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Apocalypse Soon-ish: A fresh look at Godzilla (2014)

By Lachlan Walter

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Hype can be a terrible thing. Too much of it can induce familiarity and fatigue, so that by the time the ‘product’ arrives (the best of a bad word – the film/TV show/book/whatever) we’re already a bit over it and hence our desire to see or read it is diminished; too little can consign the product to obscurity, forcing it to live in the margins and reach only a cult audience. And then there is hype’s symbiotic twin: expectation. Too much hype can raise our expectations so high that they can’t possibly be met; too little means that our faith in the filmmaker or writer can be lessened. If they don’t believe in their product enough to thoroughly raise our expectations and make us excited to experience their story, then why should we bother with it?

Nowhere is the fomenting and creation of expectation more fraught than when a filmmaker or writer approaches a bygone fiction with the intention of re-presenting it for contemporary audiences, and there can be no more volatile bygone fictions than those that have transcended their genres to become pop-culture staples. In terms of science fiction, think of Star Wars and Star Trek, Dr Who, King Kong, and so on. These are fictions whose characters and ideas have become ingrained in our collective pop-culture consciousness: think of the fact that people around the world declare their religion as ‘Jedi’ or that the suffix ‘Zilla’ has been adopted to describe anything monstrous and unstoppable, most notoriously in the derogatory Bridezilla.

All of this brings us, in a roundabout way, to Godzilla (2014).

Expectations were immediately heightened when it was announced that Gareth Edwards, the director of the serious and thoughtful giant-monster movie Monsters (2010), would be making an American version of this pop-culture icon. There was a feeling that this version would be faithful and that it wouldn’t be a mockery, unlike the Americans’ first attempt back in the 1990s. These expectations were raised higher as its release date drew closer and the hype grew: set photos and teasers and trailers hinted at the potential of greatness, of a sense of scale and menace hitherto unseen. But Godzilla himself is quite a contradictory character, ranging from a destructive and vengeful symbol of humanity’s nuclear folly, to a child-friendly defender of the Earth whose high-kicks, wrestling grapples and karate-chops would be the envy of any MMA master. And so expectations weren’t just high, but were also scattered, unfocussed and ultimately self-defeating. There is no ‘one’ Godzilla, and so there can be no ‘one’ Godzilla movie.

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It’s no wonder, then, that Godzilla (2014) polarised general audiences, fans and critics. Which is a bit of a shame, because looking back at it now that the hype has died down, Edwards’ take on this icon is insightful, subtle, serious, and truly respectful of the character’s sombre origins.

There are three distinct factors that I believe make Godzilla (2014) this way. The first of these is in the subtle insinuation that the appearance of both the MUTOs and Godzilla himself is directly caused by humanity’s interference, domination and despoliation of nature. While this link is a mainstay of Godzilla’s varying origin stories, it is usually explicitly made – after all, in the very first film of the series, he was revived from a frozen-sleep by nuclear testing. But by keeping these causal links subtle, Edwards turns the age-old theme of ‘man plays God’ into something fresh and interesting.

At no point do any characters come out and say that ‘this’ caused ‘that’ in a hand-holding attempt at filling in the blanks for us; instead, we our allowed to come to these conclusions on our own. This is helped along by Edwards’ three-pronged approach to embedding this theme. Firstly, he connects each successive phase of the MUTOs’ evolution and of Godzilla’s appearances with distinctly man-made environments, which we recognise through either direct or indirect experience with their real-world likenesses. Secondly, he juxtaposes these man-made environments with their more ‘wild’ surrounds, as a way of showing just how much environmental damage we can inflict. Thirdly, he shows us the aftermath of the MUTOs’ and Godzilla’s transit through these environments, which forms a further juxtaposition, this time between the environmental damage we can do and the environmental damage they can do.

A good example of this technique occurs in the opening scene, which takes place at an enormous mine deep in the jungles of the Philippines. At first, a wide-shot of the rolling, verdant jungle establishes the scene, which quickly cuts to the cabin of a helicopter flying over it and then cuts back. The deep green of the jungle suddenly disappears before an ugly blight of torn-open earth, towering cranes, flimsy bridges and access roads, all of which are collapsing into a deep cavern. Open inspection of this cavern, Dr Serizawa and his colleagues discover the fossilised remains of a MUTO, as well as two spores, one dead and one empty. The camera quickly cuts to the scene of the second spore’s escape: an enormous trench carved out of the earth on the far side of the mine that leads into the ocean, a trench whose environmental destruction is every bit as stark and total as that of the mine itself.

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This technique is repeated time and again. The Janjira Nuclear Power Plant that becomes a food source for the first incubating MUTO is initially portrayed as a mess of smoke-stacks and towers that loom over a quaint peninsula township, and is then portrayed as the centre of a crumbling ghost town after the MUTO takes residence, a ghost town with deliberate echoes of the empty post-Chernobyl town of Pripyat. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository that provides a smorgasbord for the second MUTO to feed on when regenerating and hatching is first framed as a lonely hill in the desert, until we then realise that it is actually a hollowed-out hill, which we then see has suffered worse damage thanks to the MUTO’s explosive exit. The Hawaiian city of Honolulu, which plays host to the first confrontation between Godzilla and a MUTO, is initially obscured by the dense hill-jungle that surrounds it and then revealed to be a concrete-jungle whose high-rises line the beachfront, which is subsequently flooded by a tsunami caused by Godzilla’s landfall.

Each time, the pattern is the same: here is nature, here is what we can do to it, and here is what they can do to it. The implication isn’t just that their existence is our fault – if we hadn’t dug that mine in the Philippines, if we hadn’t built that power station or hollowed out that mountain, none of this would have happened – but also that we aren’t necessarily at the top of the food chain, and that our impact on the environment is no longer the most damaging. And so in accordance with the film’s logic, Godzilla truly is the ‘alpha predator,’ ruling over both MUTOs and mankind alike.

The way that Edwards’ depicts the monster size, and the way he creates a sense of scale, is the second factor that elevates Godzilla (2014) above its by-the-numbers brethren and stops it from being just another B-movie. Now, this might seem like a superfluous thing to say – it is, after all, a giant-monster movie – but size only matters if it’s used well and if it has something to say. Otherwise, it’s just eye-candy. Luckily, Edwards is a skilled enough filmmakers to be able to impart reflections of his narrative’s themes into his depictions of Godzilla and the MUTOs – the monsters in Godzilla (2014) don’t just do battle and lay waste to cities in an orgy of destruction that is all sizzle and no steak: these moments of action are filled with meaning and subtext, and add another textual layer to the narrative’s implicit messages.

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Time and again, Edwards’ sets up two size comparisons in his various depictions of the monsters: a comparison between people and their ‘built’ environments, and a comparison between these environments and the monsters. In those scenes where the natural environment overshadows the built, a third size comparison enters the play: people with the built, the built with the natural, the built with the monster and the natural together. As an example of Edwards’ double comparison, we only need look to the ‘bridge scene.’ Here, Brody and a group of other soldiers are escorting a nuclear weapon that is being carried by a train; coming to a suspension bridge, they scout ahead to check that everything is safe – these scenes establish the first size comparison, between people and the train and bridge. Of course, a MUTO is lying in wait for the train, and it subsequently attacks the train and the bridge itself, which sets up the second size comparisons, between the train/train and the MUTO.

As an example of Edwards’ triple-comparisons, take the first ‘narrative’ appearance of Godzilla himself (his first appearance excluding the opening credits). We first see our characters at the bridge of a battleship. A warning comes to them: Godzilla is approaching, swimming underwater, and will pass beneath them. The characters duly head out to the deck, and the first size comparison is made: they are dwarfed by the infrastructure of the battleship, made tiny by this marvel of human ingenuity. The second comparison then occurs, as the battleship is framed against the empty and horizon-filling ocean. And then Godzilla passes beneath them, his tail and the fins on his back breaking the surface and causing the battleship to rise and fall. We don’t see any more of him than this, but it is enough to confirm his sheer enormity – just like between the battleship and the ocean, the comparison between Godzilla and the battleship is stark.

The meaning and subtext of this type of framing and this sense of scale is that despite all of our efforts – despite the grandeur of our cities and the magnificence of our machines – we are just ants compared to the monsters, and everything that we’ve made and built is just an anthill. Over and over again, people are shown being dominated by the environments that they have created, which themselves end up being dominated by nature and the monsters together. In other words, we are let down in the end by these things that we have created. Instead, these built environments – environments that, in many ways, have come to dominate the natural and act as self-erected monuments celebrating our pride – are now nothing more than playgrounds for the monsters and vacant land for nature to reclaim. Of course, the implication behind this meaning and subtext, once again, is that we are no longer on top of the food and that Godzilla truly is the ‘alpha predator.’

The third factor that elevates Godzilla (2014) is its unarguable sense of realism. This can be seen in a number of different ways: in the fact that Edwards at least tries to explain the origins of both the MUTOs and Godzilla himself, and to invest them with approximately-appropriate animalistic behavioural traits; in the sense of scale that Edwards conjures, as previously mentioned, and the level of ‘grit’ belonging to the destruction wrought; and in the way that both the MUTOs and Godzilla himself are often only seen either in glimpses or via screens, a reflection of the idea that characters seeing them first-hand would be more focussed on running away rather than taking a good look, while everyone else would be seeing them thanks to media and mobile footage. But perhaps the most interesting is in the way that Edwards positions his characters as determinedly ‘ordinary’ people. These men and women aren’t larger-than-life heroes; they aren’t supposed to just shrug off the awe and horror that Godzilla inspires, and they aren’t there to make a smart-arse quip before saving the day. The events that they experience affect them deeply and make them behave in ways different from the usual, and they react in much the same way that we would. This makes them a lot more relatable, fosters a genuine sense of empathy and connection, and helps anchor the more fantastical parts of the narrative.

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The character of Brody is an excellent example of this type of ‘ordinariness.’ At first, he comes across as reasonably well-rounded: he is shown enjoying time spent with his wife and child, having being given leave from the military; and then shown expressing frustration and anger at his father’s obsessions and compulsions, and then a kind-of resigned acceptance when he is drawn into his father’s schemes. These are fairly ‘ordinary’ responses to these all-too-relatable moments. However, after the appearance of the first MUTO, Brody slowly develops a tendency to look a little blank-faced, to speak in a bit of a monotone, to obey orders almost automatically, and to pare his syntax back to its bare essentials, behaviours that eventually come to dominate his state of being. Now, this could chiefly be explained in one of two ways: bad writing and bad acting, or the realistic actions of a soldier in the field who has been trained to make split-second decisions without a second thought. When we take this line of thinking further and recognise the fact that Brody has found himself not only orphaned but also uncertain as to whether his wife and child are alive or dead, his stilted behaviour starts to make more sense. His slightly robotic movements, flat speech patterns and almost-instinctive reactions start to look more like a kind-of auto-pilot suffered by a soldier undergoing PTSD, a solider who has no choice but to keep on fighting.

