Filler content because…

…I have the dreaded pre-Christmas lurgy and am too knackered to do anything more than copy and paste.

This pair of fine beauties originally appeared in Interzone #252:-

FAMADIHANA ON FOMALHAUT IV

Eric Brown

PS Publishing jhc unsigned/signed, 80pp, £12/£25

WE THREE KIDS

Margo Lanagan

PS Publishing hc, 41pp, £8

Eric Brown’s Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV is the first book in the Telemass Quartet, set in a universe where humanity has colonised numerous planets and transportation between them is instantaneous. Matt Hendrick arrives on Fomalhaut IV, where humans live in harmony with a lemur like indigenous species, in pursuit of ex-wife Maatje, who has abducted their daughter. Throwing in his lot with Tiana Tandra, whose girlfriend Lalla has disappeared, Hendrick finds himself involved with an alien religion that promises to bring the dead back to life and pitted against humans who wish to use it for their own ends.

This novella reminded me very much of Martin’s story ‘A Song for Lya’, with its alien religion that appeals to humans, but while he grounds the work conceptually, Brown’s emphasis is more on adventure than philosophical implications, with plenty of plot twists along the way to an anticipated denouement. Hendrick is an engaging character, interacting well with the irrepressible Tiana, whose devotion to Lalla doesn’t exclude sex with other people. The two are feeling each other out, and we see evidence that Tiana has an agenda of her own, this angle adding a little extra frisson to the story, so that we can’t really be sure which way the character will jump. There are plenty of other plot complications courtesy of the Church of the Ultimate Redemption and a corrupt police force, while the Avoel are wonderfully realised, alien beings with an identity of their own embracing a distinct social and spiritual perspective. Underlying the fast paced and eventful story is Brown’s sense of wonder, with some vivid descriptions of the setting and an awareness of the rich potential in this universe of many races and planets that can be reached in a matter of seconds thanks to Telemass technology. While there is little here that seasoned readers won’t have seen before, Famadihana is an entertaining and agreeably exotic hybrid of adventure story and science fiction tale, with each factor playing well into the other, and I look forward to seeing where Brown will take the Telemass Quartet next.

Described as “a dance along the border between faith and fantasy”, Margo Lanagan’s novelette We Three Kids is told through the eyes of two characters, the girl Leah and carpenter Yoseph. Leah’s sister Shoshana finds three “star-children” on the Bethlehem rubbish tip and brings them back to the family home, where the children start to grow at an unprecedented rate, scaring the family when they begin to transform themselves and their surroundings. Meanwhile in a nearby stable, Yoseph waits for his wife Mariam to give birth to a son for whom angels have predicted great things, and in the wake of this event strangers arrive to pay homage.

Reading like an elegant, sophisticated fusion of the Nativity story, The Midwich Cuckoos and the tale of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, this is a narrative where only the reader is able to see the full picture, the link between star-children and visiting shepherds and kings, though at the end we too are as unsure as Yoseph and Leah about the resolution, with either of the two options available presenting us with fascinating possibilities. Lanagan’s strength lies in her portrayal of the characters, seen particularly in the interaction between the various members of Leah’s family and her depiction of the tension between Yoseph and his pregnant wife, gradually seguing into feelings of awe at what has happened in their lives. She is also superb at showing the nature of the intrusion of the star-children, stepping into the place where magic and advanced technology are indistinguishable. The end result is a compelling story, one that makes a virtue out of what it doesn’t tell us, the things the reader is left to infer, and which ultimately hinge on our own beliefs.

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