A Reader's Guide to Australians
By Cheryl Morgan
SF reference books come in all shapes and sizes. Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview, by Donna Maree Hanson, is about trade paperback size but in landscape format. This makes it look more like a coffee table book than a work of reference, but while it may not have the solid authority of a Clute encyclopedia I very much like it.
Here are two important features. First it tries hard to be inclusive. Writers such as Jack Dann, Anna Tambour and Scott Westerfeld who were born outside of Australia but now live there are included. So are the likes of Tom Arden, Jay Caselberg and Glenda Larke, who have left Australia for parts foreign. In addition it makes no attempt to pass judgment on the worth of authors by devoting more space to some than others. Thereís a basic divide that if you have had a book published you get a whole page, and if you have only published short fiction you get a half page, but that is as far as it goes. Judging worth requires the deft touch and vast knowledge of a Clute, and other people should not attempt it.
The largest section in the book is devoted to authors who have had at least one book published. As I said, they get a page to themselves. A book cover and a photo are used for illustration ó well, except for Greg Egan, who was uploaded into silicon a few years ago and is no longer comfortable with images of his former meat-body being used. There is some biographical and bibliographic detail, and occasionally a few thoughts by the subject. Hanson sent each author a questionnaire, and some responded with interesting opinions. Quite a few touch on the perennial, "What does it mean to be an Australian writer?" question, and as I expected their answers are very different.
One limit on the book is that it concentrates solely on living authors. There is no entry, for example, for George Turner, despite his superb output and importance in the field. I have no objection to this. You have to draw the line somewhere, and Iím happy that Hanson chose to include young, up-and-coming writers who can benefit from the exposure rather than dead people who canít.
I discovered a number of interesting things. For example, there are more Australian SpecFic writers that I am not familiar with than that I do know. This is bad, considering the origins of Emerald City. In addition I now know that I really must get around to reading my copy of The Stone Ship by Peter Raftos, and I must get hold of some books by Alison Venugoban. Much to my surprise I discovered that Edward James, far from having taken up a teaching post in Dublin, is actually living in South Australia under the name of Fletcher Anthony (or so I conclude from the photograph).
There follows a short section on illustrators ó there are not nearly as many of them. On the other hand, Nick Stathopoulos and Sean Tan are two of my favorite artists, and I now know that I want to buy a print of "Music city" by Greg Bridges.
Section three is on magazines and anthologies. Again there is far more material than I had expected. Finally there is a section on up and coming writers: the people who have published short fiction but have no books (yet).
All in all, this is a very useful guide to what is going on in the Australian SpecFic scene. Obviously I canít comment on its accuracy, but I havenít heard of any complaints and in any case simply listing many of those writers was news to me. It therefore seems a shame that it has been published by an Australian small press and will be difficult to find if you are not in Australia.