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The Year Everything Died

Today, I listened to the podcast of Jonathan Strahan, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Alex Pierce discuss what makes Australian speculative fiction, or lack of it. The podcast goes for about an hour and doesn't really provide much of an insight into any writers, and could have been edited in a few places, but it's a lively enough discussion lead by Tansy more than the others.

It was interesting, however, for me to listen to it. The three focus early in early on the landscape of Australia, discussing the presence of uniquely Australian settings, one that appears to arise out of the rural part of Australia. It's strange, since Roberts herself makes a comment about a novel of her own set in Tasmania being rejected because it did not capture the holiday snapshot version of the area. A lot of what the three appeared to be looking for seemed to arise out of the similar snapshot holiday card, with little paid to cities and coastal living. Likewise, a was a bit surprised that Terry Dowling's Tom Tyson series wasn't referenced, or even Sean McMullen's Greatwinter trilogy, work that, if my memory serves me right, works part of central Australia in well. At least, that was what was going through my mind as I listened to them, and it's entirely possible that the work itself was not mentioned because it's fairly old, these days. George Turner did cop a mention, however, and like Strahan, I hope the free copy Alex picked up was one of the good books. The Drowning Towers (the reprinted title of The Sea and Summer, which Strahan references) or Genetic Soldier are my favourites.

But what struck me, as I listened, was as the three struggled to identify and find Australian work, they spoke of many uniquely Australian qualities that is, perhaps, in the work. The personality trait of Australians to cut down the tall poppy, the multiculturalism, the cultural cringe--does this arise in the feature of protagonists, stories? Personally, I don't know. I can think of a few authors here and there, but I have to admit, I haven't given much thought to it, until now. But I did think as I listened to the three that they, and perhaps all of us, have been too passive in what we look for Australian identity. We look for aspects that leap out at us, which shake us and shout AUSTRALIAN, and while that isn't a bad thing if done right (there is a rising amount of work that actively seeks to deal with aspects of Australia) perhaps we are being simply too passive. As readers, we don't demand to see it, don't ask to do so, and we don't look for it. We are more than happy to not seen Australian culture in our speculative fiction, but is it true? It's strange to think that a culture won't have its resonance on characters, morals, and tones, and it's strange to think that authors may not be aware of it, or actively work against it (if they can).

I'm not claiming anyone is wrong on the podcast. I mean, it's a conversation, people back and forth, and I found parts interesting for where I disagreed, and where I agreed, and I did like the quote that everything dies after a Worldcon.

But at the same time, I did finish thinking that the way we view Australian identity, the way we look for it, is too passive. We are a multicultural country, and though much of the work is by white authors writing white characters (a topic all three appeared uncomfortable discussing in depth), I suspect we might all simply be too passive in looking for ourselves in the work of our authors. We are, I doubt, going to be represented by one thing, in life, and in fiction.