Friday, 30 October 2015

Review - The Official A Game of Thrones Colouring Book by George R. R. Martin


In a world where weddings are red, fire is green, and debts are paid in gold, countless images leap off the page (or the screen) thanks to the eye-popping intricacy of the vivid settings and details. Now, for the first time, fans of this blockbuster saga can fill in the blanks and marvel as this meticulously imagined universe comes to life, one sword, sigil, and castle at a time. With dozens of stunning original black-and-white illustrations from world-renowned illustrators Yvonne Gilbert, John Howe, Tomislav Tomic, Adam Stower, and Levi Pinfold, this unique collector’s item expands the reach of an international phenomenon with flying colours.

I know I know, I am late to the colouring book movement. But hey, better late than never right? And what better way to begin my entry into the bright and vivid world of colouring in then with Game of Thrones! 

The Official A Game of Thrones colouring book landed on my doorstep only a few days ago, but after flicking through it quickly I hopped in the car and went and bought a decent set of coloured pencils so I could jump right in. The artwork is just... amazing. I can't think of a better word for it. The artists (Howe, Gilbert, Tomic, Stower and Pinfold) have gone above and beyond with their illustrations, ranging from self portraits of characters like Cersei through to depictions of Winterfell and Dragonstone. We also get pictures of House emblems, other cities, loads of creatures (YAY... DRAGONS!), and other key individuals from the books. And each illustration is different in style too (due to there being five different artists collaborating throughout this work), which makes for a new and interesting experience with every page. I also adored the quotes that are sprinkled throughout the book, showing us the passages that inspired the artists and their illustrations. 

The potential for this book to become a time sink is high, but that's ok because, as a colouring book, you can drop in and out of it whenever you feel like it. And for the record, I will not be colouring every picture red (although I am tempted... so much blood has been spilled).

All in all this colouring book has been beautifully designed and arranged, and I think it is a must have for any fan of the series or colouring in general. I know a lot of my spare time over the next few weeks will be spent filling in the lines and coming up with wicked colour combinations. So get in on the fun! 

4 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided. 

Review - Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as "the Lodge," where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves "the Zeroes."

But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist's head spin. And soon they're not just trying to serve their time, they're also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they'll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of "progress."

When I first saw the blurb for this I was incredibly excited. Wendig... hackers... and the dark alleys of the internet... sounds like a match made in heaven doesn't it? Well I am glad to report that my excitement was not misplaced, and whilst there are some flaws with this book, overall I found it to be very entertaining and thought provoking. 

Zer0es tells the story of five hackers who work for the U.S. government (in order to avoid prison) at a secret complex called the Lodge. As they work they uncover a mystery known as Typhoon, a computer virus and artificial intelligence not confined to a computer. Using all of the skills they must uncover the mystery of Typhoon and stop it before it takes over the world. Sounds like a Hollywood movie right? Well Zer0es does read like a blockbuster, with plenty of excitement and thrills and a rocket powered pace that hurtles you through unrelenting page after page. The plot itself was very believable and enjoyable, and incredibly accessible for someone (like me) with very little knowledge about hacking or computer science. I also really enjoyed how the story changed from a tech thriller to a science fiction novel seamlessly and back again throughout the book. What let Zer0es down (to an extent) was its characterisation. Each hacker is never really deeply explored or defined as an individual, and they all tended to behave as you expected them to as the plot unfolded (just like in a movie). I adored Reagan (probably because she was so unlikeable as an online troll.. her character was fascinating) and Wade, but found myself struggling to relate to or sympathise with some of the others. The dialogue and interplay between them was (as expected with a Wendig novel) snappy and fun but I still struggled at times to empathise with their plight. Perhaps it was because I felt that they struggled to break free from that 'intelligent and snarky hacker' archetype. I still can't really put my finger on it. Did this detract from my overall enjoyment of the book though? No, not really. Zer0es is a fun and adventurous read that reminded me in some ways of the books by Matthew Reilly. It is a book that is great to rip through and enjoy in a sitting or two, but it won't rock the foundations of your core in any major way.

Wendig has moved out his comfort zone with this book, and that should be applauded. This is probably also his most accessible book to date for readers who are not familiar with his other work (you really should read his other work too... it's great), and highlights his desire to break free of that 'genre author' mould.

Is Zer0es a story full of depth and philosophical discussion? No. But it sure ticked all of the entertainment boxes for me. Be prepared for 'out there' theories and tangents, and plenty of cyber warfare, weirdness and action. Oh and hold onto your socks... cuz it's a fast ride!

3.5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Review - Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous…

What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end. Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at it most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent—and unpredictable—voices.

Everything that Sanderson touches turns to gold lately.

Now I know many of you would disagree, but in all honesty I just can't get enough of his work right now. And Legion: Skin Deep continues this trend, as protagonist Stephen Leeds and his aspects return in another enthralling and mysterious adventure.

This time around Leeds is hired to recover a stolen corpse that holds secrets.. secrets that could unlock the potential of the human body. As Leeds and his aspects investigate they find themselves caught up in a mystery that explores not only the potential uses of technology, but also the concepts of life and death. 

So what did I love about Legion: Skin Deep? Everything (I grow tired of saying this about Sanderson but damn, his work is just off the charts in terms of imagination and readability). 

Skin Deep is better than Legion in every way possible. And Legion was awesome. It is longer for starters (one of my biggest complaints about Legion), allowing Sanderson to explore Leeds and his aspects more effectively. It also allows for a deeper and more intricate story, and as a reader I found myself drawn in a lot more this time around as the plot progressed. The mystery itself was a cracker, and I adored how Sanderson weaved philosophical discussion and questions about life and death (something that interests me as well) alongside things like coded and embedded DNA and the human body becoming its own personal computer. I mean.. what is not to like? 

However, what makes this series soar is Leeds and his aspects. The mystery surrounding them and their origin remains, and I think this is what makes his character so compelling for me. The interaction between them is also incredibly humorous and engaging, with each aspect having their own backstory and agency throughout the story. I adored characters like JC (a paranoid ex Navy Seal who specialises in security) again in Skin Deep, as they bring a real sense of fun-crazy (yes, I made that word up) to the plot. 

Overall Skin Deep is another very impressive entry from the mind of Brandon Sanderson. Fans will love it, and I suspect newcomers to his work will also enjoy it as well. 

Highly recommended for anyone looking for a thrilling mystery with a touch of strangeness.

4 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Review - Kraken Rising by Greig Beck

The Arcadian returns to the dark ice in a reprisal of one of his first and most deadly missions. But this time the stakes couldn't be higher.

In 2008, a top secret US submarine went missing on its test voyage off the coast of Antarctica. After years silent, its emergency beacon is suddenly activated, but strangely, the beacon is emanating from a point miles below the ice sheets of the frozen continent.

The race is on. The Chinese government, alerted at the same time as the Americans, is after the submarine's secrets. And the Americans need to retrieve their technology, quickly and quietly, from a place now marked as an international forbidden zone.

With the reluctant assistance of petrobiologist Aimee Weir, Alex Hunter and his team of HAWCs return to the location of their first mission together.

But only a few members of the team know the truth. A treacherous horror lies in wait for them, deep beneath the Antarctic ice.

When I first heard that Beck was returning to the world that he had explored so well in Beneath the Dark Ice I was initially skeptical. Why would he go down that path again? Would he do it justice? Or was Kraken Rising doomed to fail from the start. Well, after ripping through it in one sitting (and annoying my wife by keeping my bedside light on until the early hours of the morning) I can safely say the following. 

Kraken Rising is Beck's best work yet.. and the Arcadian is back. 


