Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

August 16, 2013

AWWC 2013 – Review – One Small Step: An Anthology of Discoveries (edited by Tehani Wessely)

This is my 8th review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. I picked up my copy of the anthology at the April 2013 launch at the Australian National Convention, Conflux 9.

One Small Step: An Anthology of Discoveries is a showcase of Australia’s current wealth of women writing speculative fiction. These 16 stories cover a range of genres, from far-future science fiction to dark fantasy, fairytales – traditional and post-modern – to police procedurals, and the odd foray into the weird. All tie into a theme of exploration and discovery – emotional, intellectual and sometimes geographic.

My experience of themed anthologies is that the quality can vary considerably, usually with one or two outstanding stories balanced out by mostly good ones and a couple of duds. One Small Step is better than that. The standard here is very high. The worst that I could say about editor Tehani Wessely’s selection is that a couple of them are excellent specimens of styles that aren’t to my tastes. Even the very few stories I didn’t particularly like were undeniably worth reading. (In fact the story I enjoyed the least in the collection was probably the most strongly written. My tastes don’t always line up perfectly with storytelling excellence!) I would note that if your speculative fiction appetite starts and end with hard science fiction of the spaceships and robots variety, there’s probably only one story – D K Mok’s “Morning Star” – that will suit. But it is a good one!

I’m calling out a few of my favourites here, but take my word for it that I’m not papering over any cracks in the collection. I’m prepared to bet that every story here would make someone’s top three. One Small Step opens with Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener”, a child’s encounter with strange aliens on a hostile colony world, a setup that seems like it could go anywhere but still takes an unexpected and bittersweet turn. Jodie Cleghorn’s “Firefly Epilogue” is a colourful evocation of the Australian tourist’s experience of Malaysia, again tinged with a sweet sadness. I adored Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cold White Daughter”, a homage that nails its colours proudly and playfully to the mast, while re-examining a beloved childhood tale.

One Small Step is worth picking up for a good idea of what the current renaissance in Australian speculative fiction looks like at the moment. Smart, heartfelt and a little bit otherworldly. It works for me.

June 18, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – River of Bones by Jodi Cleghorn

This is a review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. It’s my sixth for the year, which means that I am probably on the verge of hitting my goal of 10 books read and six reviewed. But I’m going to keep reviewing anyway.

I understand Jodi Cleghorn’s River of Bones was originally written as a novella named Elyora. I like the evocative sound of Elyora, the name of the haunted country town in which the story is set, better than the generic spooky title the story has ended up with, but that’s my last major complaint. And anyway it’s not as if River of Bones is misleading in any way.

River of Bones is the story of a band falling apart on the verge of breaking in. At least, that’s what’s happening when their tour van breaks down in a sleepy Australian country town that appears to be literally stuck in the past. As they become acquainted with a handful of locals, some of them friendlier than others, they begin to realise that Elyora is a very nasty place to get lost in.

The setup to this novel is indistinguishable from any number of gore-filled slasher flicks, in which pretty young people encounter outback/backwoods/hillbilly chainsaw/cultist/cannibal crazies and are grotesquely murdered. Cleghorn does something more interesting with the trope, though, overlaying her bloodbath with gothic imagery, restless ghosts, secret government experiments, Australian xenophobia and a passionate if disturbing romance. With so many ingredients, River could have been a cluttered mess, but Cleghorn pulls it off (although I admit I needed a second readthrough to figure out how the government experiment part fitted in).

Cleghorn has a great eye for the small details that bring her 1970’s-era Elyora to life. River is as gloomy and atmospheric as you’d hope in a gothic novel, the character dialogue is sharp and the horror scenes are memorably gruesome. There were plenty of effective horror moments, though as a parent I think the worst was one character’s alarming indifference to child safety. Overall River of Bones is what I look for in horror – inventive, emotional and gruesome.

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