Australian Speculative Fiction Authors Challenge

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kaleidoscopeFor the month of August I read Kaleidoscope.

I’ve been a fan of this anthology before I ever read it, before it was even compiled. I helped with the crowdfunding for Kaleidoscope – you can see my name on page 438 (second column near the bottom). What appealed to me about this anthology was the fact it would focus on a more diverse range of protagonists, both from the perspective of race, sexual preference and (my favourite) neurodiversity.

The anthology did not let me down at all. While there was one story that just didn’t fully click with me (the idea was awesome but the characters and the story didn’t move me), it was only one out of twenty, and it wasn’t bad, just not exactly my cup of tea. I really liked a lot of them, and really, really liked the rest.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ ‘Cookie-Cutter Superhero’ had wonderful characters and an amazing concept, but the ending felt much more like the end of a chapter than the end of a tale – not that I didn’t enjoy it, and I would read the hell out of that book if/when she releases it.

Vanilla was definitely one of my favourites. I loved the hairies and her relationship with them, and her background was wonderfully detailed. The ending was certainly a surprise too 🙂

The Chupacabra’s Song was probably my most favourite. The mixture of magic and the nuerologically diverse character and then add a legendary animal – you had me at hello ;p

Walkdog was really something different, and certainly impressed me – despite a regular desire to backhand the POV character.

I could keep going (and maybe I’ll come back and fill this up later) but I have a lot of stuff to prepare for my appearance at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival today so I’m pressed for time.

I really enjoyed the diversity of characters and very rarely did it feel like their gender preference or colour had just been painted on for the appearance of diversity. I NEVER felt that the neuro diversity was painted on – every single time it was integral to the plot and character both and I really loved that.

However I was mildly disappointed that nearly all of the homosexual characters were female. I’ve noticed a distinct tendency for lesbians to be more accepted than gay men. I’ve literally stood in the presence of a bigot (not entirely willingly) who went from whinging his fears about a rumour one of the men on his favourite sports team might be gay and how that ‘just wasn’t on, he should be kicked off the team’, and seconds later was commenting on how hot it would be if the two very attractive friends with me(both female) made out. While he’s clearly not the best example of a good person, he does effectively show my point. I’m now quite determined to write more gay men into my stories.

All up I absolutely adored the anthology and am so glad I donated during the crowdfunding phase. I recommend this anthology to anyone and everyone.

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In June I was quite caught up in reading classics I’ve intended to read – some for as long as since high school – and… well, I kind of forgot to read my Aussie spec-fic book for the month. Then I realised I read a lot more Aussie spec-fic than just novels, I regularly read some great Aussie magazines. Last year I  mentioned Aurealis, but I also thoroughly enjoy Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

51cover_229_317Aside from an awesomely hilarious name ASIM is packed full of fiction. They jam quite a few stories into each quarterly issue and some of these stories, well, there’s some corkers like ‘Non Smoker. Good Sense of Humour. Must Like Chickens’ about a talking chicken roommate(made extra funny to me because I have a friend nicknamed Chook) and a really different science fiction piece called ‘Suckers For Love’ about a tentacled alien and his search for true love. No, I’m not joking, ASIM love to print the light-hearted stuff as well as the deep.

ASIM is a long running Australian publication, having started back in 2002 and has shifted frequencies a few times over the years (Wikipedia still lists them as a bi-monthly production).

cover40bigAfter the bevy of fiction, often there are book reviews and other articles at the end and special features like tributes to certain authors.

You can get esubsciptions or print subscriptions (if you’re Australian you pay less 🙂 what a nice change ;p ).

Andromeda Spaceways love to publish broadly throughout the spectrum of speculative fiction, as further evidenced by their ‘Best of Sci-Fi’, ‘Best of Fantasy’, and ‘Best of Horror’ collections. On a slight side note, they’re awesome to submit to as their process lets you know how close you came to acceptance and I’ve always received feedback from them.

I recommend grabbing a subscription and finding out how great this magazine is for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

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destinysriftIn February I read the first book of this trilogy, Prophecy’s Ruin, but, being sick and tired of starting but not finishing series with this challenge, I decided to finish the trilogy.

The whole series is based around the old fantasy trope of the prophecised chosen one, but the trilogy starts with both the forces of light and shadow converging upon the birthplace of the prophecised champion. The opposing forces fight over the infant, the mages pulling with magic to bring the newborn to them and then suddenly there are two babies – the champion’s soul is torn in two. They run back to their respective bases, no one knowing which is the real champion.

