Very short flash fiction piece

Hi all. Antipodean SF has been kind enough to publish another one of my flash fiction pieces. This one is a very short piece called Hindsight is a Bitch and it comes in at around 100 words (I said short, didn’t I?).

You can also read it on the ePub or mobi version of issue 185 available at the e-Reader page of the Antipodean SF website.

I originally wrote this very short story for an online competition, but submitted it to Antipodean SF when I inexplicably failed to win. I hope you enjoy.

Have you been keeping up with Galactic Chat?

Sean Wright has been interviewing up a storm lately on Galactic Chat, a podcast that I (too) occasionally help out with.

Since I last posted about Galactic Chat there have been a LOT of new episodes. Sean is an interviewing machine, there is no doubt about it. Interviews have included:

  • Episode 29: Narelle Harris (horror and romance writer) chats to Alex
  • Episode 30: Tansy Rayner Roberts (fantasy writer) chats to Sean
  • Episode 31: Tracey O’Hara (paranormal thriller writer) chats to Helen Stubbs
  • Episode 32: Stephen Ormsby chats to Sean about his new publishing venture, Satalyte Publishing
  • Episode 33: Sean Williams (New York Times best selling speculative fiction writer) chats to Sean
  • Episode 34: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Filipino speculative fiction writer) chats to Sean
  • Episode 35: Julia Rios (fiction editor for Strange Horizons, host and producer of the Outer Alliance Podcast) chats to Sean
  • Episode 36: Devin Madson (self published author) chats to Sean

You’ll notice the heavy load that Sean is lifting. I’ve only done two interviews since the podcast was rebooted – both were excellent fun, but I’m going to have to pick up my game!

So, listen, subscribe, comment – the podcast is a ball to do and we’d love to have more audience participation!

If there is anyone in the Australian speculative fiction scene that you’d like to see us interview on Galactic Chat, leave a comment here or on the Galactic Chat website.

Caution: contains small parts by Kirstyn McDermott – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2013 Reading Challenge. All my 2013 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Caution: contains small parts

Caution: contains small parts by Kirstyn McDermott is the latest in the Twelve Planets series released by  Twelfth Planet Press. It includes the following stories:

  • What Amanda Wants
  • Horn
  • Caution: Contains Small Parts
  • The Home for Broken Dolls

Kirstyn McDermott is an author who I can rely on to produce excellent quality, lovely prose that creeps me the hell out. I’ve liked her earlier work (see my previous reviews of Madigan Mine and Perfections if you don’t believe me) so it will be no shock to anyone to find out that I really enjoyed Caution: contains small parts as well.

All four stories are in a contemporary setting (as is most of McDermott’s work that I’ve read). The horror elements are subtle – no splatter-punk here. These are generally speaking not high action pieces, rather they twist horror tropes to find interesting ways of exploring characters  and merging together the grotesque and the beautiful.

I’m always concerned with describing short story collections/anthologies – often the pieces are too short to describe without giving spoilers. Let me give you the blurb from the book itself.

Caution: Contains Small Parts is an intimate, unsettling collection from award-winning author Kirstyn McDermott.

A creepy wooden dog that refuses to play dead.
A gifted crisis counsellor and the mysterious, melancholy girl she cannot seem to reach.
A once-successful fantasy author whose life has become a horror story – now with added unicorns.
An isolated woman whose obsession with sex dolls takes a harrowing, unexpected turn.

Four stories that will haunt you long after their final pages are turned.

My favourite of the four stories was the titular story Caution: contains small parts. Without giving anything away, it resonated the most with me. I felt closer to the protagonist than in any of the other stories, and found the ending particularly moving.

The first story, What Amanda Wants, is a very strong piece. A strongly realised protagonist and a mystery that felt solid and resolved satisfactorily (with trademark McDermott creepiness).

Horn contained some very visceral writing and again a strongly realised protagonist. This is the story with added unicorns, in case you were wondering.

The final story (more like novella length) is The Home for Broken Dolls. This was probably my least favourite of the book. Don’t get me wrong: it is superbly written, with some well drawn characters and a good arc for the protagonist. However, I found it more intellectually interesting than emotionally engaging. This is probably one of those this-says-more-about-me-than-it-does-about-the-story moments though.

