Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review of Years Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2

Hi all,

This is the best of the three volumes I have read in the Year's Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy. I had thought volume one (2005) was good, but that was mostly based on the stunning first story, Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan. I felt a bit let down by volume three (2007), with its depressing concentration on death as a theme. Volume two (2006) is easily the best.

I liked most of the stories in volume two. I didn't find myself thinking: what was that all about? Or more depressingly, not another good versus evil sword and sorcery story. What's more important, I actually remembered what some of the stories were about days after reading them. The two standout stories were the two novellas. The shorter the story the less likely it will have an impact on me. Speculative fiction stories need to be long so the author has time for world building. So novellas generally appeal more to me than stories under 5,000 words.

Greg Egan's Riding the Crocodile tells of attempts by near immortals to challenge themselves by making contact with the mysterious Aloof at the centre of the galaxy. This novella was part of the background for Egan's novel Incandesence published a couple of years later. I have read that novel and I found it a hard, but rewarding read because of its ideas. This novella is a lot easier read, it doesn't require a physics degree to understand the concepts, but it still explores many science and morality based ideas.

The other novella was Dirk Flinthart's The Red Priest Homecoming. It's a sword and sorcery tale that doesn't suck. Why, because it's not about some novice becoming the prophetised saviour of mankind. No, it tells a tale from the point of view of a naive totally unmagical, totally unwarrior like young man, who finds out that his family have been infiltrated by sinister beings. He is more of an observer than a hero. He finds his preconceptions of others drastically changed by the end of the story.

Of the shorter stories I particularly liked Skien Dogs by Leanne Frahm. It's about dogs that have been upgraded to the intelligence of humans, but as a side effect they both have cancer tumours. I knew a twist was coming, but went the wrong way in thinking, so I was surprised by it.

I enjoyed Stephen Dedman's Watch short story about a man trying not to be the last to die just before midnight. It had a killer twist at the end. Martin Living's Running, which has thrill seekers try to outrun one hell of a destructive monster was also a standout.

Volume two has me looking forward to reading volume four, which is waiting on my shelves to read.

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Anthony J Langford said...

Good review Graham. I've gone off reading sci-fi for some reason. I like some truth to it, and not just in a technical, scientific sense, but a human truth. eg, Red Queen, which I read on your recommendation.. that I liked. Based on human interaction. I liked that.


Graham Clements said...


I might have another I could recommend to you shortly - it's horror.