The Australian Specfic in Focus reviews website is now closed – no new reviews will be posted on this site.

If you love our reviewers and will miss their work, you might like to check out their individual blogs, or perhaps follow them on Goodreads!

Alisa and the team once again would like to thank those who have volunteered their time, financially supported the project or supplied us with review materials. Thank you to everyone for the support and encouragement along the way.

Throne of GlassSarah J Maas

Bloomsbury (2012)

ISBN: 9781408832332

Reviewed by Tamara Felsinger

Celaena is an assassin working in salt mines to serve her life’s sentence after getting caught. But the prince and his captain take her away earlier than anticipated in order to enter her in a tournament against the most brutal criminals in the land so that she might win the right to become the king’s Champion. Except, when she gets there, she discovers someone’s killing competitors in the most horrific ways, and she might be next.

I really wanted to like this book. A Cinderella retelling where she’s an assassin sounded cool. But I usually read books in a day, and months later I’m still only halfway through this one so I decided to call it quits. There are plenty of other books in my TBR (To Be Read) pile demanding my attention.

Read the rest of this entry »

ChicksUnravelTimeWomen journey through every season of Doctor Who

Edited by Deborah Stanish and LM Myles

Mad Norwegian Press (2012)

ISBN: 978-193523412-8

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely

I’m a fairly recent Doctor Who convert. Early last year I became hooked thanks to wanting to watch the Neil Gaiman authored episode “The Doctor’s Wife”, so started with the Eleventh Doctor, and was so enamoured I went immediately back to the beginning of New Who and devoured the lot. Of course I have memories of watching Classic Who when I was a kid, with the Fourth Doctor, K9 and the Daleks being the only real things that I remember. And despite the best efforts of good friends trying to encourage me to embrace a bit of Classic Who now, I’ve struggled. Well, after reading Chicks Unravel Time, I just want to go back in time myself and be able to watch the whole of Doctor Who from the very beginning!

The essays in this book are passionate, engaging and entertaining, encompassing, as the subtitle suggests, every season of Doctor Who, written by women who clearly know their stuff. As we lead up to the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode, I can’t think of a better way to garner an understanding of the show in its entirety! Some authors focussed on characters, some on story, some on companions, some on production, but all, even those finding fault with aspects of the show, betray the writer’s love for Doctor Who, and this more than anything was a key factor in my own enjoyment. I particularly enjoyed contributions by Barbara Hambly (looking at the first new season reboot), “The Doctor’s Balls” by Diana Gabaldon (which has awakened in me a desperate desire to watch any Jamie McCrimmon episodes possible), LM Myles’ “Identity Crisis” (considering the importance of the very first regeneration), “For the love of Tom” by Sarah Lotz (because Tom Baker was “my Doctor” until I fell in love with Matt Smith last year!), “Donna Noble saves the universe” by Martha Wells (because, Donna!), and… Look, I’m just going to name every entry in the book at this rate. Trust me when I say this is a fantastic collection of essays examining a hugely popular show from perspectives you might not have considered. It’s an excellent introduction to Classic Who, with delvings into New Who, and I recommend it to both hard core and casual fans of the show.

To be completely honest though, I do have a complaint – I simply wanted more! Some of the essays I really wanted to be longer, and I would have loved to see further exploration of the tie-in media (Big Finish audio plays and the novelisations etc) in relation to the characters being discussed. But really, when the one complaint is that the reader loves the books so much she wishes it was longer? That’s a pretty good recommendation I reckon!

Brett Weeks

Lightbringer, Book 2

Orbit (2012)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-906-2

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely

Kip Guile, bastard son of the Prism everyone in the Seven Satrapies thinks is Gavin Guile, has been thrown into a world of intrigue and power he is in no way prepared to handle. Despite his perceived shortcomings, however, Kip is determined to make his way in the world, even though his grandfather will do everything to stand in his path, and everyone else thinks Kip’s only chance of getting ahead is by using his father’s influence. At the same time, Gavin’s power is crumbling, at the time when his world can least afford to lose him – and the horrible secret he has kept for the past sixteen years is escaping…

Sequel to 2011’s The Black Prism, this book continues with the same frenetic action and colourful characterisation as its predecessor, rollicking from battle to battle on both small and large scales. While this series doesn’t have the polish or pace of Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy, it is still an enjoyable read, with an interesting magical premise, strongly written action scenes and thoroughly engaging characters. The worldbuilding of the series is of particular interest; far-reaching, yet well-contained and realised. The lead characters, and those in supporting roles, flesh out this world with great variety, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how the plot threads are pulled together in the final book.

Weeks’ novels are intimidating in size, but so readable that within a few pages you forget how much there is to read and simply become caught up in the story. Recommended to read in series order for best effect.

Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2012)

ISBN 978 0 575 09583 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

It’s no surprise that this latest novel from UK author Joe Abercrombie is dedicated in part to Clint Eastwood. Nominally a fantasy novel set in Abercrombie’s world established in the First Law Trilogy, it is quite the western homage, where quick swords, daggers and crossbows replace six shooters.

Abercrombie conjures a world in which magic is fading – he portrays berserker rage a la Dungeons and Dragons very well, but there are no Merlins or Gandalfs here – and an industrial revolution is around the corner – there is gunpowder, printing presses, early signs of steam power. There is a real sense that the practitioners of unmitigated violence who stride this stage, mostly veterans with more regrets than ambitions, have had their day.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s taken me a long time – about a year – of soul searching to finally come to this place. But it’s time. I’ve decided to close ASif! at the end of this year. This is a project that I have felt passionate about from conception and over the last 8 years. I’ve enjoyed working with everyone who has ever been involved and I’ve met so many people and formed many firm, life long friendships through ASif!

