Australian Speculative Fiction – A Genre Overview

Speculative fiction means more than just science fiction, fantasy and horror; it has to include cross-genre writing (such as science fiction romance or science fantasy…), dark fantasy, the ‘new weird’, and sub-genres…

Whilst Australian Speculative Fiction does not focus on defining just what speculative fiction is, this brief definition (from the book’s introduction) will help those who are unfamiliar with the term. In fact, many readers of speculative fiction may not even realise that is what they are reading. Speculative fiction is, as Van Ikin says in his introduction to the book, in the midst of a ‘boom time’, with more writers producing wonderful writing and more readers buying the books.

Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview provides exactly what the title promises – an overview of the Australian speculative fiction scene. The first part of the book provides biographies and interviews with some of the leading writers of the genre. In each profile there are quotes from the author, a url for their author website (if they have one), a list of some of their books, quotes from reviews of their books, and more. Following this is a section devoted to outstanding illustrators, with colour reproductions of some of their works and bookcovers. The third part of the book is devoted to short fiction – speculative fiction magazines and anthology. There are publication details for each title, some background to its publication and an exploration of its focus. The final section of the book provides slightly shorter biographies of some new and emerging authors.

This is a comprehensive guide to the genre for readers, writers and editors. It provides an easily accessible reference to those who work in the industry and could be used as a reading guide for those wanting to explore the genre further.


Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview, edited by Donna Maree Hanson
Aust Speculative Fiction, 2005

Toby Jones and the Mystery of the Time-Travel Tour, by Michael Panckridge, with Brett Lee

Toby Jones is a young cricketer with a lot on his mind. His team is playing in the finals against the Scorpions, and it’s up to him to spearhead the bowling attack. But that’s not the biggest thing in his life. Toby is a time traveller. He has a special gift which enables him to travel back to old games of cricket and enjoy seeing them live. But sometimes this is isn’t such a good thing. Toby’s friend Jim Oldfield has been left behind watching Bradman play in Leeds in 1930 and Toby is the only one who can find him and bring him back.

In the meantime, Phillip Smales, the manager of the Scorpions, is up to his old tricks. He has stolen the scorecard that enables anyone to become a time traveller and is planning to use it for a new business enterprise. The problem is, he doesn’t care if anyone gets left behind. It is up to Toby and his friends to try to stop him.

Toby Jones and the Mystery of the Time-Travel Tour is the third book in the series, and readers who have read the first two will be at an advantage. The plot is clear enough, however, for those new to the series to be able to follow. As well as plenty of cricket and action, there are cricket facts scattered throughout the book and cricket tips from Australian bowler Brett Lee.

An absorbing read for cricket lovers aged 10-12.

Toby Jones and the Mystery of the Time-Travel Tour, by Michael Panckridge with Brett Lee
Harper Collins, 2005

Doodledum Dancing, by Meredith Costain and Pamela Allen

I’m rocking, I’m reeling
I’m whirligig wheeling
Tip-tapping my toesies
And singing this song.

The poems in this delightful collection will have adults and children alike tip-tapping their toesies and clapping and rocking along – though some may want to draw the line at sim-somersaulting as they read – it could be risky.

The eighteen poems in Doodledum Dancing are very easy to read because they move along at a glorious pace and are both fun and funny. Youngsters will love the rhythm and movement, but they will be equally captivated by Costain’s wonderful use of language – words such as those in Loose Tooth:

A wibbly wobbly
Angly dangly
Wiggly waggly
Loose tooth.

make for fun reading and plenty of giggling.

Also giggle-inducing are the illustrations by Pamela Allen, bringing each poem to life with simple yet rich images which capture the movement of the poems perfectly.

This is an exuberant offering which parents will love reading to their preschoolers, and older children will enjoy reading by themselves. It is also perfect for classroom use.

DoodledumDancing, by Meredith Costain and Pamela Allen
Penguin Australia, 2006

The Day of the Elephant, by Barbara Ker Wilson and Frane Lessac

The great elephant turned her head from side to side and flapped her ears as she walked along…Dang Kiet sensed that Mae Jabu was not very happy today.

