Review: Collisions (edited by Leah Jing McIntosh, Cher Tan, Adalya Nash Hussein and Hassan Abul)

Collisions is an anthology of fiction from Liminal, an online magazine dedicated to giving a platform to Asian-Australian artists. The selections in this anthology were long-listed for the inaugural Liminal Fiction Prize, open to Australian Writers of Colour. As editor and Liminal founder Leah Jing McIntosh writes in an introduction, this is in response to the exclusion of Writers of Colour from Australia’s literary scene. For example in its 63 years, the Miles Franklin Literary Award has been given to less than five Indigenous writers and Writers of Colour. Collisions, Jing McIntosh writes, is an attempt to “shift the Australian imaginary”, to expand and challenge “who feels they have the authority to write”. Like the anthology After Australia, this is about what Australia is and could be.

The collection begins with the lovely See You Tomorrow by Claire Cao. Li Xuan, a grandmother, leaves her grandson “eating every Dorito, vitamin and painkiller” in her home in western Sydney while she goes off to lunch with someone she hasn’t seen in fifty years. Much time and space has come between – decades, continents. They are universal themes, yet also particular to a nation of migrants. What is left behind, and what is carried along? Many other stories in this collection turn to these questions over and over, like the woman in Hannah Wu’s Dried Up In Aralkum turning the dead seabed of what was once the Aral Sea, looking for a silver ring and memories. In Sumudu Samarawickrama’s beautiful story Nectarine a woman goes to a dinner party with friends in Melbourne, only to find something out of whack, and not just the extreme weather. In Bad Weather by Bryant Apolonio two stories run in parallel on the page, in one column a childhood in the Philippines, in the other an adulthood in Australia. It is a startlingly effective device that makes literal the separations and intersections of time and space.

If these stories belong to a genre, it is speculative fiction. Many veer towards horror, like Her Hands by Misbah Wolf, in which a woman is drawn to a pair of desiccated and disembodied brown hands kept in a cabinet; or Jessica Zhan Mei Yu’s Tongue which seems like a jaunty tale about 14-year-old girl but becomes something much more unnerving. Ghosts and supernatural beings stalk the pages. In Elizabeth Flux’s Voyeur a woman with a gift is able to visit her dead family members in the past, and in Victor Chrisnaa Senthinathan’s Suburban Graveyard a father comes up with a entrepreneurial solution to a space shortage for burial sites.

At the other end of time, Bobuq Sayed gives us a satirical vision of Australia in 2034 in The Revolution Will Be Pirated, when Kyle Sandilands is on his second term as Prime Minister (the horror!!) and antifa activists have to dodge the latest surveillance technology. Claire G. Coleman imagines the logical end point of data sharing with social media in Wish You Were, a story that reminded me of the conclusion of Russel T. Davies’s TV series Years And Years, but somehow even less hopeful. I wonder if the dominance of the genre in this anthology reflects the uncertainties of our times, but also those particular to people of colour. Many of these stories, such as (couchsurfer) by Jason Gray, specifically address the exhaustion of living in a country where whiteness dominates politically, culturally and economically. But uncertainty is also another word for possibility, and these stories are alive to alternative visions of the past, present and future that resist the dominant white narratives.

This is also a delightfully queer collection. Queer love features in Cao’s See You Tomorrow, Kasumi Borczyk’s deadpan Cheese Me Please and Mykaela Saunders’ Terranora. Eda Gunaydin’s Öz features a woman dealing with the complexities of a white girlfriend and Sayed’s story features one of the most explicit and nuts queer sex scenes I’ve read in a while.

Although the collection sets out to provide a vision of Australia as it is and could be, there are only a handful not set in urban Sydney and Melbourne. One of these is the spectacular Terranora by Koori and Lebanese writer Mykaela Saunders. Although it sounds like a sci-fi title, we find out that Terranora

means “little water”. For most of history, this place was a beautiful beloved country looked after by many small clans. Then for a few hundred years – just a blink of an eye in the total history of the place – fictional borders were drawn through it, and it was briefly known as South Tweed Heads.

In a post-apocalyptic future, Aboriginal people have returned to traditional lands and a more caring way of life, rescuing prisoners in Mad Max-style river bikie gangs (although, as the story points out ironically, Mad Max was “some white man’s genocidal wet dream”). The land and waters are healing, despite the extreme weather. “We’re symbiotes,” a woman explains, “not parasites, like they were the moment they got here.” But the story is also an offer: “You’re not alone. And as long as you act in accordance with this, you can be part of our community too”. Total history: like some of my favourite stories, this gave me a kind of vertigo, a sense of all the people who have lived and will live, putting our small slice of time in perspective.

Gay rating: 4/5 for queer characters, relationships and sex in several of the stories.

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