AWW16: Through Splintered Walls (Twelve Planets #6) by Kaaron Warren

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #9

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Through Splintered Walls (Twelve Planets #6)

Author: Kaaron Warren

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, horror, Australian

 

Through Splintered Walls - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

From Bram Stoker Award nominated author Kaaron Warren, comes Book 6 in the Twelve Planets collection series.

Country road, city street, mountain, creek.

These are stories inspired by the beauty, the danger, the cruelty, emptiness, loneliness and perfection of the Australian landscape.

‘Every Warren story is a trip with no map.’ – Gemma Files

‘Her fiction shifts across genres smoothly and intelligently, never settling for the easy path… she doesn’t flinch.’ – Andrew Hook

‘As with most of the best horror writing … the power of Warren’s strongest stories comes from the mirror they hold up to our everyday practices and prejudices.’ – Ian McHugh.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I’ve been thinking about how to approach my review for this collection. It’s definitely one of the more challenging books I took on reading this year – it took me months to work up to it, quite a while to read through (because I am just not very good with horror at all), and then I’ve been sitting on trying to think how I review this book. It’s a masterful collection of horror stories. This is an excellent standard and example of non exploitative and non-gratuitous horror. The horror within these pages is all to real, all to accessible and relatable – that’s what makes it horrific.

I think I will talk about this book in two parts. I will talk about the first three short stories because they worked really well together as an introduction to Warren’s work. They were creepy and horrific but not so much that I worried about falling asleep at night. My heart went out to the protagonist in ‘Creek’, but the standout of these shorts for me was ‘Road’. It was equal parts creepy and caring but I really liked it.

To talk about ‘Sky’ wow… I don’t even know how. It’s an exceptional novella. I think it goes up there with one of my other reading experiences ‘Wives’ by Paul Haines as something I’m definitively glad to have read, but never want to revisit and might need a support group having now read it. Actually I found a lot of parallels in the reading of ‘Sky’ and ‘Wives’, the familiarity of an Australian cultural background to the story was very real to me – as was the way that setting was presented as a kind of innate horror in and of itself. Whether Warren intended it or not, the entire background of the protagonist, where he came from, his family, Canberra and the town of sky were all coded as horrific to me from the beginning. This novella was a like a slow boil of horror and scary.

That’s true of the last page which absolutely gutted me, and nailed home the depth of the horror involved and how slow-boiling that had been. I can still remember the description on the page, can recall the images that came to mind and the emotion that came with them and I’m *gutted* all over again. Congratulations to Warren because wow, that’s visceral and I’ll never forget it. (Late at night I wish I could!)

I think one of the things that really got to me about this book, and all the stories within it, was that at every point there seemed like there could be a turning point, and uplift in the story and I kept looking for it, kept hoping for it and there were nods to it, suggestions of it, but then especially with ‘Sky’ it never eventuated – and in such a way that really drove home the story and its horror. I think it is absolutely a testament to Warren’s skill that I kept looking and hoping and reaching, until the very last moment. At every point I was firmly within her grasp. Hooked.

I am not someone who ‘enjoys’ horror, but I think it is valuable to sometimes read outside my comfort zone and to challenge myself. Is it horror I don’t like, or merely some kinds of horror. Okay, so it’s horror in general, but sometimes it’s worth it anyway. I think that’s where I am at so far – and that’s part of my experiment in reading these collections is that several of them include stories that are embedded in the horror genre, it is a chance to explore my experience of the genre without traumatising  myself too badly in the process. Also, since each collection is so far of outstanding quality, i can rely on the curation of the stories to be worth my time to try out in my exploration and that counts for a lot with me too.

If  you are someone who wonders if you hate all horror stories or if there is more to the genre for you, I highly recommend this collection. If you are already a fan of horror – particularly the insidious kind that seems all too plausible and normal, then this is also for you. ‘Through Splintered Walls’ is creepy and disturbing and scary. It’s brilliantly written. I’m so glad I read it, even if I now need a support group.

 

Global Re-Release of Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt

Sharp Shooter - coverI reviewed Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter last year and fell in love with the Tara Sharp series. In honour of the series being re-released through the Deadlines imprint by Twelfth Planet Press, here’s my original review for Sharp Shooter, complete with a shiny new cover!

This re-release means Tara Sharp is global for the first time ever. It also goes without saying that I can’t wait to get my hands on the brand new book four that’s due out later this year!

WINNER of the Davitt Award 2010 Best Crime Novel and nominated for Ned Kelly Award 2010 Best First Crime Novel

Book 2 – SHARP TURN, coming 2016!
Book 3 – TOO SHARP, coming 2016!
Book 4 – SHARP EDGE, coming late 2016!

Blurb from Goodreads:

When she tries to turn her inconvenient secret into a paying gig, her first job lands her in the middle of a tug of war between the biggest, baddest crime lord in town and the hottest business man Tara has ever met.

With only a narcoleptic ex-roadie, her pet galah and a vanilla slice for back up, Tara is ready to take on trouble with a capital ‘T’.

Sharp Shooter is a hilarious, action-packed novel and Tara Sharp is Triple F: Funny. Fast. Feisty.

 

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

 

AWW16: Showtime (Twelve Planets #5) by Narelle M Harris

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #7

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Showtime (Twelve Planets #5)

Author: Narelle M. Harris

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, urban fantasy, fantasy, horror

 

 

 

 

Showtime - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Family drama can be found anywhere: in kitchens, in cafes. Derelict hotels, showground rides. Even dungeons far below ruined Hungarian castles. (Okay, especially in Hungarian dungeons.)

