Distaff edited by Rosie Oliver

I would like to thank Shellie Horst for an advance copy of this anthology in exchange for a fair and honest review

Published – 8th August

Price - £2.36 Kindle eBook £10.99 paperback

The word distaff has taken on a negative connotation lately. Originally a ‘distaff’ was a tool used in the spinning of wool. It refers to ‘women’s work’ in a traditionally passive-aggressive Victorian manner. The anthology will be released in August of this year. It features a wide range of stories with little in common except their genre – science-fiction- and the fact that they are women’s work from cover to cover.

The introduction to this collection of SF stories poses an interesting question are there any anthologies of SF by women?  I will admit none jumped to my attention annoyingly, but a group of writers have come together and given us a tale of eight short stories that show the diversity within science fiction with a huge range of stories and some great style choices.

The Broken Man by Jane O’Reilly – This is a very strong and charming opening tale almost in the style of a fairy tale where a far future earth is now inhabited by two groups. Kiko belongs to a group that scavenge the land for waste products that can be sold while up in the skies a cloud city has the elite living lives of joy and parties. She finds a broken man from above and through an escape from pursuers ends up living a few days in the land above. It brought to mind a futuristic little mermaid tale but with a very important environmental message weaved into the tale of a future earth that could easily come about.

Space Rocks by Kerry Buchanan – a tight but remarkably smart space-ship focused tale of a returning space crew that appear to have set off a sign of some alien contamination. It’s a really good set-up playing with an experience crew and a sense of building tension but the revelation as to what is aboard is both surprising and yet makes weird sense if you know your mythology.

The Ice Man by Rosie Oliver – In a very different turn we go into futuristic Scandinavian noir with a woman being found murdered in the snow of a remote Swedish location. Soldis is the smart young detective assigned to talk to the victim’s current boyfriend and we get sucked into a tale of technical espionage mixing hi-tech business with more human betrayal.  It’s a fascinating world that is being painted and you’re never sure who can trust throughout the tale. One of my favourites in the collection.

Holo-Sweet by EJ Tett – Silver is the janitor on a spaceship expected to placate the ship’s AI/sprite Athanasia. It plays almost like a very weird episode of Star Trek mixed with Becky Chambers Wayfarers with cross-species romance and pleasingly issues of consent. Heart-warming.

A Cold Night in H3-II by Juliana Spink Mills– Meryn and Dave are the survivors of a space colony where all the other inhabitants have died due to a strange unknown virus. Dave is annoying and now the colony animals are looking at Meryn strangely. This is a great tale of building strangeness and horror leading to a rather eerie conclusion. Really good shivering material!

The Colour of Silence by Damaris Browne – Children are dying of a strange disease and to save the next generation a spaceship must attempt a dangerous trip across the stars.  It’s a disturbing tale of loss and guilt all portrayed in quick character snapshots.  While ending in hope it does feel a dark and unsettling trip into survival not just of kids but the whole human race.

My Little Mecha by Shellie Horst – an orbital colony is ensuring that no mecha need to visit the earth. A strange little puzzle of a tale where failing computers, ponies and robots are all essential elements.  A nice smart conclusion that makes you re-read the story in a different light.

Ab Initio by Susan Bolton – In a far future Yorkshire a survive of the event known as the Bloat explains his actions and motivations to the next generation.  Really liked how in a few pages Bolton paints a picture of plagues, civilization dying and being rebuilt.  Raises a question of how far you go to protect the world you want to save.  An intriguing moral dilemma.

The Shadows Are Us and They Are The Shadows by Jo Zebedee – this is more of a weird SF tale where a group of humans attempt an escape from a doomed planet. This is interweaved with the mysterious next lifeform to inhabit the earth combing it for previous materials. IT manages to be both saddening and hopeful which is a fine end to the collection.

Overall a very strong set of SF tales that demonstrate the variety that lies within any genre.  A lot of new names to me to watch out for and I think for people who enjoy testing their SF boundaries this would be a great place to explore the various futures that may await us.

Matthew Cavanagh