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 …

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Honourable mentions by Ellen Datlow

best horror of the year volume 5 edited by ellen datlowEditor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow has released the LOOOOONG list — and it’s true to label, appearing in two pieces (Alexandra to Johnstone, Jones to Yolen) on her blog — to go with the short list of honourable mentions of short stories from 2012, anchored by her Best Horror of the Year Volume 5. The short list appears in the book; the long list doesn’t. Despite the collapse and sale of publisher Night Shade, the book’s listed as available on Amazon.

So why am I mentioning this? Because Datlow has seen fit to list three of my yarns in the long list — ‘The Kiss’ from Tales from the Bell Club, ‘Last Boat to Eden’ from Surviving the End, and ‘Breaking the Wire’, from Aurealis #47 — and ‘Eden’ made it through to the short list.

There is a whole posse of Aussie talent in the lists, and stories by Margo Lanagan and Terry Dowling made it into the collection.

To get a pat on the back from anyone is always a warm and fuzzy moment; to get it from someone with Datlow’s pedigree, and knowing just how widely she reads to compile these lists, well, that’s very nice indeed.

It’s especially cool to see ‘The Kiss’ get a mention: writing in the voice of a turn-of-the-last century Austrian suffragette was quite fun, and one of the first yarns I’ve written involving historical figures. If you go to the link above, you can read the little sucker in the ‘look inside’ feature!

Submissions open for Queensland Literary Awards, and other writerly news

queensland literary awards logoBehind the 8-ball on this news: submissions are open for the Queensland Literary Awards — these are the community-based awards put together in quick time after newly elected premier Campbell Newman scrapped the government-supported awards in short order after this ascension. Subs close May 6, and winners are due to be announced on September 5.

Awards on offer are:
Fiction Book Award
Emerging Queensland Author – Manuscript Award (UQP will be offered publishing rights for the winning MS)
Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award (UQP will be offered publishing rights for the winning MS)
Non-Fiction Book Award History Book Award
Children’s Book Award
Young Adult Book Award
Science Writer Award
Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award
Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate – The Harry Williams Award
Film Script Award
Drama Script (Stage) Award
Television Script Award


This piece in The Age by Jane Sullivan helps to explain why what the Australian newspaper brands the ‘vocal minority’ — a new collective noun for writers, apparently — got so vocal about Newman’s ill’conceived and poorly executed move.

  • Amazon sniffing around in Australia? That’ll save some postage. But it might cause a fresh cold sweat for bricks and mortar shops …
  • Speaking of Amazon, here’s an article about how Amazon is a happy hunting ground for knock-off merchants, as opposed to simple plagiarists.
  • Affirm Press seeks writers for its Slow Guides to Brisbane and Melbourne.
  • Check out the Ellen Datlow news, as reported at 13 O’Clock: a bunch of Aussies made her honourable mentions list, and a couple even made the print-book shortlist — Margo Lanagan flies the Southern Cross in the actual TOC of selected yarns — and the venerable US editor is on the prowl for this year’s best horror yarns. Send ’em in!
  • Notions Unlimited opens, and other writerly news

    Yay for Chuck McKenzie who, after four years running a Dymocks shop, has gone it alone with Notions Unlimited spec fic book store at Melbourne’s bayside Chelsea. Ensconced between a coffee shop and a liquour outlet and with a sushi store right outside the door, he must be occupying some prime real estate. Add in an amazingly wide range of genre reading — a dedicated small press section, graphic novels, and all the F, SF and H you can point a stick at, whether big guns or more oscure or up-and-coming writers — and a seriously luxurious looking set of sofas, and he might be needed a bouncer to kick the customers out at closing time. It’s a tough time for bricks and mortar enterprises, but a niche store with a knowledgeable and welcoming owner is in with a chance. There’s nothing quite like that human element when it comes to, ‘if you bought this, you might also like…’

  • In what at times feels like a stampede to be published — by someone, anyone, even ourselves — it’s worth taking a breath and deciding just how much we value our written words and the time and effort (yes, it takes effort!) taken to tell that particular story. Check out these posts at Writer Beware, giving pause for thought about writing contests and dodgy publisher deals.
  • Ellen Datlow, much awarded and respected editor of all things grim and ghoulish, has a new Best Horror on the way — Aussie Margo Lanagan flies the flag in the TOC. Ellen’s listed her honourable mentions, and Antipodeans Alan Baxter, John Harwood, Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren are included. Nice.
  • Ian Irvine is giving away an iPad3 as part of a Facebook promotion.
  • Home again, home again, where is home again?

    It has been a hell of a month, this October. So huge it spilled into November! Here’s why it’s been ages, well, more than a month, since I wrote on this blog:
    We kicked off October on Bribie Island at our annual Edge Writers writing retreat, this year with Sean Williams and Alison Goodman as tutors. We were able to celebrate the news that our Paul Garrety has scored a two-book deal with HarperCollins, first one due out in 2011!

