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

February 25, 2015

Review – Frost (The Flotsam Series Book 2) by Peter M. Ball

Filed under: books of 2015,books read,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 9:53 am

This action-packed supernatural thriller improves on the previous volume in Peter M. Ball’s Flotsam series, Exile. Continuing its deep dive into the hard-boiled supernatural underbelly of Queensland’s Gold Coast, the action in Frost centers on grimy, compromised monster hunter Keith Murphy’s bargain with a demonic crime boss and a brewing gang war with a bikie gang.

The action sequences are suitably brutal and inventive, and the tense working relationship between Murphy and the various demon-possessed criminals he is nominally allied with lends real bite to the stakes. It’s very much a vicious, backstabbing workplace drama turned up to eleven by the presence of demons, firearms, murderous ghosts and literal stabbings in the back.

I’m looking forward to the next (final?) chapter of the series, in which I presume the much-anticipated Ragnarok on the Gold Coast will arrive at last.

November 13, 2013

TMoRP Day 17 – Short stories of April

This is not going to be easy to pin down. According to my spreadsheet, I read 98 short stories in April 2013.

Ninety. Eight.

There would be very few times in my life when I would have read more short stories than that in a year, let alone in one month. In terms of the short fiction form, I guess this is my golden age. That’s almost entirely down to having ready access to a wealth of anthologies through the Kindle, although I’ve supplemented my library by picking up a lot of collecvtions by Australian writers in particular.

Anyway, this month the bulk of my reading came from four main sources:

  • Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (specifically issue 56) – a mildly quirky Australian quarterly magazine of science fiction and fantasy short stories. I like it a lot, although the fondness with which I respond to it varies from issue to issue, probably according to which member of its shadowy collective/cabal is sitting in the editorial big chair that month. Your mileage will likely vary.
  • Daily Science Fiction – a site that emails subscribers a new science fiction or (more often) fantasy short story every day. many of these are flash-fiction lengths i.e. around 1000 words. I recommend it, because despite the fact that I only think about half the stories are good (and very few are great), it’s a steady source of new material, and it doesn’t take much time to read them. The stories almost never exceed 4000 words.
  • Thoraiya Dyer’s Twelve Planets collection Asymmetry, about which I blogged earlier in the year. It’s good.
  • Stoneskin Press’ anthology (edited by Robin D Laws) of Aesopian fables for the modern world The Lion and the Aardvark. I didn’t do a full review, but here’s what I said on Goodreads.

Anyway, with that many stories, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one or two. Here’s the ones I thought stood head and shoulders above the others.

‘Spirit Gum’ by Mike Resnick and Jordan Ellinger in Daily Science Fiction is the story of a stage illusionist who becomes a professional debunker, with tragic consequences.

‘Illegal’ by Pete Aldin and Kevin Ikenberry in ASIM 56, a police procedural, set in the outer solar system, about stateless refugees – three flavours that mash together to moving effect in this case.

‘The Wisdom of Ants’ by Thoraiya Dyer, on the Clarkesworld Podcast. She won the Ditmar for this at this year’s awards ceremony. It’s good, just go and read it. Then feel free to speculate on who genetically engineered the weird-arse metal-eating ants and why anyone would do that.

‘The Blind Pig’ by Lyn Battersby is a creepy fantasy set in a Prohibition-era speakeasy. I wish there were a version of it online, I’d love to chat about that one.

‘After Hours’ by Thoraiya Dyer in Asymmetry. This was the werewolf one. I’m a sucker for werewolf stories. This was an outstanding example of finding something new to do with them.

There’s about sixty stories in The Lion and the Aardvark, most of them of flash-fiction length. I particularly liked: ‘The Loquacious Cadaver’ by Kyla Ward; ‘The Minotaurs and the Signal Ghosts’ by Peter M Ball; ‘The Coyote and the High-Density Feed Lot’ by Greg Stolze (great name for a story!); ‘The Stray Dogs Learn Their Lesson’ by Nick Mamatas; and ‘The Unicorn at the Soiree’ by Rich Dansky. But come on, there’s sixty stories in this volume. There are at least a couple fo dozen more that are almost as good as the ones I mentioned.

The wealth of great new short stories out there is almost too rich to contemplate. This is just a smattering of what apepals to me.

What are you putting through your eye-jellies at the moment? What do you recommend? What will I be reading after I finish reading this unnervingly tall to-be-read pile?

 

October 23, 2013

TMoRP Day 7 – Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (February)

My favourite short story from February was a novella, ‘Magic for Beginners’, from Kelly Link’s short story collection of the same name. I had a bit of an iffy relationship with the collection as a whole – Kelly Link’s stories (or at least the ones collected in this volume) are rambling, discursive and usually quite surreal narratives. Her language is beautiful. Her imagery is surprising and delightful as often as it’s dark. But the stories too often veered in unexpected and even random directions for me to completely satisfy me. On more than one story I liked where it started and disliked where it ended up. Admittedly most of them turned out to have quite strong story logic when I stopped to think about them, but that didn’t help during the act of reading.

‘Magic for Beginners’ is one such story, nesting layers of narrative inside one another so that each element seems to be a meta-commentary on the others. The thing is, what I found distracting in a number of the other stories was utterly compelling in this one. It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who, along with his friends, is obsessed with a strange, surreal television program called The Library.

