Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Aussie Horror Reading Challenge, Round-up One

It's only April and it seems I have already completed the Australian Horror Reading Challenge I set myself. A large part of the reason is that I was only aiming for a minimum of five books. I was concerned that I would have difficulty tracking them down, but apparently I needn't have worried.

This post is just a summary of what I've read so far. I plan to write down more interesting thoughts I'm having on the genre as I learn more about it. My brain is a bit goopy at the moment though and I figured more posts is better than fewer.

The books I've read with excerpts from my reviews are below. Surprisingly, three of the five are collections of short fiction, not something I particularly planned. And not that there's anything wrong with short stories, but it's interesting to note how many more horror short stories there are out there by Australians, compared with novels (see my recent Aurealis stats post). I hope to read more novels in the future (not at the expense of short stories, hopefully). I also notice this list is entirely made up of female authors, again, not entirely intentionally (although the AWW Challenge did contribute). I do have some male-authored stuff lined up, so that probably won't be the case the next time I write a round-up.

After the Darkness by Honey Brown (review)
Although the book is called After the Darkness, it's really about how hard it is to leave the darkness behind. ... It's also about how darkness is often contagious, touching on the way in which abuse victims often go on to re-enact their trauma as a way of coming to terms with it. And the hopelessness that comes with fearing for your life. And having to relate to people in a life you have to pretend is normal.

Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (review) — one of the Twelve Planets, containing three short stories and a novella.
"Mountain" — The mountain and its ghosts hold many secrets, which they don't always share with passers by.

"Creek" is about quaking women who drowned in creeks. They claw their way through Australia's shallow creekbeds and call out, demanding to know what happened to their loved-ones.

"Road" is a tale about an older couple who [are] quite used to injured people running up to their house and asking to use their phone ... and they always lay out a wreath for the accident victims.

"Sky" — The protagonist, Zed, is not very likeable at all (he is, in fact, a rapist — you've been warned). From when we first meet him as a child, seen through his school-teacher's eyes, to the main action when he finds himself in Sky, I didn't relate to Zed at all, but kept reading because I wanted to know what happened next.

Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (review) — A collection of three novellas about the goddess Ishtar, in the past, present and future.
"The Five Loves of Ishtar" by Kaaron Warren is a story spanning thousands of years in the Mesopotamian region. Told from the perspectives of a series of Ishtar's washerwomen — each the daughter of Ishtar's previous washerwoman — it focuses partly on the men in Ishtar's life and partly on life generally at that time.

"And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living" by Deborah Biancotti follows Adreienne, a detective given an unusual set of homicides to investigate. Of course we know the supernatural origins of the bodies — since Ishtar has to show up at some point — but it was still a compelling story. I enjoyed watching Adreienne slowly uncover the truth.

"The Sleeping and the Dead" by Cat Sparks
My favourite aspect of this story was all the allusions to earlier events, particularly to Ishtar's roots. It relies on knowledge of the previous stories more than one would expect from an ordinary collection, but in this context it works beautifully.

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (review)
McDermott made me think about the relationship between the mundane and the horrifying. One doesn't have to peel back many layers to find unpleasantness in the sisters' lives, but McDermott keeps peeling until all they're left with is reality (or some facsimile thereof) and each other.

The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton (review) — a collection, as the title implies.
Overall, I was very impressed with Anderton's worldbuilding in all the stories. Each story read like a glimpse into a complete and carefully constructed world. Just because the stories are short, Anderton in no way skimped on the thought put into them. Even for the stories set in some approximation of the modern world, careful details made them stand out.

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