Future Girl, Asphyxia

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

I opened AWW Gen 5-SFF Week with Melanie/Grab the Lapels’ review of this work which I had intended to pair with a review of my own, but my copy was late arriving, work intervened, and I’m only now ready to post. Future Girl (in America, The World in My Hands) is YA and SF – set in a Melbourne a couple of decades in the future, in which fuel shortages and hyperinflation have led to widespread unemployment and poverty – and is based on the author’s own experience of growing up deaf and of being introduced late to signing (Auslan) and the Deaf community.

Melanie, for those newcomers who have not yet met her in these pages, is a blogger from the American mid-west, who relies on hearing aids and is now, in her thirties, learning signing (ASL), and learning, and teaching us, about being Deaf. Her review then shows a great deal of empathy with Future Girl‘s protagonist, 16 year old Piper. So I won’t go down that path myself, which in any case, I know nothing about except what Melanie has told us over the past two or three years.

Firstly, the author. Asphyxia is a writer, artist and performer whose career so far spans twenty or so years. I had wondered, on reading Future Girl, if it were written by a 16 year old, it certainly feels like it, but no, it was written – very well – by an adult woman for 13-16 year olds, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been aiming a bit older than that.

The presentation of the book is excellent. Piper is a painter and this is ostensibly her journal (of the months June to Dec of an unspecified year) which is filled with drawings, painting, stencils and collages. The story flows too well for a journal, but the progression from day to day does give it a bit of a ‘first this happened, then that happened’ feel.

Asphyxia, though she now lives in hippy heaven on the NSW north coast, is a Melbourne person and this shows in her descriptions of inner northern Melbourne streets, centred on Northcote and Fitzroy. Piper goes to a private school two or three suburbs away, as she has to come home on the tram up Church Street.

The most horrifying aspect of Asphyxia’s imagined future is that ‘tree vandals’ have stripped Melbourne’s tree-lined streets and, it later turns out, all the exotic trees of the Botanic Gardens, cut them all back to the roots.

The story of these six months is that Piper meets a boy, Marley, 19, a CODA – child of deaf adult – who has been immersed in Deaf culture by his mother, Robbie, but who is also drawn towards living ‘normally’. Piper’s mother is a scientist with Organicore who has invented supplements which prevent cancer, obesity and [something else] to go in Organicore’s artificial food products. Marley’s mother, on the other hand, grows all her own food at home, in a walled garden (to protect her from thieves).

The major problem in this future Melbourne is that (petroleum-based) fuel is scarce and prohibitively expensive so that farmers are increasingly unable to deliver fresh food to the supermarkets, and Organicore is unable to get ‘Recon’, its artificial food to consumers. You might think that this could have been averted by increased electrification – but not in this universe anyway. Organicore, despite being a monopoly, and having installed its own stooge as Prime Minister, is going broke and Piper’s mum is let go.

Piper, increasingly unhappy with her failure to connect with her hearing fellows, drops out of school; is inspired to begin her own food garden; and is co-opted into a protest movement.

News Melbourne

McBride’s Daughter Rejects Recon in Bid to Solve Food Crisis

Piper, the sixteen-year-old Deaf daughter of former Organicore scientist Irene McBride, has turned her back on manufactured meals and is taking her chances growing wild food. In a move that’s proven popular with her neighbours, Piper’s created a thriving community garden on the nature strip down the middle of her Northcote street, which she expects will provide an abundance of vegetables, eggs and meat for the community.

The government introduces food rationing. The government-owned, Organicore-controlled messaging service “Cesspool”, which has replaced the internet, fails to transmit any messages about food growing or protesting.

Breaking News: McBride’s Garden Scheduled for Demolition:

In a heartbreaking move, as we prepare this story for the feeds, the local council has classified Piper McBride’s community garden as ‘litter’ and insists it be removed.

Piper takes her art to the streets, is arrested and jailed.

There is the usual YA angst with best friend, boyfriend and parent. All ends well.

I could rant about the failure of the author and the publisher to acknowledge their debts to a long tradition of SF, but what’s the point.


Asphyxia, Future Girl, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2020. 373pp.

