Review: Insert Title Here edited by Tehani Wessely

InsertTitleHerePublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992553418
Published: April 2015
Pages: 416
Format reviewed: Proofing copy from Publisher
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Tehani Wessely reports that this is the darkest anthology she’s put together. Having read most if not all of her anthologies, this certainly caught my attention. On reflection having read this, I would have to agree – here we have an anthology where every single story is heart-breaking or grim or absurdly strange and wonderful, and all are incredibly read-able. A handful demand full novels set in the world using that idea or world-building, and all make me want to look for the author’s other work (if I haven’t already!)

FableCroft are going from strength to strength with each anthology better than the last – which is saying something. This one is due for release in April for Swancon in Perth, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

2B by Joanne Anderton

I’m slowly turning into Anderton’s biggest fan or something. What a way to start an anthology! This is an incredibly strange, magical and wonderful story of a town where things grow on trees, such as pencils and car tyres. Glass flowers sprout from the security cameras the Councilmen install (which is really beautiful imagery, I love it!) Also, an incredibly peculiar thing happened to the residents of the town which I won’t go into (spoilers, sweetie) but it’s enough to deeply unnerve you, despite what a wonderful miracle it is.

Anderton’s writing is slightly distant and yet very personal, showing us how the main character Chloe appears to others and also her thoughts and views on the world and those she comes into contact with. The world is probably the most interesting part of this strange tale, leaving you wanting more. Who wants a novel using this idea? I know I do!

Oil and Bone by Dan Rabarts

Set in New Zealand, Anaru and Piripi are escorting Englishman Clark through the Southern Alps to make some money on the side of a journey they have to make anyway – to retrieve something that was stolen from them.

This is a piece that involves words of another language other than English (Māori), and it does it well, using them smoothly so the reader knows what the word means at all times, and also adding another depth to this piece, presenting the culture in a welcoming way. The tale itself however isn’t as welcoming, as it’s a tale for searching for things that may be best left where they’ve found themselves. It’s grim and twisted and delightfully dark, full of action and a bit more dark.

Almost Days by DK Mok

‘Gainful employment, on the other hand, only happened to me after I’d died.’

That’s a pretty good way at catching a reader’s attention – with a line like that, one simply must read on to find out what that involves.

This is the kind of tale where the plot needs to be a surprise, which leaves me with less to tell you now – all I can say is that this is a delightful piece that really makes you wish you had a chance at playing in their world for a time (but perhaps not for very long, I think I’d find it stressful having that much responsibility!) and that the characters are delightful. This piece has very beautiful imagery and a very, very satisfying ending.

Collateral Damage by Dirk Flinthart

In a world where military actions have been completely monetised, done strictly by contract, Mariko has now left her previous position of being head of a mercenary company in favour of forming a brokerage with a plan to bring down the now-corrupt brokerage system entirely.

This is quite a fun piece, whilst being technical and deep in the world of war and the complex systems that make it all possible. Though the plot is strong, it’s the characters that drive this one with an incredibly satisfying ending (in a different way from the previous short) as you cheer Mariko along, and the sassy closing line doesn’t hurt matters either.

Her Face Like Lightning by David McDonald

Full disclosure here, David is a mate and lately I get to proofread some of the pieces he completes. That aside, I honestly think he’s getting better each and every piece I get my hands on – now we’re just hanging out for a novel sometime soon, David!

Poor Horatio is minding his own business one night, staggering drunk, when he’s accosted as he leaves an inn. When he comes to he discovers his attacker is a giant, sent by a scary woman who knows exactly who Horatio truly is.

The dialogue in this is sharp and witty, starting to remind me slightly of Scott Lynch’s work. We see the beauty and brutality of Heaven, we see a diverse cast with an intensely developed backstory for a short story, and wow, what an ending.

This is easily one of my favourite pieces in this anthology.

Empty Monuments by Marissa Lingen & Alec Austin

Discovering an entire planet that’s completely devoid of life – bacteria included – is certainly worrying, baffling, thought impossible. Parmesh is driven to distraction by it, but Meleiana, pilot of the Zhang He, seems to think it can all be explained. They and others are there to map solar systems, catalogue lifeforms and match what they find to previous builders so they can try decode who’s responsible for that particular part of space. As they look closer, things appear to be stranger and stranger, and going by how the rest of the anthology has been so far, you start getting a little worried as to what they’re going to discover.

This piece does an excellent job of explaining what they’re all doing to a reader who has little-to-no scientific background and knowledge. It’s also excellent at building up to a whole big something, making it impossible to put down until you discover just what’s going on here. It’s also excellent having a main character who doesn’t know science either – she’s just there to get them there and get them out – and it works marvellously as a window into the plot.

Then wow. This ending? It really packs a punch, and really leaves you thinking. What would we have done if we’d discovered the same thing?

Beyond the Borders of All He Had Been Taught by Alan Baxter

Barran is the Guardian of the Temple of the Relic. Sometimes he protects the temple from people sent by other nations trying to steal the relic, and sometimes it’s people sent by the king to test Barran and make sure he’s still worthy of the title. With this great honour comes a lot of time for thought though, as Barran hasn’t left the temple since he was 19 and confirmed in the service. He understands blind faith and the value in it, however perhaps it isn’t as simple as that.

This is quite an engaging story, though I would have liked to see more of the character Belane. The ending especially works well; this is a well measured short story that delivers well.

Circa by Caitlene Cooke

Circa is a time-traveller – not much more needs to be said to explain why this short is particularly excellent. This piece deals with the balance in the universe, and how two instances of the same person or object cease to exist in the same universe – it causes a seizure, the universe can’t handle it. It also shows what happens if someone is dragged through time – spoiler alert: it’s not pretty.

