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This is a book review and science fiction blog, for the most part, with the odd convention report and travel notes. And maybe the occasional Celtic goddess, such as the Great Raven...
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26. Tanith Lee And Me

I first discovered Tanith Lee when I was still living at home, working at my first job. The local bookshop, Sunflower, was run by a delightful couple, Brian and Noreen Ormsby. Brian was a fellow spec fic fan. One day, he pushed a book into my hands. "It's a new writer. Read this, it's great!" 

It was Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave. It turned out to be about a woman who has been lying asleep under a volcano for a long time. She doesn't know who she is, not even her own name, but she has powers, as she discovers. She is fleeing from a being known as Karrakaz, until she finds out... Well, I'll leave you to find out for yourself. I loved the way this regular heroic fantasy turned suddenly into science fiction! Would I love it today? I don't know, it has been a long time and I've rather gone off fantasy, or rather, I am very picky about what fantasy I read, much more picky than I was then, but I'm glad I gave that one a go, because I wouldn't have, today. In a day when you don't get this kind of fantasy much under 600-700 pages, it's strange to realise it was only about 300. There were sequels, but it was not at all today's Fat Fantasy Trilogy.


And so began a long and happy love affair with the works of Tanith Lee. I must have read about twenty of her adult books and some of her children's books - I didn't care for the later adult books, and discovered other writers, but some glow like gems in my memory. There were her short stories. I particularly remember the story in which a demon lord can't understand why humans don't love snakes as he does...so he creates cats, which are just snakes that have fur and can be cuddled. Can you think of a better way to describe cats? And there was the story set in India, about a couple who have gone through an arranged marriage. Neither of them is an oil painting. But when their train is stopped in the middle of nowhere, something happens that lets each of them see the other's beautiful soul - and this effect is permanent. They live happily ever after.     

And her delightful anthology of twisted fairytales, Red As Blood. Snow White as a vampire - her stepmother is trying to save her soul. Little Red Riding Hood as a werewolf... Well, read it. 



There was Sabella, which was set on an old-style Mars, the kind writers used to create in the Golden Age of SF. The heroine is a vampire who survives as a prostitute. But she's more than a vampire, as she discovers. She isn't undead, she's born that way, but again - more than she seems...



Does anyone remember Blake's 7? It was a British SF series of the 1970s/early 80s. It still has its fans, young ones as well as old, and a search on YouTube will find some fan made episodes. Tanith Lee wrote two episodes, Sarcophagus and Sand. She became something of a fangirl of Paul Darrow, the handsome actor who played antihero Avon. This led to a delicious novel called Kill The Dead, which became the one Blake's 7 female fans hunted down to read. I have a copy somewhere. The hero, an Avon-like ghost hunter, is called Parl Dro. Yeah. :-) (It's dedicated to "Valentine" - Mr Darrow's middle name)He travels with a thief and musician called Myal Lemyal, who is based on Vila, another character from Blake's 7. It's not her best book, but is great fun. 



The Silver Metal Lover is set in a world in which robots are metallic, but otherwise human in every way. They even seem to follow Asimov's Three Laws, though those are not mentioned - everyone these days uses the Three Laws and forgets, or doesn't know, where they come from. And these robots are better than humans. Humans don't like the competition. So they are recalled, including the beautiful silver man with whom the teenage heroine has fallen deeply in love... That one had me almost in tears and if it doesn't make you at least sniffle, there's something wrong with you. 



But my all time favourite of her writing is the pair of books that have been published under one cover as Drinking Sapphire Wine. This one is set in a distant future in which you can literally change your body to any shape you want. You can be a big hulking man one day and have yourself reshaped as a tiny, beautiful woman the next. If you get killed, you can be brought back, no problems. Your parents might be two men the next time you visit them. You can live a life all for fun if that's what you want. In fact, you're encouraged to do that by the machines who are running the world. The one thing you can't do until you reach a certain age is anything meaningful, like a job. Our heroine - who does occasionally become a man - has become frustrated and wants to do something meaningful with her life - but when she insists on being given a job before her time, she discovers that even those are dull and meaningless, eg pushing buttons that would push themselves if you failed to do it. She does something that finally gets her exiled - and then the story really begins.. 



This is a writer we're all going to miss very much. See, it wasn't just the storylines, which were great. It is the fact that all her books have human beings - or sort-of human beings - with human problems. She didn't write fantasy about an elf, a long lost prince, a couple of dwarves and a sorceress on a Quest. And if she had, it would have been about the people, not the Quest.

If you haven't read any of her work, go and get it(but check the publication date - the most recent are not as good).

 You won't be sorry.

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27. Tanith Lee Is No More!

Rats! I just read about it this morning - lucky I get the Tor newsletter or I might have gone a long time without hearing about it. 


Tanith Lee, the Queen of fantasy, has been gone since May 24 and the world is just a bit emptier for it. Two fantasy giants, however different, gone in a few months - no, it 's too much for me. Just too much.


I will post more when I can get my head around it a bit more. But I will be very disappointed if there isn't some form of tribute to her at Continuum this weekend, though with my luck it will be tonight or tomorrow night, when I won't be there.

Stand by.

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28. Reading Matters 2015 - Some Books I Bought

Three days! It was a wonderful conference but, unlike SF conventions, you don't really have the option of hanging about outside chatting with friends old and new. Well, you can, but then you miss what you're there for, and I spent $$$ on the membership. And I was cold in that room. I'm told it was just me - even Virginia Lowe, who is much older than me, was surprised when I told her. My mother and sister both suggest it means that I'm not well. So right now, I'm achey all over and have a sore throat.  Oh, well.

I ended up buying some books in print because they weren't on iBooks. In ebook, I got Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains, a piece of historical fiction about African Americans who were slaves in the North during the American Revolution. The sequel wasn't available in ebook, so that was one I bought in print. I also bought her first novel, Speak, in ebook.

I bought Erin Gough's gay YA romance, Flywheel. It sounded like fun.

Clare Wright's Stella-winning non fiction about the women at Eureka, The Forgotten Rebels Of Eureka, sounded fascinating, so I got the book of that. She is apparently working on the YA version, which is mostly abridged. If I like it, I may get that for my library, because I've found the junior version of Mao's Last Dancer has gone over well with our students. Kids do like non fiction if it's about a subject that interests them.

I must admit, her talk went rather too long for my tastes, but it may be because I was starting to feel unwell and just wanted to get out and have a hot drink.

My final ebook was Sean Williams' Jump, which is a what-if that suggests how different the world might be if we had matter transmitters like the ones in Star Trek. We do have a copy in my library, but I don't feel like lugging it home - and if I've been enjoying it, I might be able to recommend it.

One of my print books is Sally Gardner's The Door That Led To Where, a timeslip story about a boy in the here and now who travels back to London in 1830 through a door that only his mysterious key can open - but someone has left the door unlocked and people on both sides have been misusing it for their own ends. It's very entertaining and I've already finished it. I'm starting to read the latest Rbecca Lim novel, The Astrologer's Daughter, which I'm enjoying very much so far, only has anyone noticed how many books these days have titles that go "The ______'s Daughter"?  Still. I have never read one of her books I didn't like and so far, this one is no exception.

Lots of great stuff to read ahead of me!

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29. Reading Matters 2015

Reading Matters 2015 - Student Day and Day 1

I love the Reading Matters Conference. It has been going for a long time and I've gone to all of them. I remember the first one, organised by Agnes Nieuwenhausen. Afterwards, we all went to dinner at a Greek restaurant somewhere in Lonsdale St. I forget which one, though it's probably still there. I was sitting next to Jack Dann, whose wife was one of the speakers. It was nice hearing this American SF writer telling the American next to him how wonderful it was to live in Australia and how safe he felt. They were living in South Yarra at the time, but have since moved to Foster, a beautiful coastal town where Jack can look at the sea as he writes.

There have been ten more since then and on Thursday I was able to take some students to the Student Day. They are all great kids, who didn't disappear and stayed together. One of them not only bought several books and got them signed, but discovered a place at Melbourne Central station where people drop unwanted books and pick up anything they want. It's called the Little Library and I think the two books she picked up were ex library books. They were also books she had been wanting, in a series she is reading. I heard the murmur of envy and admiration from the other students as she showed them off.

One of my students is an autistic lad who is mostly fine, but can explode if he gets upset. This time, he socialised nicely(normally he prefers to sit by himself in class), got his book autographed by Will Kostakis(I took a photo which I can't share with you due to the legalities, but it was a nice one)and generally had a ball. Now and then he asked me a question, but he whispered it and I replied. The integration aides had assured me he would be fine as long as I gave him some attention, so I sat next to him. When Jaclyn Moriarty was talking about how she created her universe for her series "The Colours Of Madeleine" she mentioned a childhood incident in the life of Isaac Newton and I whispered to my young friend that Newton had been autistic(he was, Asperger's, I believe, and that childhood incident confirmed that for me).

