Swancon 36, Natcon 50 – Initiate!

It’s convention time again – that place where you see the SF fan in its natural habitat. Where SF creators mix and mingle, drowning their rejection sorrows at whatever chosen bar they’ve decended upon. There are panels of expert import and workshops of interesting stuff. There are dealers selling books, oh, so many books (and other stuff)! There are movie screenings and masquerade balls, cosplay contests and somewhere, guaranteed, there will be at least one Jedi. Most likely there will be many.

There’s nothing quite like a con and nothing quite like a Natcon, or National Convention. This year the Natcon is Swancon 36 in Perth, WA. I’m getting ready to fly over there on tomorrow for five days of CONtentment. See what I did there? I’m excited not only for the con and the chance to catch up with so many friends, but because it’ll be my first time in Perth as well.

Here are the details:

Swancon Thirty Six | Natcon Fifty
21-25 April 2011
Hyatt Hotel, Adelaide Tce, Perth

I’ve got a few commitments for this con:

On Friday night I’ll be joining in with The Gentlemens Entomology Club – a kind of role-playing, storytelling piece of nonsense, where a bunch of us will be making up tall tales on the spot in front of an audience. Should be quite a laugh.

Tai Chi Wellness Session
Sunday, 24 April
8:30 AM
Ballroom North

This is simply a group Tai Chi class I’ll be teaching for an hour, wearing my “day job” hat. It’s nice that the con is putting on a variety of things like this. I just hope I’m in a fit state to teach at 8.30 on a Sunday. Must remember to retire early from the bar on Saturday. (Ha! As if!)

Write The Fight Right
Sunday, 24 April
10:30 AM
Ballroom North

This is my two hour workshop on writing good fight scenes. I really enjoy this every time I do it, and now I even have the book to back it up with.

I’ll be sitting at the Ticonderoga Publications table in dealer’s room at some point, doing a signing. I’ll be signing my novels as well as the Ticonderoga book, Dead Red Heart, which features my story, Punishment Of The Sun, along with loads of other awesome yarns. I’m happy to sign pretty much anything you want, so drop by and say hello. With that in mind, I’ll also be attending the launch of the Dead Red Heart anthology and the Ticonderoga party at 5pm on Sunday.

There are still a last couple of things being ironed out, including talk of a Zombie panel. I’m not sure if that’s a panel of zombies or about zombies – I’m game either way.

Other times I’ll be generally milling around the place, enjoying the con. Come and say hi. I’ll be tweeting the whole thing, as much as time and available signal allows, so follow me on Twitter, @AlanBaxter, and follow @natcon50 too. Watch the #swancon hashtag for updates.

Hope to see you there!


Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane Smith – dies

Doctor Who Sarah JaneI was checking in on the news over breakfast this morning and came across this terrible story. Actress Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and had her own Sarah Jane Adventures series more recently, died last night aged only 63. She’d been fighting cancer for some time, apparently. This news makes me incredibly sad.

I can honestly say that Doctor Who is the show responsible for my love of sci-fi. I first experienced Doctor Who as Job Pertwee, with Sarah Jane Smith at his side. I was mesmerised. Jon Pertwee regenerated into Tom Baker and I was blown away. Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith are still my all-time favourite Doctor and companion (closely followed by the more recent David Tennant and Billie Piper pairing).

I also remember Sarah Jane as being one of my first crushes when I was too young to even know what a crush was. The picture above makes me feel seven years old again, and every age since when I’ve rewatched and re-loved Doctor Who.

Doctor Who writer and creator of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Russell T Davies, says it best: “I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith, the world was lucky to have Lis.”

RIP Elisabeth Sladen – we’ve lost a legend today.


Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Volume 1, including me!

Year's BestI am totally psyched to announce that my story, The King’s Accord, originally in the Flesh & Bone: Rise Of The Necromancers anthology from Pill Hill Press, is going to be reprinted in Ticonderoga Publications inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology. This is my first ever Year’s Best reprint and I couldn’t be happier. Also, how freaking sweet is that cover? It looks fantastic. And the Table of Contents is just phenomenal – I can’t believe I have a story included among this kind of company.

From the Ticonderoga press release yeaterday:

Ticonderoga Publications is walking on sunshine to announce the contents for its inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology.

Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have produced a list of 33 excellent tales by some of Australia’s biggest names as well as some emerging writers.

