When I was approached about reviewing Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, I’d just reviewed (and loved) Joanne Anderton’s first two novels, so her name was the one that convinced me to accept the review request, together with that of Brenda Cooper, whose writing I’ve encountered previously in several Valdemar anthologies and which I’ve always enjoyed. It turns out however, that this anthology holds far more attractions than just those two stories. As the anthology isn’t based around a hard and fast concept – from the introduction it becomes clear that the editors strived to evoke the same sense of surprise and wonder you get from watching fireworks – I thought I’d try something different this time and look at each story individually.
Joanne Anderton – The Bone Chime Song
As I had expected after reading her novels, I loved this story, as I really enjoy Anderton’s writing. Dealing with a murder mystery, this story explores the cost of war to those who have to perform unspeakable acts in its fighting, the way it leaves them damaged and hurting. It’s also a story of quiet love, constant in the face of societal disapproval. I really enjoyed the narrator’s voice for this story, he’s interesting and seems a man given to deep emotion and devotion, both to his craft and to those he loves.
Sue Bursztynski – Five Ways to Start a War
This was another hit. I loved this alternate look at the start of the Trojan War, which takes Helen firmly out of the role of faithless seductress and makes both her and Paris pawns on several playing boards. The structure with the different narrators and points of view was well-done and quite interesting. It’s also very funny and irreverent, a playful look at one of the world’s original epics.
Dave Luckett – History: Theory and Practice
The Truman Show: fantasy edition. That’s actually a rather flippant and not quite accurate description, as this story goes a little beyond that and it rather straddles the line between fantasy and SF. I loved the fact that it starts out reading as straight up fantasy, with some hints as to something not exactly adding up, but the eventual twist and reveal is awesome. I really liked this one.
Adam Browne – The D____d
Dante’s Seven Circles of Hell are being colonised by the British Empire in this steampunk-flavoured story. In addition to its steampunk vibe there are some definite overtones of horror to the tale. I like the conceit of the tale that everything in Hell is formed out of bodily components, such as rivers of blood, mucus rain drops, and trees made of fleshy limbs. It also makes the story rather icky, though, and if you have a vivid imagination, you might want to steer clear.
Katherine Cummings – The Travelling Salesman and the Farmer’s Daughter
A full on SF story with a delicious twist at the end, what more can you ask for? After being out of contact for two centuries due to civil war Earth is trying to re-corral all their colony planets. In the story we follow one of their forward scouts cum ambassadors on his mission on a rather curiously run planet. I really loved the twist ending, even if I’d partially seen it coming. Still, it made me rethink the entire story and made me doubt everything about the setting.
Thoraiya Dyer – Faet’s Fire
Faet’s Fire is a lovely little story about regret, wishes and the desire to turn back time to take a different path. I liked this one, especially its rather melancholy and sad ending, because for all its sadness, the reader is left with hope for Faet’s future.
Anna Tambour – Murder at the Tip
The story starts with a fun excerpt from a journal article, which also touches on the story’s main theme, which asks the question where and when we draw the line at giving artificial beings rights. The protagonist’s frustration with his hardware will be quite recognisable for anyone who’s ever fought with their computers. Still, while well-written, the story didn’t completely click for me and was one of my least favourites.
Rob Porteous – The Subjunctive Case
Brilliant! The Subjunctive Case was easily my favourite of the bunch. The story is a noirish paranormal detective in which our protagonist can split himself in two and have different aspects of himself conduct investigations simultaneously. I really liked the voice of this story; it’s strong and confident. The actual case is interesting too, as it combines good, old-fashioned sleuthing and legwork with paranormal aspects in an environment – the story is set in Melbourne – not usually the backdrop for urban fantasy. I also liked the eventual resolution of the story, as it might not be what you’d expect. I really enjoyed this story and I hope to see more from Rob Porteous in this setting in the future.
Ripley Patton – Mary Had a Unicorn
Another very cool premise in this story about a drug-abusing teen who is given a drug-sniffing and destroying unicorn as a companion to get her back on the straight and narrow. I really liked the development of Mary, the protagonist, from someone who isn’t very sympathetic at all, to someone from whom all hope hasn’t been lost that she might turn into a decent human being after all. It’s a story of change and redemption. I really enjoyed the story and the writing.
Brenda Cooper – Between Lines
Cooper’s story is excellent. I really liked the story within a story and the way the build up to the apocalypse was done. I loved the conspiracy theories galore and the mind trick played on the protagonist.
Ian McHugh – The Godbreaker and Unggubudh the Mountain
A lovely secondary world story about loyalty, belief, religious diversity, and love. I really enjoyed it, though it took me a while to get into the writing style and the world.
Sean McMullen – Hard Cases
A political SF story set in an undated future, Hard Cases didn’t really work for me, as the politics seemed muddled and there wasn’t really a clear resolution.
Kathleen Jennings – Kindling
While the protagonist’s power is interesting and her desire to play a larger role in the world universal, I just couldn’t achieve a click with her and couldn’t get into the story as a result. In addition, Jennings uses an intertwining narrative structure, mixing a narrator telling Minke’s story with scenes of Minke’s day-to-day life, which worked rather confusing for me, as I couldn’t relate the overarching narration with the scenes at the bar. While the story premise was interesting, its execution just didn’t work for me.
With Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, Harvey and Petrie achieve what they set out to do: compile an anthology that would make the reader sit up and pay attention, to delight and surprise them as much as a fireworks show might. This collection of stories is a delightful surprise, and even if there were two or three stories that didn’t work as well for me, I had a really good time reading these stories and have discovered some new names to look out for in my reading.
This book was provided for review by the editor.