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Not if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth
The X-Factor
X6 is a new Australian anthology featuring 6 novellas by major local writers. It will be launched in early November from Coeur de Lion. It has no particular theme or cohesion linking the stories, which are drastically different in style and tone as well as content. I personally really liked four of the six, which is a good ratio for any anthology, let alone one with so few individual pieces.


"Wives," Paul Haines, X6 - this one doesn't come chronologically first, but I wanted to talk about it first to get it out of the way. For me, the brilliance of Paul Haines is that he writes stories I hate, about people I hate (and I don't mean mild revulsion, I mean actual HATE), and yet I can't pull my eyes away. "Wives" is his best work to date, an utterly hideous vision of the near future, exploring issues that are already very relevant to many people - the lack of women sticking around in country Australia, the sociological effect of preferring male children to female and, oh yes, the ingrained misogyny that hovers just out of sight in our culture. Haines exposes the ugliest sides of human nature in this epic story of "Bridal Services," rape and slavery, told through the eyes of a narrator so utterly screwed up by his circumstances that it's hard to blame him for the despicable, thoughtless way that he speaks, lives and acts. This is post-apocalyptic fiction at its best and worse, because there is no apocalypse. There's just us.

(in discussion with my fellow LSSers about "Wives," I said "I don't know whether I want to nominate it for the Tiptree or BURN IT TO THE GROUND." Yeah, that. Just that.)


"Sea-Hearts," Margo Lanagan, X6 - a dark and twisty take on the legend of the selkie wife. In this novella Lanagan builds up a fogged, muddy and claustrophobic world of seal-women, their husbands and their sons, all part of a tightly closed island community. Through her usual tangled prose and deeply hidden emotion, Lanagan presents a simply glorious fantasy that transcends rather than merely replicating the story's mythic roots. Those who loved Tender Morsels will be drawn to this story, which is less difficult to stomach but contains many similar themes.


"Iron Temple," Trent Jamieson, X6 - this is the one I keep wanting to quote from.

"...there are nine and twenty ways to skin a world. And I know them all."

"It always comes down to this, Jack thought. People fucking shooting things at me."

An ambitious space opera in miniature, this novella has the real feel of an old-fashioned SF adventure. Except for the fact that old-fashioned SF adventures usually bore the pants off me! This one has an appealingly flawed protagonist, a compelling AI whose voice gets creepier and more interesting with every new insight into its point-of-view, and some damn good writing. I particularly like the exploration of the relationship between Jack (human) and Trip (cat/AI/ship), which evokes the classic Ship Who Sang issues in a New Millenium kind of way. I also suspect deeply that there's some Stainless Steel Rat homage going on in here - and if not, it certainly has that feel to it!


"Heart of Stone," Cat Sparks, X6 - a tightly constructed, plot-driven X-Files style mystery, this one starts out as a quirky character piece but builds up to proper thriller proportions. Like the Haines piece, this novella has a really strong Australian voice to it, through setting and also character and dialogue. The one thing that struck me as really wrong in the story turned out to be vital to the plot (and no, I'm not going to tell you what it is).
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