There has been plenty said over the last few days about the state of the ‘speculative fiction scene’ in Australia. Too many zines? Not enough quality? Are there places for alternative fiction? How good are we on the world stage? The debate started after Russell B Farr’s editorial at Ticonderoga Online (an editorial, at least in spirit, that I agree with – but this is not my point). Much of the debate has raged on Deborah Biancotti’s livejournal, although it has since spilled out into several other blogs and LJs.

Writers, editors, and readers were involved – both local and overseas. I waded in too, partly because the initial post on Deb’s blog arose from a quirky email exhange between Deb and Angela. From it, and fuelled by Russell’s editorial, the issue of quality in Australian spec fic burned and burned until the original debate was just little lumps of charcoal, replaced by other flaring issues like ‘what is good?’.

I realised too, after making what could be considered a harsh comment or two, that I was becoming embroiled in a problem rather than contributing to a solution. Others have since asked questions like ‘what does the small press offer that big publishers don’t’. I then realised, perhaps as others have, both now and in the past, that spec fic people do tend to analyse and feel a little vulnerable when compared to the wider world of mainstream publishing.

I wrangled with this – a sense of introspection – weeks and months ago. Even though Shadowed Realms isn’t my baby, I still had thoughts like: Why hasn’t Locus ever mentioned Shadowed Realms? Why have I felt a magazine, which now rewards its contributors with internationally accepted professional rates, gets the cold shoulder from the spec fic establishment, particularly in the US? I wondered whether the creative story presentation, the pushing of literary boundaries, the endless hours spent working with writers on third, fourth, and fifth ‘proofs’ to get the story just perfect, was worth it.

Then I realised something else. I was being passive and a tad immature about the whole thing. Contributors were saying fantastic things. It just needed to get to the wider world.

Instead of further introspection, I knuckled down and planned and schemed and constructed solutions. I’ve been told I only ever grow when I’m faced with a challenge. 🙂

The results are now coming to fruition.

I remember a while back, there was another internet debate (although not as big as the current one) about distribution and reviews. It seems, again like the current debate, action is either too slow in forthcoming, or not happening at all.

HorrorScope: The Australian Horror Web Log is my answer to this. I’m corresponding with committed and insightful people who really seem to want to make an impact. The log has picked up close to 400 readers in just two weeks and published some great reviews. While focussed on dark stuff, it should be broad enough to encompass much of the spec fic ‘scene’ (and there are forthcoming reviews on generalist zines like Antipodean SF and Borderlands on the way to prove it).

Similarly, instead of wondering if anyone notices horror and spec fic in Australia, I started spreading the word. As a result, US newsletter Hellnotes noticed what I had to say and gave me a column on Australian horror (which again, for anyone who’s read my first column which was emailed this week, encompasses the broader Australian spec fic scene).

I’ve always had a love for micro fiction, and contributed several of these type of stories to places like Flash Shot and Antipodean SF. A few months ago, I turned to my family and said “I want to do an e-anthology, and it’ll be cool because it’ll have loads of tiny, little stories. Nasty ones. And I’ll lavish it with artwork. Then I thought I’d go the full way and make it a multimedia project, with movie bits and sounds and all sorts of nastiness. Now Shadow Box, the Shadowed Realms charity e-anthology, is reaching the end of its reading period, and much of the art is done. It’s possibly the coolest thing that will ever appear on a CD.

And it’s a niche – experimental. Outlets for experimental fiction are needed according to many of the current debaters. Well, the reading period is still open, and the accepted contributors are listed on the website, but one thing does shine through. The list of international contributors (brave, discerning people all!) is much longer than the list of Aussie contributors. Clarion South 2005 is well represented, as is WA (again, thank you kind and talented people!), but there are many names curiously absent.

In fact, my urge to contribute goes back at least a year, well before I went to Clarion South, and well before I knew about a ‘spec fic scene’. Robert N Stephenson was putting together two science fiction anthologies, An Alternative Time, and a Robot antho. I put my hand up immediately. I was a nobody, a league away from publication in Aurealis, Borderlands and Ticonderoga Online, but an eager nobody.

The result, Robots and Time, if you look a couple of posts down (or follow the link on the right) is a combined anthology featuring the likes of Robert J Sawyer and Martin Livings, and an awesome cover. There’s a number of talented emerging writers in it as well.

I also felt the best Australian stories needed showcasing to the wider world. I’ve just announced today the anthology Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror: The Best of 2005. I firmly believe this is the start of the Australian ‘dark age’. The Australian Horror Writers Association has been launched; Shadowed Realms is paying SFWA/HWA pro rates and has an excellent readership. People in book stores, the ones buying fantasy trilogies (not to disparage them, because I do have respect for many of them) because there is next to nothing else to buy, need to be exposed to the excellent stuff that is being published by small presses.

So, instead of internalising, I did something about it. Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror is the start of an annual series, and is on track to appear in book stores. Real suburban bookshops.

The solution to all this debate is to act.

HorrorScope is a solution. A Hellnotes column is a solution. Shadow Box is a solution. Robots and Time is a solution. Shadowed Realms is a solution. Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror is a solution. And there are more solutions on the way.

A footnote – for the curious but not entirely related:
As of this very moment, there are 297,000,935 people living in America (courtesy of the US Census Bureau). There are, in this same moment, 20,389,828 people living in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics)

A typical 500 copy print run of a small press antho or magazine reaches 0.00245% of the Australian population.

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