Cherry Crow Children: rich pickings

cherry crow children by deborah kalin
Cherry Crow Children is the twelfth of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press, with a thirteenth and final volume to come. This most recent volume, by Deborah Kalin, is well worth the wait.

Kalin is a fellow Melbourne writer with two fantasy novels and a handful of short fiction to her name; this volume of four stories is a strong addition to her bibliography.

These stories are of endings, and of secrets, and of quests, each situated in isolated and harsh settings that encourage a certain bloodymindedness and limited vision. To go delving in these locales is to risk much. Discovering can be dangerous, even lethal. Perhaps best not to explore this terrain if one is feeling blue.

In ‘The Wages of Honey’, a man looks for his cousin in a fractured mountain village; ‘The Briskwater Mare’ has a young woman tied to her fate for the apparent good of a town; ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ tells of clockmakers and the price paid for pursuing their secret workings; and the titular story is one of a forest folk who risk the wilds for a crop of drug flowers.

Australian women writers challenge 2015The settings are engagingly, succinctly drawn, with customs and seasons and economies adding depth to the worlds as the characters navigate the social currents. One cannot help but rail with Kalin’s protagonists as they are caught in the eddies. The stories draw longer, the worlds deeper and darker; the forest denizens of the eponymous final story are wild and amazing.

As each story unveils its mysteries, as each protagonist pushes the boundaries and pays the price for their investigation, the assured prose is the measured constant.

This twelfth of the Twelve is a high point in a consistently high field.

The Dagger’s Path, by Glenda Larke: the journey continues

daggers path by glenda larkeThe globe trotting continues in The Dagger’s Path (Orbit, 2015), the second volume of the The Forsaken Lands trilogy by Glenda Larke: a year sails by as our heroes reach the Va-forskaen Lands – a conglomerate of island states, lumped together geopolitically by culturally ignorant colonial powers interested only in the spices and, lately, the magic that they have to offer.

The witan spy Saker accompanies Sorrel, and the babe in arms for which she cares, Piper, and disgraced Chanderawasi Ardhi on a mission to the spice isles, on board a privateer captained by the dashing Juster. All find themselves under the sway of a magically enforced imperative, embodied in a magical dagger, to return sacred plumes from very special birds.

But more than their lives are at stake: back in the Va-cherished lands, evil is on the rise, and those righteous few who see its emergence – the pontifact, her lawyer spy and a gifted orphan – will need all the help they can get to prevent it.

Further muddying the waters are the imperial interests of homicidally pragmatic Mathilda, Ardronese wife of the Lowmian king, the dabbling of the Ardronese heir, Prince Ryce, and the various merchant interests and clandestine forces arraying against the order of things.

It is, as my sketchy summary suggests, an epic tale, and told through a plethora of viewpoints – a couple rate merely a few scenes here, but where this ploy usually drives me to distraction, they passed relatively smoothly, perhaps because of the recurring nature of the characters in the third person. While the story spans a hemisphere and considerable time, the pace is consistent, thanks to the machinations and discoveries at play, the well-rounded lead characters and, as always with a Larke book, the superb world building.

The twitcher writer’s avian interests continue to be at the fore as Saker learns more of his power to communicate with and influence birds, while other familiar Larke themes of colonialism, extremism and blind faith continue to anchor the narrative.

Australian women writers challenge 2015A flash forward at chapter 31, about three quarters of the way through, felt unwarranted given the overall clip of the yarn – there’s a bit of biffo and plenty of intrigue driving this middle book, which ends with cards firmly on the table and relationships overshadowed by the looming battle to keep the corrupt and self-serving Fox out of the big chair.

Australian Larke has drawn on her life in Malaysia for her depictions of the islands and the descriptions are well spiced.

Plain sailing, this one, with sails unfurled and gun ports open for the grand finale.

  • The Lascar’s Dagger, the first of the series (reviewed here), recently tied for the best novel Ditmar Award and also won a Tin Duck, and was a finalist for best fantasy novel in the Aurealis Awards.
  • This is my first review as part of the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • 2016 Natcon in Brisbane: the year we make Contact

    badge for contact2016 Contact2016, the 55th Australian National Science Fiction Convention, will be held in Brisbane at Easter — w00t! Last con there was Conjure in 2006, so it’s a double anniversary (55 and 10, if you get my meaning).

    At this point, you can sign up to the Twitter/Facebook/mailing list stuff to keep in, well, contact. The con, by the way, is not true to label: there is plenty of fantasy, horror and all that associated good stuff on offer at a nat con.

    March, the weather can go either way in Bris (this little new-Victorian is melting in the old home state as he writes), so plan for accommodation with a fridge if you don’t want the chocky eggs to melt!

    SQ Mag: here be nagas

    sq magazine issue 19A little while ago I mentioned nagas here and flashed a pair of cobra fangs for inspiration — well, the first story in this paranormal mythos has struck, over at SQ Mag.

    Will this be the last ‘vampire’ story I write for a while? Probably. Kind of. The next I’m working on in this Make Believe Brisbane has a mermaid front and centre. I’ve got plans to develop these characters, and the world, through a series of shorts, culminating in a longer piece centred on Manasa’s quest to recover the SITI. Anyway, here’s to the first step!

    And the good thing is, if this yarn has you recoiling (sorry, Michelle) in horror, there is a bunch of other yarns in the mag — and it’s free!

    Recent reads: Gibson, Strahan, Kiernan, Abbott

    I’ve been slack, sneaking in a bit of reading and not passing on the goods. So here’s a quick summary of yarns I’ve read lately (outside of last year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge) that have made me happy:

    william gibson book the peripheralThe Peripheral, William Gibson (Penguin/Viking 2014): Gibson time travels, from the economically bereft American South to a socially bereft future London, where climate change has wrought its sneaky damage and only tech has saved humanity — at the price, perhaps, of its humanity. The book needs its own review — there are plenty out there, and this one by Keith Stevenson tags a bunch of my responses (yeah, the tracking device, way too convenient) — but suffice to say, I love Gibson’s writing. Here’s a protag who is perhaps slightly under-equipped to handle the situation in which, tired and lonely though not alone, he finds himself; here’s another who is coping very well with it, thanks, due to her smarts, and those family and friends in dangerous places. There was little tension, though, and the happy endings all round left me a bit meh, but the ride was comfortable (but not safe — Gibson does not err on the side of over-explanation, bless, though some of the sentence fragments actually jarred me from time to time) and the view deftly drawn and suitably gloomy in all the right places. Makes me want to read Neuromancer et al all over again.

    fearful symmetries anthology editor ellen datlowFearful Symmetries, Ellen Datlow (ed) (ChiZine 2014): I helped Kickstart this tome and it was money well spent; a solid bunch of spooky yarns. One, though, blew my socks off; it dispensed with linear narrative in a way that made my head spin — that it was partly set in New Orleans probably helped, sure, but wow: ‘Ballad of An Echo Whisperer’ by Caitlín R Kiernan floated my boat like few other short stories I read last year.

     

    fearsome magicsFearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (ed) (Solaris, 2014): One of the strongest anthologies I read last year, with not even a handful of yarns that made me go ‘meh’. While magic was the core theme, the variations to be found within are wide and wonderful: faery magic, science as magic, high fantasy, urban fantasy. Strahan has conjured a strong field for this table of contents and they cast quite a spell.

     

    die a little by megan abbottAnd finally, I should be reading, oh, dozens of books right now, I guess, but sometimes you just gotta go for a safe, enjoyable read. A palate cleanser, for want of a more charitable description. One where you know the voice and the world will immerse you, the writing will thrill you, and the story will be worth your investment. And so it is I have picked up Megan Abbott’s Die A Little (Simon and Schuster, 2005). It’s another (early) of her period noirs, in which a school teacher and her policeman brother get caught up with a femme fatale with a shadowy past. I’d probably still pick Queenpin as my favourite so far — I note I am behind in Abbott’s catalogue *sigh* — but I love the voice and the use of a chapter-free progression of scenes told in the first person from a rather cool cucumber. I’m halfway through and the dressing’s just hit the salad and I can’t wait to see who dishes up the just desserts …

    WIP: Fangs for the inspiration

    cobra fangsThese are cobra fangs. They were a Valentine’s gift from my beloved, specifically because I’m writing nagas. They’re slippery suckers.

    I had the idea for these stories years ago, when Amanda Pillar was calling for submissions for her first ‘blood’-themed anthology for Ticonderoga. She’s done two of them now (Bloodlines is due in August), and it has taken me this long — and a lot of reading/research, a lot of note making and scene revising, some brainstorming — to come to grips with the story world. Maybe I’ll finally have something in time for No.3!

