Galactic Chat interview – Keith Stevenson

Well, my first interview for the Galactic Chat podcast is now up. I interviewed speculative fiction all-rounded Keith Stevenson. Keith is a publisher (Coeur de Lion Publishing), a writer, an editor and is in the early stages of producing a new magazine – Dimension 6.

I had a great time talking with Keith. He has some really interesting perspectives on the speculative fiction scene, and I loved his “try anything” attitude. His passion for learning new skills and using those skills to look at the genre in new ways was inspiring. Coeur de Lion has published some fantastic works (see my reviews of Pyrotechnicon and Anywhere But Earth) and it was a privilege to get a glimpse into the mind of the man behind the curtain.

I also asked Keith to do a reading from one of his short stories – I thought it would add something for listeners if they could hear an example of the interviewee’s work. Would love to get feedback on whether listeners find that part of the interview useful.

(I have to apologise for the sound quality. This was my first interview and I hadn’t factored in the sensitivity of the microphones to background noise. Our illustrious leader Sean Wright, who does all of the post-production work, did the best he could to clear it up.)

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


Show notes follow:

In this episode we introduce interviewer Mark Webb who grabs hold of writer, publisher, editor, podcaster and speculative fiction raconteur Keith Stevenson and quizzes him about his wide and varied speculative fiction career. They cover some history around Coeur de Lion publishing and what makes a Coeur de Lion publication, Keith’s recently announced Dimension 6 speculative fiction e-magazine initiative, his latest writing projects and the fragmentation of the publishing world that has accompanied the eBook revolution.

Keith also does a reading from his time travel paradox short story ‘…They First Make Mad.’ to round out the interview.

More information about coeur de lion publishing, including details on where to purchase the books mentioned in the podcast, can be found at More information about Dimension 6 can also be found at the website.

If listeners want to hear the end of ‘…They First Make Mad’, they can hear the whole story, plus stories by Brendan Duffy and Trent Jamieson, on the Terror Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast episode 14 at

Note: there was a bit of background noise at the venue, and Mark’s recording equipment wasn’t quite good enough to screen it all out. Listeners should pretend they are sitting at a trendy café, eavesdropping on two sophisticated writer types talking shop. In fact, it is compulsory to be drinking a macchiato while listening to this podcast. You’ve been warned.

Author Website:

Author Twitter: @stevenson_keith


Interviewer: Mark Webb

Guest: Keith Stevenson

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright 


Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin – review

A Madness of Angels

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin came to my attention when listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The Writer and the Critic (episode 29 if you’re interested). The book was recommended by guest N.K. Jemisin and sounded very interesting. Besides, the author’s real last name is Webb. Can’t go past a book by another Webb.

So, a basic rundown of the plot. Matthew Swift is an urban sorcerer, someone who uses the rhythms and movements of the city to create magic. He has also been dead for the last two years. Our story begins when he suddenly gets better, resurrecting fully formed, naked and in his old apartment, which is now being occupied by someone else. It isn’t the only thing that’s being occupied by someone else. Matthew has brought some visitors along for the ride in his newly corporeal body. Who killed him? Who brought him back? The rest of the novel is driven by Swift’s attempts to answer these questions.

The world building is great in this book. Different forms of magic, from the creative sorcery making ad hoc use of the powers inherent in a city of millions, through to rule bound magicians, magically travelling bikies and gun toting religious nutters. This is a world meant for more than one book (and indeed I can see there are three more in the series).

The main character shares his consciousness with previously incorporeal beings, and Griffin represents this duality very effectively, switching between singular and plural pronouns throughout the narrative. The instability inherent in this kind of sharing made for a more compelling character – from the glimpses we get of Swift pre-merger, he wouldn’t have been interesting enough to hold a readers attention.

Other characters were portrayed in interesting ways, but I didn’t feel particularly close to any of them. Some of the minor secondary characters felt a little shallow, with not enough back story to forge a connection. One particularly pivotal character is introduced quite late, and does not have enough page time for the reader to really feel for her when nasty things happen.

I’m in two minds about the writing itself. In some scenes I found it wonderful – gorgeous prose describing the sorcerer’s movement through an urban environment, and giving a wonderful sense of place for London and its surrounds. But in other places the text became dense and difficult to read, and I must admit that I found myself skimming. This was probably my loss, but I suspect if I’d gone as slowly as the text sometimes demanded I would have been reading this book for a long time. On the other hand, the dialogue in the book was excellent – crisp, focused and with just the right amount of snark.

So overall I found that the book dragged a little. It felt like it could have been edited to be a lot tighter. There were points where the stream-of-consciousness style of narration worked very effectively as Swift and his passengers moved through the city, and other times where it didn’t quite capture me.

All in all I enjoyed the book and will track down the sequels at some future point. Recommended for lovers of urban fantasy.

