Book Review: Social Media Central

So it’s been a while.
With the global pandemic and everyone’s lives being thrown upside down with lockdowns, stress and anxiety, I have honestly not been able to pick up a book since the pandemic started. But recently I’ve been able to find the time to get back into reading, and have finished SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL, a wonderful book by Sydney-based author Kevin Klehr.

SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL tells the story of Tayler, a citizen of Astra City, where technology and social media have come to replace all human interaction.

Tayler, however, is different from his contemporaries in that he prefers the old days. He misses the “good old days” of physically socialising with others, going on dates (instead of sharing a meal followed by mutual masturbation online) and wants to bring humanity back.

By chance he meets Madeline Q, an on-line celebrity, and they become friends. Before he knows it, Tayler himself becomes a celebrity by mere association, which triggers a sequence of events that turn out almost exactly as none of them (or I) expected.

That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL, it had me eagerly flicking through the pages, Klehr kept me on the edge of my seat with what was going to happen next!

SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL is full of murder, mystery, romance and a clever critique of our society’s over-dependence on social media.

One thing that was unclear – and which I expect may be clarified in the sequels – was the setting. There were a few lines here and there that suggested Astra City was not the norm, that other places were run differently, had less reliance on social media, had other avenues of accessing information. Also, one of the characters in the book was Stuart, the Government. It wasn’t fully explained what that meant. Was he the equivalent to the Prime Minister or President and ran the whole country? Or was he simply the premier or Mayor of the Astra City area? Either way, those questions didn’t take away from the excellent book that Klehr has crafted, so if you are on the lookout for a memorable, engaging book by a talented Australian author, look no further than SOCIAL MEDIA CENTRAL!

To find out more, visit Kevin Klehr’s website!

Where to Start?

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for some time, to get it out there, to get it done. 2020 did not end well, with the death of my father in November. I’ve taken some time since then, and have recently been trying to get myself together to pick up where I’d left off.

And 2021 has not started well, with news of Aiki Flinthart losing her battle with cancer. She was a much-loved member of the writing community here in Australia, and someone I was lucky to count as a friend. Inspired by her battle, a ‘Stories of Survival’ charity anthology (which I am helping to edit) will be released soon, so look out for that.

Over two million, four-hundred and seventy-six thousand people have died from Covid-19 in the last year (the first time I wrote that sentence a couple of weeks ago it was two million, three-hundred and fifty-six thousand). It almost makes me feel selfish for mourning my father and Aiki. So where do you start?


Horror Book and Movie Recommendations

It’s October, and for some of us this means the Christmas countdown has begun. For others, this means one thing. Halloween. No matter what October means for you, it is an excellent time of year to enjoy horror books and movies.

There is something very ominous about the month. The constant hum of lawnmowers across the suburbs. Packs of wild children loose in the streets. Magpies sharpening their beaks. And the sun growing ever hotter and ever hungrier.

I’ve been a fan of horror movies for decades, and over the last few years has that translated to a love of Halloween. It’s our time, our last opportunity to rebel against the Summer and celebrate the darkness that one day (not soon enough, if you ask me) will consume all. To help you get into the October mood, I have put together a short list of underrated gems and classic horror books and movies that you might have missed.

Movies:
1 – Re-Animator. A classic. A campy 80’s gore-fest. If the jokes don’t get you, the special effects will. There are many wonderful horror films from the 70s and 80s, but few have the charm of this Lovecraft-inspired tale of a scientist’s experiment gone horribly right.

2 – Cabin in the Woods. For me, Cabin in the Woods is one of the greatest movies of the last twenty years. It’s a horror movie that blends humour, scares and monstrous bloody mayhem perfectly. Five friends go to a remote cabin, hidden away in the woods. Oh, you think you’ve heard this all before? You’ve got another think coming.

3 – Event Horizon. Event Horizon is a sci-fi horror story about a space ship that has returned from the far reaches of the universe, and all the wonders it has seen. The casting is great, the special effects hold up well, and the suspense is out of this world.

4 – The Void. If you’re after a gore-filled extravaganza with monsters, mayhem and madness, then you need to see The Void. Simple. Done.

