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[GUEST POST] Amanda Bridgeman Asks: Is There Such a Thing as Australian Sci-Fi?

Born in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, and raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC, Amanda Bridgeman grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. That said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs. In Perth (WA), she pursued her dreams to study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides. Her novels include 3 book in the Aurora space opera series — Darwin, Pegasus and Meridian — with a fourth novel in the series (Centralis) coming soon.

Is There Such a Thing as Australian Sci-Fi?

by Amanda Bridgeman

In August I attended LonCon3 and appeared on two panels. One of which was ‘The World at WorldCon: Australian and NZ SFF’, where inevitably the question was raised: ‘Does Australian SF exist?’ I expected everyone to say an overwhelming ‘Yes!’, but the panel was actually divided on the answer.

Two of the four panellists, both male and Australian – one a writer, one a reviewer – quickly answered the question with a firm ‘No. It’s all Americanized.’ I felt a little offended, sitting on an Australian SFF Panel as an Australian SF writer, to be told that I’m not writing Australian Sci-fi. But it got me thinking about my Aurora series, and what ‘Australian Sci-fi’ really means.

I have two main PoV characters in the Aurora series: Captain Saul Harris – an African American, and Corporal Carrie Welles – a Caucasian Australian. So, yes, one of my main characters is American, but he tells only 50% of my story. The Australian woman tells the other 50%. With regards to the supporting cast, several of the Aurora crew are indeed from the USA: Doc (from Colorado), McKinley (from Arizona), Brown (from California) and Colt (from Florida), but the rest of the crew are represented by New Zealand, England, Russia, and South Africa. And that’s just covering Aurora: Darwin. If we look at Aurora: Pegasus (book 2), we meet crew from Japan, Germany, Ireland and Brazil. But, overall, it is fair to say that a good half of the characters (both on and off the Aurora) are indeed American. So does this mean my series is ‘Americanized’? Does this detract from the ‘Australian-ness’ of my work?

For the record, I actually see my series as one with an international cast, matching the universal (and international) locations featured throughout the books. I see it as a series that is accessible to readers throughout the world, and that accessibility as being a two-way street. I make the story accessible to as many readers as possible, and in turn, I make Australia accessible to the world.

And, the truth is, it’s the American characters that help me do this.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about diversity in SFF, and how POC want to see heroes like themselves. The same can be applied to me wanting to see a female Australian in a heroic role in a SF book. I want to identify with a character, and by identify, I don’t mean to an Australian stereotype, I mean to a ‘real’ Australian character.

On the LonCon panel, my response to the ‘No. It’s all Americanized‘ comment was this: Many Australians suffer from the cultural cringe. The g’day/cobber/mate stereotype supported by the Crocodile Dundee movies and other popular Australian exports, that sell the idea of what outsiders want Australians to be. I am proud to be Australian, but that stereotype is not a true reflection of who we are. Don’t get me wrong, I like Croc Dundee, but I know that most people in Australia don’t act or talk like that. At least, not in our urban areas, anyway (you can find some of that ‘distinctly Australian’ persona in our outback areas).

Australia today is a very multicultural society and we do embrace our ‘Australian-ness’, but many of our popular culture influences are largely imported from the US and Britain. Turn on any TV, check the cinema listing, or tune into the radio in Australia and you will see/hear a large proportion of American artists (and to a lesser extent, British artists). Yes, we have our home-grown talent too, but we’re fighting against some serious competition. We’re fighting for ‘air-time’ against that mecca of entertainment industries – the USA.

I write to entertain and I truly believe that writers are entertainers in denial. So if I write a story that I want to entertain people with, then I want to reach as many people as possible. Naturally, it makes sense to appeal to the home of entertainment – the US. But does this mean I have sold out my ‘Australian-ness’ to do so? Not at all.

When I wrote my series, I wanted to embrace my Australian identity by having Corporal Carrie Welles as the heroine – an Australian sharp-shooter who is as good as they come (following in the footsteps of her Australian father, Colonel Welles, a UNF hero). I wanted to use Carrie (and her father) to bring a modern image of Australians to the international arena. So how does someone get a little Australian voice heard on the massive sound stage of the USA, that successfully amplifies its entertainment around the globe? You give American readers characters that (hopefully) they can identify with.

The fact is, American culture has invaded everywhere, so much so, that readers around the world (whether they like it or not) have learned to identify with the American hero. But present international readers with an entirely Australian book and they will struggle, because the Australian hero is (largely) foreign to them.

I’ve recently read a couple of great books by Australian SF writers: Max Barry’s Lexicon and Madeleine de Pierres’ Peacemaker, which I believe manage to overcome this obstacle. Their central hero/heroine is Australian, but their secondary characters are American (similar to my Aurora series). When I read these books I loved seeing an Aussie in the hero seat, and in a good story that wasn’t loaded with Australian stereotypes. Obviously I can’t speak for these writers, but I feel as though perhaps they were trying, like me, to bring a new version of Australia to the world, and they were doing it with the aide of their American characters.

With Lexicon, the Aussie hero starts off in the US, but Max Barry soon brings him back to Australia along with the American characters for the grand finale. With Peacemaker, Madeleine de Pierres straight out brings an American-Indian to a futuristic/post-apocalyptic Australia and has her Australian heroine ‘show him around’. These authors introduce their Australian hero with the help of their supporting American characters (who provide a sense of ‘familiarity’ to readers around the world), then bring the American characters (and hence the readers), home to Oz. In the Aurora series, in one of the latter books, I do this as well. I bring the Aurora (and hence several of my main American/International characters) to Australia – to Carrie’s home. And I see this as symbolism in all three books: Australian SF writers bringing American/international readers to Australia, to show them a side of us they might not have seen before. We’re trying to move away from the stereotypical ‘Australian’ book, and conversely the very ‘American’ book, to meet readers halfway – and hopefully entice them to stay.

Many SFF writers invent completely new worlds and nationalities, and thus invite international readers to identify with their characters, because they don’t represent any particular nationality at all. This is a great way to be inclusive for their readers, but if there are no known national identities, can these books be classed as Australian SFF or otherwise? Doesn’t this make them neutral SFF? If someone like myself has an Australian heroine at the heart of her story, albeit standing alongside an American hero, does this still not give the work an ‘Australian’ flavour? Would this not make it a sci-fi piece to be celebrated as Australian?

I believe it does. I believe there is such a thing as Australian SF, and I believe Aussie writers are trying their hardest to have their Aussie voices heard on the international stage. Are people listening? You tell me. Do you think Australian SF exists?

14 Comments on [GUEST POST] Amanda Bridgeman Asks: Is There Such a Thing as Australian Sci-Fi?

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) // December 18, 2014 at 10:14 am //

    Do you think Australian SF exists?

    I certainly do. I’ve been tenuously but undeniably sort of connected to the Australian SF scene for a couple of years now. Forging relationships with people like Alisa Krasnostein, Ian Mond, and more, and reading Australian SF and fantasy. I’ve nominated people for the Ditmar award. I was even interviewed as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction which delighted me immensely.

  2. My novel, IMPULSE, which will be out in February ’15 from DAW in the US and Del Rey in the UK, has an Aussie-descended hero and culture. Though born on a colony world, the colony was founded by Aussies and their culture sprang from that root. In writing it I just felt that Australia had been given short-shrift in sci-fi world building, so I tried to correct that a bit. I am American, but American heroes have been so done-to-death, I felt it was time for a fresh approach.

    db

    • Sounds interesting, Dave. I’ll have to check it out.

      • Paul Weimer // December 18, 2014 at 6:24 pm //

        My favorite Australian SF of the year has to be Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Post apocalyptic Australia, with sentient trucks and much weirder things in the wilds.

        • Yes, I have heard good things about that but have not yet read it. Will add it to my list!

          • Paul Weimer // December 19, 2014 at 7:00 am //

            So, besides the couple of books you listed, do you have a longer list of books and stories that readers less informed about the Australian SF scene might try? I could drop names (Tansy Roberts, Kaaren Warren, Gillian Polack, Twelfth Planet Press’ books) but I’m curious who else you would recommend)

            • I’m a big fan of SF/F writer Nina D’Aleo (The Last City, The Forgotten City) and happily recommend her books. If you like time travel, try Graham Storrs’ Timesplash, True Path, and Foresight. Both of these writers have been nominated for an Aurealis Award in recent years. I tend to mix genres when I read, so I still have so many Aussie SF books to read myself!

  3. Loved this post, Amanda! I’m definitely going to check out Australian sci-fi.

  4. Someone mentioned Tansy Rayner Roberts, and her novella “Siren Beat” is brilliantly Australian. I’d also highly recommend Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle and Sue Isle’s Nightsiders as excellent examples of definitely-Australian dystopic science fiction. Other works where the authors have done a great job Australianising (without cultural cringe) their SF include Trent Jamieson with his Death Works series, Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson books, Dirk Flinthart’s Path of Night, Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy, Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Tribe books, Marianne de Pierres’ Glitter Rose and Jason Nahrung’s Salvage.

    And that’s just a few with overt Australian setting/characters. What I think is more interesting is to consider what makes a book “Australian” vs “American” or “British” or “Canadian” or “New Zealandish”? Many fine Australian writers in the field are carving out international followings with their work (such as Garth Nix, Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, Glenda Larke and the like) – is that fantasy writing called “Americanised” simply because it lacks an Australian identity?

    • Thanks for the recommendations, Tehani! And yes, I agree, the discussion of what makes ‘Australian/Other Sci-fi’ is an interesting one! Does it need to have the local setting/characters? Or if it’s written by an Australian, is that enough? Personally, I think if it’s written by an Australian, regardless of content, then it’s Australian Sci-fi! But I can also see where people are coming from with the argument of ‘Australian identity’ needing to be present in the books. Then again, a lot of sci-fi is set in the future, and given how multicultural the world’s nations are today, I feel as those these national identities may become irrelevant in the future. It’s possible that our nations may just come to represent our address (and accent) only. I feel a panel discussion coming on… 🙂

  5. Cat Sparks // December 20, 2014 at 4:38 pm //

    Hollywood is crawling with Australian actors & has been for some time now. Likewise, Australian sci fi and fantasy authors have long been embracing Australian landscapes. Check out Terry Dowling’s Tom Rynosseros stories, Sean Williams’s Stone Mage and the Sea, etc. This Guardian article from 2013 is worth a read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/06/science-fiction-australian-writers

  6. Thanks for the plug, Amanda!

    I’ve written several novels set in Australia, with Aussie characters, but it’s probably telling that it’s the Timesplash series – with English heroes, set in Europe and America – that got the publishers most excited. Also, the Americanization of Aussie novels is partly down to publishers too. I’ve had suggestions from Big 5 publishers to set my books in LA instead of Brisbane (for example) and others have insisted on Amercanizing both the spelling and idiom of my language.

    In fact, one of the few pleasures of self-publishing is that I can avoid all that nonsense and write books that are set here when I want to. I published two novels set in Oz this year and there will be at least one more coming out in 2015.

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