The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina – 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.

 The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

 The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is Ambelin Kwaymullina’s first novel. It is based in the far future after a devastating cataclysm has left the world reshaped into a single continent, and the remnants of humanity living in a small number of cities and adhering to a philosophy of Balance to prevent future catastrophes.

Some people are born with special abilities (e.g. the ability to run abnormally fast, turn their dreams into reality, start fires, cause earthquakes etc). These people have been deemed to be a threat to the Balance and are kept in detention camps.

Ashala Wolf is the leader of a tribe of young people with abilities that have escaped detention and live in the wilderness. The story opens with her captured and about to be interrogated for information to help the authorities capture her fellow rebels.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a young adult piece, so I don’t think I was exactly the target market. For the most part the heroes are young and the villains older, and the story plays out with a strong teenage sensibility.

For all that I wasn’t exactly the intended audience, I enjoyed this novel. The pacing was good, with a lot of action to counter-balance the teenage angst. The writing was clear and crisp and brought me along for the ride smoothly. I finished the book quickly.

I thought the novel had an interesting structure. Without giving spoilers, there is an event part way through the book which casts things in a new light and allowed for the more gradual introduction of information about the broader world in a way that was credible and avoided too much info dumping. There is a lot of use of flash back and memory to tell the story, but it is done in an interesting way.

I enjoyed the references to Australian Aboriginal culture. Because of the near civilisation-ending nature of the cataclysm, there aren’t the same kind of racial divides as there are in contemporary society. However, Kwaymullina makes it clear that Ashala is one of the last descendants of Aboriginal Australia and weaves in Aboriginal mythology into this far future tale. While I can’t comment on the authenticity of the representation, I found it interesting to consider the perspectives on connection to land and people that the book explores.

There are other themes that will resonate with an Australian audience, such as the granting of citizenship, the nature of detention and even the ability to carve out a place for humans in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Both the “normal” society and rebel society have a strong connecting theme of living in harmony with the enivornment, they just disagree what constitutes harmony. Respect for land and the environment pervades every aspect of the story.

While this is the first book in a series, the story is self contained and finishes without invoking a large cliff hanger.

An enjoyable story that I’d have no hesitation in recommending to a young adult audience.

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

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GenreCon 2013 – now taking registrations

Regular readers might recall that I attended, and enjoyed very much, GenreCon 2012 late last year. Well, this year it is happening again. GenreCon Australia 2013 will be held in Brisbane in early October.

GenreCon is a more professionally oriented convention aimed more at writers, editors, publishers rather than fans. Last year’s program was excellent – filled with all manner of useful information and interesting speakers.

The organisers have just announced some initial details including the date (11 October through 13 October) and the two initial guests of honour, Chuck Wendig and Anita Heiss.

Registrations are now open and the first 50 will cost only $190. So if you are based in Brisbane or can get there, I highly recommend attending.

Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres – review

Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres

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

Dark Space is the first of the Sentients of Orion series by Marianne de Pierres. The storyline primarily follows three characters – Baronessa Mira Fedor, a member of the planet Araldis’ aristocracy and born with a genetic makeup that allows her to interact directly with living spaceships, Trinder Pellegrini the spoiled son of Araldis’ planetary ruler and Tekton, an influential citizen of the planet Lostol chosen as a candidate to interact with a recently discovered powerful entity some think is God.

These three point of view characters are interesting selections. All of them are from positions of great wealth and privilege. None of them is particularly sympathetic (although for entirely different reasons). I think the reader is meant to side with Mira, but I found it hard to warm to her.

With three unsympathetic main characters you’d think the story would be in trouble, but the way the storylines interact really works. You see glimpses of the potential for growth in Mira and Trinder, and Tekton is so self centred and devious I found myself cheering for him. So while the characters were not sympathetic, I found them compelling. Just as good in my books.

The world building behind the story was comprehensive and consistent. There is plenty of ground setting in this first book for the rest of the series to build on. The cultures of the various planets and societies referenced, the implications of “humanesque” vs alien sentients and the technology were all well thought through and supported the story.

