I’ve recently discovered and been entranced by the Scale of the Universe 2. When you enter the site you come in at the level of a human – or if you prefer, a Dodo. You can scroll down past ants, bacteria, molecules and atoms to quantum foam or scroll up past blue whales and planets, galaxies, comets and nebula to the whole of the Universe itself, a strange and wondrous place.
With apologies to the wonderous Neil Gaiman, I offer these less sage – but perhaps still necessary – directives for life in the science fictional universe.
Trust the pilot with the old and rusted machine, nothing new and shiny is likely to work.
Wormholes and alternative timelines may look like an easy way out of trouble, but rarely prove to be so.
The advisability of bumping into your alternative/earlier/later self is not clear. Try not to.
At some point there will be a war involving robots and matter-altering devices. It will change the universe(s). Stay out of it if you can.
Artificial life forms are usually benevolent provided they have some degree of autonomy.
Body altering surgery is de rigueur.
However, you can always tell how old someone is by looking into their eyes.
You head is being messed with.
It is wise to back up your consciousness wherever/whenever possible.
The nature of humankind is almost always selfish and cruel. Nevertheless, in years to come and despite all evidence to the contrary, we’ll still be obsessed with religion.
Aliens can take you by surprise.
Immortality is not all it’s cracked up to be.
This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Margo Lanagan’s short story collection, Black Juice.
Lanagan’s worlds are not necessarily places you would want to visit. They are strange and often monstrous. Horrifying angels – noisy, smelly, unknowable – inhabit once place. Terrifying creatures erupt from the ground in another. Alien creatures are difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with. Humans are from worlds with different customs and understandings. And yet their values and motivations resonate with our own and makes the strangeness accessible. There is an emotional pull.
In Singing my Sister Down, probably the best known of the stories, a young boy witnesses the execution of his sister in a tar pit. Other tales: A herd of elephants journey to resuce their mahout. A girl rescues her crush, putting herself in the way of peril, only to be rejected. A travesty of a bride learns perseverance and courage. A girl buries her grandmother in a dystopian future. a boy frees himself from a brutal grandfather. Death and burial are a constant.
Each story features a wounded protagonist. The odds are often great, the possibility of success slim. Courage is the underlying theme and, for some, it is rewarded. Rite of Spring, the final story, is the most hopeful. A shining note to end the collection.
Lanagan’s writing is marvellous, sad, beautiful and tearing. She is able to paint a world through touches of phrasing and dialogue. She never explains, but somehow you know. Truly wonderful.