Monday, March 26, 2012

Showtime by Narrelle M Harris

Showtime is the fifth of the Twelve Planets books to be released, and the third that I have far.

Don't know about the Twelve Planets series? Here's a very brief summary from the publisher's website

The Twelve Planets are twelve boutique collections by some of Australia’s finest short story writers. Varied across genre and style, each collection will offer four short stories and a unique glimpse into worlds fashioned by some of our favourite storytellers. Each author has taken the brief of 4 stories and up to 40 000 words in their own direction. Some are quartet suites of linked stories. Others are tasters of the range and style of the writer. Each release will bring something unexpected to our subscriber’s mailboxes.
Last year I read and reviewed Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Nightsiders by Sue Isle, and other authors are involved in the project include Margo Lanagan, Cat Sparks and more! The best news that has happened since last year is that the books that have previously been published are now available on ebook so people outside of Australia can get hold of them. If nothing else, I would suggest getting hold of Love and Romanpunk at the very least (mainly because that is where I started) if you are interested in trying some different Australian spec-fic authors.

Whereas the two previous Twelve Planet books I have read had a similar structure in that the four individual short stories were linked through either narrative or characters, Showtime featured four stories that were not connected at all with each other. It also doesn't feature the same types of paranormal creatures in each story. We do have a couple of vampires, but there are also ghosts and zombies found in the pages.

The first of the stories in the collection is Stalemate and I must confess that, at first, I was a little perplexed because it doesn't actually seem all that speculative in nature, but the reader does gradually get to see how this  particular story very definitely sits within the remit of a speculative fiction collection. The story is quite mundane  to begin with - a woman who has been unwell has had her mother staying with her to help look after her. The stay is getting to the point where it has been too long and the house guest is not quite as welcome as she initially was or could be and every little thing is becoming intolerable. (I totally related to this particular aspect of the story!). There was a very satisfying twist in the tale in this story.

If I had to pick an absolute favourite of the collection (you know, picking just one!) then it would be the second story, Thrall. Dragomir has been a vampire for several hundred years. He is struggling a bit now. In this modern age, the blood he ingests just isn't as pure as it once was, he keeps on getting filmed and ending up on the news and Youtube, and truth be told he is kind of short and his physical presence is not as dominating of the general population as he once was. Even ordering a cup of tea is nowhere near as simple as he would like it.

He returns to his ancestral home with a view to taking refuge away from the modern world. In order to do this, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled and so he sends a summons to the family who have been sworn to do his bidding for centuries. They always send the strongest man so he is not best pleased when the person who answers his call is a middle aged woman called Erszebet, but beggars can't be choosers.

Zombies are the focus of the third story, The Truth About Brains, and from a pure, smiling-while-reading it perspective, this was nearly my favourite mainly because I really liked the voice of the teenage protaganist, Amy. She is supposed to keep her eye out on her younger brother Dylan, but that gets a bit wearing after a while so she sneaks off with her friends, leaving him to his fate. As a result of some misadventure, he becomes a zombie. Amy knows that her mum is going to be VERY annoyed when she finds out and so she has to try and work out how it happened, and how to fix it fast! There is also a hint of an older story in the pages, one that it would also be interesting to read.

Here are a couple of quotes from early on which give a good idea of the tone of the story. Firstly, the opening paragraph:

My little brother Dylan is dead, but that doesn't stop him from being a pest. He still follows me everywhere, and Mum still makes me take him with me when I go to the shops.

and then a couple of paragraphs later:

He's only been like this for a few days. I thought it would be cool, having a zombie for a brother, but it's not. The fact is that it stinks. Literally. And it's getting worse every day. Maybe it's okay in Europe or whereever, but Australian summers are bad news. Nothing's fallen off him yet, but it's only a matter of time. I hate to think what's going to happen when school starts again in February. I don't think Mr Browning is going to let Dylan on the school footy team this year.
The final story, and the one that gives the collection its title Showtime, is connected to Narrelle's previous novel called The Opposite of Life which features a less-than-enthusiastic vampire, Gary and his human friend, Lissa, who is a librarian in her day job. I haven't read The Opposite of Life and, given the choice, I would not normally read a series out of order, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. I do now have the book waiting for me to pick up from the library after having to get it sent over by interlibrary loan.

Gary is somewhat different to the other vampires that you read about. He doesn't enjoy being vampire. He likes Lissa because she reminds him what it means to be human, really human. What could be more human than spending the day at the show (kind of like a big country fair in the city in case you don't know about the show). There's so much to do - you can see the cake decorating, the wood chopping, look at the animals (although they do tend to react badly to a vampire being in their midst) and not forgetting the sideshows with the rides, including the haunted house.

I can't remember the last time I went to the show, and I wouldn't normally spend a lot of time down Sideshow Alley even if I did go. Let's just say I would be even less likely to visit Sideshow Alley after having read this story because there could be all sorts of nefarious dealings going on down there!

This was another fun collection of stories from the Twelve Planets series. I definitely can't wait to see the next books when they arrive in my mailbox!

Rating 4/5

Family drama can be found anywhere: in kitchens, in cafes. Derelict hotels, showground rides. Even dungeons far below ruined Hungarian castles. (Okay, especially in Hungarian dungeons.)

Old family fights can go on forever, especially if you’re undead. If an opportunity came to save someone else’s family, the way you couldn’t save your own, would you take it?

Your family might include ghosts, or zombies, or vampires. Maybe they just have allergies. Nobody’s perfect.

Family history can weigh on the present like a stone. But the thing about families is, you can’t escape them. Not ever. And mostly, you don’t want to.

"It’s a beautiful collection of pieces, each one utterly classic and completely new at the same time… In Narrelle’s hands, everything old is new again, and everything new has the weight of age. There’s magic in that, and in this book." — Seanan McGuire

I read this book for the Aussie Author Challenge and The Australian Women Writers Challenge.

If my review has piqued your interest, there are currently a couple of giveaways happening of this collection at Goodreads. If you are an Australian interested in reading the book click here, and for US, Canada or Britain this is the link. Good luck!


  1. This collection sounds wonderful, and I love the angle of the vampire story! I would love to read this one, and might have to think about picking it up when I can. Fantabulous review today, Marg! I loved it!

    1. Zibilee, try entering the giveaway at Goodreads.

  2. I'm planning to start Love & Romanpunk today!

  3. Thank you for the book recommendation, The Island. I have placed it as #1 on my Goodreads list.

    1. You are welcome. I hope you enjoy it. I am so far.

  4. Great to hear Australian short story writers have a great platform to get their work out there.

    1. Jo, so far I have enjoyed all the Twelve Planets books and there is a bit of variety in the stories that are on offer too.

  5. I really enjoyed Showtime - Thrall was my favourite story as well. Great review Marg.