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Edited by Tehani Wessely

Fablecroft Publishing (2012)

ISBN: 978-0-9807770-5-5

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Epilogue is the latest offering from Fablecroft Publishing, an Australian small speculative fiction press that specialises in themed specfic anthologies. For this volume, editor Tehani Wessely has chosen a strong cast of notable Australian writers as well as one stray Swede, Kaia Landelius. Originally titled “Apocalypse Hope”, Epilogue asks “what happens after the apocalypse?” Many of the stories herein have an optimistic bent to uplift us from the all-too-dystopian world we live in. Epilogue is professionally presented and features commanding cover art from Amanda Rainey, whose work adorns plenty of Australian specfic covers these days. With Epilogue, Fablecroft  firmly establishes itself alongside Twelfth Planet Press and Ticonderoga Publications at the forefront of Australian speculative fiction publishing.

Thoraiya Dyer’s “Sleeping Beauty” opens proceedings, and it features an apocalypse in progress that our voracious protagonist can survive but not prevent. Rather enigmatic in style, Dyer’s brief tale is nevertheless atmospheric and exceedingly well written. Jo Anderton’s  ”A Memory Trapped in Light” is rather different but equally impressive in an entirely different way. Isola and Ruby are sisters living in a nightmare future of Legate Drones, Pionic Flares, Shards, imprisoned children, ancient laser cannons and the Crust. Channelling SF films like The Matrix and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, as well as the classic SF stories that underpin those works, Anderton has constructed an exuberant and positively traditional SF story with strong female central characters, something that rarely featured in the Golden Age imagination. There’s a paucity of genuine science fiction in the Australian specfic scene currently, but the work of Jo Anderton would appear to be a significant exception.

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Angela Slatter

Ticonderoga Publications (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-9806288-8-3

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Angela Slatter has written and published a great deal of stories in the “reloaded fairytale” genre in recent years, many of which are collected in this volume from Ticonderoga and also in Sourdough from Tartarus Press. The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales won the Aurealis Award in 2010 for Best Collection, and it’s not hard to see why. Slatter reworks a host of traditional fairytales, many of which will be familiar to all but some which are more obscure, putting a fresh, feminist slant on these already macabre offerings.

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Steven Utley

Ticonderoga Publications (2009)

ISBN: 978-0-9803531-4-3

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

This edition of Ghost Seas is a 2009 reprint of the original 1997 collection by US writer Steven Utley. Utley is a member of a talented crowd of Texans who made names for themselves in the ’70s. Other members of the Turkey City Writer’s Workshop include Lisa Tuttle, Bruce Sterling and Howard Waldrop, the latter of whom is an amazing (and amazingly oddball) writer himself. There are some similarities between Waldrop and Utley in terms of their writing, and they’ve collaborated on at least one major story, “Custer’s Last Jump,” as well as the delightfully whimsical “Willow Beeman” in this collection. Utley’s solo stories are impressive in their construction, but even more so in terms of the range of subjects and genres employed. This writer’s reluctance to produce novels, or to stick to one genre, is part of the reason he remains an “Internationally Unknown Author”, as the Afterword helps to explain.

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Lewis Shiner

Ticonderoga Publications (2009)

ISBN: 978-0-9803531-0-5

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Lewis Shiner is known to me as one of the early cyberpunk authors, but his collection Love In Vain isn’t cyberpunk. It’s not even science fiction for the most part. It is, however, very good. Published by Ticonderoga in 2009, this collection of nearly two dozen stories showcases Shiner’s abilities at lengths ranging from flash fiction to novelette. Personally I found his longer works more interesting, not least the newer, previously uncollected “Perfidia”.

In “Perfidia”, Frank Delacorte, a collector with a penchant for eBay auctions, stumbles on a highly irregular recording of a Glenn Miller song. In his attempt to unravel the mystery, Frank travels to Paris to trace the recording back to its original owner. Meanwhile, Frank’s father, who had been one of the American soldiers that liberated the Dachau concentration camp at the end of World War II, lies dying in a US hospital. Shiner’s depiction of Paris circa 2000 is particularly atmospheric, and the story of Miller’s last tape is original and engaging. My only complaint is that the story ended long before I would like it to, which I guess is a compliment to Shiner’s technique, given that “Perfidia” is around 50 pages in length.

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Andrez Bergen

Another Sky Press (2011)

ISBN: 9780984559701

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Andrez Bergen’s novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, was released by Another Sky Press earlier this year. Billed as “Blade Runner with a touch of Sam Spade”, the novel fuses the tropes of the science fiction and detective genres (hardly a new idea in itself) and ends up being something genuinely different from either. And that’s always a good thing. Partly this is because of the post-apocalyptic Melbourne setting, where it never seems to stop raining, but mostly it is due to Bergen’s extensive (and I mean extensive) film references in the novel.

