Don’t Let Us Lose Another Bookshop

Some grim news came out today regarding Notions Unlimited Bookshop, one of Australia’s favourite bookstores. Owner-operator, all round good guy, and king of all that’s spec-fic, Chuck McKenzie, announced that the bookshop is in very real danger of closing by Christmas or soon after, due to the ever rising costs of running a business.

The following is taken directly from the Notions Unlimited Bookshop‘s website:

Since the day we opened our doors, just 20 months ago, the staff and management of Notions Unlimited Bookshop have worked hard to create something more than just a specialist bookstore, and we feel genuinely proud of much that we’ve achieved during that time, such as:

# Continuing to offer a great range of publications, including the best of Australian small-press, rare and hard-to-get titles, genre classics, and latest new releases.

# Building and maintaining a reputation for friendly and knowledgeable service.

# Keeping our prices reasonable – no mean task in these days of Internet shopping and global economic downturn.

# Becoming accepted as part of the local community, plus creating an ever-growing community of our own, bringing together fans of SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, gaming, manga, esoteric interests and more – something we’re especially proud of, and that we hope to continue doing for a long time to come.

In order for us to reach that last goal, however, we really do need the assistance of our customers, general supporters, and Facebook subscribers at this time.

Currently, Notions Unlimited Bookshop is looking at the very real possibility of closure – if not by Christmas, then perhaps just afterwards – with the chief cause being the ever-rising cost of running the business. It’s not definite at this point, but the writing is on the wall, and this appeal is an attempt to reverse matters before it’s too late.

Our aim, therefore, is not just to increase our daily sales, but to substantially increase the number of potential customers. Previously, we have tried to boost customer numbers through signage, social media and print advertising – yet almost 80% of our customers tell us they discovered us through referral from friends, family or colleagues.

So this is exactly what we’re asking our friends and customers to do for us now – refer us!

In a nutshell, while we’d love you to pop into our shop over the next few weeks and purchase a book (or two) to help keep us afloat, what we really want you to do is tell other people about us. Jump on Twitter and Facebook, tell your friends, family, workmates, and anybody else you know who loves SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, manga, media tie-ins, gaming, esoteric subjects, and other such related genres, to come and check us out in person (and then tell all of their peeps!). We’re not looking for handouts – just introductions to potential customers who may help to keep us in business. And do be sure to mention to everyone you refer us to that this is all in aid of keeping Notions Unlimited Bookshop operating.

Finally, I just want to make it absolutely clear that this is a genuine appeal, not some fake ‘going out of business’ sale or marketing trick. If things don’t improve markedly for us over the next month, we will almost certainly be forced to close our doors forever. No business owner ever wants to admit that a business is failing, but there comes a time when that owner has to either quietly slide towards the inevitable, or step into the spotlight and ask for assistance. So, if you feel you can assist, and will do so, you will have the absolute gratitude of myself and my staff – as well as, hopefully, a future in which we may continue to provide you with the range, service and community you deserve.

In the meantime, a massive and heartfelt ‘thank-you’ to all of our customers, regular and casual, who have supported us already since we opened. We couldn’t have survived thus far without you.

With Thanks,

Chuck McKenzie (Chief Zombologist)
Notions Unlimited Bookshop
facebook.com/pages/Notions-Unlimited-Bookshop/
@notionsun
[email protected]

Bookshops are an endangered entity in this day and age, and whenever one closes its doors for good, we are all a little poorer for it. Don’t let this happen to Notions Unlimited Bookshop. Please help in any way you can.

Review: Terra Magazine Issue #1

Terra Magazine, Issue #1
Edited by Jason Franks
ISBN: 9781921872167
Publisher: Black House Comics

Terra Magazine, from Sydney-based Black House Comics, is a throw-back. A return to comics of a different era. Without political or social agenda, they were made to entertain; to shock and to thrill and to make you laugh. In many ways, Terra Magazine reminds me of that. Of EC Comics and early 2000AD.

In Terra Magazine‘s first issue, editor Jason Franks has assembled a varied collection of artists and writers. And an even more varied collection of genres. The almost Frazetta-like cover by Jason Paulos, the first thing that will catch your eye on the news-stands, is a brilliant evocation not only of the first story (see below), but also of the pulpish nature of the entire comic/magazine.

From the opening “Gourmand Go in ‘Memorial Soup’“, written by Franks with artwork by Harry Purnell, we are thrust immediately into deep space. This is exactly the sort of tale I remember reading in old 2000ADs; a ship crewed with human mercenaries, stuck drifting due to a busted Fission Drive, their distress signal picked up by the biggest, ugliest, meanest looking cockroach-lobster aliens in the galaxy. But you just know there is going to be a twist. While not exactly unpredictable, the story is fun. The writing is clear and concise and the artwork crisp and quirky.

Next up, we’re off to feudal Japan for “Kensuke“. Written again by Franks, but with artwork by Tom Bonin, this story couldn’t be more different than the opener. What struck me most was the total change, not only of genre, but of the feel of the artwork. While Purnell’s art for “Gourmand Go…” consisted of crisp line-work and lettering, Bonin’s approach in “Kensuke” is much rougher, sketchier, offering up a style more in line with the setting. And the story? Samurai warriors. Martial arts monks. Court intrigue. Concubines. Ninjas. Need I say more?

It is these shifts in genre and style that make Terra Magazine so much fun. The very next story, “The Catamorph“, with a script by Chris Sequeira and art by Jan Scherpenhuizen, places us firmly back in EC Comics ‘Tales from the Crypt‘ territory. Two cops respond to a break and enter alarm from the posh-end of town only to encounter a — quite animated — Ancient Egyptian mummy, and so much more besides. The script and artwork are sort of timeless in this supernatural-noir tale. It could be the 60s, or the 70s, or any decade onwards. I tend to favour a late 80s setting – wait until you see the push button phone in the Police Office! Apart from these initial panels though, there isn’t much in the way of visual clues to tell us exactly ‘when’ we are… and I see this as a good thing leading forward for “The Catamorph“. As I said: timeless.

Shadowmancy: Episode 1, The Key in the Wall“, with a script by Jason Franks and art by Nicholas Hunter, continues on in a similar mode. The artwork is more modern, with sharp Manga-inspired lines, but the story is still straight out of something I would have read as a kid in the 70s and 80s. For me, a new and refreshing take on that nostalgia seems to be what Terra Magazine is all about. In “Shadowmancy…“, young Quay decides the follow his mysterious and often absent father, only to find himself the centre of a battle between powerful sorcerers at a secret academy. The panels in this segment are really well composed. The script is sparse and increasingly intriguing. Once begun, I just had to keep going through to the end … and this is where I was reminded of what might be Terra Magazine‘s single downfall.

The story sequences are just too darn short!

Of those reviewed so far, only “Gourmand Go…” has anything resembling a self-contained story. I’m hoping for more stories set on that deep space kitchen, but if not, that’s okay. Everything else, though? Yep! To Be Continued…

It might not be so bad if the stories weren’t all so good. So much fun. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have to worry about the wait between issues. But, tri-annual? I have to wait one third of a year before I get to see if Imperial Guard Kenuke gets away? Or whether detectives Vic and Doyle get any closer to discovering the Mummy’s secret? That’s quite a torturous wait for a reader, especially when the story crumbs are so small (but oh so tasty). “Shadowmancy...” was, to me, the most interesting story in terms of future development, but just for one more page, or another two pages, or three! I definitely feel it could have given more.

Gun Smoke Bud“, with a script by Jason Franks and art by Yuriko Sekine, is in a style I’m not overly familiar with. I’m guessing it’s manga inspired. The story is simple enough — Two Tokyo detectives investigate a Yakuza massacre at a shopping mall, their only witness? A young stoner — but it doesn’t give us much indication of where it might be heading in the future. And after the crisply stylised lines of “Shadowmancy“, the artwork didn’t do that much for me.

