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:

 

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Snapshot 2012: Scott Robinson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logo
QUEENSLAND writer Scott Robinson grew up reading and writing science fiction and fantasy — he was writing ‘novels’ when he was 10 years old. “It was never short stories, strangely enough,” he says, “but at 13 was sure I was going to make my living as a poet when I had poems published in Quadrant. Twenty-five years later, and I’ve barely made a couple of weeks’ worth of wages from any sort of writing at all.”

Last year, he made one of his books available for free as an e-book and has since self-published four on Amazon — the first three books of Tribes of the Hakahei (The Space Between, Singing Other World and When the Times Comes), as well as a stand alone crystal-punk fantasy call The Brightest Light. The final book in the Hakahei series, A Different Kind of Heaven, is pending.

Scott lives with his pregnant wife and two children. His website is www.scottjrobinson.com.


What have been the joys and sorrows of the self-publishing route?
Joys: my books is out there in the world for people to read. I’ve had some great feedback from readers and really can’t get enough. The sorrows: not as many people are reading them as I would like.

Marketing has always been a problem for self-published authors, but these days I have to be compete against the good stuff out there as well as fighting the negative image created by the ‘writers’ who decided to knock up a book over the weekend and make their fortune. At least in the old days, the wife or husband or other keeper of the funds was something of a gatekeeper. Now, it takes no time or money as all to publish a book. Apparently, for some, it doesn’t take any effort, either. So, I just keep hoping for some word of mouth to kick in (The Brightest Light got a great review on Amazon the other day) while I work on the next book.

Some varmint tried to purloin your free book through Amazon. How did you handle that and has it affected the way you look at e-publishing?
My first port of call in that instance was an email to Amazon. I received an auto reply saying someone would contact me in three working days. When that didn’t happen ,I sent another email. Eventually, after a week or two, I initiated a live chat with Amazon customer service (or someone like that) and spoke to them. The book was taken down a couple of days later.

I don’t think it changed my view on self-publishing. I actually brought forward my move to Kindle because of that. Piracy is something that could happen to everyone and it may have been a bit of a compliment that someone went to the effort (though not a lot — the conversion was terrible) to steal my work.

You like to mix ‘n’ match your genres: has this worked for you or against you when shopping around the stories?
Against me, of course. 🙂 The writing and the stories and everything else are great — it’s just that the editors can’t fit them into an easily marketable niche. It sounds nice and I’ll keep telling myself that.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I actually haven’t read a lot of anything recently. I’ve been working on novels pretty solidly for about six months — getting ‘completed’ one’s ready for Amazon and finishing off No 4 in the Tribes of the Hakahei series. Unfortunately for me, I do my writing and reading in the same head space so they can interfere with each other quite dramatically.

The last one I read was probably Business of Death by Trent Jamieson. It’s not really my kind of story, but I flew through it anyway (by my standards) and could definitely see the quality.

Some of my favourite Aussie stuff from years ago would be Souls in the Great Machine and sequels by Sean McMullen. Or the Parish Plessis books by Marianne de Pierres. I also enjoy most of the stuff by Sean Williams.

I have also been trying to get around to The Sentients of Orion series and King Rolen’s Kin <by Rowena Cory Daniells> for a while. And recent releases Roil (by Jamieson) and Debris (by Joanne Anderton). Just not enough hours in the day

I can’t wait to make use of my Kindle and try to support some indie writers, hopefully some of who will be Australian. It’s always great to discover someone new and if nobody else knows them, it’s even better.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Because of my slow reading (slow even when I’m not writing) and the fact that I don’t attend cons (or Vision Writers) any more (lack of money and two young kids to look after and feed), I probably don’t really follow Australian spec fic as something separate to spec fic in general. I just read what I read without thought to where it came from. But the changes here are probably the same as everywhere else and stem from the ease of self-publishing e-books. Or publishing them even if they aren’t yours. I think it’s a great thing but will be even better when the world comes up with a way to weed out the ‘first draft, I don’t need an editor’ type writers because they make it much harder for those of us who do care.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at: