a review by Thoraiya
Anywhere but Earth is an anthology incorporating short stories from Sean McMullen, Margo Lanagan, Cat Sparks, Brendan Duffy, Kim Westwood, Robert Hood, Patty Jansen and Richard Harland.
Let me start off by saying that this book is not small. Like ‘X6’, this latest anthology is in stark contrast to the svelte offerings of Twelfth Planet Press. ‘Anywhere But Earth’ is a hearty meal to be digested slowly over days; weeks; months.
So take your time, and enjoy. The stories are diverse and consistently top-notch. Like last year’s ‘Sprawl’ and this year’s ‘ASIM #51’, none of the stories stand out as an obvious cull, and the potential for my least favourite to be someone else’s outstanding story of the year is obvious. Bonus: The type is not migraine-inducingly small. Bless you, Coeur de Lion!
So what were my favourites?
Out of 29, there were 5 that made me huggle the book in sheer delight.
In Alan Baxter’s ‘Unexpected Launch,’ a couple of cleaners as sole survivors of an alien attack provide first humour, then a creeping claustrophobia, culminating in (view spoiler).
Next, the ominously titled ‘Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings.’ CJ Paget had me mesmerised by the strong, slang-peppered voice of the soldier protagonist. Talk about showing, not telling. ‘Pink Ice’ was funny and sad and just amazingly written.
Kim Westwood made me sit up and pay attention with ‘By Any Other Name,’ a brief and beautiful story where the masterful world building consists of chilling, contradictory word choices.
‘Pyaar Kiya,’ by Angela Ambroz, who I hadn’t read before, also hooked me from the start, her style so fresh and confident that I’ll definitely be hunting down her other published work.
As for Steve Cameron’s ‘So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper,’ I was looking forward to it all the way through, and had to make an effort not to skip ahead. You know about my tragic lighthouse obsession, right? Anyway, this story was even better than I’d hoped. The characterisations were spot-on and I found the structure and symmetry of the story incredibly satisfying.
I did consider making it 6 favourites by including Richard Harland’s excellent ‘An Exhibition of the Plague,’ but although I loved it, I thought it was a bit of a cheat. The story really did feel like it was on Earth. Sorry, Richard 😀
Right. So what about the rest?
If there was a theme besides the obvious, it was that though settings change, people stay the same. Callie Voorhis evoked the loneliness of an envoy’s wife in ‘Murmer,’ Cat Sparks the fear and hope of adolescence in ‘Beautiful,’ and Simon Petrie revenge and rites of passage on Titan in ‘Hatchway’.
My attention was easily held by Lee Battersby’s descriptive powers, Richard Harland’s smooth and seemingly effortless storytelling, the atmosphere of Robert N Stephenson’s piece and the beautiful melancholy of Liz Argall’s.
‘Memories of Mars’ by Chris McMahon made me want to make an attempt on the oxy-mix record; his aliens were great and I loved the line, ‘ “To make the Swarms with Halased,” scented Goldexis boldly.’ How romantic! Penelope Love made me want to play 360-pool. ‘SIBO’ was another well crafted story with an admirably clear, strong voice. Donna Hanson had me laughing at her Fleche foreman – and shaking my head at the plight of her hapless protagonist, while Erin Stocks gave me chills in another creepy crash-survivor story, ‘Lisse’.
William Wood’s story was suspenseful and might have been more so if I didn’t have to stop reading and reach for a calculator to work out that a hundred million seconds is about three years (*Arnie Voice*: Stop eet!) while Rob Hood’s tale of Arthur Groom and his horse, Bugger, in search for the Desert Madonna had me utterly engrossed and second-guessing myself until the end. (A really fun character, Rob. Feel free to write more of Groom’s adventures!)
Steve de Beer earned my forgiveness for the neglect of women in ‘Psi World’ with his development of a fascinating ecosystem, while Damon Shaw embroiled me in an unforgettable, fast-paced vendetta in ‘Continuity.’ Wendy Waring examined an unbridgeable communications gulf in ‘Alien Tears.’ Patty Jansen introduced me to the very cool concepts of constructs and warp-surfing in ‘Poor Man’s Travel.’
Brendan Duffy managed an eerie future prediction (I read about the ‘iGeiger’ in ‘Space Girl Blues’ on the same day Japanese phones with Geiger counters were released) and TF Davenport conjured a lush, tangible world with tenderly drawn characters that I could, again, easily consume more of.
Where Margo Lanagan was inspired by angler fish, Jason Fischer was inspired by spiders, but instead of the usual mindless man-eaters, he had his protagonist, Reinlok, searching for love, wanting to ‘have Naello around as my companion, not just in the mad frenzy of our mating and my attempted murder.’ I really enjoyed the twists and turns that ‘Eating Gnashdal’ took.
Sean McMullen explored virtual identity with the curious main character of ‘Spacebook,’ while Mark Rossiter delved into a cloudless apocalyptic future; I loved the visual of the Three Sisters sticking out of the water. Jason Nahrung, as usual, wrote beautifully, but handed me horror in sci-fi clothing. One day, he’ll gift me with a glimmer of hope!
Thank you SO MUCH Donna Hanson, for helping me over the No Eftpos hurdle at the highly enjoyable NSWWC Spec Fic Festival, and I hope I’ll see everyone there again next time with another awesome CdL anthology!
Originally published by the reviewer on Goodreads, then in Dark Matter 7.