The anthology collects 150,000 words of the best stories published last year from the Antipodes

The stories are (alphabetically by writer):

* RJ Astruc: “Johnny and Babushka”
* Peter M Ball: “L’esprit de L’escalier”
* Alan Baxter: “The King’s Accord”
* Jenny Blackford: “Mirror”
* Gitte Christensen: “A Sweet Story”
* Matthew Chrulew: “Schubert By Candlelight”
* Bill Congreve: “Ghia Likes Food”
* Rjurik Davidson: “Lovers In Caeli-Amur”
* Felicity Dowker: “After the Jump”
* Dale Elvy: “Night Shift”
* Jason Fischer: “The School Bus”
* Dirk Flinthart: “Walker”
* Bob Franklin: “Children’s Story”
* Christopher Green: “Where We Go To Be Made Lighter”
* Paul Haines: “High Tide At Hot Water Beach”
* L.L. Hannett: “Soil From My Fingers”
* Stephen Irwin: “Hive”
* Gary Kemble: “Feast Or Famine”
* Pete Kempshall: “Brave Face”
* Tessa Kum: “Acception”
* Martin Livings: “Home”
* Maxine McArthur: “A Pearling Tale”
* Kirstyn McDermott: “She Said”
* Andrew McKiernan: “The Memory Of Water”
* Ben Peek: “White Crocodile Jazz”
* Simon Petrie: “Dark Rendezvous”
* Lezli Robyn: “Anne-droid of Green Gables”
* Angela Rega: “Slow Cookin’ ”
* Angela Slatter: “The Bone Mother”
* Angela Slatter & LL Hannett: “The February Dragon”
* Grant Stone: “Wood”
* Kaaron Warren: “That Girl”
* Janeen Webb: “Manifest Destiny”

In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2010 and a list of recommended stories.

The anthology is scheduled for publication in June 2011. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions and can be pre-ordered at http://indiebooksonline.com.


From Dark Places by E J Newman – Review

From Dark PlacesFrom Dark Places is a collection of short fiction from E J Newman. The title is well placed, as the stories are all dark in a variety of ways. They explore subjects from the existential to the personal, from infidelity to murder, from the supernatural to the super normal and they’re all bloody good.

A lot of these stories are really short, flash fiction pieces capturing a vibe or an event and searing a single scene onto the reader’s brain with uncomfortable clarity. Some of the tales are longer, exploring all manner of things from Creation to madness.

Newman writes with a tight turn of phrase, many a well placed word and an eye for place and setting that makes all these tales of urban unease extremely convincing. She inhabits her characters, their distinctive personalities entrancing. Newman explores the speculative with ease; gods, demons and angels inhabit these pages as much at home as the cheating spouses, spurned lovers and ugly, foul-mouthed orphans.

Some of the stories have a bit of fun to them, some a touch of the absurd or the surreal, all an edge of darkness that plays nicely with our boundaries of comfort.

Emma Newman is a powerful emerging voice in dark fiction and From Dark Places is an excellent selection of her work. I’ll be watching out for more of her stuff. You should too.

You can get a signed copy of the book directly from Emma at her website here. Or you can order from Amazon here. Follow Emma on Twitter at @EmApocalyptic.

But before you do that, I’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment with your idea of a dark place. The one that creeps me out the most gets the book.


The written fight tournament – the Results!

So last week, to help promote my new ebook, Write The Fight Right, I set up a contest, where I asked people to write a 500 word or less fight scene and the top three would get prizes. I got a lot of entries – thanks to everyone that had a stab. There were all kinds of fights submitted, from fantasy battles between fantastic creatures, to fisticuffs in a dark alley and everything in between.

Reading through all the entries was good fun and it was tough to pick winners. But I had to, so I did. Bear in mind that these winners are purely based on my own taste. I refer you to the tagline of this blog, under The Word in the header image above. When judging the entries I was mainly looking for a few key things:

* A exciting, rapid pace, giving a good, visceral sense of the fight;

* Not too much clinical detail, slowing down the action;

* A strong sense of character and place.

I said there would be three winners and I’d publish them here, so here we go. Second and third place each score a free copy of Write The Fight Right in whatever format they prefer. First place gets that and a signed copy of RealmShift.

I’ll list the winners in reverse order, with their fight scene followed by a few words about why I picked it.

