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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.

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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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?

The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby – review

 

The Marching Dead

The Marching Dead is the second book in the Marius don Hellespont series. I read (and very much enjoyed) the first book, The Corpse Rat King, a little while back, so was very pleased to get my teeth sunk into the sequel.

First up I have to say that the things I loved about the first book were very much present in the second. Marius was still an excellent bounder and cad, although slightly less reluctant than in the first novel. The Marching Dead had a much wider cast than the first novel, but all the characters were well drawn and engaging.

And the writing was just as captivating as I remembered from the first novel. Witty dialogue and excellent descriptive text and galloping along at a frenetic pace. The humour in this book really engaged me – dark and biting at some times, downright silly at others. In some ways I felt that this book was trying to make more serious points than the first, but it was done in such an engaging manner that I hardly noticed!

Apart from that, my comments are very similar to my review of The Corpse-Rat King, so I won’t repeat myself too much. I will say however that I liked the ending. It was not romanticised and artificially sweetened, which brought the story together for me very well.

An excellent story and well worth the price of entry. Highly recommended.

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


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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.


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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 – wrap up

awwbadge_2014

Well, another year another Australian Women Writers challenge. In 2014 I read 10 books by Australian women and reviewed all 10. The reviews can be found here in all, and individually:

  1. The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan
  2. The Rogue by Trudi Canavan
  3. The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan
  4. Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier
  5. Black Sun Light My Way by Jo Spurrier
  6. North Star Guide Me Home by Jo Spurrier
  7. Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love
  8. Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  9. Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
  10. The Female Factory by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter

In previous years I found it relatively easy to complete the challenge, whereas this year I was reading right up until Christmas, and had to post the last 6 reviews into January. I’ve been reflecting on why I had more trouble this year with the challenge.

First up, it can’t be denied that I don’t actually get time to read very many books in a year. 10 books actually represents a not insignificant percentage of my total reading for the year.

Secondly, due to my work and home schedule, I did find myself diving into some less challenging “comfort reading” of series that didn’t tax my brain too much. This included reading a set of Star Wars novels and revisiting one of my reading loves of my teenage years, the Wild Card series. While these novels had a mixture of female and male authors, none of them were by Australians. This took out a fair chunk of my reading time between about July and October in 2014 – and didn’t help me contribute to the challenge at all.

But when I strip out these “time poor” excuses, I also noted another trend. Over the last couple of years I have been reading more women (and Australian women) authors. However, I’ve continued to buy books by a mixture of men and women, but just not reading a lot of the books by men. As a result, my “to be read” shelf has become weighted towards male authors. So when I started to feel guilty about the to-be-read shelf and decided to try and reduce it a bit before buying more books, I found myself reading mostly male authors. This seemed to hit a bit of a critical mass during 2014. Something to keep an eye on in the future.

What else have I noted about my 2014 reading? Six of my ten novels were made up of two trilogies. Reviewing books in trilogies so close to each other was challenging – my reviews felt repetitive to me and I found myself without many interesting things to say.

I also cheated a bit in this years challenge. One of my reviews was of a work in progress by Tansy Rayner Roberts, who is releasing Musketeer Space as a serialised novel. So the book isn’t actually finished yet. I also reviewed Kaleidoscope, which is an anthology made up of many writers, only a few of which were Australian. However it was co-edited and published by an Australian woman, so I decided to stretch the definition a little.

In both cases, including the reviews was partly to help me hit the target, but was also because each endeavour represented something innovative and a bit different creatively, showing Australian women at the cutting edge of what the speculative fiction scene is doing at the moment. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether those reviews were “really” part of the AWW challenge – I’m still claiming a challenge “win”!

I also realised that I’ve leaned pretty heavily on the Twelve Planets series published out of Twelfth Planet Press, and that The Female Factory (my last review of the year) was book 11 of a 12 book series (although I believe a “13th planet” may have been added to the lineup). So, I’ll have to look a bit further afield in 2015!

Once again, the AWW challenge has pushed me to seek out and read more books by Australian women. I’m definitely signing up for the 2015 challenge – and if you’re reading this, you should too!

The Female Factory by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter – 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 Female Factory

The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett is the 11th book in the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press. The series aims to showcase Australian women writing speculative fiction and has produced some stellar, award winning work over the last 3 years.