A similar dual perspective exists when we look at the character of Dr Serizawa. His transformation from action-oriented character to one that looks on with glazed eyes and a slack jaw could again be attributed to overacting and bad writing, unless we consider the fact that he has suddenly had his life’s work vindicated in the most terrible of ways – he was the one in charge of studying the dormant MUTO, and it was this decision to study it rather than kill it that led to Godzilla’s awakening. If we can imagine what he would actually be feeling – the mixture of elation at being proved right, relief at finally finding an answer after years of searching, and horror at what that answer actually means – then his almost-complete blankness is actually a fairly appropriate and ‘ordinary’ response to what is happening.

Godzilla (2014) isn’t a perfect film (if such a thing as a perfect film even exists) – some of the dialogue is stilted and some of the acting is wooden, Edwards’ decision to somewhat obscure Godzilla himself rather than show him outright is sometimes taken too far, and its focus through a military perspective is somewhat limiting. But it is arguably an excellent giant-monster monster, one that becomes better with repeat viewings, especially now that the hype has died down.

Settle in front of the tube and watch it again, and keep in mind the above factors while you’re doing so. I can’t promise that this time it’ll make your socks go up and down, but it just might…

 

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The Year Ahead in Australian Speculative Fiction — Part 2

Our first issue of 2016 provided a glimpse of the year ahead in Australian speculative fiction, listing release dates for adult science fiction and fantasy across many subgenres.

Following interest in this list, some publishers got in touch to suggest other titles we could mention. We decided to publish a follow-up with more upcoming releases, and posted a callout for any other books we could include.

Here, then, is an additional list of books you can look forward to in 2016. Fans of science fiction and horror will find much to add to their reading lists, but fantasy fans can also anticipate ghosts, magic, and visits to other worlds.

Deanne Sheldon-Collins
Reviews Editor

March
Into the Mist
by Lee Murray
Cohesion Press

Into the Mist

New Zealand mountains are a scenic—but fittingly dangerous—backdrop for a thriller in which an expedition of geologists disappear one by one. The novel’s combination of mystery and science fiction promises an intriguing story, and its military focus promises strong action.

April
SNAFU: Future Warfare
Edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J Spedding
Cohesion Press

SNAFU Future Warfare

The newest in Cohesion’s series of military horror anthologies, this will collect stories on the theme of futuristic battles. Readers who like a dash of the speculative in their action should enjoy this as well as the other SNAFU anthologies.

July
In the Heat of the Day
by Peter Rondel
IFWG Publishing Australia

Environmental science fiction is a topical genre, one that increasingly feels closer to realistic fiction than speculative. Rondel, a short story writer and poet, will move to long form in this novel with an ecological focus.

Star Quake 4: SQ Mag’s Best of 2015
Edited by Sophie Yorkston
IFWG Publishing Australia

The bimonthly SQ Mag publishes diverse fantasy, science fiction, and horror from around the world. This annual anthology celebrates the magazine’s best stories from each previous year.

August
SNAFU: Unnatural Selection
Edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J Spedding
Cohesion Press

The theme of this SNAFU anthology is bio-horror involving military combat. Harking back to the ‘humans versus nature’ genre popular a few decades ago, the stories will focus on soldiers battling wild animals, whether genetic anomalies or creatures that are dangerous without assistance.

September
The Grief Hole
by Kaaron Warren
IFWG Publishing Australia

The second in IFWG’s Dark Phases series, this will be released as clothbound and limited editions before coming out in trade paperback. Warren’s previous, award-winning novels of horror and the supernatural suggest that this psychological tale of ghosts and anguish will live up to the Dark Phases promise of ‘the best of dark fiction’.

October
Engaging Evil
by Cary J Lenehan
Warriors of Vhast book 2
IFWG Publishing Australia

This sequel to Intimations of Evil, Lenehan’s debut, will continue its swords-and-sorcery heroism. The first novel established a variety of characters and quests to follow, and readers should enjoy re-entering the well-built world to discover what happens next.

Devil Dragon
by Deborah Sheldon
Natural Selection book 1
Cohesion Press

Following August’s SNAFU: Unnatural Selection anthology, Cohesion will be launching more bio-horror releases. The Natural Selection series will comprise novels rather than collections, and Sheldon’s Devil Dragon will be the first. With its prehistoric threat looming against an Australian backdrop, this promises to be an interesting take on the science fiction thriller.

November
SNAFU: Black Ops
Edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J Spedding
Cohesion Press

The year’s final SNAFU anthology will continue its tradition of quality military science fiction with an edge of horror.

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The Year Ahead in Australian Speculative Fiction—2016

Last year’s Aurealis #86 ended with a look at some of the Aurealis reviewers’ favourite reads of 2015. Assuming that you trusted in our wisdom and spent the last two months reading all our recommendations, I ask you now to move your gaze forward.

But where to begin? 2016 holds a diverse mix of fantasy sagas and science fiction thrillers. Will you start with much-marketed bestsellers by big-name authors? Will you seek out experimental debuts? Are you leaning towards magic or science, history or future, short fiction or long? These are key questions. To help you make your decision, here is a glimpse of releases you can look forward to this year.

While horror and mystery occasionally lurk among these titles, this list focuses on fantasy and science fiction by Australian authors. It also concentrates on adult SFF. Young Adult is a significant genre that deserves a list of its own, and including it here would have overwhelmed the selection. You can expect plenty of exciting YA titles this year, however, so keep watch online and in our reviews for homegrown spec fic that targets YA readers.

Publication schedules are shapeshifters: many of these release dates are tentative, and more will be announced as the year goes on. But I hope that this list gives you enough information to sketch out a reading list, mark some dates on your calendar, reread a few prequels, and grow excited about the year ahead. We’ve included the first six months of the year below. The full list which includes the remainder of the year appears in our current issue, Aurealis #87.

