Monday, December 30, 2013

So That Was Christmas

'Tis done and dusted  - apart from the decorations which tradition decrees come down the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). More miraculous is the fact there actually are any Christmas decorations at all given the year we've just lived through. I'll do a proper review of the year later - maybe - but for now I simply want to celebrate the fact that we have made it through a time that, like some psychic black hole, tried to suck all joy out of us for months. Please don't think that it was full of fearful horrors - it wasn't -but that doesn't mean it didn't drain us in so many ways.

Never mind. The time for New Year's resolutions is upon us and I'm off to ponder. I may even share some of them later.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crows are Smart

Need a cheer up? Have a look at this. I found it on Jim C. Hines' blog.

I knew crows were clever and playful but this is even better than I expected.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

AWWC 2013: Shadow Bound by Deborah Kalin

Book 2 of The Binding, Shadow Bound is a worthy sequel to Shadow Queen.

Matilde of the House of Savanaten may have regained her throne and managed to rid herself of Dieter, the husband who slaughtered her family, but it came at a terrible cost. The Empire, under brutal general and one time slave, Sidonius, has overrun her country and her power is limited to that of a vassal. Determined to free her country but a virtual prisoner, Matilde needs all her skill to stay alive and forge the new alliances she needs. Meanwhile Dieter continues to attack the Imperial forces, making her task ever more difficult. But one certainty is that no-one should underestimate Matilde.

This book is full of strong, well drawn characters. Matilde in particular, always under threat and often misunderstood, struggles to survive and do her best for her country. She makes mistakes but she learns from them and retains the reader's sympathy as a result. Even the villains have depth and believability, something that's not always the case but which elevates a book in my opinion.

The storyline is unpredictable and its twists and turns kept me guessing right up to the end. The author says on her website that The Binding was written as a duology but the unexpected ending leaves the way open for another instalment that I for one would love to read.

Published by Allen & Unwin in July 2010, Shadow Bound is still available in printed form while the e-book is available worldwide from the publisher and amazon.com.

Deborah Kalin's website is deborahkalin.com

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

So Day of the Doctor

Well, it was highly satisfying. I'm not going into detail because I know there are still folks who haven't watched it but I loved how the story line tied so much of the Doctor's history together so intelligently. It's full of clever twists, reminders, cameos, unexpected facts, solutions to problems and so much more - especially the on-going story line which I think is going to delight most fans.

I think Steven Moffat has definitely pulled it off because when he's good he's very, very good and this time he is very, very good.

It's available free on iView in Australia for a while. If you haven't seen it yet, go, sit comfortably and enjoy.

I enjoyed The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot too as well as some of the other videos here on the BBC website.

Why yes I am a Doctor Who tragic.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Been a Bit Quiet, Haven't I.

It's due to lots of things, some small, some big, that have all piled in on me. So in the interest of lifting the general pall I give you these links.

Via Laura E. Goodin  I had seen this amazing archer before but Laura reminded me about him.

I'm not sure where I came across this but the photos are breathtaking.

I saw a photo of one of these extraordinary sculptures in a magazine while I was waiting for a doctor and as soon as I got home I looked up the website.

And one more. I was researching cave living when I found these.

And finally an ad from Air New Zealand which doesn't take itself too seriously.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spam, Spam, Go Away

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled A Small, Sad Ending about the demise of the baby doves in the nest just outside my back door and how their parents grieved. I thought it was a touching story.

Unfortunately it has attracted a continual round of pornographic spam links in the comments ever since it went up. It's not that I don't get pornographic spam links all the time and on many posts - and I'm sure I'm not alone in that - but the bulk of it gets caught up by Blogger and just has to be deleted every now and then. I don't even see it except when I clear it. What I'm getting now, though, escapes the net and comes to me for a decision. So if anyone has been wondering why I moderate comments you now know and you also know why I've reinstated word verification which I hope will block them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pantsing Versus Outlining


I'm an inveterate pantser. That is, for the most part, I write organically. I know the beginning of the story I'm writing, where it ends and sometimes a few of the key points along the way. For the rest I rely on my characters, who always appear before there's any hint of a story, and lead me on. Often they appear first in a short scene, maybe only as an image, then grow and develop until I know them well. All this happens before I have put a word of the story on the page.

For those writers who outline and structure rigorously this is anathema. "How can you not plan," they cry, but I've tried that and and it just doesn't work for me. If I try to fit what I'm writing into a tight plan the result is dull, unconvincing and, to put it bluntly, boring. The vibrant and fascinating characters I first met find themselves strangled by the ties of a predetermined plot but when I let them lose their story comes to life. Of course, they do tend to want to go off on their own adventures. Sometimes this is a good thing but, if necessary, I can always take them in hand when they stray too far. Usually though, it works out even if I do have a few surprises on the way.

Given my method - or lack of it some might say - I found this Writers Digest article by Steven James, where he gives some reasons why pantsing isn't necessarily bad, interesting. The links below the article are full of interesting ideas too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fake ... Girls

I've mentioned before just how much I enjoy Jim C. Hines' blog. He calls things as they are and has no truck with racism, misogyny, sexism or or any other offensive behaviour - and he's a fine and entertaining writer as well.  

Anyone who is part of the speculative fiction world in any way is likely to have heard of the numerous complaints about fake geek girls by a certain, fortunately in the minority but very vocal, group. This group is scathing about fake geek girls who seem to be any female (especially cosplayers) who dares to tread outside their (that is the group's) prescribed boundaries. If she happens to be good looking that is even more offensive for some obscure reason.

Misogyny comes up in other areas too, of course (those uppity women get everywhere, you know) and Hines' latest post Fake Writer Girls, instead of railing about it, has thoughtful fun with the issue. Between his post and the well moderated comments there is a wonderful list of women writers in the genre to provide a reading list long enough to keep even the well read going for years. Watch out though if you're worried about girl cooties.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Barking Dogs

So a couple of weeks ago, after months of barking by the dogs-over-the-back-fence had escalated to continual daytime barking and hurling themselves at the house doors so adding another layer of noise (and with the other neighbours getting even more twitchy than me and talking about calling the Council) I put a polite note in the owners' letterbox telling them what was going on. I'd been assuming it was happening when the dogs were left home by themselves but since there were three cars parked on the driveway and the dogs were barking furiously when I dropped the note off I didn't expect much to change. But it did and we've had peace until yesterday when they started intermittent barking and yapping again. Today it's increased to almost nonstop howling. Oh dear. I should have known it was too good to last.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Some Thoughts on Poetry

- not necessarily mine.

I call myself an occasional poet. By that I mean I write poetry when something moves me deeply. Unlike some of my friends who are accomplished and prize winning poets - and seem to be able to create something beautiful without too much anguish or soul searching - my poems take much rewriting and even when they are finished, rarely leave me entirely satisfied with them. Even the one I did place with in a competition has never felt quite as good as I would have liked it to be.

Despite this I keep trying and that is why this post by poet Katy Evans-Bush for UK National Poetry Day on her Baroque in Hackney blog resonated with me. While the suggestions she makes are aimed at encouraging participation in National  Poetry Day it seems to me that they can be just as useful on how to make poetry, whether your own or someone else's, part of your life anytime, anywhere.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Small, Sad Ending

So this is the nest the doves built on top of the verandah clothesline. At this stage it was a few days off completion.

                                            

Below is the completed nest now abandoned. Not a particularly pretty sight but, while it mightn't look much, by dove standards this is a veritable mansion. It has tall sides, a securely built floor of twigs and grass and the long bits apparently just trailing untidily actually anchor it to the ledge it's sitting on. Doves don't go much for fripperies - you won't find any feather linings here - but when the hen settles on her eggs, her feathers spread out to cover them and protect from any draughty gaps.





By last Friday I knew the babies had hatched. Pisces found some broken egg shells that had been dumped away from the nest and, although I couldn't see the babies, there was feeding going. This kept on all day Friday and Saturday and we seemed on track for a successful chick rearing.

Then tragedy struck. On Saturday night south west Western Australia was hit by a fierce cold front bringing with it gales, rain and hail. There was widespread damage. I was woken at one time certain the roof was going to fly off. Luckily it didn't but Pisces found his way to work blocked by the roof of a block of apartments that had been deposited on a major highway so not everyone was as fortunate.

The gales and rain kept on most of the day, easing a little in the late afternoon, but the nest was still in place with the little hen sitting tight. Good, I thought, they've survived. Then a second front hit. More gales, more hail, more rain all night.

Next morning the hen was very distressed, standing on the edge of the nest, calling and fluttering her wings. The male kept coming and going, calling loudly, as agitated as she was. This went on most of the day and then they were both gone shortly before dark. I hoped they'd be back for the night but next morning there was no sign of them. So I got the ladder out. The nest was empty.

What happened I don't know. Maybe the hen was blown off the nest and the chicks went too. I looked around and eventually found one tiny corpse. A small tragedy in the scheme of things, I suppose. The thing that got me, though, was how distressed the parents were. We are inclined to underestimate, I think, how creatures other than humans feel. Watching them it was obvious they were desperately affected by what had happened. The male seemed to be persuading the hen that it was over,  that it was time to go and when they eventually left, they went together.

It made me think. We talk about dumb animals and we're anthropomorphising if we talk about them having feelings. They don't feel things like we do, we're told. They have limited understanding. People are the special ones, those who feel. Well, after watching this small tragedy, I've been asking myself this question: how do we know that?

When you think about it properly, it really doesn't make sense. We know how strong the maternal instinct is. So why do we only dignify it with the word love if it's to do with humans? I'm sure emotions work differently in other creatures - it must given their experiences are different from ours - but one thing I'm certain of having watched those two doves is that they were grieving. Maybe they got on with their lives more quickly than human parents would have but that could be because they live only a fraction of the time we expect to. Because I've seen these things happen before I know they won't come back to this nest and what does that say about them and how they feel?

Maybe we should try to look at these issues less through the prism of humanity's eyes and instead try to be more objective. Then, perhaps, we will begin a whole new relationship with our fellow creatures.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Repairs - Otherwise Known as Aaaaargh!!!!!!!

We had some serious water damage in our garage during a recent storm and, when we contacted our insurer, they agreed to do the repairs but - and there's always a but, isn't there - they want us to install an additional down pipe before they'll tackle the repairs.

While I agree an additional down pipe is probably highly desirable exactly how we're to get this done I'm not sure. Pisces, while a wonderful man in many ways, is not a handyman by any standard you might like to apply and I'm disabled so that means we're unable to do it ourselves. If our recent experience in trying get quotes for another much bigger job (costing around $1500-2000, we think) have been unsuccessful - we have so far approached seven tradespeople for quotes and of those only one has turned up and then he only gave us a guesstimate on the back of a card - what chance do we have of getting someone to come and install one down pipe?

Doesn't look hopeful, does it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's R U OK? Day

R U OK? is an initiative of the R U OK? Foundation and stands for "Are you okay?". It is held on the second Thursday in September and is meant to encourage us - all of us - to think about and support those who might be overwhelmed with what life is throwing at them or struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts by asking them "Are you okay?" Combined with Suicide Prevention Day earlier in the week this is an important issue that we should all be aware of.

R U OK? is a reminder that we need to check in periodically, not just on this one day of the year but often, with our friends and loved ones and listen - really listen - to what they are saying. It's so easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget to do this and it's a major mistake. We can't necessarily solve people's problems but we can be there for them and support them. That's what family and friends are supposed to do, isn't it.




Saturday, September 07, 2013

Election Distraction - Dr Who Cast and Crew 'Five Hundred Miles'

I was reminded about this video when Five Hundred Miles was one of the songs featured on a Celtic Thunder video I was watching a week ago. Then it was linked to on Hoyden About Town so, for all my fellow Australians who would like to block the election out of their minds but have to vote, I give you this - a joyous celebration of Dr Who with David Tennant and the cast and production crew singing along to The Proclaimers' classic Five Hundred Miles. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

It's Definitely Spring

There's much activity taking place on our back verandah where the doves are nest building. One pair is busily setting up home in the box on top of the cupboard - always a popular place. It's so popular in fact that we have completely given up using the box for any other purpose and just clean it out once the nesting season is over.

The other pair has been entertaining me  - and the cat and dog, although their interest isn't as benign as mine, I suspect - for about a week. It began when the male arrived and made a close inspection of the property - the flat cover of the retractable verandah clothesline just outside the family room window, which makes it nicely visible. He marched around, viewing it from all angles and came back, calling loudly, a short time later. His lady friend wasn't in too much of a hurry and his calls got increasingly loud and agitated, accompanied by much head bobbing. Eventually she decided it just might be worth checking out and did her own investigations. She wasn't rushing into anything though because it was another day before they arrived to start building.

Then the fun really started. Obviously having her own very definite views on appropriate division of labour, she waited on site while he went off and brought her what he considered appropriate building materials. After a fairly unsuccessful start, when she rejected a large number and tossed them down to the ground and he, heading out for more, would fly out and see this pile of wonderful twigs and grasses and take them back to her - I imagined her rolling her eyes and muttering under her breath as she dumped them again - he seemed to get the hang of it and this morning there was a vaguely nest shaped pile in place.

Given dove's nests are notoriously messy and badly made I began to think that was going to be it. Even when they're completed I look at them and wonder how the eggs ever manage to stay in place. In fact quite a lot of them don't and it's not uncommon to find the shattered remains on the ground below the nest. Still, as the day progressed, the little hen continued to work and she seemed to be doing a better job than many who have built there. Then I noticed the male was taking longer and longer to find suitable material and I had an idea. I collected a large handful of twigs of the sort they were using and scattered them where I could see them a short distance from the building site.

The male was ecstatic. He flew down from where he had been watching me and ran around in circles, stopping every now and then to investigate a particularly fine piece. Once he had calmed down he began transferring it to his mate. I'm pleased to say the nest is now looking almost finished and pretty much all of my offerings have been used. I expect eggs any day.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Hugos

Congratulations to all the Hugo Award 2012 winners. Especially exciting is that of Best Fan Writer awarded to Tansy Rayner Roberts. She's the first Australian woman to win a Hugo. Congratulations, Tansy.  I'm betting there was much squeeing on the other side of Australia yesterday.

You can see all the awards listed here.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

AWWC 2013: Stormlord's Exile by Glenda Larke


Stormlord's Exile was originally reviewed by me for the now defunct e-zine The Specusphere. This is an edited version of that review.

