Review: Cold Comfort by David McDonald

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Strap yourself in as three tales from award winning speculative fiction author David McDonald take you on a tour of time and space.

Visit a frozen post apocalyptic Earth, a galactic delivery service, and very Australian dystopia to discover what happens to ordinary people faced with extraordinary choices or challenges.

Published by Clan Destine Press.

 

NOTE: Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Cold Comfort is a collection of three stories from Australian author David McDonald; two of the stories are reprints and one is original to this collection.

Cold Comfort (originally published in Fablecroft Publishing’s Epilogue)

Ice spiders, snow bears and deadly cold are only most obvious of the dangers a young trader faces as she searches for the secrets of the Elders on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Epilogue is an anthology which focused on apocalypse, and more, strove to explore the world beyond it–is there hope beyond the end of the world?  Cold Comfort explores these themes in a frozen world, where people survive only in sealed domes and heat itself is a currency.  The story follows Vanya as she travels through the icy wilderness, fighting off wild creatures as she searches for a dome in which she can trade, and discovers so much more.

There is a deceptive sparsity to McDonald’s writing which well suits this story.  Everything feels truly bleak and utterly real: the reader struggles with Vanya as she searches the frozen world.  It really feels as though there is a whole world here, and that McDonald has only just begin to explore it (and as a reader, I hope that he does return to it, because it is fascinating).

Through Wind and Weather (originally published in eMergent Publishing’s Deck the Halls)

A rebellious pilot races against time to make a vital delivery to a planet in need. But in the face of the worst solar storm in years, his only ally is a sentient spaceship who is an outcast even to its own kind.

From the Christmas-themed anthology Deck the Halls, this one is (obviously) Christmas themed.

This is a slighter story than the others in Cold Comfort, but it has no less impact.  Without spoiling anything, this is the kind of story that I’m not usually a fan of, but McDonald makes it work by adding in just enough fascinating worldbuilding.  I kind of want one of these spaceships, and now please.

Our Land Abounds

In a world divided by war and wracked by food shortages, the Republic of Australasia is an oasis protected by its isolation and the Border Patrol. But, a chance encounter leaves a weary veteran asking whether the price of plenty is too high.

This story is original to this anthology, and is my favourite.

In the possibly-all-too-near future, Australia has suffered through a war, and in order to protect itself and its wealth, has closed its borders.  But all is not well in the Republic: a teacher is taken away for daring suggest that Australia has enough wealth to share, and illegal immigrants are hung for their “crime”.

This closed-off republic is not a kind one, however–a teacher is taken away for daring suggest to her students that Australia has enough wealth to share, and “criminals” are hung for being discovered as illegal immigrants.

This story in particular cuts very close to the bone, with respect to the Australian government’s current policies, and it feels far too much like a plausible future.  I feel like, as with Cold Comfort, McDonald has shown us only the tip of a horrifying and fascinating Australian dystopia, and I would love to see him return to or expand upon it.

In summary

This is a brilliant collection, and especially recommended if you haven’t read any of McDonald’s work before.  The stories are well described by the collection title Cold Comfort: these are not easy worlds, but McDonald manages to place hope even in the middle of despair.  Vanya discovers that her world isn’t as lost as she thought, Nick and his sentient ship will find a way through, and even in the depths of dystopia, people still speak out.

Highly recommended.

 

AWW15: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive — alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth.

 

 

NOTE: I was part of the Aurealis Awards judging panel which awarded These Broken Stars Best YA Novel in 2013.

These Broken Stars is the first book in the Starbound trilogy, co-written by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, and Kaufman’s debut novel.

This is very much a book that I can see as being a gateway into speculative fiction, especially for female readers (I know that I would have made extreme grabby hands for that cover alone when I was a teenager, and would have loved the story even more).  There are some reviews that complain about a lack of worldbuilding in terms of the science fictional universe, but I can actually see that being a positive thing for a lot of readers – if you have a young reader who hasn’t read much science fiction, too much worldbuilding can be daunting.  These Broken Stars is a book primarily about the co-protagonists, just enough revealed of the world(s) around them to be tantalising, without being overwhelming.

And those protagonists.  Lilac and Tarver are both complex characters – when they walk onto the virtual stage, both can easily be seen as little more than cliches: Lilac the spoiled princess, Tarver the heroic soldier.  They quickly move past this, both of them showing their own strengths and unexpected talents.  And Lilac is never a damsel in distress – they both save each other more than once.

I can imagine that some readers would be put off by the romance in this – and that’s cool, if romance isn’t your thing, you might be better off looking elsewhere, but I found it utterly believable and compelling.

There are two other books planned as sequels (This Shattered World, the second book, has been recently released) and I hope that Spooner and Kaufman expand out and out and show us more of this fascinating world.

 

 

On chronic illness as a Beast


Beauty and the Beast by TGB-illustrations on DeviantArt

I want to link to a couple of great blog posts about chronic illness: Michelle Goldsmith talks about writing and chronic illness and Terri Windling talks about “Books, the Beast and me“.

I love that there is conversation about chronic illness happening.  I hate that anyone has to struggle with any kind of illness, of course, and if I had a magic wand, the first thing I would wish would be health for everyone.

I am really taken by Windling’s description of her illness as a “Beast”.  It’s apt – it’s a haunting, the monster that lurks beneath the bed or in the shadows behind the door, just waiting to pounce.  The Beast is unpredictable, the Beast cannot ever truly be tamed, though it can sometimes be lulled to quiescence if you use just the right song.

The Beast is a creature who has haunted me for almost thirteen years, and will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.  It has been lurking somewhat more than usual these past few months, and I am grateful, like Terri Windling, for the fact that, even when things are bad, I can usually escape by reading.  The early days of my dance with the Beast were much harder – I had stretches of time when I found it extremely hard to focus on words.  Which, when you’re someone who has grown up surrounded by books and the worlds in books, is akin to having some part of you ripped away.

Thankfully, I mostly know the ways to keep the Beast semi-tame, thanks to proper diagnosis, a good medical team, medication and an extremely supportive family.  And the days where I cannot read are very rare now.

Thank you, Michelle, and thank you, Terri, for your honesty and the reminder that even in living with a Beast, there can be Beauty.