 

Deanne Sheldon-Collins

Aurealis Reviews Editor

 

Release dates not yet available

 

And Then… The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales anthology

Edited by Lindy Cameron

Clan Destine Press

This will be Clan Destine’s first commissioned anthology—a crowdfunded, two-volume blockbuster of adventure stories. Thirty authors have contributed, including Sophie Masson, Michael Pryor, Jack Dann, Kerry Greenwood, and Alison Goodman. Each story will feature some combination of ‘dynamic duo’, which promises interesting relationships and characterisation amid the swashbuckling action.

 

Successor’s Promise

By Trudi Canavan

Millennium’s Rule book 3

Orbit

Canavan is one of Australia’s biggest names in high fantasy. Successor’s Promise will conclude her latest trilogy, a saga about angels, sorcerers, and mechanical magic.

 

The Bone Queen

By Alison Croggon

Penguin

The Bone Queen

A prequel to Croggon’s epic fantasy quartet The Books of Pellinor, The Bone Queen will tell the backstory of Cadvan of Lirigon. As a standalone, this should be accessible to new readers, but Pellinor fans will also delight in a novel dedicated to one of the quartet’s most popular characters.

 

Keep Calm and Kill the Chef

By Livia Day

Café La Femme book 3

Twelfth Planet Press

This series of cosy mysteries, set in Hobart, features a blend of crime, romance, and cooking. As well as this third novel, Twelfth Planet will release a Café La Femme short story during 2016, so this is an ideal time to read (or reread) the series.

 

The Silver Road

By Grace Dugan

Twelfth Planet Press

This reprint of Grace Dugan’s first novel will anticipate Twelfth Planet’s release of her second, The Motherland Garden, in 2017. The Silver Road is a fantasy about three protagonists whose journeys are linked by the conspiracies of a secret society.

 

Shadowmancy

By Jason Franks

Satalyte

A dark fantasy set in a magical academy, this novel follows a young man studying magic in the aftermath of his father’s disgrace. The nature of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ is a common trope, but it remains interesting when a skilled writer uses it to interrogate morality and power. Franks has explored these themes in his other work, and Shadowmancy looks like a promising take on the vulnerable young anti-hero.

 

Tallwood

By Amanda Kool

Satalyte

The blurb for this post-apocalyptic novel reads like a prose poem: ‘She kept quiet, kept her animals quiet. She abandoned sound, made talk with her hands. She changed her weapons, her way of killing. She stayed underground like the rabbit, acting like the prey.’ Dystopia remains a hugely popular subgenre of science fiction, but Kool’s approach to it sounds refreshingly dreamy and surreal.

 

Evolution Annie

By Rosaleen Love

Twelfth Planet Press

Evolution Annie

Evolution Annie was originally published in 1993 and has become difficult to find, so Twelfth Planet’s releasing the collection as an ebook is exciting news. Love writes science fiction with powerful undercurrents of satire, feminism, and philosophy, and it will be intriguing to explore her early work.

 

The Fear Collectors

By Lauren E Mitchell

Satalyte

A mysterious clinic, supernatural conspiracies, and a sister in danger. Mitchell’s debut novel promises psychological horror and high emotional stakes.

 

The Mocklore Chronicles

By Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fablecroft

Fablecroft will be releasing the first two Mocklore novels, Splashdance Silver and Liquid Gold, in a print omnibus. While this will be a reprint of previously published novels, Roberts will also write a new short story collection, currently untitled, set in her wickedly quirky Mocklore world.

 

January

 

City of Light

By Keri Arthur

Outcast book 1

Hachette

City of Light

Urban fantasy is another hugely popular subgenre, and Arthur’s writing delivers the kind of action that fans expect. With its supersoldier protagonist, supernatural antagonists, and dystopian setting, this new series will appeal to readers who like a touch of cyberpunk in their paranormal.

 

Blood of Innocents

By Mitchell Hogan

Sorcery Ascendant Sequence book 2

HarperVoyager

This is the sequel to Hogan’s debut novel, Crucible of Souls, an Aurealis Award-winning bestseller originally self-published and now available from HarperVoyager. Continuing the story of a monk-raised orphan learning forbidden sorcery, this is high fantasy for those who enjoy epics.

 

Who’s Afraid?

By Maria Lewis

Hachette

Lewis’s debut novel is a werewolf story with a difference. That’s a claim you may be tired of hearing, but this tale of a young Maori werewolf shows signs of bringing something new to the genre. A sequel, Who’s Afraid Too?, is also forthcoming.

 

February

 

The Lyre Thief

By Jennifer Fallon

War of the Gods book 1

HarperVoyager

Lyre Thief

This is the first book in a new series that follows on from Fallon’s popular Demon Child Trilogy and Hythrun Chronicles. In high fantasy tradition, the novel will follow several characters as their separate journeys gradually intertwine—in this case, amid a search for stolen music. Swords and sorcery fans should enjoy this saga of gods, battles, and politicking.

 

The Bloody Quarrel

By Duncan Lay

Arbalester Trilogy book 2 (omnibus)

Momentum

This sequel to The Last Quarrel continues its story of occult magic, sinister plots, and political intrigue. This fantasy will appeal to fans of Lay’s Empire of Bones and Dragon Sword Histories series.

 

Kings Rising

By CS Pacat

Captive Prince Trilogy book 3

Penguin Random House

Kings Rising

Pacat originally published Captive Prince, the first in her debut trilogy, as an online serial, after which a commercial publisher picked up the series. Kings Rising concludes this popular trilogy of detailed worldbuilding, dark romance, and tense power games.

