Brief Book Review: Years Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (4th Annual Volume)

I was nasty growing up, given to tantrums. But you deal with what I deal with and you’ve but two choices. Fight and hiss and spit at all those dead voices, or let them wash over you and drown and become their puppet. Some folks reckon that’s what the Husk Gods are, but I can tell you they’re not. The Husk Gods are too hollow to ever be filled by the likes of the dead.

Comes a time when you make parley with the chatter, but you’ve a long way to that point, and it ain’t till childhood’s been mostly burned away by the sun and the noise coming up from those cracks. – Trent Jamieson, Cracks.

Another short book review. Originally I didn’t plan to do one on this book, but I decided I had to for two reasons:

  • Firstly, I was surprised at the quality of all the stories – this anthology has a lot of stuff going for it; and
  • Secondly, I was pleased to see that some of the stories were from authors that I recently followed on twitter (I decided to randomly follow a bunch of Australian authors who had new books coming out a while ago, and stalk them to see how things went for them and their new books).

Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy, Volume Four – 4 out of 5 stars

As I said, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the stories were in this book. Not that I expected poor quality, but when you have some twelve stories from twelve different authors, I’d expect that a few of those might drag the team down. Fortunately, almost all were strong, and amongst those a few really exceptional ones.

Doing some rough grouping:

  •  The first two stories Glory by Greg Egan and An Account of an Experiment by Adam Browne were very different takes on the same core theme – ‘mathematics as the universal truth’. One deals with a sci-fi archaeological excavation, and the other a fantasy story involving psychological experiment and religion.
  • Toother by Terry Dowling and Mist and Murder by Lucy Sussex were interesting takes on crime fiction. Toother was less satisfying for me, the build-up of a detective with paranormal assistance was great but the ending seemed abrupt. Mist and Murder was a fun Victorian-influenced sci-fi ghostly detective story (trust me, it worked).
  • My three favourites were all great explorations of interesting character:
    • Cracks by Trent Jamieson – an unusual young woman who has inherited the ability to speak with the dead from her Grandmother, and who fills a funerary role for her community. A great tale of her difficult role, dealing with dead voices of angry matriarchs, and the power of those dead.
    • A Lady of Adestan by Cat Sparks – another story focusing on a young woman, this time one who visits her sister who has married royalty in another culture where a ‘Lady’ is never heard and only commoners speak. Brutal story in parts.
    • Domine by Rjurik Davidson. This is a sad story, essentially a melancholic exploration of a man and his absent but now returned father. What makes this story unique is the use of Einstein’s special theory of relativity as a plot driver. Rjurik is one of the authors I follow on Twitter, and I was pleased to see his book Unwrapped Sky land on the 2014 Locus Recommended List (its on the TBR list – and reading Domine has bumped it up in the order).
  • I was a big fan of Garth Nix’s Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again, so I was delighted to see that there are three stories about the characters. I shall be checking them out. In brief, our two heroes (a knight and an animated puppet) are mercenaries-for-hire who find themselves in a city where they are required to exercise an ancient secret duty.
  • The three ones I liked least (don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed them – its just a strong field of competition):
    • Special perceptions by Richard Harland. An excellent start, where a young poet starts to see visions that get progressively more grim, but I felt the ending didn’t deliver on its early promise.
    • The Jeweller of Second-hand Roe by Anna Tambour. A solid tale of a family on hard times because of the mother’s pica disorder – she eats metal. This one was fine, but didn’t stand out. The full text is available on-line (click the link).
    • The Dark and What it Said by Rick Kennett – a ghost-story set on a camping trip. Again a solid but not amazing story.
  • And finally John Wayne by Ben Peek… I don’t know what to say about this story, except that I have the distinct feeling it beat me. I liked the writing. I liked the premise (John Wayne fighting the communists), but… I’m just not sure I got it. I couldn’t tell if it were an alternative reality, a shadowy conspiracy, or a bad acid trip. I read it twice, and I’m still not sure. Maybe I was tired? I don’t think so though. Ben is the other author on this list I follow on twitter (his recently released Godless is on my TBR list), so I checked in on his website, and he acknowledges this story has had a mixed reception. Still, I can’t shake the feeling I failed the story rather than other way round.

So – a great anthology, and well worth a read if you can grab a copy. The alternative might be to google the title and authors as I suspect many of these individual stories have now been reprinted in other anthologies and possibly on various other sites.


 

A quick thought on Australian sci-fi: is it distinct from sci-fi from other countries?

Since reading the brief editorial by Stephen Higgins in Aurealis #75 which addresses this question, I have wondered whether it is something I might be able to spot. Higgins suggests there might be, but does not define what it might be. He also suggests that UK sci-fi focuses on style whilst US is more interested in ideas.

Does Australian sci-fi have a flavour, a voice?

If it exists, I struggled to see it. It is possible to see things that were not there – none of the stories carried the distinctly British dry wit for example. But I was not able to distinguish a strength or weakness or character or tone that seemed to particularly stand out. I wonder if this is kind of a familial deafness like the inability to hear your own accent. To my ears, Australians are the only people in the world who speak entirely accent-less.

Or perhaps this sort of analysis is impossible, and generalisations cast over an entire nation’s writing are unlikely to be accurate or useful.

But perhaps it exists, and I’m not a sophisticated enough reader to pick it up. Maybe you can. Let me know if you have a view – is there something distinctly flavoursome about Australian sci-fi (0r fantasy)? What about other genres? I’m very interested in reading your opinion.

Cheers

KT

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Brief Book Review: Years Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (4th Annual Volume)

  1. I can’t offer a view on Australian sci-fi per se, I’m not that specifically familiar. I find this collection of stories intriguing, however. I would like to read them. A good review sparks interest; you’ve done that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m an American author who has always admired the Australian spirit. I have written a science fiction book that incorporates some Australian UFO history in it. Please take a look at my work. Thank you. David J. Barron

    Liked by 1 person

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