Information: Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off – Round 3

This year I continue to be one of ten judges of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off hosted by Mark Lawrence. Official detail can be found here, however I will collate the information that pertains to my part in it in this entry also. Starting with:

If your judge wants info from you they will ask for it. It’s best you don’t contact them unsolicited during the contest. This is a common rule of juried awards simply as a rule of professionalism – often what an entrant feels the need to say is best directed at Mark and his team.

The expectation of us (as judges) is as follows:

In phase 1 which takes 6 months:

1. Put on their agent’s hat and go through the slush pile of novels allocated to them (30 books) to find the one title they will put through to the final. This does not mean they have to read all the books, but hopefully they will read part of all of them and all of someThese guys are bloggers, they’re used to making up their mind by starting to read and seeing if they feel any compulsion to continue.

2. Review that chosen title.

3. Select their 3 favourite covers for the cover art contest in which they will later vote.

It is hoped that they will also review some of their favourite books from the selection they were given.

In phase 2 which takes 6 months:

1. Read and score all 9 finalists from the other blogs.

2. Review their favourite.

3. Review the winner.

If their own finalist turns out to remain their favourite and to win, then they have no reviews to write in phase 2!

It is hoped they will feel moved to review some of the other finalists too. 

The books assigned to me are as follows:

Lilian Oake – Nahtaia
S.J. Madill – Magic comes to Whiteport
William C Tracy – Tuning the Symphony
Clinton Harding – Our Monsters
Everly Frost – Beyond the Ever Reach
Tamara Westberry – Divine and Dateless
Meghan Ciana Doidge – Catching Echoes
K.A. Stewart – Second Olympus
Jamie Edmundson – Toric’s Dagger
Harrison Davies – Destiny of the Wulf
Kay Ling – Beyond the Forest
Christopher Bunn – The Fury Clock
Christina Ochs – The Forsaken Crown
Harmon Cooper – Fantasy Online
Cameron Smith – The Holtur Enigma
David J Normoyle – The Silver Portal
Holly Evans – Stolen Ink
Jesse Teller – Liefdom
Aidan Meyer – Arcana Zero
Harry Connolly – The Way Into Chaos
V.B. Marlowe – A Girl Called Dust
Dean F Wilson – The Call of Agon
J.L. Madore – Blaze Ignites
Daniel Olesen – The Eagle’s Flight
Skyler Grant – Dungeon Crawl
Graham Austin-King – Faithless
R.S. McCoy – The Killing Jar
Adam Steiner – The Censor’s HandThe Censor’s Hand
R.D. Henderson – Wit Fallo
(Incidentally, I highly recommend all authors to ensure their books are listed on Goodreads, with the correct information available. It makes things so much easier for readers, and for your book to be shared.)
Especially when we’re meant to be able to judge the cover contest…

Let’s take a moment to keep expectations real here. We have 300 entries and each blogger is going to select the book they feel is best from the 30 entries sent to them … that means that 97% of you will fall at the first hurdle. That’s just the unforgiving mathematics of the thing.

You may have written a great book, but there may be one in that 30 that the blogger likes better.

For my own history as a reader and judge, I have been a judge in the Australian speculative fiction Aurealis Awards (convening anthologies/collections in 2011 and 2012, fantasy novels in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 judging the Inaugural Sara Douglass Book Series Award (best completed Australian Spec Fic Series) of 2011-2014, which resulted in about 60 series/200 novels).
Since 2015 I have also been the overall judging coordinator which means facilitating the awards, and arranging and providing guidance to the ten judging panels. The Aurealis Awards have been running for over 20 years now, and are the only juried awards for Speculative Fiction in our country.

In 2013/2014 I was also one of eight judges of the Australian Children’s Book Council of the Year awards, which was established 1946. The CBCA isn’t a genre award, but is the most honoured book award for children (including YA) within Australia and involved reading about 350 books within a few months, with a discussion conference in Canberra that took about five days along with the seven other judges – one from each state and Territory of Australia.

