Category Archives: Cool stuff

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING COMING SOON

Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

The stories that keep on giving

Writers will tell you nothing much beats publication – be it a short, novella or novel. Signing that contract, getting paid (yes, you should be paid for your work), and having your story out in the world is like crack.

But what happens to those babies once they’ve flown the nest and found new homes? After a given time, well those babies come back. Most will stay filed away, but never underestimate their chance to fly off again and find new homes, new readers.

Reprint markets. Oh, they are wonderful things. One of my babies has found a new home with Digital Fiction Publishing League. Unlike children (real, human-like ones) there are a few stories of mine that are favourites, and The Whims of my Enemy is one of them. It’s a brutal story, unforgiving to all the characters within, but more so with the main protagonist. Hers is a torturous ride, filled with violence and weighed against the desperate need to survive, and what that survival may cost.

Killing it Softly 2

It seemed a good fit for Killing It Softly 2: a fiction anthology of short stories (the best of women in horror). It’s quite the title, and the editors at DFPL were not only kind enough to accept ‘Whims’ but made it the lead story in the antho, which I was extremely chuffed with. There are some fantastic authors I’m sharing the pages with, and it’s one hell of a tome. Thirty-eight stories that run the gamut of all things horror.

Here’s the blurb:

The first ‘Killing It Softly’ was just the tip of the iceberg…

Beneath the icy depths of this next installment, you’ll be plunged into a world where 38 female horror writers give you a glimpse of their inner-demons, unleashing the hell-fire they suppress in the ‘real’ world. It will disturb you to discover what really lurks inside their minds, because many of these stories delve into pain that can only be experienced by women—leaving you unhinged as you curl up with them during their darkest hour.

Post-partum depression, hording, anorexia, and mental health will be brought to light when viewed through the shadowy perspective of cognitive deception.

Sci-fi, romance, steam-punk, and fantasy intertwine with horror to deliver unsettling, chilling stories; traditional tales of witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires will be told in twisted new ways that will shock, unnerve, and even repulse you…and within these pages, sometimes new monsters will arise from the ashes.

You may even discover that women can not only write good horror…but in some cases, can do it better.
So if you’re of a mind, and looking for some killer short stories to while away the hours, then check out Killing It Softly 2 ­‒ there’s a little horror out there for everyone.

And for you writers out there, remember there is more than one life to the stories you’ve sent out into the world. Let those babies fly again!

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve never previously reviewed a movie, but… KONG! Seriously. KONG! It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited over a movie, and when that final trailer dropped… oh, it’s a thing of beauty. It does everything a trailer should. Are you excited yet? You should be.

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m no aficionado when it comes to movies. I know what I like and what I don’t, and that pretty much covers it. As a writer and editor, it’s sometimes hard to remove those hats when screen-watching (and my husband hates that I can predict dialogue – ‘stop ruining movies for me!’). So there’s always that small part of me that worries over my excitement for seeing something and the possibility the trailer is the best part of what I’m about to see.

Not so here. Sure, there are small issues with plot, and the under-development of Tom Hiddleston’s character (ex-SAS soldier now tracker, James Conrad), and the over-act that now seems to be Samuel L Jackson’s (Preston Packard) go to, but Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros) hits all the right marks for a ‘monsterverse’ movie.

The studio was kind enough to release on my birthday, so off hubby and I went to the first showing. Yep, mid-morning, and we were the youngest people in the audience. No kidding. And just a very cool aside, when in the bathroom after the movie, one of the older ladies was waxing lyrical about how she’d seen every Kong movie on the big screen since she was a kid, and she’d loved this one. Now that is a fan of epic proportions, and puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. Be this Nanna!

Kong Skull Island.jpg

SPOILER WARNING. LIKE HUGE, KING-KONG SIZE SPOILER WARNING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Set in 1973 at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, this is a Kong origin story that will no doubt spawn future ‘Kong vs…’ movies. (Note: stay for the after-credits end-scene). And while some may boo-hoo this, I’m all for a re-emergence, re-imagining of the creature-feature universe. Done well, of course, but I’m fully aware you don’t always get what you want.

There’s no doubt the director/writers/producers wanted a particular feel for Kong: Skull Island, and there are clear cinematography-elements that draw on that ‘Apocalypse Now’ atmosphere (with the killer score to go with it), as well as the many Vietnam War movies of my youth (and for me, that’s never a bad thing) – the camaraderie of the soldiers is reminiscent of such, and works well.

There are factions within the crew sent to Skull Island: scientists, military, government agents, and a war correspondent (Brie Larson’s ‘Mason Weaver), each with their own agenda. Although to be fair, the soldiers just want go home, way before Kong makes his entrance. And it’s a hell of an entrance. Kong swats the helos out of the air with ease, a nod to the original Kong swatting planes from his spot atop the Empire State Building.