Our P.I.’s name is Floyd and he’s an unhappy sort. He has a sick wife named Veronica who is hospitalised and may soon die. He has a job seeking out deviants, and for this he has ‘The Guide to Deviant Apprehension & Containment’, with its mantra of ‘Seek, Locate, Apprehend, Contain, Terminate [if necessary].’ Basically he’s a bounty hunter, and he’s none too happy about it, hence the copious amounts of alcohol that spill from Floyd’s pores and from these pages. Sometimes he is forced to undergo ‘The Test’, a virtual reality plane where he is subjected to various questions and challenges set by his nefarious employers. Floyd hates his job but he has to continue doing it to pay for Veronica’s ‘Hospitalization.’

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Simon Haynes

Bowman Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-1-877034-07-7

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Perth writer Simon Haynes has been writing Hal Spacejock novels for years, but this is his first venture into Young Adult territory. Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is a spin-off from the other Spacejock series, featuring an intrepid young adventurer by the name of Hal Junior. The nature of the relationship between Hal Junior and the Hal Spacejock of the earlier novels isn’t specified, but enough hints are dropped that the reader should be able to figure out who Captain Spacejock really is. The Secret Signal is intended for readers in the 9-12 age group, although it reads fine as an adult piece too. The book is a brisk read and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to younger readers.

We open with Hal Junior piloting the spaceship Phantom X1, only the spaceship is really a paper plane. He does live on a space station though, in an unspecified future time where tigers are extinct and paper is a historical oddity. Hal Junior is supposed to be doing an assignment for his robotic teacher, but he ends up in trouble straight away when he almost loses his work (the plane) down the recycling hatch. After some amusing buffoonery, Hal and his friend Stinky retrieve the plane by reversing the space station’s gravity. This is the first in a series of largely self-inflicted trials that Hal Junior undertakes in The Secret Signal, and it’s all good fun.

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Paul Haines

Brimstone Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9805677-1-7

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Paul Haines’ third collection of stories, The Last Days of Kali Yuga, was recently launched at Swancon Thirty Six in Perth. I had the pleasure of attending the launch and hearing Haines read from his story “The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burned”. Having recently read the author’s earlier collection, Slice of Life, I was eager to get my hands on this latest collection from Perth-based Brimstome Press, and it didn’t disappoint. The Last Days of Kali Yuga firmly establishes Haines as one of Australia’s best horror writers (yes, I know he’s from New Zealand originally).

Haines warned me when he signed my copy of this book that the material was dark and perhaps disturbing in nature. I guess it says as much about me as it does of him, but I didn’t find anything particularly objectionable in these pages, although it’s true that some stories were very provocative. The writer Haines reminds me of most is M. John Harrison, whose work is similarly sardonic and sometimes vicious. A number of recurrent themes run through many of Haines’ stories, including but not limited to: the pressures and angst of urban living; sexual frustration and jealousy; and the cycle of seemingly inevitable violence. The author pulls few, if any, punches in his depiction of the more sordid side of life, and he keeps us close to the edge as readers. William S. Burroughs once said that ‘writing should have the immediacy and danger of bullfighting’; Paul Haines is certainly a writer whose work fits that bill.

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Paolo Bacigalupi

Night Shade Books

ISBN: 978-1-59780-202-4

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Fresh from finishing Bacigalupi’s debut novel, I went out and bought myself a copy of his debut collection, Pump Six and Other Stories. Two of these stories, ‘The Calorie Man’ and ‘Yellow Card Man’, actually provide backstory for The Windup Girl (these two stories are freely available for download on the Night Shade Books website). The ten stories collected here are arranged in chronological order of publication, giving us an insight into Bacigalupi’s development as a writer, as well as the development of his Windup Girl universe.

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Paolo Bacigalupi

Orbit

ISBN: 978-0-356-50053-9

Reviewed by Guy Salvidge

Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut novel The Windup Girl has won just about everything a science fiction novel can win, including the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Award. This is a book, then, that came insanely hyped by the time of the recent Orbit edition. Does it live up to that hype? In a word, yes. This is epic science fiction that reminded this reader of John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. I’m not sure if I’m quite prepared to declare it one of the best science fiction works of all time, but it’d easily be in my top ten science fiction novels of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Believe the hype.

The Windup Girl features a near(ish) future crippled by its energy needs. The world’s oil is gone, and with it mains electricity and international aeroplane travel. So it’s back to dirigibles, rickshaws and the sweat of one’s brow. There are even genetically engineered creatures called megodonts which are harnessed for their strength. Global warming also appears to have wrought havoc on ecosystems worldwide, not to mention the problem of rising sea levels which is keenly felt in Bangkok, where the action takes place. And then there’s the generippers and man-made plagues. This isn’t a future you’d want to live in.

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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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