Archive for the books Category

Dracula, the book that …

Posted in books, gothic, horror, writing with tags , , , , on April 24, 2014 by jason nahrung

dracula by bram stoker, 1916 coverThe lovely folks at The Writers Bloc — great name for a collective! — asked me to tell them about ‘the book that …’ and of course I had to wax lyrical about Dracula. You’re about 16, there’s a storm outside your bedroom window, and the vampire is creeping down the castle wall … You can read more here, and see what these creative folks are up to in furthering the writers’ cause.

The Shining Girls … very bright indeed

Posted in gothic, books, horror, review with tags , , , on April 9, 2014 by jason nahrung

the shining girls by lauren beukesI enjoyed both of South African writer Lauren Beukes previous novels, Zoo City and her debut Moxyland – they pretty much put her on my ‘buy automatically’ list. Shining Girls (HarperCollins Australia, 2013) is her tightest yet.

In it, she leaves South Africa behind, instead trawling through Chicago’s history since the Depression era, as a serial killer uses a most unusual house to track and kill his victims – his shining girls.

The blurb makes no secret of the fact the house enables Harper Curtis to spread his carnage across a 60-odd year span.
His evil is well drawn, leaving us in no doubt this guy needs to be stopped.

Harper has never limited his appetites to one particular kind of woman or another. Some men prefer girls with wasp waists or red hair or heavy buttocks you can dig your fingers into, but he has always taken whatever he could get, whenever he could get it, paying for it most of the time. The House demands more. It wants italic potential – to claim the fire in their eyes and snuff it out. Harper knows how to do that. He will need to buy a knife. Sharp as a bayonet.

The damage done is portrayed through a survivor, Kirby, who dedicates herself to the seemingly impossible task of finding her attacker. She teams up with burnt-out journo Dan, a crime writer now on the sports round, using his knowledge and newspaper resources to make her case file.

Adding to the sense of waste caused by the senseless murder spree are glimpses into the lives and deaths of the shining girls, sometimes in their point of view, sometimes Harper’s, as well as that of an addict whose character is well realised but whose presence in the book is of minor assistance.

And in keeping with the story’s time-travelling conceit, the episodes are presented in non-linear fashion. It’s a bit of a head spin, but it works.

Time travel brings a raft of headaches, not least the idea of if at first you don’t succeed …, but Beukes has answered the conundrums with smooth skill.

Her vignettes of Chicago are wonderfully realised, her characterisation spot on, her story enthralling. When the writing’s this good, I can accept with perfect faith the chicken and egg scenarios that come with time travel. My only regret is that the book was such a joy to read, it took no time at all.

  • Beukes says on her website she will be touring Australia in August to promote her latest novel, Broken Monsters (in Detroit, with more killings, another journo, a daughter … ooh!), due for release later this year.
  • Dimension6: we have lift off

    Posted in books, gothic, horror, science fiction with tags , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by jason nahrung

    dimension6 speculative fiction magazineA quick plug to say today is the day for Australia’s newest spec fic magazine: the free, digital Dimension6. It’s available here and includes yarns by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash and yours truly. You can get a taste of what each of us (and editor Keith Stevenson) is about thanks to an interview series conducted by Angela Slatter — just click those links. Or just read the magazine!
    Dimenion6 runs three issues a year, so stick around!

    The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf: a spirited first novel

    Posted in books, fantasy, review, science fiction with tags , , , on March 21, 2014 by jason nahrung

    the interrogation of ashala wolf by ambelin kwaymullina

     

    In the future portrayed in The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Walker Books, 2012) by Ambelin Kwaymullina, a new order arises: the world reduced to one continent, the people decimated past the point of racism. The new order follows a decree of Balance, handed down by a Noah-like figure, Hoffman, and a series of decrees are implemented to attempt to avoid such global catastrophe again. Technology is restricted, for instance; no nuclear power of genetic modification, few cars, a limited number of laser-like weapons for the security force. The full extent of just what tech is available to whom is is sketchily drawn, with just enough details provided to allow the story to unfold.

