It's not often that I receive something in the post and read it straight away. But when the Twelfth Planet press novella duo of The Company Articles of Edward Teach and The Angaelien Apocalypse arrived in my letterbox, I felt compelled to read them both immediately. Not because I'm a particular fan of the writers, or because either of the stories tickled my fancy (not that there's a blurb for either novella anyway), but because I just adore these covers:
I know that were taught from the age of six that you should never judge a book by its cover. But bugger that for a naive understanding of the book publishing Universe. The fact is that in the days of Photoshop and ethnically and culturally inappropriate cover art, those two magnificent images are not only beautiful to look at but also feed into the shallow part of your brain that says, "I WANT! I WANT! I WANT!"
And I wanted. Well... maybe not wanted because actually I already owned them... what I mean to say is that I wanted to read them.
But the question was: Were the stories as good as the covers?
DUM... DE... DUM!!!
The Company Articles of Edward Teach by Thoraiya Dyer
The first two chapters of this rum-rousing novella, which introduce our main characters - Layla and Avi - are two perfect little capsules. In the space of a few hundred words we're told that Layla comes from an orthodox Muslim family while Avi has been brought up in an orthodox Jewish household. We're also told that neither are that fond of their current situation and that both, restless and aimless, are looking to get away - to be someone different.
I was really excited by the portrayal of both Layla and Avi. Obviously as a young, handsome Jewish man myself I'm drawn to stories that deal with my faith. But more then that, I loved the idea of having that juxtaposition between Islam and Judaism. At the orthodox end of the scale, both are restrictive and patriarchal faiths and both have a tendency to push their children down a certain prescribed path. I was really interested to see how this played out in the novella.
Unfortunately for me, The Company Articles of Edward Teach isn't the novella I was expecting it to be. Within moments of being introduced, Layla and Avi are transported a few hundreds years back in time onto a pirate ship. How that happens and why that happens I leave you discover on your own. Suffice it say that both of them spend the majority of the novella trying to survive the brutal reality of being in a place where violence is as common as breathing.
Thoraiya's captures the feel of what it might be like to be in such a lawless environment. As a result, the novella is exciting, well written and the ending is genuinely dramatic - if not a little obvious (at least to me). But what's lacking is what excited me in the first place. The idea of these two young people having to deal with their own sense of entitlement and freedom and the expectations of their culture. Rather, in trying to survive on the pirate ship both characters fall back not on their upbringing and faith but their education - Layla as a Doctor, Avi as a Lawyer.
I'm willing to accept that that's exactly the point of the novella. That in fighting to maintain their identities, Layla and Avi are forced to cut away those things that have held them back - their culture - and focus on those secular skills that might actually help them to survive, their education (even if in the case of Avi there's an expectation from his family that he become a lawyer). I just wish that in introducing these two fascinating characters and then taking the bold move of throwing them literally in the deep end, that their religious upbringing wasn't so quickly dispensed with.
All that said, I can't ignore the quality of the writing. Sentence to sentence, Thoraiya's prose has spark and depth. Just on that alone, and inspite of my reservations, The Company Articles of Edward Teach is a novella that's well worth the read.
The Angaelien Apocalypse by Matthew Chrulew.
The irony is that all the religious stuff I was looking for in Thoraiya's novella can be found in Matthew's just not in a way that anyone, including myself, would expect. In the case of this novella, the religion in question is Christianity.
I'm going to do all of you a favour and not say anything at all about the actual plot of this gonzo novella. Part of the joy is putting your trust in Matthew and expecting that he knows where he's going. Yes, there are moments when you think there's no way your willing suspension of disbelief is going to survive the next sentence. Yet somehow he just about keeps it all together.
What I will say is that behind the jokes - of which there are some - and the satire - of which there's quite a bit - there's some really intelligent writing going on here. Not only in the way that Matthew plays with the major tenets of Christianity, but also in what he has to say about the concept of revelation and how sometimes we are all too easily swayed by the shiny lights and the need to believe in something. In some ways, this is a deeply cynical novella in what it has to say about faith. But in other ways, in the way it explores the idea of friendship and love, it provides a very hopeful message, without ever being mawkish.
Matthew is absolutely firing on all his writerly cylinders with this novella. The plot is insane, some of the images are really fucking disturbing and the ending... well the ending had me laughing out loud.
It's just that sort of story.
Overall, I highly recommend both these stories. Yes, I had some reservation with Thoraiya's novella, but in both cases the sheer quality of the writing, coupled with the two gorgeous covers, is worth the purchase of the duo. I know it's a bit of a cliché to say this, but both these stories - with their fresh ideas and engaging characters - continues to illustrate that Australian writers are looking to push the boundaries of genre fiction. And I think we need to thank Twelfth Planet Press in ensuring that this dialogue continues.