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Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks, Kaaron Warren

Morrigan Books (2011)

ISBN: 9789186865016

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

(Disclaimer: I know all three of these authors. Not that that would stop me from being dispassionate, of course…)

This is a set of three novellas, set in very distinct times, about the goddess Ishtar. Despite having the same theoretical focus, the three vary greatly in tone, style and actual focus. There are, nonetheless, a couple of clear threads that link them. The first is, of course, Ishtar herself. This is no Botticelli-esque Venus, no whimsical romanticised Aphrodite; all three authors present an Ishtar who is very clearly goddess of war and goddess of love/sexuality, and who embodies the struggles that each of those aspects brings – not to mention the way they work together. Coexistent with this is an attitude towards men that could perhaps be described as contempt, although that may be too harsh; disdain may be closer. Aside from Ishtar, the three stories are all categorised by a general sense of dread, of pessimism and darkness. These are not cheery tales.

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Matthew Chrulew and Thoraiya Dyer

Novella Doubles Series

Twelfth Planet Press (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-980827-42-2

Reviewed by Mitenae

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the angels were aliens? Matthew Chrulew certainly has and The Angælien Apocalypse is the result.

Ellie, Joke (Joachim) and Miguel are best friends and they share a place together. Ellie starts hanging out with Guardians, otherworldly beings, and disappears once a month only to return with blue goo in weird places. They don’t believe her until one day she disappears. In the weeks of searching for her, they end up at a meeting where Gabriel appears and Joke instantly signs up for their grand plan. But Miguel doesn’t believe it and can’t get him to understand that Joke is the Antichrist.

This is an interesting science fictional take on the apocalypse, replete with Jesus Christ, Angaeliens, Demoeliens and technology. Athough I enjoyed the story, I found myself at times wondering whether telling it from the past (when Ellie disappeared) and the present (when Joke and Miguel are facing each other off) added more depth to the story than if it had not have been there. It felt very much like a device and I found myself annoyed with it and pulling away from the story. But I do like the story and it is a great, if a very different tale, to its companion.

On the flip side (literally) is Thoraiya Dyer’s The Company Articles of Edward Teach.

Layla wishes she was someone else, anyone other than the daughter of a control freak father. Avi has no intention of being a lawyer like his mother wants him to be and like Layla, he too wishes he was someone else. Their wishes are granted when they meet in a costume store with a strange assistant and find themselves in an explosion and transported back in time three centuries. To get home they must survive, for Layla has become Doctor Reihs, to Avi’s Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard.

This is the rare story that leaves you wanting more, not just of the story itself but also of the author’s writing. I haven’t read anything by Thoraiya Dyer before but after this gem of a tale I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek

ISBN: 9780989827415

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Above/Below is the latest novella double from Perth-based Twelfth Planet Press, which has rapidly become one of Australia’s most important small presses dedicated to the publication of speculative fiction. In the tradition of the Ace Doubles and, later, the Tor Doubles, Twelfth Planet has helped to resurrect the oft-neglected art of novella writing. In an era of epic trilogies and ever increasing book lengths, the renaissance of shorter work is a welcome development indeed.

Above and Below, written by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek respectively, form halves of a greater whole. Just to be contrary, I read Below first, and I’m writing this part of my review before reading Above. In Below, we are introduced to the world of Dirt, a grotty, industrial zone that is home to those unfortunate souls tasked with mining the Shafts that fuel the cities of Loft in the sky above. This situation recalls that in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which the wretched Morlocks mine the earth’s bowels for the benefit of the delicate Eloi.

The action in Below mostly takes place in Dirt’s capital city, Naelur. Our protagonist, Eli Kurran, has recently lost his wife to the cancers that beleaguer every Dirt resident, and he is a broken man with only one thing left to live for: his daughter Lilia. Like every other resident of Dirt over the age of twelve, Eli’s body is covered with purifers that siphon out the toxins present in Dirt’s atmosphere, allowing him the opportunity to live (if he is lucky) to the grand old age of forty-eight or so.

