The great Le Guin re-read

EarthseaI’ve decided to re-read all the Earthsea books by Ursula K Le Guin. Well, I say re-read,  but I’ve not read them all for the first time yet. I can’t remember how old I was when I read the first one, A Wizard of Earthsea, but I do remember that it blew my tiny mind. At a guess, I’d say I was probably 10 or 11 years old. After that I consumed the next two – The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. I didn’t know there was any more to Earthsea than that. At the time, there wasn’t. But there is now, as the pic at the top left there shows.

The books in the pic are in order and include all the Earthsea novels and short stories, but I’ve only ever read those first three. Those beloved, well-thumbed Penguin editions. According to Wikipedia, the books were published thus:

A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published by the small press Parnassus in 1968. Set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the story relates the education of a young mage named Ged under the tutelage of his aunt (a village witch), as an apprentice to a wizard, at a school of wizardry, and finally through a quest of self-discovery. The tale of Ged’s growth and development continues in four subsequent novels, which are set a few years later and towards the end of his long life.

Le Guin’s so-called Earthsea cycle came to include the novels The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), and The Other Wind (2001). The author has also written seven short stories set in Earthsea, two of which preceded the novels.

So that’s what I have there, waiting to be read. I’m very excited to be starting on this journey again. I rarely re-read anything, as there’s so much out there and I want to read new things. But old favourite books are like old favourite places, magical to revisit. Especially books read when you’re young. They’re like the best summer holiday you ever had and whenever you go to that part of the world again it means so much more, layered with nostalgia. Of course, sometimes it’s a problem. Sometimes the book turns out to be awful and just happened to be perfect for your young mind at that time (*cough*Magician*cough*). Or the great holiday location turns out to be a tiny, dirty beach right by an industrial waste site and it’s only so strong in your memory because you got to touch the boob of Lucy from Leicester, who you never saw again, but it painted what was actually an awful two weeks in shades of rose and honey.

However, in this case, it’s not a problem. Le Guin is a master of her craft and these books are so good. I’m about halfway through A Wizard of Earthsea again and the prose, the language, the ideas, the descriptions, they’re all as fantastic as I remember. Whether the other books will hold up and whether the ones I’ve never yet read will be as good or worse or better I’ll find out as I go along.

One thing that’s for sure, I can’t wait to introduce my son to these books. That’s partly why I’m reading again now, to get an idea of how old he might need to be. I’ve got loads of time, he’s only 4 months old now. But one day, I’ll hand him A Wizard of Earthsea and know without a doubt that I’m handing him a piece of magic. Altering magic, that shapes minds and ideals. There are so many other things I can’t wait to show him and my favourite books and movies are high on the list. I really can’t wait. My son, I have such sights to show you. (Although I might save that one until he’s in his teens at least.)


All The Wealth In The World at Lakeside Circus

I’m very happy to say that my first short story for 2014 has been published. It’s in an online magazine, so free to read for everyone. Can’t complain about that, eh? It’s in the first issue of a new zine called Lakeside Circus, which looks like it might become a very worthwhile spot to keep an eye on. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Lakeside Circus is a short-form speculative fiction magazine, published quarterly by Dagan Books, LLC. Beginning with Year One, Issue One (Nov 29, 2013), we will produce the magazine for sale in multiple ebook formats, and then release most of the content online over the course of three months (free to read). Readers can subscribe, purchase the individual ebooks, or wait for the free content to appear on our site.

And my story has indeed just appeared on the site. Here’s how it opens:


by Alan Baxter

The Time-Maker’s expression is serious. I can’t stop looking at her translucent skin. She must be a thousand years old. Her eyes are almost lost in folds, but dark brown irises glisten, bright and sharp, in the tiny gap. “Nothing without a cost,” she says again, voice heavily accented. Eastern European, maybe Russian.

“I know,” I say.

“Do you really? Not just money.”

“Whatever time you give me has to come from somewhere else. I get it.”

Read the rest here.



RealmShift for only 99c – it’s a Bookblast!

Those wonderful people over at Gryphonwood Press have set up a very special little promotion for RealmShift, called a bookblast. The bottom line is that you can get RealmShift for just 99c on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. Also, if you buy the Kindle version for 99c, you can get the audiobook version through Amazon for only $1.99. This is some kind of madness, surely? Well, maybe, but it’s only lasting for a day or so, so you’ve got til the end of Wednesday, US time, to get your copy.

Here’s the skinny:

Book 1 of The Balance
Today through Wednesday only, get RealmShift, book one of
Book 1 of The Balance for 99c

RealmShift, book 1 of The Balance series by Alan Baxter, is only 99 cents on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook! What’s more, if you buy the Kindle version for 99 cents, you can also buy the Audiobook for $1.99 through Amazon! Don’t miss this great intro to Alan’s dark urban fantasy series.

Kindle US

Kindle UK

Kindle AU

Kindle CA 



You know you want to – go get some! And please share this around any of your networks if you think people will be interested.


10 Question SFF reading meme

I saw this over at S F Signal, and thought it asked some interesting questions about sci-fi/fantasy/horror reading. So I’ve snurched it for my blog here. Feel free to copy the questions and add your answers in the comments, or snag it for your own blog, Facebook, blood-scrawling on the wall of your cold, wet dungeon or wherever else you like to write things down.

The last sf/f/h book I read and liked was:

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. This is the book that Pirates of the Caribbean was based on. It’s been on my To Read list for ages and I finally got around to it. It’s a brilliant book, the story far better than the movie. (Although, I do love those movies.)

The last sf/f/h book I read and wasn’t crazy about was:

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. It’s not a bad book, but it’s far from a great book. It’s just kinda okay and I suppose I expect more than that from King. The previous King book I read, Joyland, was excellent.

The sf/f/h book I am reading now is:

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. This is a short story collection. I’ve never heard of Ballingrud before or read his stuff, but I saw this book being touted a lot in my social media. I always take the advice of those good people, so I bought it. I’ve only read the first two stories so far and it’s really quite excellent.

The sf/f/h book(s) I most want to read next is/are:

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig and The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D’Lacey. The first is the third Miriam Black book and I was a huge fan of the first two, Blackbirds and Mockingbird. The second is Volume 2 of The Black Dawn. I read the first one, Black Feathers, a while back and it was very good. In fact, I reviewed these books for Thirteen O’Clock. Blackbirds here, Mockingbird here, and Black Feathers here.

An underrated sf/f/h book is:

I’m not sure about this, as I don’t really know what’s underrated among other people. If I had to pick something that certainly deserves more attention I would suggest Joanne Anderton’s Veiled Worlds trilogy. The third one of those is out soon. (Jo is a friend, yes, but her books are fucking amazing, so shut up.) Another book I read last year that blew me away and I haven’t seen much about it elsewhere is Max Barry’s amazing novel, Lexicon. And the last thing to spring to mind is a novella from Spectral Press that I read last year, called Whitstable by Stephen Volk. It’s an amazing blend of fact and fiction.

An overrated sf/f/h book is:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. And not just because Card is a hoofwanking bunglecunt of the highest order. (I saw that insult on Twitter this morning and just had to find a place to use it.) But seriously, I hated this book before I really knew anything about Card’s despicable views. I read it because it’s always on top 100 sci-fi book lists so I thought I should try it. And it was very dull, and the central conceit was really obvious from early on and it’s just stupid. On that front, another highly overrated SF book is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Now Scalzi isn’t a nasty piece of human sputum like Card. Scalzi is actually a stand-up guy, a really nice fella if my social media interaction is anything to go by and he does fantastic things for the SFF community. But this book did not work for me at all, I couldn’t finish it. I reviewed it briefly on Goodreads here if you’re interested in more of my opinion on it.

The last sf/f/h book that was recommended to me was:

I honestly can’t remember… I talk about books with people so much that it’s impossible to keep track. I know Lexicon was recommended to me not that long ago. Sorry, my brain isn’t up to this question.

A sf/f/h book I recommended to someone else was:

Recently I’ve been happily recommending these wherever I can:

Lexicon by Max Barry
Whitstable by Stephen Volk
The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy by Sarah Pinborough
Midnight & Moonshine by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
Cabal by Clive Barker

Seriously, if you’ve been stuck for a good read lately, go and buy all of those now and you’ll be reinvigorated. Amazing stories, brilliantly written.

