Five Brilliant Books of Aussie Spec Fic

I grew up watching Doctor Who, Star Wars, and reading Spec Fic. Anything I could get my hands on, if it had a dragon on the cover or a spaceship, I was there. Which back in those days (the Eighties) meant books from the UK or the US. When I discovered that there were people writing Spec Fic in Australia, it blew my mind. It made me think that maybe I could have a crack at it as well.

Australian Spec Fic was extremely hard to find growing up in the Eighties, but these days it’s everywhere, and it’s weird and wild and wonderful. Here are five of my favourites, old and new.

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Oil Says Bye-Bye To Matthew Fox (And The World) in Last Light Trailer

What if all the oil in the world suddenly stopped working? That’s the premise of Peacock’s Last Light, and unsurprisingly, the sudden collapse of oil as an energy source throws the world into chaos. In the series’ first trailer, we see how one intrepid family (which includes actor Matthew Fox of Lost fame as the father) deals with the fallout.

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Tatiana Maslany Has “A Normal Amount of Rage” in She-Hulk’s Mostly Charming Premiere

Hello, and welcome to this meeting of the Tatiana Maslany Appreciation Society! I’ll be your host as we once again ponder a question that has troubled many a member in the wake of Orphan Black’s 2017 finale: Will this incredibly talented actor ever again get a role that’s worthy of her skills?

After the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, the jury is still out. Maslany is great, but can a Marvel series keep up with her?

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Who’s Telling the Truth? Uncovering History in Nghi Vo’s When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is the second of the cleric Chih’s adventures in the Singing Hills novellas by Nghi Vo. Though less than two hundred pages long, this novella is packed with depth when it comes to insights into culture and history of both the world of the Singing Hills and our world. In Chih’s previous adventure, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih encounters an old lady named Rabbit who tells her about the recently deceased empress In-yo, who she served for many years, as Chih asks her about old objects they find around her house. As Rabbit’s story unfolds, Chih discovers a queer tale of resistance unknown to any previous official accounts of In-yo, a history that could destabilize the empire of Ahn if it were written down.

We start off When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain with Chih at the mercy of three tiger sisters who threaten to kill them and their traveling companions if their account of Scholar Dieu and and the tiger Ho Thi Thao is not captivating enough. When the tiger sisters find that Chih’s version of the story does not line up with the version they know, even though the ending of both versions is the same—that is, Scholar Dieu and Ho Thi Thao end up living happily ever after (Vo 58)—Chih tells them the story how it has been to told to them: “long after [Dieu and Ho Thi Thao] were both dead, through a traveling actor who told it to a literate friend.”

Similarly, when it comes to history, oftentimes historians are working from second or thirdhand accounts of what happened, and sometimes the first written accounts appear many years or even centuries after an event has happened. How reliable are the sources we have, and what do the differences between contradictory stories reveal about history in both the fictional world of Ahn and the real world? To tackle these questions and shine light on what constitutes historical truth, let’s examine a couple real world examples with parallels to Tiger: the question of whether the Medieval Frankish king Charles the Bald was bald in life, and the hidden stories of the Chinese survivors of the Titanic.

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Who’s The Fairest of Them All? Diane Hoh’s The Accident and D.E. Athkins’ Mirror, Mirror 

Mirrors in the horror genre can be pretty terrifying and not just in a “yikes, bad hair day” kind of way. They can plunge us into the realm of the uncanny where what we see is simultaneously recognizable and unfamiliar. They can act as thin spots between realities, fluid and permeable when they’re supposed to be solid and reliable. They can show us things that are meant to remain invisible, reflections of people or things that shouldn’t be there, that aren’t there in “real life,” like a figure just over the shoulder of our reflection or a different face lurking just beneath our own. In Diane Hoh’s The Accident (1991) and D.E. Athkins’ Mirror, Mirror (1992), mirrors are central to the horrors encountered by their protagonists, ranging from past trauma to the price of beauty. 

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Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Ninety

Hey, y’all! Welcome back to the Rhythm of War Reread! Things are getting hot up in here, as Adolin goes into the second day of the trial, and it goes… hmmm… not well, exactly, but possibly not as badly as he thinks it did. He comes out of it feeling like he’s completely failed, though. Failed himself, failed his father, failed his people, failed the world… and that feeling of failure, combined with one of the chief causes of the perceived failure, leads Shallan to decide on a really bad idea as a solution. So bad, in fact, that she doesn’t even share it with Adolin. All in all, it’s a very up-and-down sort of chapter. Come on in and join the discussion, as we talk about the highs and lows.

[Today, he would have the stage all to himself.]

Series: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

If You Prick Us, Do We Not Rust? Tara Campbell’s “Spencer”

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we cover Tara Campbell’s “Spencer,” first published in the March 2020 issue of Speculative City, and now available in Campbell’s Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Spoilers ahead!

[“I only needed something small from her, something she would barely miss.”]

Series: Reading the Weird

Without Fear of Certain Death: Alex White’s August Kitko and the Mechas From Space

It’s the year 2657 and August “Gus” Kitko is a jazz pianist with a front seat to the end of the world. Like the string quartet playing a swan song on the deck of the sinking Titanic though, he’s doomed not to live out his last days with friends, or family, or even in the comfort of his own home, but at a lavish party hosted by Earth’s richest. At the estate of Lord Elisa Yamazaki in Monaco, Gus is the hired entertainment for a victory party meant to celebrate the Dictum, a warship designed to eliminate the alien mechas, or Vanguards that have for years now threatened the extinction of humanity.

Of course, the Dictum is only a symptom of the United Worlds goverment’s giant hubris; it’s cast aside in the first battle like scrap metal, leaving only hours for the Vanguards to regroup before they inevitably commit intergalactic genocide. Gus is left amongst insipid apocalypse partiers drinking their last hours away. Standing at the edge of a cliff, he wonders if he should take his own life before he’s casually slain. Only of course, the fall might not kill him and he’d be leaving his half-dead body to the mercy of marine life or seagulls, and as we can all concur, “seagulls are assholes.”

Believe it or not, all of this occurs in the first few pages of August Kitko and the Mechas from Space, a rapidly shifting stunner of a space opera novel that is more delightful whiplash than languidly-paced tragedy.

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Vampire Rebellion Is On the Rise in the Vampire Academy Trailer

Should you find yourself questioning the return of vampire shows to the TV lineup this fall, well, I don’t know what to tell you: Sign me up for all of ’em. (Vampires are immortal, after all; their series will never really die.) And especially for Vampire Academy, the latest from Vampire Diaries co-creator Julie Plec, who co-created this one with Marguerite MacIntyre (The Vampire DiariesThe OriginalsLegacies). Bestie vampires (okay, fine, one’s a half-vampire, whatever that means) tangled up in rebellion while navigating fraught relationships? Yes. Yes, please.

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The Revelation Will Not Be Televised: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts is literary catnip: a modern possession that turned into a reality TV show? A modern possession that might not be possession at all?? Catholicism???

But like all great horror stories, it ends up being about human emotions more than anything, with, yes, an element of incisive class commentary, and, even better, an ongoing conversation with both The Exorcist and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

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