N.E. Doran, Stuart Newman, and Craig Wellington
Desdichado Publishing / 236 pages / 1996
Recognize the word? Thylaxene. No, you wouldn’t. Unless you were familiar with the history of Australia — its flora and fauna. Or, if you happen to know Craig Wellington. Or (and this is almost as unlikely as the others), you managed to nab a copy of this entertaining short story collection. And knowing American booksellers, you probably will have to make a concerted effort to find it.
But, you’ve already heard me bemoan the wealth of foreign authors who are never seen on our shores. Just replay that tape in your mind. And then get back to this handy little volume: good for scaring the pants off you, making you worry about the future, and for tweaking a smile out of you.
I see by a show of hands that most of you want to hear about the scary parts. Well, do you remember as a child seeing something in a movie or on television or even in your dreams that frightened you so much that, to this day, you can’t dismiss the fear? We all have. For me it was the rabid dog scene in To Kill A Mockingbird. It is still chilling to think about that. Now, though, I have a new mental image to push that one aside — the “Thylaxene.”
The title story of this collection follows the attempt to resurrect an extinct species, the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger — and the horrifying results carry genuine fear. It leaves you with an interesting question: Are animals more frightening when their thoughts are a mystery to us? Or is it the possibility that they have started to think like us? It’s a skin-crawler.
The scares don’t stop there. “Adrift” is an unnerving little bit of paranoia that sneaks up and bites you on the hinder. Read “The Valued Citizen” and you’ll not only think twice about walking to the convenience store after dark, but you’ll feel the need for a shower when you finish the story. And “Femora Artifice” gets increasingly more creepy as… No, that would give too much away.
That’s quite enough dwelling on shocks and shivers; let’s turn to a beautifully crafted cautionary tale. “The Noog” reads like the best of Douglas Adams and the Grant Naylor franchise. Three layabout space bums stumble (what they do best) into learning more about a planet and its inhabitants than they ever wanted to. Whether they are the better for it remains to be seen. That’s a hint. I’d love to see a novel-length work featuring the Noog and the practically useless trio.
Actually, there are a number of shorts in Thylaxene that are tough to turn away from; “Four a.m. Immortal” and “To Be A Freeman,” to name a couple more. They work, just as the entire collection works in a big way.
Why does Thylaxene succeed where others have failed? Maybe because there hasn’t been a partnership this smooth in recent memory. Doran, Newman, and Wellington could be the best parts of one mind. Meet the author who uses three-tenths of his brain. And keep asking for more.