Other awards in Australia include the Ditmars and the Tin Ducks, genre awards that anyone attending the connecting convention can vote in – usually Continuum and Swancon. I vote in these each year. The same goes for the Hugo Awards, and I’ll be attending Helsinki Worldcon this year in August.

Each year I currently finish about 150 novels – not counting novellas, graphic novels, audio, and books that I start to read but for whatever reason just don’t hold my interest. While you can look at my favourite novels I should also note that a favourite book does not also mean that it is of literary merit. Sometimes there is person enjoyment separate from a noteworthy book, and I read, review, and judge in similar but sometimes separate frames of mind. In the case of SPFBO the book has to first and foremost be a joy to read – hard to put down, with genre elements noted and almost just as integral – this is an award for fantasy after all.

Taken from the Aurealis website: A work in the Fantasy category usually incorporates imaginative and fantastic themes. These themes may involve magic or supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element. Events in these works frequently occur outside the ordinary laws that operate within the universe, whether in the acknowledged real world or in a wholly created one. A work of Fantasy often includes the activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

These guidelines are not intended to be proscriptive on the nature of genre in these categories. Rather, they are offered as an outline that should be considered fluid and as inclusive as possible within the nature of speculative fiction.

So there you have it – that’s me. As a final note, I’ve always held an open mind to self-publishing – many friends through NaNoWriMo since 2004 onwards found mild-success this way; I was a reader of Michael J. Sullivan and on the same writing forum as he for a few years; and I was convenor of the panel that chose the first self-published work for Best Fantasy Novel in the Aurealis Awards (which then went on to get a publishing deal), which was ‘A Crucible of Souls’ (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence) by Mitchell Hogan. And earlier last year I vaguely heard of a book that had come top of a whole bunch of self published fantasy novels so picked it up, and devoured it within a day. That title was ‘The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids’ (Amra Thetys) by Michael McClung – which I then realised that it was this same competition (which I would later become a judge reserve for). Having worked for a small publisher in the past I’m one of the first to say you don’t need to be recognised by one of the Big Five in order to be a ‘good’ book. It’s just that the book needs to be discovered.

Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Series: Book of the Ancestor #1
Published by: Harper Voyager
ISBN: 0008152292
ISBN 13: 9780008152291
Published: April 2017
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

I mean, smashing opening line. ‘It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.’

Nona is young. Assessed for powers by the child-taker she is sold from her village as no one wants to keep her there as she’s always been known to be odd and not fit in. Gifted talents exist through certain clans but they need to be caught young, and with her abilities to fight she is soon sold to another, and then sent to be hanged through a series of unfortunate events.

To go with epic opening lines, a chapter opens with ‘no child truly believes they will be hanged,’ which is true as it’s here that Nona is instead saved and taken to be a nun at Sweet Mercy’s Convent for Young Girls, where they are raised to be killers depending on their specific gift. Some, like Nona, are Red Sisters – meant for fighting. It’s here she makes friendships and learns the ache that can come with them, she’s put to trial and protected like she has never witnessed before in her short life… but probably most importantly, she gets three square meals a day, and the food is the best she’s ever had.

The first thing that stands out with this book is the world building being centred around climate change, and it would be excellent for a book study to happen between this series and that of Glenda Larke’s Watergivers trilogy – though instead of lacking for water, in this world there is ice almost everywhere, and it’s thick, leaving only a small corridor of usable land left for the inhabitants, who are now firmly packed together.

The second is that we see the adult and ‘old’ characters as a huge central focus, almost main characters of the book, and integral, in a way we don’t often see. There are various mentions of what they did or what happened when they were children. Those who are now known under titles are referred to by names they used to be known by – either as a sign of friendship, or as a nasty dig that the speakers holds no respect for their current position. And it’s refreshing to see them humanised where they’re not just there to be plot points and elements of power or control – we get such a feel for who they are personally, and what they’ve been through growing up.

Overall this is an excellent book – it’s rough and their world is a hard place to be part of – the powerful still control what they want by money, and Nona almost loses her life for that countless times, all over a little man’s pride. The magic system, the world building – it has the detail of Sanderson’s series such as Mistborn  and yet somehow easier to flow into. I’m writing this review halfway through the book so I don’t give too much away, and I can basically say read it! And that I’m going to go do the same right now.

Review: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Phoenix Pick
ISBN: 1612421857
ISBN 13: 9781612421858
Published: 1989
Pages: 102
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The next in our Vorkosigan read-through is a novella, a weighty one that won the Hugo Award for Best Novella (1990), Nebula Award for Best Novella (1989), and the SF Chronicle Award for Best Novella (1990) – so even though it’s short, hopefully I’ll have a few paragraphs of discussion handy!

We meet Miles again, now newly graduated from the Academy and having earned the rank of Ensign Vorkosigan – however at times as we see in this novella, still far out-ranking even though who’ve reached the 20-year mark of the militia because of who his father is, and the duties that come with the title. It’s one of these duties which suddenly eats up the remaining ten days of his home leave before he’s granted his first assignment, which means a quick trip to Vorbarr Sultana with his cousin, Ivan, and the purchase of a new lightflyer are thrown by the wayside.

The duties require Miles to act as Voice for his father, travelling back with a woman, Harra, who has come to them for justice for infanticide, to the mountain district (hence the title). Her baby was born with a harelip and a cleft palate, and being from a more old-fashioned part of the once quite savage Barrayar, the baby is killed for being born less. There was a new clinic Harra wanted to travel to with the baby for an operation – when she had recovered from the birth – but that option was taken from her. And now it’s up to Miles to investigate the old-fashioned way (ish, he has a few technical advances) to find out who the criminal is, and what the punishment should be. Harra swears it was her husband, Lem, and though the community lacks for communication technology Miles is used to taking for granted, Lem has gone into hiding by the time Miles arrives, and almost every person there expects Miles has come to kill him – fairly or no.

This is an interesting novella, and packs the punches you may expect from Bujold, especially when it’s backed up with three of the biggest awards our genre has to offer. What’s good about this is that things are never simple, and Miles (poor Miles) never has an easy go of things. The ignorance, prejudice, and downright insulting nature of the community are put on for show at both a shindig that kicks off one night basically in his honour, and then also when he gives his Speaking (verdict). There’s an attack on Miles’ life, on his horse (the only one remaining from General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan’s personally trained stock), and disrespect shown for the elite in general. And yet, Miles takes things slowly (even when he doubts himself), and goes to extra lengths to instruct, inspire, and lead people to seeing himself and his family, their cause, justice, and the truth in a better light. He doesn’t always succeed which is always good – some minds will never be changed after all, but Miles is truly an inspiration for his ability to interact with people, and his determination to be and do the best he possible can.

A highly enjoyable novella I didn’t put down for a second, and I can’t wait to read the next in our reading challenge, The Vor Game.

Discussion Post: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Warrior’s Apprentice is the third book we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially follows on from Barrayar and is the first book (chronologically and in publication order) about Miles Vorkosigan, published before Barrayar was in 1986. Miles is the son of Cordelia and Aral and we join him as he tries (and fails) to gain admittance to the Imperial Military Academy and has to turn to other ideas.


You can read Tsana’s review of The Warrior’s Apprentice here, and Katharine’s review here.


Tsana: When I first read the Vorkosigan saga, this was the first book I started with. It seemed like a good place to start at the time — it introduced Miles, who everyone talked about as the main character, and it was one of the first books written and published. I didn’t read the first two Cordelia books, Shards of Honour and Barrayar, until the very end, which meant that the impact of some of the references to the past in The Warrior’s Apprentice was completely lost on me. I am very glad to be rereading the books again in this order. What were your impressions of The Warrior’s Apprentice, having picked it up for the first time?

Katharine: I honestly wonder what I would have thought of Miles for the first section of the book, without having being brought to him via his parents. From this journey I’m already protective of him because we saw the struggles his parents had… without that, I think he would have won me over when he first uses his crazy schemes to save Mayhew… but before then, I might have found him a little too… what’s the word… Fervent?

