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Sean Williams

Ticonderoga Publications (2008)

ISBN: 9780980353167

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in February 2009)

When I see ‘best of’ anthologies from a writer who is still alive and producing work, I get a bit suspicious. Are they expecting to produce nothing worthwhile over the rest of their life? Does this mark some significant milestone? Is it a chance to clear out stories that have not yet seen the light of day? Is it a money-making ploy?

So far as I can tell, none of these questions would be answered in the affirmative for Magic Dirt (except possibly the last, although I doubt it). It marks fifteen years of Williams’ writing, and one reason I can see for producing it at this juncture is that, at 348 pages, should we wait until Williams is dead (or not writing, which is probably the same thing), it would have to be one mammoth tome – or missing some awesome stories. There are eighteen stories in this collection, and each comes with an introduction or afterword, with a short reflection from Williams on the writing of it. As the introduction from John Harwood indicates, Williams’ stories cover a gamut of genres, with a number that refuse to be typified. (As an aside, don’t read the introduction unless you want some of the stories spoiled.) If, like me, you haven’t had the opportunity to follow Sean Williams’ career over the last fifteen years, this is the easy way of catching up. Read the rest of this entry »

Terry Dartnall

Trantor Publications (2006)

ISBN: 0975279114

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in March 2007)

When I embarked upon reading this anthology, I thought that I would get away with just commenting on the more interesting (or boring) of the stories. Yes. Well, turns out that Dartnall manages to write such eclectic stuff that what follows is a (necessarily brief) comment on every story in the set. First of all, though, I have to say that one of the things that made this really enjoyable to read was the authorial comments at the end of each story. Sometimes they explained a bit about how the story came about, sometimes a reflection on … anything else. Anyway, it was amusing and it lent a certain intimacy to reading the stories, as if Dartnall was there telling you the story and then sharing some personal anecdote with you. Read the rest of this entry »

James SA Corey

Expanse, book 2

Orbit (2012)

ISBN: 9781841499901

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

This review contains spoilers for Leviathan Wakes, the first in this series.

Leviathan Wakes centred primarily around two characters: James Holden, somewhat reluctant captain of a fairly small spaceship who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then things got worse; and a detective straight out of the pulps, whose obsession with finding a missing girl took him all sorts of interesting places and got him involved in some very, very messy stuff.

When Caliban’s War opens, Miller (the detective) is gone, and Holden is trying to figure out what to do with his now-smaller crew on his very shiny, somewhat illegal and quite fast Rocinante. But events begin with two completely new characters. In the Prologue, a young girl is taken from her creche and shown a man who is not a man; in chapter one, a Martian marine watches her platoon get slaughtered by something monstrous, which doesn’t react like it ought to. Both of these events indicate fairly obviously that the molecule that caused all the fuss in Leviathan, and which crashed on Venus at the end of that novel – but clearly didn’t get destroyed – is Up To Something. And we go from there.  Read the rest of this entry »

Edited by Jonathan Strahan

Solaris (2012)

ISBN: 9781781080566

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

Edge of Infinity is not especially concerned about Earth, but it cares deeply about humanity. It’s not blindly optimistic, but neither is it depressingly morbid. It cares about the little things and the big, it’s got romance and death, and lots and lots of adventure, set within our solar system but not on Earth. Also, space ships. Read the rest of this entry »

edited by Elise Bunter

Elise Bunter (2007)

ISBN:9780646471273

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in July 2007)

Shadow Plays is a fairly eclectic mix of Australian speculative fiction. There are some great stories, and some average stories, but none that are dreadful – so the editor, Bunter, is to be congratulated on her wise selection.

Opening an anthology must be a hard task, and I have no idea how an editor makes the decision as to who gets that (often thankless) task. In this case, it goes to Brendan D Carson’s “The Omensetter and the Hu Lijing”. In essence a love story, the scene is a semi-mythical Orient, where Liao Chen is an apprentice in the art of reading and interpreting signs and omens. He is the one to discover a hu lijing, a fox spirit … and really, things just go from there. It’s nicely written, easy to read, and doesn’t overdo the poignancy. Read the rest of this entry »

Edited by Mark Deniz and Sharyn Lilley 

Eneit Press (2007)

ISBN:978-91-977054-1-7

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in September 2007)

The first section of this anthology is subtitled “Winter: The Cold Fingers Approach”, and all of the stories here certainly involve winter or the cold in some way. In some, it’s insidious – barely noticeable; in others, it is a serious factor. I quite like this as a theme; cold certainly features in some of my bad dreams.