I think the highlights of the day were Jaclyn Moriarty, and Sally Gardner's talk about how she was dyslexic and how Dickens wouldn't have made it as a journalist today because he had very little education and the big newspapers refuse anyone without a degree from the major universities. She has written a timeslip story in which the hero time travels to pre-Victorian London. (I have since bought that and am thoroughly enjoying it). Another highlight was the panel with Will Kostakis and Amie Kaufman, which was after lunch. As one of my students said, "They left the best till last." Well, yes and no. Sally Gardner was before lunch. But I do have to say, they need to do something about those microphones in the State Library. The voices were blurred and you had to listen really hard to be able to make out anything the speakers were saying. The panel with the two American GoHs was very hard to make out. There was a motivational speech about following your dreams by Abe Nouk, a local poet and former refugee who has lived here for about eleven years. He is self published(though, to be honest, most poets these days are. Even Steven Herrick, who was selling verse novels to big publishers, has started writing prose these days)

Yesterday, which was at the ANZ Pavilion in the Arts Centre, the microphones were fine.

Anyway, we had a good day and the kids went to get a bit of lunch to take away and bs k we went to Sunshine. Some had notes to say they could be dismissed from the station. Some I dismissed from the shops near school since they live nearby. The rest came back and went home from school. And my autistic lad said, "Thank you for giving up a day of your time in the library to take us."

Is that sweet or what?

I tweeted instead of taking notes yesterday. I bought books! They will, of course, all go into the school library when I've finished reading them. I might review some.

The GoHs were better yesterday, when I could hear them properly. I downloaded two of Laurie Halse Anderson's books and bought in print editions a couple that weren't available on iBooks. Laurie H A gave a very good GoH speech - on the Student Day she was only on a panel. It makes a lot of difference, believe me. As well as contemporary fiction with a gay slant, she writes historical fiction. She spoke of her disillusionment with Benjamin Franklin, who had been her hero until she discovered he was a slave owner all his life. (Well, so were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and Washington was horrible to his slaves, while Jefferson's lived better than the free peasants, but that's not the point, is it?). Anyway, I bought both her historical novels. I didn't bother with autographs, since I won't be keeping them, and some were ebooks anyway.

I met a few people I knew - Sharon, who used to work with me in the library, who now works at a Catholic girls' school down the road, and Vikki Wakefield, who said it was nice to be there just as a member of the audience instead of a speaker(nice to know, though I'd be thrilled if someone asked ME to speak at a Festival!) I ran into Ellie Marney, who writes that junior modern day Sherlock Holmes fiction, who saw my name tag and asked,"Aren't you on Twitter?" I said I was and that we were doing a panel together at Continuum next week. I'm also doing one with Amie Kaufman, but I think we've done one before. I also met Kirsty Murray, who said she wasn't going to be there today.  I told her one of my students is a big fan of hers and had acquired her latest book on Thursday - pity I couldn't get it signed for her. Oh, well.

I had a bit of egoboo in the morning when the first person I met said, "Hey, you're a writer!"

More today! I will add my photos tonight when I can download them to my computer.

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30. My Take On An Open Letter From GRRM


A friend sent me a certain link, thinking it might amuse me. It did, sort of.

Here it is, so you can read it too. 


It seems people have been noticing how many characters you like get killed in Game Of Thrones. Some must have been complaining about it, because his response is rather grumpy. But I did chuckle when he pointed out that, among other things, Ned Stark is an idiot who warned his enemy - and then that they had cast Sean Bean in the role, what did people expect? Because, of course, he does  tend to play roles in which he is killed off. I can think of two off the top of my head - Boromir in LOTR and a man who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII in the miniseries with Ray Winstone(I forget the character's name, but he was real, and Mr Bean got to use his Yorkshire accent). Though he also played Odysseus in Troy and Odysseus survived, didn't he, and came home to a faithful wife and a loyal son, unlike the other Greek heroes. 

Then he went on to call William Shakespeare a psycho and argue that there are piles of bodies on the stage in Shakespeare tragedies. Well, yes. Though one play he describes with gruesome relish is Titus Andronicus, which was probably Shakespeare's first play, certainly early in his career. I must admit, that's one I can't watch. I had to read it at university and haven't read it since then and I didn't go to see the movie(what were they thinking, choosing that one?). It's too awful. There's even a scene where this man is standing making a beautiful, lyrical speech about his niece when she has just been raped and mutilated! But the thing is, it wasn't the only one of its kind. It was part of a very popular genre, the revenge tragedy. I guess he and his company must have decided to cash in on the craze,

And Shakespeare, like a certain American spec fic writer complaining about him, was a writer of popular stuff that everyone went to see. He was a commercial writer. If he was alive today he would probably be writing sensationalist stuff for TV. He wouldn't be getting invited to writers' festivals to talk about the deep and meaningful symbolism in his work. The fact that he wrote stuff that makes you laugh and cry and says for you things that you can't express yourself and has something to say about everything  is beside the point. He would probably be shocked to find people running courses in his work. I had a very faint taste of that once, when I found an online review of a short story I had forgotten I'd written, reading into it all sorts of things that had never occurred to me when I wrote it. 

Shakespeare was the sort of guy you could have a beer with at the pub. And he wrote plays that are still performed, not because they're great literature(though they are)but because they still have things to say to us. 

Then Mr Martin goes on about that dreadful, violent book, the Bible. Well, I can't deny that. I have always liked the Bible for that very reason, all the sex and violence ...;-) 

I read The Game Of Thrones when it first came out. I liked it for the believable mediaeval stink and discomfort and for the fascinating weather conditions on whichever planet it is, oh, and for all the eating that goes on. Some fans wrote a wonderful cookbook, which I have at home. I have since read more, though I'm not sure I'll finish the series, not because of the violence and killing off your favourite characters, but because, IMO, it has turned into a soap opera. I'm not a fan of the soaps.  I'm also not a fan, in general, of fat fantasy series, however good they might be. Terry Pratchett was another matter. His books weren't thick and it mostly didn't matter if you hadn't read the earlier ones, though you'd probably rush off to find them anyway.

To be honest, there are other books of his that I prefer. Tuf Voyaging, the space-based story of a man and his cats and their adventures in a seed ship. Fevre Dream, the story of vampires in the Old South and a vampire who is sick of killing people and wants to find another way of getting his nutrition, is my favourite. That was about to come out when he was in Melbourne for a very small convention at a tiny hotel in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne - the population is small here, so even US minicons would be huge compared to our conventions. I remember him saying that he chose that setting because it was a time and place where slaves could disappear and nobody would ask questions. He was working on the TV series Beauty And The Beast at the time. And I enjoyed his work. Fortunately, the early ones are still in print, no doubt because of the success of his later ones. Read them if you can. 

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31. The Glorious 25th Of May! Terry Pratchett's Night Watch

                                                         
Truth! Justice! Freedom! And a hard boiled egg! (And no, I'm not going to say, "Make that two hard boiled eggs" - different universe)

Just now, I finished rereading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch. It's one of the later City Watch novels. It's one if my favourites. And it occurred to me that this is "the glorious 25th of May" as mentioned in the book,so what better day to post about it? 

In this one, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Cory Watch, is without the backup of his loyal crew, Carrot, Angua, Cheery Littlebottom, Detritus and so on, because he has been thrown into his own past. He does, mind you, have Fred Colon. Nobby Nobbs is there, but he's a child, who's carved himself a police badge from soap. Still, he's useful. The future zombie Reg Shoe is alive. There's a rebellion growing in the city against the current Patrician(Vetinari, the future Patrician, is still a student at the Assassin's Guild, though he plays a very important role in the story, as does his aunt, presumably the one mentioned in Guards!Guards!). The History Monks are around - and I had just been rereading  Thief Of Time, in which you first met Lu Tze, the old monk who exhorts you to remember Rule 1(beware of skinny old men) and follows the Way of Mrs Cosmopolite. Vimes is thrown into the past while chasing a genuinely evil murderer, and realises that if he doesn't mentor his young self and take part in things happening in thus history, he may never make it back at all to his wife, his about-to-be-born child and his friends - and the murderer is right at home in the scary old times of Ankh-Morpork.

As I said, one of my favourites and there's a delightful adaptation of Rembrandt's painting on the cover.

But I love pretty much anything of Terry Pratchett's and I love this universe because, unlike many other fantasy writers, he doesn't waste time on long lost princes and elves going on a quest. Well, there  is a long-lost king, but he's a cop first and foremost and uninterested in taking the throne, even if he admitted he knew what he was, which he doesn't. And there are elves, in the Witches novels, but they aren't Galadriel or Legolas, they're lunatics who would rather kill you than look at you. And as someone who reads her folklore I can tell you he has it a lot more right than those authors who fill their books with twinkling glamorous fairies. And yes, there are wizards, but they like their huge meals and long snoozes and have no interest in going on quests. 

