Edition 27: Book Review: Interspecies (The Inlari Sagas) edited by Ally Bishop
Reviewed by Lee Murray
Shared-world anthologies—stories by multiple authors writing in a single universe—are difficult to get right. They require a collective mind-set and a sometimes lengthy collaborative process to develop the world building in a way that resonates for all the book’s players. Max Booth III, the editor of shared-world anthology Truth or Dare explains: “if you want to put together a shared-world anthology, please take your time. Know your universe in and out. Every crack, every pebble. Every buried corpse in the local graveyard. Every haunted house and every cannibalistic witch.” (Lit Reactor, December 2014) But done right, shared world-writing can be an innovative and exciting experience for participants as fantasy superstar George R.R. Martin describes: “writers work together, bouncing off of one another and reacting to each other’s stories and characters like a group of talented musicians jamming…” (Tor.com, June 2011).
Popular in the 1980s, the shared-world concept seems to be enjoying a resurgence with anthologies like Madhouse (Dark Regions Press), The Faraday Cage (Tau Press) and The Refuge Collection (Steve Dillon) all appearing on the speculative landscape over the last month. However, up until now no shared world that I am aware of has been set primarily in New Zealand.
Interspecies: The Inlari Sagas is a collection of four science fiction novellas set after the Earth’s first contact with the embattled inlari, refugees from their own war-torn universe. A struggle for technological supremacy ensued between the species, devastating the Earth and leaving the Antipodes, particularly New Zealand, as the last bastion of hope for any chance at interspecies harmony.
I was intrigued to learn that three of the book’s authors hail from the San Francisco Bay Area, which suggests to me that my countryman and fellow writer, Woelf Dietrich, has done a good job in selling them on the idea of New Zealand as the setting for their universe. It is a tired and grey New Zealand, lacking the vibrancy of today, and yet in Interspecies I recognise the startling beauty of my home country and the resilience and spirit of its people.
The book’s foreword by Samuel Peralta is a story in itself, setting the scene for interspecies communication with vignettes about Dr Penny Patterson and Koko, the lowland gorilla, about NASA’s Margaret Howe and the bottlenose dolphin, Peter, and Peralta’s own childhood encounter in the Philippines with grey house lizard (Hemidactylus frenatus), whom he affectionately refers to as Sammy Davis Junior. And finally, Peralta mentions SETI’s Jerry Ehman who on August 15, 1977, discovered a message embedded in Ohio University’s radio telescope data…we are here.
The stories don’t start immediately. Instead, they are prefaced by a historical timeline followed by a brief introduction, both outlining the events leading up to the inlari occupation of Earth and the subsequent interspecies war: necessary work which saves the need for long tracts of backstory and context within the novellas themselves. It is only then that we are launched into the first story, The Memoriam by M.J. Kelley, which begins: “The needle hovered above Kene’s face…”
Kene is the last inlari acolyte, chosen to learn his species’ history through memory transfer with his mentor in their encampment in the shadow of Naven, the last free human city in New Zealand. But the memories revealed to Kene are overwhelming, causing him both physical and emotional pain, so much so that he begins to doubt his calling. The Memoriam is a beautifully-crafted story, its imagery invoking the despair of the last days of the inlari and providing a powerful opening to the book: “Leaving the atmosphere, star ships in their thousands blasted into space with a glitter of pulsing engines like diamond dust ejected against an inky backdrop.” Evocative words. Mind you, M. J. Kelley’s biography says he can peel a carrot with a look, and that alone would compel me to read his work!
The next novella in the collection is Underground Intelligence by Elaine Chao. It is the story of Ān-tíng, who forms part of a military group gathering intelligence to overthrow the inlari. But when she is discovered during what should be a simple mission, Ān-tíng learns that humanity isn’t a trait exclusive to the human race. A quick search on Amazon suggests that Underground Intelligence is the first work of fiction by Chao, so this story examining the forces which motivate and fulfil us, is a bold debut.
Quinette Alteiri is the daughter of an elite inlari family; her mother, the leader of the North Island inlari. But since her father has gone missing, Quinette has found comfort with her human slave, Zet. Their relationship is strictly forbidden, so the star-crossed lovers plan to run away. A story of love, loyalty and prejudice, Transmission Interrupted by Dana Leipold is an inlari-human retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The final story in the collection is Babylon’s Song by Woelf Dietrich. Ironically, the only New Zealand author in the group begins and ends his story in Australia’s New South Wales, where nine-year-old Samantha is forced to watch the slaughter of her parents outside their family home. Transported to New Zealand as a human slave for the inlari, Samantha is bonded to the kindly Master Zocht, but her sister, Kimberly, hasn’t been so lucky.
Dietrich’s prose is sparser and less flowery than his colleagues, necessary perhaps given his desolate subject matter, although, ultimately, Babylon’s Song leaves us with the most hope for the future, which is fitting for the book’s final tale.
As a shared-world collection, Interspecies is a success: the four novellas all offering a unique and distinctive view of the occupied Earth and its co-existing species, but the tales are not so disparate that the collection isn’t solid and cohesive. A satisfying read in an exciting new world; I look forward to the second book in this series.
Interspecies (ed. Ally Bishop)
Kōsa Press, 2016
Lee Murray writes fiction for adults and children, twice winning New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction and fantasy writing. However, she has only recently turned her hand to horror, and finds teenagers to be far more terrifying than spiders or zombies.