Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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.

Review: Epilogue


I just finished Epilogue (from Fablecroft Publishing), a collection of short stories around the idea of hope in the wake of the apocalypse.


What a wonderful anthology — one of those impulse buys that really paid off. The range of variations on a theme demonstrated the brilliance of the book’s subject matter as well as the wealth of talent out there at the moment. If you’re expecting 12 Zombie stories, nothing could be further from what I discovered in here…


David McDonald’s “Cold Comfort” took me back to the kinds of scifi adventure I read in my youth and my 20s; the kind of brave (and tough) new world tale that captured my imagination and got me hooked on scifi for life. It’s an against-the-elements story in which our world has been completely reshaped (and reinvented) by cataclysm.


Dirk Flinthart’s “The Fletcher Test” melds human angst, questions of existence (and what life actually is) and gripping projections of where AI tech might take us in the future. All of this creates a story which went where I least expected. Sheer brilliance.


“Sleeping Beauty” was one of the most original stories I’ve ever read, and a truly novel take on the apocalypse.


“Mornington Ride” had a pleasantly authentic Aussie flavour without reverting to Mad Max-isms. It’s compelling if crude in many places (not to be read if you don’t like bad language, for example), BUT it aptly captures the kind of dog-eat-dog world we can expect after the bombs have finished ruining our civilisations.


And the book closes with two stories that are entirely “left field” in terms of reimagining the apocalypse.


Wonderful wonderful collection that I will no doubt read again.



Interview with Peter Cooper

I’m partway through an amazing book by Australian author, Peter Cooper. Five chapters into The Ghost of Ping-Ling I find myself hooked on this riveting adventure set in a rich fantasy world. I thought I’d catch up with Peter and see what makes him tick and how this wonderful novel came about…




What did you mostly read, growing up?

I wasn’t a “wide” reader when I was growing up. My main staples were Tolkien and the Willard Price adventure series. I also read and enjoyed Nicholas Fisk’s Startstormers series and the Mad Scientist Adventure Club books, both of which are not very widely known today but were/are brilliant books.


What single book (or series of books) had the “profoundest” effect on you?

Definitely the Hobbit. It was the first fantasy I ever read and it changed my life forever. Up to that point I don’t remember another book so totally drawing me into its world. It was also the first book to give me a love for fantasy maps. I can remember opening that book as a 12 year old and seeing that map and thinking “wow, I want to go there”. And Tolkien took me there, and I never left.


What do you feel was your breakthrough moment as a writer?

Interesting question. I think I’d have to say (and this is an unsponsored comment) it was when I first signed up to Online Writers Workshop and opened up my writing to a wide range of people of various backgrounds and levels of experience. It was terrifying when I did it, but it pushed me to a point where I don’t think I could have gone otherwise.Some of those people are still my crit-partners, though we’re not on OWW anymore, and several are now published authors.


What’s your family think about your writing obsession (is it ok to include that word?)?

It is an obsession. There is no other word to describe it! My wife has been very supportive and encouraging all the way along, though she’s not a fantasy fan by any means. My five year old twin sons are huge fans, to the extent that their whole reception class knows Daddy is an author and have seen the books and are probably completely bored with hearing about it all by now. I hope in a few years they’ll all buy the series.


Tell us about your current trilogy (…it’s a trilogy, isn’t it??). And about its genesis.

It was originally going to be 5 books, but my publisher told me a little while ago that I should seriously think about making it 3. I was reluctant, especially this late in the piece, but in the end I went with it, so now it’s a trilogy. The book actually started as a satirical take on Lord of the Rings, but over the following 7 or 8 years it slowly transformed into something that was less satirical and less Lord of the Rings. Eventually it morphed into its modern form, an Asian inspired fantasy. I think part of the reason I set it in an Asian world is that I adored the TV series Monkey when I was growing up, and I felt there was so much Chinese and Japanese mythology to draw on, rather than the usual European fare.


Monkey? That show rocked. Peter, you’ve had quite a few short stories published. What do you enjoy writing more, shorts or novels?

I think I enjoy both just as much. I’m probably more of a “natural” novel writer than short-story writer (perhaps because I have a tendency to waffle?) so writing short-stories is even more of a challenge for me. Because of that I’ve worked really hard to get better, and after many thousands of words of pure tosh I’ve started to see some publishing success. I think that’s probably one thing I do like more about short-stories — you don’t have to work at something for quite so long before you can send it out into the world.


How did you manage to write and be published, all while holding down a real job?

With great difficulty. Finding time to write is a huge challenge for me, and inevitably it happens late at night when I’m not in my best mindset. The frustrating thing for me is that during the day, while I’m toiling away as a software engineer, my writing brain is fully engaged, but I can’t do anything about it. Still, I’ve managed to write 2 and a half novels that way so I think in the end it all just works out. I’m hoping it will continue to work out for book 3. Somehow I feel even more pressed for time now than I did last year.


When is the 3rd book out? 

Book 3 is due out May next year, provided I can meet the mid-November timeline. That’s not a given because I’m behind in where I should be with the drafts, but I’ll be giving it my best shot.


Do you see that work/write balance working in the next few years? Is there anything you’ll change?

Possibly as my children get a bit older there’ll be more evening time to write, but I suspect there may be even less. What I am hoping is that I can streamline the process a bit more, perhaps by not writing detailed manuscripts at early stages when the story flow hasn’t been settled, I’ve been burned wasting time like that a few times now.


Peter, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for giving us insights into the world of the writer. We wish you godspeed with your next novel and all the best for the future of your family and career.


Peter’s books The Ghost of Ping-Ling and The Mapmakers Apprentice can be ordered at your local bookstore. His website is