Note: astute readers will note that the above photo is NOT of Supernova Books. I couldn’t find a photo of the shopfront on Google. But Supernova DID spawn Fantastic Planet, which is now sadly defunct as well.
Note: this was written in 2011 or thereabouts.
I walked into Supernova Books in downtown Perth with the intention of getting a job there on the third of August, 2001. I know this because it was my twentieth birthday. I had been to Supernova before, of course, to that stuffy room on William Street packed with science fiction, fantasy and horror titles. It was like being on the inside of a Rubik’s cube. A month or so previously, I had purchased a big, blue brick of a book called The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction there. It turned out that a guy who served me, Richo, was a fellow student and friend of mine at Curtin University. Little did I know that, sooner rather than later, it’d be me sitting on an office chair behind that aged till and Richo scampering off into the direction of the pub.
Supernova’s owner was a rather forbidding personage named Alwyn. He would have been in his sixties then, and as it turned out with little more than two and a half years to live. I got the job, although it was noted that I was too shy to make eye contact with him (his cavernous face, his pitiless eyes). I would work for two and a half hours on a Thursday afternoon so that Alwyn could play tennis, and alternate the days of the weekend with the other weekend guy. It was, as I told my Romanian employer at the fish and chips shops where I would no longer work, my dream job. It paid $11 an hour.
The shelves were poorly made, frequently damaging the stock; the till was so ancient that it surely dated me; and the “Nova” in the neon sign had long since stopped working. “Super Books,” old men and women read out as they tottered past. They then tottered inside and asked me if me had anything by Danielle Steele. Sales were recorded in an exercise book, the takings calculated on an old calculator. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me—a science fiction bookstore with a primitive till and no computer.
On the evening of September 11, before the infamous attacks, I was putting the finishing touches on a story that the American SF writer Barry Malzberg was helping me with. I had become friendly with Malzberg after posting on the one and only fansite dedicated to his work (run by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, later to become a SF writer and critic himself) and he had sent me signed copies of several of his books. Malzberg seemed to think that my story “Manitee” was good enough to be published in Interzone. He would write to its editor, David Pringle, and recommend my story to him. I had been redrafting “Manitee” for days, adding new scenes and deleting troublesome ones, and my final task was to produce a new ending. Sitting in front of the computer, literally minutes before the attacks, a scene jumped into my head:
“I am wheeling through space—I am the Manitee. The boosters are firing—calamity looms as booster 3 torches its casing and—alas—ignites the others. But my heart is glad. Inside the ship, the part of me which is me smiles in her sleep. Her mouth opens as if to frame a final question but I soothe her, telling her to rest.
We are afire.”
Having written these words, I emailed the story to Malzberg and sat down to watch a classic SF film, “Westworld.” Yul Brynner’s murderous rampage had barely begun when I was interrupted by a friend informing me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center, the existence of which I had been, until that moment, blissfully unaware. Westworld forgotten, we watched in excitement as a second plane hit the other tower. When the Pentagon was hit, we were aware that life as we knew it was ending. “More planes!” we cried. We envisaged a hundred, a thousand planes hitting buildings all over the world, bringing the machinery of capitalism to a halt. My delirium for the apocalypse far outweighed any sense of the hideous human toll being extracted.
But there were no more planes. The next morning there was an email from Malzberg, which said, “As far as I can deduce, this story is now saleable. If life as we are about to know it resumes its stately course (it probably will) I’ll write Pringle and you’ll send it on.” I had known that Malzberg lived in New Jersey, but I hadn’t realised that his house was just three kilometres from Ground Zero. One of his friends, the writer Carter Scholz, had missed the fatal Newark-San Francisco flight by an hour. He later said he had been “sentenced to life.” But like Scholz’ plane, which never ended up leaving the tarmac, so my SF writing career failed to take flight. I never received a reply from Interzone, not even a form rejection letter, and the whole incident eventually faded to a painful memory.
