Dreaming Again is an anthology of thirty-five science fiction and fantasy stories written by Australian authors, all collected by Jack Dann. Dedicated readers of this blog will remember him as the editor of the brilliant Wandering Stars. Sadly, Dreaming Again isn’t as good.
Physically speaking, Dreaming Again looks fantastic. It is a smooth softcover volume with crisp white pages and a weight that just feels right. I really appreciate how all the text has been arranged on the front cover, with the author’s names listed in the white corner on the top-left, and how the text’s size and colour depends on its importance. Perhaps the best part is the phrase ‘and including a previously unpublished story from the late great Bertram Chandler’, which is the closest I’ve seen to a stinger on book cover. And the book’s spine is so thick that it includes its own little blurb. The only drawback is the slightly uninspired photo used for the cover. The cover designer, James L. Iacobelli, deserves big praise for this one.
The stories themselves are a mixed bunch. My favourites include Russell Blackford’s Mananan’s Children, a meditation on immortality inspired by Celtic myth, Trudy Canavan’s The Lost Property Room, which had a Mary Poppins flavour, and Stephen Dedman’s Lost Arts, a detective story set in a technological utopia. I should also mention Riding on the Q-Ball by Rosaleen Love, a mind-bending tale about a temp so bizarre that the phrase ‘out of this world’ feels like an understatement.
One disappointment was John Birmingham’s Heere Be Monsters. It began with Captain Arthur Philip’s fleet of convict transport ships landing at modern Sydney, which I guess would be the Australian equivalent of the Mayflower showing up at New York. Birmingham gives no explanation for how this happens, but it’s cool so I went with it. You’d think that such a scenario would lead to easy satire, with the sailors declaring the bustling metropolis terra nullus before being shot by the police. Naturally the convicts would be sent to Nauru, only to be released once the Australian public realise that they are too white and Christian to be worthy targets for their xenophobia. Instead Birmingham throws a zombie plague into the mix and things get cliched, derivative, and a little pointless.
The last story, Perchance To Dream, is from Isobelle Carmody. The first third sets out the protagonist’s backstory, which to be honest I think should have been cut. The rest confirms something I’ve long suspected about Carmody – that if they ever do another volume of Sandman: Book of Dreams, she should really get a story in it. Perchance To Dream would work perfectly for such a collection even without gratuitous cameos from Sandman characters.
There are better places to become acquainted with Australian science fiction than Dreaming Again. Metaworlds, Matilda At The Speed of Light, or any collection with the name Paul Collins on the title will do. This is more of a book for people living in Sydney, Melbourne or rural Australia who want to see their immediate environment reflected in speculative fiction, passionate Aussie sci-fi fans, and Bertram Chandler completists.