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Monthly Roundup – October 2014

Another month flashes past. October 2014 went by very quickly, people. On the writing front, I’ve been typing up the first 20,000 words of a space opera I started writing longhand earlier in the year. I’ve also been thinking through the editing process for Unaligned, the manuscript I typed “the end” for not that long ago.

I’m struggling with the editing process. Not so much the theory of it. I can think of a lot of things I need to do, and there is a lot of useful advice out there on self editing. The manuscript needs a lot of polishing before I can get other people involved in reading it. I recognise that.

However (and this is a big however), I’m struggling to fit editing into my life. With the first draft writing by hand, I could find 1/2 hour here or there and get a little bit more writing down. My at-least-1-page-per-day system worked well. With a busy job and two young kids, small snippets of time are all that seem possible. But that approach is not working for me when it comes to editing. I find I need more time, the capacity to really submerge myself into the work for an extended period, before I seem to be able to edit properly. Trying to do a little bit each night is not working. In fact, on some occasions it is actually counter-productive.

That’s why I started writing another manuscript (the space opera – working title Untethered). It was easier to fit in.

So, my current strategy is to find a couple of interruption free days to kick start the process. Perhaps once I’ve delved into the manuscript in a focused way, subsequent editing bit by bit will become more feasible. Negotiations have begun with my wife to free up a weekend so I can work sans-kids (of course I’ll need to return that particular favour!). Negotiations have begun with my parents so I can grab their caravan down in Wollongong for the isolation. I’d like to find some time pre-Christmas. Wish me luck.

On the culture consumed side, I read and reviewed The Godless by Ben Peek. Excellent book, but you’ll have to read my review to find out why.

As flagged last month, I started the YA collection Kaleidoscope, but haven’t yet finished. OK so far, like the diversity theme but have my normal struggles engaging with YA work. It’s not them, it’s me.

Read another one of the recently re-released Wild Cards series, Aces Abroad. Love the flash back aspect of reading an 80s/90s series. There is one story set in Australia, and the airlines referenced were Ansett and TAA. Love it! As previously commented, some gender issues that jump out now that I didn’t notice on first reading, but not as bad as it could be. All up, I’m enjoying the re-read.

Also started The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Only a little way in though, more to report next month.

On the TV front, I’m not liking The 100. In fact, I think I’m about to give up. It has been vaguely interesting, but they’ve just introduced a new character on the space station with a new strand of political intrigue and I realised I didn’t really care enough about what happens to the characters. I’ve got too much of a backlog of TV, I think I can afford to give this one away.

Heard an Australian podcast recently talking about the new TV series The Flash (a spin off of Arrow), but I have not been able to find it here in Australia. They must have been obtaining episodes by other means. I saw a “coming soon” ad on Foxtel though, so I would imagine it is not too far away.

The rest of my superhero fix is coming from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and Gotham. AoS has been good, I’m liking the darker, short of resources world of the second season. Arrow remains just a little over the top melodramatic, but I really like the flashback approach to showing backstory. Jury is still out on Gotham, but so far so good.

In terms of TV series finished this month, I watched the last episode of season 4 of Teen Wolf (a much shorter season this time around) and The Strain. Enjoyed both shows, with a slight preference for Teen Wolf.

So, who else is overdosing on superhero TV? Read any good books I should be considering? Any other interesting culture consumed?

The Godless by Ben Peek – review

The Godless by Ben Peek

The Godless by Ben Peek is the first in the “Children” trilogy. Peek made big news last year with the sale of this trilogy to Tor UK, a major sale for an Australian author.

I’ve enjoyed Peek’s shorter work in the past. Long time readers of the blog might recall my review of Above/Below - a small press publication by Peek and Stephanie Campisi. Given the high profile sale, my interest in Australian speculative fiction generally and my enjoyment of Peek’s previous work, I’ve kept an eye out for the publication of this book.

I won’t give much of a plot synopsis – there are plenty of other reviews of this book, most of which have a more comprehensive description of the plot. Broadly, this secondary world fantasy is based on the premise that the Gods all killed each other in a divine war thousands of years before. As they slowly pass away, their power is leeching out into the world, and some humans find themselves the unwitting recipient of some fragment of one of the former Gods’ powers. These powers have a wide variety of effects, but most of the people who survive the onset of their powers become essentially immortal.

Most of the story is set around the city of Mireea, built on a mountain range that has formed over the body of one of the dead Gods. Mireea is under threat of siege from an army formed on religious grounds.

There are three main viewpoints for the story, Zaifyr – one of the oldest of the “Gods’ Children”, an immortal thousands of years old, Ayae – one of the newest of the Gods’ Children just coming into her power and Bueralan – a mercenary in charge of a small band  of saboteurs hired to operate in defence of the city.

I must admit that this has been one of my most enjoyable, refreshing reads for 2014.

I loved the premise, and in general the concepts behind the writing. It could just be me bringing my own biases into the reading, but I took a lot of parallels between Peek’s post-Gods world and our own slow move out of the shadow of historical religions. The exploration of what it means for society to stand on its own, without reference to supernatural entities. The taking on of power that has been historically seen as the province of the divine. The need to take responsibility to chart our own path forward. The power of even remnants of religion to inspire terrible deeds in the name of holy mandate. I found Peek’s interrogation of these concepts to be quite powerful and thought provoking. If nothing else, the concepts behind this story would have been enough to hook me in.

But this is no worthy but dry tome, meant to educate rather than entertain. I found the work utterly engaging, and it was only in reflecting on it later than some of these themes came through (and as I say, I could be ascribing my own biases to the work). The use of language in this work is delightful, the pacing superb. I found the characters to be vividly drawn and compelling in their motivations. In short it was an excellent read.

I particularly wanted to highlight Peek’s treatment of time. The work seamlessly switches between the past and the present, echoing his description of the nature of the Gods and subtly preparing the reader for some of the reveals later in the work. While the techniques and style are different, I was left with the same feeling I’d had when I first read Catch 22 – the dips into non-linear story telling was enjoyable on many levels. And to do it with such deceptively simple language and style, the ease with which the reader can follow the changes belying the sophistication of the writing needed to achieve that effect. Just brilliant.

I also loved Peek’s treatment of diversity. The novel is by no means a soap box, but built into the fabric of this world was an embrace of diversity that was refreshing. No “default white” characters here – Peek points out the physical characteristics of all characters as they enter the story. Women and men clearly have an equal presence in society. None of this is done in a preachy way, it is presented as mundane fact, woven into the background of the story.

I found the plot to be mature and engaging, with enough turns to maintain my interest. I cared about the characters. I wanted to know what happened next. I read the book over only a few days (unheard of for me these days!) and I’m already hanging out for the next book in the series.

A fantastic accomplishment well worth the initial publicity, with additional dollops of pleasingness based around the fact it has come from an Australian author. Highly recommended.

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

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Monthly Round Up – August and September 2014

Two months for the price of one – I got to mid September and realised that I hadn’t written an August round up, and by the time I had written it up it was almost time for the September version.

So, last time we were chatting about culture consumed I had, on a whim, started to read the Star Wars Fate of the Jedi series. Well, that was several books ago and I’m still making my way through them. I won’t even attempt to claim that I’m learning something about the cutting edge of the genre or anything, but there are lightsabers. Lots and lots of lightsabers. At a time where I don’t have a lot of spare brain power, this series has been just the right level of escapist-just-before-bed reading that I’ve been able to handle.

Two SF TV series I’ve been watching finished up over the period  – Falling Skies and Defiance. I’ve always been a bit of the fence about Falling Skies. The first couple of seasons seemed as much like a cheap copy of The Walking Dead as anything, with aliens substituted for zombies. But the series has been growing on me, and I’m still watching four seasons in, so that has to tell you something. The latest season provided some interesting character arcs, and although there was still the “reseting to zero” aspect to it (they really struggle to build and maintain anything at all in that show), the final episode did provide some intriguing lead in to the next season (assuming there is going to be a next season of course – I can’t be bothered looking up Wikipedia to find out).

