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Conversational Review with Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Tehani Wessely
HERE BE SPOILERS!
This series is impossible to review in full without spoilers for preceding books. Up front, know that we WILL be discussing major spoilers for all three books. PLEASE do not continue unless you have no intention of reading this (very excellent) science fiction thriller (with zombies), or you REALLY don’t mind spoilers!
Last chance – SPOILERS AHEAD!
Prime Books (2006)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (the review was first published in November 2006)
Lee Battersby has been on the Australian speculative fiction scene since 2001. Since then he’s racked up an impressive publication history, with over 40 stories in print, mostly in Australian magazines or small press anthologies. Through Soft Air is his first collected work and includes 25 stories, of which eight are either completely new or have not seen publication before. There’s no doubt that Battersby is an ambitious and prolific short story writer. However Battersby himself acknowledges that regular short story sales are not enough to sustain a writing career  and that financial security probably hinges in publication of longer works (i.e. novels). From that perspective, the publication of Through Soft Air can be seen as a first attempt toward garnering recognition outside the Australian scene. Through Soft Air has been published by Prime Books, a US small press publisher, and this should provide exposure in markets outside Australia that would have otherwise been unavailable. The downside of this ‘international’ publication, however, is that the book has limited sale outlets within Australia itself and so Battersby’s established fan base may find themselves having to order the book from the US in order to obtain a copy.
From my own point of view, reviewing Through Soft Air has been a good opportunity to find out what all the fuss is about. I came to the book having read less than a handful of Battersby’s stories – two of which are in this collection. I read and reviewed Through Soft Air from a .pdf copy, and so am unable to comment on the physical book itself. This is a pity, because I get much more pleasure reading from a book than a computer screen (although I don’t think this has affected my opinion of the collection). I would also liked to have seen the book ‘in the flesh’ to get a proper look at the cover by Gary Nurrish. From the images on the Prime website, the artwork looks stunning. Read the rest of this entry »
Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2005)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in November 2005)
Stories and recipes? On the face of it, Stuart Barrow’s Gastronomicon looks to be a bit of a gimmick. As an avid recipe hoarder, it’s a very attractive gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. However, after reading Barrow’s introduction, his intentions start to become apparent. For him, writing and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) are inexorably linked to food. By producing this anthology, he’s hoping to showcase the people that make up the CSFG not only through their writing, but also through their favourite recipes and what they like to eat.
So which comes first? The story or the recipe? In some cases, it does appear that the story has been written and a somewhat appropriate recipe jammed on the end. These combinations might include a really good recipe or a really good tale, but there’s something lacking in the whole. I think the writer needs an emotional investment in both the story and the recipe for it to work at its best. And when it does work, and the story and recipe merge seamlessly together into one cohesive whole, you really are left with something better than the sum of the two.
This is a review with a difference – much like the anthology itself. Sure there are stories to read, but there are also recipes to be made and so I’ve done my best to have a go at as many as one small-ish person can. This was not all of them, by far – I got though 14. Beverages and desserts are somewhat underrepresented – mostly as I never got round to buying all the alcohol needed for these! On a practical note, I am an infamous Changer of Recipes and Substituter of Ingredients [TM]. When I started out on this project, I had the best of intentions to make each recipe exactly as described – I even went and bought 100 year old eggs! It made no difference, however, and I now realise that I am almost physically incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I substitute with glee. I don’t have any measuring cups. And I refuse to sift. I also never remember to look at the clock and normally have to guess how long something has been cooking. Things normally turned out fine, but I would be a disaster in the Woman’s Weekly Test Kitchen. Speaking of the Women’s Weekly Test Kitchen, whilst most recipes were very easily followed (or not followed, as the case may be), a few were a bit ambiguous, particularly in terms of ingredients. I’ve discussed the ambiguities I found within each below. However, it probably would have been a good idea to set up a CSFG Test Kitchen to check the recipes to make sure the directions were unambiguous. Also, it would have been useful if there had been an indication of how many each recipe serves. Read the rest of this entry »
Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild Publishing (2003)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in September 2006)
Published in 2003 and edited by Michael Barry, Elsewhere was the third publication of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) and published with the assistance of ArtsACT. The CSFG have a history of publishing ‘themed’ anthologies and this one is no exception – as you might be able to tell from the name the anthology deals with ‘other places’. Surprising, huh? Barry is certainly very upbeat in his forward, which documents the development of short Australian speculative fiction since the first CSFG publication in 2001. From his interview in Donna Maree Hanson’s Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview we learn that Barry wanted an anthology of stories that were more experimental than usually found in Australian speculative fiction. Certainly the interpretation of ‘other places’ in some stories deviated quite widely from a simple description of a fantastical land, and this refreshing outlook is probably the best aspect of the book. Unfortunately some other aspects are not so great. The book itself is solid and printed on good quality paper but the overall impression I get is of a book that has been somewhat hastily put together – see, for example, the incorrect spelling of ‘Australian’ in the third paragraph of the introduction. Nit picky? Possibly, but it does sap confidence somewhat when you’re reading a forward that is promising great things in the ”Autralian market”. The layout is readable but the first (oversized) capital of each story seemed to encroach over other letters in some cases and I’m not sure that Les Petersen’s images have really been given their due, as they are both small and poorly reproduced.
