Author Archives: noumenon2

A Harsh Land of Extremes and Perilous Journeys

Code Noir (Parrish Plessis #2)MARIANNE DE PIERRES
Code Noir
Volume two of the PARRISH PLESSIS series 

Power, responsibilities and debts are never far from immediate if not perilous concerns for Parrish Plessis and this, the second book of the series begun with Nylon Angel, hurtles the heroine from talented adolescent to weight-of-the-world adulthood.

One of the many thrills of the de Pierres stories is the clever conceal-and-partially-show of both characters and story arcs. The thrilling pace of the books, interspersed with just enough social and/or technological grit, leaves the reader both satisfied and wanting more.

De Pierres, just like Plessis, appears to have a soft spot for many of the secondary characters, and some reappear hundreds of pages later in significant episodes of the story. And what secondary ‘characters’ some of them are – virtual PAs, biotech mergings, sentient ‘trees’ etc. Whether allies or foes, major or minor, all characters in this series have a role or purpose that exceeds those of most ciphers in much fiction. This is something I look for, and often find, in current speculative fiction.

The setting for the novels is a harsh land of extremes, with facets of ‘old’ Australia and a certain belligerent stubbornness in a few characters that could easily be considered an Oz trait! The haves and have-nots are both at the mercy of powerful forces, with Parrish and her allies, old and new, often buffeted in unexpected and very violent ways.

Describing Parrish as a ‘kick-ass cyberpunk heroine’ does no disservice to her or Lisbeth Sander – both have the guts, street cred, street smarts and sexual maturity to overcome most adversity, even when at a cost to themselves. But no, there is no happy-ever-after male companion at the end of the novels – and that is another huge plus. 5 stars.

Footnote: The historical Code Noir was a decree passed by King Louis XIV in 1685, defining France’s living conditions for race, slavery and freedom.
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Reviews, Speculative Fiction


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Guts, Personal Demons, Internal Dialogues, New Heroines

Nylon Angel
Volume one of the PARRISH PLESSIS series

Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction – whatever you want to call it, there is a strength and depth to it that surpasses other fiction genres.

Crime and Thrillers and Mystery can have terrific stories and be well told, but in most cases those novels are ploughing the same ground, with most characters only a few degrees different to hundreds of others. Only a few authors like Andrew Vacchs have created outstanding bodies of work in those genres.

Nylon Angel, the first of the Parrish Plessis series, introduces a fascinating and internally-consistent post-disaster world, cleverly populated with characters that shout their individuality from each page.

Tough girl Parrish has all the guts, personal demons and internal dialogues that are common to the Crime Thriller style, but the sheer talent and audacity of de Pierres imagination raises the stakes – and the reader’s interest – well beyond the norm. Each chapter propels the story lines, introducing essential detail along with plenty of opportunities for moral and/or philosophical musings.

This is not a slick but ultimately hollow cops and robbers in space (and I guess the Political Correctness Police will not let us say cowboys and indians in space any more in case someone will get ‘upset’ by such terms). Rather, this is a wonderfully created alternate world with its own breeds/races/cultures and loyalties/animosities that can be enjoyed as great story telling. 5 stars.

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Reviews, Speculative Fiction


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Lost in One-Eighth of a Quartet

A Shadow On The Glass
“A tale of the three worlds”
Volume one of THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR quartet.

Although I enjoyed the first half of this book, especially the rich world-building and character portrayals, the second half became standard fantasy fare, with insurmountable odds eventually becoming insurmountable for the author, and each character became a weak shadow of their early potential.

By chapter 26 (page 349 of 572 in the Penguin edition), my reading was more task than enjoyment. The story held interest but one character after another lost significance. I finished the book but by then didn’t care enough about any character to want to read more of the series. It seemed as though the characters escaped from Irvine, that he couldn’t harness their potential or keep their interaction at a dynamic level, so in the end all became ciphers that failed both their tasks and the story.

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Reviews


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Much Ado About Nothing? The Unseen Is Too Visible

There were quite a few mentions of the work of China Mieville at WorldCon 2010 and his position as one of the leading lights of fantasy or “new weird” or maybe even steampunk.

China Mieville, The City & The CityHis novel The City & The City won the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award, 2010 Hugo Award, and 2010 World Fantasy Award, as well as being a Nebula Award nominee in the Best Novel category.

However, there are some rather worrying aspects about such popularity. Like, what happened to good editing and great sub-editing. A few examples can explain my reservations.

Suspension of Disbelief

Science Fiction and Fantasy with the capital letters are all about readers accepting one or two “what if” elements to a story, and then seeing how well the author can examine, express, develop and/or personalise that mutually-agreed deceit.

Mieville didn’t believe his central theme in The City & The City or maybe his editor didn’t understand that sf&f readers are comfortable with a pretence at the core of a story. There is no other way to explain the continual, repetitive and superfluous explanations about needing to “unsee” by just about every one of the characters and in just about every major scene in the book.

In fact, Mieville’s writing is often closer to a thesis than a novel, as if a third-year literature student is debating and trying to convince others about an aspect of form and function. Even if we treat the book as a police procedural in a crime genre rather than sf&f, the overstating of the “unseeing” would still be tedious.

Cardboard Characters

In much of American fiction, whether in books or tv shows, the girls get killed and the guys do a lot of shouting and running about shootin’ n’ fightin’ and, occasionally, thinkin’ a little bit. A good example is the recent, impoverished and repetitive works of James Patterson and his many “co-authors”.