Italian is not the first culture you expect to see represented in a space opera. This created an interesting point of difference from a lot of other books. The repressed role of women on Araldis provided the source of a lot of the conflict in the novel. It was interesting to think about how some cultural traits that we consider backwards could flourish if the cohort who supports them were to get their own planet.

The plot was enjoyable, with plenty of political intrigue and short bursts of action. Interesting questions were raised and story arcs begun. I’ll certainly be tracking down the rest of the books in the series to see how the story unfolds.


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

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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – review

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is the first in the Old Man’s War series of books by John Scalzi. I’ve heard the book mentioned in a lot of different venues and wanted to give it a go before trying some of Scalzi’s later work (including the recent Redshirts whose premise intrigued me).

Old Man’s War is military sci-fi. It is often compared to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and I can see why that is. Old Man’s War brings a modern sensibility to the same themes (humanity beset by aliens across the galaxy and maintaining a vast military machine just to keep our toehold in space).

Our protagonist, John Perry, has just turned 75. This is the age that citizens of the USA can sign up for the Colonial Defence Force (CDF) and go off planet to serve in humanity’s military. Earth is a separate entity than the Colonies and Earth citizens have virtually no visibility about what happens in the galaxy at large. The Colonies have vastly outstripped Earth in technological terms and earthlings sign up on the assumption that the CDF is going to make them young again to fight as a soldier. Survive for your military term (between 2 and 10 years service) and you get to start life again on a colony somewhere.

This was a good pulp read. The prose was clear and crisp, the ideas were cool and there was a lot of action using whiz bang technology.

I enjoyed the way the world was revealed. As an Earth citizen, John Perry doesn’t know anything more than unsubstantiated rumours about what happens in the Colonies. Seeing events unfold through his eyes allows the back story to be sprinkled across the first third of the book without feeling like you were being subjected to huge amounts of info dumping.

The characters were engaging, but not compelling. I liked the main character, but I must admit I found myself getting annoyed that things seem to keep working out neatly for him. His obstacles were all external, things beyond his control that happened to him. And he meets these challenges in the best possible way every time considering the circumstances. This of course is why he is the hero, but I think I would have found him more relatable if he’d had a flaw or two.

Minor characters are often cannon fodder. It is made very clear from the beginning that life expectancy is not very long as a CDF soldier and Scalzi doesn’t let you forget it. The carnage is comprehensive, and if a new character is introduced it is an even-money bet that their narrative purpose is to die horribly to demonstrate a new way in which the universe is a tough place to be.

Scalzi paints on a large canvas. The galaxy is filled with competitive aliens all vying for the relatively small number of habitable planets (although what consists of “habitable” changes from species to species).  I can see why Scalzi has set a few more books in this world, there is a lot of scope for different stories.

The plot touches on a lot of interesting philosophical points without digging into them in great detail. For instance, in response to a hostile universe, humanity has adopted a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach. This position is challenged briefly in one part of the story, but that thread doesn’t really go anywhere. There is enough to make you think briefly but it stops short of being really crunchy.

However I did find the storyline a good antidote for some of the saccharine stories out there that assume that if we can just understand the “Other” as represented by aliens we would all live in perfect harmony. I imagine that interacting with aliens wouldn’t be like interacting with other Earth based cultures, where there is at least a common genetic and behavioural starting point that comes from evolving together on the same planet. “Kill or be killed” seems just as likely an outcome as “galactic federation”, and I liked reading a book that acknowledges that possibility.

So, all in all an excellent pulp read. I’m likely to read the other books in the series including the recent Human Division which is being released as a weekly serial. I find this interesting as it represents a different way of using the internet and eBooks to engage with an audience. I’ll be watching to see how that goes.