As with the first book, the rest of the series continues to turn staples and tropes of the fantasy genre on their head. I personally found Losara (the shadow champion) the far more likeable of the two heroes and truly appreciated the way the shadow people were not shown to be particularly evil – there were dark individuals, but as the series continued various characters on the light’s side started to make questionable choices too.

soulsreckoningI loved seeing some of the locales in the light and shadow realms (though did experience a moment of writerly irritation in the second book when one of those locales was very much like an area in one of my unpublished stories, The Glass Witch, but such is life ;p ).

There are some really inventive species on both sides which I was intrigued by, like the Zyvanix who need two translators when talking to humans, since neither species can speak the other’s language, but they can understand the other, so you need a human translator to say what the zyvanix are saying the the other humans, and a zyvanix translator to say what the humans are saying to his/her own species.

One thing I liked in the second book was a female character was uncertain as to how she felt about having children. This probably sounds like an odd thing to like, but most fictional women seem to either never face the though or be strongly pro- or anti-children. As someone who for quite a while in my younger days was up in the air on the issue myself I like seeing this view shown in fiction as a legitimate option for a young woman (who says you have to be decided yet?).

I definitely enjoyed the books all up, but I did have a bit of a problem with the ending – not so much with what happened (I love the concept of what happened), but more that some things didn’t add up and some questions that I thought the narrative posed didn’t seem satisfactorily answered to me. If you are desperate for the details they’re in my Goodreads review. I wasn’t so disappointed in the ending that it ruined the series for me though and as always it may be something personal to me that made me feel that way about the ending. I still strongly recommend the series to any fantasy fan.

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high lordI have started way too many series and left them unfinished with this challenge. For March I set out to finish one. I read The High Lord, the last of the Black Magician trilogy.

Far more action packed than its predecessors, The High Lord delivers on the promises of the earlier books in the series.

Sonea is still the favoured apprentice of the High Lord Akkarin, a position she doesn’t want as she knows he practices forbidden black magic and she is being held hostage in this position to ensure the two others who know his dark secret also keep their silence.

Akkarin gives her books and insists she read them. Slowly Sonea realises the books are revealing tid-bits about black magic to her. Sonea is horrified, thinking Akkarin intends to teach her black magic – possibly against her will – and she confronts him.

We see what Cery is up to after being rejected by Sonea as well as seeing several relationships bloom. Also Akkarin’s motivations are finally revealed.

The world the story is set in continues to expand, showing a wealth of world building. The world is something I love in this series. It’s rich and full, but you don’t get bashed over the head with information.

I was a little disappointed with one small piece of information laid out in the climax SPOILER ALERT: about how the entire University was made of magic that a black magician could use, but then it was never used. Not even the arena. It kind of bummed me out. True it means Sonea was a thousand time more awesome for not having needed to use it, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a great tool offered to characters which then doesn’t get used. Is this some new thing in books I’m not aware of – red herring ultimate weapons? /SPOILER

With plenty of adventure and romance this is definitely my favourite book of the trilogy. And I enjoyed the sneaky little last page twist. Giggles and grins for me.

For April I’m planning to finish reading Sam Bowring’s Broken Well Trilogy.

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prophecy's ruinI was given a lovely gift by one of my critique group friends at the start of the month and since it was a trilogy by an Aussie spec-fic author I decided it was fated to be my February read. So I read the first book of Sam Bowring’s Broken Well trilogy, Prophecy’s Ruin.

Light and Dark have been forcibly separated and the two forces pursue an endless war for dominance. A prophecy announces that a boy with blue hair will end the bloodshed. When this child is finally born both the light and dark are looking for him. Two warring mages discover him and in the massive battle that follows they tear the child’s soul in half, creating two blue haired boys – but which is the prophecised hero?

I loved this concept. Blue-hair touches on my anime/manga affections, twins is just a weird obsession I have, and I love stories which look deeper into prophecies. I know some people whinge about being over prophecies in fantasy, but as long as it’s a fresh take like this I love it.

This book was the sort of book I would have powered through in a matter of days. Unfortunately my still undiagnosed vertigo disorder means that sometimes looking at text makes me feel like my eyes are bleeding. I thought when I started the book on one of my good days that I’d slam through the whole series this month (I have waaaaay too many series I’ve started but haven’t finished with this challenge (Death Works, Black Magician, Obernewtyn Chronicles, Stormdancer series)). No such luck.

The world is rich and full. There are so many places and species of both the light and dark wonderfully imagined and fleshed out. I really love the border between the two, and the gods themselves are pretty cool. Fans of world building should love this.

The characters of the saviour’s soul split in two, Losara and Bel, are delightfully opposite sides of the same coin, though I think most people will probably like Losara more than Bel.

The only thing that bugged me was a bit at the end. Not the ending itself, but something that happened near the end. SPOILER ALERT. Near the end  Losara dreams of a possible future and we the reader get to wade through the dream for about 30 pages. Not kidding. It written like it’s happening and there are many scene changes where you wonder, are we in reality yet? While what was happening was interesting, it irked me because I wasn’t sure what was dream.  Considering the fact it was a ‘it was all just a dream’ moment I felt 30+ pages was overkill. END SPOILER

I’m looking forward to finding the time to finish this series when my head is a little clearer.

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the noviceI followed on from December’s read ‘The Magician’s Guild’, book one of the Black Magician Trilogy, with ‘The Novice’, book two of the same.

Sonea officially becomes a novice of the Magician’s Guild, but that doesn’t mean the high born magicians will accept a slum dweller into their ranks – and let’s not forget that she is one of the few who know the dark secret about the High Lord.

Sonea faces a lot more than just bullying, but I don’t want to play the spoiler harp and ruin that. While the second half of her troubles was genuinely intriguing, the bullying got a bit annoying for me after a while. The reason is very personal to me, because I can’t really understand the mentality Sonea had of not going and asking for help. I can see the motivations that drive a person to behave that way, but it’s just so opposite to my nature that it drives me insane. But enough about me ;p

Things get much more complicated with the secret about High Lord Akkarin, but I won’t divulge how(spoilers sweetie) and again, the ending stakes make me eager to read the next book.

But the one *SPOILER ALERT* I will throw out there (yes, legitimate SPOILER ALERT) I loved the relationship between Dannyl and Tayend. I thought it was very nicely treated and I think there was a certain sense of chemistry even before Tayend was revealed as gay. There were a lot of parallels placed between the real world and the book’s world and it was interesting to see these issues tackled in a fantasy setting. My only disappointment is they haven’t gotten together (yet, looking forward to book three). I must now confess I always have been, and always will be a shipper 😀 (for those not familiar with the term it means I get deeply invested in relationships (there are other meanings too, but that’s how I use it)). And the kiss between Sonea and Dorrien was so cute.

/Spoiler.

I’m looking forward to the concluding book, I’m going to try and cram it in before my February read.

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BurnBrightAhh, the satisfaction of a challenge conquered.

January – Beseiged, Exile and Sanctuary, the Outcast Chronicles by Rowena Cory Daniells

February – Obernewtyn, The Farseekers and Ashling, the first three books of the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

March – The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

April – The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby (keen to read more, the sixth book should be out soon)

May – Lifesphere Inc Aquisition by Talitha Kalago and the Dieselpunk Epulp Showcase featuring Grant Gardiner

The Pericles CommissionJune – Burn Bright, Angel Arias and Shine Light, the Night creatures Trilogy by Marrianne dePierres

July – Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson (seriously have to read the sequels soon!)

August – I celebrated Aurealis, the amazing Aussie spec-fic magazine (of which I’ve read almost every single issue this year)

September – Midnight and Moonshine by Angelta Slatter and Lisa L Hannett

October – 2013 Redlitzer Anthology by various authors (including me)

The Wild GirlNovember – Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

December – The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

I probably could have done more if I hadn’t decided to tackle the challenge of A Song Of Ice And Fire as well, reading all five books as well as Dreamsongs (George RR Martin’s extensive short story collection). exile

The only thing I’m sad about is the best book by an Australian author that I’ve read this year is not actually out yet so I can’t convince you all how very badly you need to buy it, but I will say, keep an eye out for news about ‘The Hungry People’ by Talitha Kalago.

Next up, I’m going to level the challenge at you again.

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mag guildFor December I wrapped up the year long challenge with Trudi Canavan’s The Magicians’ Guild, book one in The Black Magician trilogy.

The story primarily follows Sonea, a girl who lives in the slum in a city where the only people with magic powers are the wealthy and once year the wealthy kick out the homeless and destitute in an event they call ‘the purge’. During the purge, Sonea is so mad at the magicians assisting with the purge that she – like many other people around her – throws a rock at them. Unlike everyone elses rocks, which bounce of the magical barrier around them, hers goes through and knocks one out, showing her as magically gifted.

Now begins a chase through the slums as Sonea tries to keep away from the magicians (who she is convinced intend to kill her if not hurt her terribly), while the magicians rush to try and reach her with the intent of trying to catch her before her wild magic rages out of control killing not just her, but also untold hundreds of people around her.

I really liked the characters of Sonea and Cery and the awkward little blossoming romance there and the depth of world building is hinted at with a few almost throw away lines but for me the book didn’t have a lot of velocity. I’m sorry, I know I’m always harping on about velocity in stories, but it’s something that matters to me.

I think the velocity was missing for me because the stakes didn’t seem right. If at the start we had have been left not knowing the magicians (mostly) had good intentions toward Sonea, I think the start would have been much more thrilling. I understand that Canavan needed to lay down the moves of the antagonist early so he didn’t just pop out of nowhere, but the nice magicians were in there too and it just lessened the intensity for me.

Now don’t think the book is a write-off at all! The ending was great and also paved the path for some massive stakes for the next book and I am very interested to continue on with the trilogy (I’m lining them up for next year but I’ve been dying to catch up on the Dexter books this year and plan to fit at least one in before 2014).

Ahh, I can breath a sigh of relief, I was able to complete my own challenge. How did you guys go? Owned it, just scraped home, miles off, didn’t even try? Soon I’ll do a wrap up post and level the challenge at you all again for next year.

Have a great Christmas all (and for those who don’t celebrate, a great holiday)

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stormdancerFor November I read Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer. Really it would have been impossible for me to not like this book. Seriously, combining Japanese culture with steampunk – it would have to have been appalling writing for me not to have dug it.

It certainly wasn’t appalling writing. At times the description did get a little too verbose for my liking and sometimes it seemed to be dropped into certain spots just to try and drag out tension (which ticks me off personally), but for the most part it was vivid and wonderful.

I still love physically strong female characters, even if certain factions on the internet seem to dislike them (well at least as long as her physical strength isn’t her only defining characteristic) so enjoyed Yukiko, even if she did border on almost-a-little-too-perfect-to-be-true on the odd occasion.

(MILD UNSPECIFIC SPOILERS AHEAD) One thing I especially loved was that the second a plan looked like it was about to work BAM! No such luck. So frequently and so well done. I constantly kept thinking ‘yeah, I know where this is going now’ and constantly got thrown back in my seat and laughed at by Kristoff (not literally we live several thousand kilometers apart). (/SPOILER)

The depth of the world was impressive. There are many different political factions all at work, all playing in their own way for power, environmental concerns, traditional Japanese gods and mythology woven into the world and lots of references to Japanese clothing and weaponry. The terminology could be a small struggle point for someone not familiar with Japan, but after the first few chapters you’d be fine. My only issue is it was summer and no one was wearing yukata – summer is for yukatas! (but that’s me being a crazy Japanophile and there were many other details that made me supremely happy so all is forgiven)

I will certainly be reading the sequel as soon as I’ve finished my December read for the challenge. Gah! Thirteen days to try and complete my own challenge! I’m also a teeny bit sad that I hadn’t read the book in time to have it signed by him at the Brisbane Supanova.

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midnightWow, the year is almost over! I jumped ahead and did my October round-up early but then got carried away with other things and forgot to post up my September book (though I did complete the review on Goodreads).

So my September read for the challenge was Midnight and Moonshine by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett, a collection of stories linked together by Norse Mythology following Odinn’s raven of memory, Mymnir, as she flees Ragnarok and the families that spring from the niche she created in the new world for herself.

This book is a double whammy since the glorious cover art is done by Kathleen Jennings, the previous president of my critique group. Or maybe that’s a triple whammy since both the authors are Aussie.

I loved how the stories shifted through time, travelling from ancient Norse mythology slowly toward some renaissance France and a good romp through the prohibition era in the bayou(that last one was one of my favourites).

The stories aren’t perfectly linear (though they are somewhat), more like puzzle pieces where you can see a little more of the whole picture with each one you read.

The only story I didn’t enjoy was ‘Of The Demon and The Drum’ and I know exactly why. I’m not against accents in dialogue (though I know people who won’t even tolerate that) but I can’t really handle it in narrative, particularly when it’s third person narrative. It makes the reading slow for grammar Nazis like me. I probably would have liked the story otherwise. But if that’s my only real complaint about the book overall I think you can feel pretty confident that this is a great collection.

My favourite story was Prohibition Blues, I loved the characters and the playful storyline. It was interesting to learn that this was the first story they wrote together and what birthed the whole book in essence.

The earlier stories have a great fairy tale feel which I really enjoyed. The massive cast of characters can be a bit confusing, but it wasn’t too severe.

I did have a few problems with the ‘ending’ story as well, (SPOILER ALERT) like how there was a weapon to face Mymnir with, but it was dropped and NOBODY picked it up again, it never got another mention. Even if one of the Gods had picked it up and used it… Some red herrings just frustrate me. /SPOILERS

All up though the book is great fun and has a wide range of interesting tales, definitely worth a read.