Hannett and Slatter have collaborated before, most notably in the collection Midnight and Moonshine. The Female Factory has the polish of a well practiced collaboration, where the voice of the stories is smooth and doesn’t show any seams between the two story teller’s work.

The collection is made up of four stories:

  • Vox - where the souls of children that are never born are used to give voice to electronic devices.
  • Baggage – in a world where the very rich are willing to pay big money for a baby, Robyn’s ability to undertake multiple, simultaneous pregnancies should be an asset.
  • All the Other Revivals – a haunting story where people born in the wrong body can make a change in the waters of the local billabong.
  • The Female Factory – we all know about genetic engineering and the possibility of designer babies. But what about designer mothers?

In most of the stories the collection puts a strong emphasis on fertility, and the mother-child relationship. It provides perspectives that I found fresh and very engaging. It is a mature treatment of topics that are often glossed over or ignored completely.

The writing is very sophisticated, and the authors are able to draw the reader into the protagonist’s world view effortlessly, portraying them very sympathetically while still showing the warts and all. The language is deceptively simple, while still creating imagery and atmosphere that I found compelling.

Another excellent addition to the Twelve Planets series, and one I have no hesitation in recommending.

Regular readers will know that I am an occasional contributor to the Galactic Chat podcast. Back in September 2014, one of the authors, Angela Slatter, was interviewed for the podcast. The interview was conducted by Alex Pierce, and contains some very interesting insights. You can find it here. And if that isn’t enough, Sean Wright also interviewed Lisa L. Hannett for Galactic Chat just before Christmas 2014 (the interview can be found here).

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


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Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios – 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.



Kaleidoscope

OK, I’m cheating a little bit here. I’ve decided to review a collection of short stories that are not all by Australian women for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Indeed, they are mostly not by Australian women. But wait, before you throw your monitor at the wall in disgust and walk out I have reasons.

  1. It is from an Australian small press that is run by a woman (Alisa Krasnostein).
  2. It has stories by three Australian women (Tansy Rayner Roberts, Faith Mudge, Holly Kench) and one New Zealander (Karen Healy), which is almost Australian.
  3. One of the editors is an Australian woman. OK, it’s the same woman as in 1. above, but in a completely different role. Editor versus publisher. Come on, it still counts as a third reason.

So, if you’re still not buying what I’m selling, then you should stop reading the review here. But you’ll be sooorrrryyyyy!

Kaleidoscope was a crowd funded anthology that sought out YA speculative fiction that was written by a diverse range of writers and featured diverse characters (e.g. people with a disability, mental illness, suffering marginalisation because of race or religion or sexual orientation etc). However the mandate of the book was very clear – while characters needed to have a diverse background, they were not to be defined by their background. I particularly liked the requirement that characters were not to be “cured” of their diversity. Kaleidoscope is a mature treatment of the issues of diversity in the speculative fiction scene, and for that alone I’m hoping it is a sign of much more diverse fiction to come.

(As a side note, and because I’ve justified this review in part by pointing at an Australian small press run by an Australian woman, I might insert a plug here for Twelfth Planet Press. TPP has been supporting Australian women authors and championing this kind of diversity for quite a few years. Alisa Krasnostein, the owner of the press, is also one of the voices on Galactic Suburbia – a must-listen podcast for anyone interested in advancing the conversation on gender equity in the speculative fiction scene. If you haven’t already, go and check out their offerings, in particular the Twelve Planets series which has showcased some fantastic Australian women writers over the last few years. I’ve reviewed all the Twelve Planets books so far for the AWW challenge (including most recently Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love) – if you have even the slightest interest in understanding what is happening in the Australian speculative fiction field, you need to read these books!)

I won’t talk about all the stories, but as this is a AWW review I will briefly mention the stories by Australian women.

Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts opens the collection. The story is set in a world where superhero producing machines have appeared in  major centres around the world and people are selected at random to do a stint as a superhero. It tells the story of Joey, a young woman with a physical disability who has “won the lottery”. It is a funny, and not very below the surface, dig at the comic book industry, well written with Roberts’ trademark snarky style. Very nice opening to the book.

Signature by Faith Mudge was one of my favourite stories in the book, which focuses on the dangers of entering into a deal with Fate. Well written and characters that were well fleshed out, especially considering how little space there was to do it.