When the big elephant Mae Jabu makes a visit to the village, the children are excited. But before long their lives are in peril as a tsunami strikes. The gentle Mae Jabu becomes their life saver as she lifts the young children onto her back and carries them to safety, out of reach of the rising waters.

When the Boxing Day Tsunami hit Thailand and other Asian countries in 2004, it brought massive tragedy. But amidst the destruction there were also many amazing tales of survival, including tales of elephants who helped rescue people from the giant wave and its aftermath. The Day of the Elephant shares one such story.

This inspiring tale is well complemented with the folk art illustrative style of Frane´ Lessac with bold colours and simple yet telling depictions of the various scenes.

Royalties from the sale of The Day of the Elephant have been donated to the Asian tsunami aid effort.

The Day of the Elephant, by Barbara Ker Wilson , illustrated by Frane´ Lessac
Angus and Robertson (an imprint of Harper Collins), 2005

The Unclaimed, by Luke C. Jackson

When I was seven, there was a family, the Rossis. They stayed for the day, toured the Reef and stuff, but left when it started to get dark. They were on their way back to the city…’ He takes a deep breath. ‘They had three kids, two boys and a baby girl. The town closed the road the day after.’

When Jenna and Andy Burton go to the town of Broken Reef for a family holiday, they feel sure it will be a boring one. But as soon as they arrive, strange things start to happen. First, there is a ghostly boy in the yard next door, and then Jenna hears voices in the bush. The house they are staying in has its own mysteries too.

Jenna and Andy are befriended by a group of local kids who call themselves the Reefriders and together the teens set about trying to unravel the mystery of these ghostlike children When they do solve the mystery, it is almost beyond belief.

The Unclaimed is a fast paced mystery for 10 to 14 year old readers, with mystery and adventure but also themes of family and friendship. With a mixture of male and female protagonists, it will appeal to both boys and girls in the age group. Part of the English Alive program, the book is supported with worksheets suitable for classroom use.

A good read.

The Unclaimed, by Luke C. Jackson
Jacaranda, 2005

The Book of Changing Things, by Odo Hirsch

Nathan is always in trouble for being a dreamy boy, so when he wishes he could judge the annual Performance Day, his friends laugh. Soon, though, he is off on a magical adventure with the mysterious Count Marvy and an unreliable squirrel called Pogue, who take him on a journey through their world. Nathan meets all sorts of characters and sees sights he never believed possible – including a singing pig, a very small monster with very large teeth, and a tower where words are endlessly weighed In this mystical world Nathan discovers that maybe, in spite of his dreaminess – or even, perhaps, because of it – he can be a judge.

This is, as the blurb claims, a most unlikely story, full of marvelosities. In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, Nathan is transported to a world where characters change at will, disappearing and reappearing randomly. Doors which seem to do nothing stand in the middle of roads, and animal characters both familiar and unrecognisable abound.

Suitable for private reading for children aged about 9 and up, this would also suit as a read aloud for sharing between parent and child, or teacher and class. The hard cover format and whimsical illustrations are added bonuses.

The Book of Changing Things and Other Odibosities, by Odo Hirsch
Allen & Unwin, 2005

This review was first published in Reading Time, the Journal of the CBCA.

Desperate Husbands, by Richard Glover

She looks worried but I’m not too concerned. The children are alive. The house has not burnt down. There have been no major outbreaks of disease. Frankly, I think I deserve a bloody medal.

Richard Glover is, on the surface, a pretty normal guy. He has a wife and two kids, and all the normal struggles of running a house, paying a mortgage, going to work and raising his children. In reality, though, his life is different – because it is downright hilarious. Okay, so perhaps it is not his life that is hilarious, but his ability to make the commonplace hilarious in his clever retelling, but that’s splitting hairs.