Old family fights can go on forever, especially if you’re undead. If an opportunity came to save someone else’s family, the way you couldn’t save your own, would you take it?

Your family might include ghosts, or zombies, or vampires. Maybe they just have allergies. Nobody’s perfect.

Family history can weigh on the present like a stone. But the thing about families is, you can’t escape them. Not ever. And mostly, you don’t want to.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


And here is the  moment you’ve all been waiting for, I found a horror story that was truly chilling but that I really enjoyed reading and loved the hell out of! Maybe I can do this reading horror thing afterall! Showtime is the fifth collection in the Twelve Planets project orchestrated by Twelfth Planet Press and it is another fine addition to the series. I really enjoyed this book and the stories. I must also report that much to my amusement when I was reading the introduction, it reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s voice/tone well before I knew she did actually write the introduction. I was reminded quite strongly of interviews I’ve listened to recently, her voice was incredibly strong in my mind. I laughed out loud when I realised that it really was McGuire speaking.

Stalemate

This story has the honour of being the horror story that could, and did chill me in my reading of it, and yet utterly thrill me too. On the surface I could really empathise with both mother and daughter and the confrontation they were having, the difficulty in both needing each other, dealing with each other’s foibles and the frustration involved. And then there’s a twist and it’s not a simple confrontation at all. I can’t say much more without spoiling things, but I only saw part of the twist coming but it came back for seconds and was brilliant. The writing of this story was very tight and both the character of Helen and her mother Olivia came alive in my mind as I read.

What is particularly interesting for me on a personal level about this story is that I was truly chilled by it, but not scared – and didn’t struggle with reading it at all. This is quite unexpected for me as I’m quite susceptible to horror and as part of this project I’m quite gingerly picking my pathway through what horror I can actually read, without suffering, and more importantly: enjoy reading. This story absolutely meets those measures.

Thrall

This story is such a great play on so much of vampire fiction in all directions, it was amusing on quite a dark level and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Erzsebet was brilliant and delightfully cunning in the way she came to deal with the vampire she and her family were bound to. I laughed several times listening to a frustrated vampire recount the difficulty in engaging and dealing with the modern world – being mistaken for a ‘Granny groper’ while trying to poach a victim for her blood, all captured on smartphone. I think that this is one of my favourite was This was a great shift in tone from the previous story and was an excellent ‘unicorn chaser’.

The Truth About Brains

So, I have a thing about zombies. I hate them. I hate them with every fibre of my being. And yet, every so often, something comes along and I like it *despite* the zombies in it counting against it. This is one such story. Kids, siblings and antics including unexpected accidents and zombification, otherwise known as, messing with magic when you should know better. And yet, at the end of the day parents are there to pick up the pieces, and fix things – albeit in unexpected ways. I was so surprised to laugh at this story, it was so charming. Again, subverting what is both funny, horrific, and involves genuinely touching family themes.

Showtime

I’m in the middle of reading Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life at the moment which I am enjoying a lot and this story revisits those characters in a lovely vignette that emphasises the friendship between Gary and Lissa, who for various reasons around nostalgia, decide to go to the Melbourne Royal Show. Instead of the woodchipping demonstration, they find the haunted house and old enemies causing trouble. Lissa being Lissa steps in and Gary backs her up against the monsters. I could absolutely imagine these two doing this pretty much anywhere they turn up together, planning a quiet afternoon doing something and hanging out, saving someone’s life instead. I particularly liked the conversation between Lissa and the little girl she saved about bravery and acknowledging the child’s truth directly to her. It’s a tiny thing but I one I appreciated a lot.

I really enjoyed this collection a lot, as a whole I think – I can’t actually pick a favourite story from it, they are all excellent! I love the central theme of family that runs throughout the book. Although none of the stories are connected directly, they all resonate with that same thematic element of family exploring the joys and tribulations of dealing with family, all with a supernatural twist. As an exploration of family themes, I’m hard pressed to think of a book that does a better job of considering some of the difficult concepts shared here, mother and daughter love that is as fraught as the love is deep, that frustration and love that comes from being a sibling and finding your younger brother annoying as hell – and yet, you don’t really want him dead. Being the matriarch of a line and being done with old curses, wanting freedom and hope for your family into the future, and supporting a child’s bravery and truth, appreciating chosen family in friendship. Congratulations to Harris and Twelfth Planet Press on such a well rounded read that demonstrates Harris’ talent so well.

AWW16: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelve Planets #4)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelve Planets #4

Author: Deborah Biancotti

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, crime, urban fantasy

 

 

Bad Power - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Hate superheroes?
Yeah. They probably hate you, too.

‘There are two kinds of people with lawyers on tap, Mr Grey. The powerful and the corrupt.’
‘Thank you.’
‘For implying you’re powerful?’
‘For imagining those are two different groups.’

From Crawford Award nominee Deborah Biancotti comes this sinister short story suite, a pocketbook police procedural, set in a world where the victories are only relative, and the defeats are absolute. Bad Power celebrates the worst kind of powers both supernatural and otherwise, in the interlinked tales of five people — and how far they’ll go.

If you like Haven and Heroes, you’ll love Bad Power.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I can positively say that the anthologies that utilise a shared universe in which to tell stories in a collection is one of my favourite ways to read short stories (whether novelettes, short stories, flash pieces, or novellas). Biancotti has delivered a very tight collection that weaves together beautifully. I almost didn’t like this collection much until I realised that I’d have lapped up every moment if it was in television form – and it’s like something clicked for me and I was in love.

