Well I’m somewhat late this year, because I have been trying to catch up on all the material published late in 2010.
Here is my imaginary anthology of the best stories of 2010.
The Company Articles of Edward Teach… Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)
She Said… Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes from the Second Storey)
Acception… Tess Kum (Baggage)
The Mad Apprentice… Trudi Canavan (Legends of Australian Fantasy)
L’esprit de L’escalier… Peter M Ball (Apex)
I’ve Seen the Man… Paul Haines (Scenes from the Second Storey)
Hive of Glass… Kaaron Warren (Baggage)
No Going Home… Deborah Biancotti (Sprawl)
Vision Splendid… K.J. Bishop (Baggage)
The Piano Song… Cat Sparks (Scenes from the Second Storey)
Home Turf… Debora Biancotti (Baggage)
Darker Shade of Pale… David Bofinger (Scary Kisses)
Sweep… Simon Brown (Sprawl)
Schubert by Candlelight… Matthew Chrulew (Macabre)
Out… Stephen Dedman (Scenes from the Second Storey)
From Little Things… Felicity Dowker (ASIM #43)
Yowie… Thoraiya Dyer (Sprawl)
Her Gallant Needs… Paul Haines (Sprawl)
Ego… Robert Hood (Scenes from the Second Storey)
Border Crossing… Penelope Love (Belong)
The Message… Andrew Macrae (Roar and Thunder)
Monsters Among Us… Kirstyn McDermott (Macabre)
Twixt Firelight and Water… Juliet Marillier (Legends of Australian Fantasy)
Mrs Estahazi… Barbara Robson (Belong)
Star… Aimee Smith (ASIM #43)
All the Love in the World… Cat Sparks (Sprawl)
I thought it was a pretty strong year for local short fiction. No doubt inspired at least in part by the fact that Wordcon was held in Australia, we saw a large number of strong publications in the latter part of the year. Twelfth Planet Press has been growing consistently for the last few years, and this year really cemented it as the barometer for local publishing, with a very strong anthology of original material as well as several impressive novella/novelette standalones or doubles. That doesn’t mean it was without competition by any means. Ticonderoga published two original anthologies as well as two collections of mostly reprints. Morrigan Books published one anthology, Eneit Press another, and Brimstone Press the mixed original/reprint horror tome, Macabre. And we had a publication from a major publisher, Jonathan Strahan’s collection of fantasy novellas Legends of Australian Fantasy, featuring some of our best fantasy writers. There was also an electronic anthology, The Tangled Bank. On top of all this there were issues of Andromeda Spaceways, Aurealis, Midnight Echo, a collection of short spec fic for children, Worlds Next Door from new publisher Fablecroft, as well as the ever-reliable Antipodean SF webzine publishing short-short fiction from new authors. I also published a few Australian authors in Moonlight Tuber, on which I will refrain from commenting.
To my mind we are seeing two tiers of writers developing, in a generalised sense, in the local scene. Firstly there are those authors who have, largely, been writing for a decade or so and who are starting to find success at international level or having novels published. These writers are at the top of their game and are producing perhaps some of the strongest work to have come out of the small press in this country, ever. Most of those listed in the above would fall into this category, although a couple (such as Dyer, Dowker and perhaps Peter Ball) are more recent, although the quality of their work is such that they have easily slotted into the lists. These authors dominated the publications by Twelfth Planet, Eneit Press and Morrigan Books, and featured sporadically elsewhere.
Then we have another group of writers who have emerged since around 2005. This is a more diverse list, and most of these writers are at varying stages of their craft, from beginner to the small-press-equivalent of midlist. The stories from these authors tend, as you would expect, to be more hit and miss. But they remain a vital part of the landscape; tomorrow’s top tier of authors will come from among these writers, and it is important that there are markets to nurture them. ASIM, Midnight Echo, Ticonderoga’s original anthologies (as opposed to its reprint collections), and The Tangled Bank, probably fall into this category. I found most of these markets patchier. But nonetheless there is a certain amount of excitement to be derived from finding good new work in places like this.
To my mind, the best work of the year was to be found in four anthologies; Legends of Australian Fantasy, Sprawl, Baggage, and Scenes from the Second Storey. All of these are well worth the price of entry, and feature consistently strong work. Sprawl was particularly engaging, although my favourite was probably Scenes from the Second Storey. This was probably the sleeper anthology of the four; I didn’t see it get anywhere near the same level of buzz that the others did. But the authors are all top-notch, and the somewhat unusual theme (stories inspired by songs from an album most of the contributors seem never to have heard before) seems to have inspired the best in its authors. I would rank at least half its contents as excellent, which is a good ratio in any list. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I recommend you pick up all four books and decide for yourself.
This year was probably an unusual year in that I thought most of the best stories by local authors were published locally, as opposed to in overseas venues, which is often the case (Scenes from the Second Storey being a borderline case – an overseas publisher but local editors and I suspect, largely targetted at the local market). To my mind this is a very good sign of the strength of local publishing at the moment.
On the downside, Australia still lacks a flagship webzine. Most Australian publications are olde-schoole print, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Also of note, I think, is that themed anthologies seem to have become more common than not. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, given the results here, but I found myself hankering at times for an old fashioned mixed-genre anthology with no theme. SF also seemed thin on the ground compared to Fantasy and Horror. We’ll see if this trend continues.
These criticisms are minor ones, though, in what was probably the best year for local publishing we’ve seen in some time.
How about you? What were your picks for 2010? Feel free to comment.