Immediately after 9/11, all the talk in the Old Bailey, the pub I frequented on a Wednesday night for its $4 pints, was of war. Surely America would go to war, and thus Australia. But against who? Malzberg was a steadying influence on me. He had more reason to fret in New Jersey than I did in Perth, but that didn’t stop me from imagining the Bankwest building, just a handful of blocks up William Street from Supernova, collapsing in a hail of concrete and glass. I wondered whether I would survive, cocooned between a layer of Babylon 5 novels and the latest volume in David Weber’s absurdly popular Honor Harrington series.
Working at Supernova was 99% tedium and 1% plain crazy. It took me a few weeks to realise this. In the initial weeks, I spent much of my time dusting the shelves and cleaning the grubby windows, as per Alwyn’s direction. The books never stayed dust-free for long, as there was a constant stream of cars flowing over the Horseshoe Bridge onto William Street, their exhaust fumes settling on the bookshelves and in my lungs. It didn’t take long for inertia to win out.
The 99% tedium is barely worth recalling. A decade on, my memory of those long hours can be boiled down to a single, generalised anecdote. A customer walks in. It’s late afternoon in winter, perhaps four-thirty. The shop assistant smiles inanely, rubbing his bleary eyes, and does not put down his Graham Greene novel nor show any sign of intending to. There’s no one else in the shop. The customer browses without harassment for ten minutes before selecting three popular titles, one of which is a new release hardcover. Our customer will get fifteen cents change from a hundred dollars. During this time, one other customer has been and gone without making a purchase, and the shop assistant has read another chapter of The End of the Affair, which is rather conspicuously not science fiction, fantasy OR horror. Our paying customer makes his offering at the font of commerce, and for this he gets his books taped up in a large paper bag. Despite the minor irritation of having to stop reading for thirty seconds or thereabouts, the shop assistant is making strong progress on the Greene novel and will probably finish it on the train after his shift.
That was my Supernova experience times infinity. I worked there two years, and by the end I wasn’t only reading in the shop (which Alwyn had expressly forbidden, although we were encouraged to take books home to read so that we would become more knowledgeable about the stock), I was listening to AFL football on the radio, much to the annoyance of the customers who thought they had entered a nerdish enclave opposed to mainstream Australian culture, playing X-COM: UFO Defense on my laptop, and generally not being a model employee. It didn’t seem to matter how many times I was caught reading by Alwyn (he had a tendency to pop in when you were otherwise engaged), the job was mine as long as I wanted it and so long as I didn’t ask for a payrise. Alwyn also had a habit of coming in at odd times to collect the previous day’s take, which we were instructed to put, rather predictably, in a paper bag underneath the plastic tray in the till.
The 1% craziness was what made the job interesting. Part of the trouble stemmed from the laundrette on the far side of William Street. Staring out Supernova’s window through the long hours, I came to realise that the kind of people that seemed to cause the most trouble in society were precisely the kind of people who also did not own or did not have ready access to a washing machine. Plenty of washing machine owners cause trouble of their own, of course. I recall a rough Outback character punching walls and harassing people for cigarettes. The tension mounted as the rejections piled up. Finally, to my relief, someone gave him a pack or what was left of one. Going back to my tasks, I was shelving books when he came in and asked, quite politely, whether he could leave his suitcase in the shop overnight. He had nowhere to stay, you see. Terrified, I demurred as gently as I could manage, and the man lugged his suitcase back across the street to the competing Magic Circle bookshop, where I imagined he tried a similar stratagem. More often the crazies weren’t aggressive, simply deranged, like the time a drunken aboriginal crossdresser wanted a plastic bag—two in fact—for his cask of wine, as it was too cumbersome for him to carry. He grinned at me, lipstick smeared all over his face and chin, and asked if I would transfer the wine into the plastic bags, seeing as he was altogether too drunk to perform such a task. Usually people just want change for the parking meter.
For the most part, the customers themselves were far saner. In my mind’s eye a regular customer named Terry claps his hands and parades before me, perusing the new releases. He was a forty year-old kid who wore a baseball cap and a rucksack. Terry was also something of a social Darwinist, proclaiming survival of the fittest as evidenced by characters in the commercial fantasy genre. This went down okay with me, as a less threatening character I could not and still cannot imagine. I encouraged him to talk but he tended to repeat himself in stock phrases like “I’ll see you later my good man” and “it’s all very quiet.” Terry liked something “with a bit of ultra-violence in it” and abhorred the “soppy stuff.”
I remember a rather charming older woman engaging me in conversation regarding Ursula Le Guin and The Dispossessed. “Wouldn’t you like to live there?” she asked, meaning the desert planet Anarres, which was a sort of scarcity utopia. I had to admit that I would like to live “there,” in a word without money, bureaucrats or weapons of mass destruction. She told me that she couldn’t afford to buy new books because she didn’t have a job, and I could sympathise. I rarely bought new books myself, prowling around remainder piles and second-hand bookstores instead. Immediately after she left, a man dumped a tower of Babylon 5 novels in front of me. $341 dollars worth.
Another regular customer, Raylene, was a tall, heavy woman sporting short, curly hair and a snappy demeanour. Gruff, brusque, and sometimes annoying, Raylene was nevertheless one of my favourite customers. She seemed to have a fascination with the lay-by system. When the customer made the appropriate noises, myself or someone like me wrapped the desired books in a paper bag and affixed a piece of paper to the front, upon which the customer’s details were written, along with the amount that had been paid and the amount owing. It was Raylene’s policy not to buy books outright but to add them to a burgeoning lay-by pile, from which she would select one like a gourmand, leaving the rest to simmer for a few more weeks.
Alwyn himself was simpler, or so he seemed to me. As far as I could discern, he had no interest in the books he sold. Still, he knew what the punters wanted and he supplied it to them. His business model relied largely on American imports. Thus, when the exchange rate between the US and Aussie dollars reached a 2:1 ratio, the prices went up. Way up. A new release American hardcover was normally priced at $60 or even $65, and yet they sold. Honor Harrington, Anita Blake and Harry Potter sold like the proverbial hotcakes at these prices. Had Alwyn lived long enough, the internet and the strengthening Aussie dollar would have decimated his business. Amazon would have beaten Supernova to within an inch of its life, and Book Depository would have danced on its grave. But it never came to that. Six months or so before I quit Supernova, Alwyn went on holiday to New Zealand. When I asked him why New Zealand specifically, he said that he wanted to see it before he died.
It was virtually impossible to get fired from Supernova. Probably theft would have done it, but I never sank that low. I found out just how far Alwyn could be pushed late one Friday night. It was winter, and I was in the habit of leaving my suede jacket and other possessions in the shop and returning for them when I was ready to catch the train home. The only problem was that, after six pints of Beck’s on an empty stomach, I was in no condition to go anywhere when I returned for my jacket at around 11pm. I thought I’d lie down on the carpet in the dark for a while. I had half an hour until the 11.30 train anyway. But 11.30 came and went without me being able to raise my head, and I would have missed the midnight train as well had fate not intervened.
To my everlasting horror, the door opened and in stepped Alwyn to collect the day’s take. I had no idea he would leave it so late in the evening. He stood over me, surprised but not angry. “Are you on drugs?” he said. I looked up at him from the floor, and replied, “I’m just pissed, that’s all.” This was the impetus I needed to get to my feet. I was barely able to navigate the traffic on Wellington Street without becoming a statistic. Like Frogger, my chances were slim. I collapsed in a heap at the foot of the Horseshoe Bridge, where I vomited on my expensive suede jacket. Somehow I made the midnight train. To his credit, Alwyn never reminded me of this shameful incident. For all I know, he might have taken it to his grave. Had I not been in the habit of retelling this anecdote to anyone who would listen, no one might have ever known.
The last time I saw Alwyn I was paying off a lay-by of my own, a deluxe edition of Jeff Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen I had asked him to order in specially. He seemed untroubled my by decision to quit. I walked out with the Vandermeer and my thoughts, leaving him to his tiny shop and the layers of dust. A few months later, Alwyn was dead.
Supernova outlived its founder, but not by much. My replacement was a guy named Tim. He ran the store for a while after Alwyn’s death before setting up his own SF bookstore, White Dwarf Books, in the adjacent shop. I saw Tim at Swancon recently but I don’t think he remembers me. For a while, Supernova lay empty. Last I saw it, the shop had been converted into a Crazy Teez outlet, the memory of the business that had thrived there for so many years all but erased.
