Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

August 7, 2012

Books of 2012 – July

Filed under: books of 2012,books read,reviewage — lexifab @ 12:52 pm

Thanks to two separate holidays (one long weekend away and one week at the seaside with the kids) I got stuck into books a bit more last month. That made me happy. Let’s check out what worked its way from one (virtual) pile to another this month, after a “Warning: Long Post” break.

Ishtar by Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks. Reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge and adored.

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K. Host. I enjoyed the ebook version of this one and reviewed it as well.

Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear by Various (edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie) – This is a more or less unthemed anthology of mostly Australian speculative fiction short stories from Peggy Bright Books. I’ll declare that my main interest in picking it up (I got the ebook version) was that my wife’s uncle Rob has a story in it. It was his cheerful endorsement of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild that was one of the main motivators that got me back into writing last year.

That unnecessary piece of arse-covering aside, let’s take a look at the contents. First of all, while this is a collection of thirteen very interesting and well written stories – not one of them is a dud – it’s a total mixed bag. There’s no evident interconnection or sense that these stories form a greater whole. If there’s an editorial hand at work, it’s largely invisible. It’s just a group of spec fic from across the wide range that the term implies.

The pick of the bunch is probably Joanne Anderton’s ‘The Bone Chime Song’, in which a necromancer calls in an old lover to help him solve a grisly massacre. I reviewed Jo Anderton’s Debris in June and with this story I’ve added her to my list of writers to follow. It’s gruesome, tense and aches with the sadness of lost romance. Others that appealed to me were Adam Browne’s ‘The D_____d’, about the British Empire’s military campaign into Hell, which twists Dante in a fun direction; Katherine Cummings’ ‘The Travelling Salesman and the Farmer’s Daughter’, which is a remarkably old-fashioned interplanetary SF yarn, told with such breezy confidence that I didn’t mind that I guessed the ending; ‘Mary had a Unicorn’ by Ripley Patton, a brutal story of drug abuse and resentment whose core absurdity in no way diminishes its impact; ‘The Godbreaker and Unggubudh the Mountain’ by Ian McHugh (another recent acquaintance), in which old enemies ally against a greater threat; and ‘The Subjunctive Case’ by Rob Porteous, a murder mystery featuring a private investigator with an extremely unusual advantage. Of the rest there are time travellers, conspiracies, robots, aliens and matchmaking bar wenches. Something for everyone, I guess.

Like I said, it’s a collection of solid stories. I expect another reader might have a completely different subset of favourites, though I would be surprised at any top five that didn’t include the Anderton. The implied world building in her story’s background (and McHugh’s, as well) is outstanding. Both could clearly bear further exploration. Overall I would recommend the collection for anyone interested in a pleasant variety of appetising spec fic.

500 Ways to Tell a Better Story by Chuck Wendig – Regular readers of my reviews will be in no doubt as to my regard for the profanity-laden, wisdom-hammering excesses of Chuck Wendig. Better Story is his sixth (and perhaps final) collection of essays, culled from weekly posts at his weblog terribleminds.com, on the psychology, craft, dangers and business of writing. Once again I have nothing but praise. All of these essays – each of which comprises a 25-dot-point commentary on some aspect of writing from creating interesting characters and writing better sex to avoiding self-defeating habits and deciding to going pro – are available for free from the website. But having them collected together for easy e-reference is well worth your three bucks.

Highlight in this outing include the ascerbic ’25 Thing I Want to Say to So-called ‘Aspiring’ Writers’ (“Write…write better than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you did today”); ’25 Things Writers Should Know about Creating Mystery’ (“The audience must not be left comfortable. They should be forced to stare at those dark corners as long as they can stand it”); and of course, the ever-popular ’25 Ways to Unfuck Your Story’ (“Go through every sentence with pruning shears. Cut out junk language like so many fatty tumours. Dead-head your darlings.”)

Amongst a constant stream of imaginative new profanities, unsettling imagery and jokes about dead unicorns and chainsaw-wielding hookers, Wendig’s writing advice is solid, unsentimental and above all useful. He fixes his drunkenly roving attention on everything that is transcendant and vexatious about the art and craft of writing. He takes his readers’ hands in an only slightly shaky grip and steers them through the slurping quagmires of the publishing industry,  online community-building and their own self-doubt. He leads them to writing, and it’s good.

Empire State by Adam Christopher – Empire State is a whirling collision of Prohibition-era gangsters, hard-bitten private eyes, jetpack-wearing science heroes, zeppelins, robots and alternate dimensons. I plugged into the advance buzz on this book early and bought it the second it came out. I saved it up for my recent holiday when I knew I’d have the time to sit down and savour it. I was in every way primed to be the best possible audience for this book, which I expected to love.

Um, except I didn’t. It plods at a tedious pace, with nothing explained without being over-explained first. Virtually everyone holds information back from the often infuriatingly oblivious protagonist. He turns every clue over in his head at least a dozen times without drawing conclusions more decisive than needing another conversation, drink or bit of shuteye. The action centres around the behaviour of several supporting characters whose motivations are a tissue of obfuscatory lies. The most egregious case of this is the murder that kicks the story off, the provocation for which is among the flimsiest and least convincing I have ever laid eyes on in fiction. [1] The whole plot depends on an undermotivated murder that made not the slightest bit of sense to me. Needless to say it took me out of the story.

The actual plot is pretty cool, the period details (both real-world and speculative) are fascinating and well put together, and I’m a huge fan of bizarre cosmologies. If this book cut out every redundant piece of plot speculation and transparent lying for no apparent purpose, it would move at a rocket’s pace and be a pulp masterpiece. But it’s slow, dense and frustrating, and I can’t recommend it as I would like to.

Old School by Daniel B. O’Shea – Dan O’Shea’s put together a kickarse collection of his short fiction here. O’Shea has a real storyteller’s sense of pacing and language – it’s easy to imagine them narrated by your favourite uncle, say. Most of these yarns are crime stories, often of the brutal and/or grisly variety, with a smattering of more speculative pieces towards the end. All of them are worth a look, but I have a few favourites. ‘Thin Mints’ is a nasty little piece about a meth-fuelled stickup gone predictably awry.  ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ is a loony character portrait with a Dahl-esque punchline. ‘Shackleton’s Hooch’ is gloriously melancholy. And no review should fail to mention the rather unflattering portrait of Wm. Shakespeare painted in ‘The Bard’s Confession on the Matter of the Despoilment of the Fishmonger’s Daughter’ – cold and bitter, but beautifully written. At three bucks for the Kindle version, this is another bargain. Recommended.

 

[1] I’m not joking. I’ve read comics where the Joker can spell out a more rational justification for killing than the one to which I’m referring.

1 Comment »

  1. […] probably the best entry in the excellent Light Touch Paper Stand Clear anthology, which I reviewed here). It was deservedly up for a Ditmar Award for Best Short Story, although as it turned out it lost […]

    Pingback by Conflux Roundup – Bookswag « Lexifabricographer — May 2, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

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