Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: Making Money

Making Money
Making Money by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written at the start of Pratchett's decline into formula and repetition, there's still enough wit and sparkle in this volume to remind the reader that, at his best, there are few turners of phrase in 21st century literature to match him. Funny, insightful, ludicrous and absurd in turn, this is in the upper half of his catalogue without being at the very peak. An enjoyable diversion, and cleanser of the palate before turning to meatier works.

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Review: Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not so much a novel as a series of linked short stories. The progression of former prisoner Socrates Fortlow from social outcast to moral compass of his tiny, impoverished community in the heart of LA is told in a series of short morality plays, each one building on what came before to give a compelling insight into the difficulties faced by the marginalised communities on the fringes of urban America and the redemptive power of a man who regrets the badness in his life. Some of Mosley's best writing in years: simple, yet brutally powerful

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: An Advancement Of Learning

An Advancement Of Learning
An Advancement Of Learning by Reginald Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly entertaining read, full of acerbic humour and tightly plotted mystery, with well-drawn characters who jump from the page and demand the reader take notice of them. Bawdier and more pointed than the TV series that led me to it, this is an utter delight of a crime novel, and one that has me scurrying back to the library tomorrow to fetch a new volume of Hill's work.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014


I turned 44 years old on Tuesday. To be honest, I don't know what to make of it. Lyn and the kids were beautiful to me, allowing me time to open and build my great big birthday Lego set and serving me a dinner created especially for me. And my bonus sons Aiden and Blake, as well as their respective girlfriends, gave me gifts that showed they really did think about what I like and what sort of person I am when I allow myself the space to simply be my private self.

It's a big thing, for me, when I receive gifts from my bonus children-- I came into their lives when they were pushing towards their teen years, and they would have every right to consider me solely as the man who married their mother, rather than any sort of friend or father figure. I'd understand their reasoning, if they did, because I've already lived with that sort of attitude-- my parents separated when I was only slightly older than they were when I came into their lives, and my stepfather made it very clear that he was only interested in being a part of my mother's life, not mine or my brother's. He even refused to marry her until we were both out of the house. But they don't. They took me into their lives as much as I tried to make them a part of mine. They not only remember my day, they mark it as something to which they attach importance, and that makes me feel like I've done something right by them.

And knowing that the members of my family see me as someone important helps, because right at the moment, my daily life seems to come with a high degree of difficulty: my day job is trying, and I'm struggling with the responsibility of several events I don't wish to run yet have to acknowledge fall squarely within my portfolio; the events I normally do enjoy running have left me flat and uninspired; after a positive start to writing work this month I've pretty much abandoned Nanowrimo and am taking stock of my upcoming work; the novel once known as Magit and Bugrat is to undergo another title change at the publisher's behest and has been pushed back a second time, so that it will appear far enough into 2016 to pretty much destroy any career momentum it might have helped maintain in the wake of the Corpse-Rat King books; and all in all, I'd rather just be at home with Lyn and the kids, preparing for our move to the new Batthome and enjoying a quiet and self-driven life together.

Perhaps it's my mid-life crisis calling, but I'm feeling a little sick and tired of living my life at the beck and call of outside parties.

I read over the blog post I made this time last year, and it was full of grand plans for the year between then and now. In the end, almost none of them came to fruition. So, no big plans for me this time. No announcements or prognostications. All I want for this coming year is to move to my new house, find a measure of peace with my family, and try to rediscover some sense of personal satisfaction with what I see in the mirror.

The way I feel right now, that would be enough.

Review: The First Book of Lankhmar

The First Book of Lankhmar
The First Book of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Immensely fun romp through the bedrock of modern fantasy with two engaging and enjoyable characters, until the constant overwriting and simmering misogyny begins to chafe just a little too often and a little too constantly for comfort. Cut the reading experience into thirds, along the dotted lines described by the volumes that make up the book, and refresh your palate in between them, and this remains a thoroughly fun experience. It just requires the reader to be understanding of its real world cultural roots, otherwise you'll finish the book relieved that it's all over, which is less than these seminal stories deserve.

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Review: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Desperately dated and old-fashioned how-to that shows its age. While there are still nuggets of relevance o be picked out on the matters of narrative construction and motivation, there's nothing here that can't be found in more contemporary guides by current authors, and the out-of-date personal comments and prevailing attitude of the book are best left in the era in which the book was first written.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014


So here we are, then. The 9th of November. By nano stats, that means I should have completed 15 000 of my unholy mess novel as of tonight. That means that, as of tonight, I'm only 7.56 days behind where I'm supposed to be!

But, like Jesus said when his Mum wanted to know who pinched all the tuna sandwiches, I have a hell of an excuse. Let's break it down, shall we?

Wednesday 29 October: Agree with Luscious Lyn that the Batthaim has become too big, expensive, difficult to maintain and draining. Decide to sell the place.
Thursday: Appoint real estate agent we've been sniffing around for a while. Receive list of final renovations necessary to bring house up to saleable standard.
Saturday 1 November: Received square metre of soil. Spend half a day carting the bastarding thing out to the back yard to fill the giant empty garden bed that's been sat there empty for two years. Plant colourful plants. Trim giant sprawling half-dead passionfruit plant. Patch cracks in upstairs room ceiling and kids bathroom. Do some actual writing, by virtue of mad panic and previously undiscovered wizard powers.
Sunday: More patching, sanding, and carting heavy bloody things all over the place. Pack family up and sod off for an hour while real estate agent brings people through.
Monday: Write the 2 thousandth and change words on the novel. Do shoulder stretches. Use bendy shoulder muscles to help pat myself on back.
Tuesday: Accompany Luscious to hospital. Be supportive husband while she undergoes horrendously invasive surgery.
Wednesday: Continue husband support role while trying to persuade increasingly grumpy wife that resting in bed does not involve any form of cleaning up or housework. More patching. More fucking sanding. More fucking painting.
Wednesday evening: Pack sore and sorry wife into car and spend what's supposed to be an hour at cafe while real estate agent brings people around the house even though he's been bloody told specifically not to do this today because Luscious is supposed to be resting and not gallivanting around the bloody neighbourhood.
Slightly later Wednesday evening: Real estate agent sells Batthaim. Becomes best friend for life.
Thursday: Packing. Lots and lots of packing.
Friday: Meet with mortgage broker just to make sure we can afford to actually move and won't end up living in a shopping trolley and smelling like cat pee.
Yesterday: Fucking patch. Fucking sand. Fucking paint. Get in car and drive round and round and round suburb of choice looking at interminable series of ugly, run down and general piece of shit house I wouldn't use for a crack house, never mind a place of residence.
Saturday, 3pm: Find the perfect house. Cry tears of relief. Wipe eyes, Put in an offer.
Rest of yesterday: drive from Baldivis to Southern Bloody River because the idiot not-local real estate agent didn't actually have the forms to sign an offer. Sit around for the better part of two hours while idiot not-local real estate faffs about like an idiot, including actually having to read the forms to himself to make sure he's got the right damn forms...... out of there by 6pm, nobody dies, it's a close-run thing.
Late last night: idiot real estate agent rings. Lyn. I think he worked out who best to speak to. Our offer is accepted.
All today, starting at 6.20am and finishing at gone 5pm when I stopped caring about life: MORE FUCKING SANDING AND PAINTING. Empty, box, clean and deconstruct entire shed. Entire. Damn. Shed.

Yeah, so, all of which is an overly dramatic way of saying, hey, what a week: the Luscious one has had surgery, we've sold our house and have bought a new one, and for the rest of the year we'll be packing and organising finances and-- all being as per instructions-- we'll be moving house the day before Christmas.

Turns out, Real Life (tm) trumps writing. Who knew?

Thursday, November 06, 2014


"Nope, I still don't see anything."
Be honest: weeks and weeks cooped up together, in that tiny space, with their smells and their tics and their annying personal habits, with no possible means of escape. Then there you are, all by yourselves, and nobody's watching...... I mean, you would, wouldn't you?


Ladies and gentlemen, meet Keith Stevenson.

Keith is the man who gave Father Muerte his big break, debuting the Father's first story, Father Muerte and the Theft, in Aurealis 29, and providing me with my first sequel opportunity by gently nudging me until I sent him Father Muerte & the Rain. Since then he's gone on to found a series of excellently-produced publishing ventures including the Terra Incognita podcast; Dimension 6 electronic magazine and coeur de lion publishing, where he regularly produces brilliant tomes such as X6 and Anywhere But Earth. He's an all-round science fiction good guy, bon vivant, editor, publisher and reviewer. You can find his bloggy goodness right here.

And damn good writer in his own right: His debut novel Horizon is now available as an ebook via Harper Collins. Which brings us to the very reason for this introduction: Today, Keith joins us to talk about charting future history as part of his Horizon blog tour.

Give his entrance a nice, warm hand:

Horizon — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow
I’d like to thank Lee for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.
Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by Harper Voyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.
While the main focus of the story is the tense drama that plays out between the crew in the cramped confines of the ship, a lot of the grunt work in good science fiction goes into imagining the world of the future and how future events shape characters and create a believable background.
The explorer ship Magellan takes off on its mission between sixty and eighty years from now and the ‘in-flight’ time is fifty-five years (from our perspective). I’ve been deliberately vague with the starting point of the timeline in case actual historical events trip me up. But the world of 2075 (assuming we are all still here) has been mapped out to some extent already.
Certainly, unless certain intransigent governments come to their senses, we will be facing a climate disaster by then. The UN predicts we will reach a population of 9.1 billion by 2050, with population peaking in 2070 at 9.4 billion, and the great majority of those extra billions will be born into the poorest nations. Food security will be a major issue as the planet struggles to feed those billions. In today’s world, already over a billion people are going hungry.
Certainly in the short- and medium-term, the problems we see emerging in the Middle East following the Arab Spring look set to continue. Ethnic tensions are also leading to fracturing borders across Europe and elsewhere. It is a tense time for the world right now and our geopolitical map is in flux. And yet we are also witnessing amazing advances in all areas of science.
So here are the elements I have to play with: climate change and environmental degradation, population growth and impact on infrastructure, racial tensions and war, technological development and advances — I took all these factors and pieced together a future history that maps out key events in the fifty or so years leading up to the point when Magellan launches from Earth on its mission of exploration:
No. of years before wake-up near Iota Pesei
Nuclear bombardment of selected targets in the Middle East and Asia by the United States of America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
War on Terror officially declared ‘at an end’.
Compact of Asian Peoples formed. Compact petitions for UN membership. United States of America exercises its veto.
Pro-EU factions win UK government in landslide election.
Significant shrinkage of polar icecaps recorded for the fifteenth successive year. Effect of rising sea levels felt worldwide.
Fuel-cell boom sees formation of the Union of Northern States to protect sensitive patents.
Kyoto III finally ratified.
Compact coalition cuts all trade ties with Australia.
EU governments consolidated under a single body.
Hurricane Ivan lays waste to the eastern seaboard of United States of America and a large part of Central America.
United States and Australian governments ratify creation of Pax Americana, effectively merging the two countries into a consolidated trade, defence and diplomatic entity. The wastelands from Florida to Pennsylvania are officially excluded from the Pax.
The first fully fledged Pax election sees an increase in pro-Green elected candidates as a result of increasing environmental degradation and the legacy of Hurricane Ivan.
Pax Americana vetoes the Compact’s petition for UN membership.
To meet its Kyoto III targets, Pax Americana switches exclusively to fuel-cell technology for all public and an increasing percentage of private power utilisation.
The Pax oversees a massive retooling and retraining effort to gear its industries for the new information economy. The need for a larger skilled workforce prompts employment lotteries in the marginal eastern seaboard colonies. Thousands of former USA citizens are resettled in the Pax.
The Union of Northern States develops second-generation fuel-cell technology, halving cost and mass and doubling output of the new cells.
The Pax economy takes off on the crest of the fuel-cell revolution and the rebirth of Silicon Valley.
First bio-jack experiments yield amazing results in quadriplegic subjects.
The UNS uses its voting block to force Pax Americana to approve the Compact’s petition for UN member status. Compact granted member status of United Nations.
Pax American Space Administration (PASA) formed, with its headquarters at Woomera, Australia. Near-Earth asteroid mining commences. Limited trial and use of deepsleep for asteroid-belt mining sorties.
UN aid program to the Compact finds health infrastructure is ‘primitive’ and in need of immediate assistance. Pax, UNS and EU pledge six billion U-dollars to build and equip fifteen hospitals and train over three hundred doctors.
EU scientist Earnhard Godel develops the picopulse black-box propulsion system. Wins Nobel Prize.
Environmental studies conclude that the depletion of the ozone layer has halted.
PASA announces the Explorer Ship program. International Space Station brought out of mothballs to coordinate the search for a target star.
Testing of Magellan prototype explorer ship complete. Crew selection includes Pax, EU and UNS members; however, the UNS representative is injured in training. The Pax government requests a replacement and UNS suggests a Compact citizen.
Magellan launches from Earth orbit.
Of course, the fact that the crew comprises members of the Pax Americana, the Compact and the European Union, means they are all heavily invested in this future history and moulded by the climactic events that took place in the decades before launch. But the world has not stood still while they’ve slept on the way to Horizon, and there’s a whole swathe of future history they need to catch up on when they wake, not all of which will be to everyone’s liking.
Like what you've read? Well, there's plenty more. Make with the clicky and the calendar, and follow the Horizon blog tour:
3 November — Extract of Horizon Voyager blog
4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — TrentJamieson’s blog
5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter
6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog (hint: you're here)
7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — JoanneAnderton’s blog
10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — BenPeek’s blog
11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’sblog
12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog
13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — SeanWright’s blog
14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — GreigBeck’s Facebook page
17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog

Saturday, November 01, 2014


So Nanowrimo is upon us once again, (This is me: feel free to buddy up) and once again I'm using the month to concentrate on words and give myself permission to prioritise my writing over the distractions in my life.

Yeah, I know I'm a pro and writing is an important aspect of both my personality and my artistic career. But I'm also a man with a metric fucktonne of duties and responsibilities and sometimes I need the crutch to lean on. I'm happy for you if you don't understand this, and good luck to ye's. Me, I lie the feeling of having permission, so here I am.

This year's project is Bear Hunt, and it's starting out as a load of fun because, for the first time in a long time, it's not remotely speculative. It's a straight crime novel, and here's the brief I've set myself:

Somebody dragged Bear back into the life. Somebody made him a criminal again. And now somebody's spying on him. Doesn't matter if it's the cops or the crims. Somebody's going to pay.

Sound fun? It'd better, because I'm probably going to bore you shitless with updates as the month progresses. So just to give you a little taster-- and in the full spirit of understanding that this is a first draft, and for me, a loose one with no internal editor present-- here's a few lines to get us all started:

None of what went down would have happened if Bear hadn’t got himself banged up on a DUI charge. Bang to rights, too: point two over the limit, and the blood test confirmed it. So they took his car and stood him up in front of the magistrate in his only suit, and no amount of pleading that he needed his licence to ferry Mum back and forth to hospital and her therapist appointments were enough to save him, not with his record. Disqualified from driving, and his application for an extraordinary licence binned before it even started because extraordinaries are for work purposes only, Mister Burrage, as you well now. Then they spat him out, to stand blinking on the steps of the Mandurah courthouse, wondering how the hell he was going to explain it to Mum and trying to loosen his tie with thick, shaking fingers. Which was a bad time for a weaselly little prick like Gavin Sullivan to slide up from the shade of the nearby car park, but then, no time was ever a good time to have a weaselly little prick like him smiling his slimy smile at you.

Progress charts after day one are about as much use as publishing league tables after the first round of matches, but with a daily quota of 1667 words to make Nano's target of 50 000 in the month, I'm mildly pleased to report that I've completed 2362. So here's a progress pie chart.

Mmmmm, pie.