It is said, jokingly, that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve. It was certainly that way for me. At that age I devoured anything in the genre I could get my hands on, most of which came from the library at the high school I attended in Craigie (sadly now demolished, both library and school). Golden Age SF it was too, much of it from the fifties. I would read anything, but I was particularly fond of those old stagehorses Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I liked the Foundation series, including the later reboots that had been published in the eighties. My favourite was Foundation’s Edge. But it was Clarke that held my attention longest, in books like Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End and A Fall of Moondust. There was the occasional newer title on offer at the school library, like Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. I loved that too. I didn’t exclusively read SF. I was and still am a voracious reader, but I loved the genre above any other. I say this with a tinge of sadness now. My first attempts at novel writing were informed by the above writers and their newer counterparts, such as Stephen Baxter. I had a whole novel, my second, that was essentially a Baxter rip-off.
My obsession with SF continued into my late teens and beyond, far beyond the age of twelve. By my late teens I was starting to map out the history of the genre in my mind. I was an expert on fifties and sixties SF and here I had recourse to that fat, blue brick of a book, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I would pore over it for hours and then digitally dash off to abebooks, as it was then at the turn of the millennium, to make my purchases. Not only that, but I used to go on what I termed ‘book jaunts’ around the secondhand bookstores of Perth, often taking in four or five stores in a carefully-planned trip. I was a young man obsessed, but it was an obsession that had already passed its zenith. Like a jaded, restless lover, it took more and more to satisfy me.
By the age of twenty, three important things had happened that would prolong my involvement in the genre for a few more years. The first had occurred in 1999, at Angus & Robertson bookstore at Whitfords City Shopping Centre. I had been hovering over the SF and Fantasy section (more on these sections later) not much liking what was on offer. I was on the verge of buying another Baxter novel, Titan, a book which, as it turned out, I’d never read. What drew my attention instead was the very first volume in the Millennium Masterworks series from English publisher Orion. The book was Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. It had a beautiful cover and thus I bought it. Haldeman didn’t make any particular impression on me, although I did enjoy the book, but some of the books that followed in this series impressed me greatly. I adored Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, books I’d heard of but never read, but it was the thirteenth volume in the series, Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, which had the profoundest impact. Upon reading that, I fell into a reading delirium that lasted many years and was only to be extinguished for a lack of further fuel. That was after I’d read every word by and about PKD, and that meant an awful lot. In truth, that delirium lasted throughout my twenties and has only really fully abated now, at age thirty-two. There were other writers I loved too, but these tended to be writers who had started in SF and ended up writing something else, such as J. G. Ballard.
The second important thing that happened was that I came into email contact with SF writer Barry N. Malzberg. I’d stumbled upon a Malzberg blog run by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, now a renowned SF writer in his own right, and to my surprise received an email from Malzberg himself in response to a forum post I had written. I had read several of Malzberg’s novels and would end up reading virtually all of them. Over the course of an email correspondence that lasted about a year, Malzberg educated me on some of the lesser lights of SF or those I’d neglected to read, such as Cyril Kornbluth, James Tiptree Jr. and Malzberg’s personal favourite, Mark Clifton. Malzberg ended up sending me signed copies of several of his books. My two prized possessions in this regard are signed and dedicated copies of Malzberg’s book of essays on the genre, The Engines of the Night, and his then recently-released newest (and best) collection, In The Stone House. Malzberg was even kind enough to read and respond to a short story I was working on at the time, which he praised voluminously. This was right at the time of the 9/11 attacks and Malzberg lived close enough, in New Jersey, to witness the carnage firsthand. Another writer, Malzberg’s friend Carter Scholz, narrowly missed out on being on one of the ill-fated planes and was thus ‘consigned to life’, Malzberg told me. About my story, he’d have a word with David Pringle of Interzone and off I’d go. I was of course ecstatic. I sent the story off but nothing ever came of it, not even a rejection letter.
