Author Top 5s - Charlotte McConaghy's Top 5 Dystopian Movies

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today Charlotte McConaghy is joining me to celebrate the release of her new novel 'Melancholy' and she's celebrating in a way I can definitely get behind by sharing her top 5 dystopian movies. Being a dystopia nut myself - and by that I mean someone who reads and writes dystopia not someone who stockpiles canned food in a bunker - I'm looking forward to seeing her picks.

Thanks for having me on the blog today, Justin! To celebrate the release of my new novel Melancholy – Book Two of The Cure Series, which is dystopian sci-fi, I thought I’d list my top 5 dystopian movies. Except my top 5 is actually a top 7 – because I love so many and I’m really bad at choosing. There’s a whole lot of classics I’ve left out, and I’m going to be completely honest about why: I was born in 1988 and I’m still working my way through a lot of the golden oldies.

Whereas utopia refers to an imagined place or state where everything is perfect, dystopia refers to a state or place where everything has gone to hell.’  – Taste of Cinema (for a much more high-brow list than mine visit their website)

1.     Children Of Men

This is a strange and terrifying look at what might happen to the world if women stopped being able to have children. It’s beautifully done, poignant and utterly believable. Based on the novel by P.D. James.

2.     The Matrix

A whole lot of fun, and the first time, as a kid, that I really stepped into the genre and considered ideas like worlds within worlds and reality versus perception.

3.     The Hunger Games

Part of the YA dystopian craze that’s flooding the market, this one is undoubtedly the best of the lot. It’s more brutal and bleak than others of its kind, (Divergent, Maze Runner) and with a damaged but strong female lead it’s compelling to watch. Based on the novels by Suzanne Collins.

4.     Minority Report

One of the most interesting projections of our future – what if we could stop a crime before it was committed? Can we punish intent before action? Thrilling and action-packed, it’s also a good moral dilemma to ponder. Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick.

5.     I Am Legend

About the last man left on earth, I Am Legend is both scary as hell and actually quite sad. It tackles the big idea of human loneliness in a poignant, worrying way, and it has freaky vampire zombie things. Like a lot of great dystopian movies, it too is based on a book – this one by Richard Matheson.

6.     Serenity

Serenity is on this list because I absolutely love Firefly, the television show that preceded the film. A western in space? Hell yes. Gun-slinging, sci-fi fun. I’m still mourning its premature cancellation.

7.     Perfect Sense

This one doesn’t usually come up on lists, and causes a really varied response – a lot of critics hated it, but I love it. It’s about what would happen to humanity if we started losing our senses one by one, starting with smell and ending with sight. What would remain? What would become important? Romantic and sad, it’s one of my faves.

Charlotte grew up with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. At fourteen, her English teacher told her that the short story she’d submitted was wildly romantic, so she decided to write a novel. Thus began her foray into epic fantasy and dystopian sci-fi, with sweeping romances, heroic adventures, and as much juicy drama as she could possibly squeeze in.

Her first novel, Arrival, was published at age seventeen, and was followed by Descent, which launched The Strangers of Paragor series, an adventure fantasy for teenagers.

She then wrote her first adult fantasy novel, Avery, the prologue of which came to her in a very vivid dream. Her second adult novel, Fury, is the first in a romantic science-fiction series called The Cure, set in a dystopian future.

Charlotte currently lives in Sydney, having just finished a Masters in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television & Radio School. With her television pilot script, she won the Australian Writer’s Guild Award for Best Unproduced Screenplay of 2013. She will, however, always be a novelist at heart, still unable to get her nose out of the books.

Her latest novel Melancholy is available now from Momentum Books.

Author Top 5s - Amanda Pillar

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today Amanda Pillar, accomplished short-story writer, editor, archeologist (yes, like Indiana Jones) and most recently author of her debut novel Graced from Momentum Books joins me to share the top 5 influences on her work. Go for it Amanda.

Wow. Like everyone else, it’s really hard to narrow down the top five books or movies that inspire you in the genre you write. But, I’m nothing if not an optimist, so let me have a crack! (I may cheat though, and go for movies, TV shows and books).