I loved absolutely everything in this book, from it's off the hook action sequences and spine tingling encounters right through to the moments of pure primordial terror. Kraken Rising not only hits all of the markers for a great action story, it also scares the living shit out of you as you read. One of Beck's greatest skills as a writer is his ability to explore our greatest fears and to build suspense. The further I got into Kraken Rising the higher the stakes got, and at one stage I had to put the book down for a minute just to take a breather from the insane and terrifying encounters with the monster (a gigantic and super intelligent cephalopod/orthocone with a taste for humans). Add to this mix the threat of nuclear war, and a showdown between the navies of the United States and China off Antartica, and you have the recipe for what is simply an amazing story. The military hardware and tech that was also explored in Kraken Rising blew my mind. Super soldiers, genetic engineering, body armour that would make Tony Stark jealous, advanced weaponry, and secret submarines all leap out from the pages as you read, and make Kraken Rising even more addictive and explosive (one particular scene where the monster assaults a Chinese naval vessel was just INSANE). What makes this book unforgettable however is Alex Hunter.  The Arcadian. The original super soldier. The best. How Beck has handled his evolution over this series has been nothing short of impressive, and I adored the subtle nuances and layers to his character that have slowly started to appear and come to prominence throughout the last few books (having a child, dealing with the psychotic side of his mind, etc). His showdown with the monster reminded me of Brody taking on the shark in Jaws, or Dutch facing off against the Predator. It had that same level of excitement, tension, and awesomeness. All in all this story gripped me from the opening page and just refused to let go. And now, days afterwards, I'm still googling about things Beck mentions throughout the book (sightings of giant squids, fossils, boats and planes going missing with no trace, strange sounds heard from the depths, etc). That's how much of an impact it had. 

Kraken Rising is military horror at its absolute finest, and I would recommended it to anyone with a heartbeat and a functioning brain!

5 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Blog Tour - Horizon by Keith Stevenson

Thirty-four light years from Earth, the explorer ship Magellan is nearing its objective - the Iota Persei system. But when ship commander Cait Dyson wakes from deepsleep, she finds her co-pilot dead and the ship's AI unresponsive. Cait works with the rest of her multinational crew to regain control of the ship, until they learn that Earth is facing total environmental collapse and their mission must change if humanity is to survive.

As tensions rise and personal and political agendas play out in the ship's cramped confines, the crew finally reach the planet Horizon, where everything they know will be challenged.

"Crackling science fiction with gorgeous trans-human and cybernetic trimmings. Keith Stevenson's debut novel soars." - Marianne De Pierres, award-winning authors of the Parrish Plessis, Sentients of Orion and Peacemaker series

Welcome to the Horizon Blog Tour! Read on below for an excerpt of Keith's amazing novel, and for the chance to win a copy of it! 

Excerpt -

Cait waited a moment then launched herself into the tube, reaching out as she moved along to acquire some spin. Nadira disappeared from sight, tumbling over the lip at the far end in one graceful move.

It had been obvious from the start that Nadira’s last-minute inclusion on the mission was going to be problematic. The nukes that took out targets in the Middle East and Asia, and prompted the Compact’s formation, had been followed by fifty years of bitter and protracted Pax-led sanctions. Nadira’s presence on board was meant to herald a new era of détente between the Compact and the Pax Americana. But while politicians made and broke alliances almost without thinking, the wounds history inflicted on individuals took longer to heal.

Cait swung herself over the lip of the tube, feeling her internal organs settle as she descended the ladder and stopped halfway. On the floor below it was easy to forget where you were, but from this vantage point the curvature of the drum was more obvious. The layout inside clustered the harnesses, med lab, gym, ship controls and so on against the fore and aft walls, leaving a broad walkway running around the midpoint. Lighting and colouring were muted and shadows minimal, giving an illusion of space, but it was still just the inside of a large can. An odd place to spend the best part of a century.

She took a breath, feeling oddly separated from the others below. She realised that up until now things had been easy, despite the bickering. Lex’s attentions too had been part of a game they’d played on the out-system leg. But now it was very different. Out here they could be sure their bodies would never be found if disaster struck. There would be no one to mourn them, no marker to show how far out they’d come. Sure, this had been the case when they were mere light days from Earth. But it felt more true out here, in the space between the stars. The hard, uncaring void, as Sharpe would say before pulling some stupid terror-stricken face and doubling up with laughter. She just wasn’t sure how far she should go in adapting herself to that difference. She couldn’t quieten the nagging feeling that she was pushing too hard just to keep up the illusion of moving towards a solution — forcing Lex to wake Bren early, ordering the reboot without a more considered study of the situation. Her head hurt too much, and she wanted to sleep. How could that be when she’d only just woken after forty-five years?

