Review: New Ceres Nights, ed. Alisa Krasnostein & Tehani Wessely



(Twelfth Planet Press 2009: ISBN 978-0-9804841-2-0)

(review first published online on the now-demised Specusphere website, September 2009)

The collaborative universe of New Ceres is, in several respects, the flagship production of WA’s Twelfth Planet Press, since, although the present anthology represents the first hardcopy collection of stories set in and around New Ceres, there have been two preceding e-zine issues, as well as a muscular and didactic print novella by Dirk Flinthart, Angel Rising. Flinthart, one of several of New Ceres’ celestial architects, is again represented in Nights, alongside New Ceres ‘regulars’ such as Stephen Dedman and Tansy Rayner Roberts.

I have to say at the outset that the overarching premise of New Ceres – that a planetwide society would agree to the deliberate self-hobbling of its technological capabilities, to inflict on itself a kind of perpetual 18th century existence, against a backdrop of interstellar travel, intrigue, conflict, and political turmoil – has always seemed to me to be slightly implausible. With this proviso in mind, it’s perhaps surprising that the stories so often succeed in not merely engaging suspension of disbelief, but in actively captivating the reader.

Of the stories in New Ceres Nights, I was particularly taken by the sinister glow of ‘The Widow’s Seven Candles’, an exercise in brilliantly-sustained tension by Thoraiya Dyer, by the treacherously deadpan tone of Kaaron Warren’s merciless ‘Tontine Mary’, and by the refreshing lack of duplicity exhibited by Sylvie Kelso’s ‘The Sharp Shooter’, a character who juxtaposes the attributes of Shane and of Atticus Finch. I enjoyed the Pride & Prejudice / Sherlock Holmes mash-up of Sue Isle’s ‘Candle to the Devil’ (an imaginative sequel, if I understand it correctly, to an earlier Isle story from Borderlands magazine) and the subtle exploration of prejudice and cultural bigotry within both Stephen Dedman’s ‘Fair Trade’ and Aliette de Bodard’s ‘Murder in Laochan’, even though some of the character motivations in each of these stories remained slightly obscure. And the bookending of the collection – by Dirk Flinthart’s story ‘The Debutante’, with its glimpse of the genesis of New Ceres’ pivotal character, The Lady Governor, and by ‘The Piece of Ice in Miss Windermere’s Heart’, Angela Slatter’s rendering of an adventure involving Flinthart’s now-retired proctor, the nearly-superhuman George Gordon – is excellent. The remaining stories – ‘Code Duello’ by J C Hay, ‘A Troublesome Day for Jacky Midnight’ by Matthew Farrer, ‘Prosperine When It Sizzles’ by Tansy Rayner Roberts, ‘Blessed are the Dead that the Rain Falls Upon’ by Martin Livings, and ‘Smuggler’s Moon’ by Lee Battersby – are all effective in their own ways, but did not resonate with me as deeply as did Dyer’s, Warren’s, and Kelso’s stories in particular.

But, by all means, try it for yourself.  Make your own decisions.  And marvel that a story set a thousand years in the future, at a remove of many light years from Earth, and seeking to recapture an era two or three centuries before our own, can hold up such a mirror to our own mode of existence.

(Reviewed by Simon Petrie, 2009)


One response

4 03 2013
Specusphere, alas, is pining for the fjords | Simon Petrie

[…] on this site. You can see the first of these, my 2009 review of the Twelfth Planet anthology New Ceres Nights, here, and over the coming days, as time permits, I’ll add the […]

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