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White Time

por Margo Lanagan

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Presents ten short stories, both dark and hopeful, that journey into the past, the future, and altered versions of the present.
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I have a copy of Lanagan's multiple award-winning first collection Black Juice somewhere in the house; I began reading it when it first came out, but for some reason I was interrupted and I never got back to it. On the strength of this second collection I should make a bit of an effort to dig Black Juice out.

On the strength of the best of this second collection, anyway. Although there's no doubt that Lanagan has a strong control of voice a sometimes excellent imagination, on several occasions here I got to the end of a story and felt as if all I'd been reading had been just a doodle, a writing exercise, something written for workshopping, perhaps, rather than a fully fledged story. (Lanagan includes a note saying all these pieces were written around her attendance of a Clarion West, and I wonder if that explains this sense I had.) Looking at my notes, I see that I had this sense of non-fulfilment about four of the ten stories in the book -- that's an uncomfortably high percentage.

Of the others, I got the most out of the last (and longest), "The Wealth", in which the native Ord species (who I assume are Earthlings) are under the thumb of the colonizing humanoid Leet. To the Leet, head hair is wealth. The narrator is an expert at implanting "wealth" into animal bodies or human heads, and is commissioned by a wealthy Leet woman to increase her dimwit son's mane in order to help him net a good wife. But then our heroine is made an offer she can't refuse by the local Ord rebels . . . What's impressive is that, despite our knowledge that a violent outcome of some sort is inevitable, the story that's the focus of Lanagan's telling is almost a quiet, personal one. My notes say just "A knockout!", and I stand by that description.

Also a knockout is "The Boy Who Didn't Yearn", whose narrator has a psychic talent that makes her something close to a spirit medium: she can see people's griefs, and also the images they retain of the people they're grieving for; and she can in effect mimic those images to pass along messages of reassurance that seem to be from beyond the grave. The story of her interaction with the boy she meets who has none of these grief/yearning-encumbrances is a very true-seeming one, and moving.

The title story is good, too. Its premise is that, just as there are white light and white noise -- in both of which all frequencies are jumbled together -- so there is white time. Our heroine visits a plant whose purpose is to fish lost time travellers out of the timestream and send them on their way to their intended destinations. The only trouble is that the workers' exposure to white time scrambles their brains in the short term, and perhaps, with repeated visits, permanently. I loved the story even though I felt Lanagan hadn't quite been able to grapple with the implications of its fascinating premise.

The other three stories which I liked I think I'd have liked more had they not had a tang of the allegorical about them. In "Kiss and Tell" the premise is that failure to open up to others causes weight gain; our narrator is seeing a counselor who is, in effect, a weight-loss advisor. The central character of "Big Rage" is a wife who, fleeing a domineering husband, comes across an injured giant of a man clad in medieval armour, a stray from another time or a parallel world, perhaps; in joining her lot with him and his equally barbarian companions, she comprehensively rejects everything her far too civilized husband stands for. In "Welcome Blue" aliens arrive and admire a field of flowers, ignoring the ostentatious welcome party being thrown for them a few miles away; that part of the story doesn't really work, to be honest, but what does is the tale centred on the realization of the narrator, an obviously troublesome adolescent who's been through a succession of foster parents, that her latest placement, with the farmer of the field of flowers and his wife, might just be the right one.

Lanagan never writes less than well in this book but, as I say, I felt a bit bilked by the collection as a whole because too many of the entries didn't seem to have been built into stories. ( )
1 vote JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
I love short stories by this author and this, her 1st collection, is no exception.

Her stories are not for those who like everything explained. You are immersed so quickly in each world but not explicitly so sometimes you have to run to keep up. To me this added mystery is a hook to reel me and the characters, which in contrast are fully fleshed out, keep me there till the end. These stories are a mix of fantasy and science fiction: from "White time" a work "tasting" student gets stuck with the boring job moving lost time travellers to "Wealth" a harsh story set in world where hair equals wealth and personal happiness collides with family responsibility in the clash of two cultures. ( )
  clfisha | Jan 24, 2011 |
Margo Lanagan is an award winning Australian writer. This book was my introduction to her writing, and it certainly won’t be my last, as I intend to find out more.