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

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Have you been keeping up with Galactic Chat?

I’ve been a bit slack posting lately, and the well oiled machine that is the Galactic Chat podcast has been moving forward like the unstoppable juggernaut it is. If you haven’t been paying attention, you’ve missing some excellent interviews including:

I’ve done two interviews now, which are both in post production and will be coming up over the next few weeks.

Hey, I know by now you must be feeling bad about not keeping up. Go and listen to the back catalogue of interviews immediately and that feeling will subside. To prevent further guilt based symptoms, why not follow the podcast on Twitter (@galactichat), or send some feedback via email (galactichat at gmail dot com)?

Suited by Jo Anderton – 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.


Suited by Jo Anderton is the second in the Veiled World series of books (see my previous review of the first book in the series, Debris, here).

Suited follows the continuing adventures of Tanyana, former elite manipulator of pions, now reduced to cleaning the magical debris left over from their use. Having taken the side of the Keeper (the mostly invisible manager of debris) against the mysterious Puppet Men, Tanyana finds herself the uneasy ally of the rebellion element in the city of Movoc-Under-Keeper as well as fighting an internal battle against her own debris collection suit.

Once again Tanyana is a very conflicted character – constantly questioning herself. At first I was concerned that she was going to spend a lot of time moping about, but as the psychological influence of her suit becomes clearer, the conflict behind the self-reflection becomes more evident and is more satisfying as a result.

In fact, the suit takes on enough personality to be considered a character in its own right in this book. I liked the balance between the power the suit provided Tanyana, and the cost of accessing that power. It made Tanyana more engaging.

The secondary characters are still fairly lightly drawn, but I did feel that some of the characters closest to Tanyana were filled in more solidly in this second book, in particular the character of Lad.

As is often the case with sequels, we learn a lot more about the world and what is going on with the supernatural, traumatised Keeper and the nasty Puppet Men. This is the part of the story that hooked me most – trying to puzzle out the mystery of exactly how this world is constructed. Tantalising hints are sprinkled through the story, including references to “programmers” (unusual in what is on the face of it a secondary world fantasy!). This central mystery, more than anything else, is what will bring me back for the third book in the series (which, as far as I can tell, isn’t released yet).

In Debris I occasionally found that the pace dragged, but didn’t have that sensation with Suited. Some excellent action scenes are interspersed with the more character driven scenes (in fact the scenes where Tanyana cuts loose are quite something to be seen).

All in all I enjoyed Suited immensely. Looking forward to the next volume!


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

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Galactic Chat update

Well, the newly revamped Galactic Chat podcast is up and running with the first two interviews of the new regime (1) released. The pre-launch episode was a corker, with David McDonald interviewing NK Jemisin, guest of honour at the recent Continuum convention in Melbourne.

The second interview, released in the last day or so, has our intrepid leader interrogating Margo Lanagan on all manner of things literary.

It’s been an interesting experience getting involved with an existing podcast. I’ll be recording my first couple of interview in the next week or two, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Both are with people I admire very much in the Australian speculative fiction scene, and getting the chance to engage with them is a pleasure.

So in the mean time, why not subscribe and listen to an interview or two? You won’t regret it.


(1) Sean the Bookonaut is a hard task master, driving us all with a steely determination that far exceeds the bounds of modern work health and safety standards.

Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart – review

Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart

I recently read, enjoyed and reviewed New Ceres Nights, a collection of short stories set in the shared world of New Ceres. In a future where humanity has reached the stars, one planet choses to limit themselves to 18th century technology. I liked the collection, and have been keeping an eye out for further work set in the same world.

Angel Rising by Dirk Flinthart is a novella set in New Ceres, focusing on one of the shared characters, George Gordon. Gordon is one of the few people allowed to used modern technology, as a part of a group of protectors (Proctors) that are deployed to foil plots that threaten the New Ceres way of life.

In this novella he is off to the Sunrise Isles, where 18th century Japanese culture has been recreated. Inevitably he runs across samurai, ninjas and mystic warrior nuns, as well as a mysterious offworlder with amnesia and a lot of people looking for her.

I enjoyed the novella, giving further insight into this shared world. I find it interesting how the same character is portrayed by different authors, same base characteristics but some real differences in characterisation.

Flinthart’s writing is crisp and clear, with engaging action sequences placed at regular intervals in the plot. The plot was good – as the book is novella length it carries you along at a fair clip. In fact, the shortness is probably the only main issue I had with the work – there were times where I would have liked to see the plot expanded with more texture.

If you’re interested in the New Ceres shared world, I’d probably start with New Ceres Nights. However, Angel Rising is an excellent next stop on your tour.


