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Narrelle M Harris

Twelve Planets Book 5

Twelfth Planet Press (2012)

ISBN: 978-0-9872162-0-5

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

I’m not a big fan of horror, so I am not the ideal reader for this collection which, although not overwhelmingly scary, uses horror tropes to tell its stories. Nonetheless, it is a quite readable quartet.

The first story, ‘Stalemate’, is probably the scariest, and that’s because it is the most mundane. Which is saying something, because three out of four of these stories are defined by being set in domestic settings (by which I mean only non-exotic, like another planet or a medieval castle). It’s a suburban kitchen, with a mum and her grown-up daughter, arguing over all the tired old things that parents and grown-up kids argue over, with the added bitterness that Mum is there to help the daughter while she is sick. Of course, it turns out that things aren’t quite as mundane as they seem – and this revelation makes things all the more awful because of the very setting, and the consequences. It’s terrible.

My favourite story is ‘Thrall’ because it does the most clever things with the horror ideas it’s working with. It’s the story that is least obviously ‘domestic’, involving as it does a Hungarian castle; but even then, it opens in a dingy suburban cafe, and the castle is a tourist trap. Dragomir is a vampire, returned to Hungary to get a bit of rest. He has called a thrall to him – a woman whose ancestors pledged their allegiance to him many centuries before – to help him get ready. The narrative is fairly simple and straightforward. What really makes the story intriguing though is people’s reactions to Dragomir, and his reactions to them. Harris has gone with a much more ‘realistic’ vampire, in that he is very much a man of his times – his original times. He is shorter than the average 21st century man. He despises much of the modern world. And, in return, much of it despises him, too.

‘The Truth about Brains’ takes the reader into zombie territory, and the heady days of summer in the suburbs. Again the characters revolve around the family, this time an older sister impatient with her brother who, as the story opens, has kind-of sort-of accidentally been turned into a zombie. The narrative backtracks to explain how that happened, and then explores the consequences for the sister, the brother, and the other people involved. I think I found this the least convincing of the stories, mostly because the characters didn’t work for me. It could also be that I just don’t like zombie stories.

The last story is the longest, and relates to Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life, which I’ve not read. ‘Showtime’ involves Gary – a not-that-happy-with-it vampire – and his friend Lissa, a librarian, heading to the Melbourne Show, location of rides, craft, wood-chopping exhibitions … and a haunted house. Harris does well to bring those unfamiliar with this version of Melbourne up to speed, with crafty hints at Gary and Lissa’s shared past of dealing with less-than-friendly vampires, and how this friendship manages to exist at all. It captures some of Gary’s angst and rue at not being alive, and suggests an interesting take on the implications of being undead (sunlight isn’t deadly but more like a beta-blocker; he has no adrenaline so rollercoasters are pointless). However, in the end, the story fell a bit flat for me, and I think that was partly because I wasn’t as invested as I could have been in the lives of Gary and his vampire brethren existing (as it were) in the shadows of Melbourne.

Overall, this is generally an interesting look at how horror tropes can be used in familiar settings, and it’s certainly a neat addition to the Twelve Planets series.

Deborah Biancotti

Twelve Planets, Book 4

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808274-8-4

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

This fourth book in the Twelve Planets series, from Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press, comes back to the idea presented by the first collection – that of an interconnected suite of stories, which build on and enhance one another but also stand by themselves.

The overarching idea here in Deborah Biancotti’s set is, as the title suggests, the use and abuse of power – especially when it is given to ordinary, or even undeserving people. The blurb asks “Hate superheroes? Yeah. They probably hate you, too.” It feels to me that the idea of ordinary people having powers and struggling with them is something that’s only become really interesting (at least to me) in the last few years. Biancotti does not present unreservedly heroic or villainous people, in general, here. They do some stupid things … but they’re not out for world domination. They do some heroic things … but they have their struggles and failures, too.

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Lucy Sussex

Twelve Planets, Volume 3

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808274-5-3

Review by Alexandra Pierce

This is the delightfully-packaged third book in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press. I should mention that I am friends with the editor / publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, and a passing acquaintance of the author, Lucy Sussex.

