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Ticonderoga Publications (2006)
Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts (this review was first published July 2006)
Let’s start with the basics: Troy is a beautiful book. It has to be the prettiest Australian small press book I’ve ever seen, and what with Donna Hanson’s Australian Speculative Fiction: an Overview and the various classy CSFG and Agog! publications doing the rounds in recent years, it’s up against some pretty stiff competition.
Just from looking at the outside, this is a book that deserves a wider audience than the attendees of a SF convention. It should be in every literary bookshop in the country. And I have to say, it would make a pretty attractive Father’s Day present for all those history buff dads out there, even if they don’t think they like speculative fiction. Ticonderoga Publications are definitely up there with some of the better overseas indie press outfits as far as style, design and all that other shiny stuff goes.
Ahem. On to the contents. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Simon Brown was one of the few male fantasy authors in the HarperCollins Voyager stable, until he moved to Pan Macmillan a couple of years ago. His latest novel is Daughter of Independence, due out later in 2006. Before Brown became a Big Name Fantasy Author, though, his science fiction short stories were a regular feature in Eidolon and Aurealis, back in the day when they were The Big Two science fiction magazines in Australia.
Throughout the nineties, Brown produced a series of short stories that connected with and utilised some of the characters, iconography and mythology of the Trojan War stories. This collection brings those works together for the first time, along with a single new story, “The Cup of Nestor”, (2006) and a very old story, his first piece of fiction inspired by the Trojan myths, “The Return of Ideomeneus” (1981), which is concealed in an appendix in deference to the author’s own unwillingess to place a 25 year old story alongside his more mature and professional work . Read the rest of this entry »
Agog! Press (2005)
Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts (this review was first published in November 2005)
I suspect that when 2005 grinds to a close, Daikaiju is one of the books that will most stand out amongst the other tomes released within the Australian specfic community. I really hope it gets a far wider audience than small press junkies and congoers in Australia, though, because it’s good. Really good. Not just ‘I’m waving the flag for Australian speculative fiction’ good. The stories are top notch quality – even the ones I personally disliked aren’t what I would call bad, or even mediocre. But that’s only a handful – I mostly found the stories entertaining, thought-provoking and literate. And I have to say, this anthology contains some of the best short fiction titles I’ve ever seen all in one place.
The tendency in the more literary circles of science fiction is towards the unthemed anthology – probably because it’s so much harder to gather a balanced collection of excellent stories that fit a specific theme than those that don’t. Editors Robert Hood and Robin Pen don’t shy away from a challenge, channelling their mutual interest in giant monster movies into a truly unique science fiction anthology.
That’s what ‘daikaiju’ means, by the way. Giant monsters. But not ordinary giant monsters, oh no. They have to be unreasonably large, impossibly giant monsters … think Godzilla, King Kong, and the various imitators of both film phenomena. There’s something overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this book, from the garish, deliciously green cover art to the selection of film discussions at the end. The authors were evidently enthusiastic as well, providing a varied selection of stories from what should be an overly restrictive theme.
It is Godzilla more than his Western equivalents who seems to be the godfather of Daikaiju, and there is a Japanese flavour recurring throughout the majority of the stories, despite the fact that the writers and editors are from Western, English speaking cultures. Daikaiju can be read as a Western response to Eastern popular culture – a literary acknowledgement of the influence that a foreign, ‘trashy’ film genre has had on whole generations – but it can also be read as an excellent anthology of stories that will stretch your suspension of belief to its utmost and yet still, somehow, suck you in.
The great thing about this theme is that it automatically includes elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror – and makes a comfortable space for stories to embrace all three of these. There’s an overall urban feeling about Daikaiju, though, with the occasional element of the rural or historical/folk tale. And there’s lots of lovely black humour, for the twisted among you. My only complaint (and it’s a personal one) is that many stories are told through the voice of American or Japanese characters, when the ones I enjoyed the most filtered the daikaiju concept through distinctly Australian voices and characters. I also wasn’t keen on the military theme of so many stories, but I suppose that’s something you have to take along with giant monsters. I much preferred to see ‘ordinary folks’ dealing with the giant monsters than soldiers and generals, though.
