Analog – December 2011 – review

My favourite story of this issue was The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, based on the premise that Earth has entered into a series of treaties with alien races that mean that Earth citizens are subject to alien laws when in alien territory. The story is told from the point of view of a young lawyer serving time as a defender in the InterSpecies Court to pay off her student loans.

The story was well written, but I particularly liked the premise of attempting to navigate the nightmare that occurs when multiple, fundamentally different legal systems intersect. The idea that Earth governments would give up on fringe citizens in order to get advantageous trade deals was sadly plausible. The story gave a good sense of the frenetic pace required to operate in that world through the eyes of the protagonist, Kerrie.

I also enjoyed Not for Ourselves Alone by Charles E. Gannon. Humanity is in retreat, attacked by a species known as the Arat Kur. The Arat Kur have a super weapon that is cutting through Earth based defences like they weren’t there. The story is about a group of military specialists who have been tasked with intercepting the Arat Kur fleet at Jupiter and trying to get enough data to understand the weapon so that humanity can formulate a defence.

I liked the premise and the multi-national nature of the military force (there was even a New Zealander!). The story is told from the perspective of a Russian tactical specialist. Very interesting mystery and the story was constructed well – without a schmaltzy ending.

Also in this months edition were:

  • Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen
  • Turning It Off by Susan Forest
  • Freudian Slipstream by Brad Aiken
  • Hidden by Kyle Kirkland
  • Art For Splendor’s Sake by Dave Creek


Anywhere But Earth – edited by Keith Stevenson – review

At the recent NSW Writer’s Centre Speculative Fiction Festival I attended the launch of this 29 story anthology produced by Coeur de Lion and edited by Keith Stevenson. As the name implies, Anywhere But Earth has stories based on mostly human exploration and colonisation of the galaxy, with the only common theme that the stories are not set on Earth.

There are a range of authors, with a heavy weighting towards the antipodes. There seems to be reasonable gender balance in the stories, not quite 40% women authors by my count which isn’t world’s best but still a lot better than many anthologies. Each story has a little author bio attached – it did feel like a diverse range of authors had been included.

Can I get out of the way early that I loved the stories contained within this book. At the launch, my appetite had been whetted by three strong readings by:

  • Richard Harland from An Exhibition of the Plague – a great story about a visitor to a plague ridden colony. The story twists at the end – the outcome was interesting and a little disturbing. Richard gave a dramatic rendition of the story at the reading with his usual theatrical flair.
  • Alan Baxter from Unexpected Launch – a couple of space cleaners are the only survivors from an unexplained disaster on their ship. Mr Baxter provided good humour in the story and a satisfying ending – what else can you ask for?
  • Margo Lanagan from Yon Horned Moon about a space courier and a close encounter – Ms Lanagan did a beautiful reading, showcasing her flair for language. To be honest, I actually preferred hearing the story read than reading it myself. The prose had a rhythm to it that I found hard to recapture in my head when I was reading the story, but while listening to Ms Lanagan read it flowed beautifully, almost poetically. This very possibly says a lot more about the lack of poetry in my soul than anything about Ms Lanagan’s writing.

Given the strength of the readings, I was anticipating a good book. However, I was surprised at the strength of all the stories. While obviously I enjoyed some stories more than others, there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy on some level. I’ve mentioned a couple of stories specifically below that were particularly noteworthy or had some element I wanted to comment on.

The opening story is Murmer by Calie Voorhis. I read one of Calie’s stories recently in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue #51 and really liked it. This was quite a different style of story exploring the nomadic lifestyle of intergalactic diplomacy and the desire to put down roots, in this case quite literally.

Beautiful by Cat Sparks was memorable not just for the quality of the writing but also as one of the few stories that was completely human-less.

I enjoyed the world created in Rains of la Strange by Robert N Stephenson. It had the feel of a larger universe only glimpsed – I liked the clockwork style of the protagonist and the action scenes felt well written to me. I was a little ambivalent about the ending, the pursuit of “real” emotions by emotionless/controlled mechanical beings is a little overdone in modern sci-fi. But despite my hesitation at those kinds of story lines, I still liked this tale.

