speculative fiction

Book Review: Showtime by Narrelle M Harris (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

This year I am reading and rereading children and young adult ‘classics’ written by Australian women. Read more here. However, after reading Alisa Krasnostein‘s brilliant post at the Australian Women Writers’ blog, I resolved to go back and read some of the Twelve Planets series which I had previously bought, but not yet read. This was the perfect kick back into the Australian Women Writer’s challenge

Showtime by Narrelle M Harris

Showtime by Narrelle M Harris
(2012, Twelfth Planet Press)

Own copy

Vampires, zombies, ghosts. We all know them. We’ve all seen the movies, read the books, developed complex theories about them based on the imagination of one creator (thanks, Joss). So, when I opened Showtime, I knew what I was getting into, of course . . .

Except these aren’t quite the stories we’re expecting. They respectfully nod at the stories we know, and then twist and turn them around and add some Royal show cakes for good measure. We open with Stalemate – the story of Helen and her mother Olivia who are revisiting old arguments and frictions with an energy which is both familiar and urgent. This is followed by Thrall which was probably my favourite out of the four stories. Here we meet the traditional vampire, Dragomir who is finding it harder and harder to thrive in the modern world. I love the part where Dragomir expresses his frustration with the way popular culture has messed with the way people look at him:

“All these ridiculously tall and handsome fictional vampires, with their glowing eyes and their impeccable fashion sense. They gave people unreasonable expectations.”

The third story, The Truth About Brains is a fabulous funny story about siblings and childhood relationships. And zombies. Amy decides to leave her brother Dylan behind while she heads out swimming . . . with some rather terrible consequences. The final story, Showtime, is another vampire story set in a modern day setting. Though, this time, instead of the traditional Europe we expect (as in Thrall), we get Melbourne. At their Royal Show.

On the surface, Showtime is a fairly light hearted romp alongside some of our favourite speculative fiction creatures. Underneath that, though, it is a collection of stories about families – the families we would do anything for and they families we would do anything to escape. The families we create and the families which are thrust upon us. The families we love – and the very same families which drive us around the bend.

The other thing that struck me about Showtime was that you know that there’s something you don’t know about each story. But you’re perfectly happy for the story to play itself out – you’re enjoying the world, the characters, the descriptions – and for the twists to come to you. I actually stopped reading for a few minutes after each story, just so I could enjoy them and let them sink in fully before reading the next one.

I often say that I’m not a ‘speculative fiction reader’. I’m starting to question that now. While I don’t read as much speculative fiction, or in some of the same areas of speculative fiction as my friends, I really do enjoy books like this which take the things I think I know and twist them in a beautifully gleeful fashion. Showtime is a really lovely, highly readable collection of stories, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy to enjoy.