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.
I've included some thoughts on each story below, but I'm afraid they're not as coherent as I'd like them to be. Each story blew me away and, quite frankly, I think we're lucky I managed to say anything coherent at all, immediately after reading.
Anderton's stories in this collection can be loosely grouped into three categories: macabre fantasy world stories, macabre more-or-less real world stories, and macabre post-technological science-flavoured stories. (There may be a common thread running through them.) All the stories involve dead things and/or death, and often constructions from dead things. My favourite of the bunch, "Sanaa's Army", falls into the latter category and has my favourite cat of the bunch in them.
I've said, repeatedly, that the stories are macabre and deal with death, but I didn't find it to be in a depressing way. Well, OK, some of them were a bit depressing. But generally, there were many stories about life coming out of death. Or art or solace or something else constructive.
The more futuristic stories generally dealt with the struggle to live on in a world become more hostile. "Mah Song" deifies the vestiges of advanced technology in a world that's all but forgotten how it works. These stories brought to mind Arthur C Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Anderton takes it a step further at times, calling one of the AIs in "Out Hunting For Teeth" the Witch and her cyborg constructs Spells. (That was another of my favourite stories, in part for the ending.)
The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories is being launched at Conflux in Canberra on April 26, but in the meantime, you can pre-order a copy from the publisher here. I highly recommend this collection to spec fic fans who like their fantasy dark or who might want to venture out of their comfort zone and become a little more acquainted with dead things. But really, if any of the above or below piqued you're interest, I urge you to give it a go; it really is an excellent collection.
Some very brief reactions/descriptions of each story which I jotted down immediately after reading it:
The Bone Chime Song — (Ditmar shortlisted) Eerie, well imagined. A complete world glimpsed through a short story.
Mah Song — Cyborg technology, a future world where computers are alive and revered as gods and people depend on them for food and heeling. The main character desperate to take her brother's place as cyborg sacrifice. Technology mixed with mysticism.
Shadow of Drought — Nothing like the first two stories. A story of modern rural teenagers in a horror movie scenario who are aware of the fact.
Sanaa's Army — (Aurealis and Ditmar shortlisted) Another set in the real world. Another about bones, in a different way to "The Bone Chime Song", but not that different. Interesting that these two should be the Ditmar shortlisted stories.
From the Dry Heat to the Sea — A strange story of drought, of industrial poison, of water, of being an outsider.
Always a Price — Short, contemporary, magic and a cat.
Out Hunting for Teeth — Not what I expected from the title, although making things our of human remains comes up again. A science fiction story of the "sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic" variety, somewhat literally.
Death Masque — Eternity in an afterlife or a final death? This is the choice a grieving father makes for his son.
Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden — Floating gardens in a desert. This is another story that particularly impressed me with its worldbuilding.
A Memory Trapped In Light — Another post technological world with scraps if technology left behind. A girl protecting her younger sister from dystopian forces.
Trail of Dead — Zombies, the ones who fight them and the one who summoned them.
Fence Lines — Post-apocalyptic, but that wasn't the point. A sugarcane plantation as a safe outpost, guarded by ghosts.
Tied to the Waste — Post-apocalyptic, making things out of dead things. Cats.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Fablecroft
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Horror Reading Challenge