People reacted differently to emergency situations — herself included. Under the circumstances, perhaps Nadira’s continued aloofness was understandable. Cait wondered what reaction was the right one for her? She felt dizzy again and clung to the ladder, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. The drum servos hummed through the wall, maintaining the spin. Inside there was light, air, everything was quiet. It was hard to believe they were in the midst of an emergency, hard to keep focusing on that. But the emergency was real. And that was why she had to keep going.

Holding onto that thought, she finished her descent and made her way back to Lex. He looked up from his monitor as she came close and shook his head.

‘No change. The implant’s hooked up but I haven’t been able to influence it. I don’t even know if it’s functioning.’

‘Keep a close eye on her,’ Cait said. ‘We’re going to reboot the main computer.’

‘What difference will that make?’

Cait frowned. ‘I don’t know. Just watch her, okay?’

She glided over to the command port again. Her PAL was settled above the port, already linked to Harris’s.

‘I’m in position, Harris. Ready when you are.’

‘It’ll just take a moment,’ Harris said over the link.

Cait began setting up her screen to monitor the key systems simultaneously.

‘You have to stop her! Don’t let her do it!’

Cait turned at the noise. Bren was trying to get up; Lex was struggling against her. She turned to look at Cait, eyes wild as she forced Lex’s hands away.

‘Don’t reboot Phillips, Cait! You’ll kill us all!’

Keith Stevenson Q&A: 

Keith Stevenson, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

You have the unique honour of being the first author to return since we started our interview series (I should probably get a trophy made for you or something). So I have to ask… what’s new with you? 

Thanks, Matt. It’s déjà vu all over again. Since Horizon launched last November I’ve been head down getting on with my space opera, The Lenticular Series. I’ve been working on this off and on for over a dozen years now. I don’t like to precisely calculate how long it’s been in case I freak out. But I’m about halfway through a rewrite of book two now and I hope to have the first two books ready to show my publisher in the middle of next year.

Horizon has been gaining a bit of a cult following amongst readers here in Australia. How have you found the response to it so far?

Well it’s a pretty fraught thing for any debut author to put a novel out there. But I’m particularly happy with how readers have engaged with the environmental message and concerns of the book as well as really enjoying a deep space adventure with a strong, character-driven plot. We sold over 1,000 copies in the first 9 months and it still seems to be selling well. I couldn’t be happier.

Take me through the journey of getting Horizon off the ground. Was it a long process? Or did it happen rather rapidly once you had a handle on the story?  

Compared with how long I’ve been working on The Lenticular Series, it was pretty quick. One of the reasons for that was that I wrote about two-thirds of it for the Novel Class as part of my Certificate in Professional Writing and Editing at TAFE. Nothing focuses the mind more than having to hand in chapters every fortnight to your tutor! The other bonus of the Novel Class was the requirement to hand in a very detailed plot synopsis up front. It really meant I had to lay the groundwork early on, which made the rest of the process quicker. By comparison, the Lenticular Series plot has been much more organic, because I’ve been following my nose and discovering things along with the characters.

Last time we spoke I asked you about the world building in Horizon and how you incorporated issues such as climate change into it. Since then we have seen little or no action against this looming threat. I’m curious; do you think we may well see events unfold in real life as they do throughout the book? 

I’m afraid I do. I was at a Science Week event a couple months ago and talked to a climate scientist who confirmed we’ve pretty much blown our chance to keep the average temperature rise below 2 degrees. Action is becoming more and more urgent. Extreme weather events trigger some of the occurrences in Horizon. We’ve already seen some of that in the past couple of years and there’s worse to come. This year in particular is going to be particularly hot with an El Nino event, which is already making its presence known. It’s a huge concern.

Are there plans to revisit the universe Horizon is set in anytime soon? 

I’m concentrating on the Lenticular right now, but there’s potential to develop Horizon a bit more, possibly into an expanded novel. Some of the comments I’ve received from readers have suggested new elements to weave into the current story, which would be interesting to explore. And then there’s always the question of what happens next… It all depends on how the Lenticular is received.

One of the things that I loved about Horizon was its technological believability. You grounded so much of the story in advancements that are just around the corner, and it was fascinating reading to say the least. Did you undertake much research when getting Horizon off the ground? What was your favourite piece of future tech to explore?

