Leave a comment

Aurealis is looking for non-fiction

Got an idea for a non-fiction article? Not sure if it will work. Send Aurealis an email and tell us. Maybe you’ve lined up an author interview, been watching trends in speculative fiction, seen something in science that spec fiction readers will find interesting, got something you just need to get off your chest.

In the last few years, Aurealis has published articles on the history of spec fiction in Australia, monsters, interstellar warfare, utopia, AfroSF, Kafka, artificial wombs, robotics, world-building, HP Lovecraft, non-violent SF—and lots of interviews and more.

We are interested in articles between 500 and 2000 words of interest to readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror.. These include humorous pieces, serious articles and interviews. We prefer non-fiction where some visuals are included. Non-fiction must be previously unpublished and remain unpublished for 12 months after publication in Aurealis. Our payment is A$20 per 1000 words. Send all non-fiction articles and queries to nonfiction@aurealis.com.au.

Leave a comment

Gateway Kids SF Books

What were the kids’ books that got you into Science Fiction? At Aurealis, we’ve done a quick survey and here’s a decade by decade breakdown of some of the most influential kids SF books.

  • 1950s: any of Robert A Heinlein’s ‘juveniles’. Maybe some of the first real YA books.
  • 1960s: Andre Norton was one of the strongest voices writing SF for young readers in the 1960s. Hugely influential.
  • 1970s: John Christopher’s ‘Tripod’ trilogy converted a whole generation to SF.
  • 1980s: Space Demons was read by just about all teens in Australia and was an introduction to proto-cyberpunk.
Leave a comment

What’s the Most Popular Genre?

[This is Dirk Strasser’s editorial from Aurealis #116, our November 2018 issue.]

How popular is fantasy & science fiction compared to other fiction genres? Is its popularity trending up or down? These are obvious questions for a magazine like Aurealis to ask. My hunch based on my experiences in the industry would have been it was in the top two (or maybe three) most popular genres—but then I could be biased in my thinking because I write speculative fiction, read more speculative fiction than any other genre, and co-edit a speculative fiction magazine. I’m in contact with like-minded people daily. It’s easy to over-emphasise how widespread something is under those circumstances. Hunches are all well and good, but I decided to hunt up some recent statistics.

It proved quite tricky to do.

A survey of US readers by Statista last year asked people which genres they read regularly. These were the results. As you can see, people could nominate more than one genre.

Crime & Thriller 59%

Adventure 47%

Classics 44%

Fantasy 43%

Historic 42%

Romance 42%

Science Fiction 42%

Literature 40%

Horror 26%

Erotica 12%

Other 8%

Don’t know 1%

I don’t have access to the methodology or raw data behind this, but what struck me was that the top genre ‘Crime & Thriller’ was the only ‘double-barrelled’ category in the survey. I suppose it’s a natural association to combine the crime genre with the thriller genre, even though not every crime novel is a thriller, and not every thriller is a crime novel. However, wouldn’t the combining of fantasy & science fiction into one category for the purposes of this survey have been at least as natural?

You’re reading a magazine that clearly made the decision almost 30 years ago that fantasy & science fiction belong together. Most of the bookstores I’ve been to over the years also pair the two. It’s been argued by some that fantasy & science fiction are both part of the continuum of speculative genre fiction. Others have maintained that genres should be defined by the primary emotion they intend to evoke, and that both fantasy & science fiction are part of what should be called the Wonder Genre. There’s even a line of argument that science fiction is actually a subset of fantasy. Whatever, the case, the two are clearly closely linked.

So what would the result have been if they had been classed as the one ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ category within the survey. Clearly, since the respondents were allowed to give more than one answer, you can’t simply add the two percentages together, but there’s no doubt combining the two results would have changed the results considerably, most likely putting ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ at number two, possibly even number one. It all comes down to how many people in the survey said they read science fiction regularly but not fantasy and vice versa.

A 2017 survey by the Australia Council for the Arts and Macquarie University gives us some insight into the relative popularity of a combined ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ category. In this survey, people were asked to nominate their number one favourite adult fiction genre (that is, they couldn’t list more than one, so we can’t compare it directly to the Statista survey).

Their results were as follows:

Crime/Mystery/Thrillers 32%

Science Fiction & Fantasy 22%

Contemporary/General Fiction 14%

Romance 7%

Historical 6%

Classics 6%

Literary 3%

Graphic Novels, Manga & Comics 3%

Horror 2%

Erotica 2%

This one has a triple-barrelled category as the most popular. Interestingly, it focused solely on adult fiction titles, so it deliberately excluded Young Adult/New Adult titles which are often also read by adults and which have a high proportion of fantasy & science fiction titles.

