Continued general ramblings

So, what’s up this week?

David McDonald has been kicking a lot of goals recently, including a Captain America novel, becoming a SFWA member,  and writing some really interesting series of posts, on things like “Paying for our passion” (writers talking about how they support themselves in their writing). If you haven’t had the pleasure, I’d recommend jumping over to his website and having a look. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

One of my favourite podcasts, The Writer and the Critic, is back onto a monthly publishing schedule, which I quite like. They’ve moved to a more “curated” format, where they pick books according to some theme. Admittedly usually a somewhat obscure theme particular to them, but a theme nonetheless. This is one of only two endeavours that I sponsor through Patreon, well worth checking out if you haven’t had a chance to.

I took my 8 year old daughter to see the new Ghostbusters movie. It was a lot of fun, and I got a real kick from seeing how inspired my daughter was by such a strongly female led cast. The friendship showed between the characters was great, and if this movie doesn’t pass the bechdel test, no movie does! If you’ve got any young women in your life, I definitely recommend taking them along to see Ghostbusters.

General ramblings – Part 2

I know, I know. I’m going to have to come up with a better line of blog posts than this. You’re all busy people, and you can’t afford to have your time wasted by some stream of consciousness malarky by a blog writer obviously running out of things to say. I mean, come on. This first paragraph alone has taken seconds off your life. And seconds can be the difference between success and failure, life and death, pancakes and burnt, inedible frisbees.

I read a good review of an advanced copy of Vigil by Angela Slatter over on Alex Pierce’s blog. I remember the short story that the novel is based around, from the anthology Sprawl. It was excellent, so I’ve pre-ordered the novel. Go and read Alex’s blog post then think about doing the same, unless you’re visiting this blog from the future, in which case just buy the damn book already.

Speaking of Alex, she also runs a great series of posts over on focusing on Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction called Aurora Australis. It’s a great way to keep up with author and publishing news from the antipodes, well worth adding to your monthly reading list.

David McDonald, who I did some parallel podcasting with a couple of years back, is going from strength to strength in the tie in novel space. He recently posted a teaser cover with Captain America on it, so that has to be a good sign. Great guy and all round good egg – well worth checking out his work.

My daughter’s love of the Teen Titan Go! series has morphed into a desire to own some of the comic books of the same name. We ventured into the city today, and my little girl got her first proper comic books. I could never really afford comic books growing up – pre-internet it was a bit difficult to know where to start, and south-west Sydney wasn’t exactly nerd heaven. Besides, the unrelenting cost! I never could have afforded to follow a series, even if I could have found a reliable source. I’m hoping my daughter might have better luck falling in love with this branch of the speculative fiction tree than I did. And Teen Titans seems like a good place to start.

Well, I hope you’re all doing better than me on the interesting culture news front. If you’re engaged with something fascinating, make sure you drop me a line and let me know.

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.

Cold Comfort & Other Tales by David McDonald – review

Cold Comfort and Other Tales

David McDonald is an Australian speculative fiction author on the rise, with a lot of short fiction credits to his name and even a recent announcement of a novelisation of a Canadian movie in the works.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a collection of three of his science fiction short stories from Clan Destine Press, consisting of two reprints (Cold Comfort and Through Wind and Weather) and an original story (Our Land Abounds).

The first story, Cold Comfort, is based on a post apocalyptic Earth where the planet is covered in snow and ice, with the remnants of humanity confined to a series of giant domes, each a heated oasis in a desert of cold. The main character, Vanja, is a trader, moving from dome to dome to make a living and in search of knowledge about the past. Vanja is a strong female protagonist, in a world where societies in each dome have reverted to more primitive forms and in many cases don’t smile on women taking an active role. She uses a mixture of guile and sheer competence to make her way, which makes her a very sympathetic main character.

I liked the world building here, with society reduced to “cargo cult” status, eeking out an existence utilising the technological infrastructure of the past without understanding how it works. It built to a very satisfying conclusion, and I could very well imagine a longer story set in the same world.

The second story in the book, Through Wind and Weather, is quite short, almost a vignette of a pilot, Nick, seeking the help of a sentient spaceship to deliver vital supplies to a colony world. In order to get there, they have to navigate their way through a massive solar storm. The story was originally written for a themed collection (I won’t tell you the theme – it would ruin the end). In some ways it is a flash fiction piece, built around a single idea. However, once again McDonald has sketched in a broader world with a few deft strokes. I could well imagine more stories set in the same world.

The last story in the collection, Our Land Abounds, is original to the collection. In current Australian politics, there is a lot of debate over our approach to immigration. As a country whose modern structures are built on an immigrant population (recognising of course that we have ancient structures built on the worlds longest continuing culture), we continue to debate levels of population and immigration as a fundamental building block of our future. Successive governments have grappled with controversial issues around unsanctioned immigration of different types. I’ve noticed that this debate has continued in the fiction of various Australian authors.

McDonald posits a world where Australia’s isolation has worked to its benefit, and in the face of global catastrophe the new Republic of Australasia has become an oasis of relative plenty. In order to deal with the swarms of refuges now trying to reach the country, Australia has adopted a strong military presence around their borders. Inside the country, a much more nationalistic culture has taken root. The story follows an officer in the border patrol, as he deals with a refuge’s story that hits a little close to home.

