Book Review – Epilogue, edited by Tehani Wessely
Epilogue is the latest offering from Fablecroft Publishing, an Australian small speculative fiction press that specialises in themed spec fic anthologies. For this volume, editor Tehani Wessely has chosen a strong cast of notable Australian writers as well as one stray Swede, Kaia Landelius. Originally titled “Apocalypse Hope”, Epilogue asks ‘what happens after the apocalypse?’ Many of the stories herein have an optimistic bent to uplift us from the all-too-dystopian world we live in. Epilogue is professionally presented and features commanding cover art from Amanda Rainey, whose work adorns plenty of Australian spec fic covers these days. With Epilogue, Fablecroft firmly establishes itself alongside Twelfth Planet Press and Ticonderoga Publications at the forefront of Australian speculative fiction publishing.
Thoraiya Dyer’s “Sleeping Beauty” opens proceedings, and it features an apocalypse in progress that our voracious protagonist can survive but not prevent. Rather enigmatic in style, Dyer’s brief tale is nevertheless atmospheric and exceedingly well written. Jo Anderton’s “A Memory Trapped in Light” is rather different but equally impressive in an entirely different way. Isola and Ruby are sisters living in a nightmare future of Legate Drones, Pionic Flares, Shards, imprisoned children, ancient laser cannons and the Crust. Channelling SF films like The Matrix and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, as well as the classic SF stories that underpin those works, Anderton has constructed an exuberant and positively traditional SF story with strong female central characters, something that rarely featured in the Golden Age imagination. There’s a paucity of genuine science fiction in the Australian spec fic scene currently, but the work of Jo Anderton would appear to be a significant exception.
Lyn Battersby’s “Time and Tide” is an elegant and endearing time travel narrative featuring three characters: a woman, Pauline; her teenage son, Sean; and the mysterious Michael. In a series of brief snapshots, we follow Pauline across different realities and varied occupations. In one she is a prostitute and in another a nun, but in the main narrative she’s a scientist. Something has gone wrong with time, of course, and setting things straight proves rather troublesome. “The Fletcher Test” by Dirk Flinthart pits computer whiz Anneke against a computer virus named Kali. Most of the story is a series of conversations between the simulacra and its would-be executioner, and things spin in an unexpected direction at the end.
Stephanie Gunn’s “Ghosts” is another impressive offering in a now-rarely seen SF subgenre: life in an underground shelter after the bomb. Nadya and Mater are teenagers who have the mixed blessing of being fertile in a world where women give birth to genetic monsters and there are no doctors. Nadya’s father insists that she produce an offspring with Mater, but she has a different goal in mind. Visceral and concrete, like the bunker featured herein, “Ghosts” is among my favourite stories in Epilogue. Lighter in tone but just as well constructed is Kaia Landelius’ “Sleepers”. Inhabiting some strange corner of the well-worn zombie subgenre, Landelius’ tale manages to do something slightly different with familiar material. Much bashing of the ‘sleepers’, with baseball bats and hockey sticks, ensues.
There’s something desolate about the rural Australian landscape that naturally lends itself to post-apocalyptic fiction. Jason Nahrung’s “The Mornington Ride” reminds me a little of the late Paul Haines’ novella “Wives”, and both are fine works. Here our unnamed protagonist is fleeing from his boss, the murderous Johnny Stroud, who insists on killing a family of ‘reffos’ who steal and eat a calf. Interspersed with this backstory is what happens next, as our protagonist trades his rifle and his nag for shelter, and then some medicine for passage to the aptly-named Hopetoun on the train of the story’s title. “The Mornington Ride” is my favourite story in Epilogue and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were to earn an award nomination or two in the year ahead.
In my view, Epilogue as a whole succeeds in achieving its stated aim of finding hope after the apocalypse. It’s a testament to the strength of the Australian speculative fiction field these days that’s there not one weak story in the anthology, even if there were a few I personally didn’t enjoy as much as those described above. The future of our civilisation might appear grim, but I daresay that the immediate future of independent speculative fiction writing and publishing in Australia looks significantly rosier.