The Year's Best Australian SF & Fantasy, Two

Edited by Bill Congreve & Michelle Marquardt

The Year's Best Australian SF & Fantasy, TwoPaperback 195 mm x 128 mm (73/4 in x 5 in), 286 pages.
ISBN 0-9757736-1-5
RRP $19.95 (inc GST)
(Published June 2006)


Welcome to the second annual edition of The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. Before moving on to discussing the year in Australian fantasy, SF and horror short stories, we'd like to take a moment to discuss what this book is about.

Short fiction in the speculative genres by Australian writers is published around the world. Publications range from major newspapers, magazines and websites, to anthologies and collections from major publishers, through to the active, vocal and often quite innovative small press market, with its own range of magazines, anthologies, collections and websites. Some of this fiction is visible in the mass market in Australia, the vast majority is not. Internationally, larger populations make niche publishing of genre fiction into the mass market financially viable. In Australia this is mostly not possible, yet an increasing number of writers, editors and publishers are cutting their teeth and learning their trade in a flourishing small press industry made possible by the world wide web and new, economical, short print run publishing technology — a grass roots phenomenon repeated in most cultures around the world.

The purpose of this book is to collect the best of that fiction, small press and otherwise, wherever it has been published, into one volume.

For the series, we consider stories published in the calendar year anywhere in the world, either by Australian authors or by authors resident in Australia. For last year's volume, we read nearly four hundred stories totalling a million and a quarter words. For this volume, calendar year of 2005, we read about five hundred stories totalling just over a million words. But we aren't mind readers. If you've published a story in the science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, or urban gothic genres, or any story which involves fantastical, otherworldly or futuristic elements, please send it to us. You'll find submission details on our website.

Before we move on and discuss Australian publications, we'd like to take a moment to lament the passing of SciFiction, the Ellen Datlow edited fiction component of media news website SciFi.com. SciFiction flourished for many years as an important market for short SF. Its archives are still available and are highly recommended as one of the most significant online repositories of SF.

* * *

We make no claim to have considered all the novels published by Australians in 2005, yet the following attracted our attention for various reasons.

The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood (Vintage, Random House), was first published in 2004. In 2005, this literary atmospheric ghost story won the International Horror Guild Award for best first novel.

Geodesica Ascent, by Sean Williams with Shane Dix (Voyager, Harper Collins), proves that space opera with big ideas and good characters can still provoke, entertain, and generate a sense of wonder.

Spotted Lily, by Anna Tambour (Prime), is a quirky, modern day fantasy in which the Devil drops in on a Sydney university student.

The Prisoner: The Prisoner's Dilemma, by Jonathan Blum and Rupert Booth (Powys Media), is a TV series tie-in novel. The theme of cultural upheaval, political paranoia and the political manipulation of public perceptions is as relevant today as it was in the Vietnamese war era when the TV series first aired.

The Chronicles of Kydan 2: Rival's Son, by Simon Brown (Tor, Pan Macmillan Aust), is the second volume of a fantasy series of war and political ambition.

Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier (Penguin), is a smart, urban young adult fantasy in which magic is both a curse and a gift and there are no easy alternatives for its users.

Uglies, by Scott Westerfield (Simon Pulse), the first in a three volume young adult science fiction series, is set in a world where everyone becomes beautiful, for a price, and saying no is the most dangerous choice of all.

This list is by no means representative of the range of published work. For a more balanced view, the following novels won Aurealis Awards for the year of 2005:

Gold Aurealis: Alyzon Whitestarr, by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin)

Science Fiction: Eclipse, by K. A. Bedford (Edge)

Fantasy: The Bridei Chronicles 2: The Blade of Fortrieu, by Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan)

Young Adult: Alyzon Whitestarr, by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin)

Childrens: Drowned Wednesday, by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin).

The following novels have received nominations for the Ditmar Award for best Australian novel of 2005:

Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier (Razorbill, Penguin)

Drowned Wednesday, by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness, by Scott Westerfeld (Eos)

Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill, Penguin)

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster)

Geodesica Ascent, by Sean Williams with Shane Dix, (Voyager, Harper Collins).

Outside of these recommendations, a number of SF news and reviews websites are available. Try these:


In 2005, the number of anthologies and collections more than tripled over 2004's figure, to nineteen. Again, independent presses and internet publishing dominated. While the number of stories rose, the combined length fell. Flash fiction again dominated the numbers, but not the quality, with too many stories reinventing the tropes of the past, or taking on the form of political fable. While it is comforting to see so much grass roots concern about the political state of the nation, the preaching tone of many stories is an easy answer which helps neither narrative nor message.

Independent publishing has also been a traditional home of the well-crafted book, one which is not just a joy to read, but also to hold and to own. Another trend we noticed is the willingness of some small press publications to learn, and take responsibility for style, layout, proofreading, and other procedural aspects of publishing. Sadly, the converse is also true.

In short fiction, more high fantasy was published in 2005 than in the last couple of years, and the kind of hard SF that bends your mind around the wonder of the universe has also made a return. However, slipstream and cross-genre fiction, sometimes labelled as 'New Weird', still dominated small press markets.

Details of all publications mentioned below can be found in the appendix on page 240.

Of the local websites, Shadowed Realms posted six issues, featuring a range of fiction from Australia and around the world, including stories by Robert Hood, Terry Dowling, Poppy Brite and Lee Battersby. The same team were responsible for one of the more welcome and ambitious publications of the year: ShadowBox is a cd of seventy-odd horror flash fiction pieces, mostly from Australia, all but one illustrated by Shane Jiraiya Cummings. The presentation is attractive, the artwork is disturbing when it needs to be, and always complements the fiction. Profits go to charity, and to help support the emerging Australian Horror Writers Association.

The other main web publication, Ticonderoga Online, posted four issues of fiction and articles, including stories by Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks listed in our recommended reading, and Antipodean SF, published by the indefatigable Ion Newcombe, posted a dozen issues of flash fiction.

Only one collection, Garth Nix's Across the Wall, came from a major publishing house (Allen & Unwin) in Australia. Across the Wall is a strong selection of mostly reprinted fantasy stories. The lead novella, 'Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case', won the Aurealis Awards mentioned above. Bill's personal favourite of the collection is 'Hope Chest' reprinted from Sharyn November's Firebirds anthology of 2003.

Jack Dann's The Fiction Factory (Golden Gryphon) is a collection of collaborative efforts between Dann and a host of other writers. In other venues, Dann has been pursuing an America that did not, quite, exist, with a series of alternate world stories exploring the death of the American dream post-war in the late 1950s and 1960s, stories featuring iconic personalities of the time. A collection is forthcoming.

Kaaron Warren published her first collection, The Grinding House, through CSFG Publishing. A number of the stories original to the collection have been nominated for awards, and the book is always thoughtful, imaginative and viscerally emotional.

Lucy Sussex published A Tour Guide in Utopia (MirrorDanse), a retrospective of her last fifteen years as a writer; Chuck McKenzie published his first collection of edgy SF and horror humour Confessions of a Pod Person (MirrorDanse). As publisher of the above two volumes, Bill declares his interest here. The Traveling Tide, by Rosaleen Love, is the fifth in Aqueduct Press' 'Conversation Pieces' series of feminist SF. Other collections were Journeys, by Steve Duffy, and Retribution and other Reactions, by Derek Smith (Equilibrium).

Kate Forsyth — writing as Kate Humphries — published a poetry collection, Radiance, through Altair Australia Books. Altair also published Tales of the Dragon for popular epic fantasy writer, Tony Shillitoe, and Walking in the Garden of the Mind for Sophie Masson, well known for her young adult fantasies, often on historical themes.

Of the magazines, the rapidly improving Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine most reliably met its schedule, keeping faith with readers, writers, advertisers, reviewers, booksellers, and distributors with five issues. The long-running Aurealis published a single massive issue with a number of strong stories early in 2005, but was quiet for the remainder of the year. Of the smaller magazines, Borderlands published two strong issues, Fables and Reflections one, and the horror magazine Dark Animus, two. Sf-envision.com was a single volume publication of the EnVision workshop in Brisbane. All include a mix of fiction, reviews and articles.

The standout anthology of the year was the well-conceived and thought-out Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales, edited by Robert Hood and Robin Pen for the independent Agog! Press. This is a glorious celebration of the giant monster — giant as in Godzilla, or Mothra, or ... You get the idea. The anthology admirably shows the frailty of humanity when faced with the true scale of the universe, yet also documents humanity's strengths of spirit, attitude and adventure.

Other independent press anthologies include Robots and Time, edited by Robert Stephenson and Shane Jiraiya Cummings, a theme anthology of mostly reprinted stories from Altair Books. The Devil in Brisbane, edited by Zoran Zivkovic for Prime Books, is a theme anthology where writers do deals with the devil in Brisbane. A number of stories, read individually, stand on their own, but the whole is held back by the limited nature of the concept. Other anthologies were The CSFG Gastronomicon, a collection of recipes and flash fiction edited by Stuart Barrow for CSFG Publishing, and Mitch? Four: Slow Dancing in Quicksand, edited by Mitch.

The single anthology from a major publisher was the wide-ranging Kids' Night In 2 (Penguin), edited by Jessica Adams and a host of others. Stories came from both the United Kingdom and Australia, including strong pieces by Jackie French and Glenda Millard; royalties go to the War Child charity.

There you have it, a quick look at the field in Australia in 2005. We hope you enjoy the selection we've chosen.

—Bill Congreve & Michelle Marquardt, Sydney 2006

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