The end result is the same – a funny book about the everyday life of a pretty normal Aussie bloke. Glover shares stories of buying fridges, cleaning house, going shopping and much much more with a wittiness that has the reader trying to maintain a frantic head nod of agreement with much chortling and shaking. There is a temptation to read odd bits out to spouses, friends – even complete strangers – as you see yourself and the world around you reflected in Glover’s words. Who hasn’t been the victim of an inane joke that the delivered thinks is sooooo original? Or frantically prepared for a visit by a parent or in-law? Every reader will relate to the frantic last-minute dash around the shops at Christmas time looking for ‘just the right thing’ to jump off the shelves at you.

Desperate Husbands is desperately funny and desperately true. An excellent read.

Desperate Husbands, by Richard Glover
Harper Collins, 2005

On, Off by Colleen McCullough

‘I don’t suspect anyone, and that’s my worst worry. I should suspect someone. So why don’t I? What I do have is a sense that I’m missing something right under my nose…’

It is 1965 and at a prestigious medical research facility in Connecticut, familiarly known as the ‘Hug’, a chilling discovery is made – the dismembered remains of a teenage girl, stored in a refrigerator with dead laboratory animals. Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico is put in charge of the investigation and soon begins to suspect that this victim is just the latest in a string of horrifying disappearances.

With the Hug in turmoil and every member of staff seemingly with something to hide, Delmonico comes up against dead ends with each new path his investigation takes. The killer seems always two steps ahead of him. As more teenagers disappear, it is a race against time for Delmonico and his team.

As a thriller, On,Off is new territory for master storyteller Colleen McCullough, but draws on old ground for her – McCullough was a neuroscientist for twenty years before she was published, hence the use of a neurological research facility as the centre point for much of the action. The storyline is chilling yet absorbing, and woven in such a way that the reader is kept guessing right to the end.


On,Off, by Colleen McCullough
Harper Collins, 2005

The Water Spirits, by Emily Rodda

Princess Jessie! The village of Lirralee invites you to baby Jewel’s Welcome Party on Saturday afternoon. The party begins at three o’clock and ends when the birds go to bed. There will be music, dancing, games and lots of food. Please come!

Jessie can’t wait to enter the fairy realm and go to Patrice’s old village for a party. But inside the realm, as she follows a daisy trail to the party, she is set upon by mud wubbles. When the water sprites rescue her, Jessie wants to do them a good turn as repayment. But when she does, she unwittingly causes more trouble than she set out to fix. Soon the water sprites and the people of Lirralee are at war, and baby Jewel is held captive. It is up to Jessie to find a solution.

The Water Sprites is the second title in the second series of the Fairy Realm series by one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors, Emily Rodda. This delightful hardcover offering is sure to find a place in the hearts (and libraries) of girls aged 6 to 10.

The Water Sprites, by Emily Rodda
ABC Books, 2005

Rosa and the Veil of Gold, by Kim Wilkins

When an ancient golden bear is found hidden in the wall of an old St Petersburg bathhouse, Rosa Kovalenka calls on her ex-boyfriend, Daniel St Clare, to examine it. Daniel has seen nothing like this bear, but is curious and sets out with his colleague Em to have it examined by an expert. But a series of inexplicable events causes them to become lost and in the dead of night they unwittingly cross the divide between their own world, Mir, and the land of enchantments, Skazki.

As Daniel and Em wander the wilds of Skazki, trying to return the bear to its rightful owner and find a way back home, Rosa is back in Mir, desperately trying to help them. She possesses ancient magic, but it is not yet strong enough to cross the divide and rescue Daniel, the man that she loves.

Rosa and the Veil of Gold is a fantasy set in both modern day and historical Russia, as well as in its magical realms, Skazki. There are some familiar events and characters – including various Tsars and Rasputin, who plays an interesting role. There are also, as befits any fantasy, many unfamiliar beings adding danger and mystique to the adventures of Daniel and the icy Em.

This is an absorbing read, with the Russian setting adding plenty of interest.

Rosa and the Veil of Gold, by Kim Wilkins
Harper Collins, 2005