Horizon by Keith Stevenson – review

 

Horizon

 

Horizon is the debut novel of author Keith Stevenson. Stevenson has been active in the Australian speculative fiction scene as a publisher through his small press Coeur de Lion Publishing, which has developed a reputation for publishing some excellent fiction (the anthology X6, for instance, collected a swag of awards). He has had several short stories published, but Horizon is his first novel length work. It has been published by HarperVoyager digital imprint Impulse.

(Disclaimer – I act as an affiliate for Stevenson’s free fiction magazine  Dimension6. I don’t think it’s impacted this review, but who knows? I don’t pretend to understand my own subconscious enough to be sure.) 

The story centres on humanity’s first interstellar trip to explore an Earth-like planet, Horizon. Stevenson uses a range of plausible technologies to describe the means by which the journey is possible. It’s clear that he has thought a lot about the implications of interstellar travel with our current level of technology, including the impacts of relativity.

The crew has been in a form of artificially induced hibernation for the journey, and while they have only aged a little, half a century has gone by on Earth. The changed geo-political status on Earth has a profound impact on the parameters of their mission.

While there is a heavy emphasis on technical verisimilitude, at its heart Horizon is a character driven story. There is mystery (the novel starts with the mysterious death of the mission’s second in command), interpersonal tensions as the political situation on Earth changes relationships on the ship and some big ideas relating to our obligations to maintain an alien biosphere versus obligations to an Earth that is a materially different place to the one you left.

I enjoyed the writing, with clear and engaging prose which kept the story rocketing along. The use of a “who-dun-it” plot line was a great way to balance the other aspects of the book – without it, it would have been possible that some of the other themes (e.g. climate change) might have got a little preachy. Stevenson does a great job balancing these aspects of the story to make it accessible and keeping the reader engaged with the story.

I must admit that I did wonder at times how this crew was selected. There is a lot of interpersonal drama (very necessary for the story), but at times I did begin to question the competence of whatever psychologists signed off on this particular group of people to go into deep space together! The out of balance nature of the relationships can be somewhat explained by the deaths that happen and a last minute, politically motivated addition to the crew. But with billions of people on the planet, there weren’t people equally competent who were also a bit more psychologically stable?

Minor quibble aside, this was an excellent book that I enjoyed reading very much. There isn’t a lot of pure Australian science fiction, and Horizon does a lot to redress the balance.

Highly recommended.

A year and a half ago, I interviewed Stevenson for the Galactic Chat podcast. The interview is well before the publication of Horizon, but if you’re interested in the man behind the book, it contains some interesting insights. You can find the podcast here.

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.

Dimension6 launches

Dimension6

I’m very excited to see a new speculative fiction magazine launch in Australia. It’s Dimension6, Keith Stevenson’s latest venture through his publishing house Coeur de Lion.

Long time readers might recall that I interviewed Keith for GalacticChat a few months back. Keith is a mainstay of the Australian speculative fiction scene and one of its true innovators. I’m excited to see what he’ll do with Dimension6.

Go and check it out – can’t argue with the price (free!).

This website is also an affiliate for Dimension6 – you can download each issue’s copy from this page.

Galactic Chat interview – Keith Stevenson

Well, my first interview for the Galactic Chat podcast is now up. I interviewed speculative fiction all-rounded Keith Stevenson. Keith is a publisher (Coeur de Lion Publishing), a writer, an editor and is in the early stages of producing a new magazine – Dimension 6.

I had a great time talking with Keith. He has some really interesting perspectives on the speculative fiction scene, and I loved his “try anything” attitude. His passion for learning new skills and using those skills to look at the genre in new ways was inspiring. Coeur de Lion has published some fantastic works (see my reviews of Pyrotechnicon and Anywhere But Earth) and it was a privilege to get a glimpse into the mind of the man behind the curtain.

I also asked Keith to do a reading from one of his short stories – I thought it would add something for listeners if they could hear an example of the interviewee’s work. Would love to get feedback on whether listeners find that part of the interview useful.

(I have to apologise for the sound quality. This was my first interview and I hadn’t factored in the sensitivity of the microphones to background noise. Our illustrious leader Sean Wright, who does all of the post-production work, did the best he could to clear it up.)

I hope you enjoy and please leave feedback here or at the Galactic Chat website.

 

Show notes follow:

In this episode we introduce interviewer Mark Webb who grabs hold of writer, publisher, editor, podcaster and speculative fiction raconteur Keith Stevenson and quizzes him about his wide and varied speculative fiction career. They cover some history around Coeur de Lion publishing and what makes a Coeur de Lion publication, Keith’s recently announced Dimension 6 speculative fiction e-magazine initiative, his latest writing projects and the fragmentation of the publishing world that has accompanied the eBook revolution.

