Another incoming review

20 04 2018

In the absence of further clarity on the publication status of my books, I can at least mention that Sue Bursztynski, a former colleague from my ASIM days, has posted a detailed and thoughtful review of Wide Brown Land:


There are no space cadets in these stories, no mad scientists, no lunatics trying to take over the universe, just ordinary people trying to live a normal life in a place that isn’t normal. This is hard science fiction written by a scientist who knows his stuff. If we ever do go to Titan, it will very likely be much like this. The world building is first-class.

As usual, I’ve provided merely a snippet from the review, and recommend that you head across to Sue’s blog, The Great Raven, to see it in its entirety.



Book review: Dregs, by Jørn Lier Horst

20 04 2018

Jørn Lier Horst is a Norwegian crime fiction author and former Senior Investigating Officer in the Vestfold police force. His work has won several notable Scandinavian crime fiction awards, including the Riverton, Glass Key, Martin Beck, and Petrona Awards. He is best known for his series of eleven police procedural novels featuring detective William Wisting; the latter six of these novels, starting with Dregs, have been published in English translation. I’ve previously reviewed the most recent instalment in the Wisting sequence, When It Grows Dark, here.


Dregs (Bunnfall, 2010, translated by Anne Bruce) opens with the discovery of a waterlogged running shoe washed ashore in Stavern’s bay. It’s the second such running shoe to have beached in the past week. This would hardly be a coincidence worth remarking, except for three things: one, the shoes don’t match in brand, size, or age; two, they’re both left shoes; and three, they each still contain the severed left feet of their respective owners. While the first shoe’s discovery had not automatically been taken as an indication of foul play—bodies lost at sea can break up over time, and shod feet are sometimes found in isolation as a result of natural processes—the second raises a clear red flag. Wisting is placed in charge of the resulting investigation.

The premise of Dregs is sufficiently unusual that it engages the reader’s curiosity from the outset. This, and the novel’s careful, precise detail are major drawcards. Lier Horst’s earlier police career gives the book a verisimilitude analogous to that found in the crime fiction of former Norwegian policewoman, lawyer, and Justice Minister Anne Holt, or of Swedish criminologists Leif G W Persson and Christoffer Carlsson, though the sparsely descriptive, somewhat self-minimising tone of Dregs is closer than any of these to Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s pioneering (and excellent) ‘Martin Beck’ series. (It’s refreshing, too, to encounter a Nordic sleuth who isn’t, in one way or another, in the thrall of substance abuse.) The characterisation, notably the capable Wisting himself, his journalist daughter Line, his colleague Torunn Borg, and the convicted-murderer-turned-mechanic Ken Ronny Hauge (who is one of the ex-cons Line is conducting in-depth interviews with, for a major article she’s writing) is certainly strong enough to help keep the reader invested in the story. (Mention should also be made, however, of one of my frequent pet peeves in Scandicrime, which Lier Horst’s characterisation falls hostage to: the Obviously Irritating Colleague, played here by the promotion-hungry Assistant Chief of Police, Audun Vetti. While such characters can occasionally play a useful role in a story, they need to be sculpted with care so as to convince the reader of their validity; all too often, they’re mishandled.)

What most impresses with Dregs, and what seems most likely to linger in the mind, is the crime, which has been constructed with a robust eye to detail and which resonates because of this. It’s an excellent starting point for those curious about Lier Horst’s fiction (particularly since the five preceding books in the series haven’t yet been translated). Recommended.


11 04 2018

I’ve been slow to provide purchase links for my new hard-SF short story collection, Wide Brown Land: stories of Titan. There’s a reason for that: two days ago, I was dropped by the book’s publisher, Peggy Bright Books, who have promptly removed almost all mention of the preceding collections and novellas of mine which they had published over the years. I’m still in the dark as to why this decision was made, though it seems unlikely to have been made on purely financial grounds. While I continue to respect PBB as a publishing house—they have been very good to me over the years—I can no longer direct prospective purchasers of my books to the PBB site as a purchase option, because the books are suddenly no longer available through them.

