Tristesse Lee

book and movie impressions… for now

Dreaming Again

Posted by tristesse133 on November 20, 2008

Dreaming Again (35 New Stories Celebrating the Wild Side of Australian Fiction)
edited by Jack Dann

[This post will be updated with comments on more stories as I complete them.]

This is a collection of speculative fiction stories. Speculative fiction is a term I hadn’t heard before, though apparently it’s pretty common. It encompasses fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, horror, etc. Basically any story that has a what-if premise that disobeys the laws of the real world.
Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology. I think the short story is a great medium for speculative fiction, forcing authors to keep their focus because of the limited length. Almost all the stories in Dreaming Again are well-written and many have interesting and novel ideas. They tend to be darker, favoring dystopian worlds and/or bittersweet endings. While some of the stories have a strong driving plot or theme, most are vignettes that focus on developing a believable character in a what-if scenario. Unusually, fully half of the stories in this collection are told from the first-person perspective.

Here is a list of all the stories and authors, with my rating and comments.

Old Friends – Garth Nix   5/5
The opening story in this anthology is the best one. The story is about a man with a mythical background, missing lost friends as he faces his own last battle. Admirably efficient, Nix creates a complex character and a seemingly vast world in just a few pages, making this short story seem like a window into a much bigger, deeper world.

A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead – Richard Harland   5/5
Reminds me of Borges. A passive but mildly judgmental narrator listens to the deathbed tale of a braggart tourist whose greed for adventure bought him his death.

This is My Blood – Ben Francisco and Chris Lynch   3/5
Reminds me of The Sparrow. Two missionaries travel to an alien planet, and their conflicting methods of indoctrination combine to devastating effect on the alien culture. It’s written like a journal from one of the missionaries. I loved the ending, but I felt like the story was a little bogged with irrelevant details that detracted from the theme.

Nightship – Kim Westwood   4/5
Well-written story about a dystopian future in which society has degenerated into several warring clans, where sadism and slavery dominate the culture. The young hero is given a hopeful ending. Great imagery.

The Fooly – Terry Dowling   3/5
The story is pretty decent, with a curious twist at the end, but the author, arrogant, added an irritating, self-congratulatory afterword longer than the story itself.

Neverland Blues – Adam Browne   1/5
The most disappointing story in the collection. Michael Jackson has modified his body so much that he has become a spaceship and uses futuristic drugs to ensnare a young boy to explore space with him. Vaguely interesting premise, but the story doesn’t really do any development of the world or characters beyond that simple premise, so the story drags.

Jacaranda Wife   3/5
This is a good, well-written story in the style of a folktale, but it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the traditional Selkie Girl tale that it’s based on.

The Constant Past – Sean McMullen   5/5
An mystery story about a sleuthing librarian in the future who tries to stop a time-traveling serial killer. The only strange thing is: the librarian knows that the killer is the sole possessor of the secret of time travel, but he doesn’t ever stop to wonder if he or his society might want that secret. Not once in the whole story. Not even when it’s too late does he consider it. Luckily the story is so exciting it’s easy to overlook that oddity. I liked this one a lot.

The Forest – Kim Wilkins   4/5
R-rated variation on Hansel and Gretel, set in a concrete jungle of a dystopian future where parents might easily want to abandon their children.

Robots & Zombies, Inc – Lucy Sussex   1/5
Written as if it were a snippet of an interview, this story doesn’t add anything beyond its basic premise – it’s just a longer version of the statement “What if Margaret Thatcher et al were really zombies?” Seems like it was just an excuse to poke fun at various political figures.

This Way to the Exit – Sara Douglass   4/5
I liked this story and especially loved the way it was written, the tone was more formal than typical in speculative fiction. The story was very interesting. My only complaint is that I felt the ironic ending seemed tacked on as an afterthought.

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – A. Betram Chandler  3/5
A story about a time-traveler written in an action-oriented space opera writing style. Seems like it’s just one installment of this hero’s adventures.

Lure – Paul Collins   2/5
A fast-paced, cyberpunk style story primarily set in a virtual reality world. It has a kind of confusing plot further distracted by a lesbian love affair.

Empire – Simon Brown   4/5
Interesting story about human tenacity, reminiscent of holocaust survivor stories, only the oppressors are Martians.

Lakeside – Christopher Green   2/5
Reminds me of Kelly Link in style. Surreal spooky story, but what’s the point? It doesn’t really go anywhere.