Daikaiju is a predominantly Australian anthology with a few international authors; for those Aussiephiles among you I’ve marked Aussie authors with an (Aus).
“Lullabye”, by Doug Wood, is a simple, elegant story that evokes the kind of visual imagery familiar from black and white movies, setting the scene for what is, inevitably, a cinematic anthology. There isn’t much here as far as narrative or plot goes, but the first sight of a giant monster in a book promised to be full of giant monsters is still somewhat breathtaking.
With “Running”, by Martin Livings (Aus), the theme is given its first major twist away from the expected – and takes off at full steam. In a world where daikaiju films are documentaries of a real phenomenon, Ryuichi and his followers have invented the ultimate danger sport – they run with the giant creatures, risking life and limb to experience an adrenaline-fueled high like no other. Livings has managed not only to make the giant monsters of the theme feel realistic, but he has made it look easy. “Running” is a hard act for the remaining authors in this anthology to follow.
“The Transformer of Worlds” by Mark Rainey was far less to my tastes – a story where the style is so self-conscious that it distracts from any substance that might be there. The oddly stilted, over-descriptive protagonist’s voice felt old-fashioned and I found it difficult to access – but I suspect that fans of Lovecraft would read it differently. The main flaw in this piece to my mind, however, is a lack of a feeling of particular largeness from the key ‘monster’.
“Big Day” by Chris Barnes (Aus) is an entertaining, thoughtful character piece which explores how two very different people react to the presence of a Monster in their midst.
“Footfall” by Terry Dartnall (Aus) is a more overtly fantasy piece, a clever short short which suggests a possible origin for all these giant monsters stomping around the world.
“daihaiku” by Sean Williams (Aus) consists of a beautifully wrought combination of two essential Japanese artforms – the haiku and the monster movie. I’ve heard Williams read these (or some like them) aloud, and this is far more effective than reading them on the page, but they’re an enjoyable moment as part of this anthology.
“Seven Dates that were Ruined by Giant Monsters” by Adam Ford (Aus) is a charming black-edged comedy despite never really giving the reader anything more than the plot and humour suggested by the title – the author gets away with this because of the self-deprecating tone of the protagonist, and the entertainment found in the depiction of a world full of giant monsters as being the most ordinary (though inconvenient) thing you can imagine.
A similarly ironic tone can be found in “Aspect Hunter” by Anthony Fordham (Aus), but this is balanced with the exuberance of a fullblooded adventure story. This one is enjoyable for its dialogue (“The devil take your light finger food and your internationally acclaimed string quartet too!”) and for the main character, a time-travelling champion who would belong in a Raymond Chandler  novel if he wasn’t busy fighting ice giants.
“Notes Concerning Events at the Ray Harryhausen Memorial Home for Retired Actors” by Andrew Sullivan (Aus) is another well-balanced action piece with plenty of comedy, answering the question of what happens to giant monsters after they retire from the movies … and if it was a movie, should be played as a double feature withBubba Ho-Tep .
I found it a little difficult to settle down to a more serious story after the humour of the preceding three, but “Watching the Titans” by Chris Dickinson (Aus) is an interesting piece nonetheless, introducing a Japanese monster-seeking equivalent to Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall … and as it turns out, it’s a story with a humorous sting in the tail after all. The size of the giant monsters in this story is well-conveyed through the main character’s exploration, though I would have preferred more meat to the plot.
“Requiem for a Wild God” by George Thomas is quite a good action story, but there’s nothing overly new or interesting about it.
“Five Bells” by Trent Jamieson (Aus) raises both the quality bar of the collection and the weirdness factor, presenting a giant Harold Holt  boiling up out of the ocean with a great white shark stuck in his foreskin (what the…?). “Five Bells” is dark and strange and twisted, one of those stories that takes more time to think about than the few minutes it takes to read it. Jamieson’s stories are always worth reading, but this one is worth a thorough, thoughtful dissection. And possibly a Valium.
“Once Giants Roamed the Earth” by Rosaleen Love (Aus) is a quiet, gentle piece – in anthology terms, it’s the lemon-scented water to wash your fingers in between courses. The reader can take a deep breath, appreciate the beautiful mood change, then move on to more weirdness and adventure.
