Award winning independent Australian press Coeur de Lion publishing presents twenty-nine all new science fiction stories of humanity’s adventures out there, anywhere but Earth, featuring original works by Margo Lanagan, Sean McMullen, Richard Harland, and Kim Westwood among a galaxy of new and established Australian and overseas speculative fiction authors.
This volume contains the following stories:
“Murmer” by Calie Voorhis “Beautiful” by Cat Sparks “Hatchway” by Simon Petrie “At the End There Was a Man” by Lee Battersby “Unexpected Launch” by Alan Baxter “An Exhibition of the Plague” by Richard Harland “Rains of la Strange” by Robert N. Stephenson (Winner of the 2011 Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story) “Maia Blue Is Going Home” by Liz Argall “Memories of Mars” by Chris McMahon “Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings” by C.J. Paget “SIBO” by Penelope Love (Nominated for the 2011 Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story) “Beneath the Floating City” by Donna Maree Hanson “Lisse” by Erin E. Stocks “Deuteronomy” by William R.D. Wood “Desert Madonna” by Robert Hood (Nominated for the 2011 Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story) “Psi World” by Steve de Beer “Continuity” by Damon Shaw “Alien Tears” by Wendy Waring “Poor Man’s Travel” by Patty Jansen “Eating Gnashdal” by Jason Fischer “By Any Other Name” by Kim Westwood “Space Girl Blues” by Brendan Duffy “Oak with the Left Hand” by T.F. Davenport “Spacebook” by Sean McMullen “Yon Horned Moon” by Margo Lanagan “The Caretaker” by Mark Rossiter “Messiah on the Rock” by Jason Nahrung “Pyaar Kiya” by Angela Ambroz “So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper” by Steve Cameron
I'm the author of the sf thriller Horizon. My next book Traitor's Run (book 1 of The Lenticular trilogy) is out in October 2023. I'm also a past editor of Aurealis - Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine from 2001 to 2004. I hosted 30 episodes of the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction Podcast, and edited and published Dimension6 the free Australian speculative fiction electronic magazine from 2014 to 2020.
Let me start off by saying that this book is not small. Like ‘X6’, this latest anthology is in stark contrast to the svelte offerings of Twelfth Planet Press. ‘Anywhere But Earth’ is a hearty meal to be digested slowly over days; weeks; months.
So take your time, and enjoy. The stories are diverse and consistently top-notch. Like last year’s ‘Sprawl’ and this year’s ‘ASIM #51’, none of the stories stand out as an obvious cull, and the potential for my least favourite to be someone else’s outstanding story of the year is obvious. Bonus: The type is not migraine-inducingly small. Bless you, Coeur de Lion!
So what were my favourites?
Out of 29, there were 5 that made me huggle the book in sheer delight.
In Alan Baxter’s ‘Unexpected Launch,’ a couple of cleaners as sole survivors of an alien attack provide first humour, then a creeping claustrophobia, culminating in .
Next, the ominously titled ‘Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings.’ CJ Paget had me mesmerised by the strong, slang-peppered voice of the soldier protagonist. Talk about showing, not telling. ‘Pink Ice’ was funny and sad and just amazingly written.
Kim Westwood made me sit up and pay attention with ‘By Any Other Name,’ a brief and beautiful story where the masterful world building consists of chilling, contradictory word choices.
‘Pyaar Kiya,’ by Angela Ambroz, who I hadn’t read before, also hooked me from the start, her style so fresh and confident that I’ll definitely be hunting down her other published work.
As for Steve Cameron’s ‘So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper,’ I was looking forward to it all the way through, and had to make an effort not to skip ahead. You know about my tragic lighthouse obsession, right? Anyway, this story was even better than I’d hoped. The characterisations were spot-on and I found the structure and symmetry of the story incredibly satisfying.
(I did consider making it 6 favourites by including Richard Harland’s excellent ‘An Exhibition of the Plague,’ but although I loved it, I thought it was a bit of a cheat. The story really did feel like it was on Earth. Sorry, Richard :D )
Right. So what about the rest?
