Secret lives, replete with possibilities. Elsewhere exists as a better place, in a better time, for a better life. The trick is how to get there from here. These stories give the answers. Share in the secret lives of books. Fly to Mars, the first stage, perhaps, in the onward journey to elsewhere. Hear the music of the heavenly spheres and be forever changed, providing the bad guys don’t hear it first. Discover Gaia may not be quite what we think she is. Discover the universe is a rather big place. Embrace Utopia for women too, if only …It's called Secret Lives of Books, but I think what it's really about is the secret lives of stories. All five stories within grapple with the story of stories on some level. "The Secret Lives of Books" is literally about the secret story of a particular collection of books, "Kiddofspeed" is about a story that developed around some photos, "Qasida" is about the mysteries of Mars and the plausibility of fantastical stories, "The slut and the universe" (which has a couple of long subtitles which I'll leave for you to discover yourselves) is about the stories of feminism and misogyny. Fitting least into this patter, "The Kairos Moment" is a story about music, muisic itself being a type of story, albeit not necessarily in the narrative sense. There is, of course, the expected feminism in this collection, but I found it mostly manifested through the existence of female characters, apart from in "The slut and the universe".
My favourite story was "Qasida", which I decided would probably be my favourite when I was still halfway through it and had two more stories left to go. It's sort of a surreal story about Mars and magic (for lack of a better term) travel and aliens, except it's not all that surreal. It's told rather sensibly, which I think is part of the appeal.
I highly recommend this collection to all SFF fans. The stories were all equally good and almost equally unusual. I'd tentatively say this is probably in my top four of the Twelve Planets. Which might not sound like much, but you have to remember there's some very stiff competition.
Secret Lives of Books — This was a strange story that didn’t go the way it initially seemed it would. The main character is a recently deceased writer, trying desperately to get a living person’s attention. And then there’s his extensive book collection, which he has always been very attached to. I’d call this soft horror, as we incrementally — creeping — learn more about the books.
Kiddofspeed — Another unusual story, sort of chronicling the adventures of a girl taking photos of Pripyat (near Chernobyl, and based on real events) and sort of talking about the nature of story.
Qasida — Probably my favourite story so far. It’s another story of stories, this time about Mars and strange happenings. Visits to Mars, objects from Mars and the
The Kairos Moment — An odd story about the uplifting feeling people experience when listening to good music. And a researcher trying to study the phenomenon. And some strange happenings. I was entertained and quite amused. (And in case it isn't obvious, this story is certainly represented on the gorgeous cover.)
The slut and the universe — I seem to have noted that all the stories in this collection are unusual and this is no exception. It's a post-apocalyptic fairytale about feminism. Despite the post-apocalyptic setting not much seems to have changed and there is discussion (literally) on such feminist topics as the meaning of the word "slut" an why feminism is the root of all evil. It was also a rather entertaining read.
4.5 / 5 stars
Series: Twelve Planets (but these are not connected volumes in any way; different stories by different authors which do not have to be read in any particular order)
Format read: Paper, shockingly
Source: Twelfth Planet Press stall at LonCon3
Disclaimer: The publisher is a friend but, as always, I have endeavoured to be impartial
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge