Review: The Bookman

The Bookman
The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun, entertaining, and delightfully madcap. A bunch of hanging plot ends that I hope will be tied tighter in the sequel, but for the most part it’s a delightful mashing together of famous and not-so-famous Victorian figures– some historical, some literary– with wild-eyed Vernian and Wellsian narratives, ye grand old space oprey, general pyrotechnic madness.

Just bloody good fun, is what it is.

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A busy weekend for the rest of the Australian SF community this last weekend, with Conflux 9, the Australian National SF Convention, being held in Canberra. Sadly, Olympic-level skintness kept us from attending, which was a pity, because my one Conflux, back in 2006, ranks as my favourite convention experience (barring the Swancon at which I married Luscious, naturally. Yep, for those of you who don’t know, I married my wife at an SF Convention. Some might call it geeky. Some might call it realising that everyone we would have invited to the wedding were already going to be gathered in one place anyway…). Marc Gascoigne, Angry Robot head honcho, was Guest of Honour, and it would have been great to catch up with him the flesh for what would likely have been the only time ever. Ah, well.

The Australian SF ‘Ditmar’ Awards were announced at the Con, and The Corpse-Rat King was beaten to the Best Novel gong by Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts. There’s no shame in that: Lanagan is an immensely popular, multi-award winning author, and Sea Hearts has already collected a  swag of award nominations and wins. After losing out to Kirstyn McDermott in the recently-announced Australian Shadows Award, it makes me 0 for 2 in short lists this year. I’m disappointed– if you’re on a shortlist you want to win the thing– but not hardly surprised.

All of which means it’s time to get off my lazy arse– I’ll admit, I’ve been the very personification of slackness this last couple of weeks, as day job stress and general mehness overwhelmed me– and get back to finishing the works in progress. Father Muerte & The Divine is ready to line edit, I’m waiting to hear if Agent Rich can place Naraveen’s Land before I launch myself towards finishing the edits on it, and Magwitch and Bugrat, the children’s novel I started at the behest of Luscious and the kids, is 3/4 complete and needs to be rounded off.

As a way of finding the time, we set the alarm a half hour earlier this morning, rose in the dark, and I managed to shoot out 500 words before having to get ready for work. This will be the pattern from here on in. It’s nice to be nominated for awards, and sickening to watch a procession of everybody else get them all. work is the only cure.

So here’s a little extract from the first draft of Magwitch and Bugrat as a little literary sourdough starter:

              Bugrat found his own voice as he grew, and used it to ask questions, “What is this?” and “What’s that called?” and “What is this for?” and “Why?” and “Why?” and “why?” over and over again. Magwitch had never taught anybody before. She didn’t know how to make someone sit and listen and believe that she was the only one who knew the real truth about things. So she listened to Bugrat as much as he listened to her, and because he was allowed to do some of the talking, their little world slowly changed to fit his view of it, as much as it had once changed to fit her.
            “Why are they called headstones?” he asked, pointing to the slabs of stone that lay face down amongst the grass. And because she didn’t know, and because neither of them really believed that “Because they are,” was a real answer, headstones became jumpstones, because jumping from stone to stone was what Magwitch and Bugrat used them for.
            “What are they?” he asked of the stars that flickered uncertainly beyond the edges of the surrounding roofs when they night sky cleared and the smog went to bed. And Magwitch would tell him her dreams of windows in the sky, and the blackness around them where little boys and girls could play safely with no walls to hold them in, and never have to worry about anybody looking out.
            “What are these for?” he would wonder, while he stretched out to try and touch the cold, unfriendly glass of the windows around them, and Magwitch would pull on his arm until her greater weight slowly dragged him away, back into the safety of the brambles and the deep, comfortable shadows.

            “You must never touch them,” she warned him. “never, ever, ever.” “Why?” he would ask, and “Why?” and “Why?” but Magwitch would not answer. 

