Tehani Wessely (ed.) – One Small Step

tehaniwessely-onesmallstepSixteen stories of discovery from Australia’s best writers. Each story in some way addresses the idea of discoveries, new beginnings, or literal or figurative “small steps”, but each story takes you to places you far beyond the one small step you imagine… Journey through worlds and explore the reaches of the universe with this collection.

Looking at my shelves a surprising number of my favourite female authors is Australian: Rowena Cory Daniells, Fiona McIntosh, Trudi Canavan, and Jo Anderton. So when I was offered a review copy for an anthology featuring an all-female, all-Australian line-up, including two of the afore-mentioned authors, I didn’t have to think twice really; I said yes. And I’m glad I did, because I didn’t just get new stories from Anderton and Daniells, but I was also presented with a host of other stories by very talented writers.  

All of the stories feature a discovery or new beginning at their heart and it was interesting to see the different takes on this idea and the different settings all the authors created. The stories run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to fairy tale retelling and time travel stories. The range is very broad, but the various transitions from story to story and setting to setting were never very jarring. This might be due to the fact that I often read a story and then go do something else for a bit and come back to the anthology, but I don’t think so. Wessely has brought together a strong collection of stories, none of which hit a wrong note; even if there were one or two stories that resonated less with me personally, I could still appreciate the craft behind them. Of course there were several stories that jumped out at me more than the rest and those six are discussed in detail below.

Jodi Cleghorn – Firefly Epilogue
Firefly Epilogue isn’t a work of fan fiction for the universally beloved SF show, but rather a sensitive and in-depth look at a woman’s last and greatest journey, the one crossing into death. But it’s not just a look at the last moment of a life, but also a look at the first moments of a love. The intermingling of beginning and ending and the glimpses we get of the in-between create an impression of a full life lived and the idea of creating your own final moments, if only in the last and least of your brain waves, is fascinating and perhaps even a comforting thought.

Penny Love – Original
The Amish and Mennonite communities in the US often seem like places where time stood still, due to their general refusal to adopt modern technologies. At least, that’s what they look like to an uninformed outsider such as me. Love takes this idea and extrapolates it several centuries into the future to a time and a place where humanity is hardly recognisable as human other than groups called The Originals, people who distanced themselves from all technological and medical advances and the far-reaching genetic modifications humanity developed to make themselves adaptable to living off-planet on worlds with differing atmospheres. I really liked the story, both for the way the changed humans have to try and understand the Originals and the way Enoch, the visiting Original has to accept that sometimes evolution and technology is the only way to survive.

Tansy Rayner Roberts – Cold White Daughter
A gorgeous retelling of The Snow Queen’s tale with liberal dashes of C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton thrown in for good measure, I adored this tale of the Snow Queen’s icy daughter. It’s about a choice between following your mother’s footsteps or discovering your own destiny.

Rowena Cory Daniells – The Ways of the Wyrding Women
Rowena Cory Daniells is one of my favourite authors at the moment. I adored both her King Rolen’s Kin series (the last of which will be out next month) and her Outcast Chronicles, so I was looking forward to this new tale in a new setting. And it’s a different tale and a half. Recognisably Daniells in style and tone, The Ways of the Wyrding Women tells the story of a woman we only get to know as Sun-Fire, the name she is given by the men who took her from her own tribe during a raid. What follows is at once an age-old tale of a woman who despite everything comes to care for those who have kidnapped her and a tale about political power plays and the roles women play in them. There was an interesting twist at the end of the story and Sun-Fire’s spirit might bend, but it never breaks and she’s an interesting and sympathetic protagonist. Her opposites are just as compelling, especially the old Wyrding woman and her youngest grandson, Druaric. I found this a powerful tale and it re-affirmed Daniells position as one of my favourite writers.

Joanne Anderton & Rabia Gale – Sand and Seawater
This was another tale co-written by a favourite writer, Jo Anderton and it was another wonderfully creepy tale. But beyond the creepy, animated dolls, there was also a sadness at the core of the story that was rather lovely. The idea of bad-luck dolls isn’t wholly something new – they reminded me a lot of South-American worry dolls – but I found Anderton and Gale’s version of them very cool and their unintended side-effect of taking away not just the bad luck, but also taking away some of your personality and emotions. They reminded me a bit of a sort luck-version of heavy-duty anti-depressants: they’ll take away all the lows, but your highs won’t feel as high either, so you end up feeling remarkably flat. The ending was bitter-sweet and a reminder that we can appreciate what we have, without losing something now and again.

DK Mok – Morning Star
The last tale of the anthology is also one of the strongest ones. I adored this tale of the last of humanity sent out into space to hopefully reach the explorers on the other side of the galaxy. The bond between the young boy Solomon, his AI caretaker Ven, and their ship-board AI Mike35 was fascinating to watch develop and Mok ends the story with a fantastic twist, that has been well-planted, but which I nevertheless didn’t see coming in the way it took shape. I found the reason for the apocalypse on Earth quite original; it was a form of Earth destroying plague that was both unavoidable and unexpected. he ending of this almost novella-length story was tremendously satisfying and I’d definitely love to read more by this author.

Overall, One Small Step doesn’t disappoint. It’s a very strong collection of stories showcasing the talents of eighteen very talented women. In the course of writing this review I found myself dipping back into the stories with alarming regularity, just because the story and/or the writing was that good. I highly recommend this anthology, it has a story for everyone and in my case it had more than one story to suit my taste. I know I’ve certainly discovered a host of new names to keep an eye out for in the future.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.