This piece is packed full of action and quick-thinking, as Circa has to figure out a way to save herself or if not that, make the best of a bad situation. This is complicated and timey-wimey and pretty dang-excellent.

Living in the Light by Sara Larner

Another excellent beginning that makes it impossible not to read on: ‘My child turned into a hummingbird. He was a premature birth, so I expected some complications.’ This also works well to set the tone, as the tale results in a slightly unnerving, magical and incredibly sad piece of literature. As someone who’s seen far too many doctors (though not for anything as severe as poor Clara) I can relate to the mother not wishing to take her child to the doctor, but you can feel her growing panic also, even if you’re not a mother.

This piece is written with a sort of distance, and you get the feel of the mother taking a step back to try to understand what on earth is happening here. You become transfixed by the pace of what becomes normal for her, and then increasing as sometime as simple as a night-light going out spells something much more significant. The ending packs a punch like so many others in this anthology, but for this one my mouth dropped open as it all fell into place. This one is certainly one that’ll last with me.

Always Another Point by Alexis Hunter

Jenna is trapped on a ship, suffering double miseries and on the run. Another piece where the less said about the plot in this review means better reading for you on your first read of this anthology.

You can only read on with sympathy for this one, hoping she gets out okay and gets a chance to heal – from more than one heartache. This piece parallels many issues and discrimination we have in the world today, and is also incredibly sad. However, it also ends in hope. This is a strong piece that needs to be read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Footprints in Venom by Robert Hood

Agul Tana has a job – to save New Uruk by bringing back old King Gilhamesh which shall somehow fix their troubles. Though the new world is suffering the same troubles that ruined our current Earth they’ve long left behind, the founders have looked to ancient religion and mythology for the answers.

This is a complex piece that involves the goddness Ishtar and deals with the surreal. It’s emotive and sensual and certainly contains a lot of big ideas that are worth pondering for a time, even if it means putting down the anthology for a few minutes to do so.

Salvatrix by Marianne de Pierres

Ralph is a shearer, who sometimes works for a place rumoured to lock up the mistress when the Governor is away. Places like this are always good for gossip when you have different tier levels of servants and workers, but Ralph reckons there’s some truth to it – especially when one of the housemaids he’s diddling, Liza, is upgraded to the mistress’ attendant. The mistress is also incredibly beautiful, and Ralph soon finds himself entangled in something he couldn’t dream of walking away from, especially as it turns out Ralph may be connected to her in more ways than a simple shearer.

This is written with an easy hand, capturing the lingo used of the time such as slang for the cigarettes and lifestyle, smoothly weaving this all together into something a bit mystical and fantastic. This makes the outback a little magical, and makes you wonder of the possibility of what could be happening out there in the little towns of ours where there’s few eyes and ears to record what they’ve witnessed.

Ministry of Karma by Ian Creasey

Anthea, pregnant, is looking to the tarot and other mystic signs for knowledge, but it’s only fretting her as every omen seems to be bad and gloomy. Using a dowser she’s come to discover what kind of lives her unborn son has previously experienced, but the news can only be grim when the dowser advises to call her husband back into the room once she’s done, so they can receive the news together.

The idea behind this one is really dang interesting – and quite true of what already happens today, and what could continue happening if the testing they’re speaking of being available does eventually become commonplace. I’d certainly love a novel set in this world, perhaps at the start of Anthea’s working life or when everything started to change. This has got miles and miles to discover through it, and another one of my absolute favourites in an already-strong and fantastic anthology.

Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver

Hana has lived her whole life on the moon with her mothers, who run research on the atmosphere and why it’s failing. Though she knows she’s being difficult, Hana doesn’t want to leave and this manifests in pouts and whines to no effect – they all have to leave. Then Hana discovers something wonderful.

What I liked about this one was how realistic it was – you’d have to read the end to see what I mean, but I’m glad it didn’t go in the direction I was expecting. This is short and sweet, strong and well written. It’s also good pacing against the previous piece which is quite a bit longer, so they make good juxtaposition against each other.

Sins of Meals Past by Matthew Morrison

Written in second person – which is not common and hard to pull off successfully as it is done here – we are a nurse who’s helping an old man who is slowing dying in his own home rather than a hospital or care facility. He has all the things necessary, and each scene describes in minute detail how every faculty of the nurse is attended to – what order things are done in, where the waste is thrown, how a patient is observed and moved around. This old man we’re attending to however is quite peculiar, and you only get more and more unnerved by it all as we read on.

Like one of the previous pieces in this anthology, here we have a short story that explains something I personally don’t know about – medical terms galore, and uses them so expertly and fluidly that we easily understand what’s going on, and almost feel like we’re almost equipped to do what we’re reading we’re doing. This is a fairly deep story, another that will surely last with me for a long time.

The Final Voyage of Saint Brendan by Tom Dullemond

Captain Brendan is sailing under Fleet captain Plymouth, hunting down and/or chasing down islands. Island hunters, they’re trying to harpoon a small island as their own great island is dying. They’re London’s last hope, and the speech Plymouth gives Brendan surely leaves him something to think about.

This another short piece that packs a good punch, grim and dark but feeling completely right in the actions they take. This reminds me a little of one of the more recent Doctor Who episodes, in the best of ways.

One Who Knows by Darren Goossens

Sara and a few others are stationed on a planet to collect various kinds of data. Sara’s role is to observe and be-friend the local population of region 2138B4, and currently she’s closest to Eng, who is pregnant. With medical training Sara offers her abilities to the group for scratches to precent blood-poisoning and such, but is told she won’t be able to be present for the birth, as this is only for certain, very few and very specific people to attend. This doesn’t stop her from monitoring the huts themselves at the time of the birth though, which means when something goes wrong, she knows about it and makes her way there from the base with haste, and begs to be allowed to help.

This is quite a delicate piece, hitting the heart-strings and showcasing many different characters with quite a lot of depth with such few lines to them each. Deceptively simple, this shows that you don’t need action in a short story when characters drive it so damn well.

The Last Case of Detective Charlemagne by Kathleen Jennings

This one begins with an extract discussing said detective, telling us that they’re a long-running series of pulp crime novels, and it works exceptionally well in wishing they existed! I always love to read about writers and their writing, and this is no exception, with the added bonus of witty dialogue that really adds to the style of pulp crime fiction.

There are multiple layers to this one, leaving the reader to find more to think on after a re-read. It also has such a sad but true line near the end which I won’t spoil by writing here – it really needs to be read through the natural course of the short story in order to pack the punch it gives. This short story will speak miles to those who read voraciously.

The Winter Stream by Daniel Simpson

Another incredibly hard-to-read, sad piece that involves family and the complete and utter sadness that can come from it, as well as the sacrifice for something so utterly worth it, but still – what a life to have. There’s quite a few pieces in this anthology that follow this style – be sure to read this anthology with breaks so you don’t get completely morose over it! (In a good way, it’s such an emotive collection of works.)

This follows a man who has been looking after his very young son, Lucas, for an extraordinarily long time. He’s an old man now and growing increasingly worried for the future – the rest of the family having been unable to cope with the situation, and having left them behind a long time ago. As a reader you’re left wondering what you would have done in their situation – would you have been unable to do anything but what the father has chosen to do, or would you join the side of seemingly everyone else? This also speaks on what it means to be human, and whether such a thing can be counted so simply to the seven signs, as is documented in here. A heartbreaking piece that’s really well written.

The Falcon Races by Thoraiya Dyer

This is the type of short story I could never hope to do justice with for a review. Irrumburri is the first protagonist that we meet, and we see her receive a phone call from her husband to say he’s been unfaithful to her. She calls her sister to talk about how awful he is, even though they “disagree on almost everything in life”. Karima is the second protagonist we follow, Irrumburri’s sister. Then we have Solomon, her son. Together we see a well-rounded view of their family, and what troubles them.

This short story has an incredibly deep blend of cultures in it, some which feel very close to what I see each day, living in this part of Australia. It does culture very well, showing how strong it is in their lives and how it leads their every breath. This is an incredibly well done piece, one I would expect to see used in classrooms up here in future.

The Art of Deception by Stephanie Burgis

Hrabanic used to be the most famous swordsman in the region, but since he was fired by the archduke, he’s turned into almost a nobody. His landlady and love has to go home, soon, to the White Library – and with that, my interest is certainly piqued. He promises to keep her safe which she takes as a promise to go with her to this dreaded library, and from here he has no option but to go with her.

This piece was a whole lot of fun – epic fantasy through and through, another that makes me wish we had a whole novel of these characters and this world. This is one of those character-driven pieces with the added bonus of an excellent magic system which gives us an incredibly strong ending to this anthology, which is strong overall. Sometimes in anthologies you find a short story or three doesn’t manage to capture your interest or you just can’t bring yourself to continue reading it… in this anthology however, each and every single story is as strong as the next, and all were supremely readable. Tehani Wessely has done a stand-out job with this anthology!

Review: Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts & Tehani Wessely

CrankyLadiesPublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992553456
Published: March 2015
Pages: 320
Format reviewed: Proof from Publisher
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

This anthology is full of our brilliant cranky ladies of history – a book of short historical fiction pieces that snapshot excellent ladies of the past, so we learn a bit of history while reading an excellent piece of writing at the same time.

I have to admit, my knowledge of history in general it pretty woeful, so mostly I had little to know clue about many of these women – because after all, if you hear about anyone at all from history they’re usually men, so chances I’d come across anything more than a brief mention were woefully short. This anthology was an excellent gateway into who they were, and why I should know so much more of them. From here on I’ll certainly be looking into them further.

“Queenside” by Liz Barr

In this nifty little tale to start us off, showing verbal sparring between Anne Boleyn and Lady Mary, as they discuss their King (King Henry VIII) and Jane Seymour, who would become his third wife. Lady Mary has sharp wit, yet a kind heart despite the life she has had, and in this piece we see Anne ask for Lady Mary’s kindness to watch over her half sister, the Princess Elizabeth as she knows her time as consort is soon up.

This piece was sharply written – simple in parts, and successful at easing you into the anthology.

“The Company Of Women” by Garth Nix

Godiva! We all know how she conquers something whilst naked, and this gives narrative to this – what I love is how it’s pointed out that she and other women conquer without wearing armour and without violence (though, well, in this it is a tad ferocious and the death in it isn’t exactly kind, but spoilers aside…)

‘This host needed no armour, no weapons, no boasts and shorting. But if she were the enemy, she would be greatly afraid.’

Brilliant. But it’s Garth Nix, so of course it is! I would say that this is one of the stronger pieces, but in all honesty I’m sure that is to continue. As soon as you start reading it, you can tell that this is a strong anthology, one that only makes me wish I were still in school for the chance to study it with others.

“Mary, Mary” by Kirstyn McDermott

Here we have Mary Wollstonecroft an advocate of women’s rights among other things.

It’s always heartbreaking to see young children die hours or days old, even if in certain times it’s been perfectly normal to have fourteen or more kids and barely half of them make it past their 10th birthday. It’s also heartbreaking, but less seen, of the parents and family members this leaves behind.

The way this one ends in such hope is so excellent to see. It’s a strong ending that can’t help but leave you smiling.

“A Song For Sacagawea” by Jane Yolen

Which is about Sacagawea, one of the few in this anthology who I’ve heard of before, a woman who helped Lewis and Clark on their expedition through part of the United States, acting as guide and interpreter.

Told in verse, this is a short piece of two pages that ends simply yet profoundly – it was enough. I’m not one for poetry so I can’t speak with any experience of how effective it is compared to others, but all I can say is that it deserves to be read aloud, and is quite deliberate in its pace and proud language.

“Look How Cold My Hands Are” by Deborah Biancotti

As hoped, things are only getting better and better. In this piece we see the awful crimes of Countess Bathory, who was countess from the renowned Báthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. She has been labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history, seemingly insane and probably suffering from a number of mental illnesses as she seems to honestly see nothing wrong with cruel torture and abuse of women of all ages. When she’s called to account for her crimes, she seriously believes such things are below a woman of her station, and that she was well within her rights to act as such.

So here we see that not all great women of history were good – great is used in the sense of women of great power or ability, and that’s showcased here perfectly. Biancotti’s writing is strong and perfect at catching such horrific events and making them seem plausible, rather than over embellished or ‘pure evil’ without reason.

“Bright Moon” by Foz Meadows

Everyone always loves a tale of a woman fighter in a time or setting where women were only expected to clean and have babies. Here we have Khutulun who from a young age would wrestle and dismiss thoughts from her older sister that she wasn’t acting proper. Their father Kaidu became the most powerful ruler of Central Asia, reigning in the realms from western Mongolia to Oxus, and from the Central Siberian Plateau to India, and it was through these regions that they went to war, and Khutulun managed to sway her father’s opinion that her great ability shouldn’t go to waste. Here she doesn’t simply use her strength, either, she uses her intelligence and quick thinking to make proper decisions in warfare, which is even more satisfying. Khutulun sees the chance to act in a way that would certainly bring her more bravo, yet she takes place in where she can instead have the most impact and through this, notices something else that benefits them all so much more.

Foz Meadows writing is, as always, engaging and easy to read, the pages flicking by so quickly you’re dismayed that there’s not a whole novella or even novel dedicated to her piece on Khutulun.

“Charmed Life” by Joyce Chng

Leizu grew up helping in her father’s workshop, working with metal to create swords or ornaments. It is here that she catches the eyes of the Emperor, and soon finds herself an Empress, moves into the palace and leaves that life behind her; trading a life of freedom for one of rules and regulations.

Here we have a beautifully crafted piece that suits Chinese literature, with descriptions that paint a picture so well its like you’re there with Leizu. It’s also interesting to see how she goes on the hunt for a nicer rich fabric to wear, and how she goes about it. Soon, she discovers silk and how to dye it, and then her anger as her husband takes all the credit. This is a soft yet strong tale, and one of my favourites in the anthology.

“A Beautiful Stream” by Nisi Shawl

This piece eases us back into the more historical-fiction sense the rest of the anthology has taken, bringing us to France, and Gabrielle and her lover Missy, and Gabrielle’s daughter Gazouette. The author of the well-known Gigi, we see her here trying to do the best for her family – whether it’s enticing money from her backers, or balancing her husband’s needs and that of her lovers. Beyond this she accomplishes so much more as her world becomes even more difficult, until we’re left with her life at 81 as she lays dying, awaiting a visit from her estranged daughter.

This piece was one of the more beautiful, taking two reads in order to appreciate it fully. Shawl has a deft hand, and the piece comes to life as it unfolds around the reader, with more and more to notice in it each time you read it again.

“Neter Nefer” by Amanda Pillar

Now we have Hatshepsut, an Egyptian ruler – generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. This tale is told by her daughter Neferure who wasn’t blinded by friendship and was able to properly see what her father’s consort was up to – trying to poison Hetshepsut and Neferure. What I find amazing in this time is how short their lives were, but how much they accomplished in this time regardless.

Neferure’s tomb was one of those discovered by Howard Carter, and Hatshepsut’s was that of some issue and academic feuds as they fought over what the succession truly was. This piece by Pillar is excellent at showing the different ties everyone had – how siblings were to marry and so forth, or, in Neferure’s case, to refuse utterly.

“Due Care And Attention” by Sylvia Kelso

We jump straight from a calm discussion into action, as we read a piece set in Brisbane, Australia when motor cars are just becoming popular. We have two ladies – Lilian Cooper, a British-born Australian doctor and her companion Josephine (and we see this piece through her eyes). These two are utterly frustrated by the speed limits which keep them from their patients. That is, until, they assist a policeman who used to dog their every step with fines, and help him catch a thief.

I know this whole anthology is about women so I should be used to it by now, but OH, isn’t it good to see women so useful and needed! It just makes you realise how little you see it generally in novels.

It’s also interesting to see a time when 16 miles an hour is noteworthy. Ah, history.

I must admit, this one took me a second attempt at getting into, though I think now that I was simply in the wrong mood for it at the start. The way their dialogue was written and the introduction to the story in general kept striking me odd, but as whole it works dang well and you get such a sense of the characters through it.

“The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea” by Stephanie Lai

Cheng Shih is a Chinese pirate who travels with women and children, and is just and fair, utterly fierce, and despairs at getting older. It’s interesting to see this happen, see how she gets slower and faces more injuries, and it’s also interesting to see how she deals with her closest members of her force of pirates – no matter who they are, if they do wrong, they’re swiftly dealt with.

This is beautifully written, always showing foremost, her love for the sea.

“Theodora” by Barbara Robson

Theodora, wife of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian the first who starts her life as a child on the streets, and rises to be a stage performer. She dreams of high places and is firmly told that she has a place, and that’s not it. Though, she manages to almost succeed in one avenue – tied to a lofty Senator-turned-Governor – this soon falls away and she finds herself back on the streets. However, Theodora is made of sterner stuff and soon finds herself in even better shape – wife to Justinian, who then becomes emperor, and it’s only thanks to her that they manage to get through the riots and upheaval in general. With her level head and fierce nature, they see through the revolution.

Throughout this piece, you get such a feel for the times and what was expected of everyone who had their part to play in this world of politics – mostly how cruel it all is, especially in Rome. Theodora is just excellent!

“For So Great A Misdeed” by Lisa L. Hannett

Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir is an Icelandic woman who is told from a young age that it’s not bad to want. Throughout we get to see how people differ on this advice, saying that no it isn’t bad to want, or it is bad because of the things that come with that.

Hallgerðr seems to suffer from terrible luck, losing three husbands. We see her from when she’s young until the end, when she’s somewhat manic and utterly at her wits end from what she’s been through and how she’s treated for it. She’s a malicious, greedy character, firmly trapped in what she sees as unfair – what’s so wrong from constantly having feasts, even if you have to take from your neighbours in order to lay the table?

Again, we’re going from strength to strength here, seeing what Hallgerðr thinks and her actions, understanding why she does what she does even if we don’t agree. She’s a formidable woman – a Viking, after all.

“The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger” by Havva Murat

Ahh, another female becoming a warrior story, with bonus ‘dress as a boy’ plot. Here we have Nora of Kelmendi, an Albanian warrior known as Kreshnik when she’s a boy. Born to a man with too many daughters already, she’s almost cast out into the snow as what he really needs is a son. She’s first given to the church, but then rescued by her aunt who raises her as her own, but then dressed as a boy when her father turns up in a surprise visit.

He instantly takes her under his wing (as he thinks she’s his nephew) and trains her up, but then must fight as champion… she’s small, but the match won’t be all that easy for the Pasha’s champion, as we soon see…

This is another fun piece – I don’t think I can ever get tired of this type of plot. More, I say!

“Granuaile” by Dirk Flinthart

Another pirate, almost! Grace O’Malley – chieftain of the Ó Máille clan and sometimes known as “The Sea Queen of Connacht”, we see her matching wits with Philip Sidney, a knight of Queen Elizabeth as they have a run in with the fey, Poseidon/Neptune himself.

This one is interesting for a line from Philip, who doesn’t believe he’s witnessed a God. Rather, he states: ”Tis true this Mack Leer has much power, but what of it? have we not powers the ancients would have marvelled at? The compass? he telescope? Our clocks? Our cannons and guns?’ (…) ‘We have wise men and astrologers, alchemists and mathematical philosophers. What this Mack Leer knows, we can learn. In time we will deal with him and his people as quals.’

I’m not sure I agree with the ending of this one, but I worry about such things. Reading Juliet Marillier’s work makes me a tad worried about doing such a thing (no spoilers here!)

“Little Battles” by L.M. Myles

And now we’re back in the realm of older, excellent women. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages and a member of the Ramnulfid dynasty of rulers in southwestern France. She became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right while she was still a child, then later Queen consort of France (1137–1152) and of England (1154–1189) and in this tale, we see her escorting one of her granddaughters, Blanche, when they come into trouble.

War must be a terrible time for a woman leader, mother and carer but on one side, kept back from the blood and cruelty, and on other other plunged into it. She gives this wisdom to her granddaughter, saying ‘Don’t be afraid to look at them, the bodies. The men will not want you to, but being a woman will not protect you from violence or death. You will be a queen. You will have castles and armies and you must not flinch from doing what you must to protect your husband, or your children. Look. See what death is.’

“Another Week In The Future, An Excerpt” by Kaaron Warren

Catherine Helen Spence was a Scottish-born Australian author who published a science fiction novel in 1888, about what it would be like to live in 1988. The very fantastic Kaaron Warren takes this a step forward by writing in her style, as to what it would be like in 2088. Through her eyes we see just how much the world has changed even from her time to ours (just imagine, women dressed as men!) and from there, we see what Australia (and the world) could someday become.

As ever, Warren’s writing is a light touch yet with a depth of thought behind it. This piece is certainly one to look out for at the next round of Ditmars for sure.

“The Lioness” by Laura Lam

Ahh, Lam, one of my favourite writers! If I weren’t a fan of FableCroft Publications, she would be one of the main reasons I’d pick this anthology up in the first place! She brings us pirates, showing us why this piece follows Shawl’s as it’s set in France also, introducing us to fierce female pirate Jeanne de Clisson, also known as the Lioness of Brittany. Daughter of a nobleman and soon married to a nobleman, they are soon barons until her husband dies young, leaving her with their two children.

If you haven’t before come into contact with Laura Lam’s writing, I highly recommend you change this immediately and seek her work out. Lam has a way with words and characters that are a joy to read and lodge firmly in your mind, so even when you do somehow manage to put the book down (for say, eating or sleeping) they stay in your mind regardless. It’s no different here; Jeanne is a heartfelt character and Elyas is no different, both demanding a novella or novel to themselves – as long as Lam is writing it!

Warren’s piece got us into the speculative rounds again, and this piece continues in that stream, and is all the more fun for it.