It is a good story well told, although I suspect that it needed a little more space to reach its full potential. The main character’s arc felt a little forced and with a little more space it may have resolved a little more naturally. I’d also be interested in how an international reader engaged with the story, if not exposed to the current Australian debate (feel free to leave a comment below!).

McDonald is an upcoming author to watch in Australian circles, and this short collection is an excellent way to engage with his work if you haven’t had a chance to before. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I do a small amount of work with McDonald on the Galactic Chat podcast. I don’t think that has impacted this review, but who knows? 

Update 29/3/2015

It turns out that McDonald’s new novelisation referenced above is out already (blame my faulty research). The novel is called Backcountry, and can be found here.

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.

Monthly Roundup – January & February 2015

Welcome to the first monthly roundup post for 2015. Can you believe it is March already? The pace of year scares the bejeesus out of me, I don’t mind telling you.

Earlier in the month I reviewed The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby, and what an excellent read it was. Go and check out the review. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

I also went back a bit in time I read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (plus bonus novella). I usually review Australian authors separately, however the trilogy is from a while ago and Garth Nix is popular enough that I very much doubt he needs my signal boost! The individual titles of the series are SabrielLirael and Abhorsen. I enjoyed the world building and background to the story, the late 19th-early 20th century feel of the non-magic land and the fantastic world “over the Wall”. The stories were interesting, but I must admit the head-hopping between characters was quite distracting and kept throwing me out of the story. I note that Nix has recently released a prequel Clariel – still deciding whether to purchase that one.

Brandon Sanderson’s latest YA novel Firefight was released and I had a quick read through. I enjoy Sanderson’s writing, and Firefight is another fast paced, interesting read with an interesting premise. Apart from the main character’s “bad metaphor” schtick (which was very distracting and felt quite forced) I enjoyed the ride. I also read his short novella Mitosis which is set between the two books in the series. I’ve probably succumbed to a shameless grab for cash from the hordes of Sanderson fans, but it was only a small amount of money and was a good read in and of itself. One of the things about Sanderson’s writing that I’m thinking a lot about is how he maintains a certain high octane pace through his books. It’s something that I think is missing from my own writing and reading these 1.5 books has given me a lot to think about.

My power drive through True Blood continued at lightening pace, and in late February we finished season 7, and therefore the whole series. I enjoyed True Blood more than I thought I would – the delivery of a few of the characters was hilarious (Eric, Pam and Jason in particular for those that have watched the show). The seventh season did feel like a bit of a clumsy add-on – I suspect it probably should have ended towards the end of season 6. Still, all up some great genre television.

I finally got the chance to listen to the sci-fi radio play series Night Terrace on a Sydney – Wollongong – Canberra – Sydney drive one weekend. My 6 year old daughter listened to it with me, and was quite taken by it all. “Is there any more of that Eddie show?” she asked me just the other week. If that’s not an endorsement for a second season, I don’t know what is. Very funny and clever writing, if you haven’t checked it out you should be very disappointed in yourself.

I’ve been to the movies more than normal over the last couple of months. Actually out to the cinema. I know, I was surprised too. I enjoyed the final instalment of The Hobbit although I don’t think I’ll need to see another CGI orc for quite some time. Penguins of Madagascar was hilarious – it is great that one of my kids has got old enough to justify me going to see goofy cartoons. Big Hero 6 was a surprisingly good super hero animation – Ms 6 loved it too. I definitely didn’t take her to see Kingsmen – that movie has a LOT of violence, but so over the top that it is hard to be too grossed out. Very much enjoyed that too. Most recently we saw The Imitation Game which is a very good bio-pic of Alan Turing’s life and well worth a look if you’re interested in the history of computing.

And it wouldn’t have been the holiday season without watching the Doctor Who Christmas special. I enjoyed it – some very funny Santa Claus action. But was it just me or did it seem like the ending was left open so Jemma Coleman could make up her mind about staying on with the show at the last minute? Probably just me.

I enjoyed Tansy Rayner Robert’s Musketeer Space prequel novella Seven Days of Joyeux, all about the lives of the three Musketeers pre-Dana. If you’re reading along with Musketeer Space, the novella adds some great depth to some of the main characters and fills in some interesting backstory. If you’ve been thinking of investing in this interesting experiment in serial novel writing, Seven Days of Joyeux is an excellent way of trying before you commit to a whole novel.

In preparation for watching the movie on Foxtel, I reread Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card during the holidays. It has been very many years since I read the book, and I was struck by the bleakness of the narrative and the extent to which Ender perpetrates such  atrocities in the name of survival. An interesting blast from the past, although I don’t feel particularly compelled to read any more of the series.

I’ve recently finished Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve read reviews that say “Pride and Prejudice with magic thrown in”, which about sums it up. Kowal is one of the presenters on the podcast Writing Excuses, and I’ve heard her talk about the series of books, in particular how she has combined the base characters with different styles of novels (e.g. regency “manners” novel, heist novel etc). I’m interested in reading more of them, to see how she does it. The writing was good and the story pulled me through – not normally my cup of tea but a refreshing change.

I also finished Cold Comfort & Other Tales by David McDonald, but I’ll write that up separately.

That’s all for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to?