Finishing Discworld

I’ve been a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s work for more years than I care to remember. I still remember coming across The Colour of Magic when I was at high school. It was a revelation – screwball comedy in fantasy done in a way I’d never encountered before. I laughed harder than I felt that a nerd with a taste for the fantastica had any right to. At that point only a few of Pratchett’s Discworld novels had come out, but I was hooked.

Ever since that first encounter, I have hung out for every new release, and each book has taken me back to that feeling I had in high school. When I heard about Pratchett’s alzheimers diagnosis I was sad. To be honest, sadder than I really had a right to be given I never met the man. And his death in 2015 struck me as it did his many, many fans around the world.

I read most of everything that Pratchett wrote, including the excellent Good Omens and more recently his co-authored Long Earth series. But there was one section of his bibliography that I had never ventured into, and that was his young adult novels (both in and out of the Discworld setting).

I’m not 100% sure why. By the time I became aware of them, I’d left the “young” part of young adult far behind. As I’ve got older, I’ve found less and less to empathise with in young adult books generally. These days, when I hear that a book is young adult it tends to drop down my “to be read” pile (so many books to read, it doesn’t take much to have one drop away). But still, this is Terry Pratchett. One of my favourite authors. And in the case of the Tiffany Aching series, they were even set one of my favourite worlds, the Discworld. Yet I put it off and put it off.

Recently, my 8 year old daughter was looking for something to read and I thought of the Tiffany Aching books. I didn’t know much about them, just that they were set in Discworld, involved witches and were for younger readers. So I bought the books on Kindle, and told my daughter I’d read the first one at the same time she did.

Now as it turns out, even the first book is a bit advanced for your average 8 year old and my daughter put it aside after a couple of chapters. I’m sure she’ll come back to them some day. But me, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. And soon I’d read all five books.

This isn’t a review of the series. They are good. If you like Pratchett, they are very good. And I will gentle nudge my daughter back towards them when she is a bit older, because there are some excellent themes for young women. If my daughter grows up wanting to emulate Tiffany Aching, well let’s just say there are much worse role models out there.

But reading them made me a bit sad, because reading them marked the end of a chapter of my reading life. There are no more Discworld novels to look forward to. I will never again feel the anticipation of an impending new release, never more have the satisfaction of settling in to read the opening chapters, never finish reading and feel the sting of having to wait so long until the next release. There are no more new words to be consumed.

Yes, I’ll reread at some point and yes it will be marvellous. But it will never again be new. And that makes me sad.

And so, I’ve written this post in an utterly self indulgent desire to share that sadness, and perhaps through writing come a little more to terms with it. No artist lives forever. But with Pratchett, I wish we’d had a little longer.

The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett (with links to each book’s Wikipedia page) includes:

New story “Narration Blues” published on AntipodeanSF

One of my flash fiction pieces, titled “Narration Blues”, is in the latest addition of AntipodeanSF, an Australian publication.

It cannot be denied that “Narration Blues” is a silly story. I was listening to the voice over at the start of a fantasy television series, and I thought to myself “gee this is a lot of backstory – lucky they got the right person”. What if the hero died? Didn’t quite finish the quest? Gave up to become a carrot farmer? All that wasted destiny…

“Narration Blues” is the result.

As always, many thanks to Ion “Nuke” Newcombe, the editor of AntipodeanSF, for his support of my work. This is the 11th flash fiction piece that Nuke has published of mine, for which I am very grateful.

Dimension6 issue 10

Dimension6 is a free speculative fiction magazine, produced by Coeur de Lion Publishing.

This website is an affiliate of Dimension6, where you can download each issue.

Issue 10 is just out, and features:

‘The Other City’ by Rjurik Davidson
It was the time of life when everything falls apart. He had to get out of the city. But where would he end up?

_________________________________

‘Glide’ by Natalie J E Potts
There are lots of species of Australian fauna that want to kill you. We just found one more.

_________________________________

‘The Seven Voyages of Captain Cook’ by Craig Cormick
Cook was a Company man on a voyage of exploration. The son that accompanied him was dead. And wanted him dead too.

2017 Ditmar nominations

The Ditmars are the primary voted awards for Australian speculative fiction (as opposed to the Aurealis Awards, which is a juried award). The 2017 ballot is out, and available for voting for any eligible member of the national convention (this year held in Melbourne at Continuum 13 – the 56th National Science Fiction Convention).

The ballot is filled with some wonderful people, and my warmest congratulations go to everyone who received a nomination. I especially wanted to note that a story published in AntipodeanSF (which has published many of my flash fiction pieces) made the ballot for Best Short Story. Congratulations Edwina (author) and Nuke (editor)!

I also noted that Dimension6, the free magazine published by Keith Stevenson, published 2 of the novella/novelette nominations – a fantastic effort showing Keith’s excellent eye for talent.

http://wiki.sf.org.au/2017_Ditmar_preliminary_ballot

Best Novel

  • The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, IFWG Publishing Australia.
  • The Lyre Thief, Jennifer Fallon, HarperCollins.
  • Squid’s Grief, D.K. Mok, D.K. Mok.
  • Vigil, Angela Slatter, Jo Fletcher Books.
  • The Wizardry of Jewish Women, Gillian Polack, Satalyte Publishing.

Best Novella or Novelette

  • “All the Colours of the Tomato”, Simon Petrie, in Dimension6 9.
  • “By the Laws of Crab and Woman”, Jason Fischer, in Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 17, Issue 6.
  • “Did We Break the End of the World?”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet Press.
  • “Finnegan’s Field”, Angela Slatter, in Tor.com.
  • “Glass Slipper Scandal”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Sheep Might Fly.
  • “Going Viral”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Dimension6 8.

Best Short Story

  • “Flame Trees”, T.R. Napper, in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016.
  • “No Fat Chicks”, Cat Sparks, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “There’s No Place Like Home”, Edwina Harvey, in AntipodeanSF 221.

Best Collected Work

  • Crow Shine by Alan Baxter, Ticonderoga Publications.
  • Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, Twelfth Planet Press.
  • Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann, PS Publishing.
  • In Your Face, Tehani Wessely, FableCroft Publishing.

Best Artwork

  • cover and internal artwork, Adam Browne, for The Tame Animals of Saturn, Peggy Bright Books.
  • illustration, Shauna O’Meara, for Lackington’s 12.

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • 2016 Australian SF Snapshot, Greg Chapman, Tehani Croft, Tsana Dolichva, Marisol Dunham, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Stephanie Gunn, Ju Landéesse, David McDonald, Belle McQuattie, Matthew Morrison, Alex Pierce, Rivqa Rafael, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs and Matthew Summers.
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Earl Grey Editing Services (blog), Elizabeth Fitzgerald.
  • Galactic Chat, Alexandra Pierce, David McDonald, Sarah Parker, Helen Stubbs, Mark Webb, and Sean Wright.
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts.
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond.

Best Fan Writer

  • James ‘Jocko’ Allen, for body of work.
  • Aidan Doyle, for body of work.
  • Bruce Gillespie, for body of work.
  • Foz Meadows, for body of work.
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work.

Best Fan Artist

  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Illustration Friday series.

Best New Talent

  • T R Napper
  • Marlee Jane Ward

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Kat Clay for essays and reviews in Weird Fiction Review
  • Tehani Croft & Marisol Dunham, for Revisiting Pern: the great McCaffrey reread review series.
  • Tsana Dolichva, for reviews, in Tsana’s Reads and Reviews.
  • Kate Forsyth, for The Rebirth of Rapunzel: a mythic biography of the maiden in the tower, FableCroft Publishing.
  • Alexandra Pierce, for reviews, in Randomly Yours, Alex.
  • Gillian Polack, for History and Fiction: Writers, their Research, Worlds and Stories, Peter Lang.

In the Service of the Public (a story)

To be honest, this story occurred to me as I sat in a prestigious program for promising public servants listening to a self important lecturer drone on about his own greatness. When I realised there was still an hour to go in the lecture I started to wish the world would end. So in some ways this story was semi-autobiographical. Sans the black hole of course.


In the Service of the Public 

Alison’s vision blurred as she stretched the skin of her forehead towards the ceiling in a desperate attempt to stop her eyes from drifting shut. The eminent professor was pleased with his own accomplishments. He droned on, happy to let the audience bask in the light of his genius.

With an effort, Alison snapped the fuzzy image before her into a sharp, three-dimensional representation of the source of her lethargy. After all, it was an honour to have been selected for the Interstellar Coalition Public Service leadership development program. It offered Alison the chance to rub shoulders with colleagues from the seven Coalition planets, and it was a hopeful sign of things to come back on Earth.

