Australian sf in Yankville

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Tue Feb 19 2002 - 20:23:19 MST

At 01:10 AM 2/19/02 -0900, John Grigg wrote:
>Damien Broderick wrote:
>[of course American bookshops also hate selling Australian science fiction,
>but they have more excuse.

>Damien, I have not found this to be the case in my part of the world. A
book having been written by an Australian is seen as a major marketing
point to be emphasized.

I was sloppy. Obviously, once a book has been bought in NY and distributed
to stores in the States, most readers won't care where the writer lives or
comes from. Is there anything about koalas in Greg Egan? Well, some
references to Sydney or other antipodean settings, but that's just minimal
color in his fiction.

That assumes the books get into the stores to start with.

There's often a kind of numbing provincialism (sorry) in the reception
response of Americans to the *tonality*, the *not-American-ness* of
anything Not From Here (where Here is probably the constructed Here you see
in TV). Or so it's assumed, tacitly, by many publishers.

Now this aversion might be overstated--but we'll never know, because
publishers and agents tend to act as if it's so. There are notable
exceptions; the NYT recently ran a reading group on the almost
pathologically Australian novel by Peter Carey about the bushranger Ned
Kelly... but that book had already won the prestigious British Booker Prize.

It's not just a matter of implied accent. All manner of tiny default
details are different in Australian novels, even if they're set on Mars.
The more Australian my books are (the way characters talk, the places they
live, the bits of local history they reference), the harder they are to get
read by agents let alone read by publishers let alone bought. It doesn't
matter how much praise they've had here. They are *insufficiently American*
in small details that poor brilliant John Brunner, a British sf writer,
tried for decades to emulate, unsuccessfully (and was regularly,
hilariously mocked by sarcastic ORBIT series editor Damon Knight for his

This has less bearing on science *non*-fiction, but even there we have a
kind of glitch, and not just because most of the big bucks science,
naturally, is done in the USA. Much leading work in medicine, molecular
biology and its applications have been done in Oz, but I don't think the
few books about this work published here have met with interest in the
States. Paul Davies is our only big success story, and he's a comparatively
recent Brit import.

I hope everyone sees that this post isn't a nasty diatribe against the USA
or Americans. I jest lerrrrv Americans, mostly; my partner is an American.
What I'm talking about is just one of the costs of imperial power. I thank
the flip of the dice every day that at least I didn't grow up speaking
Italian or Greek, in which case my writing career would have been far more
segregated than it is now.

Is there any extropian or >H relevance in these comments? Well, it might
not do any harm for any advocacy group centered in America to notice these
funny little glitches now and then. It's a big world out here, and many
Americans, with all their immense power, are seeing it through a quite
narrow slot. And the narrowness of the window isn't just what's imposed by
authority and corporate ownership; the net, at least, is breaking that down
(but of course it's also reinforcing it). I'm talking about an internal
narrowing of response, almost beyond notice when you allow it to happen to
yourself in the company of millions of other who are doing the same dance.


Damien Broderick

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