Why are certain subjects so difﬁcult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?
A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.
Published by Twelfth Planet Press.
I purchased this book.
Thief of Lives is the third collection in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, each one collecting short fiction from a female Australian writer. Unlike the previous two volumes in the series, which collected interlinked short stories and novellas, Thief of Lives includes four unrelated works, which also vary in terms of genre.
The collection opens with Alchemy, set in ancient Babylon. This story tells of Tapputi, a perfumer who has attracted the interest of a spirit, Azuzel. Azuzel is able to see through time, and drawn by Tapputi’s intelligence and skill, he wishes to have her enter into an agreement with him in order to have her fulfil-as he sees it-what her true potential is. Tapputi has other ideas, and has no need for the spirit’s bargain as she sets out to become who may have been the first real chemist (she is known historically to have used the world’s first known still to make her perfumes), as well as a Royal Overseer. The weaving of history with fantasy in this story is sublime, and Tapputi herself is a fascinating character. This is my favourite story of the collection, and one that I’d love to see expanded into a larger work.
Fountain of Justice is a modern crime story set in Melbourne, which follows a solicitor, Meg, who works with the Children’s Court. Though this story was well written, the content didn’t grab me nearly as much as Alchemy; this says nothing at all about the quality of the story, which is high, but reveals more about my own personal reading preferences.
The Subject of O is, as one can probably infer just from the title alone, a story about women and female sexuality. On the surface, it is a story about Petra, a university student who is beginning to explore her own sexuality. In the process she learns a lot about how many young people-particularly the men she knows- really are, as compared to how they present their sexual exploits to the world. This story is one that I almost would like to have printed out and handed to university students, if only to learn about how so many people lie about their sexual exploits.
The final story in the collection is Thief of Lives, which also give the title to the collection as a whole. This is a dense, complex story which highlights what a fantastic (and perhaps somewhat overlooked) talent Sussex is – and caps off a collection that shows how versatile her work also is. There’s something almost dreamlike about this narrative as it weaves and interweaves. It says a lot about literature and the kind of people who are drawn to its consumption and creation. It’s a haunting story, and I would love to see more of this world.
Overall, this collection didn’t grab me personally quite as much as the previous two (Sue Isle’s Nightsiders and Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk), which speaks to my own love for stories with a speculative fiction bent. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this collection to anyone – perhaps even as a gateway to speculative fiction to a reader who is steeped mostly in non-speculative literature. It is a brilliant example of Sussex’s talent, and the collection as a whole continues the extremely high quality of the Twelve Planets series.