I feel like in some ways these stories explore the idea of super-powers and the assumption that these encourage the emergence of heroes who do good in the world. Biancotti explores a more realistic and somewhat darker exploration of the idea of powers  – we’re all individuals after all, and not all of us are Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman. It’s not even like we’re all villains either – Biancotti deftly melts away the archetypes that go with the presentation of stories involving super powers and explores instead the ordinary ways of corruption, of getting by and are more about capitalism than making a difference to others. This is truly a unique exploration of super powers and a thorough dressing down of the idea of the super hero.

I would like to read more stories featuring Detective Palmer, who threads each of the stories, although I think they tie together in ways that are much more satisfying than her appearance alone. Her character interests me and her adventures in law enforcement, the weird cases she catches appeals to me a lot. She leaps of the page in a way that I love best from characters I read.

I think in this case I can’t look at the stories individually because it was only when I thought of them together in context that these stories came together as they were supposed to for me. I think this is partly that I’m less familiar with crime reading overall, especially gritty crime that tends toward the dark – this much more closely matches my television watching habits so that’s partly the lens through which I’m considering my review.

I didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic towards Grey or Webb as characters, the personality of Webb’s mother was quite chilling. I’m really sad that the old woman ended up dead – I was really taken with her character, and yet her death had weight and meaning for me as a reader – I missed her. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that Crossing the Bridge was my favourite story of the collection – it brought a fulmination to Palmer’s character in connection with a character we’re newly introduced to, but who represents  the idea of optimism and that just because several people with powers are evil, jerks or simply opportunistic and amoral if otherwise benign, not everyone is and occasionally you get someone who really does want to make a difference, and has the power to do.

This is my first introduction to Biancotti’s work actually, and I really enjoyed the read. However, it is unlike anything else I’ve read before and sometimes that lack of familiarity meant I found it harder to slide into the story and immerse myself. I’m not much of a crime reader – particularly where it’s darker and a bit more gritty. However, the speculative element to this story really rounded it out for me as an experience I could really enjoy and trust in the individual narratives and their connection to one another to show me a good time.

Bad Power is another fantastic addition to the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press and truly shows the versatility of the Press in the work it produces while maintaining a consistently high quality calibre of stories published. I have a not so secret hope that Biancotti may return to this universe, and in particular the character of Detective Palmer as I’d enjoy being able to continue reading about her adventures. That to me is really a sign of how much I enjoyed this collection – the world and its characters living beyond the reading of the last page.

 

AWW16: Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex (Twelve Planets #3)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Thief of Lives (Twelve Planets #3)

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Why are certain subjects so difficult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?

A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


Another really solid addition to the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press. This book wasn’t my favourite, but Sussex has been on my ‘to read’ list in my head for quite a while so I’m pleased to finally read some of her work. Overall I enjoyed this collection, but I didn’t fall into it the way I did with both Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk. I do think this is a great introduction to Sussex’s work and her talent across different genres and styles of writing.

Alchemy

The first story in the collection is Alchemy, and it’s my favourite of the collection. I love Tapputi’s character, her quiet strength and being utterly grounded in her world. I love the observation of her throughout her life by Azuzel and how drawn he his to her and the potential he sees in her in a history-making sense. This is a story that I think demonstrates boundaries really well – in a kind of abstract but also literal sense. Azuzel makes an offer, after observing Tapput, she refuses and he respects her decision. He returns to observe her, still drawn to her ‘once in a generation’ mind and offers again – years later, and respects her again and possibly more when she still refuses. I definitely got the sense of Azuzel as an immortal entity wafting throughout time and history acting, interacting, observing but lacking earthly substance without that alchemical connection. Stories like this one are amongst those I particularly enjoy – the connection (romantic or not) between an otherworldly character and a worldly character (using broad definitions), it just presses a big emotional satisfaction button for me.

Fountain of Justice

Fountain of Justice was an interesting story, and it didn’t really work for me but I did like Meg’s character. The story didn’t quite fulfil the premise for me, although I was engaged by the ideas behind the story – all of them separately were interesting, but I don’t feel like they came together as a whole in the end.  I did love the idea of the fountain being the agent of justice, and also that sometimes needs must and the official rules and version of things may be different from certain truths.

The Subject of O

The Subject of O is a story where I loved the premise and enjoyed the story but it didn’t get under my skin and it didn’t stay with me. On the surface, lots about this story is my jam – female sexuality, invisibility and uncovering the ordinary in society. But while I loved the way Petra considered female sexuality and orgasms, and the truth around communicating them (or not) with the person you’re having sex with, it was a bit meh for me. Maybe it’s simply that this is a subject in which I’ve thought and thought and over-thought, or that I’m not sure. It also occurs to me that the story is intended to be satirical and that tends to be hit and miss for me.

Thief of Lives

Thief of Lives is an ‘Inception-like’ story, it’s the story in which the title of the collection is taken from, and features a book of the same name within. That part tickles me quite a lot. Actually, I really loved the dark and urban style fantasy involved here and I think my real complaint with this story is that it was merely a taste and I wanted a novel with these characters, with this universe. It was really engaging although at times hard to follow, but overall really satisfying.

 


*A note for those tracking numbers, the 5th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge was ‘Innocence Lost’ by Patty Jansen, but since I didn’t enjoy it I’ve only reviewed it on Goodreads.