In 3rd place, there’s this piece by Alex Stoiche:

Steve bumped past the man, taking his wallet at the point of impact. He raised his hand over his shoulder in apology and continued to walk. He heard the man’s footsteps stop, then break into a run. Steve sighed and shifted his weight to push hard off his right foot. His shoe slipped on the damp cobblestone, sending his body flying forward. He hadn’t fallen. The man was holding him upright by the neck of his jacket.

Steve spun around, throwing his left arm over the man’s extended arm. Using his momentum, he swung his right arm into the ribs of his captor. He felt a satisfying crunch as his punch hit home. The man’s body twisted in pain. Still controlling the man’s left arm, Steve threw another punch at his exposed side. The man roared in pain as his ribs fractured. Steve sneered as he shoved the man away.

The man’s breathing came in short, pained bursts. Steve snickered. He stood just outside arm’s reach of his victim, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Steve threw a punch to his victim’s rib. The man threw his arms out to cover his injury. Grinning, Steve jabbed to the man’s unprotected face. He bounced again. He threw another body punch, only to sting the man again. The man’s eyes started to tear up as the throbbing sensation in his face increased. Steve faked again, the man threw a half-hearted block. He feigned a jab and the man quickly lifted both arms to block. Steve hissed a laugh. He swung his right hand in a vicious hooking punch to the man’s unguarded ribs. Steve took delight in the man’s agonised scream. His opponent doubled over in pain.

Steve stretched his arms high. The man snorted the air from his nose. Steve saw a dark blur speeding towards him as the man’s backhand strike slammed into his jaw. His felt his head twist sharply, his body went numb. His vision blurred as he staggered backward. The man stood up straight and started walking towards him. Steve desperately fought the urge to close his eyes. Through his distorted perception he could make out the man getting closer. A blinding light flashed in Steve’s eyes. It faded, only to be replaced by a crimson haze. The red tinged alley slowly twisted and warped around him. He fell to the ground, unable to maintain equilibrium.

Steve felt himself being pulled to his feet, his body limp and lifeless. He felt the air rush past him. Pain stabbed through his mind as the back of his skull cracked against the wall. His body slumped to the ground, leaving a slick blood trail down the brickwork. The man lifted his front leg, curling back his boot to expose the heel.

He drove his boot into Steve’s face, crushing his skull against the wall behind him.

He wiped his boots on the dead man’s pants.

The man looked around. He picked up his wallet and left the alley.

What I liked about this piece was firstly the decent description of the fight itself, with enough detail to know what’s happening without the thing being slowed down by description. The pickpocket playing with his victim is well done. The PoV is a bit clumsy and the piece could have been written with a clearer third person perspective in play, but that’s a small gripe. The thing I like best, however, is the realism and the sudden turnaround. The pickpocket is over-confident and showy and he pays a dear price for it. This is a good lesson in fighting.

In 2nd place, there’s this piece by Jason Fischer. Jason is a friend of mine, so there might be cries of nepotism here, but so what? It’s my contest, I’ll pick who I like.

(from A Blind Pig for the Juggler-King)

‘We’re done talking,’ Raoul growled, snatching at the Juggler-King’s ruffled collar. Almost quicker than sight, the sorcerer darted out of his reach, but not before giving the minotaur a stout rap across the nose.

Enraged, Raoul swung his fists, his limbs unfolding so fast that they created miniature sonic booms, the glasses on the tables shaking, light bulbs rattling overhead in their fixtures. His foe narrowly avoided this onslaught, but turned his exertions into a comical dance, a tango complete with the rose that he suddenly clenched between his teeth.

‘You dance beautifully, little bull,’ he said, bowing and narrowly ducking a supersonic haymaker. ‘Still, I prefer if I lead.’

Hand darting forward, the Juggler-King caught a corner of Raoul’s skin, pulled it taut between thumb and forefinger. Opening his mouth, a split second cacophony resembling church bells and breaking pottery emerged, a word of power no mortal could hope to emulate. The disguise melted and came away in the Juggler-King’s hand, a furious minotaur emerging from the tear in the skin. With a whipping motion the sorceror flicked the deflated man-shape away, held it in a matador pose as if it were a cape.

‘Toro!’ he cried, flicking the saggy skin as Raoul charged into him, a sickening blur of fists and horns and stomping feet. Driving a stack of furniture into splinters, the minotaur realised that the Juggler-King was already elsewhere.

‘A little help?’ Imogen called out, and Raoul extricated himself from the wreckage to see her fending off the Juggler-King and several of his followers. She was flailing around blindly with a set of aether-encrusted nunchucks. Her free hand was contorted into a protective mudrā, thus far keeping the blank-faced constructs at bay.