Review: Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really difficult to get into for the first hundred pages, and I was on the verge of giving up several times, but I am a fan of Mieville’s work, so I persevered, and was paid off with a fascinating and beautifully structured book, before the last act descended into a straight colonial uprising story with very little to elevate it above the ordinary. Ultimately, while it is highly ambitious, and some of the constructs within are up to Mieville’s wonderfully high standards, the overarching narrative structure runs out of puff, leaving it, for all its pretensions, resembling every other outnumbered-humans-amongst-the-natives space opera out there.

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Sad news overnight with the death of Divinyls singer Chrissie Amphlett from cancer.

The Divinyls were a unique band, one combining the very Australian post-punk sound shared by groups like the Angels, the Radiators, and early INXS, but with the added value of a hypnotic and larger than life frontwoman. There was nobody like Amphlett in Australian rock, and frankly, I don’t think there ever has been since. She was the best female rock vocalist to come out of this country: a snarling, preening, sneering buzzsaw-voiced sex goddess prowling the stage, likely to explode at a moment’s notice.

I remember seeing the band at the Perth Australian Made concert in the mid-80s, where they followed a family-friendly daytime lineup of the likes of Mental as Anything, Crowded House and I’m Talking, and simply tore Subiaco Oval apart. Partway through their set the whisper started going round the crowd near me: Amphlett wasn’t wearing any knickers, and you could see everything! People started surging forward to try and get a glimpse. I was 16, and with my girlfriend. I didn’t move. But I remember the sense of energy, of sudden movement. I have no idea if it was true, or a case of Chinese Whispers, or even just a clever whisper started by someone associated with the concert.

But people believed it. That was what Amphlett’s stage presence, and her persona, did to people. 40 000 people suddenly believed it. Is it any wonder the likes of Courtney love pretty much ripped her persona off wholesale?

The band only had a brief career at the very top of Australian rock: health problems, internal bickering, and the rise of a new generation of more melodious rock acts, as well as the increasing availability of overseas indie bands pushed them into a brief decline, and implosion. But there never has been anyone like Chrissie Amphlett, and it’s a loss to anyone who hoped there might be one more song, or a revival, to come.

Oddly, for all their original material, some of their best work involved covers. Here’s my personal favourite: what is still, to my mind, the best ever cover of an Easybeats song, their version of “I’ll Make You Happy”, done live.


Ticonderoga Publication have announced the line-up for the third volume of their Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror series, and I’m pleased to announce that Comfort Ghost, my story from ASIM #56, has been included, alongside such authors as Joanne Anderton, Stephen Dedman, Terry Dowling, and Kaaron Warren among many others.

The full line-up and official announcement is here, and the book is already available for pre-order. And I have to admit, that is one pretty cover:

Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Epic in scope, with a massive cast and a set of actions taking in multiple corners of a fascinating and immensely complicated political world, this volume introduces Abercrombie’s gritty and bloodstained ‘realist’ take on the fantasy genre, as well as characters who will come to dominate five further novels set in this fascinating world: Logan Ninefingers, known as ‘The Bloody Nine’; Bayaz, First of the Magi; Black Dow; Bethod and his sons; The Dogman… they all make their entrances, and set themselves for and against each other to varying degrees.

And in essence, this is what is wrong with the novel: it isn’t really a novel proper, merely the opening act of a longer work. Nothing resolved, nothing is completed, nothing ties together at all, and it finishes with the kind of overt ‘To be Continued’ endings I have grown to loathe over many years of reading fantasy novels.

I’m a big fan of Abercrombie, having read his 3 standalone books before starting this trilogy. I love his characters, his style, and the wry, cynical, bloody reality he portrays. This is the first book in a long tale, and not the best one. It’s all foreplay and no action, and my frustration was the equal to my pleasure.

