I Love the Smell of New Books in the Morning

Oh! Oh! Oh! Look what lovely, lovely things arrived in the mail today:

Bitter Greens, Poet's Cottage, To Spin a Darker Stair

That’s Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth AND Poet’s Cottage by Josephine Pennicott AND To Spin a Darker Stair edited by Tehani Wessley which contains stories by Catherynne M Valente and Faith Mudge, as well as beautiful illustrations by Kathleen Jennings.

I am soooooo tempted to take myself off to a hotel room this weekend and do nothing but read and order room service. Forget funding grants and so on for writers … I want a Reading Residency, dammit!

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Fabulous Links to Free Online Fiction

Because sometimes I like to be nice, I give you the delicious swag of short fiction that has been accumulating in my browser tabs over the past couple of months:

“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal which just won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

“The Wolves of Brooklyn” by Catherynne M. Valente over at Fantasy magazine. While you’re at it, check out the rest of the free fiction that Fantasy showcases on their site. A new short story goes up each week, along with some tasty nonfiction. (And if you like the work they’re publishing, you can buy each complete issue in ePub format for a very reasonable US$2.99.)

“26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss” by Kij Johnson, who is currently a beloved literary crush of mine. Also, because you can never have too much Kij — no, seriously, you simply can not — here is her Hugo-nominated “Ponies”. It’s a horrible, beautiful, crawl-under-your-skin kind of story. You might feel the need to shower afterwards.

“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky, which was on the Hugo ballot this year for Best Novella, and The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, which took out the gong in that category. Need I say more?

Those last two links came from Subterranean Press Magazine, which has been publishing free online fiction, reviews and articles since 2007 — with all the back issues archived on their site for your reading pleasure. Nom nom nom. Allow me to point you towards their recent Special YA Issue as a starting point. All the stories are seriously good, but I particularly loved  “Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler and “Valley of the Girls” by Kelly Link.

Everyone's Just So So Special

And finally, Robert Shearman has just published a new short story collection called Everyone’s Just So So Special. No, it’s not available for free. But — and this is a massive, insane, mind-boggling BUT — Rob has undertaken to write a personal, fictional history for every single one of the hundred people who purchased a copy of the leatherbound limited edition of the collection. Yes, that’s right. One hundred new stories, penned at a rate of one every few days or so. And we’re not talking 200-word throwaway vignettes here; some of these babies are thousands upon thousands of words of fully fledged fiction. Madness. Sweet, wonderful, absurdly talented madness. Sadly, the limited editions of Everyone’s Just So So Special have sold out already, so your opportunity to star in your own Shearman history — would that be a “Shearstory”? — has passed. But they are all going to be posted here for all of us to read and marvel at. Now that’s accountability. And madness. Did I mention the madness?

So, once you’ve done reading and marvelling, perhaps you might like to wander over to wherever you satisfy your bibliographic tendencies and consider purchasing a (non-limited-bound-in-leather-written-in-blood-and-the-tears-of-mad-writers) copy of Everyone’s Just So So Special. Or another of Rob Shearman’s amazing, poignant and so so brilliant collections, Tiny Deaths or Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical. Because he’s a truly astonishing writer. And because this latest project might just render him a gibbering mess, fingers worn down to stumps, incapable of producing another word beyond redrum redrum redrum. Actually, in Rob’s case, that would more likely be aetfopuc aetfopuc aetfopuc.

Robert Shearman: genteel to the bitter, bloody-fingered end.

Shoo now. Sally forth and read!

The Writer and the Critic: Episode 8

Writer and Critic at Podbean

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from our brand new Podbean website or via subscription from iTunes.

Due to ongoing technical problems at Posterous, we decided to move over to Podbean which is designed for exactly the sort of thing we do. We will leave the old Posterous site online for archiving purposes — especially as we haven’t as yet been able to import our lovely listener comments into the Podbean site — but if you’ve subscribed to our RSS feed there, it will no longer be updated. All iTunes subscriptions should continue without interruption, although you might find duplicate listings of Episodes 1-7 on your subscription. No need to download them again — the audio files haven’t changed.

Feedback on the new site or the podcast itself is most welcome!

And now, without further ado, here are the show notes for Episode 8:

This month The Writer and the Critic comes to you as a LIVE record from Continuum 7 — Melbourne’s own speculative fiction and pop culture convention — with the incomparable Catherynne M. Valente as special guest podcaster. Ian, Kirstyn and Cat discuss the problems and politics involved when writers review the work of friends and the need for honesty in online opinion. Cat talks about the popular and critical response to her own work, why sad pandas make everyone else sad as well, and why she is currently taking a break from writing negative reviews on her blog. Rose Fox’s recent article about the necessity for candour in reviews is also briefly mentioned.

continuum7.jpg

(photo: Art Bébé Promotions)

The first two books up for discussion are Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (recommended by Kirstyn) and Among Others by Jo Walton (Ian’s pick). This review of Among Others is pointed as being one Jo Walton herself particularly likes, whereas these two became the subject of reader vitriol over at her LiveJournal — an incident which Cat, Ian and Kirstyn talk about at length in regards to the writing of memoir and authorial responses to critics. For those wishing to avoid spoilers and skip ahead, discussion of Full Dark, No Stars begins at 19:00, while Among Others starts around 40:50.

king_walton_covers.jpg

The trio then turn their attention to the newly released Embassytown by China Mieville — selected by Cat — which Ian and Kirstyn possibly manage to make sound a little more boring than it actually is. You don’t need a degree in linguistic theory, honest! (China himself has provided a far better summary of the book.) The discussion of Embassytown, including a rather heated debate between Ian and Kirstyn about post-colonialism, begins at 1:07:40.

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Check back in at the 1:35:00 mark for some (very brief) final remarks.

Next month The Writer and the Critic will feature Melbourne author Cameron Rogers, who has chosen World War Z by Max Brooks for Ian and Kirstyn to read.

Ian’s recommended book will be a short story collection, Eclipse 4 edited by Jonathan Strahan, while Kirstyn’s pick is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!

Continuum, Quilts and Chronos Awards

I had a fantastic and satisfyingly exhausting time at Continuum 7 over the long weekend. The panels I saw were entertaining and engaging and Catherynne M. Valente was one of the most gracious and erudite and downright fun-to-be-around Guests of Honour a convention could hope to have. She was also a special guest on The Writer and the Critic podcast that Ian Mond and myself recorded live at the con — it will be available very soon; I just need to get some more sleep before finishing post-production — and one of my team-mates on the Great Debate. Which we won. Immortality for everyone! I also loved the enthusiastic, intelligent and impassioned discussions that took place during almost all of the panels I participated in — among panelists and audiences alike. It’s invigorating and inspiring to be in a room full of people so keen to discuss and debate and contribute. Possibly the highlight of the convention for me was the Dark Delights panel which explored the links between beauty and horror. Kyla Ward performed one of her poems with her usual aplomb and Talie Helene knocked everyone’s socks off with a stunning a cappella rendition of an old ghost ballad. (Talie’s working on an exciting new multi-media project … more details soon.)

Chronos Award 2011

Oh, and I won a very pretty Chronos Award for Madigan Mine! Karen Healey‘s Aurealis Award-winning novel, The Guardian of the Dead, was nominated in the same category and I was fortunate enough to meet and have dinner with Karen on the Sunday night. She’s witty and delightful and I’m looking forward to reading her new novel, The Shattering, which is due for release in July. (I was so very good and only purchased that one book at the convention — my To Be Read pile is already structurally unsound!)

The full list of 2011 Chronos Award winners are:

  • Best Long Fiction: Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott (Pan MacMillan Australia)
  • Best Short Fiction: “Her Gallant Needs”, Paul Haines (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Artwork: Australis Imaginarium cover, Shaun Tan (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Best Fan Writer: Alexandra Pierce
  • Best Fan Written Work: “Review: The Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick”, Alexandra Pierce
  • Best Fan Artwork: Continuum 6 Props, Rachel Holkner
  • Best Fan Publication: Live Boxcutters Doctor Who at AussieCon IV, Josh Kinal and John Richards
  • Best Achievement: Programming: AussieCon IV, Sue Ann Barber and Grant Watson

I should also remind you that the Conquilt fundraising auction is now up and running on eBay with some impressive early bidding. It’s an amazingly gorgeous quilt — after seeing it on display at Continuum, I’m half-tempted to bid on it myself. Honestly, the photos really don’t do it any justice at all.

I’m already very excited about attending Continuum 8 next year. Not only is the NatCon but it has Kelly Link and Alison Goodman as Guests of Honour. Huzzah!

Finally, on matters unrelated to Continuum, I was interviewed by the Adventures of a Bookonaut blog as part of an ongoing series featuring Australian spec fic authors. The questions were about authors and social media, and I had a lot of fun answering them. Next time you have a few minutes to spare, wander across and have a read. Sean’s blog is a treasure trove of news and reviews and other SF tidbits — well worth following!

Two Yummy Book Trailers for Your Delectation . . .

Trailers are a relatively recent promotional tool for books and, as with all forms of new media, are often a very hit and miss affair. They can run too long or be too bland. They can tell you too much about the book, or tell you too little.  They can make a book seem like something it really isn’t — which only leads to eventual disappointment.  But when they work, they can be simply stunning — not to mention highly motivational in terms of book buying — as with two fabulous examples that caught my eye recently.

The first is for Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, a book which I’ve read and loved and can recommend most highly:

The second is for Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres, a luscious-looking young adult novel which is now sitting on the top of my To Read Pile. Funnily enough, it was the trailer that tipped the balance with this book. I’d been hearing it about for a while prior to its publication last week, but my To Read Pile is huge and I thought I could probably let this one go for a few months, maybe even until the whole trilogy is published — until I saw the trailer and the little book monster in my head woke up and whispered: Must. Have. Now.


Ah, little book monster, how I both love and hate you to death.

A podcast is born . . .

The Writer and the Critic

My dear old friend, Ian Mond, has been twisting my arm for the best part of this year in an effort to enlist me in the podcast revolution. I finally succumbed and this week we recorded the first episode of The Writer and the Critic. It will be a monthly podcast wherein Ian and myself discuss (mostly) speculative fiction books, reviews and the odd bit of idle gossip. The basic premise behind the show is that each of us will recommend a book for the other to read, which we will then review (and possibly, given our mutual reading history, argue about). There will also be much silliness.

Despite my initial trepidations, it was actually a lot of fun to record and not an entirely painful listening experience either — although if I did pick up on a few verbal tics I will need to stop myself saying. It’s a little raggedy, and we probably spent far too much time at the start justifying talking about why we are sending yet another podcast into the world, but I think we’ll only get better from here on in.

In the first episode we discuss Deathless by Catherynne M Valente (which Ian recommended to me) and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my recommendation for Ian). Two excellent books, now beloved by us both, as it turns out.

We’re still in the process of making the podcast available on iTunes, but you can stream or download the MP3 right now from The Writer and the Critic website. If you enjoy it, please spread the word. Oh, and feel more than free to leave feedback in the comments section of each episode or to send us an email. We’d love to hear what you think!

Steampunk: A Lament

I’ve been too busy lately to do much but contemplate the luxury of having spare time in which to blog or, say, scratch myself. Not that I’m really complaining — last Sunday was Halloween, which was also my Birthday, and much of the busy-ness that day had to do with Signing Books, going Horse Riding, eating Fine Food Cooked by Someone Not Me and watching The Social Network. All of which made for a Most Awesome of Birthdays.

And just now I’ve read a brilliant lament by Cat Valente concerning the (de)merits of Steampunk — look! cogs! — as a genre. It pretty much sums up most of my feelings on the subject and covers a lot of the ground I’ve been bitching talking about with friends in past year:

In the end, maybe steampunk is giving us the 19th century in some subtle way. A glut of cheap, mass-produced products that are identical and bland instead of cottage-made and rough-edged, forged by underpaid workers who must smile and pretend everything is perfect when the foreman comes to visit. A world where fashion covers up all sins, where you don’t have to look at brown people if you have enough money to avoid them, and authenticity is defined as looking and acting just exactly like all your friends.

Nice. And now I don’t have write my own damn post. Except maybe I will. Because, as much as the aesthetics of the genre appeal, the politics — or lack thereof — is really starting to shit me. And possibly, the focus on the aesthetics is at the core of the problem. But no, I don’t want to write a Steampunk novel. Or even a Steampunk story. Not even the kind of story that that I kind of hoped the genre would start to spawn once it got over its obsession with the aesthetics — look! goggles! — and actually peeked beneath its own soot-stained skirts to see what was really going on in at the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Mostly, I don’t want to write Steampunk — hang on, why am I capitalising this damn subgenre? I don’t capitalise horror or fantasy or science fiction or even cyberpunk for goodness sakes; how did that capital S lodge itself in my subconscious?

Step back, rinse and repeat:

Mostly, I don’t want to write steampunk because I have very little creative interest in nostalgia or alternate history. Especially when the alternate is more impossible fantasy than what might’ve-could’ve-should’ve happened. I don’t mind reading AH from time to time, if a particularly good work comes highly recommended, but my creative mind tends to work in the here and now. (Okay, the here and now with tweaks.) Nostalgia actually gives me hives. The past should be viewed with spectacles of only the sharpest clarity, in my opinion. Those rose-coloured glasses are just too damn dangerous, let alone the brown-tinted shades a lot of steampunkers seem to don.

Anyway. Read Cat’s post in full. She says clever things in far more clever ways than I am capable of today.

But wait, look: I’m on a horse!

Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott, with ponies

PonyPunk ... a new subgenre is born!

ETA: Tansy Rayner Roberts also wrote a post in response to Cat’s, providing a neat overview of the genre. Also, she reminded me of Worldshaker by Richard Harland, which is an unashamedly steampunk novel that does address a lot of the underlying nastiness of a steampunk world.