Monday, 23 March 2015

Quick Update

Hey Peeps,

I've been laying low the past week or so due to illness, and as such it has meant I have fallen behind with my reviews. I am on the mend, so I hope to have those reviews up and live this week. So keep a look out!

My interviews with Daniel Polansky and Jay Kristoff are still in the pipeline. Both authors are extremely busy at the moment, but rest assured those interviews are coming!

I've only received one new book this week, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. It looks amazing. Cannot wait to dive in.

I've recently also discovered an amazing local author by the name of DK Mok. If you haven't read any of her work yet I implore you to change that immediately. Her new release, entitled Hunt for Valamon, is mind blowing!

So yeah, things are back on track here at Smash Dragons. Apologies for falling behind!


Book Review - Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind

I have to admit that I approached this book with mixed feelings. Would I love it? Or would I hate it? Goodkind has always provoked heated debate. In one corner are the rabid fans for whom he can do no wrong. In the other corner are the disenchanted and scornful who have never understood why he became as successful as he did. I tend to sit on the fence when it comes to Goodkind and his work. At times I am blown away, and other times I am let down. Severed Souls follows what I would say was Goodkind's worst work, so I was hesitant in starting this. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this latest instalment from him. 

Severed Souls takes us on a roller coaster ride of action and emotional distress as Goodkind attempts to up the ante on his previous book. Richard, Kahlan, and their merry band are caught up fighting unseen and powerful occult powers, and all of the characters we know and love are facing annihilation at its hands. 

The story itself was solid without being amazing, and I thought it was a major improvement on Goodkind's previous few releases. The action scenes were well executed, and I enjoyed the long chase at the start of the book. The pacing of Severed Souls was up and down. At times the story flowed brilliantly and at other times it became bogged down as Goodkind recapped previous events from other books. The characters were also a mixed bag (I've come to expect this of Goodkind), with some enthralling me and others boring me. Characterisation has never been Goodkind's strongest point , but I really liked how Ludwig Dreier was depicted and positioned throughout the story. He was a strong villain with clear and understandable goals and motives that I could relate to. I especially enjoyed how he wasn't as one dimensional as some of Goodkind's other characters. Richard also had moments of brilliance, and the ending took me back to the golden age of Goodkind in the nineties, but overall Goodkind did struggle to get my emotional involvement throughout stages of the story until the end.

The magic, as always, was interesting and enjoyable, but I found myself getting frustrated with the author's explanation of 'occult powers' for every single thing that happened that didn't make sense. I wanted more detail, hoping for some new amazing magical system that Richard and Kahlan would have to combat, but there was none coming. I can handle enemies breaking the laws Goodkind himself has established in previous books as long as it is explained. Sadly however 'occult power's' turned out to be about as far as Goodkind was willing to go in his detail most of the time.

What made this book for me was its ending. It almost felt like Goodkind was cruising at until the end. The finale of the story was gripping and incredibly tragic, and it took me back to how I felt when I first read Wizard's First Rule. The question for me then is why Goodkind couldn't replicate this throughout the rest of the book? The ending alone lifted this book from an average read to a solidly enjoyable one. Things fell into place, and I found myself wanting more. This was the Goodkind that I loved as a teenager, the writer who could blow my mind and tear out my heart. 

All in all I found Severed Souls to be an enjoyable read, albeit with many frustrating facets that could have been improved prior to release. If you are a Goodkind fan then you will love Severed Souls and be willing to ignore the weaknesses it has. If you aren't, then you will probably not be able to get past the flaws. A major improvement over previous works, I hope Goodkind continues to write and get back to producing works similar to his early books. 

3 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Book Review - My Experiences in the Third World War and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock

When I think about Michael Moorcock many things cross my mind. Legend, trailblazer, and prolific. He is one of the few writers who has literally changed the speculative fiction landscape with their work. The anti-Tolkien (as he was termed), a revolutionary who challenged and changed literary conventions whose work to this day remains telling and incredibly fascinating. When I heard that Hachette was rereleasing all of his best work in new editions I was over the moon. I am the proud owner of battered books that chronicle the adventures of his antihero Elric, but I never really explored any of his other work. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to dive into this book, and in doing so I rediscovered my love for short stories and realised just how diverse and talented a writer Moorcock really is. 

My Experiences in the Third World War and Other Stories is a cracking anthology filled with mind blowing concepts and rollicking tales that stunned me. Moorcock defies all literary barriers and pushes boundaries with every story and novella in this collection. I adored the novella The Cairene Purse and how it took me to a post oil Egypt in the future and explored the relationship between materialism, faith, and alien abduction. I was also blown away by The Frozen Cardinal, a bizarre yet vivid tale of a Cardinal found frozen in a block of ice on top of a mountain. The Deep Fix was an entertaining tale of drug experimentation and another world, and The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius introduced me to a world of weird investigation and alternate history. The chapters that make up My Experiences in the Third World War were also brilliant, blending a mix of alternative history alongside themes of war and religion. It was strange yet incredibly compelling reading, especially when Angkor Wat was hit with a nuclear weapon.

What was stunning to me in reading this anthology was how rich and original each novella and story was. Moorcock arguably paved the way for thousands of writers who have followed in his steps, and he laid the foundations for a lot of modern speculative fiction with his work. I can see, upon reading this boo, his heavy influence on many modern day authors whose work that I love and cherish. His ideas, characterisation, and execution are amazing, and I was floored by how undated his work still is. His characters and protagonists are all interesting, strange, and unique, and I found myself shocked by some of the revelations and twists as each story unravelled at breakneck speed. I struggle to think of any other writer's whose work still remains as telling as Moorcock's decades after being published. 

All in all this first volume of Moorcock's best short stories is an amazing collection of riveting, weird, and fascinating tales. If you haven't read any of Moorcock's then I suggest you snap to and get a hold of a copy of this book. It serves as a wonderful introduction to his shorter works, and is a cracking read that will keep you enthralled late into the night. 

5 out of 5 stars!

A review copy was provided. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Interview - DK Mok

Hey Everyone!

I am stoked to be able to bring you the latest instalment in our interview series with local authors. This week I had the privilege to chat to rising star DK Mok. Mok has already made a big impression with her work so far, and her upcoming release Hunt for Valamon has the speculative fiction community buzzing with excitement! I was able to chat to her about various things, including her upcoming release and her love for Roald Dahl! 


DK Mok, welcome to Smash Dragons.

Thanks! I’ve been enjoying your current interview series with Australian authors, so it’s a pleasure to be here.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your upcoming release Hunt for Valamon.

I’m a fantasy and science fiction author with a degree in Psychology and a passion for science, adventure stories and geek culture. My debut novel, The Other Tree, was published by Spence City last year, and my second novel, Hunt for Valamon, is being released on the 7th April 2015.

Hunt for Valamon is an epic fantasy adventure about a vanished prince, a dangerous curse, and the cleric who’s determined to uncover the truth. In a nutshell, when Prince Valamon is mysteriously abducted, reclusive healer Seris must leave behind the sanctuary of his book-infested temple, venture into the wild, unconquered lands, and find the missing prince before tensions in the empire erupt into war.

Why did you become a writer? Was it something you worked towards or just kind of fell into?

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in libraries, and for me they were a magical place full of fantastic adventures, strange worlds and powerful lessons. Books transported me and transformed me: they could entertain me for an afternoon, comfort me through difficult times, or profoundly change the way I saw the world.

Early on, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to bring people the same wonder, excitement and intrigue that my favourite authors had brought to me. Throughout my school years, I was always writing: mostly short stories, vignettes, and at one point, epic space opera serials.

I had to take a break from writing while I was earning my Psychology degree, but once I graduated, I began to focus more seriously on my writing. While I loved psychology and science, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a fiction writer and that if I never gave myself the chance to chase that dream, I’d always regret it.

So, I worked an office job during the day, and wrote novels and short stories after work, on weekends, and whenever I had a spare moment. Some of my short stories started getting published in anthologies, and last year, Spence City published The Other Tree. It’s been a long road, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Your upcoming release Hunt for Valamon is generating lots of excitement in the speculative fiction community. What challenges did you face in writing and getting it published?

Hunt for Valamon is more complex than anything I’d written before. It’s set in a sprawling fantasy world, with intertwining plot threads, and a large cast of characters driven by conflicting motivations. It was a challenge trying to get the story and character arcs to hit all the right marks at the right times, but it was immensely satisfying to see it coming together.

