Dave Conyers has reviewed my story “Domine”, reprinted in Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt’s the Years Best Australian SF Volume 4. Dave, in the Irish SF magazine Albedo One, writes:
Domine’ by Rjurik Davidson is an improved effort from an up and coming Western Australian short story writer, with a science fiction piece concerning a middle aged man coming to terms with a father barely out of his twenties. Their strange age differences an outcome of the relativistic space travel undertaken by the father, who has recently returned to Earth for ‘shore building and a tighter less-indulgent narrative style this story could have been really good…
Probably the most intriguing aspects of the fourth volume of The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy are the choice of stories, as they all tend to lean towards a certain style. Most contributions are from authors who are stronger on character and language than on plot, pace and creating a sense of the fantastic.
In a recent interview Congreve stated that he sees himself and Michelle as collectors rather than editors of stories: if he could edit stories the line up would be very different. Perhaps the better Australian authors not represented need better editors, or to spend more time getting the words right. If so we might see very different tales in Volume 5.
The selection also tends to suggest that the local small press science fiction and fantasy magazines have become niche markets, even within their own genre. As an aside this certainly doesn’t seem to be the case with horror publications, as is evident in the diversity of stories collected in Brimstone Press’ competing series, Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror.
Despite the state of the Australian speculative short story industry, Congreve’s and Marquardt’s latest offering remains one of the better Australian anthologies released in 2008.
I’ve known Dave for a long time, though I haven’t seen him for years (hence he still thinks I live in WA). I suspect here we get an interesting example of a divide that runs right through the SF world: the differing aesthetics of readers who like traditional genre elements (plot, pace, sense of wonder) and those who are literary, concerned with deep character, theme, mood, language. Dave falls on the former side of the divide. And it seems to me that writing literary SF is probably not a great career move. It’s a form of marginalising yourself doubly. First, you marginalise yourself from the literary mainstream which often sneers as science fiction, then you marginalise yourself from the bulk of SF genre readers who are often attracted to its pulpish elements. You end up with a very small readership indeed, unless like Ballard, Le Guin and others, you can reconnect with the literary mainstream. Or if you’re really smart, you write science fiction which is able to hide the fact that it is science fiction (here I’m thinking of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood’s work). Otherwise you are likely to end up like Thomas M. Disch – a great and ignored writer.
It seems to me that there are a number of writers I know who run this risk: in terms of Australians, someone like Ben Peek (who has written for Overland), might be sitting in this space. Peek’s Twenty Six Lies One Truth is a smart novella which owes much to experimental or ‘postmodern’ fiction, and yet I suspect its main readership came from the SF community, the place where Peek made his name.