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:

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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:

Emerging Writers Festival: the fun ‘slide’ of writing

Finally dragged my carcass down to the Emerging Writers Festival last night, thanks to Kirstyn being on a panel about speculative fiction and then the urging of EWF party animal Alex Adsett to see Not Your Nana’s Slide Night.

The panel went well if quietly, moderated by Rjurik Davidson with Alison Croggon (her Gift still ranks as one of my favourite fantasy books), Kirstyn and Paul Haines (his Last Days of Kali Yuga collection is out now, get it while you can because the publisher has folded*). There was talk of breaking taboos and other-worldly examinations of our own, and process. Apparently, Twitter commentaries are the new meter of popularity (?) for events: certainly, they illustrate how different people will home in on different things, and hear them differently.

The slide night at the Trades Hall, complete with bar, was a cracker. Nine writers talked to a series of 20 slides, each slide on screen for 20 seconds, and the diversity was wonderful and entertaining indeed. A dry-witted introduction to Scotland, a crayon-ish exploration of a small town devoted to museums (lost clothing, body discardations, bicycles in a bus masquerading as a museum of transport), a holiday in Barcelona bouncing off America’s Next Supermodel, Indian food, suggestions for what should’ve been Melbourne’s Fed Square, drawings from time spent in Asia… and so on. Some funny, some poignant, some informative: all entertaining. I mentioned there was a bar, didn’t I? A superb locus for the atmosphere of the event.

Folks we met were rapt in how egalitarian and warm the festival has been (it’s not over yet) and I saw plenty of evidence of that (good luck with that SF novel, Trish; with that creative writing course, James); I really must make the effort to get to more events next year and enjoy the bonhomie.

Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines* There a reported 300 copies of Kali in the wild. Look to a bookstore near you. The good news is, for those with an e-reader, the book is available in e-format (Amazon, Smashwords, et al)! This is Haines’ third collection, it includes the awesome novella Wives and a despairingly good new yarn about a man on a bridge with a child. I thought I’d be able to flit through the collection quickly, having read his previous two, but his writing just won’t let you do that. You read one par, then two, and then you’re stuck, dragged into a very human story with just the right amount of fractured reality to entrance and bedevil.

In my absence

singing the dogstar blues

I’ve been away from the keyboard for the past 10 days — more on that later, once I’ve caught up — and in my splendid offline absence, folks have been busy doing stuff:

  • Trent Jamieson’s upcoming debut novel, Death Most Definite, scored a lovely review
  • Cat Sparks has launched a drive to fund writer Peter Watts’ presence at Aussiecon
  • Melbourne’s Rjurik Davidson has announced a tidy little collection, The Library of Forgotten Books.
  • While on the road, I managed to catch up with:

  • Singing the Dogstar Blues, by Alison Goodman: a thoroughly enjoyable YA read in which a misfit muso befriends a misfit alien at a school for time travellers, and family secrets are revealed. The book was so much fun, with such superbly sketched glimpses of future earth and alien culture.
  • Target 5, by Colin Forbes: this was one of my favourite novels when I was 13, the copy rather bent, and I enjoyed revisiting, but found the story about extracting a Russian defector over Arctic ice a little over-the-top, the writing not as shiny as I remembered, but the pace still as strapping.
  • The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood: what a superb Gothic tale this turned out to be, with short stories in the text providing mirrors for the current day action as a young fellow from Australia strikes up a written friendship with a girl in England that proves a catalyst for some stunning familial revelations.