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Peter M. Ball

Twelfth Planet Press (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-9808274

Reviewed by Mitenae

Miriam Aster doesn’t want the job. In fact, she’s quit six times over the last seven years. But Safia Mulani insists on coming back with a new piece of evidence that could finally unlock her sister, Uma’s, disappearance. Aster doesn’t want it. Her instincts tell her the fey are involved but solving the case means working with Barry Gideon, the man who killed her.

Bleed is a tightly written novel following on from Horn that continues the story of Miriam Aster. It delves more deeply into Miriam’s backstory and successfully weaves it into the present.

My biggest concern with this book is about Miriam herself. For me the only detail that defines her as female is her name. If you changed it to a masculine name the character and the story would still work as it is, and it shouldn’t.

Despite that, this is the second novella in a series (I hope) that I adore and that I am more than willing to thrust at my friends and insist they read. It’s a wonderful continuation of the life of Miriam Aster.

Clay Blakehills

After the World

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN: 978-0-98060-065-0

Reviewed by Gillian Polack, August 2010

I’m reviewing the After the World series out of order, I’m afraid. I started with Jason Fischer’s Gravesend because I wanted my work experience student to read it (I made a fifteen year old read a zombie apocalypse story – my soul is probably doomed to strange perdition). I read Killable Hours first, however.

Killable Hours reminded me that zombie books are changing. Gravesend made me think about John Wyndham, with its set-up of a cosy apocalypse. Killable Hours does this even more than Gravesend, because it’s close to home and kills off all sorts of people we’ve wondered about. Just the thought of zombie lawyers makes several of my friends smile, as if this was destined. I still don’t quite get why it’s funny to ponder upon zombie lawyers and not upon zombie bricklayers, but it is, and Blakehills has taken advantage of this absurdity. It’s a serious zombie novella, but, like Gravesend, there’s a sense that it might be just a little tongue in cheek. This makes the whole thing (like Gravesend) just a cut above where it would otherwise be. The macabre humour underlying the spatter and gore means that it never takes itself quite as seriously as the surface suggests. In other words, it’s fun.

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Dirk Flinthart

Twelfth Planet Press (2008)

ISBN 9780980484113

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce, July 2010

I have been a fan of the New Ceres shared world for a long time now. I love the concept – of a world, maybe a few hundred years into our future, where the inhabitants have decided to recreate the eighteenth century, right down to outlawing advanced technology like genetic engineering. Of course, the planet does have a spaceport, but it’s heavily guarded and all incomers have to pass stringent tests before they’re allowed through. And, of course, some people on the planet would quite like to live the Enlightenment lifestyle … with a little of their own technological enlightenment. The Lumoscenti are tasked with policing such technological infringements. Of course, they’re not entirely trusted by the Government, partly because they verge on being a religious order and partly because they don’t always play nicely with said Government. As a result, from what I can tell, the Lady Governor has set up her own cadre: the Proctors. They are tasked with various aspects of the planet’s protection, and Angel Rising is all about one of them – George Gordon.

Gordon got his first outing in “She Walks in Beauty,” in the first issue of the New Ceres zine. In her introduction to this novella, Tansy Rayner Roberts describes him as the bastard child of James Bond and Lord Byron, and that pretty much sums him up. That glorious, dangerous, mixture of the poet-warrior, the very definition of a rake, Gordon is a quixotic character at the best of times. Here, Gordon has been sent to a set of islands where the population is recreating eighteenth century Japan (which, as Gordon himself notes, means recreating the fifteenth), with his manservant Stilton – who, appropriately, is in charge of the cheese. The story itself is a fascinating one, and highly enjoyable, but Gordon himself is the key drawcard. It’s somewhat amazing, but in 51 pages Flinthart manages to sketch Gordon’s character (it’s by no means necessary to read the first story) and also develop it. Through his interactions with various other characters, Gordon’s background is ever so slightly teased out (there is room here for at least one novel, and as soon as Flinthart writes it I will have my money on the counter), along with his current internal conflicts. I would have no desire to rely on Gordon, personally, in the same way that I wouldn’t want to spend time around James Bond, but he makes for awfully good reading.