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

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The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby – review

The Corpse-Rat King

The Corpse-Rat King is Lee Battersby‘s first novel. Battersby has a fine pedigree as a short fiction writer and while I haven’t read as much of his stuff as I’d like, he comes very highly recommended by people whose taste I trust. The Corpse-Rat King was nominated this year for the Australian Shadows Awards (Best Novel) and the Ditmars (Best Novel).

And very well deserved those nominations were too.

First up I have to say that I found the characters very engaging. I particularly loved the character of Marius, who made for an excellent bounder, cad and reluctant anti-hero. While most of the rest of the cast had relatively minor roles, I did find that even the smallest character was very well drawn.

The prose itself was witty, with excellent dialogue. The whole book had me smiling – with even a couple of laugh out loud moments. Considering the somewhat grim subject matter at times, this is quite the literary feat. Seriously, where do all these people get their talent? I’ve been sending off coupons from the back of cereal boxes for years and I’m yet to receive any myself. Next you’ll be muttering something about hard work and natural skill. Well, where does that leave me? It’s a cruel world.

And speaking of cruel worlds, Battersby certainly doesn’t pull any punches in the creation of his. It is clear that a lot of background world building has gone in, so that even when the adventures get outrageously over the top, there is still a sense of depth to the world around him.

The Corpse-Rat King was in the Australian Shadows Awards for a reason – there is a lot of horror tropes through the books. Corpse strewn battlefields. The living dead. Sailing ships. It’s got it all. But while it is often justifiably placed in the horror section of the store, I would more put it in the “dark fantasy” category myself. You don’t need to be a horror aficionado to really enjoy this book.

Plotting wise this isn’t the tightest book I’ve ever read, but I only really felt that in retrospect. While actually reading it, I was delighted enough by the writing and dialogue that I just enjoyed the show (much the same way as I felt about Adam Browne’s Pyrotechnicon in fact).

Highly recommended. In fact, I’ve just ordered the sequel, The Marching Dead, on my Kindle (<insert deity of choice> bless the power of instant delivery).

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

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Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer – 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.

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the latest in the excellent Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. It is one of the shorter books in the series, and includes the following stories:

  • After Hours
  • Zadie, Scythe of the West
  • Wish Me Luck
  • Seven Days in Paris

Dyer has been winning a lot of awards over the last few years (e.g. recently won the Aurealis Award for her short piece The Wisdom of Ants) and I was keen to read this collection to get exposed to more of her writing. It is a diverse collection, from secondary world fantasy to science fiction (both far and near future) and with some urban fantasy thrown in for good measure.

After Hours starts the collection, with a tale set in rural Australia where werewolves guard an Australian army base. One of the point of view characters, Jess, is a newly minted vet, looking after the army base guard dogs (amongst other patients). Dyer captures the sense of a newly graduated professional quite well – many years of training behind you, but realising how little it actually applies to the real world. The changing point of view between the vet and a werewolf is effective, and the story conjures a sense of the Australian outback well.

Zadie, Scythe of the West is based in a matriarchal society where women are the warriors, and only able to kill as many people as they have brought into the world to create balance (although interestingly they can severely hurt as many people as they like). None of the characters is entirely sympathetic, but they are all very engaging. Issues of gender imbalance are thrown into sharp relief.

Wish Me Luck is set in a far future when an area of space has been discovered where luck can be harvested and commoditised. Another very engaging character, who starts the story in a very sympathetic light but is a very unreliable narrator. The premise of the world is interesting with a lot of background work done to underpin the story.

Seven Days in Paris explores near future use of technology to seek out terrorists. It is a slow-reveal story, so I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling. I enjoyed the manner in which information is divulged and the ending of the story is lovely. Probably my favourite story of the collection.

I can see why Dyer is gathering such praise. The writing is tight, but very evocative and her development of characters across very short story arcs is enviable. Her thematic exploration of power imbalances in this collection is impressive; to create such an array of very different stories that each throws a contrasting light on the asymmetric theme is quite an achievement.

All in all a very interesting read and a great way to get exposed to one of Australia’s most talented writers in the short form. Highly recommended.

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

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All quiet on the eastern front

I haven’t been posting much lately – a little bit of non-speculative fiction life demanding some attention, a little bit of creative blockage, a little bit of laziness (never a factor to be under-estimated). So, let me bring you up to speed on what has been going on:

  • Ion Newcombe over at Antipodean SF accepted one of my very short stories (97 words long in fact). The story is called Hindsight is a Bitch and was originally written for one of the launch events for the In Fabula Divino anthology that came out earlier in the year. It didn’t win that particular event, but I’m proud that it found a home at Antipodean SF.
  • Speaking of Antipodean, this month’s release (issue 180 June 2013) is a cracker, including a bonus 1,600 word piece by Jason Fischer and Martin Livings (two names that if you don’t know, you should!) as well as 6 flash fiction pieces, 2 50-worders, 3 book reviews and even a piece of poetry. Nuke has been busy. Make sure you check it out. (If you’re reading this post after June 2013, a link to the archived version of issue 180 can be found here).
  • In other news, Sean the Bookonaut is re-lauching the Galactic Chat podcast, and he has asked yours truly to be involved. Stay tuned for more details, but hopefully you’ll soon be hearing my dulcet tones across the podcasting airwaves with interviews of speculative fiction authors, artists and community members. My fellow interviewers, Sean, Alex and David are all much more qualified/interesting than I, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to contribute in some small way.
  • My writing has been going slow – very slow. I have two stories that I’m shipping around the traps – one of which got a very nice, personalised rejection recently (much better than my normal form rejection letters!). A third story is about 10,000 words and is not quite there yet – my characters aren’t engaging enough. Damn them and the horse they rode in on. Apart from those, I have the half constructed skeletons of another three stories that should be in the 4,000 – 10,000 range when I’ve finished with them. If I ever finish with them. Writing can be slightly depressing sometimes!
  • I have 7 reviews up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013, with my 8th review (Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer) to come hopefully this weekend.

I’m definitely going through one of those “life gets in the way” patches at the moment. I am up to date with nothing and no one. I owe a couple of people critiques of their work (I’m mainly talking about you Lyn – my pace is glacial at the moment). I’m not writing anywhere near as much as I should be. Even with the Kindle taking most of the load, my to-be-read shelf of physical books is overflowing. The less said about my short story reading the better.

Still, you know what they say. Something about darkness and dawns. Attending the Aurealis Awards ceremony and talking to some great people there gave me a much needed kick up the bum. And hey, there’s a long weekend stretched out in front of me. And I finally tracked down a copy of Jason Nahrung’s The Darkness Within. Things could be a lot worse.

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day – 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.

A Trifle Dead

I know, I know. I said I’d only review speculative fiction books this year. I extolled the virtues of purity and staying faithful to the one true genre. I disparaged my own ability read anything else. And now I’m reviewing a crime novel.

I can hear what you’re all thinking. “Where are your ideals now, Webb?”, “So much for your love of speculative fiction, you’ll just wander around after any old book as long as it has a dessert on the cover won’t you?”

These are all well reasoned and valid criticisms, for which I have only one response, and a fairly poor one at that.


You heard me. (1)

Livia Day is the crime alter-ego of fantasy writer Tansy Rayner Roberts, whose Creature Court trilogy I enjoyed very much. I was interested to see what she’d done with the crime genre (and I’ve also been really liking the work coming out of publisher Twelfth Planet Press recently).

Lets start with what I liked about A Trifle Dead. The writing is enviably tight, with good attention to detail. Pacing was excellent, although overall the book seemed a little long I couldn’t fault the pace of the individual chapters.

I loved the use of Hobart as a character in the book (and I could only think of it as a character). Day does an excellent job conveying the sense of the city, and for those of us on mainland Australia used to thinking of Tasmania as some kind of backwater, it was a real eye opener. I would imagine that the Tasmanian Tourism Board (if such an entity exists) would be promoting the hell out of this book. It made me want to visit (and I didn’t even go to Hobart when good friends were on assignment down there for a few years. I just always assumed they’d prefer to return to civilisation for any catch up, and only saw them when they visited Sydney. I missed an opportunity I think).

But this is where I came a bit unstuck – Hobart was the only character I built any kind of relationship with. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Day’s writing of the characters. I just didn’t like any of them much. The protagonist was a bit irritating, the love interests a bit dull, the best friend a bit meh. There were a couple of minor characters that were vaguely interesting (the protagonist’s house mate for instance), but they were few and far between. I just couldn’t connect.

I found myself rooting for the bad guy, and unless there was a level of plot subtlety that I missed, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.

Now, I’m not a “foodie” and I don’t usually read crime, so I 100% admit that I am not the target audience here. My wife, for example, is a foodie and does read crime and I have had absolutely no hesitation in recommending the book to her – I think she’ll love it. But for me the characters all seemed a bit… well, if I’m honest, silly.

From that base, things went off track. Because I couldn’t connect with the characters, I didn’t like the dialog, despite it having an excellent level of snark. The plot twists, in as far as they pertained to the main character, didn’t hold any emotional resonance, despite being quite clever.

I won’t labour the point, basically this is a well constructed book that just didn’t hit the mark for me. I still rate it reasonably well, because of the excellence of craft. But it’s not a series I’ll be following on from here (although I suspect my household will end up owning copies if I am any judge of my wife’s tastes).

However, if you love food, you are fond of Tasmania and you’re partial to a bit of crime, ignore my recommendation above and get yourself a copy of A Trifle Dead. And leave me a comment telling me what you think!


(1) OK, I’m not sure of the phonetic representation of a raspberry. That’s going to have to do. I’m sure you got the general idea.

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

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