I began writing assiduously twenty years ago and, at that time, made a conscious decision to bring an Australian sensibility and Australian mythology to my work. The latter has taken many forms, from respectfully adapted indigenous mysticisms, to loving representations of quintessential “Australianess”, and the imagining of future Aussie landscapes filled with mutated flora and fauna.
There was a defining moment that preceded that decision. As an undergraduate, I remember taking an Australian literature class and discovering a whole world of fiction that I had, to that point, not even known existed. In that moment, what should have been familiar was, in fact, exotic. And what should have been exotic – British and American literature – was all too familiar. It felt imbalanced.
Some of the writers who influenced my early thinking in this parochial direction were Peter Carey and Nicholas Hasluck, but particularly Terry Dowling whose Tom Rynosseros series achieved a brilliant blend of science fiction and mysticism in a futuristic Australian landscape championed by the mythical “everyman” figure of Tom. The Rynosseros Cycle made me aware of the potential for stories within my own country; I no longer had to borrow from places that I had not been and did not know.
Like me, many Aussie speculative fiction writers have embraced the exotica of their own internal and external landscapes: Jason Nahrung through his Vampires in the Sunburnt Country duology; Trent Jamieson’s Deathworks series about the mythological business of death operating out of the Brisbane CBD; and Kim Westwood’s outstanding Daughters’ of Moab, a tale set in future Australia about post-apocalyptic gender politics. Westwood is quoted on wiki as saying, “My imagination has a chemical reaction to living in Australia, and responds strongly to its particular properties.”
Justin Wooley’s young adult duology, A Town Called Dust and a City Called Smoke, are stories about a dusty, terrifying future where our country is overrun by undead ghouls and protected by the fighting Diggers who hold them back; and Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Tribe series explores an ecotopia within a larger dystopia caused by an environmental catastrophe.
My own Peacemaker (Peacemaker/Mythmaker) urban fantasy series envisions a future, overpopulated Australia where the last remaining natural bushland is surrounded by a wall and designated as a park. The park is being threatened by mythical creatures bent on breaking through from another reality.
Central to almost all Australian speculative fiction is the use of the landscape as vast, barren, inhospitable, spiritual, predatory, a place where people need to prove themselves or perish: a frontier-type sensibility. Even our urban-based stories employ the blistering sun, the stark bright light, and the heat as representations of the harsh, laconic, and sometimes unforgiving way the characters in their stories behave. Our landscape has helped forge an Australian mythology in our fictions that has, in turn, affected the calibre of the characters that populate them, and who are, subsequently, often portrayed as dogmatic, persistent survivors. And that extends well past the speculative fiction genre into literary and crime fiction.
The tradition of “Australianess” and “Australian mythology” in speculative fiction is not new, however. A. C. Clarke award winner, the late George Turner, is quite possibly the patron of it. And my husband has been telling me for years to read 1960’s Australian comic horror science fiction novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit, which was a humorous satire about war and capitalism in a very speculative future overrun by super rabbits.
With such audacious predecessors, it’s no wonder that what’s come since has been stung with originality and vigour.
Mythmaker is out now from Angry Robot