1991 - The Year of the Morning After

It was the year of the morning after. Consolidation, and not growth, would have proven to be its theme by year's end. Yet, on New Year's Day 1991 when Australian science fiction, having been a little drunk and happy with itself after the most successful year in its history, staggered into the light of a New Year with a hangover and a slather of good intentions, none of this was apparent. All was good and wonderful, awards awaited and greater success seemed inevitable.

Just before the first light of the New Year was shed, this magazine peered through the curtains of time and made a few predictions about the coming year. Perhaps our looking glass was cracked, but while the best of the things predicted failed to happen, so did the worst. So, looking back, what happened in 1991?

On the magazine front, 1991 was the year when everyone's fears about Aurealis, that very ambitious project from Dirk Strasser and Stephen Higgins, did not come true. Rather than disappearing in a hazy cloud of printer's bills (as had been anticipated), Aurealis managed not only to survive, but to make a small profit while publishing some good fiction. It would appear that they are with us for as long as the editors undeniable energy can be sustained, and that is a good thing for Australian science fiction. It was also noted that, while Australian Science Fiction Review did pass gently into the good dark night, Thyme resurrected itself as the Australian science fiction news magazine. The former will be missed, and the latter welcomed if it can show consistency and accuracy in reportage, while ignoring irrelevant issues. Australia could probably do with its own Locus.

The year in books began with the publication of Terry Dowling's Wormwood. As is now becoming de rigueur for Dowling collections, the book was well-reviewed and sold solidly around the country. Wormwood stood out for a number of reasons this year. It was the only single-author collection to feature previously unpublished stories, and it showed his audience that Dowling was capable of writing a wider variety of material than had been suggested by 1990's Rynosseros. Yet, while all is full-steam ahead at home for Dowling (several volumes are slated from Aphelion Publications), we are all left to sit and wonder when the overseas break will come. Elsewhere, Mandarin Australia continued its Damien Broderick publishing programme with the delivery of The Dark Between The Stars, a fine collection of reprints from a wide variety of sources. The book was valuable, if for no other reason than that it gathered stories by this fine Australian writer in a forum where they could be considered as a body of work. The only other collection of note published in 1991 was Van Ikin's anthology, Glass Reptile Breakout. Despite a paucity of really first-rate stories (only McMullen's "The Colours of the Masters" was truly excellent) this academic press publication made interesting reading.

The lack of good novelists being published in Australia was again highlighted in 1991, with only George Turner standing out as the exception. His taut political thriller Brain Child was published by William Morrow mid-year, and still awaits an Australian publication. Unsurprisingly then, the book was better received overseas, where it was readily available to readers, than in Australia, and by critics rather than readers (with Brian Stableford of NYRSF being a lone exception). Other genre novels published in 1991 (but not read by anyone here at Eidolon) included Doug Buckley's State of Play, Martin Middleton's Triad of Darkness, and Eric Wilmott's Under the Line.

It was definitely the morning after for Australian short fiction in 1991. After a heady year in 1990 that saw the publication of a number of excellent stories (work by Kewley, Egan and Dowling comes immediately to mind), 1991 generally saw the appearance of good, solid, if less than spectacular work. Greg Egan continued on his winning way, producing good work with "The Infinite Assassin" from Interzone and "In Numbers" and "Fidelity" from Asimov's being standouts. Terry Dowling's "A Deadly Edge Their Red Beaks Pass Along" was easily the finest new short work from this author published in 1991. Leanne Frahm made a welcome return to the Australian scene with publications in Aurealis and in this magazine, and Rosaleen Love had the interesting "Evolution Annie" in Dale Spender's anthology Heroines. While all of these stories were good, and others not mentioned were of interest, it still seemed to this reader at least that none reached quite the same heights as the best of 1990.

Certainly the obvious question must be "Why was Australian science fiction less interesting that in 1990?" I can only suggest two reasons. Firstly, as 1990 progressed we came to expect more and better from our writers. By the time 1991 came around we unrealistically expected that progress to continue undeterred without allowing for individual artists to grow at their own pace. Secondly, writing takes time. It may be that 1990 saw the release of work developed over an extended period, and then published in a single year.

If the latter is the case, what of next year? Considering the accuracy of 1990's predictions I'm almost tempted to keep my mouth shut, but what the heck. It appears, at least on the surface of it, that after a breather in 1991 we are set for the most successful year, artistically and financially, in our history. Peter McNamara at Aphelion has, bravely, slated three new books for publication early in 1992: Blue Tyson by Terry Dowling, Call to the Edge by Sean McMullen and Back Door Man by Ian McAuley Hails. Also forthcoming: Damien Broderick has a new novel due from Mandarin, George Turner has a new novel due from William Morrow and Rosaleen Love has Evolution Annie, a second collection from The Women's Press. There is also pleasing news that Greg Egan has signed a contract with Random Century for two novels and a short story collection, with the first novel due before the end of 1992. All in all, a good looking year.

Last year when this summary was published a number of readers wrote in to correct me on "erroneously|" equating overseas publication with success or quality, and anyone having just read this 1991 summary will have seen a similar attitude. Why? Simply because experience has shown that writers send their best work to the best paying markets. The best paying markets are overseas, therefore you are more likely to find better work overseas. Flawed logic? Perhaps, but it seems to me that being paid the most money and being read by the most people are good criteria for defining success. Why else would a writer like Damien Broderick (who has contributed enormously as a writer, editor and critic to the development of Australian SF) have regularly sought to be published overseas?

Originally appeared pp. 4-5, Eidolon 7, January 1992.
Copyright © 1992 Eidolon Publications.