I should begin this review by saying that as Managing Director of IFWG Publishing Australia, I have published Jan M. Goldie (Brave's Journey - young tI should begin this review by saying that as Managing Director of IFWG Publishing Australia, I have published Jan M. Goldie (Brave's Journey - young teen fantasy), but I was not compelled in any way to review this book. I was simply handed it for my personal enjoyment. Which I did.
A Mer-Tale is a Young Adult contemporary fantasy novella, skirting closely science fiction. It primarily tells the tale through the POV of Thala, a young mermaid from an ancient mer-family, facing many personal and collective challenges, including the extinction of her race at the hands of an aquatic, alien race. I'll leave most of the spoilers now - it is worth a read.
I enjoyed A Mer-Tale and am impressed with strong world-building and character development in a relatively short work. At the same time, I feel that the story could have been longer, and there are a few places that are hurried - being a young adult story (as opposed to a young teen tale - middle grade), I think the audience would have appreciated delving a little deeper into the world, the cultures depicted, and most importantly, the characters and their interrelationships. Having said this, this is not a deal breaker - as I have already stated, Goldie has achieved much in a small space, which is no mean feat.
Thala's character is the most developed, which isn't surprising as it is her POV that dominates the story and given its first-person mode, allows the reader to easily slide into her thoughts. She is, above all else, and even beyond her prodigious burgeoning powers, a girl of determination and courage. This is, in my view, the theme that runs through the novella - the power of love and determination. Interestingly, there is a somewhat parallel thread running through the secondary narrative - that of Shiv, the uber-evolved alien (and which I think may have needed more expansion).
An outstanding dimension of Goldie's work is her scene-setting, bolstered by her strong imagination. Mermaid and Selkie tales abound in genre literature and Goldie has been able to knit such a tale with a fresh spin, most notably the concept of an alien/Earth conflict, with almost insurmountable differences, occurring beneath the ocean waves, and with humanity oblivious to it. On the surface this plot-line could appear ridiculous, far from the reach of suspended disbelief, but not in this particular case. It is strong and believable world-building.
I would recommend this one-night read to any lover of mermaid tales or imaginative young adult fiction....more
I've been a bit remiss in reviewing Carmody and Reed's graphic novel, Evermore, as I have read it some time ago. Particularly because this book is a tI've been a bit remiss in reviewing Carmody and Reed's graphic novel, Evermore, as I have read it some time ago. Particularly because this book is a treasure.
I am not always an avid reader of fairy tale reboots for adults - probably because getting it right requires a great deal of skill by a writer, but if it is very well constructed, it is an absolute pleasure to read. This is the case with Evermore, and especially when it was wrapped in visual magic.
Evermore is a story written through the point of view of Princess Rose, a teenager confined to a keep by a ruthless King. The language is the English of the fairy tale, archaic in form. The clothing of the princess, and her limited companions are medieval in style, as is much of the architecture of the princess' home. And yet, from the very beginning, there is the sense of a post apocalyptic setting, and modern technologies are glimpsed or referenced. This is a mysterious juxtaposition, sitting elegantly on the pages, but at the same time forming an uneasiness in the narrative.
Without providing spoilers, Rose discovers her heritage is more complex than she had thought and with her growing conspicuous womanhood, will be the object of suitors' desires. She learns that it is unlikely she will be wed, but instead, suitors who will battle for her hand will all end in agonizing deaths. She needs to escape her nightmare world to where her mother had originated, across a desolate desert.
I simply can't say much more about the plot. It would be unfair to you, the reader.
It is my understanding that Evermore was a story that was written before it transformed into a graphic novel. And while there are a scattering of pages that contain reasonably long passages of text, compared to rich illustrations with quantities of text what readers are normally used to, it is not a downside to the work. The words are evocative, strong, and unmistakebly carries the protagonist's voice.
Daniel Reed's artistic skills do not expand Evermore's story - it compliments it. Aside from extraordinary quality of art in terms of rendered characters and depiction of the world settings, it is also fresh and artistic in terms of the way Carmody's words are woven among the frames. Colour and tone choice is generally dark and tending toward monochrome, adding to the atomosphere of bleakness of a post apocalyptic world, and depressed by tyranny. The words are typed with a derelict typewriter, which has forced the protagonist to add the 'f's by hand, as the f/F key is missing - the reader can't miss it, but instead of being a distraction, it anchors the reader deep into this world. Reed loves to skew images and text in odd, quirky angles, again adding to the uneasiness of Rose's predicament.
Evermore isn't a standard sized graphic novel; it is a sizeable 135 pages long. It is a fairy tale but it is fresh and atmospheric, and has a unique backdrop. The story is original, with a fantasy style, but ultimately driving into a science fiction conclusion. We don't have a helpless princess being rescued by a prince - instead we have a girl growing into a woman, and with the aid of the sacrifice of caring friends and drawing from her mother's strength of character, a heroine who withstands the greatest of tests, without the need to resort to violence. We have tragedy and palpable evil depicted, but at the same time we have triumph of love and devotion. The conclusion isn't a classical fairytale ending, as Carmody realistically depicts the price that sacrifice and suffering must reap. And yet the story's ending is still a fairy tale.
It boggles my mind that Evermore hasn't been shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards as I am sure it will linger longer in the minds of its readers than the majority of graphic novels produces in Australia in 2015. I'm still scratching my head....more
I had the pleasure of reviewing John Claude Smith’s earlier collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me. I was suitably impressed with Smith’s work, aI had the pleasure of reviewing John Claude Smith’s earlier collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me. I was suitably impressed with Smith’s work, and so I embarked on my new reading journey with Autumn in the Abyss with some excitement.
I was not disappointed. In fact, I can see a maturing of Smith’s style and subject matter/themes. Deeper insights and sophistication; greater complexity—and yet a well balanced structure. Additionally, Dark is Light Enough for Me was a heterogeneous collection of short fiction, without an obvious thematic context of the whole (albeit, it was a good collection of individual stories), while Autumn in the Abyss is, on several levels, a case where the stories, together, have strong collective impact, more so than the individual components. More on that later.
Smith is a visceral writer—he does not feel the need to be limited in subject matter and description to get to the guts of a tale, and yet he is also an artist, choosing from his expansive palette to achieve the right hues, proportions, texture. Squeamish readers should carefully consider reading his work.
Smith’s five stories have two major themes or threads running in a zigzag fashion through them, both distinctly Lovecraftian in influence, and clearly delivered in a unique voice.
Firstly, and most notably conveyed in the first story, ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, the author deliberately eases the reader into a creeping and growing sense of cosmic horror. There’s nasty shit out there and humanity features rather insignificantly. While this sense runs through all the other stories to some degree or another, ‘La mia immortalita’ certainly oozes this sense as well. Smith’s style—and again, particularly in ‘Autumn in the Abyss’—pays homage to Lovecraft’s style, particularly with the use of first person in ‘Autumn in the Abyss’.
The second thread is more interesting and effective, and saturates the last four of the five tales: the depths of depravity and evil that humans can attain, without the aid of the supernormal. By intertwining the cosmic-layered horror with the human-layer, Smith etches a greater clarity in each, but the human side of the equation is the most disturbing, and insightful.
The first story, ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, was a pleasant surprise and sowed the seed of my view of Smith’s growing sophistication. On the surface the short story is a surrealistic tale of a man obsessed with writing a biography of a long dead Beat-period poet. I won’t spoil the ending by detailing much more of the plot. As stated above, it decidedly invokes HPL’s style and allusions to the Mythos. Smith slowly and cleverly reveals horrifying powers linked with the poet that the narrator is obsessed with, where words have multidimensional powers that parallel Lovecraft’s depiction of the terrifying dimensions associated with angles in space and time, as per the ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ (which in turn was influenced by Frank Belknap Long/August Derleth). Ultimately, the most Lovecraftian element of Smith’s story is the sense, at the end of the tale, of the utter futility of humankind, in the face of horrifying powers that dwell on the edge of perception. This is a highly recommended piece, for the reasons outlined above, as well as being a great horror tale in itself, and its thorough research into the poetry movements in the US in the 1950s and 60s.
‘Broken Teacup’ is probably the most disturbing of Smith’s short stories, where he explores in jagged, clawing depth the depravity of humanity. Nothing can easily come near the heartless horror of men who choose to torture and destroy people for the sake of entertainment—including their own. In terms of tapping into a dark, bleak underbelly of America, this story is somewhat reminiscent of ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ in The Dark is Light Enough for Me, although without the brief moments of humor. This story, however, is plainly intense. Where one of the dimensions of horror that comes out of Lovecraft’s ancient, alien gods is the sheer detachment of these cosmic entities, in this tale Smith presents a very different, vivid detachment from a pair of snuff moviemakers. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a well-constructed story.
‘La mia immortalita’ moves away from the physical horrors that can be perpetrated by humanity, to the psychological. Again we have indifference in an individual—in this case a self-obsessed artist blind and deaf to the feelings of other human beings, even those who are close to him. A strong piece, adding another dimension to the impact of the anthology as a whole, and drawing from Smith’s exposure to art, and in particular, sculpture.
‘Becoming Human’ seems, perhaps coincidentally, to draw the physical and psychological together. This story has the least tie-in with the Lovecraftian theme, but certainly stabs deep into human depravity. Two detectives’ lives were scarred for life by their exposure to a sadistic serial killer, leading to the suicide of one. The other is an emotional husk and must contend with a copycat killer and his own humanity at the same time. This story contributes the least to the two-theme effect of the anthology as a whole, but doesn’t lack quality, and certainly does provide another insight into the indifference of evil—with a twist.