    Several hundred years after the Reckoning, humanity has found its own genetic modification – the development of powers, restricted one per person, a little like the X-Men: one chap can move air to cause effects such as flight and telekinesis; a girl can interfere with memories; our titular heroine can sleepwalk into a dream state where the rules of physics do not apply, but the results are enacted in the real world. It’s exciting stuff, especially when one adds in sentient trees and telepathic dinosaurs, and creation spirits who have helped breathe new life into the devastated planet.

    These powers are the source of conflict for the story, with government enforcers testing children for special abilities and decreeing them either useful or detrimental to society. Using those powers is not without its risks, which helps to make them more convincing, and offers balance to what can be a simplistic ‘technology=bad nature=good’ argument.

    Ashala heads a band of child runaways who live in the sentient forest, hunted and feared by society at large, but not without supporters: there is a rebel movement of families tired of giving up their talented children, of free thinkers who don’t like to see the gifted persecuted and locked away.

    The story opens with Ashala a prisoner, her Mengele-like persecutors seeking to identify an imminent threat to their program, and Ashala harbouring more secrets than even they, or she, might suspect.

    australian women writers challenge logoThis is a story of community, of mutual care and understanding, as well as a plea to respect the planet and the beliefs that have formed it.

    While ill-defined ‘advanced technology’ is seen as the key cause of the end of the world, and spirit the tool of the natural world’s rebirth, it is not technology alone that is to blame, but rather, as Hoffman is quoted as saying, ‘advances in technology could never compensate for failures in empathy’. Reading current headlines, it’s a point worth making.

    In this action story with its underlying and competently drawn romance subplot, the theme of the strength of the pack – of mutual care and concern – gives the book its heart. There are echoes of the colonial devastation of Indigenous Australia subtly vibrating through the story as Ashala draws strength from the memory and inspiration of her friends.

    The ending is perhaps too neat, but love will out, and the story is wrapped up so that one is left wondering where to from here, given this is the first of The Tribe series. The answer lies in the synopsis for book 2, The Disappearance of Ember Crow , which came out in November last year, and begins a new plot set in the same world, with a new challenge for Ashala to overcome. No doubt this will see further exploration of intriguing elements of the world to come, such as the totem animals the children of the Firstwood embrace, and the structure of the broader world with its delicate balance of nature and technology.

    Western Australian Kwaymullina, of the Palyku people, has written several picture books, with this her first novel; it’s a quick and engaging read with clear appeal for young adult readers.

  • This is the second of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • Dimension6 cover and contents

    Posted in books, gothic, horror, science fiction with tags , , , on March 19, 2014 by jason nahrung

    dimension 6 speculative fiction magazineThe covers are off Dimension6, Couer de Lion‘s free digital spec fic mag hitting the interwebs on April 4. It’s a pleasure to be sharing pixels with Richard Harland and Charlotte Nash, who has not only hit the shelves with some rural medical romance but is a dab hand in the fantastic, too — see her ‘The Ship’s Doctor‘ for a taste. And obviously D6, for more.

    Peacemaker: the west comes to town

    Posted in books, fantasy, review, science fiction with tags , , , , on February 26, 2014 by jason nahrung

    peacemaker by marianne de pierresShe started life in a short story, received a comic book treatment, and now Virgin Jackson rides tall in her own novel. The heroine of Marianne de Pierres’s Peacemaker (Angry Robot) is, not surprisingly for followers of de Pierres, an opinionated and feisty character.

    Jackson is continuing her father’s legacy as a ranger in a rather unusual park: this slice of outback Australia occupies a restricted space in a conurbation that takes up most of the east coast, has hi-tech protection against interlopers — no camping, no eco stays, and definitely no people smuggling! — and sports, uneasily, a thin veneer of the American wild west.

    This attempt to woo international tourism with stetsons and chaps is the one element of the novel that rests uncomfortably in the saddle, as the park provides the hub for a quasi dude tourism industry that doesn’t quite spark on the page. Also uncomfortable is that the review copy of this Australian story published by a British publisher sports US English, making self-fulfilling the book’s prediction of further cultural crumble, in street gangers who’ve watched plenty of US telly: lots of ‘you feel me?’ going on. At least Jackson kicks arse, not ass! You go, girl ;)

    So that’s the beef out of the way — a minor cut compared to the repast that’s on offer here.

