cover image Centaurus: The Best of Australian SF

Centaurus: The Best of Australian SF

. Tor Books, $29.95 (528pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86556-6

The wordcraft and imagination at play in this collection of 20 SF stories by Australian writers is quite extraordinary. The book is full of gorgeously imagined scenes on a transgalactic scale and challenging extrapolations of cutting-edge science. Hidden in the grandeur are meditations on the meaning of reality (Greg Egan's ""Wang's Carpets""), motherhood (Rosaleen Love's ""The Total Devotion Machine"" and Shane Dix's ""Matters of Consequence""), the social worth of religions (editor Broderick's own ""The Magi"") and gender dominance (a future lesbian society in Lucy Sussex's ""My Lady Tongue,"" menstrual sacraments on an alternate world in Stephen Dedman's Swiftian ""From Whom All Blessings Flow""). The question of tolerance comes up again and again: Islamic zealots encode the Qur'an in their DNA in Chris Lawson's ""Written in Blood""; lumpen-loving ideologues take on the bodies of the underclass via a genetic lottery in Booker Prize-winner Peter Carey's intimately human and poetic ""The Chance."" George Turner's classic ""Flowering Mandrake"" pits a plant-descended ""green-blood"" against xenophobic Earthmen. There is enough of the quotidian, charming and homey to ground all this exotica, and there are a few neat japes, like David Lake's unique tale of time travel gone wrong, ""Re-deem the Time."" A few clunkers appear as well, but no stiff prose, no cloddish infodumps. Broderick's introduction is itself a fine and illuminating piece of writing, and his and Hartwell's author profiles are unusually personal. It may arise from Down Under, but this anthology is a world-class treasure. (July) FYI: The 1999 World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Melbourne in August.