Worlds Next Door ed. by Tehani Wessely

The final “non-review” of the book prizes from my latest blog comp is “Worlds Next Door” edited by Tehani Wessely.

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“Worlds Next Door” is the debut launch of new publishing house Fablecroft Publishing, the brainchild of Tehani Wessely (disclaimer: in 2009 Tehani awarded me 2nd place in the KSP Spec Fic Awards, so I am predisposed to believe her to be a human of impeccable taste).

What is it about Young Adult (YA) fiction that lends itself to Speculative Fiction?

One of my Lit lecturers at Curtin Uni – in trying to explain modernity and post-modernity to the class – dropped a sentence on us that I’ve always remembered:

“In modernity, the abject patrols the liminal space between binaries.”

Let me try and explain this without stuffing it up, or dumbing it down to the point of error:

Modernity is all about knowing things, defining them. For example: I know that I am alive and I know that I am not dead. In modernity, Alive and Dead are two separate categories and an individual subject that falls into either is a known.

But what happens in the places where the boundaries come close to, and butt up against, each other? This area is contentious and scary for the modernist way of thought, because the ability to know is compromised – the normal rules don’t necessarily apply. So, to keep us from lingering there too long, the abject (a fearful creature or idea) exists to patrol the borders and scare us away.

Some examples:

The Alive v. Dead binary: in this case the abject is the undead – vampires, zombies and the like.

The Human / Machine binary: the abject here is the cyborg: the Terminator and Darth Vader (at least as they were originally conceived) were iconic objects of fear.

Racial binaries: literature has often used mixed race subjects as areas of fear. The most notable examples being the voodoo practicing creoles, but there are also examples of Eurasians, and other mixed race subjects throughout literature.

…and of course:

The Child / Adult binary: where the abject is the teenager (or Young Adult).

The part of us that longs for the safety of knowing finds areas of ambiguity disturbing. We accept that the strange occurs there, because it gives us a reason to avoid it.

The first comment I have about “Worlds Next Door” is that it is aptly named. The worlds described in the stories do feel just next door, or just over the fence. They aren’t full blown fantasy, they’re just a “little different”.

There are so many excellent stories in this collection, including “The Best Dog in the World” by Dirk Flinthart, which just about tears your heart out, and “Genevieve and the Dragon”, by the ever excellent Angela Slatter.

I want to talk about two stories in particular:

“Old Saint Nick” by Leith Daniels stood out in my mind because I was able to listen to Leith read part of his story at the book launch.

The launch was well attended, and it seemed there were at least as many kids as adults. I took my two rug rats along and watched with great pleasure as their eyes boggled when Leith described “Old Nick” as being (and I paraphrase here) “fat in the kind of way someone is fat if they are layered with muscles from working with livestock, and the fat is there to facilitate living in a frozen tundra wasteland.” (Leith says it much better than I do)

Gulp.

It is a dark, funny, cautionary tale about kids who think they are cleverer than magic and fantasy.

The other story I want to mention was my favourite from the book – “The Guardians”, by Geoffrey Hugh Miller.

This story elicited a profound response from me. It was written simply, to the point where it may seem like a fairly superficial story. But for me, there was an emotional core to the story that resonated with my personal experience with one of the worst things of my teenage years: that as a teenager you are often exposed to the (occasional) shitiness of the world, but are almost always powerless to alter it.

“The Guardians” struck me as almost the quintessential teenager fantasy: to exert power in an adult world that has power over you.

Like the last two books I’ve discussed here, I say GO AND GET IT!

Oh, and keep an eye on Fablecroft. Trust your Uncle Daniel.

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