Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is a loosely themed speculative fiction anthology, edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie, two of the editors involved with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. An eclectic collection containing stories from a variety of Australian and international authors, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is an engaging body of work that contains a number of excellent stories, quite a few memorable ones, and should have something to suit almost anyone.
Sparks that fly in many directions
The title, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, references the instructions given for lighting fireworks. The anthology itself operates on the concept of a literal or figurative spark and the various possible results of its unleashed potential. This very open theme allows the authors a lot of leeway to let their imaginations run wild, resulting in a hugely varied collection.
Some of the stories engage quite directly with the theme while others are a little more oblique in their connection. Yet as a whole, the collection itself succeeds in its ostensible purpose, showcasing the variety and quality of its contributors’ work.
A little something for everyone
Much like lighting a real firework, you never know what you might get next with this anthology. A blazing inferno, a quick flash and burn, a delicate showing of stars, or a disappointing fizzle? Happily, the overall quality of the stories is high, and although personal taste dictates that some stories will appeal to certain readers more than others, none of these stories were duds prone to explode in one’s face. While there were a few stories I might not have picked if I was collecting for an anthology of my own, they were all well written and I could see where their appeal might lie for other readers.
Due to the huge variance in tone, style, and theme between stories, it is quite hard to pick a favorite. The one that resonated with me the most, however, was probably the opening story by Joanne Anderton, “The Bone Chime Song.” Extremely powerful and emotive for its length, Anderton’s story creates believable characters with whom the reader can empathize and offers a fascinating glimpse into a beautifully well-realized fantasy world. A haunting love story of guilt, redemption and necromancy, “The Bone Chime Song” will leave you thinking long after you finish reading it. All in all, it impressed me and I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.
Following “The Bone Chime Song” is Sue Bursztynski’s humorous take on the origins of the Trojan War, “Five Ways to Start a War.” The story consists of five key figures’ rather differing accounts of how the conflict came about, which all interweave to paint a colourful picture of meddling deities, confused mortals, conniving kings, and a bed-hopping prince terrified of losing his royal member to divine vengeance. Helen attempts to avoid the inevitable catastrophe, yet finds that vain goddesses rarely take no for an answer. While I have read a number of retellings of the Trojan War’s beginnings, Bursztynski used the familiar elements in a way that felt fresh and made me laugh, marking her story as another favorite in this collection.
“The Subjunctive Case” by Robert Porteous is a well-crafted paranormal detective story with a distinctly Australian flavor (it’s set in Melbourne and I personally enjoyed recognizing the familiar places in which the story took place). All in all, I thought it was a well-written and impressive work from a relatively new author.
And many more
“The D____d” by Adam Browne contains some delightfully weird imagery and tells the tale of Victorian colonialists attempting to terraform hell. “Mary Had a Unicorn” by Ripley Patton has a distinct moral and is strangely charming for a story about teen drug addiction. And “The Godbreaker and Unggubadh the Mountain” by Ian McHugh features interesting world-building and appealing, relatable non-human characters.
In most cases I prefer my story morals slightly more subtle in execution than that of Sean McMullen’s “Hard Cases.” However, the writing was still good and the story was still creepy, despite the somewhat heavy-handed treatment.
I would consider all thirteen stories in Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear to be well worth reading, yet unfortunately lack the time required to give them all the attention they deserve. In addition, some stories elude concise summary and may be spoiled in my attempts to explain them. Besides, I did say half the fun was trying to guess what was coming next.
Why should you read this book?
Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is an entertaining and enjoyable anthology containing stories of a consistently high quality with a couple of standouts. It contains a refreshing variety of original fiction with no boring stories or tired clichés. In my opinion, even just my few favorite stories alone were worth the cover price. All in all, I read some great new works by authors I knew, discovered some new authors to keep an eye on, and will look out for any future anthologies by these editors and from this small press.
Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear may be purchased from Peggy Bright Books.