The story revolves around Gordon having to investigate a strange occurrence: reports of a downed space vessel, the sort of thing that has huge potential to disrupt the society of New Ceres. Of course, given that it’s Flinthart and New Ceres, it’s not a straightforward exercise to investigate it, of course: as Roberts’ introduction notes, there are samurai, and ninja, and nuns mixed up in it as well. She forgot to mention shape-changers and a bewitching amnesiac, but that’s ok. The novella format does not allow for any extraneous fluff, which is perhaps its most appealing factor. As a consequence, the story moves rapidly – from Gordon’s arrival in the Sunrise Isles, to his presence at a nunnery (Gordon! in a nunnery! The very idea makes my eyes water) under attack, and on to further revelations and discovery that occur at a breathtaking, breakneck pace that still manages to convey a sense of place, and of character.

Ultimately, I’m saying that this story could probably have been – well, maybe not ten times as long, but certainly novel length, and I would still have devoured it as quickly as possible. More Gordon! More New Ceres! More more!

Jason Fischer

After the World Saga. 2

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN: 9780980600643

Reviewed by Natasha Pearson* and Gillian Polack, July 2010

Gravesend is a post-apocalyptic zombie novella. It is the second of a new Australian pulp series published by Black House Comics. While the series calls itself a “saga”, this has to be tongue-in-cheek, as the novella is an unlikely form for a saga. Fischer’s novella definitely builds on the previous one, however (set in an Australian law firm) and its action begins after the zombie plague has taken hold and the last of the healthy humans are under siege.

The story is set in Kent in Gravesend (which is a pun that was inevitable the moment the subject of the novella was linked to the writing of Jason Fischer), and begins with the main character Tamsyn Webb on guard duty watching for zombies from a clocktower. It launches straight into the action with a mass zombie attack. Fischer then explains how the world has changed to become a place infested with the undead and how bleak the future looks for the villagers living in Kent. Things begin to get worse, as more people are killed by the zombies, but hope comes in the form of a transmission from America.

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Jason Fischer

After the World, Vol 2

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN: 9780980600643

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely, March 2010

Zombies are increasing in popularity all over the place. There’s Zombies vs Unicorns, World War Z, Zombie Racoons and Killer Bunnies, and YA romance zombies (can I just say, ick). Whether they want to eat your brains or take over the world or fall in love with your girlfriend, they are certainly a mainstay of horror writing all over the world. Australian publisher Black House Comics is cashing in on the current zombie craze with a new pulp series, After the World. One of my favourite Aussie writers, Jason Fischer, takes the helm with the second instalment of this series, Gravesend.

Tamsyn is one of the few survivors trapped in Gravesend, Kent, after the end of the world. She and her father survived the initial zombie outbreak, but things are not easy behind the blockade in Gravesend, with food scarce and more zombies moving into the area every day. The survivors are trying to come up with options for the future, but after a disastrous attempt to contact survivors in London, and the situation worsening everywhere for the ragged remnants of humanity trying to endure the unendurable, things aren’t looking good. On top of a zombie apocalypse, Tamsyn is haunted by the horrific death of her mother, and what her death may mean for their survival.

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Clay Blakehills

After the World, Vol 1

Black House Comics (2009)

ISBN 9-780980-600650

Reviewed by Ross Murray, March 2010

Killable Hours is the first volume in Black House Comics’ After the World series of stories set in a zombified Australia.

Promoting itself as “All New Australian Pulp”, the After the World series draws on the American pulp magazines (1890s-1950s) and their predecessors the Penny Dreadfuls and Penny Bloods of the 1850s and 1860s which gave spawn to a many mythic characters such as Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Spring Heel’d Jack. These magazines contained stories peppered with violence, murder, crime, and supernatural visions meant to shock and disgust. They were cheap and expendable, much like the hordes of lawyers in Killable Hours.

As a law intern completing the final year of his degree, Terry has decided that law just isn’t his bag, baby. Luckily for him he won’t have to complete it because, as is happening a lot lately, the zombie apocalypse occurs without any explanation as to how it happened and why. Apocalypses just happen these days and, well, there you go… On the other hand, Terry is somewhat unlucky as a bunch of lawyers in the firm soon go from “bloodsuckers” to flesheaters after more than just his pound of flesh. Terry manages to survive the first onslaught and with fellow survivors Janelle and Neville, eventually have to fight their way out of the firm’s inner city high-rise building.

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