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!

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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.
  • Death Most Definite – a deadly debut

    death most definite by trent jamiesonDeath’s big business — cutthroat, too. This is brought home to Pomp (alas, the circumstance!) Steven de Selby, a minor rung in the corp’s Brisbane ladder, when everything goes to Hell. Helping spirits pass over to the great fig tree under the world is a family talent, though there are those who have spurned the calling. Not Steven, who finds the task of Pomping somewhat cushy: it pays well, and the only effort he has to make is visiting the recently departed once in a while to make sure that unruly denizens of the netherworld — Stirrers — don’t pop into the recently vacated meat and take it for a test drive. But now the old firm is suffering a shake-up and the new broom is sweeping mighty clean indeed. Steven’s on the run, his life in tatters and under considerable threat. Through south-east Queensland he flees, with a gorgeous ghost watching his back (and other bits of his anatomy as well). Steven’s gonna have to step up and set things to right, or die in the attempt, and all of Australia — if not the world — is at stake.

    Death Most Definite, the first of a series, is the debut novel (with an awesome, Angel-like cover) of Brisbane’s Trent Jamieson (a man whose prose I’ve long admired and who I have had occasion to share a drink with). Here, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. It’s an endearing feature of his prose — the man’s a short story genius — that the emotions run high and true, more often than not. The prose is on the money — fast and self-deprecating, with touches of beauty where appropriate, and insights into the morality of modern life (and a further insight into Trent’s CD collection — but hey, if any story was befitting of London Calling for its soundtrack, this is it).

    Brisbane stands up quite well to its central role as sub-tropical battleground, its smallness of city and bigness of town adding to Steven’s woes. Just goes to show, you don’t need to be in Manhattan to have an enjoyable apocalypse. The supernatural elements, particularly the rituals, are suitably visceral, and should satisfy the eye of those looking for awards shortlists.

    For the most part, the pace of this crime/horror thriller skips along nicely, smoothing over the couple of logic potholes that are adequately filled by the time we reach the denouement which sets up the next leg of the arc. Steven is a cool dude, a philosophical slacker and easy mark who rises to the occasion and provides pathos, a few chuckles and plenty of slick gory moments along the way.

    This is an accomplished debut. Devilish fun!

    In my absence

    singing the dogstar blues

    I’ve been away from the keyboard for the past 10 days — more on that later, once I’ve caught up — and in my splendid offline absence, folks have been busy doing stuff:

  • Trent Jamieson’s upcoming debut novel, Death Most Definite, scored a lovely review
  • Cat Sparks has launched a drive to fund writer Peter Watts’ presence at Aussiecon
  • Melbourne’s Rjurik Davidson has announced a tidy little collection, The Library of Forgotten Books.
  • While on the road, I managed to catch up with:

  • Singing the Dogstar Blues, by Alison Goodman: a thoroughly enjoyable YA read in which a misfit muso befriends a misfit alien at a school for time travellers, and family secrets are revealed. The book was so much fun, with such superbly sketched glimpses of future earth and alien culture.
  • Target 5, by Colin Forbes: this was one of my favourite novels when I was 13, the copy rather bent, and I enjoyed revisiting, but found the story about extracting a Russian defector over Arctic ice a little over-the-top, the writing not as shiny as I remembered, but the pace still as strapping.
  • The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood: what a superb Gothic tale this turned out to be, with short stories in the text providing mirrors for the current day action as a young fellow from Australia strikes up a written friendship with a girl in England that proves a catalyst for some stunning familial revelations.
  • Death Most Definite – WANT

    A bounce around the interwebs produced a lovely image of the cover of Trent Jamieson’s upcoming debut novel, Death Most Definite. It’s very pretty. The story sounds awesome, with its Pratchett undertones: a Reaper man trying to keep the lid on the restless dead when the boss goes missing. Given that Trent’s one of the best darn writers I know, I can’t wait to get my little paws on this read. The even better news is, there’s at least two more in the works for the same series. (Note to self: make more room on book shelf.) It should be out in time for September’s Worldcon in Melbourne — huzzah!

    Aurealis Awards 2008

    It was a big night for Perth’s Adrian Bedford at the Aurealis Awards in Brisbane last night.

    Bedford, writing as KA Bedford, has had all four of his novels published by Edge in Canada make the finalist lists of the awards, and last night he scored his second win: for best science fiction novel, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. The novel is also a finalist for the Philip K Dick award.

    The awards, recognising excellence in Australian speculative fiction, were presented in a sold-out Judith Wright Centre, with Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley in the audience.

    Other winners were:

    Children’s fiction

    Illustrated work/picture book: Richard Harland and illustrator Laura Peterson, The Wolf Kingdom series
    Novel: Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo

    Illustrated book/graphic novel: Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia

    Young Adult
    Short story: Trent Jamieson, “Cracks”, Shiny #2
    Novel: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock

    Collection: Sean Williams and Russell B Farr (ed), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams

    Anthology: Jonathan Strahan (ed), The Starry Rift

    Horror
    Short story:
    Kirstyn McDermott, “Painlessness”, Greatest Uncommon Denominator #2
    Novel: John Harwood, The Seance

    Fantasy
    Short story: Cat Sparks, “Sammarynda Deep”, Paper Cities
    Novel: Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom

    Science fiction
    Short story: Simon Brown, “The Empire”, Dreaming Again
    Novel: KA Bedford, Time
    Machines Repaired While-U-Wait

    Peter McNamara Convenors Award: this special award was presented to Jack Dann for his incredible lifetime of achievement in the genre.

    This was the first year that prizes were awarded for best collection, anthology and illustrated book/graphic novel.

    Fantastic Queensland chairman Damon Cavalchini announced that 2010 would be the last year that FQ would host the awards as their contract with awards founders Chimaera Publications will expire, and a new team to organise the awards for 2011 and onwards is needed.