Defiance  is a great little show, isn’t it? Especially seeing as it was originally set up to sell a game, as far as I can tell. The show is set quite a few years after Earth has been cataclysmically (but only partially) terraformed by the arrival of a series of alien races, and is centred on the town of Defiance, a kind of a “wild west” independent frontier town that has sprung up over the ruins of St Louis. This season has an excellent major story arc centring on a world altering diabolical plot and how that impacts with Irisa – one of the main characters. I really enjoyed the series, and thought the expansion of the world building was done quite well. I don’t know whether the series will go on (the Internet is ambiguous about its chances for a third season) but if it doesn’t get renewed, it went out on a good note.

To keep my quotient of genre TV, I’ve started on a few new series. The 100 is a post-apocalypse dystopia and has a Lord of the Flies vibe, as a group of delinquent children get sent down to the surface of Earth from their space station home to test out whether the nuclear radiation has dissipated enough to support life. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes as yet – not hooked but I’ll give it a few more episodes before I decide. My steadfast march into middle age has made me a bit less patient with teen angst, and I haven’t decided yet on whether there is enough genre elements to offset my general grumpiness.

This is going to sound a bit hypocritical given the last statement, but I really like Teen Wolf. Didn’t think I would when I started watching the series on a whim a few years back. But I must admit it has filled a Buffy the Vampire Slayer based hole in my heart. The last season was great, and so far this season seems a little less cohesive, but I’m invested enough in the characters that I don’t really care.

The Originals is a vampire show. I haven’t really watched many of the vampire shows on TV (True BloodThe Vampire Diaries etc) so I’m not sure what started me on this one. Actually I do know, I was travelling for work and the pilot episode was the only thing on TV when I got back to my hotel room. Don’t mind it so far, will let you know more.

Did I mention I’ve given up on The Walking Dead midway through season 4? I can’t tell you why – I like the show, but the second half of the fourth season has been sitting on my Foxtel hard drive for months now, and I’ve deleted to free up the space. I’ll probably get them on DVD some time in the future, but for now I just couldn’t go on. Don’t judge me.

And then there is the new Doctor Who. We’re only a few episodes in, but so far I’m impressed. Capaldi is great, and injects quite an alien persona. Love the Scottish accent, love the lack of a romantic relationship with the companion, stories have been good so far. It is early days, but I’ll remain a fan for the time being.

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy when it came out. Excellent, best Marvel film for a while. Don’t know much about the comic series, but it was a fantastic ensemble cast and great storyline. If you like the Marvel series of superhero films, you’ll like GotG. If you don’t, it’s different enough that it might be worth giving a go.

I’ve been watching the SBS (short) series The Real History of Science Fiction which has been interesting. So far I’ve seen the episodes on time travel, alien invasion and space exploration. It is mostly focused on TV and movies, with the occasional book reference thrown in. Extra points for including an interesting discussion with Ursula Le Guin on Left Hand of Darkness and the use of a gender-less species. I think it is still on SBS’s online catch up TV thingie if you’re in Australia and interested in watching (note if you’re living in the future and back reading this post, the link above probably doesn’t work anymore).

Next month I’ll be moving off my Star Wars kick and getting back to some other reading. The two books on my agenda next are Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller, an indigenous Australian author whose work I encountered in Walking the Clouds (An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction) edited by Grace L. Dillon. I’ve been picking through Walking the Clouds a bit piecemeal – reading some of the essays introducing stories and some of the stories. It is not, as I initially thought, an anthology of short stories. Mostly Dillon has selected extracts from longer works that illustrate the points being made in the introductory essays. The focus seems to be more North American, but there are a good scattering of selections from indigenous populations around the world. I haven’t approached it in a comprehensive enough way to write a review, but Weller’s work did catch my eye from an Australian perspective. It took a bit of work to track down a copy of Land of the Golden Clouds, and I’m looking forward to the read.