The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop

For anyone who knows me, or who has read Graced, this may seem a little obvious. Anne Bishop wrote this deliciously dark trilogy where there were no love triangles, just a woman born to a special – and deadly – destiny. In Bishop’s world, there are people of the ‘blood’ and those born human. Their level of their power is shown by the coloured jewels they obtain through two rite of passage ceremonies. This story is dark, and certainly has its gory moments. And yes, the jewels are coloured, but they signify rank, not ability.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Well, there aren’t any vampire slayers in Graced, but when it comes to urban fantasy, I like to think we all want a kickass heroine (at least for one book). And you can’t really get more kickass than Buffy. Sure, she’s got some magical slayer-juju going on, but she can stand up for herself, which makes her a great role model and someone who you’d want to be friends with, despite the 15 year old attitude she first screened with. Plus, Joss Whedon’s dialogue.


This may not appear all that related, but Archer has great, snappy dialogue. While set in a completely different genre to Graced, the fast-paced, hilarious and sharp dialogue are wonderful inspirations. Each episode is short, rather like a chapter, and really highlights how important constant engagement with the medium is.

Psy/Changeling series – Nalini Singh

While paranormal romance rather than urban fantasy, it has a great, over-arching plot that is set in an alternate-earth world. The rich world-building associated with this series and a plot that spans over 10 books highlights how a story can be told through numerous protagonists, each with their own set storyline.

Twilight – Stephanie Meyer

I’ve written elsewhere that this book is a great inspiration, but possibly not for the reasons most people will think. I’ve heard a lot of commentary on how the writing isn’t all that great, about the weaknesses of Bella as a character, and the controlling, unhealthy obsession of Edward. But here’s the thing: Twilight hit its target audience perfectly.

Twilight made me realise that targeting the audience while writing a story that you – as the author – enjoys is equally important. And…it also made me strive to write a strong female character, romantic elements that are about equal power and mutual affection (not obsession), and vampires with a scientific explanation that makes sense. Oh, and no love triangle (it often – to me – feels too contrived).

Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith.

Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes (2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology was published by Ticonderoga Publications, titled Bloodstones (2012). Amanda is currently working on the sequel, Bloodlines, due for publication in 2015.

Amanda's first novel, Graced, was published by Momentum in 2015.

In her day job, she works as an archaeologist.

You can find Graced in all these places:

Amazon (Kindle)

Amazon UK (Kindle)

Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Author Top 5s - Duncan Lay's Top 5 Epic Fails in Movie Battles

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today best-selling fantasy author Duncan Lay joins me to do something a little different. As a man who knows how to write a battle scene he's going to talk about some that perhaps aren't so good as he shares his top 5 epic fails in movie battles. Let's find out where Duncan Lay thinks Hollywood really dropped the ball, or the sword as the case may be.

Movie audiences love a good battle scene to finish their favourite picture on an adrenaline high. Thanks to the magic of CGI, it’s easier than ever to create a fantastic battle scene. Sadly, thanks to Hollywood, it’s also easier than ever to stuff it up. They have advisers and script writers to make sure it works but, it seems, some idiot (probably wearing a loud shirt and chewing a cigar) demands changes to “make it more exciting”. But all they are doing is making it silly.

So here’s five movies that dropped a huge clanger in their battles, which spoiled the effect for me. Now, some of these movies had fantastic fight scenes and duels but, I’m afraid, threw logic and reason out the window when it came to the actual battle.

In descending order, from least offensive to want-to-gouge-my-eyes-out-with-stale-popcorn, they are:


I really enjoyed this often-funny story of Dennis Quaid as a drunken knight, teaming up with the last dragon (Sean Connery) to rid England of an evil King. It’s fun and tongue-in-cheek, with a sprinkling of fine English actors to give it some credibility. Credibility it then flushes down the toilet for the final battle.

We start off with the old chestnut of the peasants, given a modicum of training, able to defeat heavily armed knights on horseback. You could accept that, except they seem able to outrun men on horseback as well. Hmmm. But the real dodginess centres on poor Pete Postlethwaite, a fine actor whose character (a monk) is a “natural” bowman. Leaving aside the fact no monk would have the physical strength to draw back a bow, unless you have trained for at least 10 years, you would not be able to loose an arrow like that and drive it through chainmail. It was a humorous but pointless plot device and dragged down what was otherwise a fun romp.