I was actually quite fortunate that Spence City signed Hunt for Valamon not long after signing The Other Tree. Some publishers prefer authors not to genre-hop, but my editor was incredibly supportive of my propensity to leap from rogue botanists to vanished princes.

Tell me about the world in Hunt for Valamon. Is it primarily medieval, or can we expect some curveballs in terms of design?

I have a strong affection for the classic sword and sorcery worlds, having grown up playing Dungeons & Dragons and soaking up the Dragonlance series. However, one of the joys of fantasy, and speculative fiction in general, is that you can tweak conventions, sidestep reality and play with expectations.

The world in Hunt for Valamon is medieval in the sense that the society is largely feudal with pre-industrial technology, but the population is slightly more socially progressive and culturally diverse. I love aspirational universes, like the one in Star Trek: The Next Generation, so while the world in Hunt for Valamon is still troubled by violence, plague and politics, it does have very literate peasants and a modest level of hygiene.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

I’ve always loved fantasy, and I’ve thrown an icosahedron or two in my time. I grew up playing games like Quest for Glory and Might & Magic, storming catacombs and slaying skeletal warriors. I always played fighters, archers, thieves or mages – all the better for storming or slaying – but over time, I became more interested in the healers, the clerics, the peacemakers and diplomats.

In real life, many of my heroes are doctors and aid workers. People like obstetrician Catherine Hamlin and ophthalmologist Fred Hollows. I admire their courage, ingenuity, passion and dedication. As time went on, I found myself wanting more and more to write a fantasy adventure featuring a healer as the protagonist. I still wanted sinister dungeons, deadly enemies, and maybe some explosions, but I was curious to see how a healer would deal with these obstacles, especially someone with a deep commitment to do no harm.

The result was Hunt for Valamon. The protagonist, Seris, is a bookish healer tasked with finding the missing prince. Unable to rely on combat prowess, stealth or charisma, he has to be clever, resourceful, persistent and creative.

I get the feeling from the blurb that magic is going to be a key part of Hunt for Valamon. Can we expect a fully-fledged magical system to be a part of the world or will magic be a more mysterious player in the story?

I’m a great admirer of fascinating magic systems, like the one in Mitchell Hogan’s Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, but magic has a more shadowy presence in Hunt for Valamon. While sorcery plays a key role in this story, it doesn’t take centre stage so much as it haunts the rigging.

In Hunt for Valamon, sorcery is forbidden and has largely disappeared from the known world. So, Seris doesn’t use sorcery, not really. He uses deity-assisted enhanced healing techniques, which is mostly exempt from penalties involving dismemberment. Even so, sorcery bubbles in the background and slithers in the shadows, because this story is partly about what happens when you try to stamp out what you don’t understand.

The cover art for Hunt for Valamon looks amazing! Did you have much input in its design?

Thanks! Spence City is great when it comes to involving the author in the cover design process. Graphic designer and author Errick Nunnally created the wonderful cover art for Hunt for Valamon, and all the major elements that ended up in the final version were his suggestions. He was incredibly patient with me, especially when I kept sending him photos of nebulae with comments like “can we make it more luminous?”

Are you an architect or gardener when it comes to writing? How does a day of writing usually unfold for you?

I’m definitely an architect. I love interwoven story threads, dramatic character arcs, foreshadowing and circularity. I’m in awe of writers who can do all that on the fly, but I need my pages of notes and spreadsheets. There’s still room for the story to grow and shift organically, but I like to have a clear idea of how the story’s going to end.

I write mostly in the evenings after work, and as much as I can on the weekends. I carry a notebook wherever I go so I’m always jotting down ideas when I get a spare moment.

This isn’t your first foray into publishing. Tell me about your previous book The Other Tree. How is it different to Hunt for Valamon?

The Other Tree is an urban fantasy novel about an outcast botanist searching for the legendary Tree of Life and a cure for her ailing father. It’s more of an adventure romp, with dashes of natural history, paleontology, hijinks and geek culture. It was heavily influenced by the researchers I admired growing up: people like zoologist David Attenborough and primatologist Jane Goodall. The Other Tree also gives a cheerful nod to the Indiana Jones movies, which first sparked my interest in tales of academics having fantastic adventures.

While Hunt for Valamon is high fantasy, The Other Tree is set in a fairly contemporary world, with modern problems and current social politics. The themes in The Other Tree are also more personal and less epic, revolving around issues of family, mortality, ambition and priorities.