In Glenda Larke's Stormlord's Exile, the conclusion to her latest trilogy (released as Watergivers in Australia and Stormlord elsewhere) much has changed in the world of the Quartern but not the essentials of life. Without a Cloudmaster to capture clouds and bring rain no-one will survive and the aftermath of the Reduners' destruction has made life even harder.

Jasper and Terelle are all that can keep the Quartern alive and they have other problems to deal with, both personal and political. With all sides pulling at them and making contradictory demands they are being forced into choices they don't want to make. At the same time, Ryka and Kaneth now lead the rebellion against the Reduners and their new leader, Jasper's brother.

Larke again takes us out of the parched lands of the Scarpen and the Red Quarter, still at war with each other and with some deeply personal enmities at work internally, into the White Quarter, home of the Alabasters. Here water is just as scarce and the inhabitants make their living – and their homes - from of the salt they mine or by crossing the salty border marshes to work in Khromatis. This mysterious land is fabled as a place where water is everywhere and repels all visitors except the Alabasters but, to save her life, Terelle must go there.

In Stormlord's Exile Larke goes beyond exploring the politics of water. She raises questions of personal choice and how, while we are in part the product of what happens to us, we also have to take responsibility for our actions. She also looks at issues of exploitation and privilege as the various groups with different beliefs struggle to co-exist, often clashing because each believes it is right and its beliefs must be enforced.

Thought provoking as this is, there is no preaching and none of it detracts from a gripping story told by a master story teller. Her characters are human, sometimes making mistakes and poor choices and having to live with the consequences. Whether they are heroes or villains - or something in between, they are wholly believable. 

With its complex, unpredictable plot, engaging protagonists and rich world building this is a satisfying climax to the trilogy. Those who loved the previous two books will, I'm sure, find this one just as appealing but anyone who enjoys a well written fantasy should find it a satisfying read. 

One of the outstanding Australian fantasy writers currently in print, Glenda Larke has been shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards on numerous occasions, most recently for Stormlord's Exile.

Glenda Larke blogs at http://www.glendalarke.blogspot.com and you can find out more about her and her work at http://glendalarke.com.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

AWWC 2013: Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke


I originally reviewed Stormlord Rising for the now defunct e-zine, The Specusphere. This is an edited version of that review.

In Stormlord Rising, Book Two of her Watergivers trilogy, Glenda Larke again takes us into dry lands of the Quartern where water is scarce and the populace has relied on the skills of the water sensitive to bring a fair distribution of rain to all. Now everything has changed. 

This sequel to the The Last Stormlord does not disappoint. The richly imagined landscape carries us into a desert land where water need governs every aspect of life from politics to religion. The economy itself runs on water tokens and to be waterless – to have no regular allocation of water - means a hand to mouth existence of exploitation in the worst jobs just to survive. There are resonances with the drying climate in many parts of the world and Larke raises issues relevant to many societies such as how do we ensure a fair supply of water to everyone and what sort of decisions should be made to ensure that this happens. 

But this book is about more than setting, impressive though that is. The characters drive the story. Jasper and Terelle are young, learning and changing as they mature. They both come from where life is hard and not much more than bare survival but they refuse to settle for that - or any of the paths others set out for them. With a sense of duty and honour that comes from within - and often conflicts with the pressures put on them - they face hard decisions and sometimes make mistakes but this is what makes them real. Well developed, and with both strengths and weaknesses, they continue to grow.

Although Jasper and Terelle are major characters there are others and much of this book is Ryka’s story. While Ryka’s devotion to her husband and child leads her to accept what would otherwise be intolerable, she never loses her spirit. Intelligent, brave and capable, she manages to manipulate her situation and she too grows in stature and humanity. In fact I found her more likable as she works at survival because at the same time she acquires a degree of empathy for some unlikely others. 

Larke does not make the mistake of giving us one dimensional villains either. They may be brutal, selfish or self serving but they always have more to them than that. We may not like them, even in one case be utterly repelled by them, but we can see what drives them and that they, like the SS guards who went home from the camps to be loving family men, have some human qualities.

The other characters too are well developed. Whatever their motivation – hero, villain or just living life as best they can - they all have human qualities that make them rounded and believable. 

With a complex plot and some intriguing twists that augur well for the next book, Stormlord Rising will appeal to anyone who enjoys a well written fantasy. There are very few books that I find literally impossible to put down but like its predecessor, The Last Stormlord, Stormlord Rising was one. I read each in single marathon sessions and I was not surprised when it was shortlisted in the 2010 Aurealis Awards.

Stormlord Rising is available from Amazon.com as a paperback and as an e-book.


Glenda Larke blogs at Tropic Temper and you can find out more about her and her work at http://glendalarke.com 


Friday, August 16, 2013

Comments Are Disappearing

Something weird is happening to comments on this blog. They seem to be disappearing. I get an email, hit publish - and that's the last I see of them. So if anyone has tried to comment and hasn't succeeded, I apologise. I'll keep fiddling with the settings until they are working.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Resurfacing - Temporarily At Least

It's been a pretty rotten winter as far as health has been concerned so far. Pisces and I have both been sick, not always at the same time although we did manage two weeks together when we were both very sorry for ourselves. A few weeks ago I thought we had seemed to have turned the corner now, at least as far as seasonal viruses are concerned but no. If there's something around to catch I have managed to catch it. When you factor in my long-running - and yet to be found a solution to -  ailments, it hasn't been much fun at all. With luck we will be spared the 'flu having both had our 'flu shots but with the possibility of multiple surgeries still hanging over my head - when and how I have no idea as yet given there are more specialists to be consulted - I hope you'll forgive me if I sound a little pessimistic at times.

It's not only health issues. In the last week we've discovered a massive leak in the garage which in itself wouldn't matter all that much except that it's where we have stored a large amount our household stuff in preparation for the new floors being laid and it's going to have to slowly fester away until the weather clears.

In the spirit of the way life is around here just now I give you this link. Thanks, Annalou, for reminding me about it.

Monday, August 05, 2013

AWWC 2013: Reunion by Joanna Fay

Reunion, the sequel to Daughter of Hope, the first book in the Siaris quartet, continues the wide-ranging story of the magical world of Siaris. Despite its beauty and the Immortal Guardians who spend their lives protecting it, evil continually battles for control and it's not only the Morraeth the Guardians have to worry about. Cultural differences are causing growing rifts between them and the others they care for.

In Reunion, we learn more about the world of Siaris and the sprawling and fascinating stories of its inhabitants. Clever, multi-layered world building draws us into the complexity of life on the planet and the lives of all those who live there. There is magic but it is not always the best or even the only option. Vividly drawn, rounded characters make their own choices, whether for good or ill, for reasons that are entirely believable. Added to this, the author's use of language is beautiful and evocative with a lyrical rhythm that I found a joy to read.

This is rich fantasy but don't mistake that for soft. The author's eye for realistic detail lifts it above most similar works. I recommend it highly and am waiting impatiently for Book Three in the series.

Reunion was published by Urania, the fantasy imprint of Musa Publishing, in February, 2013 and is available as an e-book from Amazon.com and the publisher.

Joanna Fay blogs at her website here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

AWWC 2013: The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

The Last Stormlord, Book One in Glenda  Larke's The Watergivers trilogy introduces the reader to a world where water is the currency. The Stormlord is dying and without a successor with the same ability to capture clouds from the ocean and bring them inland to deposit rain where it is needed - critical for the survival of the people of the Quartern - the water supply cannot be guaranteed. While there are many water sensitives of varying capacity, the ability to move clouds is rare and none of the younger generation of Rain Lords can do it. The only hope is to find a new sensitive outside the traditional families and so a desperate search begins with the lives of all at risk.

