Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Upside of Sick Days

Ten days of flu which aggregated the ol’ asthma.

Followed by having wisdom teeth extracted.

Sound like two weeks of fun to you? You betcha bottom buck it was: because I actually got time to rest and read and watch Netflix/Stan…

So. Some brief reflections on that which I watched and which I read:

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix). Absolutely stellar. Loved the casting, the characters, the plotting, the execution. Highlight: the actor playing Number Five did an amazing job portraying a 58 year old man in a fourteen year old body. 5 stars.

Revival, Stephen King. Possibly of all the King novels I’ve read, this is the most coherent. It certainly held me from go to woe. Less horror than weird tale. The book only suffered from King’s bad habit of laying “I was about to find out soon” forecasting statements at the end of multiple sections (by the seventh time, it was getting annoying) AND the occasional lapse in editing standards (which seems normal for King’s publishers — eg. Words running together without a space, sentences that don’t make sense no matter how you read them). But excellent characterisation and pacing, authentic pathos as only he can write, and a great payoff.

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless, Jack Campbell. Didn’t have high hopes for this military scifi novel (the first in a series) but I was pleasantly surprised. Well written, well edited, with interesting science driving the space travel and space battles. Lots of political tension. My biggest issue (and it loses a star for this) is that not much really happened. To quote Elvis, “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”

Bodyguard (Netflix): superb BBC cop/political thriller. A couple of dumb bits (basically coincidences that drive the plot forward) couldn’t spoil this for me. Held me by the heart from the opening scene to the last.

Seven Seconds (Netflix): Almost gave up on this during ep 1 because that episode was a shambles of story telling. But from ep 2, it locked on and didn’t let go. Again, suffers from many MANY coincidences that drive the plot forward (which is sad because they didn’t need them), but the acting was magnificent.  Fave character: Fish.

Star Trek Enterprise seasons three and four. OMG. Sooooo bad. I loved the first two seasons of this and after over a decade’s hiatus, I wanted to finish it. I’ll just say this, it helped me sleep a lot. And when I was awake, I’d watch ten minutes, then turn over and try to shut it out. Too many gripes to list.

Criminal (Netflix): nice cast, nice premis, nicely executed. A bit silly, but I thought that Kostner actually did a great job with his character and it kept me watching til the end.

The Crossing (Stan). Yeah. Mmm. I have watched the first six eps probably three times each because I kept falling asleep in them. still haven’t finished. What I like: Steve Zahn’s character and performance; the twist on Terminator with genetically altered humans taking the place of skynet in the future; some of the surprises. What I don’t: some truly dumb dialogue; too many characters to care about; and seriously, people appear from the future fifty feet under water unconscious and THEY DON’T DROWN???????????????????????

How ‘bout you? Watched/read these? Thoughts?

Top Ten Aussie Spec Fic Books of My Past Decade


Before about 2005, I never read Australian fiction. I also rarely watched an Australian TV show or movie mainly because they were no good, and they still aren’t mostly.

But I had no excuse for avoiding local writers — this was simply ignorance on my part. Australia can be proud of its speculative fiction authors (and publications, such as Aurealis). I am hooked on local produce now; my palate has become edu-ma-cated.

So it was difficult to set myself the task of rating my top ten reads since I became thus edumacated. But I found it fun, and it reminded me again of just how much Aussie-produced wealth is out there in our libraries and bookshops.

In no particular order:

  1. The Business of Death – Trent Jamieson. Well this one is in a particular order, since this short trilogy is one of my favourite reads ever.
  2. The Extraordinaires – Michael Pryor. YA. Lively, funny, immersive and professionally polished.
  3. Worldshaker – Richard Harland. Also YA. Intelligently constructed world building and a gripping (and at times funny) plot.
  4. Epilogue – FableCroft Publishing. With variations on a theme by writers such as Steve Cameron, David McDonald, Tehani Wessely, Thoraiya Dyer, Jason Nahrung, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Elizabeth Tan, Jo Anderton, Lyn Battersby. The theme is an always-interesting one (what happens after the end of the world?) and these takes on it are creative, diverse and brilliantly crafted.
  5. The Ghost of Ping-Ling. Peter Cooper’s fantasy adventure has been slated as a children’s book, and sure this is a book my kids would have loved me reading to them when they were younger… But I’m an adult and I LOVED it. Fun, funny and tense enough to make you finish a chapter no matter how much you wanted to go to bed, Blue Jade Book 1 is a fresh take on the crowded genre of medieval fantasy. Peter Cooper draws on Eastern mythology to create the magic and spiritual foundation for his world. And the trio of child characters who take on the frightening people and creatures of their world are clearly differentiated from each other. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.
  6. Ghosts Can Bleed – Tracie McBride. Well okay, Tracie is a Kiwi. But she lives in Australia. And that was good enough for us to claim Split Enz as an Aussie band. Her collection of short stories is 5 stars all the way. Razor sharp storytelling. Seriously: download the sample on your Kindle and you’ll see.
  7. Salvage – Jason Nahrung. Brooding, compelling, pacy. The perfect vampire novel (novella?).
  8. The Vengeance Trilogy – Devin Madson. Probably the best epic fantasy trilogy I’ve read and I’ve read a few. A revolving multiple viewpoint plot where all the POV characters speak in first person. Facinating magic. And political intrigue that works particularly well because the politics are above all on the level of personal gripe and offence and redemption.
  9. Slights – Kaaron Warren. True horror. A main character I did not like for the entire book and who still compelled me to read the next paragraph. Superb.
  10. Confessions of a Pod Person – Chuck McKenzie. Tight, clever and often very funny short stories. Definitely worth a look.

