Monday, 19 May 2014

The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey

The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey is an unusual collection. Somewhere between a collection of stories set in the same universe and short novel. I would say that in general each story/chapter (they are called chapters in the book) feels most like an episodic instalment. It put me in mind of a TV show in that respect.
Come and join the Party!
Through her short stories “No Pets Allowed”, “Get Me to The Worldcon on Time” , “My Sweet 286” and “Party”, Edwina Harvey introduced her readers to a world where flatmates discover the difficulties of raising young dragons in small suburban apartments, where “flying” to a science fiction convention takes on a whole new meaning, and where “the next door neighbours” on an Australian rural backblock are out of this world, but the parties are legendary. Now collected here for the first time, these stories are interwoven with seven new tales set in the same universe.

Come and be introduced to a rural Australian landscape you never knew existed somewhere out in the back of the back of beyond.
I started off commenting on each story as I usually do, but some of them were more like chapters/instalments than self contained stories, so I was a bit haphazard in doing so. I think, ultimately, this is a collection best considered as a whole rather than on a story-by-story basis.

Written as a sort of alternate-reality autobiography, the stories deal with the mundanities of life made more exciting by the addition of dragons or aliens (usually). The opening story, "No Pets Allowed" recounts the story of a troublesome past flatmate who left, not because of the weird parties he used to throw, but because of the pet dragon he acquired. The same ex-flatmate causes difficulties in getting to the Melbourne Worldcon on time, and so forth. The stories are fannish in the sense that they deal with SFF fans and geeks and more or less tell a story of geeky wish-fulfilment. I mean, who doesn't want a friend with a dragon (so long as you don't have to deal with the dragon poop yourself) or to make friends with aliens?

The Back of the Back of Beyond was a fun read. It wasn't laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it definitely had me sniggering or chuckling on several occasions. I am intrigued by the serialised/episodic form of the storytelling and, in general, would like to see more of that sort of think around. OK so maybe I'm biased because I'm working on something like that myself, but that's beside the point. This is the first substantial work I've read by Harvey (not counting her editing, I might have read a short story somewhere, but I'm not entirely certain) and based on this I would definitely consider reading more. I recommend this book to fans of "odd" humorous SFF and anyone looking for a light-hearted read, especially if the idea of stories with strong influences from Aussie fan culture appeals.

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  1. No Pets Allowed — a snigger-worthy story, told in the form of a housemate interview. As in, the narrator is telling you, the reader/prospective renter, about the previous housemate and, in particular, why there’s a giant scorch mark on the wall of your would-be room.
  2. Get Me To The Worldcon On Time — How one gets to the Worldcon when one’s crazy dragon-riding friend drops by to delay you. A bit of recapping of the previous story at the start was annoying (but understandable since it was originally published by itself), but otherwise, another amusing and enjoyable story.
  3. The ‘R’ Word — The main character is made redundant and buys a property out west (no, further west, further than that, no not as far as Perth). This place is the titular back of the back of beyond. Moving shenanigans ensue.
  4. Seeing The Light (When The Fridge Door’s Open) — Bean, the one with the dragon, helps her set up solar panels in the middle of nowhere.
  5. Move Your Ass — in which our protagonist attempts not to purchase equines.
  6. Meet The Neighbours — in which our protagonist discovers something odd on the neighbours' property.
  7. Painters And Decorators — in which our protagonist plays host to artist friends on retreat
  8. Party With My Sweet 286 — in which aliens upgrade our protagonists 286 laptop (in a world where farmers have iPads), but we never learn how it was able to connect to the internet before the aliens came along. Also there's a large party. An enjoyable read and one of the longer instalments.
  9. Dragoncats — in which our protagonist tires of having young dragons around.
  10. Neighbourhood Watch — in which a journalist attempts to write a story on UFOs sighted near our protagonist's property.
  • A Cast Of Thousands!!! — not a story, but it explains how some of the characters correspond to the author's family and friends. Apparently, she sold appearances to fund the production of the book. A neat idea, especially for these sorts of stories.

4 / 5 stars


First published: 2013, Peggy Bright Books
Series: No
Format read: eBook
Source: review copy received from the publisher/editor
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

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