A Golden Age

1992 was the year when I first considered that we may be experiencing a Golden Age in Australian science fiction: a time when our best and brightest are producing the books we will fondly look back on as classics. This thought grew out of a few statements I made a year ago when summarising what had happened during 1991, and noting how successful Australian SF was becoming. 1990 was the most successful year in the history of Australian SF, 1991 almost topped it, and 1992 - well 1992 was even better than that.

1992 proved to be a year of consolidation and diversification on the magazine front. Aurealis, the largest and most widely-distributed publisher of Australian short SF, published four issues of solid, interesting fiction and added non-fiction articles by Sean McMullen and book reviews. It was also the year of Aurealis: The Collectors Edition, a perfect-bound collation of the first four issues of the magazine. Dirk Strasser and Stephen Higgins performed a sterling service for Australian science fiction simply by publishing Aurealis, and it is to be hoped that this will continue. Elsewhere, Thyme, under its new editorship, appeared throughout the year, as did Eidolon.

Although almost half of the short SF published in Australia during 1992 appeared in either Eidolon or Aurealis, more magazines did begin to publish SF than has previously been the case. Unfortunately, Australian Short Stories failed to publish anything readily identifiable as SF, although Australian PC User published a number of short works, and other magazines, including Australian Penthouse, are slated to do so shortly. The greatest change, though, was the arrival of a number of gaming and graphic art magazines. Drow, Alarum, and the revived Australian Realms all appeared on our newsstands, and provided paying venues for our artists and, to a lesser extent, our writers. It will be interesting to see how magazines of this sort develop in Australia in coming years, and whether they embrace original fiction more wholeheartedly than currently seems to be the case.

The year in books began, as seems to be becoming traditional, with new releases from Aphelion Publications, which this year comprised Blue Tyson by Terry Dowling, Call to the Edge by Sean McMullen and Back Door Man by Ian McAuley Hails. Blue Tyson, the second book to feature the adventures of Tom Rynosseros, was generally reviewed more favourably than its predecessor, Rynosseros. While the book was not uniformly excellent, it featured some of the author's best work, including the truly outstanding "Privateer's Moon". It did, however, leave Dowling's hero at somewhat of a crossroads, and any further volumes in this series must resolve the many questions left unanswered by Blue Tyson, or seriously risk alienating the author's readership. At this point last year I expressed some concern over the lack of success Terry Dowling was experiencing with placing his work overseas, and so it is with great pleasure that I note advice that Rynosseros is to appear shortly in the United States from the Science Fiction Book Club.

Call to the Edge by Sean McMullen was nothing short of an eye-opener. This volume showed the breadth and variety of work of which this talented writer is capable, and identified him as potentially one of the best and most consistently interesting writers of science fiction in the country. The collection combined works like "The Colours of the Masters" (surely destined to end up a classic of Australian SF), with solid new work like "The Eyes of the Green Lancer" and "Destroyer of Illusions".

Back Door Man by Ian McAuley Hails, the first novel from Aphelion, is a near-future detective thriller which appeared to good reviews and managed to do just about everything that could be expected of such a book. These three volumes represent a significant proportion of the new Australian SF published during 1992, and it is to the enormous credit of Peter McNamara and the people at Aphelion that they have not only managed to continue to exist, but have grown and expanded artistically while surviving financially.

1992 was also a year of delays. The anticipated new George Turner novel, The Destiny Makers, was delayed, as was the new Damien Broderick novel, The Sea's Newest Shore. Both works are now scheduled for release in early 1993, but this left the stage clear for the new novel by Greg Egan, Quarantine. Quarantine is a novel which features tropes of the science fiction and detective genres, combined with a fascinating examination of quantum mechanics: to paraphrase Brian Stableford in The New York Review of SF,a real hard sf novel for the 90's. The novel has garnered generous praise in Britain, Australia and the United States; something which bodes well for Egan and signals even more clearly that he is the writer to watch in Australia at the moment.

Unlike 1991, last year was a particularly strong year for short fiction. Our listings show nearly twice as many pieces of fiction appearing during the year as appeared in 1991, and the quality was high. New writer Martin J Livings made his first appearance, and Sean Williams laid claim to the title of hottest new kid on the block with some interesting, and often superior, journeyman work. Meanwhile, old hands like Dowling, McMullen, Love and Egan continued to produce fine stories. Greg Egan's short fiction was, frankly, rather uneven this year. He produced outstanding work like "Worthless" and "Closer" and thought-provoking pieces like "Dust" and "Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies", alongside less impressive stories like "Reification Highway". Something similar could be said of Terry Dowling. While "Privateer's Moon" was exceptional and "Ship's Eye" and "Stoneman" were impressive, works like "The Final Voyage of Captain Gelise" and "They Found the Angry Moon" failed to display this author's many strengths to their best advantage. Sean McMullen by contrast was never less than interesting, with the excellent "An Empty Wheelhouse" and "The Eyes of the Green Lancer" appearing alongside good works like "Pacing the Nightmare" and "The Glasken Chronicles".

Of interest was an anthology from Robert Hood's Five Island Press, Intimate Armageddons. Edited by Bill Congreve, Intimate Armageddons featured new horror stories from many of Australia's best known writers, alongside some of our newer talents. The book is the second I know of from this small press, and augers well for the quality of work we may come to expect from them.

And so to a listing of recommended reading, a selection of works which the reader with little time should look to examine as a minimum:


Long Fiction

  1. Quarantine Greg Egan
  2. Blue Tyson Terry Dowling
  3. Call to the Edge Sean McMullen
  4. Brain Child George Turner

Short Fiction

  1. "Privateer's Moon" Terry Dowling
  2. "Worthless" Greg Egan
  3. "An Empty Wheelhouse" Sean McMullen
  4. "Closer" Greg Egan
  5. "Stoneman" Terry Dowling
  6. "The Eyes of the Green Lancer" Sean McMullen
  7. "Dreaming the Knife" Terry Dowling
  8. "A Greater Vision" Sean McMullen
  9. "Requiem for the General" Geoffrey Maloney
  10. "Foreign Bodies" Stephen Dedman

If you can only afford the time to read one or two books and a few stories then Quarantine and Blue Tyson are musts, as are "Worthless" and "An Empty Wheelhouse".

And what of 1993? It's almost habitual to make a few guesses - so here goes. I think Australian science fiction will expand somewhat during the year, but not dramatically so. Books are expected from George Turner (The Destiny Makers), Terry Dowling (Twilight Beach), Damien Broderick (The Sea's Newest Shore), Dirk Strasser, Rosaleen Love (Evolution Annie), Paul Voermans (The Weird Colonial Boy) and Greg Egan (Permutation City). There is also to be a large volume of Australian horror stories titled Terror Australis from one of the major publishers, along with stories from Stephen Dedman in Pulphouse and Fantasy and Science Fiction, Greg Egan everywhere, Dirk Strasser and many others all over the place.

It's not quite a boom, more a healthy progression. And pleasingly, quality seems to be improving alongside quantity. Which leaves me with one question. If this is our Golden Age, a time when Australian SF is truly forged, then is anyone steering the ship?

Who gets to be John W Campbell?

Jonathan Strahan

Originally appeared pp. 4-5, Eidolon 11, January 1993.
Copyright © 1993 Eidolon Publications.