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Exciting news! Just in time for Bookmas, you can now buy my books securely straight from this blog via my Books page.
Books, books for everyone! Stocking full of electronic paper, even the brand spankin’ new My Father’s Death is available on pre-release, so grab your copy and gloat to your friends about how you read it before it was cool!
Look at all those books! Save the big, big dollars with blog-only bundle deals, and make this a Bookmas to remember.*
*Disclaimer: Bookmas not an actual holiday. However, you can always call in sick to work.
Post your babies in the comments. Good luck.
PS: You may have noticed the site is undergoing some changes. It’s hit puberty fast and hard, and has been forced to choose between content relating to this author, and content pertaining to other authors. Over the next few weeks, anneque g malchien.com will become my author site. You will, however, be able to find all the old content, and plenty of new stuff for writers, over at the Writers’ Bar.
I challenge you: you have half an hour to write a piece of micro-fiction. Subject: an earthquake strikes. Word count: under 300
It can be the start of a story, the middle of one, proof of character, or an entire self-contained micro-fic. Set that timer and get it done. Go!
PS: Just realised I’d omitted to mention the word count! It’s 300 or less.
I have stolen this post from myself. No promises yet, but I may be splitting this site in two. The component for writers will be shipped over to The Writers’ Bar, while my author biz stays here. Well, it might happen. Or it might all cave into the sea. D:
Lately I’ve been thinking about … Batman. Like, you ask me what I’m thinking, 75% of the time the answer will be Batman. Gotham has been totally amazing and reinstilled in me a love of Western comics, vast, gritty cities, crime, corrupt politicians, guys with glasses, and of course, the Bat.
But what’s that got to do with zombies?
Okay buddy, Imma square with you: absolutely nothing. Aside from in that measley 25% of the time I’m not thinking about Batman, chances are I’m thinking about zombies. Specifically, Zombies, Run!
If you haven’t heard of ZR, it’s a fitness app/ interactive story that takes you, a survivor in the English zombie apocalypse, from sitting on your lazy butt all day to running five kilometres in a single bout. And then it makes you use those hard earned legs to outpace zombies, gather supplies, and bolster the defences of your sanctuary amidst the chaos, the battered township of Abel.
The format is simple and powerful. You download the app onto your phone, add a playlist, grab your headphones and hit the streets. For each session you run (say three times a week), there’s a story delivered into your headphones as you are performing running drills and increasing your stamina. The story is about you, which gives it tremendous appeal. Essentially you feel as if there are a couple of Abel township radio operators on the other end of your headphones, talking you through the drills, and giving you bits and pieces of information about your surroundings. Of course, whenever you set foot “outside Abel”, you must beware of zombies. The radio operators will give you a heads-up if there’s a zom nearby, and believe you me, there is nothing like hearing “Ugghhhrrrrrrr” in your headphones at 7am with nobody else around to get you running like hell.
Rewards for completely sessions, or missions as they’re called in-app, are listening to the story unfold. As Runner 5, you’re training to take a more active role in Abel, and this means interacting with a range of different characters, from other runners (who are all better than you, at least to begin with), to the resource managers and of course the radio operators. Dr Maxine Myers and Sam Yao have become as friends to me in the past month.
As you progress through the 5K training and move onto the “seasonal” missions (where each mission is like an episode of a TV series, still with you as the main character), the rewards increase to include resources for Abel, which are gathered on supply missions. These resources are redeemable online via the ZombieLink, where you can view your own personal Abel, and allocate your gathered materials to strengthen your town, feed people, etc.
I never thought I’d look forward to running. It has never been my thing. But Zombies, Run! with its strong characters, user-friendly format, and next-generation immersion, has me anxious to get out of bed and into my running shorts. For those of you who write, or program, or are eternal pilgrims of new ways to engage with your audience, check out Zombies, Run! It’s been going strong for three years, and it’s people like you and I who will be referencing its framework for our future, highly successful forays into content creation.
So a little while ago I was stocking up on Kindle titles, because you know, having 300 hard copy books I haven’t read just wasn’t enough for me. I bought a lot of speculative fiction novellas by independent authors, thinking if I found something good then I’d share it with you guys and the rest of the world.
Oh my. The things I found. The things I’ve seen in that electronic pile of books.
Some weren’t very good at all.
In fact, some were so bad, they were…
As The Last Petal Lingers by I. C. Basye
Every year the people of Findle sends four young men, the Dulas, to the mountain above the city. It is the sacred duty of these bold youths to replant the Lavendula Lily, a flower whose potent stench protects the city from the ghoul-like Nukpana who linger in the darkness beyond Findle’s mountainous borders.
Our hero is Damien, leader of the current Dulas. Like all Dulas, Damien and his three brothers were raised in isolation, knowing only their martial arts sensei and an old teacher. Their lives revolve around their mission to replace the Lavendula Lily, drilled into them from the moment they were snatched from their homes as infants, and driving them as their one holy duty. The four boys are prepared to risk life and limb for Findle, going beyond the city’s protection, facing the darkness of the forest and the terrors of the night-stalking Nukpana to bring hope to the people and glory for themselves in the knowledge of a duty done.
Doesn’t that sound like a cool story? I’d read it. And I did read it, so I can tell you with 100% certainty that As The Last Petal Lingers is utter bullshit.
This is not a story about Damien of the Dulas. This is a story about an author who does not care. At all. I. C. Basye does not care about being a writer, doesn’t care about his readers, doesn’t care about consistency, or good story telling, or what can conscionably be sold as readable material. He just doesn’t care.
There is nothing good about this story. It reads like a checklist of clichés for every half-assed fantasy adventure ever written. Bland ghoul-like bad guys? Check. Obviously evil authority figure? Check. Young girl in cowled robe with vital plot information? Check. No attempt made at world detail? Check.
But worse than the clichés, which are truly awful, is the internal world consistency. It has none. The author cares so little about his own story that the hugest inconsistencies are allowed to fly. Take the Dulas. The Dulas are taken from their homes as infants. Four boys every year. They are then raised in isolation. At age eighteen, the boys are sent to the mountain to replant the Lavendula Lily. However, the author himself gives the birth years of the four boys in Damien’s group. They are Damien 5432; Sedrick 5433; Millet 5434, and Harris 5435.
So then, the boys are all a year apart, with Damien the oldest by three years. Doesn’t matter to Basye; he sends them all out when Damien turns 18.
It also apparently doesn’t matter that there are other groups of Dulas. One group every year. One group which is supposed to be made up of 18 year old boys. So why aren’t there four 18 year olds in Damien’s group? It also means there are 72 boys being raised at any given time, 18 groups of four being raised in isolation from all others. This becomes ridiculous when you realise every group of boys is raised by the same sensei and teacher as Damien’s group. The sensei lives with Damien – who the hell raises the other 68 kids? Not to mention there is no reason whatsoever they were raised in isolation.
It doesn’t help that Damien’s group is made up of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, minus the personality. Damien has a bow staff, one guy has a sword, another a bow – wait! That’s not a Ninja Turtle weapon! The “tough” decision Damien has to make, i.e. whether or not to plant the Lily, is made meaningless because the answer is given to him. He has no character development, because he has no character.
You might think I’m nitpicking. So the dates are wrong. Easy mistake, right? Sure. It’s central to the plot, but there are bigger fish to fry.
So this Lavendula Lily. Sometimes spelled Lilly. The first chapter describes Findle as being in a circular valley, surrounded by mountains. The Nukpana are on the far “dark” side of the mountains. Farmers live on the outskirts, because farmers are the scum of this totally isolated last bastion of humanity, not like you’re relying on those farmers to survive, nope, farmers are scum. Hence the farmers are closest to the tops of the mountains and so closer to the Nukpana.
One night Governor Rathborne floats (he doesn’t walk, it’s never explained) out to a farm that hasn’t paid its petal tax. The petal tax is basically a racket to keep your farm inside the protection of the Lavendula Lily. Don’t pay the tax and Rathborne can have his evil goons remove the protection of the Lavendula and leave your farm exposed to Nukpana attack.
At this point, early on, I was thinking of a medieval city bordered by farms, the surrounding mountain ridges planted with lilies. I figured that if a farmer didn’t pay the racket, Rathborne’s goons would go dig up the lilies nearest the farm, exposing it to danger but leaving the rest of the valley safe.
There’s only ONE Lavendula Lily, on the mountain above Findle. The mountain is covered in trees so dense as to be impenetrable by light, and so common sense would suggest no one farms there. Meaning that since the city is walled, and there are apparently only two exits, that the farms are opposite to the mountain, putting them the further distance from the lily.
But even that is beside the point. The lily’s only power is its scent. How do you keep a scent from reaching one farm in dozens? Wouldn’t it just be everywhere? And even trace amounts of this scent is enough to kill the Nukpana – apparently the scent of it on someone’s breath will kill them – so…? Dumbest protection racket ever? Only it works perfectly in the book, and a farm that fails to pay its tax is destroyed by the Nukpana.
And, hell. How can I take this seriously? One might think the forest is between the city gate and the mountaintop, since the forest is on the mountain slope and the Dulas enter it as soon as they leave the city. Yet the forest is full of Nukpana. That places the Nukpana between the city and the Lavendula Lily. See the problem?
Speaking of the forest, the woods up to the mountain have a path … a path made of wood. I honestly do not think I. C. Basye has ever set foot on a mountain or a forest in his life. He does say that Damien doesn’t see a single rock on the mountain before he reaches the top. What. It’s a mountain. It’s made of rock.
In fact, it is perhaps made of dirt. The path to the top is described both as “a gentle climb to the top” and so treacherous that only highly trained young men in the peak of physical fitness are capable of climbing it.
I’ve griped a lot about this book. I could gripe a lot more. Despite being short, it’s so painful to read I barely got through it. Everything is so clichéd, and I. C. Basye writes like he’s only heard about Earth in radio transmissions. He’s a writer of the vainest degree, detailing his protagonist’s appearance at length but ignoring any need for personality. The story is dumb, it has no reason to exist, it should have never been written, and I. C. Basye should have his thumbs broken in the instance he ever tries to write another one.
And in case you’re thinking as I did, that Basye is just some poor schmuck of a kid who wrote this crapsack and sold it on Amazon for a couple of bucks and a hoot, no. I. C. Basye is a grade one teacher. A teacher! He’s an educated man! If you care to look him up, he has a blog on WordPress, and truly he does seem like a decent guy. But he is a bad, bad writer.
That’s all I have to say about As The Last Petal Lingers. Don’t do your wallet the injustice of paying money for it. I’m giving it 1 star and seven years’ math homework.
One part of this book I absolutely loved: the descriptions of Damien’s clothing. Picture this:
Damien wore a bowler hat and put his long brown hair in a ponytail. His tan trousers went up to his belly button and down to his knees, followed by long white socks. He tightened a brown necktie and strapped on suspenders to match. As far as Damien could tell, he looked as common as most young men his age.
Yeah, Damien looks like this:
It’s ROMANCE time!
Paul Versus The Vampire
by Shade of Roses
It happens like a fairy tale. Walking home in the snow, Paul is doused by a passing snow plough and Eric, who lives nearby, invites him in to dry off. Two such handsome, amicable young men can’t help but hit it off … and then they really hit it off.
Barely a second date has gone by when Eric invites Paul to his family home in Greece. Dazed by Eric’s family’s wealth, Paul commits to making the most of it, getting to know Eric’s odd sister, his open minded butler, and doing some intensive sight-seeing in the region of Eric’s crotch.
The catch? Eric is a vampire – and would Paul mind becoming his thrall? While Paul considers life as Eric’s juice box/ sex slave, his family pits themselves in war against the vampires. They only want to save Paul, but it may not be up to them, or even Paul, which he chooses: his love, or his humanity.
Paul Versus the Vampire is a virtually shojo-ai retelling of Buffy and Angel. It’s fluffy, charming, funny and cute, and boy is there a lot of sex in it. But it’s the growing intimacy between Paul and Eric that carries the story through its twists and turns, its fluffy first act and devastating second act. Paul retains his character at all times, dedicated to Eric, but torn between pursuing the romance and siding with his family. I loved all of Paul’s relationships; the disarming, self-effacing way he interacts with his mother, brother and best friend. He’s a good man and I wanted to slap him until he made the right decision.
Eric too has his charms, although he isn’t as well fleshed out as Paul, or perhaps we just never get to know him as well. He provides a constant focal point for our attentions, the centre of the world Paul is orbiting as everything around them spirals into chaos.
That juxtaposition is what I love about this story. At its heart is this pure romance, fuelled by mutual attraction and great chemistry. Around that everything else is shifting gears, going from winter in Toronto to a Greek manor to Armageddon between these two families. It’s fast paced, emotively-driven, genuine, funny and punchy, a pure joy to read. If Shade of Roses set out with the sheer enjoyment factor as her top priority, then she can count this one a success.
It’s also really smart. The character motivations are inferred, not stated outright, but they’re still fully understandable. Paul’s family doesn’t want him becoming an inhuman slave? I can dig that. Shade of Roses also makes a strange but effective use of her vampires. Their hyper senses give them a super-human sensitivity to sounds, such as the ticking of an egg timer. How many vampire hunters do you know of who use egg timers to weaken their prey? It’s brilliant.
So that shifting gears. Halfway through, the story takes a dramatic twist of the sort most viscerally compared to a snag around the reader’s ankle that leaves them hanging from a tree. It then proceeds to tenderise you with a baseball bat while all hell breaks loose for Paul and bits of story whip past like proverbial bats from said hell.
For about a dozen pages, I thought Shade of Roses had lost it. Yet somehow she reins it in; somehow the beating isn’t all that bad; you find out the baseball bat is a pool noodle and rather than being upside-down, you are now standing upright on what was the cleverly-disguised floor all along.
This sudden change in tone is good, and Shade of Roses does largely make it work. However, given the soft atmosphere of the first act and the ingenious weaponisation of egg timers, I do wish that a non-violent solution had been found for the second part. The violence felt out of place, and it raised too many questions about who was going to prison when the story was over.
Despite this, Paul Versus the Vampire is an intelligent, enchanting, gorgeous tale of a young man and young vampire falling in love. It does justice to vampires while never missing a beat on the romance. While it won’t blow you away with its overall originality, it is a sheer delight to read. I’m giving it 3.5 out of 5.
Fun fact. I had no idea this was m-m romance before I picked it up. I had no idea it was romance, I was just in it for the vampires.
Well hello there. Been a while, hasn’t it? Why yes it has.
Okay! Enough with the blathering on! I have about a dozen reviews to post and nothing to say for my long absence, aside from that I discovered If You Are The One on SBS2 and Gotham on channel WIN. When’s that coming back on, anyway? Probably never. The only reason WIN played it to begin with was so they could take it away.
Today I’ll be reviewing the Holiday Murders by mystery author Robert Gott. I actually had the privilege of meeting Mr Gott during an evening hosted by the Batlow Literary Club last October. We had a fantastic night, Mr Gott the guest star having travelled up from Melbourne that day to be interviewed and pawed for autographs, as well as a bit of story telling. The theme of the night was 1940s, and the Club pulled it off flawlessly; upon entry to the venue we were given ration tickets for the food, and wow, the food. All 1940s style, I dare say with a few more ingredients than wartime rationing allowed for, but there were some beautiful moulded jellies and pannacottas, and it was great to see so many people in costume. There was even singing.
While it wasn’t a book launch, Mr Gott did have a few books on offer, and he told us a bit about each. You may have heard of his William Power series, again mystery, but with a good dose of humour. The Holiday Murders is outside the series, lacking the comedy elements, but in the same WW2 Australia setting, and a darker, grittier edge which sold me on it instantly. What! Jewish cops versus Australian Nazis! How could I not read it?