Tsana: Hah, fervent is certainly the word to describe him (and you haven’t even seen half of it yet)! But that’s understandable just from knowing about his disability and desire to prove himself in the militaristic and ableist society of Barrayar. That said, there wasn’t as much ableism in the book as there could have been. Miles spends most of it off-world where other people just think he’s a bit weird instead of making the sign of the devil against him like we see Barrayarans do. What were your impressions of this?

Katharine: I found it interesting that as soon as he drew any ire it was the first thing they went to – calling him awful things about his (lack of) height or crookedness. But overall I think the novel did a good job at introducing the reader to him – we start the novel off with him not being successful in gaining entry into the Imperial Military Academy on Barrayar because of his disability, and then for the rest of the novel we see him, more or less, in situations where it doesn’t hold him back at all.

Tsana: I remember someone somewhere (I think it might have been on Galactic Suburbia) saying that in zero-G his disabilities didn’t matter anymore. But we don’t really see that in this book. What we know about Miles’s limitations are that he has very brittle bones — he breaks both his legs in the opening scene — and that he’s short with a crooked spine. We also briefly learn that he’s allergic to some medication, but that doesn’t feature too much. While none of those things stop him doing anything other than passing the Imperial Military Academy physical exam, he’s also not put into any equalising situations, not really. Galactics (ie non-Barrayarans) might not care so much that he’s different, but he still has to prove himself in a normal fashion without any sudden advantages. The only advantage he had in his life was more time to read and study growing up due to being unable to play outside as much. The rest of his advantage is all personality and intelligence (the latter having nothing to do with his disabilities).

Katharine: And all thanks to his parents – there’s several references that show he knows what they would do or think in a situation and he seems to take their way as gospel – he uses what his mother would think in a situation to reassure Elena, for example.

Tsana: Yes, it definitely helps that his parents are good role-models. He probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly so far with his crazy schemes if not for his father’s military and political strategy rubbing off on him.

Katharine: And his mother’s ability as a warrior – he wouldn’t have got nearly as far in his schemes without being able to see women are equal from the very start – something that threw a few of his adversaries off. Should we lift the spoiler zone so we can get into the nitty gritty?


<spoilers start here>

Continue reading

Review: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.

Published by: Tachyon Publications
ISBN 13: 1892391201
Published: 9781892391209
Pages: 508
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

For some reason I kept putting off reading this. I’m blown away by Tiptree’s work, so why the delay? When I started it finally, and loved each reveal… I also realised that until then I’d known I just didn’t have the emotional space for Tiptree just then. It’s heavy work, and needs time to consider each piece. Tiptree really is absolutely amazing.

Of this collection of eighteen stories there were four award winners (of what I could see), and one that was shortlisted by she requested that it be left off the ballot, and many many others shortlisted besides. We start off with a story of a spreading sickness. Doctor Ain is travelling to a conference, and on his way his sickness is spreading. It’s at the conference he talks of an ‘improved’ (weaponised) leukaemia strain and we now know what sickness Ain is carrying. We see his movements mostly through the later recollections of others, as if Ain has later been investigated for his heinous crime.

The pattern of the idea of the disease continues – whether it’s used to control the population, or how our bodies would work compatibly with aliens – mixing with the ideas in old fables of how the fae could bewitch the unsuspecting – much as has been in our past, could be in our future.

Because it’s Tiptree we see a lot of anger, a lot of morose inevitability, ideas that investigate gender roles, enslavement, sexuality, and many ideas which don’t just cross the line into the disturbing – it surrounds you completely. Tiptree is abundantly clever with her words, going as far as the narrator telling the reader you can skip this part – when it’s the opposite of true.

I can’t recommend this book enough, and we are so lucky to have had Tiptree in our genre. And to hell with those who outed her, and rejected her work when her alias was uncovered.

(Slight warning that the collection may make you angry (as it has me) for her genius, and what she went through.)