Snapshot 2012: Scott Westerfeld

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoSCOTT Westerfeld is the author of five books for adults and 13 for young adults, including the New York Times-bestselling Uglies and Leviathan series. The latter was illustrated by Keith Thompson, and the former has just been adapted as a graphic novel series scripted by Devin Grayson, with art by Stephen Cummings. Scott’s work in progress is a meta-paranormal romance. Find Scott online at scottwesterfeld.com.


How exciting is it to see Uglies being given a manga treatment — the sign of more cross-platform excursions to come?
I’ve always wanted to rewrite the series from Shay’s point of view, simply as an exercise in perspective, but it seemed a bit lazy re-tell a story I’ve already told. But when the idea of a graphic novel adaptation came up, I realised that a different medium would be the right place to effect the shift in perspective. I’m working on an original graphic novel at the moment, having learned a lot from watching Devin Grayson adapt my outline for Shay’s Story.


When you were writing your Leviathan series (which includes illustrations), did you expect it to be such a fashion hit in terms of the fan art? (I note that Uglies seems pretty popular, too…)
Lots of people think that adding pictures to a book makes it younger, but in reality it just means reaching a different set of readers: those with a more visual bent, many of whom come out of manga and graphic novel traditions. So yes, there is a lot more fan art and cosplay for Leviathan than any of my other books. It really does change the kinds of questions readers ask. What are the dominant colors in this society? How do people dress for breakfast? Like fan fiction, fan art opens up countless new kettles of fish and makes the world of the book much bigger.


You were on a panel about the fiction of the fantastic at the Sydney Writers Festival. What are some of the key ideas about writing fantasy and science fiction?
World-building is a fundamental concern of our genre. Speculative writing quite often starts with a world and lets the stories, characters and conflicts come out of that world.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
Sea Hearts is a glorious read. It’s full of lovely sentences, as one would expect from Margo Lanagan, but also it’s one of the few multi-generational sagas I’ve read that doesn’t lose its flow as the decades pass. The bleak island setting is so unchanging and inescapable that the story can last a century and yet you always know right where you are.

I’m also enjoying Library of Forgotten Books, a collection by Rjurik Davidson. The shorts stories are all darkly atmospheric, both in their themes and their language, which gives them an impact that’s more like a novel than a divertimento.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I don’t know.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

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Aurealis Awards, Leviathan and Red Queen

Brisbane’s run as host of the Aurealis Awards appears over, with the end of Fantastic Queensland’s tenure as organisers of the awards, and the likely replacement coming from down south. In that time, the awards have gone from being a drab adjunct to an insular convention to an event in their own right, with sponsorship, attendance and attention from major publishers. It’s a hell of an achievement; FQ have earned their rest.

This year’s awards ceremony was another packed event at the Judith Wright Centre and didn’t disappoint, hosted by FQ committee members, and featuring readings from seminal books published outside the awards’ timeframe. Book seller Justin Ackroyd (of Slow Glass Books) was acknowledged, and in an emotional moment, late Brisbane writer Kris Hembury’s contribution to the community was memorialised with a new award for emerging talent, awarded to artist and writer Kathleen Jennings.

red queen by honey brown

The awards were also expanded to include picture books. A list of finalists and winners is here.

I was most interested in the horror finalists this year, because the breadth was large: paranormal romance, ghosts, witches, noir unicorns. And Red Queen, by HM (Honey) Brown, the one title I had not read, and the winner. It’s a good, solid debut thriller. Set in the Victorian bush, two brothers are living in isolation while a virus devastates the Earth. Into that scenario enters a woman — one with secrets that are not fully revealed until an action-packed ending. The bush, the characters, the situation are all well-drawn, and the prose is accomplished, but I found myself wondering: where’s the horror?

This is always an argument with the old horror beastie – it’s a mood, an emotion, where other genres within the speculative fiction umbrella are easier to qualify based on content. If the story is set in the future, chances are it’s science fiction. If it is otherworldly, with magic, well, it’s probably a fantasy. But horror lends itself to many stories.

Unfortunately, the judges’ reports aren’t online yet, so it’s hard to know just what it was about Red Queen that swayed them to choose this book over the other four, which to my mind are all identifiable as horror stories (menace, suspense, fear, a dark slant on what we accept as the real world). Red Queen has some suspense and a touch of the Gothic — it’s an effective thriller — but seems pale by comparison.

Andrew McGahan’s win in science fiction might offer a similar genre-bending experience, based on its synopsis, but I’ve yet to track it down to make my own opinion.

That’s the beauty of awards, I guess. They stretch our perceptions, challenge our biases, and introduce us to new stories and writers and ways of thinking about our craft and our stories.

leviathan by scott westerfeld

I had no such qualms with the best young adult novel, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, a rollicking steampunk novel set in an alternative Europe at the outbreak of World War I. It follows the adventures of two teens thrust into the conflict, one English, one Austrian. There are mechanical marvels such as tanks on legs and bio-tweaked creatures such as zeppelin-like whales. Some pushed my limit of disbelief, but mostly I was able to sail along and enjoy the action and the likeable hero and heroine, and the adults around them, as they are pushed together by the vagaries of war and politics.

I hope next year’s awards provide not only a similar level of professionalism and camaraderie, but also enhance my reading list as equally.