Upcoming Short Story Release: C IS FOR CHIMERA


An Anthology


This installment of Rhonda Parrish’s alphabet anthology series asks skilled storytellers to write around the theme of chimera. The resulting tales are part fable, part poem, part dream. But like any chimera, the parts make up a greater whole.

Blend reality with fantasy. Mesh science fiction with mystery. Mix history with what should have been. They are all chimera.

A shadow tells a tale of schoolyard bullies. A long-vanished monster returns from the cold dark. Make-up makes up a life. Alchemy, Atlantis, and apocalypse. These 26 tales bring both chaos and closure to dark and elusively fantastic geographies.

Contributing authors include:

~ Alexandra Seidel ~ KV Taylor ~ Marge Simon ~ Pete Aldin ~ Michael M. Jones ~ Simon Kewin ~ BD Wilson ~ Gabrielle Harbowy ~ Sara Cleto ~ Megan Engelhardt ~ Michael Fosburg ~ Megan Arkenberg ~ Lilah Wild ~ Laura VanArendonk Baugh ~ Milo James Fowler ~ Brittany Warman ~ Michael B. Tager ~ L.S. Johnson ~ Beth Cato ~ C.S. MacCath ~ Sammantha Kymmell-Harvey ~ Steve Bornstein ~ Suzanne van Rooyen ~ Michael Kellar ~ Jonathan C. Parrish ~ Amanda C. Davis ~

PRAISE FOR C is for Chimera:

“I dare say it’s an anthology with something for just about anyone who likes short speculative fiction.” — Jennifer Crow

“There are 26 stories in this anthology that range from fantasy to sci-fi to dark to hopeful to just plain weird (in a good way). I recommend picking this anthology up if you like a variety of tales that will fascinate you.” — Elesha Teskey

“The format is like the previous two (A is for Apocalypse, B is for Broken), where each author writes a story around a word beginning with their given letter. What I really love is that the word isn’t given until the very end. Sometimes the word is obvious. Sometimes not so much… If you can get your hands on it, I would recommend this anthology.” — S. L. Saboviec

C is for Chimera is an enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing what happens with D and the rest of the Alphabet.” — Reb Kreyling



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My Favourite Reads of 2015: Vampires in the Sunburnt Country books 1 & 2


Blood & Dust   and The Big Smoke

5 stars

A page-turner. No, TWO page turners. I thought I loved the first one but the second took it up several notches.

Action from the first chapter. An interesting constellation of characters, each with their own motivation and trajectories which keep colliding of course. Book 2 especially uses Australia as an interesting setting for a vampire tale, the politics, the violence, the ethics and morality, the action. Highly recommend.

Review: Laughing at Shadows by PD Blake

A great tale well told. I guess this would be urban fantasy…though there’s no forced romance, no vampires or werewolves or fae, no angels or demons. But it’s fantasy and it’s set in urban England. You really must read it with an English voice in your head from the opening paragraph or you’ll stumble over the phrasing. Once you have that sorted, it really really works. 

I love good stories where street people are main characters. The story is told sympathetically toward them, with a couple of very black and poignant moments to do with their inner worlds towards the end. The author didn’t labour these backstories which I truly appreciated; these people live entirely in the Now which is true of the people I’ve worked and spoken with.

The fantasy is fun and often funny. The novella is sprinkled with that wonderful English humour in the vein of the Goons, the Python boys, Terry Pratchet. It’s pacey with a beautiful mix of English ordinaryness and the bright and shiny Otherness of a wider universe. A quick and enjoyable read. 4 stars.

My Favourite Reads of 2015: The Great Divorce by CS Lewis

5 stars

To me, the greatest Christian philosopher and theologian of the 20th C, Lewis did it again with this narrative treatise on the afterlife. Probably inspired by Dante and McDonald. This is a bit of a talkfest, but it’s nonetheless gripping and it’s a short read.

The two things I loved best were:

1) Lewis’ mid-20th Century willingness to push against orthodoxy and rethink heaven and hell and purgatory with a fresh mind

2) the sheer pathos of the human condition and its willingness to turn from truth and opportunity out of sheer spite and self-importance.

My Favourite Reads of 2015: Madness: A Memoir

Breathtaking. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of a book that way before but it’s how I think of this one. If I could give it 6 stars, I would.

A mind-searing blend of magnificent prose (unbelievably beautiful) with the heartrending tragedy of mental illness. Seeing it from the inside is enough to make you want to cry at times and punch the air in victory at the small (and then large) gains Kate makes in reclaiming her life.