The sorcerer was attempting to sing apart her disguise, spreading cracks already beginning to show on the sides of her arms and legs. She willingly dropped the flapper facade, not missing a beat as she emerged her usual tom-boy self, cracking godlings in the ribs with more enthusiasm than art.

Attempting to goose Imogen, the Juggler-King miscalculated, putting his fingers into the path of the nunchucks, the shards of aether tearing his skin and bruising bone. Wincing, he sucked on his knuckles, and a moment later Raoul had blasted through the group of brawling drunks, barrelling into the god and bearing him into the ground.

‘Try something tricky, I dare you,’ the minotaur snarled, holding the points of his horns against the Juggler-King’s throat. The sorcerer offered a weak smile, swallowed nervously.

I’m sure you can see why I picked this one now, right? It’s brilliantly written, but we all know that Jason is a great writer. More to the point, it’s a great example of developing a fight scene where the combatants are more than human, with powers and weapons of extreme power. Yet the fight stays visceral and realistic nonetheless. This is a good lesson in writing fight scenes in fantasy or other genre fiction where the players are all very powerful. The fighting needs to be ramped up to match.

And now, the Winner! Congratulations to Bryce Beattie, taking out the contest with this piece:

He lunged at Key.

Most other men would have been caught unawares by the shameless blindside. Key, however, had half expected it. He spun, parried the strike, and slid to the side.

“That was fairly dishonorable for a captain of the guard.”

“It might be if I had an honorable opponent.”

Key exploded at the captain.

Blades flashed and clanged with frightening speed.

The two masters whirled and spun, their bodies and blades locked in a gruesome dance. The duel flew about the platform, many times close to the edge, but never did a combatant seem off balance or likely to fall from its edge. These master swordsmen were in top form, focused and furious.

The crowd grew silent in awe of the savage battle. No one present had ever seen a match as passionate and precise as this, nor is it likely they ever would get a chance to see one again.

The grunts of physical exertion and the clanging of steel filled the air. For a time it appeared that neither fighter could gain an advantage. After several minutes of unmatched fury, the captain began to tire.

Key controlled more and more of the movement on the platform. It was only a matter of time now, and he knew it.

The captain knew it, too, and so he decided to try for a final, desperate lunge. Even in his tiredness the captain was faster than most.

Key brought his sword left and parried just enough.

The captain’s weight carried him forward.

Key dug in with his heel put all of his might into an elbow strike.

The blow landed hard on the captain’s chest, whose feet came out from under him. He crashed backward to the platform and his sword clanged from his grip.

Key stepped back. “Do you surrender?”

The captain rolled backwards onto his feet, scooping up the fallen blade in the process. “No need of surrender.”

The traveler took a step forward and stopped.

The captain stood, sword held at guard in his right hand and left hand extended. The stance was strangely open, especially for a master.

Something wasn’t right.

Key paused and wondered what the captain had up his sleeve.

The captain’s left hand grew dark. A floating shadow gathered around it.

Key’s eyes widened.

The captain muttered a bizarre incantation and the ball of shadow grew larger.

Only one chance, thought Key. He dove forward with an necessarily unguarded thrust.

The captain was too focused on his spell to react.

Key’s blade pierced the darkness and the hand.

The darkness dissipated.

The captain screamed in pain and dropped to his knees. His sword again clattered to the platform.

Key lowered his sword. “Your magic is even worse than your skill with a sword.” He backed toward the edge of the platform. It wouldn’t matter now how many times the captain could stand.

I picked this fight scene as the winner as it manages to fulfill all the main criteria. We get a very definite and clear sense of place, there’s a distinct style to the piece. The combatants are clearly drawn very quickly and we know all we need to about them to appreciate this scene. The fight itself is fast-paced and full of action, without too much detail slowing things down. I also liked how the captain tried to change things up by using magic when he realised his sword skills were outclassed and that proved to be a bad mistake. A good lesson in fighting that the fancy and powerful stuff isn’t always very usable – if takes a long time, be it a fancy kick or a spell, it’s harder to pull off than a simple, powerful, straight technique.

It was really hard to choose from all the entries. Everyone that entered should be proud, as every scene I read had a lot going for it. But congratulations to Alex, Jason and Bryce for making the final cut.

What do you think? Do you like the scenes I chose and do you agree with my reasoning?