ISBN – 0980777097 (ISBN13: 9780980777093)
The Bone Chime Song and other stories is the debut collection from Australian short story writer and novelist, Joanne Anderton. Anderton’s science fantasy novels from Angry Robot Books (published as Jo Anderton), Debris and Suited, have been brilliantly received and garnered a slew of award nominations. Her short fiction has been equally well received and has also gathered a lot of award attention. In fact, one of the stories in this collection, Sanaa’s Army, is currently a finalist for both fantasy short story and horror short story in the Aurealis Awards and Best Short Story in the Ditmar Awards. The title story from this collection, The Bone Chime Song, is also a finalist for Best Short Story in the Ditmar Awards this year. So there’s no doubt that Anderton’s short fiction is the kind of work that demands attention.
This collection concentrates on Anderton’s horror stories, with most being science-fiction and post-apocalyptic horror. There’s a smattering of contemporary horror, in stories like Always A Price and Shadow of Drought. But for me, Anderton is at her absolute best when she plays with future tech and the breakdown of society, as she always manages to approach it from a completely human perspective, no matter how far out her settings and situations.
And they are often far out. Anderton’s work delves into the truly surreal and her exploration of that surreality is utterly convincing. She expertly sets up an environment with such confidence, and so little backstory and development required, that we simply accept it without question and are immediately invested in the trials of her characters.
Those characters are usually focused on the maintenance of family and individuality in the face of apocalypse, the saving of loved ones against the tide of technology gone feral. Her stories are all about family, all against authority, constantly finding the humanity in the face of the apocalypse. Always in her work, despite the horror, there is hope. But that hope isn’t always rewarded.
Anderton is a writer with a deft touch, creating something we can see, feel and even smell, and then she gently twists it into something weird and disturbing. Every story is like this to one extent or another. There isn’t a bad story in this collection – it’s one of the strongest single-author collections to come out for a long time – but it’s impossible not to have favourites. The beauty of the variety here is that everyone is likely to have different favourites. For me, the stand-out stories are Out Hunting for Teeth, Sanaa’s Army and Mah Song (one of two originals in the collection – the other original being Fence Lines.) But those three are almost arbitrarily picked, because every story is great. Tomorrow, in a slightly different mood, I might pick three different ones.
The Bone Chime Song and other stories is a powerful and compelling debut collection from an author who is barely started on her journey and already producing work of incredible quality. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.