Jul 20, 2015

Book Review – Shifting Infinity by Patty Jansen

infinityShifting Infinity is the second novel set in Patty Jansen’s ISF – Allion Universe and continues the story and characters presented in Shifting Reality.  I thoroughly enjoyed Shifting Infinity for the same reasons I enjoyed its predecessor and the various novellas before that which have slowly built the wider universe.

So what do I like?  The story chiefly.  I read it in two sittings and if I’d had another book in the series to read, I’d have read it as well.  Stylistically, I think the prose is fairly transparent, it does a very good job of letting the move along and makes it approachable.

I find it can be hard to categorise the content.  Jansen includes aspects of Military SF, Space Adventure and Competence SF.  She underpins the whole world with solid Hard SF world building and manages to introduce a diverse set of characters (diverse genders, religions, races).  All of these combine to give the work broad appeal.

There’s also a wider universe with epic potential. There are teasing snippets/clues laced through all the works that Jansen has written in this series that hint at larger forces at play but Jansen brings the focus down to one character Melati, a scientist/ teacher of Indonesian background. 

The character has grown in confidence and ability from the first book and I am really enjoying Melati’s development. At one point I felt that Melati’s training in weapons might have been a little to quick to achieve the competency she later displays but then again I am forced to confront my own lack of experience and knowledge of firearms training and question my assumptions.

So what’s happened since Shifting Reality?

After Allion ( the forces that oppose ISF)  captured the New Jakarta space station, Melati  made it to the safety of the ISF warship Felicity but had to leave her family behind.  She joined the ISF force division in the hopes that they would liberate the station.  Instead the Felicity has laid siege to New Jakarta for 10 months.  Melati is increasingly frustrated with the slow movement of the ISF which seems to be content to play a conservative approach, and not care about the thousands of civilians trapped under deteriorating conditions

A rare escape from New Jakarta, a merchant who appears to have been tortured, is caught by ISF patrols.  Melati with her specialisation in constructing Mindbases (AI intelligences for vat grown clones) is called in to help, although the ISF seems keen to execute him as quick as possible as a spy.

The reality is much more interesting though.

Shifting Infinity is a page turner and should have something for everyone.  A believable, if at times annoyingly self-doubting protagonist(don’t get me wrong I really like the character and my annoyance is a good indication that I am invested) who is not your usual hero.

Please write more Patty Jansen.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Jul 16, 2015

The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel (editor)

the-haiku-anthologyFor any compendium of Haiku to make it to wide publication seems amazing (from my reading, Haiku was/is generally supported almost exclusively by small press in the west) but The Haiku Anthology made it to a 3rd edition and until Haiku In English - The first Hundred Years, was probably the latest and largest collection of quality English Language Haiku and Senryu in print.

It catalogues works from the beginning of the genre in the west to the late 1990's and reading it does give you some idea of the various historical changes and trends while  also displaying the variety of approaches in what seems like such a restricted form.  If I have one minor gripe, it’s the absence of works outside of North America.  I understand that in earlier editions it included the work of  Australian pioneers like Janice Bostok and possibly for space and target market reasons these have been dropped.

The Haiku Anthology includes the previous two edition’s introductions (yes that’s three different introductions) all in reverse chronological order.  This was  informative and provided historical information that’s likely to get forgotten as the genre moves on.

There’s a broad range of nature and urban Haiku and the Senryu vary from the rude and obviously comic to being difficult to decide whether they are Senryu or Haiku:

Alan Pizzareli’s Senryu vary from:


the fat lady

bends over the tomatoes

a full moon



reaching for

the wind-up toy

it rides off the table


There’s some early work by JW Hackett in the 5-7-5 format:


Half of the minnows

within the sunlit shallow

are not really there


and then there’s Nick Virgilio’s work, which demonstrates the form’s applicability to urban situations:


approaching autumn:

the warehouse watchdog’s bark

weakens in the wind


and it’s power to handle grief and passing


my dead brother…

hearing his laugh

in my laughter


In terms of gender representation the collection is about 70/30 in favour of males, which I found interesting in the context of the Australian scene which seems largely dominated by women.  Perhaps its the effect of early proponents such as the Beat Poets (Kerouac and Ginsberg) who lent it some early legitimacy/cool for men interested in the form.