White Time was originally published ten years ago, and I’ve read reviews which feel that it’s not as polished as her later stories. This may be so, and makes me even more interested in her other books, but what this collection shows is a vivid imagination and an adaptable writing style.

This is a YA collection, and whilst some do have that feel to them, some would very much appeal to all ages. However, as these are short stories, there is no time to slowly introduce worlds, characters or concepts – Margo invites you to walk straight into her worlds, and to understand. This sometimes means that the first few pages can seem a little confusing, but if you keep going, it all seems to make perfect sense.

The title story is a fascinating sci-fi snippet, which could make a great novel if expanded on. It concerns pockets under the earth where people from many places can get trapped whilst time travelling, with Sheneel being a student on work experience, finding about those who help them to move on.

Some tales are set in the future, some the past, and many is a rather altered present. The selection ranges from the rather light hearted Midsummer Mission, where tiny creatures swear their way through a mission to bring together a teen romance; through The Queen’s Notice, set in an ant colony; to The Night Lily and Wealth, tales which will leave you sad and thoughtful.

For those who like something a little different, especially in the short story format, this is certainly a book to try. It won’t appeal to all, but for those whom it does, you will find yourself looking forward to a re-read.
  michelle_bcf | Jul 10, 2010 |
Reviewed by Mrs. Foley
Presents ten short stories, both dark and hopeful, that journey into the past, the future, and altered versions of the present. - From library catalog record

This book of short stories is weird...but interesting. It is definitely not for everyone. If you are very interested in fantasy or science fiction or just strange stories, you may like it. Some stories I really liked and others were just okay.

Review from Booklist:
Although this is the second story collection by Australian author Lanagan to reach American readers, it was actually published abroad several years before her 2006 Printz Honor Book, Black Juice. Fans of Lanagan's fantastical, often surreal sensibility will regard its arrival as long overdue. Further showcasing her mastery of the craft, each story underscores Lanagan's talent for inspiring curiosity, disturbing sensibilities, and provoking thought. The collection comprises 10 stories of varying lengths that together demonstrate great versatility and highlight the author's talent for inventing entirely new realities and subtly shifting our own. The futuristic title story features a girl whose career exploration project finds her floating in a reservoir of time out of time, where she is mentored by a troubled man who redirects stuck entities from other parts of the universe. The Queen's Notice, set in an antlike hive, follows a befuddled warrior-creature whose valor requires him to assume a new role. In Tell and Kiss, physical weight is accumulated by the unhealthy storage of thought and feeling, creating a problem for a boy secretly falling for his best female friend. The singular perspectives, environments, goals, and challenges of Lanagan's distinctive characters will both intrigue and stimulate teen minds. ( )
  hickmanmc | Feb 12, 2010 |
Merideth says: In these ten short stories that take place in the past, in the future, and in altered versions of the present, Lanagan creates thought provoking alternate realities, always featuring characters in crisis. In the title story, a young woman learns of the spaces that are out of time and at all times, and the beings who get trapped in them. In 'Tell and Kiss' psychic weight leads to physical weight in a society that places sharing above all else. The two stories that have stayed with me the longest are 'The Queen's Notice' and 'Wealth'. A warrior in an ant-like colony must adjust to a new role when he receives attention from his queen in 'The Queen's Notice'. In 'Wealth' hair = wealth, and a hairdresser from an oppressed race is called upon to bend both her principles and the law.

This collection was actually published prior to Lanagan's other YA collection, Black Juice, which is probably why these stories feel less polished than those in Black Juice. To her credit, Lanagan never talks down to her audience. She expects those who read her stories to jump right in and wrestle with the concepts she puts forward. As such, these stories are not easy reads. But for those readers willing to take the time to give Lanagan's work the concentration it demands, this is speculative fiction in the truest sense. (Cross-posted from MeriJenBen) ( )
  59Square | Feb 20, 2009 |
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Presents ten short stories, both dark and hopeful, that journey into the past, the future, and altered versions of the present.

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