Left over to review as part of last year’s World Tour of SFF, Use Only As Directed fits just as nicely into the Women and Non-Binary in SFF theme for Skiffy & Fanty this year. The latest anthology from Peggy Bright Books, edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey, Use Only As Directed features Australian and New Zealand authors – of whom over 50% are female – crafting short stories around the titular phrase that one commonly reads on instructions for everything from medicine to the latest gadget.
The anthology’s predominant characteristic is its well-balanced diversity in authors and styles, with an array of female, male, and nonhuman characters and a range across genres from horror to fantasy to science fiction. Author nationality and the unifying theme bring the major constants — though given the Australian/New Zealand focus, racial diversity is not really present here.
Particularly given its variation in genre, Use Only As Directed is going to appeal to readers who generally appreciate all kinds of SFF and enjoy the concept of themed anthologies. Otherwise, there are specific stories that one may wish to seek out. The anthology is also notable for its highlighting of new and well-established SFF writers from Australia and New Zealand, and for me it proved useful for discovering writers who were new to me.
Charlotte Nash opens the anthology with “Dellinger”, a science fiction tale that touches upon issues of human-technology hybridization that are reminiscent of the ship ‘Minds’ in Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe stories. Without being derivative, Nash offers up her own unique take on a human-spaceship relationship in a plot where issues from a character’s past intrude upon the present.
Among a few stories I’ve read recently that put new spins on the ‘three-wishes-from-a-genie’ archetype, Leife Shallcross’ “The Blue Djinn’s Wish” stands out. Endearing with its power of simplicity and brilliant protagonist, it largely reverses the gender stereotypes of classic fairy tales.
“Homesick” by M. Darusha Wehm is about a community founded on an island of trash that is suddenly faced with people fleeing natural islands due to the rising waters brought on by climate change. Without being heavy-handed, this one tells more than just an entertaining tale.
For something creatively fun, Douglas A. van Belle delivers “Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka,” a story that links fairies and related mythological beasts with genetics. Followed by a disturbing tale of horror – “The Climbing Tree” by Michelle Goldsmith – the pairing of light SF followed by dark fantasy works great for the anthology’s flow.
Finally, “Future Perfect”, by Janeen Webb is another science fiction story, in this case based on present day Earth. Featuring themes of quantum mechanics, business intrigue, and ethics in scientific research, it excels with a compelling plot.
Use Only As Directed was a consistently entertaining read for me, with only the final story (“The Eighth Day” by Dirk Flinthart) being a disappointment. Written to closely mirror the creation account of Genesis, the style of the piece and far-too-much-similarity to the actual Biblical text put me off reading it moreso than its message. Other readers are sure to appreciate the humor and religious critique within it, however. While none of the stories in Use Only As Directed blew me away with brilliance, they were all professional quality, nearly all highly engaging, and often worked in fascinating interpretations of the theme.
- “Dellinger”, by Charlotte Nash
- “The Blue Djinn’s Wish”, by Leife Shallcross
- “The Kind Neighbours of Hell”, by Alex Isle
- “Mister Lucky”, by Ian Nichols
- “Home Sick”, by M. Darusha Wehm
- “Always Falling Up”, by Grant Stone
- “Yard”, by Claire McKenna
- “Never More”, by Dave Freer
- “Fetch Me Down My Gun”, by Lyn Mc Conchie
- “Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka”, by Douglas A. van Belle
- “The Climbing Tree”, by Michelle Goldsmith
- “Large Friendly Letters”, by Stephen Dedman
- “Future Perfect”, by Janeen Webb
- “The Eighth Day”, by Dirk Flinthart