 

AWW16: Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelve Planets #2)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Love and Romanpunk (Twelve Planets #2)

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, alternate history, historical fiction, urban fantasy,

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Thousands of years ago, Julia Agrippina wrote the true history of her family, the Caesars. The document was lost, or destroyed, almost immediately.
(It included more monsters than you might think.)

Hundreds of years ago, Fanny and Mary ran away from London with a debauched poet and his sister.
(If it was the poet you are thinking of, the story would have ended far more happily, and with fewer people having their throats bitten out.)

Sometime in the near future, a community will live in a replica Roman city built in the Australian bush. It’s a sight to behold.
(Shame about the manticores.)

Further in the future, the last man who guards the secret history of the world will discover that the past has a way of coming around to bite you.
(He didn’t even know she had a thing for pointy teeth.)

The world is in greater danger than you ever suspected. Women named Julia are stronger than they appear. Don’t let your little brother make out with silver-eyed blondes. Immortal heroes really don’t fancy teenage girls. When love dies, there’s still opera. Family is everything. Monsters are everywhere. Yes, you do have to wear the damned toga.

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I like to think that I’m someone who appreciates history. I like to think I have an interest. If I’m honest, it’s an interest where I’m easily distracted and I’ve rarely taken the time or opportunity to dig deep into the history of something and really become immersed. So reading this collection by Tansy I see what comes out of the possibility of such immersion – where you come out the other side of what can be factually established, what is theorised, what evidence tells us (what little there is for women’s history at least), and into the realm of pure speculation. The result is glorious.

I’ve seen several comments about how this collection is what decided people on becoming a Tansy fangirl – and I can really see why! I am a fangirl already (the Creature Court series really hooked me). These stories, although set in the same overarching universe are distinct from each other and self contained. However they also create an overall narrative that is a joy in the unfolding as you the reader discover.

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

At first I was a little bit lost when I started this story, but I soon found my feet. I’ve got no familiarity with Roman history – beyond that Julius Caesar existed. Getting to read something of the family history of Caesar – heavily fictionalised or not was really interesting. I also love the way in which adding the supernatural and mythological elements to this family history also speculates about the nature of the history and the events surrounding the family. This was thoroughly charming as a story and I fell in love with the idea that being a ‘Julia’ was something special. How neatly is the context of women in Roman society explained here? We have the ordinary and the extraordinary contextualised alongside one another so beautifully, this particular thing I admire a whole lot.

Lamia Victoriana

Once again my lack of familiarity with the history where the story is set meant I was scrambling for a little while – I’ve no doubt if you’re familiar with the Wollstonecraft family history that there are additional layers of joyful discovery contained within this piece. It doesn’t disappoint if like me, you don’t have that background. Fanny and Mary are interesting, and I love this tiny look into their lives and of happiness in amidst the supernatural glimpsed. I’m a little enamoured of a vampire story from the point of view of being the food, the prey, the needed one. When this story ended I wondered how or if it would fit into the bigger context of the narrative begun in the previous story and though it’s subtle, looking back after finishing all the stories I can see and appreciate the links a whole lot.  I love the queerness in this story, the lush connection between Fanny and the Poet’s sister was so sweetly erotic, unapologetic and without guilt. And yet, also so very subtle – I loved it.

The Patrician 

Here I hit my stride because we leave the past behind and instead we’re in a present day alternate Australia where a replica Roman City has been built and is staffed by residents for tourists who play the part of Romans. Here we meet Clea Majora, my favourite character in the book (though Julia Agrippina comes a very close second). I love the strange relationship that evolves between Clea and Julius, friendship, curiosity and discovery in between bouts of fighting monsters. I love the sense that the real world is never quite enough for Clea, and yet she’s not so restless that she needs to leave her daily life behind completely.

I love the idea that for once a woman at age fifty and above is still considered young, and that someone thousands of years old as Julius is presented to us, only starts to think of her as a romantic companion at that point – that she’s too young before. This trope is one that is abused most often and is often well and truly into creepy territory in modern urban fantasy. It’s not that it’s impossible, just that it is so often badly done, explained flippantly or explanations make it *more* creepy and not less. The evolution of Clea and Julius’ connection is my favourite part of this story. More urban fantasy romances spanning the ages like this please!

Last of the Romanpunks

And here we have both a conclusion and a beginning. On the one hand, I feel like Clea should probably have known better than to leave artefacts of supernatural Roman history lying around easily picked up. On the other hand, it was all supposedly dealt with, so I don’t blame her too much. It was such a difference to see through Sebastian’s eyes the unfolding of this story, but also his memories of his grandmother Clea’s adventures and stories. I love that he’s resourceful and recognises an awesome Julia when he finds her. Not only does he find a Julia to help him to save the day from a Romanpunk themed airship filled with lamia descend upon the cities below to wreak havoc, but the original Julia Agrippina joins in through Sebastian in order to continue trying to set right the wrongs of her family and their history. This story brings together all the elements of the previous stories, winds them down and then leaves us with the kind of conclusion which is really just another beginning. That’s rather delightful actually as I could read Tansy’s portrayal of Julia Agrippina any day!


In conclusion, this collection was beautifully put together. It delivers a wonderful experience for the reader comprised of separate, bite-sized chunks of story while also creating a deeper narrative that threads throughout all of the stories. I learned something and I got to immerse myself in a world and characters that I loved fleetingly but deeply. This book is the second of the twelve books in this collection and like Nightsiders which I previously reviewed, it’s an exceptional addition to the project and is also a book that I’m calling one of my best reads of 2016. Yes, in February. I loved this book so very much – it reminds me that even though I’m a terrible student of history I love to appreciate others’ expertise in the field, especially when they create such fictional delights such as this.

