Monday musings on Australian literature: Women science fiction writers

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.)

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?