Wide Brown Land cover reveal

22 02 2018

There has been movement at the Titan short story collection station, with stunning cover art provided by the ridiculously-talented Shauna O’Meara. The cover’s wraparound, but for the moment, this is what the front looks like:


Shauna has also contributed some wonderful internal art for three of the stories: ‘Hatchway’, ‘Lakeside’, and ‘Phlashback’.

I’ll have more to say, about availability and such, in coming days, so stay tuned.


A cover reveal

21 02 2018

I’m a bit slow to get to this, but the SpecFicNZ Te Korero Ahi Ka anthology I mentioned last month is now out:


Here’s the TOC:

Ahi Ka (Eileen Mueller and A J Ponder)
On the Run (Kevin Berry)
Moa Love (Aaron Compton)
An Extract from the Diary of Peter Mackenzie (Daniel Stride)
Friend (Grant Stone)
Backchat (Mark English)
The Lost (Gregory Dally)
Gatekeeper, What Toll? (Mike Reeves-McMillan)
The Dragon’s Friend Inn (Serena Dawson)
The Big Bad Wolf (Kevin G Maclean)
Breach (Robinne Weiss)
Mother’s Milk (Dan Rabarts)
The Eye of the Beholder (Kevin G Maclean)
Somnium (Gregory Dally)
Dance, Tiny Particles, Dance (Sean Monaghan)
Earthcore: Initiation (Grace Bridges)
Mid-Life (Matt Cowens)
Her Grief in My Halls (Alan Baxter)
The Music of the Spheres (Debbie Cowens)
Diggers (Sally McLennan)
To the Centre of the Earth (Robinne Weiss)
Big Enough for Two (Piper Mejia)
Why I Hate Cake (Paul Mannering)
The Mysterious Mr Montague (Jane Percival)
The Nineveh (Mouse Diver-Dudfield)
What You Wish For (I K Paterson-Harkness)
Dancing West to East (Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey)
Selfie (Lee Murray)
Wearing the Star Cloak (Darian Smith)
Te Hokianga Mai (The Return) (Marolyn Dudfield)
Magnetic North (I K Paterson-Harkness)
The Iron Wahine (Matt Cowens)



I haven’t yet sighted a physical copy (and likely won’t get to do so until the launch at Conclave 3 in Auckland, over the Easter long weekend), but it is already available online at Amazon (paperback and .mobi) and at various other sites including Apple and Kobo (.epub and maybe .mobi again), so if you’re interested, please check it out!

Book review: Standard Hollywood Depravity / Killing Is My Business, by Adam Christopher

20 02 2018

Adam Christopher is a NZ-born science fiction writer, comics writer, and editor, now living in the UK. He has written several standalone or short series SF novels and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2010 as editor of the NZ Doctor Who Club fanzine, Time/Space Visualiser. I’ve previously reviewed the first of his ‘Ray Electromatic’ mysteries, Made to Kill, here.

Standard Hollywood Depravity and Killing Is My Business, released only a few months apart, are the second and third book-length contibutions in the ‘Ray Electromatic’ series (there’s also an online novelette, ‘Brisk Money’, in the same series).


The novella Standard Hollywood Depravity sees last-robot-in-the-world Ray Electromatic (ostensibly a PI, in actuality now a hired killer) on the job at a Sunset Strip nightclub, where he’s been contracted to take out a go-go dancer, Honey, who’s working at the club. It’s a simple enough assignment, but Ray’s curiosity-simulating software is piqued by the presence of a surprisingly large contingent of LA’s hired killers for what is a rather uninspired performance by nondescript British Invasion band the Hit List. Reasoning that they’re not simply there for the music, Ray surmises that something bigger is afoot; as indeed it is. Something that his target, Honey, is every bit as mixed-up in as anyone else among the nightclub’s underworld notables.


In the novel Killing Is My Business, Ray is hired to wipe out city planner Vaughan Delaney, but he’s beaten to it when Delaney leaps from his sixth-floor window, in what might be termed an act of auto-defenestration (a particularly apt term given that the object which fatally breaks the planner’s fall is Delaney’s own car. Moving right along, Ray’s next target is construction impressario Emerson Ellis, but again the robot assassin is thwarted: Ellis has gone to ground. Ray’s next gig, at least, goes to plan, though it’s a complicated plan and nothing is as it seems. He’s hired to keep reclusive LA crime kingpin Zeus Falzarano alive (for the time being) by shielding him from the bullets in an arranged bloodbath at an upscale Italian restaurant, where dozens of Falzarano’s heat-packing, sunglass-wearing footsoldiers are messily perforated by machine-gun fire. This achieved, Ray is welcomed into the Falzarano fold as a useful bodyguard and resourceful hired gun … as per the plan, which requires Ray to work out just what it is that Falzarano is working on. After all, where there’s a crime kingpin, there’s usually a nefarious scheme …