Overall this is another excellent addition to the Twelve Planets series, and a fantastic addition to  McDermott’s body of work. Highly recommended.

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

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


The Expanse Trilogy by James S.A. Corey – review

Leviathan WakesAbaddon's Gate

Caliban's War

I first came across the first book of the Expanse trilogy Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (pseudonym for the collaboration of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) in a review of one of the later books in the series on the Random Alex website. I have been looking for some good old fashioned space opera, and while Alex’s review of Leviathan Wakes itself was a little underwhelming, I was drawn in by her description of the series as a whole.

The series is made up of three books:

  1. Leviathan Wakes
  2. Caliban’s War
  3. Abaddon’s Gate

I’ve heard a lot of discussions about inside the solar system space opera, but this was my first experience with the trend. I must say I enjoyed the trilogy. For one, I actually went on and read the whole series (rather than putting down the first book and saying “I must get back to that later” as is my usual style). That’s got to be a good sign, right? I think it also came at a time where I needed some reading that was interesting but not too intellectually taxing – this fit that bill quite nicely too.

The characters were relatable (if suffering from perhaps a lack of female perspective in the first book). There was plenty of action, solar system spanning politics, alien intrigue, Rag tag crew, advanced space ship, fighting the forces of oppression etc – all good stuff. I found the exploration of a “realistic” (read “no faster than light travel”) solar system very engaging. The mechanisms used to colonise the planets/moons, the impact of different gravity environments on human physiology and the resultant “race” relations that ensue, the creation of a new frontier society and the ongoing impact of corporations on the expansion into space – these were all interesting themes explored around the edges of the main story.

I enjoyed the plot of the first book, Leviathan Wakes. It was self contained, had a fairly solid mystery at the core and resolved somewhat satisfactorily. The next two books grew grander and grander in their scope, but didn’t seem as tight as the first book.

I read in the latest issue of Locus that the series has been optioned for TV, and I’m not surprised. The books seemed written with at least the possibility of a TV/movie adaption in mind – big ships, big explosions etc. I understand one of the authors is George RR Martin’s assistant in another life – I guess being around that much TV success probably has a way of rubbing off on a person!

I also read a somewhat shorter novella The Butcher of Anderson Station, which tells the story of one of the minor characters of the main series. If you like the novels, this is worth reading – quick and gives more depth to the universe created by the authors. 

Great popcorn reading, well worth the price of admission.

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

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


Supporting the Kaleidoscope Pozible campaign

Over the last couple of years, I’ve quite enjoyed a lot of the work coming out of the Australian small press publisher Twelfth Planet Press. TPP have published some genuinely interesting books and taken some risks while investigating innovative forms of modern reading (for example, their Twelve Planets series).

So when I heard that Alisa Kranostein, the principal behind TPP, was dipping her toe in the crowd funding wading pool, I was keen to support them. A bit of a blurb for the campaign follows (from their Pozible campaign page) :

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy & science fiction stories, which will be edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, and published by Twelfth Planet Press. Too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world’s populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren’t exactly like them. We want see more stories featuring people who don’t always get the spotlight, so we’re gathering a wonderful variety of:

* YA fantasy stories [Update: As of 10/23 we are also open to science fiction]
* Set in the modern world
* Featuring teen protagonists from diverse backgrounds

The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.

That said, these aren’t going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters’ backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we’re not going to have a collection of “Very Special Episode” stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.

It sounds like a great book, and while I’m not really a YA reader I love to see this kind of focus on diversity and on non-US/UK based publishers using new media to source funding for interesting initiatives.

So, if the premise of the anthology looks interesting or you just want to support Australian small press publishing, I’d really encourage you to head on over to the Kaleidoscope Pozible campaign page and pledge. At the time of writing, there are only 5 days to go in the campaign (deadline 31 October 2013 for those of you reading <echoey-voice>FROM THE FUTURE</echoey-voice>).

Go on. You know you want to.

Edit 1/11/2013

The campaign has finished, and the funding goal was met so Kaleidoscope will be going ahead. Congratulations to everyone behind the project and well done.

GenreCon 2013 – a running post

So, I’ll be keeping a running post of my experiences at GenreCon this weekend, just adding bits as the muse takes me (and time permits).

10/10/2013 – travel

I flew in last night (Thursday) and made my way to the hotel. Entirely predictably, they had lost my reservation so my first 1/2 hour was spent standing at the check in counter while a variety of people tried to work out what had went wrong. In the end they gave me an upgraded room for the convention price, so I can’t complain too much. My room looks out over the river, it is all very nice.

11/10/2013 – lunchtime

I attending the Grammar Crash Course workshop with Chris Lynch this morning after taking a nice walk along the river. The workshop was good – my command of the English language is OK, but I went to school at that period in the 70s and 80s where you didn’t actually have the rules of grammar drilled into you, so I don’t tend to get far past the “verbs are doing words” stage when asked to name the components of language. Refreshers are always welcome.

The workshop was good, lots of practical exercises designed to make you really think about language. Met some nice people too – all very pleasant.

Now eating lunch before going to officially “check in” to the convention (they didn’t have my name badge ready earlier). Then I have an afternoon of writing planned before going along to the opening ceremony later this evening.

11/10/2013 – opening ceremony

The opening ceremony was a great chance to catch up with some people I’ve met at previous conferences, as well as some new people. The formal part of the ceremony was short, but drinking and chatting continued late into the evening. A good start to the conference.

12/10/2013 – morning tea

After being a few minutes late to the first session (a plenary session titled The Power of Genre Fiction with keynote presentations by Kathryn Fox, John Birmingham and Anne Gracie) all talking about different aspects of community and genre fiction. I found Birmingham’s presentation resonated most with me (he was reflecting on his accidental fall into speculative fiction), but all three speakers had powerful personal experiences to draw on. I think I said this last year, but I remain impressed by the strong community and business savvy of the romance writing community. I wish the speculative fiction had a similarly coordinated arrangement!

Next was morning tea. I think GenreCon is very clever to build food into the mechanics of the convention. It keeps everyone together through the breaks and keeps a certain momentum to the convention. In fact I was having such interesting conversations that I was late leaving, only to find that the workshop I wanted to attend (on character arcs) was popular enough to be “sold out”. The other two workshops (essentially public speaking and book trailers) looked OK, but are far enough from my current development needs that I’ve decided to go  and have a cup of tea at the cafe downstairs, add this entry to the blog and get some writing in.

More later!

12/10/2013 – afternoon

Afternoon sessions were very interesting. Great panel discussion titled Understanding Other Genres (and stealing the best bits) with Patrick O’Duffy, Sandy Curtis, Kate Cuthburt and Kim Wilkins. In depth discussion of cross over/hybrid stories and how they get marketed/classified. Seemed to be general agreement that “centre” of a genre gets you better sales, but that the centre is a moving target.

Followed by a panel called The Juggling Act with Chuck Wendig, Gracie McGregor and Lisa L. Hannett discussing the challenges of balancing the demands of writing with all other aspects of life. This panel, and a few other comments through the con, have given me a lot of food for thought re: my own writing schedule. I have not been prioritising writing as much as I’d like in the last 12 months – there have been a variety of work and family issues that have required more of my focus. But I would like to spend more time with my writing, and I think I’m going to need to make some more radical changes to my schedule if I’m going to achieve that.

Last for the afternoon was an interview with Irish crime writer John Connolly. I’m not really familiar with John’s work, but he is a very interesting speaker and had some great reflections on what it takes to be a full time writer. One of his strongest points was related to the need to finish everything you start, even if it is crap. This made me somewhat guilty about my novel manuscript was has lain unloved and only 2/3rds done at the bottom of my laptop for over a year now. I think it is about time I dragged it out into the light of day again.

12/10/2013 – evening

This year I went to the convention banquet, titled Cutlasses and Kimonos. I did not get dressed up, but there were many spectacular costumes to be seen on display (I was by far in the minority). Had a great evening chatting with some very cool and interesting people (hi Chris, Jess, Alison and Alexander), where much wine was consumed (included pirate raids launched on other tables as the alcohol supplies dwindled)  and I heard about some great projects people are undertaking. It is inspiring to listen to great writers talk about their craft, I had a good time.

