Review: Art of War anthology

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the anthology from the publisher. Thanks Petros!


This is a mammoth anthology, with 40 (FORTY!) authors and stories. I know I tend toward wordiness at the best of times so I’m not going to set myself some kind of terrible challenge and talk about everything in here. But, in general, it’s worth noting a few things about the anthology as a collection.

First, it is thematically strong, with all bar a few stories really tying in nicely to the exploration of the art of war, but a huge range of takes on that concept within the book (some grim, some funny, some heartbreaking, some heartening). Second, it’s got some great authors you probably already know and love, and they all deliver, but there’s probably some stories in there by people you don’t know that are gonna knock your socks off (there were for me). Third, it’s entirely for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), so your money is going to one of the best causes you could ask for. It’d be a reeeeeeal shame if you didn’t buy this anthology, son. A real shame.

To my mind, there were a lot of enjoyable reads and only a couple that I really struggled with (remarkable, considering the sheer number of stories). Highlights for me were (in order of appearance not rating):

  • Ed McDonald, The Breaking of the Sky: I have Blackwing but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and now I’m keener than ever – this was a prequel story set in the Blackwing universe and even without any context in the universe it was compelling reading about the beginning of terrible things.
  • Laura M Hughes, Dear Menelaus: This was probably the most unique story in format – a letter from Helen to Menelaus. Sharp and fresh take on an old story.
  • John Gwynne, The Greatest Battle: If you know John’s work you’ll recognise the style and characters, but it stands, I think, as an enjoyable, well placed fragment of a bigger story, with entertaining characters and a typically engaging and well-written battle scene.
  • Timandra Whitecastle, This War of Ours: this one HURT, man. Gut wrenching little tale of the price of violence and war on children. I read it twice. On reflection, likely my favourite story in the whole anthology. Will be keeping a VERY strong eye on the author.
  • Steven Poore, Asalantir Forever: I’ve had a weakness for stories that deal with the particular futility of life in the trenches since Blackadder Goes Forth. This one had strong writing and powerful imagery.
  • Brian Staveley, the Art of War: This one blew me away with the sheer scope and depth presented within such a short space. Thoughtful, beautifully written.
  • Nicholas Eames, Sacred Semantics: I cannot really describe this story except to note that it is bloody hilarious and had me cracking up the whole way through. I was a bit careless about paying attention to who I was reading when but it wasn’t hard to pick this as the same writer who is currently delighting me with Kings of the Wyld.
  • The combined efforts of Michael R Fletcher’s Doppels, The Undying Lands: Sort-of-zombies, colosseums, humour, tragedy and even a bit of romance, all in one package. Very entertaining and kept upsetting my expectations. Excellent.
  • Anna Smith-Spark, The Fall of Tereen: another author whose debut is sitting waiting on my TBR pile. It’s been bumped up in priority after reading this story, which is one of the standouts in terms of quality and uniqueness of prose. The style is probably not for everyone but I loved it. Very dark though!
  • Dyrk Ashton, Valkyrie Rain: A nuanced and interesting telling of the Valkyries’ fall from and return to grace.
  • Miles Cameron, The Storm: An awesome self contained siege story with a lot of character. I really enjoyed this.
  • Anna Stephens, Flesh and Coin: Mercenaries and ambushes and brutal action with emotional punch, surprise, and even a few laughs. This story does a lot. If you haven’t read Godblind you’re going to want to go out and get it after you’ve read this sample of her writing. Loved it.
  • Mark Lawrence, The Hero of Aral Pass: Great finish to the anthology – action-packed, compelling voice, funny and dark. Classic Lawrence.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the stories I enjoyed but they’re the ones that stayed with me. I’d be stunned if you couldn’t find a bunch you like in there. Overall, I found it a delight, and I’ll be getting the paperback with the beautiful art to add to my collection.


Cons, cons, and more cons. Well, con.

This weekend I’ll be at Conflux, Canberra’s annual SFF convention. (Yes, yes, I got excited in the title. It’s only one con). The theme is Grimm Tales and the program, which starts today (for those of us not stuck at day jobs), looks great!

Amazing guests of honour are Ellen Datlow and Angela Slatter – check out their bios here if you don’t know their names already.

If you’re in town and would like to say hi, I’ll be there Saturday through Monday, and you can find me on the following panels:

Striking the write balance – Saturday 5pm

Finding the right balance between writing, day job and family can be tough. Our panellists share their experiences and life hacks.

There I am appearing as more of a cautionary tale than a wise sage full of life-balancing advice, so you may hear a lot from me about things I think I SHOULD do to manage writing with other commitments, and a lot of ways that I fail to do that, too.

