Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Make Believe is another high quality collection from Terry Dowling, containing twelve previously published short stories. They span a period from 1985 to 2003, underlining just how long Dowling has been publishing quality fiction.
The majority of the stories sit in that area of speculative fiction that enable people who love categories to argue violently about whether they’re science fiction or fantasy. I’m not sure it really matters; Dowling’s worlds are fully realised and entirely believable, and the stories he sets in them are often fascinating.
Essentially, Dowling writes high quality fiction that rarely puts a foot wrong, much of it distinctively Australian. This collection features a number of stories from the Tom Rynosseros cycle, stories which have resonated with me for years as some of the most distinctively Australian short fiction I’ve ever come across. I read them as a future Australia, although some may read it as an alternate Australia. They incorporate an awareness of Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal) culture without trying to appropriate it, and present a coherent, creative view of Australia which is expanded across a number of stories. I don’t think any of them actually say they’re set in Australia, but the language, names and landscape seem unmistakeable. It’s a far more original and positive view of a future Australia than most. If you haven’t read any of these stories before, then you should hurry to search them out.
As that suggests, I regarded the Rynosseros stories particularly highly. However, the collection also includes a number of other stories which cover other subject matter. These are all obviously speculative fiction, unlike some of Dowling’s stories which could almost be read as “ordinary” fiction, so subtle are their twists. Largely it is the settings which are that overt. Dowling’s writing and plotting is subtle when called for, and many of these stories focus on people’s emotions, thoughts, beliefs, values – few hinge on one dramatic event alone.
Most readers who value well written fiction which provokes thought, and features strong characters and well realised settings, will find something to enjoy in this collection. I generally hold the view that no-one will enjoy every single story in a diverse collection, but if I’m ever proved wrong about that, it’s going to be a Dowling collection that does it.