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Margo Lanagan

Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan has worked as a kitchen hand and encyclopedia seller, and spent ten years as a freelance book editor. Her story collection Red Spikes was a Publishers Weekly Best Book and a Horn Book Fanfare, and Black Juice was a Printz Honor Book. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

White Time: Unique YA story collection

White Time by Margo Lanagan

In the collection White Time, Margo Lanagan writes with a clear, distinctive style that doesn’t spoon-feed, but rather challenges the reader in a good way. Her text is multi-layered and works on multiple levels to create interesting speculative fiction stories, some using the tropes of science fiction and some those of fantasy.

White Time features ten stories, and each is unique and different. The eponymous story, "White Time," is the opener for this publication. Lanagan combines a strong sci-fi concept with grounded, complex characters. This piece sets the mood for the rest, as it shows that one of Lanagan's strengths is writing compelling characters and human drama. Another favorite is "The Boy Who Didn't Yearn," which takes place in an urban setting. The protagonist has a particular trait that sets her apart from other people. Aga... Read More

Tender Morsels: Strange and dark retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red”

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

I have a long-time interest in adaptations of fairy tales, and so it surprised me that it took me so long to get through Tender Morsels, a strange and dark retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red."

The beginning is promising. We meet Liga, mother of the "Snow White" and "Rose Red" characters, as a traumatized teenager. She is sexually abused by her father and later raped by town boys, and Margo Lanagan handles these sensitive topics well. The actual abuse is never described in detail, so it's not sensationalistic. I had a lot of sympathy for Liga and was rooting for her survival. The prose has moments of exquisite beauty, but I should warn readers that there's a lot of Scottish-style dialect in it, so it may not be every reader's cup of tea.

Eventually, Liga is whisked away from her painful existence by a lunar entity. This sounds a lot like Read More

Magazine Monday: Nightmare, October 2013

Nightmare is celebrating its first anniversary with Issue 13, and it starts off with a humdinger of a story by Norman Partridge called “10/31: Bloody Mary.” The use of the date is a deliberate reminder of 9/11, and connotes a catastrophe of equal or greater weight. On 10/31 — this year, next year, last year, we’re never told — all of the monsters became real. Somehow, on Halloween, “werewolves and witches, mummies and zombies, and other nameless things the boy would rather never see” become real. The boy (the protagonist of the story) hides during the day, never going out to forage for food and other necessities of life until night. He is utterly alone. Then one day a young woman appears, one who is very fast with her sawed-off shotgun when a Jack o’ Lantern attacks. She takes the boy under her wing and teaches him how to fight back instead of hide. The plot isn’t particularly new, and it goes much as you would expect it to; ... Read More

Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don't like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.

For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Dragon by Read More

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is the second steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, following 2008’s first installment. It contains about twice as many stories as its predecessor, but unlike the first collection the quality is more uneven here, resulting in a less impressive but still fascinating anthology that should please fans of the genre.

While the first anthology only contained one story I was less than happy with, there are at least four or five in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded that I could have done without. There are also a few stories here that are at best marginally connected to steampunk, although that probably depends more on how you define steampunk. After all, there are probably as many definitions of steampunk as there are readers. Maybe the best way to defin... Read More

Zombies vs. Unicorns: Fun YA anthology

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier

Back in 2007, Holly Black and Justine Larabalestier got in an argument about which fiction creature was superior — zombies or unicorns. Spurred on by that debate, they each recruited some of their author friends to write short tales in which they present the storytelling possibilities of the two mythic beasts. With header notes for each story in which they discuss the historical background for the different takes on the creatures, Holly Black heads up Team Unicorn, and Justine Larbalestier heads up Team Zombie.

Writing for Team Unicorn, we have Kathleen Duey, Read More

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

I haven’t actually read every page of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, yet I’m giving it my highest recommendation. Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Master and Mistress of Weird, The Weird is 1126 pages long and should really be considered a textbook of weird fiction. It contains 110 carefully chosen stories spanning more than 100 years of weird fiction. Here’s what you can expect to find in this massive volume:

A “Forweird” by Michael Moorcock gives us a brief history of the weird tale, discusses how it has defied publishers’ attempts to categorize it into neatly-bordered genres, and gives examples of writers who are revered by modern readers but whose weird fiction caused them to be ma... Read More

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four edited by Ellen Datlow

Anything Ellen Datlow edits automatically finds a place on my list of books to read. For many years, this included the excellent anthology series The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, which Datlow coedited with Terri Windling. When that series disappeared, much to the dismay of fans of short fiction everywhere, Datlow undertook to publish The Year’s Best Horror, which has been published by the terrific smaller press, Night Shade Books, for the past four years. This year’s volume, the fourth, is chock full of memorable stories certain to keep you up at night.
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Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow

This anthology comes after a similarly titled anthology, also edited by Ellen Datlow, called Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror which came out in March 2010. Datlow also edits an annual anthology of horror fiction (collaborating with other editors on those). It seems then that Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (which came out in October 2016) is informed by a great deal of knowledge in the field of speculative horror literature. I am not generally a horror reader, but I still thoroughly enjoyed many tales in this anthology for their engaging storytelling and terrifying themes. What follows is a brief review of each of the 25 tales, in the order which they appear.

“Shallaballah” by Mark Samuels is a story about th... Read More

More books by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan Walking Through AlbertWalking Through Albert — (1998) Young adult. Publisher: Rennie and Aidan know that the house next door is haunted. When Emma moves in, she soon finds out what it’s like to live with left-over bits of the past. The more her parents try to restore the house, the more they stir up the ghosts. Rennie and Emma decide to sort things out.

fantasy book review Margo Lanagan Red Spikes, Black Juice, White TimeBlack Juice — (2004) Young adult. Publisher: As part of a public execution, a young boy forlornly helps to sing his sister down… A servant learns about grace and loyalty from a mistress who would rather dance with Gypsies than sit on her throne… A terrifying encounter with a demonic angel gives a young man the strength he needs to break free of his oppressor… On a bleak and dreary afternoon a gleeful shooting spree leads to tragedy for a desperate clown unable to escape his fate. In each of Margo Lanagan’s ten extraordinary stories, human frailty is put to the test by the implacable forces of dark and light, man and beast. black juice offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.

fantasy book review Margo Lanagan Red Spikes, Black Juice, White TimeRed Spikes — (2007) Publisher: MARGO LANAGAN’S ELECTRIFYING stories take place in worlds not quite our own, and yet each one illuminates what it is to be human. They are stories of yearning for more, and learning to live with what you have. Stories that show the imprint love leaves on us all. If you think you don’t like short fiction, that a story can’t have the depth or impact of a novel, then you haven’t read Margo Lanagan. A writer this startling and this original doesn’t come along very often. So for anyone who likes to be surprised, touched, unsettled, intrigued, or scared senseless, prepare to be dazzled by what a master storyteller can do in a few short pages.

fantasy book review Margo Lanagan The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island — (2007) Publisher: On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives. The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment. Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.