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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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