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Kaaron Warren

Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2005)

ISBN: 0-958139-03-2

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in November 2005)

The Grinding House is a collection of stories by Canberra-writer Kaaron Warren. Most of the stories are reprints, but there is some new material, including the story “The Grinding House” itself. Several of the reprinted stories have been nominated for awards or have received awards, including the Aurealis. Warren is known for her horror writing, and all of the stories in The Grinding House have a strong element of horror. The volume itself has been published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild with the assistance of an ArtsAct grant. It is the first CSFG Publishing anthology to focus on one author, reflecting the status Warren has earned as a short story writer.

Short story collections are often a worry. You know they’re going to be a mixed bag, but what you won’t know until you reach the end is how many of the stories are good, outstanding, or should have been left out entirely. There’s also the rule of averages – you tell yourself things like “Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice has miraculous writing. There won’t be another decent anthology for ten years.”

Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House actually defeats that expectation. It is good. A large portion of it is outstanding. Published so soon after Black Juice, it beats that law of averages. It is not, however, everyone’s cup of tea. Warren gets billed as a horror writer, and certainly her stories creep under the skin. She does not write a classic horror story, though, and is far more an interstitial writer. She writes each story both close to home (presenting us with situations that we recognize as kin to our own), and in entirely alien environments, ones which we are thankful we are so far from. Read the rest of this entry »

Lucy Sussex

MirrorDanse Editions (2005)

ISBN: 0-975785-20-6

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in January 2006)

What I love about A Tour Guide in Utopia is the control that Lucy Sussex shows. Whether she is writing on a large scale or a small scale, she has a maturity to her style which few Australian speculative fiction authors can claim. If you like short stories; if you like thoughtful prose; if you like seeing a writer grow then this book is worth looking at. If you want fun reading on the train to work then this book is a must. If you want a book you can dip into from time to time and pull out a plum, then this book is for you.

It is unpretentiously intellectual. The more history and literature you know, the more you will enjoy the cross-references, but understanding them is not crucial to enjoying most of the stories. This in itself is somewhat of a tour-de-force.

This anthology is extraordinarily well-balanced. The individual stories each made their ripples or waves when they were initially published, but the selection and tone of the collection is satisfying. Each story stands on its own and helps the one before and after it stand out. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Chris Lawson

MirrorDanse (2003)

ISBN: 0958658390

Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in February 2008)

If there was ever a time when it was justifiable to assert that science fiction is only, or even primarily, about wish-fulfilment and escapism (and let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there was), then that time has passed. Anyone who finds this statement difficult to accept should be encouraged, as politely but persistently as possible, to read Chris Lawson’s scalpel-sharp collection of stories and essays, published in 2003 but likely to remain current and relevant for years to come.

Written in Blood is plainly not your standard single-author collection of science fiction stories. For one thing, it’s a volume with a liberal sprinkling of non-fiction content, drawn from Lawson’s Frankenblog site. (Lawson is an incisive and erudite blogger, with Frankenblog now apparently superceded by his Talking Squid site.) For another, it opens not with a biographical introduction, but with the transcript of an interview with Lawson, conducted by Simon Brown. I found the introduction interesting for Lawson’s assertion that he is not a scientist because he is not actively involved in research, an assertion with which I disagree. Lawson’s background, training, and evident deep understanding of the scientific method undermine his own argument, as does the rigour of his reasoning. If nothing else, through the careful literature research required for construction of his non-fiction pieces, Lawson undeniably qualifies as a practitioner of science, regardless of the origin of his paycheck. (Was Stephen Jay Gould a scientist? Is Dawkins? Lawson is a science writer as accomplished, if less widely distributed). Read the rest of this entry »

Chuck McKenzie

MirrorDanse Books (2005)

ISBN: 0975785214 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in June 2009)

Confessions of a Pod Person is a collection of short stories, the majority of which have been previously published in a period spanning 2002 to 2005. Given the wide variety of publications in which they appeared, if you read much Australian speculative fiction, you’ve probably come across at least one of these stories before.

The ideas behind most of these stories aren’t particularly original, and the commentaries by McKenzie suggest he’s well aware of this. Nor are they strongly plotted stories; I’d be inclined to describe most as vignettes, or at best, skits.

And yet, this collection, and most of the stories in it, work. McKenzie writes humorous science fiction, and most of these stories are successfully amusing. None were really uproarious (but then, humour is a personal thing; some of these stories may have you rolling on the floor where I didn’t), but neither did they fall flat. There’s a wryness to the humour in many of these stories that will raise a smile from most readers. Read the rest of this entry »

Robbie Matthews

Aust Speculative Fiction (2008)

ISBN: 9780975721728

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in January 2009)

Disclaimer – I published the story “Bomb Squad” in issue #4 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM), and worked with Robbie at ASIM for seven years.

