Striking Back from Down Under
Review Page

Rosanne Dingli
Susie Hawes
Wendy Laing
Michael Larocca
Ilene Sirocca
Marion Sorivich
Michael Thal
Tiggerkat
Tom Williams

 

Michael Thal

   Striking Back from Down Under is a compilation of 24 short stories about bullies where the underdog wins. Author Bob Rich pulled together stories of various genres, from science fiction, western, to mystery, but in each instance the downtrodden dupes the bad guy.

   "Game Planet," for example, takes place on another world where its citizens can play the Game by entering the mind of a person on the planet Earth, which explains why Bill Clinton made the stupid mistake with Monica Lewinsky. "The Making of a Champion" shows David, a warrior from a far away land entering a town on horseback and teaching the townspeople about heroism and loyalty. In "Cruelty and Compassion," a cripple gets back at his tormentors through his art.

   Story after story, readers will be rooting for Rich's well developed underdogs to somehow end up on top. Each story is a lot of fun. Enjoy.

Michael Thal is the author of two young adult books: The Legend of Koolura and Goodbye Tchaikovsky. Read my review of this second book.


by Susie Hawes


Rating: 5/5

   In the 22 stories in Striking Back From Down Under, Dr. Bob Rich introduces us to a host of richly drawn characters illustrating the concepts of justice or revenge. The author delves into the lives of his characters, studying motivation, personality and perhaps causal events that contribute to the actions of the people in his tales. Laced with humor, irony and introspection, these tales are sometimes sad or tragic, sometimes humorous, satisfying or disturbing, but they are always well-written.

   In Takeover Bid, we see the darker side of contact with aliens. A woman, thrilled at first to have her youth restored, soon discovers that this gift comes with horible consequences.

   The First Day of School is a heart-rending look at modern slavery, told through the eyes of a child.

   Will, the self-centered villain in Fishing Expedition", gets his just desserts, but isn't too terribly upset about it. Bob remarks that Will is his favorite villain; charming, talented and intelligent, he is without a sense of morality. He makes a great character.

   Most of the stories carry a footnote by Dr. Rich that discusses the tale. These serve to enrich the reading experience greatly. Hats off to Dr. Bob Rich for an entertaining, thoughtful look at life.


Michael Larocca

   This isn't the first book I've read by the author, so I had some idea of what to expect. Not that it really matters, except that I went into this one expecting only the best. I was not disappointed. It's obvious why this was an Eppie 2001 finalist, though it's not so obvious why it didn't win.

   Dr. Rich is a master storyteller, and a master of the short story. So much in so few words. This book is no exception. I suspect we've all had too much exposure to what the short story can be at its worst. Striking Back From Down Under will remind you of what the short story can be at its best.

   As a short story author myself, I'm aware of the challenges of putting together an anthology. I like to start strong, and I like to finish strong. In between, I want no more than one weak story in a row. It's mighty easy for the author of an anthology to slip in a few lame stories just to increase the word count, and because he/she knows that otherwise they'll never see the light of day. I'm guilty of that myself, I confess. Bob Rich does not have this problem. All his stories are strong, powerful, moving, and whatever else you may want in a short story.

   Dr. Rich is a psychologist by trade, one who prides himself on being able to see the world "Through Other Eyes" (to quote the title of another anthology he's published), and rightfully so. In this collection of twenty-two stories, he tells first-person stories with such strikingly realistic narrative voices that you can only marvel at his ability.

   The author is Australian. The setting is Australian. You may have guessed these facts from the title. I presume most readers are American, and to them the Australian voice is yet another positive. I married an Aussie myself, and I've since been exposed to some Australian literature, but that's irrelevant. Through this book, the non-Australian reader gets the added bonus of seeing the world through a different perspective, both the differences and the similarities.

   I've lived in Hong Kong since 1999, and travelled to several Asian countries for holidays. One thing I've learned is that, deep down, people are just plain people. No doubt I'm getting off track by mentioning this in this review. But the real, the human, is a big part of literature. Whether the setting is another country or another time or another planet, the human drama is the most compelling of all. What it took me all these years to learn, Dr. Rich seems to have known all along. The appeal of his writing is universal, and I'd have loved it even if I'd never ventured outside rural North Carolina.