Keith also does a reading from his time travel paradox short story ‘…They First Make Mad.’ to round out the interview.

More information about coeur de lion publishing, including details on where to purchase the books mentioned in the podcast, can be found at http://www.coeurdelion.com.au. More information about Dimension 6 can also be found at the website.

If listeners want to hear the end of ‘…They First Make Mad’, they can hear the whole story, plus stories by Brendan Duffy and Trent Jamieson, on the Terror Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast episode 14 at http://www.keithstevenson.com/terraincognitasf/tisf014.html.

Note: there was a bit of background noise at the venue, and Mark’s recording equipment wasn’t quite good enough to screen it all out. Listeners should pretend they are sitting at a trendy café, eavesdropping on two sophisticated writer types talking shop. In fact, it is compulsory to be drinking a macchiato while listening to this podcast. You’ve been warned.

Author Website: http://www.keithstevenson.com

Author Twitter: @stevenson_keith

Credits 

Interviewer: Mark Webb

Guest: Keith Stevenson

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright 

Feedback

Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

Anywhere But Earth – edited by Keith Stevenson – review

At the recent NSW Writer’s Centre Speculative Fiction Festival I attended the launch of this 29 story anthology produced by Coeur de Lion and edited by Keith Stevenson. As the name implies, Anywhere But Earth has stories based on mostly human exploration and colonisation of the galaxy, with the only common theme that the stories are not set on Earth.

There are a range of authors, with a heavy weighting towards the antipodes. There seems to be reasonable gender balance in the stories, not quite 40% women authors by my count which isn’t world’s best but still a lot better than many anthologies. Each story has a little author bio attached – it did feel like a diverse range of authors had been included.

Can I get out of the way early that I loved the stories contained within this book. At the launch, my appetite had been whetted by three strong readings by:

  • Richard Harland from An Exhibition of the Plague – a great story about a visitor to a plague ridden colony. The story twists at the end – the outcome was interesting and a little disturbing. Richard gave a dramatic rendition of the story at the reading with his usual theatrical flair.
  • Alan Baxter from Unexpected Launch – a couple of space cleaners are the only survivors from an unexplained disaster on their ship. Mr Baxter provided good humour in the story and a satisfying ending – what else can you ask for?
  • Margo Lanagan from Yon Horned Moon about a space courier and a close encounter – Ms Lanagan did a beautiful reading, showcasing her flair for language. To be honest, I actually preferred hearing the story read than reading it myself. The prose had a rhythm to it that I found hard to recapture in my head when I was reading the story, but while listening to Ms Lanagan read it flowed beautifully, almost poetically. This very possibly says a lot more about the lack of poetry in my soul than anything about Ms Lanagan’s writing.

Given the strength of the readings, I was anticipating a good book. However, I was surprised at the strength of all the stories. While obviously I enjoyed some stories more than others, there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy on some level. I’ve mentioned a couple of stories specifically below that were particularly noteworthy or had some element I wanted to comment on.

The opening story is Murmer by Calie Voorhis. I read one of Calie’s stories recently in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue #51 and really liked it. This was quite a different style of story exploring the nomadic lifestyle of intergalactic diplomacy and the desire to put down roots, in this case quite literally.

Beautiful by Cat Sparks was memorable not just for the quality of the writing but also as one of the few stories that was completely human-less.

I enjoyed the world created in Rains of la Strange by Robert N Stephenson. It had the feel of a larger universe only glimpsed – I liked the clockwork style of the protagonist and the action scenes felt well written to me. I was a little ambivalent about the ending, the pursuit of “real” emotions by emotionless/controlled mechanical beings is a little overdone in modern sci-fi. But despite my hesitation at those kinds of story lines, I still liked this tale.

Continuity by Damon Shaw had an interesting plot with a good interplay between a ship AI and what remains of the human crew.

Poor Man’s Travel by Patty Jansen was a good story about mind swapping to escape the boredom of interstellar travel and the perils of offers that are too good to be true. I liked the ending of this one. And Ms Jansen was kind enough to sign my copy of the book at the launch.

I was partial to By Any Other Name by Kim Westwood. I won’t give too much away about the story, but the slow reveal was well executed and the nature of the inhabitants of the world described was good. I’m looking forward to reading Ms Westwood’s latest work (The Courier’s New Bicycle) soon.

Space Girl Blues by Brendan Duffy was another slow reveal story, exploring some interesting possibilities in cloning and warfare. The ending to this story appealed to me.

Messiah on the Rock by Jason Nahrung. Space marines fighting space vampires. Enough said.

As well as the stories mentioned above, there was also:

This is one of the better anthologies that I’ve read in some time. Strongly recommended.

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