“Crunch Time” Michelle Marquardt (Aus) is another very short piece, but effective, with a dark vein of humour running through it.
“CALIBOS” by Paul Finch is a solid action story, a bit too militaristic for my taste, but that’s a personal thing. When all the characters are General something or Colonel something (or in the case of female characters, Miss Something), my brain tends to drift out the window. It has the feel of an old-fashioned British movie – maybe 1950s – so if nostalgic military action fiction is your thing, this is the story for you.
“Newborn” by Eric Shapiro was a welcome shifting of gears, a funny and strange story about an expectant father whose wife is giving birth to … well, let’s just say it isn’t a human baby. Neither is it small. From the theme of the anthology, you can probably guess where this is going. The story has a few clumsy moments, but these are offset by moments of comedy brilliance – the sympathetic nurses (I’m so glad I’m not you), the protagonist coming to terms with his wife’s infidelity, the giant beak … this is sublime silliness of the highest order. I loved it.
“Park Rot” by Skip Peel is an entertaining mix of horror, action and humour – and is refreshing in that, despite an everpresent daikaiju presence, the story is actually about something other than giant monsters. Corporate greed is tackled head on in this story about theme parks and those who love them a little too much…
“Fossils” by D.G. Valdron is a strong, thoughtful story that, like Martin Livings’ “Running,” really brings home the effect of natural disaster on human beings. A very powerful ending. I read this one in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and had to keep reminding myself that no, this story wasn’t written in response to the disaster at New Orleans, just read in response to it. Actually, all the stories can be read in response to New Orleans and any other natural disaster, which is the strength of this anthology – it makes the daikaiju feel as real and terrifying (and at the same time as surreal and otherworldly) as a hurricane, flash flood or earthquake.
“Kungmin Horangi: The People’s Tiger” by Cody Goodfellow appears at first to be just another American-style military story, though the central idea is an interesting one. Worth reading simply for use of the term ‘kaiju-mongers’. The black sense of humour only hinted at in the early parts of the story, however, is given its head towards the end, and I found myself enjoying the nasty twists and turns.
“The Greater Death of Saito Saku” by Richard Harland (Aus) has a vivid, Japanese folk tale feel about it – a welcome simplicity after the more high-tech tales, and an elegant story.
“Like a Bug Underfoot” by Chuck McKenzie (Aus) provides a welcome Australian tone after so so much American and Japanese-themed material. McKenzie does what he does best in this story – angry, fiery black comedy with very sharp teeth. While the daikaiju in this story are background in a similar way to “Seven Dates that were Ruined by Giant Monsters,” the effect is quite different. You can actually feel the stomps and howls and damage caused by the giant monsters, and sympathise with the poor schmuck (can’t think of an Australian term for schmuck, but we need one) whose life would still be crap if his city wasn’t falling around his ears.
‘Read it in the Headlines!” by Garth Nix (Aus) is an entertaining gimmick story, in which the response to a daikaiju attack is told through screaming newspaper headlines. It works surprisingly well, and serves as a satire on media response to disasters as well as human response to disasters. Plus, funny.
“The Quiet Agrarian” by Petri Sinda (Aus) has some nice visual writing but the only character I found all that interesting was Gorgeous George, the daikaiju. The humans were a little pale by comparison.
“In Final Battle” by Iain Triffitt (Aus) is just plain weird. Really. On the one hand, nice to see a new kind of daikaiju (ie. non-lizard) turning up only a couple of stories from the end. On the other hand, giant robot prophets battling to prove the supremacy of their individual religions??? It’s not exactly a story that would hold up in any other publication, but here it forms part of the overal daikaiju dialogue, even if it’s a very strange piece of dialogue.
“The Unlawful Priest of Todesfall,” by Penelope Love (Aus) is a surprising change of pace – an otherworld fantasy story that sits a little uncomfortably amongst so much urban, contemporary-feeling fiction. That, and there isn’t much of a story apart from a general religious questiness. But it’s a personal thing again – fantasy with priests and long descriptive passages leaves me cold, and it just doesn’t seem to fit this particular anthology. Certainly I think it’s placed badly in the book – it might have seemed less jarring if it wasn’t so close to the end.
