Edition 14: Article: State of Play of Australian Speculative Fiction

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SQ Mag is pleased to have sourced two prominent figures in the fields of speculative fiction in Australia, and asked them for their opinions. Their views are not necessarily SQ Mag’s, nor can the articles, by way of the size, be considered a complete survey. We encourage readers who are interested in Australian speculative fiction to search the Aurealis Awards, Ditmar Awards, and Australian Shadows Awards for references to many other quality publishers and authors.


The State of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Australia
by Tehani Wessely

In April 2014, a self-published novel won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel for the first time in the 19-year history of the Awards. Also for the first time, the shortlist for that category did not contain a book published by the Harper Voyager line. A debut novelist won the Best Horror Novel and Best Young Adult Novel categories (for the same book), small press publishers dominated the Anthologies and Collections fields, and several works on the 12 shortlists were ebook-only releases. The publishing world is changing quickly, and Australian science fiction and fantasy is riding the wave.

Comparative to population, Australia has a relatively robust speculative publishing arena. HarperCollins, Hachette/Orbit, Allen & Unwin, Random House Australia/Penguin, Pan Macmillan, Walker Books and their subsidiaries and imprints each year produce good numbers of home grown books, along with the smaller figures of Fremantle Press, Ford Street, UQ Press and the like. International publishers such as Angry Robot, Solaris, Prime and Tartarus Press pick up Australian work, and small Australian publishing houses – including Twelfth Planet Press, Ticonderoga Publications, Satalyte Publishing, FableCroft Publishing and Clan Destine Press – rise and produce innovative and niche publications the larger publishers can’t. And of course, with technology providing more access to a broader market than ever before, self-published work is flooding the field. But what trends are we seeing, and why?

Interestingly, science fiction and fantasy in Australia is a field that bucks an international trend – gender. In the US and UK particularly, the fantasy and SF novel shelves are dominated by male writers, but in Australia, women have forged ahead, in publication statistics and critical recognition both. Since the very early days of the Voyager imprint almost 20 years ago, under the guiding hand of now-retired editor Stephanie Smith, female authors have taken the lead, particularly in fantasy but without doubt leaving a mark on the SF and horror fields as well. Names such as Sara Douglass (vale), Glenda Larke, Karen Miller, Trudi Canavan, Kylie Chan, Margo Lanagan, Kate Forsyth, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Pamela Freeman, Traci Harding, Fiona McIntosh, Isobelle Carmody, Marianne de Pierres, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton, Kim Wilkins, Kim Westwood, Michelle Marquadt, Anna Tambour and Lucy Sussex are known not only in Australia but overseas as well, with many gaining strong presences in foreign territories that even outweigh their local popularity.

That is not to say the male writers are not strong in the field as well (Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Greg Egan, Terry Dowling, Ian Irvine, Bevan McGuiness, Lee Battersby, Dave Luckett, Alan Baxter, Simon Brown, Richard Harland, Duncan Lay, Sean McMullen, Robert Hood, KA Bedford, Simon Haynes, Damien Broderick and others spring immediately to mind), but it’s very much worth noting that the strength of women writers is this country is an Australian anomaly, and one which is welcome indeed as a beacon of promise to readers and female authors internationally.

The emerging quality of some self-published writers is another interesting element in Australian science fiction and fantasy publishing. In the past few years, the Aurealis Awards shortlists have seen a number of self-published works appear, with the first self-published winner this year. Authors such as Andrea K Host, Mitchell Hogan, Alan Baxter, Simon Haynes and Patty Jansen are not only making excellent sales figures in ebook platforms, but are also receiving critical recognition for their work. However, there are still misconceptions about how the most successful self-publishers achieve this dual goal, and it is in the acceptance speech Hogan made at the Aurealis Awards that perhaps tells the true tale: Hogan made a point of mentioning his editors and designers, demonstrating that despite the name, “self” is not the way to create quality work – there is still a team behind the book, each with expertise that helps finesse the final product into a professional and noteworthy novel.

Boutique and independent publishers are another flourishing aspect of the Australian speculative fiction scene. In the past 18 months, original novels were produced by several small publishers including Coeur de Lion, Twelfth Planet Press, Ticonderoga Publications, FableCroft Publishing and Clan Destine Press, alongside their traditional fare of anthologies and collections. Aurealis magazine has reinvented itself in the recent past, and the little magazine that could, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, is still going strong after 12 years. With small publishers (from both Australian and overseas) holding multiple places on several Aurealis Awards shortlists, it is clear that not only is the quality of output high, equaling the major publishers, but the opportunities small presses take, looking at unusual projects or works that big publishers are not willing to take a commercial risk on, are paying off. Readers are keen to see novels that don’t follow the same tired plots so often regurgitated in the mainstream field; they want to have access to books that address difference in a more relevant and engaging way; they want to read stories that offer the sense of wonder captured by science fiction and fantasy in the golden years of the genre, but given new life, rather than being constrained by narrow ideas of what will make the biggest profit margin. Taking advantage of the same technological advances that have helped self-publishing become big business, small press can now reach international distribution channels previously out of reach, meaning more financially viable and professional opportunities for publishers and authors alike.

