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Chuck McKenzie

MirrorDanse Books (2005)

ISBN: 0975785214 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in June 2009)

Confessions of a Pod Person is a collection of short stories, the majority of which have been previously published in a period spanning 2002 to 2005. Given the wide variety of publications in which they appeared, if you read much Australian speculative fiction, you’ve probably come across at least one of these stories before.

The ideas behind most of these stories aren’t particularly original, and the commentaries by McKenzie suggest he’s well aware of this. Nor are they strongly plotted stories; I’d be inclined to describe most as vignettes, or at best, skits.

And yet, this collection, and most of the stories in it, work. McKenzie writes humorous science fiction, and most of these stories are successfully amusing. None were really uproarious (but then, humour is a personal thing; some of these stories may have you rolling on the floor where I didn’t), but neither did they fall flat. There’s a wryness to the humour in many of these stories that will raise a smile from most readers. Read the rest of this entry »

Terry Dowling

mp Books (1999)

ISBN: 0-646-37533-4

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in March 2007)

Terry Dowling has often struck me as one of the most distinctively Australian speculative fiction writers around. In large part, this is because of his Captain Tom Rynosseros stories. It’s not just the setting that makes these so distinctive; Dowling has also extrapolated what’s happening between Indigenous and White Australians to create a very believable political future. The result is memorable, unique stories with a strong Australian flavour.

Although I associate Dowling strongly with those stories, he has written a great many other stories on a wide variety of themes. Antique Futures collects a selection of these. It’s a whopping great book, and as a result I dipped into it over the space of a couple of weeks, rather than attempting to read that many short stories in a sitting or two. I think this may be the best way to read this collection; it’s powerful and challenging, and some space between stories to digest them was good. Although Dowling is a writer I have long enjoyed, I had not fully realised either the length (years) or breadth (styles) of his writing. One of the very good things about this book is that both readers unfamiliar with Dowling and those who know his work are likely to find stories they haven’t read before.

As a collection, I’m not sure that Antique Futures has a theme, other than excellence. The stories are diverse, and range from quite hard science fiction to at least one story that wouldn’t look out of place in a crime anthology. The stories do share things in common, though. Although this anthology includes stories published over a twenty year span, none have dated noticeably. All include strong and interesting characters; and every one was worth reading. Although I enjoyed some stories more than others, that’s primarily a matter of taste. They’re all of remarkably consistent quality. It makes it a little challenging to write a review – I couldn’t possibly mention all the stories, and in my opinion none are weak. Read the rest of this entry »

Kristen Britain

Green Rider, book 4

Orion (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-575-09998-2

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

I’d put off starting Blackveil, as the cover suggested it was book four in an extended series, and I generally don’t enjoy coming into a series so late. My misgivings were unfounded; although it comes late in the series, it is remarkably easy to get sucked into the world of Blackveil and become totally absorbed in the problems of the characters. Blackveil is not the last of the series; although it has many satisfactions it ends on a cliffhanger, so there is clearly at least one more volume to come.

Karigan is a Rider, one of a small band of messengers magically called to serve the King. Not only are the Riders magically called, each has a (generally small) magic talent which they deploy in the service of their King. They keep the magical part of their job quiet, though, as the Kingdom at large is fearful of magic and antagonistic towards the mere idea of people using it. As the novel opens, Karigan is carrying messages which indicate that the King is preparing for war – he doesn’t want it, but he fully expects the Kingdom to shortly be assailed by magical forces from behind the magical D’Yer Wall and mundane forces from another kingdom. So he is prudently preparing; building up his army and seeking to strengthen those who are trying to repair the damage done at the wall. Read the rest of this entry »

Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth book 3

Orion (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-575-09484-0

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Dark and Hollow Places is described on the back of the book as a “companion volume” to two others; in the author’s bio at the back it’s called volume three in a trilogy. I think the second is a more accurate description, and as a result the novel lacks a little when read by itself. Even so, it manages to be an interesting and entertaining read; it’s well suited to the intended young adult audience but will also hold the interest of many adult readers.

The Dark and Hollow Placestells the story of Annah. When she was a child, she and her twin (Abigail), and the older Elias left their village to explore in the forbidden forest. When Abigail fell and hurt herself, Elias and Annah carried on with their adventure. They became irrevocably lost, never able to return to their village. Annah has spent years racked with grief and guilt for her sister. Perhaps she died alone in the forest. Perhaps she too wandered lost and alone. Perhaps she found her way back to the village. Annah has never known and the guilt eats at her every day. Eventually Annah and Elias found their way to the City, one of the few remaining refuges. Here they eked out a living for years. Until eventually Elias joined the Recruiters, a semi-military corps that is supposed to provide some protection for the citizens.  He was supposed to return after his two year hitch, but it’s been three years and there’s still no sign of him.  Annah doesn’t know if he’s dead, or if he’s alive but has chosen not to return to her.

edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt

MirrorDanse Books (2007)

ISBN: 9780975773628

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in May 2008)

“Best” anthologies are always tricky, because there’s so much room to argue about the choices; about the authors, about the stories, about the publication dates… Here Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt have put together a high quality anthology with less room for argument than usual. The collection covers the year 2006, and includes stories by some of the best – and best known – Australian speculative fiction writers who are currently publishing.