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Review: Railsea

Railsea by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great example of Meiville doing what he does best: constructing wondrous landscapes of steam-powered fancy and then populating it with larger than life characters perfectly adapted to life within the setting he has created. This time it is the railsea: a post environmental-apocalypse carpeting of endlessly criss-crossing rail tracks that smother what is hinted at being the dried up pacific rim; and the Herman Melvillesque outposters and whaler-analogues who inhabit it.

The language is, as always, a delight; the various protagonists deep enough to be engaging without necessarily being deep enough to compel; but as is often the case with Meiville it is the geometries and ecology of the altered landscape which are the real characters of the piece. If a story can be described as characters in action across a setting, then Meiville, to some extent, inverts this: ‘Railsea’, like many of his novels (I think particularly of The Scar and The Iron Council in this regard) is about the setting creating characters to fulfil actions. That he does so in such a successful way, and creates such a fascinating and successful novel, is a mark of his great skill as storyteller.

In fact, my only disappointment with the book was that it was clearly aimed at a Young Adult audience, resulting in a simplification of language, plot and motivation that diminishes its power. If he had aimed this towards the intellectual complexity of his best works then it would have been a major tour de force: a modern fable of enormous power and symbolic resonance. As it is, the simplification works against the message, and it is simply an extremely good book that doesn’t quite reach the majesty it deserves.

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Review: Superman: Reign of Doomsday

Superman: Reign of Doomsday
Superman: Reign of Doomsday by Paul Cornell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When it comes right down to it, there just isn’t any way to make Superman actually interesting, is there? As a character he’s sadly two-dimensional, and his supporting ‘family’– Steel, Superboy, The Eradicator and Supergirl– are unutterably lightweight, both as personalities and as heroic characters. Nobody really believes they stand a chance against an antagonist of genuine power, and the problem with Superman is always that he is so damned powerful himself that his antagonists have to be consistently ramped up beyond believability to present any feasible threat. And in that regard, doomsday is a one-note drum: if he didn’t have the notoriety of the ‘Death of Superman’ story behind him he’d be no more noteworthy than Parasite, or Atlas, or any of the other characters who only serve to provide one or two punches before the inevitable victory.

So what we end up with is another in the never-ending parade of world-killer strength bad guys, trashing all of Supes’ second-rate imitators until the big guy can defeat him. And because Superman simply punching someone out has become a giant cliche, we end up with the mirror-side cliche: Supes can’t beat the protagonist physically, so has to outsmart him, using some arbitrarily introduced random element that doesn’t belong. In this case its a spaceship that exists as a tesseract, a four-dimensional object in three-dimensional space, with the result that all of its corridors are never-ending. But really, who cares?

It’s all paint by numbers, and not even Paul Cornell can give it life.

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Review: Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2

Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2
Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2 by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, ‘proper’, Avengers fun, with strong interpersonal dynamics, distinct and unique voices, a combination of individual storylines and group threats, and of course, wham-bam fight action that occurs as the result of narrative build-up and doesn’t just exist for the sake of padding out a few pages.

If you were looking for a ‘How-To’ guide for writing a super-team comic book, this would come close to being the one. Busiek deftly handles a variety of discreet personalities and motivations, and clearly shows the reader the purpose of a super-team: the element of putting aside one’s private troubles to unite in the face of a greater danger is displayed to perfection. George Perez’s art is the perfect accompaniment: clean, focussed, and equally adept at conveying small, quiet moments, or complicated multi-character battle scenes.

The Avengers has long been one of my favourite comic books, and certainly my favourite team book, even during a number of long, low periods. This collection is a reminder that when it is good, it is a stripe above any other team title on the shelves.

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It’s a hectic time at Dayjob, so I’ve been a touch remiss in keeping the Battersblog up to date (takes blog down from shelf, blows dust off). Writing’s been on the back burner, and I’ve managed pretty much only graphic novels when it comes to reading time, too.

There will be a few Goodreads reviews popping up here today.

