Allen & Unwin, $16.95 pb, 162 pp
A title like Duckness summons expectations of the quirky, the paralogical, and the obliquely enigmatic, and this collection delivers all three – though somewhat unevenly. It traverses imaginary heterotopias which both are and are not Melbourne, and which centre, for the most part, on disturbing and difficult questions of simulation and authenticity.
In one of the most successful stories, ‘Cloudy Days in Velsk’, Richards extends ad absurdum the conceit of a weather announcement – on SBS, as it happens – which includes in its usual line-up mention of the wholly unlocatable city of Velsk. This shudder in the habitual order of things generates earnest speculation as to possibilities of hoaxes, extra-terrestrials, time warps, and conspiracies, which by the thirty-fourth and final broadcast have issued as a form of mass-hysteria. Theories are printed in The Age, cultural studies gurus are consulted, television debates ensue, but the enigma simply dissolves in its own typically occluding weather. This story is marked by the restraint and elegance of its prose: ‘Is it possible to retain the memory of an insinuated city? Maybe these are questions better left to philosophers and theologians. But I know that I am not alone in yearning for weather reports which offer metaphysical distraction … ’ and places Richards firmly in the tradition of male speculative short fiction which includes Bail, Carey, Brooks, and Wilding.