Monthly roundup – May 2015

Work’s been busy during the month of May, so not a lot to report back.

I continued my Ditmar Best Novel reading with Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix. Both good reads if you like Australian speculative fiction.

I also continued my Aussie reading with The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke. I’ll be reviewing that one for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge, so no spoilers here.

I’ve started to think about what kind of books to recommend to Ms 7 as her reading improves, so when I saw the first two volumes in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan for $2 at a local library book sale, I decided to dive right in. The books were much as I expected, with a relatively simple plot and themes more relevant to those still at school than a 40-something adult. Still, I found myself turning pages at a rapid rate and I kept reading until I’d finished both books, so they must be doing something right!

I’ve got three books on the go at the moment:

  • Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely from Fablecroft – an anthology of short fiction. I’ve quite enjoyed the stories so far, but I’ll say more in my wrap up (I think I’ll review it for the AWW challenge as well).
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett. I was saddened to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett recently – his Discworld novels were a great source of joy through my adolescent years, and have remained firm favourites ever since. I’ve put off reading Dodger for quite some time – not really sure why. I’m about 25% of the way through now and loving it – but it is love tinged with a slight sense of sorrow that this will be the last piece of “new” Pratchett writing aimed at adults I will probably ever read.
  • Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller. This has been on my bedside table for way too long now, a victim to my preference for eBooks over physical. I have at long last made it past the first chapter – and it is a very interesting read. Not the sort of book where you can skim read anything though, so I’m finding it slow going. The overlay of Aboriginal culture onto a far future landscape is deeply fascinating though – more once I’ve got a bit further.

Finally started on season 5 of Game of Thrones in May, and ripped through the first 5 or 6 episodes. I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but excellent television (as the first four seasons led me to expect!).

A fair bit of SF has started up recently, eating into my productive time. I’ve started:

  • 12 Monkeys – OK first 3 episodes based very loosely around the movie of the same name but haven’t been compelled to keep watching. This one is teetering on the edge of being sacrificed to the gods of Foxtel hard drive free space.
  • Wayward Pines – interesting show – I’m about 4 episodes in and the central mystery is keeping me hooked. Not sure how much beyond any big reveals I’ll last though – still, I’ll keep watching for now.
  • Arrow season 3. It really annoyed my that The Flash and Arrow were played separately from each other. I enjoy both shows, but the crossover episodes from The Flash gave away too many plot points from Arrow. I have heard other commentators complain about the flashback format, slowly revealing what happened to Oliver Queen when he was presumed dead for 5 years, but I really like it.
  • Gotham made a return to our screens and I’ve kept watching. I quite like it – I was even inspired to go back and start watching the Christopher Nolan Batman movies again. Seems to be hitting its stride.

I’m hovering on the brink of succumbing to the lure of Netflix, just so I can watch Daredevil, which I’ve heard good things about.

On the writing front, I went back to an old story I’ve tinkered on here and there for quite a while. At 11,000 words it is an inconvenient length for submission – I really needed to either cut a few thousand words and submit it as a short story or flesh it out to novella length. To be honest the world is starting to grow on me, so I’ve written the first cut of another few thousand words so far, and will probably write quite a bit more before I’m done. None of this is helping get anything published of course, but I find as long as I’m actually writing, the not being published part isn’t quite so hard.

Oh, and of course my piece for Antipodean SF issue 200 was played on the Anti SF radio show, episode Gemma, released on 23 May 2015. It’s surreal to hear my work in audio form, and I’m always grateful to Nuke for providing that extra channel for people to enjoy the fiction.

Bound by Alan Baxter – a review

Bound by Alan Baxter

In service to my quest to read all the finalists for Best Novel in the 2015 Ditmar Awards, I next turned my attention to Bound, a dark urban fantasy by Australian horror and dark fantasy author Alan Baxter.