For me, the first story is the blazing outstanding story of the four. Called “Alchemy,” it is set in Babylon, a city as evocative, perhaps, as it is foreign. We are presented with a story told from two perspectives. The first is that of Tapputi, a perfumer from a long line of such. She is a mother, a widow, and a skilled artisan. She has also attracted the attention of Azubel, a spirit whose point of view we also read. Azubel has knowledge of the past and the possible paths of the future, with a particular passion for and understanding of what we would call chemistry. The stories of these two, over a long span of time (by human standards) has many strands, weaving in examinations of knowledge and the dangers thereof; juggling career and family; tradition and innovation and the pitfalls of each; and that essential conundrum, discerning good from evil when the world is grey, not black and white. Tapputi is finely, delicately drawn, the balance of concerns inherent being in being a widowed mother and artisan nicely indicated. She is both practical and romantic and, perhaps most wondrously, is actually based on a woman known to historians because her name and trade are recorded in cuneiform from the second millennium BC. This is a story that mixes fantasy and history in a glorious blend, and is one of my favourite stories for the year.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Twelve Planets, Volume 2

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808-274-4-6

Review by Mitenae

What do you get if you cross a classical historian who did her PhD thesis on Imperial Roman women with a speculative fiction writer? You get Tansy Rayner Roberts and a new subgenre: Romanpunk. When I received this collection of four stories to review, I was absolutely delighted, because I love her work and this volume does not disappoint.

“Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary” (my favourite) tells you all about the Julias and their adventures against lamia, dragons, harpies and griffins. This bestiary is far too much fun. The other three stories are equally good. “Lamia Victoriana” tells the story of Frances Wollstonecraft and her time with her sister Mary and two lamias (an older form of vampire) as they travel through Victorian Europe. In “The Patrician” Clea Majora lives in Nova Ostia, a replica Roman town in New South Wales (Australia) and meets Julius when he comes to deal with the last of the lamias. And in the final story “Last of the Romanpunks”, Sebastian (grandson of Clea Majora) finds himself in a Roman themed zepplin (airship) with his ex-girlfriend, Eloise, who plans on turning everyone she can into a lamia and the others she intends to feed on.

Sue Isle

Twelve Planets, Volume 1

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808274-3-9

Reviewed by Mitenae

Nightsiders is the first collection of tales in a new series currently being published by Twelfth Planet Press, showcasing Australian female speculative fiction talent. Sue Isle’s four tales are set in a future Perth (known to the locals as the Nightside) where most of the people have been evacuated east.

“The Painted Girl” tells the tale of Kyra, abandoned by her companion, Nerina, who stole her as a young child, and faces the prospect of being sold by slavers. In “Nation of the Night” we follow Ash in his quest east as he changes his physical sex to match that of his self. In “Paper Dragons” we see the effect that a simple play can have to bring about change. And in “The Schoolteacher’s Tale”, Elder Miss Ellen Wakeling has to confront and come to terms with a new way of teaching if the Nightside is to blossom.

I don’t often encounter stories that set destruction to my home town and I love the fact that Sue Isle has done this and still manages to use the sites that I know so well without losing it’s essential Perth/Westcoast-ness. I love the world that she has created, contrasting the heat of Perth with the weather of Melbourne, and how she allows us to step into the world that has been left behind.

Sue Isle

The Twelve Planets, Book 1

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808274-3-9

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

Nightsiders is the first collection of the Twelve Planets series, a set of twelve collections being put out by Alisa Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press. Each of the collections will consist of four short stories. This one, by Sue Isle, features stories that all deal with the same place and similar issues: a near-future Perth, a city ruined by an almost complete lack of water, infrastructure damaged some time ago by bombs some time ago, and largely deserted in the Evacuation.

It should be said up front that I am friends with the editor, although I do not know the author.

As a package, this is a nice little book. It’s 138 pages of narrative (with a short introduction from Marianne de Pierres), and given that’s split over four stories it’s the sort of book you can consume in one sitting or over several. I’m not a huge fan of the colour of the cover, but it is certainly appropriate given how much time is spent in the stories talking about the near-desert nature of Perth.

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