AWW16: Nightsiders by Sue Isle (Twelve Planets #1)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #3

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Nightsiders (Twelve Planets #1)

Author: Sue Isle

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult

 

Nightsiders - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


 

This book is the first of the Twelve Planets, single author collections produced by Twelfth Planet Press and is a strong start to such a unique project. This collection by Sue Isle features four interwoven stories, each complete in its own way and each contributing to a larger sense of a dystopian future Australia. This world is painted so vividly and I join the chorus of others who hope that the author may venture back into this universe with a novel at some stage.

The Painted Girl

What I most appreciated about this story is that we’re introduced to the world of Nightside through the eyes of Kyra who is both young and confused. In some ways her understanding of the world around her is solid and broad, but in other ways there are many unknowns and her naivety shows. I appreciated that Kyra’s understanding of things centred around rules – but that where you were and who you were engaging with meant the rules may be different. I also liked that it is kindness, that Kyra reached out to Alicia that motivated the girl from the Drainers to help her in turn when Nerina turned against her.

This story is a subtle introduction to post apocalyptic Perth, called the Nightside because only the Drainers walk the day time any longer. The story that Isle has written presents both harsh realities of a broken-down society post apocalypse but also connection and hope, how people come together and work together too. Of particular note is the idea of choice, for Kyra, who has had so little choice in her life. The notion of choice is what lingers after this story has finished. The Painted Girl is a fantastic introduction to this world and its stories.

Nation of the Night

This was one of my favourite stories of the collection. Ash is such an interesting character and following his journey to pursue self-hood was powerful. In the present day, pursuit of identity presentation and representation, aspects of gender and the sexed body are fraught and difficult to achieve. In this story Isle explores what it may look like for a transgendered person in a post-apocalyptic society, where medical care is much more scarce and choices seem both more and less limited.

What really stayed with me was the difference between the present I am reading from, and the present in which Ash finds himself. Although many of the difficulties that exist outside the book in the present day, still exist in some form for Ash, the simple acceptance of him by Prof. Daniel, the doctor and those he meets in Melbourne. The question is only around his capacity to make adult decisions about himself, his body and his life – not interrogating the truth of his experience of self and gender. Such a sharp commentary on the state of things here in my present as a reader.

My only criticism with this story was that although the journey to Melbourne and home again was described as difficult that didn’t really seem to be the case. Instead, it was that Ash was an outsider in Melbourne, even as a temporary visitor that seemed more difficult to navigate – the lack of accommodation, lack of familiarity with the city and it’s particular rules. Additionally, even the constraints on the doctor in doing the favour for Ash in performing the surgery, what was possible and what his recovery would look like.

I appreciated the New Zealand family and their point of view that Ash met. Their experience and point of view provided more context as to the Eastern States and how the evacuation from the West had affected them. How, the city was trying to keep people out because of overcrowding and limited resources, how some people were lesser than others as immigrants and what the effect of this was. How, Nightside might seem like a better life to some if you found you couldn’t keep things together in Melbourne. That juxtaposition of difficulty and nod to the idea of the grass being greener on the other side was well done I thought. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the family as Ash headed home back to Perth, ending the story.

Paper Dragons

One of the themes that I thought this story highlighted, was the nature of interdependency, connection and reliance on others for shared wellbeing. The Elders rely on others to help support them, and they in turn provide support, care and knowledge. I am curious as to how Tom’s play troupe came together and why it holds such importance in their small community – there seems like there’s a story there. Not that I dispute the importance of story and community in a society like Nightside, just it seems interesting that it is prominent and held with such respect alongside survival activities – as though it is of equal importance. The why of that is interesting to me and I wish that had been explored more.

Although it’s suggested that the pages that Shani finds of a screenplay could stir up more trouble than they are worth (is the title a reflection of this I wonder?), the trouble itself doesn’t really manifest. Although the Elders do leave their houses and come to see the play – but I’m never sure what actually makes this play different from the rest put on by Tom’s troupe – why is it that the youngsters putting on the play is what shifts the balance and awakens the Elders somewhat?

I feel like this is a story of questions, that this is a story that provokes but doesn’t satisfy and that is perhaps one of the points. So much is unknown, by the youngsters, so much is forgotten or painful to the Elders, what they create together is the in-between. This is an intriguing story and I loved that we got to see Ash again, back from Melbourne and happier in himself and also accepted by the others.

 The Schoolteacher’s Tale

My other stand out favourite from the collection. I loved the way that we started the book with a confused young girl, who introduced the reader to Nightside, and that the collection ends with the story of Miss Wakeling an old woman adapting for a the future and being confronted with the need for change. I love that Shani and Itch are getting married, and have sought out the Aboriginal Elders out on the fringe of the Nightside, specifically because they see the importance of change and growing together, sharing knowledge and moving forward. There was so much hope in this story, and so much suggestion of coming together in a way that hadn’t happened before. I also love that the notion of knowledge and school and what education is useful in a dystopian future? This was such a great ending to the collection and also seemed like a beginning. I would love a novel from Miss Wakeling’s point of view about her journey out to the sea.