One of the international guests of honour, Chuck Wendig, did a very funny speech discussing 25 reasons why he loves genre fiction, and then there was an excellent Q&A with Wendig afterwards (including the best question I’ve heard in a long time – and I paraphrase: “Chuck, writers use a variety of tools in their craft. Which writer do you think is the biggest tool in the industry?”)

I did flag a little before everyone else though, so headed off to bed not long after the party moved downstairs to the bar.

13/10/2013 – morning

Day started with a great plenary session on the Future of Genre Fiction with Peter Armstrong, Alex Adsett and Anita Heiss. All three were very good. Armstrong gave some interesting historical context around the use of serialisation in publishing in the 1800s, and the opportunities that some of the recent changes in electronic publishing provided to revive the art. He was (minority) spruiking his own technology platform, but he kept the sales pitch to an absolute minimum and there was a lot of food for thought.

Adsett talked a lot about contracts and how conditions are changing in the industry. I went to her workshop on contracts which expanded on the theme, so more on that later.

Anita Heiss talked about her own journey and how she essentially created her own sub-genre (“Koori Chic Lit”). Very inspiring stuff.

Alex Adsett’s workshop on contracts and copyright was very informative. Some of the detail I’d seen last year at her presentation, however it was great to get a reminder and also see how things are solidifying in the digital publishing space. I remain impressed with Adsett – she obviously has a passion for genre and seems to be establishing herself as an agent to watch in our space. Great focus on things like reversion of rights clauses in contracts and going into contracts with your eyes open, even if you don’t feel in a position to negotiate. Seems like a good person to have in your corner.

13/10/2013 – afternoon

My last two panels for the convention were Thinking Like a Pro (Aimee Lindorf, John Connolly, Valerie Parv and Keri Arthur) and Uncommon Apprenticeships (Meg Vann, Lea Scott, Siboney Duff and Kim Wilkins). Both dealt with issues of how to approach the business of writing, including the participants journeys to publication. Thinking Like a Pro had three very well established authors who had made writing their full time job. Uncommon Apprenticeships panel members were not full time writers, but all very well established, and focused on different support mechanisms available to writers (grants etc) as well as individual journeys.


Once again I really enjoyed GenreCon. While spec fic conventions are great in a lot of ways, I don’t always come back recharged and re-enthused for my writing. The fan element of those events, while great, don’t generally inspire me to write. Both this and last year’s GenreCon, with their focus more on the professional side of the writing game, have recharged my batteries. I also find that I meet all kinds of really interesting people working on some really cool stuff, which is inspiring in itself.

I’m not sure when the next GenreCon will be, but I’ll be lining up to get my tickets pretty early.


So, anyone else going to GenreCon this weekend?

I’m heading up to sunny Brisbane this weekend to GenreCon. “What is GenreCon?” I hear you ask. And I quote from their website:

GenreCon is a three-day convention for Australian fans and professionals working within the fields of romance, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and more. One part party, one part celebration, one part professional development: GenreCon is the place to be if you’re an aspiring or established writer with a penchant for the types of fiction that get relegated to their own corner of the bookstore.

I believe they’ve just sold out of tickets, so last minute attendance is no longer possible. But if you happen to be also attending and you see me around, make sure you say hi. And if you’re reading this from Brisbane, please add comments suggesting fun things a heat intolerant southerner can get up to in your fair city.


The Regersek Zone

Hi all,

It’s been a long time between posts – I’m afraid family life and day job have turned Mark into a very dull boy. Well, dull in terms of my writing. I’m a barrel of laughs when it comes to assessing the potential impact of altering the legislative framework governing the employment of public servants in my great state. But then, it’s hard not to be a wacky funster with material like that to work with.

Despite the temptations that drag me away from my blog, I did want to surface for long enough to say that one of my flash fiction pieces, titled The Regersek Zone, has just been published by the always excellent Ion Newcombe over at Antipodean SF.

