Tag Archives: aww2013

Asymmetry: a review

I totally intended to read this slowly. Honestly I did. I meant to savour it, and contemplate each story.

Is it my fault that I ripped through each story, eager to know where it was going? It is my fault that each story is short enough that before I knew it I had finished one, turned the page, and started another?

I think not.

In the interests of, etc, I should point that I do know both Thoraiya Dyer, the author, and Alisa Krasnostein, the publisher. If I didn’t like what I had read, I just wouldn’t write anything… 😉

badpower-draftSo. Asymmetry. In each story, a lack of balance, especially in power; sometimes, also, a lack of balance in an individual’s life, making them particularly vulnerable to direct manipulation or simply life’s vicissitudes.

The first story is “After Hours,” and I’m so pleased to finally read something of Dyer’s that makes use of her veterinary skills! I’ve been wondering when they would find an outlet in her fiction. Didn’t necessarily expect to find it in a story about werewolves, but that’s fine. I do wonder whether there’s a little hint of Dyer’s own experiences here, or those of friends, with how one of the senior, rather unpleasant, men treats one of the women – commenting that women aren’t worth training because they just up and leave to have babies. Anyway, Jess is a new vet in a rural town, where the clinic’s biggest client is the local RAAF base with its patrol dogs. Werewolves are involved, but I won’t spoil how. The asymmetric power dynamic comes in its experience/newbie aspect, as well as in its gender aspect. Dyer hints at the difficulties of being new to a job as well as being new to a small town – actually I’m just presuming it’s a small town, but that’s definitely the vibe I got – very effectively. You probably don’t want to read this if you’re going to be squeamish about matter-of-fact descriptions of veterinary procedures.

In “Zadie, Scythe of the West,” Dyer wrenches us out of a relatively familiar world into one where only women are soldiers, and they’re only allowed to kill as many enemies as children they have borne. The tiny detail in this story that delighted me was the rather obvious point that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the women have developed great skills at harming rather than killing. The asymmetric power here is once again a gendered one, as women have power because of their martial position, and presumably also because of the worship of a goddess who orders society and doles out punishment as necessary. The focus is on someone with a skerrick of power – an artist – whose expertise gets abused by someone with more power, for her own ends. The world of this story totally fascinated me, because there is so little back story: why the fighting? is this a fantasy or a SF world? And the story, in skipping to vignettes within the artist’s and Zadie’s life, suggest interesting ways for men and women, state and individual, to relate.

Having interviewed Dyer before I read this, I already know that she’s working on a longer treatment of the world she depicts in “Wish me Luck,” which is intriguing all by itself. Here, somehow, luck is a form of currency: it can be transferred between individuals, and used to purchase goods. As with the previous story, it’s unclear whether this is more of a fantasy or SF conceptualisation, although the ending suggests SF – as does, now I think about it, the fact that Kvivik is expressly discussed as another planet, and our narrator has come from Earth. Still, the luck aspect suggests a blurring of genres. Anyway! Our narrator begins sympathetically enough, but it must be said that much of my sympathy had transmuted to distaste by the end of the story. He’s one of those unpleasant people who keeps making promises… for tomorrow. But the world – oh, the world. Kvivik is a water world, with a human colony that appears to exist solely to supply water to its waterless sister-planet. Why these planets are worth the effort is unclear, and will perhaps be revealed by Dyer in her longer work. The story is mostly set amongst the dregs of society on Kvivik, which of course is where most of the best stories are found, and there are some distinctly unpleasant people there – and robots, and possibly half-humans, and a thoroughly mysterious Lady Adelaide. The asymmetry is found in the haves vs the have-nots, and in intention vs action. I think this is probably my favourite story of the quartet.

Finally, “Seven Days in Paris” gives the cover its Eiffel Tower. We’re back on Earth, some time – but not too far? – into the future. The story comes from the perspective of Marwa B, who first appears to the reader while looking at someone identified as Marwa. Marwa B is taken out into Paris, to have experiences which her captors/handlers/users hope will stimulate dreams that in turn will help them to understand the original Marwa. Exactly who or what Marwa B is, or how her operators use her, is left opaque – what matters is that they do, and they believe it’s necessary to do so. The asymmetry is a riff, I think, on that philosophic conundrum of whether it is permissible to torture one to save many. There’s also a huge knowledge imbalance, with Marwa B having no real understanding of what she is being used for until right at the end; and of course it’s a state vs individual thing, too. I enjoyed the development of Marwa B over her seven days – she’s not an entirely clean slate, but she still gets to experience things relatively innocently – and Paris is a sensation-filled place to do that. I also really appreciated the point at which Dyer left this story.

This is an entirely worthy eighth volume in the Twelve Planets series. It’s different from the others (that I have read… still haven’t brought myself to read the Warren or the Lanagan…), as it should be, but fits in with the overall scope of the project – quality writing from Australian women. You can buy it from Twelfth Planet Press.