Submitting to publishers and agents – Sunday 3.30pm

What to do. What not to do.

On this one we’ll be talking alllllll about the querying/submission process, from the perspective of both sides of the equation, submitter and submittee, writer and gatekeeper. If you’re looking to get into the query trenches sometime soon, or if you’re already there, this should be a great panel. Ellen Datlow is on this panel, people!

Other than that, you’ll find me lurking about, possibly exploring the Vibe bar, and I’ll be at the banquet on Saturday as well. Please say hi if you see me!

I know I’m biased, but…

But seriously, I could not be more thrilled and excited with the a-maaaaazing cover art that Tor has produced for me. The creative genius minds of Irene Gallo, my editor Diana Gill and the spectacularly talented artist, Greg Ruth (you should check out his work – especially if you’re a fan of Twin Peaks: Greg Ruth’s amazing art) have come up with this beautiful, beautiful thing:


My reaction to receiving the early drafts has ranged from this:


Through this:


And eventually, on seeing the final:

giphy (1)

I mean, it’s just criminally beautiful, isn’t it??

Here’s the link to the cover reveal at release

And to my awesome agent Julie Crisp’s blog on the topic: An agent’s take on a pretty pretty cover 🙂

But in all seriousness, guys, tell me what you think! And if you like it, feel free to let Tor know, so you can see more covers in this sort of style. 🙂


Next weekend I’ll be at Australia’s national SFF convention, which this year is Continuum in Melbourne. In its own words, Continuum ‘celebrates creativity across genres and media. Our aim each year is to provide a regional convention where writers, artists, readers and film/TV buffs of all kinds can get together for a weekend of panel discussions, entertainment, and social fun.’  You can find out all the full details at but in short:

  • Guests of Honour are amazing Hugo winning Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant and brilliant artist Likhain
  • Panels! Workshops! All things writery and geeky!
  • Book signings/readings/launches
  • the annual Ditmar award ceremony, which is the fan-voted national awards for SFF.

This will be my first Continuum and I’m really looking forward to it. If you want to say hi, I will be there all weeknd and I’ll be on a couple of panels if you’d like to hear my post-tonsillectomy croaking voice rambling about either of the following topics.

The Art and Science of Publishing – 9 am Saturday

I’ll be on a panel with Tehani Croft, Donna Maree Hanson, Devin Madson, & Robert New to talk Indie, small press or the big four? How do you choose? How do you succeed? What happens if you fail?

Forgotten Mothers of Fantasy 9.30 am Monday

Here I’ll be with Jodi McAlister, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts & Cat Sparks to talk about the rich and huge back catalog of SFF written by women who seem invisible when best-of lists, history of the genre and influence are discussed, in favour of their male counterparts. 

I’ve never been on a convention panel before so feel free to pop by and give moral support and some lowball questions if I look panicked!

Hope to see some of you there.

Silence in the house

I haven’t updated in a while, mostly because I’ve been busy and haven’t been able to devote the time to thinking of something worthwhile to talk about. That’s still the case, so instead of something worthwhile I will just give a quick update about status at Castle Hawke.

Right now I’m working on the edits for City of Lies, sitting in warm sun in my library, armed with tea, anzac biscuits, and faithful hounds. The boys are out on a friend’s farm with K, having a picnic and patting horses. The house is silent, other than the sound of Gold Dog’s gentle snores. We have 4 days off for the Easter weekend, and looking forward to our family’s competitive hot cross bun bakeoff on Sunday. Providing I get enough done today, I get to go out (like a grown up!) with some writing buddies to follow the Aurealis award ceremony tonight, as many friends are nominated. All in all, a pretty good morning – hope everything is well for you!


GUFF all the way to Helsinki

In which I would love to persuade you to throw a vote my way in the GUFF race, and help me get to the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) next year…


What’s GUFF?

GUFF is the Get-Up&Over (or Get Under)-Fan-Fund, an extremely cool fund which sends a southern hemisphere fan to European conventions, and a European fan to southern hemisphere conventions, on alternating years. It’s run by fans for fans. The trip across the world can be a tricky and expensive one, but it’s so amazing to get people together from the other side of the globe to eat, drink, and enjoy all things SFF together.

Last year the fund sent Jukka Halme to Contact in Brisbane and the year before, Gillian Polack to Loncon – during which she got to (and I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough) HUG DAVID TENNANT. Oh, and do some other SFFish stuff sure sure but seriously, there is photographic evidence of her with the tenth Doctor so I assume all her life goals are now complete.* The GUFF delegate often gets to go to several conventions in the region in the time they have. It’s a wonderful chance to get out from behind our computers and meet each other. This year, it’s a northbound race with the winner getting to go to Worldcon in Helsinki in August. I’m really excited to see that Helsinki is shaping up to be a truly international, welcoming Worldcon, and a genuine chance for fans from around the globe to interact.

So how does this work? Well, you SFF fans out there have voting rights – so you get to decide which one of the nominees for the year gets to go. Anyone active in fandom is eligible to vote on payment of a small contribution to the Fund (which is partly how it pays for the trip): GBP6, EUR7, AUD10, NZD10 (or the equivalent in other currencies) to the fund. You can find voting instructions and details about the preferential counting system and such here on the official race page.

So hello, I’m nominated to go! If you’ve read this far you may be pondering whether the prospect of sending me (or one of the other candidates**) to Finland is worth forking out a tenner or so. I mean, it totally is, because FINLAND. WORLDCON. How brilliant is that? Ahem. More seriously, voting and donating is a really cool thing to do, because you’re helping keep the fund alive and active. And it’s a great fund. A waggy dog of a fund. It helps bring our geographically disparate communities together in our shared love of the genre, and in 2016 (which is a murderous shithole of a year, let’s face it) I know I feel pretty warmly toward doing things that make me feel good about community and positivity. So maybe you’re doing OK and you’ve been to a lot of cons and you’d like to pay forward toward someone else’s great experience. Maybe you’ve never been to a con and you’d really like to – this time round you might be a generous awesome person helping send someone on the trip of a lifetime; next time, perhaps you’ll put yourself up for nomination and do a bit of lifetime-memory-creating of your own. Or maybe you just want a say on who turns up in Finland and tries not to make a goose of themselves. Whatever the reason, if you’re intending to vote you’re very clearly a cool, sexy, intelligent person with really good hair.

Now, why should you vote for me?

If you haven’t hung out here or on my social media before, my bio page will tell you a bit about me. (It’s only a small proportion lies. I really did want to be a zookeeper.) And there is a short pitch we all wrote which you’ll find on the ballot paper here.

But, some elaboration. My pitch on the ballot was only allowed to be 100 words and you know I bled to write anything that short (I’ve probably cracked 100 on footnotes alone in this blog post) and yet still, mine is the only one containing dumb jokes, which probably tells you something. I will not pretend I am not the least experienced of the candidates, all of whom have lots of convention-related creds that I lack. What I am is dumb and silly and I will represent Australian fandom by way of being dumb and silly around sophisticated European fans, and bribing people with Tim Tams. (Speaking of bribes: Timtams for anyone finding me at Helsinki! Forget clothing changes, my suitcase will be stuffed with chocolate goodness.)

To further expand on my little pitch, no I’m not kidding about the Princess Bride, and if you’ve never tried the 3 TimTams in a minute challenge, no it’s not easy, no, seriously, I can see you there thinking it’s 3 biscuits and a whole minute, how hard can it be? Well it can be bloody impossible is what it can be.

First one: easy, down treat, 10 seconds, 15 max.

Second: huh, hey, you know, my mouth’s starting to feel a bit rich and gluggy, haha, no worries, still stacks of time, just work up a bit more saliva and there it goes, still have 25 seconds left, no probl—


Time’s up.

OK I got a bit sidetracked again. Hmm, reasons to vote for me. Hey maybe you’re going and you want to meet up! I would love to meet you! I only went to my first convention – Supernova – a few years ago, so I’m basically a convention baby. But I’ve got at least 3 next year and I’ll hope to squish in a couple more. Sidebar: UK/European peeps, tell me about what else is happening in the general temporal vicinity of Worldcon, as I’d hate to get all the way over there and only manage one. I should say, I’m going to find the money to go to Helsinki regardless, so whether or not I am the GUFF delegate I will be there to hang out with you and have a drink or a chocolate of your choice!

The main reason I would love to be the GUFF delegate is that I really do love other people, and other fans specifically, but… I’m also pretty shy. My main fear is getting all the way over there and then being too nervous to introduce myself to anyone and basically just smearing my back against the perimeter walls all week.*** When I was persuading myself to apply for this opportunity it was with half an eye on tricking/forcing myself into having an actual role and accompanying responsibilities so that I couldn’t just lurk. Once I’ve overcome that initial barrier I never shut up, so give me a job and I’m fine. So, yanno, I’ll be there either way, but unless you’re really fond of walls you’ve got a much better shot of interacting with me if I’m in delegate mode. J

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re willing to put in a vote you are cool and sexy and awesome, but if you’re willing to vote for me you’re just objectively even better, and songs will be sung in your honour one day.

