2013: As It Was Read

IMG_3821Regular readers will know that I am a bit weird. I don’t run my writing year as per the Gregorian calendar, but instead by the Chinese calendar. For convenience sake, I’ve been using the standard year as my goal posts for reading (simply because it is easier and I am lazy!)

Despite the shit fight that was 2013, I managed to keep a comprehensive list of the books. I read 34 books (2 short of what I had been aiming for – with 3 books a month). November was pretty much a write-off for reading, as I poured 79,000 words out in four weeks for NaNo.

FAVOURITES

I’m picky with my books, so it’s often hard to pick a best of. This year, THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes stood head and shoulders above everything else I read, both in storytelling and in writing. Filling out the rest of the top five in no particular order were:

THE WASP FACTORY Iain Banks
CLOUD ATLAS David Mitchell
WARM BODIES Isaac Marion
THE LAST BANQUET Jonathan Grimwood

Honourable mentions:

PERFECTIONS Kirstyn McDermott
PATH OF THE NIGHT Dirk Flintheart
NEUROMANCER William Gibson
WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR Max Brooks

Best anthologies:

YEARS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY V 5 ed. Bill Congreve
     – this came out before I was even writing again!
MIDNIGHT AND MOONSHINE Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter
NOT SO PERFECT Nik Perring

THE FULL LIST

Re-Reads (6)

THE GREAT GATSBY F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE RED TENT Anita Diamant
THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE Audrey Niffenegger
THE BOOK THIEF Marcus Zusak
ROIL Trent Jamieson
WHEN WE HAVE WINGS Claire Corbett

Anthologies and Collections (8)

IN FABULA DIVINO Ed. Nicole Murphy
BLOODY PARCHMENT: HIDDEN THINGS, LOST THINGS AND OTHER STORIES ed Nerine Dorman
YEARS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY V 5 ed. Bill Congreve
THE TURNING Tim Winton (Re-read)
LIVING WITH THE DEAD Martin Livings
MIDNIGHT AND MOONSHINE Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter
NOT SO PERFECT Nik Perring
NEXT eds. Simon Petrie and Robert Porteous

New Reads (18)

CLOUD ATLAS David Mitchell
LETTERS FROM SKYE Jessica Brockmole (E)
AMERICAN GODS Neil Gaiman
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Richard Yates
THE MACHINE WHO WAS ALSO A BOY Mike McRae & Tom Dullemond
BETWEEN TWO THORNS Emma Newman
WARM BODIES Isaac Marion
SCARE ME Richard Jay Parker
THE WASP FACTORY Iain Banks
AURORA: DARWIN Amanda Bridgeman
WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR Max Brooks (E)
PERFECTIONS Kirstyn McDermott
PATH OF THE NIGHT Dirk Flintheart (E)
PIG ISLAND Mo Hayder
THE LAST BANQUET Jonathan Grimwood (E)
NEUROMANCER William Gibson
RYDERS RIDGE Charlotte Nash
THE SHINING GIRLS Lauren Beukes

Novellas (2)

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE Shirley Jackson
DARK RITE David Wood & Alan Baxter

Book Review: Living With The Dead (Martin Livings)

Martin Livings has been producing dark short fiction for two decades, but slow to the party, I first came across his work in 2011 in Dead Red Heart* (Ticonderoga Publications, 2011). The Tide, the opening story in Dead Read Heart, lit me up. As a conceptual, multi-author narrative (it explores the idea of vampire immigration told in ten media snap shots), it was my kind of story. So when my path finally crossed with Martin’s last year on Facebook, I was all kinds of stupid-excited at meeting him virtually (raving about how much I liked The Tide). The stupid-excitedness peaked when I got to meet Martin, and his lovely wife Isabelle, at GenreCon last year and had the thrill of attending the launch of Living With the Dead.

LIVING WITH THE DEAD: A DARKER SHADE OF DARK

There is no denying the intensity of the darkness that Martin offers up in Living With The Dead (Dark Prints Press, 2012). The collections is a true horror degustation. In fact as I was reading it my son asked me to define ‘what horror is’ and after stumbling for an age-appropriate definition, I ended up saying: ‘horror is something that makes you feel uncomfortable when you read it’ to which he replied: ‘why would you want to read something that makes you feel uncomfortable’. Believe me, I asked myself the same thing many times as I traversed the 350 odd pages of Living With the Dead.

Martin plumbs the depths of the human psyche in an unflinching and at times, downright disturbing manner. He has an economy of language, a subtle turn of phrase, an uncompromising empathy—even with the most horrific of characters, and at times, an uncanny sense of humour that makes the stories in Living With the Dead, compelling in their complexity and keeps you with them, even when the uncomfortableness threatens to consume you.

