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Tales from the Crypto-System

by Geoffrey Maloney

(Prime Books, $17.95.)

Review by Andrew Hook

cover scanMaloney is an Australian writer who has been widely published in Antipodean magazines such as Eidolon, Aurealis, and Redsine, but whose work I wasn't familiar with until I came upon this Prime Books' collection. In a way this was pleasing, because I had few preconceptions when I began to read, and so was gleefully surprised once I discovered the quality of the fiction was high.

There are twenty-one first-class stories in this anthology, each indicative of Maloney's thoughtful, insightful prose, and imbued with a strong literary sensibility that I enjoy with speculative fiction. In addition to spanning some universal SF themes (frequently the uses and abuses of bio-technology), there are also some pieces containing elements of Borges-esque detective fiction (reminiscent of "The Garden of Forking Paths", for example). And the inter-correlation between some of the stories also produces a thematic and wholly satisfying read.

In "The Elephant Sways As It Walks" a semi-comatose man uses meditation to return to the India of his past, trying to undo the violence that has befallen him and being constantly frustrated until he finds the quirk which enables him to achieve his goal. This is a beautifully rendered piece of fiction, with the Indian locations vivid and believable, and Maloney gets under our skins sufficiently for us to hope that the protagonist will succeed.

In "Memories of the Colour-Fields" the vibrancy of a world is lost when attempts to mine its soil serve only to undermine nature and render the planet unusable. Indicative of mankind's selfish motives, and without aforethought to the consequences, Maloney's style personalises a common theme and brings the pathos home.

Some of these stories are set in a future Australia, run by a corrupt although essentially benign government, and beset by individuals out for what they can get so long as they can shake off the informers. Stories such as "5 Cigarettes & 2 Snakes" and "Keeping the Meter Running" have an unreal feeling of realness about them fusing SF with Noir but retaining a distinctive Maloney style. The prose is considered and delicate, clever and rewarding in turns.

There are a couple of the pieces which feel out of place, especially "Meat Puppets" which is a standard horror story that would be fine in an ordinary writer's collection, but which hangs uncomfortably here. Overall, however, "Tales From the Crypto-System" delivers intelligent, thoughtful fiction that entertains as well as intrigues. Definitely worth reading, and then definitely worth reading again.

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