Friday, 19 December 2014

Australian Speculative Fiction... Thriving or Dying?

I had lunch with a very good friend of mine yesterday. Naturally, our conversation filtered from one topic to another... until I asked him if he had read any good local authors lately?  

"Local... pffttt... all the good stuff is from overseas lately... I don't even bother anymore with Australian fantasy writers." 

I was gobsmacked. Shocked. Even a tiny bit pissed off. A primal and nationalistic anger flared within me. Before I could air my indignation he summarised his thoughts precisely to me. 

"The scene has been dying the past ten years... it's like flogging a dead horse... so why bother?" 

We moved on in conversation, but my thoughts kept coming back to this statement. It bothered me. A lot. It also sprouted all sorts of thoughts and questions in my head.

Was the local speculative fiction scene dying? Has the quality declined this past decade? I mulled over all of this on my way home and all of last night. 

The short answer I came up with..


The longer answer in my opinion is this. Speculative fiction is going through a rebirth period here in Australia. This rebirth has been brought on by the rise of digital publishing. We are now living in a time where local publishers, such as Twelth Planet Press or Couer De Lion, can now reach global audiences via the Ebook market. In Australia, as Keith Stevenson correctly pointed out to me, we are seeing digital imprints and companies popping up everywhere. Digital is the new black. And it is a hell of a lot cheaper then traditional publishing. There is a reason why Pan Macmillan (via Momentum) and HarperCollins (via Voyager Impulse) have got into the digital market. It has enabled them to, like other specialist digital publishers, get their products and authors out there whilst cutting the large overall costs of traditional publishing.

Digital publishing has also enabled independent writers, such as Mitchell Hogan, to carve out their own successful niches (Hogan for example has sales in the tens of thousands for his Sorcery Ascendant books, and an Aurealis Award as well) within the book market. We are now seeing a wave of new authors coming through who are using the digital market to their benefit professionally and financially.

Will we still see new writers take the more traditional route of publishing? Of course... but we will now also be able to access and enjoy writers in the digital market who may not have yet broken into the hardcover and paperback markets.

But what about falling book sales you might say. Fair point, but let me explore it a little. Book sales have dipped and declined over the past few years for book shops. I am not disagreeing with this statement. However, the figures show that in 2013 the total number of books sold or downloaded in Australia in fact went up. Yes, book shops are struggling, but that is because we now have so many other options in which to purchase our reading material. We are now living in an environment whereby the access for readers has never been better. Does it suck for traditional booksellers? To an extent, yes. Should traditional booksellers evolve with the changing market? Yes, I believe they should. Will they die a horrible and painful death, bankrupt and penniless? I highly doubt it. Real books are still an integral part of any reader's life, and there will always be a market there. Booksellers, like publishers and authors, just need to keep evolving as the times change. So is the scene dying? Hardly... it has never been more diverse and vibrant... and it is growing!

But what about my friend's initial point... that all the good speculative fiction comes from overseas.

Well... to put it bluntly... bullshit.

Yes... there are some cracking international writers on the scene at the moment. Again I am not denying this. I absolute adore the works of authors like Kameron Hurley, Mark Lawrence, Robert J. Bennett, Ann Leckie, Brandon Sanderson and Joe Abercrombie (to name just a few). But there are some bloody good local authors as well! Alan Baxter, with his dark and brilliant Alex Caine books, or Rjurik Davidson's Unwrapped Sky, which somehow managed to weave a beautiful tapestry of revolution, freedom and magic. Or what about YA writer Jessica Shirvington, whose sales and popularity have led her books to be linked to Steven Spielberg and Hollywood. Or Karen Miller, whose Falcon Throne novel combines political manoeuvring and bloodshed on an epic scale. I could go on and on and on with examples.

Like the scene itself, our local writers have never been more diverse and vibrant. Back in the 1990s I could probably name, off the top of my head, 10 Australian speculative fiction writers (Sara Douglass, Garth Nix, and Traci Harding spring to mind just quickly). Now, I could probably reel off at least 50... probably more.

So really... my friend needs to return to reading Australian writers and embrace the local scene. It will  be of benefit them both!

Some authors you should check out (there are heaps!!!) include -

Mitchell Hogan
Joanne Anderton
Alan Baxter
Karen Miller
Jessica Shirvinton
Glenda Larke
Rjurik Davidson
Ben Peek
Garth Nix
Greig Beck
Keith Stevenson
Margo Lanagan
Kristyn McDermott
Trent Jamieson

This list names just a few... take the time to explore our rich and diverse scene!

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