2015 versus 2016

Well, 2015 certainly kicked my writing backside. I started off the year well, but a combination of work and family commitments conspired to drop my writing productivity to almost zero by the time we reached December.

This website was a victim of my malaise – I haven’t written an article for a few months now. It has been a combination of a lack of time and not feeling like I’ve had much to say. A poor excuse, granted.

On the writing front, I only published one short story in 2015, Authentic Empathy which was published in the special 200th edition of AntipodeanSF earlier in the year. It was a great privilege to be selected for the magazine (and if you’re interested in looking at the story, check out my bibliography). The rest of the year I spent skipping between a few longer works, including refining the draft of my urban science fantasy novel (Unaligned), and building out a fantasy long story into a novella length work. Both require a lot more work, but it was good to make some progress.

I also wrote the start of a science fiction novel (about 10,000 words) as well as a couple of chapters of a middle grade novel, as well as the opening scenes for the sequel to Unaligned. From this you can probably tell that I’ve spread myself a bit thin over too many projects, rather than finishing a smaller number. There is probably a lesson in that.

I also accumulated a backlog of reviews I haven’t written, especially for the Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge.  I reviewed 4 books (reviews can be found here) by Australian women authors and read another 3, but didn’t hit my goal of ten in total. This certainly reflected my much reduced reading for the year, but I’m disappointed nonetheless.

On the podcast front, I contributed exactly nothing to the GalacticChat podcast this year. Stupidly, I should have thought about setting up some interviews when I was at GenreCon in Brisbane – fellow podcaster Helen Stubbs and I both attended and there was such a wide variety of authors and other interesting industry types, good interviews couldn’t have helped but follow. Ah well, lesson learnt for next time.

So, what is in store for 2016? GenreCon in November and a few weeks off work over Christmas has renewed my appetite for writing, which has been great. I’ve been transcribing a lot of my longhand writing from the year onto the computer over the last few weeks which has been surprisingly validating (I wrote more words last year than I thought!). I’d like to get the first draft of Unaligned into fighting shape and finish off the fantasy novella. I seem to do better at writing first drafts than the editing process, so I will punctuate the editing with working on a couple of short story ideas (I think having some short stories published does help me keep a sense of momentum).

For this website, I’ve decided to work towards publishing one article each Sunday night, to create some sense of regularity. I will publish any news about publishing of my work separately, so the Sunday night article will be either a review, a general musing or something that has caught my attention. This probably means finding some kind of project to help create content – I’ll add that to my to-do list.

Hopefully this will also mean that my reviewing for the Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge will be a little more prompt!

I’ve been contributing to AntipodeanSF behind the scenes, producing the eBook versions of the magazines each month. I’ll continue doing that, and will look at how I might improve my contributions in the podcasting space, depending on what happens with Galactic Chat.

That should be enough to keep me going.

Given my long absence from this website, I doubt I have any readers left, but if there are any of you out there, what are your 2016 writing resolutions?

Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres – a review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Peacemaker is the latest novel by Australian veteran author Marianne de Pierres, and was the winner of the 2014 Aurealis award for Best Science Fiction novel (the Aurealis awards are Australia’s premium judged awards for speculative fiction).

The book is set in future Australia, where urban sprawl has gone to an extreme. Ranger Virgin Jackson works in Birrimun Park, a sort of US Wild West style theme park, which also happens to be some of the only outback land still accessible to citizens. Jackson is self reliant and somewhat anti social. She seems to like her life, but it gets overturned when she comes across a murder in the Park. The rest of the novel follows her attempts to find out what is going on around her.

I liked the milieu and general world building of the book. There were intriguing glimpses into how Australia had evolved as a society over a longer period of time. The combination of the urban and the outback style settings made for an interesting contrast, and I was genuinely curious to find out more about how this society operated.

I was surprised that this won the science fiction category. While it is set in the future, the tropes and the style of writing seemed to lend themselves better to an urban fantasy categorisation. The supernatural elements are emphasised significantly more than the technology, and the protagonist’s disdain for modern society also takes away from any sort of futuristic feel.

I didn’t engage well with the main characters. I found Ranger Jackson a little irritating and the enigmatic US Marshall a little cliched. I did, however, enjoy the array of secondary characters. There was enough to flavour the world though, and highlight the different facets of the world de Pierres has created.

