"Yep, dead things and wild pigs. And both will try and eat you." - Eric
Editors Grzyb and Helene presented 33 stories published in 2010 by Australian or New Zealand Writers that are apparently the best fantasy and horror had to offer in the year. What Sci-Fi on the speculative fiction bench through 2010? Along with the huge number of stories we also get a round-up of the year's genre highlights, a listed of the various awards that went down, and a recommended reading list for those of us who might have missed a book or three. Fairly comprehensive stuff, but does it stack up to a decent edition in your bookshelf?
There's a sort of symmetry going down with this book. It contains stories published through 2010, was itself published in 2011, and is being reviewed by moi in 2012. While pointing out the awesome nature of ScaryMinds being at the forefront of current releases, hey we get upwards of ten books per month to review, it also indicates that the baton has passed from Brimstone Press to Ticonderoga Publications when it comes to providing an excellent reference for local horror fandom on a yearly basis. Okay I should re-phrase that, for the local horror readership, a much smaller group than the overall fandom the genre attracts. I'll just go ahead and state it here; if you aren't taking the time to read local horror then you really aren't a Downunder horror buff, in fact to be brutally honest you're more the weekend lite version that dabbles in a few movies. So while the collection under review should be on every horror fan's desk, it's likely to find a restricted market albeit a dedicated market. And the symmetry involved here is nothing has really changed since Brimstone threw pearls before swine.
Like any "Year's best" collection there are bound to be detractors demanding to know why certain personal favourite stories have not been included. And I'm no different friends and neighbours, I immediately wanted to know why Felicity Dowker's Bread and Circuses wasn't included! If we're talking "Year's best" then pull the hearse up to the curb immediately Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, please explain. But, and here's the rub, no collection purporting to be the "Year's Best" can hope to include every story that every reader might conceivably want to see on the contents page. To do so would require something in the magnitude of an Encyclopaedia Britannica, yes there's that much good stuff being published currently each year Downunder. So while I might sit down and think up a list of a half dozen or so stories that I might like to see included, I'm not the one with the heavy burden of having to cull the no doubt huge number of submissions. Grzyb and Helene have made their decisions, suck it up, they edited so we could all just sit back and whine and complain, doesn't seem terribly fair really. I will grudgingly admit that the collection is fairly comprehensive in span though perhaps slightly female orientated and less robust, which is apparently a male trait, than one might have expected.
[Editor's Note: Flogging a dead horse here, also "female orientated"?]
I don't have room here to talk about every story included in the collection but will give an edited tour of my highlights, and you are probably going to be left wondering why I didn't touch upon individual favourite stories you might have in the collection. See you can't appease all the people any of the time, Editors Grzyb and Helene really were on a hiding to nothing with this one.
Peter M Ball throws on a yarn called L'esprit de L'escalier that basically sees the viewpoint character descending an apparently never ending staircase. Ball's story is simply unique and naturally we could wax lyrical about the descent being a metaphor, but since that's not our thing I won't. I was singularly impressed with the vision in this tale and the strength of writing that keeps us interested in the central character. Moving onto witchcraft, we seem to be lacking in that trope Downunder don't you think? - Angela Slatter with The Bone Mother throws a modern day fairy tale our way that had me taking notes. Mixing Koori mythology with the rural plight, okay back when we had droughts rather than floods, and adding a touch of topical fear and loathing in the community, Stephen M Irwin is on fire with Hive, a tale of creeping horror that ensures any reader will have a reaction.
Slight divergence here Kids, the above highlighted stories should indicate the breadth of the collection, and the ability of local Authors to twist traditional story structures to fit their specific requirements.
Martin Livings weighs in with Home, the themes of which are traditional horror, but which for mine never get old or over used. Fingers crossed Livings is working on a new novel, been a while between drinks. Ensuring cannibals get a run for their money, and thankfully not going backwoods massacre, Gary Kemble had me high fiving imaginary friends with Feast or Famine, a tale that adds the gnawing of gristle to proceedings. And of course where there's cannibals there has to be zombies, Jason Fischer simply sending one out of the ballpark with The School Bus, a story with one of those twists that make you wonder if the Author shouldn't be immediately institutionalised. There's some sick stuff in this zombie outing that had me counting the beat and checking if Fischer might have a collection of his own available.
Another divergence, I would pay good money for a Downunder collection titled Cannibals, Ghouls, and Zombies, if any Publisher reading this needs an editor than I'm your man, no payment required! Drop me a line, no honest it would work like a night out at the Opera for a member of the wine and cheese set yo!
Okay where was I, Dark Rendezvous by Simon Petrie adds some Sci-Fi to the mixture in exemplary fashion, ensuring all aspects of speculative fiction are covered. While Ben Peek with White Crocodile Jazz had me humming away to the tune the collection was laying down, mixture of odd meets new in the witchcraft stakes for mine. And finally If you ever wanted a truly sick psycho tale then Bill Congreve is your man with the deceitfully simple appearing Ghia Likes Food, a guarantee of the odd nightmare after reading.
So okay the anthology isn't quite as female orientated as I might have thought prior to diving into it's depths, there's plenty of gruesome content that underlines the "horror" in the title. Please note since this is a dark genre site I haven't highlighted any of the superb fantasy tales included, I was knocked off my unicorn and onto my arse by some of the cool concepts going down there. Editor Grzyb putting the "fan" into fantasy there.
As stated above, the aforementioned tales of the macabre are some of my favourites from the collection, but then again I could have pretty much mentioned every story Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene choose to include. I had a pretty good time with this overly large book and for sure will be getting my paws on this year's edition, that out yet? - always worthwhile checking in to see what's been making waves during the preceding year. Full recommendation folks, The Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2010 is the sort of reference any traveller of the dark paths Downunder, or indeed internationally, is going to need close to hand. You get some outstanding stories, a summary of the year in speculative fiction, and the all-important recommended reading list. I for one will be checking that my reading material isn't deficient in the coming weeks based on the list.
Sorry for the abrupt end here but I'm way over budget with the words.
If after a copy of this collection, and you really should be, then hit Ticonderogra and check out your purchase options. Sorry don't have any idea how much it's going to set you back, but cheap at any price comes to mind. On the cool side of the book counter Grzyb and Helene are back with the 2011 edition, unfortunately not available as of writing, I'm already fanging to get my mitts on that bad boy.