Speculative ficion

07 November 2017: Dreaming in the Dark anthology wins World Fantasy Award

For the second time, one of Jack Dann’s Dreaming anthologies has won a World Fantasy Award.


Dreaming in the Dark, ed Jack Dann, PS Publishing

Last night, Dreaming in the Dark, edited by Jack and published by PS Publishing, won the 2017 World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology.

In 1999, the first in the series, Dreaming Down-Under, edited by Jack and his partner Janeen Webb, won the same award.

I was fortunate enough to have stories included in both.

That the anthologies should receive such an honour says a great deal about Jack’s dedication to Australian writers of speculative fiction. We all owe him a great debt.

Congratulations, Jack!

14 May 2017: New story out in Review of Australian Fiction

Very pleased to announce a story written with the amazing Anna Tambour, titled ‘Joy’, has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction.RAF

What’s more, it appears in the same issue as ‘Water Cools Not Love’, a story by another wonderful writer, Laura Goodin.

The issue can be found here.



06 May 2017: New story out in Dreaming in the Dark anthology


Dreaming in the Dark, ed Jack Dann, PS Publishing

My story ‘Moonshine’ has appeared in the new anthology edited by Jack Dann – Dreaming in the Dark – put out by PS Publishing.

The story was inspired by the my grandfather’s time as a bootlegger during the Prohibition in the United States.

The following is from the story’s afterword.

‘My grandfather, Chuck Chamberlain died in 1975. Massive stroke, fell into a coma and never woke. My mother and I drove up to his flat in Stockton, a northern suburb of Newcastle, and started sorting through his possessions.

‘For a man who who was born in the 19th century, lived on three continents and fought in at least one great war, he hadn’t accumulated a lot of stuff. One of the first things we discovered was an old sea chest; inside the chest, among some old clothes, was a chair leg. I picked it up, curious why my grandfather had stored it away, and noticed a cork in one end. I pulled out the cork and a collection of false ID papers and photographs and records dropped out. My mum and I checked the false ID with the photos; it was definitely her father, but under a false name – Orville C. Parr.

‘It took my mum a few years to figure out most of the story – she never got all of it – and it turns out he’d been a bootlegger during prohibition, running grog across the Canada-US border, probably driving trucks into Detroit. He got word the long arm of the law was about to tap him on the shoulder, so he joined the American army under the name of Parr and got posted to the Philippines. When his enlistment was up, he sailed to Australia.

‘I remember him as a cigar-smoking man of few words. He was born and bred in England, spoke with an American accent, and lived more than half his life in Australia. I never really knew him. Nor, as it turns out, did my mum.’

I’d like to thank Jack for taking the story and PS Publishing for backing the anthology. ‘Moonshine’ was written over many years, and it was wonderful to find such a great home for it in the company of so many amazing stories by so many amazing writers.

Dreaming in the Dark can be purchased directly from PS Publishing.

02 April 2015: The Art of Effective Dreaming

AOEDSample-500x524Last night I had the privilege of launching the new book of friend and colleague Gillian Polack, The Art of Effective Dreaming. This is what I said:

It is April Fool’s Day, and this is no coincidence. As Gillian Polack’s new book so perfectly illustrates – as fairy tales are wont to do – “We shall not grow wise before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.”[1]

Fiction and reality share one thing in common: each is only half-true. In The Art of Effective Dreaming, Gillian shows that for those who love and lose, for those who love in vain, for those who love in expectation, the sharpest truth is the half-truth, and therein dwells the realm of the fairy tale.

Carved from both our conscious world and our dream world, the fairy tale is where courtship is better than sex, where life sometimes refuses death, and where hope shines stronger than despair. As the book’s protagonist Fay says, “I’m not a big one for reality.” Fay by name and fey by nature, then.

These are some of the things Gillian’s new book teaches us about fairy tales:

  • in a fairy tale people grow old in wisdom rather than years;
  • in a fairy tale it is magic, not rain, that renews;
  • in a fairy tale there are always answers, but the answers you need and not the answers you expect;
  • in a fairy tale beauty is not beauty;
  • in a fairy tale ogres live in houses not under bridges;
  • in a fairy tale homes are gardens and gardens are homes;
  • in a fairy tale being right is never enough;
  • in a fairy tale it’s impossible to keep your balance;
  • in a fairy tale love is always a burden;
  • in a fairy tale love is always a curse;
  • in a fairy tale love is always salvation.

Gillian knows that the fairy tale is first and foremost a folktale, and that the natural accompaniments for folktales are folksongs, folk-dancing and riddles. These are the stories and the songs, the dances and the mysteries, our forebears shared with each other when the weather closed in, the wind and the wolves howled outside the door, and summer was just a memory. They echo in that part of our brain that still sends a shiver down our spine when dark clouds bank on the horizon and the edge of the forest seems a tad too close for comfort.

Gillian also knows that in fairy tales almost everything cradles a surprise. A gentle landscape hides low-hanging branches and foot-snagging rocks. Bridges don’t always cross rivers. The rugged coast hides kelpies as well as selkies. Castles can be traps as well as sanctuaries. Friends are not always friends. Your worst enemy is sometimes yourself.

But, Gillian being Gillian, The Art of Effective Dreaming is so much more than a fairy tale. It is a novel, and like an old river, it is a novel long and deep, and the deeper we delve the darker it gets. While evil gets its due – if not its comeuppance – good also suffers. Indeed, good suffers disproportionately, but who are we to spite the one true connection to our own world?