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

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Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung – review

Blood and Dust cover

About bloody time, Jason Nahrung. I’ve been waiting for something like Blood and Dust ever since I heard one of Nahrung’s short stories (Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn) on the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast a couple of years ago. Yes, yes – I know he released a sensitive almost literary novella recently filled with beautiful gothic themes and broody settings earlier in the year. I liked Salvage and thought it was a great read. But this is the novel I’ve been waiting for. Vampires in the Australian outback. Love it.

Kevin Matheson is a young mechanic in a small rural town somewhere out the back of the Australian state of Queensland. He dreams of marrying his high school sweetheart, taking over his father’s garage/service station and helping keep his rural community alive. Then a cop arrives dragging a prisoner with a stake through his heart, a dying partner and a truckload of vampire bikies behind him and Kevin’s life isn’t the same again.

Blood and Dust has been released as an eBook only from the relatively new Xoum. I’m always interested in what level of quality control a new publisher brings, and it seemed good with only a single typo jumping out at me. Xoum also published Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott recently, which I’ve reviewed here.

The world building in this novel is extensive, but inserted into the story in a seamless way. By the end of the novel I had a good sense of the much larger world outside the rural setting of the novel, but I never felt like there was a lot of info dumping. This is difficult to pull off, but Nahrung makes it seem effortless.

Be warned. There is violence. And sex. And sexy violence. And violent sex. On the whole, Nahrung does not hold back from exploring what the reality would be for creatures that needed blood to survive and for those that provide it. It may not be for everyone, but the everyday life of a Blood and Dust vampire provides a visceral backdrop to the storyline.

The pace is thriller-like, with escalating conflict all the way through. I tore through the book in a couple of sittings, ignoring my family and duties around the house. Thank <insert deity of choice here> I’m on holiday from work.

While the story is probably more plot driven than character driven, there is still significant character development through the novel. Not all the character arcs felt entirely complete, I suspect there may be plans for more writing in the world that Nahrung has created.

Some of the characters are Australian Aborigines, and there are themes of connection to land and dispossession that come through strongly in the novel. These will resonate strongly with an Australian audience, especially the references to the stolen generation of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents and sent to live in white homes. There was a small reference to the fact that Aboriginal vampires had evolved differently from European vampires – I hope this is something covered in more detail in future work, it was a fascinating idea. I’m not Aboriginal myself and so can’t really comment on whether the Aborigines in the story were portrayed realistically, but it seemed believable to me.

As an Australian, I love reading speculative fiction that has an Australian sensibility. In Blood and Dust I particularly like the rural/outback setting. It is not the first place you’d think to place vampires (they’d probably blend in better in Melbourne – they all seem to like wearing black and being trendily miserable there). But using an outback setting adds a freshness to the tropes, and creates a real juxtaposition between undead creatures of the night and the sun soaked desolation of an Australian landscape in drought.

Now while I loved the “Australianess” of the story I did wonder while reading whether that local flavour would put off non-Australian readers. For those readers, I draw your attention to the Australian-English translation guide at the back of the book. Also I’d be fascinated to hear from any non-Australian readers on how you found the book. Leave a comment below!

Nahrung’s take on the vampire is interesting, and certainly harkens back to the darker interpretations of the vampire ethos. I particularly liked the way a connection is drawn between the vampire and those that provide blood, providing a natural check to their population growth. And the vampire familiars are equally well drawn, the “red eyes” who provide the vampires with a steady source of blood and daylight protection and are rewarded with youth, strength and vitality.

The writing itself is evocative and visceral. There is sentiment in the story, but it is not over done. Nahrung is comfortable portraying the dark and the macabre and the confidence of his writing is a joy to behold. I’m perhaps betraying my literary preferences, but this story is firmly in the genre camp and a joy to read because of it.

My thirst for Queensland vampires momentarily slacked, I find the desire for more work in this world starting to build already. Come on Jason, get on with it.