Not to mention that the prestigious Hawker Memorial School of Interstellar Government was named after the woman who had bound the human race together after its first encounter with intelligent extraterrestrials — the reptilian Aazorks. As Earth’s inaugural President, Hawker had also negotiated the first Aazork treaties. That, in turn, had paved the way for the Coalition, and inevitably the ICPS.

Six months of dedicated training about the habits and cultural traits of the various species that made up the Coalition was a huge investment by the Earth bureaucracy. Alison’s heart swelled with pride just thinking about it. The trip out to this giant space station in the middle of nowhere had taken nearly three months, and the trip back would take just as long — a full year out of Alison’s life, but time well spent.

As the professor’s self-important drone continued unabated in the background, Alison couldn’t help but wonder what she would do upon her return. She certainly wished that a better faster-than-light drive had been invented, and that the relativity effects had been overcome. Being away for a year was difficult, but by the time she returned over 10 years would have passed on Earth. She’d been a perfect choice — no family, excellent at her job, and practical enough to see the time invested as worthwhile. This trip would propel her to the heights of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, but she didn’t even know who would be in charge when she returned, let alone what position she might hold.

A wave of muted noise suddenly rippled across the room. The professor stopped speaking, visibly struggling with the concept that anything could be more important than his lecture.

Alison turned to the man sitting beside her. He was staring at his datasheet in horror.

‘What’s going on?’, she asked.

Her fellow student’s face was ashen. It took him some moments to formulate a reply. ‘News just in on the quantum entanglement coms system. There’s been an accident back home. Scientists started that damn Extra Large Hadron Collider and the Earth has been swallowed by the black hole it generated!’

Alison slumped back in her seat trying to process the shocking information. She could only wonder what a career in the Aazork public service might be like.

THE END


‘In the Service of the Public’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 169 (July 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn and Grim Book 3) – a review

Den of Wolves is the third book in the Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier. From Goodreads:

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

I’ve been a fan of this trilogy since the first book, The Dreamer’s Pool. Billed as a romance, the first two books focused more on the friendship between the two main characters. I enjoyed a story that didn’t rely on concepts of romantic love to redeem characters and found it quite refreshing.

In this final instalment, the regard between Blackthorn and Grim turns towards the romantic. It is very well portrayed romance, subtle and sensitive, but I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that the friendship wasn’t enough for the characters.

Having said that, I am invested enough in the characters that even the prospect of a happy-ever-after wasn’t enough to turn me off. Like the other two books, the story here is stand alone, although enhanced by the investment you’ve made in reading the other books. There is one overarching thread of story that has run across the whole trilogy, which is brought to a resolution.

The writing is excellent, with sharply drawn characters and beautiful, sometimes almost poetic prose. As well as Blackthorn and Grim themselves, other minor characters are deftly sketched – no fully rounded, but enough to move the story along.

The resolution of the overarching thread felt a little rushed and anti-climactic – I must admit to having thought that the whole last book might be dedicated to that storyline, but it was actually dealt with almost as an afterthought. It was still a reasonably satisfying, if somewhat perfunctory, ending.

If you’ve read the other books, you’re going to want to read this one. If not, even though the story does stand alone, I would strongly recommend starting this series from the beginning.


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

Needed – Beta Readers!

Recently, I’ve been working on a novella titled The Reclaimers. It is a fantasy, sitting at about 26,000 words. I’ve reached the stage where I’d like to recruit a couple of beta readers.

What I’m looking for is a couple of people who’d like to read some or all of the novella, and provide some feedback. It could involve anything from just reading the first couple of chapters and giving me a sense of whether you would read on (and why), through to reading the whole thing and providing some detailed comments.

I’m open to a range of readers. Don’t worry if you’re not a writer and don’t feel like you could provide “expert” advice. While detailed, expert feedback is very valuable, so is getting feedback from a reader who can just say whether something is working for them or not, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why.

A few broad points about the novella to help you decide whether to volunteer:

  • It is a secondary world fantasy – no Earth historical settings!
  • There is a female protagonist and references to her having a same-sex romance in her past. Not being female and not having had a same-sex romance in my past, I would love to get a perspective on the main character and how authentic she feels from someone with more credibility than me.
  • There is violence. And swearing. It’s not quite grimdark (the violence isn’t graphic enough for that), but it certainly leans in that direction. If that’s not your cup of tea, then hold back!

If you’re interested, please email me directly at: mark (at) markwebb (dot) name or leave a comment below.

Striking Twice (a story)

Time travel stories have always bugged me a bit. Especially the part where essentially the same people wander around changed timelines except with nothing altered except slightly different personalities. I mean come on – wait five seconds to have sex and you’ll end up with a completely different child. If someone did go back in time and start to change things you most likely would end up with completely different people populating the planet. Worrying about this really takes me out of a time travel story. Striking Twice was the result of trying to work through that frustration on the page.


Striking Twice

Roy sat in the delivery room clutching his wife’s hand while the surgeon worked. Breech birth. It was a good sign. The original pregnancy had been breech.

Yes. The right day, and the right time at the culmination of a similar pregnancy. An excellent match as far as his fuzzy and somewhat overloaded memory could tell.

‘Here she comes!’ cried the surgeon with her professional, practiced enthusiasm.

Roy looked up, a wild, desperate hope clutching at his heart. The baby emerged — first the legs, then the stomach and chest, and finally the head. She was beautiful: perfectly formed, and already filling her lungs to scream her displeasure at the world.

Roy slumped, disappointment and despair vying for supremacy. It wasn’t Ella.

He raised leaden fingers to the device on his wrist and tapped a few keys. The room shimmered, then faded away. As his existence unraveled, he wondered how it was that a disembodied consciousness could feel so sick to its stomach.

After a period of time that was both instantaneous and infinite, the world snapped back into focus.

Roy felt the strength and energy of his reduced years flood into him. He was always 18 after the transition — there didn’t seem to be any way to avoid that. Since he had created that first connection it was as if his consciousness had no choice but to follow the same path whenever he activated the device.

That first journey had been unforgettable. He had abandoned his ancient and ravaged body, and regained the glory of youth with a whole life stretched out before him — one where he essentially knew the future. Wealth, power, wine, women and song — Roy had loved every minute of it. This time he had invented the device much earlier, and lived in the sure knowledge that if anything truly bad happened he could go back and start again.

But as Roy’s 20s faded into the distance and he marched confidently into his 30s, he found himself thinking more and more about his daughter Ella. He hadn’t considered her potential lack of existence when he’d jumped. Anxious, Roy had sought out his former, and hopefully future, wife. But his new über-confident personality had cooled her interest. When the original date of Ella’s birth came and went, he decided to try again, and fired up the device.

Since then Roy had lived a hundred partial lifetimes, trying in each one to recreate the circumstances that had brought Ella into his life. He’d soon worked out how to match the broad events, but the critical detail proved tricky.

It all came down to Roy’s sperm. The average man carries billions of the little buggers. Which one makes it over the line to fertilisation depends on fragile, delicately balanced factors — factors that had so far frustrated his efforts at replication.

Roy squinted into the bright sunlight, squared his shoulders, and set out on yet another attempt to make lightning strike twice.

THE END


‘Striking Twice’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 168 (June 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

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

Monthly roundup culture consumed – November 2016

Hope everyone has had a great November, and you’re not freaking out about how close Christmas is all of a sudden.

Books

As foreshadowed last month I finished Revenger by Alistair Reynolds during November. This is an excellent book. Set in the far, far future, the matter in the solar system has been reconfigured to be a lot of small planetoids, using tame black holes and other sciencey things to maintain things like gravity at Earth levels. There have been a series of civilisations that have risen and fallen in this environment, and as a result the planetoids are littered with the junk of many civilisations, some of it much more advanced than the current civilisation. Treasure hunting spaceships travel between worlds, and the whole thing has an 18th century naval adventure feel to it. I won’t give away much of the plot – you should go and read this book.

I started another couple of books – a new anthology edited by Jim Butcher called Shadowed Souls and the second book in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series, The Wall of Storms. Not far enough through either to have much to say as yet, although I can say that I really enjoyed Liu’s last book, and this one seems to be continuing on in a very satisfying way.

TV

I’ve been watching The Expanse on Netflix. The special effects on this series are amazing, and while it is a while since I read the book, the plot seems to follow pretty faithfully. Still got a couple of episodes to go, but a great show so far.