Holly Kench’s Every Little Thing gives a few twists on the trickiness of love spells. I enjoy Kench’s writing style, and this story was well constructed and a delight to read.

And for completeness, I will mention that I also enjoyed New Zealand’s Karen Healy story Careful Magic, which focuses on the perils of being a bastion of order in a chaotic world. Healy’s story hinted at a much bigger world, and left me with the desire to read other stories set in the same world.

There are also stories by Australian male writers Garth Nix, Dirk Flinthart and Sean Williams, as well as an array of international authors including Ken Liu, Sofia Samata, Jim Hines and John Chu.

As long term readers of the blog know, YA is not my favourite genre to read. I don’t mind young protagonists as such, but as I complete my transformation into a cranky old man I find myself less and less engaged by some of the themes that seem to resonate with teenagers. I also find the more restricted use of language (i.e. slightly simplified and “cleaned up”) creates more of a distance in the work. Some of the stories in Kaleidoscope suffered from this for me – the writing was excellent, but I found myself unable to “get into” the stories.

That minor (and particular to me) quibble aside, this is an excellent anthology and I commend it strongly to you. If you have ever despaired at the lack of variety in who is represented in speculative fiction, this is the book for you. If you love YA oriented speculative fiction, this is for you. 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.

Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts – 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.



Musketeer Space

OK, more cheating. I’ve selected Musketeer Space by Tansy Rayner Roberts for my next review and the book isn’t even finished yet. “Why?” I hear you ask. “How? Isn’t your cheating just getting super blatant now?”

All valid questions, but stick with me people. Have I ever steered you wrong?

Musketeer Space is the latest endeavour by Tasmanian based speculative fiction author Tansy Rayner Roberts. It is a gender swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers, in a space opera setting. In an interesting twist though, Roberts is writing the book in serialised form. She is releasing a chapter each week on her website, and has invited patronage through the Patreon system, where interested subscribers can pay to support her writing efforts. There are also a variety of perks depending on the level of subscription that you enter into (including an eBook of the whole novel once completed).

So a book you can read for free, but if you want to tip some money in you can also consider (and call) yourself a patron of the arts. What’s not to like?

At the time of writing, Musketeer Space is at chapter 33 and a little over half way through the story. One of the reasons I wanted to review it at this point was to signal boost an endeavour which is interesting both creatively and from a business standpoint. I’m fascinated with how people are experimenting with new forms of publishing in the internet age, and this is a great case study to follow.

A note on the Patreon model. It very much is a patronage relationship you’re entering into. For an effort like this that goes for at least 12 months, even at the lowest contribution of $1 per month you would be over-paying for an eBook if that was your only goal (I don’t know how much Roberts will charge for the eBook at the end of the process, but I very much doubt it will be $12). So unlike something like a Kickstarter campaign, you are not “pre-purchasing” the final product. You are making a conscious decision to support an author create a work that wouldn’t other exist – very much like patrons of a bygone age, just distributed through the power of technology.

To the story itself. The prose is characterised by Roberts’ sly wit, and filled with feisty, brave and competent characters. It has been very interesting to watch Roberts adapt the original storyline, and the choices she has made to accommodate both the new setting and new genders. The Three Musketeers was originally a serialised novel as well, and the parallels have been interesting to watch there too.

There is a lot of humour in the book, and if you enjoyed any of Roberts’ other books (e.g. The Creature Court trilogy) you’ll love Musketeer Space.

The pacing is excellent, especially considering the need to stick to the overall structure of the original text. Roberts balances action with emotion in the stories, and has created some very well rounded characters that it is very easy to care about.

As a part of meeting one of the targets of her Patreon campaign, Roberts has recently (as of Christmas 2014) released a novella length Christmas themed prequel to Musketeer Space called Seven Days of Joyeux. I haven’t read it yet, but extra content is just another reason to get on board this Musketeer road train!

In summary, this is a great book that is supported by an innovative funding mechanism. I’d highly recommend that you all go directly to the Patreon page and throw your support behind an Australian author doing interesting things in this brave new age of the internet.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads (although a cut down version of this review without the Patreon discussion). View all my Goodreads reviews.


Creative Commons License

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