What I love is that his heroes are ordinary people. They're Mums and Dads running an all night Klatchian takeaway shop or farming in the Ramtops or having a fight with the neighbours. And in Ankh-Morpork, they enjoy their unofficial street theatre, and Ankh-Morpork has long ago stopped fighting other city-states and started selling them stuff. Any barbarian invader who tries to take over finds himself leaving with cheap wine and a purple straw donkey and a lot less money than when he arrived.

I love it all! So, raise your glass of whatever and drink with me to Freedom, Truth, Justice and a Hardboiled Egg!

And to the wonderful, much-mourned Terry Pratchett.

 

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32. Two Happy Birthdays To Two Wonderful Writers

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Sean Williams, Aussie speculative fiction writer:

Publicity pic, seanwilliams.com

and the wonderful British children's/YA novelist Susan Cooper:

Profile pic from Goodreads


Both of them are massive bestsellers and both deserve it!

I must admit, I discovered Susan Cooper a long time before I had heard of Sean Williams. I stumbled on the first couple of novels in a series that became known as The Dark Is Rising, based on the title of the second book in the series, in which the young hero, Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, finds out on his eleventh birthday that he is the last of the Old Ones, destined to fight for the Light against the Dark, at the side of a Professor Merriman Lyon (yeah, he's Merlin). The sheer power and beauty of this novel has made it a classic. The author was already living in the US when she wrote it, but it's very British, based on the Buckinghamshire she remembered. Unfortunately, someone decided to make a dreadful movie out of it and I wasted a whole morning and $17 on seeing it. When it came out on DVD I refused to buy it even discounted.  But the book and the series were amazing and you wouldn't think she could continue to write wonderful books, but she has - The Boggart(a Canadian family bring home a desk from a Scottish castle and there's a boggart asleep in a drawer, poor thing!), King Of Shadows(American boy actor finds himself in Shakespeare's London), most recently Ghost Hawk, set in the part of the US where the author now lives, historical fiction and fantasy combined in a gorgeous story.

I remember writing her a fan letter, back in the days when you could do that by looking through a book of modern children's writers, which had postal addresses, and getting a reply. But when she came out here for a library conference in Hobart, I found myself tongue-tied, like the other teacher-librarians there - a bunch of fan-girls we all were!

I have  read and loved some of Sean Williams' short speculative fiction over the years, but more recently, I've had a chance to read his Trouble-Twisters series for children, written with Garth Nix, and great fun they are too, with children who have special powers that aren't always convenient. It's interesting to see how many SF writers have become very good children's and YA novelists in recent years. Sean Williams is an international bestseller who, like many other Australian writers, doesn't mind writing for local small press, which has published entire books of his short fiction over the years, and he had a story in an early issue of ASIM. 

Anyway, happy birthday, Sean and Susan! May your pens never dry up!


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33. Happy Birthday, John Flanagan!


My original plan was to do an "on this day" post, and there have been some interesting events in history on May 22( the Greeks beat the Persians, it was the start of the Wars of the Roses - even if you don't know what those were, I bet you'll know Game Of Thrones, which was inspired by them). And there were some interesting birthdays, such as Laurence Olivier and that awful man Richard Wagner.

But when I went looking for writers, I discovered that the wonderful John Flanagan celebrates his seventieth birthday today!

I remember hearing him talk about his first Ranger's Apprentice novel at a centre for Youth Literature event. Hmm, I thought, sounds interesting, but I didn't check it out for a while after that.



When I finally did get around to it, I was sorry I hadn't read the books earlier.

The Ranger's Apprentice, in case you haven't read these books, is a delightful series set in an alternative Middle Ages. In this world, women can do a lot of things they couldn't do in our world at that time and people drink coffee and tomatoes are around in "Europe".  And a boy called Will, who is small and really not much good at fighting gets a job as an apprentice to Ranger Halt, who is a likeable rogue, who managed to start up a program for breeding ponies for his colleagues in the Rangers by stealing some breeding stock from this world's Mongols.

There is a spinoff series set in Skandia, this world's Viking lands, about a bunch of boys nobody picked in the annual Brotherband trials, but who ended up winning the competition because their leader, Hal, is smart and an inventor.

The books are funny and serious at the same time and both series suggest that you don't have to be a big hulking knight to make it in the world (though Will's best friend is a big hulking knight, Horace).

Raise your mug of coffee to John Flanagan, creator of this delicious universe! And, sorry, Americans, he's ours! An Aussie!

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34. The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: Most Valuable Player by Ruth McNally Bradshaw. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014

Ellie McDougall lives with her cheerful, over-the-top family in a nice, ordinary suburb and goes to a cheerful, over-the-top school which has Spirit Week, Crazy Hair Day and Teacher Twin Day, encouraging students to do silly but enjoyable things. She is a capable student and has two good friends, Mo and Travis.

She's good at a lot of things, but those don't include soccer. When her father becomes coach of a local girls' soccer team, Ellie feels she ought to be a part of it, no matter how hard it is to improve.

The story goes through several days of school time and soccer practice, as well as meetings of Journey Of The Mind, a group of intelligent kids who are working towards a competition. It features a birthday, a fundraiser and making stuff(due to the book's journal-style layout, it is easy for the author to draw the how-to of making ninja stars, flying dragons, etc.)

The style is very much like that of Jeff Kinney's Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series and, in fact,  one of our students, a Wimpy Kid fan, is simply loving this book. The characters are likeable, there are no real baddies(even the girl who yells at Ellie a lot on the soccer team is not that bad, and turns out to be a very good artist) and not too much happens, really. It's a nice, gentle read for young fans of the Wimpy Kid books, and not too many hard words. You don't have to have read the other books in the series(this is the fourth), as it's pretty much standalone. I hadn't read the others and had no trouble with it.

Recommended for children of about eight or nine upwards.

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35. The Warlock's Child 3: The Iron Claw, by Paul Collins and SeanMcMullen. Melbourne: Ford Street, 2015




"The warlock Calbaras wants to revive the ancient, forbidden magic of dragons, and his son Dantar is vital to his plans. Dantar is on the run in an enemy kingdom, unaware that he is so important. Worse, his sister Velza is now working for the enemy king."

This is the third in a set of five short children's fantasy books by speculative fiction veterans Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. Actually, it's one novel broken into five parts from the look of it and, like the first two parts, this one ends on a cliffhanger. 

The story is great fun and not difficult reading, so good for older reluctant readers as well as younger ones; the characters are all in their teens.  

There is an endearing silliness about the characters' predicaments, and about Merikus, the talking rat who is travelling with Dantar and his friend Marko. Velza can do fire magic like nobody's business but makes some dumb mistakes in other areas that get her into trouble. The tone is light and cheerful; it reminds me just a little of the style of Anna Ciddor's Viking Magic novels, though the storyline is very different.

If you haven't yet figured out who is the dragon chick you aren't paying attention. How and why are other matters, yet to come. 

Dantar is still a bit of a whinger, but we'll see how it goes.

The cover is as beautiful as the first two - Marc McBride just can't go wrong.  I'd like to add that Sean McMullen is proving himself to be a very good children's writer. Paul Collins has been doing children's and YA books for done time, but Mr McMullen is better-known for his adult novels and short stories and his ability with fiction for young readers has been a pleasant surprise. I hope he will continue.

Well worth a read and good for your library if you're a school or children's librarian, but get the 
first two; this is not standalone.

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36. Fearsome Fairytales From France by Adele Geras. Illustrated Fiona McDonald. Christmas Press 2015


                                      

Here is another one of Christmas Press's delightful series of folk and fairytale retellings. This time the focus is on France, with the stories Beauty And The Beast and Bluebeard, retold by veteran children's historical novelist Adele Geras, once more lavishly illustrated by the talented Fiona McDonald.

Beauty And The Beast has been charming us since Lucius Apuleius's Cupid And Psyche in which the girl is to be sacrificed to a scary beast and instead finds herself married to the beautiful love god. (C.S Lewis used that one as the basis for his novel Till We Have Faces.) It tells us not to judge a book by its cover; the Beast can only be redeemed when a woman loves him for himself instead of for his looks, and Adele Geras does a little more than retell. She shows the reader just why Beauty might fall in love with a scary-looking man. She loves his "low, musical voice". He is intelligent. They talk about a wide variety of subjects every night, till she looks forward to their conversations. In the end, she, like Robin McKinley's Beauty, demands of the handsome young man what he has done with her Beast. 

Bluebeard is the truly scary story of a serial killer husband, but kids like gruesome. In this version, the mother urges her daughter to agree to the marriage because he's rich. He's old and much-married, but so what? Older men, she argues, tend to be indulgent to young wives. 