Thankfully, while I’ve been busy doing what I need to do to keep the roof above us, others in the interwebbersphere have been helping to keep the word of Marius, er, alive. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the fun and frivolity, including a couple of guest posts that have emerged from the murk:

  • My Shelf Confessions has discovered The Corpse-Rat King, noting its comedy and outrageous circumstances and admitting to looking forward to seeing more of his (Marius’) misadventures. They also requested a guest blog from Marius himself, and my never-gonna-be-a hero duly obliged: These Are the Rules is the result, a missive from the mouth of the Thinking Man’s Corpse to you.
  • Fantasy Mag Black Gate have also discovered my first novel, and finds it an intriguing mix of humour, madcap characters and stylish prose. I could never get into this market as a short story writer, but there’s always a back door, people…
  • A Fantastical Librarian saw enough in The Corpse-Rat King to come back for more, and deems Marching Dead to be a fabulous final to this duology and concludes that my first series can be chalked up as a success. I still have my fingers crossed for a book 3, so hopefully it won’t spoil the record if it happens.
  • And The Bookshelf Gargoyle has chosen Marching Dead for a Read-It-If… review, advising you to give it a crack if you enjoy a bit of jollity and good fun in your fantasy tales. What they think actually constitutes good clean fun gave me a bit of a giggle 🙂
  • And to round things off, requested a guest blog on the story behind Marching Dead: the what, the how, and most importantly, the why. You can read my response here.

There you go. That should keep you reading for a minute or two.

Review: X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished

X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished
X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished by Peter David

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Is there a more tired, empty, and mined-out superhero team than the Fantastic Four? They long ago passed the divide between ‘classic’ and simply ‘old’, and teaming them up with the anonymous collection of third-stringers that comprise X-Factor Investigations makes for a story that not even a writer as good as Peter David can breathe life into.

It’s the bog-standard FF conglomeration of Ben Grimm getting angry and flying off the handle, Reed Richards being replaced by a double and nobody noticing (and did anyone so supposedly intelligent ever have a worse sense of personal security?) and the Invisible Woman playing Bait-chick and having a Sub-Mariner ‘moment’. Same as it ever was.

David’s strength is, and always has been, his ability to give characters individual, snappy dialogue. But he’s so constrained by the lack of personality possessed by the X-factor characters– they’re third-stringers for a reason— that only Multiple Man comes across as anything more than a cypher. You can see the author pulling out his tricks, but nothing sticks.

In the end, it’s just dull, and pointless, and there’s not a single thing to care about.

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Had a visit from my Father over the weekend. Nothing terribly unusual about that: he occasionally rings to see if we’re in then pops around. But never without a purpose. We’re not blindingly close. We don’t have the in-each-others-pockets-best-mates-as-well-as-family relationship some other parent/child combos have. He and my mother split up when I was in my early teens, and we didn’t see much of each other for a few years afterwards, and even when the family had been together he was the figure behind my mother, the one who paid for everything and coached the soccer team and drove us on holidays… but I don’t have many memories of him being the one to take the lead, to get down on the floor with us and build Lego or learn the words of the songs we were listening to or anything of that ilk.

It’s not a criticism. Not any more. More an observation of what the 1970s gave my family. It informs my own parenting. I know my Serena Gomez from my Ninjago.

But my Dad has been in and out over the years, and privately, Luscious and I have always expressed the smallest disappointment in how much time he spends with his grandchildren. It’s as if he doesn’t remember them if they’re not right in front of him, we’d say. This Christmas, he left one of their names’ off the Christmas card altogether. Typical.

Yeah. About that.

Turns out he’d been noticing. Was feeling his mind wandering. He’d be halfway through conversations with his mates and forget what he was talking about. “Hang on, I’ve just popped out. Be back in a moment,” became a standard joke. Then became a standard saying. Then, basically, stopped being funny.

So he came round to tell me, while dropping in Easter eggs for the kids the week after the event: he’s seen a doctor.