The story setup is relatively straightforward. Alex Caine is a cage fighter with a reputation for winning. He has the uncanny ability to read what his opponent is about to do a few seconds before they do it, which he puts down to lots and lots of training. But it turns out Caine is a wizard of sorts, albeit an untrained one. His capacity to read people is supernatural, and he is drawn into that supernatural world by a mysterious Englishman who tempts Caine with the promise of learning more about his abilities. Of course, things go horribly downhill from there.

With his new mentor dead and finding himself semi-enthralled to a powerful dark supernatural being, Caine is in a race to discover a power that might free him, accompanied by Silhouette, a first generation Kin (read Fae/Fairy) who takes a shine to Caine.

First up, this story is dark. There is violence. There is sex. There is swearing. There are kids in danger. If you don’t like those things, then this probably isn’t the book for you. I like dark fantasy, and it turns out dark urban fantasy is also my cup of tea. But I could imagine certain readers struggling with the content.

Caine is very competent all the way through the book. As well as being a gifted fighter, he is a magical prodigy of sorts and soon has his power augmented. While this does lead to a “training montage” feel to how he acquires skills so rapidly, it was kind of necessary given other choices Baxter makes. The story has a thriller pacing, moving very rapidly from action scene to action scene to keep the protagonists off guard and on the run. As such, it would have been very difficult to justify sending Caine off to Hogwarts for 6 months to really grapple with his newfound powers.

Also, Baxter matches Caine’s growing powers with some truly scary and bad-arse villains, ensuring that you always feel that even with all his rapidly accumulated power, he is still somewhat out of his depth. As such, Caine’s acquisition of power seems more natural while reading the book, and it was only really in retrospect that I contemplated the speed with which that power came.

Perhaps because of that thriller pacing, we don’t get a lot of Caine’s backstory. Again, that didn’t really bother me while reading the book – the action kept barreling along at a very satisfying pace. Baxter builds a very interesting world, with a comprehensive feeling history to many of the races/beings encountered. There are two more books in the Alex Caine series and it will be interesting to see how the world continues to grow and whether we find out more about Caine along the way.

Baxter himself is a highly trained martial artist who runs his own kung fu school, and there is a sense of authenticity in the fight scenes. I just hope he doesn’t have his real life students act out any of the more graphic scenes to ensure authenticity! Baxter is also the author of a short eBook called “Write the Fight Right” which I have found to be an excellent reference book.

All in all, Bound is a fast paced and very entertaining read for those with a penchant for darker works. Well worth a read.

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


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

Monthly roundup – April 2015

So, what have I been reading this month? I read Glenda Larke’s second book in the The Forsaken Lands series, The Dagger’s Path. I’ll write up a review for the Australian Women’s Writer’s Reading Challenge eventually, so not much more to say.

Having read two of the five “Best Novel” nominations for the 2015 Ditmar awards, I decided to make my way through the other three. I’ll be posting reviews, but for the record I finished:

I’ve just started an Archie Weller novel, but it is a bit heavy going. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of the language soon.

Game of Thrones started again, but I haven’t watched any of it. Don’t spoil it for me. Seriously.

I did however manage to see the series Agent Peggy Carter from the good people at Marvel. Really liked the setting and the 1950s vibe. With the high tech gizmos that fill the other Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings, there is something refreshing about getting back to some simpler material. The acting is good and some interesting takes on sexism and other gender related issues. I liked the fact that it was only 8 episodes long – kept the story tight and moving at a fair clip. Hope we see more in the future.

Speaking of TV, I also watched a series on Foxtel called The Librarians. It has sort of a Warehouse 13 vibe going for it – the Library collects magical artefacts and stores them away. A bit simplistic in parts, but it is one that I can watch with the kids which is always a bonus. I had the feeling I’d missed some backstory, and a little bit of research told me that the series was based on a series of three “Librarian” movies produced in the 2000s. We had to immediately track them down, and having watched the first two they are indeed as cheesy as I expected. Still, anything that avoids my 600th watching of Frozen gets my vote at the moment.

