Disclaimer: I am friends with the publisher of this book, Alisa Krasnostein.
I’m not a big fan of horror, so I am not the ideal reader for this collection which, although not overwhelmingly scary, uses horror tropes to tell its stories. Nonetheless, it is a quite readable quartet.
The first story, “Stalemate,” is probably the scariest, and that’s because it is the most mundane. Which is saying something, because three out of four of these stories are defined by being set in domestic settings (by which I mean only non-exotic, like another planet or a medieval castle). It’s a suburban kitchen, with a mum and her grown-up daughter, arguing over all the tired old things that parents and grown-up kids argue over, with the added bitterness that Mum is there to help the daughter while she is sick. Of course, it turns out that things aren’t quite as mundane as they seem – and this revelation makes things all the more awful because of the very setting, and the consequences. It’s terrible.
My favourite story is “Thrall,” because it does the most clever things with the horror ideas it’s working with. It’s the story that is least obviously ‘domestic’, involving as it does a Hungarian castle; but even then, it opens in a dingy suburban cafe, and the castle is a tourist trap. Dragomir is a vampire, returned to Hungary to get a bit of rest. He has called a thrall to him – a woman whose ancestors pledged their allegiance to him many centuries before – to help him get ready. The narrative is fairly simple and straightforward. What really makes the story intriguing though is people’s reactions to Dragomir, and his reactions to them. Harris has gone with a much more ‘realistic’ vampire, in that he is very much a man of his times – his original times. He is shorter than the average 21st century man. He despises much of the modern world. And, in return, much of it despises him, too.
“The Truth about Brains” makes the reader into zombie territory, and the heady days of summer in the suburbs. Again the characters revolve around the family, this time an older sister impatient with her brother who, as the story opens, has kind-of sort-of accidentally been turned into a zombie. The narrative backtracks to explain how that happened, and then explores the consequences for the sister, the brother, and the other people involved. I think I found this the least convincing of the stories, mostly because the characters didn’t work for me. It could also be that I just don’t like zombie stories.
The last story is the longest, and relates to Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life, which I’ve not read. “Showtime” involves Gary – a not-that-happy-with-it vampire – and his friend Lissa, a librarian, heading to the Melbourne Show, location of rides, craft, wood-chopping exhibitions… and a haunted house. Harris does well to bring those unfamiliar with this version of Melbourne up to speed, with crafty hints at Gary and Lissa’s shared past of dealing with less-than-friendly vampires, and how this friendship manages to exist at all. It captures some of Gary’s angst and rue at not being alive, and suggests an interesting take on the implications of being undead (sunlight isn’t deadly but more like a beta-blocker; he has no adrenaline so rollercoasters are pointless). However, in the end the story fell a bit flat for me, and I think that was partly because I wasn’t as invested as I could have been in the lives of Gary and his vampire brethren existing (as it were) in the shadows of Melbourne.
Overall, this is generally an interesting look at how horror tropes can be used in familiar settings, and it’s certainly a neat addition to the Twelve Planets series.
In which we honour the memory of Paul Haines by giving ourselves nightmares, and catch up (mostly) on several months of feedback about how Galactic Suburbia is singlehandedly keeping the bookselling business alive. You can get us from iTunes or download us from Galactic Suburbia.
If anyone does a round up of memorial posts about Paul, please let us know & we’ll add the link. In the mean time, check out this post about his complete bibliography and how to get hold of his work.
Ladybusiness on coverage of women on SF/F blogs
New Galactic Chat: Claire Corbett
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Wives, Paul Haines; The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois Mcmaster Bujold; Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts), Locus Round Table featuring Nalo Hopkinson and Karen Lord
Alex: Solaris Rising (ed Ian Whates); Reign of Beasts (Tansy Rayner Roberts); Pure (Julianna Bagott)
Tansy: Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott, The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris
Please send feedback to us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
The cover is as difficult to look at IRL as it is here. I like it, it’s clever, but I do wonder whether it will be detrimental to the cause.
This is unashamedly a dystopia – an post-apocalyptic one even – set in the not-too-distant future. Pressia lives with her grandfather in the ruins of (I think) America, where day to day life is a struggle: for food, for shelter, and not unnaturally for any sort of meaning to life. Not only has infrastructure been destroyed and food contaminated, but the people themselves have been intimately changed by the probably-nuclear destruction a decade or so before. Pressia was holding a doll at the time of the detonations; along with scars and other injuries, its head is now her hand. And she could be said to have got off lightly: consider those who were walking a dog. Or holding another person.
This is the truly breathtaking, and the truly frightening, part of Baggott’s worldbuilding. Her conception of how people might learn to cope with surprising, disfiguring and debilitating changes to their bodies is clever and largely sympathetic. Of course, it’s not like there isn’t precedence for this, since people in our world do exactly the same. There are some people that she imagines as pretty awful, but being part of a ‘Groupie’ – an amalgam of multiple people – would likely send anyone mad, so it’s not surprising that they would be vicious. I was especially fascinated by the Dusts, people who have melded with the ground in some way; it’s a horrifying thought and Baggott fortunately does not overuse them, keeping them instead for relevant moments in the story. The question of how these melds could possibly function is only lightly touched on in the story, but I didn’t find that detrimental; it’s a bizarre concept but it’s become such a normal one for Pressia and the others that I, at least, got swept along by that acceptance.
Pressia’s point of view is countered by that of Partridge, who lives inside the Dome: a place of refuge which protected some lucky people from the detonations, and where they continue to live without fear – of the environment anyway. These are the ‘Pure’, because they are still pure human beings, unlike those on the outside. The different reactions of people on the outside looking at the Dome, and vice versa, is nicely captured by Baggott: the variation of adoration to hatred seems quite plausible. It’s not an original idea, and reminded me particularly of some of Sara Genge’s stories from a few years ago (“Shoes to Run,” especially, if memory serves (which it may not)), because of its depiction of the people outside wondering about the people inside. Anyway, Partridge may have a life of food and education but of course not everything is hunky dory. His family life especially is a mess, for a variety of reasons, and he is growing restless – something living in a Dome can’t really cope with. Interestingly, there’s not really one major crisis that makes Partridge finally act, but a series of small ones, like pebbles leading to an avalanche. And an avalanche there is, and Partridge ends up outside the Dome.
Pure could be split roughly into thirds: the first third, worldbuilding and characters; the second, bickering and a few new characters; the last third (actually a bit less) crazy crazy action. I really enjoyed the first part, because the world is intriguing and horrifying and different (at least outside the Dome) and Baggott realises the daily routine stuff quite nicely. I wasn’t especially fond of either Pressia or Partridge, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying their adventures and interactions with others. The second third, however, definitely dragged. There is some action, and some fascinating new characters such as El Capitan, who even gets his own point-of-view chapters. However in general it felt like a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that didn’t advance the story sufficiently for the space it was given. There are some interesting character moments, especially for Pressia, regarding temptation and the easy way out, but they weren’t sufficiently capitalised on. Finally, the last 100 or so pages (of 434) rushed by seemingly at light speed, as revelations were made and discoveries unveiled and yet more characters came on the scene to have a Really Big Impact. While this was an improvement over the middle, it left me with a rather unpleasant sense of confusion, and of being rushed.
I definitely enjoyed this novel, almost exclusively for the worldbuilding; however I don’t think I will be rushing out to buy the sequel, should it be published (this is the first of a ‘projected’ trilogy).