I often wonder what would have happened if the wife had not opened that room. I suspect the husband would have found another excuse for murder. There are plenty of Bluebeards in real life (Frederick Deeming, anyone?) who don't need an excuse.

The story is told well, anyway. And it's interesting to think that there's very little of the fantastical in this particular story, except the notion that the blood would still be on the floor or that the key couldn't be cleaned if it was. 

I think this book might suit children from about seven to ten. Any younger is too young. Any older and they might have abandoned fairytales for novels. 

Another excellent publication to add to your fairytale library!

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37. Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde. Melbourne: Ford Street Publishing, 2015

                                                
    
In the small, footy-crazed Victorian town of Marshall, two boys play football and dream of one day playing professional football at the 'G(the MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground for those of you outside Victoria). Noah is a Koori, Ben is white. They play for different teams, but become friends during their running sessions. And there's a scout coming to look for talent for the Bushrangers football club Development Squad. Will one of them - or both of them - make this first step towards their dream of playing at the 'G?  

This is a lovely, gentle story about following your dream, football, friendship, first crush(on Millie, one of Noah's classmates). There is a bit of racism in the town, though mostly the baddies on the Kookaburras team for which Ben plays. It never reaches the proportions of, say, the racism in Deadly, Unna? (Phillip Gwynne). But when Ben asks Noah why he became so angry at a racist taunt in the course of a game, because he sees taunts as just a regular part of the game, Noah is able to explain.

"Okay, then. It's like this. You aren't a green Martian. But I am black. When someone says what he said, he's insulting my people and...and our families..and our culture. Trouble is, guys like Elliot think that if you're black, you're a piece of crap." 

This is, in any case, a later era than Deadly, Unna? There are enough immigrant families in town that you can get Vietnamese food and Greek food and the Mayor stands up at a local event and acknowledges the traditional owners. Even Noah's father tells him racism isn't as great as when his mother, Noah's grandmother, was growing up. 

The single-parent family is Ben's. But his father, who smokes and drinks and is just a bit racist, loves his two children and makes a sacrifice for his son's happiness. Noah lives with two loving parents and a brother who is terribly proud of him. It would be interesting to see what relationship the nasty Mark Elliot has with his family, but you never learn that. Actually, all the adults in this book apart from Mark Elliot's Dad, coach of the Kookaburras, are so nice!  Everybody - Noah's Dad Paul, the teachers, Noah's coach, even Ben's Dad Joe. 

There are a number of things that make me feel this is a novel for middle-grade rather than YA. The characters are in their teens, but they feel younger to me. Their issues and concerns are younger. The closest there is to a romantic interest, Millie(who plays very good netball and joins the boys in their morning run)doesn't play much of a role in the story except to cheer on the two heroes when they play. Noah likes her but is too shy to say anything. While there are teenage boys like that it's really the sort of thing that belongs to a younger age group. I'd recommend this novel to children who enjoyed Specky Magee(Felice Arena, Garry Lyon) rather than Deadly, Unna? And the language makes it very suitable for reluctant readers. It's not a long read and there are few difficult words.

It is such a very Australian book- the landscape, the characters, the passion for Australian football -  but I don't think people outside Australia would have too much trouble with it. I don't even like football and I thoroughly enjoyed it! 

Highly recommended.  

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38. Some of my Favourite Novel Adaptations of Fairytales


Over the last year or so I have discovered a number of delightful blogs dedicated to fairytales. While I don't intend to turn this into such a blog, it made me think of how many novels people are writing which are based on fairytales - and how many I've read and loved. I won't list all of them as I would be here all day, but just mention a few that come to mind.

Cinderella

Moonlight And Ashes by Sophie Masson. This one is inspired by Ashputtel, the Brothers Grimm version, rather than Perrault's Cendrillon. This means that the heroine, Selena, is a lot stronger and less passive than in the other version. It's also only the starting point for a full scale adventure.

The same author also wrote Cold Iron, which was based on Tattercoats, the British version of Cinderella. That one was great fun, set in Elizabethan England and mixing in elements of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. 



While I'm writing about Cinderella, I'll slip in one play, The Other Cinderella by Maxwell Anderson. That one is also fun. Cinderella - Ellen - has been lying about her stepmother and sisters, who are all sweethearts. She resents suddenly being the youngest member of the household when she was running it before her father remarried. The only reason she isn't going to the ball is because she had a fit of the sulks - she thought her white dress too plain and refused to go. There are also the pantomime characters, the fairy and the demon, who participate in the usual pantomime storyline. The fairy is disappointed when everyone is nice to her in her old woman disguise!  

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty by Robin McKinley. A gently humorous novel. Beauty is actually Honor, but has been nicknamed Beauty since she scoffed,"Huh! I'd rather be Beauty!" Her sisters are sweet, gentle and not very practical; it's up to Beauty to do the sensible things to keep the family going. The Beast eventually explains that he is under a family curse, because his ancestors were so disgustingly good and holier-than-thou, that a local enchanter said that the first family member to put a foot wrong would really get it. And that was him. The scholarly Beauty simply adores his library, which contains a lot of books that haven't been written yet(she loves Sherlock Holmes, but other books are confusing - what on earth is an aeroplane, for example?). It says something about her that when she finds herself confronting an "alarmingly handsome" young man, she yells, "What have you done with my Beast?"

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. This is set in early mediaeval Ireland. The heroine has escaped her dreadful stepfamily and taken a job for the summer at a local castle whose lord is under a family curse - but his facial deformities are due to a childhood illness, not to the curse. She is a scribe like her late father, and has a job researching and working on the family history. Please note that women in early Ireland had a lot more rights than women elsewhere, so this is not too hard to swallow.

The Wild Swans

Juliet Marillier's first Sevenwaters book, Daughter Of The Forest, is set in Ireland too, eleventh century. The heroine is a lord's daughter whose stepmother turns her brothers into swans. The "king" who finds her is an aristocrat from England. The story is pretty much as we know it, but has history woven in and the girl is even stronger than the original. And it is the start of a series, with the family's descendants taking on roles. 

The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray is out of print, alas. It is actually a sequel to The Wild Swans, set in sixteenth century Scotland. Recommended if you can get it from your library or find it secondhand. I don't have a copy, I borrowed mine from a friend.

Rapunzel



Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. The story of Rapunzel is told from the viewpoints of three women - Charlotte-Rose De La Force, the composer of the fairytale in seventeenth century France, Selena, the witch, an Italian courtesan who was a model for Titian, and the girl herself. You know, the fairytale never does tell you just why the witch wanted to lock up her victim. This novel does give you a reason. And it's wonderful! 

Others

Red As Blood,Tanith Lee's collection of fairytale-based short stories, has everything from a vampire Snow White to a futuristic Beauty And The Beast - and you'll never look at a frog the same way again after reading her horror story version of The Frog Prince!

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, sets the story of the ballad in a small 1970s university campus in America. Janet is an English student who becomes caught up in the truly scary things likely to happen to a boy she cares about because the Queen of Faerie, the head of the Classics Department, has to pay the rent to hell on Halloween. There are two students who arrived in the twentieth century with the Faerie court and were members of Shakespeare's company. They laugh their heads off at modern productions.

In the same series of books is The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale. The nightingale is a young woman, a flautist whose music is magical, and it's set in Japan instead of China.



Jim C Hines wrote a series of books about fairytale characters Cinderella and her friends the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The Beauty character is an assassin, having awoken to rape. The Snow White character is a sorceress whose choker made of bits of mirror forms the basis for her magic. In The Stepsister Scheme, they have to rescue Cinderella's Prince, who has been kidnapped by the fairies at the instigation of her wicked stepsisters. In The Mermaid's Madness they must save Cinderella's wonderful mother-In-law, who has been attacked by the grief stricken Little Mermaid who had stabbed the prince who rejected her and gone mad. Highly recommended and I believe there's another one about an assassin known as the Lady of the Red Hood. 

There are plenty more, but these are the ones that came to mind. Do you have any favourites?



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39. Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2015

Ivy Pocket is a twelve-year-old maid of no importance, with a very lofty opinion of herself. Dumped in Paris by the Countess Carbunkle, who would rather run away to South America than continue in Ivy's companionship, our young heroine (of sorts) finds herself with no money and no home to go to ... until she is summoned to the bedside of the dying Duchess of Trinity. 

For the princely sum of £500 (enough to buy a carriage, and possibly a monkey), Ivy agrees to courier the Duchess's most precious possession – the Clock Diamond – to England, and to put it around the neck of the revolting Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. It's not long before Ivy finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy involving mischief, mayhem and murder.


There is a lot of Victorian era fiction for children nowadays, since the Lemony Snicket books became so popular. This is the latest. I have heard it compared to both Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman. I haven't read the former and mostly only the adult books of Neil Gaiman, apart from a recent burst of children's books and, of course, the wonderful Graveyard Book. Not really Neil Gaiman, from the ones I have read. Myself, I would compare it to Judith Rossell's Withering-By-Sea, which I read for the Aurealis Awards and which is now on the CBCA shortlist. If you, or your children, liked that one, you should enjoy this. It had the same quirkiness and the art was delightful.

