From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. they had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

Aboard the steamship Admella, George Hills is counting his blessings. he has nearly earned enough from his shipboard life to marry his sweetheart. but ti strip is different. the horses are restless and George sees a strange figure lurking among them. When the ship hits a reef and is wrecked, this strange figure, in the shape of a woman, is marooned with George, and somehow their lives become intertwined.

From the Wreck is an oddly compelling tale, with an intriguing premise of a historical event intertwined with the life of an alien being, seeking both a place to belong and an understanding of earth and of life. Spanning the years following the wreck of the Admella in 1859, the story blends what is known of George Hills, the author’s great-great grandfather, with the speculative fiction exploration of existential loneliness.

Hard to classify, but that is what makes the story so intriguing.

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson
Transit Lounge, 2017
ISBN 9780995359451

Zeroes, by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

9781925266955.jpg‘You part of that scene?’ The Craig hooked a thumb over his shoulder, back at Ivy Street.
Than answered for himself, without the voice. ‘Me? Not really. Too loud.’
‘Yeah, I hate doof-doof music.’ Craig drummed on the steering wheel, hissing like a techno high hat. ‘No wonder they all have to get high. Well, the Craig is here to help with that.’
Ethan didn’t answer, just glanced over his shoulder at the duffel bag in the backseat. The Ford’s windows were open, letting in lashes of wind that set the green vinyl of the bag shimmering.
‘Relax, kid,’ the Craig said. ‘The stuff stays in the club. We just move the profits.’

Ethan has a super power: when he wants something, a voice comes from inside him and says all the right things to make it happen. This is how, when he needs a lift home, he finds himself in a car couriering the proceeds of drug deals. When he realises the situation he’s in, he panics, and ends up stealing the car along with the cash. Soon he’s in a whole lot more trouble.

Ethan (his friends call him Scam) is not the only teen with a super power. There are five other teens, each with a different power. From being so forgettable he may as well be invisible (Anonymous), to being able to get a crowd onside (Mob) and being able to see through other people’s eyes in spite of being blind (Flicker), what the six have in common is that they were all born in the year 2000. They call themselves the Zeroes, an ironic take on Heroes, because they’re not super-heroes, in spite of their extraordinary powers. They are fairly ordinary teens who have found each other because of their powers, and try to work together, when they can get along, to figure out what they can do with those powers. When Ethan’s theft starts a big chain of events even his sweet-talking can’t fix, the six must combine their efforts to help him, and others who are affected.

Zeroes is a fast-moving, fascinating new take on the notion of super powers, with a focus on their limitations and the difficulties of being ‘blessed’ with a special ability. A joint effort of three authors, the story is told through the third person viewpoint of the characters, with shifts from one to another dependent on the action. This allows each character to be well defined and adds to the interest.

Lots of action, twists and turns.

Zeroes, by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781925266955

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody

So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce. The one thing they could agree upon was that the girl should not be exposed to the violence they meant to commit on their life. There was a quality in her that made it impossible to do the ravening that the end of love required.

Metro Winds

Nobody who has read any of Isobelle Camody’s work can doubt her ability as a story teller, and this new collection of six stories serves only to cement that certainty. Metro Winds, a collection of six stories, is an eminently satisfying offering, diverse yet each connected by its quality and by the movement through the real world to fantastical, alternate worlds. Some have links to popular fairy tales, including the Princess and the Pea, whilst all have settings which will be familiar – Australia, Paris, Venice – and themes and premises which are at once recognisable yet somehow unfamiliar.

With subject matter including broken homes, marital strain and loss, couched in fantastical scenarios such as a wolf prince who abandons his wife and child because of a curse and a sister who mourns the disappearance of her younger sister but must relinquish her in order to safe a world, these are stories which grip the reader and keep the pages turning, staying with you long after the final page.

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781865084442

Available from good bookstores or online.

