November Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello everyone! It’s been a quieter month this November on the reviewing front. Perhaps people are taking a break after a busy October or perhaps things are just winding up towards the end of the year.

Science Fiction

wrong turn rawsonOur first review was for the book that recently won the Most Underrated Book Award: Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists. Angie Holst reviewed it, writing:

The complexity of material in the novel deserves close attention, and hopefully the publicity surrounding the win will bring Rawson a wider audience.

Rawson paints the future Melbourne evocatively: the environment is ruined, disease is rife, the Internet is still ruling people’s lives but is essentially useless in providing what everyone wants, food and fresh water. Rawson’s vision of the future is depressingly easy to believe but at the same time vividly imaginative

the-arkThe other science fiction novel reviewed this month was Annabel Smith’s The Ark, garnering two reviewed. Monique writes:

The Ark gets my vote for the most interesting and clever book I’ve read this year. It’s not your typical narrative, composed instead of emails, instant messages, memos and other documents, forming an epistolary novel with a difference.

Sean the Bookonaut also enjoyed it, particularly the book design (above and beyond) and the accompanying app/website.

Fantasy

A small handful of quite diverse fantasy books this month. First up we had Ju Transcendancing reviewing Hindsight by AA Bell, the second book in her Mira Chambers trilogy. She enjoyed it but didn’t find it a light read. She also notes that it doesn’t really stand alone, being very much the second part of a trilogy.

On a completely different note, Debbie Robson reviewed Transcendence, a romance with reincarnation, ghosts and two timelines. She particularly found the descriptions of scenery evocative.

PhantazeinFinally, Sean the Bookonaut reviewed Phantazein, an anthology of fairytale and folklore — but not the usual suspects — edited by Tehani Wessely. He writes:

Kudos to Tehani’s eye for talent and story and kudos to the writers who took long raked over material in a lot of cases and breathed life and originality in to them. Phantazein showcases the depth of talent Australia has in the fantasy field and gives us a glimpse at some other international authors who we may not be familiar with.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

October Roundup: Diversity

What with organising the Christmas shopping, dodging extreme heat and storms (in Queensland at least), and generally hurtling towards the end of the year, our review numbers are slowing. Despite this, reviewers have still covered a wide range of books which feature diverse themes or characters, many of them in the young adult genre.

UntamedCowanAnnaKate of The Ecstasy Files was intrigued by Anna Cowan’s Untamed (also reviewed by BookThingo last year). She found ‘the premise of a feisty, opinionated heroine and a manipulative cross-dressing duke who is “so aristocratic he is almost brain-damaged” pretty damned interesting.’ One of its main themes is the subversion of gender roles, and Kate thought Cowan did an excellent job of this, as she writes, ‘the duke is often both fascinated and repulsed by Kit’s coarse physicality. He stands by, dressed in the finest silks, watching her chop wood, mend fences, and curse in the very best swear words. On the other hand Kit is made breathless by his beauty, his softness, and is driven to passion by his emotional intensity and complexity.’ This sounds fantastic!

UnsuitableAnother romance which plays with gender roles is Ainslie Patton’s Unsuitable. Kaetrin ‘moved this one up the TBR queue when [she] realised it had a male nanny.’ In this work, she continues, ‘traditional roles are flipped on their heads. Reece is the nurturer, the one who cooks and does laundry (although, he’s also much more than that – of course, everybody is) and Audrey is in the traditional “breadwinner” role with the late nights and the corporate travel.” Kaetrin had some quibbles with the pacing and found the ending a bit rushed, but otherwise thought the examination of gender roles was ‘really interesting.’

Nona & MeBree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed Clare Atkins’ Nona and Me, a novel about two girls, one Aboriginal and one white, raised in an Aboriginal community. They are inseparable until the Aboriginal girl, Nona, moves away. When she returns to her community, both girls are 15, but have been shaped by their different experiences. Rosie finds it difficult to reconcile other people’s perspectives on Aboriginal people with what she knows of Nona and her family. ‘In a word,’ Bree writes, ‘this book is powerful.’ It demonstrates the impact of the Intervention in the Northern Territory, as well as ‘the bonds that can develop between two very different families.’ Bree would, however, ‘have loved Nona’s side of the story as well as Rosie’s and found herself ‘wondering about her long after [she’d] finished the book.’

laurinda-pungAlice Pung was a guest author for our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year. Her debut novel, Laurinda, has just been released. Its protagonist, Lucy Lam, is a young girl of Vietnamese parents who has been accepted into an elite school, and the work has similar themes to Nona and Me. As Bree notes in her review, it’s about the pressures on Lucy to belong, and how she tries to maintain a sense of self despite these pressures. Bree concludes that the book is ‘a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power’ and that with Laurinda, Pung ‘breathes fresh life into the Aussie YA world.’

KaleidoscopeA few other works also demonstrate the liveliness of the YA genre. The stories in Kaleidescope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios, explode with diversity. Those reviewed by Sean the Bookonaut canvas sexism, refugees, immigrant exploitation and disability, but all of them ‘put story first or entertainment first.’ Like its title, this is a brilliant and multifaceted work, and one that has empathy at its heart, as Sean writes: ‘Only one thing is better than finding a character that you can identify with, who is just like you. That thing is having other people see and perhaps gain insight and understanding into what it means to be “different”.’

22588703Continuing this thread of diverse themes in young adult novels is K.A. Barker’s The Book of Days. In her review of this book, Rochelle of Inside My Worlds mentions a favourite character, Jack, who ‘didn’t let his disability stand in his way and was quick to make light of it. He was so sweet and brave.’

