Stephen Dedman

Stephen Dedman is a writer, book reviewer, and tutor. He’s previously been an actor, a manuscript assessor, an academic and legal WPO, an editorial assistant for Australian Physicist magazine, an experimental subject, and a used dinosaur parts salesman.

nogrady-best aussieThe Best Australian Science Writing covers a wide range of topics, from the mating habits of prehistoric fish to plans for a future Mars mission financed by reality TV; from the quintessence of dust to the complexity of the human brain; and to mapping the universe. Some of the essays are horrifying, some amusing, but all are very readable to anyone with a fairly basic level of scientific literacy. I don’t remember there being a single equation in the entire book, nor an explanation that I found tedious or redundant.

After a foreword by Adam Spencer and an introduction by editor Bianca Nogrady, the volume begins with one of the most interesting pieces: Elmo Keep’s essay on Mars One and the West Australian selected to be one of the astronauts on this one-way mission. It’s written in an entertaining style, but seems aimed at dashing the hopes of anyone dreaming of crowd-funded interplanetary travel in the foreseeable future. This is followed by Fiona McIntosh’s The Vanishing Writers, which is – to my relief – not about the death of the author (that favourite fantasy of structuralist critics), but about the search for the insect responsible for the markings on Scribbly Gums.

Next is the first of three essays on the future of robotics and AI, before Jesse Hawley explains how we feel wetness despite having no nerve endings that recognize it (this is one of the few pieces where I can vouch for the findings; while I was reading this on a plane, the child sitting next to me spilled a cup of water on my leg!). Wendy Zukerman gives a brief sketch of the evolution of genitals. Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax converts an extract from an old Dictionary of Photography into a poem, the first of two in the book. Bridie Smith’s Playing God concerns applying triage principals to endangered species to determine which we should concentrate on saving – one of many rather depressing pieces on the probability of the next Great Extinction Event occurring in your lifetime.

Many of the essays on medical matters are even more disturbing: Christine Kennedy’s The Past May Not Make You Feel Better, on Huntington’s disease, is so grim that I twice had to take a break from reading it (and I’m a horror writer!) and David Roland’s How I rescued my brain isn’t a bundle of laughs, either, though Trent Dalton’s Beating the Odds, about a new design for an artificial heart, is considerably more optimistic.

On a lighter note, Alice Gorman gives us a job description for an interplanetary archaeologist, Ian Lunt speculates on the potential for interactive apps to replace paper field guides, and Jenny Martin proposes new metrics for ranking universities and suggests implementing a “no asshole rule”. Lauren Fuge praises Pickering’s mostly forgotten “computers”, the underpaid women who did the hard work of mapping the universe with 1880s tech; Nick Haslam and Gina Perry re-examine Stanley Milgram’s experiments; John Long describes the sexual position favoured by Microbachius dicki; and Tim Dean peers into The Mind of Michio Kaku.

Whichever field of science interests you, you’ll almost certainly find something worth reading in this collection. And if science doesn’t interest you, maybe you should read this anyway.

The Best Australian Science Writing 2015

Edited by Bianca Nogrady

Newsouth. 298 pp.

 

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

Jone_quietThere are some stories that leave a bittersweet hole inside you. For me, In the Quiet is one of them.

In the Quiet is a simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-warming story about Cate Carlton, who has recently died. She lingers near her family, watching, remembering, and through her eyes we see snippets of how her life once looked, how her family grieves and—eventually—how they begin to move on.

These snippets are part of what makes this novel so clever. Cate’s story is given to you a few pages, a few paragraphs, or a few lines at a time, and you move through a kaleidoscope of the past and present until you learn enough to piece together the story. This process feels organic, reflecting the way we think about our own lives, how one event can remind us of another, and how we don’t recall our memories chronologically.

You learn about each of the characters in a natural way, hearing stories of their past and future in equal measure until they seem rounded, deep, and complex. I could easily relate to aspects of each character: Cate’s love, Bass’s desire to protect his family, Jessa’s stubbornness, Rafferty’s teasing humour, Cameron’s sensitivity, and the ways of dealing with isolation, vulnerability, and loss demonstrated by each friend and family member. Empathising with each of these real and relatable characters was easy. Too easy.

