The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories collects the finest science fiction and horror short stories from award-winning writer Joanne Anderton. From mechanical spells scavenging a derelict starship to outback zombies and floating gardens of bone, these stories blur the lines between genres. A mix of freakish horror, dark visions of the future and the just plain weird, Anderton’s tales will draw you in – but never let you get comfortable.
Joanne Anderton is one of those criminally under-appreciated writers, who don’t get enough attention and credit for their work. I adored the first two books in her The Veiled Worlds series and I’m still hoping Angry Robot will pick up the final volume, as I really want to know how it ends. I also really enjoyed her story in the anthology Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear. So I was excited to be offered a review copy of her first collection and to discover more of her writing.
Anderton has a strong and distinctive voice. Her stories are recognisably hers and frequently cover similar themes, though often from different angles. Or as Kaaron Warren puts it in her foreword to the collection:
“At the heart of every story is caring. I call Anderton-world a beautiful dystopia, because even in nightmare scenarios, like “Out Hunting for Teeth”, there is still that belief in the triumph of human nature” (p. 11)
And it is a beautiful dystopia. There are the usual elements of post-apocalyptic stories – zombies, death, fire and brimstone – but also less common ones, such as abandoned places and creepy, assimilating tech. There is also a clear influence from Anderton’s homeland, Australia, in the book, with drought making an appearance again and again, with sweeping vistas, desert-settings, and isolated villages and farmsteads. But what each story has in common is emotions and connections; between siblings, friends, parents and children, strangers, humans and androids; whether it’s a connection of love, hate, or loss, in some way, shape, or form they are at the heart of the stories. I enjoyed almost all of them, the following ones were my favourites.
Joanne Anderton – The Bone Chime Song
Having previously read this in the Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear anthology, I knew I liked this story, but this reread only confirmed its quiet strength. 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.
I loved this far future story, where drought has taken over and only the incremental sacrifice of chosen children can entreat the Mah Song to provide the life-giving rain. I loved this story with its weird, almost alien, technology and the deep bond between the protagonist and her brother. The lengths she’ll go through – she’s even willing to sacrifice her own future – to save him are both touching and frightening.
In this story, where Sanaa, our recluse protagonist creates life from death and refuse, the poignant is married to the creepy. The art and the creatures Sanaa creates to keep herself whole and alive is at once creepy, icky, and beautiful. The story manages to be uncomfortable and creepy without straying into the outright horrific.
Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden
The visuals of this story were stunning; the huge magical gardens, the desert setting, Asfar and Darii’s Threaded nature and the magic contained in the crocuses. I liked that the story focused on the conflict between cultural and societal progress and traditional values and beliefs. It shows that to live is to change or to perish and Asfar’s ability to go with that change and to follow a new path.
A Memory Trapped in Light
Another story about the bond between siblings. But this time we also see that sometimes those we love betray our trust in order to keep us safe. But Ruby, the younger sister of our set of protagonists also has some growing up to do and she learns to take responsibility for her own well-being. In addition, there were also some echoes of elements from The Veiled Worlds books, especially the Pionic power, which made me think that this might be set in the same universe, which would be rather awesome.
I loved this weirdly apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic (it’s not quite clear which of the two it is) and the sense of desperation that came from the family we meet at its beginning. There is a profound sense of death and loss, which is juxtaposed with the feeling of safety and renewal. Our main characters find a family in the unlikeliest of places and we are left with a sense of hope not just for them, but for all the lost souls that found refuge on this strange and ghost-ridden farmstead, even if we know they’ll never leave it again.
I’ve come to realise that what I love most about Anderton’s story-telling is its blending of science fiction. fantasy, and horror in a way that it’s hard to pick these elements apart. She has an easily recognisable style and returning themes, without her stories feeling same-y. This collection shows an author that has developed her voice, but is still growing and getting better and better. If you’re not yet acquainted with Anderton’s writing, this is the perfect introduction to her work.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.