Reviews of Ditmar Nominees

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Ditmar Nominees 2004

NOVEL

  • The Etched City, K J Bishop (Prime Books)
  • The High Lord, Trudi Canavan (Harper Collins)
  • Abhorsen, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
  • Fallen Gods, Jonathon Blum & Kate Orman (Telos)
    This mercifully short novel is ostensibly written in the Doctor Who universe, but the Doctor's involvement is so abstract and tangential it could basically be any do-gooder who happened to come by. Told in a weird, present-tense style that is supposed to be evocative but is mostly just confusing, it seems to be focused on characters in ancient Greece (or more specifically Minoa), who are struggling against something, and along comes the Doctor (you're not even sure which Doctor it is, I thought it was the sixth but elsewhere I read it was the eighth) literally out of the sky (like a fallen god, get it?) to help sort things out. There's also a character named Perdix, who might be the Doctor, also, I'm not sure. All the dialog is preceded by a dash rather than enclosed in quotes, making it difficult to tell who's talking sometimes. There's some nice imagery, the Greek backdrop seems to be fairly well settled, and the authors are obviously doing their darnedest to experiment with a dreamy, detached tone to try to transcend the typical thigh-slapping Doctor Who story. Finally towards the end things come into sharper focus for a while as the Doctor is tortured while tied to a cliff somewhere (an Orman/Blum trademark), probably the most (or only) memorable scene in the story, but it's been done often enough in their previous work to seem ubiquitous if not downright smarmy. In a different context with more real plot to work with, this book might have amounted to something, but in the end I think its reach exceeds its grasp.
  • Orphans of Earth, Sean Williams & Shane Dix (Harper Collins)
    This second book of the trilogy is typical of that difficult middle child that doesn't quite live up to the first volume and as a result creates certain amount of trepidation towards the ultimate third volume. But it's still a pretty good read, and it's a good thing to be able to get some more capital from the universe the authors created in Echoes of Earth. What's left of humanity is trying to keep in contact without giving away their existence to the mysterious aliens known as the Starfish, who seem hellbent on wiping out any trace of civilization that they come across. The equally mysterious Youl are another group of aliens who've taken to following the Starfish around, staying out of their way and even worshipping them in a certain sense, but ultimately wishing they were rid of them. The human protagonists try to team up with the Youl to strike back at the Starfish, with mixed results that require a third book to resolve. This book seems a bit padded, there's an awful lot of negotiation between the species as they try to learn each other's language and beliefs, when a little more action once in a while would've been helpful. By making the Starfish so dominating, Williams and Dix risk painting themselves into a corner because any space battle with them is basically no contest and over with in seconds, so there's not much to describe. Also interesting is the continued use of multiple copies of a fixed group of characters which, particular with the character of Alander, give the authors the ability to explore different facets of the same personality based on what has happened to that particular copy. There's also room for plenty of ruminating about what it means to be human, since most of the copies are "engrams", not really people at all, and the spectre of such powerful aliens gives them much to contemplate on their place in the universe, although interestingly there isn't much representation from the standard judeo-christian religious point of view. A quick read, a decent amount of fun, could have been even better but still leaves you wanting to see how it all turns out in book three.
  • NOVELLA OR NOVELETTE

    "Alien Space Nazis Must Die", Chuck McKenzie (Elsewhere)
    "Sigmund Freud & the Feral Freeway", Martin Livings (Agog! Terrific Tales)
    "Louder Echo", Brendan Duffy (Agog! Terrific Tales)
    "Uncharted", Leigh Blackmore (Agog! Terrific Tales)
    "Rynemonn", Terry Dowling (Forever Shores)
    "La Sentinelle", Lucy Sussex (Southern Blood)
    Set up as horror, this is a decent story without too much of a point about an antique doll dealer named Annis who comes upon a particularly rare specimen of china doll that turns out to have a more of a past than she bargained for. Intercut with her dealings with the original owner, who's a bit of a loon to the point of being locking Annis in the house with the doll, are a bunch of scenes from the 1930's that don't seem to have much to do with the overall story other than making it longer. But it's not as scary as it sounds, although it is discovered the doll has been over the years possessed by a golem, it doesn't do much with this arrangement, and eventually all the demons are put to rest and that's that. Sussex shows some adeptness with pacing and prose, presumably that's what lifted this story above the 14 others in the collection that weren't nominated, since it couldn't have been for the plot alone.

    SHORT STORY

    "The Mark of His Hands", Chuck McKenzie (Orb)
    "The Singular Life of Eddy Dovewater", Deborah Biancotti (Agog! Terrific Tales)
    "Kijin Tea", Kyla Ward (Agog! Terrific Tales)
    "Room for Improvement", Trudi Canavan (Forever Shores)
    "The Truth About Pug Roberts", Kirstyn McDermott (Southern Blood)
    This is a fairly conventional but clearly told and compelling horror story about a children's book author stranded in the middle of the outback who is rescued by an elderly couple who have a grown son right out of "Of Mice and Men". He's a bit on the slow side, but is a big fan of her books in the "Pug Roberts" series, to the point of believing that the characters really do exist. What's particularly effective about this story, or would be if it wasn't in a horror collection, is that the tone of the narrative as it transpires betrays nothing out of the ordinary, right up until the last couple of pages when junior goes a little nuts after finding out that the characters he likes so much are inside her head, and he decides to go looking for them. All of this plus suitably unresolved ending make for a very memorable little story.
    "Frozen Charlottes", Lucy Sussex (Forever Shores)