So, while it’s not speculative fiction, who cares, let’s review it anyway, here it is, strap in your eyeballs and get ready to be blown away.
The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
Christmas Eve in Melbourne, 1943. Officers Titus Lambert and Joe Sable are called to the scene of a gruesome double murder, a father shot and his son tortured and crucified.
Sole survivor of the Quinn family, radio starlet Mary is first to find the bodies of her father and brother. But there are bodies on the way. It seems the killer will do anything to torture Mary – and that’s before he catches her.
As the new year dawns, it becomes apparent that the killer’s politics go far beyond the personal, as Nazism rears its ugly head in Melbourne. For Joe Sable, an Australia-born Jew, the case provides an opportunity to strike back against the atrocities committed in Europe. Pity Joe has no idea what he’s up against, and the monster he’s facing has no plans of stopping…
The cast in this book is just fantastic. They’re likeable, and failing that, believable. Ptolemy Jones is a brutal and terrifying antagonist, Constable Joe Sable naive but not dumb, and these two pitted against each other in the background of WW2 political tensions is a gritty and exhilarating ride.
And it is gritty. It’s brutal. There are multiple instances of torture, and Ptolemy Jones’s twisted sexual appetite is deeply uncomfortable for the reader. It makes the story all the more compelling. The discomfort of the violence matches the discomfort of the xenophobia, making for a visceral read. You will physically feel things in this book – disgust, discomfort, relief. I can’t name another book that puts its readers through such hoops, and it’s very well done.
The politics themselves are well researched, articulate and sensitive. My favourite part of the book is the relevance of the Antisemitism to modern day Western culture. Holy shit do we need to hear some of the crazy beliefs of the National Socialists. You would be amazed at just how much resemblance it bears to the anti-Muslim sentiments pervading so much of our culture throughout the last decade, and it might make you think again about the way we as a culture treat immigrants and minorities.
The story also describes Melbourne and the 1940s in loving detail. I especially loved the Red Mask radio drama. Not only was the drama an important plot point, but the way a character would occasionally mention listening in or recognise one of the cast suffused a real life into the pages.
I’ll be honest. Some of the story felt like notes. As if the author had drafted up the scene with filler dialogue and the necessary A to B of action and clues, and then moved on to writing a part he was more interested in. These scenes are particularly common when the three main police offers are speaking together. The peppering of typos and bad dialogue in these scenes adds to the sense they were meant to be further refined.
As much as I enjoy murder mysteries, The Holiday Murders reminded me why I don’t often read them. The ending was fine, but the actual reveal of the murderer and his motivation was so contrived, it was more of an eye roll than a heart-pounding moment of truth. Mystery stories are so often focused on the chase that they forget the story of the killer. As readers, we natural empathise with the detectives working the case. But we also need to understand the killer’s motivation. When the killer’s motivation turns out to be feeble or contrived, it makes what should be the climax, a flop instead, and we feel cheated of the satisfying smack of justice we’ve been waiting for.
Well, the ending wasn’t what I’d hoped. Despite that, the Holiday Murders is smartly written, deftly executed, a gripping, gut-wrenching tale of xenophobia, violence and the fight for justice. It promises big and most often delivers. If you’re interested in a more political murder mystery or just want to immerse yourself in the romance of 1940s, I highly recommend it. I would definitely read more of Gott’s work.
I’m giving it 3.5 stars.
What am I reading right now? What are YOU reading right now? Any Arthur C. Clarke perchance? If so, hold onto your hats. Coming up next (next when, Anneque, next October?) is my review for the double Hugo-Nebula award winning explanation (exploration surely) extraordinaire, Rendezvous With Rama!
Today I’m working on poetry. Also a story. Here’s the poem.
There once was a boy
Who lived in a bomb shelter
In the middle of his father’s hometown.
One day Dad was out
The boy heard planes in the sky
And the bombs fell down and down.
No chance for escape
The boy crawled under his bed
Crying softly and tightly curled
The song of each bomb
The thunder of gods
The sound of the end of the world.
When at last it was done
Shaking and bruised
The boy crawled out from his hole
And though the bombs they had stopped
The shadows they dropped
Would remain forever upon his soul.
And no town
No life to be found,
The boy from the bomb shelter
Well hello there. Chances are if you’re not reading this on WordPress Reader, then you’ve noticed the site has had some changes. Well. All right, if you read the menu and the sidebar then you may have noticed. Superficially we’re largely the same.
Over the last few days I’ve been making many much-needed updates to the site. Pages have been discarded – the Sunday Witch Hunters page is gone, as with the Podcasts, Library and Books pages. While the SWH page is gone-gone, the other three have simply been renamed and overhauled. Books is now My Books, for the purpose of clarity. There’s also information for my latest title, The Vamps, on the page.
Library has become Reviews. I feel this is still something of a misnomer. It wasn’t really a library and now it’s not really reviews. And it’s certainly not reviews for my stories (shortest page ever.) In fact the Reviews page is a catalogue of stories I have reviewed, and it provides only an overhead of the rating given to each book, plus title and author information, cover and genre. I will be putting in links to the reviews I have written and recorded, but that will happen over time … and as I can find them. Still, Reviews is worth a trawl if you’re looking for a book in a particular genre. The Science Fiction and Fantasy pages are both healthily populated, and I expect to add more … again, as I find the reviews.
The third page to have a change of name is Podcasts. The new Audio page still contains only the old podcasts, and some of them will need to be directly uploaded to WordPress or Stitcher before they work. However, the podcast will be experiencing a revival in October, and then the Audio page will be neat, slick and up-to-date. Also very exciting! A good friend of mine by the dossier Pirate has jumped on board as co-host of the new podcast, and we’re both bursting with ideas.
There are a couple of other bits I’m excited about. The About page has had a total overhaul. The information there is relevant for the first time this year. Whoo! And there is also a Video page! Now that is titillating. Currently three videos are linked: my reading for the Ivory God, and the 2 Minute Review for the Death of Eve. Oh, and a fantastic video on aliens in literature by another BookTuber. I encourage you to check them all out.
And that’s about it. So while the site banners remain outdated, it is very much a case of different shit, same package.
You know, just anecdotally here, sometimes I worry that everyone’s doing better than me. Everyone has a million more reviews, a million more followers. And I see a few of them flogging their books all day long on Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of book flogging. It’s the healthiest thing you can do as a writer. But never tweeting anything else it gets a bit much. Still, I think, maybe I should be doing that. Maybe these people are tapping into some secret well of knowledge I just don’t know about. Maybe I’m missing the part of the brain that allows genuine human connections to be forged on the whim of an instant. I’ll never get it and I may as well give up.
But then I remember: I didn’t do these goddamn site updates for nothing.
And what’s more, writing, reviewing, reading, talking to other authors and readers – it’s about the most fun you can have, whether you feel successful or not.
😉 Keep reading!
PS: I owe you an article on Atmosphere. I’ve spoken to Sax about it and he thinks it should be out tomorrow.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, today this blog ticked over to 199 followers. A whole big 199 of you! Wow. Minus spammers, that’s almost 30 people who read this blog! D: (29.5 to be exact. One guy reads it, but he doesn’t really get it.)
While some may wait for that elusive 200th follower to jump aboard, I say to hell with that guy. I want to celebrate everyone who has let this blog be part of their day. And to all the magnificent people who add their thoughts, stories and insights to my daily life. You are all wonderful and I love each and every one of you like a precious drop of haemoglobin flying past my heart. To Skye Hedges, Jex Collyer, D. James Fortescue, Frank Franklin, Krisit Lazzari, M. C. Dulac, Anna Herlihy, Conrad from the Wink Wankers and everyone else who has made this such an amazing (almost) year.
It has been amazing. So thank you. Thank you. Here is a song I linked just for you.
And also a picture of Lemongrab.