Aussie Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror announced

years best australian fantasy and horror 2014Ticonderoga Publications has announced the line-up of its latest Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror28 stories from 2014, curated again by Talie Helene and Liz Grzyb, to wrap your eyes around and fire your imagination. Or something like that.

I’m thrilled and giddily surprised to find ‘The Preservation Society’, originally published in the first issue of Dimension6, among the selections. Vampires in Cairns, an exploration into one of the minor characters in my novel Blood and Dust. Hell yes, I’m chuffed.

There’s some great reading in this volume — I’m particularly pleased to see ‘Shedding Skin‘ by Angie Rega in this line-up, one of those yarns that ticked all my boxes. The collection is due out in late October — OOH, HALLOWEEN! — but can be pre-ordered right now.
 

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.