I love science but academically I was a scientific dunce. So I researched the heck out of Horizon. I reckoned if I could understand a scientific concept I had a good chance of explaining it in the story to other non-scientists.

The most mind-bending scientific concept I used was the zero point energy that powered the ship’s drive. Basically it’s about the theory that quantum effects mean particles come into existence randomly in the interstellar vacuum and you can harvest energy from them by feeding them into nano-sized tubes that force the electrons orbiting the nucleus of the particle to ‘slow down’ and fall into a lower energy state.

Even now my head hurts just thinking about it, but it’s also kind of wonderful.

The opening scene of Horizon is gripping to say the least. How did that sequence in particular come about?  

Well it starts off with my main protagonist waking up in the dark and choking on something stuck in her throat. I was riffing on Alien and the whole facehugger vibe, which I thought was kind of fun, and might play into the kind of fear the movie evoked.

And of course when you’re starting a novel you have to get the reader asking what the hell is going on in the first paragraph. So what better way than to have the ship out of control, the heroine half-choking to death and finding the dead body of one of the crew? And yes, it was as fun to write as it is to read.

Who was your favourite character in Horizon to write? Why?

Hands down that would be Lex, the ship’s doctor and exobiologist. Firstly because he’s a smartarse who likes to cause trouble. But mainly because he has some deeply held principles about protecting the planet Horizon against all the odds. That forces him to consider taking drastic action against his crewmates and he questions whether he can do that, but also if he can’t, what the means for who he thought he was. So for the reader he moves back and forward between being one of the good guys or being one of the bad guys but for reasons you can totally understand. Yes, I have a lot of time for Lex.

If you could spend the day with one other science fiction writer in order to pick their brain who would it be and why? 

I’ve just finished Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and I really loved how he wrote about our current space tech and all that good stuff about orbital transfers and catching comets and so on. It was like Gravity and The Martian combined on steroids. So I could use a day just talking to him about spaceflight. I’m sure I’d get a dozen stories-worth of ideas.

The recent increase in interest for space exploration has left many feeling positive about the future mission to Mars and beyond. As a science fiction writer what has been your take on this explosion of interest? Do you think we shall colonize Mars in our lifetimes? 

I do indeed and I’m really happy to see how people are responding to NASA’s work and to movies that depict believable space exploration.

I know there are huge technical challenges, but there are so many scientific and long-term economic reasons to do it, not to mention ensuring the human race can survive if Earth gets totalled by a stray asteroid, that we will do this. It’s about the greatest adventure of the human spirit I can imagine, and that alone is worth it. We’ll start small and there may be setbacks along the way, but we’ll quickly build on our successes and spread out across the solar system within the next century. I wish I could live that long to see it.

And finally, why should science fiction readers rush online and buy Horizon immediately?

I’ve read science fiction all my life and Horizon is exactly the science fiction book I’d want to read: believable technology, space exploration, great characters, a high stakes mission, and a fast-paced plot with murder, betrayals and reversals all along the way. And it’s cheap ☺

Keith, thanks for coming back to Smash Dragons! 

Thanks, Matt. Long may your dragons smash.

About the Author: 

Keith Stevenson is a speculative fiction writer, editor, reviewer, publisher and podcaster. He was editor of Aurealis Magazine - Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction from 2001 to the end of 2004 and formed the multi-award winning independent press coeur de lion publishing in 2005. In 2014 he launched Dimension6 magazine and became a speculative fiction reviewer for the Newtown Review of Books. He blogs about the ideas and issues behind Horizon at and  you can learn more about his work at

Keith can also be found lurking online at the following addresses:

You can purchase Horizon directly here and at other online retailers. Keith will also be awarding an eCopy of Horizen to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter (see below to enter) during the tour, and choice of 5 digital books from the Impulse line to a randomly drawn host.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Interview - Amanda Bridgeman

Hey Everyone!

I am delighted to bring you yet another exciting interview here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with Amanda Bridgeman. Amanda is one of the most exciting new talents to appear on the local speculative fiction landscape in recents years, with her Aurora series of novels delighting science fiction fans all over the world. We spoke about many things, including her favourite heroine and her ability to sing!