The show follows the adventures of Fox and the oddball inhabitants of the titular library, who encounter magician-pirates, magic books and the underground sea on the third floor. The episodes are broadcast out of order, most of the cast are never played by the same actors twice and the kids never know when the program will be shown. It’s compelling event television, in a way that probably won’t exist in a few years and consumes the lives of its young audience.

There’s much more to the plot of the story – the relationships between Jeremy and his friends, the thoughtlessness of his writer-father, a journey with his mother to wind up the affairs of a dead relative. Woven into all of that is the consuming mystery of what’s going on with The Library and what it might mean for Jeremy.

It’s a captivating, magical story that nails the way relationships build and change around (slightly obsessively) shared interests. How stories – especially beloved television shows, but any stories really – can provide an anchor when real life becomes overwhelming and confusing. It’s a story about how caring about stories can help you to care about people (and what can happen when they don’t). It’s amazing.

You can read ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link on the old F&SF site here (or buy the collection, why not?)

My runner-up choices for best story from February were:

  • Either ‘Isles of the Sun’ or ‘Significant Dust’ by Margo Lanagan, which I talked about in my review of her Cracklescape collection
  • Nick Mamatas’ ‘Hideous Interview with Brief Man’, which is a piece of cold, brutal Lovecraftiana that I think Doctor Clam would get a kick out of (from Fiddleblack #8)
  • ‘On the Arrival of the Paddle Steamer on the Docks of V—-‘ by Peter M. Ball, now no longer available on the sadly defunct Eclipse Online website, nor anywhere else as far as I can tell. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was pretty great.

October 21, 2013

TMoRP Day 5 – GenreCon 2013

Last weekend I went to Brisbane for GenreCon, a convention for writers of genre fiction held at the Queensland State Library. As opposed to the speculative fiction focus of Canberra’s Conflux convention, GenreCon aims a bit wider to include the larger, more popular branches of not-literary writing: romance, thriller, crime and mystery stories.

Ostensibly I was there to build up my writing networks, learn a few writing tricks and gab with other enthusiasts about the state of the industry. But while I did all of those things, the real reason I went was that one of the international Guests of Honour was the inestimable Chuck Wendig, on whom I have a not-especially-well-disguised writercrush.

So if you will permit me a moment of unmitigated fannish glee, I may have swooned slightly on the inside when I got the chance to say hi at the opening reception, because he recognised my name. Or my Twitter handle, at least, which is just as good. As it happens, that sparked a fun chat about how Twitter opens doors between fans and the writers they love, who they might otherwise feel are out of their class (as it were). Chuck admitted feeling exactly the same way about people like John Scalzi and Joe Hill, but he had his own visitation from the Squee Fairy when when Margaret Attwood started tweet-chatting with him. Yeah, I can grok that.

Before I reluctantly set Chuck aside to talk about the rest of the con, let me just add that he was an amazing addition to the con. As a panellist he was funny, insightful and generous with his advice. And I gather from his post-con tweets that he is now uncontrollably addicted to Tim Tams, so he will undoubtedly be looking for opportunities to come back to Australia. Con organisers, take note.

Okay, as for GenreCon itself, it was amazing. There were so many enthusiastic, sharp and gregarious people around that I barely slowed down all weekend. I caught up with several good friends and made a whole bunch of new ones. In particular I want to give a huge thanks to Chris Andrews and Jodi Cleghorn, who introduced me to a small army of friendly people and made my weekend complete. And to my good buddy Evan, who put me up for the weekend. I take it as a sign of the success of GenreCon that he succumbed to writery peer pressure and joined Twitter this morning. (Heh. Sucker.)

GenreCon was amazing. The thing I look for (and indeed need) from a convention is a sense of belonging to a community, and GenreCon had that by the warm, giving bucketload, from the happy crowd of cheeky romance writers who went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome to the charming and hilarious group of horror writers that took me for drinks on Saturday night (White Rabbit Ales at the Archive in West End – highly recommended).

My heartfelt congratulations for a job well done to GenreCon organisers Meg Vann and Peter Ball (well, they were the “faces” of the con, but of course there was an invisible cadre of ninjas slipping about making everything happen. Many of them get a shoutout at that link to Peter’s blog). The next GenreCon proper will be in Melbourne in 2015. I can’t recommend it highly enough for its fun, inviting atmosphere and good cheer.

For the next one, which I will attend if at all possible, I resolve only the following:

1) I will book for all events. This year I passed on the dinner because I figured I wouldn’t enjoy socialising. I understand now that this is, to put it mildly, crazypants thinking. By all accounts the banquet (themed “Kiminos and Cutlasses”) was a glittering affair, and the keynote addresses were hilarious. And dammit, I enjoyed socialising all the rest of the time, so why did I think I would feel shy? Dunno. Won’t make that mistake again.

2) I will stay until the end of the con. I had to catch an afternoon flight home on Sunday, which meant that I had to leave the con shortly before lunch. I missed the final three sessions. I was sad. (Especially since I could read all the tweets joyfulling arising from the sessions I was missing. Damn you, social media.)

3) I will make the time to chat with (among others) Patrick O’Duffy, with whom I was only able to share the most fleeting of encounters. And by not joining the impromptu karaoke outing, I missed out on seeing him to his now-infamous rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Dammit.

Edit: Fixed a name’s spelling because I am dumb.

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