    And brickbats to the Queensland Government for its plan to close the State-run complex, although there is hope whoever picks up the tender for the centre will continue to make it available to groups such as us. For the third year running, I had a manuscript staked out in the sun to burn after it failed the worldbuilding test. On the bright side, I did finish a very rough novella set — surprise — on an island. This is my backup story, the one I write only on the island after all else has failed.

    court of two sisters

    dinner at court of two sisters, new orleans

    After Bribie, my beloved Kirstyn McDermott and I flew to New Orleans, where we had an awesome week. Highlights:

  • My old friend from Canada joining us for a long weekend of merriment
  • Lunch at the Green Goddess, where I’m very happy to report the ‘mezze of destruction‘ is still on the menu.
  • Dinner at Irene’s, where we were shouted a drink because of the length of our wait — the place is popular, and no wonder, given the excellent service and food.
  • A memorable dinner at my favourite restaurant, The Court of Two Sisters.
  • Hanging out over superb bloody marys at the Pirates Alley Cafe, where absinthe is a specialty.
  • Gospel brunch at the House of Blues.
  • Catching some sets with Big Al Carson at the Funky Pirate (and getting a shark attack from the Tropical Isle next door).
  • From New Orleans (more pictures here), we caught a Carnival cruise ship, the Fantasy, for a quick voyage to Progreso and Cozumel in Mexico. Out of Progreso we took a bus tour to Uxmal, a superb set of ruins I’d visited on a previous visit to Mexico. In Cozumel, where, very disappointingly a tour to Tulum wasn’t on offer (wonderful beachside ruins), we went snorkelling on three dive spots and saw lots of fish. Some pictures are here.

    I don’t mind cruising as a stress-free way of covering some miles and relaxing. It’s nice to be waited on once in a while, eh? Even though the focus on the casino and the bingo is a tad sad, and the buffets can be case studies of gluttony. I was impressed with the efficiency of embarkation — US domestic airlines could learn something there — and was happy to fork out for a behind-the-scenes tour of how the ship works, including tours of the galleys, bridge, engine control room and soforth.

    Back in New Orleans, we had time for a Lucky Dog and a bloody mary before heading to the airport and San Francisco.

    kirstyn and jason at golden gate bridge, san francisco

    at the golden gate bridge

    SF is a grand city, and while it doesn’t have the atmosphere of the French Quarter (where does?), it is a relaxed and pleasant city for visitors. We bought a week-long passport for the public transport system and hopped buses, cable cars and street cars all week, visiting Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, a Tutankhamun exhibit at deYoung and hitting the wharves. We also got out of town, hitching a bus to Muir Woods and arty Sausilito, and the Winchester Mystery House. The latter is well worth the effort, with its amazing staircases to nowhere, chimneys that don’t reach the roof, doors that open on to walls, and so on…

    We also saw a local musical about a zombie attack that used Ozzy Osbourne as a deus ex machina of sorts — brilliant — and saw the movie Zombieland (light, fun, flawed) and caught an awesomely fun gig by Emilie Autumn. Sadly, a trip to a bayside music venue resulted in an annoyingly smug performance by a semi-rockabilly dude (who did do a very fun, very fast version of Sweet Home Alabama that foxed those dancing to the Yankee classic) and a debilitating case of suspected food poisoning for Kirstyn.

    From San Francisco we caught the Caltrain, and what a sweet deal that is with its double-decker cabs, to San Jose, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. Aussie superstar Garth Nix, as far removed from acting like a superstar as you can get, was a guest of honour. I was chuffed to get to spread the good cheer that is Australian red wine amongst the guests at an Aussie party thrown by Garth and Sean Williams, with t-shirts designed by Cat Sparks. It was a fun bash, and I got to meet new faces and also renew some contacts made at last year’s WFC in Calgary.

    Other highlights of the con were seeing Jeff VanderMeer throw stuffed toys at his launch party, hear Garth and others read Poe’s The Raven, enjoy the wit of Tim Powers (whose Anubis Gates is right up there on the awesome reads list, and has landed some Pirates of the Caribbean action), and see Aussies Shaun Tan and Margo Lanagan score World Fantasy awards at the banquet where we enjoyed the company of our fellow Aussies. (Check out Deborah Biancotti’s take on it here, and see Cat’s pix here)

    flowers at bega cemetery

    flowers at bega cemetery

    Back in Australia, we picked up my car in Brisbane and drove highway 1 down the coast to Melbourne, taking five days including layovers with family. Driving highlights: Kiama’s foreshore, fish and chips at Bateman’s Bay, Lake’s Entrance, and the cemetery at Bega.

    And now we’re back in Melbourne — home becoming, for this recent arrival from interstate — where the weather is warm and the coffee very fine. There’s a pile of mail on the table, more holiday pictures hitting Flickr as the mood takes me, and a plan to get some words down, sometime soon.

    A quick w00t though: I got home to the news that the Federal Government has decided to retain the current copyright and import laws for books. Hurray!

    And editor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow included my short story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn”, from Dreaming Again, in her highly commended list that includes a bunch of Aussie talent. Happy dance!