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Review: Scary Kisses edited by Liz Grzyb

Cover of Scary Kisses
Cover of Scary Kisses, designed by Amanda Rainey

Another of my Swancon 2010 purchases, Scary Kisses was launched with cupcakes and readings by contributing authors. Not only was there a lot of promise in those snippets, the cover was gorgeous and it promptly went into my stash – and to the top of my very, very, very large to-read pile.

Liz Grzyb has compiled a fabulous collection of paranormal stories about love. Vampires, zombies, ghosts, elder gods, witches, dragons and unnamed evil all get a place to shine, or lurk.  Some of the stories worked better for me than others, as always happens in any anthology, but the whole ensemble is a fine dish of literate goodies!

Standouts for me were:

  • Felicity Dowker’s “Bread and Circuses”, a dark, disturbing, moving story of love after the zombie apocalypse
  • Ian Nichols’ “Fade Away” pleased me by delivering an ending I wasn’t expecting
  • I find I want to read more set in the world created by Angela Slatter and L.L. Hannett in “The February Dragon”
  • Kyla Ward’s “Cursebreaker: The Welsh Widow and the Wandering Wooer” demonstrated a refreshing and lively prose style, and is another one with potential for a whole universe of fascinating stories
  • My fondness for “Date with a Vampire” by Annette Backshall bloomed the instant the heroine refused to play her part, and the Perth setting was nice. Let’s see more paranormal fiction set in Australia, folks!
  • D.C. White’s “Pride and Tentacles” is just the right fluffy bit of fun to round off the collection and for some reason I find I’m not the least bit surprised by Cthulu’s choice of book.

There’s a lot of great work coming out of Australian small presses at the moment, and Western Australian seems to be leading the charge with its SF and fanasy publishers, like Twelfth Planet Press and Triconeroga Publications. The latter has published Scary Kisses and it’s worth checking both publishers out for their back catalogue and upcoming books. In the meantime, buy Scary Kisses and support Australian small press, not because it’s Australian, but because it’s great.

Review: Subversive Activity by Dave Luckett

Subversive Activity - cover I picked up this book from Dave Luckett at Swancon in April. It’s been a while since I read one of Dave’s books, but I have always enjoyed his vivid, laconic style.

“Subversive Activity” is a reminder of why I like his work so much! Wry, deadpan humour; distinctive characters; fresh, deft writing;  solid research that enhances rather than overwhelms the story – it’s very satisfying!

It’s especially delightful that this book is about one of my favourite themes – someone waking up to life! Caption Horatio de la Terre of the Royal Navy is the Naval Attache to the country of Maldona. He is rigidly traditional, an Englishman and naval officer with a lifetime’s training in keeping his expression neutral and his mind clean of thoughts and opinions he ought not have. His has been a life lived in small brown rooms, until it has become a small brown life.

This is the story of how all of that cracks, and the light gets in, and he discovers he has an imagination, and opinions – and that neither of these are quite what he would have expected, if he’d ever thought about it, which he hasn’t.

“Subversive Activity” is set in a kind of alternative Victorian history – the Moldonan landscape is littered with the convoluted politics of Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Hapsburgs. It features the brash, daring, brilliant Letty and Hetty, identical twins sisters who are in the midst of revolutionising seagoing engineering. There are spies and counterspies, and sometimes these are the same people.

It’s as warped and complicated as a plot by Wodehouse, charging on at a wonderful rate of knots. De la Terre is particularly fun, because his habitual non-expression leads other people to think he is more clever and knowledgable than he really is. His blank-faced puzzled silences are taken for cunning strategy, and this – plus his dazzlement by the exceedingly and captivatingly un-English Letty – are the chisel that cracks apart that small, brown shell of his world.

Buy Subversive Activity from Vivid Publishing