SCI- FI/ FAN­TASY

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - TERRY DOWL­ING

WHEN it comes to qual­ity, home- grown science fiction, multi- award- win­ning au­thor Sean Wil­liams is in the front line of ma­jor play­ers, turn­ing his hand to ev­ery­thing from Star Wars nov­el­i­sa­tions and cut­ting- edge space opera to elab­o­rate fan­tasy ad­ven­ture with a dis­tinc­tively Aus­tralian flavour.

In Saturn Re­turns ( Or­bit, 292pp, $ 32.95), book one in his new Astropo­lis se­ries, he in­tro­duces us to Imre Berga­m­asc. Imre is a for­mer mer­ce­nary leader who re­turns to con­scious­ness in deep space re­made from old ge­netic ma­te­rial by the Jinc, a hive race.

He must dis­cover not only the events that led to his rein­car­na­tion, this time as a wo­man, but also why the galaxy- span­ning con­tin­uum of hu­man set­tle­ments has fallen into dis­ar­ray. Also to be solved is why the sup­pos­edly all- pow­er­ful posthu­man en­ti­ties, the Forts, have been de­stroyed by a mys­te­ri­ous cos­mic event called the slow wave.

This in­trigu­ing be­gin­ning soon has Imre seek­ing out the mem­bers of his old squad, try­ing to dis­cover what has hap­pened in the in­ter­ven­ing years and learn­ing who he can trust. This band- of- brothers tale has enough twists and teases to make it a com­pelling and re­ward­ing read.

One of the joys of re­vis­it­ing Terry Pratch­ett’s mul­ti­fac­eted Dis­c­world se­ries is won­der­ing where he’s go­ing to take us next. In Mak­ing Money ( Dou­ble­day, 349pp, $ 49.95), Moist von Lip­wig, the charm­ing if not al­to­gether rep­utable postmaster- gen­eral of Ankh- Mor­pork, is of­fered an ap­point­ment he can’t refuse, run­ning the city’s mint.

Lord Veti­nari’s brief is sim­ple: Lip­wig has carte blanche, pro­vided the pros­per­ity of the city comes first.

While our hero likes to think of him­self as the ‘‘ least recog­nis­able per­son in the world’’ when he isn’t wear­ing his trade­mark golden suit, his new post draws at­ten­tion from all quar­ters, putting him very much at odds with the pow­er­ful Lav­ish fam­ily, ma­jor share­hold­ers in the in­sti­tu­tion. All that stands be­tween them and con­trol of the state econ­omy is Lip­wig and Mr Fusspot, the small dog be­queathed to the mint’s new ad­min­is­tra­tor by his canny pre­de­ces­sor, and of­fi­cially chair­man of the board.

Pratch­ett’s de­liv­ery is al­ways en­gag­ing, full of a sharp comic sense, clever word­play and close ob­ser­va­tion. Whether in tossed- off jibes (‘‘ It would be hard to imag­ine an uglier build­ing that hadn’t won a ma­jor ar­chi­tec­tural award’’) or pithy bon mots (‘‘ Time turned the evil bas­tards into rogues, and rogue was a word with a twin­kle in its eye and noth­ing to be ashamed of’’), he eas­ily trans­forms what might have been a light­weight and un­likely tale into a pointed and thor­oughly en­joy­able piece of so­cial satire.

In the Year’s Best Aus­tralian Science Fiction & Fan­tasy 3 ( Mir­rorDanse Books, 224pp, $ 19.95), edi­tors Bill Con­greve and Michelle Mar­quardt once again serve up an ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of the pre­vi­ous year’s top imag­i­na­tive short sto­ries. All 11 tales are wor­thy, with fine work from Ge­of­frey Maloney, Margo Lana­gan and Si­mon Brown. The edi­tors give a use­ful over­view of the year in fan­tas­tic fiction. Try spe­cial­ist book­stores or or­der from Mir­rorDanse Books, PO Box 546, Chatswood, NSW 2057 ( mir­rordanse@ op­tus­net. com. au).

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