Genre on the Launch Pad
In times of recession , science fiction tends to surge. Right now, writes Dirk Strasser, it's ready to boom locally.
There must be a connection between recessions and science fiction. The modern literary phenomenon of science fiction was born out of the Great Depression. The term itself was coined by Hugo Gernsback in 1929, the year of the New York stockmarket crash. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that science fiction is about the only area of Australian publishing which has experienced an upswing during the recession.
Over the past two years there has been much activity in Australian SF circles. The short story magazine, Aurealis, was launched in 1990 and has to date produced eight issues. Unlike many of its predecessors, it is aimed clearly at mass market sales and is distributed nationally through newsagents. There has never been an Australian SF magazine which has been as uncompromisingly Australian yet has directly launched itself against the American competition. Paul Duncanson, manager of Melbourne's SF specialist Minotaur Books, says that recent issues of Aurealis have matched the best sales figures of the US magazines like Analog.
In the field of book publishing, Aphelion Publications from Adelaide has been making similar inroads to Aurealis. Since 1990 they have produced five handsomely packaged single author collections: George Turner's A Pursuit of Miracles, Terry Dowling's Rynosseros, Wormwood, and Blue Tyson; and Sean McMullen's Call to the Edge.
There are also further signs of activity. The Perth-based SF Journal Eidolon has also produced eight issues in two years. Other recent books by Australian authors to watch out for are Feral City by Rosie Scott (Heinemann), Dark Streets by Huw Merlin (STW Publishing), and Paul Voerman's And Disregards the Rest (Gollancz).
To top it off, Australia appears to be on the verge of having its own best selling fantasy author. The Pan Australian Fantasy line features Martin Middleton, the Queensland writer whose Chronicles of the Custodians series is chalking up some impressive sales figures. The third book in the series "Sphere of Influence" has just been released, and the first book, "Circle of Light", has been sold to Pan in the UK.
So what is the connection between tough economic times and science fiction? Perhaps it has something to do with SF's love of problem solving on a large scale. Maybe it has something to do with the imagination trying to fight free of its material circumstances. The word "escapism" springs to mind, but it now seems to have unfortunate pejorative connotations. What is perhaps most encouraging for those in the SF field in Australia at the moment is that the original science fiction boom did not end after the Great Depression. Difficult economic times seem to give the genre a kick start, but then it gathers its own momentum.
There is a feeling in SF publishing circles that science fiction may be on the verge of an explosion such as the one experienced by Australian crime fiction over recent years. All that is required is a science fictional equivalent to Peter Corris to send the industry into the big time and carry along a whole entourage of talented Australian SF writers in his wake. My feeling is that it is about to happen.
The Sydney Morning Herald 25 August 1992