The final important thing that prolonged my involvement with SF was that I’d managed to get a job at Supernova Books, a F&SF bookstore on William Street in central Perth. I had my job interview on my twentieth birthday and my recollections of that time are recorded here. I worked at Supernova for around two years, but although I didn’t quite know it yet, I’d already fallen out of love with the genre. I had loved the New Wave of the sixties, yes, but not so much what came after. I probably read less SF in those two years working at Supernova than in the two years preceding. There were exceptions, like Jeff Vandermeer and his magnificentCity of Saints and Madmen, but these were few and far between. I walked out of Supernova for the last time in 2003, at age twenty-two, its owner as it turned out with only months to live.
I did read SF in my twenties, but it tended to be by writers who had moved onto other genres. Since 2008 I have kept detailed records of every book I’ve read and the stats display my dwindling interest. In 2008 I read sixteen books that could be termed science fiction, but many of them were PKD re-reads. In 2009 that number was two (including Vandermeer’s wonderful Finch, which I think is still his most recent novel). By 2009, I’d finally found other genres and other writers to sustain me. Raymond Chandler opened up the world of crime fiction to me and Harry Crews introduced me to southern Gothic. By 2010 I had discovered local small publishers like Twelfth Planet Press but I still only managed ten SF books read for the year if you exclude PKD. In 2011 it was eleven, but that included Australian writers like Paul Haines and Kaaron Warren who’d be better classified as writers of horror. In the past two years, me reading SF has been very much the exception and not the rule. In 2012 I enjoyed China Mieville’s The City and the City (a book which owes at least as much to crime as it does to SF) and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (alternate history and only SF in some people’s estimation), but little else. This year I’ve barely dabbled in the genre at all. My affair with SF is over.
None of this would matter greatly to me if not for one salient point: reading informs writing. The things I write, I’ve learned, lag years behind the things I read. I stopped reading SF years before I could stop writing it. All ten novels I’ve written, the last three of which have been published, are SF. I’ve only been able to make the break in my newest novel, Dan: A Cautionary Tale. In part the decision to stop writing SF has been a mercenary one. I might not have liked what I saw in the F&SF section at Angus & Robertson in 1999, but over the past 14 years the amount of SF in F&SF has dwindled to a trickle. For years this has been the realm of the fat fantasy series punctuated by the occasional SF title by someone like John Scalzi, whom I’ve neglected to read. Recently I saw, for the first time, one such section named, finally, Fantasy. At another store, SF had been relegated to one lonely, half-sized shelf, and even that was mostly taken up by Stars Wars and Doctor Who spin-offs. SF writing might not be dead, but it’s very ill. Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice the burgeoning world of crime fiction in all its guises.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had some success in publishing short fiction. These stories have for the most part been SF/crime crossovers (my ‘Tyler Bramble’ series) but they barely tip their hat to the genre. The newest of these, “A Void”, is not really recognisable as SF even though it is certainly reminiscent of the mindfuckery of PKD. The stories and novels I plan to write in 2014 and beyond will be crossovers between crime and literary fiction.
So I’m finally jumping ship. Farewell, science fiction. Our affair is at its end.
I use Grammarly for online proofreading because no one’s infullible, not even me
I was a strange youth and a precocious reader – I read both of these famous novels of the sixties in my early teens, and I remember being especially enamoured with Heller’s novel. That was twenty years ago. Recently I picked up new editions of both novels (not the editions pictured above) and decided to see what I thought of these modern classics now.
Published within a year of each other (Catch-22 in 1961 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962), both became enormously successful and spawned film versions (neither of which I’ve seen). In many ways the novels share a common theme: the irrational, depersonalising and often murderous nature of modern society. In Catch-22, in marked contrast to most WWII novels, the enemy is not the Germans but the foolish and vainglorious Colonels and the bloated bureaucracy they represent. In Cuckoo, the enemy is what Chief Bromden calls the ‘Combine’, a faceless economic and political system hellbent on creating uniformity and obedience in its citizenry. Both novels feature larger than life, ultra masculine protagonists in Yossarian and McMurphy who buck the system at every opportunity.
