Peggy Bright Books (2012)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely
This anthology seemed to appear out of nowhere – there was no submissions call, no advance marketing, no bloggage I came across by authors or editors about the book in progress. The first I saw of it was an announcement of the table of contents, and as it included some of my favourite writers, and was edited by two people I had worked with for a number of years at Andromeda Spaceways, I was immediately interested.
The titular theme of the book, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, is a broad brushstroke that the invited authors included in the anthology have taken and run with in about as many different directions as you could imagine. From Greek mythology to imagined worlds to far-flung futures, from almost realities to the short term “what if”, the thirteen writers have used the theme as a springboard, restrained by little else and using the liftoff as a spark to ignite their imaginations.
The first story in this anthology is “The Bone Chime Song” by Joanne Anderton. I have published a number of Anderton’s stories myself, and am a fan of her work, and this piece is a very good example of why. Dark, unexpected and tightly written, Anderton makes a fantasy world seem completely real, while using a premise that spirals from a shadowed and lonely place. One of my favourites from the book, and of the year so far.
You couldn’t look for a more complete change of pace than to move from Anderton’s story to Sue Bursztynski’s “Five Ways to Start a War”. With the legend of Helen of Troy at its centre, Bursztynski takes the story in a somewhat different direction to that it normally travels, on a fairly lighthearted but enjoyable journey through Greek mythology.
Dave Luckett’s “History: theory and practice” was an unexpected piece – I don’t want to say too much about it, but I had fun reading it. On the other hand, I didn’t really engage with “The D__d” by Adam Browne – the stories I enjoy most have characters that come alive for me, but that didn’t happen here.
While I picked the ending of Katherine Cummings’ “The Travelling Salesman and the Farmer’s Daughter” (a science fiction story, despite the misleading, but suitable, title!), that didn’t lessen the pleasure of the reading. It’s a well put together piece. This was followed by a story by one of my very favourite authors, Thoraiya Dyer, “Faet’s Fire”. Dyer rarely puts a foot wrong for me, and is an absolute pleasure to edit – I enjoyed this short, unusual piece as much as I anticipated I would!
Anna Tambour’s “Murder at the Tip” was another story that didn’t really appeal to me. It felt like two very short vignettes mashed together for no particular purpose, with the first half of the story bearing no relation I could see to the second. Tambour writes well though, so perhaps regarding them as separate flash fiction pieces works better.
“The Subjunctive Case” by Robert Porteous, one of the longer stories in the anthology, is a twisty little crime / urban fantasy story. I’ve not come across Porteous in the past (his bio suggests he is fairly new to writing), but if this is an example of his early work, I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.
While the message in Ripley Patton’s “Mary had a Unicorn” is perhaps a little heavy-handed, I loved the idea of the story, and it is well executed. “Between Lines” by Brenda Cooper considers the idea that maybe everything on the internet hides something that is so unbelievable, we couldn’t handle it being truth, but that shouldn’t stop us aspiring to it. Interesting, but I think the storytelling format of this one lessened its impact for me.
Ian McHugh did well to make the characters in his story, “The Godbreaker and Unggubudg the Mountain”, both engaging and realistic, despite being a most unusual creation. I liked this story a lot. “Hard Cases” by Sean McMullen, is another with a heavy-handed message, but unfortunately, this one was not redeemed by an interesting enough premise to make me want to relate to it. This piece felt a little throwaway for a writer of McMullen’s experience, which was a bit disappointing.
Rounding out the anthology is “Kindling” by Kathleen Jennings. Becoming internationally known for her artwork, the quality of Jennings’ writing should not be overlooked, as evidenced by this story. Short and deliberately disjointed, this piece is one you could read over and over, unpacking new layers each time. A great ending to the book.
In all, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear definitely has a good strike rate of stories. None of the pieces were badly written, though some were far more entertaining and thought-provoking than others. This collection is a fine example of what a very loosely themed anthology can look like. Recommended.