The other book I’ll be reading is one that I backed in a recent Kickstarter/Indiegogo/Pozible (one of them) campaign, Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope is an anthology of young adult speculative fiction where the focus has been on lead characters from a diverse range of backgrounds. It has been getting some good buzz lately and the non-backer version is due out soon (I think you can get the eBook now from the publisher, Twelfth Planet Press).

I’m also continuing with my online reading of Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Roberts has been producing the work serially, and at the time of writing I am at chapter 19. Very enjoyable retelling of The Three Musketeers, with gender changes in many of the main characters. Roberts is running a Patreon campaign to gather support for the story, well worth checking out.

In podcast world, I’ve finished my binge listening to all the back-espisodes of Tea and Jeopardy, and I am loving the podcast more and more as time goes by. The host, Emma Newman, has been running a Patreon campaign. Apparently if you support the podcast, you get to read the story of how she came to have her butler Latimer in her employ. When it was first mentioned I though “meh, who cares” but as time goes on I’m finding myself more and more intrigued. I’m getting close to the “I must know” state of being than I ever thought I would. Great interview/radio play format – well worth checking out,   especially if you’re interested in the Angry Robot stable of authors.

I’m now also listening to a new Australian writing podcast So You Want to be a Writer, hosted by Valerie Khoo and Alison Tate. It’s takes the form of writing news and interviews with authors. Not a SF podcast, but does keep my in touch with a broader range of writing news than I might otherwise hear. Main problem is that I don’t think I will ever be able to catch up on the back catalogue, so I might just have to skip forward to the more recent episodes.

That’s all my culture, and when it’s written out like that it seems like a lot more than it really is. Enough from me – what have you been up to?

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Winter Be My Shield cover

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier is the first book in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. This was Spurrier’s debut novel and she has subsequently gone on to finish the trilogy.

This book has sat on my to be read shelf for a long time. I received it at an Aurealis Award ceremony a couple of years back, and it has sat staring accusingly at me from my bookshelf for all that time. And it is too bad that I waited so long to get into the book, because I really enjoyed it.

Spurrier has constructed a cohesive political and social system that sits on top of an interesting and imaginative form of magic. It took me a little bit of time to place the different countries and their relation to each other, but it clicked into place about a third of the way through the book. Something about the politics seemed fresh, I enjoyed the discovery process as we learnt more about the world.

The setting is well realised, the kind of biting cold that it is hard to imagine in Australia (or at least the parts of Australia that I’ve lived in).

It is not for the faint of heart though – the story is definitely on the grimdark end of the fantasy spectrum. There are some very cranky people that express their crankiness in some very direct ways. However the violence and grit never seem gratuitous, rather they add texture to the world.

The main characters were an interesting lot, and Spurrier explores interesting questions of diversity in her treatment of the recently physically disabled main character and the treatment of magic users in one of the societies in the world.

It is a good start to a series and I will be reading the rest.

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

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Monthly Round Up – July 2014

Not a lot read through the month of July. I’m afraid family, work and writing are combining to chew up a lot of my free time. I recently discovered that some fine folk had ported the old D&D games Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II onto the iPad, and they have sucked away what little time I have left.

I did however finish Auxiliary Justice by Anne Leckie. I enjoyed the book – good solid space opera with an engaging protagonist and interesting concepts around ship consciousness when spread across multiple “individuals” and a society where gender is irrelevant to the point where the protagonist thinks of everyone as “she”. A lot has been written about Auxiliary Justice and I’ve decided that I can add precisely zero to the debate, so I’ll leave it there. Worth a read if you’re into space opera.

I also finished Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier, however I’m writing up a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t give away any thoughts here.