Neither novels have anything progressive to say in terms of their gender politics, sadly. Published well before Second Wave feminism got underway, both feature crude portraits of women. The nurses and whores in Catch-22 are the only women to be found and all are described almost exclusively in terms of their physical dimensions and sexual exploits. There’s a particularly odious scene featuring a sexual assault on Nurse Duckett by Yossarian and one of his colleagues which is played for laughs, except that I wasn’t laughing. Such a scene would be unpublishable in a new novel today. Cuckoo isn’t much better in this regard. The main antagonist, Nurse Ratched, is characterised as a castrating bitch who ironically has enormous breasts (McMurphy takes great pleasure in exposing these to the world in one late scene). Cuckoo‘s depiction of race relations leaves a lot to be desired, too. The black characters are almost uniformly malevolent, violent, twisted individuals who like nothing more than to sink their boots into defenseless white men.
These caveats aside, both novels feature memorable characters and situations that live long in the memory. McMurphy is the archetypal trickster bad boy and Chief Bromden, who pretends to be a deaf mute for more than twenty years, is a singular creation. Catch-22 is extremely strong in terms of characterisation all round and no one who reads the book will ever forget the outlandish, carnal and craven Yossarian. Both novels contain scenes of tremendous emotional power and others of uproarious humour. Heller’s mental gymnastics is at times the work of real genius (see the chapter ‘Major Major Major Major’) and his description of Snowden’s death is one of the saddest passages in all of modern fiction. In Cuckoo, the farcical party-to-end-all-mental-ward-parties prefigures the poignancy of McMurphy and Billy Bibbit’s demise.
Both novels have pacing issues: Catch-22 is too long and at times too repetitive; Cuckoo moves too slowly to begin with before galloping to its finish in the final 30 pages. But no matter. They are deserving of their stature as modern classics, albeit classics not without their respective flaws. As for their authors, while not quite one hit wonders, neither Heller nor Kesey would ever equal their stellar literary debuts. Both would write other books and enjoy long literary careers, but both would ultimately be known for their anti-establishment manifestos, Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Ah, lists. I love ‘em and periodically I feel the urge to produce another one. Here’s a list of the authors I’ve read (and probably own) nearly everything by, with some brief thoughts on each of them.
She’s written six novels – I own and have read all six. My favourites are Queenpin and The End of Everything, but I like them all. I first encountered this author less than two years ago when I picked up a copy of her The Song Is You on a discount pile. I love discount piles.
J. G. Ballard
He wrote an awful lot, novels and stories, and I own and have read virtually all of it. Ballard had a profound impact on me at a crucial age (19-20), probably second only to Philip K. Dick in this regard. Ballard has definitely seeped his way into my writing subconscious. His essays are also extremely interesting – the man was nearly a genius. I recently read Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with J. G. Ballard 1967-2008 and was duly blown away.
William S. Burroughs
Burroughs published a number of little chapbooks and other ephemera, so I can’t claim to have read everything he wrote, but I have at least 20-25 of his books and I’ve read numerous biographies and both volumes of his letters. I’ve even read Here to Go, his collaboration with Brion Gysin. I must have read Naked Lunch 5-6 times by now.
I’m fairly new to Barker, only having discovered her in the past 3-4 years. I very much enjoyed her Regeneration Trilogy and was especially enamoured with the recent Toby’s Room. She’s an outstanding writer and there are 2-3 of her books that I’m still yet to read. I tend not to like her contemporary stuff as much as those books set in WWI.
In fact I hadn’t read a word of him until earlier this year, so it didn’t take me long to read all his short story collections (except for some posthumous stuff) and a biography to boot. Terrible person, amazing writer.
Without Chandler I might still shy away from crime fiction. I was enraptured by novels like The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye, and I’ve read some of his novels multiple times. I never really got into his short stories. I’ve also read numerous biographies and a book of his letters.
J. M. Coetzee
Coetzee only barely makes this list, simply because there are 5-6 of his books that I haven’t read as yet. But I’ve read at least 10 of them and enjoyed them for the most part. I especially liked Disgrace and his trilogy of memoirs. Coetzee can be dry at times, but at his best he has no peer and he is the spiritual successor to Samuel Beckett.
Most of the writers on this list are pretty famous, but Crews decidedly isn’t, not anymore. Dead and more or less out of print, Crews is nevertheless on a par with the likes of Cormac McCarthy and William Gay, in my humble opinion. I’ve never read a fiercer book than his dark masterpiece A Feast of Snakes.