“Man in Suit!” by J.M. Shiloh is a fun and strange story with plenty of mad science; and I’m a daikaiju’s uncle if it wasn’t inspired by more than a pinch of Astro Boy.
“Footprint” by David Carroll is a thoughtful piece – though I’m not sure if it’s strong enough to carry the weight of being the last story.
“haikaiju” by Sean Williams, on the other hand, strikes exactly the right final note – as with his earlier “daihaiku” this piece conveys the mixture of humour and taking-it-seriously that Daikaiju has presented throughout.
Ah, but it’s not over yet. In the spirit of honouring the great daikaiju of popular culture past, the editors have served up a special Cinema Supplement.
I can only hope that someone has sent a copy of Daikaiju to Hayao Miyazaki, because I want to see “The Tragical History of Guidolon, the Giant Space Chicken” by Frank Wu made into an anime film. Truly. This script is the anime film of which all other anime films are but a mere shadow. It has to be made. Moral imperative. Of course, it could be made with stop motion … okay, better send a copy to Nick Park too. But read it first. Very funny. Very strange.
“Wonders 8 Through 88: A brief history of the Larger-than-Life” by Brian Thomas is an interesting and informative article about the history of Godzilla. I found this entertaining to read, but can’t help thinking it should have been at the beginning rather than the end of the book, for those of us who *didn’t* spend the eighties watching Japanese monster movies on scratchy video tapes.
In fact, if anything could have improved Daikaiju it would have been a few more short essays on the topic, possibly instead of some of the less powerful stories. I always want to see more clever non-fiction among the stories – and can’t help thinking that the dark humour and fun action that characterises this anthology could have led to some very entertaining non-fiction work.
Daikaiju is a far more substantial and significant anthology than its flippant (if beautiful) cover suggests. The fiction is a blend of post-modern comedy, urban fantasy, military action, genuine horror and out-and-out weirdness. This is certainly one of the most effective theme anthologies I’ve read in a very long time. It took me a long time to read the whole book (and thus to review it – sorry, Alisa!  This is one to have on the bedside table, to read one or two stories a night, rather than trying to swallow the whole lot in one go.
Daikaiju is grim, gritty and laugh-out-loud funny, all at the same time – or, to take Frank Wu wildly out of context, it’s a Shakespearean monster tragedy. With giant space chickens. And rollercoasters. Who could ask for anything more?
“Running” – Martin Livings (Aus)
“Aspect Hunter” – Anthony Fordham (Aus)
“Notes Concerning Events at the Ray Harryhausen Memorial Home for Retired Actors” – Andrew Sullivan (Aus)
“Five Bells” – Trent Jamieson (Aus)
“Newborn” – Eric Shapiro
“Park Rot” – Skip Peel
“Like a Bug Underfoot” – Chuck McKenzie (Aus)
“The Tragical History of Guidolon, the Giant Space Chicken” – Frank Wu
 I’ve never read any Lovecraft, but I know this: he wrote lots of books in the 1930′s about the Cthulu Mythos, which had something to do with Elder Gods and big scary interdimensional monsters. Just about every SF/Fantasy writer who loves Lovecraft (most of em!) has written a Lovecraft pastiche, or a story set in this world. Pratchett’s Dungeon Dimensions are a blatant rip off. Neil Gaiman’s a fan. Trouble is, true Lovecraft ‘homage’ stories require long, over descriptive and ponderous prose, which is terribly ironic and funny if you’ve read lots of Lovecraft, but is otherwise indistinguishable from old-fashioned and slightly dreadful writing.  Raymond Chandler – author of classic detective fiction such as The Big Sleep, many of which got turned into films starring Humphrey Bogart.  Bubba Ho-Tep – reasonably recent film starring Bruce Campbell as an elderly Elvis alongside a similarly elderly black JFK, battling mummies and similar forces of darkness. No, really.  Harold Holt – former Prime Minister of Australia whose term ended rather abruptly when he went for a swim at an Australian beach and never came back. Ever. Conspiracy theories abounded including that he was a Chinese spy. Personally, I’ve always thought it was rather Unaustralian for a PM to die whilst swimming. At a beach – Ed  And then a long time to edit it – sorry, Tansy! – Ed
Creature Court trilogy, book 2
Harper Voyager (2011)
ISBN: 978073228944 7
Reviewed by Jason Nahrung
In which the Tasmanian author furthers the tale begun in Power and Majesty. For those who came in late: the city of Aufleur is under attack, with interdimensional rifts trying to destroy it overnight. Defending the city is a bunch of hedonistic and political shape shifters, led by a Power and Majesty. In Book 1, the ruling P&M was whisked away through a split in the sky, and was replaced – not by the most likely candidate, the damaged and reluctant Ashiol, but seamstress Velody.