In all seriousness, thank you for reading this far. Spending money, even a small sum, to send someone you may never even have met to another country is a really generous and kind thing to do. I would love you to vote but if you can’t or don’t want to, no worries at all. You’re rad just the way you are. 🙂


*  Naturally if you know Gillian you know she has many more ambitious goals than this but she is also cleverer and more accomplished than me and I can’t think any bigger than David Tennant, OK?

** To the extent that I’m here persuading you I will be upfront in saying I have a strong preference for it being me.

*** Anyone doubting my sincerity on this point should ask how I did at the opening mixer for Hardcopy, the professional development program I did in 2014. It was at an art gallery and I literally pretended to study art for a frankly ridiculous amount of time because I was too shy to insert myself into any of the little groups that had formed.

Killing your darling Gilmore Girls


The following are my spoilery thoughts on Gilmore Girls, with a segue into the old writing chestnut about killing your darlings.








…I warned you, I really did…




…Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the new 4 parter (either because you’re going to make a snide comment about not caring about Gilmore Girls or because you’ll get mad that I spoiled – either way, youuuuuu shall not paaaaaaassssss)



I have lots of thoughts. I loved parts of it, disliked others, enjoyed the range of characters they managed to fit in, couldn’t stop assessing how weird it was that some people looked exactly the same (Lane!) and others unrecognisable (Miss Patty? Is that really you?). It was really funny in places, a bit cringey in others, and hit a lot of good emotional notes.

My main thought, if I could distill it into one thing, was that Amy Sherman-Palladino shone when faced with entirely new material to work with (eg handling the fallout from Richard’s death on Emily and Lorelai), and struggled when she was trying to cram her intended ending from 10 years ago into this new work. Clearly, she had wanted to end the original GG with a just-finished-college Rory pregnant to a Christopher-like weak rich boy, coming full circle. But she really made a bunch of mistakes trying to force that ending in 10 years late.

Rory had made her mistakes over the course of the original series, but the whoppers we were most invested in, the seasons-long dramatic arcs, were:

  1. her relationship with Dean – including the initial bad treatment and eventual affair, and
  2. her falling in with Logan of the Life and Death Brigade* spoiled rich boys crowd, quitting Yale, etc.

This new season basically asked us to believe that despite all the fallout from those mistakes, she…just super casually repeated them 10 years later, because she had inexplicably regressed dramatically in maturity by age 32? She’s like Benjamin Button for emotional health? Still kicking around near her teenage boyfriends like there are no other options in the world? That would be OK if it was a character we didn’t get shown for 7 seasons as being essentially mature, grounded and emotionally intelligent, and capable of correctly diagnosing Lorelai’s problems with relationships. She’s now cheating on her boyfriend casually and without regard, treating him like forgettable dirt? (Yes, yes, I know we weren’t given a chance to see Paul/Peter as an actual human, only a joke, so we could laugh at everyone forgetting him, but still. Is Rory really that person?**) She’s having an affair with an engaged guy, without any consideration of his fiancee at all? Lorelai is essentially fine with both these things, despite how she reacted last time almost identical things happened? WOT? No. This stuff might have made sense in the context of an ASP s7, but they were hard to swallow as a 10-years-later prospect.

Likewise, though to a lesser extent, I would have been a lot happier with the Lorelai/Luke arc had it taken place in a fictional s 7. It was a bit odd to think they couldn’t have got things resolved with finality over 10 freaking years… but I’ll forgive that one because the revival never truly painted their relationship as being on the rocks, just poorly defined, and at least it led to a really nice emotional ending and a great speech from Luke that redeemed episode 4 after the Life and Death horror. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lorelai, at least, would still be struggling with her relationships, because the show always made a point of her screwing up and sabotaging herself and others over and over and over, so while I would prefer that she had grown emotionally, I can believe that she wasn’t there yet.

The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ gets used a lot, but to me where it resonates most is when you have an idea, or a line, or a scene, or a character – something, something that was great and powerful and moving or funny or super clever and you adore it, but when you actually finish the creative work, it doesn’t … fit anymore. But you LOVE IT. You know, either subconsciously or with klaxonesque clarity, that it doesn’t fit. But you are still in love with the feeling you had when you first devised it and you cannot bring yourself to take it out of the story. The GG revival was like seeing this play out right in front of me. Of course ASP is a wonderful writer who has made fantastic characters I still want to watch 16 years later. She is still funny, clever, and emotionally resonant. But she had an idea of what she wanted to do at the end of the original GG, and she loved it, and she was going to MAKE IT HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT. She’d told people her magic last 4 words. It was her baby, her darling.

And she should have killed it.

The ideas didn’t belong any more. It’s like the end of How I Met Your Mother. (Do I have to say spoilers now? It’s pretty old. But still – SPOILERS SPOILERS ROTTEN MEAT AHEAD I don’t know why you would be watching an old sitcom now but just in case, SPOILERS be ahead, me hearties!) The writers had an idea back in s2 about the premise of the show, and it was clever, and it would have worked brilliantly if it had been a 3 or so season show, but the show was successful and it kept going and the characters grew and developed and moved on, and so when they forced that ending in in the final episode, it pissed people off, because it made mockery of all of the work they’d done in the other seasons. Don’t invest us in the sincerity of a relationship over the course of several years and literally devote an entire season to the wedding of those people then chuck it out in a couple of minute epilogue so you can put one of the people with someone else. Don’t show us over time how two people aren’t in fact right for each other for real and genuine reasons of incompatibility but then try to schmaltz us into a last minute happily ever after with no build up. No matter how great the idea started out, if the creative work has outgrown it, or moved somewhere else, you have to move with it no matter how much it hurts to drop it. It might hurt like tearing off a bandaid where the scab grew over the plaster, but it’s better than walking around with a foul half-bandaid permanently part of your skin.

So: don’t make Rory a dumb teenager at 32 when she was barely one at 18. Don’t spend 7 years teaching viewers to value the relationships and characters defined by loyalty and trustworthiness not pretty blond faces and fancy houses and throwing money at problems to paper over weak character, then ask us to believe that Rory was still charmed by the latter a decade later. We won’t buy it, and you’re better than that.

Like I said before, when given entirely new angles to work, the writing was spot on. The funeral and the circle of Lorelai’s stories about her father in ep 1 vs ep 4 were perfection. Emily’s recovery arc: the giant painting, wearing jeans and giving away dining room chairs, giving no fucks to the DAR, the entire family of miscellaneous-language-speaking staff taking over the Gilmore household, and Emily’s lovely last scenes. Rory dealing with the realities of the job market instead of being given a dumb fake super successful career (things aren’t easy for younguns these days, even Ivy Leaguers with loads of advantages). Every second Paris was on screen. The ideas are still there, and when she wasn’t constrained by the ghost of the season she never wrote, ASP was awesome. I’m not sure whether or not to be hopeful that the combination of the ending and Jess’s last scene iindicates there may be more coming (or perhaps we were just meant to visualise a future where Rory makes better choices?) In some ways it would be a real risk, because this revival was largely successful, despite the giant rant above, and was deeply satisfying in some aspects. Continuing it might be a mistake that would ruin the semi finality of some of the storylines. On the other hand, I still really enjoyed it, still adore the show, and would of course watch the hell out of new episodes.

TL;DR: kill your darlings doesn’t mean take out the best bits of your stuff that you love the most. It only means that you should be willing to listen to other people – or your own subconscious –when they don’t fit the work.

Now go watch GG and tell me all the cameos I missed. Sis the Younger had to point out Ann (who?) from Arrested Development, so I’m sure there were more.

* UGH. Jesus. The fucking Life and Death Brigade. Did they have to make the special? Really? They weren’t charming in their 20s and I just wanted to punch every one of them for every second of screen time in their 30s. I get 45 seconds of Melissa McCarthy but I have to sit through what felt like about 20 solid minutes of entitled narcissists dressing stupidly and loving themselves so hard I’m surprised they didn’t cause an injury, and being self-important and buying shit and being obnoxious to people? In 2016 are we still supposed to find rich white boys who contribute nothing to society but believe they’re entitled to everything funny and charming? It would have been OK if they’d been presented as a critique (as the series of blended-together blond rich boy Tristan/Logan/Christophers sometimes was in the original) but they weren’t – instead Rory gave them more affection than almost anyone else in the special.

** I am aware that one argument is that, indeed, Rory IS that person, she has always been that person, she’s a spoiled rich girl with a ridiculous crowd of doting admirers helping her every step of the way and handing her every opportunity. Yes, she treated some boys poorly as a teenager/young adult, and let herself be treated poorly in turn. Yes, she failed to respect other people’s relationships at times. She was definitely sometimes self centered. So you could read 32 year old Rory as presented as being the natural consequence of teenage Rory Girl Wonder. BUT… I don’t actually feel that way about her, though I can see why some would, and I don’t think the show really wanted to present her in that way. I think her mistakes were presented as those of a young person who was otherwise emotionally healthy and empathetic making some bad choices and getting stuck in some bad messes that took a long time to sort out. I believe that we were meant to think she would make better choices going forward.