Antipodean SF is a fantastic Australian website specialising in flash fiction of around 500 words. The editor, Nuke, has provided opportunities for authors to have their work published for many years, and is unfailingly generous with his time. If you haven’t checked out Antipodean SF, go and have a look immediately. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you…




Back? Great. Hope you enjoyed yourself.

As for my story, I was watching the US based Falling Skies recently and began wondering why aliens that have mastered intergalactic travel would ever bother with the Earth. We seem like we’re more trouble than we’re worth. Especially when there is a tempting terraforming target not that far away…

(My other flash fiction publications can be found on the Bibliography page of this site).

Galactic Chat Interview – Jason Nahrung

Well, my next interview for the Galactic Chat podcast is now up. I interviewed dark speculative fiction author Jason Nahrung. It was an honour to get the chance to interview Jason – I’ve been a big fan of his writing for a long time (you can see my previous reviews of Salvage and Blood and Dust elsewhere on the site).

Jason writes at the dark end of the speculative fiction spectrum, and has a broad and deep knowledge of the horror genre in particular. I’ve spoken with Jason at a couple of conferences, and it was very exciting to capture some elements of those “at the bar” conversations in the podcast.

Jason picked a great reading for the podcast – reminding me of how much I loved Blood and Dust (and making me even more eager for him to hurry up and finish the sequel!

I hope you enjoy the interview and please leave feedback here or at the Galactic Chat website.


Show notes follow:

In this episode we Skype in Jason Nahrung, a man who has been called one of the nicest people in the Australian speculative fiction scene, while writing some of its most disturbing fiction.

A penetrating cross-examination ensues on topics far and wide, including his award winning novellaSalvage, his award nominated novel Blood and Dust, what it takes to write on the Melbourne public transport network, whether the modern vampire can be re-fanged, the impact of journalistic skills on self editing and what listeners should read if they want to dip their toe in the horror wading pool.

All this plus the answer to a question that has haunted your interviewer for years – what exactly is a ‘gothic sensibility’?

Jason also does a reading from his latest novel Blood and Dust, where listeners will learn slightly too much about how vampire lovin’ and vegemite can go together.

Jason’s excellent website,, is mentioned at the end of the podcast.

Blood and Dust can be found at the Xoum website Blood and Dust

Salvage can be found at the Twelfth Planet Press website 


Author Website:

Author Twitter: @JNahrung


Interviewer: Mark Webb

Guest: Jason Nahrung

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright


Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

Redshirts by John Scalzi – review

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts by John Scalzi is a science fiction piece riffing on the fate of the infamous Star Trek “redshirts” – those hapless crew members that beam down to the planet with main cast members and always seem to die. The book starts by looking at the situation from the crew member’s perspective, as a group of new recruits begin to realise that their superior officers seem to be miraculously surviving while all around them anonymous crew are slaughtered week after week. The rest of the crew has developed survival techniques to ensure that they are never, under any circumstances, selected for an away mission.

There have been a lot of reviews about Redshirts and I’m not going to be able to add anything particularly insightful in this one. It was… OK. Writing was good (better than anything I could have produced). Story was interesting enough. I liked the three codas at the end. It gets very cleverly “meta”. It was… OK.

If the previous paragraph feels like I’m damning the book with faint praise, it is entirely possible that I am. I didn’t hate it, but I was never really grabbed by it. The writing was good, but not compelling. The premise was clever, but in some ways a bit too clever. It seemed to get in the way of a stronger story.

Coincidentally, I watched another “meta” work over the last couple of days – Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods. I found it interesting to contrast the two works. With The Cabin in the Woods the story seemed to be more strongly embedded, the meta elements woven in a bit more tightly. The Cabin in the Woods is by no means perfect, but it did feel like the story was being put first. Redshirts felt a bit more like the clever conceit was being put first.

Look, this book is up for many awards, and there are a lot of people that love it. It’s a pretty quick read, and is one of those books that has got a lot of “buzz”. I think it might be one you just have to try for yourself – its “meta” elements are different enough that I’m not sure other people’s opinions are as helpful as normal. If you do read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. I can’t shake the feeling that I might be missing something.

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

Update 3/9/2013:

Redshirts just won the Hugo, further proof that I’m probably missing something!

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