Amanda Bridgeman, welcome to Smash Dragons! 

Hello, thanks for having me!

First up, tell me about yourself and your Aurora series of books. 

Well, I live in Perth, Western Australia, and by day I work in administration. I studied film/TV/creative writing at university, so I’ve always been attracted to stories and storytelling. I’ve released five Aurora novels, which is a serial following two very different soldiers – Captain Saul Harris and Corporal Carrie Welles – who are thrown together on a black ops mission that evolves with each episode and turns out to be way bigger than either had bargained for!

What drove you to write this series? What is it about science fiction that you find more appealing as opposed to other genres? 

I like the escapism that sci-fi allows, but I also like the fact that it’s still hooked into the real world. It’s the escapism that stretches and fascinates the mind, and it’s the reflections of reality that make these stories thought-provoking and sometimes terrifying! I grew up with three older brothers so sci-fi and action films were always on the agenda. But I guess growing up watching all these films, I realised I wanted to see more strong heroines (particularly Aussie ones), so I think the Aurora series sparked from there.

When did you start writing? Was it something you always suspected you would do as an adult?

I wrote my first novel when I was 12, as part of an exercise in school. While some of the other kids sat there stumped as to what to write, I was furiously scribbling away on a story that was part action/thriller and part horror (it involved a killer shark!). I found I enjoyed it so much, that I continued to work on it outside of school. I continued writing novels during my teens (mainly YA drama/thrillers), but it all kind of fell away once I went to university – to study film and television. It was some years later, after living in London (England) where I was doing occasional work as a film/TV extra that I finally decided to get back into writing again. I sat down to write the screenplay of Aurora: Darwin (then titled something different), but wound up writing it as a novel instead. It was only after I’d written the first 2 or 3 novels in the Aurora series that I suddenly realised that I had come full circle, finding my way back to writing after all those years. 

What is your favourite science fiction novel? Why? 

I hate answering this question because I’m so under-read compared to most people – thanks too many years watching films and writing my own novels! LOL. Some recent examples that I’ve really enjoyed and would recommend, however, are The Martian by Andy Weir, Lexicon by Max Barry, and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel.

Tell me a random fact about yourself. 

Ummm….. Well, on iTunes (Australia) there is a single you can buy with my lead vocals on it ☺  My brothers write and record rock/pop songs under the name Bridgemusic, using guest vocalists (and sometimes guest musicians). Look for their single ‘Made It Home’ – that’s me singing! It was recorded a few years back.

Your Aurora books are set in a future where the Moon and Mars have been colonised. I’m curious, did you do much research prior to writing these books? 

Not as much as some ‘hard sci-fi’ fans would have preferred! LOL. Personally I don’t like a novel that is too bogged down in description and process, so I purposely tried not to do that with my books. I did general research, but kept my novels on the lighter side of science/fact and more on the side of ‘fiction/fantasy’. It doesn’t seem to have hampered enjoyment (or sales) of my books though!

What was the craziest information you stumbled across in your research? 

I haven’t uncovered anything ‘crazy’, but I have found out a lot of interesting things that perhaps I probably should’ve known anyway. Over the past few years I’ve done basic research on all manner of things from guns to hereditary and communicable diseases, to the US political system, to how quickly you can die from a pierced jugular vein, to skull fractures, to how much weight the average female should be able to lift, to the ‘typical’ surnames of certain nationalities, to general information on the Moon, Mars and Earth, etc. Research can be quite time consuming but it’s really broadened my mind in a lot of ways.

One of the things I’m digging about your books is the characterisation and agency you give your characters. I’m curious, do you have a favourite character? And, in your opinion, what actually makes a good character? 

That’s like asking a mother if she has a favourite child! LOL. If I have a preference for any characters, it would probably be my main characters – obviously Carrie and Harris, but also Doc and McKinley. I like them all, though – particularly the Aurora crew. It’s fair to say they have become like family, so it’s sad when I have to see one go.