12 Monkeys is definitely not a show to watch with the kids. I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes, but seems OK. Will give it a couple more before making a final thumbs up/thumbs down decision.

So, should I get Netflix? Pretty much it is only the Daredevil series that is attracting me, but given the other Marvel series coming down the pipeline I suspect I’m going to cave at some point.

On the writing front, I’m still struggling with the editing phase of Unaligned. To help get my groove back, I’ve started a first draft of the second book in the series and I’m back to writing every night which is good. However, I really need to work out a way to build in some proper editing on the first novel manuscript!

Monthly roundup – March 2015

Welcome to my round up of March 2015. I’m going to focus on being more consistent with these monthly updates, and include a wider range of culture consumed if I’ve got something to say. I’ll also be including brief updates on my writing.

I finished my run through the Xbox One game Dragonage Inquisition. I don’t play many games these days – too much other stuff going on in life, work and writing. But I thought I’d mention Dragonage particularly. Its strong emphasis on story telling made the experience very enjoyable (and a bit addictive – my wife has been a bit annoyed at the amount of time I’ve spent with the game). There is a wonderful spread of gender, sexual orientation and general diversity in the casts of characters, and a lot of the writing/voice acting is surprisingly well done. Well worth the price of admission if you like your fantasy epic and your games role playing.

My wife and I have been watching, and enjoying, the TV series Grimm. Season 4 started recently on Foxtel, so we’ve been following along over the last couple of months. I really like Grimm – the take on the storybook monsters is interesting and there have been some great storylines over the first three seasons. Season 4 has been good so far, and I’m particularly enjoying the digging into the broader world building. They have introduced/developed some of the female characters over the last season, which has provided some good balance to the earlier series (which was very male-dominated). This season continues the “strong women” theme.

I also dipped into up and coming Australian SF author David McDonald’s work, with his recently released short collection Cold Comfort and Other Tales. You can read the full review here, but spoiler alert – I liked it!

I’ve been a bit disturbed by how few of the Ditmar and Aurealis award nominated novels I’ve actually read. With that in mind, I’ve started by Australian speculative fiction award nominated reading with The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke. A full review will come soon (it will double as my first Australian Women Writer’s 2015 challenge novel as well).

I’ll be moving on to Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan, Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix over the next few weeks. I’ve also nabbed Phantazein by Tehani Wessely. That will get me through the Ditmar shortlist (when you add in The Godless by Ben Peek that I reviewed last year), but there are still a lot of novels on the Aurealis lists that I’ll need to get to.

On the writing side, I’m still struggling to find time to edit my novel length manuscript Unaligned. I’m finding that while I can write first draft materials in fits and starts, I don’t seem to be able to dive into editing without a long stretch of time (at least a couple of hours). A busy job and two small kids don’t provide many opportunity for that kind of time. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit stalled over the last month or so.

To break the impasse, I’ve started writing some more first draft material for other work just to make sure the daily creative juices are flowing. I’ve done a bit of editing on a shorter work and I’m trying to use shorter amounts of time more effectively. We’ll see!

So, what have you been watching/reading/playing/writing/creating lately? Update us all in the comments below.

Dimension6 – Issue 2

Dimension6 is a free speculative fiction magazine, produced by Coeur de Lion Publishing and issue 2 is out now!

This website is an affiliate of Dimension 6, where you can download each issue.

Issue 2 – (July 2014)

Issue 2 features:

‘At Dawn’s Speed’ by Dirk Strasser
Swift and her tribe have been running their whole lives, because the touch of the sun brings the ‘silvering’.

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‘Upon a Distant Shore’ by Alan Baxter
Astronaut Anatoly Novikov wanted a mission that would inscribe his name on the ages. Finally he got one.

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‘He Ain’t Dead’ by Robert N Stephenson
It’s simple really. Don’t mess with native American burial mounds.