Snapshot 2012: Rjurik Davidson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoRJURIK Davidson is a freelance writer and associate editor of Overland magazine. Rjurik has written short stories, essays, reviews and screenplays. PS Publishing published his collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. His novel, Unwrapped Sky, will be published by Tor in 2012. He writes reviews of speculative fiction for the Age newspaper, film reviews for several magazines and has a regular column in Overland. Rjurik’s screenplay The Uncertainty Principle (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently under development with German company Lailaps Films. He has been short-listed for and won a number of awards. He can be found at www.rjurikdavidson.blogspot.com and has a blog on the Overland website called Against Reality.

You have a collection and, in the pipeline, novels set in your world of minotaurs and sirens: how have you approached such mythic creatures in your fiction?
As a child I read the Greek myths and, around the age of six, my imagination was captured by the ruins of Ancient Rome. There’s always been something transcendent about myth, which is why they still resonate with us. But in my stories, I wanted to approach the mythology — minotaurs, sirens, cyclops and gorgons — with a modern sensibility. That is, I wanted to keep the sense of myth and the mythic, but place it within an industrial world. The minotaur myth, for example, is sometimes said to be about technology: Theseus finds his way through the minotaur’s labyrinth with a ball of string. In a sense, ‘The Passing of the Minotaurs’ <read the short story at SciFi.com> — which is an extract from an early section of Unwrapped Sky — is a rewriting of this myth in an industrial capitalist world. The minotaurs are undone by modernity — by the power of commodification, if you like, in a similar way to many old and beautiful things in our world (old buildings or old forests, for example).

This fantasy world, and the city of Caeli-Amur, might be thought of as city a bit like Rome or Turin in the 1920s. In Caeli-Amur, there’s industrialism, a rising working class, a strange bureaucratic capitalism, but there’s also the remnants of an older less developed society, and even further back the ruined remnants of a more advanced society. So the mythology all takes place in a world where there’s a great deal of of change. There’s social turbulence. No one quite knows where it’s all headed. It is a world where ‘all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned’ as Marx once described it. What could be more profane than the death of a minotaur and the use of its body parts as commodities?


Have the short stories been a way of exploring the world in preparation for the longer works, or were the novels always the end goal?
I love short stories. In many ways, they’re more interesting than novels. You can be more experimental and you can be more adventurous in content. Quite often, the things which become famous at novel-length are first done in short story form (think of Gibson, for example). The stories gain a certain notoriety and this encourages the writer to develop those sorts of stories at longer length. One of the reasons is that novels have a slightly longer shelf-life, and there’s a little more money in them. That’s the way it happened with me, anyway. People liked Caeli-Amur and the stories set there, so I thought, right, time to write a novel set there. Still, I’ll always write short stories, just as I’ll always write essays and scripts and other things.


You are an editor on a literary magazine and you’re a Ditmar winner for best new talent: what’s your take on the literature/genre divide?
Oh, I have several responses, all pretty contradictory. My first response is that the division is false. Writers like Atwood, Ishiguru, Houllebecq and Winterson are clearly writing SF. On the other hand, there are plenty of SF writers writing very ‘literary’ science fiction: Gene Wolfe or M John Harrison, for example. Partly the division is invented by the marketing departments of publishing companies, partly there’s an inherited prejudice against SF in the ‘mainstream’ (which I find ignorant and repulsive), but there’s also quite often a self-reinforced ghettoisation from the SF community also.

I find it all pretty frustrating because there are all sorts of deleterious effects of the division. SF writers are unfairly ignored and ‘literary’ writers writing SF too-often claimed as ‘original’ when they’re really borrowing tropes that have been around for decades. At Overland we try to be inclusive: we’ve had special SF editions, publish SF stories and articles, but I do feel fairly sad that the SF community pretty much ignores us — something reflected not only in terms of our submissions but reflected in things like awards, links to our online articles and so on.

Another passed-down quirk of the division between the literary and SF worlds is the over-emphasis on plot-driven narrative in genre. Genre writers, readers and editors probably do want more ‘action’ than the literary world (which could often do with more action!). I’m not sure that’s healthy. Having said that, the SF community is a really welcoming and in the end, in terms of fiction, that’s where I happily exist.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
There’s a bunch of really great Australian SF writers. In fact, I’m amazed by the talent in Australian SF. I’ve loved stories by James Bradley, Lisa Hannett, Angela Slatter. But you know, I’m constantly surprised by the number of new writers coming though. And then there are other wonderful writers who have been around a while: Kirstyn McDermott, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti, Trent Jamieson and so on. I might say that the loss of Paul Haines leaves a massive hole in the SF scene.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure I could answer that. I’ve been a bit lost in novel-writing. But things seem to be coming along okay. The Aurealis Awards I went to last year were vibrant and professional, and the writers coming through, as I mentioned before, are talented. The end of Clarion South is a pretty big blow, I think, and there’s the ongoing ‘digital’ revolution (Aurealis is now mostly in e-book format).

The challenges here are going to be the challenges the whole publishing industry is facing. No one can be sure quite where we’ll end up, but it seems likely that there will be less money around, and fewer readers (the statistics show that the average reader age is increasing). None of this is great for writers or publishers and we can expect that as an money-making industry, publishing might be on its last legs.

At Overland we’ve been debating this for some time (on the website, in public forums and in the magazine’s pages) and some of us think that the solution may be to return to a more, for want of a better term, ‘social-democratic’ system, where the government funds an independent publishing house (or houses?) in the way it funds something like the ABC.

In this sense, the challenges of publishing are similar to those of quality Australian TV drama, which can’t compete with international TV without stepping out of the system of commercialism. SF steps out of these bounds with labour-of-love small presses (which are wonderful), but they’re not a way for anyone to earn a basic living.

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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:

Snapshot 2012: Garth Nix

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoGARTH Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001. He has worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve. Garth’s books include the award-winning fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen and the science fiction novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes. His fantasy novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series; and the Troubletwisters books (with Sean Williams).

More than five million copies of Garth’s books have been sold around the world. His books have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian and The Australian, and his work has been translated into 40 languages.

Garth also produced the IF Award-winning and ACTAA-nominated short animated film The Missing Key, directed by Jonathan Nix; is a silent partner in the literary agency Curtis Brown (Australia); and is a co-founder of the online games developer Creative Enclave.

He lives in a Sydney beach suburb with his wife and two children. Find him online at www.garthnix.com.



You and Sean Williams looked to be having fun with the whiteboard when it came to plotting out your Troubletwisters series. How did the two of you go about collaborating on that series?
The whiteboard video you can see on YouTube is a kind of condensed version of how it actually works. Basically, we got together at various times to work out the story in considerable detail, building up a chapter outline for the first book, and a backgrounder for the characters, setting and so on. Then I wrote the first chapter, Sean took it away and wrote the first draft of the rest of the book, mostly following the chapter outline but varying where he wanted to or thought it necessary. Then he flicked it back to me, and I revised it, sent it back again and he revised it, and so on for a couple of iterations. We also discussed any major changes as we went along. The end result is that when we look at any given page, neither of us can remember who wrote what, it is a true joint effort. We’ve repeated this basic process in the next two books, including the one that is just out now, Troubletwisters: The Monster.


A Confusion of Princes is based on a computer game and you’ve done a great job of absorbing the game conventions such as respawning into the narrative. What were the challenges of this adaptation, if that’s a fair description of the process?
It would be more accurate to say that the game, Imperial Galaxy, shares a background with the book. I actually had started writing the book first, then when Phil Wallach and I began work on the game, I suggested we use the background of the galactic empire, the three teks and so on, for the game. I had intended to finish the book earlier, but got distracted, so a kind of limited subset of the game came out in a beta version before the book was finished. You can play that game at www.imperialgalaxy.com, but essentially the game is stalled at the moment for lack of funds, and has been frozen for about two years now. We do still hope to return to it at some stage.


You’ve been branching out and drawing on your family’s various skills as well: a very well received short film, self-publishing a collection of Sir Hereward stories, the computer game and the novel, and goodness knows what else. What have been the biggest pleasures you’ve found from exploring these diverse creative worlds?
The film, The Missing Key (trailers at www.themissingkey.com), is very much my brother Jonathan Nix’s work. I co-produced it, but had little creative input, just the business management and so on typical of a producer. It has won a bunch of awards, and I am pleased to be an IF Award-winning and ACTAA-nominated producer, but I can’t take much of the credit.

