________________________________

‘In The Nexsphere’ by Doug Bost

It’s the next big thing in tech. Maybe you should read the user manual first.

_________________________________

‘The Giant’s Servant’ by Trent Jamieson

Did you know giants come in all shapes and sizes?


 

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer – a review

Another tardy review from a book I read last year, Crossroads of Canopy by Australian author Thoraiya Dyer (*). The recent release of the sequel Echoes of Understorey prompted me to finally put finger to keyboard.

From Goodreads:

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

The first thing that really struck me about this book was the world-building. Societies that have evolved living in the branches of huge trees, with the closer you can get to sunshine, the better off you are. Even though we are seeing the world through a single perspective, Dyer does a wonderful job hinting at a more complex world, leaving me with no doubt that future books will have plenty of material to explore. It does take a couple of chapters to orient yourself in the book, but a small amount of initial effort pays off handsomely.

Dyer has created an interesting pantheon to inhabit her world. No unknowable distant gods here, but 13 very tangible beings constantly reincarnated into new bodies. There were some tantalising hints as to how these gods came to be, and where they might have got their power from. There were also interesting societal consequences explored, when the evolution of your community is done in the presence of such powerful beings.

At first I found the protagonist, Unar, relatively unsympathetic, and a little hard to relate to. I hit a turning point when I started to think of her as a millennial, and those traits that I had initially found a tad grating became more recognisable. I think Dyer has been clever here, and as a result of her early portrayal Unar has a very satisfying character arc. A character drawn in less stark terms at the beginning would not have been capable of such fundamental change/growth.

The book forms a natural canvas for exploring issues of diversity by weaving themes of race, societal status, slavery into the fabric of the story, and the world building.

Dyer is one of Australia’s pre-eminent short fiction writers, and it was a pleasure to see her translate that skill into the novel length market. I am very much looking forward to reading her next book in the series.

 

(*) I am acquainted with Thoraiya through a writing group that I sporadically attend (it is an excellent writing group, my less than stellar attendance record speaks more to the demands of work and family than any deficiency in the group!). I don’t think this fact has influenced my feelings re: this book, but who knows?

The Reclaimers – out now in Dimension6 #13

Well, it has finally happened. My novella, “The Reclaimers”, is available in issue 13 of Dimension6.

I’m very excited to have this novella see the light of day. Regular readers might recall my post when the story was first accepted by Keith Stevenson. In that post I talked about some of the history of the story, and thanked a few people who helped along the way. Go back and have a read of that post if you’re interested. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

A little blurb to whet your appetite:

Ulanda wanders along the edge of civilisation, cleansing border towns of a deadly residue that lingers from the magical weapons of mass destruction that ended the war. It’s the only job still allowed for the paranormally-inclined and life is adequate, until an old girlfriend appears with a questing opportunity that Ulanda knows she absolutely should refuse…

Or the much more succinct:

Wizard garbage disposers – the pay stinks but the hours… yeah, they’re pretty bad too.

Not only will you get to read “The Reclaimers”, but you’ll also get to read two other excellent stories by Emilie Collyer and Robert Stephenson:

‘Reckoning’ by Emilie Collyer
The Earth was broken. Gia was broken. Could they save each other?

‘Water for Antiques’ by Robert Stephenson
Dravid couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe he was right not to.

And how much will these three stories cost you? Well, inexplicably Keith gives away Dimension6 absolutely free! Now you can’t ask better than that.

Go to the Dimension6 page at Coeur de Lion Publishing, or you can even get the issue here (this site is an affiliate for D6). I hope you enjoy reading “The Reclaimers” and would love to hear from you with feedback (good or bad!).

Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks – a review

First a confession. I’ve been very tardy writing this review. Partly because the business of life has got in the way of me updating this site as often as I should, but also because I felt I needed to sit on this story for a while before writing down my thoughts. It is, without doubt, one of the most refreshingly different stories I’ve read in a while. I knew I liked it. But I had to think a bit about why.

This is the second book I’ve reviewed by Australian author Jason Franks. The first was Bloody Waters, a fantastic story about magic and music.

From Goodreads:

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.
A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

As the title suggests, this is not a pleasant dip into the whimsical world of the fey. There are few characters whose behaviour would lead me to call them sympathetic. Compounding that, Franks uses labels instead of names (“The Magus”, “The Mortal” etc) to create even more distance. For the first few chapters I found this a little off-putting. I didn’t feel engaged with the protagonist. I even put the book down for a few days. But Franks’ prose has the same deceptively simple, and beautiful, style that I loved in Bloody Waters and so I came back, and was quickly hooked.

And that was when I realised that the characters were not designed to be sympathetic, and the additional distancing actually allowed me to focus more on the impact they were having to the world(s) around them, rather than wasting energy on trying to relate. It also gave the whole text the feel of a fable, almost in the style of aural storytelling. I found the combination compelling, and once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I gobbled it up in very short order.

Not withstanding all that, I did love reading the character of the Magus. A bad man by any standard, but I love Australian bad guys. Franks draws out the Australian-ness of the character to a level that should resonate with overseas readers, but doesn’t go too far into parody. In that sense, it reminded me of the writing of another favourite Australian author, Jason Nahrung. There are also a few little quirks that would particularly appeal to an Australian sensibility, for the local reader.

There is a lot of violence, to almost gratuitous levels. However the violence has a purpose, and underpins the story. It is an apocalypse after all. And each fight/battle/encounter is rendered so uniquely that the violence doesn’t seem repetitive at all. Still, if you aren’t one for a bit of blood and guts steel yourself before embarking on this particular quest.

The novel is made up of a few interlocking stories that build on each other. Franks uses the structure to pointedly comment on a lot of fairytale tropes, usually without much mercy. The gradual accretion of evidence of fey-dysfunction built slowly over the course of the stories also helps make the case for the conclusion.

While the first couple of transitions are a little jarring, by the end of the novel the different strands have come together and you have a connected narrative in your head.

Franks plays a bit with time, and as a reader your progress through the story is not exactly linear. However, I’ve been a sucker for this type of storytelling since I fell in love with Catch-22 at high school, and I found it added to the other-worldly feel of the novel.

As a minor aside, there is one section, based in the “real” world that is clearly set in the future. Franks does a fantastic job seeding the story with just a small number of specific details that flags this fact, without having the character dwell on futuristic things. It is a subtle, but brilliantly executed, piece of world building and although it is only a very small part of the story, I did enjoy it as both a reader and a writer.

A fantastic, original piece of work that I very much enjoyed. Franks has delivered another great read, which I highly recommend.


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