   Dr. Rich has a real gift for making you see things through the viewpoint of his characters, making them so real that you feel you've met them. And, at making you grateful that you met them.

   The descriptions are vivid without being too wordy, which is no easy task. I'm one of those people who reads constantly, at least five books a week, and as I automatically compare Dr. Rich to many others, in this department he fares very well in comparison.

   Can I find anything negative to say? No. In short, read this book. You will be glad that you did.


   Michael Larocca is a talented and passionate writer whose words invariably seem to take a reader on a personal journey with him. Read the short story he contributed to my newsletter Bobbing Around. He became a full-time writer in 2000, and has signed contracts to publish four books in 2001. His website shows you where to find free and low-priced quality reads, tells you how to get published free, and contains free samples of his published works and sneak previews of his latest projects. The address is http://readers.freeservers.com/.


Tom Williams
Author of Terra Nova

   Dr Bob Rich is a trained psychologist. Clearly, he has drawn on the experiences gleaned in his profession in the writing of his collection of short stories, Striking Back from Down Under. Running a gamut of genres, from science fiction to romance, from crime to children's tales, the 22 stories feature protagonists (not all of them admirable) "striking back."

   Common themes of equality and compassion run through the works. In "Cruelty and Compassion" a young cerebral palsy sufferer is tortured by the things he cannot have - his only form of expression is computer-generated art. "A Chinese Joke" explores the culture clash between Chinese- and Anglo-Australians. In "Soft Targets" a frail old woman uses her wits to try to outwit a trio of teenage muggers.

   Dr Rich is also not afraid to touch on what some might consider "controversial" or "political" issues. He wears his heart on his sleeve and writes with passion. "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" tells what happens to those who log rainforests. In "First Day at School" children in a third-world country are compelled to work as slaves for big international companies.

   The characters, both male and female, in this collection have assorted backgrounds and range from juvenile to elderly. There is the charming teenage rogue, Will Coster, in "Fishing Expedition", and the noble warrior, David, in "The Making of a Champion." In "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" the outwardly self-confident protagonist, Hilary Hart, is inwardly plagued with the same self-doubts that affect all of us from time to time. "Another Kind of Poetry" features Sarah and Andrew, who perceive things in completely different ways. Sarah sees a morning mist thus:

   The air was a solid white luminescence, mysterious yet welcoming, a cool white that stroked her face with tiny touches of icy cold, that deposited droplets of diamond brightness on her brown hair, on her clothes, on the sparse grass and fallen leaves.

   Andrew, on the other hand, is less impressed. "Bloody mist," Andrew growled, "It's wetted everything." They seem to be incompatible companions, and yet...

   For the most part, the writing in Striking Back from Down Under is spare but taut. Every now and then, however, Dr Rich lets himself go, proving he can write descriptive prose as well as anyone. Consider the following extract from "Rotten Apple", in which a man finds himself in a place without light:

   Dark. Not just the absence of light, but a total, absolute, solid blackness that closes in on me, taking away far more than sight: also life, sanity, breath. I feel constricted, constrained and crushed, cowering against the solidity of a wall, too terrified to move. The world ends at my fingertips, and yet it stretches in hostile, intimidating invisibility in all directions. Who knows what atavistic horror may lurk there beyond my reach?

   Many of the stories are written from an Australian perspective. Anyone who has been to Australia will recognise the authentic touches of Dr Rich's dialogue and settings. Those who haven't will still appreciate the heady mix of genre, storyline and character that this clever author has invested in this collection of short stories.


   Tom Williams is the author of Terra Nova, an epic SF electronic novel published by Awe-struck E-books. He lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife, Monique.

   Tom and I both belong to an email list, 'ANZauthors', and have been helping each other with critical readings. His Terra Nova is an enjoyable story that got me in.


Ilene Sirocca
in the Running River Reader

   The Running River Reader is an excellent electronic magazine. It contains articles, book reviews, helpful links and contacts, all to do with electronic publishing. I have become a subscriber, having discovered it when the following review appeared:

6th February, 2000.

