Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.v

CLOH-cover-smallAs the title suggests, Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology of short stories revisiting some of the great women of history. Those facing adversity and refusing to be bowed by it. Some of these women – Elizabeth the first, Elizabeth Bathory, Mary Wollstonecraft – are easily recognizable. Others are less well known but no less noteworthy. Penned by an array of brilliant authors, including multiple award-winning authors Garth Nix and Juliette Marillier, this is a collection to be savoured.

For several months I’ve been following the blog, Rejected Princesses. Devoted to telling the stories of girls and women who don’t fit the mould Disney would require for its princesses, it has some amazing tales of women from myth and history. These women are violent, brave, stubborn and demanding, but never dull. Therefore I was delighted to find that many of the stories I’d read on the blog have also been included in the pages of Cranky Ladies of History. Many other stories are new to me, and some are tales that most people know set in a perspective not often used.

While all of the stories in the anthology are fascinating, two in particular stand out. Sylvia Kelso’s Due Care and Attention, and Joyce Chng’s Charmed Life. Both of these stories are remarkable in that they portray women being women. Rather than trying to toughen up to fit into a man’s world, the central characters in these stories focus on improving the daily lives of those around them. Their stories are of creation rather than destruction.

In Due Care, Dr. Lilian Cooper uses her medical knowledge to serve the people in her community – particularly those who cannot afford medical attention. Like all the women in this collection, she has a temper – but her ire rises when local laws seek to keep her from offering timely medical aide.

In Charmed Life, Empress Leizu laments the idleness of her life until she realizes that she might be able to make a difference in the lives of her people and, in the process, lighten the workload of the women around her.

Both tales focus on relationships between women, reinforcing the point that women have always fought the restrictions placed on them.

The supernatural element in Cranky Ladies is the only thing that weakened an otherwise wonderful anthology. It didn’t occur in more than one or two stories, but putting in events that were so obviously mythology rather than history fuels doubt of the veracity of all of the stories. And there have been enough amazing women doing fantastic things that adding magic isn’t necessary for a good story about them.

Most of these stories are gems, some featuring well-known historical women, though many not. It was the lesser known figures that sent me on searches of the bits that the story left out. Having been introduced to so many amazing historical figures in this anthology, I only wish it had been longer.

 

Cranky Ladies of History – ed. Tehani Wessely

 FableCroft Publishing (March 2015)

 ISBN: 9780992553456

Bec Stafford

Bec Stafford has a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Queensland. She blogs and interviews for the Escape Club and The Spotlight Report.

luckhurst_zombiepicZombies: A Cultural History

Roger Luckhurst

224pp Reaktion Books November, 2015

Professor in Modern Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, Roger Luckhurst has written and edited a broad range of publications on horror, film, sci-fi, pulp fiction, and gothic literature.

Comprising eight well-arranged chapters, the book kicks off with an introduction to the world of zombies, offering the reader some general context before homing in on specific aspects of their complex evolution.

The first chapter, From Zombi to Zombie, outlines the zombie’s early origins in Caribbean and particularly Haitian folklore and its conceptual migration to U.S popular culture during the final years of the Haitian colonial occupation of the late 1920s and 30s. In describing the transference of the Vodou religion from its spiritual home in Benin, Africa, to the Caribbean via the slave trade, Luckhurst acknowledges the origins of the new Haitian national identity – one which sparked the imaginations of 19th-century travel writers and which was to become inextricably linked with the politics of race and slavery during the American Civil War. Luckhurst describes the early brand of ‘Colonial’ Gothic, firmly establishing the zombie’s place in that literary mode early on in the text and elaborating on this in subsequent chapters.

The zombie of pulp fiction is examined, including early work by HP Lovecraft, JC Henneberger’s influential Weird Tales series, and the famously melodramatic tales of Henry St Clair Whitehead, which were informed by his ethnographic background and fascination with local superstition.

Delving into the rich tradition of zombie cinema, Luckhurst presents the reader with a well-researched and judiciously condensed history and sociocultural analysis of everything from 1932’s White Zombie, Tourneau’s 1942 masterpiece, I Walked with a Zombie, and George Romero’s famous contributions, through to more recent, post-millennial offerings, such as World War Z and The Walking Dead TV series. Luckhurst draws on prominent, respected researchers to back his well-considered, lucid overview of this culturally pervasive figure.

In the final chapter, the essence of current zombie discourse is distilled into a compact summary, highlighting the trope’s multi-layered, politically charged, and significant presence in global popular culture. For anyone seeking a definitive yet succinct history of the zombie, this book is an absorbing, accessible introduction.