5 – Triangle. Triangle is unlike anything else I’ve seen. A group of friends on a yacht encounter a freak storm and their boat capsizes, but soon find rescue in an abandoned ocean liner. It’s is a remarkable mindfuck of a film, and in the best possible way. The sort of film that will have you watching it again and again and again.

6 – Host. Host is the sort of film I don’t usually like, a ‘found footage’ film shot from people’s computer webcams and mobile phones, but there was something about this one I really enjoyed. And it’s not that it’s set during the 2020 lockdowns either. A group of friends have a regular Zoom catchup, and this week they have invited a medium to lead them in an online seance. What could go wrong, you ask.

Books:
1 – Ring by Koji Suzuki. This just happens to be the novel that the ‘Ring’ series of movies are based on. Those movies changed the face of Horror around the world, and this is where it all began. A great unique and memorable read.

2 – Served Cold by Alan Baxter. Served Cold is a collection of sixteen excellent horror stories by Alan Baxter, who has also written some scarily good novels (Devouring Dark) and novellas (The Roo). There is something uniquely chilling about a short piece of horror though, and this truly is a fantastic collection.

3 – What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra. A gripping tale of family secrets and friendship, What The Woods Keep is a wonderfully spooky story to start your Halloween off with!

4 – The Ruins by Scott Smith. This is a completely engrossing story that will keep both your stomach and the pages turning over. A group of young friends in Mexico find some abandoned ruins when searching for a friend, but find more than what they bargained for.

5 – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This is an out-and-out classic of horror literature. It’s only on this list just in case there are people out there who haven’t read it yet.

6 – The Fisherman by John Langan. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as fishing, is there? The beautiful waterways, mysterious depths and dark secrets. This is a great read, certainly something to sink your teeth into as the days start to get longer.

This has been a tough year. No-one’s going to make it out the same way as they began it. Don’t be too hard on yourself for needing a break, for needing to sleep for a week, for questioning everything, for wanting to burn this world to the ground. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or to strangers, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The matches are on the coffee table.

(Originally published October 2020)

Light Amongst the Darkness

My previous blog, ‘A Year of Darkness and Loss’ was perhaps rather bleak. There have been some positive and encouraging things, and things to be thankful for.


Personally, my wife and I have moved out of the chaos of the city to a small town beyond the reach of suburbia. The afternoon sky is full of the screeching of cockatoos, and the dogs have a wonderful backyard to explore. Moving during a pandemic has its own challenges, and dealing with real estate agents is always a pain. But it’s done.


On the writing front, it hasn’t been easy. What I’ve found the most challenging is finding the time and being in an emotional headspace conductive to writing. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to keep working through this pandemic, and working from home has some great perks, but I honestly feel like I’ve been working harder than ever before. In a sense it’s hard because your home becomes your office. When you leave your workplace, all the drama and stress from your working day stays with you, lying in wait for tomorrow. But if your workplace is your own home, it can be harder to escape it.

Of course, I have been working with Deadset Press on their series of Zodiac-inspired anthologies, and while it has been rewarding and enjoyable, getting all the stories edited and the anthologies published has also been rather time-consuming, leaving me with little time to work on my own novels, novellas and short stories. The anthologies are all excellent, full of diverse genres and writing styles, all interpreting the Zodiac sign differently. I’d love it if you’d check out the collection dedicated to your star sign!

(Originally published September 2020)

A Year of Darkness and Loss

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything to this blog. What had started as a year of hope and opportunity has turned into a catastrophe.

I want to say it all started with the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25th, but it didn’t. He wasn’t the first unarmed black man to be killed by the police and there have been too many killed since then. Meanwhile, over 400 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991, and no-one is paying attention.

I want to say it started on the 9th of January when the first person dies of Covid-19, but it didn’t. The origin of the deadly virus is still unknown, though there are reports of it as far back as November 2019.