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

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Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott – review

Perfections cover

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

Perfections is Kirstyn McDermott‘s second novel, following the excellent Madigan Mine in 2011 (which I reviewed here as part of the 2012 AWWC challenge). The two novels are not related in terms of plot, although they do share a certain sensibility (which I’ve heard described by the author on her Writer and the Critic podcast as “modern urban gothic”). I enjoyed Madigan Mine, so have been looking forward to this release.

Perfections has been released as an eBook only from the relatively new Xoum. The quality was good, with only one typo jumping out at me. Given Xoum are also publishing a work from another of my favourite Australian authors (Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung), they will be a publisher I’ll be keeping a close eye on in the future.

The blurb for the novel is Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences. Not all fairytales are for children. It’s hard to tell much more about the plot without giving spoilers, but it is one of those storylines that unfolds well. There are twists, but the twists felt natural. Rather than changes coming completely out of left field, I found that McDermott balances the foreshadowing well to ensure that when something was revealed my first thought tended to be “oh yes, in hindsight that is obviously what must have been happening”. That’s a difficult thing to get right – maintaining surprise while having fairly outrageous things feel natural.

There are some themes of emotionally abusive relationships, with hints of physical violence within those relationships. These themes are handled in a sensitive and nuanced manner, but are still very confronting.

There is a strong focus on the relationship between the two sisters. The characters are very engaging, this is something I noticed different from Madigan Mine where the characters were unsympathetic and in some ways difficult to engage with – I thought one of the strengths of MM was the way McDermott managed to drag you through the story despite the unsympathetic protagonist. In Perfections, the main characters (the sisters) are very sympathetically drawn, even when they are being slightly annoying. You want things to work out for them. And McDermott does an excellent job of playing on that sympathy as a source of dread for the reader.

Not all the characters in the book are sympathetic of course, and I thought the interplay between the minor characters was handled very well. Both the major characters went through significant growth, in particular in the nature of their relationship with others. The minor characters felt well realised, contributing their specific part to the story while staying three dimensional.

While the supernatural elements of the novel come in fairly early, the horror is more subtle, with less “jump in your seat” moments and more “stays with you and creeps you out at unexpected times in the future” moments. Stepping back from specific sentences and paragraphs, I found the writing generally to a) be beautiful and b) leave you with a slightly off balance feeling. Even in the sections of the book that are describing relatively mundane life, there is something about the way things are described that adds to the sense that there is something wrong, that things aren’t quite right.

This leads into the pacing, which was very good. I flew through the book and never felt that the pace dragged. Reading on the Kindle it’s easy to lose track of how far you are through a novel, I was surprised when I noticed I was almost at the end after only a couple of sittings. I put this speedy read down to a combination of wanting to resolve the mystery of the plot and my attachment to the main characters.

I loved the ending. Now, I’m not sure how much I can really say beyond that without giving anything away. But the ending does a great job of both resolving plot and character development.

Another excellent book by McDermott. Highly recommended.

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

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Reviewing process (Subtitle: no I don’t get a lot of free books)

I was asked recently where I sourced the books I review on this website. Do I get review copies from publishers/authors? How do I choose the books? In general, what is my reviewing process.

For the most part, the books I review on this website are books that I’ve chosen to purchase. The main purpose of writing a review is for me to reflect a little more on what I’ve just read, with the hope that this reflection might improve my own writing. Thinking about what I liked in a story and what didn’t work for me and trying to work back to what that means for writing. So, these reviews are in some ways personal meditations.

So why publish them on a website for the world to see? Actually that’s a slight exaggeration – I don’t think the whole world has seen my website. Perhaps Australasia and large segments of continental Europe. With small inroads into North America. Tops. But I digress.

Well, I like to publicly acknowledge books that I have enjoyed. I’ve been reading quite a few small press publications in the last couple of years and I know it can sometimes be difficult for small presses to get reviewed. Even my (very small) signal boost may help. Also, knowing that there is a theoretical audience for my review means that I want to feel that I could defend my opinions, which leads me to think those opinions through a little more. On top of that, publishing pieces on my website makes me feel a bit more connected with the wider speculative fiction community.

