Review: Focus 2012 compiled by Tehani Wessely

Focus2012Published by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992284428
Published: October 2013
Pages: 252
Format reviewed: Kindle version
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Focus 2012 promises to be the first of an annual series, taking a selection of pieces that have been shortlisted for Awards either within Australia or from International speculative fiction awards.

Interspersed by lovely artwork from Kathleen Jennings, and priced at just under $5 Australian, this is a short and sweet anthology that shouldn’t be missed.

The Wisdom of Ants” by Thoraiya Dyer

Such an Australian piece, which is an excellent way to start an anthology that’s all about highlighting Australian short fiction. Here be dilly bags, mangroves and crocs – so I feel right at home. Here we have traditional women who are taking the land back, as alien ants have been devouring manmade things, so to hell with civilisation. The writing in this is full of imagery and awesome:

Ants ate the wiremind shelters, their vehicles, exoskeletons and communications devices. They ate their wristwatches. Their boot buckles. When the soldiers lay down to sleep, they were woken by ants trying to bore through their skulls to get at the metal implants inside.

This was easily one of my favourite pieces in the anthology.

First published in Clarkesworld (12/12).

The Mornington Ride” by Jason Nahrung 

A great start that’s sure to engage the reader, by stating how the main character has travelled the time it takes for the moon to go full to new and almost full again, yet the bullet never comes.

Here we have men who travel by horse, talk rough and threatening, but there’s the sense of chivalry there also – the tipping of a hat, and how some places just aren’t the proper place for a fight.

This is a slow building piece,and the ending is perfectly satisfying, making you smile just a little at what the faithful main character, and hence the reader, has achieved.

First published in ‘Epilogue’, an anthology published by FableCroft Publishing.

“Significant Dust” by Margo Lanagan

A UFO story! One that’s based on fact, it seems. Lanagan also captures the characters and their voices perfectly, having the writing talent to get away with writing their accent into the dialogue, using words such as ‘ken’ instead of ‘can’, and ‘munss’ instead of ‘months’. It flows effortlessly, pulling you gently in an odd realisation of how things aren’t exactly what they seem.

One always runs the risk with stories where a character doesn’t know what day/month/year it is, to go a bit over-the-top. Not Lanagan. This keeps you reading eagerly through to the very end, and thankfully we’re not disappointed with the crescendo.

First published in ‘Cracklescape’, a Margo Lanagan collection published by Twelfth Planet Press.

“Birthday Suit” by Martin Livings

An interesting and creepy take on the idea of the birthday suit, and what else it could mean or be. Descriptive in a creepy sense, we’re told of a pink fleshy limp suit the birthday boy sees on his seventh birthday, and then it continues on to the general celebration. We’re told of how the boy hopes to stay awake to catch a glimpse of the tailer one birthday, but as a kid, a year feels like a lifetime.

And what an ending! Slightly morose, but more thoughtful and probing, we have a dedicated piece that also lasts with you.

First published in ‘Living with the Dead’, a Martin Livings collection published by Dark Prints Press.

“Sanaa’s Army” by Joanne Anderton

Seemingly obsessed with death, this piece starts and then continues in a lightly morbid fashion, giving it depth in its casual treatment of the subject. You get such a sense of movement from Anderton’s writing, a lazy sprawling elegance to how the characters get up and walk and interact.

This is such an innocently creepy piece! Anderton lulls you in with a false sense of security, thinking that it’ll remain light and interesting and darkly quirky, only dropping you to realise that no, this is quite messed up, and that’s all there is to it. She’s an excellently strong writer, and this works perfectly as proof.

First published in ‘Bloodstones’ anthology, published by Ticonderoga Publications

“Escena de un Asesinato” by Robert Hood

A piece that gets creepier as it goes on, in true Robert Hood short fashion. A photographer who unfortunately learns to see more in his photos than he once did.

This is an effective piece as one always wonders what could also exist in the shadows or expanses one doesn’t always pay attention to. How can we ever truly know what isn’t there? This one ends in an eerie, open way, which lasts with you.

First published in ‘Exotic Gothic 4’ anthology, published by PS Publishing.

“Sky” by Kaaron Warren

One of the best starts to a short story I’ve come across so far:

My wife has very strong teeth. 

It really captures the sense of foreboding, and then it abruptly changes to short pieces that focus on new characters, some barely a page long and others just a few pages longer, and it slowly ties together. This is Warren at her best, and it certainly ends with a crack.

First published in ‘Through Splintered Worlds’, a Kaaron Warren collection published by Twelfth Planet Press.

~

Overall this is a strong anthology, and I do appreciate how each piece starts with where it was first published and what awards it was shortlisted for and/or managed to win. This is an excellent collection of pieces by strong Australian voices, and I look forward to reading the next anthologies in the series!

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Review: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

GoldenBoysPublished by: Penguin Australia
ISBN 13: 9781926428611
Published: August 2014
Pages: 224
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

‘Golden Boys’ by Sonya Hartnett is an utterly engaging novel of a new family moving into a close-knit neighbourhood, who are from a higher socioeconomic group, and hence, stick out, becoming both a draw to the rest of the children from the street, as well as the envy of them all.

Colt and Bastian Jensen have all the toys children could wish for, and soon have an above-ground pool, as well. Their father, Rex Jensen, lavishes them with gifts, and is pushy and extreme about the other neighbourhood children taking part – everyone is welcome, at all times, and he’ll offer tea and party pies and be very polite at all times.

The neighbourhood kids all have their issues. We have the large, rough bully, who hates everything at all times but also wants to keep everything for himself – especially things that aren’t his.

We have a small, hopeless child who has absent parents, and currently lives with grandparents who don’t care or notice where he is – so he spends his nights cycling around, enjoying the stars.

Then we also have a family of many children, a rough loveless mother, and a drunk abusive father. The eldest daughter of the family turns to Rex for advice and attention, finding a father figure in her life that she can talk to. Her siblings however quickly learn to avoid the man, who seems odd in the way children can pick up – a tendency to pat their shoulder unnecessarily, and then there’s the creepy way he helps them dry off after a dip in the pool…

In an utterly truthful novel, Hartnett has managed to perfectly capture how children interact with each other and the adults around them, and how a child can brush off a creep’s intent with a shrug and a knowing ‘he’s a creep’ statement, matter of fact.

This is a novel that is at times brutal, and at all times engaging – it’s hard to put down, and painful in its shortness. We’re left with an open ending, as things are just a natural slice of their life – we see no justice for any of the terrible crimes we read, nor do we see any ending to them. We’re left to believe that in an sadly realistic way – life must just carry on.