Trouble Twisters: The Monster, by Garth Nix & Sean WIlliams

Through the predawn silence, something moved in the middle of River Road – something huge and dark and struggling. The length of a bus, but not as high, it propelled itself, awkwardly and with great effort, sideways up the slight slope towards Main Street.


As it grew near the next streetlight, it raised one strange, dark eye – and the light went out. The thing opened its great maw and let out a soft, almost yawning hiss of satisfaction, then dragged itself on, leaving a trail of slime and a line of fizzled-out streetlights behind it.

Everyone in Portland seems to know someone who knows someone who has seen the Monster of Portland – but it seems no one has actually seen it for themselves! It could be scaly, have a shell, or even be hairy like a gorilla, depending who you believe. The twins, Jack and Jaide, are’t sure who to believe, but they are sure something strange is going on in Portland. Every since they defeated The Evil, they haven’t felt quite safe. Now the’re sure that it’s still out there, waiting to strike again. Gradnma X seems to know more than she’s willing to reveal and the cats, their Companions, are also caught up in strange goings on. If only they could bring their newly discovered powers under control and overcome The Evil once and for all.

The Monster is the second in the Trouble Twisters series, a collaboration between Garth Nix and Sean Williams which will appeal to upper primary aged readers. The twins are Trouble Twisters, destined to be Wardens when they finish growing and fine-tuning their magical gifts. Their strange grandmother oversees their training, whilst their father, also a Warden, travels and their mother, who is a regular human, works away.

Continuing from the first book, but largely self contained, the book also sees the introduction of a new character, the twins’ friend, Tara, and some further revelations about their mysterious role, with hints of more to come in future installments.

The Monster (Troubletwisters)

The Monster, by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Allen & Uniwn, 2012
ISBN 9781742373997

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan

As a child Misskaella knows she is different from her sisters and the other children of Rollrock Island, but she is surprised when she looks at a seal and realises there is a woman trapped inside – a woman only Misskaella can draw out.

‘People are uneasy enough with me – if I start bringing up sea-wives, they’ll take against me good and proper.’
‘It could be a secret.’
‘Could it?’

As a child Misskaella knows she is different from her sisters and the other children of Rollrock Island, but she is surprised when she looks at a seal and realises there is a woman trapped inside – a woman only Misskaella can draw out. Tired of being poor and alone, Misskaella agrees to draw a bride for a lonely man, and soon the sea witch has a string of customers. But what will happen to the people of Rollrock when more and more men seek sea-wives?

Sea Hearts is a stunning novel from the queen of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan. Taking inspiration from the Scottish legends of the Selkie, seals which take human form on land by shedding their skins, this tale gives the sea-witch the power to draw the women (and men, too, when she chooses) from the seals who visit the island. What makes the story particularly powerful is Lanagan’s use of multiple perspectives, allowing the reader into the lives and minds of a range of players.

Misskaella is introduced as a witch scaring children on the beach in the opening chapter, before we are shown her unhappy childhood and teen years, and the events which lead to her first using her power, which she has kept under control for many years by wearing a fabric cross on her body. We are also shown the perspective of some of the men who choose to take sea-wives and of the children of these unions, as well as some of the human women affected by these events. What could be a tale of good versus evil, or right versus wrong becomes thus much richer and more complex, with our sympathies ebbing and flowing like the dangerous tides which surround Rollrock island.

This is a complex, haunting fairytale which sings to the reader, and will appeal to mature teens and adult readers alike. Simply stunning.

Sea Hearts

Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742375052

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Equinox, by Lara Morgan

Exposing Helios Corporation’s evil should have meant for a change in fortune for Rosie Black. Her Dad is back, and she and her Aunt Essie are safe. But it isn’t as simple as that.

“Helios will leave them alone now. It’s me they want. But you know what this means. If they know I’m alive it means you and Essie aren’t safe any more either.” Riley gave her a significant look.
“Wait, hang on.” She got to her feet. She knew where this was going. “I am not going into hiding,” she said. “No way.”

Exposing Helios Corporation’s evil should have meant for a change in fortune for Rosie Black. Her Dad is back, and she and her Aunt Essie are safe. But it isn’t as simple as that. Helios is still around – just pushed further underground – and Dad is stuck in hospital, where he’ll possibly never leave. Her friend Pip has disappeared, and Riley is keeping things from her. Rosie is going to have to use all her wits – and put her life on the line – to destroy Helios once and for all.

Equinox is the second title in the gripping Rosie Black Chronicles, set five hundred years in the future in Newperth. This dystopian tale picks up not long after the first left off, with familiar characters reuniting and aided by new additions. There is also an increase in the development of the characters – with Rosie showing extra layers of vulnerability against her gritty determination, and her relationships also developing.

Best read as a sequel, Equinox will appeal to teen lovers of speculative fiction.

Equinox (Rosie Black Chronicles)

Equinox (Rosie Black Chronicles), by Lara Morgan
Walker Books, 2011
ISBN 9781921529405

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Wilful Eye and The Wicked Wood, ed by Isobelle Carmody & Nan McNab

Whilst the term fairytale may conjure up, for many readers, images of beautiful singing princesses, wicked witches and Disney-esque happy ever after endings, these ancient tales were not intended for young readers. And, says Isobelle Carmody in her introduction to this collection, when they were passed over to children they lost their gloss and their value…

‘You are different,’ whispers the princess, almost crouched there, looking up at me. ‘You were gentle and kind before. What has happened? What has changed?’

Whilst the term fairytale may conjure up, for many readers, images of beautiful singing princesses, wicked witches and Disney-esque happy ever after endings, these ancient tales were not intended for young readers. And, says Isobelle Carmody in her introduction to this collection, when they were passed over to children they lost their gloss and their value. In The Wilful Eye and The Wicked Wood Carmody and her co-contributors attempt to rediscover this value with six retellings of six classic tales in each volume.

To label the stories retellings is really an inadequate description both of the concept of the collection and of the work it contains. Each writer has chosen a traditional fairytale and given it their own touch – sometimes set in a modern or futuristic environment , at other times telling the story from a new perspective. The reader will not necessarily easily recognise the original story, and some of the stories may even be new to the reader, but each is followed by an Afterword from the author explaining something of their process and choice.

This is not comfortable reading, but it is not meant to be. Each writer takes their story to depths which will have the reader gasping, or wondering, or pondering even long after the last word is read. Suitable for reading cover to cover, but these collections are probably best dipped into and savoured one at a time. Suitable for older teens and adults.

The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower)
The Wilful Eye
ISBN 9781742374406

The Wicked Wood (Tales from the Tower)

The Wicked Wood
ISBN 9781742374413

Both edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab
Allen & Unwin, 2011

Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann

How best to describe an anthology which features stories by the cream of the Australian speculative fiction community? Perhaps a starting point could be to quote from the call for submissions by editor Jack Dann:

Dreaming Again will showcase the very best contemporary ‘wild-side fiction’ (those stories that have an edge of horror or fantasy, or could be categorised as magical realism) and the very best genre fiction, which includes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We are looking for brilliant writing, style, and fresh ideas. Our only criterion is quality.

These were Dann’s aims, and the reader of the collection will not be disappointed. This is truly a collection of top quality speculative fiction, as diverse as it is awe-inspiring, with story after story proving irresistible to the reader who wants (or needs0 to put the book down for a while.

From stories set in sparse or shocking futures, such as Purgatory by Rowena Cory Daniells or Kim Westwood’s Nightship to fantasy numbers such as Kim Wilkins The Forest, all stories have a sense of familiarity for Australian readers. Many have very Australian settings, others Australian characters, and even those with neither of these have a very Australian feel.

These thirty five stories will prove a delight to lovers of speculative fiction. A simply superb collection which will be talked about for years to come.

Dreaming Again

Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann
Harper Voyager, 2008

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.