“Cora Crane And The Trouble With Me” by Sandra McDonald

Cora Crane – American businesswoman, nightclub and bordello owner, writer and journalist. Though this clever piece of work, we see bits and pieces of her life and what could have been, and get a well-worked idea of what her life was like – regrets, hopes and dreams and everything in between. This keeps Cora utterly human throughout – we see her bad decisions and what leads her there, and understand why it all happens.

I like that this one comes so close after Warren’s slightly more spec-fic take on Catherine Helen Spence. The way this one uses ‘what could have been’ is almost on the same speculative stream, and that speculative elements were included in this anthology at all. It makes a nice mix!

“Vintana” by Thoraiya Dyer

The Great Wife, soon to be known as Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, watches in shame as her husband is cursed by breaking tradition time and time again. Once Queen, she states that fish shall never cross her table.

This tale is also of the Royal Cook, who has to go out to get fish for the King (when he should be eating meat) and along the way, falls ill from a mosquito and from there, refuses to enter the kitchen as to leave the slaves quarters would mean they expect her to die and don’t wish to have to burn down the huts as they’d otherwise have to. They’d never burn down the palace.

This is one of those pieces which is rich in culture and a joy to read because of it and the pieces of verse are a pleasant addition.

“Hallowed Ground” by Juliet Marillier

Hildegard was committed as a child to a monastery – later she would become a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath – but for now she was a child who would have fits, and in these, see God’s visions. These she leant to keep to herself as they weren’t always well received.

Through this piece we see her both as a child and in her eighties, where she is now known as Sister Hildegard and has a life of wisdom she’s running out of time to share – she wishes to write an extension of her Natural History however also thinks she may live only a year or two more.

This is a gentle and beautiful piece of writing, as Marillier always accomplishes in her work. If Laura Lam wasn’t in this anthology, I still would have bought it for Marillier’s piece in an instant!

“Glorious” by Faith Mudge

Ending on a strong note, we are left with Elizabeth I, the Queen of England. Jailed and desperate, this one explores her life as a child throughout. We see the injustice of what it must be like for a girl when a son is born afterwards and the rejoicing show just how much more worthy a male child was to a family in those times.

This one includes one of my favourite lines: ‘Never have I written with more care and made less sense.’ Is there anyone out there who can’t identify with such a truthful sentence, when upset or at wits end?

It’s also incredibly clever to start and end with Anne Boleyn, hats off to the editors for that one!

~

I can think of no better way to have spent my Australia Day reading this anthology and learning more about Australians from our past, as well as others from all over the world. This is a strong anthology, easily readable and not ‘boring’ as historical things can sometimes be, or at least are known to be.

This anthology is highly recommended, for children still in school as well as adults and everyone in between. I can’t wait to see how this is used in schools!

Review: Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios

KaleidoscopeByline Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories
Published by: Twelfth Planet Press
ASBN: B00MFT1S28
ISBN 13: 9781922101129
Published: August 2014
Pages: 437
Format reviewed: eVersion (bought) and paperback (bought)
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction stories that are  fun, edgy, meditative, and feature diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

This anthology was funded by Pozible back in October of 2013 where they stated ‘too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world’s populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren’t exactly like them. We want see more stories featuring people who don’t always get the spotlight.

The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.

That said, these aren’t going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters’ backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we’re not going to have a collection of “Very Special Episode” stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.’ 

You can find out more about this anthology from this feature on John Scalzi’s ‘The Big Idea’, where Alisa Krasnostein (editor) discusses the anthology.

If you’d like to buy this highly recommended and enjoyable anthology, please see the publisher’s website here.

Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Firstly, I hope that this gets developed into a novel someday. Secondly, because of this I’ve already started my nominations list for the Hugos next year – this better get on a the shortlist! Finally – wow. How excellent is it to see a slice of comic book heroes set in Australia! Of course, this being Tansy, every chance is taken to point out how ridiculous females are often portrayed in comic-related media and it’s fabulous. But on to the story.

Across the world there are superhero generator machines, though every country uses theirs differently. England hardly retire their superhero crew, whereas Japan swap theirs around every two weeks. Australia, following the US, do theirs every six months and this time the lottery has picked teen Joey, who has an arm that hasn’t quite developed. In the weeks leading up to when she’ll step into the machine and be transformed into a superhero, she struggles between whether she wants the machine to ‘fix’ her, or if she’s content the way things are.

In this short story we see electric, interesting characters that are displayed to the reader effortlessly. We see slight hints of world building that make you desperate for this to become a novel. And we have the usual wit and superb way of words we can rely upon from Tansy. I say again – HUGO NOMINATION!

Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu

Yuan and Jing live in China, in an area where their love for each other – as females – isn’t welcome. It’s Jing’s last night before she goes to America to study, and Yuan is understandably upset by the whole experience.

Through a story she tells to her younger sister so she falls asleep quickly (and Yuan can run out to see Jing one last time), we hear the tale of two lovers kept apart by things outside their control. Sometimes, though you may love someone and though it’s unfair, things just don’t work out. Through Liu’s excellent way with words we see how love that passes still counts as love.

‘You think if we’re no longer in love, then that means the love we had was somehow not real. But the past does not get rewritten. Niulang was the first man I loved, and that would be true no matter how many times I fell in love after him.’

This is such an important message that I wish I’d read this when I was much younger – it would have saved a lot of grief.

The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams

This is a story that’s simply too smart for the likes of me. Though I love science fiction and Doctor Who and all that, you’d think I’d be able to ‘get’ the idea of travelling through space and time, and the issues that could come around through all that – how you can be yourself, but there are many other ‘selves’ who are you, but not you at the same time. Many, many countless different dimensions, and so forth.

This is written in Sean’s Twinmaker series which I love, and I’m so happy to see so many of his recent short stories in various anthologies be set in the same world. This focuses on one of the games teens play in the d-mat booth – we see mentions of this in the series, but here we get to really focus on it. It’s unsettling and odd and what an ending! Even though I don’t quite ‘get’ this as deeply as I should be able to, I enjoyed the adventure immensely, as sad as it was.

End of Service” by Gabriela Lee

A girl barely knows her mother, because in Manila it is common to find work in other countries that pays so much better – double, triple, quadruple what you’d made at home. She grows up living with her father, and very rarely sees her mother who’s practically a stranger to her. Then her mother dies, and she’s expected to feel and react as though someone incredibly close has passed away – something which must be so impossible hard to come to terms with. Do you hate yourself for not feeling anything, or do you hate the situation that’s the cause for why you barely know your own mother?

I like the twist in this one – it’s spooky and pretty gross in how realistically this could come to happen.

Chupacabra’s Song” by Jim Hines

This is the first time I’ve sampled Hines’ writing, I think. I mention that, because I should have read him long ago, or at least directly after meeting him at Continuum in Melbourne this year – he was excellent, and we had a good chat about the comic strip Peanuts – however, my reading has been pretty woeful this year. Hopefully this short story will encourage me to try harder because it was dang excellent.

I like a short story that doesn’t specifically say what a character has – it just shows it. This shows us a young teen who works with her father in his veterinary clinic, and has the ability of using magic through music. She learns that even those you may feel similar to for what makes you different, doesn’t exactly mean that automatically makes them good people. Inside, she has the courage to do what she knows is right. Altogether this is an uplifting story of a girl who does hard things because they’re the right thing to do.

The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara

Well, this one made me cry. I can’t take animals being hurt in books or tv/movies, and though this wasn’t an animal, the way it was written made it damn similar. It’s a simple tale where so much happens without a whole lot of plot – in a good way. The details are slipped in so simply to really compound how this is such a normal occurrence – it’s simply life, nothing grand or Big Dramatic Plot about it – which makes it all so real.

This one has a lot of impact, and it’s done so simply. Well done, McNamara.

Signature” by Faith Mudge

I loved the characters in this, they were so bright and descriptive and fun. The enemy in this is so easy to hate also – everyone’s probably met someone so close to this, vindictive for no reason and simply nasty – kinda like how Umbridge is more hated than Voldemort.

The resolution in this one comes a little close as being too easy, but just manages to pull it off. It’s especially saved by the ‘I didn’t think that would work!’ follow up, and the way the characters close up at the end. Priya egging on Kabir is especially sweet. This is probably one of my favourites, especially for how the bookstore is described – I want to go there!

The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman

Another that’s disturbing in how accurate it could be if shapeshifting were possible, and otherwise pretty spot on for transgender people, which is always sad to read and hear of. I always enjoy stories that are told through a range of mediums – in this case, memos, phone records and letters.

A good resolution that leaves you with hope – I would love to see this one expanded into a novella.

Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E. C. Myers

Ahh, drug use. It always make me a little uncomfortable to read of, but I’m glad they included it in here. The recklessness teens have when it comes to recreational drugs, but then the embarrassment and shame felt when drugs are needed for whatever reason – schizophrenia in this case – is explored as we witness typical teenagers and precognition. I really enjoyed this piece – I love the idea behind it, and how it was handled.

Vanilla” by Dirk Flinthart

This one certainly ends in a way I wasn’t expecting, and the title is really quite clever. This one shows how hard it is for those trapped between cultures. Kylie Howard – named for an Australian singer and the prime minister at the time this story is set – is Somali but born in Australia. Her father is determined for her to be considered Australian, but only by his standards – she can’t dress or act the way other Aussie girls do, that’s for sure.

She befriends a few individuals who are in the same boat, so to speak, as she is – aliens who have lost their planet to a disaster, and have been split up and integrated into the community in small groups. In this, Kylie is sweet and innocent, not really understanding how to act or what to do as everything that feels right is considered ‘wrong’ by whoever happens to be interfering at the time. Not knowing how to interact with other females is something that really spoke to me in this one.

Careful Magic” by Karen Healey

Another of my instant favourites. I love magic in an urban setting, especially school-based. I love the characters, and I love the careful view of OCD and the confirmation that the OCD wasn’t what made the protagonist so excellent at magic.

The characters are what make this sing – you see typical school personalities, the hot girl and so on, and how other kids can be so cruel, but throughout all the characters felt real and varied, like they actually existed rather than were just ‘that way’ because ‘all schools’ have the hot and popular students, and so on.

I love Karen Healey’s writing. Incidentally, we need another ‘When We Wake’ novel!

Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar

This is one of those short stories you aren’t sure you’re really on board with, until it all comes together whilst also swatting you around the head for good measure. Not exactly one of my favourites, but effective all the same. Written in essay-format, complete with extensive footnotes which really give the sassy-style of the young author, this is a powerful piece of writing.

Celebration” by Sean Eads

One of the more shocking ones, at least in the setting of the piece – a summer program for gay males to be ‘reprogrammed’, mostly shocking because it’s the type of thing that sadly exists in our world as it is today.

Other than that, this wasn’t as strong as some of the other pieces – I didn’t feel the terror of the characters, nor why they clung together – I could understand why and I felt the plot itself was rather good, but I didn’t otherwise feel much for this as much as I have had for the other pieces. The message in this one – what would alien’s be left to think if they came to judge whether or not our world was worthy of not – seemed to be somewhat lacking.

