Monday, May 12, 2008

Review of Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Hi all,

The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Third Annual Volume, Edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t help thinking at the end: so this is the best that Australia had to offer in 2006.

I must admit I have not been reading a lot of Australian publications lately after being disappointed with the dominance of fantasy that had no meaning for me in the first four editions of Andromeda Inflight Spaceways Magazine, the main outlet for Australian writers of speculative fiction. I have also failed to catch up with the last few editions of Orb and Aurealis. My short-story speculative fiction reading of late has been anthologies and a pile of Asimov and Analog magazines that I picked up at a garage sale.

Perhaps there weren’t any mind-blowing, ideas-laden, totally engrossing, contemporary-messaged stories published by Australians in 2006. Or perhaps the editors of the anthology have far different tastes to mine, in particular a fascination with death. The anthology certainly had enough stories dealing with dying and death and trying to cheat death, like the Dying Light by Deborah Biancotti, Father Muerte and the Flesh by Lee Battersby, andThe Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, not Little Boys by Ben Peek. Another story was set in hell. Interestingly, my favourite story in the previous volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy was Margo Lanagan’s Singing my Sister Down, whose plot revolved around an elaborately staged execution.

This collection started off slowly with Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit about a dentist with killer breadth. I didn’t find the story particularly horrifying, unlike my usual trips to the dentist. The Cup of Nestor by Simon Brown hooked me in with its ideas and atmosphere and speculation on what would happen and had me expecting a big ending, but it didn’t quite get there. Margo Lanagon’s Hero Vale did not enthral me like Singing my Sister Down, which is one of the most original fantasy stories I have read.

I read the fantasy/horror Father Muerte and the Flesh twice, just in case I missed some hidden meaning, but I don’t think there was one. As a horror story it had the problem of having characters I didn’t care about. I needed to be given a reason to worry about their plight and feel sad when one character, who seemed to be too carefree for her own good, died.

Ben Peeks The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys intriguing me, I am still wondering whether it had some underlying meaning that I just failed to grasp. But, after the experience with the previous story, I was not going to re-read it and I was in a hurry to read some science-fiction. At this stage, eight stories into an eleven story collection, I was wondering where all the science-fiction was.

I immediately picked, like I think the author intended, where Chris Lawson’s Hieronymus Boche was set, but the fun was watching the characters figure out where they where. I enjoyed this story.

The best story in the collection was Karen Westwood’s Turning the Weel, a science-fiction story set in a post apocalyptic Canberra. This shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog because of my previously mentioned fascination with apocalyptic and post apocalyptic fiction. The story was written with many phonetic spellings, but very easy to understand.

I do hope the next collection has more science-fiction and a few more stories that resonate with meaning.

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