I think a good character is one that readers can identify with in some way. I mean, most readers aren’t soldiers, but they can hopefully relate to the issues the Aurora characters face in their personal lives (families/partnerships/friendships/loyalties, the constraints of work and how this can affect these relationships, etc). Characters often live very different lives to their readers, but as long as there is an aspect of their life that the reader can empathise with, the character will hopefully feel real to the reader. And if they feel real to the reader, then this increases the chances of the reader feeling excitement/anxiety/fear/sorrow/happiness, etc, when certain things happen to these characters. Which, in turn, hopefully results in them being seen as ‘good’ characters.

Tell me about the challenges and hurdles you faced in getting the first book off the ground. If your present self could speak to your past self what advice would you give? 

Self-doubt would’ve been the biggest hurdle for me. I wrote in private for quite some time before I dared finally show someone. But generally speaking I did pretty well, receiving a contract for Darwin within 7-8 months of trying. If I could go back now to my past self, I would tell her to believe in herself and to start showing her work to people earlier. Feedback and critiques only make you a better writer, so the sooner you start on that path the better!

You just mentioned feedback and critiques as an essential part of growing as a writer. I'm curious, what was the best feedback you ever got from someone? 

Hhmmm, I can’t single out one particular piece of advice, because it’s all been helpful. Aurora: Darwin was the first novel I’d ever written (as an adult), so I’m still fairly new to it all. My writing isn’t perfect, but it has improved with each book, and that is thanks to every piece of advice I’ve been given during the beta reading and formal editing processes.

If you could be a character in a past science fiction movie who would it be and why? I’ve always wanted to be Hicks from Aliens. 

Love Hicks! My favourite heroine is Ellen Ripley, but I’m not sure I would want to be her because she lives a tough life and never gets the chance to love or to enjoy life. Hicks is the closest she comes to love (aside from a roll in the hay with the doctor in Alien 3), but then the writers went and killed him! ☹ When I think about it, a lot of SF heroines often have tragic personal lives (Katniss, Starbuck, Sarah Connor, Sarah Manning – Orphan Black, etc.) So I guess I’d want to be one who has a slightly happier ending. Maybe Princess Leia?

Star Wars or Star Trek? Why? 

I was never a big Trekkie, but I was a Star Wars fan, so I’m going with that. Plus, the whole Han Solo and Princess Leia thing – how could you not like that chemistry. 

If you could spend the day with another author in order to pick their brain about the craft who would it be and why? 

Probably JK Rowling. She’s obviously been incredibly successful, but I would love to chat to her about how she found the change from writing Harry Potter to The Casual Vacancy, and then her experience using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

What is your take on the state of science fiction here in Australia? Do you think the genre is thriving or struggling at the moment? 

I think on the whole (internationally) that sci-fi is doing great. A good gauge of that is the number of big budget sci-fi films that have been released over the past few years, and don’t look like stopping any time soon with the Star Wars franchise. It also feels as though SF has had more coverage in big papers and publications. In Australia, off the back of that, I think the scene here is doing nicely as well. All the conventions I go to seem to have heaps of fans attending, so that’s awesome to see. I obviously can’t comment on how other writers are travelling, but I’ve been really happy with how the Aurora series is doing. May it long continue!

Science fiction has often widely been viewed as a male dominated genre. Do you think this is finally changing now with writers such as yourself kicking in the door? Or is there still a long way to go to achieve equality? 

I think we’re getting there. It’s headed in the right direction… There have always been female sci-fi writers around (Mary Shelley is often touted as having written the ‘first’ science fiction novel with Frankenstein, for instance), and many others such as Ursula Le Guin, Octavia E Butler, and more recent writers such as Ann Leckie, etc, are highly regarded in the SF community by male and female alike. But, that said, I also think we have a way to go. 

You recently released Aurora: Eden to the masses. Will the stakes continue to rise with every release from now on?  

Oh yeah! The series so far has been akin to a rollercoaster. There have been highs and lows along the way for the characters, but overall it’s been taking a steady climb right up towards the big peak - which will occur in the last book.

Best advice for aspiring writers out there? 

Definitely attend conventions and writing conferences – and don’t just stick to your genre, you can learn a lot from other genres too. Networking is as valuable to your career as learning how to write is.