A couple of years back I watched the first two episodes of the sci-fi series Orphan Black, and while I enjoyed them I never got around to watching any more of it. I watched the first couple of episodes again in November, and again enjoyed them but I’m not finding myself drawn back to them. I’m going to try to power through at least a few more episodes – I’ve heard so many good reviews of this series and I feel like I’ve missed an essential part of the shared community experience.

The new Australian animated series Pacific Heat has started. At the time of writing, I’ve only watched the first episode. Very much like the American series Archer – same style of animation, very similar premise. I suspect the series will take a few episodes to find its feet – the humour was a bit hit and miss. The voice actors are a lot of the crew from the D-Generation (an Australian phenomenon) so there is a nostalgia angle here as well. If you’ve watched Archer and liked it, give this a go.

Movies

Didn’t go to the movies at all in December, but I did finally get around to watching The Martian. I found it surprisingly enjoyable. In some ways it is very old fashioned sci-fi, where the main enemy is a cold, uncaring universe and the problems can be solved by science and engineering. But Matt Damon played the main character with just enough wry humour to make him sympathetic and as a result the movie kept me very much hooked in.

Other

One of the podcasts I really like, Tea and Jeopardy, is starting its annual “Advent Calendar” style run – with very short episodes being published every day in the lead up to Christmas. An excellent podcast – usual format is a speculative fiction author interview with a small “radio play” around it.

Another favourite podcast, Sheep Might Fly, has just started a new audio story –  “Dance, Princes, Dance” by Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts.

So, what have you been up to?

Make Mine a Macchiato (a story)

I wanted to try something a little away from science fiction as well as something a little silly. ‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was the result. It was also the first time I showed a story in progress to a non-writer friend. While I didn’t agree with all the feedback, I did gain an appreciation for the benefit of better understanding what your potential audience might like. In this instance, my friend wasn’t a big fan of the ambiguity at the end of the story. I liked it so in the end I kept it, but it was a good reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.


Make Mine a Macchiato

Jack was used to tickles of insight that warned him when things weren’t quite right. His talents didn’t lie in proper prognostication — even the thought of tracking the probabilities of multiple potential futures gave him a headache. But every now and then he got a nudge, an inkling that things were about to get ugly. Mostly, those flashes were frustrating and vague. Fortunately, the crushing waves of terror helped him pinpoint the problem this time.

A portal hung open in the middle of the footpath, like a malicious shimmering eye. Through it Jack could see the hazy image of a person. Well, perspective was a little tricky. Perhaps larger than a person. In fact, if he wasn’t an avowed atheist Jack could have sworn he was looking at…

“A demon?” Jack muttered.

“Come on, Jack,” the purported demon said. “You don’t believe in all that supernatural bullshit. Psionics are a completely natural phenomenon. Why would this be any different?”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose in the universally acknowledged mechanism for dispelling hallucinations.

It didn’t work. Some form of response seemed in order.

“If you are human that’s a bloody good disguise,” Jack managed. “You seem to have more horns than I’m used to seeing on the average pedestrian, and the red marbling throughout your suspiciously stony skin…”

“Yes, well, I’m sure there are plenty of rational explanations,” it interrupted. “Anything from a complicated government conspiracy involving a new form of sensory mind control through to that dodgy kebab you ate last night. Does it really matter?”

Jack supposed not, although interpretations that pointed to mental instability would be of concern. The fact that no passersby were freaking out seemed to lend that branch of thought credence and Jack said as much.

“Look, Jacky boy,” the devil shaped entity said. “I’m really just looking for someone to buy me a macchiato. The cafe across the road is my favourite, and it isn’t every day that a certified level 17 psionic walks by. Do a demon a favour and pick me up one would you?”

Jack remembered enough stories to know that he was in dangerous bargaining territory. But he didn’t believe in demons. So why was he still standing here? He started to back away, slowly.

The as yet unproved daemon raised its hands in placation.

“Jack. Mate. Look at it this way. Right now you’re worried you might be crazy. If you hand over the coffee and it actually disappears you’ll know you’re sane. If it doesn’t, well…early psychiatric intervention can only be a good thing.”

The apparition made a reasonable point. Jack shrugged, crossed the road, and purchased a macchiato for it — and a flat white for himself. He used the cardboard carrying tray to pass the small cup through the portal’s glistening threshold to the eagerly waiting fiend on the other side, then stood back to find out if demons were real.

THE END


‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 166 (April 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Creative Commons License

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