Let’s face it, when you talk about sf it’s all too easy to limit the discussion to the usual suspects: mostly Americans, a few Brits, and the occasional Canadian (who has probably been mistaken for an American). But there’s a whole world of science fiction out there, which can too often slip by unnoticed. True, there are problems of translation. Publishers have never been over-eager to deal with translations because there are extra costs involved and, reputedly, lower sales. But with the proliferation of small presses, with online publication, and with the success of writers like Cixin Liu, even translation is no great obstacle these days. The biggest problem for non-Anglo-American sf writers is still the fact that so often they just don’t get noticed.
So we’re starting an occasional series here where we’ll be picking out a few writers from other countries that you should be paying attention to. We’ll be making no pretence of being comprehensive, and we’ll be limited by what is readily available through Amazon, but we will at least be shifting the focus elsewhere.
Choosing Australia for the first part of the series is almost too obvious. We all read Greg Egan, don’t we? Australia has had a thriving sf scene ever since the days of Bertram Chandler, but even writers who make it big in Australia can face a problem getting noticed elsewhere. Take a look at the works that get shortlisted for the Australian sf awards, the Aurealis or the Ditmar; then add up how many of those get into contention for other awards like the Hugo or Nebula (answer: not a lot). So, even if this represents baby steps in the overall scheme of things, it’s still worth while.
So here you go, five Australian writers (excluding Greg Egan, who’s probably well enough known anyway) that are well worth reading.
It tells you something about Dowling that when he put together his collection of stories, Amberjack, he got Jack Vance to write the introduction. His early work in particular was often compared to Vance and to Cordwainer Smith, which is why it is odd that he isn’t better known outside his native Australia. He’s a writer who tends to concentrate on short stories, though many of them are linked, particularly the Tom Tyson sequence set aboard the sandship Rynosseros as it roams the future Australian outback. The Tom Tyson stories have been collected in four volumes, beginning with Rynosseros, which is an excellent place to start.
Sussex is another writer better known for her short stories, the best of which have been collected in Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies, a volume that indicates the broad range of her fiction, including feminist utopias, crime, horror, alternate history and much more. This range is also in evidence in much of her longer fiction, which includes fantasy, young adult fiction and true crime stories. Her Ditmar Award winning novel, The Scarlet Rider, for instance, merges past and present when a modern day researcher is hired to identify the author of an anonymous crime novel from the 1860s and ends up unearthing a true life detective story, and much more. Sussex also co-edited She’s Fantastical, the first anthology of Australian science fiction by women.
Turner began his career as the award-winning author of mainstream fiction, but mid-career he abruptly switched to writing science fiction,and went on to win the second Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Sea and Summer, a haunting account of life in overcrowded tower blocks in a near-future Melbourne as climate change floods the city. It was the novel that largely set in motion the interest in climate change that has been a distinguishing feature of much Australian science fiction. Many of his novels involve dystopian near futures in which genetic manipulation and a rejection of technology are characteristics. He won several Ditmar Awards, including for his first sf novel, Beloved Son, and for his later work, The Destiny Makers.
If Turner’s work initiated an interest in climate change in Australian sf, the current writer who has most memorably taken that subject on is James Bradley. He first touched on the subject in his second novel, The Deep Field, a love story set in a near future beset by political tensions and the effects of climate change. He explored it even more thoroughly in his next novel, Clade, in which an extended family group struggle to survive in the face of pandemics, apocalyptic storms and political unrest all triggered by damage to the environment.
There’s more sense of devastation in the Greatwinter sequence by Sean McMullen, although this is more conventionally set nearly 2,000 years after a nuclear war. Souls in the Great Machine begins the sequence with a devastated Australia in which the most advanced technology is wind powered, and in which an ambitious computer, known as the Calculor, is composed of thousands of enslaved humans. The sense of great sweeps of time evident in the Greatwinter sequence is also relevant to his standalone novel, The Centurion’s Empire, in which a Roman soldier travels through time by way of a series of suspended animations until he finally reaches the 21st century.
For a great introduction to the range of modern Australian science fiction, you could hardly go wrong with two monumental anthologies edited by Jack Dann, Dreaming Down Under (edited with Janeen Webb) and Dreaming in the Dark. Together they will give you a great taste of Australian sf, including stories by Sean Williams, Stephen Dedman, Isobelle Carmody, Cherry Wilder, Jane Routley, Dirk Strasser, Rosaleen Love, Damien Broderick, Russell Blackford, David J. Lake, Paul Collins, Rjurik Davidson, Kim Westwood, Angela Slatter, Kim Wilkins and a host of others.It gives you an idea of how much good stuff is coming out of Australia these days, even if we don’t always see as much of it as we should.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.