Archive for the fantasy Category

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.
  • 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)

    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.

    The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

    Posted in fantasy, gothic, review with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by jason nahrung

    year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.

    Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.

    It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.

    The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.

    australian women writers review challenge logoIn the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.

    Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.

    The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.

    I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.

  • Ticonderoga’s recommended reading list: we have squee!

    Posted in books, fantasy, horror with tags , , , , on August 20, 2013 by jason nahrung

    years best fantasy and horror 2012Just a wee note to say, yay, ‘Mornington Ride’ from Epilogue and ‘Breaking the Wire’ from Aurealis #47 have been included in the recommended reading list from Ticonderoga Publications’ forthcoming Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012. ‘Last Boat to Eden’, from Surviving the End, is included in the volume (I blogged the full contents of this packed volume here). My ego aside, it’s a good place to start if you’re looking to take the pulse of short Aussie dark fiction. The book is available for pre-order.

    The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Vol 3

    Posted in books, fantasy, horror with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by jason nahrung

    years best fantasy and horror 2012Ticonderoga Publications has released the table of contents for The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Vol 3 (2012), edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, and I’m stoked to say that my ‘The Last Boat to Eden’, published in the recent Shadows award-winning Surviving the End, has been included.

    The ‘best of’ series is a wonderful snapshot of Aussie horror and fantasy. It is due to arrive in July, and is available for pre-order.


    The contents are:

  • Joanne Anderton, ‘Tied To The Waste’, Tales Of Talisman
  • R.J.Astruc, ‘The Cook of Pearl House, A Malay Sailor by the Name of Maurice’, Dark Edifice 2
  • Lee Battersby, ‘Comfort Ghost’, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 56
  • Alan Baxter, ‘Tiny Lives’, Daily Science Fiction
  • Jenny Blackford, ‘A Moveable Feast’, Bloodstones
  • Eddy Burger, ‘The Witch’s Wardrobe’, Dark Edifice 3
  • Isobelle Carmody, ‘The Stone Witch’, Under My Hat
  • Jay Caselberg, ‘Beautiful’, The Washington Pastime
  • Stephen Dedman, ‘The Fall’, Exotic Gothic 4
  • Felicity Dowker, ‘To Wish On A Clockwork Heart’, Bread And Circuses
  • Terry Dowling, ‘Nightside Eye’, Cemetery Dance #66
  • Tom Dullemond, ‘Population Management’, Danse Macabre
  • Thoraiya Dyer, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Epilogue
  • Will Elliot, ‘Hungry Man’, The One That Got Away
  • Jason Fischer, ‘Pigroot Flat’, Midnight Echo 8
  • Dirk Flinthart, ‘The Bull In Winter’, Bloodstones
  • Lisa L. Hannett, ‘Sweet Subtleties’, Clarkesworld
  • Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter, ‘Bella Beaufort Goes To War’, Midnight And Moonshine
  • Narrelle Harris, ‘Stalemate’, Showtime
  • Kathleen Jennings, ‘Kindling’, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear
  • Gary Kemble, ‘Saturday Night at the Milkbar’, Midnight Echo 7
  • Margo Lanagan, ‘Crow And Caper, Caper And Crow’, Under My Hat
  • Martin Livings, ‘You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet’, Living With The Dead
  • Penelope Love, ‘A Small Bad Thing’, Bloodstones
  • Andrew J. McKiernan, ‘Torch Song’, From Stage Door Shadows
  • Karen Maric, ‘Anvil Of The Sun’, Aurealis #54
  • Faith Mudge, ‘Oracle’s Tower’, To Spin A Darker Stair
  • Nicole Murphy, ‘The Black Star Killer’, Damnation And Dames
  • Jason Nahrung, ‘The Last Boat To Eden’, Surviving The End
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, ‘What Books Survive’, Epilogue
  • Angela Slatter, ‘Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’, This Is Horror webzine
  • Anna Tambour, ‘The Dog Who Wished He’d Never Heard Of Lovecraft’, Lovecraft Zine
  • Kyla Ward, ‘The Loquacious Cadaver’, The Lion And The Aardvark: Aesop’s Modern Fables
  • Kaaron Warren, ‘River Of Memory’, Zombies Vs. Robots.
  • Havenstar: a bright beginning, revisited

    Posted in fantasy, review with tags , , , on March 15, 2013 by jason nahrung

    havenstar by glenda larke
    In this standalone fantasy, Glenda Larke shows the world building, characterisation and thematic grist that make her one of my favourite fantasy writers.