Ivy is irritatingly self confident, but means well and as the novel progresses you learn more about her background and she becomes a sympathetic character. I liked Ivy's bizarre, over-the-top adventures and the equally over-the-top characters, from the bloated, frightening Duchess to the dreadful Matilda and the dwarf monks. 

Children from about nine upwards are likely to enjoy it. I can't comment on the drawings, which didn't come with the proof copy I received, but I suspect they will be very good. The artist is John Kelly, a British book illustrator who has won some major awards.


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40. The CBCA Shortlist for 2015!

This year's theme. Used under fair usage

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It's that time of year again. While I've been fussing about over the Hugos and the Ditrmars and the Aurealis Awards a bunch of judges across Australia have been reading hundreds of books and discussing them before making up their minds which should be shortlisted. 

 I pinched this list from the Reading's Website. You can check it out yourself, along with the Notables. As the author of two CBCA Notable Books(Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science - which also scored a place on the Clayton's shortlist and Wolfborn) I do urge you to check out the Notables too; sometimes there's a little as one vote between something that makes it to the shortlist and something that gets a Notable. And I was delighted to see how many of our Aurealis shortlisted books and nearly-shortlisted books made it to the Notables. Great minds think alike, it seems.
Unfortunately, I've read very few of this year's shortlist and only two are in our library just now. Time to call Sun Bookshop and see if they can get us the rest before they run out!

Older Readers
Younger Readers
Early Childhood
Picture Book of the Year
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Crichton Award for New Illustrators
  • Rivertime by Trace Balla
  • Kick with My Left Foot illustrated by Karen Briggs with text by Paul Seden
  • One Minute’s Silence illustrated by Michael Camilleri with text by David Metzenthen
  • Little Dog and the Christmas Wish illustrated by Robin Cowcher with text by Corinne Fenton
  • Meet Douglas Mawson illustrated by Snip Green with text by Mike Dumbleton
  • The Lost Girl illustrated by Leanne Tobin with text by Ambelin Kwaymullina



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41. And The Award Goes To... The AAs 2015

AA logo, used under fair usage


So here are the winners of the AAs for 2014! I confess I've read the children's books, obviously, nothing else, but I do have some of the others either on my TBR pile or on my ibooks shelf, shortlist and winners alike. 

And this week, there will be another shortlist announced, for this year's CBCA shortlist and I probably haven't read most of those either, but will have to, and buy anything not already on the shelves. Stand by for another shortlist! 

I earned this list below, by the way - it wasn't up on the AA web site this morning so 
I had to wade through the tweets made last night. 

Now, get reading, not only the winners, but the others! If it's on a short list, it was potentially good enough to win and believe me, as a judge, it was HARD to make up our minds. I'd like to thank the other members of my team, Sarah Fletcher, Jordi Kerr and Sarah Mayor Cox. They are all true ladies, very easy and pleasant to work with. Thanks also to the convenors for letting me be in this. Do let me do it again next year! 


BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Fireborn, Keri Arthur (Hachette Australia)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

The Lascar’s Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette Australia)

Dreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“The Oud”, Thoraiya Dyer (Long Hidden, Crossed Genres Publications)

“Teratogen”, Deborah Kalin (Cemetery Dance, #71, May 2014)

“The Ghost of Hephaestus”, Charlotte Nash (Phantazein, FableCroft Publications)

“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)

“The Badger Bride”, Angela Slatter (Strange Tales IV, Tartarus Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Aurora: Meridian, Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum)

Nil By Mouth, LynC (Satalyte)

The White List, Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)

Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)

This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)

Foresight, Graham Storrs (Momentum)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Wine, Women and Stars”, Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)

“The Glorious Aerybeth”, Jason Fischer (OnSpec, 11 Sep 2014)

“Dellinger”, Charlotte Nash (Use Only As Directed, Peggy Bright Books)

“Happy Go Lucky”, Garth Nix (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Book of the Dead, Greig Beck (Momentum)

Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

Obsidian, Alan Baxter (HarperVoyager)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“The Executioner Goes Home”, Deborah Biancotti (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 11 Issue 6)

“Skinsuit”, James Bradley (Island Magazine 137)

“By the Moon’s Good Grace”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction, Vol 12, Issue 3)

“Shay Corsham Worsted”, Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, Chizine)

“Home and Hearth”, Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

The Astrologer’s Daughter, Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)

Afterworld, Lynnette Lounsbury (Allen & Unwin)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia) (Should have read this as I got it for reviewing, but never finished due to other commitments)

Clariel, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

The Haunting of Lily Frost, Nova Weetman (UQP)

Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Books Australia)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“In Hades”, Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press)

“Falling Leaves”, Liz Argall (Apex Magazine)

“The Fuller and the Bogle”, David Cornish (Tales from the Half-Continent, Omnibus Books)

“Vanilla”, Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

“Signature”, Faith Mudge (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)

Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)

The Last Viking Returns, Norman Jorgensen and James Foley (ILL.) (Fremantle Press)

Withering-by-Sea, Judith Rossell (ABC Books)

Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books) 

BEST COLLECTION

The Female Factory, Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)

Secret Lives, Rosaleen Love (Twelfth Planet Press)

Angel Dust, Ian McHugh (Ticonderoga Publications)

Difficult Second Album: more stories of Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter (Tartarus Press)

Black-Winged Angels, Angela Slatter (Ticonderoga Publications)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Kisses by Clockwork, Liz Grzyb (Ed) (Ticonderoga Publications)

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Eds), (Twelfth Planet Press)

Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, Dominica Malcolm (Ed) (Solarwyrm Press)

Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Fearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (Ed) (Solaris Books)

Phantazein, Tehani Wessely (Ed) (FableCroft Publishing)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/ILLUSTRATED WORK

Left Hand Path #1, Jason Franks & Paul Abstruse (Winter City Productions)

Awkwood, Jase Harper (Milk Shadow Books)

“A Small Wild Magic”, Kathleen Jennings (Monstrous Affections, Candlewick Press)

Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

The Game, Shane W Smith (Deeper Meanings Publishing)


The Convenors' Award for Excellence, according to the AA web site, is "awarded at the discretion of the convenors for a particular achievement in speculative fiction or related areas in the year that cannot otherwise be judged for the Aurealis Awards." I assume this means it's for something that doesn't quite fit into the AAs otherwise. We have a list and a winner this year. Here it is:

“It Grows!”, a film by Ryan Cauchi and Nick Stathopoulos

“Night Terrace”, a serial podcast story, produced by John Richards, Ben McKenzie, David Ashton, Petra Elliott and Lee Zachariah 

“The Australian Women Writers Challenge”, an online reviewing initiative

“Useless Questions”, a radio play by Laura Goodin, performed by fans at Conflux.

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42. Stand By For AA Winners!

I am still waiting to see if I'm allowed to post the list of winners from last night's Aurealis Awards ceremony before the official one is up. It will probably be okay, since it was all over Twitter last night, not as if nobody knows yet, but I will give it an hour or two.

I seem to have missed this year's Supanova events. I could still go today, I guess, but tomorrow back to work and there are things to do. I'll probably regret it later. I missed the very last visit to Australia of comedian Anna Russell because I was starting a new job next day. :-(

Anyway, stand by, hover around and you'll find out who got the awards!

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43. Vale Rosemary Hawley Jarman!




                         

Oh, no! Yet another wonderful writer is gone from the world. 

I was re-reading The Daughter Of Time on my iPad in the dark and trying to remember Henry VII's relationship with Owen Tudor(grandson, so not that long before) and, as you do, I googled him. I found him easily in the entry about Katherine De Valois with the help of my friend Dr Wikipedia and you know how you follow links, so when I got to the bit about "historical fiction" I couldn't resist following the link to Rosemary Hawley Jarman, thinking, well, at least she's alive! She has a Goodreads profile and a website, for goodness sake! 

Wrong. In fact, she died on March 17th, three weeks ago, and it wasn't in the newspapers and it's not all over social media that I know of. SF fans make a huge noise when one of their own dies, but  not so much historical fiction buffs, though I follow some blogs I would have thought would mention it.

So, for those of you wondering who I'm talking about, she was the author of a number of historical novels, of which I've read four. Three of them are about Richard III - well, one of them more or less, anyway. The Courts Of Illusion is about Perkin Warbeck, but it's in the same universe, because one of the viewpoint characters is the son of a fictional character who died in We Speak No Treason, executed by that horrible man Henry VII for fighting for his anointed king. So, I've read We Speak No Treason, The Courts Of Illusion, Crown In Candlelight(Henry V) and her Elizabeth Woodville novel, The King's Grey Mare. 

