Cigarettes and Roses, by Ben Peek
The Desertion of Corporal Perkins, by Bill Congreve
The Hours Before Sunrise, by Bill Congreve
The Mullet that Screwed John West, by Bill Congreve
2005 short fiction (pdf)
2006 short fiction (pdf)
Introduction by Peter McNamara
When I set myself to select my ten Best (favourites, if you will) genre stories from the past decade, I decided I'd need a few guidelines -- other than the decade -- to keep things under control. One author/one story only seemed the way to go, and that worked out fine (though Margo Lanagan gave me some grief by crowding so many great stories into the one volume, White Time, definitely my 'collection of the decade'). Another guideline insisted that I not reprint any story I'd published before, and for the most part I found I could work with that. But Leanne Frahm's 'Land's End' -- from Aphelion's anthology Alien Shores -- proved too much. Ten Best meant Ten Best, or it didn't. I side-stepped that guideline as well, and 'Land's End' went in. Guidelines ... just nuisance value, really.
Where to start with my ten Best? Should I attempt to put them in order of favouritism? Impossible task, though my number one does stand out, and I'll name at least her story (whoops, just eliminated half the field) when I come to it.
These ten really did just fall out. No more, no less than my magic number required.
But, at one stage, bolstered by runaway enthusiasm, I tried to extend from ten to twelve. After all, why not an even dozen?
The strangest thing then happened. Within minutes, I had a list of thirty or more stories -- all good stories, and none of which I could remove from my new list without doing that story an injustice. Obviously it was to be ten or forget the whole thing.
It seems much further back, but actually it was the early 80s, a mere twenty years ago, that I really fell into SF and -- to a lesser extent -- its spill-over into the much misunderstood regime of Fantasy. The only reading material that stands out in my mind prior to my SF/F conversion are Biggles books. In my primary school years, spent in Meribah (population 29), deep in South Australia's Murray Mallee, I devoured anything readable that our school library possessed -- and among other stock books for young fellows were 42 volumes of the adventures of Biggles (who, from WW1 air ace to post WW2 fascist crusader against evil-doers, never seemed to age -- borders on SF, doesn't it?) which kept me enthralled for quite some time.
I got through them all at about the same time my family decided to up-sticks and move closer to the bright lights of the city. We moved to Wasleys (population a 100 or so), in the more fertile 'mid north' of South Australia, essentially because my parents were convinced (wrongly, as it turned out) that I was a rocket scientist in the making. All I needed was the proper education, they reasoned, and I wasn't going to get that in far away Meribah.
For a while, my education proceeded according to plan. I did well at high school, and they lined me up to sweep all before me at university. But here the plan began to go wrong. It was the mid to late 60s, when I discovered both sport and girls, and decided that these were more worthy of my attention than the getting of knowledge and wisdom. I still think it was a good decision -- and rocket science has advanced quite adequately without me.
I fell into slothful self-indulgence through the back of the 60s, and it wasn't until I caught one of those girls I'd been chasing that things turned around for me. It was love at first sight -- yes, these things do happen -- and I pursued her relentlessly for the remainder of that year. I had her to the altar by December 7, and have kept her pretty close ever since. Some of us have all the luck.
As the 70s rolled by, and Mac and Mariann became Mac, Mariann and Patrick, I was still reading genre fiction, though not as voraciously as I had as a young fellow. I'd discovered magazines and developed a liking for short fiction. Then Omega Science Digest arrived, and by accident (I bought it for the science articles) I discovered grand SF, the stuff that really rattles and shakes and shifts your mind around, and won't let you rest until you've found more of it. The stuff of addiction.
I can't remember now which story I read first, only that I put one magazine down and snatched up the second to see if its fiction content was 'more of the same'. And ... my God ... it was.
The two stories that shook me into life were Damien Broderick's 'The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear's Stead' and Terry Dowling's 'The Man Who Walked Away Behind The Eyes'. These were Australian writers, a point I wholly failed to notice at the time. The stories held me, and I ignored the biographical notes. I assumed I was reading the work of American giants, but, no, these giants were home-grown. I would, in fact, meet them in years to come, and they were no less giants to me when I did.
So now, before I get to my 10 Best, here are THE TWO:
And THE TEN:
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