As reported earlier, I’m also reading the serial novel Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A lot of fun so far, and I’ve also been enjoying the ecosystem she has been creating around the novel. As at the time of writing I’ve finished chapter 9 and am a couple of chapters behind.

My six year old daughter and I watched Star Wars for the first time (episode four) and that has given me a bit of Star Wars nostalgia. I’ve dipped into and out of into the Star Wars novels since they first started coming out, and in honour of my daughter’s first step into the universe I’ve decided to dip into a sequence of Star Wars novels I have yet read – the Fate of the Jedi. The series kicks off with a novel called Outcast  by Aaron Allston. Previous forays into the Star Wars novel universe have met with mixed results, it’ll be interesting to see how this goes.

By the way, my daughter’s verdict on Star Wars? “It’s good. I particularly like Princess Leia’s hair.”

On the podcast side of things, I’ve been rapidly running through the back catalog of Tea and Jeopardy by Emma Newman. An interesting SF interview show out of the UK, that adds a little radio play style bit before and after the main interview, in which the interviewee is put into (and often escapes) a spot of mild peril. I’m really enjoying it, and there is a certain sense of continuity that is keeping me listening to the episodes in order. I’m almost caught up!

I thought I’d mention TV here as well, if there is anything of interest. Main genre TV watching for me at the moment is Continuum (the Canadian SF series about a time travelling cop from the future and the group of terrorists she’s chased back to our time). This season has been good – I’ve particularly liked the greying of the lines between “good guy” and “bad guy”.

I’ve also been watching the first few episodes of season 2 of Defiance, which has been suitably interesting. More on that in future months.

The Tomorrow People is heading towards the season (and series) finale. I think the show had some potential, but I can understand why it got axed – it wasn’t quite hitting that potential.

Looking forward to the launch of BBC First on Foxtel where they are giving us all 10 episodes of Musketeers, which looks very good from the previews.

I’ve recorded the first couple of episodes of The Strain as well, but I’m as yet undecided as to whether I’ll be watching.

That’s all for this month. What have you been reading/listening to/watching? Any suggestions?

Watermarks by Jason Nahrung (Cosmos magazine)

I don’t normally mention individual stories that I come across, but one of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, has a story in the latest edition of the Cosmos magazine (June/July 2014). The story is called Watermarks.

Cosmos is an Australian popular science magazine, where local speculative fiction luminary Cat Sparks edits the fiction. She usually chooses stories that are related to science in some way, and has a very discerning eye (so discerning that I wouldn’t even dare submit any of my work!). But that eye for quality means that you can always be guaranteed a good read with whatever short story she chooses.

And so it is the case with Watermarks, which represents a vignette of life in a future, drowned Brisbane. It is a story of unrequited love, of the slow erosion of society when faced with unparalleled but sedate disaster and of the importance of sunblock. I enjoyed it very much, and recommend picking up a copy of Cosmos at your local newsagent and giving it a read.

Monthly round up – June 2014

I took two novella length works for my plane reading when going down to the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Horn and Bleed by Peter M. Ball were published by Twelfth Planet Press a few years back. Both have the same main protagonist, who is a burnt out ex-cop with a strong connection into the world of the fae. I enjoyed both works, I liked the hard boiled main character, the story lines were entertaining and moved along at a good pace. I think both could have stood to be a little longer, but that is probably because I was enjoying them and didn’t want them to end quite so quickly!

I also read the latest Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game. What can I say, I like the series. Not much really to add to previous reviews – this one was a heist novel, moved along at a good pace and I liked the unexpected plot development towards the end involving a particular kind of sword. I think the novels are starting to overly rely on the intervention of the Christian God, with a little too much “let me explain away this giant coincidence that resolves the novel in a  very convenient way by invoking one religion’s God and his/her ineffable plan” for my liking. But hey, when you back your characters into the kinds of corners that Butcher tends to, you probably need an all powerful deity save the day.

Apart from that I’m still working on Ancillary Justice and Winter Be My Shield. I’m enjoying both books but not getting a lot of time to read.

On the TV front, I started watching the new series of Defiance which is being fast tracked from the US on Foxtel. I enjoy the show – feels like a well used universe and I like the interactions between the alien races (feels a bit like Farscape from that perspective). Will be interested to see where they take the season this year.

I’ve also been watching the new season of ArcherArcher: Vice. Ah, Archer. So problematic. So funny.

Continuum is a good Canadian sci-fi series, well worth checking out. I’ve also been watching the remake of The Tomorrow People, but mainly in solidarity from vague but fond memories of the series from my youth. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

That’s all for this month. Stay tuned.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.

The Traitor Queen cover

The Traitor Queen is the third book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Missionhere and the second book, The Rogue, here.

OK, so I’m starting to see the issue with reading all three books of a trilogy in a row and reviewing each separately – you end up with a lot of repetitive thoughts on the series as a whole. I think from now on if I’m going to read through a series consecutively I might do a single review for the whole series. Lesson learnt!

So, my feeling on The Traitor Queen don’t deviate much from my comments on the previous two books. Strong characters, good line-by-line writing, a little lacking on the plot/tension side of things, great world building and good attempt to integrate same sex relationships as a normal part of the world. If you’re interested in more thoughts on that front, I’d recommend my previous reviews (links at the top of this review).

In terms of a third book in a series, all the major plot points were closed off by the end. The final battle between the Traitors and the Sachakans happened, but was a little anti-climactic. I actually enjoyed the smaller scale drama of the roet/Thieves/Lillia storyline much better.

I quite enjoyed the sense that the Guild was having to adapt on many fronts at once – politically, technologically, internally. It gave a sense of change and time marching forward, which doesn’t always happen in a fantasy world.

Canavan has introduced several younger characters, and if she was to ever revisit this world again (which I don’t believe she has any plans to), I think leaping forward into the future and not focusing on any of the older characters at all would be the way to go. Anyi and Lillia would form a solid basis for a new series, especially if combined with dealing with the results of the world changes mentioned above.

Overall a solid series that I enjoyed reading.

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

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May 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I been reading this month? As it turns out, not very much.

As mentioned in last month’s wrap up, I tackled King Rat by China Mieville – my first Mieville read and quite good. I can see why people love his use of language. There were times where it felt a little self consciously fancy, but generally speaking it was enviably crunchy in its ability to evoke emotion in a really visceral way. I enjoyed it very much.

Apart from that, I haven’t read very much at all. I started Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier (which will be a full review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge) and Auxiliary Justice by Ann Leckie (to see what all the fuss is about), but I haven’t finished either of them.


The Rogue by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.

The Rogue

The Rogue is the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Mission, here.

The story follows straight on from The Ambassador’s Mission. I found myself gravitating towards the “home” plot, involving Cery the thief, Sonea the Black Magician and some internal shenanigans in the Guild, rather than the one that followed a trail of international intrigue. Still, The Rogue expanded even more on the politics wider world and introduced some tantalising glimpses into other societies, which I found quite interesting. Canavan has created a complex and intriguing world and I’m sure there was a depth of world building that went on to create such a coherent narrative.

As with the first novel, the pacing was a little slow for me. At the end of the day I just wasn’t worried for the main characters. I suspect this was one of the reasons that I warmed to a sub-plot involving a new character tricked into learning black magic. As the character was new, I wasn’t as certain that they’d survive, and that added an extra dollop of tension, which I quite liked.

Great to see a normalisation of homosexual relationships, with the same attention given to the gay character’s love life as the straight ones.  Truth be told, there were points where I found all the relationships a little vexing (“you’re the Ambassador man, no good can come from sleeping with a senior official in another government!”) but then I’m becoming a cranky old man (who apparently dislikes other people’s happiness) faster than I’d like.

All in all a very solid middle novel to an enjoyable trilogy.

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

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