Book Review: The Road to Woop Woop and other stories by Eugen Bacon

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by Angela Wauchop

 

‘But there is a lot Keledi does not know. You haven’t told her about the big plane that took Baba up in the sky all the way to Melbourne, into the middle of a faraway place and changed time, where trains travelled under the ground and people in the same carriage did not look at each other, let alone say hello.’

How fitting it is that Eugen Bacon’s The Road to Woop Woop and other stories has made the British Science Fiction Association’s 2020 longlist. There is a fresh juiciness to the African Australian author’s speculative fiction, and this collection of short stories is both engrossing and fascinating in its words of dark and shade with some welcome illustrations throughout its pages.

First of all, it’s impossible not to instantly warm to a book with the words ‘Woop Woop’ and a picture of a toothy croc on its cover. How scorchingly Aussie is that? Bacon’s collection mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar; Broome and Kununurra sit seamlessly alongside the eerie and otherworldly River, a character in the introductory story titled ‘The Road to Woop Woop’.

While this collection of stories is unique and Australian, some of the short narratives have strong links to Africa, such as the bittersweet ‘The One Who Sees’. I was also intrigued by quirky ‘Beatitudes’ and the futuristic ‘Snow Metal’. The latter tells the story of a place called The Enclave, where one listens to galaxies. The character Torvil—who seems to be able to read people alarmingly well—claims that The Enclave is a place where ‘military and diplomatic secrets are intercepted affecting intergalactic battles’. Bacon manages to build entire hefty worlds in such short narratives that feel like epics.

Surprising vignettes such as ‘A Good Ball’ are sprinkled with layer upon layer of intrigue until the very end. Themes such as immortality, metamorphosis, betrayal, personal identity and the human condition are explored throughout the book alongside grief, loss and fighting one’s demons.

I love how The Road to Woop Woop expertly mixes our world with others. This is a comforting notion. And the questions that the stories raise in my mind make me wonder, if with just a tweak of reality, possibilities are indeed fertile, infinite and magnificent. Speculation in all its lusciousness.

‘she lives out woop woop             a noplace filled with ghosts

random within her grasp slipping in a language of desert

a mirage of memory in the middle of nowhere            the back

of beyond unloved by the camera           who stands a chance’