Lorraine Cormack is a prolific reviewer at ASif! She is also a founding member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild.
1. You’re the hands down most prolific reviewer at ASif! What made you join the team? How many books do you think you read a year?
I’m a founding member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG), but hadn’t done any writing for years. Reviewing books, with an emphasis on Australian books, felt like a way to be a contributing member of the spec fiction community. Plus, I like reading and was going to be doing it anyway, and I’d enjoyed doing some book reviews years ago for other outlets. And rather selfishly, I thought that reviewing would sometimes force me to read books I wouldn’t have otherwise, and you never know what surprises you’ll come across. I have no idea how many books I read a year. I do know the number has dropped dramatically since I had children. At a guess, I probably still read around 200 books a year (3 to 4 a week), but there are definitely periods where I read considerably fewer. And depending on *what* I’m reading, sometimes more.
2. Why do you read specfic and what do you look for in a good specfic novel?
Well, first I should say that I don’t read only specfic. I also read a lot of crime novels and thrillers, a smattering of chick lit, some mainstream fiction (for lack of a better term), and a bit of non-fiction. Sometimes I’ll read a book because it suits my particular mood – I want something very light, or something contemporary, or something that makes me think, for example. So there’s some variation in what I look for in a good book – I don’t expect to get the same thing from every single novel I read. But in general terms, I want interesting and strong characters, although I don’t necessarily have to like them. I want a plot that engages me, and that makes sense within the context of the world/environment that the author has developed. I like writing styles that make me want to keep reading just one chapter more, or are distinctive in some way. I have a weakness for wry and black humor, but that’s not appropriate for every novel. And I like either originality or bringing something powerful to familiar structures or tropes.
In terms of specfic, I probably read it primarily for three reasons. One is that there are some very good writers working in the genre, and it’s a pleasure to read them. Second is that specfic, done well, can provide a new angle or perspective on issues that affect us every day. That can be thought provoking, and sometimes can have a greater emotional impact than something that’s too literal or, I guess, simply descriptive of the situation. I like that. And third is that spec fiction can take us to worlds and times that we’ll never reach otherwise. That’s interesting, and it really widens the scope of the stories that good writers can tell.
3. How would you rate Australian specfic compared to the international scene?
I think that because it’s a smaller scene, it sometimes magnifies the two extremes – the really good work and the really bad. I probably have a slightly biased view of the Australian scene, because I don’t see much if any international self-published work, while I do see a fair bit from Australia. And while there may be (probably are) some fantastic undiscovered writers self-publishing, generally the quality isn’t there. It hasn’t been well edited, if edited at all, and the authors generally haven’t been challenged to take a really critical look at their own work and improve it. So that means I’m probably more aware of the weaker Australian spec fiction than I am of the poor international stuff. Sometimes, too, the weaker stuff stands out more in Australia because there isn’t enough mid-quality work to obscure it, while it can be easy to “lose” some of the really awful stuff that’s published internationally. But having said that, the top end of Australian spec fiction can absolutely hold its own with the best published anywhere. We have authors who deserve international success and whose work will, I think, stand the test of time and still be enjoyed in decades to come.
4. With Aussiecon4 coming up this September, there’s been some buzz about nominating Australians for the Hugo awards. Which Australians do you think have put out work this year that you’d like to see nominated?
That’s a tricky question, largely because I’m not too good at keeping track of when things are published and thus what’s eligible. Of what I’ve read recently, I’ve really enjoyed work by Sylvia Kelso, Karen Miller, and Pamela Freeman. Freeman’s “Castings” trilogy stood out for its’ unusual structure and for being compelling reading. I like Kelso’s more oblique style, where not everything is spelt out and the reader has to pay attention. And Miller has both a nice light touch in some novels, and an ability to make a fairly familiar story compelling reading. Also, I’d have to mention Margo Lanagan. I can’t say that her work is among my personal favorites – “Tender Morsels” was a bit too depressing for my personal taste – but she’s writing original and powerful fiction that deserves recognition for its quality and for the fact that it’s thought provoking. It’s really great to be reading work of that calibre from a number of authors and know it’s Australian. Other Australians that I enjoy quite consistently but who might not have published anything eligible include Kaaron Warren, Maxine McArthur, Garth Nix and Kerry Greenwood. I haven’t been reading much short fiction of late, so I’m completely overlooking anyone who’s published mainly in that arena.
5. Will you be attending Aussiecon4? If you are, what are you most looking forward to?
No, I won’t be attending. I have a young family, and I’m expecting another baby around the middle of July, so it’s not likely I’ll be travelling in September. But in general terms, what I enjoy most at conventions is just the chance to catch up with people face to face.