The anthology opens with a short introduction by the editors which provides a very brief overview of Australian speculative fiction in 2006. It may remind you of some things you meant to read and didn’t get around to; it may tantalise you with mention of something you didn’t know about before. It’s a good quick overview of what was published in 2006.

This is an exceptional anthology, and although I didn’t love every story in it, that’s a reflection of the diversity of stories in it – one or two didn’t suit my personal tastes. There are no dud stories, in the sense of poorly-written or boring stories. I felt that almost all of the authors here have published better stories, but again that’s partly a matter of taste – the stories contained here are universally well-written and crafted, and are generally original, lively and entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Marianne de Pierres

The Sentients of Orion, Book 4

Orbit (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-759-4

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Transformation Space is the fourth in a series, following Dark Space, Chaos Space and Mirror Space. De Pierres has created a complex and layered world, and as such some elements will be a little difficult for new readers to follow. However, I’ve read only the first of the series and was able to follow a substantial part of the plot without trouble; this suggests that the setting and worldbuilding may be the biggest challenge for new readers to get their heads around.

Despite the gaps in my knowledge of the plot, overall this novel – and probably the series – is rewarding. The world is convincing and interesting; the plot complex but easy to follow; and the bulk of the characters are interesting (although not all of them are sympathetic). It is not clear whether this is the final in the series; it could be read that way, but there are enough slightly loose ends that I would not be surprised if there was one more volume to follow.

Isobelle Carmody

Allen and Unwin (2012 – originally published 1996)

ISBN: 978-1-74237-947-0

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

I had not read any of Isobelle Carmody’s short fiction before, although I was familiar with and had enjoyed a number of her novels. Good novelists are not always good short story writers (and vice versa), and it was with pleasure that I discovered that Carmody is as capable and assured in this medium as in the longer form. Like many collections of short stories, I found Green Monkey Dreams best read one or two stories at a time, dipped into over a fortnight or so. The writing style was easy to devour and I could have read the collection far faster; but the majority of the stories deserve time to settle, a little time for consideration, before you move onto the next.

Jo Anderton

The Veiled Worlds, book 2

Angry Robot (2012)

ISBN: 978-0-85766-156-2

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

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.

Suited is the second in a trilogy, the sequel to last year’s Debris. It continues a strong story and good character development, as well as significantly expanding our understanding of the world in which it is set. It’s a strong novel; like its predecessor, it is something of a cross-genre novel, although Suited skews more towards science fiction than the first novel did. Unsurprisingly, it has most to offer people who have read the first novel, but many readers new to the series will also enjoy Suited.

In Debris, Tanyana fell from her privileged position as a talented and strong pion builder. Well respected and financially well rewarded, she had a comfortable life with access to the higher echelons of society in Movoc. When a dreadful accident robs her of all this, she discovers undercurrents to her society she had previously been unaware of. Specifically, she discovers that not everyone can see pions, the elements of matter that everyone manipulates without a second thought every day. Except not everyone can; some people can’t see pions and thus can’t use them; they can see only the waste they leave behind. And although these people are vital – if debris collectors don’t do their job, the unseen debris builds up and causes all kinds of malfunctions – they are nevertheless despised. Scorned by society, paid barely enough to live on, treated as little more than slave labour.

And now Tanyana is one of them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen Deas

The Memory of Flames, book 2

Orion (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-575-08378-3

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The King of the Crags is an awkward book to review in that it sits right there in the middle of the road; a good enough book, but not anything very special.  It was an entertaining enough read, but not particularly memorable. There’s not really a lot wrong with it, but it doesn’t stand out in any way either.

One difficulty with The King of the Crags may be that it’s the second in a trilogy; these often don’t stand alone very well, and it’s not fair to expect them to do so. However, I haven’t read either the first or last in this trilogy, which means that for me The King of the Crags had to stand alone. It was reasonably easy to pick up on the plot, and to some extent on the cast of characters; but I did feel that the characterisation in particular probably suffered from the fact I hadn’t read the first. Many of the characters seemed a little sketchy and it was hard to care about their dilemmas to any extent. Given that Deas is a reasonably good writer, I have to conclude that this is likely, at least in part, to be due to the fact I was unaware of the character establishment and development of volume one.

Peter McNamara and Margaret Winch (eds.)

Wakefield Press (2003)

ISBN: 1-862546-22-3 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in May 2006)

Forever Shores is an outstanding collection of 17 Australian short stories. The editors have specifically sought to anthologise fantasy stories. While there is always room for argument about the line between fantasy, science fiction, and other “genres”, I think that in this case most readers would agree that all these stories are closer to fantasy than science fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and struggled with this review simply because the quality of each story was so high that it made it difficult to settle on which to single out for comment.

As a collection, this also works; although the stories are linked through their fantasy theme, they are nevertheless a diverse selection. There’s a connection that makes the anthology a satisfying whole, but doesn’t produce the same-ness that can arise from a theme that is too tight. There’s variety in the length, as well. In the end I was satisfied not only by each individual story, but by the collection as a whole.

Most – but not all – of the authors represented here would be familiar to regular readers of Australian science fiction and fantasy. Certainly, there were few writers here I had never heard of. Nevertheless, this was an original volume – none of the stories were familiar to me, unlike some anthologies where I find I’ve read half the stories before in other volumes. That doesn’t mean that these are cut-rate stories, sold on the writers’ other successes; they are universally strong and well written. Read the rest of this entry »

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