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Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2005)
Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in November 2005)
The Grinding House is a collection of stories by Canberra-writer Kaaron Warren. Most of the stories are reprints, but there is some new material, including the story “The Grinding House” itself. Several of the reprinted stories have been nominated for awards or have received awards, including the Aurealis. Warren is known for her horror writing, and all of the stories in The Grinding House have a strong element of horror. The volume itself has been published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild with the assistance of an ArtsAct grant. It is the first CSFG Publishing anthology to focus on one author, reflecting the status Warren has earned as a short story writer.
Short story collections are often a worry. You know they’re going to be a mixed bag, but what you won’t know until you reach the end is how many of the stories are good, outstanding, or should have been left out entirely. There’s also the rule of averages – you tell yourself things like “Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice has miraculous writing. There won’t be another decent anthology for ten years.”
Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House actually defeats that expectation. It is good. A large portion of it is outstanding. Published so soon after Black Juice, it beats that law of averages. It is not, however, everyone’s cup of tea. Warren gets billed as a horror writer, and certainly her stories creep under the skin. She does not write a classic horror story, though, and is far more an interstitial writer. She writes each story both close to home (presenting us with situations that we recognize as kin to our own), and in entirely alien environments, ones which we are thankful we are so far from. Read the rest of this entry »
Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2006)
Reviewed by Lee Battersby (this review was first published in May 2006)
This is the seventh anthology from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and conforms to their traditional format: stories by a range of members based around a single theme. Previous anthologies have focussed on fantastical beasts, machines, places that can be considered ‘other’, and even the act of cooking. In this instance, the anthology concerns itself with the notion of otherness in the individual: the outsider, the pariah, the exile.
This instalment in the CSFG’s annual output contains 20 stories, and in keeping with the Guild’s policy of rotating the editorship, is edited by Nicole R Murphy. Its production values are relatively high for a small press volume. The cover is appealing, unlike the last CSFG collection to cross my desk (the otherwise excellent Kaaron Warren collection, The Grinding House), the paper is of a good weight, and the layout and font choice makes for easy reading. Small points to raise, perhaps, but the small press scene in Australia is crowded, and effort is necessary to stand out from a crowded shelf. The Outcast will look good in your hands. For me, that’s a pleasant part of the reading experience. The fiction inside, however, is a mixed bunch, ranging from well told stories by experienced professionals, to flawed and uninspiring choices. Read the rest of this entry »
Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (2005)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in November 2005)
Stories and recipes? On the face of it, Stuart Barrow’s Gastronomicon looks to be a bit of a gimmick. As an avid recipe hoarder, it’s a very attractive gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. However, after reading Barrow’s introduction, his intentions start to become apparent. For him, writing and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) are inexorably linked to food. By producing this anthology, he’s hoping to showcase the people that make up the CSFG not only through their writing, but also through their favourite recipes and what they like to eat.
So which comes first? The story or the recipe? In some cases, it does appear that the story has been written and a somewhat appropriate recipe jammed on the end. These combinations might include a really good recipe or a really good tale, but there’s something lacking in the whole. I think the writer needs an emotional investment in both the story and the recipe for it to work at its best. And when it does work, and the story and recipe merge seamlessly together into one cohesive whole, you really are left with something better than the sum of the two.
This is a review with a difference – much like the anthology itself. Sure there are stories to read, but there are also recipes to be made and so I’ve done my best to have a go at as many as one small-ish person can. This was not all of them, by far – I got though 14. Beverages and desserts are somewhat underrepresented – mostly as I never got round to buying all the alcohol needed for these! On a practical note, I am an infamous Changer of Recipes and Substituter of Ingredients [TM]. When I started out on this project, I had the best of intentions to make each recipe exactly as described – I even went and bought 100 year old eggs! It made no difference, however, and I now realise that I am almost physically incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I substitute with glee. I don’t have any measuring cups. And I refuse to sift. I also never remember to look at the clock and normally have to guess how long something has been cooking. Things normally turned out fine, but I would be a disaster in the Woman’s Weekly Test Kitchen. Speaking of the Women’s Weekly Test Kitchen, whilst most recipes were very easily followed (or not followed, as the case may be), a few were a bit ambiguous, particularly in terms of ingredients. I’ve discussed the ambiguities I found within each below. However, it probably would have been a good idea to set up a CSFG Test Kitchen to check the recipes to make sure the directions were unambiguous. Also, it would have been useful if there had been an indication of how many each recipe serves. Read the rest of this entry »
Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild Publishing (2003)
Reviewed by Kathryn Linge (this review was first published in September 2006)
Published in 2003 and edited by Michael Barry, Elsewhere was the third publication of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) and published with the assistance of ArtsACT. The CSFG have a history of publishing ‘themed’ anthologies and this one is no exception – as you might be able to tell from the name the anthology deals with ‘other places’. Surprising, huh? Barry is certainly very upbeat in his forward, which documents the development of short Australian speculative fiction since the first CSFG publication in 2001. From his interview in Donna Maree Hanson’s Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview we learn that Barry wanted an anthology of stories that were more experimental than usually found in Australian speculative fiction. Certainly the interpretation of ‘other places’ in some stories deviated quite widely from a simple description of a fantastical land, and this refreshing outlook is probably the best aspect of the book. Unfortunately some other aspects are not so great. The book itself is solid and printed on good quality paper but the overall impression I get is of a book that has been somewhat hastily put together – see, for example, the incorrect spelling of ‘Australian’ in the third paragraph of the introduction. Nit picky? Possibly, but it does sap confidence somewhat when you’re reading a forward that is promising great things in the ”Autralian market”. The layout is readable but the first (oversized) capital of each story seemed to encroach over other letters in some cases and I’m not sure that Les Petersen’s images have really been given their due, as they are both small and poorly reproduced.
Two stories shone out over others for me – “Orion’s Womb” by Carol Ryles and “State of Oblivion” by Kaaron Warren. In “Orion’s Womb”, a spaceship pilot reflects on her ambition to live amongst the stars. The story is warm and ultimately positive and the writing has a lovely rhythm. “State of Oblivion? is genuinely disturbing. A disparate group of people live on the top of a mountain in the harsh bright light. How did they get there? Nobody can remember and they are satisfied with their oblivion until Neal arrives. The suspense and dread in this piece builds up slowly, although I thought it slightly marred by the very last passage of dialogue, which seemed rushed. It felt like I was being forced to the conclusion before time. Although, despite the rush, the ending was both satisfyingly ambiguous and shocking. Read the rest of this entry »