AWW Gen 5 – SFF

Australian Women Writers Gen 5 Week 15-22 Jan. 2023

AWW Gen 5 is the generation of women who began writing in the 1990s up till now. It is, or I find it to be, difficult to pin down the characteristics of this current generation, but two trends stand out: the rise and rise of Indigenous Lit; and the amount of writing which in earlier days would have clearly been SF – but which now is generally characterised as Climate Fic., Dystopian, or less frequently, Fantasy/Surreal/Postmodern.

Women’s Indig.Lit does deserve an overview, especially the world class writing of Alexis Wright, surely our next Nobel laureate, but there are Indigenous women writing in the climate/dystopian stream, which for the sake of brevity I will deem SFF, so for AWW Gen 5 Week 2023 let’s start there.

Of course our Canadian friends will argue that this stream can only be discussed with reference to Margaret Atwood’s “not SF” The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and its sequel, The Testaments (2019). But Atwood’s implied claims that she invented dystopian fiction, or even just its American religious subset, or was the first person to bring dystopian writing into Literature, are all easily disprovable

This arbitrarily restrictive definition [not science fiction] seems designed to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn’t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto.

Ursula Le Guin talking about Atwood, 2010

Don’t mention SF seems to be the model preferred also by most Australian women (or their publishers), though Wirlomin-Noongar woman Claire G Coleman, at least, is clear about where she is coming from.

Following is a list of AWW Gen 5 – SFF works I have read/reviewed to date:

Georgia Blain, Special (2016)
Claire G Coleman, Terra Nullius (2017)
Claire G Coleman, The Old Lie (2019)
Claire G Coleman, Enclave (2022)
Melissa Ferguson, The Shining Wall (2019)
Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus Lost (2007)
Linda Jaivan, Rock ‘n’ Roll Babes from Outer Space (1996)
Krissy Kneen, An Uncertain Grace (2017)
Krissy Kneen, Wintering (2018)
Rosaleen Love, The Total Devotion Machine and other stories (1989)
Catherine McKinnon, Storyland (2017)
Sue Parritt, Pia and the Skyman (2016)
Jane Rawson, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013)
Jane Rawson, Formaldehyde (2015)
Jane Rawson, From the Wreck (2017)
Jane Rawson, A History of Dreams (2022)
Elizabeth Tan, Rubik (2017)
Elizabeth Tan, Smart Ovens for Lonely People (2020)
Ellen van Neerven, Heat and Light/Water (2014)
Charlotte Wood, The Natural Way of Things (2015)
Alexis Wright, Carpentaria (2006)
Alexis Wright, The Swan Book (2013)

In making this list and looking over my shelves for works I might have missed, I see that I have passed over Australian Grunge which was a distinctive part of 1990s writing at least and which may in fact have been a precursor to the dystopian trend of the 2000s. So Justine Ettler misses out; Linda Jaivin is in, for one of her minor works; Fiona McGregor, who is often mentioned in this connection, I don’t know at all; and Nikki Gemmell, whom I would like to write about at length, is also out. And Heather Rose too, despite The Museum of Modern Love being one of our great books.

I have also reviewed a couple of YA-ish books which have a grungy feel and which I would like to have discussed again in the context of Gen 5 – Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island and Madeleine Ryan, A Room Called Earth, but I can’t see any way of squeezing them into SFF.

I hope I’ve chosen a theme which you will find engaging – I’m not sure where we’ll take AWW Gen x Week after this – and I really hope you can add more/make a case for the inclusion of works I have forgotten/excluded. As usual, over the course of the Week I will attempt to post one review a day – a couple of my own, a guest maybe, and reposts of yours.


Pic. above: Anmatyerre woman, Bronwyn Payne Ngale (1970- ) holding ‘Antyarlkenth [native tuber] story’, 2008

17 thoughts on “AWW Gen 5 – SFF

  1. Well I wasn’t expecting that but I can work with it. I’ve even read several and have others I’d like to read, like the later Rawsons and Tan.

    I’m wondering about Julie Koh’s Portable curiosities. At least one story is future set, and a couple are surreal (but does that count?) I’ll put my thinking cap on re other suggestions, but I’m glad you’ve got the ball rolling.


    • I don’t know Julie Koh, so that’s something for me to read. Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island was suggested in a tweet about Oz Cli.Fi yesterday (I responded along the lines look at my post and only discovered this morning I hadn’t actually posted it).
      Definitely ‘surreal’. I am seeing more and more the intersection of surreal, magic realism and science fantasy (hence the SFF in my title).
      It occurs to me I should also include Climate Science NonFiction. Jane Rawson for instance did a book in that line in between her novels


  2. Well, despite being “a literary bigot” I have read a good few of your list, and reviewed some of them already:
    Claire G Coleman, Terra Nullius (2017)
    Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus Lost (2007)
    Catherine McKinnon, Storyland (2017)
    Sue Parritt, Pia and the Skyman (2016) (Actually, I recommended this one to you).
    Jane Rawson, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013)
    Jane Rawson, Formaldehyde (2015), on my TBR
    Jane Rawson, From the Wreck (2017)
    Charlotte Wood, The Natural Way of Things (2015)
    Alexis Wright, The Swan Book (2013)
    I also reviewed The Handbook (Rawson and Whitmore) years ago.