Philip K. Dick
What can I say about him that I haven’t said already? I’ve published a 40,000 word long article on his work in Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary 83 and I dedicated years to reading everything he wrote and everything wrote about him. That adds up to a hell of a lot and takes up about two shelves in my study. PKD is my number one influence as a writer, by far.
The best prose stylist of the twentieth century, bar none. There, I’ve said it.
Barry N. Malzberg
Another mostly out-of-print writer, Malzberg was one of my favourite SF writers a decade or so ago. I had a fairly extensive email correspondence with the man a decade ago as well. His best novels include Underlay and Galaxies.
I very much liked her novel Half the Day is Night many years back, and now I’ve managed to assemble her complete ouevre, even if there are a couple of things I haven’t read.
James Tiptree Jr.
In actual fact a woman by the name of Alice Sheldon, Tiptree is famous for some amazing short stories written mostly in the 1970s. I’ve read virtually all of them. “Her Some Rose Up Forever” is among the best.
Vandermeer is among beautiful stylist and author of numerous works, none better than his collection thingy City of Saints and Madmen. I’ve been following his career with interest.
Another writer I’ve only recently discovered, I discovered Woodrell on another discount pile in the form of his novel Winter’s Bone. I liked that plenty so I ordered everything else he’d written. Right now I’m very much enjoying his most recent novel, The Maid’s Version.
That’s fifteen writers I’m very fond of. Eleven of them are men. Eleven of them are Americans, three British and one South African. All of them are contemporary or near-contemporary. Chandler was born earliest, but Greene published earliest. There were a few others who didn’t quite make the list for one reason or another, such as Iain Banks, John Crowley, William Gay (haven’t read his stories), M. John Harrison, Jonathan Lethem (plenty more of his to read), Kim Stanley Robinson, Kurt Vonnegut, Irvine Welsh and Ma Jian (he’s only written about three books). And then there are Australian writers I like but haven’t read everything by, such as Garry Disher, Andrez Bergen, Simon Haynes, Paul Haines (I have read all of his), Bruce Russell, Kaaron Warren, and plenty of others.
So, which writers would make a similar list if you were to construct one?
AVON Valley author Guy Salvidge is launching two new books at Northam Library on Saturday, September 28.
It is set partly in the Avon Valley of the future.
“It took me two years to write this one between the school holidays,” Mr Salvidge said.
“My influences are various science fiction and crime authors including Philip K Dick and Raymond Chandler.”
His other book is The Tobacco-stained Sky, a collection of post-apocalyptic noir, future crime fiction short stories from various authors in Japan, India and the United States.
It has been published by a small American publisher.
Earlier this year, Mr Salvidge was a writer in residence at the KSP writer’s centre in Greenmount. In that time, he started writing a new novel called Dan, A Cautionary Tale.
“I have a view to get it published next year,” Mr Salvidge said.
Mr Salvidge will also be appearing at the Avon Valley writer’s festival this weekend proving various workshops.
Some more great news: my Twilight-Zone themed story “A Void” has been selected by competition judge Angela Meyer as one of six stories shortlisted for the 2013 Carmel Bird Award. ”A Void” is my third story set in the universe of Andrez Bergen’s Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, following on from ”The Dying Rain” (published in The Tobacco-Stained Sky) and “Blue Swirls (published in Tincture Journal #1). The prize for being shortlisted is inclusion in the upcoming short fiction anthology The Great Unknown, edited by Angela Meyer and published by Spineless Wonders. So I’m very pleased!
At long last, The Tobacco-Stained Sky: An Anthology of Post-Apocalyptic Noir is here! Edited by myself and Andrez Bergen and published by Another Sky Press, this is a collection of short stories, comics and artwork by a host of talented writers from around the globe. The Tobacco-Stained Sky is set in the universe of Andrez’ debut novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. This volume includes work by writers such as Paul D. Brazill, Chad Eagleton, Julie Morrigan, Gordon Highland, Liam Jose, Josh Stallings, Gerard Brennan, Chris Rhatigan and many more, plus offerings from myself and Andrez. I had a blast editing these stories and I fully expect that people from all walks of life will enjoy the book, especially if you love:
a) the city of Melbourne
b) dark, gritty fiction
c) detective fiction
d) noir of every description