With the exception of Hunters and Crawlin’ the splatter is kept to a minimum and it is the predicament or the consequences the characters face that elicits the true unsettling within the reader. Martin entices the reader into a mental crawl space and quickly leaves them there with the option of pushing on through to find out how it ends or to retreat to a happy place and be left forever wondering. But nothing wonderful, nothing important, nothing enlightening was ever gained by taking the easy path.

Craig Bezant has done a stellar job of curating the stories into a mix that balances the truly macabre with the only slightly unsettling (there’s no free rides on any of these stories), that traverse the breadth of Martin’s career. Included are three brand new stories for the anthology, including Birthday Suit dedicated to Paul Haines.

As an editor, I have said that a second and subsequent reading of a story is not an indication of a story or an author’s failure. In fact it’s often an indication of a truly amazing story, rich in layers and nuances, best experienced and appreciated over multiple sittings. And Martin has served up a number of these (several I’ll talk about separately further on).

The Afterwords are a treat. I’m always keen to know the story behind the story, even if it is just Martin apologising for writing another story where the main character dies, badly.

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The cover art by Vincent Chong is gorgeous (as is the internal design with the skeletons and skulls—made for great photos for my 365 short story a day collection) and the inside cover is a treat. My favourite section is the hand-drawn front cover schematic. Turns out I’m not the only one drawing dodgy covers for interpretation by far more talented folk than myself.

If I had one criticism (and it’s small) it’s in regards to some errant spacing throughout the text: the size of the indentation of the paragraphs bothered me and my typesetter’s eyes drew me out of the story and into  the double spacing after some of the full stop where they occurred. (The typesetter in me will now sit down and shut up so the reader may revel.)

THE CONCEPTUAL

Hooked is one of the stories on the must re-read list. It is a warped and gritty reinterpretation of the Peter Pan/Captain Hook narrative. The characters are brilliantly portrayed in the seedy underbelly of the city as drug pushers, crack addicts, ambitious businessmen, flashy thugs and faded whores. While a complete departure to anything J.M. Barrie ever intended (and despite the fact Hooked is a short story compared to a novel) Martin is faultless in his faithfulness to Barrie’s original characterisation. It is a narrative tour de force hinted at from the very outset of the title.

Pete made a noise like a cat bringing up a hairball. He looked around wild-eyed, tried to get the attention of John and Mikey, his trusted men. But his trusted men were caught in their own prisons, high as kites on Belle’s dust. From somewhere behind the couch, his girl began to snore. He was alone.

Hooked also has one of the best concluding sentences I’ve read. It’s worth reading just for that single line of dialogue.

THE DOWNRIGHT DISTURBING

There is plenty to choose from in Living With The Dead, but the story that sticks with me as the most disturbing is Piggies (though Catharsis comes in a very close second and In Nomine Patris). There’s no denying the impact of a story when it changes your world-view (I’ll never look quite the same way at my feet again).

Martin might very well scoff (and my mate Benjamin Solah might applaud) but for me Piggies is a perfect encapsulation of the arrogant, cannibalistic nature of capitalistic society—“This little piggie went to market…”—a short and powerful portrait of the depravation of the rich.

He looks down at his feet, and feels a pang of regret.

Piggies is a grotesque analogy of rampant and unsustainable consumption, just as much as it is a hideous expose of just how far one person will go for gratification.

It really deserved a cello solo playing in the background, IT Crowd style.

Piggies joins the ranks of Gary Kemble’s Famine and Feast as a story not to be read at breakfast time.

NAVEL GAZING

Into The Valley, a dark treatise of modern life, quickly gets under your skin like a case of literary scabies. For me it was the real crawl space story, where I found myself wanting to back out because it was too hard to keep reading. It was too identifiable and in that way, far too painful, all the way to the end, and even now when I think about it. It is another that deserves a second and third read, but I haven’t yet been able to steel myself to do it.

Each of the boxes has a word carved into its lid.

LOVE

HATE

LIFE

DEATH…

… Nowhere opens the first box. Inside is what appears to be a human heart, the size of a clenched fist. He can smell that it is rotting and long dead. Then he notices that it is moving slightly, throbbing, as if it still has a pulse. He reaches out a finger and strokes along the length of the muscle.

It splits open revealing a writhing mass of maggots…

 Martin notes in the Afterword that he wrote a follow-up Out of the Valley after he met Isabelle in 2002. The two stories combined appear in Ticonderoga’s Scary Kisses. I look forward to seeing how the two go together.

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE

The stories I really dig are the ones with A Message (trademarked or otherwise). While Living With the Dead (the story that lends its title to the collection) loses some of its impact two decades out from the HIV hysteria, the social cleansing underpinning the story (a right wing Government forcibly removing HIV+ citizens to a unnamed out back location, simply called ‘The Hive’) remains chillingly relevant in the face of the rise of right wing, conservative politics and the ever present pitting of ‘us against them’ which is the staple diet of shock jocks and a mainstream media too ambivalent to bother with decent journalism.

