Firstly, to preface, I’m friends with the author but I won’t let that cloud my judgement – it had better be good, David, so this is an easier review to write! (I say before I start reading it…) – we’re friends in a ‘tease mercilessly’ and watch the other be beaten at pool kinda way (even if he won’t be joining us for Swancon/Aurealis Awards in 2015 and is running off to New Zealand instead… we’ll forgive him at some stage…) With that disclaimer aside, onto the review.
Cold Comfort is a collection of three short stories, two which have been published previously, and one that is appearing for the first time.
Cold Comfort (first published in ‘Epilogue’ by Fablecroft Publishing)
Ice spiders, snow bears and deadly cold are only most obvious of the dangers a young trader faces as she searches for the secrets of the Elders on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Ultimately this is a tale of hope. It starts off a little slow, lulling you almost into a false sense of security that it’ll be a short story of travelling and hardship but ultimately finding strength through everything – but no. The story continues, taking Vanja through injury and attack from wild creatures to what could be safety – a dome in the snow that has an outpost of people where she can trade her wares and such. The short would have been satisfying at that alone, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. This short could easily be expanded into a novella or novel with all the history and hints it carries with it, much like the slight mentions of what built certain things in Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.
What I love about this one is what’s not said. We are seeing a world trying to cope after all the horror and excitement have since past – this is dystopian without the melodrama, everything is simply cold hard fact (cold comfort, indeed) and a strong female lead who is willing to make the hard journey in order to spread the truth.
Through Wind and Weather (first published in ‘Deck the Halls’ by eMergent Publishing)
A rebellious pilot races against time to make a vital delivery to a planet in need. But in the face of the worst solar storm in years, his only ally is a sentient spaceship who is an outcast even to its own kind.
Much shorter now (at just five pages on my eReader of choice) we have Nick who is flying a rather lovely semi-sentient ship, who knows just when to have certain minor malfunctions to shut up certain bosses. Rather like the TARDIS in Doctor Who that swears it was she who stole the Doctor, rather than the other way ’round.
Though I hesitate to mention it, reading this so soon after the incident concerning Air Asia flight QZ8501 (thought to be lost due to lightning strike, after losing contact near an incredibly violent monsoon trough) it certainly put the story into a certain kind of respect that shows how truly dangerous it all is.
This piece is much more sciencey than the one previous, and would truly excellent on screen. And it’s so sweet! Truly fitting for the Christmas themed anthology ‘Deck the Halls’, it fits rather well into this collection also, going from the theme of hope to good will.
Our Land Abounds (original to this collection)
In a world divided by war and wracked by food shortages, the Republic of Australasia is an oasis protected by its isolation and the Border Patrol. But, a chance encounter leaves a weary veteran asking whether the price of plenty is too high.
Now we have Kessler in this original piece, showing us hints of what Australia has become. He’s a solider of ‘Cairns’, showing that war has come to Australia. ‘What’s left of Sydney’ is quite ominous, and I know many who would get a kick of hearing how Tasmania now is the home of the new capital of Australia, seeing as Canberra is deemed to be too close to the epicentre of whatever it is that happened.
This turns into quite a chilling tale, showing people hanged for being illegal immigrants and teachers reported for saying things like Australia should share what it has with the less fortunate. We have a sneak peek at what Australia could turn into (and not very far off, too) and it’s really quite unnerving. We really are the lucky country, but seen here it shows how easily that could turn into something sickening.
McDonald surely is one to keep an eye on – you only have to look at his list of achievements for confirmation. I can safely rate this collection five out of five with the knowledge it was deserved, as it has action, thoughtful commentary and excellent characters – I always love the character-driven pieces. And, as stated in my bit about his first short Cold Comfort, I’d love to see his work in a longer sense to see what he can do with more room and time. If he can achieve that much world building in so few pages, what else can he accomplish? No pressure, David.