The final panelled story is Ben Michael Byrne’s “Prototype“. Written and illustrated by Byrne, “Protoype” is another short, self-contained, 2000AD style sci-fi story. Nothing serious, just good fun with the usual gruesome twist at the end. The darker, blockier artwork really suits the piece and it is quite different from anything else in the magazine. I can see this continuing with a new short, and comically-nasty, story each issue.

Which brings us to the final story, “Tusk” by Jason Fischer, which isn’t a comic at all. Still in keeping with the serialised nature of the magazine, “Tusk” plumbs the Golden Age of genre fiction with something that could have come right out of an early 70s issue of Analog. “Tusk” is straight prose — with a few Rhys James illustrations sprinkled throughout — of the sort that Mr Fischer has become well known for: tight, well written, original and more than a little bit gonzo. “Tusk” is The Planet of the Pachyderms with a healthy dash of Robert E Howard thrown in. A post-apocalyptic world run by a civilisation of war-like elephants. Talking warrior elephants, no less. Who enslave humans. And they wear ‘swords’ on their tusks! Count me in! Not only are the battle scenes tremendous, but there are hints of a much deeper story developing here. I very much look forward to reading more of “Tusk” in future issues.

So, that’s that. My non-comicaknowledable take on what I think is a really excellent debut. Terra Magazine is a great blend of exactly the sort of comics and tales that got me reading as a kid — a wonderful retro revival that, despite its obvious influences, still offers something new and refreshing for readers of both comics and of genre fiction. It should be available on your local newsagent and comic store now, or you can visit www.terramagazine.com.au Let’s hope Black House can keep the issues coming!

Midnight Echo #6 – reviewed by Andrew Kliem

DISCLAIMER: Thirteen O’Clock is managed by Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Andrew McKiernan as Contributing Editors. While the Contributing Editors’ roles at Thirteen O’Clock are editorial and critique, all three are primarily writers. It is inevitable that their own work will form part of the Australian and international dark fiction publications which are Thirteen O’Clock’s focus, and as such it is also inevitable that their work will be reviewed at Thirteen O’Clock (to prohibit this would not only be unfortunate for Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan themselves, but for their hardworking editors and publishers).

Thirteen O’Clock will always have a third party contributor review the Contributing Editors’ work. Such reviews will be unedited (aside from standard corrections to typos and grammar), posted in full (be they negative or positive), and will always be accompanied by full disclosure of Baxter, Dowker, and McKiernan’s place at Thirteen O’Clock. At no point will Baxter, Dowker or McKiernan review their own work.

Review by Andrew Kliem

Like Greg Chapman before me (who recently reviewed Cemetery Dance Issue 65), I’m new to the world of literary journals. They’re just underground enough to fly under the average person’s radar. But I have recently begun delving into the back catalogues of several prominent speculative fiction magazines and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.
For this review I’ll be looking at the latest issue of Midnight Echo, which is the official magazine of the Australia Horror Writers Association. It’s a quarterly publication packed full of fantastic horror fiction, as well as a smattering of interviews and local art. If you buy the e-book version it will only set you back two dollars, which is a ridiculously good buy given the quality and quantity of its contents.

This particular issue is dedicated to fiction that marries the genres of science fiction and horror, which leads to some truly wonderful and creepy tales. I’ve always felt those two genres go hand in hand; the future often seems bleak and a lot of sci-fi tends to venture into darker territory anyway. There’s something for everyone here, from dystopian futures to hard sci-fi to Lovecraftian mythology. I’ve decided to elaborate on a couple of my favourites and then touch on the rest.

The magazine opens strongly with Earthworms by Cody Goodfellow. Set in a desolate future where the world is on the brink of collapse it tells the tale of a man who is picked up by the aliens he always believed would come, only to have a terrible truth revealed. The language is beautiful and evocative and the story simple, yet scarily plausible.

