REVIEW: The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012

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The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012

Edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene

I expect it’s bad form to review a book in which you have a story — but screw it. The table of contents of this particular book includes a broad sampling of Australia’s best current writers in this field, many of whom are also among the better and more prolific reviewers. If they all refrain from reviewing the book, there’s going to be a gaping great hole in the Internet where a really fine volume ought to be.

Seriously: I’ve been thinking  a lot lately about genre fiction, speculative fiction, art, and literature with a capital L. And I have to echo Cory Doctorow’s sentiments on the topic of speculative fiction and the short story. Outside of the speculative genres, the short story is just about a dead form. But for some reason, inside the land of the bizarre we just… keep on doing it.

And I think it’s wonderful.

The short story is a beautiful, elegant, incisive form of literature when executed well, and in this book, the selections are executed very well indeed. I have a great deal of trouble keeping up with what’s being published in this country, let alone getting my own writing out there, so I’m delighted that Ticonderoga are prepared to put together these anthologies. And better still, when I picked this one up I was transported. This book — damn! This is what the short story form is all about.

The works herein are beautifully balanced. Angela Slatter’s piece, for example (“Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”, first published in This Is Horror Webzine) is short, punchy, and oh, so elegantly crafted. Told from the point of view of a Hollywood gopher, a few short pages are sufficient not only to flesh out the important characters nicely, but to build a story which is much, much larger than it has any right to be. It’s a classic example of telling little, showing more, and guiding the readers to create the rest of the horror and the fantasy for themselves, leaving a whimsical yet disturbing impression that lasts long after the story is done.

Then there’s the inevitable Margo Lanagan tale: “Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow” (first published in Under My Hat). Does Margo ever write a dud story? I mean — ever? This one is beautiful. In typically Lanagan fashion, it’s delivered from deep within the idiomatic point of view of an elegantly drawn, vividly interesting character: a witch, of sorts, who goes on a journey and is surprised to discover that a baby and her mother are both something more than expected. It ought to be a slight piece, but in Lanagan’s hands it acquires nuance and depth and emotional resonance well beyond it’s apparently lightweight plot.

Jason Nahrung’s story “The Last Boat to Eden” (from Surviving The End) is another piece from deep within a vividly constructed character’s point of view. There’s been some kind of plague. Three men — possibly the last three men in Australia — have survived by virtue of being on a fishing trip to a remote part of the Gulf of Carpentaria when the plague swept the world. In the aftermath, the three of them are surprised to encounter a boatload of foreign refugees, seeking shelter. But in a cruel, sharp echo of Tony Abbott’s Australia, our three ‘heroes’ are less than welcoming, and Nahrung takes some delight in depicting the outcome of the ugliest of ugly, chauvinistic, racist Australia when it comes face to face with the end of the world. It’s a sharp story from beginning to end, and the deliberate reductio ad absurdem that it applies to present-day politics of refugees is both timely, and grimly depressing.

Three stories, selected by letting the book fall open at random. But it wouldn’t have mattered where the book fell open for me: there are thirty-four stories here, and while I’ll refrain from commenting on my own (“The Bull In Winter”, from Bloodstones) they are all very fine works. Yes, some of them are more outstanding than others, but I didn’t find a real dud among them. They cover a broad range of fantasy and horror, from the whimsical  (Anna Tambour’s ““The Dog Who Wished He’d Never Heard Of Lovecraft”, Lovecraft Zine) through to the grimmest of the grim and dark.  There’s something here for all tastes.

Full credit to the editors for making the selections that they have, but quite honestly, 2012 must have been a gem of a year. Reading this book was a genuine pleasure; so much so that despite being on the table of contents, I really wanted to say just how much I enjoyed it, and I wanted to give other people the chance to enjoy it too.

This is a very fine collection of stories.

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