Two stories shone out over others for me – “Orion’s Womb” by Carol Ryles and “State of Oblivion” by Kaaron Warren. In “Orion’s Womb”, a spaceship pilot reflects on her ambition to live amongst the stars. The story is warm and ultimately positive and the writing has a lovely rhythm. “State of Oblivion? is genuinely disturbing. A disparate group of people live on the top of a mountain in the harsh bright light. How did they get there? Nobody can remember and they are satisfied with their oblivion until Neal arrives. The suspense and dread in this piece builds up slowly, although I thought it slightly marred by the very last passage of dialogue, which seemed rushed. It felt like I was being forced to the conclusion before time. Although, despite the rush, the ending was both satisfyingly ambiguous and shocking. Read the rest of this entry »
coeur de lion press (2006)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge, July 2007
When I was first presented with c0ck in late 2006, I was very pleasantly surprised. Smaller than your average, black and shiny, the c0ck volume is very tactile and, frankly, I can’t help but fondle it. It’s so sweet! I believe my first words upon seeing it were Oh it’s much smaller than I expected!, but I assure you, dear reader, that it was a pleasant surprise, and not at all the disappointment that a small c0ck might be assumed to be.
This is the first clever thing about c0ck.
The second clever thing about c0ck is its title. I defy anyone to overlook it and the unusual spelling (that’s cee, zero, cee kay) should mean that a web search would find it for you in amongst all the pornography (should you wish to). From the Forward by editors Andrew Macrae and Keith Stevenson, we learn that c0ck seeks to “question and problematise the male perspective from within”. Read the rest of this entry »
Little Brown Book Group (2004)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in February 2008)
There are three different ways I could start this review.
1) Jennifer Government would make an excellent movie (the positive opening);
2) Jennifer Government has a lot of similarities with The Da Vinci Code (the neutral opening);
3) Overall I was disappointed with Jennifer Government (the negative opening).
All of these are true.
All of that is all very well and good, but what’s the book it’s all about? Jennifer Government is set in a dystopian reality in which most nations are controlled by the United States, except for the ‘socialist’ EU. Real power is given over to for-profit corporations, while the government’s power is extremely limited. Taxes are illegal, and everyone loves working for their company so much that they change their surname to that of their company. Jennifer Government is just one of a multitude of characters that Barry switches between to tell the story. Once darling of the corporate world, Jennifer has turned her back on it to work for the government (hence her last name), who’s only role is to prevent crime (although budget constraints mean they only investigate crimes if they can bill someone for it). Jennifer still has hang-overs from the corporate world, however, including a mysterious barcode tattoo under her eye, and a personal score she needs to settle. Read the rest of this entry »
Allen & Unwin (2006)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in April 2008
I come to this collection with certain prior knowledge of Margo Lanagan and her successes, but no actual first-hand experience. And the prior knowledge is weighty, including a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection and a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction (for “Singing My Sister Down”)*. From that respect, I am pleased to say that I don’t think there are any poor stories in this collection. Each is well-written and readable. However, neither did I find these stories particularly gripping. Indeed, a couple of weeks after reading the collection I find very few stories have stuck in my mind and I find it hard to picture some of them without rechecking the first few paragraphs. The stories are good, but I did not find them great.
Although I am only reviewing Black Juice here, I did in fact read all three of Lanagan’s collections one after the other, in chronological order. In terms of the writing, I think Black Juice stands right in the middle, where it chronologically belongs. White Time reads like a first story collection, although it was also the collection I most enjoyed. With each collection Lanagan’s writing becomes more developed but also perhaps more abstract and more stylised. I found the stories in Red Spikes too abstract to connect with. Read the rest of this entry »
The Magician’s Guild, Harper Voyager (2001), ISBN: 9780732270957
The Novice, Harper Voyager (2002), ISBN: 9780732272364
The High Lord, Harper Voyager (2003), ISBN: 9780732272302
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was originally published in 2009)
The Black Magician Trilogy revolves around Sonea, a girl born in the slums of the city of Imardin, who discovers that she has magical abilities normally only found (or at least only looked for) in the upper classes. She discovers them during the annual Purge, when magicians from the Guild gather together to purge the city of the homeless by order of the King of Kyralia. Angry at how her friends and family are being treated, Sonea throws a stone at the magicians’ shield, and is amazed when it passes through the magical barrier and knocks a magician unconscious. The Guild are immediately concerned that such strong ability has developed naturally in a slum dweller, partly because no commoner has been accepted to be a Guild magician in hundreds of years, but also because if Sonea cannot learn to control her power, it will destroy her and possibly a good part of the city as well.
A large part of The Magician’s Guild, book one of the trilogy, follows Sonea’s attempts to hide from the magicians, aided by her friend Cery and the Thieves, who see advantage in having access to a magician not controlled by the Guild. And, to be honest, I found the book fairly predictable and unexciting. The action remains static for much of the novel. After rousing the Guild’s interest, Sonea hides throughout the city. The Guild’s need to find her before she (effectively) explodes with power is not clearly established – there’s no real sense of urgency and so we have a storyline where the magicians nearly find her on a couple of occasions, but she avoids them, finds a new spot to hide, and the cycle continues. By the time, Sonea has been found by the Guild, and the danger of her uncontrolled power is finally explained, I was lost to the rest of the story. Don’t get me wrong, The Magician’s Guild is competently written and the text is far from stodgy. It just wasn’t very engaging. Read the rest of this entry »