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.

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

Viral Novella series – -30-, Anomaly, Martyrs and The Call – review

Cover for one of the novellas in the series - Anomaly

The Viral novella series is a collection of four novella length stories, all based around the theme of viral warfare. The four stories are only loosely connected together, each acting as an almost stand alone treatment of the topic. The series is anchored by author Steven Savile, who is co-author of all four stories. Along with Savile, the stories are co-authored by:

  • -30-Keith R. A. DeCandido (when journalist Joe Lombardo is fed information by an old source about the CIA using immunisation programs as a cover for searching for terrorists, he has to decide whether to publish the story and cause untold damage to the reputation of immunisation. Of course, the CIA hired team of assassins on his trail make it difficult to think clearly).
  • AnomalyJason Fischer (a doctor overseeing a vaccination program in Africa discovers a CIA plot to use the vaccines to infect people to cause disruption to the African Union).
  • MartyrsJordan Ellinger (a local Pakistani doctor does a deal that allows him to run a free inoculation program, while the CIA uses DNA taken from patients to track down a dangerous terrorist).
  • The CallAlex Black (Nikolas, a veteran CIA agent, hunts a Taliban commander potentially in possession of a weapon of mass destruction).

I read this series because I’ve liked the work of one of the authors (Jason Fischer – an Australian speculative fiction author).

Each of the stories in the series felt a little rushed, but I did think the four stories complemented each other well, making the series a good one to read together. The theme of immunisation programs used as a cover for more nefarious secret agent purposes, and the possible consequences, was pushed hard and a little repetitively in each story, although Anomaly used a sufficiently different take on the subject to be interesting.

The writing was consistent, especially considering the number of authors involved. I probably preferred Anomaly, but then I’ve liked Fischer’s writing for a while. Anyone who can find a way to use the line “If it’s good enough for David Hasslehoff, it’s good enough for me” in a story has my vote. The tension in the each of the stories was sustained and the action was credible.

I think the series would have been stronger if the stories were interlinked more, forming a more cohesive overarching storyline. I suspect this would have been possible with a relatively small amount of additional work – the stories were grouped fairly closely in terms of subject matter. Regardless I enjoyed all four stories individually.

A credible series of modern thrillers, each of which could have legitimately longer pieces in their own right.

Note: the series was provided to me at no cost by Jason Fischer, one of the authors.

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.