Review: Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

CracklescapeSeries: Twelve Planets #7
Published by:
Twelfth Planet Press
ISBN 13: 
9780987216250 (ebook)
ISBN 13:
9780987216243 (paperback)
ASIN:
B00A45Z6UK (kindle)
Published: 
August 2012
Pages:
104
Format reviewed:
Paperback
Site: 
Publisher Site
Goodreads: 
Book Page
Stars: 
Five out of Five
Related Reviews:
A Journey Through Twelve Planets / Site for the challenge

Cracklescape is the seventh book in the Twelve Planets series, released by Twelfth Planet Press, which showcase the talent of female Australian authors. There is now to be a thirteenth in the series, but that’s a review for another time. The brief given to authors was to write 4 short stories of up to 40,000 words in total. The stories could be separate, discrete narratives or linked through character, setting or theme.

This collection contains four short stories that are connected by how the creepy and fantastic sometimes can be lurking just below the surface. Like Harry Potter caught our imagination and wonder with the idea of being just behind a brick wall if you know the right order to tap or the right word to say, in Lanagan’s collection we see the ordinary turned extraordinary. Margo Lanagan is the writer where if someone says they think fantasy or horror or whatever is ‘always the same’ or not for them, give them her writing and she’ll soon show them what the genre has to offer. So dependable!

The Duchess Dresser

A dresser found on the side of the road seems like it’ll be ideal to turn a bachelor pad into something a little more liveable. Tanner loves it even when everyone else thinks it’s ugly – something like a grandmother would have. He sets it in his room and tries it out, but whatever he tries there’s one drawer he just can’t wriggle open. The strange thing is, it vibrants hard and long enough that the handle almost vibrants enough to just become a blur.

The dresser infects Tanner’s life. He has strange dreams (or are they dreams?) of hair over his face, of cohabiting the same space as another body. The body takes form into an old-fashioned female, and he knows the pain of stays and bobbypins, of a weary life. When he catches a flu from work and is bedridden for three days, he knows the pain she’s going through seemingly at the same time – but it isn’t until a flatmate confirms the same that he realises that his ghost may truly exist.

This piece is comforting in how real it is – the housemates who like and dislike elements of each other, but also come through to help and discuss where needed. The real world elements of girlfriends and jobs… and then the ending was reassuring as well. I really liked the friendship between Tanner and Stella and how this one worked out.

Isles of the Sun

A boy playing on the sand is interrupted by strange golden people, thin and all knowing, and his life is changed forever. Suddenly he understands a higher purpose, and throws away the ties to our common world – forsakes the life he could have had on earth with the girl next door, growing up with his loving parents and so on.

He spreads the information to other children around him, and they’re all inspired with the golden light and knowledge of what their life could mean now. They eat less so they are able to perform better on the day they’ll leave for their new life, and they re-adjust other elements of their life also.

This was a strange and haunting tale, as we see part of the story told from the boy’s mother, who witnesses part of the situation. There are elements of the tale that reminds me of the fervour we hear of with cult mass-suicides, which is worrying. The uplifting of the children is curious as we are left open to interpretation. And it all works very, very well.

Bajazzle

We start with a couple who have possibly been together too long – a dislikable man, and we only see his partner through his eyes, so don’t quite get too enamoured with her either. They’re on the train because he seems to have lost his licence due to a road rage incident, and it’s there that we meet the Sheelas, who are possible urban style witches. The deeply misogynistic man who takes out his anger against the world and what his life has become on the women around him, takes part in a poorly thought out activity when he should have been at a party. (Well, really, he should have been somewhere taking a good hard long look at himself and getting his life on track but that was never going to happen…)

This was one of the stranger ones. It’s uncomfortable to read, and overall just a bit sad for the poor couple we’re introduced to. None of the characters are in any way likable, which is made good when the man gets his comeuppance in a fairly graphic way.

Significant Dust

This one tells of a girl who’s escaping her past in a tiny rural town, unsure of what she’s going to do in the future but happy to work that out later and just focus on saving some money for now. One thing about many rural towns in Australia is that they’re often plagued by UFOs and other mysterious beings.

This one’s a slow burn, and like the previous story the less said about it the better, as it all crashes and dawns over you as you read. I will say that I think saying ‘well, you’ve got that to look forward to’ is the perfect thing to say to someone who seems to be a time traveller freaking out about the time they’ve found themselves in. Certainly settles a person!

This piece and the whole collection are highly accomplished, and very, very well handled as a whole.

This collection has the following mentions:

“Bajazzle” Winner Fantasy Short Story, Aurealis Award

“Significant Dust” Winner Science Fiction Short Story, Aurealis Award

“The Isles of the Sun” Shortlisted Fantasy Short Story, Aurealis Award

“Bajazzle” reprinted in Award Winning Australian Writing.

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