Ben’s Year’s Best Australian SF, 2011

So a little later this year than usual, here is my imaginary Year’s Best anthology for 2011.

In imaginary running order:

Year’s Best Australian SF 2011

The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt… Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga)

Reading Coffee… Anthony Panegyris (Overland)

Space Girl Blues… Brendan Duffy (Anywhere But Earth)

The Last March of the Silent Militia… Peter M Ball (Weird Tales)

Fruit of the Pipal Tree… Thoraiya Dyer (After the Rain)

Below… Ben Peek (Above/Below)

Nation of the Night… Sue Isle (Nightsiders)

SIBO… Penelope Love (Anywhere But Earth)

The Patrician… Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk

Into the Clouds on High… Margo Lanagan (Yellowcake)

Honourable mentions

How to Tell if You’re the Red Herring… Jacinta Woodhead (Overland)

Bad Power… Deborah Biancotti (Bad Power)

The Fairy King’s Child… Nicole R Murphy (ASIM)

Visitors.. Peter M Ball (After the Rain)

Interview with the Jianshi… Anne Mok (Red Dead Heart)

The Proving of Smollett Standforth… Margo Lanagan (Ghosts by Gaslight)

The Encounter… Sasha Beatie (Hope)

Mouseskin…Kathleen Jennings (After the Rain)

Undine Love… Kathleen Jennings (ASIM)

Europe After the Rain… Lee Battersby (After the Rain)

Canterbury Hollow… Chris Lawson (F&SF)

The Shadowwes Box… Terry Dowling (Ghosts by Gaslight)

Bad Thought and the Mechanism… Richard Harland (Ghosts by Gaslight)

The Painted Girl… Sue Isle (Nightsiders)

Frostbitten… Kirstyn McDermott (Scary Kisses)

The Dark Night of Anton Weiss… DC White (Scary Kisses)

By Any Other Name… Kim Westwood (Anywhere But Earth)


2011 was a diverse year. It felt like there was a lot of stuff published, and I mean a lot. And there was no doubt a lot of stuff I never got to read. I lost count at around 300 stories, but there were a lot more out there.

My overall feeling was that the quality was stretched a little thin, but there were still plenty of really good stories if you were happy to search for them.

In last year’s post I spoke about there being two tiers of writers, and publishers, developing. And that’s probably held true to some extent. There are a number of writers really hitting their straps and producing consistently good work that is starting to get noticed on the world stage. Twelfth Planet Press is probably the most consistent publisher in the country at the moment, as was reflected by their World Fantasy Award. 2011 saw the first four collections in their Twelve Planets publication schedule, a series of four-story collections from the best Australian female authors. The quality of these was consistently high, with the collections by Sue Isle, Deborah Biancotti and particularly Tansy Rayner Roberts standing out as some of the best work published during the year. In all, it was a better year for single-author collections than for anthologies, with very strong collections also from Margo Lanagan with Yellowcake and Paul Haines with The Last Days of Kali Yuga. Unlike the Twelfth Planet collections, these were primarily reprint collections, but both contained excellent new work.

Beyond that, things get a little more diffuse, perhaps because, of the four anthologies I really enjoyed in 2010, Twelfth Planet was the only publisher to produce work in 2011 (Jonathan Strahan produced high quality international work, however). Perhaps for that reason, I found the anthologies a lot more even than in 2010, with good work mixed among middling across the board. It would be hard to pick a standout anthology or two for that reason, although I thought two which were above average were Tehani Wessley’s After the Rain, a mixed genre themed anthology containing strong stories from Thoraiya Dyer, Peter Ball, Kathleen Jennings, Dirk Flinthart, and Lee Battersby, and Keith Stevenson’s SF anthology Anywhere But Earth, which had good stories from Brendan Duffy, Kim Westwood, Penelope Love, and others.

A lot of the energy in 2011 came from new publishers. I particularly enjoyed the Hope anthology, edited by Sasha Beattie, which inspired some strong work from authors in a themed anthology based no suicide prevention. Breaking the rule that editors should never publish their own work, Sasha Beattie’s story was probably my favourite, and there was good work from Alan Baxter and Pamela Freeman. There was also the mixed genre Eighty Nine from Jodie Cleghorn, and the latest anthology from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, Winds of Change, from editor Elizabeth Fitzgerald. The latter were a little patchier, for my money, but taken as a whole they offer an interesting view of a bunch of new writers who are quietly making progress and no doubt creating their own energy as the next generation to those currently being published by publishers like Twelfth Planet. It’s well worth looking at these venues for a glimpse of the future.

Ticonderoga seems to be moving more toward retrospective author collections (its Lucy Sussex collection got some attention in 2011), but published two original anthologies last year. Liz Gryzb’s follow up paranormal romance anthology More Scary Kisses contained some solid work and a couple of very good stories from Kirstyn McDermott, DC White, Jason Nahrung and Felicity Dowker. Dead Red Heart, at thirty-three stories, was to my mind a little too long for a themed anthology; I was very much vampired out by that point. It probably would have been a better two hundred page book, but nevertheless it contained some good work by Anne Mok, Joanne Anderton, Jason Nahrung, Felicity Dowker, as well as a bunch of promising new authors. Ticonderoga also published a collection from Lisa Hannett, Bluegrass Symphony, which got some good press, although it wasn’t my kind of thing.

These days, ongoing magazines seem to have been almost supplanted by anthologies, but it is worth noting that ASIM remains regular and consistent, with good stories from Thoraiya Dyer, Kathleen Jennings and Nicole Murphy. Elsewhere, Aurealis relaunched as an electronic publication late in the year, and Midnight Echo continues to publish local and overseas horror writers. Cat Sparks has taken over as fiction editor at Cosmos magazine and published a number of local SF stories there in 2011 (I saw very few of them). And local literary magazine Overland, under new fiction editor Jane Gleeson-White, published some very good speculative fiction, including works by Jacinta Woodhead and Anthony Panegyris.

I took a break from Last Short Story reading in 2011, so my knowledge of local writers published internationally is patchier. Authors such as Damien Broderick and Sean McMullen continue to appear regularly, and Chris Lawson had a strong story in F&SF.  Peter M. Ball continues to make waves, and is undoubtedly not far from a major breakthrough of some kind. And Jack Dann and Nick Gevers published Ghosts by Gaslight, an anthology of Victorian ghost stories with a strong Australian contingent, including stories by Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland and Garth Nix.

I’m not sure how best to characterise the year, other than as broad and diffuse, and unpredictable. Twelfth Planet continues to be the unstoppable juggernaut of local publishing, and its move from anthologies to single-author collections changes the landscape somewhat. Beyond that, it will be interesting to see if Fablecroft and Coer de Lion can follow up and consolidate their strong anthologies, or whether the recent trend of publishers coming and going year by year continues. And I think this year will be interesting to look back on, when some of the newer authors who are starting to emerge have had a chance to build a name for themselves.

Finally, reluctant as I am to finish on a sad note, it would be remiss of me to conclude this summary without mentioning the tragic passing of Paul Haines, early in 2012, after a long battle with cancer. Haines was an extremely talented author, still young, and he was just starting to write some of the very best work of his career. A glance through his stories in recent years, collected both in The Last Days of Kali Yuga from Brimstone Press, and Slice of Life from Mayne Press, show the talent, the intelligence, the courage on display in his writing. His work was fierce and dark and full of black humour and cutting observation. We are much less for having lost him, both as a writer and as a great guy, and we are very lucky to have so much of his work collected. If you haven’t read these books, buy them now and check him out.

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