I have read that you’re a massive fan of Roald Dahl (me too!). What was it about Dahl that helped shape who you have become as a writer? Who else would you rank as influential to your craft?

It’s always great to meet another Roald Dahl fan! Growing up, I was constantly reading and re-reading his books. I admired inquisitive Sophie in The BFG, I was fascinated by the giant bugs in James and the Giant Peach, and after reading Matilda, I spent months trying to develop telekinesis. No luck.

I loved Dahl’s books for their brave, clever and kind child protagonists and their wondrous, imaginative adventures. However, I think what influenced me the most was the wicked humour and the touches of the absurd.

I’ve always been drawn to stories that are a little quirky, a little oddball. The stories that retain a sense of fun or dry wit even though, at times, they might venture into darker territory. Later on, I became a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s work for the same reason. His stories are brilliantly imaginative, deeply intelligent, socially incisive, and extremely funny.

It’s something that has come to shape my own writing – the touches of quirk and the appreciation of the absurd. I believe that humour is an essential part of the human experience, whether it’s sly wit, gallows humour or random oddness. And it was authors like Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett who first fuelled my love of fun, fantastic adventures.

What is it about fantasy fiction that is so appealing in your opinion?

For me, it’s the sense of awe and wonder these stories can evoke, the sense of stepping beyond the confines of reality. In fantasy, and other speculative fiction, you can explore any concept, any theory, any society, any world. You can hold up a mirror to your own life, or plunge through the looking glass into alien realms.

Fantasy can be a wonderful form of escapism, but equally powerful is what you bring back with you when you return to reality. When you emerge from the pages, those concepts and worlds sometimes cling to you, they’ve infused and changed you. Whether it’s a greater appreciation for the plight of elderly swamp dragons, or a deeper understanding of the value of diversity, you bring some trace of those stories back into reality, tracking it in like mud or dandelion seeds, and in doing so, you subtly change the world around you.

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

I love the sound of magpies warbling. It has the loveliest musical quality.

What is your take on the speculative fiction scene here in Australia? Do you think it is going from strength to strength at the moment?

I’ve found the speculative fiction scene in Australia to be wonderfully vibrant, innovative, active and welcoming. It’s exciting to see all the imprints, small presses, writers, anthologies, awards, podcasts and blogs that champion speculative fiction in its various forms.

Just to name a few, there are publishers like FableCroft Publishing, Twelfth Planet Press and Ticonderoga Publications; podcasts like Galactic Suburbia and Galactic Chat; and blogs like Ebon Shores, Stephanie Gunn, and your own Smash Dragons.

It’s a fantastic community, and last year’s Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot really highlighted just how vigorous and diverse the scene is.

If you could be one superhero for a day who would it be and why?

For powers alone, I’d probably be Blink from the Marvel Universe. Of all the superpowers, teleportation is the one I covet most. I’d visit all the places on my bucket list, and if I was feeling particularly anarchic, I might sneak a peek inside the secret chambers of the Great Pyramid.

Best and worst writing habits?

My best habit would probably be making time to write and setting a schedule. My worst habit would probably be my tendency to lose track of time when I’m writing. I need to set reminders to get up and stretch my legs, because sitting for extended periods is pretty rough on your health.

What is your take on book piracy? Some authors argue it is a positive thing, and others disagree. Where do you stand?

I think your recent post on the topic summed things up very thoughtfully ( I appreciate that different authors have different opinions, and not all authors are affected in the same way. However, as I get to know more authors personally, it’s hard not to see the actual impact it has on some people’s ability to make a living and continue writing.

Your short story ‘Morning Star’ (in the One Small Step Anthology) was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award last year. How did you react upon receiving the news?

I think I was in a bit of a daze. A delighted, stunned, excited daze. I’d only had a few short stories published at that stage, so to see my name on the shortlist alongside authors like Joanne Anderton, Juliet Marillier and Kim Wilkins was just incredible.

What can we expect from DK Mok in the coming years? Any more work in the pipeline?

I have a cyberpunk noir novel in the works, channelling my Raymond Chandler years, but I’ll have to see how things go. After that, I have a fantasy trilogy on the boil, and I’m scheming quietly on a standalone science fiction book after that.

Best tip for aspiring writers?