    The fact is, I’m still grappling, exploring the urban fantasy’s world and its characters through the stories. And attempting to air these explorations as I go, a little morale boost, with an end result: hopefully, a cohesive novella, perhaps fleshed our or simply complemented with revised, definitive versions of these formative, transformative yarns. I’m lumping them under a banner of BLOODRUNNER, both a nod to that inspiration from Amanda, and to my old mate Shayne Hall who introduced me to the term in a different context.

    I just hope this project doesn’t end up biting me on the asp.

    Snapshot 2014: Chris McMahon

    chris mcmahonBeing able to escape into the realm of the imagination was handy growing up as the youngest in a family of 11. CHRIS McMAHON continues his fantasy and SF writing habit from his home town of Brisbane, where he lives with his lovely wife Sandra and three young children, Aedan, Declan and Brigit. He has a third-dan black belt in Moon Lee Tae Kwon Do and also enjoys movies and exploring narrow alleyways. Chris is very passionate about music, if a little inconsistent, and loves singing and playing classical guitar.
    Chris has recently released his three-book Jakirian Cycle: heroic hantasy in a world of ceramic weapons, where all metal is magical! Think Kill Bill meets Dune!
    Chris regularly blogs on writing and Space news at his website: www.chrismcmahon.net.

     
    1.Your book Calvanni, one of the Jakirian Cycle, is fresh out on Amazon. Can you tell us a little about the series’ path so far, and any tips you might have picked up along the way you’d like to share?

    Hey, It’s not just Calvanni – I have three books out in the Jakirian Cycle, all of which were launched in March 2014.

    The first book in the Jakirian Cycle is The Calvanni, the second Scytheman, and the third Sorcerer. It’s a big series, with tons of fantasy action and unique worldbuilding. Getting them out has been a real landmark effort for me. All three of them look great, thanks to the efforts of designer extraordinaire Daryl Lindquist. They have been published in both print and electronic editions, something which is also new for me.

    The first edition of The Calvanni was published in 2006. To get the rest of the series out proved to be a long, gruelling effort. But the end result was definitely worth it. People love this series, even those who have never read fantasy before.

    If I had to share one thing, that would be to focus on the quality of the work.

    As a writer trying to get your work into publication, so much is dependent on luck and timing. You could have a brilliant manuscript, but until you find the right editor at the right time, conventional mainstream publication, and its blissful access to distribution and economies of scale, will always be elusive. If you focus on making the manuscript absolutely shine, then no matter what your route to publication – small press or independent – you can take pride in what you have produced. That means taking the time to make it the best novel you can, then investing in quality editorial – and thorough proofreading!
    calvanni by chris mcmahon

    2. How has your science background informed your writing – your Jakirian Cycle has an interesting mix of ceramics and metal, for instance?

    Yes, I would say it has. For a start I guess I bring that specialist mindset to the whole writing game (I am a chemical engineer). When it comes to technology and the mechanics of worldbuilding, I can bring an (obsessive) thoroughness that pays dividends in the depth and texture of the worlds I create, and in the scientific credibility of the concepts integral to my science fiction.

    What I create definitely has an edge of unique inventiveness. The only downside is the sheer density of ideas. That can bog a story down, particularly at the beginning. It’s tricky balance to keep the reader hooked as they enter a complex world, and yet introduce them to all these new elements.
    scytheman by chris mcmahon

    3. What is it about SF and fantasy that has led you to write it, and is that where your next work will be, too?

    Well, that’s a tough one. I’d like to see any writer really define the true reason they write.

    On a surface level, I guess it was the ideas that drove me. Unique SF ideas, or events and characters in a otherworldly fantasy setting. The heroic journey. That’s what gripped my mind and lifted up the back of my head with the intensity of the ideas’ birth.

    As to why I really write? What is it that keeps me at it? That’s something deeper, more intuitive and heartfelt, that (for me) defies explanation.
     
    4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

    Can’t think of any off hand.

    I recently devoured the (American author) Kevin Hearne Iron Druid books. I think I enjoyed those more than anything since David Gemmell died – and for me that’s saying a lot!
    sorcerer by chris mcmahon

    5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

    I’ve never managed to break into the publishing mainstream, so I can say that for me, this has not changed how I approach my projects.

    I guess in terms of sales and marketing, I have definitely focussed more on the internet since the first Calvanni publication in 2006. I had quite a few sales through bookstores with the first Calvanni edition, but now the higher percentage of my sales in the Jakirian series (The Calvanni, Scytheman and Sorcerer) are e-books.

    Since I’ve been bashing away at this for over 20 years now, I don’t think I’ll have changed that much in five years.

     
    2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: