Best of Horror 2017 Honourable Mention

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Well this was very nice news to wake up to. My story Grind (which you may remember is published in the Pacific Monsters anthology from Fox Spirit books) received an honourable mention in this year’s Best of Horror 2017 collection from Ellen Datlow.

This is officially a Big Thing. When I started writing I looked at Ellen’s collections and said, “That’s it. That’s where I’m aiming for.” And while I may not have quite gotten there this time….

To quote the man, “Next time, Gadget, next time.”

What I learned From…. Nemesis Games, by James S A Corey

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Long time readers (I know there are some of you, Analytics wouldn’t lie to me) may remember a while back I used to post about what I learned from each book I read. I thought with was a better take on reviewing books, especially coming from the “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing” school of being brought up and, well, there are some pretty bad books out there.

So, in the spirit of keeping things positive I decided to pick a few things I learned from a book as I’m old enough to be sure now that you will always learn something new if you pay enough attention.

So, let’s pick up this series again with Nemesis Games by James S A Corey…

Nemesis Games.jpg

 

For those who don’t know, Nemesis Games is the fifth book in the Expanse series of sci fi novels, which follow Captain James (why is it always James?) Holden and his merry around the inner solar system in a hard sci fi version of our nearish future.

To cut to the chase, you should read this series. The hard and realistic application of politics over long distances has me pushing The Expanse series as Game of Thrones in space, and I’ve managed to get misters (they’re a writing pair) Corey a few extra readers (No need to thank me, but a names character wouldn’t go amiss).

But, Nemesis Games in particular….. it’s often harder to learn something from a good piece of art then it is from a bad one. By definition, a good piece of art is good at more than one thing, so it can be difficult to pick exactly what was good about it. And that certainly is the case here. The pacing is steady where it needs to be, racing where appropriate. The action is mind blowing in its scope, without crossing that indistinct line into silly, and the characters are believable…. ah, there we go. Characters. Or, more specifically, the crew of the Rosy. Or even more specifically, the Captain, James (always James!) Holden.

Here’s a thing – one rule writers are always told is avoid the White Knight protagonist. They’re boring, they avoid conflict. Bad bad bad. And Holden is about as cookie cutter a White Knight as they come. He always does the Right Thing, will never do anything which could hurt someone else, even if they deserve it, plays by every single rule, and will go out of his way to be honest accommodating.

And yet, Holden manages to be the biggest conflict creator in the actual solar system.

Corey gets around this by making Holden’s decisions be the creator of conflict in others. Semi spoiler alert for the first book, but him insisting on following his moral code of being open and truthful almost sets of a civil war int he first book. Twice.

That neat little sidestep alone would make Holden a worthy main character, but Corey compounds the interest by giving him more complicated sides, in the form of his crew.

Image result for james holden the expanse

“What? We always casually hang around the table casually like this.”

We have Alex, the pilot acting as Holden’s regret, Naomi who gives him the awareness to question his own actions, and, my personal favourite, Amos, who ably embodies the amoral psychopath in us all. And without giving too much away, in Nemesis Games Holden is left on his own, bereft of his personality extensions he very much was left at the whim of the conflict he himself set in motion in earlier books.

So, what did I learn from Nemesis Games? That there are rules to writing, but if you have a plan, sometimes they’re more guidelines.

 

Aurealis Awards

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Well, I didn’t win. I did say I didn’t expect to. The other finalists were spectacular each and every one. And as I said, just being among them is honour enough for me in one go. And Chris Mason’s story ‘The Stairwell’ was a standout.

So, congratulations to Chris and of course all the other winners and finalists, and I encourage you to go read The Stairwell, it really is worth your time.

Dreadball – Writing the story

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Regular readers (I have some, Google Analytics wouldn’t lie to me) will know I’ve done some regular writing for Mantic Games, creating the back story and fluff for a few of their games, including the sci fi  setting for Dreadball. It’s a tonne of fun, and the game is about to be released, and then this morning the below popped up on my feed….

 

It feels off hearing people talk about the background I wrote as if it were a real thing. Good, but odd.  Reading the Dreadball facebook pages its great to see the players picking up the fluff and running with it. I’m really happy it seems to be going down well.

And I’m especially happy that Elmer And Dobbs the commentators are particular favourites.

Image result for dreadball elmer and dobbs

Aurealis Awards – and me!

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https://aurealisawards.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/aurealis-awards-finalist-high-res.jpg

 

Y’see that image right there? That one, just above these words? That applies to me.  I know, I’m shocked too. So shocked it would seem I completely forgot to mention that my story Grind from the Pacific Monsters anthology was shortlisted for the horror novella category.

It is, of course, an honour as much as a surprise to be included among such talented work.  Looking through the other nominees you can’t help but see some of Australia’s best spec fic writers and artists. I feel like a complete imposter to be among them. I am told that everyone feels that way, but then again that’s exactly what I would say to someone else too.

The winners are announced at SwanCon in Perth next weekend. I’m doing my best not to think about it too much.  I don’t think I stand a shifty cat in hell’s chance of winning, but then again being included int he shortlist makes me feel as thought I’ve won already.

You better believe I’ll be posting about whoever won next week, but in the mind time, fingers, toes and other bits crossed.

 

Michael

 

2017 Aurealis Awards – Finalists

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)

The Shop at Hoopers Bend, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)

The Exile, Jo Sandhu (Penguin Random House Australia)

Accidental Heroes, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK

Action Tank, Mike Barry (Mike Barry Was Here)

Changing Ways book 3, Justin Randall (Gestalt)

Dungzilla, James Foley (Fremantle Press)

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)

Home Time, Campbell Whyte (Penguin Random House Australia)

Tintinnabula, Margo Lanagan & Rovina Cai (ill.) (Little Hare)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Competition Entry #349”, Jaclyn Moriarty (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“First Casualty” Michael Pryor (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“Reef”, Kat Clay (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“Outside, a Drifter”, Lisa L Hannett (Looming Low, Dim Shores)

“Angel Hair”, Deborah Sheldon (Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“The Endless Below”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #02)

“Old Growth”, J Ashley Smith (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“On the Line”, J Ashley Smith (Midnight Echo 12, Australasian Horror Writers Association)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

The Mailman, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)

Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull (Vermillion Press)

“Grind”, Michael Grey (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books)

“The Stairwell”, Chris Mason (Below The Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Things In The Well)

“No Good Deed”, Angela Slatter (New Fears 1, Titan Books)

“Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams Volume 7, Cemetery Dance)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“Hamelin’s Graves”, Freya Marske (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #69)

“The Curse is Come Upon Me, Cried”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, self-published)

“The Little Mermaid, in Passing”, Angela Slatter (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 22 Issue 1)

“Duplicity”, J Ashley Smith (Dimension6 #11)

“The Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz”, Marlee Jane Ward (Feminartsy)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia).

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

The Book Club, Alan Baxter (PS Publishing)

“Remnants”, Nathan Burrage (Dimension6 #11, Coer de Lion)

“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter”, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (The Silver Well, Ticonderoga Publications)

In Shadows We Fall, Devin Madson (self-published)

“Braid”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 1)

Humanity for Beginners, Faith Mudge (Less Than Three Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Missing Years”, Lyn Battersby (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #66)

“A Little Faith”, Aiki Flinthart (Like a Woman, Mirren Hogan)

“Cards and Steel Hearts”, Pamela Jeffs (Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, Falstaff Books)

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Conversations with an Armoury” Garth Nix (Infinity Wars, Solaris)

“Hurk + Dav”, Arthur Robinson (Breach Issue #01)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

“This Silent Sea”, Stephanie Gunn (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 6)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“The Wandering Library”, DK Mok (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

“Island Green”, Shauna O’Meara (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

BEST COLLECTION

The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)

The Silver Well, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

Beneath the Floating City, Donna Maree Hanson (self-published)

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, Tansy Rayner Roberts (self-published)

Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony Ferguson (eds.) (Australasian Horror Writers Association)

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)

Dimension6: Annual Collection 2017, Keith Stevenson (ed.) (coeur de lion publishing)

Infinity Wars, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

In The Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

Ida, Alison Evans (Echo, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Frogkisser!, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

This Mortal Coil, Emily Suvada (Puffin UK)

Psynode, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)

The Undercurrent, Paula Weston (Text Publishing)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Aletheia, J S Breukelaar (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Who’s Afraid Too?, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)

Soon, Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya Dyer (Tor Books)

Gwen, Goldie Goldbloom (Fremantle Press)

Cassandra, Kathryn Gossow (Odyssey Books)

Godsgrave, Jay Kristoff (HarperCollins Publishers)

Gap Year In Ghost Town, Michael Pryor (Allen & Unwin)

Wellside, Robin Shortt (Candlemark & Gleam)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Closing Down, Sally Abbott (Hachette Australia)

Terra Nullius, Claire G Coleman (Hachette Australia)

Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findlay (Penguin Random House Australia)

An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)

From the Wreck, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)

Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (Skyhorse)

Pacific Monsters Review

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A happy new year to you all, and may I present for your consideration the first review (that I’ve seen, anyway) from the very kind Joanne hall, of Pacific Monsters, and my if it isn’t a good one.

The full review can be found here, but because I’m a nice person I’ll paste the wordage below. Enjoy!

 

Pacific Monsters is the fourth in Fox Spirit’s ongoing series of monster stories collected from all around the world, and with this edition put together from across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise that the sea features heavily in a lot of the stories here. It should be noted that Pacific Monsters also takes in monsters from Australia and New Zealand in this case, drawing on both Maori ( “Children of the Mist” by Tihema Baker, A J Fitzwater’s excellently-titled “From the Womb of the Land, our Bones Entwined” )and Aboriginal (“The Legend of Georgie” by Raymond Gates deals with a bunyip and a trio of very dumb students) mythology.

All of the Monsters books have been very strong collections, and Pacific Monsters continues that trend. When reviewing collections I always like to pick out a few highlights, and in this particular volume these are the stories that stood out for me.

“All My Relations” by Bryan Kamdoli Kuwada is a powerful story set in the seas around Hawaii and features as its narrator a kupua, a powerful shapeshifter who can take the form of a shark. The narrator is held by an ancient vow not to eat human flesh, but his resolve is tested when he begins to teach a young boy who has little respect for the sea.

Anthology closer “Into the Sickly Light” by AC Buchanan, which takes place in New Zealand, is based on a local event that occurred in 1965 when a mass later identified as a whale carcass washed up on a New Zealand beach. The “globster” of the story exerts a powerful influence over the local population, and it’s up to young outsider Colleen to save them.

On a lighter note, Simon Dewar’s “Above the Peppermint Trail” is the story of a family and their French nanny who foolishly wander off the trail in a nature reserve and come face to face with Australia’s most savage and feared predator, the deadly and terrifying drop bear…

As always with the Monsters series there’s a graphic element, with two comic strip stories, “I Sindalu” by Gaum-based author Michael Lujan Bevacqua, and the moving “Dinornis” by Octavia Cade, both illustrated by Dave Johnson, and all of the stories have art to accompany them (The large format paperbacks of the series are splendid coffee-table books).

Editor Margret Helgadottir (a fine SF author as well as an editor) speaks in the introduction about how challenging it was to find authors from the Pacific islands who were able and willing to contribute to the anthology, and although it means the stories incline towards Australia and New Zealand, it’s to Margret’s credit that she’s still managed to pull together such a wide-ranging collection of scary monsters and super creeps. It’s a reminder that no one is safe from the supernatural, even at the furthest edges of the world…

Pacific Monsters

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The modern world sucks.

No wait, I have a point, bear with me.

Now, I may be showing my age but I was partly raised by my elderly aunt and uncle, and in the 80s on rainy Saturday afternoons (there’s few other kinds in Yorkshire outside summer), it was TV time.  After wrestling (Kendo Nagasaki was my favourite) and maybe the A Team if it was on, we’d get to the black and white films. My uncle loved the westerns, but they were never my thing. No, but give me a good Jason and the Argonauts, or even better, anything to do wit 19th century pirates and you couldn’t prize me away from that television for all the M.A.S.K. toys in the world.

I’ve thought a lot in the time since at why I loved those particular films since, and others set in what’s often called – if you’re being diplomatic – simpler times, and it always comes down to a unifying factor – the unknown. I grew up watching films and television programmes (think more Tin Tin than A-Team at this point) where there were still parts of the worlds considered unexplored, where a ‘Here Be Dragons’ scrawled on a map had to be taken seriously, because there’s might be a bloody dragon there.

And that’s why the modern world sucks. Because there are so few unknowns anymore. But one of those unknowns is the sea, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to contribute a story to Fox Spirit’s Pacific Monsters because it allowed me to tell a story about the kinds of monsters once thought to inhabit the less frequented corners of the world. Only, in this case, it just might.

 

Image result for ningen

Impossibly ancient and immense life form, yesterday.

 

For anyone who follows these things, more and more information about our oceans is being discovered. One those facts which keeps rearing its head is the ‘we know less about our oceans than we do about the moon’ and I love that. But that’s all oceans. What about the least-visited ocean? What percentage of that is explored?

The story the ningen hits all my interest points. Tales have been told about their (it’s, there?) existence for well over a century, there’s some (dodgy… yeah, let’s admit it, dodgy) photographic evidence (stop laughing, I said it was dodgy), and, best of all, it’s every so slightly and tantalisingly – maybe – plausible.

When I went to write ‘Grind’ for the collection I went a bit beyond my usual scope of research (IE, watching youtube videos and shouting “cool!” at the screen) and found one of those weird-arse conspiracy theory channels which in this case linked everything to the bible. While I’m sure these channels are filled with the kind of people who not only think fluoride has mind control properties, but also makes your skin glow, this one channels did link a particular bible passage to the potential existence of the ningen, and made a good enough linke between the two that I couldn’t help but include it in Grind. I won’t say what ti is, that, dear reader, is for you to discover and decide yourself.

And on that note – Pacific Monsters is out on November 30th at all good book shops and some dodgy ones too.

 

Michael

Well That Got Deep Quickly

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I love Twitter.  Well, love / hate.  As anyone who uses it regularly will know it’s has it times and uses, including shouting dad jokes into the ether.  And every so often it throws up unexpected gems, and this morning it did just that.

Go ahead and read all that.  I’ll wait.

Image result for well that escalated quickly

 

See what I mean.  That was insightful, and exceptionally well thought out, and brought something to mind about story telling in general and novel writing in particular.

Novel’s aren’t easy.  You’re trying to tell a story over 100 thousand words, and no one on Earth can know ahead of times what those words will be ahead of time.  The first draft is an exploration for the writer as for the reader, and even when the final draft is completed, there’s still 100k words on the page.  There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those words.  Ever read a novel twice and come away with a whole new impression?  That’s the effect in action, and here we see that again.

I doubt the writers of Friends had that particular sub narrative in mind when they were writing, but that’s how it came out, and now I can’t unsee it.  It makes sense (and also makes Ross all that more pathetic… although he’s into dinosaurs, so he’s still my favourite).  But the process of crafting such a rich world of deep, believable character, such unintended subplots are unanticipated and welcome.  That’s something that makes long form story telling – Such as long-time overarching TV shows or novels – so special.  There’s always more if we’re willing to look.

Michael

 

 

Pacific Monsters from Fox Spirit Books

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As the man says, good news!  Fox Spirits have been releasing a series of anthologies based on folk tales and mythologies from around the world for a few years now.  So far we’ve seen Europe, Africa and Asia (along with a few nominations and awards along the way) and now they’ve hit the Pacific, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ll be included!

 

Pacific Monsters had its table of contents released yesterday, and it’s very exciting.  I’m honoured to be among such talented company, and I can’t wait to read the other stories in there.

Pacific Monsters will hit book shelves this November, and you know I’ll be here spruiking it as only a man with bills to pay could.

 

Michael