Aurora Australis

Introducing Aurora Australis

While Niall Alexander is surveying the British Isles and Alex Mangles is revealing the vastness of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, allow me to take you south.

No, not to Mexico. Nor to Spain. Keep going.

Did you reach Antarctica? Go back a bit north, go left if you have to, and stop when you hit either Aotearoa or Van Diemen’s Land (New Zealand or Tasmania).

Who am I? I’m another Alex, and I’m a long-time reader of science fiction and fantasy. Childhood favourites include Australian classics like Riddle of the Trumpalar (time travel to convict days! Written by Judy Bernard-Waite, who was actually three women—that concept would have blown ten-year-old me’s mind); Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif (climate change in 1986! and mermaids) and Playing Beattie Bow (more time travel); NZ’s Margaret Mahy (The Changeover); as well as anything by Victor Kelleher. Then there was The Lord of the Rings and Anne McCaffrey and David Eddings and you see where this is going. I’ve been involved in the Australian fan scene for a few years—reviewing for the sadly departed Australian SpecFic in Focus (ASiF!) as well as my own blog, starting up the Hugo-nominated podcast Galactic Suburbia with Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts, going to cons… all the usual stuff, really. Thanks to all of that I’ve become more aware of what Australia and NZ are producing, and ever more convinced that there’s some serious quality over here.

For instance, fantasy readers in Australia will sometimes get a puzzled look in their eye when overseas commentators lament the lack of women writing fantasy. See, we don’t have that problem to the same extent; a lot of our best-selling fantasy is written by women. This is often attributed to the fact that when HarperCollins Voyager started up in Australia, their first contract went to Sara Douglass… and the rest is awesome female-written fantasy history. So you can expect to see women writing fantasy (and science fiction, and horror) represented in this column.

Still, gender inequality does exist; it’s why we have the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, to get people reading and reviewing more women. In publishing this lack was noticed in the arena of short story collections by Alisa Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press, when she crunched some stats—leading to the creation of her Twelve Planets series, which concludes this year. Which leads me to another area of quality: small press. I’m told there have been waves of small press adventures in Australia, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, but I’ll confess to not being aware of those, partly because Remote City Living, partly because Too Young; and much of their work has gone the way of ephemera. I do know that small presses have been putting out collections, anthologies, novels, and magazines at a pretty consistent rate since the mid-2000s, so you will definitely see those being spruiked. Connected to that, Australian press has recently gone in for crowdfunding: like Twelfth Planet Press’ Kaleidoscope anthology, Fablecroft’s Cranky Ladies of History, and Novascapes (stories from authors of the Hunter region). You do want to support such exciting projects and get work before their official release date, don’t you? So of course I’ll pass on those details.

Sometimes we let our creative geniuses out to play in the big wide world. You may well have come across Kathleen Jennings’ artwork in Small Beer Press publications, and Angela Slatter has had some marvellous books out from Tartarus Press (and was the first Australian to win a British Fantasy Award). And then there’s Margo Lanagan, winner of several World Fantasy Awards, and Jonathan Strahan, who consistently turns up as a nominee for the Hugo for Best Editor, Short Form, and Ben Peek recently got picked up by Thomas Dunne Books. In the column I’ll be looking to balance the big names with the up-and-coming, so that you can say “I read their stuff back when…”, and I’ll feature publications from within Australia and NZ as well when our people get published overseas. And, well, who doesn’t like awards? So if when Australians and New Zealanders appear on awards ballots I’ll probably mention them. Modestly of course. And we have our own awards, too, which no doubt you’ll be very keen to hear about. Never fear, I can help!

Sometimes we southerners of the Anglosphere get a bit overlooked. Historically I guess that made sense; if you have to ship books overseas, the cost certainly goes up, and sending copies for judges to consider gets prohibitive. But! Ebooks, and online content, make that less of an excuse these days… so this column is going to be all about sharing our smug little secrets so that more people get to enjoy them. Aren’t I generous?

Hope you like our stuff.

Alexandra Pierce reads, teaches, blogs, podcasts, cooks, knits, runs, eats, sleeps, and observes the stars. Not necessarily in that order of priority. She is a Christian, a feminist, and an Australian. She can be found at her website, and on the Galactic Suburbia podcast.


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