I also penned my thoughts on Anna Romer’s novel Thornwood House and on its positive portrayal of a deaf man, Danny. Romer also took some of Danny’s characteristics, such as his attentiveness to body language and lipreaing, and used them to add tension to her work.

small-shen-chanFinally, Tsana’s review of Kylie Chan’s Small Shen takes the cake with her description of its main character, Gold, a ‘bisexual, gender-swapping rock in human form.’ This is a ‘short graphically-enhanced novel,’ in which Gold’s ‘historical shenanigans touch on Chinese history in a real-world sense, rather than just a mythological sense.’ As Tsana asks, ‘What’s not to like?’

The holidays are beckoning, and these reviewers have all really enjoyed the diverse themes in these books. If you need something to read beneath a beach umbrella, or in a hammock with a glass of lemonade, pick up one of the works they mention, or head to our reviews listings for some ideas – you won’t be disappointed!

 

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter@ladyredjess.

 

 

October Speculative Fiction Reviews

Hello all! It looks like some of you took my ongoing admonishments to write more AWW spec fic reviews to heart. We’ve got a massive haul this month!

Horror

springtimeDespite the large review haul, the proportion of reviews for books in each subgenre has not much changed. We’ve had one horror novella reviewed, Springtime by Michelle de Krester. In the review Lou Murphy writes:

Reading Springtime is like peering through the lock of a closed door. Not everything is immediate or apparent. As with all good ghost stories, some things are obscured from view. Without shying away from the banalities of domestic life, the poetic nature of the writing captures small moments poignantly, imbuing them with meaning.

Science Fiction

the-arkThe most popular science fiction book this past month was The Ark by Annabel Smith, an epistolary novel set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. It garnered two reviews from Whispering Gums and myself and Amanda Curtin ran an interview with Annabel. Whispering Gums wrote:

It’s well worth a read if you like dystopian fiction and/or if you are interested in experiencing different ways of telling stories in our digital world. I’d never want straight prose novels to disappear – and I don’t believe they will – but the arts should also be about experimenting and playing with boundaries, and this is what Smith has done here. Good for her.

languedotdoc-polackOn a different note, I reviewed Gillian Polack’s new novel Langue[dot]doc 1305 about a time travel expedition to France in the year 1305. It’s a thoughtful novel, full of office politics and a whole lot of no one listening to the historian. Not your usual time travel book.

Finally, and on another completely different note, I reviewed Nicole Murphy’s Loving the Prince, a science fiction romance novel with a strong plot and a sizzling romance element. I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

Fantasy

falcon-throne-millerAs has been the norm, fantasy was the most popular genre this month. The book which garnered the most reviews was the newly released The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller, the start of a new BFF (big fat fantasy) series. It was reviewed by Shaheen, Rochelle Sharpe and Random Alex. Shaheen writes:

Another thing I love about this book is the variety of the characters. I loved them all! There isn’t a protagonist or antagonist in the story … There just people, with hopes and dreams, who sometimes did things I liked, and more often did things that I didn’t agree with. But every character is well realised and amazingly crafted.

dreamers-poolThe second most popular author, with two reviews for different books, was Juliet Marillier. Helen Venn reviewed Raven Flight, which is the sequel to Shadowfell. She enjoyed it and can’t wait for the last book in the trilogy. The other Juliet Marillier novel reviewed was Dreamer’s Pool, reviewed by Nalini of Dark Matter Zine, which she thoroughly enjoyed. It was the first Marillier book she’d read and she reports that she’s looking forward to the rest of the series.

For serious fantasy in smaller portions, I read and reviewed Phantazein, an anthology edited by Tehani Wessely. It’s heavily fairytale and folklore themed with lots of different takes on fairytales (without being straight fairytale retellings). Highly recommended for fans of twisty fairytales.

TheLascarsDaggerGlendaLarkeBack on the BFF theme, Shaheen also reviewed The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke, the start of a new trilogy. She writes:

My favourite aspect of The Lascars Dagger is definitely its plotting and the complexity of the world it is set in. I bring those two up together because they are intertwined in this story. At its heart this is a story about a handful of people with their own fears and motivations, but their positions in society and histories mean that their every thought and action has the potential to shape the future of entire countries.

small-shen-chanOn a completely different note, I reviewed Small Shen by Kylie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan. It’s a short novel with sections illustrated in a manga style, interspersed with text. It’s a really interesting meeting of media and also an interesting story which is a prequel to Kylie Chan’s White Tiger.

Rapid-fire round

Because there were so many reviews this month, I’m just going to list the last few that didn’t fit above.power-and-majesty-250-408

 

And finally, not a review but an interview of Jo Anderton, author of the Veiled Worlds trilogy.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

September Speculative Stories

Welcome to the September speculative fiction round-up! I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the alliteration in the title of this post, excuse the cheesiness.

This month we’re back with a bunch of fantasy reviews and a couple of SF and horror books/reviews. We also have more interviews than usual so look out for those towards the end.

Science Fiction

the-arkOne new science fiction book was the talk of the challenge this month. The Ark by Annabel Smith is set post-peak oil crisis, in Australia. Jane Rawson enjoyed it and writes (as part of a longer review):

The Ark is a workplace, and the story is told through workplace communications paraphernalia: emails, instant messages, meeting minutes. I’m always delighted when a story acknowledges that most of our lives take place in offices and gives the workplace the literary recognition it deserves.