A sf/f/h book I have re-read is:

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. I lovelovelove this book and recently reread it again. It is a truly outstanding achievement, but I’m a total Clive Barker fanboy, so maybe I’m biased. But seriously, if you haven’t read it, do. In fact, I’m going to add it to the list answering the previous question, because I’m always recommending this and Cabal by Barker whenever I get the chance. I’m adding Cabal too. I’d better stop there though – honestly, I could sit here and recommend books all day.

A sf/f/h book I want to re-read is:

The Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin. I’ve read and loved the original trilogy a few times, but never read the others. I recently bought all the various volumes and have them sitting on my side table ready for a big reread. (Well, reread of the first three, then read of the rest.) I’m really looking forward to it.

So there you go. I thought those questions might lead to an interesting discussion of good reading. Mmmmbooks, how I love them…


365 Shorts Success!

I’m as surprised as you are, but it seems I succeeded in the task I thought I was certain to fail. Towards the end of last year, I set myself a task to see if I could read 365 short stories in 365 days. I thought I’d never get close, but I wanted to record my short fiction reading and see how I went. Here’s the original post about it. I decided to set the year to start on December 1st 2012 so the end didn’t get lost in the Xmas/New Year shenanigans. That means the 365 days ran up until today, November 30th 2013. Instead of failing, I passed my target. I read 388 stories this year.

Now this has to be tempered with a few points of order. First and foremost, this includes podcasts. I listen to loads of short fiction podcasts – I’ve got a page all about them here. So I included listening as reading. I also included books and magazines that I’m in, but didn’t include my own story in the total count. Even so, I easily read past my limit. And it’s worth bearing in mind that my son was born at the end of October, so for just over the last month of this challenge, I’ve hardly read much at all. I think it’s fair to say I would have passed 400 if it wasn’t for that slight interruption to normal programming.

The thing this makes me realise more than anything else is that I probably read around this many stories every year. I made no special effort to make sure I hit my target. I listened to podcasts and read anthologies and magazines the same way I always do, and it turns out my personal challenge wasn’t much of a challenge after all. My eyeholes absorb that much short fiction on a regular basis regardless. Go me!

If you’re interested to see all the stories I read in the past 365 days, I’ve made a page here with all of them listed. Some were total shit, some were meh and some were absolutely outstanding. I haven’t bothered including any commentary on the list – it was a pain in the arse enough just to remember to write them all down as I went.

So it’s easy to read loads of short stories every year and you totally should. The form is fantastic, it takes hardly any time and the reward always far outweighs the effort. Unless the story was shit, of course, but that’s the risk you take. I read a story this year that won a massive award and I thought it was absolute bollocks. But that’s the beauty of art – there’s something to appeal to everyone and something to make everyone say, “That was bollocks.” You can usually find the magazines and editors whose taste gels with yours without too much effort and then you’re likely to get a hit rate of tasty yarns far higher than random sampling. But I’d recommend random sampling as well, because there are gems in every shitpile from time to time. Below, I’ll make a list of my favourite short fiction places, to get you started. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just a shove in the right direction. Enjoy!

Great short fiction:

First and foremost, let’s get the shameless self-promotion out of the way. You can find a selection of my short fiction, free to read online, by checking out this page.

For great anthologies, check out the publications by these awesome Aussie small presses:

Ticonderoga Publications

Dark Prints Press

Coeur De Lion

(There are loads more out there.)

For excellent magazines, check out:

Abyss & Apex
Albedo One
Analog Science Fiction & Fact
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
Apex Book Company
Asimov’s Science Fiction
Aurealis Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Black Static
Crowded Magazine
Daily Science Fiction
Escape Pod – sci-fi podcasting
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Innsmouth Free Press
Kasma SF
Lightspeed Magazine
Midnight Echo – magazine of the AHWA
Nightmare Magazine
PodCastle – fantasy fiction podcasts
Pseudopod – horror fiction podcasts
The Red Penny Papers
Strange Horizons
Wily Writers

Go forth, read short fiction and become a better person!*

(* May not actually make you a better person.)