The writing was solid and well done – rich enough to draw you in but with an enviable economy. The pace was fast and the plot was interesting.

I did, however, find it hard to orient myself in the book. For instance, I walked away with the impression that the eastern seaboard was one big city, but I don’t think that could be right. We’d be talking over 2000km of city. That seems unlikely in the timeframe in question. I probably got that wrong. Issues like that kept dropping me out of the story though and I found it hard to completely immerse myself in the book.

Overall this was a solidly written and well put together book. Unfortunately, it didn’t 100% gel with me and I doubt I’ll be seeking out the sequels. However, this was mostly personal taste and I can recommend it for those that like the idea of urban fantasy in a more futuristic setting.

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

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The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke – a review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.

The Dagger's Path

The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke is the second in her The Forsaken Lands series. I reviewed the award winning first volume The Lascar’s Dagger earlier in the year.

The Dagger’s Path continues on pretty much straight after the end of the events of the first book. Without giving too much away for fear of spoiling the first book, the primary thread is about the main characters attempting to return something to the Va Forsaken hemisphere, which is an archipelago in warm climes. We also find out a lot more about the plotting in the Va-loved hemisphere.

Most of my general comments about the setting of the first book apply here too. The spice trade with sailing ships in tropical islands is a different setting from many other fantasy series, and remained fresh throughout this second book.

This is not a stand alone book, and I would imagine it wouldn’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first one. Like many second books in trilogies, it also serves to set up some big confrontations for the third book.

But despite that, the book moves smoothly. Tension is executed well, the book has its own incidents to deal with and there is more than enough action to go around. The characters evolve over the course of the book, although I still struggle to reconcile the behaviour of the main character (Saker) with the description he was given when he was first introduced. However, his competency develops through this book and the original introduction of the character was long enough ago that I wasn’t as bothered by it this time around.

The scene is being set for a good conclusion, which I guess is most of the job of a second book. Looking forward to reading the next book in the series when it is released.


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.

Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Thief's Magic

Recently I’ve been tossing around the idea of what a more technologically advanced society might look like if magic was harnessed as a power source rather than electricity. What might be the same? What would be different? Similar gadgets, but different batteries? Would we still have iPads and laptops and smart watches? Or would we have traversed a completely different technological tree?

I wonder if the same wonderings have kept Trudi Canavan up at night. Her 2015 Ditmar award winning novel, Thief’s Magic, is based (for some of the time) in a world where an industrial revolution is going on, but one based on harnessing magic as a power source. This allows for both an interesting exploration of a secondary world fantasy, as well as having the makings of a very cool set of magic powered gadgets, with a kind of steam-punk vibe to it (magic-punk?).

Magic in Canavan’s world is a depletable resource, with the industrial revolution using up magic faster than it can be replenished. In this way, Canavan explores broader issues of environmental degradation and reliance on non-renewable energy sources. The comparisons are a bit heavy handed at times, but only slightly so.

This thread of the story revolves around Tyen, a young student in the Academy, a combination university and explorers club. He is practiced in the magical arts as well as archeology, and hopes to escape his poor beginnings by graduating and making his fortune. All that changes when he comes into the possession of a sentient book, and finds himself on the run, chased by the Academy and his former mentor.

This storyline also explores issues of imperialism and colonisation, with Tyen’s slow discovery of the wider world outside the Empire while he is on the lam.

The second thread of the story is set on another world that is poor in magic. It follows the adventures of Rielle, who can sense magic but is forced to pretend she can’t. Only the priesthood is allowed to use magic, and they have a “no women allowed” policy. People found using magic are punished, quite severely. Rielle is from a rich, upwardly mobile family that is part of the merchant class. The story follows her as she battles with discrimination caused by her gender and is looked down on by her more aristocratic “friends”. At the same time she is in a position of privilege in her society, and the book explores her engagement with the “lower classes” and her slowly growing defiance of the wishes of her family.

The book interrogates gender issues in an interesting and sympathetic way, and shows a sophisticated take on how you can be both oppressed and privileged at the same time.

Both threads have good pacing, engaging characters and an interesting plot. Canavan is an experienced and masterful storyteller, and that expertise shows in how smoothly the book reads. 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 Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2015 Reading Challenge. All my 2015 AWWC reviews can be found here.