    The book opens a little like a rodeo: there’s the rider entering the chute, now she’s checking out the arena, and then the door flies open at the end of chapter one and we’re away on a bucking, wheeling, snorting adventure that races all the way to the buzzer.

    There are elements of de Pierres’ Parrish Plessis books here, in the cyberpunkish inner-urban decay shot through with a thread of voodoo, and a heroine trying to work out just what the hell is going on with all these people trying to kill her. She’s even got a murder rap hanging over her head, just to keep the pressure on.

    Few folks are who or what they seem; trust is a precious commodity in this near-anarchic world where the haves have and the have nots can be damned.

    australian women writers challenge logoJackson works her way through the mire of intrigue with the help of an enigmatic US Marshall, complete with six-shooters, who has a grasp on the spiritual world that edges her reality. Spirit animals are a charming feature of the story, giving us a glimpse into a dystopian future where belief and cynicism ride side by side.

    By the end of the story, we are primed for book two as Virgin finds herself involved in a global battle to save, if not the world, then reality as we know it. Bring on the second ride!

  • This is the first of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • 2013 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

    Posted in awards, books, events, fantasy, gothic, horror, news regurgitation, science fiction with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by jason nahrung

    caution contains small parts by kirstyn mcdermottJust got back from Heathcote — oh, bliss — to the list of finalists in the Aurealis Awards for the best Aussie spec fic published last year. There is Snoopy dancing here in Ballaratia, for Kirstyn has landed nominations for her novella ‘The Home for Broken Dolls’ and the collection in which it appears, Caution: Contains Small Parts. The full finalists list is below (lifted from the press release). Interesting to see the genre blurring with some nominations for the same piece in multiple categories, although YA is an umbrella term in its own right, so that’s not so unusual. Plus a few self-published titles, showing someone’s taken time and effort to do the business. Winners will be announced a right royal good time in Canberra on April 5, a real highlight of the year. Tickets are on sale now.

    aurealis awards logoDISCLAIMER: I was a judge in the awards this year, of SF short stories. Nothing written here should be taken as anything other than an announcement of the finalists.

    In other awards news, nominations are open [edit: Ditmars open on Feb 23] in both the Ditmars and the Chronos, being publicly voted national and Victorian awards respectively. Winners of both will be announced at Continuum in June.

    Aurealis Awards 2013 Finalists

    BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK OR GRAPHIC NOVEL
    Savage Bitch by Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr (Scar Studios)
    Mr Unpronounceable Adventures by Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)
    Burger Force by Jackie Ryan (self-published)
    Peaceful Tomorrows Volume Two by Shane W Smith (Zetabella Publishing)
    The Deep Vol. 2: The Vanishing Island by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer (Gestalt Publishing)

    BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK
    Kingdom of the Lost, book 2: Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)
    Refuge by Jackie French (Harper Collins)
    Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
    The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray (Allen & Unwin)
    Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
    Ice Breaker: The Hidden 1 by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

    BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT FICTION
    ‘Mah Song’ by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
    ‘By Bone-light; by Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon, Ticonderoga Publications)
    ‘Morning Star’ by D.K. Mok (One Small Step, an anthology of discoveries, FableCroft Publishing)
    ‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’ by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

    BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
    The Big Dry by Tony Davies (Harper Collins)
    Hunting by Andrea Host (self-published)
    These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
    Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)
    The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

    BEST HORROR SHORT FICTION
    ‘Fencelines’ by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
    ‘The Sleepover’ by Terry Dowling (Exotic Gothic 5, PS Publishing)
    ‘The Home for Broken Dolls’ by Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts, Twelfth Planet Press)
    ‘The Human Moth’ by Kaaron Warren (The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Miskatonic Press)
    ‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’ by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

    BEST HORROR NOVEL
    The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)
    The First Bird by Greig Beck (Momentum)
    Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart (FableCroft Publishing)
    Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)

    BEST FANTASY SHORT FICTION
    ‘The Last Stormdancer’ by Jay Kristoff (Thomas Dunne Books)
    ‘The Touch of the Taniwha’ by Tracie McBride (Fish, Dagan Books)
    ‘Cold, Cold War’ by Ian McHugh (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Scott H Andrews)
    ‘Short Circuit’ by Kirstie Olley (Oomph: a little super goes a long way, Crossed Genres)
    ‘The Year of Ancient Ghosts’ by Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Ticonderoga Publications)

    BEST FANTASY NOVEL
    Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette Australia)
    A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan (self-published)
    These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
    Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (Jill Grinberg Literary Management)
    Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft Publishing)

    BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT FICTION
    ‘The Last Tiger’ by Joanne Anderton (Daily Science Fiction)
    ‘Mah Song’ by Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, FableCroft Publishing)
    ‘Seven Days in Paris’ by Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry, Twelfth Planet Press)
    ‘Version 4.3.0.1′ by Lucy Stone (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57)
    ‘Air, Water and the Grove’ by Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium Press)

    BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
    Lexicon by Max Barry (Hachette)
    Trucksong by Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet Press)
    A Wrong Turn At The Office Of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)
    True Path by Graham Storrs (Momentum)
    Rupetta by Nike Sulway (Tartarus Press)

    BEST ANTHOLOGY
    The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012 by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Eds), (Ticonderoga Publications)
    One Small Step, an anthology Of discoveries by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)
    Dreaming Of Djinn by Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)
    The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year: Volume Seven by Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Night Shade Books)
    Focus 2012: Highlights Of Australian Short Fiction by Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

    BEST COLLECTION
    The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (FableCroft Publishing)
    Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)
    Caution: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet Press)
    The Bride Price by Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga Publications)
    The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

    Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

    Posted in books, review with tags , on February 6, 2014 by jason nahrung

    australian women writers challenge logoIt’s February, and I’ve only just got around to finally signing up for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge, which seeks to enhance the profile of — you guessed it — Australian women writers. Since it is the second month of the year already, I’m going to set a low bar, and commit to reviewing four titles this year. I’ve got no idea what they’ll be yet (although I reckon two of these will probably figure), but I intend for them to be diverse. And thin. Thin-ish. Yes, that will probably help. Whatever your feelings about gender bias in reviewing and commentary, you’ll find this project has created a rather useful resource for those looking for a suggested reading list. Check it out!

    Wishlist Aussie books: Peacemaker, Lascar’s Dagger, Path of Night

    Posted in books, fantasy, horror, science fiction with tags , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by jason nahrung

    peacemaker by marianne de pierres

     

    I read the short story *years* ago, and then there was a comic, and now there’s the novel: Peacemaker is on its way in May next year through Angry Robot books. It’s about a ranger protecting our last wilderness area, but of course there is some corporate shenanigans going on. One to keep an eye out for!

     

     

    lascars dagger by glenda larke

    Another one to check out is Glenda Larke’s The Lascar’s Dagger, coming from Orbit in March. I love Larke’s worldbuilding and storytelling, so this new fantasy series can’t come soon enough. Probably my favourite Larke book, The Aware, has been re-released by FableCroft, who has also recently released Path of Night, by Dirk Flinthart. I’ve enjoyed Flinthart’s short stories for yonks — they are succinct and emotive — so his first novel-length work should be a hoot: says Dirk, ‘It’s got guns and motorbikes, vampires and cops, sax and violins and a buttload of conspiracies, plot twists and action as well as a distinctly Australian setting and sense of humour.’
    path of night by dirk flinthart

     

    Focus 2012 now on sale

    Posted in books, fantasy, horror, science fiction on November 29, 2013 by jason nahrung

    focus 2012 coverFableCroft has announced their highlights anthology of 2012 short fiction is now available — ‘Mornington Ride’ is rubbing shoulders with brilliant company. Check out this contributor list! With illustrations and cover by Kathleen Jennings!
    Joanne Anderton – ‘Sanaa’s Army’
    Thoraiya Dyer – ‘The Wisdom of Ants’
    Robert Hood – ‘Escena de un Asesinato’
    Margo Lanagan – ‘Significant Dust’
    Martin Livings – ‘Birthday Suit’
    Kaaron Warren – ‘Sky’
    You can read about it, and order it in the digital format of your choice, at the website.

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