I self-published Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz: Three Adventures as an experiment to test new digital waters. I like to keep up with and investigate publishing trends and changes were I can. I do like to be involved in various ventures and activities, and I like to use my business mind as well as my fiction-writing faculties.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I was enthralled by Margo Lanagan‘s Sea Hearts and greatly enjoyed Dave Freer‘s Cuttlefish (not yet released), but in general I haven’t read much Australian (or in fact any) science fiction or fantasy. I’ve been mostly reading non-fiction, particularly history. I was kind of shocked at myself when I realised how little of the Aurealis shortlist I’d read at the awards ceremony last month, so I have picked up a bunch of books and stories to read when I get the chance.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure changes are obvious until much later, perhaps six, seven or even 10 years, when you can look back and point to things that have become significant or made an impact over time. That said, I think in general it is encouraging to see so many people involved in reading and writing speculative fiction, and to see more and more Australian authors getting a foothold in the USA and UK, and in translation.

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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:

 

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:

Salvage launches on June 8!

salvage by jason nahrungThe time has been confirmed! Salvage will join the Twelfth Planet Press flotilla being celebrated in Melbourne at Continuum at 7pm on Friday 8 June. And the good news: the convention is entry by gold coin donation on Friday. Also on the hot release list: Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls and Margo Lanagan’s Cracklescape, two of the latest Twelve Planets series by Aussie women writers. Twelfth Planet is a dynamic press with a real commitment to quality: it’s a pleasure to be working with them on Salvage. Come join us: there will be books and there will be … cupcakes!

You can read more about Continuum here!

Meanwhile, I’m down for four panels — Australian settings, vampires, awards, e-publishing — a reading and an ‘in conversation’ with Aussie guest of honour Alison Goodman.

Other launches to keep an eye out for: fellow TPP author Narrelle M Harris’s sequel to The Opposite of Life (I’m launching Walking Shadows, published by Clan Destine Press, on the Friday night — busy and wonderful!), a belated Ishtar party, Felicity Dowker’s collection and an ASIM 10th birthday party bash.

It’s also pleasing to see time set aside to remember our recently lost Paul Haines and Sara Douglass.

If that wasn’t enough, Kelly Link is international guest of honour, and Lucy Sussex gets to practise for her guest turn at next year’s Swancon by being an invited guest this year. It’s gonna be HUGE.

Notions Unlimited opens, and other writerly news

Yay for Chuck McKenzie who, after four years running a Dymocks shop, has gone it alone with Notions Unlimited spec fic book store at Melbourne’s bayside Chelsea. Ensconced between a coffee shop and a liquour outlet and with a sushi store right outside the door, he must be occupying some prime real estate. Add in an amazingly wide range of genre reading — a dedicated small press section, graphic novels, and all the F, SF and H you can point a stick at, whether big guns or more oscure or up-and-coming writers — and a seriously luxurious looking set of sofas, and he might be needed a bouncer to kick the customers out at closing time. It’s a tough time for bricks and mortar enterprises, but a niche store with a knowledgeable and welcoming owner is in with a chance. There’s nothing quite like that human element when it comes to, ‘if you bought this, you might also like…’

  • In what at times feels like a stampede to be published — by someone, anyone, even ourselves — it’s worth taking a breath and deciding just how much we value our written words and the time and effort (yes, it takes effort!) taken to tell that particular story. Check out these posts at Writer Beware, giving pause for thought about writing contests and dodgy publisher deals.
  • Ellen Datlow, much awarded and respected editor of all things grim and ghoulish, has a new Best Horror on the way — Aussie Margo Lanagan flies the flag in the TOC. Ellen’s listed her honourable mentions, and Antipodeans Alan Baxter, John Harwood, Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren are included. Nice.
  • Ian Irvine is giving away an iPad3 as part of a Facebook promotion.
  • Observations from Adelaide Writers Week

    adelaide writers week

    The Adelaide Writers Week, parcelled within the Adelaide Festival (and how the city’s hotels must have been gleeful), last week was much fun, mainly because it provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with good friends from four states.

    The festival set-up promoted conviviality. It was centred on two marquees in a park in a relatively quiet area of the city: jet flypasts for the Clipsal street race added some aerial interest and background noise occasionally during the opening weekend, and presumably the Fringe festival’s open-air gigs up the hill were the source of occasional summer beats laying down a groove in the background, but generally speaking, sirens notwithstanding, quiet.

    With only two streams of programming, skiving off to see people didn’t require a great sacrifice of panels, and a book store tent close at hand and plenty of shady trees outside the (somewhat expensive — kranski sausage in a slice of bread, $8) refreshments tent made chilling out with those people quite easy. Plus the city’s cafes were only a short walk up the hill, so finding affordable lunches and snacks and after-festival dinners was very easy indeed.

