Monthly Archives: February 2017

Book Review: From the Wreck by Jane Rawson #AWW2017

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Move over Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Tralfamadorians, there’s a new alien in town.

 

In Jane Rawson’s fourth novel, From the Wreck, she takes her unique approach to historical fiction. Rawson is known for playing with form and function within narrative structures. Her first novel, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, blended dystopian fiction with the motifs of a humorous road trip and was shortlisted for an Aurealis award. Her novel Formaldehyde cemented Rawson as an author known for their quirky shifting of narrative points of view and time just like any postmodern master. From the Wreck is true to Rawson’s distinct style.

Rawson’s take on historical fiction is akin to that of postmodern juggernaut, Julian Barnes. In his History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters Barnes takes aim at Noah’s ark in his first chapter and concludes that redheads are the result of an unholy union between unicorns and one of the human members of the ark. Rawson, on the other hand, examines the sinking of the steamship off the South Australian coast in 1859 and concludes that there was possibly alien involvement. And what’s more, it is done in such a subtle and meticulous way that it doesn’t come across as being deliberately controversial or showy as elements of History of the World do.

At the enquiry, months later, he heard that some time on that first evening one of the horses had fallen, knocked from its feet by the rough seas. The racer’s owner had demanded a shift in course and the captain had turned the prow of the ship into the swell to ease its heaving. Had it brought about the wreck, this shift? Perhaps. It did not occur to George to stand and say that it was something other than the swell that had caused the horse to panic. He didn’t even believe it himself.

Rawson has taken on a postmodern master’s approach and won. The refusal to comment on the alien being is the logical reaction of a rational human to an impossible situation that would only lead him to be ridiculed should he dare utter it. The lack of commentary is just as powerful as what is said.

Now of course I can’t reference postmodernism and aliens without discussing how Rawson’s alien compares to Vonnegut’s famous, and much loved, Tralfamadorians. There are similarities, in that these aliens are both distinctly not human. Residents of Tralfamador are quite explicit in teaching humans that there are more than two sexes and there are more than five senses. They are quite active in their contact with people. Rawson’s alien is similarly different from humans. They are fluid, they are shape-shifting, they are confused by their surrounding on Earth because it is utterly alien to them.

I will sit slumping cold and starving here, in this cave, in this wet puddle of an ocean. Who would even mark my death? That crusty-shelled little nobody over there? That slippery piece of meat and teeth? I don’t think so. Weren’t we supposed to be a once-proud race of warriors? I flail at the memory of us and the hurt of it tears strips from me and I decide I can’t remember. Still, I am certain we were not the type whose deaths were marked by becoming passing food for some slippery piece of meat and teeth.

Where Tralfamadorians are willing to take action and do the odd human kidnapping, Rawson’s alien is a refugee on this planet, desperate for their people, wanting a connection, and trying to fit in. It is through this breaking from the butt probing stereotype of aliens that Rawson gives her novel real depth and again sets herself up as one of the greats.

The mood of the novel is intense. From the very first words the reader is sucked into this environment. We can feel the terror, sense the dampness, and recoil at the uncertainty.

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. They had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

The environment created is so vivid that it is hard to believe that this in anything short of real.

Rawson is undoubtedly a master of setting and atmosphere but she is no less a master of character and dialogue. Awkward family conversations crackle off the page.

‘And so cannibalism? What you’re saying is?’ asked George, wondering why William would always use ten words when one would do.

‘That should humans be the most widely available meat, eating the flesh of humans would be the best response to such availability.’

Oh, now he saw. George knew what William was poking at. The bubble solidified into something obsidian-cool, rubbed smooth and sharp-edged in the year after year. George weighed it in his palm, tested the blade, pocketed it. Said, instead, that this would be true, surely, only if you’d nothing else to eat, yes

We may not have been prodded over possible cannibalism but we’ve all been trapped with that family member who thinks that they are so clever and trying to push our buttons. It is through these normal components of life that the premise become completely believable.

Overall From the Wreck is a gorgeous miasma of textures and time. It is quite simply sublime and a must read. It has replaced Patrick Süskind’s Perfume as my favourite book of all time. I suspect that this exceptional novel will not only be a contender for an Aurealis but also a Stella award. Just give Jane Rawson all the awards already. 
But don’t just take my word for it, find out what ANZ LitLovers thought here:

https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/02/06/from-the-wreck-by-jane-rawson/

And find out what Newtown Review of Books thought here:

http://newtownreviewofbooks.com.au/2017/02/28/jane-rawson-wreck-reviewed-linda-godfrey/#more-10520
They have quoted a discount code for Abbey’s Bookshop so make sure you read until the very end.

 

Jane Rawson, From the Wreck Transit Lounge PB 272pp $29.95

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

 

Book Review: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer #AWW2017

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Thoraiya Dyer is bringing classic High Fantasy back!

 


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel but by no means her first foray into the world of Speculative Fiction. Dyer is a well-known short-story writer who has won four Aurealis awards and three Ditmar awards. As such her turn to novel length writing was highly anticipated, and she has not disappointed. The Epic Fantasy canon can now add another novel.

Classic Fantasy tropes are respected throughout this novel. We all know that a special child is usually required and preferably parentless. This pervades most of Speculative Fiction and beyond. Luke Skywalker thinks both of his parents are dead and so is raised by his uncle and aunt until a couple of robots show him the light. Harry Potter’s parents are dead so he is raised by his evil uncle and aunt until he receives word from an owl. Superman, dead parents, dead planet. Frodo Baggins, adopted. All of these guys for one reason or another do not have their biological parents anymore, and they receive a higher calling to leave their old life and become the super-bestest heroes ever. Awesome right? 

Dyer does a similar thing. Her main character, Unar, has less than loving parents. They think of their child as slave labour. In fact they are literally going to sell her to become a slave. Unar decides that she will run away rather than be sold into slavery. It is through this slight change in the dead parent motif, that Dyer gives her lead character more agency than other orphan heroes. It is not until after Unar has already made the decision to run away that she receives her “calling.”

As soon as she makes the decision, Unar’s heart races. The smell of quince blossom and wood fern fills her nostrils. Something inside her chest, like a seed sending out tiny root, begins to grow there. No idea she’s ever had has felt so right, yet the sensation is distressing; she clutches at her rib cage.

Unar gets this special feeling as a result of having made a decision, she is not simply dragged off unwittingly by a wise guide, she willingly chooses to leave and then receives her calling. Having the decision come first gives Unar an active role in her life in a way many popular, heroes of epic fantasy do not. From the start the reader knows that Unar is a person of action and capable of making tough decisions.

Despite this kick-ass aspect to Unar the reader knows that she has a softer side and has sympathy for her from the outset.

Unar Lies as still as a twelve-year-old can lie.

Eyes shut tight, anticipating her mother’s pleased and surprised reaction to her day’s work, she breathes, deliberately and deeply, with intent to deceive, in the wreckage of the cot that belonged to her sister. A curtain divides the cot from the rest of the hollowed-out, one room dwelling. The corner twitches. Tickles her foot. Father checking on her.

Unar’s bent arm is her pillow. She keeps her legs curled so they won’t dangle over the splintered edges. The cot bars have been broken off to burn for fuel but the body remains whole.

Father thinks she’s sleeping. She’s never been so wide awake. He lets the curtain drop.

“It’s time to sell her,” Unar’s mother says from the other side of it, dashing Unar’s excitement to dust.

We are introduced to an excited little girl who just wants to make her mother happy. A little girl that we then witness being callously betrayed by the people who are supposed to love her. To them she is simply a product to be sold rather than a little girl to be loved. This is heart-breaking to witness but also provides context to Unar being emotionally distant at times later in the novel. Her parents wanted to sell her, we also learn that her baby sister was swept away by floods; Unar has had a horrific life in the twelve short years before she runs away. Being strong and distant is an understandable coping mechanism and not simply arrogance over being the “chosen one.”

Crossroads of Canopy has the scope of a Raymond E. Feist novel. There are thirteen gods. There are different factions following each god. The gods are at the top of the hierarchy, walking amongst people in bodies of flesh and blood. Just under the gods are their body guards, after them are those who have received the calling to serve the gods, and below them are of course the slaves. Slaves being the lowest of the low without any agency at all. Unar, who we see as a strong person, with amazing talent, could easily have been one of those slaves.

On top of that there are layers within the world. Those who live in the canopies of the great forest are the most blessed, those who live below, considered less, and the world of the ground is seen as a dirty hole that is best avoided. My favourite nod to classic Fantasy is that the creatures from different areas actually look significantly different like in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. As early as the first chapter we are introduced to a truly fantastical creature.

He dropped suddenly, suspended by clawed toes in front of her, upside-down with his skirt hems held in one hand, loincloth and concealed throwing knives showing, grinning, making her gasp. It wasn’t right, to have feet like that. Unar had heard rumours that those who served Orin, goddess of birds and beasts, were permanently changed in size and shape, but nobody had ever mentioned to her that the Bodyguard of Ehkis had the grey toes and talons of a sooty owl.

Going back to this traditional model of having creatures from different areas actually look different, rather than all being super sexy humans, opens up a whole range of actions and predicaments that cannot be achieved with merely the human form. This is followed up, with more references to the differences that people from other areas possess, in chapter two and continues on throughout the novel.

Unar examined this one closely for the first time. The woman had the baby-sick skin but not the deep forearm scars of Understorian warriors with retractable “claws” for scaling trees. She couldn’t be a slave taken in war, but instead must have been born a slave. Nobody had set snake’s teeth in place at puberty to form a grown fighter’s magically grafted climbing skills.

And last but not least, Dyer pays tribute to the randy teen trope. Don’t kid yourself, this is important in Fantasy. Think about Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Wise Man’s Fear who managed to be so great in the sack that he out classed the fairy of sex despite being a gawky teenager. And let’s not forget Robert Jordan’s Rand (should be Randy) al’Thor and his menagerie of lusty ladeez who are absolutely gagging for it, and him relatively happily bed hopping. The ladies of High Fantasy are no exception, with Kristin Cashore’s kick-ass heroine Katsa going weak at the knees for Po. Not that Epic Fantasy only has horny teens, the adults are pretty lustful too; I’m looking at you Chris Bunch and your continuous references to “oiled up” penises…. I might just go reread some Bunch… for… reasons. Anyway, Dyer’s Unar is plenty lusty. She’s celibate but still has enough urges to keep us secretly-lustful Spec Fic readers happy.

Instead of dwelling on it, she remembered how her whole body thrummed, like a hanging bridge in high wind, at the thought that Aoun might have undressed her.

Excuse me whilst I go smoke a cigarette…. I’m back, just remembered that I don’t smoke.

Although Dyer includes many tropes from Fantasy, Crossroads of Canopy is still fresh and original. This is because of the lush setting, the unique characters, the detailed hierarchy, and Dyer’s distinctive authorial voice. I cannot recommend Crossroads of Canopy highly enough but don’t just take my word for it, you can read these other reviews here:

https://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/review-crossroads-of-canopy-by-thoraiya-dyer/

Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

 

Also, keep an eye out for a review of this book to appear on Newtown Review of Books   because they always quote a code for a discount at Abbey’s Books Shop  for all the books that they review.

 

Thoraiya Dyer, Crossroads of Canopy St Martin’s Press PB 336pp $34.99

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

Jane Rawson: #Robinpedia

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Jane Rawson is an Australian writer, environmentalist, and tasty bit of frippet. Her interests include dawdling around San Francisco and applying formalin to shape-shifting, aliens’ feet.

By day Jane is a respected environmental writer who writes about cows and hover-boards  for The Man, by night she is a writer of quirky books that stimulate, amuse, and confuse the senses. Her first novel, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, came out in 2013 through Transit Lounge and was shortlisted for an Aurealis award. This dystopian/apocalyptic/road-trip quickly became a cult classic amongst sci fi fans (me) and cool people (Emma Viskic) with good taste (Tania Chandler) everywhere.

In 2015 Jane put out two books, Formaldehyde through Seizure which uses her signature style of shifting time, meaning and narrative; and a non fiction, The Handbook: Surviving and Living with Climate Change again through Transit Lounge. I am buying this for my husband for his birthday, so will let you know about it once I know. Let’s all just assume that it’s really good.

For her fourth book, From the Wreck, also through Transit Lounge, Jane took her unique approach to writing family history. The result is a delicious postmodern feast that shows human nature at its most primitive and yet also whilst it is attempting to be most civilised. Given that this historical fiction is written by Jane Rawson it involves an alien and references to cannibalism. It is fucking brilliant, end of. 

Find Jane Rawson’s website here.

Find Jane Rawson on twitter here.

Engage with her olden day jokes about travel here.

You can also read Jane’s short fiction through Review of Australian Fiction, Tincture, and Funny Ha Ha


If you have information you feel would enhance this entry please leave it in the comment section.

Learn more about Robinpedia here

Fleur Ferris: #Robinpedia 

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Fleur Ferris is a former police officer, paramedic, and current author of YA smash hits. In her downtime she farms rice…. because, you know, she doesn’t have enough on her plate with being Super Woman.

Fleur’s first novel, Risk, was published through Penguin House in 2015 and won two Davitt awards, a Family Therapists‘ award, and was long listed for an Indie award. On top of that it scared the crappola out of parents, teachers, and teenagers alike. It is about the dangers kids face online, and indeed every parents worst fear comes true when a child in the novel goes missing after connecting with someone online.

Not satisfied with terrifying parents out of their minds once, Fleur released Black through Penguin House in 2016. This brought the danger out of cyberspace and directly into your own neighbourhood. Trust no one. 

In 2017 Fleur is back at it again. In July she releases Wreck and has no doubt found a new way to traumatise readers. I cannot wait to find out how. Mr Penguin, should you like to send me an early review copy I wouldn’t say no. Just sayin. 

Find Fleur Ferris’s website here.

Find Fleur Ferris on Twitter here.

Find Fleur Ferris on Facebook here.

If you have more information that you would like added please post it in the comment section.

Learn more about Robinpedia here.

Thoraiya Dyer: #Robinpedia 

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Thoraiya Dyer is an Australian writer of speculative fiction and archer. She has won several awards for her short stories and is well regarded by commissioning editors who describe her as an absolute pleasure to work with. She is so well regarded within the speculative fiction community that I was completely surprised, yet delighted to discover that she did not have a Wikipedia entry yet, so it is with extra pleasure that I write this entry.

Thoraiya has published more short stories and novellas than you can poke a stick at and collected four Aurelius awards and three Ditmar awards in the process. In 2017 she released her first full length novel, Crossroads of Canopy book 1 of The Titan’sForest Trilogy, through Pan MacMillan.

And can I just say a big personal thank you to Thoraiya Dyer for turning her hand to long-form epic fantasy. For those fellow readers waiting in the wilderness for Patrick Rothfuss’s third installment of The Kingkiller Chronicles, we now have something to get us through those lonely nights, Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. I fully expect to see some Kvothe and Unar fan fic soon. It’ll be pretty racey. PRoth, you now have my full permission to take until this trilogy is wrapped up to get part three of yours out. I’m not entirely sure if your publisher or other fans will accept my authority but it’s worth a try…. My own three kids don’t accept it and the oldest one is only five. Sigh. 

Getting back to Thoraiya Dyer and #robinpedia, Book 1 of The Titan’s Forest Trilogy is phenomenal. It has the scope of Feist with the deft touch of Marillier. It truly is a master work, one we’ve been lacking for so long. I was like a kid again whilst reading Crossroads, with that same level of curiosity and excitement. And the characters from different areas actually genuinely look different. They’re not all just super sexy humans. I honestly didn’t even realise how much I’d missed truly great epic fantasy until I read this.

When she’s not writing Thoraiya is shooting things with an arrow. She loves the standing stillness and focus of target archery as it helps clear her mind. Fellow writers looking for a new approach to mindfulness might do well to try archery out. It has certainly worked wonders for Thoraiya who has an absolutely prolific output.

Find Thoraiya Dyer’s website here.

Find Thoraiya Dyer on Twitter here.

If you have any information you would like added to this entry please leave it in the comment section.

Learn more about Robinpedia here.

P.S. Yes, I’m already fully aware that I am dyslexic.

Sarah Schmidt: #Robinpedia 

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Who is Sarah Schmidt? She is an Australian writer, festival co-ordinator, fancy librarian, and killer of novels. In her spare time she enjoys long walks and researching alleged murderers.

Currently Sarah is most famous for pulling a Hannah Kent. What’s pulling a Hannah Kent? Having publishers worldwide go completely ape-shit clamouring for your first novel. This is the stuff novelists dream of, and not just for their first novel, any novel. We all desperately want our novels to have that “ape-shit factor.” Sarah’s debut, See What I Have Done, has “the ape-shit factor” in spades. The lucky Australian publisher to secure it? Hachette. Release? March 28th 2017. It already has so much buzz about it that I just saw a hoard of bees fly past with a copy declaring it their new queen. I threw a copy of my book at them, they tried to sting me.

See What I Have Done is a historical thriller about Lizzie Borden who was trialled and acquitted for the murder of her father and stepmother in 1892. Lizzie Borden has long fascinated the general public, even making it into an episode of The Simpsons. Despite her acquittal, Lizzie is still thought of as the prime suspect for the murders. With theories ranging from hiding her own sexuality to revenge for child abuse. Other suspects include the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, who is said to have made a death bed confession that she had lied in her testimony. William Borden, Lizzie’s illegitimate brother, and John Morse, Lizzie’s maternal uncle, are also suspects. Sarah Schmidt of course has her own fresh take on this in See What I Have Done. 

To add to the Lizzie Borden fever, the movie Lizzie starring Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie Borden and Kirsten Stewart as Bridget Sullivan is also being released in 2017. The timing of this has helped increase interest around Sarah Schmidt’s work. So make sure you get in on this hot new trend by reading Sarah’s historical fiction See What I Have Done before the whole world explodes with Lizzie fever.

I have unofficially appointed myself as the counter downerer for the release of See What I Have Done, so visit me on twitter to find out how many day you have to go. It’ll be pinned to my profile until it is finally released.

Find Sarah Schmidt’s website here.

Find Sarah Schmidt on Twitter here.

Find Sarah Schmidt on Instagram here.

Find the article I memmed the quotes from here.

If there is any information that you’d like added to this entry please leave it in the comment section.

If you’d like to learn more about Robinpedia go here

I’ll leave you with one of Sarah’s favourite songs to listen to after a hard day writing. 

https://youtu.be/uco-2V4ytYQ