Now spread thin on the ground, each party must find their way to the exfil spot on the other side of the island, and battle monsters along the way. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard plot/theme for monster-military madness, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anywhere near ‘standard’. The monsters, giants by any standard, and terrifyingly monstrous, definitely make this a survival of the fittest scenario. The fight and action scenes are jarring and gruesome and a hell of a lot of fun.

And that’s the thing with this movie, it knows what it is and it doesn’t take itself seriously. John C Reilly’s character (Captain Hank Marlow) provides the ‘comic relief’, but has more depth than you’d expect – his is a backstory that’s explored, where Hiddleston’s character is more hinted at than evolved (coulda done more with just a little, but I’ll give that a pass if it’s indulged in future movies). Reilly’s character top and tails this story – beginning with him being shot-down in WWII to his return to civilisation and the family he left behind. So in a way, you could say this is Marlow’s story, and he tells it well. Kong’s backstory is given via Reilly and the native inhabitants of the island (the Iwi people), who do not speak. Not really okay with that as it would have provided more depth.

kong skull.jpg

The one real issue I did have (as did my husband) was Jackson’s portrayal of Preston Packard. That shit needed to be underplayed, not overacted. Subtlety and nuance would have done the trick here – villain the writers may have wanted him to be, avenger for the deaths of his men a great motivator, but Jackson cocked it up (I’m looking at you, director and script-writers).

As with every Kong movie, there’s the female protagonist (I won’t say lead, as she’s not), and making Larson a war-correspondent/photographer gives her more play in the arena of death she’s used to seeing (but this in no way passes the Bechdel Test— Larson and the female scientist [Tian Jing’s ‘San’] barely speak two words to each other), and can hold her own in a firefight.

Oh, and monsters, there are aplenty! From Skull Crawlers awoken from the caverns beneath the ground (and their link to the demise of Kong’s family, and a grudge that ain’t going away any time soon), to a giant Kraken-like creature, big mofo of a spider, cannibal birds, giant bats, and the ever adorable moss-covered ox.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and some things that could have been done better, but overall I loved it. It’s my kind of movie. A perfect storm of monsters, military, mayhem, and a killer score.

As my husband said, it’s not going to win an Academy Award, but it was a helluva lot of fun.

My rating: 8/10. You’ll want to see this on the big screen, and it’s definitely a movie I’ll be adding to my home collection.

Oh, and for readers out there, writer Tim Lebbon has written the movie novelisation of Kong: Skull Island. I’ve pre-ordered mine – you should too.

 

Festivus Book Pimping – Into the Mist by Lee Murray

Yes, yes, I’m cutting it fine with the Festivus Book Pimping, but remember, as much as I love a print book (oooh, they smell so good!), ebooks are also damn fine presents. So kicking off today’s Festivus pimping is mutli-award-winning New Zealand author, Lee Murray, with her book Into the Mist.

RAWR!

Into-the-Mist-194x300

As you can tell from the absolutely kick-arse cover , Into the Mist, is a military horror creature-feature tale, but this one is set in the wilds of New Zealand with a creature ripped straight from Māori legend. It was very cool to read not only Murray’s vivid descriptions of the NZ back-country, but to delve into the culture and rites of a strong and proud people.

Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), follows NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad as they escort a group of civilian contractors into the Te Urewera National Park. Not usually a job for the army, McKenna’s other task (off the books) is to find any trace of squad that had vanished while trekking through the National Park.

From the back-cover blurb:

Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter. Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them … a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one.

From the outset, you’re thrust into the action, and the tension Murray weaves throughout the story never lets up. With sub-plots woven perfectly through the tale, the reader is given a glimpse of the rich Māori history, and the struggles to maintain their culture and their land against those intent to profit from it. It’s brutal, it’s gory, and when the chase is on, your gut will be clenching right along with the soldiers and the civilian charges.

And this beastie? Oh, it’s smart, and it’s stealthy, and it’s impervious to the squad’s guns. And shoot it a lot… and you know that only makes the monster mad… and vengeful. Murray is a mistress of tension, and she will make you dance to her tune. I was enamoured with this book, but I grew up on stories of Māori legend via my father (he’s Pākehā, not Māori), so this was a real delight. And it’s wonderful to see diversity in fiction; the world needs more of it.

There’s also a glossary of Māori and local terms for those unfamiliar with the country and its culture, but the way Murray tells the story, understanding is a given.

Read this book you must. Give it as a gift you also must. But I guarantee it will be one you can’t put down. You can read a review of Into the Mist here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, creature-feature, and balls-to-the-wall fear-mongering. Yeah, this book has it all.

Go, now, Festivus Into the Mist, you won’t be disappointed.

RAWR!

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)