Monday, June 20, 2011

Nightsiders by Sue Isle

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

Last week I posted about Love and Romanpunk, which was the second book that was released as part of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press. This book, Nightsiders by Sue Isle, was the first published.

I hadn't read anything by Sue Isle before but knew as soon as I heard what the setting was that I wanted to read this collection of four short stories, one of which (Paper Dragons) had previously been published. The collection is predominantly set in the city where I was born, the city where most of my relatives still live, the city I visit quite regularly - Perth in Western Australia. This Perth however is only barely recognisable as the city I love to visit.

The book is set in the near future in a world where there has been dramatic climatic change in addition to bombings that have destroyed much of the infrastructure and housing. The temperatures soar during the day, forcing the few hardy souls who remain to take shelter where ever they can find it, and water is scarce. Most of the activity happens at night, hence the community being known as the Nightside. Most people have been evacuated to the East, and for the most part those who have been left behind have been forgotten.

The first story in the collection is The Painted Girl. The main character is Kyra, a young girl who travels with Nerina. They have travelled from place to place always being careful to behave appropriately as they travel through other groups areas and never to outstay their welcome. For the first time they that Kyra can remember, they are headed into the city proper. This story has familiar elements - the isolation you feel coming into an established community and not knowing how to act, a coming of age tale where getting to know yourself is made harder by the fact that you are not who you thought you were at all, but the harshness of the environment sandblasts these providing a rawness that is quite affecting.

The second story is Nation of the Night, and this is the story that is for me the lynch pin of the collection. The main character of the story is Ash, a young man born into a female body, and desperate for the gender reassignment surgery that will help him be the young man he feels himself to be. He has no choice but to head East to Melbourne for his operation. Whilst there are people that Ash meets in Melbourne that are welcoming to him as an outsider, the authorities or not. The city that I live in now is portrayed as overcrowded with refugees and suffering from it's own climactic issues, different from those faced in Perth, but with its own devastating implications for those who live in this city. As well as looking at the identity issues for Ash, there is also discussion of the fate of refugees in the city and the difficulties that they face like being able to provide and educate their families, as well as dangers facing those who don't belong. To me, this felt like a political statement given the emotional reactions that people have to the refugee issue, not only in Australia, but also in other places around the world.

The third story in the collection, Paper Dragons, is the one that worked least well for me, not so much because of the story itself but because of what we had already learned about the world. This story focused again on the younger members of the group with Ash appearing again within the narrative. I did think about using the word tribe rather than group but hesitated to do so, but there is almost a tribal feel to the group with all the members having prescribed duties. I think that the tribal element really comes to the fore in the fourth story, but more on that later. When on a mission to search through some of the dwellings for anything that might be of use to the group, Itch and Shani find some papers, which turn out to be a manuscript. When the troup of Players talk of performing the play, there is opposition from within the group as they fear that some of the memories of the past may be awakened and cause new ideas to be born that may cause changes that some within the group. The power of entertainment to provoke discussion and change is an interesting concept to explore in this setting.

Continuing with the idea of change and growth, the fourth story is also one I found very touching. In The Schoolteacher's Tale, Ellen Wakeling (the teacher of the title and oldest member of the group) is asked to perform the function of elder at an assembly to be held outside of the time and in conjunction with a tribe of native Australians. Whilst the vast majority of the people who live in this Perth stay close to the city centre, a few hardy souls have been spreading out into the surrounding areas, and now, there is a chance to move out to the Edge. For Ellen the trip to the Edge is a journey that forces her to think about the way that the people left behind in the colony have learned the skills that they need to survive and whether it is time for new ways to be examined and put into place. In some ways the expansion into the surrounding areas, and the meeting up with the Aboriginal communities felt a bit like a chance for recolonisation this time in partnership rather than through conflict.

Part of the reason I think that this story affected me as much as it did was that I recognised the journey that Ellen took, out through Mt Lawley, along the railway line (no longer in use in this book), out past the Peninsula hotel, as this is the route that I take most times I go to Perth and visit my family.

This book and Love and Romanpunk are completely different books, connected only in that they have been published as part of the Twelve Planets series, but they were both really good reads, and I can't wait for the next one to arrive in my mailbox in the next few weeks. I will definitely be ordering the future releases in the series and can't wait to see where I am taken next.

 Rating 4/5

This book  counted for the Aussie Author Challenge and I also counted it for the  Once Upon a Time V challenge which officially ends today (although it possibly fits under others of Carl's challenges just as easily). This is a therefore a good chance for me to list most of the books that I read during the challenge! Extra pleasing to me is to see that half of these authors are Aussie authors, and that I got to review all of those books! I actually didn't do that deliberately but I am glad it worked out that way.

The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierre
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan
The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts


  1. This also sounds like a unique and somewhat strange read, but one that I am sure I would really like. I am glad to hear that you are moving forward with the books from this publisher, and I look forward to hearing what you think of more of them. They sound totally off the beaten path, which is something I usually love in a read. Fantastic review!

  2. congratulations on finishing OUaT!! it sounds like you enjoyed the challenge as much as we all did!

  3. Don't think I could read this one - too close to home!



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