5 stars

My Favourite Reads of 2015: End Times at Ridgemont High

5 stars

I don’t know if this novel qualifies as “cosmic horror”, but it feels like it should. An epic tale told at the local level, End Times at Ridgemont High is a fun mix of American Graffiti, Lovecraftian tropes and Welke’s own fascination with alternate realities or dimensions (as demonstrated in his previous novel The Whisperer in Dissonance).

It’s not only the pace and the prose of Welke’s novel that appealed to me so strongly; his empathy for young people, for teenage angst and Gen Y confusion, shone on every page.

Strongly recommend. Very very glad I got to read this.




An energetic review worthy of the movie itself, by one of my esteemed students whose initials grace the bottom of this post. Have at it…


To all other movies out there, thanks for coming but the position of Movie that Best Stands the Test of Time has well and truly been filled.

Where do you begin describing this film to someone who hasn’t seen it? I mean, are there people out there who haven’t? How do they live without the endless cool-quoting possible from this rollercoaster?…A topic to be tackled by a truly gifted psychologist one day…but not today.

Today, we tackle one of the few kickarse heroines permitted in the swirling narcissistic, navel-gazing missives spewed out with booming voice overs from the Hollywood movie magic mill.

You can get into this film without having seen its much scarier predecessor. The pace is so fast and furious, you just get swept in and off you go. I am not a fan of the horror movies, but there is so much action and snappy human angst in this that I can stand the horror parts just to get the high this movie leaves me with.

Aliens begins with the retrieval from deep space of our intrepid heroine Ellen Ripley who has survived the monster from hell in Movie 1: Alien. She tries to get back to normal life but the nightmares won’t leave her alone. And then one day she is informed by the company (who fired her for inventing tall tales about killer aliens) that a far colony has stopped communicating. A reconnaissance mission led by experienced marines will go to investigate. Her services as a consultant would be appreciated, in case (and “if”) it’s due to the critter she reported. She says no. Of course she says no. But the continuing nightmares and what those marines are unwittingly stepping into force her to go along.

And here we meet the marines, the obligatory company man and his accompanying synthetic (android). Insults flow, including comments about cornbread and cold floors and who’s this new “Snow White” tagging along with them. The marines are young, strong and fearless, beautifully filmed and superbly cast. You find you care about all of them before they even get to the planet and the “Oh S**t” Juggernaught gets well and truly rolling.


If you haven’t seen this, do yourselves a favour: grab a copy, organise a huge bowl of popcorn and join the rest of the human race as this story unfolds with more twists than a serve of pasta.

Marvel at a monster worthy of your darkest childhood fears…

Cheer for a heroine who gets the job done…

And the join the rest of us in yelling at the screen to change the outcome and to no avail.

You lucky things.

– SR


Now You See Me: Review.

Three Reasons Why I Enjoyed NYSM…and One Reason I Didn’t

MILD SPOILER ALERT: there’s a couple of mild spoilers below, but I’ll warn you to skip the rest of the sentence they’re contained in.

I’d heard only bad things about NYSM, but — despite the two bogans who brought their irritable toddlers to the session I attended, and the guy with ants his pants in my row who kept changing seats — I found myself truly enjoying this movie.

Here’s 3 reasons why…

1. Pace. There’s no slack in the storytelling at all. No downtime. No yawn-factor. If I’d been desperate to use the toilet, I’d have held onto my bladder, because I just couldn’t afford to miss a scene. Even the dialog is pacey.

On one hand this makes you overlook a couple of places where (in a slower story), you might say “Waaaaait a minute…”. On the other hand, it makes it fun, funny, tense, exciting, captivating and (in a way) believable.

Which brings me to my next point.

2. I believed. All the way to two minutes before the end (see Point 4 below). Or rather, I wanted to believe. Which is just as good. The use of magician’s techniques in the scriptwriting and direction is excellent and leaves you feeling duped in that “wow!” way of a great magic show.

(SPOILER:) In fact there was a magic trick early on that seemed to have suckered half the people in the cinema audience (judging by the chuckles, gasps and whispered “Did you…?”s I heard around me. It got me too!

3. Characterisation. The constellation of characters was expertly created and cast (as in actors). I was particularly taken with the way each character (see the image above — there’s a lot of them) has their own motivation that makes complete sense, and most have something to gain and something to lose.

We’re held at a distance from the “Four Horsemen” magicians and only get close to three (arguably) peripheral characters. But even that is really a device to keep us guessing.

Mark Ruffalo has fast become one of my favourite actors and he doesn’t disappoint in this as the surly trying-hard FBI agent. And hey, what’s not to love about another movie casting Harrelson and Eisenberg together?

4. But. The final two minutes left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It took me about a half hour afterwards to work out why.

(SPOILER:) The romance just wasn’t believable. Which was a damn shame in a movie that had held me all that time. And to end on that romantic note was a little … well … weird. It seemed tacked on and pointless. There were other ways that the information it provided could have been shared with the audience. I just didn’t see a reason for these two characters to feel deeply about each other.

FINAL VERDICT: It’s no Inception, but it’s a fun ride nevertheless.