Overall 

There was so much to enjoy about these stories, diverse characters and situations, points of view, parallels to the present day that were nicely pointed. I loved that both Melbourne and Perth were so recognisable to me! I love that the apocalypse has already prompted adaptive changes from the inhabitants of Nightside – the children see better in the dark for example. There are so many women here and they are simply capable and interesting in their own way – even Nerina who is cast as perhaps the only unlikable character in the book. I almost didn’t notice this because it just seemed so normal and comfortable to read – and then I remembered how rare that is. Also, I love that this is not a gritty story of horror-survival but one of massive change, but still with community at its heart. I just want to reiterate how  much I’d love a novel from this world, it’s so interesting and I want to spend more time here.

Our Journey is Officially Launched!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Here’s to the beginning of an exciting year and a Journey Through the Twelve Planets!

Steph and I have put together a blog to collate reviews plus any other interviews, giveaways and extra content throughout the year. We’ve started things off by talking a little about what led us to take on this challenge.

Our reviews of the first collection Nightsiders by Sue Isle will be going up at the end of the month, and then at the end of each month thereafter. You can join in at any time, feel free to join us for the entire challenge, or or at any point throughout the year if some books interest you more than others. Additionally, if you’ve previously reviewed any books in the collection, link us as we progress and we’ll include your reviews with the others.

Review: Kaleidoscope from Twelfth Planet Press

Kaleidescope - cover

I should begin writing this review by pointing out that generally speaking, I’m not a short story reader. I want to enjoy this style of story more than I generally do. However, Kaleidoscope from Twelfth Planet Press edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios is an example of how awesome short stories can truly be! This anthology is truly exceptional. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to choose the stories because they’re all fantastic in their way – if these were the ones that made it in, I am sure that just as many stories came really close and I’m sure many of them were also exceptional.

Blurb from Kaleidoscope on Goodreads:

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories! Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life. Featuring New York Times bestselling and award winning authors along with newer voices: Garth Nix, Sofia Samatar, William Alexander, Karen Healey, E.C. Myers, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Ken Liu, Vylar Kaftan, Sean Williams, Amal El-Mohtar, Jim C. Hines, Faith Mudge, John Chu, Alena McNamara, Tim Susman, Gabriela Lee, Dirk Flinthart, Holly Kench, Sean Eads, and Shveta Thakrar.

Review:

For this review I’m going to concentrate on the stories that really resonated with me, it’s a large anthology and I figure that’s the easiest way to keep this review manageable. I will point out that none of the stories were what I’d consider ‘filler’ – they all make up a valuable part of a whole that is definitely more than the sum of each of its excellent parts.  I liked all of the stories in this anthology – but some more than others as you’d expect so I’m concentrating on those.

First of all, my stand out favourite: Vanilla by Dirk Flinthart. I thought this story was such a sharp commentary on xenophobia, politics, racism and the experiences people have around the margins. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say that I loved the poly nature of the story and also the way Kylie reflectively considers her place in the world and wonders about her future.

Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts was short and sweet – I’d actually love much more about this story but I loved the story as it was – it’s not unusual for me to want more and I think that shows that the premise was good, that I was satisfied with the piece I got to read says it was successful as a short piece.

The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon by Ken Liu was such a beautiful and gentle story, I loved the way it considered the different way that relationships can shift and still be important. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, important is important and the how and the what are up for negotiation.

Signature by Faith Mudge reminded me of all the reasons I love urban fantasy! I just adored the way this bookshop drew people together! I love the twist on Rumpelstiltskin in this story, it was just so enjoyable to read.

The Lovely Duckling by Tim Susman, I love that this story is also about making things be possible and that it keeps its focus there and not on the obstacles themselves as easy drama. This was a thoughtful and intelligent story and I love the way that it resolved.

Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell by E.C. Myers, wow what a powerful story – this was deep and it moved me so deeply. I thought it was so very interesting and I love the way the threads teased out to build this incredible story that I just don’t think my own words can give justice too. I think that often the subjects as portrayed in this story can be so negatively handled, with both judgement and this story gives a realness and a weight to them – not a permissiveness as such just a realism and criticality that is compelling.

Careful Magic by Karen Healey is such a gorgeous story, order and ethics and magic. I loved this story and it’s another one that I don’t think my words can do justice to. I loved the protagonist and how the story worked *for* her because that’s how she works – but not contrived just as the title suggests, careful, deliberate, ordered.

The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar is a wonderful exploration of the fascination with cultures other than our own, I love the way this is put together – there are so many layers and it’s complicated – as we and our lives are complicated. Our history is personal and not just one of a culture or familial background – there’s so much more and I think that this story captures that brilliantly.

73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival!

Wow! How is it June already?! There is quite an incredible array of interesting links for your appreciation this month. Many thanks to all of you who submitted! Many hands make light work and I am grateful for the support.  I have tried to include some interesting projects and small positive things in amongst what is overall a very heavy reading carnival. I wanted to try and balance the sombre with a little hope and some attempts to actually make the world a better place around us in tiny, ever so important ways.

To begin this carnival, we pay tribute to the late Maya Angelou, a great lady who made the world a better place, and certainly made me want to work harder at doing so myself.  Orlando writes beautifully at Hoyden About Town celebrating Maya Angelou as a Friday Hoyden.

Media, Texts and Arts

Scarlett Harris brings us an insightful review of “The To Do List” over at Bitch Flicks as a film aiming toward sex-positivity but with mixed results in Enjoyment isn’t an item on “The To Do List”.

Stephanie Convery discusses Helen Razer’s latest contribution to feminist debate in her Overland article Talkin loud but sayin nothin. This is not a simple case of ‘if you can’t say something nice…’. Razer is by this point well known for tearing into ‘armchair feminism’ as though contemporary feminism is too busy shouting about things to do anything about them, and also as though she herself isn’t doing precisely that. Lastly, as though the reactions and responses aren’t also just as valid, even if there is also reason to be critical.

