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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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Edited by Cat Sparks

Agog! Press (2004)

ISBN: 0-958056-73-0

Reviewed by Devin Jeyathurai (this review was first published in November 2005)

Most days, if you asked me to choose between a good short story and a good novel, I’d pick the short story. This isn’t really anyone’s fault. It has more to do with the way my life is structured. I work all day and the only times I have to read on a regular basis are when I’m on the bus in the morning, when I’m on the bus in the evening, and briefly before I fall asleep. You can then understand why a short story is perfectly suited to my lifestyle. I can fit a complete story into a forty minute ride to the office in the morning, and then head into work without feeling like I need to read just one more page. On the way home, I can read a slightly longer short story, and finish it off before I hit the sack.

The experience of reading a short story is different from reading a novel, and markedly so. A novel is more languid, more expansive. A novel has more room, more space. A novel can explore ideas and plotlines and character more slowly, more deeply, differently.

By contrast, a short story needs to work quickly, grab the reader by the (eye)balls and drag them along for the ride before they can change their minds. Forget about establishing background, or those long dreary descriptions. A short story is kinetic, it moves. Some short stories start in medias res and require that the reader catch up on their own. Often figuring out what’s going on is part of the fun.

All the same, there aren’t very many markets for speculative fiction short stories, and correspondingly few ways for readers to get hold of them. That’s why I applaud Cat Sparks’ effort to showcase new Australian science fiction shorts in anthologies like Agog! Smashing Stories (and Agog! Terrific TalesAgog! Fantastic FictionAustrAlien Absurdities and Daikaiju!). I can’t vouch for any of the others, because I haven’t gotten around to buying or reading them, but when writing about Agog! Smashing Stories, the word that springs to mind is “solid”. Read the rest of this entry »

Cat Sparks (ed.)

Agog! Press (2006)

ISBN: 0809562383 

Reviewed by Ben Payne (this review was first published in February 2007)

Over the years, Agog! has emerged as the standard bearer of Australian SF in the twenty-first century. As such, it sets itself a tough standard to reach with each new anthology. It is to the credit of the editor and the writers within that it continues to reach it.

Ripping Reads contains a fine mix of those authors who are well-known names (such as Margo Lanagan and Simon Brown), those who are rapidly becoming well known names (such as Ben Peek and Deborah Biancotti), and a couple of newer authors to round out the collection (David Conyers and David Kane).

Overall, the standard is a high one. If there is a general criticism I might make of the stories in the anthology, it is this: that the endings of the tales frequently do not do justice to the imagination of their world-building. As such, some of the stories work more strongly as springboards for the imagination than as structurally complete pieces. The best pieces are those that nail both. Read the rest of this entry »

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