In the Australian speculative fiction scene there is a myth that you cannot sell work about Australia.
I heard it fairly early in the scheme of things, in the final years of High School, back when I was starting to try and sell stuff. I can’t remember who I heard it from first, but it was repeated by a lot of writers I met, each of who said, ‘People overseas don’t want to buy anything Australian,’ which was essentially advice to an author to cut out anything cultural, from history, to landscape, to politics, because it was believed that no one wanted to read about Australia. The argument is a tiny corner in a much larger debate throughout speculative fiction about what readers want, and what sells, and what does not. On its global plate, the exclusion of voices that are not white, male, straight, and Western, has given rise to a monoculture genre. It’s also wrong. As is shown by readers who demand diverse voices, characters who are non-white, non-male, non-straight, and non-Western, do sell, and do have an audience, and speculative fiction as will stronger and more equitable as a genre when this is realised completely.
In Australia, years of this debate has resulted in an startling lack of work written about the country and the people in it. It should be said that there is some – the short fiction of Lucy Sussex, George Turner’s novel Genetic Soldier – but for the most, the work is the monoculture speculative fiction that characterises much of the genre. In a country founded on immigration that destroyed its indigenous culture before turning on new immigrants, it is a sad thing to see. There is so much available in the narrative quest to understand Australian identity that it is shame that the belief that Australia doesn’t sell, and is of no interest, has turned authors away from the topic.
Forrest Aguirre bought ‘the Dreaming City’ for the fourth volume of the Leviathan series. The third volume, co-edited between Aguirre and Jeff VanderMeer, had won a World Fantasy Award, and so it was a pretty big deal to be in the next collection – especially for me, since it was my first big, international sale, and it bought me recognition, introduced me to a lot of people, and was by and large, quite positive for me.
It is also a story about Australia and about the search for Australian identity in a post colonial landscape. There’s a lesson in that, really.
(As an aside, a different version of the story would go on to form the opening of a mosaic novel about Sydney, A Year in the City (a second story, ‘White Crocodile Jazz’, which appeared in the anthology Sprawl, is also part of it). For the book, I cut out the non-fiction part of the story, and altered a few other bits. I had not planned for ‘the Dreaming City’ to be the opening of the novel, but once I had written it, I felt so strongly about what it said to me about Australia that the rest began to fall into place. It took me three years to finish A Year in the City, and I think it is one of my most ambitious novels, a book about Sydney and Australia, about multiculturalism, and equality, and where each narrator is written in a different style and voice. I submitted a smaller version of it for my doctorate, but the whole thing has, for the most part, been a book few people have seen. Hopefully that will change soon. My girlfriend – the photographer Nikilyn Nevins – has been taking photos for it and laying it out into this huge, mammoth, insane thing that we will crowdfund/self publish once its finish. It will be loved by maybe the five people who buy it, two of which will be me and her, but it doesn’t matter. Upon our deaths, someone will claim it to be brilliant.)
(This is a story note for my collection, Dead Americans and Other Stories, which is available now. The song is part of an illusionary soundtrack that I am putting into each of the posts for amusement, but if you owned the book, you could listen to it in the final moments of the story, if you were so inclined. If you don’t own a copy of Dead Americans and Other Stories and you haven’t read ‘The Dreaming City’ then you should follow the links and buy a copy, because it’s good for you – and the new body I am purchasing, one bone at a time. I have a toe now.)