In this book there is a genuine conversation between author and reader. If this was a play, the protagonist would be constantly breaking the fourth wall. Fay wants to take us by the hand and bring us into her dreaming universe, and as we merge ourselves with her character the border surrounding our own reality starts to blur. The colours of faery bleed into our world, making it brighter, sharper and more perilous.

And that, of course, is what all good story-telling should be about, whether it’s mimetic fiction or science fiction, swashbuckler or fairy tale: the created world must be as vivid and true as the real world.

I unhesitatingly recommend this book to all those who enjoy their stories long and deep. It has followed a sometimes torturous route from concept to publication, and I congratulate Satalyte for having the courage and foresight to publish it against all curses and contrariness. I take great pleasure in announcing that Gillian Polack’s The Art of Effective Dreaming has left the slipway and now is well and truly launched.

[1] Freidrich August van Hayek

16 March 2015: Terry Pratchett

Pratchett on shelf

A section of the family’s ‘Pratchett’ shelf.

Terry Pratchett died last Thursday, 12 March, at the age of 66. I heard the news without surprise but a great deal of sadness. He had been ill for some time.

I’ve been reading his Discworld books ever since 1986 when I stumbled across the second in the series, The Light Fantastic. I was hooked the moment Death, answering a summons by several senior wizards, appeared with a scythe in one hand and with small cubes of cheese and pineapple on a stick in the other.

“I was at a party,” he explained.

Pratchett’s humour, often ironic, frequently hilarious, never cruel, underpinned a fully realised but surreal fantasy universe populated with wizards, giant turtles, vampire soldiers, world-weary assassins, wise witches, evil elves and, of course, Death.

It is sad to think there will be no more Discworld novels. It is even sadder to think the world is now without Terry Pratchett.

05 February 2015: Star Wars VII – a new hope?

star wars

The original new hopers: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford

Is it a case of too little too late?

When  the original film came out in 1977, I remember reading George Lucas had planned nine sequential stories organised into three trilogies. Star Wars, since retitled Star Wars IV: A New Hope, was the first story in the middle trilogy. When this trilogy ended with The Return of the Jedi in 1983, I hoped Lucas would roll on with the sequels, the third trilogy.

I was never interested in the prequels. Who would want to sit through three films when the end result was already known?

However, my love for Star Wars got me into the cinema to watch The Phantom Menace in 1999. What a mistake. A mistake repeated twice more with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I watched all three from a sense of loyalty to the original and with slowly diminishing hope that Lucas would pull something out of the hat. A good story, maybe.

Now, decades later, the three films Lucas should have started in 1999 are on the drawing board. In fact, the first of the films, The Force Awakens, is out in December 2015. The fact that it’s to be directed by J. J. Abrams from a story by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer with Lucas of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi), suggests this film should have been called A New Hope. I admit to being curious to see what effect Abrams, who was only 11 in 1977, will have on the franchise. Will he rejuvenate it, as he did the Star Trek franchise with his eponymous 2009 film?

Chances are.

However, for me there is a single big but.

But it’s been 38 years since the first film.

To put that gap in perspective, 38 years before the first Star Wars film saw the release of The Wizard of Oz. What if MGM had produced the same pattern of sequels as Lucas did with Star Wars? It would mean the seventh Oz film would have been released in 1977, the same year as original Star Wars. Indeed, if they did what Disney, the new owners of the Star Wars’ franchise, are planning to do, the ninth Oz film would have been released around 1981. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz novels, which conceivably could have seen sequels rolling out until the 90s. In fact, with Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, they even had a prequel of sorts. A prequel with a good story, what’s more.

So why didn’t MGM produce any sequels? The story was popular enough. There had been three Wizard of Oz films made before the 1939 version, and another was produced in 1982. And film sequels were not exactly unknown. (The earliest I can date was a silent trilogy, all made in 1913, about a female detective called Kate Kirby.)

The sad truth is that ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was not a success at first, recording a loss for the studio. It wasn’t until it was rereleased in 1949 that the film went into the black. Since then, of course, it’s made a motza with repeats on television and sales of videos and DVDs.

Still, I can’t help feeling that The Wizard of Oz I: Wicked, would have been a hell of a more fun than Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace.

Here’s hoping 38 years is long enough for Star Wars to get through its self-reflective, rambunctious, acne-ridden teenage phase and mature into something really worth watching.

10 November 2014: A short review of Interstellar

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Without wanting to push the metaphor too hard, watching Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a bit like going on a first date. There are moments when you wonder if you haven’t made a terrible mistake in going to see the film, and other moments when you are seduced by startling visual beauty or revelatory lines of dialogue. And like many a first date, the whole is a much more fulfilling and enjoyable experience than its parts.

In truth, I wasn’t expecting a lot. I was disappointed with the Dark Knight trilogy and was bored by Inception. But Interstellar impressed me not just as a good film, but possibly a great science fiction film. It touches on two aspects of science fiction – a sense of wonder and a personal human connection with the universe – that contribute to my love of the genre.

Some of the finest scenes in the film are those dealing with the implications of relativity on the passing of time; they carry a heavy emotional weight (and here I intentionally avoid the word ‘gravity’) that while entirely manipulative never succumb to melodrama.

All credit to producer Lynda Obst and physicist Kip Thorne for the original scenario, and Jonathan and Christopher Nolan for the script. All credit to McConaughey, Hathaway and Caine for their performances, and a special credit for the acting of Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn for portraying the three ages of Murphy Cooper. And finally, all credit to Christopher Nolan for delivering a huge movie with huge ideas without ever losing a very human perspective.