I cried on-and-off through the last hundred pages of the book. Not because anything particularly devastating was happening—though, sometimes, that was also the case—but because I could see myself so clearly in each of the characters that even their minor turmoils and successes affected me. I quickly fell in love with these people, for their beauty and their flaws, and cared about what happened to them.

The interaction between the characters of In the Quiet feels as remarkably raw and honest as the characters themselves. How they talk to one another, how relationships change over time, and how feelings and connections are conveyed through actions more than words, reflects reality, as well as the novel’s title.

The title, In the Quiet, is referenced many times throughout the book, in the way characters sit in silence instead of speaking over dinner, the way Cate remembers not responding to a question asked while she was still alive, and the way she is now unable to speak to her family when she is desperate to. Cate’s husband Bass is said to have ‘the quiet’ in him as he sits and stares soundlessly, with actions and feelings resonating with him more than words.

These carefully woven references are everywhere. The author, Eliza Henry Jones, is a master of foreshadowing. Every memory reveals something or adds something to the overall picture. Little hints slowly become larger stories, but characters never say too much. This restraint allows a patchwork to form like the fields where the novel is set.

In the Quiet depicts an image of country life that is easily one of my favourite literary interpretations of rural Australia. It never feels forced—as representations of the Australian outback sometimes can—with symbols and imagery as careful and deliberate as character development and plot progression. Both the country and city spaces, as well as the suburban inbetween, is made to seem beautiful and interesting in its own way, and the relationships between people and the spaces they inhabit are as important as the relationships between characters.

Everything about In the Quiet screams sophistication, so it’s hard to believe that this is Eliza Henry Jones’s debut novel. I’m holding my breath for her next masterpiece.

Jamie Marriage

Jamie Marriage is an internationally published Australian cyberpunk author with a taste for the dangerous and obscene aspects of life. His work ranges from the sarcastic to the satirical. Links to his work can be found at www.JamieMarriage.com

hough-zero-world-coverTo be an assassin with a clean conscience sounds unlikely, especially when you get to live the high life without any of those niggling feelings from the lives you’ve ended, but not for cybernetically enhanced spy/assassin Agent Caswell.

For Peter Caswell, special operative for an agency so secret that even he doesn’t know anything about it, aside from the assumed name of his handler, life is good. Waking up after every covert mission in an expensive hotel with a stuffed bank account and no memories of the things he had to do to earn it (thanks to an implant in his neck) seems like a perfect job. Or at least it did until he was sent into space on a sudden mission.

Tasked with investigating the deaths of an advanced weaponry development team, Agent Caswell’s implant is unceremoniously activated without the usual preparations, and he is sent on a seemingly impossible mission with little more than a photo of a missing scientist and a countdown ticking away before his implant fires up and wipes his memory of everything he’s recently done. What’s ahead of him goes beyond normal time and space; the most interesting mission Peter will ever forget.

Zero World is the new exciting, adrenaline-pumped novel by Jason M. Hough. And when it comes to high risk action Hough knows his stuff.

Falling somewhere between a Cold-War era spy novel and a sci-fi action story Zero World is a narrative that complicates genres in incredible and attention-grabbing ways. Taking place partly on Earth, in space, and somewhere familiar but far from normal reality, Zero World takes from each location and scenario a true feeling of belonging; characters are rooted deeply in their environments and language smoothly shifts between settings in a way that becomes far more real than is usually found in genre fiction.

Action and subterfuge are the basis of Zero World, which Hough handles masterfully. And while it would have been easy for this novel to become little more than a bloodbath, the author often deepens the narrative, replacing violence with intrigue, and quick solutions with drawn out resolutions, which prove ultimately more satisfying to the reader. But when the action strikes, it hits hard, often taking the form of breathless escapes and pure fights for survival against incredible odds.

Zero World is a perfect novel for any reader who loves action or spy novels, with plenty of intensity to engage all readers. A fantastic read and one you won’t want to put down until it’s finished.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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