Turns out, his brain is shrinking. Physically getting smaller. Now, 15 minutes of Google research and I’ve learned that your brain does shrink slightly as you get older. Normal brain shrinkage is the price we pay for an extended lifespan. Dad’s nearly 70, so some is to be expected. Put simply, it doesn’t, in itself, kill you.

What my father has, will. The shrinkage is likely the result of a serious head injury at some stage in his life. Dad says he can think of three he’s suffered. It’s accelerated, and uneven, and it is going to kill him. The prognosis is 8 years. 8 years of vocabulary loss, diminishing mental capacity, increasing forgetfulness and confusion. My father, for all his faults, is a charming, quick-witted, thoroughly engaging conversationalist with a massive fund of general knowledge and a genuine joy of speech. This will torture him– is torturing him already– until he no longer remembers what he once was.

We may not be the closest father-son relationship. But he’s still my Dad. For a short while.


Thank you to everyone who joined us at Stefen’s Books this last Saturday to help launch Marching Dead. A fabulous time was had, with a smattering of readings, a plethora of signings– including my first ever autograph in invisible ink (ask Carol Ryles)– and as always, when catching up with friends and colleagues, brilliant conversation. Books were sold, a simply amazing window display was sighted, and all in all I came away feeling like a special and pampered little writer boy, the better for being able to do it all in front of Lyn (who was too sick to come to the Corpse-Rat King launch) and my kids for the first time.

My thanks to Stefen Brazulaitis for hosting the event, and to everyone who came along and picked up a book or two.

So, to let you know what you missed out on if you didn’t make it it, here are some photies:

Author boy, with books. Oh, do say mine is the prettiest, teacher!

I may be slightly biased, but I say this is the most amazing window display ever.

A pile of corpses, all stacked up.

If a joke’s funny once: a pile of dead, all stacked up.

Jovial author boy.

With the family, mugging it up. Our ‘Ian Dury & the Blockheads’ moment.

With the inimitable and indomitable Stefen.

Signing with the aid of the Junior Helper Squad

I promise to owe the bearer….

Milling crowd mills.

I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I can make jokes about it all day…

Enjoying the reading. I hope.

Friends and mentors, Stephen Dedman and Dave Luckett, power-chat, while Sally Beasley looks on indulgently because she knows who really has all the power.

The photographer gets all artistic about it…

And if I thought the occasion couldn’t get any better, these little darlings arrived on my doorstep while I was at work yesterday. Admittedly, most of them will go out to awards panels and the like, but even so, it all looks damned pretty to me 🙂


And it’s precision like that which is the reason why I don’t work for NASA.

A couple of little moments of cool to share with you this morning, with the Marching Dead launch coming up tomorrow.

Firstly, a photo to warm the cockles of your heart. Here they are, 25 copies of the exclusive, launch-only, signed and numbered Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix booklets, all signed and numbered and lined up and ready to reward the first 25 people to buy a copy of The Corpse-Rat King or Marching Dead (or both. Both is good) and present them for signing at Stefen’s Books tomorrow.

And if you need more incentive, listen to Kate of Mind, who calls me “…one messed up dude. Delightfully so,” and reward me ‘all the stars’.
According to How it Works, there are currently between 1 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe. Either way, that’s a bloody positive review out of five 🙂

So, if you need another reminder, here’s the where and the when of it:

Marching Dead Launch

Stefen’s Books
8 Shafto Lane
Saturday 6 April

I’ve got my booklets, I’ve got my multi-coloured signing pens, I’ve got my reading pages marked out, I’ve got my nervous anticipation…… I’ll see you there.


Thanks to last night’s viewing of QI, we’re all aware that Anubis was most likely a wolf-headed God, rather than the jackal-headed God as we all thought.

Probably wouldn’t have made the sketch any better.

