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 way 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

* * *

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:

Snapshot 2014: Australia’s speculative fiction scene

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot
The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, I will be part of this team blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

Last time, in 2012, the Snapshot covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community – can we top that this year?

To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

And you can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

Continuum X, at which Kirstyn wins an award and I wear a top hat

Home again from Continuum X, the national science fiction convention held in Melbourne at the weekend. Knackered, but happily so, after much catching up with friends old and new. It was a most excellent convention.
Briefly, because the catching up with work is kind of catching up with me, a few of the highlights:

  • Waving my walking stick around at the launch of a new collection by Rosaleen Love and Kirstyn’s Perfections, new in paperback — an exercise in creative thinking in the latter instance, as a print error caused the book — for this launch only — to be retitled Imperfections, and the author providing a personalised tale on a page unintentionally left blank
  • Mulling over the challenge presented by guests of honour Jim C Hines and Ambelin Kwaymullina in their speeches addressing equality and appropriation
  • Chinwagging with Jack Dann and co-host Gillian Polack at the launch of his back catalogue, and specifically Jubilee, and nabbing Janeen Webb’s collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, and seeing Jo Anderton’s trilogy made complete with the launch of Guardian.
  • Chewing over topics such at witches, the Gothic and the evolution of various critters, on three panels of learned friends
  • presenting a Ditmar for Best New Talent to an absent Zena Shapter from a quality field
  • seeing an absent Garth Nix (though he was on the phone!) recognised for a career of achievement with the Peter McNamara award
  • seeing Kirstyn land a Ditmar for her story, The Home for Broken Dolls — she was also highly commended in the Norma K Hemming for her collection Caution: Contains Small Parts. (Full awards list below)

    Photos from Continuum by Cat Sparks

    Other things to emerge from the event:

  • the Chronos awards, for Victorian speculative fiction, need a good, hard think about the continuing inclusion of ‘no award’, and also how to increase publicity and engagement to prevent a slide into irrelevance (a list of eligibles has already been started for next year)
  • a bar that charges $9 for cider and $15 for wine is a big aid for avoiding hangovers (but good on them for extending their hours to midnight on Sunday)
  • you can buy awesome burgers and sweet potato chips at Perkup Expresso Bar — even on Christmas Day.

    2014 DITMAR AWARDS

    Best Novel

    Winner: Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside)
    Finalists:
    Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft)
    The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
    Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)
    The Only Game in the Galaxy: The Maximus Black Files 3, Paul Collins (Ford Street)

    Best Novella or Novelette
    Winner: The Home for Broken Dolls, Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)
    Finalists:
    Prickle Moon, Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)
    The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts)
    By Bone-Light, Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)
    What Amanda Wants, Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)

    Best Short Story
    Winner: Scarp, Cat Sparks (The Bride Price)
    Finalists:
    Mah Song, Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories)
    Air, Water and the Grove, Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven)
    Seven Days in Paris, Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry)
    Not the Worst of Sins, Alan Baxter (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133)
    Cold White Daughter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (One Small Step)

    Best Collected Work
    Winner: The Bride Price, Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga)
    Finalists:
    The Back of the Back of Beyond, Edwina Harvey (Peggy Bright Books)
    Asymmetry, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet)
    Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet)
    The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, Joanne Anderton (FableCroft)

    Best Artwork
    Winner: Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
    Finalists:
    Cover art, Eleanor Clarke, for The Back of the Back of Beyond (Peggy Bright Books)
    Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, for Eclipse Online (Nightshade)
    Cover art, Shauna O’Meara, for Next (CSFG)
    Cover art, Cat Sparks, for The Bride Price (Ticonderoga)
    Cover art, Pia Ravenari, for Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga)

    Best Fan Writer
    Winner: Sean Wright, for body of work, including reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut
    Finalists:
    Tsana Dolichva, for body of work, including reviews and interviews in Tsana’s Reads and Reviews
    Grant Watson, for body of work, including reviews in The Angriest
    Foz Meadows, for body of work, including reviews in Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbows
    Alexandra Pierce, for body of work, including reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex
    Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work, including essays and reviews at http://www.tansyrr.com

    Best Fan Artist
    Winner: Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Illustration Friday
    Finalists:
    Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including Defender of the Faith, The Suck Fairy, Doctor Who Vampire, and The Last Cyberman in Dark Matter
    Dick Jenssen, for body of work, including cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop and SF Commentary

    Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
    Winner: Galactic Chat Podcast, Sean Wright, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, & Mark Webb
    Finalists:
    Dark Matter Zine, Nalini Haynes
    SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie
    The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott & Ian Mond
    The Coode Street Podcast, Gary K. Wolfe & Jonathan Strahan
    Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, & Tansy Rayner Roberts

    Best New Talent
    Winner: Zena Shapter
    Finalists:
    Michelle Goldsmith
    Faith Mudge
    Jo Spurrier
    Stacey Larner

    William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review
    Winner (tie): The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, & Tehani Wessely
    Winner: Galactic Suburbia Episode 87: Saga Spoilerific Book Club, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, & Tansy Rayner Roberts
    Finalists:
    Reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex, Alexandra Pierce
    Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories, Leigh Blackmore, in Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1 (Ulthar)
    A Puppet’s Parody of Joy: Dolls, Puppets and Mannikins as Diabolical Other, Leigh Blackmore, in Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Master of Modern Horror (Scarecrow)
    That was then, this is now: how my perceptions have changed, George Ivanoff, in Doctor Who and Race (Intellect)

    Peter McNamara Award
    Garth Nix

    Norma K Hemming Award
    Winner: Rupetta, N. A. Sulway (Tartarus UK)
    Highly commended: A Very Unusual Pursuit – City of Orphans, Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
    Highly commended: Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet)
    Finalists:
    Dark Serpent, Kylie Chan (HarperVoyager)
    Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near (Random House)
    Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)