These motivations result in a couple of effects. Firstly, my reviews tend to skew a little more positive as I’m reviewing books that I’ve chosen to read. It is possible that I could select badly, but I don’t have a lot of time to read so I’m careful in what I pick. What influences my choices? Sometimes recommendations from people with a track record for picking out gems (for example Sean the Bookonaut), sometimes books by authors who I’ve enjoyed in the past, sometimes things that are on award ballets and sometimes because a really well written blurb sucked me in.

Secondly, I don’t feel any obligation to be nice. I’ve paid my money for the book and my opinions can be coloured by whether I think I’ve received value for money as well as the literary merits of what I’ve read. That’s not to say reviewers who get books from publishers have their opinion swayed by the fact that they have received something for free. Most reviewers I’ve spoken to have long since had the novelty of a free novel wear off and are too concerned with their reputation for independence for write a fluff piece. But for me, having shelled out hard earned for the story adds something to my reviewing process.

Those few times I’ve reviewed something that I’ve received for free I’ve found my reviewing to be a bit more tentative. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered a new reviewing experience. A publication (Antipodean SF) has provided me with a couple of novels to review for its monthly magazine. Having that extra distance between myself and the publisher has removed all sense of obligation. I’ll be interested to see how that impacts on the writing of the reviews.

What’s my opinion on rating systems? Well, you might have noticed that I don’t rate on my website, I’d prefer the comments to stand on their own. However, Goodreads and other online forums do tend to push for star ratings so when I rate on a 5 point system, I tend to use the following broad criteria:

  • 5 stars: excellent, superb reading experience. Not necessarily a perfect book, but one where any quibbles I have are minor. Can usually point to several specific positive aspects. I don’t tend to give out many 5 stars. Probably the critical point here is that I had to love reading the book. Worthy books where I can see the literary merit but didn’t love reading the book I tend to go down to 4 stars.
  • 4 stars: excellent book. Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. Usually one or two things that I love, and maybe something I didn’t like so much (although not always – sometimes it was excellent but just not quite as excellent as the 5 star books). For some of the reasons I’ve outlined above, a lot of my reading averages around this 4 star point.
  • 3 stars: good book. Some good things, some bad but on balance I enjoyed it.
  • 2 stars: Meh. Probably more things I didn’t enjoy than I did, but also this rating can reflect being entirely indifferent to a book.
  • 1 star: Didn’t enjoy the book at all, actively disliked the reading experience. Haven’t given out any 1 star reviews so far to the best of my recollection.

Do I worry about annoying people with bad reviews? I don’t think so, but this is something that has crossed my mind as I’ve started to go to speculative fiction conventions in Australia over the last 12 months. I’ve met a few authors and they are by and large very nice people. This website is not a hotspot of speculative fiction review action, and as a result many of them haven’t read any of my reviews so the point is somewhat academic. However I try to give balanced reviews and I’d like to think that I’m never unfair or in any way spiteful in my reviewing. I’m more than willing to concede that my own reaction to a piece of writing is not the only reaction, and I’ve found that most authors tend to cultivate a similar attitude. Thinking of authors as real people helps me to keep my comments purely about the work, which I think is healthy.

As a corollary, I am also concerned that my appreciation of an author’s work might be impacted by the fact that I’ve met and liked them personally. I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and to be honest it is possible. I don’t think the phenomenon could make me like a work that I would have otherwise thought was terrible, but could it boost a 4 star review to a 5 star review? Possibly. I try to be conscious of it, but I also don’t want to unfairly mark down a work for fear I might be seen as being partial. I also try to note any biases I think might be effecting me. But at the end of the day, sometimes your appreciation of someone’s artistic endeavours can be impacted by your appreciation of the artist themselves. It’s probably why a lot of the most impartial critical work happens after an author has died. I’ve decided to just live with it.