In the article Oh, what can we do with The Taming of the Shrew, I can give no better introduction than Flaming Moth’s own. “The Problem: why do we still like it, and can we, in all good conscience, allow ourselves to continue to do so?”

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy To The Stars shares Some thoughts on students, protests, Q and A and the moral indignation of a lazy public, namely that the role of protesting is to draw attention and that doing so isn’t necessarily a failure to go about change in a more ‘appropriate’ way.

Over on the blog for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, Alisa of Twelfth Planet Press writes If you’re not part of the solution… She discusses the impact of the challenge on people reading Australian female authors and the way it is still all too easy for women writers to become invisible in the current climate.

Tansy Rayner-Roberts is celebrating her birthday blog-style by undertaking a gender-swapped Musketeer project in  her post A birthday Musketeer Space web serial introduction. Over the next eighteen months she aims to post weekly chapters of a space opera retelling of “The Three Musketeers”.

Bethwyn of Butterfly Elephant shares her book reviews books about Zita the Spacegirl finding many positive things to say about the series. If you want some comfort reading, or need some new children’s story books, you may like to take a look.

Liz of No Award writes about the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe printed on fabric in her post Your Fabric is Problematic.

Poetry from Erin of Erinaree, On the Side of Angels [broken link removed]. Reflection on feminism, misogyny, fear, and not wishing these for men.

Violence and Rape Culture

Trigger warning: content in this category may be difficult reading.

Scarlett of The Scarlet Woman talks about Walking While Female criticising the surge in comments about women walking on their own at night, which is a little too close to blaming the victim for my taste. People have a right to walk the streets in safety without being interfered with by others.

Sarah at Radically Visible on why misogyny kills, in Sexism, Entitlement and Santa Barbara writes that discussing the Santa Barbara killings and dismissing them as the act of a ‘madman’ with no consideration of the inherent misogyny or rape culture behind the act reinforces the same social structures that make it possible for such tragic events to happen.

Jo of A Life Unexamined writes about Rape in the News: better, but not there yet where she finds that the fact that the perpetrator is the main focus of the news story to be well worth noticing, rather than the usual focus on the victim(s), often blaming.

Steph from the National Union of Student’s Women’s Department writes Some thoughts about the UCSB shooting, and how the background to gun violence is often one of rape culture and that we ignore this at our peril.

TigTog posts at Hoyden About Town a Nugget of awesome: Sex and love aren’t earned focusing on the creepy idea that if you’re a ‘nice’ guy you somehow ‘earn’ sex and love that is unsurprisingly a pertinent topic of discussion following the Santa Barbara shooting.

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy to the Stars rants about #Notallmen and how just for a moment if people wanting to say that, stopped for just a moment and instead actually listened to what those around them are saying, actually considered what it’s like from the opposite perspective.

Race and Racism

Kathleen Joy of so much joy it hurts, writes about Australian ignorance of Indigenous cultures and our disrespect to Indigenous cultures and way of life and why Chris Lilley in brownface as “Jonah from Tonga” is disrespectful.

Siv of OnDusk uses Star Wars as a metaphor for the importance of Twitter as a way for black people to speak, to be heard and to know when people – on three continents no less – say horrible offensive things and try to pretend that this is actually okay.

Celeste writes about the appalling state of racism and Indigenous rights in her post Thoughts for Sorry Day over at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. The post is short, stark and honest about the real impact of the present day institutionalised racism in Australia and that we have much to be sorry for.

Deborah at A Bee of a Certain Age talks about making space for people with different cultural needs around a proposal to have a few hours set aside as Women only swimming hours at a local swim centre. There is intolerance in the idea that people should just change and act like ‘the rest of us’ and just swim with everyone else. It’s an intolerance that doesn’t respect cultural differences and does exclude women from public spaces and certain activities.

Celeste of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes Aloha from Oahu sharing about her excitement at attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference and the difference this event has made for her in the past.

Work, Value and Unemployment

Snoringcat writes Today, I am Angry, her rant is heartfelt and hits very close to home from my experiences last year. Job hunting is soul-crushing, exhausting and the impact and cost of long-term unemployment and job-hunting is woefully misunderstood.

Politics

At Global Comment, Chally writes Eurovision: A Referendum on Putin’s Russia providing insight into the politics of the Eurovision Song Contest, neatly capturing a summation of responses to the 2014 winner, but also to the extent of European political commentary on Russia.

Deborah writes in The New Zealand Herald We all deserve a fair go, [broken link removed] talking about the importance of fairness and how this is a nuanced idea, that numerous approaches to something could be described as fair in their way, but it depends on the aim of being fair overall.

In Quiet, the men are talking about misogyny Liza of Fix It, Dear Henry talks about the difference between men and women’s reactions to the Santa Barbara shootings in that, largely women already understand why it happened – it’s something we live with. While men are experiencing something of a revelation around misogyny right there in front of them, and while a lot of the discussion is good to see, some change to go with it would be great.

Liz at No Award talks about the politics in her escapism in relation to Mass Effect 3 and Australian border protection policy, saying that the similarities between the two is strong enough to be disquieting.

At The Filing Cabinet, in her article Megan asks Are the abortion wars about to begin? She talks about the political shots fired across several states over abortion rights and considers the overall threat to Australian women’s reproductive rights.

Shakira and Helen at The New Matilda discuss the offensive double standard around freedom of speech in their article The powerful already have free speech.