 

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

fink-nightvaleWelcome to Night Vale is a novel based on the incredibly popular podcast of the same name. The podcast is a way for non-residents of the fictional desert community to listen to broadcasts from the Night Vale Community Radio station—a staple in Night Vale households whether they like it or not—as Cecil tells us about the many mysteries that plague the peculiar town.

The novel adaptation of the podcast primarily follows two specific mysteries (while often deviating onto other strange, tangential narrative paths) and contains all of the bizarre absurdities that lovers of the podcast have come to expect. But that’s not to say you need to be a long-time listener of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to enjoy this book. While those already familiar with the Night Vale community may notice the occasional reference before somebody who is new to this universe, every peculiarity is introduced in a way that provides enough context for all readers to interpret—if not understand—what is going on.

 And not quite understanding is part of the joy of Night Vale.

In this way, I’m sure Welcome to Night Vale is a ‘love it or hate it’ experience. Some people will dislike the unusual narrative style, with a narrator who insists that you imagine something—a teenage boy, for instance—and then tells you that you’re imagining it wrong. The narrative is often derailed by seemingly-irrelevant transcripts of Cecil discussing the traffic or reminding us that librarians are dangerous. Anybody who prefers a narrator who tells a nice, linear story while minding their own business and staying inside their book likely won’t enjoy their adventure through Night Vale.

I only needed to read the foreword of Welcome to Night Vale to know that this novel would quickly become one of my favourites. The book is incredibly clever. Details are revealed and withheld with deliberation and care, leaving the reader with a haunting, lingering mental image of a town that is dissonant when compared to their own, but that is also terrifyingly similar.

I remember being introduced to the principle of ‘Chekhov’s gun’ in a first year creative writing subject at university, and Welcome to Night Vale is the embodiment of that idea. If you’re unfamiliar, this principle suggests that everything included in a story must be relevant to that story, or else should be removed. Even the smallest reference to the strangest thing in Welcome to Night Vale comes up again at one time or another, and the most surprising characters and objects become integral to the overall story. In this way, everything that happens in Night Vale is linked to everything else that happens in Night Vale. Time and space are weird, dude.

As I worked my way through the novel, I encountered innumerable sentences that were so interesting or bizarre that I just wanted to read them aloud to someone. I involuntarily became the annoying person who sits next to you at a movie and points out all the clever parts, but without the benefit of you having any knowledge of the surrounding story. I was so excited by this ridiculous adventure that I just had to share it with the people around me.

I enjoyed being told to imagine things. I even enjoyed being told that the things I was imagining were wrong and that I should try again. I liked being given incredible detail about some of the characters, objects, or settings, but almost none about others. Welcome to Night Vale made me think, made me ask questions, and made me marvel and wonder at the world I was travelling through as well as my own.

At first glance, Welcome to Night Vale seems to be completely distant from the places we inhabit. After all, we don’t have teenage boys who can morph into whatever physical form they want, or a pawn shop where we have to perform strange hand-washing rituals before we can pawn our items, or doors that need to be shouted at before they will open. And yet the residents of Night Vale consider these goings-on entirely normal—or, at least, mostly acceptable.

However, on closer inspection, perhaps there are aspects of our lives that we accept, but that would seem just as unusual to an outsider, looking in. Our teenagers may not be able to transform themselves from human form into that of a wolf-spider or a sentient haze at will, but they are asking similar questions about who they are, how they should look, and how to fit in. We may not need to wash our hands while chanting in order to pawn our possessions, but we have many strange rituals and routines of our own. Often Welcome to Night Vale touches on realities that are a little too relatable, like the strange thoughts many of us seem to miraculously have while in the shower, or the distress that sometimes comes when inhabiting the space between waking and dreaming.

Welcome to Night Vale spends a lot of time exploring the lives of the community’s many and varied characters. Some have flaws, most have peculiarities, and all are relatable in one way or another. While the development of the two female protagonists is evident, many of the side-characters seem to progress very little, acting as symbols for greater issues or signposts for the narrative while lacking their own fully-fledged personalities. But in a lot of ways, that’s the point. Characters struggle to understand the routines they find themselves trapped in, to decide whether they enjoy what they do every day, and to remember how they even came to be where they are. In doing so, these side-characters cause the protagonists—and the reader—to ask themselves: am I a fully-fledged character? Do I know how I came to be where I am? Do I like it here?

Welcome to Night Vale is a wonderful journey into absurdity that will make you ask a lot of questions. At first, you will be wondering ‘What are those strange lights in the desert?’ and ‘How can a house be sentient?’ but before long—before you even notice the questions have changed—you will be asking different things, like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I doing with my life?’

All hail the Glow Cloud.

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

Categories

Archives

Search

Follow

Keep in contact through the following social networks or via RSS feed:

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Follow on Google+
  • Follow on GoodReads
  • Follow on Tumblr
  • Follow on Flickr
  • Follow on YouTube