Thursday, November 28, 2002

All you Tasmanians out there on the web, I have news about the Readers' and Writers' Festival next year: lots of SF/fantasy writers will be coming! Apart from the locals (me & Dirk Flinthart) we have Cory Daniells (the T'En trilogy), Marianne De Pierres (who has just sold a cyperpunk trilogy to Orbit, lucky wench), Sean Williams (author of just about everything, surprised he has time to come to a convention, frankly) and Maxine McArthur (Time Future & Time Past). It looks like there will be a special day set aside for SF stuff, a week before the festival begins properly, and I hope all you locals will come along to hear us talk! I'll update when I have further news.

Not just reading, am writing too! New Mocklore book is 68,000 words and counting and almost definitely is called Draklight. No there aren't any metallic or liquidy references, I couldn't figure out any good ones. The first two were coincidence, anyway!

I had a wonderful library day last week, when two desperately-waited-for books I had ordered came in at the same time: Gwyneth Jones’ Castles Made of Sand (slight SPOILERS to follow) and Colleen McCullough’s The October Horse. The only problem was picking which to read first.

Now I’ve been a diehard fan of the Masters of Rome series since I was fifteen, and I’ve been waiting for this next volume for years, so you’d think it would have won out over a sequel by an author I’d only just discovered. Nah, I’m fickle. Fiorinda came first.

Castles Made of Sand was just as good as the first book -- following on exactly, making the two a whole book, although there is a noticeable difference in identity between the two. For a start, Bold as Love is SF and Castles Made of Sand is fantasy. There are elements of both genres throughout, but I’d argue that distinction for hours if anyone wanted to go up against me. It was more satisfying than I hoped it would be, and you have to admire an author whose characters are so lifelike that you live in constant terror, page after page, that she’s going to do something terrible to them. And, of course, she does. The homage to the Big Three of the Arthurian stories is made a touch more obvious in this second book (but not so much as to be annoying, just loving touches here and there). I’m very anti-Arthurian as a fantasy cliche, but this was subtle and beautiful. Because I’d seen that pattern, I knew Sage would rescue Fiorinda from the burning stake, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying to read.

My only problem now is getting up the courage to read all the other Gwyneth Jones books because I’m convinced they won’t be as good. Mind you, that’s what I kept thinking about Connie Willis books and they kept being good, but it is best to read brilliant authors gradually, so as not to lose the subtleties in a gluttonous blur (which is always a temptation for me, reading as fast as I do).

Speaking of a gluttonous blur, when I did get to October Horse that’s exactly what I did. (and yes there will be lots of SPOILERS but I knew the history before I started the book and it didn’t spoil it at all) When I read the first of this series, the First Man in Rome, I knew almost nothing about the ancient world. That was my first year of college. Now I’ve been studying ancient Rome on and off for the last seven years, four of those in fairly dense research, just as the last book of this brilliant, epic series comes to an end. I’m also now mature enough to read the whole of each book instead of skipping all the war bits like I did when I was fifteen.

McCullough’s interpretation of the historical characters is masterful, always true to the sources but never the most obvious interpretation. I consider it quite a tragedy that she won’t continue the books any further through the Augustan era, since I would love to be able to compare her version of the years so closely covered by Suetonius and Robert Graves. I was also quite sad not to see Livia making an appearance in these books (although she gets a throwaway reference), since I would love to see what kind of human McCullough sees her as.

The Caesar of these books is a marvellous, powerful character who totally dominates the stage, although he is equalled in October Horse by a very young counterpart (and of course, eventual replacement), Octavian. We see the young, sharp but sensitive Octavian take on the mantle of his legendary relative, and see the metamorphosis from bookish boy to hard, political monster. The paradox between the young, almost psychopathic Octavian and the sharp, successful and benevolent ruler Augustus that he eventually became has always held fascination for historians, and McCullough conveys this from the other direction, driving him towards monstrous behavior and attitudes that later, under different circumstances as his rule becomes more secure, are no longer necessary.

The interpretation of Cleopatra was entirely refreshing, getting away from the ridiculous promiscuity and archness that is traditional (and has been since Octavian first put his propaganda machine working over time to sabotage her reputation). The relationship between the fifty-something Caesar and teenage Pharaoh makes sense here, she searching for a living god to continue her line and Egyptian traditions, and he perfectly willing to oblige. The relationship between Cleopatra and Antony, though not actively dealt here, is explained -- to the Ptolemies of Alexandria, incest is a spiritual necessity to strengthen the blood, and Cleopatra was short of Ptolemies to breed with (or to marry her son by Caesar) meaning that if young Caesarion was to have a bride/sister of his own blood, she needed a Julian to father the rest of her children. Since Octavian was too priggish to oblige (perfectly within character!) she had to wait for a Roman of Julian blood to visit Egypt... and Antony, of course, had a Julia for a mother.

It is important for this to make sense because McCullough’s Antony is a truly despicable character (finally someone who doesn’t romanticise him!) and it would have been hard to imagine the future events without this clue.