For me, it started on January 24th when Aiki Flinthart, a writer I’d worked with and become friends with through an on-line writing community announced she had been diagnosed with cancer. She’s more than a wife and a mother, more than a brilliant and engaging writer, more than a fearless warrior, she is an inspiration. She has contributed immensely to the world of Australian Speculative Fiction through not only her many diverse series (The Kalima Chronicles, the 80AD series, the Ruadhan Sidhe series) but also through books like Fight Like a Girl, an excellent guide to help writing fight scenes for female characters, and How to Get a Black Belt in Writing. After reading several of her books and short stories, I was utterly convinced that there wasn’t anything she could write that I would not want to read. She proved me wrong with the words “metastatic melanoma” shortly followed with “three brain tumours and one lung tumour.”

The Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, the footage of over-the-top police brutality and people being dragged off the street and into unmarked cars by police officers, and the continual killing of unarmed black individuals by police – over four months later – has highlighted institutional racism and has changed how the police are viewed all over the world. And this is needed. In Australia, since 1991’s inquest into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, 439 First Nations people have died in police custody.
Guess how many police officers or correctional officers have been convicted of any involvement?
Zero.
It appears that racism is so ingrained within our judicial systems that there can be no justice. There are many similarities between the institutional racism in America and Australia that have allowed this to happen. But the biggest similarity is that the problem isn’t going to be fixed just by sweeping it under the rug and hoping for the best.

For several weeks there, Victorians braced ourselves for the state premier’s daily update on the Covid-19 new cases. We had been hit by a second wave and hit hard – the figures were terrifying. But just as terrifying had been the public’s response. The Covid-deniers, saying it’s “no worse than the flu” while in the background their TV showed images of the mass graves being built in New York City. Horror stories of the Covidiots who have been diagnosed as having the deadly illness and have then proceeded to go into work or go to the shops. And worse still are those who blame the second wave on the premier, saying it is his fault that people have chosen to disobey the restrictions and refused to quarantine themselves, and decrying the restrictions that have been imposed in the same breath. While the Prime Minister has shirked all responsibility, while Trump has suggested it’s a hoax or used it to incite hostility against China, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been listening to and following the advice of the Cheif Medical Officer. There is no doubt in my mind that of the three, it is Andrews who is least likely to win the next election and retain his seat.

This year I have begun working with the small publishing company Deadset Press. Through this role, I have proof-read and edited a number of Aiki Flinthart’s wonderful short stories for publication in the Zodiac series. Each time it had caused no small amount of heartache, and I haven’t been able to stop myself from wondering if that will be the last of her stories I have the chance to help publish. I may be biased, but I like to think that of all artists, writers share more of themselves than other artists. Through their words, they share their worlds. They tell the tales of their experience. They give us their hopes of a better future, of their perfect worlds. Each story is an insight into their soul; their passions, their fears, their hopes, and their past. The one thing I know for sure about Aiki is that she is a fighter. She is going to fight with everything she’s got. And who knows, she just might win.

In the end though, death comes for us all, and far too soon that we’d want it. It came for Breonna Taylor too soon. For David Dungay Jr, whose last words (while being held down by six corrections officers) were “I can’t breathe.” It came too soon for so many who could have been spared from Covid-19 had their leaders taken the threat seriously.
We are reaching the end of 2020, and I can assure you that the year is not done with us yet. Those of us who get through have an obligation to make sure no-one else is taken too soon. We must fight against Cancer, we must fight against Covid-19, we must fight against the systematic inequality that allows for so many to be killed by the police or while in custody.

*The Aussie Speculative Fiction group is creating a Charity Anthology with all proceeds going to the Melanoma Institute of Australia. Find out more here. Make sure you visit Aiki Flinthart’s website to learn more about her, her books and her writing guides.

*For more about Indigenous Deaths in Custody, go here.

(Originally Published September 2020)

My Twenty Favourite Books from 2019 (Part 2)

With many people are stuck at home and quite possibly in need of new reading material, it’s probably a good time to talk about my favourite books out of everything I read last year. There’s no better place to escape to than the worlds within a good book, so here’s my Top 10 countdown. I am hoping some of you will be inspired to pick up one or two of these great books and read them yourselves! It’s great to keep supporting artists any way you can in times like these.

#10 IF I WAKE by Nikki Moyes.
Moyes’ novel IF I WAKE is a story like few others I’ve read. There’s a lot of really good things about this book. It’s powerful, it’s accessible, it’s written well. Lucy is a bullied teen, and she’s only happy in her dreams, where she travels back in time. Each time a different location, a different century, but there is always one constant, Will. Look, I’m not a huge fan of time travel stories, because they are often predictable – people meet Napoleon, kill Hitler, or help some American president. But IF I WAKE handles it differently. Lucy finds different incarnations of Will in each of her dreams; Wu, Walker, Villius, Wilhelm, William, Billy and Willis. They are all regular people, struggling with the dangers of their time, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

#9 JOURNEYS by Aussie Speculative Fiction.
JOURNEYS is an anthology of speculative fiction stories themed around ‘Journeys’ with each story written by an author from Australia or New Zealand. There are sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian and horror stories, and each one gives a unique interpretation of the theme. My favourites are ‘Lebensqualität’ by Alice Lam, ‘Pilgrimage to Earth’ by Nick Marone and ‘The Fury’ by Faran Silverton, but each tale has something unique and memorable about it.

#8 THE END OF THE WORLD NEWS by Anthony Burgess.
To me, THE END OF THE WORLD NEWS is bizarre and crazy in the best way possible. It displays ingenuity and creativity in literature in a way that I’ve never seen before. Three completely different stories and three completely different styles of writing entwined together; the story of Freud developing and establishing his career and eventually fleeing Nazi Germany, a broadway musical of Trotsky in New York encouraging revolution but falling in love, and a sci-fi adventure where a rogue planet causes the utter destruction of planet Earth.

#7 THE RISE by Sue-Ellen Pashley.
This is a tale of community, hope persecution and survival in the flooded world of Deadset Press’ ‘Drowned Earth’ series. Pashley’s story is set on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and revolves around Katie’s investigation the attempted murder of her friend Mason – a crime unheard of in their community. Trying to solve the mystery of who had stabbed Mason and why, Katie soon learns that the people she can trust in her close-knit community are few and far between. The characters in THE RISE are wonderful, Katie and Ellie stood out for me, their friendship felt real and their unique personalities really came through.  And Alex, a Territory leader, just gave off creepy and untrustworthy vibes.  I thought all the characters were well written, and they stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the story. The suspense, action and tension is really well done, and the new world Pashley has described in THE RISE feels so real.

#6 FOUR DEAD QUEENS by Astrid Scholte.
FOUR DEAD QUEENS is the superb debut of Astrid Scholte, and was an absolute delight to read. This book is the story of Keralie, a young thief.  And it’s the story of Quadaria. In a stunning opening, Keralie steals a case containing valuable memory chips, and – caught in a trap between her victim and her boss – she ingests the memory chips in a desperate attempt to escape, resulting in her seeing vivid images of the murders of Quadara’s queens; Marguerite, Stessa, Corra and Iris.  From there we’re treated to chapters from the points-of-view of each queen and learn their stories, and secrets.  But what’s happening?  Aren’t they dead?  Have we gone back in time?  And that’s one thing that makes FOUR DEAD QUEENS so good – Scholte keeps you guessing until the end.


And here begins the Top 5. I’m excited – are you?

#5 TIDES OF WAR by Marcus Turner.
This debut novella is a fantastic and gripping story of survival and vengeance in a post-apocalyptic world. Like THE RISE, this is also part of the ‘Drowned Earth’ series, except TIDES OF WAR focuses on the plight of Maria and the survivors of what used to be Melbourne. They are struggling against famine and disease, until one day Maria discovers that there are floating cities out there on the ocean who knew that the destruction was coming, and turned their back on the rest of the world.
Filled with action, intrigue and memorable characters, TIDES OF WAR is not to be missed. It’s like Mad Max meets Waterworld (but if Waterworld was good). And in a book.

#4 BENEATH THE SURFACE by Rebecca Langham.
This is the story of Lydia, the governor’s daughter who seeks seclusion from the public eye by teaching at the Outsider facility, and it’s the story of Alessia, a reclusive leader of the Outsiders, the alien race who sought refuge on Earth and were hidden away from humanity. The tension that grows, the secrets that are uncovered, and the shifting relationships between the characters make for compelling reading.
What really stood out to me was the strong political elements in this piece, which I love to see.  BENEATH THE SURFACE reads as a condemnation, of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers.  The inhumanity of placing innocent people fleeing war in a prison where they are neglected, abused and given no hope of a future is very powerfully portrayed.  One great touch is the ability of the Outsiders to manipulate their body between feminine, androgynous and masculine depending on which gender they felt suited them, which explores and discusses gender and sexual identity in a new way. It’s engaging, it’s well-written, the characters are great and the twists are genuinely unexpected. A superb book.