A few days ago, Kim/Reading Matters posted her review for AWW Gen 5-SFF Week, The Hush by Sara Foster. All the books we have reviewed for this period are listed on the AWW Gen 5-SFF page.

Nellie Melba

Journal: 097

More farewells then Nellie Melba. Maybe, I can’t see how many that was (here), but I am unloading after my third or fourth ‘last trip’ across the Nullarbor from Melbourne. I don’t plan to do any more. I don’t wish to do any more. But I find myself strangely attracted to loads to north Queensland, and then I have to get home.

This trip just concluding, I hooked up at Moama, found my way across southern, recently flooded, NSW on broken and dodgy roads, finally became free of the Murray via the ancient Paringa Bridge, traversed the Flinders Ranges by more country roads, till at last I reached Highway One at Port Pirie, the last remaining bitumen link to Western Australia, arrived at Northam, 100 km out, Friday morning, three weeks and a day away, brought my trailers in one at a time, got some unloading done.

Got some more unloading done Sat. Just settled home to the idea of lunch and wine, no sandwiches cut or wine poured, no body showered even, when Milly called to say there was a family emergency and I must come at once, pick her up then head down to Freo to pick up Ms 19. I dragged on a clean shirt and headed for the door when – you know it – phone rang, the emergency was sort of over, but Ms 19 was still upset and we should go and get her anyway, and yes I had time for a shower.

I can’t tell you all the story, but at 10.00 am someone, in a Victorian country town, was dead of an overdose, then he wasn’t, and by the time we picked up Ms 19 at one-ish, he was sitting up in bed and asking for dinner. Country town gossips and third-hand information!

And so, by mid-afternoon, we ended up at the Perth Fringe, participating in – ‘viewing’ is not strong enough – a comedy pub crawl, which resulted in me Ubering home and cycling back this morning to retrieve my ute and run Ms 19 home.

Ms 19 had ordered me for Christmas, from Lebanon, PA, the book-ends above and of course they arrived the day after I left, so yesterday I finally got to unwrap them. She wanted a Mack, everyone’s sexiest truck, except (Australian) truck drivers who go for Kenworths, locally made, indestructible, noisy and uncomfortable to drive. I’m going to say this new acquisition is a 1950s Reo Speedwagon. It might be, and Diamond Reo trucks were manufactured in PA up till a decade or so ago.

This post in this timeslot is meant to be my AWW Gen 5-SF Week summing up. Thank you all for taking part. I think I reposted everyone who put up a review, and I’ll update the AWW Gen 5 page as soon as I have my business bookwork out of the way. This is what I got from our discussions: that dystopian and SF were important themes throughout the three decades, driven of course by climate change, and although we didn’t discuss it much, by the rise of the surveillance state. The more fanciful SF of Jane Rawson and Elizabeth Tan, say, comes not just from CLi.Fi, but also from a playfulness always latent in SF and in postmodernism. Indigenous writing became important and incorporated SF in both its dystopian and more fantastic streams – think back to Ellen van Neerven’s Water, or to the innovative SF of Claire G Coleman.

There are other themes. Perhaps only I worry about Grunge, which flared up in the mid-nineties then went nowhere. But I see elements of it still, both in Indigenous writing and in the work of some new novelists. Brona suggested another theme in dysfunctional families. Feel free to expand, Bron. If the discussion continues, I’ll make space for it somewhere.

Next year, I want to cover Gen 0, the writing which however hard it is to trace direct influences, predated and to some extent parallelled the Independent Woman theme in early Australian writing. I’m thinking in particular JS Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft on whom Bron has already done a great deal of work, and then Aphra Benn, George Sand, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, an American woman recommended by Melanie/GTL whose name has slipped my mind (I have it in writing somewhere, sorry Melanie). Even Moll Flanders and Tom Jones, ostensibly written by men, have far more anti-marriage sentiment than was allowed later, post Jane Austen.

After that we can redo the Gens, AMWs this time.

I of course have had plenty of time to listen to books. Those from the library were mostly mediocre, and that includes the fictional biography of Elizabeth Macquarrie, Elizabeth & Elizabeth (the other E. is E. Macarthur) by Sue Williams. Probably the best of the library books was Into the Darkest Corner (2012) by Elizabeth Haynes, a really explicit account of a single woman who hooks up, unknowingly, with a predator. Warning: there were instances of physical abuse which I skipped over.