Will you be appearing at any events or conventions leading up the Christmas? 

I will be at GenreCon in Brisbane at the end of this month. It’s a great convention for those interested in genre and writing. I’m also planning to be at the Rockingham Book Fair in Perth (November). That will probably be it for the rest of the year.

Best convention experience? 

Well, the sheer size of LonCon last year was a sight to behold! Also, having the access to listen to such successful SFF writers like George RR Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, etc., in person was awesome. But really, I have found every convention fantastic because you just meet so many like-minded people. They’re fun and sociable, but they’re also great places to learn all sorts of stuff and improve your skills, as well as providing great opportunities for business networking. And let’s face it, writing is a business after all.

And finally, what we expect from you once the Aurora series is complete? 

Well, I’m close to finishing a brand new book outside of/completely separate from the series, called ‘The Time of the Stripes’. And I have a whole stack of other books I’m very keen to get writing – I just need to find the time! Either way, readers can expect more in due course.

Amanda Bridgeman, thank you so much for chatting to Smash Dragons! Thank you for having me! I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions.

You can find all of Amanda's Aurora books online at all good retailers. We here at Smash Dragons love them, so get moving and purchase them immediately! Also, be sure to keep track of Amanda and all Aurora related news via her website

Until next time peeps, be nice to each other, and keep on reading!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Review - The Traitor by Seth Dickinson

THE TRAITOR is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman's mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They'll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She'll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she'll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery - and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

Reviewing this book presented a conundrum to me. On one hand it is an utterly absorbing tale that will literally sink its teeth into you and refuse to let go. On the other I still find myself struggling to actually come up with the words to describe just how much this book kicked me in the head and heart.

Tragic.. gripping.. savage.. heartbreaking.. immersive... all of the above? 

The Traitor is that sort of book. 

The Traitor tells the tale of Baru Cormorant, a young girl whose family, culture, and nation are swallowed up and destroyed by the Empire of the Masks. Biding her time for revenge, Baru proves her talent to the Empire and joins the Masquerade, hoping to climb the rungs of power high enough in order to set her people free. But a posting to the distant Aurdwynn will push Baru to her limits, and may just end her quest for her people's freedom before it has even started. 

I really don't know where to begin exactly when describing just how much I loved this book. I could wax lyrical about Dickinson's ability to suck me in like a dinosaur stuck in a tar pit with his immersive world building that has shades of the British Empire and Imperial China. Or I could rave on about the gender issues and sociological themes that are explored (often brutally) throughout the book. But when it comes down to it The Traitor is about Baru, and her journey in a horrible and savage world. 

I adored the way Baru was depicted, from her mannerisms right down to her innermost thoughts. From very early in the book, when she decides that the only way to fight the Empire of Masks is from within, we know that her child-like innocence at the start will never be the same again. And her journey is incredibly brutal. And when I say brutal I don't mean blood spraying and limbs flying everywhere (although that sort of violence does happen), I mean a world where your sexuality, ethnicity, and culture are swallowed whole and spat out in disgust by an empire that holds all else in disdain. A world where you are told that your pain, loss, and hardship as you are assimilated and conquered are good for you and the Empire, and where your home will be destroyed, rebuilt, and renamed. A world where genocide, 're-education programs', and 'hygiene' standards (where your family units and sexual orientation must adhere to the Empire of the Masks rules) are enforced by fear, torture, and propaganda. 

And as Baru plots, weaves and manipulates events in Audwynn she loses more and more of herself to her ultimate endgame. The Traitor is a tragedy in essence, and Baru pays a cost no matter what. What ultimately makes Baru's journey so tragic though is as the book progresses she starts to lose all sense of her past and Taranoke. Her noble intentions to save her people at the beginning are drowned by the horrors (of her own making in many instances) of the world around her. And yet despite all of this I still found myself cheering for her and defending her actions as she (and we, the readers) sank lower and lower as the book progressed. And as Baru made her final decision in the book, a decision that broke my heart into pieces that I am still attempting to collect back together, it dawned on me exactly why Baru and this book moved me in such a earth-shattering way. 

She is the most human character I ever read. 

Bravo Dickinson. Bravo. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

A review copy was provided.