 

Dark Child (Bloodsworn)

By Adina West

Dark Child book 3 (omnibus)

Momentum

As a digital imprint of Pan Macmillan, Momentum explores the old tradition of serialised novels through the newer platform of ebooks. Released episodically, these ebooks are then collected into omnibus editions. Bloodsworn will combine the episodes of the third Dark Child book, an urban fantasy about warring witches and vampires.

 

March

Helix: Episode 1

By Nathan M Farrugia

Helix book 1

Momentum

The first episode in a new ebook serial, this will be a science fiction techno-thriller from the author of the Fifth Column series. Farrugia’s training in martial arts and survival should give his action an extra edge.

 

The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower

By Kate Forsyth

Fablecroft

This essay collection is non-fiction, but its study of fairytales and fantasy gives it a speculative focus. Comprising Forsyth’s doctoral dissertation and other pieces on folklore, The Rebirth of Rapunzel will appeal to any reader curious about the wealth of history behind fairytale traditions.

 

The Map of Bones

By Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon book 2

HarperVoyager

The Map of Bones

This novel will continue the story of a dystopia in which radioactive fallout causes everyone to be born a twin. One twin is always the ‘perfect’ Alpha and lives in privilege, while the other is the ‘deformed’ Omega and cast out—but both die together. This premise provides conflict and the potential for strong characterisation, and it will be interesting to see where Haig takes the story in this sequel.

 

Emperor of the Eight Islands (books 1 and 2)

Lord of the Darkwood (books 3 and 4)

By Lian Hearn

The Tale of Shikanoko series

Hachette

Set 300 years before Hearn’s bestselling Tales of the Otori, this series will take place in the same alternate Japan. Hearn’s familiarity with Japanese culture gave depth to her previous novels’ world-building, and this new tale looks like another atmospheric adventure with supernatural elements.

 

In Your Face anthology

Edited by Tehani Wessely

Fablecroft

The next crowdfunded anthology from the publisher that brought out Cranky Ladies of History, In Your Face will feature new and reprinted stories from authors including Cat Sparks, Sean Williams, and Angela Slatter. The anthology aims to be confronting, but not gratuitously so; it will be a space for authors to explore provocative issues through the lens of speculative fiction.

 

April

 

Limerence

By Charlotte McConaghy

The Cure book 3 (omnibus)

Momentum

Limerence

McConaghy has a gift for creating high emotional stakes and complex relationships, and the Cure trilogy examines the place of love in a dark, dystopian setting. Collecting the forthcoming episodes of a serialised novel, the Limerence omnibus will complete McConaghy’s latest series.

 

A World of Ash

By Justin Woolley

The Territory book 3

Momentum

A World of Ash

A World of Ash will conclude Woolley’s debut series, a trilogy that combines steampunk and dystopia, zombies and intrigue, suspense and heart.

 

May

 

Defying Doomsday anthology

Edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench

Twelfth Planet Press

Here is another refreshing take on the apocalypse subgenre—an anthology about disabled characters navigating dystopian landscapes. This promises to be another meaningful collection from a publisher dedicated to representing diverse voices.

 

The Summon Stone

By Ian Irvine

Gates of Good and Evil book 1

Orbit

The Summon Stone

Fans of Irvine’s bestselling The View From the Mirror quartet will rejoice over this new series. This will be the first book in the Three Worlds Cycle to return to protagonists Karan and Llian, who will be fighting to protect their young daughter from a powerful warrior who has ordered her killed.

 

Nevernight

By Jay Kristoff

The Nevernight Chronicle book 1

HarperVoyager

Kristoff has drawn attention recently for The Illuminae Files, his popular and ongoing collaboration with Amie Kaufman. Nevernight will be his next solo novel, and it targets more an adult than a YA readership. At a glance, the premise—an apprentice assassin seeking revenge for her family—reads as fairly standard. However, this looks like a dark, atmospheric fantasy with a strong emotional core.

 

The Fall of the Dagger

By Glenda Larke

The Forsaken Lands book 3

Orbit

Concluding Larke’s latest trilogy, this will be a swashbuckling epic of piracy, spywork, and sorcery.

 

Stiletto

By Daniel O’Malley

HarperCollins

 Stiletto

 This sequel to the Aurealis Award-winning The Rook will continue the offbeat fun of its predecessor. Conspiracies, diplomacy, and bureaucracy collide in O’Malley’s dark but entertaining fantasy thrillers.

 

June

 

Sharp Shooter and Sharp Turn

By Marianne Delacourt

Tara Sharp books 1 and 2

Twelfth Planet Press

Throughout 2016, Twelfth Planet will be rereleasing this series of lighthearted mysteries. Written under a pseudonym by science fiction author Marianne de Pierres, the series has a paranormal element but focuses on humour, romance, and whodunits. Set in Perth and Brisbane, the Tara Sharp novels have a strongly Australian atmosphere and voice rarely found in the urban fantasy genre.

 

Something New Can Come Into This World

By Grant Watson

Twelfth Planet Press

Following last year’s thought-provoking Letters to Tiptree, this will be Twelfth Planet’s second anthology of non-fiction. Bringing together the film reviews of science fiction critic Watson, this collection of essays will span various genres.

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Changes to Aurealis Submission Guidelines

Check out the changes to the Aurealis submission guidelines. The two main changes are:

  1. We’re now open to submissions in English from anywhere in the multiverse.
  2. We now have two reading periods: 1 February—31 May and 1 August—31 October.

