Genre mash-ups in Australian fiction 2 Comments

First, have a read of Jessica Au’s The Great Divide: Does Genre Still Matter? at Spike the Meanjin Blog, in which she calls China Miéville’s The City and The City “a veritable mash-up of genres”, and discusses how the formerly quite rigid barriers between genres seem to be growing more nebulous, especially as demand for genre-mashing ‘speculative’ fiction has increased.

I’ve always been a bit befuddled by genres and amused by how different bookshops sort them out. Some divide ‘Literature’ from ‘Fiction’, which I guess is the equivalent of ‘high brow vs. low brow’, and a great way to let writers know their place in the intellectual scheme of things. The common lumping together of ‘Sci Fi’ and ‘Fantasy’ is also bewildering. A ‘Horror/Romance’ section might work better, not only because nearly every romance novel published since Twilight has involved a vampire and/or a werewolf (or a were-leopard/guinea pig/three-toed sloth), but also considering the natural terror evoked by sex scenes involving ‘glistening, pulsing bratwursts’ and ‘undulating love puddings’. H.P. Lovecraft couldn’t have done it better. I’m also not sure how ‘Gay and Lesbian’ became a genre at Borders, and why there’s no ‘Heteronormative’ section.

There are many Australian authors who write novels marketed as genre fiction, just as there are also many Australian authors who strive to steer clear of anything that deviates slightly into genre fiction territory. What about the few who straddle the divide? Neville Shute’s On the Beach is the most obvious, and maybe the most famous, example of Australian genre-blurring fiction. And for the last twenty years or so, young adult speculative/sci-fi/fantasy/genre mash-up novels have been incredibly popular, like Victor Kelleher’s Earthsong, Fire Dancer and Parkland trilogy, Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series and John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series.

But what about recent Australian genre mash-ups marketed to adults? As Au points out, Stephen Amsterdam’s Things They Didn’t See Coming is a successful, Australian-made work which the author has defined as speculative fiction, although it’s not specifically set in Australia. But Au’s post has also led me to James Bradley, who keeps a blog called City of Tongues and has posted a response to Au here, in which he cites changing cultural values and what he calls “the rise of the reader” in Australia as reasons for the breaking down of traditional genres. I’ve now taken a peek at reviews of his work, and at least one of his novels seems to be exactly the kind of thing I’m searching for.

I want to hear about more Australian fiction that messes around with genre — and I’m not talking about Mad Max or the kangaroo/human hybrids in Tank Girl. I’m particularly greedy for a story about the future of Australia, in which we’re the ones taken over by a totalitarian dictatorship, colonised by little grey aliens, or reduced to a wasteland by war/volcanoes/comets/disease/global warming/zombie apocalypse.

  • Benjamin Solah

    Why do I feel guilty to raise my hand that that’s the kind of novel I’m writing, set in post-apocalyptic Australia…

    This is an interesting debate. I may have the post something myself now.

  • phill

    One Australian fiction that immediately jumped to mind when you mentioned us being taken over by a totalitarian dictatorship was Andrew McGahan’s ‘Underground’. He manages to write a pretty believable scenario despite the conspiracy theory crackpot undertones.