Jane had not, when she wrote her review, delved into the accompanying interactive website (also available as an app). Louise Allan did, and she writes, “Together, the book and the website create the world of The Ark, and add a whole new dimension to its enjoyment.” and goes on to say:

This book is clever in its creation of a futuristic world. I love the means of communication the group uses. For example, minutes of meetings are taken through the voice recognition software, ‘Articulate’, whose tagline is ‘Organising your thoughts since 2016′. Not only does it decipher the words used, but also the emotions conveyed, and inserts them into the minutes.

This book is a study of corruption, manipulation and power. The tension builds as things inside the Ark become more and more perverse.

Horror

bitterwood-bibleAs with science fiction, two separate reviewers were excited by the same horror/dark fantasy book: The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter. It’s a collection of linked short stories, or a mosaic novel, as Sean the Bookonaut puts it. He goes on to say:

What I think the mosaic format allows Slatter to do is give herself some wiggle room for story and style and let the layering effect of drip fed world details in each separate tale slowly envelope the reader to give us that realised world. That isn’t to say that Slatter isn’t doing a grand job of combining style, story and detail within each tale but that structurally the envelope of the mosaic helps in some cases to accentuate the impact of certain stories, while at the same time containing deviations is form and style in others.

Random Alex also read the book, and she writes

Here, while there are a couple of stories that feature the same protagonist, a few more with recurring cameos, and most set in the same place or with the same background characters, it’s more like a series of stories set in a couple of distinct suburbs or small towns. Of course you’re going to get the same bars, or neighbourhood characters, or landmarks mentioned; that just makes sense. But the narratives themselves aren’t necessarily connected… although sometimes they are.

Fantasy

dreamers-poolThere was more variety in fantasy novels reviewed for the challenge this month. That said, there were two Juliet Marillier books reviewed. Helen Venn reviewed Dreamer’s Pool, a historical fantasy. She writes:

The author deals with themes of healing, family and friendship in a complex tale where much is not as it seems. The world building is cleverly crafted, whether it is in the horrors of Mathuin’s prison, the mystery of the woodland or the workings of the prince’s court. The details immerse the reader in the society so even minor characters, like those in the vignette of the two farmers squabbling over a dog attack during a hearing before the prince, come alive.

prickle-moon-Marillier-JulietAlso by Juliet Marillier, I reviewed Prickle Moon, a collection of short stories, many of them rooted in fairytales. The collection is a mix of longer, intricate and fantastical tales and shorter tales which were no less serious (but of necessity less intricate). Highly recommended, especially to connoisseurs of the short story.

 

I also reviewed the (grimdark) fantasy novel Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson. It’s the first in a new series and it’s absolutely not for the faint of heart. That is to say:

shatterwingI really enjoyed the story but there were times when the brutality got a bit much for me. Mainly this was towards the end of part one where Salinda, our first main character, is being brutally tortured. It’s not that it’s not relevant to the plot, but it wasn’t fun to read (nor, I think, should it have been).

Faith read Tales from the Tower Volume Two: The Wicked Wood edited by Isobelle Carmody, an anthology of short stories. She describes it:

In this collection, fairy tales grow between cracks in the mundane surface of a city, a suburb, a small town. From the sinister presence of a wildly ambitious artist to the wolf hidden in plain sight, the mermaid who would trade anything for another life to the uncontrollable craving of two sisters to get theirs back, these are stories of hunger and betrayal, longing and hope.

GuardianFinally and conclusively, I reviewed the third volume in Jo Anderton’s Veiled Worlds trilogy, Guardian. It’s a very good read, but not a suitable place to start reading the series. I strongly suggest beginning with the first book, Debris, instead.

Interviews

It seems we’ve had a rash of interviews of Australian women writers on the Galactic Chat podcast. Conducted by Random Alex Pierce, you can listen to interviews with Rosaleen Love, Angela Slatter, Marianne de Pierres and Nike Sulway.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

August Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello again! We’ve had quite a bit of variety in our reviews this month, which is good to see!

Fantasy

falcon-throne-millerTwo fantasy books were reviewed this month. Sean the Bookonaunt read the newly released start of a new series: The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller. He opens his gushing review with this:

What I really enjoy in a good book is total immersion; the kind that makes you forget your concerns, that actually leaves you feeling relaxed. Karen Miller’s The Falcon Throne did this while flaying me emotionally.  I dear reader, may even have required tissues at some point.  I enjoy being emotionally manipulated when it’s done well and I felt that Miller was masterful in getting me to love and hate the various characters, to break me by breaking my favourites.

If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I’m not sure what will.

winter-be-my-shieldMeanwhile, Mark Webb delved into Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier, much loved by many other challenge participants. He writes:

Spurrier has constructed a cohesive political and social system that sits on top of an interesting and imaginative form of magic. … 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.

Science Fiction

dark-spaceLeonie Rogers was holding down the fort on the science fiction front this past month. She read and reviewed Marianne de Pierres’ Dark Space, the first book of the Sentients of Orion quartet. She writes:

The book is written from several perspectives, and slowly and steadily the separate story lines converge. The major characters are all quite complex, and not necessarily completely human, or at least as human as we’d like them to be which adds to the detail within the story.

ambassador-jansenShe also reviewed Ambassador: Seeing Red by Patty Jansen, another first book in a series. Of that book, she writes:

I loved this book. Patty Jansen has done a remarkable world building job, building a complex interplanetary society structured around ‘gamra,’ with earth and humanity as we mostly know it, sitting on the periphery. … The politics, cultural differences and language differences are complex, but well developed and understandable, and I was easily drawn into the world that she created.