It’s a gloriously complex world, with Italian Renaissance overtones, and both the workings of the magical world and its relationship with the physical are explored further in The Shattered City.
Creature Court, book 1
Reviewed by Jason Nahrung
Power and Majesty came out in 2010. It’s the first volume of the Creature Court series by Tasmanian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts — the second volume, The Shattered City, and third, Reign of Beasts, are out now. I polished Power and Majesty off on the flight to Perth for Swancon at Easter, where it was awarded a Ditmar for best novel of 2010 and it also won the Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel, announced in May 2011.
The story is set in Aufleur, where Velody and two friends run a dress shop. Aufleur comes across as an Italian-style town — Renaissance with steamtrains — where festivals are a prime social and economic activity; even the calendar is set by the celebrations.
Behind the superficiality of the social calendar lurks a different reality, however. The sky is an enemy, raining death and destruction in a most creative way — the population is unawares of their peril from this extradimensional danger. It falls to a band of shape-shifting magic users to defend the plane, but they are far from a cohesive entity. Their number has been whittled down by combat and politics and they hunger for leadership from a king. Ashiol is the prime candidate, but abused and ashamed, he wants none of it. And so the jostling begins, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published January 2006)
Liquid Gold is a sequel to Roberts’ novel Splashdance Silver, but could probably be read independently with no real difficulty. Liquid Gold is the better of the two novels, and although it’s a little hard to be sure (since I *had* read Splashdance Silver), I think it explains most of what you’d need to know if you read this novel alone.
Kassa Daggarsharp, the nominal heroine of the novel, is killed in chapter two, within pages of her first appearance in the novel. Not to worry; although she does, technically, lie down and die, she doesn’t stay down. She is, in fact, a most troublesome tenant of the underworld and creates a quite astounding amount of trouble. Kassa herself would probably claim it’s not her fault. Mistress Opia has created Liquid Gold, which has almost immediately been stolen by the mercenary Sparrow. And in her flight to escape, and deliver the Liquid Gold to her employer, Sparrow manages to scatter the unpleasant side-effects of tampering with Liquid Gold over most of the Mocklore Empire. And the underworld. And everywhere, really…
Kassa isn’t leading them this time, but again a motley collection of characters set out to aid or obstruct her (or her memory). Several of them are making a return appearance from the earlier novel, but there are also a good many new characters. Read the rest of this entry »
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in January 2006)
Splashdance Silver is a pleasantly amusing read with a consistent dash of humor throughout the novel.
It tells the story of Kassa Daggarsharp, and her oddly assorted crew – or perhaps that should be hangers-on. When the story opens, Kassa is enjoying herself, making a living dancing in taverns. But within pages, she has received tidings from her father, the pirate Vicious Bigbeard Daggarsharp. It’s a pretty traditional letter – if you’re reading this, then I’m dead… Bigbeard has willed Kassa his trove of pirate silver. Inconveniently, he’s failed to mention exactly where it is.
Of course, with a trove of pirate treasure at stake, Kassa cannot simply puzzle out where it is and then go collect it. She must contend with other potential claimants – a profit scoundrel who needs a score to save his life; an usurper Emperor; a faithless royal champion; the Hidden Army; and assorted other troublemakers that pop up in the course of her quest. And of course Kassa has history with most of these people, history that is only gradually revealed through the novel. And Kassa herself is torn; does she want to be a Pirate of Note like her father, or a Qualified Witch like her mother? Or just a singer and dancer? Read the rest of this entry »
The Lost Shimmaron, book 1
ABC Books (2007)
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in July 2007)
This is a simple and charming children’s book, well pitched for the young readers it’s aimed at. I enjoyed it too, and adults in the mood for a very straightforward story which will only take them a couple of hours to read could do much worse than pick up Seacastle.