This international approach is paying dividends. Global prizes such as the Hugos, World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards have featured Australian names more frequently in the past several years, including not just writers such as some mentioned previously, but also artists (notably Shaun Tan and Kathleen Jennings), editors (particularly anthologist Jonathan Strahan) and others in the Hugo categories of related works (where Australians have a long tradition, from winning the category in the very first year – Peter Nicholls for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia – and later including George Turner, Justine Larbalestier, Shaun Tan and Helen Merrick), and Best Fancast (where podcasts that critically consider speculative fiction in all its forms, Galactic Suburbia and Coode Street, have been on the ballot all three years since the inception of the category, joined by The Writer and the Critic this year). It is also worth noting that speculative fiction is certainly becoming more acceptable in mainstream awards, with the Children’s Book Council of Australia recently shortlisting two strongly speculative novels in its Older Readers category, and another two in Younger Readers.

Always ahead of the game in terms of numbers, gender and exploring the far reaches of potential, Australian science fiction and fantasy writing is now showcased on a worldwide scale, and the sky is never the limit…

The State of Horror Literature in Australia
by Geoff Brown

Horror in Australia has always been, at least as far as most readers are concerned, something that has been imported, mostly from the UK and the US. King, Koontz, and Laymon are the three horror writers horror-lovers likely read when growing up, with dashes of Masterton and Herbert, all nicely spiced with Barker and a few other big names. Small presses like we have now weren’t around, due to the difficulty and expense of the printing process. There were a few magazines, sure, but they were of such small circulation that they would be considered specialist, and few would have heard of them.

But now, with the change in publishing paradigm that has come about with ebooks and Print-on-Demand technology, the Australian horror scene is coming alive, with many publishers and writers gaining more and more recognition, both here in Australia and throughout the world.

Terror Australis: the Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine (1987-1992) was Australia’s first mass market horror magazine. It succeeded the Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine (1984-87) edited by Barry Radburn and Stephen Studach and was the first magazine of its kind in Australia to pay authors. At the time, the magazine was almost an anomaly, something unique, but now, there are a variety of Australian publishers.

Midnight Echo Magazine is the official magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association. Midnight Echo first came to life in 2008, with Issue One edited by Kirstyn McDermott (author of Madigan Mine) and Ian Mond, with David Schembri as Art Director. Since then, the magazine has been guest edited by some of Australia’s most respected horror editors and authors, including Angela Challis and Shane Jiraiya Cummings. Recent developments in the growth of Midnight Echo see it changing its concept from digital and traditional print to digital release only. The reworked and reimagined magazine will be flag-shipped with Issue 11, to be edited by Kaaron Warren, one of Australia’s most awarded writers.

Ticonderoga is an Australian independent publishing house founded by Russell B. Farr in 1996. Ticonderoga specialises in collections of science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories. Ticonderoga has managed to release a number of award-winning themed collections over the last few years, along with three consecutive Best Australian Fantasy and Horror titles through 2010, 2011 and 2012. With fifteen years in business and more than thirty titles published, Ticonderoga Publications is one of Australia’s longest running and more productive independent presses.

Brimstone Press is a publisher of dark fiction currently based in Wellington, New Zealand. First founded in 2004 in Western Australia by Angela Challis and Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Brimstone Press’ books have been distributed to bookstores throughout Australia since 2006. In 2011, Brimstone’s titles became available through major online retailers in print and eBook formats. The 2012 publication of the star-studded charity anthology Rage Against the Night – which included stories from Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, and Peter Straub – brought Brimstone back into notice, and I believe they opened up to novel submissions late year.

Twelfth Planet Press (TPP) is certainly one to keep an eye on, with many releases nominated for – and winning – many awards, both nationally and internationally. The ‘Twelve Planet’ series especially has come to the forefront of awards recently, including Through Splintered Walls, the wonderful collection by Kaaron Warren, containing stories that went on to sweep the awards the year it was published. Her novella ‘Sky’ won the Shirley Jackson Award (first Aussie ever), the Ditmar Award, the Australian Shadows Award and the Aurealis Award that year. The collection also won the Australian Shadows Award. TPP has produced many high-calibre books, and is certainly moving into the world stage.

