Dec 23 2010
What a great idea, a novellanthology, a collection of longer stories, very different from the mix-and-match bitsyness of the traditional short story anthology. But it has taken me embarrassingly long to settle down to read even the first in this collection of six speculative fiction novellas, X6, edited by Keith Stevenson and published by coeur de lion. And what a rewarding (not to mention award-winning) story Margo Lanagan’s ‘Sea-Hearts’ is …
We begin along a shoreline, a group of boys collecting sea-hearts for their ‘mams’. Through our narrator, Daniel, we learn about the island fishing village, Killy, and its inhabitants, including the dads, no strangers to brutality. We learn too about the mams, but only piece by piece: Daniel already knows his world, of course, and his job isn’t to explain it to us; it’s to tell his own story.
All narrative writing works like this, painting a bigger picture through what is seen and done within the story itself, and because speculative fiction involves worlds in some way different to our own it often has a bigger job. Killy seems like any other fishing village in the colder corners of the globe, yet the differences and the strangenesses mount up. What exactly are these mams?
We find out, in a glorious turn when the story breaks out from the constraints of the village, spilling into the sea, in Daniel’s voice:
I will not tell you much about that time. It is not the kind of thing that can be caught in words, human words out of our subtle mouths: sunlight shafting into the green; the mirrory roof; [...] racing ahead through the halls of the sea, the cathedrals; boat bellies, and the mumble and splash of man-business disturbing the water above; […] It is very much like flying, through a green air flocking with tiny sunlit flecks of life.
This use of language, redolent of old country dialects, yet obviously new and different, creates both a familiarity and a distance to the story. We recognise it is about us, about patriarchy and brutality, and also about hope and a kind of love; when the story folds back on itself, we see that redemption comes even to the wicked.
In this sense, fiction is always better than the real life faced by both its readers and its writers: it proposes and delivers a better world, one in which endings can reliably be positive and hopeful. We leave the characters suspended in time, having finished their stories. As we carry on into our own futures.
Awards and commendations won by X6 so far include:
A Locus Magazine ‘Recommended Read’ of 2009
‘in the race for the “Best Anthology of The Year” title’ Gardner Dozois — Locus Magazine
Winner - World Fantasy Award for best novella – ‘Sea-Hearts’ by Margo Lanagan
Winner - Aurealis Award for Horror Short Fiction – ‘Wives’ by Paul Haines
Winner - Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella – ‘Wives’ by Paul Haines
Winner - Ditmar Award for Best Novella – ‘Wives’ by Paul Haines