Jack Dann and Janeen Webb (editors), Dreaming Down-Under (Tor, 2002)

Originally released in 1998, Dreaming Down-Under is one of those ambitious volumes which attempts to not just expand the limits and boundaries of the speculative fiction range of genres, but to shatter them altogether, much like Dangerous Visions did in 1967, and Redshift attempted to in 2001. The unifying theme of this particular anthology is that all of the authors collected within are Australian, and the suggestion is that just as the United States and England produced the groundbreaking "New Wave" movement of the late '60s, Australian speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, and all blends thereof) is blazing new trails today. Several dozen authors. 200,000 words of original fiction, and 20,000 more of commentary and notes. The limit? Imagination itself.

This is a mixed bag, in all honesty. With such an open-ended theme, and no real set guidelines, the authors were free to go where the winds took them, each one turning out whatever he or she felt best exemplified their work, and best represented the massive quantum shift of Australian speculative fiction potential. I don't think anyone could read every single story and enjoy them. Rather, each story is a different gem, sparkling and shining and glittering. Some catch the eye, others don't. Some look good when held up to the light, others require a different sort of appreciation.

That said, I can admit that there are some extremely powerful stories presented, the sort to return to over and over, and to contemplate while waiting to fall asleep late at night. David J. Lake's powerful pastiche/homage to Wells' "The Time Machine," entitled "The Truth About Weena," addresses the pesky problem of parallel timelines, the dangers of time travel, and the philosophical ramifications of attempting to change history, both present and future.

Rowena Cory Lindquist gives us a gripping tale of family, love, loyalty, and growing up, in "Prelude To A Nocturne." What happens when we're able to control and prevent the onset of puberty and all its distractions, and how could it affect society and the way we relate to people? This story drives the sociologist in me nuts with the potential, and Lindquist really brings out the depths of her characters and the profound way the creation of a new kind of minority affects the status quo.

Jane Routley's "Avalon" is a short but sweet tale of magic in the English countryside, where everything is up for speculation, and only the sheep know what secrets the Glastonbury Tor might hold.

Aaron Sterns gives us a feverish story of the subways, a disturbing, secretive world under our own, where things are decidedly not as they appear, in "The Third Rail."

Sean McMullen's "Queen of Soulmates" melds mathematical precision with magical destruction, showing what happens when an apocalyptic weapon is activated by a man too proud to accept the consequences. But in the midst of the end of the world (or what might be such), will human nature prevail, or capitulate?

Ian Nichols brings back sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll for a one night stand in "The Last Dance." It's hot, sweaty, dizzy, and magical, with scenes reminiscent of Emma Bull's musical sequences in War For The Oaks.

In "Descent," Cecily Scutt gives us a short but profound look at Hell as a nursing home (or is that a nursing home as Hell), blending the real and unreal with such deft precision that the seams are impossible to define.

"A Walk-On Part In The War", by Stephen Dedman, reinterprets the role of Odysseus and the Trojan Horse in the ancient Greek sagas, adding a twist that very few will see coming ... especially not the Trojans.

And in "Wired Dreaming," Paul Collins gives us a gritty cybernoir tale of murder and justice, centered around a hard-boiled cop with a secret past and a reason to see certain people get what they deserve.

There's a lot more. I've barely touched the surface of what Dreaming Down-Under has to offer in pointing out these particular stories. Whether your tastes run to fantasy or science fiction, to grim and gritty, or dark and disturbing, or magical and mirthful, there's a little something for everyone. These are the inventive, imaginative, trailblazing, wallshattering tastes of speculative fiction on the edge. This isn't safe, predictable, or familiar. I promise that the stories in Dreaming Down-Under will make you think, make you challenge preconceptions, and even make you seek out something different next time you're in the store.

For its unique role in offering a wide variety of work that goes against the grain and is bound to expose the readers to something new, I recommend Dreaming Down-Under. Maybe you won't like it all, but it's worth checking out nonetheless, before you go back to the safe and comfortable.

[Michael M. Jones]