#3 THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula le Guin.
I just can’t go a year without returning to Le Guin, whether it’s re-reading a classic or if I’ve picked up something by her I’ve never read before, I cannot help myself. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS – like much of Le Guin’s work – can best be described as ‘revolutionary’. It’s science fiction which explores and deals with not just the science of extraterrestrial worlds and alien species, but the science of politics, of psychology, of sexuality. The protagonist is an emissary to the world of Winter, and invite them into an interplanetary alliance. The inhabitants of this new world have a biological quirk which makes them neither male or female most of the time, and their identity or roles are therefore not determined by gender. In this way it’s also a great exploration of gender roles and equality, and how political and cultural norms can force a wedge between societies. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

#2 CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi.
This book is something special. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is the beautifully written story of a young Diviner’s quest to bring magic back to the kingdom of Orisha. But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s the story of living in fear, of the oppression, violence and powerlessness that comes from living in a world that sees you as nothing, as a maggot. In short it tells the lived experience of African-Americans living in America. The characters and worldbuilding are incredible. The story is paced perfectly, and is full of excitement, danger, fear as well as love and hope. I absolutely loved this book. The characters were so well crafted and engaging, and Adeyemi’s the description of the fear, the pain and the grief was amazing. I always love it when books have that political element – no matter how otherworldly or fantastical the setting, this is a story that just needs to be read.

#1 IRON by Aiki Flinthart.
Aiki Flinthart has done a magnificent job with IRON. With her geology background she had created a vivid, rich and wonderful sci-fi world. The story is set on Kalima – a human colony on a far-flung planet – and Kalima’s history means it is short on one very important resource.  Iron. 
Alere is a ward of Xintou house under Mistress Li, and trains as a weishi (a warrior) and a jiaoji (courtesan).  She is given the task of serving as jiaoji for Medina’s jun (ruler), who sends Alere on a mission to find her unknown father and stop a war over a hidden iron deposit. Her world is thrown into chaos when she is accused of the Jun’s murder. She battles self-doubt, and worthlessness, obligations and responsibility against her own desire of freedom.  And then there’s the weishi of Madina who believe she’s responsible for the jun’s death and are pursuing her to bring her to justice, not to mention other foes they meet along the way. The story and characters are wonderful, complex and engaging, but the real highlight for me is the world that Flinthart has created.  What brings the world of Kalima to life so well is the smattering of arabic and mandarin throughout. And because this is done so well, you can’t help but be transported into Alere’s world.  IRON is full of gripping and incredibly well-written fight scenes, there are revelations and danger at every turn, and great characters. While technically a sci-fi piece, it reads like an exciting action-packed YA fantasy, and I simply cannot fault it.

So that’s it for my top 20 books of 2019! Let me know what think of my list, or share your own favourite books from the last year! There’s bound to be one or two books on that list which you might not have heard of, so do yourself a favour and check them out!

(Originally published April 2020)

Book Review: RESISTANCE

Firstly, I’d like to draw attention to this awesome, distinctive cover. Kopievsky’s RESISTANCE, book one in The Divided Elements series, is a wonderful debut novel. In this story, the post-apocalyptic world is inhabited by fire, water, earth and air elementals. Every person is aligned to an element, which dictates their roles in society, how they think, behave and interact with the rest of the world.

Aniya, the protagonist, is a fire elemental who works as an elite peacekeeper. One night, while on patrol, she discovers a mural urging for resistance. The strength of Otopor, the reason given for the community’s perseverance and survival against the harsh world is the strict adherence to the rules and beliefs of orthodoxy. As a peacekeeper, Anika is duty-bound to keep the law and to preserve the rule of orthodoxy. This mural is the first sign of a heterodox rebellion for a very long time, and Aniya is given a task to go undercover and find the ringleaders of the resistance. And this requires Aniya to undergo a radical elemental re-alignment. After being aligned to the Air element and finding friends amongst the Water, Air and Earth elementals, Aniya learns more about herself and about Otopor than she expected.