Possibly my favourite piece is Joanne Anderton’s Out Hunting for Teeth. It’s inventive yet also deeply personal. Wype is a spell cast by The Witch to scavenge scrap metal and human remains from the bowels of a derelict space craft, but one day on a routine hunt, he discovers information that could change everything. It’s a touching story, despite the subject matter. You can’t help but become attached to the cybernetic main character and the boy’s mind he carries around inside him.

One thing that became clear when reading this issue is that Midnight Echo isn’t afraid to tackle confronting material if it’s handled intelligently, and Mark Farrugia’s Seeds is a perfect example of this. It explores a dystopian world where women are no longer born and the supplies of female seeds are beginning to run dry. Many men have turned to homosexuality, but Australia has become a brutal theocracy in all but name and crossing the church is a dangerous prospect. We follow two men, Royce and Grant, who are desperately trying to scrape together enough cash to buy some seeds and start a family, but both their methods and lifestyle go against everything the church stands for. It’s a gripping story, from the arresting opening scene to the chilling climax.

The other particularly confronting piece in this issue is Stephen Dedman’s More Matter, Less Art, which casts its lens into the mind of a paedophile and the tenuous balance he’s achieved.

In Cat Sparks’ Dead Low (which was recently nominated for an Aurealis Award), Clancy and her crew are scavenging for lost treasure in the depths of space, but they find more than they bargained for and nobody’s motivations are what they seem.

Surgeon Scalpelfingers by Helen Stubbs is short but terrifying story of a genderless protagonist who wakes up in pieces on a laboratory floor, while Graveyard Orbit by Shane Jiraiya Cummings tells the tale of a space crew on the edges of the known universe who stumble upon something inexplicable.

There are also two stories from Thirteen O’Clock staff members in this issue. Trawling The Void by Alan Baxter explores the depths of space paranoia and evokes a fantastic Event Horizon vibe. Meanwhile Andrew J. McKiernan’s The Wanderer in the Darkness is an excellent piece of Lovecraftian fiction with hints of hard sci-fi.

There’s one poem in the mix, Silver-Clean by Jenny Blackford. It’s an evocative, ominous little piece, and it’s accompanied by some very creepy art.

Rounding out the fiction are the two winners from the 2011 Australian Horror Writers Association Flash and Short Story Competition. In Duncan Checks Out by Nicholas Stella, a simple checkout worker, begins to learn some troubling secrets, while Winds of Nzambi by David Conyers and David Kernot is a unique and rather dark tale of Portuguese colonisation and gods brought to life.

The magazine also has two excellent interviews. The first is with Scottish author Charles Stross, whose latest novel, Rule 34, was recently nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. He discusses growing up under the threat of nuclear war and the way he has melded that persistent paranoia with a love of crime fiction and Lovecraftian mythology.

The second interview is with renowned Science Fiction artist Chris Moore, who has drawn covers for such classics as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and We Can Build You. Covers are an often overlooked part of publishing and it’s great to hear the process a designer goes through. It’s particularly interesting to note that Chris says he has little contact with the actual author the majority of the time.

The thing I found most disappointing about the issue was the art, but I think this may be simply due to reading it in e-book form. I found that on my screen, the majority of it came across as pixelated and lacking clarity, but perhaps the printed issue would rectify this.

Still, that is a small blemish on an otherwise amazing publication. All in all I can’t recommend this issue of Midnight Echo enough. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend two dollars (and even the printed version is a steal at ten dollars). I have a feeling a subscription may be finding its way onto my credit card sometime soon.

Midnight Echo magazine is available in both print and e-book editions from http://midnightechomagazine.com/

Andrew Kliem is a journalist and freelance writer with a penchant for all things dark and speculative. When he’s not trying to carve the perfect sentence, he’s playing poker and consuming more coffee than a man should. He can be found lurking at his website http://www.andy-kay.com, where he posts a variety of rambles, reviews and miscellaneous thoughts.