Of the two main characters, Shale Flint, son of an outcast family scraping a bare living, is a water sensitive with strong but limited ability who finds himself caught up at the centre of political intrigue. He's not the only one who wants to escape his situation. In a city snuggery, Terelle Grey, a young girl indentured to the brothel owner, is nearing the age when her education is over and she will have to start work to pay off her water debt. Terelle has no desire to follow her sister into the brothel and when the opportunity comes to escape she seizes it. But nothing is simple in the cities of the Quartern and life for both Shale and Terelle is about to change in unexpected ways. By the end of the book, these young, idealistic protagonists have been forced by to mature by harsh experience.

The author gives us a richly imagined world, carrying the reader into a desert where you can almost taste the dryness and the dust. While I loved the pedes - giant, intelligent millipedes trained as pack and riding animals - for the delightfully exotic touch they bring, like everything else in this novel, they are so well written they are entirely believable.

It's not all setting though. This is a wide-reaching story, multi-layered with complex politics ranging from self interest to selfless service and with a whole raft of other major characters, all drawn with the same attention to detail. No-one is stereotypically good or bad here. They are all rounded and believable - even if you might want to shake some sense into one in particular at some points.

I loved this book. At 600 plus pages it's not a short read but it gripped me so much that I read it in less than a day. My family can attest to the fact that I was carrying it around and reading even as I prepared dinner. The only problem I had with it was having to wait for the next book in the trilogy, given it ends with such a cliff hanger.

In my opinion this trilogy is Glenda Larke's finest work to date. I highly recommend it. I'll put up reviews of the other two books later.

The Last Stormlord is available from Amazon.com as a paperback and e-book.

Glenda Larke blogs at Tropic Temper and her website is here



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Friday, July 26, 2013

AWWC 2013: Daughter of Hope by Joanna Fay


In Siaris, a world contained under the outer shell of a planet, life is a continual battle between the winged Guardians, an immortal race, created eons ago and imbued with magical spell powers and the Morraeth. In an eternally snow and sleet swept fortress with an endless need for slaves captured from among elden, another immortal race less resilient than the Guardians, and humans, these ancient gods are served by the traitor Guardian, Xereth. Fuelled by an implacable hatred for his family he has allied himself with their enemies, becoming the lieutenant of their fortress.

Life in the fortress is as bleak and cruel as the eternal winter that surrounds it and those who live within it, whether they are half Guardian, human or elden, are all slaves to the Morraeth.

But something unexpected has happened in the Morraeth fortress. An elden slave is about to give birth to Xereth's child. Revetia (her self-chosen name means daughter of hope) is a unplanned child who should never have been conceived and her birth signals changes - for her siblings, her father, the Morraeth and her extended family.

On her website the author says the world of Siaris has been part of her imagination since she was a young girl and it shows in the way she evokes the brutal, freezing land of the Morraeth as cleverly as she does the more gentle world of the other parts of Siaris. Her language is lyrical, almost poetic, but never slips that step too far so we lose a sense of reality. Revetia's story is part of the larger one of Siaris and in a wide-ranging story where old wounds fuel actions that affect the whole of the world she is a catalyst for change.

I loved this book. The beautifully described world with its rich detail, the well drawn characters and the complex and satisfying story line drew me in and I was delighted to find it was only the first of a quartet of stories. I will certainly be revisiting Siaris.

Daughter of Hope was published by Urania, the fantasy imprint of Musa Publishing, in 2012 and is available as an e-book from Amazon.com and Musa  Publishing.

Joanna Fay blogs at her website here.




Friday, July 12, 2013

Blogs That Have Something to Say To Me

This is by no means a definitive or complete list but these are just a few of the blogs I check in on at least once a week, often more frequently. They're all, in my opinion, worth a look at for many and varied reasons. Some are writing related, some are social commentators - some are both as you'll see if you visit them, some are genre related and some are simply people blogging about things that catch my interest. I enjoy them all because they make me think or entertain me. I hope they do the same for you. They are in alphabetical order by title for ease of listing, not because of any particular importance.

A Conversational Life: My Life in Family, Friends and Books

Baroque in Hackney

Champagne and Socks

Hoyden About Town

Jim C. Hines

Jo, on Food, My Travels and a Scent of Chocolate

Peter M. Ball

Satima Flavell

Stitching Words, One Thread at a Time

The Bloggess

Tropic Temper

Whatever

Yarn Harlot

There are, of course, many more blogs I visit - and enjoy - regularly but this post is already quite long enough so I'll do another with more at some time in the future.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

AWWC 2013: According to Luke by Rosanne Dingli

When Venetian art conservator, Jana Hayes, is presented with an ancient icon by a fellow Australian, priest, Rob Anderson, to assess its authenticity on behalf the Catholic Church she is excited. She delights in her work and when she discovers another older painting beneath the so-called St Luke Madonna, she is even more intrigued. Then things start to get messy - very messy - and Jana finds herself in danger as she tries to unravel the mystery of the icon. This is the beginning of a thrilling mystery which sees Jana and Rob find themselves in a dangerous race across Italy and beyond to Malta as they try to find out exactly who wants to stop the investigation and why. The story twists and turns with Jana's complex relationship with her mother as well as with Rob adding to it.

The author has obviously researched her subject deeply and I found the descriptions of the processes involved in art conservation, woven as they were into the narrative, fascinating and not intrusive. Setting is important in this story and the author skilfully evokes modern Italy and Malta with enough detail to make the reader feel as if they are there.

This is not a simple by the numbers thriller. It is built up with detail and peopled with characters who are rounded and believable. It would be enjoyed by those like their thrillers to involve intellect and more than just a wild ride.

According to Luke was published in 2012 and is available both as a paperback and an e-book from Amazon.com and the author's website

Rosanne Dingli blogs at www.rosannedingli.blogspot.com.au 









Sunday, June 16, 2013

AWWC 2013: Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin was published by Allen & Unwin in January 2009.

Matilde, heir to the House of Svanaten, is nineteen, of age and more than ready to take her place on the throne but her regent grandmother is unwilling to hand over the reins. But it is not as simple as a desire for power. Matilde has visions of the future and her grandmother's skill at hiding this is all that keeps her granddaughter from being claimed by the church and losing her throne forever. When her long estranged aunt arrives with her young son for a festival, Matilde is delighted until a moment of prescience comes too late and she loses family, friends and throne in one horrific attack. Alone and desperate to survive and eventually regain her throne, she agrees to be bound in marriage to the man who has wiped out her family. Her new husband, though, wants more than a wife and uses magic to secure her loyalty. Matilde finds herself despised by those she cares about as she struggles to subtly undermine her conqueror.

Shadow Queen is in many ways a coming of age story. Tilde may be restlessly wanting her throne at the beginning of the novel but she is also immature and naive and her prescience is potentially dangerous to both her and her throne. When her whole world is destroyed she is forced to grow up fast and, although she makes mistakes - and there are many of them, she learns quickly that he new husband's ruthlessness must be matched by her own.