    So I think that gets me off the hook for SF/dystopian etc and free to do my own thing for women who were writing in this period!


    • That’s the problem with reviewing the current generation – they’re all the books we’re most likely to have read. Despite WG’s reservations I like the idea of including survival handbooks, and I’ll link to your review when I set up the Gen 5 page.
      I hope you come up over the next few months with some that I have missed – or which have just been written.


      • Alexis Wright has one coming out this year, I believe…
        I feel the same temerity reviewing her, as I do for Patrick White, and for the same reason. I am out of my league.


      • A new Alexis Wright would indeed be an event. I understand what you’re saying about White, it’s like writing about Austen, there are people who specialise in these writers. But I think we are writing for general readers like ourselves who like to see our impressions of whatever classic we have read, and a little bit of research around it that they might not have come across. And of course we all specialise in slightly different areas, so that we are all always learning from each other. One of your jobs is to keep us up on Indonesian Lit culture.

        I would never not write about Alexis Wright. I’m not sure she is yet accepted as our current ‘Patrick White’ which she certainly is. And I will spread the word whenever I get the chance. That said, if the timing is right, I would be more than happy for you to be the one to write her up for AWW Gen 5 Week.


  3. Interesting to note the trend to dystopian/SFF etc. Can I add some more examples (all reviewed on my blog):
    Michelle de Kretser, Scary Monsters (2021)
    Laura Jean McKay, The Animals in that Country (2020)
    Meg Mundell, The Trespassers (2019)
    Lois Murphy, Soon (2018)

    And for cli-fi:
    Helen Fitzgerald, Ash Mountain (2021)
    Madeleine Watts, The Inland Sea (2021)
    Alice Bishop, A Constant Hum (2019)
    Mireille Juchau, The World Without Us (2017)


    • That’s a great list, thanks Kim, all of books I haven’t read, nor even remember reading about – obviously I don’t pay enough attention. I’ll add them to my list when I turn this post into the AWW Gen 5 page, and also add the links back Reading matters. I can see I have some buying and reading to do.


  4. John Wyndham was doing religious fundamentalist dystopian SF long before Atwood, and I think she must have read The Chrysalids at least because I can see its echoes in Handmaid’s Tale, so I’m always a bit perplexed by the idea that she invented it.

    I don’t think I’ve read any of these! I look forward to reading your reviews of them and working out which I should pick up.


    • Lou, I get sarcastic about Atwood, but I am sure she is knowledgeable about SF and it is her supporters who act as though Atwood’s writing appeared out of the blue without any precursors.

      Of the novels I listed, Rubik is my favourite, followed by anything by Rawson or Coleman. I would really like your opinion of Coleman’s The Old Lie which combines spaceship SF with Australian anticolonialism. But The Natural Way of Things is very good and may be the easiest for you to get hold of.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rubik is very expensive here (though it sounds good and I’ll keep an eye out for it in sales), but The Old Lie is available as both ebook and audiobook! It sounds great – I wouldn’t have picked it up based on the blurb but your review makes it sound very appealing, so I look forward to giving it a try.


  5. Recently, I started listening to a podcast called The Evolution Of Horror. It basically looks at different subgenres of the horror movie genre. Right now they’re talking about slashers. Anyway, pretty much every guest who comes on brings up the fact that in the last five years or so people have been trying to label horror movies as something else, so people who are snobs about genre don’t have to feel bad if they enjoyed what is actually a really well-made horror movie, because they’ve decided to call it something else. I have the same complaint when it comes to fiction and people call it literature even though it’s very obviously sitting within a genre. All that does is work to diminish the importance of genre and what it does in our culture. I think the book on your list that grabs my attention the most of the one called Rock And Roll Babes In Outer Space or something like that.


    • I think in our heads we already have genres like Literary SF, and Literary Crime – which is often discussed, partly because it does exist and partly to cover the critic’s embarrassment at reviewing a lowly crime novel. But writers annoy me when they refuse to acknowledge the origins of their work, which seems to happen most often with Dystopian and Cli.Fi.

      Linda Jaivin wrote one popular work, Eat Me which is a sort of Australian – what’s the NY TV series one with Mr Big in it? – which it predates by 2 or 3 years (anyway, it’s an exploration of women’s erotic fiction). She then wrote Rock n Roll Babes from Outer Space which is genuinely funny, but didn’t do as well. But mostly she writes about China, in which she is an expert.


      • You’re thinking of Sex & The City, which, by the way, has aged like milk. You cannot watch that show today and celebrate it like we did as it unfurled circa 1998.

        I do have you to thank for introducing me to Karin Gillespie, whose novel Love Literary Style was an excellent work of commentary on the “snobs” and the “bestsellers.”


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