When I read We Speak No Treason, I was in the middle of a Richard III binge, reading everything I could lay my hands on. I was enchanted by the visuals. And the tactileness. You could see it happening, feel the rich fabrics described. You could almost hear the music, the trumpets blowing, feel the chill of a winter morning and the warmth of May Day. I have read a lot of Richard III stuff since then and there's some great books around, but none affected me like that one. IMO, it's her masterpiece and would gave been a classic even if she never wrote another thing - but she did. 

The King's Grey Mare was the next one I read - believe it or not, I discovered it serialised in a women's magazine! I faithfully collected them, with their illustrations and all, and may still have them somewhere on my bookshelves. I was glad, though, when I could read it properly in book form. It was still beautifully written, though not, I think, quite as good as We Speak No Treason. I can't put my finger on it, I just didn't enjoy it quite as much. It was interesting, though. Like the first book, it was told from different viewpoints, Elizabeth herself, Edward IV, his bastard daughter Grace Plantagenet, even Henry Skinflint VII. Unlike the first, it isn't in first person, making it a bit more flexible. And despite the thing being a sort-of romance, serialised in women's magazines, this isn't sympathetic to Elizabeth Woodville. Not once she starts going after her second husband, anyway. There is a touch of fantasy here, with Melusine the fairy ancestress being very real and able to help Elizabeth get what she wants, whether it's a royal husband or revenge on an enemy. Interesting to note that in her later years RHJ wrote some fantasy novels, though set in a world more like the Austro-Hungarian Empire than the Middle Ages. I haven't read them yet.

You can't ignore Elizabeth Woodville, by the way. Through her first marriage, she is the ancestress of a large chunk of the current British royal family. Go check it out. 

In The Courts Of Illusion, the family of The Man Of Keen Sight(never named in the first novel, except jokingly as "Mark Eye", but called Mark in this one) follow Perkin Warbeck. I haven't read it in years, alas! 

Crown In Candelight went back to the reign of Henry V and was seen from the viewpoint of his Queen, Katherine De Valois. The trouble is, I haven't read that one for some time either, and tend to get it mixed up with Martha Rofheart's Cry God For Harry. I can see I will have to do some hunting up of those books - I bought the first two in ebook, so have re-read them recently. 

I see that she also wrote a couple of non-fiction books, but if they're available in ebook, I can't find them, so may have to see if I can get my local bookshop to order them in.

There has been a spate of historical fiction in recent years, including Richard III novels. I haven't read much of it, though I'm currently reading and quite enjoying the Cromwell novel, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; I got it for $4.99 when it was on special in iBooks. I just can't bring myself to read the more soap opera ones of the last few years, I don't care how many of them land on the box. 

And now, no more Rosemary Hawley Jarman! All I can say is that she lived longer than Terry Pratchett and was writing all the way. Vale!

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44. ThThe Warlock's Child by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. Books 1 and 2. Melbourne: Ford Street, 2015.



The Burning Sea and Dragonfall Mountain are books 1 and 2 of a new children's fantasy series by veteran Australian spec fic writers Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. There are to be six, one published each month.





I say series, but it feels more like a single novel broken up into parts, with a cliffhanger at the end of each. This isn't the first time I've come across this in recent months. It might be argued that handing a child a thick book to read all at once might be off-putting. Or maybe it might be more off-putting to have the novel break off in the middle of a scene. At least the young readers won't have to wait long for the next one.

And this is definitely a children's book, despite the hero's age, fourteen. He thinks like a child and is, in fact, working as a cabin boy on board one of the ships of the Dravinian fleet, on its way to conquer the Kingdom of Savaria. He wishes he didn't have to be there. His father, the warlock of the title, (battle warlock), had insisted on having both of his children with him, so Dantar and his sister Velza have jobs on board. Velza is an officer, a fire shapecaster, and a stickler for the rules. The two of them don't get on, needless to say.

In this world, humans used to be able to produce wizards who could control all four elements - earth, air, fire, water - until they stuffed it up a thousand years ago. The dragons, who have control of all four magics, stopped this and broke it up so that each person who can do magic can only do one kind. Using magic in this way - as opposed to the far more powerful magic of Dantar and Velza's father - is fairly ordinary; each ship has specialists to produce fogs, arm the weapons, etc. And the enemy can do the same. But they can also use mirror technology to set ships on fire, the cads! 

And the dragons are interested in the fleet. Somewhere on board one of them there's a dragon chick. And Dantar has noticed that anyone who tries to harm him ends up as a pile of ashes...

There's enough humour in these two books to keep the tone light. There's certainly enough action to keep young readers continuing on, wanting to know what happens next. Dantar is a bit of a whiner, but will hopefully improve over the next few volumes; meanwhile, his understandable terror of being burned or drowned in the next few minutes adds to the humour. 

Some words are a bit hard for younger readers, but they are more or less explained by the "show, don't tell" bits surrounding them.

The cover art, by the wonderful Marc McBride, is gorgeous, reminiscent of the style of the Quentaris books(I think he may have done some or all of those too). 

Recommended for children ten years and up.

Buy the series from April on in all good bookshops or check it out here
 

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45. Women's History Month - Spare Post

Some weeks ago, my friend Gillian Polack, historian extraordinaire and novelist, kindly invited me to do a post for Women's History Month on her Livejournal blog (and, as I discovered, her offical web site). The brief was to write about something that happened to yourself or a woman you know, and I wrote a post about my sister, who went from a secretary with a manual typewriter to a writer of articles published all over, and a delight in the Internet. After reading some other posts I concluded that I must have got it wrong; they all seemed to be about the author of the post. So I wrote another post and offered that. As it happened, Gillian ended up publishing my original post, so I have a spare I thought I might publish here before Women's History Month is quite over!

I'd only sold one story, a short, humorous fantasy tale, to Family Circle, via its annual competition, when I sold my first book.

I was at Richmond Girls Secondary College when this began. My previous school, Flemington Secondary College, had been closed down by the new Tory government, so that they could sell it to the Victoria Racing Club, which had lusted after the site for a long time, to turn it into a jockey school. I'd been there for eight years and was working with two wonderful people in the library. We had a delightful relationship. And then a new government, led by a man not unlike the current Australian PM, was in power, and was selling anything not nailed down.

Suddenly, my library was stripped bare and I was without a workplace. You can imagine how I felt.

Towards the end of January I was relieved to receive an offer from Richmond Girls'. My new library turned out to be old and shabby and had been a sewing room in the old days. But it was mine. I did have an offsider, a Vietnamese gentleman who taught maths and was hardly ever in the library. There was a technician who, for some reason, didn't like being in the library and was off socialising most of the time.

So it was up to me to do something to make the library worth visiting and looking at. My colleagues on staff were pretty helpful, one of them bringing in her Year 8 class to move the shelves around to let in some light. Then I started the displays. I wrote things to put up on the wall to go with them. History, science, SF, whatever the occasion called for.

And then I had a phone call from my friend Natalie Prior, who had started to sell quite a lot and is, to this day, one of the few writers I know in this country who can make a living out of it(and, unlike many of the others I know, managed to get going without being married at the time and having a partner to pay the bills so she could write full time). Natalie had been writing for Allen and Unwin and had rung to tell me that they had a new series beginning, True Stories, which was non fiction for children.

"I've told them about you, here's the name and number," she finished. I asked myself if I could even do non fiction, then looked at the library walls and thought, yes, I've done this. I can.

I phoned and made an appointment to see Beth Dolan, who was doing the series. Deciding to give myself the best chance I could, I researched a few things that interested me to make sure they were possible and prepared a list of potential book themes. When I met Beth, I invited her to choose a topic for me to write up as a proposal. She chose monsters.

That was my first book sale. It was in the very early days of the Internet; any Internet research I did had to be done at one of the few Internet cafes that had begun to turn up in the suburbs. It was at the end of a long tram ride, and cost $12 an hour. I limited it to once a week. The rest of my research was done in the State Library, two nights a week.

I didn't eat well, of course, buying my dinner as takeaway and eating quickly before my research session. It told on my body after a while, so when I eventually did another book I was more careful.

It was the first of several books and quite a few articles I wrote and I had quite a lot of work in those days, before publishers decided that children's non fiction didn't sell and stopped publishing it. These days there's only education publishing to do non fiction books and some published by museums to go with exhibitions. I did manage to sell to the education industry before my publisher suddenly left and was replaced by a gentleman who indicated he simply wasn't interested, despite the fact that my books for his company are still selling in the thousands, after twelve years. He told me in his last email that he has a stable of writers and doesn't want any more.

So, in recent years, I've gone back to fiction, mostly short stories, but I'll never forget that it was non fiction that made me a professional writer and taught me a lot. 

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46. Earthfall: Retribution by Mark Walden. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2014


In Earthfall - reviewed on this site here, we met Sam Riley, a teen who is one of the very few people left on Earth who are still awake, after an alien invasion. The rest have been turned into zombies who do as they are told and sleep the rest of the time. Due to events I can't tell here without spoilers, the young rebels have managed to take over one of the alien motherships and its connected equipment and are living together in London, while the only adult with them, Doctor Stirling, is trying to find a way to wake up the sleepers in the dormitories. 

Now, they have discovered that there may be others awake in Edinburgh. Sam and some of his friends decide to go and find out. There, they find that there are worse things than the Sleepers and the alien Hunters and Grendels. And there may just be more than one alien race around...

Again, Mr Walden shows his computer game background. There are more fights, explosions and giant robots fighting each other, nightmarish creatures with fangs appearing in their hordes to be mowed down and then rise again... Boys who like Matthew Reilly should enjoy this action adventure, which ends on a cliffhanger. We do learn the answers to some things that were not made clear in the first volume, but there are more questions left unanswered, perhaps for the next volume.  You do need to have read the first book to understand this one, so if you haven't read it, do go back and find it!

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47. The Hugos 2015

Here is the list of nominees for this year's Hugo Awards. 
You might notice, down towards the bottom, that my name is there as one of last year's editors for ASIM, which has made it to the short list for Semiprozine. For several days, I have been hugging myself with delight, unable to share this information till the short list was announced.
Friday, it was somewhat spoiled for me when one of our members discovered that we owe our shortlisting to an organisation called Sad Puppies, run by conservatives, of which none of us have ever heard, but which apparently does block votes. And doesn't, it seems, ask any of its proposed nominees whether they want to be on its list. It's not against the rules, but seems to inspire a lot of anger, and this morning's Twitter posts were full of it, including one woman who declared she wasn't going to read her Hugo packet because anything SP nominated had to be awful. And a blog post in which one comment said "don't vote for it even if it IS good, on principle". 
I don't know any more of it than this - it's all I have had time to check out. There will be a statement on the ASIM web site some time today. Here's the URL: http://www.andromedaspaceways.com. Please read it. 
I just want to say that we're a small press like other Aussie small presses. A good one, that has lasted twelve years and launched the careers of some writers who have gone on to Hugo and Nebula short listings and some we published early in their careers, if not their first sales. 
 I am very proud of my issue, #60, and of my writers, six of whom were first sales. I know they will do well in years to come. One of them has already been on the James White long list and won a Writers of the Future prize. Ellie Clarke, the artist who did the amazing sensawunda cover has won Ditmar awards, as has the internal artist, Lewis Morley.
If you're a member of Worldcon, please at least read your Hugo packet before deciding what you want to vote for. Don't make assumptions. Just read. 
Here's the list as I got it from the Hugos site. I have only deleted the blurb. 
Best Novel (1827 nominating ballots)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
Best Novella (1083 nominating ballots)
  • Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Tor.com, 11-2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)
Best Novelette (1031 nominating ballots)
  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
  • “Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog07/08-2014)
  • “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
Best Short Story (1174 nominating ballots)
  • “Goodnight Stars”, Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
  • “On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
  • “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
  • “Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Best Related Work (1150 nominating ballots)
  • “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
  • Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
  • Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
  • Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)
Best Graphic Story (785 nominating ballots)
  • Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  • Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (1285 nominating ballots)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  • Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
  • The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (938 nominating ballots)
  • Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  • The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
Best Editor, Short Form (870 nominating ballots)
  • Jennifer Brozek
  • Vox Day
  • Mike Resnick
  • Edmund R. Schubert
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Best Editor, Long Form (712 nominating ballots)
  • Vox Day
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Jim Minz
  • Anne Sowards
  • Toni Weisskopf
Best Professional Artist (753 nominating ballots)
  • Julie Dillon
  • Jon Eno
  • Nick Greenwood
  • Alan Pollack
  • Carter Reid
Best Semiprozine (660 nominating ballots)
  • Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater editor and publisher
  • Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014 editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  • Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief
Best Fanzine (576 nominating ballots)
  • Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill
  • Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J.Montgomery
  • The Revenge of Hump Day, edited by Tim Bolgeo
  • Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale
Best Fancast (668 nominating ballots)
  • Adventures in SF Publishing, Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
  • Dungeon Crawlers Radio, Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • The Sci Phi Show, Jason Rennie
  • Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman
Best Fan Writer (777 nominating ballots)
  • Dave Freer
  • Amanda S. Green
  • Jeffro Johnson
  • Laura J. Mixon
  • Cedar Sanderson
Best Fan Artist (296 nominating ballots)
  • Ninni Aalto
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Elizabeth Leggett
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (851 nominating ballots) 
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2013 or 2014, sponsored by Dell Magazines. (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards.)
  • Wesley Chu*
  • Jason Cordova
  • Kary English*
  • Rolf Nelson
  • Eric S. Raymond
*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.
2122 valid nominating ballots (2119 electronic and 3 paper) were received and counted from the members of Loncon 3, Sasquan, and MidAmeriCon II the 2014, 2015, and 2016 World Science Fiction Conventions.
A list of the top 15 nominees in each category, along with the number of nominations received by each, will be released after the Hugo Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 22 August, 2015 at Sasquan.

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48. Ditmar Award Winners 2015

Life has to go on and the dreadful fuss over the Hugos can't take up everything online so, here it is! 

This is pinched from Tsana Dolichva's excellent review blog, tsanasreads.blogspot.com, which you should  definitely check out. Tsana was actually there when the awards were presented and I gather that Glenda Larke, who ended up winning both a Ditmar and a Tin Duck, was thrilled, as it was her first. I must say I'm also pleased for Merv Binns, a veteran Melbourne fan with a history going back to the fifties, I think, if not earlier, who ran the amazing Space Age Bookshop, where I used to do my SF shopping years ago. It's about time! I hope he and his wife Helena were able to get there. If they did go, I'm sure Helena will show us a lot of photos! 

Congratulations, also, to Donna Maree Hanson for the A. Bertram Chandler Award, also thoroughly deserved.

And thank you to the Snapshot team, who invited me, twice, to have my say as a writer! It makes me feel as if I, too, have a part in this year's awards.

The Ditmar Awards

The winners in each category are in bold.

Best Novel

The Lascar's Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)
Bound (Alex Caine 1), Alan Baxter (Voyager)
Clariel, Garth Nix (HarperCollins)
Thief's Magic (Millennium's Rule 1), Trudi Canavan (Hachette Australia)
The Godless (Children 1), Ben Peek (Tor UK)
No Award 

Best Novella or Novelette

"The Ghost of Hephaestus", Charlotte Nash, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
"The Legend Trap", Sean Williams, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
"The Darkness in Clara", Alan Baxter, in SQ Mag 14 (IFWG Publishing Australia)
"St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls", Angela Slatter, in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 (Review of Australian Fiction)
"The Female Factory", Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, in The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press)
"Escapement", Stephanie Gunn, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)
No Award 

Best Short Story

"Bahamut", Thoraiya Dyer, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
"Vanilla", Dirk Flinthart, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
"Cookie Cutter Superhero", Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
"The Seventh Relic", Cat Sparks, in Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
"Signature", Faith Mudge, in Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press)
No Award 

Best Collected Work

Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
Phantazein, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
No Award 

Best Artwork

Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications)
Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, of Phantazein (FableCroft Publishing)
Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press)
No Award 

Best Fan Writer

Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work
Tsana Dolichva, for body of work
Bruce Gillespie, for body of work
Katharine Stubbs, for body of work
Alexandra Pierce for body of work
Grant Watson, for body of work
Sean Wright, for body of work
No Award 

Best Fan Artist

Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including "Interstellar Park Ranger Bond, Jaime Bond", "Gabba and Slave Lay-off: Star Wars explains Australian politics", "The Driver", and "Unmasked" in Dark Matter Zine
Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Fakecon art and Illustration Friday series
Nick Stathopoulos, for movie poster of It Grows!
No Award 

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium 

Snapshot 2014, Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright
It Grows!, Nick Stathopoulos
Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Andrew Finch
The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Galactic Chat, Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, Alexandra Pierce, Sarah Parker, and Mark Webb
No Award

Best New Talent

Helen Stubbs
Shauna O'Meara
Michelle Goldsmith
No Award 

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

Reviews in The Angriest, Grant Watson
The Eddings Reread series, Tehani Wessely, Jo Anderton, and Alexandra Pierce, in A Conversational Life
Reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut, Sean Wright
"Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?", in Uncanny Magazine 1, Tansy Rayner Roberts
Reviews in FictionMachine, Grant Watson
The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely
No Award 

The Peter McNamara Achievement award goes to Merv Binns

The Norma K Hemming award goes to Paddy O'Reilly for The Wonders.
Runners-up Lisa Hannet and Angela Slatter for The Female Factory.

The A. Bertram Chandler Award goes to Donna Maree Hanson.

The Tin Duck Awards

The Tin Ducks are the awards for Western Australian SF achievement awards, given out at Swancon every year. 

The Marge Hughes award goes to Damien McGee.

Best WA Professional Long Written Work

The Lascar's Dagger, Glenda Larke (Hachette)

Best Professional Short Written Work

"Siri and the Chaos Maker" by Carol Ryles, in Kisses by Clockwork (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best WA Pro Production or Artwork

Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Fan Written Work

The 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction interview series


WA Fan Artwork 

2014 Tin Ducks, by John Parker(Tsana says he had to make his own award. I vaguely recall this happening with Dick "Ditmar" Jenssen, after whom the awards were named!)


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49. A Guest Post From Sophie Masson On A New Project!

Original book cover


As you'll know from some of my Christmas Press reviews,  veteran YA writer Sophie Masson's small press has been publishing some gorgeous titles, (including an anthology with a story by yours truly. ;-D )

Now, Christmas Press is going back to its beginnings with a new crowdfunding activity, which will allow us to read a book that hasn't been translated into English for a century. I hope you'll check it out. It's rather more expensive to get a copy of this than last time, but worth it, if previous publications have been any indication.'

Sophie has kindly agreed to tell us about it. Take it away, Sophie!


A thrilling new project: launching a ‘new’ classic from the great Jules Verne!
Most readers know the name of Jules Verne. Most English-speaking readers have read or seen a film of  some of his most famous works: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days. But Verne also wrote dozens of adventure stories, set in all sorts of exotic locales, such as Australia and the Pacific (Captain Grant’s Children, Mistress Branican) Alaska, China, South America … And, in the 1876 novel, which is reckoned in France to be the very best of all his works, he’s focussed on the biggest country in the world, Russia.
That novel’s simply called, in French (in which language I read it) by the name of its central character, Michel Strogoff . It was my favourite book, aged about eleven or twelve, and it had a huge impact on me, not only in a love of reading—and writing!—exciting stories set in colourful locations, but also set me on a life-long fascination with Russia. 
Basically, the story is that Michel (or Mikhail, in Russian) Strogoff, a young Siberian-born soldier in the service of Tsar Alexander II, is sent by the monarch to take a vital, urgent message to the Tsar’s brother, who commands the army in Siberia. He has to take the message by hand because a rebel Tartar army under Khan Feofar has cut all telegraph communications with Siberia, prior to taking over towns in the far east. And they’re being helped by a Russian traitor called Colonel Ivan Ogareff.  Colonel Ogareff, a master of espionage and subterfuge,  is in disguise and on the run, and no-one knows where he is,  though they suspect he’s going to try and get to the Archduke. So Michel sets off, by road and river, on a mission which becomes increasingly dangerous as his enemies come to hear of his presence. Meanwhile, a young Latvian woman named Nadia is on her way to rejoin her political prisoner father in Siberian exile; and soon enough they meet. Then there’s Englishman Harry Blount and Frenchman Alcide Jolivet, rival war correspondents reporting on the upheaval in the empire, who are ready to brave any dangers to get first scoop! 
I read the novel I don’t know how many times, swept away by the grandeur of the story, the fantastic adventure, with its wolves, bears, mountain storms, bandits, iced-up rivers, cruel torturers and traitors. I thoroughly enjoyed  the funny  rivalry and repartee between Alcide Jolivet and Harry Blount,  I thrilled to the love I could see developing between Nadia and Michel, both equally tough and brave. And I was swept away too by the description of the journey, which starts in Moscow and ends in Siberia — a journey over water, through forest and mountain and cities and villages: you get a real sense of the vastness and amazing diversity, both human and environmental, of Russia.  Basically, it’s a chase novel, and it has the breakneck pace of that, and lots of twists and turns, culminating in an especially unexpected and satisfyingly resolved one. But it is also beautifully written, as tight and clever and witty as Around the World in Eighty Days, and much more passionate and exciting. 
 Equally to be relished by kids and by adults,  it’s no wonder that despite historical anachronisms(the real Tartars not being a threat at all in the 19th cent) French critics reckon it’s Verne’s best novel, and it has also influenced many French writers and film-makers. It’s never been out of print in France and is still a huge favourite with readers, as well as having been transformed into many films and TV series. 
But what has always frustrated me is that this great novel was practically unknown to my English-speaking friends. The trouble is that the original English translation(also published in 1876) is stodgy and dated and does not at all capture the lively, crisp, witty and pacey quality of the original work. 
And so it’s a dream come true for me to be part of the publishing team bringing back this wonderful novel to English-speaking readers, in a fabulous new translation that will be the first in over a hundred years!  To be the launch title for Eagle Books, the new imprint of Christmas Press, Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, as we’ve titled it, will be translated by Stephanie Smee, whose   translations of the Countess de Segur’s classic French novels for kids have been bestsellers. Right now, we’re running a crowdfunding campaign to fund production of a gorgeous  illustrated limited edition, and working towards the book’s publication in early 2016. I’m editing Stephanie’s translation as well as writing a foreword—and it feels so magical to be re-introducing to readers worldwide one of the big books of my life! 
Readers can contribute to the campaign to get their own collectible copy of this pre-commercial-release exclusive edition, which will be a gorgeous hardcover book, illustrated internally in black and white and with many special features:   www.indiegogo.com/projects/eagle-books-present-jules-verne-s-mikhail-strogoff  We invite you to check it out and join us in this wonderful adventure!
The campaign runs till mid-May.  You can find out more about the book, and our team, including Stephanie, at the campaign site, which features videos, short extracts from the new translation, and more. You can also visit our Eagle Books website,  www.eaglebooksadventure.com
Note that the campaign is built around flexible funding, which means that we get to keep the funds raised, even if we don’t reach our target(though of course we hope we will!) This means that no contributor will be disappointed!
Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults. She is also one of the founding partners in Christmas Press and Eagle Books.

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50. April 10 : On This Day


Things that happened: 

837: Halley's Comet makes its closest approach to Earth. No doubt there were a lot of people seeing it as an omen, but we're still here, so that's okay. Wish I could time travel to one of the years when it was nice and bright; the only time it appeared in my lifetime, it was a disappointment. You had to know where to look and you needed help - I found it with a strong pair of binoculars. 

1912: The Titanic leaves port on its maiden voyage. Oh, dear... 

1925: Publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. Nuff said!

1970: Paul McCartney announces he's leaving the Beatles. Sniff!

1972: American bombers start bombing North Vietnam. Not connected with things on this blog, but you can't leave out the Vietnam war.

1972: In Shandong Province, China, discovery of tombs and guess what? Some had books in them! One was a copy of Sun Tzu's Art Of War. I have to cheer for people who wanted to take their libraries to the afterlife. I know how they feel.

Birthdays: 

1778: William Hazlitt, artist and writer of essays and criticism. He's still quoted quite a lot.

1827: Lew Wallace: Author of Ben-Hur. I've actually read this one. If you're a Christian, it's a Sunday school lesson, but I'm not, so I got to enjoy the adventure. If you ever read this, get past the first chapter, a rambling description of a place and a bunch of shepherds - it starts with the journey of the Three Kings. Once you get to Ben-Hur himself, it improves. Lew Wallace lived long enough to see his novel become a huge hit and a Broadway play. The first version of the film, which I've seen, was ten minutes long, with a cast of dozens, ending with the chariot race. It was interesting in that it was made without permission and ended up leading to some of the copyright laws we writers enjoy today(for whatever good it does in these days of free illegal downloads!). Thank you, Lew!  

1880: Montague Summers, author of a classic book on the history of witchcraft that has had a lot of influence on how people have seen witches. Probably just as well he wasn't around in the days when you could burn or hang witches! Still, he also edited a lot of Restoration plays, including those of Aphra Behn, and got them performed for the first time in ages, so we owe him.  

1934: Richard Peck, YA novelist. I think I may have read some of his fiction, but it has been a long time. We do have some of his books in my library. Happy 80th birthday, Richard! 

1957: John M. Ford - dead, alas! - author of one of my favourite novels, The Dragon Waiting, an alternative universe version of the story of Richard III. Also, he did two Star Trek novels, one of which established a version of Klingon culture that was enthusiastically embraced by many Trek fans, including a lot of my friends, who used it in their costuming, role play and fan fiction and drove me nuts! But the book was good. 

Holy Days/Feast Days

I simply must mention that today is the Feast Day of William of Ockham(1287-1347), creator of Occam's Razor, which boils down to, when there are two explanations for something, go for the simpler one. 

Finally, sadly, it's the anniversary of the passing of Peter Jones, who was the Voice of The Book in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy(2000), and of Sue Townsend(2014), author of the delightful Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole. I never read any of the sequels and the original is a bit dated now, but worth reading.

Have I missed anyone or any event you want mentioned? There are plenty out there, but only so many I can put on a blog post and easy to miss.

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