The author keeps a tight grip on a complex story of politics and psychological manipulation that reveals itself slowly as Tilde learns more about herself, her family and her kingdom and its enemies. The characters are well-drawn with a blend of strengths and weaknesses and, often, surprising sides to them. As it should be, no-one is perfect in this world where betrayal is commonplace.

Shadow Queen is gritty fantasy set in a realistic quasi mediaeval world and should appeal to those who enjoy novels by Jennifer Fallon and Glenda Larke. There are no elves, fairies or vampires but there is magic - and it's powerful and dangerous.


Shadow Bound, the sequel to Shadow Queen, was published in 2010 and, although the author says she has no plans for a further book in the series, she has left it enticingly open. I intend to post a review of Shadow Bound soon.

Correction: I said incorrectly that Shadow Queen was no longer in print and only available as an e-book on Amazon.com. Deborah Kalin has informed me in the comments section that Shadow Queen is still available in A4 paperback through the Allen & Unwin website online bookshop if your local bookshop doesn't have it in stock.


Deborah Kalin's website is at deborahkalin.com


Sunday, June 09, 2013

GoH speech by N K Jemisin, Continuum

N. K. Jemisin's Continuum 9 speech (for those not part of the SFF world, Continuum is a science fiction convention held in Melbourne in Victoria, Australia) should be required reading for all of us - and by that I mean a universal "all".

I greatly admire N. K. Jemisin's writing - her original ideas and her prose are inspiring and I'd recommend her books highly - but what she has to say here is even more inspiring, in particular what she has to say about the silent 90%. I recently had my own epiphany about how silence makes everyone who doesn't call people on racist or other hateful remarks complicit in what is said. The truth is if we don't speak out we are as guilty as those who are making racist, anti-semetic, misogynistic, homophobic and other hate filled comments. That even this incomplete list is so long is disturbing in itself.

I think part of the problem is fear - of offending a friend, of being ostracised, of being shouted down and even of physical attack, and, of course, we should not be foolhardy and put ourselves in danger but there is a lot we can do instead of standing back. We can write to the newspapers, get on talk back radio to contradict the ignorant, tell a friend who makes a casual racist slur that it is not acceptable. Every time we do this it makes a difference. It might be small but it counts.

It's not easy to overcome our prejudices, especially if it's something we've grown up with and we all carry baggage and make mistakes but what we can do is to keep trying to do better. What N. K. Jemisin has to say here is important. I urge you to read it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ken Tanaka's "What Kind of Asian Are You" video.

This video by Ken Tanaka has gone viral and I can see why. Although it's set in the US it's something members of my family have had to deal with here in Australia. We are a mix of different ethnicities and the younger generation (born in Australia and having grown up here) can sometimes face similar questions based on physical appearance. When you think about it, in a country like Australia which prides itself on its multicultural society this is more than a little odd and it's a question I would never ask. My assumption is, unless I'm told otherwise - and I find tourists usually tell you pretty quickly that they are visitors and where they are from - that the person I'm talking to is Australian either by birth or choice. If they want to tell me more, that's up to them.



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Serendipity

For many years I had a pair of heavy, black wellies. They served me well until gradually they developed cracks and crazes. Then they got hard and brittle - and then they started to disintegrate. Boots that no longer serve their purpose are sad looking things - and there's no point in keeping them. Out they went to the dustbin and I started looking for a new pair.

That was five years ago. I went to all the nearby hardware stores, shoe shops and department stores. I found some big black boots but they were always men's sizes. My feet are hardly dainty but they're not that big. Probably, if I had lived in a country town, I'd have had no difficulty but I live in suburbia in a city and it seems there's not much of a demand for ladies wellies.

I started looking for alternatives. Rubber gardening shoes looked a possibility but they were hard and my feet hurt these days. Besides they let in the sand - and where I live we only have sand. I ruined several pairs of sneakers which also filled with sand but they seemed the only option until I walked into my local Woolies store to do the weekly grocery shop and found a rack of "ladies rain boots". Wow! There wasn't a single pair of black ones. There were leopard prints, flowers and patterns - and then there were these.





You may colour me happy.








Tuesday, May 14, 2013

AWWC 2013: The Singing Mountain by Anne E. Summers

I mentioned I was reading this book as an e-book a while back and, yes it has taken me a while to do a proper review but here we go.

The Singing Mountain (published by Solstice Publishing ) is Anne E. Summers first published novel after she began her writing life mainly as a short story writer.

Set in the Welsh mountains, The Singing Mountain is the story of Megan, a coal miner's daughter, who marries up and out of her class. Initially happy, the marriage comes under pressure when she and her husband, Ian, move back to his family's land holding of Glaswallon.

Pregnant, unhappy and haunted by strange dreams of Rhiannon, the Welsh mother and horse goddess, Megan follows her husband's cousin, Marigold, to the top of Mynnyd Mawr where the other girl disappears through an opening into Rhiannon's world. Under suspicion and increasingly isolated and frightened following the birth of her son, Megan decides her only option is to follow Marigold into Rhiannon's world and bring her back.

But this is only the beginning of a story that stretches from 1918 to 1940 and where events in both the human and magical worlds collide, interacting on each other and eventually involving Megan's whole family as the story plays out. Rhiannon herself may be honourable, but the harsh and often cruel realities of her world have consequences of that seep into Megan's world and their impact can be devastating.

Summers is a born story teller, and in The Singing Mountain, she weaves a fascinating tale set in two very different but equally real worlds and in two different time periods. If you enjoy your fantasy with a strong adventure story and well drawn characters I can recommend this book.

The Singing Mountain is available as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com or Solstice Publishing.







Monday, May 13, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half on Depression

I was a devoted follower of Hyperbole and a HalfAllie Brosh was clever, funny and talented and lifted my spirits and then one day, somewhere in 2011, not long after she'd announced that she was working on a book to come out in 2012, she stopped blogging. I kept coming back but there was nothing until she wrote a searing post about her battle with severe depression and stopped blogging again. Her post was bleak and sad and filled with the sort of detail that I suspect anyone who suffers from depression would identify with but in a way that made you want to keep reading. I kept coming back to her blog every couple of months, hoping she had managed to overcome this crippling disease but there was nothing.

Then, a few days ago, Jenny Lawson, better known asThe Bloggess, posted an update. Allie Brosh is back. Again she has written unflinchingly about her experience and it touches the heart. All I can say is go and read it. If you've ever suffered with depression or have a loved one who has suffered with it, go and read it. You won't regret it.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Angus

I've just realised Angus has shared our home for nearly five years. He's a funny, neurotic kitty. I love him dearly and he returns the favour. When we first got him he spent most of his time hiding in the spare room. He'd think he'd want to come out to play then after a short time he'd panic and race off to hide again. From the beginning he attached himself to me, following me around and smooching but he was terrified of men. Even when he decided the house was safe he would not let Pisces near him (which, as he's a man who loves cats, was very upsetting). It was a full year before Angus even allowed him to touch. He slowly came around and now he demands rubs making Pisces very happy.

Now we've passed another milestone. Although he has smooched and cuddled with me and creeps onto my bed to sleep - I wake up to find him with his head resting on my foot - he's never sat on my lap. He stretches out on the arm of the sofa so he can touch me while I'm watching television but that final move on to my lap has been a step too far. I've even tried picking him up and putting him there but he immediately jumps off - until yesterday when he jumped on the sofa arm, sat looking at my lap for a moment and gently stepped down and, purring madly, settled himself comfortably, closed his eyes and relaxed.

