Edited by Cat Sparks

Agog! Press / 275 pages / May 2003

ISBN: 0958056722

About a year ago I was asked to review Agog! Fantastic Fiction. It was so enjoyable that I didn’t hesitate to Cat Sparks’ latest anthology. Again, I found that Sparks has a talent for finding the some of the most entertaining fiction Australia has to offer, snaring not only familar names, such as Jack Dann, Sean Williams, and Jack Dann, but uncovering “new” authors readers may never have encountered. What more could you ask of an anthology?

Kyla Ward starts off tthe collection with a story of magic, belief, and the dark side — of humans and other beings. “Kijin Tea” painfully evokes the grief of a family drawn apart and priceless things tossed aside. Lord and Lady Tooth skate that whip-thin line between our perceptions of good and evil as the story masterfully tugs at our perceptions and fears. Beliefs of an even stranger sort unite even as they divide the languid residents hoping to see “Moonflowers at the Ritz.”

Family relationships like no other you’ve encountered come to life in Kaaron Warren’s downright creepy “Bone-Dog.” Violence and madness simmer just under the surface of poor Robert in “Tigershow,“ but the question remains as to which reality in the grisly tale is the true one. Deborah Biancotti turns in a devilishly playful myth in “The Singular Life of Eddy Dovewater” that only adds to her already impressive body of work.

Glimpses of the future — or several futures — come to us in “Sigmund Freud & the Feral Highway,” a snowballing bundle of laughs and sly winks to readers. “The Butterfly Merchant” carries us to the strange disaster of an existence from The Stone Mage and the Sea.

Pondering the end of our world, Dirk Flinthart introduces as group of extreme sports fanatics that are not nearly as unbelievable as we wish they were. See if the behaviour in “The Big One” really seems so absurd when compared to what fills the TV schedule these days. A very different closing is proposed in “Eden.” Jack Dann, offers us a quick peek at a possible first contact that has its roots and Damon Knight and its sights squarely on the same black humour readers have become accustomed to finding in Cat Sparks’ anthologies.

The true standout of the collection may well be Scott Westerfeld’s chilling “That Which Does Not Kill Us.” Rather than merely asking if there are some things worse than death, Westerfeld goes far beyond that old bromide to examine the hypothetical question from both sides of the grave, making it less and less hypothetical with every beautifully chiselled word.

Whatever the subject matter, the stories in Agog! Terrific Tales are precisely are promised. Does Sparks have an unerring eye for quality or is ripping fiction thick on the ground down in Australia? Either way, it’s time to bring this talent out onto the world stage where everyone can marvel, and chuckle, at the gems they produce.