It’s usually worth digging past the headlines of a statistical-based announcement. Statistics are incredible useful and a crucial part of modern life, but they can be misleading if they are naively interpreted. For example, industry statistics and publishing professionals have been reporting for years that since 2010 print sales for fantasy & science fiction have halved.

This belief was debunked at the 2018 SFWA Nebula Conference in a presentation based on data collected by www.authorearnings.com. It provided evidence that when ebooks and audio books are taken into account, traditional publishers are currently selling more adult fantasy & science fiction than ever before. Furthermore, in 2017, 48% of fantasy & science fiction bought in the US were non-traditionally published books. So in reality, instead of fantasy & science fiction numbers halving since 2010, as is often claimed, they have in fact doubled.

Just to add some local evidence that there’s a boom in fantasy & science fiction, thanks to all of our readers, in 2018 Aurealis has its most successful year since going digital.

See you all in 2019!

All the best from the cloud.

Dirk Strasser

www.dirkstrasser.com

Leave a comment

Aurealis looking for Reviewers

We’re keen to expand our team of book reviewers. Are you passionate about speculative fiction? We welcome enthusiasts in science fiction, fantasy, horror and cross genre work, who can work to a deadline.

If you have a discerning eye for a good story, and would like to join our avid reviewer crew, come talk to us. Email us at reviews@aurealis.com.au by 11 January 2019.

Tell us in 50 – 100 words why you’d love to join our team. We’ll also give you a sample ebook to review, and if we love your work, we’ll publish it in the March issue!

Leave a comment

Aurealis Call for Non-fiction Writers

Got an idea for a non-fiction article for Aurealis? Not sure if it will work? Send Aurealis an email and tell us about it by 23/11/18. Maybe you’ve lined up an author interview, been watching trends in speculative fiction, seen something in science that spec fiction readers will find interesting, got something you just need to get off your chest.

In the last year or two, Aurealis has published articles on the history of spec fiction in Australia, monsters, interstellar warfare, utopia, AfroSF, Kafka, artificial wombs, robotics, non-violent SF—and more.

We are interested in articles between 500 and 2000 words of interest to readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. These include humorous pieces, serious articles and interviews. We prefer non-fiction where some visuals are included. Non-fiction must be previously unpublished and remain unpublished for 12 months after publication in Aurealis. Our payment is A$20 per 1000 words. Send all non-fiction articles and queries to nonfiction@aurealis.com.au.

Leave a comment

Aurealis seeking a new Reviews Editor

Do you want to join the team at Australia’s premiere fantasy and science fiction magazine? Here’s your chance!

We are looking for expressions of interest for the role of Aurealis Reviews Editor to coordinate our team of reviewers.

Overview of responsibilities:

  • Select books for review sent by publishers.
  • Source books for review: research new and upcoming releases, then contact publishers to request review copies.
  • Distribute books among the magazine’s reviewers.
  • Set and follow up on deadlines. Aurealis produces ten issues per year, from February to November. Aim for at least five reviews per issue, which must be sent to the magazine editors by the end of the previous month (i.e. have all the June reviews ready by late May, etc.).
  • Edit the reviews for publication each month.
  • Once an issue has been published, email a free copy of the Aurealis issue to each publisher who has had a book reviewed.
  • Compile a list of reviewers’ picks for the final issue each year.

We have clear guidelines, templates, contact lists and procedures to follow.  There will be a handover period during January with the current Reviews Editor.  The reviews for the first issue for the year in February are already in place, so you will be working on the reviews for the March issue.

You will need to be an Australian resident to perform this role. It’s preferable, but not essential, to be based in Melbourne.

If you’re interested and/or want more information, contact reviews@aurealis.com.au by 8 January 2018.

Leave a comment

Science For Science Fiction

rsvAurealis is pleased to be partnering with the Royal Society of Victoria to present a conference of interest to all new, emerging and established Science Fiction writers.

Science for Science Fiction brings together some of the best known names in Australian SF and Australian science to talk SF – how to do it and what current trends in science could be fertile ground for stories.

The conference is to be held in Melbourne on April 30. All those who attend will receive a free print copy of the prestigious 100th issue of Aurealis.

See here for the program. Here for booking.

 

Leave a comment

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

By Lachlan Walter

13653092334_f968bf2ba7_o

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.

9138729099_65294a1373_o

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.

14145129011_83f817730c_b

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.

japan-952026__180

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.

Godzilla_Raids_Again_(1955)_Godzilla_vs_Anguirus

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…

 

Leave a comment

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.