Severed Press, based in Melbourne, Australia, is another relative newcomer to the genre. Only a few years old, they have taken the post-apocalyptic/zombie beginning they had, and become more broad in the genre they accept for publication. As well as releasing Australian authors, releasing international authors such as Tim Curran, Wrath James White, and Eric S Brown has certainly made the market sit up and take notice of this new house.

Tasmaniac Publications, based in Tasmania as you’d guess from the name, specialises in limited edition hardcover and paperback releases, ignoring by choice the burgeoning e-book market. With authors like Tom Piccirilli, Brett McBean, Steve Gerlach, Simon Clark, and Gary Braunbeck, this is another press that has attracted some big name authors.

Dark Prints Press is another new kid on the block, but already with a strong list of releases and authors. Publishing greats like Jonathan Maberry, as well as lesser-known but still wonderful writers like Amanda J Spedding, this is a press to keep a close eye on.

The current state of writing in Australia is reflected in the releases, and the best way to keep track of many of the new releases is through the award systems. The Australian Shadows Award is underway at the moment, and the amount of submissions for the categories is at least as large as ever before. The range is also more diverse, in that more and more self-published and small press entries seem to be emerging in every category.

The Australian genre literary scene is full of nationally- and world-renowned Australian horror writers such as Cat Sparks, Kaaron Warren, Lucy Sussex, Sean Williams, Rocky Wood, the wonderful Will Elliott, Sara Douglass (vale), and Amanda Pillar. Many of the writers mentioned in the Science Fiction and Fantasy State of Play are also horror writers who cross over into other spec-fic genres at times. Australians don’t seem to mind blending and crossing genres. Horror writers like Lee Battersby, Greig Beck, Greg Chapman, Gerry Huntman, Kirstyn McDermott, Martin Livings, Rob Hood, Angela Slatter, Lisa L. Hannett, and Terry Dowling, with many more too numerous to list here, are also quietly working away, producing world-class horror as well as sliding at times into sci-fi and fantasy.

Aussie horror writing is good at the moment, and with the quality of all the horror writers and publishers mentioned, will continue to grow and dominate more and more of the market, both nationally and internationally.


Tehani AAs by Cat lg

photograph by Cat Sparks

Tehani Wessely was a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in 2001. Now firmly entrenched in Australian speculative fiction and independent press, she has edited for Twelfth Planet Press (among other duties), has judged for the Aurealis Awards (for which she is the current judging co-ordinator), CBCA Book of the Year and the WA Premier’s Book Awards, reads far more in one genre than is healthy, and writes reviews, non-fiction and interviews. In her spare moments, she works as a Teacher Librarian and enjoys spending time with her husband and four children.
GN Braun
Geoff Brown aka G.N. Braun is an Australian writer raised in Melbourne’s gritty Western Suburbs. He is a trained nurse, and holds a Cert. IV in Professional Writing and Editing, as well as a Dip. Arts (Professional Writing and Editing). At graduation, Brown was awarded ‘Vocational Student of the Year’ and ’2012 Student of the Year’ by his college.
He writes fiction across various genres, and is the author of many published short stories. He has had numerous articles published in newspapers, both regional and metropolitan. He is the past president of the Australian Horror Writers Association (2011-2013), as well as the past director of the Australian Shadows Awards. He is an editor and columnist for UK site This is Horror, and the guest editor for Midnight Echo #9.
His memoir, Hammered, was released in early 2012 by Legumeman Books and has been extensively reviewed.
He is the owner of Cohesion Editing and Proofreading, and has now opened a publishing house, Cohesion Press.

About Gerry Huntman

specfic writer, publisher, IT Consultant

Posted on April 30, 2014, in Edition and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Publisher’s Note:

    When this article was first published, the Horror component had, by error, left out a prominent publisher in the field – Twelfth Planet Press. Additionally, there was no preamble that made it crystal clear that the articles were not surveys, nor complete, and were the views of the authors – which was always our posture.

    The Editor, Sophie Yorkston, added a preamble a day after release (1 May 2014 in Australia), and as of today (2 May 2014 in Australia), I have reposted the horror element that Geoff Brown has kindly made amendments to. The material change on his part was to make mention of Twelfth Planet Press, including their significant achievements.

    There will still be authors and publishers left out of this article – this is the nature of high level, fairly short pieces. For those of you who wish to have a deeper understanding of Australian speculative fiction, you should be able to research it with little difficulty on the Net.

    Gerry Huntman
    Publisher, SQ Mag

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  2. Pingback: Edition 14: Article: State of Play of Australian Speculative Fiction | ldbush21

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