You know what? I haven’t been keeping up. I haven’t read all the regular zines I’ve been meaning to. Not a fraction of them.
But what I have read is Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan. And it’s brilliant!
I’m in an awkward position when it comes to recommending the Twelve Planets series, published by fellow Last Short Storyier Alisa Krasnostein, because not only is she a friend and colleage, but she published my book as part of the series. But this is Margo freaking Lanagan, okay? (also a friend) It’s pretty much destined to be an important book that gets talked about.
So no pressure there. But I was blown away by this little collection of four stories, which feel like the queen of weirding-you-out literary fantasy has levelled up yet again. She’s writing here about ghosts and aliens (or ghostly aliens, or alienating ghosts) but with those lyrical descriptions that make you wonder, actually, if you know what’s going on at all.
And instead of a fantastical OtherPlace as so many of her most well known stories are set, the Cracklescape pieces are firmly lodged in Australia, in modern suburbia or near history, in beach and sand and dust and grit and heat.
I think my favourite story (the one I personally like best and want to be friends with) is The Duchess Dresser, and not just because of the excellent title, and because it’s a suburban sharehouse story about a haunted piece of furniture because, come on. Awesome premise.
By far the best of the four, though, is the emotionally charged, tragic and complex and thoughtful Significant Dust, which is the story that needs a World Fantasy award thank you very much. It’s science fiction by only a few more brush strokes than Karen Joy Fowler’s The Pelican Bar was science fiction, but that hardly matters. People who argue if the story is speculative enough will be arguing about the wrong thing. The question is, is this story better than Singing My Sister Down? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s the closest Margo has ever come, and my response to Significant Dust was to stop and then re-read it again all the way through and I never, ever, ever do that.
The other stories are marvellous too, not lacking in any way. The Isles of the Sun is a painful story of teenagehood and motherhood and loss, and the literal metaphor of children that need to fly far from home. Bajazzle is a cheeky, quirky and slightly wicked tale which takes that middle aged man bored with his marriage literary tradition, and doesn’t just poke fun at the trope, but chucks it off the train and waggles rude signs at it.
And I do really like The Duchess Dresser.
But oh, Significant Dust.
I want to read it again.