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Always quirky, sometimes sweet speculative fiction

Category: Raves, Reviews and Rants (page 3 of 7)

One Person’s Meh is Another’s Trigger

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Our local cinema is doing some advanced screenings of How To Train Your Dragon 2 this weekend, including some yesterday. Since our little man Xander is a mad fan (owns most of the toys, seen all of the TV show(like ten times each episode), and watched the movie at least once a week since he first watched it over a year ago) we knew we had to get in on that action.

Xander watches movies at the cinema well enough. He’s watched Despicable Me 2, Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs 2, Monsters University (and a few more I can’t recall right now) without disturbing other patrons, but still we picked a session during the day when we were sure there wouldn’t be too many other movie-goers (we picked well there were only six other groups in the whole cinema) just in case this was the one time he didn’t do well.

This was the one time he didn’t do well. We had toys, food, drink, loving parents to assure him all was safe. He loved the start, grinning, bouncing in his seat, but then his trigger happened.

Xander can’t handle kidnappings (this includes dragon-napping). Giant scary freaking monster – he doesn’t care. Someone dies – he doesn’t care.  Someone gets hurt – he doesn’t care. Someone gets their heart broken – he doesn’t care. Someone get’s tied up and/or dragged away – the world is burning OMG OMG OMG!

The first time we heard chuckles from those near-by, amused  that he was so upset by the first dragon-napping (I assure you, my spoilers will get no more specific than this). By the third or fourth time he was getting so upset he couldn’t calm down before the next would happen, so my husband and I tried to leave to calm him. But no, Xander knew this movie was too awesome to leave in the middle of. If we dared to walk out the door he would lash out, struggle out of our arms and run back in. So we moved to the seats in the cinema furthest from the other patrons to try and soothe him, to try and avoid his crying bothering the other people.

Mostly he cried during action scenes, so the sound shouldn’t have been audible, and no one approached us to complain or did the snide, sotto voice walk by where they whinge about ‘that noisy kid’ so I’m not sure if we did bother anyone for sure, but I worry that we did and wish I could talk with people and explain that for Xander the most horrible thing imaginable is not injury, not death, but kidnapping.

What seems unremarkable to one person can be a great fear to others.

Another example, I’ve cared for pet snakes in the past – but for some they are a terrifying creature. It’s hard to understand something someone else fears when it’s not scary to you, but that doesn’t make their fear less valid.

I can’t help but wonder when I’m writing how many scenes I create that might trigger someone. We writers can’t avoid it really – after all who wants to read a book where basically nothing happens? Even going out the front door can be terrifying to some people. But where’s the line? Some people say that certain triggering events should be removed from fiction altogether, but that is like denying that these awful things happen. It’s certainly walking the razor’s edge.

I hope by the time the movie comes out on bluray Xander will be able to handle watching it again, because it’s awesome and I can’t wait to see it some more ;p

Australian Spec-fic Authors Challenge 2014 – May Round-up

Free ??

Free ??

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the book I read for May is 18.

18 features not just all Australian spec-fic authors, but all Queensland-based spec-fic authors. The anthology was titled thus because it is celebrating the eighteenth year of the Brisbane critique group Vision Writers.

Now clearly, being VP of this critique group(not to mention having helped critique every one of these stories) there is no way I can be impartial about this book as I have been with other anthologies I’ve appeared in. Instead of making this a review as I normally would, I’ll tempt you with teaser sentences for each story.