There are many twists and plenty of intrigue in this novel, Kopievsky’s writing brings all the action and characters to life, fully realised against the futuristic city. The worldbuilding here is wonderful, you get a vivid sense of Otopor, of the bars and nightlife, of the exhilaration, excitement, tension and danger present around any corner. One thing also worth mentioning is how well Kopievsky handled the protagonist’s change from one element to the other, how some senses were dulled and others highlighted, how her attitudes and understanding changed.

Ultimately, RESISTANCE is a great, immersive read, and I’m really excited about where the rest of the series goes. Kopievsky has shown a lot of vision and talent in creating an exciting and different world, and some wonderful characters. To find out more about Mikhaeyla Kopievsky and her work, check out her page here!

My Twenty Favourite Books from 2019 (Part One)

Since many people are stuck inside right now, it’s a good time to share this blog about my favourite reads from 2019. There’s no better place to escape to than the worlds within a good book, so here’s books 20 – 11 out of my favourites from last year. Hopefully some of you will be inspired to pick up one or two of these great books and read them yourselves! It’s great to keep supporting artists any way you can in times like these.

#20 – GUARDS! GUARDS! by Terry Pratchett.
I’ve always been aware of Pratchett, I’ve read books he co-wrote with other authors, I’ve seen and enjoyed movies based on his stories, but this was the first proper Pratchett book that I read. Pratchett’s humour, his wit, is just brilliant. His style is satirical, intelligent, and full of fun. His characters are captivating, memorable, and larger-than-life. Which is normally a good thing. But in this case, one of the characters was a large woman, and IMO much of the humour crossed the line into body-shaming, which really made it hard for me to enjoy the book.

#19 – EON by Alison Goodman.
There are some wonderful aspects of this story – Dragons based on the Chinese Zodiac, and a believable hero that you can relate to.  Eon, the protagonist, is flawed-not just through her disability or the lies she must tell to stay alive-and makes the odd questionable decision. I also need to mention Lady Dela, a “two-spirit” who has a biologically male body but is a woman.  She is true to herself and knows the value and strength of being a woman, in contrast with Eon, who sees her femininity as a weakness.  But all of this greatness is somewhat lost towards the end when Eon’s disability is magically cured – just erasing a disability like that, literally a magic cure, it just didn’t sit right with me.

#18 – THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM by Herman Hesse.
As much as I want to read diversely, part of me is fascinated by German history. This book takes us to Western Germany in the ’70s, where the sensationalist tabloid media drags a good woman’s name through the mud for an alleged romantic affair. Stylistically this reads like a factual report, sober and withdrawn, telling the incidents as they occurred. So it’s rather dry, but still a quick, interesting read.

#17 – THE QUADRANTS is Rohsaan McInnes’ debut novel. It’s an engaging YA Magical Realism story, focusing on Rohan and Eve, two high school outcasts, and Titus, a bully. Soon after Rohan’s sixteenth birthday, he starts getting an awful lot stronger. Titus is not surprised by Rohan’s strength and explains that he must be a Terrus, a person from the Quadrants with powers of the Earth. Titus reveals that he is an Ignus, with the power of flames. Rohan’s world is rocked to its core, and he is drawn to Titus, who is the only person who can explain to him what is happening to him, about the secret world to which he belongs. One highlight was the changing relationships between the characters. McInnes’ skilful writing made it feel believable and drew you in further to the plight of her characters.

#16 – THE HILLS OF THE MOON. Carleton Chinner has weaved together an interesting and imaginative tale of rebellion, of humanity (moonanity?), of redemption and hope.  There’s a lot of engaging sci-fi elements and fight scenes that were done really well. I especially enjoyed the details of transport between Earth and the Moon. THE HILLS OF THE MOON is a great sci-fi read, and while some elements may be familiar, it’s a unique and gripping tale.

#15 – HERO by Belinda Crawford. This is the first book in Crawford’s THE HERO REBELLION series, and I was hooked from the start. A human colony on a lonely planet.  A girl who hears voices, her only friend a massive genetically-engineered leopard, and her quest for freedom, her quest for the truth. Hero Regan is a really engaging protagonist.  Her struggles to fit in at the Cumulus City school, wanting nothing more than to be normal and have friends, is conveyed very well.  Throughout the story, Hero pieces the puzzle together of her own existence and unravels webs of intrigue and deceit which go right back to the colonisation of the planet.

#14 – CAPRICORN: SPECULATIVE FICTION INSPIRED BY THE ZODIAC is the first of Deadset Press’ Zodiac-inspired speculative fiction anthologies. It’s a great collection of stories by writers from Australia and New Zealand, with sci-fi horror, a Lovecraftian piece based on the ancient myths behind the Capricorn sign, and some chilling dark fantasy tales and poems. Highlights include ‘The Pact’ by Dee Cheers, ‘Lord of the Deep’ by Marcus Turner and ‘The Sea-Father’s Due’ by Nikky Lee.

#13 – FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE by Stephen Donaldson. This is the second book in Donaldson’s mindblowing space opera, and it’s not for the fain-hearted. It’s dark and brutal, and the characters range from barely tolerable to downright despicable. What I love about this series is how the role of the three main characters change between hero, victim and villain. It’s edge-of-your-seat action right the way through, and while it’s not ‘horror’ it’s scary in a much more real way than tales that deal with ghosts or (non-human) monsters.

#12 – DEVOURING DARK by Alan Baxter. Devouring Dark is a riveting tale of crime, guilt, death and punishment, set in London’s urban sprawl. The characters are excellent, relatable, believable. I love books where the characters aren’t clear-cut good or bad, but have both positive and negative traits. And Baxter created a real sense of danger and increasing urgency as the tale approached the end. I really enjoyed DEVOURING DARK, and I recommend it to anyone who likes gritty and dark tales. On my bookshelf right now is another of Baxter’s books, ‘Hidden City’, thinking about how much I enjoyed DEVOURING DARK I am really looking forward to reading that one!

#11 – BURN by Keri Arthur. Arthur’s BURN is the third book in her ‘Kingdom of Earth and Air’ series, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up because the protagonist has recently lost her memory, so they don’t know much about their world either! The world-building throughout the book is exceptional, featuring a great combination of technology and magic. The cast of characters are great, and this is a world I’m going to want to keep coming back to!

So that’s the first ten books in my top 20 from last year! As I said, it’s really important to support artists at a time like this, with many events, book launches and so forth being cancelled. Not only that, but frankly some of these great books just haven’t been read enough – The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Hero, The Quadrants, Devouring Dark and Burn in particular. That’s it for now, but I can’t wait to share with you my top 10, so make sure you come back in a week or so!

Book Review: THE GIFTS OF FATE

THE GIFTS OF FATE by David T. Myers is an engaging urban fantasy / magical realism story set in Sydney. And honestly, that was enough to draw me in.  As much as I love sci-fi and fantasy that takes me to different worlds, I always love a story that’s set in places I know, but transforms that place, puts it in a new perspective… One of my favourite examples of this is Fallada’s ‘Alone in Berlin’ – a story of ordinary berliners living in fear of the gestapo, of the nightly bombings, who begin a campaign of resistance against the Nazi party.  I’ve been to Berlin, my mother’s family lived through the war there (much the same as Fallada’s characters), and the book really allowed me to explore what Berlin would have looked like during the 1930s and 40s.

So, THE GIFTS OF FATE is set in Sydney, which Myers describes very well, and he adds in a supernatural element, mystic forces, mysterious warring groups, deadly and terrifying shadows, and obscure objects of power and pain. The story focuses on Shilpy Chopra, who grew up amongst a cult.  Shilpy escaped, but can’t escape the nightmares or the visions which continually plague her.  She largely keeps herself, isolated from the world, but has Dusk, a handsome boyfriend with secrets of his own.  The visions which have plagued Shilpy since her escape from the cult force her to contact fortune tellers, tarot card readers, looking for an insight, a cure, something to stop these visions. But these visits brings her to the attention of the cult she had escaped from, and soon they are on her trail. Shilpy’s recurring nightmares and visions revolve around Dusk being attacked and torn apart by vicious shadows, and soon elements of her nightmares begin to come true. How much danger is Dusk really in, and what – if anything – can she do to protect him?

All in all I was really impressed by this story. Probably the one thing (if I’m being super picky) was the transitions between Shilpy’s visions and her real life, or between one vision and the next, sometimes made me feel a little lost. Ultimately, THE GIFTS OF FATE is an engrossing, well-written story and I strongly encourage you all to check it out here!

Trading One Hell For Another

My wife and I are looking at selling our home and moving out to somewhere that closely resembles the country. We’re at the stage of prettying up our home to make it more appealing to potential buyers. And you know what? It is very much like editing a manuscript.

Furniture that doesn’t belong? Delete it.

Damaged doors or appliances? Replace them.

Things that you love but don’t have room for? Put them in storage.

And everything that’s left you polish polish polish, and hope that it comes out as a decent approximation of what you wanted in the first place.

You can even get professionals to help, give it a fresh coat of paint or polish the floorboards, taking something familiar but make it feel new and inviting.

The same core elements apply. You need a solid foundation to start with. It takes a lot of bloody effort. You have moments of doubt, and you ask the same questions; “What the hell am I doing?” “Am I even qualified?” “What if they don’t like it?” “Why do I even bother.” But as you keep going, you see it transform in front of you from an utter dumpster to something you can be proud of. Maybe not perfect, or as good as you hoped. You will always see the imperfections, the minor flaws, but hopefully whoever is inspecting it won’t see them, and hopefully they’ll find something they love.

Aside from looking at moving, it has been a crazy last few months. My debut novella ‘Submerged City’ was published via Deadset Press in November, and (briefly) made it to #2 in the Sea Adventure Fiction New Release category on Amazon, and I have received so many wonderful reviews. It has been a wonderful experience, but it isn’t over. Submerged City is part of the Drowned Earth series, where eight Australian authors have written a novella set in a shared world, an Australia changed forever by a watery apocalypse. While the novellas are set in the one shared world, they are all stand-alone stories, so you can pick up any one and dive straight in. (If you want to check out Submerged City or the other Drowned Earth novellas, click here. Or you can buy it from amazon.com.au or amazon.com).

I am working on a sci-fi novella right now, tentatively called ‘The Lifeboat’ which focuses on the crew of a small transport vessel as they escape the destruction of a colony planet at the hands of an unknown invader, their cargo hold full of refugee children. And when I’m not working on that, I have stories for Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Zodiac-inspired anthologies to put together.

Oh, I am also working on another project, writing a children’s book for my niece and nephew. Or maybe it’s middle grade? I’ve never been good at those. But the book it a lot of fun, (at their request) it features leprechauns and unicorns, so it’s something different again to what I usually write.

On the reading front, I’m trying to read 40 books this year through Goodreads. I’ve just finished Becky Chambers’ ‘A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ which was really fun. If you like sci-fi, I strongly suggest you check it out. I haven’t read nearly enough sci-fi written in the last five years, but a lot of the more modern stuff I had read felt sterile, and had painted a picture of space that was bleak and empty. Chambers’ universe, on the other hand, is full of other sentient species – all wonderfully described – and it seems the crew of the Wayfarer can’t go a couple of days without visiting a space station or colony or encountering another vessel out there.

And I’m doing two things that I’ve never done before. Well, three. I have tried to organise my TBR pile, so I am alternating between new books by Aussie and Kiwi authors and books by international authors, I’m curious to see how long that will last. And I have started reading e-books. I’m really missing holding an actual paperback, and I’m not enjoying reading from a screen, but I’m doing it. And this means that I’ve actually started buying e-books from Amazon, so I can leave reviews on Amazon. Authors with indie publishers or who are self-published need as many reviews as they can get, and as much as I don’t like giving Amazon money (I would much rather buy direct from the author), they are one of the most visible and helpful places to leave reviews.

Well, thanks for reading my blog! I hope everything in your world is peachy!

  • Originally published February 2020