He's still terrified of other people - my daughter-in-law says she's never seen more than the tip of a tail disappearing under the bed - but it seems he's decided to take that final step. I guess it means he's finally accepted us and his place in the household completely.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Guest Blogging With Joanna Fay

My fellow Egoboo WA member and writing and critiquing mate, Joanna Fay, has invited me to guest blog on her website about a favourite character. If you would like to have a look at how Seri, a character in my as yet unfinished novel, working title The Hidden People, came into being, you can find the blog post here.

Joanna has the first two fantasy novels of The Siaris QuartetDaughter of Heart and Reunion, available as e-books from Musa Publishing.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Conflux 9 2013

Well I'm back - and very tired, which just shows how a great convention it was, I guess. Before I say anything else though I must congratulate Nicole Murphy and Donna Maree Hansen and their team for doing a brilliant job. I've been part of running a one day, very small convention and I know how much work that is. I can't even imagine how much was required to successfully run a convention on the scale of Conflux 9.

The hotel - Rydges Capital Hill - has some beautiful public areas. The atrium is filled with palms and plantings under a high dome. It's simply lovely. There are plenty of places to sit and talk if you want a coffee as opposed to the noisier bar - and given talking and meeting up with other like minded con goers is a big part of any con this is very desirable. Then there was the luxury of free wi-fi in our rooms. Woohoo!

So much happened, I met so many fascinating people and there were so many wonderful experiences that it's not possible to list them all. This will be only a few of the highlights. For someone like me a con aimed in large part at writers and readers will always be a joy and Conflux 9 was full of information and opportunities to chat with others in the business.

Let's start with the panels. There were so many and they were all interesting. Often there would be three equally intriguing ones on at the same time. The guests of honour were Marc Gascoigne, Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Miller and Kaaron Warren but there were so many others there - authors like Glenda Larke, Kate Forsythe, Patty Jansen, Jason Nahrung, Cat Sparks, Terry Dowling, Lisa Hannett, Keri Arthur, Richard Harland, Jack Dann, my Clarion South mates Laura E. Goodin, Peter Ball, Jess Irwin and Jason Fischer and my roomies, Carol Ryles and Satima Flavell and that barely touches the list of writers present. Then there were the publishers like Tehani Wessely, Alisa Krasnostein and Russell B. Farr and agents like Tara Wynne and Alex Adsett. I spent my time torn about which panels to attend and wishing I could go to them all.

The Kaffeeklatsches. I managed to go to four - Glenda Larke, Marc Gascoigne, Kate Forsythe and Keri Arthur. The informal nature of these gatherings where a ten lucky participants get to sit, chat and ask questions of industry professionals means they are incredibly useful in giving an insight into the industry. I learned so much and in many ways these were the real highlights for me.

Of course there were book launches but I only got to a few of them. This was probably a good thing as I always tend to buy the book being launched. This is good in many ways but then you have to get them home. In case you haven't noticed books weigh a lot and, in some perverse synchronicity, the pull along handles on both my carry on bag and suitcase chose to break so getting any more print books would have been a challenge but there is always my trusty e-reader. There will be visits to on-line sellers to reload that soon. I did get into the dealers' room for a short time though and I now have Richard Harland's Song of the Slums, Cat Sparks's short story collection, The Bride Price and Kate Forsyth's The Wild Girl in my to be read pile.

There were other activities - steampunk themed high tea, cocktail party, Regency banquet, Masquerade Ball, the Ditmars (you can see the winners here) and possibly the best closing ceremony I've been too.

As I said these are only highlights. There was so much going on all the time that if you were so inclined you could have been going from one thing to another all day from the 9:30 AM start until the panels finished any time between 10:00 and 11:00 PM - and that was just panels, readings and so on.

All in all, a wonderful convention. Canberra and Conflux 9 - you did us proud.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Paradox Resolution by K. A. Bedford

Paradox Resolution (published by Canadian publisher Edge ) is the sequel to Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait (my review of it is here).

Aloysius "Spider" Webb and his artist ex-wife, Molly, (at least she will be his ex-wife as soon as he signs the divorce papers) are back from the horrors of End of Time. Free of the influence and manipulations of his previous (and now vanished) boss, Dickhead McMahon, Spider's life is back to normal. He is still working at Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, now taken over by an Indian company, where the new state of the art equipment might have made going to work pleasant if he didn't hate time machines and the stupidity of the average time traveller. To make things worse, the time machine repair business is declining as time machines evolve and the world descends into economic chaos.

In his private life little has changed. He and police inspector Iris Street remain friends. He is still living in a capsule hotel and performing household tasks for Molly, while at work, when not otherwise occupied, he tinkers with training the coffee droid (a much higher functioning one than that in the previous book) in search of the perfect cup of coffee.That is until he opens the break room fridge one morning and makes an horrific discovery. This is soon the least of his worries as he finds his new boss has plans for him that are way beyond his job description.

Paradox Resolution is somewhat more bleak than Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait although the author's light touch leavens the darker elements. While there's plenty of action - time travel tends to make things very complicated and fast moving - this book is more about Spider's personal journey and what he learns about himself. He has a lot to resolve in both his personal life and his work situation and his experiences at the End of Time have left deep scars. This means there's introspection as well as action and the author has succeeded in maintaining what can be a tricky balance with the introspective sections often a welcome relief. Before the end Spider has had to question many of his beliefs and make some very hard decisions.

Along with those like Iris and Molly from the first book, Spider finds himself enmeshed with a number of new, equally well-rounded, characters who have their own stories. Even the bad guys tend to be more flawed than outright evil, with their motivations making them human and so believable. Spider is not the only one who has to come to terms with his future and past. Others have their own lessons to learn too.

The unexplained science may not appeal to those who like hard science fiction but, set as it is in a future world with inevitable and believable advances in technology, Paradox Resolution, like Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, is a suspenseful story, full of twists and with an unexpected and satisfying conclusion to Spider's story.

Paradox Resolution is available as an e-book as well as in print.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AWWC 2013: Prickle Moon - a story collection by Juliet Marillier

Prickle Moon (published by Ticonderoga Publications and released on April 4, 2013) is Juliet Marillier's first short story collection and it did not disappoint.

Oddly, although I have read all her novels and have never failed to be delighted by them, I had only ever read one of her short stories before. This is Twixt Firelight and Water, one of the stories in the collection. Especially interesting to those who have followed her Sevenwaters series, Twixt Firelight and Water fills in more of the story of the family of that world.

But Prickle Moon is not all set in the Sevenwaters world. This is a collection where the stories range widely. There is darkness but there is also romance, fairytales and humour.

Among the darker stories is the title story, Prickle Moon, which sees a woman asked to betray an unusual trust. Full of layers, at one point I had to put this story down because of the horror of the situation. It's one of the stand outs for me. Equally chilling are Angel of Death, where the reader is confronted with what happens as the RSPCA and volunteers raid a puppy farm and The Otherling, which deals with beliefs and consequences.

Retelling of fairy tales figures in much of Juliet Marillier's work and there's a fair sample of that here. I loved Poppy Seeds, and how it turns a traditional story on its head and while Let Down Your Hair may seem familiar as it starts out it certainly doesn't end that way. The traditional format of these two stories makes the contrast of By Bone Light more chilling. Although it has a modern, urban setting, its fairy tale roots are clear and its ending is very satisfying.