For the poet who intends to write Haiku, the anthology is a must have (either this one or Haiku in English above, which I take as a 4th edition, Cor van den Heuvel I assume, having passed on the editorial reins) even if it’s just for the ease of having a large number of quality Haiku readily at hand.  Additionally If there’s one thing that is annoying about Haiku, it’s not being able to easily track down print collections of quality proponents.  I have been trying to track down copies of Anita Virgil’s work and this collection is about the only place you’ll find a large number grouped together in print.

For the general reader, it might be a bit much to take in at once.  Haiku is one of those forms that gains depth with more understanding of the technical aspects.  So it’s worth figuring out how a good Haiku is constructed while reading the collection.  That being said, some of the Haiku and Senryu contained don’t require an understanding of the form and are “wordless” in getting their image across.

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Jul 15, 2015

Book Review - Suspended in Dusk by Simon Dewar (Editor)

suspended-in-duskWhoa! Is this review overdue?  Initially received before I entered into reading for the Aurealis Awards, it’s survived a couple of e-reader crashes and short fiction burnout. 

A first outing for Dewar, Suspended in Dusk is a solid foray into horror short fiction with some great work from more well known names and some pleasant surprises.

It’s also the work that made me confront my own high(unrealistically so) standards for horror.  I don’t now what it is but for some reason if you slap the word horror on something I expect to be horrified and really that’s an unrealistic expectation, one that’s not applied to my reading of say fantasy or science fiction.  Indeed in most speculative fiction I am content to be merely entertained.

And horror can be so personal.  I can remember being terrified by Dracula as a preteen but now Vampires have lost most of their horror for me.  No, for me the horror is in the real.  In those situations that can occur.  Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves are the stuff of action tales.

So the only tale that approached that ridiculously high threshold for horror was Tom Dullemond’s Would To God That We Were There, a story about a human mission to Mars.  On reflection I think its Dullemond’s ability to get the psychology right in this one that made the horror work.  We are presented with protagonist who is matter of fact in telling the story. We are drip feed you details that allow us to piece together the horror just before it becomes blatant. It’s the everyday monster that we can’t see. I shivered.

If we view the work through the prism of entertaining and engaging stories Taming the Stars by Anna Reith gives the reader a different angle to the vampire milieu.  It’s not that this sort of story hasn’t been written before, but I enjoyed the language and style. Likewise with Alan Baxter’s Shadows of the Lonely Dead, I saw the ending coming but sometimes you like to have some types of stories repeated, even if it’s to confirm the fantasy that justice prevails.

Interesting for its unique take on both the Post Apocalyptic and Ghost Tale genre’s is SG Larner’s Shades of Memory, sort of the Dark Tower meets MR James plus a touch of gore.  It’s the first story that feels noticeably Australian to me as well.

Sarah Read’s Quarter Turn to Dawn was another case of putting a new spin on an old idea.  Despite the fact that what was happening in the story was blindingly obvious, I was engaged in the story, characters and her evocative descriptions of coral zombies.

Finishing the collection with The Way of All Flesh by Angela Slatter was a judicious approach I think.  So much of what I have commented upon above, is present in this story ie standard horror tropes and settings . But oh, the tone, the word choice, the register and the structure- damn near perfect.  Slatter could probably write a shopping list at the moment and make it an engaging bit of art.  Did it horrify me? No.  But it was like drinking a fine wine, knowing you were drinking a fine wine and having all expectations met.

There were stories that didn’t grab me at all.  But I’ll go back to my point about Horror being intensely personal, possibly more so than the other subgenres.  The stories that stood out to me, play to my likes and preferences or were just damn good.  It’s a solid collection with some standouts.  A good collection for a debut editor especially around so slippery a theme as Dusk.

The review copy was provided by the editor.

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