Both tales are pacy and peppered with a tough whimsicality, making good use of Ray’s Achilles heel: he may well be nearly indestructible, but his memory tape only has a capacity of twenty-four hours, meaning that he starts every day more-or-less afresh, privy only to the information in his core memory and the salient details that his AI comptroller, Ada, has seen fit to pass on to today’s iteration of Ray. Additionally, it’s never straightforward to predict when Ray’s problem-solving will employ his PI skills and when it will divert to the ‘hired killer’ option. These wrinkles usefully add to the tension, and the blend of clunky roboticism and noirish sensibilities do give the books a definite wry appeal. Nonetheless, I was a little disappointed that these sequels seemed to less effectively channel the Raymond Chandler spirit, in dialogue and description, than did the series’ first book Made To Kill. There’s also a sense in which too much of the books’ action takes place, respectively, in the nightclub and in the heavily-fortified Falzarano compound: one of the things which, to my mind, made Made To Kill so successful as a standardbearer for Chandlerish robocrime was its deployment of a broad range of mid-century LA settings as the story arc made repeated midflight corrections, and that’s missing in these two later books. It would be incorrect to say that they plod—they certainly don’t, and there’s still lots of fun to be had within their pages—but they don’t sing quite so well as their predecessor.

A short list of shortlists

17 02 2018

Within the last 48 hours, the shortlists for the three major Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction awards have been announced. In chronological (and, conveniently, alphabetical) order of announcement, these are:

the Aurealis Awards shortlist

the Ditmar Awards preliminary ballot

and the Sir Julius Vogel Awards ballot.

I’m absolutely stunned to be able to announce that my Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body (Peggy Bright Books, 2017, edited by Edwina Harvey with cover artwork by Lewis Morley) has been shortlisted in a ‘Best Novella / Novelette’ category for all three awards.

I’m equally excited about the truly awesome array of talented Aussie and Kiwi spec-fic writers and creators documented in the lists: Alan Baxter, Grace Bridges, AC Buchanan, Nathan Burrage, Jan Butterworth, Octavia Cade, Adam Christopher, Thoraiya Dyer, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, AJ Fitzwater, Liz Grzyb, Donna Maree Hanson, JC Hart, Edwina Harvey, Talie Helene, Pamela Jeffs, Jay Kristoff, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Bren MacDibble (aka Cally Black), Lyn McConchie, Claire McKenna, DK Mok, Sean Monaghan, Lewis Morley, Lee Murray, Shauna O’Meara, Dan Rabarts, Rivqa Rafael, Robin Shortt, Darian Smith, J Ashley Smith, Cat Sparks, Keith Stevenson, Douglas A Van Belle, Keely Van Order, Marlee Jane Ward, Kaaron Warren, Janeen Webb, Darusha Wehm and, in fact, so many more. Best of luck to all concerned!

Book review: The Falling Detective, by Christoffer Carlsson

9 02 2018

Christoffer Carlsson is a Swedish criminologist and crime fiction writer, best known for his noirish ‘Leo Junker’ novels, for which he became the youngest author to ever win the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year award. I’ve previously reviewed his prizewinning debut The Invisible Man from Salem and his YA/crime short novel October Is The Coldest Month.


The Falling Detective (Den Fallande Detektiven, 2014, translated by Michael Gallagher) is ostensibly named after a century-old novella of the same title (or at least, I presume, the same Swedish title) by ‘L P Carlsson’, though Google is silent on whether such a novella (which may or may not have been by an ancestor—Carlsson is a reasonably common name in Sweden) ever actually existed. Be that as it may, the present book opens with the fatal stabbing, in a snow-laden Stockholm courtyard, of sociologist Thomas Heber, a specialist in the dynamics and interactions of far-left and far-right activist groups. With the only witness to the attack a six-year-old boy who watched the dimly-lit courtyard scene play out from the vantage of his bedroom window, the police have very little to go on as the investigation begins. And within hours, the small team to the case is supplanted when responsibility for the investigation is transferred to Sepo, the Swedish secret police. Which should suit Leo Junker just fine—in his first weeks back at work after disciplinary action resulting from a poorly-executed police raid, he’s finding it difficult to perform even routine tasks without resort to antidepressants—but, because he happens to be in possession of evidence that Sepo haven’t been made aware of, he and mentor Gabriel Birck continue a clandestine second-layer investigation into Heber’s killing. It’s a gambit fraught with danger: Leo could stand to lose everything he holds dear if he puts a foot wrong …

Carlsson’s writing has a distinctive fresh noir feel to it, effortlessly blending verisimilitude and grit. Leo is a severely flawed and highly sympathetic protagonist: secretive, addicted, marginalised within the rigid, ruthless, and not altogether trustworthy society of the police force; not exactly gifted, not exactly brave, his career seems like a slow-motion car crash happening around him; and yet he’s determined to catch whoever’s responsible for Heber’s death, and for the deaths that follow in its wake. This blend of dysfunctionality and dogged determination is, of course, a staple of both Scandicrime and noir; and yet Leo feels fresh, unique, in large part thanks to the clarity of the prose. (The only parts of the story that flagged slightly for me were those dealing with the right-wing activists Christian and Michael, which felt a little too scripted, not entirely genuine.) Other than this, though, the worldbuilding is on point and the cast of characters around Leo fascinatingly varied. And although it would doubtless be more sensible to begin one’s reading of Carlsson with The Invisible Man from Salem (the first book in the series), The Falling Detective is amply self-contained that it’s entirely possible to read in isolation.

Book review: Don’t Look Back, by Karin Fossum

6 02 2018

Karin Fossum is a Norwegian crime novelist with a background in healthcare, best known for her long-running ‘Inspector Konrad Sejer’ series of police procedurals. She’s won numerous awards for her writing, including the Riverton, Glass Key, Martin Beck, and Gumshoe awards. I’ve previously reviewed several of Fossum’s other titles in the ‘Konrad Sejer’ series.


Don’t Look Back (Se deg ikke tillbaka!, 1996, translated by Felicity David) is the second in the Sejer series, though the first to appear in English translation. It opens with the apparent abduction of five-year-old Ragnhild on her walk home from a sleepover within a small Norwegian community, but (on Ragnhild’s safe return) instead becomes an investigation into the murder of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Annie Holland (her body found by Ragnhild), dead, naked and ostensibly drowned in the backwoods tarn on whose shore she was left lying. Within the close-knit community Annie was widely known and apparently universally liked; so why was she killed? There are no signs of sexual assault, no indications of her involvement in anything illicit: Sejer and his colleagues must dig deep within the mess of secrets that lurk at the little village’s heart.

Fossum’s crime novels have a tendency to unfold with a surprising gentleness, in part because Konrad Sejer is an atypical Nordic sleuth—a soft-spoken, abstemious, widowed grandfather, seemingly unwilling to think ill of his fellow humans—and in part because Fossum takes care to subtly emphasise the humanity and complexity of all her characters. It’s almost possible, if one doesn’t probe too deeply within the story, to categorise it as ‘cosy’; and yet that would be a mistake, since there is definitely a grim backbone of steel beneath the writing’s outer layers, and a terrier-like determination to Sejer’s investigational style. The crime that unfolds is tragic on several levels, and more confronting because we have been led to care about all of the participants. Fossum is, for my money, one of the best of the Nordic crime novelists, her unhurried storytelling both intellectually and emotionally satisfying (and, often, as here, thoroughly disquieting).

Book review: Elysium Fire, by Alastair Reynolds

4 02 2018

Alastair Reynolds is a British SF writer and former ESA space scientist, who has won BSFA, Locus, and Sidewise Awards for his work, as well as nominations for several other awards. He specialises in hard SF and is most widely known for his ‘Revelation Space’ novel sequence, though he has also written novels set in the Doctor Who universe as well as a space-opera riff on Treasure Island. I’ve previously reviewed several novels and standalone novellas by Reynolds.


Elysium Fire, Reynolds’ most recent release, is a direct sequel to his SF/mystery novel The Prefect (itself recently retconned as Aurora Rising, though still listed in Reynolds’ bibliography in this latest book under its own name). Like its predecessor, Elysium Fire is set within the ‘glitter band’ of large (and largely autonomous) habitats in orbit around the planet of Yellowstone, with a distributed population of some hundred million citizens who are effectively self-governing through implant-polled acts of participatory democracy. It’s a system which, thanks to the implants, is generally both effective and unobtrusive, but occasional flaws in hardware, software, or human behaviour require the attention of the Glitter Band’s approximation to government, Panoply, an organisation dedicated to ensuring that problems between citizens or between habitats are quenched before they can cascade out of control. Panoply’s agents are its Prefects: effectively, police with substantial discretionary powers and the ability to call on reserves of devastatingly powerful weaponry. Prefect Tom Dreyfus (note that the draft cover depicted above misspells his name; it’s correctly spelled on my paperback copy) is one of the principal viewpoint characters in Elysium Fire, as was the case in the earlier book, alongside his erstwhile deputies Sparver Bancal (a hyperpig, with human-level intelligence constrained within a relatively short-lived porcine frame) and Thalia Ng, now themselves promoted to full Prefect status. The problem with which they must contend, this time around, is Wildfire, a cascade of ostensibly-spontaneous implant thermal regulation failures which is, in effect, cooking the brains of its victims. With no information as to the cause or the origin of the steadily-worsening Wildfire outbreak, which seems to strike at random across the entire Glitter Band, the forces of Panoply are stretched merely striving to contain the problem, let alone to solve it. Yet if they don’t solve it, the Glitter Band may be only months away from total social collapse …

It’s been around a decade since I read The Prefect, so my recollection of the earlier book is rather rusty. Happily, while Elysium Fire clearly depends in some respects on its predecessor, it’s constructed with sufficient care that it functions well enough as a self-contained standalone. (I’d nonetheless still recommend reading the earlier book first, if only because the second book does of necessity include some spoilers for the earlier work.) It’s a solid and rather densely-framed mystery with impeccable SF worldbuilding, as would be expected of Reynolds. Also as would be expected, the characterisation is interesting, detailed, and reasonably varied, although I did think a little too much was made at times of the dedication of the principal characters. Reynolds is also very good with tension, action, and misdirection, all of which feature in large measure here.

I’m firming on the opinion that the Dreyfus novels are Reynolds’ closest approach to the Culture sequence of Iain M Banks, which means, I think, that I hope we see more of them.