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

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.

The Singing Stones, by Margo Lanagan

‘You’re right, sis. Our town is full of odd people and queer happenings.. And now we’ve been caught up in them.’

Lawrie and Jean are out fossicking with their grandfather and thinking about lunch when something strange happens. A willy-willy appears in front of them, and suddenly Lawrence, Jean and their dog Bee-Joo find themselves in a strange land. Scintillon, as they learn the land is called, is a land where stones sing, and keep the land in harmony. But one stone, somewhere in the land, is calling Jean to come and get it and take it home.

The Singing Stones is the second book in the Lost Shimmaron series, a series created by seven of Australia’s leading speculative fiction writers. Like other children from the town of Amethyst, Lawrence and Jean have been chosen by the Shimmaron, the mystical energy beings stranded in the depths of the town lake, to help get them home. Their adventures on Scintillon will entice young fantasy readers to seek out the rest of the series.

Each book in the Shimmaron series is written by one of the seven creators. This instalment is the work of Margo Lanagan, with other authors involved in the project including Tansy Rayner Roberts and Rowena Cory Daniels.

A wonderful concept.

The Singing Stones (Lost Shimmaron)

The Singing Stones, by Margo Lanagan
ABC Books, 2007

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

Red Spikes, by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan’s previous two collections of short stories, Black Juice and White Time have won awards and received wide acclaim. Now, Lanagan has released a third collection, continuing the trend of colour-themed titles. Red Spikesoffers ten diverse stories – diverse in content, setting, theme and more. Yet what binds them is the superb quality of Lanagan’s writing.

Lanagan is a master of the short story form and speculative fiction genre. She deals with a range of themes, though an exploration of spirituality is part of several stories, including Under Hell, Over Heaven where the setting is purgatory and Forever Upward which explores the distance between worshippers and their gods, and the ways they connect. Several of the stories are set in historical settings, drawing on stories of past times for inspiration.

This is a collection with something for every reader. Whilst the stories are largely aimed at young adult readers, with teen protagonists and some teen settings and scenarios, the stories will equally please the adult reader.

Red Spikes is superb reading.

Red Spikes

Red Spikes, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2007

White Time, by Margo Lanagan

She waited. Her head was so busy, with the two voices blabbing numbers in one ear, and the music wandering in the other. It was annoying. She wanted to unplug everything and just hear for herself what white time sounded like. She was sure it would be a delicious, restful silence.

White Time is a collection of ten short stories from award winning speculative fiction author Margo Lanagan. First published in 2000, this collection pre-dates her best-known collection, Black Juice, but is equally as good.

Lanagan takes diverse settings and themes for her stories – one is set within a bee hive, another in a contemporary classroom and bedroom, and others in fantasy worlds – but what is common to all is their ability to totally absorb the reader and to leave him or her thinking well beyond the ending of the story. Each story compels the reader to keep reading, and, importantly, to keep wondering. Whilst some stories are easier than others to process – Midsummer Mission, for example, is on the surface a tale of fairy-folk meddling in romance, whilst the figure of a hovering set of innards following a boy around his war-torn home in The Night Lily is much more confronting – all stories offer much to challenge the reader both during and after the reading process.

This is a brilliant collection which will appeal to teens and adults alike.

White Time

White Time, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, first published 2000, this edition 2006

You can buy this book online at Fishpond.

Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan

A good short story is not just a shorter version of the novel. Rather, it is something fluid – which exists both before and after the written version, both for the characters and, importantly, the reader. Whether the story is contemporary or historic, science fiction or fantasy, it should have readers eagerly turning the page, caught up in both action and emotion. Then, when it is finished, it should leave the reader thinking.

The ten stories in Black Juice achieve these criteria with aplomb. Each story captivates, even as it has the reader squirming with its ruthlessness, its glimpse into deep and dark human nature. Author Margo Lanagan makes the short story form her own, using it to provide extraordinary perspectives and insights.

Each story is unique, but the commonality which binds is the deliberate use of settings and situations which are unfamiliar, yet contain stories which reveal many familiar truths of humankind.

Lanagan’s stories are sure to be used in literature classrooms, but are also likely to find many fans among adult readers, who will find themselves unable to put the volume down.

Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2004