The Lascar's Dagger

The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke first came to my attention by being nominated for both of this year’s major Australian SF awards – the Ditmar (voted) and the Aurealis (juried). I must admit, while I was vaguely aware of Larke’s name before seeing the nominations, I hadn’t had the chance to read any of her work.

Larke has chosen an interesting setting for this series. While based in a secondary world, it has an 18th century kind of feel to it, in particular around the heyday of the spice trade. The major powers in the equivalent of Earth’s northern hemisphere (socially/politically) are in a race to capture the spice trade from an archipelago of tropical islands. Political and religious forces vie for supremacy.

Religion is portrayed in interesting ways. A Christian-analagous monotheist religion (worshipping “Va” and opposing “A’Va” – the devil) has explicitly incorporated existing religions that have a more druidic feel. When the novel starts, the bricks and mortar part of the church (town-based, worship in built churches) has started to edge out the more nature based parts of the religion. It is a good reflection on how many successful religions spread by coopting local religions in the countries they conquered. It also sets up some fascinating internal conflict.

The magic system centres around the concept of “witcheries”. These witcheries are granted by powers that seem to be linked to nature (the tree-based religion of one region, the water based religion of another, the tropical island based beliefs of a third region). The witcheries are granted to people who give themselves over to serving the land/water, and are usually based on the need of the person at the time they make the bargain. One character, for instance, is desperate to hide when she bargains for her witchery, and she gains the power of glamour, to hide herself or reshape her appearance. These narrowly defined powers with specific purpose make for interesting impacts on the storyline, and the characters are forced to be innovative within the range of their abilities. The motivation of the powers also seem focused on self preservation of the land/water/island – you are granted the power only so long as you are acting in the best interests of the natural world. This is reflective of the strong streak of environmentalism/conservation in the book.

A second magic, sorcery, is hinted at as a long extinct power, but in a way that telegraphs it will probably return during this series of books. I’m sure there will be more made of it during future books.

The plot is solid, with some good old fashioned conspiracies and hijinks. There is a great sense of fun in many of the segments, and the interplay between cultures is highlighted in interesting ways.

Sakar Rampion is the main protagonist. Interestingly, the way he is described in the first few pages (as a sort of loveable rogue) doesn’t actually play out in the way the character is represented across the rest of the book. I didn’t dislike Sakar as a character, but I had a slight sense of dislocation when the expectations set at the start of the book weren’t really met. And for a smart guy, he certainly did some dumb things.

One of the other main characters, Sorrel Redwing, made up for my slight disapointment in Sakar. Sorrel has by far the more pronounced character arc, going from a somewhat timid and grieving housewife to an active character with a lot of agency.

Ardhi (the “lascar” of the title) is from the island nations and while he isn’t in it much, those parts seen from his point of view are a valuable “fish out of water” insight into the setting and cultures of the book. He also gives tantalising hints of back story all the way through, as the reader slowly pieces together what happened and how he ended up on his quest.

Some of the other minor characters ran along the fine edge of cliche (the playboy prince not wanting the responsibility of the throne, the resentful princess being married off for political advantage, the wise old shrine keepers etc). However, Larke injects enough freshness into her prose that even these characters had an energy which I found engaging.

All up I really enjoyed The Lascar’s Dagger and will be reading the sequel later in the year (it is out now). Recommended, especially if you are keeping up with Australian fantasy this year!

Update 10/4/2015

A few days after posting, The Lascar’s Dagger took out Best Novel in the 2015 Ditmars, in a tie with Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic.

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.

Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge – 2015

aww-badge-2015And here I go once again, diving into the wonderful world of the Australian Women Writers challenge for 2015. 2014 was a bit of a dip for me, unlike previous years I was reading and reviewing right up until the end of the year (and maybe an insy-winsy bit into 2015). But this year I have a good feeling. With that in mind, I’m still going to attempt the Franklin challenge with a small twist – read 10 books and try to review all 10. I should stray outside the speculative fiction realm – it would probably be good for me. But I suspect that I won’t.

So, if you have any suggestions for books to read or authors to check out, let me know in the comments below. And hopefully I’ll have my first review up very soon.