The stories we tell ourselves

One aspect of life in Australia is the domination of overseas anglophone media. Our bookshops are full of books by overseas authors, our tv of overseas shows, all reviewed in our newspapers, which also recycle work by by overseas reviewers.

Now if we really were just a ‘Hot Britain’ or a ‘Hot Canada’ this probably wouldn’t matter. But of course we’re not. We’re 24 million people on a hot dry continent on the dark side of the world, and a quarter of us came from somewhere else, and most of us live in one of the five or six big cities.

And this makes us unique. We live on the most different, the most alien of the continents other than Antarctica, with strange vegetation and stranger animals, seasons that are six months out of sync with the northern hemisphere.

We are, in effect, a suburban version of Mars. And you would expect that this would give rise to some pretty unique writing, and at 24 million, we’d have a strong enough voice to be heard.

Not a bit of it. Our literary giants have mostly escaped to the north to pursue their careers there, and our standard run of the mill working writers find their voices drowned by the northern hemisphere publishing machine.

I’d have thought we’d have had a healthy range of crime fiction telling ourselves grim stories about bushrangers and colonial life, or about the various suburban mafias that flourish among migrant communities in the outer suburbs of our cities.

Not a bit of it. If it exists, I should have found it by now.

Which is kind of curious. Crime fiction are the stories we tell ourselves about what’s bad in our society, stories about corruption, stories about the dark places we’d rather not go.

And then, in a strange random intersection I cam across our new science fiction writing. Now science fiction is something I’m over. From the age of about twelve to the age of about forty I read science fiction obsessively, though not exclusively.

The golden age greats, cyberpunk and the rest, I read them all. Dystopias and utopias all. Growing up in the cold war spending afternoons lazily watching airforce jets practise for armageddon, the grim dystopian stories seemed to make sense and describe a possible future.

If crime fiction describes who we are, including the unpleasant bits, science fiction describes who we seek, or fear, we will become. And strangely even fantasy writing can fill that role. After all Dracula can be read as story of scientific progress and advancement defeating an old and alien evil.

And then I happened across two collections of Australian science fiction/science fantasy stories by two different writers, one bought a light relief to read on the interminable country train to Melbourne, the other bought because it had the word ‘Roman’ in the title and I’ve always had a soft spot for stories of classical times.

And they were different, original and reflected that we are a suburban version of Mars, or a disparate group of city states pretending to be a single polity or whatever.

Science fiction, which allows us to invent the future, lets us tell stories about who we are and who, or what we might become …

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About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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