Continuity by Damon Shaw had an interesting plot with a good interplay between a ship AI and what remains of the human crew.

Poor Man’s Travel by Patty Jansen was a good story about mind swapping to escape the boredom of interstellar travel and the perils of offers that are too good to be true. I liked the ending of this one. And Ms Jansen was kind enough to sign my copy of the book at the launch.

I was partial to By Any Other Name by Kim Westwood. I won’t give too much away about the story, but the slow reveal was well executed and the nature of the inhabitants of the world described was good. I’m looking forward to reading Ms Westwood’s latest work (The Courier’s New Bicycle) soon.

Space Girl Blues by Brendan Duffy was another slow reveal story, exploring some interesting possibilities in cloning and warfare. The ending to this story appealed to me.

Messiah on the Rock by Jason Nahrung. Space marines fighting space vampires. Enough said.

As well as the stories mentioned above, there was also:

This is one of the better anthologies that I’ve read in some time. Strongly recommended.

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

Zero History by William Gibson – review

As mentioned in my review of Spook Country, I recently decided to catch up on William Gibson’s more recent work.

Spook Country and Zero History form a loose trilogy with one of Mr Gibson’s earlier works Pattern Recognition, which I read long enough ago to have completely forgotten the plot to. Fortunately each book seems to stand fairly independently.

Zero History is told from the perspective of two main characters, both of whom featured in Spook Country:

  • Hollis Henry, a former rock star and writer, still somewhat down on her luck and again running short of money (mostly it seems because of her decision to live in a ludicrously expensive hotel).
  • Milgrim, an expensively detoxed drug addict trying to pull the threads of his life together.

The plot involves both characters finding themselves in the employment of the somewhat enigmatic Bigend, this time searching for a elusive secret brand of clothing. By the end of the book, you are a long way from where you started but the quality of writing kept me in the willing suspense of disbelief zone.

Each short chapter alternates between Hollis and Milgrim’s point of view. This time I took my own advice and read the book in longer bursts, which did make the story flow a lot better.

Like Spook Country, there is not a lot of science fiction in Zero History. There were no real fantastical elements at all in the story (unlike the description of systema in Spook Country). Current technology is pushed to plausible but extreme limits. Again, the story in very explicitly of its time – the difference from Spook Country is that my reading happened while the technology is still fresh. I still have the same concerns about longevity, but I found myself not being distracted as much by dated references to products and brands.

The plot was much more compelling – it seemed to build much more satisfyingly to a conclusion. The last 20% or so of the book kept me hooked in and I read it in one session.

Overall I had a very pleasurable reading experience on this one, and would recommend it. If you’ve read Pattern Recognition and/or Spook Country you’ll know if you’ll enjoy this book though – it has a very similar style to it.

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

Paul Haines – author

Paul Haines, a New Zealand author now based in Australia, is a speculative fiction writer who specialises in quite disturbing stories. When I first started to realise that I wasn’t happy with the narrow range of my speculative fiction reading, I came across one of Paul’s stories in the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast and thought “This is just cool”.

I’m not actually much of a horror reader, but Paul’s story was so well written and so different from what I was used to reading that it spurred me on to actively seek out antipodean writers and even start my own writing. I credit Paul and his writing for starting me on my current track, which has been very personally rewarding and has helped bring a bit more creative balance to my life.

So it was with sadness I recently read that, due to an ongoing and worsening fight with cancer, Paul has been forced to give up his writing career. His post gives a fantastic summary of the work he has done and a moving account of the work he has to leave behind.

Starting with his latest collection The Last Days of Kali Yuga, I’m going to be actively seeking out the work of Paul’s that I haven’t had a chance to read, and I’d encourage anyone who loves good writing that does an excellent job of freaking you the hell out to do the same.


Spook Country by William Gibson – review

Spook Country by William Gibson has been on my to read list for quite a while, but it kept getting pipped at the post by other books. I recently decided that enough was enough and that I needed to get it and Mr Gibson’s latest (Zero History) read.

Spook Country and Zero History form a loose trilogy with one of Mr Gibson’s earlier works Pattern Recognition, which I read long enough ago to have completely forgotten the plot to. Fortunately each book seems to stand fairly independently.

Spook Country is told from the perspective of three main characters:

  • Hollis Henry, a former rock star down on her luck after a series of poor investments and giving investigative journalism for a somewhat nebulous new magazine a go.
  • Tito, a young member of a Cuban-American crime family (literally a family)
  • Milgrim, a Russian speaking and somewhat mellow drug addict being held by an agent of an unspecified government or quasi-government agency so he can provide translation services.

Each of the quite short chapters is told from a different main character’s point of view, and the three character’s stories slowly come together over the course of the book. I liked the short chapters in concept, but I did find in practice my reading of the novel was a little choppy. I was reading a few chapters each evening before going to sleep, and sometimes it would take me a little while to get back into the rhythm of the book. I would probably recommend trying to read the book in a fewer number of longer reading sessions – the few times when I got a longer read going I enjoyed the experience a lot more.

There is not a lot of science fiction in Spook Country. The book was first published in 2007 and the setting and technology reflect that era. The only thing even slightly fantastical is one of the characters, Tito, and his use of “systema” (a sort of Russian martial arts) in combination with the Santeria religion (I only worked out that these were separate things when I was looking up systema on Wikipedia afterwards). Tito lets the (real or imagined) spirits of his religion inhabit him, allowing him to perform different tasks more instinctively e.g. a form of free running, fighting etc. Given the tone of the rest of the book, I suspect the religion provides a means for the character to enter an advantageous mental state rather than Mr Gibson meaning us to take it literally as a form of magic, but it does provide a fantastical feel to parts of the book.

The story comes together nicely and I enjoyed the main characters, each of which was written very differently. It is interesting reading a book that is so explicitly of its time – the blatant use of 2007 technology (including naming specific brands) means the book is somewhat dated even only four years later, but I found what is done with the technology so interesting that I tended to forget about the time lag (e.g. locative art, using wireless devices and headsets to see digital art tied to a particular physical location). However, at the end I did wonder whether I would feel the same way reading the book in say 10 years time. Still, it certainly does capture a slice in time and may remain interesting for that reason.

While I found the writing excellent, the plot wasn’t particularly compelling – I certainly wasn’t staying up until three o’clock in the morning because I absolutely had to know what happened next. Still, it did evoke a beautifully realised world populated with characters that all felt vaguely cooler than I’ll ever be, and I enjoyed reading the book from that perspective if nothing else.

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

Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

I’ve seen the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge mentioned in a few blogs recently. It seems like a very positive way of promoting more gender equity in literacy circles, so I’ve decided to give it a go.

I’ve chosen the purist (speculative fiction) genre challenge, and the Miles challenge level (i.e. read 6 books, review 3). In the back of my mind, I’m hoping I might get closer to the Franklin-fantastic challenge level, but I am aware that my day job and life generally can often get in the way of me reading as much as I’d like.

I’m not sure of exactly what my six books will be, but they will likely include:

  • Whichever books from the Twelve Planets series come my way in 2012, starting with Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti. I believe I should get at least 4 books through the Twelve Planets series.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood.
  • Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts (I really enjoyed Love and Romanpunk by the same author, so looking forward to reading some more of her work). If I like it, then I’ll probably read the second book in the series The Shattered City.
  • I’m not sure if this counts, but I’ll be reading the Above/Below double novella. Above is by Stephanie Campisi, which in my mind qualifies it. Below is by Ben Peek. Maybe that disqualifies it. We’ll see.

You can find all my reviews for the challenge here.

Some information from the challenge website follows.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women’s writing.

Challenge period:  1 January 2012 –  31 December 2012

Goal: Read and review books written by Australian women writers – hard copies, ebooks and audiobooks, new, borrowed or stumbled upon by book-crossing.

Genre challenges: 
Purist: one genre only
Dabbler: more than one genre
Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find
Challenge levels:
Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books)
Miles (read 6 and review at least 3* )
Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)*
* The higher levels should include at least one substantial length review

Antipodean SF Issue 162 – December 2011 – review

Issue 162 of Antipodean SF has the usual 10 stories, although Ion is only producing two radio episodes over December.

I enjoyed The Macroscope by Lou Caravelli – in my day job bureaucrats often react with similar admiration of process over content.

Raven by Suzanne J. WIllis had some strong imagery, and I liked the morphing of the raven from aggressor to protector.

The Sound by Brent Lillie was interestingly structured, with a series of quotes from people describing a single event – a sound heard all around the world at the same moment.

Also in this edition were:

  • Beep by Rachel Towns
  • Night Time by Michael Schaper
  • Solidarity by Des McNicholas
  • Love and Perpetual Motion by Bart Meehan
  • Two Wise Men by Martin Hill
  • Textual Relations by David Siegel Bernstein
  • Fugitive by Shaun A Saunders
  • Under the Big Top by Steve Duffy

Nightsiders by Sue Isle – review

Nightsiders by Sue Isle is one of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press (made up of 12 boutique collections of stories by Australian writers). It is made up of four shorter stories, including:

  • The Painted Girl
  • Nation of the Night
  • Paper Dragons
  • The Schoolteacher’s Tale

I’ve not read any of Ms Isle’s work before and quite enjoyed this short volume (138 pages in total). All four stories are related and set in a future where the western seaboard of Australia has been abandoned including the world’s most isolated capital city, Perth. Climate change and some kind of terrorism have reduced Western Australia to a wasteland, where only a small number of people who didn’t participate in the evacuation remain. Post apocalyptic is probably not the right phrase to describe the world – it seems as though things ended with a whimper not an apocalyptic bang. Still, for all intents and purposes the stories are set in a Mad Max style world.

The stories represented an interesting exploration of what amounts to a small civilisation adapting itself to a radically new environment and what that means for their way of life. Old knowledge and teaching is slowly being lost. Children are adjusting to the new world they find themselves in. I liked the setting and the themes of the stories were strong.

The Painted Girl describes life in this new world through the eyes of a young girl (Kyra) as she enters Perth after living an itinerant life moving between inland camps. The story was an excellent way to introduce the “rules” of life in Perth. This introductory element was woven in well with a strong story in its own right, with Kyra learning some unpleasant truths about her own life and existence, and an interesting exploration of tribalism and how easily people can switch to a harsh set of rules when survival is at stake.

Nation of the Night moves us onto a different character, Ash. We take for granted some of the medical marvels of the 21st century, so reading about Ash’s attempts to have gender reassignment surgery when such things are out of reach was compelling. It was a good way of exploring the wider world outside of Perth, with Ash travelling to Melbourne for the operation. It seems as if the eastern seaboard is in as much trouble as the west, albeit trouble of a different nature. Overcrowding, strained services – even New Zealanders aren’t allowed to use the welfare system! I thought this story oriented the reader in the world a lot better, and provided good broader context for the Perth settings. Ash’s feelings about his own gender are well described and it makes for a powerful story.

Paper Dragons gives more insight into the Nightsider world, from the perspective of young people who have grown up not really knowing anything else. I’m not sure I can get behind the concept of a TV soap opera script having the power to stir the apathetic masses to action, but I thought the description of how children adapt to their environment to be very well realised. There starts to be some continuity of characters in this story, with Ash in particular making an appearance.

The last story, The Schoolteacher’s Tale, is from the point of view of an old schoolteacher (Ellen) who remembers the time before the evacuation and is watching the world slipping away from her. There are some strong messages around reconciliation with the various indigenous tribes that inhabit the land around Perth, as well as Ellen coming to terms with the fact that the education she is trying to give to children is not relevant in the harsh new world that they live in. In Ellen there is a connection to our present, and it helps bring the world into much sharper relief. I thought that Ms Isle did an excellent job slowly clarifying the world over the course of the four stories, from the view of an uncomprehending child at the start to Ellen’s modern perspective at the end.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I like speculative fiction stories set solidly in an Australian context and combined with some well fleshed out characters. This book ticks all those boxes and I certainly recommend it!

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

Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex – review

Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex is one of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press (made up of 12 boutique collections of stories by Australian writers). It is made up of four shorter stories, including:

  • Alchemy
  • The Fountain of Justice
  • The Subject of O
  • Thief of Lives

Unlike Love and Romanpunk these four stories are not related to each other. Indeed, two of the stories (The Fountain of Justice and The Subject of O) don’t have any fantastical elements that I could see at all. The writing is excellent – I have heard/read very positive reviews of Ms Sussex’s work elsewhere and I can see from the quality of this work that those reviews are well deserved.

My favourite story of the group was The Thief of Lives. It was one of those stories where you don’t really know what is going on at the start (well at least I didn’t) and you become more oriented as things unfold. I really enjoyed the concept, and although I don’t have enough experience with writing and the publishing scene to know for sure, I suspect there might be some references that would amuse insiders.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my other favourite of the bunch was the other story with fantastical elements Alchemy. Set in ancient Babylon, it tells the story of a woman on a path to become a master perfumer and a demon with a fascination with the sciences who sees in her the opportunity to radically advance chemistry. The ancient world was beautifully rendered in this story and I found the description of the demon’s traversal of timelines intriguing.

The Fountain of Justice is a crime story with a sort of Underbelly (Australian crime drama for any overseas readers) feel to it. Again beautifully written but not as much my cup of tea.

I’m not really sure how to describe The Subject of O – it was an interesting read, but nothing speculative about it and I suspect meant for a different audience than me. Still, Ms Sussex’s writing is excellent and I liked the story without being totally captivated by it.

All in all, another excellent addition to the Twelve Planets series.

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


Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #52 – review

Issue #52 is the second of the quarterly editions of ASIM that I’ve received, and I found the whole edition to be engrossing and entertaining. Some highlights follow.

I really enjoyed Undine Love by Kathleen Jennings. It has a real Australian sensibility, and I had a sense of looking through a small window at a part of a larger story. I like the idea of a family protecting Australia from the supernatural – would like to see more of it.

The Unseen Truths by Liz Colter is an interesting story that makes the metaphysical isolation that is often described in science fiction when a character has telepathy and makes it physical. I liked the idea of “mood masks” and I think the background to the world was deftly sketched in an economical fashion.

A Routine Diplomatic Incident by Ray Tabler. What can I say? I very fun romp, with libido-fueled ambassadors, pragmatic assistants, highly armoured space marines and a high speed race across an alien city using rocket boots. What’s not to like? I found the writing quick paced and funny. One of my favourite of the issue.

First, Do No Harm (Unless They’re Zombies) by Rachel Kolar. I know there are a lot of zombie stories out there at the moment, but I was entertained by this story where everyone has the zombie virus and medical workers have to be careful when a patient dies to ensure they can “put down” the newly activated zombie. The idea that a nurse needs good marksmanship scores as well good medical qualifications was interesting to say the least! It felt a bit like the start of a story rather than something that was entirely self contained, but good nonetheless.

Love As You Find It by Margaret Karmazin. Physically morphing, love slave for hire robots transcending their programming and attempting to take down an interstellar gangster. If that doesn’t make you want to have a read, I don’t know what will.

Taking Care by Pam L Wallace gives us an inkling of what might happen when a 12 year old becomes the man of the town when all the adults are dying out. I found the concept quite moving for such a short piece and well articulated.

The Masked Messenger by David Conyers and John Goodrich is one of the longer stories in this issue. Ancient gods, international terrorism, an Australian national security consultant on all things weird and a temple. Well written and executed with a good ending.

Zombie Dreams by Peter Cooper. Well, zombies should have dreams as well. A fun, short story well worth a read.

Also in this edition was:

  • I Am Nano by Sean Monaghan
  • Ronnie Linton, High School Flame by Dominik J Parisien
  • The Undying Fans of an Unknown Cover Band by Nicky Drayden
  • Midnight Rhino by Brenda Anderson
  • Taking Over by Felicity Pulman
  • Eternal Youth by Melanie Typaldos
  • Wonder in Alice Land by Linda Jenner
  • Speed of Darkness by G R McLeod
  • The Last Resort by L K Pinaire
  • Vivienne by Natalie Nikolovski
  • Golden Years in the Paleozoic by Ken Liu

There was also poetry:

  • City of Clay by Alexandra Seidel
  • Broken Towers by Alexandra Seidel
  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer by Jack Horne