The battle of Helm’s Deep. Brilliantly conceived and I actually loved the idea of the elves being there to fight (even though there wasn’t hide nor ear of elf within 100 miles of the place in the book). I could live with Saruman inventing gunpowder, even though there was no need for it, given his Uruk-hai got into the keep quite nicely without it.

But having put the elves there, why oh why didn’t Aragorn use them? Thousands of the best archers in the world and he doesn’t let them loose an arrow until the Uruk-hai are two feet away. The orcs stand there, grunting and steaming (looking uncannily like a rugby league team) until some old fart on the keep looses an arrow at them and then they charge and THEN Aragorn lets fly. Come on, the elves should have emptied their quivers before the orcs got within 100 paces of the wall and piled up so many, they couldn’t get inside. A soggy effort in the rain.


Again, a fun movie and a pretty good adaptation of CS Lewis’ Christian fable. But of my paws and whiskers, did they stuff up the final battle.

True, old CS didn’t give them much to work with. In the book, the battle lasts perhaps an entire page, if you include the illustration. But given such scope, they could have come up with something better. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe gave us eagles and griffins used as dive-bombers, which was a nice touch to the World War II setting. Caspian gave us random fight scenes but no idea how to use the troops at its disposal. For brilliant warriors and clever kings, Edmund and Peter should have been wearing dunce’s caps, not steel helmets. They never used their bowmen or their cavalry properly and let the Telmarines walk all over them. Just so that Aslan could come in and save the day with his walking trees.


Brilliant fight sequences. Just brilliant. Loved the Battle Boar and the charging sheep, plus the trolls as siege weapons and the way Thorin killed Azog.

But how dumb were the battle tactics? The dwarves form the perfect shield wall and then the elves have to jump over it to fight the orcs hand-to-hand? What? Surely you stick your elvish swordsmen on either side of the shield wall, the human pikemen behind the shield wall and then the elvish archers behind that and they would have piled up the orcs like Legolas on steroids. They wouldn’t have even needed the eagles and Thorin could have chilled out under the mountain, playing Ten Pin with giant diamonds. Yes, the elvish jump over the dwarves was symbolic and yes hand-to-hand is better than a straight fight but pleeeease! How did these people survive for so long fighting that dumb?


Yes, I know it’s not fantasy but it’s pretty bloody close. Russell Crowe is broodingly fantastic, the scale and detail was stunning and the storyline was great. But I just couldn’t get over the first battle. They had it so close to perfect. The Legion uses its ballistae and catapults perfectly, advances smoothly and prepares to meet on the barbarian hordes. I was loving it. And then the Romans break ranks and fight hand-to-hand? What the? The other people in the movie theatre probably thought I was choking on a choc-top but it was just my indignation.

The Romans conquered the known world because they NEVER broke ranks! One on one, their gladius was no match for a longsword. They didn’t win because they were bigger and braver and hairier than the barbarians. They won because they were disciplined and fought in ranks.

Maximus was a real gluteus for ordering that. Silliest battle move ever.

Duncan Lay is the author of two best-selling Australian fantasy series, the Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. He writes on the train, to and from his job as production editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper. He lives on the Central Coast of NSW with his wife and two children.

Episode 1 of his new novel The Last Quarrel is available now from Momentum Books.

Author Top 5s - Chris Andrews talks fantasy that inspires him

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today my agency stablemate Chris Andrews joins me to talk top 5s. Chris writes epic fantasy and while he hasn't published his debut novel yet he's got exciting things on the horizon so keep your eye out for him hopefully very soon. Chris has shared the 5 fantasy books that have inspired his own writing. Take it away Chris.

When Justin asked me to pick five books from just one genre, I struggled with the concept. One genre!?! What kind of craziness is that? My top five books span both genres – Science Fiction and Fantasy! Still, it's Justin's blog, and being the local Dark Lord he makes all the rules, so here goes. 

My top five:

1. Magician – Raymond E. Feist

You thought Lord of the Rings would make the number one spot, didn't you? Yeah, pfft. It doesn't even make the list. LOTR's great and all that, but it's like reading a text book – something I appreciate more than enjoy. 

I loved Magician on the other hand, probably because it was one of the first fantasy's I read as a teenager. It convinced me that fantasy was awesome. More than that. It gave me something to aspire to: I wanted to write the next 'Magician'.

At its heart, Magician's a story full of tropes: an orphan boy destined to grow up and save the world. There's also war, invasion, magicians at odds with each other, politics, romance, etc. Below the surface it's a very complex story showing both sides of the war, but central to it all was the fact that I cared about Pug and Thomas. 

Overall, I'd probably rank it my favourite fantasy book from my youth.

2. Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings

The Will and the Word inspired generations of kids when I was in high school – me included.  I'm a little afraid to revisit this book (and the series) in case I'm disappointed, but I certainly read the series a couple of times when I was younger.

I even read the sequel series, unfortunately a carbon copy of the originals and not worth the effort. I doubt you'll get much disagreement on that.

Still, the Belgariad was wonderful. Like Magician, it's a story full of tropes - a young boy who discovers he's got 'magic' and it's his destiny to save the world.

Tropes, fortunately, aren't clichés, and David Eddings pulls this off with a sense of wonder and adventure that few writers can top.

3. Lyonesse – Jack Vance

I picked up Lyonesse in Alice's Bookshop, one of those gorgeous, tiny little second-hand bookshops that are often hidden or well off the beaten path.

Like Alice's Bookshop, the Elder Isles (where Lyonesse is set) are long gone, drowned under the sea.

Lyonesse opened up a new world of fantasy to me – the kind you believe could exist in your own history. It's grounded in mythology and has an undercurrent of reality you can't step over. It's gritty, believable, and inspiring.

It's also a story of politics, magic, intrigue, love, loss and faerie folk. It captivated me because of its adult themes and outlook, and it instilled a love of the unexpected, the fey, and intelligent characters.

I haven't come across too many others that compare.

4. The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean M Auel

A strange choice, you might say, especially as it's not fantasy. Or is it?

I loved it from the moment I first read it, largely because Jean M Auel made me care about about Ayla, the protagonist, more than most authors could ever hope to do.

As to fantasy, it does feature a character who can link minds with his brethren under the influence of specially-prepared herbs and guide them back in time to remember and understand their origins. With the unwanted help of the protagonist Ayla, the same character discovers a future he's entirely uncomfortable with.

Overall, Jean M Auel created the story of a vulnerable young girl, put her at a severe disadvantage, and made me feel as if her defeats were victories whether they were or not.

One of my favourite books.

5. Stormwarden – Janny Wurtz

Like many good fantasy's, the Cycle of Fire comes in a trilogy, yet it's a little bit like the Clan of the Cave Bear in that it's not a traditional fantasy. In fact, the further you get into it the more you come to discover that it's not a fantasy at all – but it does a brilliant job of cross-dressing.

Stormwarden is largely the story of Taen, a young girl with a very special gift. Through happenstance and a little help she's delivered to the Isle of the Vaere where's she trained as a Dreamweaver.

This skill becomes vitally important as it allows Taen to influence the young man destined to take on his father's mantle and hopefully save the world from a demon horde.

What's important to me, however, is that I cared about what happened to Taen and the other characters. In fact, I'm sensing a common theme here.

Chris is a writer, blogger, and supernatural being of immense power trapped in the body of a mortal thanks to leprechaun's curse following a disagreement over some fools gold (it was honest mistake). Until the curse gets lifted he's doing his best to lift the veil of reality and show people the truth about what's really out there.

You can find him at:

Author Top 5s - Amanda Bridgeman on Military Sci-Fi Films

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today we're talking military sci-fi with Amanda Bridgeman. I really enjoyed Amanda's military sci-fi debut Aurora: Darwin and am looking forward to getting into the sequels. I've been hounding her to write a blog post for me for a little while so I'm glad she's here. I'm also glad she's decided to focus on films because it's always good to see where authors draw inspiration other than books. This series is called author top 5s because authors have been sharing lists of 5 things, Amanda has cheated and done a list of 7, but I'm going to forgive...this time. So here's Amanda's list of the top 7 military sci-fi films that have inspired her.

As a space opera/military sci-fi writer I draw inspiration from the movies all the time. Given this, I decided to pull together a list of some great military sci-fi films I think everyone should watch. So without further ado, here they are:

Aliens (1986)

This time it’s war . . .

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain to you how great this film is, but just in case you’ve come from another planet, here’s why:

1.     It features the greatest heroine of all time (Ellen Ripley);

2.     It has all the world-building elements you could possibly need: the guns, the technology, the spaceships, the aliens;

3.     It has great secondary characters: Hicks – the level-headed corporal the leadership falls to after the shit hits the fan. Vasquez – one of the toughest chicks you’ll find on screen. Bishop – the ‘synthetic’ you don’t whether to trust. Hudson – the soldier with the classic one liners, who ultimately calls it like the rest of us would see it);

4.     It has my favourite kind of premise in which you have a group of people trapped in an isolated place with a deadly adversary;

5.     And not only do they have the ‘beasts’ to contend with, but they also have to face their own kind turning against them;

6.     And of course, there is that subtle romantic interest suggested between Ripley and Corporal Hicks.  

I actually cannot fault anything about this movie. It’s military sci-fi at its best!

Predator (1987)

Soon the hunt will begin…

Love this film! Again we have a group of soldiers stuck in an isolated place and being hunted by a deadly alien, only this one can make itself camouflaged. So how do you run from an enemy you can’t really see? Answer: you can’t. This film is equal parts action, terror and drama, and that’s just the way I like it. Honestly, aside from The Terminator/ T2, this is probably my favourite Arnie film. Another great military sci-fi!

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Live. Die. Repeat.

When I saw this at the cinema, I didn’t really know a hell of a lot about it before I went in, but it blew me away. The plot was great, the special effects were fantastic, and Emily Blunt breaking her mould as a kick-ass soldier was excellent to see. I love it when a movie surpasses expectations and this one did that in spades! A ‘Groundhog Day’ of the future, it’s a roller-coaster thrill ride of a military sci-fi.

Starship Troopers (1997)

A new kind of enemy. A new kind of war . . .

This film was almost more than just a film. It felt like an interactive entertainment package. There was a little bit of everything in there: intergalactic battles, drama, romance, politics – all set to a ‘coming of age’/‘hero’s journey’ tale. Most importantly, it was fun. The awesome world-building came to life and took viewers on an amazing, almost 3D, adventure across space. The question was continually asked “Do you want to know more?” And the answer was yes. Yes, I did.

Pacific Rim (2014)

To fight monsters, we created monsters…

It’s no secret that I love a good blockbuster, and that is exactly what this was. This was a film about big-ass Kaiju vs men in big-ass robots. The very best thing about this film, though, is Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, because let’s face it – Idris Elba is ‘The man’. The best scene is where he turns around to Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and says “Number one. Don’t you ever touch me again. Number two. Don’t you ever touch me again!” SUPERB! If I ever see the Aurora series made into film/tv, I want Idris for the starring role of Captain Saul Harris please

Avatar (2009)

Enter the world…

The best thing about this film is that yes, it’s a military sci-fi, but it’s one that goes a little deeper than the rest. This film takes a good look at humanity; what we humans are screwing up on, but also the goodness that still survives in some people’s hearts. Too soft, you say? I disagree. I think a little depth can add a whole new dimension to the military sci-fi. Soldiers are humans like the rest of us, after all. Whilst being entertained, why not learn something about ourselves and the world as well?

Universal Soldier (1992)

The ultimate weapons of the future have just declared war... on each other.

Look, I had to add this one in... Soldiers of the future enhanced to become killing machines. Now, how could I not like that premise? (Bad) acting aside, with a plot like that you just know it’s going to promise you plenty of action and thrills, and from a purely entertainment perspective, that’s what you want from a military sci-fi, yeah? Also – I’d love to see a big budget remake of this!

If you’d like to read more about some of my favourite sci-fi films of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s, then check out the links below.

Sci-fi Films of the 80’s:

Sci-fi Films of the 90’s:

Sci-fi Films of the 00’s:

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs.

She lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue her dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides. Her debut novel Aurora:Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013; the sequel Aurora: Pegasus was published in December 2013; and Aurora: Meridian was released in September 2014.

When she’s not writing, she loves to travel and partake in a little photography.