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Monday musings on Australian literature: Women science fiction writers

August 20, 2018

This year’s National Science Week finished yesterday, 19 August, but I figured no-one would mind if I wrote a Science-Week-dedicated post a day late. In past years I’ve written Science Week posts on novels about scientists (2015), science-based non-fiction (2015), and science writing (2016). I didn’t write a post last year. So, what to do this one? I’ve decided, given my Australian Women Writers Challenge involvement that I’d share some of Australia’s popular women science fiction writers. This is not, I admit right now, my area of expertise. but I’ll give it a go.

My first challenge is, as you might expect, definition of the genre. Wikipedia lists, in chronological order, over 30 definitions, starting with someone called Hugo Gernsback in 1926. I don’t want to get embroiled in this, and I want, for my purposes here, to take a rather narrow definition. Here are two, in Wikipedia, from well-known science-fiction writers:

  • Isaac Asimov (1990) “‘[H]ard science fiction’ [is] stories that feature authentic scientific knowledge and depend upon it for plot development and plot resolution.”
  • Arthur C. Clarke (2000) “Science fiction is something that could happen—but you usually wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen—though you often only wish that it could.”

So, I’m going to focus on women writers who, I believe, write (more or less) within these definitions. I’ll be on thin ground I know, but will welcome debate!

I decided that a good source for me to separate out science fiction from other forms of speculative fiction would be Australia’s Aurealis Awards which offers prizes in specific categories, one being “Science Fiction” (but even there, some of the books overlap into other sub-genres, like dystopian fiction, which I want to leave aside here.) Indeed, the more I looked into “my” topic, the harder I found it to locate relevant authors. It seems, as AWW Challenge Speculative Fiction expert Tsana Dolchiva said in a post for the challenge, “Australia hasn’t been the most fertile ground for science fiction — for whatever reason, the planets didn’t quite align for it the way they did for fantasy.” I wonder why this is? Any ideas? Anyhow, I don’t feel so bad now about the paucity of my knowledge.

Marianne de Pierres, Dark spaceSo, here goes with a few names – all Australian women of course:

  • Cally Black: New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based Black is a new writer in the YA science fiction arena. Her debut novel, In the dark spaces, won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. It is a sci-fi thriller about a 14-year-old orphan who is taken in by her aunt who happens to be a cook on a space freighter.
  • Amanda Bridgeman: The Western Australian-based Bridgeman has, so far, written the Aurora space opera series, and an apocalyptic novel, The time of stripes. The Aurora series comprises 6 books set in and around a spaceship named “Aurora”. The third in the series, Aurora: Meridian, was nominated for an Aurealis Award.
  • Marianne de Pierres: Tsana writes that you “can’t talk about science fiction in Australia without mentioning Marianne de Pierres” which makes sense to me because even I have heard of her! De Pierres writes across a wide range of speculative fiction genres, including in this more “pure” science fiction area that I’m focusing on here. An example is her space opera series, the Sentients of Orion. Its four books – Dark space, Chaos space, Mirror space and Transformation space – were all shortlisted for Aurealis Awards, with the last one winning Best Science Fiction Novel in 2010. The novels are set on an “arid mining planet” called Araldis. She lives in Brisbane, and writes crime under a different name, Marianne Delacourt.
  • Anna Hackett: Hackett is, her website says, a USA Today bestselling author, but she grew up in Western Australia and describes her childhood as “running around in the sunny weather, chasing my brother and turning my mother’s outdoor furniture into spaceships.” She writes action romance, some of which take us into space, such as her Galactic Gladiators series.
  • Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff, IlluminaeAmie Kaufman: Tsana describes Kaufman as “one of the most notable Australian authors writing science fiction today”. She is, her website says, “a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy for young (and not so young) adults.” She seems to mostly write collaboratively. Her debut novel, These broken stars, was co-authored with US writer Meagan Spooner, as is her latest book published this year, Unearthed. It’s novel is about an alien culture that has advanced technology which may be able to undo environmental damage. She has also collaborated with Australian writer Jay Kristoff, such as on their YA series, the Illuminae Files. The first in the series, Illuminae, is set in 2575 and “two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe.”

So, that’s five, and, until today, I’d only heard of one of them. So many genres, so many authors. I tried to see if I could identify any consistent themes running through these books, but I don’t think there are – not, at least, the way there are in the dystopian sub-genre. It does, though, seem that more writing is happening in the YA area than specifically for adults, which is interesting.

But now, have you read these authors – or, if not, who are your favourite sci-fi authors?

(PS I might explore other speculative fiction genres in future National Science Week posts.)

29 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2018 12:36 am

    I read SF, though only a tiny amount of that is Australian. I have a post which I will put up in a week or so about the influence of SF on recent Oz Lit, which Eliz. Tan (Rubik) did her PhD on. I’m back at work but think Rawson, McKinnon, Coleman etc, etc. I also reviewed one straight Oz woman SF-or you missed, will have to look it up.

    • August 21, 2018 12:38 am

      Sue Parrit

      • August 21, 2018 7:38 am

        Ah, thanks Bill. Will check her out. I don’t recollect her name at all. I should since we share a first name!

    • August 21, 2018 7:36 am

      Thanks Bill. I had those three on my list, but of course they are more dystopian speculative fiction – the sort I do read a bit – than what I wanted to do here.

      I look forward to your post.

  2. August 21, 2018 12:44 am

    My favorite American woman SF writer is Joan Slonczewski.

    • August 21, 2018 7:39 am

      Thanks Jeanne. I haven’t heard of her at all, which I guess is not surprising. Can you say why she’s your favourite?