This is, as I have probably already said, a brilliant epic, particularly for those who have followed the characters all the way through. We have Cato’s last march, Cicero’s brief moment of political glory before it all falls to pieces, Servilia’s increasing nastiness, and, of course, the death of Caesar. Having visited the forum for the first time in the last year, as well as the site of Pompey’s theatre, it was so easy to imagine how the events transpired. When it came to the actual assassination I was weeping floods (yes, I knew it was coming, but I _really_ love Caesar, particular at how gruesome it was -- necessarily, of course. The death of Caesar was truly horrible, even for those who killed him, and I think it has to be one of the best death scenes I’ve ever read (and there are a lot in this book).

The only other bit which brought tears to my eyes (and for a total fangirl reason, not sadness) was the meeting of Agrippa and Octavian. If you know your Roman history, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t -- why not? Go apply to do a course at your local Classics Department!

The only negative thing I have to say about the book is the writing itself. The story carries you through tirelessly, but the grammar was distractingly bad. Where are all the editors? Particularly annoying was the use of incomplete sentences and missing verbs (what I assumed was) for the sake of emphasis, which rendered paragraph after paragraph incredibly hard to read. I then edited a story of mine which I was submitting to Forever Shores, and pulled out a few of these! It may imply emphasis but if a sentence doesn’t make sense, the reader will get annoyed!

Really long post, I know, but they were really long books! Really really long. Now I have Dave Luckett’s latest Rhianna book to read... I’ve complained in the past that these are far too short considering how good they are, but this time I think I’ll welcome it!

Thursday, November 14, 2002

I’ve just finished reading Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love, which has had me mesmerised for the better part of this week. I literally screamed when I reached the last page and saw words To Be Continued -- and yet it was not an unsatisfactory ending. The book was a contast balancing act between beauty and terror, following beloved characters through one unspeakable horror after another, with relief provided by the occasional quiet moment. It’s essentially a love story between three people, one which becomes so deep and involved that the horrible happenings in the fascinating ‘alternate future’ become even more dangerous. I’m quite glad that it ended on a comfortable lull in the storm, and that whatever dreadful things ultimately happen to Fiorinda, Sage and Ax will be in a second volume, so if I hate the outcome I can safely ignore it, happily re-reading Bold as Love over and over again instead.

Oh, it’s about rock music, too. It’s kind of a rock music equivalent of the Eyre Affair, as far as using warped real world material to create a fascinating alternate & very alien world. Bold as Love is darker and denser, though. I found myself having to read it extremely closely, a rare experience for someone who normally swallows her books without chewing.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

The Andromeda Spaceways Newsletter

November 5, 2002 Keeping you up-to-date every with everything
happening at ASIM!

Sampler Now Available
Curious about Andromeda Spaceways, but too cheap cautious to buy? Or
you've read ASIM and want to let everyone else see how good it is?

Well, wait no longer!

The Andromeda Spaceways Sampler #1 is now available.
Fourteen pages of ASIM Fun!

Getch'er Mugs Here!!
Courtesy of Celestial Cobbler it is now
possible to purchase your very own Andromeda Spaceways(TM) Mug!

Artwork by our esteemed Art Director, Les Petersen.

Issue #4 almost ready
Continuing in our almost unheard of drive to get our magazines out on
schedule, Issue #4 is now in final proofing stage.
Table of contents:

* Andromeda Spaceways User Satisfaction Survey...Darren Goosens
* Bomb Squad...Robbie Matthews
* Tradition...Russell McNair
* An Innocent Mistake...Jette Bronson
* The Soul of Camelot(On Sale Now! Everything Must Go!)...Jim C. Hines
* Somewhere Over The Looking Glass...Tansy Rayner Roberts
* An Affair of Blades...Martin Owton and Miriam Robertson
* The Gifts...Karen Roberts
* Despair Machine...Dave Luckett
* Here There Be Dragons...Alison Venugoban
* Drinking Picasso...Phoebe Wray
* Spirit Wings...A. J. Weaver
* Divorce...Edwina Harvey
* Cordie And The Merman...Barbara Davies
* The Maxwell‚s Theorems...Brendan Carson
* Escape Clause...Simon Haynes

Non Fiction

* Editorial...Tehani Croft
* Bach to the Future: fugue and cantata for time machines...Jeff Harris
* Connecting With Bob Eggleton...Edwina Harvey
* A moment with Kate Tehani Croft


* An Ode to Earth Beer ... Stuart Barrows
* An Ode to an Anthology ... Robbie Matthews

Look for it in December!

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Major dramas on Sunday morning -- that'll teach me to get up early & start working before 9 on a weekend. Luckily I have a partner who can cope with me hysterically weeping about the fact that I've been working on the exposition chapters all morning and have come to the horrible realisation that my plot (60,000 words into the book) makes no sense whatsoever. He held me, comforted me, and even made me laugh with the immortal line, "Were your first two books actually supposed to make sense?"

I pulled my socks up after he went to fighter practice and tore into my last two chapters, hacking them mercilessly to pieces and turning them inside out. Finchy came home to find me scribbling away in my notebook. He crept into the living room so as not to disturb me. Half an hour later I emerged with a big grin on my face, smugly announcing that I'd fixed the problem.

"But… it was irrepairable."

"Yep. Damn, I'm good."

Sidelong glance, funny look, decides to humour silly authoress. "Ok-aaay."

Our friend Clare dropped in that evening, and I related the whole tragi-comedy in grand dramatic & comedic style. She gave me a funny look. "Well, your first two books kind of made sense..."

Sunday, November 03, 2002

I have been resolutely trying not to add any more stories to my issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine -- for now. I've already filled it 3/4 full, due to various stories I simply couldn't allow to be rejected. That's the one trouble with our system -- each editor only gets one issue. No pushing a good story over to the next issue (unless that editor wants it). I've been particularly frustrated by the lack of good ASIMy stories by female authors in our slushpile. Okay, it could partly because Danuta snitched all the good ones for her 'women in SF' issue (#5 due out in Feb) but it is something I've noticed generally over the last few years: women may be dominating the speculative genre in novels, but men are still outnumbering us with short stories. My one disappointment about AustrAlien Absurdities was that we had so few submissions from female authors. ASIM hasn't done too badly so far -- issue 1 & 2 had quite a few women published, although by no means 50%. I'm not sure if it's that more women are writing serious fantasy and that lends itself better to the novel, or whether more women are focusing on 'career writing' rather than 'writing for the love' (not that you can't do both). Let's face it, short stories are not the way to earna living from your writing, although I think they play an important part in the whole body of SF literature, not to mention being a great way to train yourself out of those nasty padding techniques that show up so often in novel-length fiction.

I don't think it's that our magazine is seen as being a 'boys own adventure' -- we have a pretty equal gender balance within the co-op itself, which makes for pretty good teamwork, incidentally, and the magazine does seem to appeal to both men & women in a readership sense. Still, all you female writers out there! We want more action & adventure & comedy SF/fantasy from you! Check out for submission guidelines.

It's been an exhausting week! I've been working as an exams supervisor, lots of walking up and down aisles slowly, handing out spare booklets, confiscating drink bottles, handing out tissues, escorting people to the toilet, glaring at them when they delay giving me their exam paper at the end of the session, sorting papers with a surprising level of mathematical & computer-like accuracy... my brain is completely numb. The job involves far too much staring into space for my liking (okay, surveying a large room to see if anyone's hand is up, but it amounts to the same thing). I've had enough thinking-time to last me till Christmas! It can be both a bad and good thing creatively -- last semester I thought up three whole stories while working in the Activities Room, although the nature of the job meant I only had time to write two of them down, and I've still never got around to writing the third.

Yesterday I managed two flash fictions while getting paid double time for staring into space on a Saturday. An earlier session (in the nice room where you get to sit down and only have a few students to worry about -- which means you can read a book, or in my case, write one) of 3.5 hours was responsible for me finishing the second half of a marathon-length new Delta Void story, which I've submitted to Agog (not holding out much hope since it is stretching the upper limit of the word count at a touch over 10,000 words). Still, it's nice to have such a substantial story finished, I've only managed to produce 11 this year, only 3 of which were proper fantasy. My DV collection now amounts to about 22,000 words - another 50 and I can make them into a book!

Saturday, November 02, 2002

This was recently sent out to various email newsgroups, etc:

AustrAlien Absurdities: Press Release.

The purpose of this email circular is to announce that the initial 500-copy print-run of AustrAlien Absurdities (Agog! Press, May 2002) has almost sold out, and that copies will therefore only be available for a limited time.

While Tansy and I have been extremely happy with the response to - and performance of - the anthology, we have decided for various reasons not to go ahead with a second print-run. If major demand for a reprint becomes apparent, this may change; however, the availability of further copies in the forseeable future currently seems unlikely.

In the meantime, remaining stock (currently around 40 copies) will be available for purchase until sold out. Postal orders may be directed to C. McKenzie, PO Box 87A, South Strathfield, NSW 2136. $24 including postage ($19.95 + $1 postage for each copy after the first), cheques and money-orders payable to 'C. McKenzie'. The usual discounts will apply to booksellers and contributors. Copies are also currently available from a handful of specialty bookshops, including Slow Glass (Melb), Infinitas & Galaxy (Syd), Ellison Hawker (Tas) and Pulp Fiction (Bris).

For further details, reviews, etc, go to

Finally, Tansy and I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported our little project since its initial inception - contributors, readers, booksellers and all at Agog! Press in particular. We certainly couldn't have done it without your assistance.

We set out almost three years ago to produce this anthology with two very specific goals in mind: to prove that Australian writers could produce truly funny speculative fiction of a calibre comparable to that being written overseas, and to make the anthology a true showcase of Australian talent, with contributions from every part of this country, as well as from permanant residents and expats. And while it's possible that AustrAlien Absurdities hasn't fully achieved these goals, Tansy and I are both extremely proud of the end result of our work, and of the fact that AA seems to have become one of the first of the current 'new wave' of small-press publications favouring 'fun' speculative fiction.

Thanks again,

Chuck McKenzie & Tansy Rayner Roberts