‘Where The Light Won’t Find You’ is the last story and rounds the anthology nicely. Mr. Liu and representation of his ‘patrons’ make another appearance, and, most interestingly, draws a little back from the visceral horror well executed in most of Smith’s previous stories. Yes, there’s some nasty stuff, but it’s at an arm’s length, where the focus is on a young man, following an argument with his girl friend, enters a movie theatre with dire consequences. This story isn’t as deep as the previous tales, but it adds information about Mr. Liu and his patrons, and contributes granularity to what evil is (and isn’t) at the supernormal level.
I had a lot to say that’s good about John Claude Smith’s ‘Autumn in the Abyss’, and it is deserved. The allusions to the sinister, indifferent powers that exist beyond most of humanity’s perception is well crafted and multi-dimensional when the anthology is read as a whole. The evil that exists in human beings are more tangibly described, and are more horrifying by far. So much so that even the mysterious Mr. Liu and his patrons must sit up and take notice.
I recommend this anthology to any serious reader of horror....more
I had the misfortune of only being exposed to Kaaron Warren's fiction for the last few years - I wish I followed her career from the start. She is a tI had the misfortune of only being exposed to Kaaron Warren's fiction for the last few years - I wish I followed her career from the start. She is a truly wonderful writer of the disturbing, and has evocative prose. The Gate Theory is not an original fiction anthology but collects some of her best work in the period 2005 to the present day, and they deserves a solid gathering in a single title. You could call it a 'best of' work except that I was blown away last year with her collection, Through Splintered Walls, where none of the stories represented are in this work. Nevertheless, there are definitely stories in this work that will blow you completely away.
All in all, most of Warren's work in The Gate Theory are reflective of her greatest strengths: the ability to disturb (to the degree of horrify) readers, and to taste, smell and feel what is being invoked in her stories. I will pick on several of the stories, although in passing I feel compelled to say that 'The History Thief' is the least of her stories in the collection, in the sense that it is the odd one out (it is in fact an excellent story). While all the other stories in the anthology are strong treatments of the dark, 'The History Thief' has less in-your-face prose and is more of a fantastical mystery.
'That Girl' is one of Warren's Fiji stories influenced by her stay in the island nation, although on a number of levels it could have been set in other places. Nevertheless Fiji's backdrop is vivid, incredibly so, and has the right mystery and association with older cultural ractices to springboard a backstory of horror experienced by a young woman. Warren paints a horrifying story of rape and cover-up, and for much of the story there is also a tangible fear of the supernatural; yet at the end, without lessening the throttle, we are exposed to what is the true horror - that of the subjugation of females in this society - and which can easily extend far beyond. A deep, well-written piece.
'Dead Sea Fruit' is my favourite story in the collection. It is a piece describing the personal horrors of anorexia in excruciating detail, iterating consistently through the length of the short and adding a tangible, bona fide supernatural dimension. The antagonist wasn't evil through-and-through, and the protagonist isn't a stable figure - she was entering the lion's den and the reader's tension-meter shot up with concern for her. The ending was a perfect closure, but with hardly any happiness for anyone. This story is soaked in death, and with one exception, was long and agonising.
'The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls' is a horror story, but of a highly unusual, perhaps Bizarro nature. Another Fijian short. I liked this story perhaps for less obvious reasons than some readers may usually expect. The idea of a world-treking business to find highly unusual breeds of dogs, often intertwined with the supernatural - and readily accepted by the protagonists - is novel, interesting, entertaining. The adventure to obtain a most unusual breed in Fiji, protected by a gigantic, old, and deadly canine is also very good reading. However, what I liked most was the protagonist, Rosie, a person who is an efficient, cool adventuress, and devoid of what we would understand to be human compassion, and who is, I believe, a sociopath. She is not likeable, and this is what intrigues me about the story as it leads the reader along with interest and yet there is little, if any, sympathy for her. Most stories fail with that basic structure but this one doesn't, and I think it's because of the Bizarro, weird storyline that raises the reader's eyebrows every few paragraphs.
I left a few stories out and leave it to you, the reader, to fully explore. Kaaron Warren is undoubtedly one of the world's leading short fiction horror writers, defined by her mastery of disturbing prose. You would do yourself a disservice to miss this work. Anyone who rates The Gate Theory below 4 stars out of 5 are either maniacally against the horror genre, or are trolls. I give it 5 out of 5, although if the scale was out of 10 I would give it 9, as Through Splintered Walls sets her benchmark for perfection....more
An incredible set of stories spanning over a thousand years, steeped in Norse mythology and New World fantasy. A wonderfully mythic, historical fantasAn incredible set of stories spanning over a thousand years, steeped in Norse mythology and New World fantasy. A wonderfully mythic, historical fantasy collection, with moments of paranormal fantasy.
With the exception of the odd copy edit error (few, mind you), and a few stories that were ambitious in design, but didn't quite make the mark (for example, one story ('Of The Demon and the Drum') was written from the POV of an uneducated local, and yet the language-rich vocabulary of Slatter and Hannett crept rather bluntly through on occasion).
Well worth a read - in my view, one of the strongest fantasy collections coming out of Australia, EVER....more