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Lucy Sussex

MirrorDanse Editions (2005)

ISBN: 0-975785-20-6

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in January 2006)

What I love about A Tour Guide in Utopia is the control that Lucy Sussex shows. Whether she is writing on a large scale or a small scale, she has a maturity to her style which few Australian speculative fiction authors can claim. If you like short stories; if you like thoughtful prose; if you like seeing a writer grow then this book is worth looking at. If you want fun reading on the train to work then this book is a must. If you want a book you can dip into from time to time and pull out a plum, then this book is for you.

It is unpretentiously intellectual. The more history and literature you know, the more you will enjoy the cross-references, but understanding them is not crucial to enjoying most of the stories. This in itself is somewhat of a tour-de-force.

This anthology is extraordinarily well-balanced. The individual stories each made their ripples or waves when they were initially published, but the selection and tone of the collection is satisfying. Each story stands on its own and helps the one before and after it stand out. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Lawson

MirrorDanse (2003)

ISBN: 0958658390

Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in February 2008)

If there was ever a time when it was justifiable to assert that science fiction is only, or even primarily, about wish-fulfilment and escapism (and let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there was), then that time has passed. Anyone who finds this statement difficult to accept should be encouraged, as politely but persistently as possible, to read Chris Lawson’s scalpel-sharp collection of stories and essays, published in 2003 but likely to remain current and relevant for years to come.

Written in Blood is plainly not your standard single-author collection of science fiction stories. For one thing, it’s a volume with a liberal sprinkling of non-fiction content, drawn from Lawson’s Frankenblog site. (Lawson is an incisive and erudite blogger, with Frankenblog now apparently superceded by his Talking Squid site.) For another, it opens not with a biographical introduction, but with the transcript of an interview with Lawson, conducted by Simon Brown. I found the introduction interesting for Lawson’s assertion that he is not a scientist because he is not actively involved in research, an assertion with which I disagree. Lawson’s background, training, and evident deep understanding of the scientific method undermine his own argument, as does the rigour of his reasoning. If nothing else, through the careful literature research required for construction of his non-fiction pieces, Lawson undeniably qualifies as a practitioner of science, regardless of the origin of his paycheck. (Was Stephen Jay Gould a scientist? Is Dawkins? Lawson is a science writer as accomplished, if less widely distributed). Read the rest of this entry »

Chuck McKenzie

MirrorDanse Books (2005)

ISBN: 0975785214 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in June 2009)

Confessions of a Pod Person is a collection of short stories, the majority of which have been previously published in a period spanning 2002 to 2005. Given the wide variety of publications in which they appeared, if you read much Australian speculative fiction, you’ve probably come across at least one of these stories before.

The ideas behind most of these stories aren’t particularly original, and the commentaries by McKenzie suggest he’s well aware of this. Nor are they strongly plotted stories; I’d be inclined to describe most as vignettes, or at best, skits.

And yet, this collection, and most of the stories in it, work. McKenzie writes humorous science fiction, and most of these stories are successfully amusing. None were really uproarious (but then, humour is a personal thing; some of these stories may have you rolling on the floor where I didn’t), but neither did they fall flat. There’s a wryness to the humour in many of these stories that will raise a smile from most readers. Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Hood

MirrorDanse Books (2002)

ISBN: 0-958658-36-6

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

The subtitle of this book is an example of understatement, as well as truth in advertising. While it might be true that this is a collection of ghost stories, that phrase does not adequately convey the breadth of Robert Hood’s talent, nor does it offer the prospective reader any real idea as to what to expect. None of the ghosts in this collection are of the conventional sheet-wearing, chain-shaking variety, and not one of them actually goes “boo”. Hood quite deliberately defies convention, and the result is a series of stories that run the gamut, from quiet mood pieces to stirring cinematic epics. In at least one instance, it’s doubtful whether the “ghost” is anything more than the product of a disturbed mind.

In an interview with Kyla Ward (done for the book, and reproduced after the last short story), Hood explains that this collection is called Immaterial “because the material world is haunted by an immaterial reality.” Read the rest of this entry »

edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt

MirrorDanse Books (2007)

ISBN: 9780975773628

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in May 2008)

“Best” anthologies are always tricky, because there’s so much room to argue about the choices; about the authors, about the stories, about the publication dates… Here Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt have put together a high quality anthology with less room for argument than usual. The collection covers the year 2006, and includes stories by some of the best – and best known – Australian speculative fiction writers who are currently publishing.

The anthology opens with a short introduction by the editors which provides a very brief overview of Australian speculative fiction in 2006. It may remind you of some things you meant to read and didn’t get around to; it may tantalise you with mention of something you didn’t know about before. It’s a good quick overview of what was published in 2006.

This is an exceptional anthology, and although I didn’t love every story in it, that’s a reflection of the diversity of stories in it – one or two didn’t suit my personal tastes. There are no dud stories, in the sense of poorly-written or boring stories. I felt that almost all of the authors here have published better stories, but again that’s partly a matter of taste – the stories contained here are universally well-written and crafted, and are generally original, lively and entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt

MirrorDanse Books (2005)

ISBN: 0975773607

Reviewed by Gillian Polack (this review was first published in September 2006)

Year’s Best volumes always have significant introductions. I am an evil person who reads the stories then goes back and thinks “Should I read the introduction?” Yes. Read the introduction. Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquadt give an overview of how current Australian speculative fiction fits into an historical trail. There is a kangaroo story told in snatches throughout. Not my kind of story, but it solves the problem of a technical introduction to a book of short stories. The interlacing of story and explanation eases the transition between a formal introduction and short stories and puts the stories in perspective. As some of the stories date (as some stories always date in anthologies) the introduction will be there to remind readers of the particular environment in which they were created.

The first story is the best in the volume. ”’Singing my Sister Down” is as close to perfect as a short story can be. The narrator’s sister is punished for a crime by drowning in a tar pit. The story is about her death. Such a slim narrative for such a big story, and yet it works. Margo Lanagan’s gift of bringing the reader into the emotional moment is amazing and this story is the outstanding example of her gift. Read the rest of this entry »

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