      • buriedinprint permalink
        August 23, 2018 5:29 am

        I just loved her A Door into Ocean, which has really amazing – but not difficult to imagine – world-building and seemed to combine a bunch of massive ideas with being a complete page-turner.

  3. August 21, 2018 7:57 am

    I grew up reading science fiction and I still try to read it occasionally. I agree that definitions get a little tricky. I try to occasionally read new books so thanks for the list. It does seem that both YA and dystopian novels are all the rage these days.

    • August 21, 2018 8:13 am

      Over there too, Brian? Interesting. I understand the dystopian trend but why YA is so strong is interesting, particularly when that strength seems to be bolstered by adult readers. I hope it means that we are guildinga big new generation of reader.

  4. August 21, 2018 3:28 pm

    Hey Bill, delighted to see Sue Parritt’s bob up: she was a member of the Mordialloc Writers Group and my dear friend Mairi nurtured her first book Sannah and the Pilgrim(https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/06/26/sannah-and-the-pilgrim-by-sue-parritt-bookreview/) through to fruition, and we lucky members listened to some of the chapters being workshopped on the way. There is also a sequel called Pia and the Skyman.

    I’d also like to mention Lyn C, who I met at a workshop about writing Indigenous fiction with Bruce Pascoe: I bought and enjoyed her book Nil By Mouth (https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/11/26/nil-by-mouth-by-lyn-c-bookreview/) which I identified at the time as ‘classic SF’.

    We should also note Annabel Smith’s The Ark which is not only set in the future but also written/published in a futuristic way. see https://anzlitlovers.com/2014/09/25/the-ark-by-annabel-smith-bookreview/

    But yes… not my favourite genre: of nearly 2000 reviews on my blog, only 22 are SF/fantasy, and most of those are dystopian or cross-genre like Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck, and Angela Meyer’s A Superior Spectre, or Black Glass by Meg Mundell….

    • August 21, 2018 5:31 pm

      Thanks for this Lisa … particularly for your additional information regarding Sue Parritt. I don’t remember Lynn C but will check your review.

      I loved The ark too, but I’d probably put that with the more dystopian fiction/cli fi sub-genre which I decided to exclude for this post. I’ve glad you mentioned it though!

    • August 21, 2018 6:05 pm

      I bought copies both SP’s books from the author and reviewed Pia. I was expecting no.3 by now.

      • August 21, 2018 6:07 pm

        Then you will be a happy man, Bill, because Sue’s website https://www.sueparritt.com/ says there’s one called Chrysalis!

        • August 21, 2018 6:10 pm

          No, correct that, No 3 is The Skylines Alliance. Chrysalis is something else…

        • August 22, 2018 8:08 am

          Haha Lisa, hard to remember them all.

      • August 21, 2018 9:41 pm

        Oh I’ll check those, Bill … I don’t always remember the names of every author the bloggers I follow read!! Unforutnately!

        • August 21, 2018 11:43 pm

          Sorry Sue, I wasn’t setting you homework, just responding to Lisa.

        • August 22, 2018 8:16 am

          Oh but I was happy to check out your review, which I’ve now done. A shame I didn’t find her in the little survey I did for my post. Still you have to stop somewhere.

  5. ian darling permalink
    August 21, 2018 7:50 pm

    Not a huge SF buff- even less for “hard”, technologically oriented, stuff. I would choose a handful of writers that I’ve enjoyed: HG Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Ursula Le Guin and short stories by JG Ballard. All a bit mainstream but I suspect that I am not a very good SF reader.

    • August 21, 2018 9:43 pm

      Yes, that’s me too Ian. I’ve read a small selection over the years – and what I’ve read I’ve usually enjoyed but I don’t seek it out. I usually read it because it’s recommended for a specific reason. This is probably why I’ve read more dystopian fiction than anything else.

  6. August 22, 2018 5:40 pm

    Just to follow through… I got in touch with Lyn C via Goodreads about whether she has another book coming out, and she says that her publisher went bust. But she’s found a new publisher called Shooting Star and they are re-issuing Nil By Mouth, and ‘maybe’ there will be another title in due course.

    • August 22, 2018 8:09 pm

      Oh thanks Lisa. That’s a shame for her and the publisher. Great though that she’s found another one.

  7. buriedinprint permalink
    August 23, 2018 5:32 am

    I only know and follow the work of a few speculative writers in Canada too; it’s hard to read on all fronts but of course it’s worthwhile. I used to read far more widely in SFFFAN but had lost the habit until late last year when I started a conversation with a local indie bookseller and started, as a result, slowly reading through some recommendations, which have all reminded me why I shouldn’t have stopped reading it in the first place! I hope you are similarly inspired, via your post and the comments others have left for you!

    • August 23, 2018 8:17 am

      Haha Buried. I don’t think I am really. Sorry. My daughter loves fantasy but I have never got into it. Didn’t as a child or teen either. That said, I’m not saying I wouldn’t now if I tried, but I’m trying hard not to stress my life further by expanding my reading diet. I am pretty frustrated by what I’m not reading already 😟

  8. Meg permalink
    August 24, 2018 7:31 am

    Hi Sue, I did most of SF reading in my teens, and that was many years ago. One author I would add to the list is John Wyndham. My grandsons read mainly dystopian fiction. I suppose I might read one SF novel a year. I read more.SF short stories a year. (Probably rereads!).

    • August 24, 2018 8:51 am

      Oh yes, Meg, he was the only one I read in my teens. I’d love to reread one now to see what I thought.

      Dystopian fiction is big now isn’t it?

  9. Grumpy Snowflake permalink
    September 12, 2018 7:00 am

    These are new authors to me and I’m excited to check them out!
    Thanks for the coverage.

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