Monday musings on Australian literature: Aurealis Awards for Speculative Fiction

Those of you who know my lack of interest in science fiction might be surprised to see a post dedicated to the genre here. However, I do like to be more representative in my Monday Musings series. If that means sometimes moving into areas that are out of my comfort zone, then so be it. And now seems to be an appropriate time to do so in this instance, because this year’s Aurealis shortlist has been released and it contains some books that interest me.

First, though, a little background. According to the website, the awards were established “in 1995 by Chimaera Publications, the publishers of Aurealis magazine, to recognise the achievements of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.” Their aim is to complement the Annual Australian National Science Fiction Convention’s Ditmar Awards and various other literary awards, but they delve deeper into the genre by distinguishing different types of speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Their “rules” explain their criteria. They see themselves as “first and foremost a literary award”, so “literary merit, originality and contribution to the genre are of paramount importance in selecting the shortlisted works”. In other words, genre elements alone are not enough for shortlisting. Regarding genre definitions, they say that “a problematic definition of what makes a work of a particular genre” should not “bar an excellent book that contains appropriate elements of that genre”. They prefer “an inclusive view of what genre markers may include”. So, while they provide guidelines for their three named types of speculative fiction, these are not meant to be proscriptive. Rather, fluidity and inclusivity is their goal. This broad view is probably why there are a few books on this year’s list that interest me.

Over the years, award categories have come and gone, but the end result is that, today, the list is extensive. Their 2017 awards are for:

  • Best children’s fiction
  • Best graphic novel/illustrated work
  • Best young adult short story
  • Best horror short story
  • Best horror novella
  • Best fantasy short story
  • Best fantasy novella
  • Best science fiction short story
  • Best science novella
  • Best collection
  • Best anthology
  • Best young adult novel
  • Best horror novel
  • Best fantasy novel
  • Best science fiction novel

Phew! I love that they cover their three “types” in novel, novella and short story forms, and that they separately recognise children and young adult works, and collections and anthologies. It’s comprehensive, and it’s clearly successful because these awards have now survived more than two decades.

There is also the Convenor’s Award for Excellence. It’s something a little different, being awarded at the discretion of the convenors for “a particular achievement in speculative fiction or related areas” that doesn’t necessarily fit into award categories. ” It can be given to “a work of non-fiction, artwork, film, television, electronic or multimedia work, or one that brings credit or attention to the speculative fiction genres.” There’s no shortlist, and people can self-nominate. Again, if you’re interested to see the sorts of works being considered this year, do check the website.

Interestingly, I can’t find anything on their site about what the winners win, which makes me think it is more for the glory than for monetary gain.

Selected shortlist titles for the 2017 Awards

Given the large number of awards made, I’m not going to list the complete shortlist, but if you’re interested check out their  announcement. However, I’d like to identify a few that caught my eye.

Firstly, there are a few authors in the list who have appeared here, such as short story writer Deborah Sheldon (see my review of her 300 degree days and other stories). There are also popular children’s and young adult writer Garth Nix, local writer Kaaron Warren, and several writers I’ve learnt about through the Australian Women Writers Challenge, such as Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan and Tansy Rayner Roberts. I don’t feel quite so out of my comfort zone now that I recognise some names!

Claire G Coleman, Terra nulliusBut, this year’s shortlist also contains some specific titles that interest me:

