The Future and Other Fictions

A fiction blog for short fiction, culture reviews and discussions of creative art

The Never Never Book Box – text unboxing and review

Today I received a mystery box from one of my subscriptions. If you haven’t caught up with this trend, subscription boxes are curated collections of themed goods, sent to subscribers usually monthly or bimonthly. For your hard-earned, you get a collection of gear or goods that you might have otherwise not paid for, usually some junk you would never have paid for, and occasionally a real gem or surprise that you never knew existed but now I know it’s real Take My Money Oh Wait Now I Have One. Subscription boxes cover the gamut of life, from comics and computer games to makeup, lingerie, fresh food, men’s fashion, and literature. The box I received today, fresh-shipped from the USA and thus arriving a fortnight after everyone else has theirs, included a lovely coffee mug. Which was broken. <Sigh>

Coincidentally, I also received today the very first box from the new subscription service, the Never Never Book Box. The Never Never Book Box is Australia’s first (and probably only) spec-fic literature subscription box. You had me at “Australian”, because it probably won’t reach me in multiple pieces and it won’t be subject to the vicissitudes of Australian customs. But it’s about books. Books from Australian authors. Science-fiction and fantasy books by Australian authors. Needless to say, being enthused by the concept and hopeless at managing my money, I subscribed in a shot, and I have been hanging out with avid anticipation for this delivery.

Part of the joy of a subscription box is the anticipation, and the rush of exhilaration in rifling through the loot, each new treasure examined in detail. It’s like a lottery and a Christmas stocking, all wrapped up into one handy box. For me, the contents of the box are secondary to the experience of unpacking it, bringing each piece into the light and into my life. So, naturally, I’m going to go through the contents of the very first ever Never Never Book Box and spoil all of that for you.

Obviously, spoilers. If you have subscribed to this service but haven’t received yours yet, feel free to bookmark this and come back later. If you haven’t subscribed, you might still be able to get this box – they might have a few left. If not, they ship a new box every two months, and if you use the link below you can get $5 off a subscription.

This month’s theme is “The Stories We Keep”.

Starting off with the box itself, it’s a combination of stylish white with faux-ribbon and a printed seal, with the bruising treatment of going through the post. Still, it’s the insides that count. So we slit open the sealing tape and open it up…

The very first thing that pops out, swaddled in reams of black tissue paper, is a classy business card for the Never Never Book Box. On the reverse, a twitter handle. Okay, do we have direct access to the creators of the book box? Actually, something arguably even better. On top of the box is a letter, proudly secured with an actual wax seal. The letter goes through the whole contents of the box and how they relate to the theme, but I didn’t want to spoil the experience by reading any kind of unboxing before I, you know, unboxed, so I’ll come back to it later. But it does explain the twitter handle.

Now to the actual goodies. And the first thing is… a magnetic page keeper. This is an Alice in Wonderland, by The Rabbit Tribe, and it’s like a bookmark only modern. Because magnets. I love it already. Like many of us, I have a half dozen books I’m halfway through reading and I’m always in need of new bookmarky goodness, so yay! Complementing the page keeper is a badge. It seems a tiresome necessity – every subscription box I’ve ever received has some kind of a badge (or “pin”, as they call them in the States). This one is a Dreaming Book – that is to say, a book. Which is dreaming. If you’re the kind of person who decorates jackets or backpacks with dozens of badges/pins, you might get something out of this. Not being that kind of person myself and with a small child in the house, I don’t think this thing will last. But thoughts of sharp objects are dispelled with the next item…

Which is a notepad. This is green, and hard-back, and high quality as notebooks go. I’m always in need of new notepaper and I’m sure I’ll get use from this. The cover design of almost-Eucalypt foliage was chosen for its resemblance to the classic covers for Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, although I was always more of a Runaway Pudding man.

Wrapped in black paper so that I almost missed it at first is a small glass jar. Inside the jar is “Alice’s Size-Altering Mug Cake”. It’s a cake mix, with instructions: to make this you’ll need some milk and some butter, a mug and a microwave. Not quite as magical as is the wont of Wonderland, but speaking as a modern man, a microwave is a magic all of its own. And like Arthur C Clarke once opined, any technology sufficiently advanced, yada yada…

But this wouldn’t be a Never Never Book Box unless it included books, and it has two. The first is a card/code for an ebook: Soulless – The Immortal Gene Book 1, by Jacinta Maree. I’ve never heard of the book nor the author, but the blurb looks interesting. “…a world plagued by reincarnation… where all past memories, personalities and traumatic events are relived daily”. The novel is about the one person who is immune to the plague of reincarnation, and of course that means she’s going to be pursued. This could be very good indeed, or very bad. Looking it up on Amazon is slightly dispiriting because the Kindle version is currently just $1.00, but on the other hand it has a swag of four- and five-star reviews. There’s a sequel also available, which is also inexpensive, and if it’s as good as it looks like it might be, that’s going to be a good thing.

So now we come to the centrepiece of this box. Each box in the Never Never subscription comes with a featured novel in print, along with a signed book plate and a personal letter from the author. This book comes secure in its own brown-paper wrapping (but no, it’s not that kind of book), with a bookmark (yay bookmarks!), the signed bookplate sticker, and the book itself. This month’s featured book is The Tides Between, by Elizabeth Jane Corbett. From the blurb: “In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world… [but] the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.”

It’s a handsome book, a brand new release from Australian publisher Odyssey Books, which I have been following for a while. The Tides Between was not on my wishlist and probably not the kind of book that would have captured my attention, but now that I have it in my hands I will most certainly read it. Believe it or not, this book is too new to have any reviews, so now you know as much about it as I do! This is a situation I shall have to remedy – the lack of reviews, that is, not your ignorance.

Oh, and that twitter handle I mentioned? Apparently I’ve been assigned a “Reading Buddy”. How about that: a subscription box that’s actively encouraging the creation of a community. Colour me impressed.

Part of the value of a subscription box is the quality of the curation. With the Never Never Book Box, we’re relying on the service to pick out interesting, worthwhile books, but not so popular that everybody will already have bought them. No easy feat, when you’re pitching your subscription at avid Australian readers of science fiction and trying to provide Australian science fiction, but based on this first box they seem to be off to a good start. The subscription is not the cheapest out there, but the variety and quality of its contents this time around give hope that this will be the kind of subscription box that keeps on giving. I can certainly say that I’ll use, and get enjoyment from, everything in this box, far more than I will a broken coffee mug.

Well, everything except the badge, I guess.

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