If there was a theme besides the obvious, it was that though settings change, people stay the same. Callie Voorhis evoked the loneliness of an envoy’s wife in ‘Murmer,’ Cat Sparks the fear and hope of adolescence in ‘Beautiful,’ and Simon Petrie revenge and rites of passage on Titan in ‘Hatchway’.
My attention was easily held by Lee Battersby’s descriptive powers, Richard Harland’s smooth and seemingly effortless storytelling, the atmosphere of Robert N Stephenson’s piece and the beautiful melancholy of Liz Argall’s.
‘Memories of Mars’ by Chris McMahon made me want to make an attempt on the oxy-mix record; his aliens were great and I loved the line, ‘ “To make the Swarms with Halased,” scented Goldexis boldly.’ How romantic! Penelope Love made me want to play 360-pool. ‘SIBO’ was another well crafted story with an admirably clear, strong voice. Donna Hanson had me laughing at her Fleche foreman – and shaking my head at the plight of her hapless protagonist, while Erin Stocks gave me chills in another creepy crash-survivor story, ‘Lisse’.
William Wood’s story was suspenseful and might have been more so if I didn’t have to stop reading and reach for a calculator to work out that a hundred million seconds is about three years (*Arnie Voice*: Stop eet!) while Rob Hood’s tale of Arthur Groom and his horse, Bugger, in search for the Desert Madonna had me utterly engrossed and second-guessing myself until the end. (A really fun character, Rob. Feel free to write more of Groom’s adventures!)
Steve de Beer earned my forgiveness for the neglect of women in ‘Psi World’ with his development of a fascinating ecosystem, while Damon Shaw embroiled me in an unforgettable, fast-paced vendetta in ‘Continuity.’ Wendy Waring examined an unbridgeable communications gulf in ‘Alien Tears.’ Patty Jansen introduced me to the very cool concepts of constructs and warp-surfing in ‘Poor Man’s Travel.’
Brendan Duffy managed an eerie future prediction (I read about the ‘iGeiger’ in ‘Space Girl Blues’ on the same day Japanese phones with Geiger counters were released) and TF Davenport conjured a lush, tangible world with tenderly drawn characters that I could, again, easily consume more of.
Where Margo Lanagan was inspired by angler fish, Jason Fischer was inspired by spiders, but instead of the usual mindless man-eaters, he had his protagonist, Reinlok, searching for love, wanting to ‘have Naello around as my companion, not just in the mad frenzy of our mating and my attempted murder.’ I really enjoyed the twists and turns that ‘Eating Gnashdal’ took.
Sean McMullen explored virtual identity with the curious main character of ‘Spacebook,’ while Mark Rossiter delved into a cloudless apocalyptic future; I loved the visual of the Three Sisters sticking out of the water. Jason Nahrung, as usual, wrote beautifully, but handed me horror in sci-fi clothing. One day, he’ll gift me with a glimmer of hope!
Thank you SO MUCH Donna Hanson, for helping me over the No Eftpos hurdle at the highly enjoyable NSWWC Spec Fic Festival, and I hope I’ll see everyone there again next time with another awesome CdL anthology!
The first thing to say about the Anywhere but Earth anthology from Coeur de Lion Publishing is that it's a pretty damn thick slab of stories, over 700 pages in paperback form. There are 29 stories, most of them short but at least a few straying up into novellete territory, and most of them by Australian authors. As is the style of the times, it seems, this hefty collection of science fiction is a themed anthology. The title will give you the gist - these are all stories set far from the human homeworld. In many cases it's not mentioned at all, and a handful don't deal with recognisably human characters at all.
Unusually (in my experience) for a book like this, editor Keith Stevenson has not elected to insert himself in the work with an introductory foreword or in fact with commentary of any kind. What you get for your money - which is incredibly good value by the way - are the stories and short author bios and nothing else. I think it was the right call, mind you - these stories speak for themselves.
As with any collection of this size, there are some stories that didn't work for me, but overall the quality is exceptionally high. To my undertrained scientific eye the vast majority pay reasonable attention to keeping the science plausible and consistent, though one or two stretch the limits in order to shoot for a more lyrical effect (I'm thinking in particular here of Margo Lanagan's "Yon Horned Moon"). As a reader I tend to be much more concerned with good storytelling than strict fidelity to science, however, and Anywhere but Earth delivers. There is such a wealth of appetising material here, ranging from punchy little episodes like C J Paget's "Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings" and Alan Baxter's "Unexpected Launch" to troubling, expansive landscapes of alien worlds like Lee Battersby "At the End there was a Man" and Chris McMahon's "Memories of Mars" to violent military thrillers like Jason Nahrung's "Messiah on the Rock" and Brendan Duffy's "Space Girl Blues".
The quality of this collection is frankly astonishing, given its size - there are only two I can think of that I didn't like at all, and perhaps only two or three others about which I was ambivalent. Of the rest, I am hard pressed to pick a favourite, but I will mention that "Eating Gnashdal", Jason Fischer's horrific vision of a post-human culture, is inventively funny and creepy; Penelope Love's "SIBO" lives somewhere at the intersection of zombies and triffids and therefore rules; and Sean McMullen's "SPACEBOOK" pulls off a view of near-future social networking with a brilliant and unpleasantly plausible twist. And I could mention at least a dozen more stories which might be in my top three on a different day.
Anywhere but Earth is a massive, generous, impressive tome. The ideas on show are clever, funny, weird and sometimes deeply alien, but almost invariably worth your reading time.
This is a contrib copy for me, as it features my story, Unexpected Launch. However, mine is only one of 29 stories in this 728 page epic tome of a sci-fi anthology. I think this book will go down as a must-read in modern science fiction. The scope of the stories and the talent of the contributing authors is astounding. It really is a fantastic array of ideas and style. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll dig this book. If you’re not, it’s a great place to start. And if you know someone who says they don’t like sci-fi and you want to try to convert them, buy them this book. There were a handful of stories that didn’t really work for me, but that’s the case with any anthology. And this one has 29 stories, so there’s definitely something for everyone and I would bet that the majority of people would really groove with the majority of stories in here. Probably the standouts for me were Penelope Love’s SIBO, William R D Wood’s Deuteronomy, Robert Hood’s Desert Madonna, Damon Shaw’s Continuity, Brendan Duffy’s Space Girl Blues, Angela Ambroz’s Pyaar Kiya and Steve Cameron’s So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper. Although the real star of that last story is a secondary character. In fact, a brick.
This anthology is full of firsts for me. It was first lunched at my first spec-fic event just after I’d written my first short story. It’s also the first science fiction I bought on my Kindle. With all these first, I’m glad to report that it is a first rate book. It’s also a big book, its physical size really stood out when I first saw it. I’m actually glad I was able to buy it on Kindle. Its size is because there are a lot of stories, 27 in all. With so many stories I’d expected to find some stories that I didn’t like, but I didn’t. There were some stories I thought I wasn’t going to like; for example, a story that started with a single nude man on a beach and a love story with a time twist. There were some stories I would have disliked if they weren’t so well written; for example, a story with an almost two clever twist and an intergalactic sex parasite. However, most stories I just enjoyed from the start to finish. Just as there were no bad stories, no stories stood out as way above the rest. There’s a nice balance, no bad stories, many very good stories, no stories that over shadow the rest. I did have a favourite. It was a story of a man on a planet that has lost its stars who is sent by his boss to kill something in a town no one can find. I’ve not mentioned any story titles on purpose. If you want to know which stories I’m talking about, buy the book.
This is a very impressive collection packed with short stories that are set - quite literally - anywhere but Earth. It's rare to come across an anthology with no weak links, especially one that's so long, but I think Stevenson has managed to achieve this feat.
My favourite stories were "SIBO" by Penelope Love, "Rains of la Strange" by Robert Stevenson and "Messiah on the Rock" by Jason Nahrung.
It truly is like a wild tour of the voids beyond our own small ambit, all manner of visions of the future of our species, in an invigorating array of styles and approaches.
I have had a reading drought for the longest time and this collection of jewels (everyone of the stories had been thrilling and rewarding and inspiring and instructive in the craft and in imagination)as re-energised me not only to read but to write too.
At the recent��NSW Writer's Centre Speculative Fiction Festival I attended the launch of this 29 story anthology produced by Coeur de Lion and edited by Keith Stevenson. As the name implies, Anywhere But Earth has stories based on mostly human exploration and colonisation of the galaxy, with the only common theme that the stories are not set on Earth.
There are a range of authors, with a heavy weighting towards the antipodes. There seems to be reasonable gender balance in the stories, not quite 40% women authors by my count which isn't world's best but still a lot better than many anthologies. Each story has a little author bio attached - it did feel like a diverse range of authors had been included.
Can I get out of the way early that I loved the stories contained within this book. At the launch, my appetite had been whetted by three strong readings by:
- Richard Harland from An Exhibition of the Plague - a great story about a visitor to a plague ridden colony. The story twists at the end - the outcome was interesting and a little disturbing. Richard gave a dramatic rendition of the story at the reading with his usual theatrical flair. - Alan Baxter from Unexpected Launch - a couple of space cleaners are the only survivors from an unexplained disaster on their ship. Mr Baxter provided good humour in the story and a satisfying ending - what else can you ask for? - Margo Lanagan from Yon Horned Moon about a space courier and a close encounter - Ms Lanagan did a beautiful reading, showcasing her flair for language. To be honest, I actually preferred hearing the story read than reading it myself. The prose had a rhythm to it that I found hard to recapture in my head when I was reading the story, but while listening to Ms Lanagan read it flowed beautifully, almost poetically. This very possibly says a lot more about the lack of poetry in my soul than anything about Ms Lanagan's writing.
Given the strength of the readings, I was anticipating a good book. However, I was surprised at the strength of all the stories. While obviously I enjoyed some stories more than others, there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy on some level. I've mentioned a couple of stories specifically below that were particularly noteworthy or had some element I wanted to comment on.
The opening story is Murmer by Calie Voorhis. I read one of Calie's stories recently in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue #51 and really liked it. This was quite a different style of story exploring the nomadic lifestyle of intergalactic diplomacy and the desire to put down roots, in this case quite literally.
Beautiful by Cat Sparks was memorable not just for the quality of the writing but also as one of the few stories that was completely human-less.
I enjoyed the world created in Rains of la Strange by Robert N Stephenson. It had the feel of a larger universe only glimpsed - I liked the clockwork style of the protagonist and the action scenes felt well written to me. I was a little ambivalent about the ending, the pursuit of "real" emotions by emotionless/controlled mechanical beings is a little overdone in modern sci-fi. But despite my hesitation at those kinds of story lines, I still liked this tale.
Continuity by Damon Shaw had an interesting plot with a good interplay between a ship AI and what remains of the human crew.
Poor Man's Travel by Patty Jansen was a good story about mind swapping to escape the boredom of interstellar travel and the perils of offers that are too good to be true. I liked the ending of this one. And Ms Jansen was kind enough to sign my copy of the book at the launch.
I was partial to By Any Other Name by Kim Westwood. I won't give too much away about the story, but the slow reveal was well executed and the nature of the inhabitants of the world described was good. I'm looking forward to reading Ms Westwood's latest work (The Courier's New Bicycle) soon.
Space Girl Blues by Brendan Duffy was another slow reveal story, exploring some interesting possibilities in cloning and warfare. The ending to this story appealed to me.
Messiah on the Rock by Jason Nahrung. Space marines fighting space vampires. Enough said.
As well as the stories mentioned above, there was also:
Katharine is a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This review is the personal opinion of Katharine herself, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.
To be safe, I won't be recording my review here until after the AA are over.
I can see how this would appeal to others but I found myself skipping through most