On Audible, where I only buy books I really want to listen to, apart from the occasional freebies, I listened to Love by Elizabeth von Arnim; and to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, which I am attempting to inveigle Melanie into co-reviewing with me. I sometimes re-listen to my Audible books, or listen to them twice in a couple of weeks to get my review right, and it’s never a hardship.


Recent audiobooks 

Elizabeth Haynes (F, Eng), Into the Darkest Corner (2012) Thriller
Tony McCarroll (M, Eng), The Truth: My Life as Oasis’s Drummer (2013) Memoir
Anthony Johnston (M, Eng), The Tempus Project (2020) – Crime
Sue Williams (F, Aus/NSW), Elizabeth & Elizabeth (2021) – Fictional Biog.
Joy Fielding (F, USA), She’s not There (2015) – Family Drama
Karin Fossum (F, Nor), Bad Intentions (2010) Crime
Helen Hardt (F, USA), Follow Me Darkly (2020) – Romance
Charlene Harris (F, USA), Real Murders (1990) – Crime
William Gibson (M, USA), Agency (2020) – SF
Elizabeth von Arnim (F, Eng), Love (1925)
Tom Robbins (M, USA), Even Cowgirls get the Blues (1976)

Currently Reading 

Martin Boyd (M, Aus/Vic), The Cardboard Crown (1971)
Martin Boyd (M, Aus/Vic), A Difficult Young Man (1957)

AWWC Jan. 2023

Fri 06Stories FTAAlice Guerin, New Year’s Eve – December 1901
Wed 11Elizabeth LhuedeFarewell 2022 – welcome 2023
Fri 13Stories FTAMiles Franklin, Alice Henry (newspaper story)
Wed 18Bill HollowayCatherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future (review)
Fri 20Stories FTA
Wed 25Whispering GumsLouise Mack
Fri 27Stories FTALouise Mack, My quest: London book shops (nonfiction)

Short stories & discussion

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

Brona and Whispering Gums have contributed to this Week with reviews of short fiction, and WG further devoted a Monday Musings to discussing Indigenous SFF. I’ll provide links from here so that those (very few) of you who haven’t already seen them might do so. Bron says one of hers isn’t strictly SF but given that we have been discussing that problems we have been putting off dealing with – Climate! – are now upon us, I don’t think that matters.

WG: First Nations Australia Speculative Fiction

I have seen various terms applied to SF, or what I prefer, though Bill doesn’t, to call Speculative Fiction. Introducing their anthology, Unlimited futures, Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail speak of Visionary Fiction. Read on …


WG: Ambelin Kwaymullina, “Fifteen days on Mars”

In 2014, Ambelin Kwaymullina, whose people are the Palyku of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, described herself in a Kill Your Darlings essay as writing “speculative fiction for young adults”. Three years later, in the 2017 Twelfth Planet Press anthology, Mother of invention, she said that she was “a Palyku author of Indigenous Futurisms”. Read on …


Brona: Everything Feels Like the End of the World, Else Fitzgerald

[A] speculative fiction short story collection ‘exploring possible futures in an Australia not so different from our present day to one thousands of years into an unrecognisable future.’ The manuscript won the 2019 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. Read on …


Brona: Before He Left the Family, Carrie Tiffany

[T]he story of a family breakdown told from the perspective of the teenage son, Kevin. Both boys know that their parents only married because their mum got pregnant on the first date. Read on …


Brona: The Animals in that Country, Laura Jean McKay

What a mad, mad ride Laura Jean McKay takes you on … a flu virus – the ‘zoo flu’ as it becomes known in the book – causes the communication barrier between humans and other animals to disappear. Read on …


Will there be more? I’m not sure. I was hopeful of another author interview. But, and this is the big but, today is my only day off work, though I may have another forced on me by, you know, 26 Jan and all that goes with it, including not being able to get loaded. We’ll see. Anyway, I hope to be home and unloaded by next Weds latest, when I undertake to take Milly to dinner (and to write up a Summary).

This All Come Back Now

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

The Inland Sea, Madelaine Watts

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

Naomi, Consumed by Ink, from Canada’s Atlantic coast doesn’t get a lot of contemporary Australian books to choose from, but she saw this reviewed by Kim/Reading Matters and was motivated to obtain a copy for herself. Naomi says that this was not as ‘SFF’ as she expected, but it occurs to me that just over the course of this ‘generation’ Cli.Fi has gone from futuristic to the present we must confront and that new fiction must necessarily take account of that.

Naomi, Consumed by Ink

The Inland Sea is a coming-of-age story in the ‘age of anxiety’ and climate crisis. After graduating college, a young woman (the unnamed narrator) feels at loose ends, and–with the idea of saving up some money and getting away–she takes a job as an emergency dispatch operator. She assures friends and family that she’s up for the job, but as we get more information about her past–growing up with divorced parents and a fearful mother–we get the feeling that this is not the job for her. Read on…

From the Wreck, Jane Rawson

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

Marcie McCauley, who blogs as Buried in Print, struggles in the wilds of Canada to get hold of Australian books to read. But she did get this one in time to review it for AWW Gen 5 Week and I’m happy that it follows on from my interview with Jane.

bip-colour-2 Marcie McCauley

Bill recommended Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck (2017) and I read it throughout the winter break, so that I met George gnawing on human flesh, while I was crunching through shortbread fingers and thumbprint cookies with red jam filling.

Don’t let the reference to cannibalism put you off: nobody really knows what happened, we only know that the few survivors of the historic 1859 wreck of the Admella (a ship named for its route between the Australian settlements of Adelaide, Melbourne, Launceston) were not rescued for weeks and had no reliable food source. Read on (if you dare) …

Author Interview, Jane Rawson

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

Jane Rawson was brought up in Canberra, studied journalism, travelled the world writing for Lonely Planet, settled for a while in Melbourne where she was environment & energy writer for The Conversation, and now lives in Tasmania. She has had published three novels, a novella, a number of short stories and, with James Whitmore, The Handbook: Surviving and Living with Climate Change (wiki bibliography). If you haven’t read them already, you will see here that her novels fit perfectly within our definitions for AWW Gen 5-SFF.

Q. Jane, in a story in the SMH in 2014, Linda Morris writes, “When A Wrong Turn was published it turned Rawson’s life around. Suddenly, she thought she had permission to take her writing seriously.” That leads to two questions: All that writing you were doing at ‘work’, for Lonely Planet and The Conversation, did you regard that as preparation or practice for your fiction writing; and was A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) the first novel you wrote?

A. A wrong turn was not the first novel I wrote, though it was the first novel I had published. Formaldehyde, published two years later, was the first novel I wrote (though by the time it was published, it was a novella). I wrote that in 2000, as part of National Novel Writing Month; the version that was published in 2015 had been significantly rewritten, particularly the ending – at first I was rewriting for style and coherence, but my later rewritings were because over fifteen years my views on how the world worked and what was ethical, particularly in romantic relationships, had changed a bit.

By the time I wrote Formaldehyde I’d been working as a professional non-fiction writer for nine years. I’d mostly written about environmental issues (my first four years of work as an editor in Canberra) and travel (at Lonely Planet, starting in 1996) and I’d never really thought about getting into fiction, even though I’d always been a huge reader of novels. If I had writing aspirations – and I’m not sure that I did – they were more to do with becoming a journalist. It wasn’t until I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days in 2000 that I discovered how much fun writing fiction could be (and also how impressed people were when I said I’d written a novel – that was definitely a factor). Of course it then took me another 15 years to get a book published and sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more fun to stick with writing and forget about publishing.

Q. Morris describes A Wrong Turn as “an off-beat, genre-defying, head-spinning story that defies all the rules of narrative, space and time.” Sadly, I haven’t read your short stories, a couple of which were published prior to 2013. Were they, if not SF, at least fantastical, as well? I guess I’m asking, did you start out consciously to be an SF writer?

A. Don’t be sad! You can still read them [Links below]. ‘A Dynasty of Square Standers’, 2008, later turned into ‘A wrong turn’. At this point it was about two teenagers forced to see all of America by their parents, and was a response to Lonely Planet readers who claimed to have ‘properly done’ a destination, unlike most half-arsed tourists. It was surreal, but not SF. ‘Instructions for an installation’, 2003, was the last thoughts of a woman about to be turned into an art installation – again, surreal, but not SF. And ‘In Registry’, 2009 was a lot of questions I had about random things, pretending to be a short story about an entry-level public service clerk – surrealism, again. I have so far never written a realist short story or novel, but most of my writing does take place in a world identifiably our own, but skewed in odd ways. I never really set out to be one particular thing, I’ve just written stories about the ideas that most obsess me (and a lot of those ideas are odd).

Q. It is clear the coming environmental catastrophe is an influence on your work. Many writers are addressing this, and to a lesser extent, the rise of the surveillance state, by writing ‘dystopian’ fiction without acknowledging the deep roots of dystopian fiction in SF. You do acknowledge that you write in the SF tradition, but there are also elements of surrealism and Magic Realism in your writing. What are your influences do you think? What have you been reading?

A. I’m definitely influenced by SF, though I think the books I devoured as a younger reader were on the lighter side of SF. I was very into Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut and, before that, CS Lewis (his space stories as well as the Narnia books) and George McDonald’s Princess and the Goblin.

If you want to find out what I’m reading now, why not subscribe to my newsletter at janerawson.substack.com? I read all kinds of things: my favourite books this year included Ed Yong’s detailed and inspirational investigation of animal perception (An immense world), which has influenced a lot of the writing I’ve done lately about nature; Hilary Mantel’s novella about the sad history of a 19th century Irish giant trying to make it big (sorry) in England (The giant, O’Brien), which has been a huge influence on the voice of the novel I’m trying to write; and Benjamin Labatut’s berserk non-fiction novel about mathematical discovery, When we cease to understand the world, which is inspiring me to find new ways to write about facts without being boring. I’ve also really enjoyed three Australian novels this year that mess with ideas of realism – Adam Ouston’s Waypoints, about a man who wants to recreate Harry Houdini’s Australian attempt at flight; Sophie Cunningham’s This devastating fever, which is about writing and ghosts and colonialism and the climate crisis (includes jokes); and Rhett Davis’ Hovering, about a city that won’t stand still (and how confusing it is being alive now).

Q. I enjoy all your work – ok, I gave The Handbook to my greenie daughter – but there is a special place in my heart for Formaldehyde, a very short novel which might almost be described as absurdist or surreal. You complained once it didn’t sell very well, but did you have fun writing it?

A. What a whinger! I mean, for a surrealist novella published by a tiny publisher it sold pretty well. I had so much fun writing it! It was the first book I wrote, and I tried to cram every idea I’d ever had into it. I wrote it in 30 days, and that mad rush inspired all kinds of wild things to come out of my subconscious and connect with each other. I loved the feeling of existing more, for those 30 days, in the world of my book than I did in the world of my life.

Q. A History of Dreams starts out like your other novels, with little touches of ‘magic’, but as you progress, the tone becomes more serious. The topic you are dealing with, systemized misogyny, is serious, and I appreciate the parallels you imply between those 1930s National Guard times and today. Your dystopian near past is an accepted stream in SF, but did you make a conscious decision to treat the subject seriously, rather than through satire, say? Or do you think I am misreading you?

A. I do think it’s my most serious book, though there are a few jokes here and there. I wanted to write something very character-based, and which took seriously the relationships between a group of female friends who didn’t always like each other very much. Really understanding the four women in the book, and letting them work through the ethics and implications of standing up to a powerful force they’d be unlikely to defeat, was my main interest. So I guess that generated the form the novel took, which veers from a kind of 1930s ‘girls-own annual’ school days story into an oppressive dystopia.

Q. Finally, two supplementary questions which are not really anything to do with SF. My inner geography nerd keeps asking: your evocation of Melbourne’s inner western working class/industrial suburbs in A Wrong Turn was great, but From the Wreck (2017) and A History of Dreams (2022) are both set in a closely described Port Adelaide – with which I used to be familiar, though not so much these days – why?

