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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 (Lawson is an incisive and erudite blogger, with Frankenblog now apparently superceded by his Talking Squid site.)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 »
Prime Books (2003)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in February 2009)
I recently received an Advance Review Copy of this book, which in the circumstances is a somewhat misleading description, since the volume itself has been in publication for over five years. But no matter.
Geoffrey Maloney has been a presence on the Australian spec-fic scene for a good many years now. A couple of the stories in Tales from the Crypto-Systemwere first published in 1990; most of the other stories were published during the subsequent even-numbered years, up to 2002. (I leave it as an exercise to numerologists to discern the rationale behind Maloney’s apparent and puzzling lack of success during odd-numbered years, although 1999 was a notable exception.) It is a characteristic of the local spec-fic scene that most of the original periodicals in which these stories first saw light have long since perished; Aurealis and AntipodeanSF are happy exceptions to this trend, and may their resilience continue. Read the rest of this entry »
Ticonderoga Publications (2007)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in October 2007)
First, a caveat: this review is of the pdf version of the book’s uncorrected proof, a document lacking both the final cover and the appended authors’ biographical notes.
The Workers’ Paradise – an unashamedly politically charged title, openly left-leaning, and the brief editorial follows suit. The timeliness of the editorial (written in September 2007, mere weeks before I received the pdf) is a drawback in a sense. There’s scope for much of the editorial’s content, relating to Australia’s current labour laws, to become quickly outdated. At least, one might hope so. But the more important questions arising are, will the stories collected here date as quickly? And do they hang together, or would they be better left to hang separately?
Paradise contains eighteen stories by an assortment of established and emerging Australian specfic writers. (That is to say, I believe them all to be Australian, though in the absence of biographical notes I can’t be completely sure of some of them.) Read the rest of this entry »
Peggy Bright Books (2012)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely
This anthology seemed to appear out of nowhere – there was no submissions call, no advance marketing, no bloggage I came across by authors or editors about the book in progress. The first I saw of it was an announcement of the table of contents, and as it included some of my favourite writers, and was edited by two people I had worked with for a number of years at Andromeda Spaceways, I was immediately interested.
The titular theme of the book, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, is a broad brushstroke that the invited authors included in the anthology have taken and run with in about as many different directions as you could imagine. From Greek mythology to imagined worlds to far-flung futures, from almost realities to the short term “what if”, the thirteen writers have used the theme as a springboard, restrained by little else and using the liftoff as a spark to ignite their imaginations.
Available for PDF download from http://SpeculativeFictionReview.com
Reviewed by Simon Petrie (this review was first published in January 2008)
Imposter, the first novel by Queensland writer Katherine Anderson, is a SF thriller set partly in New York and partly in the fictional North Queensland coastal community of Howards Hill.
This is the first piece of fiction I’ve encountered by Anderson. Her writing style is economical and clear, and the book has a rapid and reasonably steady pace. It’s a style that doesn’t place too many demands on the reader, nor does it disappoint. In fact, the unobtrusive polish of the text, coupled with the apparent absence of evidence for previously-written fiction by Anderson, such as web mentions of short stories, has me wondering whether ‘Katherine Anderson’ herself is an imposter, in the sense that this may be a pen name chosen by someone who’s already published in other genres under another name. Such a ploy would be in keeping with the tone of the book; but, in thinking this, I’m probably just being paranoid. That too, would be in keeping with the tone of the book… but, in any case, Imposter manages to avoid most, if not all, of the pitfalls suffered by first-time novelists. Read the rest of this entry »
Peggy Bright Books (2010)
ISBN 978 0 98069981 4
Reviewed by Joanna Kasper
A collection of short (some very short) stories that seemed to come from the dark recesses of Simon Petrie’s mind. Most are funny, some are spooky and others are just plain weird and then there are the ones that are all three.
I found that sitting and reading the book all in one go was not a good idea because each story was so short that they tended to blend into each other. On the other hand, it is a brilliant book for reading before bedtime, or if (like me) you have young children and reading is done in short bursts during the day. Like pinching a chocolate from the box when no-one is looking as opposed to sitting and gorging the whole lot in one go … equally as satisfying!
This is a highly entertaining collection, with some sharp and funny commentary on science fiction and fantasy tropes, human nature and the perils of going into space. There is poetry, crime solving, sudoku puzzles (yes, really), sex education, and downright laugh out loud humour (“Highway Patroller”). It’s not all rolling in the aisles though, with stories such as “Running Lizard” looking at a more serious, and grisly, side to genetic mutations.