Johnny the werewolf detective has been popping up in Australian publications for a fair while now. Showcasing a highly readable blend of detective noir and unique Aussie humour, the stories can be tough, touching, or tickle your funny bone, and sometimes all three. In this collection, Matthews brings together the previously published Johnny stories with five new works: “Pub Crawl”, “Locked Room Mystery”, “Supers”, “Accident” and “Zombie”. Read the rest of this entry »

Geoffrey Maloney

Prime Books (2003)

ISBN: 9781894815239

Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in February 2009)

I recently received an Advance Review Copy of this book, which in the circumstances is a somewhat misleading description, since the volume itself has been in publication for over five years. But no matter.

Geoffrey Maloney has been a presence on the Australian spec-fic scene for a good many years now. A couple of the stories in Tales from the Crypto-Systemwere first published in 1990; most of the other stories were published during the subsequent even-numbered years, up to 2002. (I leave it as an exercise to numerologists to discern the rationale behind Maloney’s apparent and puzzling lack of success during odd-numbered years, although 1999 was a notable exception.) It is a characteristic of the local spec-fic scene that most of the original periodicals in which these stories first saw light have long since perished; Aurealis and AntipodeanSF are happy exceptions to this trend, and may their resilience continue. Read the rest of this entry »

Rick Kennett

Jacobyte Books (2001)

ISBN: 1-74053-064-0

Reviewed by Marty Young (this review was first published in May 2006)

13 – A Collection of Ghost Stories by Rick Kennett, was published in 2001 by the POD (Print On Demand) publisher Jacobyte Books, an Australia-based independent publishing house that unfortunately is no longer in business. The collection came about after Bryce Stevens, author of The Fear Codex (Jacobyte Books, 2000), gave Kennett a flyer that said the POD publishers were looking for novels and collections. Kennett selected thirteen previously published stories, sent them off, and about two months later, their acceptance come in. And after reading the thirteen tales, it is no surprise Jacobyte acted so quickly.

This is a collection of smooth, easy-to-read stories told in a simple yet elegant voice rich with imagery, and it is those simply drawn visions that cause such shivers:

The wind keening through the empty window frames sounded sometimes like lost voices and sometimes like a woman’s crying, but hardly ever like the wind. [From “Out of the Storm”]

The problem with reviewing such a collection is finding a method that works; it is not practical to review the stories on an individual basis with the justice they each deserve, nor will it do to simply say, a bloody good read, buy it now! In all honesty, 13: A Collection of Ghost Stories is a bloody good read, and I would seriously recommend people finding a copy. There are definite frights to be had here, chills that will linger well after the last story has been finished. And isn’t that what you want in a collection of horror stories? Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Hood

MirrorDanse Books (2002)

ISBN: 0-958658-36-6

Reviewed by Devin Jeyathurai (this review was first published in November 2005)

The subtitle of this book is an example of understatement, as well as truth in advertising. While it might be true that this is a collection of ghost stories, that phrase does not adequately convey the breadth of Robert Hood’s talent, nor does it offer the prospective reader any real idea as to what to expect. None of the ghosts in this collection are of the conventional sheet-wearing, chain-shaking variety, and not one of them actually goes “boo”. Hood quite deliberately defies convention, and the result is a series of stories that run the gamut, from quiet mood pieces to stirring cinematic epics. In at least one instance, it’s doubtful whether the “ghost” is anything more than the product of a disturbed mind.

In an interview with Kyla Ward (done for the book, and reproduced after the last short story), Hood explains that this collection is called Immaterial “because the material world is haunted by an immaterial reality.” Read the rest of this entry »

Terry Dowling

mp Books (1999)

ISBN: 0-646-37533-4

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in March 2007)

Terry Dowling has often struck me as one of the most distinctively Australian speculative fiction writers around. In large part, this is because of his Captain Tom Rynosseros stories. It’s not just the setting that makes these so distinctive; Dowling has also extrapolated what’s happening between Indigenous and White Australians to create a very believable political future. The result is memorable, unique stories with a strong Australian flavour.

Although I associate Dowling strongly with those stories, he has written a great many other stories on a wide variety of themes. Antique Futures collects a selection of these. It’s a whopping great book, and as a result I dipped into it over the space of a couple of weeks, rather than attempting to read that many short stories in a sitting or two. I think this may be the best way to read this collection; it’s powerful and challenging, and some space between stories to digest them was good. Although Dowling is a writer I have long enjoyed, I had not fully realised either the length (years) or breadth (styles) of his writing. One of the very good things about this book is that both readers unfamiliar with Dowling and those who know his work are likely to find stories they haven’t read before.

As a collection, I’m not sure that Antique Futures has a theme, other than excellence. The stories are diverse, and range from quite hard science fiction to at least one story that wouldn’t look out of place in a crime anthology. The stories do share things in common, though. Although this anthology includes stories published over a twenty year span, none have dated noticeably. All include strong and interesting characters; and every one was worth reading. Although I enjoyed some stories more than others, that’s primarily a matter of taste. They’re all of remarkably consistent quality. It makes it a little challenging to write a review – I couldn’t possibly mention all the stories, and in my opinion none are weak. Read the rest of this entry »

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