Among the romances in the collection are the historical Gift of Hope and, also historical but certainly less traditional, Letters From Robert, while there is a modern but different take on romance in Far Horizons.

There are other stories too - the funny Tough Love 3001 about a very unusual writers' workshop, Back and Beyond and Jack's Day, both about loss, Wraith, Level One, where a young wraith gets his first job, Juggling Silver, a sweet story of a community, and In Coed Celyddon, with its take on the Arthurian legend.

I thoroughly enjoyed Prickle Moon. Beautifully written, it should appeal to those who like their fantasy and romance rooted in reality.

Juliet Marillier's website is at www.julietmarillier.com where you will find details of her next books and she is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/juliet.marillier

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Tin Ducks Awards

Yet another award list. The Tin Ducks are annual Western Australian awards for achievements in SF presented at the annual Perth SwanCon . It's always good to see those in the SF field being acknowledged and all the more when it's friends and people whose work I personally admire as it is this year.

The link to the award winners and the short list is here and I'm delighted that it includes three of my fellow Egoboo WA members - Joanna Fay, Satima Flavell and Sarah Parker.

Congratulations to all winners and finalists.




Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Of Ditmars, Hugos, Stellas and Other Things.

Actually it's more awards than other things. They just keep coming - shortlists, winner lists and more.

These are the ones I've come across today - although I freely admit that some have been around for a while and I just haven't got to blogging about them. I'm linking to them on account of being too overwhelmed by other stuff right now to do much more.

The Australian Indie Book of the Year 2013 - winners were announced on 25 March.

The Stella Prize - shortlist out.

Ditmar Awards - shortlist open for voting.

Hugo Awards - shortlist out.

It's especially nice to see my Clarion South tutor, Margo Lanagan featuring in numerous places as well as yet another tutor, fellow Western Australian Lee Battersby, appearing on the Ditmar shortlist.

There are a pleasing number of other Western Australians on the various lists including editors Liz Grzyb, Alisa Krasnostein and Jonathan Strahan and publishers, Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet Press.

Congratulations to all winners and finalists.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Australian Shadows Awards Finalists 2012

The complete list of finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards 2012 is here and - being parochial again - I'm delighted to see a number of Western Australians on the list as well as my Clarion South mate, Jason Fischer, and two of our tutors at Clarion South, Lee Battersby and Robert Hood.

Congratulations to all on the list.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Aurealis Awards Shortlist 2012

The shortlist for the 2012 Aurealis Awards has been released and the complete shortlist is available here.

The winners will be announced at the Awards ceremony in Sydney on May 18. I've read a number of the books and stories on the list and I have to say I do not envy the judges their task in having to choose  only one from some very fine work. Selecting a best from any section will not have been easy.

On a purely parochial basis, I'm delighted to see so many Western Australian residents figuring on it. Among them are Jonathan Strahan (three listings), Juliet Marillier, Liz Grzyb and Martin Livings as well as publishers Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet Press, both with multiple listings. I'm also delighted to see two of my Clarion South tutors, Margo Lanagan and Robert Hood.

Congratulations to all who have made it this far and good luck for the final selection.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait by K A Bedford.


I originally reviewed Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait  for The Specusphere, a website devoted to speculative fiction, where I was an occasional reviewer. Unfortunately The Specusphere is now gone so I'm now posting an edited version here.

Since that original review there have been some changes. Originally published by Canadian publisher, Edge, in 2008 Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait  has also since been released by Australian publisher, Fremantle Press and it is available through Amazon.com both as a paperback and an e-book.

Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait by K.A. Bedford


Edge 2008 ISBN-13: 978-1-894063-42-5

In Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait , Perth based author, K. A. Bedford, has moved away from the space world of his previous novels but don’t let that put you off. Bedford still has plenty to make you think in this novel set in Perth, Western Australia, in the near future where time travel is commonplace to the point that used time machines can be purchased through the classifieds and people go back to visit family members who have passed away.

Having blown the whistle on corrupt fellow officers travelling through time to commit crimes, and forced out of the police as a result, ex-cop, Aloysius “Spider” Webb, now works for Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait as a time machine repair man. Spider is good at his job but has no love of time travel himself. He spends his days dealing with difficult customers who have little concept of time machine capability and even less of morality or ethics and the laws governing the use of time machines enacted to protect the public.  As far as possible avoiding his irritatingly loony and manipulative boss, the aptly named Dickhead McMahon, he keeps his head down and gets on with his job.  

Outside work things are not much better. Life in the future is not as idyllic as might be expected. The wonderful new devices that should make for a comfortable existence frequently fail. The coffee droid breaks down with infuriating frequency and it’s not the only appliance that creates problems. “Toilet’s stopped talking to me,” wails his estranged artist wife, Molly. "This time it’s something different. It won’t recognize me, won’t open. Nothing but bloody error messages.” and Spider finds himself yet again doing household maintenance for her before returning to his cramped sleeping capsule in the worst motel in town. 

Then things get messy. A brutally murdered woman turns up hidden inside a time machine inside another time machine and DOTAS – the Department of Time and Space – represented by Spider’s friend, James Rutherford, takes over. Their report, which effectively closes down the investigation, only raises more questions in Spider’s mind and intrigued, he can’t resist the urge to investigate as the questions increase. Add in a former lover, ambitious police inspector, Iris Street, and Malaria, the receptionist at Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, who is being harassed by Dickhead, and Spider has a lot to cope with. This is nothing, though, compared with what happens when Spider keeps meeting up with different versions of his future self.   

The complexities of time travel interweave with relationships, past, present and future, possible and actual, leaving Spider to make stark choices affecting his own and others’ futures. There is a feeling of reality about him as he responds to situations escalating out of control and affecting not only those he cares about but many more. He begins as one of those decent but world weary people whose daily struggles are the stuff of many lives and grows in stature as the full impact of what faces him is revealed. We empathise with him throughout as his relationships tangle and his life spins out of control.

The writer has created a fascinating array of characters and all are well rounded and believable making us care about what happens to them. Even the bad guys, however misguided their actions, have another side to them and remain convincingly human.

Bedford has a light touch with his writing. He obviously enjoys playing with names as Spider, Dickhead and Malaria show and a combination of understated humour and tense drama keeps the reader’s interest in what is an exciting, suspenseful read. While the science is not explained this is definitely science fiction and some of the potential complications of time travel are explored in the context of an entertaining tale. 

If I have a quibble about this story it’s the focus on coffee making in the early part of the book. It seemed to have little to do with the story line and although, I savour fine coffee and sympathised with Spider’s almost obsessive attempts at getting a drinkable cup, I did find it a little distracting.

Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait was the worthy winner of the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in a very strong field of finalists and shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award 2009. It will appeal to those who enjoy fast moving, suspenseful science fiction more than lovers of hard science fiction and many readers will be delighted that the sequel Paradox Resolution is now available. I'll post a review once i've finished it.




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thoughts on Song of Ice and Fire by GRR Martin

I have friends who rave over G R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books and the television series based on it, Game of Thrones. While I can't speak about the television series, I did read the first book in the series. Having forced myself to finish it I haven't tried any others. It's been quite a while since I read it so some of the details are hazy but I distinctly remember the overwhelming feeling I left the book with was too much rape. It seems I wasn't the only one.

