Jo Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear and Epilogue. Her debut novel, Debris was published by Angry Robot Books in 2011, followed by Suited in 2012. Debris was shortlisted for an Aurealis award and a Ditmar. Joanne won the 2012 Ditmar for Best New Talent. Visit her online at http://joanneanderton.com and on Twitter @joanneanderton
(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the slipstream)
I used to get annoyed in bookshops. I’d stand in front of the Science Fiction section and complain, loudly, because Fantasy was lumped in there. Fantasy (I’d say, to no one in particular but my own sense of outrage) is not Science Fiction. It is completely separate. It deserves it’s own section. And anyway, it’s so much better than sci-fi, so there.
Why? Because I was a Fantasy Fan, through and through. It’s what I read. It’s all I read. It’s what I wrote. It’s all I wrote. I was obsessed with it, immersed in it, and I was willing and able to defend it from the naysayers and the elitists and the silly bookshop people who thought it was Science Fiction.
Fantasy Fan was a big part of my identity. The only problem? None of those things were actually true. I was just too blind to see it.
I remember the moment I became a Fantasy Fan — capitals and all. My Dad read Tolkien to me when I was a kid, but that wasn’t it. The first book I took out of the local library was David Eddings, but that wasn’t it either. It was carrying a giant book called Battleaxe (by Sara Douglass, as I hope you already know!) around my relatively posh all-girls high school, no matter the snickers and the snide comments. It was writing blood-soaked epics for my English assignments, and getting damned good marks for it too, thank you very much. Fantasy was part of what made me different when I was only starting to learn what made me me in the first place.
And I don’t think my experience is unique, is it?
I’ve been loyal to Fantasy ever since. But somewhere along the line, things began to change. I started buying less Big Fat Fantasies, and I even struggled to read the ones I already had. I started gravitating towards horror, steampunk, slipstream and even, can you believe it, science fiction. It was even more evident in my writing. My first ever publication was a horror short story, and so many have been since. I recently complied a list of all my short stories and you know what? Hardly any of them were actually fantasy.
The thing is, while this was happening I had absolutely no idea it was going on. As far as I was concerned, I was still a Fantasy Fan and author. Horror was a passing fancy. I was obsessed with the short fiction of Paul Haines and Kaaron Warren for… for research, right? Yeah ok, so I just read Darkly Dreaming Dexter. That’s not a real crime novel. It’s different. I only read Hammered because Elizabeth Bear was part of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Why’d I read the next two books? Well, ah… shut up, that’s why! And so what if I loved video games like Final Fantasy and Star Ocean that combine fantasy and science fiction? They’re just games. They totally don’t count.
Then a few things happened. My first book, Debris, was picked up by Angry Robot Books. I was thrilled! Except they called it science fiction. What was wrong with them? Didn’t they know fantasy when it was staring them in the face? Then reviews started coming in, and while some people agreed with them, an equal amount agreed with me. Some people refused to decide. So what was it? Science fiction, or fantasy? After all, they’re quite separate, aren’t they? They shouldn’t even live in the same section in the bookshop…
Cracks appeared in my genre world-view. At first I fought it, but I’ve come to accept it. Embrace it. Horror sci-fi with mechanical witches? Yeah, actually, I can write that. A young adult fantasy short story, short-listed for a science fiction prize? Sure, why not? And now-a-days, it’s what I look for when selecting something to read. Give me something that crosses genres. Give me slipstream.
Newly enlightened, I’ve been trying to work out why I didn’t even realise my tastes were changing. That’s what brings me back to loyalty, and identity. However strange it might sound, being a Fantasy Fan helped make me who I am. Turning my back on it, or diluting it, not only felt disloyal, it also changed the way I looked at myself. Except, of course, I’d already been doing that for years. I never only read fantasy, and I certainly never only wrote it. I just believed I did.
Diversity is such a good thing, and there is no need to resist it. Giving myself permission to read outside the Fantasy box means I have found many wonderful books that I wouldn’t otherwise have read. Some of them aren’t even genre at all.
And my Big Fat Fantasy trilogies still look down on me from the bookshelf, and know I love them.