DISTAFF: A SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGY BY FEMALE WRITERS, by Jane O’Reilly, Rosie Oliver et al. Book review

DISTAFF: A SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGY BY FEMALE WRITERS, by Jane O’Reilly, Rosie Oliver et al. self-published, Kindle edition, £2.36

Reviewed by Shona Kinsella

In 2018 a crack team of women sci-fi writers, all members of the sffchronicles community forum, came together to write an anthology. Distaff is the result. Containing stories by bestsellers and newcomers alike, this anthology offers something for everyone.

The Broken Man by Jane O’Reilly – a beautiful tale of how humans destroyed the world with their endless consumerism. Creatures emerge from the sea, bonded with the plastic that we discard so thoughtlessly, and take over the land that humans have abandoned. A man falls from the cloud castles that house humans and is rescued by one of the new creatures. A compelling story full of guilt and foresight.

Space Rocks by Kerry Buchanan – a combination of sci-fi and Scandinavian myth, Space Rocks speculates that when we find intelligent life, it may not be as we expect. Touches nicely on the tensions of living in a confined space with a small crew for the duration of space exploration voyages.

The Ice Man by Rosie Oliver – sci-fi and police procedural meet in this thrilling murder mystery. Some clever tech ideas give a motive for murder but Soldis, our police hero, relies on old-fashioned detective work and instincts as much as any fancy new tech. Really enjoyable story.

Holo-Sweet – by E.J. Tett – A love story between an advisor on a spaceship and the spirit of the ship itself. How would it feel to be unable to touch the person you love? And how far would you go to rectify that situation?

A Cold night in H3-II by Juliana Spink Mills – One of my favourite stories in the collection, this is the tale of the last two people left on the colony on H3-II when the rest are taken by a mysterious disease. Another examination of what contact with another species might look like. Very well written and engaging.

The Colour of Silence by Damaris Browne – My other favourite of the anthology. A large proportion of the human race is dying from a virus that we are unable to treat but alien friends offer help – if only we can get the sick to them in time. This story is beautifully written and full of grief and hope in equal measure.

My Little Mecha by Shellie Horst – Parenting isn’t easy and parenting in space has extra challenges. A story about a couple who have forgotten how to communicate and the fact that our children can surprise us as they grow into individuals.

Ab Initio by Susan Boulton – A post-apocalyptic story with a bit of a twist. To me, this story feels less SF than the others but it’s a fascinating take on death and its importance to human experience and culture.

The Shadows Are Us and They Are the Shadows by Jo Zebedee – Another beautifully written story. Another take on what the future could look like if we don’t change our path and move away from the gross consumerism of today. After humans destroy the earth, they take off for the stars, leaving AIs behind to clean up our mess. Or at least, that was the plan, but of course, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

Distaff is a strong anthology that I hope becomes a series with many more volumes.