In terms of the reviews themselves, I tend to wait a few days after I’ve finished reading a book before I write the review, just to let things sink in. Sometimes I have a lot to say, sometimes not so much – I try not to write artificially long reviews just for the sake of it. I try to think about as many aspects of the story as possible – the technical aspects of writing, the emotional impact, how engaging it is etc. As discussed above, these reviews are really just me writing down what I’ve taken from each of the books and I don’t feel the compulsion to be comprehensive. I love getting comments from people and hearing different opinions, and after I’ve published my review I’ll often go seeking out other people’s reviews to see where people have had different experiences. Often I’ll find some comment that I wish I’d made, or see some aspect of the story that I missed but totally agree with but I’ll only tend to go back and modify the review if I’ve made a factual error. If I ever want to add something extra I try to make it clear it is a post-review comment.

So, that’s me. How about you? For those that review, what is your process like? For those that read reviews, what do you like to see in a review?

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandan Sanderson – review

A Memory of Light cover

Like a lot of people I’ve been reading The Wheel of Time series for 20 years, so it was with a sense of great relief that I approached reading A Memory of Light, the last of 14 books. There must be at least between 2 and 3 million words in the series, and in my younger years I re-read quite a few of the earlier books, so I think it is fair to say that I’ve invested more reading effort into The Wheel of Time than any other fantasy series.

It is interesting looking at the books now – a lot of modern epic fantasy seems to have moved away from the clear “good vs evil” plots and characters, and show people in more shades of grey (I’m think of Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin etc), so in some ways reading A Memory of Light (and the proceeding few books) is like stepping back in time to a younger, more idealistic version of myself.

I don’t really want to spoil anything, so I’ll restrict my comments on the plot to say that basically this is a 900 odd page description of the last battle between good and evil. There is a lot of heroic self sacrifice, huge battle scenes and general mayhem. If you haven’t read the proceeding 13 books, this is not the place to start. If you are thinking about reading the series, you better start at the very beginning. I’ll see you in about a year, then we can compare notes.

Interestingly in the first half of the book I actually found myself enjoying the thread associated with the Black Tower most of all, populated with relatively minor characters. I always wished the Black Tower storyline had been fleshed out a little more in the earlier books.

I suppose it was inevitable with so many story threads to wrap up, but the book switched between point of view characters at an extremely rapid rate. Some aspects of the plot resolution were expected, some surprising. Some threads seem to have been left by the wayside.

Sanderson has done a good job finishing off the series (even if he did turn one book into a very large trilogy). I hadn’t come across Sanderson before he took over the Jordan franchise, and I’ve enjoyed his other work (such as the Mistborn trilogy and more recently The Emperor’s Soul). While there is a detectable different in style between the first 11 books and the last 3, I don’t think the change was bad. In fact, I think it brought a freshness and energy to the end of the story which I quite enjoyed.

So to the main question: how do I feel about how the series wrapped up? I’m not sure. The finish was quite predictable in broad terms, but I was interested to see the specific endings for specific characters. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling, and the book is a bit too newly out for that. Once you’ve read the book, buy me a drink at a Con or something and we’ll hash it out.

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

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Quiver by Jason Fischer – review

Quiver cover

Quiver by Jason Fischer (subtitled The Tamsyn Webb Chronicles) is a young adult zombie apocalypse story. Now I’ve said it in tweet and I’ll say it again – from my perspective it seems genetically unlikely that any Webb could be heroic. But it was an intriguing enough concept that I felt compelled to read. Also, I’ve read and enjoyed some of Fischer’s other works (mainly in short stories, although I did recently read and review his novella Anomaly in the Viral Novella series).

The world is almost overrun by zombies, and the hero of the story (Tamsyn Webb) is holed up with a village of survivors in the walled town of Gravesend in the south of England. Tamsyn is a crack shot with the bow (great for bringing down zombies silently) and at the age of 17 is already part of the guards that keep the town safe. The main thread of the story follows Tamsyn’s attempts to find somewhere to live that doesn’t have the constant threat of imminent zombie destruction hanging over it.

The book is broken into four parts, based on four novellas originally produced for the After the World magazine (Gravesend, Corpus Christi, Army Corpse and Better Red Than Undead). I hadn’t come across any of the novellas, so I was a bit confused when at the start of the second “chapter” (Corpus Christi) there was a little summary of everything that had happened in Gravesend. I thought “yes, I know all this – I just read it!”. It made a lot more sense when I worked out they were originally independent publications.

I would say the novel is targeted at young adult, but there is enough violence and “adult themes” to mean it is probably best read by late teenagers and above. Unless you’re looking to prepare your young teen for the gruesome reality that will be the zombie apocalypse. The writing is excellent (as I’ve come to expect from Fischer), and the story finds a good balance with showing the world spanning nature of the crisis (mainly through the wide variety of locations visited), while keeping the main narrative more intimate (through focusing on Tamsyn’s story). Fischer creates a very horrific environment, both in terms of the description of the zombies themselves, but also the reaction of the human race.

The character of Tamsyn is interestingly portrayed, very self involved to the point where I actively had to keep reminding myself that she was only in her late teens to prevent myself getting too annoyed. This led me to find Tamsyn on the edge of being unsympathetic, but that could be the standard reaction of the middle aged towards the young. Fischer treads a good line between showing a young woman buffeted by overwhelming circumstances and giving Tamsyn enough agency to keep the story engaging.

Fischer draws on the natural elements to contribute to the general mayhem, and the variety of locations used (from the cold of England in winter to the tropical delights of the Caribbean) means that this doesn’t feel repetitive. Indeed, it could be argued that the unthinking undead are another form of natural disaster.

The later two chapters (Army Corpse and Better Red Than Undead) are a bit more fast paced and with more references to military hardware. It did make me wonder whether Fischer was influenced by his work on the Viral Novella series to bring a bit of the techo-thriller genre into his zombie apocalypse. The tension certainly does get escalated as a result, and it is a very effective way of showing the increasingly military nature of the remnants of humanity when faced with a threat of this kind.

Overall a very enjoyable read.

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

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A place to write…

A few months ago, we moved into a new house – one we’re likely to stay in for a good long while. We’ve been slowly working out what to do with the space (it’s a bit bigger than our last house), and I recently realised that the room we were going to use as a formal lounge room could become a man-cave. I mean, who has a formal lounge room anymore? Well, sure my parents do. But who else? No one, that’s who.

And so the man-cave was born.

My wife (K) didn’t seem to mind. It meant that the room we’d already designated as the study became her domain exclusively. And it helped contain all my geeky stuff to a single room. She did veto the name “man-cave” though. And to be fair, I was mainly calling it the man-cave to irritate her. But “the study” was already taken. What on earth could I call my little room?

And so the den was born.

What goes into a 21st century den I hear you ask? Well, there needs to be X-Box playing space, bookshelves filled with speculative fiction novels, some kind of chair/footrest combo for reading/game playing etc, a small lounge in case a nap is called for and a place to write.

With most of the stuff ordered, the piece I was mainly missing was a desk. I wanted something with a bit of character, rather than an Ikea special (as much as I admire the ingenuity of our Nordic furniture masters). And in the dusty bowels of a local auction house I found it – a circa 1900 American oak roller top desk. It was in pretty bad condition, but some cleaning and waxing and I think it has come up OK.

The Den

And so my place to write has finally come together. A room I can retreat to when the insanity of the world (or my children) drives me to the brink. A place of box DVD set watching, writing, reading and game playing. A place where none may enter without my express permission. Well, except my daughter. She pretty much goes where she likes. As does my son, now that I think about it. And I don’t actually fancy trying to stop my wife going anywhere in her house.

But besides everyone else who lives here, none shall enter!

While I tend to write all over the place (wherever and whenever I can find a few minutes spare really), I like the idea of a place where I can organise my stuff. A base camp if you will.

Lets see if it actually improves my productivity!

Do you have a specific place to write? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.