Yearly summaries and such

Rich Horton, Locus reviewer, avid reader, and one of a slew of Year’s Best SF/F antho editors, has posted (brief) summaries of a number of Aussie zines on his message board.

For the interested, the Shadowed Realms summary is here, and the Ticonderoga Online summary is here. ASIM was also spotted.

I notice a few other folks have posted their list of what was hot in Aussie speculative fiction. I’m amazed at the variety and how they differ from my own list of what I considered ‘best’ in the year. I guess that comes down to reading preferences (me preferring dark fiction and all). From my perspective, I reckon Margo Lanagan, Paul Haines, Susan Wardle, and Simon Brown all had good years, but the big performer (for me) was Stephen Dedman, whose stories were, compared to many others (wait for it…) complete! With a beginning, middle, and end! And actual stories, too, not this trend of throwing words and surreal ideas haphazardly onto a page and people raving over it. For my money, “Down to the Tethys Sea” is the standout in the SF Aurealis Awards division.

While I’m at it, here are a few of my AA predictions.

Horror short story:
Who should win: “Dead of Winter” (Stephen Dedman)
Who will win: “Woman Train” (Kaaron Warren)
[who should have been nominated: “Surrender 1: Rope Artist (Deb Biancotti)]

Horror novel:
Who should win: “Carnies” (Martin Livings)
Who will win: “The Pilo Family Circus” (Will Elliot)

SF short story:
Who should win: “Down to the Tethys Sea” (Dedman again)
Who will win: “The Seventh Letter” (Sean Williams)

Anyway, enough of that… back to the concept of ‘best’.

What truly knocks me off my seat, and I’m certain this reflects in my own writing, is the concept I keep coming back to, time and again, of *writing quality* vs *story*. As a reader and especially as a writer I value a well written story over weird/disparate/surreal ideas thrown in to make a fantastical storyline, but it seems I’m in the minority on this one (at least in the blogosphere). I agree that there has been a lot of shite published by Australians this year, but given some of the stories people are putting forward as *best*, I really have to wonder if they’re reading the same stuff I am. Truly!

Do people not SEE (with capitals and all!) how rough as guts some of these stories are? Yes, there are excellent pieces in these shortlists (and on the AA list) but also a few with resemble Frankenstein’s monster in terms of sentence structure, basic grammar, and cohesiveness of plot arc. I fear the art of the well told, traditional story is being overshadowed. “Traditional” (beginning-middle-end plots with character development) does not mean “boring”.

Maybe it’s me. I’d like to think, even in my more non-traditional pieces (I’ve been known to indulge) that the only reason people don’t like my work is because it isn’t to their taste. If readers can’t point out major character/structural/grammar flaws and instead say “it didn’t work for me”, then that’s fine by me. My work will not appeal to everyone, but if my writing has no obvious flaws, then my job has been done well. I feel there are too many stories out there well short of even this most basic of marks. I also feel too many readers are being fooled by (and raving over) the smoke and mirrors and not seeing the inherent weaknesses of these stories.