Horror

perfections-mcdermottHorror was the most reviewed genre this month, which is a nice change. We had Stephanie Gunn review Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott, winner of the Aurealis and Australian Shadows Awards in 2012. She writes:

Perfections is, at its heart, a book about sisters, about daughters, about mothers.  It is a book about the way families can twist around secrets (and oh, the secrets that this family has).  The reader moves back and forth between the viewpoints of two sisters, Antoinette and Jacqueline.  Both are skilfully drawn, and it is very easy to feel empathy for both of them and the situations that they are in; especially well done is the juxtaposition between how they see themselves and how they are seen by their sister.

slights-warrenMaree Kimberley reviewed Slights by Kaaron Warren, another standalone horror novel. Maree Kimberley writes:

Kaaron Warren’s Slights is an intriguing horror novel, with a main character who repels and fascinates with equal measure. It’s a measure of the strength of Warren’s writing that I empathised with a protagonist who is a psychopathic serial killer. … Steve (Stephanie) kills people so she can see the horror in their eyes as they enter their “dark room”, a place she has been several times when she’s hovered close to death. The “dark room” is filled with people Steve has slighted during her life; there is no white light leading her to an afterlife. In its place is torture and horror as a parade of people inflict pain on her in retaliation for her slights.

Daylight-knoxAnd our last horror review was of Daylight by Elizabeth Knox, written by Jane Rawson. She enjoyed the read, writing:

The pacing and structure of this book is strange and – for me – utterly absorbing. It’s slow and wanders back and forth and in and out in a way that struck me as very adult: Knox trusts us to pay attention, to notice small asides that prove integral to the story, to stick with the unusually large cast of major characters. I liked being treated that way. I like a horror novel that abjures sensation and shock and creates subtle questions of identity and morality.

SnaphotLogo2014Finally, last month I mentioned the then in-progress Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. It’s now finished and you can read a large number of interviews spread across several blogs and involving many, many interviewees, both male and female. There’s an index post of all the interviews over at SF Signal.

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About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

Focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability: Guest Post by Honey Brown

What I love about my role as contributing editor for AWW in the area of Diversity is the sheer range of viewpoints to which I’m exposed through the books I read and the reviews I collate. It fascinates me to see and understand the impact that heritage, sexuality or disability can have upon a writer’s craft. Disability has certainly influenced Honey Brown’s writing, as she outlines below in the first guest post for our focus on Australian Women Writers with Disability over September.

Honey BrownHoney’s books (there are five so far) are the sort that should come with a warning: they will keep you up at night and you will be tired for work the next day (but it will be totally worth it!). The psychology of her characters is incisive, insightful, and sometimes a little unnerving. She muses that this might stem from the trauma and sadness she endured after her accident, and writes, ‘It’s both comforting and a little disturbing to think that the depths of human emotion need to be reached so that our creative cogs can begin to turn.’

We have a book giveaway for Honey’s latest novel, Through the Cracks (thanks to Penguin), as well as three others from authors who will be guest writers this month: Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being DeafKate Richards’ Madness: A Memoir and my own novel, EntitlementIf you read and review a book by an Australian women writer with disability, or a book by an Australian women writer that features a character with disability, you’ll be in the running for a book! Links must be posted by 30th September through this form. You can also find authors on our list of Australian Women Writers with Disability.

 

Light and Shade

ThroughTheCracksHoneyBrownWith each new book I write it’s as though I’m a novice again, and my five published novels fall away, my writing ability feels fragile, and I have to remind myself of the most basic and fundamental writing rules. A similar thing happens when I’m asked to reflect on my disability – I’m unsure all over again. What do I feel? How has it changed me? How does my disability impact on my work? No matter what I’ve said in the past or what I’ve believed, it all seems to fly out the window and I’m left feeling uncertain and none the wiser for my fourteen years living with paraplegia. Creativity and adversity share quite a few traits in that way. Just as there’s no set formula and no guarantees when it comes to overcoming hardship, so it is with the process of creating. There are guidelines and lots of helpful advice, but it all comes down to an intangible thing inside us in the end. And just because I may have hit upon a winning strategy and achieved a goal once before, doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to success a second time around.

Honey BrownI was 29 when a farm accident left me with a spinal cord injury and unable to walk. Although at the time I’d written some short stories, and had tinkered with the idea of writing a novel, I wasn’t serious about the craft or about being a novelist. After my accident I wasn’t able to go back to the sort of employment I was used to – hospitality work, casual odd jobs, customer service – not only because of the wheelchair, but also because I struggled to cope emotionally. My sadness impacted on every part of my life; I felt as though I was unable to return to who I had been as a person. I didn’t feel like I was a mother anymore, or a wife, or a friend, or an effective sister or daughter. Suddenly, all it felt like I had, the only thing that made me get out of bed each day, was my writing.

dark-horse-brownWithout realising what I was doing, I turned to my creative side as a way to reconnect with myself. That alone says a lot about how honest and personal the act of creating is. When we create, we’re tapping into our most private self, we’re making our own rules and revealing our uniqueness. My first completed manuscript reminded me of who I was. There I was, on the page in front of me – not spelt out in memoir fashion, but in the subtext, in the descriptions, within character reactions, in the ideas fuelling the story. Each manuscript revealed a little more of me. My depression lifted enough for me to feel some pride again, and with that came the want for the words I was using to do my storytelling more justice. I believed that if I put some study and academic effort into writing, I might enjoy the process even more.

after-the-darknessIf not for my accident I wouldn’t have been pushed to write with the sort of seriousness needed to write well. The joy in creating comes saddled with a fair whack of torment. Getting better at something goes hand in hand with becoming more critical. One minute I’d be smiling at a stunning line, I’d be gloating over a masterful plot twist that I hadn’t even seen coming, and then in the next moment I’d be holding down the delete button and fearing not even that would work to erase such horrific writing from the face of the earth. But without this type of yin and yang, the highs of writing wouldn’t have soared and excited me as much as they did, and the lows wouldn’t have stood out as much as they needed to. My writing would have flat-lined and been mediocre.

