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.
  • Zoo City, chapter 1: all you need to know

    zoo city by lauren beukesLauren Beukes is looking like being one of those authors I just have to follow. I read the first chapter of her second novel, Zoo City, today over lunch, and within those few pages, however badly hyphenated on my Kindle app, despite having to read the very first line twice, I was:

  • engrossed by her world: a touch of dystopia with magical totem animals
  • familiar with her character enough to know I give a damn: touched by magic, with a nasty past and not a lot of future
  • intrigued by the story: there’s a mystery here
  • engaged by the writing: economical dialogue, and prose that’s to the point but with just the right amount of opinionated, fetching description.
  • Mission accomplished, then. Unless the book takes a swerve into Stupid, I’m on board. I greatly enjoyed her Moxyland, a multiple point-of-view thrill ride. I can’t wait to see where Zoo City takes me.

    AWWNYRC#8: Debris by Joanne Anderton

    This is the eighth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    Debris

    by Jo Anderton

    Angry Robot, 2011, ISBN: 978 0 85766 154 8

    debris by joanne andertonDEBRIS, by Joanne Anderton, was initially published in the UK in 2010, but I’ve read the US edition that followed a year later. So, that clarification out of the way, it’s a pretty fine debut novel from the Sydneysider.

    The world is fascinating: one where the haves build things, power things, move things by manipulating matter in the form of pions, while the have nots are left with far more mundane methods of constructing and lighting their world. As with any economy, there is ‘waste’ matter: in the case of pions, there is debris — random matter that can interrupt the systems of pions and cause lights to go out, water not to heat, even buildings to become unstable. As there are highly regarded wielders of pions, there are scorned debris collectors — akin to nightsoil collectors.

    This first person account is that of Tanyana, a highly skilled and talented architect, whose career takes a plunge for the worse when an outside force destroys her crowning glory, leaving her broken in body and unable to manipulate pions.

    What begins as a study of a person who no longer finds themselves in the upper echelons of society, shunned by her peers and unable even to pay her rent, changes emphasis to a mystery as Tanyana discovers she’s also a gifted wielder of debris, set on a course to uncover a great social secret and a threat to the world.

    australian women writers challenge 2012The first volume of a series, Debris is a highly enjoyable tale in which Tanyana’s view of the social strata is rebuilt through her own experience with the under classes. Tanyana is convincingly drawn and likeable and her society is well described. The pion technology, melding with a Dickensian norm, is innovative and rather fetching, especially as the ‘silver’ in Tanyana’s body reacts to external threats with all the yummy visuals of Witchblade.

    The second half lags a little as the conspiracy elements of the story overtake the more social aspects and the narrative drive falls a little short — my compulsion to get to the climax wasn’t great, but I was enjoying the world exploration and the unveiling mystery; I enjoy stories where the perception of history is at odds with the reality. A little vagueness in the description, the interruption of action scenes with dialogue and introspection, also served to slow the story in these crucial latter stages. While Tanyana’s arc here is satisfyingly self-contained, the underlying big-picture narrative hasn’t left me hungry to know what happens next.

    Debris is a rewarding read, steeped in shadow and intrigue, and Anderton, through this and her highly regarded short fiction, has clearly pegged herself as an Aussie writer on the rise.

    Read more about Joanne at her 2012 Snapshot

    Previous Challenge reviews:

     

    Roil: full steam ahead!

    roil by trent jamiesonRoil is the first book of the The Nightbound Land duology (Angry Robot) by Brisbane author Trent Jamieson, and it’s fabulous — in more than one meaning of the word.

    Trent’s always had a way with words — in all fairness, his debut series, The Business of Death — didn’t do him justice. It was a different style, quick and spare to match that corporate clickety-click of deeds done darkly. Roil is sumptuous, taking me back to some of his short fiction I remember fondly (that reading in Toowong cemetery? priceless; ditto Wordpool, ah); from its prose to its world building, you can sink into Roil in near perfect comfort.

    In this fantasy world, a vast bank of preying darkness is creeping north to devour the few remaining human cities. A cruelly prgamatic mayor plots how to save his people; an Old Man is unleashed to try to stave off the inevitable, no matter the cost; a young drug-addled man and militant woman are caught up in the plots and violence.

    Our hero, David, while addled, is capable, and has some surprises in store as Old Man Cadell takes him, however grudgingly, under his wing. Heroine Margaret is ruled by vengeance and packs a mean ice pistol. The support cast is well drawn but add to the edginess — Trent doesn’t shirk in the dispatch department.

    He also handles horror tropes beautifully, whether it be zombies — both Haitian and Romero varieties — or the vampire-like Old Men, dragons, hellhounds and other fabulous members of his imaginative bestiary.

    Likewise, the technology melds the best of steampunk, akin to Scott Westerfeld style, with living airships and jet-powered fighter planes, lasers and cool swords, steam trains, magic and mechanisations blended to produce icy weaponry and devastating weapons of destruction.

    This is society on the edge of destruction and pragmatism rules. Has their industrial complex triggered this quasi environmental calamity?

    Each chapter is introduced by an extract from a text — historical, autobiographical — lending the book a sense of timeliness, contrasting real events with recorded ones. For someone familiar with the Brisbane writing scene, some of the names of places and historians spark a grin, too.

    The prose slips from omniscient reportage to intimate point of view, and it’s here on the nitty gritty level that there’s ash in the eye. Not much, but enough to cause the occasional blink. Angry Robot really does need to clean up its act in the proofing department — it’s not doing its writers nor its readers any favours with such shoddy work. Inconsistencies abound, in: line spacing to indicate a change of point of view within the scene; italics for direct thoughts; capitalisation; the spelling of focussed. No text is without its typos, and there are a couple of missing words; but the repeated old brought/bought blunder? haphazard punctuation and run-on sentences…?

    This book, thankfully, more than overcomes these typographical quibbles. How fortunate that it’s taken me so long to get to Roil that the second and final book, Night’s Engines, is out now!

    Mieville and the bleak Arthur C Clarke finalists, and other writerly news

    embassytown by china mieville

    The finalists of the Arthur C Clarke award for best science fiction novel published in the UK last year include China Mieville for Embassytown, the fifth time he’s been nominated and what could be he his fourth win.

    The interesting comment from the chair of the judging panel, Andrew M Butler, quoted in the Guardian, for those worried about over-genrification:

    “It’s got something for everyone: alien contact, post-apocalyptic disaster, near future cyberpunkish police procedural,” he said, adding that the variety demonstrates the health of the SF scene. “It’s exciting because you can’t fit it in a box.”

    Others in the running are Charlie Stross, Booker longlisted Jane Rogers, Drew Magary, Sherri S Tepper and Greg Bear.

    Says Butler about the dystopian line-up,

    “We’re in a dark place at the moment and SF writers are responding to that. These are not books to turn to for escape – they’re not afraid to confront the dark side of life.”

    The award is announced in May.

  • Canberra’s Nicole Murphy, author of the Secret Ones, has launched an interesting project in which she mentors a writer to develop a 2,000-word spec fic story each month, publishes the finished story on the project’s website and, eventually, makes 12 available as an anthology. The chosen submission each month scores $100 and a cut of the anthology royalties.
  • Also taking submissions in April is UK publisher Angry Robot, who have an open door for classic fantasy and YA SF&F.
  • Stephanie Smith has stepped down from her role at HarperCollins Voyager, where as editor and publisher she has overseen the growth of Australia’s fantasy industry, Bookseller+Publisher reports. She’s quite the icon on the local scene and will be missed. Her replacement is respected editor Deonie Fiford, starting on April 2. OMG that’s Monday! Where has the year gone? Voyager’s farewell message is here.
  • The Gold Coast Literati event in May has announced its line-up, including spec fic authors Stephen M Irwin, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson, Louise Cusack, Kylie Chan and Rowena Cory Daniells, as well as talented comics creator Queenie Chan, crime writer Katherine Howell and many more. It looks like most of the bases have been covered, from YA to poetry to non-fiction. It’s held the same weekend as Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival kicks off. See the calendar for more literary events.
  • Angry Robot opens its doors again, and other writerly news

    Hot on the heels of Penguin’s new open door program, British press Angry Robot is again appealing to unagented authors — they signed three debut novelists from last year’s program — but this time are being quite specific about what they want: classic fantasy and YA SF and fantasy. The submission period is April 16-30 using a website uploader. Details are here.

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts is sharing the love — a combined book launch with Margo Lanagan for those lucky enough to have easy access to Hobart (Lanagan has riffed her Sea Hearts novella from X6 into a novel, how tasty!) — and a reprint that shows even a story written for a specific universe can have legs outside it (and indeed, TRR’s yarn breaks more boundaries than that little piffle).
  • Alan Baxter has shared his love, too: the forthcoming ‘paranoirmal’ anthology Damnation and Dames from Ticonderoga with its whoop arse cover and two collaborations in its TOC. I look at the bare scraping of confused and contradictory notes on my hard drive and lament; there are two more upcoming titles I doubt I’ll be able to submit to, but they’re worth a look: issue 7 of Midnight Echo, closing this month, and another paranormal anthology, Bloodstones, open February–May.
  • And here’s pause for thought in the aftermath of Australia Day, in which Lit-icism considers the call for renewed focus on Australian literature. The part that especially struck a chord with me was this, from Italian academic Tim Parkes:

    Parkes laments what is essentially a globalisation of literature in which novels provide no authentic sense of place at all, but are instead tailored to a global market by dealing with ‘universal’ – read: more widely marketable and international prizewinning – themes.

    This is partly why I took up the pen with a view to being published — to see my country, my culture, reflected in the types of stories that I like to read. It’s heartening to see authors such as Trent Jamieson able to set their fiction in Brisbane — Brisbane! — and still find not only a wider audience, but an overseas publisher willing to run with it. It’s pleasing to see someone send some Aussie sensibility across the water, rather than regurgitating a trope-laden backdrop of New York or London.

    It’s not just eucalyptus trees (hey, they have plenty in California, anyway) — it’s viewpoint. It’s attitude. It’s how we see the world. Sharing these things is how we help us all to understand each other — not just the different priorities or approaches we might take, but also the similarities: parents what a better world for their children, for instance. Language plays an incredibly powerful part in informing culture, and where else to find its evolution than in literature?

    Parkes is talking about more than setting: he’s talking about themes and those, he suggests, can be culturally specific and deserve attention. Sure, though I’m not convinced that domestic themes don’t have wider resonance.

    Australia doesn’t have the history of European countries in dealing with certain social ills, for instance — no civil war, no religious schisms — but the social history of those events can still impact on us; we can see movements here, we can relate to the humanity of the issue, we can learn a lesson.

    And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss universal themes. Harking back to Australia Day, is the Australian experience of colonialism, from invader or invaded viewpoint, any different to that of Canada or South Africa? How? What does it do to us? Perhaps a culture’s, or a subculture’s, response to those universal themes is equally important as those purely domestic discussions (assuming they exist).

  • Writerly roundup: tips from Dr Kim, Aussies breaking out, Xmas tips

  • Start the writing/working week with a set of tips from Kim Wilkins, and grapple with the problem of prioritisation with Louise Cusack
  • Bone up on stories by Aussies that would make fine Christmas stocking fillers (and see below for Trent’s Xmas book corner edition!)
  • Lee Battersby notches a two-book deal with Angry Robot, and fellow Robot author Kaaron Warren goes single with The Grinding House
  • The 2012 calendar of Australian literary events has passed the 40 listings mark — updates and new entries are welcome.