This post from Sophia McDougall came up on my Facebook newsfeed today via several friends - it obviously struck a chord. Sophia McDougall describes the use of rape in A Song of Ice and Fire as rape used as wallpaper and goes on to explain why she finds it disturbing. Like me, she is not objecting to rape being described in a novel but to it being used as a lazy way to advance plot or explain a character's behaviour in the name of realism. Quite rightly she asks why women being raped is gritty and realistic and the rape of men is rarely addressed. We all know men also face rape (albeit not as frequently as women) but it's a form of violence we rarely see in fiction. Why isn't it gritty and realistic too? She raises some very interesting points that certainly made me think.

This post is a thought provoking insight into how we need to consider why and how we use violence, sexual or otherwise, in writing fiction. I found it fascinating reading and would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject too.

Friday, March 08, 2013

AWWC 2013: Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood

In Unnatural Habits, her latest Phryne Fisher mystery, (published by Allen & Unwin in 2012) author Kerry Greenwood has elegant, beautiful, unconventional (and extremely wealthy) private detective, the Honourable Phryne Fisher, again drawn into the underworld of 1920s Melbourne. Pretty, young, blonde girls are disappearing and so are unmarried mothers from the Catholic Magdalen laundries. Margaret 'Polly' Kettle, an ambitious young woman journalist, sniffs a story - then vanishes herself.

Phryne, her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, 'apprentice' detective, fourteen year old Tinker and various others familiar to readers of previous Phryne mysteries like her companion, Dot, her lover, Lin Chung, Dr Mac, Cec and Bert and the Butlers (who somehow maintain a calm, organised home for her at the same time) set out to use Phryne's often unconventional contacts to try to find out what is happening. At the same time, Detective Inspector John 'Jack' Robinson and Detective Constable Hugh Collins are using more conventional policing methods. Between them they bring all three mysteries to satisfying and unexpected conclusions.

While some might find Phryne somewhat over the top, for me, she is, if sometimes outrageous, enjoyable for what she is - an intelligent eccentric who has position, wealth and contacts as well as a well developed if unconventional morality allowing her unusual freedom of action. Her companion, Dot describes her as a force of nature. I think that probably sums her up neatly.

Unnatural Habits is well researched and, unusually in fiction, includes a bibliography. It sheds light on some less well known aspects of Australian history with respectable society not always coming out well. You won't find harrowing descriptions of blood soaked victims but you will be left in no doubt of the appalling conditions experienced by many.

As to who would enjoy Unnatural Habits, although some of the subject matter is dark, it should appeal  to those who like their crime with a light touch.

Phryne has her own website at www.phrynefisher.com.




Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

I signed up for this challenge last year and real life got seriously in the way so although I read widely I  did not actually write any reviews. I'm hoping this year will be more successful - way more successful.

Part of the problem is that I read an enormous amount and that means I'm apt to move on to the next book before I review the one I've just finished. This has not proved a good strategy. So I'm changing the focus of this blog a little in that along with the chit chat about what interests me and is happening in my life I'm going to do some reviews. Those reviews of books by Australian women writers will also be posted on the AWW 2013 website. I'm not nominating how many books I intend to read or how many of them I will review - way too much pressure - but I will be endeavouring to review a reasonable percentage.

Well that's the plan. I've already read several eligible books and I'll get some, at least, reviewed soon, I hope.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Singing Mountain by Anne E. Summers

The Singing Mountain, by Western Australian author, Anne E. Summers, is now available as an e-book from Solstice Publishing.

Stories about the clash of mythical characters or the Fae in their many incarnations with our world are not unusual but in The Singing Mountain the juxtaposition of the magical world with Wales in the between the war years 1918-1940 adds another and unexpected dimension where myth and reality collide in the story of Megan, a miner's daughter who marries out of her class, and who becomes the catalyst for events that shake her world.

Anne was one of the founding members of Karrinyup Writers Club where I learned much of my writing craft. She is also one of those without whose encouragement I might well have given up long ago so I am delighted to see The Singing Mountain published.

I've followed the development of this novel from its early beginnings but had not read it in its final form until now. I downloaded it yesterday and I'm about halfway through it. It's an easy read and I'm enjoying it. In fact I'm off to finish it as soon as I finish this post.

You can buy it either by going to the Solstice Publishing website, which is a little tricky to navigate - you need to go to the bookstore then scroll down to the New Releases section to find the book - or direct from Amazon.com.




Sunday, February 17, 2013

Russian Meteor and a Wake Up

I'm shocked and my heart goes out to the Russian people who have been injured or have had property destroyed by the meteor that exploded over the Ural Mountains on Friday. With around 1,200 people injured, mostly by flying glass, and an estimated 100,000 homes damaged, all in the middle of winter where temperatures have been as low as -20 C, it's a miracle that no-one died. The damage bill is estimated at $US30 million with broken windows accounting for a large part of the damage and the injuries. Given the freezing temperatures, they are working urgently at repairs.

While major meteor damage is relatively rare - if I remember correctly the Tunguska event was the most recent one to cause severe damage and I'm not suggesting that we should live in fear of it happening again - it does shake one's faith a little as to our security sitting here on our blue planet. Well, at least it does mine. After all, even if we happen to find and track a large bolide or even an asteroid hurtling towards us, what exactly are we going to do about it?

Together with all the other natural disasters that have happened (and still are happening around the world) - and recent deaths among my family and friends - this has led me again to a review of my life. There's an awful lot I want to do and experience and, like most of us, I let all the little and routine things get in the way of my doing them. There are, of course, often very real obstacles - lack of money, ill-health, commitments that we don't want to abandon for all sorts of reasons - but, more often than not, it seems to me that it comes down to not being prepared to take a risk. This is something I find very difficult. I like to plan and cover all eventualities but I can see there are problems with being so unwillingly to take a chance.

I don't know if I will succeed but I am making a conscious decision - right now - to examine my life and to try to live each day as if it was going to be my last. I know, it's easier to say than to do but if I don't even try I'll never know if I could do it, will I.

Anyone else up for the challenge?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Portrayal of Mixed Race People in Fiction

The awesome Aliette de Bodard (herself of mixed race) has some scathing things to say about the portrayal of mixed race people in fiction. She points her finger at lazy writers who use tired tropes where mixed race is a shorthand for any number of maladjustments.  That this is simply offensive should be no surprise to anyone but apparently it is. Why anyone would assume that being of mixed race will inevitably lead to alienated and damaged people from malfunctioning families is hard to believe.

Racism certainly can be a problem - and we obviously have a long way to go before that nasty aspect of humanity is overcome - but why not acknowledge that mixed race can be just as much a positive as a negative? The truth is that writers who use mixed race in this way are writing characters who are little more than caricatures, cardboard creatures they do not allow to grow and develop. People are complex beings and any characters, to be satisfying, should be the same.

We've all read stories where we have the stock standard range of characters - the jock, the nerd, the beauty queen, the wall flower, the brooding hero etc. These characters never truly grow but these are stories working to a formula where the reader knows what to expect and would be disappointed if they deviated. I don't think we should pretend there's not a place for these stories. Many folk like reading them and they don't claim to be anything other than what they are - a piece of wish fulfilment.

But if you are looking for more as I am - a deeper exploration of the human state and understanding of people, what makes them what they are and how they can change as they learn from their experiences - then you must move beyond stereotypes and lazy tropes.

BTW the comments are also illuminating and worth looking at.