A. I’m glad you enjoyed my near-future Yarraville/Kensington (I was a bit freaked out when the areas that get flooded in the novel were last year flooded in real life). And I’m also glad to hear you say my Port Adelaide is closely described, because I really bluffed my way through the geography in both those books – there was a lot of work on google maps and Wikipedia, though I did do some spot checks for accuracy when I made brief visits to Adelaide. The location of those two books is because they’re both based on my own family history, and my mum’s side of the family is from the Largs/Semaphore/Port area of Adelaide. ‘From the Wreck’ is based on real-life events to do with the wreck of the Admella and takes place in the Seaman’s Home where my great-great grandfather worked, so I wanted its historical portions to be as accurate as possible. By the time I finished it I’d fallen ridiculously in love with imaginary Adelaide, so I was stoked to spend another five years hanging out there while I wrote ‘A History of Dreams’. Whenever I’m in Adelaide I visit locations from my novels, forgetting that I completely made up the incidents that occurred there.

Q. And also from A History of Dreams. One of your characters is reading PC Wren’s Beau Ideal, which I read and re-read through my adolescence. How did you come to give her that particular book to read?

A. It was a book my mum always used to talk about when I was a kid, and which her mum also loved. Weirdly, I have never read it. I probably ought to.

Thank you Jane, for taking the time to discuss your work with us. And let me say how happy I am as a reader that you didn’t “forget about being published”.


Jane Rawson short stories:
A Dynasty of Square Standers (2008) (https://janerawson.com/writing/a-dynasty-of-square-standers/)
Instructions for an installation (2003) (https://janerawson.com/writing/instructions-for-an-installation/)
In Registry (2009) (https://janerawson.com/writing/in-registry/)

Jane Rawson novels:
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) (my review)
Formaldehyde (2015) (my review)
From the Wreck (2017) (my review)
A History of Dreams (2022) (my review)

Future Girl, Asphyxia

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

Apparently, I recommended Future Girl to Melanie/Grab the Lapels a couple of years ago. Perhaps I bought it for my then 17 year old granddaughter. It looks familiar, and I never write down what I buy. Melanie loved it and I have no hesitation reposting her review for this week. As you’ll see, Future Girl was published in the US as The Words in my Hands.

It wasn’t strictly my intention but I think that the SFF/dystopian theme has the potential to direct us towards some of the more leading edge writing of this generation (and I wish more than ever that I had included Grunge within the definition as well).

fbd8238d4fecda17e61d97c950bcafc1 Grab The Lapels

Piper is a deaf girl with hearing aids in a private high school with hearing students. Her best friend, Taylor, often serves as a hearing guide of sorts, which resonated with me. I often ask my spouse what another person said, be it the cashier, the neighbor, or our nieces and nephew. However, while my reliance often occurs when I am not wearing my hearing aids because I didn’t feel like it, Piper is relying on very little hearing and years of speech therapy because to her, deafness is a medical issue. Read on …

Atwood, Le Guin & SF

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

One book has captured the spirit of present and near-future USA like no other, and that is Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale (1985). On writing ‘1985’ I am astonished that it is so old, obviously America has been growing into Atwood’s predictions for some time. The TV series of the book premiered in 2016, and the sequel, The Testaments, was published in 2019.

A Handmaid’s Tale sits over us, over all discussions of the rise of the Right in the US in particular, as Animal Farm, 1984 and Brave New World did over discussions of Communism and totalitarian government – not always accurately – when I was a young man (in the 1960s and 70s).

Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018) and Margaret Atwood (1939- ) were friends, east coast gals with a university – Radcliffe “in the pre-Second Wave years” – in common.

Seated on little divans in front of over 2,000 people [in Portland, 2010], they seemed like two old school chums swapping gossip even when they were deconstructing modern realism and debating whether or not the human race is doomed.

Claire L. Evans — Space Canon, Gizmodo, September 28, 2010

Le Guin, the queen of SF, however is forced to tiptoe round Atwood’s refusal to acknowledge that she writes Science Fiction. Atwood argues science fiction is for space travel and things we can’t yet do, while what she does is speculative fiction, stuff that we have the means to do right now, right here on Earth (Moving Targets).

That is to say, she – and these days any number of writers of “dystopian” fiction – choose to write within one strand of SF, which has a history going back more than a century, while disclaiming all their antecedents and preserving, in their own minds anyway, their literary purity.

