Although not all of the stories were necessarily cheery, I found the anthology relatively up-beat on the whole. (Having said that and looked over the stories, perhaps that's as much a commentary on other things I've been consuming lately...) There is a wide variety of stories contained within; every story sticks to the theme, but there are a lot of very different interpretations. I appreciate the lack of homogeneity and the novelty of getting something completely different each time I picked up the anthology.
My favourite stories were "The Blue Djinn’s Wish" by Leife Shallcross, "Future Perfect" by Janeen Webb and "Home Sick" by M Darusha Wehm. There is basically nothing these three stories have in common. The first is a genie story, the second is sort of almost hard SF and the third is, I suppose, more ecological near-future SF with a huge pile of refined rubbish. I also quite enjoyed "Yard" by Claire McKenna, which was a bit darker but ultimately satisfying.
Basically, I think there's something in this anthology for everyone. You may not like every story but, assuming you like any spec fic (and I'm not sure why you're reading this blog if you don't), there will probably be a story you enjoy in Use Only As Directed. As usual, I have some brief thoughts on each story below. If you haven't yet sampled a Petrie and Harvey anthology, this one would be a good place to start.
Dellinger (Charlotte Nash) — A tale of cyborgs and sentient space ships. I liked the ideas explored. What happens when you create an artificial sentience based on a human mind then set it to controlling a ship?
The Blue Djinn’s Wish (Leife Shallcross) — Easily the best genie story I've ever read. The princess who finds the magic bottle is happy and already has everything she could wish for, but will that last?
The Kind Neighbours of Hell (Alex Isle) — A grimoire and a demon summoning... But as the grimoire used correctly?
Mister Lucky (Ian Nichols) — the protagonist has the ability to control luck (more or less). An amusing, fast-paced read.
Home Sick (M Darusha Wehm) — set on the floating island of rubbish in the Pacific. Climate refugees from a submerged Pacific nation are sent there by the New Zealand government and the main character chooses to go with them. An interesting story that I enjoyed.
Always Falling Up (Grant Stone) — Interesting take on clone soldiers and the man who provided the template for their minds. Fits the theme very obviously, but it's a bit more of a philosophical take, I thought.
Yard (Claire McKenna) — Although it didn't start promisingly (violence that I wasn't in the mood for), I really liked where this one went. And the main character, and her yard.
Never More (Dave Freer) — An amusing tale of a wizard's apprentice who used to be a cat. And his quest to become acceptable to a girl-cat. Also a raven.
Fetch Me Down My Gun (Lyn McConchie) — Interesting but a bit heavy handed. I didn't love the first half, but the second half improved it with added meaning.
Uncle Darwin’s Bazooka (Douglas A Van Belle) — A bit slow to start, but then it gets to the bit combining genetics and fairies, so what’s not to like? The ending was a bit predictable though.
The Climbing Tree (Michelle Goldsmith) — A story about disappearing children. Not bad, but not as creepy as intended, I think.
Large Friendly Letters (Stephen Dedman) — A post-apocalyptic setting, some feral teenagers and a munitions trader. What could possibly go wrong?
Future Perfect (Janeen Webb) — One of my favourites in this anthology. The story was up-beat (albeit not exactly cheery) and made me think. Admittedly, it mostly made me think about incorrect interpretations of the many worlds hypothesis, but it’s never bad to think extra thoughts about quantum mechanics.
The Eighth Day (Dirk Flinthart) — I couldn’t not read this in church singy-monotone, which was a little off-putting and induced confusing flashbacks. Also, the pay-off wasn’t as good as I was hoping, given the aforementioned monotone in my head.
4 / 5 stars
First published: June 2014, Peggy Bright Books
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy provided by the editors