  • Lois Murphy’s Soon, published by Transit Lounge (for Best Horror Novel). It won the Tasmanian Premier’s Prize for Unpublished Manuscript. Lisa reviewed it and found it compelling.
  • Claire G Coleman’s Terra Nullius, published by Hachette Australia (for Best Science Fiction Novel). This debut genre-bending novel by an indigenous writer (who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people of Western Australia) has also been longlisted for the Stella Prize. The judges wrote that “Coleman’s punchy prose is insistent throughout, its energy unflagging”. My reading group will be reading this in March so you can expect a review here in a month.
  • Krissy Kneen’s An Uncertain Grace, published by Text Publishing (for Best Science Fiction Novel). I’ve read one of her novels, Steeplechase (my review) and am intrigued to read more of her. An uncertain grace has also been longlisted for the Stella Prize (link above). The judges’ report begins with “Krissy Kneen does not simply perform the difficult feat of writing wittily about sex, she does so with aplomb. An Uncertain Grace is a formally ingenious and often amusing novel that combines eroticism and science fiction with a playful spirit of intellectual inquisitiveness.”
  • Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck, published by Transit Lounge (for Best Science Fiction Novel). I loved Rawson’s A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (my review) and am very keen to read this latest book of hers which, I believe, crosses historical and science fiction genres. I rather thought it might have been longlisted for the Stella, but that didn’t happen.

These awards are clearly sought after. This year 800 entries were submitted across the 15 categories. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony over the Easter long weekend during the Swancon convention in Perth.

Does speculative fiction have a place in your reading preferences? If so, how?

16 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Aurealis Awards for Speculative Fiction

  1. Much as I love SF most of what I’ve read in the past half century is English or American, so you probably know more about Oz SF now than I do. It looks doesn’t it as though Terra Nullius is favourite for yet another award. Of the four you feature I’ve read it and Jane Rawson, and have the Chrissy Kneen on order. I’d forgotten Soon but should purchase it after Kim’s review (reading matters) today.

    • Ah, Bill, I wondered if you knew man of these. And yes, it does look as though Terra Nullius is gaining quite a bit of traction. I’ll try to check out Kim’s post soon. She’s another I catch up on in bunches!! (I haven’t opened a book today, though I nearly managed at one point – and it’s bedtime. Lisa would be horrified! I am too, but it’s life!)

  2. I tend to say I am not a fan of SF but then discover I do like a lot of the books so it is more of a misunderstanding on my part sometimes of what the genre actually covers! There are some great books here. I am a huge fan of Krissy Kneen’s work. I loved ‘Steeplechase’ and ‘An Uncertain Grace’ almost blew my mind. Originality plus!

    • Exactly me Karenlee. I say and do the same too. What I (we?) really mean is that I’m not into big series of the genre-hugging books. I’ve read some SF from my youth… Starting with John Wyndham, but he was the only one I read then.

  3. Hi Sue, I read SF but I don’t search it out on the shelves. I have read the ones you list, except Soon. My pick would be Terra Nullius. A great read to the unknown, but also possibilities!

  4. I tend to like science fiction and speculative fiction. When I was younger I read a lot of it. Thanks for the information on these awards. I will spend a little time later checking thenm out. I like the idea of using an expansive definition for the genre. I consider all sorts of books science fiction that are not always classified as such.

    • Thanks Brian. Hope you enjoy checking out the list. Wonder how many you will recognise. And yes I like expansive definitions too. Definitions are useful but not if they are treated too prescriptively.

  5. Yes, I’ve recognised a few of these literary-fantasy/SF titles that crop up every now and again in the Aurealis awards. I’ve read all of the ones you’ve listed except Krissy Kneen’s (which doesn’t appeal, though I liked Steeplechase) and I wouldn’t like to have to choose between them. Others that spring to mind are Meg Mundell’s Black Glass, The Bonobo’s Mouth by Rose Mulready and of course Jane Rawson’s Wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists. These books defy the conventions that put me off SF/fantasy when I read it in my younger days…

  6. I’ve been a great fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy for many years and still read any new stuff that sounds interesting and original. I worked in a Science Fiction bookshop back in the 1970s, so I got to know the Australian SF writers that were around at the time – George Turner and Damian Broderick are two that spring to mind.

    Recently, since the death of the great American SF & Fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, I’ve been rereading her Earthsea series and realise anew what a wonderful writer she was.

    • Thanks Anne for commenting as I know this is an area of interest for you. I didn’t realise you’d worked in a Science Fiction Bookshop though.

      It’s great that Ursula Le Guin’s writing is betting such attention with her death. I realise she is a classic of the genre.

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