   A young woman under attack hears a voice in her mind telling her how to save herself. She doesn't know it, but someone from an alien planet has taken charge of her.

   A housewife is violently assaulted by a friend. The villain thinks he's won, but he's wrong.

   A teacher and her students confront a farmer who is abusing the chickens in his care. The farmer is in for a surprise.

   These themes, and the others in this short story collection, deal in different ways with victims, their attackers, and the quest for justice.

   Writing in several genres, Dr. Bob Rich uses various methods to bring down the evil-doers. Mystical powers, physical prowess, brains and courage all come into play. In the wonderful story "Cruelty and Compassion" a young man with cerebral palsy uses a talent for painting as a weapon, and he succeeds beyond his own hopes. A little girl in "The Scarlet Pimple Gives a Nudge" relies on anonymity to help vindicate a friend. The martial arts prove useful in "A Chinese Joke." As for the strange old man in green who appears in the midst of a group of tree fellers in "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," his method of dealing with the perpetrators is ingenious and totally satisfying.

   Justice is almost always achieved in these tales, but it often comes at a high price. "Rotten Apple" shows that doing right can involve heartbreak.

   "Takeover Bid" portrays a woman willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice. "A Perfect Crime" makes it clear that revenge does not necessarily stay sweet.

   All twenty-two stories in STRIKING BACK FROM DOWN UNDER are presented in a straightforward manner, sometimes brutal, sometimes stingingly witty, sometimes gently humorous. The writing is economical, the characters vivid, the approach sympathetic but unsentimental. Dr. Rich shows us victims who become villains, villains who believe they are heroes, and heroes whose greatest achievement is helping other people learn to respect themselves.

   These stories are thought-provoking but not ambiguous. They bring us inspiration, grief and joy.

   At the beginning of each story, Dr. Rich has placed a paragraph explaining what caused him to write it or what point he wishes to make. These are illuminating, but I would have preferred to read them as an afterward. I like to reach my own conclusions before hearing the author's interpretation.

   Readers will want to take this collection in small doses so that they won't be overwhelmed by the violence that is present in many of the stories. Digested a little at a time, Striking Back from Down Under will not only be good for you but also will taste good.

  Reviewed by Ilene Sirocca for The Running River Reader (tm)
Copyright 2000 by Ilene Sirocca


   In response to Ilene's critical note, I have moved the comments to the end of each story. Then I wrote her an email, to thank her for the wonderful review.

   As a result, she has joined my worldwide network of email friends.

   Ilene lives in Pittsburgh. She is a singer and entertainer, and is addicted to reading e-books. This is why she started to review them.

   Remarkably, this lady has been blind from birth. Her computer talks to her, and she writes with Braille. I feel privileged to have become her friend.


Wendy Laing
Author of Captain Angus the Lighthouse Ghost

   Wendy Laing has published her delightful interactive children's book through the now defunct Bookmice, and was interested in reading other titles listed there. Having read Striking Back From Down Under, she sent me the following review. Wendy's web site www.laing.ws is a lot of fun, and well worth a visit. She has currently almost finished a second interactive childrens' e-book, Sir Henry, the Knight in Space.

 

   Australian Author Bob Rich's collection of short stories should be read in easy stages, for it is not a light read. You will certainly be rewarded for taking the time.

   They are lasting, vivid yet economically told tales of what is known Down Under as the 'Under Dog' and how they managed to fight back against the odds. Some tales are humorous, some poignant, others harsh, with violent and brutal undertones. This reflects the harshness dealt out initially to the oppressed then in turn to the oppressor as the main character 'Fights Back.'

   There are twenty-two stories told in varying genres which reflect the skill and versatility of this talented writer. His main characters are clearly imaged, and often poignant, their tale powerfully thought provoking. A couple of the tales still linger in my mind, namely, 'Cruelty and Compassion' a tale about a cripple in a wheelchair who uses his artistic talents to strike back at a blonde lady who belittled him publicly. The other story is 'Game Planet' a futuristic tale of a father and son playing with human lives as actual pawns in a computerized game, with chilling results.

   Rich always shows sympathy with the victim and each tale concludes with a type of justice prevailing, and a reason for hope. In summary, an excellent read.


Marion Sorivich
A Reader

   I received an email from a lady (though she doesn't want me to share her address with the world). Here it is:

   Hi!

   My brother bought your 'Striking Back' book for me as a birthday present, and I thought to tell you that I liked them. I have read many of the stories several times. I really like the story about Cynthia who saved the earth from a space invader. Only, after I read it the first time, I couldn't help thinking, is it true, or was she crazy and imagining it? Either way, it's a scary story!

   And you had me laughing about the Takamaka Freedom Fighters. I'm a school teacher, and would LOVE to have Mrs Jones' abilities!

   After reading your book, I guess I'll have to go and visit Australia!

   God bless,

   Marion.


Rosanne Dingli

   Rosanne Dingli is the author of a mystery romance, Death in Malta. She came to settle in Australia in 1982. She was born and educated in Malta. Since 1986, she has had stories, articles, reviews, poems and columns published regularly. She has worked as a corporate editor, English and Creative Writing lecturer at Edith Cowan University, and was a regular writer for WA Homes & Living Magazine for a number of years. She was literary editor for the Western Review for two years, and a regular book reviewer for the West Australian newspaper. Her book of poetry All the Wrong Places was published in 1991 by the Literary Mouse Press and has since sold out. Her Handbook for Australian Writers was published by the Office of the SLO in WA (State Literature Office) in 1996, went into reprint and then sold out. In 1992-3, she edited a volume of writings by the people in the WA Shire of Narrogin, titled In and Out of Town which was published by the shire office to celebrate the township's 100 years. Among her most prestigious awards are the Patricia Hackett Prize for the best contribution to Westerly in 1994 and the double-whammy in 1998, when she took out first and second prizes at the FAWWA Lyndal Hadow Award for short fiction. She has also jointly won first prize in the Springvale Award for fiction.

   Her web site is www.rosannedingli.tripod.com.

 

   This collection of perspicacious stories by Bob Rich is varied and interesting. Rich engages the reader with action, adding hints of atmosphere -- of time and place -- that intrigue rather than burden. Detail is sparse, but meaning is quickly telegraphed by means of short punchy sentences.

   Each of the stories, without exception, has a premise whose stem lies either in mythology, history, personal experience or psychology. Each is a showcase of what is possible in the vast arena of the human condition. In one instance, it is a detective sergeant faced with a victim whose name causes him to make an emotional -- albeit irregular -- decision. In another, it is a teacher working in primitive conditions, whose pupils force out the memory of a torutured childhood in slavery. In yet another, a knight called David, whose horse is bestowed with quasi-human powers, affects a whole village with an act of bravery that borders on the miraculous.

   No reader can deny these stories are memorable. They are reminders of life's scope and limits, rather than bearers of some new creed, and serve to nudge the observer into acceptance that there is more to living than one can perceive with our poor five senses.


"TiggerKat"

   Striking Back from Down Under, by Bob Rich, is a collection of short stories about the underdog coming out on top--but not always in ways you would expect. They are about triumph, but many times that means getting even with or getting back at those who bullied the characters or made their lives difficult in some manner. There are hero stories as well. The collection reaches across the spectrum of genres, so no matter what genre is your favorite, there is something in here for you.

   The stories are told in vivid words that paint a picture of the psychological pathology (without being clinical)behind the character's motivation. The descriptions are colorful and pull you into the scenes. My favorite stories in the book take place in Australia. In the first story we meet an artist in a wheelchair, who after being subjected to rudeness on the beach by a woman, seeks his revenge in a unique manner. The thoughts of this man are brilliantly vivid, and you find yourself in his head, and understand his point of view, and why he does what he does.

   The drawback for me was the pace of the stories. The pace is sedate, and laid back, even when the characters are out to get others, the way they do it is on the passive side, and the voice of the stories is often passive as well. I also found the reviews, with review writer bios included, and the author praising himself at the start, a bit odd. It put me off at first, as I expected the stories to be something of an ego trip.

   I am glad they weren't.

   I enjoyed the stories, and if you want a nice collection of stories to entertain and that offer a nice menu of genre and location, while delving into the human mind's reaction to victimization, on the receiving end, the reaction to, or the observance of, then this book is for you.

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