SOME THOUGHTS ON AUSTRALIAN FANTASY: Part Three
Grace Dugan, guest blogging
(Aside: Of course I agree with everything Anna said in her post about ownership. I’m a little perplexed about my reading of her reading of my previous post, but hey. In this blog, as in fiction, I have been writing about what interests me and what excites my imagination. It was never my intention to impose this on anyone else, to suggest that others should be preoccupied with what preoccupies me, or that anyone should or shouldn’t write any particular thing. But I will continue to air my non-representative preoccupations for at least one more post).
To recap and rephrase a little: I tend to think that fantasy (of the high/quest/trad/mainstream variety) presupposes a relationship with land, or is in some way about a relationship with the land and with nature. The majority, if not the vast majority of Australian fantasy writers, are anglo-celtic Australians. Our relationship with the land we live on is quite different to the relationship that British fantasy writers might have with the land they live on, and they pretty much started this whole thing, didn’t they? This is interesting.
People often talk about fantasy as if the genre were as old as time. But I tend to think that fantasy in the form we know it is a more modern thing, a response to the disenchantment of modern life. Does this mean that, in Australia, fantasy is a longing for the motherland, a longing to not be here in this weird place that perhaps we don’t really understand? (I also hear that it’s boring. That, too, is interesting).
My last post was a kind of ramble not far removed from being story-notes, or proto-story-notes. (This is something which I’ve seen: how could it be expressed in fiction?) Maybe I will write it up into a story one day, probably by the time I get around to it I will have something else pressing on my brain. In any case, here I offer up a few more of my preoccupations about Australia, which I would really like other people to write stories about so that I can read them:
- We have one of the lowest populations densities in the world, yet we are one of the most urbanised countries in the world. What does that say about our relationship to the land we live on? Science fiction stories of planetary colonisation have often dealt with this question of the relationship between people and place; maybe a story using those tropes could metaphorically discuss the Australian situation.
- Australians suffer from cultural cringe. We even have cultural cringe about our cultural cringe. How could this be an sf story?
- Going back to my image of Katoomba in autumn, in which the red trees mark the colonised landscape and the grey green is the bush. Could a fantasy world be imagined in which a colonising people has to change the landscape for their magic to work, but wherever it remains unchanged, a different magic prevails (I personally wouldn’t literally set this in Australia). Possibly related to this: how much of the food that we grow and eat here is native to Australia? Practically none of it.
- We are a pretty insignificant country in the realm of international politics. How might that change? How might it affect our future?
- For the last two centuries, us white folks have been farming Australia more or less as if it was Europe. This has had disastrous consequences for the environment, and also threatens the viability of agriculture in the long term (salinity, all that soil blowing away, etc). How might we live off the land more appropriately in the future? What will the consequences be if we continue our current farming practices?
Now that I think about it, there are two other things that I really want to read in Australian sf and fantasy: an intelligent examination of the relationship between Australia and the US, and a thoughtful and sensitive engagement with indigenous Australia. So, go write that, you say. Yeah well, grumble grumble (excuses, excuses).
Grace Dugan’s first novel The Silver Road is coming out from Penguin Australia in 2006. It is not in any way uniquely or essentially Australian.