The Australian Renaissance

When it comes to popular Australian apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction, two titanic works stand above the rest: On The Beach and Mad Max. Add to that list Victor Kelleher’s Taronga and John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series – works that were central to many an Australian teenager’s reading life – and you still have a pretty short list. The SF-inclined reader whose interest lies in our own national fictions might recognise names such as George Turner, Terry Dowling, Lee Harding and Steve Amsterdam (authors who have all delved into the end of the world), but their collective body of work has barely dented the public consciousness. Why is this?

Like the rest of the world, our own culture has been somewhat dominated by that of both the UnitedStates and Great Britain. Historically, these two countries were integral to the birth and solidification of SF as a whole and complete genre; while written SF has slowly become a global phenomenon, throwing up inspiring and visionary authors from the four corners and the seven seas, in the oh-so-popular mediums of television and film, Hollywood and London still reign supreme. Barely a month seems to go by without another cinematic symphony of destruction, war, and the end of the world. Is it any wonder, then, that our visions of the apocalypse have been shaped so thoroughly by those who live on distant shores?d

This is a terrible shame, and not just because most end of the world movies nowadays seem more crash-bang action flicks than cerebral or philosophical think pieces. It’s a shame because there has been a rich body of SF work produced right here in Australia, with a rich vein of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic work running through it. While the aforementioned SF-inclined reader with an interest in our national tomorrow-when-the-war-beganfictions will no doubt be aware of this (the numerous studies of Australian SF that began emerging in the late-1970s helped give our own particular approach to the genre a kind of ‘critical’ legitimacy), what has seemed to fly well under the radar is the recent surge of new Australian apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction.

This surge isn’t just an Australian phenomenon. The end of the world is back in fashion, the apocalypse is cool again, and its signs and signifiers have become indelible parts of the global consciousness. There are as many reasons for this as there are mosquitoes in summer: global warming, the GFC, the millions of displaced people living as refugees, climate change, 9/11, increasingly repressive governments in both democracies and dictatorships, food shortages and food riots, international terrorism, and so on and so on. This depressing list of recent history that carries an end-of-days vibe could continue ad nauseam.

Fiction has always been used to help us understand and cope with the horrors and wonders that are an inevitable part of life. Now, more than ever, it has become an increasingly important tool in making sense of our frenetic and seemingly calamitous 21st-century world. Here in Australia, our authors are doing just that – confronting the unique challenges that face us in our island-continent. And they’re doing it with both style and increasing frequency.

In the last twenty-odd years, we’ve seen end of the world novels depicting a future Australia dramatically altered by climate change (Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming, Andrew Sullivan’s A Sunburnt Country, Andrez Bergen’s Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat), or focussed around the troubled relationship between Indigenous Australians and white Australians (Archie Weller’s Land of the Golden Clouds, Sam Watson’s The Kadaitcha Sung, Peter Docker’s The Waterboys), or centred around gender and sexuality (Sue Isle’s Nightsiders, Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle), or inspired by the particular Australian obsessions with ‘the refugee problem’ and the economy (Andrew McGahan’s Underground, Guy Salvidge’s Yellowcake Springs). In the world of short fiction, small-press publishers such as Twelfth Planet Press and Fablecroft Publishing have blazed a trail, with anthologies such as 2012, Sprawl, After the Rain and Epilogue providing plenty of room for more condensed apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic visions. Hell, we’ve even seen the world get stomped flat by a parade of monsters in Agog!Press’ Daikaiju series.

While not every work mentioned above is great (as such), they are all, nonetheless, interesting. What’s more important is that they are all out there, filled with fascinating perspectives on this great southern land, just waiting to be read. While some have had enough of an impact to garner reviews in the mainstream media, many have remained relatively obscure. This is the biggest shame of all. The more perspectives we have on the potential end of the world, the better we can understand and cope with our fears of it actually happening. What kind of character would we rather see guide us through these scenarios? Another bland American soldier? Another bland English every-man? Or an Australian, whose background we might more easily relate to? And which world would we rather see end? The urban jungle that is New York? The sprawling metropolis of London? Or a city like Melbourne or Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, Adelaide or Darwin – cities that we might call home?

(Originally published on AurealisXpress, 6/5/2014)


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