Troll’s Night Out  – Jenny Blackford  2/5
A light story about a werewolf who is a scientist, her ex-boyfriend, and a troll woman she wants to have a fling with. Not especially memorable.

The Rest is Silence – Aaron Sterns   4/5
This frightening story stays with you long after reading it. It’s about a man who finds himself in a strange sort of hell where he must fight to the death everyone he knew in life. The man is a surprisingly realistic character, developed well in a very short story.

Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn – Jason Nahrung   4/5
Another story with well-developed, real characters. The story is about friendship, duty and sacrifice, and is well-crafted overall. But at times the writing feels a little forced, like an exercise, like the author was trying to meet some quota for how many metaphors and similies to use.

Lanes of Camberwell – Cecilia Dart-Thornton   2/5
Great writing but the story is just so long and dull.

Lost Arts – Stephen Dedman   3/5
This is a entertaining story about a man who steals a work of art for attention, but both the socialist utopia world and the sneaky resolution of the problem seem awfully ridiculous and unrealistic. The story is fun but tough to swallow.

Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh – Jason Fischer   3/5
The story is not as silly as its title might imply. It’s relatively light, but it’s more action than comedy. I liked the dialogue.

Europa – Cecily Scutt   4/5
Europa presents two intertwined vignettes – the story of a young woman, slightly dissatisfied with her life, who is trying to help an old immigrant man return to his motherland across the sea, mixed with the story of that man’s sad childhood, which caused him a lifelong fear of a mythical ocean beast. I liked this story and thought both characters were touching and believable.

Riding on the Q-Ball – Rosaleen Love   2/5
This story was trying too hard to be cool and novel. It’s full of made-up technical terms, and the writing moves at that frenetic, chaotic pace that fails to really simulate action.

In From the Snow – Lee Battersby   5/5
Excellent story, written in first person present tense, describes the life of a family in a bleak world where survival depends on strict culture and a cutthroat hierarchy.

Lost Property Room – Trudi Caravan   4/5
A woman, in spite of warnings not to, takes an umbrella that isn’t hers from a lost property room…and becomes cursed. The curse and the way the woman learns her lesson are interesting and new, and make the familiar “don’t take the cursed object!” story seem fresh and modern.

Heere Be Monsters – John Birmingham   –/5

Purgatory – Rowena Cory Daniells   4/5
A female scientist makes an ethically questionable decision to cure her husband of his religious fervor, which has been discovered to be a communicable disease. The results are tragic. This story is engaging and well-written and the main character is very realistic and relatable. I didn’t think it was necessary to choose such a controversial social issue, but the story was still good, looking past that.

Manannan’s Children – Russell Blackford   5/5
Based on Yeat’s epic poem The Wanderings of Oisin, this story explores what it might be like to be immortal. The story reads like an old myth or legend, with a lyrical and poetic writing style.

Fifth Star in the Southern Cross – Margo Lanagan   3/5
Reminded me a little of The Catcher in the Rye because of the mildly distasteful narrator who can’t properly form relationships. Set in a nasty-sounding future marked by skyrocketing discrimination and plummetting family values, The Fifth Star describes a day-in-the-life of the narrator.

Twilight in Caeli-Amur – Rjurik Davidson   2/5
A student visits the house of a recently deceased, very famous professor in order to retrieve the professor’s research notebooks from his widow. Despite the romantic-sounding title, the story is a little dry, leading up to an anticlimactic “twist” at the end.

Paradise Design’d – Janeen Webb   2/5
Mildly humorous story imagines dinosaurs in Eden.

The New Deal – Trent Jamieson   3/5
The story is long, and seems to wander, but the last line is haunting.

Conquist – Dirk Strasser   5/5
Starting out as a simple adventure story about conquistadors discovering a gateway into an alternate world populated by dwarves and elves, Conquist evolves into a complex story with themes of betrayal and contrition.

The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga – Peter M. Ball   4/5
An interesting vignette about zombie indentured prostitutes. The author claims the story was an effort to imbue zombies with some of the romantic gothic allure that vampires usually have. Ball does a good job establishing the mood in this story, though he doesn’t really explain how the situation came about.

Perchance to Dream – Isobelle Carmody   3/5
A long story about a dreaming woman who first must realize she is dreaming, not living, and then must discover, in her own dreams and those of others, what happened to her during her last waking moments. Throughout the story, the descriptions of the woman’s relationships with her friends and her husband ring true, but then at the last minute, the woman falls in love for no reason with a dream-man who’s been guiding her.


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