AWWNYRC#9: Meg Mundell’s Black Glass is so very shiny

This is the ninth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

Black Glass

by Meg Mundell

Scribe, 2011, ISBN: 9781921640933

black glass by meg mundell

This is Melburnite Meg Mundell’s debut novel, and it’s a cracker. Once again*, we have Melbourne being gloomified in a near-future dystopia in which that mighty gap between the haves and the have-nots is bringing the city to the brink of anarchy. In the glass towers, the government manipulates its embedded media to try to keep a lid on. On the streets, the undocumented lower classes slink through the shadows, dodging security cameras and police patrols to earn a crust through corporate sabotage. And then there’s the young turks, looking to draw attention to the corruption at the top and the suffering at the bottom through increasingly violent demonstrations.

Into this tense social battlefield come two sisters, divided by an unfortunate incident, one seeking the other, and both forced to engage with the world beneath the veneer of identity cards and taxable wages.

The sisters provide the emotional thrust of the story, while other points of view are offered by a journalist delving into the underworld and a ‘moodie’ — a cross between tech and artist who uses lights, sounds and smells to exert subtle emotional control over people, usually in a crowd: say, keeping gamblers happy, helping concert-goers get frenetic without being destructive.

australian women writers challenge 2012And then there are the walk-ons, often undescribed, mere transcripts of conversation as their conversations offer extra explanations and bridge scenes.

It’s a fetching combination of character-driven narrative and reportage, as shiny as the black glass that hides the corporate shenanigans, but not dark enough to be opaque.

All the pieces fit together and the ending is sublimely satisfying. It reminded me a little of the most excellent Moxyland, by South African Lauren Beukes, with its ensemble exploration of social strata.

Black Glass has figured in a bunch of Australian awards short-lists this year; it wouldn’t surprise if Mundell goes all the way in the future.

* cf The Courier’s New Bicycle, below.

Previous Challenge reviews:

Snapshot 2012: Paul Garrety

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoQUEENSLANDER Paul Garrety says he started to take writing seriously about nine years ago, when he began writing his debut novel The Seventh Wave. It and its sequel, The Emerald Tablets, were published by HarperCollins Voyager last year. He’s also written a number of short stories and picked up ‘an occasional’ prize both here and overseas.

He says, ‘When The Seventh Wave and its sequel The Emerald Tablets were released last year, instead of trying to establish a personal profile, I made the mistake of using the book name as the website URL ( This might work if you happen to be promoting a movie, or have a few more zeroes in your publishing advance than I did to support a sophisticated viral and mainstream marketing campaign, but it’s not a route I’d choose again.’

You scored a deal with HarperCollins Voyager for a two-book series in which you mix magic and technology. How many headaches did that genre-blending cause you? What about joys?
I really don’t think there is any difference between magic and technology. What once would have been magic even a hundred years ago, now is commoditised. Magic as we all know comes at a price and now comes to us in window-faced envelopes.
I suspect genre blending can be a challenge for some dedicated spec fic readers though; those who like to keep their peas and potatoes separate — I acknowledge that. However, I was incredibly humbled by many (yes, there were many) emails that I received from readers who weren’t fans of spec fic, had even gone out of their way to avoid it in the past, yet when they happened to stumble across my books they went to the trouble of letting me know how much they enjoyed them. I think that’s a kind of magic, too.

You’ve also had success with crime short stories. What’s your favourite genre to write and why?
As a species we love to categorise, don’t we? Give us a lifestyle threat or a fatal disease we know absolutely nothing about and the first thing we’ll do is give it a nickname, or, preferably, an acronym. The reason, I guess, is to make it appear that we are in control. I’ll fess up now. I’m not in control. I’m a ‘pantser writer’ so even though I like order with my chaos, when I sit down to write there is no plan around what, if anything, will appear on the screen. Of course I have a vague idea, perhaps even a clever acronym, but always-always-always it will come out differently with gravy slopped all over those carefully positioned peas and taties. Hopefully, though, it will taste better as a result.

What are you working on now, and is it easier or harder now that you’ve got two novels under your belt?
I’ll use a hackneyed analogy here. Like most writers getting my first book to publication was like climbing the proverbial. I believed that when I finally cleared the summit I would have made ‘It’. However, when publication day finally arrived, not only did I just see a lot more mountains on the horizon, but I also realised that the one I’d just climbed was only a hill by comparison. Right now, I’m on the other side, slogging my way down towards the valley in between.

The novel I’m half way through is another ‘bitzer’: crime/urban fantasy/sci-time. Biting at its heels though is an idea for the next book that wants to jump the queue. I haven’t worked out yet whether it’s a bling thing –- bright/new/shiny diversion — or whether there’s a stronger yarn underneath waiting to be revealed. I hope it’s the latter.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Black Glass, Meg Mundell; The Business of Death, Trent Jamieson; The Rook, Daniel O’Malley; When We Have Wings, Claire Corbett.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years?
I think the biggest change, certainly for speccy writers, is that the blinkers are now well and truly off around publishing opportunities. Increasingly writers are submitting e-globally instead of waiting for a shot at the traditional hard copy (read credible) route within their home market. This huge rush towards e-publishing and the 0.99c reading hit is perhaps reminiscent of the 1800s penny dreadful, where new markets were created simply by making writing more accessible and affordable. Sure, there’s a lot of material floating around out there and for many it’s like sifting through the Yellow Pages without a directory, but the number of sales being made debunks the theory that reading as an entertainment form is dying.

This naturally impacts on all genres, but the beauty for spec fic writers in Oz is that they now have easy access to specialist online publishers who can sell to anyone, anywhere. Combining clever target marketing and low overheads, many e-publishers are providing quality reads cheaply and rewarding authors with relatively — often absolutely — higher royalties than they would otherwise have earned.

In tandem with this is the increased pressure for spec fic writers to produce work faster, establish a back list, and at the same time grow their profiles across multiple awareness platforms. There is a definite quickening in the pace. Where it is heading? Well that’s another story.

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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: