Bust?

There’s been a lot of talk about various ‘Golden ages’ in Australian speculative fiction. It’s true that we’ve seen more than a few years in the last two decades filled to the rafters with spec fic projects, big and small.

The last five years, especially, looked pretty healthy, probably peaking in 2005 or 2006.

But right now, friends, I believe Australian spec fic is in significant decline. What prompts me to say this?

First of all, let me say I’m referring to SF and fantasy publishers, not horror. All the signs point to an unprecedented surge in horror in Australia (the AHWA, Black magazine, Midnight Echo, the Australian Shadows Award, Tasmaniac Publications, Studies in Australian Weird Fiction, HorrorScope, the rise of paranormal fiction, bookstores establishing paranormal fiction/horror sections again…). It’s the SF/F stuff that I believe is headed for a bust.

I was prompted to note this when, while reading for AHWA’s Midnight Echo issue #2, I had the very strong feeling that a decent proportion of the stories were at their heart more SF or fantasy and featured little in the way of horror (kinda a requisite for a horror zine). Don’t get me wrong, these stories are, in fact, quite good. But it did get me wondering. Why are these good SF or fantasy stories on the Midnight Echo slushpile?

The short answer is that I realised many of the SF/F publications/publishers in Australia are either dead, dying, on hiatus, or too infrequently published to make a dent. *Plop!* … There gooes the boom.

I typed out a detailed analysis, discussing the dead, dying, and unenthused Aussie markets and publishers, but decided against posting it. People will only get offended, refuse to acknowledge the truth of the matter, or else get uppity if I’m off the mark. I’m not looking to stir up trouble or ill feeling, just making the observation that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Personally, with some of the dross and ill-conceived projects out there, I think this will be a good thing.

There are some projects in production out there, but call me the eternal sceptic, I won’t hold my breath waiting for many of them to appear.

I reckon now is a good time for all those diehard short story writers to be honing their skills, aiming for the overseas pro markets, and writing their novels. When I get half a chance to write some fiction again, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

One final note: part of my belief in the bust is the talk (or lack thereof) on the blogosphere. Perhaps because I’ve withdrawn from most of it that my ‘blog barometer’ is no longer functioning, but the sense of engagement and fiery disagreement from a couple of years ago appears to have vanished. Gone are the debates, good and bad. Most especially, gone is the optimism.

All I read about now is “wah, wah, wah!, poor fuckin’ me”. Are Australia’s independent SF publishers and editors a bunch of unhappy, defeated people?

Personally, I know I’ve shut down (hard, perhaps overly so) that kind of pessimistic talk and nitpicking on this blog from comments in the last 18 months. It’s contagious, and I’ve had my own… wait, that was almost ‘wah, fuckin’ wah!”. My point is that everyone seems either unhappy or in some kind of malaise. Maybe the realities of hobby publishing have kicked in?

Interesting times are ahead. I’m fascinated to see how horror bears out in the next 12 months, and whether the dark genre succumbs to the bust the way SF and fantasy have. Interesting times, indeed.

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