Peacemaker: the west comes to town

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.
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  • Weekend escape: Cranford Cottage at Heathcote

    cranford cottage, heathcote

    The view from the front porch of Cranford Cottage


    There’s a paddock of calf-high brown grass bent with breeze stretching past gum trees to the horizon. Houses there are lost in haze, too distant to be a concern; Mt Ida pokes a leafy head over the top. Sheep work their way across the paddock, and Eddy the emu may be seen prowling the fence, waiting for Stephen to open the gate and let him back into the facing paddock where black angus graze, so he can scribe his circular route around the property once more.

    Among the other birds spied here are lorikeets and galahs, magpies, willy wagtails, sparrows; hawks, Stephen says, and occasionally even wedge-tailed eagles. But we don’t see the raptors. The farm has chooks, too: can’t miss that cock crowing, far enough away at the house to be rustic charm rather than a trigger for a throttling.

    At day, glowing in the sun; at night, gilded by moonlight: the grass is mesmerising. That space, that quiet … what an ideal getaway this place is.

    cranford cottage, heathcote

    Back deck

    Farmers Stephen and his wife Cally run Cranford Cottage at Heathcote, barely 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, a B&B where they’ve done everything right. Set at the back of the homestead’s house paddock, the cabin has two bedrooms with en suites flanking the central kitchen, dining and lounge area, with a porch looking towards the sheep and a full-length deck facing the creek and cattle.

    Corrugated iron and undressed timber feature outside; the living area has timber floor, wood heater and air conditioning, while the bedroom has a ceiling fan and carpet so new you can smell it. TV, DVD, an iPad of music, Scrabble, wifi, battery-operated tea-light candles are provided; there’s a dishwasher, microwave and gas stove.

    The cottage has one of the best provisioned kitchens I’ve encountered at a B&B — even flour and raw sugar, cling wrap, cooking oil, a generous jar of instant Moccona coffee to supplement the espresso. The only absence come brekkie time is egg rings … meh. The provided breakfast is (scrambled) eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread from the local bakery, avocado, juice. There are bananas, microwave popcorn, muesli, numerous teas, hot chocolate … excellent stuff.

    cranford cottage, heathcote

    Welcome gift of wine, with sage advice

    As the custom wine label on our complimentary bottle of red tells us, there’s plenty of wine in Heathcote, a shiraz heartland, and the cottage is mere minutes from town, which has four cellar doors in the main street and around 40 wineries in the region. As it turns out, we don’t get past the main street’s offerings. Heathcote Winery is very good, but it’s Heathcote Estate (they also run Mornington Peninsula’s Yabby Lake) that takes my fancy with their Barossa-style, attention-grabbing shiraz, and Peregrine Ridge at the farmers’ market is a pleasant find. Owner-operator Graeme steers us to a purveyor of pork that is sensational.

    More pictures of the cottage, with sheep — and Eddy!

    Stephen and Cally booked us in for Friday night dinner at the Willow Room in town, a superb, intimate restaurant and B&B run by a couple Stephen tells us have not long ago moved from Melbourne. A fortunate tree change, if my taste buds are any judge: the food is sensational. You know you’re in a wine region when you ask the origin of the house red — a most excellent drop — and you’re told the names of the people who made it, not their winery.

    cranford cottage, heathcote

    Chook kettle

    Gentle Saturday morning rain makes the grass glisten, washes the bushfire smoke haze from the air.

    ‘It’ll keep us going,’ Stephen says of the drizzle as we return from the market just after lunch time (dim sum, pork sausage on a slice of bread, coffee), but the rain was barely enough to wet our hair. We take short showers (there is no bath tub): the water is solely drawn from rainwater tanks. And my god, it tastes so good out of the tap.

    We while away the remainder of the weekend, playing cards, picking at nibbles from the local IGA washed down by local red. The mountain bikes go unused, the four-hole just-for-fun golf course in the back yard remains untested.

    When we reluctantly leave on the Sunday, the boot filled with bottles of vinegar and oil, preserves and — ahem — wine, Stephen waves from a small set of vines planted down at the lagoon, where a platform juts out over the parched rim. He’s got guests so we don’t pull up, just wave: we left a note to say we’d be back.

    cranford cottage, heathcote

    Mt Ida cloaked in rain, Cranford Cottage

    Entering Dimension6

    dimension6 magazine logo


    Keith Stevenson’s Coeur de Lion is launching its new digital magazine Dimension6 in April, and I’m happy to say I’ve got an Aussie vampire story — ‘The Preservation Society’ — in it!

    I can’t tell you who else is in there because I don’t know, but Robert Hood, Cat Sparks, Richard Harland, Alan Baxter and Steve Cameron have all been tapped as being in one of this year’s first three editions. Pretty awesome company! These writers are well worth the effort of hitting the download button for.

    Dimension6 will be FREE, with a cheap-as-chips end-of-year omnibus edition.

    Coeur de Lion brought us the wonderful X6 novella collection a few years back, so I’m dead excited about Dimension6. The first issue is due out on April 4.

    2013 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

    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

    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!