The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar

A young Lebanese girl is in Scotland, and is left to deal with being another lost to cross-cultural ties. Little comments in this one like how even her interest in learning Welsh is questioned – why not Arabic?, her mother instantly asks – and just shows how one must both excel and fit into their new life whilst also embracing their heritage which doesn’t leave much room for personal interests.

I loved this one for the interest in owls, a creature I also love. You really feel for the main character in this one (which is what I think I was hoping for in the previous story, where you feel for them all as a whole, but not really the protagonist). This is a strong piece where you really feel the struggle, and the simple ending is heart-warming and satisfying.

Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar

About a girl who discovers she can feed of colour itself, this is a mad and energetic rollicking tale that’s quite harsh and frightening. We probably all know someone who’s been quite talented with art, only for their family to be dismissive of it in terms of what they should be doing with their life longterm – if not knowing of someone like that, then as that person ourself. The descriptions of colour and the names for the colours given are magnificent, the characters are quite lovely and so real, and what an ending! You really feel for the protagonist in this one.

Every Little Thing” by Holly Kench

This is another that has little Big Plot in it, and is mostly character driven – my favourite kind! The characters have explosive, identifiable personality and you get so much from this one from such few words. This is just a really sweet little story, showing how excellent friends can be and how the best people are those who put up with your little quirks. This is an engaging piece, and it’s always amusing to see short stories that compliment each other in the same anthology. You want to throw a copy at the protagonist so she can read ‘Careful Magic’ and think twice before she performs that particular spell! This one has a nice ending to it also – nice and simple, realistic, kinda a non-event but hey, that’s life, isn’t it?

Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix

I didn’t really know what to make of this one. It didn’t really grab me, but… it’s Garth Nix. What is wrong with me? It takes on messages of refugees, boat people and that horrible journey in a desperate plea to a better life. It also shows that really kind of messed up Government where they can lie and throw your whole family into squalor for the wrong move.

I didn’t really connect to the protagonist in this one – I couldn’t really believe the way she spoke or acted in general, or interacted with her fathers.

Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan

A sad, hard story, of a girl with something similar to OCD who is struggling to cope through a breakup with a particularly nasty person. She struggles to cope with her rituals and certain things she thinks of as safe, like certain exact times shown on a clock. This one was a bit unsettling, really. It kinda ends in hope, but I would have liked to see the friendship explored in a different way – friendship and nothing else, and there remaining strong by the end also.

Double Time” by John Chu

An interesting look at the use of technology. In a world where you can time travel for a few minutes by use of a watch-type instrument on your wrist (so is there the ability to travel longer with bigger pieces of tech, maybe?) we see it used by figure skaters in order to watch themselves perform (you can’t really get an idea for speed via video, apparently) or even skate with themselves for duo performances.

We see a young girl driven hard to please her mother who never has words to show how proud she is. She steals time from herself in order to use the piece of tech to practise at doubling with herself to skate well enough to win – even though it then takes her by surprise when she manages it.

Quite bittersweet, and excellently written. But it’s John Chu – like the poor girl in this piece, we expect fine, fine things from him.

Welcome” by William Alexander

A short and sweet piece ending with hope, which is a pretty perfect end to this excellent anthology. A fantastical bridge connects the Earth to the Moon, a crossing made possible at certain times when the planet and moon drift close enough together. This is the only chance a young boy gets to see his sister and mother, and though it’s filled with pain (the issue of his body not used to being on the moon) he still loves it.

Circumstance throw him and his sister out to another crossing – one that will make history – and his sister’s infectious nature is wonderful.

~

Although I never would have expected it to turn out this way, I review a lot of anthologies. For 2011 and 2012 I judged the anthologies/collections category of the Aurealis Awards, before that I (like most people) picked up anthologies like Dreaming Down-Under and The New Space Opera in order to find new authors to love when I was still developing my speculative fiction tastes. Nowadays it seems I review a fair amount of anthologies. So taking that experience into consideration, let me say how much I adored this anthology. It is easily one of my favourites, right up there with The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius edited by John Joseph Adams, and Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely.

Review: Epilogue anthology edited by Tehani Wessely

epiloguePublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ASBN: B00B0LQP1Q
ISBN 13: 9780980777055
Published: June 2012
Pages: 240
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

‘Epilogue’ is the latest anthology published by Fablecroft, and edited by Tehani Wessely.

Within, we are welcome to twelve short stories that show us what happens after the end of the world. Here, we have hope.

The first story captivates you right from the start, a wonder of world building and depth from a few subtle paragraphs and is easily one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

The anthology continues, taking us on to a world of technological grafting, time travel and the different time streams we become part of depending on a simple answer generating a fork in our path, and on to a time of escape into the life of a journeyman, and how a life can be saved because of it.

We also see what computer viruses could be someday, what a dystopian world could demand of us, and how creepy monsters could be, even when they’re family.

A race without mobile lips, a female traveller battling snow and more, a drover looking for hope and also how loving books could save you someday. Then we have the immune grave digger.

A highly recommended anthology all ’round.

The contents are as follows:

‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Thoraiya Dyer

‘Time and tide’ by Lyn Battersby

‘A Memory Trapped in Light’ by Joanne Anderton

‘Fireflies’ by Steve Cameron

‘The Fletcher Test’ by Dirk Flinthart

‘Ghosts’ by Stephanie Gunn

‘Sleepers’ by Kaia Landelius

‘Solitary’ by Dave Luckett

‘Cold Comfort’ by David McDonald

‘Mornington Ride’ by Jason Nahrung

‘Only the Books Survive’ by Tansy Rayner Roberts

‘The Last Good Town’ by Elizabeth Tan

Epilogue is highly recommended, and can be ordered here: Fablecroft store.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 1st June 2012.