In The City & The City the nosy and noisy female gets killed, the bureaucrats bumble, the detective keeps telling us he is a detective and how he operates as a detective, the innocent but attractive female friend of the dead female gets killed, and the story gets “solved” when the detective does all the obvious things, too late, and after getting everyone else to act out of character to get to the conclusion.

Some commercial entertainment is deliberately easy to access and understand and, when done well, can be a success as both art and business. Mieville is not close to this with The City & The City because the strings pulling the monster’s arms and legs are too obvious.

TV Script Repetition

Most TV shows now rely on repetition and restating the obvious, usually two or three times in any ten-minute span. This is now true, unfortunately, of everything from comedies, crime shows, documentaries and, of course, reality shows. Key facts, already obvious and accepted by viewers, are restated:

  • at the start of the show
  • before the ad break
  • after the ad break
  • before the next ad break
  • etcetera, etcetera

Mieville may have saved a team of TV script writers a lot of work. The repetitions are all there, every chapter laden with reminders. I can hear the voiceover now:

“You will remember we have been examining cross-hatching, where people in one city will ‘unsee’ people in the other city alongside them. Inspector Borlu has been trying to explain the concept to a visitor. The story continues when …”

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The central “conceit of the book” as Mieville calls it is worth one star and the occasional flourish adds a second. Yet overall the book was disappointing, laboured and, in the end, slight. It stands as a potentially good short story or novella, all dressed up in fancy “best selling author” packaging as a novel.

I’m surprised that my views on this book are so different to many others. Perhaps the general dumbing down in media generally, especially populist newspapers, TV shows and movies, is now infecting sf&f.


Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Reviews, Writing


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Making A Living – professional writing for speculative fiction authors

Being a professional writer is not an easy career path for most of us, according to Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi and George Ivanoff in a discussion at AussieCon4 in Melbourne.

George Ivanoff

George Ivanoff

George advised the audience that to write for a wide range of genres can help create opportunities. He said the education market can be well paid, if you have the interest and knowledge.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi

John is a freelance writer and uses his skills for both fiction and non-fiction. He added that the corporate market can be a great balance for a creative writer, especially as his creativity is “about three hours a day”. His two streams of work for Tor and Subterranean are complementary rather than “either/or”.

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow

Cory describes himself as a “freelance entrepreneur” rather than a writer, although his SF and speculative fiction is increasingly well-known and award-winning. Some advice to budding writers is that trade publishing is not profitable to many except the big stars, so a well-paid job may be a better option while a writer enjoys a part-time craft.

Piracy was considered “small-time” by Cory. The three big players – Sony, Apple and Amazon – over time will become almost universally accepted, he said, and all easier to use than torrents.

AussieCon4 was the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Melbourne, Australia, Sept 2nd-6th 2010. The panel discussions included SF, fantasy, speculative fiction, steampunk, movies, comics and fandom.

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Posted by on September 19, 2010 in Fandom, Publishing, Social Media, Writing


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Twitter has replaced RSS for me

Despite the great tools available for RSS feeds – especially the wonderful Netvibes (@Netvibes) – most days the bulk of my news, comments and recommendations come from Twitter.

Twitter example from Seesmic

Find the right people and/or hashtag for a topic of interest and a continual stream of interesting, unexpected, timely and, quite often, fun information arrives on your Twitter client. And speaking of Twitter client, there is nothing better than Seesmic Desktop (@Seesmic) for my purposes. While we’re at it, see the example at right. The text is:

@Beathhigh Just read first issue of new Alan Moore comic, Neonomicon. Hellish good. No 1 son, who knows of such things, says it’s v Lovecraft.

UPDATE: after the gentle nudge from @freddymini I should have mentioned I still love and use Netvibes for everything else like Tumblr, podcasts, weather, excellent blogs that don’t use Twitter, etc, etc.

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Posted by on September 15, 2010 in Publishing, Social Media


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We’re All Connected, All The Time – blogs and social networking in the world of YA spec fic

This was my favourite panel discussion of AussieCon4. There were plenty of other interesting and worthy ones, but Bec Kavanagh, Lili Wlkinson, Megan Burke and Mif Farquharson brought enthusiasm and, in some senses, hope to the book publishing industry.

Lili Wilkinson

Lili Wilkinson

Lili explained that the participatory opportunities of social media are being well used by the Young Adult audience, whether readers, writers or publishers. One example was the inky awards with a judging panel of 2 adults and 4 teens (details here and a short list that included 5 Australian alongside 5 international works.

The way reading had become both creative and participatory impressed Lili and she noticed this was a growing trend.

Bec Kavanagh

Bec Kavanagh

Bec added that reading now has the option to be a community activity, with readers able to contact each other and also authors. This “real time” access via Twitter and Skype, etc, was seen as valuable for YA teen readers and also as an instant feedback mechanism for writers and publishers.

There is now a growing “virtual community” for genres, authors and reading clubs, and Bec mentioned the use of Q&A sessions with remote authors via Skype, plus the use of competitions to add numbers and engagement in a direct and friendly way.

Megan Burke

Megan Burke

Megan said online networks have helped create many strong and growing book-focussed and author-focussed communities.

SF fandom and fanzines were capable of similar roles in the “print era” but they lacked the attractions of almost-instant opportunities to discuss and ask questions in real time, right when a teen reader wanted to engage.

The panel mentioned a number of authors and active fans of the YA genre, including the example of Neil Gaiman who writes across many genres and is also very active with blogs and other social media.

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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in Fandom, Publishing, Social Media, YA


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