Australian Women Writers Gen 5-SFF Week 15-22 Jan. 2023
It occured to me only at the very last minute that I had had the ideal book in my hands for this Week, and that I had given it to Lou as a present earlier in 2022 and promptly forgotten all about it. The book, This All Come Back Now: An Anthology of First Nations Speculative Fiction is “The first-ever anthology of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander speculative fiction – written, curated, edited and designed by blackfellas, for blackfellas and about blackfellas.”
The editor, Mykaela Saunders has written a comprehensive overview of the book and her selection process in the Sydney Review of Books, 18 July 2022; there was a panel on This All Come Back Now at the Sydney Writers Festival, 21 May 2022; and a Symposium at USyd. 24 Oct 2022 featuring Gina Cole (Fiji), Arlie Alizz (Yugumbeh), Jeanine Leanne (Wiradjuri), Mykaela Saunders (Koori/Goori), Ellen van Neerven (Mununjali), and Karen Wylde (Martu). I can’t see video or audio recordings for these, but I will keep looking.
Louis Holloway is a primary school teacher in Tennant Creek where a large proportion of his class is as you might expect, Indigenous.
It is problematic to talk about ‘Aboriginal writers’ and Aboriginal identities from the critical perspective of a hetero, cisgender white person. But here we are. As a reader, presently your reviewer, it is hard not to try and make sense of the thing as a whole. I found myself listening intently for something that might be construed as common ‘authentic voice’. I also found that to read as an investigator, I wanted an academic framework. My thoughts went to Fannon’s Black Skins White Masks, and to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The first asks about the effect of colonization on the subjective existence of the colonized, and the second about how our identity incorporates governing ideas which subject our choices to the governance of the dominant paradigm.
Mykaela Saunders – Overture
“Short story anthologies are like mixtapes, and I want you to think of this book as a burnt CD from me to you, … and on opportunity to find exciting writers you might not otherwise have come across.”
In introducing the anthology, Saunders invites us to dip our toes in. While the collection is explicitly curated to present the diverse work of a subaltern community, it is not an argument constructed of parts, but rather exactly what it claims to be.
I have picked some examples which might lend to a reading of overarching theme, but the first is just a great piece of writing.
Jasmine McGaughey – Jacaranda Street
The haunting mystery of Jacaranda Street after interrupted roadworks. Short and viscerally compelling. Jacaranda is a superb example of the short story medium- just enough of a taste to realise a vision and leave the reader with an unsettled sense of something that might be possible.
If MacGaughey has only come to my attention as part of TheAustralianLegend’s project including Saunder’s anthology, then there must be a flaw in the mechanism by which I am selecting texts.
Lisa Fuller – Myth This!
A horror story. In this case, the wise local with secret knowledge and dire warnings is the protagonist. The foolish Steve Irwin from the University ignores her at his peril.
In Myth This! There is a clear depiction of an encounter between two world views. I found myself looking for this encounter as I considered what I was reading. Fuller’s protagonist is careful, competent, and essentially suburban character who worries that she has not taught her children enough of the truths she learned from her mother and aunties.
Elizabeth Araluen – Muyum, a Transgression
“When I crossed there was only little light darkly”
This is poetry in the shape of a story. While I pride myself in my vocabulary and ease of assimilation of text, the reading challenges both, demanding the pace of the spoken word as poetry often does. She is talking to someone. ‘Muyum’ might be a sister’s son, but I’m not sure how closely the language of my online dictionary matches the geography of Araluen’s biography. I was also tempted to look up more than one English word.
Araluen’s protagonist encounters a librarian “I ask him for rivers and he tells me of boats … our words for ‘find’ and ‘take’ jar and unsound..”
Introduced with the memory of her father’s lessons about how to view the world, Araluen argues the nature of things with a librarian and a cartographer (sort of), and leaves a trail of released artifacts as she busts up a museum – she contests governmentality in the sort of stream-of-consciousness that only such an accomplished poet could present engagingly.
Alison Whittaker – futures. excellence
“When I walk under it, my eyes trained on it’s looming insignia, my jaw tilts to the sky. I concede that’s probably it’s goal: an Aboriginal woman, proud jawed, looking to the sky. But it’s an earnest and uncomfortable thing to do…”
A meta-mob uploaded to a digital Australia- partly voluntary, and partly forced- where they are building something sovereign, new and common to all the First Nations, away from the influence of the “mission managers”.
Whittaker also references the development of a new governmentality, as something that is harnessed to frame the new consensus.
Mykaela Saunders – Terranora
“We’re symbiotic, not parasitic, like they were from the moment they got here… We’re all guests here, part of a diverse community of life… And as a lucid, powerful mob, we have an obligation to make sure that nobody is taking the piss or is trying to strongarm anyone else out of their fair share.”
In her own contribution to the anthology, Saunders creates a quasi-Utopian commune, somewhere between a vignette and a story, that asserts a distinct pan-(first)national identity. Saunders posits explicitly an underlying common culture for all of the First Nations, that can be realized when the colonial regime is swept away by its own ineptitude.
The texts I’ve sketched here have been reorganized by my own thinking. I’ve only made a line through a group of things by applying my own lens, and I offer nothing definitive. As a teacher, I’d like to share the McGaughey and Fuller stories with my students (and we read some Araluen poems last year which we’ll keep up with), while some of the others should probably wait until they are older.
I’ve been listening to highlights of the Fannon in the car. I can’t tell how much it translates to the Australian context. He does talk about identifying a subjectivity separate from the colonisers, engaging in discourse which recognizes the subaltern perspective as valid, and the assertion of a collective identity. I am not the individual to make any judgement, but I feel like I can see some of these themes within some of the texts I read, and explicit reference was made by some of the writers who have clearly more academic, as well as lived, expertise than me.
To a reader, I can only recommend that we take Saunders’ offer at face value – to read a selection of writers we might not have encountered and find what is meaningful or beautiful and follow up what catches the eye.
Mykaela Saunders ed., This All Come Back Now, UQP, Brisbane, 2022. 314pp
10 thoughts on “This All Come Back Now”
Thanks to Lou for doing this. I only heard of this book last week when I wrote my Monday Musings, and wished I’d heard of it earlier.
I enjoyed Lou’s thoughts, and loved his final point to readers. I feel that some of the issues he sees in these short stories, particularly re governmentality, I’m seeing in the Unlimited futures anthology I’m reading.
Yes, thank you Lou! I only asked him at the last minute, when I remembered I’d given it to him, and he was on holiday in Melbourne, so he’s done a mighty job. And inspired me to go out and buy a copy for myself.
It’s interesting that he brings up the problem of colonisation in SF, which I think you also discussed with Melanie (GTL), a problem which Ray Bradbury highlighted in his Martian stories as far back as the 1960s but which for some reason I never internalized.
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Yes, he did.
I mentioned the colonisation issue in last week’s Monday Musings which resulted in my discussion with Melanie. How interesting re Ray Bradbury and your not taking it on board. It is all partly about the zeitgeist isn’t it.
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I might have to do a review of the Martian Chronicles from the perspective of white (US) settler colonialism, which of course is exactly what it is all about.
I didn’t realize Lou is an elementary school teacher. I thought he did something else because when everything was shut down for covid, I believe he was stuck in a different country? Correct me if I’m wrong there. I want to say South Africa. Anyway, about the stories, it’s interesting that several of them are described as our similar to horror stories, and I’ve made the argument that a lot of horror stories are actually a subgenre of sci-fi. Most people don’t agree because horror has a bigger umbrella and its own subgenres, but if you think about the way science has creeped into stories about vampires and zombies and werewolves, there’s lots of science fiction to be found in horror. And then there are just the good old-fashioned sci-fi-horror stories, like Frankenstein.
Lou was supervising teachers in Malawi when Covid shut the world down, and only just scraped back into Australia.
Especially since Fantasy invaded SF I’m sure there’s been a lot of crossover with Horror.
Ohhhh, okay. I did remember he was lucky to get in just in time before everything shut down, but did not know why he was out of the country. Wow, now I’m curious as to how he got into traveling the world to supervise teachers in other countries.
He enjoys being a teacher in Africa. In his last job he was going around to single teacher village schools (on a motorbike, which he had to learn to ride).
A very interesting piece, thanks, Lou.
Lou is much better at SF than I am, so I was pleased he was willing to write this, and at short notice.
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