AWW2017: The Female Factory by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter

In The Female Factory, procreation is big business. Children are a commodity few women can afford.

Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing.

From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 and A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.

The Female Factory is the eleventh book in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press, this collection authored by frequent co-authors Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter. The Female Factory collects four short works which are unrelated in terms of plot but very much related in terms of theme.

Vox opens the collection, and is a truly chilling story. Kate, our protagonist, is somewhat obsessed with lending inanimate objects life (I particularly liked her talking to the last two Tic Tacs in her container, telling them that “all of your friends are already inside me”). Kate and her husband are also struggling with fertility issues, and she and her husband seek help from a fertility clinic. When she conceives successfully with three embryos, the two of them are forced to make a difficult choice. For many other authors, this could have been a trite story, but Hannett and Slatter give it their own, almost disturbing twist (which I absolutely will not reveal – this one is best read with no prior knowledge).  Probably the standout story in the collection for me.

Baggage also explores fertility, and takes place in a world where fertility in general has decreased, but where women exist with the ability to produce multiple ova, and with the help of medication, store them until the prospective parents are ready (or have paid enough) to have their child brought to term. Robyn is one such woman, and we follow her as she visits the father of one of these children for an assignation with shades of The Handmaid’s Tale to complete the assignment. Robyn is a fascinating and at times repulsive woman, with her attitude to the “cubs” she is carrying reflecting the horrific nature of the world she lives in.

All the Other Revivals is a story which explores gender and sexuality through the eyes of Baron, someone who does not define himself (for want of a better pronoun, but it is the one Hannett and Slatter use for Baron) as being either male or female, but rather somewhere in between. Baron finds himself drawn to a strange billabong where people can dive down to a wrecked car beneath the water, and emerge changed – in particular, we witness him watching a girl he knows, Andrea, submerging herself as a female and rising again as a male. This is a truly striking and haunting story, and one with imagery that lingers long after the words themselves have finished.

The last story in the collection, and the longest, is The Female Factory. This story has a historical setting, taking place in the Tasmanian workhouse for female convicts known as the Female Factory, and explores the lives of the women and children incarcerated there, as well as that of the Matron Avice. There are obvious literary influences in this story (which I will not elaborate on, since part of this discovery is deeply entwined with the power and horror of this story). This story truly reflects what a brilliant writing team Hannett and Slatter are together, exploring the themes of motherhood and family in a setting made the more horrific by the real history which took place there.

The Female Factory won the 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Collection, and the award couldn’t be more well deserved. For readers new to the work of Hannett or Slatter, it would be a brilliant place to start with their work (though I warn you, you will then go on to devour everything both of them have written, both individually and working together). It is a fabulous continuation of the Twelve Planets series, highlighting two more of Australia’s best female writers and is highly recommended.


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