Nick has been sent out to find his annoying little brother, Thomas, who’s managed to wander off somewhere just before dinner. Thomas is sitting on the edge of Lake Shimmer, thinking about why he can’t seem to learn to swim well. After Nick finds him, he throws himself into the Lake to test a theory. Nick of course has to leap in to save him, and the next thing the brothers know, they’re in an underwater world. Habitat is plagued by increasingly dangerous seaquakes. Nick and Thomas need both to save Habitat and find a way back to their own world.
This is the first book in a series of (at least) seven, each written by a different Australian author. All are fairly well known in Australia, experienced and talented, and it’s likely the other books in the series will be of similar quality to Seacastle. I suspect each will be a stand-alone story, like this one, tied together by the over-arching theme of the series: when their spaceship crashed on earth, the Shimmaron were thrown into different worlds and times, and were forced to take on different shapes. They’re trying to re-gather in Lake Shimmer, in Australia, as they need to be together to rebuild their spaceship and escape. And only young children can hear their pleas for help. Read the rest of this entry »
Penguin Books (2006)
ISBN-13: 978 0 14 3004479
Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts (this review was first published in August 2006)
Zuven is a foundling with a great and terrible destiny before her. Yelela is a young noblewoman who has defied her parents to train as a soldier. Haga is a rebel with a cause.
Against a lush tropical setting, these three protagonists will come together as an evil king is deposed, and a young peasant-raised woman put in his place. The winds are a-changing, and not necessarily for the better… Read the rest of this entry »
Dark Heavens, book 1
There have been some really great debuts for Australian fantasy writers in the last twelve months, with Karen Miller’s adventurous Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, and Grace Dugan’s promising first novel, The Silver Road. Like these two exciting new authors, Kylie Chan has produced a fast-paced and innovative debut novel, which adds a new dimension to the general picture of Australian fantasy fiction.
Emma is an Australian living and working in the childcare industry in Hong Kong, her English language skills being particularly prized. When she loses her job in a prestigious kindergarten for making the lessons a bit too much fun, she is snapped up for a full time nanny position by one of her regular clients, a mysterious and handsome Chinese businessman, Mr Chen, with an adorable, completely over-scheduled four year old daughter, Simone.
Sounds like one of those romantic comedies where the nanny falls in love with her employer and fixes his family while she’s at it? You wouldn’t be far wrong, though there is far more to this novel than that plotline. Despite the fact that it takes a long time to be officially revealed (to Emma, at least, who is a touch dense on this particular subject), it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that Mr Chen is not a mobster (as Emma first believes) but is actually a Chinese god, as are many of his strange and entertaining cronies. He and his half-immortal daughter are under attack from various demons, and his current lifespan is running short. It is vital that he trains his daughter to be independent before he has to leave her, and that is only a matter of a few years. Falling in love with Emma is not part of the equation… Read the rest of this entry »
Creature Court Trilogy, Book 2
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
DISCLAIMER: Lorraine Cormack is a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This review is the personal opinion of the writer, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.
The Shattered City is a book that surprised me; my primary memory of Roberts’ work was her early novels. These were humorous fantasy, a difficult genre to master, and contained a few mis-steps from a then beginner writer. The Shattered City is a different kettle of fish; although extremely original, it fits the more general “fantasy” mould. Importantly, it is also an excellent book from a writer who seems to have found her stride and settled into it.
Velody is a dressmaker in the city of Aufleur, and as this novel opens she is trying to consolidate her position as Power and Majesty of the Creature Court. The Court is a group of … people, perhaps; each can turn into an animal or animals, and each has a kind of magical power known as animor. At night they wage a violent ongoing battle against the night, which seems determined to destroy Aufleur. And although they are nominally united in this struggle, Velody knows all too well that their alliances are unsteady and that most, if not all, have other agendas to pursue.