Harper Voyager (2008)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in August 2008)
I need to preface this review by saying while I think this collection is missing a number of Australia’s best contemporary genre short story writers, there are many highly readable works in this fatly packed book. I’ve chosen to discuss only a very few that particularly resonated with me, but with more than thirty stories, the fact I have not talked about a story does not mean it wasn’t a good yarn. You will need to test these waters for yourself, and just see if you agree with me…
In “This is My Blood”, Brisbanite Chris Lynch teams up with fellow Clarion South graduate Ben Francisco from the US. I found it interesting that editor Jack Dann chose to include a story co-written by a non-Aussie in this Australian anthology, especially given the weight of stories enclosed. However, it’s a strong piece. To me, this story was a dark journey into an otherworldly missionary life. Mother Rena attempts to bring God to the natives but at the same time finds herself coming to understand their alien culture in ways she had never imagined. A challenging consideration of sex and gender and religion, this piece drew me in and engrossed me from the beginning.
One of the few stories in the collection that has a strong Australian flavor, Angela Slatter’s “The Jacaranda Wife” holds elements of traditional myths transposed into an Australian context. Written with overtones of historical gender and racial power, and a goodly splash of eeriness, Slatter’s story is a tight, short, gripping read.
With “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh”, relative newcomer Jason Fischer takes on the zombie apocalypse story in gloriously broad Australiana. I think what I liked most about this piece was the unashamed ockerness of the tale-telling, although the gross-out zombie bits, coupled with a neat plot-line and dash of macabre humour, didn’t hurt either.
In my opinion, Lee Battersby’s bleak futurescape “In from the Snow” is the standout of this anthology. Battersby has crafted a tense tale of terror and power in a world that holds enough aspects of our own to make the story even more chilling. This is not a pretty story, but it is gripping, powerful, and deeply disturbing in all the challenging ways an excellent story should be.
This is just a very small sample of the stories in Dreaming Again. It’s hard to say whether this collection measures up to the work it sequels (Dreaming Down Under); in some ways, I think the answer is no, because to my mind, the ratio of excellence to average in this book is not as high as one would expect, given the calibre of writers, and the current climate of publishing in Australia. There are a lot of stories in Dreaming Again, a lot of them darn good reads, but perhaps more than there should have been. At the same time, an amazing number of them are by people better known for their novels than their short works these days. I’m a little surprised by some of Dann’s choices, but then, when you have so much greatness to choose from, it’s always going to be a challenge!