Living with the Dead could just as easily have any number of groups today outcast, permanently, instead of those infected with HIV. Those considered to be be politically, religiously or socially dissident to ‘the norm’ or expediently disposable to any political course.

I guess Harris had fulfilled his election promise. AIDS no longer existed in Australia. All he had to do was wait for us to die out. Which wouldn’t be that long. Just a generation, and the plague of the eighties and nineties would be a thing of the past. As would we.

Living With the Dead has real heart and for this reason the ending comes as a real double-edged suckerpunch to the gut; you want to see Dominic, a boy born and earmarked to die within The Hive, make the train. Find his freedom. While I’m one who loves to demonise the medical profession, the narrator is absolutely one I can champion as epitomising the Hippocratic Oath; to the end. An individual willing to stand up for what is right and hold sacrosanct the dignity of humanity.

OTHER HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Down Town and Running both deserve quick mentions as the other two of my favourite stories.

Down Town is reminiscent of the late 80’s movie Dark City in its increasingly neurotic narrative that goes forward but in reality, just in circles, under cut by a Chandler-esque economy and evocation of language and characterisation and a Twelve Monkeys unsettling of what is reality and what is fantasy. It’s a story that warrants multiple readings and stretches of mental unravelling.

The premise underpinning Running is sublime and so very, very clever. Martin paints the perfect location and then keeps the reader guessing, right to the end, as to the nature of the beast bearing down on the small town of Flic en Flac, in the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina. This is extreme sport at the absolute edge. As a wanna-be runner I’ll be content with the boring blocks of suburbia.

Living With the Dead gets four and a half sautéed piggies

 

*Martin and I also shared the idea of Schoolies on the Gold Coast as the perfect hunting ground for Australian vampires in Martin’s The Rider and my Kissed By The Sun.

Chinese Whisperings Anthologies Free on Kindle

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FREE! Yes, you read correctly. For the first time The Red Book and The Yin and Yang Book are free and complete. But only for the next 48 hours on Kindle. For those of you late to this blog, Chinese Whisperings was eP’s publishing foray and became in imprint in its own right at the end of 2012. It’s actually out of The Red Book which eMergent Publishing was born. All our successive publishing endeavours have stood on the shoulders of The Red Book. It’s where I cut my teeth as an editor and found even when I had my ‘bad cap’ hat on, writers were willing to come back and work with me again.

Once we’d pushed the boundaries of short story form, the anthology structure and collaborative writing, we did it again with The Yin and Yang Book, taking interconnected to a whole new level of madness with 22 writers!

WHAT MAKES CHINESE WHISPERINGS ANTHOLOGIES UNIQUE?

Each anthology is a collection of interwoven short stories by emerging writers handpicked from across the English-speaking world. Unlike other anthologies, Chinese Whisperings is created in a sequential fashion and each story stands on its own merits while contributing to a larger, connected narrative. It takes around nine months to complete each anthology because of this.

The Red Book has each successive writer taking a minor character from the preceding story and telling their story as the major character in the next story. Each writer also references events from the preceding story to tie the ten stories together. The anthology can be read forward, or backward, and you can begin with any story you want because of its circular nature. (I’ll focus a bit more on The Yin and Yang Book tomorrow.)

THE RED BOOK

In a small North American university town ten lives are intersecting…

Miranda reaps what she has sown.
Mitchell understands there is no resisting fate.
Clint dreams of forging a violent destiny.
Elizabeth is about to make a discovery.
Robin hides a terrible secret.
Simon hasn’t slept in ten days.
Sam is pursued by nightmares.
Susie has lost everything.
David has just been found.
Jake atones for past evils.

Ten ordinary people struggling to keep their sanity in an insane world.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Eight other hearty souls set off on the initial experiment with us, including Emma Newman who has gone on to publish From Dark Places and 20 Years Later as E.J. Newman and is currently working on the Split Worlds series. Jason Coggins has gone on to write three series of Bloggin’ Brimstone. Tina Hunter  co-founded Tyche Books last year under the name Tina Moreau. All eight authors also penned stories for the Yin and Yang Book and many have contributed to Literary Mix Tapes anthologies as well.

Mercurial Jodi Cleghorn (Ed)

Something Mean in the Dream Scene Jason Coggins

Kraepelin’s Child Annie Evett

Discovery Paul Servini

Innocence Tina Hunter

Not Myself Dale Challener Roe

Not My Name Jasmine Gallant

Out Of The Darkness Rob Diaz II

Heartache Emma Newman

One in the Chamber Paul Anderson (Ed)

If your looking for a unique reading experience this is it. And for today and tomorrow The Red Book and The Yin and Yang Book are free. Honestly it doesn’t get better than that.