Dreaming Down-Under - Jack Dann and Janeen Webb eds
Voyager Australia, November 1998, tpb, 554pp, $24.95. Cover by Nick Stathopoulos
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Jack Dann and Janeen Webb's Dreaming Down-Under gathers together work by thirty writers, including most of the best known writers working in the genre in Australia today, and several who are new or lesser known. The first thing that is apparent from reading the anthology is that the editors have not attempted to present a coherent argument on the state of Australian science fiction, or on what ''Australian-ness' in science fiction might be. Rather, they have opted to provide as broad a stage as possible, for as many writers as possible, and to then let the variety of work stand for itself. It is interesting, therefore, to see the breadth of vision in the stories featured here. While there is a definite interest in landscape throughout the book, it is not restricted to depictions of Australian landscape, only three stories in the book specifically look to the Outback or to indigenous mythology for their source ' focusing instead on Australia's Western European heritage. The most notable of these include David J. Lake's 'The Truth About Weena', Jane Routley's 'To Avalon', and Isobelle Carmody's 'The Man Who Lost His Shadow'. Carmody's story is a finely honed examination of loneliness and confusion that creates a shadowy view of modern day Prague. Lake's story, undoubtedly the highlight of the book, is an extraordinarily effective reconsideration of Well's The Time Machine, and Routely's 'To Avalon' is a moodily atmospheric look at Glastonbury. The only other immediately obvious common thread is an interest in life-extension and immortality, most notably in Sean Williams' atmospheric 'Entre les Baux Morts en Vie' and Simon Brown's chilling 'With Clouds at Our Feet'.

As might be expected, the best of the remaining stories are by better known writers. Damien Broderick's 'The Womb', which forms the basis of his forthcoming collaborative novel The Book of Revelation, is an examination of UFO cults, paranoia, and New Age religion, bestseller Sara Douglass creates an effective explanation for gargoyles on cathedrals in 'The Evil Within', and Terry Dowling looks at how we perceive God in 'He Tried to Catch the Light'. There are several interesting works by newer writers, and of these Chris Lawson's 'Unborn Again' and Paul Brandon's 'The Marsh Runners' are the standouts. The most widely discussed inclusion in the book is George Turner's 'And Now Doth Time Waste Me', a fragment of a novel left incomplete at the time of the author's death. While it is of interest to academics and Turner historians, it is difficult to see how devoting so much of this already large volume to an unfinished work of fiction is a service to either readers, or to Turner himself.

On balance though, Dreaming Down-Under is an important and worthwhile book. It provides the most comprehensive survey of science fiction and fantasy writing in Australia yet attempted, and does so after a period of unprecedented growth and development. Perhaps the bravest thing the editors have done is to provide such an accurate reflection of the strengths and weaknesses in the Australian scene. While most of the fiction published here is of an international standard, some doesn't quite meet that mark. Still, Dann and Webb have done readers a service by compiling a rewarding book, and have also done Australian science fiction a service by showing so clearly what it has achieved, and how far it still has to go.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.