Some of the things that haven’t changed:

  • We’re still looking for science fiction, fantasy or horror short stories between 2000 and 8000 words.
  • Subscribers are still fast-tracked through the assessment process.
  • We still don’t publish reprints, poetry or novel extracts, and we don’t serialise longer works.
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Aurealis looking for Readers – extended deadline

It’s not too late to apply to be a Reader for Aurealis magazine.  We are looking to expand our team of Readers. If you love science fiction, fantasy and/or horror, feel you have a discerning eye for a good story, and would like to read and assess short story submissions to Aurealis, please contact our Submissions Manager at submissions@aurealis.com.au with your expression of interest by 31 January 2016. Please include the titles of the three novels you last read, plus the titles of your favourite novel and your favourite short story and why they are your favourites in 50-100 words.

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AUREALIS NON-FICTION SUBMISSIONS

Submissions are now open for non-fiction contributions for Aurealis in 2016. Aurealis is published 10 times a year from February to November.

The Editors are interested in non-fiction between 500 and 2000 words of interest to readers and writers of SF, fantasy and horror. These include humorous pieces, serious articles and interviews. Preference is given to non-fiction where some visuals are included.

This year’s highlights include Lachlan Walter’s ‘Dissecting SF’ series, time travel, flying cars and interviews with Shane Abbess, the Spierig Brothers, John Scalzi, Peter Hamilton and Thoraiya Dyer. Gillian Pollack has been exploring early Aust SF through the works of Linebarger and Shute.

So if there’s something going on (or did go on) in the world of SF, fantasy and horror in Australia that you’d like to share, please let us know. If all you have is an idea, then a little encouragement is all you will need.

Our payment is $20 per 1000 words. Send all non-fiction and queries to nonfiction@aurealis.com.au.

Terry Wood

Non-Fiction Coordinator

Aurealis

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Enter your Science Fiction movie script into the Awards for Excellence in SF screenwriting!

John Hinde Award

Produced or unproduced, the Australian Writers’ Guild is looking for exceptional science fiction

Entries are now open for the 2015 John Hinde Awards for Excellence in Science Fiction screenwriting. Through a bequest from the late Australian film critic John Hinde, the Australian Writers’ Guild is offering $10,000 for the best produced script and professional support for the best unproduced script submitted. Submissions close Monday 4 January 2016.

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Apocalypse Soon-ish: In Defence Of Ordinary

By Lachlan Walter

Nowadays, it seems that most of the fantastical places that exist within science fiction and its sub-genres (post-apocalyptic fiction, superhero narratives, teen dystopias, literary genre fiction, and so on) only serve to to let us explore The End Of The World, to the point that it almost feels like you can’t sit down to watch a movie or television show without being confronted by yet another variation on the apocalypse or yet another depiction of humanity under threat (written fiction is a different matter, and shall be dealt with at a different time).

Even though these ‘visual fictions’ can use the fantastical places existing within them to frame an exploration of a million different themes and ideas, for many of their creators it seems that the end of the world and threats to humanity have somehow become the sole themes worth exploring. Consequently, these two themes then serve as the default endpoints for their narrative structures – it’s as if the only way to now end a science fiction story is by having the protagonists confront a fast-approaching extinction event or apocalyptic moment. These endpoints, of course, have an ‘echo’ effect regarding the narrative events preceding them, whereby the various characters’ actions, choices, attitudes and evolving psychological natures really only reach resolution in the face of the fast-approaching extinction or apocalypse. In other words, the character development and character-based confrontations that do occur usually serve only to set-up their eventual resolutions during the endpoint. When done well, combining the personal story of characters resolving their differences with the action story of the characters confronting the extinction event or apocalyptic moment can create an interesting textual fusion. Sadly, all-too-often it just adds another layer of ‘noise’ to the mess of action and spectacle, and frequently seems perfunctory and underdone.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs. By conflating character development with narrative resolution, these kinds of fictions deny us the very things that allow us to lose ourselves in a story: empathy and connection. By definition, none of us have experience of an alien invasion, or a destructive AI (or any kind of AI for that matter), or a complete ecological collapse, or people who can fly or possess super strength, or a war against robots. Therefore, none of us can ‘directly’ relate to these situations. But what we can directly relate to are character traits that we all share, the things that make us all human, the things that define all of us: love, community, companionship, joy, purpose. And let’s not forget their more negative but equally important correlates: anger, hate, loneliness, unhappiness, ennui and angst.

These are the triumphs and tragedies that make us who and what we are; they represent the wonder, horror, beauty and ugliness that is life. For want of a better word, they are ‘ordinary’ things, so everyday and everywhere that we are often barely even consciously thinking of them.

And it seems like nowadays a lot of people think that ‘ordinary’ equals ‘boring’.

This kind of disdain isn’t only seen in the proliferation and popularity of narratives that revolve around yet another variation on the end of the world or yet another depiction of humanity under threat at the expense of character development or emotional exploration; we also see it in certain critical reactions to those fictions that eschew this fascination with extinction events and impending apocalypses and instead turn their focus on smaller and more ‘ordinary’ themes. Take James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013), Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man (2015) and Drew Goddard’s Daredevil (2015) as just examples (superhero narratives are fitting subjects for examination, as they seem to constantly be one-upping each other in terms of the dangers faced within). While none of these fictions are ‘perfect’ (if such a thing as a ‘perfect’ fiction even exists), Mangold, Reed and Goddard should be commended for restricting the scope of their narratives and focusing on character-driven and emotion-rich stories where the fate of the world isn’t at stake – they are ‘smaller’ and more intimate than their kin, dealing with themes of betrayal, loyalty, family, redemption, guilt and responsibility. Instead, a significant number of critics chided them for their more human focus and less over-the-top approach, bandying about belittling yet superficially polite terms such as ‘modest’, ‘humble’, ‘small scale’ and ‘perfectly fine’. At times, the word ‘boring’ was even used to describe the emphasis on character and development over that of spectacle and that ever-elusive ‘wow’ factor; not because the particular scenes highlighted were actually boring but because they slowed the momentum or detracted from the action or didn’t include a fight scene every 15-minutes.