The Good DaughterCreativity is in us all, there to be unlocked. It might not manifest artistically. The arts aren’t the only way people express their creative side. Problem solving, and striving for change, is a form of creativity. Elite sportspeople are creative souls; they have to find new ways to improve, they put in all the basic training and work, but they have to rely on an elusive inner magic to truly shine (anyone who’s listened to Ian Thorpe talk about his relationship with water knows he’s tapping into a unique place in order to perform). My sense of wonder and adventure has been me with all my life. I was dreaming up stories as a child. At age ten, I was mouthing dialogue as I walked to school. I never grew out of my imagination. Even if not for my accident, I believe would have knuckled down and written in earnest at some point, but probably much later in my life, when I’d stopped being so exclusively a mother and a wife, a sister and a daughter. red-queenAnd, maybe, without having experienced the trauma I have, without the resulting emotions to inform my work, my writing wouldn’t have had much gravitas, my characters might have lacked light and shade. Looking back, it can only mean that adversity feeds creativity. Those two things entwine in so many ways.

We all have moments in our lives when we struggle, and we all have moments when we’re creative. It’s both comforting and a little disturbing to think that the depths of human emotion need to be reached so that our creative cogs can begin to turn. My experience of writing with a disability makes me think (for now at least) that this may well be the case.

 

 

 

 

July Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello readers! It’s been a busy month for me. Some of you might have seen the still on-going Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. It’s a large interview project spread across several blogs and involves many, many interviewees, both male and female. SnaphotLogo2014You can browse all the interviews among the blogs of the interviewers: Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, Sean Wright and myself. Check it out to learn more about a slew of authors, editors, artists and more.

On to the reviews! This month our non-YA reviews were — surprisingly — almost all science fiction. For that reason, I’ve divested with my usual genre-labels and I’m just going to go through the books.

when-we-have-wings-156-244First up, we have When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett, which was reviewed by Jane Rawson. Of the near-future novel, where people can have wings surgically implanted, Jane writes:

It was great to read a novel which looked at the issue of how the rich get ahead not just by having more things, but by being more ‘perfect’. This is really well told through the thread of the story where Zeke worries whether to provide his son with wings or let him be just a perfect regular human. Intentionally or not, the book made me think a lot about the issue of smart drugs, and the things people have to do to their brains now just to keep up, let alone get ahead.

peacemaker - marianne de pierresOn a similarly futuristic and Australian bent — although that’s where the similarities end — Marianne de Pierres’ Peacemaker was reviewed by Dave Versace. He writes:

Peacemaker walks a strange line between futuristic police procedural and old-fashioned Western, mixing in a supernatural conspiracy to boot. With such a bizarre melange of elements, not to mention two lead characters with borderline-ridiculously iconic names, there’s no way this book should work. And yet it does, carried along by strong character work and a solid investigative core.

Jacobson, The sunlit zoneAfter garnering a lot of reviews last year thanks to its Stella Award shortlisting, The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson is back on the AWW radar. S’hi D’Amour reviews it, writing:

In The Sunlit Zone all the deep glimpses Lisa’s early poetry displayed are honed to razor-sharp awareness of line and meaning. The shimmering nuances of life are constantly on display. Subtle insinuations edge under the skin of the reader who can’t help but be awakened by breeze and shade and inclination

wrong turn rawsonJane Raweson’s Aurealis shortlisted novel, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, is a science fiction novel that seems to be map-inspired. David Golding reviewed it, writing:

I was particularly impressed by how Rawson foregrounds the economic situation of her characters. Life has not become a battle of tooth and claw, but of nickel and dime. And if everyone seems friendly and relaxed, that’s surely because there is a certain ease in knowing you’re all going to die soon.

sourdough-slaterAnd finally, a short story collection, which I’m pretty sure is not at all science fiction. Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter was reviewed by Victoria of vikzwrites. She writes:

Like the fairy tales which are a clear influence to these stories, these mundane situations are subverted by fantastical elements;  Maps that enable you to reach the world of the dead, dolls which have human souls embedded with them., children who return from the dead, fairies who impersonate human children, towers and castles that disappear and reappear at will.

It’s an unusual book in that it’s a boutique paper release, but it’s also easily available in ebook form.

~

About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

 

Celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Writing: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ambelin photoToday marks the beginning of NAIDOC week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Through my Diversity roundups for the AWW Challenge I draw attention to the wonderful and wide-ranging writing by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers, and this month, in the spirit of NAIDOC week, it would be great to see some reviews of their books.  You can also head to ANZ LitLovers, where Lisa Hill is holding a challenge for this week, whereby you may sign up and review a novel by any Indigenous writer from around the world.

As part of our celebrations, I have interviewed author Ambelin Kwaymullina. Ambelin is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic. She comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She has published a number of picture books as well as a dystopian series – The Tribe – for young adults.  The first book of this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, has received enthusiastic reviews from a number of AWW’s readers over the last few years (see our review listings for 2012 and 2013), and I’m looking forward to reading the second, The Disappearance of Ember Crow. In her interview, Ambelin discusses the importance of holism, connections, mirrors, listening, and storytelling.  If you’d like to know more about Ambelin and her books, you can visit her website at www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

Also, if you’d like some ideas for books to read this month, you can head to the Indigenous Authors reviews on our Review Listings page.  I really look forward to reading your thoughts!

Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina


What was the first piece of writing you can remember creating? What then set you on the path to becoming a writer?
 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaI always wrote. But I gave it up for a long time, because I lacked faith in myself (I still wrote but not seriously, and if you want to be a writer you have to pursue it seriously; it cannot be a hobby). What set me on the path of writing again was a dream.

I dreamed a story about a crow, a tale with a message about valuing yourself. That story became Crow and the Waterhole, the first book I ever published. It was also the first book I ever illustrated. And I have always believed that the story itself was a gift from my ancestors. They knew I needed to hear the message of it.

 

How does your Indigenous culture influence what and how you write?

Walking the CloudsMy people, my family, my culture, my Country – this is who I am. So of course it is in every aspect of what I create. There are times when that influence is not always obvious to those looking in from the outside. For example, I get a lot of comments that it’s unusual to be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer. But worldwide there are quite a few Indigenous authors writing into speculative fiction, and to some degree we all incorporate who we are into what we write.

There is an anthology of Indigenous science fiction called Walking the Clouds, and in it, Aninishaabe scholar Grace Dillon writes that all forms of Indigenous futurisms are part of a process of returning to ourselves. Perhaps this describes all Indigenous stories; we are always who we are, in whatever genre we write. And for some specific examples of the way in which aspects of Aboriginal culture winds through The Tribe series – it is in the bonds that the Tribe have with the animals of the forest; in kin relationships that sustain them through the hardest of times; and in an earth alive with greater wisdom than human beings can fathom.

 

What was the inspiration for The Tribe series, and why did you decide on the genre of a dystopia?

The Disappearance of Ember CrowI wrote about real things. And I know that sounds strange for books set hundreds of years into the future. But I write of children and teenagers in danger, and for far too many of the young of this planet, that’s just another day. Worlds end all the time – they are shattered into pieces by violence, war, poverty, and hatred – and dystopias exist on this earth. I didn’t invent a world where the young are vulnerable. I just write about how they defy that reality.

 


Your picture book Crow and the Waterhole is about reflection, a theme which also appears in your essay  “Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country.” Is this a theme which is particular to your work, and/or are there other themes to which you often return?

Crow and the WaterholeBoth those uses of reflection actually relate to Aboriginal culture and experience. I’ve talked about Crow and the Waterhole above. And the issue of all the young people of the earth being able to find their own reflection in the world is one that concerns me greatly. I know too well how many negative images of Indigenous peoples exist, and the effect those images can have. I’ve spoken about this before in an interview where I talked about mirrors continually displaying a distorted image of yourself, and I asked the question “If that was the only face you ever saw, if that was the image continually reflected back at you, might you not come to believe that it was all you could ever be?”

In the Seeing the Light article, I was talking about holism.  One of the broad commonalities between the diverse Indigenous cultures of this world is holism; we look to connections and the place of things in context. And yes, holism is a big feature of just about everything I write. There are repeated references throughout the Tribe series to the importance of connections; and it is in the end a group of disparate people, some from the marginalised of that world and some from the privileged, who will come together to change their reality for the better.

 

How do you juggle writing and a day job?  Does one inform the other in any way? 

9781921696015_HOWFROGMOUTHFOUNDHERHOME‘Juggle’ probably implies a greater degree of skill than I have; I’m not always so good at keeping all the balls in the air. I snatch whatever time I can to write and I’ve taught myself to be able to do it in five minutes, or ten, or sixty – whatever bit of time is available to me I will use as best I can. The useful thing about working under pressure is that it doesn’t give you much opportunity to worry about doing something wrong. Time spent on self-doubt is time wasted, and I’ve got very little time to begin with.

My day job is as a law academic and there’s no shortage of connections between law and storytelling. A lot of Indigenous legal scholars have written of the way in which colonial stories about Indigenous peoples (and particularly about Indigenous women) have informed, or rather mis-informed, the law. And in my own culture, much of our law is communicated through stories.

 

What are some great books by Indigenous women writers which we should be reading?

Bush BashRead all of them.

They are wonderful stories. And for non-Indigenous readers, it is only way to begin to grasp the diversity and complexity of the lives of Indigenous women. So don’t stop at one story, or two, or ten, and don’t limit yourself by genre – Eurocentric story-categories are in any event often a poor fit for Indigenous narratives. More importantly still, don’t limit yourself by any preconceived notions of what it is to be Indigenous. In the words of Eastern Arrernte elder Kathleen Kemarre Wallace: “Come, listen to us, we will tell you our culture…appreciate you might not know the answer or understand the question. That’s what it means to work in a cross-cultural way. Respect has to flow both ways, learning too.” [Kathleen Kemarre Wallace, Listen deeply, let these stories in, IAD Press, p 171]

The Two Hearted NumbatAccept the stories on their own terms and let the voices speak for themselves. If you are struggling to find books, a good place to begin is the catalogues of Aboriginal publishers (Magabala Books, IAD Press, and Aboriginal Studies Press). Move on from there to all the other publishers; you may also find the BlackWords database on the Austlit website to be useful.

But don’t read the stories for us, or at least not only for us. I personally believe that anyone who engages with the many cultures of this world out of some hazy notion of doing good for others has entirely missed the point. Diversity is one of the wonders of this earth. To interact with cultures different to our own is to be bewildered and amazed and inspired; it is to travel through worlds and be presented with new visions of what is and what could be; it is expand our understandings of the possible. Who would pass up an opportunity like that, if it was offered to them? And it is offered. It is presented in the form of life histories, articles, cultural narratives, picture books, novels, poetry and in the thousand of other ways in which Indigenous women cast out our voices into the world.

So read all the stories – and, to quote Kathleen Kemarre Wallace again: “listen deeply, let these stories in”.

 

June Speculative Fiction Round-up

Hello readers and welcome again to my monthly speculative fiction round-up! We have not had as many reviews in June, perhaps because of the sudden cold in some areas of Australia? (At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing. I, meanwhile, have been enjoying a Swedish “summer” and feeling confused about my wardrobe.) Perhaps also because of the slight upswing in YA and children’s spec fic books being reviewed? Whatever the reason, hopefully there will be an improved turnout next month. I will say though, this is the first time horror has been the most reviewed genre. Huzzah! Now to up the popularity of science fiction… (preferably not at the cost of fantasy, of course).

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for reading inspiration, where better to start than this post?

Horror

great unknown meyerA respectable turnout for horror this month, especially on the short story side of things. Jane Rawson reviewed The Great Unknown, a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology, edited by Angela Meyer. She liked some of the stories more than others and, of one she liked, writes:

Krissy Kneen’s ‘Sleepwalk’ is genuinely creepy and put ideas in my head so I was nervous when the cat stared intently at something I couldn’t see (he does this most days, but now it’s creepy).

which sounds to me like what a good horror story involving cats should do.

the-year-of-ancient-ghostsI reviewed Kim Wilkins’ collection of novellas, The Year of Ancient Ghosts, which I absolutely loved. It is, in fact, one of my favourite reads of the year. The first and titular story was heart-wrenching and poignant and I was not surprised that it won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story earlier this year. Definitely worth a read.

Moving on to standalone short fiction, C J Dee over at Dark Matter Zine reviewed “Home and Hearth”, a short story by Angela Slatter. It’s set after a homicide trial and, CJ gave it four stars.

Somewhat to my surprise, the next review is of Squirm by Cari Silverwood, a book that can be categorised as a parody of “monster porn”. Apparently, this is a horror/fantasy subgenre of erotica. I was going to say that it wasn’t something I’d come across before, but now I’m wondering whether Spar by Kij Johnson (not an Australian) might count? Anyway, reviewer Kate Belle writes:Squirm Silverwood

Far from being horrified, I was fascinated. And wildly entertained. The great thing about Squirm is Cari’s clever satirical references to the well worn tropes of sci-fi, romance, erotica and especially the 21st century phenomena, 50 Shades of Grey. She takes all the tired phrasing and eye rolling moments that goes with them and weaves them together to create characters and scenarios that will make you laugh out loud.

She also talks about some of the gender-specific ramifications of writing monster porn (men probably can’t get away with it) and possible reasons behind this. The review is well worth a read.

Fantasy

blood-countess-thumbOn the paranormal/dark(ish) fantasy front, Faith reviewed The Blood Countess by Tara Moss, the first Pandora English book. Unfortunately, she didn’t enjoy it as much as she might have.

I’m not sure if all the stories are strictly fantasy, but I’ll categorise it here anyway. RandomAlex reviewed Rosaleen Love’s collection Secret Lives of Books. It’s the most recent collection in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, which many AWW participants have reviewed over the years of the challenge. Of Secret Lives of Books, Alex writes:secret lives of books - rosaleen love

Well, most of the stories feel pretty easy to read, thanks to that simplicity of prose Duchamp identifies [in the introduction] and the fact that there’s no padding in any of them. Most of them, though, are likely to sneak around to the back of your head and whack you one to make you realise that simplicity of prose is by no means the same as simplicity of purpose, or theme, or consequence.

Science Fiction

above_below_campisiOn what I gather is the science fiction front (I haven’t read the book yet…) Jane Rawson wrote a short review of Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek, a novella double (flip the book over to read the other novella, start at either side). Both novellas are set in the same world, exploring different societies. Jane was a bit torn about this one, but ultimately decided that it was worth reading.

the white list - nina daleoFinally, Maree Kimberley reviewed The White List by Nina D’Aleo. This is a sci-fi thriller set in a different world to the author’s previous books. Maree writes:

The characters are well-rounded, and I felt empathy for the “bad guys” as well as the “good guys”. For me, it’s the humour that D’Aleo injects into her writing that gives it that extra lift and keeps me cheering Silver and her allies along in their fight.

~

About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

 

Spec-fic Round-up for May

It’s that time again when I summarise the speculative fiction reviews people have submitted to the Challenge. We’ve had 23 reviews submitted in total (including YA), which is a reasonably good turn-out. I should also direct readers to Alisa’s (of Twelfth Planet Press) post earlier this month about the Challenge and with a special offer for participants.

Science Fiction

peacemaker - marianne de pierresThere were two science fiction books reviewed this month, although both are more genre blends than pure science fiction. First off, Shaheen reviewed Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres. She gives it a glowing review, writing:

Wow. Just … wow.

Peacemaker is an exciting and creative narrative that skilfully combines elements of westerns, science fiction, fantasy and crime to create one of the most engaging books you’ll read this year. The book is set in a future Australia unlike any other I’ve read: one where overpopulation has created a mega-city spanning the entire east coast and Australia’s desert is the only natural landscape left.

The Back of the Back of Beyond - Edwina HarveyOn a more comical note, I reviewed The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey, a collection of linked short stories. They’re vaguely autobiographical, in a sort of “what if the author had moved to the middle of no where” and also dragons and aliens. It was a very fun, light-hearted read which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a break from more serious books.

Horror

AnguliMaAGothicTaleChiVuAll the horror reviewed this month was short fiction (well, if you define “short” as including novellas). Anguli Ma, a novella by Chi Vu was reviewed by Jane Rawson, who enjoyed it, writing:

It made me look at the neighbourhood where I live in a whole other way. It made me look at Australia and the people around me in a whole other way. … And – for the first time in ages – I really felt for a whole bunch of fictional characters, including the bad guys (who are so complicated and creepy).

Caution contains small parts mcdermottContinuing with the short fiction theme, I reviewed two Ditmar-shortlisted collections (as part of an attempt to read all the shortlisted fiction in time to vote, which I mostly managed). First there was CAUTION: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott, which is the most recent (or second most recent if you’re reading this after the weekend) addition to the Twelve Planets series of female-authored collections being put out by Twelfth Planet Press. It was an excellent read with four varied stories, all of which were creepy and a bit depressing, but they weren’t the kind of horror that makes you sleep with the lights on, or at least, I didn’t think so.

the-bride-priceThe other collection I reviewed was The Bride Price by Cat Sparks. This was a longer collection, coming in at twelve stories, one of which was a novella. They also spanned a variety of themes, and some could be classed more as science fiction — especially post-technological SF — but I felt the collection was horror overall because a lot of the stories had rather dire endings. By dire I mean the opposite of a happy (or even hopeful) ending; sad is not the right word. Some of the stories were very confronting, especially the opener (and my favourite) featuring a society in which noble women were not allowed to talk, only to sign with their hands.

Fantasy

thiefs magic - trudi canavanWe had a lot of fantasy reviews this month. Too many, in fact, for me to go into a lot of detail for all of them, but I’ll still mention them all. The two most reviewed authors were Trudi Canavan and Jo Spurrier with three reviews apiece. Of Trudi Canavan’s works, Mark Webb reviewed the second (The Rogue) and third (The Traitor Queen) books in her Traitor Spy Trilogy. He enjoyed both — indeed the entire series. We also had Sean the Bookonaut reviewing Trudi Canavan’s latest release, Thief’s Magic, the first book in a new, unconnected fantasy series. He writes:

Another feature of Canavan’s work is her inclusion of crunchy topics and a variety of characters and cultures.  I mentioned before that Tyen’s narrative is one set in an Industrial culture; it has magic driven printing presses and trains that use magic to heat water to generate steam.  But there’s both direct and indirect criticism of the Empire’s colonial actions and the growing problem of resource depletion i.e. the magic appears to be running out.

north-star-guide-me-home-spurrierOf the three reviews submitted of Jo Spurrier’s books, two were for the conclusion of her excellent Children of the Black Sun trilogy, North Star Guide Me Home, and one was of the first book, Winter Be My Shield. Leonie Rogers reviewed Winter Be My Shield and writes that she enjoyed it enough to track down the sequels. Folly Gleeson and I reviewed North Star Guide Me Home, the masterful conclusion to the trilogy. In the Newtown Review of Books, Folly Gleeson writes:

This emphasis on cruelty makes the trilogy a challenging read. The sadism is powerfully written and the basic idea that power and transcendence come through pain is not something easy to accept. But of course the whole story of Christianity is based on such a concept, and I was reminded of medieval worshippers whipping themselves, the murder of slaves in Viking burials, and the funerals of Egyptian and Chinese emperors. The humble hair shirt is also a little riff on the idea of pain causing transcendence. So, if the very powerfully described violence and cruelty don’t appal, then the clever and imaginative narrative and the emotional travails of the vibrantly depicted characters will intrigue, for Spurrier holds the complex and fascinating story of the struggle of the Ricalan forces together with a great deal of skill and even offers redemption in the satisfying epilogue.

TheLascarsDaggerGlendaLarkeThe other author to score multiple reviews this month was Glenda Larke, both of them for her latest book, The Lascar’s Dagger. Jason Nahrung and Helen Venn reviewed it. Helen writes:

This was an enthralling read for me. While there is plenty of action and drama this is only part of the story. It’s also about court intrigue, what happens when people are caught up in events outside their control and how they act and react when difficult choices are forced on them.

And Jason adds:

It touches on the danger of judging people by appearance. It objects to gender stereotyping and misogyny. It opposes religious fanaticism and bigotry. Oh yes, this is a Larke book!

the dagger of dresnia - satima flavellAnd the remaining fantasy authors all garnered one review each. Sticking to the BFF (big fat fantasy) theme, Helen Venn reviewed The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell, which she enjoyed and is anticipating the sequel. We also had Chris White review Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, a luscious retelling of Rapunzel, which he loved.

showtime-harrisThree more Twelfth Planet Press books were also reviewed. There was the novella double Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek, which Jane Rawson reviewed. And two more of the Twelve Planets: Showtime by Narrelle M Harris and Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan. Jane Rawson continues to be a staunch fan of Lanagan’s after reading Cracklescape and of Showtime, Subversive Reader writes:

Vampires, zombies, ghosts. We all know them. … So, when I opened Showtime, I knew what I was getting into, of course . . . Except these aren’t quite the stories we’re expecting. They respectfully nod at the stories we know, and then twist and turn them around and add some Royal show cakes for good measure.

full-moon-rising-keri-arthurFinally, on a different note again, Kaetrin reviewed Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur, the first book in the Riley Jensen series. The version she had was an abridged audiobook, which she didn’t think worked very well, probably because of the abridgement.

~

About Me

I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.

 

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