“Front”, by Miles Deacon, is one of those stories in which winter and coldness play a starring role. It’s set on the Front – any front, I think – in the trenches. John, an ordinary soldier, doesn’t freeze to death this night. He’s lucky … maybe. This story is very much in the vein of standard WWI stories, if perhaps a little more deliberately horrific than some.

It took me a while to get into “Cooling the Crows”, by Kaaron Warren – even to understand exactly what was going on. Who the crows were, in particular. It did eventually become clear, but I have to say that this was not one of my favourite stories. It was quite clever, towards the end, but by then I didn’t care much.

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David Brin

Tor (2012)

ISBN: 9780765303615

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

I believe this is the sort of novel that people might be thinking of when they suggest science fiction is ideas heavy but character and/or plot light. I’d never really understood that accusation of modern SF … until now.

Let me first talk about the positives. There are some really, really awesome ideas here. The basic premise that drives the plot is a first-contact one, but done in a fairly unusual way: a crystal snatched from orbit, activated by human touch and sunlight, that appears to contain alien life of some sort. The unfolding drama of the knowledge revealed – and how it changes, or at least develops, over time – and how humanity deals with it is a genuinely fascinating take on Fermi and all the other variations on ‘where are the aliens, what will they do when they get here, and how will we respond?’ That’s the plot, boiled down to its essentials; and it was fairly intriguing.

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Geoffrey Maloney, Trent Jamieson and Zoran Zivkovic (eds.)

Izvori (2007)

ISBN: 978-953-203-271-0

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in July 2007)

My first thought when I saw the title to this book was: “Fantastical Journeys to Brisbane”?! I mean, it’s not the city that would have first sprung to mind for such an idea. Melbourne has gangland murders; Sydney has lots of people; Adelaide has all those churches, plus their murder rate; Hobart is so far south (can’t you see the Aurora Borealis from there?); Canberra you can buy porn (I have been told!); Darwin has people going troppo in the heat; Perth … yeah OK, Perth is about as likely as Brisbane… Anyway: each story in this anthology at least mentions Brisbane, or is set there, and after reading the introduction – about a writers’ masterclass at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival – it makes a bit more sense.

Kicking the set off is Tansy Rayner Roberts, with “The Pastimes of Aunties”. Now, I only have three aunties, and this made me regret not having a whole … gaggle? (troupe? pride?) of them. Here, the aunties go on an annual pilgrimage to Brisbane, from Hobart. One year, Auntie Chloe fails to return, and the narrator is sent to find her. It’s quite a funny story, and manages to be quite prosaic yet quite mysterious at the same time.

Next up is “Lost”, by Paul Garrety. I have to say that, after Roberts’ story, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not particularly original: man has car accident, gets picked up by old-timer and taken to a little town … there are lots of ways that story could end, and this did not choose a unique one. That said, the writing is quite good. Read the rest of this entry »

Russell B Farr (ed.)

Ticonderoga Publications (2007)

ISBN: 9780958685689 

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce (this review was first published in April 2007)

Farr begins this anthology by talking about his experiences in Australian SF, and consequently providing me with a reading list as long as my arm. He also tries to define what is meant by “fantastic wonder stories”, saying such a story “has to open the door to a new world, but not just any old world. A world real yet unreal, with an element of the mundane that is quickly replaced by a sense of the extraordinary”. For (most of) the stories in this collection, that’s exactly what happened.

FWS opens with a poem, by Steven Utley, called “The Can-Opener”. It captures the reflections of someone whose job is about “the flawed fabric of spacetime”, thinking about how some other Him, in some other universe, has more intelligent interviewers to deal with. It’s humorous, lightly pathetic (if that makes sense), and – in opening up the idea of multiple realities – is a very good first piece. Read the rest of this entry »

Edited by Bruce Gillespie

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

This edition of SET came out in January 2005. It can be found electronically here.

There are two editorials to this issue of SET. In the first, Bruce Gillespie explains that this is essentially a resurrection of the zine, thanks to the interest of Janine Stinson in doing just that, following the loss of Paul Kincaid and Maureen Kincaid Speller, Gillespie’s co-editors. In his second editorial, Gillespie discusses The Best Australian Science Fiction Writing, edited by Rob Gerrand, and how this reflects Gillespie’s own experience of reading in that period. It certainly sounds like an interesting snapshot of the era.

Read the rest of this entry »

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