    Larke has made Havenstar, originally published by Virgin Books in the UK in 1999 under the name of Glenda Noramly, available as an e-book, and the book will get the full treatment from Ticonderoga Publications in May.

    Havenstar is notable for its imaginative setting: islands of stability set in an ever changing wilderness ruled by chaos, the result of a massive battle a thousand years ago that, meteorite-like, changed the face of the planet. Now the god of chaos, a cruel spirit indeed, rules the wastes, threatening to destroy those few outposts of order.

    The islands are held together by strict social order overseen by a priesthood and their devotions to structure, but of course there is corruption and jealousy.

    Larke isn’t much of one for patriarchy and blind adherence, and so her heroes are questioners and adventurers who look past the strictures for the truth between the lines. There is an almost Biblical undertone as the spirit of chaos offers temptations to those in the wilderness, for the price of a soul and a type of damnation: for some, the price is worth it; others are more ruthlessly afflicted and victimised.

    More about Glenda Larke in last year’s snapshot

    The magic system is, typically for Larke, imaginative and logical, using a type of ley line as a key element, and showing the power of knowledge and even art (the trompleri maps here are perhaps an early template for the magical paintings used in the Watergivers series).

    awwbadge_2013Mapmaker Keris finds herself on the road with a wonderfully eclectic mix of fellow travellers making the pilgrimage among the stabilities, and braving the dangers of chaos along the way.

    It’s a superbly drawn world, complex but simply explained without recourse to massive info dumps — so enjoyable to learn about a world through the interactions of the characters rather than slabs of data.

    Each chapter is headed by an excerpt from the holy writings, lending some sense of history — the teachings are relevant to the story, although elements of prophecy I probably could’ve done without given their absence of much mystery, though I have to admit, what’s a holy book without some kind of prophecy about the end of days or the better times ahead? Carrot and stick, carrot and stick … and a little tension, too.

    havenstar by glenda larke, ticonderoga issue
    The characters carry this story, whether Keris’s guilt over abandoning her family to pursue her own happiness, or her love interest’s tragic past with all the weight and darkness it brings, or the driven, blind visionary who has his own agenda.

    One of the themes of the story is the debate between law and chaos, restraint and free rein, and both are presented in shades of grey.

    The e-book has been given a light revisit by the author, and could’ve used another proofread, but it is a striking debut, well worth the downloading for lovers of intelligent and beautifully realised fantasy.

  • Glenda Larke, who has lived overseas for many years, is returning to her native Western Australia this year. She runs a workshop on world building on April 25 as part of Conflux in Canberra.

  • This is my first review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • Speculative fiction fest in Sydney

    Posted in fantasy, horror, news regurgitation, science fiction with tags , , , , on February 6, 2013 by jason nahrung

    The New South Wales Writers Centre has released the program for its one-day festival of speculative fiction, curated by Kate Forsyth, and it’s a doozy.

    The guest list includes Garth Nix, Marianne de Pierres, John Flanagan, Ian Irvine, Sophie Masson, Kim Wilkins … and more! Russell B Farr is launching a new collection by Juliet Marillier. There are publishers (Random House, Momentum, Ticonderoga and Chimaera, to name a few) talking about getting published, and publishing yourself. That’s a hell of a lot of industry muscle for $80 (non-members).

    And yes, a few of us are talking about weird and dark fiction, too.

    The festival is on March 16, starting at 10am, with drinks on the verandah at 5pm to wind down. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it!

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