Review: Tales from the Crypto-System, reviewed by Lee Battersby

Review: Tales from the Crypto-System, reviewed by Lee Battersby

I‘ve been spoilt in recent times. I’ve been the recipient of a seemingly-endless procession of damn good short story collections by Australian writers, some of which I’ve reviewed for this august publication. Now I’ve received another, and it’s one that might just top the lot.

Geoffrey Maloney has been around for over a decade, patiently crafting superb stories that see the light in small magazines paying a pittance for the privilege. Winner of the 2000 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story, Maloney has carved out a reputation as a fine wordsmith, and a collection of his works has been due for too long.

The work in this volume falls into two loose categories: those tales that describe a future history, detailing a fascist Australia, controlled by an all-seeing, all-knowing government network of spies and informers; and those individual stories that spring from Maloney’s unconnected moments of inspiration. It’s up to the reader to decide which side of Maloney’s coin is their favourite. Lucky for you: it won’t be a decision based on the skill of the writing, because it remains high throughout, simply a matter of which way you like your flights of fancy to fly.

For me, I think Maloney is at his best when he allows his love of other cultures, particularly his knowledge of the Indian subcontinent, to transport us to genuinely speculative worlds. Perhaps being an Australian, with the all-too-real prospect of Maloney’s future visions turning true, drives me this way, perhaps it’s simply because they’re brilliant stories in their own right. Certainly, stories like 5 Cigarettes & 2 Snakes or Requiem For The General are excellent stories, exploring as they do the human cost of fascist utopias, and presenting a starkly realistic view of human emotions and reactions. That’s the secret to Maloney’s skills: his ability to draw believable human faces upon speculative actions.

But the stories that really sang for me were the ones in which Maloney allows his imagination to truly soar, in which he creates worlds and wonders unique to his own worldview. Able as he is to tap into the societal unconscious, it is in tales like the Aurealis Award winner The World According To Kipling, or my long-held favourite Maloney story The Elephant Sways As It Walks that the spiralling sense of wonder is truly engaged. Maloney would have us believe him a cynic, a disappointed optimist who must share his fears with us lest we help create the dystopic visions he fears. But it is in these stories, where he allows his mind to create unfettered by the need to warn of apocalypse, where the reader can ride the rising thermals of Maloney’s imagination.

It doesn’t happen often, and it is something to be treasured when it arrives: a collection that lets us tap into multitudinous facets of a writer’s personality. Geoffrey Maloney shows us that he is more than a skilled writer, more than an engaging teller of stories and translator of visions. He is a shaman, a dancer of tribal dances and howler at the moon. That he shares it with us is our good fortune.

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