edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt

MirrorDanse Books (2006)

ISBN: 0975773615 

Reviewed by Alisa Krasnostein (this review was first published in October 2006)

If you only buy one book this year, then this is the book you can’t live without. Congreve and Marquandt have found the cream of over 500 Australian SF and Fantasy stories from 2005 and whipped them into a solid, absorbing anthology. They have made Australian specfic look live and vibrant and paint 2005 as a rich and mature year for local publishing.

Martin Living’s “Running” was an excellent choice to open the book. Written for the Daikaiju anthology, the story follows several thrill seekers intent on outrunning a daikaiju (giant monster). This is the best piece I’ve read of Livings’ work. The pacing of this story really worked for me and I found myself reading it much like the protagonist was running – taking in as much scenery as I could along the way but only able to glance briefly at specific bits of it whilst hurtling by. I’m a big fan of storm chasing, so I was really engaged by this piece. The choice to open the anthology with this piece worked to catapult me into the rest of the volume.

“Matricide” is my first encounter with Lucy Sussex and I’m glad to finally have sampled her work. The narration flicks back and forth between past and present and since both tales are equally gripping, when you are reading one you want to be reading the nother. It’s a love story, of sorts, and not necessarily a happy one. One plot tells of the pursuit of objets d’art and collectibles and two people enjoying discovering one another. The other is of a woman, sick and disoriented. The two tales mesh wonderfully together and kept me guessing as to where this would go. It is beautifully told.

Stephen Dedman’s “Watch” was one of my favourites in this collection. It is simple and unassuming. A man lies on his deathbed surrounded by close family and friends. It’s not until the end that you realise how subtly the twist has been set up. Carefully crafted, it unfolds before you, brilliantly.

“Skein Dogs” by Leanne Frahm is a sweet tale. Frahm states in her afterword that it was an attempt to immortalise her own dogs and that bubbles forth in the writing. Jayjay and Emma are dogs, sort of – they are modified dogs, spliced with human genes. And they’re getting old. They to be taken outside, to see outdoors just once before they die. It’s a bittersweet story but will leave you with a mushy heart. Dogs are great, aren’t they?

There are two novellas in this collection – Greg Egan’s “Riding the Crocodile” and Dirk Flinthart’s “The Red Priest’s Homecoming”.

In “Riding the Crocodile”, Leila and Jasim have been married for 10 309 years. It’s time to do one final great thing before they think about choosing to no longer live. Having seen and done everything, they want a glimpse of the Aloof, who live beyond the Amalgam and don’t play well with others. It’s an ambitious project spanning millennium.

I really liked this story. It captured the alien-ness of the Amalgam and of life millions of years in the future. As characters, Leila and Jasim were hard to relate to, taking forms other than physical and living lifespans beyond my comprehension. But their curiosity about what was on the other side piqued my own and I was as anxious to peer into the Aloof as they were. This story was a really good read.

Dirk Flinthart’s “The Red Priest’s Homecoming” is part mystery (who is the Red Priest?), part rollicking adventure (with swords) and part speculative (that bit you have to find out on your own). I must admit that I found this a bit long and the reveal too laboured in coming. This could be due, though, to my general lack of interest in swordplay. Once revealed, the resolution felt a bit rushed. Flinthart promises more Red Priest stories and I am interested to see where he takes them. One has been subsequently printed in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue 25.

“Leviathan” by Simon Brown was a tough read but I couldn’t look away. Young Gerald survives catastrophic engine trouble on a Boeing 707 by landing on an island, or rather on Leviathan. But Gerald is sick and Leviathan is hungry. This story is a sad slow journey towards the acceptance of death. Hidden at the back of the book, this is a gentle, beautiful, heartbreaking story.

No collection could seriously call itself the year’s best for 2005 without including a Kaaron Warren story. However, I am not going to comment here on “Fresh Young Widow” as I am currently writing my review of Warren’s 2005 collection The Grinding House and will be discussing this story there.

Rosaleen Love’s “Once Giants Roamed the Earth” has a strong Australian voice. Her giant is something bigger than perhaps intended for the Daikaiju anthology and intangible. But it speaks of the sea and the power of it to shape the land and the insignificance of man, in the end. This story has a lovely mythical quality about it.

Ben Peek’s contribution is “Johnny Cash”, a story told in the form of answers to a questionnaire. Peek is an interesting writer, constantly challenging and pushing the boundaries of the short story form. I’m not sure his experiments always work. Here, the series of answers recount of demon attacks and the protagonist’s role in reacting to that within his workplace. It’s a succinct way to tell a story but perhaps a little too clinical for my liking. Peek, though, is a writer to watch.

Jack Dann plays with alternate histories in “Dreaming with the Angels”. A psychiatrist treats Marilyn Monroe in the period prior to her demise. I found this piece thought-provoking but wonder if it would have been so for a reader without knowledge of Monroe’s personal history. Without familiarity with her story, I feel that much of the point of this one would be missed. In Dann’s afterword he notes that this is one in a collection experimenting with an alternate history through the eyes of American icons. The intent is that this process will give insight into our culture and icons. I wonder about the insight gained by these alternate histories for such icons. I found this version of Monroe to be too complex and aware of this complexity to be believable or insightful to Monroe.

I’m not sure I loved “The Passing of the Minotaurs” by Rjurik Davidson. It is written very well with an even and reasonable pace, particularly for its length. For the first time in 10 years, the minotaurs, worshipped by the people, are passing through, although they are far less in number. Kata needs to murder two of them to be freed of her debt. Things don’t go according to plan. The bittersweet, angst-ridden ending makes this read worthwhile and memorable.

Without a doubt, this is my favourite anthology for 2006. There isn’t a story in here that I felt was taking up precious space for something better. Normally a reader who dips in and out of short story collections, I immersed myself in this one to the glorious end. I simply cannot wait for the next one.