This review brought to you as part of the Australian Women’s Writing Challenge 2013. 

The Golden Day: a review

I picked this book up at The Moat, a bar/restaurant slightly underneath the Victorian State Library. It has a shelf of books that can be taken by customers on the proviso that at some stage, you put one in yourself – although a further proviso is “No Dan Brown” (seriously it Unknownsays that on the sign). Anyway I’d heard of Dubosarsky and never read any of her stuff, and the cover was immediately entrancing – look at that purple! and the gold is luminous!

There’s a little bit of Picnic at Hanging Rock around this book, which Dubosarsky herself acknowledges, as well as a lot of inspiration from art – especially that of Charles Blackman, whose paintings and drawings provide the chapter headings. It also, she says, draws on her own memories of being a Sydney schoolgirl.

Eleven little girls have a somewhat peculiar teacher, who takes them out of school down to the nearby gardens, to consider the world and attempt poetry and to listen to a gardener-cum-poet, Morgan. (It’s fair to say that there were a lot of alarm bells for me as a teacher with this book! The 60s were truly a different world…) But something happens – something unexpected and terrible, but probably not what you’re thinking: let me spoil this slightly and say nothing happens to the girls themselves, IT’S OK Tansy can read this if she hasn’t already.

While the ongoing repercussions of the Serious Event colour the entire book, Dubosarsky works other issues in, in the same way that such issues would probably be experienced by your average kid. It opens on the day Ronald Ryan is hanged (the last such event in Australia); the Vietnam War is ongoing. Closer to home, things are not entirely well in the homes of at least one of the girls, although exactly what is going on is never fleshed out; the reader sees glimpses in the way that a casual schoolfriend sees glimpses, only when they’re allowed or by accident.

It’s a very short book – 150 pages of well-spaced type. It’s a delightfully written book, with evocative descriptions of schoolrooms and gardens and slightly creepy creeks. Dubosarsky captures the innocence and bewilderment and childish cunning of children very nicely too; a student would have no trouble seeing themselves in this novel, in the attitudes and expectations of the schoolyard. It’s also potentially a frustrating book. It begins in 1967, with the girls about 10 years old; it covers about a fortnight in their lives, mostly in the schoolroom with occasional forays outside. It then jumps to one afternoon in 1975, with four of the girls sitting their final HSC exam, and a final intriguing addendum to their experience eight years earlier. The story is left ajar – not quite open, not quite closed… I guess this is fitting since the girls themselves are on the cusp of adulthood, so their lives at this point are liminal, balancing between two aspects.

The Golden Day is intriguing, and luminous like its cover; I have no doubt this will stay with me into the future. Especially when considering excursions.

You can buy The Golden Day at Fishpond.

What Night Hides: review

I first read this book in manuscript form, because Kate is a long-time (I could hear the objections over the water and out of the future when I considered writing “old”) friend of mine. When it got published – last year! – Kate sent me a copy with the inscription “at last” – and at last I have got around to reading it. Of course, I remembered the awesome denouement, which meant I didn’t get the same thrill as I did the first time through; nonetheless it was still a wild ride.

UnknownOne of Kate’s great talents is an ear for odd, rhythmical, and charming description. She links together sometimes outrageous words to compose a scene, drawing in visuals and sounds and even scents to bring together a very real, if whimsical scene: “colder rays and tentacles of witch light fountained, splashing in an ever-widening search pattern over spines and shelves, turning the cobwebs infra-blue…” (34). She also has a habit of incorporating music and lyrics into her stories, sometimes making connections that seem quite peculiar unless you’re able to follow the devious turnings of her brain and keep up with the pop culture references.

As to plot – it’s urban fantasy, I guess? The chief characters are Josh, who appears to have no memories older than a few months; his new employer, Scarlet, a Nichtthane – someone responsible for keeping the bogeymen away from humanity; and Kelly, Scarlet’s seneschal, largely responsible for keeping Scarlet herself away from humanity, at least until she’s appropriately caffeinated. There’s a lot of banter and discussion of shoes in between dealing with vampires, were-creatures, and other, less immediately recognisable, supernatural critters. The common thread through it all, at least in theory, is Josh and his past; actually though I think Scarlet and Kelly’s relationship is the more interesting, as Scarlet continues to deal with being nearly immortal and Kelly shows that although intensely loyal, he doesn’t belong to Scarlet – there’s a wider world requiring attention. These stories were initially written as short stories, and sometimes it feels like it. Overall, though, they do hang together nicely.

I was also amused, of course, to recognise two of my very own connections to Kate within these pages: a vampire with a tshirt reading “it’s all liminal to me” – liminal being my very favourite word and one I’ve made Kate roll her eyes over too many times to count; and another character wearing a tshirt reading “Dear Pluto, no matter what they say you’ll always be a planet to me” – a tshirt that I own, courtesy of the author. Does this mean that I have been Tuckerised??

This is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013!


You can buy What Night Hides at Fishpond.