In 2004, we set out to build a review website to focus on and highlight Australian speculative fiction and to offer a place of honest critical review to support our local scene. ASif! achieved these goals. After 8 years, the principals of this project are now looking to direct our energies into other activities in continue to build and grow the Australian SF/F scene. And for this, we walk away proud of what we created.

ASif! will close as of 31/12/2012, with old reviews remaining available for now. Thank you to everyone who has volunteered their time, financially supported the project or supplied us with review materials. Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement along the way. I encourage anyone interested in discovering our scene, or in meeting Australian writers, editors, publishers and publicists, or in learning how to start up a publishing venture to consider starting their own critical project. For now, it’s time for ASif! to step off the Australian stage.

Farewell. And thank you.

Alisa Krasnostein

Executive Director, ASif! Australian Specfic in Focus!

Kaaron Warren

Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2005)

ISBN: 0-958139-03-2

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in November 2005)

The Grinding House is a collection of stories by Canberra-writer Kaaron Warren. Most of the stories are reprints, but there is some new material, including the story “The Grinding House” itself. Several of the reprinted stories have been nominated for awards or have received awards, including the Aurealis. Warren is known for her horror writing, and all of the stories in The Grinding House have a strong element of horror. The volume itself has been published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild with the assistance of an ArtsAct grant. It is the first CSFG Publishing anthology to focus on one author, reflecting the status Warren has earned as a short story writer.

Short story collections are often a worry. You know they’re going to be a mixed bag, but what you won’t know until you reach the end is how many of the stories are good, outstanding, or should have been left out entirely. There’s also the rule of averages – you tell yourself things like “Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice has miraculous writing. There won’t be another decent anthology for ten years.”

Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House actually defeats that expectation. It is good. A large portion of it is outstanding. Published so soon after Black Juice, it beats that law of averages. It is not, however, everyone’s cup of tea. Warren gets billed as a horror writer, and certainly her stories creep under the skin. She does not write a classic horror story, though, and is far more an interstitial writer. She writes each story both close to home (presenting us with situations that we recognize as kin to our own), and in entirely alien environments, ones which we are thankful we are so far from. Read the rest of this entry »

Lucy Sussex

MirrorDanse Editions (2005)

ISBN: 0-975785-20-6

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in January 2006)

What I love about A Tour Guide in Utopia is the control that Lucy Sussex shows. Whether she is writing on a large scale or a small scale, she has a maturity to her style which few Australian speculative fiction authors can claim. If you like short stories; if you like thoughtful prose; if you like seeing a writer grow then this book is worth looking at. If you want fun reading on the train to work then this book is a must. If you want a book you can dip into from time to time and pull out a plum, then this book is for you.

It is unpretentiously intellectual. The more history and literature you know, the more you will enjoy the cross-references, but understanding them is not crucial to enjoying most of the stories. This in itself is somewhat of a tour-de-force.

This anthology is extraordinarily well-balanced. The individual stories each made their ripples or waves when they were initially published, but the selection and tone of the collection is satisfying. Each story stands on its own and helps the one before and after it stand out. Read the rest of this entry »

Sean Williams

Ticonderoga Publications (2008)

ISBN: 9780980353167

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in February 2009)

When I see ‘best of’ anthologies from a writer who is still alive and producing work, I get a bit suspicious. Are they expecting to produce nothing worthwhile over the rest of their life? Does this mark some significant milestone? Is it a chance to clear out stories that have not yet seen the light of day? Is it a money-making ploy?

So far as I can tell, none of these questions would be answered in the affirmative for Magic Dirt (except possibly the last, although I doubt it). It marks fifteen years of Williams’ writing, and one reason I can see for producing it at this juncture is that, at 348 pages, should we wait until Williams is dead (or not writing, which is probably the same thing), it would have to be one mammoth tome – or missing some awesome stories. There are eighteen stories in this collection, and each comes with an introduction or afterword, with a short reflection from Williams on the writing of it. As the introduction from John Harwood indicates, Williams’ stories cover a gamut of genres, with a number that refuse to be typified. (As an aside, don’t read the introduction unless you want some of the stories spoiled.) If, like me, you haven’t had the opportunity to follow Sean Williams’ career over the last fifteen years, this is the easy way of catching up. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Lawson

MirrorDanse (2003)

ISBN: 0958658390

Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in February 2008)

If there was ever a time when it was justifiable to assert that science fiction is only, or even primarily, about wish-fulfilment and escapism (and let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there was), then that time has passed. Anyone who finds this statement difficult to accept should be encouraged, as politely but persistently as possible, to read Chris Lawson’s scalpel-sharp collection of stories and essays, published in 2003 but likely to remain current and relevant for years to come.

Written in Blood is plainly not your standard single-author collection of science fiction stories. For one thing, it’s a volume with a liberal sprinkling of non-fiction content, drawn from Lawson’s Frankenblog site. (Lawson is an incisive and erudite blogger, with Frankenblog now apparently superceded by his Talking Squid site.) For another, it opens not with a biographical introduction, but with the transcript of an interview with Lawson, conducted by Simon Brown. I found the introduction interesting for Lawson’s assertion that he is not a scientist because he is not actively involved in research, an assertion with which I disagree. Lawson’s background, training, and evident deep understanding of the scientific method undermine his own argument, as does the rigour of his reasoning. If nothing else, through the careful literature research required for construction of his non-fiction pieces, Lawson undeniably qualifies as a practitioner of science, regardless of the origin of his paycheck. (Was Stephen Jay Gould a scientist? Is Dawkins? Lawson is a science writer as accomplished, if less widely distributed). Read the rest of this entry »

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