The Mayne Press (2009)
ISBN: 978 0 9806159 0 6
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
A great many scurrilous, degrading, and downright libellous things have been written about Paul Haines, most of them by Haines himself. Suffice it to say that if Paul Haines, the writer, is guilty of merely one-tenth the activities attributed to Paul Haines, the character, then the man should be locked away, without prospect of parole, and provided solely with bread, stale cheese, water, and pencil and paper.
“Slice of Life”, the story, is appropriately the first tale within Slice of Life, the collection. It’s an effectively unsettling introduction to Haines’ (hopefully) fictional-autobiographic style, and the charming, urbane, psychotic character that the author puts forward as his alter ego. The danger of reading Haines’ stories in this vein is that the reader can come perilously close to accepting cannibalism, sexual sadism, or any of a myriad other vices as representing innately reasonable behaviour – because, in the context of Haines’ stories, this is very much the category such activity falls into. If iniquity needs a poster child (and I’m not sure, in this day and age, that it does), then the protagonist in stories such as “Slice of Life” will do just nicely, thank you.
Wattle and Daub Books (2008)
ISBN: 978 0 9810658 0 9
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
C. June Wolf is a specfic writer who lives in Vancouver. Finding Creatures is her first collection of stories, several of which have appeared previously in various small press magazines and anthologies.
“Claude and the Henry Moores” features a failed artist security guard who works at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and becomes gradually captivated by the gallery’s collection of Moore’s abstract sculptures. Claude is convinced there’s more to the objects than meets the eye. This is a closely informed story with an intriguing premise. It works well, although the “aurora” scene carried less power than I felt it should have. But all up, it’s an effective and memorable story that does a good job of introducing Wolf’s style to the reader.
Night Shade (2009)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
Though they share the same brief – to present an overview of some of the year’s best short speculative fiction, in an anthology without stated limitations of theme – Eclipse Three is a distinctly different beast than Eclipse Two. Probably the most obvious point of variance is in the gender distribution of the authors, with a definite preponderance of female authors in E3, whereas E2 was distinctly male-heavy. It’s difficult to see this as other than a conscious choice by Strahan to redress previous gender imbalances, but if so the strategy receives no acknowledgement in the anthology’s introduction or elsewhere. Nor is it, in the end, a cause for any complaint: whatever one’s personal perspective on affirmative action, the result is an anthology which, for whatever reason, is more cohesive, more fulfilling, stronger than its predecessor.
“The Pelican Bar,” by Karen Joy Fowler has Norah, the archetypal renegade teen, receive a rather unusual gift for her fifteenth birthday: incarceration, in an isolated camp run by mysterious, pitiless adults. Norah’s travails are portrayed unflinchingly, but with compassion. “Pelican Bar” gets the anthology off to an excellent start, with a coming-of-age tale in which the underlying message is left deliberately muddy.
Night Shade (2008)
Reviewed by Simon Petrie, May 2010
The stated aim of Strahan’s Eclipse annuals is to emulate the unthemed anthology series of decades past, such as Orbit and Universe. Eclipse is intended to provide a selection of stories exploring the gamut of topics within SF and fantasy, by some of the best writers in the business. How does it measure up?
“The Hero,” by Karl Schroeder, has some startling worldbuilding on its side – Jessie is a young, quietly-desperate drifter who, within the story’s brief span, participates in a misguided assault on a truly massive insect, makes a promise he cannot afford to keep, and journeys to the perilous heart of the vast, hollow habitat in which his family ekes out its living. It’s a story that’s big on sense-of-wonder, but it didn’t particularly move me.
Stephen Baxter’s “Turing’s Apples” concerns itself with one of the staples of space-based SF: the discovery of a signal from an advanced alien intelligence, and contemporary society’s reaction to the resultant upheaval. Baxter presents two brothers, both gifted, both of whom agree that the briefly-detected signal has ramifications not apparent to the general populace, but disagree on the appropriate response to the signal’s existence. I must confess that there’s a tendency for Baxter’s stories to rub me up the wrong way, and this one’s no exception: it’s undeniably well done, and those who like their SF underpinned by solid physics (a category into which I generally fall) should find it enjoyable. I didn’t, and I wish I knew why.