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Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) is another film that received this kind of dismissive critical reception, despite Edwards’ declared intention to give his version of the pop-culture icon a sense of realism (and therefore a sense of ‘ordinariness’). While the film does have its flaws – some of the dialogue is stilted and some of the acting is wooden, and Edwards’ decision to somewhat obscure Godzilla himself rather than show him outright is sometimes taken too far – the line between criticism of technique and criticism of style and thematic intent is blurred. Take the character of Brody as an example. His tendency to look a little blank-faced, to speak in a bit of monotone, to obey orders almost without a thought, and to pare his syntax back to its bare essentials, could be chiefly explained in one of two ways: bad writing and bad acting, or the realistic actions of a soldier in the field who has been trained to be proactive and to make split-second decisions. When we take this second line of thinking further, and take into account the fact that Brody has suddenly found himself not only orphaned but also unable to know whether his own wife and child are alive or dead, his slightly robotic movements, flat speech patterns and almost-automatic behaviour starts to look more like a form of auto-pilot suffered by a soldier undergoing a type of PTSD whilst simultaneously having to keep on fighting. A similar dual perspective exists when we look at the character of Dr Serizawa. His transition from action-oriented character to one that looks on with glazed eyes and a slack jaw could be attributed to overacting and bad writing, unless we consider the fact that he has suddenly had his life’s work vindicated in the most terrible of ways. If we can imagine what he would actually be feeling – if we can put ourselves in his head and imagine the churning emotions, the mixture of elation at being proved right and relief at finally finding an answer after years of searching and horror at what that answer means – then we can see that his almost-complete blankness is actually a fairly appropriate response to what is happening.

These men aren’t supposed to be supermen; they aren’t supposed to just shrug off these incredible and devastating events and creatures or make a smart-arse quip or get their flirt on. And yet it’s almost as if people have come to expect just about every science fiction character to be more than human, even in films as avowedly realist as Godzilla. It’s as if they expect these kinds of characters to be able to shoulder any burden and smile while doing so, or be able to patch-up a damaged relationship and fight off aliens at the same time. And so they’re disappointed when these characters are anything less than godlike. The end result? More and more films and TV shows that sacrifice story, substance and emotional weight for action, spectacle and that ever-elusive ‘wow’ factor; poorer and far-less immersive narratives; and far fewer characters like those above, who behave in a realistic way in the face of something that’s almost beyond understanding, and either freeze or become automatic.

I know which themes, techniques, characters and styles I prefer. And I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that most of us would respond in the exact same as Brody or Dr Serizawa.

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Apocalypse Soon-Ish: How ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Has Set a New Benchmark for Genre Films

By Lachlan Walter

Like presumably most diehard fans of Australian genre-fiction, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). The hype had been built long before it hit the screens: George Miller had dropped tantalising titbits of information during its production, and the multiple trailers held out hope of something that was not only fast and rugged and thoroughly ‘Mad Max’, but also somehow more real than other contemporary blockbusters. Expectations were high, and no-one wanted another pale imitation of a cinema classic masquerading as a remake/reboot/pseudo-sequel a la Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), Conan the Barbarian (2011), Predators (2010), Prometheus (2012) or Matthijs van Heijningen’s version of The Thing (2011).

mad max 1To cause us further worry, fans of Australian genre-fiction cherish Miller’s original Mad Max series. Its lived-in world, deeply-set sense of place, larrikin sense of humour and almost-punkish DIY ethos are ‘Australian-isms’ that we were all proud to see enshrined on screen in such fresh and original ways, and none of us wanted to see Miller tarnish this legacy.

I’m happy to say that, in what might just be a first, my expectations were exceeded. In fact, I believe that Mad Max: Fury Road might just be the best genre film in a long, long time.

But not entirely in ways that I had foreseen.

The first thing that differentiates Mad Max: Fury Road from most other contemporary genre films is the way in which it weaves its ‘action’ into the narrative (and vice-versa). Too often, action scenes seem to exist solely for their own sake: we seldom see character revealed or story told through action, and the big set-pieces that pad out so many genre films usually serve little narrative purpose. Think of the ‘Metropolis Battle’ in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), the ‘Sieges of Zion’ in the sequels to The Matrix (2003), any of the action scenes from Michael Bay’s Transformers series (2007-20014) or any of the space battles in the Star Wars prequels (1999-2005). These types of scenes and set-pieces present themselves as little more than spectacle; the narrative usually stops dead along with any sense of momentum, and we the viewer are suddenly disengaged from the film – we might look upon the images with something approximating awe, impressed by the CGI magic unfolding before us, but this awe comes at the expense of our connection to the characters and the story. Thus disengaged, we become far more aware of everything that exists outside of the film, and it consequently becomes far less immersive.

Mad Max: Fury Road avoids almost all of these pitfalls: most of its action exists either as part of the story or to push the story forward. Its narrative never grinds to a halt to let a pointless visual suddenly dominate and shout: ‘I am spectacle, behold!’ Instead, Mad Max: Fury Road is pure spectacle from beginning to end, spectacle that drives and frames the story. This is mostly because of Miller’s genius at fusing narrative and action. By structuring Mad Max: Fury Road around a chase without end, he ensures that there is always a sense of forward momentum (the chase itself) as well as a confined location (the War Rig), which is almost constantly under attack and home to a number of different characters. The chase begins in the first scene, and Miller initially withholds the reasons as to why it is happening. Instead, we are forced to share Max’s perspective and position, and are bundled up and swept along by the momentum of the chase. This engages us straightway as it provokes questions in us: What’s happening? Why are those particular characters chasing those particular characters? What exactly has been stolen, and how does it impact on the established world? Over the next half-hour, answers are slowly revealed, until Max arrives at the War Rig and certain things fall into place and the next phase of the story and the chase begins.

Here, the War Rig ‘concentrates’ the characters’ interactions within it; with nowhere else to go, their conversations and interactions feel natural, and reveal narrative detail and backstory and so on. Exposition like this tends not to feel forced, as we can all relate to similar situations that provoke unexpected and character revealing conversations (road trips, family holidays, long distance house-moves). However, the fact that the characters confined in the War Rig are always either under attack or under impending attack means that some of these conversations and interactions necessarily occur during the attacks. And so the two become one as the rest of the film plays out, action and story occurring simultaneously, often with each informing the other (for example: a freshly talked-about memory triggering an unexpected behaviour, or the need to shoot straight revealing a newly learned understanding).

The second thing that really makes Mad Max: Fury Road stand out from the crowd is the depth of its world-building, which is manifested in the sense of a wider ‘Mad Max’ universe that exists beyond what we see in the film.

This is something that is all too often neglected in genre fiction, as much of it instead concentrates only on the world inhabited by the protagonists and antagonists, with the story’s wider universe only shown if it directly affects the characters and their arcs. This is to the stories’ detriment, as it can ‘remove’ us from the story because we begin to wonder how the world we’re shown fits into its wider universe. In the absence of any evidence of a wider universe, we then find ourselves less immersed in the story because its existence as a ‘limited’ piece of fiction becomes apparent. This is doubly true of post-apocalyptic fiction, as the universes therein pose very specific problems: Where do food and water come from? How are these neo-societies structured?

Once again, Mad Max: Fury Road avoids most of these pitfalls, and it does so in the best possible way. Rather than making Mad Max: Fury Road’s wider universe obvious and obtrusive, Miller subtly hints at its existence, providing just evidence to keep us within the story. Just a few examples include the existence of The Bullet Farm and Gasoline Town, which are mentioned but never shown, and hint at an established trade network with The Citadel; and the eerie ‘Crane People’ that inhabit the swamplands, which provide a glimpse of a society seemingly completely disconnected from the previous settlements.

However, Miller also ensures that these hints of a wider universe are complimented by a thorough approach to building the world that we do see. This ensures that the ‘logic’ of Mad Max: Fury Road’s narrative is almost watertight, which once again keeps us ‘within’ its world. And even when world-building story features aren’t properly explained or are only alluded to, their sheer existence allows us to more fully suspend our sense of disbelief. We see this time and time again: the ritualistic behaviour and appearance of the War Boys; Immortan Joe’s status as a pseudo-emperor; the brief glimpses of hydroponic and outdoor gardens in and around The Citadel; the offhand remarks regarding the aquifer beneath it; the classist structure of its society; the existence of Gasoline Town explaining where their fuel comes from. These things tell us that the world of Mad Max: Fury Road and the societies within it have structures and hierarchies; they have ways of feeding themselves and access to water; they have ways of travelling and a trade system. In other words, they are societies that are a warped reflection of our own, and because we understand the logic by which they operate, we can once again embrace the story rather than question it.

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The third thing that really makes Mad Max: Fury Road stand out lies in the fact that women drive its narrative and are, along with Max, central characters that possess their own agency. Some people have also made this a controversial aspect, with certain hairy-knuckled critics decrying the fact that ‘Max gets ordered around by a woman’ and that he functions more as a co-main character than an out-and-out hero. These criticisms occur despite the fact that in both The Road Warrior (1981) and Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Max was hardly the one who drove the narrative forward. Instead, to prolong his own survival, he allowed himself to be ensnared in the schemes of others, just like in Mad Max: Fury Road. However, Miller takes this process further by ensuring that in Mad Max: Fury Road, the schemes that Max is ensnared in are thought-up and carried out by women and for women.

But this doesn’t make the film a feminist critique or mean that men’s enjoyment of the film is somehow diminished. Firstly, Miller’s weaving of feminist thought-lines into the narrative is subtle and never allowed to overshadow the central story or the thrill and momentum of the chase. Secondly, because the film is so defiant in its own approach, and because its world has been so thoroughly built and its story and action are so well intertwined, the story of these women feels like a completely ‘accurate’ story within the confines of the film’s universe, and it occurs with enough momentum and rawness to make it seem authentic. It doesn’t feel forced or faked, but ‘right.’ And this is something that not enough genre films do. Too often, men’s stories seem to dominate the narratives of genre fiction, and it seems that this is sometimes because many writers and creators aren’t prepared to think far enough outside the box to posit women-centric stories being the focus of their imagined future worlds. As Miller shows, a good story told well is something magnificent, no matter whether it’s a story about men or one about women.

These aren’t the only reasons why I think that Mad Max: Fury Road might just be the best genre film in a long, long time (a lack of space prevents me from continuing, and such is my excitement that I could just go on and on). But if your appetite needs further whetting, I’ll just quickly say that you should also look to the maniacal glee that Miller pours into the film (yes, that really is a truck carrying drummers and a guitarist and a wall full of amps, whose job is to whip the War Boys into a frenzy); and the sheer rawness that comes from what’s happening on screen being almost completely real (the little CGI that was used was mostly reserved for backgrounds and scenery); and the deft homages to the original trilogy (The music box! The hidden weapons! The fizzing shotgun! The handcuffs and the saw!).

Or just go and see it. You won’t regret it.