The Budget

Stevie of Stevie Writes [broken link removed] shares her views about how the budget will affect working class families, talking about how I’m glad my mother isn’t alive to see the Budget 2014, [broken link removed] based on her mother’s sense of deep betrayal as a working class person having thought that working hard meant being taken care of later in life. Like Stevie, I hope this sparks change, but in the mean time the future looks bleak for all but the elite few.

Sandra from The $120 Food Challenge [broken link removed] calls the 2014 budget All Sticks, No Carrots [broken link removed]. The reality of the budget’s impact on jobseekers, young people, and even their parents is bitter. On the backs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged does Australia build it’s economic ‘future’.

In Disability in Budget 2014, El Gibbs provides further insight into the 2014 Budget impact on people with disabilities. While the funding for the NDIS remains unchanged, other surrounding changes will have a massive impact on the services and care available to people with disabilities, their families and carers.

Kaye originally posted her open letter to Mr Hockey [broken link removed] on Facebook, but her words about what $7 really means resonated with many people. That dilemma of unexpected single-parenthood and whether to spend your last $7 on food, petrol, or nappies.

At Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear, Chrys talks about the budget apportioning $245 million to further fund and expand the School Chaplains program in her post School chaplains – making disciples. There are real concerns that while Chaplains may mean well, they are not trained professionals in social work, psychology or counselling, they come from a religious background that may not be appropriate for a large number of school students. Criticism of the program has been seen in the High Court, but Chrys emphasises the need for the debate to occur in the public sphere over the appropriate use of public funds to best support students.

Over at Global Comment, Chally writes about Australia’s budget attack on its poor, young and vulnerable. She highlights the disproportionate difference between the effects on wealthier Australian citizens in comparison to pretty much everyone else.

Jennifer at No Place For Sheep looks at Joe Hockey’s response to his budget in her post I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not. Hockey’s comments clearly position the poor as immoral and undeserving of pleasure and being wholly responsible for their situation, while he himself enjoys a cigar and a glass of Grange.

Fat Activism

As a fat woman, Fat Heffalump talks honestly about why It sucks to be a fat woman. She talks about the pressure to be positive all the time and that this can silence people around the difficulties and horribleness that being fat and a woman in Western society involves.

Health

Avril writes When you discover you are at the mercy of your hormones and talks about going through peri-menopause and how it has really taken her by surprise and taken over how she goes about life right now.

Queerness

No one is exempt from instances of poor behaviour, but in saying that there are definitely behaviours that speak ill of us and the messages we wish to put forth. In The King’s Tribune {broken link removed}, Brocklesnitch speaks In painful defence of Pyne [broken link removed] against her wishes, but does so eloquently in relation to gay ‘joke’ slurs being used.

In her article I am woman hear me The Roar, Brocklesnitch also discusses language of discrimination in relation to a sporting incident pointing out that when slurs are used, whether they’re true or untrue doesn’t change the pejorative nature of the slur. If an insulted sports person isn’t actually gay, using a language slur doesn’t just suddenly become bad language, because that’s not the way that language and discrimination work.

Beauty Culture

In Daily Life, Michelle shares her experiences of being a single female who is also bald and trying to date. Her article, How dating works when you’re a bald woman, draws attention to the insidious negativity that beauty culture builds around women’s experience of themselves, their physical presentation and the reactions of others to that presentation.

Fat Heffalump talks about her realisation about her personal experience in discovering she didn’t feel the need to be beautiful, being Unapologetically ugly. This is a thoughtful piece that considers beauty culture from a different angle – one that doesn’t redefine or recontextualise beauty itself, although it emphasises the subjectivity of beauty. Instead, the focus is not needing to be considered beautiful and it is a refreshing read.

Motherhood, Parenting and Children

Orlando posts at Hoyden About Town that Lego is refusing to get the message, sharing a recent catalogue depicting which Lego is for boys and which for girls, with colour being the least of the differences.

Andie of Blue Milk writes for Daily Life responding to the question of Can you protect your children from living your mistakes? Andie’s take is that we’re none of us separate from our upbringing, from our environment and histories, that parenting is often in response to how you remember your own childhood. The piece is insightful and unsurprisingly doesn’t provide an easy answer, but does invite self reflection and some gentle self-acceptance.

At Pesky Feminist, [broken link removed] Amy talks about On Mother’s Day [broken link removed] and the depth of feeling that this day of recognition often fails to encompass. She talks about her bravery and the importance of the woman as well as the mother, it’s a poignant piece and well worth reading.

Making the World a Better Place

Bec of of Opinions @ Bluebec writes about The legacy we leave in that it is important that we strive to not pass on the racism, sexism, homophobia and other nastiness to our children, even as we teach them about these things to enable them to deal with them when they (inevitably it seems) happen.

The End!

That’s it for this month, hopefully there was some new and interesting reading to you all and that all the bleak commentary doesn’t get you down too much. Many thanks again to everyone who sent in links and suggestions, it’s greatly appreciated.

Also, I’d love to encourage you to take on hosting the carnival for a month – it’s generally pretty simple, and there’s support if you need it. Talk to Chally about it, she has all the information. If you’d like to host a Carnival, email  her at chally [dot] zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com or head over to the DUFC page to find out more about how it all works.

The next Down Under Feminist Carnival, the Seventy-Fourth Edition planned for 5 July, will be hosted by Pen at Pondering Postfeminism. Submissions to drpen [dot] robinson [at] gmail [dot] com.