In her summary of the two writers’ discussion, Evans offers this breakdown: “could happen (speculative fiction), couldn’t happen yet (science fiction), could never happen at all (fantasy).”

If you’re still one of those who cling to the myth that there is ‘literary’ fiction and there is genre fiction, Le Guin was fierce that “realism is a genre like any other, and that all writing is by definition literary“. Further, “realism is limited in terms of what it can actually discuss. The modern realistic novel, she lamented, has devolved into tales of well-off East Coast people with problems” which might come as a shock to writers in the rest of the world. Atwood and Le Guin did agree that “speculative and not-quite-real fictions have more freedom to tackle sweeping subjects unavailable to the realist.”

Le Guin’s strongest critique of Atwood was a year earlier, in a review of Atwood’s The Year of the Flood (2009).

To my mind, The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and now The Year of the Flood all exemplify one of the things science fiction does, which is to extrapolate imaginatively from current trends and events to a near-future that’s half prediction, half satire. But Margaret Atwood doesn’t want any of her books to be called science fiction.

Le Guin, Guardian, 29 Aug., 2009

Le Guin makes the point that in ‘realistic’ fiction we expect characters of some complexity, while in genre fiction we expect ‘types’, though “the supposed distinction is so often violated in both directions as to be nearly meaningless”. She then goes on to explain why all Atwood’s characters are ‘types’, “these were figures in the service of a morality play”. Le Guin does not say, but it’s true, that one of the great strengths of her own Science Fiction is the complexity of her central characters.

A year after Portland Arts & Lectures 2010 Atwood defends herself at some length:

Though sometimes I am not asked, but told: I am a silly nit or a snob or a genre traitor for dodging the term because these books are as much “science fiction” as Nineteen Eighty-Four is, whatever I might say. But is Nineteen Eighty-Four as much “science fiction” as The Martian Chronicles? I might reply. I would answer not, and therein lies the distinction.

Atwood, Guardian, 15 Oct., 2011

There she goes again, distinguishing one branch of SF from another, and then attempting to claim the branch she likes as anything but SF. In one hundred years time when Earth’s remnant population is living on Mars will she move The Martian Chronicles over to her side of the ledger? At what stage does The Postman change sides, or Neuromancer, or The Matrix? If the US somehow doesn’t become a fascist theocracy after these midterms or 2024, does A Handmaid’s Tale then become SF in Atwood’s mind?

Basically, she says I write in the tradition that extends forward from Jules Verne. I just don’t wish it to be called SF. Sorry, MA, you don’t get to choose.

And because I am a Le Guin fan, let me end with something Atwood wrote on Le Guin’s death in 2018

Not only was she one of the literary greats of the 20th century – her books are many and widely read and beloved, her awards are many and deserved – but her sane, committed, annoyed, humorous, wise and always intelligent voice is much needed now…

Isn’t it, just? And, Atwood goes on ..

In all her work, Le Guin was always asking the same urgent question: what sort of world do you want to live in? Her own choice would have been gender equal, racially equal, economically fair and self-governing ..

Atwood writes from a different angle, but in her ‘speculative’ works she is clearly asking the same question. Atwood and Le Guin, two greats of SF.

This post is both a lead in to the problems of defining ‘dystopian’ (no, no, no, not SF) fiction in AWW Gen 5, and my contribution to Marcie/Buried in Print’s MARM 2022.


Portland Arts & Lectures 2010: Margaret Atwood & Ursula K Le Guin, reported in Cultural SF and Movie Learnings, 30.09.2010 (here). Literary Arts recording (here)

Essays referenced:
Claire L. Evans, ‘Space Canon’, Gizmodo, 28 Sept., 2010 (here)
Ursula K Le Guin, The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, Guardian, 29 Aug., 2009 (here)
Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin bring off-the-wall humor to Portland Arts & Lectures, the Oregonian (here)
Margaret Atwood, ‘The Road to Ustopia’, Guardian, 15 Oct., 2011 (here)
Margaret Atwood, ‘Ursula K. Le Guin’, Guardian, 25 Jan., 2018 (here)

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