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Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder by Terry Dowling
Cover Artist: Nick Stathopoulos
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596062931
Date: 30 June 2010 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Subterranean Press / Show Official Info /

Arguably the most widely known Australian author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Terry Dowling has appeared countless times in the major Year's Best anthologies. This new collection from Subterranean Press assembles a fair amount of Dowling's more recent uncollected stories, which previously appeared in anthologies and magazines in Australia, USA, UK, and Canada.

The stories cover all the author's favorite subgenres, but can be mainly divided in two distinct clusters: SF and horror fiction (plus a number of song lyrics that I don't feel qualified to comment upon).

A couple of the SF tales are inspired by some of Dowling's previous work and characters. For instance, as the author explains in his afterword, the novelette "The Library" belongs to the saga of Tom Rynosseros, and the story "Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose" to the Wormwood story cycle. I'm not familiar with either subject but many SFRevu readers certainly are. Never a great fan of hardline SF, I must confess that the above pieces as well as other stories, such as "He Tried to Catch the Light" left me a bit cold and sometimes slightly bored. Interestingly, Dowling himself makes the following comment that I found very appropriate:

"Most of the trans- and post-humanism depicted in current SF storytelling, is by its nature rarefied and remote, often too detached and unsexy for its own good. It may be cutting edge...but ultimately lacks a sufficiency in the very connection with humanity required to make it something we pre-posthumans can engage with for long."
I could not have better expressed my feelings about Dowling's own SF tales featured in the present collection.

On a brighter side, the author's horror pieces are of a different class entirely.

"The Suits at Auderlene" is an ambitious, not quite successful attempt to blend SF (some metal from a meteorite is endowed with a special power) and horror (ancient curses, terrible revenges etc.). Although atmospheric and entertaining enough, the story lacks the ability to elicit a real suspension of disbelief in the reader.

The remaining tales, however, are of outstanding quality.

    "The Fooly" is an offbeat ghost story with a terrific, totally unexpected twist in the tail, exploring the real meaning of being a spectre.

    "The Magikkers" is a delightful fairy tale where a young man discovers he has the fleeting power to produce true magic.

    "Jarkman at the Othergates" offers a fascinating journey into the many facets of reality and the gateways to other worlds. Set in an isolated Australian mansion full of incredible family secrets, the story is a kaleidoscope of images, colors and moods, handled by Dowling with extraordinary skill.

    "Toother", a superb, perfectly crafted, terrifying supernatural noir that pursues the traces of a horror spread across the decades, bringing about mutilation and death.

I'm sure others will appreciate Dowling as a great SF writer. Personally I think of him as a wonderful author of top notch horror fiction. When one is such an eclectic writer, readers (and reviewers) are entitled to have different views.

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