Where this leaves the wider availability of the titles—which at this stage largely means their presence on Amazon—I’m as yet unsure. At time of posting, none of my titles (Rare Unsigned Copy, Difficult Second Album, Flight 404, The Gordon Mamon Casebook, Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Wide Brown Land) has yet disappeared from Amazon, but the wheels of behemoths grind slow (if indeed behemoths have wheels) and so I cannot yet be sure that any paperback-copy options will reflect a title genuinely obtainable from the distributor. (If I receive clarification on this matter, I’ll provide an update.) And both Matters Arising and Wide Brown Land are still showing as ‘available’ through other sites such as Book Depository and B&N. The ‘instant gratification’ option of an e-book purchase of any of the titles (mostly restricted to Amazon, though Wide Brown Land is, I believe, also available elsewhere) would, for the moment, appear more secure: if an ostensibly-available e-book title isn’t deliverable, then I would assume the transaction is voided. For what it’s worth, here are the Amazon e-book links for my recent Sir Julius Vogel Award winning novella Matters Arising, and for my brand-new Titan collection, Wide Brown Land. While I hope that they will continue to remain available into the future, I cannot for now be certain of that.

Further clarification, I hope, will follow.

Some recent Titan-flavoured review activity

8 04 2018

There have been a couple of recent reviews of my work in the last week or so. As is my wont, I’ll quote a snippet from each review, while referring you to the reviewer’s site for the full deal:


NZ author Barbara Howe (whom I met at Conclave 3 in Auckland last weekend) has reviewed Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body on her blog. She describes it as ‘a classic detective story with a savage, high-tech twist’.


And astrophysicist, writer, editor and book blogger Tsana Dolichva has contributed the first review of Wide Brown Land: stories of Titan on her blog. She concludes a detailed review to say ‘I highly recommend this collection to fans of science fiction, especially those intrigued by human life on Titan’.

(It occurs to me that I haven’t yet spruiked purchase options for the new collection. That, I’m hoping, will happen within the next day or so.)

Book review: Frozen Moment, by Camilla Ceder

4 04 2018

Camilla Ceder is a Swedish counsellor, social worker, and crime fiction novelist. She has written two crime novels, both available in English translation, featuring Inspector Christian Tell of Göteborg CID as principal protagonist; I’ve previously reviewed the second of those books, Babylon, here.


Frozen Moment (Fruset Ögonblick, 2009, translated by Marlaine Delargy) is Ceder’s first novel, and follows the investigation of Tell and his team into the murder of Lars Waltz, a middle-aged backroads car mechanic of no identifiable notoriety or wealth. Waltz has been fatally shot at point-blank range and has then been gratuitously driven over repeatedly in a four-wheel drive or similar vehicle. There’s no discernible reason why anybody (other than, perhaps, his ex-wife) would want this man dead, and yet someone was sufficiently motivated to not just kill him but to make of his murder scene a gruesome spectacle. The case attracts the attention of journalism student Seja Lundberg, who’s on the scene early when she drives her elderly neighbour Åke (who first found the body) back to the workshop so he can be interviewed by police at the scene. Seja’s ongoing curiosity about the murder has two effects: it makes her a suspect in the crime, and it leads to an awkwardly burgeoning relationship with Tell, who knows he should know better than to get involved with a witness and possibly a perpetrator …

The characterisation in Frozen Moment is a definite selling point for the book. Ceder has a hugely impressive ability to capture the tells, idiosyncracies, foibles, and unspoken insecurities of a broad range of characters, which are expressed with clarity and candour. Alongside a diversity of witnesses and suspects, the components of Tell’s team are all wrought as distinct individuals, their interactions both credibly mundane and revealing. This psychological depth adds urgency and weight to a story which—other than in its brutal means of murder—does not otherwise place undue emphasis on heightened tension (though there is, usefully, a natural escalation as the story progresses to its close). This is a superior example of the Scandinavian crime novel, which satisfies more novelistic characteristics than just word count, and it’s easily good enough to rue the fact that Ceder’s output to date has been only the two books. If what you look for in a crime novel is truly getting inside the heads of the characters, then you owe it to yourself to read this one (and its successor, Babylon).

Beyond the awards event horizon

3 04 2018

This weekend just past has been a bit of an Australasian spec-fic awards logjam, with the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Tin Duck awards all presented at this year’s Swancon in Perth, and the Sir Julius Vogel Awards presented at Conclave 3 in Auckland. (In a wider context, it was also the weekend in which the British Science Fiction Association Awards were announced, and the Hugo finalists announced. So a busy weekend all around.)

It’s always good to see talented friends and colleagues achieve award recognition, and this past weekend has seen plenty of examples of that. (There are also, of course, plenty of examples of people whose talents haven’t been recognised this time around, whether at the award or the nomination level, and that too is a staple of the awards process.)

There are numerous awards over the past weekend that have gone to people I admire and respect, but there are two in particular I want to highlight. First, I’m thrilled to note that this year’s A Bertram Chandler Award for Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction went, on Sunday night, to my friend, editor, and sometime collaborator Edwina Harvey, for her professional and fannish accomplishments over the past four decades or so; and second, I’m delighted that the winner of this year’s Ditmar Award for Best Professional Artwork went to Lewis Morley, for the cover artwork for Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body.


And then there’s this:


which, as it happens, is the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella / Novelette, which came my way for Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body.

I’ll just note that it’s never a good policy to retire to one’s hotel room just to ‘rest one’s eyes briefly’ an hour and a half before an awards ceremony, because inevitably a nap happens … fortunately the presenters re-announced the award, once I had actually turned up. I’m told it made good theatre, as these things go, but I did feel excessively foolish for sleeping through my own award.

Still, I got the suspiciously pointy object through airport security and home intact, so I suppose all’s well … and the New Zealand cons are always great fun. It’s a trek to get there, but I’ve always been glad I’ve gone. A highlight this year was having readers specifically seek me out to tell me how much they enjoyed Matters Arising, which in its own way is better than any award.

Book review: Runtime, by S B Divya

28 03 2018

S B Divya is an electrical engineer and SF author. She’s also co-editor of the Escape Pod weekly SF podcast. Her debut novella, Runtime, is a Nebula Award finalist.


Mary Margaret Guinto, known as Marmeg to her friends, is a gifted and determined young woman from LA’s marginalised underclass who dreams of a better life for herself and her younger siblings: education, security, opportunity. Marmeg sees the Minerva Sierra Challenge—a tech-augmented footslog across a demanding and dangerous stretch of mountainous, wooded terrain—as her ticket to this better life, with the promise of considerable prize money and sponsorship deals offered to the race’s winners and place-getters. But there’s nothing of the ‘level playing field’ about the Challenge: it’s a race where the quality of your gear can lend an inordinate advantage, and Marmeg’s gear is, to put it politely, broke-ass. Her cobbled-together exoskeleton is rubed from dumpster discards, her biochips are hand-coded and prone to breakdown, her support team (a mandatory requirement for the Challenge) is nonexistent. And the parental permission she requires to participate in the race? No, she doesn’t have that either. What she does have is the adaptability and inventiveness that comes from having rebuilt the gear from the ground up rather than simply buying it off the peg for an exorbitant amount. But will this be enough? There are lots of hazards in them thar hills …

The setup is of a Cinderella-style story, where virtue triumphs over adversity, but it’s to Divya’s credit that this isn’t exactly what she delivers. Runtime pulses with moral ambiguity, as Marmeg comes to question how important the act of winning the race can be, and because of this there’s a substantial additional strand of tension and grit which would otherwise be absent. This also gives greater opportunity to set Marmeg within the future society in which she operates, where biophysical augmentation through exoskeletal attachments and implants is becoming the norm. Though Marmeg identifies as female, many of the people with whom she interacts have transformed themselves into ‘moots’, neutered and ostensibly agendered, and a sense is conveyed that only two things have stopped Marmeg from yet going down such a path herself: lack of funds, and maternal disapproval.

The issue of cyborg-style body modification is a thorny one, and Divya provides both proponents (Marmeg herself, her friend T’Shawn, her competitors in the Challenge) and opponents (her mother Amihan, and ‘Mike’) of the concept and the practice. There’s a general sense that cyborgification is the way of the future—understandably, given Runtime‘s storyline and protagonist—but dangers are acknowledged, as are the grit and tarnish (breakdowns, infection etc) of component failure.

Does it qualify as hard SF? Overall, I would say so. The treatment of the various possible augments (exoskeletal armour and rewritable implants for Marmeg, lightweight adaptable smartsuits and retractable appendages for her considerably wealthier competitors) isn’t overly detailed, but it is broadly immersive, and doesn’t flinch at showing the more gruesome aspects: there’s a bit of body horror in the scene where Marmeg has to perform improvised surgery on herself to swap out a malfed implant for a functional one. If the surrounding society remains somewhat sketchy, this can be excused because (a) it’s quite a short book and (b) for large parts of the book, its protagonist is effectively isolated from that society. There would be plenty of scope for further exploration here, if the author chose to revisit this world, whether with Marmeg again or one or other of her contacts. It’s a slender book, though not a slight one.

(This is the thirteenth in my occasional ‘XX Hard SF’ series of reviews, on women writers of hard SF. For the purpose behind the series of reviews, see my posts here and here; for a listing of the books reviewed in this project, refer here.)