  • 18/20 by S. Elliot Brandis (Stephen has also recently released his first novel ‘Irradiated’):  In a militia-governed city where even the ability to give birth is currency, how far will Eila go to escape her arranged marriage and be with the woman she loves?
  • 1800 by Talitha Kalago (you can check out Talitha’s awesome YA series Lifesphere Inc as well): Hiding in the rainforests of Queensland are all manner of still undiscovered species, but this small band of explorers are about to discover how dangerous the rainforest is.
  • Infinity Underscore by Kristen Isbester: Life and Death, wealth and destitution, health and illness – forever in balance. On the frontiers of colonial space there is a myth of Kasia, the embodiment of life, wealth and health. Her passing will bless all in proximity, but when she moves on…
  • Low Life by Allan Walsh: Eighteen layers of Hell. How deep will your sins take you?
  • 18k In The Hole by Tony Owens (You can also read his most recent story free on Antipodean): Bill and Carl, enforcers, assassins, crooks, think this is just another job, warning some bloke he better pay back the $18,000 he owes soon – until their car goes off the side of a cliff. And doesn’t drop to the ground.
  • How To Grow A Beard by Meghann Laverick: Everyone knows that a wizard’s power is in his beard, but what if puberty just isn’t blessing you with anything more that a cracked voice?
  • The Seven Swordsmen by Daniel Ferguson: Everybody loves a good bounty. 25,000 sterling quarters for the Silver Man is a hefty sum, but the mysterious Silver Man is a hefty foe, so a team forms.
  • Flickering Lives by Kenneth Mugi (you can check out his other books on his website): In a world where simply saying the word ‘eighteen’ could turn you or someone near you into a killing machine, Emra fights to free her brother from those who would take his life away.
  • Nightfall by Kirstie Olley: Marrille has never feared Nightfall like the rest of her flock, but when a chance comes to fix the eternal dusk her world is stagnating in she must decide whether to listen to her family or do what she believes will save the world.
  • The Black Queen by Melanie Bird: In love with each other from childhood, human healer Eloise and dragon prince Malicay dream of being together forever, but the Black Queen has something to say about that.
  • XVIII: Crazy He Calls Me by S. Walsh: Dumped, fired and homeless in the space of ten minutes, Darrius goes on a bender and gets his fortune read by a gypsy – what’s in the cards?
  • 18 Little Beds by Laura Brodnik (you can check out her articles regularly in BMag as well): In a cold orphanage in Russia there is a locked room with eighteen little beds and a terrible secret.
  • 18 Barr St by Chrisopher Kneipp: You never know what will happen when you pull out the ouija board.

 

 

Don’t forget, using Amazon’s Look Inside function you can read the first story and some of the second to get a good taste. And if 99c is still a bit on the steep side for you, the book will be free again soon (trust me, I’ll let you know the dates when I know them 🙂 ).

Through June I’ll be reading Trouble Twisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Guest Post: The Winding Way To Kickass Heroines by Kenneth Mugi

As part of the grand celebration of the Vision Writers anthology release ’18’ today Kennenth Mugi of No Shovels Here is sharing with us his thoughts on video game heroines and the Longest Journey.

 

The Winding Way to Kickass Heroines

Guest Post by Kenneth Mugi

As a white male who constantly fights with his morning stubble, I have a bevvy of video-game characters I can relate to and imagine myself being. There’s Garrett swiping things in Thief, Booker DeWitt saving Elizabeth in BioShock: Infinite, George Stobbart who stumbles around in Broken Sword and…well, every taciturn hero who finds themself in a first-person shooter. It’s not difficult for me to connect with digital entertainment because most Xbox One titles are specifically crafted for my fantasies.

The downside of this enormous a la carte imagination parade (and my first world, white male problem) is that I usually find myself in the company of other white males. Mostly they’re good folk, using me as a way of getting their death-match score up, but there’s always one. There’s that guy. He’s in my headset, yelling, screaming and cussing up a storm about how ‘you b****** be owned’ until he gets dominated by one of the many females lurking on the server.

Which, at that point, he tells the female-gendered player she’s doing it ‘wrong’ and males are superior to women in video games anyway. After all, isn’t that why most titles feature rugged, Hercules-with-guns type heroes? Women don’t play games. Not real games. They just cheat and that’s why Y-chromosome-predominant characters aren’t interesting.

Except Lara because she’s got ‘jugs, man’.

To that guy, I say you’re a fake geek and should only be allowed to play Frogger.

There are kickass heroines who don’t have Lara or Croft in their names. There’s Jade who fights for her friends in Beyond Good and Evil, Samus Aran who used to save the galaxy without daddy issues and…April Ryan.

Possibly, my favourite game of all time (even more than Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or Mass Effect 1 & 2 or Command and Conquer: Red Alert) is The Longest Journey. And it features April Ryan as the main protagonist.

April’s just a typical, stressed-out uni student who’s dealing with ex-boyfriend issues, a boss who refuses to pay her and a grumpy landlady. She’s also living in the future and gets tired of you trying to combine the same items in a desperate, last-ditch effort at problem solving.

Unfortunately for her, she’s got magical powers and can dimension hop. That sounds like fun until she gets dumped with saving the world by some random old guy whom she took pity on. Well, bad for her… fantastic for us.

The Longest Journey is my favourite title by far because it has a flawed protagonist who doesn’t want to be there, struggles with their newfound responsibilities and yet uses their wits to keep going. She doesn’t strip off and flash the bartender to get a drink, or talk coyly into a man’s ear so he drops a magical key. Hell, April doesn’t even lose her clothes as the game progresses. She’s simply a human trying to make sense of the new world she’s been forced into.

It was one of the three titles that showed me games were about more than accomplishing set tasks; they were about generating emotional experiences with the player. That even though I was a twenty-ish-year-old male, I could connect with the struggles and challenges faced by someone outside my gender. She was me; I was her. It paved the way for me for to search outside of the chiseled-men-and-square-jawed-hero narratives that had dominated my youth.

It said, without fanfare, “The protagonist’s gender doesn’t matter. Art is f’ing art. Respect.”

So I did.

Now, when that guy lights up my eardrum with his profanities, I tell him he doesn’t know anything about video games. He’s still playing in the kid’s pool with his toys and floaters. The rest of us, we’ve moved on, and if he wants to join us…he should play The Longest Journey.

After all, April is waiting.

Kenneth

Discover more about Kenneth at his website: http://www.noshovelshere.com or read his latest story, Flickering Lives, in the recently released anthology, 18.

Australian Spec-fic Authors Challenge 2014 – April Round-Up

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.

Why I Love Face Off

I am not much of a fan of reality TV shows. My dislike is not on a ‘they suck because there’s no writers’ basis. My dislike is based on how they show the very ugliest of people, not just through bringing out the cut throat nature of some individuals, but also that there are people who want to watch that. Rabidly. And further still that people are editing things together to make people look even nastier or less intelligent (this is not true of all reality shows, but certainly more than I would like there to be).

Not to mention the quality of the content isn’t very high (again not always true but c’mon yo gotta give me crap like ‘real housewives’).

IcecreamfaceoffBefore you worry this is just an endless ‘I hate reality TV’ rant, let me say there is one reality show that I love. I’ve been into it right from the start and have followed every single season religiously. Face Off.

For those unfamiliar with it, Face Off is about movie monster make-ups. A group of contestants compete – sometimes in teams, sometimes individually – to put together vampires, werewolves, orcs, and more than you can ever imagine(see Miss Ice cream to the left) for judging by professionals in their field.

The viewer gets to watch them go from conceptual sketch through sculpting, moulding, fabricating, and painting then finally applying it to a model. You learn about different painting styles, different types of moulding material (silicone, poly foam, ect) and get to hear the amazing back stories these talented people dream up for their works of art.

Face-OffNow obviously as a lover of the fantastic and of art this show appeals me but it isn’t that alone.

This show is the only I’ve come across where nobody ‘plays the game’. True enough there are disagreements of creative opinion, and a few times there’ve been romantic entanglements, but no one is cut throat. They don’t waste their precious energy on playing mind games or being jerks, they just focus it all to creating the very best creature they possibly can and winning that way.

Even more shockingly whenever someone needs help, like cracking open a particularly stiff mould, other contestants take time out from doing their own work to help. Not just once or twice, but almost every single episode. It’s hard not to like that.

Syfy-Logo-1024x768There’s also no cranky wanker judge who just hates everything and thus no need for the bleeding-heart, always too sweet to say you suck judge. The panel is made up of knowledgeable professionals who rate each work with care and intelligence.

I recommend the show to anyone who likes watching horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies and loves the creatures within. You not only get to enjoy seeing the finished product but see how it’s made and even learn how as you go.

The finale of season six just aired and I already can’t wait for season seven to start!

Recently Syfy have also started airing a puppet/animatronic version of this show, The Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge which so far is quite fun and interesting as well (the second episode was about the Dark Crystal <3 )

Does anyone else love Face Off? What appeals most to you?

Australian Spec-Fic Authors Challenge 2014 – March Round-Up

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.

Australian Spec-fic Authors Challenge 2014 – February Round-Up

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.

Australian Spec-Fic Authors Challenge 2014 – January Round-Up

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.

2013 Australian Spec Fic Authors Challenge

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.

Australian Spec-Fic Authors Challenge – December Round-Up

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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