    Social pictures by Cat Sparks

    The weather was kind, overcast and relatively cool in the main, only on the last two days really beaming down some sunshine to give a hint of how languorous and sweaty it might’ve been. With the greenery and the marquees and the heat, it reminded me a lot of early Brisbane Writers Festivals down on the river at South Bank, before it went corporate.

    The panels at Adelaide were diverse but weighted towards the literary. US noir writer Megan Abbott was a find. Boori Monty Pryor was engaging and fun with a very real message. Garry Disher was sharp. Jenny Erpenbeck gave an East Berliner’s view of life in reunited Germany, as told through the medium of a summer house from her childhood. A chance meeting with Favel Parrett at the airport revealed she was also a Sisters of Mercy fan. Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were delightful, flying the fantasy flag. There was also a touch of SF with Ian Mond and Rob Shearman providing a commentary to Rob’s episode of Dr Who, one of the few paid events at AWW and quite fun; we missed Garth Nix’s appearance on the last day, but an earlier encounter revealed a forthcoming (Australia: next month!) YA space opera title, A Confusion of Princes, that sounds truly awesome.

    adelaide writers week megan abbott interview

    Megan Abbot (centre) discussion with Susanna Moore, with Auslan interpreter in background.

    One of the things that struck me was the impact to be had of reading out a section of one’s work. This isn’t something that necessarily fits well in the format of genre conventions, where panels address topics with the authors treated as learned sources. But at Adelaide, where the focus was very much on the authors and their latest work, reading a small passage to illuminate a point did fit, and more than once hearing the authors’ words from the page cast their work in a totally different, and more alluring, light. Case in point was the personable Michael Crummey, whose Galore hadn’t been given much of a talking up, really, until he read the opening pars, in which a man is pulled from the belly of a whale on a Newfoundland beach. We now have a copy sitting on the to-be-read pile.

    Listening to Lanagan and Crummey talk to each other, without a moderator, was a highlight of the festival: two interested and interesting authors, who had read each other’s work, who had established a rapport before the panel, exploring the themes and methods each employed.

    The welcome party on the Sunday night also revealed the emphasis carried by social media, with festival director Laura Kroetsch commenting that the event had been ‘trending’ on Twitter, and the hashtag being part of the housekeeping before every panel.

    The panels ensured time for audience questions, but the use of a single, central microphone hampered accessibility for those unwilling to scramble across their fellow audience members.

    AWW was largely free, totally relaxed and extremely welcoming, with a little bit of most things to cater to all tastes. With the right couple of drawcards on the guest list and the promise of good friends on the ground, AWW will be an attractive addition to our annual event list.

    AWWNYRC#6: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

    This isn’t on my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, but what the hey.

    Sea Hearts

    By Margo Lanagan
    Allen & Unwin, 2012, ISBN: 978 1 74237 505 2


    sea hearts by margo lanagan

    THIS delightful novel began life as a novella of the same name, in the rather clever novella anthology X6 (Coeur de Lion), and that novella forms the mainstay of this longer work. It’s an interesting read, the narrative strung together by a series of first-person narratives revealing how life on the island of Rollrock went through some amazing changes: the why, the how, the thereafter.

    The short version: a witch finds revenge for being the subject of derision when she discovers the power to pull people out of seals. The women so brought forth are rather delectable, moreso than the common weather-beaten and life-worn specimens already available. The island’s menfolk are happy to pay for the privilege of a seal wife, a fairly docile offsider amenable to performing all the household chores and breed some sons as well.

    In a kind of flip on the Lesbos tale, the women leave the men to their magical arrangement and the witch grows rich.

    australian women writers challenge 2012I’m not entirely convinced I needed to read the before and after, the novella having proven quite enchanting in and of itself, but the opportunity to do so shouldn’t be missed. The novel is most enjoyable and provides a possibly more evenly rounded tale centred around that core; the set-up providing more insight and the denouement given more time to breathe.

    And then there’s Lanagan’s wonderful prose, her playful way of recasting words and phrases, and describing things afresh. (See Sean the Bookonaut’s review for more on this.)

    This is a gently told fantasy, presented unusually and quite beautifully in this Allen & Unwin paperback version, with a rather horrible narrative kernel.

    Previous Challenge reviews

  • Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
  • The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood, fantasy.
  • The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror.
  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.