Of the advice I’ve received, these are the pieces that have stood me in good stead. Read widely, write a lot, work on your craft, connect with like-minded people, always be professional, be persistent, keep writing, and do what you love.

Can fans expect to see you at any events or conventions this year? We do love to get our books signed!

I’m looking forward to the NSW Speculative Fiction Festival in July, and I’m hoping to make it to GenreCon in October. If you’re in the area, it’d be great to say hello!

Finally, give us a quick reason as to why we should immediately go out and buy Hunt for Valamon.

I don’t know about “immediately” – you make it sound so urgent! I’m the sort of person who meanders to the bookstore, browses happily for hours, then returns the next day with a trolley before cheerfully trundling away with my new haul. Then again, I also like the instant delivery of ebooks, in which case, you don’t even have to go out…

Either way, if you enjoy fantasy adventures with mystery, humour and heart, then you might enjoy Hunt for Valamon.

DK Mok, thank you for taking the time to talk to Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Matthew!

Hunt for Valamon is out soon... I can't implore enough how cool it is so far (I am about halfway through it) and that we all need to get behind local writers! So go and get yourself a copy as soon as possible!

You can also drop Mok a line on social media or via her website at

She is an incredibly friendly and lovely person, and very interesting to chat to. So befriend and support peeps!

Stay tuned for my review of Michael Moorcock's My Experiences in the Third World War and Daniel Polansky's Those Above. They will be uploaded tomorrow and Sunday respectively.


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Quick Update

Hey Peeps,

Just a quick update... things have been a little slow around Smash Dragons this past fortnight for a variety of reasons (daughter and I have both been under the weather), but I can happily report now that things are back on track and as hectic as before!

The next interview I have coming up for Smash Dragons is with rising Australian star DK Mok. Keep an eye out for it early next week. Regular Smash Dragon's enthusiast Mitchell Hogan has her pegged as Australia's next big thing in the speculative fiction. I'm excited people!

I can also report that Daniel Polansky is still lined up to do an interview, he is just snowed under at the moment with his latest book release. So be patient... he will grace the blog soon!

My book haul in the past fortnight as again been awesome... ranging from Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning and Jen Williams' Iron Ghost through to Michael Moorcock's A Breakfast in the Ruins and Ian Tregillis' The Mechanical. Thanks to Hachette Australia!

I also purchased V. E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic... so much good reading to come for me!

Finally, stay tuned for my next opinion post on the weekend on the craft of writing, and how joining a writing group has helped me both as a writer and dad.


Book Review - Robot Uprisings edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

As Daniel H. Wilson writes in his introduction, one of the unique things about robots is, unlike other terrifying threats or monsters, that they are real and already woven into the very fabric of our society. We use robots already for so many tasks, ranging from everyday mundane cleaning through to processing sensitive military data. So what would happen if the robots, the very things that we as a society have come to rely on for so many things, rebelled? 

Chaos... mayhem... and terror. That's what. 

Robot Uprisings, an anthology edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams (RRP $19.99 from Simon and Schuster), paints a horrifying and stark future for the human race if the technology goes haywire. Picture self-driving cars suddenly driving off bridges, or children's toys conspiring to commit murder, and you get a glimpse into our possible future. Composed of stories each depicting a different scenario, Robot Uprisings left me genuinely frightened and riveted at the same time. I was enthralled by each story, and the prospects of our future downfall unless we can get a handle (even that smacks of my human hubris) on the technology. Ranging from Scott Sigler's bug cyborgs and Charles Yu's murderous android maid through to Hugh Howey's super anti virus and Daniel H. Wilson's nanobots, Robot Uprisings kept me engrossed page after page. It is a big call for an anthology, but I can honestly say there was only one story in this book that I didn't really enjoy. Wilson and Adams have put together one of the strongest and most entertaining anthologies I have ever read. I absolutely adored the uniqueness of each story, and I thought each author did a remarkable job in exploring the realms of possibility. Each story or novella was fast paced, action packed, and usually full of mystery and mind blowing concepts. I seriously cannot think of another anthology that even comes close to this one in terms of the sheer pleasure (albeit frightening pleasure!) I had in reading it. 

Robot Uprisings is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction. A top notch anthology full of riveting stories and novellas that paint a terrifying possible future for the human race. 

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.