Wait a minute! Nobody told me starting flame wars would count!
Kind of interesting passage of time: back when I drew this, ‘flame wars’ was a thing. Now we just call it ‘trolling’, or ‘Facebook’.


It’s Short-bits-of-Battersby week! 

First there’s the appearance of Canals of Anguilar in the Review of Australian Fiction, which you’re all aware of because you’ve already lashed out the $2.99 and have read it, but now you can pop over to the Angry Robot website and get a tiny taste of Corpse-Rat to whet your appetite for this Saturday’s launch event: a teensy tiny prequel to The Corpse-Rat King for your education and amusement.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix.

This is the story that 25 of you will be able to own in signed, dead-tree form, simply by being the first to purchase a copy of either Marius dos Hellespont novel at the launch and getting me to sign it. But have a read before you buy: I am a kind and generous God….

Review: Cyanide And Happiness: I’m Giving You The Finger

Cyanide And Happiness: I'm Giving You The Finger
Cyanide And Happiness: I’m Giving You The Finger by Kris Wilson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A couple of funny strips, a couple of sort-of-okay ones, and the rest pretty much follow this pattern:

“I like butter.”
“You like butter?”
“I like butter.”

Reading this strip on the web, where you get one every day or two probably helps to keep them fresh, but reading a hundred-odd in a row it becomes very quickly obvious that there is no tone or variation to the comic. Surprising, given four separate creators contribute, but the whole reading experience is very much like hearing the same single note being played on a drum, over and over and over again. A couple of stars for the genuinely funny entries, but nothing more.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the Review of Australian Fiction, it’s a fantastic project which pairs an established author with one on the rise, every two weeks, and makes their work available for a nominal price. Previous issues have highlighted the likes of Kim Wilkins, Trent Jamieson, Melina Marchetta, Christos Tsiolkas, Meg Vann and Kirstyn McDermott.

The current volume is edited by the superfabulous CEO of the Brisbane Writers Festival, Ms Kate Eltham, and the latest issue pairs rising star Amanda O’Callaghan with 8000 words of my own special weirdness called The Canals of Anguilar, which has prompted Ms Kate to draw comparisons with Dickens, Pratchett and Poe. Which I’ll take any day.

Here’s a little taster to whet your appetite:

Her name was Fastny. It didn’t take long to make a decision, once she was amongst us, needling, pushing, refusing to allow us to sink into the complacency that large groups of men, united by a common urge to drunkenness and forgetting, will resort to at a whim. We had no plan, no desire, until she arrived. But fear of her scorn replaced all our separate terrors, and with her nipping at our heels it was only a matter of time before someone mentioned Anguilar.
Anguilar, city of the green walls: more canals than Venice or Tellifluour, so remote that only a journey of seven deserts can take you there. It is not a destination. It is the very reason a journey is undertaken, a place so alone that of all those who set out to find it, less than a third ever get there. Where the others end up, nobody knows: the residents do not speak of them, and arrivals are too relieved to think about it. 

It’s available *right bloody now* for the princely sum of $2.99.


All right, my darlings, I’ve got a little deal for you:

Having set out to write a guest post to force the overlords at Angry Robot to put up on their blog this week, to help promote Marching Dead, I find that I have, instead, written a 1000 word short story prequel to The Corpse-Rat King.

 “Ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhh”, I hear you say.

So here’s the deal. I’m still going to send this to Angry Robot, but I’m also going to print out 25 copies of the story into a nicely-folded and signed A5 booklet.

Be one of the first 25 people to purchase either of the Marius dos Helles novels at the ‘Marching Dead’ book launch this Saturday and present it to me for signing, and you’ll receive the signed and numbered booklet as a signing-on bonus.

 Which means you can be, potentially, one of only 25 people in the known world to have signed copies of all three Marius texts currently extant. Which means girls will like you, your boss will give you a promotion, and that nasty thing your partner of choice does with their tongue that turns you on so much? They’ll do it *every* time.

 What more could you ask for?